I’m sure everyone remembers the Occupy Wall Street movement.
After all this time, with Occupy fading into history as another failed populist uprising that never really got beyond the ‘gathering’ phase (though there was a plot to blow up a bridge), one clip stuck with me. It was the hysterical rant by an irate hipster at Liberty Plaza. His name is Edward T. Hall III,which is a pretty swanky name for a street bum or a disenfranchised college debt slave. Further reporting revealed that Hall wasn’t a random figure, and was often on the front lines of provocations against the police, leading the chants of class warfare and even the creepy ‘people’s megaphone‘ trend. He certainly has a talent for the dramatic.
Not much digging had to be done to unearth exactly where Hall came from. Surprisingly he wasn’t some penurious commoner screwed over by the capitalist system and in need to revenge. This of course was Occupy’s image, that of the downtrodden ‘99%’ fighting back against the banksters and the fat cats on Wall St., but Hall’s was an existence of moneyed privilege.
The grandson of celebrated anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the third iteration had been left a tidy trust fund in order that his grandson would never have to suffer a day in his life, and could fund his non-matriculated Columbia education which has in no way gone to waste, not to mention the other fine schools he has attended for leisure purposes like Bard College and Carnegie Mellon. Being a quintessential trust-fund baby who could afford to spend his weekend, heck his entire weeks, lazing around, dating, downloading music, etc. what exactly was Hall doing at Occupy?
Thus we arrive at the crux of the matter, and that is if we understand the revolutionary mindset correctly, we see its germination and metastasis not as a product of the lowest strata of society, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the poor, the uneducated, the weak, the infirm, the lazy. In that swamp at the bottom of the caste pyramid, almost nothing of any potency can emerge. Left to their own devices and with all things being equal, the isolated poor will be content with their station, improve it as they can, but will find purpose in their toiling. Karl Marx correctly observed that the French Revolution to finally abolish the edifices of the old feudal order was not initiated at all by the bread-starved peasants, but by the ‘bourgeoisie’, the word originating from ‘bourgs‘ which were market towns, their inhabitants being primarily merchants of some type. As mercantilism enriched this sector, such men gained sizable wealth, and entered fields beyond trade in which capital could be accumulated, first law, and much later medicine.
We should remember that Maximilien Robespierre was the son of a lawyer, and studied at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, finally being accepted into the Arras bar. In fact, as a student he was lucky enough to be selected to read a speech to King Louis XVI at his coronation, which very few impoverished farmers ever did. Similarly the Marquis de Sade was… well, a marquis. The list goes on, Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, the son of another lawyer, and architect of the The Terror. Paul François Jean Nicolas, the son of a minor noble, leader of the Directory regime. Bertrand Barère, son of a fiefdom-owning lawyer, and a member of the ‘Committee of Public Safety’. By the time that revolutionary politics was beginning to foment, the low aristocracy was a mix of former high aristocracy fallen from grace through squandering and misfortune, and urban (sometimes rural) professionals who had accumulated capital thanks to their education and parentage. It was from this milieu that the spark emerged, going on to ignite a raging inferno that would claim the lives of the French monarch along with countless others.
Back to Hall. Why exactly is it that men with comfortable lives are the most strident voices for violent revolution? Why must they feign suffering and distress when they have never endured a day of back-breaking labor, have never strained to feed their children, or seen their matchbox abodes crumbling around them? Understanding why a debt-ridden lower-class community college student who made the unfortunate choice of film studies would be involved with Occupy is easy. For people like Hall, a deeper level of understanding is required.
The oft-quoted George Orwell said of Adolf Hitler’s appeal:
“Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,””
It doesn’t matter what the ideology is, for those who have had all real struggle removed from their lives, whether they realize it, rationalize it or not, their heart pulls them to risk, towards anything that will make them feel alive. It is a form of debauchery, and is the same reason why Hollywood is one of the top recipients of illegal drug sales in the United States. What exactly are billionaire actors trying to escape from with their habits? We can understand why the divorced truck-driving single father is a raging alcoholic, but the wasted lifestyles of our vaunted celebrities are baffling. Risky sex practices? Same thing. Sean Penn meeting with a guy who would gladly chop his penis off and feed it to him? Same thing.
One can respond to this thesis and question why we do not see this behavior so much in the Traditional world, outside of a few well-documented cases. After all, kings and priests were wealthier than the average man, what struggle did they have? Believe it or not, the burdens of the responsibility for the survival of the entire spiritual nation which rests on the ruling warrior caste who must defend it from external threats while watching their own back every minute of the day, is an intense struggle. As José Antonio Primo De Rivera correctly asserted, the leader of the nation serves the most, if the system is indeed functioning correctly. Similarly a true priest suffers daily under the struggle of mediating divine forces and shouldering the crushing burden of moral watchfulness and an unparalleled knowledge of accountability. The Traditional World satisfies man’s gravitation to the thrill of peril, without engendering degeneracy.
Does Hall have any responsibilities or moral entanglements? No, as a bourgeois libertine, nothing restrains him nor presses down on him, neither finance nor family nor guilt. In light of this, he goes searching for something to put himself under, something to scream at and fight against. alongside the foul-smelling, unwashed masses of Occupy Wall Street. He’ll roll in the same filth as people who defecate in public and require rape-free tents to stop pervasive sexual assault. All of this is liberating, thrills one with a giddy excitement like a chemical high, and that is exactly what is coursing through his veins as he yells slogans for the clueless crowd to repeat. The angry masses are a fantasy for people like Hall who romanticizes a conflict he has no real connection to. “Oh, please let me inspire your fight, because I don’t have one of my own!” and of course because such people are of higher means and education than the peasants, they are the people who get onto the ‘Committee of Public Safety’.
I am reminded of the song ‘Common People’ by Britpop band Pulp. These lyrics in particular:
“Rent a flat above a shop
Smoke some fags and play some pool
‘Cos when you’re laid in bed at night
If you called your dad, he could stop it all, yeah”
The luminaries of revolution, successful and unsuccessful, are the privileged Moderns masquerading as peasants so they can have some semblance of meaning in their lives, and they are very good at convincing people that they are indeed down with the struggle. In epic “how do you do, fellow kids?” moments, Michael Moore dresses like he fixes arcade machines for a living, and Russel Brand carries the persona of a crack peddler in the underpass. Why is the revolutionary mouthpiece never the guy who actually fixes arcade machines, or actually peddles crack in the underpass? Because as with every single revolutionary movement in history, the masses retain the same character as in general, that of putty, to be manipulated towards their own destruction or salvation based on who can inform the zeitgeist of the age. For now it seems, we are not free of wannabe Robespierres, seeking out their own glorious massacre.
Once again, this is a form of debauchery. We’ll call it trust fund debauchery, the perverse pursuit of self-engineered danger when one has no material need to encounter it, but gives chase anyway because all the organic forms of struggle are absent in his life. If you want to find out from whence a revolution is initiated, don’t look for the taverns full of disgruntled, howling factory workers, look instead to the dens of trust fund debauchery.