I felt it more strongly the other day than ever before – the feeling that I’m getting old. One of the worst things about it, I’m discovering, is the weariness that comes with history constantly repeating itself and generations coming and going. The generations that go take with them their own witness to events. The generations coming have to rediscover all the same truths and by the time they do, they’re just about ready to go as well. Otherwise we’d have no Nazis marching around with assault weapons on MLK’s birthday in Virginia of all places.
Virginia – birthplace of so many of the racist founding fathers, who authored slavery right into the hallowed Constitution in such a way it took a brutal war to clear the path for an amendment to do away with it, an amendment that led directly – directly – to our current culture of mass incarceration, by legalizing slavery in the context of imprisonment.
Virginia – the crossroads of that same brutal war and the capitol of the slave republic that still festers in the ideology of the so-called “red” states.
Red, as in the anti-communist fever that swept the nation for decades and served as an excuse for the domestic persecution of Jews among other feared “un-American” foreigner types, the same so-called “fear” that covers the racism that periodically applies to different sets of people deemed un-American at different times in our history. You name it, if they weren’t Brits they weren’t American in some decade or other over the past two hundred years. Today they speak Spanish or sometimes Arabic.
Those Nazis marching were protesting new gun control legislation proposed by the government of Virginia, legislation born (almost hilariously) out of racism itself. There never was any gun control in America until the Black Panthers in Oakland decided they had the right to arm themselves to protect their community and what do you know? Gun control is suddenly sensible! Those Nazi-Americans have no idea because they never knew, because that generation of Black American leaders was systematically destroyed, assassinated and imprisoned by the very same “gummint” those mother-fuckers are mad about. MLK would be 91 years old today. Almost old enough to run for president.
Everything old is new again. A few of the best movies I’ve seen lately (in my humblest opinion, of course) all deal with the same theme – inequality – as if this is some new condition sprung virginally from the womb of time. Us, Parasite, and Sorry To Bother You have discovered that the rich are richer and the poor are poorer and everything trends that way forever.
Ideologies that have no clothes. The term “late-stage capitalism”, I recently learned, was first used more than a hundred years ago. Is there such a thing as capitalism, really? Why don’t we just call it late-stage feudalism? Maybe because we’ve all bought into the mythology of the divine right of kings, and we believe we have replaced it with the mythology of the entrepeneur, but the history of the Middle Ages was full of usurpers, men who came from nowhere and murdered their way into destiny. Power begets power and they set themselves up as Chosen in the same way as our self-made men do today. Our Zuckerbergs and Bezoses have their parallels in regimes throughout the world throughout history. In another era we called such people Captains of Industry or Robber Barons or Tycoons – everything short of Kings and Dukes and Princes. Abracadabra, it’s Capitalism now. Worship the ground it clears for more and more cement and glass.
My father’s generation fought Nazis, literally, on the ground in Europe. My brother’s generation fought racists, literally, on the ground in the South. And now, they’re ba-a-a-ck, but they never really went anywhere. Still here. Over and over and over again. My father (aged 93) is on his way out. My brothers and I (in our 60’s) are getting there. Our children (in their 20’s and 30’s) are witnessing all the same shit dressed up in newer hairstyles and fashions and, God bless ’em, they believe they have discovered the New World.
On the plus side, I seem to have survived what was until very recently an incurable and quickly fatal kind of cancer. On the minus side, same. Still getting used to that.
Sometimes I get the feeling I really did pass over, though, into one of those parallel universes that’s just a joke, a Ubik-world where the president is an ignorant talk show clown and the audience is nothing but an automated laugh track.