The philosophy of protest: Thoreau, King, and Civil Disobedience
The protesters on the street aren't just taking up space, they carry on a well thought out tradition.
- Nonviolent protests designed to effect change are a common occurrence around the world, especially today.
- While they may seem to be a sign of sour grapes or contrarianism, there is a serious philosophical backing to them.
- Thinkers from Thoreau to Gandhi and King have made the case for civil disobedience as a legitimate route to change.
If you're reading this, there is a fair chance that you are either near or aware of a major act of civil disobedience happening right now. From Hong Kong to Chile, the wave of global protest movements has made headlines and tangible changes around the world. These protests have been generally nonviolent, and have focused attention on a variety of issues that plague modern society. The fact that you are probably thinking of about three of these movements right now is a testament to the power of civil disobedience.
While most people know that civil disobedience has a long and noble history, with great campaigns being carried out by the likes of Gandhi, King, and Chavez, fewer know of the serious philosophy behind the idea of nonviolent resistance. That is why today, we'll dive into the intellectual background behind making a stand against the way things are.
The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. – Henry David Thoreau
On the 24th or 25th of July 1846, American writer Henry David Thoreau was placed under arrest while walking to the shoemakers for refusing to pay the poll tax. While he had enough money to pay the bill, he refused to pay on the grounds that the money would go to finance the Mexican-American war, which he found to be unjust, and the institution of slavery, which he detested.
He spent one night in jail. Someone, widely believed to be his aunt, paid the bill, and he was released the next morning. He then went to get his shoe fixed.
While no lasting harm was done, Thoreau used the incident as a reason to put his ideas on lawbreaking for good to paper. The resultant essay, commonly known as Civil Disobedience, is a classic of American political thought and has influenced thinkers around the world.
Thoreau's reasoning is easy to follow, he points out that there is such a thing as justice but that not all laws adhere to it. This presents any lover of justice with a problem:
"Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?
Perhaps obviously, he thinks the solution is the last one. He argues that just because the state is carrying out a particular policy doesn't mean that the individual is obligated to sit quietly and accept it if it is unjust. Everybody has a conscience, and they must follow it.
While it is possible that waiting until the next election could be an effective method of altering the law, Thoreau reminds us that people don't live forever and that such methods "take too much time." Furthermore, a person who obeys an unjust law for years acquiesces to the injustice. Instead, it is just to act now and prevent yourself from being an accomplice to injustice.
As an illustration, he compares the state to a machine. While he admits that sometimes the machine might incidentally create injustices, other times, the injustice is systemic and directly results from bad policy. In such a case, the only thing for a just man to do is to "Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine."
He further calls for us to "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence," rather than sit back and let the majority run things unjustly. He goes on to imagine what would happen if masses of people stopped paying their taxes while the government still uses them to promote unjust laws and notes that it is more likely that there would be policy changes then mass arrests.
While it might look like Thoreau is just trying to get out of his taxes, he says explicitly that he would be happy to pay a highway tax, since that only helps people. However, since he cannot trace the route of his money as it works its way through the bureaucracy, he finds it better to avoid showing allegiance to the state at all through paying anything.
If you are noticing a few radical notions here and there, you're not seeing things. Thoreau's ideas are part of the foundation of the school of thought known as individualist anarchism. This school, like many strains of anarchism, views the state as "expedient" at best and a threat to freedom and dignity at the worst. While Thoreau wasn't a bomb thrower, he notes in his essay that the American Constitution has many excellent features, he firmly believed the state would wither away as society advanced to a point where it was no longer needed.
The lasting influence of Civil Disobedience
The essay directly inspired Mahatma Gandhi, whose brand of nonviolent resistance to British rule in India would inspire Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the United States. Dr. King would write his own essay, The Letter from Birmingham Jail, expanding on the same themes.
King's arguments are less anarchistic than Thoreau's, but the basic principals remain the same; there is such a thing as justice, a person has no obligation to follow an unjust law, and a person is morally obligated to break a law that promotes injustice.
Dr. King's letter, written while in jail as opposed to just after leaving, also adds a strategic element to the analysis of nonviolent protest.
"You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."
As you can see, King believes that nonviolent demonstrations can bring ignored issues to the forefront of public opinion. It is then possible for progress to be made on those issues. This idea isn't totally unique to King; a similar philosophy was used by Emmeline Pankhurst during the suffrage movement, though she was much more open to destructive tactics.
Nonviolent resistance has a long and noble history of creating positive change without resorting to destruction. Thinkers like King and Thoreau make excellent arguments as to why we should not be content with injustice and slow progress but should instead take action to improve our situation.
So next time a protest march inconveniences you, remember that the participants are carrying on a well thought out tradition, and maybe try to hear them out before you dismiss them.
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
Your health and the health of the planet are not indistinguishable.
- Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help reduce obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Humans are destroying entire ecosystems to perpetuate destructive food habits.
- Understanding how to properly transition to a plant-based diet is important for success.
Richard Dawkins: No Civilized Person Accepts Slavery So Why Do We Accept Animal Cruelty? | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c09f23c34faacc8ec55aba054fae9c7c"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_4SnBCPzBl0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h3>Get your hands dirty—in the kitchen</h3><p>Quarantine offered an entire world the opportunity to get into the kitchen and put on a chef's apron. Complaints about "not enough time" are the biggest barriers to preparing home-cooked meals. Of course, pandemic fatigue has resulted in a number of recent chefs ordering out more. That said, this is the perfect time to try your hand at new dishes. With infection rates <a href="https://www.vox.com/coronavirus-covid19/2020/10/11/21511641/covid-19-us-cases-update-testing-deaths-hospitalizations" target="_blank">increasing across the country</a>, stocking up on seasonal vegetables is a great idea. </p><p>Simple seasonal ways to begin your plant-based exploration include <a href="https://nomnompaleo.com/post/11136213353/roasted-kabocha-squash" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roasted kabocha squash</a>, <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bombay potatoes</a>, and <a href="https://www.delicious.com.au/recipes/no-chop-pumpkin-soup/seblnp2r?r=recipes/collections/autumnrecipes&c=f3bf723a-05a7-487d-bd4b-5bc8af042ca9/autumn%20recipes%20you%27ll%20fall%20in%20love%20with" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">no-chop pumpkin soup</a>. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, <a href="https://www.thecuriouschickpea.com/masoor-dal-tadka/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Masoor Dal Tadka</a> will keep you warm into the winter months. A delicious <a href="https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a23362341/sweet-potato-salad-recipe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">sweet potato salad</a> will never fail you. This <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/easy-meatless-monday-recipes" target="_blank">round-up of 25 vegetarian recipes</a> will keep you busy for a few months (or a month if you're ambitious). </p><h3>Educate yourself on the benefits</h3><p>Education is essential for beginning any endeavor. Weeding through propaganda and bunk science to find credible evidence of any diet is difficult, though many experts agree that for individual and societal health, a plant-based diet is key. </p><p>Even vegetarianism has its pitfalls. For example, <a href="https://michaelpollan.com/books/cooked/" target="_blank">one-fifth of all calories</a> consumed by Americans come from nutritionally-worthless white flour. If you're eating processed bread every day, you're missing out on the benefits of a rich and varied diet. </p><p>Many of the "<a href="https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/media/Factsheet4.pdf?ua=1" target="_blank">diseases of affluence</a>," such as cardiovascular and obesity-related ailments, originate with a poor diet (and lack of exercise). Meat has been an essential component of the human diet throughout our evolution. Today, we eat too much of it—and too much of it is produced in factory farms. Transitioning to a plant-based diet could help cut down on carbon emissions and the aforementioned diseases. </p><p>Plants are full of valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants that support a <a href="https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/5-benefits-of-a-plant-based-diet.h20-1592991.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">strong immune system</a>. A (non-processed) plant-based diet reduces inflammation and offers plenty of fiber. It has been shown to reduce your risk of diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. Those are all great reasons to transition. </p><h3>Begin your journey with a single step</h3><p>Going cold turkey rarely works for addicts. The same is true of diets. If you're interested in a plant-based diet, try to eat veg every other day for a few weeks. Notice how your body reacts on days you eat this way compared to other days. Gradually phase out meat products. Attempt meat-free weekdays and see if your craving for meat persists on the weekend. Try using meat as a garnish instead of the main course. </p><p>More importantly, have a replacement plan. Dropping all meat products to consume frozen dinners isn't the best course of action. Filling your cart with bags of foods you've never eaten before will overwhelm you. Prepare meals as you taper off of meat; arm yourself with a broad knowledge of healthy plants and vegetables. At some point, you might forget what you've been missing. </p>
Photo: anaumenko / Adobe Stock<h3>Start with foods you already love</h3><p>The good news is that you likely have a number of plant-based side and main dishes that you love. Transitioning into a new diet requires a certain level of enjoyment. Otherwise, you're going to loathe eating, and eating should bring some level of satisfaction. </p><p>Try a one-to-one ratio to begin. On one night, cook a meal you love. Then try something completely new the next night. Follow that up with old faithful. This way, you constantly have new dishes to look forward to yet don't get stuck in thinking you have to be creative every single day. You'll likely find some winners and decide not to repeat other dishes. Regardless, you'll have a broader menu to work from. </p><h3>Avoid ingredients you can't pronounce</h3><p>The produce section of your grocery store provides almost everything you need to survive. You can likely pronounce every ingredient in this section. There's a vast difference between food and foodstuffs. Plenty of plant-based companies offer too much of the latter. Potato chips are technically vegetarian, and some use simple ingredients, yet it's easy to fill your cart with foodstuffs. The health benefits of this are not only negligible but potentially dangerous. </p><p>Qi Sun, an assistant professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/news/20191104/are-there-health-downsides-to-vegetarian-diets" target="_blank">explains</a>. "If you eat a vegan diet, but eat a lot of french fries, refined carbs like white bread, white rice, that's not healthy." He suggests "emphasizing fruits and vegetables. Not fruit juice but whole food. And nuts."</p><h3>Utilize the wisdom of the internet—but don't get indoctrinated</h3><p>There's a lot of terrible advice—and worse, propaganda—on the internet. While you likely don't want to eat eggs every day, they're not "toxic," as one popular documentary claims. Eggs are <a href="https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/ingredient-focus-eggs" target="_blank">one of the best</a> low-cost, high-value foods around. </p><p>Read websites like <a href="https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/scientific-benefits-following-plant-based-diet/" target="_blank">Everyday Health</a>, which uses clear language, like "may improve" and "may decrease," with links to credible studies. This way you follow the going science without becoming fanatical about a particular diet or being disappointed if it turns out the research doesn't hold up. Good science evolves with evidence. And right now, the evidence points to more vegetables in our diets. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
Eastern traditions have complex views on how karma affects your life.
- Karma is not simple retribution for bad deeds.
- Eastern traditions view karma as part of a cycle of birth and rebirth.
- Actions and intentions can influence karma, which can be both positive and negative.
Thanga Wheel of LIfe
Credit: Adobe stock