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The Mother of All Paradoxes: The American Social Model

 

The dismal demise of the American Dream (if it ever really existed), the dream not of what we believe it was but of what we wanted to believe it was.

 

"It seems to me that the nature of the ultimate revolution with which we are now faced is precisely this: That we are in process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy who have always existed and presumably will always exist to get people to love their servitude."  (Aldous Huxley in a 1962 speech at Berkeley)

By Gaither Stewart

(Rome) It’s undeniable that the American social model is a paradox in the world. All you have to do is look around at other nations and the difference is clear as the Rome sky in July. Even though today at the nadir of its profound social crisis because of its flagrant, outright failure, America continues unabashedly to hammer away at its people how fortunate they are, while simultaneously proposing itself to the world as the paradigm, the quintessence, the very epitome of western civilization.

There is the image of our leaders exuding goodness and, above all, good feelings. Sentimental feelings for the oppressed handed down to the good people of the Republic. I have read that sentimentality implies a lack of real feelings. That might be true. But I don’t want it to be true. I mean how often are we sentimental about some touching scene or memory that we want to hold. Yet, are we all lacking in genuine feelings? Because feelings often do escape us, fleeing, hiding, vanishing, then reappearing, stepping forward and backward into … into what? Into unreality? Into nothingness? I don’t want to believe so. But is our history not carrying us there, straight back into the faded American Dream?

Ah, the American Dream! To the degree the model appears to the rest of the world as honeycombed and as full of holes as Swiss cheese, the more America’s ideological operation morphs into a contest between good (the US model) and evil (the rest). America’s private struggle between good and evil becomes in turn the ideological platform and the inspiration-justification of puritanical, individualistic and greedy America’s age-old universal crusade against the rest of the world. Moreover, lest one forgets or believes the crap, the American social system is all the more insidious for human society today because it has become the social model for the world of capitalist globalization.

The great paradox is that the list of declared, claimed and proclaimed—but not guaranteed—fictitious rights for Americans have deflated and become non-rights for others.

What do I have mind, specifically? We see it all around us. In places the world shrinks. In others it expands. Things change and shift around. But America Land of the Free, part of the shrunken world, tries not to see its shattered dream. Dazzle their minds with impossible dreams. Implant in their mindsets visions of triumph. Then, mask the inevitable loss of hope by the masses. Feebly old dreams try to resurface and again vanish. The glamorous glitter of once-upon-a-time has been reduced to a tacky faint flicker of the lonely used car lot or the mottled colors of empty Burger Kings blinking in the night. Begrudgingly, struggling for former space and bickering and resisting, cars get smaller. Houses peel and run down. Legions of Wal-Marts experience a new sense of abandonment while new sets of beautiful celebrities look out of TV screens soothingly and travel around the world and buy villas on Lake Como.

So what is happening elsewhere in the world?

Well, though Europe’s one hundred year old social state based on a spirit of solidarity is weakening and ceding ground to the brash, selfish American capitalist-individualistic-everyman-for-himself society and its neo-liberal allies of the European Union, the European Idea of the social state hangs on and resists. There is still a veritable abyss between on one hand the American market model based on individualism (that is the hosanna-ed American Dream), with a high rate of mobility at the cost of a low level of protection of its people, and on the other the European system based on the social state, which is the European Idea.

The absence of a solid and stable workers movement in the USA (let’s just list it as the number one truant)—which should be this nation’s third party—is responsible for America’s anti-social answer to what is in essence a social issue. Once-upon-a-time workers movements and trade unions in America chalked up some important achievements, once. That was a long time ago. On the east side of the ocean the diverse histories of workers movements had a close relationship and connection with the rise of the nation states and the effects of the industrial revolution and the eventual emergence of the social state.

It should be clear that at the root of America’s social evil lies the truancy of an organized workingman’s movement, a stable and permanent nationwide movement that would provide the framework and structure for a workingman’s political party and an accompanying representative trade union to serve as a genuine balance of power in our one-sided, non-representative criminal political system. Who for example represents working people today? Who? Our millionaire congressmen? Our billionaire presidents? Or perhaps our political parties, the fundraisers necessary to elect our non-representatives?

The sad reality is that the workers’ movement in the USA never matured. It was never powerful enough to mark a permanent direction of the social organization of civil society. It never succeeded in creating permanent low cost cooperatives and mutualities, social clubs and educational societies and other forms of political-social expression to confront the Corporatist system of a nation that today hardly “makes” anything yet exports … it exports what? Democracy? Or terrorism?

In fact, the word “social” in the title of this essay is misleading, illusory. It is a travesty to use the word “social” in reference to the form of American society under a government that as Gore Vidal once said does nothing for its people. And it gets away with it! People don’t revolt. We should label this individualistic, lift-yourself-up-by- your-bootstraps society “anti-social” and rebel against it.

UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE - One Aspect of a Just Society

In recent days I went to my local Universal Health Plan doctor in Rome for a health problem. I called the nearby office for an appointment, fixed for the next afternoon. When I arrived there was one patient ahead of me already in the doctor’s office. I was admitted after a five-minute wait. My wife and I had chosen this doctor rather than another as our primary doctor because she is young, dynamic and scrupulous and besides will also make home visits. I keep home visits by doctors in mind because when my father in North Carolina was paralyzed for years after a stroke, each time he had some new problem such as influenza he had to hire an ambulance to carry him the few blocks of the one-half mile to the office of this “good Christian man” who had been his doctor for many years. The Rome universal health care doctor examined me, asked the right questions about my medical history and sent me to a nearby radiological center for x-rays. Two days later I picked up the analysis, made another appointment with my primary doctor who after looking over the x-rays, prescribed the appropriate medication which I immediately picked up at the pharmacy. Within a period of four days, including two medical visits, the x-rays and analysis and medicine, my problem was resolved: Total costs to me: ZERO.

That is Italy’s universal health care at work, which despite cuts by today’s extreme rightwing, neo-liberal government still offers its people (both citizens and residents) universal health care. The Italian social state—by far not the best in Europe—guarantees most workers one-month vacations, retirement at between 57 and 60 years, months-long maternity leave for both mother and father, unemployment pay, national category contracts, pensions, housing, food and other “social” benefits. That is a social system!

In Italy, in all of Europe, no political party, no candidate for public office, no politician at any level, would even dare run on an anti-social program. Budgetary cuts, savings, reforms, yes, but never the adoption of the American anti-social system. The American system is not even imaginable to most other peoples. Not in Europe. Not in Latin America or Canada or Iran or in any industrialized nation of the world. ONLY in the United States of America. That lack is enough reason for revolution. That is just reason to refuse one’s vote for anyone less than a defender of social justice.

I don’t know what a universal health service for the USA would cost. Certainly only a minimal part of conducting perpetual wars or building a space shield or financing vassal states around the world or a fraction of the advertising costs for junk foods and products that make us obese and ignorant. In any case the point is not the cost. It is not an economic problem of the nation. We have to keep that in mind. The problem is the power of the greedy vested interests of medical associations, the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals and related medical care organizations. The problem is the power of money!

However, foremost and above all it is a problem of the a priori negation of anything smacking of a social state (as present in much of the world) in opposition to the concept of the capitalistic market economy of America which does less for its people than do Canada in the north or Mexico to the south, or France or Italy or Russia or Bulgaria, in fact less than every European country. The creation of a receptive atmosphere for the “social idea” should/would be the major role of a nationwide, organized workers movement. That lack, that default, that truancy, is methodically destroying the health of our nation.

The USA with its individualistic everyman-for-himself society today ranks poorly to other industrialized countries in health care, 23rd in infant mortality, 20th and 21st in life expectancy for women and men respectively. Yet the USA spends more per capita for health care than other countries. Where does that money go? We all know the answer: it goes to a greedy health care system of doctors, hospitals, private health insurance and pharmaceutical giants and to their related inflated and inefficient bureaucracies, to their powerful respective lobbyists and into the hands of our “democratically” elected representatives.

So deeply engrained is the anti-social nature in the “American republic” that the brainwashed people themselves have been conditioned to believe that universal health care is contrary to their best interests. It just doesn’t make sense. The reality is vastly different than in the popular imagery.

America is a walk in and out of a world of shadows. Images and contrasts are strong, overpowering, and confused and bizarre. Drinking beer from bottles and cans but martinis from elegant crystal, parks with manicured paths patrolled by policemen on horseback but streets without sidewalks walked at the risk of loitering fines in hopes of finding a bus shelter rest station. How quickly in America you pass from light to shadow. And you wonder if you will get the chance to try again and do better next time.

No. It doesn’t make sense to continue whacking our way through this jungle of the world’s most bizarre and costly medical care system. Some twenty years ago I covered the American presidential elections for a European newspaper in the state of North Carolina where I grew up. The first question I posed to a cross-section of the population of that one state concerned universal health care. Not one single person at the time came out strong in favor of it. The most favorable response was “well, if they want to give it to me.” Most did not even know what universal health care meant. After my explanation, the knee jerk reaction of the great brainwashed citizenry was “We couldn’t choose our doctors!” or “The Canadian system doesn’t work.” As if they knew! It does work!

Health costs continue to soar, care is compromised and quality is in free fall as obese Americans die of coronary disease. The health care world lies in the shadows. Health care for profit does not work. It cannot work. It is not a solution now and can never be a solution. Profit and greed stand in the way. No matter what the industry explains, health care will always be a right and a necessity, not merchandise like a Blackberry or an i-phone. It is estimated that a single payer (the state) universal health care system would save 100-200 billion dollars a year, it would cover everyone and it would guarantee more medical visits and hospital days to all. Now a recent encouraging poll shows that some 75% of Americans favor universal health care.

 Many of our representatives say health care is not the domain of the state. That’s right! You heard me. HEALTH CARE IS NOT THE DOMAIN OF THE STATE! Bullshit! What can they mean? If health care is not the domain of the state, in what domain should health fall? Or was health care always intended for the world of shadows? It makes you wonder? Why can’t the USA treat its citizens at least as well as other countries do?

Health care is one of the great mysteries. But what about the other social issues our government holds prisoner in the shadows? What about month-long paid vacations? What about more job security and a tiny bit less mobility? What about more taxes for the super rich? What about a little less individualism and much more social solidarity? What about a third and a fourth political party? What about a workingman’s movement?


Editor’s note: It is encouraging to know that the Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has promised at least an improved Health Care program “for all” if he becomes president, one that is less “universal” than the one Hillary Clinton advocated, i.e., voluntary instead of obligatory. It will be interesting to see if he is able to overcome the vested interests – if he is elected that is.
See: Capitalism and health do not mix 

© Gaither Stewart

 Gaither Stewart is a Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His collections of fiction, Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger and Once In Berlin are published by Wind River Press. www.windriverpress.com. His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, www.wastelandrunes.com. He lives in Rome. Contact

 


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