Asking Wall Street for Compassion?

Against all hope, I wanted to believe that the @Occupy protests did not congregate on Wall St. or in the financial districts because the mostly upper middle-class participants expected to get a handout from the reviled banksters.

But now that the discourse of “compassion” seems to have overrun the protest movement, I’m afraid that we all have to accept the sad reality that the entire #Occupy Movement is simply about well-off white Americans begging the even richer white Americans for a more sizeable handout.

Here you can see a post defending the right of the upper middle class people with expensive hairdos to get their share of “compassion” from the slightly richer folks. And this photo of a compassion-seeker with a beatific smile is now pretty much everywhere.

It is starting to seem like the only kind of protests that are viable in this country nowadays are the demand of the $1000K+ folks for compassion and the insistence of the $20K+ crowd on curtailing abortion rights and gay rights.

34 thoughts on “Asking Wall Street for Compassion?

    1. I don’t think asking for any form of pity makes sense in the context of political activism. People are entitled to their elected representatives listening to them and acting accordingly. Asking for an emotional response from Wall St employees makes very little sense politically.


  1. This is the strangest, least charitable interpretation of what the protesters are asking for that I could imagine — inasmuch as the movement is expressive of anything, it more a howl if frustration with the inequities and iniquities with the system.


    1. I don’t think howling in frustration is a way of bringing in any kind of actual change. I feel extremely disappointed with the protests if they have now become about emotions and begging for pity from the very rich folks.


  2. The funniest thing is I don’t think any Wall St employee can do anything, even if s/he wants. They are paid to maximize profits for the institutions they work for, not to run economy (as government should imo on a certain level, like regulations!). Why are they so vilified? Does it have *any* basis in reality or is it only pure feelings of searching for a scapegoat? Government decided on the kind of economy and amount of regulations, and somebody who only does his job isn’t to blame. That corporations lie and dry to pay under the table to prevent regulations should be expected. It’s their job.


    1. Exactly. I never understood what could possibly be the point of protesting under the windows of private individuals who don’t have any public obligations or political duties.

      Don’t the protesters see that condemning greed and asking for compassion takes the entire protest out of the realm of politics and places it into the realm of personal emotions and psychological issues?


  3. Clarissa: Glad you read the blog, even if you didn’t like the post. “Compassion” can be used for both pity and condescension, but that’s not the best use of the term or what is in the air or at stake in the current economic debate. To get a better sense of what the term can mean, you might check out my short essay on “Cultivating Compassion as a Way of Seeing,” Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6 (2009): 199-203. And by the way, the protests involve a lot more than “howling in frustration” or mere “emotions” without reason, and I don’t see anyone “begging,” and they already have moved public debate to the left, which is an important step towards “actual change.”


    1. “they already have moved public debate to the left, which is an important step towards “actual change.””

      -And this was truly a wonderful thing. It’s sad, however, that now everything is degenerating into completely useless calls for compassion from Wall St. Protesters don’t even see themselves as having a right to demand change, not ask for pity.

      Thank you for commenting.


  4. I’m out doing field work on this thread today. The Occupy Toronto group is having their protest on Saturday in the business section of TO so I’m going to the organizational meeting at OISE at 5pm to get an appreciation of the Canadian perception of the debate. Although the two countries have a lot of surface simularities, I still think that there are fundamental cultural differences. Socialist canukistani versus Horatio Alger Yankees. Data collection then analysis.


  5. To me, compassion is the XXth and XXIth century version of the medieval “noblesse oblige”. It is a profoundly reactionary term. I have nothing against compassion in private life (I’d like to think of myself as a compassionate individual), but to take that term as a way of organizing a society is plain wrong. These people should go back and re-read Hobbes, and a few others. Jeezzz…

    By the way, I got a hit on my blog today with the keywords “Slavoj Zizek Occupy Wall Street clarissa’s blog”. Just letting you know.


    1. I agree completely. Is this some sort of an American thing I’m not getting?

      I guess people want me to blog about Zizek’s speech, eh? 🙂 I was going to but the speech was a little boring.


  6. “Compassion” can be a reactionary term, but so can “reason,” “justice,” and anything else. As for the present moment, if it is reactionary, why does the right attack it? Virtues acquire an edge when they challenge specific vices. Compassion can be reactionary or, more likely, lame, but it also can present a radical alternative when an entire society is being restructured according to greed.


    1. It is a little disturbing to me that progressives employ the Christian terminology of greed and compassion to organize their activism. How does this differ from Bush Jr.’s talk of ‘evil’ and ‘evildoers’?

      Greed is a moral failing (or a sin for Christians.) Politics cannot have as its goal rectifying people’s moral failings or addressing their sins. If we do invest politicians with such rights, then how can we argue that the legislative war on abortion and gay rights is not justified?


  7. Compassion? It seems like the next step is to beg for charity. Talk about Christian terminology.

    Say it loud and speak clearly, dear occupy protesters: the problem is capitalism and solution to capitalism cannot be compassion. Do not tone down your protest with words such as ‘greed’ or ‘compassion’ which apply to moral, not politics or economy.

    I must say though that I have not followed the occupy movement in the US. I may be unfair, but it reminds me Slavoj Zizek’s sharp Porto Davos motif.


    1. That’s exactly what I’m saying. The conservatives keep insisting that the solution to all hardships capitalism creates is charity and not a social safety net. Have the #Occupy protesters now bought into this rhetoric, too??

      Structural change is needed, not pity or moral improvement of the greedy society.


  8. It would never happen, but if President Obama told the Occupy … crowd: “OK, tell me three bills you’d like me to introduce in Congress and I make sure they pass” (and you could also imagine an alternative world where that was possible), I think the protesters wouldn’t know what to ask for specifically.


      1. Good ones. Although reruns of Buffy are good enough for me. And I hate pot (though I have nothing against people smoking it). I don’t even have an IPhone.

        Wait: does this mean I am a right winger?


      2. Clarissa, don’t you see that “Legalize weed” would lessen the War on Drugs and free jails quite a bit? Actually, the idea is a good one, so protesting the weather can wait.


  9. Interesting that the occupy moment was stared by Ad busters, a Canadian firm located in Vancouver and the Brookfield development corp which wanted to remove the protestors from its Zucotti park in NY is also a Canadian company with its headquarters in Toronto.

    PS. I saw myself on national news in a film clip of the meeting on Thursday and today the same clip came up on CNN. Life is strange.


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