Tag Archives: Humanity

Thoughts on Nonviolent Direct Action

Bernard LaFayette, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Director in Selma, Alabama leading up to the infamous Bloody Sunday and eventually the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, was a person with a simply designed two-winged program of voter registration and nonviolence. Yet, while the idea of the program was simple, this is not to be interpreted as the objectives of either wing being simple, but rather, to imply that both components were necessary and that the objectives and strategies were focused to ensure their goals were achieved.  If the strategies would have been both nonviolent and violent at any given time during the protracted struggle in Selma; then it would have convoluted the message about which party was guilty of wrong-doing. It would also potentially not have garnered the sympathy and support of the majority, which they believed was necessary to influence the federal government to stand in opposition of state authority and abuses. The activists could have also focused on the police brutality and the state sanctioned violence that resulted from their struggles for equal citizenship, and they had claim to it because state troopers had killed Jimmie Lee Jackson, but it would have distracted attention from their primary objective, which was justice for all and equal citizenship. Bernard LaFayette and SNCC, with the assistance of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), headed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., maintained a simple program acutely focused because they believed it was the best strategy to achieve their objectives.

Writing about both the violence that is used against people and the nonviolent response to it and why it is important, LaFayette states: “One of the reasons people attack you is that they have already reduced your humanity and view you as an object. Looking directly at an attacker, eye to eye, reinforces the idea that you are a human being and that he or she, too, is a human being with choices” (LaFayette, “In Peace and Freedom” 75). It is no simple task to stand still and non-combative or defensive while another is causing serious bodily harm and potentially death to you, it requires both philosophy and practice. The philosophy is what grounds the motivation to respond to violence in such a manner and here LaFayette is identifying two very important characteristics of why nonviolence is important. First, all people are human and part of one moral community who deserve to be treated as part of that community and as a human; this is true for both the attacked and the attacker. Second, is that we all as humans and members of the moral community have choices we can and must make, choices that we are morally responsible for. Nonviolent direct action in response to violence and unjust behaviors explicitly denies the perceived reduction of a human to an object, what Dr. King called, “to thingify” a person, and it maintains that the reduction is a fallacy. Thus, nonviolence asserts the humanity of the person who practices it and for a people who had almost continuously been denied their humanity, this was a powerful and direct challenge to a culture and a society that sought to maintain that reduction to an object. The philosophy founded the practice, and the practice reinforced the belief in the people who learned the philosophy strengthening the community as the philosophy was spread.

It was the displaying of the lack of acceptance by the white population of full participation within this moral community of the black population, in direct contradiction of the moral principles entailed within the US Constitution, which most Americans in the early 1960s believed in, that swayed the federal government to step in to guarantee full participation and citizenship to those denied. This was the objective of the entire project in Selma and violence on the part of those denied full participation in the moral community, would have clouded the message that they were moral members of the community who deserved equal protection. If the teachers who marched to the registrar’s office when barred access to the building and Sheriff Jim Clark forcefully ejected the teachers, had instead forced their way into the building, the fact that they were being denied their right to vote would have been lost under the reports of their ‘uncivilized’ behavior. However, they made three peaceful attempts to enter the registrar’s office and were willing to receive the unjust abuse from the sheriff and his officers to reveal the state sanctioned denial to full participation within in the moral community. This demonstration by members of the community and SNCC, asserted their humanity, respected the humanity of those who treated them unjustly, and garnered the moral support of both the national and international moral community. It was the swaying of the majority of the moral community that provided the eventual victory they were after in Selma, and that was the strategy from the beginning. They could very well have focused their attention on police brutality, instead of the right to vote and full participation in the moral community, but ending police brutality and not gaining the right to full participation would not have achieved their goals. Furthermore, the police brutality the people were suffering was addressed by exposing it during their continued pressure to achieve their primary objective, so they did not need to make it their primary focus.

When seeking to change an unjust system, it is vitally important to select an issue that will achieve multiple objectives simultaneously and that will reap the broadest breadth of change possible. The only two resources that activists have are time and space and both are too valuable to waste. It is also essential to select a strategy that compliments the objectives the people want to achieve. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek” (King, “Why We Can’t Wait” 110).

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Bridging Community

As it stands now there are approximately 7.3 billion people on the planet who identify with many different religions, nationalities, countries, cultures, economic systems, family structures, political ideologies, and tastes.  The United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 there will be over 9.7 billion people on the earth. To put that figure into perspective because just hearing the difference between seven and nine makes it seem miniscule; that is over eight times the current United States population. People in Seattle, Washington can barely afford their rents as it is now and if we are still following the same supply and demand, ‘invisible hand’ economics that are in effect today, I dread being alive to see the horrendous conditions that are in store for us. It is already being reported that wage gaps this large between the rich and the poor have not been witnessed since the fall of the Roman Empire and it is increasing at an exponential rate.

As if matters were not bad enough with only the population explosion, in addition to that is also the vast environmental degradation and destruction, which is increasingly causing our planet to become uninhabitable. The cumulative impacts of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from our collective consumption of fossil fuels in our combustion vehicles, coal fire power plants, fracking plants, and oil burning are occurring simultaneously with the eradication of our forests that are the natural carbon sinks that could have restored the planetary ecosystem to equilibrium. Thus, instead of there being a fluid and efficient carbon cycle, the carbon our practices are releasing is getting stuck in the atmosphere, our public good, which traps in the heat from our Sun and leads to global warming. Global warming and climate change are natural occurrences, scientists and archeologists have confirmed this unequivocally. However, historically speaking, since the Industrial Revolution began in the 19th Century, human ingenuity has dramatically shifted the rate at which the natural process of climate change is occurring.

The net results stretch from rising sea levels to desertification of once arable land, of which the former is leading to the submersion of many inhabited regions and the latter is leading to famines and wars over limited resources. Furthermore, both are factors in mass migrations and the global apartheid unfolding before our very eyes. Take the migration crisis in Europe for instance, those people are fleeing from war and famine torn regions in the Middle East and Africa, fleeing over both land and water risking dehydration, starvation, death of both themselves and their families, or eternal isolation because those risks are more acceptable in comparison to the conditions they would otherwise suffer. The only difference between them and us is quite honestly, where we were all born and when. Yet, the massive influx of people has caused a panic among the peoples and the governments of the receiving nations who are ‘protecting’ their interests with sanctions, gates, walls, and brute military force to keep the migrators out. Ann Coulter, opening for presidential candidate Donald Trump at a convention said: “I love the idea of the Great Wall of Trump. I want to have a two drink minimum. Make it a big worldwide tourist attraction and every day, live drone shows whenever anyone tries to cross the border.” She was talking about making a spectacle of killing people—in this case from Mexico—looking to improve their life-conditions and life-chances, and these are Americans that we are talking about, and people who want to be at the head of the United States, no less. So, it is not the case that the issue is only something that happens abroad. Notwithstanding where it occurs, this is what is called, Feudal Privilege, because there is nothing that any of us did prior to any of our being born that justifies any of us possessing access to the necessities for life while others do not, and yet, we do possess those necessities, nonetheless. Our borders are symbolic extensions of the castle walls that once separated the affluent from the peasant, what was once called a birth right.

Making the situation even more complicated is the fact that the environmental degradation and destruction that is leading to these mass migrations from the less affluent nations and states, is a direct result of the practices of the more affluent nations. In the United States, based on our consumption rates cumulatively, it would take four and a half entire earth’s worth of resources to fulfill the demand if everyone on the planet today in all the states consumed as US citizens do. That is, US citizens have a carbon footprint of four and a half earths, while those in less affluent regions, like much of the African continent has a carbon footprint of less than one earth. Thereby resting the responsibility for the increased rate of global warming and climate change causing the rising tides and famines squarely in the hands of those from the more affluent nations; primarily, Western Civilization, where many of the migrators are seeking refuge and are being barred access to. Furthermore, at the moment we are only talking about millions of people migrating, and the people and governments from the more affluent nations are in a panic. However, this is nothing compared to the over two billion increase in population projected for 2050 while the environmental ecosystem collapse is exacerbated at the same time.

This is a huge problem, I know. A problem so large that it does not seem like there is a solution to it. But I think the heart of the issue resides within our definition of community: “A social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.”  More important than this characteristic of the definition of community, is that implicit in the definition and the common understanding of the concept is the multiplicity of communities as being distinct from one another, or in other words, different or separate from each other. And therein is the crux of the problem. This notion of distinctness is what maintains the separation between the sexes, and genders, between the social-construction of races, ethnicities, nationalities—which is different from the arbitrary political boundaries—of people, between states, social classes, and so forth.  The notion of distinctness is what was at the foundation of slavery, the Jim Crow segregation that led to the Civil Rights Era of the mid-20th Century and to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the New Jim Crow and state sanctioned violence in the form of police brutality. Inherent in racism is the notion of distinctness and scientific racism gave it fangs. Social Darwinism and the concept of “survival of the fittest” are both laden with the notion of distinctness and provide a quasi, but fallacious justification for acting on that distinctness.

We are inundated with this notion of distinctness each and every time we are told that we are individuals and that we have to achieve on our own.  Our society and our complete set of ideologies are designed to isolate people from one another, to put us into competition, and to set us at odds with each other. Take the grading system for example, instead of the entire class being graded collectively on the achievements of the group, individuals are rewarded or punished for their own merits. This is the case even though they all participate in the class collectively and it provides the incentive for students not to have as heightened of an interest in assisting their fellow classmates. It’s as if we were to somehow conceive of ourselves as something other than individuals that our personal identities would somehow dissolve into nothingness, but I believe this to be an unjustifiable fear. Nonetheless, as a result of this distinctness and individuality, we humans love to categorize ourselves; black, white, rich, poor, tall, short, German, Peruvian, smart, ignorant, man, woman, felon, law abiding citizen, alien, but therein between the categories is where most of the strife among and “between” us emerges.   Because with the distinctions comes an arbitrary system of hierarchical valuations and judgments that result in hyperbole and humiliations that provide reasons for segregation and delineation.

This individualistic conception destroys our relationships with our selves, other people and with the earth, of which we are not truly separate.  If there was not an earth, then humans as we understand our selves could not exist. The earth on the other hand, existed long before the human species and will most likely exist long after our species has vanished. Relationships are the key to community and to healing the ills of our civilization. Relation is the characteristic that is missing from the definition of community and culture, which emerges within and through a community, as a strategy for survival and as such, it is utterly dependent upon relationships. The reality is that we can do nothing alone and that there is no such thing as individuality. The words “alone” and “individual” are components of a language, that by its very definition necessitates a relationship because for communication to exist at least two parties must agree that a particular symbol will have a particular meaning that is transmittable. That is a relationship and without it there could be no culture to transmit to subsequent generations; there would be no commerce, no morality, no religion if there no people who formed instructional relationships with us. By corollary, there would be no societies, no cities, no schools, no families, and no identities. Relationships are at the core of everything it means to be human as we currently understand ourselves to be.

Our first relationship is with ourselves, but that relationship can only be understood and fully appreciated in the context of every other human that exists and that has ever existed, and on the context of the earth upon which we exist and rely with all the millions of other species. The individual does not exist in isolation, the individual is not a microcosm, but exists in relation to everything else that exists.  John Donne said it best and most simply; “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” Until this is understood there can be no relationship with ourselves because we do not fully grasp who we truly are. And if we do not know who we are, then we cannot transmit ourselves to another because we cannot convey a concept we do not fully comprehend. Thus, until we know ourselves, we cannot have relationships with other human beings, who in essence are of us and we are also of them. And lastly, without that comprehension and feeling, then there can be no relationship with the earth, which connects and sustains us all. This is how the ideology of individualism corrupts and destroys our relationships.

We have to expand our sense of community to recognize, appreciate, and incorporate the entire planet and all the things that exist upon it and in relation to it. Only then, will something like the atmosphere, a public good, something that we all own, have claim to, and are part of, become something that we cherish and love enough not to destroy. Only when we understand that the rainforest are not distinct from us, will we acknowledge that destroying them is in reality, destroying ourselves. Only when we comprehend that all the people on the planet are part of us and that the arbitrary valuations and judgments we currently attribute to them is wrong, will we begin to acknowledge the injustice of segregation and apartheid, murder and isolation. Much like the contemporary interpretation of the identity of a person can exist within the colloquial sense of a community, so too, can identity groups exist within this expanded conception of community. In fact, these identity groups are vital to the evolution of our culture and must exist, because the supposition that there is but one community does not presuppose the presence of a negative peace, which is the absence of conflict, but a positive peace in which the necessary tension required for growth and stimulation flourishes. That is the essence of relationships: gravitational and repulsive forces that continuously interact to maintain balance and harmony in relation to everything else that exists.

If we want to bridge communities and to foster a peace full of symbiotic mutually beneficial relations, then it is necessary to recognize that there is only one community and category that is of any import, the Human Identity Group within the Community of the Earth.

Trust is an Issue

It makes it hard to trust even people from within our own communities sometimes when this country trains people to be cutthroats to survive. But, because we want to believe in our people we lower our defenses and give them the benefit of the doubt, hoping against hope that this time we will not be burned, doing our best not to guilt them with the harms done by others in the past. There is goodness in everyone’s heart, no matter how hard it is to find, it is there nonetheless. The question is; do we have the desire to find it and to draw it out if need be? Because they may also not be used to exposing their vulnerability in this violent world, so used to being burned by others. We have to make ourselves trustworthy as well. One person, one heart at a time we can pull apart this faulty system of indoctrination to establish a new tribe of humanity.

Not Worth the Sacrifice

One of the hardest things to do after participating in all the activism this last year has been holding on to myself, and who I used to be with my humility and my humanity. Inundated with such ruthless hatred and violence it is more than easy to lose hope in humanity and the human condition, to become bitter and despair of seeing goodness anywhere in the world, and least of all in the faces of the people I see around me. However, I have come to the conclusion that if I lose sight of what is best about us, and if I sacrifice who I am at my core during this battle for justice and freedom, then not only have I lost or forgotten the reason for the struggle, but I will not belong in the world we would create because I will have become that which I have been fighting so hard against.

Shatter the Stereotypes

After studying ethics and international justice, and conducting research in Greece last summer about immigration I have been thinking a lot about the sentiments, intuitions, and justifications for borders and constricting the movement of people. Now I have friends in Rome, Italy and they report to me many of the same things that I have experienced, observed and studied. That is when it dawned on my that the issue of Feudal Privilege is more than just an American thing. In fact, what I have observed is that the same arguments exist all over the world for constricting the movement of people. What it tends to come down to is fear, which is caused by concern over access to resources.

Scarcity is a thing that is created by those who control the resources we have. It is a fact that there is enough produced on the planet to feed everyone on the planet, but that is not profitable. It is also the case that empires still exist. It is more hidden because states have been replaced by corporations, but the results are the same, people are relegated to inferior positions as a labor force. To maintain the public’s adherence to the arbitrary borders that have been drawn the people have to believe that they will benefit from them; in other words, those within certain borders receive a privilege simply because of where they happen to be born. Then the people who have this privilege seek to protect the rewards that result from it and this is what social scientist would call Inclusive Fitness; i.e., making sure that those who share their genes have what is necessary to promote the flourishing of those genes. What this does is place groups in competition over the access to resources and this competition leads to the formation of Stereotypes.

There is a point in time that in many regions that it may have been necessary to form stereotypes about particular groups that others competed with, simply for survival’s sake. Heuristics is the term that social scientist use to describe the immediate association of something so that the brain can focus on what it needs in order to survive. Stereotypes help this process because it assists in the identification of potential threats and permits immediate response to those threats. The problem is that social conventions, such as stereotypes, have a way of becoming traditions, and traditions tend to outlive their necessity for functioning. Yet, while it may have been the case that there was a time the these stereotypes were necessary, they have now become tradition and have come to cause more harm then good because they have lost their usefulness.

This song addresses the core of those beliefs that persist today, which are based on false perceptions and maintain the feudal privilege wall thus, barring access to resources to others.

Chorus

We have to smash the Stereotypes

Breaking our ties, and robbing our Rights

Destroying our Lives, Confounded with Lies

Open your Eyes, We have to Devise

A way to Revise, the Power Divides

If no one Abides, and no one Complies

Then the Privilege dies, and we’re up on the Rise

For the Surmise, reject the Lies

Verse One

Slam shut, closed tight,

Kept out, that’s right

Can’t be havin immigrants

Stealin jobs, becoming plights

A tax payer burden

Burning holes up in they pockets

Cuz all of them are jobless

Homeless, robbers

Liars and connivers

Will be Filling up our streets

Our Hospitals are breached

Obamacare defeats

They looking for a hand out

Not to come here and compete

Wanna lay at home and get a check

Having babies, living fat

Using all our resources, not adding to the pot

Invading our culture bringing junk that we will naught

The freedom of association is a right to stop

You from coming in my house, yo, somebody call a cop

Verse Two

It’s the same everywhere you go

Unrestrained, regrettable

People are hated, cuz their rated as detestable

Labeled as the ‘other’ and a ‘foil’ to amenable

Discounted as a human, till you think they are an ‘animal’

This feudal privilege paradox

Boxes I would rather not

Have to shatter from the start

Migration is a normal part

Natural in the truest form

Corrupted from cuneiform

Specialized the labor force

Till work is what they’re bringing home

Stacked against the odds

Now they’re fighting for their jobs

Against those they once called friends

Work drove a wedge; between them

The demon competition, risen

Derision made incisions in them

Hatred spewing venom in’em

(Ster-eo-types)

Verse Three

The danger is a single story

Robs us all of glory

Paints as the enemy

The phantom of the Tory
Afraid of change

And thus estranged

And campaigns,

A, moratory

To keep at odds

The working class

Surviving in the allegory

By listing our differences

Focusing on pittances

Heightening the instances

We resort to hate

Lashing out with violence

At those who come to make

A new life for themselves

Their family and to break

Away from troubled markets

Hardest fact to harvest here

Is the reason they’re in trouble

Is because they’re labor fare

And are the work force

Producing our food

Can’t let them move and undo

The undue (HARM)

Verse Four

It’s simply not true

That migrants

Are lazy, crime driven individuals

When in truth they are

Some of the hardest working,

Tax paying, community, contributors

And they tend not to benefit

On systems that the rest of us

Take for granted, blasphemous

But that’s the way it is

And to top it all off

They re-invigorate culture

Their constant flux of ideas

Remolds us

But conservative elites

Would have us believe

Without a reprieve that scarcity

Is a thing that we need

as humanity, the vanity

disparaging it is

that falsities and half-truths

found the feudal privilege