With our cities emptied of even the detritus of the Occupy movement, it's worth reflecting on why it was so utterly vacant.
It matters for the worse that the movement was such an utter and embarrassing flop, for at least three reasons.
The first is the comfort it provides to the financial orgiasts and sociopathic swindlers who overturned the disciplines of the free market and the ethical restraints of capitalism with their trough-gobbling decadence. Spared the outpouring of publicly demonstrated outrage they so richly deserve, they will carry on like the cash-making equivalent of copulating ungulates.
The second is the polarity created by the stone fecklessness of the generally peaceful Occupy movement and the bloody-minded violence of the British smash mobs last summer. If these are now the only two imaginable modes of protests, and if standing one's ground without burning things down is deemed both futile and wimpishly humiliating, what do we think the odds are that violence will become the default option in future? Hello, London?
The third reason is perhaps the most compelling of all. By engaging in public political action with all the rhetorical prowess of a zombie mime troupe, the Occupiers stand as the best evidence yet that we have become a cultural and mnemonic evacuation zone.
Only a generation devoid of the last shred of linkage to its origins and its history could conduct "civil disobedience" as such a woeful parody of the tradition of dissent that is the foundation of Western culture. Only a generation whelped on the vile triad of educational vacuity, media amnesia, and democratic puerility have imagined that their awkward, adolescent gawping in the public squares of the continent bore any resemblance to the movements for change that have occupied our past.
In this regard at least, they are right: they are the victims. In the hyperactive push of disordered progressivism over the past 30 years, we trampled and then abandoned the very things that would spare this generation the devil's bargain of protest as either aphasia or wanton destruction. Chief among the things trampled and abandoned has been the centrality and vitality of Judeo-Christian justice and charity to authentic Western progress.
For irrefutable proof its importance, there are few better places to turn than Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail, which is not just a rumbling, rolling epistolary masterpiece, nor merely one of the foundational documents of the American civil rights movement, but is a demarcation between the sharp, bright clarity of our Judeo-Christian past and the fuzzy, shadowed void of today.
To cite but one marker of the magnitude of the difference, in his 7,000-word letter written from the roach-infested squalor of a Birmingham, Alabama jail cell in 1963, King references the Old Testatment prophets, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Socrates, Jesus, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, T.S. Eliot, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Reinhold Neibuhr, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson. Off the top of his head. No Google. No Wikipedia. No notes. No books.
Indeed, as I understand it, the letter was a form of samizdat, smuggled out of the jail in sections and reassembled like a puzzle before publication. Yet King was so steeped in the very essence of his faith and his culture and his language and his intellectual antecedents, that he was able, while imprisoned within a viciously racist society, to cry out to the past, the present, and the future for genuine justice.
Who is willing to bet me $50 that barely 10 per cent of the entire continent's platoon of Occupiers would ever have been required to read Letter From Birmingham Jail? Who would be willing to bet $100 that one per cent of the Occupiers, before beginning shenanigans, studied carefully its brilliantly nuanced moral requirements for civil disobedience?
I must confess to making the bet with confidence because I have run a little test of asking a representative sample of the Occupier generation, in various contexts, if they remember certain passages of the Letter. Read passages? They haven't even heard of it. Nothing. Na-da. Radio Nowhere, in Bruce Springsteen's immortal phrase.
Is there anybody alive out there? Yes. But we've left them so vacant that it's almost a full-time occupation distinguishing the living from the dead.