“If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth–certainly the machine will wear out… but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
― Henry David Thoreau,
I begin this post with a quote from Henry David Thoreau, a man who was, put simply, an anarchist.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “An anarchist?! What are you smoking?!”
I’m smoking justice, dammit!
Since that terrible joke’s over and done with, let me explain why I’m saying, and you’ll agree, that we should be civilly disobedient in the face of injustice and wrongdoing by our government or others in positions of power.
In order to live in a modern, civilized (Note: This is not used in the same context as civil disobedience. It’s just the best word for this context, in my opinion.), stable environment, we have the duty to be arbiters and protectors of these things.
We, as citizens of these United States, and, again, as humans, have the moral obligation, to stand up against injustice when we see it, no matter the consequences (though these are my personal feelings on the matter).
I’d like to share another quote, one that you’ve probably already heard.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
The creator has widely been disputed and the quote has many variants, of which are attributed to many, including, but not limited to: most famously, Edmund Burke, oft-touted as the ‘philosophical founder of modern conservatism’; John Stuart Mill, one of the most influential minds in the history of liberalism; Sergei Bondarchuk‘s (a playwright) adaptation of Tolstoy’s (an author) War and Peace; Plato, most famously a philosopher, scientist, and mathematician; and Albert Einstein, arguably the world’s most famous genius; and this is only a small handful.
When you add these two quotes, these two philosophical ideologies*, you get modern progressivism, at least, in my view, as I interpret things.
*(Philosophy and ideology are two separate things; yet, I’ve put these together for a good reason.)
Let me throw another quote at you.
“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 one you should recognize. That is part of our Declaration of Independence.
You add that one into the mix and the picture becomes even more clear: these are all what we’re fighting for, and against, at this moment, in America. This is what the protests, the town halls, the outrage, is about.
(Quick note: if you haven’t seen any of the town hall footage, which features both progressives and conservatives, showing their outrage at their representatives, I highly recommend you do so. In fact…here; this is my favorite. For more context: she’s speaking out against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and how the Republicans have been voting against their own constituents; she also is someone who voted for him and is a Republican. As you can see, he did not answer her question. In fact, many representatives are not going to their town halls or are substituting them for ‘tele-town halls’ so they don’t have to face their angry constituents in person.)
Getting back on topic, I’d like to give a quick overview of the differences between philosophy and ideology as I understand it.
A philosophy is moreso an idea or a belief; it’s solely the intellectual, the practical, as opposed to the actual practice.
An ideal is the implementation of those ideas or beliefs, or a system of them; it’s the practice with the practical and intellectual.
The reason I combined them is important: you cannot blindly act without thinking of the consequences of those actions; conversely, you cannot simply think without acting, lest you fail to do what you’re thinking.
One cannot have one without the other and hope to do anything productive, or really, anything at all.
Which brings us back to civil disobedience.
Civil disobedience is, to a degree at least, covered under our First Amendment rights; specifically, the right to assemble and petition.
This isn’t to say that you should just blindly ignore the laws because you don’t agree with them; that’s anarchy, which is how some interpret the first quote by Thoreau in order to justify their actions (more on this topic in a future post); you should follow the law, if it’s just.
But you should disobey unjust laws, laws that you know are wrong, even if that should get you in trouble. If you’re truly on the right side (and the system isn’t stacked against you; again, more on this later), you’ll be fine.
However, I prefer to take this one step further and apply it to all aspects of my life. It makes things more difficult, I can attest, but it’s worth it. I truly believe that. No matter what, I know that I hold myself to a higher standard and that I won’t bend when I don’t believe it’s right.
Therefore, one could, and I do (as stated in the paragraph directly above this one), interpret this as I did in the title: that exhibiting civil disobedience, specifically and especially in the face of injustice, is the most American thing you can do.