Friday, July 6, 2012

Liberalism and mean girls

(I have no empirical evidence to back this up, but...) When I was a dweeby high school kid in Academic Challenge and chess club and band, I would occasionally find myself on the receiving end of some teasing.  Whether it was rational or not, I would occasionally get moments of existential anxiety, convincing myself that I would die penniless and alone.  If people don't like me now, then they probably won't like me in the future, and boom, I'm dying of some otherwise-preventable cause.

Our system of life is based in no small part on existential fear of death from want.  Grade school kids are told if they don't learn to write cursive then they'll never do well in middle school, which means they won't get into honors classes in high school, which means they won't get into a college or get a good job, and they're pretty much doomed.  How fucked up is that?  Even I, as a doctor with a doctor spouse, face the realistic possibility of losing enough economic power that poverty could happen.

People in a society with sufficient public and/or private guarantees of the basics of life don't have to deal with such fears.  People in Canada can be assured that as long as the government of the nation exists, they will have state of the art medical care.  The concept of dying because you don't have the economic power to get yourself some lipitor is completely off the table, just like foreign invasion is completely off the table for the Swiss.

True security is a powerful thing.  It makes all those little daily anxieties go away to know that your basic needs will always be cared for no matter what.

1 comment:

NWest said...

Isn't there a flip side though? Won't "True Security" end up making us complacent and lead to stagnation followed by destruction?

The entirety of human existence has been the struggle to survive. It's not a socially constructed system designed to keep people down - it's what makes us human, and it makes us constantly push the boundaries. I think these fears and anxieties will always exist as long as there is something to fear or be anxious about - it's not just something that kids are taught. The folks in Britain's lower class have all their base needs taken care of, yet still have incredible existential anxiety (for more info, I highly recommend reading "Life At the Bottom").

Historically, it seems that when a society reaches the point where those in power no longer struggle to survive, that society goes into decline. Rome collapsed when the plebs & citizens had their bread & circuses, conquered by peoples for whom the struggle to survive was very personal.

You use the example of Canada, with a caveat "as long as the government of the nation exists."

Do you think that the folks in Greece, or Italy, or Spain feel the same way? As their systems fail around them, Spain institutes new laws that say if you get sick on vacation, you have to be given more vacation days. This sounds to me like people there went too long without any daily anxieties.

What's the quote? "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something."