Jan 20, 2014

The Problem We All Live With. Some Thoughts on This Martin Luther King Day, 2014

Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With"
On the occasion of the MLK day, I've read and heard several speeches of the slain civil rights leader and, of course, most of us today wonder why American society was so opposed to equal rights, or more specifically to blacks having equal treatment under the law and equal opportunity like anybody else.

It's conservatism! Being conservative is a disposition--an attitude towards change and something new. Conservatives exist in all political parties. This was particularly true in the 1950s and 1960s in the Democratic party. Many of the opponents to the Civil Rights acts, most from the old South, left the party and joined became Dixiecrat Republicans. President Lyndon Johnson said that the South would be lost for his party after he signed the CRA. It's been certainly true, but a couple states like Virginia and North Carolina may be trending the other way now.

There's a difference in disposition between conservatives and liberal-progressives. I think we have a better imagination and we are more confident over all. Why is imagination necessary? To evaluate abstract scenarios, to imagine change, whereas a conservative prefers the "tried and true," tradition, familiarity and can't imagine a different world. Blacks having same rights as whites? Oh, goodness, traditional society would collapse, a way of live (which included either slavery or later discrimination and separation of the races) of the old was preferable to a new order.

PBS's documentary, Slavery By Another Name, is a must-watch *

Confidence? Well, sameness is comforting. Confirmation bias, solidarity of thought and action is soothing to a conservative.  We all have this trait to some extent. We like to see our choices, thoughts, beliefs, customs, etc, confirmed; it validates our life...   Yet, some of us are willing to accept correction; we're open to revision, and seek the truth even if it's uncomfortable. Confidence doesn't mean stubbornness of a closed mind, but it means that the new, the different doesn't necessarily make us uncomfortable. And we can image a world with all races, creeds, and sexual orientation.

Isn't the same approach and the also the difference between the conservatives and liberals when it comes to same-sex marriage? My heterosexual makeup isn't threatened by homosexuality. My heterosexual marriage or relationship isn't threatened by homosexual unions or marriages. The right to marry a person of your choosing is having equal opportunity and treatment under the law. End of story (for a liberal).

Speaking the Tongue of the Natives

MLK was a great leader and even a better orator and thus motivated lots of people to meaningful action for civil rights. He spoke like a preacher, which, for me, isn't my favorite elocution. I don't want to be preached at. I don't want to be told that a certain action is good because it has the blessings of a god, or the God.  However, MLK spoke the language of religion in a deeply religious land, whereas both sides had used religious language to justify their positions.

But, many people on both sides were practicing confirmation bias--using the Bible to justify their positions. Guess what? The Bible has a little for every one. Am I glad that MLK's Bible quoting and religious messaging worked to help bring about change? Certainly! Because, this was a much-needed change. 

However, it should be noted that the Bible condones slavery! [source]  I would expect a messiah to preach against the evils of slavery, but Jesus didn't. The Gospels in the New Testament don't advocate for a slave-free world. On the contrary. Women's status? Subservient. We're talking about divine morality here. The word of God, good then, good today, and unalterable in the future!

Anyway, we have a long way to go despite our advances, many of which have been forcefully opposed by conservatives of all types. We're still very primitive in how act, think, and often treat each other. 

 * This PBS documentary examines the conditions of servitude that existed until the second part of the 20th century in the US. It's definitely worth a watch.