Monday, January 14, 2008

MLK, Boyz in the Hood, Iraq, Alexis de Tocqueville and Doonesbury

If it's not already obvious, I'm reading several books by Martin Luther King right now, and I'll just quote them all day long:
Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus. I said on one occasion, "If ever Negro in the United States turns to violence, I will choose to be that one lone voice preaching that this is the wrong way." Maybe this sounded like arrogance. But it was not intended that way. It was simply my way of saying that I would rather be a man of conviction than a man of conformity. Occasionally in life one develops a conviction so precious and meaningful that he will stand on it til the end. This is what I have found in nonviolence.
- Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here?, 1967

Boyz in the Hood was on Saturday night and, during the scene where Cuba Gooding Jr's friends are arrested for the first time, I wondered: Why don't we teach non-violence in kindergarten and elementary school?

I'm not talking about Jesus or other religions, most of which teach that love is the most powerful force in the universe. I'm talking about the political force that has enacted more positive change in this world than any other, without firing a shot.

I also thought to myself: Maybe if whites had been made to live as blacks for a few years in the 1950s the civil rights movement would have chugged along a little faster, but that's kind of irrelevant.

Back to King:
This is not to imply that the Negro is a saint who abhors violence. Unfortunately, a check of the hospitals in any Negro community on any Saturday night will make you painfully aware of the violence within the Negro community. By turning his hostility and frustration with the larger society inward, the Negro often inflicts terrible acts of violence on his own black brother. ...

Therefore I must oppose any attempt to gain our freedom by the methods of malice, hate, and violence that have characterized our oppressors. Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is to the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and east away its vital unity.

And from an earlier portion of the book:
During a nonviolent demonstration for voting rights, the sheriff had directed his men in tear-gassing and beating marchers to the ground. The nation had seen and heard, and exploded in indignation. In protest, Negroes and whites marched fifty miles through Alabama. ... The Voting Rights Bill of 1965 was the result. ...

Mass marches transformed the common man into the star performer and engaged him in a total commitment. Yet nonviolent resistance caused no explosions of anger - it instigated no riots - it controlled anger and released it under discipline for maximum effect.

I know at least one person who would disagree with that, but I wasn't there in the 1960s, so I can't say.

I can point out a similarity between the King's nonviolent movement and the concept of civil disobedience, described here by Alexis de Tocqueville:
When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right of the majority to command, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.

I can also wonder whether this same strategy, combined with a nearly limitless ability for forgiveness, could solve the problems in the Middle East. In fact, I wonder if it might be the only thing that will solve those problems.

By the way, this was yesterday's Doonesbury in The Telegraph:

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