Political leadership in the West has calcified atop a set of existing facts and trajectory that assure rebellion in one form or another until they are reconciled. In addition to the economic divides between wealth and poverty, employment and unemployment, opportunity and the lack of opportunity, there is a generational divide that has left youth around the world on the outside of economic life.
Left out of the economic statistics is that today’s youth face a fundamentally different circumstance than that of recent generations. The young bear a disproportionate burden in higher rates of unemployment, higher levels of debt and fewer opportunities. In a system where economic power equates with political power, economic exclusion leaves youth and much of the rest of the broader population outside of existing political processes.
Within the prevailing political economy the internal logic is to build systems of political and economic repression rather than to create political, economic and social justice. This can be seen in the level of debt students are expected bear, in increasingly intrusive surveillance, in the militarization of the police, in the unresponsive politics of the mainstream political parties and in the absence of any sustained effort to create jobs for youth and other unemployed.
These conditions were not created by the young or by the multitudes that are likewise on the outside of economic and mainstream political life. They result from decades of ideologically driven policies that assumed that the secular deity of markets removed the need for thought, knowledge, information, and any notion of public life. This ideology supports a predatory economic order that has had disastrous consequences for vast majorities in the West. And yet it still drives economic and political decisions today.
Absent rapid self-correction by political leadership, the conclusion can rightly be drawn that the existing order is incapable of self-correction. In fact, the predominant governing ideology sees unjust social divide as virtue, the driving force behind human achievement. That this is a fundamentally different theory of social life than recent generations themselves experienced seems to have little bearing on the sustained commitment to it. Ideological commitment in spite of evidence to the contrary indicates a calcified political order.
Occupy Wall Street arose from a confluence of conditions that are similar in some ways to broader social movements like the ‘Arab Spring’ and different in others. Economic inequality didn’t become a broad political issue until the lack of economic opportunity for wide swaths of global populations became fact. Enlightened self-interest on the part of economic elites would have them giving a little to keep a lot. That they are choosing the path of repression instead suggests that the political and social divide runs much deeper than a mere difference of opinion.
Current economic conditions provide factual bases for this divide. There are far more unemployed than there are jobs for them. The gentlest count based on government statistics has four unemployed for every one available job. Were every job to be filled, three quarters of those currently unemployed would still be unemployed with no jobs available for them. Most of the jobs that are available don’t pay a living wage and fewer offer benefits by the day. These are obstacles over which no amount of positive thinking, the apparent solution favored by those in power, will prevail.
I leave more of the specifics to others. The point is that while psychology and theories of cyclical social rest and turmoil might have some bearing, there are entirely practical reasons why rebellion is here to stay until these problems are resolved. What this rebellion will look like will be a function of material conditions as they develop and the systemic response to them. To date this response has been discouraging and events unfolding in Egypt add new degrees of pessimism. This written, rebellion is both necessary and life affirming
Last, in New York OWS member Mark Adams was sentenced to 45 days in jail for his participation in the effort to secure a new Occupation space from Trinity Church after Zuccotti Park was cleared. This sentence is a travesty and the charges are overblown and clearly designed to silence OWS. Sympathetic readers can support Mark directly and by participating in OWS activities wherever they are taking place.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York