Live Free or Die

cartoon by Greg Perry in The Tyee If you’re not Canadian, substitute your national animal for the beaver.

PS Pirro, responding to my latest CoVid-19 post about this becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated“, wondered aloud why, given all the evidence of the crucial importance and effectiveness of the vaccines, so many people continue to act against their own best interests and refuse to be vaccinated, or even to wear a mask. Who benefits from this folly?, she asked.

This was my response:

Hi Peggy. I’m trying to stop judging people’s motivations and just provide facts, but you ask some very important questions. What underlies the “live free or die” mentality of so many, and not just in the US, who would rather die a ghastly death than admit their (obvious) dependence on governments and corporate cartels?

Who benefits? Politicians who know that by humouring the illusion of independence and free choice and a widespread ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude, they will get elected over ‘interventionists’ (socialists, liberals and democrats).

So now the same cohort that is dying in droves from diabetes and autoimmune diseases due to poor eating habits (“don’t tell me what to eat, either, and don’t tell me not to smoke”), will be unnecessarily dying from CoVid-19. This is the same cohort that falls for most of the disinformation and wacko conspiracy theories that have sprung up in the predatory social media. It’s largely the same cohort that is dying from poisoned street drugs in record numbers. It’s the same cohort whose accidental deaths and injuries from personal firearms (“…from my cold, dead hands”) vastly outnumber those committed by criminals. It’s the same cohort that refuses federal government money (“handouts”) for vital health care programs. It’s the same cohort that makes up most of the armed forces fighting and dying (“support our troops!”) in imperialist foreign wars for the military-industrial complex.

And I don’t think this antipathy to any government regulation or restriction is new, or uniquely American. I wonder what lies behind it, and whether distrust of authority, government, regulation and any intervention or public support for anything, is now so deeply entrenched that any sense of trust could ever be re-engendered?

The guy who most helped me understand this mentality of the “permanent white underclass” was the late, brilliant Joe Bageant. I had the privilege of visiting him while he was living in Belize, and hearing him expand on the explanations he provided in his extraordinary and prophetic 2007 book Deer Hunting with Jesus. In her review of the book, Eleanor Cooney writes:

From the church where his brother preaches in tongues to the Rubbermaid plant that employs half his hometown, Bageant uncovers harsh lessons about how liberals failed the people who do society’s grunt work, as well as fight our wars, and wind up with nothing to show for it but a broken-down trailer in foreclosure. They’re bitter as hell, but they “vote Republican because no liberal voice…that speaks the rock-bottom, undeniable truth, ever enters their lives… So, now, most liberals have come to view working whites as angry, warmongering bigots, happy pawns of the American empire — which begs the question of how they came to be that way, if they truly are.”

Joe described what was then happening as a surreptitious “class war”, and much of his writing resonates with Isabel Wilkerson’s recent book Caste.

We are a gullible lot, we humans. We want to believe that things will inevitably get better for us and our descendants, as long as we defeat our “enemies”, who are simply evil and simply need to be done away with. We want to believe in dreams (American and otherwise) and that nothing prevents them from coming true. We want to believe that we can accomplish anything if only we set our minds to it. We want to believe that climate change is a lie. We want to believe that the pandemic was just an overhyped blip that’s now over. We want to believe that our investments will grow in value forever. We want to believe that growth, “prosperity”, and cheap energy, with a little help from new technology, will continue forever. And so many of us eagerly buy the lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories that reinforce those simplistic beliefs. We have learned to trust no one, and we don’t want to hear the truth.

What we really want to believe is that we’re in control of our own destiny. For revolutionaries and everyday folks everywhere, freedom is about the ability to do what you choose (within reason) and still live a good life. Lack of that ability is tantamount to slavery.

And now, despite the ubiquitous denials and refrains of the American Dream, no one is in control of their own destiny. We are all hapless dependents on systems that we have little or no say about, even the elite castes. While that is of course hardest on the lowest castes, it’s rankling to everyone — no one wants to be dependent on others, especially those they can’t control or even influence, and don’t know or trust, all their lives. Humans were never meant to live this way.

Atul Gawande, documenting the soaring rates of disease and death among what Joe called the permanent white underclass, argues that they are effectively dying of despair. While their lives and jobs are often difficult and precarious, their diets poor, and their understandable predilection for dangerous drugs and other escapes plays a factor, what he says is most remarkable is the gap between their expectations and the reality of their lives, current and projected.

Perhaps, then, what is mostly behind the distrust, anger and fear of most societies’ lower castes today, is their disappointment at the (perhaps well-intentioned) lies they were told about how their lives could be so much better if they gave up a bit of their personal freedom, in order to do what society bids them do.

What happens when this disappointment, anger, fear and despair becomes chronic? Anthropologists tell us people just walk away, from societies that no longer meet their needs, and those civilizations then collapse. That is of course immensely difficult when our civilization has done its best to keep everyone obedient, dependent, hopeful, and in thrall.

But there’s a tipping point, and I think it’s already been passed, and what I believe we’re seeing now are the growing signs of collapse. This rapacious, destructive, monstrously unequal culture has ceased to meet the needs of the vast majority of earth’s humans. The lies that, with work, patience and ingenuity, they one day might those needs, are increasingly ringing hollow.

We are watching the end of a civilization dying of despair. Rebellions against masks and vaccines, protests against racism, caste-ism and inequality, and the growing fragmentation and alienation of progressives and greens as their idealistic hopes are repeatedly dashed, are all just symptoms. The flywheel is coming apart. We can feel it with the calcium in our bones.

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7 Responses to Live Free or Die

  1. Bev Courtney says:

    Dave, I normally enjoy your posts, but haven’t commented before. Some of us believe we ARE acting in our own best interests by refusing a vaccine that is an entirely new technology which has been rushed into use without being authorised (at least in some countries) and without proper long-term trials on its efficacy and potential side-effects. I’m refusing (for the moment), because I have an auto-immune disease and the vaccine hasn’t been tested on such people. (And despite your comments, autoimmune disease is not caused by poor diet; it’s cause it still unknown).
    I wear my mask and socially distance and don’t ignore lockdown restrictions (we are in lockdown v.5 in Victoria, Australia, at the moment and thoroughly sick of it), so it would be nice if you acknowledged that at least SOME people have valid reasons for not wanting the vaccine at the moment and didn’t put us all into the same selfish basket.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Bev, I hardly know where to start in replying to your comment. The vaccines have been exhaustively tested over more than a year and shown to be overwhelmingly effective. We can’t wait for “long-term” trials — that would have cost at least 40 million lives to date instead of 10 million. I have an auto-immune disease, as does about 1/3 of the population in affluent nations; there is overwhelming evidence that almost all such diseases are aggravated if not caused by poor diet and can be alleviated and sometimes cured by a balanced and varied whole-plant based diet. I did not use, and would not use, the word “selfish” to describe those who are vaccine-hesitant.

  3. David Szemerda says:

    It is always nice to encounter a fellow Canadian Doomer. I enjoyed my time in the doomer community over the years, but I have to admit that so many suffer from continuing logic flaws. Take the current post.

    “…we don’t want to hear the truth.”
    and “That is of course immensely difficult when our civilization has done its best to keep everyone obedient, dependent, hopeful, and in thrall.”

    Now, ‘the truth’ is that humans created civilization. Civilization doesn’t actually DO anything, it is the humans doing the doing, not civilization. We are not influenced by civilization, civilization is the culmination of what we create. Civilization is what it is because that is how humans want civilization to be.

    There is an overwhelming misunderstanding amongst doomers and the disenchanted, that we are somehow ‘victims’ of society and civilization. The reality, whether one desires to accept it or not, is that the overwhelming majority of humans WANT what we have created. If the overwhelming majority did not want it, it would be different.

    The concept that we are forged to be what we are by civilization, is simply being an enabler. You are indicating that we do not have take responsibility to change because we were somehow forced to be what we are. We are not forced, we simply CHOOSE to tow the line, because that is easier. It is incredibly difficult to walk away from civilization, which is why people like Guy McP inevitably choose to walk back into the fold and change his mantra to ‘Do what you love’. Unfortunately, doing what you love, is got us into this God awful mess in the first place. The people who ‘love’ traveling, the people who ‘love’ fashion, the people who ‘love’ exotic out of season foods shipped thousands of miles for their dining pleasure.

    Humans don’t want to eat potatoes and turnips all winter because they live in a climate that only reliably produces those crops for winter storage. Granted, that is perfectly acceptable and infinitely preferable, but humans don’t WANT to do that.

    The main concept that people have to come terms with in dealing with ‘civilization’ is the undeniable truth, that it is what it is, because it is what we want. Even those who claim to want change, passively support it by not walking away. Just as people may not have directly killed indigenous children, but they still stood by and did nothing to stop it. Stop allowing people to use the excuse that they are ‘victims’ of civilization. We aren’t.

  4. Joe Clarkson says:

    Aloha David Szemerda,

    I think you are mainly right, but civilization is both created by, and an influence on, the people who live in one. It’s not as if every generation “chooses” whether to continue civilization or go back to a feudal or tribal existence. Civilization not only conditions people to its circumstances and its rules, it also creates real, physical barriers to living outside those rules. No one living in a modern civilization has the freedom leave it behind and to range over the landscape hunting and gathering. They would be arrested and jailed.

    Dave Pollard is correct that it is extremely difficult to leave civilization behind, even for those doomers, like me, who know what destruction it has dealt the natural world and that it must inevitably collapse from a combination of resource depletion, over-comlexity and pollution (including CO2). You are correct that even those folks who have more choices than many, like me, don’t want to make extreme sacrifices (like never traveling to see family) until they have to, even if they could. We don’t “walk away” from civilization even though we know that civilization will eventually walk away from us. Even without the gilding, civilization’s cage is hard to leave. As the Prisoner of Chillon noted, after spending decades in a dungeon,

    “My very chains and I grew friends,
    So much a long communion tends
    To make us what we are:—even I
    Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.”

    The disappointment I feel is that the discussion of these issues never penetrated milieu of the bulk of the population, the working and middle classes. It would have been so much easier to have dealt with the harms of civilization through collective action if influential people had managed to convince the majority that civilization was a dead end, a trap that was certain to end in tears. People have tried and tried, from the authors of”Limits to Growth” to Jimmy Carter, but they never made any headway.

    Doomers and preppers may not have the financial, psychological or physical strength to walk away from civilization altogether, but at least they know what’s ahead and have made at least some preparations for maelstrom to come. My rule of thumb for adequate preparation is to be able to live without money. I still spend plenty of money, but if all my money disappeared tomorrow, I could still survive on my little farm. I think that’s about the best anyone can do and I’m satisfied with my situation. I wish more people were.

  5. Brutus says:

    I don’t want to track into a pointless is-not-is-too argument, but shifting news, reports, data collection (including baselines), studies, strategies, and consensuses have rendered the issue of vaccines — if not covid itself — a frustratingly complex and profoundly confusing issue for anyone making a good faith attempt to suss out the truth before committing to action. Political obfuscation and incompetence has been the standard in the U.S. since the start, demonstrating tactical and psychological games (endgame unknown) undermining trust in anything decreed by the CDC, WHO, or other agency. The confidence with which you conclude that the vaccines are overwhelmingly safe are belied by the vehemence of the narrative campaign and underreported deaths resulting directly from the vaccines, to say nothing of nonlethal reactions. Some argue that vaccine deaths actually outnumber viral deaths in the past few weeks, but again, it’s impossible to verify such claims. I may not be able to avoid getting the virus, but I’m happy to be in the control group for this worldwide medical experiment.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    David: I think Joe pretty well covers my thoughts on your comments. We are neither victims nor perps of this civilization. No one is in control. Large complex systems do not lend themselves to change, even if a significant number of people want it. This civilization is unfolding the only way it can, and none of us has the free will to do other than what we are doing anyway.

    Brutus: Sorry to hear you don’t have the confidence in the relative effectiveness of the vaccines that I have. I worked with epidemiologists a while back and learned a lot about viruses and vaccines, so my trust in the assessment of these practitioners, some of whom I know personally, comes naturally. I don’t think it’s a coincidence (or a lie) that death rates have plummeted and that almost all the newly infected admit to not having been vaccinated.

  7. Paul Heft says:

    “What we really want to believe is that we’re in control of our own destiny.” Ah, I suspect you’re onto something there. The contradiction between that belief and the fact that “We are all hapless dependents on systems that we have little or no say about” may, as you suggest, be the central contradiction of modern life.

    Most people around me want to believe that through struggles for attainment and/or justice, personal or collective, they can someday solve the large (often systemic) problems that we notice, and that we blame for the unsatisfactory nature of life. I think that’s another way of saying that we want to control our own (personal or collective) destiny.

    People most often live by myths. The myth of “democracy” tells us that our society is able to make collective decisions that somehow respect, or at least account for, the needs and opinions of all of us, and it tells us that we have social mechanisms (elections, letter to editors, petitions, protests, strikes, and so on) that allow all of us to influence important decisions, ultimately directing the course of society (with a national, if not global, scope). The myth of “freedom” tells us that we can make decisions as individuals with little concern for the impacts on others, and we can form beliefs with little concern for how well they align with others’ beliefs. These myths have been vital to the expansion of our civilization, but they are important factors working against any sort of course correction (climate action, anti-racism, reducing inequalities, etc.); and, in such an environment, it’s no wonder that trust in institutions (such as public health) is decreasing.

    I think you’re right, that we are collectively heading toward despair. “Right” and “wrong” will matter less and less as this civilization gradually falls apart.

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