A little political musing tonight. I was reading an article earlier, about how President Obama might be better able to affect change in the Israel/Palestinian conflict from outside the oval office. It’s an interesting read, but more interesting to me is a question I’ve long had, and one for which the world hasn’t yet found the answer.
If non-violent protest worked for American civil rights in the 1960’s, why hasn’t it worked for the Palestinians now?
There’s almost certainly no clear-cut answer to that question, and the answer could even be “it hasn’t yet.” From our lofty perch here in the future, it looks like the civil rights movement happened all at once, but it was actually the result of decades of incremental victories. (Ditto to the fight for gay marriage, and most other human progress.) It was, as most things are, a 10-year overnight success—or hundreds of years, in its case. And the fight ain’t over.
Yet I wonder if we don’t misinterpret some of the lessons of history, especially when we boil them down to platitudes. “Non-violent protest works” might be true to a point, but they might also be a useful lie—and not the type that leads us to better ourselves. It might be the kind of useful lie that keeps disgruntled people in their place, just as lionizing Martin Luther King Jr might serve to make him into a mythological hero, instead of the very real man he was—the kind of man (or woman) that any of us could become.
What if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has more to do with Malcolm X and the Soviet Union than Martin Luther King Jr?
It occurs to me, and I’ve read a few articles on this (though I read them long enough ago that I’ve lost the specific links), that Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violent protest might have worked because the federal government preferred to deal with him than the alternative, Malcolm X. Where MLK marched and organized sit-ins, Malcolm X advocated that black people should defend and advance themselves “by any means necessary.” Combine that with a world where the United State’s chief enemy was seen as the Soviet Union, and the civil rights movement could have been seen as a potentially disastrous distraction at best, a potentially fatal weakness at worst. I often wonder if Martin Luther King Jr would have been successful if it weren’t for Malcolm X serving as the stick to his carrot.
Then why hasn’t Hamas served that same role for the Palestinian Authority? I don’t know. My gut is that Hamas is too easily contained in Gaza, and that the reality of violence has been found more tolerable than the possibility of violence from black nationalists was at the time. I don’t know if that’s true though.
That’s kind of the point. Perhaps the lessons we think we’ve learned from history aren’t as correct as we think.
Here’s another one. I’m no fan of the electoral college, an opinion which is shared by a majority of voters. Certainly part of this is because the presidential candidate I just voted for lost, despite winning a majority of the votes. I don’t doubt that in the reverse situation (Trump wins the popular, Hillary wins the electoral college) I’d take the win, but it would be deeply uncomfortable. I feel like this is one of the (many) reasons for our current political disillusionment, when some people’s votes count more than others.
That’s an issue for another day. For now, it’s the reasons given for the electoral college’s existence that I find so puzzling. One argument is that the founders created it because of the speed of communication at the time (slow), but that’s unpersuasive. Why decouple votes from voters, when you could just have the guy on horseback take the votes to the capitol? Others say it’s so the electors can overturn the will of the people if needed, which has never happened. That doesn’t mean it never will, but since the electors are by this point chosen from party loyalists, it’s unlikely. Maybe that’s just another system the founders put in place that hasn’t worked terribly well, of which we’ve dealt with many. (They did their best.)
But what if it was another rotten decision the founders made that gifted us with the electoral college? Namely, the three-fifths compromise. Let’s not mince words: the electoral college could be yet another ugly remnant of slavery.
The three-fifths compromise was struck because the southern slave states would have been constantly outvoted by the more populace northern states, unless they were able to count their slaves. This was true in the House, but also in the electoral college, where the southern states received a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored. It gave them outsize importance above and beyond their actual voters. Donald Trump might be our president-elect today because of slave owners.
And even that might not be correct. Everything we know of the constitutional congress does in fact back up that the framers thoughts electors would exercise independent judgment, and the electoral college seems to predate the compromise; it’s just that so much has changed since then that it’s not working well. But I’ve also read that the founders designed the system so that it would gridlock often, sending the election to Congress (i.e. them or people like them). That might be the real reason.
This post can probably serve as a followup to my post about assuming you’re wrong. It’s not necessarily that I think either of these positions are correct, though I do wonder about the MLK/Malcolm X one a lot—and that has especially troubling ramifications, because it might mean that violent civil unrest, or at least the threat thereof, might be necessary (or beneficial) to bring about massive societal change. It might also mean that the lionization of non-violent protest is a useful lie used by those in power to keep people from forcing them to change—and, you know, keep them from having to put down violent citizen revolts. Which is understandable, albeit still troubling.
The point is less about what’s true, and more about constantly reminding myself that I don’t have a damn clue about why most things happen like they do. The more I know, the more I realize how little I know. I’m good at feigning confidence—I’m employed as a salesman, after all—but that doesn’t mean I always know what I’m talking about.
It just solidifies in me a desire to read a lot, to read from all kinds of sources, so as to give myself the knowledge to occasionally get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes that’s realizing that what everyone has been saying is wrong. Other times, it’s realizing that they were exactly correct. Life’s messy like that.As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).