Making icons of the established order's insufferable revolutionaries
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At the time of his death, Martin Luther King Jr. had an approval rating of less than 30%. Not so surprising given that King's life stood as an indictment of everything that was wrong with America... an America characterized in one of King's last speeches as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." At the time America was busy killing upwards of 3 million people in Southeast Asia.
Today King's approval rating is more than 80%. And there's a reason for this. And it's not because the people who now view King favorably have had a change of heart and now believe as King did more than 50 years ago that America is "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world." Today, and for the past two decades, America is once again busy killing upwards of 3 million innocents, this time in the Middle East and South Asia, but, just as it was in King's day, all this senseless killing hardly makes a dent in America's collective conscience. So why has King's approval rating skyrocketed since his death?
It's certainly no accident. King represented a clear and present danger to the established order, and the system has a way of dealing with such subversive detractors. After they have died the established order simply embraces these dangerous upstarts as its own, making them icons of the very system that their living presence served to threaten. These insufferable thorns in the side of the established order are thereby blunted, their revolutionary spirit tamed. It is by way of posthumously honoring these influential subversives that their threat is neutralized.
It's an ingenious strategy. And it works every time. We have a Martin Luther King Day held in honor of a man whose every breath went toward undermining the very same corrupt system that now holds him in such high regard. Gandhi is venerated by a system that continues to run deeply contrary to nearly everything his life was given to represent. Socrates is embraced for his moral wisdom by a system that in all relevant particulars is indistinguishable from the system that had him executed on charges of subversive immorality. And then there's Jesus, proclaimed as God and savior by a religio-political system whose actual lived values unwittingly reveal him as an outcast of the very institution that bears his name, ceremoniously placing him at the center of everything he despised.
This is how the established order deals with those it deems to be a threat to the maintenance and perpetuation of the status quo. It kills them a second time. It drowns them in irrelevance by transforming them into heroes of the established order. Having taken the sting out of its most influential detractors, the established order can rest easy as it continues with business as usual. At the same time, a sizeable chunk of our population is able to continue comfortably lending its support to that madness with a clear conscience, knowing that the very best of our human heritage is on their side.
If you remember, just shortly before the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush announced to the world that Jesus was his role model and greatest hero. And with that declaration nearly the entire evangelical Christian community was on board for the massacre. All told, more than three million Iraqis lay dead as a result of that invasion, when we include the subsequent U.S. occupation and more than a decade of economic sanctions.
All of this raises two questions for me. How is it that so many of us manage to deceive ourselves so thoroughly, and so often? And perhaps the more important question of the two that hardly anyone is asking, and that nearly everyone in their heart of hearts would prefer not be asked: Who, after all is said and done, is the established order? Unless we're paying very close attention, WE ARE!