I’ve avoided writing about the Occupy movement for the following reasons: 1. Until last week I thought Warren Buffett sang Margaritaville. 2. I’m young and I have a job—a fortuitous, albeit awkward combination, as working for a major corporation isn’t exactly popular in most (drum) circles these days. In other words, it’s not the best time to be a liberal arts grad turned corporate lackey. As a result, I’ve been feeling a bit alienated from the pro-Occupy demographic you’d think would be my natural constituency, my peers. My Occupy contemporaries wear clothing made of plants and live in yurts. I just bought a coat with a genuine rabbit collar and I live in a building made of brick. One friend of mine who shall remain nameless appeared in a Toronto Star photo of the St. James Park encampment, beating a bongo drum to apparent oblivion. Another friend who doesn’t mind being named, Jen Anderson, states on her Facebook page that she believes in “energy” and that “we are creatures of the sun / no worries, no wishes / . . . the sun rises to greet us / we spin to meet the sun / There is always more than one truth.”
As disaffected as I sometimes felt from the Occupy movement, its detractors have left me even colder. Both sides have co-opted the supposedly free discourse with claims that strike me as unfounded. But, absent a side on the issue I can fervently embrace—and I suspect I’m not alone here—there are some truths I do stand by:
1. Less is more. Most people would take one good lie over multiple depressing truths. Most people are tired, busy and ignorant, and you don’t Occupy when you’re preoccupied. I love Jen Anderson, but as far as I can see, she doesn’t represent the 99 per cent. I do. Every time I read a story in the newspaper about the Canadian Occupy movement, I feel as though I just opened a book halfway through and I don’t know the plot.
I get why people are sleeping in tents in the United States, but when I see the pictures of the camp in Toronto, I’m not sure why they’re there. Should I join them? Should I watch Modern Family? I don’t know enough to know for sure. My impulse, like most middle-class 99 per centers, is to go to Indigo and pick up The Shock Doctrine or Freakonomics; like most middle-class 99 per centers, I go to Indigo and leave with The Help.
2. Communists rub me the wrong way. It may be a big jump to go from bongo banging to full-out Marxism, but there it is: in an ideological sense, I’ve never liked sharing. In a more personal way, everyone who hit on my girlfriend in university was a Marxist. Again, I don’t like sharing.
3. I like people with a sense of humour and irony, and political activists tend to be lacking in both. Humour humanizes both parties in an argument; it’s the only way to really understand your opponent. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” (Or, as Jen Anderson says, “There’s always more than one truth.”) The lack of irony is why I veered from an activist career myself. In high school, I was the Occupying type: president of the students’ council and delegate at many a leadership conference. Eventually, all the ideological affectation got to me, and I was soured by one too many unsolicited hugs. Not long ago, I was riding in a cab on my way home from a nightclub and the cab driver, who had emigrated 10 years ago from Namibia, was telling me his life story. His foreign education—he has a degree in computer science—couldn’t get him a job in Toronto, which is why he was driving a cab. At one point we passed St. James Park, which was at the height of its occupation. I asked him what he thought about the tent city, assuming he’d be sympathetic. “Looks like a bunch of bulls–t to me,” he said.
I don’t happen to think it’s a bunch of bulls–t. But the movement’s unwillingness to mobilize around one voice—or one leader—has destroyed any credibility it might have otherwise had with people like my cabbie; people whose impatience with the Occupiers springs from the fact that they are working crappy jobs. If the Occupiers truly represented people like my cabbie, they wouldn’t have had the time to Occupy at all. And refusing to get organized to spite the organizations in power is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. All it proves is that you hate your enemies more than you love your neighbours.
And that’s no way for anyone to occupy their time.