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The Twenty-Five Tents

November 6th, 2011 by Jim May · 5 Comments · Uncategorized

Features distorted in the flickering light,
The faces are twisted and grotesque.
Silent and stern in the sweltering night,
The mob moves like demons possessed.
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best.
The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will.
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill.

— from “Witch Hunt” by Neil Peart for the band Rush

Uncle blogs a pithy, yet profound quote summarizing the difference between the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Tea Party:

The Tea Party wants to remove the Crony from Crony Capitalism.

OWS wants to remove Capitalism from Crony Capitalism.

The profundity here lies in the fact that capitalism is liberty; notwithstanding the contradictions which may yet prove fatal to the Tea Party movement, liberty *is* the essential difference between that movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What is of interest here, is the pattern of apologia I am seeing in and around the Occupation movement — not only in the movement itself and its historical parallels, but also in the response to it elsewhere in the culture.

The Occupation movement itself is easy to figure out; it is following the same pattern as all similar Leftist movements in history. The development of these movements always share the same stages. For now, we are concerned with the first stage, where the movement is at its most apparently benign.


Pay No Attention to the Idea Behind that Tent Flap!

The Occupation currently presents a superficially confused, contradictory and mutable appearance, with few (if any) actual principles. The resulting appearance of “fuzzy warmth” and a “grassroots” quality creates a mantle of apparent well-meaning populism, and as a means of attracting and recruiting similarly fuzzy-headed people, the sort some have termed “useful idiots”.

These people play a role similar to the “moderates” of both Left and conservatism: they help to obscure the core essence of the movement from those who do not think in terms of fundamentals, and serve to blunt the criticism of those who *do* see through it. They do so by means of enabling most people to cavalierly dismiss such criticism: “Naw, they don’t really *mean* that! It’s just a bunch of indebted college kids!” They act like a biofilm, blunting the intellectual “immune response” while feeding and sustaining the nascent core, buying time for it to coalesce and grow.

An example of this process in action is the arguments of the commenter “Sebastiano” in the comments at Uncle’s place. It’s the same “two-step” hand-waving pattern I am seeing in all the defenses of the Occupation around the ‘net — not only in purportedly “neutral” fora, but also at supposedly rightist/conservatives sites.

(A fascinating side note I wish to make here: the split reaction by the right is fascinating. While the Left is monolithically anti-Tea Party and monolithically pro-Occupation, the right as a whole is a bit conflicted about the Tea Parties — and VERY ambiguous on the Occupation. In particular, there is a lot of support coming from the Occupation coming from the Ron Paul/Zero Hedge wing of the libertarians. I suggest this article by Alexander Marriott on why that is so. It speaks to the pervasiveness of Leftist terms of thought, even on the so-called “right”.)

Here’s how the defensive misdirection usually works:

1. Hand-wave away any genuinely insightful comments of OWS, specifically its identification with the anti-capitalist Left, as “misrepresentation” or “hyperbole”.  Dismiss out-of-hand the idea that the actions of “a few thugs” or ” a small minority” are at all indicative of the movement as a whole.  Absolutely do not engage these viewpoints, only dismiss them.

2. With the other hand holding the cigar, blow in the obscuring smoke of non-essential PR talking points in everyone’s faces — it’s just a bunch of people angry at the involvement of government with business, who can’t find jobs, who are just concerned for the future, who merely see a problem and are trying to fix it by drawing attention to it, and sundry other non-objectionable surface details, blah blah blah. (Tellingly, Sebastiano characterizes insightful criticism as exactly what *he* is doing. Some day I should write about projection as a manifestation of ideological causality.)

They are all about discussion and debate, so long as we keep off questions like “What are the fundamental ideas driving this movement?”

That smokescreen, and its concise demolition, turn up in these three paragraphs from a San Francisco Chronicle article discussing developer Phil Tagami, now famous for deflecting a wave of Occupier violence with his shotgun:

City Administrator Deanna Santana apologized to business owners for the “chaotic events” that enveloped the city. Mayor Jean Quan called the rioters “a small and isolated group.”

“It shouldn’t mar the overall impact of the demonstration and the fact that people in the 99 percent movement demonstrated peacefully and, for the most part, were productive and very peaceful,” Quan said.

Tagami disagreed, calling the Occupy Oakland encampment “basically concealment and cover for anarchists who are doing this to our city.”

[Emphasis mine.]

Mr. Tagami is precisely correct. This why the “it’s just a bunch of extremists” defense is dishonest hand-waving. Even if it were true that the large majority of Occupiers were non-violent, they are still enablers — and it is they who are the non-essential surface ephemera of the movement, not the thugs.

It’s pretty clear that the Occupations are an anti-capitalist movement at root. While that’s a truth that the likes of Deanna Santana, “Sebastiano” and so many others desperately wish to suppress like it’s some big dread secret, it is nevertheless not really news.

What is news, and the point I shall be making here, is that the Occupation is an effort to inject European-style anti-capitalism into the American political mainstream. As such, we discover the only genuinely important point of commonality to be found between the Occupation and the Tea Parties: each is a manifestation of certain fundamental ideas that heretofore have been largely obscured behind the facades of the Ackbar Spectrum. They both represent the ongoing ideological clarification that we seem to be undergoing at the moment. The Left is really “coming out” from behind the mask of American liberalism behind which it’s been hiding for over a hundred years.

This is a good and necessary thing in itself — but as far as the Occupation is concerned, that is where the good things stop. There are fundamental reasons why the entrenched presence in mainstream American politics of a European style of anti-capitalism, would be a very bad sign.

So let’s take a look at what’s incubating behind that tent flap, shall we?


Aw, They’re so Cute at that Stage!

It is plain that the Occupation, at this time, is not a totalitarian movement of any sort, yet [**]. Those who have visited actual Occupations have often found them rather unremarkable. For his part, Dr. Harry Binswanger noted (via HBL):

“I had the sense that, unlike the New Left demonstrations of the ’60’s, this demonstration was not orchestrated by anyone, lease of all by whatever leftist leadership still exists. It was simply a group of mild, placid oldsters left over from the headier days. There were smiles, not hatred. It was not the dirty, drug-soaked event we have been told that it is.” (It is worth noting that Dr. Binswanger was actually present at Columbia University in the ’60’s, and makes his comparison from direct experience.)

Mind that biofilm! As I wrote in my comment at Uncle’s:

“Most OWS folks are not totalitarians, this is true. That was true of the earlier instances of this phenomenon. It doesn’t matter: just because the road leads to hell doesn’t mean the pavement actually travels there — or that the “pavement” does not share in the responsibility for leading us there.”

The “earlier instances” to which I refer, are all the various Leftist movements in history, including those that actually made it to full-blown totalitarian status, and those that didn’t.

An example of such a movement that ran out of gas: the hippies of the 1960’s. The excuse given by hippie apologists to this day usually involve the phrase “selling out”; either they were sold out, or did the selling out themselves. In reality, they simply ran out of steam in the face of cultural resistance; they showed up too soon, developed to their pure (thug) stage quickly, and were then summarily rejected qua hippies. They were forced to assimilate to have any influence, and are now mostly Democrats. America culture was insufficiently de-Enlightened in 1969 to supply them with a leader nor submit to one, had such arisen.

Some examples that did make it: The French Revolution of 1793, the very first Leftist (NOT “liberal”) movement — the Russian Revolution (Bolshevik version), and the one I will examine in more detail: the original German Worker’s Party. Konrad Heiden writes in Der Fuehrer, written and published in 1944:

“To this end, Rohm founded the National Socialist German Worker’s Party. It might be said to have existed before him, first under the simpler name of the German Worker’s Party. But that was a club, sitting in the back rooms of little restaurants, talking. At all events, a mere idea. And an idea it remained until the club, seeking to win over the German workers, became the party of soldiers.”

In its original form, the German Workers Party was probably no more anti-semitic than the general population at that time. In all likelihood, the original GWP members were just some relatively innocuous intellectual flotsam that wouldn’t personally hurt a flea. They would all but certainly recoil in sincere horror from what a time machine might show them about the events at the end of their road less than twenty years hence. I can even hear them sincerely exclaiming: “Aber ich meinte nicht das!

And as always, it didn’t matter. Their road was already worn by the footprints of the socialists and Mensheviks before them. What matters is ideological causality, which did to them what it does to all “well-meaning” early members of all totalitarian movements: it moved them towards a different destination than they imagined, and by the time it became obvious to them, it was too late.  The movement would cast them aside (if not into the camps) and proceed towards what to them was a “new” destination — one that they usually dared not admit to themselves and against which they would be morally disarmed in any case. This is usually the point where the excuses come out — “we were betrayed/co-opted/hijacked” etc.

On that last note, take a quick look again at that Occupation apologia. Note in particular this video example. See what he’s doing? Not only do we have another demonstration of that oddly precise projection as we saw with Sebastiano (in this case, the speaker’s “three card monty” analogy), but this person is already setting up the “we were co-opted” bolt hole for later moral escape. I doubt he’s consciously aware that he’s doing this, but the predictability of it all is surprising to see. Ideological causality is often like that, causing unaware people to behave almost as if they are executing a preset program!

Ideological history is really rhyming with conviction here, isn’t it? Even one of the Youtube commenters (at the time of writing) is executing the same damned program down to the last instruction:

“The worst thing that could happen is for this movement to become co-opted. Don’t listen to all that bullshit rhetoric about it needing to be more defined, it needing goals or leaders. It has goals and it doesn’t need leaders.”

[Emphasis mine.]

The longer the Occupation lasts as a movement, it will begin to seek its logical end-of-road; eventually, its ideological core will win out, casting off the non-essentials, the flotsam and jetsam of assorted useful idiots who provided cover for its genesis. As it does so, the least blinded/most perceptive of them will eventually fall away from the movement. Sadly, such people are rarely able to turn around and fight it — it’s one thing to realize one is on a wrong track, but to find the right one is much tougher. As a result, such people are often morally disarmed in the face of their monstrous progeny, unable to convincingly oppose it. In the meantime, more “extreme” elements filter in, accumulate at the core, and accelerate the process. Thusly do the Wesley Mouches and Philip Reardens eventually give way to Cuffy Meigs and the other thugs who invariably end up in charge. Thusly do such movements “purify” themselves over time. From the revolt of the volunteer cooks to the violence that has already manifested itself by stated intent[*] and by actual action, this process can already be seen happening in little fits and spurts all over the Occupation.[**]

The road to tyranny is necessarily paved with anti-capitalism. Anti-capitalism is *the* red flag, the one reliable long-range indicator of any movement’s genocidal potential; no totalitarian movement since 1793 has failed to vigorously wave it. It does not matter how inchoate or undefined a movement is — if that element is present and fundamental to it, the movement can only travel one ideological road to its end.

One telling sign of the Occupation’s essential anti-capitalism is their choice of symbolic target; Manhattan in New York, the same symbol of American capitalist liberty selected by noted anti-capitalist Osama bin Laden — who was known to crib from Leftist talking points for good reason.

So what should we expect if the Occupation doesn’t burn out, but succeeds in becoming a permanent movement with popular support? What if the Tea Parties fail to oppose them effectively, due to being co-opted by conservatives (a genuine threat), or simply fizzling out themselves? What if America has reached the same cultural state as the Weimar Republic?

If this happens, the basic pattern to be expected is quite clear.[**]

Right now, in the first (populist) stage, it’s all about quantity, not quality — they need monetary sustenance and the appearance of a groundswell, and that means lots of bodies. These bodies do not (yet) need to be ideological harmonious; an amalgam of credulous dupes is sufficient. This is why they must initially resist “programs and leaders” in favor of the unidentifiable, inchoate fluidity they trumpet. They must resist “labels” or any other identification of ideas so they can be all things to all people while alienating none but the most discerning. That line they feed thesemselves about the danger of being “co-opted” foreshadows the use of that excuse when the movement does “gel” and acquire an identity that some of them don’t like.

That moment will come once critical mass is achieved and the movement’s traction sufficient that they can finally declare “No More Mr. Nice Guy!” [**]. This will mark the movement’s very first — and mildest — purge. Once again, this pattern repeats; not only did this happen with the German Worker’s Party as it transitioned into the National Socialists, but it happened in Russia as the Communists logically transitioned from Marx through Trotsky to Lenin as dramatized in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. (Lesser known, however, is that the exact same pattern happened with the 1960’s hippies, which began as a much more Americanish movement before purifying into Woodstock, the SDS and the Black Panthers. LINK to Zombie)

With the acquisition of cohesion and an ideological program, the progress to the next stage — where the organization acquires a strong centeralized leadership — is fairly direct. For the German Worker’s Party, it was the transformation of the group into a party of soldiers that made it saleable in the German culture of the day — and the arrival of Alfred Rosenberg and his copy of the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion which supplied the product to sell.

Once this process is complete, the group must find the right refinements of its central ideology that will sell it to the masses. This is achieved by the use of propaganda, as Konrad Heiden explains thusly:

“The true aim of political propaganda is not to influence, but to study the masses. The speaker is in constant communication with the masses; he hears an echo, and senses the inner vibration. In forever setting new and contradictory assertions before his audience, Hitler is tapping the outwardly shapeless substance of public opinion with instruments of varying metals and varying weights. When a resonance issues from the depths of the substance, the masses have given him the pitch; he knows in what terms he must finally address them.”

The Left has been wanting an answer to the Tea Parties for some time (who themselves were sparked by an opposing resonance triggered by Rick Santelli); to that end, many Leftists have been pinging around, looking to ignite some segment of the culture inclined to catch their sort of fire. Kalle Lasn of Adbusters was the first to hit the right note: he identified Wall Street as a symbol of capitalism already tarnished by its connections to government (while carefully failing to note which of government and business actually *drove* the relationship), and utilized it in what is otherwise an unremarkable bit of Leftist agitprop. Unremarkable, that is, except for the resonance that resulted.

Who will refine the note and strengthen the resonance further? Who knows. There is no shortage of all sorts of people trying.

But through it all, note that what drives the whole process in such repeatable patterns are the unchanging ideas underneath — the same anti-capitalism that moved the hippies and the German Worker’s Party, moves Kalle Lasn and the Occupiers. The ideas flowing through a culture as a whole are what determine the natural “pitch”, and its readiness to accept the next step on the ideological road it travels. Anti-capitalism is the logical outgrowth of nihilism in philosophy, and annihilation for its own sake is what such ideas achieve in practice.

Observe the end results: (most quotes courtesy Jeffery Lord, who despite the handicap of conservatism, also sees the patterns.)

“Every habitation of the rich shall be demolished.” Robespierre, 1793.

“We will make France a graveyard” — Jean Baptiste Carrier, 1793

“Blood? Let blood flow like water! Let blood stain forever the black pirate’s flag flown by the bourgeoisie…” From The Red Sword, a newspaper of the new Cheka secret police in Russia, 1918

“We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class.” Martin Latsis, deputy chief, Cheka, 1918

“We will wreck this world.” Kalle Lasn, Occupation instigator from his book “Culture Jam”, 2000.

“We demand struggle without consideration against those whose activity is injurious to the general interest. Common national criminals, usurers, profiteers and so forth are to be punished with death, without consideration of confession or race.” — from the Twenty-Five Points of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party), 1920

Thankfully, the Occupation is only a popular movement right now; there have been several of these in my lifetime in the U.S. and in Canada, and none of those were able to reach their end-of-road on the widest scale.  It is not a totalitarian movement, any more than an acorn is an oak tree. It is a fair cop on the part of their defenders to point out that one cannot selectively point to certain individuals tagging along that happen to fit one’s preconceptons and declare “THIS defines THAT.” The Occupation is not a murderous mob, it is not a full-blown socialist movement (of either the National or International stripe), and there are a lot of otherwise decent people who agree with some of their nominal positions. Hell, I agree with them — and so does Yaron Brook — on their nominal position that the banks should not have been bailed out, and that the incest between the banks, large corporations and the government needs to be ended ASAP.

The point is not where they are; it’s where they are going, the potential they have — all the “yets” that were unstated in the previous paragraph. The Occupation has all the required DNA to *become* a totalitarian movement, much as the acorn has all the DNA it needs to become an oak. And as far as all the Communists, anti-Semites, “professional” homeless and plain criminals — has anyone thought to wonder why movements of this sort **ALWAYS** attract such people? Obviously, those groups see an affinity there and always have, going back over a century. The Occupiers need to ask themselves why this is so. They may not like such rabble, but the rabble certainly like the Occupation and similar Leftist activities. And even if they really didn’t like the Occupation much, they see good recruiting among their numbers. They aren’t wrong.

My answer is simple: those groups are traveling the same road. They may not represent the Occupation’s present, but they certainly embody stages and aspects of its logical future.  They certainly will make Occupiers uncomfortable, given what they indicate — but unlike the Tea Parties when they were faced with a few such attempts at hanging on (many of which turned out to be Leftist false flag operators), these “moderate” Occupiers will be unable to resist infiltration by their more consistent ideological brothers. The presence and endorsements of those thugs are the warning signs which should induce Occupiers to check their premises — and perhaps get off this road before it’s too late.

Should the Occupation fail to heed those warnings and stay on that road to hell despite all the warnings and the historical evidence, rest assured that NO Occupier — going all the way back to the very first tents and Youtube videos — will be absolved.

[*] Yes, that’s Lee Stranahan on the other side of that link. Don’t laugh, the material he presents is pretty solid; now that he’s following Andrew Breitbart around, he’s got a big hate on for the Occupiers and for the Daily Kos dogs who gave him fleas.)


Starnesville, USA

The bulk of this post was written about 10 days before I posted it, and events are already moving quickly down the paths predicted. In Zucotti Park, the “extremist” ideological core is already coming together and is flexing its muscle as it prepares to make the trains run on time. Ed Morrissey discusses this article by former Occupier Fritz Tucker discussing the Occupations’ first coup: the formation of a Politburo-style oligarchy, the Spokes Council.

In conjunction with that, this article by Candice Giove of the New York Post includes this line:

“We have three-quarters of a million dollars in the bank and all these f–king people are not doing financial accounting while we’re calling for it from the larger corporations,” says the transgender leader. “A lot of good people are quitting.”

[Emphasis mine.]

Who wants to bet that these “good people” were muttering something about “we were co-opted” or something about the “betrayal” of the movement?

All of this is a good sign; it tells me that the Occupation movement is moving much too fast, and thanks to informative local reporting (versus the plain obfuscatory malfeasance of national media), it will reach its logical end in full view of the country *before* it finds the “marketing cover” it needs to reach stage two as a mature, accepted political movement. If so, it’s another data point suggesting that the Left is reaching its intellectual end before it reaches its political end — that it may yet finally die, losing its intellectual coherence and pretensions before reaching the political power necessary to kill off America.

If so, the Occupation movement shall hopefully reverse one historical pattern, and fail to end as it began: in camps.

5 Comments so far ↓

  • Michael

    I noticed the same thing from one commenter about OWS who said:

    If it were inequality per se they were against, you’d see them demonstrating in front Michael Jordan’s house, or in front of Apple’s headquarters. They certainly did not choose to wall st randomly. And it’s no coincidence that the cronyism is greatest in the banking industry.

  • shegeek

    I’d bet that these obfuscations and apologia are what allow the Left to keep rising to its knees over and over no matter how badly it has been beaten, like Monty Python’s Black Knight. In addition to enabling evasion in the early stages of a movement, they also enable it in the down time between movements and allow another one to coalesce.

  • L-C

    This entry is as good as it is long, and both of those aspects are for the better of it.

    Jim, did you coin the term “ideological causality”? I’m intrigued by the concept and where you are going with it. Here is an excerpt from one of Ayn Rand’s letters to Isabel Paterson as printed in “Letters of Ayn Rand” pp. 182, dated August 4, 1945:

    “…The discovery I made while reading the philosophers that it is actually impossible for man to be irrational…Let him accept the premise that there is no such thing as reason at all. And all his subsequent ideas and actions will follow in perfect logical sequence from that premise. His actions will become irrational and insane – but in perfect agreement with his premise.”

    It seems related to your concept, doesn’t it? That fundamental premises determine consequences irrespective of intent or belief, whether phony or sincere.

    Betsy Speicher explicitly identified the distinction between the subjective and the personal (such as in the realm of values). This could be another important identification.

  • Jim May

    L_C: I’m the one with the term “ideological causality” AFAIK, but the concept itself is definitely an expression of something already grasped in Objectivism. The notion of “the inexorable logic of ideas” is its origin; I do not recall whether that phrase come from Dr. Peikoff or A.R. herself.

    In any case, my bet is that A.R. would not really see anything new in it, as your quote illustrates. Where I think I may have broken new ground is to identify it as a sort of causality, the sort that moves being with free will. Harry Binswanger once described free will as “a type of causation”.

    It was David Kelley’s challenge to Dr. Peikoff’s invocation of “the inexorable logic of ideas” as “Hegelian” that made me put those two ideas together: how does one reconcile free will with “inexorable logic”? I observed at the time that the flaw in Kelley’s accusation was that implicit in Dr. Peikoff’s words, which any genuine OBjectivist would know and not need to be told once more, was the fact of free will. While the Marxist ideas do inevitably (logically) lead to mass murder, any Marxist is free to get off that train at any time.

    That key point is what sets ideological causality apart from physical (deterministic) causality. Physical causality determines the actions of things, via their nature; ideological causality sets the course of men in accordance with their choices (which itself is due to their nature). A man can change course at any time without apparent external cause; a proton cannot.

  • Grant

    Yeah, I think ideological causation and free will are compatible. A man who operates according to Marxist principles is a Marxist, whether he knows it or not. His more fundamental principles will always shape his less fundamental thoughts and actions. It’s not a matter of if such a person starts to advocate mass murder, but when.

    However, none of that means that should he identify that his fundamental principles will lead him to eventually advocate such a thing that he isn’t free to reject those principles and replace them with others. An atom of carbon, however, will always react with another given atom and produce a given effect. It has the ability to change itself from a carbon atom into another kind of atom – and thus produce a different effect should it collide with the same given atom, but even that isn’t volitional. The only thing that can cause that is some other, previous, deterministic causation. A man, however, can ONLY become a different kind of “atom” volitionally. There is nothing else that can cause it.