Occupy Heaven?

Fatima Staff Report
January 9, 2012

Downtown and commercial districts in cities from New York to Oakland and across Europe added a new and by now universally recognizable feature in 2011: a sprawling field of multi-colored nylon tents.

Colder weather and police action have combined to reduce the number of protesters as we enter 2012, and the media, ever restless for a new story, have grown weary of the Occupy movement, so we hear less about it than formerly.

Inside the tents, or mulling around them, are the eclectic group labeled generically as “Occupy Wall Street”. So varied and complex a collection of humanity poses difficulties for print and broadcast media, whose reporters and newsreaders deal in simple sound bytes, not detailed and thoughtful analysis.

So the media have searched in vain for an encompassing apologia and its representative spokesmen. Frustration has led to annoyance, and the Occupy movement has been typically portrayed as a confused mass of idle malcontents who lack focus and clear purpose.

There may be disparity in the conclusions reached by the Occupiers, but their premise is plain and universal: An economy that has greed as its wellspring cannot promote the common good.

Capitalism, despite its apparent benefits, does not aim directly at the common good, but at personal enrichment. And such enrichment does not stop when an individual’s needs for himself and his family are adequately met. It has no limits set by law or custom. Enormous wealth thus comes to be concentrated in the hands of the very few who are able to manipulate markets and money to their advantage.

Banks and investment companies are assumed to have no moral obligation to set limits upon their acquisitions, which would provide opportunities for others to participate in economic growth. The commercial ethos is based on a winner-take-all attitude. The world is then divided into winners and losers, with little sympathy for the losers.

Most of us — most of the human race — are losers in this game. As the Occupiers have expressed it, the mass of people comprise the “99 percent”. And some representatives of the 99 percent are now questioning the assumptions of the system that has relegated them to an increasingly marginal existence. This amounts to ideological heresy in the so-called “free economy” of the West.

The irony at work among the Occupiers is that they look to the government as the protector and promoter of the common good and call for reform by way of regulation. The government, however, is in collusion with the greed-is-good crowd, and politicians rely on Wall Street to finance campaigns and to provide lucrative positions for those exiting their terms of public office.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is likely to soon fade away. Some violence may accompany its demise. It may spur some superficial reform or rhetorical sympathy; it seems doubtful of accomplishing substantial systemic change. But there is an undeniable zeitgeist that took shape in this coagulation of discontent and that will continue to find embodiment in various forms.

There are injustices inherent in our economy. There are unscrupulous profiteers and corrupt officials. And there is always the need for reform and regulation. But structural change can only inhibit opportunities for greed, not eradicate its cause. And greed, like all the sins and virtues, is a property of every human soul.

How wonderful it would be to see a tent city erected in the stony heart of our counting-house culture where people would examine their consciences to discover how we all had failed in fraternal charity. How wonderful to see communities take shape where people banded together to work and share their wealth so that they might prosper spiritually.

It happened once. There are still remnants of these communities. In the disappearing monasteries and convents of Christendom there once was a protest movement against greed — and all the other vices. One might call it Occupy Heaven. It worked, so long as it was tried. Perhaps, when we exhaust all the false alternatives, we will be ready to try it again.

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