Wednesday, June 4, 2008


"It is the duty of every citizen to be subversive." Carl Kaufmann.

I've been thinking a lot about this recently, sparked in part by reading Diamond Age by Neil Stephenson. In it he mentions that a vital human quality is the ability to be subversive. I mentioned how much I approved of this in our book club discussion yesterday, and people understandably wanted to know what I meant by it. I said then that it meant to me questioning authority, not accepting what they say simply because they ARE authority.

Now today I read a lovely article on Martin Luther King and "Christian unrest". They use the following phrase to describe this: "reflects on King's costly commitment to Christian unrest by refusing to accommodate to the injustices of his time." It was not simply a question of civil rights, though his achievements there are accomplishment enough for any one human life. King was also concerned with economic justice and with the terrible effects of militarism. King has been heavily sanitized for domestic consumption... how many people know more of his speeches than the few phrases surrounding "I have a dream"? The article mentions the following King quote: "I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generations, "Let judgement run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." I believe that Biblical quote is on the Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (just checked, and it is a similar quote) designed by Maya Lin who also designed the VietNam War memorial in DC.

King, then, is close to what I mean by subversive, the brave person who stands against injustice, no matter how entrenched it may be in the halls of power.

Oddly enough, if you ask me for another example of something I like and consider subversive, it is about as far away from King as you can get... the cartoon show that ran in the 1990s The Animaniacs. Why was it subversive? Again, hard to define. Animaniacs was too violent, but it did also genuinely try to teach kids in a fun and interesting way. It had a wicked good sense of humor, and if I remember correctly, it took great potshots at authority figures who needed to be satirized... much like the Daily Show today.

So, citizens, be subversive! Just don't be unnecessarily destructive about it, please.

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