Occupy Misery Street!

At St. Mark’s bookshop the other night, after skimming through “the sex issue” of Time Out: New York, I picked up the “American Autumn” issue of Ad Busters. I was so moved by it, the beautiful images, the elegant words, and its overall extremist/fanatical take on the world. Then one piece more than any other stood out and shot through me so intensely: a visual essay in tribute to the great John Berger. Its headline – “THE BEST WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE WORLD IS TO SEE IT NOT AS A METAPHORICAL PRISION, BUT A LITERAL ONE.” The copy was complemented by a vast, macro image of a city illustrating the way urban landscapes look from afar like concentration camps. On the next page, there was an image of a ‘human’ squashed miserably ‘like a sardine’ into an overpacked subway car.

What moved me so deeply was how relatable this way of seeing was to me, how it gave a visual language to my own worldview. I’ve felt this hopelessness for a long time now. In high school, I recall the oppression dawning on me. First, I felt imprisoned in my genetic code and the borders of my body. My genes (XY) controlled me like binary (01) controlled a computer. As far as my body, it was literally a biological cell. And naturally I took this sentiment even further, making it pervasive and concluding my home was a prison, my school was a prison, my state was a prison, this country was a prison, this stratosphere was a prison, and this entire universe was a prison. This feeling eventually solidified into a philosophy, an ethics with the premise that the “good life” was not about being happy but simply withstanding suffering with fortitude.

What confuses me about certain segments of the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET insurgence, particularly the 99% Tumblr page is the way they operate under the assumption they are entitled to a good life or even decent life. My confusion stems more from curiosity than criticism. How did this worldview of entitlement emerge? What history books did they read?  What romantic movies brainwashed into thinking life would be OK? Who told them life was fair? Who said things were supposed to work out? And why did they believe them?

This vision of the world as a good place is so foreign to me. It never occurred to me that I might be happy or alright someday. I dropped out of high school at seventeen and started working. I’ve been toiling endlessly everyday since as a slave to this system. It sucks. But this is life. Misery, heartache, death — this is all I ever expected from the world.

I know this makes me out to sound a bit psychopathic, or sociopathic. But I like to think it stems a bit deeper than mental illness, I like to think it stems ironically from a sense of empathy and historical awareness. After the Holocaust, the philosopher and Jewish refuge of Nazi Germany, Theodor Adorno, famously declared: “THERE CAN BE NO POETRY AFTER AUSCHWITZ” (noten zur literature). You can take this quote a lot of different ways. But one of the more popularized interpretations is that after the catastrophe of World War II, humanity must operate in a constant state of mourning. That is, there can be no music, no poetry, no joy in the wake of the suffering of the past. I sympathize with this sentiment and this claim of entitlement to anything at all does in a historical context seem a bit crass to me.

Perhaps I’m jealous of so many people’s bright-eyed approach to life: this ability to dream of a better life, which I’ve sadly never been capable of. Or perhaps I’m furious at their naïve complacency.  Whatever it is, I’m not judging. I’m just articulating my interpretation.

To end on a more positive note, this philosopher, Theodor Adorno, he belonged to the Frankfurt School, a group of thinkers and activists essentially made up of Marxists –– people who believed in utopia on earth. They clamored for this perfect world, but ultimately became disillusioned. Yet, they still continued to imagine or hold out for this world despite its impossibility. For even if it was impossible, they still had to dream the impossible. And with that, I’ll confess there is and always will be, a residue of hope in me, a belief that the deus ex machina is not just a stupid plot device in bad romantic movies, but the means of the ultimate redemption of history and humanity.

In sum, it’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine). TC mark

images – Adbusters.org

More From Thought Catalog

  • http://twitter.com/NukeSpoon Crispy Frontboat

    “i can’t envisage a better world so you don’t deserve one”

    welp guess i’ll go jump off a cliff see ya

  • http://twitter.com/tvjournal Vincent Veneziani

    WAHHHHHHH I HAVE $75k IN STUDENT LOANS BECAUSE I WENT TO A PRIVATE SCHOOL FOR A BACHELORS IN FACE PAINTING.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Taelor-Skinner/634184649 Taelor Skinner

      My friends who studied practical things like business and computers are working retail. If I’m going to sink myself into years of debt, I’m damned well going to do it for something I want. It could be my only chance.

      • Anonymous

        Excellent response.

      • Catt

        Then don’t sink yourself in debt. There, problem solved.

      • Amber Hiscano

        In Toronto, Canada, you can’t find a simple receptionist job or an unpaid internship without a degree and 3-5 years of relevant experience. There’s so much competition in today’s job market that a B.A. etc. is the bare minimum–it’s how they shortlist candidates even if the degree is not relevant to the job.

        So education is important. Look at the state of North America with so many of us completing our post secondary education. I would hate to see how bad it gets when every 17 year old high school student enters the work force full-time after graduation. (Not to say all those who choose NOT to go to college or university are worse off. I actually admire those who have fast tracked their careers without a degree or diploma. They’re, unfortunately, in the minority.)

      • JA

        Weird.  All my friends have jobs. 

  • Charles Reinhardt

    I guess the issue is that if this country wasn’t being systematically expropriated of its wealth by the top 1% of its income earners, Americans could have  a standard of living similar to Germany or Sweden. Just because life is miserable doesn’t mean it couldn’t be significantly better in material terms. I’m sure life is miserable for Germans and Swedes in different ways. 

  • Anonymous

    overthrow Honsi Bloombarak

  • Anonymous

    jesus christ. it’s like that south park episode where stan marsh loses all hope in the world and only sees shit. ugh. downer.

  • http://twitter.com/bethanie_m Bethanie Marshall

    I get the thoughts of life as being a prison. The oppression. I understand there is no purpose to our existence, we are worthless flesh wandering the Earth in search of something “greater” (religion, love, enlightenment, success). I have struggled with similar concepts before. However, acknowledging that our lives are pointless and there is no meaning to life, I choose to attempt to make a better life for myself. I refuse to accept that I should be on the bottom of the food chain, scrounging for scraps, just getting by, simply because I was not born into a better life. So that is where the disenfranchised feel they are entitled. Because they want a better life and feel that it should be obtainable with hard work. The fact that there is a “1%” at the top making this conceptual dream more difficult, is what inspires people to act out. Sure, we’re all 100 times better off than people in third world countries, but that doesn’t mean we should accept our circumstance as the quality of life we deserve. No one is asking to eat bon bons and bathe in Evian, they just want to not choose between rent and food, their retirements and pensions to flourish the way they were intended, and to know that there will be social security when they get old. It’s not too much to ask from the country that says all man are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit to happiness.

    • Chum

      See, this is a perfect example of someone farting out a few buzzwords into a jumbled mass of contradictory propositions and somehow thinking they’ve written anything of importance. I’ve “screenshotted” this post just to keep it to remind myself I must read more and make sure that when I propose an argument, it is at least borderline logically coherent.

      Thank you.

  • http://karyninny.com/ karyn

    in my opinion, it’s not about entitlement, it’s about opportunity. our country had that. it was founded on that principle – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. people in power have squashed the little guys with their big thumb over the last few generations and we are simply trying to remove it from our backs. viva la revolution. 

    • seejohnstun

      I think the author is suggesting that the occupy wall street movement (which appears to be overwhelmingly white and college educated) is leaving out the historical fact that since our nation was founded there have been groups of people consistently denied access to these principles (and also, that as white, college educated people, we have benefitted from that up until now when a bit of our privilege has been revoked).

      Although I do believe in creating community and unifying under one cause, it’s incredibly naive to assume that all of our experiences as the “99%” are the same. In fact, trying to simplify our experiences of systemic oppression in that way will almost certainly perpetuate the systems of violence the Wall Street protesters are claiming to wish to fight against. If this movement wants to be real, we have to have a more complex understanding of class/race/gender.

  • http://rayguntest.tumblr.com Raegan

    As a long time subscriber to Adbusters, I take it as a really artistic way to look at the world and our society. I do not, however take it seriously because their alternative to capitalism is SO idealistic and retarded that I have to gaze at the magazine’s pretty pictures from afar and sigh. It’s a really good magazine for taking personal adjustments to your life and improving it, but it’s by no means qualified to justify societal anarchy.

  • RADMAD

    Oh snap, things just got thoughtful on thought catalog. 

  • dylan

    really, really good. i think it’s a bit cynical, but i’m cynical. and what’s so wrong with cynicism? loved this piece.

  • Thefreeelfdobby

    It is called occupy Wall Street. Wall Street is the problem. I don’t think they feel entitled to a perfect world or decent life. Just entitled to a country where the banking system doesn’t screw the people with the help of the government. We can all be perfectly miserable without corporate control of government. 

    • RADMAD

      He notes that: “What confuses me about –certain segments– of the #OCCUPYWALLSTREET insurgence, particularly the 99% Tumblr page.”

  • Mary

    Ace article

  • Guesty

    Actually thought-provoking.  LOVE it.

  • guest

    I definitely don’t agree with his view on this, but it’s a good piece. This movement isn’t about entitlement as much as it is respect. We should have respect for one another, and we shouldn’t take advantage of each other. Money isn’t handed to us, we have to work for it. What’s going on is unfair, unjust, uncalled for, and just because negative things do happen doesn’t mean they should be happening or shouldn’t be stopped. If, as an individual, you want to be miserable that’s on you. I’d rather be slightly more optimistic, and at least make an attempt to stand up for what it’s right. If it all goes down, at least I know I gave it my best shot. 

  • Denis Hamilton

    “Perhaps I’m jealous of so many people’s bright-eyed approach to life: this ability to dream of a better life, which I’ve sadly never been capable of. Or perhaps I’m furious at their naïve complacency.  Whatever it is, I’m not judging.”

    Actually, it sounds that judging is precisely what you’re doing.  Perhaps you should read this?

    https://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/a-relationship-with-the-infinite/

  • http://twitter.com/buytoiletpaper Meaghan S

    geezus H Christy, every time I come back and read a TC article, I’m reminded why I’ve been letting it pile up in my RSS. While I don’t fully agree with everything #OWS is doing/saying, this article is just flat out ignorance.

    • Anonymous

      god damn, how many ways can you spell Megan?

  • Kennneth

    Adorno and the Frankfurt School people were Marxists but they weren’t communists, they didn’t believe in or expect to ever see uptopia on earth. They used Marxist political economy to critique the cultural-economic complex of modern capitalism. Read a book. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=46601588 Meghan McCrimmon

    the bit about Adorno isn’t quite factually correct but I got your point.

  • guest

    Why’d you drop out of high school?

    • Guest

      because I’m different.

    • Guest

      because I’m different.

  • Guest

    my brain is throwing up now, thx

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I don’t think the protesters are out there because they miss their Mercedes or giant houses…they are out there because they don’t even get a fair chance these days.  They are unable to try to work their way up any kind of “ladder” toward their goals, toward what they educated themselves to achieve.  I think it is about respect, and respecting each other as citizens of the same country.  No one out there is asking for a six-figure job, for bonuses, to live like those on Wall Street…they just want to feed their families and live a good life.  

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I don’t think the protesters are out there because they miss their Mercedes or giant houses…they are out there because they don’t even get a fair chance these days.  They are unable to try to work their way up any kind of “ladder” toward their goals, toward what they educated themselves to achieve.  I think it is about respect, and respecting each other as citizens of the same country.  No one out there is asking for a six-figure job, for bonuses, to live like those on Wall Street…they just want to feed their families and live a good life.  

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I don’t think the protesters are out there because they miss their Mercedes or giant houses…they are out there because they don’t even get a fair chance these days.  They are unable to try to work their way up any kind of “ladder” toward their goals, toward what they educated themselves to achieve.  I think it is about respect, and respecting each other as citizens of the same country.  No one out there is asking for a six-figure job, for bonuses, to live like those on Wall Street…they just want to feed their families and live a good life.  

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I don’t think the protesters are out there because they miss their Mercedes or giant houses…they are out there because they don’t even get a fair chance these days.  They are unable to try to work their way up any kind of “ladder” toward their goals, toward what they educated themselves to achieve.  I think it is about respect, and respecting each other as citizens of the same country.  No one out there is asking for a six-figure job, for bonuses, to live like those on Wall Street…they just want to feed their families and live a good life.  

  • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

    I don’t think the protesters are out there because they miss their Mercedes or giant houses…they are out there because they don’t even get a fair chance these days.  They are unable to try to work their way up any kind of “ladder” toward their goals, toward what they educated themselves to achieve.  I think it is about respect, and respecting each other as citizens of the same country.  No one out there is asking for a six-figure job, for bonuses, to live like those on Wall Street…they just want to feed their families and live a good life.  

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