Saturday, September 30, 2006

Maven's Yahoo! FAQ! (or Yes, I am REALLY married)

A FAQ from actual instant messages!

1. Are you single?

No. I am a married woman. That means I am unavailable, off-the-market, and completely disinterested in anybody else but my husband. Did I tell you I was married?

2. Are you bi-sexual?

No. I am absolutely heterosexual, even though I sorta get the attraction to Angelina Jolie. I am a heterosexual who fervently supports equal rights and compassion for those who are gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual.

3. Are you into transsexuals/transgender?

No, but I do believe in equal rights and compassion towards those who a transsexuals and the transgendered.

4. Do you have a webcam?

Yes, but I only do so with family and real life friends. Often it is just a matter of trying to dig it up from under my desk amongst wires.

5. Will you accept my invitation to be a friend?

First, it would be nice to introduce yourself to me first rather than lock me into having to accept or deny your invite without knowing who you are or why you want to invite me. It puts me into a terrible spot. I just wish people would be more polite.

/rant on
It is really nice that people say nice things about the photos and I do appreciate compliments. They do make my day, but what IS up with all the personal questions? Is instant messaging just an invitation for instant intimacy? What is wrong with just talking about politics, culture, parenting, religion, or just being friendly without lurid intent? I am just old fashioned or what?

I know people are just searching for love and intimacy online, and I do have compassion for people who are lonely and reaching out. I just wish I didn't have to feel like when I log on I am logging onto a singles bar.

/rant off

Friday, September 29, 2006

When Gods Fall Asleep

Truth, beauty, peace, and justice all have their place in a society that appeals to man’s higher self. When there is a yearning for a legacy of excellence and comfort with one’s position in the world, there is luxury to allow for these loftier goals to prevail over state or individual interests. When it seems that gods are watching and participating in the affairs of men, exhibiting virtue is a way to appease them. Acts need to be seen as consistent with justice and fairness. In calmer times, it is easier for states to be generous and believe that their actions do honor to their ancestors and their lofty rhetoric can be better believed. The sense of comfort allows for careful deliberation of potential future consequences of any action and a feeling that societies can evolve and innovate.

Are these appeals to virtue genuine, or are they a pretense for self-interested power politics? In times of danger does a state merely remove the mask of virtue or does it really make a shift in morality to embrace political realism?

When The Gods Fall Asleep

Political realism is the awareness that politics (or the art of power) has its own rules separate from morality or legalities. It is when states pursue their own security and prosperity in international relations – whatever their aims, alliances, and moral claims. A political realist has a pessimistic view of human nature and therefore will be open to the need to be able to respond in kind if necessary. These realists see the world as being ruled by “the law of the jungle” where strength and violence are the only lingua franca and only they can prevail. They see the idea of comfort and deliberation as enemies in a world that is hostile and is poised to take advantage of any weakness. This is heightened in times of war and other adversity due to the urgent need for survival in precarious times and shifting Fortuna. Political realists fail to calculate future unintended consequences of their actions and they do not seek wisdom from the past – instead they deal with the immediate present. This type of deliberation is seen as a weakness and a luxury. In their minds, maintaining greatness comes at a price.

In modern times the United States represents this struggle. On one hand, the U.S. claims to be “the beacon of freedom” constantly pursuing the high ideals set by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. On the other hand, in its foreign policy, it deals with the world according to less noble ideals of economic and military supremacy. Currently, the US is in a state of war with the potential of enemies lurking everywhere. Our rights and ideals of tolerance and equality are being re-examined and seen as luxuries in a dangerous world. While they may name the current campaign “enduring freedom” it is clear that they are acting to protect American interests and to maintain its supremacy in the world.

Defining Athens

Another way to examine the contrast between the quest for virtue and political realism is to take a look at Thucydides’ account of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides shows Athens decline from being an “enlightened empire” to a state that is self-interested in holding onto its own power and reputation by any means.

This fall is reminiscent of the Homeric hero Achilles, who turns from being an honorable warrior to a dishonorable one. Goddess Athena kept Achilles from killing the Mycenaean king, Agamemnon when he seized Achilles’ trophy woman. He responded by withdrawing himself from battle, which led to his best friend’s death at the hands of Hector. Enraged, Achilles savagely kills Hector and defies the warrior honor code by defiling the body of Hector. The hero betrayed his country and personal honor out of self-interested need for vengeance.

Athena herself has this duality of being a goddess of culture and wisdom, and being the goddess of extreme and unrelenting savagery that is impossible to placate or appease. It is no accident that she is overall the goddess of the city of Athens.

The life of Alcibiades is also another Athenian archetype – a great warrior, student of Socrates, and bright public figure whose self-interested excesses are his downfall. He leads his countrymen to embark on the Sicilian campaign and when he feels slighted by them he abandons them to serve his own needs.

Thucydides’ history itself can be seen as a work of political realism since he doesn’t record verbatim what was said by the actors in the conflict but represented the actual motives and thoughts behind the words. In a sense he is accepting the fact that there is a disconnect between the lofty rhetoric and political reality.

Athens didn’t begin as political realists. In Pericles’ War Speech he praises Athens as political innovators, not followers. In fact, Greece invented political theory and had the ability to imagining the other which was a central ingredient of democracy.

”We have a form of Government that does not try to imitate the laws of our neighboring states. We are more an example to others, than they to us.”

Athens is proud of its leadership and strength in saving Greece from the Persians and being the bright example in the region. It had earned its empire rightfully through courage and excellence. It allowed its colonies to go to court against them if they have complaints. Athens in peacetime was an open society that saw themselves as the enlightened and noble society. Pericles says as much in his War Speech.

”We are lovers of nobility with restraint, lovers of wisdom without the softening of character.”

In Thucydides’ analysis of Pericles, he states that Pericles was successful because of his reputation for moral behavior that allowed him to lead the country rather than his countrymen leading him. Which was a virtue for a man who distrusted the public will.[1] In times of peace, Pericles was moderate and guarded Athens securely. In wartime his policy was of containment of the Lacedaemonians and maintaining the territories they already had. [2] Pericles had the foresight not to overreach the current empire in the Peloponnesian War. Yet, according to Plutarch’s Greek Lives, Pericles did intervene between Corcyra against the Corinthians, banned trade with the Megarians, and was ultimately responsible for the start of the war.[3] Pericles was an Athenian patriot who invoked the bones of their ancestors who fought not for themselves but for the good of Athens. Thucycides is also critical of the leaders and personalities who came after Pericles who ignored his advice and overreached out of self-interested motives. There is evidence political realism was laid bare in Pericles especially after the plague.

”To be hated and to cause pain is, at the present, the reality for anyone who takes on the rule of others, and anyone who makes himself hated for matters of great consequences has made the right decision; for hatred does not last long, but the momentary brilliance of great actions lives on as a glory that will be remembered forever after.”

While Pericles does believe that the reality of political power does necessitate some heavy handedness, he differs from those of the generation after due to the condition that the state must exercise that power for a higher purpose. Those who came after him ignored his counsels to seek power for individual gain or to increase power.

Despite his untouchable reputation, Pericles did play a part in the start of the war by building up the cultural and economic supremacy of Athens at the expense of its colony states. According to Thucydides, the Peloponnesian War began out of jealousy and fear of the Athenian empire and the primacy of Athens in the region. In Pericles’ defense, he did at least live in the struggle between higher good and state interest, and between public interest and what was good for the city.

When Sparta opened their assembly to their allies to listen to the complaints regarding Athenian power plays in the region. Much like the “Cold War” conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, these primary powers in the region intervened in smaller country’s business to their own advantage. The Peloponnesians were trying to convince Spartan’s to go to war with Athens and urging them to become more like Athens to be a check on her power. It just happened that there were Athenian ambassadors present who overheard these complaints and had the opportunity to respond.

”When people follow their natural human inclination to rule over others, they deserve to be praised if they use more justice than they have to, in view of their power.”

In other words, they recognize that Athens does exercise its power over other states, but they are doing so for a higher good – for justice. They do not have to allow as many freedoms relative of another powerful country, but they do and should be applauded not criticized. Basically, there is nothing to fear from Athens’ benevolent power since it is a society based on laws and fairness. They remind people that because of its sacrifices against the Persians they rightfully earned their power. If the Spartans go to war with Athens and win, they will face the same challenges Athens does with the weaker states without the tradition of justice. Then they remind Sparta of the wisdom of their conservative nature.

”…you must realize how unpredictable war is. The longer it lasts the more it is likely to turn on chance. The odds of disaster are the same for both sides, and no one can see where the dangers lie”

This statement foresees a later Athenian argument with the Melos regarding the shifting fortunes of war and the ill-fated decision to expand the war to Sicily.

Straddling Political Realism and its Opposite

At the beginning of the war there is the struggle between the political realists and those who are clinging to a higher future good. Thucydides presents two cases where both super powers deal with weaker states – Plataea and Mytilene.

In the case of Plataea, Spartans offer the Plataeans a deal where they can be completely neutral city instead of being a city under siege. This would mean that Plataea would have to break their alliance with Athens while their women and children were being kept there for their safety. Plataea refused the offer and chose to be under siege instead. This appearance of giving Plataeans “a choice” gave the Lacedaemonians cover to overtake the state for their allies, the Thebians.

”Virtually everything the Lacedaemonians did against Plataea they did for the sake of Thebes, which they thought would be useful to them in the war that was then afoot.”

Having a court and offering a deal that could save them gave the appearance of being fair, while they were really acting in a political realist manner. In this “court” political realism overtook the Plataean argument that relied on historical promises being kept. The “court” kept the central question in the present tense – did they serve the Lacedaemonians and its allies in the war or not? Those who didn’t serve were punished, but the few who did serve were spared.

The Two Faces of Pragmatism

In the case of Mytilene, Athens was faced with a disloyal colony that was sentenced to death. Almost immediately there was a change of heart and there is a debate between Cleon and Diodotus regarding the Mytilene’s fate.

Cleon was the champion of punishing Mytilene, and was outraged that after voting for the death penalty they so quickly changed their minds. He chalks this up to the Athenians mistakenly thinking that they can be the same as their allies, and to their soft and comfortable existence. This existence blinds them to the dangers from the outside that sees the empire as a tyranny. Punishing colonies for striking out against you is what is expected if you want to be an empire. In this case, Athens is an empire called to do unpleasant things in order to keep control of political power. If one does not want to participate in unsavory and harsh actions, then they shouldn’t be an empire.

”…if they have the right to rebel, you ought not to have been their rulers. But then suppose your empire is not justified: if you resolve to hold it anyway, then you must give these people an unreasonable punishment for the benefit of the empire, or else stop having the empire so that you can give charity without taking risks.”

Pity, delight in speeches, and a sense of fairness to him are the most damaging to an empire. Here he shows displeasure at democratic deliberation that considers both sides. Rather than balancing all factors or mitigating circumstances, Cleon argues for immediate and self-interested retaliation for immediate injustice. Cleon finds fault in “dull anger” due to delay. His speech is one of a political realist, since he thinks the worst of human nature. People are coddled rather than rewarded, and they are always looking for an opportunity to take advantage.

”It is usual for cities to turn insolent when they suddenly come to great and unexpected prosperity…Long ago we should have given the Mytileneans no more privileges than our other allies, and they would not have come to this degree of insolence, for generally it is human nature to look with contempt on those who serve your interests, and to admire those who never give in to you.”

”Don’t you think anyone would seize the slightest pretext to rebel, when if they succeed they will win their liberty, but if they fail they will suffer nothing that can’t be mended?”

In the political realist ideology, cities respect discipline rather than fairness, and discipline is more important than historical ties. Fairness should be reserved for those who serve the empire’s interests in the present.

Diodotus responds to what he sees as Cleon’s appeal to emotion and short sightedness. The death penalty in this matter will not deter those cities that feel oppressed, since no conspirator starts an endeavor thinking they will be unsuccessful. It is natural for cities to either try to liberate themselves from empire or be interested in empire. Power and autonomy are equal desires for them. Capital punishment gives a false sense of security to those who use it while better security is met through prevention of rebellion. It is important to Diodotus that they focus punishment for the Oligarchs who actually hatched the plan rather than punish all in the city including Democrats. While they may have not risen up to fight against the treachery, keeping them as democratic allies makes more sense for Athens. If they destroy the colony, they will not be able to gain tribute monies needed for the war. If they destroy the democrats, then democratic allies may be pushed toward the Oligarchs.

The Velvet Gloves Come Off: The Melian Dialogues

Diodotus ultimately wins the debate and the Mytilene is spared except for those few who actively supported the attempted takeover. The vote was close indicating that Cleon was able to sway many decision makers of the need for “tough love.” Thucydides makes a distinction between actions prior to the war and actions after the war is in full swing. The plague brought on by overcrowding of Athens proper due to Pericles’ war tactics started to sour the public mood. War brings out the worst in human nature and even changes the language. Justice and moderation mean weakness. Revenge was nobler than piety. There was no such thing as common good or justice.

It is in this environment that Cleon’s position does get its day during the Melian Dialogues. Instead of it being a debate between Athenians, it appears that Athenians are putting on a united front against the Melians. Although they were allies of the Spartans, the Melians claimed neutrality, and argued for justice and shared interests. The Athenians immediately brush off any talk of justice.

”For our part we will not make a long speech no one would believe, full of fine moral arguments – that our empire is justified because we defeated the Persians, or that we are coming against you for an injustice you have done to us.”

The appearance of fairness gives way to brutal political realities. It’s as if the Athenians fully succumbed to their role as kings of the jungle – embracing Cleon’s love for simplicity of political realities. They will overrun Melos because they can. The Athenians are not going to attempt to put a moral justification for their behavior. They are merely stronger and will take what they can get for themselves. Negotiation is for equals, and Melos is not an equal to Athens. This is a departure from the democratic ideals of being sensitive to others or seeing both sides of an issue. Athens would prefer Melos to obey without struggle so not to damage their ability to pay tribute and be a benefit to the Athenian empire. To save the Melians would be more of a practical economic matter than moral one. The Melian Dialogues represent the realization that Athens is in an amoral, hostile world where the strong can dominate the weak and careful deliberation is for the weak.

The Athenians know that as a super-power their counterpart will act in their own self-interest and not contest the their taking of Melos. There is no downside to adding to their empire.

The Melians see that the Athenians have no concern for piety, fairness, the past, or future – they threaten that they may just want to take their chances in trying to remain free from domination. They state that the gods will judge the just from the unjust, and the gods will be on the side of Melos. They trust in the fortune of the gods. They also echo what once came out of Athenian’s mouths – fortunes can change unexpectedly in war and they just might win. Gone is the Athenian regard for a city’s passion for liberation. The regard expressed by Diodotus has turned into Athenian pity for misguided souls. Seeking honor is a folly and hope for the future belongs only to the strong. The Athenians appear to be correct since they do end up prevailing over Melos.

Athenian Legacy of Political Realism

Athens may have won Melos, but ultimately they are defeated when they overreach in Sicily. In that failure, they find there are limits to their ambitions when they misread the political reality.

While the Athenian empire gets defeated, its legacy of political realism lives on even to present day. It lives on not because they were consistently political realists throughout their history, but because they struggled with being a democracy and empire in a conscious way. Much of the irony we find in the Athenian experiment is from Thucydides’ own skill in weaving stories in a purposeful manner and interpreting motives behind the rhetoric. Yet, he is able to present each side’s point of view and maintains the virtue of accuracy over entertainment.

“I have made each speaker say what I thought the situation demanded, keeping as near as possible to the general sense of what was actually said.”

Thucydides teaches us that innovation and progressiveness can give way to more primal instincts. Athens realizes that the gods do go asleep when it comes to power politics – there is no need to dress up political action in niceties. It is not the gods that decide who the victor – only successful political action does.

[1] Plutarch, Greek Lives, Robin Waterfield, Oxford University Press, 1998, Page 149.

[2] Plutarch, Greek Lives, Page 163

[3] Plutarch, Greek Lives, Page 170

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Disobedience In The Face of Injustice

Martin Luther King Jr. considered the Civil Rights movement for African-Americans as the Third American Revolution or The Negro Revolution. To King, this revolution was a culmination of 300 years of injustice that could not wait any longer to be addressed. His answer was the tool of non-violent direct action, he had to defend the use of this tactic to moderate whites and religious leaders. To do so, he had to appeal to American, religious, and Western tradition for examples of righteous disobedience that they could relate to and draw parallels to the civil rights movement. King was compelled to justify non-violent civil disobedience on political and moral reasons. He had to answer the question brought to him – “How can you call for everyone to obey the 1954 decision on the desegregation of schools, while on the other hand you advocate breaking the law during your protests?”

In his essay, The Negro Revolution, King writes about the political reasoning behind the Third American Revolution. The revolution was the result of many factors – the delay in desegregating schools after the 1954 court decision, the tokenism of the Pupil Placement Law, disappointment with the inaction of both political parties, the Cold War outcry for the protection of freedom which gave African Americans motivation to defend their own freedom, and the de-colonization and independence movements of nations in Asia and Africa. The revolution emerged in the face of over 300 years of humiliation and could draw its lineage to the 1789 French Revolution and in the 1830s England’s Chartist movement. It had been 100 years since the emancipation proclamation was signed, yet no progress was made for African Americans. In 1963, there had been numerous celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the proclamation which made African-Americans realize that they may have been physically freed, but on all other levels they were not free. King cites Lyndon B. Johnson’s quote, “Emancipation was a proclamation, but not a fact.” (Why We Can’t Wait, Page 9)

King does not credit the convergence of all these factors alone fueled the Civil Rights movement. He credits having a philosophy and method worthy of the movement –non-violent civil disobedience. Although the concept of non-violent action did not originate in the United States, it found a natural home there.

Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon. It is a weapon unique in history, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. Both practical and moral answer to the negro’s cry for justice.”(Page 12)

In his essay, The Sword That Heals, King talks about how blacks were controlled physically through the institution of slavery and then after that other systems that “kept them in their place.” African-Americans were kept in silent fear and compliance by the threat of bodily harm and false imprisonment. Those in power knew this and used it to their advantage for decades. The beauty of non-violent civil disobedience is that it turned the relationship between the powerless and those in power on its head. African-Americans were asking for imprisonment and acted knowing full well that they would be in harms way. Facing the danger that they used to cower from gave African-Americans power over their oppressors.

When, for decades, you have been able to make a man compromise his manhood by threatening him with a cruel and unjust punishment, and when suddenly he turns upon you and says: ‘Punish me. I do not deserve it. But because I do not deserve it, I will accept it so that the world will know that I am right and you are wrong,’ you hardly know what to do. You feel defeated and secretly ashamed. You know this man is as good as you are; that from some mysterious source he has found the courage and the conviction to meet physical force with soul force.”(Page 16)

Power structures confronted with non-violent direct action became “paralyzed and confused.” (Page 25) The oppressor’s violent actions were brought out in the light of day in public where the whole world could see the injustice and their hatred. King also notes that much of the violence of the oppressor was muted as well by non-violent direct action, not only because the world was watching, but because “one side of would not resort to it, and the other was so often immobilized by confusion, uncertainty, and disunity.”(Page 26)

Imprisonment was no longer a source of shame for African-Americans, but a badge of honor. Thus, it took away some of the power their oppressors had over them. This taking away of power made African-Americans more aware of themselves as somebody. With a sense of somebodiness, they felt entitled to freedom and justice, which was the first major step toward liberation. (Page 16)

Other historical non-violent movements inspired African-Americans: the early Christians and Gandhi’s non-violent movement in India. By abandoning the “eye-for-an-eye” approach to protest, they showed that their movement was much more sophisticated. This tactic requires more will and moral strength to not hit back, as pure instinct would command. Non-violent action is more democratizing than violent rebellion. Such violence places importance on physical superiority. Non-violent action can draw in the elderly, the young, professionals, and average folk who believe in a cause. While cheers may go up when there is a call for violent revolution, more often than not the vast majority would stay home for fear that they could not possibly compete violence versus violence.

In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, King uses his time in jail to respond to his fellow clergy who call his non-violent direct action “unwise and untimely.” They accuse King and many of the protestors from Atlanta protesting in Birmingham as “outsiders coming in.” This letter addressed their concerns about his actions in terms that they would understand from the American, Religious, and Western tradition.

King’s response to their accusation of him being an outsider causing chaos in another town was simple. He stated that Birmingham and Atlanta’s organizations often shared resources, but above all, he was in Birmingham because it was where injustice was. In his mind, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Page 65) King was fully aware of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. If one allows injustice to prevail in one place, how can one expect to be free from injustice where they stand?

In King’s estimation, African-Americans had no alternative but to turn to non-violent direct action due to the lack of good will by the white power structure in Birmingham. In his letter, he spells out four steps to non-violent action. First, collect facts to determine whether injustices exist. The second step is negotiation. The third step is Self-purification and the last is direct action.

King lists injustices found in Birmingham. Birmingham was the most segregated city in the country. The city had an ugly record of brutality and unjust treatment in the courts when it came to African-Americans. There were more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in the nation. In a way, this list of injustices invokes the U.S. Declaration of Independence list of grievances against Britain. In a political sense, the listing of grievances demonstrates the actions are not out of inarticulate rage, but thoughtful consideration of the harm done to them.

According to King, there was an attempt at negotiating with the city fathers of Birmingham. They tried to negotiate a simple matter of racial signs with the city merchants. Those promises by merchants were ultimately broken, and it became obvious that they needed to be pressured to make change. It was impossible to negotiate with someone who was not willing to make a good faith effort in return.

The third step of non-violent action is self-purification. This step involved training in what non-violence means and what it requires. Two of its main requirements are that one has to accept blows without retaliation and be able to endure an ordeal in jail. It is normal human reflex to hit back when hit. The training gives them tools to overcome their reflexes to hit back. It also requires the person to reject hatred towards their oppressors, and instead use love as a weapon. In other words, they must love and forgive the individual oppressor while fighting the system that allows those individuals to oppress. Basically, the self-purification process is the training and commitment to staying on the higher moral ground, so you can most effectively expose the excesses of your oppressor.

The forth step is non-violent direct action. Its purpose is to create a crisis or tension to motivate others to change laws and attitudes. It is out of the recognition that those in power will not voluntarily change and the realization that order without Justice is more harmful than disorder.

Peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of Justice.”

The stumbling block to freedom, in King’s opinion, was not the KKK, but the white moderates who want order more than they want justice what he calls “negative peace.” He recognizes that the police have sometimes responded with non-violence in encounters with the movement. King rejects this as using moral means of non-violence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. He quotes well-known author T.S. Elliot saying “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” King expresses his disappointment at church leaders who tell their flock to follow the 1954 law because it is the law of the land. He would rather hear them instruct them to follow the law because integration is morally right and the blacks are our brothers.

Direct action is the act of creating a crisis and foster tension to force the community to confront issues that it would rather not deal with or willing to negotiate over. The action dramatizes the issue in a manner that cannot be ignored. King is not afraid of tension, but makes the distinction between non-violent tension and violent tension.

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of the myths and half-truths to unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for non-violent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”(Pages 67-68)

King sees participants of the movement as Socratic gadflies pestering the lazy horse that is America. The movement was not out to punish, but to bring Americans into the light and experience true brotherhood. It also conjures the vision of Plato’s cave in Book 7 of the Republic. In the cave analogy, people are bound in a dark cave unable to see themselves or others, and what they know of the outside world is merely shadows created by a man-made flame. Plato would force these residents out of the cave and into the light of enlightenment. King is using tension to bring society out of the cave.

I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and non-violent pressure.”(Page 68)

In King’s cave of prejudice and racism, he knows its residents are comfortable with the ways of the cave to walk out on their own. He has no choice to put pressure on these residents to face the discomfort of change. Change isn’t voluntary.

Lamentably, it is an historic fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Neibur has reminded us; groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.”(Page 68)

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”(Page 68)

Groups who have power and receive benefits from having power will not agree to hand over their advantage to those who lack power. King doesn’t discount individuals from the power group who may see the injustice of their privilege over others. It is not enough to appeal to the consciences of individuals, but it is important to address the society as a whole. Rights of a whole class of people shouldn’t hinge on the kindness of individuals but be recognized by all men.

To those who counsel King to wait for a better time to protest and to be patient, he responds by justifying what he sees as “legitimate and unavoidable impatience.” To King, it has been a 340 year wait made even more frustrating taking into account that nations in Asia and Africa are gaining their independence in relatively swift manner. The way he sees it, it is easier for those who do not have to live with injustice to say wait or presume to put a timetable on other people’s justice. In King’s own words, “Justice delayed is Justice denied.”

One of the biggest questions he answers in Letter From Birmingham Jail is, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” King insists that he isn’t for the chaos of lawlessness, but makes the careful distinction between just laws and unjust laws. In his mind, there is an obligation to obey the 1954 desegregation of schools because they are just. There is a moral duty to disobey unjust laws like segregation. King cites numerous religious philosophers and theologians to back up his argument. This would be designed to be quite persuasive to his audience of clergy. By using these voices, he is calling to their attention that non-violent civil disobedience is not merely a legal battle, but a moral battle. It is a moral battle that is consistent with laws of God and of nature. King resurrects these religious thinkers, who believed as he did, that there is a higher law that ultimately needs to be obeyed that defies relativism of current thought and beliefs.

Of unjust laws, King cites St. Augustine, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Augustine means that the entire purpose of the law is to establish justice for all. When the law falls short of that promise, it is as if there was no law at all. Augustine also defined an unjust law as “a code out of harmony with moral law.” Conversely, St. Augustine defined a just law as “a man-made code that squares with the moral law of God.” King refers to Thomas Aquinas and his definition of just and unjust laws based on the concept that there is a higher moral law.

An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”(Page 70)

What King is attempting to do with this quote is to connect the 1954 law as a law that uplifts human personality and segregation as a law that downgrades it. The 1954 law is based on the notion that African-American children deserve to learn with white children and receive the same benefits. The Brown vs. Board of Education ruling recognized the psychological benefits to children by allowing them to share the classroom with their white brothers and sisters. On the other hand, segregation was shown to treat African-American children as lesser beings by not being able to share in the same learning experience. It is not only the classroom where these children experience the sting of inferiority that laws impose on them.

…you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky…”(Page 69)

King invokes Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, who stated that segregation replaces the “I-it” relationship for an “I-Thou” relationship and ends up regulating persons to the status of things. (Page 71) Buber is talking about the experience of the Holocaust and the system that the Jewish people lived under during the Nazi regime. The atrocities by the time King wrote this letter had been brought to light by various trials. The Holocaust was a devastating example of the evil of classifying human beings as sub-human and is at the heart of how the unthinkable could happen. Separation is not only wrong in pragmatic and tangible ways, but it is essentially wrong on the level of the soul.

Hence segregation is not only politically, economically, and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.”(Page 71)

King quotes theologian Paul Tillich when he says that “sin is separation” (Page 71) and therefore the 1954 segregation law is just on theological grounds. King goes into detail on how he defines unjust laws, which rate disobedience by people of conscience.

An unjust law is a code that numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.” (Page 71)

A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”(Page 71)

When the majority cannot make laws that apply to one minority group, but not to all of the community. Would a white person be willing to be denied entry to a public place because of the color of their skin? The answer would be, “Certainly not!” Laws should not create second class citizens who are legally different and therefore treated differently under the law. Segregation laws do just that. On the other hand, the 1954 law establishes that all children are the same and deserve to be treated as such by the laws. King also recognizes the injustice of a group of people being denied the right to vote through conditional systems like poll taxes and literacy tests, but also denial through means of intimidation. Such barriers have kept African-American citizens from blocking and overturning unjust laws or being a part of creating just laws. Such impediments keep them from self-determination of being able to live under one law without the indignity of being seen as a lesser citizen.

When King said, “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application.”(Page 71), he is referring to laws requiring parading permits controlling the use of public property. He has no problem with the law itself and grants that a city needs some sort of order when it comes to use of public streets. His problem with this particular law is that the code was used to maintain segregation and deny African-Americans their first amendment rights to peacefully assemble and protest. If the code were used as they were first intended, King would have obeyed them. When the law is used to take away their voice, then justice demands citizens to disobey.

Breaking unjust laws demands much of those who choose to participate. It’s not only the ability to take blows and to determine what are just or unjust laws, but also the willingness to do so overtly rather than covertly. King is making the distinction between a common criminal and a moral objector of unjust laws. A common criminal disobeys laws in the dark of night with the intention of escaping detection and punishment. A moral objector of unjust laws participating in non-violent civil disobedience is “One who breaks and unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with willingness to accept the penalty.” (Page 72) King did so when it came to violating the court injunction to cease activities. Such injunctions were found useful to the opposition since courts could sit on cases indefinitely, which would silence protests indefinitely. They chose to defy the court injunction openly to the press being clear that they were not advocating anarchy, but acting in response to the misuse of the judicial system to perpetuate the injustice and segregation.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”(Page 72)

Non-violent civil disobedience isn’t lawlessness, but an expression of the highest respect for law as a tool for ensuring justice for all citizens. King’s civil disobedience is used to hold a mirror up to the society to show them what the government is doing to their fellow citizens and human beings by enforcing unjust laws. It is a declaration that cries out to the society at large what happens when certain citizens try to exercise the rights others enjoy. Clandestine breaking of laws defeats the whole point of showing the world the injustice of certain laws. In King’s mind, you must take law breaking in the spirit of creating lawful change of the laws, instead of promoting criminal behavior.

King makes the case that civil disobedience is not a new concept using various instances in history to bring the point home. By reminding his audience of historical precedents of civil disobedience, he hopes to reduce the fear factor of apparent newness of such tension in this generation. He brings up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who refused to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar around circa 588 BC. King reminds his fellow clergymen that early Christians were willing to face hungry lions and excruciating pain of the chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust anti-religious laws of the Roman Empire. In facing the death penalty rather than being silenced or running away, Socrates practiced non-violent civil disobedience. King also made an appeal to patriotism in pointing to the Boston Tea Party, as a massive act of disobedience. Summoning the memory of the Boston Tea Party offers the rhetorical question as to what would have happened to the fate of the United States, if those colonists did not have the courage to openly challenge their oppressors. Defiance of tyranny is no vice, as long as it has the goal to bring about justice.

King reminds his audience, that there were times in history where the definitions of justice and injustice were turned on its head. Hitler’s commands or wishes were considered “legal” in Germany, whereas the actions of the Hungarian freedom fighters in the Soviet Bloc were considered “illegal.” In southern states, segregation was the law of the land and those who those in the Civil Rights movement were thought to be criminals. Sometimes governments are criminal and the victims of those crimes have to find the courage to correct those wrongs. In times where definitions are turned upside down, there is a higher morality that can guide citizens to turn those definitions right side up.

King’s detractors warn that although his direct actions are non-violent, they do tend to bring on violence. King sees this argument as blaming the victim for the violence he receives. He likens it to condemning a robbed man for having money, Socrates being blamed for being unjustly executed, or to Jesus being blamed for his crucification due to his devotion to the will of God. The tension isn’t coming from the protesters, but those who can be predicted to resist political and societal change. The tension comes from the police dogs, fire hoses, and imprisonment of those merely wanting their grievances to be heard. The Civil Rights movement calling out and proclaiming that their rights as citizens and human beings have been robbed like someone who has just gotten their wallet stolen. The police do not beat up a man who yells out for help after his wallet is stolen, neither should they do so when people are yelling out for help because their rights have been taken away or denied. In Kings words, ”Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” (Page 74)

King is also characterized as an extremist. He responds by pointing out that his movement is more accurately between the complacent and those who advocate violent opposition to government. The movement resides between no action at all and actions that will result in outright bloodshed. Non-violent civil disobedience offers a sane alternative to violence without abandoning the fight for justice. Without such a religious-based movement, King feared that the streets would be rivers of blood, since frustrated African-Americans would be forced to extremist Black Nationalist movements. King reminds his audience that there are times when extremism is not an evil. Wasn’t Jesus an extremist for love? Wasn’t Paul an extremist for the gospel? Weren’t Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson extremists in their time for freedom? King like all these other “extremists” were what King called “creative extremists.” (Page 77)

One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what was is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”(Page 83)

King’s Third American Revolution was not only to put flesh upon the promises of the emancipation proclamation, but also to make whole the promises stated to all citizens in the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Through King’s historical references he digs up notions far older than our nation that speak to equality for all and how non-violent civil disobedience can be used to make promises of equality reality. His words stir up feelings of patriotism, religious fervor, and interconnectedness of humanity. While these feelings are stirred, he makes an excellent case for the Civil Rights movement in regards to why they cannot wait for justice and why they must break laws when they are immoral.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Entry for September 10, 2006

Haven't been doing much since I have had a head cold that has travelled to my chest and gave me a nasty cough. Then yesterday I had my stomach revolt. I am feeling a little better despite my awful cough and lingering cold.

I am imposing a news media blackout because I really do not want to relive the events of 9/11. I chose not to watch United 93 or World Trade Center for the same reason. It is just too sad. We collectively watched 3000 people die in one terrible morning and watched countless others have to live the agony that their loved one will never come back. We don't have to relive it to remind ourselves of that day or pay tribute to the dead. We will put out our flag in honor of the fallen -- something simple and dignified.

As terrible as 9/11 was, I had read the report the bipartisan commission headed by Gary Hart had put out about the terror threat. Neither political party did anything about it because the republicans were to busy to be on a witch hunt and didn't think terrorism was important enough. So for all the finger pointing the republicans are doing about Clinton being too distracted by scandal to do anything, they need to look in the mirror and take responsibility for starting the distraction and making the witch hunt more important than national security. Btw, this was a witch hunt the super majority of citizens didn't want to happen in the first place as evidenced by alot of republicans who took the leadership position in the impeachment were turned out of office.

It makes me angry that the Bush Administration squandered all the good will around the world by invading Iraq and decided that was more important than getting the people who attacked us. They missed an historic opportunity to get the world on board to work together against terrorism.

As terrible as 9/11 was the Indian Ocean Tsunami got to me most since it was so off the chart and so unexpected leading to 230,000 dead and 43,000 missing. I knew someone who died that day and knew people who survived it. It was an enormous human tragedy that tore my heart out. Boxing Day forever makes me sad.

I feel the same way about Katrina, but with a whole ball of anger associated with it. We are supposedly the most advanced and wealthy country in the world and we let our fellow Americans down.

I wish all my friends peace, love, and security. Be well.