January 17, 2011
Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday
If Dr. King were alive today, he would shudder at what his nation has become four decades after his death—especially in view of the new forms of violence, self-deception, and even nihilism in which America is steeped. That’s why, as we celebrate King’s birth today in the year 2011, we need to look for a new Martin Luther King to carry the torch of the modern revolution of conscience that King initiated.
A look at the lineage of the Hebrew prophets shows that one isolated prophet can never be enough to correct an errant and lawless civilization. As a result, the message of these ancient prophets evolved and deepened to meet the rising challenge. And after the last prophet was forgotten or encrusted in idolatry—as Dr. King’s image is today—a fresh new teacher rose up out of nowhere to build on previous scripture and to speak to his generation’s experience with oppression and injustice. Of course, Dr. King believed this lineage culminated in Jesus himself. In the same manner, a post-modern or “integral” prophet will speak truth to power in a new way, yet will participate in King’s lineage; indeed, our prophets must evolve as our civilization evolves.
America reached a spiritual zenith in the oratory and compassionate action of King that led to the successes of civil rights movement and other movements for liberation; but King’s America hit bottom in the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq in 2003. A new prophet for our time would point to our complicity in this war crime. He or she would rail against the entire panoply of senseless wars we have pursued since 9/11—crying out about how little we have learned.
Such a prophet would also direct us to 9/11 itself, the monstrous elephant in America’s moral living room. He would harken to the proof that we have been cruelly deceived about what happened on that day. She would call for a new, independent investigation; for even more whistleblowers to come forth; for Americans to grow up and educate themselves about 9/11 truth before it’s too late.
Expanding the scope of scrutiny, a twenty-first century prophet would direct us to the spiraling growth of the covert violence of the “deep state,” as author Peter Dale Scott calls it. These techniques have evolved beyond what we now know about the assassinations and the war crimes of the Vietnam era. They have advanced unimaginably far in sophistication from the awkward COINTELPRO tactics of that era to which King and thousands of activists were illegally subjected. Today such tactics include the NSA’s ultra-high tech surveillance of millions of citizen’s phone calls and email. They include the shredding of key provision of our Bill of Rights in the name of an endless War on Terror, and they extend to rogue quasi-governmental hit squads that deploy weapons of mass coercion and other mind control weapons on citizens (as discussed in one of my earlier blog posts).
Along the same line, this prophet for our time would point to the madnessof having 854,000 people—nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C.—holding top-secret security clearances. In its article of July 19 of last year, The Washington Post called the phenomenon “a Top Secret America hidden from public view” and funded by a $75 billion budget. Our penchant for secrecy is indeed a disturbing sight, morally and spiritually: “Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence,” said the Post, “in about 10,000 locations across the United States.”
A prophet in 2011, like King in 1968, would still quote the Old Testament prophets who warned Israel of the dire harvest to come from its Godless ways. But in 2011 and 2012 updated methods of prophetic utterance would translate these archaic passages into today’s more complex theological and ethical concepts, as did King. Such language even today sits in the hearts of many who are even now ready to rise up for justice, love, and mercy in the economic, social, and political spheres.
King always emphasized how utterly pointless and counterproductive violence is—even in terms of the instrumental goals of the perpetrator. Our new prophet would chasten our country for its decades of continued descent into self-destructive militarism since King’s time, as it spent itself into oblivion with military and intelligence budgets vastly beyond reason.
Like King and the prophets of old, a post-modern prophet would take up the particulars of the day—such as our nonsensical drone attacks in and around Pakistan. They might point to the fact that counterproductive drone-attack war crimes peppered all the dates of the January calendar around Jared Loughner’s nihilistic gun attack in Tuscon.
Yet, did anyone in the mainstream media note the scary parallel of these two phenomena? A U.S. drone rained death from the sky in a tribal area of Pakistan just four days after the events in Tuscon killed four alleged militants. This was the fifth strike this year following a total of 111 in 2010—all inside a country with which the US is not at war. According to the UK’s Guardian on December 28, 2010, “The Brookings Institute has calculated a civilian-to-militant kill ratio of 10:1 [from US drone attacks] . . . Meanwhile, figures compiled by the Pakistani authorities suggest US strikes killed 701 people between January 2006 and April 2009, of which 14 were al-Qaida militants and 687 were civilians, for a much higher ratio. That produces a hit rate of just 2% – or 50 civilians dead for every militant killed.”
The drone attacks are circus of irrationality. Even General David Petraeus himself is quoted in the Guardian article as saying that “…recruits for a militant movement [have] grown exponentially as drone strikes have increased.” This methodology, pursued by President Obama with even more passion than Bush before him, is what might be called state nihilism.
Obama was, of course, a false prophet. A true prophet for our time would update King’s nonviolence philosophy while still denouncing the more obvious manifestations of overt warfare. He or she would point to the more subtle “structural violence” and “spiritual violence” that is built into today’s social structures on a worldwide scale, ideas that Dr. King began to glimpse. As philosopher Glen Martin points out in his prophetic text Millenium Dawn: The Philosophy of Planetary Crisis and Human Liberation, the accumulation of capital in a few hands—vastly increased since King’s time—would not be possible without subtle forms of organized violence toward the human mind as well as the natural world. Such violations of human and natural rights are constituted and upheld by ideologies, education, propaganda, and communication media that ultimately serve naked power. They purvey deceptions and lies that will in turn require new forms of nonviolent resistance, compassionate action that is redemptive for the new types of perpetrators and victims we witness today.
King’s nonviolent philosophy of brotherly love supported by the watch care of a compassionate God builds upon that of Gandhi and others, and this same philosophy needs to underlie today’s growing movement of resistance to deep state violence and global structures of injustice. As discussed elsewhere in this blog, King was assassinated by agents of the deep state before his Poor People’s Campaign could gain traction. Among its goals was to raise nonviolence to a new level so as to pressure Congress into passing an Economic Bill of Rights for the nation’s poor. With the ongoing immisseration of the middle class in this country and overseas, a new campaign—inclusive of the global poor and working class—is needed that builds upon the lessons of the past.
A new prophet would quote these words of King about violence and again warn us that we have not learned from them: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate . . . Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
King also said: “It seems to me that I can hear God saying to America—you are too arrogant! If you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I am God.”
A new prophet—indeed thousands of post-modern, grassroots prophets—will realize that King was right: America’s backbone has been broken. The focus of evil today is not simply United States foreign policy or domestic abuses, but a criminalized global elite whose backbone will also be broken by its own myopia, selfishness, and nihilism.