Heat-jaded reflections on the current climate in America.
Heat-jaded reflections on the current social and political climate in the USA.
It’s 86,176 days into the great American socio/political experiment and things are getting pretty damn weird. I write, huddled in a little, air-conditioned condo in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s bare save for an aero-bed, some vanilla almond milk in the fridge, two bottles of local bourbon and faster internet than you can get anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Outside my hermetic hovel the heat is incandescent, fry-your-eyeballs hot. Not that I was planning on going out. The only public spaces in this ersatz gated community for the young and the lonely are a giant parking garage and a tiny dog run covered in shit that no one bothers to pick up. When you see your neighbours, you’re always torn between making some vague acknowledgement of them, or just turning and conspicuously fumbling for your keys.
There is no ‘there’ here. But even if there were, It’s not a great time to venture outside the safety of four sturdy walls. More than half of the country is locked in a drought, a little less than that is sceptical of climate change, everyone blames the migrant workers, or maybe it’s the gays, or the blacks… There is an election in November, so the public discourse on those ‘open for interpretation’ topics – climate change, evolution, immigration, marriage rights – is just going to escalate until the whole system devolves into a Victorian blood sport where competitors try to hook the insides of each other’s mouths using their greasy index fingers, nails filed into claws. It will all be beamed directly into living rooms, twenty-four hours a day and live streamed on the internet.
This lurid, but ultimately meaningless media cycle is broken up occasionally by a mass shooting of people in a suburban area. Three weeks ago, twelve dead and fifty-eight wounded in Aurora, Colorado introduced us to the notion that, not only could you burn up in a theatre, you could be gunned down in one too. This week, seven sikhs died to much less fanfare because a white supremacist had dozed off during his world religion class and missed the part about the differences between Islam and other Eastern religions. Just kidding, Americans don’t take world religion classes. Killing people for who they are is an old American tradition. Killing them for who they’re not is a new wrinkle on the subject.
This is not cynicism for the sake of it. The names of the dead go on a list that averages eighty-seven new entries a day. Each year we kill about twice as many of each other as have been killed in nine years of fighting in Iraq. Most of the times it doesn’t make the national news because it’s dark-skinned people killing other dark-skinned people and they just don’t matter as much to the people who decide what matters. The only real question left to men and women of reason is: given the context, does a ‘proper response’ to another eighteen gravestones even exist?
‘The nation grieves’ is something that the papers and TV channels like to say. We have a peculiar form of grieving: We find the nearest soapbox, drag ourselves atop it, then loudly and righteously proclaim that our beliefs will remedy the coming apocalypse presaged by the latest tragedy. Then we retreat home, double bolt the doors, close the blinds and flip the tv to a twenty-four-hour, partisan news porn channel to see who else has been slaughtered. The natural and most comfortable state of America is on the brink of Apocalypse. We have existed here for over two hundred years, and will continue to ride this bullet until we tear ourselves apart, limb from bloody limb.
More gun control would have saved these people! Less gun control would have saved these people! Capitalism will save the economy! War will save our ideals! Diets will save our health! Pills will save our sanity! Prayer will save us all!
If you didn’t know better, listening to this stuff, you would swear we were living in Haiti or Somalia. But no, this is the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and you know what sits in the corrupt and decayed bosom of the grand empire? Mega churches with parking lots the size of four football pitches laid end to end. Desolate dog parks covered in shit left by neighbours you’ve never met. A lone Honduran in overalls paces the perimeter raking desultorily at a pile of green bags. In the distance, cars, silhouetted by the smog-induced nuclear sunset honk anemically as they try to make their way across the deserts of urban blight that separate the jobs they don’t understand from the expensive homes they never get to see. And in this strange, teaming loneliness of the American dream, it isn’t guns or lack of guns, or fast food, or Muslims, or God who is killing us. It is us killing us – the lab rats, juiced to the gills with this nebulous thing called liberty, are turning on each other.