Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Helplessness Blues - The Anthem

Coming to grips with this Occupy Wall Street thing has been frustrating for some and intriguing for others. Here's a group seemingly so interested in being heard and yet either unable or unwilling to spell it out; so interested in influencing change and yet perplexingly uninterested in serving up a leader or a plan. Perhaps those will come. Much could be said on this indeed. I just thought I'd use this space to say that if you want to understand someone it helps to listen to them in their own language. And when there is a diverse group involved you may need to listen for awhile, and listen for a chorus. In fact, in this case I mean that quite literally: Every time I hear the following song I think that at this point it just might be anthemic.

The Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes
Unique in each way you can see

And now after some thinking
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
Serving something beyond me

But I don't, I don't know what that will be
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

What's my name, what's my station
Oh just tell me what I should do
I don't need to be kind to the armies of night
That would do such injustice to you

Or bow down and be grateful
And say "Sure take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls
And determine my future for me

And I don't, I don't know who to believe
I'll get back to you someday soon you will see

If I know only one thing
It's that every thing that I see
Of the world outside is so inconceivable
Often I barely can speak

Yeah I'm tongue tied and dizzy
And I can't keep it to myself
What good is it to sing helplessness blues?
Why should I wait for anyone else?

And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf
I'll come back to you someday soon myself

If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm raw
If i had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

And you would wait tables
And soon run the store

Gold hair in the sunlight
My light in the dawn
If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

If I had an orchard
I'd work till I'm sore

Someday I'll be
Like the man on the screen


s$s said...

Wow. I've GOT to comment on this.

you said,
"Here's a group ...perplexingly uninterested in serving up a leader or a plan."

Maybe it's just me, but I think the lack of leader or plan is precisely the point of OWS. It's also why the media doesn't know how to talk about it: OWS has somewhat successfully stepped outside of the oh-so-dominant the us/them narrative (though the 'We are the 99%' slogan -which I dislike- kinda slips them back into that old story of poor/rich, weak/strong, huddled masses/cigar-chomping elites, etc).

No hierarchy and a multitude of voices = A truly post-modern political movement; a movement that is in touch with the Zeitgeist.

I feel very hopeful about OWS, so I probably tend to project my desires onto it -which is dangerous- but I really think that the WAY the movement exists (in this place where no one -not even the protestors themselves- knows quite what to make of the whole thing) is its power. It provokes NEW conversations -new for us here in the West in 2011, not NEW in an absolute sense. Those new conversations are a revolution in themselves, because we are asking new questions, rather than seeking new answers.

Also, by asking new questions it CHANGES THE GAME, and so the old-style attempts at silencing or dismissing or ridiculing the movement have thus far fallen flat. The protestors aren't playing the same game as those who would oppose them, so the opposers -in order to push back against the movement- have to step into the protestor's game, and in doing so the protestors have already won a victory (though "victory" is an old, broken, irrelevant word to some degree).

Having said all of that, I do think there is something the whole movement agrees on: there is currently too much friendliness between the super rich and those in political power. Everyone I know agrees with the protestors on this, from my conservative family to my more radical friends. Even some of super-rich (George Soros, Warren Buffet) people seem to agree with this (Also, a lot of super rich people seem to lean towards libertarianism: a political philosophy which would've NEVER propped up the banks in 2008; Libertarians would've let them all fall flat on their asses). So maybe we can do something to change the status quo.

-Matthew Wilkinson

too many brackets. I'm a bracket addict (I am).

Jon Coutts said...

Yeah I think that's one of the most intriguing things about OWS as well, and I really enjoyed your riff on it. (I love brackets too).

Philbert said...

s$s said...

re: Philbert's article

Are we not allowed to be personally responsible AND ask for changes to the system in America?

The blogger wrote that, "We need to stop the wasteful spending (and bailouts). This is America. No one and no company is too big to fail."

That sounds a lot like the things I've read on the cards some of the protestors are holding. In fact, a lot of what the blogger wrote sounded like things I've heard protestors say. The people in the park aren't all leftists asking for free health-care, free college education, and bigger government (though I absolutely welcome those voices); there are lots of financial and civil libertarians in Liberty/Zucotti Park, saying the same kinds of things the blogger is saying. There are conservatives there. Really. Truly.

A lot of the folks I've heard complaining about the Occupy movement seem to me to actually be in agreement with a lot of things the protestors are saying. I swear, they're not all leftists. They're not all Obama supporters. These protests aren't about that. The Occupy movement is trying desperately hard to have a different kind of conversation about politics in the West; a conversation where everyone is welcome and will be listened to and respected.

I beg you to consider the possibility that there is room for YOUR voice at the protests. We want to hear the solutions you are proposing. Personal responsibility alone is, unfortunately, insufficient. There need to larger changes.

Jon Coutts said...

sorry, I've not been checking here enough....

yeah, Philbert, that "get a job/do something constructive" response doesn't do much for me.

Philbert said...

I hear what you are saying s$s. I'm not against Obama nor do I think it was right to bail out the big banks, though who knows what chain of events may have ensued if they had not been? The financial industry is so intertwined.

The thing is, I wonder how many of the protesters who were squatting on public or private property and breaking City bylaws are all that terribly personally responsible? Did their employers give them time off from work to protest or did they use their vacation time?

The disparity and inequality in this world is not due to the government or the big banks. It's due to the brokenness in this world and the brokenness inside each one of us. I'm sure you don't share my world view, but I really like these verses in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."

I don't see people like Daniel or Jesus trying to change the political structures of their day. Although, i suppose, you could argue Esther was when she worked to save her people.

s$s said...


Fair enough. The verses in Thessalonians actually resonate pretty strongly with me. I know I'd rather not be involved in ANY of this stuff.

And what you say about disparity and inequality being born out of the "brokenness in each one of us," is something I agree with wholeheartedly. Our everyday choices are the bricks and mortar of the system we are complaining about. It is built on us. We've got to start with changing ourselves, and never pretend like changing the system will solve all, or even most or many, of our society's problems. Events in Egypt are demonstrating that right now; you can chop the head off a system, but the rotten base remains.

I don't think there are any solutions. But for me the way the protestors across America and the West, and really SO MUCH of the world right now, seem (to me) to be attempting to be reasonable and accepting of a diversity of viewpoints shows me that maybe, just maybe, our consciousnesses are changing -en masse. Maybe. And so, optimist that I am, I am hoping for the possibility that as we have changed and grown, we are finding that we have outgrown the corrupt system surrounding us.

Perhaps only the return of Christ, or the millenium ruled by the Saints after the rapture (I don't know your exact eschatology) will bring about perfect peace and a total transformation of the world. I accept that so long as we are "broken" the world will be broken. I believe in human progress though. I believe there are degrees of broken-ness, and maybe maybe maybe we are less broken than the system we are living under. And if so that's a disparity worth shining the light on and trying to cautiously and lovingly fix.

I don't know about the level of responsibility of the protestors. I don't mind them breaking certain by-laws (civil disobedience has a proud tradition), but I do hope they have treated their employers with respect.

Setting aside any of the personal failings of the individuals involved in the protest, are you in favour of the way the protests have shone a light on the intimacy of big business and government? You must have opinions as to how we can improve our current system. Do you feel like there is room for your voice to be heard within the Occupy movement? If not, what could we do to give you that room?

Jon Coutts said...

Thanks for commenting here guys. I simply don't check back often enough.

I'm not sure I want to put all my cards in with the OWS movement, since I think there is so much variance and thus a lot to object to. However, it definitely has my interest and much of my sympathy. So most of my questions at this point would be for you Philbert, even though I'm sure there are questions to ask of s$s as well:

For example, I'd ask: What if the system to which protesters are asked to be responsible is itself irresponsible and objectionable? Why dismantle this movement on the speculation that its adherents are, to put it as crassly as possible, just a bunch of lazy bums? If the system is broken, isn't non-participation preferable to oppressive but full participation?