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An Appropriate Anger
On the Christian fascists who want the world to end in fire and their seamless alignment with a system that serves profit and consumes people
All people have an intrinsic and indestructible worth that cannot be measured.
That’s not true of everything, you know. If a car stops functioning properly, it’s no longer as valuable as it was when it was functioning properly. This is the sort of economic analysis that brings in the subscribers, baby.
It’s not that way with people, who as it so happens are not things.
Again: all people have an intrinsic and indestructible worth that cannot be measured. This is a great truth, and most people agree that this is true if you ask. At the same time, if you watch how society behaves and what policies people support, it is pretty clearly not a popular view of things, especially not with the most empowered people in our society, by which I mean conservative Christians, by which I mean Christian fascists, by which I mean Christian Nationalists.
Hmm? Oh nothing.
Here’s what I mean:
A little while ago, somebody I love very much got sick and for a couple days it seemed as if despite medical care they might get worse in a very bad way, which was just about the most dreadful feeling imaginable, and an outcome that I would have paid every last penny I had to prevent. This is how I know that I was dealing with immeasurable worth that was both intrinsic and indestructible. The idea that my loved one might not be functioning as well as before did not remotely touch my feeling of their worth. To be clear, it didn’t go the wrong way, and everyone is fine—but there was a trip to the emergency room, so yeah, stressful times, zero stars out of sixty, do not recommend.
Anyway, the other day I got the estimate of the bill from the insurance company. Both my wife and I are very blessed with adequate physical and mental health and so we can still work, and thus our systems of power have determined that we and our children are still earning our lives, which means that we have (among other things) a funded HSA, and can afford to pay this bill without any disruption to our lives and well-being. But the bill—the size of it, and the size it would have been if there weren’t an insurance company to negotiate some 75% of it away as if the price were just something that had been made up out of thin air, and the lack of transparency or recourse found within it, and its promise of implicit faceless bureaucracy—also made it clear to me that if anything ever goes actually bad, and hospital visits get into weeks rather than hours, or treatments leave the land of tests and probes and get into surgeries and ongoing treatments, then our healthcare system will wipe me out financially, and probably mentally and spiritually, too.
I already knew this. We all know this. This incident just sort of brought the reality of it home to me; the great beast swam near my house, and its shadow fell on me, but then it swam on1. Unless I am very lucky indeed, it will return, because it comes for most of us someday.
It’s odd: even though “healing people” is the goal toward which most health care professionals are dedicated, “wiping out sick people and their loved ones financially, mentally, and spiritually” is what our health care system is designed to do, which we know because extracting money from sick people is what the system pursues as a first priority, and it does it to people in this country in astonishing numbers each year.
It’s very profitable. Some people think this means it is the very best. I’m not kidding! They really think that, and will tell you so without blushing, even though we can all see that it costs us more than any other developed country, and returns worse outcomes, and wipes people out financially every single day. And if you suggest that maybe our healthcare system should not be designed to wipe people out, they ask you how you intend to pay for a system that is designed to heal people instead, which is how you know that deep down, perhaps without telling themselves, they have decided that it is sick people who should have to pay for being sick, have on some level decided that sick people deserve to be wiped out as they are.
This is a very popular belief, I’ve found. It’s one diametrically opposed to the great truth about indestructible and inherent human worth.
And so, I think the appropriate response to this belief is anger.
The reason our healthcare system is designed to wipe people out is because we have been given a great lie, and we’ve mostly believed it. The lie states that people carry not an intrinsic and indestructible value, but a variable and revokable one; a value that can be and should be quantified and regularly reviewed to make sure the number hasn’t gone negative, and so, as a result, we have also been given the implied corollary, which is that every part of every public good should not simply be made free to all, but rather made efficient by delivering value only to those who have earned value. This is mostly accomplished by allowing aspects of the public good to be controlled by the profit motive.
The profit motive, in case you haven’t heard, is a desire to see profit grow and grow and grow and never stop. The way you make profit grow is to lower costs or raise prices, or both. If your product is a widget that does something that people like, the profit motive can motivate you to make the widget so good that people will pay you an awful lot for it, and to buy an awful lot of your widgets instead of your competitor’s widgets, and maybe even innovate and improve your widget so it does even more wonderful things, or does the old thing even better, or maybe costs less to build. In this way the profit motive can be a helpful tool, maybe, when it comes to widgets that delight people and perhaps enrich their lives. “The delight and enrichment of the lives of all people” is a pretty good central goal of a society, after all.
However, the profit motive doesn’t care about enriching the lives of people, and it never will, any more than a garden trowel cares about the state of your garden. All the profit motive wants is for profit to grow and grow and never stop. At some point the unchecked profit motive will inevitably turn toward corruption, because uncontrollable growth without cease isn’t a healthy central goal. It’s always going to want to grow and grow, and the best way for the profit motive to do that is to tie itself not to widgets but to basic necessities of life; things where the price can never be set too high, because they are tied to immeasurable worth.
Because our healthcare is controlled by the profit motive, our health and bodies and our love and even our lives have become products, and the system designed to care for them, having arrived at the profit motive’s inevitable final state—corruption—will provide the least health care possible for the highest possible price. Which means that increasingly people are not seen as a value, but as one of two things, either a commodity to consume, or a cost to remove.
And so it is with justice, and with education, and public safety, and housing, and transport, and recreation, and water, and the arts, and elder care, and on and on and on—all driven by the great lie that human beings do not have generative intrinsic worth, but variable quantifiable worth, which leads to the corollary that society serves not human beings but profit, and human beings exist either to receive profit or to be consumed by it, and to be defined by which of these two categories they represent. It’s a lie designed to overwrite the great truth about human worth that we all know in our bones whenever we are asked to put a dollar value on the life somebody we love.
It’s a lie that insists that some people matter and others don’t. That some people deserve and others don’t. That those who don’t deserve are those who suffer, and those who deserve are those who don’t. That pain and punishment is the proof of deserving pain and punishment.
I think the correct response to this lie is anger—anger at the lie, anger at anyone who is committed to promulgating it.
How did we get here?
The Republicans finally chose their Speaker, by the way.
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The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful people on the planet.
The new one’s name is “Mike Johnson,” the kind of name you’d choose if you were in the witness protection program. Mike Johnson looks exactly like a guy named Mike Johnson. He looks like he’d make a good youth pastor or maybe a contract killer. You’d never notice him until he’s done his bad deeds and once he’s done them you’ll never notice him walking away; he’s a haircut from 1958 and a smile that never reaches his eyes.
Representative Johnson comes from a gerrymandered district where he often doesn’t even face opposition. He believes his country is not a democracy, which is the sort of opinion you’d hold if don’t actually worry about winning elections, and you belong to a party that is actively trying to dismantle modern pluralistic democracy, both foreign and domestic. He has no real experience in governance, which is exactly what a party that has proved to have no interest in governance would want in a leader. And so here he is: a civic executioner carrying a Bible ready to baptize democracy in the nearest tub until it is dead. He’ll pray for you as your head goes under.
He’s a Christian Nationalist, which means that he believes that Christians matter and other people don’t matter. Christian Nationalists will put it another way, but that’s what it comes to in the end: they have immeasurable worth, while everyone else who doesn’t agree to become one of them, by agreeing to be dominated by them, is fodder.
I think we need to really grapple with the idea that these are people who actually want to the world to end in fire, and believe it should, because they believe that everyone deserves death and everyone who doesn’t agree to become one of them will get it, and they’ll tell you so.
Not only do Christian Nationalists believe everyone deserves to die, but that after they die they will suffer unimaginable torment forever—again, because it is what all human beings deserve. They also think they themselves have been forgiven for infractions of all human beings because they have believed the right things in their hearts, and they believe they have believed the right things in their hearts because God chose them to do that, because He loves them, and once the world burns everyone else away, they will receive a perfect gated community where they will live with God forever.
The suffering of those who suffer will be proof that they have deserved suffering, is what it boils down to, and maybe we’re picking up on some patterns here.
Christian Nationalists will let you know that they have very good news, which is if you agree to believe everything they believe just the way they believe, then it turns out that you were always chosen by God, too, and you will be forgiven, too, and will survive the mass extermination of life on the planet, which again is an event to look forward to and pray for. Go to many churches all around this nation and you can learn all this in Sunday school, quite possibly from somebody who looks a lot like Mike Johnson. I did.
(As an aside: I know this is a crazy left-wing extremist notion, but in my opinion, people who want the world to end in fire as soon as possible are the last people who should ever be allowed to control the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear devices2.)
I don’t know how you believe that most people deserve to die except for you without starting to arrange power in ways that will make people die. I don’t know how you can believe that the death of the planet and the eternal punishment of others is tied to your own eternal profit without becoming inherently genocidal in your spirit, without believing that you deserve to live and other people deserve to die, that your comfort is more important than everyone else’ lives, that the satisfaction of your whims are worth their pain. I do know that if there is a way to do that, Christians holding to this eschatology haven’t found it, but in their defense they haven’t really ever been caught trying.
Mike Johnson believes everyone should live according to what the Bible says, and this may come as a massive shock, but what he thinks the Bible says is not that we should care for the stranger and the widow and the orphan among us, or that we should sell all we have and give to the poor, but that everyone should live exactly like Mike Johnson and other sweaty-minded religious creeps who ascribe to the exact same beliefs as Mike Johnson, and that anybody who doesn’t conform to these beliefs to the satisfaction of men like Mike Johnson deserves to be punished by the full force of law, in whatever manner men like Mike Johnson choose.
Mike Johnson doesn’t think that birth control should be legal, because he thinks women are subordinate to men, and so he certainly doesn’t think that women should be able to control their own bodies in any way, and if that means that statistically many more of them will die, you should remember that he believes everyone has deserved death. He believes that homosexuality should be criminalized, as should nonbinary people and trans people and any other people the sight of whose existences might mar the comfort of men like Mike Johnson, who God has chosen for paradise after everyone else dies and goes to eternal conscious torture.
Speaking of “eternal conscious torture,” that’s what Mike Johnson thinks should happen to both the Jewish people and the Muslim people who will die in some future war in Israel, which he believes Christians should try to hasten, because he believes that such a war has been prophesied, and once it happens, Jesus is coming and it is paradise time for him and everyone who has agreed to be like him to his specifications. Which Jewish people does he think should die in war and then suffer eternal conscious torment if they don’t agree to convert from Judaism? All. All of them. Which Muslim people will get the same deal? All. All of them. Does that sound genocidal to you? It sure sounds genocidal to me.
Yes, and Mike Johnson believes many other things as well, about who gets to speak and what they get to say, and who justice serves and who it doesn’t, and who is the elect and who is not, and why we have gun massacres (it’s not guns), all of which aligns him perfectly with the Republican Party, and all of which resolves to the idea that most people are fuel who deserve what they get, and should get it as soon as possible.
So when Mike Johnson’s leader, who is Donald Trump, issues an all-caps proclamation like “WHEN I AM BACK IN THE WHITE HOUSE, AMERICA’S ENEMIES WILL KNOW ONCE AGAIN THAT IF YOU TRY TO KILL OUR CITIZENS, WE WILL KILL YOU. IF YOU SPILL A DROP OF AMERICAN BLOOD, WE WILL SPILL A GALLON OF YOURS,” it does not conflict in any way with Mike Johnsons understanding of a just and loving God. In fact, it expresses perfectly Mike Johnson’s belief that some people deserve death, and ought to get it as soon as possible. If you want to see a Christian Nationalist’s picture of Jesus, look at Donald Trump. I’d say that a person like Mike Johnson, who worships a God who intends to use the human race as kindling is a pretty apt Number Two Man for a political movement dedicated to the idea that society exists to grow profit for a few, and that human beings exist to be consumed by it.
Republicans aren’t all Christian Nationalists, but they’re all unified behind this idea of people who deserve pain as fuel for the benefit of those who have earned life; people whose consumption will add to the intrinsic value of them, the elect, people who were not elected but appointed, which makes them the few people who actually matter.
Just so I’m not accused of having an axe to grind against my fellow Christians, I should point out that members of our society committed to the great lie—that is, that the preterite masses deserve to be used as fuel for the gain of the worthy few—believe it with a moralistic fervor no matter what their religious framework is. Earlier this year, as workers unified in solidarity and called strikes against their employers, property developer and CEO Tim Gurner said this:
We need to see unemployment rise. Unemployment has to jump 40, 50 percent, in my view. We need to see pain in the economy. We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around. I mean, there is a, there’s been a systematic change where employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around ... We've got to kill that attitude and that has to come through hurting the economy ...We're starting to see less arrogance in the employment market, and that has to continue."
Gurner said this with the same sort of dispassion a good Christian like Mike Johnson might use while reporting on a migrant family deservingly dead of thirst in a desert they were forced into by border restrictions, or drowned in a river booby-trapped with razor wire, but if you look at his words, you can see the moral outrage behind them—his anger that workers, whose labor creates the value from which capital profits, might expect to receive more of that value; might expect their lives to improve as a result of what they do; might expect innovation to bring less work for them rather than more profit for others; might expect a society that exists to serve them rather than the other way around; might expect to be seen as the source of value they create rather than a commodity to exploit or a cost to remove.
These ideas, tied to the great truth about intrinsic human worth, are the sort of notions that rich men like Gurner and powerful men like Mike Johnson would like to kill, and very explicitly would like to kill with pain, with punishment, by creating a society of pain and punishment that consumes life, that controls and contains the arrogant notion among some of the living that life doesn’t exist for capital to consume.
As a result, a society of pain and punishment is the sort of society which, increasingly, we have.
The IRS targets the poor, not the rich, specifically because it doesn’t have the money to go after the rich. Insulin costs remain prohibitively high for those most at risk. Police are militarized and their funding only ever goes up even as their accountability goes down. The safety nets that exist to ensure life and thriving for those of us who have grown too old to go on providing value to the profit beast are being attacked and dismantled as undeserving entitlements, and conservative politicians would like to take these institutions, into which we have paid our whole lives, and steal them away from us, either through theft outright, or shameless goalpost moving, not because they aren’t needed, but because in their view we don’t deserve them. Presidential candidate Nicki Haley recently told Bloomberg News "65 is way too low" for the retirement age, and advocated attaching it to life expectancy, ignoring the fact that—thanks to the life’s work of people like Nicki Haley—life expectancy is falling, not rising. Child labor in dangerous conditions has returned, too, as restrictions fall, once again in the name of growing profits, once again in the name of giving people who deserve pain and suffering exactly what they deserve.
And I think the appropriate sort of response to all of this is anger.
When I say anger, by the way, I mean something specific. I’m talking about a response to corruption. And when I say corruption, I’m talking about something specific.
What I mean when I say corruption is the replacement of something correct and appropriate and generative and good with something incorrect and inappropriate and acquisitive and harmful. Replacing great truths about the inherent, indestructible, and unquantifiable value of human beings with lies about which human beings deserve life and which ones don’t is corruption. Replacing the ideal of a health care system designed to care for people’s health with one designed to profit off of sick people is corruption, and so is everything that attends it. Replacing the ideal of a society that exists for the delight and enrichment of human lives with a society that exists to grow profit through pain and punishment is corruption. And so on.
As I see it, anger has three components.
Anger is observant. It is focused on the actual cause of that corruption—in my examples, that would be both the lie that human worth is quantifiable and should be quantified, and those who replace the truth with that lie.
Anger is restorative. It represents a desire to replace what was corrupted with something that is not corrupted; to replace something false with something true; to replace a system based on growing profits through pain and punishment with a system that is dedicated to human life and enrichment.
And, because of this, anger is appropriate.
Anger wants a Christian Nationalist to have free health care—the same free health care that anyone else gets, because anger realizes that every human being carries intrinsic and indestructible worth, a quality that anger will honor in all, even within those who most deny and corrupt it.
Anger threatens a corrupt system, because anger sees the system is corrupt, and understands what an uncorrupted system would look like, and has expectations that change should come, and intends to work to make it happen.
And there’s a lot of anger around these days. I actually think that’s a positive thing. I think appropriate anger is what changes inappropriate systems.
This may be why so many leaders and thinkers, who position themselves as the political opposition to the great conservative lie about human value, but whose strategy is only to manage and incrementally alleviate the pain caused by a corrupt system rather than replace the system completely, seem so focused on tempering the anger of those who expect the system to change, issue so many warnings to them about the ways that their appropriate anger is unbecoming and unproductive and unrealistic.
I’m quite sure that people committed to the idea that only some people matter and others deserve pain and punishment know how an appropriate anger threatens them. They, who want to increase pain and punishment for their own profit, who know that anger is an inevitable outcome of having created a world of pain and punishment and control, who desire the fiery end of the world, and who use as fuel for their fire humans of unquantifiable worth, know how anger threatens them.
This is why they have taken steps to address it by converting an appropriate anger into something else: something insidious and popular and inappropriate.
Something I’ll call rage.
See you next time.
Until then, stay angry.
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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. Out through the back door of Rosa's, he ran.
Yes, in this example, I live underwater. Like Spongebob, or the Snorks.
The second-to-last people who should be allowed to control nuclear devices: everybody else.