n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

nobody has to listen to anybody

Every quarter of my 102 class I teach MLK's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which slays me every time.

Mostly, I am obsessed by his twin audience, christian and secular, and how he addresses them both, how his argument is dependent on both.
"A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." [religious]

"An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself." [secular]
And it's not just his definitions, but his allusions:
"We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany." [secular]

"It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire." [religious]
Interesting that he felt the need, as a minister and as a speaker to the American public, to not only speak to the religious folk in his audience, but in every instance of his argument to address the secular as well. Not just christian morality, but popular morality, ethics unhindered by the God argument, and paired with practicality: he who is in the minority must always require that the majority follow their own laws. Law and creed, hand in hand, everyone included. I believe this is why, during his time, he was such a powerful public speaker in America, the land that loves so firmly both religion and the secular law that protects our differences of religion. Or not-religion.

Not being a christian, some of MLK's religious appeals make me nervous, as I tend to associate the "higher authority" with judgment of those who are different. I vastly prefer the emotional and logical appeals to experience, connecting to who would have otherwise seen his goal as distant from their own lives; give us a story to identify with -- the story of your daughter, perhaps -- and we'll follow your far-from-us discussion on pain: "when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people..." It's powerful, but not because God tells me so, but compassion does...

Okay, I get it. But what I meant is that for me, MLK's secular, reasoned argument speaks legions about the balance that democracy requires to last: justice, above all, equals avoidance of majority hypocrisy.

But America today still seems to drawn to circumscribing private lives with political laws, dictating the ideals and codes of one group with those of the accepted other. How powerful is it to really think about this idea: "An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself"? Powerful. Really powerful. I might argue the all-the-time powerful battle of living in a democracy. It might also act in the reverse (minority to majority) but the principle is the same: all laws apply to all. Like a tongue twister.

But what happens if we stop paying attention to the framework that developed flexibly to help this nation last as a nation and not a sandpit... well, anything is up for grabs, especially if it comes with a neat little code. Because very little lands in one's lap, really, especially when resources become scarce or dreams ridiculous, so it might be natural inclination to shape society, law, economics, justice to favor one group over another, and then to position yourself into that group. Very little to lose if you win; lots to lose (and blame on others) if you don't. Unhindered capitalism, right?

Question: What values are compelled today by a majority group upon a minority group, that they themselves do not want to follow?

1) International justice.

2) Big business - to - worker relations, when the difference between becomes extreme.

3) The law of immigration; where our forefathers began, so do we, and by the laws of our early admittance, so too might the new troops enter and fight to belong.

4) Some religious groups gots the deeds to America; others don't even have the deeds to their own land. (I'm thinking the whole Ground-Zero Muslim Community Center here, and moreover what that debate indicates).

5) Medical facilities and health insurances are allowed to pursue (business) happiness and success, even as the people that supposedly support them suffer, go into debt, or even die. It's capitalist suffering though, so I'm sure it doesn't count.

6) And in my mind recently, well, the fact that so many straight couples want to have magical, government-acknowledged weddings. They want to receive gifts. They want tax breaks and children. Of course they do.

The whole debate around queer marriage circulates around barring the minority of queer couples from having the very thing that straight couples want: romance, love, stability, the pursuit of happiness. The whole debate around "don't ask, don't tell" circulates around barring the minority of queer soldiers from having the very thing that straight soldiers want to have: the right to defend what they believe in with support from the government. Everything hinges on the dictation [from one side] of the conditions for another person's existence. To me, it seems like a clear issue of justice, and it always has.

Is it the pivotal issue of our generation? Is it distraction and fluff? Are there more important issues that take precedence? Perhaps. Most definitely. I think the recent "queer debates" are stupid, clear, simple and distracting from war, economics, other forms of institutionalized prejudice, international disasters, environmental concerns, economic problems and good times. I think the queer problem is a dumb culture issue meant to distract and divide. Judicially, it's a no-brainer, so let's get onto the real fucking issues, is my point of view.

But... I maybe will vote for Obama in the next election, and maybe I will say fuck you. The fact that Obama requested a stay on the judicial ban on DADT military policy because he requires a "careful review and an act of Congress" tells me that he has rethought his promise to "[call] for us to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" as he promised in his epic, but perhaps ill-advised (politically) letter to the LGBT community. I know my brolaw will disagree with me. And I know that my straight friends will too. I know that there are a thousand reasons, both political and realistic, to sit on my anger over his choice to step outside his executive pathway and halt the decision of the judicial branch of the U.S. government in order to mitigate the political realities of the United Religious States of the Fucking U.S. of A. But to me it is a token act of cowardice, political bullshit, and did I say cowardice. Enough with the tormenting the minority to shift the focus away from the difficult decisions that need to be made. If everything lands hard on the liberals, as it always appears to do, then at least we will have been brave and just and forward.

And this is a real issue until rights, equalities, and pride are apportioned in accordance to deed rather than than adherence to sexual norms. My queer friends who are couples have to fight for tax breaks, health benefits, legal acknowledgment; we all have to fight for social acceptance or even peace. It's not a nothing issue. "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and similar policies damage people. Every day. It should be repealed and life should move forward, not life moving forward first because the problem involves only a "minority." Time, as MLK said, acts now on the people who are living their lives. And I may not believe in marriage, but I sure as shit believe in equality including marriage for queers.

And how stupid that this is even a topic we have to think about. How painful that when I wonder what MLK would think - with his divide between the moral (as dictated by his God) and the secular - that I wonder: would he be ripped in half? Or would he feel the need to sacrifice one side, perhaps the best side, of his argument in order to save the other half?
"First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.


I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "An Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will." (MLK)
Damn, if I don't admire him. Where are our MLK's? Have we forgotten our responsibility? The real side effects that come from the unconscious passing of time? Is one event in history completely unrelatable to another?

But what happens when secular law is in contrast to people's perceived religious law? Freedom of religion? Anarchy? Agree to disagree? I fuck you because of limited resources? Or America as the Beacon on the Hill? I keep wondering what MLK would say. I imagine he'd say the same damn thing that Obama would. And I now think Queers got to get practical. All of America's got to get practical.

Not so long as forty years ago, MLK was attacked and mobbed and virtually stoned, and eventually killed for his ideas. Now we celebrate him as a National Holiday, a plagiarist (ridiculous), and a forgone idea. His image has been codified, his position accepted into the establishment. But that's not where it began. I remind my students that: when he spoke, it was to opponents, not friends. His words were meant to change the world, and nothing about his position was considered automatically righteous.

And who do I support? I, who doesn't even believe that sexuality should be political (it's fucking private, folks!!!!!), and admire many of the pragmatic political decisions that have been made by Obama/etc recently (except Middle-Eastern policy), not to mention the relief that comes from not having another dumb-as-shit puppet in office. I rather think the demographics have been played, and that a certain kind of cowardice just pisses me off, even if it makes sense for the politicians. But I also believe that solders, bullied children, the future, and confused adults have to pay the price for cowardice.

Ah, place we live. I'm glad I'm also teaching a unit on comedy in America, because sometimes that at least gives me perspective. A little laughter sometimes goes a long way too.
P.S. What triggered me tonight was a local news station doing a report on some guy who decided to be straight, got married, and is now over the moon happy with his life because he's having a baby. The segment ended with the anchor wishing him luck. That's not news, but propaganda, and it made me feel sick to my stomach to watch it aired so blithely. Thus the rant. To my friends and relatives who already believe what I do. Heh.
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