by G. Benjamin Bingham
The Occupy movement captured the world’s attention. In fact for a time it seemed, through the media, that the world was pre-occupied with it. The pre-eminent question was: what “it” was. With ironic smiles the news casters poked fun at the apparently aimless freak show that for some unknown reason the authorities allowed to mess up public spaces until they didn’t anymore. The tents and paraphernalia were removed and barricades erected so that what had been a wild-looking, free-for-all became un-free again. Or did it?
The military used to occupy lands. But in this complex world it seems less possible to get a real grip, so instead they talk about “occupying” the hearts and minds “of the people.” What does this mean? That question is as poignant a question as any about the meaning of Occupy Wall Street. Who is it or what is it that is behind any occupation?
Wait…occupation? Isn’t that a job, a vocation, a calling? Subtly, this occupy pre-occupation seems to be a wake-up call to set to work, rather than a call to arms. It was shocking to observe the unemployed, angry, disenfranchised people come together and watch them create a culture of occupation. Instead of the looting and rioting of past angry movements, this one seemed solely intent on peacefully allowing every individual to have a chance to express their story, their calling. Methods for managing meetings proliferated with endless patience; crowds without microphones repeated each phrase spoken by their occupy neighbors. Endless committees were self-chosen. Responsibility was taken. And that is the point, isn’t it? Responsibility, according to Dr. Karl Konig, the founder of the Camphill movement, is never given really…it must be taken. Each of us can occupy ourselves with the problems we are called to solve. Hmm. Occupy ourselves…
It is impossible to describe the occupy movement in generalities other than to say that it was started by an international and colorful group that allowed it to proliferate and self-organize. In cities around the US, poets, and wannabe politicians, sweet pacifists and soldiers, grandma hippies and peach fuzz techno organizers, toothless, homeless nomads happy to find community, and sophisticated unemployed geeks who hung out and secretly slept at home…they were all there. Probably the “1%” was also there, and had to be, because we are all occupying. The question is what? The answer is different for each one of us as we evolve.
Speaking of evolving, Darwin is often blamed for the materialistic justification for competition as an evolutionary necessity. The current situation that sparked the occupy movement, where 1% controls 99% of the resources, is the ultimate and unsustainable outcome stemming from this amoral competitive approach to life. In the 1800s Rousseau was really the original culprit, as he blamed civilized traditions based on moral laws for a general unhappiness and challenged educated people to let go and become one with nature. Later Gauguin’s wild exotic paintings, idealizing his retreat to live with simple native people of Tahiti, are emblematic of that earlier romantic shift of consciousness. For Rousseau and his contemporaries freedom was in the air and chaotic revolution followed. Materialism naturally followed that period, evolving rudderless, with neither tradition, nor a sense of ethics, falling deeper into the detail and abundant possibility of nature with science as the new religion and all with an eye to take advantage rather than take responsibility.
This approach to managing life on earth is clearly dysfunctional. Rousseau’s intervention was essential and wonderful as it awakened a new interest in the beauty of detail of this planet and yet its shadow was the age of materialism. The intervention of the Occupy movement was essential for a reawakening of humanity’s natural capacity for ethics, for our common sense for what is right, what is good… for our innate capacity for empathy and altruism.
So the occupy movement is not dead, and though it has left the spotlight, it is going strong. It will never die as long as there are individuals willing to take responsibility for themselves and for their world. The hope for the future is the free individual who chooses to prioritize “doing the good” 1 for others. This is the transformation of anarchy from a violent cult to a culture of “ethical individualism” in Rudolf Steiner’s words.
Terry Mollner, a board member of Ben & Jerry’s, which actively supports the Occupy movement, in this spirit, calls people to “prioritize the common good.” He is an example from the 1% that is taking responsibility for the whole. He and a national consortium of ex-Wall Street guys are leading a new financial movement to bring together businesses and investors who prioritize the common good. Hazel Henderson, friend and colleague of Fritz Schumacher of Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered, has been pushing the agenda of a Gift Economy since the ‘70s and with her company, Ethical Markets Media, she is helping proliferate this thought movement.
Susan Davis of Capital Missions Company calls this movement Conscious Capitalism. She too, has been transforming the way money can work for the good for decades by forming social networks around specific goals.2
Behind all these and many more consciousness movements currently bubbling up around the world there is a more or less conscious tendency to holistic thinking; that is to say, a belief and an action plan based on the underlying reality that all things are connected; we are all related. Some would include both the spiritual and the physical in this oneness. Schiller’s famous letter to Goethe on the 24th of August 1794 recognizes this way of thinking about nature with these words: “You take all nature as a whole in order to illuminate a part; and in the totality or their appearances you seek the explanation for the individual.” Goethe’s world conception encompassed humankind as a oneness inclusive of every unique individual as an essential part of the whole.
In the end Occupy is about the 100%. It is not just about money. It is truly about each one of us consciously taking hold of what is, taking responsibility for what is and joining the great journey of evolution which needs each one of us to come along in our own unique way, for the common good.
Benjamin Bingham is the managing director of 3Sisters Sustainable Management (www.3sistersinvest.com) in Philadelphia, USA.
1. See Bernard Lievegoed’s book, Toward the 21st Century/ Doing the Good.
2. See Susan’s online book: The Trojan Horse of Love. http://thetrojanhorseoflove.com/