America Is Already Dead
Always has been.
Note: I realize this newsletter was created to cover Major League Baseball (and I haven’t written anything in a long time). There is no baseball content here, sadly.
A few years ago, Ed Yong wrote a fascinating article for The Atlantic about a fungus that takes over an insect’s body, controlling it from the inside. It’s called the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus.
When the fungus infects a carpenter ant, it grows through the insect’s body, draining it of nutrients and hijacking its mind. Over the course of a week, it compels the ant to leave the safety of its nest and ascend a nearby plant stem. It stops the ant at a height of 25 centimeters—a zone with precisely the right temperature and humidity for the fungus to grow. It forces the ant to permanently lock its mandibles around a leaf. Eventually, it sends a long stalk through the ant’s head, growing into a bulbous capsule full of spores. And because the ant typically climbs a leaf that overhangs its colony’s foraging trails, the fungal spores rain down onto its sisters below, zombifying them in turn.
If you’re not the reading type, National Geographic has a neat video on the subject:
Earlier today, we were hit with the news that a gunman killed 14 children and a teacher at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Today was the third-to-last day of the school year. [Update: The death toll has risen to 19, including 17 children.]
As happens after every mass shooting, politicians offered mealy-mouthed platitudes: Democrats pleading for more gun control; Republicans blaming the shooting on immigrants, mental illness, and not enough cops in schools. Parents and teachers and community organizers on social media begged for change to protect their babies, screaming into the void.
The U.S. has an addiction to guns. Any cursory glance at the stats will prove this. For instance, Judd Legum – citing a paywalled New York Times article from 2017 – pointed out that the U.S. has 120 civilian weapons for every 100 people. The next-closest country? Yemen, at a 53-to-100 ratio. Legum additionally quotes that Times article which said Americans “make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns.”
The Times also reported today, coincidentally not long after the Uvalde news, that the U.S. is “in the middle of a gun-buying boom that shows no sign of letting up,” adding that the annual number of firearms manufactured has “nearly tripled” since 2000.
I don’t need to lecture you any further about any of that, or how most of the Republican politicians have received significant amounts of money from the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups. You’ve heard it all before, too many times since the Columbine High School shooting in April of 1999. Over 23 years and nothing has changed. If anything, buying guns is easier now than it was then, even though a majority of Americans have always supported more gun control.
Exasperated Americans tweeted into the void, frustrated at that lack of change, knowing that the next mass shooting at a school (or a church, or a supermarket, or a movie theater) is just weeks – even days – away. Knowing that Democrats will bark but never bite, knowing that the propaganda from Republicans and Fox News will halt any gun control momentum before it has time to gather.
The truth is, this country is dead. It has been dead for a long time – I’d argue since its very inception. It is a zombie ant, controlled by the fungus of capitalism. A living being typically takes strides to preserve itself. Put your hand on a hot stove and you’ll instantly recoil. That feeling in your stomach you get when you look down from on high? That’s your body trying to keep you alive by telling you that you’re in danger.
A country that’s alive would, after its first mass shooting, immediately enact laws to squelch that problem. Australia did that in 1996 after four people were shot by someone with a pump-action shotgun. New Zealand banned semi-automatic weapons after the Christchurch mosque massacres in 2019. The United Kingdom banned semi-automatic and pump-action weapons after a man killed 16 people in Berkshire back in 1987. Mass shootings are an extreme rarity in those nations as a result. The U.S. is the only country with a mass shooting problem.
But it’s not just the guns. Americans die in easily preventable ways every day: from lack of housing, from police brutality, from a lack of healthcare, from a lack of mental health resources, from a lack of meaningful income, and so on. These are all red-hot burners on the stove, and the U.S. isn’t recoiling when it places its hands on them. It’s dead; it can’t feel pain.
The U.S. has a population of nearly 330 million. A mass shooting, though increasingly frequent, is not a blip on the radar to the politicians, the lobbyists, and the business owners who run this country. There are always people to replace the newly dead; to take their jobs building widgets, to buy those same widgets. The owners of this country sleep well in gated communities, with hired muscle, and with the best home security money can buy. Even with COVID, mass shootings, and not having kids at replacement rate, the bleeding is too slow to hit these ghouls in the pockets before they’re off. There is no amount of bloodshed, of tragedy, of loss to convince them to change course. If there was a threshold, we’d have hit it at some point in the last 23 years.
Because, again, they don’t care about this country the same way the fungus doesn’t care about the ant. It’s a vessel; nothing more, nothing less. It’s not their kids getting shot in schools, it’s not their babies suffering from a lack of formula; it’s not their brothers and sisters being priced out of their homes; it’s not their relatives being forced to carry a baby to term even if it’ll result in their death.
Our best shot at changing this isn’t commandeering our ant-corpse of a country back from the fungus; it’s to kill the fungus outright before it’s too late.