What I Learned in School Today
February 16, 2012
Actually, I learned these things yesterday but this is a nicer title.
First, I learned that a goodly number of young Americans, and probably older Americans, don’t care if we go to war with Iran or if we support a war against Iran by, say, Israel. What can be said of this? Not so much. But I shouldn’t be surprised insofar as our society has become so militarized or more militarized. These youths don’t really know an alternative and, of course, have been propagandized since 9/11 to think of the U.S. as a victim nation.
Second, as I lectured on our institutions, viz., the Congress, the executive, and the courts, it struck me with particular force how central LAW is to our way of being in the world. I had noticed this before but not with the same clarity and I found myself speaking about the differences between “outlaws” and “criminals,” how the latter don’t represent a grave threat to the nation because, as odd as it sounds, criminals operate within the law, unlike outlaws. Criminals break the law but outlaws live outside the law; you might even say outlaws reject the legitimacy of the laws and perhaps of law itself.
A clear example of someone who was both a criminal and an outlaw was Malcolm X. As Malcolm Little, he was a small time criminal, selling some drugs, committing burglaries and other felonies, for which he eventually went to prison. There he became a Black Muslim – and later a Muslim – and he became an outlaw. And, of course, even though he no longer did drugs or committed crimes, Malcolm was deemed – and in fact was – more dangerous in his later manifestation than his earlier one. He was no longer a criminal, had become an outlaw, and hence was now more dangerous than previously. His death should come as no surprise to anyone; it did not surprise him. [I also argued that Martin Luther King, Jr. was on his way to becoming an outlaw when he was assassinated. Not all protest is of the outlaw variety and many outlaws live lives without actually protesting. Nothing especially dangerous about protests, at least about most protests.]
Finally, I tried to demonstrate to the classes how laws are overrated in their importance. Using the example of Columbine, which they remembered, I used the examples of the calls for more gun laws after Columbine and that of a working class mother in Boston who said on the news: “If my kid is building a bomb in my garage, I know about it.” My students recognized this latter activity as parenting and they knew that there will never be, can never be a law to replace parenting.
Ah yes, laws! Not quite as important as we have been taught.