Monday, April 16, 2012

OWS is back, baby!

Reading up on some basic political philosophy has reminded me that the fundamental question of that discipline is, How should we choose to organize society? It's an obvious point, but easy to miss in the everyday specificity of political issues like Supreme Court rulings or party competition.

Which makes me think of the Occupy movement. This week the New York section of the movement returned to the streets: now they're literally on Wall Street. This is the first successful occupation from OWS since they were evicted from Zuccoti Park in November, following a three-month encampment.

Here's why the question of how to organize society makes me think of Occupy. Between September and November of last year, it seemed like everyone was criticizing the movement for lacking clear goals. Here's a particularly cantankerous bit of advice from someone's Dad:

I am unsympathetic. Blocking streets to prevent commuters from picking up their children and getting home to their families, shutting down banks so folks can't cash their paychecks and disabling ATM machines with super glue isn't sticking it to "the man." It simply does injury to the true 99 percent, the hardworking people trying to make a living, obeying the laws and paying taxes. 

While I still think it's just not true that the movement lacks goals--anti-plutocrat seems like a pretty specific agenda to me--there's an element of truth in these criticisms. OWS lacks conventional goals in the sense that it's about more than specific changes in policy. Simply, say, reversing the Citizen's United ruling, or prosecuting top players from the 2008 financial collapse, or even electing Ron Paul (or whoever) wouldn't fulfil Occupy's goals.

OWS is, even more than an expression of outrage at banksters and croney capitalism, an experiment in a different way of doing politics. A different way of being political. As Bernard Harcourt argues herehere, and here, stuff like consensus voting, call-and-repeat forums, and the absence of leaders are examples of how OWS functions according to a different format from conventional US politics. A different way of speaking and thinking about politics. A different (pardon the buzzword) discourse of how we can best organize our society. And it seems to me that this, this radical attempt to reinvent the way that we talk/think/do politics is more valuable than any conventional demand that the movement might make.

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