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Celebrate Zora Neale Hurston Today

You'll notice a picture of Zora Neale Hurston on Google today, January 7th. To honor her largely forgotten legacy as a staunch advocate of individual rights and liberty, and in the spirit of the Festivus season, I decided to air some grievances I have developed over the past couple of years for an old teacher of mine. What follows is an email sent to said teacher.

Hi Ms. MXXXXXXXX,

I'm guessing that you don't get emails from former students unseen and unspoken to for over a decade. The reason that I am reaching out to you out of the blue today, January 7, is that nearly a century and a quarter ago on this day was born one of the greatest minds of Twentieth Century America, Zora Neale Hurston, whose acquaintance I first made in your class.

Just a few years ago, if you had asked me to compile a list of the most important thinkers and writers to whom I have been exposed in my lifetime, her name would almost certainly not have surfaced. Only in recent years, driven by a desire to know the truth in a world order whose self-preservation depends on lies, has my journey of self-education shed a light on Hurston's unique and prophetical character. This and many other discoveries have aroused a nagging question in me, and I cannot fathom why a formal education which probably exceeds the education received by the vast majority of humanity would leave this character in obscurity.

Perhaps I'm speaking out of turn, and certainly the presumptuousness of this email is not lost on me. I felt compelled to set aside humility and norms today because I wanted to honor a great and influential thinker with as befitting and meaningful a gesture as I could imagine. So here goes. I think that my education missed the mark. At least partially, I will chalk this up to the student's immaturity; however, failure to acknowledge an equally culpable part of the problem - the biases and deficiency of institutionalized learning - would be a disservice to the ranks of current and future immature students.

The indoctrination approved by the institution of academia categorizes and teaches ZNH as "African American / feminist." Fair... but shallow. For reference below is included a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel from August of 1955 in which Hurston makes a personally-empowered plea in opposition to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. The extent to which individual, critical thinking has been suppressed in favor of forged (pun intended) consensus is evident in the rancor and ire that anyone would certainly incite today in leveling any criticism of so socially sacrosanct a thing as forced desegregation. Personally, I think this fact has everything to do with our inability to process arguments beyond the most shallow interpretations. Rather than be so bold as to editorialize Hurston's editorial, I'll let her brilliance speak for itself and hope that decades of exposure to shallow platitudes have not left a crust on you that is impenetrable to potential truth not previously considered.

I had intended to take this up with Dr. BXXXX, as well, since history and social studies are the most fertile grounds for indoctrination, but she does not share the (mis)fortune of having her email address published on the school's website. My plea to you on this, the anniversary of Hurston's birth, is to consider exposing your students to her message of individual self-empowerment. Hers is a message that transcends the dime-store race- and gender-baiting so prevalent in today's discourse. She confronted the realities of her existence that were most troubling to the human rationality and conscience with the full force of a rationality and conscience strong enough not merely to bear these realities or to bemoan them but to work toward their eradication for all individuals... not just herself, and not just individuals victimized by the same particular manifestations of evil of which she was a victim. Sadly, a narrow focus on specific aspects of her message condemns us into perpetuating the larger evil against which she fought.

Perhaps in shedding this new light on Hurston for your students you might include a brief lesson on one of her contemporaries who carried a similar torch. Isabel Paterson, despite growing up young and poor on the frontier in the late Nineteenth Century, with almost no formal education to speak of became one of the next century's sharpest minds and a forgotten advocate of women's rights (forgotten, most likely, because she focused on the rights of all individuals as individuals, which does not fit neatly into the divisive lines which are indoctrinated into existence by current institutional structures). Unfortunately, Paterson's The God of the Machine has been co-opted as "politically conservative" by our trite social discourse, which is probably why her work is forbidden fruit in academia. To be crystal clear, this is not a matter of left-wing or right-wing politics; that manufactured division based on seating arrangements of the first French National Assembly is about as relevant as what the members of that Assembly ate for breakfast on the way to work, but that is an entirely different topic.

Happy new year, and thank you for the many ways in which your work as a teacher has made me a better person. I humbly hope that I can repay you in part with this email.

XXXX

Post-Script

Letter to the Editor, Orlando Sentinel, August, 1955

by Zora Neale Hurston

I promised God and some other responsible characters, including a bench of bishops that I was not going to part my lips concerning the U.S. Supreme Court decision on ending segregation in public schools of the South. But since a lot of time has passed and no one seems to touch on what to me appears to be the most important point in the hassle, I break my silence just this once. Consider me as just thinking out loud.

The whole matter revolves around the self-respect of my people. How much satisfaction can I get from a court order for somebody to associate with me who does not wish me near them? The American Indian has never been spoken of as a minority and chiefly because there is no whine in the Indian. Certainly he fought, and valiantly for his lands, and rightfully so, but it is inconceivable of an Indian to seek forcible association with anyone. His well known pride and self-respect would save him from that. I take the Indian position. Now a great clamor will arise in certain quarters that I seek to deny the Negro children of the South their rights, and therefore I am one of those "handkerchief-head niggers" who bow low before the white man and sell out my own people out of cowardice. However an analytical glance will show that that is not the case.

If there are not adequate Negro schools in Florida, and there is some residual, some inherent and unchangeable quality in white schools, impossible to duplicate anywhere else, then I am the first to insist that Negro Children of Florida be allowed to share this boon. But if there are adequate Negro schools and prepared instructors and instruction, then there is nothing different except the presence of white people.

For this reason, I regard the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court as insulting rather than honoring my race. Since the days of the never-to-be-sufficiently-deplored Reconstruction, there has been current the belief that there is no greater delight to Negroes than the physical association with whites. The doctrine of the white mare. Those familiar with the habits of mules are aware that any mule, if not restrained, will automatically follow a white mare. Dishonest mule-traders made money out of this knowledge in the old days.

Lead a white mare along a country road and slyly open the gate and the mules in the lot would run out and follow this mare. This ruling being conceived and brought forth in a sly political medium with eyes on '56, and brought forth in same spirit and for the same purpose, it is clear that they have taken the old notion to heart and acted upon it. It is cunning opening of the barnyard gate with the white mare ambling past. We are expected to hasten pell-mell after her.

It is most astonishing that this should be tried just when the nation is exerting itself to shake off the evils of Communist penetration. It is to be recalled that Moscow, being made aware of this folk belief, made it the main plank in their campaign to win the American Negro from the 1920s on. It was the come-on stuff. Join the party and get yourself a white wife or husband. To supply the expected demand, the party had scraped up this-and-that off of park benches and skid rows were held to be just panting to get hold of one of these objects. Seeing how flat that program fell, it is astonishing that it would be so soon revived. Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

But the South had better beware in another direction. While it is being frantic over the segregation ruling, it better keep its eyes open for more important things. One instance of Govt by fiat has been rammed down its throat. It is possible that the end of segregation is not here and never meant to be here at present, but the attention of the South directed on what was calculated to keep us busy while more ominous things were brought to pass. The stubborn South and the Midwest kept this nation from being dragged farther to the left than it was during the New Deal.

But what if it is contemplated to do away with the two party system and arrive at Govt by administrative decree? No questions allowed and no information given out from the administrative dept. We could get more rulings on the same subject and more far-reaching any day. It pays to weight every saving and action, however trivial as indicating a trend.

In the ruling on segregation, the unsuspecting nation might have witnessed a trial-balloon. A relatively safe one, since it is sectional and on a matter not likely to arouse other sections of the nation to support of the South. If it goes off fairly well, a precedent has been established. Govt by fiat can replace the constitution. You don't have to credit me with too much intelligence and penetration, just so you watch carefully and think.

Meanwhile, personally, I am not delighted. I am not persuaded and elevated by the white mare technique. Negro schools in the sate are in very good shape and on the improve. We are fortunate in having Dr. D.E. Williams as head and driving force of Negro instruction. Dr. Williams is relentless in his drive to improve both physical equipment and teacher-quality. He has accomplished wonders in the 20 years past and it is to be expected that he will double that in the future.

It is well known that I have no sympathy nor respect for the "Tragedy of color" school of thought among us, whose fountain-head is the pressure group concerned in this court ruling. I can see no tragedy in being too dark to be invited to a white school social affair. The Supreme Court would have pleased me more if they had concerned themselves about enforcing the compulsory education provisions for Negroes in the South as is done for white children. The next 10 years would be spent in appointing truant officers and looking after conditions in the home from which the children come. Use to the limit what we already have.

Thems my sentiments and I am sticking by them. Growth from within. Ethical and cultural desegregation. It is a contradiction in terms to scream race pride and equality while at the same time spurning Negro teachers and self-association. That old white mare business can go racking down the road for all I care.



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it's hard to be awake; it's easier to dream--

this is a wonderful post

Wow. I don't think I have ever read anything you've written. In fact, your username is not even familiar. This is what is great about the DP. All these great people are hiding in plain sight, only to pop out and shower us with their wisdom when we least expect it.

“The welfare of the people in particular has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — Albert Camus

fits and starts

thanks for the kind words, ed. "long time listener, infrequent caller" i suppose. i find that to write something worth sharing requires more time and commitment than tends to be convenient on a day-to-day basis (and i am not a fan of the posts in which someone merely vomits his or her stream of consciousness into digital text!).

i also think the site traps people into the same sorts of posts and posters. someone amasses followers / friends, gets people to upvote their comments, gets seen by more people, gets more friends and more upvotes, becomes a daily first page poster. some people strive for that, i think (i've never understood why you would ask for upvotes unless it was for a cause or something immediate that everyone should see). anyway, it's the same thing that happens with search engine algorithms. do an experiment... go find a friend who has political views or interests divergent from your own and both of you search for some generic things using your search engine of choice. you might be surprised how filtered your information is. it's the unfortunate flip side of the coin that also allows liberty-inclined people (whether or not political) to discover Ron Paul on the internet and for Ron Paul devotees to discover each other.

Unlearning and self-teaching since 2008. Thanks, Dr. Paul!

reedr3v's picture

bump

thanks for posting.

jrd3820's picture

What a great post

This is the only one I have read by her with the exception of a short story or two.

She deserves a spot on the DP bookshelf.
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_10?url=search-alias...

Very interesting, thanks for sharing that.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.”
― Dr. Seuss

thanks

Their Eyes were Watching God always stood out in my memory as something I enjoyed reading more so than most of my high school curriculum for reasons I couldn't articulate. My wife pointed out that ZNH and Isabel Paterson (along with Rose Wilder Lane were the three "leading ladies of liberty" in their time. I was shocked to learn that Ayn Rand was not, in fact, the fountainhead but was a river flowing from the fountain flooded by Paterson's spring.

The God of the Machine is a must read if you haven't already read it.

Unlearning and self-teaching since 2008. Thanks, Dr. Paul!

Michael Nystrom's picture

The God of the Machine

I haven't read it. Like you, and jrd, I read Their Eyes Were Watching God in high school, and enjoyed it immensely. I have carried that book around with me ever since, though at my advanced age, I have very little recollection of what it was about. Perhaps time for a reread, but the crushing pressures of making a living tend to eat into free reading time...

The God of the Machine, by Isabel Paterson. A buck ninety-nine for the Kindle. That is too good to pass up. Thank you. Just bought it.

This is exactly what I've been looking for! I'm tired of all these isms. Conservatism, Libertarianism, Anarchism. For me, they all boil down to one thing: Collectivism.

Individualism is, I believe, unique among the -isms. No one can tell you you're doing it wrong, or that you're not a true Fill-in-the-blank-ist. (Not a true one, not like they are - the one who is pounding you over the head with their version of it).

Anyway, I've been looking to read up more on individualism, and look what shows up. A random comment on the Daily Paul, pointing the way. I love this place. Thanks.

From Amazon's description:

The God of the Machine presents an original theory of history and a bold defense of individualism as the source of moral and political progress. When it was published in 1943, Isabel Paterson's work provided fresh intellectual support for the endangered American belief in individual rights, limited government, and economic freedom. The crisis of today's collectivized nations would not have surprised Paterson; in The God of the Machine, she had explored the reasons for collectivism's failure. Her book placed her in the vanguard of the free-enterprise movement now sweeping the world.

Paterson sees the individual creative mind as the dynamo of history, and respect for the individual's God-given rights as the precondition for the enormous release of energy that produced the modern world. She sees capitalist institutions as the machinery through which human energy works, and government as a device properly used merely to cut off power to activities that threaten personal liberty.

Paterson applies her general theory to particular issues in contemporary life, such as education, .social welfare, and the causes of economic distress. She severely criticizes all but minimal application of government, including governmental interventions that most people have long taken for granted. The God of the Machine offers a challenging perspective on the continuing, worldwide debate about the nature of freedom, the uses of power, and the prospects of human betterment.

Stephen Cox's substantial introduction to The God of the Machine is a comprehensive and enlightening account of Paterson's colorful life and work. He describes The God of the Machine as "not just theory, but rhapsody, satire, diatribe, poetic narrative." Paterson's work continues to be relevant because "it exposes the moral and practical failures of collectivism, failures that are now almost universally acknowledged but are still far from universally understood." The book will be essential to students of American history, political theory, and literature.

He's the man.

A Daily Paulian Mini Debate about the Nature of Isms

http://www.dailypaul.com/303384/absolute-all-time-favorite-p...

"Air is the very substance of our freedom, the substance of superhuman joy....aerial joy is freedom."--Gaston Bachelard--

Hope you enjoy it

As much as I enjoyed Think on these Things after taking your recommendation a couple of years back.

What most impressed me about Paterson's book is the fact that a woman who grew up on the frontier with no money and no real education at the turn off the 20th Century (not sure it was very well received for the fair sex to be concerned with political philosophy back then) was able to produce a work of such complicated subject matter and profound thought that is accessible to an average reader nearly a century later. It might otherwise get lost on us that the ideas she presents were truly original to her (like when someone reads Shakespeare and complains that they've already heard this story 100 times), but incredibly the book is not without ideas that were new to me despite having read volumes of liberty/polisci literature.

Unlearning and self-teaching since 2008. Thanks, Dr. Paul!

Michael Nystrom's picture

Wow - glad to know that had an impact

I'd forgotten I'd even mentioned it.

And the only reason I knew about him was from someone's signature line here, which I have since stolen.

"It is no measure of success to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

Looking forward to jumping into bed and starting The God of the Machine now.

He's the man.