The Occupy Wall Street camp of Zuccotti Park was founded on shared beliefs. The campers were upset with crony capitalism and they were fed up with the country’s political system. Everyone in Zuccotti Park stood together and belonged to the 99 percent. They had left their comfortable homes behind and pitched some tents, in an effort to show what a peaceful world — without the greedy money driven individuals — looks like.
For a few weeks, the protesters stood as a united front. Two months later, it appears that the honeymoon phase might have ended. With time, the camp naturally started to divide into cliques. Campers who shared similar interests, ideologies and ways of life grouped together in microcosms.
Samantha Bee of The Daily Show was the brains behind a satirical video that portrayed two sides of the OWS hemisphere: “Uptown” and “Downtown” Zuccotti. In “Uptown Zuccotti,” Bee found campers who lived in peace and harmony. They respected each other’s tents. Technology was thriving and the environment fostered research and innovation; one man was filmed brewing espresso from a bicycle-powered machine.
Bee portrayed these campers as the intellectuals who were motivated to work and keep their minds sharp. On the other hand, the Downtown camp was exposed as a completely different scene. Bee went as far as to call the camp a “ghetto”; it was dirty and the air was thick with noise pollution from the drum groups. The campers she interviewed expressed laziness and disrespect for their communal habit, and as a result, they were all equally residing in a filthy space. Downtown was a classic example of what economists call Tragedy of the Commons.
In reality, the divisions in Zuccotti were not as black and white as Bee’s comedic film suggested. However, just a few days earlier Lila Shapiro of The Huffington Post explored the Zuccotti camp and described budding “micro-neighborhoods” that were quite similar to Bee’s Uptown & Downtown. Shapiro found the divisions existed between east and west. On the Westside, Shapiro noticed groups of anarchists and drummers, while the “bureaucratic leaders” resided on the Eastside.
How can it be, that a group of people who were founded on shared ideologies, and vowed to stand up for justice and equality, couldn’t even stick together? You would think, that when they were literally living and breathing for the same, single cause, their determination to remain a united front would be stronger than any outside force?Shapiro notes:
Most occupies say that the divisions in the park are a reflection of society at large… and like the city, Zuccotti Park isn’t just a two-level society. Inside the 33,000 square-foot cement rectangle in downtown Manhattan where protesters have now been sleeping for 54 days lives a multi-dimensional world with increasingly specific foot-by-foot divisions, reflecting increasing divides among protesters.
Bee’s comedic video is an obvious exaggeration, but the moral behind her Zuccotti fable still holds. Zuccotti Park turned out to be an unintended social experiment.
What happens when we deliberately try to create a leaderless, anarchic society that’s founded in socialist values of equality and communal ownership? The final outcome was spontaneous, completely unintentional and starkly indicative of human nature. When big groups try to live together and share ownership of all resources, some will work hard and otherwise will free ride.
The diligent workers will eventually get sick of providing for the lazy and they will branch off. They will put their creative minds to use and discover the fruits of innovation. They will prosper and privatize their property, while the lazy will fall behind and live in communal poverty. The emergence of an elite, leadership group is imminent and natural as well. Both Bee and Shapiro noted that a “General Assembly” had emerged in Zuccotti. Bee stumbled upon this small group ironically meeting in the Deutsche Bank lobby. A few campers told Shapiro that the leadership group met to discuss societal rules and protection of campers within the park.
The campers understood money to be the cause of inequality and injustice. In such a money-less camp, surely equality would be feasible? Not at all. Because here’s the thing: money is just a medium of exchange. A currency is valuable because we assign value to it. Inequality does not exist because of money. Some campers thought that when money was removed from the equation, there would be no inequality. Even though all inhabitants started off on the same possession-less foot, they eventually managed to hoard and create possessions that they assigned different degrees of value to. Wealth was apparent in the 3,000 volume library.
Bee asked a man if he’d be willing to share his iPad with other campers. After all, if the protestors believe in equality for the 99 percent, shouldn’t they put their money where their mouth is and share? The man replied with a blunt “no”, citing the fact that he valued “personal property”. Economically, this makes perfect sense. Why would he ever have an incentive to share his expensive toy with a group of individuals who have demonstrated nothing but carelessness and irresponsibility? Shapiro spoke with a camper who said that folks on the east side of the park had found a way to earn money and generate wealth. This seemingly spontaneous emergence of work and wealth goes to show that individuals will always find an incentive to work so that they become wealthier and better off.
The lessons learned from the Zuccotti tale are really important. It’s proof that both anarchy and communism, the two opposing extremes, are really difficult to accomplish in reality, because both are not systems that are wired to work with human nature. In reality, inequality is part of human society. We are all biologically different; we are not identical by nature, so why should we deliberately try to force ourselves to be the same? Humans should be free to choose to life a prosperous life and they should be free to choose where to live. We often choose friends and boyfriends/girlfriends who are similar to ourselves. Birds of the same feather flock together and it’s both impossible and unnatural to try to foster a society to live otherwise.