Experts in the fields of disaster relief and charitable giving generally agree: When you want to help the victims of some far-off calamity (an earthquake, a tsunami, a foreign invasion) donations of money to organizations already working in the region do much more good than donations of stuff (canned food, blankets, medical supplies) that must be shipped there and received and inventoried there and then distributed to people who probably know better than you do the areas where the “stuff we need” and “stuff that feels good and righteous or anyway convenient to send to us” circles do not overlap on the Venn diagram.
The latter option, sending a bunch of stuff, involves a lot more friction and time and overhead cost than just sending a bunch of money, and is vulnerable to many more variables. Not to put too fine a point on it, but money’s greater portability and transmissibility, compared to, say, a shipping container full of canned pumpkin—to say nothing of the far greater ease of transforming money into something more useful than itself—is pretty much the whole reason why you pay for things with money instead of with canned pumpkin.
I do not want to make the mistake, here, of seeming to suggest that the cost of postage or the possibility of a container ship running aground on a shoal are the reasons, or even among the most cromulent reasons, why it’s generally not considered cool and OK for random people to send, for example, a million bullets to each other around the world. There are straightforward and easily legible reasons why even whole entire national governments might not always be in a real big hurry to go, Ah, I see that you are having some trouble, there. Here are one million bullets to one another.
For one thing the history of the world tends to demonstrate that few problems can be solved by the addition of a million bullets. And then there are just the logistical difficulties: There are lots of different types of guns, and lots of different types of bullets, and lots of different types of people who like to use them for lots of different types of purposes (tending to have in common that they involve shooting). If an international shipment of not-very-useful bric-a-bracs donated by well-meaning American doofuses goes astray on its journey to the latest site of vast human suffering, well, dang, maybe the wrong group of people who do not particularly need a shitload of blankets and protein bars wind up with a shitload of blankets and protein bars, instead of the intended group of people who do not need those things winding up with those things. That is not really all that grave a problem in the big picture. It is unlikely in the extreme that any plausible recipient of blankets and protein bars will use them to do genocide. Not very successfully, anyway.
Likewise, if the shipment of toothbrushes and dusty bags of StoveTop stuffing turns out to contain more of those things than called for in the disaster zone (like, for example, five of them), that is not really all that big a deal. Maybe the disaster victims don’t quite need toothbrushes and stuffing at this precise moment. But, barring some extraordinary Mr. Bean-ass shit going down, very likely nobody is going to wind up dead because there happen to be some extra toothbrushes and bags of StoveTop stuffing at loose ends in their area. Whereas one can imagine several hundred thousand wayward bullets getting up to some trouble.
For these and other reasons, in my opinion, if bullets must be bulk-shipped around the world that’s probably best left to governments, which have far greater capacity than your average rich person in areas such as ensuring the safe shipment of the bullets, and carefully tracking the shipment of bullets, and reasonably ensuring that trucking a million bullets into a given area will not provoke global nuclear war, and, uh, like, arranging interventions if the bullets should happen to come to a use somehow even more objectionable than their intended one, which is shooting people with them.
I am not trying to tell you what to do with your extra million bullets! I am just sharing with you the reasoning behind my personal choice not to ship a million bullets to the frontlines of Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion. When I want to do my part to help the people of Ukraine, I must simply divert this intention into action better suited to a person such as myself, like donating a hundred bucks to Médecins Sans Frontieres or whatever. If I simply must see to it that the brave fighters of Ukraine have one million more bullets than however many bullets they have, I will have to settle for a strongly worded voicemail to my local congressperson.
But this is war, after all. And, more frustrating still for Americans—who are simultaneously used to thinking of ourselves as the protagonists of everything that happens on Earth, but also and somewhat paradoxically used to even our own wars happening tens of thousands of miles away and being prosecuted by a dedicated warrior caste—it is war between two distant parties that clearly are not the United States. Not only that, but direct U.S. involvement in this war, at the level of Americans servicepersons shooting guns at its participants, carries a very high risk of nuclear annihilation for large portions of the human race if not all complex life on earth. There is no clear role for Americans in this; no simple way to feel that it is a war between America and Bad Guys. This will not do.
And so you get a lot of American dumbasses doing frankly embarrassing and counterproductive shit, like theatrically pouring out the bottles of Russian vodka stocked by the bar they own, or banishing Russian singers from American opera companies over their refusal to repudiate Vladimir Putin, or doing a solidarity with the people of Ukraine by Instagramming a photo of themselves gazing thoughtfully at a pair of blue and yellow Nikes or whatever. None of this in absolutely any way meaningfully aids Ukraine or alleviates the suffering of its people; none of it averts or hinders Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even slightly; mostly Americans have had surgically removed from themselves by generations of empire and capitalism any sense that the world exists outside of and independent from our own monstrous self-regard. It is important to feel that this is a war between you, personally, and Vladimir Putin, personally. Or anyway at the very least that it is an action movie that ends with you saying something witty to him while he ragdolls into a volcano. If you cannot fight the war, well then you sure as hell can self-promote all over it.
Where was I? Ah yes. Very rich NASCAR racing team owner Richard Childress, who also sits on the board of directors for a company named Ammo, Inc. (three guesses what its business is), has decided that he must participate in this war by sending one million bullets to Ukraine, and that the world must know he has done so.
I dunno, man. I avoided getting to this part of the blog because I had hoped to find a way to make it breezy and silly but this seems unimaginably dark, to me. I do not doubt that Ukraine’s fighters have urgent use for more bullets; Ukraine’s president has said as much. I also feel reasonably confident that the many national governments presently rush-shipping armaments to Ukraine have remembered to include some ammunition for those armaments, or anyway that that sort of thing probably ought to be the domain of, like, whatever passes for responsible world leaders, or at least the least-apocalyptic of the learned military strategists working under their auspices, and not carried out as a function of the PR efforts of some cornpone bozo who made his bones turning left in a car for 12 years, the type of dude who would go on Fox News to announce that he overheard something on TV that made him decide to become an international arms trafficker. And yet I also, and perhaps just as an index of my own pessimism, feel all too confident that this will happen; that this is what the world is like.
The abstract of this moment—With war raging in one of the world’s most dangerous areas and experts debating exactly how bad anyone should expect nuclear winter might be, a NASCAR team owner took it upon himself to promote his ammunition business by benevolently donating a million rounds to the combatants—cannot strike me as anything but humanity’s funniest and most fully deserved possible epitaph threatening to take shape. Every one of its implications will make perfect sense to future alien archaeologists as context for a species that once existed no longer existing: That the world was such that a race-car goober could have or get a million rounds of ammunition, and possibly direct a million rounds of ammunition to a war-zone made extra volatile by an unaccountable madman’s threat of nuclear strike; that whatever passed for society had decayed to the point that this would seem, even to the belt-buckliest of Yosemite Sam cosplayers, like a thing a rich guy could even announce an intent to do without incurring for himself a lengthy term of confinement and the expropriation of whatever would make it plausible for him to make good on that offer. That a nation defending itself from invasion might go palms-out to Richard fucking Childress in search of a sweet deal on the armaments it needs to preserve its existence.
Seems bad to me! Seems all bad. I just wanted to get that down in writing somewhere.