Remembering Dr. King

I went skiing with The Kid today. What mattered more, however, was that we talked about Martin Luther King, at some length, on the good Doctor’s holiday.

The Kid’s toughest question: Why was he killed? It didn’t end there. He also wanted to know why Gandhi, JFK, RFK, MLK and Benazir Bhutto were all killed. (We didn’t even bring up Jesus, Rabin, Sadat or any of countless others.) Why did people hate them so much that they wanted to kill them? Why does wanting peace attract so much violence? What is it about non-violence that makes other people violent?

I had answers, but I don’t think they were good enough, so I won’t bother sharing them, because I don’t think The Kid found them good enough either.

What I could tell him, with enough information and conviction to hold his attention and keep the good questions* coming, was that the assassination of Martin Luther King is the worst single thing that happened to our country in my lifetime. An incalculable sum of hope, optimism and progress died when Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968. It wasn’t just the anger and riots that followed. It was the absolute absence of the leadership Dr. King had provided, and without which our understanding of so many subjects — chief among them the worth and power of non-violence — was diminished. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy two months later increased that dispair to a sum beyond measure. Almost forty years later, I don’t think we’ve healed from those wounds.

These words haunt me…

  I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

… because I know that final word will not come in my lifetime. Worse, I fear it may never come, because those that lead through unarmed truth and unconditional love are also likely to be killed for teaching both. Our species needs their leadership. But our species retains, for all its love of Love, a monstrous ability to rationalize its worst deeds. Martin Luther King knew that. And we only knew him for 39 years.

Delmore Schwartz comes to mind:

  How could I think the brief years were enough
To prove the reality of endless love?

* You know what people mean when they say “That’s a good question?” That they don’t have an answer.

15 comments

  1. Philip Hodgetts’s avatar

    I’m certainly glad I don’t have to explain hate in the face of love, violence in the face of peace to a child, or even another adult. Thanks for sharing.

    A quick google tells me it was 1968 not 1998 (just struck me as a bit to recent so I went to check).

    Great post. Thanks

    Philip

  2. Dan Rabin’s avatar

    The Israeli Prime Minister who was assassinated was not Menachem Begin but Yitzhak Rabin (to whom I am not related).

  3. Hanan Cohen’s avatar

    Here’s something good about curiosity (by Seth Godin)

    A fundamentalist is a person who considers a whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it. As opposed to a curious person who explores first and then considers whether or not they want to accept the ramifications.

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/01/curious.html

    (errata Rabin – not Begin, 1968 – not 1998)

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Philip, Dan, Hanan. I know better in both cases. That’s what I get for writing so tired and late at night.

  5. michael mcwilliams’s avatar

    Mysterious and euphonious, a poem to stop you in your tracks.
    Thanks for the reference.

  6. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Hi Doc,
    I was only 10 days old when JFK got killed. I grew up in the 70′s… post Viet-Nam, etc.. When we went through history in high-school they ran out of time, and didn’t teach us ANYTHING about history after 1900…. the only reason I knew anything about WWI or WWII, Korea, Viet Nam, etc.. is because I was bored and read ahead in the books to stay amused, unlike my class mates.

    People my age and younger don’t generally know ANYTHING about the state of the world, and how we got here because they teach history in the wrong order… least relevant stuff first. Who cares about the Sumerian empire? Why not start with the stuff we care about, and build from there?

    Anyway… back to the point. I grew up after all that stuff, and disconnected from all of it by an education that placed no value on learning from history… more focus on how to pass tests than actual, you know… education. I think this is pretty much how all of my peers experienced it as well.

    Having no solid foundation in history or critical thinking, it took a long time for me to start to get it… somewhere around 1995 or so… I don’t know how well my classmates are doing as far as getting a clue… but I’m not very hopeful.

    We’re an MTV nation, disconnected from our past, with no critical thinking skills, no heros, and no real sense of community…. it’s not a good place to be, considering the shit that’s we’re in for ahead.

    I hope I’m wrong, and that those with a clue have enough skills and resources to help the rest wake up to reality once we go post-oil, post-consumer, and enter the maelstrom ahead.

  7. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Unfortunately, Dr Kings legacy to us is the image of the welfare queen, who profits from our collective guilt about slavery… something from before the civil war.

    not pretty, is it?

  8. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Oh.. and our other legacy from Dr King…

    Jesse Jackson

  9. Blissful Ignorance » Blog Archive » In love with Love’s avatar

    [...] Marking MLK day, Doc Searls shared a personal haunt- that the last word of “unarmed truth and unconditional love” won’t come in his lifetime. [...]

  10. Jacqueline’s avatar

    It’s unfortunate, but I do have to concur with Mike’s point about how history is taught – I don’t think my teachers ever made it past the Victorian era! Also, I was born in 1983 and therefore started school after the whole standardized test thing had started, so “teaching to the test” became the norm (there is not so much in the way of history on those).

    Fortunately, however, I was a nerdy kid who read voraciously, so I made up for what was lacking by basically reading everything I could get my hands on, history books included. And like Mike, I read ahead in my textbooks because I was bored (that drove my teachers nuts). However, I doubt that many of my peers did the same.

    Back to the point of the post –

    This quote gets to me: ““A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”

    But this one gives me hope, in a way – “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – because the growth in citizen journalism and publishing tools on the web mean that breaking the silence has become easier than ever.

  11. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike, your remarks about the welfare queen and Jesse Jackson bring to mind another terrible fact about lost leaders in the fight against hatred and war: they are not replaceable. Will we ever again see a leader of Dr. King’s stature and eloquence, much less espousing the same values?

    Perhaps in the fullness of time. I can be optimistic about that, at least.

  12. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Mike and Jacqueline, thanks for making your points about the tragedy of modern education. If it helps, school wasn’t much better in my day. The obsession with testing began after WWII, in my generation. Its worst effect is not the homogenization of methodology, nor the dispiriting of both teachers and students, but something especially offensive to the sensibilities Dr. King taught. It is the classification and sorting of children into chutes and bins. We call this one “gifted” and that one “challenged”. We say this one is good at math and that one is bad. We say somebody has “an IQ” of some number, as if solving puzzles were a dipstick for the brain. (My own known IQ scores have a range of 80 points. They were so low in Junior High that if it had been up to the school system I would have been sent down the chute to a “vocational” high school with other academic non-performers to learn a “trade”.)

    Fortunately, we have someone in education of Dr. King’s eloquence, but sadly not of his influence: John Taylor Gatto. Follow the links, especially to Gatto’s writing.

    Here’s one history lesson.

    I suppose we should be glad that Gatto isn’t more well-known, or he’d have been shot by now too.

  13. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Doc, I found Gatto a few years ago… and now I’m trying to figure out how to keep our daughter, Virginia, safe from the predations of the school system. Still have 3 years to figure that one out… once she’s talking, I’ll have a better sense of what actions might work.

  14. Jacqueline’s avatar

    Gatto is very interesting – and you’re right, I’d never heard of him. I’ll have to send that link to the many teachers in my friends/family.

    The testing system is a tragedy, isn’t it? I always did well on them (I’m good at “gaming” standardized tests), but one of my best friends always scored really low. However, now he has a masters and speaks multiple languages fluently, including Mandarin (he lives and works in Beijing). My mother is a public school teacher, so I have many, many more stories like this – and where she teaches, they are really pressured to teach to the tests, because otherwise they will lose funding -thanks, No Child Left Behind!.

  15. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Somewhere Gatto says something like, “All efforts to ‘reform’ the education ‘system’ only make it worse.” No Child Left Behind was horrible from the start, and predicated on so many worst assumptions — about teachers, students and schools.

    Our 11 year old is going to a Waldorf School now. It’s not home schooling, but it’s wonderful. He’s turned on to everything. There is nothing stifling about it. He’s learning piles of stuff, and there hasn’t been a single test yet.

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