These are notes towards — what? — a manifesto? list of demands? Not really. Just three key thoughts/impressions about the Occupy movement that have evolved over the weeks I have been watching, participating in, and thinking about it. Call it “Occupy 101.” There’s a lot more nuance to these issues than I go into here — but I’m trying to be schematic, conceptual. I hope it might be useful in the on-going and collective attempt to “explain” the movement—both to those of us involved in it, and those who remain skeptical or even antagonistic to it.
The problems we face in the world today are diverse, wide-ranging, and complex. But here’s a (hopefully useful) short-hand that gets us right into the heart of the matter, and that short-hand is found in the nexus formed by these two words: ECONOMY and ECOLOGY. Both words derive from the Greek oikos, meaning “home.” Simplifying to the extreme, economy is how we make our living and our home; ecology is where we make our living and our home. Obviously, these two concepts need to be in harmony and balance. But today they are not: our economy does constant and often excessive damage to our ecology.
Our global economic system is based on, driven by, and in need of constant growth. Like a shark, if it doesn’t keep moving, it dies. Or better, like cancer, it only knows growth, regardless of the consequences for its “host.” As long as GDPs keep rising, it doesn’t matter how unequally distributed that wealth is, or how badly people suffer, or what happens to the environment. So our ECONOMICS ignores and surpass all limits. But our ECOLOGIES are all about limits — each ecosystem is limited (by climate, geography, resources, etc.), and the ultimate limit is the earth itself, the entire biosphere. Our current economic system has run right past these ecological limits (the excess registering in global warming, the extinction of species, the loss of the world’s forests, huge Texas-sized patches of plastic floating in our oceans, etc. etc.). In Slavoj Zizek’s analogy, we are like Wile E. Coyote, running off the edge of the economical/ecological cliff. When we finally look down, we’ll fall.