Occupy Movements beware: there are two camps in your midst, one of which will guarantee your descent into historical meaninglessness.

Please just follow my thought-form here, and at the end, reply or comment telling me if it makes sense to you or not.

If the Wall Street perspective and values structure is “conventional” then the Occupy movement is “non-conventional”. So – depending on your perspective, conventional is bad, non-conventional is good, or vice versa.

Except that conventional vs. non-conventional is a dangerous false dichotomy!

What’s actually happening is three different worldviews: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. Immediately below is an example of a post-conventional perspective. (I’ll show you pre-conventional and the dangers inherent, below that.)

Remember the Battle of Seattle during the WTO in 1999?

“The WTO is a treaty organization that enables corporations to sue local governments if their health, environmental, or worker-safety laws conflict with the corporations’ profits. (Here’s an article about a prominent case only 4 years after the WTO was established. In this case, a Canadian corporation that produced a gasoline additive determined by the state of California to cause cancer, sued California for almost $1 billion, saying California’s health law banning the known carcinogen interfered with the corporation’s profits. There are dozen’s of other examples.) The pattern is that anytime the WTO has ruled — corporations vs. sea turtles, corporations vs. small farmers, corporations vs. food security — the WTO has ruled in favor of corporations.

The above paragraph is an example of a post-conventional argument against the WTO.

Here’s how the pre-conventional approach sounds:

Down with the system!

Down with the man!

Destroy corporations!

Do you notice the HUGE difference between pre-conventional and post-conventional?

What happened in Seattle in 1999– and is happening in NYC and elsewhere — is that pre-conventional and post-conventional are lumped together as non-conventional — but they couldn’t be farther apart!

Notice how a post-conventional approach is trickier to distill into sound-bites.

And pre-conventional outbursts make for higher ratings for the mainstream media while simultaneously confusing mainstream viewers.

(Part of the issue with what I’m calling the pre-conventional approach — besides the fact that it reminds me of a four-year-old temper tantrum — is that it is mostly ineffective. And it is prone to demonizing and dehumanizing others which, besides obvious issues, also alienates potential allies.)

Occupy Wall Street’s challenge is to plant its feet solidly in a post-conventional perspective.

Yes it has to have passion and guts — but it must strive to do more than deconstruct.

If the post-conventional Wall Street occupiers get lumped in with the “you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do” crowd, they will lose credibility and traction faster than you can say fat cat bonus.

Pre and post are SO different — and it is important that long-term, positive change agents recognize the difference, and root themselves in the latter.

(Naomi Klein and Tom Atlee are examples of post-conventional authors [and there are scores of others]. One of my favorites is George Lakoff who recently wrote a really cool article on framing for OWS.)

6 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street’s Rise or Fall

  1. I very much appreciate the clarity with which you articulate relevant distinctions involved in considering the OWS phenomenon. I especially like the particularity of your examples, illustrating the pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional orientations as manifested re the WTO, and in naming authors whose work you like which exhibits that third orientation. Thank you for this illuminating yet remarkably concise blog post.

  2. Hi Alan, I really enjoyed this article for the distinctions you make which might contribute to a more meaningful and effective social conversation, and even shared it with my friends.

    As for the Lakoff article which you link to at the end… while I was able to relate with his thoughtfully articulated values of fairness and well-being, his insistence that OWS is a moral movement concerned me. Marshall Rosenburg’s distinction of moral judgement as the root of violence comes to mind… if the conversation is framed as the 99% vs. the 1%, conservative vs. progressive, then we remain in the same adversarial struggle for domination. This sounds to me like a well-spoken “other side” of the conventional approach. I believe that if we can begin to eliminate such labels from our political discourse and shift the discussion to a question of how we might recognize and integrate all values equally, then we might also begin to approach new ways of relating with each other, both individually and collectively.

    1. Hi Dan:
      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I’m glad you liked the article.
      You bring up a really important point about the limits of creative framing, especially when the level of consciousness engaged in it still operates in an us vs them worldview. Great insight.
      That said, I interpreted Lakoff’s point about OWS being a “moral” movement a bit differently from what Marshall Rosenberg means when he refers to “moralistic judgments.” Marshall’s distinction refers to rigid concepts of rightness and wrongness that lead to the justification of reward and punishment. Some people are good and some people are bad, and the latter deserve to be punished. (This is articulated in Walter Wink’s “myth of redemptive violence” which Marshall refers to.)
      I’m reading Lakoff’s focus on “morals” as referring to ethics and values. So rather than being focused on revenge and negativity, he is suggesting a path for the OWS movement to identify and express their values (what is important to them). That’s my read.
      I still agree with you. While Lakoff might be helping progressive movements frame their values and message in a way that more people can hear… if reframing is emerging from and operating at an ‘us vs them’ level of consciousness, in the big picture and in the long run it doesn’t actually help that much. I enjoyed your insight on this.
      One more thing about what you wrote: is the goal to recognize and integrate all values equally?
      If everyone is “right” — in the sense that everyone has some aspect of truth or reality that is valid — can everyone be equally right?
      Universal needs by definition apply to all people. Values, on the other hand, even though they are important to us and deeply held, are not universal. In other words, I’m not so sure I want to equally recognize and integrate the KKK’s values.
      Same thing with needs. I want to value and acknowledge everyone’s needs, and while I aim for strategies that meet the most needs, my goal is not that 100% of everyone’s needs are met 100% of the time.
      Just some more food for thought.
      Thank you for commenting!

      1. Alan, thank you for your reply. I found the reminder about distinguishing moralistic judgements vs. value judgements helpful… sometimes it can take some effort to make the translation and get down to what people are really trying to say.

        Are needs universal, while values are not? I was using the terms almost interchangeably, as it is a personal preference of mine to use the word “need” as little as necessary. Though I do relate “needs” more to basic survival: food, shelter, safety, etc, and “values” more with higher levels of actualization: creativity, expression, belonging, etc. Of course, to some of us, sometimes more than others, survival is the primary value.

        Regarding the KKK example… I consider that their acts of violence probably stem from moral judgement, and wonder what values might hide beneath the fear and hatred. Security? Well-being? Social importance? Are these not universal human values/needs? While I certainly do not tolerate their chosen strategies in attempt of realizing those values, I am willing to bet that they might realize those values in ways that do not affect pain in the lives of others. Of course, this would take serious work on their part to get over that fear and hatred, but if we do not hold the possibility for that to happen, then is there any hope at all?

        Thank you for the stimulating article and dialogue.

        1. Hi Dan:
          You asked: “Are needs universal, while values are not?”
          The way I use the terms, yes.
          And I share your preference to use the word “value” more than the word “need” in everyday conversation.
          I created a graphic about how I understand universal human needs, interests, positions, strategies, etc., all fitting along a single continuum. That graphic is here: http://cascadiaworkshops.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Needs-and-Strategies-Spectrum.jpg (This graphic was included in an old newsletter article I wrote, which I will include in the upcoming NVC Intro Home Study Course, which I plan to release next month.)
          I agree with everything you said regarding the KKK. They could certainly meet their deeper needs in ways that do not hurt others.
          Thank you too.
          ~Alan

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