The most interesting panel at Capricon this year was "Civil Disobedience: Occupy Wall Street & the Tea Party Movement." Participants were Cory Doctorow, Mary Anne Mohanraj, John Scalzi moderating, with the aid of a very nice shillelagh a friend of mine loaned him, Eileen Maksym, and myself. I sat on the far right, physically and politically.
Now, that's probably the first item for critique. If I, an anarcho-libertarian, am the "far right" in a discussion, it really isn't very balanced. I'd liked to have seen someone genuinely socially and politically conservative, and with credentials in politics or economics, to give a good spectrum.
I do agree with Doctorow that left-right is inadequate. He suggested, if I recall, liberal-conservative, statist-libertarian, cooperative-independent, spiritual-materialist axes. I try to make such comparisons myself and he added a couple of new ones for my consideration.
Mary Anne came from Sri Lanka when young, and pointed out that the current crop of "freedom fighters" got into power, took over and became rather unsavory. I'd liked to have seen more discussion of that in this context. She had some good comments, and I think we could use more teachers like her, even if our politics are different.
Eileen Maksym was a bit shy. She also mentioned being hesitant about coming out to her friends and associates as a conservative—hey, it's Chicago. Though there are quite a few conservatives in SF/Fantasy. That she doesn't know of them says a lot about certain subgenres. She has no need to worry. It's telling, though, that she feels she needs to.
Scalzi's a great guy, and managed to keep us on topic, and reasonably cordial. He and I discussed the press for a few minutes—how reporters can't possibly be experts on a subject, but I sure wish they'd try (he may be the most capable journalist I've ever met, btw. They need a thousand of him). That they have only 400 words or 60 seconds to present an issue, and have to present it in a fashion comprehensible to the typical TEA Party or OWS member, which is, charitably, 8th grade level, is a tough issue to address.
A friend of mine raised the question of what to do in Chicago when both G8 and NATO are there in May this year. Well, I propose a popcorn concession for spectators, and possibly a hardhat rental for the participants. All I can say is, whoever set that schedule up is a comedic genius. I will be glued to Youtube. For the protesters, may I suggest that waving signs and shouting will only lead to a repeat of previous incidents in Chicago and other cities? Repeating the same actions while expecting different results is called insanity, except when it's called fucking idiocy. His proposal was to start promoting and flyering a month ahead. Several unions, including the cops, have contracts ending in June. "OWS SUPPORTS THE POLICE IN THEIR CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS" would likely do a lot toward goodwill and cohesiveness. However, I've seen little support or "tolerance" from the modern American left. They want a class war, with any class they can think of. Pity the other classes have the money and guns.
A lot of other stuff was said at this panel, but there are a couple of issues that really stood out to me. I'm going to focus on those.
Now, Doctorow is highly intelligent and educated, without question. He carries a huge list of accomplishments, and no one would suggest he's not capable at what he does. I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and comments. However, I observed examples of what I think fell into both selection bias and Dunning-Kruger from him.
He's very enamored of the OWS crowd. He's spent a lot of time on the ground, and had some good insights—I agree there should be more cameras, more observation, more reporting, and both CNN and the New York Slime failed by not walking a block to see the actual events. Cameras would show us what goes right, what goes wrong, when the police step out of line, and, as he very conveniently sidestepped and didn't mention, when the Occupiers turned into rioting rabble deserving of an ass-kicking, which several videos, not edited for soundbites, do show happened. I don't advocate clubbing them like baby seals (okay, not most of them), but more than a few deserved to be arrested, and have no logical or moral complaint about the treatment they got. I like his idea of drone cameras on model helicopters. More is better.
I pointed out that OWS and TEA Party both have a legitimate complaint about certain outfits privatizing their profits and socializing their losses, but I've heard nothing from OWS about collaborating to stop this. I hear a lot of "teabagger" and "conservatives wank to the Bible, hate America, and rape puppies," and even, "Republicans have destroyed America." Wow, such hatred for Dr King and President Lincoln. Cory says there have in fact been attempts at discussion. I will accept his word on that. I don't know if he said those discussions have not gone anywhere, or are ongoing. I'd certainly like to see it. If that can actually happen, we may manage a further cleaning of Congress, and actually have enough people under age, say, 60, who have a clue how the modern world works. Age 50 might be better. I have heard a lot of, "We're going to vote out the Republicans and re-elect 0bama to fuck those conservative assholes," from people too stupid and hateful to grasp that all the trillions paid out in recent years originated in a Democrat Congress, and the vast majority of it was signed by Mr 0. Democrats have started wars that killed millions, impoverished other millions, sold out the taxpayer to bankers, but by golly, look at all the good things they've done like end the Vietnam War under Nixon, and end the Cold War under Bush Sr, and get Pagans a VA headstone, under Bush Jr, and …um…
BOTH parties have a few positives and a crapton of negatives at this point. Chortling with glee while vowing to repeat the cycle you're in is probably a good indication to lay off the medical marijuana. Instead, why not push for a new party? The TEA Party started that way, though they elected a crop of whackos and idiots, but at least they're new whackos and idiots. The OWS kids want to re-elect the same thieves who are responsible for the issues they're complaining about.
Moving on. I had to bite down a bit when Doctorow invoked that ridiculous, irrelevant Ghandi quote. I challenged it, he used some very flowery language, but in my opinion, failed to make a reasonable comparison. Cory, the Indian protesters were fighting for the right to make salt, grow crops, walk freely and have their own government. The OWS crowd HAVE ALL THAT (that they have neglected it until it has atrophied is only their own fault). A large number of them, on their own broadcasts, whined about student loans and credit card debt. Ghandi's people got shot by the British Army and clubbed half to death or worse by police. The OWS crowd had a few teargassings, a few people proudly holding up the badge of four whole HOURS in jail and one individual hit with something and concussed, which last I heard had not concretely been assigned to any person or unit for blame, though one department claimed it as a political and goodwill gesture.
Oh—and they made a huge deal of invoking his veteran status. Political protests love vets when they're useful for points. Otherwise, we're all illiterate retards without potential.
It's specious for this gang of spoiled rich brats to be compared to Ghandi's movement. I said, and maintain, there needs to be a Godwin's Law for Ghandi. Just because you hold up some placards doesn't entitle you to comparison.
WILLIAMSON'S FIRST LAW: THE MORE EAGER A GROUP IS TO INVOKE GHANDI, THE LESS IT DESERVES THE COMPARISON. IF IT DESERVES THE COMPARISON, THAT WILL COME FROM AN OUTSIDE AGENCY.
Mister Doctorow pointed out there were homeless people in the camps, too. I attribute that far less to them knowing, understanding or giving a shit what the gatherings were about, and more to being able to get food and a place to sleep, possibly some bleach wipes, and maybe some human companionship. And perhaps if the "I have student loans I can't repay" types had spent more effort helping those homeless (or getting degrees that anyone outside the Education Industrial Complex cares about), they could have made the world a bit better. Instead, they quickly decided (in several places) to evict the homeless because they weren't contributing.
Now, to an extent, I'm okay with that, because, as I said at the panel, an umbrella can only cover so many people before you start getting wet. Internal incoherence can be the death of a movement, and as we saw here, didn't help OWS at all. (Yes, I speak of them in the past tense. I'm sure some more whiners will gather next year. I'm also sure their public approval will continue to slide, along with their relevance. Any million youtube videos of their antics so far are my basis for this, including the videos they proudly stamp with their imprimatur.) But they liked to use the homeless people as poster children, wanting someone else to fix the problem. Leading by example isn't their strong suit.
I also know a few of the protesters, and I know they mean well. But even as an immigrant from a fairly wealthy western nation (the UK), there's this gulf between us. They tell me what they're outraged about, and I think, "Man, this nation is AWESOME if that's all you can think of to protest over." This is not a criticism of them. It's an extollation of America. Really. Go spend a few months somewhere else, not as a tourist or exchange student, and see what it's really like. If you come back and say, "X nation is beautiful, I saw no problems and everyone was happy," you weren't there long enough. (I bring that up because I hear it, about places I've been to, and I've clearly seen the parts the student tourists immersing themselves in culture at restaurants, tea rooms and theaters have not.)
The second point of contention was over crowdsourcing. Now, I support, endorse and have participated in crowdsourcing, and hope to make use of it in the future. No argument here, it's one of the things that modern communication media do best. It's helping small villages in Africa, it's helping small businesses here, it's a good thing.
However, there are limits.
You'll notice I mentioned funding of various types. I can also see various art forms, urban cleaning, even some planting and farming.
Doctorow, however, said, and I closely paraphrase, "Maybe we can reach the day when someone says, 'You bring those rivets, and I have some girders, and we can build a skyscraper.'"
Really. A crowd-sourced skyscraper.
I verified that he wasn't talking about funding for said edifice, but actually building it as a crowd-sourced project.
I said I'd even let him have the corner office in the top floor. I don't intend to be within a trigonometric ratio of it, and will add a safe distance for rebounding debris.
He tried to compare the internet and web infrastructure. This fails, in my opinion, because that started as a government, in fact, Defense, project, and has numerous very well-heeled players. I have a website hosted on a friend's bandwidth but neither of us would be able to do so, even with the help of a million geeks, without someone to provide a combination of capital and knowledge. I asked, "And how often does your browser crash?"
He actually said, "My browser doesn’t crash because I use Firefox."
"So do I. It crashed three days ago." It crashes about once a week. Now, to be fair, right now I have 5 windows and 16 tabs open, which is probably on the high side. But a skyscraper only needs to fail once. Barring an occasional 911 response, a crashed browser, or even server, doesn't kill people. A crashing skyscraper kills thousands even if they have 45 minutes to evacuate. There are no workarounds for a failure in the skeleton of a building.
Really, dude, this is a movement that can't even line its tents up straight and keep rats out, and you're thinking about a skyscraper? Nevermind that skyscrapers are woefully inefficient, usually financial boondoggles, and irrelevant if you move out of the hive of the megalopolis, simultaneously the greatest triumph, and the worst embarrassment of the human race. Were I religious, I think the comparison to the Tower of Babel would fit right in here.
Nevermind the unions and their labor issues. I'm sure lots of union people will volunteer to work for free, and their National offices won't have any complaints at all. Right. That leaves, "Oh, we're just going to do the work ourselves." I can see that going over with great enthusiasm and support from the skilled workers not being used. On the other hand, the trade unions might allow it just for the lulz, the example, and the training value to their apprentices from watching a disaster in the making.
But let's not stop there. Assuming you CAN crowdsource a skyscraper, where are you getting the steel for those girders? Are you going to crowdsource a smelting operation and an iron mine? And do so in an ecologically sound fashion, not like some horrific syphilitic chancre of an open pit like the USSR and China?
And when it does collapse, who gets blamed, much less punished or made to pay compensation? Will you crowdsource the investigation? And a compensation fund for the victims? Talk about socializing risk and failure.
Really, this is socialist utopic delusion at this point.
Unless, of course (and the internet comparison supports this), he means a bunch of COMPANIES and paid experts pooling their capital and capabilities to build something huge. That has potential. We could even call it "capitalism" and I'd love to see that actually happen. Can you imagine the great things that could be done without choking hindrances, taxes and the need to have agents infiltrate the government just to chop an occasional path through the jungle of red tape?
That's what OWS should be working toward.