Tuesday, August 21

Getting Other People To Die For Your Principles: It's Not Just For The Battlefield Anymore

Jane Galt, on health care Aug. 17

William Saletan, "Kicking Butt: The International Jihad Against Tobacco." Slate, Aug. 17
As a class, the old and sick are already luckier than the young and healthy. Again, for individuals within that class--those with desperate congenital conditions, for example--this is not the case. But I'm not sure it's terribly compelling to argue that we should massively disadvantage a large group of people in order to massively advantage another, equally large group of people, all to help out the few who are needy, or deserving, or unlucky.

YOU may have come upon this via Roy, as I did. Maybe you saw my comment, which garnered some good wishes from the alicubists. Maybe you already knew my mother has atypical dementia, though god knows I've found it near impossible to write about for the past year or so (I had a longish piece about her 81st birthday nearly completed next week and I couldn't go back to edit it. It's not the emotion, and it's not the prognosis, it's the difficulty of getting anything on paper that feels right, that begins to touch the sense of steady erosion of what makes someone human).

If so you might be surprised that I'll start out defending Ms McArdle, at least on a technicality. She started the whole "old people have it comin' " routine with an arguendo, and I'm really not sure how long it was supposed to be in effect, so it's possible she was not being quite as inhuman as she seems on the surface. What's quoted above is the final paragraph, and sounds like a return to her own voice, but I'm just not going to assume.

Besides, there's enough wrong with that, arguendo or no, to give us pause.

Let's begin by noting that the argument over morality, or "social justice", fails in the way such things usually do--it assumes the matter can be sliced thin and prepared as a slide. But why should we imagine it could be? We wouldn't expect to solve a dispute with our neighbor by asking who was more deserving of having things in his favor.

Even so (arguendo), how can we say that asking the young to contribute to the health care needs of the elderly is economically unfair? Aside from the people Objectivists do not care about--the unlucky few born to poverty, or orphaned, the sapling versions of the people they're willing to send to their deaths at age 65 or above in the Great Cosmic Lottery--the young have been fed, clothed, and housed for most of their existence at no charge. They've been educated at someone else's expense, including that same group of the elderly and infirm who've build and defended the businesses where most of those young people earn their money, the roads they take to get there, the infrastructure they use once they do. If they get into an accident on the way they're assisted by police, fire, and hospital services, public or mostly public, of whose costs they personally have borne very little. Maybe, to achieve economic equity, people under 30 should have to get to a hospital under their own power, or else bleed to death. Perhaps we should hand every 21-year-old a bill for the public health services that eradicated smallpox or provided him with drinking water and adequate sanitation. Maybe we should just go whole hog and start a Borgesian Lottery. Maybe we need to reconsider the economic efficiencies of the high-quality protein (tender, too!) that is the human infant. That's the great thing about libertarianism: options.

Yes, Ms McArdle, older people hold a large proportion of the wealth. Some because they're the sort of lucky duckies you celebrate, some through dint of hard work, many because they've saved for the time when that money would be needed. That would include my mother, who's 81, whose mind and brain are being taken away from her as they were my grandmother. She has enough money to last a decade or so. In a way she's fortunate, beyond having enough to pay for her care, since she's no longer able to live on her own and be preyed upon by some young go-getter who thinks the rest of the world can go fuck itself so long as he gets his. She has a lawyer and a financial consultant who are family friends, who work for free (incomprehensible, ain't it?), who won't appropriate what's hers because they think it would look better if it were theirs. Not all the elderly are so lucky. Not by a long shot.

Her second husband, now, there was a man you could objectify. Died of complications from mandibular cancer. Not pretty. He was a life-long smoker. He was a life-long Republican, too, and stayed well just long enough to welcome in the Reagan Revolution, which would repay his faith by declared him not disabled, despite the fact that he couldn't eat solid food, couldn't lift anything with what they'd left of his left arm, couldn't walk more than about twenty feet without being exhausted. The ruling allowed his employer--one of the five largest in the country--to more or less fire him and get out from under his medical insurance. He smoked, so this was all volunteer work.

Another thing he volunteered for was 3-1/2 years of war in the Pacific. Surely your mother having not been born an Imperial Army sex slave, or bayonet practice, is worth something? I'm sure my mom'll take a check, though we have to help her endorse any. Once you get her started in the right spot, and make her understand she's supposed to sign her name, she's an autograph champ.

MEANWHILE, over at Slate (Motto: We're Contrarian! Hah! Did You Even Notice? Remember When We Were For The War Just Because Everyone Else Was? Gotcha That Time!), William Saletan has a novel take on The War on Tobacco: it's fine, so far as it goes, but it goes too far!
The problem with tobacco all along was that politicians and the public didn't recognize it as a drug. They called it a tradition, a "crop," and a "legal product." As though coca and marijuana weren't crops. As though a product's legality should decide its morality, instead of the other way around. When it came to smoking, culture overpowered reason.

Shit! The War on Drugs is hypocritical! Wish I'd thought of that.
Now public opinion and governments have turned against tobacco. But the anti-smoking jihad, born of science, is beginning to outrun it. Culture is trampling reason again, this time in the other direction.

While we search for an example in your piece, Bill, tell me...just where would Culture run into Reason these days?
Nonsmoking areas in restaurants haven't worked too well. The smoke just drifts from one area to the other.

To fix this, European countries are now isolating smokers in sealed rooms with separate ventilation . Lest any waitress encounter a toxic cloud, Holland, Slovenia, and other countries have outlawed eating in the smoking rooms . That's pretty harsh. I thought we were trying to remove smoke from eaters, not food from smokers.

So "lest any waitress..." was just a rhetorical device?
Likewise, the point of recognizing tobacco as a drug was to regulate it as strictly as comparable drugs, not more so.

Say whut? Comparable drugs to nicotine are mostly illegal, and the ones that ain't are Federally regulated. In Indiana, you have to go to the pharmacy, present I.D., and sign for your perfectly legal, "over-the-counter" allergy medicine, and buy only one small package at a time, because otherwise someone somewhere might use it to make meth. Compared to that, being locked in your own filtration system and allowed to smoke until your eyeballs turn beige sounds like a weekend trip to Paris.
Five months ago, a report by a British commission found that the financial health costs of alcohol and tobacco were equal. Tobacco was by far the bigger killer, but when the analysis moved beyond self-destruction to harming others, the annual death toll from alcohol-related car accidents exceeded the toll from secondhand smoke in the workplace. Drinking, unlike smoking, played a role in 78 percent of assaults and 88 percent of criminal damage. The commission concluded that if legal drugs were classified like illegal ones, alcohol would be judged more serious than tobacco. Instead, British law allows advertising of booze but not cigarettes.

Stop me if I've said this before. There is no way to take this sort of argument seriously. We're being asked to accept an argument that, if the author really accepted it, or even imagined it made a point, would lead us to the inevitable conclusion that he's too stupid to have successfully crossed busy streets for thirty years. They draw this shit out of a hat. "Okay, Saletan, you'll love this one: 'Sure cigarette smoking is a public health risk, and secondary smoke causes cancer, but there's a law in...wait for it...Slovakia we think is absurd!' " There must be a prize for the guy who keeps a straight face the longest.

Yes, there is second-hand risk from alcohol; as shown above, it's that someone will commit an act which is classified as a crime while under the influence (though to claim that it played a role in 80% of the assaults in Britain--they're all gud lads, m'Lord, they just had a wee dram!--gives the game away). If you're smoking three tables away you're depriving me of non-toxic air, and possibly a lifetime of health. If you're drinking three tables away my only current risk is that it's karaoke night.

Is this really all that difficult to understand? Is the distinction between freedom and license too esoteric or something? We enact laws, not morality, and though you're free to argue how, or whether the latter should inform the former, suggesting that the law should be determined by some sort of moral bracketology (Next up: Alcohol vs. Topless Dancing) is just boneheaded. Or a Salon assignment. If that's a distinction.


Kia said...

It's not the emotion, and it's not the prognosis, it's the difficulty of getting anything on paper that feels right...

For what it's worth I trust you to get it right, based on everything I've been reading since I started coming over here.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, just slap that stupid Jane Galt bitch upside the head; she's been too annoying for too long.

But that's why I'm the reader and you're the writer...

Anonymous said...

I think we should start a reality show called Libertarian Survivor: we bundle up folks like Galt, dump them on a deserted island, and let them revel in their tax-free Randian Paradise.

And society is the winner, because we don't let them come back.