From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Anti-vaccine Right Brought Human Sacrifice to America
Date January 29, 2022 3:35 AM
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[Since last summer, the conservative campaign against vaccination
has claimed thousands of lives for no ethically justifiable purpose. ]
[[link removed]]

THE ANTI-VACCINE RIGHT BROUGHT HUMAN SACRIFICE TO AMERICA  
[[link removed]]


 

Kurt Andersen
January 25, 2022
The Atlantic
[[link removed]]


*
[[link removed]]
*
[[link removed]]
*
* [[link removed]]

_ Since last summer, the conservative campaign against vaccination
has claimed thousands of lives for no ethically justifiable purpose. _


,

 

In the early phases of the pandemic, as the coronavirus spread in
the United States and doctors and pharmacists and supermarket clerks
continued to work and risk infection, some commentators made
reference—_metaphorical_ reference, fast and loose and over the
top—to ritual human sacrifice. The immediate panicky focus on
resuming business as usual in order to keep the stock market from
crashing was the equivalent of “those who offered human sacrifices
to Moloch,” according to the writer Kitanya Harrison
[[link removed]].
That first summer, as Republicans settled into their anti-testing,
anti-lockdown, anti-mask, nothing-to-worry-about orthodoxy,
Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat, said it was “like a policy
of mass human sacrifice
[[link removed]].” The anthropology
[[link removed]] professor
Shan-Estelle Brown and the researcher Zoe Pearson
[[link removed]] wrote
that people who continued to do their jobs outside their homes were
essentially victims of “involuntary human sacrifice, made to look
voluntary.” Meanwhile, people on the right likewise compared the
inconvenience of closing down public places to ritual sacrifice.

I got in on the analogy too: After Donald Trump’s first big indoor
pandemic campaign rally in June 2020, I made a crack on Twitter that
for the 6,000
[[link removed]] MAGA
folks attending it was like a “human sacrifice to please the
leader.” And indeed at least once during the month before the rally,
Trump played the part of a gung-ho godlike king presiding over the
glorious sacrificial deaths of his subjects. When asked, during an
Oval Office encounter with the press, whether the nation will “just
have to accept the idea that … there will be more deaths” as a
result of his open-everything-up-_now_ plan, he said
[[link removed]],
“I call these people warriors, and I’m actually calling now …
the _nation_, warriors. We have to be warriors.”

“Warriors,” “mass human sacrifice”: These were high-pitched
figures of speech studding a debate about our political
economy—whether and how governments should intervene to keep people
and businesses financially afloat, and how many lives were worth how
much of a hit to the economy. Beneath the polemics this discourse was
at least fundamentally rational, a weighing of social costs against
social benefits.

Today, however, the economy is no longer in jeopardy; unemployment
rates and salaries have returned to pre-pandemic levels; GDP per
person [[link removed]] is higher
than it was at the end of 2019; personal savings are growing,
and businesses are starting up faster than ever
[[link removed]]; corporate
profits [[link removed]] and stock prices are
at record highs. And for more than a year, we’ve had astoundingly
effective vaccines that radically reduce the risk of hospitalization
and death from COVID-19. All of which means that for a long time now
the right’s ongoing propaganda campaign against and organized
political resistance to vaccination, among other public-health
protocols, has been killing many, many Americans for no reasonable,
ethically justifiable social purpose.

In other words, what we’ve experienced certainly since the middle of
2021 is _literally_ ritual human sacrifice on a mass scale—the
real thing, comparable to the innumerable ghastly historical versions.

Anthropologists define ritual sacrifice as societies’ organized
killing of people in order to please supernatural beings and—the
unspoken real-world part—to fortify the political and economic power
of those societies’ elites. The tradition is right there in the
first book of the Bible, when God commands Abraham to prove he loves
him by murdering his son, and then only at the last second lets
Abraham off the hook. For thousands of years in societies all over the
world, small-scale and large-scale human sacrifice was common.

One big difference between then and now is the _likelihood_ of
death. In sacrificial spectacles hundreds and thousands of years ago,
almost all of those chosen to die died, whether or not they had
volunteered, whereas only a fraction of the people now volunteering to
die by forgoing vaccinations actually do. It’s the new and
improved _modern _version of mass human sacrifice.

From the July/August 2021 issue: How America fractured into four parts
[[link removed]]

But as I surveyed the anthropological literature, I was struck again
and again by how well that scholarship describes the factors
responsible for the thousands of deaths of Americans each month. Our
current experience with COVID is filled with what historians of human
sacrifice have identified as its key features. Let me run through the
main ones.

1. Cultural and social complexity

_The literature suggests that, far from happening only in simple
societies, “human sacrifice stamps relatively advanced and
especially decadent peoples,” as the Cambridge University scholar
Stanley Arthur Cook concluded a century ago, just as the practice
finally seemed to be disappearing. In the introduction to _The
Strange World of Human Sacrifice_ (2007), the religious historian Jan
Bremmer wrote, “Human sacrifice is not something that is typical of
marginal or minor tribes. On the contrary, as a regular practice on a
grander scale, human sacrifice seems to belong to … larger
empires”—“more developed cultures” that “have a strong
government” and thus “could happily dispose” of people
“without the community suffering a disastrous loss of members.” A
groundbreaking __2016 study_
[[link removed]]_ of scores of socially
complex cultures across the Pacific and East Asia found that
“sacrificial victims were typically of low status.” In __various
places_
[[link removed]]_ around
the world, the victims of human sacrifice tended to be elderly, ill,
or both._

Today in the U.S.—the world’s most powerful empire and
third-most-populous nation, possessor of a strong government and
social and political complexity, a culture both advanced and
decadent—two-thirds of COVID victims
[[link removed]] have
had incomes below the median. Three-quarters have been 65 or older, 
[[link removed]]with a
median age of over 75
[[link removed]].

2. INTENSE SOCIAL STRESS

_“The sacrifices,” Bremmer wrote, “often took place during
exceptional circumstances … in periods of crisis.” In Inca
societies in 15th- and 16th-century South America, according to
a __2015 paper_
[[link removed]]_, “sacrifices
were often conducted in response to natural calamities, such as …
epidemics,” “based on their belief that illness and natural
disasters were forms of supernatural punishment for sins
committed.”_

Accompanying the exceptional health crisis of COVID-19 were the
immediate economic and social crises: public life shut down, a spike
in violent crime, a one-third drop
[[link removed]] in
stock prices, an economic recession, unemployment near 15 percent
[[link removed]].
In the spring of 2020, a University of Chicago survey
[[link removed]] found
that of the 80 percent of Americans who believe in God, more than 60
percent at least somewhat agreed that the pandemic was “God telling
humanity to change how we are living”; 43 percent of evangelicals
[[link removed]] “strongly”
felt that to be true. In a different 2020 survey
[[link removed]],
three in five white evangelicals agreed that the pandemic and its
ramifications were “evidence that we are living in what the Bible
calls the ‘end times.’”

Naturally, many Christian ultra-conservatives rushed to put a finer
point on it, including reliable superstars such as Pat Robertson
[[link removed]],
who declared, “We’ve allowed this terrible plague to spread
throughout our society—and it’s a small wonder God would hold us
guilty.” Notably, most believers apparently didn’t
judge _themselves_ to be sinners deserving of this punishment:
According to the University of Chicago survey at the start of the
pandemic, 55 percent thought God would protect them from infection.

3. POLITICS PLUS FAITH

_According to the literature, human sacrifice occurred in societies
where highly supernatural religion and state governance were deeply
intertwined._

For some time in the U.S., evangelicals have made up about a third of
Republicans
[[link removed]],
and 78 percent
[[link removed]] of
all U.S. evangelical voters chose the GOP nominee in 2020. Donald
Trump is a conspicuously un-Christian leader for an ultra-Christian
party, but he is a showman, like the most successful evangelists
throughout American history. In the fall of 2020, he put on a
spectacular pandemic show with a Christian subtext: Infected with the
coronavirus, he entered the valley of the shadow of death on a Friday.
Three days later, he returned, on live TV, descending from the sky
before surmounting America’s great secular temple and ceremoniously
removing his mask
[[link removed]], _resurrected_.

Even his most fervidly Christian supporters have never minded that he
shares practically none of their theological beliefs. Indeed, his
leadership of the American right is apparently
making _evangelical_ and _Republican_ more or less synonymous in
the minds of Trumpists. A longitudinal study by Pew
[[link removed]] of
2,900 Americans identified a peculiar sliver of the white people who
liked Trump when he first ran for president: In 2016, a sixth of those
white Americans didn’t identify as evangelicals or born again, but
by 2020 they did. Republicanism has been transformed by the merger of
religion and partisanship that started before the turn of this
century. “If more and more of a political party’s members hold
more and more extravagantly supernatural beliefs,” I wrote about the
21st-century GOP’s anti-modern denial of various empirical realities
in my 2017 book, _Fantasyland_
[[link removed]],
“doesn’t it make sense that the party will be more and more open
to make-believe in its politics and policy?”

4. ENORMOUS SCALE

_The human sacrifices carried out in the 15th and 16th centuries by
the Aztecs, “a __relatively young empire_
[[link removed]]_,”
killed thousands of people and perhaps __tens of thousands_
[[link removed]]_ annually.
For that civilization, according to _Science
[[link removed]]_’s
Mexico-based archaeology and Latin American correspondent,
“political power as well as religious belief is likely key to
understanding the scale of the practice.”_

Relatively young North American empire? Check. An annual count of
victims in the thousands? Check. Driven by religious
belief _and_ politically powerful figures seeking to sustain their
power? Check.

5. VICTIMS VOLUNTEER AND “VOLUNTEER”

_In the Quranic version of the story, when Abraham is ordered by the
Almighty to murder his son, the boy voluntarily submits to the plan in
order to please God. The Aztecs’ “sacrificial victims earned a
special, honored place in the afterlife,” according to __one
account_
[[link removed]]_;
another declared that __many “went willingly to the sacrificial
altar._
[[link removed]]_” The
historian Bremmer writes that in the ritual sacrifices carried out by
India’s Kond people into the 1800s, “the victims were always
treated with great kindness before being sacrificed” to “the
founding goddess of the village” and that, “in turn, the Konds
expected them to offer themselves voluntarily.” Not surprisingly,
when it comes to human sacrifice, the lines between voluntary and
involuntary, suicide and murder, can be blurry. In the blood
sacrifices practiced by the indigenous Chukchi people of Siberia well
into the 19th century, the anthropologist Rane Willerslev explained in
a 2013 __paper_
[[link removed]]_,
their ritual of so-called voluntary death was accomplished by means of
various forms of “sacrificial trickery.”_

Millions of Americans in 2021 were tricked by propagandists of the
political right into forgoing vaccination and thus volunteering for
death by COVID. Fox News hosts have consistently disparaged
vaccination. During 2021, according to Media Matters
[[link removed]],
Tucker Carlson discussed vaccines on half of his nightly broadcasts
after Joe Biden became president, “and all but one of those episodes
featured a claim that undermined vaccines or vaccination efforts.”
One night this month he said
[[link removed]], “The boosters
aren’t working” and “there’s evidence that people who get the
booster are _more_ likely” to become infected. The median age of
Fox News viewers is 65
[[link removed]].
Unvaccinated people from 65 to 79 are now 21 times as likely
[[link removed]] to die of
COVID as vaccinated people the same age, and unvaccinated Americans 50
and older are 4
[[link removed]]4
[[link removed]] times
likelier
[[link removed]] to
be hospitalized than the vaccinated and boosted.

Last fall, Joy Pullmann, the executive editor of the well-funded
right-wing magazine _The Federalist_, published a remarkable essay
[[link removed]] there
headlined “For Christians, Dying From COVID (Or Anything Else) Is a
Good Thing.” She portrays vaccination, along with other pandemic
mitigation, as part of an “illusion of human control over death,”
because, she insists, “there is nothing we can do to make our days
on earth one second longer.” And, according to her, “the Christian
faith makes it very clear that death, while sad to those left behind
and a tragic consequence of human sin, is now _good_ for all who
believe in Christ.”

Indeed, Pullmann continues, “it is time for Christians individually
and corporately to repent for the way we and our institutions
responded to the COVID-19 outbreak”—that is, apparently, to seek
forgiveness for their sins of quarantining, getting vaccinated,
actively avoiding death. Christians, she writes at one point, are
“routinely martyred” in Communist China and “raped and
ethnically cleansed to punish their beliefs” in the Middle East. She
declares, “It’s time for we comparatively comfortable Westerners
to despise the shame”—the shame of trying to avoid death by
COVID—“and get back to running our race like [our] fellow
Christians, not cowards.”

Read: A failure of empathy led to 200,000 deaths. It has deep roots.
[[link removed]]

This argument reminds me of the Disciples of Christ minister who
famously encouraged his hundreds of devout, credulous followers to die
nobly at their Peoples Temple compound in 1978. “Be kind to seniors
and take the potion,” Jim Jones told the residents of Jonestown
[[link removed]] gathered
near the vats of poisoned Flavor Aid, with his armed lieutenants
ensuring compliance. “Die with a degree of dignity,” he declares
on a recording of that event, above the screams of some of his
followers. “Lay down your life with dignity. Don’t lay down with
tears and agony. Stop the hysterics.”

But today, instead of frankly rousing true believers to volunteer to
die for Christ (or, as Trump demanded in 2020, for the economy), most
orchestrators of the current mass-sacrifice campaign employ fear-based
trickery. In Vero Beach, Florida, the right-wing pastor Rick Wiles
(his surname a synonym for manipulative tricks!) has said
[[link removed]] that
demons are “implementing a plan that they created 10-15 years ago”
and insisted that the vaccines are “Satan’s syrup
[[link removed]].”
In Boynton Beach, Florida, one of the state’s three Republican
National Committee members (whose day job
[[link removed]] is probate law,
distributing the property of the dead) wrote
[[link removed]] that
“Diabolical [Democratic] Michigan Governor Whiter [_sic_] wants her
citizens to get the Mark of the Beast to participate in society.”
Trump’s crypto-Republican buddy Kanye West announced
[[link removed]] back
in July 2020 that “vaccines are the mark of the beast. They want to
put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make
it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven.”

And the right’s QAnon anti-vaccination cohort has produced its own
eager volunteers for mass human sacrifice—volunteers probably
oblivious to the irony that their own conspiracy theories center on a
fantasy that elite liberals practice gruesome human sacrifice.

The original protestants 500 years ago, and in particular the extreme
ones who self-exiled to the New World 400 years ago, very much
identified as a fervent Christian minority persecuted by powerful
ungodly elites. The fundamentalist Protestant revival that got under
way in the U.S. a century ago was specifically anti-science, because
adherents’ literal reading of Genesis didn’t jibe with modern
geology or astronomy or biology. Starting in the 1960s and ’70s,
their next U.S. revival resumed that crusade and extended it to other
scientific realms, lately including virology. Not only are white
Protestant evangelicals less likely
[[link removed]] than
any other large American religious demographic to be vaccinated, but,
according to the Public Religion Research Institute
[[link removed]],
those “who attend religious services regularly are twice as likely
as less frequent attenders to be vaccine refusers.”

6. PARTICIPANTS’ MURKY UNDERSTANDINGS

_Overseers and victims of human sacrifice don’t necessarily
understand its goals, ostensible or real. “Many times when
witnessing sacrifices,” the Russian ethnologist Vladimir Bogoraz
wrote in his classic early-1900s monograph on the Siberian Chukchi,
“… I asked to whom the sacrifice was being proffered. The answer
was, ‘Who knows!’” The Chukchi expert Willerslev says this shows
the witnesses’ lack of “any strenuous commitment to faith,” that
the “rite of sacrifice is somehow thought to be effective as long as
the ritual rules are followed”—that is, even the awareness of
trickery doesn’t necessarily dissuade participants._

Bureaucratic trickery has been a consistent part of Republican-led
governments’ COVID policies. The 2021 year-end staff report
[[link removed]] by
the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis lays out how
the Trump administration worked to keep citizens uninformed about the
risks of the virus and about the scale of the mass death that was
about to occur. In the spring of 2020, when the White House ordered
the CDC to loosen its recommendations to churches about masking and
social distancing, the CDC’s “incident manager,” Jay Butler,
emailed a colleague to say that “this is not good public health—I
am very troubled on this Sunday morning that there will be people who
will get sick and perhaps die because of what we were forced to do.”
Butler also had misgivings “as someone who has been speaking to
churches and pastors on this (and as someone who goes to church).”
Trump and his administration discouraged testing for infection from
the start. As Deborah Birx, the former White House pandemic
coordinator, told the House subcommittee
[[link removed]] this
past fall, the “less aggressive testing of those without symptoms”
was “the primary reason for the early community spread.”

Along-standing theory of human sacrifice, the “social-control
hypothesis,” has argued that social elites used it to keep the hoi
polloi subservient. But the evidence was scattered and anecdotal,
untested by the most rigorous modern scholarship. One big question:
What distinguished the cultures that practiced human sacrifice from
those that did not? Thanks to a massive historical database
[[link removed]] of the social and genetic particulars of a
hundred traditional societies spread over a sixth of the planet, from
the eastern Pacific to Australia and East Asia, in 2016 we got one
definitive answer: “Ritual human sacrifice,” an official summary
[[link removed]] of
the research said, “played a central role in helping those at the
top of the social hierarchy maintain power over those at the
bottom.”

Researchers from the University of Auckland, Australia’s Victoria
University, and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human
History categorized 93 Austronesian societies, 40 of which practiced
human sacrifice, according to three levels of socioeconomic
fairness—from most egalitarian, where children didn’t inherit
wealth or status from parents, to totally nonegalitarian, where
children could acquire wealth and status _only_ by inheritance. The
results are stark: The less fair a society’s socioeconomic system
was, the more likely it was to practice human sacrifice—67 percent
of the least egalitarian societies versus only 25 percent of the most
egalitarian and 37 percent of those in the middle. More specifically
[[link removed]], the researchers wrote,
“human sacrifice substantially increased the chances of high social
stratification arising,” “increased the rate at which” those
societies “gain high social stratification,” and “stabilizes
social stratification once stratification has arisen.”

Derek Thompson: Why Americans die so much
[[link removed]]

Do I even need to make the point that in America since the 1970s, as a
result of the reengineering of our political economy
[[link removed]] led by Republicans, Big
Business, and the rich, the U.S. has become much less egalitarian,
inequality and stratification have radically increased, and
socioeconomic mobility has radically decreased?

Whether they were convinced that COVID wasn’t real; that if it
was, God would keep them alive or, alternatively, use COVID to kill
them on schedule; that vaccines are “Satan’s syrup” or make you
sterile or worse; that in any case vaccination mandates are, like gun
regulation, a tyrannical plot by liberals and globalists; or that the
Omicron variant was introduced to deflect public attention from
Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial
[[link removed]] (and,
by the way, _omicron_ and _delta_ combined are an anagram
for _media control_)_—_whatever their reasons, millions of
Americans have been persuaded by the right to promote death, and
potentially to sacrifice themselves and others, ostensibly for the
sake of personal liberty but _definitely_ as a means of increasing
their tribal solidarity and inclination to vote Republican.

That’s why the Republican governor of Texas, after mandating masks
early in the pandemic, gave in to his pro-sacrifice hard-liners last
fall and issued a prohibition on businesses requiring customers to be
vaccinated. It’s why at a November forum for the Republicans running
for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, one candidate bragged
[[link removed]] that
he was “the only one up here … who’s not vaxxed.” It’s why
the Republican attorney general of Missouri, running for the U.S.
Senate there, informed
[[link removed]] the
state’s local health and school officials in December that any
“mask mandates, quarantine orders, and other public health orders”
concerning COVID are unconstitutional and thus “null and void,”
which at least one county
[[link removed]] took
to mean that it must end “all COVID-19 related work” of any kind.
It’s why all 13 states
[[link removed]] that
have legally prohibited vaccination mandates have
Republican-controlled legislatures, and why at least five
[[link removed]] Republican
[[link removed]] states
[[link removed]] are
[[link removed]] paying
[[link removed]] unemployment
benefits to people who leave their jobs because they refuse to be
vaccinated.

Back in 2020, the Republican-led resistance to mask wearing and other
public-health measures may have made people die unnecessarily, but if
so it wasn’t killing that many more _Republicans_ (or those in
their vicinity) than other Americans. During the second half of 2021,
however, after vaccines were available to all adults, that changed
dramatically. Of the 20 least-vaccinated states today
[[link removed]],
Trump carried 17 in the 2020 election. According to one analysis, in
the most Republican tenth of America only 42 percent of people
[[link removed]] were
fully vaccinated by the end of last year. In Washington State
[[link removed]],
for example, the shrinking unvaccinated minority have lately comprised
more than nine out of 10 COVID victims under 65, and three-quarters of
the older ones. More and more, the unvaccinated (three out of five of
whom are Republicans
[[link removed]])
and those killed by COVID are distinctly GOP subsets.

It was a graph I saw in the fall that startled me into taking the
mass-human-sacrifice idea seriously. The Duke University
sociologist Kieran Healy’s granular analysis
[[link removed]] plotted
the number of deaths and _degree _of Republicanism in each of
America’s 3,000 counties, then divided the counties into 10 groups
from reddest to bluest, each containing a tenth of the U.S.
population. In the reddest counties—those where 70 percent or more
voted for Trump—the COVID death rates from last June through
November were _five or six times_
[[link removed]] the
death rates in places at the other end of the political scale. And
step by step up the blue-to-red scale, the statistical correlation is
amazingly consistent—the more Republican your county, the more
likely you are to die of COVID.

At their imperial peak 500 years ago, the Aztec rulers sacrificed
20,000 or more people each year, some estimates suggest. By the
reckoning of experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation
[[link removed]],
counting only the “COVID-19 deaths [that] could have been prevented
by vaccination,” the number of Americans unnecessarily and avoidably
killed in the U.S. from just last June to November is 163,000.

A week before Christmas, at a right-wing convention in Phoenix called
Americafest, Sarah Palin said, “It’ll be over my dead body that I
get a shot,” and “if enough of us rise up … there are more of us
than there are of them.” (This week, as the federal trial of her
defamation lawsuit against _The New York Times_ was starting, she
“tested positive for coronavirus,” the judge announced in court
[[link removed]].
“She is, of course, unvaccinated.”) In fact, 87 percent
[[link removed]] of
adults have now been at least partially vaccinated. The 13 percent who
have not are basically the same people who’ve said all along
[[link removed]] that
they’d refuse to be vaccinated—and most of them, like Palin, are
Republican, and nearly all the rest of them are Republican-leaning
independents.

It’s notable that the Republican president who stirred up and led
the anti-lockdown, anti-mask movement during 2020 never signed on to
the anti-vaccine dogma. Despite gaining some natural immunity from
having been infected, Trump was among the first to be vaccinated a
year ago, then stepped right up to get a booster. Last summer, it
seems like, he was persuaded by the overwhelming political logic
of the numbers
[[link removed]]—by
then a supermajority of the electorate was vaccinated, 70 percent and
growing, while only about half of those remaining were still committed
to the hard-core anti-vaccination vision. Trump obviously made a
marketing choice to pivot away from those dead-enders.

“I believe totally in your freedoms, I do, you’ve got to do what
you have to do,” he said at a rally in August
[[link removed]] on
a farm in an Alabama county where 88 
[[link removed]]percent
[[link removed]] voted for
him. But: “I recommend—take the vaccines, I did it, it’s good,
take the vaccines.” Some people booed. Which made news, to which
Trump is addicted. So in three interviews on three consecutive days at
the end of the year, he went at it again, harder—with Bill
O’Reilly
[[link removed]] on
their joint speaking tour, on 
[[link removed]]Fox
News
[[link removed]],
and on _The Daily Wire _with the MAGA star Candace Owens
[[link removed]].

For the past six years, few of his masses of fervent
supporters—whether evangelical or irreligious—have objected much
to any particular Trump heresy or inconsistency. Indeed, his extreme
unpredictability is part of the show. And as he considers running for
president in 2024, he must be acutely aware that his margins of
victory and loss in 2016 and 2020 were mere thousands of votes in a
few states, and that _his_ voters are disproportionately the ones
now being sacrificed. “I watched a couple of politicians be
interviewed,” Trump said
[[link removed]] this
month, “and one of the questions was, ‘Did you get the booster?’
… They’re answering like––in other words, the answer is
‘yes,’ but they don’t want to say it, because they’re
gutless.” Perhaps his primary campaign has begun: His leading rival
for the nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, keeps refusing to
say
[[link removed]] whether
he’s gotten a vaccine booster shot.

Chavi Eve Karkowsky: Vaccine refusers risk compassion fatigue
[[link removed]]

The pandemic will eventually finish its course, and the supply of
sacrifice victims will run out. But the people who politicized and
badly exacerbated this current mass-fatality event must now realize,
if only unconsciously, that large-scale human sacrifice can be a
useful modern political tool for a party ideologically committed to
extreme inequality. What might be the next public-health crisis they
can exploit? After all, for 40 years now they’ve proved their
righteous power by sacrificing thousands of lives each year to the
quasi-religious American fetish for guns.

But some emerging anthropology scholarship offers a glimmer of hope.
Those 93 Austronesian societies in Asia and the Pacific where ritual
sacrifice and inequality were strongly correlated all had populations
of under a million. An ongoing cross-cultural study, based on a
different, wider-ranging historical database
[[link removed]] called Seshat, has found an inverse
correlation between human sacrifice and population: Organized,
state-sanctioned sacrifice typically becomes unsustainable in larger
societies. As Laura Spinney explained in 
[[link removed]]_The
Atlantic_
[[link removed]] in
2018, the Seshat data corpus “includes ‘mega-empires’ whose
subjects numbered in the tens of millions,” and thus “tracks
social complexity closer to modern levels.” Over time, the
essentially parasitic nature of human sacrifice becomes more generally
acknowledged. This “particularly pernicious form of inequality,”
concludes the Oxford University anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse, one
of Seshat’s founders, eventually disappears in very big societies
“because they cannot survive with that level of injustice.”

So perhaps in a country of 330 million people, and even just within
its super-red jurisdictions, the long-term governing prospects for the
live-free-and-die GOP are inherently self-limiting. Maybe we have
empirical grounds for hoping that the long arc of the moral universe
will bend toward justice in this instance. For now, though, the death
count keeps gratuitously rising.

_Kurt Andersen [[link removed]] is
the author of Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America: A Recent
History [[link removed]]. _

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