Thursday, June 25, 2009


It seems I'm bugged and saddened at every turn lately by the persistent Every Man For Himself ideological streak at the center of this country's political culture. It may have served [SOME OF] us rather well in the pioneer days or whatever, but it's so directly counter-productive to so many of the nifty, modern things we American humans are trying to do with our lives/society now! It makes no sense that we've been so willing to embrace technological advances that improve outcomes while reducing the grueling/impossible amounts of effort people formerly had to expend to get something done, yet so UNwilling to embrace technologies of cooperation and infrastructure that do the same thing on an equally large, sweeping scale.

Why can't we get it through our heads that we would get more productivity and better-quality work out of every worker if we had nationwide childcare, so people wouldn't be constantly called away and distracted from their jobs?

Where is the logic in funding schools with the property taxes of that school's neighborhood, when the children growing up in failing, dangerous schools are going to live in the same space as kids in rich schools, and their parents -- does it not occur to people that maintaining a poorly educated, opportunity-deprived underclass is dangerous for everyone?

Why do we not seem to get that diseases don't know or care if you have a job with health insurance? They spread among everyone in a population - even you - and they cost everyone money no matter WHO gets them. Isn't 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' supposed to be an American maxim? Aren't we supposed to be, like, a really thrifty bunch of people? 'Waste not, want not,' anyone?? [See here for how we are throwing away disgusting amounts of money now]

My point is that you don't even need any humanitarian, bleeding-heart, pathos-based feeling or opinion about 'the poor,' 'the children,' human suffering, or any of that to argue for further collectivizing the funding and the administration of these basic needs. They make sense on a purely utilitarian level.

The reason for so much bias against them, I think, is that Every Man For Himself streak that has me so bugged -- the deeply ingrained belief in American culture that in an ideal world, one would get nothing from others, and give nothing to others in turn. And if you have children, who by their nature suck up a lot of resources, and can't contribute any to their own upkeep, sorry, but you're on your own. And I'm sorry, but no -- that doesn't work. Our economy and our world are too big for that to work. We have tons of jobs we need done that, for tons of global reasons, are never going to pay wages high enough for one or even two workers to be able to keep their kids out of serious educational, health, and social peril without some basic infrastructure in place.

The cultural value we place on Keeping What You Earn (or at least exclusively benefiting from it) and never, god forbid, having it Go To Take Care Of Someone Else Who Didn't Earn It strikes me as anti-civilization. What is a civilization if not everyone pooling some resources together so we don't ALL have to spend EVERY daylight hour just hunting our next meal? (As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said: "I like paying taxes. With them, I buy civilization.") Has it really not occurred to well-off Americans that by putting some of their hard-earned money towards education and medical care for Other People's Children, and not just Theirs, they'd be drastically reducing the chances of those children growing up to steal their children's stuff, or worse?

Of course, I think there's a darker side to our individualism at play, too, that overrides all the nice utilitarian arguments I'm talking about. We are such zealots about Every Man For Himself that, often without even realizing it, we attach a moral value to economic success -- we kind of believe in this country that if you make less or have less, you are Morally Bad and you deserve to be punished, to be forced to wallow in your Badness without the things those of your neighbors who've Made Their Own Way enjoy, like child care or health insurance or safe schools.

This Badness that we attribute to the economically unsuccessful seemingly extends to their children, as well. Knocking on doors for Obama in suburban Las Vegas, I had people tell me straight up that the children of uninsured parents did not deserve health care -- because 'those parents should get a job.' Gee, I hope the people who said this to me haven't lost their job and consequently their children's health care!

Our Every Man For Himself streak also shows itself in the way we are predisposed to consider just about anything to be Good if somebody is doing it to make a profit. Consider the comments from Republicans about health care in this brilliant Jon Stewart bit from the Daily Show - it starts about 2 min. 30 seconds in:

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As Jon Stewart hilariously points out, these Republicans going on about a 'government bureaucrat between a doctor and a patient' are FINE with the PRIVATE insurance bureaucrat who now sits between every patient with private health coverage and every doctor -- and that bureaucrat's job is explicitly to deny the patient health care coverage ("It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses").

The Republicans are fine with this, seemingly, because an insurance company is making a profit off of it -- even though, perversely, the way in which they are making a profit is by obstructing the delivery of health care. Replace it with an entity that's publicly as opposed to privately owned, whose motive is simply to distribute health care as opposed to getting rich, and Republicans tell us we as Americans are supposed to find it very suspicious.

(Fortunately, it doesn't seem to be working!)

Most ironic of all, of course, is that these very lawmakers all get their doctor visits paid for under... government-run health insurance.

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