Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Getting "good and hurt," and health care.

A gent on the rise asks:
How did "cool beans" enter and establish itself in the American vernacular?

Cool beans makes no sense, nor should it be desirable. And yet two generations have used the phrase to mean something like "it is good." This translation is rough and captures the sympathies of cool beans about as much as the translation of the hip hop phrase "Word" provided by Newsweek: "I am in agreement with you."

Like all good, difficult to parse idioms, cool beans were originally a drug reference. However, for a phrase to become as ubiquitous as cool beans has become, it needs
  1. Some false etymology that is comfortable for the mainstream. For instance, we can predict that "butthole surfers" is not going to take off as a moniker.
  2. A reason to achieve heavy usage.
Cool beans can mean that "it is good" because cool beans are harmless. Cool beans will not burn your mouth. As for a use, cool beans became available at the beginning of an awful time in America, a time that we are still living through. Our national nightmare of False Safety.

Around the 1960's, as the brains of adults were getting calcified to Cold War fears, America started to really learn about liability. Since a father could not point his finger at the person who was rather ridiculously threatening to dispatch the entire human race, he would instead displace his fear and anger with over the top rage at a shop keeper who did not put up a sign saying, "Don't let kids play with these knives."

This amalgamation of American fathers of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s wants to provide for the his family the most certainty of health and well being that he can, but is experiencing a massive cognitive dissonance. You see, while he intellectually knows that people in the world capitals are gettting ready to destroy the world and ruin his life, he looks around and sees comfort and stability. It would drive anyone's decision making capacity into the realm of logic so flawed that it is merely a rationalization.

Rationalization can often be called out by the public consciousness. For instance, it is pretty easy (and mighty enjoyable) to look upon Octomom and diagnose her glaringly flawed logical constructs.

Since this cognitive dissonance was as universal as the appeal of drinking straws, there was not a loud enough public opinion to point it out. This is how conventional wisdom forms.

I provide an example:
Person 1: Wow, what a strange day. My dear child was knocked silly by a penny dropped from a high rise building. What a freak accident. Turns out it he will be OK, and his father and I used it as a teachable moment. Now he is reading up on Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Funny world, eh?

Person 2: Funny, you say? I don't think that it is such a laughing matter. I have heard of at least one other person on the planet who has been struck in the head by currency dropped from a tall building. This could be a global pandemic, a trend which I have identified and will call attention to. Surely you, person 1, are a caring parent and would not want your child to live in a world where coins are falling willy nilly. We must take action!

Person 1: I don't know that I would think of this as an epidemic. I mean, you just said that one other person you may have heard of. Sure, it happens, but is it really something that we need to worry about? Let's worry about thermonuclear annihilation -- or the take over of our health care policy by for profit entities.

Person 2: (Thinking about those larger problems makes me feel small and useless, subject to forces beyond my control. I cannot live my life in that dark place, so I am focusing on changing this piddling little thing. So instead of answering your question with anything like a logical response, I will instead say) What kind of a parent are you? You must really hate your baby. You should give it up to an Albanian orphanage where it will be safer.

Person 1: Wow, that is offensive. I suppose I best side with you or be publicly shamed constantly. OK, so what is to be done about it?

Person 3: I have developed a material that disperses into a toxic gas when it achieves a rate of 9 meters per second, just below terminal velocity. By promoting your paranoia I could sell it to the government to make coins! Let's raise the alarm!

Person 1: I will feign worry until I become truly worried! And then the press will report on my faux worry and policy will be implemented and products and services will be provided in response to my worry, real or imagined. As a result, other people will quickly learn that the worry is a social standard and will thus adopt it without any self analysis.

Person 3: I will finally be rich enough to insulate my family from worry!

And so it goes. Huge decisions are made for the populace based on anecdotal evidence and emotional appeals. We have established an unstated premise which can not be verbally rebuked:

We Can Make The World Safe. We Should Make The World Safe.

Like any such precept, it does not hold up in the light of day. We can not make the world safe. People are going to get hurt and killed every day. It is not that shocking, unless you live in denial.

Now, this country is engaged in a "debate" about health care. A massive unspoken gap between sides is the belief that it is bad to not heal everyone. As is totally obvious to anyone who has studied economics, or even anyone who has ever wanted something they can not have, we do not have infinite health care to go around. For more information on this blatant truth, check out the sage of health care reform.

The debate we are currently having is the wrong debate. It is "how can each individual be made totally safe and cared for?" Look around -- the argument against public options, single payer, and nationalized care is that care could be rationed. Sounds so nasty. Yet health care, as it is a commodity, is not infinitely available. Otherwise, each American would wake up with a GP, a naturopath, and acupuncturist, a podiatrist and an X-ray technician at the ready by their bed.

That would make for a lot of intramural tiffs anyway. You would never get any sleep. Point is, health care is rationed now and will always be rationed.

  • Who do you want to decide how that is accomplished? Your vote or a CEO trying to increase his profit margin?
  • How will we decide what to do? Through relaying anecdotes and emotional appeals or by hard facts about how well the status quo is working -- and how well national plans actually work?


  1. Bingo. If you knew who the shouters at the Town Hall were going to be, and you said, "The rules are, you can't yell and scream unless you have a Medicare Card," would we get any yelling and screaming?

  2. You've got something going on here, answer phone. Especially in the rationing rationale (if you will).

    Since insurance means access, the whole scheme being propped up represents an artificially scarce marketplace, and everything insurance companies do to the medical marketplace keeps it that way. From telling you which doctors you can see to denying coverage on certain procedures to lifetime limits and pre-existing conditions, every step creates more artificial scarcity and drives up demand and prices. It's simple supply and demand.

    But I don't want to hear it. I, for one, am glad to be insulated from any rational debate, and especially from anyone who would take my side.
    As long as the media brokers the discussion while they take amazing amounts of money from the for-profit health insurance cartel, I'm not going to be hearing from anyone that advocates for me, and that's the way I like it!

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