A society of children

I understand that there are well thought-out, reasoned, philosophical arguments against the Affordable Care Act[1]. Many persons who hold these points of view were taken aback by the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Act, especially the most controversial piece of the legislation, the Individual Mandate. There are also a ton of less rational, quite reactive arguments against ACA. Most of my Twitter and Facebook feeds were, (somewhat surprisingly to me), in favor of the Act, and pleased with the SCOTUS decision. There were a few dissenting voices, though. Many of them feel robbed of individual liberty, frustrated at the idea that the government can “make” us buy something we don’t want.

Pardon me, but it all sounds so juvenile.

You know how kids are selfish? Know how somehow kids, when they learn to use words, default to words like “mine!” and “no!” even though they also know the words “ours” and “yes”? Kids repeat no no no no no, and mine mine mine mine mine, first without really knowing what the words mean, and then out of a default posture of selfishness and me-first. This is what a lot of the response to the healthcare conversation sounds like to me. No! My money is mine mine mine mine! You can’t tell me what to buy, who to care about! Once we’ve earned our money it ought to be ours to keep, entirely. (So say many in the name of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.)

You know how we also have to in some cases teach children empathy, and in all cases, teach children how to share, and help them hone their senses of community and moral obligation to those around them? Yes, some kids come by their empathy more innately than others, but like most skills, values, morals, our task as parents, caretakers, educators, is to help them (and each other) hone these skills. At some point we as children move from being cared for, to caring for ourselves, and, with any hope, caring for others around us.

We claim that it is natural for humans to be selfish, mean-spirited, forgetful of others. But that word ‘natural’ is misleading. It is ‘natural’ because it is our posture from a young age, lacking any other guidance. We are supposed to grow, develop, mature and change into thoughtful, kind and generous adults. (And for the record, I use the word ‘generous’ intentionally, but not strictly in its monetary sense – we ought to be generous with our time, our energy, our compassion as well.) I may have many moments, often fueled by exhaustion, impatience, and exasperation where I am short, mean, and embarrassingly self-centered. But that is not what we want to be, right? That’s not what we are taught to aspire to be. We make New Years Resolutions, not to be our natural, selfish selves, but to be better, kinder, gentler, more thoughtful selves.

I was thinking about the parallel between moral development and empathy and the conversation about issues like this in our society, where one side is decrying based on personal right and privilege, and the other side speaks up with language of obligation for other people and the common good. It might seem a bit simplistic, but bear with me.

One side speaks loudly against these kind of reforms as infringing upon their individual rights. The Affordable Care Act was written as a reform that would provide healthcare opportunities for millions more Americans; it is intended to move us toward a more just and equitable social structure. Clearly there are lots of things at the heart of the disagreement, but one of them begs the question about what kind of society are we trying to be? Clearly we are a nation that values rights and liberties. But at what cost? Do we value them so much that we are willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of our fellow citizens? Much like our individual, personal development, we can be a society that promotes the self over the community, but then we would be stuck around elementary school as a nation. Much like how most people, at least attempt to, raise their children to share, be nice to other people, and think about how other people feel, we could strive to grow up as a nation, and think about how policies, laws, etc., affect other people, especially other people who exist with different kinds of advantages and disadvantages to our own. We could be an empathetic society that has built into our fiber care and concern for others. What is clear from some of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act, is that this care and concern is genuinely, and not even subtly, absent. Did you hear about Mitch McConnell basically admitting that the 30 million uninsured don’t matter? It’s not about finding an alternative method to insure the uninsured; it really is that they don’t matter. Is this really who we want to be as a collective society?

I had coffee with a friend last week (if you’re in Durham, check this place out. Delicious.). She and her husband moved back to the States almost a year ago after several years in Scotland. While there, she gave birth to their first child. While she doesn’t have experience with the American pre/post natal system, she had nothing but positive things to say about her experience there. She could walk to their doctors’ offices in town. She stayed at the hospital from Saturday through Wednesday – there was no conveyor-built feeling to the labor/delivery/recovery experience. After they went home, the doctors came to their home for check-ups, etc. And the kicker? They didn’t pay a dime for any of it – not prenatal care, not the hospital, not the post-natal care for her or their daughter. There was no psychological stress on them about paying for any of their care before, during, or after the birth of their first child. They didn’t add burden to the healthcare system, since it’s already built in to the structure of their society. Her conclusion: if they have another child they want to find a way to return to the UK because it was so easy – economically, emotionally, mentally.

I saw on someone’s Facebook feed a reflection on the question of why is the strongest argument posited to be that this won’t be profitable? Why is profit help up as the greatest good? What if we measure the greatest good by health and well-being, by equitable resources, access, and opportunity (and not in a complete redistribution of wealth kind of way, but in a fair-share kind of way). It’s not about taking away rights; it’s about providing rights so radically that we literally all share in the opportunity and reality of the Good Society.


[1] If you can’t be bothered to read all 1000-plus pages of the bill (and let’s be honest, not even our Congresspersons have read it), this is a good summary: http://www.reddit.com/tb/vbkfm

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