The American Death Cult

A significant percentage of conservative culture in America defines “freedom” as death. This is causing a lot more problems right now than even its usual horrible effects.

Some explanation, for those who may not have context. Why do we need to have guns? To protect our freedoms! Well, what about the fact that those guns radically increase the odds of a member of our family shooting themselves or others, either accidentally or intentionally? That’s freedom. Why do we have to build our cities, suburbs, and infrastructure around cars? To protect our freedom! Well, what about the fact that cars kill us either quickly through crashes, or slowly through climate change? That’s freedom.

Why do we still have vaccinations as an optional choice in many circumstances? To protect our freedom! Well, what about the fact that this hurts herd immunity and causes more deaths? That’s freedom.

Why have we carved out reproductive healthcare for non-men as an area where we consistently prevent people from getting access to necessary medical services? To protect our freedom! What about the fact that this kills people regularly? That’s freedom.

Why can’t we provide universal healthcare? Why can’t we reduce pollution and undo environmental racism? Why can’t we prevent police from murdering people? Because, for a small minority of Americans who disproportionately control policy and culture, the only meaningful freedoms they’ll protect are the ones that can cause death, especially for the vulnerable or marginalized, but if it’s the death of their own family members or even themselves, that’s okay too.

I get a lot of criticism when I call this death cult a death cult. I understand why; it seems thoughtless or cruel. Many times we want to ascribe this pathology to a lack of education on people’s part, or a lack of access to critical services or support that might convince them otherwise. I’m generally sympathetic to that point of view, but it’s hard to reconcile that as a fundamental cause when these beliefs are also held by many of the most powerful, wealthy and (conventionally) educated people in the country.

But it's worth noting, even those raised in these cultures call it a cult themselves.

One aspect I may not have much of a grasp on is how people’s faith affects their views on these things. White evangelical Christians have a view on death that is, frankly, impossible for me to understand from outside. They regularly talk about welcoming death, and see things like eagerly encouraging the deadly final reckoning of everyone in the world as a positive that they want to accelerate. This leads to oddities like supporting Zionism because they’re in a hurry to have Jews die in an apocalyptic final battle, which they think is being nice to them? I will readily admit that I can't coherently explain this position; it is hard for me to understand death cults.

The thing is, despite these absurdities, it's really important that we start to call the thing what it is. Because many people aligned along the spectrum of liberals to progressives to leftists are still operating as if we can rationally argue with these viewpoints, and attempting to use logic to persuade people not to participate in the cult.

For example much of the framing for the battles around responding to the COVID pandemic is based on presenting the logical, rational, scientific argument around certain risks, generally culminating in a plaintive declaration, "If we don't do this, more people will die!"

The broken part of this tactic is that it presumes that those being reasoned with are against people dying. Thoughtful, well-intentioned people really struggle with anticipating a response of "So what?" when presented with the incontrovertible risk of innocent people dying. So, we have to fit our views to the facts, rather than to the values that our heart hopes all people would agree upon. Once we actually see the counterargument for what it is, their responses are predictable.

When a gunman shoots a room full of kindergarteners, we attempt an argument saying, "if we don't make these changes, another room full of kindergarteners could die!" And they say, "So what?" We argue that healthcare must be universal, or else people will regularly die simply for not being wealthy. And they say, "So what?"

There is no rational, logical reason for not responding with all of our hearts and minds to save lives in this pandemic. But the small, extremist death cult that controls what's politically possible in this country sees those lives about to be lost, and says, "So what?" And the rest of the rational world looks on aghast, attempting to use whatever persuasion they can to bring these people around, desperately trying to cling to civility and an appeal to decency.

It's not going to work. We have to do the right thing despite the nihilistic desires of the death cult. They're going to get mad about it, and they're going to call us nasty names and accuse us of terrible things for trying to save lives. So what?