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Subject: Percy-L: Literary, Religious, Scientific, and Philosophical Discussion on Walker Percy

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  • From: Wade Riddick <wriddick AT>
  • To: "Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion" <percy-l AT>
  • Subject: Re: [percy-l] A Walker Percy piece written for the NY Times 30 years ago
  • Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2011 01:52:11 -0600

Walker Percy announced that he was speaking as novelist, not as a doctor. He gave his opinion as a novelist. He also complained that some of his allies give him as big a pain as his opponents on this issue. You don't give him credit for this admission.

As a free citizen with an opinion he has a right to offer it.
You don't seem to show that you think he has that right.

We have a right to our own opinions, but not our own scientific facts. I based my remarks on facts in evidence. Are we to abandon any idea at all of a rational universe formed by natural law? What would that leave us with - the irrational and unnatural?

As to Percy's literary influence, I was happy to cite it where it became relevant. Percy would be the first to chide people for seeking spiritual salvation in a secular chase. This soul-draining commodification of culture has been noted by everyone from the recently departed Daniel Bell to William Buckley.

To talk about the authoritarianism of the anti abortionists without acknowledging that pro choice people have their own authoritarianism is to be either blissfully unaware or to leave out a big fact.

I certainly don't think married women should have a unilateral right to an abortion without the informed consent of the husband - however, there's no organized left fringe at the moment running around killing people with whom they don't agree. The same is not true of the right fringe. An abortion doctor gets murdered every few years for the last few decades. Violent action on the left has been confined to non-lethal economic and environmental protests since the '80s (although I suppose one might fairly construct Wikileaks as a leftist assault with potentially fatal consequences for troops on the ground). There just isn't the kind of money, organization, anger and sociopathy on the American left at the moment the way there is on the right. You'd have to go back to the Weather Underground or the Molly Maguires to find anything remotely like it.

Your paragraph on your difficulty because you are autoimmune and don't like when scientific decisions are made by people with no scientific knowledge is apt. But then why would you celebrate government bureaucrats deciding your life and death decisions in a nationalized health care or insurance plan?

As opposed to the faceless corporate bureaucrats killing people?

There is nothing in the Obama health care bill that creates "death panels" or any sort of "nationalization" unless you're somehow opposed to the measures mandating the end of discrimination against preexisting conditions or mandating the spending on preventative care that health insurers have previously shirked (thinking they could instead dump their sick patients on Medicaid or the morgue). Are you opposed to the mandate that insurers spend more than 80% or your premiums on your actual health care? Is that what we're calling "nationalization" now?

What's going on in the health insurance industry is a classic rent-seeking problem from economics. An industry organizes, contributes to political campaigns and lobbyists and gets the law changed to grant it special property rights opposing the general interests of the public. It then uses these special privileges under the law to extract "rents" - unique cash flows denied to others, like railroad fees used to be.

What do you think about the special exemptions the health insurance industry gets from the antitrust laws so they can engage in anticompetitive price-fixing? (Now talk about a government decision that's killed people. There's one right there.)

What does this look like from the individual perspective?

A woman enters the workforce in 1990. The industry tells her, "Pay your premiums each month and if you're ever sick, we will pay your medical bills." She signs a contract and gives them part of her pay in exchange for future promises. Two decades later, she gets breast cancer. What do they do? They use recission to claim it's a preexisting condition. They cut her coverage, figuring she's got no family and no money, so she can't sue and there won't be any survivors to raise a stink. They'll get to keep her money.

Do you think she would have paid that money upfront for twenty years if she knew they were going to do that? Do you consider that honoring a contract or committing fraud? Where do you go to get your money back? Do you think every individual has that kind of time and money to sue?

Recission is standard industry practice. What do you do to correct it? It's a social injustice, isn't it? You think you can stand up all on your lonesome to this kind of behavior? There's no other check on large corporations besides government - which is why the Republicans have made corporate subversion of the courts a top priority. It's harder to file malpractice claims in many states than it was ten years ago. It's harder to file class actions. It's harder even to get discovery - but it's mostly happened like it does in baseball with an occasional snip and tuck in the rules here and there. The public never notices.

Is a system ever economically efficient if you can't punish bad behavior?

Think about it another way. Let's say you have a system where if people behave well when they provide health care, they get paid. But if they also behave badly, they still get paid the same amount. Where's the incentive to behave better?

Who do you think adjudicates claims between aggrieved parties if it's not government courts?

You've completely bought the health insurance industry's take on these new regulations. Talk about conflict of interest. These regulations are designed to extend health care coverage while lowering overall costs and improving efficiency. This is accomplished by restricting the ability of the insurers to extract oligopoly rents - which was previously supported by federal "authoritarianism," by the way, through tax law (interesting how you find those prior government interventions you like invisible and "natural").

The TARP fund also funded financial speculation - but both of these examples stem from an irrational government being manipulated by large, concentrated industries - industries in which I have no vote nor any recourse to due process. You can't say the same of a properly functioning government. (But then, that's the point of the Federalist Paper #10, which the Supreme Court just dissed in _Citizens United_. The Constitution is supposed to act as a check on organized financial interests, not a servant.)

By the way, *my* position on the health care bill is the one shared by the nuns of the Catholic Church, but opposed by the bishops.

No one is working to keep you from getting health insurance. In fact you should applaud those who are working to try to make insurance more affordable and available. But you are assuming that only if the government provides it is it good. It seems to me you talk out of both sides of your mouth.

It's becoming a bad habit in the Fox News era to invent your own facts when you can't win an argument.

The only government-funded health insurance in the Obama bill is a temporary catastrophic health care fund provided to people already rejected by the private providers. It's there to cover people until 2014 when the industry is mandated to stop discrimination (actually, that won't happen either; it's something like an $800 fine if companies are caught doing it). Thanks to the Republicans in the House, I doubt this emergency fund will even get money this year. So your Republican colleagues may yet succeed in killing me if I get cancer.

Now there's compassion!

If the health insurance industry wants me to get insurance by working to make it "more affordable and available" then why have I been discriminated against for the last ten years as a victim of medical malpractice? Why does the industry also discriminate against mothers who have simply given birth and against victims of terrorism and violent crime? Don't think that's true? What happened to all that private coverage the 9/11 firefighters had after they breathed in that asbestos at ground zero the Bush administration said wasn't there?

Talk about ideological blindness to facts.

I really don't understand how you can construe anything in the 2010 health care bill as somehow making government the sole provider of health care or insurance. Besides that temporary emergency fund, everything else about the 2010 health care bill is geared toward providing incentives for people to purchase private insurance. How is that socialism? Are we so far into Glenn Beck La-La Land that we now call Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Disability socialist enterprises - even when they're just government-run insurance programs?

But lets be practical for a moment. Let's say the government option had passed. Do you see private insurers lining up to insure me? If my alternative is between no insurance and government insurance, what do you think I should take?

Don't assume you know what my life is like or what my choices are.

You ask what is the point of making something a crime if you can't detect it. Will you also decry Obamacare's plan to make it a crime if a doctor does not do exactly what the government forces him to do, to the tune of $100,000. per instance?

What part of the law are you talking about? Please cite the actual page in the bill.

Where's this paranoia coming from? I'm the one here who needs two hands to count the different categories of malpractice I've suffered at the hands of private medicine. I've got no government recourse on any of it. Now there's socialized risk for you.

Hey, here's something good for property rights. How about we legalize arson? You got to destroy my body and you said that was good for property rights so how about we let people burn down your house.

You really think the economy will grow if you strip out the obligations we all have to behave from any definition of market freedom? Are we gonna say freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose?

That would be insane.

You act like government action is the only source of sin in the world and anything the private industry does is somehow blessed. Your argument equates attempts to provide justice to injured parties with somehow crushing the very definition of liberty itself - yet, what good are property rights if you're never compensated when that property is stolen? Who do you go to for that compensation? The government or the thief?

I don't have a problem with Percy's wading into controversial topics and coming up with opinions I don't like. You can't invent your own scientific facts in a case, but I don't think Percy ever cast an unjaundiced eye on a particular political movement or economic interest. If you're looking for salvation, secularism isn't where you find it.

Is this what we want from our government?

Social justice would be nice.

Are we to make the perfect the enemy of the good?

Or do you just want to privatize the justice process? (I think Scalia's got that one covered for you. Massey Coal spent $3 million to get a state judge elected, which then swung a $50+ million judgment in their favor and no one on the U.S. Supreme Court thought criminal charges should enter into the discussion. How's that for corruption?)

You ask what Walker Percy is suggesting in this editorial. He is suggesting, as an observer of humanity, that when someone cavalierly destroys a fetus because a baby is an inconvenience, instead of thinking beforehand and behaving more responsibly, that he destroys his humanity and perhaps our society. Percy may be naive, but he is a free citizen and has the right to express his opinion. You can compare it to when Nancy Reagan said, "Just say no." We all know that is naive and impossible. People take drugs. They are self destructive and stupid, but some people just are that way. But how does it hurt our society if a public person tries to set a good example?
Walker Percy showed in the epilogue to The Moviegoer, I believe, that he had something like this on his mind. We should take responsibility for ourselves and for others. We should make choices that do no harm, or less harm. His writing this editorial is consistent with what he thinks. Why are you so threatened by what he is expressing here? What is it you see when you look in the mirror, I wonder?

When I look in the mirror, I see a guy who had a promising life once who was made severely autoimmune by a cracked filling that leaked mercury for ten years into his gut because the FDA represented the monied interests over the public interest when it came to regulating a medical implant for safety. You talk about the innocent being harmed? We all harm the innocent, whether we intend to or not. That's why grace is there.

Intentional negligence is all that concerns me here. What bothers me as a student of politics is the way our tax dollars are diverted by large private concerns both to subsidize and then cover up the harm they cause society.

When I look in the mirror, I may see someone who's crippled, who can't eat most foods anymore or travel but I don't see someone who lies about science. I see someone who used science to stay alive and help others.

Then I see the Republican Party using deliberate lies about the science to hang up embryonic stem cell research for ten years. The suffering that causes desperately ill people - *that* bothers me. I'm not the soulless narcissist here so lacking in irony he can't see his own reflection.

I would never say you can find a "better" life through chemistry, but if the chemistry is bad enough, it is rather hard to get saved once you're already dead. You will find plenty of propaganda to the contrary in those glowing pharmaceutical ads. They are positively glowing about the promises their pills can fulfill.

Yet I can't think of one single pill advertised on TV that I've taken that's ever been safe or effective for me. Indeed, recent data shows that the more a pill is advertised to a doctor, the less effective and more risky it is - which is no big surprise for a student of microeconomics.

And what about the promises of the good life sold to us by health insurers in their TV ads? You want to believe their view of the Obama health care plan? You trust the people at Fox to do that objectively when their salaries are paid for by these same ads?

Better living through chemistry, indeed.

I don't think I ever would have learned to be that properly suspicious of words and narratives - lies, really - if I hadn't read Walker Percy, Daniel Bell, Walter Benjamin, T.S. Kuhn and so many others in college. It's better to feel dissatisfied while drowning in irony than to feel as happy as those ads (or ideologies) want you to be. _Brave New World_ doesn't arrive at a place too much different from _1984_.

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