LOW-COUNTRY CADENCES: Dr. King spoke that language too!


Part 3—An electrifying event:
In our view, the pushback came remarkably fast when the families in Charleston spoke about love and forgiveness.

The pushback came from the up-country gurus who have been leaving us barefoot and clueless over the past several decades. The condescension was fast and familiar concerning the low-country rubes.

Our “cable left” didn’t seem pleased with the things the families had said. In some ways, we thought Professor Butler’s statement to Chris Hayes was most notable of all:

“The problem is, love and forgiveness are not productive in American politics. That`s not how social change is achieved. You know, you could do it through organizing, you could do it through electoral politics, you could take it to the streets, but being nice in the face of white supremacy does not advance racial justice.”

We were surprised when we saw Professor Butler make that statement. For one thing, we’ve read Dr. King. Beyond that, we’re so old that we can remember the twentieth century—the century of Gandhi, King and Mandela.

It was plain that Professor Butler was very upset last week. There’s no obvious reason why he shouldn’t have been upset.

Still, as giants of cable and the web condescended to those families, we thought a basic point might be worth remembering:

Way back when, a famous person spoke precisely the way they spoke after the Charleston murders.

That famous person was one our greatest political achievers. It might be worth remembering this when we turn on cable each night.

We refer, of course, to Dr. King, who spoke at length about love and forgiveness throughout his ministry and his career. When the Charleston families spoke as they did, they were speaking from the tradition of Dr. King—one of the most brilliant moral and intellectual traditions the world has ever known.

Our cable savants rarely imagine the possibility that their low-country cousins may be speaking from a tradition more brilliant than their own. For that reason, it might be worth recalling Dr. King’s account of his own thinking about social change—for example, the account he gave in Stride Toward Freedom, his history of the Montgomery bus boycott.

Chapter 6 of that book is called Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. In that chapter, Dr. King described the “intellectual quest” he finally undertook in earnest when he entered Crozer Theological Seminary at age 19—“a serious intellectual quest for a method to eliminate social evil.”

No one is required to agree with the conclusions Dr. King reached. But before we condescend to those Charleston families, we might want to understand that they are speaking the language of Dr. King—one of the greatest social achievers in American and world history.

The full text of Dr. King’s chapter 6 is here. Warning! On various occasions, his purity of heart may seem embarrassing in the modern context.

That said, you’ll see this world historical figure speaking the language of love and forgiveness, just as those families did. Let’s start when his intellectual quest takes an important turn.

While at Crozer, Dr. King says, he “spent a great deal of time reading the works of the great social philosophers...from Plato and Aristotle down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Benthan, Mill and Locke.” He spends several pages describing his reactions to his reading of Marx.

“During this period I had about despaired of the power of love in solving social problems,” Dr. King writes, saying he had perhaps been influenced by Nietzsche. He then describes an electrifying event which would change his view of the world:
KING (page 96): Then one day I traveled to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. He was there to preach for the Fellowship House of Philadelphia. Dr. Johnson had just returned from a trip to India, and to my great interest he spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works.

Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously. As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of non-violent resistance. I was particularly moved by his Salt March to the sea and by his numerous fasts. The whole concept of “Satyagraha” was profoundly significant to me. (Satya is truth which equals love, and agraha is force. “Satyagraha,” therefore, means truth-force or love force.) As I delved deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi my skepticism concerning the power of love gradually diminished, and I came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform.
No one is required to agree with anything Dr. King thought or believed. That said, you’ll note that this world historical figure is speaking the language of the Charleston families.

For ourselves, we’re inclined to think their language was brilliant. As Dr. King continues, he continues to speak in those low-country cadences. He describes his own utter mistake:
DR. KING (continuing directly): Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The “turn the other cheek” philosophy and the “love your enemies” philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.

Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.
Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and non-violence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking.
No one is required to agree with Dr. King’s reading of Gandhi. No one has to agree with the conclusions he drew.

We’re only suggesting that we might want to acknowledge a basic point—those Charleston families were speaking the language of this world historical giant. It’s a point you’re unlikely to see expressed on your favorite cable news channel, or in the profit-fueled piddle-poo they serve us each day at the new Salon.

We’re sorry to be the ones to say this, but Dr. King believed in what he called “the love ethic of Jesus.” He believed that Gandhi was perhaps the first person to transform that “love ethic” into “a powerful and effective social force on a large scale.”

According to Dr. King, it was in “this Gandhian emphasis on love and non-violence” that he “discovered the method for social reform” he had been seeking since his teen-age years. “I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” he said as he continued.

Who knows? Thanks to the wisdom of cable news and the web, we may have reached the point where we can see that Dr. King was well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided.

In The Grand Inquisitor, Dostoyevsky imagined Jesus returning to earth to learn that Christians don’t want to hear his views any more. Perhaps we’ve reached a similar state with respect to Dr. King, Gandhi and Mandela. The cable insights of Rachel and Sean may have obviated our need for these once-famous figures.

For ourselves, we think there’s still a lot to learn from the views Dr. King expressed in Stride Toward Freedom. As he continued discussing his intellectual quest, he discussed some very important ideas, including his refusal to create and denigrate The Other—his explicit refusal to hate.

(“The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent,” Dr. King wrote, “but he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolent resist stands the principle of love.”)

For ourselves, we think the rest of Dr. King’s chapter 6 includes a collection of insights which are applicable to social movements today. We’ll scan that material tomorrow.

That said, Dr. King’s views and beliefs bear little relation to the current behavior and impulses of us on the cable news left. Let’s face it! If Dr. King appeared on cable today, puzzled producers would shake their heads and vow not to have him back.

No one has to agree with Dr. King’s rejection of otherization. That said, will someone please tell our fiery leaders that their low-country cousins were swaying last week to the cadences and the language of one of the world’s greatest historical figures? One of our greatest achievers?

Tomorrow: “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent, but he also refuses to hate him.”

Warning! It gets even worse after that...


  1. What a dumb post.

  2. The blog posting on this internet blog begs the question. It's totally stupid. I did enjoy penultimate paragraph for the wit in it but rest is the worst of blogs postings.

    1. There is an interesting article on trolls circulating today. A researcher named Phillips says that trolls are largely white male holders of privilege who enjoy hurting others by driving them to negative emotion. They view themselves as protectors of that privilege and they lack empathy (obviously, or they wouldn't get off on hurting other people). What they consider wit is embodied by the person going around saying "sick burn" and it consists of scoring against others.

      I think any normal person should be embarrassed to be called a troll because it implies that a lot is lacking in the kind of decency that makes someone a good person. That there are folks who have little interest in being good, decent people is pretty sad, but if there are serial killers out there, there are obviously trolls too. Humanity comes in a lot of warped forms.

    2. Sick burn of a sick burn. Racist too. "White males of privilege." Your researcher named Phillips is probably a white male of privilege with deep psychological mother and father problems causing him to enjoy feeling guilt or "empathizing" by creating miserable victims of minority groups.

    3. You are incapable of discerning any meaning beyond the superficial. That is hardly normal. You are incapable of letting your trivial complaints go. That is abnormal too. Stop this hostile crap. No one wants you here -- notice how no one ever contradicts me when I say that.

    4. @9:26 is 12 years old.

    5. As a 12 year old I find the comments @ 12:26 better than her comments @ 12:24. When she repeats herself it reminds me of the blogger himself.

      I don't like her when she attacks men for no reason though. Like she did @ 7:51.


  3. Greatest hits of Zandria Robinson who was fired/resigned from her perch as sociology professor at the University of Memphis:

    "Whiteness is most certainly and inevitable terror."

    "White students threaten us and their racist and sexist evaluations of us factor into our job security.”

    "Meanwhile, I had to respond to allegations tweeted at an institution's president whether or not I am a threat to White students."

    Now we know what women should grace the $3 bill.


    1. Now we know what mrc gets for 30 cents.

    2. Sounds like another fiery liberal leader who needs to hear the Lessons of Love from Spellcaster Somerby.

  4. As we know from the movie, Gandhi's position during WWII was let Hitler do whatever he wanted. Was he correct? Was there not perhaps a bit of passive aggression towards the British in that, shall we say, problematic stance?

    King's brilliance was seeing where Civil Disobedience could be used effectively and using it. Should the families have demanded Hood be released, given him a gun and said "do what you will?"
    We have all seen Bob in markedly unMLK like mode. Should he behave that way and lecture northern pushback?

    Lenny Bruce used to make fun of clueless, white bigotry. Then he took pains to point out that much of said was not vicious or cruel, but rather immature and provincial. I agree with Bob, trying to explain that to a Salon reading and believing liberal today would probably make his or her head explode. But we are both probably exaggerating the overall impact of Salon.

    1. King's brilliance was letting SNCC do all the heavy lifting, then coming in when the time was right.

    2. Oddly, the movie Selma portrays King as the one bringing the confrontation to help spur LBJ's civil rights legislation along. I think MLK's reputation is being enhanced retrospectively to include the kind of kick-ass attitude modern teens expect in their superheroes.

    3. Predictably, Bob Somerby did not like the portrayal of peaceful King and his great white benefactor LBJ by the "angry" black female filmmaker who directed Selma.

      I wonder if there was an angry black female in a position of power somewhere in Bob's school teaching past?

    4. It isn't that she was angry but that she was inaccurate, warping facts to fit her preferred narrative. Perhaps there was a destructive narrative somewhere in Somerby's past. Oh wait, there was, and it got Bush elected -- he keeps telling us about it himself.

    5. Black people set the agenda for Selma! Inferentially, Johnson didn’t!

      As bumper stickers go, we tend to prefer “Black and white together” to “Black people can run the show.”

    6. Lesser figures like DuVernay probably shouldn’t traffic in representations of our prophets and saints.

    7. Figures like DuVernay are trafficking in propaganda when they distort historical events for their own purposes.

      Why does a demographic minority believe it should "run the show"?

  5. So much for the argument a commenter made yesterday that Somerby wasn't talking about Paul Butler when he talked about people"pushing back" against the families of the victims.

    So much for the suggestion that Bob Somerby was taken out of context and did not mean Butler was expressing displeasure with the families.

    Oddly enough Somerby himself has yet to mention in all his discussions about Butler that the context of the conversations Somerby picks quotes from was about removal of the Confederate flag and honoring Confederate ancestors. The families were never mentioned.

    I'll adopt Somerby's tactics.

    Throughout his posts on the subject of the murder of innocent church going black people by a racist white gunman in Charleston, we were surprised that the primary focus of Bob Somerby has been to distort the reactions of black people into an attack on families of the victims.

    Why would a white blogger wish to focus exclusively on an concerted effort to pit one group of black people against those most grievously harmed by the act of a white killer motivated by a white supremacist philosophy?

    Why does his theme seem to confirm the one other point he condemns these angry black voices for making...that white people, and the media are telling blacks they need to act with forgiveness and love when it comes to violence against them from whites.

    We are reminded of a long conversation we had with a fearless friend, the late Congressman Mickey Leland, who died on a mission to help starving people in Africa. He once described to us the kind of behavior we seem to be witnessing from Bob Somerby as "White Missionary Liberal Imperialism."

    All blacks don't look alike...but they should think alike, and preferably like the one person upon whom we have collectively bestowed civil sainthood.

    1. You continue to misunderstand. Somerby argues by analogy and writes using metaphor and figurative language. You don't do any of that -- we get that. The pushback against the families is embodied by the urging against forgiveness in social justice activism. Somerby reasons by analogy from one to the other. Butler doesn't have to say anything specific about the families to have repudiated their forgiveness as he discusses the need for anger to obtain progress in political spheres. Somerby sees the connection between the two because he thinks laterally and is a creative person. You are a brain-damaged troll why thinks so concretely and literally that you cannot follow his arguments. Your repeated posts here are a nuisance and it is sad that you cannot think well, but you need to let this go. You are wrong about it because you do not grasp how literate people use language.

    2. "Somerby argues by analogy and writes using metaphor and figurative language."

      So he talks in a metaphoric and figurative code only his true believers can properly interpret, and never means exactly what he says or says exactly what he means.

      Thanks for explaining that.

    3. No, he talks in a clear and understandable way that trolls mock because they are trolls.

    4. That said, @ 9:55. That said.

      In our view, of course. In case we seemed to suggest you implied something else.

  6. The song stylings of Blind Liberal Somerby...

    "That said, will someone please tell our fiery leaders that their low-country cousins were swaying last week to the cadences and the language of one of the world’s greatest historical figures? One of our greatest achievers?"

    That said? Do tell Brother Bob.

    We, however, think it wasn't Dr. King. The language they were listening to was that of their Lord and Savior. But that may be because we didn't drop our religion the first Sunday we were in college like some mid century east coast Ivy League Irish Catholic we heard jesting about it.

    BTW Bob, thanks for the tip on the book about Gullah women who talk to the dead. Helps explain your conversations with the analysts.

    1. You're right but I've never heard Bob deny the inspiration behind Dr. King's language was Christianity. Omit, perhaps, which is not one of the better developments as far as anything a progressive would claim to care about. Religion is probably the only way a notion like "equality" can be rationally embraced to the extent it causes or maintains change.

    2. "I've never heard Bob deny......"

      One of the best Bobapologies ever.

    3. Anything that can be imagined by religion can be contemplated without it. Religion is a human construct, as are the ideas contained in religious theologies. King was historically religious but that doesn't mean a secular version of King couldn't have arisen. Gandhi's religious views are very different than King's for example.

    4. A secular version of King wouldn't have a moral Truth to reference, only a moral opinion. The limit of secular humanism.

    5. No one regards religious truth as truth except religious people. The situation is exactly the same.

    6. Nobody has told the grieving children and grandchildren that their dead relatives have really not gone to a better place where they now sit at the hand of God among angels on high. But it is a belief in that fate that allows them to forgive while expecting a higher power to perhaps have another destination in mind for Mr. Roof. In fact they believe what happened was the work of the God they worship.

      Sorry, Mr. Somerby. Nobody has cuffed these poor low country folks with that argument.

    7. Come back when you can express a coherent thought.

    8. Religious people regard religious truth as objective truth. Non-religious and religious people know that humanist "truth" is subjective opinion. Yes, how compelling an argument can be it comes down to whether a point of view is "regarded" as based in an eternal truth or capricious ever-changing human opinion. Religion has been a most important force in every instance of positive social progress in this country, as the very idea of "equality" is a spiritual one, not found in human nature.

    9. anon 12:34, perhaps you forget the rallying cry of the French Revolution, 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' - I don't believe inspired by religion. Instead, this was an initial historical movement rebelling against the stifing human spirit destroying religious orthodoxy of the time. Certainly, a superstitious belief in an almighty being inspires many to do good (or not do bad), but as I'm sure you know there is a long, ongoing history of religious slaughter and savagery.

    10. No one believes religion cannot inspire oppression and other evils. The point is if a call for equality isn't to be easily dismissible as a temporal matter of opinion it must be founded in an eternal truth which only exists if humanity is a product of a higher moral intelligence and not simply physical processes.

  7. Looks like a couple of folks got lucky picking out photos of sandwiches before lunch. If I've told Somerby once, I've told him a thousand times. Use sushi in the morning.

  8. I was kind of hoping Somerby would get back to covering Rachel Maddow being wrong about Trump doing OK in Republican polls.

  9. @ 2:11 PM - project much?

  10. Non-violence only works if your adversary is disinclined to actually kill you. Gandhi would not have been as dismissive of Hitler and Nazism if it had been on his doorstep rather than thousands of miles away; he had the luxury of distance and anything that served to weaken British colonial rule served his goals. It was only the reluctance of the colonial troops (many of whom were fellow Indians) to actually repeatedly massacre Gandhi and his followers that his movement succeeded. The Nazis would have had no such compunctions.

    The same calculus was at work in the civil rights movement. For the most part, white society did not want to resort to murder to maintain segregation. That was what allowed Dr. King to be successful. It did not stop him from being killed by a zealot who was undeterred at the prospect of going to jail or even being executed for killing him.

    1. The word "adversary" is a clumsy word. In the US we're fighting the 1%, police, slash and burn economics, systemic corruption etc. In what way is this similar to Jews fighting Nazis? If anything we have to learn not to DO what the Nazis did when faced with an economic depression, but a hunger for natural resources.

      Surely we wouldn't advise a Nazi against nonviolence?

    2. You didn't answer my question.Surely we wouldn't advise a Nazi against nonviolence?

  11. Forgive but don't forget.
    We tend to forget if we ever knew (which is unlikely if the history I was taught in high school and college is any indication).

  12. Once you can organize a grand symbolic gesture, the movement probably has momentum. However, the Indian independence movement did not begin with the Salt strike. It actually began with Communist agitators peeling away Indian nationals from supporting the British, through one-on-one talks with the soldiers.

    Psychologists believe we have about a dozen types of thinking hardwired into our brain called "distortions." These are key to discovering an individual's train of thought, and it follows, consideration and kindness.

    Unfortunately, this skill is used for evil. If you read the transcripts of Bin Laden, or even Justice Roberts, Jeffrey Goldberg or your local editorial hack, you can see playful whimsy, irony, rhetorical questions. All designed to get your attention and to point your disloyalty toward a scapegoat. To look at this political economy and hate the system itself takes a lot of effort. It's much easier to find an individual. They attempt to have you understand their points as you understand yourself and they work actually very hard at this.

    Ultimately, Gandhi did harness the Indian independence movement's momentum for the Salt protest. But recall what he was asking! These dramatic gestures are understood to be powerful, and for that reason are met with overwhelming police force. Do most white people *today* understand what is at stake enough to possibly brave prison, or even just challenge ourselves to be more considerate and kind?

  13. "Beyond that, we’re so old that we can remember the twentieth century—the century of Gandhi, King and Mandela."

    You mean the century of WWI and WWII that caused the collapse of white western imperial absolute rule of the non-white world?

    You mean the century where two of the leaders you cite rose to prominence in movements to overthrow domination by a tiny white minority?

    You mean the century where one of the leaders used tactics of another to display to a majority of the whites in his country how a white majority in one region was brutally suppressing rights of a minority in that region. The leader who by bravely using non violent confrontation (not seen as love and forgiveness by anyone at the time) provoked that regional white majority into violence that repelled a majority in the rest of the country, forcing them to act to overrule the regional racists, who were never quite won over in their hearts and minds?

    That the century you remember Somerby? You are quite the philosopher/historian there, professor.

    I am old enough to remember a lesson you taught earlier this year. "Lesser figures.... probably shouldn’t traffic in representations of our prophets and saints."