I’m becoming very very afraid for America. America is teetering precariously between two conflicting ideas— everyone for themselves, and we’re all in it together. It’s the latter spirit which helped win World War 2 and ushered in the golden age of Pax Americana of which we’re now at the tail end. But lately, the everyone-for-themselves side has been winning. We can see it in full evidence in several ways:
- Senators dumping their stocks after briefings into the projections of Covid-19.
- People hoarding medical masks and equipment that hospital workers desperately need.
- People hoarding hand sanitizer only to be banned for trying to price gouge on Amazon.
- Gun shops running out of guns and ammo.
- People going to spring break in Florida regardless of the pending Covid-19 pandemic.
- People down-playing the Covid-19 pandemic because it hasn’t affected them yet.
These are people trying to get ahead of the curve. This is the fundamental character of America, to get ahead of your neighbors, for yourself. Rather than pull together and fight together to solve a community problem, Americans, by instinctive nature, do what they can to protect themselves and their immediate family. This is why the hand sanitizer and toilet paper are gone from the shelves. It’s because Americans pride themselves as a self-reliant people. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an admirable quality. But it’s also a quality whose underlying dark side is the fundamental distrust of their fellow human beings to help them. It’s the quality of I must help myself because I’m the only one who will.
It’s the quality of buying up everything because of the distrust of the supply chain to remain intact during a crisis. It’s the quality of distrust of the government response. It’s distrust in our leaders to do what’s best for the all of us, rather than for themselves. It’s distrust of your neighbors, of other states, of other ideologies. We’re just a distrustful nation in general, and that heightens our self-reliant spirit which reinforces our natural distrustful disposition.
As it turns out, that distrust was quite warranted when we discovered that indeed the very people who we elected to protect our interests, our national representatives, had used early inside information to dump their stocks, to protect their own futures. They think nothing wrong of it, because that’s what all Americans do every day. That’s what you would do if you were in their position, of course, right? So, in a way, they are indeed true representatives of Americans. It’s not really so much their fault as it is the fault of the American character in general— that of fierce self-reliance, self-preservation, and individualism.
Americans are not as practiced at self-sacrifice and community support as other nations and cultures. Public service for American politicians is not about helping other people; it’s about helping yourself. Americans, in general, simply do not have a civic spirit.
I’m afraid for America today, March 21 2020, because I see two unstoppable juggernauts colliding into an inevitable result— the breakdown of society. Not just society as we know it, but society in total.
I’m talking about looting and murder in the streets breakdown of society, not just self-quarantine. I’m talking about national guard in the streets enforcing curfews. I’m talking about suspending elections due to martial law. If you think it can’t happen here, then you’re thinking just like the people who didn’t buy guns and ammo. You’re thinking Americans won’t shoot Americans. You’re thinking, that’s unthinkable. But those bullet points above are foreshadowing the unthinkable things that are going to happen in the next few weeks and months at an accelerated pace that you right now cannot imagine. The cold hard math and trajectory of Covid-19 points to inevitable shortages of medical supplies and medical attention, leading to unimaginable numbers of tragic deaths throughout the nation. Today, March 21, 2020, the numbers seem concerning, but not unimaginable. You might be reading this in the future, and may have forgotten what was imaginable right now on March 21, 2020 because those actual things are happening to you right now. Those of you in my present time, I alert you, so you can be psychologically prepared for this. In real-time, you will be seeing news stories that you thought were unthinkable just a couple of weeks earlier. Let this article ease you into this shock and get ready for it.
I’ve come to the startling realization that there are two crucial things that we are relying on to solve those shortages:
1) Capitalism must be functional enough to meet the demand of the medical supply chain, but also all of our other needs
2) That the spirit of working together as a team and the spirit of voluntary self-sacrifice to get things done is the primary spirit during the crisis
What concerns me greatly about this reliance on those two things above to solve the medical supply shortage logistical problem is that they are fundamentally mutually exclusive. Capitalism is inherently comprised of numerous uncountable atomic acts of individual selfishness rather than collective action for the good of the whole. In fact, corporations are groups of individuals who work together for the collectively selfish singular purpose of that corporation. If we’re counting on capitalism to generously provide a steady supply chain for medical equipment to keep up with the exponentially increasing demand of dying Covid-19 patients, then we’re asking something of capitalism that it was not designed for— not profit-taking at the expense of others. This is why the Senators who dumped their stocks feel they’ve done nothing wrong. What they did was simply true to the American character. It’s those of us who feel that it’s morally wrong who are in the minority and who are unusual— Because that’s not how capitalism works nor how it has ever worked. And that’s why those of us who feel like it was wrong of Senators to dump their stock are also wrong about condition #1 above. We only believe that the supply chain to hospitals and grocery stores will be maintained because it’s right to do so, and has always just been there, like magic. But capitalism does not care about morally right or wrong. It cares singularly about the money. It has never ever shown anything other than this true character. And yet, we’re relying on it because it’s the only thing we’ve ever relied upon, so much so that it is invisible to most of us. Americans know no other way. But what if there’s no more money in maintaining the supply chain? What if we’ve bought all the stuff we need to hunker down and stores can stop ordering stuff from factories and factories can save money by shutting down? It was and has always been all about the money. But what if there’s no more money— at all?
The people who collectively emptied out the gun shops are the first warning signs of what’s to come. When others think, “it can’t happen here”, these gun buyers are the ones who think, “don’t be naïve, if and when it happens here, at least I’ll be prepared.” This is the same thinking that goes through people’s minds when hoarding toilet paper and other supplies. It’s the same thinking as the senators who dump their stock. At least I’ll be prepared. It could happen here.
What I’m saying is that thinking “It could happen here” is already the breakdown of society. American society is balanced precariously on top of capitalism. All of our supply chains— of toilet paper and food— all function because there’s money in it. If there’s no more money in it, everything stops. Capitalism is the delusion that stitches together the fabric of American society by virtue of a mass scam. In that way, Trump intuitively understands that if the American people see through that it’s all a scam, then the fabric begins to fray and unravel. If capitalism fails in America, we are all left naked with the frayed and threadbare fabric of our society hanging uselessly off our cold, naked bodies.
Except that won’t happen to those people who hoarded guns and ammo. They won’t be naked because they can take clothes, food and shelter from whoever is hoarding it. The people hoarding those things might be richer than them. But those people might also be YOU! Sure, it might be the unoccupied “investment” homes held by corporations. But those unoccupied homes taken by force also need to be filled with cans of food, masks, soap, and rolls of toilet paper. And maybe you’re the one who’s hoarding those things. If you can no longer buy the things you need from the stores, then guns and ammo are the only currency you need.
If you’re saying it can’t happen here then are you really that much different than the people in those states with fewer cases who are saying that Covid-19 can’t happen there? What is the reality of our situation? What is our delusion about how things should work versus how they actually are? We each have different delusions. We’re not that different, whether we deny the severity of Covid-19 or the possibility of total societal breakdown. They are two sides of the same denial coin. Reality is too ugly to even contemplate sometimes, yet here I am entertaining these ugly possibilities. Go into denial, if you must. Maybe we need some measure of it to maintain the fragile society that has been built upon capitalism.
Capitalism is a mass delusion about how things should work. And as long as it works, it does indeed work wondrously. However, the real danger, as I see it, is that at some point, it becomes obvious that it’s not working at all. And when capitalism stops working in America, and we’re left with no more supply chains, no more grocery stores, then the delusion is suddenly dispelled. Then, we’re really left with nothing. Nothing… except the world’s largest per capita gun to citizen population in the world.
The last time people decided that capitalism wasn’t working at all was in 1929 when their collective action that led to crash the stock market, as each individual acted in their own self-interest. There are some safety valves put in place for banks after that, but it doesn’t solve the fundamental pillar of truth— that belief in capitalism is all that holds it together.
Right now, these two juggernauts— a heavily armed citizenry and breakdown of capitalism, due to loss of faith in it— are heading toward each other. I’m afraid for America because I can’t tell which side— whether rugged individualism or whether steadfast determination to pull together as a team will be the spirit of America that wins. Both spirits are strong within her. But it lies in the balance. Both are formidable forces capable of winning the American psyche.
I know what you’re feeling after reading this. HOLY FUCKING SHIT! Maybe I’ll buy a gun and some ammo before they’re all bought out. Please don’t do that. That’s the individualism side of your American spirit getting anxious. Just please don’t. Not today. Not this week. Not this month. Not this year. Please, appeal to the other side: We can do this together! Because if we all pull together, we can do it. We’re tough and we can do this— FOR EACH OTHER!
Capitalism might be a delusion, but it’s all we’ve got right now. We still need it, for now. So, let’s pull through this by maintaining civility and calm while helping each other and not being selfish. We need both of those great American spirits to pull through this. We do need capitalism at this time when hope will seem frayed and worn, and we also do need our spirit of togetherness. Though they are at odds, we need both capitalism and a spirit of community, and that’s what scares me. But I hope I’m wrong and that these spirits are not truly mutually exclusive at all, but that these two great American spirits can work together in harmony just as Americans came together in industry and collective determination to defeat the Nazis in WW2. Maybe this can usher in Pax Americana 2. I hope this is our future direction. Greatest Generation 2— the best American sequel ever!