Democracy in America Is a Series of Narrow Escapes, and We May Be Running Out of Luck

by Bill Moyers Published on May 17, 2008 by CommonDreams.org

The following is an excerpt from Bill Moyers’ new book, “Moyers on Democracy“.

Democracy in America is a series of narrow escapes, and we may be running out of luck. The reigning presumption about the American experience, as the historian Lawrence Goodwyn has written, is grounded in the idea of progress, the conviction that the present is “better” than the past and the future will bring even more improvement. For all of its shortcomings, we keep telling ourselves, “The system works.”

Now all bets are off. We have fallen under the spell of money, faction, and fear, and the great American experience in creating a different future together has been subjugated to individual cunning in the pursuit of wealth and power -and to the claims of empire, with its ravenous demands and stuporous distractions. A sense of political impotence pervades the country — a mass resignation defined by Goodwyn as “believing the dogma of ‘democracy’ on a superficial public level but not believing it privately.” We hold elections, knowing they are unlikely to bring the corporate state under popular control. There is considerable vigor at local levels, but it has not been translated into new vistas of social possibility or the political will to address our most intractable challenges. Hope no longer seems the operative dynamic of America, and without hope we lose the talent and drive to cooperate in the shaping of our destiny.

The earth we share as our common gift, to be passed on in good condition to our children’s children, is being despoiled. Private wealth is growing as public needs increase apace. Our Constitution is perilously close to being consigned to the valley of the shadow of death, betrayed by a powerful cabal of secrecy-obsessed authoritarians. Terms like “liberty” and “individual freedom” invoked by generations of Americans who battled to widen the 1787 promise to “promote the general welfare” have been perverted to create a government primarily dedicated to the welfare of the state and the political class that runs it. Yes, Virginia, there is a class war and ordinary people are losing it. It isn’t necessary to be a Jeremiah crying aloud to a sinful Jerusalem that the Lord is about to afflict them for their sins of idolatry, or Cassandra, making a nuisance of herself as she wanders around King Priam’s palace grounds wailing “The Greeks are coming.” Or Socrates, the gadfly, stinging the rump of power with jabs of truth. Or even Paul Revere, if horses were still in fashion. You need only be a reporter with your eyes open to see what’s happening to our democracy. I have been lucky enough to spend my adult life as a journalist, acquiring a priceless education in the ways of the world, actually getting paid to practice one of my craft’s essential imperatives: connect the dots.

The conclusion that we are in trouble is unavoidable. I report the assault on nature evidenced in coal mining that tears the tops off mountains and dumps them into rivers, sacrificing the health and lives of those in the river valleys to short-term profit, and I see a link between that process and the stock-market frenzy which scorns long-term investments — genuine savings — in favor of quick turnovers and speculative bubbles whose inevitable bursting leaves insiders with stuffed pockets and millions of small stockholders, pensioners, and employees out of work, out of luck, and out of hope.

And then I see a connection between those disasters and the repeal of sixty-year-old banking and securities regulations designed during the Great Depression to prevent exactly that kind of human and economic damage. Who pushed for the removal of that firewall? An administration and Congress who are the political marionettes of the speculators, and who are well rewarded for their efforts with indispensable campaign contributions. Even honorable opponents of the practice get trapped in the web of an electoral system that effectively limits competition to those who can afford to spend millions in their run for office. Like it or not, candidates know that the largesse on which their political futures depend will last only as long as their votes are satisfactory to the sleek “bundlers” who turn the spigots of cash on and off.

The property qualifications for federal office that the framers of the Constitution expressly chose to exclude for demonstrating an unseemly “veneration for wealth” are now de facto in force and higher than the Founding Fathers could have imagined. “Money rules Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us and the political speakers mislead us.” Those words were spoken by Populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease during the prairie revolt that swept the Great Plains slightly more than 120 years after the Constitution was signed. They are true today, and that too, spells trouble.

Then I draw a line to the statistics that show real wages lagging behind prices, the compensation of corporate barons soaring to heights unequaled anywhere among industrialized democracies, the relentless cheeseparing of federal funds devoted to public schools, to retraining for workers whose jobs have been exported, and to programs of food assistance and health care for poor children, all of which snatch away the ladder by which Americans with scant means but willing hands and hearts could work and save their way upward to middle-class independence. And I connect those numbers to our triumphant reactionaries’ campaigns against labor unions and higher minimum wages, and to their success in reframing the tax codes so as to strip them of their progressive character, laying the burdens of Atlas on a shrinking middle class awash in credit card debt as wage earners struggle to keep up with rising costs for health care, for college tuitions, for affordable housing — while huge inheritances go untouched, tax shelters abroad are legalized, rates on capital gains are slashed, and the rich get richer and with each increase in their wealth are able to buy themselves more influence over those who make and those who carry out the laws.

Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists: “No one can eliminate prejudices — just recognize them.” Here is my bias: extremes of wealth and poverty cannot be reconciled with a genuinely democratic politics. When the state becomes the guardian of power and privilege to the neglect of justice for the people as a whole, it mocks the very concept of government as proclaimed in the preamble to our Constitution; mocks Lincoln’s sacred belief in “government of the people, by the people, and for the people”; mocks the democratic notion of government as “a voluntary union for the common good” embodied in the great wave of reform that produced the Progressive Era and the two Roosevelts. In contrast, the philosophy popularized in the last quarter century that “freedom” simply means freedom to choose among competing brands of consumer goods, that taxes are an unfair theft from the pockets of the successful to reward the incompetent, and that the market will meet all human needs while government itself becomes the enabler of privilege — the philosophy of an earlier social Darwinism and laissez-faire capitalism dressed in new togs — is as subversive as Benedict Arnold’s betrayal of the Revolution he had once served. Again, Mary Lease: “The great evils which are cursing American society and undermining the foundations of the republic flow not from the legitimate operation of the great human government which our fathers gave us, but they come from tramping its plain provisions underfoot.”

Our democracy has prospered most when it was firmly anchored in the idea that “We the People” — not just a favored few — would identify and remedy common distempers and dilemmas and win the gamble our forebears undertook when they espoused the radical idea that people could govern themselves wisely. Whatever and whoever tries to supplant that with notions of a wholly privatized society of competitive consumers undermines a country that, as Gordon S. Wood puts it in his landmark book The Radicalism of the American Revolution, discovered its greatness “by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and their pecuniary pursuits of happiness” — a democracy that changed the lives of “hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people.”

I wish I could say that journalists in general are showing the same interest in uncovering the dangerous linkages thwarting this democracy. It is not for lack of honest and courageous individuals who would risk their careers to speak truth to power — a modest risk compared to those of some journalists in authoritarian countries who have been jailed or murdered for the identical “crime.” But our journalists are not in control of the instruments they play. As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and networks, and profit rather than product becomes the focus of corporate effort, news organizations — particularly in television — are folded into entertainment divisions. The “news hole” in the print media shrinks to make room for advertisements, and stories needed by informed citizens working together are pulled in favor of the latest celebrity scandals because the media moguls have decided that uncovering the inner workings of public and private power is boring and will drive viewers and readers away to greener pastures of pabulum. Good reporters and editors confront walls of resistance in trying to place serious and informative reports over which they have long labored. Media owners who should be sounding the trumpets of alarm on the battlements of democracy instead blow popular ditties through tin horns, undercutting the basis for their existence and their First Amendment rights.

Bill Moyers is the author of many books including “Moyers on Democracy” (Doubleday, 2008) and the host of the PBS show, Bill Moyers Journal.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/05/17/9016

Jonathan Haidt Explains Our Contentious Culture

Bill Moyers – transcript – February 3, 2012

Excerpt

BILL MOYERS interviews Jonathan Haidt, author of book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it betterBut as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable. If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations. So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

JONATHAN HAIDT: …tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work… But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation. And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teamsfor the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties. And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the HouseEverett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking….Good and evil…. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil…

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise…You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

…The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns….the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11…The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care…. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values….

on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it….I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions…

JONATHAN HAIDT: …cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals…

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfarehe had words there that touch all six of the foundations

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker. Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections. So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us..

The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges… Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual…But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: … once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

JONATHAN HAIDT:… The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes…

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. People I meet on the left, on the right and in the middle agree on one thing: our country is in a mess, and our politics are not making it better. The problems seem insurmountable, three times last year congress came close to shutting down the government. In August, we almost defaulted on our more than $14 trillion debt, which could skyrocket even further if the Bush tax cuts are continued and spending is untouched at year’s end.

But as the ship of state is sinking, the crew is at each other’s throats, too busy fighting to plug the holes and pump out the water. And everything’s been made rotten by the toxic rancor and demonizing that have shredded civil discourse and devastated our ability to govern ourselves. Just look at the ugliness of the election campaign. So we’re left with paralysis, dysfunction, and a whole lot of rage.

On that cheery note, listen to this fellow. I first saw him on the website TED.com, that stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” It’s the non-profit that brings together some of our most creative and provocative thinkers.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Suppose that two American friends are traveling together in Italy. They go to see Michelangelo’s David. And when they finally come face to face with the statue, they both freeze dead in their tracks. The first guy, we’ll call him Adam, is transfixed by the beauty of the perfect human form. The second guy, we’ll call him Bill, is transfixed by embarrassment of staring at the thing there in the center. So here’s my question for you: which one of these two guys was more likely to have voted for George Bush? Which for Al Gore? I don’t need a show of hands because we all have the same political stereotypes, we all know that it’s Bill. And in this case the stereotype corresponds to a reality. It really is a fact that liberals are much higher than conservatives on a major personality trait called “openness to experience.” People who are high on openness to experience just crave novelty, variety, diversity, new ideas, travel. People low on it like things that are familiar, that are safe and dependable.

 

If you know about this trait you can understand a lot of puzzles about human behavior. You can understand why artists are so different from accountants, you can actually predict what kinds of books they like to read, what kinds of places they like to travel to and what kinds of foods they like to eat. Once you understand this trait you can understand why anybody would eat at Applebee’s, but not anybody that you know.

 

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt has taken the core of that speech which you can see at our website BillMoyers.com, and turned it into an important and timely book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, to be published in March. His ideas are controversial but they make you think. Haidt says, for example, that liberals misunderstand conservatives more than the other way around, and that while conservatives see self-sufficiency as a profound moral value for individuals, liberals are more focused on a public code of care and equity.

 

Jonathan Haidt has made his reputation as a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, where he and his colleagues explore reason and intuition, why people disagree so passionately and how the moral mind works. They post their research on the website yourmorals.org.

 

Welcome.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Thank you, Bill.

 

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean righteous mind?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anytime we’re interacting with someone, we’re judging them, we’re sharing expectations, we think they didn’t live up to those expectations.

 

So, in analyzing any social situation you have to understand moral psychology. Our moral sense really evolved to bind groups together into teams that can cooperate in order to compete with other teams.

 

So, some situations will sort of ramp up that tribal us-versus-them mentality. Nothing gets us together like a foreign attack. And we’ve seen that, 9/11, and Pearl Harbor. And, conversely, when there are moral divisions within the group, and no external attack, the tribalism can ramp up, and reach really pathological proportions. And that’s where we are now.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, but, it’s sort of a tradition to divide into teams. The Giants versus the Patriots. Or the Republicans versus the Democrats. Us versus them, is almost something un-American to suggest that there’s something wrong with that?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. Groupishness is generally actually good. A lot of research in social psychology shows that when you divide people into teams, to compete, they love their in-group members a lot more. And the hostility toward out-group members is usually minimal. So sports competitions– and I’m at a big football school, UVA. You know-

 

BILL MOYERS: University of Virginia-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: University of Virginia. And you know, the other team comes, there’s, you know, some pseudo aggression in the stands. You know, hostile motions. But, you know, that night, there aren’t bar fights, when everybody’s drinking together downtown.

 

That’s the way, sort of, healthy, normal, groupish tribalism works. But, the tribalism evolved, ultimately, for war. And when it reaches a certain intensity, that’s when, sort of, the switches flip, the other side is evil, they’re not just our opponents, they’re evil. And once you think they’re evil, then the ends justify the means. And you can break laws, and you can do anything, because it’s in the service of fighting evil.

 

BILL MOYERS: When I saw the title of your book, The Righteous Mind,” I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” Because you point out that the derivative, the root of the word righteous is an old English world that does mean just, upright and virtuous. Then it gets picked up and used in Hebrew to translate the word describing people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, and it becomes an attribute of God, and of God’s judgment on people. So the righteous mind becomes a harsh judge.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. I chose that title in part because we all think, you know, morality is a good thing, justice, ethics. And I wanted to get across the sense that, let’s just look with open eyes at human nature. And right, morality is part of our nature. And morality is, makes us do things that we think are good, but it also makes us do things that we often think are bad. It’s all part of our groupish, tribal, judgmental, hyper-judgmental, hypocritical nature. We are all born to be hypocrites. That’s part of the design.

 

BILL MOYERS: Born to be hypocrites.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Born to be hypocrites. That’s right.

 

BILL MOYERS: How so?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Our minds evolved not just to help us find the truth about how things work. If you’re navigating through a landscape, sure, you need to know, you know, where the dangers are, where the opportunities are. But in the social world, our minds are not designed to figure out who really did what to whom. They are finely tuned navigational machines to work through a complicated social network, in which you’ve got to maintain your alliances, and your reputation.

 

And as Machiavelli told us long ago, it matters far more what people think of you than what the reality is. And we are experts at manipulating our self-presentation. So, we’re so good at it, that we actually believe the nonsense that we say to other people.

 

BILL MOYERS: So, take the subtitle. Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Why are they? And what does the righteous mind have to do with it?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Politics has always been about coalitions and teams fighting each other. But those teams, those teams were never evenly divided on morality. Now, well, basically it all started, as you well know, on the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. You tell me what he said on that day. I think I heard you say this once.

 

BILL MOYERS: He actually said to me that evening, “I think we’ve just turned the South over to the Republican Party for the rest of my life, and yours.”

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. And he was prescient, that’s exactly what happened. So there was this anomaly for the 20th Century that both parties were coalitions of different regions, and interest groups. But there were liberal Republicans, there were conservative Democrats. So the two teams, they had, they were people whose moralities could meet up. Even though they were playing on different teams.

 

And once Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the South, which had been Democrat, because Lincoln had been a Republican, so once they all moved over to the Republican party, and then the moderate Republicans began to lose office in the ’80s, and ’90s, and the last ones going just recently, for the first time we have an ideologically pure division of the parties.

 

And now, this groupish tribalism, which is usually not so destructive, we can usually, you know, when you leave the playing field, you can still meet up, and be friends. But now that it truly is a moral division, now the other side is evil. And there’s nobody, there aren’t really pairs of people who can match up, and say, well, come on. We all agree on this, let’s work together.

 

BILL MOYERS You remind me that when we set out to try to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and the Voting Rights Act of ’65, LBJ commissioned us to go spend much of our time with the moderate Republicans in the House, and in the Senate. Because he said, “When push comes to shove, and when the roll is called, we’re going to need them to pass this bill.” And at one point, in the signing of one of those bills, he turned and handed the pen to Everett Dirksen, the senior Republican from Illinois and the leader of the Republican minority in the Senate and he was the one who, in the critical moments, brought a number of moderate Republicans to vote for the Civil Rights bill. You’re saying that was a deciding moment, a defining moment?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: So there are three major historical facts, or changes, that have gotten us into the mess that we’re in. So the first is the realignment of the South into the Republican column, which allowed both parties now to be pure. So that now there are basically no liberal Republicans matching up with conservative Democrats. So, the parties are totally separated. The second thing that happened was the replacement of the Greatest Generation by the Baby Boomers.

 

BILL MOYERS: The Greatest Generation fought World War II. Came home. Built the country, ran the economy. People’s politics, and, created this consensual government your talking–

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly. These are people who joined groups, had a sense of civic responsibility, participated in the democratic process. And so these people, as they moved through. I mean, they could disagree. Politics has always been contentious. But at the end of the day, they felt they were part of the same country, and in the Senate and the House, they were part of the same institution. They’re replaced by the Baby Boomers. And what’s their foundational experience?

 

It’s not responding together to a foreign threat. It’s fighting each other over whether this country is doing evil, or good. So you get the good/evil dichotomy about America, and about each other happening in the ’60s, and ’70s, when these people grow up, assume political office. Now, you got Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. It’s a lot harder for them to agree than it was for Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan.

 

BILL MOYERS: So we get through the culture wars. Fights over abortion, prayer in schools. And that conflict becomes very polarizing.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Exactly.

 

BILL MOYERS: And that’s because of the Baby Boomers, and-

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, the Baby Boomers, I think, are more prone to Manichaean thinking.

 

BILL MOYERS: Manichaean thinking. Good and evil.

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Manichaeus was a, I think, third century Persian prophet, who preached that the world is a battleground between the forces of light, and the forces of darkness. And everybody has to take a side. And some people have sided with good, and of course, we all believe that we’ve sided with good. But that means that the other people have sided with evil.

 

And when it gets so that your opponents are not just people you disagree with, but when it gets to the mental state in which I am fighting for good, and you are fighting for evil, it’s very difficult to compromise. Compromise becomes a dirty word.

 

BILL MOYERS: Let me play you an exchange between House Speaker John Boehner and Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes.” Take a look at this.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We have to govern, that’s what we were elected to do.

LESLEY STAHL: But governing means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means working together.

LESLEY STAHL: It also means compromising.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It means finding common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Ok, is that compromising?

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Let me be clear I am not going to compromise on my principles, nor am I going to compromise the will of the American people.

LESLEY STAHL: You’re saying “I want common ground but I’m not going to compromise.” I don’t understand that, I really don’t.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: When you say the word compromise, a lot of Americans look up and go, ‘oh, oh, they’re going to sell me out.’ And so finding common ground, I think, makes more sense.

LESLEY STAHL: I reminded him that his goal had been to get all the Bush tax cuts made permanent. So you did compromise.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We found common ground.

LESLEY STAHL: Why won’t you say– you’re afraid of the word!

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I reject the word.

BILL MOYERS: He could barely say the word compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right, that’s right. Because once you’ve crossed over from normal political disagreement into Manichaean good versus evil, to compromise, I mean, we say, you know, his ethics were compromised, you don’t compromise with evil. Now, I think it’s especially an issue for Republicans because they are better at doing, sort of, tribal team based loyalties. The data we have at yourmorals.org shows that conservatives score much higher on this foundation of loyalty, groupishness. And the Republican, I mean, which job would you rather have in Congress? The Republican whip or the Democratic whip? You know?

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The Republicans can hang together better. And part of it is, they’re better at drawing bright lines and saying, ‘I will not go over this line.’

BILL MOYERS: But governing is all about brokering compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: You cannot in a pluralistic, multicultural society with all the different beliefs, have a mantra that unites us all. You’ve got to broker compromise.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it depends what perspective you’re taking. If you’re looking at the good of the nation, you’re absolutely right. But for competition within the nation, taking this hard lined position is working out pretty well for them. So, sure. You can have a hard line against compromise. And especially if the other side can’t get as tough, can’t threaten to break legs, you end up winning.

And I think Democrats are a little weaker here. And certainly Obama took a lot of flack for that, in his negotiation strategy with the Republicans, as far as I can see, he’s never really presented a credible threat. So, they’ve been better off walking away from the table.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the country suffers, doesn’t it, when-

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Absolutely-

BILL MOYERS: Boehner and the Republicans think it’s immoral to compromise, and Obama thinks it’s immoral not to compromise?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, that’s true. I would say Obama could’ve done a much better job with his negotiating strategy.

BILL MOYERS: By?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Obama is such a great orator and wowed so many of us in the campaign. But then, once he was elected, you know, he’s been focusing on the terrific, terrible problems that he’s had to deal with. But I think he has not made the moral case that would back up the arguments from the politicians in Washington.

I think the Democrats need to be developing a credible argument about fairness, capitalism, American history. They need to be developing this master narrative so that when they then have an argument on a particular issue, it’ll resonate with people. And they’re not doing that. But the Republicans have.

BILL MOYERS: So the Greatest Generation disappears. The Boomers come along. The Civil Rights fight divides the country. And the third one?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The third is that America has gone from being a nation with localities that were diverse by class, in particular, let’s say. You had rich people, and poor people living together.

It’s become, in the post-war world, gradually a nation of lifestyle enclaves, where people chose to self-segregate. If people are concentrating just with people who are like them, then they’re not exposed to the ideas from the other side, from people that they can actually like and respect. If you get all your ideas about the other side from the internet, where there’s no human connection, it’s just so easy, and automatic to reject it, and demonize it. So once we’ve sorted ourselves into homogeneous moral communities, it becomes a lot harder to work together.

BILL MOYERS: This gets us to the, what you talk about in the book, consensual hallucinations.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: What’s that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So I assume many viewers have seen the movie “The Matrix” and, or, one of those movies. And, it’s a conceit in the science fiction book that the matrix is a consensual hallucination generated by computers and that we all live in it.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think this is a brilliant social psych metaphor. Back when we all encountered people of the other party, you couldn’t have a consensual hallucination that wasn’t interrupted by other people.

But once we can all live in these lifestyle enclaves, we only watch certain TV shows, we only go to certain websites, we only meet people like us, the matrix gets so closed in that each side here lives in a separate moral universe with its own facts, its own experts. And there’s no way to get into the other matrix, to just throw, you can’t just throw arguments or scientific studies at them and say, ‘Here conservatives, deal with this finding.’

It’s not going to do anything. And conversely, they throw it back at you. We all feel as though we’re living in reality. But them, they’re caught up in this matrix. They’re in la-la land. But we’re all in la-la land. If you are part of a partisan community, if you’re part of any community that has come together to pursue moral ends, you are in a moral matrix.

BILL MOYERS: My side is right, your side is wrong. Just ipso facto, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Let me get some clarity on one of your basic foundations here. Your research in the book, you and your associates, organizes morality into six moral foundations or concerns. Sketch them briefly and tell me how liberals and conservatives differ on each of them.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Sure. So, if you imagine each of our righteous minds as being, like an audio equalizer with six slider switches, and the first one is care, compassion, those sorts of issues, liberals have it turned up to 11. And we have this on a lot of different surveys. Liberals really feel. When they see an animal being mistreated, they’re more likely to feel something than conservatives, and especially than libertarians, who are very, very low on this one.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The next two, liberty and fairness, when liberty and fairness conflict with care, are you going to punish someone, or are you going to be compassionate? Liberals are more likely to go with care.

JONATHAN HAIDT: In other words, care trumps liberty and fairness, even though everybody cares about all three of those. The next three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, what we find, across many questionnaires, many surveys and analyses of texts and sermons, all sorts of things, is that liberals don’t talk a lot about loyalty, you know, group loyalty. They don’t talk a lot about authority and the importance of order and authority, maintaining order. They don’t talk a lot about sanctity. Conservatives on the other hand, what we find is that, they value all of these more or less equally.

And I think this is part of the reason why conservatives have done a much better job of connecting with American morality and convincing people that they are the party of moral values.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s get down to some brass tacks, or brass knuckles as one might want to say. There’s so much anger and incivility in our politics today. And the twain do not seem able to meet.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You have a lot of photographs of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street that get at how moral psychology divides us, just-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Walk me through some of these.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The first step that we all need to take is to understand that the other side is not crazy. They’re not holding their position just because they’ve been bribed or because they’re racist or whatever evil motives you want to attribute.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So what I’m hoping my book will do is kind of give people almost a decoding manual so they can look at anything from the other side and instead of saying, ‘See, this shows how evil they are,’ you say, ‘Oh, okay, I see why they’re saying that.’ All right, so, let’s take, ‘Stop punishing success, stop rewarding failure.’

BILL MOYERS: I remember seeing that at one of the early Tea Party rallies.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So that’s one version of fairness. Fairness adds proportionality.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, if people work hard, they should succeed. If people don’t work hard, they should fail. And if anyone bails them out, that is evil. You should not bail people out who have failed, especially if it’s because of lack of hard work, something like that. So as the right sees it, government is evil because it keeps punishing success, with redistributive policies, okay, take from the successful and give to the unsuccessful.

And it keeps rewarding failure by giving out welfare and other payments to people who aren’t working. So what I’ve found is that fairness is at the heart of both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. But because the words have different meanings and they relate to additional moral foundations, that’s why they’re really, very, very different moral views.

There was a lot of empathy and caring at Occupy Wall Street. So this sign, “I can’t hurt another without hurting myself.” This is part of the ethos on the left, this is why you get a lot of Buddhists and sort of the Christian left.

It’s a lot of emphasis on care and compassion. When they talk about fairness, it’s in particular, fairness, that will benefit the weak and the poor. So, here’s a sign, “Marching for the meek and weary, hungry and homeless.” “Tax the wealthy, fair and square,” as though because they’re hungry and homeless people, it’s fair to take from them and give to them. Now, I think there are really good arguments for why we need to increase tax rates on the top. But simply saying, ‘Some have and some have not, therefore it’s fair,’ that’s not a moral argument for most Americans.

BILL MOYERS: And what’s the conservative moral position on this?

JONATHAN HAIDT: The conservative moral position is the Protestant work ethic. It’s karma.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean by that?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So karma, karma’s a Sanskrit word, for, literally for work, or fruit. That is, if you do some work, you should get the fruit of it. If I help you, I will eventually get the fruit of it. Even if you don’t help me, something will happen. It’s just a law of the universe. So, Hindus traditionally believed it’s, that the universe will balance itself, right itself. It’s like gravity. If I am lazy, good-for-nothing lying scoundrel, the universe will right that and I will suffer. But then along comes liberal do-gooders and the federal government to bail them out.

So I think the conservative view, for social conservatives this is, is that basically liberals are trying to revoke the law of karma. Almost as though, imagine somebody trying to revoke the law of gravity, and everything’s going to float away into chaos.

BILL MOYERS: All right, let’s go back to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Flags are everywhere. American flags are everywhere at the Tea Party. And you never see them defaced, modified, touching the ground. At Occupy Wall Street, however, the majority of them had been modified.

So here’s one showing America as a nation taken over by corporations and war. Here’s another one, “Occupy Wall Street, the 99 percent is you.” Now, what this shows, I think, is that at Occupy Wall Street, certainly ‘The flag is not sacred, I think America is not sacred.’ The left tends to be wary of nation states. And this is, I think, a nice example of how sacralization blinds you.

And on the right, where they do sacralize America, they can’t think about the nuances about how America is not always right, American foreign policy did contribute to 9/11, but you can’t say that because people on the right will see that as sacrilege. So they’re blind. Whereas people on the left have a more nuanced view.

So, you know, everything’s a Rorschach test. As long as there’s any ambiguity, one side will see the things that damn it, the other side will see the things that praise it.

BILL MOYERS: But isn’t there reality below that Rorschach test? If Occupy Wall Street is saying, ‘Inequality is growing, the American dream, upward mobility is disappearing. Fifty million people in poverty,’ something’s wrong with our democratic and capitalist system-

JONATHAN HAIDT: And I think something is wrong with our Democratic and capitalist system. And this is where I think the left has really fallen down in articulating what’s wrong. The right has been extremely effective and has funded think tanks that have made the case very powerfully for what’s good about capitalism.

And they’re right. I mean, without capitalism, without free markets, we would not have the massive wealth that supports you and me and everyone else who doesn’t physically make stuff. But since you need the push and pull, you need the give and take. You need the yin and yang. You need a good argument against that view. And I think it needs to be an argument about how capitalism, yes, it is good. But it only works under certain conditions.

There’s a wonderful new book out called The Gardens of Democracy by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. And they say, ‘Democracy is like a garden. And the capitalist system is like a garden. You can’t just say, ‘Free market, grow as you like.’ You have- it takes some tending.’

And even as Adam Smith knew, only external regulation can prevent externalities, prevent monopolies. You got to have a clear argument about what capitalism is, why it’s good, and how to make it better. And, as I see it, the left hasn’t done that.

BILL MOYERS: Does your research suggest it’s preferable to have a greater moral range?

JONATHAN HAIDT: When I began this work, I was very much a liberal. And over time, in doing the research for my book and in reading a lot of conservative writing, I’ve come to believe that conservative intellectuals actually are more in touch with human nature. They have a more accurate view of human nature.

We need structure. We need families. We need groups. It’s okay to have memberships and rivalries. All that stuff is okay, unless it crosses the threshold into Manichaeism. So I think that it would be very difficult to run a good society without resting much on loyalty, authority and sanctity. I think you need to use those.

BILL MOYERS: But it seems to me that liberals, progressives are more in touch with the nature of the social order. I had an anthropology teacher at the University of Texas who had spent five years amongst the Apaches in West Texas for his graduate work.

And he used both their example and the example through ages of saying, through the long history of human beings, we have accomplished more by cooperation, than we have by competition. And it seems to me that’s the truth that progressives or liberals or whomever you want to call them see that conservatives don’t.

JONATHAN HAIDT: But cooperation and competition are opposite sides of the same coin. And we’ve gotten this far because we cooperate to compete. So you can say that liberals are more accurate or in touch with how the system works. But I would say they’re more in touch with some aspects of how systems go awry and oppress some people, ignore other people. Liberals see some aspects of where the social system breaks down. And conservatives see others. You have to have consequences following bad behavior. That is as basic an aspect of system design as any. And that’s one where conservatives see it much more clearly than liberals.

I think I’m a centrist, in terms of liberal conservative. And I feel like I’m sort of, I sort of, like, stepped out of the game. And now that the game has gotten so deadly, I’m hoping that, in the coming year, I can be the guy saying, ‘Come on, people, just, here, understand the other side so you stop demonizing, and now you can argue more productively.’

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, well, how do we do that when, in fact, there’s a great advantage to one side or the other side to demonize the enemy? And here, you know, you bring us right to Newt Gingrich and his career.

BILL MOYERS: In 1990, Newt Gingrich was chairman of something called GOPAC, which was a conservative political action committee. And he issued a memo to the members, the conservative members of that organization about words that conservatives should use to describe themselves and words they should use to describe Democrats and liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Abuse of power, betray, bizarre, corrupt, criminal rights, cheat, devour, disgrace, greed, steal, sick, traitors, radical, red tape, unionized, waste, welfare. Quote, “The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.” Those words were used, as you know, quite successfully.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So two things to say about Gingrich. One is that he’s a screaming hypocrite. But as I said, we’re all hypocrites. That’s part of the design. The other is that he’s a very good moral psychologist. And as I’ve said, the Democrats are generally not.

JONATHAN HAIDT: So he had words there that touch all six of the foundations, you know, from abuse of power to sick and corrupt for the sanctity stuff. So while I’m non-partisan, my big issue is demonizing.

BILL MOYERS: And yet you also acknowledge that demonizing the other can be rewarded politically.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. It can because that makes you stronger in the contest within the group. Within the nation your side can beat the other side if you demonize, but it makes the nation weaker.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Most of our politics is driven by the people at the extremes, the people who have these dispositions fairly strongly, get passionate, get engaged, give money, blog, argue. Those people rarely cross over. So, but most Americans are not that politically engaged, and they’re the ones that decide the elections.

So, since most people aren’t extreme either way in their basic disposition, they’re up for grabs. And, whichever party can connect with their moral values. And this is where I think again, the Democrats have not fully understood moral psychology. I listen to them in election after election, especially 2000, 2004, saying, ‘We’ve got this policy for you. We’re going to give you more support,’ as though politics is shopping.

As though, ‘Come, you know, buy from us. We’ve got a better deal for you.’ The Democrats, I find, have not been as good at understanding that politics is really religion. Politics is about sacredness. Politics is about offering a vision that will bind the nation together to pursue greatness. And Republicans since Ronald Reagan have been really good at that.

BILL MOYERS: At the same time, it can blind you.

BILL MOYERS: It can bind you–

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: -into a tribe, but it can blind the whole tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Absolutely. That’s what we’re stuck with. That’s the nature of moral psychology. You got it.

BILL MOYERS: There’s a chapter called “Vote For Me, Here’s Why.” Let me run down a series of points you make in that chapter, and get your short take on what you want us to take away from that. Quote, “We’re all intuitive politicians.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So a politician is always asking the question, ‘How am I doing?’ As Mayor Koch used to say. That’s what we always want to know. And so when we interact with people we’re intuitively we’re like politicians, out to get their vote. Out to make them like us, make them be impressed by us. Who knows if they could be useful to us in the future.

So we say one thing to one person, one thing to another. We change our views, our attitudes. Oh, did you like that movie? Oh, I hated it because I know that he hated it, oh yes, I loved it, because I know that she liked it. We do this all the time. And we don’t even know we’re doing it.

So many people think, ‘Oh, you know, I dance to, I move to my own drum. I, you know, I’m independent. I’m a maverick.’ People think that about themselves. But research shows that even people who think that about themselves are just as influenced by what other people think of them. Basically we are clueless and hypocritical about ourselves. We’re actually moderately accurate in our predictions of other people. Our blindness is about ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We are obsessed with polls.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Once again, what we really want to know is what others think of us. The research shows that when you give people the opportunity to cheat, in a way where they can get away with it, because there’s no reputational consequence, most people cheat.

Other research shows that philosophers, and moral philosophers are no better than anyone else. So we all think that we’re going to behave, we’re going to have this inner moral compass. But really what we’re most concerned with is what’s this going to do to my poll numbers.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. I remember, you quote somebody’s research in here, that they looked into how often books on ethics were taken out of the library, and not returned. And it was a very high ratio. And often by moral philosophers, or teachers of ethics. Right.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher, looked at how often books had not been returned, from lots of libraries. And, right, the ethics books were more likely to have been not returned than other philosophy books. My guess is that moral philosophers are extremely expert in coming up with justifications for whatever they want to do.

BILL MOYERS: This one hit me personally. Quote, “Our in-house press secretary automatically justifies everything.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. When someone accuses you of something, you can’t help it. Instantly, your mind is off and running, drafting the press release to explain how, while it might look like I was hypocritical, but actually, so, we just, this is the way we think automatically. And again, it’s part of this sort of Machiavellian psychology.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We lie, cheat, and justify so well that we honestly believe we’re honest.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Everybody believes they’re above average in honesty. But in fact, again, the studies show that when you give people a chance to cheat, literally the majority take advantage of it.

They’ll fudge a number here, or they’ll go over-time. They’ll change an answer on a test, if, say, they get paid more money for getting more correct answers, for example. And the amazing thing is they’re able to justify it. They’re… they walk out of there thinking that they didn’t cheat and lie.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “Reasoning and Google can take you wherever you want to go.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Something we need to talk about here is what’s called the confirmation bias. That is, you might think that our reasoning is designed to find the truth. And if you want to find the truth, you should look on both sides of a proposition. But in fact what happens is, when someone gives you a proposition, our minds, we send them out, we sent them out to do research for us.

But it’s research, like, as a lawyer does, or as a press secretary would do, it’s like, ‘Find me one piece of evidence that will support this claim that I want to make.’ And if I can find one piece of evidence, I’m done. I can stop thinking. Well, that’s the way we’ve been for millions of years. And, well, hundreds of thousands of years.

And suddenly Google comes along. You don’t have to do any research. You just type it in. You know, “I think Obama, was Obama born in Kenya?” Just type it in. You’ll find hits. You know, “Is global warming a hoax?” Type it, you’ll find hits. So Google can basically solve your needs for confirmation, 24 hours a day.

BILL MOYERS: Quote, “We can believe almost anything that supports our team.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So it’s bad enough when we’re cheating and dissembling and manipulating things for our own benefit, but when we’re doing it for our team it somehow is even more honorable, and easier to do. And this brings us right back to the culture war. People can believe any kind of crazy nonsense they want.

If you hated George Bush, when he was President, and somebody would give you an argument. I mean, you, it just seems automatically compelling. And you don’t have to think very hard, conversely, now, about Barack Obama. So, all these things I’m saying. These biases of reasoning, that are so obvious at the personal level, when you ramp them up to the group level they get even more severe.

BILL MOYERS: This one took me aback, because it flies right in the face of my predisposition. “Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: The idea of sacredness, the idea of sacralizing something. What I see as an academic, and as a philosophy major as an undergrad, is there are a lot of people in the academic world that sac- they think, oh, you know, no sacred cows. We shouldn’t sacralize anything.

But they sacralize reason itself, as though reason is this noble attribute, reason is our highest nature. And if we could just reason, we will solve our problems. All right, that sounds good on paper. But given all the stuff I just told you about what psychologists have discovered about reason, reasoning is not good at finding the truth. Conscious verbal reasoning is really good at confirming.

We’re really good lawyers. So what this means is that if you sacralize reason itself, you are first of all wrong about it. And as I say in the book, follow the sacredness. Wherever people sacralize something, there you will find ignorance, blindness to the truth, and resistance to evidence.

BILL MOYERS: So what does, what did the Hebrew prophet mean when he said, “Come now, and let us reason together.” Are you saying we can’t get at the truth that way?

JONATHAN HAIDT: No. That actually is very wise. Because what I’m saying here is that individual reasoning is post-hoc, and justificatory. Individual reasoning is not reliable because of the confirmation bias. The only cure for the confirmation bias is other people.

So, if you bring people together who disagree, and they have a sense of friendship, family, having something in common, having an institution to preserve, they can challenge each other’s reason. And this is the way the scientific world is supposed to work.

And this is the way it does work in almost every part of it. You know, I’ve got my theory, and I’m really good at justifying it. But fortunately there’s peer review, and there’s lots of people are really good at undercutting it. And saying, “Well, what about this phenomenon? You didn’t account for that.”

And we worked together even if we don’t want to, we end up being forced to work together, challenging each other’s confirmation biases, and truth emerges. And this is a place where actually I think the Christians have it right, because they’re always talking about how flawed we are. They’re encouraging us to be more modest.

And from my reading, these apostles of reason nowadays, they’re anything but modest. And they think that individuals can reason well. Wisdom comes out of a group of people well-constituted who have some faith or trust in each other. That’s what our political institutions used to do, but they don’t do anymore.

BILL MOYERS: You’re helping me to understand this fundamental dichotomy in American political life, the- a country that mythologizes the rugged individual.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: But a country that’s now governed by dogmatic group politics, right?

JONATHAN HAIDT: So this gets us right into sacredness, one of the dictums of the book is “follow the sacredness.” It, once you see the basic dynamic of human life is individuals competing with individuals, but when necessary, coming together so that the group can compete with the group. So it’s perfectly consistent for the right to worship rugged individualism at the individual level and to see government and especially government safety nets and nanny states as deeply immoral because it undercuts rugged individualism.

But at the same time, for them to be tribal and to come together around a pledge on taxes. Now, Grover Norquist was brilliant in exploiting the psychology of sacredness in making them sign this pledge. Even if many of them knew in their heart it was the wrong thing to do, we’re so concerned about our poll numbers, we’re so concerned about what people think of us, any candidate that said, “No, I’m not going to sign,” you can bet Norquist was going to hold his feet to the fire.

 

And now they’re stuck. And you get that crazy scene in that Republican debate, “If you could work out a deal, $10 of spending cuts for every one dollar of tax increases, would you take it?”

 

BRET BAIER: Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, 10 to one as Byron said. Spending cuts to tax increases. Speaker you’re already shaking your head. But who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes you’d walk away on the 10 to one deal?

 

JONATHAN HAIDT: It’s straight out of all the conformity experiments in social psychology. It’s– you don’t want to look, you don’t want to be the one who stands up and is different. It’s a lot of conformity pressure. A little further out, it’s not just that you’re afraid of being different, it’s that you know what’s waiting for you if you didn’t get your hand up. And that is Grover Norquist and everybody else saying, “He’s going to raise my taxes, he’s going to raise my taxes.”

BILL MOYERS: And you will be ejected from the group.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You’re not longer in the tribe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: Out to the wilderness, right-

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. Now, we can go even further back, and this is what I think people on the left have trouble understanding, is the rejection of taxes, this dogmatic attitude about taxes, it’s not just, ‘Oh, I want to keep my money, give me money, I’m greedy,’ it’s that the federal, they’ve seen the federal government, and this begins in the ’30s with Roosevelt, they’ve seen the federal government doing things that they think are evil. That is, the government got into the business of bailing people out when they make mistakes. Now, usually people need help not because they made a mistake. There are important reasons to have a safety net. But welfare policies, and it got even more so in the ’60s, the government began doing things that supported people who were slackers or free-riders.

So as entitlement programs grow, as they begin to do things that are really antithetical to conservative ideas about fairness and responsibility, now government, it’s not hard to see government as evil. And the only way to stop it is to starve the beast.

BILL MOYERS: What’s the Democratic liberal left equivalent of the tax pledge, no new taxes, the group think on one issue that, if you violate it gets you thrown out of the tribe?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Right, well, it’s touchy to talk about, but basically I think the new left, the commitment that was made in the ’60s, was toward victim groups. So it was civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights. Now these were all incredibly important battles that had to be fought. And again, follow the sacredness. If you sacralize these groups, it makes you, it binds you together to fight for them.

 

So the sacralization had to happen, the sacralization of victim groups had to happen to bring the left together to fight what was a truly altruistic and heroic battle. And they won, and things are now better in this country because of that. But, follow the sacredness. Once you’ve sacralized something, you become blind to evidence.

So evidence about, let’s say, how welfare was working, or any other social policy that many of these social policies would backfire. But you can’t see it because you’ve sacralized a group. Anything that seems to be helping that group, anything our group says is going to help them, you go with. So both sides are blind to evidence around their sacred commitments.

BILL MOYERS: I want to go to a very important moment in an early Republican debate that seems to me to go to the heart of what you’re writing about in terms of moral psychology and how the conservatives see it. This was a question to Ron Paul. Let’s play it.

WOLF BLITZER: Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But, you know, something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who’s going to pay for, if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

RON PAUL: Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

WOLF BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

RON PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced–

WOLF BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

RON PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody–

WOLF BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

RON PAUL: No.

JONATHAN HAIDT: This is a perfect example of what the culture war has turned into. It’s a battle over ideas about fairness versus compassion. So the reason that that video went viral is because of the applause at the end.

So I got sent this video by a lot of people because, oh, my God, these Republicans are so heartless. They’re so evil and cruel and terrible. But it’s exactly Aesop’s ant and the grasshopper. The grasshopper fiddles away all the summer while the ants are working and working and working, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper says, “Oh, you’re being silly, working so hard.” And then winter comes. The grasshopper comes, knocks on the ants’ door and he’s starving to death, he’s freezing. He says, “Take me in. Feed me.” And as some liberals see it, the point of the ant and the grasshopper and that the ants are supposed to feed the grasshopper. But that’s not what Aesop meant.

And that’s not what most Americans think it means. So what they’re applauding for there and what they’re saying, “Yeah, let him die,” the reason they’re saying that is because they want a world in which karma functions. This guy made a choice. He made a choice to be a free rider. He made a choice to not buy health insurance. And if karma works as it should, no one will pay for it and he will die. Now, if you care, if you value the care foundation, that is extremely cold. But if you value fairness as proportionality, that’s what has to happen.

BILL MOYERS: What did Aesop mean?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Aesop meant, that you better take care of yourself because if you don’t, if you’re lazy and you expect others to take care of you, you deserve to die. You deserve to be left out in the cold. And that’s why welfare has always been so contentious because, on the left, they think it’s doing good bringing money to their sacralized victim groups. But on the right, it’s doing bad because it’s encouraging dependence. It’s discouraging hard work. It’s rotting away the Protestant work ethic. And it’s encouraging irresponsibility. Welfare’s always been an incredibly contentious.

BILL MOYERS: It has been but liberals and progressives are right, are they not, when they say government has been a big force in the development of this country, all the way from infrastructure, canals, and railroads and airports and all of that to the social contract, which prevents elderly people from falling into a life of despair at the end of their years.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s all true. And if the Democrats could make a good, clear case of what the proper role of government is, I think they’d be successful because that’s absolutely right. The problem is that government, whoever has the reins of government uses it for moralistic purposes.

They use it to further their sacred ends. And they use it to channel money and programs and largesse to their favorite groups. So people on the right don’t trust government to do what’s right with their tax dollars. And the left, again, needs to come up with a clear story about what is the proper role of government and what is not. And they need to regain the trust.

BILL MOYERS: But it means that we can never get together to try to resolve it when one party says ‘we won’t compromise’ and the other party says ‘you are evil.’

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. That’s right. So, we’re in a lot of trouble. I don’t see an easy way out here. There are some electoral reforms that would make things better. But the problem is that all electoral reforms will tend to favor one side over the other, which means it’s very difficult to get them enacted.

BILL MOYERS: Well, you’re also asking the very people benefiting from the present status quo system to change what is to their benefit.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: To keep it going.

JONATHAN HAIDT: That’s right. So, I mean, my only thoughts about how we can make the kind of end run about this, is we need to develop norms of certain things that are beyond the pale, certain things that are bad. And so, for example, just as we developed our discourse about, say, sexual harassment, you know, when movies and TV shows from the ’60s, it was common. It was laughed at.

But, you know, in just a few decades we’ve come a long way and recognized certain kinds of behaviors are unacceptable. We’ve changed our attitudes about smoking in public. We’ve done all sorts of things like that. We’ve moralized things. I’d like to propose that we moralize two things.

One is demonization. When you have people saying, you can disagree as much as you want, but when you start saying, “They’re only saying that because they’re, you know, they’re a racist or they’re in bed with this company,” or, and even though sometimes that might be true. But we are so prone to dismiss other people and demonize their motives that we’re usually going to be wrong about that. So if we could begin to see this in each other and even challenge each other and say, “Hey, you’re demonizing.” Like, just, you know, disagree with them but stop attributing bad motives to the other side. So if ten years from now people sort of recognize that and could call each other out on in, that would at least be some progress.

The other one is corruption. Until we develop a massive groundswell of public revulsion at the fact that our Congress is bought and paid for, not entirely of course. Many of them are decent people. I don’t want to demonize. I’m sorry. But the nature of the institution is such that they’ve got to raise tons of money. And then they’re responsive to those interests. So perhaps there’s some norms that we could develop that will put some pressure on Congress to clean up its act.

BILL MOYERS: Jonathan Haidt, thank you very much for sharing your ideas with us.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Oh, my pleasure, Bill. This has been great fun.

http://billmoyers.com/segment/jonathan-haidt-explains-our-contentious-culture/

Imagine If America Had Adopted Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream

By Bill Moyers, James Cone, Taylor BranchBillmoyers.com, April 6, 2013 posted on Alternet.org

Excerpt

Martin Luther King, Jr…. was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account, speaking truth to power…He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need or economic equity – fairness for all, including working people and the poor

KING [said] There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, and culture and education for their minds, and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. […] But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

[King] was trying to converge economics, race, social and political equalityto take on the tough structure of prejudice in economics in the North?…it was about humanity….What he said about poverty still rings true…it’s chilling to think what the distribution of wealth was when he made that indictment compared to what it is now. It is much more skewed now than it was then and it was back then…these issues of poverty…[were] part of his message all along….

excerpt of the speech he delivered, one year to the day before he was killed, at Riverside Church here in New York City.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered….

Martin Luther King saw race as the gateway. If you can deal with race and the fundamental denial of common humanity through race, then it opens up possibilities which I think happened in history…

Economic and Social Bill of Rights that he and the Poor People’s Campaign developed in the first, early part of 1968.

“The right of every employable citizen to a decent job, the right of every citizen to a minimum income, the right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood, the right to an adequate education, the right to participate in a decision-making process, the right to the full benefits of modern science in health care.”

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it. And you know what? You may have to escalate the struggle a bit. If they keep refusing and they will not recognize the union, and will not decree further check-off for the collection of dues, I’ll tell you what you ought to do, and you’re together here enough to do it. In a few days you ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis…

JAMES CONE: Yes, it was. And but you can’t do that without that inner freedom that he’s talking about, which is the freedom that empowers you to stop the work. It is the freedom inside that makes you do that. And for King, everybody has to claim that freedom. It’s not a gift. Freedom is something that you have to demand from others, but you cannot demand it from others unless you have it internally yourself. And that’s a kind of inner freedom… the freedom from fear is the necessary freedom to get to civil rights, to get the jobs, to get work against poverty, even though the odds may be against you. And for black people, the odds were against them… he was putting a nonviolent black movement not only in the heart of American patriotism, but in the vanguard heart of American patriotism.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Poverty is probably the toughest issue…for the time that it was active and that it matured into what is the movement. Movement is a word we use often, but don’t reflect on what it means. It was the watch word of politics. People were moved and literally moved history. But in a very, very short time. Now, the watch word of politics is spin. You know, nothing’s going anywhere and nobody’s moving…

JAMES CONE:…getting rid of poverty, redistribution of wealth is not as easy as getting the right to vote. The right to vote doesn’t cost anything. But redistribution of wealth takes across class lines. That costs a lot. And people will fight you in order to prevent that from happening

King was identifying with labor and workers and felt that unions were an essential part of the civil rights struggle….

JAMES CONE: I think he would say something about, “You — this society cannot survive with the huge gap between the one percent and the 99 percent. When you have that kind of gap, then you destroy the possibility of genuine human community and showing how we are interconnected together.

TAYLOR BRANCH: We only have two hopes: enlightenment, which comes from really wrestling and conquering your pride and appealing to the young, quite frankly; and catastrophe. That’s the only other hard teacher that we would have, which is that we’re going to ride this system into a catastrophe. And then we will wake up and say, “Why didn’t we do it before? Why didn’t we listen to Martin Luther King?”

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there is much about the man and his message we have conveniently forgotten. He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account, speaking truth to power.

Yet, he was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968. The March on Washington in ’63 and the March from Selma to Montgomery in ’65 were behind him. So were the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and fate, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans — black, white, or brown. He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need or economic equity – fairness for all, including working people and the poor. That’s why he was in Memphis, marching with sanitation workers on strike for a living wage when he was killed.

With me are two people steeped in King’s life and work. Taylor Branch wrote the extraordinary, three-volume history of the civil rights era, “America in the King Years.” The first of them, “Parting the Waters,” received the Pulitzer Prize. He now has distilled all that work, adding fresh material and insights to create this new book, “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Right Movement.”

James Cone, a longtime professor of theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, wrote the ground-breaking books that defined black liberation theology, interpreting Christianity through the eyes and experience of the oppressed. Among them: “Black Theology and Black Power,” “Martin and Malcolm and America,” and this most recent bestseller, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

Before we talk, let’s listen to these words from Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken at Stanford University just a year before his assassination. It’s as if he were saying them today.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, and culture and education for their minds, and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. […] But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to you both.

BILL MOYERS: As he was trying to converge economics, race, social and political equality, what was he struggling for at that time when he, alone among his colleagues, wanted to take on the tough structure of prejudice in economics in the North?

JAMES CONE: I think he was thinking about class issues. He talked about class issues to his staff. He didn’t do it primarily in speeches because of the kind of anticommunism spirit that was so deep in America at that time.

But on many occasions, he talked about the economic and about America having 40 million people who are in poverty in the richest country in the world. He was talking about restructuring everything. And if you talk about restructuring, you’re talking about class too.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Yes. You have to understand that some of this class tension was also within the black community. Some of King’s most stinging speeches were to the members of his own, like Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, saying, “You spend more money on liquor at your annual convention than you contribute to the NAACP.”

“This is — we’re more concerned about, I know ministers who are more concerned about the wheel base on their Cadillac than they are the spiritual base of their commitment to this world.” So, King drew an awful lot of sustenance and biting challenge from the basic notion of — I think that his favorite parable was the parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke about–

BILL MOYERS: Which was?

TAYLOR BRANCH: It was about the rich man who passed Lazarus begging at his door and didn’t notice him and went to hell and saw Lazarus up in heaven.

And King interpreted this thing as saying the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. He went there because he didn’t notice the humanity of the man he was passing at his gate. And it was about humanity.

Remember how the sanitation strike started, it started because two members of the sanitation force were crushed in the back of a garbage truck that was a cylinder, one of those compacting cylinders, in a torrential rainstorm and they were not allowed by the city to seek shelter in storms.

Because the white residents didn’t like it if black garbage men stopped. All the garbage workers were black. And, so, they weren’t allowed — the only place they could get shelter in — they wouldn’t all fit in the cabin. So, the ones that could fit in the cabin and two of them had to climb in the back with the garbage and a broom fell on the lever and it compacted them with the garbage. And that is the origin of the slogan, “I am a man. I am a man, not a piece of garbage.” And that connects to King’s philosophy.

BILL MOYERS: And the sanitation workers carried those signs, remember? “I am a man.”

TAYLOR BRANCH: “I am a man.” And to them, that was about Echol Cole and Robert Walker, their two friends who had been literally crushed with the garbage and nobody noticed. And King is saying, “You’re going to go to hell as a nation if you don’t notice the humanity of Echol Cole and Robert Walker.

JAMES CONE: And that’s why justice is so central for King and why poverty became the focus of his ministry after that civil rights and voting rights. Because the civil rights and voting rights is not going to get rid of poverty. And, so, King saw that as central.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s listen again to Dr. King, from the speech he made to those striking sanitation workers in Memphis just weeks before he was shot to death. What he said about poverty still rings true.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

BILL MOYERS: Could anything be more current right now?

TAYLOR BRANCH: No. It’s hard to imagine, and of course, it’s chilling to think what the distribution of wealth was when he made that indictment compared to what it is now. It is much more skewed now than it was then and it was bad then.

So, you really get a sense of King’s power. I would only caution that we not assume that he undertook these issues of poverty only late in his career. It was part of his message all along. Certainly, if you look at Nobel Prize lecture in 1964, he says, we are — the world is seeing the widest liberation in human history, not just in the United States but around the world.

And we cannot lose this opportunity to apply its nonviolent power to the triple scourge of race, war, and poverty, what he called violence of the flesh and violence of the spirit. This was a very, very broad vision early on. It’s only at the end of his career that he’s making witness on that because he sees his time limited and he wants to leave that witness.

He made a wonderful quote when he was arguing with his staff about doing the Poor People’s Campaign and most of them didn’t want to do it. He quoted something saying, ‘At times, you must finish with what you have, even if it’s only a little.’

BILL MOYERS: You remind that the famous March on Washington five years earlier in 1963 wasn’t called the March on Washington. It was a march for jobs–

JAMES CONE: Jobs and freedom.

BILL MOYERS: –and freedom. Which goes back to his early concern, as you say.

JAMES CONE: Actually, you know, King grew up, he was a child during the Depression and he saw relief lines, even as a young man, and he was disturbed about that. He came from a middle-class family, but he was disturbed about it then. And even when he got ready to go the Crozer Theological Seminary out of Morehouse, when they asked him why he wanted to go into ministry, he connected it with helping people, helping them deal with hurt and pain.

So, it’s not new for King. King has always been concerned about that. I think it becomes sharp for him at the end because he’s accomplished civil rights, and the voting rights, and now he sees that it’s still, he sees the cities burning.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JAMES CONE: And he wants to provide an alternative to riots.

BILL MOYERS: I want to play you an excerpt of the speech he delivered, one year to the day before he was killed, at Riverside Church here in New York City.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

BILL MOYERS: A radical revolution of values.

TAYLOR BRANCH: The revolution in values is to see people first, to see Lazarus at the gate and not pass them by. So, I think the revolution in values is Christian and it’s democratic, but it starts with people. They have equal souls and equal votes and we are very stubborn, human nature, about denying that and wanting to see anything but.

BILL MOYERS: Was it theological?

JAMES CONE: Oh, yes. Because people are created in the image of God. If you’re created in the image of God, you can’t treat people like things. If we are interconnected with each other, we can’t treat each other like things. If America is concerned with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you can’t have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if you’re treating others as things.

BILL MOYERS: So, what was the turning point that moved him from an understanding of what you’re talking about to an actual agenda of trying to achieve it?

TAYLOR BRANCH: Well, I think part of it is a natural progression. If you are totally invisible, you’re not even up to the level of a thing yet. The bus boycott, the sit-ins, the freedom rides, getting the right to vote, if you’re not a citizen, you’re not even up to the table where you can start dealing with these issues.

To me, Martin Luther King saw race as the gateway. If you can deal with race and the fundamental denial of common humanity through race, then it opens up possibilities which I think happened in history.

And finally, toward the end of his career, he said, we have an opportunity. Now that we are learning, at least the beginnings of treating each other as equal citizens to really tackle what he called the eternal scourge of racism, poverty, and war.

JAMES CONE: His fight against poverty was multiracial. He wasn’t just focused with black people. Well, you can’t get that multiracial fight against poverty unless first black people are regarded as persons. So, civil rights, that earlier part, is, as Taylor was saying, black people coming to the table. So, after they get to the table, if you’re going to deal with poverty, it spreads across races. So, King was concerned about a multiracial movement against poverty because that’s what the Poor People’s Campaign was about.

BILL MOYERS: So, that would help us understand the colorblindness of that Economic and Social Bill of Rights that he and the Poor People’s Campaign developed in the first, early part of 1968.

“The right of every employable citizen to a decent job, the right of every citizen to a minimum income, the right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood, the right to an adequate education, the right to participate in a decision-making process, the right to the full benefits of modern science in health care.” Quite a statement.

TAYLOR BRANCH: And he had a workshop, one of the more remarkable events that never made any news and is not preserved in history, in which he had representatives of Indian tribes, Appalachian white coal miners–

JAMES CONE: That’s right.

TAYLOR BRANCH: –Latinos of every different stripe. He had to do hurry-up education on how to tell a Chicano from the Mexicans. His rule was if they are poor, have them here. And half his staff was revolting against that, saying, “We are a black movement.”

BILL MOYERS: Why? Because they felt it would dilute the impact of–

TAYLOR BRANCH: It would diminish the unfinished agenda for black folks. It would diminish their expertise. Hosea Williams, who was a lovely rascal –

JAMES CONE: That’s right. That’s right. He was strongly against it.

TAYLOR BRANCH: He said, “You’re taking my budget and giving it away to Indians and Mexicans. You can’t do that.”

JAMES CONE: That’s right. Yeah.

TAYLOR BRANCH: But he had this incredible conclave there of people who didn’t know each other. And everything and he said, “If we can’t agree together that there’s a poverty and a common approach that’s bigger than race, then we should stop now.”

But by the end of this thing, he had them all together and the rival Indian tribes were settling differences, and the Chicanos said, “Okay, well, we’re going to let the Indians go first because they were here first,” you know and deferring.

JAMES CONE: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It was a remarkable event.

BILL MOYERS: He was growing more impatient in the last few months and more radical. Let’s listen to what he told those workers we were talking about in Memphis.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it. And you know what? You may have to escalate the struggle a bit. If they keep refusing and they will not recognize the union, and will not decree further check-off for the collection of dues, I’ll tell you what you ought to do, and you’re together here enough to do it. In a few days you ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis.

BILL MOYERS: That was a genuine call to the barricades.

JAMES CONE: Yes, it was. And but you can’t do that without that inner freedom that he’s talking about, which is the freedom that empowers you to stop the work. It is the freedom inside that makes you do that. And for King, everybody has to claim that freedom. It’s not a gift. Freedom is something that you have to demand from others, but you cannot demand it from others unless you have it internally yourself. And that’s a kind of inner freedom.

BILL MOYERS: In what sense was he free?

JAMES CONE: Well, King was free because death did not stop him. That is, the fear of death did not keep him from doing his actions for freedom. See, if the fear can stop you, then you are not free. So, freedom from fear was crucial. And throughout the South, having grown up there, I know what that fear is like.

And what is the most amazing thing for me is how King could inspire ordinary black people by the masses, like in Memphis, to march when white people have intimidated them for centuries. What King taught was that inner freedom that makes you confront the oppressor, even if it means risking your life. So the freedom from fear is the necessary freedom to get to civil rights, to get the jobs, to get work against poverty, even though the odds may be against you. And for black people, the odds were against them.

BILL MOYERS: But here’s the unfortunate thing. As you write about it, after his assassination, riots broke out across Memphis. And even though he acknowledged that, quote, “Riot is the language of the unheard,” didn’t this outbreak of violence in some way begin the end of the movement?

TAYLOR BRANCH: This is a very, very profound and difficult topic and I would have to say that it had already begun before. Nonviolence was already not popular. It had already become passé. Some of the most hostile language toward nonviolence came from the Left, people saying that nonviolence is kind of Sunday school and outmoded now.

And that we want to adopt the language of violence.

And King’s answer to that was, “Nonviolence is a leadership doctrine. If we abandon nonviolence, it’s not that we’re stepping up to demand the right to be just violent, just like first-class white people. We’re stepping back from a leadership doctrine in the United States.” And that’s what America including especially white America, does not understand.

One of the few speeches, by the way, in which a white leader acknowledged that was Johnson.

Before he said, “We shall overcome,” he said “so it was at Appomattox, so it was at Concord, so it was at Selma last week, when fate and destiny met in the same moment.”

So, he was putting a nonviolent black movement not only in the heart of American patriotism, but in the vanguard heart of American patriotism.

BILL MOYERS: But do you admit that nonviolence ultimately didn’t work? That it couldn’t change America?

TAYLOR BRANCH: No.

JAMES CONE: No. It did change America.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It did change America.

JAMES CONE: It changed it radically for me. I grew up in Arkansas and I know what fear is. What the movement did, nonviolence did, was to take the terror out of the South. And for the first time, you can not only go to hotels, but you can go all over the South without much fear of harm. That is a major achievement.

BILL MOYERS: Certainly I recognize that.

TAYLOR BRANCH: The white South was the poorest region of the country when it was segregated. It was totally preoccupied in this terror.

It was not fit for professional sports, even, until nonviolence lifted it out of segregation and white Southern politicians were no longer stigmatized. So, you get Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and all these people elected president. And they’re all standing on the shoulders of a nonviolent black movement. Whether they realize it or acknowledge it or not. That’s the reason that our blinkered memory of this period is such a handicap for us today.

BILL MOYERS: Granted, but nonviolence did not bring about the economic restructuring that King hoped for. So that today he could make the same speeches about inequality, poverty, work that he made 45 years ago.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Poverty is probably the toughest issue. You’re talking about how much nonviolence? Maybe two or three years?

And for the time that it was active and that it matured into what is the movement. Movement is a word we use often, but don’t reflect on what it means.

It was the watch word of politics. People were moved and literally moved history. But in a very, very short time. Now, the watch word of politics is spin. You know, nothing’s going anywhere and nobody’s moving.

BILL MOYERS: Not since Martin Luther King has inequality been on the table the way it was at the Occupy briefly appeared on the scene. And I wondered watching Occupy from here if a Martin Luther King had risen to embody that movement, would they have carried us further toward the changes that King and others wanted?

JAMES CONE: It may would have. I’m not sure. But, you know, getting rid of poverty, redistribution of wealth is not as easy as getting the right to vote. The right to vote doesn’t cost anything. But redistribution of wealth takes across class lines. That costs a lot. And people will fight you in order to prevent that from happening. And I don’t know what it would take in order to make that happen.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It’s also not a simple formula. Dr. King never said we were going to give up freedom to have redistribution imposed on us. He never advocated something like that. It is a hard intellectual, spiritual challenge to figure out, “How do you preserve freedom and address poverty?” I don’t think Occupy got that far yet. It didn’t take that much responsibility.

It was just kind of a sign of protest and not a developed sense of responsibility the way, even the sit-ins were taking lessons from Rosa Parks.

JAMES CONE: Yes. That’s right. The sit-ins disrupted society. The freedom riots disrupted things. Occupy Wall Street didn’t disrupt much of anything. They just camped down there and they were not grassroots in quite the same way the Southern movement was during the time of King.

BILL MOYERS: King was identifying with labor and workers and felt that unions were an essential part of the civil rights struggle.

I have this speech from 1961, when he told delegates of AFL-CIO convention, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for the children, and respect in the community.” He felt this radical structuring that you talk about could not come without labor. And today, 45 years later, unions are largely impotent, smallest percentage of the workforce. So, what’s happened to labor today?

TAYLOR BRANCH: Labor has fallen in disfavor and fallen into, in some respects, an intellectual vacuum. Because people take for granted the right that we give capital to organize in form of corporations. Every corporation is a public charter.

It is a creation of our people. It is a legal entity that we create. And the notion that people on the other end need some sort of vehicle in a global economy in order to make their rights effective ought to be an easy idea at least to begin a conversation with. But we’re so frightened that anything — I guess we’re beholden to corporations in the way that people in the early movement felt that they were beholden to segregation, that their place in the order was threatened.

If you start messing around with this thing, your whole place might go. That’s how they marshaled a lot of Southerners who were not in sympathy with segregation into not being for doing anything about it. And, so, right now, you know, I think that we’re hostage to our fears and don’t really understand how we need to think about economics.

BILL MOYERS: A year before his death, this time he was speaking in California at Stanford University, he said, “In the North, schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954, when the Supreme Court’s decision on desegregation was rendered. Economically, the Negro is worse off today than he was 15 and 20 years ago.

“And, so, the unemployment rate among whites at one time was about the same as the unemployment rate among Negroes. But today, the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than whites.” Now, Taylor and James, he could practically say the same thing today, 45 years later.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Absolutely.

JAMES CONE: Absolutely.

TAYLOR BRANCH: And when he did it, though, he could also say to American white people, “You tend to think of black people as hopelessly caught up in the rear. The way you should look at this is that the things that are happening to black people, unless you make common cause, are going to happen to you, too.”

The poverty rates, the divorce rates in families that were decried among black people now, the white society has long since passed. The notion that higher education is primarily harder for men, which is now afflicting white society. Most of our college graduates are females. That’s been true in black society for years.

And it has had effects in the culture. So, Dr. King said black folks are a headlight of the problems we need to deal with. And white people too often just see them as something that needs to be left behind and out of mind.

BILL MOYERS: So, what would liberation theology say today about what Taylor just described?

JAMES CONE: Well, you know, liberation theology came into being largely because mainstream theology had not spoken to that gap. So, it was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, throughout the ’80s, all the way up to the present day that liberation theology has its meaning primarily in seeing Jesus as one in solidarity with the poor to get them out of poverty.

So, in actual fact, what I see King as, is a precursor to liberation theology. I see King actually making liberation theology, particularly on the American scene, as real and true. And I think if he were here today, he would be trying to bridge this gap between the rich and the poor.

He focused on black people but it was always multiracial for King.

TAYLOR BRANCH: To connect it to what Jim just said, I think that an awful lot of people today are fearful of the basic economic structure and it keeps them from thinking and rattling and getting together to address these problems. He said that King conquered his fear. I say it took him a while to do it, but he certainly did it.

JAMES CONE: Yeah. Yeah.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Fannie Lou Hamer conquered her fear. Everything that she did, including testifying as an unpolished woman before the Democratic Convention, she did when she was homeless. She had been evicted from her plantation. But she had gotten rid of her fear and had a vision that would empower and make productive whole generations of people who racism had denied, you know.

So, we have an awful lot of productive people in the society today who are productive and educated and have talent because the movement helped people conquer their fear. But we’re now at another stage.

Now it’s hitting us and I think everybody is afraid to deal with these issues in the way that the movement dealt with them, which was, “I’m going to let loose of my fear. I’m not going to worry about my savings and my wealth and whether my kids are going to get into Harvard. I’m going deal with the basic issues of how we can cope with these things together.”

BILL MOYERS: Given the absence of a movement today, given the power of money, corporations, and the structure, what do you think Martin Luther King would say to those in power today?

JAMES CONE: I think he would say something about, “You — this society cannot survive with the huge gap between the one percent and the 99 percent. When you have that kind of gap, then you destroy the possibility of genuine human community and showing how we are interconnected together.

TAYLOR BRANCH: I pretty much agree with that. I think he would have to be saying, “Don’t give into pride and thinking that it is solely your genius that’s creating all these billions that you’re sitting on. You are reaping the interconnectedness that we have.

“And that interconnectedness is precious. And it is political. And that can vanish. And so, you need to look beyond that.” We only have two hopes: enlightenment, which comes from really wrestling and conquering your pride and appealing to the young, quite frankly; and catastrophe. That’s the only other hard teacher that we would have, which is that we’re going to ride this system into a catastrophe. And then we will wake up and say, “Why didn’t we do it before? Why didn’t we listen to Martin Luther King?”

BILL MOYERS: Taylor Branch and James Cone, thank you very much for being with me and for your thoughts and ideas.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Thank you.

JAMES CONE: Thank you.

http://www.alternet.org/print/civil-liberties/moyers-imagine-if-america-had-adopted-martin-luther-kings-economic-dream

Full text

Moyers: Imagine If America Had Adopted Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream

April 6, 2013

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. You may think you know about Martin Luther King, Jr., but there is much about the man and his message we have conveniently forgotten. He was a prophet, like Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah of old, calling kings and plutocrats to account, speaking truth to power.

Yet, he was only 39 when he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th, 1968. The March on Washington in ’63 and the March from Selma to Montgomery in ’65 were behind him. So were the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. In the last year of his life, as he moved toward Memphis and fate, he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign, a “multi-racial army” that would come to Washington, build an encampment and demand from Congress an “Economic Bill of Rights” for all Americans — black, white, or brown. He had long known that the fight for racial equality could not be separated from the need or economic equity – fairness for all, including working people and the poor. That’s why he was in Memphis, marching with sanitation workers on strike for a living wage when he was killed.

With me are two people steeped in King’s life and work. Taylor Branch wrote the extraordinary, three-volume history of the civil rights era, “America in the King Years.” The first of them, “Parting the Waters,” received the Pulitzer Prize. He now has distilled all that work, adding fresh material and insights to create this new book, “The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Right Movement.”

James Cone, a longtime professor of theology at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, wrote the ground-breaking books that defined black liberation theology, interpreting Christianity through the eyes and experience of the oppressed. Among them: “Black Theology and Black Power,” “Martin and Malcolm and America,” and this most recent bestseller, “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.”

Before we talk, let’s listen to these words from Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken at Stanford University just a year before his assassination. It’s as if he were saying them today.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: There are literally two Americas. One America is beautiful for situation. And in a sense this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity. This America is the habitat of millions of people who have food and material necessities for their bodies, and culture and education for their minds, and freedom and human dignity for their spirits. […] But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist. In this America millions of people find themselves living in rat-infested, vermin-filled slums. In this America people are poor by the millions. They find themselves perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to you both.

BILL MOYERS: As he was trying to converge economics, race, social and political equality, what was he struggling for at that time when he, alone among his colleagues, wanted to take on the tough structure of prejudice in economics in the North?

JAMES CONE: I think he was thinking about class issues. He talked about class issues to his staff. He didn’t do it primarily in speeches because of the kind of anticommunism spirit that was so deep in America at that time.

But on many occasions, he talked about the economic and about America having 40 million people who are in poverty in the richest country in the world. He was talking about restructuring everything. And if you talk about restructuring, you’re talking about class too.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Yes. You have to understand that some of this class tension was also within the black community. Some of King’s most stinging speeches were to the members of his own, like Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, saying, “You spend more money on liquor at your annual convention than you contribute to the NAACP.”

“This is — we’re more concerned about, I know ministers who are more concerned about the wheel base on their Cadillac than they are the spiritual base of their commitment to this world.” So, King drew an awful lot of sustenance and biting challenge from the basic notion of — I think that his favorite parable was the parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke about–

BILL MOYERS: Which was?

TAYLOR BRANCH: It was about the rich man who passed Lazarus begging at his door and didn’t notice him and went to hell and saw Lazarus up in heaven.

And King interpreted this thing as saying the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. He went there because he didn’t notice the humanity of the man he was passing at his gate. And it was about humanity.

Remember how the sanitation strike started, it started because two members of the sanitation force were crushed in the back of a garbage truck that was a cylinder, one of those compacting cylinders, in a torrential rainstorm and they were not allowed by the city to seek shelter in storms.

Because the white residents didn’t like it if black garbage men stopped. All the garbage workers were black. And, so, they weren’t allowed — the only place they could get shelter in — they wouldn’t all fit in the cabin. So, the ones that could fit in the cabin and two of them had to climb in the back with the garbage and a broom fell on the lever and it compacted them with the garbage. And that is the origin of the slogan, “I am a man. I am a man, not a piece of garbage.” And that connects to King’s philosophy.

BILL MOYERS: And the sanitation workers carried those signs, remember? “I am a man.”

TAYLOR BRANCH: “I am a man.” And to them, that was about Echol Cole and Robert Walker, their two friends who had been literally crushed with the garbage and nobody noticed. And King is saying, “You’re going to go to hell as a nation if you don’t notice the humanity of Echol Cole and Robert Walker.

JAMES CONE: And that’s why justice is so central for King and why poverty became the focus of his ministry after that civil rights and voting rights. Because the civil rights and voting rights is not going to get rid of poverty. And, so, King saw that as central.

BILL MOYERS: Let’s listen again to Dr. King, from the speech he made to those striking sanitation workers in Memphis just weeks before he was shot to death. What he said about poverty still rings true.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: Do you know that most of the poor people in our country are working every day? They are making wages so low that they cannot begin to function in the mainstream of the economic life of our nation. These are facts which must be seen. And it is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis and a full-time job getting part-time income.

BILL MOYERS: Could anything be more current right now?

TAYLOR BRANCH: No. It’s hard to imagine, and of course, it’s chilling to think what the distribution of wealth was when he made that indictment compared to what it is now. It is much more skewed now than it was then and it was bad then.

So, you really get a sense of King’s power. I would only caution that we not assume that he undertook these issues of poverty only late in his career. It was part of his message all along. Certainly, if you look at Nobel Prize lecture in 1964, he says, we are — the world is seeing the widest liberation in human history, not just in the United States but around the world.

And we cannot lose this opportunity to apply its nonviolent power to the triple scourge of race, war, and poverty, what he called violence of the flesh and violence of the spirit. This was a very, very broad vision early on. It’s only at the end of his career that he’s making witness on that because he sees his time limited and he wants to leave that witness.

He made a wonderful quote when he was arguing with his staff about doing the Poor People’s Campaign and most of them didn’t want to do it. He quoted something saying, ‘At times, you must finish with what you have, even if it’s only a little.’

BILL MOYERS: You remind that the famous March on Washington five years earlier in 1963 wasn’t called the March on Washington. It was a march for jobs–

JAMES CONE: Jobs and freedom.

BILL MOYERS: –and freedom. Which goes back to his early concern, as you say.

JAMES CONE: Actually, you know, King grew up, he was a child during the Depression and he saw relief lines, even as a young man, and he was disturbed about that. He came from a middle-class family, but he was disturbed about it then. And even when he got ready to go the Crozer Theological Seminary out of Morehouse, when they asked him why he wanted to go into ministry, he connected it with helping people, helping them deal with hurt and pain.

So, it’s not new for King. King has always been concerned about that. I think it becomes sharp for him at the end because he’s accomplished civil rights, and the voting rights, and now he sees that it’s still, he sees the cities burning.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

JAMES CONE: And he wants to provide an alternative to riots.

BILL MOYERS: I want to play you an excerpt of the speech he delivered, one year to the day before he was killed, at Riverside Church here in New York City.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR: I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin to shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives, and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

BILL MOYERS: A radical revolution of values.

TAYLOR BRANCH: The revolution in values is to see people first, to see Lazarus at the gate and not pass them by. So, I think the revolution in values is Christian and it’s democratic, but it starts with people. They have equal souls and equal votes and we are very stubborn, human nature, about denying that and wanting to see anything but.

BILL MOYERS: Was it theological?

JAMES CONE: Oh, yes. Because people are created in the image of God. If you’re created in the image of God, you can’t treat people like things. If we are interconnected with each other, we can’t treat each other like things. If America is concerned with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you can’t have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if you’re treating others as things.

BILL MOYERS: So, what was the turning point that moved him from an understanding of what you’re talking about to an actual agenda of trying to achieve it?

TAYLOR BRANCH: Well, I think part of it is a natural progression. If you are totally invisible, you’re not even up to the level of a thing yet. The bus boycott, the sit-ins, the freedom rides, getting the right to vote, if you’re not a citizen, you’re not even up to the table where you can start dealing with these issues.

To me, Martin Luther King saw race as the gateway. If you can deal with race and the fundamental denial of common humanity through race, then it opens up possibilities which I think happened in history.

And finally, toward the end of his career, he said, we have an opportunity. Now that we are learning, at least the beginnings of treating each other as equal citizens to really tackle what he called the eternal scourge of racism, poverty, and war.

JAMES CONE: His fight against poverty was multiracial. He wasn’t just focused with black people. Well, you can’t get that multiracial fight against poverty unless first black people are regarded as persons. So, civil rights, that earlier part, is, as Taylor was saying, black people coming to the table. So, after they get to the table, if you’re going to deal with poverty, it spreads across races. So, King was concerned about a multiracial movement against poverty because that’s what the Poor People’s Campaign was about.

BILL MOYERS: So, that would help us understand the colorblindness of that Economic and Social Bill of Rights that he and the Poor People’s Campaign developed in the first, early part of 1968.

“The right of every employable citizen to a decent job, the right of every citizen to a minimum income, the right of a decent house and the free choice of neighborhood, the right to an adequate education, the right to participate in a decision-making process, the right to the full benefits of modern science in health care.” Quite a statement.

TAYLOR BRANCH: And he had a workshop, one of the more remarkable events that never made any news and is not preserved in history, in which he had representatives of Indian tribes, Appalachian white coal miners–

JAMES CONE: That’s right.

TAYLOR BRANCH: –Latinos of every different stripe. He had to do hurry-up education on how to tell a Chicano from the Mexicans. His rule was if they are poor, have them here. And half his staff was revolting against that, saying, “We are a black movement.”

BILL MOYERS: Why? Because they felt it would dilute the impact of–

TAYLOR BRANCH: It would diminish the unfinished agenda for black folks. It would diminish their expertise. Hosea Williams, who was a lovely rascal –

JAMES CONE: That’s right. That’s right. He was strongly against it.

TAYLOR BRANCH: He said, “You’re taking my budget and giving it away to Indians and Mexicans. You can’t do that.”

JAMES CONE: That’s right. Yeah.

TAYLOR BRANCH: But he had this incredible conclave there of people who didn’t know each other. And everything and he said, “If we can’t agree together that there’s a poverty and a common approach that’s bigger than race, then we should stop now.”

But by the end of this thing, he had them all together and the rival Indian tribes were settling differences, and the Chicanos said, “Okay, well, we’re going to let the Indians go first because they were here first,” you know and deferring.

JAMES CONE: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It was a remarkable event.

BILL MOYERS: He was growing more impatient in the last few months and more radical. Let’s listen to what he told those workers we were talking about in Memphis.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something that must be demanded by the oppressed. If we are going to get equality, if we are going to get adequate wages, we are going to have to struggle for it. And you know what? You may have to escalate the struggle a bit. If they keep refusing and they will not recognize the union, and will not decree further check-off for the collection of dues, I’ll tell you what you ought to do, and you’re together here enough to do it. In a few days you ought to get together and just have a general work stoppage in the city of Memphis.

BILL MOYERS: That was a genuine call to the barricades.

JAMES CONE: Yes, it was. And but you can’t do that without that inner freedom that he’s talking about, which is the freedom that empowers you to stop the work. It is the freedom inside that makes you do that. And for King, everybody has to claim that freedom. It’s not a gift. Freedom is something that you have to demand from others, but you cannot demand it from others unless you have it internally yourself. And that’s a kind of inner freedom.

BILL MOYERS: In what sense was he free?

JAMES CONE: Well, King was free because death did not stop him. That is, the fear of death did not keep him from doing his actions for freedom. See, if the fear can stop you, then you are not free. So, freedom from fear was crucial. And throughout the South, having grown up there, I know what that fear is like.

And what is the most amazing thing for me is how King could inspire ordinary black people by the masses, like in Memphis, to march when white people have intimidated them for centuries. What King taught was that inner freedom that makes you confront the oppressor, even if it means risking your life. So the freedom from fear is the necessary freedom to get to civil rights, to get the jobs, to get work against poverty, even though the odds may be against you. And for black people, the odds were against them.

BILL MOYERS: But here’s the unfortunate thing. As you write about it, after his assassination, riots broke out across Memphis. And even though he acknowledged that, quote, “Riot is the language of the unheard,” didn’t this outbreak of violence in some way begin the end of the movement?

TAYLOR BRANCH: This is a very, very profound and difficult topic and I would have to say that it had already begun before. Nonviolence was already not popular. It had already become passé. Some of the most hostile language toward nonviolence came from the Left, people saying that nonviolence is kind of Sunday school and outmoded now.

And that we want to adopt the language of violence.

And King’s answer to that was, “Nonviolence is a leadership doctrine. If we abandon nonviolence, it’s not that we’re stepping up to demand the right to be just violent, just like first-class white people. We’re stepping back from a leadership doctrine in the United States.” And that’s what America including especially white America, does not understand.

One of the few speeches, by the way, in which a white leader acknowledged that was Johnson.

Before he said, “We shall overcome,” he said “so it was at Appomattox, so it was at Concord, so it was at Selma last week, when fate and destiny met in the same moment.”

So, he was putting a nonviolent black movement not only in the heart of American patriotism, but in the vanguard heart of American patriotism.

BILL MOYERS: But do you admit that nonviolence ultimately didn’t work? That it couldn’t change America?

TAYLOR BRANCH: No.

JAMES CONE: No. It did change America.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It did change America.

JAMES CONE: It changed it radically for me. I grew up in Arkansas and I know what fear is. What the movement did, nonviolence did, was to take the terror out of the South. And for the first time, you can not only go to hotels, but you can go all over the South without much fear of harm. That is a major achievement.

BILL MOYERS: Certainly I recognize that.

TAYLOR BRANCH: The white South was the poorest region of the country when it was segregated. It was totally preoccupied in this terror.

It was not fit for professional sports, even, until nonviolence lifted it out of segregation and white Southern politicians were no longer stigmatized. So, you get Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and all these people elected president. And they’re all standing on the shoulders of a nonviolent black movement. Whether they realize it or acknowledge it or not. That’s the reason that our blinkered memory of this period is such a handicap for us today.

BILL MOYERS: Granted, but nonviolence did not bring about the economic restructuring that King hoped for. So that today he could make the same speeches about inequality, poverty, work that he made 45 years ago.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Poverty is probably the toughest issue. You’re talking about how much nonviolence? Maybe two or three years?

And for the time that it was active and that it matured into what is the movement. Movement is a word we use often, but don’t reflect on what it means.

It was the watch word of politics. People were moved and literally moved history. But in a very, very short time. Now, the watch word of politics is spin. You know, nothing’s going anywhere and nobody’s moving.

BILL MOYERS: Not since Martin Luther King has inequality been on the table the way it was at the Occupy briefly appeared on the scene. And I wondered watching Occupy from here if a Martin Luther King had risen to embody that movement, would they have carried us further toward the changes that King and others wanted?

JAMES CONE: It may would have. I’m not sure. But, you know, getting rid of poverty, redistribution of wealth is not as easy as getting the right to vote. The right to vote doesn’t cost anything. But redistribution of wealth takes across class lines. That costs a lot. And people will fight you in order to prevent that from happening. And I don’t know what it would take in order to make that happen.

TAYLOR BRANCH: It’s also not a simple formula. Dr. King never said we were going to give up freedom to have redistribution imposed on us. He never advocated something like that. It is a hard intellectual, spiritual challenge to figure out, “How do you preserve freedom and address poverty?” I don’t think Occupy got that far yet. It didn’t take that much responsibility.

It was just kind of a sign of protest and not a developed sense of responsibility the way, even the sit-ins were taking lessons from Rosa Parks.

JAMES CONE: Yes. That’s right. The sit-ins disrupted society. The freedom riots disrupted things. Occupy Wall Street didn’t disrupt much of anything. They just camped down there and they were not grassroots in quite the same way the Southern movement was during the time of King.

BILL MOYERS: King was identifying with labor and workers and felt that unions were an essential part of the civil rights struggle.

I have this speech from 1961, when he told delegates of AFL-CIO convention, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old-age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for the children, and respect in the community.” He felt this radical structuring that you talk about could not come without labor. And today, 45 years later, unions are largely impotent, smallest percentage of the workforce. So, what’s happened to labor today?

TAYLOR BRANCH: Labor has fallen in disfavor and fallen into, in some respects, an intellectual vacuum. Because people take for granted the right that we give capital to organize in form of corporations. Every corporation is a public charter.

It is a creation of our people. It is a legal entity that we create. And the notion that people on the other end need some sort of vehicle in a global economy in order to make their rights effective ought to be an easy idea at least to begin a conversation with. But we’re so frightened that anything — I guess we’re beholden to corporations in the way that people in the early movement felt that they were beholden to segregation, that their place in the order was threatened.

If you start messing around with this thing, your whole place might go. That’s how they marshaled a lot of Southerners who were not in sympathy with segregation into not being for doing anything about it. And, so, right now, you know, I think that we’re hostage to our fears and don’t really understand how we need to think about economics.

BILL MOYERS: A year before his death, this time he was speaking in California at Stanford University, he said, “In the North, schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954, when the Supreme Court’s decision on desegregation was rendered. Economically, the Negro is worse off today than he was 15 and 20 years ago.

“And, so, the unemployment rate among whites at one time was about the same as the unemployment rate among Negroes. But today, the unemployment rate among Negroes is twice that of whites. And the average income of the Negro is today 50% less than whites.” Now, Taylor and James, he could practically say the same thing today, 45 years later.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Absolutely.

JAMES CONE: Absolutely.

TAYLOR BRANCH: And when he did it, though, he could also say to American white people, “You tend to think of black people as hopelessly caught up in the rear. The way you should look at this is that the things that are happening to black people, unless you make common cause, are going to happen to you, too.”

The poverty rates, the divorce rates in families that were decried among black people now, the white society has long since passed. The notion that higher education is primarily harder for men, which is now afflicting white society. Most of our college graduates are females. That’s been true in black society for years.

And it has had effects in the culture. So, Dr. King said black folks are a headlight of the problems we need to deal with. And white people too often just see them as something that needs to be left behind and out of mind.

BILL MOYERS: So, what would liberation theology say today about what Taylor just described?

JAMES CONE: Well, you know, liberation theology came into being largely because mainstream theology had not spoken to that gap. So, it was in the late ’60s, early ’70s, throughout the ’80s, all the way up to the present day that liberation theology has its meaning primarily in seeing Jesus as one in solidarity with the poor to get them out of poverty.

So, in actual fact, what I see King as, is a precursor to liberation theology. I see King actually making liberation theology, particularly on the American scene, as real and true. And I think if he were here today, he would be trying to bridge this gap between the rich and the poor.

He focused on black people but it was always multiracial for King.

TAYLOR BRANCH: To connect it to what Jim just said, I think that an awful lot of people today are fearful of the basic economic structure and it keeps them from thinking and rattling and getting together to address these problems. He said that King conquered his fear. I say it took him a while to do it, but he certainly did it.

JAMES CONE: Yeah. Yeah.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Fannie Lou Hamer conquered her fear. Everything that she did, including testifying as an unpolished woman before the Democratic Convention, she did when she was homeless. She had been evicted from her plantation. But she had gotten rid of her fear and had a vision that would empower and make productive whole generations of people who racism had denied, you know.

So, we have an awful lot of productive people in the society today who are productive and educated and have talent because the movement helped people conquer their fear. But we’re now at another stage.

Now it’s hitting us and I think everybody is afraid to deal with these issues in the way that the movement dealt with them, which was, “I’m going to let loose of my fear. I’m not going to worry about my savings and my wealth and whether my kids are going to get into Harvard. I’m going deal with the basic issues of how we can cope with these things together.”

BILL MOYERS: Given the absence of a movement today, given the power of money, corporations, and the structure, what do you think Martin Luther King would say to those in power today?

JAMES CONE: I think he would say something about, “You — this society cannot survive with the huge gap between the one percent and the 99 percent. When you have that kind of gap, then you destroy the possibility of genuine human community and showing how we are interconnected together.

TAYLOR BRANCH: I pretty much agree with that. I think he would have to be saying, “Don’t give into pride and thinking that it is solely your genius that’s creating all these billions that you’re sitting on. You are reaping the interconnectedness that we have.

“And that interconnectedness is precious. And it is political. And that can vanish. And so, you need to look beyond that.” We only have two hopes: enlightenment, which comes from really wrestling and conquering your pride and appealing to the young, quite frankly; and catastrophe. That’s the only other hard teacher that we would have, which is that we’re going to ride this system into a catastrophe. And then we will wake up and say, “Why didn’t we do it before? Why didn’t we listen to Martin Luther King?”

BILL MOYERS: Taylor Branch and James Cone, thank you very much for being with me and for your thoughts and ideas.

TAYLOR BRANCH: Thank you.

JAMES CONE: Thank you.

http://www.alternet.org/print/civil-liberties/moyers-imagine-if-america-had-adopted-martin-luther-kings-economic-dream

The Power of Compassion – Karen Armstrong

Moyers Moment (2009): Karen Armstrong on the Power of Compassion

“My work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find at the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you….We’ve got to do better than this. Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other, learning about their grievances.” Karen Armstrong

Excerpt

KAREN ARMSTRONG: …in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the “science of compassion.” There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.

And Latin — the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other…

BILL MOYERS: You speak of the change in you. You’re talking about a personal transformation. But take the next step. What would bring about the kind of real change in society and in politics that would be an extrapolation of or a continuation in community of what you’re talking about?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Okay. Not to treat other nations or other — in a way that we would not wish to be treated ourselves…

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. Karen Armstrong’s life, as you will soon learn, was turned around by, of all things, a footnote. When this former nun fled the convent and became a scholar of literature at Oxford, she thought she’d put all things theological well behind her. But, as the saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him, or Her, your plans.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: So can I ask you what you think about the Pope?

BILL MOYERS: Next thing you know, Armstrong was creating documentaries about religion and making comments like this:

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The Pope is the world’s last, great, absolute monarch. He not only controls doctrinal and spiritual affairs, but also the political, social and economic fortunes of his church. And because he’s believed to be directly guided by God, his decisions have the ring of absolute truth, which is strangely out of kilter with the democratic tenor of today’s world.

BILL MOYERS: While working on a film in Jerusalem, the ancient city where Islam, Judaism and Christianity converge, the connections among that trio of faiths rekindled Armstrong’s imagination and led to another new career.

She became one of the foremost, and most original, thinkers on religion in our modern world. Her many popular books include studies of Muhammad and Islam, the crusades, the ambitiously titled A History of God and her latest, The Bible.

A self-proclaimed “freelance monotheist,” Karen Armstrong is now on a mission to bring compassion, the heart of religion as she sees it, back into modern life.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well this is such an honor.

BILL MOYERS: Last year, at an annual gathering of the leaders in technology, entertainment, and design, she received their highly prestigious TED Prize, a $100,000 cash award that, like the genie in the lamp, also grants the recipient a wish.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion — crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule.

BILL MOYERS: The Golden Rule: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” That universal principle of empathy and respect is at the core of all major religions.

Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion was launched last year with an interactive website, charterforcompassion.org. There, people of all faiths can submit their ideas about what the Charter should say.

Recently, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, and gathered with a group of international religious leaders to draft the guiding principles of her charter for compassion. Karen Armstrong, it’s good to see you again.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: It’s great to be back. Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: So tell us what you’re up to with this movement.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, my work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find that the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.

You see, the Greeks too, they may have been not religious in our sense, but they understood about compassion. The institution of tragedy put suffering on stage. And the leader of the chorus would ask the audience to weep for people, even like Heracles, who had been driven mad by a goddess and slew his own wife and children.

And the Greeks did weep. They didn’t just, like modern western men, wipe a tear from the corner of their eye and gulp hard. They cried aloud because they felt that weeping together created a bond between human beings. And that the idea is you were learning to put yourself in the position of another and reach out, not only to acceptable people, people in your own group, but to your enemies, to people that you wouldn’t normally have any deep truck with at all.

BILL MOYERS: So this is not just another call for another round of interfaith dialogue?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, it’s nothing to do with interfaith dialogue. Look, I’m not expecting the whole world to fall into a daze of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But this is the beginning of something. We’re writing a charter which we hope will be sort of like the charter of human rights, two pages only. Saying that compassion is far more important than belief. That it is the essence of religion. All the traditions teach that it is the practice of compassion and honoring the sacred in the other that brings us into the presence of what we call God, Nirvana, Raman, or Tao. And people are remarkably uneducated about compassion these days. So we want to bring it back to the center of attention. But then, it’s got to be incarnated into practical action.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think, for example, that Osama bin Laden and the Radical Islamists will sign onto this?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Of course not. But we have to understand that Osama bin Laden and the radical Islamists are largely motivated by politics. They may express themselves in a religious idiom.

BILL MOYERS: As many of those suicide bombers did as they dived into the World Trade Center.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: They did. But their motivation, when you read Osama’s declarations and the suicide videos of our own London bombers are all political. Their grievances are political.

BILL MOYERS: Were you there when London was bombed?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I was right in the middle of it.

BILL MOYERS: What was your reaction?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I thought that this was virtually inevitable. This is a political matter. And Tony Blair had put us right on the front line by joining with former President Bush. And we were all expecting this in London. There was no great surprise.

I was actually in the British library, right next to the King’s Cross station, so it was a police zone. And we had to stay in there all day. We weren’t allowed out. We didn’t know quite what was happening. It was announced over the Tannoy that we were in a terrorist attack. There we were with true British phlegm still fussing about our footnotes. And —

BILL MOYERS: Did this diminish or strengthen your resolve on this issue of compassion?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: We’ve got to do better than this. Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other, learning about their grievances. So the Charter of Compassion was to recall compassion from the sidelines, to which it’s often put in religious discourse and put it back there.

BILL MOYERS: One of your peers, a friend of mine, the scholar of religion Elaine Pagels told me many years ago in an interview like this that, “There is practically no religion I know of,” she said, “that sees other people in the way that affirms the other’s choice.”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. And this is a great scandal. There used to be. Islam, for example, the Koran is a pluralistic document. It says that every rightly guided religion comes from God. And there must be no compulsion in religion. And it says that Muhammad has not come to cancel out the teachings of Jesus or Moses or Abraham.

Now, Muslims have fallen into the trap that Jews, Christians, and others have done, of thinking that they are the one and only. This is ego. This is pure ego.

BILL MOYERS: But it’s inspired, is it not sanctified by religion?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, no, I mean, the idea is that you all have to be Muslim, is actually going against the explicit teaching of the Koran, in which God says to Muhammad, “If we” — using the royal we — “had wanted the whole of mankind to be in one single religious community, we would have achieved, we would have made that happen. But we did not so wish. This is not our desire. So you, Muhammad, leave them alone.” And everybody says the Koran has their own din. Their own religious tradition, their own way of life.

Now, this is getting lost to the modern world. But that was also Muslim practice for the first 100 years after the death of the prophet when in the empire that they created, conversion to Islam was actually frowned upon. Because Jews and Christians and Zoroastrians and, later, Buddhists, had their own din, their own religion. And that was to be respected.

BILL MOYERS: But you’re putting your finger on a real fault line, it seems to me. That, metaphorically, the language of violence, which goes all the way back in these ancient stories, whether they’re true or not, and often invoke God for the sanctification of violent acts.

I mean, in this splendid book that you’ve done recently, The Bible: A Biography, you quote, for example, from Joshua, “When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai, in the open ground. And where they follow them into the wilderness, and when all to a man had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel return to Ai and slaughtered all its people. All the people of Ai.”

You go to the Koran. You have quoted this too, where the Koran paints a picture. You know, “Allah has sealed their hearings and their hearts. And on their eyes, there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.” When you talk about the positive and affirmative side of even these texts, there is also a counter prevailing side that creates this fault line.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah. These scriptures all have these difficult passages. There’s far more of that kind of stuff in the bible, both old and new testaments —

BILL MOYERS: Right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: — than there is in the Koran. Now, one of the things that I am going to call for in this Charter are for exegetes, ’cause the people who interpret scripture, to look at these passages. See how they came into the tradition in the first place. What were the circumstances in which they appeared? What influence they have on the tradition as a whole? And now, what do we do with them? Really study them in depth. How do we deal with them in this age where scripture is the —

BILL MOYERS: By exegetes, you mean the scholars and students and interpreters of every faith?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Every faith. Yes. And that we must, first of all, study our own scriptures, before we point a finger at other people.

BILL MOYERS: You ask the question, “What would it mean to interpret the whole of the Bible as a commentary on the Golden Rule?”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: What’s your answer to that question?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, this is one of the things that really intrigued me when I was researching this book. How frequently the early rabbis, for example, in the Talmudic period, shortly after the death of Jesus, insisted that any interpretation of scripture that read hatred or contempt for any single human being was illegitimate.

Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, said that when asked to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching, while he stood on one leg, said, “The Golden Rule. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. And everything else is only commentary. Now, go and study it.”

St. Augustine said that scripture teaches nothing but charity. And if you come to a passage like the one you just read, that seems to preach hatred, you’ve got to give it an allegorical or metaphorical interpretation. And make it speak of charity.

BILL MOYERS: But of course, what some people do is to read for their own purposes what…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: …they call allegorical. And then, read literally what they want to apply in their —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And of course, you have to understand that this tendency to read scripture in a literal manner is very recent.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Nobody, for example, ever thought of interpreting the first chapter of Genesis as a literal account of the origins of life, until the modern period. It’s our scientific mindset that makes us want to sort of read these texts for accurate information.

BILL MOYERS: But as stories, don’t they still have a very powerful effect? I mean, for example, you and I both know that the first murder in the oldest story grows out of a religious act.

Cain and Abel are brothers. They’re rivals for God’s favor. And out of jealously, Cain kills Abel. And once that pattern is set, it is followed right through like a red thread. Ishmael and Isaac and Joseph and his brothers. Right on down to Christians versus Muslims, Muslims versus Jews. Christians versus everybody. I mean, this is deeply embedded, is it not, metaphorically in our imagination?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I think these are difficult texts. We read these texts as though they’re easy. Now, I see Genesis as deconstructing a neat idea of God.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean deconstructing?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: First, in the chapter one, you’ve got the famous chapter where God’s sitting in the universe, center stage, totally powerful, totally benign, blessing everything. All that he has made and, no favorites, impartial. Totally powerful, totally benign. Within two chapters, he’s completely lost control of his creation. Then, you’ve got the impartial God turns out to be a God that has real favorites.

And the Bible makes you feel the pain of the ones that are rejects. When Esau cries out, “Oh Father,” to Isaac, “Have you no blessing for me, Father?” And Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, who runs up and down outside in distress when Abraham has been commanded to leave her in the desert. And then, God, the benign creator becomes God the destroyer, at the end of the flood. And by the end of Genesis, he’s retired from the scene.

And Joseph and his brothers have to rely on their own insights and dreams, just as we do. You can’t say what God is. That is, people often ask me, “Ms. Armstrong, do you or do you not believe in the God of the Bible?” And I always say, “Tell me what it is.” I’ll be fascinated to hear because the Bible is highly contradictory. What it shows, I think, is that our experience of the divine is ambiguous, complex.

We can misunderstand it. We can use it to create mayhem because of our own horrible sort of murderous tendencies. And there are no clear answers, no clear theology in the Bible.

BILL MOYERS: Spoken like a true Protestant, if I may say. I mean, those of us who believe we are, in effect, the editors of our own sacred text. That gets us in trouble.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But —

BILL MOYERS: But that’s what you’re saying.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But it shouldn’t be, because in the pre-modern world, you were expected to find new meaning in scripture.

BILL MOYERS: The pre-modern world being —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Before the 17th century. You have the beginning of the scientific revolution in Europe in the 16th century. And that starts changing everything. A different economy, a much more literal approach to life. And the scientists, people like Newton, start to write theology. And the churches seize upon this and they start thinking that the Bible is literally and factually true.

But in the pre-modern world, what you see are the early Christian and Jewish commentators saying you must find new meaning in the Bible. And the rabbis would change the words of scripture to make a point to their pupils. Origen, the great second or third century Greek commentator on the Bible said that it is absolutely impossible to take these texts literally. You simply cannot do so. And he said, “God has put these sort of conundrums and paradoxes in so that we are forced to seek a deeper meaning.”

And the Koran is the same. The Koran says every single one of its verses is an ayah, a symbol or a parable. Because you can only talk about God analogically, in terms of signs and symbols.

You must go to the bible and find new meaning, they said. And the same was true of the Greeks. At the beginning of the rationalist tradition in Greece, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the people who commented on them didn’t sort of take down everything they did slavishly. They used it as a springboard to have new insights in the presence. Rather as we might use weights at the gym to build up our strength. They use it as something to start them thinking. But the Rabbis used to say, “You may not leave a scripture or text until you have translated it into practical action for the community here and now.”

BILL MOYERS: Meaning acts of kindness, acts of compassion.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Acts of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Acts of justice. Right?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: We are all indebted to those Hebrew Prophets for this powerful resonating sense of social justice.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And the Rabbis who came after them in the Talmudic age, and who created the Mishnah and Talmud, as it were then, New Testament, that paid very little attention to the Hebrew scriptures. But said, “Now we have to move on.” Now, we’ve lost that confidence.

And that’s what the charter is trying to do. Trying to nudge people into the hard work of being compassionate. People don’t want to be compassionate. When I go around lecturing about this, I sometimes see the good faithful, looking mutinous. Because they may know that they ought to be compassionate. But what’s the fun of religion if you can’t sort of slam down other people? This is ego.

BILL MOYERS: I’m glad you mentioned this, because I know many atheists and agnostics who are more faithful, if that’s the right term, to the Golden Rule than a lot of believing religious people.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. And I also know a number of atheists who have no time for the Golden Rule at all.

BILL MOYERS: Exactly.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: So this is just people of all —

BILL MOYERS: But what is it that evokes the empathy and the commitment, which you’re calling for, to people to put themselves in other’s shoes. What is it that evokes that in people?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Basically a sense of urgent need. If we don’t manage to do better than this both within our own communities, our own nations, and as regards other nations far away, then I think we are in for a very troublesome ride. We are not doing well at the moment. The three monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, they have a besetting problem, a besetting tendency. That is idolatry. Taking a human idea, a human idea of God, a human doctrine and making it absolute. Putting it in the place of God. Now, there have been secular idolatries too. Nationalism was a great idolatry.

BILL MOYERS: The state can be —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The state can be. This is what we do. As Paul Tillich said, “We are makers of idols.” We are constantly creating these idols. Erecting a purely human ideal or a human value or a human idea to the supreme reality. Now, once you’ve made of something essentially finite, once you’ve made it an absolute, it has, then, to destroy any other rival claimants. Because there can only be one absolute.

BILL MOYERS: Who created God?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Human beings created the idea of God. But the transcendent reality to which the idea of God nudges us is embedded in part of the human experience.

BILL MOYERS: But if we create God, then we can read into God. Our…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: …passions, jealousies, envies, animosities, aspirations.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes and this is idolatry. When you are creating a God in your own image and likeness. When the crusaders went into battle with the cry, “God wills it,” on their lips. They were projecting their own fear and loathing of these rival faiths onto other people. And we get a lot of secular people doing this too.

BILL MOYERS: With the Stalinists, the Communists, the Fascists —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And even nearer here in the United States. You know, we’ve got people saying, “We want to get rid of religion.” Or Radical Republicans slanging Democrats. We are very agonistic society.

BILL MOYERS: Agonistic?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Meaning competitive. That we’re in our discourse. Can I just say —

BILL MOYERS: Yes.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Let me say this. In our discourse, it is not enough for us in the western democratic tradition simply to seek the truth. We also have to defeat and humiliate our opponents. And that happens in politics. It happens in the law courts. It happens in religious discourse. It happens in the media. It happens in academia. Very different from Socrates, the founder of the rationalist tradition, who when you had dialogues with Socrates, you came thinking that you knew what you were talking about.

Half an hour later, with Socrates, you realized you didn’t know anything at all. And at that moment, says Socrates, your quest can begin. You can become a philosopher, a lover of wisdom because you know you don’t have wisdom. You love it. You seek it. And you had to go into a dialogue prepared to change, not to bludgeon your conversation partner into accepting your point of view. And every single point in a Socratic dialogue, you offer your opinion kindly to the other, and the other accepts it with kindness.

BILL MOYERS: But you can’t have a dialogue with people who don’t want to have…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No.

BILL MOYERS: …a dialogue.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But that doesn’t mean we should give up altogether. Because I think the so-called liberals can also be just as hard lined in their own way.

Most fundamentalist movements, in every tradition that I’ve studied, in every fundamentalist movement, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has begun with what is perceived as to be an assault by the liberal or secular establishment. And look at your Scopes Trial for example. You have this absurd ruling, of ban on evolution in the public schools. And after the trial, the secular press do a number on the fundamentalists.

BILL MOYERS: H.L. Menken was ruthless about them…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: …in depicting a caricaturing of them.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And they crept away. And we thought we’d seen the end of them. But of course, they were just regrouping. But before the Scopes Trial, fundamentalists had often been on the left of the political spectrum, prepared to work alongside socialists and alongside social gospel people in the slums of the newly developing industrialized cities. After the Scopes Trial, they swung to the far right, where they remain. Before Scopes, fundamentalists tended to be literal in their interpretation of scripture. But creation science, so called, was the pursuit of a very tiny minority. After the Scopes Trial they became more militant in their literal interpretation of scripture. And creation science became, and has remained, the flagship of their movement.

BILL MOYERS: So does your notion of compassion embrace liberals saying that, in the interest of harmony we will encourage our state schools to teach creationism alongside with your Darwin’s…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah, you see —

BILL MOYERS: …notion of evolution?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: You see, the assault of Richard Dawkins on creationism has resulted, for the first time, in a worry about Darwin in the Muslim world. Up until this time —

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: There was no worry about Darwin in the Muslim world up until very recently. The Koran doesn’t say how God created the world. The texts tell you this is an ayah. We don’t know what happened. And there was just no problem about it.

Now, and I get to see it on the websites that I get, it’s headline news that British scientists sort of slang creation. And Darwin has now become an anathema as a result of that assault. So I think we’ve all just got to come off our high horses a bit, I think just to cool down the rhetoric. I think that truth must be respected. There must be an openness towards science, as Saint Augustine pointed out years ago. He said, “If a religious text is found to contradict contemporary science, you must find a new interpretation for this text.” You must allegorize it in some way. We need to get back to that. And let’s just state I don’t want this to be going after the fundamentalists. I don’t want this to be going after extremists. I want this to just say, quietly, let us to remember the primal duty of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Which is?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: To put the words calm and passion, means to feel with the other. To experience with the other. Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you. If you don’t like to be attacked, don’t attack others. As Confucius said, who was the first to propound the Golden Rule, 500 years before Christ, you seek to establish yourself, then seek to establish others.

If you don’t like hearing your own traditions traduced then have the discipline not to traduce the traditions of others. And it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s not — people who say it’s a simplistic idea, obviously, never tried to practice the Golden Rule. As Confucius said, “All day and every day.” Which means that you constantly have to dethrone yourself and your own ideas from the center of your world and put another there. And realize that even in the most unlikely person there is a trace of the divine.

BILL MOYERS: We’ll be back shortly with more of my conversation with Karen Armstrong. We’ll discuss Islam, one of her favorite subjects, and how a footnote changed her life. But first, this is the time we remind you that you are the public in Public Television. Please take a moment to call this station and make a pledge. We need you now more than ever. Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome back and thanks for your support. I’m here with the scholar and historian of religion, Karen Armstrong. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography, but it was this one, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, that first got everyone’s attention. When it was published in 1991, Publisher’s Weekly called it “engrossing,” and The Economist praised the book as “Knowledgeable without being pedantic…and readable.” Armstrong’s work was even welcomed in the Muslim world, where readers sensitive to misinterpretation of their faith were surprised to learn a westerner, and a woman at that, could so gracefully capture the essence of Islam’s founding prophet.

Karen, you were just in Pakistan.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I was indeed.

BILL MOYERS: Did you get any kind of response when you raised this subject?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, I had an immensely warm welcome in Pakistan. One woman came up to me and she said, “When I see you with your blond hair and blue eyes speaking with such respect about our prophet, I just weep.”

BILL MOYERS: But what do they say about their own militants?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well they are —

BILL MOYERS: Those insurgents who are, you know, slitting the throats of many Pakistanis right now.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Indeed.

BILL MOYERS: Decapitating them, murdering them, suicide bombers.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What do they say about them?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: They’re appalled of course. And you know, they’ve just had their own sort of 9/11, with the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Not an anti-American thing. This was directed solely against Pakistani Muslims who were breaking their Ramadan fast there.

The Marriott Hotel in Islamabad is right next to the government buildings. It’s a great icon in Islamabad. This was a massive attack on their own people. I went to see President Musharraf, and he said that of course, Muslims themselves are under attack from these militants because all fundamentalists movements, whether they’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, begin with an assault on their own co-religionists. They see that people are always saying, “What can’t these mainstream Muslims keep the militants down?”

Well, the militants regard the mainstream Muslims with absolute disdain and see them as part of the problem. They’re not interested in people studying the Koran or praying in the mosque in the usual way. These are political activists.

BILL MOYERS: Can you point today to one place where this notion of compassion has been embraced by different religions to actually bring about a political consequence that we could look upon favorably?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Not as yet. No, I can’t, because we’re not living in a compassionate society, whether we’re talking in secular or religious terms. You know, look at the way, sometimes, your elections are carried on. With real slanging matches and discrediting.

BILL MOYERS: That’s politics.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah. That’s politics. And what is a lot of this religious slanging, but religious politics? Many of the so called religious leaders are in power not because they are sages of wisdom or contemplatives. They’re not Dalai Lamas. They are religious politicians who are not known for their lack of ego.

But basically the human race has never embraced compassion. Why did we create this compassionate ideal at the time of the — when all the great world religions were created? Because their societies had reached a point of violence. And this — the religious people said, people like the Buddha, Confucius, the Sages of the Upanishads , the Prophets of Israel, Socrates, they all said this aggression, even in a good cause, is not the way to go. And people found that when they did it all day and every day, it worked. Because you get rid of ego, it does bring you a sense of enlightenment. But it’s not just a question of holding hands in church. Or you know, embracing when you make the peace. Or allowing a charitable thought to rise to your mind in a sporadic moment. It is a discipline that you have to practice all day and every day. I used, you know, to be a really spiteful human being.

BILL MOYERS: No.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I learned a vicious form of rhetoric from my religious superiors. And also from my teachers at Oxford. You know? And people used to say to me, “I would really hate to be your enemy,” because I have this very sharp tongue that I knew how to use it. And I get in first before someone put me down. That kind of thing.

I found that, in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the “science of compassion.” There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.

And Latin — the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other. And this footnote said that a religious historian, like myself, must not approach the spiritualities of the past from the vantage point of post enlightenment rationalism. You mustn’t look on this in a superior way and look at the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century text as, “poor soul.” You know?

And you had to recreate in a scholarly fashion, all the circumstances which had resulted in this spirituality or this teaching and not leave it, or certainly not write about it, until you can imagine yourself — putting yourself in that position. Imagine yourself feeling the same. So when I wrote about Muhammad, for example, I had to put myself in the position of a man living in the hell of seventh century Arabia, who sincerely believed he had been touched by God.

And unless I did that, I would miss Muhammad. I had to put clever Karen, edgy Oxford educated Karen, on the back burner. And go out of myself and enter into the mind of the other. And I found, much to my astonishment, it started changing me. I couldn’t any longer be quite as vicious as I was or dismissive as I was in the kind of clever conversations —

BILL MOYERS: Why? This is the first time I’ve heard of a born again experience beginning with a footnote. Was it your imagination that said, “I have to see this world the way Muhammad saw it and experienced it?”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I said that this footnote is right. If I go on writing, as I had been doing up to this point for saying, “This is all rubbish.” You know, I know it all. These poor benighted souls in the past didn’t know what they were talking about. I was not fulfilling my job as a historian.

It was my job to go in and recreate it, enter into that spirit. Leave myself behind and enter into the mind and society and outlook of the other. It’s a form of what the Greeks called ekstasis. Ecstasy. That doesn’t mean you go into a trance or have a vision. It means — ekstasis means standing outside yourself. Putting yourself behind. And it is self, it’s ego that hold us back from what we call God.

BILL MOYERS: You speak of the change in you. You’re talking about a personal transformation. But take the next step. What would bring about the kind of real change in society and in politics that would be an extrapolation of or a continuation in community of what you’re talking about?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Okay. Not to treat other nations or other — in a way that we would not wish to be treated ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Unless they’ve attacked you.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Even so, I mean, there was a chance after 9/11, you know, when something different would have been done. The religions have generally developed, as the Koran does, a theory of just war. You know? That you can fight only in self-defense. But a lot of the policies that we created helped to, you know, first of all, let’s leave America out of this. Look at the British, and their colonial policies.

Many of the problems we face in the Muslim world date back to that colonial period, to British behavior, and arrogance, and the abuse of democracy. For example, in Egypt, between 1922, when Egypt was granted a modicum of independence, and 1952, when you have the Nasser revolution. There were 17 general elections in the country, all of them won hands down by the Wafd party, who wanted to see reduced British influence in Egypt. They were only allowed to rule five times. On every other occasion, the British made them stand down and put more congenial people in power. This made the whole idea of democracy a bad joke. Now, would we wish to be treated like that ourselves?

BILL MOYERS: Now, this is what some people call blow back, in the intelligence world. And some people say, “Are the chickens coming home to roost?” But I want to make sure that people don’t misunderstand. After 9/11, we made a mistake of invading a country that had not attacked us.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: But what about when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Germans, the Nazis wanted to come across the channel and destroy Britain? You’re not saying they’re to treat Germany or Japan the way we would like to be treated.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, but you fight in self-defense. And the trouble with war is it has a horrible dynamic of its own. So that, in the end, we all start doing dreadful things that…

BILL MOYERS: That’s right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: …that violate all our own principles. Like the British bombing of Dresden, for example.

BILL MOYERS: The American bombing of Hiroshima.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: Nagasaki. The atrocities of both sides —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: That’s what happens when in war. So that’s why they say you — the Koran, for example, says you must limit war and you must stop hostilities as soon as the enemy sues for peace. That kind of thing. But instead of seeing the other world as them, or instead of seeing our own fundamentalists as them and enemies, somehow learn to see, perhaps, the pain that lies at the root of a lot of this because they feel attacked by us. I was once in a — recently, some years back — in a conference in Portland where a man got up and started shrieking at us, saying that the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims on the stage who were agreed with each other were all going to hell.

And I could hear the pain in that man’s voice. That, at some level, we had assaulted him. At some profound level. There was pain there. In a war situation, it takes a long time before you can even get people to sit around the table. In Northern Ireland, for example, before you could get people on all sides, the British and the Republicans and the IRA and the Ulsteristes — to get them around the table was an immense achievement.

People said when they saw everybody coming up this drive of Stormont Castle and sitting around that table, the emotion in that room in itself was profound. We’re not nearly there yet. One of the things that we can do on our side is to learn to decode fundamentalist rhetoric, as we learn to decipher a great poem or an op-ed article. To see the hidden agendas. To see what lies underneath this. Because they are expressive of a fear and rage that no society, as we’ve seen, can safely ignore.

BILL MOYERS: What is it — you’ve studied this — what is it fundamentalist Muslims fear about the world?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Basically they have experienced secularism as a profound assault. We had 300 years to develop our secular institutions. Modernization in Europe, and later the United States took a long time. And the new ideas had a chance to trickle down naturally to all different levels of society. They didn’t have that chance. Modernization had to take place very quickly. So that, for example, when Ataturk modernized Turkey, he closed down all the Madrassas. He —

BILL MOYERS: The religious schools.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The religious schools. He forced the Sufi orders, mystics, underground and forced all men and women to wear western clothes. In Iran, the Shahs used to make their soldiers go out with their bayonets, taking off the women’s veils in the streets, and ripping them to pieces in front of them. In 1935, the Shah gave his soldiers orders to shoot at hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in one of the holiest shrines in Iran who were peacefully protesting against western dress.

And hundreds of Iranians were killed that day. Now, in such a context, secularism doesn’t seem the benign ideology that it has been for privileged people, like you and me. It feels like a dead, lethal assault. The most virulent forms of Sunni fundamentalism in Islam developed in the concentration camps, and to which President Nasser had interred thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood without trial.

Submitted them to mental and physical torture and execution. Some of them had done nothing more incriminating than handing out leaflets. And in these camps, they became radicalized. One of them was a man called Sayyid Qutb, who entered the camp as a moderate, a student of French and European literature. When he heard Nasser vowing to secularize Egypt and confine Islam to the private sphere on the western model, he looked around this prison. And secularism did not seem benign. It seemed lethal.

And there’s something else. There’s been a Gallup poll that asked Muslims what they liked most about the West. And what the biggest thing that they all liked was our freedom. They’d like to see more of it themselves. What do they fear most about the West? What do they dislike most about the West? What worries them most? “Their disrespect for our religion.” And when they hear ill considered, uneducated remarks about their religion, this is a gift to the extremists who can use it to show that the West is making a crusade against Islam. And it’s also endangering our own security.

BILL MOYERS: But the burden is not wholly on the West, is it?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: We have to do our part. And not exaggerate things. This survey also asked — in 35 Muslim countries, it asked them whether they thought the 9/11 attacks were justified. Only seven percent said they were justified. And the reasons they gave were entirely political. Palestine. You know, the Iraq — sanctions in Iraq, et cetera. The occupation of Muslim lands.

These 93, or 92, percent who said they were not justifiable may not have liked western foreign policy. But what they said was their rationale for condemning these attacks was religious. They quoted those parts of their scripture which says that to take one life is to take an entire world. That to kill is not justified. We’ve got to see that. And we’ve got to see that reflected more in our own press and in our own dealings with this. Otherwise, we’re going to build up a bogey, as we did with the Soviets.

BILL MOYERS: Your new book, The Case for God, comes out in September.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: It does.

BILL MOYERS: Will you come back?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I’d love to.

BILL MOYERS: In the meantime, we have Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography. Thank you very much. It’s been good to talk to you again.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: As Karen and I talked, I was mindful of a speech Barack Obama made almost three years ago. On June 28, 2006, he reminded us just how impossible it is in a democracy to reconcile absolute claims about God.

BARACK OBAMA: At some fundamental level, religion doesn’t allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. Now, to base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy-making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

BILL MOYERS: My old friend Martin Marty, one of the country’s leading historians of religion, contrasted Obama’s message with that of the Reverend Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at the president’s inauguration. Warren had said there are five issues that cannot be negotiated: abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning and euthanasia. “To me,” Warren said, “they’re not even debatable because God’s Word is clear on these issues.” Actually, according to Martin Marty himself, no stranger to the Scriptures, there are only a few inches of Biblical text that can even be inferred to support Warren’s big five, much less treat them as non-negotiable.

What Pastor Warren and millions in his camp advocate, says Martin Marty, is no different from Muslims who base social and political policy on the Koran, or ruling parties in India who dictate law from their holy books. Such rigid literalism works only in a theocracy, where the whole population accepts or is forced to accept one faith’s notion of “God’s Word.”

So it would seem a good thing in a world of clashing absolutes, for all parties to take a few minutes to read Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, a work still in progress but more urgent every day. You’ll find the link to it on the Moyers website at pbs.org.

That’s it for the Journal. I’m Bill Moyers and I’ll see you next week. Thank you.

Theologian Karen Armstrong on Compassion

March 13, 2009

Karen Armstrong has dedicated her life to the study of religion — both from inside the walls of a convent during her seven years as a Catholic nun — and as a author of books on the world’s faiths from Islam to Buddhism and a best-selling History Of God. Her examination of the commonalities of the world’s faiths has brought Karen Armstrong to her current project: The Charter for Compassion.

“My work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find at the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.

….We’ve got to do better than this. Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other, learning about their grievances. “

 

 

Excerpt from conversation between Bill Moyers and Karen Armstong – link to video

KAREN ARMSTRONG: …in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the “science of compassion.” There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.

And Latin — the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other. And this footnote said that a religious historian, like myself, must not approach the spiritualities of the past from the vantage point of post enlightenment rationalism. You mustn’t look on this in a superior way and look at the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century text as, “poor soul.” You know?

And you had to recreate in a scholarly fashion, all the circumstances which had resulted in this spirituality or this teaching and not leave it, or certainly not write about it, until you can imagine yourself — putting yourself in that position. Imagine yourself feeling the same. So when I wrote about Muhammad, for example, I had to put myself in the position of a man living in the hell of seventh century Arabia, who sincerely believed he had been touched by God.

And unless I did that, I would miss Muhammad. I had to put clever Karen, edgy Oxford educated Karen, on the back burner. And go out of myself and enter into the mind of the other. And I found, much to my astonishment, it started changing me. I couldn’t any longer be quite as vicious as I was or dismissive as I was in the kind of clever conversations —

BILL MOYERS: Why? This is the first time I’ve heard of a born again experience beginning with a footnote. Was it your imagination that said, “I have to see this world the way Muhammad saw it and experienced it?”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I said that this footnote is right. If I go on writing, as I had been doing up to this point for saying, “This is all rubbish.” You know, I know it all. These poor benighted souls in the past didn’t know what they were talking about. I was not fulfilling my job as a historian.

It was my job to go in and recreate it, enter into that spirit. Leave myself behind and enter into the mind and society and outlook of the other. It’s a form of what the Greeks called ekstasis. Ecstasy. That doesn’t mean you go into a trance or have a vision. It means — ekstasis means standing outside yourself. Putting yourself behind. And it is self, it’s ego that hold us back from what we call God.

BILL MOYERS: You speak of the change in you. You’re talking about a personal transformation. But take the next step. What would bring about the kind of real change in society and in politics that would be an extrapolation of or a continuation in community of what you’re talking about?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Okay. Not to treat other nations or other — in a way that we would not wish to be treated ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Unless they’ve attacked you.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Even so, I mean, there was a chance after 9/11, you know, when something different would have been done. The religions have generally developed, as the Koran does, a theory of just war. You know? That you can fight only in self-defense. But a lot of the policies that we created helped to, you know, first of all, let’s leave America out of this. Look at the British, and their colonial policies.

Many of the problems we face in the Muslim world date back to that colonial period, to British behavior, and arrogance, and the abuse of democracy. For example, in Egypt, between 1922, when Egypt was granted a modicum of independence, and 1952, when you have the Nasser revolution. There were 17 general elections in the country, all of them won hands down by the Wafd party, who wanted to see reduced British influence in Egypt. They were only allowed to rule five times. On every other occasion, the British made them stand down and put more congenial people in power. This made the whole idea of democracy a bad joke. Now, would we wish to be treated like that ourselves?

BILL MOYERS: Now, this is what some people call blow back, in the intelligence world. And some people say, “Are the chickens coming home to roost?” But I want to make sure that people don’t misunderstand. After 9/11, we made a mistake of invading a country that had not attacked us.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: But what about when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Germans, the Nazis wanted to come across the channel and destroy Britain? You’re not saying they’re to treat Germany or Japan the way we would like to be treated.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, but you fight in self-defense. And the trouble with war is it has a horrible dynamic of its own. So that, in the end, we all start doing dreadful things that…

BILL MOYERS: That’s right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: …that violate all our own principles. Like the British bombing of Dresden, for example.

BILL MOYERS: The American bombing of Hiroshima.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: Nagasaki. The atrocities of both sides —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: That’s what happens when in war. So that’s why they say you — the Koran, for example, says you must limit war and you must stop hostilities as soon as the enemy sues for peace. That kind of thing. But instead of seeing the other world as them, or instead of seeing our own fundamentalists as them and enemies, somehow learn to see, perhaps, the pain that lies at the root of a lot of this because they feel attacked by us.

Full text

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. Karen Armstrong’s life, as you will soon learn, was turned around by, of all things, a footnote. When this former nun fled the convent and became a scholar of literature at Oxford, she thought she’d put all things theological well behind her. But, as the saying goes, if you want to make God laugh, tell Him, or Her, your plans.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: So can I ask you what you think about the Pope?

BILL MOYERS: Next thing you know, Armstrong was creating documentaries about religion and making comments like this:

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The Pope is the world’s last, great, absolute monarch. He not only controls doctrinal and spiritual affairs, but also the political, social and economic fortunes of his church. And because he’s believed to be directly guided by God, his decisions have the ring of absolute truth, which is strangely out of kilter with the democratic tenor of today’s world.

BILL MOYERS: While working on a film in Jerusalem, the ancient city where Islam, Judaism and Christianity converge, the connections among that trio of faiths rekindled Armstrong’s imagination and led to another new career.

She became one of the foremost, and most original, thinkers on religion in our modern world. Her many popular books include studies of Muhammad and Islam, the crusades, the ambitiously titled A History of God and her latest, The Bible.

A self-proclaimed “freelance monotheist,” Karen Armstrong is now on a mission to bring compassion, the heart of religion as she sees it, back into modern life.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well this is such an honor.

BILL MOYERS: Last year, at an annual gathering of the leaders in technology, entertainment, and design, she received their highly prestigious TED Prize, a $100,000 cash award that, like the genie in the lamp, also grants the recipient a wish.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion — crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule.

BILL MOYERS: The Golden Rule: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” That universal principle of empathy and respect is at the core of all major religions.

Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion was launched last year with an interactive website, charterforcompassion.org. There, people of all faiths can submit their ideas about what the Charter should say.

Recently, she traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, and gathered with a group of international religious leaders to draft the guiding principles of her charter for compassion. Karen Armstrong, it’s good to see you again.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: It’s great to be back. Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: So tell us what you’re up to with this movement.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, my work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find that the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.

You see, the Greeks too, they may have been not religious in our sense, but they understood about compassion. The institution of tragedy put suffering on stage. And the leader of the chorus would ask the audience to weep for people, even like Heracles, who had been driven mad by a goddess and slew his own wife and children.

And the Greeks did weep. They didn’t just, like modern western men, wipe a tear from the corner of their eye and gulp hard. They cried aloud because they felt that weeping together created a bond between human beings. And that the idea is you were learning to put yourself in the position of another and reach out, not only to acceptable people, people in your own group, but to your enemies, to people that you wouldn’t normally have any deep truck with at all.

BILL MOYERS: So this is not just another call for another round of interfaith dialogue?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, it’s nothing to do with interfaith dialogue. Look, I’m not expecting the whole world to fall into a daze of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Oh, I don’t think you have to worry about that.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But this is the beginning of something. We’re writing a charter which we hope will be sort of like the charter of human rights, two pages only. Saying that compassion is far more important than belief. That it is the essence of religion. All the traditions teach that it is the practice of compassion and honoring the sacred in the other that brings us into the presence of what we call God, Nirvana, Raman, or Tao. And people are remarkably uneducated about compassion these days. So we want to bring it back to the center of attention. But then, it’s got to be incarnated into practical action.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think, for example, that Osama bin Laden and the Radical Islamists will sign onto this?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Of course not. But we have to understand that Osama bin Laden and the radical Islamists are largely motivated by politics. They may express themselves in a religious idiom.

BILL MOYERS: As many of those suicide bombers did as they dived into the World Trade Center.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: They did. But their motivation, when you read Osama’s declarations and the suicide videos of our own London bombers are all political. Their grievances are political.

BILL MOYERS: Were you there when London was bombed?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I was right in the middle of it.

BILL MOYERS: What was your reaction?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I thought that this was virtually inevitable. This is a political matter. And Tony Blair had put us right on the front line by joining with former President Bush. And we were all expecting this in London. There was no great surprise.

I was actually in the British library, right next to the King’s Cross station, so it was a police zone. And we had to stay in there all day. We weren’t allowed out. We didn’t know quite what was happening. It was announced over the Tannoy that we were in a terrorist attack. There we were with true British phlegm still fussing about our footnotes. And —

BILL MOYERS: Did this diminish or strengthen your resolve on this issue of compassion?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: We’ve got to do better than this. Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other, learning about their grievances. So the Charter of Compassion was to recall compassion from the sidelines, to which it’s often put in religious discourse and put it back there.

BILL MOYERS: One of your peers, a friend of mine, the scholar of religion Elaine Pagels told me many years ago in an interview like this that, “There is practically no religion I know of,” she said, “that sees other people in the way that affirms the other’s choice.”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. And this is a great scandal. There used to be. Islam, for example, the Koran is a pluralistic document. It says that every rightly guided religion comes from God. And there must be no compulsion in religion. And it says that Muhammad has not come to cancel out the teachings of Jesus or Moses or Abraham.

Now, Muslims have fallen into the trap that Jews, Christians, and others have done, of thinking that they are the one and only. This is ego. This is pure ego.

BILL MOYERS: But it’s inspired, is it not sanctified by religion?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, no, I mean, the idea is that you all have to be Muslim, is actually going against the explicit teaching of the Koran, in which God says to Muhammad, “If we” — using the royal we — “had wanted the whole of mankind to be in one single religious community, we would have achieved, we would have made that happen. But we did not so wish. This is not our desire. So you, Muhammad, leave them alone.” And everybody says the Koran has their own din. Their own religious tradition, their own way of life.

Now, this is getting lost to the modern world. But that was also Muslim practice for the first 100 years after the death of the prophet when in the empire that they created, conversion to Islam was actually frowned upon. Because Jews and Christians and Zoroastrians and, later, Buddhists, had their own din, their own religion. And that was to be respected.

BILL MOYERS: But you’re putting your finger on a real fault line, it seems to me. That, metaphorically, the language of violence, which goes all the way back in these ancient stories, whether they’re true or not, and often invoke God for the sanctification of violent acts.

I mean, in this splendid book that you’ve done recently, The Bible: A Biography, you quote, for example, from Joshua, “When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai, in the open ground. And where they follow them into the wilderness, and when all to a man had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel return to Ai and slaughtered all its people. All the people of Ai.”

You go to the Koran. You have quoted this too, where the Koran paints a picture. You know, “Allah has sealed their hearings and their hearts. And on their eyes, there is a covering. Theirs will be an awful doom.” When you talk about the positive and affirmative side of even these texts, there is also a counter prevailing side that creates this fault line.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah. These scriptures all have these difficult passages. There’s far more of that kind of stuff in the bible, both old and new testaments —

BILL MOYERS: Right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: — than there is in the Koran. Now, one of the things that I am going to call for in this Charter are for exegetes, ’cause the people who interpret scripture, to look at these passages. See how they came into the tradition in the first place. What were the circumstances in which they appeared? What influence they have on the tradition as a whole? And now, what do we do with them? Really study them in depth. How do we deal with them in this age where scripture is the —

BILL MOYERS: By exegetes, you mean the scholars and students and interpreters of every faith?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Every faith. Yes. And that we must, first of all, study our own scriptures, before we point a finger at other people.

BILL MOYERS: You ask the question, “What would it mean to interpret the whole of the Bible as a commentary on the Golden Rule?”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: What’s your answer to that question?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, this is one of the things that really intrigued me when I was researching this book. How frequently the early rabbis, for example, in the Talmudic period, shortly after the death of Jesus, insisted that any interpretation of scripture that read hatred or contempt for any single human being was illegitimate.

Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus, said that when asked to sum up the whole of Jewish teaching, while he stood on one leg, said, “The Golden Rule. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. And everything else is only commentary. Now, go and study it.”

St. Augustine said that scripture teaches nothing but charity. And if you come to a passage like the one you just read, that seems to preach hatred, you’ve got to give it an allegorical or metaphorical interpretation. And make it speak of charity.

BILL MOYERS: But of course, what some people do is to read for their own purposes what…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: …they call allegorical. And then, read literally what they want to apply in their —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And of course, you have to understand that this tendency to read scripture in a literal manner is very recent.

BILL MOYERS: Right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Nobody, for example, ever thought of interpreting the first chapter of Genesis as a literal account of the origins of life, until the modern period. It’s our scientific mindset that makes us want to sort of read these texts for accurate information.

BILL MOYERS: But as stories, don’t they still have a very powerful effect? I mean, for example, you and I both know that the first murder in the oldest story grows out of a religious act.

Cain and Abel are brothers. They’re rivals for God’s favor. And out of jealously, Cain kills Abel. And once that pattern is set, it is followed right through like a red thread. Ishmael and Isaac and Joseph and his brothers. Right on down to Christians versus Muslims, Muslims versus Jews. Christians versus everybody. I mean, this is deeply embedded, is it not, metaphorically in our imagination?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I think these are difficult texts. We read these texts as though they’re easy. Now, I see Genesis as deconstructing a neat idea of God.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean deconstructing?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: First, in the chapter one, you’ve got the famous chapter where God’s sitting in the universe, center stage, totally powerful, totally benign, blessing everything. All that he has made and, no favorites, impartial. Totally powerful, totally benign. Within two chapters, he’s completely lost control of his creation. Then, you’ve got the impartial God turns out to be a God that has real favorites.

And the Bible makes you feel the pain of the ones that are rejects. When Esau cries out, “Oh Father,” to Isaac, “Have you no blessing for me, Father?” And Hagar, Abraham’s second wife, who runs up and down outside in distress when Abraham has been commanded to leave her in the desert. And then, God, the benign creator becomes God the destroyer, at the end of the flood. And by the end of Genesis, he’s retired from the scene.

And Joseph and his brothers have to rely on their own insights and dreams, just as we do. You can’t say what God is. That is, people often ask me, “Ms. Armstrong, do you or do you not believe in the God of the Bible?” And I always say, “Tell me what it is.” I’ll be fascinated to hear because the Bible is highly contradictory. What it shows, I think, is that our experience of the divine is ambiguous, complex.

We can misunderstand it. We can use it to create mayhem because of our own horrible sort of murderous tendencies. And there are no clear answers, no clear theology in the Bible.

BILL MOYERS: Spoken like a true Protestant, if I may say. I mean, those of us who believe we are, in effect, the editors of our own sacred text. That gets us in trouble.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But —

BILL MOYERS: But that’s what you’re saying.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But it shouldn’t be, because in the pre-modern world, you were expected to find new meaning in scripture.

BILL MOYERS: The pre-modern world being —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Before the 17th century. You have the beginning of the scientific revolution in Europe in the 16th century. And that starts changing everything. A different economy, a much more literal approach to life. And the scientists, people like Newton, start to write theology. And the churches seize upon this and they start thinking that the Bible is literally and factually true.

But in the pre-modern world, what you see are the early Christian and Jewish commentators saying you must find new meaning in the Bible. And the rabbis would change the words of scripture to make a point to their pupils. Origen, the great second or third century Greek commentator on the Bible said that it is absolutely impossible to take these texts literally. You simply cannot do so. And he said, “God has put these sort of conundrums and paradoxes in so that we are forced to seek a deeper meaning.”

And the Koran is the same. The Koran says every single one of its verses is an ayah, a symbol or a parable. Because you can only talk about God analogically, in terms of signs and symbols.

You must go to the bible and find new meaning, they said. And the same was true of the Greeks. At the beginning of the rationalist tradition in Greece, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the people who commented on them didn’t sort of take down everything they did slavishly. They used it as a springboard to have new insights in the presence. Rather as we might use weights at the gym to build up our strength. They use it as something to start them thinking. But the Rabbis used to say, “You may not leave a scripture or text until you have translated it into practical action for the community here and now.”

BILL MOYERS: Meaning acts of kindness, acts of compassion.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Acts of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Acts of justice. Right?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: We are all indebted to those Hebrew Prophets for this powerful resonating sense of social justice.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And the Rabbis who came after them in the Talmudic age, and who created the Mishnah and Talmud, as it were then, New Testament, that paid very little attention to the Hebrew scriptures. But said, “Now we have to move on.” Now, we’ve lost that confidence.

And that’s what the charter is trying to do. Trying to nudge people into the hard work of being compassionate. People don’t want to be compassionate. When I go around lecturing about this, I sometimes see the good faithful, looking mutinous. Because they may know that they ought to be compassionate. But what’s the fun of religion if you can’t sort of slam down other people? This is ego.

BILL MOYERS: I’m glad you mentioned this, because I know many atheists and agnostics who are more faithful, if that’s the right term, to the Golden Rule than a lot of believing religious people.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes. And I also know a number of atheists who have no time for the Golden Rule at all.

BILL MOYERS: Exactly.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: So this is just people of all —

BILL MOYERS: But what is it that evokes the empathy and the commitment, which you’re calling for, to people to put themselves in other’s shoes. What is it that evokes that in people?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Basically a sense of urgent need. If we don’t manage to do better than this both within our own communities, our own nations, and as regards other nations far away, then I think we are in for a very troublesome ride. We are not doing well at the moment. The three monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, they have a besetting problem, a besetting tendency. That is idolatry. Taking a human idea, a human idea of God, a human doctrine and making it absolute. Putting it in the place of God. Now, there have been secular idolatries too. Nationalism was a great idolatry.

BILL MOYERS: The state can be —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The state can be. This is what we do. As Paul Tillich said, “We are makers of idols.” We are constantly creating these idols. Erecting a purely human ideal or a human value or a human idea to the supreme reality. Now, once you’ve made of something essentially finite, once you’ve made it an absolute, it has, then, to destroy any other rival claimants. Because there can only be one absolute.

BILL MOYERS: Who created God?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Human beings created the idea of God. But the transcendent reality to which the idea of God nudges us is embedded in part of the human experience.

BILL MOYERS: But if we create God, then we can read into God. Our…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: …passions, jealousies, envies, animosities, aspirations.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes and this is idolatry. When you are creating a God in your own image and likeness. When the crusaders went into battle with the cry, “God wills it,” on their lips. They were projecting their own fear and loathing of these rival faiths onto other people. And we get a lot of secular people doing this too.

BILL MOYERS: With the Stalinists, the Communists, the Fascists —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And even nearer here in the United States. You know, we’ve got people saying, “We want to get rid of religion.” Or Radical Republicans slanging Democrats. We are very agonistic society.

BILL MOYERS: Agonistic?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Meaning competitive. That we’re in our discourse. Can I just say —

BILL MOYERS: Yes.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Let me say this. In our discourse, it is not enough for us in the western democratic tradition simply to seek the truth. We also have to defeat and humiliate our opponents. And that happens in politics. It happens in the law courts. It happens in religious discourse. It happens in the media. It happens in academia. Very different from Socrates, the founder of the rationalist tradition, who when you had dialogues with Socrates, you came thinking that you knew what you were talking about.

Half an hour later, with Socrates, you realized you didn’t know anything at all. And at that moment, says Socrates, your quest can begin. You can become a philosopher, a lover of wisdom because you know you don’t have wisdom. You love it. You seek it. And you had to go into a dialogue prepared to change, not to bludgeon your conversation partner into accepting your point of view. And every single point in a Socratic dialogue, you offer your opinion kindly to the other, and the other accepts it with kindness.

BILL MOYERS: But you can’t have a dialogue with people who don’t want to have…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No.

BILL MOYERS: …a dialogue.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: But that doesn’t mean we should give up altogether. Because I think the so-called liberals can also be just as hard lined in their own way.

Most fundamentalist movements, in every tradition that I’ve studied, in every fundamentalist movement, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, has begun with what is perceived as to be an assault by the liberal or secular establishment. And look at your Scopes Trial for example. You have this absurd ruling, of ban on evolution in the public schools. And after the trial, the secular press do a number on the fundamentalists.

BILL MOYERS: H.L. Menken was ruthless about them…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: …in depicting a caricaturing of them.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: And they crept away. And we thought we’d seen the end of them. But of course, they were just regrouping. But before the Scopes Trial, fundamentalists had often been on the left of the political spectrum, prepared to work alongside socialists and alongside social gospel people in the slums of the newly developing industrialized cities. After the Scopes Trial, they swung to the far right, where they remain. Before Scopes, fundamentalists tended to be literal in their interpretation of scripture. But creation science, so called, was the pursuit of a very tiny minority. After the Scopes Trial they became more militant in their literal interpretation of scripture. And creation science became, and has remained, the flagship of their movement.

BILL MOYERS: So does your notion of compassion embrace liberals saying that, in the interest of harmony we will encourage our state schools to teach creationism alongside with your Darwin’s…

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah, you see —

BILL MOYERS: …notion of evolution?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: You see, the assault of Richard Dawkins on creationism has resulted, for the first time, in a worry about Darwin in the Muslim world. Up until this time —

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: There was no worry about Darwin in the Muslim world up until very recently. The Koran doesn’t say how God created the world. The texts tell you this is an ayah. We don’t know what happened. And there was just no problem about it.

Now, and I get to see it on the websites that I get, it’s headline news that British scientists sort of slang creation. And Darwin has now become an anathema as a result of that assault. So I think we’ve all just got to come off our high horses a bit, I think just to cool down the rhetoric. I think that truth must be respected. There must be an openness towards science, as Saint Augustine pointed out years ago. He said, “If a religious text is found to contradict contemporary science, you must find a new interpretation for this text.” You must allegorize it in some way. We need to get back to that. And let’s just state I don’t want this to be going after the fundamentalists. I don’t want this to be going after extremists. I want this to just say, quietly, let us to remember the primal duty of compassion.

BILL MOYERS: Which is?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: To put the words calm and passion, means to feel with the other. To experience with the other. Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you. If you don’t like to be attacked, don’t attack others. As Confucius said, who was the first to propound the Golden Rule, 500 years before Christ, you seek to establish yourself, then seek to establish others.

If you don’t like hearing your own traditions traduced then have the discipline not to traduce the traditions of others. And it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s not — people who say it’s a simplistic idea, obviously, never tried to practice the Golden Rule. As Confucius said, “All day and every day.” Which means that you constantly have to dethrone yourself and your own ideas from the center of your world and put another there. And realize that even in the most unlikely person there is a trace of the divine.

BILL MOYERS: We’ll be back shortly with more of my conversation with Karen Armstrong. We’ll discuss Islam, one of her favorite subjects, and how a footnote changed her life. But first, this is the time we remind you that you are the public in Public Television. Please take a moment to call this station and make a pledge. We need you now more than ever. Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Welcome back and thanks for your support. I’m here with the scholar and historian of religion, Karen Armstrong. Her latest book is The Bible: A Biography, but it was this one, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, that first got everyone’s attention. When it was published in 1991, Publisher’s Weekly called it “engrossing,” and The Economist praised the book as “Knowledgeable without being pedantic…and readable.” Armstrong’s work was even welcomed in the Muslim world, where readers sensitive to misinterpretation of their faith were surprised to learn a westerner, and a woman at that, could so gracefully capture the essence of Islam’s founding prophet.

Karen, you were just in Pakistan.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I was indeed.

BILL MOYERS: Did you get any kind of response when you raised this subject?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well, I had an immensely warm welcome in Pakistan. One woman came up to me and she said, “When I see you with your blond hair and blue eyes speaking with such respect about our prophet, I just weep.”

BILL MOYERS: But what do they say about their own militants?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Well they are —

BILL MOYERS: Those insurgents who are, you know, slitting the throats of many Pakistanis right now.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Indeed.

BILL MOYERS: Decapitating them, murdering them, suicide bombers.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: What do they say about them?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: They’re appalled of course. And you know, they’ve just had their own sort of 9/11, with the bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. Not an anti-American thing. This was directed solely against Pakistani Muslims who were breaking their Ramadan fast there.

The Marriott Hotel in Islamabad is right next to the government buildings. It’s a great icon in Islamabad. This was a massive attack on their own people. I went to see President Musharraf, and he said that of course, Muslims themselves are under attack from these militants because all fundamentalists movements, whether they’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist, begin with an assault on their own co-religionists. They see that people are always saying, “What can’t these mainstream Muslims keep the militants down?”

Well, the militants regard the mainstream Muslims with absolute disdain and see them as part of the problem. They’re not interested in people studying the Koran or praying in the mosque in the usual way. These are political activists.

BILL MOYERS: Can you point today to one place where this notion of compassion has been embraced by different religions to actually bring about a political consequence that we could look upon favorably?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Not as yet. No, I can’t, because we’re not living in a compassionate society, whether we’re talking in secular or religious terms. You know, look at the way, sometimes, your elections are carried on. With real slanging matches and discrediting.

BILL MOYERS: That’s politics.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yeah. That’s politics. And what is a lot of this religious slanging, but religious politics? Many of the so called religious leaders are in power not because they are sages of wisdom or contemplatives. They’re not Dalai Lamas. They are religious politicians who are not known for their lack of ego.

But basically the human race has never embraced compassion. Why did we create this compassionate ideal at the time of the — when all the great world religions were created? Because their societies had reached a point of violence. And this — the religious people said, people like the Buddha, Confucius, the Sages of the Upanishads , the Prophets of Israel, Socrates, they all said this aggression, even in a good cause, is not the way to go. And people found that when they did it all day and every day, it worked. Because you get rid of ego, it does bring you a sense of enlightenment. But it’s not just a question of holding hands in church. Or you know, embracing when you make the peace. Or allowing a charitable thought to rise to your mind in a sporadic moment. It is a discipline that you have to practice all day and every day. I used, you know, to be a really spiteful human being.

BILL MOYERS: No.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I learned a vicious form of rhetoric from my religious superiors. And also from my teachers at Oxford. You know? And people used to say to me, “I would really hate to be your enemy,” because I have this very sharp tongue that I knew how to use it. And I get in first before someone put me down. That kind of thing.

I found that, in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the “science of compassion.” There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.

And Latin — the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other. And this footnote said that a religious historian, like myself, must not approach the spiritualities of the past from the vantage point of post enlightenment rationalism. You mustn’t look on this in a superior way and look at the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century text as, “poor soul.” You know?

And you had to recreate in a scholarly fashion, all the circumstances which had resulted in this spirituality or this teaching and not leave it, or certainly not write about it, until you can imagine yourself — putting yourself in that position. Imagine yourself feeling the same. So when I wrote about Muhammad, for example, I had to put myself in the position of a man living in the hell of seventh century Arabia, who sincerely believed he had been touched by God.

And unless I did that, I would miss Muhammad. I had to put clever Karen, edgy Oxford educated Karen, on the back burner. And go out of myself and enter into the mind of the other. And I found, much to my astonishment, it started changing me. I couldn’t any longer be quite as vicious as I was or dismissive as I was in the kind of clever conversations —

BILL MOYERS: Why? This is the first time I’ve heard of a born again experience beginning with a footnote. Was it your imagination that said, “I have to see this world the way Muhammad saw it and experienced it?”

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I said that this footnote is right. If I go on writing, as I had been doing up to this point for saying, “This is all rubbish.” You know, I know it all. These poor benighted souls in the past didn’t know what they were talking about. I was not fulfilling my job as a historian.

It was my job to go in and recreate it, enter into that spirit. Leave myself behind and enter into the mind and society and outlook of the other. It’s a form of what the Greeks called ekstasis. Ecstasy. That doesn’t mean you go into a trance or have a vision. It means — ekstasis means standing outside yourself. Putting yourself behind. And it is self, it’s ego that hold us back from what we call God.

BILL MOYERS: You speak of the change in you. You’re talking about a personal transformation. But take the next step. What would bring about the kind of real change in society and in politics that would be an extrapolation of or a continuation in community of what you’re talking about?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Okay. Not to treat other nations or other — in a way that we would not wish to be treated ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: Unless they’ve attacked you.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Even so, I mean, there was a chance after 9/11, you know, when something different would have been done. The religions have generally developed, as the Koran does, a theory of just war. You know? That you can fight only in self-defense. But a lot of the policies that we created helped to, you know, first of all, let’s leave America out of this. Look at the British, and their colonial policies.

Many of the problems we face in the Muslim world date back to that colonial period, to British behavior, and arrogance, and the abuse of democracy. For example, in Egypt, between 1922, when Egypt was granted a modicum of independence, and 1952, when you have the Nasser revolution. There were 17 general elections in the country, all of them won hands down by the Wafd party, who wanted to see reduced British influence in Egypt. They were only allowed to rule five times. On every other occasion, the British made them stand down and put more congenial people in power. This made the whole idea of democracy a bad joke. Now, would we wish to be treated like that ourselves?

BILL MOYERS: Now, this is what some people call blow back, in the intelligence world. And some people say, “Are the chickens coming home to roost?” But I want to make sure that people don’t misunderstand. After 9/11, we made a mistake of invading a country that had not attacked us.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: But what about when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Germans, the Nazis wanted to come across the channel and destroy Britain? You’re not saying they’re to treat Germany or Japan the way we would like to be treated.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, but you fight in self-defense. And the trouble with war is it has a horrible dynamic of its own. So that, in the end, we all start doing dreadful things that…

BILL MOYERS: That’s right.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: …that violate all our own principles. Like the British bombing of Dresden, for example.

BILL MOYERS: The American bombing of Hiroshima.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: Nagasaki. The atrocities of both sides —

KAREN ARMSTRONG: That’s what happens when in war. So that’s why they say you — the Koran, for example, says you must limit war and you must stop hostilities as soon as the enemy sues for peace. That kind of thing. But instead of seeing the other world as them, or instead of seeing our own fundamentalists as them and enemies, somehow learn to see, perhaps, the pain that lies at the root of a lot of this because they feel attacked by us. I was once in a — recently, some years back — in a conference in Portland where a man got up and started shrieking at us, saying that the Jews and the Christians and the Muslims on the stage who were agreed with each other were all going to hell.

And I could hear the pain in that man’s voice. That, at some level, we had assaulted him. At some profound level. There was pain there. In a war situation, it takes a long time before you can even get people to sit around the table. In Northern Ireland, for example, before you could get people on all sides, the British and the Republicans and the IRA and the Ulsteristes — to get them around the table was an immense achievement.

People said when they saw everybody coming up this drive of Stormont Castle and sitting around that table, the emotion in that room in itself was profound. We’re not nearly there yet. One of the things that we can do on our side is to learn to decode fundamentalist rhetoric, as we learn to decipher a great poem or an op-ed article. To see the hidden agendas. To see what lies underneath this. Because they are expressive of a fear and rage that no society, as we’ve seen, can safely ignore.

BILL MOYERS: What is it — you’ve studied this — what is it fundamentalist Muslims fear about the world?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Basically they have experienced secularism as a profound assault. We had 300 years to develop our secular institutions. Modernization in Europe, and later the United States took a long time. And the new ideas had a chance to trickle down naturally to all different levels of society. They didn’t have that chance. Modernization had to take place very quickly. So that, for example, when Ataturk modernized Turkey, he closed down all the Madrassas. He —

BILL MOYERS: The religious schools.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: The religious schools. He forced the Sufi orders, mystics, underground and forced all men and women to wear western clothes. In Iran, the Shahs used to make their soldiers go out with their bayonets, taking off the women’s veils in the streets, and ripping them to pieces in front of them. In 1935, the Shah gave his soldiers orders to shoot at hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in one of the holiest shrines in Iran who were peacefully protesting against western dress.

And hundreds of Iranians were killed that day. Now, in such a context, secularism doesn’t seem the benign ideology that it has been for privileged people, like you and me. It feels like a dead, lethal assault. The most virulent forms of Sunni fundamentalism in Islam developed in the concentration camps, and to which President Nasser had interred thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood without trial.

Submitted them to mental and physical torture and execution. Some of them had done nothing more incriminating than handing out leaflets. And in these camps, they became radicalized. One of them was a man called Sayyid Qutb, who entered the camp as a moderate, a student of French and European literature. When he heard Nasser vowing to secularize Egypt and confine Islam to the private sphere on the western model, he looked around this prison. And secularism did not seem benign. It seemed lethal.

And there’s something else. There’s been a Gallup poll that asked Muslims what they liked most about the West. And what the biggest thing that they all liked was our freedom. They’d like to see more of it themselves. What do they fear most about the West? What do they dislike most about the West? What worries them most? “Their disrespect for our religion.” And when they hear ill considered, uneducated remarks about their religion, this is a gift to the extremists who can use it to show that the West is making a crusade against Islam. And it’s also endangering our own security.

BILL MOYERS: But the burden is not wholly on the West, is it?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: We have to do our part. And not exaggerate things. This survey also asked — in 35 Muslim countries, it asked them whether they thought the 9/11 attacks were justified. Only seven percent said they were justified. And the reasons they gave were entirely political. Palestine. You know, the Iraq — sanctions in Iraq, et cetera. The occupation of Muslim lands.

These 93, or 92, percent who said they were not justifiable may not have liked western foreign policy. But what they said was their rationale for condemning these attacks was religious. They quoted those parts of their scripture which says that to take one life is to take an entire world. That to kill is not justified. We’ve got to see that. And we’ve got to see that reflected more in our own press and in our own dealings with this. Otherwise, we’re going to build up a bogey, as we did with the Soviets.

BILL MOYERS: Your new book, The Case for God, comes out in September.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: It does.

BILL MOYERS: Will you come back?

KAREN ARMSTRONG: I’d love to.

BILL MOYERS: In the meantime, we have Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography. Thank you very much. It’s been good to talk to you again.

KAREN ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: As Karen and I talked, I was mindful of a speech Barack Obama made almost three years ago. On June 28, 2006, he reminded us just how impossible it is in a democracy to reconcile absolute claims about God.

BARACK OBAMA: At some fundamental level, religion doesn’t allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. Now, to base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy-making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing.

BILL MOYERS: My old friend Martin Marty, one of the country’s leading historians of religion, contrasted Obama’s message with that of the Reverend Rick Warren, who delivered the invocation at the president’s inauguration. Warren had said there are five issues that cannot be negotiated: abortion, stem-cell harvesting, homosexual marriage, human cloning and euthanasia. “To me,” Warren said, “they’re not even debatable because God’s Word is clear on these issues.” Actually, according to Martin Marty himself, no stranger to the Scriptures, there are only a few inches of Biblical text that can even be inferred to support Warren’s big five, much less treat them as non-negotiable.

What Pastor Warren and millions in his camp advocate, says Martin Marty, is no different from Muslims who base social and political policy on the Koran, or ruling parties in India who dictate law from their holy books. Such rigid literalism works only in a theocracy, where the whole population accepts or is forced to accept one faith’s notion of “God’s Word.”

So it would seem a good thing in a world of clashing absolutes, for all parties to take a few minutes to read Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, a work still in progress but more urgent every day. You’ll find the link to it on the Moyers website at pbs.org.

That’s it for the Journal. I’m Bill Moyers and I’ll see you next week. Thank you.

Theologian Karen Armstrong on Compassion

March 13, 2009

Karen Armstrong has dedicated her life to the study of religion — both from inside the walls of a convent during her seven years as a Catholic nun — and as a author of books on the world’s faiths from Islam to Buddhism and a best-selling History Of God. Her examination of the commonalities of the world’s faiths has brought Karen Armstrong to her current project: The Charter for Compassion.

“My work has continually brought me back to the notion of compassion. Whichever religious tradition I study, I find at the heart of it is the idea of feeling with the other, experiencing with the other, compassion. And every single one of the major world religions has developed its own version of the Golden Rule. Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.

….We’ve got to do better than this. Compassion doesn’t mean feeling sorry for people. It doesn’t mean pity. It means putting yourself in the position of the other, learning about the other. Learning what’s motivating the other, learning about their grievances. “

http://billmoyers.com/2012/12/11/moyers-moment-2009-karen-armstrong-on-the-power-of-compassion/ – excerpt

http://billmoyers.com/content/theologian-karen-armstrong/ – full video

About Karen Armstrong

Armstrong is a prominent scholar of religion and society. A former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford, she has written more than 20 books around the ideas of what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common. Her meditations on personal faith and religion (she calls herself a freelance monotheist) spark discussion. Since September 11, 2001, Armstrong has been a frequent contributor to conferences, panels, newspapers, periodicals, and throughout the media on the subject of Islam and fundamentalism, which she sees in a historical context as an outgrowth of modern culture.

 

The Delusional Is No Longer Marginal by Bill Moyers

published as “There Is No Tomorrow” By Bill Moyers in the January 30, 2005 StarTribune, Minneapolis

Excerpt

    One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power… For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality….

…What has happened to our moral imagination?  The news is not good these days. I can tell you that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free – free to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism… the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does.

Full text

    One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress.

    For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality. The offspring of ideology and theology are not always bad but they are always blind. And that is the danger: voters and politicians alike, oblivious to the facts.

    One-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup Poll is accurate, believes the Bible is literally true. This past November, several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in what is known as the “rapture index.”

    These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of millions of Americans. Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre: Once Israel has occupied the rest of its “bibli-cal lands,” legions of the Antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow.

    I’ve reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of biblical prophecy. That is why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. That is why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up act, predicted in the Book of Revelations, where four angels “which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man.” For them a war with Islam in the Middle East is something to be welcomed – an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The rapture index – “the prophetic speedometer of end-time activity” – now stands at 153.

    So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? As Glenn Scherer reports in the online environmental journal Grist, millions of Christian fundamentalists believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but hastened as a sign of the coming apocalypse.

    We’re not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half of the members of Congress are backed by the religious right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian-right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian Coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who before his recent retirement quoted from the biblical Book of Amos on the Senate floor: “The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land.” He seemed to relish the thought.

    Onward Christian Soldiers

    And why not? There’s a constituency for it. A 2002 Time/CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the Book of Revelations are going to come true. Tune in to any of the more than 1,600 Christian radio stations or flip on one of the 250 Christian TV stations across the country and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why people under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it, “to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible?”

    These people believe that until Christ does return, the Lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book, America’s Providential History, which contains the following: “The secular or socialist has a limited resource mentality and views the world as a pie … that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece.” However, “the Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God’s earth … while many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate all of the people.” No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” He turned out millions of the foot soldiers in this past election, including many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics.

    Once upon a time I thought that people would protect the natural environment when they realized its importance to their health and to the health and lives of their children. Now I am not so sure. It’s not that I don’t want to believe that – it’s just that I read the news and connect the dots.

    Immoral Imagination

    Mike Leavitt, the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, declared the election a mandate for President Bush on the environment – a mandate for an administration that wants to rewrite the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to judge beforehand if actions might damage natural resources.

    The Environmental Protection Agency had even planned to spend $9 million – $2 million of it from the administration’s friends at the American Chemistry Council – to pay poor families to continue to use pesticides in their homes. These pesticides have been linked to neurological damage in children, but instead of ordering an end to their use, the government and the industry were going to offer the families $970 each, as well as a camcorder and children’s clothing, to serve as guinea pigs for the study.

    I read all this and then look at the pictures on my desk, next to the computer – pictures of my grandchildren: Henry, age 12; Thomas, age 10; Nancy, 7; Jassie, 3; Sara Jane, nine months. I see the future looking back at me from those photographs and I say, “Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.” And then I am stopped short by the thought: “That’s not right. We do know what we are doing. We are stealing their future. Betraying their trust. Despoiling their world.”

    And I ask myself: “Why? Is it because we don’t care? Because we are greedy? Because we have lost our capacity for outrage, our ability to sustain indignation at injustice?”

    What has happened to our moral imagination?

    The news is not good these days. I can tell you that as a journalist I know the news is never the end of the story. The news can be the truth that sets us free – free to fight for the future we want. And the will to fight is the antidote to despair, the cure for cynicism, and the answer to those faces looking back at me from those photographs on my desk.

    What we need is what the ancient Israelites called “hocma” – the science of the heart, the capacity to see, to feel and then to act as if the future depended on you. Believe me, it does

——————————————————————————–
    Bill Moyers was host until recently of the weekly public affairs series “NOW with Bill Moyers” on PBS. This article is adapted from AlterNet, where it first appeared. The text is taken from Moyers’ remarks upon receiving the Global Environmental Citizen Award from the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.
All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.
http://archive.truthout.org/article/bill-moyers-the-delusional-is-no-longer-marginal

Machiavelli’s disciples

 What Would Machiavelli Do? The Big Lie Lives On by Thom Hartmann CommonDreams.org, August 26, 2004  – There is nothing new about the Swift Boat ads. German filmmaker Fritz Kippler, one of Goebbels’ most effective propagandists, once said that two steps were necessary to promote a Big Lie so the majority of the people in a nation would believe it. The first was to reduce an issue to a simple black-and-white choice that “even the most feebleminded could understand.” The second was to repeat the oversimplification over and over. If these two steps were followed, people would always come to believe the Big Lie…The Big Lie is alive and well today in the United States of America, and what’s most troubling about it is the basic premise that underlies its use. In order for somebody to undertake a Big Lie, they must first believe Niccolo Machiavelli’s premise (in “The Prince,” 1532) that the end justifies the means…
Believing that the end justifies the means is the ultimate slippery slope. It will ultimately kill any noble goal, because even if the goal is achieved, it will have been corrupted along the way by the means used to accomplish it…
like George W. Bush repeatedly asserting that he had to invade Iraq because of WMDs and because Saddam “threw out the weapons inspectors”…trying to accomplish a “good” by using the means of an “evil” like a Big Lie inherently corrupts the good.
Now the Bush campaign and its allies are encouraging a new series of Big Lie techniques to assail John Kerry’s Vietnam War record…Swift Boat ads…Thus, there is no equivalence between the MoveOn (and other) ads and the Swift Boat ads, moral or otherwise. Truths and issues — however unpleasant — cannot be weighed on the same scale as lies and character assassination, explicit or implicit…Techniques, interestingly enough, that have an uncanny resemblance to character smears used by the Bush family against Michael Dukakis in 1988, against Ann Richards in 1994, against John McCain in 2000, and against Max Cleland in 2002…Lee Atwater, on his deathbed, realized that the “ends justifies the means” technique of campaigning he had unleashed on behalf of the Bush family was both immoral and harmful to American democracy.…Atwater’s spiritual and political protege, Karl Rove, soldiers on. Big Lies are emerging from Bush allies with startling regularity, and old Big Lies are being resurrected almost daily, most on right-wing talk radio. The most alarming contrast in the election of 2004 isn’t between the conservative Bush and liberal Kerry. It’s between those who will use any means to get and hold power, and those who are unwilling to engage in the Big Lie.  History tells us that, over the short term, the Big Lie usually works. Over the long term, though, the damage it does — both to those who use it, and to the society on which it is inflicted — is incalculable.

How America’s Demented Politics Let the GOP Off the Hook for Their Giant Mess by Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank, Bill Moyers Journal, published on AlterNet.org, January 19, 2010

How Ayn Rand’s Bizarre Philosophy Made the New Right so Toxic By George Monbiot, The Guardian, March 7, 2012

Machiavelli’s President by Bob Burnett, Huffington Post, October 17, 2005

Bush’s failed Machiavelli messes up big time

How Bush Gets Away With It by Paul Krugman, Rollingstone.com, October 2003

Education – right wing conservative

The Big Picture: A 40-Year Scan of the Right-Wing Corporate Takeover of America By Don Hazen and Colin Greer, AlterNet, October 3, 2011…They want to control and privatize government resources. Capitalism is exhausted here. It needs more public money. It’s always needed public money, it needs more now. When you look at the growth of capitalism in America from railroads all the way to the computer, it’s publicly funded…So the reinvention of capitalism is the issue, and the reinvention of government is what is happening. So capitalism is directly claiming public investment now…Charter schools are a very good case study for the [privatization] impulse.… forget whether or not they work, because they don’t. But even if they did they are not cheaper. Charter schools are simply the transfer of public money to profit-making activity. That’s the system they are steadily building — prisons, schools, public parks, there’s a conversion of the whole system into an investment of capital which is a major extension of what’s always been true. …

The Right’s ‘School Choice’ SchemeBy Rachel Tabachnick [1], Political Research Associates, November 2, 2012 -This article originally appeared at Public Eye [2], the Web site of Political Research Associates.

Republicans Tell Iowa Homeschoolers Education Not Government’s Role by Julie Ingersoll, Religion Dispatches, March 24, 2011 — …three potential presidential candidates spoke to the crowd of several hundred, all agreeing that government should not “interfere” in education…Whether through homeschooling or Christian schools, the goal is to “replace” public education… which is considered unbiblical. According to Reconstructionism, the Bible gives authority for education to families—not the state—and the Bible does not give the state the authority to tax people to pay for the education of other peoples’

The DeVos Family: Meet the Super-Wealthy Right-Wingers Working With the Religious Right to Kill Public Education By Rachel Tabachnick, AlterNet, May 6, 2011

Messing With Texas Textbooks by Bill Moyers, PBS, June 29, 2012

Ignorance Is Strength By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 8, 2012

11 Most Absurd Lies Conservatives Are Using to Brainwash America’s School Kids By Amanda Mar­cotte, Alter­Net, March 11, 2013 — If recent elec­tions have taught us any­thing, it’s that young Amer­i­cans have taken a decided turn to the left. Young vot­ers deliv­ered Obama the elec­tion: the under-44 set voted Obama and the over-45 set broke for Rom­ney. The youngest vot­ers, age 18–29, gave Obama a whop­ping 60% of their vote. Now Repub­li­cans have a plan to try to recap­ture the youngest vot­ers out there: Take over the cur­ricu­lum in pub­lic schools, replace edu­ca­tion with a bunch of con­ser­v­a­tive pro­pa­ganda, and reap the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a new gen­er­a­tion that can’t tell real­ity from right-wing fantasy.

How well this plan will work is debat­able, but in the mean­time, these shenani­gans present the very real pos­si­bil­ity that pub­lic school stu­dents will grad­u­ate with­out a proper edu­ca­tion. To make it worse, many of these attempts to rewrite school cur­ricu­lum are hap­pen­ing in Texas, which can set the text­book stan­dards for the entire coun­try [3] by sim­ply wield­ing its power as one of the biggest school text­book mar­kets there is. With that in mind, here’s a list of 11 lies your kid may be in dan­ger of learn­ing in school.

Lie #1: Racism has barely been an issue in U.S. his­tory and slav­ery wasn’t that big a deal.

Lie #2: Joe McCarthy was right.

Lie #3: Cli­mate change is a mas­sive hoax sci­en­tists have per­pet­u­ated on the public.

Lie #4: The Bible is a his­tory text­book and a sci­en­tific doc­u­ment.T

Lie #5: Black peo­ple are the descen­dents of Ham and there­fore cursed by God.

Lie #6: Evo­lu­tion is a mas­sive hoax­sci­en­tist­shave per­pet­u­ated on the public.

Lie #7: Sex is awful and filthy, and you should save it for some­one you love.

Lie #8: Drag­ons actu­ally once existed.

Lie #9: Gay peo­ple do not actually exist.

Lie #10: Hip­pies were dirty, immoral Satan-worshippers.

Lie #11: Ayn Rand’s books have literary value.

 

Progressive Narrative

A Liberal Translation       

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign 

Why Are Americans So Easy to Manipulate and Control?  

What Defines a Meme? 

Competition among memes in a world with limited attention

Articulating the Future for Progressivism

Conspiracy World — Editorial New York Times

America’s Duopoly of Money in Politics and Manipulation of Public Opinion

What to Watch for in the Presidential Debates by George Lakoff on Octo­ber 2, 2012 in Cog­ni­tive Pol­icy Works

Myth and Its Dangers

The Fascinating Story of How Shameless Right-Wing Lies Came to Rule Our Politics By Rick Perlstein

** Obama Returns to His Moral Vision: Democrats Read Carefully! by George Lakoff, GeorgeLakoff.com, April 17, 2011 - Cognitive linguist and expert on messaging analyzes Obama’s spech on vision and values -
The policy topic happened to be the budget, but he called it “The Country We Believe In” for a reason. The real topic was how the progressive moral system defines the democratic ideals America was founded on, and how those ideals apply to specific issues. Obama’s moral vision, which he applied to the budget, is more general: it applies to every issue.
All politics is moral. Political leaders put forth proposals on the assumption that their proposals are the right things to do, not the wrong things to do. But progressives and radical conservatives have very different ideas of right and wrong.
The basic idea is this: Democracy is based on empathy, that is, on citizens caring about each other and acting on that care, taking responsibility not just for themselves but for their families, communities, and their nation. The role of government is to carry out this principle in two ways: protection and empowerment.

** The Country We Believe In by President Barack Obama, The White House,Office of the Press Secretary, April 13, 2011

** Mocking the Right’s ‘Free Market’ Agenda Is Almost Too Easy — A Real Problem Is That the Dems Don’t Challenge It By Elizabeth DiNovella and Thomas Frank

** The Biggest Idea in Obama’s Speech: A Common Good by David Callahan, www.policyshop.net, January 26, 2012

** The Constitution is inherently progressive by John Podesta and John Halpin, Politico.com, October 10, 2011

** This is Your Story – The Progressive Story of America. Pass It On by Bill Moyers, Text of speech to the Take Back America conference  June 4, 2003 sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future, Published on June 10, 2003 by CommonDreams.org

The New Vision — The speech I want the Democratic nominee to give By Theodore C. Sorensen

The Mess We’re In: The Challenge of Melodramocracy by Wim Wenders,  Dogcanyon.org, March 8,  2010

More Poetry, Please by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, November 1, 2009

 

A status report on the Declaration of Independence – 1776 to 2012 – July 2012

Editorial – Uptown Neighborhood News, Minneapolis, MN – by Phyllis Stenerson

“Our dignity and honor as a nation never came from our perfection as a society or as a people: it came from the belief that in the end, this was a country which would pursue justice as the compass pursues the pole: that although we might deviate, we would return and find our path. This is what we must now do.”
John Adams – second President of the United States

* * *

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” – from the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

* * *

It’s been 236 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and we Americans are still fighting over some of the same issues that divided the founders. The actual words in the document are few but we know from the founders’ writings that most envisioned a country with certain inalienable rights for all.

The signers of the Declaration were all white male property owners but over the years the government has rightfully acted, however gradually and always through a struggle, to extend certain unalienable rights to other genders, races and classes.

These rights include liberty and the pursuit of happiness with the latter meaning well being, not perpetual fun. Since mere survival needs money, we can say this includes economic justice.

As frequently happens, when I’m trying to put my thoughts into words, I find that someone else has already said what I’m trying to say. In this case, journalist Bill Moyers, one of the most respected commentators on democracy:
“…this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality – one nation, indivisible – or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others… you have to respect the conservatives for their successful strategy in gaining control of the national agenda. Their stated and open aim is to change how America is governed – to strip from government all its functions except those that reward their rich and privileged benefactors…So much for compassionate conservatism…”

The radical assault by conservative extremists on the founding premise of America – that all men are equal and have certain unalienable Rights – generates cognitive dissonance on a massive scale. Many of us can’t comprehend that an alternative interpretation of American democracy has been concocted and marketed to the citizenry and is being sold as reality by a leading candidate for the Presidency. And that few in the mainstream media are challenging this twisted thinking. But it’s true and we need to use every opportunity – including Independence Day, the Fourth of July – remind ourselves and others of America’s real story, that of pursuing equal rights for all.

* * *

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share in a common life…For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.”
Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets