Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reaction to Obama, part 2: someone has to sit at the back of the bus

The NY Times of August 25, on the front page, reports that Bob Collier, age 62, who had never been politically active before in his life, drove over an hour to attend a town hall meeting on health care and, to his wife's amazement, spoke up. He described how his wife had had breast cancer, received treatment, and was now in remission. He expressed anxiety that her care might be "rationed" is there were a recurrence and if health reform were enacted. He went on to say that health care reform may mean "the end of our country as we know it".
What a leap! I can certainly resonate with Mr. Collier's fear of any development that might threaten his or his wife's health or life. A chord has certainly been struck with him that any of us can resonate with. But what makes him think that health care reform makes it more, rather than less, likely that he or his wife would be unable to receive treatment? Why is he more afraid of rationed treatment under health reform as currently proposed, than he would be of his insurance company denying reimbursement? In fact, his insurance company denied coverage of his wife's radiation treatment. (the cost was written off by the medical provider). Mr. Collier acknowledges that some reform is needed, including a safety net, but he doesn't want the safety net to "catch too many people"!
This raises the question of the rationing of people to be caught in the safety net. Mr. Collier, a senior citizen, is concerned that elderly people will be at the end of the line. One wonders who he imagines would be at the front of the line, and how he would feel about the situation of those people who would be at the end of the line if elderly people weren't. He has reason to believe that there isn't enough affordable health care to go around, so someone is going to have to be at the end of the line. Are our religious leaders offering any input here about compassion and charity? Or is this just dog eat dog, musical chairs, and may the strongest and loudest voices win?
Mr. Collier goes on to explain his feeling that health reform may mean the end of the country as we know it. He refers to government involvement in the auto industry, the banking industry, worrying that government involvement will yield the "efficiency of the postal service" combined with the "compassion of the IRS".
I can resonate with that too, although I'm pretty impressed with what the postal service accomplishes day in and day out, if not with the courtesy of their employees. And I do see a difference between the mission of the IRS, and that of a health care service, (plus I haven't been impressed with the compassion of private sector insurance companies and hospitals), but point taken. So I guess we're talking about that good old American mistrust of government.
So what does Mr. Collier thinks would have happened to the privately run auto industry and banks without government "interference"? Why doesn't this point occur to him?
Might this have something to do with the government being led by a person "of color" at the moment, and with the fact that the people with whom he imagines himself competing for health care are likely to be poor people, and people of color.
Someone has to sit at the back of the bus.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The reaction to Obama's health care proposal

The right wing is inflamed in the US, with a focus on Obama's health care proposal. The proposal is attacked as a violation of fundamental American values in the form of creeping socialism and government control of the lives, and deaths, of citizens. At the same time, Obama himself is portrayed as not truly "American", in concrete terms as not having been born in the US and thus an illegitimate President and Commander in Chief.
I believe these issues camouflage a deeper source of anxiety for right wing Americans, who tend to be of European lineage: the feeling that they are losing their country, that the European character of the country is being lost as the population moves inexorably toward an African-American and Latino majority. In this sense, the election of Obama symbolizes this historic shift in the US population, and makes clear that a shift in the locus of power is well under way. Once people defined as "other" having taken over, who knows what changes they will put in place? The security and predictability of life for many Euro-Americans seems to be profoundly threatened.
I think there may be a still deeper reason for this fear, even panic. This land, of course, was once inhabited by non-Europeans. It was taken from them by force of violence by people of European origin. There may be a subliminal guilt that leads to fear of retaliation, of redressing of the injury by those who were killed and disenfranchised.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Army wants to believe that "faulty" beliefs, rather than war itself, cause depression, anxiety, suicide and homicide among soldiers

Today's New York Times reports on the front page that the Army is instituting "classes" for all soldiers to help them identify false beliefs that are believed to cause anxiety, depression, suicide and homicide among soldiers. In my view, this is the extreme application of cognitive-behavioral thinking that reveals the basic fallacy in the approach.
To my mind, anxiety and depression, if not suicide, are very understandable reactions to the conditions of war. War, of course, creates conditions in which the line between justified killing and homicide can get very blurry. War generates unthinkable experiences: killing and the ever present risk of being killed, seeing one's fellows blown to bits. The senseless discontinuity between life in the war zone and back at home in the malls and on the freeways, while one's buddies are back in Iraq or Afghanistan or Vietnam or France killing and being killed. Telling people that their breakdowns are due to their faulty beliefs is mystification and pathologization that can only generate further confusion and despair, or a false and brittle adaptation to the official expectation.
In my view, what this application of cognitive-behavioral thinking exposes is its basic grandiosity: the belief that emotions, human responses to the conditions of life, are controllable through manipulation of thoughts. The Army wants to believe that war-generated anxiety, depression, suicidal and homicidal feelings are controllable by manipulation of thought in 90 minute classes. I wish those classes were devoted to validating the sense of confusion, horror and helplessness that these soldiers feel, making room for a sense of betrayal by those who sent them to war, without undermining the feeling others may have that they have served their country, if not all of humanity, by going to war.