We are the 99%, and we are to blame

Posted on December 10, 2011 by


Summary: The slogan ‘we are the 99%’ lets us off too easily, and lays the blame on the 1%. In reality, it is our shared values that are to blame for the crises we are facing.

Something about the Occupy Movement has been bugging me, and now I think I have come to realise what it is. The problem is that by blaming the 1%, we let ourselves off the hook too lightly. By using the catchy slogan ‘We are the 99%’ as we do, we become the victims of a small minority, completely innocent, and if it wasn’t for the greed of those at the top, all would be fine. There is a big problem with that line of reasoning – the real problems are far more widespread, far deeper, and we are part of it. If we are all aiming for the same goals, can we blame those who succeed? How many of the 99% truly have no material aspirations above the lowest level of sufficiency? How many of us could honestly say that we would have refused a seven figure salary if offered it, and asked to be paid the lowest living wage that would support us? The fact is, as painful as it is to admit, what separates us from the 1% is that they succeeded and we failed. We all wanted more – they just happened to have things work out in their favour.

Occupy Wall Street. Photo from Wikipedia.

I think we have mixed up the numbers. I would suggest that perhaps only 1% have truly made significant progress in freeing themselves from material aspirations. They are those who live as close to a sustainable life as is currently possible. They are the small minority who will only do work worth doing and won’t consider anything about money when they decide how to allocate their time. They will give, without expecting anything in return. They love the others around them far more than we love each other, and they extend that love to all areas of nature and life. They are most likely deeply religious, although they don’t necessarily state their beliefs, or participate in any structured religious organisation. They believe in a higher purpose and a higher being, but their god is unlikely to be personified. I, unfortunately, am not part of that 1%.

Next time we chant away that “we are the 99%”, it should be said with a feeling of apology, of humility, and of acceptance of the need for deeper personal reform. This unjust system has developed as a result of a materialistic society – it wasn’t put in place by a small minority, but grew out of hundreds of years of history. The pursuit of wealth and power has for millennia led to violence, and continues to do so in its modern guise. We cannot solve these problems simply by snatching power back off that ‘1%’ and redistributing their wealth. Such a solution would inevitably be temporary. Instead, we should take a deeper look at ourselves and say “I am the 99%, for which I am sorry. I hereby commit to the goal of pursuing higher goals in life than material wealth.” Such a process of reform will take more than one lifetime. It is a goal higher than the level of the individual. But it is a collective human pursuit and the more we achieve in our lifetime, the further ahead our children will begin, until at some point, many generations in the future, there will be peace.