Welcome to Your Post-Apocalyptic Nightmare

Welcome to Sunday morning in America; where people work, play, go to church, attend brunch with in-laws they can barely stand… and shoot each other. We’ve now broken the Columbine-limit; two mass shootings in less than 24 hours. We can no longer, as a country, claim any sort of moral high ground, in anything, as long as we continue to knowingly and willfully enable and encourage massacres, which, I believe we’ve been doing since… let me check… 1492.

In Bowling for Columbine, Charlton Heston said (or implied, any way) that America’s violent past could be blamed for its violent present. Michael Moore, the maker of that film, said that he expected it to be about gun violence and the issues surrounding it, but that was just the way in to explore what a violent, paranoid society we live in. It’s a wonder the Europeans aren’t migrating here in droves to live in the home of the free.

It’s ironic that, in 20 years since Columbine, nothing’s changed. I remember where I was that day — finishing middle school, in Algebra I, simultaneously bored and frightened (as it turns out, getting comfortable with those two competing emotions is really good practice for psychologically dealing with a chronic disease). The overwhelming feeling was that this would signal some sort of massive change in how things were done.

And it was. We brought in metal detectors, criminalised teens, made private security a massively profitable venture, and… didn’t actually do anything. It’s like the TSA; we created a distracting, inefficient security apparatus that conveniently funneled money from social programs like mental health programs, or after-school programs — all of which might have helped prevent the 252 mass shootings we’ve seen in 2019. There have only been 216 days in 2019. You do the math.

It’s no coincidence that all of this occurred under the same administration that was okay with neo-Nazis, openly racist White House advisers, separating children from parents at the border (when we do that, it’s called “kidnapping” and is usually frowned upon, when federal agents do it, it’s policy)(also, the life expectancy of a child in a human trafficking situation is seven years). It’s no coincidence that the most recent shooter (one of them, anyway, there’s been three this week) spelled the word “Trump” using guns on his FaceBook page. I read recently that Republicans are tired of being associated with racists; now, they’re associated with actual murderers (In the days before Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot up their school, they posted photographs and written statement on a website they ran)(if only there were some way to identify and intervene with at-risk individuals). Again, that may be a completely unfair statement, based solely on the fact that the individual in question literally had a photo of his vast (totally necessary) gun collection spelling the word “Trump” on the Internet. There’s an exceedingly simple solution to the GOP’s racism (and now, mass murderism) problem — don’t run on a platform designed to appeal to racists and murderers.

In the next few hours, the mainstream media is going to spin this as the standard “Gun rights” issue, and paint it as a monochromatic, binary issue that can be printed on T-shirts: No guns for anyone, or An M-249 in every preschool. We’ve tried the second approach, it didn’t end well for Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery, a Utah teacher who accidentally shot herself in the leg in 2014 (if you’re so scared of your students that you feel the need to bring a gun to class, maybe teaching isn’t your calling). Far too many of us will devour that narrative, and buy guns while we still can (admittedly, I’m not an expert, but I can not imagine a scenario where a stockpile of guns is still functioning years later without regular, extensive maintenance)(and the phrase, “I can’t go out tonight, I have to stay at home and oil down the shotguns” has some rather odd connotations), instead of seeing this for what it is: an extension of the GOP Southern Strategy.

For those of you blissfully unaware, modern political parties have virtually no resemblance to their political forebears. Yes, the GOP was the party of Lincoln, and the Democrats used to be the party of wealthy, southern slave owners. In the late 1940s, the Democrats, realizing that minorities could vote, adopted a “civil rights plank” — the political stance of increasing everyone’s civil rights (I’m reasonably certain that this was a shrewd political move on the part of the Democrats to appeal to minority voters, but that’s another discussion). This, understandably, drove away white voters with a, let’s call it, less-than-compassionate view on race. Enter Richard Milhouse Nixon and Barry Goldwater, two names you might recall fondly from “America: Totally Not a Corrupt Oligarchy” and other lies we like to tell each other. They masterfully played on racial tensions to appeal to Southern conservatives and secure their vote. This isn’t even a controversial or disputed statement, BTW, it’s so well-documented that, in 2005, the RNC chairman formally apologized to the NAACP. So, when the GOP complains about the constant accusations of racism, they need to realize that the modern GOP was built on a foundation of racism, and they now have to rebuild the whole thing from the ground up. If it seems unfair that you should be responsible for a mess you had nothing to do with, but merely inherited, well, the Millennials can sympathise.

Before I get completely side-tracked, here’s the takeaway, and what all of this has to do with encouraging mass murder. For most of my life, the narrative of both political parties (but got kicked into high-gear under McConnell-Trump) has been an appeal to “Us vs Them.” Which is great if we ever get invaded by spacemen, it’s dangerous when applied to humans, because, inevitably, you get to become Them at some point. As a white, able-bodied, heteronormative male, I was largely unaware of the vast privileges I enjoyed. Then I got cancer and crippled. Now, I get the immense joy of watching Congress debate — monthly, it seems — on whether I should be allowed to live (one of the fun things about chronic, incurable diseases is, all that’s required to kill you is just losing access to healthcare, or a decrease in funding to biomedical research)(yes, that is literally how razor-thin the margins of life and death are for me). It’s no fun being one of Them, but you’ll grow old and infirm, and, eventually, join us. In the meantime, rhetoric that demonizes other people — in any way — encourages and energizes the scum that feel the need to buy 20 guns in 5.56 mm cartridge. Because it could be your child walking to class. It could be you at a mall. At a garlic festival. At a bar. At a night club. We need to change the rhetoric from “us vs them” to, “violence against them eventually becomes violence against us” (while recognizing that not all violence is equal — Richard Spencer got punched in the head; the patrons of Ned Peppers were shot).

We were all so distracted by the concentration camps (yes, that is what they are) on the border that we overlooked the bigger problem we now all face: we’re living in a concentration camp. If we weren’t hell-bent on kidnapping, shooting, and otherwise actively brutalizing each other, maybe the Norwegians might visit. Maybe appealing to Nazis, electing them and their friends, and then clutching our pearls when they authorise federal agencies to target and kidnap people with no criminal record or background, isn’t a good idea.

Maybe — just maybe — and call me a naive fool — we can do better this time around than we did 20 years ago (since then, we’ve had roughly one mass shooting a day). Maybe, instead of buying a third or fourth gun, we can arm ourselves with thoughts and prayers. If that’s not enough for you to feel safe, then you owe it to your fellow Americans to do more. If someone drank daily, or used cocaine on a regular basis, we’d label them as an addict, and have an intervention. We have one mass shooting a day, now we’re moving up to two. We, as a nation, are addicted to mass murder, and it’s time get into rehab. Before we shoot ourselves to death.

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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