Long, long ago, I was arguing with a brilliant Conservative friend “Ron” about South Africa. The question was whether blacks under Apartheid there were worse off than their neighbors. I said they were. He suggested that I find objective standards for the welfare of a people, and do my own research.
Following his suggestions, I found the World Health Organization’s recommendations for a “fast and dirty” measurement of a people’s health: life span and infant mortality rates. There are others of course, that relate to overall welfare, including inherited wealth, incarceration rates, divorce rate (or proportion of two-parent homes), and subjective answers to happiness/satisfaction surveys.
But you can’t get around that First Chakra stuff. Survival. Genetic survival. And to my embarrassment, when I compared black life spans and infant death rates, they were better for South African blacks under apartheid than they were for blacks in surrounding countries. Lower than they were for whites, of course…but still better.
I’m a philosopher, not a politician. Politics is about winning. Philosophy is about truth. I saw lots of ways to argue with the conclusion, but in my heart, I knew they would be nit-picking. On this ground, in this way, at this time…I was wrong. Didn’t mean Apartheid wasn’t evil, and shouldn’t fall. But if I was honest with myself, by this set of important metrics…I was wrong. And admitted it to him.
Years passed, and the subject of Universal Health Care became a popular topic. I had no dog in that fight. Had Writer’s Guild medical. “Ron” was convinced UHC would be a disaster, and his favorite Conservative commentators agreed. Disaster.
Well…I didn’t know. No idea really. But I DID know that there was this standard for health that he and I agreed was valid. Simple, I thought. Look for the results for the same questions, and see whether the countries with UHC were better or worse.
The statistics were easy to find. Clear. Countries with UHC, who socialized medical care, out-performed countries with private medical care by those standards…but ALSO for cost-per-citizen.
Longer lives. More children survive. Lower cost of delivery. There it was. And…when I presented this to him, he rejected it. Began to pick it apart (as all statistics can be) on wholly unconvincing grounds. And for the first time I realized that there was an entirely reasonable conclusion: he didn’t have internal permission to look at the data. He COULDN’T. Could I? My reasoning: I had been willing to be wrong about something really painful–that Apartheid might not be all bad. I could therefore trust my ability to see painful truths.
I trusted the standard that had brought me that painful truth. I KNEW I wasn’t arguing backwards from a political position. I’d had no idea what I might find when I went looking for that information.
But that hit me, and still does. There is Faith-based politics. A core conviction that will deny data to the contrary, even when it seems clear. Just watch: there will be people who argue with this conclusion. They will say the statistics are rendered differently in different countries. That ethnic or racial diversity is responsible for the differences. That sick people WANT to be sick. The fact that a disproportionate number of those people are brown is coincidental (let’s see: brown people WANT to die, WANT their children to die. That’s it, yes. Wow. Glad to clear THAT up!)
To be honest…it sounds just like the people who try to deconstruct the statistics on the percentage of scientists who agree that Anthropogenic Global Warming is real and dangerous. They argue about the definition of “scientist”. About whether it is 97% or something lower (without explicitly stating the precise number they DO believe believe it). They impugn the honor of the scientists, saying that they are bought by “the Government”, or afraid to tell the truth, or don’t know dick.
Attack the messenger, attack the integrity of the message, listen to people WITHOUT expertise in preference to those WITH expertise.
Arguing backwards from a Faith-based premise would produce identical results.
This is why I dislike politics. It is really spiritual arguments manifesting on the mundane level. So much of it is about the basic nature of human beings (“who am I?”).
With health care, I won’t apologize: I cannot find a rational reason to think it isn’t effective and efficient, more so than commercialize services. But I have to admit that there are other reasons, the best of them are:
- A person (who perhaps already has good health care) might not want to pay the taxes to pay for other people’s.
- A person with very specific health needs might be afraid that the process of socialization will change the care they are getting for the negative. You know what? I can empathize with this one.
By the way: my answer to people who say they don’t want to pay for other people’s health care is that I sympathize, but I didn’t want to pay for the invasion of Iraq. That that’s the shit-side of living in a democracy: feeling complicit in the deaths of 100k to one MILLION Iraquis, depending on who you listen to and how you crunch the data.
You’re being asked to be “complicit” in saving lives. One of us is getting the better deal.
With Global Warming, there are also some interesting reasons for denial. Among them:
- Humans really do need energy to maintain our current lifestyle and population level. Fossil fuels have, historically, been a godsend for this.
- The technology to provide renewable energy is more complex and sophisticated, much less tested than simply burning coal or oil. There is a “prove it” element here I find reasonable, if not optimal.
- There are people who simply don’t believe human beings can damage the biosphere. That Earth was “given” to humans by a divine entity, and we are to do with it as we wish. This is survival programming encoded into religious dogma, and will take generations to change fully.
But with either of these, you’ll note that there is a single political umbrella under which both camps find shelter. They have become each other’s natural allies. “Politics makes strange bedfellows”–you support me, I support you.
The perception that a particular belief or position is a survival value produces survival emotions, which anchor in those core beliefs with emotion, shutting down logic: logic works to prove what you already need to believe, like a mother desperately seeking ways to believe that no, HER son didn’t do that terrible thing…
Of course, there is another level: both of these are money-makers. Corporations make huge money from medicine and fossil fuels. It would only make sense for these semi-conscious entities to stump for anything that keeps that money running. Hell, it doesn’t even take lying: just select for the people who agree that medical care is best monetized, or that Global Warming is a myth (or that cigarettes are harmless). Reward them. That 3% of scientists who disagree? Back THEIR research, promote it, and do all you can to besmirch anyone who disagrees.
See how you don’t even need lies? But wait, there’s more! Lies and belief in lies is VERY USEFUL. You convince the people that the government, for nefarious purposes, wants people to believe the earth is warming, and is bribing thousands of scientists to lie.
But wait: if you start with the assumption of dishonesty…wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that the people/entities who stand to gain DIRECTLY by the maintenance of a position would be the ones who start lying first? Or that the smaller the number of people in the conspiracy, the more secure it is?
Ummm…like the boards of medical companies or oil companies?
How do you combat THAT? Oh, I know…you spread the notion that somehow, by some arcane magic my tiny brain cannot comprehend, CORPORATIONS ARE MORE HONEST THAN GOVERNMENTS.
Same human beings. Different sorts of organization. But somehow, innately less honest if they are working for a government than for a corporation. That is GREAT. It is a brilliant tactic if you are trying to protect your bank account. If corporations are seen as semi-conscious simple organisms, they would also function like god-things, conferring reward on those who sing their praises and carry water.
I suggest starting with a different assumption, as I do with race, and gender, despite the fact that I take shit for it. Start with an assumption of equality. Start with looking for the minimum amount of perfidy that would explain the problem, rather than falling into the trap of assuming that the opponents are fools and knaves.
There really are multiple ways to interpret almost any piece of data. And if we have a powerful emotional “tilt” that will influence how we see it. You do it. I do it. EVERYONE does it at times. To suspect this is what is happening when you have an apparent disagreement over data seems to me a matter of being conscious.
Assume that emotion is overwhelming logic. Ask what the fear is. Can you see where some kind of powerful fear could be in the system? Loss of control, moving from the individual to the group action/identification seems to me a fairly typical Conservative position, just as a fairly typical Progressive position might be fear of being cast on individual resources rather than group action.
I could see that. Not an absolute truth, but it would make sense of a number of things said from the different polarities.
UHC seems to me as cut-and-dried as any social issue of my lifetime. Not a matter of “everyone deserves rights” because that is a matter of philosophy. But the most common argument against UHC is that it is inefficient and ineffective. IMO in this instance, the stats are very clearly unsupportive of that notion. UHC IS more efficient and effective by standards I agreed with when I found it humiliating.
That’s why I trust them.
(If you want to stay out of the “stress tunnel” that short circuits logic with fear, please harness the power of Morning M.A.G.I.C.: