let them eat cake

A few days ago, when a question was posed to Ron Paul at a GOP debate about who would pay for the treatment needed for an uninsured 30 year old man with a life threatening condition, Ron Paul responded that one of the perks of freedom is that you assume risk. If the man had been able to afford to pay for medical insurance but chose not to then it was on him – not the community to provide care. When the commentator then said, “Then the community should let this man die?” The crowd responded with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

Marie Antoinette is inaccurately remembered as having responded, when asked what the poor should eat since the cost of bread had risen so much as to be beyond their budget, with “let them eat cake.”

To say that the entitlement system of social security and medicare/caid is deeply flawed and bloated is quite an understatement. To want to force everyone to purchase medical insurance is to be ignorant of the financial realities of more than 3/4s of all Americans. To want people to accept “the risk” of choosing not to have medical insurance is so…lacking in a sense of compassion and responsibility AND ignorant of the financial realities of more than 3/4s of all Americans it beggers belief.

I wonder, how many in that audience who cheered the idea of that man dying because he didn’t pay for medical insurance, have insurance that is provided for them by employers?

Ron Paul’s answer, by the way, is it is the church’s responsibility to provide care for those without medical insurance. Now, what if that man chose – in expressing his freedom – to not be a member of any faith?

On both sides it is plain to see that there is a lack of consideration or even awareness of the reality that the majority of American live. From all sides come unrealistic plans to do…well, nothing about the quality of life in America. There is either this absurd focus on all of our economic problems stemming from not taxing the top 1% of income earners enough or, an equally absurd emphasis on crafting everything to provide perfectly for the lower 15% of the population. Each side has probably spent the equivalent of a state education budget on producing colorful infographics to prove that the recession is the other sides fault.

Economic problems like what we are experiencing do not create themselves overnight, or over a four-year span or even a twenty-year one. Problems such as we have are symptoms of a deeply and long term flawed political, social and economic culture.

Blame is far more entertaining than looking at the reality of what needs to be done. That is a sad truth. 30 second commercials that promote misinformation or incomplete information but appeal to emotions have more sway on public opinion than a series of facts that then are pulled together to present options.

Part of the problem, besides a cultural phobia of suffering for the cure, is that both sides are trying to modify machines that we know no longer work rather than looking for innovation. Privatized insurance has created an industry that values profit over service, a sure fire way for any business to fail. Government sponsored healthcare is too poorly managed to be effective or affordable. Trying to overlay government regulations on private healthcare industry is disastrous. Trying to bring business style competition to government care breeds incompetence and fraud. So now what?

The audience response during the debate is one of the keys. The audience behavior was typical of consumers. Nothing matters and nothing is real until it affects you personally – that is the nature of a consumer. As long as the consumer can access what they currently believe is important to them, it is not important that their neighbor cannot. Because a large part of the consumer identity is defined not by having what your neighbor has, but by having more.

Ron Paul’s call for churches to fill the gap would be viable – if we had enough churches left in America that believed in community responsibility to participate. But most of them adhere to prosperity theology, which is the religious form of consumerism. The proof of God’s approval lies in the things we receive on Earth. One of the few religious communities that works and believes in community responsibility is the Catholic Workers. Not to be confused with the Catholic Church or Catholic Charities. The Catholic Workers are out and working in every community to help those in need – they do not care who you are or what you believe. Other faiths with very active arms, notably Muslims and Jews, tend to keep within their defined communities. The remainder indulge in a kind of feel good shim sham in which help is given and time committed, but only to causes that are far away – a form of community denial.

And the new age people and alternative faith communities? Well…most of them pursue a mindset of being absolutely divorced from life or rely on a type of prosperity meditation in the same way prosperity churches do. Louise Hay, the New Age pundit, recently said that poor people are poor because of their thinking and that “wealth has to do with consciousness and deservability.” Many people use a warped understanding of karma to allow them to accept the state of things for others.

This is not to say that within all practices there are not individuals who are committed to acting within their extended communities. It is to say that there are next to no faith communities who act within the extended community they are housed.

Ron Paul’s world no longer exists. Mr. Perry’s exists, but I think only as a low-budget horror movie. Mr. Obama’s world is clicking their ruby heels so hard the sequins have started to fall off. And the people who could do something realistic about this, where are they? Where are the leaders of tomorrow?

They are trapped in an inertia created by passive indoctrination. They are everyone who seeks their consistent escape in a TV or movie. Who spends more time posting about atrocities and wrongs on Facebook then they give of their time to show up and do something about those things in their community.

Iceland voted to suffer as a nation in order to take the time to fix their woes – from their banking crises to others that are similar to ours. They chose to build something new, rather than modify what has been. To do this meant the population had to accept that things were going to be difficult and government had to yield to the will of the people. Yet Iceland has a population where over 90% of the people turn out to vote and are educated on the issues.

Perhaps that is where we need to begin? Educating people to come out into their communities and put their hands on what is wrong, even if it does not touch their lives, in order to experience it first hand and THEN come up with an idea of what to do about it. Right now, our community efforts are mostly designed by people with next to no real time understanding of what is wrong but a lot of theory about how to make it right.

Perhaps then, the one phrase that is present in almost all traditions (although worded differently) would begin to become the defining mantra of our society and start to shape our policies.

That phrase?

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.

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About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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