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Works and Days

Occupy What?

November 4th, 2011 - 11:35 am

Playing With Fire

Occupy Wall Street follows three years of sloppy presidential name-calling — “millionaires and billionaires,” slurs about Las Vegas and the Super Bowl, profit-mad, limb-lopping doctors, introspection that now is not the time for profits and at some point we should cease making money, spread the wealth, punish our enemies, and all the old Obama boilerplate. Someone finally got the message about the evil 1%.

When Ms. Pelosi and President Obama voice support for the protestors, we enter 1984. Does that mean that the Pelosis now pull their millions out of Wall Street, that the First Family eschews the 1% at Martha’s Vineyard and Vail? That Obama turns his back on Wall Street cash, and, for once, accepts public funding for his 2012 campaign? Postmodern class warfare is an insidious business, and hinges on its advocates not looking in the mirror.

No wise politician should invest in the bunch like those rampaging in Oakland. Their nocturnal frolics are a long way from Woody Guthrie’s Deportee, the Hobos’ “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” and the world John Steinbeck fictionalized. It is the angst of the wannabe class, overeducated and underemployed, which chooses to live not in Akron or Fowler, but in tony places like the Bay Area or New York, where annual rents are far more than a down payment on a starter house in the Midwest. Being educated, but broke and in proximity to the wealthy of like upbringing and background, are ingredients for riot.

I saw videos of youths burning things in Oakland, but was told that it “was a small minority” and atypical of the protest. Not long ago I saw no clips of anyone spitting at black congresspeople wading into the Tea-Party demonstration, but was told they did and that it was typical of tens of thousands of racialists on the Mall.

But Some Are Less Equal Than Others

I don’t think the protests are really much over the Goldman Sachs bailout, or jerks like revolving-door Budget Director Peter Orszag starting back up at Citigroup, or Solyndra crony capitalism. Apparently, most middle-class and upper-middle class liberals—many of them (at least from videos) young and white—are angry at the “system.” And so they are occupying (at least until it gets really cold and wet) financial districts, downtowns, and other areas of commerce across the well-reported urban landscape. As yet there is no definable grievance other than anger that others are doing too well, and the protestors themselves are not doing at all well, and the one has something to do with the other. I am not suggesting union members and the unemployed poor are not present, only that the tip of the spear seems to be furious young middle class kids of college age and bearing, who mope around stunned, as in “what went wrong?”

Then there is a wider, global phenomenon of the angry college student. In the Middle East, much of the unrest, whether Islamist, liberal, or hard-core leftist, is fueled by young unemployed college graduates. Ditto Europe in general, and Greece in particular: The state subsidizes college loans and the popular culture accepts an even longer period between adolescence and adulthood, say between 18 and 30 something. Students emerge “aware,” but poorly educated, highly politicized, and with unreal expectations about their market worth in an ossifying society, often highly regulated and statist.

The decision has been made long ago not to marry at 23, have two or three kids by 27, and go to work in the private sector in hopes of moving up the ladder by 30. Perhaps at 35, a European expects that a job opens up in the Ministry of Culture or the elderly occupant of a coveted rent-controlled flat dies.

Students rarely graduate in four years, but scrape together parental support and, in the bargain, often bed, laundry, and breakfast, federal and state loans and grants, and part-time minimum wage jobs to “go to college.” By traditional rubrics—living at home, having the car insurance paid by dad and mom, meals cooked by someone else—many are still youths. But by our new standards—sexually active, familiar with drugs or alcohol, widely traveled and experienced—many are said to be adults.

Debt mounts. Jobs are few. For the vast majority who are not business majors, engineers, or vocational technicians, there are few jobs or opportunities other than more debt in grad or law school. In the old days, an English or history degree was a certificate of inductive thinking, broad knowledge, writing skills, and a good background for business, teaching, or professionalism. Not now. The watered down curriculum and politically-correct instruction ensure a certain glibness without real skills, thought, or judgment. Most employers are no longer impressed.

Students with such high opinions of themselves are angry that others less aware—young bond traders, computer geeks, even skilled truck drivers—make far more money. Does a music degree from Brown, a sociology BA in progress from San Francisco State, two years of anthropology at UC Riverside count for anything? They are angry at themselves and furious at their own like class that they think betrayed them. After all, if a man knows about the construction of gender or a young woman has read Rigoberta Menchu, or both have formed opinions about Hiroshima, the so-called Native American genocide, and gay history, why is that not rewarded in a way that derivatives or root canal work surely are?

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