Monday, July 09, 2007

"Sicko," addendum, or: it's the end of the U.S. dominated world as we know it, and I don't feel so good myself.

A few what-I-thought-were-disparate ideas sort of congealing, then:

First of all, Jill is right, "Sicko" is well worth seeing. I agree with most of the post, including the critiques (altho', look, no one ever claimed the man was "fair and balanced;" he's a polemicist, it's what he does. But, yeah). And, particularly, this is astute, and important:

the film so thoroughly challenges our deeply-held assumptions that I wonder how receptive American audiences will be to it, and to the fact that we’re ranked very, very low in terms of health care compared to the rest of the developed world. American cultural pride is very much tied to our superiority; questioning that can not only feel like anti-Americanism (which Moore does address), but is so far outside of what we’re used to hearing that I worry too many audience members will simply refuse to believe it. I’m a decently-traveled coastal liberal, and I had a hard time swallowing some of it.

Yeah. I was there for the preview (Moore himself showed up to take a bow at the beginning, to raucous applause--as a friend dryly noted, "This is like a Trekkie convention for leftists), and--we all did get that same vibe from the audience. (Audience member, as we exited: "France is the shit! We should all be in Paris, yo") The really groundbreaking thing about that flick isn't so much "dude, our health care system sucks"--although that in itself isn't talked about nearly enough--but

Oh my God, this may not actually be the greatest place in the world to live after all.

There are a couple of components to that, the BOO YA AMERICA! thing. Yea, basic kneejerk patriotism/nationalism, we all get that. But specifically: well. One thing is, there's this (gropes irritatedly) it's a psych term, or a phenomenon: basically, there's this instinctive human response to go into denial mode when confronted with evidence that we've been screwed over real bad. The more we've been screwed, the more the denial drive kicks in overtime, in what seems at first like a counterintuitive move.*

*(I forget exactly how the experiment I'm thinking of went: something like, the supposed test was this dull-as-paint questionnaire the participants were supposed to fill out; the -real- test was monitoring the reaction of the participants afterward, when the testers told them to out and tell the people in the waiting room how the experience was. Some of these exiting participants were given twenty bucks; some, this is the part I can't remember the exact mechanics, were either given a much smaller amount of money, or nothing at all; or maybe some of each. Anyway, point being: curiously enough, the ones who'd been compensated with money were the most candid: yeah, it's really boring, but they'll give you twenty bucks for it. I think maybe the ones who got no money and were promised no money were also pretty honest: boring. But the ones who only got a piddling amount, were all like, oh, it's really interesting! Yeah, it's worth your time.)

So, ego. After all, we really WERE Number One! in many ways for a while there; not to mention the commonly acknowledged Good Guys after WWII, which is heady stuff. Heroes. World saviors. Top of the world, Ma, and rightfully so. No one wants to be reminded that they're slipping, that their glory days are over (isn't that a good chunk of what the War in Iraq is -really- all about? I think so). But, instead of adknowledging that circumstances have changed, and we can either adapt or, well, decline and fall, we stick our fingers in our ears and pretend it's not happening. Lalala.

But even besides that: I think, o my fellow Americans, honestly: we just really don't have much of a clue what else is going on out there, period.

Maybe it's related to the Number One! thing: we're not that curious about the rest of the world because we didn't have to be. Or maybe it's partly because, well, we're big, and compared to say a country in the E.U., relatively geographically isolated. Canada's...different, (not least in, as Moore reminds us, in their health care system), but close enough in many ways. And Mexico, well...that's a whole subject to itself, isn't it, that particular relationship. ("Something there is that doesn't love a wall...")

But so, and then meanwhile, this week, right here, there was this little dust-up in the comments of one of Aishwarya's posts.

I got into it there, and I don't want to go into the specifics again--I don't particularly want to rag on anyone here. I'm just noting it because, well, as I made this (cranky) response:

Oh fer crying out loud. It’s not really necessary to go into paroxysms of GO USA! on one of the rare occasions when someone from somewhere -else- starts talking honestly from her POV, -is- it? Would it be possible to just -listen- for once? Because it’s this sort of thing that makes people retreat into “you know what, I am now going to be silent over the things I find fucked up about my own country/culture and Represent as an ambassador, because clearly nobody here has the faintest clue and I feel like I’m selling out.”

I mean, tell you what: go over to a Eurocentric board, okay, and start trying to explain to them about our health care system, or the religiosity permeating the culture at every step. See what kind of reaction you get (”those barbaric Americans.”) See how you feel like responding.

and yeah, newsflash: a lot of people do shit -better- than we do, too. It doesn’t mean you still can’t get irritated when people go, o my, -we- don’t have -anything- like that over -here-, thank goodness; how on earth can They stand it? what’s wrong with you Yanks, anyway?

...of course, I was also connecting back, again, to Sicko, and that sort of bristling Jill alludes to when confronted with...well, what?

I just think, you know, it's a really common reaction in the U.S., that, and yeah, even among the "left," a lot of it, that, well, jingoism, but even when it's not that, this sort of weird...myopia. Like, Scott Adams (Dilbert) talking about his "Elbonia" strips, that basically this is what "we" tend to think of when we think of Other Places, especially those that aren't immediately identifiable as "Western," (whatever that actually means): a sort of vague impression of odd little people wearing fur hats and wallowing around in waist-deep mud, with airlines that basically consist of giant rubber bands. Oh, and rampant poverty and outrageous sexism, of the sort we -never- encounter in the U.S., flawed as it is, thank God. None of "us," that is, all three hundred million and change of "us," especially the one with the trick knee.

Oh, but of course, we're not surprised that the Elbonians speak flawless English. Who doesn't, really?

So anyway, I'm thinking these thoughts, and making some long overdue blog rounds. And immediately run into two posts at Mera Terrha Pakistan that seem to tie into this inchoate...theme.


Last week I met a woman researching queer women’s lives in Pakistan. She’s American, half-Indian and very nice. And did not cause me to vomit up my lunch in any way.

I’m not sure why. First of all, she understood bisexuality. Secondly, she wasn’t patronizing and didn’t assume that all Pakistan women are oppressed and all queer women must be dying of suffocation. And finally, since queer women are pretty much suffocating in a way that queer men are not, I didn’t feel particularly defensive, apologetic or untruthful about talking about that.

So I spoke about my own experience and how it may well be exceptional in that I’m not answerable to my family for everything in my life. And how my girlfriend lives a life of compromise and is more answerable than I am. How it’s all about autonomy. It was pretty good.

But then she said, “I feel like I’ll go do this research, or this article, and show to folks in the West and it doesn’t do anything for the women it’s about.”

“Yeah,” I said. “It doesn’t help much.”

And it doesn’t. What good does it do a woman here who has been interviewed for a paper or radio? What does it do for discussion here? Nothing. Just makes us more defensive because now, in addition to being Islamic fundamentalist third world shits who beat their women, we’re also queer haters.

And then, (riffing off one of my own posts):

So I read the above-linked blog post today and I thought, speaking (in my head) to the strange woman quoted by belledame, that sure, lady, marriage is the place where values come from and gay marriage means a change in values, and that scares the kack out of you and that’s fine. But talk to someone for whom the whole gay marriage conversation is a luxury or, more accurately, irrelevant. And your smooth-as-silk cool may be disturbed a bit when you find out that in both India and Pakistan, sodomy is punishable by life imprisonment under India and Pakistan Penal Codes Section 377 (thank you, Britannia, for that shit) and that in fact any “unnatural act” that involves penetration is so treated. So it’s not even a moral or ethical choice at this point. Being queer is illegal, flat-out.

So what use for marriage?

I guess all I’m saying is that the global discourse in gay rights is defined by, primarily, the US. And while, sitting here in what, for the purposes of gay rights work, really is a backwater, I get great support from the US gay rights movement, but its issues aren’t my issues. Which means I can’t ride on its coat tails anymore. I’ve never been to a pride parade and there was a time that I said I wasn’t interested in marching. Now I wouldn’t mind. But it’s also just a side thing, a distraction. Or a PR exercise, I don’t know. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it?” That’s not quite what our motto is. “We’re here, we’re queer, and we won’t get punished for it.” That’s more what we’re looking at. We’re here, we’re queer, do you know what that means? We’re here, we’re queer, just leave us the fuck alone. That sort of thing.

So, I could look at that and take a number of different points from that. "Thank God I live in the U.S.A., where at least marriage is (NOW) on the table at all; where we HAD Stonewall, where the theocrats aren't quite as powerful as some places." Sure.

I can do that, and I can ALSO note, as one of the commenters** at the originating thread wrote,

Europe and the rest of the western world marches on: civil unions are present in most EU countries in some form, and are likely to become mandatory under the new human rights acts - indeed this is all old news when several years ago Spain, a prodominately catholic country passed a gay marriage law - which the pope demanded they not do - to which the president of Spain said that he was responsible for the secular equality of the population, regardless of religious belief (and went on to pass a T-rights bill almost as sweeping - Italy HAS at one point 2 Trans members of parliment (the US has the worst representation of females in houses of power in the western world). In Canada, legal marriages are hitting the 6 and 7 year mark, Mexico itself, with the Mexico city law has moved farther ahead of the US per capita in gay rights (though perhaps not culturally - a bit tied there)

(**if you read this commenter's blog, which i can't recommend enough, actually, among other things, there's a somewhat less rosy picture of the Canadian health service to be found therein).

And yeah, not to wander too much farther off into the weeds, which I could easily do as, hoo, queer rights/queer marriage on an international scale, talk about oh I could go on, but I won't here, except to note: yes indeed, thank FUCK I live in a country where two of my friends who've been in eight/ten year relationships respectively are in constant danger of being broken up on account of one member of each couple is from Elsewhere, -none- of the countries in question recognize same-sex marriage, not least of which this here Land of Opportunity, Number One Go USA; and, well, ze green cards, zey are just not all that easy to get these days.

...but, we DO have the freedom to make zany, yet Message-filled, comedies like this. God bless.


As I also said in the Nudity is Not a Solution thread:

...and no, ftr, “thank God I live here” probably wasn’t meant to be offensive, I wouldn’t expect, and no, it also isn’t necessary to go into “boo yah, Amerikka SUCKS!” either.

Partly because that's kind of egocentric in its own way; but mostly because, well, it's true.

Which brings me back to Sicko.

It's particularly ironic that Michael Moore gets slapped with the broad brush applied to all on the "far left" (i.e. anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman, pretty much), you know, "Why do you hate America so much, you Islamicist-loving Commie." Because actually, whatever his flaws, I think Moore is about as American as they come, in many ways. Good ways, for the most part. You really see it toward the end of "Sicko:," that old-school all-American populism and optimism: why, he asks, can we not fix this? Look, other people are doing it better. That's not meant as a shaming club, that should be a -hopeful- thing, dammit. Because it means that it's possible. And: we CAN do this, if we really want to. We're good enough, we're smart enough, and gosh darn it...well, we're rich enough, collectively. And if people don't like us (anymore)? Well, maybe time to suck it up and just -deal- with it. Start cleaning up the messes we made, acknowledge that we might not, in fact, be Number ONE!!11!!ELEVEN in EVERYTHING, FOREVER...and that that is potentially a good thing.

We can learn from other people, and--for once--follow, gracefully.

And maybe even, you know, we could dump some of this collective ego shit, which is exhausting to maintain and isn't really working anyway, and maybe, you know, just try to live better.

And at the same time:

Yeah, there are reasons why we were Number One! for a while, and no, they're not all bad ones. They're not all great ones either, but some, I think, still serve, if we want them to.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...

Well, on this board of all places, I think we can already spot one basic honking flaw with that. As have others, before us. Along with many other...problems. Some are more equal than others, always have been, it's built right in.

Yeah, it was flawed from the git-go.

Aren't we all.

And yet, I think, there's something fundamentally good about it, that -idea-, that's worth saving.

Aren't we all.

And with that:

Happy Independendence Day, a day late and a dollar short.

Maybe that's my personal-shit-is-possibly-political Thought For The Day. Better late than never.

And: It's not a once-a-year thing, really.

And: It isn't about being perfect, or being on top all the time.

It's about the work. It's about change. It's about keep going.

Keep going.

x-posted at feministe.


Jeffrey Dach MD said...

What is the real solution, if Michael Moore’s government sponsored universal health care is not the answer?

The crux of the "SICKO" documentary is the disconnect between our expectations and the reality of health care. We are expecting compassionate care from another human being, and instead we get a faceless corporation. The person behind the desk or window is an agent of a health care corporation, which is not a human being, whose primary goal is to increase corporate profit.

This is America, and corporate profit is good, the profit motive forming the basis America’s greatness. The basic problem is that a corporation is not a human being. Therein lies the fallacy of replacing a corporation with a government agency, neither of which is a human being, when what we really want is a human being to deliver compassionate health care, and assist in serious health care decisions.

Review of "SICKO", by Jeffrey Dach MD

Jeffrey Dach MD

queen emily said...

I totally agree re: Michael Moore's patriotism. To Australian me, it can be a bit tiresome. Like it takes as its departure point American exceptionalism and all that.

But I think that it's probably actually strategically usefull, appealing to American pride and democratic ideals and all that should most definitely not be the province solely of the Right.

>>>And yet, I think, there's something fundamentally good about it, that -idea-, that's worth saving.

Innit. Rather than abandoning it, the truly radical thing might be to be more faithful to the idea than its "defenders." Or something.

Rootietoot said...

One of the beauties of America is our right to be critical of it. I know, everyone has a story about someone who was demonized for being critical, but... Michael Moore is doing rawther well for himself, how many blogs are there of people pointing out America's flaws? How many people have been taken behind the proverbial barn and shot for saying ugly things about the President?

We have the right to leave, if we hate it so much. We also have to right to try to change it.

Summer said...

ooh! it's here too! well blow me down and curl up on top of me

or something. shanks!

belledame222 said...

um Dach, I'm not really all that interested in "compassion" from the government, I'm interested in not having to worry that if, no WHEN I get seriously ill, I can get treated for it, and hopefully without having to sell my house.

and hello to you, too, Jeffrey Dach MD. Generally, you know, it's a bit rude to make one's very first post somewhere with a spam-esque sounding plug for one's own review. I will maybe read it later.

belledame222 said...

RT: I don't think Michael Moore's personal solvency is really relevant to his point about the health care industry And as I said in the post, actually that's -exactly- what he says: -hey, let's fix this.-

Daisy said...

"This is like a Trekkie convention for leftists"


My partner and I once had this rather loopy conversation in which we decided that the USA was the 5th greatest country in the world, and we went around saying this, hey, don't trash America, it's the 5th best country in the world! And even though we hang around with lefties and liberals, I was thoroughly amazed at how many people challenged this, alarmed: Did we really believe that????

Well, yeah, the more we talked about it, the more we believed it, and hey! -- 5th place, in a world with hundreds of countries, ain't bad at all! We provided our reasons, one of which was universal health care, also: potable water, housing availability, internet access for regular/poor folks, libraries, climate, all of these were factors we listed. And that's the thing, it was OUR OWN criteria, and would not necessarily be yours or someone else's. Nonetheless, folks would invariably argue with us and surprisingly, got visibly upset at being placed 5th. You'd think we had committed some kind of treason!

Maybe we did--you simply AREN'T ALLOWED to challenge the "greatest country in the world" claptrap.

Rootietoot said...

The point was not his personal solvency but that he (and we) are not being penalized for being critical.

KH said...

You isolate at least 3 distinct things:

1. The chauvinist reflex. There are plenty of things conservatives don’t like about the USA, & they’re not shy to complain about them. People don't think their complaints are dissonant with their nationalism because they don’t associate the alleged defects with the essential identity of the country. Likewise, if people attribute the current health care system’s defects to some fundamental normative feature of the country, they’re likely to resist the critique. If they don’t, they aren’t. The trick is to explain why a USA with decent health care is still equally the USA.

2. Denying injustice to others. Assent to conservative ideology is partly a defense against the difficulty (some) people have in seeing other people’s misfortune plainly. Acknowledging it is dissonant with just world beliefs, in which people may have an interest. Injustice calls for a response, & when people who aren’t completely morally insensitive nevertheless are reluctant to do anything about it, they require absolving rationalizations, which conservative ideologues are in the business of providing. So long as health care reform is framed chiefly as a benefit to (often derogated) others, there’s that source of resistance.

3. Denying injury to oneself. People can be relied on more often to respond with alacrity to harm to themselves, but there may be reasons not to acknowledge having been had. It conflicts with the natural desire not to see oneself as gullible, a loser, etc. It may also call into question one’s settled life, or recommend resistance to powerful people or forces that one’s afraid to challenge. When we choose to submit, & we prefer it to be as psychologically painless as possible. (See domestic violence, etc.) The trick is to convince people that the problem doesn't reflect badly on them, & that they're not collectively powerless to solve it.

belledame222 said...

RT: Yes, that's so. It's not really any worse in that regard in Canada or the EU, though. It's really not an either-or thing.

belledame222 said...

Look, if you don't dig Moore, you probably aren't going to be terrifically receptive to the movie. Or even want to see it in the first place. I get that.

But, can I just ask you to check out this woman's website? (if you don't know her already).

This is a woman who worked and saved all her life, was--still is-fiercely independent. Retired early, moved to rural Louisiana, "Deep Inferno" as she calls it, bought, fixed up, totally paid for, her dream house. For a couple of years there she was--you know, I knew this woman from a virtual community before (where we all had to give our real names, and I also know people who know her IRL, so: she's for real, if you wonder)

--anyway, i used to look at her writing and think, I want to be her, maybe, when I grow up.

She's incredibly resilient. -Beautiful- garden. Dancing zydeco, writing her thoughts, living a smalltown, slow-paced, community life. Her own master, finally.

Then she got advanced-stage lymphoma.

With no insurance.

This blog, which has a very very different tone from her last one ("Granny gets a vibrator") is all about the seven flavors of merry hell she's been through.

A hint: she's had to sell her house. Her dream house.

In another country, with another system of health care, she at least could've been spared financial terror on top of everything else.

Point is:

It could be anybody. Liz is just folks. And--well, I'll stop here.

KH said...

The point isn’t that anyone is penalized, impoverished, demonized, shot, etc. for what he says. It’s that national chauvinism, etc. are sources of resistance to accepting his claims & to reform generally.

KH said...

Which is why personalizing the debate, as if it were about the person of Michael Moore, his weight, etc., is so purposefully beside the point.

arrogantworm said...

And even though we hang around with lefties and liberals, I was thoroughly amazed at how many people challenged this, alarmed: Did we really believe that????

You know, this brings to mind two teachers I'd had back in high school; both history teachers, one taught past history in ninth grade and the other taught recent history and current events in twelfth. And they both had the same flavor, they were the only two honest teachers in high school I've had regarding that subject. No glossing over for them, it was great. Twelfth grade teach even went to great and very long lengths to get it through most of the class's head that ~America was Not The Best~ with long lectures on Why. She also liked to travel, had some of the best stories.

ArrogantWorm said...

We are expecting compassionate care from another human being, and instead we get a faceless corporation.

I'll be taking umbrage with this. Who is this 'we' you speak of? Only thing I expect of the hospital currently is to have them reliably boot me out the door with prescriptions I can't afford to fill and a reminder to pay my outstanding bill. The opposite of that care doesn't involve compassion in the hospital's enviroment. The last time I had stitches in my hand I had to remove the blackened skin and stitches myself because it cost to much to go back. It isn't compassion, it's cash, and I was very grateful that I had enough knowledge on how to do it myself. Compassion my ass.

Anonymous said...

I totally get the "we were Number One for a while" bit - it's something that still haunts the political debate here in lil ole Britain (odd, lots of people used to hate us, too ;-) )

I live here, and complain about the government, how we're in such a terrible state and they're running the country into the dirt, but one thought keeps coming back, and I think it probably hold strue for most people living in Western liberal democracies:

"If I could think of a place that was definitely better to live than here, I'd up sticks and go live there instead."

I guess the upshot of that optimism thing is that, hey, even if the USA were the best in the world, wouldn't you still want to be the best you can be? That's my type of patriotism - celebrate what's good, but always challenge and seek to improve things too. Ask any sportsman about their personal achievements, and I'm sure they'll have that as their personal goals in their sports.

Alon Levy said...

"If I could think of a place that was definitely better to live than here, I'd up sticks and go live there instead."

The "If you don't like it here, leave" notion is only true if for everyone, the best place to live in is the one that's the most developed. In reality, it's not. The most developed country in the world is Norway. But a professional who doesn't speak Norwegian can't really do much there.

Immigrants often have to take jobs far below their skill level due to language problems or qualifications that are denigrated in the new country or discrimination. When the difference in development levels is very big, as it is across the US-Mexico border, it makes sense to migrate. Within the first world, the difference is never that big; the Israelis who move to the US for economic reasons all speak English, which makes the migration drastically easier.

You isolate at least 3 distinct things:

4 distinct things. Some people really do think private health care is better. You don't have to be evil or stupid or duped not to like the idea of single-payer health care.

Also, the chauvinist reflex really isn't there in the US. The median American thinks the health care systems in the US and Canada are equally good, and more Americans think the Canadian system is better than think the American one is better.

KH said...

...more Americans think the Canadian system is better than think the American one is better.

I don't doubt it. Notwithstanding all the wheezing about American exceptionalism, the population has long supported arrangements well to the left of what the political class is willing to deliver. And, although I doubt it's completely absent, I have no fixed opinion of how widespread national chauvinism is among the substantial minority that resists universal coverage, or how far that resistance - rather than, e.g., interest group politics - explains the failure of reform.

Likewise, I don't doubt that intelligent people can oppose one or all of the major reform proposals. I was unpacking the not-entirely rational factors BD described, which clearly play some role in the formation of public opinion. Industry managers presumably have a clearer understanding of their interests.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

This and some related stuff came up for discussion in another forum recently, just after I got my bill from my recent first meeting with the new doctor.

In said first meeting, we did a basic getting-to-know-you consultation with preventative medicine consultation, physical, pap smear, checked my immunizations, and did a blood draw to see if my endocrine system is full of wack again. Completely mundane stuff?

Got the bill from them, with a little note saying, "Your insurance company says you've surpassed your allowance for half of this bill, so you need to pay us that." My best guess is that it's the preventative medicine consultation that I've had too much of already (it's the right amount, and ... while that's batshit, it's perhaps less batshit than the part of the bill that's 'cancer screening lab fees').

I mention this, and I get, "Well, if you look at your documentation on this, that, and the other, you should be able to find out exactly what they rejected and why" from one of the "Ewwww, socialism" types who doesn't see why I think having preventative medicine not treated as a public good is, well, batshit.

Meanwhile, another person whose husband was just diagnosed diabetic is trying to figure out how to afford his meds and testing supplies, which are not covered by insurance.

Meanwhile, Respectful of Otters wrote a while ago about a program that did home visit nursing care for at-risk teen mothers and wound up reducing the teen pregnancy rate for those mothers and their children, the delinquency rate for those mothers and their children, the crime rate, I think improved education chances ... a program that struggles for funding, because the fact that it works and overall saves money and social turmoil doesn't matter.

Boo! Commies!