Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sometimes, Two Wrongs do Make a Right: Part 2

If you happened to read my previous blog (which I highly recommend!), I proposed that sometimes two wrongs do make a right.  I was writing about the biblical character Tamar, from Genesis in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).  She did two things normally considered “wrong” (prostitution and deception) yet was declared righteous afterward. Writing about Tamar, I was reminded of the movie Gangster Squad which I saw last winter.
'No Right Turns' photo (c) 2010, Richard Eriksson - license: the movie, Josh Brolin plays a hard-nosed cop trying to do the right thing in a city owned by a powerful mob boss (Sean Penn).  Brolin’s character is personally selected by the chief of police (a very old looking Nick Nolte) to form a secret unit to wage a guerilla war on the mob, realizing that the mob had bribed judges and killed off witnesses making criminal prosecution basically impossible. The “gangster squad” as they were known, goes on to wreak havoc on the mob by interrupting drug shipments, blowing up buildings, and ruining the mob business all around.  These police officers, normally keepers of the law, operated outside the law, doing things normally considered “illegal” or at least “improper,” in order to defeat the powerful mob. In the end, it was really the only way to defeat the mob, in that the mob controlled the system that was intended to control it.

When I walked out of the movie, I remember thinking that perhaps the Gangster Squad might offer lessons for today.  Now, I must say up front that I do not support the violent methods portrayed in the movie.  I remember the biblical wisdom that “those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and that violence is not redemptive, but rather in the end only begets more violence.   So with that pre-condition, I would like to propose that perhaps the only way to defeat an unjust system is to operate outside of that system. The Gangster Squad could not operate within the criminal justice system, being that the mob had such an influence over it. In the same way, I am beginning to believe that the unjust systems and structures in this nation and in this world cannot be defeated by working within the system, they must be defeated by working outside the system—perhaps utilizing methods thought of as “illegal” or “improper.”
'Right Turn Only, Use Crosswalk' photo (c) 2008, A Gude - license: am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy of non-violent resistance and his insistence that any law which was unfair or unjust toward a certain people group was an “unjust law” and therefore should not be followed.    Let’s remember that slavery was once legal in this country, as was racial segregation, as was discrimination towards people on the basis of religion, gender, and so on. Just because something is the “law” does not make it “right.”   I think even my conservative friends would agree with me that “might does not make right.” Yet that statement alone recognizes that the law is often shaped by the most powerful. It stands to reason then that those in power are going to shape the law in order to most benefit them—as exemplified by what the rich and powerful are continually doing in America.  Therefore, working within a system and framework to defeat the powerful and remove injustice, when that system itself is designed by the powerful to keep the powerful in power, is going to be a losing endeavor every single time.
In America, we are privileged enough to have the capacity to change the law within the confines of the law through democratic elections. Yet those rights are continually being deluded through Super PACs, Corporate money, and voter suppression and disenfranchisement (best evidenced by the voter ID laws).  Still, the possibility remains that the people of this country (after all, this nation is a government of and by the people) could rise up and retake control by limiting the money and influence of Super PACs, limiting corporate campaign contributions, and restoring voting rights. But these three examples I have mentioned are a relatively new phenomenon, happening largely within the last 10 years. It seems to reason that things are only going to get worse, that the rich and powerful are only going to exert more control, continually shaping the system to benefit them and them alone.
So I am left to wonder, what else can be done.  Does America in the 21st century need a great leader like King or Gandhi? Does it need a stronger, more focused and unified movement than “Occupy Wall Street”  was to expose the unjust systems and galvanize Americans to change the system? Or, rather, do we need non-violent “gangster squads” to work outside the system, beyond the context of the “law,” to work instead within the realm of the greater moral law in order to break the unjust, immoral laws that are put into place by the rich and powerful to keep themselves rich and powerful?
Going back to Tamar’s actions then, perhaps in our time as well two “wrongs” can indeed make a right.


In a previous version of this blog I misspelled "Gandhi" --and perhaps more disturbingly, forgot to mention that the gorgeous Ryan Gosling also co-starred in the movie. My apologies.

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