Using Galbraith’s notion of conventional wisdom and his summing up of Marx’s theoretical interaction with capitalism, I am going to examine King’s speech, “A Time to Break Silence”. It is clear to me that King is challenging the dominant conventional wisdom of his time since he taking up the “task of opposing the government’s policy” and, more to the point, speaking out with concern for Vietnamese who are possible communists. This demonstrates a clear break with the c.w. of his time since the communist theory and its followers were held up as the ideological and actual enemy of the United States.
Galbraith articulates conventional wisdom as “ideas which are esteemed at anytime for their acceptability” and that which “protects the community” (pg. 8). As we discussed in our last class meeting, he doesn’t seem to be interested in what makes the ideas that make up the conventional wisdom acceptable; he only emphasizes that these firmly gripped ideas prevent the public from seeing an alternative and more original idea. He also doesn’t actually explain why the alternative and more original idea will be better. It appears that we should see originality itself as the cite of improvement on the conventional idea, if only because the conventional is boring. However, he doesn’t think new thinking can actually alter conventional wisdom, only the “march of events” (pg.11). In other words, conventional wisdom-the barrier it is to originality and presumably social progress-unable to be changed before it is too late, succumbs to the “impact of circumstance” (pg. 13).
This is problematized as a coherent notion of social thought and progress in Galbraith’s treatment of Marxist theory. In chapter two, Galbraith made clear that c.w. is adjusted and updated to drastic circumstances (events) that wrest it from its secure resting place in the minds of the corresponding public. It is not at all clear what he means by “circumstances” or “events” but he is clear that an idea is not one of either. This makes it confusing later when he takes about Marx’s theory undermining and altering the conventional wisdom. Seeing as how he talks about this intervention as one that occurred in the realm of sociopolitical discourse-clearly a realm of ideas-it is contradictory that it would qualify as a candidate for c.w. disruption.
Galbraith says that c.w. is that which “protects the community” without articulating which community is protected and from what. In King’s speech it is clear the conventional wisdom he is challenging is not protecting and is instead devastating many communities, particularly the black, the poor and the Vietnamese. Also, King calls into question the aggressive fear that surrounds the idea of communism and cites it as a primary motivator for the Vietnam War. What we notice in the thinking around the Vietnam War is that the notion of a communist power structure was terrifying for many reasons to the United States power structure and its allies resulting in a violent military engagement. This in my mind underscores the chief flaw in Galbraith’s idea of conventional wisdom in that he treats the circumstances of the world as happening apart from the implementation of or entanglement with the beliefs that make up the conventional wisdom.