Etherground Railroad

In Cow, Large Wagon, Rooster on April 23, 2011 at 12:08 am

Slowly, and all at once, a realm of freedom has situated itself where none before existed.  North, South, East, West, and far-East, both in the U.S., and beyond, I have found the voices that comfort me the most in my new-found collections of cherished blogs and reader comments.   Each active blog out there seems to do the same:  creating and compiling the voices who nourish the most needed truths.   Restoring a place where a concept of truth can perch, finding a foothold in the most ethereal clouds of cyberspace, hovering at the periphery of the world of paid journalism, where truth is an unlamented casualty of spin.

Walmart, CVS, and Home Depot have wiped out the pharmacies, hardware stores, and variety stores that were the old hubs for local news.  This shore-to-shore homogenization creates corporate manifestos that replace local creeds, cutting in both directions: if Mom and Pop were arbitrary, or even bigoted, in their hiring and firing practices, their fiefdom, at least, was limited.  And there was always a different shop with a different ethos down the road to try.  There were hardware stores that  challenged local assumptions, lunch-counters that were revolutionary, pharmacies that kept womens’ and girls’ secrets.   And there were others that were intrusive, prying, and that fortified stark moral assumptions, for which traveling to the next town over was the only escape.

A recent class-action suit against Walmart suggests that what once may have remained only local bigotry went mainstream into its corporate ethos that aided and abetted gender discrimination.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/opinion/07thu1.html?scp=3&sq=walmart%20class%20action&st=cse)

Eliminating Mom &Pop did not wipe out their prejudices:  the local control of the business was robbed, but the biases were codified in the new, sea-to-sea corporate culture.

Homogenization of corporate culture is not “soulless”–it very much has attitudes, but their omnipresence normalizes them, making them more likely for people to accept, and by accepting, eventually not seeing at all.  When this happens, there is no “town over” to escape to.

It can even take over old, “illustrious” institutions, like the Tribune company. (Read this gut-wrenching account if you missed it.  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/business/media/06tribune.html).   This decadence is the natural underbelly of a greed that does not even care for the names and reputations of the companies it buys and sells, no more than it esteems women, as corporate culture extols the amassing of trophy wives (see a similar demise with the Simmons Mattress Company) (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/business/economy/05simmons.html?scp=1&sq=Simmons%20Matress&st=Search).

In a predatory capitalist state, any company and any local economy in the world is fair game, to the extent that policy and politicians allow them.  The thin veneer of decency unravels in the individuals buying and selling large companies the more above the law they feel, evidenced in widespread lack of prosecutions.  Newspapers and blogs will cause them no shame.

Thus, unpaid bloggers are the real frontier, the true revival of a People’s Press.  Simply about people, unfazed by the profits that companies can re-invest in their people and equipment, or siphon into exploits of greed, which always have destruction and death at their ends.

Few knew of the whole extent of the underground railroads in the mid 19th century U.S.  Most just knew their bit part, and this kept it resilient and difficult for informants to infiltrate. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_Railroad)  There was great benefit in keeping local news extremely local, extremely specific.   Two connecting points were just that, nothing else.  The next link knew the one above, and below…if you questioned me, what else could I tell you?  No more than what I knew, so keeping knowledge limited was a real asset in that case.

Our knowledge today is equally limited,  as transcribed by time as ever,  and dispersed widely into loose fragments that it is up to the cunning of individuals to assemble.  I know of no local schools, workplaces, churches, neighbors, friends, politicians, or groups where I do all my physical traveling and communing that has any of the topics of these blogs in their conversations.  To care about this interior life is to be an “invisible woman”  amongst them.  Normal conversation is not suited to an intense imagining of our land, our ways, of wondering who is the “we” and the “they” few people want to imagine or be bothered with.

So these blogs are my way station, these blogs that I source to, learn from, revel in, rejoice and exhult in are the promise of a freedom and imagination, while I inhabit a world where there is little obvious evidence of conscience or deep engagement with the world, civic life, politics and philosophy/values.

The blogs I love are way stations, safe houses of freedom.  A place to feel that justice emerges, though it may not emerge beneath the robed Justice’s gavel.   A place to rebuke bigotry, though such attitudes still crowd people out of jobs and salary.  A place where a person may simply heal because they are recognized as a complex and whole person full of wayward and unruly and contradictory impulses, and is not merely a tissue sample for our technology-driven healthcare system.   A place where young and old, all races and directions, can join momentary hands in our minds, though no physical place may ever materialize.

For many slaves, the physical place did not materialize, but the concept and the hope of a railroad was better than no alternative.  Each of us takes our point in history, never understanding at the time that we are creating it, never seeing what was written about us in the future.  It does not matter to us how the story ends while we are living the now.

We can re-define the story of the underground railroad not as one limited to African-American slaves in the mid-19th century U.S., but a story that continues with us.  With anyone who understands the concept of “underground” as being in contradiction to the norms of the time, and who sees that physical travel to physical people, whom one imagines are more welcoming and hospitable than current circumstances, may actually be impossible.

So the resource is the imaginary travel,  the source is the network (underground railroad or blogosphere of cyberspace), which, until you travel it, is all but imaginary.   Those who perished without physically traveling could have been closer to freedom than those who physically traveled and were disappointed.   So I take heart here, and I follow the drinking gourd to cyberspace.


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