Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Yellow leaves swirled in the breeze blowing around the corner of 180 Maiden Lane. The midday sun reflecting off the gilded façade sharpened the color as they blew past the blank windows and unkempt glass. Ten years ago, this monument to innovation in structured finance and risk management bustled with Asian, European, and American businessmen all paying call to the court. The nobles, clad only in the consensus of their exalted state (yes, read, the emperor has no…) deigned accommodation to the obeisance paid at their doors while holding the masses in total contempt. Today, only the last tenacious leaves rose to the upper levels of the tower whose grandeur suffered the fate of Clarence in Shakespeare’s Richard III.
Walking up Maiden Lane from the Hudson River where once women and young girls passed to launder the household linens for the houses and vestries on the southern tip of Manhattan, I was overwhelmed by the absence of any human form. This country lane, marked and paved in the dawn of the 18th century once carried the ropes, tackle and stones from privateer ships to raise the form of Trinity Church. The irony that this lane would be honored to bear the name of the New York Federal Reserve’s toxic mortgage and credit default financial frauds – the legacy of Bear Stearns forced rescue by JP Morgan and AIG’s collapse hospiced with billions of dollars of tax payer funds – was not lost on me. Remarkably, in the winter of discontent just a few blocks away at Zuccotti Park not a single Occupite seemed to have an answer for my question as to why banks and traders have earned their collective wrath while the actual structural source of greatest wealth misappropriation is occupied only by a few autumn leaves.
For the past several weeks I have been advised by many friends, colleagues, and advocates, that the Occupy effort is evidence of a humanity waking up. I am certain that, in the midst of the tents, signs, and drum circles there are endangered voices that actually seek to call attention to substance over the cacophony of generalized discontent. However, from San Francisco to New York, I am convinced of one thing more than any other. Occupy Wall Street and its massing throngs are providing vociferous outlets for dissatisfaction while the actual perpetrators go untouched. Rather than ‘waking up’ what I’ve observed is a perpetuation of illiteracy that is nothing short of staggering.
Walking up to a young man who held a sign nostalgically extolling the virtues of Glass-Steagall Act (an Act whose date he couldn’t recall and which he acknowledged never reading despite his printed insistence on bringing it back), I asked him why he was advocating for broader powers for the Federal Reserve. Which part of the currency provisions or rediscounting government and commercial debt was he advocating? He looked at me in complete bewilderment. He and several other Occupites ‘knew’ that this Act’s return would wedge depository banks and investment banking activities apart. And, having explained to him the actual effect of the 1932 and 1933 legislative efforts of Senators Carter Glass (D-VA) and Henry Steagall (D-AL), he responded, “I never knew what this meant,” and then proceeded to walk away, text a message into his iPhone and then move comfortably away before re-hoisting his sign.
Here’s the Shakespearean irony: the young man is pretty sure that something is wrong. He’s right. But calling for an Act that set in motion many of the actual problems which have enabled the greatest wealth transfer in the world’s recorded history leading to the greatest financial resource disparity (still burgeoning with each drumbeat at the Park) is like asking the Inquisitor for extra wood at the stake. Responding to the reflex of injustice without taking the time (or having the attention span to understand the root of injustice) not only perpetrates greater abuse but allows the perpetrators to persist in anonymity. In short, mass uprisings in ignorance are NOT indicators of positive social change. We don’t need ‘ideas’ for organizing – we need in-depth inquiry and financial literacy. In our faux embrace of pluralistic catharsis, we’ve created a smoke-screen behind which the actual Machiavellian tragedy plays on.
There is a path to be informed. The system is easily understood. And, as a person working to build a new economic framework, I am convinced that the 99% occupying parks are as connected by and complicit in their ignorance of the system they perceive to be abusing them as their alleged 1% foes. In fact, since the movement started, I’ve found more openness to transformation and creativity among the ‘them’ 1% than I’ve found in the “99%”. Perpetuation of collective ignorance is not enlightenment. We The People must elevate the dialogue, pick up the baskets of soiled linens dumped behind AIG’s Pine Street offices onto Maiden Lane, return to the Hudson, and wash our greed-soiled obliviousness before we’re all taken to the cleaners.