Sunday, October 23, 2011

Talking to myself

The more I read, and learn and study about government and politics and policy and religion and race, welfare and states rights vs federal rights and medical coverage and the deficit the more I find contradictions in myself.

For example - I was raised with the bedrock belief that its not the governments job to take care of us. That is the responsibility of the local communities and churches b/c "those shmucks in congress have a 14% approval rating and can't do anything right and tax us like they're trying to bleed us dry and waste half the money on bureaucracy". I'm over generalizing but you get my point.

But then I have several thoughts: 1. Where the hell are the churches and local communities supposed to get the cash from? We'd bankrupt the church taking care of EVERYONE.

2. So if its not the governments job to take care of its people (and I am all for self reliance I think its by far the best route in terms of emotional/mental health for the individual and by far the best route for us as a society), but do we have a duty to be our brothers keeper? That one you could write volumes on. Its this terrible balancing act between saying people have a right to live their lives the way they want to live them and yet, I believe one of the best measures of a society is how it cares for and treats its weakest members. The young, the elderly, the infirm.

So the quick and easy answer is "Of course we should care for them". But historically, prejudice tends to enter in to this equation rather quickly and we wind up institutionalizing people b/c they're from the currently unpopular demographic. Which is where we come to our current system of "Unless they are an eminent danger to self or and eminent danger to others" we legally cannot interfere. They have a right to destroy their minds and bodies and starve to death on the streets. Even if the person is so far gone they can't even feed themselves anymore, unless they have a family member who is willing to go to court and file all the proper petitions and pay out the cash (ooh yes money can still trump all), we currently say that if they won't come willingly then they have a right to die. But not really b/c if you ACTIVELY help them die then we'll throw you in jail.

Confused yet? Yeah so am I.

I think thats probably the next biggest thing - is you can look at just about any good plan that has been tried through out history and you can see how horribly quickly it gets twisted and case after case of where it goes terribly wrong.

For the last hundred plus years - up until about the 70s - people decided it was their duty to care for others, so we institutionalized people left and right. 150 years ago that meant being chained to a wall to rot until you died. People then came up with some largely more humane options for care, but it was still often grim and abuse was rampant. The biggest problem was that just b/c a person has one psychotic break doesn't mean they're going to stay gone forever, but back in the day if you got thrown in there they threw away the key. Or better yet the courts would throw you in there just for being "fill-in-the-blank-unpopular-group". And there you stayed. Forever.

Well enter the 70s and one of the guys who got thrown in there, got out and sued was able to prove that he was entirely mentally competent in court and they had no right to keep him there for years and years like they did. So enter the "de-institutionalization" of America. Basically - we let all the crazies out. We claimed we'd provide outpatient services for them, and in SOME cases and areas that has happened but for the most part - I'd give a conservative estimate that half the people on the streets are there because they are severely mentally ill and have not received care for their disease.

It really doesn't help that theres a massive stigma attached to mental illness STILL in our society. People who have never experienced mental illness are quite often (in my experience at least) at a complete loss to understand why these people don't just "think themselves well". Even those who have experienced it are often shackled by the cultural basis they were raised with. The very same people who would have no problems at all if you needed to take medication to correct a liver imbalance will give you hell if you need to take medication to correct a brain imbalance.

So in a perfect world - we could institutionalize - in a wonderful, caring, compassionate setting, those who are no longer able to care for themselves and help them live out their lives in the best way they possibly can and have full outpatient services available to help treat those in the general population, before it becomes a major problem.

Sounds great and lovely. But 1. Who pays for it? 2. Who runs it?

Having the local community pay for it is great if you live in a wealthy neighborhood, but what if you and all your neighbors are poor? In a perfect world everybody who works hard would succeed and get their very own house with a white picket fence. But the world isn't perfect and every last person is at a different level.

I don't think socialization is the answer. If nothing else - historically that one is a JOKE as it plays out. And we WANT people to be motivated to work hard to take care of themselves because that is so, so good for their mental and emotional health.

So once again the circle I'm talking in comes back to "where does the money come from?"

And since this is getting ridiculously long I'm going to say - the problem with keeping things strictly local is that we have rich states and poor states. Rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. Should a child who has no control over where he or she is born suffer b/c of that? Which is why I'm more in favor of doing things - like funding education - at the federal level and not the state level and I think it can be done with less waste than in the past if we use modern technology and keep things transparent.

Yes 200 years ago things really did need to happen so much more on a local level because communication and transportation were not what they are today. Thats why county size used to be limited to "the furthest a man can ride on a horse in a single day". And that was necessary and good then. And some communities left to themselves become models of what we all want to strive for. But some communities left to themselves become the Jim Crow south.... Just sayin.

So Federal level - with LOTS of transparency using modern technology to make it efficient. I think it could work. There will be a whole lot of initial chicken little squawking about the sky falling, b/c the first goal of every organization - regardless of what their mission statement is - is the perpetuation of its own existence. But change can be a very healthy thing if done right.

So yeah. I think I'm in favor of intelligent change using modern technology to aid in transparency and efficiency. And I'm in favor of changing to federal funding instead of state funding for things like mental health, disability services and education. And I'm sure there are people who would call this socialism or at best a "robin hood" plan. But I think the over all measure of us as a nation is how we care for the weakest among us, and I think that education is ultimately an investment in our national security in every respect and that we can only benefit by bringing the whole nation up above the board in education.

And I think while yes we need to really play catch up on math and science b/c the rest of the world is currently kicking our butts and its just plain embarrassing (and stupid in the long term), I think that music and the arts are the tools to get there. Creativity breeds innovation. Innovation is a core ingredient in creative science and technology research and discoveries. Music teaches perfection and mathematics. Physical activity, recess and play time are all critically important to mental, emotional and physical health. You can't think upper level thoughts with a down and out body. Your brain doesn't operate in a vacuum. If the body isn't healthy and fit it can't support the brain to the best of its abilities. Teaching exclusively to a test is cutting your nose off to spite your face. My mother would call it penny wise and pound foolish.

And while all this sounds very liberal to some I'm sure, by the same token I think that our current welfare systems are horribly broken and need to be completely revamped with a focus on creating self sufficiency. I think that work is good for the soul. I think that unless you are a vegetable there is a way that you can contribute and that to do so can only benefit yourself and those around you. I think people need to be rewarded for working smart and working hard with a focus on working smart. Which winds up sounding pretty conservative, imo.

I think the environment should be protected (liberal). But I also think we need solid research and not chicken little scare tactics to decide what is and is not safe (conservative).  I know that adds more costs to our businesses, but I for one like that most of our rivers don't catch on fire anymore and actually have fish living in them. And ultimately a healthier environment makes for a healthier people, which lowers medical costs (and insurance payouts for businesses). So I think you're gonna spend the money one way or another - you're just picking how you spend it. Healthy, happy employees live longer and work harder with less whining.

 (Side note - Thats kind of the conclusion I've come to with my eating/weight loss. It costs a bit more to eat healthy and to pay for this Weight Watchers program to teach me how to eat - but I figure that I'm either gonna spend it here or I'm gonna spend it on medical bills later so I might as well feel better while I'm at it).

And for the record - I've yet to find a political movement or party that is exactly in line with my thought process. At least all the ones you see in the news - tea party, dems, reps, libertarians, etc - I have some major ideological differences with. Maybe I'll find somebody I can get behind 100%. Or maybe its time for a new party. Other countries do that all the time. Why should we be stuck w/ just 2? Just sayin...

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