Tuesday, November 8, 2011

An Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street

“The world revolves around the inventors of new values.” —Nietzsche
 Almost three decades ago, Ronald Reagan began a process of steering American values in a different direction. Things like self-interest were lifted up as virtues because they stimulated the economy, and a stimulated economy, in his worldview, was the ultimate good. Many Americans believed him and the people who came along behind him turned his thinking into an ever-expanding economic and social philosophy. And, bearing Nietzsche out, the world has revolved around this ever since.
All that changed recently with the birth of Occupy Wall Street. For the first time in decades, mainstream media is asking questions like, “Is greed really a virtue?” and “Is it fair that the wealthiest 1% are doing so well when everyone else can barely stay above water?” Previously, these questions were left to people like Bill Moyers and others who shared his “suspicious passion for social justice.” Mainstream media was talking about how deeply we should gut government and cut taxes for the “job creators” and whether those who questioned this were really socialists or just misled liberals.
You have managed to do what so many before you in the past decades have failed to do: you’ve changed the narrative. You’ve taken possession of a little thread of the story. Congratulations.
The question now is, what will you do with it? Already forces are gathering to reclaim this little piece of the story you’ve managed to lay your hands on. You’re being accused of not having a coherent set of demands or a “consistent message.” This in itself is an attempt to regain the narrative and manage the movement. Tell us what you want and we can either talk you out of it or give it to you — then we can all get back to “normal.”
CEO Peter Schiff recently brought a camera out to confront protestors and his question to one woman was: Wouldn’t you like to be one of the 1%? If I gave you the money to make you one of the rich you’re protesting, are you telling me you wouldn’t take it? I’m paraphrasing, but this was the spirit of what he said. What he was really asking was: Are you protesting the system or just the fact that you’re losing right now? This is the question at the center of all revolutions: Do you really want to change the system or do you just want to be on top?
And if you really do want to change the system and not just your status in it, do you realize that your task is not merely to change our politics, our economics or our power structures? You must become the “inventors of new values” Nietzsche refers to.
Whatever changes we make without changing our values will amount to nothing. I’ve learned this in prison where I’ve spent the 30 years referred to above. During this time I’ve seen an endless stream of men try to change themselves and their situations without changing their values. I’ve seen reformers spend their entire lives trying to change they system without questioning the core values upon which it’s built. Such groups have accomplished almost nothing and what changes they did miraculously make were immediately absorbed and undone by the system.
Everything we are is a reflection of our values. This is why I’ve spent my time here articulating new ones for myself and for anyone else who wants them. The result is wholeness ethics, a value system built around doing “only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world,” and treating all reality with reverence, goodwill and justice.
Apply this system of ethics to our public policy and social structures and you get a society that includes everyone and in which people are more important than chasing money or any other agenda. You get a society that demands ethical markets, markets in which mindless greed is once again recognized as what wholists call “a-holistic.” In short, wholeness ethics is an ethical system that, once adopted, goes to the core of a society or a person and begins a process of complete transformation and healing.
I contend that this is the ethics for the world you envision. It is practical, consistent and coherent. It is a “people’s ethics,” an ethics of life, relationships and consciousness. I suggest that you adopt it, begin calling yourselves wholists and set about making it your own by applying it to both yourselves and the situations you’re trying to change. Your movement is about creating, maintaining and advancing wholeness. Wholeness ethics is a simple articulation of that. Take its language and the worldview and replace the old, obsolete economic worldview with a new, life-centered one.
Your “consistent message” is, “Do only what increases wholeness in yourself and in the world.” Claim it and call the country to wholeness. Let us revolve for awhile around a center that is worthy of us.

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU, Troy, for taking time to articulate what I really wanted to say to the Occpiers and our society in general! I have often wondered if my seemingly "righteous" anger against social/economic injustice is truly righteous. It's easy to be against something or someone, but the real work is about the transformation within ourselves, individually and collectively. And that "righteous anger" is still a reaction based on the current system/worldview that's not wholesome. I want us to be "FOR" something everyone should embrace, and that something needs to be beyond the current system/belief/worldview, beyond the idea of the survival of the fittest.