Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Unboxing Occupy Wall Street: We still don’t know what it is, and that’s good | Grist

Unboxing Occupy Wall Street: We still don’t know what it is, and that’s good | Grist
avatar for David Roberts

protest sign: "Think Outside the Box"Photo: Martin ReisWhen I first heard about Occupy Wall Street (henceforth OWS), I was dismissive. Worse, I was dismissive in a smug, insider, hippie-punching sort of way. I immediately put it into a box: confused and easily dismissed lefty protests filled with Free Mumia signs, giant puppets, and drum circles. As it turned out, I was right about the drum circles, but wrong about pretty much everything else.

My sin was not so much that I put OWS in the wrong box, but that I was so eager to box it at all. The most amazing thing about the entire phenomenon, to me, is how long and how totally it has resisted simple categorization. That is a rare thing in this era of late capitalism, when everything is instantly branded and marketed to death. The introduction of genuine novelty, of possibility, is a precious thing of great power; I should have recognized that.

I've been struggling for the right metaphor, and I keep coming back to wave function collapse (physics produces all the best metaphors). In quantum mechanics, a wave function is superposition of several possible endstates. When it is measured, it collapses, transforming from several possibilities to one actuality. Putting it more poetically: a jumble of possibilities, when observed from a particular perspective, becomes a single reality.

Something (metaphorically) similar happens when we create social meaning. It's not that OWS "really" means one thing or another and we're trying to discover that meaning; it's that OWS potentially means all sorts of things and we are, via our competing narratives and interpretations, choosing that meaning. Read More Here | Grist

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