Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Thoughts on socialism and leftism generally

Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Elliott » 17 Apr 2012, 04:35

The Occupy movement seems to just go on and on. I thought it was over last year but they're still active now, and it seems to have caught on as a "meme", a lifestyle sub-choice that can mutate and pop up anywhere with the "Occupy" name lending credence almost randomly.

My own feelings about the Occupy movement are that, while it attacks a deserving target (financial corruption, government in league with big business, etc.) their whole attitude is naive and stuck in the late '60s. Ever since the Summer of Love there seems to have been a longing to self-righteously kick back against capitalism, tradition and whatever structures of society one can be annoyed with - a longing to tune in and drop out.

Of course every generation thinks it is wiser than the one before, and has a holy mandate to undo its predecessor's failings - Occupy is just the version of that for the Millennials. As such it has some unique characteristics:

  • This is the information age, when WWW-savvy egomaniacs like Julian Assange can claim an almost Christ-like righteousness even while they are plainly nasty people - that they are against the system is enough, more than enough. The information age promotes the mistaken belief (exemplified by Julian Assange) that information yields wisdom, as if simply pouring data into a person improves them. Denying people information is equated with denying them wisdom. Thus, wisdom becomes cheap and meaningless even while it is held up as precious and meaningful. At the same time, information becomes mere cannon fodder and if it doesn't support the desired opinion, it is casually dismissed ("this information didn't make me 'wise', so it must be bad information").
  • This is also the age of the welfare state, in which demented leftists like Laurie Penny can claim that her generation (of which she is a self-appointed "voice") are on a righteous mission to combat capitalism, oppression, xenophobia and all other unpleasant things. For such people, the state is simultaneously the enemy and the friend, sinner and saint, womb and warzone. Nothing will ever be enough for these people. They are big babies.
  • We live in a globalised, multicultural and "connected" world in which Indian culture can pop up in a Western college campus and claim to be rescuing Westerners from the horrid lifestyle imposed on them by their evil society. This results in sandal-wearing, tambourine-caressing pseudo-cults like Generation Waking Up and House of Peace, as committed to "peace" as they are to the end of the West as we know it. But these are sheer indulgences - watch this video from GWU and try to discern a single solid recommendation as opposed to endless feel-good platitudes. These are kids who think nice fluffy ideas are enough, just like the hippies did 45 years ago. There is always this desire to wipe the slate clean because the past was wholly awful - yet who would want to work in a company or live in a town run by these people? They would be as intolerant as any dictator, with the added flaw of total incompetence. (At least Mussolini did get the trains running on time!)

So we have quite a variety of rebellion - ranging from the happy-clappy pseudo-cults who believe nice ideas are enough, to the hardcore nihilistic skepticism of Julian Assange and the Guy Fawkes crowd, who seem to believe in nothing whatsoever. For all, activism is seen as "right", a ticket to feeling good about oneself.

I am convinced that, even when a cause is worthwhile, it is often fought not for its own sake but to allay the personal insecurities of the activist. It is always easier to moan about society's flaws than to confront your own ones.

But there is also a sense in which, since Western culture increasingly doesn't seem to stand for anything, young people don't really know how to be good people - so blindly disapproving of the West begins to seem like a safe bet. ("If people know I'm against the Bilderbergers etc., I will certainly get lucky tonight.") This requires no thought at all, just a vague notion that society is bad.

I can illustrate this with a concrete example. A Facebook friend of mine is involved in a pseudo-cultish peace organisation that campaigns poetically against Western civilisation. Even while her city is being over-run and transformed by Muslims into a rape-ridden, robbery-stricken, Third World ghetto where blonde women have to dye their hair black to avoid taunts from Muslim thugs, apparently it is Western society that is sick! Anyway, here is a conversation my friend and I had last week about her activism:

Elliott wrote:Johanna, I noticed you shared an image saying that we live in a sick society. What do you think is sick about Western civilisation?

Johanna wrote:Eeeeehhh, I would need to write a book to answer that...

Elliott wrote:I know, it's a very general question. But I'm curious about what annoys you about living in the West... Is it stuff like financial corruption, the bank bail-outs, the corruption in the EU, etc.?

Johanna wrote:Our destruction of the earth and each other. Thinking we are gods. Blindness. Ignorance. Aren't you frustrated about that?

Elliott wrote:These things do sound frustrating, but I don't know what you mean by them. How are we ignorant? How are we blind? How do we destroy each other? How do we think we are gods?


She has never replied to that last message. I take this as a sign that she doesn't want her rebellion analysed in any way - she simply wants other people to affirm it, to say "yes Johanna, you're a good person for having these feelings". Real problems, and real solutions, are completely beneath her heavenly radar.

Mark Steyn speaks about a woman who seems to have a similar, head-in-the-sand attitude and, at all costs, will try to blame the West rather than the non-West. Just as it is easier to "fight" the world's problems than one's own, so it is morally easier to despise one's own society than the Other.

I think this carte blanche refusal to acknowledge the merits of Western civilisation, and to find any reason to criticise it, and to focus exclusively on its flaws, is really the basis for the middle-class youth rebellion that has become fashionable in the West. It is inspired by a kind of spoilt-child impetuousness and impatience, but is galvanised by the failure of the West to raise its children properly. Culturally, they are orphans seeking a place in the world because they are convinced the identity they were born with is rotten. It goes round in circles really: you'll be impatient with your identity if you think it is rotten, and you'll think it is rotten if you're impatient with it.

But perhaps that is to caricature and deride the complaints of Occupy et al. I do agree with them that the bank bail-outs shouldn't have happened, that it would have been better to let these corporations go to the wall rather than get our countries in massive debt for generations to come. Even if one disagrees with that, at least it is a genuine and discernible cause. But I suspect that the GFC is really just an excuse for something that had been brewing for decades: a youth culture which will not be satisfied with anything, and which sees rebellion/activism/skepticism/mistrust of authority as a righteous way to be.

Put simply, the West's children will not defend it because it has become a spineless parent, spoiling them and leading them to think they should expect it to deliver everything.

I shall leave you with a message from Generation Waking Up, wishing you a happy Christmas. Rather, they would wish you a happy Christmas if they could bring themselves to utter the C word...

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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Caleb » 17 Apr 2012, 05:41

Elliott: I don't know, really. I think I was fairly clueless about most things in my twenties, and I think most of the people I knew were also, so I think you're right that this has been brewing for decades. Becoming more responsible -- having a job, a house, kids -- seems to knock sense into people fairly quickly. I know I started to become more responsible in my thirties, but I've only become laser focussed now that we're thinking about having kids.

However, a lot of people have been absolved of this sense of responsibility, or had it delayed. In the case of it being absolved, I'm talking about things like access to easy credit or welfare (in some senses, not that different). In the case of having responsibility delayed, I'm thinking of people living with their parents much later than they would have in previous generations.

That said, I can also understand why a certain number of young people are really annoyed. In some ways, they've done everything expected of them. They have studied hard, worked hard, consumed hard (everyone older than them mocks them for being so consumeristic, yet those people mocking them have also been the ones urging them to be consumeristic, often from since they were born) and so on. Now the present young generation is saddled with massive debt, including student debt. Making that even worse is very poor employment opportunities and horrible prospects of ever repaying that student debt. They see that the institutions and the reputation of the West have taken a massive hit in the past decade, and they are right in saying that this has largely been out of their hands, but it is a mess they will have to live with long after other generations have disappeared. Even things like the environment weigh upon them. If climate change does turn out to be true, its effects will hardly be felt by the Baby Boomers, who will be long gone by mid-century when the world is predicted to end in a giant hurricane/tsunami/famine.

However, I do think they're completely misdirected in their criticisms. I can sympathise though. I was similarly naive when I was young.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Elliott » 17 Jun 2012, 16:04

Someone else I'm "friends" with on Facebook is a guy I knew at art college 12 years ago.

Back then, he (let's call him Resa) was pursuing a kind of yuppie identity. Despite being Finnish he had a New York accent and would be aggressive in his conversations no matter whom he was speaking to. Talking to Resa was like being in the presence of an 80s film character, a caricature of the Wall Street yuppie. He was openly obsessed with money and power and saw himself as destined for large amounts of both. Resa had absolutely no self-awareness, no ability to laugh at himself. He considered himself incredible and everyone else pathetic.

Some quotes to illustrate this:

You're a cool guy, you've got style. But listen. If you wanna f*** a girl in the ass then get her to suck your d*** afterwards, it's not about how you look, it's about your arretood.


[In this movie] we're gonna use lots of digital effects... because digital effects... smell of money.


Do I want you as a secretary? Well look, man, I f***ed my last secretary and no offence but I don't wanna f*** you.


As you can imagine, we gentle art students were rather perplexed to have this creature in our midst!

Anyway, at some point in the 12 years since then, Resa seems to have had some kind of breakdown. Recovering, he changed his "cultural identity" out of recognition.

Resa is now very peace-loving, "open", etc. He now despises capitalism and distrusts all authority. He has latched on to the Occupy thing and now posts stuff like the following on Facebook, a quote from J. Krishnamurti:

When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.


It's interesting to compare Resa with the woman I mentioned in the OP. Both have latched on to Occupy and to Indian spiritual gobbledygook. Both despise capitalism and authority and see the West as poisonous. Both believe "something better" is possible. Both grew up in Scandinavia and, after a brief period at an English art college, returned thereto, so their cultural environment has been profoundly Western and predominantly Scandinavian. In their formative years they would have been surrounded by very few, if any, non-white people.

Resa and the Swedish girl were nothing like each other 12 years ago (they're still not friends on Facebook). Yet, around the age of 30, both have arrived at the conclusion that the West is sick and needs to be transformed out of recognition. Both believe that this transformation should be a radical departure from Western history, and probably mainly based on Eastern influences. While they dismiss everything good about the West and focus on its flaws, they dismiss everything bad about the East and focus on cuddly, vague, Indian spiritualism - both being fans of Gandhi and Krishnamurti.

Of course I realise that a survey of two is no survey at all, but it does interest me how little faith young Westerners seem to have in Western culture. That's an understatement: they are really quite adamantly against it.

Resa seems like a worthy study in himself. How did he change so radically from the 23 year-old I knew, the man who craved material gain - money, power, sex, women - to this confused, gentle thing I now see on Facebook? It's as if he has been emasculated. In some ways, of course, that has had a good effect: he is no longer the testosterone missile that roamed our campus. But in other ways, I worry for him, because I think he now has no cultural underpinnings. At least when he was a yuppie, he could defend himself against nihilism. Now he simply believes in "love". He puts photos of himself up smiling gently at the camera, as if begging for approval.

I think that in some ways Resa reflects the West's own malaise. He had capitalism/consumerism as the whole of his identity. It didn't work out for him. So now he's abandoning everything that made him take on that mission. Having jettisoned his culture, when the onslaught comes he will be naked against it.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Caleb » 18 Jun 2012, 14:47

Elliott: When my wife an I travelled in Southeast Asia for about five months in 2010, I must have been the angriest person in the whole region. I was always yelling and swearing at locals as well as other tourists to stop lying to me, stop trying to rip me off, and generally to stop being idiots. I told locals they lived like slobs and animals for having huge piles of plastic bags right next to their villages, or even in their temples. I didn't care. I just gave it straight to them. Much of Asia is not the hippie trail. Much of Asia is litter, environmental degradation, little kids being sold into prostitution, little kids being forced to sell trinkets instead of going to school, locals lying to stupid foreigners and ripping them off, foreigners taking advantage of locals, locals taking advantage of each other and so on. It's all that stuff from Slumdog Millionaire, only without the happy ending.

In the whole time I was there, I met a few other foreigners who were reasonable. They were not particularly political though, and didn't discuss deep issues, which was actually okay because it was a break from all the usual nonsense. I met only one guy who I would say was interesting, intelligent and sensible. He was a Swiss guy who worked as a derivatives trader. Of course, you can imagine that he was pretty reluctant to admit that. Once he found out that I didn't care, and actually have a minor interest in finance myself, we started talking about all sorts of interesting things, though we only spent a little time together before we went our separate ways. By the end of my trip, I was even more jaded about foreigners and the state of Western culture than ever before. In fact, I became (and still am to some degree) downright reclusive regarding other Westerners (and I'm also that way to a large degree with indigenous Asians).

The thing what really stuck me about travelling in Southeast Asia though was that I wouldn't even describe it as a hippie trail now. There are still a few of those around, and the more I got off the beaten path (such as into some pretty remote parts of Laos, or generally in Myanmar), the more it surfaced to some degree. Yet I think the hippies, or their modern equivalents, have probably moved on in some ways, but in others, I don't think they really exist anymore at all.

What struck me was the cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, people will tell you all about how evil capitalism is, how it destroys indigenous cultures, the environment, etc. Yet they'll tell you this in the midst of a place like Vang Vieng in Laos (look that place up -- I actually cut my foot on a nail on a floor, so I literally couldn't run away!).

Two people really stand out in my mind. One, I think I have talked about before. In short, he started telling me about how there was a federal right wing conspiracy in Canada to keep people dumb because he didn't know what an MP was. Firstly, when he went to school, the federal government wasn't conservative. Secondly, I'm sure he did learn what an MP was in school, he just wasn't paying attention or didn't turn up for class. Thirdly, I asked him if he thought it might be incumbent upon him to use the internet or a public library to find out what an MP was. He then replied that that's the government's job, to which I replied that according to him, they're trying to keep him dumb, so of course they're not going to tell him! He then went on to roll out the usual list of issues, including being anti-corporate. Yet he later told me about two really cool jobs he had back in Canada. The first was giving out BlackBerry paraphernalia and raffle tickets to win BlackBerries to people who filled out a form, all at a shopping mall! The second was a similar job for a beer company. By the end of the conversation, I was just nodding along because the whole thing was so absurd. Unfortunately, I was stuck with the clown because our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere.

The other guy, also a Canadian, funnily enough, is someone I knew from Taiwan. I was getting to the point where I was really sick of him, and a whole series of events with him one weekend when he and another friend flew in to meet us in Cambodia led me to dropping the friendship.

Anyway, this guy is just about the most rapacious consumer I know. Yet he also perfectly embodies PC, cultural relativism and all the rest of it at the same time. By his own admission, the first two things he looks for whenever he arrives anywhere in Southeast Asia are a "massage and a mango". Other annoying and stupid conversations involved where to buy cheap knock off goods in Manilla, and his sexual exploits in various countries. We were at Angkor Wat, and I'd just harangued two separate groups of Chinese tourists in Chinese (who were at first amused that I was speaking Chinese to them, and then freaked out that I was giving them a serve) who had 1) started kissing at a temple (there's one place where, viewed from a certain angle, it looks like your nose is touching Buddha's nose and they took it one step further), 2) stood on an ancient balustrade for a photo, despite it being cordoned off and having a sign (with a picture) about not standing on the balustrade, so I was already in fine form.

At one point, he grabbed some joss sticks and started doing praying motions, as the locals do. I asked him if he were Buddhist and he said that he wasn't, that he was a Christian. I pointed out (as a non Christian!) that the Ten Commandments actually prohibit the worship of other gods or their images, and asked him if he remembered what happened to the guys with the golden calf. Of course, he'd never heard of the golden calf. A conversation about cultural relativism ensued, so I asked him, with his acceptance of all cultures (really, the locals must regard people like him with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance, all the while thinking about how they can get a buck out of them), and his deep experience and appreciation of Southeast Asian culture, what the two main sects of Buddhism are, and which form is practised in Cambodia. Of course, he didn't know. It was a bit like that bit in the Mark Steyn video about multiculturalism where, after hearing about how poverty leads to... he says, "Oh yeah, what's the capital of Saudi Arabia?" There was something deliciously amusing about the whole conversation, whilst being incredibly frustrating at the same time.

Grief. Where do these people come from? Actually, I know exactly. They are the perfect end point of the education systems in many Western nations now. The first Canadian guy is actually right in a sense. I think there is some level of conspiracy (a lot of it is probably opportunistic) to keep people dumb. This doesn't come from conservatism though. It comes from an extreme leftist group and an extreme rightist/corporatist group, both of whom are extremely nihilistic, and both of whom seek the destruction of Western culture, and its inherently conservative, analytical, sceptical nature for their own gain. It's interesting that at times, they can coexist, and at other times, they run up against each other. In a strange way, it's almost like a modern Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Of course, I doubt either of those two guys I described above would have any idea what the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was, and that is precisely my point.

The great irony in all of this was that despite being highly critical of much of what went on in Southeast Asia, and also sceptical about the cultures there generally, I was probably more respectful of the locals (when they weren't trying to rip me off!) than almost anyone I met. Aside from sunburning easily, I just wouldn't go around without a shirt anyway. I always approached any religious space slowly and carefully, making sure that locals wouldn't take offence at my presence, I didn't just take photos of people (especially monks), etc. Yet the average PC/cultural relativist poseur I met would be naked from the waist up, with a beer in hand, about to walk into a temple with his shoes on or literally waving a camera in a monk's face. However, I'd like to also add that Southeast Asians have often tacitly encouraged this kind of behaviour by whoring their communities out. I understand the economics of it, but one of my big insights during the whole trip was that tourism is actually not a good thing (probably including economically, in the long term) when there's a large disparity of wealth between the two parties. This is also not solely a Western-Other issue. As I mentioned above, Chinese tourists are rapidly acquiring a pretty bad international reputation. It's also interesting to note that as a culture, in ways that have great parallels to the West, they simultaneously hold an incredible arrogance and disrespect for other cultures, yet have also gone about putting their entire culture in the toilet (during the Cultural Revolution) and obsessing over the "Other" and developing a weird inferiority complex regarding that culture (the Sino-Western relationship, as well as the Sino-Japanese relationship to a much lesser degree, is pretty bizarre, actually).

Apologies for any typos and so on, but I haven't had much time to proof read this and I need to go to sleep (I really want to comment in the Dalai Lama thread too, but will have to do so tomorrow).
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Michael » 18 Jun 2012, 15:13

Resa seems like a worthy study in himself. How did he change so radically from the 23 year-old I knew, the man who craved material gain - money, power, sex, women - to this confused, gentle thing I now see on Facebook? It's as if he has been emasculated. In some ways, of course, that has had a good effect: he is no longer the testosterone missile that roamed our campus. But in other ways, I worry for him, because I think he now has no cultural underpinnings. At least when he was a yuppie, he could defend himself against nihilism. Now he simply believes in "love". He puts photos of himself up smiling gently at the camera, as if begging for approval.


I think your acquaintance has suffered a profound blow to his self-confidence. Some time in the intervening twelve years he realized that he wasn't the young go-getter he wanted to believe he was (and even that may have been only a way of distinguishing himself from his peers). Likely it was a mask for insecurity. Now that he has had to come face to face with is inadequacies he has retreated to blaming his society rather than facing up to the flaws in himself and changing his expectations and desires. It is a common move. The bulk of the members of the fascist and Communist movements of the previous century were made up of such people.

Eric Hoffer, one of my very favourite twentieth century philosophers, had a brilliant observation about the nature of protests against wealth. Hoffer did not believe that greed was virtuous, but that people who are inordinately outraged by it are not themselves much more virtuous:

"We clamor for equality chiefly in matters in which we ourselves cannot hope to attain excellence. To discover what a man truly craves but knows he cannot have we must find the field in which he advocates absolute equality. By this test Communists are frustrated Capitalists."


Another:

"We all have private ails. The troublemakers are they who need public cures for their private ails."


While I agree with Elliott that the Occupy protests have picked a worthy target (collusion of big government and big business to protect the latter from the consequences of their misjudgments) that is hardly their only target. Listening to alleged representatives speak for the movement I find that it is a swarming mass of causes, all united only by being anti-Western. The ignorance of these people of history, economics, and many other things is astonishing. They are almost all if not uneducated then, worse, half-educated.

Worst of all, they have chosen to live in a symbol, enjoying the pseudo-virtue of protesting against something rather than actually doing something about the ills they rail at. Perhaps this is because, if those ills were fixed or reduced, they would have no center to themselves any more, no orient.

I wrote about the Occupy Movements twice before on my old blog, Strategy and Survival. In the first, I visited an Occupy Wall Street satellite protest in Edmonton, Alberta, and wrote up my impressions. In the second, I discuss the dangers of providing university educations en masse not for personal betterment but for explicitly economic motives.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Elliott » 30 Jun 2012, 02:59

I'm sorry that I haven't replied to Michael and Caleb's posts. I have something written but the topic is quite big so the post isn't ready yet.

In the meantime, here is a perfect example of the thread's subject:

Image

A total lack of faith in - and feigned moral superiority over - the West.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Gavin » 30 Jun 2012, 08:18

Yes, this is a little one sided, isn't it? There is nothing evil about working for a living, and not everybody wants to work for themselves!

Yes, it can go too far sometimes. People can work too hard, for too long, in jobs they really don't like, in which case they should probably re-train, but it doesn't mean the whole system is broken.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Michael » 30 Jun 2012, 22:29

Yes, it can go too far sometimes. People can work too hard, for too long, in jobs they really don't like, in which case they should probably re-train, but it doesn't mean the whole system is broken.


Because I am young and university educated people of a radical and progressive bent expect me to agree wholeheartedly with them in their denunciation of 'the System'. I derive a great (though nasty) pleasure from bursting their balloons of self-satisfaction. When they talk about how 'the people' are blinded to their exploitation by propaganda and advertising, I point out to them that they are accusing the mass of humanity of being Natural Slaves, a term of Aristotle's to denote those who, lacking the capacity to employ reason, to distinguish between need and desire and make good judgments about how to live. The protestor and radicals efforts to free such people from their supposed illusions are pointless as they are, by the protestors own characterization of them, incapable of being free.

Depressingly, many of these same people, while objecting to my characterization of their views of humanity, clearly want to be the masters. Eric Hoffer said that in any protest movement you will see the faces of would-be commissars.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Elliott » 03 Jul 2012, 01:54

Michael and Caleb, I think you have given two different but equally fascinating explanations for the cretins being produced by Western tertiary education.

To take Michael's explanation first...

Michael wrote:The ignorance of these people of history, economics, and many other things is astonishing. They are almost all if not uneducated then, worse, half-educated.

... the dangers of providing university educations en masse not for personal betterment but for explicitly economic motives.


I agree that there is a big danger in giving university education to people "en masse", for several reasons. The first is that it requires that standards be lowered, in order for a large fraction of the population to be able to handle it (this has certainly happened in Britain, where we now have degrees in hairdressing). The second is that, having given degrees to a huge number of people, one has created a large social group who consider themselves intelligent and educated, many of whom will be neither intelligent nor educated (in the good, 1920s Oxbridge sense of the word).

This is dangerous for the economy, because they will believe themselves entitled to high-prestige jobs - meaning that many such jobs will have to be created in order to sustain the delusion. So you end up with legions of bureaucrats and paper-shufflers and busy-bodies, doing nothing productive and very likely slowing down those who are productive.

But it is also dangerous for culture, because it feeds that disgusting idea that you're as clever as anyone else, so no-one should talk down to you, and if they do they're "up themselves", and people who like fancy stuff like art and philosophy are just pretentious because they're no cleverer than you with your degree in Media Studies. In short it upsets the whole equilibrium and turns sanity on its head. We end up with new definitions of "clever" and "educated": "clever" is to know a word like "semiotics", and "educated" is to have read a book about semiotics, written an essay on semiotics, and sat an exam about semiotics.

(That Swedish girl I mentioned is a good example of this. She probably considers herself intelligent and educated yet, pressed on her beliefs, she has no answers and just goes silent. She couldn't engage on her favourite subject at even the most superficial level. Yet, that she "cares" about the subject will undoubtedly be considered by her as evidence that she is intelligent and educated. But now we mean "educated" in some new sense: basically, to think Western civilisation sick is to be "educated" - for who but an ignoramus could think that the West is benign?)

Educating people en masse at degree level is dangerous for yet another reason, which is that impressionable young adults can be filled with drivel under the guise of "education", especially when their self-image of being clever hinges on them accepting the drivel. People can be made pliable with flattery. I am pretty sure that a friend of mine was tricked into trusting everything his Marxist lecturers said by being frequently told by them that he, personally, was fantastic. Now, if they were wrong in the cranky theories and resentment diatribes they spouted, perhaps they were also wrong about him being fantastic? Best just to assume they're right about the West being evil, etc.

Perhaps there was always a danger with educated people that they would, by being educated, assume superiority and come to lose their curiosity. But what we have in our time is that people without any curiosity to begin with, people who have no interest in anything really, are having that dullness sanctified by fake education.

The big irony about all of this, come to think of it, is that so many people are proudly becoming academics at the same time as academics are increasingly despised and not trusted, which prompts the question: what do they think they have achieved by going to university?!


Caleb wrote:Grief. Where do these people come from? Actually, I know exactly. They are the perfect end point of the education systems in many Western nations now. The first Canadian guy is actually right in a sense. I think there is some level of conspiracy (a lot of it is probably opportunistic) to keep people dumb. This doesn't come from conservatism though. It comes from an extreme leftist group and an extreme rightist/corporatist group, both of whom are extremely nihilistic, and both of whom seek the destruction of Western culture, and its inherently conservative, analytical, sceptical nature for their own gain. It's interesting that at times, they can coexist, and at other times, they run up against each other. In a strange way, it's almost like a modern Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Of course, I doubt either of those two guys I described above would have any idea what the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was, and that is precisely my point.


The on-off alliance between left and right is difficult to grasp because one assumes that each side is principled (by nature) and will balk at cooperating with the other. But we live in a strange age in which people perform moral gymnastics in order to keep their jobs - or even in the course of doing their jobs.

Five years ago I was going insane as a result of the public smoking bans in England and Scotland. I wanted to understand why this dramatic and absolutist cultural change was being implemented. I didn't believe the public health argument. So I wanted some other explanation, and this led to a dilemma: either it was because of right-wing corporatist elements (big pharmaceutical companies hoping to make money from nicotine replacement drugs, etc.) or it was left-wing, statist, PC social engineering, probably state health bodies (the NHS) lording it over the public. Of course it was more complex than that but it boiled down to this reduction in civil liberty either being "caused" by left-wing elements or right-wing elements. It took me a while to realise that the two, whilst fundamentally opposed, could still have common interests and "join up" for these little victories. An unholy alliance.

For example, a state body may collude with a corporation which is trying to sell a product whose sales will be increased by the state body's goal being achieved (which event will also get the state body more funding and prestige). When you add professional lobbying companies to that mix, things get even more confused. By the time you've got politicians flirting with big business and building little empires that need cash injections, the situation is toxic.

Tony Blair was happy to take bribes from Formula 1 to allow them to continue tobacco advertising - but a few years later he was also happy to give fortunes yearly to an anti-smoking "charity" that only gets 0.2% of its funding from public donations.

The whole thing is a viper's nest, and it makes you realise just how corrupt things are in the higher echelons of our society.

As for a conspiracy, there is no real need for one if money is changing hands, because that is enough to get many people "on message". I think this is what Caleb meant by "opportunistic". A big, sinister conspiracy is only necessary if people need to be persuaded intellectually.

Finally, the question of organisations wanting to dumb the public down...

I am never sure about this. If there was some kind of conspiracy to dumb people down, those in charge of it would have to very good grounds for assuming that the dumbing down would not endanger their own wealth/power/freedom. In other words they'd have to be confident the economy would keep running with a stupid populace. That theory would be plausible if the economy ran on manufacturing jobs in which tasks were routine and knowledge was not important. But it doesn't. It runs on services, communication, engineering, programming and design - the last 4 especially requiring a worker to be very knowledgeable and mentally agile. So if there is a conspiracy to dumb people down, it is also a conspiracy to destroy the Western economies.

There's also the fact that we live in the so-called "information age". I don't know whether it's possible to dumb people down in such an age. Perhaps it is more possible?
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Gavin » 03 Jul 2012, 10:26

Another problem with encouraging everyone to go to university, of course, is that it is not right for everyone. The fact of the matter is that some people are best as panel beaters, others as plasterers, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is ludicrous and indeed insulting to them to insist that they must go to university and do what others, with different aptitudes, can do.

Yes, opportunities must not be denied for the truly capable (I thought that's what scholarships were for) but it can't be "prizes for all".
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Caleb » 04 Jul 2012, 01:14

Elliott: I have mixed feelings about going to university.

On the one hand, I was terribly disappointed with the experience. To misappropriate Marx (Groucho, not Karl), I was upset to attend an institution that would allow someone like me to attend. I was surrounded by dullards, yet I also realised I was probably pretty average amongst that group, so I was also part of the problem. At the end of my first year, I actually got a letter from the Department of Classics, suggesting/asking/begging that I should consider a major in Classics from my second year onwards. This struck me as really odd at the time. My marks were not very high. I was a generally slack student. I was clearly inferior to many of my classmates (many of whom had already read the required texts several times before coming to university, and many of whom had also attained a high level of Ancient Greek and/or Latin prior to attending university). Yet the motivation was clear: the Department of Classics was struggling with student numbers and/or funding. Maybe I would have gone on to get my act together and so on, but in all likelihood, it probably would have been a living death for the professors in that department if they'd had to suffer me in their classes for at least two more years.

On the other hand, despite being almost a complete ignoramus and general slacker, I do believe that I am better for the experience. I grew up in the suburbs, and in those days suburban Melbourne was pretty parochial. I might very well have grown up into a caricature of a cast member of Neighbours.

As for corruption, I believe the West is far more corrupt than anyone even realises, let alone is willing to accept. At one level, people are always willing to pick on the easy targets, such as bankers or (some) politicians. I think this is more about the human need for a scapegoat than any real moral indignation with the state of the system.

They don't understand that when there is a large public trough, the snouts are going to sniff that out and want a piece of action. The number of lobbyists is directly proportional to the amount of money on the table. The thing that I always find amusing about this situation is that for many people, the solution to the problem is always more bureaucracy, more regulation. Yet the irony there is that the more layers of bureaucracy and regulation put on things, the more opaque the entire thing becomes and the more entrenched special interests become. This is because they are the only ones who have the means (time, money or education) to actually understand how the system works. So, they can pretty much game the system with impunity because most people are not even aware of what they are doing, or how they are doing it, or those other people lack the means to combat them. The number of times I have this discussion with people and they completely miss my point -- accusing me of being pro-corporation because I am anti-bureaucracy -- is astounding.

People also aren't willing to accept their roles in at least maintaining this deep level of corruption. I don't let ordinary citizens off the hook. Then again, maybe they really don't know, but what are the implications of that for democracy and/or society?

As for dumbing people down, I really don't think intelligent, well-educated people are actually required for the overwhelming majority of jobs out there. The average worker may require some particular skills or knowledge, but these are often learnt on the job or as part of some sort of apprenticeship. They are not part of a rigourous academic process. Most people can probably get by quite well enough with a primary school education. As for actually being able to think critically, and to know something about history, politics, culture, etc., I think those are extremely dangerous things for people to know because they will quite possibly create someone who is quite capable of resisting what's happening around him.

I'm not entirely sure that there's an active conspiracy to make people dumber, but I think it's more to do with the incentives involved. It's a kind of conspiracy of neglect, in a sense. Many of the people who have the means of truly influencing these things don't have skin in the game. Their kids don't go to atrocious government schools, for instance. Their money is either offshore or they receive some sort of government pension or other entitlements as a politician, and these things are guaranteed and/or tax free. If they, or their children, had to be the recipients of the systems they have created or that they oversee, things would probably be very different.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Michael » 04 Jul 2012, 16:47



Apologies to anyone who has a deep objection to punk rock music (and for the profanity in the lyrics), but I felt this Dead Kennedy's song, "Holiday in Cambodia", addressed much of what we've been talking about here: smug, self-satisfied progressives that hate Western civilization and unthinkingly praise the Third World for being more 'authentic'. The same types, a generation ago, praised the Soviet Union, North Vietnam, and Cambodia for being better than the West. I'm certain everyone here can identify with the songs sentiment: "Hate the West? Try the rest, just for a day."

The lyrics:

So, you've been to school
For a year or two
And you know you've seen it all
In daddy's car
Thinking you'll go far
Back east your type don't crawl

Playing ethnicky jazz
To parade your snazz
On your five-grand stereo
Braggin' that you know
How the niggers feel cold
And the slum's got so much soul

It's time to taste what you most fear
Right Guard will not help you here
Brace yourself, my dear
Brace yourself, my dear

For a holiday in Cambodia
It's tough, kid, but it's life
It's a holiday in Cambodia
Don't forget to pack a wife

You're a star-belly snitch
You suck like a leech
You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch
So you can get rich
While your boss gets richer off you

Well, you'll work harder
With a gun in your back
For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers
Till you starve
Then your head is skewered on a stake

Now you can go where the people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need, my son...
What you need, my son...

Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people are dressed in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll kiss ass or crack

Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot

It's a holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll do what you're told
It's a holiday in Cambodia
Where the slums got so much soul
Pol Pot
Michael
 
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Elliott » 23 Jul 2012, 06:01

Here's another example of what I mean...

Image

It's an instinctive hatred and mistrust of the police. It probably doesn't occur to these people that the police are risking a lot - sometimes life and limb - to protect them.

Also notice the assumption that state resources (in this case, police) can be dishonestly used for personal benefit - a belief in the limitless state that can provide without end.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Michael » 24 Jul 2012, 03:40

That's a horrible story. If it were my son, I would disown him.
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Re: Occupy (and middle-class youth rebellion)

Postby Mike » 24 Jul 2012, 04:39

It's an old urban myth though. I've heard the same story in a variety of different versions over the years.
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