Lost in the WTO

By Joe Schembrie
web posted December 6, 1999

The World Trade Organization meeting held in Seattle certainly wasn't intended as a social experiment. The thousands of delegates imagined they were there to discuss international trade, finance, and regulation of commerce. The thousands of protestors outside claimed their focus was on environmentalism and third world sweat shops. Yet when they clashed together, abstract ideals of globalism and compassion were shoved aside, and what we witnessed instead was akin to a psychological exhibition illustrating the dysfunctional depths of the modern human spirit.

Walker Percy laid it bare nearly two decades ago in his infamous Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, which examined the question of why we can know more about distant stars and planets than we can ever know about our own individual selves. As modern man abandons ancient guideposts marking his place in the cosmos, he has lost his sense of self, and so seeks ever more desperately to affirm the self through ever more drastic acts of compulsive self-expression.

A Compulsive Self-Expression Disorder goes a long way toward explaining the WTO protestors and their sea turtle costumes and human chains, mutating into graffiti and vandalism and then into mob violence quelled only by the arrival of the National Guard. Certainly the protestors sincerely care about the environment and truly believe capitalism is evil. But hardly anyone in the marching throngs has actually seen a sea turtle, nor would they miss it if the species became extinct. And if sweat shops are closed, third world children will starve. The protestors see this logic, but don't respond, even when persuaded that turtles fare fine under existing laws and children benefit best from unfettered trade. Logic doesn't impact because compassion doesn't motivate. Compassion is only a pretext for self-expression.

Compulsive Self-Expression Disorder explains why the protestors deliberately choose such futile methods of persuasion. Surely they're smart enough to know that though vandalizing mobs can intimidate a city, their tactics merely infuriate a nation. It doesn't take genius to conclude that smashing windows and territory-marking buildings with red circle-A's won't win hearts and minds. But no one is striving to win arguments. They're trying to get attention. At that, their methods have succeeded brilliantly.

People with Compulsive Self-Expression Disorder have a natural affinity toward politics of the Left. Those who buy books on self-love and visit therapists preaching self-esteem and worship at the 'Thou Art God' temple of the New Age and preach 'Follow Your Heart' in countless insipid movies and have transformed journalism itself into a self-promoting performance art are also enamored of leftist politics. Leftism is the ultimate ego trip, imposing one's personality and will by governmental force upon the whole of society. Political power delivers a captive audience for even the most obnoxious acts of self-expression (or were you the one citizen able to ignore the Lewinsky Affair?).

If only the afflicted would limit themselves to street protests. But within the walls of Seattle were men and women dressed conservatively and speaking sedately, yet bearing parallel agendas to those outside -- and equally immune to logic and truth. Their guest of honor, Bill Clinton, is a former street protestor himself, and unhesitatingly expressed an affinity with the mobs in all things but street violence (he prefers high-altitude bombing). Being impelled by the same psychological dysfunction as those soaking under the Seattle rain, the WTO delegates appear saner simply because they have forsaken mass demonstrations and arrests for more subtle forms of oppressive self-expression -- manifested by tedious floods of press releases, paperwork, and regulations inflicted upon an unwitting globe, which sadly already has all too many people emotionally incapable of minding their own business.

Why is it that people who are the least in control of their own lives (e.g., Clinton, violent street mobs, and Hollywood cocaine addicts) are the most compulsive about controlling the lives of others? To ask the question is to answer it; the lunatics never doubt that they should be micromanaging the asylum. And so the message of the most powerful man on Earth to the mad hatters trashing one of the most sophisticated cities on Earth was: Come in from the rain, my kindred spirits, and doff your turtle costumes for business suits, and take your seats of power among us. And never mind that we're all spiritually lost in the cosmos -- we're taking the world for a ride just the same. And since we're lost, we'll have to drive twice as fast just to stay in place.

Joe Schembrie is a freelance writer and a contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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