"Occupy a Desk" and the Failures of Imagination

I was scrolling through Facebook last night when I chanced upon this photo:

Wall Street Employees, 17 November 2011, via Think Progress and here
The comments seemed to echo a common theme: God, what douchebags. A few people had the grace to point out the factual errors in those signs: That many of those protesting did actually have jobs, and that their presence at Occupy Wall Street (or any of the other Occupy sites) spoke less to their unemployment as it did to a strange, almost quixotic, belief in the power of protest.

But for some strange reason, seeing the photos just made me sad. I’ve spent part of today trying to figure out why, and I think I’ve come to an answer: The signs made me sad not because they’re wrong (which they are), nor because they signal a culture of entitlement (which they do), and not even because they indicate an appalling level of self-centeredness. What saddened me most about the signs was the fact that they spoke to a complete inability to imagine a world other than this one, a world in which things might be different.

But why should we want to imagine at all, much less imagine something different? The best answer I can offer - and it’s not very complete - is that I can’t find any other way to deal with the world around me. But the imagination also provides something else: A means to try to begin to understand how people who seem completely different than you - say, a Wall Street employee confronting protesters in Zuccotti Park - come to believe what they do. To imagine is to admit the possibility that the world might be otherwise. To imagine is to recognize difference. But perhaps most importantly, to imagine is to recognize that the world in which we live is itself the product of a kind of imagination. There is a history to imagination.

So what saddens me so much about this photo is the way it signals a stubborn refusal to imagine a world in which the people outside that building where they work might have something to teach them. Why not imagine a world in which things might be different? Why not just try?


Popular Posts