Looking Forward and Still Left

“This Week in Black and White” is now in its thirteenth week so I am mindful of the way my mix of genetic inheritance and societal upbringing easily draws me into the familiar realm of the irrational. That said, I offer these few thoughts in what I call a pivotal column of sorts. You decide.

“My City” – Michael Joseph Roberto, 2020

A year ago, I was excited about the birth of THE PROJECT on Grove Street in the Glenwood neighborhood of Greensboro. It was painful to dismantle such a beautiful spot, a working wonderland for me, or so it seemed destined to be. Anyway, when I got close to finally emptying the place several days ago, I knew I would have to paint over the logo in what I jokingly referred to as the vestibule. “My City” was the result (above). The landlord won’t be all that pleased but I don’t care. When he told me reimbursement for even a bit of the thousands I put into improving his property, hoping one day to own it, was “not going to happen,” I was destined for catharsis. Joy Perkal, my oldest friend and onetime buddy growing up in Bay Shore, NY, saw this immediately.

America Unmasked

The biggest thing for me today is this rotten situation we’re in due to the collective ignorance, nay the stupidity, of millions of our countrymen and women who are trying to kill us in the name of freedom, democracy, the Constitution, or whatever enters their alleged minds. Then there are those who just don’t give a shit, among them white, college-educated luminaries. All are eco-fascists because they oppose life itself. This is true of The Boss up in the White House to the lowest creatures in the fascist food chain. And now the threat of COVID-19 has hit home as we await test results for a close friend and neighbor who might have it. Like Dr. Fauci, I hope for the best and prepare for the worst because that’s what realism is. Unlike the good doctor, this Ph.D. lacks his remarkable self-control.

Make no mistake. This is indeed a brutally awful time for the nation as the numbers climb and apologists for the market convince us to swallow disaster and accept it in one gulp. Here in Greensboro and the rest of North Carolina, the twin viruses of COVID-19 and Republican Party fascist ideology are taking us closer to a walk-in disaster.

On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, made it mandatory for all people in the state to wear masks in public and delayed Phase Three of North Carolina’s reopening of the economy to July 17. New lab-confirmed cases hit 1,171, the second highest daily total since the pandemic came upon us from nowhere three months ago. That brought the statewide total to 56,174 and 1,271 deaths, almost 33,500 more cases and 525 more deaths than those reported on May 22, when Gov. Cooper signaled Phase Two of the reopening.

Of course, Republicans are either chomping at the bit or putting smiley faces on living death. According to Wednesday’s News & Record, the head of the NC Senate Phil Berger, who chomps the most and sounds dumber by the day, accused Cooper of a double-standard because he walked mask-less in broad daylight with protesters but won’t allow ordinary folk to take their kids to the playground. Phil the Good Burgher always finds a path marked extremism. “Rioters can break windows and set fires with impunity, but you can’t exercise on an elliptical machine,” he said, bemoaning the delay in reopening of gyms and fitness centers. Talk about lack of mental fitness.

Of course, even North Carolina has reasonable Republicans like State Rep. Donny Lambeth of Forsyth County, a so-called leading expert on health care in the legislature, who reduces the current challenge to managing what he calls “a balancing act” between public health versus “the return of some sense of normal” to the economy. “We need to track and trace the outbreaks better to inform those who have been in an area where someone has the virus.” Is he kidding? The Boss up in Washington says we need to do less testing. No testing, no tracking, Donny.

Should we ever have gone to Phase Two when we never came close to reaching the criteria as stated by Cooper in his Stay-at-Home order back on March 22. I won’t bore you with the numbers. Check it out for yourself and you will be horrified to track how this tragedy has unfolded.

What about Greensboro? Mayor Nancy Vaughan saw the writing on the wall almost two weeks ago when I asked her about the steady rise of coronavirus cases in the state. I recall her acknowledging that the city and county had become a hotspot. New reports were beginning to indicate that Guilford County was becoming one of the leaders in the current surge of cases statewide. Vaughan followed Raleigh, Durham, and a few other cities in the state to issue an emergency proclamation on Monday, two days before Cooper’s statewide mandate, requiring that people wear masks when venturing out in the city. “I think people should have expected it,” she told the News & Record, noting that City Council had been discussing the steady climb in numbers the previous week. “They were not going in the right direction,” she said. That day the number of lab-confirmed cases reached 2,425 and confirmed virus-related deaths at 101, according to the Guilford County Health Department.

Significantly, the proclamation recommended that all businesses require customers to wear masks when entering their establishments. Later, I asked Mayor Vaughan how she planned to get people to comply with her proclamation. It was a tough question and I knew there was no point in pressing her further. While she made clear there was no intent “to criminalize the mask issue” she also seemed well aware of the dilemma in not doing so. In fairness to the mayor, there’s more to discuss about this and other pressing issues, all which I will leave for another opportunity, assuming I will have one.

In the meantime, I leave you with this part of the proclamation as quoted in the News & Record: “In Greensboro, face coverings must be worn any time a person will be in contact with others in public or private spaces where it is not possible to maintain proper social distancing,” the proclamation said. These places include grocery stores, pharmacies, businesses, parking lots, sidewalks, and public transport.”

Great! Does this mean the next time I go to Harris Teeter or CVS or Giacomo’s Italian Deli, every person in the store is protecting me by wearing a mask just as I intend to protect them by wearing mine? As the city attorney, Chuck Watts, told the N&R, “The city has the power to take any step under the emergency order and can impose sanctions. (Vaughan’s) not doing that. It’s strong encouragement.” This may sound encouraging to Attorney Watts, but not comforting to me.

I believe the mayor is trying to do her best to keep a lid on a stew slowly cooking all of us. When I asked her if she thought the city was prepared for the worst, especially with regard to available hospital beds, she paused for a bit and said she believed Cone Health, the dominant force in hospital/medical care in the county, “is well positioned to care for our immediate region” of Guilford County.

A mayor can always act decisively knowing she or he will face political consequences if either is motivated to do the right thing for the right reason, only to be placed on the bench for slaughterers who are coming from all points.

More on privatization and capitalism

Last week I made cursory remarks on what I call the “privatization of the mind” under capitalism. I cannot hope to go beyond what I wrote but will try to clarify and, perhaps, amplify the internal discussion now underway in my head and intended as a chapter in my next book on the fascist American Behemoth, no longer coming but full grown.

As I see it, the bane of our culture is that it is capitalist to the core and manifest in the form of rugged individualism, a vital counterpart to the myth of American exceptionalism which makes us think we’re so damn special in the world. It makes no difference what form this ruggedness takes. As some historians and commentators on fascism wrote in the 1930s, the individual portrayed in our great national saga as the hero who tamed the West and settled the frontier was transferred by clever gurus of capitalist propaganda, advertising, and public relations, many of them trained psychologists, to a new chapter of American individualism, the call of the market. Building up the culture of mass consumerism was crucial in America’s rise to global hegemony during the prosperous 1920s, remaining intact through the First Great Depression of the 1930s, and then central to its greatest period of imperial domination from the end of World War II to the mid-1970s. At that point the combination of internal and external contradictions in American capitalism came to a head with the disastrous consequences of the Vietnam War, signaling the beginning of a protracted crisis of Pax Americana that now has reached its acute, fascist stage.

Here I offer three main ideas in my thinking about the privatization of the mind embedded in this crisis.

First, “privatization” is a condition of Late Capitalism and understood as thought and behavior that can be examined, analyzed, and conceptualized at this moment of a structural crisis beyond repair and therefore terminal. Simply put, COVID-19 is teaching us the importance of science in the most general terms, or at least to those open to it.

Second, processes of privatization are driving consciousness beyond hitherto unprecedented levels of alienation in capitalist society. Hardship and pain is taking its toll on our state of mind, our temperament, and disposition, the extent to which we have always held up strength and fortitude as a test of character in and of itself but usually held apart from life-giving ties with others when it means protecting what’s mine. This is why the rule of money still constitutes the most enduring spell cast upon America. This is the basis of our privatized minds as opposed to our natural, sociable characteristics as human beings. Even geneticists are teaching us that our species is more inclined toward cooperation than competition as we have been taught to believe and which to some is sanctified.

Finally, American fascism in power will mean the total political domination of finance capital. Trump & Co. are its face, which is why we cannot survive a second term without total war at home and abroad. But voting out Trump means eliminating what is now the most obvious and pressing threat and not the historical forces that led to his ascendance.

We should rather see our moment as one long crisis in the making. For the last century, fascist processes in their particular American form have revealed one that is central to all others and that is the market. In a culture long defined by commodification, everything remains for sale at whatever prices capitalists can demand even as we plunge deeper into the Second Great Depression. In such ways the infinitesimal force field of capitalist production and relations beckons each of us toward the thing most of us have in common, buying and selling of things and labor power. To a greater or lesser extent given who we are and what matters most to us, we still find ourselves commanded or commandeered to consume because there is no alternative. And so each of us lives essentially a private life all of our own making, accepting or rejecting these dictates as we do daily and for our own reasons, but always in the end swimming like frightened guppies in a sea of sharks.

In its current state, the privatized mind is the totalized consumer who believes he or she can have anything for sale and sure they alone know the best way to get it no matter what. Among them are shitheads I often encounter in the grocery store mask-less and looking clueless. I get the same feeling when watching CNN daily, beaten up emotionally by what Trump is doing and getting away with it – then 12 minutes of straight commercials, many pushing “disaster capitalism” necessities like face masks, mental health counseling, drugs with weird names, and Car Shield!

Pivoting in a Time of Uncertainty and Hope

The move of my work as a writer and musician from Grove Street back home has made me think a great deal about the work I sought to do in the Glenwood neighborhood and Greensboro in general. My focus must now be more topical and less grounded in local matters. For one thing, I do not work for a news organization, which essentially opens the door to whomever or whatever must be covered. This eliminates any reasonable attempt to do investigative reporting unless, of course, that is what you really want to do — not me at this point in life and given what I believe we are up against.

Changes are coming to the website, including ample space for guests to weigh in with their own writings or recordings. To this end, I see my efforts in the same way I always have, intently purposeful and always hoping they will make life richer for others in the long run. This is stuff that drove me to envision “My City” as the only reasonable way to close the door on THE PROJECT in Glenwood.

Posted in The Week in Black and White.