Monday, July 9, 2012

The Trouble with Occupy

If the Occupy movement eventually flounders without achieving its goals, it will likely do so because of self-righteousness.

Let me explain that statement. As most of you probably know, I have been a supporter of Occupy from the beginning, even before it caught on in mainstream media (luckily, one of my professors had picked it up on his radar and shared it with the class). I believe that our global society has major flaws and I also believe in the human ability to come up with something better. Contrary to those who see Occupy as a negative, complaining crowd, I experience it as a positive expression of faith in humanity's power for good. I see examples of this goodness every day and it inspires me to keep learning and growing and working for a better, more equitable future.

But what frustrates me about Occupy is that there are many supporters who have their hearts in the right place and yet suffer from a sense of self-righteousness akin to religious zealots. Now, this mindset is not always present and it's certainly not exclusive to Occupy. You see it just as strongly among people who are forcibly opposed to the movement for no other reason than that they are opposed to it (as far as I can tell from conversations I've had with them).

The problem with Occupy is that this mentality can be lethal. Not only will it repel others who haven't made up their mind about the movement, but it is also counterproductive to the movement's own professed goals. Democracy doesn't come from me telling you that anything you have believed thus far is a lie and that you're ignorant and wrong, after which I walk off, smug and secure in my own self-confirmation.

To build something new, we all have to change our minds. All of us. We can't build something new while preserving something old. It's uncomfortable to change (for me as much as for anyone), but the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's like stretching, as Jason would say.

I believe that this self-righteousness stems from assumptions about an imaginary Them and Us. If you are not agreeing with me, you must be on the other side. Clearly (or not), this is counterproductive, since it doesn't allow for new ideas to grow or for the emergence of a more inclusive society. It just shifts the power imbalance in someone else's favour.

Although stemming from a different context, I believe the following quote holds true for Occupy and any group trying to make communal decisions:
The members thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should any one oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion a decision be carried unanimously, well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.- Shoghi Effendi (emphasis added)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting, especially the use of the quote from Shoghi Effendi.