Changes coming to docu-mental in 2020

But first, a look back in gratitude

vol. 1 issue 52.5

Greetings,

Yes, it’s an end-of-year missive.

First, thank you. I am humbled by how many readers and listeners I have, even though I have started slow and sometimes have been wide of the mark. Even so, docu-mental has grown steadily, and has found a foothold.

That’s why changes are coming to docu-mental in 2020.

This year, we succeeded in exploring how often we “outsource ourselves”, meaning we let others colonize our body and minds for profit. We looked at how we are often encouraged (often tricked into) giving over our power of agency and how this leads to us feeling anxious, depressed, and otherwise distressed. We connected some dots that hadn’t been connected previously.

Personally, what I found most enlightening was exploring the connection between monopolistic behavior and our loss of privacy, as we did in a number of articles and podcasts. When I started docu-mental, I had not expected to conclude so strongly that as long as Big Data can slice and dice our data in ways they currently do, the notion of America being a free country is a lie.

I came to see that if we don’t actually own ourselves, meaning that we have agency and authority over our personal information, then we are subservient to those who do. Maybe they will harm us, maybe not, but if we’re in the dark about their power to use all that is essential to who we are as individuals, then we are not fully free.

Since I believe freedom is a key component to being in emotional, mental, and spiritual balance, understanding this demeaning of our rights is tantamount for addressing our national epidemics of anxiety and depression.

Some will tell you that is why they are against big government, but that’s just the basis of a partisan trope. Any entity that has that much information about us — whether it be corporate, non-profit, or governmental — poses a threat.

Yet, what we also learned over the first year of docu-mental is that there are so many people who are on top of how unfettered Big Data, as well as bad policies, skewed economics, and the Wild West that is now our media landscape are at cross purposes with our individual rights. We interviewed and reported on several of these people. There was Ron Purser and his book McMindfulness. We had Olivia Webb from the Open Markets Institute where they are working to inform Congress and others about the harm of anti-competitive behavior, and among my favorite podcasts because of the unexpected insights into why we have become such a partisan nation, was this one with a former secretary of the US Senate, Kelly Johnston. There are so many others, all available in the docu-mental archives.

Even though I have a sense there are fresh hells we’ve yet to encounter waiting just beyond the calendar’s turning page (remember this on helicopters?), all these people exercising their rights, curiosity, and influence for the common good gives me hope.

So, what are the changes you can expect from docu-mental in 2020?

I think it’s time to focus on finding sanity rather than just calling out the insanity. It’s time to get to work on creating that herd immmunity to anxiety and depression I have talked about before. As the name “docu-mental” implies, we will be a compendium of ways mental health is defined and achieved. Some definitions, means, and methods are backed by science. Some are not. Some work better than others. Some don’t work at all. We’ll explore why and why not.

There will be less essays, more podcasts, and more resources, and a little lagniappe from time to time.

More on all this to come soon.

In the meantime, Happy New Year. Happy New Decade.

And, THANK YOU!

Whitney

Capturing the inner life of RBG

In conversation with Patrice Michaels, creator and artist of deeply personal RBG song cycle

vol. 1 issue 52

Greetings,

We’re interested in challenging the status quo at docu-mental. As such, here’s a piece about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Today’s issue is in partnership with DC Metro Theater Arts, a leading critical voice for Washington’s theater and classical music scene, and where I am chief classical music and opera critic.

In that role, last night, I attended an intimate performance of the American composer and soprano Patrice Michaels’ song cycle, The LONG VIEW: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs. Below is my unedited review of the piece and highlights from my conversation with Michaels.

Thanks for reading!
Whitney


The LONG VIEW glimpses inner life of RBG

There has been plenty of backlash during this administration against what some critics have called “the cult” of RBG, aka, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Some are critical of the merchandise with the justice’s slight figure silhouetted beneath phrases like “The Notorious RBG”, opining that it hedges on idolatry and risks politicizing the courts in favor of liberal causes at the expense of equal justice. Others wield vicious ad hominem attacks on Ginsburg simply because she stands between them and their wish for a wholly conservative bench.

But such fuss risks mistaking RBG, The Symbol for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the woman. Thankfully, American soprano-composer Patrice Michaels has managed to both immortalize and humanize her mother-in-law in the song cycle, the LONG VIEW: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs.

With Ginsburg in the audience, Michaels performed her work at the Museum of Women in the Arts Performance Hall Tuesday night, in a concert sponsored by the National Constitution Center to celebrate the release of a new book, Conversations with RBG, written by the Center’s president and CEO, Jeffrey Rosen. Michaels premiered the work at the same venue earlier this year, also with the justice in attendance, still recuperating from lung cancer surgery.

While filmmakers document and dramatize Ginsburg’s life, and historians parse her decisions and dissents, Michaels’ song cycle affords us a glimpse into the inner life of a woman who claims her success is as much due to her own hard work as to her good fortune to have been “born at the right time,” as Ginsburg told Rosen in a post-concert interview before a live audience.

Unlike the films or books about her, the importance of this song cycle is our assurance that since Ginsburg had a hand in directing the final creation, it accurately reflects what matters to her personally.

Drawing on actual events, letters, and the imagination of both Ginsburg and Michaels, the LONG VIEW explores formative moments in the justice’s life and her impact on all of ours as Americans. After the performance, Michaels explained to me how a song she’d composed as an 80th birthday gift for Ginsburg, the mother of Michaels’ husband James, eventually grew into an entire song cycle.  

“I thought if I could find enough material about the other people in her life that could describe her, that it could be a good portrait of her,” Michaels told me. “We worked on this together a lot.”

Their collaboration included culling Ginsburg’s personal, unpublished papers and mementoes, as well as her public papers held at the Library of Congress for the most evocative moments. What emerges in the song cycle is a tripartite theme to Ginsburg’s life: Work hard. Be kind. Do not let negative emotions blow you off course.

“Anger is unproductive,” Ginsburg told Rosen. “Better to work hard and find a way around a problem.”

The compositional structure of the song cycle is Sondheim meets Schubert. A mixture of jazzy, late 20th Century patter combines with early 19th Century phrasing to shape moments in Ginsburg’s life, however ordinary they might have seemed at the time, into vivid portraits of quintessential scenes from American history. In “The Elevator Thief”, repeated calls to Ginsburg from her son’s school principal to complain about the boy’s behavior might seem insignificant, yet it reflects classic mid-20th Century attitudes. When the busy working mother Ginsburg has to remind the man that her son, “has two parents!”, rather than disturb the working father, the calls just stop altogether.

The original song, “Anita’s Story” sits at the heart of the cycle. It is Michaels’ setting of a letter from Anita Escudero, a typist tasked with transcribing the young Ginsburg’s law briefs who, as a result, experiences an awakening about the fullness of her rights as a human rather than diminishment by way of her gender. “I am not your woman,” Anita declares to her husband, “I am a person!”

Michaels’ performance was reverent but not cloying. Her sound was warm and straight forward, like the work’s eponymous subject. Accompanying Michaels was the Inscape Chamber Orchestra with Andrew Harley at the piano and Kuang-Hao Huang conducting. The ensemble’s playing was clear, and benefitted from skillful orchestration by Peter Labella.

With the woody depth of his clarinet, Evan Ross Solomon intoned the men in Ginsburg’s life, evoking by turns her father Morris Bader’s stern but loving support, and her husband Marty Ginsburg’s unfailing humor and adoration, as well as other male perspectives sometimes less than generous, such as the musings of Supreme Court associate justice, William O. Douglas, that one day women might be just capable enough to be law clerks.

Ginsburg claimed to Rosen that when she entered law school, despite being one of only a handful of women to do so, attitudes toward women already were shifting. That she was prepared to successfully ride the currents of change she credits to her family for the advice and support they unfailing they gave her, including posthumously through their enduring wisdom imparted to Ginsburg.

The cycle’s second song is based on an imaginary letter to a young Ginsburg at sleep-away camp. Michaels said she called upon Ginsburg to ensure the song elicited authenticity. “Making up a letter about her mother as if her mother had written it was a really bold move. I wanted to be sure I got it right,” Michaels said in the interview.

“Celia: An Imagined Letter from 1949” moves from advising the young Ruth who is enjoying her summer off to yet “be independent, prepare for difficulty, and stand on your own two feet” before closing with a reference to soup that needs attention as it cooks on the stove.

In the chronology of Ginsburg’s actual life, her mother died of cancer not long after this imagined scene takes place. Michaels’ choice to root the prescient, if imagined, counsel for the nation’s future second female Supreme Court jurist in quotidian matters such as soup for dinner adds to the “every man and woman” quality of Ginsburg’s story.

As we see from photos projected on the wall behind the stage, and as we hear while the stories unfold, the Baders were not poor, but neither were they a family of significant means. What they had in abundance was love, grit, and a knack for carrying on despite painful loss. To wit, when Ginsburg was two, her six-year-old sister died of meningitis, devastating her family and creating what Ginsburg told Rosen formed the bedrock of her empathy for others.

Although originally scored for solo soprano, an alternate ending for the cycle is for a Greek chorus of sorts to sing-chant various dissenting opinions issued by Ginsburg. In this performance, the Aspen Institute’s Eric L. Motley announced each dissent, then The Capital Hearings chanted them out superbly, taking their task seriously, without sounding rote.

In the final line of text to the score, Ginsburg is asked about the role of a Supreme Court Justice in light of “polarization”, a question she dodges in favor of a bel canto vocal flourish.

“I chose not to engage in word play, but because [Ginsburg] has always said her alternate career is as a grand opera diva, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to answer with that other side of herself,” Michaels said in the interview.  

Indeed, Ginsburg told Rosen that when she gets stuck in an “unproductive” emotion, she transcends it through listening to classical music, escaping to a place beyond understanding before returning to the issue at hand.

Although well-wrought and enjoyable, whether the LONG VIEW will in time be considered a vocal recital classic is perhaps a matter of less consideration than its relevance for the deeply personal context it adds to important US history.

Running time: Song cycle, 35 minutes; post-performance conversation, approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.

The LONG VIEW: A Portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Nine Songs” was performed at the Museum of Women in the Arts Performance Hall on Tuesday, December 17, 2019 at 6:00 p.m.


Photos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Ginsburg and Jeffrey Rosen; Patrice Michaels with Celia Bader’s photo in background; Michaels with The Capital Hearings, all courtesy of the National Constitution Center by Cassidy DuHon.

December redux

docu-mental podcasts and essays you might have missed, or might want to revisit

vol. 1 issue 51

Greetings,

We’re fogged in here in DC. I like it. Feels good to have this blanket of white cozy time to separate us from all the big mouthed brash stuff from this week. The view outside my window is less bricks and mortar, more soft, wet air. Rather than the pilot light level angst I have these days wondering what is to come from all this noise, with the fog, there is the sense of being insulated from all the potential chaos.

There have been some new subscribers of late. I thought for that reason, it would be worthwhile to review some of the highlights of the year. These are a few of my favorite issues of docu-mental, and the ones that generated some of the most feedback.

Thanks for being a subscriber. Please consider purchasing a premium subscription as a gift this season. In the next decade — 2020s! — we will be hitting our stride at docu-mental, and reader participation will be a big part of that.

I am excited and look forward to what’s in store for us together!

Whitney


TO LISTEN:

The end of history? Capitalism gets a re-look in this podcast featuring London economist and New Statesman commentator, Grace Blakeley:

https://documental.substack.com/p/the-end-of-history-redux-every-day


Is mindfulness a way to manipulate the masses? The pros and cons of going within as directed by those without, as discussed in this podcast with ordained Zen dharma teacher and professor, Ronald E. Purser:

https://documental.substack.com/p/mcmindfulness-how-mindfulness-robs


TO READ:

Antitrust and the crushing of physicians’ souls:
https://documental.substack.com/p/antitrust-and-the-crushing-of-physicians

https://documental.substack.com/p/antitrust-and-the-crushing-of-physicians


Thy tyranny of happiness:
https://documental.substack.com/p/our-right-to-be-sadder-but-wiser


Getting along with people who confound you:
https://documental.substack.com/p/from-the-heart-of-the-civil-war

This 'bad news' is cause for celebration

WaPo's bombshell Afghan war report is a chance to promote democracy here at home

vol. 1 issue 50

Greetings,

By now, you’re probably aware of the Pentagon Papers redux that exploded off the front page of the Washington Post online last night, or in hard copy this morning, for those of us who still have their paper delivered to their doorstep.

The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War is an astoundingly good investigation by the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock into how our 18 years of war in Afghanistan has been feckless, utterly and thoroughly without purpose. Not only that, as Whitlock reports by way of thousands of pages of internal Defense Department and other agency documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, even though leaders knew it was a pointless war almost from the get-go, as private papers of President George W. Bush’s former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld show, they sold it to us as a win anyway.

It likely will hurt and anger you to be reminded of the senselessness of such destruction at the cost of life and limb. Also, if, like me, you believe that the reason we enter war so easily is because we have spent so much on warcraft there is a compelling obligation our warrior leaders feel to use all those machines, you will feel vindicated in that belief.

But, best of all, if like me you love this country dearly but wake up each day and wonder at our nation’s pervasive derangement, this is a report that could cause you to rejoice.

The report is a clear lens on how we have allowed The System to subsume our individual rights and threaten democracy.

It is my fervent belief that our national derangement, as evidenced in our partisanship and in our trending high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidality, is because we know the rights we always thought of as our birthright as Americans are largely compromised or outright gone. This sense of loss is fueling our national identity crisis: if we are not free, then who are we? And why are we not free?

It’s ironic that the papers Whitlock got access to were called by the federal bureaucrats that created them, “Lessons Learned”, since plenty of lessons had already been learned in a much longer line of bellicose stupidity that began with Great Britain in the early to mid-1800s on through the former USSR’s invasion of the region in the late 20th Century. Both nations suffered crushing and expensive losses there for largely the same reasons: arrogance.

The British and the Soviets mistakenly thought that in exchange for the Afghan territory, they could stabilize the region through occupation. That might have worked except that the Afghan people like their own ways, thank you very much. What I am saying is that it has always been arrogant to assume Afghanis will eventually “see reason” and want what we Westerners tell them they should want, which in our case and that of Britain and the Soviets before them, was to accept occupation so eventually they could modernize.

Judge them as barbaric or worse, Afghanis are proud people who really would rather fight invaders forever rather than adapt, even if the invader is heavily and supremely armed. This is why anyone who invades their homeland is in for whopping losses, as history has plainly shown.

Regardless, dumb and haughty as we were to not look at the lessons already established, what impresses me about “Lessons Learned” is that our leaders were so candidly introspective about what they were doing. Unlike the Pentagon Papers, which President Johnson’s secretive defense secretary Robert McNamara had classified, these observations were conducted in the relative open in what strikes me as an oblique form of group therapy.

In a federally sanctioned effort to understand what was happening with our war in Afghanistan, so many officials were candid and thoughtful in their critique of the war and responded robustly when asked to record their thoughts and emotions about it. Yes, this report points to corruption and graft. I can’t see how this report won’t lead to public debate over why we allow the defense industry to dictate so much of our policies and face so little consequences while profiting greatly.

And yet…

Comment after comment cited in the WaPo story indicates either implicitly or explicitly, that those tasked with carrying out this war were slipping into an existential crisis around what democracy truly is, and what one’s obligation is within it.

Put another way, what freedom is and how it is achieved is at the heart of all of this. That such questions would arise around a war fought in a land where the people historically have fought mightily to preserve their own definition of freedom is more than a little ironic.

One of the most poignant quotes from Whitlock’s report is this from former U.S. diplomat James Dobbins:

“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

Aside from begging the question of why we feel the need to be the world’s peacemakers, there is a darker side to this because of how unsettled our “peacemaking” nation is acting at home these days.

Ours is currently a nation where wealth is not just unequally distributed but done so at a level so disproportionate, it is fomenting unrest that threatens our peace. Meanwhile, as we lose our centrist minds to the fringes of partisanship and so edge closer to authoritarianism daily, our own president routinely hints at not abiding by our tradition of a peaceful transition of power.

It makes me think Dobbins’ comments point to a deeper knowing he and the rest of those in the report seemed to be aware of, however consciously or unconsciously they were picking up on it: We do not stand for what we say we stand for in this world. Perhaps we never fully did, but we certainly can’t honestly say we do now.

The collected “Lessons Learned” is filled with introspection about what democracy actually should look like, how it is carried out, how it is sustained, whether it should be achieved by force, whether it is anyone else’s damned business to “export” it by way of invasion is essential if we are to avoid becoming an authoritarian hell in this country. It is also the bedrock for our being able to see that democracy is fragile, and cannot withstand the pressure we’ve placed on it by allowing The System to prevail over the rights of the individual.

Reading this report, it was clear to me that many of these people involved – including Rumsfeld who actually wrote “Help!” when he saw how hopeless the situation was – wanted out. But the momentum was not in their favor, it was in The System’s. There is graft, there is self-serving, there is corruption, there are all the things we will debate and be angry about, but slavishness to The System made it too easy to carry on with the war.

My criticisms of Capitalism lately have prompted some to write me and accuse me of being partial to Socialism. I disagree. As economic systems, each is flawed, but arguing how and why they are defective, and which one is better, is secondary to the argument of whether our democracy is in the ascendant or if “The System” is. Power is neutral, but when The System becomes what we serve first, then democracy is in danger, and no economic notion will fix it. I write critically about Capitalism because it just happens to be the system we’ve let take over and become our boss instead of the other way around.

I am excited about this Washington Post reporting. I haven’t taken in the media commentary on this yet, but I am sure plenty will use it to focus on the depths of the corruption inherent in this story, the hold the defense industry has over us, and the complicity of our leaders in that. Fine. All that will be true and worthy of discussion.

But the real news here is that it shows how there is an impulse to go to the bedrock of our national identity and examine and affirm our shared core values, not the truly bizarre, stupid, bombastic partisan versions of them, but the True ones.

I think this is a day for rejoicing.  

Whitney

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If you’re in the Washington, DC area, consider attending my mini-course “Deconstructing the News” which I will be teaching at American University’s OLLI Institute in early February. The details have yet to be posted on their website https://www.olli-dc.org/lecture_series_overview but here’s a preview:

Against the backdrop of "fake news" and an exploded marketplace of news and other information outlets, how can we be sure we are accurately informed? Class participants will learn skills, online tools, and newsgathering techniques journalists use to discern fact from fiction in today’s news and non-news environment. Also covered is how to spot important trends; find under-reported or unnoticed reports that matter; understand and boost the role of local news now facing an existential, democracy-destabilizing threat. The primary objective is for participants to feel confident they are forming opinions about their world based on quality information paired with their own observations.   

I would love to see you there! Class size is limited, so either let me know if you’re interested, or keep an eye on the website or sign up for OLLI’s newsletter for more information.

You can find me online other places, too!

For my reviews of opera, classical and contemporary music:
DC Metro Theater Arts

For my column on creative communities:
The Writer’s Center

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Shave the fluff off the Medicare-for-all debate

It's your problem, which is why the solution should also be yours

vol. 1 issue 49

Greetings,

While I have been writing docu-mental all this year, many bigger plans I have had for it keep getting postponed because of health issues. I don’t like to whine about them, so I generally keep them out of my reportage on things, but something as seemingly straightforward as being told I have an autoimmune disease, one that when treated properly has a high rate of remission, has actually served to be like a scud missile in my life: I never know precisely how its import will be felt, but when it lands on me, everything I thought was in place is suddenly blown to bits. Meanwhile, as my health crisis continues, the healthcare system, I have found, wants me to keep doing the same thing over and over, despite the results being the same poor ones every time, and despite there being emerging evidence that the old ways of treating it don’t work but new ones do.

Which is why I have Occam’s Razor on my mind.

Einstein apparently said that doing the same thing twice and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. For the friar-philosopher William of Ockham, who preceded Einstein by about 600 years, such a sentiment meant that when solving a problem, rather than be “insane”, one’s hypothesis should always be a) the simplest and b) include the least number of assumptions.

In other words, if the old approach doesn’t work, try something new.

That’s the razor part: Instead of doing what doesn’t work because that’s what you’ve been conditioned or trained to do, use the razor to “shave” off the fluff.

Aside from the obvious outcome of the problem at hand not getting solved, healthcare personnel who constantly try the same nonproductive thing contributes to my levels of anxiety, sadness, and other emotional states like fear I’ll never get better, and frustration that burns into being outraged that I seem to be shouting into the wind. I don’t like being blamed for something I didn’t do, and with this illness, as I continue not to get better, the implication is that I am failing to heal, that I am failing to do the right things, not that treatment is failing to make me better.

Now, consider that what I am going through happens in one form or another all the time in our health system. It can be for a variety of reasons, and I will not say that it is because doctors don’t care. I think my doctors do care. But who has time to try something new these days when you’re given 15 minutes per patient? In the end, we’re all feeling helpless, and possibly even hopeless about my situation.

I don’t want to bore people with tales of my health woes, but I think there is a bigger lesson here. And that is, you can’t check out. You can’t outsource your life to people who have artificial boundaries placed on their ability to serve you.

In the case of healthcare, not always, but too often, the person you’re consulting can’t really do much for you because they are not empowered to go beyond the allotted time, or because they won’t get “paid” for that service. Or, because their training is limited to a specific way of seeing things that might not be comprehensive enough for what you’re going through.

If it sounds like I am reverse blaming the physicians, I am not. I know from years of reporting on clinical policy and practice, they largely hate this system we’re in, too. What I am saying is that because so many of us have checked out, we’re focusing on the wrong thing when we debate whether to enact Medicare-for-all, or provide some “new” form of the status quo.

Healthcare reform, blah blah blah. Do you really care? Are you really actually listening to what the current crop of presidential candidates are saying? I wager that unless you are a policy geek or in the industry and stand to lose or gain, the answer is no. That’s not because the subject itself isn’t important, but because experience tells you nothing will actually change for the better, no matter what happens.

Here’s the real bottom line on the debate: whether we should be providing the same mediocre care for all, or continue offering our current mediocre care for a fee, however re-packaged it might be.

A better question is, What is the best kind of care for each of us as individuals and how would each of us pay for it? In other words, if you could design your own healthcare plan, what would it look like? And if you had all the cash and freedom to build it, how would you go about it? Who would you hire to be in your plan, a plan that you and a community of people like you, create? Might the plan use its income to pay for the training of the healthcare personnel you want to be in it?

Current and aspiring physicians would not be averse to this line of thinking. Many physicians would gladly swap the chance to practice medicine as a calling instead of just a way to pay back their ridiculously high college loans. Debt alone is a driving force as to why we have a shortage of primary care physicians; many would-be community docs choose higher-paying specialty care instead because they just don’t want to be in debt for the rest of their lives.

This might just be me riffing, but not idly. It’s not a fever dream to suggest that in a true democracy if what I really want – what you really want – mattered to legislators, we’d get better care we can afford and that meets our individual needs.

To wit, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare or the ACA, had many successes. People who’d never had care before suddenly could get basic, preventative care, and it was making them healthier! Plenty of data confirmed the effectiveness at many levels of the ACA.

But ultimately, cost was an issue. To meet coverage mandates, health insurers had to jack up their premiums to stay pleasing to shareholders. I was one of the many who were more than annoyed that even though the ACA was in theory and to some extent, in practice, a good thing, it was suddenly costing me a crap ton more to purchase health insurance as a result, and yet the cost didn’t yield me any better results.

That’s because no one in charge asked me or you what we really wanted. Legislators and policymakers gave us false choices, and we let them. They talked and continue to talk about letting us “choose our providers”, but when they say “choose” they mean choose between which for-profit insurance company we allow to have the decision- making power over which physicians and hospitals we can visit.

What they DON’T ask first is who would we like to see as our care team and then ask those physicians and other clinicians how much would it actually cost to see them, and build the system from there. Of course not! That would empower individuals and individual practitioners who currently are bound by a lot of regulation that is bidirectional between government and big business. Healthcare is nearly 20% of our GDP! If they gave us individuals power over it, we’d see a very scary economic shift.

In other words, the already powerful would lose power.

Wherever there is money, there is politics. Which is to say, politics are running your healthcare costs, but not meeting your healthcare needs.

What happened once supporters of Obamacare were voted out? The ACA was dismantled almost immediately. So, now a bunch of people who finally had care don’t have it any longer, and people like me who did have care are still not getting the care we want, but paying for it anyway.

In my case, I pay monthly premiums, still have a high deductible and yet on top of that, I still have to see several out-of-network physicians and practitioners to access treatments that are evidence-based but for whatever reason aren’t covered. That’s due to a number of reasons, but a key one is that my specialists have opted out of insurance because they see no upside to having their clinical judgement overruled by bean counters at insurance companies.

In other words, I pay for insurance to meet the system’s needs, and then I pay more for what I actually need.

Why do we Americans have to do these kinds of stupid gymnastics with our health and money?

Because government and for-profit healthcare companies are the ones to whom we have outsourced the decision-making. It is deceptive to say there is freedom and democracy when the choices we start with aren’t really choices at all.

Maybe what we need is to start over.

Let me lob this thought into your weekend holiday plans: maybe we need smaller everything. Maybe Texas and California and Key West and South Carolina and South Jersey should all secede. Or – maybe states’ rights should be greatly restored and the federal government should be left to worry about defense and education only.

Maybe we need smaller forms of government, smaller communities that we build from the ground up, in forms that make the most sense to our concerns and local needs. Then the ones who are closest to the outcomes will be the ones who have the most say in shaping how they will be achieved.

Now that I have your attention, at least consider that progressives and liberals are absolutely correct that good healthcare is a fundamental right, and that government should ensure access to it. They are also correct to say that despite many private health insurance and other related companies’ community-based efforts to improve healthcare outcomes, these are always profit-driven, no matter how much marketing is done to make it seem otherwise.

Meanwhile, conservatives and others sympathetic to them are correct that too much interference from big government makes caring for our communities difficult to do, including making it too expensive.

But don’t be fooled by any sleight of hand that government should be minimized and private industry maximized: too big corporations are no different than too big government – that is, they are both too big to care, not too big to fail. I am not the first to say it.

Let’s apply Occam’s Razor to this debate and pare away all the fluff and lint that has accumulated on our democracy. I don’t have the answers for what form our healthcare should take, only the notion that we’ve not come up with enough ideas that can be shaped into those forms. All I can say for sure is that we cannot assume in our healthcare debates we’ve actually exercised what democracy promises is possible.

For what I am suggesting to work, however, we’d need to pay more attention. We’d need to call out legislators and wannabe power leaders for their false choices and then tell them what we want and insist on getting it.

Doing so would mean we would have to actually participate in our democracy. Stop checking out. Stop swallowing the false choices as fate. Do some research. Maybe even dream about what really good healthcare would look like. I don’t know what to tell you — it’s your dream for goodness’ sake.

Ugh. All this work. Sounds exhausting, I know. But so is being sick at the same time you’re working for cash to pay for healthcare that doesn’t meet your actual needs. I, and a hella-bunch of others, can tell you all about that.

So, here’s my definition of Occam’s Razor:

Ask more questions and demand better answers.

You’ll probably get closer to what you want being what you get, even if it means you won’t be able in good faith to blame everyone else for your world not being what you want.

Happy and Healthy,

Whitney

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