This summer, I read an article in the New York Times entitled “When Wealth Breeds Rage.” It has stuck with me the last couple months, begging an accounting of the intersection of privilege and revolution, and I can’t help but think of it now as weeks of protests on Wall Street spread to other North American cities.
“Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings,” says John Githongo, the article’s author. Though Githongo is making a particular connection to countries in southern Africa, it seems that this same sentiment motivates the masses seen on the streets and in the parks in Manhattan today. The rage, or at least the refusal to accept the status quo, is spreading in ways that cannot be ignored.
I’m not sure it’s right to equate Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring, but what seems increasingly obvious to me is that anger toward economic and political hegemonies are reaching breaking points the world over, and that perhaps there are strategic alliances to be made between quality of life in one place, and quality of life in another.
Githongo suggests that “narrowing wealth disparities within nations rather than among them is now paramount,” and then offers the following warning: “Inequality, unlike poverty, is far more easily politicized, ethnicized and militarized…it is also far more combustible because it creates an identifiable enemy—a class that benefits disproportionately because of its unfair access to those who wield power. Mismanaging it can be catastrophic.” And so I wonder how these protests will be addressed by the American government. And I do not just mean acknowledged (it is happening slowly…), but taken up in earnest. This may mean prosecution on behalf of the financial firms responsible for the economic collapse of 2008, or maybe even legislation against the mechanisms that allowed the collapse to occur in the first place. Mark Fischer, the author of Capitalist Realism, posits provocatively that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. I also wonder if, now, this might be the moment when imagining a world beyond unfettered capitalism suddenly becomes real?