History of Activism
When the things you own end up owning you: Politics, Religion and the Revolution of Values Every major faith tradition and spiritual practice on earth teaches about the wisdom of moderation and balance between the material and the immaterial worlds. Many theist and non-theists religions alike have warned of the dangers of excess, extravagance, and unrestrained desire. Buddha called greed a defilement of the mind. Jesus declared that it was more likely for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter heaven.
Prophet Muhammad taught that “if a man had none equal to a valley, then he will wish for another similar to it, for nothing can satisfy the eye of Dam’s son except dust. ” The Founding Fathers of the United States, avowed Christians, believed in the necessity of religious freedom. The intent behind agonizing this right in the Constitution was not to establish a “Christian nation”, notwithstanding the inculcation of indigenous so-called Americans and enslaved Africans. Rather, religious freedom reflected the Founding Fathers’ conviction in America’s need for values in order to flourish.
Morality was considered a “necessary bring of popular government” (Washington, 1796) and the only way to uphold the dignity and rights of the citizen. Thus, religion’s values and principles (not necessarily its dogma) would provide the needed moral compass to guide the citizenry and its representatives. The compass was not simply for guiding interpersonal interactions among the citizenry but to ensure equitable dealings between the government and the people. American history is replete with moral double standards and from the perspective of many people of color, women, and the working class the country has never had a moral compass.
Still, the American body politic demonstrated enough restraint not to be consumed by its own greed. This began to change at the turn of the 20th century. The economy had evolved significantly during the first and second industrial revolutions, giving rise to modern capitalism ? a touchstone of which is division of labor. The foundation of modern capitalism, however, goes back further to the pre-modern capitalist slave economy?the touchstone of which was the communication of slave labor.
Using the enormous wealth generated from the cotton industry, Americans sought to avoid the pitfalls of a mercantile economy and experimented with creating a new economic system (Becker & Rockland, 2012) (Miller, 2000). With the growth of the economy came the growth of the American body politic. The population of the country had dramatically increased since the start of the first Industrial Revolution. By the sass’s America had become home to over 100 million people. The roaring twenties was a time where nonlinear-like economic policies dominated.
An unregulated market led to the domination of industries by a small number of sellers and financial speculation fever took hold of banks. Sustained economic growth now required the production of consumer goods and high consumer spending (Nausea, 2011) (Katz, 2008). To keep the economic engine running consumption was imperative. Corporations and the ruling elite saw the rise of mass democracy as both a threat and opportunity to reap enormous profits. The collusion of these political and economic factors gave birth to what French Marxist theorist Guy Debtor called the spectacle.
In the limited sense, the spectacle refers to media technologies employed to manipulate the mass public. In the general sense it is the “autonomous movement of the non-living. The spectacle is an analysis of the Marxist ideas of commodity fetishism, objectification, and social alienation. It is the phenomena of commodities becoming self-ruling objects of worship that separate people from one another and from themselves. Debtor describes this process as the domination of social life by economic forces that brings about “degradation of being into having. It is the heedlessness of Jesus’ warning in the Book of Luke against reducing life to “the abundance of the things one possesses”. In the society of the spectacle, life satisfaction is determined by possession and what one has “must now rive its immediate prestige and its ultimate purpose from appearances” (Debtor, 1967). American Journalist Samuel Strauss described this as a fundamental shift in American democracy: “A change has come over our democracy. It is called consumption.
The American citizens’ first importance to his country is no longer that as citizen, but now that of consumer” (Strauss, 1924). The American identity at this point was no longer defined by the values and principles of the Founding Fathers. A new, national identity emerged based on a philosophy of, “l consume, therefore I am”. As alluded to before, this creation of a consumption culture didn’t emerge by chance. Innovations in mass marketing and the establishment of the field of “public relations” (a euphemism for a more apt title: the ministry of propaganda) led to this shift.
Edward Barneys, a Journalist and nephew of Sigmund Freud, was hired by corporations to sell products, and by the government to sell ideas (namely, war efforts). Through the application of psychoanalytic theories espoused by his uncle he created marketing and communications strategies that manipulated the publics emotions of unconscious desires as opposed to appealing to reason through facts (Curtis, 2002). He wrote in his seminal work, Propaganda: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.
Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government, which is the true ruling power of our country. … We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society’ (Barneys & Miller, 1928). The Great Depression of the ass’s gave rise to economic policies designed to prevent another economic downturn.
The new political-economic arrangement, dubbed embedded liberalism, was marked by Keynesian economic policies such as state intervention into the economy to ensure full employment and economic growth. Other features included fixed interests rates and free trade. While the new system initially resulted in high rates of growth, by the ND of the sass’s it began to implode, resulting in high unemployment and inflation. Widespread social unrest and the emergence of socialist alternatives set the stage for the arrival of the nonlinear economic policies of the sass’s (Harvey, 2005).
The spectacle’s redefinition of individual freedom and American identity continued between the sass’s and the sass’s. This new era would see the return of the “financial innovations” that led to the Great Depression. As the market became liberated and the financial sector deregulated, the spectacle presented this political- economic arrangement as the heart and soul of the American ideal of liberty. Market freedom became conflated with individual freedom and we began to adopt what Dry. Cornel West calls a market morality (what is good or bad is determined by the market).
Consumerism became even more central to the American citizen’s identity. How? Nonlinear ideals were “crystallized into a framework of opportunities (social and public wealth) which individuals ought to take advantage of. ” In this framework, it is neither expected nor guaranteed that everyone will be able to take advantage of he opportunities, only those “who can Jump on that Wagon of opportunities” (Dobbin, 2011). The ability to Jump on the wagon of opportunities is the ability to consume. In the nonlinear philosophy, this is the way to participate in the free market and thus become free.
The individual under this economic system is considered an entrepreneur, managing his or herself. As Faculty notes regarding this shift: “Consumption was now seen to be productive and the consumer had become an entrepreneur-of the-self: “homo economics is the entrepreneur of himself… The man of consumption, insofar as he consumes is a producer. What does he produce? Well, quite simply, his own satisfaction” (Faculty, 2010). The entrepreneur of himself is in fact a producer, but I do not agree that he produces his own satisfaction (“Nothing satisfies the son of Adam except dust).
He produces his own dissatisfaction due to the spectacle’s manufacture of desire for things he has never needed. The four years following the Great Recession of 2008 was a period of revolt against the spectacle. There are historical precedents for manipulation and organizing against corporate greed and government graft due to high unemployment, social inequality, and the exploitation of financial institutions. These revolts have only occurred after reaching economic breaking points e,g. 1929 Stock Market Crash and Stagflation in the sass’s ; sass’s.
As a result, the spectacle gradually began to lose its ability to keep the people in a state of unconsciousness. These breaking points also forced the nation to reexamine itself and call into question its professed values. The Occupy Movement represents a new stage in the evolution of revolt against the ruling elite and corporately. It has occupied not only public space but also the socio-political vacuum left by the retreat and occupation of radical faith institutions active during the Civil Rights Movement.
Faith institutions historically provided movement leadership due to its political, social, and moral capital. Religious leaders as far back as the abolitionist movement decried the turpitude of the institution of slavery and called the nation back to its values, agonized in the Constitution. During times of cultural and political upheaval, churches of different denominations, mosques, and synagogues provided not only moral guidance but also political education and manipulation of people across race, ethnicity, and class.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession people turned to the Occupy Movement as place of refuge. Tents represented inclusive community spaces that empowered people through education and social action. The key example faith institutions must take not of is the occupation of schools and campuses. The membership of congregations has dwindled significantly in recent decades and is becoming older and grayer. Youth and young adults find the corporate, bureaucratic structure of many faith institutions disemboweling.
Occupy sites on campuses and schools across the country operated as places of fellowship, places where dissatisfaction with the status quo could be channeled. The dissemination of radical literature was unconnected to social action in the way that sacred texts inspired faith leaders toward radical protest in the sass’s and sass’s (Reed, 2011). In other words, Occupiers continued a tradition once strong in faith institutions: using text to question existing political, economic, and social systems and developing plans of action to challenge them.
The tactics and organizational structure of the Occupy Movement signifies an extension and evolution of what political theorist Antonio Grammas calls the war of position. Grammar’s theory suggests that there are two types of struggle, the war of maneuver and the war of position. The war of maneuver consists of a single battle and moment of struggle where there is “a single, strategic breach in the enemy’s defenses [sic], which, once made, enables the new forces to rush in and obtain a definitive (strategic) victory. Conversely, the war of position is a series of battles constituting a protracted struggle on many fronts e. G. Political, cultural, economic etc. (Hall, 1986). The struggle of the Occupy Movement is a culmination of many battles that preceded it and a monumental shift in methods of manipulation that will affect protest movements that follow it. In April 1967, one year before his assassination, Dry. Martin Luther King Jar. Delivered a speech calling for a radical revolution of values: “l am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.
When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and Justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not buzzard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.
With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: This is not Just” (King, 1967). After speaking out against the Vietnam War, many of the churches and faith leaders that supported Dry. King turned their back on him. In spite of this, he maintained the belief that it would be churches and synagogues that would help lead the revolution of values.
The Occupy Movement, instead, has lead the way in critiquing our economic and political system and declaring exploitative domestic and foreign policies to be unjust. It is this “leaderless” movement that has cried out like a lone voice in the wilderness against the inequalities our nonlinear economic policies have created. Faith institutions must go further than soup kitchens and homeless shelters. While every war needs services for casualties, it also needs people on the front line. Occupiers have stood on the front line and it is time for faith leaders to rejoin the war.