"Money was maliciously introduced in ancient times as a tool of enslavement" -
Michael Tellinger

"The present belongs to the future and future generations, and all old laws, religious and other, should be abrogated immediately. Free us!" - Vinay Gupta on Twitter

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - R. Buckminster Fuller

"You find the strangest ways to be positive!" - Diane Duane, Wizards Abroad

Monday, January 18, 2010

The fierce urgency of now

Listening to Martin Luther King's "I have been to the mountaintop" speech I was struck, as I always am, by -- despite some specific references shaped by that decade and his own religious context and, I'm sorry, but I can't get past it, all this limiting language of "men," "man" and the like - despite this, how current and universal it still is. This was, I think, his last address - he was getting too close to overthrowing some very powerful interests at this point. Here he is imagining that his god is offering to allow him to live at any time in history up to now - and he chooses now...

"And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today....

"And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed."

I like that historical consciouness, something King returns to again and again (for me, this book really puts a similar breadth of view across to the reader). Add a consciousness of where women fit in with human rights - a consciousness that's finally coming into the general population; maybe it had to wait until more people had discarded the blinders of traditional religion - and we're still right there with him.

At the same time, the world looks as doomed as ever (a nod to George Carlin here: yes, of course I know the world will go on without us - but here I'm referring to the world we know as humans). That was his last speech; he was moving on to a more general stirring of the masses of poor people. There are even more of us now, and we're having similar stirrings again, aren't we? Though this time, the masses are being cunningly manipulated by the very forces they would naturally oppose (can anyone say "tea baggers" or "faux news"?). Then, it was the Vietnam War that had to go on no matter how many leaders had to be assassinated to make it happen. Good to be reminded now and then how many people are assassinated when they get too effective about upsetting the truly rich, especially the drug and war industries. Though nowadays, assassinations are often carried out in more subtle ways, done by proxy through the media - that's a truly effective tactic, as it even fools people into believing it's their own will to bring the good ones down.
I like this King quote even better, from his Riverside Church speech (this is the source of Obama's slogan, the "fierce urgency of now"):
"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood — it ebbs.
"We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.'”

Oddly, although (at least in many respects) there have been better times for women to have lived in, I don't yearn for some earlier time, either. I'm like my mother, Audrey, who was a strong supporter of death with dignity, and whatever legal measures were needed to enable people to make their own choices about how and when to go. When it came down to it, though, she hung on to life way past the point where she'd always said she'd pack it in. She once felt it necessary to explain this apparent deviation from her principles, saying something like this: "So many amazing discoveries and developments have happened during my lifetime - plate techtonics! DNA! The Civil Rights Movement! - and I know after I die there will be more! I know I'm going to miss so much. I just want to stay as long as I can because I'm sure there's another really big story about to break and I want to know about it."

Wouldn't she have enjoyed the Internet! I'm curious too about what else will happen. I guess that's as good a reason as any to go on living even when the world is doomed. And who knows - maybe it isn't doomed, after all. That would be the biggest, most astonishing story of them all; I can see the headline: "Humankind Makes Major New Evolutionary Leap - Just in the Nick of Time!" Peace at last.