Monday, October 10, 2011

Statistical Meaning in the 99% Movement

Sherlock Holmes and the quest for knowledge!
Those of you who know me know I live or die by data.  One of my favorite movie quotes comes from the extraordinarily awesome re-invention of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role.  He's investigating the death of some famous occult leader (not important) but he utter a line that is his mantra:
Sherlock Holmes: Data, data, data. I cannot make bricks without clay.
Indeed, Mr. Holmes.  It explains why so many conservative edifices collapse under the weight of their own incompetence.  Building policy without clay is a pointless exercise.

Which brings me to the 99% and the oligarchical reaction to the Occupy movement.  Recalling the reactionary response to the Vietnam war, some of the very same words and phrases are being trotted out and hurled at the protesters.  "Get a job, hippie!" "You wouldn't have what you have without capitalism!" But they are responding to charges that haven't even been leveled yet.

Howard Simons: Did you call the White House press office?
Bob Woodward: I went over there; I talked to them. They said Hunt hadn't worked there for three months. Then a PR guy said this weird thing to me. He said, "I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee."
Howard Simons: Isn't that what you expect them to say?
Bob Woodward: Absolutely.
Howard Simons: So?
Bob Woodward: I never asked about Watergate. I simply asked what were Hunt's duties at the White House. 
The reactionary right is responding to what they feel is coming down the pike: a frontal assault on all they hold dear; capitalism itself and the inequalities and misery it causes.

This is a long lead into the ultimate point which is this, so clearly articulated by Mike Konczal over at Rortybomb who has done a statistical analysis of the messages posted on the 99% Tumblr feed.  Here are the words he finds:

These people aren't looking to overthrow capitalism, they want jobs!  They want to be a part of the capitalist system not be owned by it!
Scanning the entire text, what is equally interesting is what is missing.  There’s no signs of a luxury fever or cascading consumption heading downhill.  These aren’t the signs of people envious of their peers going off to the high-end financial sector and then getting bailed out.  The only time luxuries are mentioned are in a mode of denial (“We do not own HD TVs, expensive automobiles, use cable TV, or indulge in other..”).  The only time unions are mentioned are in retreat and defeat (“No union”, “threatend [sic] by funding cuts and union busting”).
Indeed, their desires are much, much smaller than that.  What do they want? Freedom from a system that more closely resembles a feudal lord-of-the-manner relationship than a free market.
The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no calls for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.
So while the talking heads on Fox go on about hippies and showers, American's suffer in much the same way the serfs of Czarist Russia suffered, in bondage to a system over which they have no control.

To become a serf was a commitment that encompassed all aspects of the serf’s life. 
Moreover, the condition of serfdom was inherited at birth. By taking on the duties of serfdom, serfs bound not only themselves but all of their future progeny.

America! Fuck yeah!

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