By Ezra Silk
The Frontier Lab, a four-month old political research firm dedicated to supporting “pro-freedom civic and cultural leaders in understanding the political marketplace and more effectively selling their solutions,” has released a “breakthrough study” on Occupy Wall Street, according to its press release. It’s called, “Occupy Wall Street: Short-Selling America.”
This tiny organization — there are two “partners” — appears to be well-connected within the right-wing echo chamber, given that former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez and National Review publisher Jack Fowler sit on the Frontier Lab’s Board of Directors. Unsurprisingly, the report was recently picked up and championed as a “scientific study” by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government website, as well as the National Review’s Charles C. Cooke.
The study was researched and written by Frontier Lab partner Anne Sorock, a young woman who received a B.A. in History from Johns Hopkins and an M.B.A. from the Cornell University Johnson School. According to her profile on Big Government, Sorock “pioneered the ‘deep values’ approach to in-depth insights cultivation and market segmentation.”
Given the hilariously bad writing and remarkably superficial “insights” offered in this study, I can’t say much for the “deep values” technique. Still, the National Review is touting it as legitimate political research. So let’s take a look.
According to the study, the New Lab’s “researchers” dropped by Zuccotti Park and Occupy Chicago, and spoke to 15 of the most passionate demonstrators for an hour each. From these interviews, Sorock gleaned the following observations:
There are two types of Occupiers: the Communitarians, and the Professionals. The Communitarians, are, in short, disaffected, apolitical loners who long for a sense of community. On the other hand, the Professionals are the long-time activists who are really running the show. Occupy Wall Street is the culmination of the Professionals’ careers, and these people are now bathing in the glory of unprecedented media attention and popular support. The Professionals are using the unwitting Communitarians as their revolutionary foot soldiers, in order to satisfy their deep-seated needed for “prestige” and “validation.”
Here’s Sorock on the Communitarians:
Communitarians found substantial personal reward in attaching deep ethical, almost religious-like meaning to their presence at Occupy and to its role in achieving “social justice.” In other words, while “social justice” is the attribute of their presence at Occupy, it was not the ends, but rather a means to an inflated sense of self and purpose in their own lives. Their concerns were based on their individual needs, interests, and fears—not for the needs, interests, and fears of a larger community or future generation.
A Communitarian remarked that, upon waking each morning in the Tent City, he was struck by an overwhelming feeling of being part of a family. When queried about their formal religiosity, this segment indicated that they had grown up in largely non-religious households. One interview subject indicated that while he had grown up in a religious family, he had felt estranged due to his sexual orientation.
The Communitarians may have expressed their satisfaction at being “proactive” to correct injustices, but the value behind this satisfaction is “Security.” Security to a Communitarian means reasserting some control over their futures. The rocky job market and economic outlook means that they feel more adrift and unsure of their life plans, but for them the Occupy protests essentially translate malaise and fear into action, with a result that is both calming and empowering.
The value of “Purpose” initially begins as an appreciation for the media attention and the large numbers of fellow protesters. When probing deeper, however, these attributes eventually connect in Communitarians’ minds. Communitarians were adamant that their actions fulfilled an ethical duty to protect others; but when pressed they revealed that it was more so a sense of their own, individual self-worth—not concern for the other—that motivated their action than concern for the other. The Occupy movement, in this way, fulfills a lack of meaning and purpose in their own lives.
Now, Sorock on the Professionals:
The interview process revealed that the Professionals are motivated by a wholly separate set of values than Communitarians: “Prestige,” “Validation,” and “Control.” The individuals that make up this segment are interacting with the protests from a semi-professional standpoint: Many claim community action as their career and have been involved with various protests throughout their lifetimes. For them, the Occupy Protests represent a crowning achievement, where theory and strategy have become successful. They feel validated by the fame and attention that comes with the large numbers of sustained attendees at the protests.
The connections between attributes such as “media attention” and the amalgamation of issues represented with “Validation” are due to their direction relationship with success. So long as the movement is successful, the Professionals feel rewarded for their own life choices and sacrifices—and for waiting (in some cases for decades) for a “win.”
Finally, the Professionals’ definition of success is a movement that receives attention and achieves specific political ends. The accomplishment of this requires participation of a large number of people in order for it to be a success. This desired system allows those with experience and connections—the Professionals—to thrive within the Occupy Movement, and this segment seeks the success and implementation of these systemic changes because it affords Professionals greater “Control” over their lives and the fulfillment of their two other deep values, “Prestige” and “Validation.” While they are differently motivated from the Communitarians, there is a vital connection between the two: the Professionals are using the Communitarians to achieve the goals that will satisfy their deep-value motivations.
While I don’t agree that the entire movement can be broken down into such broad and general categories, Sorock is correct that the encampments, while they existed, had both hardcore political activists and more apolitical types simply seeking community. But the idea that the nefarious Professionals were “using” the Communitarians as their revolutionary foot soldiers — that the exploitation was a one-way street, essentially — is ridiculous. One of the biggest problems at all the encampments was that homeless people, who would generally fall under the “Communitarian” label, would show up, take the free food, drink, do drugs, and get in fights, without contributing anything to the encampment. Certainly, some of the homeless came to the occupations and became involved with the activism, but many of them did not. Many came for the camaraderie — meaning they would fall under Sorock’s relatively useless category of Communitarians — and in fact were more parasites than anything, taking advantage of the professional activists’ efforts to procure free food and other basic services.
Sorock’s main point here is to illustrate a supposed power dynamic, between the wolfish Professional leaders, and the unwitting, sheep-like Communitarians. I’ll get to that in a second.
But Sorock’s truly stunning insight here is that all these people — Communitarians and Professionals — are actually driven by ulterior motives. They only care about themselves.
“Their principal motivation was present concern for individuals,” she writes.
Even more notably, they all hate American values.
Despite the strong difference between the Communitarians and the Professionals, their deep values do overlap in a crucial aspect. Both segments’ sets of values center around abdicating power from the individual to the community. At the same time, their values focus on individual fears and desires, rather than on others.
Together, they are able to present a face to the American public that misappropriates terms for American values such as “freedom” and “responsibility” and applies them to a radical revolutionary plan that, in fact, strikes at those same values. The Professionals understand that words such as “freedom” and “crony capitalism” resonate with mainstream Americans, and have successfully swindled some into believing that they equal their deep-value motivations, which we have seen through the science, is a false interpretation.
Those that would place the Occupy protesters, particularly the Communitarians, on a Left-Right spectrum are attempting to overlay a dimension that simply cannot capture their entire essence. Neither the Communitarians not the Professionals are not driven by political ends alone, and these goals do not resonate at a deep-values level.
It is important to note that in the mental maps of both segments, there was no representation of Marxism, Anarchy, or any other political justice outcome at the value level (see appendices). Rather, Occupiers’ reasons for identifying so strongly with the movement relate to power through community and responsibility.
Because these values are less about economics or political mechanics, and more about alleviating the fear of lack of community, prestige, and success, we can expect the Occupy protesters to seek any outlets that alleviate these concerns.
It would not be a natural alliance for them to seek more empowerment in their political system because it is safety they seek, not responsibility. Similarly, they will not find common ground with the Tea Parties, who seek an increase of responsibility, and instead are susceptible to any movement or leader that offers to decrease the uncertainty and level of risk in the present-day troubles.
The values that underlie the Occupiers oppose the deep-values that support American freedom. In a sense, the Occupiers “win” when America loses—they are truly going “short” on America.
Sorock is basically saying that these people care more about feeling good about themselves than about effecting any actual legislative changes. I’m not sure how she ascertained that after speaking with fifteen people. The fact that she has the gall to call this pop-sociological nonsense “science” is telling.
But as I was saying earlier, Sorock intentionally portrays the Professionals as the nefarious exploiters of the naive and ignorant Communitarians. The Communitarians are not as evil as the Professionals. That’s because they are, apparently, ripe targets for Republican propaganda efforts.
Just as a marketer would assess its competition and build a strategy around its customer, those seeking to protect and augment the qualities of America that make it free must understand the competitive landscape within which they are fighting for share of mind. A marketer of steaks understands that there are certain markets—and products—that are disastrous to enter and develop. Pushing freedom on the Occupiers is like pushing a medium-rare ribeye steak on a vegan.
There is no way to market American freedom to the Occupy movement simply on the surface level. But there is a way to include them in a broader community of participation. Given their high need for community, it would make sense to stress how important the impact of the young, next generation will be on the future of our country. Also successful will be appeals to their desire to act ethically, so positioning freedom- and free-market-based movements as part of a larger philosophy should resonate with the Communitarians.
Many in the media and political worlds have made inaccurate conclusions about the Occupy movement because their assessments, so far, have been based on the movement’s superficial attributes—its signs and its slogans—rather than its participants’ values.
By remaining at the surface-level you are subject to almost complete swindle, as the core Occupiers’ essence hinges less on the political ends than on emotional, self-directed fulfillment. The Communitarians and the Professionals are the face of a partnership between the foot soldiers and the operatives of an attempt to change the entire U.S. system of government, rights, and values. It is vital that the public understands their deep motivations to avoid conflating signs and slogans with American values.
For free-market advocates, it is better to pursue a strategy of increased purchase frequency, greater brand loyalty, and making sure that every meat-eater knows the merits of a steak—or in this case, a free country—in his world. This initial understanding frees up a freedom-marketer to compete to win.
A freedom-marketer will also understand where he is disadvantaged. The Occupy solution has star power and visibility—but has it also saturated its market? And at its most appealing level, the Occupy solution is easy.
This is a marketplace for solutions to America’s problems. The Occupy movement presents one “solution,” a short-sell on America (it almost recalls the sale of those mortgage-backed securities). They are competing with a tougher but more rewarding solution, one that involves responsibility, care for future generations, and uncertain outcomes.
If this is the highest quality opposition research that the Right-wing’s best and brightest can come up with, Occupiers should be cheered. This is deeply wimpy stuff.
Ezra Silk is a freelance journalist reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protests. This was re-posted from his site: americaoccupied.org/