One of the items that will go up a little later than I would like is my coverage of a Health Care reform march that happened locally here in Cincinnati over the weekend. I have a recap of the event as well as some video that will be posted once I can get my computer fixed.
In the meantime, I came across an interesting exchange between Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez (co-hosts of Democracy Now! ) and the Slovenian Philosopher Slajov Zizek during an interview last Thursday. The interview covered several topics and is well worth listening to in its entirety, but I would like to focus this segment on health care as it introduced a different line of thinking into this debate that had not occurred to me:
AMY GOODMAN: You write, “Is the bailout then really a ‘socialist’ measure? If it is, it takes a peculiar form: a ‘socialist’ measure whose primary aim is to help not the poor but the rich, not those who borrow but those who lend.”
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Yeah. I mean, this is my whole thesis, that capitalism always was socialism for those who are on the top. This is the basic paradox of it, no?
AMY GOODMAN: What about healthcare?
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Oh, now you touch my favorite topic. You know why? Because I think that here we see, when people—when I write on ideology, and people laugh at me—“Haha, didn’t you know this? We live in post-ideological era.” No, here you see ideology in its material force. We can—we should distinguish here two levels. On the one hand are those ridiculous right-wing paranoias, which, incidentally, I like to listen. They amuse me, you know, like that Sarah Palin idea of death panels. Some mysterious bureaucracy will decide, does your uncle live or not. That’s funny, I hope; at least for the time being, we can laugh at it. But then—
JUAN GONZALEZ: Not in a big part of America, unfortunately.
SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But then the real problem, where the Republican critique of healthcare plan really works is by appealing to this basic gut notion of freedom of choice. And I think this is a problem; we have to confront it. The first we should make it clear is that in order to exercise the freedom of choice—one has to repeat this again and again—an extremely—to really exercise this, an extremely complex network of social, legal regulations, even, I would say, ethical rules, which are somehow accepted, and so on, has to be—have to be here. In other words, often less choice, at least less public choice, at a certain level means more choice at a different level.
Let me return precisely to healthcare. My idea is that healthcare should be at a certain level, like water and electricity. You can also say that you usually don’t choose your water supplier, no? OK, now we can play the Republican game and say, “What a horrible terror! They are depriving us of the fundamental choice to choose the water supply.” But we somehow accept that there are some things where it is much more practical that you are able to count on them. Sorry, but I gladly refuse the big freedom to choose my water supplier, the same as for electricity, although there things can get more tricky. Why not add to this series health? Europe demonstrates it can be done effectively, not to diminish our freedom, but to leave you much more space of much more greater actual freedom, and so on.
So, you see, this is the danger of this ideology of choice, because, you know, this is, in one sense, a central category today. There is an old Marxist card, which is played again and again, of we are only offered false choices, not real choices, like Pepsi or Coke, whatever, instead of the real choices. OK, there is a truth in it. But there is also another problem of ideology of choice, that often we are bombarded by choices—you really are free to choose—without being given the proper background to make a reasonable choice. John Gray, the British cynical skeptic, whom I otherwise admire, wrote very nicely that we are today more and more forced to act as if we are free. And this causes a lot of anxiety and so on. You know, one should be very specific apropos of choices. I’m all for the freedom of choice. I would just like to see the small—those, you know, in the footnote, the small print, what are the precise conditions of choice, and so on and so on.
And so, again, although I have no illusions about what Obama can do and so on, I am still proud that already before elections I supported him, although this had no great impact here, of course. But in contrast to my very more radical leftist friends whose motto was “he’s just a nice human face on the same imperialism,” “he will even serve better the interest of capitalism,” or whatever, no, I think we see now, apropos the healthcare reform, that we are fighting the central battle here.
The point that Zizek makes, that of less choice on one level resulting in more choice on another level, is a point that hadn't occurred to me in this health care debate. Are there times in society today that we, as Zizek mentions in his quote from John Gray, are being forced to act as if we are free? It is certainly worthy of consideration.
I also find Zizek's analogy to the water supply intriguing when we are speaking about the freedom of choice. There are some elements within a society that we don't choose and probably don't mind having chosen for us. Extending this way of thinking, that of knowing that something will be provided, to health care is an interesting way of thinking about this debate and the role that government should play in the lives of its citizens.