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Product v. Process

I have described in many essays and in my new book the rift and struggle that exists now between those who uphold and celebrate private goods and the private interest versus those who defend and celebrate public goods and the public interest. It’s a very useful way of understanding what is going on in the nation and the world today because it is present in virtually everything.

But it occurs to me that another way of thinking about this is product v. process.

Corporate media and the major parties’ criticism of the Occupation Movement, for example, is that the OM doesn’t know what it wants and has not formulated demands. Give us your demands, they insist, so that we can … do what? Pretend that you’re listening? Reject them as unrealistic? Try to co-opt them and divert people into something that the existing system can accept?

The reason that the corporate media and the ruling parties cannot understand the language of the OM and keep trying to make it into something that they can understand and deal with is because ideologically the media and the Republicans and Democrats are all about product: here is our nominee (our product), see how he talks, how he walks, how nice his hair is, how bright his smile, how firm his handshake, how good his promises. Here is our latest show for your entertainment: see how big the actors are that we have in it, see how glamorous the lights are that we shine upon them, imagine how life would be for you if you have the X Factor too. Check out this luxury condominium that we have built for you, this fancy car and its fancy features, this double-gated community, this erectile dysfunction drug, this pill that you can give your child who has trouble sitting still and paying attention…

This is the way that the people who are in charge of my public university see education too. To them, education is a product, not a process. In their myopic view we deliver degrees like assembly lines spill out products on the assembly line. They see knowledge as something that you can be handed and not something that requires internal changes and that involve a process of learning how to learn, of learning how to discern and evaluate information and reach conclusions based upon partial information (since most decisions in life do not come with complete knowledge before decisions have to be made and require inferential reasoning).

The erasure of process from the public sphere and the elevation of product over everything else make sense in a system whose processes are so lopsided and unpretty. The process by which those pretty dresses, that lovely fruit, and that red meat in the grocery come to be in the stores is a process that the people in charge don’t want you to see. They want it to be all about the final product presentation because the processes that precede that product are too revealing of the fundamental nature of the existing system’s flaws and inequities.

The preeminence of product over process that characterizes our time is evident everywhere and it makes sense that the largest oppositional movement of our times should be oppositional to the ideology of product and put its emphasis instead on process and highlighting and making process transparent. People are in the process of learning why things are so bad. They need to take the time to do this because it takes time to learn these things and figure these things out. After all, the existing system systematically misleads, distorts, and censors this information from reaching people. The existing authorities want to saddle people with debt that people can't pay back and here we have as an alternative zones that are devoted to sharing knowledge and hospitality. These People’s Universities at the encampments, their libraries, their speak outs and ever present conversations, these face-to-face interactions in a daily fashion, are all about process and figuring out how to radically change a viciously unfair and unjust system.

Let the process continue and evolve. It won’t stay where it is now and it shouldn’t stay where it is now. But give it the space and the time to develop this. Because as it transitions and mutates into something that reflects a higher collective understanding of why things have been this way and what kinds of paths need to be taken to change it in order to carry this struggle forward, it will never be about just product and it will always mainly be about process. Naomi Klein gave an interview at Occupy SF on October 12 in which she said that it would be wrong to fetishize the movement as it now exists and for it to refuse to develop structure and democratic processes. She’s right. As she also said, the stakes are too high. 

There is that saying that goes “You’re comparing apples to oranges.”

What’s really fascinating about the OM is that people in it are not trying to be apples because they know that they are oranges.