Among and through the many voices currently attempting to be heard on Wall St and elsewhere around the world, we can feel as if something of the future is attempting to articulate itself – something of the future of both the human being and the world.
The question then becomes, What is it saying?
The ‘Occupy’ movement has grown rapidly since its first day in the financial district of New York on September 17. It has now spread to more than 150 cities in the United States, as well as to dozens of other cities around the world.
On any given day one can read and hear – on placards, interviews, articles, live streams, and so on – the numerous grievances that individuals and groups currently have with present social conditions. The response to these many difficulties has been: Occupy.
Signs have included: ‘Occupy Wall St,’ ‘Occupy Boston,’ ‘Occupy Together,’ ‘Occupy Your Own Heart,’ ‘Occupy Everything.’
In using such a picture-concept as a guiding principle and activity, the Occupy movement has also been engaged in a battle to reclaim and redeem (and, indeed, re-occupy) the very concept of occupation itself. In recent times, occupation has been connected to military activities, primarily conducted by America, in foreign countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq; it has been an expression of a foreign power occupying that which in reality it has no right to occupy.
Likewise, on a more individual level, the concept has been connected to our employment – our occupation. More and more this occupation has been something given to us from outside – from another kind of ‘foreign power’ (in this case, economic interests) – rather than something we have taken up out of ourselves. That which ‘occupies’ us and our time has more and more been given over to that which lies outside of our own selves.
The present Occupy movement represents a significant shift in this activity. What we are seeing take place on Wall St and beyond is a reclaiming of the concept of occupation for the human being.
No longer do those who connect themselves to this movement wish to hand over control of their own destinies to unseen ‘foreign powers.’ Rather, they seek to gain control over their own lives – to occupy their own selves – and to work with others in order to occupy society in such a way that it may be possible for the human being to exist in it once again.
For the very real experience we can have today is that society has become so ‘polluted’ that within it the human being is no longer able to breathe. The air of social life has become completely toxic. So much so, that within society today it is truly objective to say that it is no longer possible to find the human being, for there is no longer any room in it for humanity.
So what is the Occupy movement currently doing? None other than attempting to breathe. None other than attempting to detoxify the air, and through this to create the necessary space whereby it may become possible for human beings to once again find themselves, and one another, in social life.
At the same time, much has been said and not said in relation to ‘demands.’ Many have expressed that the movement needs to put forward clear and definite demands. Others have said that the very strength of the movement is dependent upon it having no demands whatsoever.
In looking at the actual situation, however, is it already possible to read in the ‘text’ of its activities something which the movement itself is already striving for? Is it possible to read already in that which has now been taking place for some time, a kind of set of demands?
Nothing will come from an overlaying of demands (from outside) onto the current situation (another kind of ‘foreign power’ occupation), other than a kind of ‘hardening’ or scleroticising of the movement, which is itself antipathetic to ‘movement.’ On the other hand, however, nothing will come from a lack of clear and conscious ideas (or pictures) of the kind of world we actually want to live in. Without such pictures the movement risks detaching itself from the earth and floating out, in too much movement, upon the hot-air currents of the world.
In reading the reality of the situation itself, however, we can begin to clearly see, within and inside the actual reality, that which the movement is itself asking for. The question simply becomes, Can we see this reality with the right kind of eyes and in the necessary light?
For the reality is that what the Occupy movement is doing is itself the demands that it is asking for. It is already asking for demands simply through the action it has already taken. But this must become conscious, and it must become clear.
The Occupy movement is not an economic movement, though it seeks to address economic problems – business is not behind the movement. Likewise, it is not a political movement, though it seeks to solve the many political problems in the world today – government is not behind the movement.
So what is it? It is none other than a coming together of NGO’s, not-for-profits, community organisations, people’s organisations, labour movements, and so on. In short, we can say that the facts of the matter reveal that this is a civil society movement. These organisations are not economic nor political in nature. They do not draw their power from economic nor from political life. They are, rather, cultural in nature. Their power stems from cultural activity. The sword they wield is fired in the furnace of the cultural sphere of social life.
Out of this sphere the individuals and groups connected to the Occupy movement are attempting to regain – to re-occupy – the cultural realm of society; a realm which, rather than being left free, has been completely strangled by economic and political interests. Education, the media, agriculture (and so on) are just some of the cultural institutions which have been almost completely over-run by economic and political interference.
The Occupy Movement seeks to re-occupy the cultural landscape of the world with its own free activity. It seeks to push back the toxic air of economic and political pollution from its own sphere and duties, while at the same time attempting to disentangle business from government – economic activity from political life.
As such, the Occupy movement is an expression of cultural power – a power that has the potential to pour into social life the necessary meaning, values and identity necessary in order to transform society as a whole, if only it can become conscious of its own activity and seize hold of the freedom necessary for it to do so. For it is clear that no longer will this freedom be given to it by political or economic life. The Occupy movement, and civil society collectively, is taking hold of this freedom itself, for the good of the human being and of society as a whole.
Out of this cultural wellspring, political life can also become transformed. Rather than the inequalities of cultural violations and puppetry (by economic interests) we currently observe taking place in political life, government can begin to pick up its rightful task: To ensure the equality of all human beings, not only in the carrying out of laws, but also in their creation. Many organisations are currently attempting to help government to recognise this task, including the direct democracy movement. Again, such organisations are not political in nature; they are civil society – cultural – organisations active in the transformation of political life.
The same holds true with civil society organisations who are actively engaged in the transformation of economic life. Their battle ground may be found in the economic landscape, but the source of their power flows from the ever-renewing wellspring of cultural life. In so doing, such organisations are engaged in a deeply redemptive process: The transformation of economic life from its current shadowy activity of competition, to its actual task: To work co-operatively (producers, distributors and consumers) to ensure that the real needs of all human beings are met.
From the shadows of competition, inequality and subjugation (unfreedom) that we currently experience throughout social life, civil society is attempting to make a space for the true lights of economy, polity and culture to shine (autonomously yet interdependently) into society as a whole: Freedom for cultural life, equality in political life, co-operation in economic life.
The Occupy movement is already engaged in this activity. In occupying the landscape previously over-run by polity and economy, this movement is staking out a claim for cultural life. It is re-claiming the ground it has lost and adding its voice to the already powerful voices of business and government. For even though business and government are incredibly powerful at present, so too is civil society, because the place that it draws its power from – culture – has the potential to recreate the world. Culture is the place from which new civilisations are born – in this case, one that is worthy of the human being.
Nowhere is this personal-social transformation more aptly expressed, perhaps, than in the Native American initiation story of ‘Jumping Mouse.’ In ‘Jumping Mouse,’ a young mouse begins to hear a roaring in his ears that he can longer ignore. Even though his other mice friends cannot hear it, he sets off in search of the source of this roaring, and soon finds ‘The River.’ Here he is given his medicine, and spies for the first time, while jumping, the Sacred Mountains. He is then given his new name of Jumping Mouse.
And so he sets out across the prairies, watchful of the circling eagles above, while having to free himself of the old mouse who knows of the river but who insists that the Sacred Mountains are just a myth. In avoiding the circling eagles high above, Jumping Mouse comes to a wounded buffalo who is sick and dying. He knows that the only way to save the buffalo is to give him one of his eyes. And so he does. Instantly the buffalo becomes healthy again and travels with the mouse, sheltering him from the eagles, all the way to the edge of the Sacred Mountains.
Here, the now one-eyed mouse finds a wolf who has become forgetful. ‘Wolf, wolf, that’s who I am,’ he says, then forgets himself, before again saying ‘wolf, wolf…’ Jumping Mouse, after listening to the beating of his own heart, again realises he must give him an eye, knowing now that he will become blind and completely at the mercy of the eagles above. He does so and the wolf immediately regains his memory, guiding the now-blind mouse into the mountains. The wolf, returning to help others, leaves the mouse at a large lake where the whole world is reflected – the people, the lodges of the people and all the rest of the world. The mouse knows now that an eagle will take him soon, so he prepares himself for the inevitable strike. And then…it hits.
Moments later, he wakes, opening his eyes as his vision gradually clears. All below him he can see the mountains and the prairies. He has been given new medicine power. And he has been given a new name. It is … Eagle (read the full story here).
This is not only the story of each one of us, it is also the story of the Occupy movement, and of civil society as a whole. We are each one of us in a process of sacrificing our mouse-like way of experiencing and seeing the world, in order that we may find our own highest potential – our becoming, our future. Likewise, civil society is also in the process of becoming – of growing into its own potential. The Occupy movement has heard the roaring for some time, and is also aware of the wounded buffalo and the forgetful wolf of economic and political activity.
The question now is whether or not it is able to own its own story and thereby rise to the sacrificial and redemptive tasks of healing both the economy and polity (as well as society as a whole), finding therein its path to its own medicine, to its own becoming – to its own highest potential.
In the great stories of humanity, only when the hero has owned his or her own story are they able to finish their quests. Gilgamesh writes his own story on the clay tablets of the walls of Uruk, Babylon. Odysseus hears his own story told back to him on the island of the Phaeacians, then, owning it, is able to return to his beloved Ithaca. Parzival, on hearing and owning his own story told to him by Trevrizent is finally able to locate again the Grail castle, ask the all-redeeming question, ‘What ails thee?’ (‘How can I help you?’) and take up his rightful place as Grail king. There are many more examples.
We are each one of us engaged in such a quest. We are each one of us engaged in a process of allowing the eagle of our own highest potential – our own becoming – to occupy us here and now. For this is no foreign occupation, but an occupation of ourselves by our True selves – a Self-occupation by us of what it means to be both truly individual and truly human. It is the occupation of ourselves by the becoming Eagle in each one of us.
Of the same substance is the future of society as a whole made. The Occupy movement is an attempt to make a space for the very real becoming – for the realisation – of a society in which it is possible to find the human being – a society that is worthy of the human being. A truly civil and civilised society in which the future human being can exist as co-creator with the future of the world. For this is an occupation in which there is no foreign power, only the creative and, indeed, spiritual power of the free human being shining its light into, and finding itself in service of, the becoming of the world.
In such a way as this shall we occupy the world and our own selves. In such a way as this shall we occupy the future, and be freely occupied by it.
John Stubley has published his poetry, prose, drama, journalism and essays in numerous journals, newspapers, literary websites, and e-newsletters around the world. He is the founder of the Centre for Social Poetry.