There’s a protest at the London Stock Exchange today. I am not there. Apparently this gives me leave to mock and deride all the immature and naive people with silly, risible ideas like the law being properly enforced, work being profitable, and meritocracy.
So say the anti-protester protests, all assembled on Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, the news, and sometimes even the protest itself (yes, some of them actually claim to have gone all the way down there, especially) to whine about people they think are whining; to waste energy on people who they think are wasting their energy; to blog, tweet, gossip, complain and scribble with an impressive amount of stamina about people who they feel have too much time on their hands, and in general protest against the protesters.
I suspect there’s a bit of a mish-mash of different ideas, different grievances, different hopes, and different suggested solutions at Occupy London Stock Exchange today. Is it an anti-capitalist protest? Yes, in so far as the protest is quite clearly intended to highlight the gaping flaws in the way we currently practice capitalism, of course it is. That doesn’t make anyone who thinks they have a point into a communist. Maybe if we could critique and amend and improve capitalism like grown ups without being burnt as a communist witch or laughed at as a naive mad lefty, perhaps we’d have cracked on to a few of the problems a little bit sooner, the whole system wouldn’t have exploded in such a ridiculously predictable way, and capitalism wouldn’t be looking quite so foolish as it does to its enemies right now.
Just to repeat: I’m not at the protest myself. There are plenty of sensible criticisms of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest. But what bothers me a lot more than a protest which may or may not be misguided is something all too common: the snide, derisive, superior attitudes from people who don’t want to try and make the world a little bit fairer, directed towards anyone who does. It’s not just this protest; there’s a strange derision, a fear of vulnerability or ‘softness,’ perhaps, which burbles out like farts when these people are confronted with any sort of compassion or decency.
Brendan O Neill, for instance, finds it ridiculous and worthy of derision that people could get so upset about the phone-hacking scandal (obviously a prejudice against Rupert Murdoch, not a belief in upholding the rule of law or compassion for the Dowler family), and the execution of Troy Davis (obviously hypocrites who only cared because he was black, not about his potential innocence or even the death penalty itself). How sad does your view of the world have to be before you interpret concern for a dead child’s family or a potentially innocent man facing execution as worthy of mockery?
It’s not about where someone sits on the political spectrum, or about difference of opinion. You can want the world to be as free and unequal as you like, you can believe inequality is unavoidable and there’s no point addressing it, you can believe inequality is necessary to preserve freedom, you can believe every single rich person in the world is clever and hard-working, and every single poor person in the world is a failure, you can believe corporations are above the law, you can believe anything you like. What makes you hypocritical, unpleasant, and rather moronic is when you actually think you are better than people who don’t believe those things.
Every time someone infantilises the left by saying they need to “grow up” or “live in the real world” I want to scream and throw a shoe at them, before pointing out that I shared a lot more of their conservative views when I was younger, and then I actually did “grow up.” It was only when I experienced the “real world” that I learnt not every single person who gets rich is someone who works hard or has talent, just as not every single person who works hard and has talent automatically gets rich. Especially not these days, what with obscene educational costs, staggering unemployment, and the rest, with bells on. These days, you’re lucky if hard work and talent keeps your head above water, frankly.
It might surprise some of the armchair anti-protest protesters, but actually, rather a lot of hard-working taxpayers they think they speak for are sick to the roots of our teeth of being told we aren’t considered “hard-working” or successful enough, or even at all, because we’re not in the top 1% of the national income. I mean, unless we change the laws of mathematics, by definition, the majority of us will never be in the top 1%. The majority of us will never meet Dave Harnett and arrange our tax affairs in person; the majority of us will get visits from bailiffs or go to prison if we decide we don’t feel like paying our taxes. The majority of us don’t get bailed out if we fail in our jobs, we have to pick the pieces up and start again. The majority of us understand that sometimes you fail in the market, whether you deserve it or not, because that’s how the market works. That is the real world. That is what “growing up” leads most of us to recognise.
And guess what? Some of the people who are protesting, some of the people who are the angriest about the world being run in the interests of a tiny minority instead of the majority, some of those people want more of what the right say they want: less regulation, less government handouts, less subsiding failure, stronger law enforcement. That’s why Occupy Wall Street in America got support not just from the political left, but from Tea Party Republican Ron Paul and a lot of his Tea Party supporters, many of whom joined the protest.
This surprised some people but it shouldn’t: if you’re pro-meritocracy, pro-market, anti-subsidy, pro-work ethic, pro-liberty, pro-individualism, pro-wealth creation, pro-job creation, pro-business, and anti-state, you should not, logically, think it’s okay for the rest of the world to be economically manhandled by 1% of its population, regardless of whether that 1% fails, succeeds, abides by the law or demands special privileges. If you think capitalism isn’t synonymous with corruption and immorality, then for goodness sake, the assumption that anyone who criticises corruption and immorality wants to scrap capitalism must surely be even more maddening to you than it is to a socialist?
I’m used to arguing with left-wingers about what it means to be right-wing. What constantly eludes me is how many right-wingers argue that being right-wing means being stupider and nastier than it actually does, by yelping “lefty! lefty!” at the smallest reference to the rather gapingly obvious problems in modern society.
There are lots of people at Occupy London Stock Exchange today with whom I disagree enormously.
But I can’t mock these people. I don’t think they’re stupid, or lazy, or naive, or jealous, or even wrong. They’re right to be furious to see Goldman Sachs and Vodafone getting special tax privileges from the treasury. Even Conservative MP Jesse Norman is calling for Dave Harnett’s resignation over the Goldman Sachs deal. They’re right to find it obscene that millionaires can howl about corporation tax only being cut by 2% when ordinary hard-working taxpayers are expected to put up with “obesity” tax hikes, removal of tax credits which amount to a 41% tax increase, and VAT rates of 20%. They’re right to be annoyed that we reward failure instead of success in the form of bank bailouts. They’re right to be annoyed when laws aren’t being upheld, in the form of the phone-hacking scandal. They’re right to be annoyed at the patronising lie that this is all in their best interests, and that the interests of the 1% always, always, always match up with the interests of the other 99%.
So disagree with the protesters or not, but cut out the sanctimonious whining. The anti-protest protesters, who are more bothered about a protest they don’t agree with than they are about actual wrongdoing, are the ones with the rose-tinted goggles, the ones who aren’t basing their views in reality, the ones who need to grow up.
Or at least, if they can’t control their manners, perhaps they could just shut up while the grown-ups are talking?