Thursday, January 31, 2013

Further Discussions on Social Justice

The doctor who wrote the original post has received a supportive (and anonymous) response. Here's that post and my reply:
Flamboyant reactions to this kind of thinking shouldn't surprise anyone, Doctor. I find that whenever Social Justice is criticized or attacked outright, its True adherents' reactions seem reminiscent of those who burned heretics at the stake. Remember, Social Justice is the central dogma of the new canon, and it has been my observation that its defenders most frequently label its attackers as members of a malevolent outgroup, usually one that enjoys profiting at the expense of others or succeeding as a result of broad and innovative social structures that exist ostensibly for the betterment of mankind. Of course, those attacking Social Justice are assumed to ignore or discount any greater benefits that society may impart on individuals in their insistence on the primacy of the individual. For once, just for once, I'd like to hear one of my colleagues who proselytize the Justice angle sit down and admit that maybe, just maybe, they didn't understand human nature to the extent that their overarching plans for organizing the many facets of each of us, all three hundred million, just might not trump my desire to be left to my own devices to a reasonable degree. The same force that drove the crusaders south time after time throughout antiquity must drive the modern Justice crusader as well, because the desire to abstain from society's grand new plans for me (and perhaps your desire as a physician to sit it out as well), aside from paying for the public resources I use, evidently makes me an object of continual inquisition. After all Doctor, what kind of a sin is that?
I've been called a lot of things during my long time on the Internet. "Flamboyant" is a new one.

But that aside, allow me to counter a few statements that show, at best, a shallow understanding of religion in general and social justice in particular.

Those who are eager to point out the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the many, many faults of how Christianity has been expressed by human adherents also seem relentlessly silent about the expressions of good in the history of the religion. The invention of the hospital, the maintenance of the west's intellectual heritage, and the scientific method are but three examples.

And as a specific concept, Social Justice is hardly a new invention. Papal encyclicals from the 19th century forward have made it an abiding principle of Catholicism. The end of slavery was a Protestant example. So the concept of a "new canon" is patently false.

Perhaps your colleagues refuse to admit your point because it has no roots in reality, either scientifically or spiritually. Humans are social animals while free-roving individuals are outliers at best and sociopaths at worst.

The point I made before I'll make again. The resources you "use" can scarcely be cataloged, accounted, and charged. You use the safety of a nation where the hungry don't range through neighborhoods hunting for food, the safety of a nation with a strong defense, the benefits of a stable economy, the convenience of stores filled with goods you want to buy and the money to buy them with, the benefits of an educated workforce.

By all means be an individual, if that's your heart's desire. That is the core of the American dream. But don't think it comes cheap and don't think it would be possible in a different context.

I'll offer you a trade. I'll push governmental social justice only when it's cost-effective and truly serves an over-arching need that will impact every individual, if you in return will offer to not promote Randian individualism and objectivism to the tipping-point of caving the country that allows you to express it.

Oh. And the word you're looking for in the last sentence is Parsimony. And yes, it is a sin.

Friday, January 11, 2013

You Built That. You Just Didn't Do It Alone.

Dear Dr. Gaulte,

I ran across your posting here: 45 years after receiving Med school diploma, I realize I am an unethical physician and had some thoughts I wanted to share with you.

The statement that lead me to write this went as follows:
I cannot be ethical because I believe the concept of physicians as stewards of society's resources is sophistry and is bogus on multiple levels and is a dangerous notion. First of all, society does not have resources. there is no one named society . Society does not choose and society does not own. Individuals choose and individuals own.If one accepts the idea that individually owned assets are part of a societal pool, the next step is to correct whatever distributional inequality some observer feels is ripe to redistribute to mitigate some alleged or real inequality. As long as individuals are free to act in their own self interests within the limits of a democratic country there will be an endless array of inequalities that beg for correction in the eyes of the egalitarian.
How very Ayn Randy of you. I'll ignore your slam at "the egalitarian" ... though you thrived in a nation which began its painful birth under the ideal that "all men are created equal". It's the "society does not have resources" idea that irritated me the most.

I don't know you. I don't know your history. But I do know many doctors and other professionals. Here would be a typical story: A young person is schooled in public institutions (designed for the betterment of both him as an individual and society as a whole) and through that process learns a love for science and is inspired, perhaps by one of the many teachers on the public payroll, to take on one of the most rewarding and lucrative professions available to the middle class in America, a career in medicine.

That young person now heads to what is most likely a public university, perhaps one even attached to a public medical training hospital. Is educated, if one of the 98%, with a combination of personal work and public largess in the form of grants, scholarships, and publicly-financed loans. Does internship in that public hospital. Is licensed and joins the AMA which, through the help of public laws, sets a determination of who, in fact, is a doctor. This not only keeps out the riff-raff and charlatans but also legislates one of the more profitable monopolies in the U.S.

After that, several career tracks are possible. Possibly a private practice, either incorporated under public law or an LLP under the same legislative goals of helping individuals accrue wealth without having personal liability for their mistakes. The waiting room is flooded with patients, a large percentage of whom have government insurance and, on average, 20% of whom are public employees.

That doctor goes to work on public roads. Both home and office are built under public codes for construction quality. Feeds himself and children with publicly inspected foods purchased with publicly minted money on plates kept lead-free from public regulation. He prescribes medicines regulated by the government, uses medical devices patented with public regulations. He may well also give his children the gift of a public education though, if he's successful at all, will probably need less assistance to give them a university education or even to have them follow in his career. And that's a good thing. That's what the system is for.

Egalitarianism isn't to set an equality of outcome. It's to provide an equality of basic opportunity. What is done with that opportunity is where Randian objectivism operates. What provides those opportunities is where objectivism gets it all terribly wrong.

As I mentioned I do not know you. I am certain you worked your ass off both to become a doctor and throughout your practice. You may have been born poor or you may have had successful parents. The ideal of this country has always been that it should not matter if you wish to apply yourself.

So I'm not saying that you are one of those who "was born on third base and assume he hit a triple." I am saying that with all your effort you hit a triple and then turned around and flipped off the fans who bought the tickets that allowed you to be generously paid for what you do.

So save us all, please, from your sophistry and your ignorance of the meaning and spirit of living in an egalitarian society.

Had you been starting your career today, and I encourage you to stop and actually listen to those you are where you were 50 years ago, you would find them overwhelmed by debt, entering into professions where a growing number of patients are on the dole, not through some strange increase in American laziness but because an increasingly large piece of the American pie is being eaten, digested, and never shared in any way as it was when you started your path.

Their patients may have to work multiple jobs, without insurance, raising children who will never have the opportunities you were allowed when tax rates were as high as 91%. They are losing homes through financial manipulations and reinsurance schemes in which your practice or hospital may have participated.

When you climbed the ladder of your career you somehow managed to ignore the hands that were pulling or pushing with great optimism for what you would make of your life and education. Now, successful, you're determined to pull the ladder up behind you and scoff at those below for lacking your intelligence and ambition.

I'm trying to offer you a rational picture of where your thinking has gone wrong. But, frankly, there's no limit to the Anglo-Saxon epithets I'm inclined to send your way at this point.

Shame on you.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review of Olbermann's Pitchforks and Torches

I was a little disappointed that this was a collection of Worst Persons and special comments from Keith's show, but once I started reading it was interesting to see his perspective as things were happening.

It's easy to write Olbermann off (especially if you simply think of him as a liberal commentator) as someone who pilloried people on the right. And he did. But it's easy to forget, until reading though these pages, that he was also happy to flay Obama, Reid, and the blue dog Democrats when it was deserved.

A large chunk of the book was culled from the seemingly eternal debate over the health care bill. Olbermann viewed it not just from a liberal perspective but also through the eyes of someone whose mother had died two years earlier, had undergone an emergency surgery, and had a father who suffered a long decline before dying. It made the health care debate more than politics, it was an intimate issue for him. I'm sure this helped fire his outrage over such fake arguments as death panels, planted protesters at town hall meetings, and weak-kneed pawns of the health care industry posing as Democrats.

Read after the shooting of Rep. Giffords, there's also a chilling prescience in his predictions that the growing rhetoric of violence during that period would end in someone would be injured or killed as a result. Based on that alone, it must have taken great self-control not to spend his last few weeks on the air simply saying "I told you so" over and over again.

I loved watching Countdown, and the book reminded me of the best and the worst of the program and Olbermann's on-air style. He was funny, frank, and happy to tell off morons on either side. He had a love for language, facts, and human compassion and little patience with public figures who failed at any of those.

At the worst is the strained formality of Olbermann's prose style, with his "sirs" and "madams" -- often proffered to those whom he never held with much esteem. I can also hear his voice as I read, with his highly emotional delivery. Olbermann thought and wrote as well as any broadcast journalist ever, including Edward R. Murrow. What Olbermann never managed was the icy calm of Murrow. I think that always stacked the deck against him, allowing the other side to ignore or dismiss him as much as he irritated them.

When Keith left MSNBC I ordered a show coffee mug as a way of remembering the hours I watched his program so grateful that I wasn't the only one who thought the country was going crazy. I bought the book while he was still on the air and read it with real fondness and appreciation for what he brought to his programs.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Subverting the Autobots

Today I followed an ad link telling me that big government was going to take over my eating habits. This was interesting to me, as I like to eat and don't like anyone interfering with the practice. The link led me to the following:

Keep Food Affordable

If you'd like to save the time of having to jump to the link, the basic gist is this:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to dictate how farmers conduct their business. They are on the verge of implementing a rule that will increase the costs for farmers and meat production. The extra costs will be passed down to consumers at the grocery store. This is despite the fact that these regulations were already voted down by Congress. Don't let this happen!

Next to this is an open comment form that will deliver your outrage to the USDA. 
I personally think the USDA is underfunded, if the e. coli infections of my eggs is any example, and that they act far below their potential given their mandate to protect what we eat.
So rather than choose one of their selected boilerplate comments, I wrote the following -- something like a note in a bottle to some anonymous USDA employee tasked with reviewing the comments:
The web site that provides this petition advertises widely. When following the link it offers almost no information on the content of the proposed rules, but simply uses scare tactics to get people to sign. I am all for any rules that increase food safety, even if I have to pay more for food in the process. My pocketbook will not mean a damn thing to me if I'm killed through the actions of a careless food producer. Ignore the "volume" of signatures on this petition drive. Look to content, whether it seems informed or repetitive, and then take the actions which best protect the American people. You're doing a great job.

Submitted to Docket ID: GIPSA-2010-PSP-0001-RULEMAKING
This was mailed back to me, using my name as the sender making it all the more spamilicious. 
You can play, too! I encourage you to add a bit of reason to the argument, and use the dime of this nearly anonymous web site to do it.

Dear George Bush, I'm Sorry Kanye West Hurt Your Feelings

I've been trying to decide on an adequate verb for what happens when Kanye West wanders off script to make the news. Was Taylor Swift "George-Bushwhacked" or was George Bush "Taylor-Swiftboated"? It's hard to say. Hanging out with Kanye West must be comparable to going to vespers with your brother who has Tourette's Syndrome. You never know what will pop out or how embarrassing it might be until it happens.

None-the-less, Mr. West has given us two classics in video history. The one in question here popped up during a Red Cross telethon for Katrina victims:

I do have to say I feel very bad for Mike Myers as well, who looked something like a frog flash-frozen in a winter pond while West improvised his feelings on air.

I can honestly see Mr. West's point. While George Bush and Jeb Bush were governors of Texas and Florida, states with strong death penalty provisions, they probably oversaw the death of more blacks than the Klan did from the 50s forward.

This is not to say that the Bush kids are racist. Just saying they're blind to the needs of nearly anyone earning less than $1-million, as most conservative whites are blind to the needs of those unlike themselves. It was their mother, after all, who said of the evacuees who bused out of New Orleans with the clothes on their backs and no home to return to: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this [she chuckles slightly]is working very well for them." Yep, free food and shelter, sharing toilets with a few hundred others. Life for them people was goooood.

So, Mr. Bush, I'm sorry that your feelings were hurt, but it was that kind of presidency, wasn't it? I feel considerably less sorry for you than I feel for the widows and orphans left by your unneeded wars, for the mass of unemployed you left below as you helicoptered out of Washington, DC, or from those others abused by your presidency.

But then your presidency started out that way and maintained its mojo through your full eight years in office. You had only been in office a few days when you said that the toughest part of the new job, the tragedy in fact, was that you couldn't maintain your running schedule. "Tragedies" were inconveniences to the Bush family, nothing having to do with all those other people living in the country or the world at large. You guffawed about the missing WMDs, tortured innocents to prove unprovable points, "outed" members of your own security forces. The list of really horrible things is almost endless. There's probably an item for every person on the planet.

So I'm sorry your feelings were hurt, because the world as a whole doesn't need more pain than that which you caused yourself. Just by leaving office, and through the sense of justice of your replacement kept without asking us, you're not a criminal. You weren't imprisoned. Worse than that, you've become irrelevant and have managed to maintain the mask of irrelevancy through your whining about small personal hurts.

Getting Started

I'm still trying to find my way around Blogger and hoping it has the flexibility I need for the type of things I want to post here. Thanks for dropping in if you just found this by accident. Drop me a line if you like. Suggestions on making this better are always welcome.