For a guy who claims not to value television, I watch a fair amount of it. It’s a reward and sometime pacifier for my kids and helps my wife wind down after her long days. I frankly enjoy cooking shows, home repair and sci fi. The television is a part of our household and a regular feature of our lives. (I say “the television”—in fact, we have three of them.)
Often it’s not the shows that interest me, but the juxtapositions made possible by channel surfing. Last night I came back from a bike ride to find my wife and kids watching an Animal Planet program about the Houston ASPCA. In the segment I saw, a tearful immigrant woman was being prosecuted for having neglected her dog to the extent that its collar had grown into the flesh around its neck, requiring surgical removal. Evidently a neighbor’s call had prompted the visit from Animal Control.
By the end of the segment, the dog was returned to health and happily romping with a middle-class white family who clearly loved her. According to the narrator, this dog was one of twelve thousand neglected animals given new homes each year in the Houston area.
After we put the kids to bed, my wife and I watched a bit of the Democratic National Convention. We enjoyed the highly-polished retrospective feature on the life and times of Ted Kennedy (truly well done) then watched a bit of his live speech. It was either in that speech or in the prepared file footage that we saw Kennedy espouse healthcare coverage as a right for all Americans, not just for the privileged few. Something like that.
For all the talk of universal health care, I have to admit I’ve never given it much critical thought.
I was raised a dependent of the US Army, with access to all the free medical and dental care (and education) I needed as a child. Department of Defense doctors saved my life at least twice, free of charge: once from double pneumonia as an infant, and again from leptospirosis as a teen. Doubtless my immunizations and regular check-ups prevented other medical catastrophes.
I enjoyed this privileged care (arguably the best in the world) until leaving home as a young adult. Since then, I’ve worked for various state agencies and enjoyed similar benefits, almost magically provided by automatic deductions from my monthly paycheck.
Is this what universal healthcare is all about? If so, I am hardly in any position to begrudge my fellow Americans (heck, anyone anywhere) such a luxury. I would literally be dead without it.
Which brings me to the Houston ASPCA and the DNC and our increasingly humane society.
Considering the possible connections, I’m moved to wonder, How responsible to one another are we? How responsible are we to ourselves? How much of my own wellbeing can I be entrusted with? Should I have any choice?
The notion that bad outcomes can be managed, perhaps eliminated, is terribly compelling. It is so attractive we’re willing to give up almost everything to pursue it. If choices can have negative consequences, then maybe limiting choice is the answer: Simply limit our choices to those that have only positive outcomes. Banish the rest.
Inescapably, this seems the goal of humane society.
But that goal has a flaw, and we are it. The whole world, if not the universe, is that flaw. We are creatures of a universe in which positive and negative outcomes (good and bad choices) are intertwined and interdependent. It is probably not the one we would have created for ourselves. But I’m frankly glad we didn’t get the chance.
Every cultural good I can think of comes at the risk of bad consequences. Strong marriage. Bright kids. Fine art. Useful domesticated animals. Interesting, wholesome foods. Health. They all come, arguably, because of bad consequences and the choices we make to avoid them. None would spring up automatically on their own. None have ever been produced by official decree.
The ultimate strategy for eliminating neglected dogs (knows the HSUS) is to eliminate dogs. The ultimate healthcare strategy is to ensure that no child ever leaves his yard, no man takes a drink of alcohol or a bite of bacon, no one drives a car or smokes a cigarette. And yet by banishing these bad choices we are not magically transported into a world in which no bad thing can happen.
That’s the kicker. We haven’t left the Earth. We will still die. Even dogs will reinvent themselves, sulking around the piles of waste we will always make regardless how many laws prevent it.