Monday, August 24, 2009

American mercy

While I know he and I share a relatively similar viewpoint, I don't generally turn to Charlie Stross's blog for political insight. He's a science fiction writer — and one of the best, if you ask me. I had the pleasure of sitting at the far end of a table of more than twenty for lunch with him when he was in Austin in 2005. So by "lunch with him" I mean essentially that I was in the same room.

In any case, he has written one of the finest blog posts on both the release of Abdelbaset Al Megrahi and, believe it or not, American health care reform I've read. Seriously, read it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Abolitionists against health care reform

Pretend I am still an abolitionist …


All people should have a right to adequate health care.

Respecting this right, morally or legally, demands that we abolish the commodity status of health care. Health care is not something that should be bought and sold on the market, but a right afforded all people, free at the point of delivery, simply out of respect for their dignity as people.

Because health care should be a right, I cannot support any measure that doesn't treat it as such. Supporting any mere health care reform is to reinforce the commodity status of health care so long as that reform continues to allow health care services to be sold on even the most highly regulated market. We can't focus on how people are treated by the health care industry. It's not how people are treated that is wrong, but that their right isn't being respected.

I am totally against the so-called "public option" in health care reform. I know that it will allow a lot of people to gain access to health insurance, but it does not respect people's right to health care. I would be reinforcing the commodity status of health care by supporting a measure that doesn't respect that right. Furthermore, instituting a public insurance option would allow those who have health insurance to feel better about denying a right to health care because it will give the illusion of consideration for the uninsured by allowing some of them to purchase relatively inexpensive government insurance. This will just prolong the struggle to achieve the right to health care. I'm not against individuals helping to pay for uninsured folks' health services if they wish, but I can't support any institutionalized aid to these people. Because that's different.

I am also entirely against "single-payer" health insurance provided by the government. Even though this would provide universal coverage to all American citizens, it still wouldn't recognize a fundamental right to heath care. Providers of health services would still be selling those services on a market. We must only focus on the commodity status of care, not merely how people are treated while their rights are denied. I oppose any kind of "happy insurance."

As painful as it may be, it would be better for those without insurance to continue to suffer exorbitant health care expenses and to lack access to certain services because this will force those who have insurance to see the horrific cost of not respecting the right to health care. I oppose all consequentialist appeals to the suffering of those people, because a true commitment to rights demands that I not support anything that doesn't respect those rights. Call it "being divisive" if you want, but anybody supporting the so-called "public option" is not an ally but an opponent of the real health care movement in which demanding a right to health care is the moral baseline. The only acceptable solution is to build a movement that can grow to a majority demanding the right to health care.

Nevertheless, there may be some incremental reforms that I could support. Perhaps we could start by nationalizing dentistry.


For the uninitiated, abolitionists are a faction of the animal liberation movement that believes that the abolition of the property status of animals is the only goal that should be sought by that movement. Abolitionists oppose all reforms aimed at improving the welfare of animals, because they won't lead to abolition, they will reinforce the property status of animals, and they will encourage expanded exploitation because they clear people's consciences.

I suspect there are abolitionists who can agree with my satirical argument as if it were straight. If so, they live in a world where personal moral purity takes priority over doing the best you can with what you've got. That's not my world.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Forget all the other deather nonsense for a second. It's hard, I know. But do it.

Withholding health care from old people is not euthanasia. Nazis killing Jews in concentration camps is not euthanasia. For that matter, killing unwanted but healthy dogs and cats is not euthanasia.

Euthanasia is killing in the deceased's actual best interests. A dog that has been hit by a car, suffers unimaginable pain, and faces a few days of agony before dying can be euthanized if she is killed to relieve her suffering. The soldier on the battlefield, shot in the liver and bleeding out, can be euthanized with an extra shot of morphine. And yes, terminal patients who ask for it can be euthanized through so-called "assisted suicide."

Grandma dying from not getting dialysis because it isn't economical isn't euthanasia, it's just plain murder.

So if Republicans and other various assholes want to accuse Democrats of wanting to straight-up murder people, go for it. Good luck with that. But don't call it euthanasia. Next time real euthanasia is called for to legitimately relieve suffering, the concept will be tainted beyond recognition.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Obama and the socialists

Let's ignore for a moment that, for his entire presidential run, opponents of Barack Obama called him a socialist and now they call him a Nazi, two ideological positions that are literally on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Since such people are still also claiming "Obamacare" will turn the United States into "Russia" or "a socialized state," I think we ought to take a moment and think about the relationship between Obama (and other Democrats) and socialism.

I will here refute the claim that any Democrats are socialists. I also make the claim that Democrats (and indeed, everyone else) should become socialists, because socialism is good.

First, it's important to be clear: socialism does not mean "state run." The police are entirely state run, but nobody is complaining about "socialized police." The military is totally state run; no sane conservatives want to privatize the Marine Corps. Socialism is an economic concept that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with government at all.

Socialism has been many things over the years, but in all of its modern forms it stems from the basic observation that under capitalism, workers do not get the product of their labor. The product is owned by someone else, who then pays some fraction of the money made off of it back to the people who actually made (or did, in the case of services) it.

The one thing all serious forms of socialism have in common is the idea that people ought not to work "for" someone else, but may work "with" them. An absolute minimal socialist position would require worker, community, or state ownership of productive enterprises. In modern democratic countries, that is typically expressed as nationalizing the major industries and monopolies for the benefit of all, and switching smaller companies to worker-owned co-ops for the benefit of the workers. Again, this is pretty much a minimal requirement for socialism. It has nothing to do directly with universal health care or social welfare programs, or anything but workers controlling the product of their work rather than absent owners or stockholders who contribute nothing but permission to use their property. Socialist businesses may operate in a market, but the profit goes to the workers or to the public (depending on the system). It does not go to private investors or CEOs.

So we can see that no Democrat has ever proposed anything resembling a socialist proposal in Congress, on the topic of health care or anything else. There are no bills calling for the abolition of private capital investment banks, no opposition to the stock market. I have never heard the words "surplus value" uttered on the Senate floor. There are actually Democrats who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, but they've never proposed anything exclusively socialist so it matters little.

"Socialist" health care would be more than a public option. "Socialist" health care would be more even than a single-payer system. "Socialist" health care would require that all hospitals, pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and other medical enterprises be owned by the state, the community they reside in, or even the very doctors, nurses, and other staff who work at them. Such enterprises would distribute all "profits" to the people who earned them, rather than to stockholders and executives. It would be a fully public system provided to all residents free at the point of delivery, not public insurance, and certainly not optional public insurance.

Even in a "best case" outcome of the current health care debate we are left with a system in which private insurance corporations inject themselves as parasites. Think about it for a second: private insurance doesn't actually do anything to earn its profit. Just as investors in corporations don't do anything to earn interest, nor do landlords do anything to earn their rents. Capitalism allows a class of people to earn money simply by making money available — it gives people money for nothing more than the privilege of already having enough money to spare. We don't need insurance. We need medical care, and there is no reason we can't collectively provide it for ourselves without middlemen. That's socialism.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The burden of proof

It is uncontroversial that nonhuman animals can suffer. Anyone who has ever stepped on a pet's tail knows that animals can be hurt. It should be equally uncontroversial that we ought not cause unnecessary suffering to any animal, human or otherwise.

We can all admit this, carnivore and herbivore alike, without specifying what constitutes necessary suffering. Even many committed vegans will say that there are necessary forms of suffering, such as that caused through self-defense. But the default position must obviously be not to cause suffering unless it is necessary.

The burden of proof clearly falls on those who are causing suffering. If you eat eggs, the burden of proof falls on you to justify the necessity of eating eggs that outweighs the suffering inflicted on egg-laying chickens. If you enjoy horse racing, the burden of proof falls on you to justify the necessity of horse racing that outweighs the suffering inflicted on racing horses.

Note that this argument is utterly independent of any claims for animal rights, though it is certainly compatible with them. This is merely a basic consequence of the commonsense notion that animals have a welfare that ought not be ignored for any but the most necessary reasons. Those reasons may exist, but they certainly do not in the case of any customary use of animals for food, clothing, or entertainment.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


I am an atheist. Atheist, from a- "without" and theos "a god." Without a god. I am godless.

I am not merely agnostic. I think the nonexistence of gods can be known to the same degree of certainty as the nonexistence of centaurs or fairies or any other creatures of fable and myth. In each case, no matter the fervent desire of believers, the evidence is nil. We needn't honor the belief in things without (and against) evidence by labelling it with the comforting word faith; the more accurate word is gullibility.

I am not merely nonreligious. It is true I think religion strips the rich meaning people can give to their lives and replaces it with hours of wasted praise and prayer and devotion to injustice. It is certainly true I think immersion in religion ruins young minds and leads to embrace of the irrational, from creationism to global warming denial to the belief that people who believe differently deserve damnation. But my opposition to religion is the result, not the cause, of my godlessness.

I am not merely spiritual. I reject all supernatural explanations of reality and all beliefs in magic. I have no soul, and neither do you. There is no life-force. There is no qi. The universe is not god. There are no spiritual beings, no out-of-body-experiences, and the bright tunnel of light is what the misfiring of an oxygen-starved brain feels like. Nobody can read minds. Nobody can see the future. Nobody can bend spoons with thought. Nobody can heal with their hands. Nobody can cast spells.

There are no such things as ghosts.

This is it. Look around you. Clench your fists. There is matter and energy embedded in the quantum foam of spacetime, there is blood pumping through your veins, a sloppy biological primate brain shooting electrochemical signals through synapses flooded with neurotransmitters.

This is it.

A world without god is not hypothetical: we're in it now. Only we can make it a good one.