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Ad Hominem

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I’m having one of those mornings where I feel sort of percolated–as if I’d swallowed a fleck of tea leaf and now I’m overcaffeinated.  This happens to me once in a while, and I don’t really know why.  Sometimes I do swallow a speck of tea leaf, and know it.  This morning, I was like this before I had my tea.

The problem with feeling like this is that I find I have a hard time concentrating on any one thing.  Part of my brain has been wandering around in the discussion about whether or not the people who want to know what Jon Venables did to land himself back in jail represent a “mob mentality.”

And I think I’ll stick to my original take–and, to an extent, the one from Spiked–that it seems to me that simply wanting to know, or even thinking that the government should be obliged to provide such information, isn’t the same thing as acting as part of a mob, or even of the kind of emotional irrationalism that a “mob mentality” implies.

One of the reasons I think I feel this way has to do with something that is not in any way part of the discussion about Jon Venables–the state of the public debate in the US at the moment on the subject of “healthcare reform.”

I’m not going to apologize for the scare quotes.  They belong there.  There is nothing about the present debate in the US that has the least to do with “healthcare reform.”  We’re not talking about issuing rules and regulation for, say, when doctors will be allowed to order CAT scans or when surgery will be required for breast cancer rather than a course of radiation.  We’re not even talking about new regulations to keep hospitals clean or to make sure imposters aren’t practicing medicine without a license.

What we’re talking about in the US is health insurance reform, which is something else altogether.

And I’ll say now, as I have several times in the past, that I personally would prefer to see some form of single payer system.  Those are the ones that seem to have worked best in most of the places I’ve lived, and that seems to be the only solution that will effect any kind of real change in the system we have now.

I am not, however, opposed to a free market in health care.  The problem is, we don’t have a free market in health care, or anything like it.  Not only are there endless mandates and regulations from both state and local governments–including federal provisions that make it illegal for the citizens of state A to buy their insurance from state B–but the health care companies themselves behave the way monopolies behave.  And monopolies are what we’re looking at here, both enabled by and protected by government (so that they’re exempt from antitrust law, for instance), and made stronger by the fact that it is becoming increasingly impossible for middle class people to refuse to have such insurance at all.

And yes, I did say refuse.  The one thing about the present bill that makes me absolutely wild–the one reason why I would be happy to see it defeated–is the individual mandate that would require all adults to purchase health insurance…from the health insurance companies.

Give me the public option, where I am allowed to refuse to give my money to these people at all, and I’ll consider it.  But the policies of most American insurers are outrageous, the exercise of power for the simple fact that it’s there to be exercised.  And I don’t see why my government should require me to hand my money over to them. 

I read an article a couple of months ago that pointed out that one of the problems Republicans and libertarians (small l) have is that they tend to be blind to the fact that large bureaucracies are large bureaucracies, whether they’re technicallay in the public or the private sector.  I’m not so worried about a “massive government bureaucracy” in health care because Aetna and Blue Cross/Blue Shield are already massive bureaucracies, and their operations are just as protected as that of any government department.

But in spite of my basic feelings about health care, the health care debate in this country has become very ugly, and the worst of it is definitely just that thing we were talking about in the Venables case–the tendency to see anybody on the other side as part of a “mob,” dangerous and out of control.

There are certainly some aspects of the present US opposition to “government run health care” that would fit this description, and individuals in the crowds who are almost certainly racists who would dislike anything Obama was in favor of simply because he is black.

But the fact is that there are cogent arguments to be made against the idea of socialized medicine in general and the present bill in particular, and most of the time the pro-“health reform” outlets like MSNBC don’t address them.  Instead, what we get is endless stories about how everybody in the crowd at the last tea party rally was white, or how one nutcase came with a sign saying we should shoot all the liberals, or whatever.

It’s like a national object lesson in ad hominem arguments.

I think there are good reasons to object to the attitude towards crime and criminals on display in the Melanie Phillips article, and, as far as I can tell, largely held by the present round of British authorities.  I think that protesting specific actions of those authorities–like not releasing the information on Venables–might be a reasonable expression of such objections.

Phillips’s article did not just present a position on the Venables case.  It presented a raft of assumptions and declarations on the nature of crime and not-punishment, an overarching understanding of the meaning of crime and what should be done about it.  I can see how people would object to that understanding.  I object to it, and that’s in spite of the fact that I think we lock up too many people in the US and think we’re far too quick to brand people for life. 

If Phillips is upset that too many people have dark and horrible ideas about human nature, the least she could do is address them, rather than simply dismiss anyone who wants a different policy on the Venables case as part of a mob out for blood.

And now I really need to go get something done.

Written by janeh

March 11th, 2010 at 7:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'Ad Hominem'

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  1. John Oliver is a guest of our soon-to-implode public health system. He won the lottery this morning (Australian Eastern Summer Time) when he was actually operated on for the removal of his gall bladder. Luckily, the op went ahead as scheduled, which is extremely unusual in the NSW public health system where many people have had a large number of cancellations some right at the very door of the operating theatre.

    His friend from the Land of the Long White Cloud (NZ) emailed Cheryl, me and his other friends this evening to report that she had called the hospital,and that according to the status chart everything went well. She’ll call again tomorrow and see how he’s doing (and see if she can talk to someone who is directly caring for him).

    Here’s hoping there are no complications.

    Back to your usual program.

    Mique

    11 Mar 10 at 7:50 am

  2. The more I read about the Bulger case, the more I’m becoming convinced that now and in the past the extreme violence expressed against the murderers by the media and political reactions to that pressure were disgusting. And I’m not reading much in the way of rational arguments for or against protection of the killers’ identity, now that they’ve presumably paid the price exacted by their society from murderers.

    As for US health reform – I haven’t been following it closely, but I did come across that bit about requiring everyone to buy insurance from private insurance companies some time ago. To be honest, it made me wonder about the rationality of the politicians who proposed the idea, but I suppose in the US political context, with the distrust in government and naive trust in big business, it was inevitable that some bizarre-sounding compromise would be proposed.

    Cheryl

    11 Mar 10 at 8:27 am

  3. All states except Wisconsin and New Hampshire require drivers to have automobile insurance. As of June 1 Wisconsin will require it. “New Hampshire law does not require you to have automobile insurance. However, you must satisfy the NH Financial Responsibility requirements to operate a vehicle in New Hampshire. This is a mandate from state governments that drivers: have a driver license, automobilie tag and have at least liability insurance on the cars they drive. How, exactly, does this differ from requiring US citizens without health insurance to purchase it?

    jem

    11 Mar 10 at 4:02 pm

  4. Jem, the last I heard, I could still move to a high-density urban area and take public transportation, or live as the Amish. No state requires me to buy liability insurance from a private corporation as a condition or legal residence.
    And I’ll second the motion on bureaucracies, if we restrict it to those with monopoly or near-monopoly power. I’ve fought my own battles with Comcast and Blue Cross, and I’m currently struggling with Verizon. But Amazon is a model of responsiveness, and none of the surviving private car companies is too bad. It’s not the size that makes an organization unresponsive. It’s the knowledge that your customer has nowhere else to go.
    Obamacare cuts both ways on that one: both the House and Senate versions open up sales across state lines, but both require me to purchase insurance for a wide variety of conditions we can’t diagnose consistently, and don’t know how to treat. No policies just for catastrophic or chronic conditions will be allowed. It’s as though we’ll have 10 car companies, but they’ll only be permitted to make of sell limousines–no econoboxes allowed.
    On the ad hominem argument, I’d like to add one distinction–between the fact and the expert. If a tax protester poins out the size of the Federal debt and deficit, noting that he is whit and middle class has not refuted a word he said. If a climatologist says that sea levels are rising six inches a century, pointing out that he receives government funding will not lower the water level. BUT, if the same climatologist says “surface temperatures are rising based on data I have not shared, based on a complex algorithm I also have not released to the public” then his professional competence and honesty are certainly issues–and it is of some importance to know on which side his bread is buttered.
    Much of the “health care reform” debate has been carried on with sections of the bill not yet written, or with inadequate time for careful reading. ALL the talk about “bending the cost curve” is based on assumptions concerning the actions of future congresses. At that point, character, competence and previous behavior are not side issues, but critical data.

    And when the debate shifts from “what does the bill say? to “what is it GOING TO say? And what are the intentions of those who will implement it?” the fight gets really vicious as a result. “Trust me” is not a program.

    robert_piepenbrink

    11 Mar 10 at 4:57 pm

  5. You aren’t required to own a car, and if you don’t, you aren’t required to have car insurance. I haven’t paid car insurance in years, although I maintain my license and would have to take some out if I wanted to rent or buy a car.

    Theoretically you don’t need homeowner’s insurance either, if you rent, or have enough money to buy a house for cash and pay for any liabilities you may incur.

    Cheryl

    11 Mar 10 at 5:38 pm

  6. Most of us, however, especially where I live and there’s no mass transit do have cars and have to buy insurance, tag, license. Also, most of us earning money, pay taxes. It’s required, a government mandate. There are also property taxes you have to pay if you are a homeowner and if not, they are paid through your rent cost. The government requires quite a bit of its citizens. I understand the principle behind the argument against being required to purchase health insurance but if one is ill somebody’s going to pay for it. Medicaid or charity, one or the other. I, too, would rather see a public health option but I don’t think it’s going to happen. Too much partisanship in Congress. Government sponsored insurance is hardly free, it, too, comes from taxes. I would rather that happen than Blue Cross and company adding more billions to their coffers.

    jem

    11 Mar 10 at 8:39 pm

  7. I chose to live where I do partly because I wouldn’t have to own a car – also because I just like the area, and because there are various nearby places that hire people like me, of course. I realize not everyone is so fortunate.

    I don’t mind paying taxes except when the local politicians decide to use some of it to pay for a convention centre or golf course, and even then, I remind myself that they also subsidize activities I like.

    I am an enormous supporter of single-payer health care, even with it’s faults. As Mique may know (I can’t remember off hand whether he’s read many of my opinions on the subject, or remembered them if he did) I think that the main fault of the Australian and British versions is that they don’t put enough of a leash on the private health care sector. I was much impressed some years ago by a comparison of the various health care systems, and the ones that seem to function best are the ones that either (like Canada) severely restrict the competing private system or (like some of the western European countries) restrict the charges of and therefore increase public access to the private sector. I know John disagrees with me – we’ll see what he has to say when he recovers.

    But insurance companies, although a necessary evil, are the last group in the world who should be given total control over a national health care system, in my not-so-humble opinion.

    Cheryl

    12 Mar 10 at 7:11 am

  8. Oh – I forgot. I know our (Canada) health care system isn’t free – I get very annoyed when people say it is, because of course, I’ve been paying into it almost all my life. But at least, we pay less in offices and suchlike overhead than the insurance companies do, and we don’t have to generate a profit.

    Cheryl

    12 Mar 10 at 7:13 am

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