Admittedly, we all seem to be in our own media biospheres.
Conservatives prime the pump of their conservatism through Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorials, The New York Post, The Weekly Standard, The National Review, columnists like Peggy Noonan and Charles Krauthammer, and hard right squawk radio gurus like Rush Limbaugh and online gurus like Matt Drudge; liberals prime their pump with MSNBC, The New York Times, The Nation, columnists like Paul Krugman and Seymour Hersh, as well as Arianna Huffington's Huffington Post. Feel free to extend this list on both sides.
Most of the young now occupying Wall Street get their news through social networks, now predominantly Facebook which is where a dazzling amount of internet surfing unloads its links. The air in that cyberspace is not as restricted or localized as in our traditional media biospheres. There's a great deal of anonymity to authorship in cyberspace which means thought is not tagged at the get go as it would be for instance in an op-ed piece with a Paul Krugman byline. Get ready for a liberal line. Anne Coulter is not going to give Obama any slack. And so on.
There's also a way in which not only characters dissolve into a "whatever" wash but plot does also. By plot, I mean both contemporary context and history. For instance, when Herman Cain was asked what he thought of neo-conservativism, the ideology that drove American politics from 2000 to 2008, he said the word didn't ring a bell. He's not young but he's "context-free," which might be seen as a "bad" thing for those who want candidates for the presidency to know recent political history but a "good" thing for those for whom context goes no further than yesterday's Google search or yesterday's Facebook posting. If the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, whatever that means, why pay any attention to the characters and plotting that got us there? The idea that history is a prelude to the present vies with the idea that history has all the significance of yesterday's tweet.
I have a view of what politics will be like when the radically divided media biospheres fade away and all is mediated and communicated through personalized social networking. In a way it's the anarchist Max Stirner's dream come true: a politics of dispersal in which no institution can trump an individual's personal determinations. There might be more small enclaves already represented in the myriad online cluster blog sites which have their devoted followers, your acknowledged friends on Facebook. Your social and political world could easily be represented in the apps on your smart phone as well your cell's instant dial phone book of friends.
So as the rising generation, the Millennials, move toward a fractured, personalized, self and friend designed means of political and social communication, market backed media remains consolidated. This state of affairs explains the much noted political disinterest of university students: they've taken politics and protest into the closed reserves of their own personal interests.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a neo-conservative ideology that wants to win as much as it can of the world before the Chinese gain contesting hegemony, and a financial sector that has gone Wild West in its pursuit of profits anywhere/anyhow, and a wealth gap that makes pre-revolutionary France look egalitarian. . . all this remains "whatever" to most Americans, but most especially the 18-29 demographic.
The conservative media is on the offense while the liberal media is responding with a "cult of balance" and the leftists are no more than boogeymen to pull out of the closet to frighten the independents. Of course, the bottom 40% of the population are feeling the pain of policies that demonize them as lazy losers hoping to suck the blood of the industrious winners. Some are too stunned by life's travails to vote, others see no rescue between two candidates, one waiting till they're scrunched into extinction while the other accepting this inevitability regrettably, and some decide to join the Tea Party and take up the cause of their oppressors.
It took an event – Occupy Wall Street – to force a re-interpretation of what's been going on, especially with the young.
The U.S. remains a middle class country, a middle class fast descending to that bottom 40% of the stunned, but still a country which produces educated citizens. We have now on hand graduates - high school, college, postgrad - who have not graduated into career launching jobs. That too gets out on Facebook; the disenchantment grows. This is a population that has not yet been part of the American Dream, so there's no house that's mortgaged, no job they'll work 24/7 to hold on to, no "stuff" that's maxed their credit cards, no dependent family tempering their growing radicalism. They may be yearning in the trumped up way Madison Avenue has us yearning but that yearning is unfulfilled and there is not a sign of any future fulfillment.
Most especially, this is a generation that has an anonymous sense of politics and history and the characters who play and have played major roles. In other words, they are "very upset" but have not the prefab narrative to jump to in response. They are not joining the knife fight in a phone booth that has been American politics for three decades.
The Occupiers are not joined at the hip to any political ideology. This is why candidate Obama's post-partisan claim, his promise to rise above ideology was so appealing to the young. They are more than willing to rise above what they have already been "whatever" about. They are already post-history, post-politics, post-books, post-New York Times and The Weekly Standard. Obama's failure to deliver on a fantasy pledge is a major reason why he is not the hero of Occupy Wall Street. He himself was scrunched by a deeply divided politics and a long term memory which could not be erased. It was what we called before postmodernity, "reality."
Once again, the Occupiers are not joined at the hip to any political ideology. This is why presidential candidate Ron Paul's libertarianism, his promise to do away with government departments, taxes, wars, end the fed, regulations, entitlements, public schooling, Obamacare and so on is so appealing to the young. Ron Paul disdains the characters and plot of politics in the same way they do. His disdain, however, is narrowly directed: away from free markets and toward any infringement of its free play.
Anarchism has a legendary appeal to the young but the anarchism of the libertarians does not extend to Wall Street. You will not find Ron Paul in Zuccotti Park supporting Wall Street and free market capitalism as a target. He would instead point to the free market to liberate the Occupiers from their discontent. The present plight of the Occupiers is a result, in the libertarian view, of markets not being free enough. In Ron Paul's view, lack of such freedom caused the Great Recession which has sent 99% into continued deprivation. On the other hand, it seems fairly clear that we're all living in the disastrous climate of an unregulated, unbridled Wild West brand of global capitalist financial finagling.
Ron Paul and the libertarians may be the biggest boosters Wall Street has ever had but the Occupiers know their target. They can't, as Don Corleone would say, be reached by a system that has kept them unemployed and in debt. They can't be lobbied, threatened with no campaign contributions, promoted, given stock options, and all the rest. They have never tasted the fruits of the system. Some may want to and some may want to undermine it. All may want to be simply not cast aside.
The problem on the Occupiers' side is as follows: how far do you need to go toward rebellion in order to achieve a goal of recognition, acceptance, and admittance? And, much more difficult: if you go beyond admittance to change, how is that achieved? The problem on Wall Street's side is they don't know how to give the Occupiers what they want. The "invisible hand of the market" just doesn't do justice or humanity or democracy. Creative destruction happens axiomatically when the market no longer needs you. Capitalism is not set up to interrupt that.
Unencumbered by any deep ideological attachments or any sense of the turbulent history of our present ideological divide, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are free to focus on what's before them. They live in a society in which about 400 Americans have as much wealth as half of all Americans combined, a society in which the Wall Street financial sector continues during and after the Great Recession to receive huge bonuses and stock dividends, a financial sector that is holding their notes on the financial aid they've received for an education that has led them to unemployment. This is also the age group that has "volunteered" – read here without any other "career" choice - to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have made huge profits for private contractors and steady dividends for shareholders while the warriors themselves have come home – or not - to unemployment. Profit has been made on the marketable frontier of the young, profit made in their education and in the blood shed in wars, and cybertech seemed to be the soma that kept them silent and unresisting.
Driven to the wall by a society in which the winners care little about them, the young have broadcast their frustration and anger on their cell phones and on their Facebook pages. They have recruited and mobilized by using the very media that seemed to have created a detachment of the individual from any social concerns. Now the society of the young and their concerns finds its expression in cyberspace and has reached an actualization in the streets. The two reinforce each other, expression and action, action and expression in a manner that bypasses a traditional media, a media that has not yet learned to probe and question in any way helpful to the Occupiers.
In other words, Occupiers have broken through the traditional media biospheres whose failures and inadequacies, whose biases and cover-ups, whose own incestuous ties to money and power are at this Occupier moment as clearly exposed as an emperor without any clothes.
From guest contributor Joseph Natoli