Occupy Wall Street Debate Distracts Us From A Big Truth

by Bill Brenner on October 14, 2011

I’m fascinated by the debate raging over this “Occupy” movement. There’s a lot of truth AND exaggeration coming from both sides.

But to me the issue is a lot more basic than “laziness and entitlement” vs. “greed and bigotry.”

Mood music:

We always look for the big boogeyman, the personified evil we can shake our fist at and blame for everything that pisses us off. For some, it’s the corporate corner office. For others, it’s the illegal immigrants.

But these are just scapegoats for all the things that make us unhappy in our much smaller circles.

Some of us are conditioned to blame all our troubles on someone or something else. In the final analysis, that’s what this whole thing is about.

As a 22-year-old I remember blaming all my troubles on George H.W. Bush. I had no reason to. I was in college and didn’t have to worry about a job just yet, and I wasn’t sent to fight in the Gulf War. But I hated him anyway, and was certain Bill Clinton’s election would make everything better.

It was a stupid notion. Clinton was a good president, in my opinion, sex problems aside. But his time in power didn’t make my life better. Those were actually some of the worst years of my life. When you’re a slave to your addictions and your brain chemistry is leaking out your ear, keeping you in a depressed fog, no corporate or political leader can help you.

You have to help yourself.

When you’re in a very tough financial situation and can’t feed your family, it’s hard not to be angry at someone. But to blame it on corporate greed is to bark up the wrong tree. Corporate greed did contribute to the economic meltdown, but our own reckless spending habits contributed as well. We always want things: cell phones, cars, houses. Sometimes we collect these possessions first and worry about how to pay for it later. It’s a vicious circle, and I get caught in it as much as everyone else.

Our material pursuits always seem to mask a deeper unhappiness we have with ourselves and our messy lives.

I used to labor hard under the delusion that if I just got a particular job, all would be right with the world. When I’d get the job and discover that I was still miserable, I’d just blame it on that particular job and all the people above me. Then I’d try to find something else. I’d get another job and expect everything to be better. But things always got worse. Because I still wasn’t dealing with the core issues that made me so unhappy: Too little faith in God and too much faith in addictive substances and material things. And I continued to find bosses to blame.

I’m years into trying to reverse that order and the closer I get to the right balance, the less I seem to care about who’s in charge of the government. I also find that I don’t get so angry at the people atop the corporate ladder.

We’re all human. We screw up every day, but it’s more glaring if you’re in a position of power, be it government or business. Everyone’s watching when you screw up, and your actions end up hurting a wider group of people.

If I’ve learned anything, though, it’s that when things are going bad, nothing gets better unless I take personal responsibility.

If I wait for government to stop being corrupt and corporate execs to stop being greedy, I’ll never get anywhere.

Neither will you.

Some will say I’m oversimplifying the problem, that even when you take responsibility and work hard to succeed, it’s not enough because someone richer and more powerful is out to screw you.

Perhaps.

But engaging in class warfare oversimplifies the problem, too, because changing the people in power always seems to have limited results.

That’s true whether you’re liberal or conservative.

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