Ruminating on the demand for “demands”: Protesters, stay on target!

This morning we were discussing Nietzsche in my Seminar class at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and I asked the students to think about Nietzsche’s advice to his readers in the preface to The Genealogy of Morals.  “One thing is necessary above all if one is to practice reading as an art,” Nietzsche said; something that has been unlearned most thoroughly nowadays….something for which one almost has to be a cow and in any case not a “modern man”: rumination.”

In other words, Nietzsche says you have to read his work like a cow lying in a sunny field chewing her cud: slowly, deliberately, with total concentration.

If the “modern men” of 1887 had already “unlearned” this art, imagine how far away it seems to us now, in our age of the 24-hour media news circus, the Twitterati, and the sound bite.  Hardly anyone has the patience to just sit and ruminate anymore.  We are too busy clicking and chatting and running from one appointment to the next.

It’s in this busy, hectic spirit that, after having ignored the Occupy Wall Street protests entirely for their first ten days, we are now hearing impatient cries from the media for a list of “demands.”

It irritates me to no end that the media punditocracy, from Nick Kristof to Bill O’Reilly, are now pushing the protesters to get their collective act together and come up with a proper bullet-pointed list of all their grievances.  Unspoken is the subtext: tell us what’s upsetting you, dear children, so we can pat you on the head and make everything all right.

It’s condescending, again, and way too simplistic a response to the complex and serious nature of this rapidly spreading protest movement, which some are now calling the Tea Party of the left.

Some of the protesters, nettled by the insinuation that they lack focus and don’t know what they want, have hurried to put together a bonafide, if tentative, list of demands. These have been launched into the great wiki of the blogosphere, where thousands of minds are now busily turning them over and vetting them for possible political viability.  Not only the trade unions, but also Moveon.org and other big national political organizations are now poised to make hay in the sunshine of this nascent movement.

They all ought to take a deep breath and follow Nietzsche’s advice.  Take the time to ruminate.  Don’t leap too fast.  What is the hurry?  It took many years of steady, malicious manipulation to get us 99%-ers into this fix.  It’s going to take at least as long to get us out of it.

What the protesters really want cannot be contained by the old-fashioned concept of “demands.”  Their motivation comes from a much deeper place, a primal sense of justice and community.  They know that the 1%, the wealthiest Americans, have been living like parasites on the great sleeping flanks of the 99% for at least the past quarter-century.  If we 99 percenters wake up and stretch and begin to roar, there’s no telling what we might be able to accomplish together!

That’s why the protesters should not be lured in and fobbed off with the promise of a few candies or pats on the head.  What’s needed is deep systemic change of our social system.  There are some pretty radical ideas floating around out there right now, including complete debt forgiveness as a grand national “stimulus” plan.  Why bail out the banks?  Why not bail out the consumers?

This idea has merit, but it shouldn’t be just about getting us back into the same old groove of shopping for cheap foreign-produced goods, the production of which are contributing more and more to the destruction of our planetary environment.

There should also be a massive subsidy plan for renewable energy.  Instead of destroying the boreal forest in Alberta and building a misbegotten pipeline, we should be investing in low-impact renewable energy, especially solar and geothermal, which seem like the least hazardous forms of energy production currently available.

Coming up with “demands” implies faith in a political system to respond.  The Occupy Wall Street protesters are down there on the front lines precisely because they know the current political system cannot be trusted.  They’re right.

“I am no man–I am dynamite,” Nietzsche wrote in his autobiography, Ecce Homo. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are, similarly, much more than a group of individuals assembled in one place.  They are the long fuse that has now been lit; or to use a more contemporary metaphor, they are the surge in the power line.

What will happen next we do not yet know, but one thing is certain: it will not be reducible to, or solvable by, a simplistic list of “demands.”

Protest and social transformation–what do Uranus and Pluto have to do with it?

I said when I started this blog that I’d be open to all kinds of explorations of the transition times we’re living in.  Recently, after a long period of just reading his open-source work, I subscribed to the astrology reports produced by Eric Francis.  I am wondering: could it be that the motions of the planets have a real impact on how we think, feel and act here on Earth?

Francis just produced a terrific reading of the history of American protest movements since the Sixties, grounded in his knowledge of astrology and inspired by his visit to the Occupy Wall Street protest last weekend.

Apparently we have just returned to a period of astrological alignment of Uranus and Pluto.  Francis writes: “the most passionate and sustained uprisings are reasonably predictable: they tend to happen when Uranus and Pluto come into alignment. When the planet of revolution (Uranus) and the one about evolution (Pluto) get together, there is always an international revolt. The alignments spread out over 10 to 12 years, and we are still toward the beginning of this one.  The last time these two planets got together was between 1960 and 1972.”

Francis describes the “vibe” at Liberty Plaza Park as quite different from the militancy of the 1960s.  “The feeling was nothing but friendly. There was not the fist-in-the-air sensation that Sixties demonstrations are remembered with.…The vibe was open but also introspective. People were expressing concern and anger about the economic situation and there was a clear sense of understanding that Wall Street holds a lot of the responsibility for that — but no sense of rage being projected onto anyone. My sense from many things I’ve read and heard is that among this generation of activists, there’s the awareness that we need to change ourselves and change the world in the same gesture.”

So true—because there is only a difference of degree between the protesters’ privilege and that of the corporate and financial leaders they’re criticizing.  All of us Americans have benefited hugely from the corporate globalization of “free trade” and the easy accessibility of credit.  The problem is that now the chickens have come home to roost, and the same havoc that we–as a nation and as a leading member of the global elite–wreaked so thoughtlessly on the rest of the world is now coming back to haunt us.

When I listened to the news this morning and heard of the extreme hardship being forced down the throats of ordinary Greeks in the name of “fiscal austerity,” I remember the same scenario going down in Mexico and Argentina and so many other nations, as we continued to party here in the U.S.  Well, the party is over here too, at least for the 99% of us, and it’s not fun at all.

 But, as Eric Francis notes, there is a lot of potential in this moment of crisis.  “As you think about what this aspect represents,” he counsels,  “remember that the personal awakening process of Uranus in Aries is about to meet up with the changes in society represented by Pluto in Capricorn. There is potential for wide-scale cultural change, but it starts from the inside-out. That approach, if we follow it, will help us avoid many of the really huge mistakes that were made during the protests of the Sixties.

“Uranus in Aries also connects people to groups, but from the perspective of being an individual. Pluto in Capricorn turns over the soil of society’s institutions, bringing out their frailty and their fertility. It will be exciting to see what happens as this aspect builds to its first peak in June 2012 and then develops for the next three years.”

“Exciting” might not be the word most of us would choose for the crazy lurching of our society, both national and global, towards the tipping point forecast long ago to arrive in 2012.  It’s exciting the way a roller-coaster ride is exciting, and I have never in my life allowed myself to experience that thrill.

But maybe part of what is being asked of us now is that we let go of our fears and inhibitions, and allow ourselves to try something new—something other than what has been expected of us as we grew up and docilely took our place in the structures that had been established for us by previous generations.

It’s pretty plain to see that those structures have outlived their functionality, and were never good for this planet to begin with.

It’s the transition time, folks.  What are we going to become?

 

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