Friday, January 25, 2013

Occupy by Noam Chomsky

What is your one demand?
[Occupy Protester:] How likely is it that the ruling class in American could develop an openly fascist system here?

[Chomsky:] I think it's very unlikely, frankly.

Blah, blah, blah, a bunch of protesters occupied Wall Street.  The Occupied Media Pamphlet Series has published a number of pamphlets, including this one by Noam Chomsky.  Being a Chomsky fan, I was looking forward to a work addressing an explaining the occupy movement.  I was grossly disappointed.

And not because of Chomsky.  He didn't write this book. What he did, was give a number of speeches and Q&As during various Occupy events; he then, apparently, agreed to have these talks published in the form of this pamphlet.  Undoubtedly, the ideological youth of the movement were eager to have a distinguished scholar and activist's name attached.

The problem with this pamphlet is that Chomsky intentionally avoids taking any responsibility for the Occupy movement.  He supports the movement, both ideologically and practically, but he expressly disavows the role of intellectual leader of the movement.  When asked if he would "ever...allow [his] voice to relay the democratically chosen will of our nation" (whatever the fuck that's supposed to mean), he responds, "My voice wouldn't help you.  And besides, you don't want leaders; you want to do it yourselves."  He'll show Occupy the door, but they have to go through it themselves.

His response reflects a fundamental problem with the Occupy movement: it was a movement that was waiting for guidance and direction.  It was not a movement that guided; it was not a movement that had direction.  As an example, a number of times the questioners asked Chomsky about ending corporate personhood; Chomsky responds by saying, yes, that's a possibility, but let's think about this before we do anything, and let's think about what it would require to do something about it.

When the Occupy movement was happening, I was both fascinated and irritated.  I was fascinated because I liked the idea of grass-roots organization fighting the power.  I was irritated because it seemed like a bunch of people complaining about things without presenting any substantive recommendations for change.  Yes, income disparity is a problem; yes, the foreclosure crisis adversely affected regular people than it did the banks, who caused the crisis.  What are you going to do about it?  I expected this book to answer these questions or fill the gaps in whatever is behind the Occupy movement.  It did not.

And, I want to emphasize that the failure of the book is not Chomsky's fault.  The publishers of this pamphlet want it to be something it's not.  They want to present Chomsky as the intellectual architect of the movement.  He is not.  He was trying to tell Occupy to be its own intellectual architect.  I'm not sure Occupy got it.

Dear Occupy,

Explain to me what the hell you want.

Very truly yours,


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