Tuesday, 25 October 2011

a gratuitously aggressive title would be "occupy THIS"

With apologies for furthering the argument... in response to this. I have two outstanding questions after reading it, even though it's probably the fairest account in support of the protests that i've read.

1. What is an occupation? Why do protesters occupy things? Seriously. I’m not sure any more. I thought the whole point of occupation was to cause inconvenience. Presumably, the Occupy Wall Street thing chose Wall Street rather than, I don’t know, Sunset Boulevard, because it was a location broadly associated with the reason for protesting. Otherwise - if location hadn't mattered - they should probably have chosen a field, because it is easier to camp in a field than on Wall Street. Clearly, the occupiers wanted to occupy the place they had issues with. Occupy London Stock Exchange would have done the same, but as we all know they couldn’t go to London Stock Exchange, so they occupied a square outside a cathedral instead, because it was nearby. But as they had no particular issue with the cathedral, they attempted to be as nice to it as possible. Fair enough.

But they were, on the other hand, still occupying the area. And doing this quite successfully, it would seem, as they have caused the cathedral sizeable inconvenience. This is utterly undeniable. Even if the cathedral staff wanted to remain open and the police waterboarded them into coalescence (actually, especially if so, thinking about it), the cathedral has obviously now been caused sizeable inconvenience. St Paul’s has shut and is losing money needed for maintenance. This would not have occurred if the protesters had not occupied the square in front of it. The cathedral has suffered because of the protesters.

Given that (as noted) the protesters are not protesting against the cathedral, I can only conclude that they have massively misfired, and, somewhere along the way, forgotten why protesters occupy particular things.

2. Can the protesters really be credited with making bankers reevaluate their life choices and capitalism? I do know quite a few people who have gone into what is essentially the financial sector. None of them match the stereotype of the ‘greedy banker’. Maybe they are just not rich or fat enough yet. Or, on the other hand, maybe they have just chosen a convenient job which they know will earn them a good – excellent, in fact – living salary. Pretty logical really. I absolutely would have done the same if i'd had any common sense. (But no, i'll work three unpaid internships simultaneously, that'll be really clever and fun.) But the main point here is that my friends haven’t got these boring money jobs because they are massively enchanted with capitalism or because they love money and enjoy spitting on tramps and hippies. Working in finance makes sense for many practical reasons, and that’s it; we say that you ‘sell your soul’ when you get a job in the city precisely because such work is uninspiring and unengaging. 99 percent of the time, working in the city is not love for money, but just convenience. Greedy bankers are straw men; most of them are just bankers, profiting from a system prepared to give them lots of money for reasonable work.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that plenty of bankers and whoever else think that the protesters have a point. Why not? It's not like it's costing them anything. They may have a slightly greater vested interest in capitalism than the protesters, but let’s be honest – everyone knows that capitalism isn’t going to vanish any time soon; the protesters aren’t actually a threat, are they. And although they may depend on it to some extent, it’s deeply unlikely that a majority of bankers actually feel any particular attachment towards capitalism as a system in itself. It's just this weird alien thing giving them stuff. A banker expressing support for the Occupy movement is like a 12-year-old whispering to himself in his bedroom that his headmaster has a silly name, even though he’s just been given a scholarship. Or something. Hmm.

What annoys me most of all, though, is how my default writing mode is 'hugely sarcastic and bitter', but i don't seem able to change that. Plus it is quite late so i will stop. Sorry!


  1. With apologies for further furthering the argument, a reply intended in EVEN BETTER spirit (so there). I'm afraid it's hideously long, I may have got a bit carried away. Also sorry if it seems ranty or angry in places - I still love you, honest!

    1. In general terms I think you have a point here; as part of the Cambridge activist scene, one of the things that always used to mildly annoy me was the tendency to occupy things for no apparent reason other than 'we're a radical student movement, and radical student movements occupy things, therefore it is vitally important that we revive the grand old tradition of occupying things'.

    However, I still don't think it's a point that's relevant in this context. Occupations don't have to be solely about causing disruption. I guess for me it goes back to the point Katherine made on Sunday: polite marches and demonstrations that last an hour or so routinely get ignored. Also, they are a pretty pathetic response to the scale of the problem we're talking about. For me, at least in this case, the idea of occupation is a symbolic one: we're not going away, because neither is the problem we're angry about. I know that invites the point you made on Sun - that they will eventually have to go away and the problems won't have been fixed - but I still think the symbolism has been powerful, it's generated some noise and some debate in the way a march just wouldn't have, and it's sent a powerful message that citizens are beginning to withdraw their consent from a status quo that is increasingly unacceptable.

    I think it's short sighted to say that Occupy should have just gone home because they couldn't go to the LSE: I think it's massively important that this kind of movement should exist, I've been waiting for it to happen since 2008, and frankly I think it is more important and more historically significant than a few days' revenue for an overpriced tourist attraction.

    As for "the cathedral has suffered *because of the protesters*... *they* have massively misfired", this was sort of my point: I think it is incredibly dangerous to blame protesters for the consequences of things that happen because police or vested interests are trying to suppress their protest, rather than as a direct result of them being violent or disorderly. The only option you seem to leave protesters with is to 'just go home', which is basically handing victory to those who wanted to stop them protesting in the first place. It's the suppression you should be getting angry about, not the protesters forced into a corner by it. I feel really, really passionately about this because I have first hand experience of it, it's an issue that goes far beyond St Paul's and I think it is a national disgrace. Also, just spotted this which I think vindicates my basic analysis from yesterday: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8851415/St-Pauls-Cathedral-to-reopen-on-Friday-despite-Occupy-London-protest-camp.html.

    (to be continued...)

  2. 2. On the second one, I'm a bit confused as to what your point is. I don't think I was invoking the stereotype of the 'greedy banker' or suggesting the protest had 'made bankers re-evaluate their life choices'. Maybe I wasn't particularly clear about this, in which case apologies. My point is that Occupy has prompted fairly mainstream figures to openly acknowledge that the system is dysfunctional - ok, it might not have in itself been responsible for that Damascene conversion, but I think it's brought it far more into the open, and it's a sort of barometer of shifting ideological sands (now there's a mixed metaphor for you).

    Yes, I agree that finance workers are just people. But I don't agree that "it’s deeply unlikely that a majority of bankers actually feel any particular attachment towards capitalism", or that "It's just this weird alien thing giving them stuff." In my view, C21st capitalism is primarily characterised by the role of capital markets. And those capital markets don't exist in the abstract: they are made up of people. Investors of the kind I'm talking about *are* the market. By criticising it, they're criticising themselves; they're criticising the legitimacy of a set-up that awards them seven-figure salaries. I think that's a pretty big deal.

    The real point about this was put to me really well by an ex-banker last week: until 2008, most people in finance felt like they were doing a good thing. They were part of an efficient system of capital allocation that ultimately underpinned the real economy. They were earning spectacular rewards because they were doing a spectacularly important job spectacularly well. 2008 shook that faith for some, but the 'efficient markets' ideology bounced back with unnerving ease, and for the last few years it's seemed like business as usual. Now, civil society is revolting, and the industry itself is just starting to admit that the efficient markets hypothesis - on which the entire legitimacy of their business models is based - is basically bullshit. Using the words 'capitalism' and 'dysfunctional' in the same sentence no longer marks you out as lunatic fringe: it's being uttered by insiders. Ideologically, I still think that this is a hugely significant and hugely important development, and that's fundamentally why I support Occupy London.

  3. Ok, this is in danger of turning into the second evening in a row when i have returned home late with several reviews to write and then written a response to you about OLSX instead of writing any of them. I'm going to attempt to do some "career" writing for a bit, but will respond. In YET BETTER spirits still. (unless i have been unable to write any of the reviews, in which case i'll probably be quite annoyed. still not at you though)

  4. I'm guessing you are still busy (or just decided that in fact you agree 100% with absolutely everything I say) but since this discussion two articles have said what I was trying to say much more eloquently than me: