FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Sidewalk Utopianism

by BERNARD MARSZALEK

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 info@righttobelazy.com.

 

 


Bernard Marszalek, editor of The Right to be Lazy (AK PRESS) can be reached at info@righttobelazy.com. He was a member of a worker cooperative for seventeen years. Links at http://righttobelazy.com/blog/

More articles by:
June 30, 2016
Richard Moser
Clinton and Trump, Fear and Fascism
Pepe Escobar
The Three Harpies are Back!
Ramzy Baroud
Searching for a ‘Responsible Adult’: ‘Is Brexit Good for Israel?’
Dave Lindorff
What is Bernie Up To?
Thomas Barker
Saving Labour From Blairism: the Dangers of Confining the Debate to Existing Members
Jan Oberg
Why is NATO So Irrational Today?
John Stauber
The Debate We Need: Gary Johnson vs Jill Stein
Steve Horn
Obama Administration Approved Over 1,500 Offshore Fracking Permits
Rob Hager
Supreme Court Legalizes Influence Peddling: McDonnell v. United States
Norman Pollack
Economic Nationalism vs. Globalization: Janus-Faced Monopoly Capital
Binoy Kampmark
Railroaded by the Supreme Court: the US Problem with Immigration
Howard Lisnoff
Of Kiddie Crusades and Disregarding the First Amendment in a Public Space
Vijay Prashad
Economic Liberalization Ignores India’s Rural Misery
Caroline Hurley
We Are All Syrians
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail