On statistical murder and killing by inches

November 16, 2016

This is an open letter to Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John Roberts, and the GOP majority:

How many people have you killed?

You’ve probably never picked up a gun or knife and taken a life directly, though even if you have—in the military, one hopes—the number of lives you’ve taken is probably higher than you think. It might not even be a whole life, but it’s probably not zero.

How many lives have you saved? The same is true.

It’s instructive, I think, to not think of lives as whole units. Human lives are made up of years, months, and days, and taking any of these away can be an act of aggression. No, stop what you’re thinking—don’t exaggerate my point to a silly extreme. I’m not taking a principled stand against boring conversations. But consider what would happen if you convinced someone to smoke, and their life is shortened thereby. You didn’t hold them down and force them to smoke those cigarettes, but you hold a measure of responsibility all the same. You didn’t take a whole life, but you took part of one.

In Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, there’s the following exchange:

“Do you understand what I’m saying?” shouted Moist. “You can’t just go around killing people!”
“Why Not? You Do.” The golem lowered his arm.
“What?” snapped Moist. “I do not! Who told you that?”
“I Worked It Out. You Have Killed Two Point Three Three Eight People,” said the golem calmly.
“I have never laid a finger on anyone in my life, Mr Pump. I may be–– all the things you know I am, but I am not a killer! I have never so much as drawn a sword!”
“No, You Have Not. But You Have Stolen, Embezzled, Defrauded And Swindled Without Discrimination, Mr Lipvig. You Have Ruined Businesses And Destroyed Jobs. When Banks Fail, It Is Seldom Bankers Who Starve. Your Actions Have Taken Money From Those Who Had Little Enough To Begin With. In A Myriad Small Ways You Have Hastened The Deaths Of Many. You Do Not Know Them. You Did Not See Them Bleed. But You Snatched Bread From Their Mouths And Tore Clothes From Their Backs. For Sport, Mr Lipvig. For Sport. For The Joy Of The Game.”
― Terry Pratchett, Going Postal

I think about that scene a lot. I know my life is not without sin, and that there’s blood on my hands. Part of it is unintentional—my comfortable lifestyle comes at the expense of many, and I know there’s more I could be doing. Yet some of it is active. I sell beer for a living. No matter how well I pick my customers, and no matter how well my coworkers take care of the patrons in our taproom, we’re still selling poison. I know we might be contributing to a troubled alcoholic’s decline, and the longer we stay open, the more inevitable that becomes. I share a measure of that blame.

The question, then, isn’t whether we hurt people. The greater action we take in life, the more likely we are to cause harm. The question is whether we do what we can to minimize that ill, and to save more lives than we take.

President Obama has blood on his hands, as all presidents do. He’s ordered the deaths of enemies, sent servicemen and servicewomen into harm’s way, and presided over a sprawling governmental apparatus that unknowingly wounds people every day. But he’s also, I think, done great good. The Affordable Care Act in particular has saved many lives, as in “this person wouldn’t be alive if not for the ACA”—the clearest measure of a life saved.

President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, Senator McConnell, Justice Roberts, and everyone else in the GOP governing majority: you will have blood on your hands from your time in power. You will kill people, both directly and by inches. You will cause misery and death and destruction. The machinery of government, while by no means evil, is powerful enough to make this a near certainty.

You could also save lives, enrich lives, and make up for the lives you’ll harm by building them up in other ways. You could be a force for good in the world. I hope you’ll think of this before you cut food stamps, gut welfare, take away health insurance, and sink people into irreversible poverty, just because they don’t vote for you. Think about this before you stir up hate, just because the people who vote for you like it and the ones who don’t—well, who cares about people who won’t vote for you anyway.

This is about people’s lives. People are going to die if you follow this path, and the blood will be on your hands. There are more ways to kill than with a gun or a knife. When you snatch bread from their mouths and tear clothes off their backs, when you make getting sick a financial catastrophe and life an unending hell of stress and fear, you’re killing people by inches. You won’t see them bleed, but they’re bleeding all the same. You’ll kill them a fraction at a time,

People will die, Mr. President, and it will be your fault. The history books aren’t yet done compiling the list of the world’s greatest killers. You don’t want to get anywhere near their ranks.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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