Wednesday, 2 November 2011

"Civil disobedience... is not our problem..." ~ Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (1922 - 2010) was an American historian, academic, author and impassioned human rights campaigner.  His work is new to me but it seems he may be most well known for his best selling book "A People's History of the United States".


In his book "Failure to Quit" (Page 45) he wrote:
You are saying our problem is civil disobedience, but that is not our problem.

Our problems is civil obedience.

Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience.

Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty, starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty.

Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and the while the grand thieves are running the country.

That's our problem.
His point was based on the observation that it is widespread pressure from the general public that motivates politicians to bring about political and legal changes.  If that pressure is not applied progress will not occur, therefore a degree of political involvement and / or activism is essential to the democratic process.

He also wrote:
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.  If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, it energizes us to act, and raises at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.  And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future.  The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.
This quote is from" A Power Governments Cannot Suppress", page 170

In his article, "Changing minds one at a time" (2005) he wrote:
We were not born critical of existing society.  There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness - embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.  This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.  
I can certainly identify with these thoughts!

That quote is from the Wikipedia article about him as linked to at the beginning of this article.  It's an interesting article, well worth taking time to read.  We need people like this to help us keep our sights on what is important. 

Thanks to the writers of the Wikipedia article, and also the photographer for their generosity in sharing as they have.

You can find more of his quotable quotes at the Good Reads site and Gaiam Life.

Article updated: 11th April 2012.

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