Paul Greenberg

Gravity has its laws courtesy of Sir Isaac Newton, and protest has its authoritative field notes by Eric Hoffer.

A longshoreman and philosopher in pretty much that order, Eric Hoffer described the protesters of his time, the Hippies and Yippies of the Sixties, with such enduring insight that he might have been talking about Occupy Wall Street today.

The specific focus of protests, if any, may change with the times. But the general spirit remains remarkably the same. It's a kind of free-floating dissatisfaction with the world. Or maybe the dissatisfaction is just with the protesters' place in it.

The over-all impression remains the same: Lots of gripes, many only half-formed, and no real program except the haziest of generalities. And even those may be self-contradictory. Or as Eric Hoffer put it, "What monstrosities would walk the streets were some people's faces as unfinished as their minds."

Clarity and coherence just aren't high on these protesters' order of priorities. Indeed, such qualities may be viewed as tools of the System, a kind of suppression of their freedom, their spontaneity, their creativity, and above all their general sense of indignation at being insufficiently appreciated.

Asking the protesters to justify their ideas, or even to fully articulate them, may be seen as just another way to keep them down.

Like any other theatrical production with costumes from the East, modern protests tend to go on the road sooner or later, starting off on Broadway and then branching out to the Dubuques and Peorias for limited engagements.

The protesters don't seem interested in justifying their gripes, just expressing them. As if what they're really after is the comforting feeling of group solidarity.

To quote a protester in Little Rock who just dropped out of college, "I'm just glad we're stepping up together...." Even if it isn't clear what they're stepping up (or down) to.

What is it, exactly, that they're protesting? The answer is the same as that of Marlon Brando's character in "The Wild Ones," a movie made in 1953. He plays the leader of a gang of bikers who set out to take over a small town for no particular reason, like any other rebels without a cause. When a local asks him what he's rebelling against, all he can say is: "Whatcha got?"

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.