But when the oppressive entity is so poorly defined (e.g. Wall Street, “the banks”, corruption) these protests always and without fail turn into protests against the police. Idiotically, in the minds of the protestors, the police are standing in for the banks. So all their antagonism and vitriol is turned against police officers who would probably rather be doing anything than babysitting the hipsters attending their social media drum circle. This is how it goes at G8 protests, IMF meetings, Republican conventions, NBA championships, etc. The evil white men are safely ensconced in their ivory tower behind impenetrable turnstiles accessible only with magnetic ID cards, so the protestors turn against the only other authority figure available.
I actually agree with the protestors about Bank of America in principle, but because they are putting their identity ahead of the cause and are making it about themselves, I find myself hating them more than Bank of America.
We can complain about the annoying cynicism here, or about how people love to hate protestors in general, but I think on one count TLP is right: activism is just performance art. There’s nothing wrong with having a fancy get-together of like-minded people, but let’s not confuse it for political action.
Political action: if it’s exciting and risk-free, it’s probably politically useless. If it’s exciting and effective, that’s probably because violence is involved or implied (so it isn’t riskless). If it’s effective and risk-free, that’s because it requires a long march through the institutions.
The work of organizing, fundraising, persuading, and institution-building is tiresome, and it’s risky in a quieter, different way. The danger is that you devote time and energy to a project that never yields results, and that your work is forgotten or ignored. But everybody’s projects are like that - those risks can’t be avoided.
Contrast a progressively-minded attorney who’s working on the Dodd-Frank rules that’ll be enacted by the CFTC with a protestor at #occupywallst. The former has a good chance of helping make the financial system a little less combustible. I don’t know what concrete, positive result can be expected of the latter.
I certainly don’t want to idolize bureaucrats or gloss over the problems with technocratic approaches, but what if all of the energy expended on protest, or on rioting, was directed in a different way? Take all the money you were going to spend on giant puppets or hilarious placards, and hire somebody knowledgeable to conduct a teach-in about how banks really work. If you’re going to have protests, let them be a little less gaudy and a lot more informed about the issues at hand. Informed, articulate radicals are a lot harder to caricature in the media, and they’re also more likely to remain informed, articulate citizens who vote, who run for state and local office, who start nonprofits and serve on the boards of small companies, who edit law journals, who…
What with philosophers showing up regularly in the New York Times (and on some of those occasions finding useful things to say), there have been concerns raised by many members of the profession that we are losing our hard-won image as aloof and untimely.
Thank goodness for the American Philosophical Association, which has preserved that image by providing a new website - where by “new” they mean: “very, very, very old; not quite as recent as the Era of Lycos or the Age of Prodigy, and aesthetically a nostalgic ode to a more complicated, more user-unfriendly time, but nevertheless different from the thing that was here before.” Because of this new site, our reputation as clueless cranks will remain intact.
You know that basic website template that comes with five-year-old copies of iWeb - the glossy, reflection-laden black turtleneck of a template that too many philosophers use for their personal pages? That would be such a dramatic improvement over this ASP.NET sneeze that the APA are serving up.
This new website is so bad, I might actually thumb through recent committee minutes to see whether the cost is recorded. Perhaps someone paid the APA to upload this visually and interactively malicious troll code.
Let’s put the designer of the new APA site in charge of the whole internet: we’ll have devolved back to ASCII BBSes within a decade.