succumbing to peer pressure

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness -- and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we're being brainwashed to believe.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."

Arundhati Roy
Porto Alegre, Brazil
January 27, 2003

(from the first Social Forum, as quoted on the proj-ectPRO:JECT website)

Thursday afternoon we provided space in the tent for people to talk about health and environmental injustices that they, or people they knew and cared about, had suffered. Us health policy wonks kept touting passing HR 676, when a young man spoke up - yeah, that's great, but how's that going to help me right now? I am so damn tired of talking! I don't want to go to any more town hall meetings where we all agree that the system is broken! That doesn't help me feed my kids or pay for my insulin shots! And he's right. It's easy to forget that being an activist is actually a form of luxury. It requires that you have a few minutes and brain space to spare, it means that you can stop worrying for two seconds about how to put dinner on the table and avoid eviction and instead take that time to call your congress person.

Not that I'm knocking activism. Or change through legal, bureaucratic channels. Influencing your representatives and the policies they endorse is one of the best ways to achieve long-lasting change. But it requires patience. And sometimes we need to step back and recognize that the groups we purport to argue for, the people we are claiming to help, need other kinds of help. Need more immediate salves. Sometimes you need both the bandaid and the cure.

The Immaculate Dictatorship

That's what Elizabeth 'Betita' Martinez, from the Institute for MultiRacial Justice, calls America. It's what keeps us down, it's why we aren't rioting in the streets. Because so many of the most righteously pissed off don't have the time or energy to indulge their righteous anger. Just treading water, just getting through the day, consumes them.

Which is why I find shit like this so damn offensive (even momentarily setting aside Wooten's misguided attempt to critique a movie he hasn't seen):
If it’s possible to bring that element of authority that keeps women from abusing their bodies with drugs and potato-chip diets while pregnant, the health of newborns could be improved immeasurably.

Well, ok, yes, there is an element of truth in that statement. But how about replacing authority with empowered choice? Or just, gee, I don't know, a tiny scrap of compassion and understanding for the shitty sets of circumstances that culminate to land people in shitty situations? As AWB says so passionately:

You not only have to suffer the physical pain of being sick; you have to pay a bill for it. And since you can’t come to work, you get fired. And since you’ve been fired, you can’t pay the bill. And since you can’t pay the bill, you become a burden to others. Since you’re a burden to others, you lose all your friends.

Sure, someone along this line of suffering could have given you a break, paid you an easy ounce of compassion, but no one has to. No one is morally or even socially obligated to do a fucking thing, because you need to learn your lesson about, e.g. smoking or whatever.

Say and believe what you want about Michael Moore, he asks the right question in "Sicko" - Who are we? Nevermind the comparisons to other countries, nevermind whether you find the whole thing horribly biased and manipulative (well, yes, he never really claims to be anything else). How is it possible that we as a society ended up in a place where it's ok to refuse to treat a sick person because they can't afford to pay? Where it's ok to put a sick person in a cab and drive them to another hospital because they don't have insurance? Where this happens?

I wish to begin by making a public confession: In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I caused the death of a man.

Although this was known to many people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I was "rewarded" for this. It bought me an improved reputation in my job, and contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could indeed do what was expected of me, I exemplified the "good" company doctor: I saved a half million dollars!

Since that day, I have lived with this act, and many others, eating into my heart and soul. For me, a physician is a professional charged with the care, or healing, of his or her fellow human beings. The primary ethical norm is: do no harm. I did worse: I caused a death. Instead of using a clumsy, bloody weapon, I used the simplest, cleanest of tools: my words. The man died because I denied him a necessary operation to save his heart. I felt little pain or remorse at the time. The man's faceless distance soothed my conscience. Like a skilled soldier, I was trained for this moment. When any moral qualms arose, I was to remember: I am not denying care; I am only denying payment.

(testimony from Dr. Linda Peeno, see video from congression hearing here)

I'm pragmatic enough to recognize that we also have to talk costs, and there are plenty of financial reasons to fix our current healthcare-business-plan model - we spend more per capita than any other industrialized nation and still don't provide care to millions of people, it's cheaper to pay for preventative measures like regular check-ups and screenings than major procedures required when a health condition goes unchecked for months or years, etc. etc. But let's just talk about the fucking moral reasons for a minute, ok? Yeah, that's right, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. I have this crazy idea that we should take care of each other, without judgement. That if someone gets cancer, it's not their fault. They should receive the treatment they need, regardless of their ability to personally pay for that treatment (yes, to have a sustainable healthcare system someone needs to pay, but there should be a lot of someones chipping in). Ooh, socialism! That's big, scary, pinko word! Well, you know what else is socialized in this country? The mail. The Fire Department and Police Force. Education. Ok, so public education is perhaps not the poster child for a well-run government entity, but let's just pause a moment and recall that we all agreed, as a society, that educating our children was important enough that we were willing to pay for it as tax payers, and provide it, free of charge, to everyone. Why can't we agree that healthcare is just as important? Could you imagine if you called 911 because someone was breaking into your house, and instead of sending over a cop car they first asked for your security insurance number? And if your insurance company was in cahoots with a different police force, one further away, you'd have to wait for them to get there? Would that make any sense at all? Would we accept that as a reasonable policy and just shake our heads and think, well, it's not great, but anything else would just cost too much money!


Blogger Sudiptya said...

Talking cost is, perhaps, a bigger deal in socialized medicine than it is in our system, hon. Well, at least for the big, scary diseases.

Ask Kris about what Duncan went through once they'd decided that he wasn't going to get better. How all that was really considered by his oncologist wasn't minimizing his suffering or extending his life/chance of getting better, but instead reducing the financial burden he'd place on the system.

I wish a clear, easy solution existed... and clearly things are broken... but I don't know if any ideal system exists yet.


1:56 AM  

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