I present the following thoughts with a bit of fear and trepidation. I want to say up front that I am not taking sides and that the reason I am posting is to provoke reflection and conversation. I hope a healthy sense of ambivalence (in the literal sense of the word) emerges and that the ambivalence leads to constructive conversation.
I have watched with interest the recent occupy movements. As you might suspect, because I am engaged in anti-hunger work (which is the result of a strong empathy for those who are poor and vulnerable) and because I am not in the top 1% of wage earners I was initially sympathetic to the occupiers. It seemed to me to be a creative way to voice frustration about a prolonged economic crisis that has left many hungry and many more financially insecure.
As I have thought more about it, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the protests. Part of it may be due to my general pacifist and conflict-averse tendencies (which, admittedly, are probably in need of more critical reflection, maybe in a later post?). Another part may be due to the fact that I live in a pretty wealthy town (my wife works for a local church).
In my head though, what concerns me most about the occupy movement is that it is focused on others’ faults rather than one’s own. While it may be true that some greedy bankers (note that just because someone works in the financial sector it does not follow that they are therefore particularly greedy) played a part in the current mess, and it may be true that the top 1% possesses more wealth than the bottom 50%, it is not entirely their fault that we find ourselves in this place. If you are like me, in the good years you overleveraged yourself and are now cutting back, paying down debt, and trying to save more money. Even in the midst of this crisis, I may not be in the top 1%, but I have assets and a lifestyle that I am working very hard to maintain. Maintaining that lifestyle impacts my ability to work for the common good (and I am paid to care!). I am just as much a part of the problem as the super wealthy. So long as I blame it on others, though, I do not have to be critical of my own lifestyle and choices. This is why the conclusion to David Brooks column yesterday deeply resonated with me—we need to occupy ourselves. At the end of the day, if we are to move out of this morass, if we are truly going to address widespread hunger and poverty, it is going to take a whole lot more change than just at the top. “Let’s occupy ourselves.”