October 22, 2009

“Nothing Hitler Did Was Illegal”

mlk

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said this in response to questions about civil rights and the law. The point was that morality and the law are not always on the same side.

I often think about this as I ponder the social and political issues of our time. The question that comes to mind is:

What about now?

In retrospect, we can look at bold decisions that were made in support of freedom and fail to see any moral ambiguity. Years or decades later, it’s easy to see now which side was right. Of course it was right to help slaves obtain their freedom, even if it was against the law. Of course it was right to demonstrate for civil rights, no matter the consequences.

Politicians of all stripes claim Martin Luther King as a hero now, but during his lifetime it was much different. The FBI maintained a file on him and worried about him being a friend of communists. Despite tapping his phone line and keeping tabs on his travels, they were unable to prevent his murder.

Because the benefit of history makes everything clear, the challenge is to get it right the first time.

Where did I stand on the Iraq war? I opposed it, but not very forcefully. To be honest, it seemed to make sense at the time with the information we were given. I should have been more openly skeptical. Whether or not my stance could have changed anything is somewhat irrelevant.

Where do I stand on equality and the right to marry whomever you want? I support it, obviously. My choice in marriage doesn’t affect anyone else, so why should I be threatened by anyone else’s choice? The people who oppose gay marriage are usually the same ones who support limited government—which of course is ironic.

Where do I stand on healthcare reform? Judging from my email, I know that many international readers don’t understand what a big deal this is in the U.S. Our country is the only rich democracy in the world that doesn’t have some form of universal coverage. I read the papers wherever I go, and everyone wants to know, what’s the problem?

The problem is that most of the people who are upset about healthcare reform already have good coverage. If they get sick, they can go to the doctor. They are also good at defining the debate to make people think that money will be taken from the rich and given to the poor.

Personally I think poor people deserve healthcare too, but the fact is that the poor are not the only ones who lack good healthcare in America. I’m not poor, but because I’m self-employed, my options are limited and I’d love to have more of them.

If anything, I’m worried that whatever plan comes out in the end will be so watered-down that it won’t produce the real change we need. If Obama can actually achieve real reform of the U.S. healthcare system, he deserves a lot more than a trophy in Norway.

***

These aren’t all of the important issues of our day, of course, and I don’t think I’ll change anyone’s mind about them by writing on a blog. Other than getting people to think for themselves, I’m not really interested in persuasion.

It just makes me think, where is my responsibility?

What would I have done in Nazi Germany or in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement? I’d like to think I would have been on the right side of history, but there’s no way to know for sure.

If there was one thing that MLK taught us, it’s that change doesn’t usually happen by itself. It’s better to speak up than to be silent; better to be wrong than indecisive.

Fast forward a few decades, and now it’s time to make new choices. Have you made yours?

###

Update: Thanks for all the feedback. Since we already have a broad range of comments below (positive, negative, and variations), I’m going to close the section so we can move on to other things.

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Comment on this article

92 Responses to ““Nothing Hitler Did Was Illegal””

  1. Hey Chris,

    The surefire way to take responsibility is to be an amplified version of yourself – including your values.

    Analyze your traits and values, and take them to an extreme. Are you passionate about something? Feel you can be responsible in influencing change? Then go to the edge with it.

    Don’t support a cause or believe something because it’s the “right” thing to do. Do it because you genuinely care about it.

    If you don’t believe in it, or are laid back with it, then don’t do it. The world doesn’t need you to. Nothing wrong here; it’s just better for someone who gives a darn to pursue it instead. You wouldn’t let a doctor who doesn’t love helping peoples’ health operate on you, right?

    Great quote and a reminder to look at what we’re passionate about and take responsibility with it,
    Oleg

  2. Actually Nobel Peace Prize is given in Norway and not Sweden like other ones ;)

    Btw, I’m also from the country where we have national health care system so it’s difficult for me to understand some comparisons which I saw from US, like public health care system equals communism etc.

  3. Oh, you’re right! My fault. Thanks; I updated the post.

  4. “What would I have done in Nazi Germany or in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement? I’d like to think I would have been on the right side of history, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

    That’s one of the question that pop up very often, but to answer it by saying “there’s no way to know for sure” is wrong. I mean, for sure, it’s the past. So now, with knowing the past, the answer must be clear: I’d stand up. The question “what would I have done” is not a real question, it’s just a suggestion, an idea. If I say today, I take a stand against fascism, I would have taken that stand 70 years ago. It doesn’t depend on time, it depends on principles. That’s the way to know for sure. If you don’t rely on your own principles then there’s no use in asking this question cos you’ll always just be “someone” who marches with the masses. It’s not about contemplating or considering, what would I have done. It’s about what can I do.

  5. Your post is thought-provoking, as intended. It’s our responsibility to at least pay attention.

    It also reminded me of the real food drama. Joel Salatin, a farmer in Virginia, wrote this article, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, and all he wants to do is sell real food to people who want it.

    He wrote a longer book on the same subject with the same name as the article.

  6. Chris,
    What a great prompt for some soul searching.

    I’ve often wondered what I would do if I was born in 1950, not 1980; would I have the guts to be a Freedom Rider, or participate in a sit-in, or march across the Pettus Bridge? Can’t answer those questions, honestly. But 30 years from now I’ll be able to look back on my stance on marriage equality and healthcare reform and know that I took the principled stand and advocated for the fair, decent, and loving option.

    That reminds me of a great paraphrased quote, “Hate isn’t the opposite of love, fear is.” Most people who oppose marriage equality don’t have gay friends. Most town hall protesters don’t have a friend or relative that doesn’t have adequate health cover. People fear what they don’t know or haven’t experienced. The challenge is to expose folks to the things they fear, in a loving way. You can’t hate people that you’ve taken the time to know, personally.

  7. The Congress will pass a bad bill that will cost a lot of money to the taxpayer and won’t reduce the % of uninsured Americans by any appreciable amount. It will probably include a provision that places a ‘surcharge’ on the portion of my healthcare premiums that my employer pays. That’s a tax anyway you look at it and only serves to increase the cost of my family’s healthcare. Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter — they both lie.

  8. Couldn’t agree with you any more on every single issue you raised! Cheers to positive change and taking responsibilty! :)

  9. What would I do?

    That is a tough question. It is easy to say we would be on the right side of history but the honest answer is that most of us would be too scared to stand up and be counted.

    Most of us can’t even choose to live our own lives, never mind fight the big fight.

    I agree that “It’s better to speak up than to be silent; better to be wrong than indecisive.” However, that sometimes means putting your life on the line. I don’t know if I would always be willing to put my life in jeopardy for what I believe to be correct.

  10. “I don’t think I’ll change anyone’s mind” Nor do I hope to change your mind, but:

    On gay marriage: You mentioned that allowing others to wed as they choose does not affect you and therefore you want to offer that opportunity to all. I counter that by allowing homosexual unions & calling them “marriage,” you are fostering a change to the very definition of marriage which, if you are married, DOES affect you. If I were to name waffles “dollars,” might I then look forward to exchanging them as US legal tender?

    On healthcare reform, I was surprised to read as you turned healthcare into an inalienable right by referring to it as something that is “deserved.” I wanted to chime in to counter that this entitlement mentality has corrupted the US and is the very cause of the financial woes of the supposed beneficiary of a personal finance blog.

    We already refuse none to emergency service as “deserved”, but where do we draw the line? That is the question.

  11. Nice quote and good post, but Chris, one sure way to loose subscribers is to express your political views. Of course, you have every right to say how you feel about these important topics, but to express them in a way that makes people who may have a different view look ignorant is not really fair. As a moderate conservative I HATE getting painted with the same brush as the people who “hate gays” or “don’t want to pay any taxes”… this seems to happen a lot in our polorized society. You’re either left or right, and there is no room for moderates.

    For the record: I myself agree with most of your views on these social issues. However, the healthcare issue is a lot more complicated than you made it sound. Setting up universal healthcare in America for 350 million people is a lot different than other nations with much smaller populations. I spoke with a Canadian who likes her healthcare system but noted she pays a 65% income tax rate on top of much higher sales taxes.

  12. October 22, 2009

    Chris Wood

    “It’s better to speak up than to be silent; better to be wrong than indecisive. ”

    Normally i agree with most everything you put out there, but this one kind of shocked me.

    Let’s take the issue of slavery, are you saying that it would have been better to be an ardent supporter of slavery than not decide on the issue?

    It is easy to say “of course not” in retrospect, but what about then? Issues are generally controversial because there are merits for both sides. I would argue that indecisiveness is better than strong opinions on an issue you are not sure of. What if Hitler had been a bit more indecisive?

  13. I’ve been watching the debate about healthcare in the USA from the perspective of living in a country (the UK) where we have “universal” free healthcare. I actually take for granted my right to see my doctor for free, for the fact that if I get cancer, I’ll be treated for free. I’ve even worked for the NHS, and I believe in the principle, even if the structure is not effective for maintaining it as it is.

    Saying this, I completely back your comment about supporting the right of the poor to have the same healthcare as the rich. From what I’ve read, apparently the US Government is already overburdened in paying for healthcare and reform needs to streamline expenditure as well as provide care to more people. I worked for the NHS in a bid to “do my part”, I suppose, to support and improve something I do believe in.

  14. They are also good at defining the debate to make people think that money will be taken from the rich and given to the poor.

    Actually, I’m kind of in favor of this. I mean, the basis of all social services is that you take money from (hopefully) those who have it to spare and use it to keep people from dying of preventable causes. I’m sure the system is way messed up, but I’m pretty much behind this philosophy.

  15. “What would I have done in Nazi Germany or in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement? I’d like to think I would have been on the right side of history, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

    I was chatting with a good friend from Berlin when I first met him, talking about what our fathers did in WWII. His was a Nazi U-boat commander. “Your father was a nazi?” I said. “How do you feel about that?” (possibly the stupidest question ever asked…) “Where I lived,” he said, “everyone’s father was a nazi.”

    Being a nazi then was both a philosophy and a job one was forcibly compelled to do – very grey areas within its context. A more telling question is whether you’d have been one of those people living a mile from a concentration camp who claimed ignorance to the atrocities going on there.

  16. Very intriguing piece. In regards to healthcare, we no more need the Federal Government to take over our healthcare than we need a Federal bureaucrat picking out our clothes. I believe the main problem with the cost of health care in the US is that consumers think of their insurance like an all-you-can-eat buffet. They overconsume, primarily because “it is already paid for”, and they do not know what anything costs. Doctors often over-treat because of fear of grotesque lawsuits. And insurers only compete within a state, often with very few players. We live in a global economy yet health insurance cannot be purchased across state lines. Instead, we overpay an insurer who is under challenged by the marketplace. This moronic law must be overturned. Doing so will create real “competition” that the politicians are always harping about and drive down costs. This reform won’t cost a dime, no new massive bureaucracy and no new entitlements, which is exactly why the politicans won’t do it.

  17. October 22, 2009

    Kevin E. Blake

    @Chris,

    I think it’s always good to question our own stances on issues. And as a adherent to a philosophy I first heard expressed by Harlan Ellison: “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” I am always asking myself if I have enough information to form a valid opinion or is my opinion merely echoing someone else.

    @Djalminho,

    “What would I have done?” is a valid question. You are not considering that the environment people are raised in is what decides their principles. Keep in mind that it has only been the last few hundred years that slavery has been seen as a bad thing. It’s been even less time that woman haven’t been seen a chattel. The German people only gradually became aware Hitler’s activities.

    Even in this “enlightened” time many of the actions taken by the American government in reaction to 9/11 went unknown for several years. And even when they did become known many people supported these actions.

  18. The health care reform is the issue that I am most interested in seeing evolve. As my health care runs out at the end of the month, how will that effect me? It is scary to think that, like you said, it is the people with all of the money, who have decent health care that get to make these decisions, not the ones who are truly struggling. Thought provoking post.

  19. I knew from a young age that the people who enforce laws didn’t always do the right thing and so it always made me wonder about the people who created laws.

    When our neighbors called the cops about the abuse happening in our home, nothing ever happened no matter how many times they came out. To say I was dubious about the system is putting it mildly.

    But when my mother called the cops to tell them that I was a runaway (I wasn’t, I was standing right next to the phone when she called, she’s borderline personality disorder but that’s a story for another day) the officers refused to take me to juvie.

    Eleven, years later, I am still in touch with one of those officers.

    I’ve seen both the good and bad of many of our systems – educational, foster, human services, police, and judicial – and the only thing I know is that systems are created and executed by people.

    That’s why you simply can’t turn your will and independent thinking over to the system…no matter how much we love it.

  20. “Where do I stand on equality and the right to marry whomever you want? I support it, obviously.”

    Hi Chris, why is this obvious?

    I’d say MLK is distinct precisely because he prevailed upon Capitol Hill and the powers that be, not just by highlighting what was obvious (that all men are created equal), but by giving principled reasons for his view, and persuasively appealing to a sense of morality.

    This blog is great because I think, typically, you do exactly that: you do more than just emote and I think your products are proof of that. Thanks for raising an important issue.

    You did raise the question “how does whom you marry affect anybody else?” So here is an answer: I think it is clear that (for centuries) marriage has created culture [via pro-creation], and not the other way around. Apparently, the cumulative affect of our individual choices impacts us all eventually.

  21. People struggle with political questions because they have never truly tried to sit down and try to figure out their own political philosophy to provide a compass for sorting out issues. Without this steadying philosophy, people are manning a sailboat without knowing how to set the sail or hold the rudder.

    If calculating political self interest were a math problem like determining a mortgage payment, then we simply have too many people who are unable to solve the problem. This is because people do not understand something I call the monkey head theory. In short, some people are threatened by the choices other people make in how they live their lives. I recall the quote from the Irish Poet Robert Burns, “O wad the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as ithers see us.”

  22. On the universal healthcare issue I’m very grateful for the NHS here in the UK. Without it my parents would probably both be dead, as would I.

    My Mum survived cancer 20 years ago and my Dad has type 2 diabetes (something that killed my grandfather) and a pacemaker fitted. I don’t think of universal healthcare as an inalienable right, just the sign of a compassionate and mature society.

    The US system is unsustainble. Not from a moral standpoint maybe, but from a purely financial one. It cannot continue to function as it is, it will be in crisis as the cost of developing life saving drugs continues to escalate.

    On the wider question, it’s very hard to say. I confronted a man on a train who was racially abusing a group of young Indians, but most people sat there and didn’t want to be involved. I’m not sure I would in every case.

    We have Nick Griffin of the far right BNP party on a debate show on the BBC tonight (Question Time). That should be explosive.

  23. October 22, 2009

    Susan Alexander

    Chris. I just started following your blog and I’m so intrigued. I’m a transformational coach and work with both individuals and organizations – your reminder of being personally responsible for the quality of not only your own life but the community as well resonates with me. My belief is that the rest of the world and I tend to agree, sees the United States as an impetuous teenager – wanting what we want regardless of the impact on others. And that’s all about awareness so for those of us who see a responsibility to the community and the world.. we need to speak up. Thank you!

  24. Hi Chris –

    I won’t attempt to discuss your (or anyone else’s) political views here since that’s not the thrust of your blog. However, I would caution you against making generalizations about what sorts of people “typically support” in terms of politics.

    Your line about “people who oppose gay marriage are usually in favor of limited government” is an example of such a generalization. Rhetorically, you get away with it with including “usually” but it’s unappealingly lazy just the same. You’re basically shutting out people with more nuanced — and apparently more thought-out — views (like me) with this sort of verbiage.

    It’s your blog and you can say whatever you want, but if you plan on keeping your Small Army, you would do well to keep your communication with them intellectually honest.

  25. Good post and follow up comments, although I’m not sure why people are questioning your “what would I have done” line. My sociopolitical views have changed drastically from when I was a freshman in a college 30 miles away from my hometown to now, after having lived and traveled in developing countries and had a chance to “get away” from the political viewpoints of my home environment…and they’re still changing. I’d imagine this is true for other people. Plus, there’s that “fear factor” so often dismissed.

    Chris, I hope you don’t lose people by expressing your views, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone remarkable has done that :)

  26. I thought this was our most thought provoking post yet. You could have briefly explored hundreds of such topics that fall into this category (like global warming, abortion, etc.). Maybe that can be next.

    sully

  27. October 22, 2009

    Scott Melnick

    Regarding gay marriage there is another position. Simply put, the government shouldn’t be involved in regulating marriage period — whether between members of the same sex, opposite sex, etc. The government should be concerned with civil unions (that is, contractual relationships). Marriages should be governed by churches. If the Catholic Church won’t sanction gay marriages, that’s their prerogative; likewise, if the Anglicans want to sanction gay marriages, that’s their prerogative (and if some odd religion wants to sanction marriage between people and dogs, that’s their problem). The government should only be concerned about legal relationships.

  28. Thanks for writing something *political* in the personal development space. It seems as if sometimes we forget in the midst of pursuing our dreams that we are political animals, that our goals exist in the context of socioeconomic structures, and that there are problems that can only be solved together.

  29. Great post. This from George Bernard Shaw- “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

  30. October 22, 2009

    Michal Mitrega

    I don’t worry about poor people not having proper healthcare. I just don’t see that I should walk at the street giving a dollar to every not insured person I met. Doing this more sophistically through goverment doesn’t seem to make much difference for me.

    However if you want to do it, you can – there are no restrictions. Just don’t force me (and many others) through law to participate. Like you said morality and the law are not always on the same side.

  31. Regardless the financial or (perceived) societal costs, allowing others, ALL others, the freedom to do as they please will always be the right answer.

    Looking back through major polarizing events in history and even applying them to current debates, I fail to see how it’s anything but black and white.

    You just wrote about avoiding false dichotomies. Is there gray area here that I am missing?

  32. Vince, I couldn’t agree more with your insight! Chris never mentioned how much bureaucracy this would create. I cannot imagine the number of government jobs this would create, and remember no one is ever fired from a gov. job for “poor preformance”. The layers and cost would just keep expanding way beyond what is projected and at this point and time the US gov. cannot afford this type of change. Reform is needed, but this type of reform would crush our health care. How many older doctors working will quit if this goes thru? Will we still have the influx of Indian Dr.’s to the US if they are under this type system. With the mentality of people in our area who won’t even send their kids to public school “cause they ain’t gonna learn nothing” what kind of fine is going to be imposed on them for not paying into the system? They don’t want to pay either and they will not!
    Imagine if all the airlines said everyone could fly for free what the airports would be like!

  33. October 22, 2009

    Jacki Rand

    I live and pay for my beliefs. One example of the beliefs I have lived is honoring my roles as mom and as caring daughter. My children are now grown and doing well. My mother died last year. I’m in the academy where a book and tenure are required for professional survival. I’ve managed to achieve that, but only with one-year extensions, in this case and luckily for me, initiated by my department. Meanwhile. others have come into the department, been tenured, and are finishing a second book after numerous articles, hence, sailing off to full prof status. I’m just starting my next projects. Luckily I have a job, but that was not a sure thing. Truthfully, I never thought about it. I was too busy living my beliefs in hard work and in loyalty. I also live my dedication to Native America in many ways. This, too, has proven professionally costly. My own people were marched from the southeast to Oklahoma. Many died. This is the least I can do. Do it. Don’t talk about it.

  34. Way to push the envelope of accountability, Mr. Guillebeau. And as a Canadian who can walk into the ER without being asked for my MasterCard while I’m bleeding (unlike when I lived in the US for ten years and just that happened,) universal health care is the only humane answer. Our system isn’t broken but it’s dignified.

  35. Nick…someone from Canada told you they pay 65% in income tax? They were lying or ignorant. The highest income tax percentage in Canada is 46.5% (provincial and federal taxes combined) for someone earning over $126,200 in Nova Scotia. In order to be paying that percentage you’d have to have a NET income of over $126,000.

    Comparatively, a head of four person household person living just across the border in Maine making the same salary would pay around 36.5%…10% lower than their maritime neighbours (not neighbors ;-)). To find out how things really compared I checked out insurance premiums. The average family HMO premiums in 2008 in Maine were over $13,000…more than 10% of our example person’s salary. Add in co-payments and the taxes + healthcare costs for the Canadian are less.

    I know it is way more complicated than this. As Americans it’s up to you to consider what you need to do. My point is just that you need to make sure you have accurate info, not propaganda.

  36. Hi Chris,

    I never leave comments on posts but I thought I would share a few words to those who have…

    I am amazed at the comments of “you should watch what you say in order to keep your subscribers” and other comments about “gay marriage” etc. isn’t this exactly why we read and expand our minds with views from others. Shocking that “marriage” seems to be a universal term but only has one definition. Also shocking to hear that not all in the USA would want universal healthcare, they MUST be happy with their employer and feel a great sense of security or they must be fairly wealthy. Those that say it won’t work or that it will be too expensive have not done their research!

    I love your posts-keep it up!

  37. October 22, 2009

    Jacki Rand

    @Michel, @Tyler,

    Whose freedom? Does everyone have freedom in the United States? Freedom is checked by power. Whose power? Frequently corporate power. Do we not share responsibility for a “good society?” In the 19th century, a “good society” was based on white supremacy in the minds of some. What is our good society? Looks like the idea of individualism run amuck. Why shouldn’t we provide health care for all? We provide bailouts for banks; we provide tax cuts for corporations. Our money supports the entire capitalist (and global) network.

  38. It’s strange that some are so shocked about your views, not to mention the fact that you’re daring to express them! Who do you think you are? :)

    Seriously, you worked in human rights (not in the military) in the field for years. In my experience, the breadth of such global perspective almost naturally leads to more nurturing, inclusive views of rights and what’s right. And having been one myself, I get it. I loved this post, Chris. I, too, wonder if I’m failing to step up to the plate. it seems like the only people shouting, getting red in the face and bearing arms over their causes are those who think exactly the opposite of what i do. Definitely worries me. Let me say again that I very much appreciated this post.

  39. October 22, 2009

    Jacki Rand

    Chris,

    I agree with the previous post about how experience shapes our views and attitudes toward others. I applaud your open invitation for responses to your posts. As a teacher, I have come to learn that you never know how far the ripple in the water will extend as we grow through experience and in our ideas. I would like to hear from others how they live their beliefs in the here and now. The debate about these particular issues–health care, etc–is interesting, but I could use an inspiring story, too.

  40. Poor people already have the government option of healthcare – and they have better coverage than most people too! Like you, I’m self-employed and would like some options – mostly I’d like a cheaper option. As an independent who leans right, I have no problem with universal healthcare – but I think the administration is going about it all wrong, as it goes about everything it seems. If you want most of the people to be satisified with the end result, you really need to satisfy most of the people. Make sense? I was hoping it would. So, if that makes sense, then why try to shove through a plan that most of the people disagree with? Why not try to work on a plan that everyone can be happy with? As an interfaith minister, I’m all about interfaith dialogue – and inter-politics too (if there is such a thing). :)

  41. Another intelligent and thought provoking piece, thank you.

    In fact I am still thinking about it. Civic responsibility. The defining attribute of a thriving democracy. Not freedom. Civic responsibility.

    The relationship between who I am, my identity, and how I want the world to be. Which can then be divided into countries, provinces, states, counties, cities, communities, neighborhoods, households and individuals.

    The Art of Nonconformity hmm… How much do we conform to where we live? Do we live in places that conform to who we are? Can we quantify this relationship? If “nothing Hitler did was Illegal” can we say that conformity is dangerous? Or some quantity of conformity?

    Thanks again for the insightful post.

  42. @Chris – I’m with you on the universal health care. The current system is not working and frankly, is embarrassing to me as a US citizen. To think we are the richest country in the world but cannot take care of our own people when they are sick is disgusting. I want my voice to be heard, but am unsure how to do it, short of writing my elected representatives. If anyone knows a better way, please share it.

    To those of you screaming socialism – do you not benefit from national defense, centralized police, fire and ambulance service, roads, etc.? Some things are just too big and important to be left in the hands of business or the “free market”.

    To those of you against bigger government – is your desire for small government really that great that it trumps your compassion for the sick?

  43. I had the delight of interviewing a couple who took a lead in desegregating the suburb in which I grew up. In 1964, They placed an ad in the newspaper with 1,400 signatures calling for housing to be sold “regardless of race, color or creed”. It took 48 months before the realtors actually made a sale, but it did happen.

    What was fascinating was seeing the roots of each action:
    * Before the ad, a training at a church for people to go door to door and gently ask their neighbors to sign the petition
    * Before that, meetings of a local group
    * Before that, informal conversations, esp. between two women who later ran for, and won, school board seats
    * Before that, conversations & new friendships on the bus down to the Aug 1963 March on Washington
    * Before that, vague unease

    How do you meet people who care? go to the 350.org website and look for a climate action near you on Oct. 24

  44. October 22, 2009

    Debbie Ferm

    Hi Chris,

    I agree with plenty of your sentiments, but I’ve got to say that whenever you invoke Hitler in a conversation, I think it diminishes credibility. It’s just too easy.

    I have had a fascination with that entire time period since a great college professor got me interested in it, but generally, it seems to be a real conversation killer.

    I enjoy your thoughts though!

    Debbie Ferm

  45. Prejudice is easy to spot. Just flip the roles. If it was the norm for homosexuals to marry and not heterosexuals this quote would read. “Allowing heterosexual unions & calling them ‘marriage,’ you are fostering a change to the very definition of marriage”.

  46. Chris

    Like my 10th grade government/history teacher always told us. Hindsight is 20/20. It’s easy to be an expert when you look back at the history of things. But for those of us that live in the now, all we can do is make a decision with the best information that we have available, but it’s nice to know that we can change our mind if we need it.

    Vince

  47. Good for you. I rarely leave comments here, but this was provoking and pushing our politically correct comfort zone and I had to give a cheer.

    More important than finding a million people to agree with you is to discuss these things without anger or fear.

    I have my own beliefs, but I’m always open to listen and I find myself adjusting my beliefs due to provocative conversations and new information and insight.

    Health care–that’s tricky. I’m not for big government, but we are a hard working American family of entrepreneurs who have no coverage. We have children and we are finding it extremely difficult to fit into any box that will gain them coverage and to pay out of pocket pushes us into poverty without the ability to buy quality food. (you know the stuff that keeps you healthy.)

    It’s a catch 22 and I would love to be able to fast forward and see how we as a country are going to resolve this.

  48. October 22, 2009

    Mary E. Ulrich

    BRAVO! GREAT POST!

    Everyone seems afraid to say anything of substance and take a stand. Thanks for the straight talk.

    When we visited Williamsburg, one of the enactments was a debate on whether to support England, or go to war and start a new country. It made each of us think of the risks the everyday person took in the 1700s.

    When I die, I hope it will be said I stood for inclusion, for justice, for self-determination and freedom for ALL people. I plan on having a track record and having a portfolio which shows my grandchildren not only what I believed in, but the actions and risks I took to achieve those goals.

    I hope that legacy will be as important to them as where they got their blond hair.

    “The only thing necessary for evil to exist is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” (can’t remember the author)

  49. So… “The people who oppose gay marriage are usually the same ones who support limited government” is incorrect… “The people who oppose gay marriage usually support limited government” is correct. Your statement doesn’t recognize that there is a HUGE contingent of young, smart people who support equal marriage rights for all adults and are ADAMANT supporters of limited government… we call ourselves Libertarians (it’s a revolution of logic, reason and freedom… not emotion & irrational beliefs).

  50. October 22, 2009

    Gaurav Kishore

    The theme behind the blog post is a good food for thought- taking responsibility and a stand for big questions in life. However the points made in the post are too generalized (as pointed out by @Jenny). I think the underlying issues in this blog (at least for part of the blog) are about the relationship between politics and ethics. When we talk about rights (Man’s rights), whether right to food, education, medical care, home – the real question is “at whose expense?”. @Vince, @Jenny, @Scott Melnick, @Big Joe have all made very good points here.

    However still I like the theme of the blog which highlights and probes the need to take a moral stand on issues in contrast to suggesting a middle-ground approach of moral-grayness.

  51. @Oleg Mohkov: Great comment.

    To genuinely care about anything may be the toughest threshold one must pass for meaningful change to happen.

    We can either jump into a moving bandwagon; build and ride our own, but move in the same direction as the first bandwagon; or make and guide our own in a new direction.

  52. “I cannot imagine the number of government jobs this would create, and remember no one is ever fired from a gov. job for “poor preformance”

    Lynn – from my experience as a government employee: yes, they are. Furthermore, everyone I work with is deeply committed to doing the right thing and making the world a better place. If we weren’t, we’d instead have jobs paying a lot more in private industry.

  53. Way to take a stand and put yourself out there. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who isn’t opposed to more options for healthcare. And much like you, as I’m a small biz (co)owner and responsible for my own insurance, dang, it’s expensive — and I have no diseases, pre-existings, and take zero medications (just my multi-vitamin)! I have said the same exact thing to my husband: It seems the ones opposed all have coverage.

    Thanks for getting us all cranked up and talking — and hopefully thinking too.

  54. In Australia the top tax rate is 46.5% which isn’t much different to the top rates in California, New York, Vermont etc. We manage to have some kind of universal healthcare on that – a mix of public health, private insurance, and copays. Until the GFC we had big federal government budget surpluses and almost no national debt. We spend less on health care than the US does of course (every other country does). There is so much misinformation in the US healthcare debate and the US political system is inherently conservative and makes change very hard to accomplish. Many Americans of course think that is a good thing…

    On gay marriage, I’d favor reducing any special rights of marriage (not that there are many at all in Australia but there are in the US). If people want legal agreements of this sort between themselves then I have no problems but can’t see why married people, heterosexual or homosexual should have any advantages (or disadvantages) over the single…

  55. Thanks for starting the discussion Chris. I have seen the argument that getting the government involved in anything, and especially healthcare, is a sure path to doom, and that the government is too bureaucratic, too inefficient and too unwieldy to manage healthcare effectively. Yet the government DOES run – police, postal service, roads, transportation, military, etc. Why? Because a private solution doesn’t work. In the U.S., the free market solution to healthcare doesn’t work. If people die or fail to get treatment for manageable conditions because of lack of access to care or lack of funds to pay for care, the system doesn’t work. A system where a baby can be denied health coverage for being on the high end of a curve doesnt work. And – if people limit their career choices and life choices based on access to health care, rather than based on the marriage of their talent, passion and skills, then the health care system is actually limiting our economic growth and dynamism.

  56. I find your post frustrating. Some great points, but… I think to be truly free, we should be turning away from government. Slavery, nazi oppression, runaway health costs, etc are products of poor government. Why would ANYONE (gay or straight) need their relationship sanctioned by a bureaucrat? Just love each other. Legalize your relationship by signing powers of attorneys, making your partner a beneficiary, etc. Build your own healthcare future with a health savings account and high deductible insurance. The more we take responsibility for our lives, the more innovation and freedom we’ll have. Schools are huge bureaucracies that no longer respond to innovation, which is a big reason why our education system is a failure. Elinor Ostrom has some amazing instight into how small community organizations are so much better than big ones. Her studies will make you reflect on the down side to Obama’s universal healthcare initiative.

  57. I’m wondering what you meant when you said the following -Where do I stand on equality and the right to marry whomever you want? I support it, obviously.

    The way you said it seemed to me to imply that either everyone knew you well enough to know that obviously you supported gay marriage or else you were saying that it is an obvious conclusion that everyone should support gay marriage.

  58. I am impressed by the comparison here. Looking back, all the things that I brushed away as wrong thoughts were all right in the first place.

    I may not have made my choices, but I know where I stand. That’s what matters when I do reach the crossroad….what matters is that I will know what to do. I know to stand up and say/do what I wanted to :)

  59. Chris,

    I thought this quote was an appropriate comment for this post:

    “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of [people] willing to be co-workers with God.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

    I want to say that I find it interesting that people would chastise you for expressing your opinions on your blog. The name of the blog IS The Art of Nonconformity. I would have it no other way that for you to be exactly who you are – whether I agree with your point of view or not.

    And, really, Chris, this post was not about what YOU think and what action you might take, but an invitation for others to examine their values and what action they might take. Perhaps that’s what made some so uncomfortable..

  60. @Jacki,

    I’m not following your argument at all. It looks like you called me out, but I can’t really make heads or tails. I think we agree with each other?

  61. The first step with health care is to decide if it is a privilege or a right. At this point it is a privilege. Its only after dealing with this issue can we home to fix the issue.
    The second step is to realize that health care is expensive and there is not as much fat as people think. There is no free ride and universal care must be funded with taxes. From my view that is good use of my tax money. If people want cheap health care they have to be willing to accept less.
    Thirdly, the health care industry is rewarded for generating volume and revenue not for keeping people healthy. The profit motive is alive and well. Expect major push back for any significant change that would reduce profits.
    Keep up the fight!

  62. Hey CG,

    It is unfortunate a few didn’t quite get what you were getting at, but I was most intrigued with your last point. It’s easy to look back 50 years ago and say, “Oh I definitely would not have done that or that or that.”

    The reality is we are using 50 years of evolutionary thinking and advanced social norms to now comment on a completely different time period.

    I only have to look at the evolution of my own thought process over the past 10 years to see how my thinking has changed. The me of today probably would have clobbered the me of 10 years ago with some of the myopic views I held.

    It’s a fascinating thought. We just don’t know. I know enough now to know that 10 years from now I may look back at this blog comment and wonder if I was suffering from some sort of learning disability when I wrote this. Your blog will still be around then yes?

    We can only judge the present. There are too many unknown variables to judge the past or the future.

  63. Main point: In a democracy every voice (vote) should count. Nothing more, nothing less.

    America was built on the idea that people should be given the right for equal representation. On a side note, I think it is safe to say that many of the great wrongs of the past were because each and every person was not given equal representation. (e.g. Hitler and the Holocaust, Civil Rights, etc.).

    As Americans, the problems we face now are mainly because the old system no longer allows for equal representation (and enforcement of that representation). It is no longer “We the People” but “We the Government” (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial).

    There will probably be people who will say that implementing a system to allow equal representation will be difficult but isn’t this America: The Land of Opportunity?

  64. It was on the 2nd reading that I really “got” this post Chris.

    I think it’s a useful thought experiment for folks today to wonder about what kinds of things history will make black and white. The environment would be a big one. Will we be looked down on by future generations or will they have empathy for our current situation?

    On another note, history is written by the victors… It would be a whole different world if Hitler had won. I’m sure we’d have the same clarity, expect maybe white would be black.

    Thanks for another great post.

  65. October 22, 2009

    Jacki Rand

    @Tyler,
    “Regardless the financial or (perceived) societal costs, allowing others, ALL others, the freedom to do as they please will always be the right answer”

    Perhaps I misread you. Typically when I read something where the “Freedom to choose” argument is used, it is coming from an ultra-conservative who is saying we all choose our path, refusing to believe in institutionalized racism, in built in inequalities that keep the poor poor and enrich the rich, in glass ceilings for women, and lots of other realities. If I misread you, apologies.

  66. You hit on a point I think about every day – don’t the “bad guys” know that they’re on the wrong side of history, and if so, why do they persist? Don’t they know that there will some day be a bad mini-series made about X issue (fight for marriage equality, health care reform, etc.), and that they will be played by dicey looking dudes standing in the shadows and everyone will ask, “How could they have been so clueless?!”?

  67. I think Robert Mugabe is the new Hitler – he even styles himself on him with that horrid little mustache and hates gay people too.

    What’s happening in Zimbabwe is a travesty of justice and yet nothing is being done about it. I know where I stand but politicians don’t care because Zimbabwe’s wealth is negligible compared to the oil rich Arab nations.

    Does anyone care about millions of Zimbabweans starving to death because of this despot? If they do when will they do something about it? How long will they wait?

  68. I hope we’ve learned through history that supporting our beliefs does not just mean opposing what we believe is wrong but supporting what is right. The question becomes do we oppose war or do we fight for peace. The latter becomes the solution not the problem. Maybe that is our responsiblity… not so much to oppose but to focus on what is right!

    Great article Chris! Certainly food for thought.

  69. Very thought provoking! In one of my classes last year, the week after the election I said, people will think it’s all over, we’ve won. But four years from now, they will be upset and say he did nothing for us (me). While I don’t hold a republican perspective on many issues I don’t hold a completely democratic. Why should I? I have my own opinions and a very clear sense of what I believe is right. I may never appear in Washington D.C. or be one of the voices of our nation, but I am influential where I am. And the influence I hold is my voice among many. Thank God we still have freedom of speech!

  70. I agree with your thoughts on universal healthcare. It’s sad that many people in the USA against it haven’t been overseas to see the benefit. I am willing to be taxed more if I knew everyone had healthcare.

  71. Some of you forget that the entrepreneurs “rich” made this country great. Tax all their efforts away and why should they risk trying to run a business that provides jobs? It seems many are of the mindset “money is evil and so are those who earn it. You all have heard the story of the grass hopper and the ant. Don’t punish the risk takers. We all claim to be entrepreneurs who want to work for ourselves. I had no health insurance until I turned 65. Emergency care was always available. I lived in Spokane, Wa. and Canadians flooded across the boarder to get live and death operations that they were on a 2 or 3 year waiting list in Canada for. Congress is safely getting the best free tax paid care and making the laws for us. Our president is running up unpayable debt to give us care that is full of corruption. Let’s clean up Medicare and insurance company fraud before we give out more money. Bailouts with no supervision. Our government is going nuts. We and our children will pay for the foly

  72. @Vince & Lynn
    Gov is already involved in health care (see Medicare); and you are already paying for medical treatment for poor people (see ERs). Perhaps you would like to abolish Medicare and get gov out of health care decisions altogether?

    @Chris
    Best. Post. Ever. At first I thought, “Wow, he’ll probably lose some people.” And of course you have some comments here that carry an implied threat that you WILL lose people (like the commenters). But then I thought, “His post demonstrates why he’s willing, and why it’s important, to risk just that.”

    So thanks for the thought-provoking, courageous post, Chris.

  73. Being a nonconformist means breaking the rules and speaking your mind so well done. As a Canadian living 70 miles from the US border, I have been fascinated by what is going on south of the border as it has great influences on us. When the US economic crisis happened a year ago, my business was severely effected, and still is today because of the principles of small government and the “free market” system.

    I have been an entrepreneur for 30 years and would not have been able to do that without a national health care system. Here we don’t wait till we have serious illnesses to see a doctor, we get treatment before we require specialists. Health care is not a privilege, it is a human right and a NOT FOR PROFIT system. We do not live in fear of going bankrupt, changing jobs or losing our coverage due to preexisting conditions. What strikes me about Americans is that their world view is limited and looking outside themselves would be enlightening.

  74. “Where do I stand on equality and the right to marry whomever you want? I support it, obviously.”

    …So, do you support the right for two guys to marry six girls? A school teacher to marry an under-aged student? Perhaps inter-species marriages? Why not? Some folks may “want” that. So, hopefully you really don’t support the right to marry WHOMEVER you want. ..In fact, NO ONE has that right. I sure don’t.

    “My choice in marriage doesn’t affect anyone else, so why should I be threatened by anyone else’s choice?”

    Radical shifts in social structure have definite effects. The impact on society is a concern once the concept of perhaps THE most foundational of human experiences has been redefined. …Plus, adherents to hetero-marriage believe that marriage is not something that can just be redefined. It is a specific thing in itself. The uniting of both halves of the human race, and THE ONLY union capable of continuing the species. No other union does this.

  75. As an American who has lived in Canada since the ’70′s, I am well acquainted with the Canadian health care system and grateful for the care I have received and that it does provide care without bankrupting individuals.
    Having said that, the Canadian system is ailing; I personally know of one young boy who was electrocuted, in a life-and-death situation and nearly died because there were no available beds (with intensive care staff) for him ANYWHERE in BC or Alberta. Hospital staff even contacted Seattle hospitals for beds; many hours later–he was finally transported to Vancouver–in the meantime, precious hours in which he desperately needed treatment were lost –hours that could have cost him his life.
    It would be incredible to see both the US and Canadian systems vastly improved and changed so that no one has to suffer.

  76. Hi Chris,
    This is so relevant to our society and country today, South Africa. There are several parallels, assasinations and death by unlawful means of leaders, Chris Hani, Steve Biko, are just two examples, and yet we had the most extraordinary man in Nelson Mandela who believed in forgiveness, leading us into our first democracy. Things aren’t perfect, but we avoided a bloody civil war during elections, have maintained a strong economic base (less affected than other countries) and we still have freedom of speech. All in all, a “rainbow nation” that could have so easily gone the other way of dictatorship.

  77. We talk about this principle all the time: the ability we have to influence others when we act as non-conformists. Hitler was a non-conformist. As was Martin Luther King Jr. In the future, we remember Hitler as a villain and MLK as a hero. It is easy to wade through the middle waters and avoid influencing people one way or another.

    But, the risktakers, the nonconformists, are the strongest because they stand up for what they believe in — whether it is the wrong decision in the future or the right one. When I hear about people in the U.S. ducking their hands in the sand about the healthcare debate, it makes me a little sad. I want people standing up and telling us waht they believe in. (And, the same goes for politicians — I can’t tell you how tired I am of politicians saying one thing one day and the opposite on the next. It is especially jarring to me as I am out of the country now.)

  78. Good thought-provoking post Chris. Definitely got the emotions churning in your readers and you got first-time commenters (such as myself) out of the woods.

    A lot of interesting posts. People on both sides of this go to show how stupid politics is and how much of an illusion it all is. In regards to healthcare something should be done, but many of you who want a new gov’t run system seem to forget that: there are many obese and overweight adults and children in this country; diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure keep rising in the general population; we have a small chronic drug abusing/addicted population; and there are going to be many elderly ppl who require greater care in the next decade. Ultimately I don’t feel comfortable supporting a system that will unfairly assist many people who have gotten to their state of poor health by lifestyle choices. They are a cost to society, plain and simple. Anyways, good discussion.

  79. This is a great post Chris, and I don’t think enough people get involved in talking about politics in fear of losing their fan base. Whether it’s a persons blog, musician or some other public figure everyone’s afraid to really say what’s wrong in the world for fear of alienating people, which is a pity.

    I’ve also thought many times what I would’ve done if growing up in the 60′s, if I would participate in the antiwar movement, civil rights.. and why aren’t I doing more now? How will I look back on this time of worldwide unrest and what I did to make this place better than I came into it?

    I’m currently in Cairo and was talking to my driver about health care in Egypt where it’s pay for everything. Often if people are really sick, they’ll sit and home and die so they don’t burden their family with endless debt to keep them alive. Coming from Canada where healthcare if free to all, I don’t see America too far from this. Do you?

  80. There’s one issue many Americans find hard to accept on Health Care, everybody has it. It is called the emergency room, and as toward socialized medicine, what is medicare,medicaid, VA, Social Security and the list goes on. If the average person would seek to find the knowledge instead of getting it from 30 sec. sound bites and call there representatives on the issues we may actually be able to do something.

  81. There have been several comments inferring that Americans who oppose nationalized healthcare are somehow ignorant of the “successes” experienced by other countries who utilize a nationalized system. As an opposer of nationalized healthcare, I’d like to point out that not only have I visited these countries, but my very wife is a native of one of them and holds that the nationalized system is good.

    The point is that to broadly denigrate the position of the opposition as ignorance is to cheapen your own argument. One must consider that a person can be of a different opinion on a matter w/out being ignorant.

    As further clarification, I see the ills & would like them remedied, but I do not see the creation of government program solving them. In fact, the same problems that hamper the existing system would remain (ludicrous litigation and threat thereof, legislative barriers to reasonable insurance, etc.) and would be (in my opinion) amplified. Fix the real problems 1st.

  82. October 23, 2009

    stevenshytle

    “The people who oppose gay marriage are usually the same ones who support limited government—which of course is ironic. ” Ironic would be an anarchist wanting a law to oppose something. Limited government does not equal no government. Limited government mean just as much as is allowed Constitutionally and necessary. Of course the “necessary” is where it get messy, while today we just ignore the “Constitutional” part much too often.

  83. Does anyone else find it strange that we (in the US) don’t question that everyone has a right to (deserves) an education, yet many people here balk at the idea that everyone deserves access to health care?

    Thanks for the post Chris. It’s indeed thought provoking. Who is “right” is often determined by history. It’s easy to say you would take a stand against something that is so clearly wrong viewed decades later when the majority of people and society agree it’s wrong. Much harder to do the same thing when you are in the minority and everyone around you believes they are supporting what’s right. Plus, it’s possible your principles and how you think about things would be completely different if you were born 50 or 100 (or several hundred) years earlier.

    And since this post is about stating what you believe in and care about…. I’ve been happily married for nearly 15 years now. Nothing about that would be changed or degraded in any way by allowing gay couples to marry.

  84. Chris – thanks for taking the time to explain not only some of your views but also the reasoning you used to come to them. I think the thought process is something too often missing from political discussions.

    I make political videos. I’ve made lots of them – over a hundred, certainly. I post them on YouTube. A couple of commenters mentioned the danger of losing subscribers or whatever – that’s always the risk when you state an opinion, I guess. But for me personally, speaking my mind led to appearances on CNN and in the L.A Times, a gig as a blogger at The Huffington Post and a number of paying gigs doing political videos. Huge net gains for authentically speaking my mind – because doing so is somewhat rare since a lot of people are afraid of doing that since they might offend some people.

  85. What a great post. My son and I have been reading Huckleberry Finn and have asked the same questions regarding slavery (we are Jewish, so we have made the comparison to the Holocaust to help him understand). In both cases there was so much complicity–especially with the idea that ‘we act by not acting.’ I would have hoped that people have evolved over time to embracing at a visceral level “right” and “wrong,” and an immediacy to reacting with action. But the genocide in Rwanda was not so long ago, the military attacks on women in Guinea was just last month, as was the beating death of a teen in Chicago. Hmm–has me thinking about how fear can stifle motion, but hopefully integrity and honesty to core values will trump that. I guess that’s your point, huh…

  86. “…most of the people who are upset about healthcare reform already have good coverage.”

    Absolutely. I teach in a low-income school where many kids have no insurance. When they’re sick, their parents have to choose between paying for groceries or getting meds/ dr. appts. H1N1 pandemic has hit the neighborhood – and hard.

  87. Chris,

    Thank you for posting this. It seems some wish you would censor a critical part of who you are to make them feel more comfortable. I am glad you do not. Thank you for speaking your truth.

    Also, thank you for being an ally to the gay community. Same-sex marriage is an equal rights issue; currently, there are 1,138 benefits the United States government provides to legally married couples, and hundreds more at the state-level. These include making medical decisions on behalf of a partner (or even simply visitation to a partner in the hospital); Social Security survivor benefits; numerous tax breaks, etc. No one deserves to be treated like a second-class citizen based on who they are.

    As a law professor of mine used to say: “Remember, the ‘law’ is a series of inventions.” Indeed.

  88. Gail,
    Sue then for equal rights for civil unions, but don’t sue for a redefinition of marriage. So close, yet so very, very far apart.

  89. It’s refreshing to see someone take a position on these issues without being a total a-hole about it. I wish more people realized that not everyone who disagrees with them is an idiot. Kudos for raising the level of discussion.

  90. The song remains the same. What to do?

    It is just a matter of time that we face, in one way or the other, the same problem some people in modern Germany are facing. How was it possible? Did not anybody realised about what was going on with Hitler?

    Or, what is far more worrying if it is seen backwards? shall we end up wondering how we allowed millions of people starving or dying because of deseases easily fixed if the medicine patents were not allowed in some extreme circumstances?

    Should we quit if we are shareholders of the big pharma industries?

    One of my friends says: If you do not act as you think, you sure will end up thinking as you act (which is, by the way, pretty intimidating, uh?

    Thanks, Chris. Among other things, your post made me re-think the ease and lack of consideration with which we normally judge other people facing court trials or social rejection because of challenging some laws they consider deeply unfair…

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  92. A friend told me about this site. I must say, it is interesting. It gives me more ideas on how to improve my own.

    As for the topic, I have heard this argument before. In fact, in my education and in groups on more times than I want to recall, the “What would you do if you were in Germany circa 1938?” is very familiar.

    The basic elements boil down to some common things that would need to be defined.
    What socio-economic level would you be from? Remember that the poor in Nazi-Germany had themselves pressed into service at the barrel of a gun and were constantly watched by each other for opportunities to rat out others to save their own families.

    What race would you be from? The Jewish people were not the only ones looked upon as ‘unfit’ and were mainly used as scapegoats for the terrible poverty resulting from the loss and subsequent sanctions stemming from WWI.

    … to be continued