Occupy Fiction

Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 in OccupyTogether

By  Ken Vallario

“I just wonder if there is any value in shattering glass anymore…I mean what are all these buildings anyway?”

“I’m not following you.”

“I’m not following me either…I mean, I…I uhhh…I don’t know, it’s like everything has changed again, in this instant, you know?”

“Kinda.”

“I was in this bookstore the other day, upstate, where I live, and I was looking for a book.  You know how you do?  You know how you do that, you look for something to grab you, or you look for something important to read, something important that you have yet to read, you know, how you do that?”

“Yeah, ok.”

“I was doing that, but it all seemed so pointless, you know…it all seemed like it wasn’t important anymore.  I was in one of those record stores that sold books too.  I was looking at Thomas Pynchon books I’ve never read, but know I should.  Calvinos, and Hemingways…You know, whatever, smart books, serious books by people who were struggling with reality, as they saw it…you know?”

“What are you getting at?”

“I’m saying it all seemed like it was irrelevant now, like this movement you know, it has made the whole 20th century antique, quaint, no…worse, obscure…I kept thinking, I don’t need to read books anymore…I need to be here, you know.  I just kept looking out the window, at the sunlight, the early winter sunlight, and I kept thinking, that!…that is more important right now than these books.”

“Ok, that’s great.”

“But it’s not great, you know?  It’s like I was sad too, I was sad the way men are sad when these great movements come through, because it was me too, there was a part of me on those bookshelves getting washed away by history.  This ritual, this Sherlock Holmes like mystery…this process-oriented isolation that I had grown accustomed to was no longer tolerable.  No…now…now I had this movement, a social desire I had come to accept as impossible…is actually happening…”

“But why…I don’t understand why you have to cast that part of you aside, that is not implicit in what is going on here.”

“No…it’s not implicit at all…it’s explicit, but by this I mean the world is not pulling punches anymore.  One day I’m living my life, soldiering through as a persecuted mystic, and a week later the world has exploded with unironic sincerity…BAM…my whole process of detachment is suddenly under fire, and I have to ask myself…I have to look myself in the mirror and say ‘Hey…You!  Hey, are you really ready for this?’  But that’s not quite it, because it doesn’t matter whether or not I’m ready, that’s the crazy part, it’s not about me…”

“Aaaahhhh…that’s it.”

“Yes…in some way, that’s it.  I am not alone anymore.  I come here…I sit here in this Think Tank, and I speak up and everybody hears me…but I mean REALLY hears me, you know.  I’m not used to that, I am used to the comfort of speaking and frightening people…but you aren’t frightened…no, you are as happy as I am just to be involved in this present.”

“But…there is a ‘but’ in everything you are saying.”

“Yes, it’s about fiction…I am haunted by that moment…by that moment standing in front of those bookshelves.”

Meanwhile in a blue beat-up tent a hundred feet away sitting somewhere between the healthcare station and the kitchen two young men sit together discussing other things, while covering themselves with a few blankets to keep warm.

“I just don’t understand…I don’t get how it serves them…you know to tear everything apart.”

“It’s not about them…you know…it’s not about the small number of greedy people who are sitting on the imaginary mounds of cash.”

“It’s not?  I mean, isn’t that exactly what this is about?”

“I suppose on the surface it has to be about that…but you wanna hear my craziest theory, the one I believe is true, but too true for any kind of useful public understanding?”

“Yeah, what else do we have to do…I’m freezing.”

“Here…break open another one of these hand warmers…don’t worry, I’m sure they will keep coming.”

“Thanks.”

“Ok, here it goes.  What I think is happening here is the beginning of the great machine war.”

“Machine war?”

“Yes, I believe this is the beginning of what will become a perpetual struggle between human beings and the evolving machinery of information.”

“I know where you are going with this, but couldn’t that be said about any great struggle in the past…you know…like the industrial age?  I mean all major technological advances, they disrupt power structures…printing press…agriculture…you know, social entropy allows factions to develop that struggle to take hold of the power…that free-floating abundance that has yet to find its distribution…Maybe I’m making your argument for you, but what I’m saying is yes…of course technology is driving this, but you seem to be implying some antagonism…”

“You are arguing that what we are going through is a typical historical ‘adjustment period’ very much like prior precedents.  I am proposing that we are going through something completely distinct, even though it draws its power from the very expectations you are referring to.”

“What makes it different?”

“In every other technologically driven social transformation human beings understood the nature of the machine, and they had some measure of control over said machine and could therefore engage in a meaningful discussion about the political ambiguities that…well, you know…they could act meaningfully toward resolving the new demands.”

“Isn’t that what we are doing?  Aren’t we acting meaningfully?”

“Yes…sort of.”

“Sort of?  That’s kind of…”

“No, I don’t mean it to be dismissive…it is very meaningful what we are doing, but when that meaning gets put into language, it is always language that veers very far from the actual meaning, from the ‘real’ struggle that is going on here, the struggle, that on some level, we all know sub-consciously.”

“Ok, you said it was a crazy theory.  You gotta explain that.”

“Ok, I’ll get back to that, let me state some facts.  We are here, right?..fighting against the excesses of Wall Street, right?”

“Yeah.”

“In the last ten years or so, I’m not sure how long it’s been going on…but I know this, that today, almost 70% of all the trading that is going on, 70% of the economic activity that is defining our material lives is being done by machines.”

“What do you mean?”

“The majority of trading, and by trading I mean the buying and selling of stocks in public companies…each buy and sell representing confidence or lack thereof, in the quality and future of the company…these value judgments are being made by computers, run by people who feed in algorithms based on prior patterns in the market, in order to extract the highest amount of wealth from the system.”

“Yes, but these are controlled by the operators, aren’t they?”

“No, these traders have no control over the machine, not in any way that resembles 20th century theories of the market.  The Wall Street guys we are protesting are playing an alchemical game with forces they cannot…do you hear me?…they cannot fully understand.  Even the physicists and mathematicians who design these algorithms cannot fully understand how these things work.”

“What does that mean?  How does that play into your argument that our struggle is somehow not what we think it is?”

“The 1%, they don’t have any say…they are being rewarded by a machine that they cannot turn off.  Only we, only we can turn it off.  And that is what is going to happen…we aren’t going to create reform, because how can you reform something you don’t understand…how can you improve an abstract painting if you’ve never seen an abstract painting, if you have no understanding of abstract concepts?  How can you reform a set of algorithms that the best minds, the authors of those algorithms, can’t understand?”

“So you don’t think financial rules and regulations could help restrict speculation and market manipulation, and lead to a more just…”

“No, because these machines are either on or off, they cannot be meaningfully regulated.  They don’t have a conscience.  Their very function is amassing wealth in concentrated forms.  In other words, they have a very clear agenda, and we cannot argue with them, we can only stop the process that gives them power.  The people, the 1% we keep talking about, they are simply…the symbiotic servants of the Frankenstein they’ve created…Let me bring this full circle…this is different than the printing press or the industrial revolution, where the operators could be seen as ‘believers’ in the technology, where they could logically relate to the machine in ways that could be defended, even if their defenses were suspect…in this struggle, we are dealing effectively with a kind of magic, since we are facing forces that are beyond human cognition by virtue of their autonomous complexity.”

“Ok…so what if…what if we stop this machine you are talking about…what then?”

“I don’t know.”

“And yet, you think that is at the heart of what this is all about?”

“Yes, I would have to say I know that is what this is all about.”

“Wow.”

“It’s not just Wall Street.  You see those cops over there.  I mean the relationship between the police and the people has been a major part of this struggle.  Did you know that all over the country police departments are designed by algorithms?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that crime statistics are fed into computers and the allocations of resources are based on prior patterns, and so police officers are given quotas of arrests to fulfill, by MACHINES!?”

“I’ve heard about the quotas.”

“Don’t you think that is a bit absurd?  I mean how can you go out and fulfill a quota, that puts an amazing amount of pressure on a human being…not to mention the obvious affect, which is the transformation of our police force into a criminalizing force, a set of robotic human beings without emotion who will lie or coerce to fulfill these quotas, and set themselves further along the road of emotional detachment.  In other words, the algorithms, what combined I call the machine, is systematically increasing the criminality of the human race.”

“Whoa…that’s a little scary.”

“Think about it…airline tickets, books, healthcare…these are all run by algorithms, and seemingly random processes colliding and reacting with one another completely without any human supervision.  All of these things have moral and ethical and philosophical value that was once managed by human judgment.”

“Are you saying…I mean, you seem to imply some kind of machine consciousness…”

“No, I’m not saying that…well, wait a minute…before I disclaim consciousness, let me say that all these systems are integrated and operate across many platforms…that in itself is amazing and worthy of pause…but I am not claiming that the information technology is necessarily conscious of itself…but I will go so far as to say that we are dealing with a force of nature, perhaps like a virus or animal, that we live with in reality, and that we must think about in terms of survival, and whether or not this system is ultimately pro-human or innately destructive to our future.”

“So, if we shut it all down…are you saying that it will…you know retaliate?”

“Not really, but what I am saying is that when we shut it down we are taking a great risk…and that is something we have not really talked about much as a movement…because after we shut it down, we will have to redesign our future system of exchange…and when we do this, information technology will be a huge part of that new system, so we will have to address the moral nature of these systems.  Right now we have information technology that has been designed to favor inequality and power, and we will have to have a language for these issues.”

“I think that is happening, don’t you?”

“Yes…that is why I think this movement is powerful, because these things are happening.”

“What?  What are you thinking?”

“I think the most absurd thought I have is…well…I think, perhaps the system itself is instructing us…I mean…you know, when we’ve entered in all our data, all our works of art, all our literature and mathematics and sex lives and movies and history and toys and games…what if, after all this computation…you know, it’s like we’ve uploaded the collective unconscious of the human race…and what if we are now going through a kind of self-correction algorithm that is the result of a final analysis of human value?”

“You mean, the machine is acting…like a kind of demigod?”

“Perhaps…I mean it is a network that is built around ideas and language…it necessarily must have a linguistic and ideological impact on us…you know, a cultural impact…and because of its speed, that impact will be experienced as mysteriously emotional.  But even more absurd, we are dealing with an agency that expresses itself in cellular and wi-fi form, a ubiquitious field of electromagnetic data.  And afterall, what is the engine of human consciousness but a biological network of electromagnetic connections.  What if our bodies are becoming hard-wired?  What if we can really feel one another in ways that we might have once called psychic?  In other words, we are becoming truly self-aware, as a species…And you know what it says in the bible…about the meek inheriting the earth?  Maybe that is now possible because the dominant goodness of humankind has been given physical form, meaning we no longer need leaders, we really can make the world adjust to our desires…a new manifest destiny.”

“Well, you did say it was crazy.”

“Yes, I would call this a spectator theory, not really something that can be useful politically.”

“Well, you never know these days.”

In a noodle shop two block away two women sit in front of the fogged window sipping hot udon noodles out of their odd-shaped spoons, luxuriating in the warmth of the place, watching the shapes walk hurriedly past.

“What did you mean earlier, you know, in the work group, when you said maybe we are ‘the other 1%?”

“Oh, that.”  Sarah smiled.

“Yeah.”

After a long pause Sarah responded with a story, “I have this friend Violet…we’ve been friends since middle school, we grew up out west together.  We’ve been through a lot, shared a lot of personal history.  She’s active, like I am, super bright but we’ve had this argument for years.”

“Ok.”

“Violet believes that everybody is innately good, that each person is capable of personal liberation, you know?  And well…I’m a bit more…well, she would say cynical…I would say realistic.”

“Ok?”  Annika was ready for a point.

“Ok, we chant that ‘we are the 99%’ and we represent ourselves as a peoples’ movement, right?”

“Of course.”

“My point is, we aren’t really the 99%.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what if we are just the other 1%?…you know, like you have the 1% of people who actively seek to destroy things and take things and enrich themselves…What if there is another 1% who exist on the opposite side of that spectrum?  What if that is what we are experiencing out here, out there in the park, what if that is simply the gathering of a minority…a powerful minority, but a minority nonetheless?”

“I’m not sure I understand the point of seeing it that way?  I mean we are advocating for a larger number…”

Sarah cut her off…”Yes, but advocating might be a quality of our kind…like stealing is a virtue of the top 1%…what if it is our role to arise now and then to advocate for the 98% of people who live all along more ambiguous locations on the bell curve of human virtue?”

“Ok, I think I see…the point of your argument with your friend Violet.  She would say that the 99% are simply waiting for the revolution, and that once it comes, their goodness would arise…and I guess…you are saying that this is not necessarily the case, right?”

“Yes…I mean this notion of ‘the people’ rising up, it’s a very communist notion, rather unlike actuality.  I mean, have you traveled around America?…I grew up in the Midwest and I’ll tell you…most of the people out there are card-carrying patriots, fully signed-on to whatever they are fed.  When we go out there and chant that we are representing the majority, I’m not sure it is true…but wait…don’t take me as arguing against this movement…I’m not, I’m simply saying there are truths that we have to be practical about…and it is possible that the majority, even though we represent their future best interests, might be so brainwashed, that they will carry out any number of atrocities against us…against a particular type of person, that we are…you know what I’m saying?”

“I think.”

“The reason we are having such a good time out here is that we are finally together in one place…and I’m not sure people are really addressing this reality.  We are a particular type of person.  Political, altruistic, creative, anti-authoritarian, emotionally wise…however, people like us have been systematically isolated from each other, and yet this new information network has given us the ability to congregate…and now that we are together, we have awakened to a very interesting idea…”  Sarah paused.

“What?”

“We have awakened to the idea that we might be as powerful as the other 1%, in our own way.”

“That sounds dangerous.”

“Of course it does, but I’m not sure being naïve about the purity of ‘the people’ is any less dangerous.”

In a workgroup meeting at a coffee shop on the opposite side of the park, six people were cupping various hot drinks in their hands and discussing gender issues.

“Ok, so far we have discussed the separation tent…body privacy in the park, and the role of sexuality in the larger movement.  Does anybody have any comments on these topics, or would anybody like to address a new topic?”  Catherine was facilitating.

“I have something I would like to share.”  Henry raised a finger.  He was one of the 3 men.  They had no guidelines about gender representation, and so far this was working for everybody, since it was easier than trying to do the math.  “I have only been here a week, but I have been very impressed by the women here.  I know there have been a few complaints about some dominant males in the workgroups, but overall, I am often inspired by the female leadership in this movement.  I actually feel that this is…well…an integral part of the power of what we are experiencing.”  The other people began twinkling their fingers in the air in approval.

“I would like to add to that thought, if I may.”  Alexis was a young women in her 20s.  “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this myself.  I’ve never been around women in the way I’ve been around women here.  All my life, in school, in college, out at parties, women were always engaged in some sort of…I don’t know, I always felt pressure to participate in a sort of constant environment of…well…like a dating dichotomy.  And so, I could rarely be serious around my fellow women.  But here, women are serious…they take on large projects, and often, I find them fighting, but not in an aggressive way.”  Alexis paused to gather herself.  “What I’m saying is that it is like we are awakening to something here, and it does not detract from our femininity, but the strength adds to it.”

“Yes, I was in a workgroup the other night, helping with the spokes-council discussion.  There were only a few guys, and I was eager to get the group organized…so I grabbed ahold of the meeting and proposed something, you know, the way we do…”  Dave smiled…”I remember how I got slightly shut down by a few of the women in the group, who basically took me down to size, as they wanted the discussion to move in a more organic, less…I don’t know…masculine style…I was a little frustrated…honestly, cause I wanted it to be efficient, but I was equally impressed to be among women who were empowered.  The usual acquiescent female was nowhere to be found, and I was somehow oddly liberated from that internal anxiety to ‘take control’.”  More gloved twinkles in the air.

Catherine began to speak.  “I believe that the great female liberation movement is reaching its apex, and that the Occupy Movement is part of its ultimate expression.  But I want to be clear.  I am no longer talking about women’s bodies.  I am not talking about female-bodied persons here.  I am talking about the liberation of the feminine aspect of the human condition that has been repressed for thousands of years.  Even though female-bodied persons have represented this social process, as they received the worst effects of a masculinity dominant culture, they were, by no means, the only ones suffering from this deficiency.  Men too, have lived under the shadow of an overly masculine ideology of one sort or another for thousands of years, taking them away from their emotional needs.  This feminine rebirth and affirmation is allowing men to rediscover their mother-spirit and women to discover their protective authority.  This is an almost ecstatic experience and could easily lead to a kind of sexual dissipation, as it did in the 60s, but that is not happening this time.”

“No, the 60s represents a radical shift, a tectonic transfer of energy, and such events always get experienced as crises…but maybe, what we are experiencing now, is the maturation of that transfer, a breaking through the soil…of something that had been growing in darkness for many years, something with roots and a long-lasting sense of inner balance.”  Everybody was smiling now.

“Yes, it is great.”  Kris, the one transgender group member, spoke.  “But we must always remember that we are very much in new territory…gender territory that the world has never really known, or perhaps not known since prehistory.  We must be on guard against providing ideal types, even though we are experiencing such ideal expressions of selfhood.”  Prudent faces and twinkles all around.

Much later that night at about 3 o’clock in the morning in a jail cell somewhere in Brooklyn two men sat awaiting their release after being evicted and arrested from Liberty Square in a midnight raid of the park.

“I mean, what do you mean by the end of the world?  Is that like a Christian thing?”

“Well…yes, but it’s also a Mayan thing, an historical thing, a technological thing, a genetically modified thing, an environmental population thing…this whole world, the world as we knew it for thousands of years…I mean, in a certain physical sense…the world we were grappling with, as a steady background against which we projected our historical impulses…this world is no longer recognizable…Every moment the entire ideological construct of our worldview can shift seismically, and we find emotionally that we rise and fall in the course of one day, in a measure that people once experienced in a decade…I’m getting distracted…god I’m tired.”

“Yeah but when you say ‘End of the World’ are you saying you think we are doomed?”

“No..no, it’s nothing like that…but…and it’s a big but…we cannot maintain a psychic state…you know, we cannot thrive with a mind-state that is anything but radically elastic…ok…ok, I see that I’m losing you…the change is so drastic and yet it fits so perfectly with so many prophecies…I mean these scientists have been predicting for years, the rise of global warming, the emergence of computational intelligence and the religious nuts have pointed to similar cataclysms…how often have these two camps converged, and yet it is happening, so many different groups of people are agreeing on the presence of a very large shadow…but no, we aren’t doomed…”

“But you think we are headed for some kind of crisis, is that what you are saying?”

“No, we are already in the crisis…Look at us, look at the two of us…You are a teacher, you’ve been serving your society with nothing but dutiful piety for most of your life, and I am…well…I’m an activist, but only because I could not find a place within this society that was functioning well enough to justify the use of my intelligence…my point is, that our society is throwing people like US!…two very intelligent men, with nothing but good democratic intentions, they are throwing us in jail…this is the end of our civilization bro…people struggle to accept that because they are holding onto dreams that are only possible in the world that once was…but here’s the thing…the dreams that are going to be possible in the new world are so fantastic and expansive that we cannot even predict them.”

“That sounds a bit naïve, I mean, if what you say is true, the crisis could just as well lead to more apocalyptic results.”

“You see, I hear that all the time…it’s like the thought people use to keep their sails tied up, so that the wind of change…you know, like..they want to stay safe, they are afraid…and well, I am sympathetic, I am…but if you really look at the world…if you really believe what you hear, about people chopping other people up in Africa, or nuclear meltdowns in Russia and Japan, Mexican drug cartels blowing people up every day, and in our country we have people dying from the food they eat, we have people dying because they can’t reach over the counter and get the medicine that we have in abundance…what am I saying?  I’m saying we are living in an apocalyptic vision, this is a hellish world, now, right now…so, what have we got to lose?”

“Come on, it could get a lot worse, don’t you think?”

“No, I really don’t…I know that sounds naïve, but there is a compassion deficiency in this world…for many people all over the world, it could not get any worse, but Americans often like to represent themselves as concerned, but don’t actually bind their souls to the ‘other’.  They avoid seeing the atrocities happening everywhere as an atrocity against them…somehow they see this world divided…kind of like Dante’s levels in hell…it is an absurd political stance to take…you see?…Because you are either selfishly motivated, or you bind yourself to the political reality…but you cannot be both progressive and nationalistic, it is a logical impossibility…you cannot un-know the interdependence that has become a stark reality for us.”

“I understand what you are saying, but it just sounds so ambitious…I mean…”

“No…don’t let me mislead you…I am not talking about action even though a lot of action is being taken.  This crisis is upon us, like a runaway train, there is nothing we can do to either stop it, control it or manipulate it.  It’s kind of like a nuclear explosion, there is no way to undo fallout…what we are going through right now is the fallout of a nuclear explosion of self-interest, greed and violent oppression.  This moral readjustment period is going to be very hard for a lot of people…but…”

“Then how can you be so optimistic?  I don’t get what you are saying…how can this be the end of the world, and yet be the beginning of something so good?”

“Because brother…most people really are good…most people want to, when given the chance get together and break bread and help one another, but right now you got a small number of bullies who are losing control.  The hopelessness that so many people have mistaken for maturity will come out in messy ways, but it will make room for a new hope, and this new hope will impregnate our souls with the vision of a new world.”

“They are not going to go without a fight.”

“Yes, I agree the violence is going to come…but it is merely going to expose the violence here, here in America that we’ve been exporting for most of our lives.  And I am afraid too…I don’t want to die…but I am incapable of cowering…I am incapable of submitting for another instant to those bullies…this is a collision of emotional states that cannot be avoided…In fact, avoidance is the shame that we are now paying the price for.”

“Oh, I hate that kind of language.”

“Yeah, I know, but what is pollution but an avoidance of responsibility to our environment?  How else ought we refer to actions that are self-poisoning?”

“What do you mean, self-poisoning?”

“When we avoid standing up for ourselves in the face of false authorities, we are polluting our own bodies, our sense of individual sovereignty, and these people…all these people that have been coming to Occupy, and now us, as we sit here in the cells, we are cleansing ourselves, cleaning out all the pollution of capitalistic collusion, the knowledge we all live with of the slave labor we use to sustain our consumption…We are righting our wrongs by facing these minor imprisonments…That’s what I mean about the end of the world, it’s the end of the crazy ways we have used to detach ourselves from the suffering of our fellow human beings.”

“Yes, I dig that.”

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