About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pot, Meet Kettle, I Think You’ll Have A Lot In Common


Recently I heard a criticism of the Occupy the World Movement, complaining that they were selfish and spoiled.  The person talking was saying that they should accept the way things are, and not engage in class warfare, because it is un-American. 

It was obvious that that person got all of their news from MiniTrue.

But let’s break this down.  Are the Occupy protesters selfish?  And a corollary question, is their selfishness wrong?

First, are they selfish?  The answer to this is yes (probably), at least for a lot of them.  They are acting in what would be termed rational self interest, where they are doing something that they hope will have direct benefit to themselves.  They hope that by turning the spotlight of scorn and anger on the Masters of the Universe, and by getting the government to recognize that the 1% are a far smaller group than the 99%, they will effect change that will bring back jobs; jobs that they might one day have.

Rational self interest is different from enlightened self interest, where you do something that has no overt direct benefit to you as a person.  Enlightened self interest is when you act for the betterment of all, with the thought that that improved standard will have indirect benefits to you.  Welfare, Food Stamps and Medicaid are examples of enlightened self interest, since only a small percentage of people need those programs, but all of society benefits from them.  I’m sure that some protesters are acting from enlightened self interest as well.

In either case though, they could be described, in absolute terms, as selfish.

But is that selfishness wrong?  We can answer this in multiple ways.

First, let’s look at the Ayn Rand, Objectivist, viewpoint.  Ayn Rand was the first to argue that people should work toward rational self interest, that selfishness is a virtue.  It should be noted that her definition of selfishness is different from the version we learned in school.  She defines it as everyone should pursue what they want to pursue, without regard to the collective of mankind.  What other people, especially the existing power structures, want you to do has no impact on your decisions.  This is the Howard Roark model of behavior.

So how does this break out.  We have already established that many of the protesters are acting from rational self interest, so we have that covered.  Also, they are acting in a way that directly opposes the power structure, for their own benefit, so that is also Objectivistically acceptable.  Therefore, in terms of Ayn Rand, these protesters are not wrong.  (I realize that I have played fast and loose with her definitions, and taken the literal definition without addressing the intention, but I would like to point out what happens at MiniTrue.  It is very au courant to stick to the letter of the law while blowing apart the spirit.  At least I acknowledge my own spin.)

Next let’s address this from a pure Capitalist point of view.  The Free Market has no regulations; the Invisible Hand must have no restrictions.  This means that government intervention to stop and sort of response to a corporation is as inappropriate as regulation on the corporation.  The Market allows freedom to protest, and the Market, if it wants to continue, must respond to that protest. 

I had a Free Market Evangelist rant to me about the increase on regulations on the food industry, in the wake of one of those incidents where people across the country got sick from eating contaminated food.  He said that it was the consumer’s responsibility to educate themselves, and boycott the dangerous product.  In his argument, if enough people refused to buy the product, the company would have to change their ways or go out of business.  Either way safety would be protected without any government interference. 

Occupy Wall Street is a perfect example of that Free Market Boycott.  Either Wall Street changes the way they do business, or they fold up and go away.  Either way, change is effected, without any government interference.  In fact, if the government breaks up the protests, they are interfering with the Invisible Hand and the Free Market.   This is not a spin on Free Markets, this is actually what is supposed to happen, by the rules of pure Capitalism.

The third interpretation of whether the Occupy protesters are selfish can be found in the latest movement in Evangelical Churches.  This movement is the “Gospel of Prosperity,” which states “God wants you to be rich, Jesus wants you to be rich.  Your duty is to be rich, being rich is God’s will.”  (Speaking of spin, this is completely different from the message I get from the Bible, where Jesus says that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to get into heaven.  Again, have we declared Opposites Millennium?)

Under this interpretation of the Gospel, people who are tying to get more in life, acting “selfishly” in order to get ahead, are just doing what God wants them to do.  If God wants them to be rich, and they are trying to get more people to be prosperous, then how can that selfishness be wrong or sinful?  God wants them to do it.

So under any of the three viewpoints on the right, the Libertarian, the Free Market or the Evangelical, the Occupy Protesters are selfish, but that selfishness is not wrong.  Selfishness in this case is perfectly acceptable, part of the Free Market, and possibly even God’s will.   There should be no problem with this movement from a selfish point of view.

Or maybe we’re just dealing with a bunch of people who actually want to make the world a better place to pass on to future generations.  Maybe, they just want to do the right thing, with no benefit to themselves at all.  Maybe, for once, these people are being guided by the angels of our better nature.  That would really confuse people.  

No comments:

Post a Comment