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What does the Occupy Movement stand for?

By Charles A. Morse
web posted December 12, 2011

Progressive author and linguist George Lakoff follows the old Frankfort School smear that conservatives are secret fascists and are mentally ill. The Frankfort School, otherwise known as the Institute for Social Research at Columbia University, influenced liberal intellectual circles in the 1960’s and included as its members such left-wing icons as Theodore Adorno, Wilhelm Reich, and Herbert Marcuse.

Lakoff accurately expounds the beliefs and orientation of the Occupy Movement in a Huffington Post article Words that don’t work (12-7). In the process of responding to conservative pollster Frank Luntz, who spoke at the Republican Governors Association, Lakoff advises to the Occupy Movement with regards to how to frame their message. Identifying the progressive understanding of “morality” Lakoff writes:

What lies behind the Occupy movement is a moral view of democracy: Democracy is about citizens caring about each other and acting responsibly both socially and personally. This requires a robust Public empowering and protecting everyone equally. Both private success and personal freedom depend on such a Public. Every critique and proposal of the Occupy movement fits this moral view, which happens to be the progressive moral view.

In this statement Lakoff displays a fundamental distrust progressives hold of human freedom when he claims that a robust Public, which is a euphemism for an authoritarian State, is required in order for citizens to care about each other and act responsibly. Conservatives view government as a means to maintain law and order and the social structure that allows citizens the freedom to do that which comes naturally, caring about each other and acting responsibly out of self-interest.

Lakoff calls for this robust Public the task of empowering…everyone equally. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote of equality as meaning that all men are created equal. As such, all individuals, endowed by the creator, are entitled to strive to achieve the privileges and blessings a free society has to offer. Conservatives believe in equality de jure or equality under the law. Progressives believe in equality de facto which requires state intervention to ensure that everyone is in fact equal. This is the essence of the collectivist principle. Since collectivism runs contrary to human nature, self-interest, the need to be free to determine one’s own destiny, the collectivist state requires that all aspects of life including property ownership, wealth accumulation, education, and outcomes be equal. This would mean an end to individual rights since individual achievement and success, which emanate from those natural rights, would contradict this principle.

Lakoff asserts that both private success and personal freedom depend on such a Public. In other words, individual achievement and success can only occur within the context of the authoritarian state and that, therefore, all rights and privileges emanate from the State. Lakoff accurately notes that every critique and proposal of the Occupy movement fits this moral view, which happens to be the progressive moral view.

Lakoff then proceeds to describe his view of the conservative point of view:

What the Occupy movement can't stand is the opposite "moral" view, that Democracy provides the freedom to seek one's self-interest and ignore what is good for other Americans and others in the world.

This proposition is based on the false assertion that self-interest, that which is inherent in the life of every human being including, might I suggest, George Lakoff, by necessity means that the self-interested person ignores what is good for other Americans and others in the world. This is a provable and damnable lie as conservative Americans, particularly religious conservative Americans, are the most generous and caring people in history when it comes to helping their neighbors in need at home and abroad. Lakoff’s real complaint is that conservatives are generous by their own volition and without the need for external government coercion.

That view lies behind the Wall Street ethic of the Greedy Market, as opposed to a Market for All, a market that should maximize the well-being of most Americans.

Conservatives support regulation that protects private investment from deception and fraud, and conservatives opposed the taxpayer funded bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and all the banks and the bailouts of the banks and industries affected by their collapse. By using the term Market for All as opposed to the more American paradigm, the regulated free market, Lakoff alludes to some sort of an alternative to the free market. In this regard he indeed channels the Occupy Movement. We should expect them to elaborate on this further.

This view leads to a hierarchical view of society, where success is always deserved and lack of success is moral failure. The rich are the moral, and they not only deserve their wealth, they also deserve the power it brings.

This portrayal of conservatism is obviously false and ridiculous. Conservatives view moral failure for what it is, moral failure whether the morally failed person is rich or poor. It is also untrue to suggest that conservatives think that rich people necessarily deserve their wealth as conservatives would be more inclined to view this on a case by case basis. What Lakoff is really complaining about here is conservative respect for the institution of legal private ownership of property and their revulsion over the alternative.

Referring to the rich as "hardworking taxpayers" ignores the fact that a great percentage of the rich do not get their wealth from making things, but rather from investments in other people's labor, and that most of the 1% are managers, not people who make things or directly provide services. The hardworking taxpayers are the 99%.

While I can’t verify whether or not Mr. Lakoff himself is involved in making things I would take strenuous issue with his complaint against investments in other people's labor. The investment of private capital is the engine of civilization, it is the means of expanding goods, services, invention, and creativity. Such investment is what makes it possible for people to make things. A lot less than 99% of the population pays income taxes. In fact, the number is about 60% just to be accurate.

Conservatives are trying to cast Progressives, who mostly have businesses or work for businesses or are looking for good business jobs, as socialists. Whatever one thinks of socialism, most Americans falsely identify it with communism, and will reject it out of hand.

Lakoff is absolutely right her although he didn’t mean to be. Progressives, liberals, socialists, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days are, indeed, capitalists. Indeed all Americans are capitalists and are fundamentally conservative. Yes, progressives own businesses, including the top corporations, they work for businesses, they look for good jobs. Indeed the majority of the top billionaires on the Forbes list of richest Americans identify themselves as progressive or at least as liberals. Just like conservatives, liberals want to keep as much as possible of that which they earn, they seek good investment, and they prefer a minimum interference by government into their lives. If Lakoff wants to find real so-called progressives, those who have a Market for All, he could still settle in North Korea or Cuba, two of the remaining holdouts adhering to a genuinely progressive point of view.

Lakoff writes about how private success depends on public investment - in infrastructure, education, health, transportation, research, economic stability, protections of all sorts, and so on. On this point Lakoff is technically correct. We pay taxes to support the infrastructure, public schools, health, and other costs associated with the legitimate functions of government. We also willingly pay for the social safety net to serve, as Ronald Reagan stated, the truly needy. Local and state governments make deals with private corporations to encourage them to locate in their jurisdiction, hire people, and introduce the economic benefits associated with their endeavors. What Lakoff is really calling for here, by means of demagoguery, is a transfer of wealth and authority to the State.

Lakoff claims that corporations govern our lives far more than any government does - and for their profit, not ours. Corporations can only govern our lives at the connivance of the government. The government regulations that Lakoff would be more inclined to support actually help the bigger corporations at the expense of the smaller players and competition. An example of this would be the Dodd-Frank banking reform regulations which hurt smaller banks and leave in place provisions that guarantee future bailouts for institutions deemed as too big to fail. While we want corporations to profit, because their profit when obtained honestly is a profit to all of us, we do not want corporations to receive protection from the government. This is an issue which needs to be addressed by both conservatives and liberals. Lakoff and the Occupy Movement stand for a radical and regressive alternative. ESR

Charles Morse is the co-host of The Fairness Doctrine out of Boston, MA.


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