We are not rocks, we are human beings

The Thinker by Rodin

Psst! You are personally responsible for everything you do! Actually, in modern political discourse, this is not whispered so much as it is shouted. You hear it from Republicans and conservatives all the time. I can’t shout on a blog, but I can do something worse: use caps. So just in case you don’t get the message from the daily drumbeat of news, Republicans want you to know that YOU ARE PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO.

And because you are personally responsible for everything you do, you can change your behaviors any time you want because you have this magic stuff called free will. You can do it, just like that! It’s easy! By taking personal responsibility for your health, for example, you could eat little but nuts and berries, plus run twenty miles a day. And if you made the personally responsible choice to marry and have children you are personally responsible for raising your kids, their behavior (at least until they turn eighteen), and eating little but nuts and berries, plus running twenty miles a day after work. You can do all this plus sleep eight hours a day, have a satisfying (missionary only position) sex life!

It turns out that if you practice personal responsibility, you can do everything right, manage everything perfectly and intuitively solve every personal problem. The inconvenient fact that trying to maintain perfect health and doing everything right for your spouse, family, parents, siblings and the community will prove humanly impossible is irrelevant. It’s far more important to know that you are personally responsible, and any deviation from the ideal of personal responsibility deserves nothing but contempt and scorn.

Yes, you are personally responsible even if you don’t have the means. You could have been abandoned by your parents as a child, forced to live in the streets (since Republicans don’t believe in a welfare state), end up selling your body to have food to eat, and you are still personally responsible for somehow getting an education on your own nickel, excelling in school, never breaking a law, living a healthy lifestyle, maintaining a roof over your head (a cardboard box will do in a pinch) and maintaining optimal health as well. When you are personally responsible you never, ever ask for a handout. The very idea! You are personally responsible and you are required to be completely self-sufficient. Got it?

Of course you do! You could not possibly miss the message these days, particularly since it is brought to you free of charge by overbearing, generally very well moneyed and often hypocritical Republicans, the vast majority of whom had parents who provided for all their needs, taught them they belonged to a privileged caste and now beneficently use some portion of their fortune to drum in the message continuously via the media. You know, like the Koch Brothers. You are contemptible if you fail to be one hundred percent personally responsible at all times. Actually, you are something close to toilet scum. We must all be the very model of a modern Major General, all the time. Just do it now and do it perfectly, for crying out loud!

There are all these additional temptations out there, just to truly test your mettle. Let’s not, for example, do what New York Mayor Bloomberg is doing, and try to limit the size of these supersized sodas sold in the city. After all, New Yorkers might actually get healthier without overt action. Rather, you must be personally responsible enough to understand that these empty calories will make you fat at very little expense, or at least you will if you spend your days obsessively plugged into various health oriented web sites, and of course being personally responsible, it’s something you must do. Armed with this knowledge that you will acquire from psychic vibrations coming through the ether if necessary, you will magically find the willpower to pass these endless temptations by. So don’t try to regulate these liquid empty calorie behemoths just because some mortals are weak. It’s anti-American. It’s too Big Brotherish. Worst of all, it’s anti-corporate.

However, the good part about personal responsibility is you also have freedom. So if you want, go ahead and indulge in a supersized Slurpee. And should you choose to get fat and develop Type II Diabetes, that’s okay too, providing not one cent of the costs of your choices are borne by anyone else. That’s the bottom line when it comes to personal responsibility. (Qualification: the above does not apply to the environment. Feel free to be personally reckless toward the environment. After all, God wants us to be.)

You would think though that with the ever-present mantra of personal responsibility many more of us would, well, actually behave in a personally responsible way. But for some reason most of us do not. In fact, consuming all those supersized Slurpees is evidence that most Americans, while they doubtless get the message, simply refuse to take it to heart. Because every year Americans on average gain more weight. At the same time, fewer of us have or can afford health insurance.

Naturally your environment has nothing to do with your problem. Even if it did, you can easily surmount it. You just aren’t bothering to try. The fact that you can hardly travel anywhere without seeing billboards for pizzas and junk food, or turn on the TV without seeing ads that promote an unhealthy lifestyle, is wholly irrelevant. Nor is the fact that your friends are also eating too much of the wrong stuff and for the most part not exercising relevant. Because if you are personally responsible, then by extension you must also believe that you are completely autonomous. You must also believe that all those connections and relationships don’t affect your behavior. Marines may have to go to Parris Island in order to get fit and learn to properly kill people. However, you can achieve personal responsibility all by yourself. Simply grab yourself by your bootstraps and pull. It’s that easy!

But for some reason Americans aren’t taking the message to heart! Every year we get fatter. Every year we exercise less. Every year we spend more time diddling with our smartphones rather than huffing on running the trails behind our house. Strangely, even most Republicans seem to be having problems with the personal responsibility thing. Or perhaps they are independently wealthy enough where they don’t care. Morbidly obese but excessively preachy Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey comes to mind. That’s the good thing about having wealth: you are exempt from the rules because you (probably) won’t be foisting off the costs of your unhealthy lifestyle on anyone else.

As always there is the ideal and then there is reality. It is true that we are personally responsible for the choices that we make. But that doesn’t mean we magically have happened to learn how to be personally responsible, or that they are innate skills inside us. Even if we do possess the skills, there is little likelihood that most of us, given the billions of possible choices available for any action, will always choose to behave at all times in a personally responsible way. Nor have most of us acquired the education and mentoring to learn how to make wise decisions. The skill has to come from somewhere. If we don’t possess it then we have to glean it from someone. A friend. A teacher. A minister. Someone. Except to acknowledge this, we also have to acknowledge that we depend on other people. We have to acknowledge that our world is relational, instead of each of us being beacons of individuality and self-sufficiency. We have to acknowledge that we are all connected. No, it is better to live in a fantasy world instead.

That won’t do, of course, so get with the program. A song will get you into the spirit. Find a guitar. And start belting out that 60’s song by Simon and Garfunkel:

I am a rock,
I am an island.
And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

I’m betting while you are attempting to do so, you are suppressing a tear because you are just another human being with foibles like the rest of us and are grabbing another handful of Cheetos.

Why Republicans are duty bound to cancel their insurance

The Thinker by Rodin

Over the last couple of years, my family has been at fault for two automobile accidents. I got in a minor fender bender when a car clipped the side of my bumper as I was trying to pull into traffic. My daughter, being a relatively inexperienced driver, also had an accident. She learned it’s not a good idea to change a CD if your car is creeping forward.

No one was hurt in either accident, thank goodness. My daughter was in shock for a while, but after paying a $250 deductible for each accident and about a week of hassle, our cars were better than new. Our auto insurance rates did go up modestly. Clearly, we were not out of pocket the $5000 to $10,000 it would have cost to pay the full cost of these accidents.

Of course, the whole purpose of insurance is to protect you from major financial liabilities. Most of us would agree that insurance is perfectly reasonable, as most of us are not sitting on a pile of money to pay out a judgment against us if we were found at fault.

Still, isn’t there something more than a little socialistic about insurance? That’s what I am wondering after listening to conservatives, Tea Party and Republican activists talk about repealing “Obamacare”, assuming they get a majority in one or more houses of Congress. As best I can tell, they consider the legislation socialism, even though no public option survived in the legislation. A couple of things seem to be sticking in their claw. First, they really don’t want to pay for those who cannot afford insurance. Second, is their incessant mantra of “personal responsibility”. People should pay for their health insurance. If they cannot afford it, well, things are tough all over, Mac. Trust to luck, vitamins, five-dollar prescriptions from Wal-Mart and, most importantly, don’t get seriously ill. And if you do end up with some chronic condition, rather than send the bill to the government or those who are insured, host a fundraiser, get relatives to pay your bills, or just accept the fact that you must suffer more and die prematurely. After all, the dictate of personal responsibility is more important than anything, even if this means because of your inability to pay that you are subject to immense suffering and an early death. Your suffering simply makes us a stronger country!

Curiously, few conservatives, Republicans or Tea Partiers seem to object to uninsured motorists insurance that they pay as part of their auto insurance. Whether auto insurance is required or not, some drivers won’t buy it. Also, some people have such miserable driving records that no insurance company will sell them a policy. For you, the driver, the result is the same. If you are hit by an uninsured motorist, then unless the motorist is independently wealthy, you will pay the cost of someone else’s mistake. In other words, someone will have escaped personal responsibility!

Fortunately, the number of uninsured motorists is relatively small. The same cannot be said for the number of Americans without health insurance. At last count, some fifty one million Americans did not have or could not afford health insurance. That’s roughly one in six Americans. Many more have some insurance, but it is insufficient. Certainly some of the uninsured pay their medical expenses out of pocket, but more typically, uninsured Americans allow chronic conditions to develop because they cannot afford to treat them earlier. When driven by necessity, they run to our emergency rooms and receive essentially free care. As most of us know, the insured bear the cost of this care. It is added in indirectly to the cost of a health insurance premium. So if you have health insurance, you are paying for the uninsured whether you like it or not, albeit indirectly.

At least with auto insurance the cost of uninsured motorist coverage is usually itemized. This rarely happens with your health insurance premiums. The last statistic I read estimated that about eight hundred dollars of each annual health insurance premium went to reimburse hospitals for the uninsured. These costs contribute substantially to the cost of health insurance. Moreover, as the ranks of the uninsured grow, these costs escalate. In addition, both state and the federal government, principally through Medicaid, pay other health care costs for those too poor to afford health insurance.

A good Republican, Conservative or Tea Partier though should not have any insurance policies. Why? Because they believe that personal responsibility is a black and white issues; no shades of gray allowed. So you should not even drive a car, or see a doctor unless you know you can pay these costs out of pocket. Co-pays are socialistic in nature because they encourage you to take risks at someone else’s expense. So you need to first either inherit a pile of money or have to earn enough money on hand so that you can pay for all your costs out of pocket. (This also allows you to negotiate good deals with your doctors, who are inclined to give cash discounts.)

Republicans, think carefully because insurance defeats the whole notion of individual responsibility. It encourages you to get into auto accidents, to neglect your house maintenance and to hit the Country Buffet every day. If you knew you would have to pay a million dollar judgment or hospital bill out of pocket, of course you would be far more prudent. If you knew because of hitting the Jack in the Box twice a week you would not be able to afford your Lipitor, you would be eating salads instead.

So that’s my suggestions for everyone into personal responsibility. No more weaseling. Time to put your philosophy where your mouth is. Cancel all your insurance immediately and pay for everything out of pocket. Because surely if everyone did the same America would be a utopia, right?