Monday, October 31, 2011

OWS: Applauding the Squirrel

Occupy NH, Veterans Park, 10/29/11
photo by J. Stimmell
Mark Kingwell, in an extremely insightful essay,* questions the nature of work in a modern affluent society by showing that the reasons given by economists for work like profit and growth are illusionary. Instead, according to Kingwell, “the real reason for work is work.”

To explain this apparent tautology, he quotes John Kenneth Galbraith: "as a society becomes increasingly affluent, wants are increasingly created by the process by which they are satisfied.”

This statement by Galbraith, he says, echos Herbert Marcuse and Hannah Arendt, who also observed how capitalism by its very nature, creates superfluity – excess or superfluous goods and services.
What Galbraith adds is  “the additional insight that capitalism must then create the demand,” which didn’t exist before, to soak up this excess.

Galbraith uses a vivid metaphor to highlight the absurdity of this contradiction:

‘The case can’t stand if it is the process of satisfying wants that create the wants. For then the individual who urges the importance of production to satisfy these wants is precisely in the position of the onlooker who applauds the efforts of the squirrel to keep abreast of the wheel that is propelled by his own efforts.

The squirrel metaphor perfectly describes the essence of modern capitalism. The corporate 1% applauds the efforts of the other 99% of us who strive to keep abreast of the wheel, propelled by our own sweat and tears – while the corporate 1% pockets the profits of our effort.

You ask what OWS is all about?  Perhaps to rip down the curtain and show the other 99% of us who is really running the show.

* quoted from the essay, The Language of Work, by Mark Kingwell published in Harper’s Magazine, July 20111
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