Occupy Wall Street: Fallacies and Misconceptions

Occupy Wall Street October 1st

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.

After the original blog post, the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet, or simply #OWS, exploded in popularity. Check out the following graph from Google Trends:

Google Trends: occupy wall street

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.

OWS has entered the popular culture: an episode on South Park, Occupy Sesame Street, and Occupy Narnia. The Occupy Wall Street Protests even have a Protest Song (kinda).

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

They cannot stop the 99%

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?

Occupy Wall Street

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.





8 responses to “Occupy Wall Street: Fallacies and Misconceptions”

  1. João Eira Avatar

    Have you read Ayn’s Virtue of Selfishness? I am reading it right now and It deals perfectly with the false dichotomy one, as one would expect from her.

    1. Ben Sima Avatar

      I haven’t but I know basically what she says. To me, Rand’s more of a popularizer than a philosopher, kinda like Cornel West, cause everything she says has been said before. She’s definitely a good writer tho

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  3. Edward Hotspur Avatar

    Layman alert. This protest seems to have no purpose, honestly. Some on the right claim Obama set it up, while some on the left claim the right set it up. It is certainly embarrassing to both Obama and Bush, both of whom were or have been involved with Wall Street. Also embarrassing is the cavalcade of famous people who show solidarity with the “protesters” while almost certainly maintaining stock portfolios which almost certainly contain one or more of the companies they are protesting.

    Seems pointless.

    1. Ben Sima Avatar

      Well, it was “set up” by the Canadian-based Adbusters group. But from an outside perspective, it is kinda embarrassing, protests without a strong message and yet many contradictions

  4. Matt Goldenberg Avatar

    I think the biggest fallacy I’ve seen from the OWS crowd is that of wishful thinking. Proposed solutions without any proof that they’ll solve the problems, solutions which are unsustainable, or even worse, cries to solve the problems without a proposal of solutions.

    1. Ben Sima Avatar

      One of my biggest pet peeves is people that complain without proposing solutions, so basically all protesters. I definitely agree.

  5. Jesse Avatar

    It’s nice to google OWS fallacies and find a site that doesn’t deal with the fallacies of people against OWS. It’s also nice to see a younger person like myself not indoctrinated into this. We desperately need more young people critical of the left.

    The left’s facts and evidence often go unchallenged maybe due to most people not wanting to investigate their facts. It is a chore that most people wouldn’t want to do just because they have a political opinion. I think the left is aware that most people won’t fact check a bunch of statistics and websites because it is work.

    First off I would like to state you don’t need an advanced education in economics to understand that OWS is full of ignorance at best people with socialist/communist agenda’s at worst. Economics is a soft science based mostly on common sense and that’s all you really need to understand about it.

    I will admit, I have no degree in economics. I am an autodidact who has read quite a few books about the markets in my personal pursuit of wealth. I know enough to see OWS is mostly ignorant left wing nonsense. It’s like being a mathematics teacher and seeing people going around claiming 1+1 is 8.

    I would like to address what you think OWS wants.

    Wealth equality or redistribution – First wealth equality is a simply matter of understanding supply and demand. When Winston Churchill claimed capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings and socialism the equal sharing of misery he was half right. Due to capitalism many nations have a better quality of life where the shared misery comes into play is if everyone has equal wealth of say $1 million it’s not even close to worth $1 million in today’s dollars in fact it’s more comparable to a penny if that. Redistribution is the same pony but back where we started after we cause our currency values hit rock bottom.

    Smaller/government out of financial markets – I’ve never heard anything about smaller government ending the fed sure but I’ve mostly heard they want health care that’s expanding the government not shrinking it.

    As for the financial markets campaigning costs money it doesn’t solve the problem because only wealthy people will run for office and not all donations are bad anyway it’s also not democratic and a violation of our constitutional freedoms. It’s leans more toward autocracy or fascism. As liberals often say about gay rights the 1% deserve the same rights that you do.

    Less unemployment – Whenever someone defends a corporation saying they provide jobs one of the first things I often hear is small business accounts for most jobs. So I wonder why are you occupying wall street if they don’t account for most of the jobs in the states? Those are big corporations not the job creating small business owners. This applies to their wages as well.

    Bank reform – Um, what? Lenders real estate brokers and pretty much everyone involved in real estate is a commissioned based employee a “salesmen.” Don’t blame the banks because you bought a lemon and didn’t do your home work and number crunching. You signed the paper no one forced your hand. Why no regulations on salesmen? Because they’re not the 1% and harder to demonize successfully.

    It is now harder to purchase a home for responsible people that’s bank reform. Some mortgages types are now gone anyway so those demands are out of date or unresearched.

    Ultimately stricter regulations on lending will most likely inflate rent prices. House prices would also inflate for the opposite but home’s tend to suffer less in the later years of your loan from inflation. Housing bubbles will continue to happen no matter what you place on banks or lending. With renting your payment will always rise buying a home it will decrease while rent payments for others will increase. Compound inflation rate at 4 percent per year and see what you’ll be paying for rent in ten years go even further then that and it gets worse.

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