Occupy Wall Street: An Appeal To The Young
While studying for a PhD in physics, I read the following words from Peter Kropotkin’s An Appeal To The Young, in the section addressing scientists; they hit me like a ton of bricks:
“In what respect does the philosopher, who may peruse science in order to pass life pleasantly to himself, differ from the drunkard there?”
But surely science leads to inventions that benefit mankind? Kropotkin anticipates this rebuke and has his answer ready:
“You mean to work for humanity… A charming illusion! … you must at once note that in our society of today science is only an appendage to luxury, rendering life pleasanter for the few, but remaining absolutely inaccessible to the bulk of mankind.”
“At the present moment we no longer need to accumulate scientific truths and discoveries. The most important thing is to spread the truths already acquired, to practice them in daily life, to make of them a common inheritance.”
I found no way to apologise for myself – I had spent my life as a drunkard without even realising it. Most of us as children are told a fairytale about the world. If we go to school and work hard, we can get good jobs where we will work towards the betterment of society. Many of us believe our teachers and do this. When we grow up, we discover that the world is very much imperfect.
Often we must take work we are morally opposed to, in order to pay the bills. We see much injustice in our society. It is often impossible for us to find those with money ready to employ our energies and skills in addressing this injustice. Instead we are co-opted in it, made to participate in it, to perpetuate it. Many of our social institutions are dysfunctional, rendering services on the basis of ability to pay, not on the basis of need.
Our industries have the capacity to do almost anything we desire, to solve almost any task we pose them. We could automate much basic drudgery, leaving us free to pursue simple lives of play and contemplation; living freely amongst one another as sisters and brothers, not workers and bosses. We could feed, house, clothe and educate all. We do not do this – instead “we” choose to produce sports stadiums, skyscrapers, blockbuster movies, designer clothes and the ipod touch – monuments to grotesque excess staring abject poverty squarely in the face.
Most of us simply resign ourselves to this uncomfortable truth, adapt to the world as it is, renounce the ideals of our youth and settle into our life of drudgery. We seek small pockets of solace; shelter from the oppressive daily reality of worklife in the company of friends and family and through romantic relationships. We adjust to the idea that these small pockets of solace are all we can reasonably expect this world to give us. We also seek to temporarily escape this world through a proliferation of entertainments; movies; computer games; drugs. In Henry David Thoreau’s words, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.
But it need not be so – society is us. We simply have to awaken to the idea that we can remake it through our collective actions, we can be actors not spectators on the social stage. In other words, we need to regain the sense of hope, optimism and community people briefly felt in the 60s, the feeling that their actions could lead to meaningful social change.
With the occupy Wall Street protests in full swing, now is as good a time as any for young people everywhere to question the fairy tales they were told as children about the kind of society they would grow up into. It isn’t necessary for a new generation of young people to resign themselves to a life of drudgery, for 99% to settle for a life as slaves to the 1% owning the majority of a nation’s property and capital; to prostitute their labour – their bodies – to whatever ends are asked of them simply to survive within a monstrous system as it continues, locust-like, to devour the support systems of our planet.
Please consider what you can do to involve yourselves as events develop. Who am I to ask this of you? I am nobody. That is, I am no more or less than any of you. I am just a person. This is just an expression of how I feel. If people can act together now, as brothers and sisters, perhaps a better world is possible.