[culture|politics] National blind spots

As long-time readers of this blog know, I’ve been pretty exercised about the United States’ national healthcare policies (specifically healthcare finance, not healthcare delivery) for a long time. This was true even before I became a cancer patient and got to experience much the madness first hand. I am similarly exercised about certain other issues, such as our firearms policies (viz recent blog entries) and education policies (specifically, that we have a political and social system that allows Creationists to take control of public education, leading to monumental wastes of time and effort and the horrific mis-education of children as characterized by the Dover decision).

But we also get a lot of things right in this country. To name a few, healthcare delivery (as opposed to healthcare finance), where when the United States is at our best, we are generally the world’s best. Aviation policy, where most of the world follows FAA standards. The research-industrial complex that has delivered everything from Teflon to the Internet for the whole world to use. Higher education, where again, at our best we are generally the world’s best. Our First Amendment protections for freedom of speech and freedom of worship, which provide us with at least the potential for maximum personal expression and individual freedom of thought.

So what I wonder is about our national blind spots. If our healthcare finance system so wonderful, how come nobody else in the industrialized West has anything like it? If our national social policy on firearms is so conducive to personal liberty and a free society, how come nobody else in the industrialized West has anything like it? Quite demonstrably, more often than not when the United States get something right, the rest of the world tends to either develop in parallel or follow along. Yet no one will touch our healthcare system or our firearms policies with a bargepole. And those countries tend to have much better healthcare outcomes than we do, and much lower rates of violent crime. As Americans, we seem incapable of perceiving that.

In other words, if our policies on healthcare and firearms are such a good idea, how come no similar societies are following our example?

History will judge us harshly for some things — leading the path in climate change denial, for example. Our obsessive militarization of world affairs, for another example. But history will be simply baffled by other aspects of American culture, such as our vicious healthcare policies and our national obsession with placing deadly weapons in the hands of every citizen who ever dreamt of having one.

Blind spots. Destructive blind spots.

14 thoughts on “[culture|politics] National blind spots

  1. Cora says:

    I wouldn’t say that the higher education system in the US is the world’s best. For starters, it’s extremely expensive, because the state puts the entire burden of financing higher education on the students and their families rather than recognizing that it’s in a country’s best interest to have a lot of well educated people. Sadly, Germany is poised to follow the US in that regard, because education spending has increasingly shifted from financing universities (many of which now charge fees, though those fees are much more manageable than those in the US) to financing daycare centers and kindergartens – because obviously tomorrow’s great discoveries will be made by kindergarteners. Then there’s the fact that a lot of the budget universities do get is wasted on things like financing sports programs which do nothing except make officials feel good. And while US graduate students are on par with advanced students elsewhere, the US undergraduates I’ve met seem to lag behind undergraduates from elsewhere, probably because the first year or so of college is needed to make up for deficiencies in schooling.

    But otherwise I’d agree that I find the US health insurance (or lack thereof) system and the attitude towards guns completely puzzling and cannot imagine why any country would choose such a system for itself. Of course, US conservatives and libertarians (whom I actually find worse, because they look and sound normal at first sight) probably wonder how anybody could choose to live under such a “disgustingly socialist system” as we do. Indeed, the image of Europe as a stagnant and impoverished Socialist hell painted by such people – including some, like a certain SFF author who shall remain nameless, who should know better – always makes my mind boggle with its complete inaccuracy.

    1. Jay says:

      FWIW, what I meant to say was that at it’s best, the US higher education system is among the world’s best. In general, not so much. Mostly for the reasons you describe, in my opinion as well.

      1. We’re the best, when you take into consideration the numbers. A few good places for some subjects abroad, but the USA degrees are the best overall. And for advanced degrees, more so. More complicated taking costs into consideration.

  2. Looking forward to tomorrow, regarding the recent events in CT…Jay, let me suggest you just stick to the obvious. You’ve fallen prey to some liberal memes that are not that defensible. What is defensible is that shootings killing dozens of innocent people is horrific and intolerable. We must find a way to stop it. Everything should be on the table. Stick to that and anyone who complains is insane.

    1. Jay says:

      And to my view, you share the same conservative blind spots about guns that no one who is in the gun culture shares, and which are obviously nuts to anyone who isn’t a gun enthusiast. (Including practically everyone in the Western world outside the US.) This one of those places where you and I (and several other good friends) see each other as very sadly mistaken. If I can’t cross this bridge with you, who can I cross it with?

      1. One liberal meme on this you’ve offered is that guns are only good for killing and practicing to kill. That’s not true and not fair. You way too easily dismiss the value of hunting, target shooting as a sport or hobby, and personal protection in isolated environments. You may not like hunting or target shooting, and do not live in an isolated area, but to dismiss all hunters, target shooters, and rural people and what they value is not fair. Objectively, people value sports even if you don’t, and the psychological value of feeling protected is worth something, too. Hell, let’s add collectors — collecting is a positive activity to anyone who appreciates collecting. It’s always a cost-benefit analysis to decide what personal liberties a society should regulate or prohibit. We definitely need a lot more gun control and enforcement and the cost of the loss of life ought to slam the ratio much farther in that direction. You can stick to that and have a great and overwhelming argument without saying things that are objectively not true and insulting to folks who appreciate guns for things other than killing. I’d also leave out suicide, as I’ve mentioned — I think people ought to have a right to die and until that’s legalized I’m not going to make it harder on them (and a good friend of mine shot himself in the head a few years back so I’ve given this more than a little thought). Let’s start with restoring the assault weapons ban, ban on extended magazines, closing gun show loop holes, finding ways of banning the mentally ill from legally buying guns, etc. Realistically that alone will take years of effort and I will support every bit of that because the cost of guns outweighs their benefits to our society as it is today in most places. You don’t have to insult people and say that the benefit side is zero to argue that the costs are too high. I don’t want to support gun control on an emotional basis only, or on faulty arguments that city-living liberals make that ring hollow to others, and I’d prefer if you didn’t make them either. You saying no one needs guns is like a gun-loving FOX news viewer saying no one needs science fiction. Probably both statements are true, but they’re just marginalizing people who have a different perspective for the sake of insult or out of willful ignorance. You’ve never had to put down a horse, or worry about a pack of feral dogs on your property, or lived where the police are an hour away. In the big picture, I don’t think you’re wrong. I just think some of your arguments are wrong and off-putting to the people you need to convince. I guess I’m going to these lengths because you are a friend and I don’t want you to be dismissed or be seen as a hypocrite when you call conservatives on some of their biases. I’m not sure I’d be in favor of total prohibition of guns any time soon, but I agree with you completely that we need to do something (probably many somethings) to greatly reduce the number of gun deaths. The cost-to-benefit ratio is way too high. I’m not standing on the far side of a bridge — I’m closer to your side — but I feel like I can see both sides of it and some things you say make it clear you can’t. Gun owners are not all nuts, and people who don’t own guns are not all nuts either. Maybe we can agree that the NRA is nuts. I’m a great believer in personal freedom and have been an ACLU member, but could never envision joining the NRA. It’s probably not entirely fair of me, but sometimes I come down harder on my friends and fellow liberals because I expect more of them, while I can more easily ignore ideological conservatives who don’t worry about reality much.

        1. Jay says:

          I will observe that as someone who has done a lot of target shooting in my day, target shooting is about getting better with a deadly weapon designed to kill people. It’s a pleasure in its own right, but its ultimate purpose is to make us better shots. I am uncomfortable with the culture of hunting, in large part because I’ve been far more exposed to its abuses than its benefits — hunters firing over property lines at livestock (because a domesticated Nubian goat can look a lot like a deer from any distance), people cutting down ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs so they can hunt on private land without permission, the apparently near-mandatory mix of alcohol abuse and guns in some hunting subcultures that eventually drove me away from camping. My personal experience of hunters is systemic irresponsibility with little to no self-policing. (Yes, this is anecdote, not data.) I do buy the rural tool argument, for whatever that’s worth.

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