Friday, January 14, 2011

Dr. King's Nightmare

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As most Americans know, civil rights leader Martin Luther King had a dream. What relatively few of us know is that he also had a nightmare:
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: 'This way of settling differences is not just.' This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more on military 'defense' than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
I don't think that the form of arrogance Dr. King referred to is unique to Western culture - any sufficiently successful culture is bound to contain people who think that their way is the best way, and that they have nothing to learn from the rest of us. But the West does have such people, and they seem to be far more influential than their limited view of the world merits.

It's the priorities MLK spoke of that I find interesting. In retrospect, he seems to have predicted the place we're in now - a nation diminished both economically and intellectually from what we were in his time. We've become more inclusive, but we're mostly more inclusive at the bottom 99% of our society. The ones who really count are what they've always been.

Caption: Soldiers from Company A, 3-187th Infantry watch from an observation post as bombs are dropped on insurgent positions during Operation Iron Blade II in Ghazni Province Nov. 28.

Image credit: Lt. Col. David Fivecoat/U.S. Army

In a time when we have no real enemies worthy of the name, we've become obsessed with defense, spending far more than any other advanced country and getting even less. We pay for these priorities in lost jobs and diminished prospects. After the Second World War, we were the world's leader in physics. Now, thanks to our neglect, coupled with Europe's interest, they appear to be regaining the lead they had in the early part of the Twentieth Century. From going to the Moon in a decade, our space program can't even service the space station it built. The next generation of boosters has been canceled. Our infrastructure inadequate and crumbling thanks to decades of neglect. We sacrificed all this, not to mention our health care and retirement, to be better at destroying someone else's country than anyone else is.

I'm not a pacifist. I worked for the defense industry for two decades, so I recognize that there is both a use and a need for defense spending. I feel, like both Sherman and Lee, that war is almost necessarily an awful thing. I also believe, as they eventually did, that it should be a rare thing. A country that spends so much on its military, when there is no clear need, is a country with a screwed up sense of priorities. It won't use that military judiciously, either. That's particularly true, as is the case now, when that country neglects its own needs to spend so outrageously.

Over the years, we've both fulfilled Martin Luther King's dream, and made his nightmare come true.

(h/t to David Swanson for that MLK quote.)


Formerly T-Bear said...

IIRC the late Carl Sagan expressed concern over the cancellation of numerous space exploration projects in order to fund the shuttle program. He maintained that once the economic impetus was eliminated and the skills and expertise needed for the projects was dispersed and funding was diverted, it would become impossible to reconstruct the exploration projects in the future if they were reconsidered.

The same argument was applied to the proposed Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) to no avail. Sagan foresaw once the impetus was gone, the trajectory would be that of decline. Here too, Dr. King's nightmare takes form in another manner, the decline of ability, the deterioration of the intellect, and impoverishment of curiosity.

In the intervening twenty odd years since SSC that forecast is repeatedly confirmed. Neither the political will, the economic ability, nor public support are available to restore these explorations, all has been sacrificed to feed the appetite of Mars. There is no 'minority report' that will be heard or accepted. The end of national power is in sight, it is the light ahead, at the bend in the tunnel. Never trust the vote to anyone who knows the world is 6000 years old, or still believes the fables told to frighten children.

Cujo359 said...

Yes, Carl Sagan did warn about that issue with the Shuttle. My own opinion is that the Shuttle was also important, and NASA's funding should have been maintained so that both unmanned exploration and the Shuttle would have been continued. If that difference had come out of the DoD budget, it would have scarcely been noticeable in the Pentagon's budget.

Ditto the SSC - Europe went ahead with it, with roughly the same GDP we have. They didn't sacrifice the rest of their science funding to pay for CERN. They just didn't pay for a big, gold-plated military that could be shipped anywhere they thought they needed it.

That's the problem - NASA, and other important agencies (HUD, the non-nuclear part of DOE, the VA), have to choose between competing needs, but the Pentagon gets, and wastes, far more than any of them.