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The American Worship of Death

I intended to call this the American Death Cult but that meme was already taken, and I don't want to confuse the issue. What I've noticed about us is this glorification of death, this romanticizing of death. Death seems to be the coolest thing in America, and not just among those who wear skull jewelry and tats. It's mainstream.

Our biggest heroes are always death-defying. It usually involves machinery. Now, when bungi-jumping was the rage, it was generally pretty safe, unlike the original vine-jumpers, who, if successful, ended up brushing terra firma with their un-helmeted heads. Americans loved the idea of plummeting, but woe to the manufacturer of bungi cords if their product should fail. We just want to taunt death, not, you know, actually risk it.

Fast machines kill, and leave behind a nasty legacy, but we worship that feeling, that pushing the edge. Some say that these motorcycles are stupid, these cars are stupid, and that may be true, but the idea behind pushing the limits of mental concentration and reaction is valid. And this is where the cult of death comes in.

For some reason, it isn't real if the potential for death is not involved. So the best pinball player I ever knew, with the mental concentration of a race driver and the reflexes of a prize fighter has nothing to brag about, because his life was never on the line. What ends up happening is that the risk of death, the willingness to risk death, outweighs the development of skill, of expertise. And that is how we get the death cult.

In fact, since the development of modern warfare, fighting doesn't actually involve any connection with skill or even daring. Just the willingness to become dead is enough to inspire most of us to "honor" the fallen. And this keeps things rolling right along as those who plan have planned. Because without those boots on the ground there could be no empire. We would actually have to engage other nations with respect and consider their points of view. And that just wouldn't be American, you know?

Jeff Coleman

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