frog's blog

Anuran, n. an amphibian of the order Salientia (formerly Anura or Batrachia), which includes the frogs and toads

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

King's Higher Synthesis

I can't imagine what Martin King would do with the controversies that crop up each January when we celebrate his birthday. The war president and the anti-war firebrand both claim to speak for the dream.

It's no secret that many think Harry Belafonte a better spokesperson for the contemporary, radical application of the dream than President George W. Bush, but the catastrophic cultural chasm only hinted at by the Bush-Belafonte divide is a canyon of indignation and intolerance that I believe King would have traversed with his faith in love's transfomation.

And I think King would have a better chance of leaping across this death-defying rhetorical and metaphysical canyon than Evel Knieval did flying his rocket over the Snake River.

Listening to Terry Gross talk with Taylor Branch last night, something struck me. According to Branch, in all of King's eloquent denunciation of war's horror, throughout his principled and critical oppostion to the war in Vietnam, especially as a criminal waste of cash when folks back home needed food and dignity, through all that, King never blamed or bashed LBJ.

Think about that and think about all the castigating caricatures of Bush that populate the popular resistance today. Don't think I'm going soft here: It's not that I don't think he deserves our scorn and possibly worse. Impeachment would be a mild and civil remedy. But Bush bashing is easy. Real revolution would be a much more challenging proposition.

King challenged us to take the more difficult and challenging path, the moral high ground, so to speak. And in these days of wars and hurricanes, scandals and implosions, of disasters actually planned by politicians without a clue, we radicals figure the moral high ground is a pretty easy place to claim with such immoral idiots wrecking the country in the name of morality. And in that stance, we get arrogant and cocky and self-righteous.

King warned us about that.
King's love challenged us to take responsibility for the errors of our so-called leaders, rather than abstracting "those people" into an object of contempt, into an other, an evil, a "them."

I doubt it fashionable to embrace love as political weapon; such reckless faith in the power of love and anti-violence strikes many as utopian fantasy. But it's King's vision at its most audacious that holds the most weight for me today as I confront the ideological challenge of living as a person of conscience in a country without one.

Collectively, we can transform the pitiful conditions of politics as usual. Or we can continue to whine, bitch, moan, and negate the negation.

He asked us for more of ourselves and more of our faith in each other, and it's in the radical depth of his love that I see a revolutionary and not a reformer. But this love, for King, is not "sentimental," has deep implications for social transformation.

One of my favorite speeches is called "Where Do We Go From Here." In it, King maps strategy as well as he drops wisdom from the rhetorical stratosphere as only he could do. As much as I admire and emulate the preachifying electricity he brought, the political plan within it is just as mesmerizing.

Lately, I've been thinking about this speech in terms of the culture clashes mentioned above, but also, in terms of a way out of the destructive path promised by another generation of global industrial capitalism.

Here, King transcends either-or traps with dialectical daring; he rejects the ideologies of left and right for one idea of a radical critique rooted in love. Some may find his conclusion limited by its religious metaphor; for all my atheist and agnostic comrades, I encourage y'all to interpret that notion in its broadest sense.

I'll end my King Day rant with an excerpt from that talk (the parentheticals are shouts coming from the audience, who loved to encourage King as he spoke):

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, "Why are there forty million poor people in America?" And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I'm simply saying that more and more, we've got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life's marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, "Who owns the oil?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Who owns the iron ore?" (Yes) You begin to ask the question, "Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that's two-thirds water?" (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right)

Now, don't think you have me in a bind today. I'm not talking about communism. What I'm talking about is far beyond communism. (Yeah) My inspiration didn't come from Karl Marx (Speak); my inspiration didn't come from Engels; my inspiration didn't come from Trotsky; my inspiration didn't come from Lenin. Yes, I read Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital a long time ago (Well), and I saw that maybe Marx didn't follow Hegel enough. (All right) He took his dialectics, but he left out his idealism and his spiritualism. And he went over to a German philosopher by the name of Feuerbach, and took his materialism and made it into a system that he called "dialectical materialism." (Speak) I have to reject that.

What I'm saying to you this morning is communism forgets that life is individual. (Yes) Capitalism forgets that life is social. (Yes, Go ahead) And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism, but in a higher synthesis. (Speak) [applause] It is found in a higher synthesis (Come on) that combines the truths of both. (Yes) Now, when I say questioning the whole society, it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. (All right) These are the triple evils that are interrelated.

And if you will let me be a preacher just a little bit. (Speak) One day [applause], one night, a juror came to Jesus (Yes sir) and he wanted to know what he could do to be saved. (Yeah) Jesus didn't get bogged down on the kind of isolated approach of what you shouldn't do. Jesus didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop lying." (Oh yeah) He didn't say, "Nicodemus, now you must not commit adultery." He didn't say, "Now Nicodemus, you must stop cheating if you are doing that." He didn't say, "Nicodemus, you must stop drinking liquor if you are doing that excessively." He said something altogether different, because Jesus realized something basic (Yes): that if a man will lie, he will steal. (Yes) And if a man will steal, he will kill. (Yes) So instead of just getting bogged down on one thing, Jesus looked at him and said, "Nicodemus, you must be born again." [applause]

In other words, "Your whole structure (Yes) must be changed." [applause] A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will "thingify" them and make them things. (Speak) And therefore, they will exploit them and poor people generally economically. (Yes) And a nation that will exploit economically will have to have foreign investments and everything else, and it will have to use its military might to protect them. All of these problems are tied together. (Yes) [applause]

What I'm saying today is that we must go from this convention and say, "America, you must be born again!" [applause] (Oh yes)