Plato in his prescription for a totatlitarian society, 'The Republic,' talks about a society based on a salutary lie:
"How then may we devise one of those needful falsehoods of which we lately spoke—just one royal lie which may deceive the rulers, if that be possible, and at any rate the rest of the city?
"What sort of lie? he said.
Nothing new, I replied; only an old Phoenician tale of what has often occurred before now in other places, (as the poets say, and have made the world believe,) though not in our time, and I do not know whether such an event could ever happen again, or could now even be made probable, if it did. . .
"Well then, I will speak, although I really know not how to look you in the face, or in what words to utter the audacious fiction, which I propose to communicate gradually, first to the rulers, then to the soldiers, and lastly to the people. They are to be told that their youth was a dream, and the education and training which they received from us, an appearance only; in reality during all that time they were being formed and fed in the womb of the earth, where they themselves and their arms and appurtenances were manufactured; when they were completed, the earth, their mother, sent them up; and so, their country being their mother and also their nurse, they are bound to advise for her good, and to defend her against attacks, and her citizens they are to regard as children of the earth and their own brothers.
"You had good reason, he said, to be ashamed of the lie which you were going to tell.
"True, I replied, but there is more coming; I have only told you half. Citizens, we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honor; others he has made of silver, to be auxillaries; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron; and the species will generally be preserved in the children." (Plato, Republic, Book III).
Plato the aristocrat despised democratic Athens, in which a shoe-maker could attain governmental office and dictate to his betters, and so he dreamed of a society like Hindu India. In that steamy tropical paradise, the inhabitants are divided into castes, and told from birth the soothing story that those who occupy the lower ranks of the social structure, as indeed most do, are being punished for misdeeds in a prior life. Who could possibly believe that whopper? The Hindus believe it, and accommodate themselves to an extremely inegalitarian society without complaint.
Henry Louis Gates, in his 'New Yorker' interview of Louis Farrakhan, hints at the possiblity that a story might be strictly speaking untrue, i.e., a 'myth,' but might nonetheless be socially useful. Who can take literally the Nation of Islam's wild talk about god-scientiests, the deportation of the moon, the mother ship, and all the rest of it? Taken as anthropology or history, it is absurd. But what if the purpose is, not to recount the facts just as they occurred, but to encourage the black populace to press onward? Are stories like these excusable, if put forward in a good cause? Did the Nation of Islam, in all its nuttiness, actually play a positive role in the civil rights movement?
They certainly enjoyed public visibility during the civil rights period. Although Elijah Muhammad was rarely seen, Malcolm X was all over the New York TV networks, which were quite sensationalistic in their news coverage during this period. Whatever got people going, whether a lost dog, or someone ranting about white devils, was guaranteed coverage. And there was plenty of that. The camera loved Malcolm X, who bore a slight physical resemblance to the then-president, John F. Kennedy, and was a glib talker quick with a sound-bite. The civil rights movement, which began by upholding non-violence, underwent a process of radicalization similiar to what happened in the French Revolution, where taking a left-ward jog always proved to be the course of safety. Most of these people were doctrinaire Marxist-Leninists, as Malcolm X initially was not but would become: "[H. Rap] Brown concluded his speech with typical bravado. “Don't be trying to love the honkey to death. Shoot him to death,” Brown exclaimed. “Shoot him to death, brother. Cause that's what he's out to do to you.” Alluding to the golden rule, Brown added, 'Do to him like he would do to you, but do it to him first.'” (Levy, Peter B. (2018-01-25). The Great Uprising (p. 116). Cambridge University Press.) All of this shrill hate speech was in service to the Revolution, which, famously, would not be televised. Indeed it was not televised, because it never happened. It never happened because the vast maojirty of people in this country did not want it to happen.
If black attitudes were moving left-ward during the cilvi right era, white attitudes lurched rightward, almost in sync one but in the opposite direction:
"In a retrospective analysis, sociologists Howard Schuman and Maria Krysan argued that 1968 represented a turning point in white attitudes regarding race relations and civil rights. In 1963, at the height of the nonviolent phase of the movement, Schuman and Krysan write, only 19 percent of whites blamed “blacks themselves” for their disadvantages. A far larger plurality, 43 percent, blamed whites. By the late spring of 1968, in contrast, 58 percent of whites blamed “blacks themselves for their disadvantages,” a dramatic shift that persisted for at least thirty years." (Levy, Peter B. (2018-01-25). The Great Uprising (p. 332). Cambridge University Press.)
In 1964 Barry Goldwater ran for the presidency against Lyndon Johnson, hewing almost the same political line as would later elect Ronald Reagan. The matter of civil rights was fully and copiously discussed during this campaign. Goldwater was a principled conservative who objected to civil rights leglislation on libertarian grounds, and Lyndon Johnson supposed the movement generally. Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide. Those same voters, not different ones, as there was little distance in time, would later elect Richard Milhous Nixon, who adopted a policy of "benign neglect" in the civil rights field, in the sprightly phrase of his aide Daniel Patrick Moynihan. What on earth happened? Among other things, Malcolm X. What could produce such a sharp right-hand turn? Among other things, the riots of 1967 and 1968. A meaningul number of black Americans decided that intimidation was just the right strategy for them to adopt in the face of perceived recalcitrance by white America.
We hear a lot about the riots as the voice of the voiceless, a medium of communication for those too impecunious to purchase a megaphone: "The people living in this South Central Los Angeles neighborhood felt trapped by the forces of poverty, incarceration, failing schools, and racism. Though activists had been working for change over the course of many years, the cries of the people went largely unheard. As an alternative to gradual change through the system, which was frequently ineffective and ignored, they used the riots to call attention to their plight." (Tisby, Jemar (2019-01-22). The Color of Compromise (p. 173). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.) Violence is a powerful communicator, all right. But what does smashing a brick in someone's face communicate other than, 'I hate you'?— to be sure, in a way to which no one will ever respond, 'But you don't mean that.' What is like violence, in its ability to turn friends into enemies, to shut off any possibility of meaningful dialogue, to close the door on compromise?
What did Krikor George Messerlian 'hear' in the last moments of his life? Enough of the 'Old World' still clung to this gentleman, who owned a shoe repair shop in the Detroit riot zone, that he defended himself with a saber. But it ended badly: "At 4:45 P.M. a 68-year-old white shoe repairman, George Messerlian, had seen looters carrying clothes from a cleaning establishment next to his shop. Armed with a saber, he had rushed into the street, flailing away at the looters." (The Kerner Commission Report, pp. 93-94). He died of injuries resultant from being stomped to death: "Viecelli's first job was to head up Linwood Street to a restaurant where police officers hung out. It was there, four doors down from the restaurant, where he saw the shoemaker being stomped by a mob. 'They had kicked his head in. They killed him,' Viecelli said. 'He was about 110 pounds.'" ('Former Cop Says 1967 Riot Killed Detroit,' Detroit Free Press, July 26, 2017). What, other than, 'We think your life is of no value'? Who can be so depraved as to try to capitalize on such brutal, mindless violence? Blithely to announce that riots are the "language of the unheard” (p. 171) is to make another human being's body the canvas upon which to scrawl the ominous graffitti which is your personal expression. What gives you the right?
Who drafted John V. Gleason of the Plainfield, N.J. police, to serve as a human message board, stomped to death by a mob which employed a variety of objects including a metal shopping cart to dispatch him? Why? And why are we supposed to hear the sigh of the oppressed in all this horror? Realizing that a mob from the surrounding housing project trapped him as he lay dying, why was there only one criminal conviction they were ever able to make stick, that of a heavy-set woman who jumped up and down on him? Nobody saw anything, it appears. Officer Gleason's dead body wasn't even a very efficient messaging medium, as it turned out. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.
Oddly enough, author Jemar Tisby, as biased a historian as
will be found, is platformed nowadays by the Southern
Baptists, once a bastion of white supremacy. They have made
great progress in coming to realize their slave-owner founders
can no longer be unambiguously championed. Why go over to the
opposite extreme? Is it possible that they can serenely
abandon their own forbears, acknowledging they were the bad
guys of the Civil War, if only they can be sure they will
never need to affirm the hated Yankees like Abraham Lincoln as
good guys? In Jemar Tisby's world, all white folks are evil;
if they appear to be good on the surface, like William
Wilberforce, one must dig or reinterpret until the illusion
vanishes. Thus the Civil War becomes, not a morality play of
good vs. evil, but evil devouring itself, because in his world
only black folk can be good. . .and they cannot be otherwise. Thus even riots must be good, all
appearances to the contrary. What were the riots intended to
be, by those promoting them? The Revolution. That's what they
said. But not only was the Revolution not televised, it never
even happened. Most Americans did not want it. Those
unfortunates living in the Third World, who got hit in the
bread-basket with the Revolution whether they wanted it or
not, found in it only scarcity and want.
Anyone who follows the time-line can see how well violence and intimidation worked out. What would make a small minority, numbering 12-13 percent of the total population, think violence could work for them? While the race is not always to the swift nor the fight to the strong, that is the way to bet, as they say. What is helpful in making violence a winning strategy is overwhelming numerical superiority, as well as material and technological advantage. Whatever conduces to getting there 'firstest with the mostest' is helpful. In the absence of all these features, perhaps pursuing a different strategy is an option worth exploring. If the National Guard has all the armored personnel carriers and the neighborhood has none, the prospects for successful violence are not promising; seek alternatives. A ready alternative is at hand: non-violence. Neither need we look afar, to India, to find it, because democracy is a long-naturalized non-violent avenue for producing social change. Did the deportation of the moon and all the rest of it ever make sense in the first place? It is material for a science fiction comic book, and not even a high quality one.
It is greatly to be hoped that the Spike Lee's of the world will stop glorifying Malcolm X, a babbling imbecile who failed to make the world a better place than he found it. Instead of turning in embarrassment away from this man's comic ignorance, his remaining followers, none the wiser, demand that academia study his profound thought. The Nation's focus on black nationalism and separatism diverted political energies away from channels where they might conceivably have helped to make the world a better place, to a fantasy-land far beyond the sea. The spasms of violence Malcolm X succeeded in inciting led, not to victory in an apocalyptic race war as in Elijah Muhammad's mumbled promises, but to calcification of the status quo. While historical revisionists scramble to invent avenues by which these events might have been catharrtic or informative, the reality is far more pointless, barbaric and senseless. Why is it that observers who have no difficulty perceiving Jim Jones' adventure in Guyana as a tragedy and a disaster, a pointless self-inflicted wound, not a chapter in an endless round leading victory onto victory, don't see the same dynamic here? A more realistic identification of who the good guys are in the story would produce a more solid foundation for progress in racial reconciliation.