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    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

In praise of inchoateness
October 31, 2011 - 4:26pm

One of the common comments of the mainstream media, characterizations of TV talking heads, and complaints of elected officials is that the "Occupy" movement is inchoate.  What do they want?  What are their demands?  What is their agenda?

Of course, the Occupiers don't have a consensus list of demands.  They don't have a single agenda.  They're not pushing a simplistic solution to any perceived problem, and they haven't (yet) been co-opted by those who are.

Instead, the movement is fed by a sense that pretty much everything is headed in the wrong direction.  (Which is why police suppression won't work.  Police suppression just reinforces public perception of wrong-directedness.)  And "pretty much everything" includes the economic system, the political system, the environment, you name it.  So how could the occupiers be expected to have a single list of demands?

Which isn't to say that an agenda, a platform, a set of first steps, won't emerge.  Given time, it will.  But the wisdom of crowds (which, by the way, underlies the wisdom of markets) takes a while to assert itself.  The group entity needs a while to chew on the problem, to test (however imperfectly) various perceptions and suggestions, to decide what it wants for now.

In a very real sense, what the Occupiers are responding to is the nation's current economic and social unsustainability.  The two are interlinked -- you can't have a healthy society funded by a broken economy, and you can't operate a healthy economy in a broken society -- but they're not identical.  The amorphous crowds in major American cities don't yet know how to fix this pair of intertwined problems.  Of course, neither does the total assembly of elected officials.  Nor all the lobbyists and tank-thinkers in America stacked end to end.  Nor the higher education community.

Should more jobs, better jobs be a goal?  More affordable, better quality education?  Could a more equitable distribution of income and wealth make that possible?  Could a more functional political system make it happen?  Probably.  Perhaps.  I don't know.  They don't know.

But what the Occupiers, in all their inchoateness, do know and express with their words and their bodies, is that the current state of things has got to change.  What they're accomplishing, and what they'll (likely after a winter-time lull) begin to accomplish more successfully, is to build public awareness that all of us really do know what each of us individually knows -- this isn't working.  It isn't working for the people.  It certainly isn't being worked (operated) by the people.  Yet we don't want it to perish from the Earth.  We want to sustain our society.  And ourselves.


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