September 4, 2008 – A long-winded, no holds barred discussion of the philosophy of freedom and non-violence, versus the “progressive” agenda of nationalized health care, delivered from the barrel of a gun.* Beware, this will probably outrage most readers, left and right both!
By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond
Well, I’ve had yet another instructive encounter with so-called “progressives.” The word “progressive,” as it’s usually employed today, is just a politically safe replacement for the word “liberal,” which has become a dirty word of late. So I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that most “progressives” are really nothing but far left liberal types who shun personal responsibility and seek to be taken care of by the government at the expense of others, it doesn’t really matter who, although they usually propose taxing the ambiguous “rich” to pay for their care. Their attitude seems to be, if the loss of our freedom is the price we must pay so that people can be taken care of by the government, then so be it. Not surprisingly, this is the same attitude harbored by authoritarians of the right: if the loss of freedom is the price we must pay to be safe from terrorists, then so be it. As I observed in What Is Progress?, so-called progressives are simply authoritarians of the left, perfectly happy to use the oppressive power of government to achieve their goals, one of which is nationalized health care, which I’m going to discuss below.
It doesn’t seem to matter to “progressives” whether such government-disbursed largesse is backed by sound fiscal policies. These people seem to believe that, like the tooth fairy, the government can magically manufacture as much money as needed to pay for whatever entitlements the “progressives” demand. So far, in fact, that has been the case, but it obviously cannot continue forever.
Before I dive into the nationalized health care morass, take a look at this clipping from the front page of a “progressive” web site on September 1, 2008, which reveals the ambivalence of progressives toward government.
The first article is about Obama and his national health care plan. In the comment section of that article I got into a vigorous debate with people about the merits of such health care schemes and proposed an extremely sensible alternative, which addressed the root problem of high health care costs rather than the symptom of inability to pay those high costs. The second article vehemently condemned the preemptive police raids on the homes of would-be protesters in Denver, and the commenters universally agreed that such totalitarian-style raids are abhorrent.
So in the second article these people are condemning the government’s encroachment on our civil liberties, but in the first they are lauding the notion of the government managing our health care system! Over the years this particular web site has hosted many, many articles critical of the government’s behavior both domestically and internationally. On September 2, 2008 alone, the first ten headlines on this web site were implicitly critical of the government for one thing or another, and yet these people are willing to let the government manage health care?
In contrast, my comments condemning the government’s disrespect for our civil liberties and rejecting the notion of government control over our health care system both emanated from my unwavering commitment to freedom. Bear with me. This post is ultimately about freedom, but it might take me a while to get there. In fact, this is liable to be a long post, so if you intend reading the whole thing, I suggest you get comfortable.
In the last couple of years I’ve been called a far left extremist for opposing war against Iran, and described as “from the far-loony libertarian right” for my opposition to nationalized health care! Obviously I cannot be simultaneously on the far left and far right, so these people are clearly confused. What they really mean is that my beliefs are 180 degrees opposite theirs, and in that respect they are correct. Our views are diametrically opposed because people on the far right and people on the far left are actually unwitting dizygotic twins who live in the house called “Authoritarianism.” I, on the other hand, live on the opposite side of the street in the house called “Anarchy,” which is the epitome of freedom and the antipode of authoritarianism. My view of the political spectrum is succinctly depicted in the diagram below, which I’m regurgitating from another post because I’m so darned proud of it.
What “progressives” evidently cannot understand is that forcing people to pay for and participate in a system, such as nationalized health care, despite it being “for our own good,” is no less tyrannical than forcing people to pay taxes to have their front doors busted in by the police.
As I see it, the problem with health care in America is the cost, not the lack of “insurance” to pay for it. I remember when I was a child, if we went to the doctor my lower middle class parents paid for the visit out of their own pockets. The government didn’t pick up the tab. Nor did a “health insurance” company. The costs were reasonable and affordable, and the doctors were kind and spent as much time with their patients as needed. There was no bean counter lording over them, pressuring them to see as many patients in a day as possible. If this model was possible once, it can be again.
People did have health insurance back then, but it was for catastrophic medical problems that were unlikely to occur. Hence, the premiums were affordable, because that’s the way insurance is supposed to work. True insurance pools the risk of an unlikely event; since it’s unlikely and there are many policyholders, premiums are low. Modern health insurance, however, isn’t really insurance at all, but rather a health care access fee, so at the very least the term “health insurance” today is a misnomer.
The single biggest problem with involving government or health insurance companies in health care is that they are effectively middlemen between the patients and the doctors. Thus, patients have little incentive to look around for reasonably priced health care, like they do for automobile repair services, because they aren’t paying the full bill. And doctors and hospitals have little incentive to offer competitively priced services, because they know that the patients aren’t paying much of the bill, but rather, some health insurance company or the government is. I know some will point to other countries and insist that their government-run health care systems work just great. The flaw I described above pertains to the United States, in which health care is sold like any other market-based good or service, but paid for using socialist schemes such as government funding and health insurance. The two are incompatible and will obviously result in ever higher costs, because in a system that employs the two approaches the market mechanism is effectively broken. A hybrid of those two approaches is neither purely market-based nor purely socialist, it’s the worst of both approaches, combining the lack of freedom and oppressive taxation of socialism with the natural profit-seeking of capitalism, unrestrained by competition!
I’ve never had health insurance to cover routine services and never want it. I’ve been content to look around for the most reasonably priced services and pay for them out of my own pocket. And if I ever do have a catastrophic medical need, such as for a heart bypass operation, I’ll happily travel to India, Thailand or even Mexico to obtain such services at a far more reasonable cost. (I’ve long wondered how long it will be until hospitals in this country start outsourcing such medical care. For example, let’s say a patient enters a hospital in need of a heart bypass operation. It might be cheaper for the hospital to put that patient on a plane and send them to India for the operation than to pay an American doctor and deal with the American liability system. Many details would have to be worked out before such outsourcing could become practical, but as health care costs continue to rise so will the pressure to work out such details.) Most of the time when I’ve seen a doctor or a dentist and informed them that I don’t have insurance and am paying out of pocket, they have given me a substantial discount. That right there ought to be an indication of how much “health insurance” interferes with the proper functioning of the health care market. Again, the market-based approach is how health care is sold in the U.S., so at the very least it ought to function efficiently.
It should also be obvious that adding more people to the health care system, working for health insurance companies and government bureaucracies, would increase costs. If nothing else, their salaries have to be paid – in addition to the salaries of the hands-on medical practitioners – but in the case of for-profit health insurance companies, shareholders expect profits and executives expect fat bonuses as well. And these extra people contribute nothing to the direct care of the patients! It’s arguable that they add nothing whatsoever to the equation. After all, as I already said, health care worked just fine when I was a kid and we dealt directly with doctors and their nurses and secretaries. What have all these extra people contributed to the system we have today?
My plan for solving the health care affordability problem in America is what I call Strip Mall Health Care™. It consists of a distributed network of specialized medical services operating literally out of inexpensive strip malls. Imagine visiting a strip mall and seeing, next to the automobile parts store, a clinic specializing in prenatal care. (Something for the men and the women in one convenient location!) Perhaps a few doors down is another clinic specializing in preventive health care and alternative medicine. Because of their low overhead and competition with numerous other such clinics, the costs would be substantially lower than they are now. There’s another advantage to distributing health care this way, as opposed to centralizing it in huge hospitals: it’s a more resilient system. Should a storm or power outage or some other calamity knock out a portion of the network of clinics, in all likelihood at least some of them will continue to function. By comparison, how long can a big hospital operate on a backup generator in the event of an extended power outage? In addition, should one of these small clinics become infested with a super-germ like MRSA, it can be easily shut down and relocated. The same cannot be said of a huge hospital.
Innovation is another expected outgrowth of such a distributed, competitive system. More minds, more environments, more diversity yield more innovation. Look at health care services that aren’t typically covered by “insurance.” Lasik eye surgery has plummeted in price, while becoming better and more widely available. Laser hair removal, liposuction and plastic surgery have also become cheaper and more accessible. What’s more, these services can, in fact, be found in strip malls today!
Nevertheless, my serious, pragmatic solution was met with utter disbelief and actually dismissed as satire by the “progressives” on this web site:
The idea of shopping - in a mall yet, for the best, cheapest bargain life and death issues sure sounds like satire to me.
Gee, is it any wonder that health care costs keep climbing? People are unwilling to even entertain the notion of looking for lower cost care! This comment confirms what I asserted above, that patients have no incentive to look for competitively priced health care. I’ll tell you what constitutes satire: puerilely proposing that the government add yet another unfunded entitlement to the list of already insolvent entitlements known as Social Security and Medicare, against a backdrop of a government running an admitted half-trillion dollar annual deficit and a nation running a three-quarter trillion dollar annual trade deficit. What fairytale land do proponents of such drivel live in?
My solution was further ridiculed as “impractical for families,” as if it’s OK for a single person to search for low cost health care, but not OK to do so on behalf of several people. My own mother used to drag four children to the free clinic, and it didn’t seem terribly impractical for her. Inconvenient, yes, but not impractical. I was also criticized for being “selfishly self involved,” even though my solution would benefit everybody, and as I stated in my comments, make health care as affordable as groceries. I was called “arrogant” for suggesting that people seek out low cost health care services and pay for them with cash, something I have done my entire life! How can it be arrogant to ask people to do nothing more than what I do myself? You’d think I had said, “Let them eat cake”! I understand that some medical treatments may be too expensive (they don’t have to be) for people to pay for, but isn’t it more responsible to pay for our health care ourselves whenever we are able than to depend on someone else to foot the bill? Wouldn’t seeking out low cost health care let everybody participate directly in lowering health care costs? This is something that people can do without waiting for a government “solution.”
What these vitriolic comments reveal is a “gimme” mentality, especially among baby boomers who have enjoyed a comfortable and coddled existence. They want convenient cradle-to-grave care from the government: subsidized housing and transportation, low-cost education and gold-plated health care, the consequences be damned, as long as the costs are dumped on somebody else. Is it any great surprise, now that the baby boomers are facing retirement and more frequent health issues, that they are so universally in favor of these rich entitlements?
I proposed emphasizing prevention over the much costlier and more profitable treatment that’s emphasized today, but that proposal fell on deaf ears. It seems as if people don’t want to take responsibility for keeping themselves fit, exercising, eating properly, getting sufficient rest and avoiding stress. They apparently just want to live their lives with reckless abandon and then have the government come along and make them well, at somebody else’s expense, of course.
Anybody who has spent much time solving problems – I’ve been solving problems my whole professional life – knows that the best solution is one that treats the root problem rather than the symptoms. A proposal such as mine, which seeks to lower health care costs, addresses the root problem. Proposals to supply health insurance to everyone to pay for the high costs simply treat the symptoms. And proposals that force people to buy health insurance are not only antithetical to freedom, they simply reward insurance companies with more customers, whether they are worthy of such rewards or not.
Consider two recent examples of government involvement in health care and what they have done to health care costs. A couple of years ago Massachusetts passed a law requiring everybody to buy health insurance. This law was specifically intended to lower health care costs. What happened? Six months or so ago I read an article that said that health care costs in that state had failed to decline. Then a few days ago I read that health care costs in that state are expected to rise 10-12% during the next year, faster than the nationwide average! So much for treating the symptoms. All mandatory insurance has done in that state is maintain high health care costs and even accelerate their increase!
Then there’s the Medicare drug benefit passed a few years ago. Although I don’t recall any claims that it would lower drug costs, I’m sure lots of people assumed it would, at least for the beneficiaries! However, considering that the bill authorizing this new Medicare benefit specifically prohibited the government from negotiating lower drug prices, the writing was clearly on the wall before the bill even became law. Sure enough, a number of pharmaceutical companies recently announced price increases of 100-1,000% on some drugs, without any particular justification. I got the impression that they were raising prices simply because they could, because the government was paying the bill. If individuals were paying for those drugs out of their own pockets could the pharmaceutical companies raise the prices so? I doubt it, if for no other reason than the individuals simply cannot afford such price increases! I have a feeling that if the government and health insurance companies stopped paying for pharmaceutical drugs altogether, the prices would plummet.
Not surprisingly to me, a couple of intelligent, left-wing authoritarians I know, who would undoubtedly call themselves “progressive,” think it’s a good idea to force everyone to buy health insurance. Yet I know that their concern is not for the wellbeing of the people who lack insurance, because these acquaintances of mine sneeringly ridicule such people as boorish, stupid, worthless losers. No, their real objective – admitted by them – is to lower their own health insurance premiums! Talk about selfish. When I point out that I lack health insurance and am comfortable that way and not a burden on the “system,” they dismissively brush aside my point by implying that I ought to have insurance anyway, that it would be for my own good and that it’s the price we all should happily pay to live in a civilized society. And never mind that forcing everybody to buy health insurance would probably not result in lower premiums for these left-wing authoritarians anyway. Even if they could be convinced of that I don’t think it would matter. I think they’d still demand that everyone participate, because nationalized health care is as much about imposing behavioral control and thought conformity as it is about health care.
I addition, as has so often been the case, people pushing for nationalized health care are unwitting pawns of the conventional medical establishment that would like to stamp out competing and sometimes superior alternative medicine, because the elites in power own the system of conventional medicine and derive rich profits from it, whereas alternative medicine is often more egalitarian and less profitable. Ironically, “progressives” who claim to be interested in environmental protection, animal rights, sustainability, medical safety issues and health care accessibility ought to take more of an interest in alternative medicine rather than embracing conventional medicine. Their robust embrace of conventional medicine as the only possible solution demonstrates how thoroughly they’ve been co opted by the establishment.
One of the chief appeals of my solution to health care affordability is that it’s based on freedom and is entirely voluntary. The providers of health care services would do so voluntarily; the patients would visit those health care providers voluntarily. All of the “single payer” non-solutions are predicated on forced participation. People are forced to buy health insurance under penalty of severe reprisals. Or people are taxed under penalty of having their property taken literally at gunpoint. In addition to the ugliness of forced participation, these programs will surely result in a reduction of health care cost and quality options. How can anyone see this latter approach as a good one? People enjoy the freedom to choose what car to buy, what clothes to buy, what food to buy, weighing the costs and benefits of each choice. Why, then, do people believe a “one size fits all” approach to health care is desirable?
From my “selfish” perspective, another huge problem with nationalized health care is that everybody is made to pay an equal share of the costs, but not everybody shares equally in the benefits. (Witness the elderly people in Florida who have nothing better to do than queue up ten deep in medical offices for every minor complaint because Medicare is paying the bill. Would they be such profligate consumers of health care services if they were paying the bills themselves?) It seems that the people who most champion such schemes are those who intend to make the most generous use of them. I, however, am fortunate to be blessed with excellent health. I haven’t been to a doctor in a decade or more and have no intention of going to one anytime in the foreseeable future. As selfish as this may sound, why should I be forced to pay into a system that I’ll likely never use? Why should I pay for the health care of somebody who is sickly or just inclined to abuse the system? People will say that we already operate such forced participatory schemes in Social Security, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, and so on. But just because we’re already inflicting injustice upon the concept of freedom doesn’t mean we ought to compound those errors by branching into nationalized health care.
Granted, I’m blessed with good health, but I also do my part: I exercise regularly, I don’t eat or drink too much, I eat wholesome foods (not junk food), I get proper amounts of rest, I avoid stress and I avoid risky behavior. Since I cannot afford health insurance – even if I wanted it – my self-maintenance regimen is my health care plan! Why should I be denied that choice just because other people believe health insurance is the way to go? If they prefer buying health insurance to taking care of themselves, then let them pay for it. And why should I be penalized for my good health? Do we punish people who are smarter than others? Who are prettier than others? Who are sexier than others? Who are taller or stronger than others? (Actually, we reward such people.) There is no guarantee of equality in life. Some people are better endowed in some areas than others. It’s neither a sign of progress nor civilization to punish people for their naturally endowed advantages, regardless of how envious other people may be.
Taxation, which is the oft-handy answer for how to pay for nationalized health care, is fundamentally violent. Oh, sure, it’s true nature is disguised and legitimized by a vast body of “laws,” but at its core lies the implicit threat of violence if one does not comply and pay their taxes. From time immemorial, taxation has always had as its primary purpose the financing of governments and especially their wars. The few table scraps government tosses our way and calls benefits are merely to keep us playing along.
If we humans expect to ever make genuine, self-directed evolutionary progress, we need to make a commitment to purge all forms of violence from our society.
Nobody in a society that’s based on violence and coercion (which is implicitly backed by the threat of escalation to violence) is truly free, neither the victims, nor their abusers. It’s obvious why the oppressed are not free. What’s not so obvious is that the oppressors aren’t free either because they must continue their oppression to maintain their status, power and wealth. If they relent in their application of violence and coercion, the oppressed will no longer do the bidding of the masters, because it’s generally against the interests of the oppressed. Thus, the masters are in effect slaves to the application of power, just as surely as are their oppressed victims. On the other hand, in a system of voluntary cooperation and charity, the beneficiaries of aid do not depend on coercion or violence; the aid they receive is freely given and will likely continue as long as the aid is needed and duly appreciated and the givers are able to give. Even though the same amount of wealth may be transferred from one party to another under a system of voluntary charity, both parties remain totally free; neither has oppressed the other.
I offer this trivial example of how person-to-person charity is superior to involving an intermediary to redistribute wealth. I recently received an e-mail from a young relative – seven years old – seeking a donation from me to pay for supplies for his school. The e-mail contained a link to a web site selling all manner of junk for about $10 per item, the sale of which would presumably net the school a small commission. I briefly glanced at the web site selling this junk and immediately realized that I don’t need anything anyway. I could have written back to my relative, telling him I don’t need anything sold by that site and that I’m too poor anyway to be subsidizing his public school several states away, and I think even at his young age he would have understood my explanation. Although I felt no obligation to make a donation I freely elected to drop a $10 bill in an envelope and mail it to him anyway. I did so because it made me feel good; it also made him feel good, and his school enjoyed 100% of my donation, not a small commission. In addition, I didn’t buy some useless piece of junk that would end up polluting the environment. It was an efficient, non-coerced transfer of wealth that left both the giver and recipient feeling good. Had some governmental authority presented me a bill for $10 to subsidize this boy’s school I would have been deeply resentful, but because it was voluntary I was happy to share my meager wealth. While this is a trivial example, if every person would engage in such charity dozens of times a year, imagine what a difference we could all make! (I emphasized that my young relative’s school is a public one because I view public school as analogous to public health care. The government long ago usurped the role of educator and has taxed us heavily ever since to pay for public schools. But even in the narrow realm of managing the financing of public schools, not to mention the abysmal results of public education, the government is failing. If the government were adequately managing the financing of schools, my little relative wouldn’t need to plead for funds from me. So if government assumes responsibility for paying for our health care, how long will it be until my little relative is asking me for donations to help pay for his health care?)
Charity doesn’t have to be in the form of cash. I’ve helped many people with their computers because that’s something I can offer. Doctors can offer free health care; lawyers, free consultations; handymen and plumbers and automobile mechanics, free repair jobs; grocers, free food; and so on. In fact, non-cash charity is even more efficient. Why give somebody cash, which they then have to spend to purchase goods and services at market rates, when one can give goods and services directly, typically below market rates?
A society based on coercion and violence, no matter how benignly or subtly it starts out, will inevitably become a tyranny because once coercion and violence are employed it initiates a positive feedback loop of oppression-declining freedom-declining prosperity-more oppression. The more government oppresses society, the more society’s prosperity diminishes, which necessitates even more oppression by the government to maintain the same revenue as before. In addition, government necessarily grows in size in order to inflict this greater level of oppression, making it hungrier for funds from the oppressed, even as the means for the oppressed to supply those funds diminishes! Ultimately the government has to resort to tricks like monetary debasement (“printing money”) to fund its growth, which simply accelerates the decline of prosperity.
Eventually the system reaches a breaking point, whereupon the demands of the government and the needs of the subjects cannot both be satisfied. At that point, when government becomes a competitor with its own people for increasingly limited resources, something has to give. I think the U.S. has reached that point already, and there are now two divergent trends at odds with one another: the one trend toward the ballooning of government, and the opposite trend toward sharply declining prosperity for the masses. Obviously these two divergent trends cannot persist for very long.
Witness today the government’s tentacle-like quest for more and more sources of revenue: traffic light cameras; the drug war; asset forfeiture for all manner of petty offenses, such as personal drug use and prostitution, and even non-offenses, such as carrying “too much” cash, which is then confiscated without any charges; digging deeper for evidence of tax evasion, even in foreign countries; rising fines for all manner of traffic violations. As the government fabricates all kinds of new restrictions on our freedom, puts our names on more and more lists of “undesirables,” and tacks on all kinds of new fees, society’s prosperity declines. People travel less, start fewer businesses, hire fewer employees and have less money to spend on things that actually contribute to our society’s prosperity and its quality of life.
Many will argue that in a “civilized” society it’s OK to tax people to ensure minimal support and comfort for all, but I disagree, not because I’m cold-hearted, but because providing for such minimal societal comfort through taxation is what I call a “win-lose-lose” proposition. The recipients of such benefits obviously “win.” However, the people who are taxed to pay for these benefits clearly “lose.” In addition, since the government administers this redistribution of wealth, it necessarily consumes a portion of the tax revenue for its own use, which represents the second “lose” part of the proposition. The money lost to government is money that helps neither the taxpayer nor the recipient of benefits.
On the other hand, a system of purely voluntary charity is what I call a “win-win” proposition that requires no government involvement. The recipients of this voluntary charity receive the same or more benefit, which is the first “win,” but the givers of such aid are rewarded as well, which is the second “win.” Speaking from personal experience, I can say that there’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve made a significant improvement to someone’s life. Moreover, 100% of the charity is transferred from the donor to the recipient; none is lost percolating through the many bureaucratic layers of government.
In addition, the recipient will feel gratitude to a real live person rather than take for granted an expected entitlement from a faceless government. Person-to-person charity encourages the giver to give more and establishes a positive example in the mind of the recipient, so that should the means and opportunity arise for them to help others, they probably will. Thus, when people directly help one another it initiates or fuels a positive feedback loop of more help and giving. And the best part is that this is all voluntary. There is no force, coercion or violence involved. The giver is free to give, and the recipient is free to receive. This is real freedom. Isn’t that a far more civilized, progressive and enlightened approach than forced taxation?
I know, people will scoff and assert that humans are fundamentally selfish and cannot be “trusted” to share with others, but I disagree. All I can say is that people who say that are more cynical than me, and I’m a cynic! In my experience people are quite generous when they are free to choose to be. In any case, if someone is selfish and chooses not to share, is that not their natural right? Do we really want to live in a society that forces people to share? How does a child feel when their parents force them to share something with a sibling? Pretty resentful. On the other hand, how do they feel when they voluntarily share that same thing with a sibling? Pretty good. Wouldn’t the latter approach be a better model for society? Wouldn’t it be better to inculcate in people a strong sense of compassion for their fellow human beings, so that they willingly share whenever they can? Wouldn’t that be a more progressive ideal to strive for?
I believe it is possible to imbue society with strong positive values such as these. I recall reading about Japan back in the 1980s and how the crime of burglary was so unthinkable that people didn’t have to lock their doors. I also recall spending many weeks in the city of Zurich, again back in the 1980s, where people would park their bicycles unlocked at the train station all day, and then come home from work and their bicycles would be sitting there waiting for them. Even where I live today there is a stronger cultural aversion to committing crime than in, say, San Francisco, where I used to live.
It may take several generations to breed strong values of compassion and non-violence into our society, but I believe it can be done. Now, I do believe that a small percentage of human beings – perhaps 5% as a nice round number – are natural born psychopaths, devoid of what we often refer to as a “conscience.” It’s not their fault, but these people are incapable of feeling empathy and love, which is an impediment to their understanding noble acts such as charity. However, even if such people are deficient of conscience, they still likely possess other natural traits that society can utilize to make such people behave in a desirable manner. Most animals, and especially humans, possess an instinct for mimicry. Humans also possess an instinct to belong to a group.
Even psychopaths seek to mimic others’ behavior, although it’s for the wrong reasons. When a “normal” person says, “I love you,” it’s an expression of a feeling that is sometimes subsequently rewarded, but obtaining the reward is not the motivation behind the expression of the feeling. However, a psychopath may take note of the stimulus and response and mimic the behavior, uttering the words, “I love you” in order to obtain the reward. There is no way a psychopath can be made to feel the things we “normal” people feel. So the best we can do is teach them to behave the way we want them to. If rewarding them for good behavior is what it takes, then that’s what we should do.
The other instinct, to belong to a group, can be exploited by using the threat of ostracism to give people an incentive to behave. Ostracism is perfectly compatible with my philosophy of freedom and non-violence because it doesn’t involve impinging upon the freedom of the ostracized; it involves simply withdrawing affection, support and association, which were voluntarily given in the first place. The threat of ostracism is well suited to a world built around voluntary cooperation and charity. The implication behind the threat of ostracism is that good behavior will continue to be rewarded, but bad behavior will incur a loss of that reward. The threat of ostracism is utterly impotent in a society where the government, which does not revolve around human values like ostracism, continues to redistribute wealth to the ostracized! In such a society, the misbehaving person has no disincentive to misbehave.
I believe that, with the exception of natural born psychopaths, most peoples’ antisocial behavior can be traced to poor socialization (by their parents, family, teachers, etc.), poor nutrition, or some other easily avoidable cause. If we as a society can break the cycle of poor socialization, poor education, poor nutrition, and violence for these people and instill new values in them, we can finally start to make real progress as a species. But when I say end the cycle of violence, I mean every single trace of violence, from taxation to the death penalty to war. I believe we can reverse the cycle of violence and replace it with a constructive cycle of cooperation, charity and compassion.
I expect people to utterly reject the idea of “coddling” malefactors. But how is society served by perpetuating the cycle of violence? It’s long been obvious to me that much of our so-called “justice” system is based not on justice and forgiveness, but on retribution. That’s certainly the case with the death penalty, which is nothing more than state-sponsored vengeance, but it’s also true of the way we lock up criminals in cruel and unusual prisons which, more than anything else, are intended to strip them of their dignity and humanity. Every right-wing authoritarian refers to the U.S. as a Christian nation, yet these people are the very first ones to urge locking up criminals and throwing away the key! Is not forgiveness a Christian value?
If someone commits a crime, instead of seeking retribution we should first give them the benefit of the doubt, assume that they possess defective genes or are a product of an unhealthy environment, and try to forgive them. We should, of course, expect such people to make reasonable restitution for their crime, but no more. Then we should temporarily isolate such people from society, not in a prison exactly, but in a facility where they can be properly socialized, where the deficiencies that led to their crime can be corrected. (Granted, the authority to isolate people against their will implies a form of government, but that government could be something as informal as a local council of elders. In any case, this essay is not meant to be a fully thought out blueprint, but rather a loose-knit vision.)
These resocialized people must then be given the means and opportunity to avoid returning to criminal behavior, such as an education and a job. Many people recognize even today that it would be cheaper for society, both in the short run and the long run, to send criminals to college than to prison. But we won’t even entertain doing that because our system of justice is based on retribution, and helping criminals would be seen as “coddling” them. We therefore punish such criminals rather than educate them, and simply perpetuate the cycle of violence, cutting off our nose to spite our face, so to speak. Society does itself no favors by zealously punishing such people, delicious as vengeance might taste. All that happens when someone is sent to a dehumanizing prison is that they come out even more angry and dangerous, and cause even more death, suffering and property loss. It’s truly in our best interests to stifle our instinctual urge for vengeance and try to help such people become an asset to society rather than a liability.
After many generations, the need to forcibly segregate people from society will diminish and possibly disappear altogether. People diagnosed at an early age as psychopaths can be given additional help early on to socialize them and additional guidance throughout their lives to maintain their good behavior. If we persist in this goal long enough – and it will take generations – and always set a good example, even when it makes us look ridiculous (“turning the other cheek”), we can become a species that shuns violence in all its forms, voluntarily cooperates to produce the best standard of living for all members of society, and lives in total freedom and harmony with each other and the planet.
I don’t blame you if you have patiently read this far and are now wondering, “How is all this stuff related?” How are nationalized health care, mandatory insurance, taxation, wealth redistribution, government, retributive “justice,” non-violence and voluntary charity related? They are all fundamentally related to freedom. Nationalized health care and its financing schemes, such as mandatory insurance and taxation, involuntary redistribution of wealth, all enforced by the power of government, are assaults on freedom. Shunning retribution and embracing non-violence and voluntary charity are nurturing of freedom.
I understand that there is a rather immediate need for health care reform in this country, which is why I proposed my rapidly realizable solution of Strip Mall Health Care™. But this essay attempts to look beyond this immediate need and address the larger philosophical question of where we as a species want to be in the future. Do we wish to remain a society based on arbitrary social hierarchy maintained by capricious force, or one based on egalitarianism, voluntary cooperation, non-violence and freedom?
If we rely solely on the principles of non-violence and freedom (for oneself and others) as our guideposts whenever making personal or societal decisions, we can steadily improve our society and our species. If enough people freely choose to live this way we can find our way to an enlightened, Utopian future even without the cooperation of – or rather, in spite of – government. Nationalized health care does not pass this simple test.
Although I was disparaged as “selfish” and for being a “rugged individual,” it is not selfish to defend one’s natural rights or resist being exploited by others, nor is it ruggedly individualistic to not want to so encumber others. My attitude stems from my lifelong adherence to the amorphous “golden rule,” which this passage from the Bible exemplifies:
Matthew 7:12. All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets.
(I do not believe in god and I’m not religious, yet I quote the Bible because so many other people claim to revere it. As I go through life, however, I find that my behavior and treatment of others reveal me to be more a disciple of the teachings of Christ than many Christians!)
It seems that authoritarians have a defective understanding of the golden rule. Authoritarians of the right misinterpret it in violent terms to mean, “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” Hence, preemptive wars, preemptive police raids, and so forth. Authoritarians of the left misinterpret it in collectivist terms to mean, “Make others do as you would do.” Hence, support for mandatory health care systems and opprobrium toward people “living large.”
In an ostensible, roundabout, pseudo, vague, superficial, loose-knit sort of way “progressives” and I have a similar goal, which is a more civil and compassionate society. However our approaches are diametrically opposed, mine being voluntary, directed from the bottom up, and theirs being compulsory and directed from the top down. What’s striking to me is the similarity between left-wing authoritarians’ civil society, delivered from the barrel of a gun*, and right-wing authoritarians’ democracy, delivered to other nations also from the barrel of a gun. Neither of these authoritarian siblings can see this similarity, and both take umbrage at the ingratitude of the “beneficiaries” of their noble efforts.
Throughout my life I’ve been extraordinarily generous and charitable to people, including strangers, freely giving my wealth and time to those who needed it. I’ve also readily accepted freely tendered offers of help from others when I needed it. This is the essence of my philosophy, which revolves around the golden rule, voluntary charity, compassion, respect, non-violence and freedom. It is simply not “right” to force others to behave as we wish. All we can do is see to it that we behave as we expect others to, which is why I find the quotation at the top of my blog so appealing.
* “Delivered from the barrel of a gun” is a most accurate characterization, for whenever people are forced by law to participate in something, such as nationalized health care, it is implicitly enforced by the threat of violence, which is itself ultimately backed up with guns.
Alternative medicine and preventive care resources: