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"A world of pure imagination": How Occupy turned to anarchy

In the closing ceremonies of London's 2012 Summer Olympics, comedian Russell Brand, perched atop the Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" bus, opened his performance by singing the first lines of "Pure Imagination" from the movie Willy Wonka:

Come with me
And you'll be
In a world of
Pure imagination
Take a look
And you'll see
Into your imagination

We'll begin
With a spin
Traveling in
The world of my creation
What we'll see
Will defy

Just over a year later, fresh off his worldwide "Messiah Complex" comedy tour, Brand would become something of a countercultural icon for a widely-seen BBC interview, followed by a series of editorials and interviews in the British and American press, including a role as guest editor of the New Stateseman, in which he wondered:

Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political and economic system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot. Is utopian revolution possible? The freethinking social architect Buckminster Fuller said humanity now faces a choice: oblivion or utopia. We’re inertly ambling towards oblivion, is utopia really an option?

Brand’s excoriation of the political class felt to many like a breath of fresh air. But while Brand’s humor-infused brew of Marxism, anarchism and New Age spirituality may seem like the mere rantings of a rebellious entertainer who frequently refers to himself as a "Jungian Trickster," I would argue he represents a more dangerous omen.

The Occupy Wall Street "movement" (if there ever was such a thing) – and emerging generations of young Americans more generally – is being led by Brand and other pied pipers away from practical reality and into an illusory "world of pure imagination". What in 2009 had the makings of a New Deal-oriented mass strike upsurge is being steered off course by Wall Street interests in a rehash of 1968.

Occupy: just another "Situation"

Most casual observers will remember Occupy Wall Street (OWS) as disorganized mobs of young leftists expressing their anger at the rich and powerful. What they may not recall is that the Occupy movement:

1) Came on the heels of very large, very mainstream mass movements for union rights in Wisconsin and Ohio. Compare the estimated 100,000 workers demonstrating for collective bargaining rights in the middle of February outside the Madison, WI Capitol building to the comparatively small "Tea Party" rallies of 2009 that nevertheless drew widespread media coverage and led to a massive schism in the Republican party.

2) Happened with the memory of the 2009 Wall Street bailout still fresh in the minds of the protestors.

OWS was initiated, organized, and funded in part by AdBusters, a Canadian "anti-consumerist" outfit. AdBusters, whose magazine can be found on advertising agency coffee tables the world round, was by its founders admission inspired by the Situationist International, which became known for its role in France's 1968 student strikes that nearly brought down the decade-old regime of Charles de Gaulle.

De Gaulle was by most accounts an excellent leader who owed his tenure to France's rapid industrialization and improvements in living standards – based on his "dirigisme," a variation on Hamilton and Lincoln's "American System of Political Economy". The Situationists emerged against a backdrop of some social and economic turmoil, in which a coalition of French communists and socialists had formed to challenge the de Gaulle regime. The Situationists were mostly avant-garde artists and activists like filmmaker Guy DeBord and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (then known as "Dany le Rouge", now a German politician and member of the EU parliament), who presented themselves as the intellectual force behind the events of May 1968.

And what were the issues that engaged some 11 million French workers and students in protests, riots and spontaneous "wildcat" strikes? According to the Situationists, it was not the cost of living, unemployment or any other kitchen table issue, but abstractions like "social alienation" and "commodity fetishism." The Situationists used artistic methods known by AdBusters as "culture jamming" – the goal of which is to effect psychic dislocation between the public and modern life itself. One famous 1968 poster declared, "Beneath the paving stones: the beach!" – the idea being that a perfect primeval past had been paved over by a corrupt civilization, with a hint for activists to use actual paving stones as weapons against the police.

At their core, both the Situationists and the AdBusters networks steering OWS were anarchists. AdBusters contributor David Graeber was considered by many to have been the intellectual force behind the movement. Graeber has been employed as an academic anthropologist by Yale and the London School of Economics. His field of expertise is the study of primitive "gift societies" like those in Madagascar where he did his field work. Somehow his sojourn amongst these "noble savages," noted for their historic practices of cannibalism and black magic, qualified him to publish books and countless articles on economics, democracy, the history of debt and other subjects. In an essay for The Baffler, he summarized his political program as follows:

"At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity. This might seem a strange thing to say—our knee-jerk reaction to every crisis is to assume the solution is for everyone to work even more, though of course, this kind of reaction is really precisely the problem—but if you consider the overall state of the world, the conclusion becomes obvious. We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace."

How mass discontent against the multi-trillion dollar bailout of JPMorganChase, Goldman Sachs and other bankrupt financial institutions was channeled into buttressing an agenda to reduce economic production (think infrastructure, cars, food, energy, etc.) may require a conspiracy theory. Suffice it to say, Graeber was and is not alone in his outlook. As Timothy Leary succeeded in getting a certain number of anti-war protestors to "turn on, tune in and drop out," OWS leadership turned righteous indignation into irrationalism. Occupy started with tremendous political potential and became something of a middle-class laughing stock for its stated demand of "no demands." What was expected to produce political reform became instead an unwashed, "leaderless" mob camping in the park, marching across bridges to nowhere, and claiming to have "changed the conversation," a change which was sadly short-lived.

Perhaps this bleak assessment is overstated, considering the media's blackout on demands within the movement – which are said to have included hard-hitting economic issues like the 1% Wall Street Sales Tax (cited by no less than AdBusters founder Kalle Lasn and Nationalizing the Federal Reserve – in favor of interviews with unelected leaders like Graeber, LSE colleague Naomi Klein and other foundation-funded anarchists. Chris Hedges, while not reproving anarchism per se, identified the insidious presence of "Black Bloc" anarchists as a cancer in the movement, certain to destroy any support from middle America. The OWS rank and file ultimately fell in line for ridiculous process antics like consensus government and the "human microphone," which in one infamous incident got US Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis denied the opportunity to address a small assembly in Atlanta.

Occupying the mind: return of the "psychedelic elite"

After the last Occupier went home and the parks were hosed down, OWS seemed to suffer a prolonged hangover. Despite some key victories for new legislators like Senator Elizabeth Warren, anything resembling a New Deal coalition has largely confined itself to more parochial issues like gay marriage and marijuana, with Wall Street remaining somewhat more free from public ire than in 2009-11.

During this time, elements of OWS have taken on new forms, and the first hints are emerging that the next faux-revolution is underway. OWS' rebirth, if Wall Street gets its way, will lose much of its populist veneer and will take the form of a "Magical Mystery Tour," adopting the methods used in 1968 to derail the movement against the Vietnam war with Woodstock-like mass situations (ie the Burning Man festival), psychedelic drugs, the occult and the New Age, and the loss of coming generations to social alienation and population reduction.

With a growth in the popularity of psychedelic drugs like ayahuasca, we should underscore their historical importance as tools of mass cultural control. The psychedelics that played a central role in cementing the hippies and other subcultures of the late 1960s were provided en masse by the CIA, as detailed in books like Acid Dreams. The agents behind their popularization turned out in most cases to be agents of British and American intelligence like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, the Grateful Dead—the latter of the two (Kesey and the Dead's Robert Hunter), along with others like "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, having been participants in the CIA's clandestine MKUltra program. Psychedelic mushrooms were popularized by R. Gordon Wasson, a vice president of public relations for JPMorgan bank, one-time chair of the elite Council on Foreign Relations, and confrere of figures like ousted CIA chief Allen Dulles. Wasson co-authored The Road to Eleusis with LSD pioneer Albert Hofmann, tracing the programmatic use of psychedelic-fueled "mystery rites" back to Ancient Greece.

Hints of psychedelia began to re-emerge during OWS. One example was the presentation of "Social Dreaming" seminars by London's notorious Tavistock Institute, where residents of OWS' "tent city" were guided through the process of collective dreaming and psychoanalysis. Tavistock figured heavily in the creation of the 1960s hippie culture, where it played a parallel role to the CIA and cutouts like the Esalen Institute.

The #WaveOfAction

On April 4, 2014, a group of former Occupiers launched the "Wave of Action" to some media fanfare. The Wave of Action, which culminates on July 4 of this year,  announced its arrival with viral videos featuring voiceovers by Russell Brand, the late Terrence McKenna (another psychedelic pioneer and admitted government agent) and others. There is reason to suspect the name of the group is based on McKenna's "Timewave Zero" theory about cycles of history culminating in social transformation. Profiles of the group's organizers suggest a marked shift away from academic Marxism and anarchism, and toward New Age philosophy, psychedelic drugs and similar phenomena. Notable among the organizers:

Daniel Pinchbeck is something like the Timothy Leary of our day, and can be read and watched widely in popular media, and in association with figures like OWS' David Graeber, Russell Brand and New Age "grand dame" Barbara Marx Hubbard. Pinchbeck, the son of Jack Kerouac's paramour Joyce Johnson, is most known for his research and ideas regarding shamanism, ancient prophecy and the Amazon psychedelic ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is exploding in popularity, with impressionable 20-somethings traveling to South America by the thousands for ceremonial "trips" that are reminiscent of the aforementioned Eleusian mystery rites.

Patricia Marx Ellsberg is the wealthy daughter of toy icon Louis Marx, and wife of CIA "whistleblower" Daniel Ellsberg. Ellsberg's anti-military "Pentagon Papers" deflected attention from the CIA, including the role of the overtly satanic Phoenix Project and related operations in which CIA operatives like Ellsberg systematically mass murdered (allegedly with the aid of psychedelics and mind control) tens of thousands of North Vietnamese citizens in unspeakable fashion.

Mrs. Ellsberg is also the sister and collaborator of Pinchbeck's collaborator and likely patron Barbara Marx Hubbard, an octagenarian prophetess and sponsor of the New Age, who has been funded for decades by the Rockefeller foundation, who has run various "spiritual" programs for the United Nations, and who has issued such prophecies as:

"The choice is: Do you wish to become a natural christ, a universal human, or do you wish to die? People will either change or die. That is the choice."

"We, the elders, have been patiently waiting until the last moment before quantum transformation. The destructive one-fourth must be eliminated from the social body."

"We are in charge of God's selection process for planet Earth. He selects, we destroy. We are the riders of the Pale Horse, death...We do this for the sake of the world.

A pattern of social change to alienate and reduce the population

Based on the underwhelming reception of its 4/4/14 inaugural events, the "Wave of Action" is unlikely to produce any lasting results, but it does offer a glimpse into the program of the ruling class to destroy the New Deal once and for all, by pushing younger generations out of social struggle and into the realms of "pure imagination," where they will increasingly lose any notion of their economic rights to a decent education, employment, family, retirement, and protections from exploitation by financiers and corporate power.

  • Drugs – Ayahuasca and related psychedelics loom large in the counterculture. One of the world's most popular podcasts, The Joe Rogan Experience, provices a revealing glimpse into the highly lucrative nexus of psychedelics, alternative medicine, mixed martial arts fighting, body building, pornography and New Age spirituality. Increasingly, these "shamanic" experiences are seen as pasttimes of enlightened seekers rather than recreation for burnouts. To pharmacopeia, one could add transcendental meditation, yoga (both favorites of Russell Brand), psychoanalysis and similar forms of mental catharsis.
  • Pornography – Pornographic films and images have been made universally available by the internet, and are being pushed into the mainstream. This has had predictable consequences on marital fidelity, premarital sex, mental health, etc. A visit to the Huffington Post website will confirm the agenda to make pornography seem like a normal part of daily life, rather than the preserve of "dirty old men." Russell Brand is an admitted sex addict, and his “Messiah Complex” takes “make love not war” to pornographic extremes.
  • Nihilism/materialism – Hip hop culture, pop music, Hollywood and other forms of entertainment increasingly promote mindless violence, materialism, moral ambiguity and occult themes – even to children – as documented amply by websites like Vigilant Citizen.
  • “Alternative lifestyles” – Without wading into the waters of moral judgement on the ever-expanding array of non-traditional sexual relations, it is hard to deny the decline of the nuclear family as a lifestyle, and the attendant reduction of population. Underpopulation has become a serious crisis in countries like Japan and Russia, whose populations are both aging and reducing, with a heavy toll placed on social services and economic production.
  • Environmentalism and the New Age – Global warming activism was not prominent in the original Occupy movement, but plays an increasing role under groups like Wave of Action, with a New Age bent and an almost religious zeal. Young Americans have never witnessed a functioning industrial economy, and are more easily convinced than their forbears that humans amount to nothing more than a disease on the earth, and that the future must therefore be based on a reduced population of neo-pagan tribalists rather than a growing population supported by advances in science and technology.
  • “Hacktivism” – The group "Anonymous," with its trademark Guy Fawkes masks (the original banker patsy), is playing a more prominent role in the formation of new political groups. Young activists have rallied around figures like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, who represent the chimeric information economy and a general mistrust of government bureaucracy. This vein connects to the New Age intelligentsia, generally organized in groups like the World Future Society and TED Talks. Politically, the spectrum is increasingly blurred between left-anarchists and right-libertarians, neither of which group has any notion of an industrial economy and are thus susceptible to fantasies about the potential of decentralization and information technologies.
  • Tribalism – Demands for good government are giving way to the demand for no government. The "After Party," another group created from remnants of OWS, is claiming to represent the next American revolution, based on indigenous rights, urban gardens, alternative currencies, listening to the “simple wisdom of children”, and similar demands. On the other end of the spectrum, libertarian supporters of Ron Paul have combined similar themes with gun fetishism and the cartoonish “rugged” patriotism of the John Birch Society.

Know Thy Enemy

The common thread of Occupy's successors (which was to a large degree true of Occupy itself) has been the misidentification of the enemies of society, and therefore the lack of effective (if any) political demands.

As has been known since the time of Plato, our enemy is neither ourselves, "capitalism," (if taken simply to mean the private organization of resources for economic production), nor government bureaucracy, but oligarchy – an open conspiracy of non-productive, parasitical, organized wealth. OWS at least pushed the idea of the 99% vs. the 1%, but failed to elaborate. The enemy is not "the wealthy" per se, which could simply mean an industrial entrepreneur with a net worth in the millions. Oligarchs are those benefitting from:

  • Financial speculation: Not just "bankers," but those involved in derivatives speculation, real estate speculation, "equity investment" (like BlackRock, State Street, Prudential, et al – who dominate the ownership of corporate stock), leveraged buyout, etc.
  • Cartels (oil, gas, food, mining, etc.), which are not so much industrial corporations as hedge funds using their industrial monopoly to dominate the financial markets.
  • "Disaster capitalism," like the oligarchs that crashed Russia's economy in the 1990s, the super-rich use political clout to effect “creative destruction” of entrenched interests, and to pick up the pieces for pennies on the dollar.
  • Trusts and foundations – family or personal fortunes associated with names like Walton, Koch, Rockefeller, Gates, Soros and others are able to exercise control not just of corporations, but of politics, extending even into overt political revolutions like the role of George Soros' Open Society Institute in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere.

If we take this to be a fair assessment of our enemy, how will we benefit politically by taking hallucinogens, indulging in sexual excess or cutting our carbon footprints? The ruling elite does not fear our “spiritual awakening” or our empty threats to “go off the grid.”

Toward a real movement

What oligarchy truly fears is an economy organized around the interests of the majority, backed by government force. It is the program of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who boldy declared of oligarchy, “they hate me, and I welcome their hatred!’ Today, the program of the United Front Against Austerity is the clearest and most genuine such program, capable of wresting power from oligarchy and restoring it to the people. It is in essence an updated elaboration of Franklin D. Roosevelt's unfinished “economic bill of rights.”

Imagination and self-exploration certainly have their place, but without a practical method to seize power in service of the greater good, what's left of Occupy Wall Street, and what seems to be coming, is essentially a self-inflicted Opium War. Our young people are being hoodwinked, detached from reality and set adrift on a sea of irrationality. It's time to get real.