In lieu of the recent violence spreading like communion wine across the dirty carpet of the United States, I - and many of you - have been thinking about violent crime more than ever. In this new world, all of us - immigrants, minorities, women, or anyone who has the audacity to believe in, seemingly, anything - must keep our eyes peeled for flying steel, grasping hands, and social profiling.
And while this has been happening for a while, the mix of fear-based politics and our overactive imaginations with the sour taste of reality, has resulted in a country wide (dare I say world-wide?) frenzy. One that seeks to keep our doors locked and our eyes open for the ‘them’; the bastards and barbarians monster enough to disagree with us.
Or kill us.
Because that is what we are really scared of, isn’t it? All the angry politicking and the fear mongering leads to a more than healthy dose of mortality salience.
Mortality Salience is a state in which we are aware of our own potential death. And too much of that, is what really scares me.
This seems like an odd thing to be scared of, I know - in the new age it’s cool to be cool with death. Its brave to to look death in the face and brush it off like some pesky errand on the bottom of your to-do list.
But the problem is, we don’t brush it off, or at least our subconscious doesn’t. When we think of our own deaths, our brain latches on to that reminder and changes the way we live our lives without alerting our conscious mind.
Without knowing it, when we are reminded of our mortality, we begin seeking confirmation that we are right. We are more likely to dislike those who are part of the out-group, and to spend more time with those who agree with us.
Okay… why does this matter?
A study found that judges, - supposedly the most objective people in the country - would set the bond for a prostitute at around $50 when they were not mortality salient, but when aware of their own potential death, the average bond increased to $455.
That’s an 800% increase in value.
But it doesn’t stop there. No, no. Compromising the integrity of our justice system isn’t nearly enough for fear. After all, what good are affected judges if they aren’t kept busy?
It all boils down to fight or flight. Most of us seek confirmation and agreement when we are threatened - flight. But some of us fight.
Mortality salience doesn’t only push us into our homes, it pushes those with just the right combination of fight and fanaticism out into the streets to violently enforce their beliefs. It pushes them to to places that represent the ‘them’ with nothing but their own blind rage and cold metal.
Screw civility, screw understanding, screw everything the country was (supposedly) founded on; freedom of speech, belief, peaceful assembly...
The people in the US are no longer free. Our freedom has been usurped without the help of amoral legislation, a (real) despot, or war.
Instead, our freedom has been stolen by fear.
By law we can do what we want; on paper, America is a free country. But the more powerful rule of mental manipulation and social hierarchy - upheld with deadly force - has stolen the freedoms we were promised at the founding of the country; speech, religion, peaceful assembly, you name it.
Try being part of the LGBTQ community and you will know you are not free when you come back from your fun night out with a bullet in your thigh - or when you don’t come back at all. Try being a Jew and you will know you are not free when 60% of all religious hate crimes are targeted at people of your religion. Try being an African American and you will know you are not free when yet again, the police officer who shot your child, your friend, or your parent is released without charge.
And here’s the thing, that rant just made you mortality salient.
You are more likely right now to condone, or even perform, violent acts against the person in prison for shooting up a bar, a synagogue, or a friend. Or conversely, you are more likely to condone acts of violence against me.
Shooting the shooter, assaulting the assaulter, discriminating against the discriminator. It doesn’t help. And when we are in full possession of our faculties, I truly believe that, for the most part, we know that.
But our own death is like a really, really bad drug. One that strips us of our reason and leaves us raw and ready to do anything - hate, injure, kill - just to preserve the things we have perceived as truth, to preserve our idea ‘genes.’
That drug leads our brains to betray the sympathy and understanding that makes us human, it leads us to become turtles with machine guns.
First, it screams “Hide! Be careful, the different can kill!” but when we find ourselves reading about yet another angry shooter, our brains lash out, it’s fight or flight and we can see that flight didn’t work for the last victims.
“But Ellie,” you say, “Only horrible, crazy people would go out and kill people because of their beliefs!”
You're right, it does take a certain kind of person, one which was not created solely by the fear in Washington D.C. - and everywhere else - but it doesn’t take much to get some of us to agree with violent acts, or at least not be nearly as disgusted as we properly should be.
I distinctly remember when one of the gentlest people I know, said with a little bit of a twinkle in his eye, “I think the best thing for this country might be if our president was assassinated.” And at that moment, I agreed. Laughingly.
It was violence wrapped in the clean wrapping paper of a joke. We winked at the sentiment, and in that moment, if someone had shot the president, I would have said “that’s awful,” then thought at least we dodged that bullet… the president that is.
I am assuming the real bullet would have found its mark.
If this terrifies you, then good. You should be scared.
This post was meant to scare you, because acting without reason is terrifying. We have lost control of the actions our beliefs lead us to commit, and it is leading to a country-wide movement towards isolation, fear, and death, which leads to mortality salience. Which in turn leads to more isolation, fear, and death.
But don’t leave here afraid. Leave here aware. Build a filter for what is coming in, recognize when fear is being used to manipulate your behavior.
And build a filter for what is going out. Be aware of how you disagree, of the people you dislike, and of the thoughts you have when confronted with an atrocity. Because will avoiding those conversations, hating those people, or hurting the perpetrator do much of anything? Really?
Elianna DeSota is a young teacher who is obsessed with deep diving into new cultures and ideas. Right now she is on a journey to discover more about India and herself before jumping into the next chapter of her life.