Steven Thrasher’s radical empathy
Trigger warning: Borderline coherence -- or worse -- ahead.
Much as I like this post, there's a flaw both in it and, apparently, Thrasher's book: That the state is *that* powerful. Yes and no, but the ancient rule is that we get the state that the Powers That Be, that the elite (a word I hate in this context) allow. The US elite and, I suppose, the western/capitalist elite want an extractive economy, a plutocratic, anti-democratic, theocratic state (the last for keeping the little people compliant and in their places).
With that is the core of Objectivism, what Objectivism sort of parodies (unintentionally, of course): that poorer people -- that is ~95% of the population -- are worth only of what and how they benefit the elite.
And the state that the Powers That Be finance and buy and corrupt aren't paid to give as much of a shit about the little people as any functional state should and does. As always, see the shit show that was our national response to Covid before SCOTUS made that a few magnitudes harder by way of a ruling based on bullshit and, yes, sociopathy.
So, you know, touching on sad over state ineptitude or failure to act without going deep on why it does really weakens the thesis and, indeed, does a disservice.
I would say, though, the prescription -- that it's on us to help ourselves because until we mange to change the power structure (if we can or will) -- is the way to go.
OTOH, I'm a dotard so what do I know?
I've modified my "Punch up, not down" credo.
"Punch up, lend a hand down"
because no matter how successful one might be at changing those people and organizations above, they'll never be lending hands downward. It is not in their portfolio nor their interest nor their nature.
Related - Loomis's grave post this morning is about Ayn Rand and her toxic "philosophy"..
I don't have much to add here, except to say that capitalism is ruthlessly efficient at marginalizing and eliminating the people it doesn't want or need, intentionally or otherwise. However, I'd like to mention the part about "a system no one really believes in", because it brings up a pet theory of mine.
I'm sure there are quite a few people at the very top who strongly believe in capitalism because the system has benefited them, albeit at everyone else's expense. For example, hedge fund managers. Or Sean Hannity, who went from a nobody who got kicked off local college radio to a rich, famous presidential advisor, just by being the loudmouthed, bigoted asshole he naturally is. Why shouldn't such people support the system that has rewarded them so handsomely?
I really like Serious Subject Mondays!
I always read the first three or four paragraphs looking for the punchline. Then I realize " Oh, this is serious" And settle in to appreciating it from that POV.
" Aphoristic" is a pretty great word.
Non-responsive comment: seeing Thrasher use the phrase "writing pens", I wondered if his native dialect is one of those where "pen" and "pin" have the same vowel, so that when necessary they need to be distinguished as either "writin[g] pens" or "stickin[g] pens". His parents (according to Wikipedia) are native Nebraskans (which fits what little I think I know about the geographical distribution of that dialect) and he was raised in Ventura and Oxnard CA (which is at least consistent with ditto).
Just go to Lawyers, Guns and Money.
I'm glad to see austerity called out here, it goes far beyond the simple scaling-back or even elimination of public services, it becomes an all-encompassing world view when people are told, decade after decade, "No, you can't have that", "We can't afford that", "Sorry, there isn't enough for everyone, so take what you can get and shut up about it."
You can see this best, I think, in the response to immigration. A million people wanting to live in your country (people, I should mention, who have shown the gumption to cross the Darien Gap and all of Mexico to come here) isn't seen as a gift and an opportunity, it's a "Crisis". No, the materially-richest country in the world can't handle a 0.3% increase in its population. Certain people - depending on their race, of course - are always seen as a debit on the national balance sheet, and never an asset. And, as we've all been told a million times before, we're broke, we just can't afford it.
Of course of all the examples of privacy and bodily autonomy Thrasher cites, only abortion has no impact on the health and welfare of other citizens. So, category error. Any discussion of the ethics and morality around pregnancy must start with the acknowledgment that there is no other condition that is analogous; it must be approached with respect for how unique it is and not conflated with anything else.
"it’s obvious that absolution from that [social] responsibility is the opposite of what’s needed"
One thought I keep coming back to is that a country of rugged individuals can't be a country. A country requires a population willing to abide by a social contract; rugged individuals sneer at any such thing. They can always ride off into the sunset into something better, or so they think. It takes a big dose of denial to pretty up an epidemic that kills a million people into a personal choice about masking or vaxxing but here we are.
Michael Lewis in his book Premonition points out where the CDC began to fail: its response to the looming specter of the swine flu epidemic in the 70's.
With a prospective pandemic, he points out, the director has to make a call-- do nothing by taking the chance that it's going to fizzle out or go full bore with mass distribution of the vaccine. In the former case, you either have a nothing burger or hundreds of thousands dead; in the latter, you risk deaths from reaction to the inoculation.
In the case of the swine flu vaccine, the CDC director decided to take the activist approach-- but swine flu didn't spread, and 27 Americans died from the vaccination.
Because the media could make more hay (Lewis doesn't say this), they went full-bore with eh 27 dead rather than weighing that risk against the risk of mass mortality. That CDC director stepped down and his replacement was the first of all the political appointees we've had ever since. No more would a director arise from the staff of the CDC-- and we've been paying for it ever since.
Add to that what Steve Bannon and John Bolton did in dismantling its emergency preparedness function (according to Lewis), and you get what you vote for.
Some serious eloquence, Roy. Thank you.
Killer post, no pun intended. The majority of arguments I have with the 'freedom fighters' whose physical sovereignty and political autonomy (read: refusal to engage because it *all* sucks; fuck that dress-wearing Aristotle guy) can not be sacrificed usually boils down to their basic "misunderstanding of what public health is for — and, when it comes down to it, what government is for, and what society is" as you state with great clarity. I also find these folks cherry-picking from 'gubmint' programs when it suits them, i.e., letting the State pay their rent for a year + during Covid, then crowing about how they're getting something for free from a system they abhor and don't believe in, while refusing to admit this puts them in the same boat as the disposables they regularly discriminate against.
Thanks for this post, Roy. Absolutely an informative and insightful review of this book. I’m reminded of two things: Frank Wilhoit’s dictum re: whom the law binds and protects, and Samuel Butler’s novel “Erewhon,” which describes a society where the lucky are rewarded and the unlucky are punished. The title is “nowhere” spelled backwards, of course, implying that this principle is everywhere, and not an aberration from the norm, and quite the opposite, hiding in plain sight.
A very insightful and interesting review. Speaking of profit and health care, get a gander at statements like these:
"...we are working to drive meaningful, diversified revenue that extends beyond our current footprint. Our team will generate long-term value through targeted strategic and synergistic investments..."
"We bring specialized resources to each portfolio investment and use economies of scale to support growth and create value for our partners. With proven successes and a mindset for growth, we are actively seeking investment and partnership opportunities of all kinds. We also continue to develop a diversified portfolio of growth-oriented businesses that help innovate health care..."
The above comes from the portfolio web page of the not-for-profit Bon Secours Mercy Health, a Catholic system recently exposed by the Times for its abominable exploitation of poor hospitals in order to harvest millions in revenue (which has been growing at around 20%/yr lately for them).
It would seem that not-for-profit health care is just as fucked up as everything else these days.