Moral victory | #15

One of the ways I describe this newsletter is that it is about resisting the Powers That Be while not losing our soul in the process. My premise is that it is not just about winning, but about how we win.

Years ago, I read something Dr. King wrote that shook me, and I haven’t been the same since.

We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.  And so throw us in jail, and as difficult as that is, we will still love you.  Bomb our homes and threaten our children and as difficult as it is, we will still love you.  Send your hooded perpetrators and violence into our communities at the midnight hours and drag us out on some wayside road and beat us and leave us half-dead and we will still love you.  But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.  And one day we will win our freedom but we will not only win freedom for ourselves.  We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience, that we will win you in the process.  And our victory will be a double victory. 

King wasn’t just interested in getting the discrimination to stop, or even in getting the violence to stop, or even in mere equality. No, he wanted to win over his oppressor in the process, so he could experience a “double victory”. And ever since I read that passage, that is what I have wanted, too.

The white Baptist Southern preacher and prominent civil rights activist Will D. Campbell said it a somewhat different way:

Anyone who is not as concerned with the soul of the dispossessor as he is with the suffering of the dispossessed is being something less than Christian.

To Campbell, victory looked like not just liberation for those who are suffering, but also liberating the souls of those who inflict it.

To both Campbell and King, it mattered how we win. It matters that we pursue victory with an eye on winning over those who oppress the ones we seek liberation for. And to do that, we need to not only do better than them, but we need to be better than them. We need to not cede the moral high ground.

And in today’s social-media-driven world, filled with sound-bites and tweet-sized memes, to maintain the moral high ground is not only difficult but also not socially rewarded. And I get it. It’s low hanging fruit to make fun of the way a politician mispronounces a word or to show unflattering pictures of them, but it’s wrong, all the same.

People are responsible for their ideas and their actions. Those things are always up for scrutiny and critique. What is not is their appearance, their education level, their health, and so on. It is always a sign of a losing position when, rather than attacking your opponent’s position, ideas, or actions you instead attack the person themselves.

Let me give you some concrete examples from my social media feed lately. In the last few weeks, I have seen so-called progressives shame Melania Trump for using her body to make money as a nude model. I have seen them make fun of Baron Trump’s social awkwardness. When the President had difficulty walking up a ramp or drinking water, my social media stream went wild with glee.

I want to put out there that the actions this administration have taken against people of color, LGBT people, immigrants, and the economically poor are horrible enough that they can provide much ammunition for debate and critique without us needing to criticize a minor child’s behavior or a woman for choosing what to do with her body. We don’t have to resort to abelist attacks against a man to criticize the actions of that man. Our ideas are better than that. Our positions are stronger than that. And our morality demands we be better than that.

We need to not merely defeat fascists, but also make them non-fascists. We need to so overwhelm our opponents with the moral superiority of our positions that we shame them into right action. Ultimately, we need not just a physical victory, but a moral one as well. And then we will have a double victory at last.