Occupy Wallstreet protesters are angry, and with good reason. A very small number of people, the purported 1% has in their hands the overwhelming majority of the money and power in the world and the gap is ever widening. But, as this image so aptly points out, the imbalance is a lot bigger than comparing their multiple mansions and yachts to your two bedroom rental apartment (or wherever you live).
[And of course now I can’t find the image that several people posted on facebook recently so I’ll describe it. Basically its a motivational poster style image with a picture of Occupy protesters on the left and starving children in sub-Saharan Africa on the right. Below it reads – “You are still the 1%”]
So let’s take that image in for a moment and think about its implications. The obvious implication is that despite it all we have it pretty good compared to most of the world and we’ve got quite the responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than we are. If we dig a little deeper and think a litter bit harder thought we’re led to another realization. Most of us, most of the time don’t think about the fact that most of the rest of the world deals with much harsher relative conditions than we do. In fact we take it for granted and even feel entitled to things like clean drinking water, education, roads, etc. We feel that way because we were born into a certain class, in a certain part of the world. Its just how we live. Making due with less is scary, and its frustrating when we see others who have so much more.
Now for the leap.
If you were born as one of the 1% of the 1% you’d feel the exact same way. Think about it. Born with a silver spoon in your mouth, always having servants, getting a BMW for your 16th birthday. Many of today’s uber-wealthy if not born into their fortunes got a pretty good head start compared to the rest of us. From their perspective the system works pretty well, and the idea of giving up the summer house in Nice or drinking $75 wine is downright terrifying. It must seem like the world’s being turned upside down. When you’re raised to think that you’re special, that you deserve everything you have, that somehow you earned it, why would you question that?
Here’s an interesting documentary that probes into exactly that, what its like to grow up uber-rich.
This is where the 99% vs. the 1% really breaks down. Ready? They’re human beings too. They’re scared of losing what they have. To them, taking the bus and eating bean soup would be like living in a shanty. They’re understandably defensive and afraid. Just like we’re reluctant to give up our cars or live in a smaller house. Some of the 1% are self-made and many of them sympathize with the Occupy Movement like Warren Buffet. Of course there’s sure to be a few genuine psychopaths amongst the uber-rich as well, but that’s a totally different bucket ‘o bolts.
99% or 1% we’re all really just playing out a game predicated on a set of rules that was written nearly half a millennia ago when central currency, major banking institutions and chartered corporations all got started. Now, those old rules about money, value and trade have snowballed into an avalanche that’s carrying us all away, poor, rich and middle class alike. That the system has treated certain members of society better than others there can be no doubt, but its reaching the point now that its starting to squeeze everyone (in relative terms of course) but its been in place for so long that hardly anyone is even aware of it, let alone trying to create a new alternative.
That is what we need to do, 99% and 1% together. Build a new system that doesn’t force us to be at each other’s throats.
There’s a lot dystopian sci-fi books and movies about a future where computers take over the world and enslave humanity. I suggest that this is already happening, except that the computers aren’t ArpaNet or Cybermen or Matrix Machines, rather its the increasingly complex “program” of financial systems, corporations and laws that are dictating how we do just about everything. Its not about metal and silicone robots dominating us, its about corporate ledgers and law books. We’ve written our own prison, our own doomsday scenario. Ironically all we need to do in order to escape is write a new one.
Writing a new scenario, a new script to follow (or better yet to improvise!) will take imagination and courage. This is why youth are so important. They have less invested in the old system and therefore can see and do things the rest of us have forgotten were even options.