America’s Culture of Human Sacrifice
When the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the early 16th Century they witnessed the Aztec engaging in religious ceremonies that included ritual human sacrifice. Despite their own barbarity, they immediately labeled the Aztec to savage barbarians and use this to justify their conquest and genocide that followed.
Roughly 500 years later, March 23rd, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas created an uproar on Tucker Carlson’s show when he stated that the elderly would be willing to risk giving up their lives to preserve the economy for their grandchildren. Many were outraged by this statement, implying that Americans would be willing to sacrifice their grandparents in this way. Human sacrifice is abhorrent to the American people. But is it really?
In fact, in a variety of ways, our American culture is thoroughly rooted in a system of human sacrifice. A prime example is our healthcare system, which is unique in the modern, industrialized world in that is does not provide for universal coverage for all citizens. In fact, tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance; many more are underinsured, unable to actually afford to use their healthcare because their insurance plans are far too expensive. The key difference between the U.S. healthcare system and others around the world is that the U.S. system is a for-profit system. Access to care is determined by the thickness of one’s wallet.
The results of this are clear. A new study estimated that, on average, the deaths of 68,000 Americans would be prevented if we had a single-payer healthcare system that covered all Americans. In other words, we are currently allowing 68,000 Americans to die every year (185 people per day) in order to maintain a system that provides care for some and makes huge profits for health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. That amounts to roughly twenty September 11ths per year. You can call it the free market, capitalism, or anything else you like, but at its core, it is human sacrifice.
The key difference between this and what Patrick said is the identity of the victim. Our culture teaches us to blame the poor so we need not feel bad for them or feel an obligation to help them. Thus we refuse to stop sacrificing them or even begin to acknowledge that that is what we are doing. We pretend that poverty is not a natural byproduct of our system, unlike aging, which cannot be avoided. Thus, we are offended at the suggestion that the elderly can be sacrificed while we step over the poor sleeping on the sidewalk.
A perfect representation of this can be seen in New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. He responded to Patrick’s comments by saying that “My mother is not expendable and your mother is not expendable and our brothers and sisters are not expendable and we’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable.” Meanwhile, he has been a major impediment to the passage of a single-payer universal healthcare plan in New York and has been trying to make cuts to the state’s Medicaid budget. He is totally fine with the premise that certain lives are disposable, as long as it is not his mother! He is fine with it being your mother or grandmother, as long as the reason is a lack of money rather than age. This is the neoliberal system of human sacrifice we live under every day.
Many Americans want to believe that poverty is not something that can happen to them, but everyone will have to deal with aging. Americans are quite okay with human sacrifice as long as they aren't the ones being sacrificed, don’t know the people being sacrificed, or have dehumanized the sacrificed to such a degree that we do not care about their suffering.