Where did you get your shoes?

It’s a common question I used to ask Occupy activists while being present at some of their rallies during the peak of the movement in autumn 2011.

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Caught off guard by a perfectly normal question, the anti-corporate activist would inevitably drop his head down towards the ground in guilty contemplation of whatever shoes he was wearing during the protest, with his “corporations are evil” sign suddenly beginning to waver uncertainly in his hand. As if contemplating the issue for the first time, his mind races for a quick response to a disarmingly simple question. He flounders around awkwardly for a few minutes, thinking out loud with an “um, well… ah” mumble, fidgeting nervously with the wounded and confused look setting deeper and deeper into his well-meaning yet misguided face. 

If there’s any one question I’ve found that silences an Occupier who decries the evils of corporate greed which puts profit before people, it’s  “So where did you get your (fill in the blank) from?”  I’ve learned to use it as my opening question when beginning any debate with a stalwart socialist who has mastered the art of argument and is able to rattle off pages of memorized Marxist literature. Yet this one particular question always seems to throw them off guard and leave them stumped (if not outright outraged, when they happen to be self-righteous.)

This is not meant to be an attack on the Occupy movement itself, which I’ve participated in to some extent. Rather, I’m simply trying to understand where my local Occupy chapter’s anger towards (and misunderstanding of) the capitalist system is coming from. After all, they carry smart phones and wear blue jeans manufactured by large corporations in mostly Chinese factories, many of which employ workers under the age of 18 and operate at ethics standards resembling the Industrial Revolution of a hundred years ago. Yet Occupiers get up on the soap box and preach for labor union justice here in America, a higher minimum wage, and heavier corporate regulation. 

So let me get this straight:  You want more regulations and laws to constrict the “immoral” behavior of corporations, yet you also demand that your jeans and cell phones continue to be cheap and widely available at any shopping center within 5 minutes driving distance. This discord, if not outright hypocrisy, leaves my head swimming in confusion. If you have a problem with a specific corporation or a specific product, you are free not to buy it. Problems of crony capitalism/corporatism aside, nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to drive to Walmart. This is what freedom in America is all about. You have the choice of how to spend your dollars and how to live your life. To expect the government to punish a corporation or to limit my own consumption choices simply because you are unable to live up to your own moral standards is what is truly immoral.  

Certainly not all Occupy activists are critical of the free market or guilty of failing to distinguish between a truly free market and what we have today. I’ve met people of all political stripes, from supporters of Ralph Nader to Ron Paul. I still identify myself as a member of Occupy because I’m in-line with their grievances against the 2008 bailouts, the unhealthy relationship between Wall Street and the White House, and the need to abolish the Federal Reserve and end the wars. That being said, I fail to understand how the free market is also a source of our current economic and political crisis. So I still go to Occupy rallies and I still ask them this same pointed question, the “shoe question,” if you will. And if they’re intellectually honest they won’t back down from the challenge. 

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