First it was Occupy Wall Street. At the time the protests were first announced, media fervor made it sound like the 1960s or the French Revolution over again. Then winter struck, and apathy set in. The cities waited long enough to be sure that they could document the crime, filth, disorder and assault that came with “occupy”-style camps. Armed with those facts, they dismantled the camps and threw them in dumpsters, then dusted off their hands and went home.
The vast outcry did not arise.
A week ago, it seemed like the Trayvon Martin killing would unleash the bastard spawn of the Rodney King riots, Detroit riots, Watts Riots and Oklahoma riots of the 1920s. Instead, as evidence emerged that showed how Martin was a dubious “hero,” and how the official narrative really was standing up to scrutiny, the backbone snapped. The media and government dependents are still doing their best to fan the flames but the cause has lost its sense of legitimacy. Now it’s another tantrum protest, not an honest righting of moral wrongs.
Why are our protests fizzling out?
Part of it is that the economy is bad. However, generally bad times make for more radical politics. Protests should be succeeding at a time when people are terrified for the future. In fact, bad times launch successful revolutions. These revolutions never even got ignited. Why did they fail?
The first reason: the rhetoric is old. We are now accustomed to at least seven centuries of we are the 99% or its analogues. Most of us have slowly gotten the inkling that the poor have existed in every time, and picking one group of poor over the others does not achieve anything. Societies stratify into classes by ability and dedication. It’s just how it is; we aren’t born equal and can’t fix that with “hard work” and educational certificates. Even recent history shows us how the greatest charlatans invariably claim to be doing whatever they do for the poor, or helpless, or old. They lull you with those comforting words and suddenly a police state has arrived. Or perhaps worse, your society wasn’t paying attention when the time came to tackle real issues.
The second reason: no unity. There is no unity of demand in the United States or Europe anymore. The populations are divided into two camps, individualists (liberals) and those who want stability and social order (conservatives). Then the subdivisions start, not only by race and gender-orientation, but also by lifestyle and belief. We are at a time when half of the population will discount any given achievement by assuming the other side cheated. Nothing holds us together except our finances and some political interests.
The third and most important reason: we’re starting to realize, 50 years on, that shallow manipulation takes many forms but the best form is moral outrage. Like the Church of centuries ago, our new political masters have conditioned us to be upset at any “unfair” treatment of anyone, which conveniently forgets whatever that person did in the months and years immediately prior to their treatment. The best control system is invisible and at the same time makes you feel empowered for having jumped at the chance to serve it.
The fact is that these protests were fake from the beginning. Based on pretense — blaming bankers for our over-inflated housing market driven by the greed of individuals, and blaming the sad results of Trayvon’s thug behavior on the guy defending himself from him — they never had a leg to stand on. But people wanted them to, so they played pretend for a while. Unlike in 1789 and 1968, it rang hollow.
Now we have a country in worse shape than before. Instead of our protests simply failing, our trust in the opposition has failed alongside our trust in official institutions. There is nothing left on this path but greater anarchy and its end result, greater conformity. Luckily we still have a chance to avoid it if we turn around now.