MLK rescue

Shocked that I had never heard of a Basic Income or that people from Robespierre to Martin Luther King have advocated something like it – I ordered some books. Always hoping to walk the talk I bought them through Powell’s thanks to Steve Early. I don’t think Amazon even had Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community and I don’t think Holly Sklar’s book of the same title Chaos or Community came up in the search either. Starting with the stained back cover a whole new history opens up.

Marin Duberman (probably  a tough guy after a childhood with that name) of Book Week provides the blurb "Faced with abuse from all sides, King had not only remained temperate but has continued to seek reconciliation… At the same time he has continued to speak his mind, refusing to let please for tactical caution obscure the imperative responsibility he feels… to apply ethical standards to international as well as domestic questions… What a pity he will never be our President."

I grew up with Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday playing at every birthday, never imaging the saint had been abused at any point. With some though you realize this is a bizarre image to have along with all the civil rights protesters being attacked by dogs and being married. This blog has a partial transcript of Cornel West talking with Tavis Smiley about "the Santa Clausification of the brother." The YouTube link is powerful too, shocking abuse from the mouth of President Johnson. My grandmother would have gotten out her bar of soap.

Fair mentions this confounding media phenomena too.

What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).

An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.

Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.

Besides the Basic(guaranteed) Income idea, the forgotten "war on poverty" here’s links to text and audio of the Beyond Vietnam speech that the (corporate) media seems to avoid. "Silence is Betrayal" is a quote at least as worthy as "I have a dream." And FAIR hits the nail on the head again, the Beyond Vietnam speech was given during the missing years after 1965 – April 4, 1967. King’s Chaos or Community was published during this memory hole period too. He’s not Santa Claus, he reads like Michael Albert on strategy, you get the same kind of activist insights as you might find in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. It coincides nicely with the recent Basic Income book by Daniel Raventos of Spain. Chaos or Community is a beautiful book from 1967, my copy is stained and faded, but the way he is so open, the complimenting and critical stance might be a model for debates in movements.

Martin Luther King’s 42 year old book makes you think of 10 year old Seattle’s Teamsters and Turtles demonstration. The parton on "when hope diminishes, the hate is often turned most bitterly toward those who originally built up the hope" makes you think here’s another book someone should hand to Obama. Maybe that would get it re-printed and up-ranked in on-line bookstores. Chavez handing Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America to Obama even made the morning radio news in Japan. The female correspondent had even read it in university. The overall tone of the broadcast was "why can’t they all just get along, Obama has made some gestures – do the powerful have to do something substantive to smooth things out in thier ‘backyard’?" but still, having a Galeano synopsis on NHK was great. MLK constantly mentions the lofty laws and rhetoric lackin of enforcement and budgets, from the Emancipation Declaration to Civil Rights laws.

No Impact Man has a blog entry on progress and motivating people that echoes MLK passages also referencing Tolstoy and Ghandi.(p.55)

Anyway, there is a book by Tolstoy which was apparently one of three by him that were of great inspiration to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, among others. The book–A Confession–is Tolstoy’s autobiographical account of the crisis of meaning he had in his forties, his contemplations of suicide, and the ultimate resolution of the crisis.

I found it interesting that, in this book, Tolstoy himself questioned progress. In fact, he discusses "progress" as a kind of religion in which people blindly put their faith because they are too scared to deal with life’s larger questions. We dedicate ourselves to so-called progress, he implies, because we don’t know in service of what we should really dedicate our lives.

He makes a particular example of the guillotine, which at the time was thought to be the height of progress because it performed executions without the potential torturous errors of the executioner’s axe.


Tolstoy writes:

Life in Europe and my acquaintance with leading and learned Europeans confirmed me yet more in the faith of striving after perfection in which I believed, for I found the same faith among them. That faith took with me the common form it assumes with the majority of educated people of our day. It was expressed by the word "progress." It then appeared to me that this word meant something. I did not as yet understand that, being tormented (like every vital man) by the question how it is best for me to live, in my answer, "Live in conformity with progress," I was like a man in a boat who when carried along by wind and waves should reply to what for him is the chief and only question. "whither to steer," by saying, "We are being carried somewhere."


I did not then notice this. Only occasionally–not by reason but by instinct–I revolted against this superstition so common in our day, by which people hide from themselves their lack of understanding of life. . . . So, for instance, during my stay in Paris, the sight of an execution [by guillotine] revealed to me the instability of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw the head part from the body and how they thumped separately into the box, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress could justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world had held it to be necessary, on whatever theory, I knew it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I. Another instance of a realization that the superstitious belief in progress is insufficient as a guide to life, was my brother’s death. Wise, good, serious, he fell ill while still a young man, suffered for more than a year, and died painfully, not understanding why he had lived and still less why he had to die. No theories could give me, or him, any reply to these questions during his slow and painful dying. But these were only rare instances of doubt, and I actually continued to live professing a faith only in progress.

Tolstoy writing of ‘progress’ makes you think of the writers and others going to Vietnam and saying, sure we’re not using nuclear weapons but we’re developing spinning bullets, napalm, Agent Orange and other incredibly destructive weapons. Tom Dispatch just had retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and Air Force Academy teacher William Astore on (forgotten) author Mary McCarthy’s writings and questions about Vietnam.

I don’t think I ever read any Tolstoy but he had great reviews in The Modern School – well, I was impressed with accounts of how he played with the children in the anarchist schools started by Emma Goldman and everyone way back when.

I have to pull together Maxine Hong Kingston and David Montgomery on Chinese Men building the railroad but her book synopsis on changing after the death of a family member evoked Tolstoy above.

The Basic Income idea has been a great stimulus for digging up history. It’s also my only exposure, other than parecon writings, to looking at policy with values(ethics) in mind.  But that will have to wait for another blog entry.

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