Sunday, October 16, 2011
The Age of Accounting
All week I have been getting requests from protesters looking for Wall Street. Like the anecdotal New Yorker who when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall replies "Practice", I've been tempted to reply with "Get a Series 7 License". But the reputation of New Yorkers for rude helpfulness isn't unearned and so I point them the right way.
The ones who are asking are very obviously not New Yorkers. Rarely even are they from this coast. Not only do they usually manage to walk the wrong way, but their dazed expressions and social awkwardness scream Portland or Pot in equal measure. A couple smiling blissfully with the look I have only ever seen before in videos and photos from the Age of Aquarius asks me how to get to Wall Street. Their cuttoffs are completely wrong for the weather and if they keep going straight they will end up in the East River. Another couple barely speaks English, the male of the group is gangly, unshaven and French. The protests are attracting the usual international crowd. And this is Bloomberg's mistake. The longer the occupation of a public park usually used for lunch hour by construction workers, now occupied by wannabe hippies and professional activists drags on and picks up media coverage, the more it will attract the dregs of the protest movement.
Between Europe and America, there are a good deal of bored students, community organizers and shiftless postmodern hippies selling hemp clothing at roadside stands. Usually they stick to the West Coast because the weather is warmer, the politics are hotter and the property values are cheaper. But in a perverse reverse migration, parts of Oregon and Washington are flying East to New York to sit on stone benches and be part of something "bigger".
The organizers of Occupy Wall Street understood that all they really had to do was hang on for a week or two until they picked up enough stupid young people to create a critical mass that would garner them the media coverage to turn it into an international event. A few arrests, some cries of police brutality, a fake Radiohead concert and Portland and Paris' dregs show up with their high rolled backpacks and artisan bongs.
Giuliani and the police brass understood the momentum of these things in a way that Bloomberg does not. Giuliani would not have tolerated Zuccoti Park being turned into an extension of Berkeley, but he understood that the city had to be livable for its residents. Bloomberg still thinks of New York as an international city, and having tried to lure the Olympics, he can't very well say no to an international group of losers.
This isn't really about Wall Street or corporations, it's about protest as identity. I have seen the future and it's a man in a red shirt and a megaphone shouting at a crowd which repeats everything he says. This is the face of the left, the Human Microphone is the society they want to impose on us. It may be startlingly crude at this level, but give it a trillion dollar budget and it becomes more sophisticated.
Radicalization is about protest with no other purpose but protest. Its goal is to block streets, get arrested, write about the experience and then come back tomorrow and train the newest arrivals to do the same thing all over again. The demands don't really matter. With a friendly administration in DC, this is more about visibility and setting a national agenda by hijacking the consensus.
Activism is about disrupting democracy through force of will. Shout the loudest and your agenda moves up to the top. Given a choice between a vocal agenda and a muted opposition, the public will often go along with the vocal agenda. And even if it doesn't, the politicians will.
The protests are a misnomer as they are not a protest against, but a show of support for a troubled administration playing its last class warfare card. Plan A was for the media to insist that the recovery was here. But Plan A is roadkill because no one actually bought into the Summer of Recovery. That just leaves Plan B which is to run against the economic crisis on a class warfare platform.
Conceptually it makes no sense for the established party to run as the opposition, but the Obama cult has broken all sorts of rules before and its program has never made any sense. Stir up enough chaos in the street, roll out the red carpet and write up the speech promising to save the nation and it might work. Dictators have done it often enough before.
It's not a good sign when both parties have their own affiliated protest movements. At least it isn't a good sign in the United States of America which had managed to avoid descending into instability. But it's an even worse sign when the ruling party recruits youth to stage violent protests so its leader can promise to save the country from the chaos.
The Age of Aquarius is the old template for it, but all that is gone This is the Age of Accounting and the battle is over how to divide the contents of a shrinking pot. This is a struggle fought in the realms of the mathematical and the emotional in a social engineering game of monopoly.
The economy imploded with the housing bubble and the less idiotic signs carried by the protesters complain about student debt. The housing bubble poured billions into the coffers of the left and the educational bubble underwrote the university programming centers of the left. The final bill due for both comes to taxpayers, but the minority borrowers of subsidized mortgages and students deep in debt are stuck with a personal bill.
Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae were instruments of leftist social engineering, turned into engines of profit and then into weapons of national economic disaster. Many of the borrowers have been bamboozled, not just once when they signed up for loans without understanding how many ways they could be screwed over, but a second time around when they were convinced to blame their problems on some mythical 1 percent of the country. Members of whom are directing and funding their protests.
The emotional denies the mathematical, but numbers can only be treated as imaginary for so long when you are borrowing against them. The bubbles in the national economy rise up into the global economy. And behind them all is the stench of decaying cultures, of work ethics turned inside out and men and women in the business and the political world who no longer understand the cost of their choices.
The protests of the Age of Accounting are sadder than the old flower children who occasionally show up to relive a lost age. The America of their time had the resources and wealth to waste its time. Now the social issues are purely dollars and cents. The 99 percent and the 1 percent are only the first of many statistics. But all the statistics are either personal or variable. Everyone is trying to use spurious math to define a state of happiness and unhappiness.
The backpacks and iPhones, the expensively casual clothes and retro glasses, are all pricey poses. Some protesters are living out a back to nature pose from the 90's in between cups of Starbucks, while others are dressing like it's the 1920's or the 1950's again. No one is in the present, because there is no present. The culture of the 21st century is purely of the "now", its fashion statements are retro, its music is plastic and its politics is content free. There are no big issues anymore, just echoes and imitations of the old ones.
Like the European elites, our own elites have become decadent, pretending that they are students of human happiness, when all they are is bad thieves and worse economists. Their children are bad students and even worse protesters.
The shallow lemming radicalization on display in the Occupy protests sums up everything wrong with the politics of the now. There are no ideas here, only the needy egos of a media age who bring their attendant insecurities to protest rallies, while refusing to ask who is behind the rallies and whose purposes they are truly serving.
It is enough to put on their retro clothing, and stage their retro protests, and then go back to deal with their student debt without asking who is really responsible for all that. Who told them that the path to success lay in universal education, who tricked them into taking dubious loans and who really profits from all that money used to buy their inflated sheepskin.
Sheep don't ask questions like that. They Baa when they're supposed to, play their part in the Human Microphone, update their Twitter accounts, yell the things that other people are yelling and then they go home to do their taxes. They are the 99 percent who don't think but go along with the consensus. Whether they go along with the consensus by reading editorials and nodding along or by getting arrested waving a cardboard sign, doesn't really matter. They are the consensus that bankrupted and enslaved the country. And they don't matter. It is the 1 percent who step out of the consensus who do.