The Aurora Massacre

Dear Reader,

I am not unaware of current events that capture center-stage in our hearts and minds. Naturally, I feel deeply about such things, and have opinions I believe are worth sharing. In this case, I will defer to Jason Alexander who said it better than I could. There are minor points of contention with his statement that I could raise, and plan to, but not in this post. I will write a follow-up to this post. I want to express my solidarity with him and his central theme. It should stand on its own, without debate or challenge. This is too important.

David Johnson

Jason Alexander

I’d like to preface this long tweet by saying that my passion comes from my deepest sympathy and shared sorrow with yesterday’s victims and with the utmost respect for the people and the police/fire/medical/political forces of Aurora and all who seek to comfort and aid these victims.

This morning, I made a comment about how I do not understand people who support public ownership of assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Colorado massacre.

That comment, has of course, inspired a lot of feedback. There have been many tweets of agreement and sympathy but many, many more that have been challenging at the least, hostile and vitriolic at the worst.

Clearly, the angry, threatened and threatening, hostile comments are coming from gun owners and gun advocates. Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence – these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands. 

Many of them cite patriotism as their reason – true patriots support the Constitution adamantly and wholly. Constitution says citizens have the right to bear arms in order to maintain organized militias. I’m no constitutional scholar so here it is from the document itself:

As passed by the Congress:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

So the patriots are correct, gun ownership is in the constitution – if you’re in a well-regulated militia. Let’s see what no less a statesman than Alexander Hamilton had to say about a militia:

“A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.”

Or from Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of MILITIA
a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
b : a body of citizens organized for military service
: the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service

The advocates of guns who claim patriotism and the rights of the 2nd Amendment – are they in well-regulated militias? For the vast majority – the answer is no. 

Then I get messages from seemingly decent and intelligent people who offer things like: @BrooklynAvi: Guns should only be banned if violent crimes committed with tomatoes means we should ban tomatoes. OR@nysportsguys1: Drunk drivers kill, should we ban fast cars?

I’m hoping that right after they hit send, they take a deep breath and realize that those arguments are completely specious. I believe tomatoes and cars have purposes other than killing. What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see – does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality. Hardly the primary purpose of tomatoes and sports cars.

Then there are the tweets from the extreme right – these are the folk who believe our government has been corrupted and stolen and that the forces of evil are at play, planning to take over this nation and these folk are going to fight back and take a stand. And any moron like me who doesn’t see it should…
a. be labeled a moron
b. shut the fuck up
c. be removed

And amazingly, I have some minor agreement with these folks. I believe there are evil forces at play in our government. But I call them corporatists. I call them absolutists. I call them the kind of ideologues from both sides, but mostly from the far right who swear allegiance to unelected officials that regardless of national need or global conditions, are never to levy a tax. That they are never to compromise or seek solutions with the other side. That are to obstruct every possible act of governance, even the ones they support or initiate. Whose political and social goal is to marginalize the other side, vilify and isolate them with the hope that they will surrender, go away or die out. 

These people believe that the US government is eventually going to go street by street and enslave our citizens. Now as long as that is only happening to liberals, homosexuals and democrats – no problem. But if they try it with anyone else – it’s going to be arms-ageddon and these committed, God-fearing, brave souls will then use their military-esque arsenal to show the forces of our corrupt government whats-what. These people think they meet the definition of a “militia”. They don’t. At least not the constitutional one. And, if it should actually come to such an unthinkable reality, these people believe they would win. That’s why they have to “take our country back”. From who? From anyone who doesn’t think like them or see the world like them. They hold the only truth, everyone else is dangerous. Ever meet a terrorist that doesn’t believe that? Just asking.

Then there are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. Not only that, but a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning – I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims.

Lastly, there are these well-intended realists that say that people like this evil animal would get these weapons even if we regulated them. And they may be right. But he wouldn’t have strolled down the road to Kmart and picked them up. Regulated, he would have had to go to illegal sources – sources that could possibly be traced, watched, overseen. Or he would have to go deeper online and those transactions could be monitored. “Hm, some guy in Aurora is buying guns, tons of ammo and kevlar – plus bomb-making ingredients and tear gas. Maybe we should check that out.”

But that won’t happen as long as all that activity is legal and unrestricted.

I have been reading on and off as advocates for these weapons make their excuses all day long. Guns don’t kill – people do. Well if that’s correct, I go with @BrooklynAvi, let them kill with tomatoes. Let them bring baseball bats, knives, even machetes — a mob can deal with that. 

There is no excuse for the propagation of these weapons. They are not guaranteed or protected by our constitution. If they were, then we could all run out and purchase a tank, a grenade launcher, a bazooka, a SCUD missile and a nuclear warhead. We could stockpile napalm and chemical weapons and bomb-making materials in our cellars under our guise of being a militia. 

These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don’t agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales. 


We will not prevent every tragedy. We cannot stop every maniac. But we certainly have done ourselves no good by allowing these particular weapons to be acquired freely by just about anyone. 

I’ll say it plainly – if someone wants these weapons, they intend to use them. And if they are willing to force others to “pry it from my cold, dead hand”, then they are probably planning on using them on people. 

So, sorry those of you who tell me I’m an actor, or a has-been or an idiot or a commie or a liberal and that I should shut up. You can not watch my stuff, you can unfollow and you can call me all the names you like. I may even share some of them with my global audience so everyone can get a little taste of who you are. 

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent. We owe it to the people whose lives were ended and ruined yesterday to insist on a real discussion and hopefully on some real action. 

In conclusion, whoever you are and wherever you stand on this issue, I hope you have the joy of family with you today. Hold onto them and love them as best you can. Tell them what they mean to you. Yesterday, a whole bunch of them went to the movies and tonight their families are without them. Every day is precious. Every life is precious. Take care. Be well. Be safe. God bless.

Jason Alexander · Reply


Social Activism: The Religion of the Non-Religious (Part 2)

Before getting started, I want to acknowledge the fact that it has been a while since writing my last post. It has been a personally challenging week. You might want to look over the previous post, as I will do little by way of reintroducing the theme. I’m just going to pick up where I left off as if no time had past. Thanks for your patience.

I suggested the religion of social activism has a set of doctrines that are as important as those of any creedal religion. Rather than detailing the specific doctrines as I had intended, I will attempt to summarize these doctrines into broader themes. One of these themes is the advancement of social evolution divorced from any practical, current reality. This is what I consider to be radical utopianism.

Let me be clear. I am all in favor of advancing the pace of social evolution. I have also said on a number of occasions that I am a utopianist. However, I must qualify those statements with the caveat that I recognize that there are many interim steps that must be taken between where we are, and where I would like us to end up. Further, I recognize there are many practical realities that render my utopian vision impossible at the current time. Finally, I recognize that my utopian vision is mine, alone. It is not the one, right vision of the final stage of social evolution. There are other, valid interpretations of an ideal future.

My experience with serious practitioners of the social religion lead me to the conclusion that many in this camp have a radicalized version of utopia that is not firmly rooted in the reality that I know and understand. One example of this can be found in the issue of immigration that is currently raging in the state of Alabama. Let me just say that I am very sympathetic of the cause of my undocumented neighbors. I understand where they are coming from. I know the issues very well, and the people who struggle with them.

However, many do damage to the cause just by seeming so radical, as to alienate the majority of people who are living with practical realities that make this such a difficult issue. The argument is framed in the most divisive of ways. You either agree with us, or you’re a racist. That kind of radicalism is, for me, a bridge too far.

The radicalized view of immigration is a beautiful vision. It suggests that we are all brothers and sisters regardless of borders and artificial lines drawn on a map. One gets the since that this group has no interest in immigration reform, but only in the annihilation of all immigration law. That is simply not going to happen any time soon. Though I would love to see that day come before I die, I have no reasonable expectation that it will. Right now, in our current stage of social evolution, we need boundaries and borders, as much as it pains me to admit it. We cannot simply declare ourselves more evolved than our fellow man and declare war on the idea of immigration law. That is unrealistic and unproductive. The religion of social activism tries to advance us to an idealistic place by skipping over things like practical concerns.

Another tenet of the social faith is that there is one, right vision of the ideal state of human kind. Naturally, this philosophy leads to the worst kind of intolerance and polarization. I have found there is no difference in the level of tolerance of the loving left, and the rigid right. The dark side of the liberal utopian seems to be a deep-seeded hatred of anything that smacks of conservatism. From the same mouth that flows words of love, justice, and solidarity, come some of the worst torrents of embittered vitriol against fellow human beings that happen to be of a conservative bent. I can only describe the anti-conservative rhetoric as poisonous. Negative stereotypes and even hate-speech seem to be perfectly fair game when referring to conservatives. It is a blind spot of which they seem to be completely unaware.

One of the people I know who is extremely active and productive with regard to charitable work is also the meanest, bitterest, most abrasive and judgmental person I have ever encountered, especially once you get on the wrong side of her worldview. She is either unaware, or unconcerned about the dichotomy. She is far from alone when it comes to this trait. People who believe they have the perfect vision for how others should live, tend not to suffer fools well: fools being anyone who disagrees with that vision. Such people are bigoted, greedy, selfish, backward, narrow-minded, sub-human slime. Needless to say, this does not make for an environment conducive to negotiating middle ground. This type of radical allism is a universal sign of the true believer of any religion.

Finally, there is the matter of motivation. The practitioner of the social religion will insist that they are strictly motivated by a desire to help others. In no way is their activism a matter of selfish fulfillment. They see themselves as saints, practically martyrs. They are the most selfless people they know. That is unfortunate, as I do not trust anyone who claims to be completely selfless in his or her desire to help me.

I believe there are no healthy, selfless motivations. At the very minimum, helping others feels good. Wanting to achieve that feeling is a selfish motivation. There is also a certain element of power dynamics in providing aid to another. When you provide aid to another, you gain a measure of power over that person. On a grand, political scale, standing up for the rights of others can bring you a great deal of power. The power brokers of social activism become powerful in their own rights.

The ultimate goal of every anti-establishmentarian is to some day, become the establishment. They want their vision of the body politic to be the framework of reality, as opposed to the one that is in place. Those are perfectly reasonable, and selfish motivations. People who do not see their own, selfish motivations are far more dangerous than those who do. The person who is convinced that he is motivated by absolute good, can become convinced that you are motivated by absolute evil. That person is not your friend.

Is it possible to be a social activist without drinking the Kool-Aid of the religion? At this point, I honestly do not know. I will let you know when I do.


David Johnson

Social Activism: The Religion for the Non-Religious

For a long time, I wrestled over the title of this post. My first thought was to call it, “The Cult of Social Activism”. I decided to tone it down out of the realization that one person’s cult is another person’s orthodoxy. Although, I must say, having attended sever social activist meetings, there is definitely a cult-like vibe in the air. Cult-like or not, it is most certainly a religion by any definition I can come up with.

Religion is one of those words that is greater than its entry in any dictionary. Defining it becomes a personal matter. Just consider how we use the word. We might say that a person is religious about this or that, or she practices her music religiously. Neither of these uses have to do with epistemology, or creeds, or ancient texts. They have nothing to do with gods, or priests, or parishioners. It has to do with a fervent dedication to some goal or cause. It suggests a sort of imbalance. It is one thing for a person to be a supporter of something or someone, or serious about a task; it is quite another to be religious about it.

Escaping formalized, bible-based creeds does not free one from religion; it just opens the door to different options. Being religious has no more to do with the bible than being addicted has to do with drugs. It is more a personality disorder. Clean the drugs out of a person, and they will soon find another addiction. With luck, it will be less destructive. Take away a person’s bible and he will replace it with other sacred texts. Take away his church and he will find another kind of assembly. Take away heaven and he will create a new one. Religion is something we carry within us; it is not external to us. Yes. I’m looking at me.

Without that realization, it is possible to exit one religion while falling, headlong into another, without realizing it. It is a bit like waking from a dream and starting your day, only to realize that you are still dreaming. These can be among the most disturbing types of dreams because they challenge your ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. This type of nested dreaming can be recognized while in progress, but it takes practice and intentionality.

I have attempted to apply some of these methods to my dance with religion, and found that it is no less difficult to break away from religion than it is, a nested dream. In the case of dreams, one must recognize he is still dreaming. Sometimes, just asking the question is enough to break the spell. When assessing my progress beyond religion, I finally asked myself if I wasn’t still within the framework of religion. I found that I had made much less progress than I thought.

Social activism has all of the earmarks of religion. There are tenets of faith: doctrines, if you will, that are almost as inviolable as any creed. There is a definite priesthood who are keepers of the vision, and interpreters of the doctrine. There are most definitely prophets who herald the message. There are important texts, stories, and songs that make up the sacred liturgy. Remember, though, religion is not something external to you, but something that you bring with you. Perhaps this is a good time to examine the contents of that bag of religion we schlep around so mindlessly.

First, there is the obeisance we pay to something greater than ourselves. God is not the only candidate for this role. There is humanity as a whole, some great cause, and even the universe. All make great god substitutes when trying to identify the irresistible something that is greater than ourselves. Then, there is the mission. Every religion needs a mission and a calling. You are not just a crusader; you were destined for this great work. Some would call this sense of mission a messiah complex. You are convinced that something or someone needs saving, And without you, it just wouldn’t get done.

There are a few other bits in the bag, but the big one, I think, is the sense of elitism. If elitism was detectable by the olfactory senses, then you could smell religious elitism from a mile away. It is that note of superiority and moral certainty. I am suspicious of anyone who exudes too much moral certainty. This should come as no surprise since I do not accept the traditional view of morality. The religious of all stripes believes themselves to be in the know. They have discovered some truth about the world that feeds this sense of moral certainty.

This certainty leads to evangelism. A person can engage in direct or indirect forms of evangelism, but even the quiet evangelist gives herself away in time. They can’t help it. Their messiah complex requires them to fix something, most likely you. Sooner or later, they will give themselves away. You will be confronted for the greater good, by someone who is convinced that they have a better version of it than you do. When you apply these tools to social activism, you have one powerful religion.

It is easy to fall sway to the religion of social activism. I find that having awaken to its true nature, I am left with many of the same misgivings that I had with the religion of creed and faith. The thing is, I am genuinely interested in participating in activities that bring about change for the greater good. I have to remind myself, though, that my idea of the greater good cannot be elevated above anyone else’s vision of our utopian future.

And there lies part of the problem. Everyone has their own ideas about how things should be for everyone else. Everyone’s vision is a little different, and no one can accomplish any significant part of it alone. That is why the religion is made up of loosely held coalitions of people with special interests. I have met three types of people along the way. The first is the specialist who only cares about one or two things. But collectively, the list of things one needs to fervently care about is much too daunting for one person with one lifetime. Unfortunately, spreading your efforts over too many activities means you get nothing done. The specialist, however, is not very good at forming lasting coalitions because they really only care about the one thing they care about.

Another type of person who is numbered among the faithful is the generalist who is zealous about everything. This is the person who counts the number of times one has been arrested in the name of civil disobedience, as the true test of worth. The issue doesn’t seem to matter, just as long as there is an issue to rally around. They live to protest, and they can never protest too much. If utopia was ever achieved, they would be most miserable in it.

The last type of person is the seeker. Sound familiar? This is the person who is wandering from one group to another in search of a cause. I suspect this person is also searching for themselves. I have befriended a few in this category, and am most comfortable among their number. But a perpetual seeker is seldom a long-term finder.

In other posts, I will talk about some of the doctrines of social activism. I will wrap up this series by taking an introspective look. I will try to figure out exactly what it is I believe and care about the most. That is a lot harder than you might suspect.

David Johnson

Beyond Self

Even as I write this post, I’m not entirely sure the subject is not completely oxymoronic. It is entirely possible that there is nothing beyond self. If there is, we may be incapable of accessing it. I am going to try to smash all of my rambling thoughts on the matter into a single post. As everyone knows by now, brevity is not my strong suit.  Here we go.

7 Billion Worlds

A few months ago, it became official. Population experts decided that we had crossed the 7 billion barrier. I grew up in a world where there were only 6 billion people. Now, we have another billion. Don’t ask me how that works. It is the statistician’s world; I just live in it. Still, I disagree with their assessment that there are 7 billion people living in the world. My misgiving has nothing to do with the number of people. If they say it is 7 billion, who am I to argue. I haven’t counted. I suggest they have grossly underestimated the number of worlds in which we live.

We have often said of another, that they are living in their own little world. I agree. They are. We all are. The vast majority of us are born, live, and die on a tiny fraction of what there is to see of the world.  Even if we travel a lot, we still only see a small percentage of what there is to see. More to the point, we know even a smaller percentage of what there is to know, and experience even a smaller percentage of what there is of human experience. The reason it is such a small world is that we are small people with small minds that can only hold so much of it within us.

The view we have of the world (dare I call it a worldview) is the whole of our world. Without knowing you, I can guarantee that your world is different from mine. Your ideas about right and wrong are different from mine. Your ideas about humanity, religion, rights, this topic, all different. We were born to different parents in different places with different priorities and outlooks on life.  It is not inaccurate to say that we live in different worlds. The worlds are small because each world only has one occupant.

A World of Experience

Try your foolish best to talk someone out of their experience. You will have better luck trying to talk the wind out of blowing. In the many worlds I have observed, experience is god. Once a person is convinced they have heard the voice of god, they can never be unconvinced. At church, yesterday, a lady gave a stirring testimonial about how god saved her from a life of drugs and despair. (Yes, this can happen in a UU church). She had a miraculous change of perspective in the hospital when her baby was born not addicted to all the substances she was addicted to. That experience has made her an evangelist.

It never occurred to her to ask why she was singled out for this miracle at Cooper Green, while countless other crack babies were detoxing, deformed, or dead. The only thing that mattered is that god did something for her. The person who wins the lottery is clearly the person that god loves the most. But I digress…

We live in a world of experience and sensory perceptions. We believe it is hot outside, not because some widget on our smartphone says so, but because it feels hot when we go outside. If we had a high fever that made the world outside our skin feel cold, we would put on a jacket or blanket regardless of what anyone else had to say about the matter. In our world, it would be cold. End of discussion.

Have you ever argued with someone who swore you said something that you swore you didn’t? At such an impasse, the only thing either can do is swear louder. There is no logic. There is no logic. There is no reconstructing the situation. There is only,

“Yes you did!”

“No I didn’t!”

The only place to go from there is personal attack, then divorce court. (But enough of my autobiography). The problem is not who said what. The problem is that we cannot see past our own personal experience. We are incapable of entering the other person’s world where we said some offensive thing that means “war” in their language. It requires a form of selective, cognitive dissonance to walk away from what you experientially know to be true, to embrace something you know to be false, for the sake of peace. I am incapable of it, and therefore, socially unadapted for worlds where such is required.

When Worlds Collide

I admit that this view of humanity leads to a somewhat bleak future if carried to its logical conclusion. But I think that is only one possible future. I do not believe that worlds must collide as much as intersect. We can never bring a person fully into our world, nor can we fully enter that of another person’s. However, we can intersect and cooperate. Just as our worlds have many points of dissimilarity, they have many points of similarity. We can agree on many things. We can partner for short-term and long-term projects like raising a family and building communities.

What we can never do is have a complete utopia, which I define as a world made up of all the things that satisfy our individual sense of good. Complete utopia is a no compromise proposal. It cannot be done in a half measure. Almost perfect is an oxymoron. The only way to achieve it is to usurp someone else’s sovereign universe. I am not willing to do that. In my utopia, there would be no freedom of religion. I happen to believe that freedom of religion is a very bad thing. (Another post). But the only way to achieve it is to conquer other worlds inhabited by other people. It cannot be achieved by persuasion, alone. For me, that is a bridge too far.

Self: The One, True God

As I have newly thrown off the shackles of the false, one, true god of the bible, I find that there is one, true god remaining: me.  How is that possible? Whenever I had an opportunity to make a choice for my life, I made it. I considered my options when options were available to consider, and I chose what I thought gave me the best chance for success based on my own definition of success. I did it my way. In college, I studied what I wanted to study. As an adult, I applied for the jobs that interested me. I developed the skills I thought I needed the most. No on pulled my strings. My successes and my mistakes were mine. I followed no will higher than my own.

That is even truer to this day. I feel only pity, well, perhaps a bit of contempt, (sorry), for those who believe they are led to and fro by the hand, going through life and following the pattern laid out for them by a superior being. They didn’t choose anything. They only obediently followed the leading of their celestial guide. Come to think of it, I don’t feel pity at all, just contempt.

A big part of that contempt is reactionary. I grew up with an almost, pathological fear of declaring that I would do this or that. It always had to be couched in terms of if it be god’s will, I would do this or that. By the way, that particular neurosis comes directly from scripture. There is a certain smug, certainty about that approach that has always rubbed me wrong, even when it was mine. All of my decisions are righteous because I am following god’s plan for me. There is also an abrogation of all responsibility for poor choices. You never have to own up to making poor choices if you were just following god’s plan. God has a secret reason for wanting you to go through this rough patch. It is not a direct result of poor decisions and poor planning on your part. Contemptuous!

Still, some of my best friends are deeply religious, and I do not feel contempt for them. My emotions are considerably more complex and muddled than I make them out to be. As I said, I was that person not so long ago. At least, I tried to be. Thing is, when tough times visited me, few cut me any slack for following god’s plan for me. It was just me making bad choices. Truthfully, that is all it ever was. But for that to be true, that means I was my own god, listening to my own voice, following my own, best lights. In fact, we all are. There is not one, true god, but 7 billion. There are as many gods as there are worlds, and perceptions of worlds. And when there are 7 billion gods, there are no gods.


So when I tried to look beyond myself, I found nothing at all. Before I was born, I perceived not the world. When I die, I will, again, be beyond perceptions reach. The world only exists to me through the narrow lens of perception, filtered through an even narrower lens of time. It is like looking through a telescope, backwards. That is the boundary of the world as we can ever know it. When I open my eyes, the world is a going concern. When I close them, it is no longer here. I cannot see the world outside of myself. Try as you might, you can’t either.

No matter how liberal you are, you cannot see it through my eyes. You cannot know it as I do. You cannot walk a mile or a step in my shoes. Such notions are mere abstractions. Joining hands and praying does not really mean we are in the same place, of one mind and one accord. We are all creatures of self. We have evolved to experience the world from exactly one perspective, our own. The rest is diplomacy. Once we recognize this simple truth about who and what we are, we will have a chance to make progress in accomplishing major, cooperative action that is mutually beneficial to all 7 billion of us, in all 7 billion worlds.

David Johnson

Pre-existing Conditions, and the Philosophy of Insurance

What could be more boring.  I am truly sorry for this post, but it had to be done.  If you really care about the insurance issue, you can’t just skip over this part.  Time to take your medicine.

Let’s start with the underlying philosophy of insurance.  The debate gets so noisy, in part, because we do not understand the most fundamental aspects of insurance, let alone, the more complex issues.  To insure is to place a hedge against future calamity.  Therefore, insurance is, and only is a hedge against future calamity.  That’s it.  That is also the problem.  From a consumer-facing perspective, that is the least interesting aspect of insurance.  People do not purchase health insurance as a hedge against future ill-health; they purchase it for defraying the costs associated with current ill-health.  In other words, they are not purchasing insurance; they are purchasing a discount medical program.  That is an entirely different animal.

In the last post, I suggested that insurance represents one of the greatest examples of collective bargaining.  That is still true in this post.  Medical discounts are a result of that collective bargaining.  But, medical discounts are not the purpose; they are the effect.  Insurance is intended to be a club of healthy people.  You are not supposed to be able to enter unless you can prove you belong.  Once you gain entry, your hedge against calamity kicks in, and provides such benefits as medical discounts if calamity strikes.

A pre-existing condition is, by definition, uninsurable.  You cannot insure a totaled car.  You cannot insure a burned down house.  Nor can you insure a body ravaged with disease and ill-health.  The only thing you can do is provide discounted services for current and future needs based on the damage we already know about.  You can get such discount programs from insurance companies for additional, exorbitant fees.

Though the price is high, do not mistake it as unfair.  For insurance to work, it must operate under a formula that is favorable to the insurance company.  Like gambling at a casino, the house always wins.  Indeed, if there is to be a casino, that must always be the case.  The Insurance company is making a wager with you that you will pay them more money in premiums than they will pay out on your behalf in medical bills.  That is always the bet.  If the Insurance companies didn’t always win that bet, there would be no insurance companies.  That means for every person who gets sick, there has to be a lot of people in the group who never need to see a doctor.

You want to be in a group that has a lot of healthy people in it.  That keeps premiums down for everyone.  What happens when a bunch of sick people are accepted into the group?  There goes the neighborhood.  This fear particularly applies to groups.  That is because of some anti-deiscrimatory legalese, the details of which, I have long forgotten.  Because of that, I will just gloss over it with a broad brush.  Insurance companies have to be very careful about how they define groups.  It is a very specific, legal term.  They can’t define a group based on race or neighborhood, then raise the rates, or make certain riders unavailable based on those groups.  Therefore.  The policies that effect one person in the group must effect all.  The pre-existing condition of one person effects the rates of everyone in the group, ultimately.

However, there is a difference between group and individual insurance.  An individual who happens to be a diabetic smoker, can purchase individual insurance for $1,000 a month if she so chooses, and can afford it.  I used to sell those policies.  An insurance company can offer or deny benefits to anyone they choose based on whatever criteria they set, just as long as that criteria is equally applied to all.  Some Insurance companies cover smokers; some don’t.  Some charge extra based on your career or hobbies.  Some require a comprehensive medical examination before deciding whether to provide coverage at all.  There are different levels of coverage for different amounts of money.  In other words.  With enough money, anyone can buy into a discount program at some level.

One more word about pre-existing conditions.  We all have pre-existing conditions.  We all start the process of dying from the moment we are born.  It is only a question of when and how.  Life is a terminal disease.  All flesh will see the same end, though some will get there with a bit more drama than others.  Today, a healthy, well-insured person will walk out of his house and get hit by a bus.  Later today, an uninsured, unhealthy person will die peacefully in her sleep.  The only thing insurance companies care about is does the intake amount to more than the expenditures.  At the end of the day, that’s the insurance game, no matter who’s running it.

Enter the government.

The question that is on a lot of our minds is, how does the government plan insure the uninsurable: the unemployed, diabetic smoker.  There are a lot of them in America.  There are probably a lot more people in that category, alone, than there are people in all of Canada, and other countries with national health care.  America is heavily populated compared to most socialist utopias you can name.  That creates a much bigger challenge than has been faced.  It is not enough to say, “Canada did it.”  That is like saying, California did it.”  The sample size is too small.  I have no reason to believe we can do this on a scale as large as America at this time.  Right now, I am just not familiar enough with the details to form an opinion about the plan’s long-term success.

And with that, I think I will let the subject peter out until more details are made available for public discourse.

David Johnson

An Honest Discussion about Health Care

It seems to be all the rage.  It was one of my four points in a recent post on human rights. It is in the news and in the courts.  It is on the lips of friends on the left and right in the political arena.  In light of current events, I feel compelled to give it a post of its own.  I also have a small amount of expertise on the subject, having worked in the insurance industry for a number of years.  I feel dirty just admitting it.  Here we go.

We will start with a parable floating around the internet that attempts to summarize the recent court decision:

A man walks into a convenience store and asks the price of a pack of gum.  The clerk replies that the gum is $.50.  The man thanks the clerk and says he’s not interested and turns to leave.  The clerk says in a louder, more insistent voice that, “In that case, it will be $2,75.”

The moral, or immorality of the story is that the man is charged a massive penalty for not buying something.  That is one of the more controversial components of the new, national health care law recently passed.  The Supreme Court has upheld that Congress can either compel us to buy insurance, or penalize (tax) us for not buying it.  Either way, we’re going to pay.  It feels a little like a protection racket.  That has got some of my more conservative friends up in arms.  Honestly, I’m not happy about that aspect of it, either.  It feels like bad law to me.  I wonder if that makes me a conservative?  Hmm…

Unfortunately, health care is a lot more complicated than that.  Even isolating it to the issue of mandatory insurance does not simplify the matter.  A big part of the unsustainable problem with health care is the ridiculously high cost associated with every aspect of it.  Without insurance, you cannot hope to live very long without either being independently wealthy, or subsidized by everyone else who pays into the system.  Even if you are wealthy, given enough age and illness, you wealth will run out and you will find yourself on the dole.  In the end, someone other than you will be paying those expenses.

This is why auto insurance is mandatory.  In the event you cause an accident, you have to have the resources to take care of the other person’s damage.  It is fundamentally unfair for you to create expenses for another person that you cannot pay.  With rare exception, health care is an expense you are creating for others.  In almost every configuration, health care is a shared expense.  Let me tell you how:

Insurance is the ultimate form of collective bargaining.  Take a look at the next statement you get from your insurance company.  One figure will be what the hospital initially charged.  Another figure will be what the hospital charged your insurance company.  Two more figures shown what the insurance company actually paid and what you have left to pay.  The first two figures are the ones we are most interested in at the moment.  Those are the ones that show the power of collective bargaining.

There is a reason why doctor’s only take up to a certain number of Medicare patients.  That is because the government has the most power to decide what it will pay for a given service.  That power translates to paying less for a given service.  The hospital may think your CAT scan was worth upward of $15,000, while Medicare was thinking more along the lines of $500.  That battle over cost has already been fought and won by Medicare.  Almost every treatment has a book value.  It differs depending on who’s book you are looking at.  If a doctor orders two patients the same treatments, one being Medicare, the medicare patient will pay out less than the other one every time.  Doctors lose money on Medicare.

Blue Cross can afford to pay out more because they have higher premiums.  Most people would rather have Blue Cross than Medicare if they were getting their choice for free.  But, it does not matter what insurance you have.  The price they pay for service on your behalf is a fraction of the price per service you would pay if directly billed.  As an individual, you have no power.  You must pay what the hospital or doctor thinks they are worth.  With insurance, you pay the discounts associated with a large group of collective bargainers.  You are not doing it on your own.  You are buying into a club to leverage the power of the collective, whether you know it or not.

Adding to the complexity of the current health care dilim a is the fact that when a person enters an emergency room seeking care, they cannot be turned away due to the lack of resources.  They must be treated.  For many people, their only health care program is the emergency room.  My understanding is that the vast majority of these bills are never paid by the people who incur them.  That means the expense is passed on to everyone in the system.

If it is fundamentally unfair to incur expenses that others have to pay, then why should it be mandatory for hospitals to treat everyone regardless of the ability to pay for services rendered?  No cash deposit?  No credit or debit card?  No proof of insurance?  No service!  Why should that not be the policy at the door of every ER?  Anything else is just free health care.  As for persons being unconscious when brought in by an ambulance, that is good reason to make sure these forms of payment are on file at every hospital in the country using a massive database.  Put an ID chip in the hand of everyone starting with the number, 666 for all I care.  (Maybe that’s how it happens.  Maybe Obama is the anti… Nevermind).

Let’s not lose the thread.  My point being, even when you think you are being ruggedly independent, you are probably not.  If you insist that I am missing the obvious way around the problem by just having the doctor or hospital bill you for services rendered, you’re wrong.  I haven’t missed it at all.  That is not the road to your independence.  That is the road to the bankrupt system we have today.  What you are demanding is a line of unsecured credit.  Worse yet, we already know you are unhealthy.  Your ability to pay it back is somewhat compromised.  You might be incurring a bill of $100,000 anytime you walk into the door, and you are going to write a rubber check from the bank for Hopes and Dreams.  That is not how business operates.  Health care, first and foremost, is a business, not a right.

You do not have a right to an unsecured line of credit at any business.  Here’s the deal; if you want to avoid insurance, present a secured line of credit.  When that line of credit runs out, so does your service.  You are disconnected from all the machines and wheeled out the door.  Come back again real soon when you’ve found a buyer for your house.  Sorry.  You didn’t want the power of collective bargaining that would have made this treatment affordable.

Still think it should be your choice?  Well the American people, through their representatives, disagree.  We are slowly but surely, waking up to the reality that health care for individuals is a shared expense.  You being forced to carry health insurance is no different than being forced to carry liability, auto insurance.  It is not about your protection, but the protection of society.  You are a liability.  Every individual is.

When you catch what you think is a cold, do you stay home and rest until you get all better?  probably not.  You are probably one of those who selfishly goes off to work, infecting everyone around you like typhoid Mary, knocking out half the workforce, and most of your customers.  Who knew you were the next carrier of a virulent, but unnamed plague?  All you get are a few cold symptoms, but you take out half the SE.  Good job Mr. Independent.  Good job!  Why on earth should you get a free pass?

WE ARE ALL LIABILITIES!  At some point, we will all cost one another money in the health care system.

That will do for now.  If I take up the pen again on this issue, it will be on the subject of pre-existing conditions.  I warn you in advance, though, I really don’t want to.  I hate the subject of health care.  There is so much hypocrisy and demagoguery surrounding the issue, and very little honest discussion.  It is such an emotional issue, even among people of superior intellect.  That is because even people of superior intellect have personal issues with mortality.  The discussions about health care are not really about a business; they are about our inability to deal with mortality: ours, and the ones we love.

Mixed into this bag is a heavy portion of economics.  How will we force people to pay for something they cannot afford.  Recall the opening parable.  The man who inquired about the gum had $1.  he needed $.85 for his bus ticket to get home.  He did not have enough for both the gum and the bus ticket.  Something had to give.  He couldn’t do both.  He can’t be forced to buy what he cannot afford.  Or, perhaps he give in and buys the gum for $.50.  Then, the store is forced, by the government, to subsidize the man’s $.85 bus ticket.  Now the store is losing $.35 per customer, but at least everyone has gum.

I know it is not quite that simple, by tens of thousands of pages of legalese.  But that is precisely why I don’t like writing about the subject.  There are no simplistic answers that satisfy the emotional fears and longings of the people who are so passionate about the subject.

Happy Fourth

David Johnson

Beyond Tribe

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

This is the time of year when we revel in our tribal comfort.  Once a year, we set aside our differences to join hands in unity.  But this is a little like the sons of Abraham joining hands in unity and pretending they do not represent a tribal religion.  Ironically, when they join hands in unity, they represent the ultimate in tribal religion.   Americans are seldom more tribal than when we are united under the red white and blue banner.

While it is true that tribal impulses played a part in our evolutionary progress, that time has long passed.  We have graduated from caveman school, and a lot has changed.  There is a lot of psychological baggage we need to jettison for us to successfully advance to the next stage of human development.  Tribalism is one of them.

The Pledge of Allegiance:  a doctrine I have long refused to publicly proclaim, is America’s ultimate statement of tribal dedication.  It, like all such tribal creeds, is full of hidden contradictions and self-deception.  There is nothing there that inspires confidence in one who calls home, any square of land outside of these blessed borders.  I am left to conclude that even if we achieve this mythical union that we hold so dear, we would not necessarily have promoted a greater humanity.

I pledge allegiance to a greater humanity.  It doesn’t have a flag.  The United States does not represent humanity.  It’s flag is too small.  My allegiance includes the idealism of an empowered citizenry.  However, that republic remains only an ideal.  It does not yet exist.  What passes as a republic of empowered citizens in America is a lamentable joke, and receives no portion of my pledge.

One nation under god is a target for war.  I will go to war against such a country.  To hell with such a country.  When nationalism becomes Zionism, becomes theocracy, your time has past, if it ever was.  When one nation under god is replace with, one world under humanity, sign me up.  Till then, one nation under god can only survive as long as it does not encounter a stronger nation under a stronger god.  We know how that story ends.

As far as the rest, indivisible, liberty and justice for all, who really believes that we have achieved all that, or that the flag represents all that?  Outside of this holiday, we are as divided as any country in the world.  We do not offer liberty and justice for all, even when limited to our own borders, nor have we ever.  This has always been more fantasy than fact.

Today, I wear my Repeal HB56 T-shirt, with my LBGTQ button binned to it to remind me just how far from the mark we are.  At the Unitarian Church where I attend, when the pledge is spoken, (if it is) I will not just remain silent; I will walk out.  It is my intention to do the same wherever this action is feasible to do.  I will not be seen as joining in while my tribe pounds their chest in defiance against other tribes.  I separate myself from such behavior.  I will stand outside of, and beyond tribe.  This is my protest.  This is my pledge.  This is my prayer.


David Johnson