Fear is an incompetent teacher.
— Jean-Luc Picard
I don’t make it a habit to quote from science fiction, or for that matter television in general seeing as I watch it so very seldom. It so happened that as I began writing, occasionally glancing up from the laptop, I saw Admiral Picard say these words only because my wife was watching the current series with closed captioning; otherwise I’d have heard nothing owing to wearing headphones and listening to Van Morrison’s wonderful 1997 album, The Healing Game.
Down those ancient streets
Down those ancient roads
Where nobody knows
Where nobody goes
I’m back on the corner again
Where I’ve always been
Never been away
From the healing game
The brass section begins playing a riff as the song rounds the final turn and heads for the finishing line, and the passage bears a striking resemblance to “I Can’t Get Started,” the old popular song popularized by the epochal swing era trumpeter Bunny Berigan. He died in 1942, felled by cirrhosis of the liver.
Three years after Berigan’s premature departure, V-J Day at last arrived, and America set off on a series of postwar victory laps lasting until the “Greatest Generation’s” box office acme in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The remorseless actuarial tables took their toll, and their kids, the baby boomers, have found it difficult to recall the lessons of WWII and the Great Depression preceding it.
Subsequent generations are too busy simultaneously working three or four gig economy jobs to notice much about history.
That’s too bad.
Presently there is a pandemic afoot, which isn’t close to being concluded by any stretch of the imagination, but already it will be remembered by future generations for this news item documenting public outreach that was found necessary by the police department in Newport, Oregon.
“It’s hard to believe that we even have to post this. Do not call 9-1-1 just because you ran out of toilet paper.”
We know there are numerous factors helping to explain why the centuries-old Romanov dynasty was successfully overthrown in 1917 by an otherwise motley crew of ragtag Marxists.
The Russian Empire was making baby steps toward economic viability, but was rotten to the core when it came to the abilities of its ruling class. Like a celiac loose in a bakery, Tsar Nicholas II rushed into the one situation guaranteed to irreparably weaken his grip: Total war, in the form of World War I, a mind-numbing conflagration that exposed every socio-economic fault line in Russia and created whole new opportunities for cultural collapse.
There were two revolutions in Russia in 1917. The first occurred in February (according to the Julian calendar), toppling the already tottering tsar. A provisional government was formed, and it announced a series of comparatively liberal reforms.
However, the briefly powerful Alexander Kerensky failed to properly read the room, and Russia remained “in” the war in the face of overwhelming public sentiment for peace. Society continued to crumble, and in November the numerically inferior Bolsheviks — the Commies — welded superior leadership with the broad support of workers and peasants (many of them attracted by V.I. Lenin’s brilliant “campaign” slogan of Peace, Bread, Land) and overthrew the provisional government.
Now, where was I?
Ah, yes, the coronavirus, Covid-19, which seeks a vulnerable host for the purpose of self-perpetuation, and could not have found a better candidate than our disunited states of dystopia.
Still, as Russia proved more than a century ago, opportunism need not be restricted to a virus. Mega-corporations, capital accumulators and the 1% show no visible compunction when it comes to seizing the moment to fleece the rest of us, again and again, and we can’t rely on either major political party for usefulness when both suckle the very same teat.
The late Gore Vidal (1925-2012) was the subject of a documentary called The United States of Amnesia, released in 2014.
A curious condition of a republic based roughly on the original Roman model is that it cannot allow true political parties to share in government. What then is a true political party: one that is based firmly in the interest of a class be it workers or fox hunters. Officially we have two parties which are in fact wings of a common party of property with two right wings. Corporate wealth finances each. Since the property party controls every aspect of media they have had decades to create a false reality for a citizenry largely uneducated by public schools that teach conformity with an occasional advanced degree in consumerism.
Are these advanced degrees in consumerism serving us well in a time of flattened curves and social distancing, or are we revealed to be inhabiting a failed state, dragged into the abyss not only by four decades of Hayek’s neoliberal claptrap — a destructive form of social engineering as or more offensive than what Lenin foisted on the Russians — but more ominously, our own inability (read: unwillingness) as individuals to have an semblance of a clue as to exactly who are oppressors are?
Fetch me my pitchfork, ma — well, just as soon as we all make it out of quarantine.
For the second week running I sat down and churned out a column on the fly. Good, bad or indifferent, I’d resolved to try going a whole year without column reruns, and this makes three months. Interestingly, as wordy as I can be, the preceding clocked in at almost exactly the number of words (900) that used to serve as my limit when BEER MONEY ran in the pre-merger New Albany Tribune. Strange days continue to find us, and will during the weeks ahead.
March 12: ON THE AVENUES: Keep calm and carry on.