And now a few words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrated recently, and who, in 1967, had the following to say in “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”
“The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism at the dawn of civilization, when men ate each other because they had not yet learned to take food from the soil or to consume the abundant animal life around them. The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct, and immediate abolition of poverty.”
“Why have we substituted the arrogant undertaking of policing the whole world for the high task of putting our own house in order? . . . The security we profess to seek in foreign adventures we will lose in our decaying cities.”
“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed [livable] income.”
“The contemporary tendency in our society is to . . . compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.”
Dr. King was mindful that we were all in this together; thus his desire to mix individualism with collectivism to produce a more healthy society. That kind of thinking would probably be labeled — mislabeled — “the politics of envy” today, though, given America’s heightened conscience at the time he wrote “Chaos or Community,” there was reason for many to think that a more just society was within our reach. We had, as he said, only to choose it.
But we didn’t. And here we are, 45 years later, with even more below the poverty line, even more of the overfed — if they are gagging on the superfluity within their gated communities, you don’t hear them — a presumptive Republican candidate who has been called by his fellow candidates a “vulture capitalist,” and a Democratic incumbent who turned out not to be a bird of a different feather after all.
“. . . A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. . . .”
“. . . There is nothing to keep us from remolding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. . . .”
His book makes for good reading at this time of year, at any time of year for that matter.