Never throw shit at an armed man
Over the years, I have found that to be excellent advice.
A lot of you have written wondering why I haven’t yet said something about the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In fact, this is probably the single largest amount of correspondence on any single subject I’ve yet received – excluding, of course, the steady and reliable trickle of misspelled bitter hate mail generated by the America posts, that’s a gift that just keeps on giving.
Some of you expressed surprise that I haven’t yet commented on this subject. Others wondered if I would ever comment on this subject, and if so, when? Some writers expressed disappointment that I haven’t either a) enthusiastically embraced power to the people or b) forcefully rejected these torch and pitchfork waving rabble – the former being from folks who only know me online and the later being from folks who know me in real life. Some of you who don’t know me very well at all expressed extreme disappointment that I haven’t pitched a tent on the Alaskan muskeg and joined the protest. Some of you sent me polite invites to OWS events, others of you continue to flood my inbox with a continued deluge of missives both for and against the protests and have made sure that I’m aware of every outrage, both pro and con, Australia to Zucotti – and thanks for that because you helped make it easier to research this post. One person shat all over my Facebook account with fanatical verbal diarrhea, outraged that I dared make a smart Alec remark perceived as critical of certain OWS supporters – and after I blocked her nonsense, she continued to spam my email until she was blocked from that as well. She was far from the only one to email me in outrage – and the funny thing about that were the emails from people, again both for and against the protesters, who were outraged about the inflammatory articles I’ve posted here on Stonekettle Station regarding OWS (Astute readers will note that I haven’t actually written or posted any such articles, not that that technicality appears to matter. I could have and that’s what counts).
I don’t expect that this post will do much to stem the tide, and in fact I suspect that the volume of “you’re so wrong wrong wrong, you’re wrong” email to increase. I have started this post now every day for a week, and then erased it and started over – in hindsight, given the events in Oakland last night, I’m glad I waited.
I’ve exchanged correspondence with a number of you over the last few weeks as OWS took form and I know that a lot of Stonekettle Station’s regular readers are enthusiastic supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement. As such, this is a difficult post for me to write and I fully expect to lose a number of readers over it.
So be it.
I’m not in the habit of pulling punches or tempering my words and I don’t intend to start now.
Niven’s Law: Anarchy is the least stable of social structures, it falls apart at a touch
I haven’t commented on the Occupy Wall Street movement for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’ve been waiting to see how things shaped up. I wanted to see what message eventually emerged, if any.
I had certain expectations and I wanted to see if I was right.
And I was – we’ll come back to that in a minute.
I like to know who I’m getting in bed with, one way or the other.
The first and foremost reason I haven’t written about, or joined, OWS is this: I don’t like mobs.
In point of fact, I have a deep-seated aversion to large groups of angry people waving signs.
I remember the race and anti-establishment riots in the 60’s. I’ve personally been in the midst of Cold War anti-NATO riots in Europe, some violent, some just overly enthusiastic. I’ve been on the receiving end of anti-war protests here in the United States because I wore a uniform and have a military haircut. I’ve had shit thrown at me by animal rights protesters because I happened to be wearing leather boots and I received death threats from crazed PETA fanatics after I wrote a couple of articles they found offensive. I get daily hate mail from incensed Tea Party types and the religious loonies (or is that redundant?), mostly as a result of things I’ve written, such as the aforementioned America series. And I spent a lot of time in the Middle East and Africa where violent angry mobs are a daily event, very dangerous violent angry mobs.
I don’t like mobs and so far OWS has done little to convince me that the movement is anything more than just that, a large unruly mob.
I spent almost all of my adult life in the field of Intelligence. I’m a highly experienced expert in Information Warfare, which includes among other things the study of group perception and group think, mob psychology, group dynamics, information evolution in stressed populations, and especially the deliberate and/or unintentional manipulation of perceived reality both in individuals and groups.
Almost inevitably, groups tend to create their own reality, especially those that are driven by strong emotions instead of being led by clearly defined goals and strong clearly visible unified leaders. This happens with trained personnel who are supposed to be alert to the dangers of group think, such as the decision makers who convinced themselves to declare war based on a false reality that they themselves created. It happens with trained military personnel, such as those in jail for the things that happened at Abu Garrib and those currently on trial for thrill killing and head hunting in the war zone. And it is almost inevitable in large groups of emotional people without such training or leadership – especially in this age when false, corrupted, fragmentary, and manufactured information can propagate like a blast wave though the mob at the speed of social networks and cellular communications.
In many cases, joining a mob is the same as taking a mind altering drug.
The reality that exists within the mob is an altered state, and too often that state is volatile and highly unstable. Depending on a number of factors, the likelihood of a bad trip increases exponentially with the size of the mob. Large groups of emotional people without stable controls can disintegrate into violence and chaos with the slightest of triggers. Humans in groups operate far differently from individuals. Like intoxication, group-think often removes social inhibitions – add mob mentality to actual intoxication and all bets are off.
It is far too easy for large groups of angry people waving signs to turn into large groups of angry people waving sticks and throwing rocks and lighting shit on fire – as last night’s riot in Oakland demonstrates.
Oh, yes, that, i.e. the angry people waving sticks and throwing rocks and lighting shit on fire, not to mention vandalizing banks and businesses and barricading public streets and attempting to annex private property, don’t represent OWS.
Folks, unfortunately for a large majority of the watching world that violence and mob mentality does represent OWS – and it’s exactly what a lot of people were expecting, including me. Like it or not, that violence is now the public face of the Occupy movement, those are the images on every news channel from Oakland to London to Sydney to Moscow. And you don’t get to blame the media for publicizing those pictures, you light shit on fire and behave like common hoodlums and you have no right whatsoever to expect the media not to make your jackassery public. OWS is going to have to own those people and the consequences of their actions, just the same as the Tea Party gets to own the beer bellied bigots and the rednecked curbstompers waving AR-15s and misspelled signs at their rallies. If the Tea Party has to own its racists, the Occupiers have to own their anti-Semites.
Niven’s Law: No cause is so noble that it won’t attract fuggheads
I fully expected OWS to devolve into rioting at some point, I think it was inevitable and I think it will likely get worse.
At its core, OWS is about the Haves verses the Have-Nots.
Fundamentally this conflict, the one between the Haves and the Have-Nots, is the very heart of every violent revolution throughout history. From our own American Revolution to the French Revolution to the Bolshevik and Communist Revolutions to the Arab Spring. The greater the perceived disparity between the Haves and the Have-Nots, the greater the probability of violence – and that gap, the one between privileged and poor in America, widens further daily.
Now it can be argued that at least some of the Have-Nots are really Haves. I don’t know if I buy that argument completely and I think the source is certainly questionable, but even if true the conclusion misses the reason why those Haves are down in the street with the Have-Nots. It’s because they’ve read the writing on the wall and fear that they too will become the disenfranchised. Revolutions are always full of these people, they often become the leaders.
This is the fundamental difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. OWS is opposed to unfettered business, the Tea Party opposes unfettered government. The Occupiers want business out of government, the Tea Partiers want government out of business. These things may appear similar but they are in reality Yin and Yang. The only workable way for OWS to achieve its stated goal of reining in capitalism is through more government. The only way for the Tea Party to achieve its stated goal is less government. Both groups feel disenfranchised from the so-called American Dream, and both consider themselves the Have-Nots – the difference being that the Tea Partiers still think they’re going to become the Haves someday if somebody doesn’t take the opportunity away from them, the Occupiers believe that opportunity is already gone.
Ultimately that’s why the Tea Partiers aren’t rioting in the streets, they aren’t part of the power structure but they want to be. The Occupiers don’t, they want a new system, one that automatically includes them. The Tea Partiers believe that any American can become a Have, if only government would get out of the way. They believe that those who don’t become Haves must be lazy – even if many of them never seem to rise above the level of Have-Not, otherwise they wouldn’t be members of the Tea Party in the first place. The Occupiers believe that the system is rigged and that the Haves will ensure that they always remain Have-Nots.
The Tea Party blames other Have-Nots for the state of the country.
The Occupiers blame the Haves.
Same coin, different sides.
What’s that? Yes, certainly some Occupiers are communists – in the most fundamental sense of “commune.” They don’t want more government, or more business. They want everybody to live together without such things, making group decisions and cheerfully sharing the chores of civilization. Heh. This only works in Science Fiction stories (and usually not even then, otherwise it would be a damned boring story). People have been trying this since the Garden of Eden. You would have to alter the fundamental nature of human beings beyond recognition. Utopia is not for men. The cracks are already showing in Zuccotti Park, increasingly there are those that take without giving and there are jobs nobody will do. Note that up above I said that that the only workable way for the Occupiers to achieve their stated core goal of limiting capitalism is more government, whatever form that government takes – even if an unfortunate number of them don’t seem to realize the ultimate consequences of what they are demanding.
When the conflict is about the Haves verses the Have-Nots, violence is very likely and it doesn’t take much to set it off.
The Tea Partiers, for the most part, have been scrupulous about obeying the law. They’ve gotten permits and observed curfews and, usually, cleaned up after themselves. If they brings guns, it’s in accordance with ordinance and the law – even if they adamantly don’t agree with those restrictions. Again, likely this is because Tea Partiers see themselves as part of the system, they’re older, they’re conservatives, they see themselves as good law abiding citizens exercising their patriotic rights. The Occupiers want to kick over the apple cart. They don’t want to obey the laws of what they see as an unfair and unjust system that exists to keep the Haves in power at the expense of the Have-Nots. Occupiers regard breaking the rules as not only acceptable, but desirable.
They regard being arrested as a badge of honor.
Niven’s Law: Never throw shit at an armed man. Corollary: Never stand next to someone throwing shit at an armed man
The problem with this is that it makes violence and riot inevitable.
When Occupiers refuse to follow the law they put authorities in an untenable position – especially those whose job it is to enforce the law.
People wrote to me outraged when Washington DC police cracked down on Occupiers. What they failed to mention was that the Occupiers were attempting to enter the National Air And Space Museum. It should be obvious why that is unacceptable. More, the Occupiers cut off and threatened a security guard who attempted to block their entrance into the building – and that’s where they jumped the shark.
In New York, protesters blocked public roads. One Occupier defecated on the hood of a police car. A group of veterans in uniform attempted to block access to the New York Stock Exchange.
In Oakland last night, protesters blocked the port in an attempt to shut it down. Shouting protesters broke into the former Travelers Aid building in order to “reclaim the building for the people.” They blocked off public streets with barricades made of dumpsters and wood and trash – and eventually they lit those barricades on fire.
Now honestly, what did you think was going to happen?
There is no way that the government, any government, can stand by and allow that to happen. Period. The protesters were asked to cease and desist. They refused. Tear-gas and rubber bullets are inevitable at that point. And sooner or later, there are going to be real bullets – because once you start throwing shit at armed men, once you start breaking into buildings and blocking roads and lighting things on fire, you are no longer exercising your right to free speech. At that point you are a riot and you’ve given the authorities no options whatsoever. Remember, it’s not just your rights they must protect. When you smash the windows at the Oakland Wells Fargo Bank or block access to it, when you attempt to force your way into national landmarks, or block public roads, then you put the cops and the military in the position of defending the people you dislike. And they will, even if they agree in principle with you, because that’s their job – just as they will defend you when you burn the American Flag on the courthouse steps. They’re already facing the mob, they’re already having to do things they don’t want to do, they’re scared and pissed off, and if you throw burning shit at them they will bust your fucking head, or worse, because you’ve made it about us and them.
Yes, in a number of cases the police did use unreasonable force for no apparent reason – we’ve all seen those pictures of the woman being pepper sprayed in New York. And, if the reports are accurate, the cops were absolutely wrong, but smashing windows and arson are not the correct response – that leads to a cycle of escalating violence that will have only one outcome, see the previous paragraph.
And on that note: many folks wrote to me about Scott Olsen, the veteran who got hit in the head with a gas canister and ended up in the hospital with his brains scrambled. I might sympathize with his injuries and wish him a speedy recovery, but again, what the hell did you think was going to happen? You start a riot, people get hurt. That’s how it goes. If you’re worried about people getting hurt, then obey the damned police when they tell you to disperse or reap the whirlwind. I mean, shit, haven’t you been paying attention these last ten years? And if you don’t want to knuckle under to the cops, then don’t start whining when somebody gets their head busted – even if it is a vet – that’s the cost, you made the bed, lay in it. Speaking as a veteran of the same war as Scott Olsen, I just don’t see what the hell his military service has to do with anything. Does it make it more egregious because he was a vet? Shouldn’t you be just as outraged if a limp-wristed peacenik got his skull cracked? A number of those cops were likely veterans too, do you have any sympathy for them?
Ask Scott Olsen this, as a grunt on patrol in the dangerous streets of Mosul, what would he have done if faced with an unruly mob who refused to obey orders to disperse? He’d have fired tear-gas, or worse, you goddamned right he would have. So let’s just save the hypocrisy, shall we?
Niven’s Law: No technique works if it isn’t used
So what am I saying? Occupy Wall Street is stupid and futile and everybody should just go home?
No, not at all.
First and foremost, movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party are indicators of the same problem, the same issues, the same malaise. The movements may be opposite sides of the same coin, but they are the same coin and it’s important to remember that. Those occupying the gilded seats of power in Washington and Wall Street should be scared shitless right now, the savvy ones. Because what comes next are those people getting dragged from their ivory towers and hanged from the nearest lamppost.
What’s that? That would never happen here? Yeah, that’s what Gadhafi said.
The gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots is increasing, dramatically so.
For many, both here in America and elsewhere, times are tough (of course, tough times are relative, there are many, many, many people in the world who would look upon the most miserable American with unbridled envy. But that’s a different post entirely).
Increasingly our dreams of something better are receding.
People are angry. They feel disenfranchised. They feel that their leaders have let them down. They feel that government is corrupt and doesn’t listen. They feel that Wall Street is stealing their future and growing fat on their sweat.
Are they wrong? Are they wrong to want something better? Or to want things the way they used to be (even if things never were really that way)?
No, of course not.
At its core, the basic beliefs of the Occupiers are something I can get behind. End corruption. Reform Wall Street. Remove excessive influence by big business. Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Everybody gets the same opportunity for life, liberty, and happiness. Ironically, near as I can figure those are the basic tenets of the Tea Party movement as well.
It’s the methodology that I can’t abide.
I asked several dozen people associated with the Occupy Wall Street protest what is it that they want. Their answers, and the actions of their comrades last night in Oakland convinced me that I want no part of this movement. Here’s why:
Capitalism: Yesterday the Occupiers in Oakland were waving a banner that said “Down With Capitalism!” A lot of Occupiers seem to share this view point. Including those that responded to me.
OWS lost me right there.
I’ve seen dictatorships and communism and socialism up close. I believe strongly in the Free Market. However, I’ve said here and elsewhere many times that I believe, and I think history is on my side here, that capitalism must be regulated, otherwise a handful of Haves end up owning everything and the Have-Nots get to pay them for the privilege of living on the scraps. Because I’ve seen unbridled capitalism too, and it isn’t pretty. Without government regulation of capitalism there would be no middle class. Period. Don’t believe me? Go read up on the America of the Rail Tycoons and the Timber and Steel Barons, the Trusts, JP Morgan and the Rockefellers and get back to me. Take a look at our own history and see what happens to the average Have-Not when government stays out of the way of business.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m not a full-fledged flaming capitalist at heart. I believe in an America that can produce a Bill Gates and a Steve Jobs. I think America works best when there is a balance between government and business and while I think there’s certainly room for improvement in our current system, if you think I’m going to go throw Molotov cocktails in the street with the Marxists, well you don’t know me at all. You’ll see me at a Tea Party rally before that happens.
End the Fed: I find it ironic as all hell that Occupiers are waving signs that read “End the Fed.” I initially wondered if they borrowed the signs from their Tea Party neighbors, but then I saw that the signs were all spelled correctly (Heh heh, sorry). End the Fed? Seriously? The Federal Reserve exists for a number of very good reasons – not the least of which is the fact without it this recession might very well have become another Great Depression. But never mind that, if there was no Fed, then the United States would have to keep its money in regular banks, say like Bank of America or Wells Fargo – you know, the same banks the Occupiers are pissed off at. You think Wall Street is powerful now? Imagine if they really were the actual bank of America and without accountability to the citizens. Honestly, are you goofy?
Now, does that mean that I don’t think the system needs closer scrutiny? Better oversight? Tighter regulation? Much greater accountability to the citizens of the United States? I think there’s plenty of room for improvement. I’ve risked my life in the combat zone and I’ve been known to tilt at windmills, However I’ll tell you what I’m not willing to do, I’m not willing to take a round in the forehead for improved banking laws or Wall Street overhaul. I think there are much better ways to achieve that goal, ways that don’t involve a stay in intensive care or eating pudding through a straw for the rest of my life.
The answers I got from the OWS folks are many and varied:
They (the banks) took bailout money paid for by our tax dollars. We’re hurting, they’re paying their executives million dollar bonuses. We lost our houses, they took our money and now they’re living in the lap of luxury in the Hamptons. We lost our jobs, they took our money and outsourced our jobs to Asia. They get the best healthcare money can buy, we’d better not get sick. They get richer, we get poorer. They gave business the same rights as people, now people have no rights. They took away our right to bargain collectively, then threaten to send our jobs overseas if we don’t give up benefits and pay. They demand tax breaks in order to create jobs, then they create jobs overseas. They want to increase what we pay for Social Security and Medicare, yet they pay no taxes. They hold students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education but then refuse to hire us so we can pay off those debts. They control the courts, and government is in their pocket. They have sold our privacy as a commodity. They control the media. They wage war for profit.
There’s more, but those should give you the basic gist.
Maybe I agree with some of those things. Maybe I think OWS has a point when it comes to certain complaints. Maybe I think the Tea Party does too.
But here’s my question: how does lighting shit on fire fix any of that?
How does sleeping in tents on the sidewalk change anything? How does getting yourself arrested over and over help you find a job? How does shitting on the hood of a police car increase the accountability of Wall Street bankers? How does shutting down the Port of Oakland in any way whatsoever help the situation – other than to foul up shipping schedules and increase costs for already strapped consumers and deprive port workers of a night’s wages? How?
Here’s the thing: those assholes? The ones that caused this? The John Thanes. The Bernie Madoffs. The Stan O’Neals. Ken Lewis. Rex Tillerson. The 1%. They don’t care. You can chant and dance and sing and protest and throw rocks from now until the sun burns out and they will not give a shit. You can burn down Oakland and Detroit and Central Park. They live in gated communities and work fifty stories above the street and they can’t even hear you. These are people who stole billions. These are people who took the life savings of widows and orphans and foreclosed on crippled veterans without a shred of remorse. And they did it for decades. These are people who lost trillions of dollars and then held out their hands to the taxpayer for more. These are people who took government subsidies and and cleared $41 Billion in profit in three months, and then charged you $4.50 a gallon at the pump. These are people who took $25 Billion in taxpayer bailouts, and then tried to charge people $5 dollars a month to use their own money.
If these people had any shame whatsoever, if they could be influenced in any way by the wailing of the little people, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
They don’t give a fuck what happens to you.
They don’t care how loud you cry. Or how much you suffer.
So then what? Is there no recourse? Can we do nothing? Why then not riot in the streets? Yes, why the hell not burn it all down?
Because we are Americans, Goddamn it.
We have better ways to change things than rioting in the street like third world rabble. Your ancestors died to give you that.
You want to change things? Really change things? Then get off your ass and do something that actually matters.
You’ll turn out to chant and wave signs, you’ll turn out to throw rocks and burn dumpsters full of trash, you’ll spent a month sleeping in a tent in on a sidewalk, you’ll sing folk songs and hold hands – but you won’t turn out to vote.
People keep electing the same assholes over and over – my own state of Alaska is a perfect example. Biggest vote of the year, our boy Don Young goes fishing. No worries, he’ll get reelected until he dies and maybe even then.
Look at the last midterm elections. You wonder why you have a gridlocked Congress?
In Wisconsin, people were outraged at the government. Outraged that the governor took away collective bargaining rights. They were so outraged they demanded a recall election. They could have changed things, instead far too many folks stayed home, I guess they weren’t that outraged after all.
How many of you have said, well, you know, I probably won’t even vote this time around. I’ve lost faith in Obama. I don’t like the Republicans. I’m staying home. Or maybe I’ll write in Bozo The Clown, it’s like getting arrested, it makes a statement. What statement? Nobody give a shit if you get arrested and nobody gives a shit if you write in Bozo the Clown.
Niven’s Law: Not responsible for advice not taken
You want to do something?
Use the Occupy rallies to educate people instead of lighting shit on fire. Stop getting people arrested and educate them on the issues. Make sure they’re registered to vote. Demand a voter registration card as the price of admission. Encourage them to vote. Encourage them to encourage their friends to vote. Encourage them to encourage their families to vote. Over and over.
Clearly define your goals. If you don’t know what you’re fighting for, you’ll never win. If you don’t have leaders, if you don’t have goals, then you’ll never be anything more than a mob.
Obey the law and make damned sure everybody else does too. If you don’t like the law then elect people who will change it to be more the way you want.
It’s not enough to decry the violence. You have to stop it. Now. Period. You want people like me to join your cause? Not likely, not while you’re lighting shit on fire. I spent my whole life protecting this country, I’m not going to let you burn it down.
You want to get the banks’ attention, you want to make them notice you? You can withdraw your money, sure, and put it in a credit union. But it won’t make a damned bit of difference. Banks lose that much money in ten minutes, they don’t care. You want to make a real dent in Chase’s bottom line? Get business to close their accounts. Only you won’t win over many businesses if you’re smashing out their fucking windows and blocking their driveways or blockading the port through which they move their products.
You want to make a difference? Then stop trying to tear down the system and use it the way it was designed to be used.
You want to know why the Tea Party won the last election? Because that’s exactly what they did – and it worked.
It worked exactly the way the people who founded this country designed it to work.
You want to make a difference?
Then have some faith in the United States of America.
Update: Follow up post is here: Occupy Stonekettle Station, The Follow Up
Attention: I know some of you are very passionate about this subject. I know that some of you will strongly disagree with this post. That’s fine. You are allowed to speak your peace, but remember the commenting rules, disregard them at your own peril.
For folks surfing in who are not familiar with Stonekettle Station, read the commenting rules first. Heed and obey. I mean it.