All Lives vs Black Lives: We Must Argue the Particular

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As an ex-logic teacher, it seems some basic logic is necessary today. I taught this during the first week of class to eighth grade students. It really is basic logic.

There are four types of declarative statements. The first is a (universal) “A” statement. Example: All lives are lives that matter. Another is a (particular) “I” statement. Example: Some lives (in this case, the entirety of black lives) are lives that matter. According to basic logic, the universal can only be true if the particular is true.

In other words, if there are examples of black lives not mattering in our culture, then it cannot be true that all lives matter. It doesn’t matter what we believe. When the “I” is demonstrated false, the corresponding “A” must necessarily be false.

It is often important to argue the particular, and we do it all the time. One of my children was born with conditions that put him on unequal footing with siblings and peers. If he was being treated poorly, I had zero tolerance. I often needed to set some things straight about a “particular.” I would argue that all day every day if necessary. Because until that particular was true, nothing else mattered.

One of our most moving, heart-wrenching rhetorical documents is Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was written in 1963 about injustice and police brutality in the black community. Those issues still confront us over 50 years later. The particular must be argued.

King understood that people who were not heard would get their message across in other ways. He appealed to voices who could bring love, compassion, and wisdom to see justice prevail. And an appeal to reject hatred. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

The murder of innocent police officers shows where hatred leads. We cannot allow the media to foster a climate of rage and blame. They do not represent the whole picture. We need the other voices–those with a heart for justice, those who can bring light, compassion, and wisdom forth. We have to give them platforms, positions, and resources. We have to believe that “liberty and justice for all” really means ALL.

In practical ways, we all have voices that can make a difference. We must ensure that those who have authority in any arena no longer abuse their power. Abuse of power is the evil root of all injustice. We are all responsible to call out abuse where ever we see it: on playgrounds, in schools, in churches, in law enforcement, in the courts, in the political arena, in marriages, in families, in business. A blind eye anywhere gives access everywhere.

The “particular” needs arguing so we may validate the “universal.” It cannot happen the other way around. No one would deny that all lives matter philosophically. But if behavior demonstrates some lives do not matter, the universal “All lives matter” can never be true. It’s basic logic.

Love is the operating principle which will help us demonstrate that “Black lives matter.” It’s our only chance to bring us to the conclusion “All lives matter.” It’s not an abstract platitude to get us out of action. Love without action is no love at all.

“Love is the only cement that can hold this broken community together. When I am commanded to love, I am commanded to restore community, to resist injustice, and to meet the needs of my brothers.” MLK, Jr.

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