Saturday, September 05, 2009

An Anarchist's Thoughts on Healthcare: For the Right to Live

[Thanks to tonid's Ya Think for this link] Thoughts on Healthcare: For the Right to Live One aspect of the debate on healthcare here in the US, is a debate on what role government should have, and what purposes it should serve. It is probably helpful that we decide on a definition for "government"... Particularly democratic government. It can mean different things to different people. A Participatory Conception of Democracy My own idea on democratic government, is that it should be a participatory instrument of the people to do what they cannot do on their own. Think of it less as a traditional government, that is an elite authoritarian body, and more as a participatory organization of the people themselves from the ground up. Some might call this direct democracy, or radical democracy, or socialism. Some might even call it "tyranny of the majority." Admittedly it's not perfect, I don't think much in the soft (or social) sciences is, even among anarchists and radical democrats there are various points of disagreement. However, I think power is better off in the hands of the people, working for the people, than concentrated in the hands of an elite for pursuing their own interests, however grievous the result on others. I think a society based around democratic, libertarian, and socialist values could negate many of the negatives some might associate with participatory (or genuine) democracy. I think the only real answer to some form of oligarchy, is some form of consensus. A lesser of two evils. On Wolves, Lambs, and Capitalism vs Democracy I'm sure you've heard the saying "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch." I think it was a Benjamin Franklin quote. This framing is interesting because it portrays the elite minority as the benign lambs, prey of the poor majority, or wolves. It's a pretty paranoid, elitist, and self-serving perception. I think it would be as realistic, or more realistic, to state that "Democracy is two lambs and a wolf voting on what to have for lunch." Here the wolves represent the wealthy elite, who live by consuming others, the lambs (or sheep?) represent the poor majority who keep their heads down, do all of the hard work, and reap little of the reward for it. The wolf might not like eating grass. If he has absorbed enough right-wing talk radio, he may even convince himself he is being persecuted with great indignation. The lambs on the other hand get to live at least. Wolves are predators who live by consuming others, just as the minority of the opulent swell themselves with wealth earned by the sweat of others. That is essentially how capitalism works, and why historically it hasn't been viewed as being all that different from slave labor. We, the working class, are owned. We are forced to sell ourselves. The alternative is starvation. It's a great lie to call this freedom. "Freedom" to own and boss others, is not a freedom. It is a control, which by definition, is the opposite of freedom. The wealthy capitalists sure feel free, as they rake in money off the labor of subservients. Their employees on the other hand...not quite so free. It is truly a success of the propaganda system that people can spend the majority of their lives taking orders to survive, and believe they are free. I tend to chuckle when I hear the Walmart slogan “Save money. Live better.” An appeal to individual greed in other words. Whenever you hear this, imagine working at a Walmart. Read about some of the disputes they've been involved in over their labor practices. The idea one can “Live better” by saving money at Walmart pretty much falls apart when followed through to it's natural conclusion, which is everyone decides to “save money” shopping at Walmart to “live better”... Walmart becomes the world's largest employer, and these people who wanted to “live better” end up on the receiving end of their sketchy labor practices. If you think about what it might be like working for a Walmart, it's hard to believe the overall effect is “Living better.” Spectator Democracy Anyway, back to democracy. You could call that first idea of it the participatory conception of democracy. The elite and prevailing conception is quite different. The elite conception of democracy is that the majority are meddling troublesome outsiders who must be confined to being spectators. A “bewildered herd” in the words of one of the leading thinkers on democracy. “Wolves” to Benjamin Franklin. To you and me, the people. In this (elitist and anti-democratic) “democracy”, which for the sake of this article I will refer to as “spectator democracy,” leading democratic thinkers believe authority should rest with “a specialized class” because the average man is too stupid to understand things. So the public must be indoctrinated, marginalized, distracted and fragmented. Where it is useful, the people's consent is manufactured, often issues are off the table entirely. If you think this form of democracy sounds a bit like the Leninist ideal, you aren't alone. Chomsky has frequently critiqued the Fascist/Stalinist character of the American intellectual community, and their subservience to power. Another aspect of the healthcare debate is the idea that people should have a basic human right to live. The right-wing end of the spectrum seems to be composed of fairly social-darwinistic, market-fundamentalist, "ultra-capitalists." Who essentially believe you have no right to live unless you can earn it: either by competing against your fellow man to sell your life on the labor market, or becoming a capitalist yourself, oppressing others, and perpetuating the system of domination. When you read the Declaration of Independence, they state quite clearly that we have certain unalienable rights, including the right to life. By some estimates about 18,000 people a year die because they can't afford medical insurance or services. That is the equivalent of about six 9/11s a year. Many of the victims of 9/11 were financially well off though, and it was an attack on the heart of the US's global financial empire, so it matters. The victims of our healthcare system are the poor though, so they warrant hardly a mention... Universal Single-Payer or a Public Option Ok. Now we are thinking about government as a participatory instrument of the people. Not even a government in the traditional sense. We are thinking about healthcare being a basic human right, inherent in our unalienable right to life. I personally am an advocate for a universal single-payer national healthcare system. I believe for-profit healthcare is a crime against humanity. I believe with our natural advantages in wealth and influence, there is no reason we can't have healthcare for all. Hell, Cuba can do it, and they've been on the receiving end of US foreign policy in the form of economic warfare for 50+ years. In spite of that they have an infant mortality rate that is by some measures, lower than ours is. If a relatively impoverished country like Cuba can make it work, make it cheaper, and have comparable outcomes to our own, you can't tell me the richest nation on Earth couldn't do it. Universal single-payer isn't even being seriously considered, unfortunately. What is being proposed, is at least giving people a “public option.” I don't think it goes far enough but it is at least an improvement. Unfortunately even this is receiving only tepid support from some of the Democrats, including Obama. Those Opposed The opposition arguments tend to come down to one of the following: 1.It'll be expensive. It'll have to be paid for somehow. My response to this is... so?...Do people need to live any less when it's expensive? Cuba is impoverished and suffering from 50+ years of foreign policy and economic warfare at the hands of arguably the greatest power on Earth, and they can afford it. There is no reason the wealthiest country in the world cannot afford it. The right-wing reactionaries, so called “conservatives” have been complete hypocrites on this. They have little problem with spending a trillion dollars to kill Iraqis and secure middle-east oil, but you talk about using some of this tax money to help the disadvantaged and ill and suddenly there are fascist Tea Parties springing up everywhere protesting taxes and spending. As I mentioned earlier, I think the only just government isn't a government at all, but a participatory organization for decision making that allows us to do collectively what cannot be done easily on our own. This includes things like maintaining our roads, libraries, fire departments, and funding the research and development that has given us computers and the internet, for example. Well, I think a national healthcare system could (and should) be another example. If we were a civilized society this wouldn't even be a debate. 2. It's like the Nazis! Really? I read a book by a jewish guy who spent some time with them, and he didn't really seem to have any healthcare...Quite the opposite... (The book is "Night," by Elie Wiesel, for the curious.) This is the crap coming out of Rush Limbaugh and others I'm sure... They have it exactly wrong. The Long Slow Genocide of the Underclass What we have in place is a system of slow genocide against the lower classes, the minorities, those deemed "undesirables." It's not precisely eugenics, but it doesn't seem much different to me. Is tossing someone in to an oven that much worse than knowingly leaving someone to suffer and die from a treatable illness? (The Nazis did quite a bit of both, actually.) Nazi rhetoric had far more in common with Rush Limbaugh in my opinion. Scapegoating societies problems on to the poor, the minorities, the immigrants, and other undesirables, and megaphoning the message that it is all being left up to the god-fearing white working man to pick up the burden and pay the tab... To hear Chomsky tell it, (who happens to be old enough to actually remember Nazi speeches) the rhetoric was very much the same. Another thing this makes me think is, if it's true that even Nazi Germany had a universal healthcare system, it's that much more appalling that we don't. Do we really want to be falling short of the moral standards of Nazi Germany? How does giving the uninsured healthcare equate to killing 6-12 million jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others? I don't see it, though I do see how denying 50,000,000 people healthcare because they are economically disadvantaged has some similarities. If you believe as I do that people should have a basic right to live, that healthcare is a human-right, that the purpose of government is to help the people, then in my opinion we should work toward universal healthcare, not with such ideological rigidity that we reject anything else on principal, but taking any positive steps we can, including supporting a public option. -Andy Rink P.S. If you find yourself thinking "If Cuba is so great why don't you go there..." or "If America is so bad, why don't you leave..." I don't want to move because then I would be a victim of US foreign policy.

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