Monday, 27 January 2014

Civil Obedience

In tribute to Howard Zinn (August 24, 1922 – January 27, 2010).

Howard Zinn is simply an amazing man. I've never met him personally, but I've read his books and absorbed his ideas.

If you've never heard of him before, here is a brief biography of him from Wikipedia that sums up the kind of man that he was:

In 1964, Zinn accepted a position at Boston University, after writing two books and participating in the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

His classes in civil liberties were among the most popular at the university with as many as 400 students subscribing each semester to the non-required class. A professor of political science, he taught at BU for 24 years and retired in 1988 at age 64.

"He had a deep sense of fairness and justice for the underdog. But he always kept his sense of humor. He was a happy warrior," said Caryl Rivers, journalism professor at Boston University.

Rivers and Zinn were among a group of faculty members who in 1979 defended the right of the school's clerical workers to strike and were threatened with dismissal after refusing to cross a picket line.

No one could bully Zinn. He had a mind of his own and he used it to inspire progressive young minds.

He saw laws for what they were. He understood that they could be manipulated. He knew that constitutional law -- and freedom of speech, in particular -- was and is a very difficult, ambiguous, troubled concept.

He exhorted his fellow human beings not to be limited and paralyzed by them. And he spoke out against civil obedience, the act of merely bowing to authority without questioning if it was wrong or right.

Excerpts from The Problem is Civil Obedience:

And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem.... Our problem is civil obedience.

Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war.

Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty.

Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem.

We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them.

Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herd-like people.

My countrymen: do not be cowed, or fooled or intimidated by the force of power and authority. Stand up and be counted.

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