Occupy Wall Street’s surface message, cleverly backed up with the canny but fatuous “99%” slogan, is an illusion, a red herring employed in a cynical attempt to press more mainstream public unease into the service of a worldview that remains very much on the fringe. Were all of OWS’s gripes to be resolved firmly in their favor, the displeased would not suddenly consider America pure. On the contrary, by and large, the types who have occupied Zuccotti and other parks across the nation consider the United States to be an intractably racist, imperialist, unequal nation, which boasts an invidious history whose alleged crimes can be seen populating the pages of Howard Zinn’s books. As a new report concludes, “while their rhetoric might decry crony capitalism or bank bailouts, their values reveal self-centered and fear-based motivations,” and a deep hostility to capitalism and American values of individualism and limited government is thrown in for good measure.
The report, Shortselling America, reveals that, below the surface, there is a lot more going on than meets the eye, and most of it has very little to do with “social justice.” Its author, Frontier Lab, takes an interesting approach, applying techniques of market research to political science. The group’s aim is to move away from the short-term model employed by political pollsters — which, although valuable, essentially provides just a fleeting snapshot — and instead to conduct a more thorough assessment of participants’ values. From these data, they then seek to predict future behavior. An example: Surface-level polling will see consumers tell us that the reason they buy a particular dish soap is because it is green, or cheap, or conveniently sized. But research shows the deeper truth is that, overwhelmingly, people buy the same brand as their mother did. (Nobody will write that on a survey.)
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