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Occupy Wall Street is the Napster Party

John on October 10, 2011 at 1:11 am

In keeping with my effort to not ridicule this movement, I’m posting this clip to point out that some people who support it are thinking about goals and process. This is impromptu obviously, but still the clearest statement of purpose I’ve heard:

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Crowd source the future? Might make a good bumper sticker but it won’t actually work. Why? Well, people have been trying for hundreds of years and it hasn’t worked. Where is the functioning state without capitalism? Even communist China gave up on that dream.

I get the impression a lot of these kids don’t believe in capitalism. These are the kids who grew up with free music downloads via Napster. They saw the music business as “evil corporations” too. (Okay, this may be a bad example since by all accounts music executives do drink the blood of the innocent.) Point is, some of these folks have been deluded into thinking you can get something for nothing. Not only can you, but you should. Everything should be free!

This is how the OWS movement bears the seeds of its own destruction. Even if they do the chant-and-repeat and eventually come up with some alternative, the rest of America isn’t going to go for it. I can think of two reasons why it won’t work. One, because people older than 22 know you don’t get anything for free ultimately. Napster was stealing. Stealing is not an improvement on capitalism anymore than bank robbery is an improvement on banks. Granted, bank robbery might sound cool for an instant, but ultimately it’s stupid and anti-civilization. Most people like civilization.

Reason number two: While they’re making these decisions the Napster Party is going to be rubbing lots of people the wrong way. There are already piles of garbage in the streets of New York and reports of people using the alleys as bathrooms. As the movement spreads and grows, so will the filth. Reason number two really could come down to #2.

It’s actually a pretty good metaphor for the beliefs at play, at least what I’m able to glean from the signs and behavior I’ve seen. They think they can just show up and spread out and someone else will clean up the mess. And someone will, someone with a job and a big truck built by…wait for it…capitalists. But the expense and problems (wait til the rats set in) will wear on the people footing the bill. Occupation has a short shelf life, I suspect. After a while you’re not cool so much as just another city problem working people have to deal with.

Here’s the hard truth the Napster party doesn’t want to acknowledge. Not a single part of this plan works without capitalism, just like Napster didn’t work without music companies. At some point, when they finally get a message together, about 3/4 of the 99% they claim to represent are going to tell these folks to bugger off. I suspect a better name would be the 20%, but that doesn’t sound as impressive.

In the end it doesn’t matter if the true believers put a million people in the streets, we’re still having an election in 2012 and the choices will come down to two people supported by the major parties. Marxist utopia will not be on the ballot. This isn’t going to be Tahrir square no matter how much they wish it were so. They’re not going to beat the system, the system is going to beat them.

It didn’t happen immediately, but Napster was sued and eventually shut down. Then along came Steve Jobs with a legal, profitable alternative. The daydream of free stuff for everyone, which is all Napster was, got co-opted by capitalists. A market-based alternative replaced it, one that has thrived ever since its launch. You can still download all the songs you want, but not for free. This seems to work pretty well by most people’s estimation. iTunes passed a billion song downloads some time ago. I’d bet the vast majority of these protesters have iTunes accounts. They’ve subscribed to their own failure and don’t even know it.

That’s where OWS is headed. It’ll be co-opted. In fact, it already has been by unions and Democratic politicians. Just over a year from now whatever this movement has become will march into voting booths and pull the lever for Barack Obama. If they want to pretend otherwise for a few more months, let them. Disillusionment will set in soon enough. And maybe, if the violent fringe doesn’t hijack it, something beneficial will come out of it. I’m not sure what that could be, honestly. So far the only real distinctive is the creepy chanting and I can definitely do without that.

[Edited a bit for clarity.]

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