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Compassion Is Our New Currency: Notes on 2011’s Preoccupied Hearts and Minds

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Posted on Dec 24, 2011
NIMATARADJI | photography (CC-BY)

By Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch

(Page 5)

Nothing has been more moving to me than this desire, realized imperfectly but repeatedly, to connect across differences, to be a community, to make a better world, to embrace each other. This desire is what lies behind those messy camps, those raucous demonstrations, those cardboard signs and long conversations. Young activists have spoken to me about the extraordinary richness of their experiences at Occupy, and they call it love.

In the spirit of calling things by their true names, let me summon up the description that Ella Baker and Martin Luther King used for the great communities of activists who stood up for civil rights half a century ago: the beloved community. Many who were active then never forgot the deep bonds and deep meaning they found in that struggle. We—and the word “we” encompasses more of us than ever before—have found those things, too, and this year we have come close to something unprecedented, a beloved community that circles the globe.

Rebecca Solnit, a TomDispatch regular, continues occupying the public library, the sidewalks, her deepest hopes, and the armchair in which she writes, supports 350.org, and joins Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland in their general assemblies and actions.

Copyright 2011 Rebecca Solnit

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, December 30, 2011 at 7:09 pm Link to this comment

Regarding people as weak and in need of help, and approaching them as a helper, is by definition placing oneself in a superior, dominant position.  It may be unavoidable at times, but it is a politically and morally perilous position.

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By Foucauldian, December 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm Link to this comment

Gerard, Michael Ozark,

As a preamble to my forthcoming response, may I
direct you to a review of Philippa Foot’s work,
“Natural Goodness.”

It’s short and sweet, and I’m certain you’ll enjoy
it.

http://tinyurl.com/84zm26s

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By Foucauldian, December 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, December 28 at 8:38 pm

You’re a tough nut to crack, Anarcissie. 

Number one, aren’t we all human, members of the
same species, subject to pretty much the same
needs, biological, emotional and otherwise?  Recent
experiments in with mammals point to the presence
of so-called “mirror neurons,” which make us
replicate and respond to other’s behavior in a
similar fashion, yes, even across the species line. 
So the evidence for the empathy quotient comes not
only from the neurologic science but just as
importantly, from our experience. 

Why must identifying with someone entail regarding
them as inferior?  To my thinking, it’s precisely
the opposite.  It amounts to embracing them as part
of your own family, it’s like saying, in effect,
that in the most important respects we’re all the
same.  Besides, we all crave for affection and
kindness.  Love begets love and affection begets
affection.  One needn’t be a rocket scientist to
know that. 

No person is a tower of strength, and I don’t care
what they say.  Such a person hasn’t been born.  We
all have our weaknesses, our unmet needs.  In any
case, identifying with people doesn’t mean charity
to me or being a do-gooder but solidarity ,
precisely what you’re saying.

I don’t see anything wrong, of course, with your
idea of activism, as you have expressed it, so
perhaps our disagreement has only to do with words. 
I can’t help, however, but detect a certain
resistance on your part to certain words. 

Perhaps it’s just a matter of our different
temperaments, but you’re too clear a thinker to
allow that stand in the way of your understanding.

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment

Good words, Michael.  I like that Star Trek analogy,
the episode in which the people have forgotten. 
Indeed, without meaning, words are just sounds.

Do give me time, however, til tomorrow to craft a
fair response, and thanks.

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By OzarkMichael, December 29, 2011 at 8:27 pm Link to this comment

Foucaldian, “Moral Language and its Grammar” is a fine article, better than much of what goes for an ‘article’ here on Truthdig.

Some say that there is a moral code that needs to be lived and communicated. But just as every culture has its own language, which developed from its particular history, so each culture has its own moral language, and from that specific language its people build an abilty to apply that moral language, I suppose that process is moral grammar. It takes millions of people many generations to build this language. There is the experience of ages hidden inside it. There are wise reasons for the interelations that we cant imagine, nor could a committee forsee all the myriad experiences and problems that the moral language has resolved and can resolve. This vast treasury of knowledge is the inheritance of every culture.

The folks who decided that our particular inheritence, our particular moral language, our own precise moral grammar were not worthwhile… were not ‘conservatives’! We are the ones who defended those traditional concepts, perhaps to a fault.

Here is a quote from your article about why moral grammar devolved:

I have an idea or two as to the “reasons,” so I may as well share them with you. The first, ours is a secular society, doing its damnedest to stay free and clear of any stigma associated with religion or religious belief; and insofar as morality, however remotely, could be said to spring from the former, it suffers the same fate. “Guilt by association” is the verdict.

Well said. Now just which people decided that religious belief was a stigma to be avoided? Who educated us to find ‘guilt’ in that association? For it was not always thus. Whose interests did it serve to remove the Christian base, hoping to replace it? Did the replacement succeed? No it did not. 

And then, having driven a greater part of the foundation of our cultural moral language out of the agora for the sake of a new construct(which could not possibly work), we now wonder why the old forgotten language is barely used there, and we complain that our moral grammar is no longer precise, more easily used to mislead than to enlighten.

It is a bit like providing an education which mocks romance as superfluous, and then in a generation we wonder why there arent any good love stories anymore. If you take the heart out of people’s chest we shouldnt wonder why there isnt a pulse. Just so, we took our own highly developed grammar and trashed it, unaware that a replacement cannot be readily constructed. 

There is a book along these lines by CS Lewis called “Men Without Chests” It is a short book, which i would send if you like.

So yes, i agree whole-heartedly with the relevance of your article, and the problem it underscores. If it is important to reinvigorate moral grammar in order to accomplish social justice, it is also important to acknowledge whose idea it was to shift the ground of moral grammar to an artificial new foundation, and to admit that it was a dumb idea and now we are all paying the price.

Do you realize, Foucaldian, that the general disuse of the moral language has crippled the proper grammar even among those of us who are fighting to preserve it? A language becomes dull when only one sort of person employs it. Which is where we are today.

Our common moral language developed thanks to all sorts of people with a full spectrum of views. If only one faction employs it, the grammar becomes stilted, forced, less energetic, and less adaptable.

The Religious Right cannot possibly speak the fluid expansive moral grammar all by themselves. Picture the Star Trek episode where the “Yangs” fight the “Comms” and the Yang leader says the ‘sacred words’, he mangles them into an incomprehensible mush because no one else ever uses the words anymore.

Just so, we religious conservatives defend the sacred words with great zeal, but our grammar is only stilted cliches.

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 8:02 pm Link to this comment

In perfect agreement with you, gerard.  “Reminding
ourselves” isn’t enough, though the term functions
as a constant reminder.

“Do unto others” has been expressed later by Kant’s
categorical imperative to treat all as ends, never
as means.  “Moral equivalence of persons” is my
favorite term.

You’re also right in that “we must change.”  Moral
language, however, I’d argue, is one of the major
instruments of change, of human growth and
development.  Not the only one, mind you, but even
religion (for some) would be an empty carcass
without the emphasis on the underlying virtues. 
Paul did speak of virtues, didn’t he?—of love,
charity, faith, patience, and forgiveness.

So my argument in essence is, moral language, when
used and lived, is a living truth (among other
truths).  And unless it’s a living truth, it’s just
words to us, empty words and phrases with only
shades of their true meaning. 

There was no opportunity to pack all this within a
single comment.  I hope, however, that this little
postscript advances our understanding.

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By gerard, December 29, 2011 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment

Foucaldian:  Points regarding this quotation from your response: ... “the notion of justice and of seeking justice—perhaps the most powerful of all moral concepts —still reverberates for most of us is sufficient enough indication that moral language is far from dead.  We (I) just have to keep on reminding myself and returning to it.  We’re simply out of practice.”
  One cause for hope is that “Do unto others ...” has apparently been nearly universally accepted for thousands of years.
  I think it has been sustained not so much by “reminding ourselves and returning to it” but by the close-at-hand observance and recognition of the many painful results of injustice on ourselves—and then the ability to translate that into feeling the pain of others.
  It is this feeling the pain of others that I think is being deliberately sabotaged, blocked and extinguished, making us less than human. Consider the widespread and multiple ways in which teaching the virtues of individualism, wealth, whiteness,of Christianity,of capitalism,of power, of “winning” have all combined to cut us all off from awareness of blatant injustices for centuries.
  I think it will take more than “simple reminding” to bring back our lost moral sense. Realization of the truth can be learned only if and when truth is revealed.  That’s why I think, for example, that the WikiLeaks releases were such a boon because they revealed gross moral negligences that had been deliberately hidden.  In the process of “keeping secrets” we had long been robbing ourselves of awareness of moral principles and selling our national soul to the perpetration of continuous evils. The hoped-for punishment is direct indication of continued denial of responsibility, of lost moral sense and of attempt to continue perpetration of evils.
  Not that we are more evil than others, but that we are “called” to be “better” than we are. But—the only way to be “better” is to change!

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment

correction

... that moral language is far from dead ...

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment

Thanks, gerard.

I do agree with you that OWS may well be on course
to bring us back.  In any case, I would consider
that to be one of its more important trajectories
(among the many possible}.

An example:  if, say, one of the immediate concerns
of the many OWS participants and activists—
mounting student debt, in this instance—assumed
a more abstract and less immediate articulation in
terms of social justice for each and everyone.

Indeed, the very fact that the notion of justice
and of seeking justice—perhaps the most powerful
of all moral concepts —still reverberates for
most of us is sufficient enough indication that
moral language is far from that.  We just have to
keep on reminding myself and returning to it. 
We’re simply out of practice.

And yes, the so-called “rationalism” and
“scientism” have in a manner of speaking taken our
eye of the ball and contributed to the impoverished
spirit of our times.  I view rationalism as mainly
instrumental, technology too, concerned with means
rather than ends.  So yes, we have to redress this
imbalance and make the ends the primary object of
our concern.

Values always come first; rationality and reason
are only expressions of our values.  And it’s
precisely with values that morality and ethics is
concerned.

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By gerard, December 29, 2011 at 2:13 pm Link to this comment

Foucauldian said (among much else of note):  “It’s almost as though an art form of old has been
entirely lost to us or fell into general disrepute, and I find it discouraging.  So yes, I’m on a crusade of sorts to restore our moral language to its original purpose and intent so it’d have wider currency.”
  I just happened to spend a couple hours last night reviewing a huge tome on “Renaissance Art” and at that time came to realize how that art form (and much of the mystical/philosophical/religious content and value of it) has been lost—probably beyond recall. It is obvious that the intent of all that creataive effort was/is to teach, in myriad ways, the “moral language of Christianity.”
  That “language” has been almost totally corrupted by what passes for “rationalism” without benefit of
ethical considerations. It is as if, in destroying the harmful, deceitful aspects of religions, we have given up all “positive” aspects of religions that might save us from mass suicide.
  Echoes of “the language of (Christian) morality were intentionally codified in the Constitution, but with the morally incidious impact of massive organized violence, even those codifications are proving too weak to hold.
  My feeling is that OWS is trying to call us back from the brink, but that a vast number of the 99% must answer the call if it is to be effective.

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment

That aspect I cover in another article, “Moral
Language and Its Grammar.”

If you’re interested, here’s the link:

http://tinyurl.com/ceudzwy

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By OzarkMichael, December 29, 2011 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment

You wrote it? Cool, i will read it then.

All told, I’m rather dismayed by the modern-day misconceptions as to the proper function and purpose of the moral language game—equally so, and for different reasons, both by the deists and the atheists alike. Even a person of such a sharp and astute mind as Anarcissie, IMO, doesn’t get it;

hmm. i might not get it either. Let me read and find out.

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 7:05 am Link to this comment

As to the “love” part, I was merely trying to draw
a contrast between the (strictly?) moral/ethical
concepts (or ideals, if you like)—let’s say
honestly, for instance—and love.  To wit, some
of those concepts found expression in the law of
the land.  For example, people may be jailed or
fines for dishonest dealings or fraud; but surely
they can’t for being heartless bastards.  Perhaps
the term “command” isn’t too felicitous. 
“Obligation” is a complementary term, an obligation
that is enforceable either by law or all kinds of
social sanctions.

I’m of the school of thought, Michael, that the all
too often made connection between the languages of
religion and morals is more often conceptually
wrongheaded than it is not (and that’s regardless
of our different narratives of how morality came
about).  More often than not, making such
connections involves the mixing of different
language games (Wittgenstein).

All told, I’m rather dismayed by the modern-day
misconceptions as to the proper function and
purpose of the moral language game—equally so,
and for different reasons, both by the deists and
the atheists alike.  Even a person of such a sharp
and astute mind as Anarcissie, IMO, doesn’t get it;
at least I haven’t seen the evidence to the effect
that she does.  It’s almost as though an art form
of old has been entirely lost to us or fell into
general disrepute, and I find it discouraging.  So
yes, I’m on a crusade of sorts to restore our moral
language to its original purpose and intent so it’d
have wider currency.

Which perhaps will explain to you why I don’t
regard the “Ten Commandments” narrative as the the
only; or to say the least, the model offered by the
Ten Commandments narrative as necessarily
applicable to alternative accounts.

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By Foucauldian, December 29, 2011 at 6:36 am Link to this comment

I authored the article, Michael.  Sorry for not
making that clear.

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By OzarkMichael, December 29, 2011 at 12:07 am Link to this comment

I will try to answer the charges/comments tomorrow afternoon. All I have time to do is ask a question. Foucaldian, the url to bell hooks article… who are you over in the comment section? I cant find a “Foucaldian” there.

Well, i have time for an easy comment on what you said here about bell:

Love always is a choice (since it can’t be commanded)

Whoa! Hold up. We are wrong. In fact Love is commanded. We are always wrong about this because it was Jesus who emphasized “Thou shalt love…” as the principle of the commandments.

Note that Jesus does not command friendship, or even liking someone, but nevertheless “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

I want to stop flopping around the surface of things and get to what is real here.

To make sure that we overly religious(self rightious) folks get the foundational importance of Love, Jesus adds: “On this the Commandments and all the prophets rest.” Love is thus secured.

Love is not only the foundation, but also the cornerstone on top of the building. We see it in the cross. We hear it extolled as the greatest and most abiding thing, “the greatest of these is Love.”

“Love never fails”, therefore Love is triumphant.

“God is Love”, therefore Love is eternal.

Love has been commanded. If there is a God, what happiness that would be, to do the one earthly thing God wants of us. Ah, but we arent doing that, because we do not accept the command. Which means we are wrong, even when we feel some love, we are not getting it right since we dispute the one thing God commands most securely, eternally, triumphantly.

God commands Love and we act as if Love cant be commanded. So we were always wrong, and since the command isnt going away so we are going to be constantly wrong. We will wake up tomorrow morning and still be in the wrong. It almost makes me happy that I am found in the wrong tonite, because the command is so secure and the reality of it is quite palpable, overcoming any lack of faith.

What faith we have or do not have at any moment is a changeable thing, but Love does not change, it will be there tomorrow, commanding us, “Thou shalt Love!”

One ought to have hope, and one ought to have faith. But lacking these is not so bad… for if we Love we will be “born of God, and know God.”

There are mysteries about whether there is a God or what sort of being God is. There is confusion about what will happen tomorrow, and doubt about our place and what we ought to do. Love overcomes all of it. Christ preached it, and he died to prove that he meant it, and if you accept his command you just might percieve that he did not die in vain, but somehow… it seems possible… although it cant be… but yes… he lives. 

Doctrines are clumsy things, they are cold and easily distorted. We are fallible, so we are probably wrong about some aspect of everything. Our uncertainty is evident even in the simplest thing. Trust what i say here: Error is a fixed part of existance. We cannot know both where a particle is and where it is going at the same time. Just a little particle! We are always wrong to a greater or lesser degree in every way.

Yet here I am writing about Love with something approaching certainty. Certainty delivered by the command, for in some small way I acknowledge “yes, it is a command”. In a small measure i begin to obey, and suddenly i know far more than i deserve to know. Love does everything that way. From Love everything else comes together. Happiness, hope, and that most elusive: faith. An awareness that God is real, and there is a relationship between yourself and every human being. Who knew that a command “Thou shalt love” could do so much?

God commands us, “Thou shalt love.” Out of love for us he commands it, and never ceases. The command becomes a promise. 

Anarcissie, you said “the command is rather steep. At least with Jesus…”. That was well said, and may it be well lived!

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By Anarcissie, December 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm Link to this comment

Foucauldian, December 28 at 7:53 pm:

‘... True, we’re all “poor” as you said, but how are we’re going to make the required identification with all those who suffer from the same affliction if not through an ethic of love and empathy. ...’

I don’t identify with all those who suffer, except in a sort of Gnostic-theological sense.  Like Thoreau, I fear those who come to do me and others good.  As a rather right-wing person once told me long ago, before you can have love and sympathy you have to have respect.  Regarding others as primarily weak and afflicted is disrespectful.  When I give food out in the parks, I am expressing solidarity, not charity.  I am trying to show people how to be strong.

I suppose my response is sort of mixed up.  It is hard to deal with fundamental issues concisely (as in a comment on a comment on someone else’s article) without being rather dense—in one way or another.

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By Anarcissie, December 28, 2011 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

Ozark Michael—I didn’t ask you to give OWS advice.  I asked you to imagine what you would do in their situation.

I agree that, materially speaking, almost everyone has the ability to speak to almost everyone else.  However, in practical fact this ability doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.  The proof of this is in the number of people, not connected to the core group of activists, who showed up once the protest surfaced in the media, many of them saying things like ‘At last someone is saying something about these issues.’  It has become a cliché that OWS changed the national subject, at least for awhile.  It is evident that the space to say the unsaid could be achieved only by extraordinary means, but I am open to the possibility that occupying a park in Lower Manhattan and similar annoying activities were not the only nonviolent tactic that could have been employed.

I believe I left you free to assume the role of radical or reformer for the sake of the exercise.  I was not suggesting that you are not one or the other in real life.

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By Foucauldian, December 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie, December 25 at 8:11 am

“The trouble with ‘compassion’ is that people think
of it as virtuousness, being nice or even heroic, a
choice.  The usual meaning of the word is just
that.

Rather than compassion as such, the basis of human
life is communism.  The preponderance of our daily
social relations is necessarily communistic.”


Now I understand your reservations when you
responded in a lukewarm fashion to my own article
referencing bell hooks speaking on behalf of an
ethic of love as a prerequisite for putting
together a movement.

So how many social relations are you into, day in
and day out?  Love always is a choice (since it
can’t be commanded.  True, we’re all “poor” as you
said, but how are we’re going to make the required
identification with all those who suffer from the
same affliction if not through an ethic of love and
empathy.

I see no inherent contradiction here with the
communal mode of existence, but we don’t have yet
in out communities (outside the relatively small
circle of our personal acquaintances, friends and
neighbors).  So I’d say the object is getting
there, to make the circle ever larger.

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By Foucauldian, December 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm Link to this comment

My goodness, Michael, you’re asking some leading
questions.  But that’s all to the good if we’re to
push the envelope.

To give you a rather snappy answer, I’m of the
conviction that liberal democracies had had it: 
even if they survive, the cover’s been blown and
something new is bound to emerge.  As to my
druthers as to the OWS protesters, sure I’d hope
they see matters as clearly as possible, and no
doubt some of it is already happening—
consciousness raising, if you know what I mean.

I tackle some of these questions in the following
article:  http://tinyurl.com/cors84y

You’re welcome to it, as well as to comment on
either comments space.

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By elisalouisa, December 28, 2011 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment

Michael: Occupation is the method of the Elite Left, they are rich white folks who have plenty of money. They could rent plenty of space. Heck, those rich kids could have bought the damn park if they really wanted it. But despite their wealth, the Occupiers wont even buy permits to march! Folks with 1/2, 1/or
even 1/4 as much wealth spent their hard earned money on permits when they felt a need to protest. Not only that, those poor folks also pay the taxes that got sucked up paying for the Occupation. We pay for our own protest marches as well as for your Occupation, all while you have more money than we do.

Your focus on the nonissue of some occupiers having “plenty of money”  is rather disquieting, as if that was an item to be considered in evaluating those seeking justice through OWS.  The power/elite, who have hijacked our government intend to have global control at your expense Michael regardless of the poverty it will bring to “the people.” Your grandchildren will be unemployed, all the factories are transferring to other countries where slave labor is accepted as “just.” Many of these corporations pay no taxes and have the blessing and backing of our elected government officials Michael.

Not obtaining “permits’ is but another protest. Why give those in control the power to say “no” as to their occupation/march while at the same time giving the appearance of recognizing the legitimacy of corrupt officials?

Your comment on such occupations being a method of the “Elite Left” is ludicrous to say the least. Those who do recognize that the “power elite” have rigged the system in their favor come from all income groups and cultures. Whether helping maintain “occupations” through taxes or in other ways, it is an honor to show support for those who are fighting a system that now favors corporations over the people. And another thing, keep voting and watching Fox News while they breathlessly announce the latest as to Republican candidates; see where it gets you. I’ll grant you it’s a good show but who can top Puppet Obama as to following the commands of the oligarchy while at the same time having good folks like you asking everyone to vote? That’s the main feature symbolically entitled:  “The Big Sleep.”

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By OzarkMichael, December 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

Foucaldian said:

...dressing up OWS present or past actions in the cloak of constitutionality and
rights (another misguided concept) is only a
tactical move in a much more complex game.  It is
only to give an appearance that the old rules apply
whereas the very object is to break those rules and
invent new ones.

You are honest and you describe the situation so clearly, I couldnt put it better myself. After descibing the situation so well, please place yourself in that context. Do you support the Occupiers except for the fact that you prefer they be honest and give up the cover of “constitutionality and rights”? If so, do you think the honesty will help the movement succeed, or make it more likely to fail?

What sort of radical are you if you value honesty more than success?

@Outraged: yes, it is COMPLETELY inaccurate to claim Fox News ever supported OWS or was sympathetic to the movement. Please note that I never claimed that they were.

I am saying that Fox News coverage(not the opinion shows but the news coverage) of bad events made sure that viewers realized bad p[layers did not represent the majority of OWS. (Such consideration which the mainstream press did not have for the Tea Party. We were all “racists” from the start) As for the rest of the media, they were often supportive and sympathetic of OWS.

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By Foucauldian, December 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment

OzarkMichael, December 28 at 11:36 am

“I strongly object to your assertion that you need
special speech rights. If you recieve them today it
is inevitable that they would be a tool for any
other cause you chose, and if tomorrow your side
won through, that tool would become enshrined into
law, only for your side to use, of course. I would
call that tyranny. Tyranny by idealistic young
Leftists, but tyranny just the same.”

Are special speech rights being claimed?  It’s
fairly evident the occupiers are breaking the law -
- their intent.  It’s an object lesson in direct
democracy to take home and organize local
communities, with or without approval by the local
authorities.

In any case, to be dressing up OWS present or past
actions in the cloak of constitutionality and
rights (another misguided concept) is only a
tactical move in a much more complex game.  It is
only to give an appearance that the old rules apply
whereas the very object is to break those rules and
invent new ones.

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By Outraged, December 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment

It is COMPLETELY inaccurate to claim Fox News ever
supported OWS or was sympathetic to the movement. You know better and so do we.

“Fox News has begun attacking participants of the
“Occupy Wall Street” protests across the country,
claiming they are “deluded” and have “absolutely no
purpose or focus in life.” Fox’s attacks stand in stark
contrast with its relentless promotion and support of
the tea party protests of 2009 and 2010.”

http://mediamatters.org/research/201110030017

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By OzarkMichael, December 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie said:

You could hypothesize yourself in either the radical or the reformist category, should you want to answer my question.  They both have the same problem with respect to communicating with the rest of the community.

I appreciate the invitation. I am able to hypothesize, frankly there isnt anyone i have met who is able to do it better. Imagination is an important part of getting inside a problem and working it out.

However, there are a few obstacles that make me hesitate about accepting your invitation. First, anyone and everyone who gives advice to Occupy Wall Street has met with your immediate disapproval, along the lines of: “everyone is lining up to give advice when it isnt needed.” I have scrupulously avoided giving advice for that reason.

Second, your scenario describes a problem that in reality either exists for almost everyone or it exists for no-one. You never extend the problem to everyone, only your own class. Your rationale for that has been that we conservatives are wealthy and recieve special privileges because the media supports us, while the Occupiers are poor and get nothing but resistance from the media. I consider the reality to be almost the reverse. Occupiers are well connected, an elite class, and the media was sympathetic to them for as long as they could be. For example, in the early days how many times did the media suppress a bad event at OWS? And when the media did cover a bad event, how many times did they follow immediately with “But most Occupiers arent like that, they are good, peaceful people.” Even conservative Fox News did that for weeks.

Third obstacle: you ask me to take on the role of reformer. The fact that you dont recognize that I am already such a person is a bit of an insult. I work very hard to be heard, like millions of others, within the system.

I strongly object to your assertion that you need special speech rights. If you recieve them today it is inevitable that they would be a tool for any other cause you chose, and if tomorrow your side won through, that tool would become enshrined into law, only for your side to use, of course. I would call that tyranny. Tyranny by idealistic young Leftists, but tyranny just the same.

Even if we disagree, at least you acknowledge my objections? Then next post i will give some advice if you want to hear it.

Meanwhile, accept my thanks for standing in for OWS, fielding hard questions. Nobody else will do that, and more: in my opinion you are actually a good representative of an important constituency in the OWS core group. Thats a rare combination and a rare person.

I know you are not inside OWS itself, yet for brevity i write as if you are. It is convenient shorthand, but if it bothers you I wont do it anymore.

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By Foucauldian, December 28, 2011 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

You mean virtue is not its own reward, Cando?

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By CanDoJack, December 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm Link to this comment

All genuine virtue is ultimately pragmatic and
pragmatically ultimate.

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By James M. de Laurier, December 27, 2011 at 10:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rebecca Solnit,  12/27/2011
      Your posit is well taken and
understood.However,know that your reference to Cain
should be regarded as an omen - for the future.
      Thanking you for this opportunity to comment -
      James M. de Laurier

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment

OzarkMichael, December 26 at 12:10 pm:

Anarcissie asks:
  Ozark Michael—You want me to write all that stuff about the agora and so on all over again?

Lets be honest. This isnt about the agora. This isnt even about the TARP billions. This is about demanding a major change in our system of government and our society.

I would rather get to the bottom line than flop around the surface again. A little scenario will illuminate: if the bailout never happened, if the economy was doing fine, even if there was an empty lot on every block for you to protest in, wouldnt you still be supporting the radicals? Wouldnt you still be agitating for the same major change in our government and our society? I believe the answers to those two questions is “Yes”. ...

I’m not Occupy Wall Street, nor do I speak for them, so the ‘you’ up there may be somewhat inaccurate.  I do agree that the core group of people who started the Occupation probably consist mostly of people who would be advocating major changes even if the bailouts had never happened, and so forth.  However (perhaps because there are wide differences of opinion even among the core) they did not actually advocate many specific changes; instead, they protested the unequal division of wealth and power in their (our) national community, of which ‘Wall Street’ is a symbol.  This attracted many people who are not radicals, unless the New Deal is radical.

As I’ve said before, this second group of people, who may represent a majority of the adult population, have been denied effective representation in the government and the mass media.  So they do need a place to speak, to protest.  For them, the existence of the agora is highly relevant, whereas the changes to be brought about are non-radical; indeed, they’re conservative or reactionary in the sense of looking back to a previous state of affairs (the New Deal and its elaborations) as desirable.

You could hypothesize yourself in either the radical or the reformist category, should you want to answer my question.  They both have the same problem with respect to communicating with the rest of the community.

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By OzarkMichael, December 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm Link to this comment

Barbara says: “I want to thank the author of this article for your work and for motivating me, enough, to write.”

Please be motivated enough to register. You had some interesting things to say but its hard to respond to a person who is even less tangible and transient than we all already are.

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By OzarkMichael, December 26, 2011 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie asks:

Ozark Michael—You want me to write all that stuff about the agora and so on all over again?

Lets be honest. This isnt about the agora. This isnt even about the TARP billions. This is about demanding a major change in our system of government and our society.

I would rather get to the bottom line than flop around the surface again. A little scenario will illuminate: if the bailout never happened, if the economy was doing fine, even if there was an empty lot on every block for you to protest in, wouldnt you still be supporting the radicals? Wouldnt you still be agitating for the same major change in our government and our society? I believe the answers to those two questions is “Yes”.

You would have to find a different method, or you would need to Occupy outside the mundane open lots that everyone else uses in order to recieve special attention. Occupy must climb over everyone else, must find a way to get in the public’s face more than any other movement or protest.

If that is the case, then the ‘agora’ stuff, just like so many other issues floating around the blogosphere of OWS, are merely pretexts. Time is better spent on core issues instead of pretexts, but I will dwell on this a bit longer.

Occupation is the method of the Elite Left, they are rich white folks who have plenty of money. They could rent plenty of space. Heck, those rich kids could have bought the damn park if they really wanted it. But despite their wealth, the Occupiers wont even buy permits to march! Folks with 1/2, 1/3 or even 1/4 as much wealth spent their hard earned money on permits when they felt a need to protest. Not only that, those poor folks also pay the taxes that got sucked up paying for the Occupation. We pay for our own protest marches as well as for your Occupation, all while you have more money than we do.

The goal of Occupy is to be a nuisance, and the best nuisance is one that costs other people lots of money. That is why the “port” Occupation is so attractive. You cannot tell me that space on land is at such a premium that the Occupiers were being forced into the ocean, and were forced to make a last stand on the city docks? The whole agora shtick is wearing thin.

Recall, Anarcissie, that many Occupiers came from far away, and much bragging was done about that fact so there is no sense denying it. These arent inner city kids with no park to play in. Also, I am hearing from the OWS kiddies that their goal isnt merely a place to protest, but a place to live together and build a community. For free. In downtown New York City.

How much of other people’s rights this may abrogate, how much this may cost everyone else, doesnt seem to enter their equation. 

This ‘agora’ stuff is not really about needed space for protesting. It is about a needed pretext for something else altogether. It is a side show, not the main event. I am beginning to suspect it is actually a distraction. That is why you are tired of it, and your fans are tired of it.

i am not tired of it yet, but I would rather get to what is real instead of the smokescreen.

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By Barbara, December 26, 2011 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I want to thank the author of this article for your work and for motivating me, enough, to write.

Compassion is exactly “it.” I do not see it as a virtue that implies choice, although I would put ‘pity’ into that category. Hmm, minus the virtue part.

I have long held compassion as the particular human attribute that can save us from ourselves and ensure to the best of our ability, our long-term survival as a species—and as well, save the rest of life on the planet from our heavy hand.

That is, compassion in its meaning to “suffer with.”

Humankind has long misplaced the ‘relationship of interdependence’ with the ‘strategy of dominance’ in its efforts toward mass survival and, now, toward mass control and ownership. It is a happening that mirrors in the growth of our many cultures the diminishment, in essence and in form, of the feminine and the exaltation of that of the masculine—in all, to the detriment of humankind. This misplacement is an artificial stance that does not, and cannot, replace the laws of Nature. It can and does cause extreme harm, however.

This is a much longer story that ends with the sad fact that the human species may be the only species on the planet that undermines itself and its prospects for long-term survival. And it does so, with a vengeance.

Everything is about relationship and here we, as the modern human species, fail miserably. We have within us what it takes to make the fix, however. For this I look to the capacity to ‘suffer with.’ I believe it is our greatest, most important strength.

This attribute is seamless to our existence, not by happenstance. It acts as a barometer to our health and well-being so that we do not destroy ourselves or other sentient species or the natural world that sustains us. When we ‘suffer with’ we cannot escape our impact on the other—nor the impact of others or that of forces beyond our control. In this we gain the opportunity to modify our actions and respond to need. In all, we survive.

This is not a girly thing. It is a survival thing—along with a healthy living thing.

Despite all of the brainwashing to the contrary, to ‘suffer with’ is not a weakness to be overcome. If our hearts bleed when we open to the suffering of the many ‘others’ who struggle and suffer at this time on the planet, then it is proof that we are off-track in our ways. Life should not be this painful. The answer is not to shut down but, instead, to act up.

Life naturally brings episodes of suffering, of course, but the majority of suffering today is needless in that it comes not by way of nature and natural circumstance but, rather, by way of humankind and its ways; and it is relentless as its cause is institutionalized dominance. In this is the essence of human cruelty.

I fear that my words fail to convey how great a threat this capacity is considered to be by those in power. However dressed up, exploitation is how empire is sustained. The consequences of a movement to accept and make matter our capacity to ‘suffer with’ will bring down empire, as we will no longer be tolerant or indifferent to exploitation. We will not tolerate suffering, and other injustices, for the sake of empire.

What this looks like, is another subject.

Thank you, for tolerating this lengthy post, my first. I haven’t run out of words, amazing.

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By Anarcissie, December 26, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Ozark Michael—You want me to write all that stuff about the agora and so on all over again?  My fans will be most displeased.  They expect me to be more entertaining.

I was hoping to get some statement from you as to what you would recommend if you had the same complaints as those initially made by OWS, in the same sort of environment.  This is assuming you think those complaints were not entirely absurd or illegitimate.  If so, you might select some other complaints.

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By OzarkMichael, December 26, 2011 at 7:40 am Link to this comment

Anarcissie said: Ozark Michael—If a couple of hundred unarmed demonstrators in a churchyard is your idea of significant violence…

No. it isnt significant violence.

It isnt even violence. But to take something that someone doesnt want to give you is force, and Occupy Wall Street does just that.

I would like you to follow up. Anticipating that you will do so, I will answer your question right away: 

Do you think things are really pretty okay, and that the protesters have nothing to complain about?

Does having something “to complain about” gives people the right to act out? To push other people around? To assume special privileged speech rights(Occupation was presented as a free speech issue) that others can not have? To deny others their rights so that you can exercize your special rights?

People have legitimate grievances. Yes they do. They always have and they always will. Sometimes, even in a pretty good government, many people have their legitimate grievances ignored for decades.

Shall those of us with ignored grievances attempt to override the rights of others because our grievances are not addressed?

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By Anarcissie, December 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm Link to this comment

Ozark Michael—If a couple of hundred unarmed demonstrators in a churchyard is your idea of significant violence, you must lead a charmed life.

But let me ask you a question.  Do you think things are really pretty okay, and that the protesters have nothing to complain about?  Or if not, what do you think they should do about the issues they’ve raised?  I’m looking for something positive, something assertive, something beside zingers and gotchas which I think we have enough of for the moment.

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By OzarkMichael, December 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm Link to this comment

Anarcissie said: Taking by force, whether it’s crime or capitalism, leaves little left over for life.

When OWS tried to take over the church lot(by force) or when Occupy drains off millions in tax payer money(also by force), we know it sure isnt capitalism! From Anarcissie’s statement, it must be a crime.

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By Rixar13, December 25, 2011 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment

“If it’s a movement about love, it’s also about the money they so unjustly took, and continue to take, from us—and about the fact that, right now, money and love are at war with each other.”

I help hungry Veterans and just try to survive….

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By balkas, December 25, 2011 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

the great civilization we once had [else i wldn’t be here today to thank for it our dark- or black-skinned ancestors of, say,
20k yrs ago] is utterly destroyed and people like nader, rocky anderson, jill stein, ron paul, michael moore, ventura, cynthia
mckinney, chomsky, finkelstein, kucinich, et al now want to preserve presently very uncivilized life [which is getting even
worse by day let alone year or years] by offering or ‘promising’ people variety of nebulous ‘cures’.

look at the ‘promises’ they make: tax the rich, abandon some bases, end occupation of afgh’n/iraq, stop supporting israel,
preserve freedoms, get corporations to behave properly, etc., but not THE HOW/WHEN they’d manage to do that and while
all MSM, judges, lawyers, army echelons, bankers, pious people, educators, fbi/cia, constitution, laws, about 30 mln rabid
americans wld be against doing any of that.
but the OWS is not taken in, as far as i know. and is that the reason all these saviors are not by or with OWS?
no, we don’t need ‘promises’. we need plans! and here we run into a deafening silence of the saviors.
so, i suggest to OWS to say to the saviors: are u by us or with us or not? or are u for just putting patches on the proverbial
old pants? and, of course, on only the spots they choose! tnx

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By bpawk, December 25, 2011 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

Your article states:
“...The people who destroyed our economy through their bottomless greed are, on the other hand, shameless—as shameless as the CEOs whose compensation shot up 36% in 2010, during this deep and grinding recession. Compassion is definitely not their currency…”
I notice there’s hardly any criticism of the governments (Rep and Dem) who sanctioned the behaviour of the greedy 1% by creating laws that favour them at the expense of the 99%. Are you gearing up to be an Obama Again! supporter?
Also, you invoke Martin Luther King, but at least he unlike the occupiers had the sense to march on Washington, which the occupiers won’t do, because he knew that’s where the power is and that’s where the laws are made that enable the greedy to get away and not be charged. Why don’t you permanently stage protests in Washington where MLK did many years ago? Again, are you afraid to criticize Obama?

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By Anarcissie, December 25, 2011 at 9:11 am Link to this comment

The trouble with ‘compassion’ is that people think of it as virtuousness, being nice or even heroic, a choice.  The usual meaning of the word is just that.

Rather than compassion as such, the basis of human life is communism.  The preponderance of our daily social relations is necessarily communistic.  As highly social animals, we must either share or take by force.  Taking by force, whether it’s crime or capitalism, leaves little left over for life.  Destructive exploitation of others (including that great Other, Nature) is not the body of our society but a parasite on it.

We’re not going to get out from under our would-be masters by feeling nice things about a set of people over there somewhere whom we call the poor.  We’re going to get out by realizing we are the poor, and had better make the best of it.  Not only compassion is involved in this; a little self- and common interest will help.

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By balkas, December 25, 2011 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

to be is to be interdependent. to survive is to be interdepedent. we, as a form of life, have
survived—i suggest—because we lived in a very well-developed interdependency.
it lasted roughly until priests began to chip at it for centuries or millennia to finally utterly
destroy it by 8k yrs ago in mesopotamia and egypt and millennia later in europe and parts
of asia.
we are not the only specie of life that survived to this day because of living in an
interdependent group of people—wolves, elephants, lions, among many other species have
survived solely because of that system living or adaptation for survival on this planet.
by survival and/or living interdependently, i mean also trusting, needing others and being
trusted, needed by others; and being listened to and listening to others or being ‘obeyed’
and ‘obeying’ others, etc.
such great wealth and utterly destroyed in almost all lands and not just u.s. tnx bozhidar
balkas, vancouver

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By CanDoJack, December 25, 2011 at 3:35 am Link to this comment

Well said, thank you.

Terms can get confusing. Some never can be.

Greed is Greed.

Wrong is wrong.

Like the would be traveler approaches a local citizen
obvious distraught and in hurry. “Please tell me how to
get to the train station.”

“Well”, the local citizen replied, “it’s like this.

Go three blocks up and turn left. And you will be right.

Go three blocks up and turn right. And you will be left.”

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By rumblingspire, December 24, 2011 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

To Share Our Love-The Moody Blues
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVFcZJfwEY0&feature=fvst

“to share
to share my/your love”

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By gerard, December 24, 2011 at 5:43 pm Link to this comment

A graceful statement describing one of the world’s great “moments of truth.” May we all live up to it!

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