Over the past few months, what began as localized protests against income disparities and corruption on Wall Street has somehow come to be associated with a much larger, global conflict over inequality. This is achieved by spokesmen of Occupy and its proponents in the media, who have expanded the national issue of income inequality to represent unequal sharing of power between average citizens and the elites everywhere. This is done by broadening the definition of ‘power’ to adapt to different societies, and thus expanding the classification of the “99%” and the “1%”. For instance, in America wealth is associated with power, particularly the power to move ‘up’ in society. For this reason, Occupy supporters like Rob Reich claim that the unequal distribution of wealth and income in society is unfairly restricting the social mobility of the ‘99%’ and their ability to make a better life for themselves in the model of the American Dream. In contrast, in Arab and Middle Eastern nations, political and economic power are associated with each other, and the “1%” applies to elites in control of the government as well as wealth. Thus, by expanding the concept of the “99%” and the “1%” to apply to frustrated citizens in outside of the United States as well, Occupy Wall Street places itself and Arab Spring protesters on the same side of a global struggle to empower to the marginalized classes.However, this appeal to solidarity erroneously implies that Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are part of a global movement toward greater equality and democracy in the model of Western ideals.In this way, the myth of the 99% is actually based on conceited American assumptions about globalization.
Globalization: The Paradigm Underlying of the Myths of the 99% and the Twitter Revolution
In particular, the myth of the worldwide 99% is partly a consequence of the popularized idea of globalization that predicts the world as a whole is moving toward a homogenous culture and worldview. However, I will argue that globalization is actually westernization, because the culture and worldview the world is moving toward are American ones. For instance, Charles Ess argues that the phenomenon of globalization is really the spread of Western culture and ideals that “consolidates US cultural hegemony on a global scale” (viii). Indeed the heralds of globalization point to spread of McDonalds, the English language, and especially the spread of democracy as signs of economic and cultural globalization (Dyer 186). In this way, the concept of globalization is inherently conceited because it advocates for the world to be built in the model of America. Indeed, the tendency for the United States to view itself as a source of inspiration for the spread of freedom and democracy is what makes the concept of globalization so popular. Specifically, Nick Bisley points out that since the early 1990s, the of globalization has become increasingly ingrained in American academia and public policy circles, even seeping into mainstream use (13). This modern paradigm of globalization has led to the tendency to perceive overarching, homogenizing trends, especially toward a more democratic and ‘equal’ world in the model of the West. However, this approach ignores the cultural, societal, and political subtleties in favor of a more simplified, global model. In this sense, the paradigm of globalization explains the simplification of Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring into one worldwide movement against inequality.
The paradigm of globalization also explains the emphasis given to the role of social media technologies in Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring. Indeed, globalization is perceived as driven by the advent of new communication technologies that facilitate increased contact between peoples and cultures. For instance, Neil Postman argues that the internet has created a “global village” by providing people across the world access to the same information, and thus creating a common globalized culture as well as habitual ways of thinking (2). Lance Strate adds that the new ways people connect and communicate online leads society as a whole to “become less distanced and objective, and more emotionally involved with our world and our fellow human beings” (79). These optimistic predictions of Postman and Strate about globalization are paralleled by the Occupy movement’s appeals to “solidarity forever” and unity with protesters across the world. For instance, the Occupy Wall Street has pledged solidarity with citizens protesting against military consolidation of power in Egypt and on November 25th American protesters marched on the Egyptian consulate in New York City ("Answering Egyt's Call for Solidarity.") The predictions of Postman and Strate also mirror claims that social media technology has “revolutionized” the way people communicate and connect with one another in a way that will unite people across the world.
Specifically, in the media and academic circles, there has emerged the popular idea of what Christian Christensen terms the “Twitter Revolution”, in which new social media technology has the transformative power to globalize and democratize societies (233). Thus, this perception of Occupy and Arab Spring as Twitter Revolutions is a consequence of the assumption that globalization is facilitated by new communication technologies. In this context, it is especially significant that American-invented technologies, including the Internet and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, are the medium of globalization and democratization. This speaks to the underlying tendency of the U.S. to see itself as a ‘beacon of freedom and democracy’ in the world. Indeed, in the myth of the Twitter Revolution, western technologies are given more credit for sparking the string of Arab Spring revolutions than the actual citizens.
Indeed, the mass media and academics explain the rise of Occupy and Arab Spring in terms of the democratizing nature of social media that empowers once isolated, oppressed citizens to mobilize against a repressive government. Specifically, Clay Shirky argues that social media technology has changed the balance of power in society by shifting it from governments to the masses (34). Here, Shirky believes that by connecting and empowering disadvantaged citizens, social media can actually bring a “net improvement to democracy” (35). He cites the ‘critical’ role of Facebook and Twitter in organizing the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions to support his theory, and argues that increased communicative freedom has the potential to democratize nations under authoritarian governments (35). However, this theory is problematic because it gives credit to western technology rather than the protesters themselves. Thus, by portraying American technology as the democratizing agent in the Arab Spring Revolutions, proponents of the ‘Twitter Revolution’ subtly paint the United States as a global force for democracy. The underlying agenda here is to maintain the image of the United States as the source of all freedom and democracy in the world.