Monday, October 17, 2011

The "Occupy" Movement Shames Us

So, how about this Occupy Wall Street movement? A bunch of people actually started an Occupy Washington action on the 15th, and some of them, including Prof Cornell West, were arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court yesterday. I find this all pretty inspirational stuff.

But yesterday I was doing my usual early Sunday morning grocery shopping, and as I waited outside for the store to open, I asked the other middle-aged guy standing there what he thought about Occupy Wall Street. I was surprised at the bitterness with which he pronounced them all to be "idiots". Vehemently, he insisted that they would accomplish nothing. I was feeling patient and curious, so I asked him a few questions, in that Socratic method that I have worked so hard to develop, and it soon became apparent he hadn't really thought the issue out at all, but he was bitter, angry, and resentful at the folks in the Occupy Wall Street movement.

I have seen a surprising amount of this attitude in the last week or so, and it puzzles me. I spent most of the rest of the day pondering that, in a back-of-the-mind sort of a way, and sometime in mid-afternoon it occurred to me in a blinding flash. They're ashamed.

People like the man I spoke with outside the grocery store are ashamed because they know they should be doing something. They see the problems with America, they know it is ultimately their responsibility as citizens to correct the situation, and yet they do nothing. And they feel shame for doing nothing, so they make excuses, saying that the movement will accomplish nothing, and angrily denouncing its members as idiots. They trivialize the Occupy movement in order to assuage their own feelings of guilt.

The anger arises from shame, and guilt.

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