Brain Canvas

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21 Century Subversion

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Given the holiday we in the US celebrate today and the recent tragedy in the Caribbean, I have been torn all weekend whether to write something here today about Martin Luther King, Jr. or Haiti. I’ve decided to forgo the latter until next time, in large part things ot this quotation from King himself which will serve nicely as a springboard into my “What If…” query for this week. From King’s “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. Towards the end of his speech he referenced recent threats against his life saying:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
He gave this speech on April 3, 1968. The day before he was assassinated. What is interesting to consider about King, and something I think most people today don’t realize, is just how subversive of a figure he truly was. Being now immortalized in a federally sanctioned national holiday, and his life story memorized by children of all colors (at least in America), its easy to forget that he was in life such a socially and politically subversive figure. What is interesting to consider is if such subversive characters still have the ability to make such a huge positive impact on society in today’s world. Somewhat surprisingly (to myself at any rate), I believe the clear and honest answer to this question to be no. If I think about the people over the last 20 years (about a generation) who have changed the world in some way, most of the people who come to my mind are not people who did it by challenging the status quo outside of the system, but rather people who worked within the system to achieve their ends. Perhaps the perfect foil to the example of King is President Obama. I’m not arguing that they have made equal impacts on the world (although both have won Nobel Peace Prizes), but at the very least both have risen to impeccable heights. The important point here is that they have taken drastically different paths to do so. Now for me, the interesting question is, of course, why is this the case? I think its easy, and also probably true to an extent, to point to the society we live in today to be the primary cause of this. Through political change, technological innovation and economic development, more people in the world have access to the opportunities one needs to influence the issues we face than ever before. A greater number of people have been able to join the conversation. Another important thing to consider is whether a subversive approach would be adequate to tackle the problems our world faces today. Protests in Copenhagen at the COP 15 summit probably did very little to bring about its extremely underwhelming conclusion. The problems our world faces today, whether they be climate change, education or terrorism are more complex and may require the resources that one can leverage “inside” the system to be adequately tackled. The heroes and revolutionaries from our time will be the entrepreneurs, politicians and scientists who worked within the system to start the enterprises, build the coalitions and invent the technologies that saved the world.

Written by Andrew

January 19th, 2010 at 1:48 am

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