Sunday, June 28, 2009


Eskimos supposedly have multiple words for snow, reflecting the need to be able to distinguish subtle but mportant differences in something so central to one's life. In a similar manner, people in the oil industry have different terms for various grades and products of petroleum, even if it is all just goop to the rest of us. Grandma may have a "lump," but the professional who makes a living evaluating such things must converse with colleagues using a vocabulary that parses lumps, masses, tumors, adenomas, carcinomas, hematomas, adenofibromas, etc. The simple principle seems to be that the more important a concept is to a group of people, the more that language must be able to convey the subleties and practical differences in that concept as it discussed in different contexts.

It is somewhat puzzling therefore, for a society that declared at its founding that we are possessed of certain unalienable rights, to be so limited in our discourse regarding the concept of rights. We seem to have gotten the principle exactly backward. Instead of being able to distinguish the variations and subtleties of individual rights so as to understand how they fit in our system of ordered liberty, we make the term less exact and less meaningful by attaching it to things that have little in common with those endowents recognized bythe founders, and as a result degrade the entire concept.

It is possible to argue strenuously that healhcare is a right, and to assert just as convincingly that it is not, by substituting the word for less politically advantageous, but more exact terms. The reform disciples who advocate for more government involvement in healthcare by invoking the term "rights" do not mean what they say, despite their inexact use of the term. They are not even referring to entitlements, rather they seek to create a social obligation based on political advantage and academic theory. Observing this obligation will ensure that healthcare will lose many of the attributes of a right.

It should instruct us that Thomas Jefferson limited the enumeration of unalienable rights in the Declaration to three, the last being the pursuit of happiness. This insight recognizes that the meaning of each person's life is an individual and unique attribute. Every person's life involves finding that subjective equilibrium between realtionships, risk, health, honor, work, family, curiosity, ambition, temptation, adventure, fear, etc. that makes life meaningful for that individual. So long as the individual's priorities do not harm his fellow citizens or impair those few purposes for which people form societies, a person should be allowed prioritize his interests in the way most meaningful for him. The malignant progressive on the other hand insists on prioritizing these interests for us. It is the conceit of the political busybody that insists that bodily risks must be minimized even if it means sacrificing those meaningful experiences that give rise to the risks. The blinkered planner presumes to decide what should be meaningful at the end of life, prioritizing hive-like efficiency above the interests of the individual patient. It is just as easy to see how this government meddling is a deprivation of rights as it is "protection" of something that the ideologue confuses with rights. If you want to smoke and drink and have promiscuous sex, because that is what turns your crank, that is your right. If you want your neighbors to pay the health-related costs of the consequences of your activities, you are not invoking rights, you are seeking an accommodation that relies on the interests and altruism of others. If you want to pay for your hip replacement because it is important to the way you want to live your life, that is responsibility, and you should have the right to do so. But if the government tells you that you cannot receive this treatment or that, or that you must be treated in a manner satisfactory to some distant functionary as a matter of "efficiency" or "fairness," healthcare is no longer a right, it is simply a vital resource that has been degraded by tyranny.

No comments: