From the Underground Railroad

The “underground railroad” has become a trope in literature, however most readers understand an original context, within the coming apart United States, wherein slaves helped one another, with a little help from Friends, in getting free of slavery. There was no wall, just some invisible line. Slavers would nevertheless come north of that line to kidnap blacks or hunt those who had escaped, for bounty. They’d chase slaves into Mexico too.

I say “Friends” with a capital “F” in the previous paragraph in allusion to Quakers, an affiliation I honor in my own autobiography, both my parents having become convinced (as we sometimes say) before I was born in Chicago. In that capacity I ask “what’s the Underground Railroad” today? I tend to think of a whole subway system. It’s about helping people escape terrible circumstances for better ones, by means of geographic relocation.

as an elder

However, is geographic relocation really necessary? Here is where I begin my meditation on underground comics and curricula, a hidden world of podcasts and other recordings. Whisperings from the past, sometimes from people long gone. They have a vision of a better world, a Promised Land (or at least a more promising one), and the “underground railroad” they provide are ways to get there. Literature is full of such railroads, many still unexplored. Where they would actually lead, we’ll never know in most cases.

So now comes my confession: I’ve been working on one such underground railroad, a set of tracks, a curriculum. My Youtubes have been buried in the vast shuffle, my web pages inserted in the maelstrom here and there, mostly without advertising. Unless you know what to look for, you probably will not find them.

My content is buried, underground, not readily apparent. Some use the word “occult” for this kind of literature, as if the authors were deliberately attempting to keep something hidden.

In many cases, it’s not the authors who do their best to suppress.

The underground railroad I’ve been working on, once ran on the surface, even high above ground, as a literal train through the giant dome just outside the Canadian city of Montreal, in 1967.

These days it’s called a “biosphere” and since the remodel of 1995 has served as a tourist attraction, a museum about environmental science.

Expo 67 was a World’s Fair. These have become more obscure lately. The United States pulled out of the Expo organization under Reagan, and perhaps for good reason as I’m about to spell out.

on my bookshelf

Does anyone remember Buckminster Fuller? He pops up in history here and there, more and more if one digs (as I have).

At one point, he was like the USA’s ambassador to the world, in that his was the mind behind this most emblematic of World’s Fair icons: the geodesic dome or sphere, such as the one at Montreal, and the one currently at Epcot, in Orlando, Florida.

EPCOT is interesting in that the corporate pavilions, such as Kodak’s, were placed on one side of the artificial lake, and the national pavilions on the other. We had a kind of past to future arrow going, with global corporations (later called GRUNCH in Fuller’s writing) showing the way to a bright Tomorrowland (literally so-called).

We would celebrate our cultural heritage in the form of nations, while internalizing a post-nationalist sense of the whole. Disney (as in Walt) wanted his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) to serve the world as a source of new artifacts and lifestyles, tested willingly by the denizens therein.

However, the levers of power, used to galvanize patriotism and send people to war, really depend on people not internalizing any sense of globalism. That would make them innately “too neutral” to want to die for their side. How would national governance be possible?

This Buckminster Fuller character, with his “Spaceship Earth” and his “think globally, act locally” began to seem like more and more of a threat, as many young people were listening to the guy, and even putting his thinking into practice. They were disconnecting from the grid and refusing to go fight in Indochina. They were disobedient, when it came to falling in line behind their leaders. President Nixon found these “dirty hippies” highly distasteful. A lot of them emigrated to Canada.

By the time Fuller was an old man, he realized his thinking would be going underground. The nationalists were going to demonize the globalists and try to extinguish his “movement” such as there was one. He confided these expectations explicitly, to Patricia Ravasio, a young journalist. She would write about those interviews later, in The Girl from Spaceship Earth, connecting Fuller’s prediction with her own growing sense of alarm.

How could the USA afford to turn its back on its own world ambassador? If we neglected to think globally, wouldn’t this plunge us into another dark age? That certainly looked to be what was happening.

nesting volumes (exploded view)

For his part, Fuller did his best in Grunch of Giants to leave a tool chest we could use. We might need to question the ongoing legitimacy of the USA, given its politicians had been pocketed, ordinary people locked out. For this reason, he declared “the USA we have known” to be “bankrupt and extinct”.

He wrote about the CIA taking over, as a kind of globalist enterprise, the “invisible army” of his GRUNCH (global Tomorrowland).

Interestingly, shortly after this book was published (St. Martin’s Press), Fuller received the Medal of Freedom from President Reagan.

I was in Jersey City at the time, hoping to get IMAX movies in The Stanley (then unoccupied — Jehovah’s Witnesses bought it later). I had no money of my own. Woody Allen put that theater in his movie Zelig (see photograph below).

Fuller was not without government experience, having served in the USN. His chief collaborator on Synergetics, his magnum opus in two volumes, had been a career CIA man.

Bucky had been around the world some 42 times by the time he reached his eighties. He’d met with all manner of government official, including high profile leaders. He was the USA’s unofficial world ambassador after all, standing for a brighter, attainable future, wherein outward wars would be obsolete.

People wanted to hear his message, even if they were skeptical of his utopianism. They wanted to know what they were up against.

The IMAX movies I was trying to get for The Stanley had mostly not been made (nor have they been since). I was imagining “for college credit” films, with a lot of students coming by PATH train from NYU and such places (Jersey City is just a few stops from downtown Manhattan). I didn’t keep all these plans to myself. I wanted to be a World Game player. Again, I had no money.

We would show off Fuller’s “Dymaxion Map” (in these movies) and this “concentric hierarchy of polyhedrons” (starting from a tetrahedron of unit volume). Viewers would get academic credit for viewing these works of art.

filming Zelig (by Woody Allen)

Given I wasn’t operating in secrecy regarding these plans, you can bet that I eventually got on the radar of Fuller himself, as well as on that of his collaborator and associate, the former CIA man.

I’d sent Fuller a paper I’d written in Cairo, where my parents had moved since my own moving to Princeton. He wrote back to say it was excellent. I’d photocopy his letter and send it around with my other materials. I had another from Werner Erhard’s office, and still another from Senator Patrick Moynihan’s.

When Fuller died in 1983, I was heading into Friends General Conference (FGC), a Quaker gathering, usually in the northeast quadrant of the US. I was living with my parents in Washington DC at the time. By 1985, I would be back in Portland, working for the Center for Urban Education. My parents would end up in Bhutan, by way of Bangladesh. Dad worked with the Swiss at that point. Lesotho came later.

The former CIA man, E.J. Applewhite, was in nearby Georgetown, but we hadn’t gotten in touch yet. He would later gift me with a copy of his Synergetics Dictionary, and even visit me in Portland.

I wrote an obituary for Fuller in the FGC newsletter that year. I’ve always considered Fuller philosophically in accord with Quakerism in terms of his Promised Land ideas. War is obsolete, though we still have our inner demons to fight with.

So the new “underground railroad” has to do with Friends again. Earlham College is friendly to “Bucky” (as he liked to be called) at least in terms of having his visage in the library on a poster. I corresponded with Dr. Suber, in philosophy, to get my Synergetics on the Web included on his index of philosophy sites on the web.

However colleges and universities in general have not been open to Synergetics at all, the two volume magnum opus in the New England Transcendentalist tradition (very metaphysical), published by Macmillan in the late 1970s. It doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere as a STEM work (which it isn’t, I’d agree), and no one in PATH (Philosophy Anthropology Theater History) wants to touch it.

So all this history remains occult (when have you heard it before?).

But then, is History intelligible if we bury big parts of it? How many students today learn the unofficial USA ambassador, Medal of Freedom winner, declared the USA’s bankruptcy in a published book?

Whether he was right or not is entirely secondary to the historical facts of the matter. Grunch of Giants is on the shelves, for anyone to check.

Port Authority Trans Hudson (a train line)

In light of this conspiracy to brand Bucky a kook (crackpot) and keep his contribution suppressed, I think my curriculum writing meets the necessary criteria for being “underground”.

Insofar as Synergetics is mathematics (it does have mathematical content) it’s been a verboten mathematics. The unit volume tetrahedron is not talked about. Too alien.

Given the connotations of “alien” I also call it Martian Math. I’ve gotten to teach Martian Math, not just write about it, including at Reed College, for a summer program organized by Saturday Academy, a local nonprofit.

I still have no money, though I do own a house & car, and have jobs.

I’m sixty years old here in early 2019. Applewhite died a long time ago. I’m still Facebook friends with his daughter.

Fuller did leave behind a network of people who understood his dream and shared it to some extent.

Are you curious about Martian Math or any of this underground curriculum I’ve been talking about?

I’d argue that you need to be, if you have any hope whatever of being taken seriously as somehow conversant with all that CIA stuff. How could you possibly follow the action, if you don’t know anything about this history?

Journalists will snicker behind your back, that you think you’re high up in the Intelligence Community and yet don’t have even these basics under your hat. A lot of Quaker grandmothers know more than you do, lets put it that way.

You should be suffering from acute Imposter Syndrome, in my book, if you go around acting like you know more than you do. A lot of people in the District are like this, and don’t even know what they don’t know.

me in Jersey City days (picture by Glenn Baker)

The Quaker boarding schools I dream about are a lot like miniature EPCOTs in that they’re about testing and showcasing futuristic lifestyles. As was the case with Disney’s business model, product placement is a big part of it.

Did you want your company logo to star, as a trailblazing entity? Then help us make a new kind of “reality TV” not as dumb as Survivor.

Join us in supporting the underground railroad. Help us free people from tyranny by showing them a way to a new Promised Land.