When Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun first took his seat on the bench, it was widely thought that he would strengthen the Court’s conservative wing. But within three years, Justice Blackmun spoke for the majority in one of the Court’s most liberal, historic and controversial decisions of the century: Roe v. Wade, granting women constitutional protection for abortion. In this 1987 Moyers Moment from In Search of the Constitution, Blackmun describes the decision as a necessary step towards the emancipation of women.
Current partisan flare-ups over filibuster reform, gun control, and the fiscal cliff don’t provide much hope for bipartisan compromise, but does the difference between conservatives and liberals go deeper than just their policy positions? In this Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes six categories of moral concerns — including compassion, liberty, loyalty, and authority — and how those on the Right and the Left exhibit these qualities very differently.
Watch the full conversation between Bill and Dr. Haidt.
In this Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, Bill asks civil rights attorneys Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander to imagine how Martin Luther King, Jr. — who would have been 81 when this clip aired in 2010 — would react to the current state of economic justice in America.
Stevenson says King would be heartbroken. “It would be sad to him to see how wealth has caused many people — people of color and others — to abandon the poor, to give up on this dream of economic justice,” he tells Bill, later sharing a remark that continues to resonate strongly: “In this country, the opposite of poverty is not wealth… in America, the opposite of poverty is justice.”
Watch the full conversation with Stevenson and Alexander.
In this November 1991 Moyers Moment from Spirit & Nature, which was taped during a conference at Middlebury College, the Dalai Lama talks to Bill and an assembled audience about our shared responsibility to this planet, and his concept of “spiritual democracy.”
DALAI LAMA: Brother and sisters, I think you come here with some expectation, but essentially, I have nothing to offer to you. Simply, I try to share to share some of my own experience and view. You see, taking care of our planet is nothing, nothing special and nothing sacred or noting holy. It is just something like taking care of your own house. We have no other planet, no other house except this, although[there] is a lot of disturbance and a lot- there is a problem there and it is our only, only alternative. We cannot go to other, you see, planet I think of moon, like moon, you see, from distance appears quite beautiful. If you go there, stay there, horrible, I think. So you see, our blue planet is much better, much happier. So therefore, you see, we have to take care about our own, you see, place.
MOYERS: Is there anything in the Buddhist scripture that encourages a way to look at the environment? Is there anything that Buddhism has to say, in particular, today?
DALAI LAMA: Firstly, Buddhist very much respect not only human being, but all, you see, other sentient being.
MOYERS: All sentient beings?
DALAI LAMA: Yes, all sentient beings.
MOYERS: By sentient beings, you mean-
DALAI LAMA: As insect, as birds or animals as things like that. So therefore, through that way is some kind of, I think concern or, you see respect, the natural environment.
MOYERS: Does this mean-
DALAI LAMA: And also-
MOYERS: Excuse me.
DALAI LAMA: Ah, yes, also, where the read, you see, in Buddhist teaching, I think, like many other religion, you see, contentment, self –discipline. That also I think, makes some differences.
DALAI LAMA: Self – discipline.
DALAI LAMA: And contentment. These, I think, and for individual, you see, life, they’re self discipline, contentment, there is something – something important, something useful.
MOYERS: Does this reverence for all living thing mean that I shouldn’t have hit that mosquito that bit me here? No, I’m serious about that. Is there a danger of excess in this? A lot of people say, “Well, you who care about the environment are going to extremes on it.”
DALAI LAMA: Usually my practice, you see, is something like this. One mosquito, you see, one mosquito come. Then if my mood is something quite happy, then I usually give some blood, you see, to the mosquito. Then, You see, Then second time come. Then, more impatience, so sometimes- [slapping motion]
MOYERS: Three strikes and you’re out, as we say.
DALAI LAMA: [lecturing] After all, human beings is a social animal. I often tell, you see, my friend that, you see, no need to study philosophy or these professional, you see complicated subject. Just look, you see. Those innocent animals or insect, like certain, you see ants or like, you see bees. And sometimes I really, you see, develop some kind of respect for them. How? They have no religion, no Constitution, no police force, nothing; but you see, because, you see, because they are nature existence, you see, nature law of existence, you see, you need harmony. You need, you see, sense of responsibility because of nature, so they accept nature. They follow according to nature’s system, I think, nature way. We human being, what is wrong? You see, we have such, you see, intelligence I mean, human intelligence, human wisdom, but I think we often use human intelligence in wrong direction. As a result, in a way, we are against we are doing certain actions which essentially against the basic human nature.
MOYERS: Spiritual democracy – that’s a wonderful term in your own conversation, spiritual democracy. What do you mean by that?
DALAI LAMA: I think, you see, basically the respect others’ right and listen, you see, different ideas. So, you see, in deep sense, you see- in deep down there, if you have, you see, compassion and love human affection, then, you see, naturally develop, you see, the respect to others. Therefore, you see, you will develop not only, you see respect to other, but some kind of essential responsibility. And then, you see, that create, I think, some kind of, I think, the attitude, you see, respect. I mean, listen, you see, others’ view and some kind of, you see, will or desire, you see, to join, to make a common effort.
Actor Sam Waterston has played Lincoln twice — once in the 1988 Gore Vidal TV miniseries Lincoln, and again in the 1993-94 Lincoln Center Theater production of Abe Lincoln in Illnois, for which Waterston earned a Tony Award nomination. In this 2009 Moyers Moment from a special live performance edition of Bill Moyers Journal, Moyers, Lincoln expert Harold Holzer and Waterston discuss the actor’s preparations for the role.
In this Moyers Moment from a 2009 episode of Bill Moyers Journal, Bill talks with Karen Armstrong about her discovery of compassion within herself, and her work to understand world religions and global politics through the lens of compassion.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: I learned a vicious form of rhetoric from my religious superiors. And also from my teachers at Oxford. You know? And people used to say to me, "I would really hate to be your enemy," because I have this very sharp tongue that I knew how to use it. And I get in first before someone put me down. That kind of thing.
I found that, in my studies I had to practice, what I found called in a footnote the "science of compassion." There was a phrase coined by great Islamist, Louis Massignon. Science, not in the sense of physics or chemistry but in the sense of knowledge, scientia, the Latin word for knowledge.
And Latin — the knowledge acquired by compassion. Feeling with the other. Putting yourself in the position of the other. And this footnote said that a religious historian, like myself, must not approach the spiritualities of the past from the vantage point of post enlightenment rationalism. You mustn't look on this in a superior way and look at the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century text as, "poor soul." You know?
And you had to recreate in a scholarly fashion, all the circumstances which had resulted in this spirituality or this teaching and not leave it, or certainly not write about it, until you can imagine yourself — putting yourself in that position. Imagine yourself feeling the same. So when I wrote about Muhammad, for example, I had to put myself in the position of a man living in the hell of seventh century Arabia, who sincerely believed he had been touched by God.
And unless I did that, I would miss Muhammad. I had to put clever Karen, edgy Oxford educated Karen, on the back burner. And go out of myself and enter into the mind of the other. And I found, much to my astonishment, it started changing me. I couldn't any longer be quite as vicious as I was or dismissive as I was in the kind of clever conversations —
BILL MOYERS: Why? This is the first time I've heard of a born again experience beginning with a footnote. Was it your imagination that said, "I have to see this world the way Muhammad saw it and experienced it?"
KAREN ARMSTRONG: I said that this footnote is right. If I go on writing, as I had been doing up to this point for saying, "This is all rubbish." You know, I know it all. These poor benighted souls in the past didn't know what they were talking about. I was not fulfilling my job as a historian.
It was my job to go in and recreate it, enter into that spirit. Leave myself behind and enter into the mind and society and outlook of the other. It's a form of what the Greeks called ekstasis. Ecstasy. That doesn't mean you go into a trance or have a vision. It means — ekstasis means standing outside yourself. Putting yourself behind. And it is self, it's ego that hold us back from what we call God.
BILL MOYERS: You speak of the change in you. You're talking about a personal transformation. But take the next step. What would bring about the kind of real change in society and in politics that would be an extrapolation of or a continuation in community of what you're talking about?
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Okay. Not to treat other nations or other — in a way that we would not wish to be treated ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: Unless they've attacked you.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Even so, I mean, there was a chance after 9/11, you know, when something different would have been done. The religions have generally developed, as the Koran does, a theory of just war. You know? That you can fight only in self-defense. But a lot of the policies that we created helped to, you know, first of all, let's leave America out of this. Look at the British, and their colonial policies.
Many of the problems we face in the Muslim world date back to that colonial period, to British behavior, and arrogance, and the abuse of democracy. For example, in Egypt, between 1922, when Egypt was granted a modicum of independence, and 1952, when you have the Nasser revolution. There were 17 general elections in the country, all of them won hands down by the Wafd party, who wanted to see reduced British influence in Egypt. They were only allowed to rule five times. On every other occasion, the British made them stand down and put more congenial people in power. This made the whole idea of democracy a bad joke. Now, would we wish to be treated like that ourselves?
BILL MOYERS: Now, this is what some people call blow back, in the intelligence world. And some people say, "Are the chickens coming home to roost?" But I want to make sure that people don't misunderstand. After 9/11, we made a mistake of invading a country that had not attacked us.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: But what about when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor or when the Germans, the Nazis wanted to come across the channel and destroy Britain? You're not saying they're to treat Germany or Japan the way we would like to be treated.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: No, but you fight in self-defense. And the trouble with war is it has a horrible dynamic of its own. So that, in the end, we all start doing dreadful things that...
BILL MOYERS: That's right.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: ...that violate all our own principles. Like the British bombing of Dresden, for example.
BILL MOYERS: The American bombing of Hiroshima.
KAREN ARMSTRONG: Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: Nagasaki. The atrocities of both sides —
KAREN ARMSTRONG: That's what happens when in war. So that's why they say you — the Koran, for example, says you must limit war and you must stop hostilities as soon as the enemy sues for peace. That kind of thing. But instead of seeing the other world as them, or instead of seeing our own fundamentalists as them and enemies, somehow learn to see, perhaps, the pain that lies at the root of a lot of this because they feel attacked by us.
Are Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other hallmarks of holiday consumerism examples of genuine supply and demand, or is capitalism manufacturing an unnecessary need in order to to feed itself? In this November 2007 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, political theorist Benjamin Barber, author of Jihad vs. McWorld, says we’re buying things “we don’t want or need or even understand.”
“Capitalism needs us to buy things way beyond the scope of our needs and wants [in order to] to stay in business. That’s the bottom line,” Barber tells Bill. “Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It’s manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it’s got to produce.”
BILL MOYERS: Here we are, at the height of the holiday season. The malls and the shops are packed. Stuff is flying off the shelves. And like Grinch or Scrooge you stand up and say, "Capitalism's in trouble." Why?
BENJAMIN BARBER: Because things are flying off the shelves that we don't want or need or even understand what they are, but we go on buying them. Because capitalism needs us to buy things way beyond the scope of our needs and wants to stay in business, Bill. That's the bottom line. Capitalism is no longer manufacturing goods to meet real needs and human wants. It's manufacturing needs to sell us all the goods it's got to produce.
BILL MOYERS: But on the Friday after Thanksgiving, you know, go to the mall. Black Friday, the mall in Burlington, Vermont, where I happened to be, was just packed with people. I mean, they're not in there buying nothing. You're saying that they don't need that stuff?
BENJAMIN BARBER: Sure don't. And they don't need to shop at 4:00 AM. I mean, I've been looking for signs saying, "Please open the stores at 4:00 AM so I can go shopping at 4:00 AM." I don't see any. I mean, that's the stores' ideas. That's the marketers' ideas. That's the idea to create this hysteria about purchasing. About buying and selling. That makes Americans feel that if they're not in the store at 4:00 AM or 2:00 AM, and some of them open at midnight Thursday. And now a whole bunch were open on Thanksgiving.
BILL MOYERS: But, Ben, nobody is forcing them to do that. People are out there looking for bargains. You like a good bargain don't you?
BENJAMIN BARBER: I love a good bargain when it's for something I need and something I want. But here's the thing--here's the thing. We live in a world where there are real needs and real wants. And there's no reason why capitalism shouldn't be addressing those real needs and those real wants.
BILL MOYERS: Well, give me an example.
BENJAMIN BARBER: Give you a fine example. Here in the United States, we do -- the Cola companies, which couldn't sell enough Cola, figure out, why sell Cola when we can sell water from the tap that people can get for free, but we'll sell it in bottles from the tap. Twenty billion a year. Twenty billion dollars a year in bottled water.
BILL MOYERS: Right. Right. In bottled water.
BENJAMIN BARBER: In the third world there are literally billions without potable, without drinkable, without clean water. Now why shouldn't capitalism figure out how to clean the water out there and get people something they need and make a buck off it, because that's what capitalism does. It makes a profit off taking some chances and meeting real human needs. Instead of convincing Americans and Europeans that they shouldn't drink pure clean tap water but instead pay two bucks a bottle for it.
BILL MOYERS: Those people out there don't have the money to buy it. So that-- why would a company go into a place where people don't have money and try to sell them something?
BENJAMIN BARBER: In capitalism you don't expect a profit right away. You make an investment. You create jobs. You create products, you create productivity. That's the way it works. That's the way we created, in the west, our prosperity. But we don't have the patience any longer to do it in the third world. We don't want to bring them into the marketplace. We'd rather exploit a finished marketplace. But you're right, here's the paradox, those with the dough don't have any needs. Those with the needs don't have any dough. And so--
BILL MOYERS: Right.
BENJAMIN BARBER: --capitalism has to decide how to treat it. And their decision has been to go for the dough, regardless of the needs. I was called on Black Friday by a lot of radio and TV stations.
BILL MOYERS: Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
BENJAMIN BARBER: "Tell us what's going on? What's wrong with American consumers?" Which is kind of what you and I have been talking about. But the trouble is we're looking the wrong way. It's not what's wrong with American consumers, it's what's wrong with American capitalism, American advertisers, American marketers? We're not asking for it. It's what I call push capitalism. It's supply side. They've got to sell all this stuff, and they have to figure out how to get us to want it. So they take adults and they infantilize them. They dumb them down. They get us to want things.
Watch Bill’s full conversation with Benjamin Barber.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the 2010 Citizens United case that struck down campaign spending limitations by corporations and unions. “Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” wrote Kennedy. But many feel Citizens United breeds corruption not only in the campaigns of elected representatives, but also in judicial campaigns. In its May 2010 report “Buying Justice,” The Brennan Center for Justice argues “the most severe impact of Citizens United may be felt in state judicial elections.”
All of which makes Kennedy’s comments a decade prior in the 1999 Frontline report “Justice for Sale” curious. In the documentary (which featured Bill Moyers), Kennedy condemns the destructive impact of judicial campaign contributions on the integrity of our court system. “Money in elections presents us with a tremendous challenge, a tremendous problem,” Kennedy tells Moyers. “And we are remiss if we don’t at once address it and correct it.”
Watch that exchange between Moyers and Kennedy in this 1999 Moyers Moment — excerpted from “Justice for Sale” — which also includes Justice Stephen Breyer. Bill kicks things off with a question just as relevant and foreboding today as it was then: “Isn’t the verdict in from the people — that they cannot trust the judicial system anymore?”
Watch the complete version of “Justice for Sale“
As we close in on the fourth anniversary of the start of the financial crisis (Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15), it’s important to focus not only on institutional causes, but also catalysts related to the dark side of human nature. In this 2009 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, veteran bank regulator and watchdog William Black describes the environment of fraud, deceit and deliberate betrayal that set disastrous events in motion.
“There’s no more effective acid against trust than fraud, especially fraud by top elites,” Black tells Bill. “And that’s what we have.”
Watch Bill’s full conversation with William Black.
The word “socialist” has been tossed around by right-wing pundits and politicians unhappy with President Obama’s healthcare and economic policies, but does the charge stick? In this Moyers Moment from a 2012 episode of Moyers & Company, Bill asks Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, to explain what it means to be a socialist and assess if Obama is one.
Watch the full conversation between Bill and Senator Sanders.
After his epic series of interviews with Joseph Campbell in 1988′s The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers returned to Skywalker Ranch to interview George Lucas, whose Star Wars franchise was heavily influenced by Campbell’s work. In this Moyers Moment from The Mythology of Star Wars, George Lucas talks candidly about his personal mentors — including Campbell and Francis Ford Coppola — as well as the role religion plays in Star Wars mythology.
Was the Occupy movement a study in failure or a trigger for future change in our systems of power? Quite possibly both. In this Moyers Moment from a 2012 episode of Moyers & Company, journalist Chris Hedges describes how Occupy Wall Street changed his mind about the futility of popular revolt — even as it fizzled — and how he now feels nonviolent civil disobedience is “our only hope.”
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon’s hearings before Congress last month were strikingly similar — in circumstances if hardly in results — to the 1930s Senate Banking Committee hearings known as the Pecora Commission. Headed by Sicilian immigrant Ferdinand Pecora, the investigation into the causes of the Wall Street crash of 1929 resulted in, among other regulatory checks, the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 and the founding of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In this 2009 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, Bill talks to Pecora’s biographer, Michael Perino, about the son of a shoemaker who overcame stereotypes to take on big Wall Street bankers, leaving a long-standing legacy of effective banking oversight.
In this Moyers Moment from a 2010 episode of Bill Moyers Journal, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka says there are two economies in this country: a financial economy that passes around complex instruments to create capital, and a real economy that actually makes things. Once an enabler of the real economy, the financial economy now overshadows it, to the detriment of the American worker, says Trumka.
Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Richard Trumka.
In 1993, author Maxine Hong Kingston asked veterans and their families to turn their wartime experiences into poems, novels and essays. Some were collected in Kingston’s book, Veterans of War; Veterans of Peace. In this 2007 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, we hear the first-person account of Pauline Laurent, who was pregnant when she was told her husband was killed in Vietnam. In the clip, Moyers and Kingston read from Laurent’s personal essay, but we also hear from Laurent herself.
Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Maxine Hong Kingston.