Law in Contemporary Society
Due to the lack of understanding regarding John Brown's actions, I ask the question:

If the government sanctioned it, would that make it right?

Think of this question while watching this video of a soldier giving his testimony regarding the incessant racism in the military. It's funny how we are told to look to elders and those in authority for direction, but due to the framing (e.g. "They are serving us" rather than "They are killing innocent people") and pressure to be a "patriot" we are less likely to question any of their actions.

The wealthy have capitalized on subconscious "racism" or notions of "superiority" to the darker peoples who we are asked to celebrate being killed. I remember one class in which Eben asked us to think about what people in another, less developed country would think about the U.S. if their country was bombed and innocent people were killed.

John Brown was not right or just because of violence, he was right because he was willing to do anything to right a wrong. He defended the subjugated people in the nation, and violence was a byproduct of that process. Similar to the self-defense that Malcolm X spoke of, he was willing to tell America that it was wrong and to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Just because America says something is right, should we blindly accept its view?

If you answer yes to that question, you are not really living. However, that is what America's "leaders" have deceptively convinced countless people to do.

America followed John Brown's lead in beginning the Civil War. Without John Brown's leadership, America might have practiced "overt" slavery in the 20th century. There is definitely still slavery in America, but is so subtle that it's hard for many to see.

When you are afraid to speak out against injustice, it will run rampant.

So who is really unjust?

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 04 Mar 2012

I wrote this in college for a satirical, angry magazine... speaks to this subject.

Legality vs. Morality

In this world, there's deep thinkers, thinkers, non-thinkers, irrational beasts- and then there's sheeple. And then Lifetime viewers.

This post is just to clarify something that I desperately hope you already understand.

When something is legal, that does not make it morally right. And if something is morally good, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be legal.

I've run into people throughout my life that think that something is right because it's legal in this country. Sometimes, I wish the government would tell you poison tastes good so you'd eat it.

Listen up sheeple.

Cigarettes are legal. They kill 400,000 people in the U.S. per year. That's like if 9/11 happened 200 times per year, totaling approximately 1,400 9/11s since the actual event.

Illegal: Medical marijuana relieves people with terminal illnesses from dying in severe pain.

Legal: U.S. based Engineering/Construction companies enter third-world countries with short-term promises that lead to long-term debts. The companies have economists working around the clock to ensure that these poor countries will fall into an insurmountable debt. The U.S. government then lends money to these countries to help pay the debt. That means the countries are now in debt to the U.S., and in kind the U.S. steals U.N. votes, builds military bases in their countries and drills oil (which 1. pollutes their environment horrifically and 2. drives people living in these areas off their land) in exchange for partial payments on a debt that will never be fully repaid.

Illegal: Gay marriage.

Legal: Profit-sector lobbyists.

Legal: Car companies such as Ford have determined that they would save more money paying off people who sue for injuries and deaths than recalling their dysfunctional cars. So they choose not to recall them, and thousands of people die as a result. They save money.

Legal: CIA assassinations/oustings of inspiring leaders in Latin America/Africa/Southeast Asia throughout the last fifty years. Cheney's treasonous CIA name leak in response to a disgruntled ambassador, tabloid newspapers, Bush's genocidal war and his torture camps, maniacal (and some reported "recreational") murders, courtesy of Blackwater and other "security" firms in northern Iraq.

Illegal: Gay marriage. Seriously. Gay marriage.

Our legal system sucks.

-- KippMueller - 07 Mar 2012

That's right Kipp. The crazy part of all this, as discussed in books like 1984 and even in the Leff reading, is that a lot of events are created and "dramatized" for a particular purpose (e.g. to win a presidential election, to convince citizens to support attacking a country). You have to fight to receive the right education, because many people receive an education that teaches them to be "robotic," resistant to change, and not to question the status quo. You can't believe everything officials tell you. Some people are hypnotized without even knowing it. I refuse to take the blue pill because that would be a life not worth living.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 07 Mar 2012

William David, thank you for bringing up the distinction between law and morality. I think your point about inadequate education making people resistant to change is well-supported by our experience here at CLS. In law school, we're indoctrinated to not think about morality at all when talking about the law. For example, in crim law, our professor briefly spoke about the absence of credible evidence supporting the justifications for capital punishment. Yet our discussion focused on how to apply capital punishment statutes (Is capital punishment, in this particular case, legal?), rather than whether we should have capital punishment at all. Our professor said something like, "Capital punishment is here and it's queer," and there was no opportunity to discuss/challenge the concept of capital punishment. I understand that there's a lot of law to get through in class, but taking government-sanctioned law as default gives off the message that as lawyers, we shouldn't challenge the law, because it is what it is. That doesn't train us to be courageous.

Responding to William David's comment that "There is definitely still slavery in America, but is so subtle that it's hard for many to see," I think that the American obsession with political correctness definitely perpetuates it. The fear of being labeled as a "racist" makes it so that we don't talk about race frequently enough or frankly enough.

-- MichelleLuo - 08 Mar 2012

Thank you for the response Michelle. I am often frustrated too when some classes don't leave time for discussing morality. It's not even a matter of everyone agreeing, but in actually developing your own opinion. Also, in regards to slavery, I agree with you regarding the racial component, but there is another component that many don't see as well: "Psychological Slavery." Too many people follow the law because it's the law. They don't question because they are taught not to question. Maybe the system already works for them and they don't want it to change. We cannot blindly follow policies, especially when we wouldn't support those policies if we were on the other side. I hope you were able to watch the video I linked to my first post, because war is a prime example. No one lives forever. You might as well make it worthwhile. Some people are not really "living." You can't be afraid to die for something you believe in, or afraid of the ridicule that might result if you don't agree with the majority opinion. If you are, no progress is made.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 08 Mar 2012

That speech was powerful, I think more so because it was coming from someone who can back up his observations with his experience. It's difficult for the State to sanction killing and dying without othering the enemy.

Your point about psychological slavery reminds me of the blue-eyed/brown-eyed Jane Elliott experiment(the story begins at around 1 minute). Elliott, a school teacher, split the class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed kids in order to teach them about discrimination. On day one, she told them that the brown-eyed people were inferior. On day two, she said the blue-eyed people were inferior. On both days, the "superior" kids were mean to the "inferior" ones. In the video, Elliott says that she learned more from the "superior" kids than the "inferior" kids because their personalities changed more. One aspect of the demonstration that I find particularly interesting is that even though the brown-eyed kids were treated inferiorly the first day and knew what that felt like, when things switched and they had the opportunity to be in power, they went along with the system and discriminated against the blue-eyed kids because it worked for them. Of course, things are more complicated outside of an elementary school classroom experiment, but the study does illustrate one variation of psychological slavery.

-- MichelleLuo - 12 Mar 2012

Regarding your point about the "inferior" kids from day 1 being cruel to the "inferior" kids on day 2, despite knowing what it felt like to be tortured particularly interesting in light of Professor Moglen's point at the end of class last month about how remarkable it is that there were almost no retaliatory killings by black people after slavery was abolished. After years of cruelty, murder, and mistreatment, freed slaves did not lash out once given the opportunity to be free. This might be because unlike the children in the video who were given the opportunity to be in power, freed slaves were not given any sort of powerful roles in society, but were merely given the opportunity to be free. It could be that the children in the video only experienced cruelty in the short term, as opposed to slaves who experienced cruelty over many years; maybe after experiencing injustice and discrimination over such a long period it takes away the lust for vengeance. Or maybe (as a combo of my above two hypotheses) when discrimination is in place for such a long period time, when people are liberated from it they don't feel power or equality, but merely relief at not being discriminated against anymore. Even more reason to act/go to the streets sooner rather than later, before discrimination becomes institutionalized and wipes away the ability of those discriminated against to feel not just free, but powerful.

-- SkylarPolansky - 18 Mar 2012

I heard about the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment, but the video really put it into perspective. This is basically the "subconscious" losing of your identity and replacing it with the ideals of the corporation/organization that you have become part of that Arnold discusses in The Folklore of Capitalism. The experiment hits me hard because that has been my life experience.

My mother told me that my late grandmother had scraps of food given to her to eat by the white family that she worked for as a domestic. The family thought it was proper for her to eat them. As a child, I couldn't figure out why so many African Americans were deemed as "criminals" or "savages" that only could participate in athletics or something else artistic (e.g. rap). Going through school, people were surprised I was so focused on academics. What they didn't know is that I didn't give in to the propaganda. I remember reading how "scientists" did skull studies and concluded that blacks were the least intelligent race. Watching the Jane Elliott experiment when the commentator reported that kids who were deemed as superior "always did better on their tests," made me think about how people attempt to condition society to think that African Americans are not qualified and unintelligent.

During my freshman year of college, a professor asked who was "most likely to be a criminal." I was the only black person in class. Someone responded and said, "William David." She said why and the student replied, "because he's black." I addressed her and later the class, but it pains me to see so many African Americans in prison. My constitutional law professor addressed this in class briefly with an Oklahoma Sterilization case in which a facially neutral statute attempted sterilize African Americans because they were "convicted" of certain crimes (e.g. stealing chickens). It was more evidence of Jim Crow laws, as this treatment of African Americans has been conditioned in this society.

When I became the first person in my family to graduate from college, I thought about how tough it was for me to do so. I thought about my aunts working in fast food and how proud they were of me (may have been the first in my extended family too - at least on my mother's side). My father has never contacted me since I was two. All I saw were child support checks. This behavior has been conditioned in society, as black males are not supposed to be family men.

During Teach for America, students called professional English "White English," and wanted to know why I didn't pursue the NFL or another professional league. I explained how it wasn't White English and why helping them receive the "right education" was more important to me than that.

My life is just an example of this conditioning. Native Americans have had it extremely rough too. I am upset that it is so engrained in society. Even some "civil rights leaders" perpetuate it. I refuse to be a House Negro, however, which is accepted because you are not challenging the system and are accepting the "inferiority" label. This Malcolm X speech discusses the topic poetically.

It's important that you see this too. Deep down although I am proud to be in law school, I realize that so many people never get this opportunity, and many people that do get this opportunity don't really use their law degree for social justice. I feel connected to all those who struggled before me and refuse to let them down. I came to law school to change unjust laws and to advocate for those that the law has turned its back on, not to perpetuate the injustice that the law has sanctioned.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 13 Mar 2012

This is a nice thread right here. I was just going to add that I think a lot of the "psychological slavery" in our society is perpetuated by class and not only race. I have the same thing on my dad's side of the family. He's a retired house painter, and none of the people on that side of my family ever attended college, dad included. Many of them still don't really get why I'm in law school or went to undergraduate college. To them, it's just "not something we do in this family". Most of that side of my family is pretty damn destitute and simply don't see education as something important to them.

I think that this psychological oppression you speak of influences people based both on race and class.

As far as the blue pill, I'm not sure that we haven't already taken quite a few. I look at my clothes and most are made in sweat shops. I type on a computer that is built with titanium purchased from mining companies in Africa that maim children on a daily basis. I print pages in the computer room that come from paper that comes from trees in the Amazon forest that were cut down, wiping out thousands of never-to-be-discovered species and driving people off of land they've lived off of for thousands of years. My coffee is made with beans that are picked by people who work terrible hours at egregiously low wages, forced essentially into a life of servitude.

What blue pills am I really missing?

-- KippMueller - 13 Mar 2012

Kipp - Two comments:

1) I was definitely referring to more than just "psychological slavery" as a result of race. Michelle's mention of the Jane Elliot experiment made me think about physical characteristics, but it definitely can be extended (e.g. blind patriotism). Race is one of the extreme forms of it, if you are effectively conditioned.

2) I understand your concern with the immorality associated with the quest for the dollar or capital, although the blue pill doesn't necessarily symbolize that. I think if more people knew the facts regarding how some of their consumer products are made or how labor is commodified, many would not buy those products anymore. Thus, many people for health are seeking Trader Joe's and Whole Foods instead of McDonald's and Burger King. The problem is actually finding the ethical companies, if one is interested in them.

But I am referring to only one pill. If people understood the "truth" about these products, they would not be taking the blue pill. The blue pill is taken when you believe everything that is told to you from "leaders" and refuse to question. The red pill means you decide to seek the truth and likely will be willing to fight against the powers who have blinded society.

Below is the applicable excerpt from The Matrix. Thanks for posting.

Morpheus: Do you want to know what IT is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.... Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.... Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more.... Follow me.... Apoc, are we online?

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 14 Mar 2012

William David, Kipp, Michelle, I thought all your points were really interesting and the stories you all shared moving. Placing faith in the law allows many of us to sideline questions of morality altogether, leading us to participate in many forms of contemporary slavery.

I wonder if the same is true of being "moderate". This label is often given respect -- it connotes rationality, compromise and restraint. Sometimes this respect is deserved, but there are times when it is misplaced. In the past, I have found myself retreating to the moderate position frequently, even when my heart lies to the left of an issue. Doing so is easy--it is convenient. But recently, I have grown less satisfied with the fact that my principles function like a pendulum, always culminating in a compromise between two positions. Equilibrium is not justice. It is just that the position can feel so comfortable that we delude ourselves into thinking that it is.

When does being moderate stop being right? In the world of John Brown, to be moderate meant to accept some forms of racism and discrimination, short of slavery itself. For this reason, even abolitionists of the era were quick to disassociate themselves from his mission. It was in the interest of being moderate that the ratifiers of the 14th amendment chose to abolish slavery but retain segregated schools. Moderate positions allow society to move the fulcrum closer toward justice, without demanding it outright. But in a lot of instances this simply means allowing injustice to persist in a slightly dampened way.

The link in William's initial post provided a good example of this phenomenon: modern warfare. Today's militaries are governed by treaties of war, and armies have developed codes of conduct. Perhaps it can be said that society has advanced in that we can no longer(openly) pillage, rape, burn, and commit acts of genocide against our enemies as did the armies of the distant past. But at the same time, our posterity may view our modes of war as equally barbarous to the way we view the gladiators of Ancient Greece or soldiers of the Spartan armies. Today, to advocate for pacifism seems to be an extreme position, yet it may not be extreme forever. In 1859, it was okay to discuss the depravity of slavery, but to do something about it was treason. In 1870, it was reasonable to allow Black people the right to vote, but proposing to extend this right to women was rebellious. Radicals are vindicated by hindsight. What happens to moderates?

-- TomaLivshiz - 14 Mar 2012

Great post Toma. My thoughts...

"Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Linked above is the last speech Martin Luther King, Jr. made before his assassination. As he became increasingly radical, more people wanted his death. The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, begin intense monitoring of King through an effort called COINTELPRO. King started to threaten U.S. class structure with the Poor People's Campaign, which was a multiracial effort designed to minimize poverty in the United States. He also vehemently opposed the Vietnam War and said, "We believe the highest patriotism demands the ending of the war and the opening of a bloodless war to final victory over racism and poverty." The hypocrisy of the war was evident considering the realities of the conditions in the United States. It is still evident today. One soldier was recently caught killing 16 innocent people, including women and children, in their homes in Afghanistan. Even if he is punished, this conduct is not anything new.

It is not necessarily wrong though to share a middle ground about an issue. What is problematic is when you see corruption and do not do anything about it because you want to be safe and not "ruffle any feathers." As Eben said before, when we realize the power we have as people, and come together for a common issue, whether black or white, rich or poor, no one can stop us including the government. As a sidenote, it is interesting how some people criticize the violence of John Brown when the U.S. was begun through the Revolutionary War due to colonists' concerns over direct taxation. I'm sure Britain thought they were "terrorists." John Brown was defending people over something more problematic while others sat idly by because they did not have courage.

Courage demands radicalism. Courage occurs when someone does something that is either highly criticized, never done before, and/or poses incredible risk. Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth demonstrated courage advocating for women's rights. They were radicals and risked death. Several others were killed because of their beliefs.

Moderates on everything are never remembered and often suffer from internal conflict. That is what happens to them. I would suggest picking at least one issue right now that you deeply care about and would be willing to risk your life advocating for. Then, I would use your law degree to fight for it.

The criminal law provides self-defense as a justification for one's actions. The military realizes this and claims self-defense, but in reality unjustly attacks other nations. Americans need to defend themselves and others against oppression, even if the oppression is facially neutral with a deceptive discriminatory intent. It does not matter if the law supports this form of self-defense or not.

Sometimes issues can be solved through a middle ground. They are definitely some issues, though, where corruption seeps through. It is our duty not to let these issues go unchallenged.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 14 Mar 2012

Yup yup... yeah this is good stuff! Toma, totally agree. People float with the status quo. I have a friend who's always in the middle when it comes to any issue. I always ask him about it. You have to question yourself when you're always in the middle on issues.

It would be a coincidence of epic proportions to consistently be moderate on issues after having thought them through on your own. Imagine if you were given each issue in a bubble, absent any popular culture, and were asked to assess what you thought on gay marriage or the best economic theory. You're given books by Friedman, Smith, Marx and Keynes and left to your own devices without any outside influence. You're given the Bible and books about gay struggles in America and asked to decide what is right.

The sheer odds that your beliefs again and again would align with what the moderate positions in 2012 America are ridiculously low. You have to entertain the idea at that point that your beliefs are insincere, lazy or sought based on comfort rather than true reflections. The odds of being moderate, right smack dab in the middle on EVERY issue?

Environmentalists are considered extremists in this country. They are blasphemous in the face of our God, the invisible hand (as Arnold would say). Bizarre world we live in.

-- KippMueller - 14 Mar 2012

I can relate to Toma's description of her personal retreat to the moderate position. Growing up with conservative parents, it was definitely more convenient to stay quiet while they flipped out about my best friend in high school being gay. Discussions about politics inevitably turned into screaming matches and I became convinced that you can't influence people's opinions when they've already made up their minds. When I kept quiet, I thought I was taking the higher ground ("rationality, compromise and restraint", as Toma put it). In college, as I found more support for my positions on social issues (science, anthropology, personal experiences), I began challenging my parents' beliefs more. It was definitely inconvenient and frustrating and confrontational, but I'm grateful for those arguments. Although I disagreed with their arguments for why homosexuality is immoral, listening to their rationale helped me better understand how people come to take certain positions and how to communicate my views in a way that they would/could hear. My dad still doesn't "get gay people", but I think partly through our conversations and through the fact that I inevitably pick up gay friends wherever I go and he has to interact with them at some point, he's now for gay rights because he's come to see that his moral views shouldn't restrict what other people can do. Of course, none of what I've just described is being radical. I still used a "moderate" approach of picking and choosing fights and conceding issues I could push harder on.

Toma and William David's passages that stuck with me were: Toma: "Moderate positions allow society to move the fulcrum closer toward justice, without demanding it outright. But in a lot of instances this simply means allowing injustice to persist in a slightly dampened way.” William David: "It is not necessarily wrong though to share a middle ground about an issue. What is problematic is when you see corruption and do not do anything about it because you want to be safe and not "ruffle any feathers." Courage demands radicalism. Courage occurs when someone does something that is either highly criticized, never done before, and/or poses incredible risk."

I agree with these statements, but I guess I'm struggling with when and to what extent being radical is the most effective approach. It's difficult to change people's views and particularly tricky to "ruffle feathers" with people you have close personal relationships with.

-- MichelleLuo - 19 Mar 2012

"Justice delayed is justice denied." - If you can sense that being moderate would cause a significant number of people to miss out on justice or redress, then you should be radical. You can be radical and ruffle feathers, but you can also do this with respect.

In addition, the people who you have close relationships with should be able to understand if they really care about you.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 20 Mar 2012

William David, responding to your point about using our legal education to fight social injustice, (and this is a point that I'm sure you're already aware of) I think that in order to be effective lawyers, we have to understand that the law is very limited in changing social perceptions:

I was an anthropology major in undergrad and spent a term in New Zealand studying Maori culture and activism. I became particularly interested in the Maori tribe Ngati Whatua's unprecedented victory in fighting colonial land confiscation. For decades, the government manipulated land ownership and evicted Ngati Whatua from their ancestral lands. In 1977, Maori activist Joe Hawke led a landmark protest against subdivision of land at Bastion Point. This demonstration and others publicized the injustices against Maori people and encouraged tribes to pursue legal action against the government. Since the 1980s, public hearings and lawsuits have compelled the Crown to return land to Ngati Whatua and various other tribes. Many of my professors in New Zealand were members of Maori tribes and many were heavily involved in ongoing litigation for indigenous rights (one of my professors was the chief negotiator for her tribe for treaty settlements). I took kapa haka (Maori war dance) classes, volunteered at the Ngati Whatua's meeting house, toured Bastion Point with Joe Hawke’s brother, and protested Waitangi Day (a contentious national holiday commemorating the transfer of Maori sovereignty to the British).

By the time I moved in with my homestay family a month after I first arrived in New Zealand, I was all for "taking to the streets" (or courts, I guess). It turned out that my host father, Graeme, was Ngati Whatua, and I was super excited to talk to him about indigenous rights. I decided to wait for him to bring up Maori issues first. But he didn't. It turned out that Graeme knew fewer Maori words than I did, had only been to the Ngati Whatua marae (meeting house) for funerals, and didn’t care who owned the beaches. When asked about Maori activism, Graeme said conclusively that Maori shouldn’t draw so much attention to themselves.

I didn’t get it. Under British rule, Graeme's tribe lost 95% of their land. The government passed underhanded legislation that turned tribal land into alienable private property and denied Maori people standing in court. Because Maori activists like Joe Hawke fought against these inequities and defended their legal rights, the Crown has conceded to restore $80 million of land to Ngati Whatua. The law was finally on their side, but Graeme didn’t care.

It took a few months of getting to know Graeme to begin to understand where he was coming from. I realized that Graeme’s cavalier attitude toward Maori affairs didn’t accurately reflect his beliefs. When Graeme was little, his teachers beat students for speaking Maori. His mother didn't allow any of her children to speak Maori because she was afraid that they would be looked down upon. She basically taught them that they should behave as "pakeha" (white) as possible because they would have a better life that way. Today, the Crown must take active steps to guarantee the survival of Maori language and culture. Graeme is content with what his people have overcome and fears that too much protest will somehow make things go back to the way they were. He believes that whatever land and cultural revival won through the courts may exacerbate the underlying and more difficult problems of discrimination and ethnocentrism. He doesn’t see those problems going away, and that is why he prefers to identify himself as a New Zealander above a person of Maori descent.

I left New Zealand with the same passion for social justice that compelled me to visit but less certain of the best way to achieve it. Graeme taught me that there are distinctions to be drawn within any social struggle. One component is a very specific struggle to combat a set of rules and practices that treat a group unfairly. Another is a larger struggle to readjust subjective norms. The Maori people of New Zealand have largely, albeit not entirely, accomplished the former through legal and political means. But like Graeme, I don’t know how they will achieve the latter.

-- MichelleLuo - 14 Mar 2012


Thank you for sharing this interesting insight into your life. Changing society through law is one piece of the puzzle, albeit a big one. However, the law can only take things so far. The people have to believe in the law, and also that they are entitled to the rights that the law provides. Your experience with Graeme and Maori culture reminds me of this quote in The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson:

“If you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. If you can determine what a man thinks you do not have worry about what he will do. If you can make a man believe that he is inferior, you don’t have to compel him to seek an inferior status, he will do so without being told and if you can make a man believe that he is justly an outcast, you don’t have to order him to the back door, he will go to the back door on his own and if there is no back door, the very nature of the man will demand that you build one.”

I believe the Maori have been stigmatized for centuries under laws and societal practices, whether explicit laws or not, to a point where many like Graeme have come to believe that their "place" is at the bottom of society. Their experience of centuries of mistreatment is similar to the experiences of Native Americans and African Americans in this country. There comes a point, where despite what the law says, a person that has had to undergo this treatment will give up the fight or will not advocate for much because of a fear that "acquired" rights could be taken away from them.

Part of changing those subjective norms is developing the power of persuasion. Becoming a lawyer helps you fine tune this persuasion,and enhances your credibility in society. This alone will help you work to change subjective norms. In many instances movements start only with a few people unified toward a goal who are not afraid to reach out and create networks for social change. Especially when a movement has a leader that a galvanizing affect, people are willing to follow despite past injustices.

I think you would appreciate some of the programs the Black Panthers had in America, despite how the media labeled them, to convince African Americans that they had power and deserved the right to be educated and to receive proper medical care. Although many of their leaders were killed, they definitely were a shining light in the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

I can understand what you went through there and how Graeme feels. Moving forward, I know has to be tough. Ngati Whatua, to do so, need to visibly voice their concerns and not give up. Tribal members need to see each other "take to the streets" and voice their concerns. Even for Graeme to communicate his personal beliefs at a tribal meeting would start this process of community awareness and mobilization. Then, if other communities observe what the Ngati Whatua are doing, maybe they will begin to support them as well. Since they have been mistreated for so long, they would need others to see their efforts and begin to advocate on their behalf.

The NCAA basketball tournament this weekend has been a prime example of how a movement can begin. There has been one team that particularly intrigued me: Norfolk State. They were the number 15 team in a regional playing against the #2 team. Out of all the people filling out NCAA brackets, less than 2 percent picked Norfolk State to have a first round upset. Despite only four number 15 seeded teams being victorious over #2 teams in over 100 NCAA tournament games, they had a sense of confidence that surprised me going into their game against #2 Missouri. They believed, despite all of the experts and the rest of America saying that they would be an easy out and were clearly inferior to Missouri. The game went back and forth, akin to a prized, heavyweight fight. As people saw that Norfolk State was a real threat to win, more and more fans that came to support other teams started to support them. They won the game, the crowd, and America's will.

The law is supposed to reflect the will of the people. Once we work to get this will, the law will just be a reflection of that reality.

Ok. I'm going to leave you with another link to more words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that are never quoted. Take care and don't give up.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 17 Mar 2012

Very interesting - thanks for sharing such personal stories. We so often discuss political, legal and social problems in such an abstract sense that it is refreshing when individuals share unique, personal experiences that really reflect and illuminate the essence of the issues at hand.

I very much enjoyed Toma’s discussion regarding the potential pitfalls inherent in a 'moderate' approach. I consciously choose not to ascribe to any particular political label or position on the ideological spectrum – be it liberal, centrist or conservative. I prefer to look at each political issue both contextually and in isolation to determine for myself what I feel is ‘right’ in each instance, rather then wed myself to a stock, ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ political platform. Would I call this moderate? Probably not. I inevitably end up adopting ideas espoused by the supposedly ‘conservative’ wing on some issues, while steadfastly maintaining views deemed to be ‘liberal’ or even ‘socialist’ on others. I prefer to call it a ‘nuanced’ or ‘pragmatic’ approach, although – I must confess – it is merely an attempt to remain pragmatic, independent, and open-minded, and one I often struggle with in the current political climate.

I also share Michelle’s struggle with determining “when and to what extent being radical is the most effective approach” for inducing social change. While I whole-heartedly respect John Brown’s strength of conviction and courage, Leff’s comments regarding the social psychology of cognitive dissonance makes me question the efficacy of this approach with regards to the art of persuading our opponents that change is necessary. The Sunk Cost Fallacy and the social-psychological concept of cognitive dissonance help to explain why individuals, states and nations – even in the face of opposing moral argument, radical action, or pragmatic rhetoric – adhere to beliefs that we may find to be outrageous, ill-conceived and unfounded. As Leff notes, “after a man has committed himself to a particular course of action, especially if making the decision was important enough to have filled him with great stress when he made it, he will tend to suppress (to the point that he will not even perceive) any information which would tend to indicate to him that he made a mistake, and he will tend to seek out (to the point of inventing) data supportive of the decision he made.” I feel like this speaks particularly well to divisive social issues, or those which induce “great stress” in people who feel forced to choose a 'side'. Once you have committed yourself to a viewpoint on an issue, you have ‘sunk a cost’ and invested in that viewpoint. At the risk of losing face or being lost in a perpetual state of chaotic indecision, you tend to adhere to and actively reinforce that viewpoint, even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary.

I think this concept – if true - poses a problem for those who adopt a radical approach to social change as a sustainable, long-term strategy. While useful for shedding light on prevailing social wrongs, I feel as though radicalism may lack the power to persuade those who have sunk a cost in their, perhaps sorely mistaken, beliefs and who consequently cling to those beliefs with a religious zeal in attempt to maintain the comfort of cognitive dissonance and prevent the soul splitting that may inevitably follow enlightened acceptance of an oppositional truth. Perhaps it would be more useful to use the skills we can gain through close inter-personal observation, and the social-psychological principles embedded in human interaction, to ‘incept’ concepts for social change into the minds of the unwilling. If we work to improve our knowledge of human behavior and master the art of persuasion, we may one day be able to simply plant the seeds of an idea of our choosing into the subconscious of our audience members and allow this seed to grow organically into the idea on its own. By employing some of the methods identified by Leff (under non-nefarious pretenses), it might be possible make each audience member think that they arrived at our pre-determined conclusion of their own accord; to believe that – rather than having been persuaded – their free mind met our free mind on a equal playing field.

I see this as finding the precise moment/point/place of effective human interception – the spot where we can apply the least grease to the spokes on the wheel of social change to give it its own dynamic force. Now, I’m not saying that this will work in all cases. A radical approach may be the only feasible option in certain circumstances. But I think that sometimes we may wisely choose not to confront those we are trying to persuade with radical, oppositional argument - from which they may run screaming in attempt to preserve their established cognitive dissonance. Instead, all that may be required is a subtle wink and nod – a proposition that there may be ‘something in our position for them’, from which they may draw their own inferences, form their own conclusions, sink their own costs, and follow the position we have incepted them into believing is organically their own with a renewed passion and fervor.

-- MeaganBurrows - 20 Mar 2012

Thank you for your comments Meagan. I believe planting seeds is the right approach, but this is why radicalism or being courageous is so effective. I am not suggesting yelling and "screaming" to everyone who has a view that you don't agree with (e.g. John Brown had the wrong approach or people shouldn't put their complete trust in the government), but it is the act of truly expressing concern and speaking your mind when it really matters that create this casting and drama that sparks change.

For example, Eben doesn't have to do what he does. He chooses to express his sincere values on controversial, topics, but demonstrates understanding in meeting each student where he or is in the path to passing the imagination test. He doesn't want to reveal everything at once, but uses judgment in deciding what texts to read and topics to discuss on this path. He argues with us, but doesn't tell us to get out his classroom because we disagree. He plants a seed but a seed that will be "sustained" in memory due to the dramatization, albeit not created but genuine. He is radical and has been extremely effective.

The reason why I started this thread is because there are some issues that people don't speak out on, because they are afraid of societal reaction. They don't take risks and remain safe. They conflate legality with morality and do not truly think for themselves. However, just speaking out on issues that are divisive is radicalism. Remaining silent just exacerbates the problem. No matter what your opinions are on the military, enough people don't speak out about these issues or do not attempt to understand the social psychology and the staging behind what the military does. We applaud the military on airlines because they are "serving" the country, yet use capital punishment or kill someone (e.g. John Brown) who was protecting others against an unjust government. The video spoke of how this casting takes place. America always convinces citizens to fight against darker skinned individuals by creating the other and then attacking countries that it used to support (e.g. Iraq, Libya). If we attempted to attack England, for example, there would be a lot more opposition because the "other" would be harder to create. The government uses the subconscious to tap into many people's sense of "superiority" that is not openly expressed and works constantly to create/sustain this notion.

But not enough people are communicating about these issues and at least discussing their views. Wiki is a great medium, tapping into what the digital age has caused: the loss of the art of in-person conversation, but we cannot lose the latter. Both have to work together.

The kid who died in Florida reminds me of the times that I am confused for being a criminal. I went to a Columbia party last semester and being the only African American in the line, the bouncer asked for my ID. In one of the Columbia housing buildings, I was told to "hold it" by security so they could find out my identity. I could have been shot before too. Even my former students when I taught in the past reminded me that I may be mistaken for a gang member if I wear certain color(s). This "criminal" image has been created of African Americans and purposefully through dramatization and casting. It is so hard to see people die unjustly and in prison disproportionately. It pains me to see people in the Middle East suffering because of American imperialism. I am hoping law school will give me more tools to pass the imagination test. I don't know if I can hear about another Trayvon Martin, keeping in mind there are many cases like his that aren't reported. One of my high school students, when I taught in Oakland, CA, was shot in the head and killed at his 18th birthday party in an area that is festering with violence. Shots were fired outside my school, and even at my deceased student's funeral there were gunshots.

I think it's okay to lead people non-verbally as well ("wink" or nodding for approval") but I am not willing to wait. I have a limited time on this earth and things have to change. When we become too passive, injustice slips through our fingers. Something was planted in me at an early age that has never left me. I have seen so much injustice allowed to go on without much opposition. This has to stop, and the ironic part about it is that it won't take that long if we all use what we have learned and will learn in law school about how to advocate/persuade to fight for justice.

I couldn't continue to see my high school students reading on 4th grading reading levels due to systemic, institutionalized racism/deliberate dumbing down of America's youth. Change will be incremental until the system is changed. I couldn't let my family go another generation without having a college graduate. I couldn't abandon injustice like my father abandoned me. But it's not really about me because my life is a lot better than many people I hear about or see or teach. It's about using what you have to be courageous before it's too late. Before people become "robotic" and reactive instead of proactive.

Radicalism may sound intimidating or taboo, but it's just not being afraid to stand up for what you believe in. It is the best way to solve problems, if done the right way. I truly believe that. I'm tired of waiting. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

r21 - 22 Mar 2012 - 03:45:31 - WilliamDavidWilliams?

I have a hard time accepting that our wars in the Middle East are all inherently unjust and primarily based on racism. Certainly, race may be a factor in the public's acceptance of these wars, but I don't think it is the primary factor or the guiding motivation. In Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, we have overthrown leaders that brutally oppressed women and used chemical weapons against their own people. Qaddafi stole tens of billions of dollars from the Libyan people, enabled terrorist attacks overseas, and was prepared to commit a massacre to stay in power. Perhaps the fact that these leaders were darker skinned played a role in the acceptance, at least initially, of these wars, but I think these qualify as pretty legitimate reasons for overthrowing these regimes. As to whether they made the world a better place, I think the Zhou Enlai quote of "too soon to tell" is quite appropriate. I think simplifying these matters into race is a narrow oversimplification that is no better than the "econodwarf".

I think a bit too much emphasis is being placed on how to persuade others to "the truth" and not enough subjecting ourselves to the same analysis. Assuming others are suffering from cognitive dissonance when they disagree can sometimes be a form of cognitive dissonance itself. Our views on morality are fundamentally shaped by the same social forces that create those views we are in opposition to. While there are simple facts that are hidden by cognitive dissonance, e.g. there is still slavery in America, it is more difficult to say that a person's ideas and morality are a product of cognitive dissonance and not analyze your own the same way. I found this article by Leff, "Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law", particularly interesting. The basic premise is that all morality requires assumptions and, in the absence of God, who is to say which principles are superior. I found the end of the article particularly fascinating:

"All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked to make us "good", and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us, could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs.

Nevertheless: Napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved. Those who stood up to and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot-and General Custer too-have earned salvation. Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned. There is in the world such a thing as evil. [All together now:] Sez who? God help us."

-- DanielKetani - 22 Mar 2012

Daniel, you are right that we should access ourselves and our morals, but why doesn't the U.S. itself follow this creed? Why do we fail to realize what the United States' has done throughout history is extremely hypocritical, yet fail to confront it regarding what it has done wrong?

If the U.S. truly condemned the practices of Gaddafi, then why did the support the dictatorship of Gaddafi? The U.S. will condemn and kill leaders like Saddam Hussein, yet support him if it is in their best interests. It has to be considered that Saddam Hussein was supported by the United States in the Iraq-Iran war in the 1990s to keep the Soviet Union from taking power [See this link detailing why the West backs certain leaders, with Gaddafi being the example here]

However, citizens don't realize that the U.S. has almost eradicated Native Americans due to destructive power regimes/the quest for property. Why aren't Native Americans represented more in college admissions? The U.S. has deceptively murdered them and taken away many of their rights.

The U.S. governmental practices has resulted in the killing millions of African Americans whether through slavery, rape, placing drugs in neighborhoods, psychologically robbing them of freedom, and the "criminalization" rhetoric. Yet, we don't examine on our practices. It's one thing to claim allegiance to certain values, but not to practice them is utterly hypocritical.

The government has succeeded in framing and most people have followed with blind allegiance. It many instances because their lives are comfortable.

The econodrawf would not be happy with this analysis: race is one factor that has been used throughout this country's history for economic ends. It is not just race, but racial distinctions are part of the social psychology behind casting that Leff discusses and the econodrawf would resent. The U.S. was founded on it because it was effective in leading to property and power for the few.

It is not about disagreeing in opinion, but not being afraid to recognize the own casting and dramatization that this nation practices and calling out the nation on its practices.

I don't think many people would think it is okay for other nations to attack us, yet the U.S. has killed more people of their lives, spirit and dignity then those nations that we attack. This swindling has to stop. Leff showed us this practice. It is up to us to use it to make the U.S. and this world better. It is up to us to not use it for corruption or to disguise hypocrisy.

Also, the U.S. has been planning this casting of the so-called "Arab Spring" for several years. Retired four star general of the U.S. army Wesley Clark discussed this in 2007. See the link below:

- WilliamDavidWilliams?

William David, I agree that the US is very hypocritical, but does that really matter? For one, the US government is not a monolithic entity with one mind, but is made up of many institutions and policy makers with varying priorities and goals, the membership of which changes over time. I would also agree that, at least in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the wars were a mistake, if not in their goals then in their execution. But should hypocrisy alone be a reason not to fight for justice? Should we have not intervened in Bosnia because we didn't in Rwanda? Should we have not prevented Gaddafi from massacring thousands because oil interests played a role in the decision? I think the lesson from Leff is not that swindling is always bad, but that it shares many qualities with selling. As such, while it is important to prevent corruption from being sold as justice, it could also be useful to sell justice as self-interest.

What I think the real lessons from these wars are that justice is very complicated. By reducing complex systems to "the good" and "the bad", we may ultimately learn less about them and be worse off. While wars are an obvious example of this, I think even simpler acts often have consequences that most people do not analyze. I found the discussion earlier in this thread about being a socially conscious consumer an interesting example of this. I do not think many people who are socially conscious purchasers consider the totality of the consequences of their decisions. By buying fair trade products, it's possible to exclude farmers whose land is not productive enough to earn adequate wages. Buying organic may exclude small farmers who cannot afford certification. Preventing deforestation may take away sources of income from developing countries. What about the earlier discussion of giving land back to the remnants of native tribes that have had injustices committed against them? It certainly sells well as justice, but what is it we want to accomplish and how does it achieve that? My point is not that all these practices are wrong, but that the world is complicated and that analysis and creativity are needed to solve these problems in an effective manner. Another example I find really interesting is the backlash among some intellectuals, like in this essay, against the Kony 2012 campaign. I think it's important to make sure we really know what changes we believe in and make sure those are the ones we are accomplishing, not just use "justice" as a form of easy self-gratification, when what is actually occurring is much more complex.

-- DanielKetani - 26 Mar 2012

Implicit in your analysis is agreeing with the U.S. attack on Libya. While I understand that there are many byproducts of actions that are taken, the point of this thread is to understand that facts that are told to you by the government (e.g. Gaddafi killing thousands justifies his overthrow and murder) are in many cases not true. The problem occurs when we automatically accept them (as in accepting the values of a corporation) as part of our worldview/our identity leading people to be "enslaved" or part of the Matrix.

You said, "Should we have not prevented Gaddafi from massacring thousands because oil interests played a role in the decision?"

What if the U.S. massacred thousands or hired "rebels" to start the civil war in Libya to massacre thousands? Wars are filled with spies, as we have seen in WWI and WWII, and the U.S. has created problems on myriad occasions in the past [scientific intelligence studies based on skull size, "War on Drugs," industrial prison complex] for us to be able to infer the likelihood that the US creates war. Understanding this casting will lead to liberation. [Gaddafi is not deliberately trying to kill civilians]

Gaddafi was not perfect, but the U.S. has sanctioned the killing or eradication of exponentially more people than he ever did. Plus, for instance, he gave several benefits to people, some of the U.S. would never think of doing...

1. All the newly weds people of Libya used to get about 50,000 dollars from Government to lead a very happy life.

2. Home is the basic right of every citizen of Libya.

3. There was no electricity bill in Libiya. Electricity was free in Libya.

4. No interest loan for the people of Libya according to Law. Gaddafi was against interest since interest is forbidden in Islam.

5. Gaddafi has increased the literacy rate from 25% to 83%. Education expenses in Government universities are free in Libya.

6. Medical expenses in Government hospitals was free in Libya.

7. The price of the patrol was 0.14 cents in Libya. Yes we all know Libya has got good petroleum resources. But the price seems to be too low. Isn't it?

8. When Libyan citizen wants to buy a car, Government used to subsidized 50% of the price of the car. 50%? sounds great!

9. A huge bread used to cost only 15 cents in Libya.

10. The GDP per capita of Libya is very high. Over 15,000 us dollars. Purchasing power was very high compare to the GDP.

11. The economy of Libya was improving rapidly. In 2010 it had 10% growth. It has not external debts. It also has the reserves amount of 150+ billion dollars.

12. Unemployment fees were given from the government until the person finds a Job.

13. A Libyan mother used to get 5000 us dollars for giving birth a child.

You say that it's complex, but that's indeed the irony. It appears complex, but to the people, groups, or countries casting these dramatizations, it actually is rather simple.

The U.S. does whatever is necessarily for its own self-interest, especially in foreign policy, while convincing citizens that it has "their best interests at heart." People are conditioned to develop the worldview/identity of the U.S., and thus never learn to think for themselves or question the facts/consider that what the media has taught them may not be true.

Daniel, there are some notions of universal justice that should not be disputed (e.g. slavery). They still may be, such as when people in class didn't agree with the ending of slavery through self-defense unless "government" sanctioned, but this thought process does not give true credence of what it means to love one another. It is not right what the U.S. has done to people in this country or abroad. Not that every single practice was wrong, but we cannot continue to let frequent casting/dramatizations cause massive killings/dumbing down of society without understanding what is being done and having the courage to do something about it. I don't claim to know everything, and I know people disagree, but is important to fight for the correct facts and then understand why there are some universal truths that we cannot "afford" to not stand up for.


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r28 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:15:10 - IanSullivan
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