So when I heard the Occupy Everything movement referred to as a “MetaMovement” I thought — at last, someone has nailed my ambivalence.
It turned out I was wrong about what the coiner of that phrase meant. But here is what the MetaMovement should mean —
There is a core of the movement that is a critique of movements, a reaction against traditional forms of collective action in favor of what the organizers imagine to be the quintessential post-millennial movement.
But we’ve been through this before, haven’t we? Wasn’t Obama’s campaign, to many, a campaign about campaigns? A MetaCampaign?
Haven’t we seen this in the House, and especially the Senate, where an unwillingness to remove filibuster has resulted in an endless series of votes about votes? A MetaLegislature?
Isn’t the problem with our media that it’s a Meta-Media, endlessly talking about whether the way people are talking on TV about policies is rude, or leftist, or out of touch and how media viewers will react to that — while never analyzing the fundamental claims of the policies themselves?
In all these cases we’ve been disempowered, replacing crusade and vocation with empty ritual and navel-gazing. The means becomes the end.
I think movement politics should always be looking to evolve to more effective forms. And to some extent, that means tapping into networked approaches. But my worry is the core of the movement, just the core, mind you, is so infatuated with the supposed uniqueness of their movement and the intricacies of their anarchic procedures that as it scales it will break down.
Don’t get me wrong — I support OWS (and more particularly, all the non-OWS people who are giving up their time to do this). I support them wholeheartedly, just as I support Obama, the meta-candidate, and the Dems in our meta-legislature.
But if this succeeds — if it actually achieves important aims — it will be because at some point a critical mass of new participants overwrite its anarchic DNA with something a little more goal-focused and less process-oriented. Meta is the disease, not the cure. And the most revolutionary act in this slog of a time is to get a little less meta, and a lot more real.