Most of us know who Martin Luther King jr. is, but today Connor and Brittany talk about what he can teach us about equality under the law and even civil disobedience.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hey, Connor.
Connor: You know, I think it’s fair to say that most of our listeners know who Martin Luther King Jr. Was, and of course, I mean, we have a entire day celebrating him in January. But I wanna go a little bit deeper than just talking about his past and telling a story. I want to talk about his message of equality before the law and why that message is important to upholding individual liberty. Now, even though the concept that, you know, every individual should be treated equally under the law, seems obvious, it’s not that obvious to a lot of people. And in the last several years, a lot of this message from MLK Martin Luther King Jr. You know, this message has been distorted. It’s been lost. And instead of, you know, doubting the government’s role in bringing equality before the law, people have begun to assume that we need the government to kind of elevate some individuals above others in order to achieve equality. And they, you know, this should be based just on race, for example. but I feel like this concept is totally contrary to actual equal treatment. Martin Luther King’s message was one that taught us that we’re all individuals, we shouldn’t be lumped into groups, but that’s become really the opposite of what people who claim to be for equality are thinking about and asking for. They’re specifically trying to divide us into groups. They’re trying to use the government to benefit certain groups over, others in the name of equality, but it’s not actually equality.
Brittany: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. And, again, I think enough of our listeners know about Martin Luther King, where, where, I won’t go into too much detail, but brief overview since again, so many of us know about him. You know, Martin Luther King Jr. Is a pastor. He’s this huge leader in the Civil Rights Movement. the government was honestly so scared of his influence, and he was, you know, disrupting the status quo, as we’ve talked about before, that his phone was even wiretapped. I mean, for several years they were listening into everything he was doing. Again, we won’t go over all the details because this is some basic, you know, biography stuff that if you don’t know, I’ll put some links in the show notes. But I think you’re right, Connor, I think it’s important to touch on the importance of his message, which some people might not realize what was actually about individualism and fair treatment under the law, and also, you know, little dash civil disobedience in there. because, you know, in spite of all these great obstacles he faced, including the government being against him and being jailed 29 times, wow. Yeah. He still persevered. And he was a great spokesperson for you know, of equality, which again, is essentially individualism because if we think about what equality means, it means that people should be judged by who they are, not by whatever groups they associate with or, even whatever groups that they’re, they don’t even mean to associate with, right? You don’t get to choose what race you’re born. You don’t get to choose your ethnicity. That’s just something that happens. I was about to make a snide joke about you can choose your gender now, but, you know, I won’t go into that but when we do see people as groups, you know, we lose our individual liberty.
Connor: I think that’s right. And you know, Martin Luther King at one point, I think I certainly more than once, quoted our Declaration of Independence, which we’ve discussed. And you know, this document is rooted in individualism, the importance of the individual. And, he has a famous speech called, I have a, it’s I Have a Dream speech. And, so here’s what he says in there. He says I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. Creed is like a statement of belief. So the true meaning of its creed. And then he quotes from the declaration, we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men, and of course all women, all people are created equal. And then he goes on to say, I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Do you know? And even though those who claim to be for what are called civil rights, which are just, you know, the right to, you know, be an individual, the right to be able to do what you want, the right to not be oppressed by the government. Right? These people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. Praise him, but they’ve seemed to have forgotten this message. You know, we’ve talked about things like affirmative action, where the, you know, a university like a college or the government will be like, well, we don’t have enough, black people, so we’re going to help black people by making it easier for them to get this job or to get into college. And rather than equality, they’re actually creating racism. They’re trying to fight racism by being racist. They’re saying, well, we’re gonna treat black people differently because, you know, we don’t have enough, or because, you know, these goals that we have are not being met, but then they’re being racist. They’re not, they’re looking intentionally at the color of people’s skin and making decisions that way. They’re judging these people by the color of their skin rather than their merit, their character, and their abilities. And I think that is not, not only, is that not what Martin Luther King talked about. It, violates, I think, what he talked about, and this notion of actually having equality. if we want to fight racism, we can’t fight racism with racism.
Brittany: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And a couple of episodes ago, you and I talked about Thomas Sowell, who is very concerned about this issue happening now. And, you know, he is a black man who’s overcome so much to succeed in his life and has built a career that is pretty amazing. And he did it by hard work. And he’s actually one of the loudest outspoken advocates against affirmative action. There’s a great quote, can’t even speak, great quote from him that says, equal opportunity. And that’s in like scare quotes, equal opportunity laws and policies require individuals to judge on their qualifications as individuals without regard to race, gender, age, et cetera. Affirmative action requires that they be judged with regard to such group membership receiving preferential treatment or comp wait for compensation, I can’t even speak about treatment in some cases to achieve a more proportional representation in various institutions and occupations.
Connor: All right, so break, that down, let’s say.
Brittany: There. So basically an equal opportunity. The reason he has this in scare quotes is because, equal opportunity doesn’t really mean equal opportunity like you were saying earlier. It basically is saying, oh, we’re gonna, we’re gonna lift you up because you’re this race and give you first preference into a school even though you didn’t earn it. And, it’s what is that doing that is treating you as though you’re a member of a group, or it’s treating you as a group. It’s not treating you as, Connor, it’s not saying, this is what Connor has achieved, this is what Connor has worked for. Right? It’s giving you preferential treatment. Cuz let’s say you’re a boy. That’s not what’s really happening, but we’re just use that as an example. So it, the alternative to that, how we should be doing things is by treating people like the individual that they are. And Thomas Sol had a lot of concern with affirmative action because he was saying a lot of these students would’ve excelled at other schools had they got in. But because they’re only being accepted based on their gender or race, they’re not really qualified to keep up with the workload of somewhere like Harvard or somewhere like Stanford. And then we’re falling behind, and we talked about this in our other episode. So this isn’t helping anybody. It just makes people feel good inside. And we’ve talked about facts not being feelings. We’ve talked about things like that before. This is one of those things that makes people feel good inside, but it doesn’t actually do anything. So, you know, and even as a female, I have to deal with this. I would’ve had an easier get time getting into law school than some of my male friends. And that’s just because of my gender. And even though that may have helped me like that’s not individualism.
Connor: Well, that point is so critical. This is, not individualism. It violates individualism because it’s grouping people together. It’s, as you said, treating them based on other characteristics, that have nothing to do with their abilities and skills. You know, in addition to, the issue about individual liberty, there are other lessons I think we can learn from Martin Luther King Jr. A main one being really the importance of civil disobedience. We’ve talked about this before. You just mentioned how he was jailed 29 times, which is crazy. Yeah. and he’s got this great document, we should talk about in a moment, this letter from Birmingham Jail. Yeah. and you know, many of these instances when he was in jail were because he broke laws that were unjust, like segregation laws. `but you know, we’re familiar with Rosa Parks, right? And trying to ride, on the bus, but in a seat, she wasn’t allowed to be in. And Martin Luther King Jr. That’s always a mouthful. We should just call.,
Connor: Dr. King.
Brittany: Dr. King. That’s a good one.
Connor: And, he understood that government actions are not always moral just because these actions, these decisions were made by those in charge. You know, he disobeyed laws that he thought were wrong. And, just like the American colonists did many other great and courageous people. If you’re Christian, your Bible’s full of examples right there. There are many times when the government is, asking us, well, not asking us, they don’t ask, they don’t ask mandate. They say, here’s what you need to do, here’s what you’re not allowed to do. And you know, a lot of times the laws make sense, but so many cases they don’t and they violate your rights. Right. If I was actually, literally this morning I was talking to my kids about the First Amendment and constitutional law and how it works. Like, well, look, you know, it’s not like we have a constitution, therefore Congress obeys it perfectly, right? And I shared an example we’ve shared on this podcast before about how, you know, the founders pass the, or, you know, create the Constitution and the very first amendment to it, Congress shall make no law regarding speech. They, can’t ban or restrict speech. And then what happens just a few years later, many of the very same people are passing what’s called the Sedition Act, which prohibits people from criticizing the President. And cuz they didn’t want people saying mean things about John Adams, who was a member of their majority political party. The same people who supported that constitution are now violating it. So I’m talking to my kids about how like, hey, look, Congress doesn’t always pass constitutional laws. That’s why we have courts to try and challenge these things. Brittany, I know you now work for Pacific Legal, which is a great group trying to challenge these laws that get passed. They’re not constitutional. And, so with Martin Luther King Jr, with Dr. King, here again, we have an example of someone who is finding themselves running up against these laws that are unjust, they’re unconstitutional. And so the question for us is like, do we have to just wait for the courts to resolve it? What if the courts are on the side of the legislature of Congress and they say, oh no, this is a totally fine law, but it’s a totally unjust one? You know, a few lawyers.
Brittany: All the time. That’s not outta something, yeah. Exactly Outta Yeah. the ordinary.
Connor: Judges are just lawyers. I mean, lawyers aren’t inherently right cuz they put a black robe on, and that’s a good quote, and wave a gavel. And, so the courts sometimes get it wrong. So, for our listeners out there, you know, the question is, when you are confronted with an unjust law, what do you do? Well, Dr. King felt like he wanted to stand up and do what was right regardless of what the law said. And that’s why he landed in jail so many times.
Brittany: Yeah. And so when he wrote the very famous letter, from Birmingham Jail and very aptly named, so that was 1956. And when he was arrested, he was arrested for, driving a few miles over the speeding bailment, which if we’re all being honest, we’ve all done Right. But they knew who he was once they pulled him over and they’re like, all right, we’re taking you to jail. But he wrote this incredible letter and we’ll link to it in the show notes. I actually, the first time I read this letter was in my constitutional law class by a libertarian teacher, and it’s her professor, and it’s really great letter, so I’ll highly recommend you read it. But one line says, we know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed. And I think this is something all liberty-minded people should appreciate because we know this to be true.
Connor: Explain what you mean by that. What does that mean?
Brittany: So basically you’re not gonna ask your jailer for freedom. Your jailer’s not gonna give you freedom. Right? You’re, the one he is tasked with keeping in captivity or imprisoned. So, that’s kind of what this quote is saying. And it actually reminds me to kind of give some further explanation to that quote. You and I talked about the ratchet effect a couple of episodes ago. It’s one of those things where like when you give somebody power over you, they don’t start relinquishing that power and giving it back. They take more and they take more so us like, please, sir, can I have some more of freedom? It’s not, it’s not gonna work. They don’t do that. So, that’s why we have to be so relentless, and that’s a word I really like when it comes to talking about freedom. We have to be relentless in our fight for individual rights.
Connor: You know, Dr. King might have pushed for the government to help make things equal, but the truth is that movements often impact like social change, often more than laws. Right. What I mean by that is it’s, the laws don’t always change. It’s not like, et’s go make an amendment. Let’s repeal that law. Oftentimes it’s about changing people’s minds.
Brittany: Yes, it Has to be.
Connor: Right? It’s, in fact, here at Libertas Institute, our work, we say that we are changing hearts, minds, and laws. And so we definitely have to change the laws. But to do that, you need to change people’s hearts and minds. You need to get people to understand and think differently. Part of the problems that Dr. King and all the supporters and black people were running into was the rampant racism by white people. And of course, you know, white people then passed laws that benefited white people and restricted black people. But had they been able to just, you know, apply enough pressure and get the law changed, that wouldn’t really have changed much because there would’ve still been, you know, rampant racism. And so he was in the business really of trying to make the moral case for equality to white people who needed to have a change of heart, who needed to have a change of mind. And, today, you know, we’re in the same business. People’s hearts and minds are being polluted with this nonsense of thinking that they support equality, but in fact, being racist, in fact, being discriminatory, people are claiming to be for civil rights, except they’re asking the government to oppress other people. Yeah. You know, before Dr. King was like, Hey, government, stop oppressing people today. It’s, Hey, government, I want you to oppress that person to benefit this person over here.
Brittany: Or to make up for oppressing the other person. It’s so funny, like, to oppress this person because they may have oppressed that person. Yeah.
Connor: Like, or something. Reparations is what that sometimes called. because, you know, black people were once, marginalized and oppressed, which is true. Therefore, we need to, you know, oppress white people today to make up our, well, wait a minute. Like, I had nothing to do with what my, you know, great-great grandpa may have done, or my random third cousin twice removed. Like, that wasn’t me. And so why do I have to be punished for it? So this is very important, right? Because socialism is very seductive because yay free things and free college, right? Similarly, equality is a message that everyone can get on board for everyone supports equality, but you have to be careful because many of the people who are clamoring for equality are doing so in a way that does not actually promote equality. They, want to dictate certain outcomes. They want to benefit certain people at the expense of others. So it’s not like, Hey, let’s all have a fair treatment. Let’s all have no oppression from the government. Let’s, all be equal under the law. Instead, it’s like, Hey, I’m gonna use the law to punish you so I feel more equal or so I’m more benefited. That’s not equality. That’s what we have to be on the lookout for. This is something that is becoming an increasing trend. And so I think the story of Dr. King is important because this particular message is one that a lot of people resonate with, but they’re not applying the right way. So, we’ll put on the show notes page for today, that letter from, Birmingham Jail. Great read, yes to think about. And so make sure to spend some time as, a family going over that and, and pulling out there the messages that matter most to you. Talk about how they apply today because this is certainly a message that has not expired with time. and so his words in that letter and others, especially reading from the Declaration of Independence, that he has a dream that we can rise to this idea of equality, for all people is something that we absolutely need to be preaching today and carry on that message. So, thanks Brittany, as always. And until next time, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.