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We Don’t Need Another Death Cult

As angry as I am at the anti-vax, anti-everything crowd, I'm angrier at the people who created them.

A hospital in Barcelona. The Reddit Herman Cain Award page celebrates the death of people with COVID.
Hospital Clinic Barcelona

I have written several times for this site that it is ok to feel joy, or vindication, or at least some form of satisfaction when an objectively evil person dies.

I also understand that now after something like 19 months of profound trauma that most people are savagely angry both at their circumstances and at any person they feel is perpetuating them. I get it, trust me. Rage and anger are gifts that can be channeled to effect fundamental change, but without direction, they usually end up creating a sort of existential thrashing that mainly makes everyone involved feel like shit on some level. A perfect example of this is Reddit’s Herman Cain Award forum, which was recently profiled by Slate. For those unfamiliar, the forum is populated largely by posts about COVID-deniers or anti-vaxxers or ivermectin imbibers dying of the disease, much like devoted Republican Herman Cain, one of the earliest high-profile political victims of the pandemic.

We were discussing this piece in Discourse Slack earlier today after Katherine tweeted about it, noting simply that she was surprised by the response she got for suggesting that countering one death cult with another was not a productive response.

After all of this death and depression and isolation, I too have lost a lot of sympathy for the people who are making it harder for us to go back to some semblance of normal life. I’m angry at them. I get so fucking angry every time some dumbass I went to high school with posts anti-vax shit on Instagram. But as angry as I am at them, I am angrier at the people and forces that got us here. Like basically every aspect of the pandemic, I think it’s important to look beyond personal responsibility, particularly when you’re deciding whether or not to dance on a grave. Many of the people winning the Herman Cain Award are at best minor players in the toxic ecosystem of misinformation and deadly propaganda that the right wing has weaponized over the past year.

Slate mentions one anecdote that summarizes this perfectly:

Now, it’s true that not everyone on the subreddit assents to its spiteful premise: One exhausted nurse wrote a long post about how much one of her anti-vax patients suffered, as an attempt at counterbalance. She acknowledged her own compassion fatigue but also urged readers to think harder about how we got to this sorry pass.

There’s a clear difference, in my mind, between laughing at the death of Rush Limbaugh, who did everything he could to amass the largest possible platform for violent and evil views, and laughing at the death of a lonely dumbass who was algorithmically fed a steady diet of misinformation by people like Rush Limbaugh through the products of several uncaring tech companies for the better part of a decade. Some of these people might have been real assholes. They may be guilty of spreading the same deadly misinformation (and literal virus) that killed them. I don’t know them and I don’t know their lives, but I do know that they’re not the ones who started or enabled this mess. If Trump had died of COVID that would have been perhaps the funniest possible thing to happen in decades, and one of the only true examples of cosmic justice I can think of in my lifetime. But he didn’t. He was saved by the best medical care the U.S. has to offer and multiple rounds of groundbreaking treatments that were inaccessible to millions of people who have died thus far, including the vast majority of the dumbest anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers and anti-whatevers out there.

I understand that after so much death and trauma it is so hard to know what to do with all your rage. Sometimes I see a Herman Cain-esque post on Facebook or Twitter or Reddit and I chuckle or swear or shake my head and breathe out through my nose real quick. I am not above this, and it’s ok if you’re not either: in the past two years we have been surrounded by so many graves that it’s hard to pick the right ones to dance on. But I think that while righteous anger is often an essential tool to correcting problems in society, so too is compassion: I’d argue that being a “good leftist” is largely about how and when you apply those two emotions, and the best mix of them involves a heavy bias toward compassion. The fury you save for those who deserve it.