The Die-ers

One Nation Under Fear - Part 3

The Die-ers

Some years ago, when the White Christian President was still the President of the United States, he caught Covid, and he said a perfect thing.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Covid is a virus that showed up a few years ago, which we now know the White Christian President was deliberately trying to spread through purposeful neglect and for political retribution, to areas whose populations and/or leaders weren’t showing him proper deference and respect—and also, I believe (though I suppose I can’t know), because people in those areas just so happen to be the sorts of people he would rather see die1.

Anyway, he caught it, this deadly virus that he was successfully trying to spread.

When he caught it, he said a perfect thing.

What I mean by “a perfect thing” is that it perfectly encapsulates the supremacist worldview he represents and embodies so diligently and so well on behalf of people who deem themselves “christian” and “white,” which is what makes him the White Christian President. The perfection of his statement makes it the thing he said that haunts me the most, even though it is by no means the most obviously disgusting or blatantly ignorant of the thousands and thousands of disgusting and/or ignorant things he has said.

It wasn’t going well for him when he said it, by the way. In fact, if he hadn’t been rushed to the hospital in a presidential helicopter and given the best of the best available treatment (treatment that wasn’t available to all, in no small part because of how expensive it is), he may have succumbed to the virus, as over a million U.S. citizens (many of whom deemed themselves “white” and “christian”) did.

The possibility of his demise was what he was considering when he said the perfect thing.

“I could be one of the diers,” he said.

One of the diers.

The diers. You know: people who die. One of them.

I think about this all the time.

You might be wondering what it is about this that bothers me so much.

I wonder that, too.

This is part 3 of a thing. Part 1 contemplated the killing of Jordan Neely, who was strangled to death in a subway car by a man that most conservatives seem to consider a hero, and also the instinctive outraged reaction against the idea that he was just as much a person as anybody else on the subway car who was not strangled to death. Part 2 cast a wider net, contemplating our nation of gun defenders, and how their belief that their right to decide who gets to live or die at every moment of their heavily armed lives is more important than everyone else’s right to not live in a country full of people equipped with massacre weapons.

Both parts contemplated a dominant cultural narrative that makes sense only if you understand that it considers certain people to not be people. Both parts discovered the assumptions behind that narrative by tracing the currents of American fear, and who is licensed to feel fear, and who is only permitted to be the cause of fear.

I think the word for that dominant cultural narrative is supremacy.

Supremacy is a belief system that rests on what I’ve called foundational lies: the lie of separation, which insists that we bear no relation to one another; the lie of scarcity, which insists that life must be earned; and the lie of redemptive violence, which insists that those who have not earned life owe a debt to those who have earned life; a debt that is best paid with violence and hard use.

It’s a belief system that lets me believe that other people don’t exist in the same way that I do—that they aren’t people, in fact—and makes that case so subtly, I don’t even have to tell myself that’s what I actually believe; makes it so subtly, I can be outraged and offended when I reveal this belief to others without even knowing I’ve done so, and people who have learned to detect the assumptions behind my mountainous inhumanity inform me that they’ve detected mountainous inhumanity in me.

When the topic is supremacy, I’ve found that it’s both easy and difficult to figure out how to start. “Easy” because it’s so prevalent, you can really start anywhere. “Difficult” for the exact same reason: where do we start?

Frequently I’ll start with a number of seemingly disconnected threads, and play each of them out before I give them all a tug, at which point hopefully a marionette that you as reader hadn’t even noticed yet starts to dance.

I think this time I’ll just cut to the dance, and then connect the threads.

I think we are dealing with a dominant cultural belief—one might say a national spirit—that believes that any people who suffer aren’t actually people, because if they aren’t people then we won’t have to take care of them—and so, if neglect makes them so desperate or unsightly that they cause us discomfort, then we can get rid of them, blaming them for causing the discomfort that resulted in our having to inconvenience ourselves with their disposal.

It’s something you can really only believe if you’ve already convinced yourself that people who suffer and die aren’t actually people.

That’s the wrinkle I want to think about today: the idea that the people who die deserve to die because they died. The idea that the fact of suffering is enough all by itself to prove that suffering is deserved.

It’s something it seems to me you have to believe, if you believe that you live in the greatest nation on earth, the most perfect system ever created, exceptional among all other nations throughout history, and therefore incapable of improvement, and yet your nation also has people who suffer terribly within it.

If there is suffering in a perfect system, somebody has to be to blame.

If the system is perfect, the blame must be laid on those who suffer most.

Therefore when people suffer or die, it must be understood by supremacy not as something that is happening to those who suffer and die, but something that those who suffer and die are doing to those who do not, as an act of deliberate aggression.

And because it’s something that people who suffer are doing to everyone else as an aggressive act, the act of suffering itself becomes a threat—so much so that people who suffer stop being understood as people and start being understood as threats.

And threats make people scared.

And fear of harm justifies a harmful response.

And a harmful response causes more suffering—which is also the fault of the sufferer.

This dominant cultural belief only works if the people who suffer and die are not deemed to be under any kind of threat, even as they suffer and die, and are not given social license to feel fear, even though they clearly are in the most danger—which means that it only works if people who suffer and die, as a general category, aren’t seen as people at all.

How dominant is this cultural belief?

To give only one example, police equipped like an occupying military using budgetary funds that could have been appropriated to restore a city’s neglected neighborhoods can go into the very neighborhoods whose neglect has been made inevitable by their military funding, and can use the neglect of those neighborhoods as pretext to murder citizens, and murder and murder and murder, and brutalize and terrorize and steal, and justify it simply because they claim to be scared, and if any people in these neglected neighborhoods where the police murder and brutalize ever organize to protest against the brutality and the impunity and the bizarre funding that is the root cause of these problems, those same police can riot all summer with a show of dominant brutality against the protestors—and yet despite all this clear evidence, the dominant cultural belief among mostly white mostly christian mostly men will be that it was the protesters who rioted, that they burned down cities that did not burn down—cities to which these mostly white mostly christian mostly men proudly declare that they have never visited, cities to which they proudly insist they would never go, unless they are equipped with massacre weapons as a part of one of our nation’s many poorly regulated white supremacist gangs calling themselves “militias,” because they know that those cities, which they have never seen, are scary and full of gangs with guns.

And this belief, which only works if you believe that the people in the neglected areas aren’t people, is given preference of place in the rhetoric of our politicians and on our national information channels.

I guess I’m saying, as dominant cultural narratives go, supremacy is pretty dominant.

It feels like this essay will be sort of like a fish trying to explain the concept of wetness.

We could use a Public Service Announcement. A PSA.

Luckily, we have one.

The FBI recently put out a PSA. It’s the sort of public service video that for example the fire department might put out, to give you all the behaviors and steps they’d like to see the populace take to prevent a house fire, or even to take during a house fire.

Let’s talk about house fires. A house fire is the sort of thing that you never want to experience. Fire departments don’t want fires, either, even though fires are their business, because when fires happen, they have to put themselves in serious danger to rescue people inside, which they do, because, again, that is their job. It’s their job because even though we realize that house fires are bad, and we do all sorts of things to make them less likely, and we even have changed regulations and laws and practices around construction and the types of materials we use in building, and we have housing codes and building codes and restrictions and rules and laws that govern these things, we realize that house fires might happen, and we want people to survive them.

The FBIs ad is exactly like this, and it’s very well produced, which, given the topic, makes it very disturbing. Now that I’ve warned you, I’ll let you know you can see it here. It’s on what to do during a gun massacre, which is something that happens so frequently that we need a PSA.

Let’s talk about gun massacres. Gun massacres are the sort of thing that you never want to experience. But somebody wants you to experience gun massacres—at least to experience life in a nation where gun massacres are not only possible but inevitable and as easy to enact as possible—which we know, because we keep having them and yet any of the very obvious steps that other nations have successfully enacted in order to curtail gun violence are opposed to the degree that they are now seen as impossible to enact here. And the police don’t actually seem to give a shit about gun laws, even though they claim that our nation of plentiful guns puts their lives at risk every day, but if we care to observe reality, we might also note that it is the risk caused by plentiful guns that they use so successfully as pretext for their daily habits of brutality and murder, and we might realize that a world without plentiful gun violence would be a world where police would find it harder to create a pretext for brutality and murder. And, as the Uvalde school massacre teaches us, we know that when gun massacres happen, police don’t actually do anything but keep themselves safe, so we can clearly see that, unlike fire fighters, saving people from danger is not their job.

So now we have a PSA on how to survive a gun massacre, a thing that has been made as inevitable as house fires, not because our dominant power structures try to prevent them, but because they oppose all prevention.

There’s a particular thing I wanted to mention about the FBI’s dramatized how-to-survive-a-gun-massacre video, which is mostly about finding paths of escape and using them. One of the recommendations is for people who have no path of escape. The advice is to stay hidden and prepare to fight rather than simply hide and cower. As advice goes this seems solid but pretty obvious. But then again, maybe not so obvious, since in a massacre terror would probably take over. I suppose if I’m ever in a gun massacre, I would like there to be people who would attack the shooter, and I might even hope that I would be one of those people brave enough to do without weapons what our police clearly fear to do even when in a squad of fellow officers all armed like Marines on patrol.

The person playing what I’ll call “pinned down man” is behind the bar with two other men. He looks at the camera, and he says this: “I’m not a victim. I’m ready for this. I’ll go for the gun, he’ll go for the arms, the bartender will go for the head.”

I’m not sure when these three dudes worked this out. Probably not while hiding, since, you know, they are hiding. I guess it’s something you should probably make part of your regular habit when you enter a room, here in America where gun massacres are inevitable, sort of the way you always have to remove giant barrels of oily rags from public spaces whenever you enter them2.

But the thing I wanted to mention is the line “I’m not a victim.”

Well, dude, here’s the thing: you are. Even if you survive, you are a victim of a traumatic event. So are we all, to a degree, living in a deliberately traumatic world, a world of fear that supremacists demand exist, a world in which only their fear matters, which is a fear that can only be assuaged by a bottomless stockpile of guns.

But I think supremacists really believe this: that, should they find themselves in a shooting, they would not be something so shameful as a victim.

I think for supremacists, captured by lies of separation and scarcity and redemptive violence, there are two types of people: winners and losers, heroes and victims, livers and diers—and they simply cannot fathom that they will ever be in the latter group, because they have decided that the latter group—people who lose, people who suffer, people who die—aren’t actually people. If they were the right type of person in life, then the suffering and death of those who suffer and die will be deemed tragic, and used as a pretext for more violence in redemptive retribution, but in the end, they weren’t people, exactly. They were losers, they were victims.

They were one of the diers.

I’m reminded that White Christian President likes heroes who weren’t captured.

I am reminded that he once referred to the fallen war dead as losers and suckers.

I am reminded that saying these things didn’t bother his followers a bit, almost as if saying it didn’t disturb their worldviews in the slightest.

I think this is why guns make supremacists feel safe, even though we all know with mathematical certainty that their possession of guns puts them and everyone around them in greater danger. It’s because they cannot fathom a world in which they are not the good guy, a world in which they are armed and they don’t do exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, any more than they can fathom why anybody should see them armed with massacre weapons and not immediately deduce that they represent safety. They can’t even imagine a world in which they are pinned down by somebody armed with a massacre weapon and they don’t immediately rise up with their bare hands to save a day whose inevitability they’ve spent their lives ensuring … because they aren’t victims, no, they’re peoplereal people, the ones whose fears matter, no matter how untethered those fears are to reality.

You may think I’m making too much of a single line in a single PSA. I’m sure you’re right. I do that sometimes.

Hmm. What else is happening?

Well, Pew recently put out data that showed that overall, vaccines enjoyed steady levels of favorable support, except with conservatives, whose opposition to vaccines has migrated from Covid to MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), and a desire to send their children to school unvaccinated from these communicable diseases. This is alarming, but I would say it makes perfect sense if you have decided that the world is composed of livers and diers, and since diers aren’t really people, and you know you are a person, you will not be a dier, and anyone who dies won’t matter. It strikes me that this is the exact same sort of mindset that would lead the White Christian President to make a show of removing his mask on his balcony, even as the virus that almost killed him forced him to struggle to breathe: look at me—one of the livers after all.

And the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country, and the conservative branch is fighting with everything they have against abortion rights but also against pretty much any other measure designed to prevent maternal mortality … and it’s so weird you’ll never guess it, but the people who are most affected are Black people, and poor people, and other marginalized people, and it occurs to me that you’d only fight to ensure their maternal mortality if you’d decided that they aren’t actually people.

Workers in South Florida aren’t showing up to provide the cheap labor that makes the state’s economy run, and conservatives cannot figure out what this has to do with their laws making the existence of those workers a felony. It’s almost as if they didn’t believe their workers were actually human, any more than our Supreme Court seems to believe that workers are human, as they repeal every load-bearing law upon which labor protection rests, one after another.

Waxen monster and alleged Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy recently said “We might have a child that has no job, no dependents but sitting on the couch, we’re going to encourage that person to get a job and have to go to work, which gives them worth and value.” This doesn’t suggest that a person has no value unless they earn it: it just says it. By the way, Republicans are peeling back child labor laws for migrant children entering the country without parents, and they’re entering the country without parents because the border policy that Republicans insist upon makes orphaned children as likely as possible, and all this will allow these unattached children to work long hours in unsafe environments, which strikes me as something you’d only do if you believed that you were a person and those children were not.

Is the marionette dancing yet?

Let me change the tune.

There’s a famous saying about conservatives, attributed to the composer Frank Wilhoit. It goes like this:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

We might wonder why this statement attributes to “conservatism.” Conservatism suggests to me not a specific ideology but defending and maintaining the existing ideology, but these days conservatism seems more about putting things back the way they were, to times that conservatives insist were far more awesome than they are now.

I think the actual thing that’s being defended and maintained is supremacy, and I think this because supremacy is what conservatives always wind up defending and maintaining. They don’t want to admit that the times they keep insisting we return to were times of a vast dehumanizing injustice on the basis of orientation and gender and sex and race and religion and health and poverty, but as a matter of historical fact they are, which is probably why they are now attacking the teaching of historical fact in fascist states like Florida and Texas. They don’t want to admit that the times they keep insisting we return to were times of a vast dehumanizing injustice on the basis of orientation and gender and sex and race and religion and health and poverty, but it’s hard to miss the fact that the only way they can think of to restore us to those times is by restoring the legal and cultural apparatus of that vast dehumanizing injustice.

I think that this is how we can detect that supremacy actually is our nation’s dominant belief: precisely because it is the position deemed “conservative.”

In other words, the idea that conservatism consists of Wilhoit’s one proposition is only true as long as the law actually does establish those in-groups and out-groups. If the law stops doing that, then conservatism is willing to get its hands dirty to reestablish them, on the basis of their own fear that the existence of other people is some kind of a threat, even though it isn’t.

As a proof, I’d point out that all the people who conservatives most see as threats are people who, as a matter of mathematical statistical fact, are in far greater danger of harm and death than conservatives are, specifically because conservatives insist on dehumanizing them, framing them as threats rather than people, and harming them on the pretext that they are threats.

So now, at the risk of hubris, I’d like to point out that, while Francis Wilhoit wasn’t exactly wrong, he could have dug a little further to discover a deeper truth.

I’d say it this way:

Conservatism consists of exactly two propositions, to wit: that conservatives have an exclusive license to feel threatened and to defend themselves from threats; and that the exclusive right to defense bestows an irrevocable license to commit any act of violence against any perceived threat, however slight or hypothetical that threat might be.

Wait: That’s not punchy enough. You don’t get yourself in the aphorism books if you aren’t punchy. Frank Wilhoit knew that.

I should boil it down further.

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition: that conservatives can kill whoever they want, however they want.

As a corollary, it’s worth noting that systemic institutionalized neglect and systemized oppression is what conservatives seem to find most convenient, both because its systemic nature makes it automatic and ignorable, and because it allows them to profit from the killing before the death actually happens. That’s what the child labor is for, for example.

But what if systemic institutionalized neglect stops happening? What if the law stops creating the in-groups and the out-groups to their liking? Well, that would be a state that conservatives consider “tyranny,” and that’s what the guns are for.

That’s why Kid Rock is shooting cases of Bud Lite in response to the oh-let’s-call-it-beer’s marketing team having the gall to recognize a trans woman on social media. Do you think what he’s shooting is just a bunch of beer? No. He’s demonstrating a target.

And that’s why conservative dipshits are losing their minds in Target stores over rainbows, even though the children they seem so concerned about being groomed are statistically far more endangered by their church youth group than they are by some trans person minding their own business.

They’re worried about other people being allowed to exist, because they have learned that there are livers and diers, and so it is very very very important to establish that they are the livers. I don’t think it’s too hard to see how, once you’ve made this decision, you would then view the existence of other people as threats, because if they are allowed to live, then they are livers, and if the world is divided into livers and diers, and the world wants them to be livers, then what would that make you?

A dier, that’s what.

I think that’s what lies at the very bottom of supremacy’s well: a fear of death, a dark jewel we all carry, but set within such a regressive and morally childish framework that it would probably be unfair to infants to call it infantile. It’s a belief that we won’t have to die, if other people do the dying for us.

If I’m a supremacist, then I live with a fear of others. It’s an unquenchable fear that the blame for suffering will fall upon those who demand on suffering as a matter of identity and comfort—on me, in other words.

The deep fear is that someday those who allow the suffering might suffer—that in a society where human beings are killed with malicious neglect, we might become one of the diers.

But the deepest fear is to live in a world in which everyone is allowed to live.

I think it’s because then I’ll have to admit a great truth, which is that we all die.

That yes, in the end, we’re all one of the diers.

It’s just something we all know. It’s a way of connecting to our collective humanity, which I think might mean that refusing to know it is a way of denying our collective humanity.

It’s part of being a person.

A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and is co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. Since the tale is never told, he pays the teller off in gold.

  1. I think this because these are the sorts of people he says he’d like to see die. I’m just trying to be careful and unbiased here, and not assume that he wants it just because he said that he wants it, or that his neglect killed the people he has said he’d rather see die because he wanted them to die.

  2. Oh are our public spaces not full of giant barrels of oily rags? People can’t just bring giant barrels of oily rags into public spaces as a matter of personal freedom? That’s interesting.