King was not murdered because he had spent his heroic life promoting individual volunteerism. To understand his life and death – to celebrate the man – “it is essential to realize although he is popularly depicted and perceived as a civil rights leader, he was much more than that. A non-violent revolutionary, he personified the most powerful force for a long overdue social, political, and economic reconstruction of the nation.” Those are the words of William Pepper, the King family lawyer, from his comprehensive and definitive study of the King assassination, The Plot to Kill King, a book that should be read by anyone concerned with truth and justice.
Revolutionaries are, of course, anathema to the power elites who, with all their might, resist such rebels’ efforts to transform society. If they can’t buy them off, they knock them off. Fifty years after King’s assassination, the causes he fought for – civil rights, the end to U.S. wars of aggression, and economic justice for all – remain not only unfulfilled, but have worsened in so many respects. And King’s message has been enervated by the sly trick of giving him a national holiday and then urging Americans to make it “a day of service.” The vast majority of those who innocently participate in these activities have no idea who killed King, or why. If they did, they might pause in their tracks, and combine their “service” activities with a teach-in on the truth of these matters.
Because MLK repeatedly called the United States the “greatest purveyor of violence on earth,” he was universally condemned by the mass media and government that later – once he was long and safely dead and no longer a threat – praised him to the heavens. This has continued to the present day of historical amnesia.
Educating people about the fact that U.S. government forces conspired to kill Dr. King, and why, and why it matters today, is the greatest service we can render to his memory.
William Pepper’s decades-long investigation not only refutes the flimsy case against the alleged assassin James Earl Ray, but definitively proves that King was killed by a government conspiracy led by J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI, Army Intelligence, and the Memphis Police, assisted by southern Mafia figures.
This shocking truth is accentuated when one is reminded (or told for the first time) that in 1999 a Memphis jury, after a thirty day civil trial with over seventy witnesses, found the U.S. government guilty in the killing of MLK. The King family had brought the suit and Pepper represented them. They were grateful that the truth was confirmed, but saddened by the way the findings were buried by the media in cahoots with the government
System-preserving power is not repressive, but seductive
In disciplinary and industrial society, system-preserving power was repressive. Factory workers were brutally exploited by factory owners. Such violent exploitation of others’ labor entailed acts of protest and resistance. There, it was possible for a revolution to topple the standing relations of production. In that system of repression, both the oppressors and the oppressed were visible. There was a concrete opponent — a visible enemy —and one could offer resistance.
The neoliberal system of domination has a wholly different structure. Now, system-preserving power no longer works through repression, but through seduction — that is, it leads us astray. It is no longer visible, as was the case under the regime of discipline. Now, there is no longer a concrete opponent, no enemy suppressing freedom that one might resist.
Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem.
The subjugated subject is not even aware of its subjugation
Any disciplinary power that expends effort to force human beings into a straitjacket of commandments and prohibitions proves inefficient. It is significantly more efficient to ensure that people subordinate themselves to domination on their own. The efficacy defining the system today stems from the fact that, instead of operating through prohibition and privation, it aims to please and fulfill. Instead of making people compliant, it endeavors to make them dependent. This logic of neoliberal efficiency also holds for surveillance. In the 1980s, to cite one example, there were vehement protests against the German national census. Even schoolchildren took to the streets.
From today’s perspective, the information requested therein— profession, education levels, and distance from the workplace — seem almost laughable. At the time, people believed that they were facing the state as an instance of domination wresting data from citizens against their will. That time is long past. Today, people expose themselves willingly. Precisely this sense of freedom is what makes protest impossible. In contrast to the days of the census, hardly anyone protests against surveillance. Free self-disclosure and self-exposure follow the same logic of efficiency as free self-exploitation. What is there to protest against? Oneself?
Single vision—the shrill and dogmatic insistence that real knowledge can only come through the material senses, and must never be understood as anything but the random acts of dead matter and mindless energy in a dead and mindless cosmos—pervades contemporary industrial civilization. It’s because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve gotten so good at manipulating matter and energy, but it’s also because we’re so used to thinking in these terms that we’ve done such a dismal job of maintaining the balance of the living planet on which our own lives depend. The old story of King Midas has an uncomfortable parallel here; just as Midas got the power to turn things to gold by touching them, only to discover that his food, his drink, and his daughter also got turned into lumps of yellow metal, we’ve gotten so good at manipulating dead things that we’re only just starting to notice that we’re turning everything around us into dead things, and may well end up turning into dead things in a hurry ourselves if we don’t get a clue or two.
We are living a collective illusion known as the civilized world. We feign concern for our horrendous conditions of poverty, socioeconomic inequality, deteriorating public health, and severe environmental degradation (to which climate change is merely one factor), but everything we do belies that distress. These issues comprise the largest risks to the survival of the human species, as well as the most significant amoral atrocities on the planet. Both individually and as a species, our health, safety, and ability to live a decent, dignified life have always been imperiled by these predicaments. Yet, we continue along with complete cognitive dissonance in that the crux of our lives – our jobs, our consumer culture – all contribute to, perpetuate, and exacerbate the unsustainable and morally reprehensible conditions of our existence. But while we are all marginally responsible for the multitude of calamities befalling us, the one group who bears the brunt of the blame for our social and ecological decay is the wealthy.