Monday, January 16, 2006

It's Big Posted by Picasa

It's Big

This photo is taken from a collection labeled 1492 Web Collection that sits on a server at the University of California Berkley. I suspect an instructor uploaded the images for one course or another; in any case the collection of images is instructive. Africa is a huge continent, something I have the hardest time bearing in mind. It's fantastically diverse, still without second thoughts I'll talk about Africa, as if it's small and easily contained.

Today is a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the USA. The struggle for civil rights seems something past now like the Civil War. But as American novelist William Faulkner observed:
The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.
1492 was as fate-filled for Africa as for the Americas. It's an odd quirk that so many Americans look to the past to find "originality" rather than looking forward into the future. After so many centuries we still feel we don't belong here. Jacques Monod the famous French biologist in his Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology suggested this was more existential and commonly felt: "our number came up at a Monte Carlo game." For over five hundred years the peoples of this Earth have been interlinked by a vast web of transactions, but still we feel separate from one another. Civil rights are undeniably important, and worth struggling for. Human rights are essential.

We here in America are quite attatched to our individuality. And so are likely to view the murder of Martin Luther King as an abberation, at the hand of "one bad apple." That may well have been the case. Perhaps it's not so strange that few Americans today know that James Earl Ray was convicted in King's murder. Except, before Ray died there was a bit of a drama which placed his name in the local news. The King family brought a wrongful death suit against a Memphis businessman named Loyd Jowers. Ray had long proclaimed his innocence, after pleading guilty, but as the renewed attention to the King's murder seemed an opening for him to receive a liver transplant here in my home town which received some local press at the time. Ray never got his liver.

I was lad in a private school in a southern state when King was murdered. One of my school mates bragged about the conspiracy pretty much as it was laided out thirty years later. I'm not sure what really happened. I'm only sure that violence was preferred to non-violence. King's vilolent death tricks us in this present into underestimating the significance of disciplined and coordinated non-compliance.

There are so many African issues in the news recently and I feel quite inadequate to write about them. There is a drought in the Horn of Africa that threatens mass starvation. There are wars and rumours of war. Omar al Bashir the dictator of Sudan is poised to become the new chairman of the African Union:
Even the most loathsome tyrants are occasionally admired for their charm, their guile or perhaps their intellect. The same cannot be said for Sudan's Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir who heads one of Africa's biggest and potentially richest nations. Part blowhard, part thug, al-Bashir is a graduate of the 'Idi Amin School of Dictators'.
The Martin Luther King holiday is an odd one. If I'm not mistaken, in order to get it passed into law, and heaven forfend, add another day of leisure, George Washington's birthday and Abraham Lincoln's birthday observances were combined into "President's Day." Still I'm glad for the Martin Luther King Day. I'm happy because it's a holiday that makes us Americans uncomfortable.

In the spring of 1967 Dr. King made an important sermon at the Riverside Church, built by Rockefeller, that changed the public discourse and probably sealed his fate: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin...we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
Is it any exaggeration to say that the situation is more dire today? Are these "giant triplets" insurmountable?

In 1963 King wrote Strength to Love. There is a most memorable quotation from it:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction....The chain reaction of evil--hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars--must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
"Only love can do that." I can love, I can do that. Surely all is not lost, all is not dark. Martin King spoke of a transformation to a "person-oriented society." Love is a quality in relationships between people. It's all well and good to say: as I sometimes lie, "I love everybody." Of course I don't, love is made real between people and never in ones sole possesion; not something to hold, but something to offer.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered for his struggles for civil rights. Local actions to redress local greivences and injustices. At my mother's funeral we played the song, We Shall Overcome. I told a young Indian friend and he said he'd sung that in school. Americans can claim this Martin Luther King holiday as our own. Nevertheless, his legacy is shared round the world and his words speak to us all; demanding we struggle for human rights.

One of today's posts at 3 Quarks Daily is the famous I Have a Dream speach. I was delighted by this note at the end of the entry:
[This post was inspired, at least partly, by my brilliant niece Sheherzad Preisler who memorized the whole speech at age five.]
Let us not underestimate our worth. See what a child can do. Our voices can be raised and we can be silent no more.

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