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July 13, 2012

Health care should be seen as way to help others


— What is health care? Well, first and foremost it is having care, or empathy, for the distress of others. Health care is extending efforts to alleviate the distress for a person who is ill. The opposite, if you think about it, would be torture — using the power to harm to win your own way.

In the natural state of being, the individual is assumed capable of caring for himself, to include feeding, sheltering, defending and propagating. Individuals have been pre-programed to survive, through eons of outlasting others supposedly less single-minded about the task. Survival of the fittest.

To Mitt Romney, this fable sanctions an individualistic philosophy of each person being responsible only to himself, for himself. Adhering to this constitutes the deserving man, who is seen as having the initiative to achieve success.

Mitt is such a man, he announces, saying his character is the medicine this country needs. He offers himself as president to be the catalyst America needs to be great again. While he tosses an obligatory bone to those too disabled to work, he basically writes them off as beside the point, needing charity.

But for the most part, he despises charity as fostering dependency. And the whole Republican establishment apparently seeks nothing more than destroying the safety net built up during the 20th century.

Individualism led the conservative Heritage Foundation to propose the individual mandate for private insurance. Republicans turned against the idea when the president took it up. Actually, if we really want universal health care, then Medicare for all would be the most efficient and the least costly.

But we need to crawl out from under the philosophical rock of conservatism. Social groupings are not bad and do not necessarily undermine competition, only suffering.

Caring for each other supports democracy and builds on the dignity of all the people.

It is totalitarianism that stifles, attacking initiative. Authoritarian rule is not sponsored by the disenfranchised, though power is often usurped in their name. Mankind has a dual nature and always has. People, as individuals, need freedom, but as social beings they demonstrate needing security.

History is filled by struggles for ascendency within tribes or nations. The humanity of those seeking power is often distorted. But nevertheless, at root we are a social species, who live and work in groups, for support and for protection. Groups provide more than safety, however.

Social bonding is a vehicle for self-esteem and dignity. Membership promotes a sense of identity, purpose, and belonging. Society supports specialization, and progress in knowledge and technology, whether by exploring the world, or building computer networks around it.

Have I left out the word “love?” No, because in bonding, we share, even give our lives for others.

Not just in war, but for the rescue of even one victim trapped and at risk somehow. We are patriotic. We thrill to parades, flags and fireworks.

The Fourth of July is not just a national anniversary, it is a celebration of a functioning national union that binds us together and promises each a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Health care is at root a loving and handson activity. Government is but a means, a construct assembled to address our needs for an effective response to the growing complexity of the world and its multiple civilizations. Health care is a basic need, actually a human entitlement.

I maintain that the caring bound up in patriotism should not stoop to cheaply denigrate the unlucky as “undeserving,” but requires seeing them as worthy of support and comradeship.

I also declare, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. And what goes around, comes around, making us a strong people with high morality and strong sense of loyalty.

Most of the time the body heals itself. In ancient times, we mostly died young. Now, society has developed scientific and professional supports for healing, and for life.

Of course, it is also very costly to have professional attention and scientific remedies. The whole idea of insurance is to spread the risk and share the cost.

The principle is the same whether it is organized by government or profit-making enterprise. Health care is socialized either way, because business is a social activity, not an individual effort.

To be so bound up in the moment and the miniscule as to snuff-out caring activity for some people while extolling American  medicine for the help that reaches you, isto kill the engine upon which the country was built — building the dignity of every person.

WILLIAM MASTERS can be reached at wmasters@thedailystar.com. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.