Dissent and deviance at Occupy Vancouver

I’m still unsure about the Occupy movement. I see that, in the United States, it represents a profound discord among Americans who feel frustrated with the financial meltdown and the current administration’s response to it. My smart American peers hope that the protests will coalesce into a Tea Party of the Left. Such a group would pull the Democrats to the left as the Tea Party is pulling Republicans to the right.

I find the Canadian protests more vexing. Here’s the first paragraph of Occupy Vancouver’s ‘working statement’:

We, the Ninety-Nine Percent, come together with our diverse experiences to transform the unequal, unfair, and growing disparity in the distribution of power and wealth in our city and around the globe. We challenge corporate greed, corruption, and the collusion between corporate power and government. We oppose systemic inequality, militarization, environmental destruction, and the erosion of civil liberties and human rights. We seek economic security, genuine equality, and the protection of the environment for all.

That’s about as specific as their demands get, as far as I can tell. Personally, I can get behind opposition to environmental destruction (I fight that battle, in various forms, every day in my work), but none of their other topics really speak to me. Or rather, they’re not effective when bundled together in this catch-all, ambiguous fashion.

And that’s my key issue with Occupy Vancouver, I guess. Specificity matters. Protests are rarely successful, and the ones that are, in my thinking, are those with a hyper-specific objective. Protests opposing American participation in the Vietnam War or logging in the Clayoquot Sound identified a specific outcome and worked toward it.

My opinion of Occupy Vancouver is also coloured by my rereading of The Rebel Sell, which I first wrote about back in 2004. Last night I read a section that seemed pertinent:

We must distinguish, in other words, between dissent and deviance. Dissent is like civil disobedience. It occurs when people are willing in principle to play by the rules but have a genuine, good-faith objection to the specific content of the prevailing set of rules. They disobey despite the consequences that these actions may incur. Deviance, on the other hand, occurs when people disobey the rules for self-interested reasons. The two can be very difficult to tell apart, party because people will often try to justify deviant conduct as a form of dissent, but also because of powers of self-delusion. Many people who are engaged in deviant conduct genuinely believe that what they are doing is a form of dissent.

Are those engaged in Occupy Vancouver dissenting or deviating? Some of each, I suspect.


  1. Aren’t you using the same argument against Occupy Vancouver that many in the US have placed against OWS, that they need ‘stronger branding’? In my mind OVAN on the first day was exactly what I would have expected from our city: every activist group in the city all with very specific, almost siloed agendas. The interesting thing happens when they start talking to each other – what comes of this in 6 months? or in the next few elections?

    My one observation of OVAN of mine is that, due to the relatively minor amounts of damage to the middle class in Canada compared to the US, the middle class ( you and me, for example ) are not out there, at least not in force. I was American and had voted for Obama, I’d be much more angry ( but, still middle class ).

  2. Perhaps we could all focus on demanding the implementation of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular Articles 25 and 26 promising a secure and educated life.

    1. Do you mean in Canada, or everywhere?

      I ask because, having looked at those articles, I think Canada meets those criteria nearly 100% of the time.

      1. Understand that I’m not saying that Canada is perfect, nor do they satisfy those articles all the time, but they very nearly do. Which ones does Canada not meet for, say, 95% of its citizens?

  3. I”m American, and I hear this argument about the Occupy movements often – that they are too broad in their wishes/demands/complaints.

    Well, how lucky could we be if we only had one thing to complain about. The system is broken, and with that comes a litany of problems. I disagree that having one goal to organize around is critical. That’s what has gotten us here – no logging in Clayoquot sound, just everywhere else; no war in Vietnam, just throughout the middle east. The people in power want us to pick one problem, so they can continue on with 99 other wrong doings.

  4. It must be really nice to not have to work for a living, go camping at the Art Gallery & get invited to free Tom Morello concerts, I like Tom Morello as a musician, Audioslave was the best concert I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I had to pay $75/ticket to see Audioslave in 2005 and more unfortunately I had to get up the next morning at 5:30 to do this strange thing called ‘work’ so I was not able to attend. I guess that qualifies me as the 1%. Or does it?

  5. The issue I take with Occupy Vancouver in particular is that the few specific comments I’ve heard from Occupiers are generally incorrect. One (educated, employed) individual told me that he wanted limitations on corporate political donations – which are not allowed in Canada anyway. A sign someone hung up reminded buyers of the new iPhone that purchasing the iPhone funds war in the DRC through the industry’s use of conflict metals – despite this being the first iPhone that is conflict metal-free.

    People seem to be more interested into latching on to some cause and shaking their banners than actually sitting down and doing real research, having reasonable discourse, and working towards actual solutions.

    Another issue I’ve seen is the latchers-on. Because Occupy is more of a general grouping of individuals, it’s easy for anyone who has a cause to show up and shout it from the rooftops – no matter how irrelevant, insignificant, or downright loony it is. Case in point, the zeitgeist crowd, which, as near as I can tell, is a group opposed to any sort of political, religious, or racial divisions – or possibly even distinctions. A noble goal in an ideal world, but at this point in time it’s an implausible goal, and their radical (but admittedly utopian) ideals detract from the movement as a whole. There’s a big difference between ‘Let’s reduce the gap between rich and poor’ vs ‘Let’s change the way society works, start to finish’, but people are going to see the biggest banners and associate that, which means those hangers-on are hurting the movement as a whole.

    As admirable as it is for them to be a nameless, faceless group, without some measure of leadership the movement will continue to go nowhere and gain no support. They need a cohesive voice and message if they’re going to be heard. Until then, they’re just getting in the way.

    1. Indeed, a successful protest needs leaders. The Occupy movement seems aggressively opposed to recognizing leaders, so I fear that may hamstring them.

    2. I’m struck by how nearly every single day you can read about some crime perpetrated by someone in business, from price fixing to multiple deaths from eating sandwich meats.
      Try typing in “admits no wrongdoing” into Google. Maybe even do yourself a favour and keep it as a news item you can refer to every day, since it’s become the very latest corporate mealy-mouth technique to avoid what for you and I, lacking the funds and legal team, would be called a “conviction”.
      Are Maple Leaf Foods, Monsanto, Cargill, Sony Music Group, etc etc etc simply “deviants” of capitalism?
      I wonder why people don’t think a few dozen dead people or the extraction of money under falsely constructed market conditions shouldn’t entail the reconsidering of the capitalist process as an inherently “good” thing.
      I mean, if the logic is that a few wrongdoers makes the whole process “bad”, shouldn’t that logic be applied to capitalism too?
      But wait – here’s another problem – isn’t a huge part of modern business management is about “enabling” the employees and managers? Isn’t the whole “technology is great” schtick about *decentralizing*? About making the *process* the boss and not any individual?
      I mean, don’t you business and consultant guys write books about how hierarchies are dead and it’s all about the network now?
      So what gives all of a sudden? You say on the one hand that the traditional “top-down” hierarchies are dead, but now you’re telling us that you don’t “get” the lack of bosses…

      Mixed messages guys – it’ll really mess up your brand. Stay on point – or at least have one.

      1. For starters, Glenn, you’ll need to find where I declare the end of hierarchies. Then we can talk.

        As for some corporations doing wrong, I don’t think that invites a full-blown revision of capitalism. Just because people drink and drive every day, does that mean we should reconsider drinking liquor or driving cars?

        I’m all for implementing practical solutions to curtail and punish corporate malfeasance. I just don’t believe that Occupy Vancouver represents any such solutions.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: