As protesting citizens in America and other nations occupy financial districts, parks and plazas across the world, they are often dismissed (at best) or forcibly displaced (at worst) by elements of the establishment that are still doing quite well, thank you. They are patronizingly indulged as naive or morally derided as whiners.
Sure they have been slow to articulate "specific demands," but one does not have to spend much time among them to grasp the scope of their worries and the immensity of the changes they feel necessary. In this they have some very sophisticated company — most of the world's thoughtful scholars looking into the future of our global community.
These scholars give substance to many worries, but I will only cite a few. The common themes in the warnings they express should give everyone on this Earth reason to pause and reflect.
Jacques Attali is a French historian and economist who has also served in government and founded and directed a major bank. Attali is passionate about democracy. In his book, A Brief History of the Future, he perceptively traces the importance of business in the history of increased individual freedom and democracy.
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The early merchant classes in European business centers became crucial to national economies and began to raise a middle class that challenged the arbitrary and centralized power of monarchs. It was the resistance of America's business class, both agricultural and mercantile that took the lead in opposing the tyranny of England's King George and supporting the American Revolution. It is not surprising, therefore, that our Constitution originally offered the vote only to men of property.
While Attali celebrates the role of business and capital in the evolution of democratic institutions, he is also alarmed that uncontrolled capitalism threatens the very democracy it has helped create. He sees growing disparities in wealth leading to the compromise, control, and ultimate destruction of democracies by wealthy corporations and elites. As global corporations exceed the capacity of nations to control them and, as world resources shrink while populations grow, he fears that a period of deadly hyperconflict will engulf the world — a conflict likely to emerge in the lifetime of today's elementary school children.
James Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, focuses on our growing energy crisis with fossil fuel rapidly declining, population exploding, and climate change in the mix. Kunstler fears that we are "sleepwalking into the future," a future that is likely to include "titanic international military strife over resources" — a future that will demand a global shift to more simple, local and sustainable life styles. Kunstler, writing in 2005, also warned that our national mortgage lending was "out of control" and that high-end homes were already beginning to sell at 20 percent below their asking price.
Jared Diamond, who has earned numerous national awards for his science and writing, gives us a powerful cautionary tale in his Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and warns us that, "Our totally unsustainable consumption means that the First World could not continue for long on its present course, even if the Third World didn't exist and weren't trying to catch up to us." Since that Third World includes India, China, Africa, and most of Latin America, that is quite an "even if."
Lester Brown, of the Earth Policy Institute, in his World on the Edge, suggests that the world is on the verge of environmental and economic collapse triggered by the same forces that concern the other writers mentioned above and that in America, only a national mobilization on a scale similar to that of World War II is capable of averting national disaster.
Brown is not talking of military mobilization, but a concentrated effort to stabilize climate and population, dramatically reduce poverty and balance our economy's natural support systems. Seeking military solutions to our impending crisis can only pour gasoline on the flames.
So the Occupy Wall Street crowds have trouble coming up with specific policies. Of course, they do. Many of them are young. They, not the elders of the current establishment, will face the future we, the truly naive ones, have helped create for them. Like many of us, my kids were the ones who taught me to recycle.
Only a massive national awakening will mobilize the expertise to develop and pursue the specifics we need and that wake-up is not visible on the horizon of either of our national political parties.