Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Category: President Kennedy

MLK, Jr. Today

MLK MonumentToday we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America. We mark it under a racial cloud because of what our president said recently about African and Caribbean nations. “Shithole/Shithouse nations” according to our, at best, racially obtuse president, and at worst, racist president.

Solomon Northup, in Twelve Years a Slave, wrote, “There’s a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet… it may be sooner or it may be later, but it’s coming as sure as the Lord is just.”

Northup wrote that in 1853, eight years before the outbreak of the American Civil War, 10 years before the Emancipation Proclamation, 12 years before the ratification of the 13th Amendment, 76 years before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, 111 years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 115 years before King’s murder. And today, 50 years after King’s assassination and 165 years after Northup’s account, we are still paying the price of what President Obama termed “America’s original sin.”

There are epochs in history, categories into which we place significant events. We may consider ancient history to encompass the construction of the great pyramids or the rise and fall of Rome.  And we may believe the American Civil War to be “ancient” within the framework of the United States’ existence. Too quickly we relegate events to history and therefore outside an era upon which our brains must examine events contemporaneously. If we think of an event as being “history,” we can, to a certain extent, dismiss it as being old and no longer relevant.

Consider this, then: Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 89 years old today. Conceivably still living, had he not been murdered in 1968. His contemporaries, those also born in 1929 and still among us include journalist Barbara Walters, actor Christopher Plummer, actor/comedian Bob Newhart, actor Ed Asner, author Eric Carle, and actor Max von Sydow. Dr. King was only 39 years old when he was murdered. This April 4th will mark 50 years since his slaying. By 2008, King had been dead longer than he had ever lived. Imagine what he might have achieved, where we might have been as a nation concerning race relations, had he lived these past 50 years.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is not the monument in the photo above that I captured in Washington, D.C. last summer touring the city with my children. Do not let the black and white pictures you have seen or grainy, less than 1080p online video fool you. He is a contemporary man who was trying to make the world a better place, not an ancient figure no longer relevant. He words still give rise to voices now because we still have work to do.

Perhaps the rise of nationalism and xenophobic tendencies we see, not only in America (Trump) but all around the globe, is cyclical. At its worst, we devolve into world wars. I hope that what we see today is a venting, a voice being periodically given to those otherwise so staggeringly ignorant we usually must drag them kicking and screaming toward a better future for all creatures living on this small blue dot careening through the universe. I hope that this is only a venting and authoritarian plutocracies do not get a foothold. I hope that we will again celebrate President Kennedy’s (via Ted Sorensen) aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” and we are not moving toward a future resembling 1853 or some other cataclysmic date in our collective “ancient” history.

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Skip the Insane Root

macbeth

Or have we eaten on the insane root

That takes the reason prisoner?

Shakespeare, Macbeth I, iii, 84

Gun violence prevention is a lofty goal. It is also a multi-faceted problem. To deny that is to fall into the simplistic reasoning so often used by gun rights proponents. However, the difficulty of the task before us is no excuse not to attempt to address it. To ignore it is to abdicate responsibility to our families, neighbors, children, and ourselves. President Kennedy, at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962, one year before being assassinated by a gunman, spoke of the necessity of facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the right reasons when he said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he addressed the need to begin facing massive challenges to the republic. He said, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” Such determination is what is needed today. And we need not be a intimidated by the fear of not solving the entire problem. Indeed, President Obama, in his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, said the following:

“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

We must begin to face the problem of gun violence in America. We stand apart from the rest of the developed world in the number of guns in circulation and the number of injuries, suicides, and homicides committed with a gun.

To accept the status quo is to relegate our children to a future where fear and paranoia trump participation and confidence. Compassion and empathy must triumph if we are to survive. Anything less would be to eat from Shakespeare’s insane root, surrendering reason. Our children and our country deserve better.

Today’s Assignment

IMG_2989Your assignment today is to watch two videos and then think.

The first video is of a group of people openly carrying their long guns in order to “support the second amendment.” Listen to their words. Ask yourself if this seems either reasonable in a civilized society or in any way appropriate. Consider that it was filmed on the Grassy Knoll in Dealey Plaza in Dallas Texas. That’s right! Celebrating guns at the sight where an American president was shot to death. If only President Kennedy had been carrying a gun… Oscar Wilde said it best, “Irony is wasted on the stupid.”

In a copy of the speech President Kennedy never lived to deliver to the Trade Council on November 22, 1963 are written the following lines:

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

 How often do we hear the illogical argument for supporting the second amendment above all others as “the second protects all the others”? Philosophers have summarized this disconnect between correlation and causation as post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this). Soren Kierkegaard summarized it a bit differently when he wrote, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” George Carlin described it a bit differently when he said, “Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.”

The second video is from a commentator for the NRA, Billy Johnson, who tries to come across as an intelligent hipster and only succeeds in coming across as a demented, illogical apologist. Essentially, everything John Green is not. He somehow equates a government’s subsidizing that which it considers valuable (education, healthcare, food, retirement) as a reason for allowing citizen access to government owned shooting ranges and a yearly allotment of government supplied ammunition. This is the same group that fears governmental overreach and registration of guns, but please, sir, may I have another round?

He touts “Gun Required Zones” instead of Gun Free Zones. We have those already! They are called war zones. Enlist! Have at it. Take your pick. There are always conflicts into which you can insert yourself and your huggy-huggy-boom-boom stick. And the government will give you unlimited ammunition!

Perhaps most disturbing (it’s like ranking the aroma of various feces samples), is his notion that we should not only make firearm training mandatory in school, but that sufficiency be the basis for grade advancement. At a time in our history when we are being outsmarted in math and science by many areas of the world, rather than mandate education, Johnson suggests we dilute an already watery system to “readin’, writin’ and riflin’.” I would point him to Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s quote, “It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.” Or to Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Or to Bertrand Russell who said, “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Or to Benjamin Franklin who wrote, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.” Or to William Shakespeare who wrote, “A knavish speech sleeps in a fool’s ear.”

Your homework is due by the end of the day.