Posts Tagged ‘Underground Railroad’

The Underground

March 19, 2020

Half a century before the Russians mustered enough rebellion to  depose the Czar, a deep current of discontent had begun oozing up from somewhere deep down in those thawing Russian steppes.

Since that era, we have come to call what that discontent represents: The Underground.

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevksy caught and early wind of it. In his 1864 novel, Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky identified and fictionalized an uncomfortable alienation that (he noticed) was mounting up among certain attentive and sensitive citizens of that restive country.

This alienation has, since then, become a characteristic of modern life.

In our day and time, Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson points out that Dostoevsky and other writers (most notably Friedrich Nietzsche) detected this early alienation and wrote extensively about it.

There was, you see,  a deep, dark void in the European soul.

It was there. . . deep down in there, somewhere in the metamorphizing life of the 1800’s . . .  a sense that something was missing . . . something important, something—it must be something— essential.

Where some spiritual or soulful entity had, through many ages, carried European civilization along a certain path of cultural development, now there was nothing.

“Nihilism” is a word that was brought in to identify that void.

In our day and time, Jordan Peterson explains the development of nihilism—how it is related to the lapse  the Church, which had formerly evolved as a religious matrix around which the framework of European civilization and culture had manifested across almost two millennia of time.

Dr. Peterson attributes the identifying of this nihilism primarily to those two 19th-century writers, Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. In his lectures, Dr. Peterson often mentions that these two prescient thinkers predicted—or one could almost say “prophecied”—the horrible carnage of our 20th-century wars.  Our two modernized hyper-mechanized destructive wars broke out as modern men desperately strove—through futile attempts at communist and fascist totalitarianism—to establish a meaningful State, or Society.

Instead of—let’s just say— the Church. Comprenez-vous?

Denizens of “the Underground” are those misplaced souls who have searched elsewhere—apart from the Society or Culture at large—for their own meaning or identity.  Even further than that, they will likely work collectively with other fellow travelers, striving for some collective opus that enables us—if not now, in the future— to live and thrive together.

When I was a young man, I composed a song about some of these deep urges toward meaning and liberty.

Underground Railroad Rides Again

I have empathy for the Undergrounders of this world, although some of them have, from time to time, carried their discontents too far, beyond the rightful constraints of decently civilized life. The Weather Underground of the 1960’s, for instance,  crossed that line of acceptable protest when they began making home-bombs,  one of which enabled one Undergrounder to blow up himself and his whole dam NYC apartment building, in spring of 1970.

But hey! Life goes on, in spite of all the abuse and injustices people pile on one another. In spite of all our myriad societal dysfunctions. The world persists in its predictable revolutions, whether you approve the changes or not.  Nations change. Seasons come and go. Our winters of discontent always as mellow out as . . .

a new wind, a fair breeze, and this year’s equinox a day early!

Now in 2020 A.D., about midday on this first spring day, 19  March, I was strolling along our local greenway, here in our little town of the Blue Ridge, observing obligatory social distancing protocols mandated by the COVID-19. When my walk began, the weather was dreary, misty and chilly. But as I neared the turnaround point of my 3-mile path, the sun was peeping out from behind the clouds, the air turned amazingly warm and dry, and suddenly! spring has sprung!

‘T’was then I encountered an Underground of different sort:

Molehills

This springtime sprung-up version of the Underground has been popping up with alarming regularity for a very long time. . . far longer than we homo sapiens have been struggling to find meaningful identity in our civilizations.

As I beheld these silly-pilly little dirt mounds, I disclosed the discovery to myself . . .  (as they say on the video spy dramas) what we have here is mole!

King of Soul

What the Jews did

January 30, 2018

What the Jews did was establish about half of the narrative foundation of the Western World.

Their Old Testament, combined with the New, were received as Holy Scriptures  by the Church, which, after Constantine, dominated European cultural development for over a thousand years.

Long about 1500 or so, the Protestant Reformation began the process of unshackling the chains of dogmatic error that the Catholic hierarchy had, over 1400 years, lapsed into. Then Reformation disruption of Papist hegemony broke ground for another new emphasis—the Renaissance. This humanist  arts movement unearthed the  quasi-dormant other half of the Western cultural narrative, the ancient Greeks, most notably Homer, Herodotus, Plato and Aristotle. On the coattails of the Greek philosophers, the Roman writers, most notably Cicero, Cato and Virgil later appended their contribution to the philosophical and governmental legacy of ancient Greece. It later became a bedrock of Western culture and government.

That ancient Greek heritage had initiated an idea called democracy, which was later amended to Republic by the Romans in their Empire.

Judeo-Christian Religion, Greek Democracy and Roman Republic became the religious, philosophical and governmental foundations upon which the Western World was established in Europe and beyond.

In the early stages of Western history, during the period of the Roman Empire, along came a Roman general named Titus. In 70 a.c.e., he ran most of the Jews out of Israel, their homeland, and he sent his soldiers to Jerusalem to destroy the Jewish Temple, even though it had had been constructed by one of the Romans’ own puppet kings, Herod.

Titus apparently thought it was a notable accomplishment that he had expelled most of the Jews out of their own ancient capital;  the Hebrews had previously managed to reclaim Jerusalem after the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar had expelled them about 670 years earlier.

Titus’ Roman victory over the Jews was thought to be quite impressive by his successors. A few years after he died, his brother Domitian commissioned the Arch of Titus to be constructed in the main area of Rome. Among the conquests of Titus depicted in stone on the Arch, the plundering of Jerusalem is plain to see.

ArcTitusMenr

In this picture that I snapped, the Jewish Menorah can be plainly seen. To the victor goes the spoils, eh? The Roman big shots must have thought themselves something special after they ran those upstart Jews out of Jerusalem back in the day. The Jews were infamous among several historical empire-builders for being ungovernable.

One reason that Titus and Nebuchadnezzar and Antiochus and their ilk had so much trouble governing the Jews was because the people of Israel always insisted on being free.

This whole idea of freedom, around which Western culture revolves, originated largely with the Jews.

Long about 1400 or so years b.c.e., Moses rounded up the Jews and lead them out of the slavery that Egyptian pharoahs had inflicted on them.

This turned out to be a major event in world history.

Why? Because Moses and some of his people wrote a book about it. We know it as the book of Exodus. Along with the other books of the Torah/Pentateuch/Old Testament, it later became an international best-seller for many and many a year, many and many a century and several millenia of time.

What later became the Bible was passed down through the ages to many and many a person and group of persons to read and spark inspiration.

That spark of freedom that enabled the Jews to throw off the bondage of Pharoahic slavery—it has been an inspiration to many freedom-seeking people throughout history.

Case in point, within our lifetime. (All ye Boomers out there, hear ye, hear ye. . .)

Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr., on the night before he was assassinated, declared this message to his people in Memphis, and ultimately via audiotape to America, and to the world:

“I’ve been to the Mountaintop. . . I’ve seen the Promised Land . . .”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

We can see that Dr. King was inspired by Moses. A long time ago, I wrote a song about it. Mountaintop

And we know from the Hebrew scriptures that Moses was inspired by God.

Now this may seem a little old-fashioned to you, a little bit religious. But this religious thing is much more than belief in God. It’s not just out-of-style old hat. Faith also includes the idea of freedom. It also includes the idea of freedom of religion , freedom to believe what you need to believe, and freedom to act on what you believe to be true. It goes way back, way back . . .

Here’s another example from American history. A hundred and fifty years ago when black folks in this country were still enslaved . . . in a situation not unlike what the Jews had found themselves in ancient Egypt, one of those black former slaves, Harriet Tubman, started a secret society for the purpose of providing an escape for self-freed slaves who wanted to come up to the free states.

The name that was given to Harriet’s clandestine network was the Underground Railroad. Have you heard of it?

I’m here to tell you that the Underground Railroad has been transporting people from bondage to liberty for a very long time.

Last century,  freedom-seeking people did another version of it to smuggle the children of Israel  out of the Nazi Third Reich. Have you heard of it?

But know this: it’s still going on.

Underground Railroad Rides Again.

 And we can thank the Jews for that, because way, way back in the day . . . they started it; they started the freedom track that runs through human civilization.  The first one ran from Egypt to the Promised Land, and its been going, whenever needed, under the radar ever since.

It will never be shut down.

Glass half-Full 

The Inspiration of Harriet Tubman in 1937

April 21, 2016

In the novel, Smoke, which I published last year, a young American businessman, Philip Morrow, accompanies a refugee family through France in the year 1937. Across the border in Germany, the Nuremberg laws had established a set of dangerous restrictions promulgated by the Nazis to drive the Jews out of Germany, and to abscond their wealth.

In the story, the Eschen family has fled Munich in a hurry. Their hasty departure is provoked when their son/brother has been arrested and imprisoned at Dachau.

In this excerpt from chapter 14 of Smoke, we find the Eschens relieved to have crossed the French border into the province of Alsace. Gathered with some newfound French friends, they are sharing a meal and giving an account of their escape. Philip is inquiring about the conditions through which they fled from Munich to the border and then crossed into France. As Philip speaks, Hannah, the older sister makes mention of American woman whose daring enterprise is a benchmark of American history.

       “Harriet Tubman,” Hannah broke in.

       “Harriet who? What are you talking about?”

       “Tubman. Harriet Tubman,” the young woman repeated. “. . . an American Negro woman who escaped slavery about a hundred years ago. She went to the north, to the free states of America, where the practice of slavery had been outlawed. She started an organization for her people to escape the cotton plantations in the south, and go up to the free states in the north, where they could begin a new life.”

       “The Underground Railroad,” said Philip. “How did you know about that?” he asked, looking with surprised interest across and down the table at Hannah.

       “I’ve been reading the Encyclopedia Britannica,” she replied. “It just occurred to me that, in our predicament here, our family is like those slaves who had escaped before the American civil war. “The Negroes were, like us now, a stateless people. They had been sold into slavery in Africa, and shipped across the Atlantic in terrible ships, where they were forced to pick cotton for plantation owners for many generations, until Harriet Tubman escaped and set up secret itineraries for their escape.”

       “But you are not like Negro slaves. You are prosperous Jews,” objected Donald, gently.

       “Not any more, we’re not, Monsieur Satie,” Hannah answered. “This is the enormity of it—of the changes that the Third Reich has imposed. All that my father and mother have worked for—and our grandparents before them—has been robbed, a little bit at a time, from us!—including  my brother. And now the Nazis have built a slave camp, where they intend to concentrate us Jews—Heinrich is not the only one—and  force us into doing work to build up the wehrmacht, so Hitler can exact vengeance against us, and not only against us ‘prosperous’ Jews, but against you, too, you French people, and the British, who imposed the treaty of Versailles on Germany after the war.”

Such was a conversation might have taken place in Europe in 1937.

Looking forward forty-years, here’s a song I recorded in 1978 about yet newer manifestations of the Underground Railroad scenario:

Underground Railroad Rides Again

Smoke