How Do Black Lives Matter In Relation To The Whole?
Glen T. Martin
Before you finished eating your breakfast this morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured… We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of reality.
Luther King, Jr*
In the United States today there have been nation-wide protests against the institutional racism and violent, murderous policing that are fundamental to law enforcement throughout the nation. People are calling for de-policing, for fundamental reform in the way communities are run in the USA. Indeed, institutionalized racism is a fundamental problem going back to the foundations of the USA as a slave society in the 17th century.
At this same time, human beings around the world are suffering from extreme poverty, police violence, military conflict, and political corruption. Human rights are being violated and human dignity denied in multiple locations around the world. Wars are waging in dozens of countries using weapons often produced in the United States. Environmental disasters are happening in dozens of countries while the dominant world order expects to continue with business as usual as the COVID pandemic diminishes.
Attempting to address institutionalized racism in the USA is not going to affect our planetary human failure to create a decent world system supporting a flourishing life for human beings everywhere on Earth. Is the racist dehumanization of persons in the USA our central problem, or is this a symptom of a larger and more fundamental problem? Is the degradation and repression of the poor worldwide separate from the institutionalized racism toward the poor in the US?
What is our human civilizational project about? Who are we as human beings? What political, economic, and institutional arrangements will foster human dignity and freedom, and what kind of arrangements defeat or destroy human dignity? Will addressing institutionalized racism in the United States really solve our fundamental problems? Is this racism not a symptom of even larger and more fundamental problems that go far beyond the territorial borders of the US?
During the 19th century capitalism created an industrial proletariat of wage slaves whose human dignity and well-being were crushed beneath the horrendous conditions created by the so-called “free market.” This led many thinkers to place their hope in the vision of the poor for a revolutionary socialism that would overthrow the private ownership of the means of production and establish a democratic economic and political reality in which production would aim at human well-being rather than at the accumulation of private profit for the few.
But the hopes of many were dashed in August 1914 when the working classes of countries all over Europe chose not revolutionary solidary with one another but to join the armies of their respective nations in order to slaughter one another on the battlefield. The revolutionary socialism envisioning all human beings as possessing equal dignity and equal rights to participate in the production of the goods and services necessary for a flourishing life faltered in the face of the fragmentation of humanity into militarized sovereign territorial nation-states.
Throughout the 20th century humanity continued to institutionalize and militarize these sovereign territorial states, a system that was formalized in the Charter of the United Nations signed in San Francisco in 1945. These militarized territorial power centers had broken down in an even more horrendous Second World War and the victorious five powers were certainly not about to mitigate the concept of sovereign nation-statehood, especially since they saw themselves emerging as the world’s dominate power centers. The five would continue to operate in brutal ideological, economic, and military struggles with one another.
After the Second World War, the ideal of a just human society that allows for all citizens to flourish was de-revolutionized as the wealthy, first-world nations began to manage their capitalist enterprises to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism within their own borders. Working people accepted the resulting unjust division of wealth as long as they received enough to satisfy their own minimal living standards. National loyalty meant that the misery of the poor in third world countries did not activate revolutionary solidarity against their exploitation. Their suffering was their own problem, just as institutionalized racist poverty and violence were our problem. But perhaps this fragmentation itself was the real problem?
Nevertheless, the grounds for planetary solidarity were being laid, not by any radical political party, but by breakthroughs in the natural sciences and the humanities. In the humanities, the 20th century experienced major advances in the translation and interpretation of religious traditions from around the world. We began to understand that the traditional tripartite division of human beings into body, mind, and spirit has analogues in spiritual traditions around the world. Through the works of Erich Fromm, Jürgen Habermas, and others we began to understand the mutual integration of the social and the personal aspects of human life. We are inextricably bound to one another as social creatures for whom all languages are translatable into one another, and our personal selfhood is alone developed through our dependence and interaction with other persons. Some thought that spirituality by itself could transcend religion and unite humanity.
In the natural sciences, 20th century breakthroughs in cosmology and quantum physics began to reveal to us the holism of the cosmos and the integral connections of human beings with the cosmic process. We scientifically understood that all human beings are nearly genetically identical with one another, that we are one human race of homo sapiens living on planet Earth together. In evolutionary theory we began to see the emergent evolutionary development of body, mind, and spirit as connected with the cosmic evolutionary process itself. Humanity, emerging out of the unconsciousness of nature to freedom and self-awareness. We began to formulate levels of spiritual awareness away from egocentric existence toward worldcentric and cosmocentric existence.
We began to understand the immense mystery and intrinsic dignity of human beings in ways that had not been available to earlier millennia. However, not everyone appreciated this vast expansion of our human understanding of the immense evolutionary scope of the cosmos and human life on Earth within the cosmos. The shock created by this explosion of knowledge in the 20th century led many to retreat into narrow religious and political ideologies that reduced the vast mysteries of human existence to manageable dogmatic categories. Religious and political fundamentalism flourished in explicit denial of our central place in the 14 billion-year evolution of the cosmos. Irrationalism and petty egoism triumphed and, with it, religious bigotry, conflict, and even fascism. Similarly, racism triumphed (against all evidence to the contrary) and, with it, institutionalized racial prejudice and police violence.
Human beings in general appear, at this moment in time, to be too small-minded to encounter the quantum leap in comprehending our human situation that emerged from the 20th century humanities and sciences. The 20th century may have given us the degree of understanding necessary to effect human liberation and create planet Earth as a decent place in which all can flourish in peace and freedom. However, we have failed to rise to the occasion. We remain mired in religious fundamentalism, racial fragmentation, nation-state territorial divisions, and vast differences of poverty and wealth.
These four forms of divisiveness go together. They all represent the inability of human beings to comprehend fully their oneness with all other persons, the deep coherence of the spiritual message of all the great religions, or the illusory character of nation-state territorial boundaries. As Martin Luther King, Jr. says above, we need to recognize “the interrelated structure of reality.” The message of the most advanced 20th century sciences and humanities is holism, while the attitude of most human beings is fragmentation and division. The trajectory of history is universalism, while the cultural attitude of most persons is parochialism. The global COVID-19 pandemic has underlined these facts dramatically.
To really deal with racist institutions in the United Sates, or India, or China, would require persons who have absorbed the holism and ecumenism of the 20th century to the point of becoming global citizens. To go beyond the fragmentation of racism ultimately means also going beyond the fragmentation of religious and political fundamentalisms, the fragmentation of sovereign, militarized nation-states, and the fragmentation of extreme poverty and wealth. Institutionalized racism in the United States persists because the US itself is a fragment, an institutionalized territorialized entity of militarized violence separated from the rest of humanity by absolute borders and separated within by extremes of wealth and poverty.
People think in terms of small categories rather than holistic relatedness. “This is my nation, my private property, my religion, my white race.” This little “my” is an egocentric illusion fostered by a fragmented world system predicated on such illusions. “My nation,” is not fundamentally different from “my white race.” The job of the police is to protect those of property (“my private property”) from those without property, who are often persons of color. Really overcoming racism means living from a genuine holism: one planet, one humanity, one civilization. Racism, like nationalism, religious bigotry, and unlimited private ownership, is a product of egoism, of smallness and self-centeredness.
The Constitution for the Federation of Earth embodies the holism discovered by 20th century humanities and sciences. It, therefore, is not a secondary aspect of the movement of people around the planet to be thinking of themselves as global citizens, but rather at the very heart of this process. If we are thinking holistically we will need to think in terms of political and economic holism as well as spiritual, ethical, and cultural holism.
As a matter of fact, the present economic and political fragmentation of humanity actively interferes with our ability to achieve a holistic consciousness and a holistic planetary society. There is always some alien “other.” Those who are not my religion. Those of a different race. Those who are the enemies of my country. Those who are poor from whom the police must protect me. Suppose we end institutionalized racism in the USA only? Suppose the police recognize that Black lives matter? Then we can proudly boast a system in which our black and Hispanic citizens can equally enter the US military to destroy the lives of people of color in other countries. This hardly appears as a holistic solution.
If we want a system in which “black lives matter” in the US, what about black lives elsewhere? Do just American black lives matter or do all black lives matter everywhere? Solving institutional racism within the US will not make us more human or more decent if it simply means that our black lives can more equitably exploit, kill, and dominate black or Hispanic lives in Africa or Latin America.
If black lives really matter than so do the lives of peoples of all shades of skin color. The US government in recent years created “AFRICOM” (the Military Command for Africa) in order to counter China’s influence in Africa. We can now send our black soldiers to destroy black lives in Africa, or Hispanic lives in Venezuela, or Arabic lives in the middle east. Blacks on the streets of the USA may no longer be killed by the police, but does this adjustment within the US really mean that black lives matter?
Without holism, and the recognition of the dignity of every human being, we will not have made much progress. Racism is but one form of fragmentation. Fundamentalism another. Sovereign nation-states another, and unrestrained capitalism yet another. Let us really build a decent world for all, not simply try to make it better for this or that minority, whether immigrants, African-Americans, Kurds, or Palestinians. Local struggles are also global, but global struggles require changing the fragmented institutions themselves, creating economic, political, cultural, and spiritual holism.
This is why the Constitution for the Federation of Earth** is fundamental to all liberation struggles. It addresses our fragmented condition at its root. It establishes holistic economic and political institutions of unity in diversity, institutions that will themselves promote ever-greater holistic consciousness among the citizens of Earth. It affirms the principle of unity in diversity, as it says in its Preamble, “despite the existence of diverse nations, races, creeds, ideologies and cultures.” The holism of the cosmos, planet Earth, and human beings is here applied in a practical way to human civilization. If we are holistically one civilization and one humanity, then racism largely disappears.
Under the Earth Constitution, the people of Earth (whatever the color of their skin) are represented in 1000 electoral districts worldwide within the House of Peoples. The nations of the world are represented in the House of Nations, and the wisdom heritages from twenty grand districts around the world are represented in the House of Counselors. All agencies and organs of the government require unity in diversity from around the planet.
The World Parliament made up of these three houses represents the whole, and every new child born will be born into the embrace of the whole within which they will grow up in the midst of a diversity that does not fragment precisely because it is also a unity. Human beings will rapidly move to a worldcentric consciousness in which things like institutionalized racism will be as unheard of as things like sovereign, militarized nation-states. For who in their right mind would want to militarize some portion of humanity in conflict with some other portion? What world in its right mind would allow 200 people to own 50% of the wealth of humanity? What world in its right mind would allow something as superficial as skin color determine public policy?
Only a united world and united humanity can overcome racism. As Martin Luther King, Jr declared, just by finishing breakfast this morning, we have depended on half the world. A united world overcomes the egoistic divisions of race, religion, nation, and class. All forms of egoistic fragmentation go together. The Earth Constitution is a key to bringing humanity to a new, holistic level of existence.
The Earth Constitution recognizes and institutionalizes the fact that we are one world, one humanity, and one civilization. It solves the problem of fragmentation through predicating global institutions on unity in diversity. Ultimately, this will be the only way of overcoming racism, dogmatic fundamentalism, economic exploitation, or militarized nationalism. A united world will produce a transformed sense of human dignity, a unity in diversity in which each person is valued precisely because our personal dignity and our unity derive from the same source. We can affirm our wonderful diversity precisely because we are all also one humanity.
*Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church, December 24th 1967. Quoted in Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013, p. 23.
**Constitution for the Federation of Earth is found on-line at www.earth-consitution.org and many other places. See also Glen T. Martin, editor, Constitution for the Federation of Earth. Appomattox, VA: Institute for Economic Democracy Press.