Racists can call Martin Luther King a lot of nasty names and some refuse to honor the federal holiday honoring him, but the man is a icon of moral engagement. We need such icons.
So what is moral engagement anyway?
First of all, it is the antithesis of the moral disengagement so gleefully manipulated by conscienceless tyrants who know how to get otherwise decent people to participate in or condone murderous violence and other inhumane behavior.
Examples of moral disengagement are: dehumanizing others (e.g., calling them “animals,” “pigs”), blaming victims for violence directed at them (“they started it”), claiming that “good” ends justify violent means, using pseudomoral pap to justify violence (“making the world safe for democracy”), minimizing negative consequences of violence, denying responsibility for violence (“just following orders”), and using euphemistic words (e.g., “collateral damage”) to describe violence.
Despite often powerful pressures to engage in violence, there are countless people in all walks of life who operate instead on principles of moral engagement. One lasting example is Martin Luther King Jr.
Exemplars of moral engagement humanize victims of violence, exonerate victims, offer alternatives to violence, engage in morally principled reasoning regarding the evils of violence, assume responsibility for addressing violence, and tell it like it is. Martin Luther King did all of these things and, as we will show, they are reflected in his speeches.
Humanizing the victim: “Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.”
Exonerating the victim: “The sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.” “Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
To be continued.