Saturday, October 29, 2011

The 99%

Say you wanted to build a Movement by appealing directly to the Cult Mind, that part of the brain that most desires to be part of a herd. You'd need a slogan to imply that following a crowd leads to Truth. Such a maxim would suggest that being in the majority, or having membership in the biggest tribe, somehow confers moral superiority. You'd want the slogan to be well-suited to sheep, while scrupulously avoiding any speck of human critical thinking.

I submit that "We are the 99%" fits these criteria perfectly.

For the benefit of readers who have been living in caves: "We are the 99%," or slight variations thereof, is a battle cry appearing on countless posters and placards in Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests around the world, and used by its supporters in the media and blogsphere.

"We are the 99%!" is found alongside signs like "Eat the Rich," suggesting anger directed at the top 1% measured by finances. Demonizing the wealthy is hardly a new phenomenon.

It's also common in our history to aim derision at those at the very top of the intelligence/education pyramid. Think of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or of George Wallace referring sneeringly to "pointy-headed intellectuals," those with too much book-learnin'. Anti-intellectual movements gain traction precisely because they're aimed at a minority.

Protesters with a lesser slice of the IQ pie could occupy universities. People with PhDs make up less than 1% of the American adult population; imagine mobs trying to disrupt doctorate programs while proudly shouting "We are the MORE THAN 99%!" How is that any less coherent than the Occupy Wall Street motto?

What's so special about the OWS number anyway? If it's OK to demonize 1%, why not 2%? There's ample precedence for slurring the Jews. Why begrudge anti-Semitic demonstrators the mathematically-accurate claim "We are the 98.3%!"

Where to draw the line? At what magic number is there a moral distinction? Aren't rallies against African-Americans entitled to the motto "We are the 87.7%!" And other than the need for larger signs, where's the problem with anti-gay mobs using slogans like "It depends on which study you believe, but we're confident that we're somewhere between the 87% and the 98%!"

Maybe there are some people carrying "99%" signs with the intention of attacking a relatively small number of people who have cheated larger numbers of people. If that's the case, if they're rallying against wrongdoing like lying or stealing, why not direct energy and anger against those specific behaviors? Aren't we rational enough to argue that a deception or theft causes harm, and condemn it whether the criminal is rich or poor, whether there's one culprit or ten thousand?

It's hypocritical to direct condemnation only at those we consider to be outside of the herd. There's little moral authority in "We're protesting against those who commit violent assaults... but only if they're a lot more attractive (or smarter, or stronger, or richer) than we are!"

Personally, I'd find the 99%ers a whole lot less creepy if they based the protest on a principle... rather than appealing to the lowest common denominator, using a mindless bandwagon slogan that relies on a dubious, self-proclaimed head count.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

The Best Zen Talks Never Mention "Zen"

"Of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jobs said: 'I wish him the best, I really do. I just think he and Microsoft are a bit narrow. He'd be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger.'"