One of the key questions that has been often asked about the ‘Occupy’ protests is ‘what are your proposed alternatives?’ This, I think, is often asked with a background attitude of ‘I really don’t think you have any alternatives, do you?’ The implication being, before you moan about how bad things are, make sure you have a fully worked solution to how you can undertake improvements.
One comment on a previous posted ended with this:
What alternative ways of living are the occupiers proposing? and what alternative are you proposing? If you’re really suggesting the occupiers mutiny, as opposed to just complain, then surely that entails appropriating St Paul’s as rebel territory and mugging any banker that comes within range? If that’s not the plan, what are the new ways of living that will transform our society?
Couple of points on this.
Firstly, it is part of the corruption of power to insist that any protest or critique against the dominant system comes fully formed. When you’re being beaten down, it is entirely valid to simply scream in frustration, without any idea what changes need to be made.
Secondly, that said, I do want to reflect on the sorts of changes that I think we need to see. Importantly, they do not involve mugging bankers. In fact, in some ways it would be inappropriate to blame the bankers at all. Why? Because bankers are not ‘bad guys in an essentially good system.’ They simply lucky guys in an essentially unfair and unjust system.
Zizek makes this point in his typical style in the video above, when he comments that Hitler was never violent enough. Why? Because, however radical, he worked only to make the system work for him. Counter this, Gandhi was far more violent – why? Because he wanted to dismantle the system entirely. He wanted the whole thing to stop and change.
So the point is not to mug the bankers as some attempt to redistribute the wealth that they have pooled into their possession. The only ethic behind this is jealousy – you’ve got more than me, so give me some. The fundamental point is that we need a different system – or, more poignantly, a different ethic.
In other words, the changes that need to be made need first to come at the inner, personal level. We need to deal with our own desires to be rich and wealthy, to use more than our fair share of resources. Without that, all we are wanting is to swap places with those who have done better than ourselves out of the current system.
Interestingly, the debabcle at St Pauls fits nicely into this. Why? Because at the centre of the debate is the ethical question of what constitutes ‘Christian’ economics. What Would Jesus Do? is the right question here, but, it seems, the Anglican church has come a very long way from that original radical ethic. Compare this:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
(Acts 4, 32 – 35)
The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast.
(38th Article of the Church of England)
There are nuances and interpretations, I’m well aware. But the grandeur and opulence of St Pauls does seem to sit rather too comfortably in the Corporation of London…and does seem a very very long way away from the spirit of radical equality that the gospels and new testament talk so much about.