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The Psychology of Occupy Wall Street

Some people will see anything they want to see in any particular movement or demonstration. Movements like Occupy Wall Street are like a Rorschach Inkblot Test — although it’s just ink on a piece of paper, you can see the future and the past in every blot.

Psychologist and psychoanalyst Todd Essig sees what he wants to see in the movement. When contrasting it with the Tea Party, he idealizes the motivations and focus of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, as though they were all joined together in a common cause (other than the cause to agitate for change, something President Obama actually started more than 4 years ago).

What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is to understand how people who have such a deep understanding of psychology and insight can’t see how they turn such demonstrations into their own personal Rorschach test.

17 Comments to
The Psychology of Occupy Wall Street

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  1. I strongly suggest you go down to “Occupy Boston” since that is where you live and attend a “G.A” (general assembly” meeting before you write anything else about the “Psychology ” of Occupy . Just a suggestion.

  2. Has anyone else realized just how long this Occupy Wall Street thing has gone on? It’ll be a month tomorrow, and it’s about to hit 2.5 Million Seconds!

  3. Wow – First day off since Oct. 1 – I’d like to Thank You #NYPD. You are both careful and wonderfully patient with these moronic anti-American protesters. Keep up the good work #NYPD. And please make sure you arrest all the unruly protesters. especially the ones that made a mockery and a mess of my beautiful city. God Bless America! God Bless Capitalism! God Bless NY! God Bless the #NYPD Oh! And thanks to my bank that clears my 235K a year paychecks! Bless my Home! Bless My Summer Home! Bless My Boat! Bless My Trucks! Stay safe #NYPD

  4. I remember when the rift was started between American’s when the Beatles came. Up until then everyone thought everyone believed what the television told us we all believed. Then the Beatles came and divided everyone as to whether you liked them or not. It got us all talking. We also started talking about other things and found out we weren’t alone. We found a whole new America that believed the same as we did. The early division about the Beatles ended up bringing many, many people together. Not everyone was on board in the beginning but a movement grew.

    The corruption of our fiat money may be root reason for the, “Occupy er’s” and the “99% er’s”. Maybe this will help make the danger of fiat money clear. Imagine you and me are setting across from each other. We create enough money to represent all of the world’s wealth. Each one of us has one SUPER Dollar in front of him. You own half of everything and so do I. I’m the government though. I get bribed into creating a Central Bank. You’re not doing what I want you to be doing so I print up myself eight more SUPER Dollars to manipulate you with. All of a sudden your SUPER Dollar only represents one tenth of the wealth of the world! That isn’t the only thing though. You need to get busy and get to work because YOU’VE BEEN STIFFED with the bill for the money I PRINTED UP to get YOU TO DO what I WANTED.

    That to me represents what has been happening to the economy, and us, and why so many of our occupations just can’t keep up with the fake money presses.

    P.S. No matter how much real money people can put together to build their countries the way they want, there are those that can print up what ever it takes to dictate their way.

  5. Ink Blots

    Confusing rant you offer here. Are you grateful for living in the greatest country or not? What the OWS people are talking about is not about government imposing on our lives. They ARE talking about the plutocrats in this country, the 1% who have political influence, vast wealth, PACs, Super PACs and multiple shell corporations and phony think tanks that they use to distort and exploit our government. If we didn’t have politicians with votes-for-sale, if we had real limits on campaign spending, if we had regulation and transparency of lobbiest funding, we might have a bit of democracy in this country. The 99% movement knows that the proverbial small business person is part of the 99% – unless you make about $10 million per year you are part of the 99% – it is just hard for most people to realize just how much money the top eschelons actually have.. The Kock brothers, for example, can spend several million dollars a year influencing politicians; They must have a pretty “Return on Investment” on that money or they wouldn’t keep pouring it on.

    • I am definitely in the 99% and agree with probably more than 90% of what I’ve seen the Occupy Wall Street folks seem to be demanding. The unofficial list of demands are pretty straight-forward… if not overwhelming (well, I’ve seen various lists, so I’m not sure which is which).

      However, I’m of the mundane perspective that in order to reform a system, you need to work within that system. Banging on the door from the outside just doesn’t bring the same results (at least that’s been my experience).

      Which is to say, perhaps I’m just expressing my frustration that the movement doesn’t actually start… well, moving forward from the street protests into something more organized and results-oriented. (Sorry, that’s the forever pragmatist in me.)

  6. Interesting perspective, but…”I live in the greatest society on Earth”. Are you for real?? A perspective from Australia…

    Your average cost of health care s $12,000 p/a, Aussi’s pay about $600 p/a (in many countries its free, and often of a higher standard). Many cant pay your ‘obscene’ premiums of course. As a result the UN rate your health system in the top 30’s, down there with Slovenia. Your education system is similarly rated, and for the non-wealthy, almost non-existent due to budget cuts. Your unemployment rate is 9% and will not recover for years, if ever. You waste trillions of $$ invading countries for no good reason, and your political system is so non functional to be approaching that of a failed state. As ‘great’ countries go, the US is not even in the top 10. See Aust, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Swiss just to name a few, as great places to live.

    Its clear the US economic and political system doesn’t work, and like any hardline economic system (i.e. laisse faire capitalist system which it is), just like extreme communism, it is doomed to fail. There are many ‘middle ground’ northern European countries, and Australia, Canada, who are largely unaffected by the current financial crises because they haven’t taken the tea-party no regulation route – which is a road to further financial ruin.

    This is what these protests are about. And they are going on all over the world. We are sick of the corporations, and people, making billions, and not contributing enough back to society. The US was great when the wealthy were paying 70% tax; and the conservatives want companies and the rich to pay less tax? Seriously?? If you elect these people, ‘failed state’ is more likely the outcome than ‘greatest society’ for the US.

    • I don’t disagree with much of what you say… but I am a little leery of using the catch-all phrase “corporations,” since, technically, I run such a company. I think we want to say “large, multi-national global corporations that make more than $XX per year” to be clear. I want such large corporations to pay their fair share in taxes.

      I saw Bill Maher last night live here in Boston and he hit the nail on the head in terms of our deficit problem. Stop the wars tomorrow and bring on higher taxes for the richest Americans, and the deficit problem would be solved. We need more work than that — reforming corporate tax structures, more financial regulation, ensuring the “too big to fail” crap doesn’t happen again.

      But yeah, I’m going to stick with my personal claim that I live in the greatest country on Earth. Call it a sense of national pride and honor. We’re not “#1” in many statistics that matter, but we’re still a fun place to live.

  7. You sound like a reasonable bloke who is groping for a reason to dislike the Occupiers. Others commenters have already presented compelling arguments why you of all people should be joining the OWS protesters. What has happened in the US in the last few decades is corporatism run amok. Large corporations and their lobbyists write the laws that are rubber-stamped by our politicians. These corporate entities have liberated themselves from any responsibility, including the need to pay corporate taxes by shifting the tax burden to people like you, and yet these corporations benefit from a level of corporate welfare that you can only dream about. Taken to its logical conclusion, this is an accelerating race to the bottom. So, unless you are a large corporation, a politician, or obscenely rich, you need to be with the Occupiers.

    • On the contrary, I want to like them very much. It’s just that, at the end of the day, they need to do something more… they need to bold and aggressive in all the ways the President and our other leaders have generally failed to do (so far).

  8. Believing in a cause and expressing that belief can be two separate processes. If you cannot coherently express what you feel are true needs and responsible desires, and allow others to co-opt the process with more insidious and disruptive agendas, then the message at the end of the day is basically verbal salad well tossed.

    The Tea Party, from my point of view, is extremist Republican agendas that spout the philosophy of “it’s my way or no way”, not to be confused with an alternative point of “my way or the highway”, if the House and Senate Reps who are Tea Party representatives echo the party message correctly. And this Occupy Movement is the polar opposite for the liberal camp, but again, “it’s my way or no way”, as they espouse the end of cultural standards, that if maintained correctly those cultural standards do have healthy and appropriate boundaries.

    So, dictatorship, or anarchy. Wow, what a choice, in the end you still have to fend for yourself if you allow either extreme to set the rules.

    Being moderate these days is an endangered species. But, I will not pick an extreme point of view side. Because, again in my opinion, this is about addiction trying to rule the world. It’s not addicts of chemicals though, it is addicts of money and power. Whether they wear American Revolutionary garb, hippie standards, or just a coat and a tie, they all share the same agenda: “give us your money, we need it, we deserve it, and you only hamper our needs!”

    Good luck making sense of senseless things!

  9. The American Revolution was not so orderly as you said. There were many disagreements and tons of ideas that were put off. Even some of our founding fathers were loyalists until it was untenable to support the Crown further. It was messy, except in your Texas-published textbooks. You mentioned our Declaration of Independence. They left it to Jefferson to write so that one voice could shine through. The Occupations have just started, and like most revolutions, they take shape gradually.

  10. This is a forum dedicated to psychology and mental health. So in the spirit of that, I will offer my 2 cents. What is it we all want, the human mind quest for in life, I believe it is to have a body that is nourished (food), physically and emotionally secure (shelter), and warm (clothing). Not having ample amounts of these makes us anxious. The psychology as we moved from an agricultural based society/ economy where every parent was a “stay at home” parent, children were raised as assets to the family livelihood (the more family you had the bigger farm and level of protection you had), we were all generally self sustaining, and we had an understanding of actions and consequences changed as our society grew. When we moved into and industrial/ service based society where first fathers, (then to keep up with the “Jones'”) mother went into the workforce, single parenthood became common, kids were thrown into daycare at 12 weeks, raised by a school system, extreme dependency on money, and a slow degradation of our understanding of consequences for our actions followed. Basically we lost our ability to trust. We lost our connection to both past and future. We lost our “freedom”. We have become the “borderline society” that a few had predicted a half a century ago.

    The OWS movement seems to be an awakening of people who don’t know exactly what is wrong, but they are angry and frustrated by not being able to obtain food, shelter and clothing at adequate levels. We have lost our value of life and time. I am nearly certain at the heart of this frustration is demonstrated here. .

    People need to find value in their lives again or they will start acting like people with nothing to loose.

    I am part of the 99%.

  11. I just wonder why you bothered with a response to Essig’s essay, or even bothered to get bothered. His piece really missed the mark if substance was what Essig was aiming for, and responsive essays to such an essay aren’t likely to be of substance either. Personally, I thought he was drunk.
    I like to let my writing go stale for a few hours so that I don’t fire off something that is mostly acting out. The presence of all of that analysis in your essay fails to speak for me or to challenge me.

  12. We essentially have had modern-day bank robbers — except that they wore gray suits and not masks — and there’s been no accountability for it Every day we see energy speculators, war profiteers, managed health-care providers, media propagandists, and/or financiers of Wall Street given some unfair advantage over the average consumers and taxpayers, and the cumulative effect of the American people watching selfishness prevail over the public interest has been an undermining of the public’s trust in government. There’s no question the system is rigged against the little guy. The Wall Street interests have a lot more information. They jerry-rig the system so that they always win. Oligarchy is political power based on economic power. And it’s the rise of the Wall Street in economic terms, that it’d turn into political power. And Wall Street then feed that back into more deregulation, more opportunities to go out and take reckless risks and– and capture huge amounts of money. The American democracy was not given to us on a platter. It is not ours for all time, irrespective of our efforts. Either people organize and they find political leadership to take this on, or we are going to be in big trouble. That’s absolutely the heart of the problem. I would also say and tell you, and emphasize, these Wall Street people will not come out and debate with us. The heads of Wall Street or their representatives, they will not come out. They’re afraid. They don’t have the substance. They don’t have the arguments. We have the evidence. They have the lobbyists. And that’s all they have. Wall Street Corporations don’t make anything. They don’t produce anything. They gamble and bet and speculate. And when they lose vast sums they raid the U.S. Treasury so they can go back and do it again. Never mind that $50 trillion in global wealth was erased between September 2007 and March 2009, including $7 trillion in the U.S. stock market and $6 trillion in the housing market. Never mind that the total amount of retirement and household wealth trashed was $7.5 trillion or that we saw $2 trillion in 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts evaporate. Never mind the $1.9 trillion in traditional defined-benefit plans and the $2.6 trillion in nonpension assets that went up in smoke. Never mind the job losses, the foreclosures and the 35 percent jump in personal and small-business bankruptcies. There are bundles of new money, taken again from us, to make deals and hand out outrageous bonuses. And when these trillions run out they will come back for more until our currency becomes junk
    —Nalliah Thayabharan

  13. My friends and I can’t help but think that a lot of the criticism waged against OWS, and a lot of the aggression coming from OWS, is just a distraction from one basic problem; that of increasing income disparity. Here’s a chart with info from the Congressional Budget Office that demonstrates the widening gap for the past thirty years (stolen from the pages of The Atlantic, which has done some good coverage thus far):

    How can we fix this in less than one presidential term? I’m struggling for answers.

  14. A very interesting article John. I am researching the potential ‘mob mentality’ of the 99 per cent occupations for my degree and I am trying to find out whether people see the 1% as individuals or as a collective.
    I’m also trying to contact anyone who works in a building that has been occupied, whether they are on a high salary or not. How do you think they could be affected by protests taking place outside? Does it seem to you that members of the occupation see the 1%as individuals or as a collective?



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