Hypocrisy and Occupy
I have not posted for quite a while, as I’ve been trying to avoid speaking before fully developing my thoughts. I would not say, by any means, that the following thoughts are fully developed. However I have, for quite some time, had this in the back of my mind and feel the need to express my views. These views are in response to the claims of many over the last few months, concerning the alleged ‘hypocrisy’ of the Occupy movement with regards to their consumption habits -although these comments have not been as prevalent since the removal of the tent-city of Occupy Vancouver. These consumption habits I refer to are that these protesters are hypocrites for: (1) drinking Starbucks coffee, (2) having/buying iPhones, or more generally, being consumers. The claimed hypocrisy here, is that these are the same protesters that are ‘complaining’ about issues ranging from capitalism, corporate greed, or income inequality, while all the while ‘supporting’ these corporations and maintaining the status quo. It is to this that I offer my rebuttal. I do not intend to argue against the claims that the tent-city was a ‘safe-haven’ for ‘drug-use’, ‘criminal activity’, or the safety of its existence. While I would argue that these claims are blown out of proportion, I doubt my skill in laying a foundation for a rebuttal would be sufficient for countering such claims. For when you object to the views held by the majority, the onus is, inevitably, on you to prove to them otherwise.
Returning, then, to the issue of hypocrisy, I must first state that to some extent these claims are indeed correct. There is, to some degree, something hypocritical about protesting against the power of corporations, while all the while consuming the products of these same corporations. This is a given. However what I argue, is that these claims are pointless, uncritical, and to be frank, a reflection of an uneducated opinion. Building off of my earlier point, the onus lies on the dissenting individual to provide the argument or the basis for his or her dissent. Therefore in the case of anti-corporate protesters, the protesters must present and defend their case, which many have argued: they have failed to do. My argument is: is it possible to be an anti-corporate protester, without being a ‘hypocrite’? Furthermore, is it possible to have any opinion that is critical of the mainstream opinion, without being a ‘hypocrite’? Ultimately, I argue that no, it is not possible. Hypocrisy is implied for any counter-culture.
To illustrate this, consider the case of David Suzuki. David Suzuki is, first and foremost, an environmentalist. His goal, at least to my knowledge, is to educate and convince the world that protecting the environment is an issue that warrants all of our concern. To do so, David Suzuki travels, frequently by airplane, to varying locations around Canada, and the rest of the world to give conferences, film documentaries, and speak generally about his cause. Does this imply hypocrisy? Yes. David Suzuki is, to some extent, a hypocrite for flying around in a plane around the world to promote his cause of environmentalism. As planes give off far greater emissions than say, riding a bicycle, David Suzuki is personally ‘betraying’ his views to promote his message. However the ends to which Suzuki is trying to promote, greater awareness and adoption of environmentalism is something that he is attempting to spread at an aggregate level. If he convinces enough people to reduce their emissions and adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles and practices, we can say that Suzuki has been successful to these ends.
Do the means justify the ends? Some may argue that they do not, and I respect their opinions if they can convince me otherwise. However we must all agree that Suzuki’s message would be far less effective if he “practiced what he preached”. If Suzuki, rather than make documentaries and speak publicly about environmentalism, made YouTube videos from his apartment with the lights turned off (because he does not want to pollute more than necessary), he would certainly not reach the audiences that he does now. Therefore in promoting his message efficiently, he must necessarily be a ‘hypocrite’. Some may argue that with the rise of technology, messages can more effectively be conveyed through new media sources, and perhaps this is the case. However for Suzuki, I am under the impression that he has been very successful in his promotion of environmentalism with his current methods.
Returning to the Occupy protesters, one cannot adhere absolutely to the ideas that they hold. Just as was the case for environmentalism, anti-corporate protests cannot be clear of hypocrisy because humans are consumers. Regardless of whether they are capitalists, socialists, anarchists, or what other varying -ist is presented before me, humans need to consume to live. One could make the argument that anti-corporate protesters do not need to consume Starbucks or Apple products, and they could consume Fair Trade Coffee and/or avoid electronics altogether (as I don’t know any electronics that are made ‘ethically’). However this is silly. Regardless of whether one is anti-corporate, or a corporate executive, one is a member of society and is influenced by its social norms. One can avoid electronics if one wishes, but it would be at this person’s utmost inconvenience and would frankly be unfeasible (would his or her house not have a smoke detector, or lights?).
Regardless of what a protester consumes, what is important is the ideas that they hold. Do not feed me this bullshit about how they shouldn’t be doing this or that, because they are doing something. They are exercising their rights of expression, against something that they view to be wrong, while at the same time existing in a world that ceases to provide feasible alternatives. The fact that I own a Blackberry, does not mean that my views on life or political opinions are shaped by my consumption, and to suggest this is preposterous. In fact I can say that I do not support any phone manufacturer as the components and production of cell phones is generally done for slave wages. This does not change the fact that in a twenty-first century society, having a cell phone is highly advantageous. I have a Blackberry, then, not because I support the corporation who makes it, but because it is in my interest to do so.
So can we call anti-corporate protesters hypocrites? Sure we can. They are hypocrites, just like everyone else who has an opinion on anything. Be it the meat eater who opposes cruelty to animals, or the environmentalist. In short, stop criticizing people for hypocrisy, you fucking hypocrites! (Pardon my language, I just had to get that off my chest.)