Occupy This

It was only a matter of time before some dimwit did something to elicit sympathy for Occupy Wall Street activists. They will have it in spades since the UC Davis incident, one in which campus police pepper sprayed peaceful protesters. Rightly, university administrators were appalled at the actions of the officers, but the fallout is likely to lend credibility to a movement that stinks at the core.

Before I launch into my criticism of the movement, let me be clear about this: I can think of absolutely no reason to pepper spray people sitting still and posing no apparent threat. I am certainly not a Nixonesque advocate of “law and order” at the expense of good sense and civility. UC Davis administrators directed the removal of tents, but not people and certainly not with violence–a reasonable course of action. From what we know now, a couple of rogue officers decided pepper spraying individuals blocking the way toward removing the tents was justifiable. Please forgive me if I speculate that the two were not the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Tea Partiers wanted lower taxes and less government and their actions were in accord with their intentions. They made their case and went home, peacefully, to work on getting like-minded people elected. So much for the stereotype of the gun-toting redneck who wants to shoot anything that looks different. And so much for the idea that disgust with the status quo leads inevitably to disrupting other peoples’ public lives for weeks on end.

From Wikipedia


Occupy Wall Street takes its energy from the Left, an ideology that invariably deteriorates into destructiveness. From Bolsheviks to Beatniks to Barack Obama, restlessness toward the loftily-perceived emptiness and injustice of the current culture manifests itself as a smoldering rage. It bursts into flame when a large enough group of malcontents comes face to face with its failure to deliver an alternative. Thus we have groups in our larger cities blocking traffic and having a jamboree in the public square–other taxpayers be damned. Our President is hardly better, offering little more in the face of economic calamity than to take the rich down a notch or two.

I have to ask OWSers exactly what they want and what kind of reaction they want to get. They hate rich people, or at least that 1% at the top, though it is not clear whether that would have included Steve Jobs when he was still with us or George Soros, who still is. They hate Wall Street, a collection of institutions whose crony capitalist antics have finally revolted even conservatives, but we have yet to learn what they advocate in its place. Is it the elimination of crony capitalism? I could get behind that one, but somehow I doubt they are sufficiently thoughtful to parse true capitalism from its current mutation.

As for the reaction they desire, I think we can eliminate being pepper sprayed. Do they want to be beaten to make a point? Doubtful. Do they want to be arrested en masse? Not as far as I can tell. Do they want to set themselves on fire to demonstrate the immorality of some particular war? We can eliminate that one too. Not only do they not know what they want, they don’t know how to get it. They are a lurching mob, given to incoherent griping and little else.

Comparing OWS tent cities and tantrums with the social unrest of a few decades ago is strained at best. Lobbing vague epithets at rich people hardly seems the stuff of the 1960’s, when protesters wanted to end the draft. I did not and do not condone most of the protests that occurred then, but I sure as hell know the difference between bellyaching about not having a job and protesting having my narrow behind sent to the jungle to die for some hare-brained cause.* Would that OWS find such a weighty case for camping out.

The media will doubtless make the UC Davis incident a modern-day Boston Massacre. Only this time, we won’t have a clue about their purpose. Their pseudo-martyrdom will only have served to ladle stupidity onto confusion. Let us hope they do not occupy our thoughts much longer.


*And by the way, if you served in Viet Nam or anywhere else in the service of our country, you have my undying gratitude and admiration. Your country put you in one hell of a bind and you did what you thought was right.


About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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