Monday, October 10, 2011

More Occupy Seattle: it's an alternative to Greenlake 'social activism'

Meaning the Seattle strategy that gets a lot of attention here of privileged yuppies doing things like eating organic and supporting local boutique businesses as social activism. There are quite a few folks in Seattle who, while leading lives that are excessive in their privilege, think that they're great supporters of social change because they've done a few token gestures with their money. These actions help them feel better about themselves, think that they're great people because of it, despite the fact that at the end of the day when it comes to their actions' impact on real social change, especially social change having to do with inequality and social justice, their actions have almost no impact.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kinda like blogging your not so astute observations from your MacBook makes you feel better about yourself even though it has no real impact of "social change" of "economic injustice."

Make fun of and insult the "bourgeois" all you want but their money and choices about where and what to spend it on have a much bigger impact than would-be "social activists" whining about injustice.

Jesse Mulert said...

That's valid, but only to a degree. Priviledge is a difficult thing to deal with, it should be a topic of conversation. But all people do things that are in their interest, all people do things that make them feel good, all people do things that are easy. When a person of significant priviledge, I don't know, eats an organic apple, is that in some way diminishing the quantity of fertilizer that didn't go into a stream? Clearly no. There are some who do things like get a Prius and believe they are now allowed to drive more, but there are just as many who will adopt "green" or "conscious" or "activist" as a core aspect of their personality and be inclined to greater and greater positive action. I would like to hear what you believe are appropriate actions for a person of priviledge to take to make thier society a better place. (Pay less taxes and create more jobs is not an acceptable answer) Priviledge is not a thing that can be just sluffed off by selling your stuff and moving into a different neighborhood. A white college educated male will always be a white college educated male. Denying agency to a person based upon their priviledge is just another form of classism, i.e. the motor of social and economic injustice.

John Madziarczyk said...

@Anonymous...hmm..I think you missed the part about this being linked to Occupy Seattle, which is a very concrete thing, much more concrete than doing Yoga and eating gourmet chocolate made in Seattle.

@Jesse Mulert. Sure, eating organic is great, as is supporting local businesses, but my impression of folks in this neighborhood is that they're more than willing to support causes that don't potentially harm their bottom line, but when that line is crossed, it's a different matter entirely. One thing about supporting local businesses and organic agriculture is that doing that can easily be turned into buying just another luxury item. Organic food tastes better, eating it is not a pure sacrifice, and there are lots of products available in Seattle that while very good and very sustainably made are so expensive that no one without a heft chunk of money will ever be able to eat them on a regular basis.

Before going on to positive things folks can do, privilege is in fact something that can be sloughed off to a degree...in the sense that people with corporate jobs (not entry level corporate jobs) could always potentially leave them and take something paying less and that doesn't put them at the head of the class system. They would still be college educated white people, but the impact of their lives would be significantly different. When folks from Microsoft, or folks who are doctors, or folks who are lawyers or upper white collar workers shop green and buy alternative, it does nothing to make them any less a part of the system. It encourages change in certain ways, but it doesn't deal with what they do as their main activity in life.

What they could do, short of leaving their jobs, is to support movements that also have the potential to directly effect their standard of living in a negative way. Give money to groups that support progressive taxation, more regulations on corporations, and that organize unions. Doing that, on top of the more fashionable alternatives, would give them some legitimacy.

About agency and classism. These folks are people who are at the head of the problem,people who occupy high positions within the capitalist system. Folks can only do so much without looking at how the main activity of their lives impacts that society and changing it . Ultimately, while folks can do things that lessen the negative impact of their lives, like buying organic, the only way for them to really take care of it altogether is to not be in those positions of power anymore, and for those positions of power to be abolished. A corporate executive will not cease to be an exploiter because he or she also supports products made sustainably in the third world. Saying this does not deny agency to them in what could be called an existential sense: there are always things they can do.

But it should be acknowledged, where agency is concerned, that if someone is in a position of power like this they most likely did not get there by accident. They used their agency all along the way to pursue a career and a position in society that has the side effect of garnering them massive privilege while others suffer. Whether or not they interpret it like this is beside the point. Few people are pressured into getting an MBA, although there may be familial influence.

Neither does this dehumanize them. If they're willing to no longer occupy positions of power in society that are unjust, they're welcome to keep on keepin' on. Their essential humanity is intact.

Ultimately, though, as long as the people who are on the top stay on the top and don't either leave or essentially defect to supporting policies that directly threaten their position, we're in a zero sum game. It's like talking about the kind and generous slave owner who shouldn't be classified with those bad ones.

Lori said...

Replace "willing to no longer occupy..." with "no longer willing to occupy..." and now we're-a-talking.

John Madziarczyk said...

@Lori I think I understand the sentiment, but the terms "no longer willing to occupy" to "willing to no longer occupy" are somewhat unclear to me.

Lori said...

"no longer willing to occupy" means yuppie in question ain't going back. Posting one's real opinions under one's real name should be more than enough to do the trick. Burn them bridges. Burn baby burn!

John Madziarczyk said...

Hmm..I still don't understand what you're talking about. I've never lived in Greenlake so I don't have any bridges with it to burn. Instead, I just have a problem with many of the people who live there.

John Madziarczyk said...

...and I have no fear about Greenlake people trying to assault me with organic yogurt, if that's what you're implying.

John Eddy said...

I would wager that the $50 I spend at the farmer's market does far more to support local businesses than what you're doing.

I could back that up, too, having worked with those farmers.

Heck, even the gourmet chocolate that you just poo-poo'd comes from an individual vendor who, because we, and others, buy from, is able to take on more employees. Huh. Imagine that.

I can quantify what I'm doing and prove that it is actually making a difference.

You?

John Madziarczyk said...

Hmm...I suppose the solution then is for all the rich people to just buy more stuff in order to keep people employed. Thank you for your sympathy. I'm not the one who thinks that I'm saving the planet with the pennies I spend in my spare time while enjoying a luxurious lifestyle.

John Madziarczyk said...

I mean, there was a time when 'economic stimulus' meant having the lord of the manor build another wing to his mansion, in order to keep people employed, but I don't think we want to go back to those times.

John Madziarczyk said...

To which I could easily add: if you want to effect social change, quit your job at Microsoft.

John Eddy said...

Don't work at Microsoft anymore. But how exactly would that engender social change? Outside of making me unemployed?