July 7, 2020
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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

A Thought

This column was invented to encapsulate random musings about politics and life generally. It has become almost vestigial because I have almost no thoughts these days which are entirely detached from the Pandemic. I have struggled to continue it (as I have the Spectacle itself) because I am obsessive about routine. Today I worked on the Mad Manuscript for an hour, and later I will (because its Tuesday) work out on my ski machine and my weight machine. I will cook a dinner and sort the ingredients for another, sitting atop the handwritten recipe. "These fragments I have shored against my ruins".

Mount Rushmore

From childhood, I always thought of Mount Rushmore as a Kitsch-Place, devoid of any honorable spirit or meaning, even before I knew the mountain was stolen from the Sioux. How fitting President Trump selected it for his July 4th celebration, inclusive of fireworks which have not been used there in a long time because the area is dry and prone to wildfires. When someone writes the Trump-Opera (Trump-Dammerung) a late scene may be set there, with the President imagining (as he has said several times) his own face on the mountain.


One of my formative experiences was watching NYPD rioting outside the Fillmore East in 1971, beating a motorist bloody because he had questioned an order to go through a red light. One of the cops said to me that night, "We don't care what you do to each other, as long as you leave us alone". Since then, as an NLG legal observer, I have watched the cops beat protestors at my feet; I have observed cops telling lies under oath with impunity, and even when proven to be liars by a video they did not know existed, face no consequences. Remarkably, as a slender, gray-haired white guy, I have been struck by NYPD twice myself, at demonstrations. The biggest revelation brought by the latest round of Black Lives Matter demonstrations after the killing of George Floyd is the idea that, in a democratic society, the people shoudl be able to fire the police. That would be in actuality a Litmus Test of whether it was a democracy or not. The Minneapolis City Council in effect said, we have given them so many chances to stop killing unarmed black men, and they just won't do it. So we have to find another way.

Its the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

Gibbon said something, sixty pages in to his three thousand page masterpiece, which I have endlessly quoted in my Mad Manuscript, about history being the record of human crimes, follies and misfortunes. Since I first read that, more than forty years ago, I have understood crimes to be the Inquisition or the Holocaust; follies to be Prohibition or the pleasure-killing strictures of most religions; and misfortunes to be pandemics, earthquakes, and hurricanes. But during Coronavirus Time, "folly" is taking on a whole new meaning, as the Republican power-hierarchy, in its tight control of "red" states,is actually advocating for death. Beyond a certain boundary, this seems to be something new: it is hard to find instances as overt as today's of ideology overcoming self-preservation so clearly, as in the response these last decades to climate change, or most vividly and Searingly, the refusal to mask or distance in the pandemic. During the Black Death, one finds accounts of quite pious people running away, abandoning loved ones to die, taking any kind of desperate and superstitious measure for self-preservation; but I haven't found any significant lode of people insisting there is no plague, which is exactly what we are experiencing today. I increasingly am feeling a strong desire to divorce ourselves from the red states, and let them' be masters of their own destiny. I have come to believe that if we did so, Republican dominated areas would in fact be completely out of business within a hundred years or so, if not much sooner.

That said, I am not much more sanguine right now about my own blue state, where even quite supposedly educated people are rushing back together without precaution, like the billionaire party in Bridgehampton where Trump Jr.'s girlfriend apparently got infected last week.

Though I decided long ago to live as if I were an optimist (which I now refer to as "Wallace's Wager", after Pascal's Wager, to live as if God existed), I increasingly find myself thinking that if we are going to cause our own extinction, we had best do so in a hurry, while the Galapagos tortoises, koalas, carpenter frogs and pangolins are still alive. But I am only echoing Huxley, who said 150 years ago: "Even the best of modern civilization appears to me to exhibit a condition of mankind which neither embodies any worthy ideal nor even possesses the merit of stability... [I]f there is no hope of a large improvement of the condition of the greater part of the human family ...I should hail the advent of some kindly comet, which would sweep the whole affair away".