Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Location
Los Angeles, California,
Birthday
December 31
Title
Professor of Sociology
Company
Cal Poly Pomona
Bio
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at dennisloo.com, worldcantwait.net (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

NOVEMBER 12, 2011 7:14PM

Are the Well Off Who Support Occupy Wall Street Hypocrites?

Rate: 8 Flag

 

You’ve heard the 1%'ers and their apologists say it to Michael Moore, to Susan Sarandon, and to others who are famous and wealthy: you’re hypocrites for expressing support for the Occupy Movement.

Let me get this straight: if you’re wealthy and you refuse to recognize the grotesque unfairness of the division of wealth in society and the injustices too numerous to list, and instead luxuriate in your money, and if you despise and fear the Occupy Movement, then you’re not a hypocrite.

But if you have money and you use some of your money, your influence, your voice, and your body to support the Occupy Movement, then you’re nothing but a hypocrite? 

As someone who I thought liked me said about me recently because he thinks (mistakenly) that he inched into the 1% last year and apparently likes his money and fears the 99% more than he liked me: if Dennis supports the Occupy Movement, why doesn’t he just give away all of his money? Why doesn’t he just work for free and give it all away, if he really supports the 99%?

If we take the Occupy Movement’s detractors’ argument seriously, then what do we find underlying their newly found outrage over hypocrisy? We find a philosophy that says that one’s narrow economic interest should entirely govern one’s political perspective. If you’re materially well off, then you should not question how society’s resources are divided up. You should not question whether other people are being systematically treated unfairly if it doesn’t involve you. You should not worry yourself about the homeless, the poor, the people who are beaten and murdered because of their skin color, females who are insulted, assaulted, raped, and murdered because they're females, people of different sexual orientation who are ridiculed and even murdered because of their sexual orientation, the vets who suffer from PTSD and are committing suicide at the rate of 18/day, the people who can’t find work and who are losing their homes and losing hope. No, you should only and always care only about No. 1 – yourself. Because the world, you see, is all about YOU.

This kind of Ayn Rand perspective is precisely the philosophy that underlies the neoliberals’ – the free marketers’ and the privateers’ – take on the world. They think that if they are not concerned about anyone except good old No. 1 then nobody else could possibly be any different. If I’m selfish, then that must mean that everyone else in the world is also just as selfish as I am and anyone who claims to be anything else must be a hypocrite, pretending to care about others beside themselves. Because really, that’s how the world works, doesn’t it? We’re all self-centered and materially driven and if you’re not self-centered and materially driven then you’re just fooling yourself and trying to fool others.

This is precisely why the world is so upside down: because the people who hold this self-centered, narcissistic attitude are in charge of things. They call the shots and the system that they govern over and personify is designed to take the hard labor, the sweat and tears of the 99%, the tremendous resources of the entire planet, and suck it all up like a giant vacuum into their own golden coffers for the 1% to decide what they’re going to do with the bounty that the whole world creates but that they get to treat as their very own. If it means spending $248,000 on a playhouse for their children to play house in, then so be it, because to the winners go the spoils, right?

As Robert Parry of Consortium News wrote on October 5, 2011 in “Reagan’s ‘Greed Is Good’ Folly:”

Under Reaganomics, the bounty for the rich from lower taxes was supposed to “trickle down” to the rest of the American population, creating a rising tide that would lift all boats. However, in reality, it floated only a handful of yachts – filled with beautiful people flaunting Tiffany jewelry, Prada crocodile handbags ($41,000 each) and Louboutin boots ($2,495 at Saks).

 

As author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in last Sunday’s Washington Post, this era’s “‘hyper-luxury’ is represented by the 123-room Los Angeles mansion just purchased by 22-year-old British heiress Petra Ecclestone, which might be able to comfortably house 50 homeless families while leaving plenty of room for its owner should she care to remain on the premises.

 

“The term probably also applies to the new vogue of high-end children’s playhouses, one of which sells for $248,000. As one leading purveyor of such air-conditioned toys put it, ‘A special playhouse is not the sort of thing you can put off until the economy gets better.’” [Washington Post, Oct. 2, 2011]

 

Other beneficiaries of Reaganomics, the youthful and macho hedge fund managers, have turned Lower Manhattan and other favorite haunts into locations for Maserati dealerships, trendy restaurants, expensive bars, high-priced escort services and the finest cocaine. 

“A special playhouse is not the sort of thing you can put off until the economy gets better.” No dear me, of course not! We absolutely must buy that darling playhouse for our little one and why should we wait until the economy improves, when it’s awfully nice for us right now?

As I put it in my book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society, describing the neoliberal philosophy:

“It is only in a capitalist society where the degree of economic surplus is substantial enough and the interdependence among people more obscured (though very real nonetheless) that individuals who claim that they want freedom from the necessity of cooperation and coercion are not ridiculed as absurd antisocial jerks. And in neoliberal regimes, such individuals get to tell everyone else what to do as if their self-serving values were the very pinnacle of human development.

“Behaving as if society doesn’t exist[1] doesn’t alter the fact that people have to rely upon others to survive and that one’s survival depends upon society itself. [Frederick] Hayek [godfather of neoliberalism] tries to conceal this reality under a doctrine that defends and promotes the notion that some (or all) can act as if they are free of any obligations to others. Taken to its logical conclusion, if everyone were free of the will of others, then no one would be or could be in a relationship with anyone else. Two people who are a couple, for example, exert their wills over each other. We call that ‘going steady,’ ‘marriage,’ or a ‘partnership.’ Hayek recognizes that it is impossible to be entirely free of the will of others, but what he doesn’t do is acknowledge the inevitable and necessary interrelatedness of compulsion and freedom. If he did recognize that, then his whole argument would fall apart since his view is premised on attempting to minimize compulsion to the nth degree, regarding, as he does, compulsion as per se undesirable.[2]

“If someone knows more about something than I do, does my doing what he wants, even if my own desires and plans are different, mean that I have sacrificed my liberty? I have sacrificed some of my individualism, but what if others are right and I am wrong? I would want to be compelled to do the right thing if I were wrong (I might not like it, but this was what it was like practicing piano or learning the proper grip in tennis as a child). Being involved in a discussion about why another way of doing things is preferable is important in its own right, because just being told what to do based on faith or control doesn’t help anyone learn. But getting anything done with a group of people does mean that the opinions of some individuals are not given precedence at any given time. The idea that it is wrong on principle to compel someone to do something that is different from his or her own individual assessment is obviously wrong. Freedom isn’t the absence of necessity. Freedom can be expanded on the basis of recognizing, understanding, and on that basis, transforming necessity. (For further discussion of this question and its complexities, see Chapter Five.)

“Capital likes to assert its independence from everything else, but first and foremost capital cannot exist without labor. Labor, in fact, creates capital. Rich people with big houses and manicured lawns may live lives of luxury, but they can only live those lives because others do the less carefree labor and dirty work of tending the gardens, cars, house, swimming pool, tennis court, and children of the estate. Rich people like to think that they are free of anyone and anything, but their very lifestyles and survival depend upon the work and support of others, most of whom are low-paid laborers. Rich people’s sense of self and the degree of their life satisfaction are intimately tied to others in their social networks from whom they derive their sense of belongingness (e.g., the other members of the business and social circles within which they operate). Hayek’s fantasy fuels those who are either already wealthy or who aspire to wealth or to putative independence, conveniently overlooking the actual fact that their status can only exist because of mutual obligations and actual necessities. Those people of the rentier class whose worry-free lives appear to be dictated little by necessity can only live in such a way because many other people in their lives are subjected to great necessity.” (Pp. 44-45)

 



[1] Douglas Keay, “Aids, Education and the Year 2000!” Woman’s Own, October 31, 1987, quoting Margaret Thatcher: “[W]ho is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families.”, MargaretThatcher.org, http:// www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689, accessed July 3, 2010.

[2] Frederick Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1960] 1978), 12: “The task of a policy of freedom must therefore be to minimize coercion or its harmful effects, even if it cannot eliminate it completely.”

Your tags:

TIP:

Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
You're right, many Americans' are so me-centered that, not only are they incapable of empathy or concern for those who are different, they're incapable even of imagining that others might be so motivated. But that's what decades of indoctrinated wealth-worshipping selfishness will do to a nation.
I'm a socialist, not an idiot. I believe in the ideals that are generally laid out in the Green Party platform and I pay my taxes gladly. In I want to be taxed MORE to pay for even MORE socialist government programs. I do this because I care. If caring, no mater what my standard of living is, makes me a hypocrite then I'm good with that. Beats the hell out of being a greed asshole.
your reference to narcissism is probably more accurate than you realize. theres some new research that conservatives have a poorly functioning amygdala which interferes with empathy. I kid you not. there seem to be mass psychological distortions that can occur in societies. the societies must correct it, or gradually or quicly disintegrate.
I pay my taxes for the same reason I pay rent on my apartment and pay my bills--it's the responsible thing to do, and darn it, I LIKE civilization. I'm not cheesed off because there are people in the world who are much wealthier than me. I don't want them axed, I just want them taxed at at least the rate they were in the 1990's, and hopefully more. I do hate being screwed by the smug, though. Since the wealthy are amply in a position to reward themselves, why should they expect to be rewarded by everyone else just for being rich?
Good article. My brain has been trying to follow the tendrils of 'trickle down' these past few days and I can see the theory, but I think it was predicated on the theory that fair wages would be paid and that there would be fair prices charged for goods and services. Instead, we have wages based on the number of workers available for the position and prices based on how much people are willing to pay. I'm not sure what the fix is.
The trickle down thing actually works, but only when wages are increased for the middle and lower class. They use the majority, if not all, of their funds to live. Those increases actually get money moving.
r./
American:

I'd venture that most Americans aren't me-centered. You can't actually have a society in which most of the people are selfish in that way because the society wouldn't function. The people in charge and certainly the 1% and the 1% wannabees are really selfish. But something like 63% of the public based on recent polls support the perspective of the Occupy movement re: the inequities.

Jane Smithie: Thanks so much and I look forward to your further comments!

Safe Bet's Amy: Being a greedy asshole is stupid and doesn't even actually work for the people who are, but then, they have a hard time seeing this.

vzn: I'd be interested in seeing the research you mention about empathy.

Shiral: It is interested how the rich want to be lauded for their wealth too. As I said in the excerpt from my book in the post, they get their sense of personal worth from the social circles that they occupy and they aren't even the rugged individualists that they think that they are. They are, instead, social beings who respond to the social context.

Phyllis and OnIslandTime: A colleague of mine recently was riffing on the blind spots that one sees in so many economists. They construct their models based on assumptions that don't obtain in the real world. I don't believe that "trickle down" was ever really premised on fair wages. If it was, this was a rhetorical conceit rather than their actual expectation. The premise underlying supply side economics is that the rich should get richer. The idea that it will somehow trickle down to others was a way to make supply side policies seem more fair than they actually are and was very secondary to the prime directive which was free up the rich so they can get wealthier. For wages to improve under trickle down, one has to assume that there is some countervailing pressure upon capital to get it to mitigate its drive to maximize profits. What would that countervailing pressure be and where would it come from? The New Deal was something that came into the picture only because capitalism was in crisis and because there were revolutionary and radical forces in the U.S. and worldwide that presented an alternative to capitalist rule. The social welfare state (which was the New Deal in the U.S. and its equivalent in the form of social democratic party rule elsewhere) existed for a few decades but when we look at the whole arc of history under capitalism, we can see that the welfare state was merely an interruption rather than the general state. When the socialist camp collapsed by the late 1980s, an alternative to capitalism disappeared from the scene and capitalist rule was top dog and unrivaled. It has ever since then proceeded to aggressively dictate the terms of its victory, eliminating any governmental regulation of its activities. As I put it in my book,

"The socialist camp’s collapse by the late 1980s opened up the formerly socialist and quasi-socialist world of more than a billion and a half people to capitalist exploitation. In one fell swoop, whole sectors of the US population were thereby rendered disposable from the perspective of capital, especially transnational capital. For blue-collar workers and those in the broken sections of the proletariat for whom steady work is nearly impossible and who must survive at the margins in the gray and underground economies and through hustling, compliance with the status quo becomes increasingly problematic. What is to be done with these people?

"For those most oppressed within the US, jail and prison are the short answer. Prisons and jails have, since at least the early 1990s, been the biggest supplier of public housing and public services to US youth. The US leads the world in imprisoning its own people: every fourth prisoner in the world is behind bars in the US even though the US accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s population. In 2006, two million people were behind bars and another four and one-half million were under some form of custody—probation or parole. By 2010 those numbers reached 2.4 million behind bars with a total of more 7.5 million under some form of correctional supervision. Even when South Africa was under apartheid, the US imprisoned more blacks both in absolute numbers and per capita. Criminal justice expenditures have been rising since the mid-1970s, rising an additional 95 percent by states in the 1980s, compared to a decline in state spending on education of six percent. In California, spending on criminal justice now exceeds its spending on higher education, with ten percent of its general fund going to prisons versus seven percent going to higher education. This has happened even while index crime rates have been falling in California and nationally since the early 1990s.

"For the middle class, the answer to keeping them in line in this game of ever-ruthless musical chairs has been deception and fearmongering, about which I have more to say in Chapters Two and Six. This explains what some have observed as otherwise ironic about the GOP’s rhetorical stance with regard to government: while they rail against the alleged waste of 'big government' and seek to slash government programs, they have constantly bolstered state expenditures for coercion and security and moved to bail out and protect the behemoth corporations, throwing hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ dollars at them when they are/were in danger of bankruptcy. Moreover, by continually outsourcing formerly governmental activities to private companies, the two major parties can continue to claim that they are reducing government while actually expanding governmental spending, except now under the auspices of private, for-profit companies."

Thanks Jonathan.