by Monsieur Voltaire
My article on MLK’s I have a dream speech has engendered some emotional responses. The issue is whether we should give great men a pass on their flaws and judge them solely on their intentions, or whether a critical look at their words and deeds is fair game.
A commenter (with whom I otherwise share a feeling of mutual respect) has found it objectionable that I would point out MLK’s Marxist ties, his academic plagiarism and his serial womanizing as reasons not to glorify his image beyond all criticism. While evoking emotional images of Bull Connor, dogs and water cannons, the commenter stated that it is preferable to leave certain things unsaid (or to dismiss them as “scurrilous” or “baseless”) than to risk tarnishing the image of the great civil rights leader in any way while coming across as quasi-racist. My thesis was that MLK was a great man who helped right a tremendous wrong in America; but that he should not be elevated into a saintly figure, and his speech should not be used as a magical refrain to palliate some of the problems of today’s black community. Here is the original paragraph:
I’m no big fan of MLK in the first place. What we tend to gloss over is that he was a Marxist who injected political language into Christianity, a known academic plagiarist and a serial philanderer. As a tragic hero of sorts, he surely did help right a tremendous wrong in the USA, and he did so nonviolently and towards integration, at a time when other “civil rights leaders” like Yeshitela and Malcom X advocated violence and separatism. This is why I’m a fan, but not a big one.
I will now dissect this for further commentary, using as much as possible the language from my original article.
1) I am a fan of MLK, but not a big one. Why?
2) Because, on one hand, he helped right a tremendous wrong in the USA, and did so nonviolently and towards integration at a time when other “civil rights leaders” … advocated violence and separatism.
3) On the other, however, he was a Marxist who injected political language into religion, a known academic plagiarist and a serial philanderer. Evidence for this is widely available both on the Internet and in print (see, for instance, David Lewis: King, a critical biography, or Des Griffin: Martin Luther King, The man behind the myth). I can’t make myself believe that these mutually-corroborating pieces of evidence–none of which denies MLK’s vital contribution to ending the abomination of institutionalized racism–are false, prejudicial or conspiratorial. So, to call these documented allegations “baseless,” “scurrilous” and a scary foreshadowing of “the R-word” has no intellectual value; truth is not determined by who uses the biggest adjectives or who has the loudest barking voice. If there is counter-evidence to the specific instances that have been quoted, I for one am all ears.
4) Therefore, I object to MLK’s being sanctified. And the truth is that he *has* been. That my article should read like religious blasphemy and prompt strong emotional reactions confirms this–and was something I had predicted (while not wishing for it).
5) As to the speech, I noted that it had been tremendously useful at the time for helping end the abomination of institutionalized racism against blacks. But I have also said that, as all political speeches, it shouldn’t be admired like a standalone piece of art.
6) And if we judged the content of character of today’s black community leaders and their typical followers, what judgment should we come to? After 50 years of “affirmative National atonement” in its favor, too great a part of the black community has used its freedom and privileges more towards self-destruction than for integration with the fabric of America’s middle class. Illegitimacy, crime, addictions, dependency and the low incidence of stable families are readily verifiable facts that plague the black community–and they are self-inflicted.
Now, I fully expected that someone would imagine racism in or through my words. Unfortunately, that’s the way our society has programmed us to think–everything is binary: love or hate, celebrate or burn in effigy, sing Hosannas to MLK or be a racist, vote Republican or be a commie, write “he or she” or be a chauvinist pig, be for gun confiscation or want schoolchildren to die. Paraphrasing John Locke, tolerance is that wide two-way lane between these extremes: you can still like a general idea while seeing its small flaws, embrace a cause without theatrically wrapping yourself in it, disagree with a movement while allowing it to peacefully exist next to you–or be a fan of MLK without being a big one.
So, if in 2013 America you are a racist for not believing that MLK was a saint or not falling into raptures when hearing the I have a dream speech, I guess that we have made great strides in reducing systemic prejudice against blacks–while taking a few giant leaps backward in our freedom to express ideas without being “blackened” with sinister adjectives (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun).
Intellectually, I find it gravely disappointing when a logical attempt to look at an issue is met with adjective-laden emotionalism and a “certain things should be left unsaid” attitude. Projecting violent emotional images of Selma, water cannons, dogs and Bull Connor has ZERO to do with the arguments in the article–and the implication that failing to absolutely glorify MLK amounts to ill-concealed nostalgia for the “good old days” of separate water fountains is nothing but a cheap emotional shot–again, with ZERO logical value. And what does it add to the conversation? Only that we should be happy to stay confined in the ever-shrinking PC reservation imposed on us by the Left–touch one of the sacred cows making up the perimeter, and be forever consigned to the intellectual gulags.
For that’s exactly what the PC code is: the concentration camp of civic discourse.
In conclusion, I have nothing at all to apologize for or to retract. This is what I think and, I hope, I have given sufficient commentary as to why I think it. If anyone could look into my heart, they would see that I admire people of all colors and walks of life who contribute something to the world–if only as little as kindness and a neighborly smile–while not admiring those who don’t. And as far as I have observed, practically all thinking people I know (of any color) share this sentiment of mine. I can’t logically love or give a pass to a whole group just for having a certain physical trait, just like I can’t look askance at another for the same reason. I could list all the black people I have admired (and still do) in my life, but that would sound like hiding behind amulets to show what an oh-so-good social conscience I have. And I don’t treat people as amulets–besides not having anything bad weighing on my conscience.
Bottom line: if you don’t want to be cast into a negative stereotype, there’s a perfectly simple way to prevent that–and it’s not by shutting up or character-assassinating those who have the courage to point out what you’ve allowed yourself to become.
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