In Praise of Failure
Is the Occupy Movement unsuccessful, as a friend of mine has recently written on CounterPunch?
What’s been going on with the Occupy movement?
Some of the bravest and best participant/writers have been talking about a war. And it is a war, but an odd one when one side has weapons and the other doesn’t.
Blueshirts destroying the libraries of the Occupy encampments in the darkness and domestic police beating up not just unarmed citizens (boring!) but beating up real soldiers who’ve fought actual armed people corresponds so closely to, a) the depredations of Krystallnacht and b) the presumed misgivings of a certain minority of real soldiers in Hitler’s forces in the early days of Reich3 that the student of human nature can hardly fail to be moved.
Actually, the student of human nature can fail at almost anything. But how bad is failure? The literary critic Paul de Man, who did some bad Nazi shit during the war and should probably have been shot, says my poet, spent his life writing about the distance between failure and the self or selves observing that failure.
“The man who has fallen is somewhat wiser than the fool who walks around oblivious of the crack in the pavement about to trip him up. And the fallen philosopher reflecting on the discrepancy between the two successive stages is wiser still, but this does not in the least prevent him from stumbling in his turn. It seems instead that this wisdom can be gained only at the cost of such a fall. The mere falling of others does not suffice; he has to go down himself.” (Blindness and Insight, U of Minnesota Press, 1983: 214).
Crying season, as novelist Dorothy Allison might call the last few months back here at the urban ranch and which the indie band Gomez might caption with the words, “I could cry on demand. Boo hoo,” has corresponded roughly with the rise of the Occupy encampment here in Toronto. That’s been my experience. I’ll typically have a cry and then walk through camp. The beauty of the encampment, its multiple niches of earnest speech rising as the polyphony of prayer amidst the fall foliage of St. James Park, this has been the incense of autumn in year eleven. That and a bit of home keening.
The sad fact of the Occupy movement, by far the most important movement in our millennium in this continent, is that most people don’t give a shit. It’s a failure in that sense. The rector of St. James, for example, who could offer sanctuary to the protesters of St. James Park, doesn’t give a shit for the Occupiers and he doesn’t give a shit for Jesus nor for the Biblical account of Jesus nor for what Jesus did to the moneylenders, nor any of that. He’s just like average Joe Canadian, in it for what he can get. If he can get the moneylenders to like him, that’s the master he’s going to serve. The rector has washed his hands of the matter, and turned it over to his in-house Pontius Pilate, Douglas Stoute, who claims to be a “Reverend,” but is an irreverent blasphemer and hater of Jesus and all he stood for, which was nothing and no one when it came to moneylenders in the temple. Jesus stood for none of it, in short, but kicked it all over. Douglas Stoute, let me ask you, do you think your God is mocked by your behaviour? Is he fooled for a moment by your handwashing rituals? You cannot serve two masters. Tonight your soul will be required of you. Name a night when that is not true. Men like you turn the churches into crypts, the actions of Jesus into dead stone, and then you wonder why no one wants to darken the doors of your churches. Shame on you, you men who are whited sepulchres. People have come to you for sanctuary, and you have turned them away, and now they will be beaten. On that day—no, not that one—on That Day, you will cry Lord Lord, have we not performed miracles in thy name? And what will your Lord say?
I hereby challenge you cowards, rector and dean, to a public Bible debate about your turning the supplicants away, the debate to take place on any day and time of your choosing; non-response to be deemed an admission that you’re in error. Bet I got more Bible degrees than you fuckers anyway. I assume you’ll chicken out.
The other day, the regular beating day, is now scheduled for this coming Saturday, [changed as we go to press to Monday] when the gudkops are planning to turn the unarmed people over to the badcops for the traditional truncheoning ceremony.
In Toronto the moneychangers and their lackeys are gudkopping the occupiers this week, crucifying Jesus afresh, as the Christians like to put it in other contexts, nickel and diming them with the orders of ‘judges’, about whom the most the prophet will say is, ‘judge not, that ye be not’, which is pretty strong if you think about it. To be, and not to be. That’s some pretty fucken serious poetry, the poet says to the prophet. It’s got drama.
I hear that the badkops were beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating unarmed people in New York, and then one of them got a cut on his hand. Beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating unarmed people, and one of them got one cut on his hand. And then back to beating and beating and beating and beating and beating and beating unarmed people, and one cut. First blood, says the poet. Pilate washes his hands, says the prophet, noticing how liquid the blood is. He says something about the beater being hoisted by his own petard, but I don’t catch it.
My own theory is a simple one. You shouldn’t beat people.
Unless they’re beating you.
Michael Neumann’s critique of Occupy
I count Michael Neumann among my on-line friends, and 99% would be a good figure for naming how many times he gets it right in his writings at CounterPunch. He’s got a razor-sharp intellect with which I wouldn’t normally venture to tangle. But I gotta say that I think he gets it wrong when he writes that the “Occupy movement will go nowhere” because the very people who are blaming the Fat Cats on Wall Street when times are lean were happy to give them a pass during the fat years. People have been voting for capitalism all along, he points out, so it’s disingenuous of them to criticize now those who’ve succeeded at the game.
Michael’s criticism of voting practices is so close to my own extended criticism of voters—longterm readers know why I hate voting for capitalism and why I’m against voting at all (it endorses a corrupt system, for starters). But I think Michael’s wrong because he’s so right: it’s always been right to criticize Wall Street. Far from not criticizing them now because we didn’t then, we should do it now and then and always. Sure, it would have been morally more persuasive if Zuccotti Park had happened during the fat years, but who would’ve listened? In fact plenty of people were criticizing Wall Street during the fat years, not to mention flying planes into Wall-Street-style command posts, which isn’t even a nice thing to do, and to my mind seems downright judgmental, if not critical. So in partial opposition to Michael (“don’t blame Wall Street”) I’d say we could improve our ethical consistency by always blaming Wall Street. Who needs hard data on this? Not me, as I can figure out everything from street level—who’s almost hitting me on my longboard and with what. But if facts and figures are your thing, this should tide folks over till supper. The least persuasive part of Michael’s argument is the claim that Obama and Trump and their ilk are saying positive things about Occupy so we should be leery of Occupy. No we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t give a fuck what those blowhards think. What kind of person would even watch the blowhole at the front of the head of Donald Trump when it emits gas? Who cares?
Contra Michael I’d say the Occupy movement already has gone somewhere. But the more important point is that “success” and with it the concomitant notion “going somewhere,” together with all the calls for the movement to articulate itself in terms that fit with capital and that make sense to politicians and that play well to readers of The Star, these are precisely the systemic notions of growth and success people of good will should be fucking with, not catering to. In times of vast unchallenged evil, persuasive little chats are fine as far as they go, and if we can change the mind of some dipshit in Peoria who manages to get his face out of the Cheez Whiz for a moment, fine, but the real demand on people of good will in times like these is to Get In The Way. And “times like these” are the times inaugurated by slave states such as early America and ancient Greece and their successors, and what needs to be resisted is all the paraphernalia of the state apparatus.
99% of what people count as success is bullshit. History will not be as kind on the success freaks and their successors as they are on themselves. Success is theft. Nothing can make the Canadian tar sands success anything but theft, and nothing can make all those successful jobs you have in sales and law and politics and in an academia funded by gold mining and massive corporate bludgeoning anything but theft. Bay Street likes to pretend it’s better than Wall Street, but it has tar all over its hands. Its sands.
If the Occupy movement is successful, fine, [as I send this off my friend Missy writes from Baltimore to tell me that Occupy there and in New York is robust despite everything] but it will also be more likely to get co-opted that way, more likely to fit back neatly into capital after its brief sojourn elsewhere. Failure, by contrast, has a power not easily discerned. Excellent for surveillance regimes. Lots of disorganized getting in the way, refusal to articulate demands-on-demand like trained seals, lots of blocking Traffic in the broadest sense. Just fucking up. Failure is the success that comes through fire. Either way, we need lots of wrenches dropped, products dropped, obstruction up and down the line. We can’t say more, or it might be illegal. Talk’s easy for us this year, I guess (we’re no Oakland), but we were tried by fire last year in the G20, and we’re ready for any kind of brutality from the state and its willing helper, the church.
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I know I said I wouldn’t show up here unless they were actually clearing St. James Park. The eviction notices that went up Tuesday have been overturned, first till Saturday and now, as we go to press, till Monday. None of these functionaries (religious and city) has given the occupiers the least reason to imagine they’re trustworthy, however, so we’ll see what happens.
David Ker Thomson has been occupying streets since he was sixteen. He files from Toronto. dave dot thomson at utoronto do ca