Michael Pascoe: We’re turning American, inured to mass deaths

by Michael Pascoe

Watching from afar as the children’s funerals start, it’s easy to be appalled by Americans’ acceptance of mass murder, their unwillingness to take action to stem the slaughter – but then you realise we’re not entirely different.

Another month and, in round numbers, another 1300 COVID deaths in Australia, taking the running total this year to 6300. At this rate, there will be 15,100 by the end of the year, plus change.

And, like American politicians addressing the National Rifle Association conference, we’ve collectively decided that’s OK.

For a politically potent number of Americans, regularly blasting holes in children is an acceptable price to pay for the dubious pleasure of being able to play with assault rifles, weapons specifically designed for killing people. And we somewhat smugly think theirs is a society in decline, that they are lunatics.

For Australia, more than 15,000 COVID deaths this year is an acceptable price to pay for not taking the virus seriously anymore, for ditching the inconvenience of wearing masks, for not pursuing the ventilation recommendations.

Well, most of those 15,000 people will be old. Well, over 70 anyway. They have to die of something.

Ditto the people killed by guns in the US.

Out of sight, out of mind

Remember when there were regular stories about our hero health workers, putting in long hours in full PPE treating people with serious COVID? They are still doing it, the better part of 3000 people hospitalised by the disease, but we don’t care anymore. Out of sight, out of mind.

The medicos haven’t forgotten. They continue to see the pain and loss, continue to abide by their oath in trying to prevent suffering, continue to warn that we could reduce the numbers if we gave a damn.

But we don’t. We don’t care about those who die, unless, perhaps, we happen to be close to one of them.

Sure, for most people, COVID is not a serious illness. And most Americans don’t get shot.

But for many people COVID is serious, an illness that lasts with consequences we don’t yet understand. For some, it is fatal. And it’s still mutating.

For many Americans, having their politicians owned by the gun lobby results in dreadful wounds. For many, it also is fatal.

New reality hard to grasp

The American dystopia is hard for a sane person to fully grasp, their lack of concern for human life, the low price the richest nation on earth puts on it. Compared with the massive wealth of America, what it takes the NRA to own politicians is chicken feed.

From the perspective of the first two years of the pandemic, our happy acceptance of 15,000 or so deaths this year is also hard to grasp – six times the total COVID deaths over those two years.

Yes, they are mainly – but not exclusively – the other side of 70. So we’ve casually set a precedent: We don’t have to try too hard if something is killing people older than 70.

This year’s COVID toll looks like being nearly five times higher than breast cancer’s score in 2019, our last “normal” year, and more than four times what prostate cancer managed.

The median age for breast cancer deaths was 72.3 years and 82.4 for prostate. The median age for COVID is 83-point-something.

Well, they were all going to die of something. We all do.