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.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.
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.
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.No one is required to agree with Dr. King’s reading of Gandhi. No one has to agree with the conclusions he drew.
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.
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...