Wednesday, February 01, 2012

On occupying, occupation, and the morality of wealth...

There must be an interesting psychology lying behind protest and public disobedience on the one hand and the more general acceptance and approbation of the protest in wider society… or is the ol’ probligo getting just that little more reactionary in his old age?

F’rinstance –

Forty years ago, the prospect of giving a number of very important people a sleepless night and to inform them of contrary opinion was not only supported in spirit but in fact. The main person to be kept awake – if that were possible – was one LBJ, then Vice-P of the USofA. He was spending a night or three in Auckland in the course of a junket round the world drumming up support for a military action that was going rather sour in a remote and previously ignored little slice of land somewhere down and to the right of China.

That was considered to be all in good fun. It was “right” to protest the military invasion of a nation – whether by invitation of the government or not – irrespective of the validity and justification of the rationale behind the action. To have the figurehead of the military action at hand and within protest range was a prospect far too good to miss. Oh, and I can not help wondering how many marriages resulted from the protest – I know of one certainly; a very dear friend whose response to the toasts at his wedding breakfast included the observation that his marriage was LBJ’s fault, that he had met his wife in the gutter outside the Intercontinental Hotel when they were both about to be arrested.

Similarly, there was the occupation of Bastion Point by Ngati Whatua. That one lasted for over a year (507 days to be precise). The objective of the protest was the land itself; its ownership; the means by which that ownership was obtained; the right of the protesters to regain what they considered to be their manawhenua – ownership – of a piece of land that had gone from disputed to extremely valuable over a period of some 120 years. Long time readers might recall my rather jaundiced view of the disputes of “right of domain” (I think that is right) in the US. The Bastion Occupation coloured thinking here a very deep colour of red.

But something seems to have changed.

The “Occupy…” protests in NZ have seemed futile from the start. On a global scale, the validity of the point being made had some strength as my previous post acknowledged. I wrote that some 3 months after the “occupation” of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. In recent times – these past four weeks – there has been increasing activity by “the powers that be” to clear the protests from the respective central city sites. As this has been happening, the nature of the protesters has changed; there has been quite a clear acknowledgement from the movement that began it all that their message had been infiltrated and converted by others with other agendas.

In Wellington, the coincidental death in hospital of a local character known best as “Blanket Man” had become the central point to the protest. In Christchurch, the protest against “the 1%” had morphed into a local issue – the pay increase granted by the City Council to its Chief Executive. The Auckland protest had become more about “the right to occupy” rather than the figmental 1% with which it had started.

So, I guess, the ol’ probligo has joined the ranks of the reactionary. No longer is there much point to the protest of “the 99% against the 1%”. And that raises the sad question of “Why?”.

One of the fundamentals of “capitalism” relies upon a small number of people controlling a large proportion of total wealth and a large number of people relying on the owners of that capital to provide them with something approaching an adequate living. From the time of Adam Smith to Friedman and Samuelson that division has existed and been recognised. It is not going to vanish in the twinkle of a tax-man's eye; it depends from the "natural human instinct" (TFS might call it "God-given instinct"?) of advantage, possession and greed. The real point to remember here is that "corporate greed" is nothing more than "human greed" in a pin-stripe suit and briefcase.

On the other side - as well illustrated by all the "occupy" movements - is the opposite emotion of envy; the "natural human instincts" of disadvantage, of dispossession, of not having.

As I started, the connection of these mirror images would likely make an interesting study. For my part, I can sit back this evening and reflect that I have as much as I need, that in large part I have as much as I want, and the best part of all is that I earned the best part of it for myself.

How smug. How self-satisfied. How selfish...

2 comments:

Monkfish said...

Hmmm...one of the indicators of growing (read 'aging') is that there is a tendency to become reactionary. There are a lot of boomers around now that went on protest marches and generally leant to the left, but have now, with the possessions of property, shares, and healthy bank balances, become more conservative. Goes with baldness, statins and Harley-Davidsons.

The 'Occupy' protesters have a point - though they will have a hard job to push it in a materialistic society such as the one that we are part of. In the Granny this morning there is an article on the daily pay of some surgeons being $6000, and this was in some perspective to Sir Ralph Norris's 20M$ (which I calculate to work out at $54,794 a day, not he $45,000 a day as reported in the Granny). George Frazis (Westpac) 'earns' by comparison a mere 5.5M$ - a paltry $15000-odd a day. Oh, and those occupiers should get themselves a job and off the benefit...

Now we ask ourselves, how is all this to be perceived by the common mortals who are stacking supermarket shelves at $10.09 an hour ($80 a day)?

As you say, protesting against a military action half a world away is all good fun and has little real impact on world affairs. But to protest against ridiculous incomes - at both ends of the scale - has a lot of benefit and is in fact truly relevant. You and I might be happy enough with our lot - we live in comfort, have our bread and wine in the cupboard and a secure roof above us. But there's a lot for whom this is, and always will be, just a dream.

Watkin Tench said something along the lines of 'the first step in every community that wishes to preserve honesty should be to set the people above want'. Sadly, we live in (extended) community that doesn't quite see that and accordingly rewards (if that is the right word) those whose only wants are to impress others with possessions like $30 million mansions (actually I quite like ol' Dotcom! But that's another issue altogether.).

Our government seems concerned less with job creation than with wealth creation - and it doesn't take an Einstein to see where the wealth will end up. In days of old, the vilified capitalists were the industrialists who exploited the workers. Now we have wealth being redirected people not to their employers but to (mostly) men who see extraordinary benefits in non-productive stuff like futures trading. And if this seems like a diatribe against bankers (rhymes with ...?), yes it is, because they offer little in the way of services to the rest of us.

With the 1%-ers kicking up, there will be more publicity to those with fabulous pay-packets and maybe one day Boards of Directors will come to their senses, pay them less and allow some 'wealth' to reach the pockets of the less lucky.

So back to your headline, perhaps it's possible that people will seriously question the divergence of morality and wealth. Thank goodness that, at least for the time being, people can protest in NZ without being gassed or shot.

End of rant!

The probligo said...

Good rant.

Now I need a good stiff julep and a couple hours to ponder - and it is only 07:30.

No, make that a long glass of potable water - wealth indeed to many - and the digestion of yesterday's evening meal.