Eating the Poor

Early in their careers, the Wachowski brothers (or rather sisters) wrote a movie script about eating the rich. “The script was too disturbing,” Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski said, as quoted in a 1999 New York Times piece. “We showed it to some people in Hollywood who said: ‘This is a bad idea. I can’t make this. I’m rich.’ ” They never could find anyone to fund it and so it was never made.

What immediately occurred to me simply reversing the roles in the script make it perfectly acceptable to the moneyed interests in Hollywood. A quarter century earlier in 1973 the novel Soylent Green was made into a major movie with a well known lead actor, Charlton Heston. It received multiple awards and honors and, remaining popular, has had repeated releases in every format. At this point, it has made immense profit.

So, why is it that Hollywood is fine with portraying poor people being eaten but not rich people? Well, as one Hollywood figure explained, “I can’t make this. I’m rich.”

Hollywood is a business, but not everything is about profit. Even if a movie about eating the rich could make more money than hundreds of other movies that get made every year, the profit motive can only go so far. The rich are as or more concerned with maintaining their position in society, which means maintaining the image that the dirty masses can’t touch them, literally and metaphorically. The Wachowskis didn’t only make a movie about the rich being eaten but specifically eaten by the poor and homeless. That is a step too far in a capitalist plutocracy.

Fantasies are fine, except when they hit too close to home. Class war isn’t something we are supposed to talk about. Or rather we are only supposed to talk about it when it portrays the rich winning. Hollywood companies are fine with rich people being portrayed as evil, as long as they are also portrayed as dominant and powerful. But even making portraying the reality of plutocratic rule too starkly can be considered unacceptable.

When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal”, many criticized the eating of babies. In his defense, he pointed out that the killing of babies was what was already happening to the poor, specifically in Ireland, and he simply made it explicit. The sensitive souls in respectable society were fine with mass torture and murder. They simply didn’t want to be forced to acknowledge it. Even so, he was able to get his writing published and widely read. But if he had written a similar piece about eating the rich, he would have been censored, his career destroyed, and probably imprisonment following. Although considered in bad taste, it was acceptable for him to write about eating the poor. As true then, still true today.

In a talk, William McDonough spoke of a visit to Birkenau in Auschwitz: “I stood in the center Birkenau camp which is a mile in diameter three, miles in circumference. And I realized that engineers and architects had come together to design a giant killing machine. If design is the worst, the first signal of human intention, this was the signal of the worst of human intention. And I thought to myself at what point is a designer standing there say wait a minute you’re asking me to do this.”

He describes how every aspect of the camp and all that supported its functioning was carefully designed by architects, engineers, and scientists. This included how humans would be processed and used, including the bodies. From slave labor in the factories to stacking the bodies, it all had to be carefully calculated and planned out. Efficiency was key. It was a modern project embodying scientific principles. Many of the chemicals still in use today were first experimented on humans in these camps.

McDonough came to the realization that this mentality applied to the modern world in general. The way we design buildings and infrastructure is toxic and self-destructive. Our society is a highly efficient killing machine that results in illness, suffering, and early death. He wasn’t being merely dramatic for effect. We see this in the increasing use of carcinogenic chemicals and the rise of cancer. The modern world is designed to be efficient and profitable, not to be sustaining of life and well being.

One might note that the greatest victims, as always, are the poor. The rich can escape the pollution of old industrial centers, distance themselves from toxic dumps, and hide away from environmental destruction. The poor, on the other hand, are trapped. In the Swiftian sense, the poor are being eaten by this system that processes and uses their life and labor to build the beautiful world of the rich. According to the Social Darwininan aspirations and capitalist realism dreams of plutocrats, that is how it should be. But you won’t find a well-funded blockbuster Hollywood movie portraying this real world dystopia in all of its gory details, much less such a movie that radically imagines an inversion of power and a reversal of victimization.

To understand how this society operates, you have to notice not only what is present but also what is missing, what is allowable and what is not.

“just a means to that end”

Dirty Jobs and Macro Questions
by Patrick Watson, Mauldin Economics

“Serving others is always honorable work. Every major religion teaches this. If the work itself is honorable, why don’t we honor those who do it?”

That sounds nice. The only problem is it’s total bullshit. I doubt he wants an honest answer to his question.

Our society does not value serving others and never has. If you are working some crap job serving others, our society makes it very clear that you are a loser in the game of capitalism and Social Darwinism. This is supposedly a meritocracy and so those on the bottom of society are assumed to be those without merit. That is the entire justification for our society, the story we have to believe in to maintain the social order.

“Answer: Because we would rather spend our money in other ways. When we consumers take our demand signals elsewhere, the market efficiently reduces restaurant wages to match what we’ll pay. It’s the invisible hand at work.”

There is no invisible hand, as if divine intervention were determining the Elect. No more than there is a Santa Claus. If there is a hand manipulating the system, it is most definitely visible and all too human. Get up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and I guarantee you’ll see that it isn’t Santa who is stuffing money into the pockets of the plutocrats.

We don’t have a free market, as is obvious to anyone who pays attention. What we have is a corporatist system where big government colludes with and to some degree is controlled by big business. Some go so far as to call it inverted totalitarianism.

“Jobs don’t disappear because greedy capitalists replace people with robots. Businesses turn to robots because consumers want lower prices than can be achieved with human workers.

“The robots are just a means to that end.”

Yeah, well…

The feudal rights of the commons didn’t disappear because greedy aristocrats privatized and enclosed land by having replaced serfs with slaves. Plantations turned to slaves because consumers wanted lower prices than could be achieved with free citizens.

The slaves are just a means to that end.

Okay. So, I guess that means everything is perfectly fine and morally justified. Quit your complaining. It’s the invisible hand responding to market forces that stole your job. It’s no one’s fault that, as surplus labor, you are now a worthless human and a useless eater. Progress marches on, with or without you.

This attitude is strange. It’s a fatalism built on capitalist realism, which is no better than communist realism. The attitude is that we are helpless before forces greater than us. All we can hope to do is adapt to the inevitable. But if failing that, then we better get out of the way or else get run over as we deserve.

Oddly, after all the clueless blather, the author almost comes to a decent conclusion.

“I think our twisted ideas about money, work, and education are the real problems. They’re distorting supply and demand. The root causes aren’t so much economic as cultural and psychological.”

Sort of. The problem is that people like this author hold such ideas and will defend them, no matter the costs. He isn’t suggesting we fundamentally change our thinking, just maybe tinker a bit around the edges.

Otherwise, the system itself is just fine. The real problem is the people, which is to say all those poor people complaining. Sure, the root causes are cultural and psychological. I’d add that indeed they are also economic, as all of it is inseparable. Improving the bad attitudes of poor people isn’t going to solve the systemic failure.

“This year’s US election, contentious though it was, brought important issues to the surface. Ditto events around the world, like Brexit. The economy isn’t working like we think it should. People are tired of asking questions and getting no good answers.”

That is to put it lightly. Important issues were brought to the surface, in the way that magma is brought to the surface when a volcano erupts. Just wait until that volcano really blows its top, turns the sky black with smoke, blocks out the sun, covers the land in ash, and sends the population fleeing in all directions. Then questions and answers will be moot.

“I don’t have all the answers. I suspect no one person does. But the answers are out there, and we won’t find them unless we look for them.”

At least, he is admitting this much. After writing all that, he states he doesn’t actually have all the answers. Yet, as an economic analyst writing for a investment newsletter, it’s his job to have answers or else pretend he has answers. He belongs to the upper class intellectual elite who are supposed to be telling the rest of us losers what we should be doing.

“That awkward, uncomfortable search will be the global macro story in 2017 and probably beyond.”

Well, it will surely be continuing into the coming generations, assuming mass catastrophe and collapse doesn’t happen before then. What is up ahead on the road might not be a pothole to easily drive around. That very well might be a sinkhole that could swallow us whole. Society continues to move forward. Some think this means progress. But what are we moving towards?

Maybe we should slow down a bit and get our bearings.

Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good

I was considering the state of the world, both happier and less-than-happier changes. On the less-than-happier side, one piece of data has had me scratching my head for years.

The wealthier are worse off in higher inequality societies than in lower inequality societies, at least in terms of comparable societies where other factors are more similar, specifically when comparing European countries. When great disparities dominate, the wealthy have higher rates of health problems, homicide, etc. It’s not just about the rich saying, screw the poor!  So, what is going on? Why does inequality grow when it is causing so much harm, even to those with the power and self-interest to do something about it?

I’ve sometimes wondered that the self-appointed elite aren’t as smart as they think they are, that they fall prey to cognitive biases just like the rest of us and in some ways to a worse degree. For example, the wealthy tend to be more well educated and higher IQ, while also being more prone to the smart idiot effect—overestimating what they know and not recognizing what they don’t know, which is to say they are so used to being treated as experts (by other wealthy people) that they forget that whatever expertise they may genuinely have tends to be extremely narrow and limited… or, to put it simply, they lack humility and self-awareness, not to mention other-awareness.

That would relate to a study I’ve mentioned before. Supposedly, people in the lower classes are better than those in the upper classes at accurately reading the body behavior and facial expressions of others and using that to perceive the subjective experience of those others. Those who are without power are forced to pay close and careful attention to the world around them to ensure survival, especially in terms of understanding those who hold power over them. Because of this, if you want to know the inner truth of a society, talk to the servants, maids, janitors, nannies, etc for they are the people who see what no one else sees.

From this perspective, those who act destructively may not be doing so on purpose. They know not what they do. That is my normal line of thought. But a different connection popped into my mind. What if on some level they know exactly what they do?

There is yet another study that points to a more general pattern in human nature. The study was set up to allow a choice between socially positive behavior and selfish behavior. It also gave the opportunity to choose how to respond. The researchers found that many people were willing to knowingly sacrifice their own good in order to punish someone who they perceived as having acted wrongly and without proper respect and concern for others. It was as if some people felt certain social norms had been betrayed and that defending them was worth the cost.

It is easy to see how this could be a positive force at times. Our entire legal system, when it works well, is supposed to put bad people away. If there are no consequences to socially harmful behavior, then social trust is undermined and social capital declines. Bad would lead to worse. But it is obviously comes at high cost to punish and imprison people. In this sense, something is being created, a hopefully good society.

Not punishing the guilty would be a moral hazard. We see this where corruption and cronyism dominates. It makes it harder for others to act in socially beneficial ways, because instead of punishing bad behavior it is rewarded. In such a world, an honest person won’t be able to compete with the dishonest and so will find themselves on the short end of the stick, the honest politician not getting elected and the honest businessman going out of business.

The world we have has been made to be the way it is. Social Darwinian meritocracy isn’t just rhetoric for those who genuinely believe in it. I’d argue that most people in power (and those who benefit from their power) do hold the conviction that they deserve their wealth and position (not just the ruling elite but also the middle class and aspiring middle class). From this perspective, they see everyone else as undeserving.

I’ve had arguments with people that go along a strange path. Those who disagree with social programs that help others don’t always do so because they believe they are ineffective. Such people will sometimes admit or consent to the possibility that the targeted populations will actually be helped and their lives improved. But they still think it shouldn’t be done. Those other people deserve their problems and don’t deserve anything to be taken away from the more deserving. All the wealth, power, opportunities, etc are controlled by certain people for a reason. It would be unfair to even out the playing field, to allow the inferior to challenge and possibly harm the social order that is already working so well for the deserving.

It’s not just that these people lack imagination. Sure, the world maybe could be made better for everyone. But then that would eliminate what makes this society so great and superior. In many ways, it comes at an extreme cost to maintain a Social Darwinian meritocracy—police state and mass incarceration for social control and just enough welfare to keep the masses from revolting. It would be cheaper to have a less oppressive and more egalitarian society, but those in power are willing to pay the costs to have it this way, even when the costs personally harm them, just as long as it harms the undeserving even more.

Having a massive permanent underclass isn’t just about keeping people down in a simple sense. Those in power love to lavish praise and resources upon the few people who escape that hell, for the few that escape prove that they are deserving and so prove the system is working. That many deserving people don’t escape is fine, because the perception of moral worth in this society isn’t based on the good of all. The only thing that is required is that some people sometimes are able to move upwards. If that social and economic mobility were easy and more evenly expressed, then to the winners it would seem to be of less value and worthiness. Struggle and suffering is part of the design.

Within this worldview, all the social costs are necessary for the social good. It just so happens that most of the social costs fall on those already disadvantaged, but it even comes with costs to those at the top. A surprising number of people apparently find these costs worth paying, as an investment toward the status quo. The costs aren’t a loss or waste. Anytime a politician tells you that government is inevitably a failure, that government is the problem and not the solution, they are lying and they know they are lying. The system is working just fine, even if the purpose and the beneficiaries are being hidden from public view.

Ideological Realism & Scarcity of Imagination

I’m always fascinated and frustrated about the relationship of ideology to ‘realism. There are all kinds of ways for realism to manifest: race realism, communist realism, capitalist realism, religious realism, etc. But all of them share the same basic mentality.

The realism I’ve been most focused on lately is capitalist realism. But in our society it goes hand in hand with race realism. The two then give birth to a third realism: Social Darwinism.

Realism as an ideology forms a reality tunnel that declares nothing else is possible. This isn’t a passive lack of insight and vision. Rather, it is an active occluding of perception and an active suppression of alternatives. Realism taken to its extreme becomes dominant over all else.

In capitalist realism, scarcity is a central tenet of faith, the wall of ‘reality’ beyond which we don’t speak of, beyond which we don’t even know how to speak of. But if you step back for a moment you can see how much scarcity is self-imposed and so artificial.

Diamonds are a famous example as one company controls almost all the mines in the world and you know they are using some devious means to maintain that control. A less well known example is how the US Fed used hard money policies to suppress wages. Another less well known example is how Reagan used an artificially created Starve the Beast strategy by unnecessarily creating a permanent Federal debt.

This scarcity never applies to the rich. It is always the rich who are forcing scarcity onto the public. And it is the media and politicians owned by the rich who spread the scarcity message.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world. We have enough money to house, feed, educate and give healthcare to every American citizen. But our government chooses not to do so. Instead, the plutocrats choose corporate subsidies and the building of a military-prison-industrial complex.

A different kind of realism exists in China and another in North Korea. Those are more obviously oppressive, but in the big picture the US-style realism is more oppressive across the globe. In the end, it doesn’t really matter which ideological realism you choose. Oppression is oppression is oppression.

All forms of ideological realism have their preferred scarcity for that is just the other side of concentrated power. Behind any ideological realism, concentrated power will be found. Scarcity of all other things is determined by the scarcity of power, i.e., the hording of power.

The ultimate scarcity, though, that this leads to is a scarcity of freedom and imagination, the disempowerment of mind. To imagine other possibilities is to that extent to make yourself free. It is the force of vision that is behind any genuine claim to freedom. There is no greater revolutionary act.

Star Trek, Prime Directive, and Human Failure

I grew up on Star Trek, the Original Series and Next Generation.

The latter particularly captured my imagination as it began when I was eleven years old and ended when I was twenty-three. Unlike the original series, Next Generation attempted to fill out the Star Trek universe and form a plausible fully-fleshed set of societies (Deep Space Nine further fleshed out these societies and added some more). The original series was an action show projected into the future whereas Next Generation attempted to envision the future as an entirely transformed place.

A few years ago, I decided to watch every episode of every season from the beginning. I’ve finally made it to the most recent series, Star Trek: Enterprise. I’d never watched it before. Many people seem to hate it. I began to see why in the first season, but I want to offer a nuanced (although short) review.

I liked the premise of this latest, hopefully not the last, series. It’s nice to see how human earth society slowly begins to develop into the Federation we already know they will become. The merit of this series is how human the characters are. They are temporally and culturally far closer to us than they are to the far future Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (it’s only slightly more than a century into the future that is the setting for Enterprise whereas the other shows are a couple of centuries following that).

In watching the episode “Dear Doctor”, the conclusion of the story left me perplexed. It didn’t seem very like the Star Trek I knew. It seems many others agreed with me. After reading some online reviews and criticisms, I considered another perspective. But let me first say a few things about the episode.

Basically, the captain and the doctor are presented with a dilemma. The dilemma is worthy, but the ‘solution’ is beyond unworthy. As others have noted, their response is equivalent to genocide and their rationalization for it has more than a whiff of Social Darwinism about it. It is supposed to be the origin story of the Prime Directive (non-interventionism in less-developed species; i.e., not playing God) and, as some see it, this adds yet another doubt to the merits and hence justification of the Prime Directive itself.

I can understand that view, but maybe it misses a point. No one ever claimed Star Trek society is perfect. A major theme is how imperfect humans are and continue to be. It is what makes us so endearing, right? It makes full sense that humans would carry our cognitive biases and moral weakness into space, and it would be even less plausible to portray a future where this didn’t happen. The Prime Directive was something that evolved through actual interactions with other species and societies. Of course, mistakes would be made and some of them quite horrific.

What makes that episode especially horrific is that it reflects upon our own present society. Some people pointed out, for example, how many governments have refused to intervene in genocides since WWII such as in Rwanda. Is it so surprising that our collective behavior that has been going on for centuries would linger still for another century or so?

Cynicism and Trust

Cynicism and trust are competing forces.

These are mutually exclusive factors where the increase of one causes or contributes to the decrease of the other. With a cynical attitude, people withdraw from social relationships based on a larger sense of trust. As people withdraw their sense of trust, they lessen their commitment to acting trustworthy toward others and are less willing to put themselves on the line to help promote an environment of trust. Thus, cynicism replacing trust, society becomes atomized leading to the dominance of Social Darwinism and hyper-individualism.

Social trust exists in concentric circles: family, church, community, region, country, ethnicity/race, etc. Some societies have high trust cultures and others low trust cultures. All things remaining stable, high trust cultures are concomitant with and sustaining of high trust social organization. The same with low trust cultures and social organization. It’s a reciprocal relation. However, not all things remain unchanging.

The United States has a relatively high trust culture, although not as high as Japan and many Northern European countries. On the other hand, the US has some clear dysfunctions related to low trust. I think this conflict has to do with it being a large and diverse society, but fortunately with many citizens of ancestries from countries that are high trust (such as Germany). Certain US regions (such as those with low rates of German ancestry) have cultures of low trust, the Deep South being the prime example. This regionalism has created clear dysfunction on the federal level of government, but at the same time a high trust form of democracy continues to operate within certain local communities and governments.

The conditions in the US have changed greatly. This has shifted the level and extension of trust. These changes involve various balances of power – between: South and North, federal and states, elites and non-elites, left and right, etc.

Many Americans have lost a wider sense of trust. Partly, it’s just the inevitable atomizing destruction of community that results from globalized capitalism. But there is more to it. Modernity, in general, is about societal change: secularization, multiculturalism, urbanization, suburbanization, and many other factors. Humans have evolved to adapt to change, but this is more change than humans can collectively deal with in a healthy way.

This hits certain groups harder than others. The lower classes, of course, get the brunt of it and they also have the least resources to soften the impact. For reasons of psychological traits, conservatives deal with it the worse or maybe it’s that conservatives become the worst in dealing with it. There is nothing in the world that even comes close to the cynicism of a conservative turned reactionary.

We moderns so often take trust for granted, except when there is societal tumult or breakdown. Human nature is built on group cohesion which necessitates trust. Civilization magnifies this requirement of social capital. At the same time, the development of civilization has undermined what makes trust possible as an expression of human nature and human communities. Humans didn’t evolve in large, concentrated societies and so human nature isn’t adapted well to these conditions.

Some societies apparently have maintained their cultures of trust over the centuries, but modernization has made this increasingly difficult. The exceptional countries are those that have maintained some basic level of cultural (often ethnic) isolation, economic independence, and societal autonomy. This has mostly applied to Northern societies such as Germany and Scandinavia.

The US is somewhere in the middle on the scale of trust. We have many citizens who have ancestries from countries of high trust cultures, but we also have many citizens who have ancestries from countries of low trust cultures. This is one of the divisions underlying the regionalism of North/South. Germans and Scandinavians mostly settled the North. Scots-Irish, Barbadoans, etc mostly settled the South.

It’s interesting that early capitalism favored the high trust culture of the North and more recent capitalism has shifted increasingly to the low trust culture of the South. Capitalism is an odd system in that it needs a high trust culture to develop into large-scale international corporations, but capitalism seeks out low trust cultures to exploit for profits. So, capitalism uses high trust cultures for its own ends which ultimately undermines those very high trust cultures. The only exceptions to this seems to be extremely well developed cultures of trust that enforce massive regulation and social/moral control over the economic sector. The US mixed culture of trust/mistrust makes a perfect location for modern exploitative capitalism.

Of course, this is problematic for democracy in the US and many other countries.

Glenn Beck Conservatism: an example

I’ve been dissing Fox news and by default dissing those who take Fox news seriously.

However, I happen to know some people who take Fox news seriously and so let me try to explain the views of one particular person who I think may be representative.  First off, this person is highly intelligent and highly educated.  He has been in positions of authority where he has had influence on the community, on the youth, and on private businesses.  He is a respectable upper class American who is fairly well off even during this economic downturn, but he is retired and worries about his future.  And he is a fan of Beck and O’Reilly.  My point being that these bombastic pundits have great influence, and this influence has real-world consequences.  Ignoring the lunatic fringe, there are wealthy and powerful people who listen to these conservative commentors, and such people to varying degrees base their opinions and actions on what they hear from these sources.  Let me now describe in detail the beliefs of the specific person I have in mind, and as far as I know this is an accurate portrayal.

He doesn’t believe that the US system of capitalism/democracy is perfect but that it’s better than any other system. He believes the governmnet should play a minimal role as a referee for markets, but otherwise should let “free” markets solve the world’s problems. He believes that with the correct rules and incentives set up, capitalists will act towards the greater good of all. He believes in Rand’s ideal of enlightened selfishness and interestingly this fits into his Christian view of fallen human nature. Capitalism translates selfish nature into moral outcomes. In personal terms, he believes that capitalism supports people like him and so he sees his comfortable lifestyle as the direct result of capitalism (and of his own hard work rather than privilege).

He believes that the wealthy deserve their wealth because (in most cases) they’ve earned it. He believes in the American dream that almost anyone can work their way up into wealth and power. And he believes that the success of the wealthy upper class does genuinely lead to overall improvement in society. For this reason, he is against laws that help the minorities and poor. He believes our society is mostly free from racism except for the liberal “reverse racism” which he sees as a serious threat. He believes that if a poor minority living homeless in a ghetto really desired wealth and power (or simply a secure job with decent pay and benefits), then that person just has to work hard and they’ll be rewarded.

He also believes the powerful elite are that way because their culture and/or genetics are superior. His view partly comes from the book the Bell Curve which was criticized for arguing that blacks are inherently inferior on the level of IQ. He believes in social darwinism and believes it probably has led to real evolutionary genetic changes. Besides all of that he believes “white culture” is superior simply because Western civilization has been the most brutally effective imperialism in history. He believes “white culture” should be forced onto other groups. He believes everyone in America should be taught in only English even in areas that are and have always been predominantly non-white and non-English speaking.  He is strongly against multi-culturalism which he sees as a destructive force of the “white culture” that our country was founded on and which holds our country together.

Like Beck, he is a bit split between his libertarianism and his Christianity. He believes that morals need to be forced onto people and that with moral issues people shouldn’t be free to do what they choose. He is against gay marriage, sex education, pre-marital sex, abortions, legalization of drugs, etc. He beilieves that homosexuality is either a disease or a moral failing, and that homosexuality is a sign of a decaying society. He is for the government institutionalization of family values and heterosexual marriage, and he would like Christian beliefs and values to be more prominent in society such as prayer in public places and the 10 commandments posted in public buildings. But his libertarian-leanings makes him prefer states rights. He would, in theory, be open to these decisions being made on the local level… but probably not if it didn’t lead to the outcome he’d prefer.

He is very patriotic and used to be in the military.  His patriotism is mixed with his Christian identity.  He believes that America is a Christian nation and should embrace this identity and embrace it as a role in the international world. I get the sense that he sees America as the shining beacon and big brother of the world, and that Americans shouldn’t apologize for their superior power. He is a Neocon in supporting America’s constantly fighting other countries and toppling governments. I don’t think he sees anything wrong with torture and extraordinary rendition as long as they’re effective and I think he believes they’re effective. In the past, he has been against protesters who question and criticize the government.

Like Beck, his libertarianism comes out in response to perceived “socialism”. He believes liberals control the media and the education system. He sees it as a culture war with a clear us vs them. If “socialism” became a big enough threat (in that he feared possible loss of his prestige, wealth, and comfortable lifestyle), he would be willing to join a revolution. Basically, he is for the status quo as long as it fits his vision of America’s past which is seen through the Neocon lense of the utopian 1950s when industry was booming and when the socialist civil rights movment hadn’t yet torn this vision asunder.

Or something like that.

Healthcare: Right vs Responsibility

Insurance and Social Security…Pet Peeves (blog post by gina from Gaia.com)

Steve said in the comments section:

However, as a Libertarian, I do not see my healthcare as a responsibility of the Federal Government, nor do I consider it a “right”.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this on a philosophical level because it’s a rational perspective.  However, I disagree with it for reasons of compassion which aren’t precisely rational… although I would add that I believe compassion supports rationality when discussing issues specifically pertinent to the human condition.

When I hear statements like this, I immediately wonder about the background of the person making the statement.  I doubt someone who has spent their life in poverty would hold such a belief.  It seems to me a belief of convenience that justifies the person’s position in society.

I’m not picking on Steve for maybe he is just being honest about what he believes.  We all justify our lives with our beliefs.  Even poor people hold beliefs of convenience.  My main complaint is the word “responsibility” in his statement which is a moral judgment which implies poor people are to blame for their own lack of healthcare.  What I’m judging is the tendency in we humans to judge eachother from an assumed position of moral superiority.

I’ve noticed this kind of moral superiority in many people.  It always bugs me.  I know people who have lived righteous lives and who feel justified in their moral superiority, but this is in the context of their being middle to upper class people born into a stable and wealthy society.   What I think many of these people don’t realize is how many advantages they’ve had in life compared to the average person in the world and particularly compared to those on the bottom of society.

And Steve further commented:

But as for me, I do not look toward any other individual or institution to pay my way.  If I get sick and cannot afford my treatments, then all that hope is that I will reach around deep inside myself, find some dignity, and die with it.

This sounds rather convenient.  If he was a poor person born with a disability or who got an illness at a young age, he wouldn’t say something like this.  This is an example of ideology losing contact with human reality.  What is even worse about this statement is that it is one step away from eugenics.  Actually, it is eugenics using a passive methodology.  Just let the poor and needy die of illness and malnutrition.  That way, there is no blood on anyone’s hands.

Could you just imagine all of the sick and dying people crowded around the hospital doors.  No one would let them in because they couldn’t pay and yet they’d have no where else to go.  It would lead to riots and hospitals would become police fortresses and there’d be a black market of stolen hospital drugs.  If the the the chasm between the haves and have nots got too large, walled cities would have to be created and the lower classes would be isolated into ghettoes.

It could end up in some weird kind of Plutocratic Fascism.  Any ideology pushed to an extreme (meaning when the ideologues gain control of political power) ends up with some kind of oppressive political system.  You can start off with Libertarianism, but where you end up may not look so Libertarian.

This is a rather dark vision that I portrayed based on the extreme views of Steve, but it’s far from preposterous.  Many conservatives believe as Steve does.  Conservatives at least used to at least pretend to be compassionate, but that has fallen out of favor.  Since the Republican party has lost much of it’s power, it’s showing more of it’s ruthless nature.  The problem with taking away power from big government is it usually just means instead giving it to big business.  Libertarianism sounds like a good ideal, but sadly small governments seem to be no longer a possibility in the present globalized world.  There will always be some big dog in power, but the best we can do is try to keep it on a short leash.  If you ask me, a big business fascism wouldn’t be a pleasant world to live in unless you were one of the small percentage of wealthy elite.  Then again, Socialism taken to its extremes can also lead to some equally dark ends.  Maybe it’s better to keep all of the big dogs around so that they’ll fight with eachother.  Just tie them to the same leash that way when they try to go in opposite directions they won’t actually get anywhere. 

But that is just me being cynical.  I just get tired of ideologies no matter what they are.  Why is it so difficult to create a socio-political system that actually encourages people to care about and help eachother?  Is our only choice simply to try to curtail people’s selfishness by making laws and hoping that social darwinism will somehow lead to a greater good?