Occupy Wall Street: The Clinical Psychology of Political Movements
Written By Luke Walker
Despite the many unified voices of discontent, echoing from streets wherever the ‘Occupy’ protests persist, in cities all over the world, the question of whether a clear message has been made is still debatable.
So, what exactly is the clinical psychology of the ‘Occupy’ movement? Is there a unified message? Does a single philosophy, or even a common goal or interests exist?
When we study such phenomena we tend to gravitate towards a physical model where we associate all of the actors involved as a whole and in a very critical sense. This method can be successfully employed when, for example, observing a hive of bees, in which, the entire swarm works together as a unit, towards a common goal. In such a study, physical observations can easily reveal clues related to biology and breeding habits, instinct, and group behavior, and can reveal important social indicators.
The bee model however, may not be applicable in the OWS scenario, where the physical indicators may conceivably be construed as, for example, as inarticulate statements or crude placards held by select protesters, or the lewd and unruly behavior of others, as portrayed in clips and sound bites of network news.
There are simply too many differential factors involved in comparable human studies. OWS is a movement composed of thousands of different people, all with vastly different experiences, from drastically divergent geographical, national, religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. There are too many competing philosophies and far too many grievances to study in such narrow and strictly physical method. Far deeper consideration of all elements must be analyzed.
Critics will claim that the protesters are nothing but a rag tag group of spoiled, middle class white teens and young adults, all with obscure demands, crying over disparities that do not really exist for them, inequities they have not yet been burdened with, and for entitlements that the protesters have not earned, and thus do not deserve. They claim the protesters want a hand out, a portion of wealth that does not belong to them, that they want entitlements, welfare; socialism. This claim may be have some degree of accuracy, for we have yet to hear a clear demand. Advocates of the protesters too have made up their minds, but in contrast, that the protests represent a much-neglected and long overdue debate about it means to be poor or middle class in modern society, and if a difference even exists. To supporters, the movement represents a clear indication that the poor have been institutionally marginalized to a breaking point, and that the fine line, which once may have separated the economic spectrum of poor and middle class, particularly in America, has become so indistinct that perhaps it may no longer even exist.
Additionally, they believe that the governments of the world have committed grave injustices by financing banks and corporate fat cats to perpetuate extravagant salaries and gluttonous bonuses; a reward for their many misdeeds, not least including the global recession and all of the havoc it has generated; an indisputable result of these very institutions own flippant behavior and categorical misjudgments. Supporters believe OWS is a protest against economic injustice, not a rally against wealth or the wealthy, not against the free market, or capitalism, not even against excess. It is an objection against business as usual, in which the few in power reap the rewards of the many.
The question was TARP fair? Did the banks deserve a bailout when millions of working Americans could have been directly benefited had even a fraction of the inestimable bailout been redirected to the hands of working men and women, instead to the bankrolls of corrupt banks and other financial institutions; especially when it was their own greed which led to their peril to start with? This sentiment may be a prime war cry in the minds of many protestors, but it cannot be ignored that TARP may have prevented a great depression, the result of which, may have been far more bleak than they otherwise were. On the other end of the spectrum the very core of what America represents; its foundation as a free market capitalist bastion, the very fabric of our constitution, which in theory would allow every man and woman an equal opportunity to bask in the fruits of his or her own labor, regardless of race, sex, or class. No matter how lowly their status or humble their upbringing.
History has shown us that this notion is perhaps more a fable than fact. America was after all, appropriated by theft, larceny, and murder. It was literally built on the backs of enslaved peoples. America was made wealthy by oppression and exploitation, and made powerful by brute force, intimidation and its accumulation of all the aforementioned and newly acquired resources. Historically, it has always been a select few who have truly basked in the fruits of these exploits. This is not to argue the many merits and virtues of our country, democracy or constitution, but an underlying dark fact that cannot be dispelled.
The protesters believe they have seen a folly in TARP and corporate bailouts, and a fallacy of the American dream. A dream, they believe, that may have once been obtainable to some, but only during a very diminutive sliver of our nation’s history when all the winds were blowing in the right direction for a small moment in time. We had won the war, literally and figuratively, and there was perhaps room for more to share in that fleeting prosperity. OWS represents a belief that those times have passed, and that perhaps it can no longer be ignored that the inequities of the poor and quality of living for most has markedly diminished.
The Question, “Is it unreasonable to expect a small piece of the pie, especially when we have all contributed to its preparation? “, may offer a glimpse of insight into the clinical psychology of the political movement.
The bottom line is this. As where critics will argue it is the fault of the individual for not obtaining the same success that the top 1% of our nation that enjoys 99% of its wealth and prosperity, is due strictly you their merit and not to luck, is not only a mathematically incalculable improbability in a nation of 300 million, but a patent fiction. All one need do is look to the character and listen to the words of the elite class. It may very well be and could remain, precisely what it appears to be at face value; a is a mixed bag of elements, expectations, and broad discontent, which may never be summed up into a neat, unified or concise mission statement. Although the OWS message may not be as eloquent as some of us may like, but perhaps it is enough to perpetuate the conversation.
The winter is approaching, there is already a chill in the air, and we cannot expect the protest to last indefinitely, certainly not in the cold winds of the northeast, but one undeniable fact remains; a message has already been sent; and no matter how vague it may be, the dialog will persist.