Martin Luther King referred several times to the need for “a revolution of values,” in his speech, “Beyond Viet Nam,” April 4th, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York, a year before he was assassinated,. I listened again as it was replayed on Martin Luther King Day, 2014, forty-seven years later. That speech had been immediately vilified by the media and many politicians who still supporting the war. King’s words included, along with important but inconvenient truths of that time, some prophetic implications for today. Not only did Dr. King nail the unacknowledged facts of the increasingly militarized foreign policy that has since grown more aggressive, he also projected his vision into the future with remarkable foresight.
Several converging trends together mark a great transformation in human history that is no longer easy to deny. Official Washington circles denied it then, with the corporate media chiming in; today official Washington circles conspicuously ignore the writing on the wall and the corporate media follow suit in their silence, even as its biospheric proportions become ever more clear. Not surprising, really; that is what “company men” and women have always done. But it is stunning to hear or read Dr. King’s vision of the consequences of the nation’s folly as it reaches its pinnacle, a half century after he acknowledged it as the nation’s elites denied it.
“The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit…” [Read Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc.] That malady remains as an ever-growing culture of cruelty abroad and increasingly at home. The fundamentalist values of imperial domination of the Feared Other are now being turned inward as the domestic population is increasingly viewed as the enemy of the “free market” [read corporate controlled market] and its plunder of the entire planet. The history of the industrial age has been one of forcing people off their land, and now from their jobs and homes, in the never-ending quest for more profit and less costs through reduced and outsourced wages and efficient production through labor-saving technology. But to what end? The economic values of the growth imperative override and supersede any human values we attempt to retain. This is the extension of the malady Dr. King pointed to.
The human malady we continue to experience is expressed in the destruction of social relations – that is, relations among persons – in the economic interests of corporations. Dr. King recognized that destructive trend quite clearly even in 1967:
“…we must rapidly begin the 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.”
The result has been an ever growing culture of cruelty. To counter that, we need a revolution of values.
“A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies…. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ..
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation… There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”
Dr. King did not anticipate the emergence of a massive ‘incarceration nation’ that would be the legacy of the drug war, nor the extreme disparity in income and wealth that would surpass the conditions preceding the great depression. But all across the nation and the world, people are now beginning to seriously question government policies and economic conditions that approach being intolerable, recognizing that they serve the interests of the power elite only by destroying people’s lives and the biosphere in which we all live. The evidence of their damage just keeps piling up. But individuals are also aware that alone they have little opportunity to take actions that they feel will ‘make a difference.’ So, often on the model provided by Occupy Wall Street and with similar perspectives, small local groups are forming to address specific problems arising at a human scale from the destruction of the growth-imperative political-economy. They embody Dr. King’s words:
“If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.:”
Twenty-four hours before he was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel April 4th, 1968 in Memphis, Martin Luther King expressed his vision of the necessary movement of people around the world to redirect humanity through a revolution of values:
“Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up…
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.”
Wendell Berry recently commented that we are beginning to experience the “resettling of America,” in which people recognize the importance of their relations to the land and to the people around them, and are acting on that awareness – they are turning away from the giant institutions that have failed America. They are taking direct actions in response to the emerging Revolution of Values of which they are a part and which cannot be stopped.