“I’m sick of hearing ‘bout the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’
Have some personal accountability”
(Nine Inch Nails ‘Capital G’)
My old sociology lecturer once talked about how the entrapments of modern life had deliberately and systematically siphoned us all off from one another; interrupted the social communication intrinsic to more communal ways of living, and how detrimental that had been in terms of rallying for a common cause. Now, more than a decade on, I think I finally understand the point that was being made, from observing the hostility towards the various forms of protest this year.
There is a growing voice of disdain toward any actions viewed as dissenting. Whether they be ‘middle class students’ protesting about tuition fees, ‘unemployed scum’ rioting on the streets of London, or ‘scrounging hippies’ pitching a tent in cities worldwide, we are increasingly scornful toward anyone we view as going against the grain.
I’ve been guilty of the very criticism I’m levying here. During the riots this summer, I angrily disparaged what I viewed as the lack of socio-political motives of the looters. I didn’t go so far as the ‘stop their benefits’ and ‘scum’ contingent, but that doesn’t make me any better than those who did. I still chose not to consider why people might feel so disenfranchised that destroying local businesses became a viable option.
This constant desire to pull people down, where does it come from? We are dismissive, often without having the courtesy to educate ourselves on what these groups believe, or oppose. We absorb sound bites filtered through the media and think we know all we need to, in order to reject them.
What I felt whilst watching the riots was a combination of frustration that these people had gotten the attention of the ‘establishment’ and were – in my view – squandering it. Then, further beneath the surface: resentment – that I had come from a similarly disadvantaged background, yet managed to turn it around without resorting to half-inching some trainers from JD Sports.
I had a similar reaction to the Occupy movement: I don’t have the luxury of protesting anymore. Sitting in a tent for months on end won’t make the rent or pay my debts. So instead I opted to shout down the idealists from the comfort of my armchair and broadband connection.
The ethos of the Occupy movement is that we are all the 99%; that we’re all in this together. The people on the streets want to represent all the people who can’t be: people with rent and debts, benefits, jobs and childcare issues. The inequalities they are challenging affect the majority of us. Yet we back-peddle furiously, keen to disassociate ourselves, more willing to continue the everyday struggle than to lend our support to those better able to sit and wait. We all agree that the system doesn’t work, but rather than engage in the dialogue, we challenge their ideology, their methods, even their right to be there.
I arrogantly asserted that the Occupy movement would come to nothing; that they lacked cohesion and had no realistic solutions. Then I started to notice others all saying the same thing – repeatedly and aggressively and directly. We are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and imposing it on people with the audacity to demand a fairer society.
Is this our message? That if we have to struggle to make ends meet, then you damn well better struggle too? Put up and shut up until you’ve earned the right to moan about it – by which point you’ll be so disillusioned with wasted votes, and endless strike action, that you’ll simply be grateful to be in a job at all. Have we become so disconnected from one another that we’d sooner see those around us suffer than take a stand?
More importantly, is this the attitude we want to pass on to the next generation of kids sitting in over-crowded classrooms: Know your place. Don’t stand up for what you believe in. Above all, never ever think that you might be worth more.
When did we stop believing that we mattered?
I haven’t quite come full circle. I still retain a degree of cynicism; I still believe that amongst all the good intentions, there are those motivated by self-interest. But I am coming to see that the same could be said for every one of us choosing to cut the protestors down to size, rather than encourage their willingness to try…
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