Jake Pollock, over at Facebook, asked me for my opinion on this Naomi Wolf piece on Occupy Wall Street (which, because I am addicted to Twitter, I think of as #OWS). My comments were as follows (with quoted text from the article as context for those of you who can’t be bothered opening another tag):
I’m less than impressed. 2 things to note:
1. Wolf claims the oppression of #OWS can only be an organised activity emanating from the top, but given the causal and sometimes unorganised way in which it is going, it seems equally likely that its people in authority acting in similar fashion with similar goals without necessarily colluding towards those goals.
In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.
To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.
I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.
2. Wolf’s list of what the #OWS people want is a bit weird: she’s presenting her findings as somehow being a definitive and exhaustive list of what the protestors want, but other journalists and academics have come up with different lists (or come to the conclusion that there is no one set of take home messages).
That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.
The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.
When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.
I’ve actually become increasingly wary of Wolf post her support for the claim that Assange’s sexual assault allegations are a honeytrap. This seems like more of that kind of analysis.
Our discussion then went on to the topic of Denver Airport (which apparently lays out, in the artwork on its walls, the New World Order’s plan for human domination), but it set me to thinking. Wolf is engaging in the same kind of joining the dots that people like David Icke engage in. Indeed, she even makes this explicit when she writes:
So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence.
Note how she says “properly understood:” like Icke, she is claiming that if you don’t connect the dots the same way she has, then you don’t have a handle on what is really going on. This is, as some writers on conspiracy theories will remark, the thesis of hidden history. Things are not what they seem, they will say: only when you wear the right kind of conceptual glasses can you see what events really mean in the grand scheme of things.
Now, some theses of hidden history will be correct (for example, my beloved Moscow Show Trials example is a classic case of there being a hidden history behind the official explanation of what happened in 1930s Soviet Russia), but you need more of an argument for such a claim than the one Wolf is offering. Her argument seems to be the standard “America is an awful place, one under the thrall of the monied classes: therefore, the oppression of #OWS must be a conspiracy to shut up the 1%,” which may be true but also might not be. You could run an institutional analysis here which explains the same set of data but doesn’t mention conspiratorial behaviour. To warrant the inference to the existence of a conspiracy you need to show that conspiratorial activity is the most likely explanation of the event.
Wolf does not do that. Indeed, she seems to not only present a simple answer to the question “What is going on with the crackdown on #OWS?” as the explanation but also claims that it is the only candidate explanation worth considering. That is, frankly, not good enough. Yeah, sure, I agree that America is a terrible place and the monied classes have far too much power. I agree that it’s possible that, at some level, there is collusion going on to stop the #OWS protests. That doesn’t mean I think the crackdown is necessarily conspiratorial: there are a host of rival explanatory hypotheses which are consistent with those beliefs in which the people in power are acting in their own interests without necessarily having to organise a co-ordinated response, in secret.
And, most importantly, I’m willing to debate some of my assumptions about America and its internal power dynamics.
Claims of conspiracy are not just hard to prove but they should not be made lightly. Especially when you have a recognised pulpit and an adoring crowd.