I am unabashedly Protestant, but I can admit that I haven’t inherited too much of the “protest” part of Protestant. This comes out in my cynical attitude toward the so-called “Wall Street Protests” taking place right now. In fact, it’s hard for me not to see irony in the following picture (originally posted here):
A couple protesters are shown here taking a break in the midst of the protest.
What exactly are they protesting? We’re told “corporate greed.” Ok. I don’t particularly care for many of the greedy practices of multinational corporations and big banks either. But it’s hard for me not to be skeptical about what this particular protest will actually accomplish. (I hear similar protests are being planned in Canadian cities, including Regina and Saskatoon here in Saskatchewan…the fact that this is a different country with significantly different economic practices doesn’t seem to matter–let’s protest anyways!)
Anyways, I simply can’t imagine that some corporate CEO sitting in his lavish Wall Street office tower is sitting there telling his executives, “Hey, guys, look at all those protesters in the street way down there. We better stop being greedy. From now on, it’s Folger’s coffee for everyone–no more triple espresso latte machiatto frappacinos!”
Now look closely at the picture. What are these two doing? Both (one of whom is apparently a “homeless blogger”…?) are enjoying a drag from (presumably) a cigarette produced by some massive corporate tobacco company. Both are catching up on their Facebook accounts (no greed going on at that company, right?) while checking their Gmail, and Twitter accounts, and Googling the latest news of protests in other cities. Thankfully they were able to tap into the public wifi service provided by some such corporate entity like Verizon! Oh, and aren’t we so glad that Facebook and Google and Twitter, at least, are all about doing what they are doing for reasons other than corporate profit? (But I digress…) Of course, this is all accomplished on the latest laptops produced by non-greedy corporate computer manufacturers. (Do a quick count of how many laptops show up in this picture representing no more than 50 square feet…I found 5!) Hmmmm…
Well the good thing is that these two won’t get thirsty. Good ol’ Coca Cola and FIJI bottled water imported direct from Fiji by a US-based company! Ya, the drinks of corporate greed protestors!
Listen, I don’t have a neat answer to how to change corporate greed. It probably has something to do with the propensities of the human heart, one would think, and there’s not many things from a human perspective we can do to change that apart from good ol’ repentance and turning to God. That said, I don’t necessarily want to insist that the Wall Street protests are pointless. Maybe they will have some good effect.
But I do want to insist that I have little hope that these protests can have much effect when they are opposing something as slippery and abstract as “corporate greed.” At least protesters in places like Libya were clear on what they were hitting the streets to protest–the ongoing tyranny of crackpot dictator. It isn’t all that clear, however, in the case of the Wall Street protests exactly what concrete thing is being protested. What is supposed to change, other than some faceless corporate CEO’s and cronies taking a substantial pay cut? Frankly, even if they do take a pay cut, I have significant doubts that the root problem of greed will have been dealt with. Indeed, if the protests actually are able to succeed in concrete reduction of the greed of the corporate leaders, these leaders will likely do so only to retain their customers’ loyalty to their product.
In other words, if Dell and Coca Cola leaders, for example, made a public announcement that they were going to cut salaries of the top 10% of salaries in their company, wouldn’t it finally be in hopes that the two individuals in the picture noted above would choose a Dell for their next laptop and to drink Coca Cola, in good conscience, at the next protest?