Pick a side. Any side. You live in “the land of the free.” Vote. If you don’t vote, don’t complain. Buy more bumper stickers. Join a party. Go to meetings. Have an opinion. Try to convince others. Write about it on paper and in digital forums. Go to protests. Hold a sign. Chant. Read books. Write about the books you’ve read. Just don’t DO anything.
Our society prides itself on our freedoms, of speech, of religion, of press. We view ourselves as the greatest nation on the planet because of these freedoms, but fail to see that our chains are just a bit longer than everyone else’s. We are given these freedoms not because our rulers want to hear our opinions, but because they provide a safe outlet for dissent. As long as ideas stay on paper, and do not morph into action, anything is permissible. Because of this trend towards the ideological, we have come to confuse opinion with action.
Activists hide behind slogans. Politicians hide in plain sight. Neither group really does anything, but they do need the support of people at times…usually when they need money or votes. In return, the people receive empty promises, and the feeling that they participated in, and made an impact on the system. Democracy and organizations that place themselves in the democratic process exist to alienate people from themselves. Instead of directly acting on our own lives, we are told to vote for someone who will act for us. An entire layer of abstraction has been laid over our lives.
There are many voices in this layer, from Republican to Communist. None speak of removing the abstraction, because to do so would make their existence irrelevant. At best, they claim to want to change the system, so that it favors “the people.” Everything is done “for the people.” From Soviet state capitalism, to the European welfare state, the story is the same. Ideas are imposed upon people, by promises, propaganda, or force. The entity claiming to act in the name of its populace gives way to the truth. The organization’s first goal is always self-preservation, and keeping people in the realm of ideas, and out of action, is the first step to ensuring that people will believe that organizations are necessary. While parties and unions are one part of this, the real issue lies in people’s willingness to conform to the rigid identities put out by political ideologies. The very act of claiming to belong to a certain sect of ideas solidifies the need to seek out those who claim to belong to the same sect. Libertarians will seek out and form groups with other Libertarians, just as Trotskyists will find other Trotskyists. By following a particular “-ism”, each person becomes less of an individual with their own ideas, and more of an extension of a preexisting set of ideas. Ideology kills the individual.
Today we hear slogans of the “99%” and “1%”. About 150 years ago they were preempted by the “proletariat” and “bourgeoisie”. Long before that there was Christ, differentiating between “saved” and “unsaved.” Even longer before that there was Zarathustra, speaking of the “light” of Ahura Mazda, and the “dark” of Ahriman. This “us vs them” mentality has existed in popular movements from the beginnings of civilization, and has been the driving force in almost all of history’s struggles against rulers and society. It has also been their greatest flaw, and the reason all these movements were eventually co-opted and destroyed or disfigured beyond all recognition.
Zarathustra’s teachings were used to build the largest empire the world had yet seen. Christ’s followers went from an underground cult of resistance against the Roman Empire, to the official religion of the same empire. Marx’s proletarian revolution led to a deformed bureaucracy in Russia, and unabashed capitalism in China. All of these movements started off as legitimate actions of “normal” people, and ended up in the hands of those with nothing but a thirst for power. How does this happen? As Hakim Bey asks, “How is it that ‘the world turned upside-down’ always manages to Right itself? Why does reaction always follow revolution, like seasons in Hell?“
The answer lies in the nature of these “us vs them” ideas. Ostensibly, these sort of ideologies draw a line in the sand, clearly differentiating between friend and foe. In reality, they are but quantitative approaches, seeking nothing but to draw greater numbers into their ranks. Many Christians will agree that even the most blasphemous heathen can be saved, just as most Marxists ambiguously pinpoint the difference between working and ruling classes at their relation to the means of production (something most are even willing to stretch, as in the case of Engels). Many modern day Marxists will even argue that millionaires such as professional athletes, or pop superstars, are part of the working class. Today’s Occupy movement is obviously no exception to this trend, as they are willing to embrace 99% of the population as potential allies, while pointing out the enemy to be an unseen 1%. While spouting rhetoric involving a struggle against invisible forces, these movements are actually trying to gather and include as many people as they can get to listen to them.
This lowest common denominator approach will always be destined to fail. Ignoring a potential enemy is always a bad strategy; Inviting them into your ranks is even worse. This is not an instance of “keep your friends close, and enemies closer.” It is a complete failure to recognize enemies in order to cast the widest net possible. The Emperor and his buddies eventually became the upper levels of Christianity, and began campaigns to destroy Christian communities that they didn’t agree with. The Marxist intellectuals eventually became Party functionaries, and began campaigns to keep workers slaving away in factories, crushing them when necessary. The Emperor should not have been allowed anywhere near a movement born in opposition of his empire, just as those who had never done a real day’s work should not have been allowed anywhere near proletarian revolution.
So, do we need deeper lines in the sand? Sharper divides? Truly embracing the mantra of “us vs them” is not the answer, either. The truth is, there is no “us”, and certainly no “them”. The age of classes is over. The springs and wheels which once animated the Leviathan are rusted and decayed into mere atoms. Our system has decomposed to the point that its machinations…unions, corporations, parties…are irrelevant reminders of the past. From the bored kid who throws a brick through a bank window, to the sociopath who runs a billion dollar pyramid scheme, the fate of Capital is beginning to rest more and more in the hands of the individual. The actions of organized groups are beginning to matter less than the actions of individuals and groups of individuals.
The working and ruling classes have collapsed into each other in a tangled heap. The children of the former ruling class go to universities and grow to hate the system once they learn how horrible it is. The children of the former working class get indoctrinated into the system at an early age, and go on under the impression that becoming police, or joining the army, will actually help their community. The days of black and white are over, if they ever existed. Even the poorest soul can be a friend of Capital, and even the wealthiest an enemy. Is the Wall Street trader who embezzles millions, and causes many to lose their blind faith in the system, an ally? Is the poor Cambodian who sells his labor to drug cartels, despoiling some of the last untouched rainforests in the world for raw materials to make designer drugs, an enemy? Is the reporter recording video of a demonstration, which leads to people being identified and arrested, a friend? The answer to none of these questions can be found in class politics.
Social movements across the globe are falling into the same traps that have plagued every popular current throughout history. Although it may, at times, look like a period of global uprising, we are simply witnessing the latest in a series of movements that are revolutionary only in name and rhetoric. The Arab Spring ended with the sodomy of Gaddafi, and the establishment of military rule in Egypt. Occupy has died the slow death of reformism and liberalism. Social revolution across the globe has failed…demands have failed…occupation has failed. To occupy implies delving deeper into something, a strategy which has failed since the beginnings of civilization. The answer is not occupation…but withdrawal.