MLK: The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment

We live in an even more regimented society than the 1950s and early 1960s. We live in a society where protests can be confined to ‘protest zones,’ where peaceful protest or critical comment can place activists and journalists on a no-fly list (while the authorities still seem routinely to overlook actual terrorists), where our electronic mail is routinely snooped into by agents of the federal government, where civil disobedience is being redefined as material support to terrorism. On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, it is worth remembering Dr. King’s speech at Western Michigan University on December 18, 1963, in which he called for an international society of misfits who would dare challenge the injustices in the prevailing order.

The passage quoted below is about conformism and about the attempt of Establishment social scientists to create conformism as the social norm (a tendency that went further in the Soviet Union but was also present in the US).

Today, we are told by the Republican minority that is holding the country hostage in the Senate that we are maladjusted if we object to 37 million Americans not being covered by health care. We are maladjusted if we want to see banks regulated. We are maladjusted if we want a graduated income tax so that the richest, with their billions in bonuses, pay more for government social services from which they and their corporations benefit. We are maladjusted if we object to escalating the war in Afghanistan or to covert drone assassinations in Pakistan or to starting a whole new war in Yemen. We are maladjusted if we object to racially profiling Arabs and Arab-Americans. We are maladjusted if we object to mountain top removal coal mining, or, indeed, if we object to destroying the world with the burning of coal in general. We are maladjusted if we won’t disfigure our shorelines with oil rigs. We are maladjusted if we support choice for women or marriage for gays. (It is not that Dr. King, a man of his own era, would have necessarily supported all these causes in his own day, but that they are causes analagous to and growing out of the ones he did embrace).

We honor today a man who repeatedly broke the law. Who conspired to break the law. Who put tens of thousands of people up to breaking the law. He broke the law while adhering to the principle of active non-violence, of loving the jailer and winning over the persecutor. He broke laws that he saw as unjust and unconstitutional, and over time he redefined them as illegitimate by his passionate advocacy.

We honor a man from a different age, when Americans seemed to care about social injustice enough to come out into the streets and risk police dogs, tear gas, and imprisonment. When depression came from being unable to ensure that no American child went to bed hungry, not from being unable to stay in Avatar-world. Those in King’s tradition stand on the verge of being routed, on health care, the environment, bank regulation, abolition of the ‘PATRIOT’ acts assaults on the constitution, and the rendering of warfare a permanent institution in American life, like interstate highways and social security. If we are routed, will we effectively protest? Will there be consequences for the insurance companies, the arms dealers, the warmongering ‘think tanks,’ the advertisers, the lobbyists who mobilized to preserve the unjust old order? Or in today’s world is it enough to put up a facebook page and text a dollar to our favorite causes? Is that the kind of thing that would have satisfied Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is what, among other things, Dr. King said here in Michigan a little over 46 years ago:

‘ There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination.

I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry.

I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence. But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence, and the alternative to disarmament. The alternative to absolute suspension of nuclear tests. The alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. This is why I welcome the recent test-ban treaty.

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment–men and women who will be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos. Who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’

End/ (Not Continued)\

5 Responses

  1. Martin Luther King could articulate moral value better than anyone. I think part of the intense loathing that surrounded him, and ultimately killed him, was due to this quality – he left nowhere to hide.

    Professor Cole, you put a superb frame on this important day.

  2. Thanks, Juan, for this out-of-the-ballpark post. I am forwarding it to everyone I know today: we all need the inspiration. Best, L.

  3. Excellent post. Thank you.

    I expect that the people who should read it will not: I refer to that breed of younger "activists," and I expect we could all name some, who despite all their talk about "grassroots" have thoroughly embraced the inside-the-beltway notion that the only "serious" work revolves around intra-(Democratic-)party maneuvering; people for who a primary challenge to an incumbent is a radical action and to who on-the-streets actions are "alienating," vaguely icky, or both.

  4. Excellent! Not much else can be said about this post…thanks Juan!

  5. I am 76 year old and at this age I discover the fact that ALL IS NOT LOST ! There are still many people around the globe who are so emotionally , and intellectually attched to the the people who have been struggling for the " JUSTICE"
    Not the kind of justice which is part of conspiracy ( ! )

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