Monday, January 18, 2010


The Strategy of Nonviolent Resistance

Everyone is familiar with the "I Have a Dream" speech, but I just heard Martin Luther King's acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. It's really good, except that he inconsistently thinks tapping on the federal government is a peaceful solution to political and moral problems.

I thought maybe this was simply an intellectual error on his part, but in another speech commemorating the Civil Rights movement, MLK praised a "Southern president" for having the courage to use the "might of the federal government" to break open the fetters of the Alabama government. Now if Lyndon Johnson were a well-regarded moral authority like the Dalai Lama, then we could still say MLK didn't see the contradiction. But no, he was calling on a stronger engine of oppression--the one he opposed for bombing people in Vietnam--to help him overturn oppression at a smaller scale.

Note also that I'm not merely throwing in a criticism to be a nitpick. Under anybody's definition, the hopes of the Civil Rights marchers have not been realized. If you had asked them to describe the situation of the black community in 2010, under the first black president, I think they (a) would be shocked that it happened so fast and (b) would be shocked at how little progress was made on many of the other deficiencies that fueled their righteous indignation. That's what happens when you turn to the federal government to help your cause. (And note that this lesson applies not just to minorities seeking civil rights, but also to anti-abortion activists. This isn't a race thing.)

The Blackadder Says:

Under anybody's definition, the hopes of the Civil Rights marchers have not been realized.

I would think that in a very obvious and straightforward sense the hopes of the marchers *have* been realized. The marchers wanted an end to legal segregation. That happened. They wanted all racial groups to have an effective ability to vote. That also happened. And in both cases government had a lot to do with it happening.
Blackadder, I'm talking about the statistics on black unemployment, imprisonment, educational achievement, etc. I think most of the marchers assumed that it was state-level segregation holding the black community back on all those fronts, and that Lyndon Johnson's "help" would fix those things.
The Blackadder Says:

Well, first, the economic condition of blacks has improved substantially since the march on Washington. Moreover, while I'm sure that a lot of the marchers did care about black unemployment, etc., and thought that without legal segregation and with effective voting rights these things would improve, they also thought that getting rid of legal segregation and voting were important in their own right, and it was this, rather than economic inequality or whatever, that was the marchers ostensible purpose of the march.
Can't people criticize and praise the government the same way they do individuals? "Hey you did well over here, but that over there was just stupid or evil."
ChristianTrader, no, they can't, according to his Nobel speech. It's not OK to achieve your ends--even noble ends--through the use of violence.

That's what I meant in the original post when I compared LBJ to the Dalai Lama. It wasn't that LBJ and the "might of the federal government" (or whatever MLK said, in a different speech that I heard on the radio) used their moral authority. No, the reason the Alabama government had to back down was that the feds have more money and firepower.

So LBJ "freed" Americans from Jim Crow using the same tools as he was using to "free" the Vietnamese from communist oppression. Obviously there wasn't the bloody outcome but only because the Southern governors weren't willing to take casualties like Ho Chi Minh.
In a similar vein, I've finished a book by John Dear (self-processed adherent to non-violence) where he rightfully condemns the federal government for wars and generating WMD but then suggests all this money could be spent instead on alleviating hunger, as if this would be consistent with non-violence.

Ultimately, I guess a lot of such adherents to non-violence (MLK among them) do not see anything inherently wrong with government or taxation.

I would hope that if more people non-violently resisted taxation and the leftists became more conscious of what happens to you when you say No to the government here, that they would agree that this too is wrong.

I hope it is just a matter of priority, that while taxation is one evil wrought by government, it is less important to fight than the greater evil of war.
Bob, as I think we've discussed before, taxation can, in theory, be non-violent, once you make the insight that "money is information". So it's theoretically possible for people to, en masse, stop recognizing Jones as being the owner of $500, without having to take any violent or coercive act against him or his property.

(Note that this doesn't generalize to say, expropriating his TV, because you still have to physically take it away from him when he tries to use it, while you simply re-adjust your collective beliefs regarding future voluntary negotiations when you "take" "his" money.)

The picture is more complicated with the actually-existing government's taxation, of course, but you get the point.

And, once people realize their money can be taken this way but not tangible goods, they will store their wealth in other forms like gold.
Since I think sound money plus physical safety for your body and property is the solution to all social problems (libertarianism), I would suggest always examining the problems of the poor in light of whether they have sound money and physical safety.

Having just watched a movie where a black guy gets whipped by some KKK creeps back in 1925, I would say that black people didn't have physical safety before 1965 and most in the inner city don't have it now. During both eras, the primary cause was government either not protecting those rights or being the active agent of oppression.

Until that problem is clearly understood by a vast majority of the populace, there will be no solutions to the problems of the poor.
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