You’d have to be living in a cave if you still haven’t heard of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. After numerous conversations with friends about the protests, I’ve decided to write this article. I’ll cover the origin of the protests, what the protesters stand for and want (as hard as that is to discern), the logic of their claims, and considerations for whether or not you should join their movement.
I’ll do my best to present the logic in clear terms. Remember, I’m a skeptical empiricist, and that should come out in my writing and analysis. Don’t confuse skepticism for a bias. After the logic is laid bare, I would implore you to use your full capacity for reason to come to your own, well-informed conclusion. At that point, it’s up to you to decide whether to accept or reject reason.
The Origin of the Movement
On July 13th, 2011, the Canadian-based Adbusters Media Foundation posted the following on their blog (their emphasis):
The time has come to deploy this emerging stratagem against the greatest corrupter of our democracy: Wall Street, the financial Gomorrah of America.
By “emerging stratagem” they are referring to the formula behind the protests in Tahrir, Egypt and Barcelona, Spain. Adbusters claim that the Tahrir protests worked because they had a singular purpose: to get rid of Mubarak. Absolutely zero evidence is provided for this claim.
The “financial Gomorrah of America” is a Biblical reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, Kingdoms in Canaan associated with sin, degradation, and God’s wrath. (The English word “sodomy” has obvious origins.) So what is Adbusters really saying here? According to Wikipedia, “the term [Wall Street] has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, or signifying New York-based financial interests.” By associating Wall Street with Gomorrah, Adbusters is claiming that the corporations and financial markets of America have become the most sinful and degraded part of the American empire.
The term “occupy wall street” gained traction around the second half of September, and by October the news outlets were all over it. A quick search reveals 111 million results in Google, with 1.64 million in the past 24 hours at the time of writing. To say that the Adbusters’ campaign “tipped” would be an understatement.
The Occupy protests have since grown into a global movement. On October 15th, rallies were staged in Rome, Paris, Sãu Paulo, Hong Kong, and more cities worldwide, albeit typically in smaller fashion than the American protests.
What the Protesters Want
As Nassim Taleb notes in the above video, the protesters don’t have a solid message. Contrary to the wishes of the Adbusters, the movement doesn’t have a singular purpose like the protests in Tahrir did.
This could pose a huge problem. Without a definite aim or purpose, it is easy to imagine how mob mentality could reign over the protesters. From the Stanley Cup riots in Vancouver to the Reign of Terror that swept over France in late 1700, we are well aware of the detriment of mob mentality. It is very possible that the protesters would give way to unreasonable rioting.
Besides the ambiguity of their message, the protesters seem to want social and economic equality, a smaller government without financial interests in Wall Street, less unemployment, and bank reform.
The Logic of the Protests: Fallacies and Misconceptions
When approaching a tender issue, such as the OWS movement, it is always best to remain skeptical and critically examine every claim. I’ve scoured the news sources and analyzed the OWS claims as best I could. Surely, I’ve missed some things (I will be updating this post in the future), but below I listed as many of the fallacious arguments I could find regarding the protests.
Genetic fallacy. Simply put, the origin of an issue is irrelevant to its merit. It would be easy to conclude that the Adbusters’ campaign is invidious and unpatriotic because it originated in Canada, by a somewhat radical non-profit “Culturejammer Journal,” but that conclusion would be fallacious. This is an opposing position that we do not want to take.
False dichotomy. Oversimplification sometimes leads to a situation in which only two options are considered, when in fact many more possibilities exist. These two options are usually diametrically opposed. A perfect example of a false dichotomy is illustrated in the below quote from the Adbusters’ original OWS blog post (my emphasis):
“If we hang in there, 20,000-strong, week after week against every police and National Guard effort to expel us from Wall Street, it would be impossible for Obama to ignore us. Our government would be forced to choose publicly between the will of the people and the lucre of the corporations.“
In reality, our government mustn’t choose between only “the will of the people” and “the lucre of the corporations.” Indeed, those two options need not necessarily be opposed. I’m no expert in economics, but even I know that there are many more options for economic policy than the two options that Adbusters gives us.
Appeal to Emotion. Perhaps the most persuasive—and insidious—logical fallacy is the appeal to emotion, and Adbusters exploited this extensively in their original blog post. Return to the above quote and notice that they begin by illustrating the opposition: “against every police and National Guard effort to expel us.” They use opposition as a motivating factor. And then, when the supposed opposition arrests and pepper sprays the protestors, the appeal to emotion is only strengthened. (Sidenote: This use of opposition is also a motivation strategy in war, as Robert Green describes in his 33 Strategies of War.)
Also take note of the words that the Adbusters chose. The “lucre of the corporations”; lucre implies some filthy or dishonorable action. The fact that the entire blog post reads like a rallying speech, with powerful, emotional words, is a great cause for concern.
So, how do I deal with dogmatic OWSers?
Sometimes you may find yourself in a discussion with someone that is not yet aware of the logical fallacies of the OWS movement. You know: dogmatists, fanatics, and those that simply can’t understand why you aren’t out there protesting with everyone else. When you begin questioning the basic assumptions of the movement (as any rational person would), they typically stare at you with their mouth gaping, eyebrows furrowed, wide-eyed in shock.
So how do you deal with these people? Pretty much the same way you deal with any other fanatic or fundamentalist: Socratically and diplomatically question and investigate their claims until they arrive at a contradiction, or they commit one of the fallacies I listed above. Be prepared to encounter heated words and flared tempers. Don’t worry, just keep your calm and continue questioning their logic.
Peter Schiff does a pretty good job in the following video:
Thanks for reading! I’ll be updating this post in the future (or with future posts). I’ve tried to make this account as objective and unbiased as possible. If you see any factual or other errors, please let me know in the comments and I’ll make changes accordingly.