“Every town must have a place where phony hippies meet.” –FZ
This morning, as I sat and advised my frosh on their autobiographical narrative papers, I tried to imagine my kids trying a stunt like the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd. First of all, there’s really not a place in Mondoville that would make for an interesting base of operations — “Occupy the Wal-Mart/ShoeShow parking lot” just doesn’t scan.
More importantly, though, my kids are less interested in overthrowing the system than they are in making their way in it. For most of them, college is an avenue toward earning a life equal to or better than that of their parents (the operative word there being earning). While I gripe about some of what that entails — such as a disinterest in Chaucer — I respect that, and I know that some of their resistance to things that don’t seem immediately practical stems from the fact that they want a place in the world as it is. I know Chaucer matters, and it’s my task to show them why Chaucer matters.
They’re willing to do the work that they think is necessary to do the things they want to do, and would prefer to be left alone once that work is done. Put another way, they don’t necessarily see it as their purpose to fix the world — they see their purpose as taking care of themselves and the people around them, and I have great sympathy for that, even as I try to expand their world. They don’t want to be dramatic — they want to tend their gardens, whatever forms those gardens take. Doubtless the OWS crowd would try to raise their “false consciousness.” Maybe that’s what I try to do as well, but I’m doing it without anger and without the contempt I hear too often from our society’s self-described elites.
On the other hand, when we look at things like the proposed list of “demands” from the OWS, what we see is the same call for a Year Zero that we’ve seen from the left since the time of the Jacobins. Wipe everything out (especially anything we might have to work to earn)! Start fresh (because that’s convenient for us)! Eliminate consequence! I want a pony! (OK, I may have made that last one up.) Meanwhile, let’s make life difficult for the people we expect to provide for our needs while we’re on this holy mission. You can’t make a better world without defacing a few restrooms, right? Shelley would have understood. This soi-disant occupation isn’t a noble gesture — it’s a tantrum.
Who is behaving contemptibly here? Here’s a hint: It isn’t the group of kids in my classroom. I’m proud of them.