Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Principle

I've always thought the term "in principle" to be an annoying dodge people use to avoid taking a stand, but as of late I've been (ironically) rethinking my stance. I feel it could just as easily be a way to maintain and defend a personal ideology while at the same time adapting to an ever-changing reality.

I guess what prompted this whole thought process has been the most prevalent political idea in my mind: health care reform. I can't say I'm surprised by the amount of emotion proposing such legislation evokes. Any government decision that deals so directly with life and death is bound to have critics, myself being one. While I don't feel we're taking progressive enough action (I favor a single-payer plan), many others think the government plans to go too far.

The result has led to me watching a lot of individuals beg for "their America back." The reality is "their America" never really existed. It's just a nostalgic longing for a past in which, given their youth, these individuals were too naive to notice the corruption and problems that existed during the time. The baby boomer America consisted of Watergate, political assassinations, sanctioned racism, Vietnam, and a ton of other negative things. I do not mean to say that "their America" was any worse than the one we live in now, but how much better could it have really been?

The thing I find most surprising is how willing people are to cling to an ideology even if it leads to their downfall. Yes, America is founded on principles of capitalism and we have a mean libertarian streak in us. Is it best to let "the market" regulate the practices of business and by extension numerous aspects of our personal lives? Yes, in principle.

I don't want the government in my business anymore than they need to be. I don't think the government has the right to tell me when and where I can smoke a cigarette, to regulate marijuana and other drugs so strictly, to make judgments about profane content via the FCC, to violate my privacy through domestic spying, to suspend habeas corpus en mass, or to do a host of other things.

However, this principle falls apart in that there are numerous things I would like the government to run (and tax its citizens to do so): public roads, libraries, police forces, fire departments, public schools, the military, utilities, and HEALTH CARE. The reason being is that, in a privatized business model, responsibility to investors to turn consistently higher profits leads to cuts in the quality of service in order to increase revenue, particularly if competitors are few and services and price are similar among them.

Health care is essential to a high quality of life and should be available to everyone at the cost of everyone. Problem is this view doesn't mesh well with traditional American ideals. It doesn't mesh well with some of my principles either, but their comes a point when defending a principle only leads to shooting yourself in the foot, and God forbid you do that because it will cost too much damn money to go to the doctor and get that treated, leaving you bankrupt financially, though perhaps not ideologically. At least you'll have your principles, but is it worth it?

I'm reminded of a short essay written by George Orwell, I believe. In it, he argues that societies are built around revolution, but that revolution never creates a situation for advancing the lower class. Instead, the middle class merely deceitfully offers advancement to the lower class in exchange for aiding in toppling the aristocracy. The lower class then discovers that the middle and upper classes have simply switched places.

I feel like much of the political scene now is very different. Out of fear that abandoning the commonly asserted ideal (or myth) that is America will lead the middle class into poverty, the middle class is deceived by an elite few in the upper class into fighting its own interests, and all out of principle. Rather than working with the lower class to stand a fighting chance against powerful interests, the middle class is being eroded all in the name of principle. Health care is just the most recent example. Environmentalists could make similar arguments, as could economists concerning the bail outs, or even accountant when one considers the death (estate) tax reform.

I don't stand on either the right or left; I'm an issue to issue guy. I try to follow a libertarian ideology because I feel granting citizens greater freedom is generally the best thing to do. But not always. For certain things freedom causes chaos and suffering, which has been the case for health care, and it has all been for a principle that probably couldn't be identified by most who suffer in its name.

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