Archive for October, 2009

On the Common Good…

This is part two of A Series of Short Takes, on salient issues of the day.  Like most of these, this one is political and religious, though not partisan or specifically denominational, in case that difference means anything to you.  You’ve been warned, either way.

Had a lengthy debate the other day with two fine ladies of my acquaintance about the Common Good.  I’m going to capitalize that term, because that’s how most people sound when they cite it.

As might be obvious by now, I tend to be quite libertarian in my thinking.  I really do believe that most people would be far better off if they were left the bleep alone by governments.  Because “libertarian” and “conservative” get lumped together a lot, and because I engage in debate a lot, I get accused almost weekly of being heartless because I don’t think it’s a good idea for Uncle Sam to do most of the things he does.  Until recently I couldn’t think of a decent rejoinder (“same to you, buddy” just wasn’t getting it done).  But then we had this debate, and I understood something.

Most of the people that want government to do things – this is ESPECIALLY true of celebrities – love all mankind in the abstract but would never volunteer at a soup kitchen unless the cameras were rolling.  Whereas I don’t think much of mankind in the abstract at all, but I routinely take food from my own pantry and leave it on specific doorsteps because the people inside need it more than I do.

This is not universal.  There are heartless cretins on both sides of the political divide.  I’m not talking, here, about abstracts at all.  I’m talking about specifics.  So here is my admonition: if you want to BE compassionate, to actually love all mankind (instead of being seen to do so, or pretending to), screw the Common Good.  Do something for that guy right there.  Anyone that talks about sacrificing for the Common Good, but has never raked his neighbor’s leaves, you can safely ignore as a hypocrite and a fraud.

Would a society populated by people that really served one another produce common good?  Sure.  Of course it would.  But just like you can’t bake a cake just by saying “there should be a cake here,” you can’t have a good society by talking about general sacrifice.  A good society is made of good people.  It can’t be made of anything else.  You have to have flour and sugar and eggs, and if you focus on the cake, and not on leavening your little corner, you’ll have a very sloppy cake, to extend the analogy a bit farther than it really serves.

I heard a speech recently that reminded me powerfully of this.  The speaker pointed out that all the laws in the world weren’t ever going to be sufficient to stop people from being nasty to one another.  There isn’t time or money to do that much policing.  The only thing that will stop people from being nasty is to get rid of nasty people.  And the only way to do that is to teach them to be decent.  In my teaching experience – and I’ve had some – the best way to do that is to be decent your own self.

So the next time someone makes a grand pronouncement, or asks if we can’t all just get along, ask him this: who is the person you most recently served, yourself, personally?  And if he can’t tell you, you’re safe to ignore him [note: this applies to the Leaders of Nations and Movements as well as to any one of us.  EVERYONE you know needs help at some point, and most of them will need it right in front of you twelve times a day.  There are ALWAYS opportunities to help people, EVERY DAY, no matter how grand the Work you're engaged in].  If YOU can’t answer this question, the world awaits.  And boy, does it need you.

On Healthcare…

This is part one of A Series of Short Takes, quick comments on issues of the day.  Most of these are political or religious.  You’ve been warned.

The healthcare debate needs a time out for definitions.  I remember out on the Presidential campaign trail having a discussion with my candidate after a debate.  He talked about how hard it was to answer the questions he was put, because he knew that the questioner didn’t mean the same thing by the words he used that my candidate did.  I hadn’t thought of that, but I’ve had occasion to see just how right he was many times since then.  Here’s one: “Do you approve or disapprove of the job [insert President here] is doing as President?”  I may answer “approve”, but mean “that’s the best I think he could do under the circumstances,” not “he’s doing the things I want him to do.”  The definitions matter, especially if the President is going to set policy by the numbers the poll is going to report.

On healthcare, here’s the definitional problem: healthcare is not the same thing as health insurance, though the two are being used interchangeably almost all the time.  Health insurance means nothing, really.  You might have the best health insurance on earth, but if you fall into a crevice in the Andes, it won’t do you a lick of good.  If, however, you have healthCARE, then health insurance is only useful to pay for it.  If you have free healthcare, you don’t need insurance at all.  It is critical to understand this difference, because without the distinction there is no real debate, just talking in circles.

And here’s a difference that gets made right away when you have this understanding of definition: immediately the debate becomes about how to provide everyone with healthCARE, not health insurance.  Note that almost all the focus of the arguing so far has been about different health insurance plans, government, private, etc.  There has been almost no debate about how to get people CARE.  It seems to be assumed that without insurance there will be no care, but this is nonsense.  I’ve had healthcare for 20 years and had insurance only for a few months of it.  How do I get care?  I write checks.  You can do this, you know.  It’s a lot easier to do this when you’ve saved over $8000 a year in pointless insurance premiums.  Several million people do this in the US alone.

Don’t get distracted, now.  I do know the risks of living this way, and I’d be happy to address those in another post.  All I want to do – this is a Short Take, not an Exhaustive Take – is establish the definitions clearly.  Healthcare is the real issue.  Health insurance is a symptom.

You can get healthcare even if you have pre-existing conditions, even if the hospital is not on your network, even if you don’t have a doctor’s referral.  Yes, it’s very expensive.  It is even more expensive because the heathcare network for the uninsured is the same one as for the insured.  Some people can’t pay for care this way, but the number is far, far less than most assume.

I’ll do more with this later.  For now, every time you hear someone talk about “government health care” ask yourself – is this person talking about government health insurance, or government health care?  When someone talks about “covering everyone”, ask yourself if this person acts as if he understands the difference between covering everyone and treating everyone.  It’s the pause that refreshes, so to speak.  And you’ll begin to see solutions where none existed before.

So I Started a Newspaper

and one of the problems that has occasioned is that I’m writing about 20 pages of stuff per week already, and now I’m adding another 3-4,000 words to that.  Folks, I can’t write that much.  I love writing.  I do it all the time.  But I find that I’m getting burnt.  Where I used to blog three or four times a week, now I’m down to once if I’m lucky.  I used to write a lot in my journal, too, but now I almost never get to it.  It’s as if there are only so many words available, and once I’ve used them up, that’s it.

Yesterday I spent most of the day at home, doing things I’ve been putting off and needed to work on.  I made bread.  I made loganberry-crabapple jam, which is about the tastiest stuff ever created by man, if I do say so myself.  I made grape juice and apple juice and crabapple juice and crabapplesauce – also incredibly smooth and tasty (it looks like yogurt) – ground wheat and cracked wheat and sprouted wheat.  I did a few mortgage things as well, just for spice and variety.  It was a great day.  I wrote less than 200 words for the first time in months.

I recognize that this is normal, that life goes in cycles, and that there’s nothing particularly wrong with not blogging.  Several billion people get on just fine without doing it at all.  Still, I realize that this blog is important to me, and like most important things, it requires time and sacrifice.  So I will not be quitting or even phasing out this blog, just so you know, though shortly I’ll be breaking it into two pieces, a mortgage piece and an “everything else” piece.  Watch for that.