OCCUPY GO ROUND: The Dimensional Nature of the Movement


—November 17 #OWS chant

“We are the 99%. Look around, you are a part of a global uprising  ...  We are a cry from the heart of the world  ...  We are unstoppable, another world is possible  ...  It is the beginning of the beginning.”

—N17 projection on the Verizon building

At about two months old, a child can fix on the face of the mother. That’s probably the first encounter with concentric circles most of us have—the pupil in the iris. As we get our natural bearings, our shared circular optics expand to include the sun and moon; the ripples caused by a raindrop or stone striking the surface of placid water; or for those who live in wooded regions, the tree rings in a stump or log round. Once on Kauai, in Hanalei, I looked up and witnessed a four-ring moonbow. My friends there told me this was a lucky thing. Education will introduce the rings of Saturn into one’s visual registry. Another kind of training will make one familiar with the bullseye target. The wheels on our many machines spin their way into our consciousness. Eventually, circularity becomes ubiquitous in our data sets.

In our invisible auditory lives, the concentric sphere is the means by which sound is carried in waveform to and from us. Sound is produced from the vibration of bodies. Echo is the repetition of sound due to its reflection. Thus, we probably start to get sound in the womb, where the baby is like a pickup in an electric guitar. The Mayo Clinic says it starts around 16 weeks after conception. My wife is, as of this writing, eight months pregnant, and one thinks of these things. #OWS, come to think of it, is like a pickup on a 99% guitar.

Paul McLean, “A Schematic Representation of the Occupy Movement’s Concentric Circle Formation.”

The influence of concentric circles in the contemporary world is subtle. Most of us don’t realize how affected we are by concentricity. We know we don’t want to be labeled eccentric. Most people aren’t privy to the prevalent use of concentric circles for applications such as data mining, or protocols for tactical response by the police and military, or the design of our communities, both virtual and actual. We don’t realize that researchers like Gary Marx have mapped our relations in terms of resistance to deteriorating privacy, using concentric circles as the model. Maybe we’ve seen blast maps, or checked out the radial maps that work as conjectures for everything from nuclear fallout projections, to rates of contagion, to predictors of criminal getaway paths linked to time.

We don’t realize that Microsoft researchers are mapping community dimensionally and using concentric circles to generate algorithms that enable programmers to create simulated environments to appeal to our basic human (circular) sensibilities. For example:

[W]e propose a concentric-circle model to more accurately define communities. With this model, a community could be described as a set of concentric-circles. The most important objects representing the concept of a whole community lie in the center and are called core objects. Affiliated objects, which are related to the core objects, surround the core with different ranks. Based on the concentric-circle model, a novel algorithm is developed to discover communities conforming to this model.

—A Concentric-Circle Model for Community Mining in Graph Structures, Microsoft, 2002

We don’t realize that the best and the brightest among us with war game proclivities are being trained using concentric circles to visualize counterterrorism strategies and tactics for an American future that deals with asymmetrical warfare, one with no endgame, as status quo.

The Department of Defense National Security Studies Program provides the senior leadership of the Department of Defense with a rigorous, comprehensive, user-friendly framework for understanding the full range of actors, processes, and issues that affect U.S. defense policy-making. Employing a “concentric circles” framework, the program examines the governmental realm, the wider policy community, and the international environment, and assesses how each affects U.S. national security choices.

—Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, 2011

We don’t realize how our local police departments are being transformed into nodes for coordinated response mobilization against both “Terror” threats and civil unrest. Again concentric circles are instrumental in developing models for programmatic action. In Rockland County, NY, for example:

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, this group was formulated by the Sheriff. The ATAG group consists of the Sheriff, a Lieutenant from the Sheriff’s Office, former Chiefs of Police in Rockland County, four former Special Agents of The Federal Bureau of Investigation, a retired General, a former member of Military Intelligence, a person familiar with school safety and health issues, a retired military commander familiar with security issues, and a veteran Israeli Army Anti-Terrorism Specialist. They act as a “Think Tank” in order to generate ideas and concepts and to assist in reaching conclusions as to the necessity and feasibility for Intelligence and Security procedures. The ATAG group is a component of New York State’s Counter-terrorism Zone 4. The zones throughout New York State were modeled along the “Concentric Circles of Counter-Terrorism System.”

—Rockland County, NY, Anti-Terrorism Analytical Group website, 2011

This essay started out being about Occupy Wall Street, and how and why the movement has grown so quickly. Working with some occupants on the website for the Arts & Culture Working Group of #OWS, I proposed a concentric circle model for the platform. The model, as far as I know, never made it past our table at 60 Wall Street. It didn’t have to. What I was proposing was already happening.

As abstractions, as concepts or precepts, as social network structures, “concentric” and its close cousin “concentrate” apply to #OWS, like stickers on a guitar case. At the time we were discussing the concentricity of the occupation, the movement was centered at Zuccotti Park, but nodes, like franchises were sprouting all over. The website Occupy Together has tried to map the phenomenal growth, and over the past two months has become a potent nexus for occupational concerns—including links to excellent resource pages like How to Occupy (www.howtooccupy.org).

Recently when I visited the OT site, I noticed a quote on its page for #OWS.

The beauty of this new formula, and what makes this novel tactic exciting, is its pragmatic simplicity: we talk to each other in various physical gatherings and virtual people’s assemblies … we zero in on what our one demand will be, a demand that awakens the imagination and, if achieved, would propel us toward the radical democracy of the future … and then we go out and seize a square of singular symbolic significance and put our asses on the line to make it happen.

#OWS has proven to be a convergent point for a plethora of 99% actions and movements, communities and activists. Simultaneously, Occupy has demonstrated its expansive potential, increasing daily by exponential degree. Zuccotti became a nexus, a gathering point, with one main body, the General Assembly (GA), which provided focus for the movement, making the divergent needs of the participants less dilute. The centralized location and what was happening there, however, was also replicating in a way that didn’t diminish the Wall Street occupation. On the contrary, it fed it in material and immaterial ways. #OWS was somehow managing to direct one’s thoughts or attention to a cause that appealed to the masses. Polls were showing a majority of Americans supported the occupation. But the experiential value of #OWS was and is deeply personal, as indicated by the stories shared at sites like We Are the 99%. Support instantly began to actualize as a networked community with online and actual components. People were hopping off their couches to get behind the single purpose or aim of #OWS—which no one inside or outside of the movement could seem to reduce to a bullet point.

Although some of the features of #OWS’s viral growth seemed rhizomatic, responding to media, to me it was obvious the dynamic in play was concentricity. After I proposed that model, I started scanning the environment for the relational phenomena. I was especially interested in the forces that reacted swiftly to suppress #OWS and the other occupations, in what was probably a highly coordinated top-down action. A pattern emerged. It’s concentric, and it’s instrumental. We’re all running in circles.

When focusing on particular bits in big fields of data, it helps to have some background in dimensional visualization. It also helps to be acquainted with critical theory, starting with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit/Mind (Geistes), moving forward to 20th-century figures such as Baudrillard, Badiou, Ronell, Agamben, Deleuze, and Heidegger. Since the mid-19th century, artists have also been at the forefront of research, development, and implementation of the relational tools and methods, the techniques and technology of actualization that have driven the perceptual expansion necessary to invent 4D applications for general use in the military, government, business, and social sectors today. A prototypical example is the work of Muybridge and Eakins in relation to Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management. All of these influences shape our understanding of concentricity.

Clearly, the occupiers of Wall Street did not enter Zuccotti only for the sake of conducting a media, philosophy, or art experiment, to expand dimensional perception, with an eye towards apps for governance, the armed forces, and the economy. On the contrary, the impetus for action by #OWS (as found on occupywallstreet.org) was and is to empower “real people to create real change from the bottom up.” The composition of the movement, its practices, and expressions emerged on the fly, and continue to do so.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no extensive conceptual plan in place on September 17, of the kind that organizations like the Department of Defense or the Rockland Sheriff’s Office have. Again, as far as I know, there was no concentric circle model for #OWS. There didn’t have to be. People can rely on concentric instincts, when they get together to do, say, or envision something important.

Humans have employed concentric circles as data visualization, to employ Lev Manovich’s term, for as long as we have been capable of etching into rock, or painting on surfaces that time and the elements do not erase easily. Concentric circles seem to serve as what I’ve called since 2000 “vision channel devices.” They improve concentration, as with a bullseye target. At the same time they localize attention, concentric circles also universalize the body movements that attach to the reason for the focus. That’s why a bullseye works. If you can hit the target, and practice repetitively, you can apply the process to other, even non-static, targets. Plus the concentric circle possesses latent movement—it seems poised to move. To spin a concentric circle creates a spiral, if you add a little wobble and an after-image effect, normative features of human manipulation and optics. It’s hypnotizing! Interestingly, the circle/spiral combine resonates with what we know about the earth’s rotational dynamics.

And what’s not to like about the going-on-forever Pi? Even the Stonehenge-evocative symbol for it is cool. The circle is symbolic of the whole, and therefore the One, or Unity. It has no endpoint. It is an opening that, as Heidegger put it, reaches out, like a gift.

The techne applications of concentric circles are manifold. Agriculture and architecture have used them to valuable ends. Concentric circles have proved their worth in mapping the sky, generating calendars (codifying time), and consequently, providing speculative interpreters with a good tool for promoting relatively plausible versions or conjectures about the nature of time and our subjective relations to its universal qualities. Mythology tends to mediate that realm. The envisioning of the population between man and time has yielded some of the most formidable anthropomorphic figuration in art. The scientific disciplines need circles. The geometric foundations of pragmatic inquiry are unavoidable, and the entwined legacies of line, triangle, rectangle, poly-angular form, and circle are ubiquitous to humanity’s expanding comprehension of the cosmos.

In regard to applied or machine science, a cursory look at common apps for circles proves the integral worth of the round shape to civilization. What drives the motor of post-industrial man? Fuels do, but how are fuels turned to energy that moves things? If you Google “combustion engine” it is immediately apparent that circular forms and rotational dynamics are essential to the operations of even the most sophisticated and recent iterations. Think of wind-power turbines, the big water-powered mills. Even at the atomic level, we are still dealing with cycles, even if the intervention to generate force or power is an interruption or amplification of circular phenomena.

In our social relations, mankind has utilized the circle as a default method for assembly throughout our past. As #OWS indicates, it still works, and humanity appears to be on a trajectory where circles enable communications, including via the latest electronic network technologies. The assertion by Occupy neo-anarchists that the GA is a modern ideological construct of their design is ludicrous. People have been gathering around fires or issues collectively for one-to-many/many-to-one addresses since our days as cave-dwellers.

Photo by Zachary Garlitos.

“We want to see a general assembly in every backyard, on every street corner because we don’t need Wall Street and we don’t need politicians to build a  better society.”


As seen on the Take the Square website (www.takethesquare.net), the Commission for Group Dynamics in Assemblies of the Puerta del Sol Protest Camp, Madrid, generated a how-to text on the GA for dissemination. The model GA described in the text is a fairly complex system with hand signals, roles, procedures outlined with a FAQ, plus images and media. Those readers who have attended general assemblies at Zuccotti or at other occupations will recognize most of the methods and actions outlined in the text. Linked at the bottom of the page is a video tutorial for a social media network for occupation.

To sum up, what you have here is an In Real Life (IRL) meeting format coupled with a virtual social media network, presented on a website, as active or editable archived information (video, downloadable text, still images in a blog format). If one takes these elements and constructs a set composed of them, this set can be thought of as a concentric circle module for Occupy. A new user comes to the Web page and can leave with enough data to create an iteration of #OWS, and reproduce it. To understand the simplicity of this model is to understand its power.

The phalanx is a remarkably effective device for smashing the circular collective formation. Formalized by the Greeks, with possible precursors employed by the Sumerians or the Egyptians as long ago as 2,500 B.C., the phalanx over the past couple of thousand years has been translated, because of its circle-busting power, into a multitude of social arenas, including education. The modern classroom and factory owe their structural platform to the phalanx, or at least a simple Austrian military school modification of it, wherein the leader turns away from the “opponent in front” to address his “troops behind.”

If humanity has a primordial culture war, it’s the one between the circle and the square or rectangle, or the concentric circle formation and the grid, or the sphere and the cube. #OWS opens a new front, as the first prime-time example of the utility of networked electronic devices and hard-/soft-/wetware (human) components.

Art or expression is always a correlate of war, although Western civilization, through the lens of art history, has only now begun to stipulate a linkage between the two—art and war—as such. Friedrich Kittler was a profound thinker in this arena, because he recognized what bound them: technology, specifically communications for use in mobile units (like tanks, planes, and ships)—or, I would add, in interlinking people through technological means, embedded or external, for the purposes of mobilization and/or control.

Thirty-five thousand years ago until a few millennia before Greece, the art of man was made by a mobile version of us. Pictographs and petroglyphs often seem to contain mapping utilities and broader references to life necessities for people on the move. In the prehistorical age of incredibly prolific art-making—during which time the work went unsigned—circular forms abound. Concentric circles and spirals appear wherever man existed and expressed himself pictorially or decoratively, although “decoration” as an explanation may be insufficient.

Civilization changed our presentation formats, making them individuated legacy vehicles. In some ways the dialogue between painting and sculpture in their modes of display elaborates on the potential for an individual to operate as a kind of perceptual mobile device engaging in the interactive 2D and 3D art experience. It’s a flip-flop, premised on the containment of visualization in a rectangular frame, and experience in a concrete form. Eventually, we have the signature.

Where the architectures for presentation of theater, dance, cinema, painting, and sculpture meet makes for a sensory-encompassing mash-up, like the one that happened between September 17 and October 15 in Zuccotti Park. In his book Immersion into Noise, Joseph Nechvatal maps the cave art of Lascaux, meditating on the encompassing sensory qualities of the space-image continuum in terms I find applicable to the happening phase of #OWS. If one combines this visionary-auditory rendering with Gregory Sholette’s Dark Matter, one can draft a semblance of the dynamics in play at Zuccotti, and discern why the occupation generated such profound fear and loathing from the 1%. With all the drumming, the circular assemblage, the wafting clouds of tobacco, incense, and other-scented smoke, strange hand signals, anti-neoliberal/-war/-capitalism, etc., rhetoric, the signs of discontent and possibly sex, the authorities’ collective sphincter clanked shut with repulsion and terror. This was the savage, the artist, or as Nechvatal writes about Lascaux, “This totemistic state of consciousness [that] John C. Lilly (1915 – 2001) calls ‘species-jumping-thinking’. Deleuze/Guattari’s term for experiences of this nature is becoming-animal.” And God help us, it was happening in the financial district of Manhattan!

In a single Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson deployed nearly every possible smear against #OWS:

[S]eedy, dangerous, derelict … Molotov cocktails … leftist … sexual assault … public urination … hate … Church of Scientology … “Long live the intifada!”… socialism (often Marxist socialism) and anarchism … tension … “institutionalized violence” … protesters recently assaulted a conservative gathering, then took over a public intersection to prevent the passage of luxury cars. Blocking the path of one driver and his 2-year-old son, an activist shouted, “Sorry, but you have no power right now”… the use of power to intimidate a fellow citizen on a public street. It is the method of British soccer thugs…the Paris Commune—constructing barricades, setting fires, throwing concrete blocks and explosives, declaring a general strike to stop the “flow of capital” at the port. Here, OWS seems to be taking its cues from both “Rules for Radicals” and A Clockwork Orange … transgressors …betray … crisis and collapse … incitement to violence … OWS protesters smash windows, assault police officers and wear Guy Fawkes masks—a historical figure known for attempting to bomb the British Parliament … squalor, robberies, sexual attacks, drug use, vagrancy and vigilantism … militant …vandalization … rock throwing … desperate.

Eventually, the phalanx had to be brought to bear on #OWS, the grid restored, the order of vertical, top-down hierarchy reinstated. The media has attempted relentlessly to frame the occupation in negative terms, or to fit it, as a round peg into a square hole, into the status quo narrative. But a funny thing happened on the way to erasure. #OWS has not proved evict-able, even after the November 15 police action, which employed all the latest tools and techniques in mob suppression. Yet neither has #OWS managed to displace the 1%. The circle versus square war is now suspended in a state of cognitive dissonance, which probably has something to do with multiple source-point interference patterns, produced by two forces or entities, employing both the grid and concentricity, and simultaneously occupying the same space.

As of the end of November, the dispersed #OWS is a holographic projection, its own Geist. The occupation is in a wire frame state, a state of suspension or dislocation, a kind of collective disembodiment. A few things are perpetuating it: purpose; working groups; the Internet, or interactive networked systems for communication and mobilization; the media, especially the opposition media; and the one percenter’s fear of the movement’s potential.

Unlike Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, Occupy is energized by life-driven purpose. The goal is to save the world, essentially, through commonality, or let’s say, concentricity. According to occupywallstreet.org, “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.” That’s simple enough.

The GA working groups (WGs), like the one that produced the GA how-to document in Madrid, are now networking with other occupational WGs, often in comparable configurations, face-to-face, and via the web, around the globe. Working groups can be thought of as the molecular structure of #OWS. As a collective technique, they present an antidote to the isolationism of contemporary life. Let’s face it. People are being subjected to a dimensional sensory assault, facilitated by ubiquitous electronics. We exist in an ever-expanding messaging and monitoring system meant to produce constant saturation and data overload, coupled with simultaneously operating data extraction and exploitation schemes. The network interweaves programmatic effects, like psychological operations, brutal time-based debt/work programs, designed precarity, and relentless propaganda, in order to sustain a pervasive pacification schema. The system is enforced by militarized police, attached to the world’s most extensive prison state, most sophisticated messaging syndicate, and underscored by an endless war (on “terror”) that minimizes dissent, or even sober analysis, by affected citizens.

It’s a tall order for a circle of a few volunteer occupants working in teams on problems as significant as these. Especially when one considers that corporate and military/police internal structural dynamics have been operating in this modality, with relatively huge budgets, for quite a while now. Fortunately, concentric circle formations help one feel in the midst of the grouping that one is at least temporarily safe, focused, and the impossible is possible. It’s why teams huddle.

“We’re  living in the post-9/17 world.”

I’ve already provided a brief synopsis of the web nodule for occupation above. The Occupennial website, the product of the Arts & Culture WG and the team of occupennialists developing the site, provides an example of a variation. There are now hundreds of others, including NYCGA.net, which in an amazingly short period of time created an online occupant network or platform. I’ve also provided an illustration that offers a slightly more complex model for Occupy web matrixes.

As for the 1% fear factor, they are right to be afraid. Never have the 1% possessed more wealth or power, and never has their hold on it been more tenuous. The meme itself poses a problem (1% versus 99%). The phalanx, the grid, and the cube—the go-to tools of the command-and-control consortium—have been overwhelmed by the numbers of people the management tools were designed to contain. Overpopulation has long been a worry of the 1%, and that fear is now realized.

The measures adopted by the military, police, and industry cited at the beginning of the essay were developed to counteract disproportionate numbers—99 to 1—in order to improve the odds of the 1%. Management deploys the tools that humanity always utilizes in its social formations (like the concentric circle), but only after re-tooling those mechanisms for non-constructive purposes. They have fashioned the circles of and for man into apparatuses, applications, or even weapons of mass consent, containment and involuntary determination. When force or the threat of force have proven insufficient to suppress collectivized and mobilized 99 percenters—as borne out in the labor and civil rights movements, among others—then other means were introduced. I’m referring primarily to the apps of mindcontrol, arising from Freud, Bernays, and others. When the numbers of bodies outgrew the containment compounds, it became imperative for management to win “hearts and minds,” or at least reduce them to programmable matter. I would suggest that this is Bill Gates’s educational leitmotif. Controlling education has become a prime directive of the 1% for this reason. #OWS is monkey-wrenching this scheme. It is doing so by occupying all the spaces the 1% need to occupy, but can’t ultimately control without the consent, or at least compliance, of the 99%.

What’s stopping the 99% from knocking off the 1%, as in the game King of the Hill? I think it’s because we know the enemy. We’re afraid that the 1 percenters who control the bombs and the lab-tested chemical WMD, and who hold the keys to the industries that are stressing nature to her tolerance limits, will destroy everything, rather than give up their insane pretense to human divinity. Like the Republicans in Congress during the debt ceiling fiasco, the 1% will do anything, sacrifice anything, to protect 1% power. Eventually, humanity will have to depose them, if we’re going to survive.

To close, you know you don’t really need to use a template to create your own occupation. It’s easy, and you probably already know how to do it. Get your family, or a few friends and co-workers together. Talk about what matters to you. Decide on five things you want to do to improve your lives together. Do those five things. Come back the next day or week, report back on the progress you made on those five things, and think of five more. Do those. Tell people about it. Build a website. Make some phone calls. Start an e-mail tree. Join a pre-existing occupation nearby. Look at what other ones have done. Before you know it, you’ll be otherwise occupied.

If enough of us in the 99% do this, we can be free. We’ll have the time of our lives, together, naturally, living in our post-9/17 world.


Paul McLean

PAUL MCLEAN is an artist and writer living in Bushwick. His nexus website is www.artforhumans.com.