Galactic Interactions

Why I won’t see “Sicko”

Every day, reading the newspapers or listen to the radio, we are barraged with reminders of how screwed up our society, our country is. We see these things, and have a realization that there is little to no hope that they will change any time soon.

I can only take so much despair. I can only take so much reminder of just how screwed up things are. I have stopped listening to the radio on my way driving in to work in the morning, because too often the stories are about places in the world where horrible things are going on. Too often, that place is Baghdad, a place that was screwed up and continues to be screwed up because of how poorly my country ran a war it decided to run on reasons that turned out to be entirely smoke and mirrors.

So many things are screwed up, but I really don’t believe that there is any reasonable chance of a lot of them changing any time soon. As such, I have to stick my head in the sand to maintain my sanity. All that Michael Moore’s movie will do is deepen my sense of despair. At least with Gore’s movie, there is some hope that something might happen. I still give you better-than-even odds that a century from now, we have faced a major international crisis as the climate has changed in a way that seriously disrupts the way we feed the world. But perhaps something will happen. The global warming denialists are getting fewer, and what needs to be done often has other reasons. (Yes, there are some extreme nutcases out there, like the one a few weeks ago who was arguing to my face that there is no point in making anything more energy efficient because people will then just use more and more energy as it becomes cheaper. Yes, indeed, it was an argument that greater energy efficiency does not meaningfully contribute to reducing energy use; I was so boggled I didn’t know how to respond, other than to realize I should never put myself in a position to debate with this person again. Alas, I sort of did the next day, in a completely different context, and it ended poorly.)

But with the health care situation? I honestly, honestly do not see any way it can really change. If it turns out that this movie raises consciousness and gets people thinking about it beyond the sound-bite “gotta maintain our freedom” kinds of debates that goes on about health care right now, then all the more power to Moore (even if he is rather a jerk much of the time). Perhaps, somehow, it will make a difference. But at the moment, I have a hard time understanding how my seeing the movie will do anything more than deepen my sense of despair that we’re all riding together on a developing train wreck.

Why am I so negative about the chance of real change in health care?

Look at your mutual fund portfolios if you have them, or if you have retirement accounts. If not, randomly select a few. Chances are, one of the largest industry sectors they are invested in is the pharmaceutical industry. Selling health care is big business in this country. Trying to change it, trying to take the profit motive out of selling health care, would cost a lot of people a lot of money… a lot of people who have a lot of money to spend fighting against any of that kind of legislation. There’s no hope. There’s another card. It’s probably inevitable that any kind of change like that would send our country into a recession. I don’t bring this out as an argument against that kind of change— sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to make things better in the long run, as those who have ever supported any war have argued. And, indeed, the pain would be transient; the economy would adjust. However, it’s a very strong possibility that there would be nationwide economic pain, and that possibility is another card that those who are opposed to changing our health care system can play.

I simply do not see any hope of meaningful change. Oh, there may be laws passed, but they won’t be any more meaningful than recent “campaign finance reform” laws have really been. Big money is just as much a corruptor of our system as it was beforehand, and all the laws that were passed did was give people something to point at as evidence of progress, or evidence of things going to hell… the real, practical changes are something I simply can’t see. It’s very, very easy to maintain a cynical attitude about the inplasticity of our political system seeing stuff like this.

I’ll give the movie a pass. There are too many things to be outraged about, and I don’t have the energy to keep up with all of them any more.

Comments

  1. #1 Alex
    June 30, 2007

    I too sometimes feel like sticking my head in the sand when reading the news.

    But on the other hand, messed up as things are now, there are also a lot of good things happening. The wars going on at the moment are terrible, but terrible wars have been happening all throughout our history. What hasn’t been happening for most of our history, is that most people in the world are living a fairly healthy life, in reasonable peace with quite a bit more freedom than they would have had a few hundred years ago.

    We’ve made great strides in the past centuries, on all fronts. Needless to say the great leaps forward come with some great mistakes as well. And besides, there will always be ups and downs.

    But don’t loose sight of all the good things that are so easy to take for granted when thinking about all the challenges we still face.

  2. #2 MarkH
    June 30, 2007

    It’s not just a depressing sob story Rob, I hope you don’t have that impression, and there is a solution that a British labor MP points out quite clearly. Stop spending money on killing people and instead spend it on healing your populace.

    It seems pretty simple to me. Besides, it’s just a very good movie, and thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t think the image you have of the movie in your mind’s eye is what is actually on the screen, and I don’t think you’ll come away with it depressed – unless you’re a doctor.

  3. #3 llewelly
    June 30, 2007

    What hasn’t been happening for most of our history, is that most people in the world are living a fairly healthy life, in reasonable peace with quite a bit more freedom than they would have had a few hundred years ago.

    How often is this the subject of a news article, a blog article, a documentary, a book, or any other media? Not often.

  4. #4 mtraven
    June 30, 2007

    Funny, I have the exact opposite reading on the likelihood of addressing these two problems.

    The prospects for a sane healthcare system look dim now, but it is not hard to conceive of the political winds shifting in the next few decades. It might take an economic collapse akin to the Depression, which led to social security. And we have the model of every other industrialized country to work from.

    In contrast, the level of international cooperation necessary to address climate change has never been done before, and requires reconciling vastly divergent interests. It’s much easier to conceive of the US government overruling the interests of insurance companies than of overruling the interests of India and China, for instance. I find it very hard to imagine a concerted world effort to address climate change.

  5. #5 bigTom
    June 30, 2007

    Actually Rob, for the first time in my life (I’m quite a bit older than you too), it seems that universal coverage just might happen. Of course there will be some deep pockets fighting any serious proposals, but it just might happen this time.

    Interestingly when Taiwan expanded coverage (they had more percentage-wise uninsured than us), in 95, their total spending went down. Of course they didn’t have as many entrenched pharaceutical corps than we.

  6. #6 Mike the Mad Biologist
    July 1, 2007

    Rob,

    I don’t share your pessimism. Candidates (Democratic ones anyway) are making this a major issue two years before the election. It really is getting a lot of discussion. Sicko is getting good reviews by liberals and conservatives. To me, the major point of the movie is that healthcare can be done better. I have a little more faith that the system will improve (although not so much if either Clinton or Obama is the Democratic nominee).

  7. #7 CaptainBooshi
    July 1, 2007

    I think about that as well. I read somewhere (I’m not sure how accurate this is) that we spend 2 and a half trillion dollars a year on health. That’s a lot of money going to people who’ll be happy to spend billions to keep anything from changing. It’s not just the pharmaceutical companies, either. It’s the insurance companies, too, both covering the people and covering the doctor’s ridiculous malpractice insurance rates.

    I’m going to keep rooting for it, but I look at the current crop of politicians, and I just can’t see the liberals taking that kind of chance, or the conservatives changing their mind on this matter.

  8. #8 Eric Lund
    July 2, 2007

    Count me among those who think you’re being a bit too pessimistic.

    That the health care and pharmaceutical industries will be strongly opposed to any real fix in the system is a given. But remember that there are lots of other businesses in the country, and it is in their interest to see the problem get fixed. That is the reason why I expect that we eventually will have single-payer health care in this country: because businesses will demand it.

    That’s not just my opinion. Two years ago I attended a talk by a doctor who co-founded one of the region’s largest HMOs and subsequently served two terms as a Republican state senator. He admitted that, on ideological grounds, single-payer was not his preferred solution, but he predicted that it would happen–because of demands from the business community.

  9. #9 Panya
    July 2, 2007

    Why does it sound like none of you who have commented so far entirely understand what Rob is really getting at?

    Oh, because you apparently don’t.

    It’s not /about/ whether or not the system /can/ be changed. It’s not even entirely about whether or not it /will/ be changed.

    It’s about how bad things are right /now/. It’s about the top-level story everywhere being depressing. It’s about fearing you’re going to lose your job, it’s about not being able to afford even a basic visit to the doc for a check-up, it’s about watching dominionists and nay-sayers and fearful people take over the way things are run and done, it’s about women’s right and sexual rights and freedom of speech and more all being subtly eroded — it’s about not having enough anger or enough energy to do something about all of it and therefore feeling helpless about any of it.

    “Look here’s some shiney hope” does fuckall for depression, far less depression engendered by conditions around us. I don’t consider what Rob has declared as his intent to be sticking his head in the sand, despite his personal description thereof. I do consider “look here’s some shiney hope” to be sticking one’s head in the sand. Ignore the issues by pointing out the good things happening over here, but do so at your own fucking peril. Like Rob, I’ll continue to try to avoid despair by focusing my efforts.

  10. #10 Alyson Knop
    July 3, 2007

    I’m pretty sure that I won’t go to see the film, mainly because this country’s screwed-up health-care system is a topic with which I am intimately familiar (have had serious chronic illness for 31 of my 39 years), and just reading articles relating to health care (which I try to do to stay informed) raises my blood pressure. An entire movie? In my case, I don’t think it’d tell me much I don’t already know. And through me, Rob knows very well the frightening reality for those of us who most need medical care, since our system is designed, as a profit-making industry, to benefit most the people who need it least.

    However, I have to be optimistic, despite my knowledge of how huge the insurance/pharmaceutical industries’ lobbies are. I have to be optimistic, because (and here’s where a lot of you might disagree with me) I can’t really cope if I believe the majority of people don’t want to do the “right thing.” I have to hope that most people are ignorant about the seriousness of the problem and too misinformed about how terrible it would be to go to “socialized medicine.”

    So, while I won’t see “Sicko,” I pray that many, many others do.

  11. #11 J. J. Ramsey
    July 5, 2007

    Actually, Sicko has its moments of humor to help offset the dark subject matter, so it’s not totally depressing. If you are really worried about being depressed, I suggest making Sicko the first half of a do-it-yourself double feature. After you see it, go see something fun and light, or maybe big, loud and explodey if that’s your sort of thing. That’s what I did: Sicko first, followed by the mindless and occassionally unintentionally funny (or at least laughable) Transformers.

  12. #12 Steve
    July 10, 2007

    Gee, Rob I barely know where to begin. I gotta believe you know that sticking your head in the sand is never a good idea. Ignoring any problem is never a good idea.

    Now I do understand that we sometimes get maxed out on the empathy meter. “OK, I already care about starving children, Darfur, the war in Iraq, global warming, Katrina victims, the abuses of the Bush administration and the plight of the working poor. I suppose if I stop giving a crap about my children I can squeeze in healthcare…” But seriously, Rob, we need educated, articulate guys like you to at least stay aware. If you (and I) stop paying attention to an issue, what can we expect the politicians to do?

    Can we ever expect change? Of course we can. The healthcare lobby is strong? So is the automobile industry. You think they haven’t fought hybrids and electric cars? But hey, you see them on the road don’t you? Made in Japan? Yup, but the US is making them now too. You know? We bought ‘em. We wanted them. We cared enough to pay a few dollars more or sacrifice a little performance to help the planet. Not much, just a little something.

    I’m sure you know, change doesn’t happen overnight or all at once. I personally hope for small changes in healthcare, such as Medicaid buying drugs and leveraging volume discounts the way other nations do. Perhaps federal laws providing or requiring minimum levels of health insurance for the poor and elderly. Maybe a more streamlined system of health insurance to reduce costs (the paperwork is mind-boggling), even tax reform to help better fund existing programs. Hey, you must’ve seen Contact, “Small steps, Sparks.”

    Then again we have seen big changes from time to time albeit in the other direction. How about de-regulation of the airlines or the break up of ATT. Hey, it can happen.

    Now I’m not silly enough to believe all my dreams will come true and I don’t know if and when any of these things, or even the smallest changes might happen. But I am certain of one thing: if we stop caring because of empathy overload or any other perfectly valid reason, things will NOT change. And I’ll repeat myself by saying the human race needs educated, articulate individuals like you (and others) to, at the very least notice the world’s problems, even if we can’t afford to shed a tear at the moment.

    Steve

  13. #13 Rob Knop
    July 10, 2007

    Ignoring any problem is never a good idea.

    I have only read your first line — but I’m going to respond to this right now. This is very, very wrong.

    There are so many problems in the world, the vast majority of which you can do absolutely nothing about. If you paid attention to all of them, you would be frozen, overwhelmed. We absolutely must ignore problems if we are to survive, and if we are to do any good on other problems.

    The hard part is figuring out which are the right problems to ignore. But a blanket statement that nobody should ever ignore any problem is extremely wrong.

    As regards the health care issue: I honestly believe that nothing I do can matter. There are much more fundamental problems that would need to be addressed before there is any hope of making any real difference in health care in this country. Broadly speaking, those fundamental problems are the corruption and money-influencing-politics issues that Lawrence Lessig has said that he’s planning on devoting his next 10 years to. In the mean time, depressing myself with further reminders how bad health care is in this country will do nobody any good whatsoever, because that additional depression is simply not going to make any difference in the problems. And, I really don’t think anybody can make much difference against the lobbying power of all sorts of vested interested (pharmaceutical, health insurance) interests.

    Part of the problem here is that small changes can only make so much difference. Big and fundamental changes are needed, and that won’t happen without making a lot of powerful people very sad.

    -Rob

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