June 1963. Gadsden, Ala. Mary Hamilton, 28, stood in a courtroom before a judge.
She was a black civil rights activist, arrested for nonviolent protest. And the judge was losing his patience.
The atmosphere in Gadsden that summer “was truly frightening and terrifying,” says Colin Morris, a history professor at Manhattanville College. “The Klan was highly active. On more than one occasion there had been attacks in Gadsden.”
But Hamilton wasn’t frightened. She was furious. She refused to answer the prosecutor’s questions.
“I won’t respond,” she said, “until you call me Miss Hamilton.”
It wasn’t just about an honorific. It was about respect and racial equality. Her demand was an act of defiance that would eventually bring her name before the U.S. Supreme Court and set a precedent for how witnesses are addressed in courtrooms today — with equal courtesy.
.. Mary Hamilton was constantly confusing and infuriating men in authority by standing up to their disrespect.
In Lebanon, Tenn., when a mayor visited her cell and referred to her as “Mary,” Hamilton corrected him. It was Miss Hamilton. Hamilton and Michaels recalled the moment in their oral history: “And if you don’t know how to speak to a lady,” Hamilton told the mayor, “then get out of my cell.”
At the time, throughout the ’60s, many white people — particularly in positions of authority — refused to use honorifics like “Miss,” “Mrs.” or “Mr.” to refer to black people.
.. Barbara McCaskill, an English professor at the University of Georgia, studied the narratives of black Americans and the civil rights movement. She said her own mother vividly remembered being denied the honorific “miss” as a young woman.
“Segregation was in the details as much as it was in the bold strokes,” McCaskill says. “Language is significant because language calls attention to whether or not we value the humanity of people that we are interacting with. And in segregation the idea was to remind African-Americans and people of color in general, in every possible way, that we were not equal, that we were inferior, that we were not capable. And language becomes a very powerful force to do that.”
.. Which brings us to Gadsden, Ala. In 1963, Hamilton was arrested for picketing and brought before the court for sentencing. Once again, officials refused to call her Miss Hamilton.
She refused to answer. The judge — muttering lewd comments about what he’d like to do to her if she were in his kitchen — ordered her to answer the prosecutor and apologize. But Hamilton was buoyed by rage at the judge’s dismissiveness, and by the support of the lawyer assisting her.
She refused. She was fined and sentenced to a few days in jail for contempt of court.
Her lawyers appealed the case, saying that the prosecutor and judge had denied Hamilton her constitutional rights by treating her differently from the way they treated white witnesses. Eventually her case landed before the Supreme Court in Hamilton v. Alabama.
The justices issued a summary reversal, overruling the Alabama courts without even calling for oral arguments. Their brief decision effectively said that a court could not address black witnesses differently than white ones.
Mr. Gates readily acknowledged that the person he is today is not one he would have recognized when he was in his 20s and single-mindedly building Microsoft. “I was a zealot,” he said. “I didn’t believe in weekends. I didn’t believe in vacations. I knew everybody’s license plate so I knew when they were coming and going. That was my life: doing great software.”
.. Plus, you don’t want a tech company run by somebody in their 60s. At least I didn’t want to. I ended up retiring at 53.
.. But for a young man in his 20s, writing software night and day may be the best way to add to human welfare. I’d never heard of vaccines. I didn’t have any money. But the personal computer, the internet, hey, that’s what I was good at. And I enjoyed doing it every day.
.. I came across statistics that homicide rates in the Middle Ages were about 35 times what they are today in Europe. When I posted this online, I started receiving correspondence citing more examples: The rate of death in warfare has come down by a factor of 20 since 1945. Domestic violence is down. Child abuse is going down. I was sitting on all these data sets showing reductions in violence that few people were aware of that I thought ought to be better known.
.. That “things getting better” is the greatest story that no one knows.
.. there’s the idea that we can’t want something good for ourselves without wanting it for everyone.
.. What makes Papua New Guinea — where there’s no police and revenge after revenge — different from Western society is that when we give ourselves over to the law, we want it to be executed impartially. We gain stability. But if you could get your son off, of course you’ll try.
.. the proposition, Philip — which comes from Spinoza. He said those under the influence of reason desire nothing for themselves that they do not desire for all humankind. But reason is not a powerful part of human nature. Innately, we favor family over strangers, our tribe over other tribes. It’s only when we’re called upon to justify our beliefs — not consult our gut feelings, but convince others of the right way to act — that we conclude that all lives have equal value.
.. when you consider a radical change, like “Hey, let’s tear up the global trade agreements; they’re a disaster,” you’re more likely to implement it if you think things are getting worse. “Let’s tear up the treaties. Let’s try a nondemocratic approach.” Your willingness to go off the current path is much, much higher.
.. There’s a tendency in journalism and political debates to assume that it’s easy to achieve a perfect society: “Good people would do that.” The fact that we don’t means that evil people must be running the system: “Let’s throw them out and find nobler ones.” This leads to empowering charismatic despots and destroying institutions that have done a lot of good.
.. I’m sure Bill gets this all the time: “Why throw money at the developing world? They’re just going to have more babies and be just as poor.”
.. What indicator improves even faster than reduction in violence? Our distaste for violence. We’re more upset about it today. If I see someone spanking a kid — I’m stealing from Steven’s book — I might get up and say: “Hey, wait a minute!” Forty years ago, it might have been more like: “Do you want to borrow my belt?”
.. Extreme global poverty has been reduced from 90 percent 200 years ago to 10 percent today.
.. The person who invents an affordable and efficient toilet should be made a saint.
Think how much human happiness will be granted, how much human suffering eliminated. We should think quantitatively; it’s the morally enlightened way. But it’s not the way our brains evolved when we make moral evaluations.
.. One of the biggest enemies of reason is tribalism. When people subscribe to an ideology, they suck up evidence that supports their preconceptions and filter out evidence that goes against them. Contrary to the belief of most scientists that denial of climate change is an effect of scientific illiteracy, it is not at all correlated with scientific literacy. People who believe in man-made climate change don’t know any more about climate or science than those who deny it. It’s almost perfectly correlated with left-wing versus right-wing orientation
.. But I’m optimistic. I do think awareness of how things have worked is important to recreate a conservative center — that is, make us careful about what we change.
.. innovation is not viewed as an unalloyed way to improve the human condition. And that’s fair, because it’s not pure. Does social media split us into tribes in a way that’s dangerous? Does it create, even in high school social circles, a channel for bullying, or a desire to look perfect in photos?
.. There are certain things that governments are always going to do better than private innovators. Basic research, for instance.
.. PG: Name a problem we may think of as intractable that you’re optimistic about solving in the near future.
SP: War between countries. Civil wars are harder to eliminate because there are so many insurgent and militia forces. But there are only 192 countries. They could agree not to declare war on each other. I think we’re on the way.
Laurence Fink, the chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock and one of the biggest investors in the world, shook the business world last week with an implicit threat to punish small-minded companies that “only deliver financial performance” without “a positive contribution to society.”
What’s driving the rethink isn’t a tingling of the tycoon conscience but brutal self-interest. Millennials want to work for ethical companies, patronize brands that make them feel good and invest in socially responsible companies.
Some of this is shallow and some is deep, but it’s authentic: Doing good is no longer a matter of writing a few checks at the end of the year, as it was for my generation; for many young people, it’s an ethos that governs where they work, shop and invest.
C.E.O.s tell me that this forces their hand. If companies protect groping scumbags, that hurts recruitment and they lose in the war for talent. Increasingly, a company that ignores social value loses shareholder value.
.. I believe the best industries for doing good are law (pro bono work) and certain pharmaceuticals (drug donation programs). That’s because they are held accountable by metrics: Big law firms are ranked by American Lawyer for their pro bono work (Jenner & Block is top of the list), and pharma donations are rated by the Access to Medicines Index (GSK is No. 1).
.. Other companies hailed as model global citizens include Unilever, Starbucks, Whole Foods, Mastercard, Danone and Chobani.
For all of Israel’s great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
.. this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic
.. The government realizes that carrying out its one-state plan must entail steps and practices that necessarily clash with Israeli and international law — which is why it has effectively declared war on
- the Supreme Court of Israel,
- the free press and civil society, as well as
- the Israel Defense Forces’ ethical code.
This disrespect for the rule of law permeates other aspects of the government, too. It helps to shield the prime minister, his family and his aides from corruption investigations. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party recently introduced legislation that would explicitly forbid the police from recommending indictments at the end of high-profile investigations... there is a broad consensus among Israelis that rests on three pillars.
- First and foremost, security comes before everything; every Israeli understands this.
- Second, the unity, solidarity and integrity of the people take priority over the unity of the land — namely, the wish to possess the entirety of our historic homeland.
- Third, the principles of the 1948 Declaration of Independence, which lay out a vision for a democratic Israel based on freedom, justice and peace, are the foundation of our country’s de facto constitution... The entire debate, then, is actually only over the fate of the isolated settlements, fewer than 100 small communities deep in the West Bank, containing around 100,000 settlers. Even if it is not possible to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at this stage — and it probably is not — it is obvious that continued construction in those isolated settlements directly damages Israel’s vital interests... Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition claims to support the three pillars of Israeli consensus but the truth is it is determinedly undermining all three... He prefers a Greater Israel with an Arab majority, violence and division over a united, self-confident Israel with a solid Jewish majority.. He sanctifies the Land of Israel before the People of Israel. And he systematically erodes Israel’s democracy and liberal norms of governance... In the service of this agenda, Mr. Netanyahu elevated fake news, alternative facts and whataboutism into art forms in Hebrew, long before those terms gained any traction in English.