Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Health Care Lies: Witchcraft through the Ages
Now even the major media outlets themselves are acknowledging that credible sources undermining any attempt towards health care reform have willfully advanced misinformation using their own established channels. This, in and of itself should alarm each of us but it should also tell us that our often caustic, defeatist view of the media and how it functions might not be accurate. Part of the problem, of course, is due to the media's desire to seem evenly balanced in coverage at all cost. In its compulsion to fill up time with different and opposing content to fill out airtime on the never ending cable networks, what has been created instead is a soapbox for subterfuge. Wishing to show two opposing points of view out of fairness is one thing, but when one side is clearly wrong--peddling spin and distortion in place of fact---then no amount of best intentions can rectify it. I fully recognize that many have pointed this out before and I repeat their assertions only by way of stating my case.
Still, there is plenty of fault to go around. People believe and hold fast to inaccuracies advanced as fact because they seem credible enough. Howard Fineman of The Washington Post, writing in typically sarcastic form, noted in his most recent column that Americans' tortured attitudes towards health care are built on a hypocrisy: we want small government, but also want government to be large enough to attend to our every need. Outside of a strictly political standpoint, most people I know are also prone to hypocrisy on painful, personal, contentious matters. Such behavior may well be part of our intrinsic makeup, for reason or reasons unknown.
History provides many examples to explain why people find lies or scare tactics more satisfying than hard truths. In the Middle Ages, people felt the same kind of uncertainty and fear that stemmed from a lack of substantive answers to frequently confusing and poorly understood events in their daily lives. Both to justify and placate their emotional response, much as they do now, they conjured up fantastic, grotesque, outlandish, and utterly ridiculous conceptions of how witches controlled the minds and the habits of ordinary people. One notes with a degree of black humor that many who fanned the flames of witchcraft belief while eagerly introducing hysteria into the community had either too much time on their hands, a fantastic imagination, or both. The very idea of witches and witchcraft, though clearly fabricated constructs, at least provided something tangible upon which to channel the massive amount of negativity and anxiety that existed in the minds of many.
We, humans, do not do well with existential quandaries. Sartre and Camus aside, most of us like to deal with easily understandable solutions or relatively straightforward answers to assuage our base fears and insecurities. These days are full of paradox and irony and for those used to less heady subjects, I can understand why they feel out of control and powerless. Fundamentalism works on this premise, too. A very rigid, legalistic code of conduct and rules often gives those seeking solutions an easily comprehensible list of pat answers with the promise of supreme self-comfort if all they do is believe in them. One never needs to question or to fear. God will provide the guidance, the church will always provide the answers, and the only thing the individual is responsible for is complete faith in both.
Fineman's response also included his firm assertion that Obama's primary mistake in the Health Care debate was that he deliberately threw peoples' hypocrisy back into their face. According to Fineman, the President's decision to hold a mirror the ill-formed logic which formed the backbone of his opponents' case against the plan did little more than breed resentment and stiffen their resolve. However, it must be noted that we American have never, to my knowledge, insisted what sort of President it is that we want. In my study of history, it seems that different times called for different responses from the Commander in Chief, and some of what we wanted from him was justified and some of what we wanted was not. What I do know is that when this country really gets in trouble is when we desire an Enabler in Chief. Do we want a President to call us out when we're wrong or do we want a President to condone selfishness and rugged individualism by his own inaction?
I admit I wasn't as surprised as some when I realized that this health care debate was rapidly becoming yet another example of the culture wars, yet another example of a polarized society, yet another means by which the blue state/red state divide manifested itself, and yet another instance where our frequently championed diversity and melting pot aesthetic works against us, rather than for us. And if we are truly listening, we're having to take a serious look at our own hypocrisy. Only by confronting them can we ever deal with them and put them away forever. Here are a few:
1. I believe in a multicultural society, so long as those ethnic groups I champion in the abstract don't move next door or take my job or undercut my child's level of education. If they do, I'm taking my kid to a private school to be with my kind of diversity.
2. Smaller government is the answer, even though inflation continues to spiral upward, our population increases, and people expect more government, not less government oversight to monitor the private sector and guard against its excesses.
3. I don't want to have to pay taxes for someone else's surgery, but if I ever get sick, I fully expect them to pay for mine out of their pay check.
4. I don't want to pay too much for groceries or household items, so I shop at Walmart, but I surely don't like seeing China take our jobs and make our industries go broke.
5. Illegal immigrants need to be deported, even though they provide basic functions and backbreaking labor I hope I never have to do myself.
Most hypocrisy I see these days is directly created by a very short-sighted, cut off the nose to spite the face, unconcerned with anything other than the short term, unwilling to look at the big picture, refusal to take into account long-term consequences. If we were honest, really honest with ourselves--then we'd know that it does us absolutely no good at all to look first for the quick fix. Sometimes problems are easily solved and sometimes we over-intellectualize and in so doing over-complicate the situation. Yet, in my mind, lazy logic is to blame for most of our current woes.
Until we dare to put ourselves in an uncomfortable, vulnerable position for the sake of progress, we'll always look for witches in our midst.