Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Strings Attached Are Attached to All of Us

We live in this big, intricate, messed up, imperfect world filled with imperfect humans. And it seems like most of us know that and take that for granted. Most American Evangelical Christians sure do. What many of them don't seem to notice, or at least acknowledge, is that we also live in this interdependent, intricately connected, living, breathing society.

Society is not just a concept. It's not an out-there thing disassociated from our everyday reality. It is very present and it is very real. We may not be able to touch it like the hard oak of this heavy but falling-apart table I like to rest my feet on occasionally, but it is every bit as real as the sweat gleaming off my forehead.

So it bothers me to no little effect when people complain about having to participate in society and act as if they owe it nothing - as were the basic arguments raised this last week over the healthcare ruling from the Supreme Court. It's an argument that the poor are using the government to steal from the rich (rather than the truth that the rich are stealing from the poor), or that we're being forced to buy something we don't need. And for all the problems of the Affordable Care Act - and there are many, many - these reasons don't come into play, but expose a deeper problem in contemporary American society and politics: we believe we do not benefit from the very systems that benefit us and we believe that our benefit is not the result of exploiting the very poor of our country and the world.

But first the good stuff. We benefit largely as a result of shared work. That's how a society functions. Everybody puts in; everybody gets results.

The dreams we have, the work we do, the benefits we enjoy, the language we possess, the identities we carry, the food we eat (less that you hunt and grow), the health care we enjoy, the cars we drive, the streets we roll down, these are all effects of the shared work of society. One cannot decide to not participate. One cannot decide that they owe nothing to society nor that society has not given them and continues to give them what they need and often what they desire. If these people want to live like a hermit, fine. Let them fix their own water, electricity, food. Keep them off our roads. Allow them the privilege of developing their own language for their imaginary conversations with imaginary friends. They need to stop using ours for their fantasies.

Plank road in forest in Tillamook County, Oregon
Look, a socialist road!
Now, if you drive, you have to have insurance, right? Because you're socially responsible for the economic burden that could happen due to any accident that may occur to or as a result of your car. It's part of the price of participating in sharing the roads. Sometimes the cost is nearly unbearable, but when we run into a problem, we're better off for it. That day may not happen for some of us - but it could happen to any of us no matter how safe and responsible we are (or believe we are) as drivers - and that is the point.

Everybody needs healthcare insurance. There is no getting around that. If you don't have it, but something, anything, unexpected pops up (an unidentified lump, an accident, a heart murmur) everybody else pays for it. Everybody needs it. If you don't want it, it doesn't matter. You need it. That's why it's called "insurance."

Everybody shares the load. That's what makes a society. If you can't handle that, never ask for a job, fix your own water, become a hermit. Because we don't deserve to have to share the cost of society with selfish people who take without considering to help and then want to cut off food and survival functions for workers and mothers and children who do or will or want to give back through their sweat, who create wealth for the privileged classes.

Which brings us back to our second point.

American patriots constantly point out how generous the United States is, both in terms of government and private charity. But we don't acknowledge the strings that come attached. We talk about how much we help Haiti and African people but ignore the fact that they are in such dire straights because of oppressive economic lending practices, because we deplete their resources, because we have installed leaders that were horrible for their countries but were good for us.

That's how it's always turned out, in Southeast Asia, in Latin America, in the Pacific... With our influence and money, we get to curry favors and effectually rob what we now deem "developing" countries so that they need to ask for more favors - wherein we or our surrogates come in to effectively own the country and its resources (be it water, energy, diamonds, gold). To add demonic joy, we love playing these countries against each other to distract other countries in the region while we keep them in check (cf, the Middle East).

These are the costs of society that we need to gather and figure how we can do without and how we can run off. We live in Orwellian times. "Freedom" means the freedom of rich white people to steal from most of the rest of the world and not give a sh*t about the rest of us.

We may be free to dream of a better world for us all, but we're not allowed to speak it outloud, for fears that somehow a better world for all is somehow fascist. I believe conservatives should focus more on reducing the costs of healthcare rather than putting all their efforts in oppressing the poor and keeping them from receiving it.

So some things you don't have a choice on. So what? A lot of people don't get to decide whether or not they'll sleep with one eye open or whether or not their home will be collateral damage for our War on Drugs or our War on Terror or our War on War or whatever other euphemism we can figure for Blowing People Up for Political Expediency and to Extend Our Imperialism and Corporate Interests.

Get over it. Get involved in society and help us find better ways to live and act as a civil social humane society.

Until we get to the point where all are protected and truly represented in an equitable system, though, I believe that the government's obligation is to protect the most vulnerable.

I'm a socialist. But I'm one because Jesus and the prophets taught me to be one. If the Christian Right (and most every interaction with people who complain about having to help other people I have had in the last few years has been with a conservative Christian) does not believe in sharing and helping (and it's pretty obvious they don't), and they can't see where the Bible tells us to bear one another's burdens both as neighbors and as citizens through government, I'm not sure what Bible they're reading. Tt's not the Hebrew and Christian one. It's not the one written by Commie Pinkos. Perhaps the Satanic Bible...


8 comments:

  1. I've had a similar conversation with someone in the past. Like them, I believe that you not completely misunderstanding the conservative viewpoint. Many of us do realize that we participate in society and that we benefit from society. That isn't what the argument is about, in my opinion. What it is, is about choices. I am not against health insurance. What I am against is being told that I have as if i were not capable of making rational decisions. In the past conversation, I had- the other person didn't see what the problem was, but asked if would have made the same decision as whatever law at the time mandated. I told them that maybe I would have or maybe wouldn't have, in any case that choice had been taken from me. Any ways the main point is that many of us want to make our choices regarding what its in our best interest rather than a politician.

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  2. I've heard both sides of this argument. On one hand, I know most of my fellow Christians and friends are against the healthcare reform just passed because it leaves no choice in the matter, and I've heard several explain that they don't believe charity and cooperation should be mandated by the government, but should rather be an individual choice. On the other hand, I've heard the axiom "What would Jesus do?" applied to voting on key issues like gay marriage. I don't pretend to have it all figured out, nor do I generally take a political stance during such discussions, since I'm rarely as well-versed on the issue at hand as I would like to be, but it strikes me as a bit of a contradiction that people will vote accordingly with what Jesus preached when voting on issues of others' marital rights and not when voting on issues of caring for their neighbor. I feel, whatever the stance, we should be consistent at least: if we feel that the government shouldn't be able to determine how we give to others, then we should logically also conclude that the government has no right to determine anyone's marital decisions. And, if we're okay with the government telling people (who are not necessarily Christians) that they have to obey the Biblical definition of marriage, then we should have no problem with the government also making it mandatory for everyone to have some form of healthcare. Just my two cents.

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  3. alliandrina, do you see any place for people making choices COLLECTIVELY to benefit us all? As Jason's article points out, we do this when we, for example, build streets, establish traffic laws, and require liability insurance for all car owners. In a democracy, we the people make choices, together, to promote the good of all.

    Now, like you, I believe there is also a place for INDIVIDUAL choices. Both collective and individual choosing have their legitimate spheres of operation, though these often limit each other. Neither of these spheres should be treated as the be-all-end-all, to the exclusion of the other. There is scope for both, and limits to both.

    The limits depend on what's fair in a given case. For example, it would wrong and silly if "the people" collectively decided to tell individuals that they cannot wear pink socks. Why? Because an individual's choice concerning the color of socks has no appreciable impact on the well-being of others. But an individual's choice to run a red light, or drive without insurance, DOES impact the well-being of others. In that case, it is entirely fair for all of us to decide together, via the political process, to prohibit and penalize such anti-social behaviors. To insist on the right of individual choice in such a case would be to deprive all of us of our right to make a collective choice for our common good concerning the matter. It would just make life difficult and dangerous for all of us, and would deprive us, collectively, of a very important freedom - the freedom to make policy in the service of our common interests.

    I think Jason is correct in saying that the case of auto insurance is like that of health insurance. We all need it. And those who don't get it end up freeloading on the rest of us, one way or another. Theoretically, I suppose, it might be "fair" to allow someone to opt out of the system, so long as they are shown no mercy when a health crisis strikes. However, in actual practice in our society, the only people who would "choose" that option would be the folks who, due to poverty and/or health issues, can't afford the costly insurance that is made costly by the fact that the rich and healthy are allowed to opt out of it. Not a genuine choice, but an outcome that is forced upon them due to poverty that they did not choose and health problems that they did not choose. We have to look here, also, at the injustice that lies at the root of poverty, namely, the fact that people in our capitalist society do not have an equal stake in the means of production. A tiny few own most of the means of production, who hire the rest of us for as little as they can get away with. This circumstance did not come about as a result of a free and fair process. Biblically, when we look at the distribution of land to Israelite families, when we look at the year of Jubilee, which Jesus in Luke 4 says is at the heart of his mission, as Christians we really cannot remain indifferent to this inequality of productive means. And to stick poor and unhealthy people, whose lack of equitable stake in productive means has come about through no choice of their own, with exorbitant health insurance premiums which they cannot afford, because people who are rich enough to self-insure (and are rich due to this unjust access to / stake in land and other productive assets) are not contributing, only adds insult to injury. It is a grievous injustice.

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  4. Steven- I appreciate your comments, but you are missing my point. All I want is to be treated like some one who is capable and not like a child who can't make a responsible decision. And that is my issue in my hand bag. I do agree that there are some definite places in society where we do and can take collective responsibility as you call it, but lately I haven't seen the limits that you suggest there are. So much of life has become a collective issue from raising children to what light bulbs we use to healthcare.

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    1. I honestly think you're missing our points, Alliandrina. We are not nearly as free as we are purported to be, nor is the freedom that you seek true freedom. And I say it's not true freedom because it can never be. What good is a freedom of choice of insurance if there is no real freedom of choice to even *have* insurance in the first place? One can complain about the fact that they have to pay for insurance rather than opting out, but in reality you don't actually have that luxury. We all pay the bill somehow. Wouldn't it be better to fight for more affordable insurance and health care costs rather than fighting something that we all desperately need?

      Conservatives like to talk a lot about "freedom" but what they tend to mean is the freedom of choice between Coke Zero and Pepsi Free. Or the choice between Tide's newest fad and ALL or Arm & Hammer. It's an illusion. And nobody is saying you can't have that illusion, actually. We're just saying that we need to concentrate that not only do a few people have ACTUAL freedoms of choice while hundreds of millions are being robbed of their choice to even eat or go by without protection from malaria...

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    2. Sorry for not responding sooner. Been busy with life. I understand what you are saying jasdye. I understand that we do not what you call "true freedom." Again I understand that there are times we need to take collective responsibility. To protect freedoms. I would happy if there were affordable insurance. But the aha doesn't make it affordable. In fact, I'd be required to get on medi-cal. Anyways my biggest issue is that with a lot of liberal policies I'm not being treated like an adult

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