Notice the religious dimension that was present in 1960s protests, but absent in the Occupy movement.
Martin Luther King had Jesus to appeal to, a readily recognizable symbol in our culture of two key things:
- the receiving of suffering; and
If you were a Christian, King could appeal to your Christian conscience and ask you to copy the nonviolent Jesus, follow him into suffering, and believe that the “arc is long, but it bends toward justice.”
In turn, Malcolm X, when he became a more pious Muslim, mellowed in his rage toward whites.
And, of course, there were Gandhi, Tolstoy, and Thoreau—all of whom had a deep spiritual tradition that supported them: Krishna in the Gita (Gandhi), Jesus in the gospels (Tolstoy), and the Temple of Nature (Thoreau).
With regard to the Vietnam War, the hippie Hindu and Buddhist scene (as exemplified in Alan Ginsberg’s chanting OM with masses of people in Chicago’s Hyde Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention) served to keep people more otherworldly and chilled out than they might otherwise have been.
None of these things are present in the Occupy Movement with anything like an equivalent force. Since 9-11, right and left have deeply split over the value of religion in society, and most people on the left tend not to appeal to it as readily. And postmodernism has even made the integrity of the self, the Enlightenment, humanism, and Modernism problematic.
This leaves Occupy deeply vulnerable to nihilism, decadence, conspiracy paranoia, and general despair.
Where else can the energies go after the State cracks down? There’s no promise that the arc is long but bends toward justice; there’s no grounding for maintaining a determination to love without retaliation.
There’s only bewilderment.
Watch Occupiers increasingly entertain violence or escape into narrower concerns (such as making money).
In other words, there’s a real chance that Occupy will inadvertently accelerate individual decisions to check out of politics as yet another form of vanity—a striving after wind. Leave it to the nihilistic rich and authoritarian Machiavellians to decide on the direction of society. You can’t resist them anyway. That’s what a lot of people might conclude after witnessing Occupy fail to control its violent elements and fall apart in directionlessness.
That whole FOX Noise meme that the protesters didn’t really know why or what they were protesting was meant to be slanderous, but was, at a very deep level, true. Occupy brings attention, not just to the 99% in general, but exposes the nihilistic crisis at the heart of the left.