site banner

Dr. King's Dream - a GenX screed

A thinker, a strategist, a flawed man, a great man. Today I am grateful for Michael King Jr., renamed by his father for the Protestant hero Martin Luther after a pre-WWII visit to Germany.

I had my first full decade of life in the 1980's, the era of Star Wars, Back To The Future, E.T., Garfield, and The Cosby Show. I never knew the world before Reagan except in archival footage and textbooks. My toys and clothes came from garage sales and hand-me-downs from other church kids' families. I knew well the 'zip-zip' sound of corduroy pants. I grew up in Albuquerque Public Schools, where half of my classmates were Hispanic, with names like Sanchez and Chavez and Baca, and I didn't have a Black classmate until Albuquerque High School.

My favorite sitcoms were ALF and The Cosby Show. ALF was the story of an adopted outsider, a weirdo who disrupted a middle-class family's home with antics and humor. The Cosby Show was the story of a middle-class family in New York, and how the professional parents raised their many children right. From ALF I learned about the existence of alcoholism; from The Cosby Show I learned about the existence of dining rooms. From ALF I learned about the national security state which was ready at any moment to burst in with guns drawn; from The Cosby Show I learned about the grand legacy of Historically Black Colleges. I identified with the kids, Brian Tanner and Rudy Huxtable, who were both my age. If ALF and The Cosby Show had ever had a crossover, Dr. Cliff Huxtable and ALF would have riffed off each other for a solid half-hour of laughs.

Once I left high school, I discovered to my dismay that people consider ALF the more realistic show.

Back to Dr. King.

Civil rights bills and amendments had been making progress leading up to his "I Have a Dream" speech, given at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963. On November 22, 1963, the man who had proposed the legislation, President John F. Kennedy, was murdered most foully while the bill was being filibustered. Nobody knew for certain who did it, but the moment was as shocking to the Negro people of America as the slaying of The Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln.

Tons of history has been written about these events and personalities. I'm here to be grateful to Dr. King for the one truly lasting thing he did: he called on America to remember its founding promise of freedom:

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

His speech insists that the Negro continue the path of nonviolent awakening of America to her faults, and called upon the conscience of Americans in power, through what we would come to call mistake theory instead of conflict theory. This is what I, as an American of late Generation X, am grateful for.

But D.C. being D.C., the government used the opportunity of freeing one group to restrict all, as Barry Goldwater said was happening:

I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color or creed, or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through the years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard. This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never be cured by laws alone; but I would be the first to agree that laws can help—laws carefully considered and weighed in an atmosphere of dispassion, in the absence of political demagoguery, and in the light of fundamental constitutional principles.

...[mentions his support for 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights bills, and the calm deliberation Congress used to be known for]...

It was in this context that I maintained high hopes for this current legislation—high hopes that, notwithstanding the glaring defects of the measure as it reached us from the other body and the sledgehammer political tactics which produced it, this legislation, through the actions of what was once considered to be the greatest deliberative body on earth, would emerge in a form both effective for its lofty purposes and acceptable to all freedom‐loving people.

It is with great sadness that I realize the nonfulfillment of these high hopes. My hopes were shattered when it became apparent that emotion and political pressure, not persuasion, not common sense, not deliberation, had become the rule of the day and of the processes of this great body. One has only to review the defeat of common‐sense amendments to this bill — I amendments that would in no way harm it but would, in fact, improve it—to realize that political pressure, not persuasion or common sense, has come to rule the consideration of this measure.

...[disputing the constitutionality of the bill as written and claiming it is a power grab]...

My basic objection to this measure is, therefore, constitutional. But in addition, I would like to point out to my colleagues in the Senate and to the people of America, regardless of their race, color or creed, the implications involved in the enforcement of regulatory legislation of this sort.

To give genuine effect to the prohibitions of this bill will require the creation of a Federal police force of mammoth proportions. It also bids fair to result in the development of an “informer” psychology in great areas of our national life —neighbors spying on neighbors, worker spying on workers, businessmen spying on businessmen, where those who would harass their fellow citizens for selfish and narrow purposes will have ample inducement to do so. These the Federal police force and an “informer” psychology, are the hallmarks of the police state and landmarks in the destruction of a free society.

I repeat again: I am unalterably opposed to discrimination of any sort and I believe that though the problem is fundamentally one of the heart, some law can help—but not law that embodies features like these, provisions which fly in the face of the Constitution and which require for their effective execution the creation of a police state. And so, because I am unalterably opposed to any threats to our great system of government and the loss of our God‐given liberties, I shall vote “no” on this bill.

And that was the end of Goldwater's future aspirations, the end of mistake theory as strong politics, and the end of Libertarianism in America outside of conservative conclaves.

Four years later, both MLK and RFK, the Black and the white faces of civil rights, were slain three months apart.

I have never known an America without conflict theory as strong politics, except in the time before I knew anything about politics. Upon reviewing how greatness was slaughtered, the inner cities became drug-and-gun ghettos, and reason was slain, I join with my generation in looking on in observance of utter loss... then turning away and uttering a coping "Whatever."

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Was mistake theory ever strong politics? I suppose I'm cynical, but I think it's generally easier for people to believe they're opponents are evil and willfully ignorant rather than well-intentioned folks with different beliefs. Possibly I'm biased by the internet being my sample.

Mistake theory was the default in the USA until somewhere in the Obama administration. Oddly, the exceptions to this used to mainly be on the right: for example, people who listened to Rush Limbaugh and talked about Democrats wanting to destroy America. However, even in very tense controversies like gay marriage and abortion, the basic assumption was that your opponents were just deluded unless they were protesting at gay soldier funerals or vandalizing abortion clinics or whatever.

It was. Things were not always thus, even on the internet. The decline has been precipitous.

And that was the end of Goldwater's future aspirations…

I think that depends on how you define his aspirations. The odds were against him when he ran for president, but when his speechwriter Karl Hess put what has since been paraphrased as, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue,” in his Republican convention acceptance speech, it got him absolutely shit-hammered in the press. A reeling public associated extremism with JFK’s assassination, and regardless of what one thinks of the sentiment or the man, it was a national P.R. blunder that made those long odds far longer.

From there, Buckley takes the helm of American conservatism, gate keeps the Birchers (who Goldwater was repeatedly reluctant to condemn, also doing himself no P.R. favors), and in a few elections’ time Reagan wins the presidency.

If extremism in defense of liberty is no vice, remember that everyone thinks they're defending liberty.

Extremism in defense of liberty is not only a vice, it's ubiquitous nowadays. Consider that "Trump supporters are all working against liberty, so we get to do anything we want to them" is extremism in defense of liberty. Of course, it's not Republicans who are doing it nowadays.

"Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice" is a blank check to say "our side gets to violate norms, because we're defending liberty."

Right, I wasn’t taking any stance on the slogan. I’m pointing out the historical fact much of the country reacted strongly against it coming so soon after JFK’s assassination.

I have nothing to say other than that I liked this post. Well, okay, I suppose the Goldwater quote does sound predictive, but he was perhaps overestimating how quickly those effects would manifest. (EDIT: Though, thinking about it further, I think the police state aspects are somewhat oversold--the way we've perverted the intentions of the CRA is arguably more prospiratorial than top-down.)

I have never known an America without conflict theory as strong politics, except in the time before I knew anything about politics. Upon reviewing how greatness was slaughtered, the inner cities became drug-and-gun ghettos, and reason was slain, I join with my generation in looking on in observance of utter loss... then turning away and uttering a coping "Whatever."

I don't think MLK deserves an entire day in his memory, but historical figures of greater importance are lumped together. I think that is a mistake. Regarding the above quote, this 'inner city full of drugs and crime' trope is overused. The opioid epidemic in America has shown that drugs exist where there is poverty and hopelessness, regardless of race or urban vs. rural. Controlling for population density, cities don't have more crime compared to other areas.

The belief that blacks harbor antipathy towards whites may also be overstated. Per-capita and adjusting for IQ, blacks are much more likely to be police officers and join the military compared to other groups. Blacks are also greatly represented in pop culture and the entertainment industry, in general. This would not be expected if blacks collectively still harbor long-standing racial grudges or are maladapted.

In terms of academic achievement an other metrics, blacks have made gains but still lag whites, but I don't see this being resolved. The left only focuses on relative achievement and overlooks that blacks today have way more opportunities compared to blacks 70+ years ago.

The belief that blacks harbor antipathy towards whites may also be overstated.

Per capita and adjusting for blah blah blah black Americans are if anything over contributors to the American story. Hell, they're practically the only ones left who still buy American-made (or American branded, anyway) cars.

Beyond that, I'll be brief because what I have to say exceeds my energy to type at the moment, but as a white southerner (with rather reactionary right-wing inclinations at that) living in a roughly 50/50 town I agree with this statement. I go about my day and I just don't see the hostility that I read about. Be nice and you'll get nice; act like you belong and you'll get treated like you do. We're all Southerners in the end.

I will say that I believe in MLK day. I have my differences with the man and what he really stood for (as opposed with the sanitized, moderate-friendly MLK that we now celebrate) but what it means (reconciliation) matters.

On a side note, as crazy as it is to see present-day Republicans quoting MLK, we are the country that put Andrew Jackson, hater of banks, on the $20 bill.

This touches something I've frequently thought about. I live in a suburb with a lot of immigrants: not a majority but enough to form a notable presence, particularly in the specific parts of the hood where I live. According to various discourses on "immigrants in European suburbs", or occasionally my suburb specifically, I should be encountering constant hostility and threats from the new populations towards myself and other Finns, but I can't really remember any cases beyond one time when a bunch of teens laughed at how my clothes fit (I had just lost a lot of weight fairly rapidly recently and hadn't bought new clothes yet). All cases where I've actually been attacked or witnessed considerable amounts of street harassment have involved ethnic Finnish drunks or druggies. The immigrants mainly seem to mind their business while I mind mine.

A frequent theme I've seen in right-wing spheres is "noticing", but I wonder if some opposition to right-wing just comes from people in similar situations "noticing" that the places where the live or minorities they encounter don't seem to behave like in the most turgid and stereotypical scenarios and memes one encounters in 4chan and like, and then start wondering if the people who appear to get into altercations with black and brown people seemingly every time they're out and about might in fact have reasons beyond the behavior of those black and brown people for doing this.

I think the same thing a lot. Addressed in This r/ssc post and this SSC entry. TLDR: Spooky forces of attraction, do certain people attract certain things into their lives in a subtle but definite way? One guy is constantly getting into fights, another never does. One woman is constantly getting catcalled, another never does. One therapist gets tons of emotional breakdowns, another gets zero. One man goes to the inner city and perceives it as constantly threatening and dangerous, another goes for a walk.

I've been thinking about general intuitions a lot lately, a lot of things have been happening that I can't explain any other way. The Chinese traditional concept of De, and Gavin De Beckers idea of intuition come into play here. De Becker argues that most people who drive regularly can interpret the "attitude" of cars around them on the highway and predict where the cars will go, long before things like turn signals come into play or rational thought kicks in. He further argues that your intuition of danger is nearly always flawless, and ought to be listened to. If you have a bad feeling about someone, don't trust them, run. De is the positive equivalent as a human attribute, people who have De are charismatic, seen as beautiful, effortless, sprezzatura, wise.

I don't want to accuse anyone of anything. But I just don't have the experiences that a lot of race-conscious right wing whites seem to talk about. I go into poor neighborhoods, and maybe it is dirty but it never feels dangerous to me. I go to a chicken and waffles place in Baltimore and I'm the only white guy there, but I don't feel unwelcome or hostile, at most I feel a Larry-David-Esque hesitancy to say the wrong thing and offend someone. I just don't notice the things that other people seem to make a point that they are noticing.

Your own experience seems unrepresentative of the situation in Finland as a whole. Finland isn't an exception to the global fact of foreigners being more likely to commit than indigenous peoples.

When I read this I wonder "Which foreigners?" I see in the graph you have linked that Iranians, Somalians, Russians, etc. are listed as being more often "suspects," (notably it does not mention that they are charged and found guilty), and there is a category "Foreign countries" as well which I suppose is more a general basket.

For perspective, I live in Japan and have lived here more than 20 years. The popular trope among many Japanese (I have not seen any studies on general opinions but am speaking simply from my own sense of the ethos here) is that "foreigners" (scare quotes because I don't know who they mean exactly except non-Japanese) tend to be the ones who are mostly the troublemaking criminals. Statistically (I was going to say "of course" but won't) that notion is not supported by facts, perhaps simply because foreigners make up only a tiny proportion of the total population --something like less than two percent. I have not heard the argument about per capita, etc. and am not sure it's often made. I do know any time there is a high profile crime by someone not-Japanese I hear/read/see news about it.

I can steelman the notion, however. Japan is a country where simply knowing how to get around and order food, etc. is only the most superficial entrée into being a functioning member of the society here (and basic survival level is what many, many 1 or even 2-year or more English teachers end up reaching.) Because of this--because really from womb to tomb Japanese themselves are brought up to implicitly know how to act in most Japanese situations--how to act acceptably, "like a Japanese," and because foreigners of course do not have this knowledge (even if they arrive fluent in the language and having read a bunch of guidebooks), it is to be expected that flaunting of norms and even criminal behavior is more likely what a foreigner would do than someone who knows better. (I could write a very long post about this but will spare everyone.)

As a white dude, I don't get the same vibe of fear and hesitancy from Japanese that I expect some of my browner acquaintances do, but I do get it, sometimes even to the point of my own discomfort. I have had people recoil in disgust seemingly from simply being in my presence. The old saw about people not sitting next to you on the train or bus is, in my experience, not without foundation.

I, too, am from the southern US, and I have been in many situations in that part of the world where I did not feel fear in the slightest even when in the thick of places where I had been warned off, and later when I recounted having been in these places (I am thinking of parts of Philadelphia) I was met by my acquaintances who did not frequent them with incredulous head-shaking, as if I had taken leave of my senses to be so reckless. Quite possibly I have been very lucky. Too, once, over a few glasses of wine, the black stepfather of a white friend of mine on the west coast sat with me in their California dining room and related to me how he would never go back to the South, how he felt in every diner and restaurant the judgmental eyes on him, the sneering denigration of the whites. I nodded and listened to him then, but kept thinking "Really? Are you sure this wasn't just in your imagination?" <--I would not have dared to say this.

Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about: talking about personal experiences, then getting answered with stats. I know the stats! I have no reason to disbelieve the stats, either - but personal experiences are still personal experiences, and at some point one does get the " or your own lying eyes?" feeling when these are contrasted.

In any case the main point would be that my typical experience is no street violence or harassment of any kind - just your normal, gray life, with most people just minding their own business and not behaving in accordance with any sort of culture-war-related narratives.

It's related to why even if you take HBD seriously it's still not a good heuristic to use on individuals. People tend to be filtered to where most of the people around them share values or aptitude. I'm not the average member of my race and it causes me to live in a certain neighborhood, the not average member of another race in my neighborhood has much more in common with me than either of us have with some theoretical average of our races. Same goes for employment or just areas you might find yourself in. My preference is to just be aggressively race blind but if that isn't an option I at least want HBD acknowledged as a ward against racial grievance.

It's also the case that in low-crime societies "Group X is significantly more likely to commit crimes than the majority" and "Group X are sufficiently law-abiding that you don't need to take precautions around them" can both be true. This is true in respectable working class and above suburbs of London for various values of group X, and I suspect it is also true in Finland.

Controlling for population density, cities don't have more crime compared to other areas.

Most of that link is about "safety" i.e. safety from car accidents etc. Cities still appear to have more crime. Unless you literally mean controlling for population density, in which case of course! Once you control for the biggest thing differentiating cities from more rural areas, their differences will shrink or vanish entirely.

Agreed on the rest though.