Tag Archives: Civil Rights Movement

Could Markets Have Predicted the Civil Rights Movement?

Author’s note: It’s been quite some time since my last post. In fact, it’s the last day of November and this will be my last post this month. It’s been a bit hectic getting settled in Ottawa, in addition to some other things that have been going on, but I do hope to get back into a regular habit of writing posts again.

I came across an article recently that espoused the value of the efficient-market hypothesis through the success of InTrade — when it was still functioning. In case you’re not familiar, InTrade is a betting site that would post contracts, for instance — “Mitt Romney will be the Republican Presidential nominee” — and then people could ‘buy’ that contract if they thought Romney would be the nominee or (sell) that contract if they thought he wouldn’t. There’d be all kinds of questions, not just political. There are questions about world events (the US will find Saddam Hussein) and questions about awards shows (Avatar will win Best Picture).

In the article, there was a small blurb about futarchy:

The potential of prediction markets to aggregate and reveal information is so great that some have surmised they might remake whole political systems. Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, has endorsed what he calls “futarchy,” a form of government that would use prediction markets extensively as a policymaking tool. If the aggregated predictions of the market are better than the individual predictions of a few appointed experts, why not let citizens bet on, rather than submit to professional opinion on, for example, which tax policy is more likely to bring prosperity?

For the most part, there certainly seems to be something to the argument in favour of the wisdom of the crowds, but as I’ve written before, the wisdom of the crowds can’t always be trusted. When thinking about the wisdom of the crowds in the context of policymaking, I wonder about the crowd’s ability to divine the need for civil rights. That is, I wonder if, during the time leading up to the civil rights movement, the crowd would have accurately predicted it was beyond time to implement a new level of equality in the United States. Or, what about in the time of Lincoln? Would the wisdom of the crowds have decided that black people deserved freedom?

How Do You Know When You’re “Right” to be in the Minority?

For about a month, I’ve had a note on my list of things to write about as “Majority vs. Minority: Hard to Oppose the Majority.” I don’t remember which event sparked this thought, but it was rekindled a few days ago with the anniversary of the March on Washington. I’ve read different takes on what it was like during the Civil Rights movement, but I can never *truly* know because I wasn’t there. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to oppose such an oppressive majority opinion at the time. This isn’t the only time in history that the majority opinion has been — eventually — overturned, or at least, subdued. You can point to most revolutions throughout history as definite examples.

My question: how do you know when you’re on the right side?

I suppose there can’t be a universal fact-based answer to knowing you’re on the right side because every situation will be different. More than that, every person will have to decide for themselves what’s the “right” side and the “wrong” side. But maybe it’s too narrowing to think in terms of right and wrong. It certainly makes life easier when things are boxed into right and wrong, but that’s not always the case. As we know from theories of moral development, what was once immoral at one stage, becomes justifiably moral at another.

The more I think about this issue, the more I think there’s probably a good book in here. There’s a lot to explore from sociological, anthropological, and psychological perspectives. It’s certainly not easy to oppose the majority. There’s a strong urge to conform.

I think if I had to provide a thesis, it might be something to the effect of: the only person who can decide whether to support the majority opinion or the minority opinion is you. Sure, taking in opinions/facts from others is important in making your decision, but ultimately, you’ve got to decide for yourself whether this is something you want to support (or oppose). We’ve each got our own moral compass (or conscience). This little voice inside is how you can know and if you choose to go against that voice, it is only you who will have to deal with it.

The Habits of Societies: The Power of Habit, Part 3a

In Part 1a, we had an introduction Duhigg’s book on habits. In Part 1b, we looked at some of the highlights and the key points from the first section (on individuals) of the book. In yesterday’s post, we looked some of the stories that Duhigg shared in the second section about Michael Phelps, Alcoa, Starbucks, and the Rhode Island Hospital.  In today’s post, we’ll look at the last section of the book on societies.

Because of my sense that I’m meant to be a leader of a very large organization, I was particularly excited to get to the section on societies. It certainly did not disappoint. There were only two chapters in this section. The first chapter talked about movements: the civil rights movement in the 1960s and Rick Warren. With regard to the civil rights movement, Duhigg tells the story of how we came to know Rosa Parks. I was shocked to learn that Parks wasn’t the only (nor was she the first!) black person to take a stand (metaphorically) against the injustice in the South. In fact, there had been others like her who tried to remain in their seats on the bus, but no movements formed after their decision to remain steadfast.

Part of the reason that Parks created such a stir was because of how connected she was to her community. When people learned that Parks had been arrested, people wanted to help. Simply wanting to help wasn’t enough. As we learn, all of this willingness to help had to be funneled into a new activity: civil disobedience. There’s a particular powerful passage that I want to share. In my reading of the passage, it makes me think that this was one of the important turning points of civil rights movement:

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days into a week, and then a month, and then two months, the commitment of the Montgomery’s black community began to wane.

The police commissioner, citing an ordinance that required taxicabs to charge a minimum fare, threatened to arrest cabbies who drove blacks to work at a discount. The boycott’s leaders responded by signing up two hundred volunteers to participate in a carpool. Police started issuing tickets and harassing people at carpool meeting spots. Drivers began dropping out. “It became more and more difficult to catch a ride,” King later wrote. “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.”

One night, while King was preaching at his church, an usher ran up with an urgent message. A bomb had exploded at King’s house while his wife and infant daughter were inside. King rushed home and was greeted by a crowd of several hundred blacks as well as the mayor and the chief of police. His family had not been injured, but the front windows of his home were shattered and there was a crater in his porch. If anyone had been in the front rooms of the house when the bomb went off, they could have been killed.

As King surveyed the damage, more and more blacks arrived. Policemen started telling the crowds to disperse. Someone shoved a cop. A bottle flew through the air. One of the policemen swung a baton. The police chief, who months earlier had publicly declared his support for the racist White Citizen’s Council, pulled King aside and asked him to do something — anything — to stop a riot from breaking out.

King walked to his porch.

“Don’t do anything panicky,” he shouted to the crowd. “Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

The crowd grew still.

“We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us,” King said. “We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.'”

“We must meet hate with love,” King [said].

Powerful.

The parts about Rick Warren were equally powerful, but when contrasted with the life/death matters of the civil rights movement, it’s hard to see it in the same light.

Because I’ve shared an excerpt from this book about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, I thought it best to talk about the last chapter of the section in a different post. Look for it tomorrow.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost Didn’t Give the “I Have A Dream” Speech

A few weeks ago, I happened to be visiting the Lincoln Memorialagain. While I still live in DC, it seems prudent to take advantage of this opportunity that many Americans (and non-Americans!) only get when they’re on vacation. Anyway, while at the Memorial, I happened to stop and listen to a tour guide who was talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s famous speech. Not ironically, he was talking about it because he was standing on (or thereabouts) the same spot where MLK delivered the speech in the 60s. The spot (just in front of) the Lincoln Memorial is the highest one is allowed to give a speech from.

Anyway, that’s a bit tangential to the point of this post, so let’s get to it. As the tour guide was speaking, he was explaining how MLK came to be on those steps on that fateful day in August of 1963. The speech was one of nine keynote addresses (Note: I’ve been looking for this statistic somewhere online and haven’t found it, so I could be misremembering exactly what the tour guide said). MLK didn’t sit down to write the speech until the night before the address, as he’d been pretty busy with the events of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The night before, MLK along with some of his most trusted advisors (Clarence Jones being one of them), sat down to write the draft. When they were finished, MLK went back to his room with the speech. The next day, while giving the speech, Jones noted that MLK had done quite a bit of deviation from the draft they’d written the night before.

The most remembered part of the speech, “I Have A Dream…” was not part of the original draft. Surprised? I certainly was when I heard the guide say this. Would you also be surprised to know that MLK first gave the speech when he was a teenager? He first delivered the speech in church when he was a teenager. It had been something that he’d worked on and given before, but as I said, it wasn’t part of the original text he was to deliver on August 28, 1963. So, then, how did he come to say those famous words?

Mahalia Jackson.

She was MLK’s favorite gospel singers and one of the few women near the podium on that day in August. Here’s a short clip of Clarence Jones speaking with Tavis Smiley about the book he published in 2011 called: Behind the Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation. In the clip, Clarence Jones explains that it was Mahalia who shouted out to MLK, “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” (Note: WordPress won’t let me embed the video from PBS, but you can watch it here. Jones talks about Mahalia very early on in the interview.)

Incredible, eh? Can you imagine how different the USA world would be if MLK hadn’t given that speech that day? Can you imagine how different it’d be if Mahalia hadn’t shouted to MLK to tell ’em about the dream?

And if you’re interested, the text of the speech.

News Today — Gone Tomorrow

With the , it has made me stop and think about what’s going on in the world today. I’m not well steeped in history nor am I particularly interested in knowing who did what to whom and when. However, I do find it interesting to reflect back on some of the more important events in history. The is a rather important part of US history and human history. I would also say that the was pretty important, too.

My interest lies in how these events are viewed well after the fact. People still learn about the civil rights movement in school and they also still learn about the JFK assassination, I’m sure. I don’t know, however, if they learn about some of the other perspectives of these major events. Not that I’m advocating one side over the other, but I think it’d be interesting to be teaching children not just about the civil rights movement, but about those who opposed it and more importantly, why they opposed it. I think it is important to learn about the differences of opinion.

How come? Simply because it seems to me that many of the issues that are present in the world today are not brand new issues. I won’t begin to pretend that I completely understand what is going on in Egypt and anyone who tells you they do is probably lying, but it seems that there’s this age-old archetype playing out where one side is not playing fairly with the other side where the sides are reflected in pro-Mubarak and pro-reformers.

It doesn’t seem like we’ve come to understand that living on this planet needn’t be a competition for the natural resources. My point is that this is not a new issue. This is something that our ancestors have been playing out for centuries through wars, invasions, and raids. I am not condemning war nor am I condoning it — merely taking a closer look at some of the reasons it seems to happen.

With the speed of our evolving world increasing at an alarming rate, it’s not clear to me just how this situation in Egypt will play out and more importantly — how it will affect other countries. Some would say that what is happening in Egypt is a result of . I’m more inclined to see happenings in the world as correlational rather than cause-and-effect. Who knows: maybe the movement in Tunisia spawned the movement in Egypt. I wonder, though, what will be spawned as a result of the movement in Egypt. Will it be more sparring and jockeying for position? Will a calmness overlay? Something tells me that situations like these usually get worse before they get better.