Every day I wake up in denial. I need to deny the absolute insanity of the world we live in just to function on a day-to-day basis. I actively push aside thoughts about how I am affected by and how I am an active participant in larger, overarching systems and phenomena. I have to uncritically accept my immediate world, ignoring the processes that made it so. I have to deny that I am contributing to the end of the world.
I deny that I am more or less risking my life every time I go into a grocery store due to the fact I am living unvaccinated (at the time of writing) in the midst of a global pandemic that is still nowhere near over.
I deny that humanity is accelerating towards the next mass extinction to stop myself from running out into the street and pulling people out of their cars, asking if they’re out of their freaking mind for emitting even another ounce of carbon into the atmosphere.
I deny that the U.S. is engaged in countless wars of aggression, and actively perpetuates and profits from the humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, and Palestine.
I deny the fact that my mom goes to work in a hospital overrun with COVID patients. My mom has to deny the absolutely appalling nature of our privatized health care system’s profit-driven model which results in soul-crushing and perverse outcomes, just so she doesn’t have a breakdown every time she steps foot in her hospital. She denies how it has turned so many of her patients into painkiller addicts. She denies the existence of the warehouses filled with people on life support who are effectively brain dead or have their deaths needlessly prolonged simply for a company’s pursuit of money.
I deny that I am living in a country whose nationalist project is antithetical to my mother and I’s existence as Chinese-Americans. A nationalist project that is upheld and progressed just as strongly by the current presidential administration as the last one and the one before that. A national project which vehemently opposes and attacks any country or people that dare challenge its goal of world domination, instigating coups or flat out starting wars with smaller powers that do not fall into line (evident in the U.S.’s multi-century terrorizing of South America and the total destruction of countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan). A country so laughably hypocritical that, in response to “human rights abuses,” it will impose indiscriminate sanctions that disportionately harm and kill vulnerable populations of entire countries, refusing to recognize a distinction between a country’s government and its people, and then label these crippling policies as peaceful. A political economy that was founded on and continues to run on the demonization and exploitation of immigrants, people of color, and anyone, really, who is not a white man. A country whose long, long history of genocide, slavery, and exclusion is written by and documented in its own oppressive laws.
I deny that I live in a surveillance state with more security cameras per capita than any other country in the world, and that uses institutions like the NSA and FBI to monitor every aspect of my communications online or over the phone. I have to further deny that I gave up all my rights to privacy to companies such as Google and Amazon the second I made my presence known on the internet.
Denialism is not something that is so naturally occurring to me, or any other human really. Denialism is encouraged by industries with devious marketing tactics that seep into our school systems and news. We are pounded with propaganda and overwhelmed with responsibilities such that it becomes a struggle to think twice about our participation. What’s more, so many of these systems are constructed in a way that we have no option but to rely on them and become active participants.
Companies such as Amazon (whose online store I call for everyone to boycott) rely on people’s denial of the horrid conditions to which Amazon subjects its warehouse workers. Amazon bets that people will deny the reports of sky high rates of serious injury that its workers incur, and that its reputation as a company will not be affected at all by this. And it’s working — with net e-commerce sales increasing from $ll.5 billion in 2018-19 to $32.4 billion in 2019-20.
Silicon Valley as a whole would like us to deny its deep, intimate ties to the military-industrial complex — providing cybersecurity, server space, facial recognition technology, and data management services to departments such as the DoD, ICE, DHS, and USAID. ICE alone has $4.4 Billion allocated to data management, of which companies like Amazon and Palantir receive a large share. The very companies that speak about disrupting the status quo, the importance of human rights, and the revolutionary potential of technology are the very companies upholding, colluding with, and further strengthening the institutions that work to oppress U.S. citizens and people all around the world that are in the crosshairs of the U.S. Silicon Valley relies on our denial of the inherent contradictions in their ideology. How can something be revolutionary if no power is exchanging hands? Is technology a force for good or a neutral force? (It seems to me that every time a company introduces a new technology, the company brands itself as a force for good, but every time something goes wrong, technology and the company itself were suddenly not responsible — just look at Facebook’s rhetoric about “bringing people together,” especially ironic after January 6th and its convoluted stance on free speech before and after Zuckerberg’s congressional hearings.) Due to our political system’s reliance on legal bribes — excuse me, lobbying — tech giants are able to spend tens of millions of dollars a year to sway a federal government that funded the creation of Silicon Valley itself. A snake eating its own tail. This political system is so twisted that tech giants themselves control the data privacy advocacy groups that are supposed to be fighting against the Googles and the Facebooks. Silicon Valley’s manipulation of the public and reliance on denialism would simply not be possible without the complicity, active participation, and existing structures that come from our government.
Our two excuses for political parties would like us to deny the evil and despicable policy overlaps between themselves. They demand that we deny the longstanding bipartisanship support for the oil and gas industry, our nonsensical wars of aggression, the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, police militarization, the disregard for immigrants’ lives, vaccine nationalism, and the disregard for black and brown lives.
The Democrats, in particular, rely on their constituents’ denialism in order to maintain their voter base’s loyalty. Last fall I was an active participant in the Democratic party’s game of denialism as I, regretfully, voted for Biden. The whole previous summer was spent in a process of disillusionment with the political shenanigans of the Democrats, and I was repeatedly critical of Biden and Harris, yet my actions were those of someone in denial. I denied myself the choice of withholding my vote when I got swept up in the Get Out the Vote fervor. I was in denial of my own moral code when I consciously chose to vote for an (alleged) rapist and a prosecutor. (Someone will still have to explain to me what exactly constitutes a “progressive prosecutor,” especially when the so-called “progressive” increases felony conviction rates, actively upholds the death penalty, and introduces truancy laws that penalize low income parents.)
The argument went, “you’re not voting for Biden, you’re voting for the people around him” and “not voting is a vote for Trump.” I let these flimsy arguments be a cover for my act of denialism, but really, show me the real, meaningful differences between Trump and his cronies, and Biden and his gang of megalomaniacs.
The Democratic Party loves to play identity politics games, asking us to deny the continuation of America’s destructive policies while putting a minority in charge, acting as if nominating the first *insert underrepresented minority* to a certain position is somehow a structural change to that institution.
What changed in regards to our foreign policy and military regime when Biden appointed the first black man to the office of Secretary of Defense? It seems that our Forever Wars will continue to rage on, and Biden will blow past previously promised deadlines to remove troops from Afghanistan. Biden and his foreign policy officials continue to ratchet up tensions between the U.S. and China and feed off of the same nationalistic sentiment that the previous administration did, just with a slightly more palatable tone.
What has changed along the U.S.-Mexico border for immigrants when Biden appointed the first Latino man to the head of the DHS? The Obama administration, which let’s not forget Biden was an integral part of, took draconian measures to discourage asylum seekers form entering the U.S., and Biden’s administration is currently failing to change the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border. The border continues to remain closed, and while Biden nominally ended the destructive, Trump-era MPP (the policy which separated families), he continues to deport migrants at the border under the pretense of COVID concerns. So despite his campaign promises to halt deportations the second he took office, 127,457 deportations were executed in his first 55 days in office.
If we hope to see any positive change come from electoral politics (a positive change I am increasingly skeptical of ever seeing materialize — especially at the federal level), we cannot simply capitulate to the Democratic party’s demands to vote for a lesser evil, especially when it’s a real struggle to see who the lesser evil is.
It is my denial, a denialism that has been hammered into me by corporate media, the education system, and those more practiced at denialism than I, that allows me to just roll out of bed and be a “functioning member of society.” When faced with the enormity of the issue at hand, my natural (and some would call sane) response is despair. I want to give up, scream into the void, cry, curl up in a ball, and ignore the world. But all these responses would be acts of denialism in and of themselves. I would be denying the possibility for rapid, radical change. I would be denying my own agency and ability to have a positive impact in my immediate world. Failure to dismantle the systems that dominate our country and Earth as a whole is almost a certainty, but this is a pathetic excuse to not try. We will have to build the future we want in the present. We will fail, over and over and over, but I do not want to die having done nothing.
I would like to thank Chuck Mertz and This is Hell! for unveiling the different ways denialism affects me and my life.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the views of The Phoenix Editorial Board.