As America prepares for record-breaking infection statistics on a daily basis, many of us are looking at other countries safely reopening and wondering, “Why can’t we have nice things?”
Of course, everyone has their favorite target to blame for this catastrophe. Democrats blame Republicans. Republicans blame Democrats.
I’m not interested in blame. Regardless of who takes the blame in the end, the responsibility for fixing this problem is shared among everyone. Instead, I’m more interested in answering the “Why?” question.
Why Did Things Get This Bad?
There are a lot of popular theories–many of them politically useful–about why the COVID-19 crisis is particularly bad in the United States.
A Failure of Trump’s Leadership?
Let’s get this one out of the way:
Was the current hellscape we found ourselves in a direct consequence of Donald J Trump’s failure to ethically and responsibly use his power as President of the United States in the best interest of the people?
It’s certain that Trump has totally failed at leadership, but I don’t think that’s a satisfactory explanation for the current crisis.
That is not to say that Trump is without fault! Just that the problem is bigger than one idiot in a three piece suit.
Challenges Due to Scale?
A lot of the countries that performed better at responding to COVID-19 had smaller populations and occupied smaller land masses than the United States. Is that a reasonable explanation for why the USA suffers?
Per-capita analyses and samples from other countries with similar populations and occupied surface area would be consistent with the USA if that was the reason. This problem is mostly uniquely American.
Are the Protesters at Fault?
COVID-19 has an incubation period of up to two weeks.
The first signs of an uptick in COVID-19 infections was visible early into the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, which implicates an earlier cause. The most likely one was the Memorial Day weekend celebrations that took place before George Floyd’s murder sparked widespread outrage.
Indeed, a further analysis did not show an uptick of COVID-19 infections even 4 weeks into the nationwide protests (which is two incubation periods).
Instead, the sharp spike in COVID-19 infections–factoring in the incubation period–coincided with states reopening their bars and restaurants. (Especially Florida.)
Why Things Are So Bad Today
The problem that America faces is the same one we’ve been faced with for many decades: Rampant Anti-Intellectualism.
American anti-intellectualism is the juxtaposition of proud ignorance and conspiracy theories.
Anti-intellectualism takes many forms:
People are so willing to die on the hill of their ignorance that even literally dying doesn’t deter them from campaigning for self-destruction.
The reason that things are so bad in the United States of America boils down to the following:
- Too many Americans are proud to be ignorant, and in many cases, argue in support of “my ignorance is just as good as your facts”.
- Too many Americans are susceptible to bullshit conspiracy theories.
- Too many Americans are so selfish and short-sighted that they’d rather go to bars and waste money they don’t have on alcohol and shallow conversation than save the lives of the people they profess to love and care about.
- Conservative politics and media is a death cult that literally turned “wearing a mask to stop COVID-19” into a culture war issue.
- The people I’ve described in points 1-4 vote in every election, to make sure someone representing their bullshit has a seat at the political table.
It’s far too tempting to scapegoat the sitting President–especially when they’re as terrible as Donald J Trump. But if you do that, you’re ignoring the reason that he’s in the oval office to begin with.
Willful Ignorance Kills
I’ve talked about this before, when I used to write on Medium:
The sole cause for the situation we’re in is the same anti-intellectualism that Isaac Asimov complained about back in 1980.
Even if you want to solely blame Donald Trump, about 40% of Americans currently approve of his presidency (archive).
How to Escape This Hellscape
The only way to get out of the mess we’re in today is to stop tolerating ignorance and bullshit in your daily life. (Yes, this means you too, furry fandom! It’s not “all fun and games” anymore.)
That means, at a minimum:
- Not spreading the Myers-Brigg personality test bullshit
- Not giving the anti-LGBTQIA+ bigots at Chick-Fil-A any money
- Listening to experts (this means: SCIENTISTS, not talk show hosts or politicians)
- Being willing to admit “I don’t know” and then being curious enough to seek the truth
- Stop reading or financially supporting biased news media
Even if we manage to get out of the current COVID-19 hellscape without addressing these flaws, the next catastrophe will hit us just as hard.
Can People’s Minds Be Changed?
No. I don’t think most of the willfully ignorant assholes currently living in America that favor Trump’s presidency today are willing and capable of redemption.
There will be exceptions, and we should remain open to the possibility of some people coming around, but in general most of these jerks will dig their heels in when pressured.
Instead, we’re going to have to wait for them to die off naturally.
What we can do in the meantime is promote better education for the American kids.
A nation of enlightened free-thinkers fully capable of critical thought would be a good thing (even if Carlin thinks it will never happen). And we can get there, eventually.
All it takes is everyone deciding to be humble and actually verify what other people tell them (n.b. by referencing reputable sources).
It might not make a difference today, but in 10 or 20 years, a consistent effort to enable younger Americans to become smarter, wiser, and more empathetic than their parents and grandparents will change the political landscape of our country–and maybe even the world–for the better.
Of course, the Powers That Be know that, which is why we see bullshit like this keep happening during a pandemic:
Remember, DeSantis is the governor of the state whose COVID-19 infections-per-day graph looks like this:
It won’t be easy. Bullshit is everywhere. But it’s doable.
Addendum: A Carnival of Stupid
In case you still had any doubt about the potent lethality of American anti-intellectualism, look no further than this story:
We have to demand better of ourselves before we can demand better of others. But damn if the bar isn’t really, really low to begin with.
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