Comments: From Cog To Human Being

Illustrating, once again, as if we needed further enlightenment on the subject, that dictum of Upton Sinclair's about how difficult it is to get someone to see that which their paycheck depends on their ignoring. Principal trumps principle, as ever.

No nation which preserves the wealth of its elites at the expense of the health of its people is actually worth much of a shit, all its democratic pretenses, glib mythologies, and propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.

Posted by Woody at July 18, 2009 03:51 PM

It's Milgram, man. 65% of people would administer a deadly shock. That's the way life is, and it sucks, and we should all work to change it.

Posted by Constantine at July 18, 2009 06:12 PM

This is why it's a mistake to focus exclusively (or even primarily) on individuals when examining the evil done by institutions.

To me it shows the exact opposite: why you need to focus on individuals and be clear that what they are doing is immoral. One man came to see for himself that what he was doing was immoral and he quit. But he got no help from the rest of us in coming to that conclusion. In fact society was probably busy telling him the exact opposite; that he was acting properly and that killing teenage girls and lying about it was a proper and decent thing to do.

At the end of the day a man's sins are his own. Even though we tend to blame Bush for eg. the Iraq war it was not him but the lowest people on the pyramid who actually carried out the blood work. The system works because society tells soldiers that killing innocent foreigners is a heroic duty. If instead society told soldiers that their participation in foreign wars made them war criminals no different from the Nazis, and people who are even against war quit making excuses for them at every turn, I think it would be a lot easier for them to realise what they were doing.

This attitude, so different from the verdict of Nuremberg, that says anyone who is a cog in the system is innocent of all blame, this is very destructive to the consciences of the people who carry out these inhuman policies.

Posted by DavidByron at July 18, 2009 06:47 PM

To me it shows the exact opposite: why you need to focus on individuals and be clear that what they are doing is immoral.

Actually I agree, but it's a different focus at a different time. I'm saying that it's a mistake to look at an institution and think that the nature of the institution is a result of the nature of the people within it—which is a very common viewpoint. I'd definitely agree that in terms of dealing with the people within these institutions, we should try to make them aware that what they're doing is wrong.

One man came to see for himself that what he was doing was immoral and he quit. But he got no help from the rest of us in coming to that conclusion.

Actually, if you read the interview you'll see he got plenty of help—specifically thanks to things like Democracy Now! giving out his email address and phone number. And he says it had a tremendous impact. I was going to point this out in my posting, since I think people on the left are far too quick to dismiss the value of email and phone campaigns.

...anyone who is a cog in the system is innocent of all blame...

Not at all my point. Nonetheless, I have no problem giving credit to those who come to see that the system they've been working in is rotten, and (especially) who then do what they can to make amends.

Posted by John Caruso at July 18, 2009 08:24 PM

The guy was on Bill Boyers's journal. Highly recommended. They talked about the CIGNA's campaign to discredit Michael Moore. (Google will take you there.)

That's where I disagree deeply with Bob Reich, who will tell you that it's not up to the corporate world to be moral (their only goal is to make profits), it's up to the government to step in.

Of course, government needs to "step in" but corporations are totalitarian entities that answer to no moral agent, and that's wrong. (A consumer, as such, is not a moral agent.)

Reich is wrong on practical grounds: corporations own government; hey, just look at Goldman Sachs to see what happens when government gets soooo mad at a company and punish it with all its wraaaaath! Their bonuses double! That's how painful it gets.

Reich is wrong on theoretical grounds: corporations (like individuals) have moral responsibilities toward society. And since they are not human, retaliation can be arbitrarily harsh against them. For example, why isn't CIGNA boycotted? When is the last time anything was boycotted?

Reich will tell you the role of the consumer is not to make companies behave morally but to optimize the value of their purchases. So if you want to stop Nike's child labor practices you go talk to... Pelosi and Geithner. But, don't even think of boycotting Nike! Hey, that might cost you a full extra dollar next time you buy sneakers.

The web would seem a wonderful vehicle for boycotts. Why isn't it happening? It probably is at the local level. But why not on a global scale?

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 18, 2009 09:40 PM

Bernard Chazelle is right that the Moyers interview of Potter is also excellent. That was the first one I watched, so I watched it more closely. But Amy Goodman is good too.

I don't think Potter describes his transformation in the stark moral terms of the Caruso post or the commenters (and I don't agree with much of what is said by them). What Potter does say about CIGNA, and by direct implication the other health insurers, is extremely important, and not in my opinion because Potter found his humanity or is making amends for the sins of his former life. I'm curious what Potter himself would say about that characterization. He does acknowledge that he was thinking too much about numbers and duties and not the human beings that would be affected by what he did, but I don't know that he believes he only lately found his humanity.

What Potter says about how CIGNA needed to hit its numbers on certain claim payment ratios to sustain its stock price may be boring, but it is crucially important. And I think the fact is central to what Bernard Chazelle doesn't understand about Bob Reich's position. This is the problem in a nutshell:

If management at CIGNA takes a "moral" position that results in Wall Street (which now seems to look like the whales of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase and a bunch of minnows) tanking its stock price, management at CIGNA will be replaced either after an acquisition of CIGNA by more ruthless shareholders in a takeover, or after the current CIGNA shareholders themselves fire them. In that way, the operation of the market greatly impedes morality, if not precludes it altogether. CIGNA is driven by the operation of Wall Street to "immoral" conduct.

There are remedies for the situation, as Bob Reich knows. One is law. The government can make laws that rquire private entities to do certain things that we collectively consider moral. That's what the law is for. That's what government is for. I assume that is what Bob Reich favors. I concur. If everyone has to do it, the market can't punish one "overly moral" entity for doing it.

As for health care in particular, even Wendell Potter, the former communications director for CIGNA, sees that single payer makes the most sense. To many of those without an anti-government bias, this seems very obvious. Dr. Himmelstein at Harvard has all the facts on this. But we aren't going to get single payer right now because the health insurers are too powerful and the Congress too corrupt, though the Congress doesn't even see doing the bidding of big contributors as corruption.

So government-provided, single-payer health care can be supported because it's moral--it is. But supporting it needn't be based on morality or utopian sentiments. It has long been pretty clear based on basic microeconomic theory that private insurance doesn't work well in the health care area. Kenneth J. Arrow, a Nobel prize winner in economics, identified some of the basic problems in a seminal article on health care in 1963 entitled "Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care," in the American Economic Review.

http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/82/2/PHCBP.pdf

That's pretty damn boring, as economics always is, but it bears observation that the lovers of capitalism who dominate Wall Steet ignore basic economic theory when it suits them. There were fundamental reasons, grounded in economic theory, that private insurance markets would be very inefficient and ultimately unsatisfactory, apart from the immorality of letting poor people die. It was and is predictable that the system would be hugely wasteful and flawed, for basic reasons Arrow posited, that others have since analyzed at length (Dr. Himmelstein at Harvard) and that Bob Reich understands.

As for Bernard Chazelle's suggestion of boycotts, many of the health insurers seem to have near a monopoly in certain markets. It's hard to boycott your health insurer if not having health insurance is a huge risk and you don't have an alternative source. It's a little risker than boycotting grapes was in the 60s for Cesar Chavez.

Posted by N E at July 18, 2009 11:09 PM

NE: As usual, a nice bundle of contradictions.

>> the Congress too corrupt

But

>>There are remedies for the situation, as Bob Reich knows. One is law.

But NE can remind us who writes the laws in this country. Would that be the "too corrupt congress"?

Other piece of NE logic: we shouldn't hurt CIGNA because it'll be replaced by an even worse outfit. I believe these are the very words spoken by King Louis XVI on this way to the guillotine.


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 19, 2009 12:36 AM

I think all of you agree that the system puts pressure on people and corporations to behave callously. In this post John emphasized the pressure a corporation puts on the people who work for it to be callous--NE for some reason thinks the post is wrong and then makes the perfectly valid point that the market puts pressure on corporations to maximize profits by behaving callously. I'm having difficulty seeing a fundamental difference here. The two of you are just looking at two different levels of the same phenomenon.

NE says that single payer is the answer, but also points out that Congress is corrupt--I think Bernard agrees with that.

About the only substantive disagreement I can identify is that NE doesn't think boycotts would work and Bernard thinks they might.

Gonna be out of town after tonight, so I won't see how y'all reconcile your agreements.

Posted by Donald Johnson at July 19, 2009 01:13 AM

"That's pretty damn boring, as economics always is, but it bears observation that the lovers of capitalism who dominate Wall Steet ignore basic economic theory when it suits them. There were fundamental reasons, grounded in economic theory, that private insurance markets would be very inefficient and ultimately unsatisfactory, apart from the immorality of letting poor people die."

Well, lets put it this way..

Long-term damage for short-term profit has always been the MO of money-grubbing CEOs. Why worry about wrecking the economy when the taxpayers can clean up your mess?

I don't think you require any matter of number-crunching to realize that.

Posted by Nikolay Levin at July 19, 2009 02:08 AM

I'm having difficulty seeing a fundamental difference here.

NE is apparently carrying such a grudge against me now that he doesn't know or care what I actually mean—he just knows that whatever it might be, he disagrees.

..I won't see how y'all reconcile your agreements.

Nice. There does seem to be a high level of antagonistic concurrence on this thread, for some reason.

Posted by John Caruso at July 19, 2009 02:34 AM

At the end of the day a man's sins are his own.

No, I disagree. Man is weak, prone to rationalizing his behavior. A lot of plasticity in Man, institutions mold him accordingly. Institutions also sort us out making sure that suitable individuals put into right positions.

Posted by abb1 at July 19, 2009 05:08 AM

Bernard Chazelle:

Valid point, with qualifications, if what you're saying is that the health insurers and Wall Street control Congress, so expecting Congress to pass laws that fix these problems is like waiting for Judgment Day. You might be able to win that argument, so maybe you and Reich are sort of talking past each other.

But I don't see how the boycott will work, or see a better alternative to cleaning up, and structurally changing, our political system and then passing the right laws. I think it's more or less certain that encouraging corporate morality won't work in any meaningful way as long as we have a private health nisurance system with publicly traded corporations providign the insurance, for the reason I articulated.

I've been taking my skin-thickening vitamins, so i'll ignore the little ad hominem AND that misconstruction of what I said to make it somehow pro-CIGNA. I rather doubt CIGNA would agree with you. What i wrote is pretty comprehensible by the standards of the Academy, so I think you certainly are able to understand it just fine.

Your repartee is characteristically witty though.

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 08:38 AM

why is it either/or? yes, corporations exist to reduce the liability of the persons who incorporate, regardless if you accept the more dubious notion that the law should treat them as persons. but surely both organizations and individuals are at fault for the misdeeds of corporations.

as far as Potter goes, it's difficult for me to know how to regard him. One one hand I'm inclined to think that fear of the collective legal weight of Cigna bearing down on him may have motivated his unwillingness to stand up against them earlier.

or just greed. maybe a matter of waiting for sundry bonuses to kick in, etc. he knows which applies, whereas we will probably never know.

still it's ironic, that with corporations legally recognized as "persons" it's possible for a corporation to shed all sorts of liabilities and reorganize, and very rarely are they ruined by lawsuits and forced to close down, whereas bankruptcy law for actual persons, especially those who don't have much to begin with, can often leave lives ruined.

Posted by grimmy at July 19, 2009 08:59 AM

No, I disagree. Man is weak, prone to rationalizing his behavior. A lot of plasticity in Man, institutions mold him accordingly. Institutions also sort us out making sure that suitable individuals put into right positions.
Posted by abb1 at July 19, 2009 05:08 AM

Yes, but this is a chicken-and-egg problem. Institutions and their governing laws are not some pure, infallible, arbitrary, divine entities plucked from the Heavens. Institutions arise from man, complete with all of man's flaws and tendencies towards corruption and self-interest. Institutions are created by certain groups and classes of men with particular interests, backgrounds, and thus reflect the interests and biases of those groups and classes of men. Institutions are peopled by men and thus prey to the same sins, flaws and imperfections of man.

So even right from their inception, before even the inevitable natural tendency of institutions to deteriorate into oligarchical corruption, institutions and their "operating laws" will always be imperfect.. because this world is imperfect, human nature is fundamentally flawed, injustice and man's inhumanity towards man are infinite and unceasing, and reality is too complex. For a perfect example of this, see the Enlightenment (a movement consisting of white European men who claimed to champion the dignity of every man even while Europeans was colonizing, enslaving and slaughtering the darkies and spreading terror, mass-violence, genocide all over the planet) and the original sins of the American state, i.e., genocide and slavery, even as the Founding Fathers championed "Enlightenment" values, the American constitution and the American state as some great, "Enlightened" step forward for mankind. And to be fair, they were, considering what had come before, i.e., religious superstition, monarchy and feudalism, and the grinding, miserable existence for most ordinary people. But obviously, this "progress" was limited, far from perfect, and questionable for people and races on the other side of this great European "progress".

Whatever "corrective" behavior and operating laws these institutions may have theoretically (for example, the American constitution and its division of powers as a mechanism to constrain and limit man's tendency towards corruption and power-hunger), in reality, people will always find ways to circumvent those institutional "laws" and "rules". And so you're back to square one, which is that the sins of institutions are the sins of man. So if you want to get good institutional behavior, you have to start and and with each individual person within that institution.

It's the individuals in an institution who enable and carry out the murderous, violent, sociopathic behavior of institutions - nation-states, governments, or corporations - who are ultimately responsible for the aggregate behavior of the institution.

So let's not discount the need to shame people within institutions and point out their immoral behavior as a means of getting them to question and recognize the immorality of their actions. Unfortunately, to build on DavidByron's point,American liberals today are too cowed by the right-wing's backlash of the 60s and are terrified of criticizing and shaming US soldiers, CIA thugs, etc for their part in carrying out mass-murder, state-terror, violence, aggressive-war and torture. At least during the Vietnam era, the American left was willing to shame US soldiers for their barbaric conduct in IndoChina. Now, American liberals are eager to show how "patriotic" they are by sucking up to the troops (we "support the troops" but not the war!, etc) and to excuse their behavior by pretending they don't have a moral obligation to use their own minds and moral judgment rather than just "follow orders" out of blind faith, "social contract" and obligation to the state and nation. Witness the "support the troops" antics of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert for a prime example of how timid, cowed, and pathetic American liberals are today.

So I guess what I'm trying to say in my long-winded way is that it's being very naive and simplistic to simply blame institutions for the sins of man or to assume some correction of these institutions, or even brand new institutions - again, springing from man and thus as fallible and flawed as man and human nature - will somehow result in better outcomes. Until human nature itself changes in a fundamental way - and I don't know if such a thing is even possible - mankind is doomed to repeat the same cycles of violence, exploitation, and oppression. No institution is ever going to change that.

Posted by hv at July 19, 2009 09:16 AM

Donald Johnson et al:

You're right that I'm not on a different "side" of this than either John Caruso or the prior commenters, including Bernard Chazelle. I don't really think or say that the post is "wrong," and it's certainly not dumb or illogical or somehow defective or the like.

But since apparently not agreeing with something equates to it being "wrong" hereabouts and causes a mini-uproarm I'll say what I don't agree with. It's this: "The real problem is a system that puts people in the position where their own economic interests lie at odds with the most basic forms of empathy and common decency." And this: "Congratulations Potter on finally finding his humanity, and trying to make amends for the sins of his former life." And I don't agree with the prior comments to the extent they join that view or outlook. I don't find those sentiments "wrong," but I don't agree with them.

Here's one of my problems with a moralistic take on all this, based on real life, from my own experience. This is not a hypothetical.

I have a friend whose best friend developed breast cancer some years ago. Her best friend was just under 30 years old at that time, and a new mother. Her friend's insurance company wouldn't pay for an experimental treatment that she needed to have a chance, though a slim chance to stay alive. It was quite expensive, i believe well over a hundred thousand dollars, and the catch was, it had a very low chance of success. My friend raised money for the treatment, and many people contributed. They/we raised the money and gave her the treatment. And, consistent wit the odds, it didn't work and she died.

That's a depressing story, and I wish there had been government health insurance that would have paid for the treatment, and most of all I really wish she wouldn't have died. But the thing is, whether a private insurer pays or the government pays or individuals pay, the question ultimately still does have to be faced whether a treatment is justified when it has a low chance of success and is enormously costly. Maybe that's when the odds are 10%, maybe 1%, maybe one in a thousand, maybe one in a million, but there eventually is a point when somebody has to say that we can't spend an unlimited amount of money or every possible treatment, no matter how small the chance of success. So I don't agree with casting the situation in stark moral terms. I don't think Wendell Potter is atoning for his sins or found his humanity. I just think he came to see that the system he was working for was dysfunctional and was doing harm rather than good, as he had once believed. I'm sure he had been fooling himself, sure, because he's a human being and people are pretty damn fallible, even people who talk about morality a lot.

But I'm glad Wendell Potter had the courage to change his views as his perception of the facts changed, because what he says is very important, especially on the subject of health care reform, but also because when people show they can rethink their opinions and change their minds, especially on issues where it's not in their personal interest to do that, that's a great example for all of us, whether or not we tend by nature and inclination to characterize issues in stark moral terms.

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 09:20 AM

"Until human nature itself changes in a fundamental way - and I don't know if such a thing is even possible - mankind is doomed to repeat the same cycles of violence, exploitation, and oppression. No institution is ever going to change that."

Now we're getting close to the questions that brought us the Enlightenment, and from there to the democratic left. My favorite maxim was also that of Marx, who stole it from the old Roman Terence: "Nihil humani a mi alienum puto." Nothing human is alien to me.

All institutions are human institutions. Human beings built them, and human beings can tear them down. History itself is made by human beings, and human beings can change it. But history has has been built and set in motion by the individual and collective acts of billions of human beings, so changing its course is much more difficult than changing the course of a great river. And that's especially true when powerful human beings are continuing to try to keep things from changing.

As for human nature, it most certainly can be changed, and it has been changed pretty signifantly in some ways. I think it still is changing. But if what you mean by a "fundamental way" is that people are going to quit being selfish and having the basic range of human emotions and weaknesses that seem to have followed us all across history, I don't think that is going to change. We are going to have to develop human institutions that prevent us from killing and exploiting each other despite our human frailties, and we better pick up the pace of our efforts. Futurology is pretty difficult, with a huge margin of error, but i'd be surprised if homo sapiens sapiens has more than a century or two to make a whole lot of progress or the sand in the hourglass will run out on it. We just have too much destructive power now.

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 10:03 AM

"Until human nature itself changes in a fundamental way - and I don't know if such a thing is even possible - mankind is doomed to repeat the same cycles of violence, exploitation, and oppression. No institution is ever going to change that."

Now we're getting close to the questions that brought us the Enlightenment, and from there to the democratic left. My favorite maxim was also that of Marx, who stole it from the old Roman Terence: "Nihil humani a mi alienum puto." Nothing human is alien to me.

All institutions are human institutions. Human beings built them, and human beings can tear them down. History itself is made by human beings, and human beings can change it. But history has has been built and set in motion by the individual and collective acts of billions of human beings, so changing its course is much more difficult than changing the course of a great river. And that's especially true when powerful human beings are continuing to try to keep things from changing.

As for human nature, it most certainly can be changed, and it has been changed pretty signifantly in some ways. I think it still is changing. But if what you mean by a "fundamental way" is that people are going to quit being selfish and having the basic range of human emotions and weaknesses that seem to have followed us all across history, I don't think that is going to change. We are going to have to develop human institutions that prevent us from killing and exploiting each other despite our human frailties, and we better pick up the pace of our efforts. Futurology is pretty difficult, with a huge margin of error, but i'd be surprised if homo sapiens sapiens has more than a century or two to make a whole lot of progress or the sand in the hourglass will run out on it. We just have too much destructive power now.

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 10:03 AM

Milgrim is the key, becuase individual behavior must change before institutional behavior (which is merely individual behavior backed by the power we give to organizations) changes.

Potter didn't leave his job for twenty years yet obviously had a conscience at the time--he could not have become disgusted by his job without one. But he couldn't reject the standards of everyone around him and become an outsider. He couldn't disobey his authorities. Until we stop raising children to obey authority unthinkingly, we will continue to create and maintain organizations based on obedience and fear, since obedience to authority is ultimately based on fear of rejection.

Posted by Susan of Texas at July 19, 2009 10:11 AM

Susan of Texas:

Milgram was brilliant, and his authority experiment was especially important, and i don't like unthinking obedience to authority either.

I agree that kids need love, not abuse, physical or psychological. (I think the psychoanalyst Alice Miller hit the nail on the head with that.) And if kids are given love and taught to stand up for what they think is right even if someone pressures them to do something else, that probably helps. But pressure takes many forms, not jsut the form of a guy in a white coat asking you to push a button to give someone an electric shock.

When the German reserves, a bunch of middle-aged guys, mostly blue collar and more pro-labor than pro-Nazi, were sent into Poland without explanation and them discovered that they had been given orders to round up Jewish Poles (including women, children, old people) in their villages and shoot them in the back of the head at close range, one of the big forms of pressure that made many of them go through with it was a form of peer pressure. They didn't want to let down their friends/fellow soldiers, who would have to do more of the disgusting work if they didn't do their part. That is what Christopher Browning discovered when he researched that topic and wrote about it in Ordinary Men:
Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Browning's book is a remarkable book if you want to know about Milgram's ideas in real setting, but it's not a book everyone would or could read. Or maybe even should read.

It takes courage to defy orders, but it takes courage to refuse to go along with the crowd too. Sadly enough, people really can be more afraid of disappointing a friend, or looking bad to him, than of committing the gruesome murder of an innocent person. And make no mistake, I think that finding would probably apply across many nationalities and religions.

You're right to emphasize that people need to think, but people never believe themselves to be unthinking, and it's common to believe that others are unthinking. I know some people who had very non-authoritarian parenting who don't like to think at all (and also don't seem to much care for the parenting they got). I don't think avoiding this problem is going to be as simple as teaching kids to mistrust authority, though I have taught my own kids plenty of that, and am punished for it with insolent back-talk about questions of conscience like whether they should pick up after themselves and do their work. If, after all that back-talk, one of them were to give an electric shock to someone because someone told him to, I would be depressed. Let us (and the victim) just hope that the person in the uniform making the request is not "hot."

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 10:58 AM

No nation which preserves the wealth of its elites at the expense of the health of its people is actually worth much of a shit, all its democratic pretenses, glib mythologies, and propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.

Well said!

Posted by cemmcs at July 19, 2009 11:06 AM

Individual behavior can not change before institutional behavior, and "...stop raising children to obey authority unthinkingly" is an institutional change. This may sounds like one of those circular "chicken or the egg" things, but I really think in this case institutional change has to come first.

Posted by abb1 at July 19, 2009 11:09 AM

NE, I think that people need to feel, as I think Alice Miller states. We repress our feelings to avoid pain and become indifferent and callous towards the suffering of others. From that point we progress to running institutions that oppress and destroy others.

I laughed at your comment about your kids because I have the same problem. Smart-mouthed teens is the price we pay for refusing to break down our children into obedient and fearful creatures.

Posted by Susan of Texas at July 19, 2009 11:21 AM

apropos of your point, this (from For Your Own Good by Miller) is still the most effective set of front quotes in a book as a frontispiece that i have ever seen.

http://books.google.com/books?id=cSVHYdqLu3wC&pg=PR26&lpg=PR26&dq=hoss+hitler+%22alice+miller%22&source=bl&ots=JzLDLz2ZDD&sig=pbPe9aKzqgsx39JSOI2Gw_kUltE&hl=en&ei=_ENjSsj4Lqqmtgf2qp33Dw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 12:07 PM

Iirc, Foucault had much to say in these matters, especially in his discussions of 'discursive practices,' in "The Order of Things" and "The Archeology of Knowledge"? The archetypal binding structure--that set of practices, institutional instructions, laws, etc which precedes and outlives us--is language. We all often challenge it in minor ways, but its function is so paramount that undoing it is not an option.

Posted by Woody at July 19, 2009 12:26 PM

But since apparently not agreeing with something equates to it being "wrong" hereabouts and causes a mini-uproar...

Hey, a couple years ago, Bernard outright called several of us "typical dumb American liberals", or something to that effect, because we disagreed with him over the question of whether Bush's religiosity was genuine in any way or not (apparently he didn't accept that people could ever possibly hold beliefs while rationalizing away their own hypocrisy). So he's actually improved since then!

But John seems to reserve the right for himself to make sarcastic, passive-aggressive remarks to people who have the temerity to disagree with him, even if they make an obvious effort to be polite and respectful in their expression. Apparently you're only allowed one, maybe two attempts to question anything he writes; after that, he declares you're just being stubborn or argumentative for the hell of it.

Even when he specifically solicits opinions on certain posts, as he did recently at his own blog, he deletes on-topic comments if he doesn't like their tone, regardless of whether they have good points to make.

I haven't always agreed with everything NE (or SteveB, another person similarly accused) said, but I've never gotten the impression they were just trying to be jerks for the sake of winding people up.

Posted by Upside Down Flag at July 19, 2009 02:43 PM

My evil twin is obnoxious sometimes, but i'm really a swell guy.

I hate to agree with what Bernard apparently said several years ago to get everyone bent out of shape, because he is getting a little cheeky with me for someone who is guilty of being a foreign-born, Ivy-league musical mathemetician, but one really shouldn't have to be as smart as the French to see the phoniness in everything Bush! (Russell Baker's book Family of Secrets is great on the nefarious phoniness of George I and George II, by the way, if i haven't plugged that book lately.)

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 03:26 PM

NE: sorry for the snark but methinks you're drowning the fish (pardon my french).

UDF: So I called a bunch of you "typical dumb American liberals"? Really?? Geez, you'd think I'd remember what surely must have been the high point of my blogging career. Now I feel all sad, like the little boy crying after wolfing down his dessert so fast he didn't even realize he ate it.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at July 19, 2009 06:10 PM

BC: Oh, I don't mind the snark at all, but I'm an American, so I don't poison my poisson, I shoot it. I would just ask, in the polite subjective, that you not pretend to be as dumb as an armadillo from Amarillo when somebody else makes a point. I bet you would get a really high score on the quiz, probably even the economics, if there were going to be one. Hey, now there's an idea. . .

Posted by N E at July 19, 2009 06:30 PM


AMORALITY:
A quality admired and rewarded in modern organizations, where it is referred to through metaphors such as professionalism and efficiency . . . Immorality is doing wrong of our own volition. Amorality is doing it because a structure or an organization expects us to do it. Amorality is thus worse than immorality because it involves denying our responsibility and therefore our existence as anything more than an animal
- John Ralston Saul "The Doubter's Companion."

Posted by joel hanes at July 19, 2009 07:33 PM

Mr Potter has a blurg.

Posted by Rob Weaver at July 19, 2009 09:14 PM

But the thing is, whether a private insurer pays or the government pays or individuals pay, the question ultimately still does have to be faced whether a treatment is justified when it has a low chance of success and is enormously costly. Maybe that's when the odds are 10%, maybe 1%, maybe one in a thousand, maybe one in a million, but there eventually is a point when somebody has to say that we can't spend an unlimited amount of money or every possible treatment, no matter how small the chance of success.

I'm not sure I agree.

This is a pretty common Republican way of framing the issue and my feeling is, if they aren't going to run the rest of the country that way, why should they do it with health care?

How many Republicans do you think would come out and say "Hey, at some point we have to recognize that America CAN lose in Iraq, and we can't spend unlimited money on it?"

That's called cutting and running.

Compare the Iraq War to your friend's (Or anybody's) health care: The goal of the Iraq war is vague, and the goal with her care is concrete; if Iraq goes badly, it's not just a waste of money, but kills uncounted numbers of people, whereas if her treatment fails we just lose the money.

If we're going to get concerned about huge bureaucracies and massive spending, I think we should start with the stupid, pointless destructive shit, and not the useful lifesaving stuff. If we have enough money to wreck shit without even asking about the cost, then we also have enough money to build things, full stop.

Witness the "support the troops" antics of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert for a prime example of how timid, cowed, and pathetic American liberals are today.

In order to shame people they have to either respect or fear you.

Let me ask you this: When somebody like Osama Bin Laden criticizes Americans, do you feel ashamed?

If your peers are being threatened by outsiders, you don't go, "Yeah, we ARE assholes", you dig your heels in and defend your friends. You even defend people you'd otherwise be critical of, because those outsiders are dangerous and clearly haven't got the sympathy and perspective you do. Yeah, some of your peers are bad, but they aren't monsters, not like those outsiders think they are.

And to military people, radical left-wingers ARE outsiders.

I mean, I don't like the constant troop fluffing that goes on in the media because I don't really like the military. But I don't know that constantly calling them out is really going to be helpful.

Posted by Christopher at July 20, 2009 06:11 AM


"This is a pretty common Republican way of framing the issue and my feeling is, if they aren't going to run the rest of the country that way, why should they do it with health care?"

Christopher: I don't disagree with most of what you said. Of course's there's a huge amount of lying and crying wolf and all that. The GOP says social security and medicare are bankrupt, and that's BS and tactical for the reasons you mention and some others. I was explaining something else, not endorsing the attitude of some old health care Ebenezer Scrooge who wants everyone to get two aspirin and then released from the hospital.

Posted by N E at July 20, 2009 08:42 AM

...
I mean, I don't like the constant troop fluffing that goes on in the media because I don't really like the military. But I don't know that constantly calling them out is really going to be helpful.
Posted by Christopher at July 20, 2009 06:11 AM

yes, believe me, I am well aware of, and even sympathatic to the viewpoint you are expressing, i.e., ineffective left-wing bashing of the military is at best not a particularly effective tactic, and at worst will result in a backlash from the right-wing and from the much venerated, "Middle-America", i.e., the "silent majority"/white middle-class crypto-racist reactionary suburbanites. I guess my problem with liberals like Jon Stewart, Colbert, etc is that they have internalized the right-wing critiques of the 60s leftists, radicals, and of the anti-war movement to such a degree that Stewart, Colbert, et al. go beyond simply not being critical of the military out of recognition it might be an ineffective tactic: they're actually vocal participants in the media troop-fluffing you describe.

Secondly, liberals for the most part - especially those in the elite sector - are nationalists and statists for the most part. They really buy the whole American Exceptionalism mythology, and the mythology of the nobility of self-government and of "patriotic" obligation to state and nation. America is a religion to them. Liberals have replaced veneration to church and God with a veneration to the mythology of the American state. I mean I remember a ridiculous post by Digby a while back where she proclaimed she bursts into tears everytime she reads the Declaration of Independence or something. I mean, what sentimental rubbish. Who cares how noble and idealistic some document is? Just like some of the noble and wonderful ideals expressed in religious texts, one has to keep in mind that it's the actual expression of those ideals in human hands and in the real world with is infinite complexities, power-imbalances and limited resources that are the real test. And only a deeply deluded, naive and ignorant fool, or someone insulated from the racism, economic injustic, violence and mass-murder caused by the American state, internally but especially externally in the form of vicious military aggression, imperialism and externalization of economic costs to the 3rd world, would fail to recognize the utter failure of American ideals and the failure of the promise of a "democratic" form of government by the people for the people.

Anyway, the point is that liberals are reluctant to criticize American institutions like the military not just because they think it would be a counter-productive and ineffective tactic but because liberals believe in the fundamental morality, nobility and mythology of the American state, and of the basic soundness and morality of American institutions. Their critiques of the American state and its institutions are very limited and selective. Liberals are not interested in radical change and they're not willing to even entertain the idea that the fundamental premises behind the Enlightenment, behind the American state and its political and economic systems are flawed.

For example, liberals really believe in, or aren't willing to question, the flawed concept of the "social contract" whereby soldiers are not supposed to question government policy and are simply supposed to do their duty and let politicians sort out the rest. This "social contract" theory on which the modern nation-state is built on is a deeply problematic concept that encourages ammoral and even immoral, sociopathic behavior because it demands citizens and soldiers of a state put institutional loyalty to the military and their nation state before their own humanity, moral judgment, critical thinking and moral obligation to peoples, cultures and races outside their nation state.

Or it doesn't seem to occur to liberals that what we need is an Enlightenment 2.0 that recognizes the deep flaws in our current democratic and capitalistic economic system and updates on the notion of democracy by recognizing the necessity of minimizing the sociopathic, destructive tendencies of the modern Western liberal, democratic industrialized techocratic State and an unsustainable economy geared towards mindless mass-consumption and the creation and use of weapons, techno-warfare and monstrous killing machines capable of planetery annihilation that are all rapidly pushing the planet to a very real possibility of catastrophic climate-change and nuclear Apocalypse.

No, instead liberals just want their guy in charge, either because they really stupidly, naively believe simply having their guy and their ideological brethren will result in the "correct policies" and the change required or because liberals tend to be an elite segment of a state who benefit from the current system and just don't have any particular motivation or feel the urgency, necessity and moral obligation to make very real and substantial changes to a system and global power-structure that is greatly destructive to most people of the world, especially those brown people who don't count for much who live in the Global South outside the safe, comfortable, protected cocoon of the American Empire and of the West.


Posted by hv at July 20, 2009 12:05 PM

OREGON tried to bring Nike back to the USA. PRISON LABOR being cheaper than foreign labor.

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 20, 2009 01:56 PM

I'm glad to see that cranky old Mr. Potter turned around, he was so mean to that nice Mr. Bailey at the Building and Loan.

Posted by SteveB at July 20, 2009 04:35 PM

This "social contract" theory on which the modern nation-state is built on is a deeply problematic concept that encourages ammoral and even immoral, sociopathic behavior because it demands citizens and soldiers of a state put institutional loyalty to the military and their nation state before their own humanity, moral judgment, critical thinking and moral obligation to peoples, cultures and races outside their nation state.

Hobbes isn't the only social contract theorist, you know. There are other formulations which are rather different.

Posted by Dunc at July 21, 2009 07:47 AM

Why did Amy Goodman decide to make a Star-of-the-Moment of Wendell Potter?

He's a former shill. Big deal.

There are lots of people who know MUCH more about insurer misbehavior -- why didn't Amy Goodman seek them out?

I don't trust Amy Goodman any further than I can throw her. And she's a "big" gal.

While lib-wools and pwoggies delight in the "conversion" of a paid shill (read: someone who will say whatever his current masters want him to say) I am forced to wonder how incredibly fucking gullible most lib-wools and pwoggies are.

Wendell Potter is now a "noted" health care analyst? From what background does he get this expertise? Shilling?

Give me a fucking break already.

Leftist gatekeepers, fully flushed!

Posted by Juan Seis-Olla at July 22, 2009 11:01 AM

hv --

Anyway, the point is that liberals are reluctant to criticize American institutions like the military not just because they think it would be a counter-productive and ineffective tactic but because liberals believe in the fundamental morality, nobility and mythology of the American state, and of the basic soundness and morality of American institutions. Their critiques of the American state and its institutions are very limited and selective. Liberals are not interested in radical change and they're not willing to even entertain the idea that the fundamental premises behind the Enlightenment, behind the American state and its political and economic systems are flawed.

Same holds true for "progressives."

The thumbnail sketch of lib-wools and pwoggies is this:

They just want smiley faces painted on bombs, bullets, missiles, tanks, flechette projectiles.

And sadly, a lot of the people who comment here are that very type of lib-wool and / or pwoggie.

Especially the esteemed "professor" Chazelle.

Posted by Juan Seis-Olla at July 22, 2009 11:05 AM