Street crime, drug addiction, and delinquency have been asserted to be the result of the immorality of the impoverished. Therefore, poverty, which is a human creation, that is, it is an institution which is being blamed for the depravity of the people in our society. The extension of this is that those who are most disenfranchised and without the power to influence and shape society are being blamed for the creation of the institution of poverty. Yet, there cannot be poverty if there is not the massive consolidation of wealth. Thus, if the object of the “Tough on Crime” and “War on Drugs” campaigns that lead to the development and expansion of the Prison Industrial Complex were really to heal the immorality of our society, then the most obvious solution given the underlying assumptions would have been to eliminate poverty and diminish the pervasive disparities of this country. This would mean that the best method and strategy to limit the harms that occur in our society is to redistribute the control of wealth merely beyond the threshold of their being people who are impoverished. It is not the case that people do not want to work yet, it is the case that many cannot afford to work because the minimum wage in most states does not even begin to permit a family to escape poverty. When a person has a forty hour work week and still has to rely on welfare to eat and maintain a place to live, and at the end of the month are still in poverty is the quintessential example of the creation and maintenance of a system of impoverishment. But, this solution has been rejected because it is believed to present too much of a short-term burden in exchange for a long-term peace and moral maturity. Those who claim to be the most concerned with the immorality and depravity of our society, and who are also the most responsible for their existence, are also least interested in doing what is necessary to solve the problems they themselves have created. Instead, to retain their comforts and privilege they blame the people least responsible and most disenfranchised, while expanding the penal code and criminalizing even the smallest infractions, that are then arbitrarily enforced by the police institution, to put these people behind bars to further fatten the pockets of those most responsible by increasing the prison labor pool.
If it is not the party that caused the harm or the creation of an unfair disadvantage, then there are but few alternatives to choose from. Either there will be an equal or unequal distribution of responsibility shared by all parties responsible or not. Parties who are not responsible, usually those who have been harmed or suffered an unfair disadvantage, will bear the burden of responsibility. The responsibility will be transferred to future generations. Or there will be nothing done to rectify the harms or the creation of the unfair disadvantage. When the harm and the unfair disadvantage in question is anthropogenic climate change and the impacts of it, the last option is merely rejected because it violates or is in direct contradiction of too many other, norms, values, principles, and rights. There is further reason to doubt that either the second option is not entirely justifiable unless it was selected through a fair negotiation procedure and complete consent was achieved. Given the current international political and economic situation these conditions seem entirely unachievable. The third option encounters the same complications with some further caveats, namely, that future generations are not responsible for the harm and cannot give consent thus, actively selecting to burden them is unjust. Which leaves the option that the party who caused the unjust situation to occur is responsible for rectifying that situation. However, anthropogenic climate change is an intergenerational problem with latent and cumulative impacts, so it seems that neither is it the case that there is one specific party who is responsible, nor is it the case that the current generation is entirely responsible. This presents a dilemma for assigning responsibilities and burdens for rectifying the harms and unfair disadvantages that have resulted from the activities that have caused anthropogenic climate change. Much of the burden actually rightfully belongs to past generations who cannot fulfil their obligations. Thus, it falls to those who are the beneficiaries of the advantages gained from the harms and unfair advantages that were caused by previous generations, given that those harms and benefits still persist, if they are to be rectified.
However, the Beneficiary Pays Principle (BPP) is not without complications or objections. Simon Caney in Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change (2010), argued that the BPP is usually argued for and defended upon egalitarian principles and whether from a “collectivist perspective” or an “individualist perspective” it fails to provide the necessary justification for the application of the principle. For these purposes a collective is understood to be a group or entity such as a nation or state that exists intergenerationally, and an individual is an entity—typically a person—that does not. Caney’s basic argument is that all things being equal in the present between two states save that one utilized industrialization to develop and the other did not, that it would fail egalitarian principles to place burdens on the one and not the other, even for the harms that resulted from past industrialization practices. Conversely, two persons alive today whose ancestors had unequal opportunities would not justify the leveling down of the opportunities of the one individual and the leveling up of the other, if the choices of the ancestors were chosen freely. The issue with the first scenario is that the ideal situation Caney describes in the example is nothing close to reality, since no state especially when ‘developed states’ are compared and contrasted to ‘less developed states.’ The issue with the second scenario is that it almost entirely ignores the very real social factors that compel choices or constrict opportunities. In short, the examples that Caney uses over-simplify the situation. Nonetheless, the concerns that Caney raises do have moral importance for the BPP and need to be considered when making decisions about who is responsible in the present for what happened in the past.
Edward Page the author of Give it Up for Climate Change: A Defense of the Beneficiary Pays Principle (2012) argues that not only is holding the current generation’s collectives responsible for the actions of past, but also presents a reasonable and practical redistribution program. Ultimately Page argues in favor of a “Climate Beneficiary Dividend,” that would apply to the thirty-one wealthiest states, whose wealth was also earned from industrialization, but which would not be remotely close to what is actually owed to rectify the harms to the climate that are being felt by those who are impoverished. Page proposes that the dividend be set at 1% of total wealth of each state for one century, and further suggests that if the list of those most responsible is restricted to the top ten, then the dividend will achieve a net yield of approximately “$5.5 trillion” annually. Page believes that collectives have a duty to rectify harms that exceed this proposed dividend, but proposes what is argued to be a modest compromise because it is thought that it will be more agreeable than attempting to compel the full duty.
The “Climate Beneficiary Dividend” that Page proposes is grounded upon the justificatory grounds of a principle of wrongful enrichment (WE), which states that “those states wrongfully enriched by activities that cause climate change should pay” for climate change. Page argues that WE principle is grounded upon duty asserted by Butt, of whom Page quotes and expands upon by saying; “every moral agent is bound by a ‘duty not to benefit from the suffering of others’ and where such benefits cannot be avoided a duty arises ‘to disgorge the benefits on gains as a result of injustice follows from one’s duty not so to benefit.” This duty seems like a focused outgrowth of John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle, which states “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” To be certain, the Harm Principle was only meant to apply internally to one civil society and it does not specify what should be done should harm occur, but what it proposes is that undue harm is morally wrong, whether by an individual or a collective. The duty and the principle are also similar to principle proposed by Henry Shue:
“When a party has in the past taken an unfair advantage of others by imposing costs upon them without their consent, those who have been unilaterally put at a disadvantage are entitled to demand that in the future the offending party shoulder burdens that are unequal at least to the extent of the unfair advantage previously taken, in order to restore equality.”
This reveals that Page’s proposal is neither, novel, nor without support. There is a certain intuitive and moral importance to the fact that past harms have translated into current suffering that these principles and others like them are contending with. Furthermore, one of the key elements of Page’s revision to the BPP is that the benefits and disadvantages must be “persisting effects of past or present wrongdoing.” This supposes and rightly so, that the agents are collectives, i.e., they exist intergenerationally. The question that remains is whether these theories of harm, benefits, and persistence are enough to overcome the objections to the BPP, and whether in fact if they need to.
Caney bring up the point of “excusable ignorance” as a defense against the BPP, which has a certain moral appeal to it as it relates to conceptions of ex post facto determinations of blame and responsibility. The concept of excusable ignorance suggests that an agent must have sufficient knowledge of the consequences of their actions and actually be able to elect to select an alternative. It further posits that if an agent could not reasonably be expected to have foreseen the harmful outcomes of their actions, that they cannot justifiably be held responsible and accountable for those actions. However, not even ex post facto determinations of blame and responsibility are without exception because there is a counter-balance that in some situations holds in all cases, that being the concept of strict liability. Strict liability holds that regardless of an agent’s knowledge or intent, that the agent is still responsible for the results of their actions. An example of this is ignorant trespassing, wherein a person is still responsible for the violation of another agent’s rights, but not that they are morally blameworthy for the trespass because they did not intend harm. However, they are still obliged to rectify the trespass by leaving the other agent’s domain and may be compelled to do such. This line of reasoning was in fact a major component of Page’s description of “unjust enrichment” which proposes that; “states should bear climate response burdens in line with climate change-linked benefits they have accumulated even if no wrongdoing can be identified in their production or intergenerational transfer.” Thus, this principle, which Page argues is a revision of the BPP, is grounded upon the rationality of strict liability which links “automatic benefits” to specific unjust actions suggesting that merely by the fact of their existence that payments are due. Caney would argue that if it is not right to punish the beneficiaries, then it is not right to burden them with payments.
Neither Page nor Shue can merely overcome the objections and concerns raised by Caney by appealing to egalitarian principles or the principles they have proposed, but it is not clear that they need to. For one, there is no reasonable question that the planet has been impacted by anthropogenic climate change that has been one of the direct results of industrialization. Secondly, there is also little debate about who in the past is responsible for the impacts that are resulting from the process of industrialization. Thirdly, there is also relatively little reasonable and rational debate about who today is being harmed by anthropogenic climate change or who will be harmed in the future. The debate is focused on who today is to be burdened with the responsibility and the cost for mitigating and adapting to harms that were caused or started in the past.
As stated above attempting to transfer these cost to future generations is unjust and furthermore does not address the urgency of the issues we as a civilization are now confronting. Stephen Gardiner, the author of The Perfect Moral Storm, argues that future generations are already being burdened with the effects of anthropogenic climate change due to the lagging and back loading effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Gardiner argues that there is motivation to want to distribute the burdens to future generations because the effects are not being experienced by all right now. However, the desire and, what is both fair and just is not commensurable. Doing nothing to mitigate or adapt to past harms is untenable and unacceptable. Burdening impoverished states, i.e., collectives, with the responsibility and the costs of things that they most certainly had no part in is both unfair and unjust. Shue would argue that imposing costs on the impoverished that would result in their being forced below a minimal threshold of being able to provide for their own survival is unfair, unjust and unacceptable. Caney would agree with this.
This leaves one alternative that has two components, those who caused the harm are the ones who are responsible to rectify the harm. The two components are current polluters and past polluters. There is little to no debate that current polluters are morally obligated to pay for the harms they incur, this is the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP). However, as has been shown, there is much more debate about the past polluters and what should be done to rectify the harm that has resulted from it. One alternative as Caney argued for in the “Hybrid Account,” would be to draw a line, say “1990” beyond which there is no morally compelling justification to burden anyone with the responsibility for addressing the effects resulting from past emissions. Page might however, be willing to negotiate on this point since, “half of all the CO2 hitherto released into the atmosphere (600 billion tonnes) was emitted between 1980 and 2008,” and it would go a long way toward mitigating the effects. However, that is not what Page argues for, instead, Page argues for a “Climate Beneficiary Dividend,” that is but one percent of the total wealth of the states who are the collectives, i.e., the agents identified as being the progenitors of the harmful effects of anthropogenic climate change. Both the harms and benefits are still persisting, and Shue’s argument about fairness reveals that the entire institutional structural difference between ‘developed states’ and ‘less developed states’ dramatically impacts person’s entire quality of life. To be fair, these unjust inequalities must be addressed and mitigated or rectified and this one percent would in part be used to achieve that end.
When confronted with the alternative of doing nothing to mitigate or adapt to the effects of anthropogenic climate change, which entails not burdening the current generation for past collectives’ emissions, neither Page, Shue, nor Caney think this is appropriate. Caney argued that the “most advantaged have a duty either to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in proportion to the resulting from (i) [previous generations], (ii) [excusable ignorance], and (iii) [polluters who cannot be made to pay] (mitigation) or to address the ill effects of climate change resulting from (i), (ii), and (iii) (adaptation).” The difference between both Shue and Page, is the reasoning behind burdening the most advantaged; Caney is heavily relying on the Ability to Pay Principle (APP), while Shue and Page are applying the APP, they are also acknowledging the historical accountability of collectives. By acknowledging the historical accountability of collectives they are attributing responsibility for how and why the most advantaged came to be in the privileged position they occupy, and since, as Page asserts, most of this wealth was gained through unjust enrichments that have “persisting effects of past or present wrongdoing,” it is morally relevant to do so.
Thus, since, all the other alternatives are either unfair or unjust, and since, doing nothing is not an option, all that is left is to burden those who benefit from “unjust enrichments” with the costs of rectifying the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Those who benefit from unjust harms pay because they must, because that is what is most fair to this generation and all future generations, and because it is what is most just given the historical accountability and responsibility of collectives. The objections raised by Caney need not be overcome entirely to come to this conclusion.
 Simon Caney, “Cosmopolitan Justice, Responsibility, and Global Climate Change,” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 122-145.
 Caney, 133.
 Caney, 133.
 Edward Page Page, “Give it Up for Climate Change: A Defense of the Beneficiary Pays Principle,” International Theory, Vol. 4 No.2 (2012): pp. 300-330. ISSN 1752-9719 http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/50667
 Page, 16.
 Ibid, 6.
 Ibid, 7.
 John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty,” in The Philosophy of Human Rights (St. Paul: Paragon House, 2001) p. 144.
 Henry Shue, “Global Environment and International Inequality” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 103.
 Page, 7.
 Caney, 130-131.
 Page, 9.
 Stephen Gardiner, “The Perfect Moral Storm,” in Climate Ethics: Essential Readings, ed. Stephen M. Gardiner, Simon Caney, Dale Jamieson, and Henry Shue (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 90-91.
 Shue, 105-107.
 Caney, 136.
 Page, 13.
 Shue, 105.
 Caney, 136.
I am a true renaissance man and I have experienced so many forms of life and held so many positions or roles that it is difficult to narrow my thinking down to one foundational experience that has shaped and influenced my life. I died in a car accident when I was seven years old and the outcomes of being brought back to life and my faculties resulted in every person who was close to me expressing that I had a great role to fulfill on Earth.
I grew up in rough, alcoholic, and often violent home when I was younger and this heavily shaped my perception of poverty, addiction, relationships and vulnerability. My parents split when my mother had to flee from my father after he threatened to kill all of us before killing himself. That morning was the last time I ever saw my father and that definitely had a major influence on my life. The only place my family could flee to were areas in Oregon where my brother and I were the only black students in the schools. This was at a time that Oregon still had a prohibition in its State Constitution stating that Oregon was to be a white utopia and that black people were not permitted to settle within the limits of the state. Those experiences definitely shaped my perception of the world and my life. When we finally escaped the racist treatment of the people in Oregon, we moved to the Central District in Seattle where my brother and I, being tri-racial and coming directly from an all-white area lacked much of the social capital needed to be accepted by the black community in Seattle and found ourselves ostracized as outsiders. Those experiences also shaped my perception and influenced my life.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself indoctrinated into gang-life, criminal activity, and drugs. As a result of my behaviors, I spent a lot of time incarcerated and even went to juvenile prison for an extended period of time. It was there that I began to write poetry, which later in my life would lead me to being a spoken word and hip hop artist and being named Renaissance the Poet. After I was released from their prison, I was not able to shake the gang or the drugs, but the poetry stuck with me. On my eighteenth birthday I was given a drug called ecstasy, and under its influence was when I had my first experience with god. That experience caused me to leave the gang and the drugs alone and before I knew it, I had walked across the country from Washington to Massachusetts where I joined and became a priest in a cult.
I stayed with them for the better part of a year before I was able to escape from the mental imprisonment and the only method I knew to shut out the demons swirling in my head was to use drugs and alcohol to silence them. However, when I found myself back in Seattle I was ensnared by the chains of addiction once again and when the excitement of my return wore off, all of my family and friend severed their ties with me. I was left homeless, without prospects, and alone. Worst of all, the drugs were no longer working to silence the demons swirling in my head and a deep depression set in. After giving up everything I thought I was supposed to give up for god I felt truly alone because to me at the time that not even god could save me from myself.
Without anything else holding me to the planet or the people on it, I decided to take my own life by jumping off the Aurora Bridge. However, while I was walking to the bridge from Lake City, a lesson I head while I was in prison came back to me. There was an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that came to visit us and he told us that strangely, he discovered that he felt more free when locked-up, and more of a prisoner when he was on the streets. At the time I heard him say that, I thought he was out of his mind, but as I became a victim of the streets and was on my way to end my life I finally understood what he meant so many years earlier. Aside from having my liberty taken from me, the single other largest factor to the peace I felt while I was in prison was that I was not using drugs. So, while I was on my way to the bridge I decided to call the emergency services and with the direction they gave me while they treated me overnight in a few short weeks I was able to find my way into a chemical abuse treatment facility, which changed my life forever. I have been sober ever since and I have never felt as hopeless as I did that night I walked to the bridge to end my suffering.
Getting sober did not solve all the problems I had in my life, but it did provide me with the tools to access a level of peace necessary to confront those problems. I had four felonies and several misdemeanors on my criminal record. Furthermore, I had failed high school and at the current standing when I left, I was a 0.0 GPA student. I had no place to call home, no friends, and my family wanted nothing to do with me. I was able to gain access to a half-way house for people in transition from institutions and shortly after I began living there I woke up to the news of 9/11. I did not know it when I moved in, but the house was run by a Mormon church, and while there is nothing wrong with helping the community, I had a hard time coping because of my experience with the cult I was in; there were too many similarities. Then given the factors of my history that were barring me from both employment and education, I decided to go to a Job Corps facility.
If there was any experience in my life that I believe really set the stage for the man I was to become, then it was my experience at Tongue Point Job Corps Center in Astoria Oregon because it was there that I learned that I as an individual could have a positive impact in the lives of the people around me. Job Corps used to provide a bi-weekly allowance for the students that lived on campus, but that stipend was very limited. However, students could get a job to subsidize the funds they were lacking and I was encouraged to become part of the student government. I did and within a few months I had worked my way up the being the student body president of the facility. Aside from providing for the extracurricular activities for my fellow students we also challenged microagressions and negative stereotypes, although, at the time I did not know that is what we were doing. We challenged the center’s policy on sagging pants and how it related to the administration’s and staff’s perceptions of black youth who sagged their pants. I sagged my pants at the time and I was the president. More important, it was the issue that the students wanted me to bring up and fight for them.
While at the job corps facility I earned my G.E.D., my high school diploma, and printing apprentice certificate, and even started college. My goal for attending college was to go into law school, become a lawyer, then enter into politics and eventually become the president. It was a mixture between my experience at Job Corps being the president and a class I had in when Mr. Mollette my high school history teacher that told me that any American citizen could become president, one of the days that I passed through his class. I dropped out of school a few quarters after beginning and returned to Seattle thinking that I would get into college, but that was much easier said than done. My criminal record from when I was a juvenile still haunted me and I was barred from employment in most establishments.
I gave up on the idea of ever being able to afford college and found myself working in a used retail store for about a year when I began my journey into construction work. A man I met started hiring me on weekends to do odds and ends for him and paid me well. Then he brought me on as his first full time employee and decided that I would become his apprentice and eventually buy him out and take over the company. Within a few years I had become a professional heavy equipment operator, pipe-layer, estimator, and project manage and then I became a partner in the developing construction company negotiating contracts with Mid Mountain Contractors, Turner Construction, King County, and the City of Seattle.
During this time with the construction company I also started, hosted and ran the Cornerstone Open Mic & Artist Showcase, a hip hop and spoken word open mic that happen monthly at the Fair Gallery and Café on Capital Hill in Seattle, with my best friend and adopted brother Marcus Hoy. Mark Hoy and Sean Stuart are the people who named me Renaissance the Poet, because of the rollercoaster life I had lived prior to meeting them and the skill I had with poetry. The Cornerstone, as it became known, was a hub for revolutionary minded poets and artists from around the Puget Sound area where we discussed and challenged some of the most disparaging issues confronting our generation, such as, patriarchy, sexism, racism, and state control of citizens. Some of us may have been revolutionaries and activists at the time, but for the most part we were simply artists learning how to exercise our minds and our voices while we were learning how to exist and survive in the world we were all born into. In the more than five years that we hosted the Cornerstone, there was not one fight, and this was nearly unheard of for any hip hop venue anywhere at the time. Many relationships were forged there and the underground cultural element of resistance and justice was kept alive and fostered.
In 2010, our company won the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business “Minority Business of the Year” award. However, I always felt that I had missed my true calling to fulfill a great role on earth and thought that becoming a lawyer was the method I was supposed to take to achieve that role. In 2008, the economy spun on its head and we went into a dire recession that put a lot of pressure on our company. In 2011, a couple years after I had destroyed my knee mentoring some youth with the organization called TSB, the Service Board, battling to keep our business afloat and continuing to damage my knee, I realized that construction was never a trade I wanted to be in and decided to do whatever it took to go to college. So, I left R.J. Richards CE LLC and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC).
Somehow and somewhere along the line I had gotten this plan for my life and what I was supposed to do with it embedded into my head. I am going to write a new socioeconomic system for the entire planet that is environmentally sound, socially just, and equitable for all; and I am going to see it implemented before the day I die. I began studying history, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, biology and mathematics and my understanding of the world exploded my perceptions of humanity and the insurmountable character of my goal. That is when I became involved with another student government and I was brought in as the Student Fee Board Coordinator, which was the treasurer for the college. To do that job I had to study the Washington State laws associated with public monies and student fees, and to study ethics because I had to select and train a board and we were going to have to make tough ethical decision. Before that I knew being part of the government enabled me to have a lot positive influence in the lives of marginalized people from my experience at Job Corps. However, I never fully grasped how much power the United States Congress has on the lives of every citizen in the United States until I was given a smaller, yet similar role. People can design all the best programs in the world, but if they do not have the funds to get them started and to maintain them, then they may often never be able to achieve the goals of their programs.
At this time OCCUPY was challenging the corporate structure and control of people’s lives worldwide after the economic collapse in 2008. Like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about the white clergy who questioned the movement while he was in the Birmingham jail during Project Confrontation, I agreed with their aims, but I disagreed with their methods. I disagreed with the mostly because I did not comprehend how they could be successful. It was a leaderless movement with demands that ran the spectrum. At the time it seemed to me that the movement lacked the necessary cohesion to achieve its aims. It was not that I disagreed with any of the demands. To the contrary, I believed that all of the things people were asking for should be achieved. My issue at the time was that I thought they could achieve more of their demands if they focused on them one or few at a time. I did not get involved with the movement because I did not understand it.
In 2013 I graduated from NSCC and had been accepted to the University of Washington (UW). When I first started at NSCC I thought that I would enter into the Law, Societies, and Justice program at UW, but by the time I entered the university I had settled on double-majoring in history and philosophy. I was still intent on progressing onto law school. I thought getting a good background in reading and research, with training in analysis, which the discipline of history would provide me with would be helpful in this regard. I thought having a strong understanding of morality and ethics, and the philosophical frameworks they are grounded in, plus developing my argumentative skills, which the discipline of philosophy would provide would further prepare me for law school and the work ahead of me. My ethical training began with a look at global justice, which confronted issues such as poverty, hunger, gendered vulnerability, social contracts, state legitimacy, climate change, immigration and feudal privilege, and many forms of oppression. It was these arguments about justice, which is to provide for that which promotes most the flourishing of all human beings, not the interpretation of it as punishment common in the United States that exposed me to the concepts of obligation and responsibility. History provided me with a lens into why these conditions exist and what factors led them to come into being. The courses at UW changed the way I envision my role in the world and I began to feel an immediate responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to benefit people.
During the summer of 2013, Sarra Tekola, my partner in life, brought me to my very first protest. We traveled down to the Columbia River on the border of Washington and Oregon States to participate in the Portland Rising Tide opposition to the coal and oil that were being shipped from the west coast to China. At the time, Sarra was an Environmental Science major at UW and part of the Divest University of Washington coalition and she schooled me on how important the issue of climate change was to our survival as a species. She also hipped me to the fact that people of color worldwide are the not only the first impacted by the effects of climate change, but are also the most impacted by it as well. She informed me that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of the best and brightest scientists on the planet determined that if we as a civilization burn enough carbon to increase the temperature of the planet by two degrees Celsius cumulatively, we will enter into a negative feedback loop of destruction that we will not be able to recover from. Desertification will destroy once plush and arid farm lands, like what had happened to her father’s people in Ethiopia. Melting polar ice caps will submerge places like the Philippines displacing millions, many of whom will die in the process. So, it was important to protest the extraction and transportation of carbon producing materials for everyone on the planet, but especially for people of color because people of color have nest to no power in the decision making circles like the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. It was scary and every moment I thought I was going to be arrested. Canoes spread across the river to block any ships and people spanned the bridge above holding signs, while a group rappelled off the bridge to display a huge banner. We did not stop the extraction or transportation of fossil fuel materials that day, but it felt good making a stand with like-minded people for the sake of justice.
The summer of 2014 I went to Greece with the Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) of UW to conduct research on immigration. I thought my time in Greece would help me to work on the issues surrounding immigration in the United States. Greece had been suffering from a major recession for several years and was also experiencing a major influx of people from the Middle East and the African continent. Most of the migrants were fleeing from deplorable situations and most did not intend for Greece to be their final destination, many wanted to continue onto other European Union (EU) nations. Greece was the entry point by both water and land into the EU for many migrants. However, the EU had tightened its policy on migrants and because of the Dublin II Regulation, the EU was returning any migrant discovered in any country to the country they entered into the EU at to process their applications of asylum. In addition to the recession, and the lack of financial assistance from the EU for both the residents of the country and the new influx of immigrants, there was also a nationalist and xenophobic organization oppressing the immigrants named Golden Dawn. Golden Dawn was a two-winged organization like the Dixiecrats of the South because they had nineteen percent of the parliamentary seats in Greece, in coordination with an organization like the Ku Klux Klan because they had a grassroots physically repressive regime harming immigrants. Immigration could be studied in any country in the world, but the particular set of conditions in Greece enabled us to observe the systematic denial of almost every singly right it is commonly agreed that people inherently possess simply for the sake of being human.
My second night in Greece at the American College of Greece dorm that UW has a satellite facility, I was taking a smoke break in the smoking section when for officers on two motor cycles turned the corner and immediately jumped off their bikes and pointed assault rifles at me simply because I am a black man. This may seem like a strange assertion until you have been to Athens, Greece and become acquainted with the reality that millions of people smoke and because of the smoldering heat that many people are out on the streets at night. There was nothing about me or what I was doing that was out of place except for the color of my skin. Luckily, I had my passport on me at that particular moment and I was saved from being hauled off into one of their immigration prisons. Their whole attitude toward me shifted as soon as they discovered I was an American, but until that moment I felt as though they regarded me as less than the mud on their boots would have shot me just to get a laugh. It was not until I hung out with an enterprising group of migrants from all over Africa in Monostraki Square—an electric flee market—and spending time with a parliamentary member that I learned Greece was a police state, and that the police had the authority to act independently of the government. I heard stories of how the police would select a street that migrants were known to frequent, then would block the exits, beat all the people of color and then imprison them. I spent most of my time in Greece terrified for my life from both the police and Golden Dawn because I did not have the social networks or rights that I had back in the United States. However, two nights before we left Greece I received word about the execution of Michal Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by officer Daren Wilson and I knew there was no escape from state sanctioned or permitted violence.
The O.G. Vice Lord’s words came back to me and kept playing over and over in my head about how we are prisoners on the streets. Being a black man in America I exist as W.E.B. Du Bois mentions, with a “double-consciousness,” constantly viewing myself from two lenses; I experience myself as a man, and I am also always conscious of my status as a “black” man as viewed by white Americans. People of color in the United States suffer from dire economic sanctions which impose poverty upon us with a capitalistic system and an ideological framework of individualism. The system of oppression is held in place through red lining, the regressive tax system, voter disenfranchisement, poor education, and limited access to capital. Until I began researching the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP), I did not understand why many of the people I grew up with ended up in prison or dead, or locked in the revolving trap of poverty. I did not understand or even know about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) or how it was linked to the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). I had learned, like most people are taught that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ended slavery. However, what they do not teach is that slavery was abolished “except” in the case that a person is convicted of a crime. From that debt peonage and convict leasing emerged and over time prison slavery became a huge industry in the United States to the point that now America which has five percent of the world’s population also warehouses twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population. The largest consumer of prison labor in the United States is the U.S. Department of Defense, a.k.a., the MIC. But prisoners also fabricate furniture and produce paint and clothing for many companies. Prison labor subsidizes many industries that otherwise would be too expensive to conduct in the United States, industries that create products other countries would have a comparative advantage producing. Prisons are an oasis for profit that is garnered from the exploitation of millions and that also disproportionately disparages communities of color.
Applying the aforementioned information about the PIC to the statistics about the rates of suspension, expulsion, and incarceration of the youth of color in the U.S. the School-to-Prison Pipeline began to make a lot more sense. Black children and children of people of color are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. From the ninth grade on, one suspension or expulsion makes them fifty percent more likely to be incarcerated. After these children are incarcerated they become seventy-five percent more likely to enter the adult penitentiary system with prison slave labor, and over eighty-five percent likely to remain trapped in recidivism for the rest of their lives, in addition to their being disenfranchised from their first incarceration in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of all these factors is a phenomenon known as Institutional Racism/Discrimination that permeates America’s society and institutions. The police and prosecuting attorneys have been granted arbitrary discretionary power and legal protections to act with impunity in its dealing with citizens. So, in toto, the U.S. Department of Justice with all its subsidiary prisons and law enforcement agencies when stripped of its colorful and well-sounding appeals to justice and order dissolves to a system of oppression, suppression, and exploitation. With this understanding of the ‘criminal justice’ system in the United States, the fact that most of the people I grew up with wound up in the negative feedback loop of poverty and exploitation, or how and why Michael Brown’s executioner was able to commit the atrocity with impunity were no longer mysterious to me. We, being people of color, whom at any time can have our very lives stripped from us because the laws of this country deny that we have a right to life, are prisoners on the streets of America.
Therefore, when I returned from Greece and Black Lives Matter, which was started by Alicia Garza after the assassination of Trevon Martin in 2012, decided to organize and protest the abuses of law enforcement and for justice in the Michael Brown execution, given my sense of responsibility and obligation to use the knowledge and wisdom I had to the benefit people of my community, I joined the movement for Black Liberation. My participation in the movement has taken many forms over the last year reaching from protests, to arrests, to testifying at Seattle City Hall and King County Metropolitan Council chambers, to giving a speech to Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee. All the while I was still a student at UW continuing to learn about the system we live in and the factors that helped to created it. My academic pursuits definitely suffered when I became involved in the movement because my time became divided, but that does not mean I have not continued to be successful. I highly doubt that I will be selected as the valedictorian as I was when I graduated from NSCC, but I nonetheless, have managed to maintain a very strong GPA given all of my community activity. However, that has no longer been my primary objective. I have used my education to learn what happened during previous social movements and struggles and I now understand the importance of a leaderless movement and demands that are specific to the regions they are made. I have learned precisely what I did not understand about the OCCUPY movement. There are some similar macro-problems, such as racism and institutional discrimination that people of color suffer everywhere, but those problems are expressed differently in different places. Furthermore, there is a history of the U.S. Department of Justice, through programs like COINTELPRO under the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that systematically destroyed activists and Civil Rights organizations in the 1960s and 70s.
I have lived one incredible, rollercoaster of a life that has made me a jack of all trades, and a true renaissance man. At no time have I ever known where one event would lead me. And looking back it is very difficult to pinpoint any one specific event that shaped me into the man that I am or the man I am becoming. Taken out of context, none of the major shifts or events in my life will tell anyone very much about me, who I am, or why I do the things I do. But the words of the O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago that I met while locked up have been with me since then. There is something very wrong with feeling like and being a prisoner on our own streets. A place where one might think epitomized the essence freedom. That contradiction of beliefs filled my soul with dissonance and it reverberated through all of my life-experiences until it shook loose the warrior in me. Renaissance means to revitalize, or to bring new life. The system we live in has become a runaway train that no one seems to know how to stop or get off of, and what we need is to breathe new life into our civilization. We need a new system of values and an expanded conception of “we” that signifies, represents, and displays through action that we and our planet are all connected and intersecting components of our world organism. Each and every one is vital. No one is expendable. We all have our roles to fulfill on Earth. We are all responsible.
The continued refusal to acknowledge and respect indigenous sovereignty and right to self-determination, many such rights guaranteed through treaties is establishing, for this generation and this society, the precedent that an individual or a people is only entitled to sovereignty and self-determination if they can be taken and/or protected by force; i.e., having an army who can, will, and has killed and murdered to protect those rights. The precedent being set for this generation and society boils down to asserting that murder or the threat of murder is the only way to assert sovereignty and self-determination as the United States and other Western Civilization countries or so apt and efficient at doing. If this precedent is disagreeable and is not a precedent that we seek to establish as a generation and as a society, then why do we continue to deny these rights to those without the physical and violent might to oppose the United States’ and other countries impositions of control over indigenous peoples?
In many cases and for many peoples these precedents have a long and treacherous, and often painful history, but it is also the case that these very same rights are being denied today to people both in the United States and to other people globally. There are sovereign nations within the borders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada today whose sovereign rights are being violated. That means that we as people today are responsible for those rights being violated and the precedent that we are setting as a generation and as a society is that treaty and sovereignty rights, which entails the right to self-determination are only valid if a people has an army to defend those rights.
You either, believe in self-determination or, you do not; there is no middle of the road position for this belief. It is a 100% deal. It is a contradiction of definition to propose 90%, or 75%, or 15%, or 0% self-determination. From the belief in Liberty, this entails self-determination, with the qualification that this determination does not harm others, springs forth the understanding that all people are owed this right and that they possess it from birth.
However, our actions, as a generation and a society today, do not match our system of values in the United States because our behaviors and our laws and our toleration of the U.S. Congress to ignore the Treaties the U.S. Government has signed reveal otherwise. We have a duty and a responsibility to protect the rights of human beings, and we are obliged to set new precedents when the ones in existence are precedents we disagree with.
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.
Start from the assumption that people are well meaning and intentioned, do not jump to conclusions without first asking or discovering what the intended conclusions were/are. If it is discovered that their intentions are just, and are informed that their means will not achieve just ends, they may be open to amend their means so as to achieve a more just outcome. If their intentions are not just and the outcome is not just then the person or group can and ought to be held responsible for their actions, punished if necessary, but excluded from full participation in the community with all the relevant privileges until such time that the harms is rectified and the relationships have been brought to reconciliation. Either way, by assuming honorable and just intentions we do not unfairly attribute blame and harm upon those who mean well while contending in an uncertain world; that would prove to cause more harm to the community than good.
Those who will openly conceal their true intentions will not only be more trustworthy, but will reveal themselves to the desirable community members. However, those who seek to conceal their true intentions will tend to have motivations in opposition to the health and sustainability of the community. Knowing their intentions would reveal that they do not belong in the community and are thus hoping to free-ride on the agreement and compliance of others at the cost and the risk of the community.
At the heart of morality lies the responsibility a person has to commit or omit a particular action, which is usually defined as either right or wrong, respectively. If the person elects the right action then the action tends to be morally praiseworthy. Conversely, if the person elects the wrong action then the action tends to be morally blameworthy, and the person responsible could be subject to some form of punishment. But is it possible for an individual to both commit a wrongful act and not also be responsible for the commission of the act, and if so, under what circumstances is this possible? For example, if all actions are determined by causes and essentially denies the existence of free-will, is the person still morally culpable for her actions? Or if the moral parameters of a particular culture are such that an immoral act is not conceived as such, does that excuse a person of his moral responsibility? Michele M. Moody-Adams considers the complications of moral responsibility across both space and time and draws the conclusion that neither absolves moral culpability I believe that in regard to particular events there can be extenuating circumstances, which may potentially absolve a person of moral responsibility. However, in the absence of these extenuating circumstances, there are some things that a person can and should be held morally responsible for, regardless of whether they knew it was right or wrong at the time.
There can be no responsibility, if there is no power of choice to choose an alternative action. In other words, if a person cannot choose to do otherwise, then they cannot be held responsible for the only thing that they could have done. Moral responsibility presupposes free-will, and free-will presupposes the capability of choice. Yet, free-will is more complicated than the actual act of choice, because although a woman may will something to be, that does not mean she is capable of making it come to be. For example, she may will that she not get into a car-accident, and may even make the active choice to drive cautiously so as not to get into an accident, but beyond her will and her choice she is still involved in a collision. This however, does not absolve her free-will, because she definitely willed there not to be a collision. What is important and at the heart of the existential question, is does she have the capability of choice or is her action constrained by causes? If the former is true, then she may be morally responsible the collision, but if the latter is true, then she cannot be morally responsible for the collision.
In the discussion of determinism and free-will, as P.F Strawson accurately notes in the article Freedom and Resentment, lies a metaphysical problem, i.e., whether free-will does in fact exist. On the one hand, he conceives of “optimists” as being those who believe determinism is at least not false. On the other hand, he conceives of “skeptics” as being those who believe that if determinism is true, then people cannot be held morally responsible. Strawson suggests that an optimist will promote the “efficacy of the practices of punishment,” while a skeptic will argue; “just punishment and moral condemnation imply moral guilt and guilt implies moral responsibility and moral responsibility implies freedom and freedom implies the falsity of determinism.” However, what we have here are a series of implications, and arguments, but nothing definitive about the existence of free-will. The distinction that Strawson will draw is that we as people feel differently depending both upon the relationship we share with other human beings and the intentions behind the actions that affect us; or what he calls “reactive attitudes”. In other words, what Strawson argues is that people hold others morally responsible for their intentions, given that they are capable of forming intentions, not their actions specifically.
Thus far the discussion has been focused on the capability of choice, but it cannot go without note that there may be constraints upon that capability which supersede the metaphysical argument. As was just shown, there are definitely differences of opinion about the existence of determinism, and it is obvious that in a line of stacked dominoes that one domino does not have a choice to push the next after the process has begun, but it is not altogether clear whether people are bound by the same constraints because of the emotional capacities we possess. Thus, without a definitive resolution to the metaphysical problem, and for the sake of argument, it will be supposed that both determinism and free-will coexist. Furthermore, it is clear that if a person is pushed by a sufficiently strong force that the person will be physically moved, but it is not clear that the person’s response to being moved is determined. For example, if the force that moves a man is another man, it is fully reasonable to suppose that the man who is the object of the push may respond with either, contempt or approval depending upon the situation and the circumstances. A major component of how that situation and those circumstances are interpreted has much to do with the socialization that the man who is the object of the push receives, and this is heavily dependent upon the culture in which the man is part of.
Moral responsibility is not an easy question to answer because it either, may presuppose that there are moral facts that universally apply across both space and time, or it may presuppose some form of moral relativism. Regarding the former assertion, not only does this present a conflict within one culture between the different moral theories of right and wrong, but it also encounters the further complication of potentially praising or blaming people for what they may not been capable of distinguishing the moral value of. In regard to the latter assertion, the issue with moral relativism is that it then becomes nearly impossible to hold any person accountable for their actions because morality becomes relative to the individual and either, all actions can be conceived of as wrong, or no actions can be conceived of as wrong. It all depends upon the individual and their own personal conception of right and wrong, which all but drains morality of its objective and non-personal components. Now it could be the case that the reason people believe there is entailed with morality and objective reality is because of the shared moral relativistic values, but that is not the general intuition regarding morality. There are some things, like murder, which is the unjustified killing of another person, that people intuitively feel to be wrong regardless of whether it happens to their person, someone their share a special relationship with, or a stranger with whom no special bonds exists. Therefore, for the sake of this argument, moral relativism can be rejected, which leaves us with moral facts.
This however, does not absolve us of problems, because we now have to determine whether moral facts can be applied across both space and time, and for this we will return to Moody-Adams’ argument in Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance. In the beginning of her argument, it is suggested that there is “a crucial connection between culture and agency,” which means that the capability of choice is dependent on culture. The argument tracks what Moody-Adams calls “moral ignorance” and she argues that cultural limitations can be the cause of this ignorance. This moral ignorance may either take place within one’s own culture, which may have an inability to critically analyze its own practices, or between cultures there may be a bar to understanding each other’s practices. Moody-Adams rejects that either of these conditions absolves a person of responsibility, regardless of space and time.
The first major point that Moody-Adams makes to support the claim that moral responsibility applies across both space and time is the rejection of what she termed the “inability thesis”. The thesis suggests that a person’s culture can potentially render them “unable to know that certain actions are wrong” because it inhibits the ability of the person to critically analyze their culture and practices. In rejecting the inability thesis, Moody-Adams asserts that it is not so much that their culture has imposed upon them a “blindness” of sorts, but rather, that the actor is unwilling to consider the wrongfulness of their practices. In other words, regardless of the person’s culture, they are capable of the choice to consider the rightness or wrongness of an action. Now, this would seem to be a leap in logic, or at least a presumption, except that the assertion is based on the concept of the transmission of culture. The relevant characteristics of culture to this argument are the “normative expectations about emotion, thought, and action,” that become social and legal rules, and are supported by the “nonlegal sources” of the group or society. This support tends to come from those who desire to “protect the life of the group” and who internalize these rules, but also who accept the demands of the culture and are capable of criticizing their own conformity with the rules. So therefore, they are not unable, but rather, choose “not to know what one can and should know,” which is what Moody-Adams calls “affected ignorance.”
The second major point Moody-Adams makes concerns “affected ignorance and the banality of wrongdoing,” i.e., the common occurrence of actively choosing not to know what one could and should know and continuing to do wrong. Moody-Adams argues that affected ignorance takes several forms, but highlights four forms that are particularly relevant: (1) “linguistic deceptions,” or codes used to conceal the truth of the wrongfulness of an action from even ourselves; (2) “the wish to ‘know nothing,'” of how wrong the means were to achieve a particular end so as to avoid responsibility; (3) “ask no questions,” to avoid the responsibility of either stopping or preventing a wrong from occurring; and (4) “to avoid knowledge of our human fallibility,” the failure to acknowledge that our “deeply held convictions may be wrong.” These four forms of affected ignorance are methods in which people use to express and display an unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions, or to consider alternatives. Moody-Adams further argues that these four forms are outgrowths of the “banality of wrongdoing,” that is denied for two principle reasons, an unwillingness to conceive of our “cultural predecessors” as having “perpetuated a practice embodying culpable moral ignorance,” and the common and philosophical perception that there are “only two responses to behavior we may want to condemn.” The first perception is what she calls “a rigorously moralistic model” that blames without forgiveness and the second perception, is the “therapeutic model” that forgives without attributing blame. Moody-Adams is not satisfied with these two perceptions though, and offers a third, the “forgiving moralist’s model,” that connects the banality of wrongdoing with affected ignorance (in its many forms), that acknowledges; “the serious effort required to adopt an appropriately critical stance toward potentially problematic cultural assumptions,” the first perception lacks. This third model permits us to hold people morally responsible across space and time because while it acknowledges the cultural constraints upon an individual, it also acknowledges the agency or capability of an individual to analyze critically the practices of their culture for his or herself.
So far, the argument has been mostly about asserting the capability of a person to choose to analyze critically their cultural practices, thus attributing moral responsibility to people across both space and time, none of which I believe Strawson would disagree with. However, Moody-Adams’ next point focuses on insanity and how it relates to moral responsibility, which I think Strawson might find contentious. The reason that insanity becomes a point of contention in these arguments about moral responsibility is because it directly conflicts with the assertion that all people have the capability to know what they can and should know, and to think critically about their cultural practices. As mentioned above, Strawson asserts that “reactive attitudes,” or the responses that people have to the actions of others are dependent upon the intentions of the initiators of the action. If for instance, the person is either, insane, or incapable of critical analysis or being aware of the normative cultural expectations of emotion, thought, and action then they cannot, or should not, be held morally responsible. Furthermore, that most people would generally not hold them responsible. An example that should flesh this concept out is that a child who is not traditionally considered to be morally culpable yet, say under four years of age, hits their parent in the eye irreversibly damaging it. The reactive attitude, and thus the attribution of moral responsibility would be much different if the child of the parent was twenty years of age when this happened, given that they were not insane at the time of the incident. Whereas the four year old would most likely not have his intentions scrutinized, the twenty year old most likely would. This is the distinction that Strawson draws in his argument about insanity and attributes to those who are considered insane the same level of excusableness as a young child.
Moody-Adams on the other hand, while admitting that it is possible for a person to be insane, this attribution should not be applied to a person simply because they are a member of a subculture that appears to posses different normative expectations. In fact, she argues that to do this either, to a subculture, or to another culture all-together, whether across space or time, or both, is to deny that the person has their humanity and their agency; and is a “misguided cultural relativism,” of sorts. Furthermore, it is to deny that all persons are capable of critical analysis, which has already been shown to be inaccurate. Thus, to bring the argument full circle, it is possible for an individual to both commit a wrongful act and to also not be responsible for the commission of the act, if an only if, the individual is either insane or incapable of critical analysis; and his is true regardless of space or time. However, this principle holds only insofar as the supposition that determinism and free-will coexist together holds, because this entire argument is founded on the individual being capable to choose, given that some things that exist are determined.
 Moody-Adams, Michaele M. “Culture, Responsibility, and Affected Ignorance.” Ethics, Vol. 104. No. 2 (January 1994) pp. 291-309.
 Strawson, P.F. Freedom and Resentment (1962)
 Strawson, p. 72
 Strawson, p. 80
 Moody-Adams, p. 291
 Moody-Adams, p. 292
 Moody-Adams, p. 293
 Moody-Adams, p. 293-294
 Moody-Adams, p. 294
 Moody-Adams, p. 295
 Moody-Adams, p. 296
 Moody-Adams, p. 301
 Moody-Adams, p. 302
 Moody-Adams, p. 303
 Moody-Adams, p. 303
 Moody-Adams, p. 308
There were millions of people dying unjustly at the hands of the Nazi regime in the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s and the American population and government, for all intents and purposes, were permitting this atrocity, or at least allowing it to happen. The pseudo history that is presented in the United States today about Americans being the “heroes” of World War II is only part of the story. What is usually not entailed in these Hollywood retellings is how many Americans denied the truth and urgency of what later became known as the Holocaust, which in its general form means total destruction. Furthermore, the utter lack of acknowledging that there were pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic organizations active on American soil during the 1930s that were engaging in propaganda campaigns, protest, and violence is slanted to paint the U.S. as more responsive, at best. History tells a different story. The moral burden of the people in the 30s and 40s was paramount because the unprecedented liquidation of an entire ethnic group was occurring and responsibility was both unclaimed and undetermined. There were arguments on all sides, but while the American government officials were engaging in arguments about what to do, if anything, the Jewish population was being exterminated in Europe. On the one hand, people were screaming for justice and for help, screaming for anything other than America’s complicity in Hitler’s plight. On the other hand, there were the skeptics, non-believers, and or non-confrontationists who indicted the screamers as being war mongers, as liars, as being unprepared for the true tasks ahead, and “quietly and gently” calling for America and the people to wait.[i] And at the heart of the argument was the question of responsibility, because it is on that conception that acceptance or denial to act hinged.
It is perhaps not difficult to understand and conceive that many people in the 30s and 40s felt a sense of urgency to help and alleviate the suffering of the millions of Jewish people, Jewish-sympathizers and dissenters from Nazi rule in Europe. It is probably more difficult to conceive of people lacking a sense of urgency, who either, believed the reports coming out of Europe were fabrications, or were devoid of any sense of responsibility to their fellow humans. Fred Eastman was of the latter sort and in 1944 having sufficient knowledge of the situation in Nazi occupied Europe, he wrote a cold and calculated critique of the people with a sense of urgency, titled, “A Reply to Screamers.”[ii]
The document written by Eastman is a response to an author named Arthur Koestler, who was a novelist that wove into his narratives some of the tragic tales he had experienced in Europe. Eastman admitted in his response that the “reports of the mass murders of Jews and countless others are too well authenticated to be denied,” but yet lacks any motivation to join the screamers because he believes it is after the war that that real effort will begin; “the long-term task of building peace.”[iii] He thinks the screamers are responding emotively in eruptions or fits, but does not provide any reason not to have an emotional response to what he termed “no blacker crime,” and that is why he comes across as cold. For example, Eastman draws upon the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, which is a story that is supposed to express one’s duty to help those in need, and he could have chosen any example or explanation to follow it, but he chooses to quote a girl so young she cannot form the ‘th’ sound and whom has, as he calls it, an “emotional regurgitation,” instead of the correct moral response, which would have been a desire to help.[iv] The implicit analogy Eastman is making with this young girl is that the screamers are uneducated and immature children who do not understand morality or duty to others, and are in need of guidance. It is this unfeeling and unsympathetic, matter-of-fact, disregard for human connection and the bonds that actually motivate duty to others, that makes Eastman’s response to Koestler so cold. In addition, Eastman believed himself to be a typical representative of the American population who was in opposition of the war and the efforts to help the Jewish people in Europe.[v]
In stark contrast to Eastman, Freda Kirchwey, wrote an article in 1943 titled, “While the Jews Die,”[vi] blaming the United States and the United Nations for their complicity and failure to do their duty to help those in need. After opening the article with an enumeration of the Nazis’ program of extermination, Kirchwey, straightforwardly identifies the blameworthy by stating; “In this country, you and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt.”[vii] The “you” is a general you and given the context of the sentence it is found in, it seems most appropriate to assume the audience and recipient of the condemnation is the American people as a whole. Thus, Kirchwey lays blame flatly on both the citizens and government of the United States for their skepticism, apathy, complicity and “share” in the oppression and extermination of the Jews in Europe. Whereas Eastman believes the correct moral response is to wait, Kirchwey believes the Americans have already waited too long and the correct moral response is to act now to help the Jewish people. Kirchwey’s article was written a nearly a year prior to Eastman’s response, when more proof had been compiled, but the evidence was not enough to motivate many Americans to accept the burden of duty, with a sense of urgency to help those in need.
It is too easy of an analysis to suppose that it was anti-Semitic sentiment and prejudice that motivated the apathy of the American people although, this was certainly a factor for many people’s judgment, the reality of the reasons for the lack of urgency are more nuanced than that. There was a lack of faith in the credibility of the reports, but also questions about the motivations of the people making the reports or screaming for action, and a belief that a conflict of this magnitude was inevitable. Eastman argues that the conflict with Hitler and the Nazi regime was a “mighty conflict…over [different] philosophies of life,” that was destined to occur.[viii] Behind Eastman’s belief in this conflict rested a nest of religious and political conflicts about the origination and fruition of rights; God-given rights that lead to democracy and state-granted rights that lead to tyranny by a “master race.”[ix] This fatalistic perspective of the war with the Nazis and the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe omits autonomy, free-will, and choice from the reckoning and thus, attempts to absolve responsibility. Notwithstanding the success of this line of reasoning, the objective was to assert that if there was no responsibility, then there was no duty to help those in need and thus, no need for any moral urgency to help the Jewish people in Europe.
The fatalistic reasoning Eastman employs probably did not have as much resonance with the American people as did his critiques of the screamers wherein he claims that they “do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.”[x] This was the claim that founded his assertion that the screamers are calling for an “emotional regurgitation” instead of educated correct moral responses. Eastman ends this particular critique by appealing to the fact that his sons were in the war fighting the Nazis and that the screamers were non-combatants armchair moralizing, but not assuming any of the risks. What is revealed through these connections, in correlation with what has already been mentioned is that Eastman blames the Jews and the screamers for an imposed duty to risk life and limb for a people and a cause that it was not their responsibility to do so for. In the broader context, even given the anit-Semitic sentiments that existed within the United States in the 30s and 40s, the lack of moral urgency was more an outgrowth of the lack of moral responsibility than prejudice alone.
At the heart of the issue of the American apathy concerning the oppression and extermination of the Jewish people in Europe were conflicts with trust. At first it was the unbelievable characteristic of the reports coming out of Germany and Europe, but many of those reports were verified and still people continued to remain skeptic about the severity of the problem and their responsibility in the situation. Noted above, Eastman made two claims; that the screamers made no specific demands and that they were also non-combatants, and while that may have been the case for many, it was not always the case. Varian Fry was an American journalist who volunteered with the Emergency Rescue Committee in France in 1940 and also created an underground network to help Jews escape Nazi extermination; was what Eastman would consider a screamer.[xi] Thus, it is not the case that the screamers were not taking risks and responsibility, but were in fact acting on their convictions while simultaneously calling on others to act as well.
In 1942, Fry wrote “The Massacre of the Jews,” which moves from being accommodating and understanding of why skepticism exists, and transitions to condemning with focused anger the apathetic and skeptical American population and government. Important to note in this account is the list of specific actions being requested that Eastman claims does not exist. Fry calls on President Roosevelt and Churchill to make public statements and to “speak out again against these monstrous events.” Fry also screamed for the development of Tribunals to “amass facts,” for Diplomatic warnings to be issued to the countries in the Balkans region, for the Allies to form a blockade, to provide asylum for refugees, and to feed the Jews in the occupied territories. He also called on the Christian churches, the Protestant Leaders and the Pope, to excommunicate and condemn anyone who assisted the Nazis. Lastly, Fry suggested that any efforts that are made should be broadcasted and made public because the Nazi actions required secrecy and hoped to “create resistance” and foster “rebellion” among the people. This is a very specific list of things that can be done to assist the Jewish people and hardly any of them hint at combat, and this also shatters the conception that the “screamers do not tell us specifically what they want us to do.” What is revealed is that the America population was not listening to the screamers and chose to label them as war mongers as a justification for not assuming responsibility and displaying the moral urgency necessary to prevent or end the mass extermination of the Jewish people in Europe.[xii]
This account should not be taken to mean that Americans did not play a pivotal role in WWII and the liberation of the Jewish people from the Nazi concentration camps and occupation, because that is not true. This account was meant to convey a portion of the complex and disparate moral and ethical views of Americans in the 1930s and 1940s by analyzing their own words and setting them into context with one another. By doing so, I hope this exposition has challenged the pseudo history that presents the decision to go to war as a simple and contradicted it. There is great sacrifice in going to war for any reason, especially when it is for another country and people. Not only was Nazi campaign unprecedented in history, but so was the Allied response to Hitler’s Nazi regime, and it had to be justified both to the United States Congress and the American citizenry. For some, the mere numbers, methods, and length of time of the oppression and extermination of the Jews were enough justification to warrant the moral urgency. However, others were either, reluctant to believe, felt the need to wait, or were not willing to sacrifice the resources and lives necessary for a people they did not feel obligatory duties towards. The volume of people killed and the scope of the Nazis’ plans brought the ethical dilemma; “to kill or let die,” to the surface, wherein America’s apathy was indicted for being; “accessories to the crime” as Kirchwey says and thus, responsible to act with moral urgency.
[i] Eastman, Fred, “A Reply to Screamers,” Christian Century, February 6, 1944. American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 171.
[ii] Eastman, 170-174.
[iii] Eastman, 173.
[iv] Eastman, 172.
[v] Eastman, 171.
[vi] Kirchwey, Freda “While the Jews Die,” Nation, March 13, 1943. American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 152-155.
[viii] Eastman, 172.
[ix] Eastman, 172.
[x] Eastman, 172.
[xi] Fry, Varian, “The Massacre of the Jews,” New Republic, December. 21, 1942. American Views the Holocaust 1933-1945: A Brief Documentary History, Edit. Robert H. Abzug (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), 126-127.
[xii] Fry, 132-133.
The beautiful thing about this movement to end police brutality and by corollary to end the system which buttresses mass incarceration is that it has bridged culture, class, nationality, sex, religion, age, gender identification, race, ethnicity, political ideologies, and color. In the marches here in Seattle and around the United States, at any point that you turn around to look at the people putting their bodies on the line to ensure that Civil Rights are achieved you will see someone from any of innumerable walks of life and backgrounds. The beauty of it is that as different as we all are, we all believe that people should be treated fairly and equally.
The system of laws that have been written and instituted from the end of 19th Century through the beginning of the 21st Century are crafted in such a way to apply to everyone, but are in practice used to target particular groups of individuals. The People, who gather and march and chant and sing in these marches understand this stark reality and have unanimously declared time and again that this system is not a system of justice. The People, regardless of whether they are black, white, First Nations, Asian, Latino, wealthy or homeless have consistently stood shoulder to shoulder risking arrests and violence to their persons to make sure that black men and women are not being killed and incarcerated and atrocious rates.
I have personally witnessed people who could be physically identified as white putting their bodies between the police and the people of color who the police were attempting to arrest and harm. I have also witnessed firsthand, allies being sprayed with mace and arrested—this includes a Legal Observer who was there to ensure that the laws were being followed and was a non-combatant who was sprayed with mace—during our marches.
So, the claims that I have heard distributed that they are not putting their bodies and their liberties on the line, acknowledging their inherent privilege in this system and using that to benefit the cause are simply inaccurate. Even if you do not notice the arrests happening during the protests that does not mean that they are not occurring. In fact, there have been many occurrences of people being arrested after the protests and marches while they are walking home, and often times on trumped up charges that have nothing to do with the demonstrations themselves.
Earlier this December, I went to the King County Jail for one of our people who was scheduled for a bail hearing after the individual was arrested leaving a march alone. The charge was burglary, but there was not even enough evidence to set bail and the individual was released without bail or charges being filed. The individual was, it seems, arrested just because of their involvement in the demonstration.
This is not meant to be construed to suggest that Black people have not been arrested, maced or flash-bombed because that is not the truth. In fact, the Seattle Police are notorious for ramming their bikes into people and tackling us to the ground, fighting the whole way as a tactic of arrest and suppression. This has happened to many people of multiple races and ethnicities. My intention in sharing the description of the white people who are being maced and arrested is to show that the people who are standing in solidarity with the Black community are in fact risking their bodies and liberty for us and that needs to be both acknowledged and respected.
This is nonetheless, a Black led movement and it has to be. Frederic Douglass said in his speech West India Emancipation in New York in 1857: “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” He further said, “The general sentiment of mankind is that a man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others, and this sentiment is just.” What this reveals, even from as long ago as the 19th Century is that the struggle for justice and freedom rests squarely with the people who are being oppressed. As Douglas mentions, if those who are oppressed do not stand up for themselves, then no one else will, or should either. That the people who are suffering from an unjust system must stand up for themselves and assert their right to life, if they are to have that right to life. “For a man who does not value freedom for himself will never value it for others, or put himself to any inconvenience to gain it for others” says Douglas, before he continues on to say: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.” Douglas was speaking about slavery in the 19th Century and achieving freedom from that servitude, but his words hold just as much weight and pith today as they did then; if the people are not willing to stand up and make sacrifices for our own freedom and right to life, then we are not worth that freedom and right. This is why the movement has to be Black led and why we must stand for ourselves with others by our side. And this is precisely what we have been doing.
Courageous people have been organizing and putting their very lives on the line and making the utmost sacrifices to demand our right to life and for justice. People have made sacrifices of school and work, of safety and life to demand justice and to fight for an equitable system, but to read the comments on many news or reporting feeds or to listen to the people outside of the marches critiquing the protesters’ motives say things like this comment from a KIRO 7 news feed Protest Planned at Pioneer Square During Seahawks Game (12/19/2014): “How many of these not so intelligent protesters are feeding of our tax dollars. They seem to have a lot of time on their hands to protest. But not enough to check there facts. It’s time for them to shut up and get a job!” To listen to and absorb these types of comments, whether in public, on television, the radio, or on the internet one might think that the people in these demonstrations had nothing to lose because we never had anything.
I could just as easily speak for others as I can speak of myself, but I will take the heat for this explication. I am a senior at the University of Washington double majoring in History (with a focus on empires and post-colonialism) and Philosophy (with a focus in ethics and justice). After completing my undergraduate studies and earning a Bachelor’s Degree I will be earning a Ph. D. in history and a Jurist Doctorate (Law Degree). With these degrees my plan is to work with the United Nations and to help the organization revise international policy and law so that it is more equitable and just for all. Prior to enrolling at North Seattle Community College, where I was the Treasurer for the Student Government, and earning an Associate of Arts Degree, I was an owner of a construction company in the Pacific Northwest region, which specialized in underground utilities. The contrast the presentation of these facts I am attempting to draw is that the protesters are not ignorant, uneducated and jobless people. My story is not unique. In fact, many if not most people have very similar stories and histories to tell.
My story contains more. Almost twenty years ago, I got into a lot of trouble in and around Seattle. I have a juvenile record that has been closed, though not expunged. When I was an adolescent I was involved with gangs and got hooked on drugs and as a result of both of these things I committed crime. I grew up in varying degrees of poverty, and even though I believe in agency, it cannot be successfully argued that one’s environment does not shape one’s decisions and opportunities. However, that is not the point, the argument that I am making by stating my history is that when I participate in demonstrations for Civil Rights risking arrests and potential charges, I risk everything I have been working on and for. If I am arrested then that juvenile record will be used as evidence of my character and against me. If that occurs, then I also risk losing the funding for my education, which will directly impact my ability to be a servant for our people, not just in the United States, but globally. (I will be happy to debate the morality of Federal Financial Aid, but this is not the place for it or the reason for bringing it up.) The point is that most of us are educated and do have jobs and furthermore, as Frederick Douglas said, we are risking everything to fight for our rights and for justice because that is what the struggle requires for progress.
It is easy to portray the protesters as thugs and criminals, as ignorant and leeches on this society because that makes the message that The People are speaking easier to ignore. It is an attempt to discredit the complaints that The People have with this system and to justify the suppression of the people.
There are just as many slurs that are tossed out at The People who stand and march in solidarity with Black people and work for a brighter tomorrow with us. The news and much of the public attempts to character assassinate some of these people by calling them Anarchists. And though some of them may be anarchists, not everyone who is at these demonstrations and that is not Black is an anarchist. In fact, there are plenty of Black Anarchists. Secondly, the media and the public attempt to discredit the demonstrations and the messages being projected from them by arguing that these demonstrations are nothing but white anarchists and who break things and start fights with the police. This may happen, but it is by no means the entire composition of all the demonstrations or any demonstration in particular. On all counts, the reports and accusations against The People participating in these demonstrations is simply inaccurate and often times nothing more than either, misinformation or outright propaganda meant to dilute the messages being disseminated by The People. Furthermore, as was stated above, these people are putting their bodies and their liberties on the line and have because they believe that this system is unjust.
A perfect example of this was at the demonstration at Bellevue Square when a woman with a child who was sitting in the area where The People gathered to sing, joined the demonstration with her young son. The People were singing “Which side are you on my friend, which side are you on? Justice for Mike Brown, is justice for us all” in the center of the mall. After the police, decked out in full riot gear encircled the demonstrators, they made a plea to the white woman from Bellevue, notifying her that they were about to arrest everyone in the demonstration and warning her that she should take her son away before they began. Instead of running away and allowing an unjust action to occur, she grabbed her son and entered into the center of the circle of this peaceful demonstration. It was both heartwarming and inspiring to see that someone who no one knew believed in fighting for justice so much would not conceal even her son from the harsh reality of oppression and suppression.
Regardless of what the uninformed or misinformed people attempt to present as facts about The People and what the people are doing by marching and protesting, or how they attempt to tear the people apart, it is not having the desired affect. In fact, it is having the opposite affect, it is drawing The People closer together and forcing us to become more organized and strategic. Communities which have been disparate are coming together and forming coalitions and networks, learning how to care for and educated each other and creating lasting relationships. We are tearing down the barriers that society has attempted to raise to keep us separate and we are standing in unity.
This is a Black led movement because it must be and it is long overdue, but because it is led by Black people does not mean that the people who are not Black are not valuable and necessary participating people in this movement; quite the opposite. It is a beautiful thing to watch so many people, from so many different backgrounds come together all to fight for justice and equality.
We claim the Right to self-determination.
We claim the Right to define justice.
We claim the Right to liberty.
We claim the Right to live.
There was a time that I had hope for the United States. There was a time that I even wanted to be the President and held that as my most esteemed dream and aspiration. That was also a time when I trusted the government was established to protect and serve me. That dream has vanished, those hopes have been torn to shreds and that trust has been violated beyond repair.
There was a time when I was naïve and although not innocent; I had an immature mind that still believed what I saw on the surface of things. They should have put a warning label on my education that read, “Beware, if you look too deep and make too many connections between the things you find your conception of the world will be irrevocably altered forever.” I chose to pursue a law degree because I thought a healthy knowledge of the way our laws were constructed and function would help me to be an effective servant of the people. I thought studying history would provide me with knowledge of where we came from and help me to envision the future. I thought studying philosophy would teach me the morality and ethics necessary to make the tough decisions when there were no clear answers and both choices had negative outcomes. I was correct on all counts, but I was not prepared for what I discovered.
The laws primary function is a form of social control. Now this would not be inherently wrong if, the laws were equally enforced ubiquitously upon all equally, but that is not the case. And it would not be wrong if all the people under the jurisdiction of the laws helped to create and change the laws as the need for the laws shifted with the times, but this is again not the case. The laws are written to benefit those with power and wealth, while concomitantly suppressing and constricting the rights and privileges of those with less power and wealth. The main problem is that there are so many laws that there is not any person who could know them all and at the same time comprehend their collective meanings and draw conclusions from their interrelated implications. Furthermore, it is not a single law that is the problem, but rather, the system of laws that have been created that stack upon one another to create an unjust system that seems nearly impossible to deconstruct. What is clear from the little that I have learned is that these laws although, they may appear to be fair, they are not applied to everyone in the same force, if at all. Thus, it has become clear that the social control the laws form is intended not for all, by all, but for some particulars by other particulars and therefor, the system of laws is wrong.
Justice is a word that is tossed around often, but it is a word that seems to have lost its meaning. Justice is that which provides for the flourishing of both the private individual and for the collective group or the public. However, the manner in which justice tends to be used, in particular by the government of the United States is in a manner that equates the law, whatever these particulars agree upon to use as social control for other particulars of this society as being just. That is a fallacy and a lie that has been neatly crafted to fool the general public into the acceptance of this inaccurate definition of justice. Based on what justice means, then for the laws to be just, they would have to provide for the enhancement of all who the laws apply. However, the opposite is the case as those with less power and wealth are subjugated and relegated to inferior positions and their ability to flourish is diminished and constricted by the laws and therefore, the laws are unjust.
Assata Shakur said in, To My People:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
What I draw from this is that it is not the duty of the government to protect our freedoms and to provide justice, but rather, it is my, it is our duty to define what justice is and to protect that justice. We do not work for the government, the government works for us, but this is only the case so long as we hold the government accountable to us. In this regard, the words of Thomas Jefferson, from the Declaration of Independence written in 1776 seem most fitting:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This shows that even the founders of the United States agreed that it was not only a Duty to fight for Freedom and Justice, but also a Right to do so. What it also reveals is that it is the responsibility of The People to determine what justice is and to define how they are to be governed by a government and not the other way around. Furthermore, at the tail end of the Civil War (1861-1865) when the United States was torn over the definition of justice and its application, President Abraham Lincoln remarked in the Gettysburg Address (1864):
“…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Again, it is a government of the people and by the people, which situates the responsibility of holding the government responsible and accountable squarely in the hands of The People. The ugly truth is that since this is the foundation of the United States, then the responsibility of the shape and the oppressive nature of the government of this country rests squarely upon the shoulders of The People for allowing the formation of a quasi-Totalitarian government that is ruled in a plutocratic form by particulars that forms laws marginalizing and exploiting others less powerful and wealthy.
This happened because The People became complacent and did not value our vote or the power of our votes or remember how difficult it was to achieve the Right to vote in the first place. And as a result we shirked our responsibility to govern ourselves and to care for our own communities. We turned our backs on those responsibilities and placed them into the hands of others who are not responsible, and are motivated by self-interests, so we have no one to blame but ourselves.
However, it is not too late. I was disillusioned when I began this journey because I was under the impression that it was the responsibility of the government to define justice and to govern us, like most other people, but I have found that that is not accurate. The power resides in us, The People, as it always has. And whenever we choose to assert that power as those who have come before us did and who provide the examples for us to follow, we will find that there is nothing that can stop a group of driven and motivated minds working together on a problem.
The truth that has been concealed is that there is no government without us because We, The People, are the Government.