“He that uses his words loosely and unsteadily will either not be minded or not understood.” – John Locke
Good evening everyone.
A few nights ago I was faced with a dilemma upon whether to act on an impulse which seems to be pervading my general ability to remain calm and civil as these politically strident days pass us by. Typically – you’ll find me making a hotly partisan comment or deriding Jersey Shore in order to vent my increasingly mounting frustrations in these situations where I allow them to conquer my reason. Either that – or I’ll end up writing a short political novel on someone’s Facebook wall. Over the last few nights, I’ve found myself doing just that. There I sat, ticking away on my keyboard at numerous people only to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of bridges I could severely damage or utterly reduce to ashes over all of this. So I did what I believe to be the best possible thing in these situations.
I bit my tongue.
Now, as much as I go back and wish I would have made a poignant comment or perhaps a witty refutation I feel the relief as I type this that I’m going to get all of it out in a constructive and memorable way rather than the direct antithesis to my current situation. Peace is a good thing; friends are even better. So to those of you who are still reading at this point, the teeth are being removed from my tongue and we’re going to be off and rolling.
Part 1. On Truth and Civility
I decided long ago that I’m not going to go through excessive pains to convince people of the rightness of my cause or the correctness of my personal beliefs. I’ve decided that the minds of men and women are long made up for a string of seemingly unbreakable reasons and it is no right of mine to oppress or undermine their freedom to believe as it would be no more their right to do so to me. I’ve let things go, mainly because it is my solemn belief that truth is, as Jefferson described it, a sufficient antagonist to error – and will come to the fore in any debate. As John Adams said, “facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
It is because of these beliefs that I refer back a few thousand years to Socrates and admit that “as for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” If there is anything politics has taught me it’s that for every point there is a counterpoint. For every left hook there is an exposed opening waiting to be pummeled. It’s the nature of politics and as long as people are passionate about their polarized beliefs, it will remain.
But what truth is in partisan dialogue? What kind of light persists and remains flickering to guide us home to truth? What I’ve found doesn’t need further explanation as it seems exceedingly elementary to conclude that considering half of all of the points in a debate will lead you to the inevitable conclusion you’re seeking. However, considering all of the points generally paints us with a much different picture – one that is much closer to the truth than simply beating one another over the head in argument with partisan talking points.
One of the great things about American democracy is that all of those partisan arguments are available for public consumption and reflection. Unfortunately, the public seemingly ignores one or both of them in staggering proportions. The very nature of American democracy depends on the wise constituting both the elected and the electorate. There is no public benefit from a mind already made. A mind which builds facts upon facts to support what started as an uneducated guess or uneducated opinion is useless to the general public. For citizens to be useful to society in a political manner we must strive at once to wipe the slate clean and build on it a foundation of facts to base our opinions rather than the other way around. Political conversation should not descend into a shouting match. It should be an educational fact finding mission.
Part 2. On Occupy Wall Street
Last year I read an interesting piece in the New York Times titled The Anosognosic’s Dilemma
[http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/the-anosognosics-dilemma-1/]. To reduce your further required reading (as this is already getting long enough), I’ll explain briefly what Anosognosia is. Essentially, it’s when someone has a disability of some sort and they won’t admit that they have a problem. For example: anosognosia is when someone suffers a stroke and loses the ability to move their arm and they go into complete denial that they have lost that ability. Even when asked to demonstrate that they do not have a disability they will make up excuses to cover it up or to prolong the delusion. They’ll insist that they do not want to move their arm, rather than that they cannot move it altogether.
The article itself was interesting because it delved into the hypothesis that considered incompetency as a disability and suggested some individuals might be so incompetent that they cannot see and refuse to admit their own incompetency. It offered the example of a Pittsburgh bank robber who was struck in disbelief when he was arrested because he was under the misguided belief that putting lemon juice on his face would render his face invisible to cameras. He even went so far as to test the “juice” by snapping his photo with a Polaroid camera. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for society), he apparently missed when he snapped the photo, leading him to believe the “juice” actually worked.
Here in lies our political dilemma.
Let me be the first to not surprise anybody. I wholeheartedly support Occupy Wall Street (OWS). However, like any rational human being if someone were to ask me if by supporting OWS I’m comfortable with supporting rape, destruction, communism, anarchism, or violence I will most definitely tell you no. That question is lemon juice.
If you tell me that by supporting OWS I clearly support redistribution of the wealth and socialism I once again will tell you no. That statement, is also lemon juice.
If you go so far to suggest that I hate rich people – the entire 1% just for being rich, or that I don’t value hard work, don’t have a job, or that I think everything should just be handed to me, well, you might as well be missing your face with that snapshot from the Polaroid camera.
The entire situation with regard to public support for the Occupy movement is typically generalized inside one of these above comments, which by itself is infuriating. What’s more irritating is how widespread the misinformation is and how many people deride OWS without even a minute understanding of the complex political issues it represents resistance against.
Now, I’m feeling defeated and therefore willing to admit that in America everything needs to be black and white and spelled out to be politically effective. I personally believe through my own observation that this mass rounding to the lowest common denominator has been happening for years – which is why it’s easier for some people to accept that Occupy Wall Street is all about “a bunch of unwashed, lazy spoiled children of hippies whining about how hard their lives are and how the government is not giving them enough free stuff” (thanks to Reddit user ReneFonck for that) rather than how it is in fact, among other things, a protest against corporate welfare bought by undue political influence aggregated by monied interests in this country. It’s easier to be blindly angry than to think.
So is it safe to say that some of us in this country suffer from a politicalanosognosia? I believe so. Some people – in light of any amount of facts or evidence will stop at nothing to perpetuate their beliefs, even if founded completely on ignorance. The unwillingness for some people to even consider another viewpoint is staggeringly unAmerican. The truth is we have nothing to fear from any political movement as long as the public is free to discuss it openly and as long as all participants are willing to consider all points of the debate. The truth will always find the light.
3. What OWS Is REALLY About
So here we are, at the explanation.
OWS isn’t about a bunch of lazy hippies who want to camp in parks. If only the reason for the protest were that simple I’d have finished this article a few days ago and would be moving on to something else. While there are a variety of reasons for Occupy Wall Street, it’s mostly about the undue political influence monied interests have in our political process. It’s no secret that politicians thrive from donated money and it’s also no secret that it’s capable of shaping policy. It’s about people taking their voice back. “The 99%”, average, everyday Americans should be the only lobbyists that matter in Washington.
Furthermore – it’s about the conversation that is perpetuating in the halls of power in Washington, whether or not it’s actually related to the above issue. Increasing income disparity in the United States is having an adverse effect on the general welfare of our nation and honest attempts to correct it, and the budget issue we’re facing is being blocked by misinformed people who are flying every possible argument directly in the face of reason.
It’s these kind of partisan debates that cause us to realize that the problems we’re facing now aren’t anything new. We’ve known for years that Social Security was going to have issues. We knew in 2005 that the ballooning cost of programs over the coming years was going to impact the economy. But our leaders did nothing. They continued this continual game of economic chicken in order to not upset anybody which has resulted in the mess we’re in today.
If you look back over the past 50 years or so you’ll see a direct inverse correlation with decreasing top marginal tax rates and the rising of the national debt. You’ll notice a particular spike during the Regan years where they cut the top marginal rate in half, which at the time had a direct impact on the economy from a Keynesian perspective as it injected more money into the system. The object of the cuts were predicated on the concept of the Laffer curve, which states that decreasing marginal tax rates can increase the amount of overall revenue collected by the government. George W. Bush also cut the top marginal rates which was supposed to have a similar effect, but in turn alongside other policies has led to the deepest deficits in history.
Now, while increasing the top marginal tax rate back to what it was during the Regan years wouldn’t solve the problem – it’s frustrating to the majority of Americans that it’s not even allowed on the table. In reality – most wealthy people earn their money through capital gains, which means the majority of their income is only subject to a 15% tax which is completely asinine. It’s under this system that a multi-billionaire pays less in taxes as a percentage of income than his or her secretary making $60,000 a year.
The government is saying that we all need to pitch in – OWS asks, why? Because of inflation the common working people were better off in 1970 than they are now and the wealthiest are doing better than they ever have. So why should we sacrifice? The decreasing marginal utility of currency states that a dollar has more use for us than for them anyway. Those extra few dollars mean the difference between getting to work and eating dinner for some people in the lower income brackets. We aren’t beholden to the wealthy as “job creators”. I say – give me a tax break and I’ll put some of my ideas to work. The rich already own everything anyway. I thought we needed actual competition?
So here we are looking for a better way forward. We’re in the streets reminding our leaders that this government is ours and not the play-thing of them and their rich friends. We’re not out there looking for a handout – we’re looking for a seat at the table. But not just one seat – we’re looking at the majority of the seats considering that we ARE the 99% and represent a majority of the taxpayers in this nation. It’s our voices that need to be heard. That is our mission.
What we don’t need, is a group of ignorant individuals who have no vested interest in this debate badmouthing the movement from the sidelines. If you’d like to be included, read a little bit about the political system first. Even research this movement before you regurgitate a blanket statement onto all of us. Some of us might be hippies; some of us might be poor; some of might be jobless, homeless, or maybe just the opposite. Some of us might have started out at 14 years old, swinging a hammer for his father’s construction company working full time every summer before suddenly moving to Pittsburgh over the course of a weekend. Some of us might have made that move and put ourselves through college earning a 3.3 GPA while taking a full course load AND working 50 hour weeks. Some of us might be currently working a full time job, while working on starting a small business on the side as well as taking the time to write 10 page political essays for the benefit of his friends while working on getting into law school. But the truth is that none of that is important. What’s important is that we’re all outside – together – fighting for the same thing. E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One. Our dream is the American Dream, and while it has gotten dim, it’s not going to die on our generation’s watch.