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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A New Year's Resolution Proposal For The Nation

One of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most quotable works brought both controversy and conflict to both himself and the Civil Rights movement. That work was his sermon/speech against the Vietnam War (click here). Just perhaps, the statement from that speech to which we need to pay the most attention, especially in the light of Ferguson, NYC, and the protests, is when he said:
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

We should note a couple of things contained in the above quote and some of the points to be made here were included the December 19 post (click here). First, that racism, materialism, and militarism are presented together as a group, not as separate items. They are a triplet. Elsewhere, King will present this triplet with a different slant. He also referred to these three as racism, poverty, and war. In either case, we can't, according King, separate racism from economic injustice regardless of which of the injustices has our focus. 

And what is said about economic injustice can also be said about war and militarism. King knew that the more money being spent on the military, the less funds would be available to alleviate poverty. And without a significant reduction in poverty, there would be disillusionment for those waiting for the end of racism. In addition, in this very speech, King notes how the young people he spoke with were inclined to imitate the violence practiced in our foreign policies, the Vietnam War in particular.

Second, the cause of these problems is the same; the cause is having a thing-oriented society. And in saying that, what King is saying is that people care more about things than other people. The things King identified are gadgets, profits, and property rights. And we know we are a thing-oriented society when we measure our economy and society by how much we can accumulate rather than how we can live as brothers and sisters. 

This second point makes all of us accountable. We cannot both work to end racism while counting things as being more important than people. Thus, we can't be overly concerned with the Dow-Jones stock prices and dividend payments and say we are investing to eliminate racism. We can't be more excited about buying the newest tech gadget than helping people and say we are concerned about ending racism. We can't vote for the politicians who will give us the very lowest tax rates and say that we want our government to eliminate racism. And we can't, in a spirit of patriotism, unconditionally support every mission our troops are sent on while fighting racism. Nor can we support spending on every new weapon system and say we are preparing to eliminate racism. In other words, we cannot maintain the status quo of maximizing profits, being wowed by technology,  and supporting war while eliminating racism.

But there is another point to be made here. If what King said is true and if the proliferation of WMDs is inevitable, then there will come a time in the near future when we will not be able to survive while remaining a thing-oriented society and thing-oriented people. So we must take the same approach to eliminating wars as we do to eliminating racism. That approach is that we count people as being more important than things.

Certainly we need to make structural changes to our society. Our current system is based on elite-centered rule where the relationship between the elites and the rest somewhat resembles the relationship between the Morlocks and the Eloi from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. To obtain compliance from a select group of the masses, elites use amenities such as a limited set of good jobs and a pleasurable lifestyle. But all of the people will eventually find themselves to be disposable at the discretion of the same elites. And for as long as our personal prosperity has numbed us to the sufferings of others, we resemble the Eloi.

But structural changes do not have much of a chance to endure without changing our cultural values. Changes in cultural values demand that people change personal values. At the same time, we cannot afford to wait for changes in personal and cultural values to start making structural changes. Such is the mistaken approach take by many Conservative Christians. For we need to note that cultural values are not just the product of a collection of individual values. Cultural values are also affected by the different economic, political, and other systems enjoyed by society. Thus, we need to take a two prong approach to changing cultural values. One is the bottom up approach where we change cultural values by changing the values of individuals. The other is a top-down approach where structural changes trickle down to change cultural values. Both approaches are necessary.

In the light of all this, our nation's New Year's resolution for this year should be to become a person-oriented society. Such a proposal may not sit well with my all of my fellow flaming fundamentalist friends and family for they forever favor putting God first as being the only hope for society to survive. Unfortunately, in a society based on freedom of religion, such a proposal would be correctly seen as an attempt to manipulate unbelievers. The first reason why this is so is that for much of our nation's history, having predominantly been a "Christian" society, our nation did not make much progress in eliminating racism. In other words, us Christians have a track record that cannot be easily erased from the history books. The second reason is that there are  atheists who have worked far more diligently against racism than many Conservative Christians have. 

Thus, the proposal that, as a nation, we must put God first in order to solve our problem with racism is one that, in reality, seeks a privileged position for Christianity in society. It says that to eliminate discrimination, one group must be shown favoritism. Thus, we Christians must run the show. However, if we Christians really want to influence society, we would appeal to what both Christians and nonChristians can be in favor of. We would appeal to what can bring both Christians and nonChristians to work together. And saying such does not mean that we can change our values without God. It is simply that we don't necessarily have to express dependence on Him to depend on Him. He can work in us whether we acknowledge that or not. And sometimes our taking credit for what God has done is called plagiarism. 

And so we come again to the proposal for our nation's New Year's resolution. Will we regard people as being more important than things? The more we do, the better our chances are at defeating racism along with other problems. But if we stay the current course, we will, despite what we claim about ourselves, remain committed to maintaining racism either deliberately or unintentionally by accepting it as a negative side effect.




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