Monday, January 16, 2012

It's MLK Day

I am tempted to point out Martin Luther King's life and assassination as an example of the relative power and effect of the pen and the sword, of persuasion and force.

Force says, "Stop!" first and foremost; that's all it really can say and it's up to us to control what it stops -- the Deacons for Defense said "Stop!" to acts of oppression, while a jerk with a rifle* said "Stop!" to Dr. King.

Or tried to. --Force works best against force, the sword against another sword; it only stops what's happening at that moment. It dissuades those whose only tool is force.

Words, on the other hand, can say infinitely more than "Stop!" Thanks to the pen and the printing press, to audio recording, film and video, words live on, even after the man who spoke them is gone. You'll see excerpts from Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech all day.

There are any number of ways in which his politics and my own might differ; but on the idea of judging others individually, by "the content of their character," and not their complexion, accent or some other distraction, I agree with Dr. King.

It's a tough standard. Sometimes it's difficult to do. Most people talk about it -- but take the easy way out, whichever way that might be in their circumstances. Try anyway.

(Quite often, around Martin Luther King Day, contrarians will point out the man was no plaster saint. --I've got news for you, not even the plaster saints were saints. George Washington had a terrible temper and could nurse a grudge for years; Jefferson was lousy at business, even the business side of farming. Thomas Paine was so irascible that even his friends found him hard to take! You know what they have in common? They worked past their flaws, to reach for universal and lasting verities, and so did MLK. It's not about hagiography, it's about trying to find the best in ourselves -- and finding heroes who did the same.)
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* In keeping with my long-established policy, murderers do not get free publicity on this blog.

10 comments:

Nathan said...

Just another work day for this working stiff.

I could have taken it off but I decided to work and take a comp day next month when I actually need the time off.

Sure, King did and said great things. None of which, in my opinion, rated a national holiday in his memory.

Panamared said...

When I look through the eyes of the children of today, I see an America much closer to MLK's ideal than was expected during his life, or accepted by the politicians of the left. If you read his words or listen to his speeches you will learn that what he asked for was an equal opportunity not an equal result.

Anonymous said...

That's lovely, but Martin Luther King is like Mohandas Gandhi...they picked the right opponents. There are several countries where they would have never been heard of.

Mike James

Roberta X said...

A lot of people were never heard of before MLK and MKG succeeded, Mike. How difficult does it have to be for you to decide it counts?

The British were busy with other wars around 1776, you know.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Dr. King tried to move Civilization forward by advancing some very simple questions : Why are people being treated like Crap because of their Genetic Heritage? And what can we do to change that?

Then he acted upon those efforts to change things.

LabRat said...

"Be happy we didn't just violently squash you like bugs, because we could have" isn't the noblest of sentiments.

MOTOR said...

In my country (I am from Ukraine, )Luther King is not very popular person. But many people knows about him.

Roberta X said...

Motor, I'm not at all clear why Dr. King would be all that well-known in the Ukraine and, if so, not popular. It's kind of like me (or my neighbor) knowing about but hating on Lajos Kossuth de Udvard et Kossuthfalva (Kossuth Lajos at home). Well-known figure in his day, did some things generally regarded as good (and much disliked by a few) and very, very dead. (Not exactly the same, as a perusal of the Wikipedia article makes clear, but he's probably as good an example as I can find on short notice).

I have too much to worry about without adding the dread of zombie political figures to it!

Sabra said...

He was the public face of a highly necessary campaign. I have a difficult time explaining the Civil Rights movement--that it had to happen, that is--to my children, for which I am quite grateful. I really do wish a more nuanced portrait of the man was painted in school history classes, if for no other reason than to defang those who attempt to use his foibles as evidence the cause was not noble.

Ken said...

I have it on good authority that John Adams was obnoxious and disliked.