Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Sidewalk Utopianism


I have seen references in the news coverage of Occupy Wall Street to the “Culture of Greed,” which strikes me as a meaningless term. Think of what comes to mind with its opposite – the Culture of Generosity. This grammatical construction, of course, is not unique, other “cultures” have preceded it: the culture of violence, of care and the list could go on. In fact, the other day I read about the culture of work! And of course there is that ever present anomaly, corporate culture. I expect to read next of the “Culture of Culture” as something that existed in the nineteenth century.

The use of the word “culture” as in youth culture replaces the previous terminology that referred to a social group as a society, for example, society of the addicted, of youth, of hedge-funders. I have no idea when precisely these social groups, much less abstractions or descriptive nouns, attained cultural status, but it must be decades old. Maybe as culture, in the traditional sense, lost it’s meaning through commodification the word was resuscitated to serve as a term for the core beliefs and practices of a specific social group. This seems a plausible explanation.

My interest with this usage however isn’t etymological, but political. To talk about a culture of greed, despite its presumed criticality, testifies to the reality that the economy occupies every corner of our lives. And in occupying our lives, encloses and confines it. The pervasive onslaught by advertisers and the commercialization of everything has reduced all discussions to discussions of the economy. Every conversation may begin elsewhere but eventually it returns, in some manner or another, to the economy. I hasten to add, that as victims of this economy, we must be aware of its cunning strategy to subdue us. We must learn its vocabulary and syntax. However, beyond its manipulations on the most obvious level, with wage slavery, that is, control of our body, the economic imperative also seeks to control, if I may use this word, our soul.

The condemnation of the one percent by Occupy Wall Street too easily slips into that popular, though deluded, American moralism that condemns the rich for their greed, and then piously searches for an economic corrective. There are counter currents in OWS that ally it to demands for basic social transformation; to argue for that perspective means abandoning the confines of an economic solution to address a much larger problem. I think that OWS broke free of this restrictive analysis, despite its early emphasis on the symbolism of Wall Street, by creating a real culture in its encampment. It is the creative aspect of OWS that has been duplicated with enthusiasm all across the country.

Zuccotti Park, a private/public absurdity, poses as a park, but is actually an enclosure of public space. Liberty Plaza, as OWS renamed it, on the other hand, was an experiment to “de-enclose” this space and create a rarity in the larger society – a kind of “hot house” society based on human needs. It became a little utopia, an island of cultural exuberance, in the center of New York’s financial district.

And what a joke – at the center of the temple of the economy – no one at OWS worked! How freer can you be from the economy than that? Some of those attending assemblies, and even sleeping overnight, may have had jobs and could only participate in the camp’s activities on their free time, but still no one at OWS received wages, yet people were fed and sheltered; art happened, friendships formed, salons appeared like mushrooms and discussions ranged over a multitude of topics.

It is easy to ridicule this urban experiment where pizzas seemed to drop from heaven like manna, and those who wanted to demonstrate their solidarity, practically, donated all sorts of other food and supplies. And money, as if by magic, flowed into the camp through an online conduit. This unreality clashed with what we expect of life – sacrifice. Liberty Plaza was a dreamscape, some may say, not real life, but then what is “real life?” Work (for those “lucky” enough to have jobs), commuting, shopping to retrieve daily necessities and sleep. Where’s the life? The residents of the camps who had what looked like a day of leisure, day after day, agreed that they never had a more intense life.

It is ironic that though economic factors lay behind the origins of OWS’s seizure of space following the Arab Spring model, it was their creation of their village life and it’s structure and rituals, that overwhelming affected the participants and seduced new adherents. In other words, outrage brought them together originally, but what created their solidarity was their subjective transformation brought about by their social creativity.

This is exactly what is missing in our lives as we follow the dictates of the economic imperative. An authentic life flourishes where friendship, gifting, and ludic activity reign and imaginative social reproduction percolates to provide for a life of material well-being by first attending to our psychological well-being.

Bernard Marszalek edited a new collection of essays by renegade Marxist, Paul Lafargue, “The Right to be Lazy” (AK Press/Kerr Co.), and can be reached at



Bernard Marszalek, editor of The Right to be Lazy (AK PRESS) can be reached at He was a member of a worker cooperative for seventeen years. Links at

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 28, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Inside the Invisible Government: War, Propaganda, Clinton & Trump
Andrew Levine
The Hillary Era is Coming: Worry!
Gary Leupp
Seven World-Historical Achievements of the Iraq Invasion of 2003
Paul Street
Standing Rock Water-Protectors Waterboarded While the Cleveland Indians Romped
Stanley L. Cohen
Israel: 1984 Everlasting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Comfortably Dumb
Michael Brenner
American Foreign Policy in the Post-Trump Era
Luciana Bohne
Crossing the Acheron: Back to Vietnam
Robert Hunziker
The Political Era of Climate Refugees
Stephen Cooper
Alabama’s Last Execution was an Atrocity
Michael Munk
Getting Away With Terrorism in Oregon
T.J. Coles
Confronting China: an Interview with John Pilger
Pete Dolack
Work Harder So Speculators Can Get More
Joyce Nelson
Canadians Launch Constitutional Challenge Against CETA
John Laforge
US Uranium Weapons Have Been Used in Syria
Paul Edwards
The Vision Thing ’16
Arshad Khan
Hillary, Trump and Sartre: How Existentialism Disrobes the Major Presidential Candidates
Peter Lee
It’s ON! Between Duterte and America
Chris Zinda
The Bundy Acquittal: Tazing of #oregonstandoff
Norman Pollack
America at the Crossroads: Abrogation of Democracy
Bill Quigley
Six Gulf Protectors Arrested Challenging Gulf Oil Drilling
Joseph Grosso
Starchitects in the City: Vanity Fair and Gentrification
Patrick Carr
Economic Racial Disparity in North Carolina
David Swanson
Public vs. Media on War
Chris Gilbert
Demo Derby in Venezuela: The Left’s New Freewheeling Politics
Ira Helfand
Nukes and the UN: a Historic Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons
Brian Cloughley
The US, NATO and the Pope
Binoy Kampmark
Nobel Confusion: Ramos-Horta, Trump and World Disorder
Sam Albert
Kids on Their Own in Calais: the Tip of an Iceberg-Cold World
Russell Mokhiber
Lucifer’s Banker: Bradley Birkenfeld on Corporate Crime in America
Ron Jacobs
Death to the Fascist Insect! The SLA and the Cops
Cesar Chelala
Embargo on Cuba is an Embarrassment for the United States
Jack Smith
And the Winner Is….
Ken Knabb
Beyond Voting: the Limits of Electoral Politics
Matt Peppe
An Alternate Narrative on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump
Uri Avnery
The Israeli Trumpess
James Rothenberg
Water Under the Bridge
Louis Yako
Remembering Rasul Gamzatov: The Poet of the People
Dave Reilly
Complete the Sentence: an Exploration of Orin Langelle’s “If Voting Changed Things…”
Jonathan Woodrow Martin
When Nobody Returns: Palestinians Show They are People, Too
Louis Proyect
The Outsider-Insider: Isaac Babel’s Big Mistake
Simon Jones
The Human Lacunae in Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake”
Martin Billheimer
Now and Then, Ancient Sorceries
Charles R. Larson
Review: Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”
David Yearsley
Bach on the Election