Pimps and Pushers

I am interrupting my series on “Sanctifying Life” with this brief (for me) post, to get it off my chest and desk (or at least computer).

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The campaign to defeat a proposal for a single-payer health insurance system in Colorado is kicking off Thursday with some high-profile leaders.

Walker Stapleton, the Republican state treasurer, and Bill Ritter, a Democrat, will co-chair what is being billed as a bipartisan campaign to oppose Amendment 69.

The opposition strategy will be outlined during a morning news conference at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which also is contributing campaign contributions.

One prominent target: the cost.

—David Olinger, “Single-payer opponents mobilze,” Denver Post 01/28/16

What we have here in the United States is not a health-care system, but a health-sale system. We have a system based on making profit out of the sale of goods and procedures we are led to believe are essential to procure for ourselves so we don’t get sick–which is how the health-sale system has conditioned us to regard “health” itself: as no more than the absence of illness.

The thought that what we have here in the United States is a system for health-sale rather than health-care came to me during my shower just this morning, Thursday, January 28, 2016. As usual, I took my shower after eating breakfast, drinking a few cups of coffee, and reading the morning newspaper to get my adrenalin flowing.

In this morning’s Denver Post I came across the news article from which I have taken the lines above. In my mind, that article connected up with recent reports I’ve seen both in the paper and on TV about Hilary Clinton’s recent attacks on Bernie Sanders’s proposal for a so called “single-payer” health insurance program at the national level—despite Clinton herself having proposed just such a system when she was First Lady, as she has made a point of reminding voters herself.

Where’s Ivan Illich, just when we need him most? In the grave, unfortunately. That’s where he ended up after putting not his money but his very life where his mouth had been—and his pen too, back in the 1970s, when he published Medical Nemesis.

Talk about cost! That was just what Illich did in that book. Only he talked about the overall social cost of the rampant medicalization, specialization, technologization, and scienticization of health care. Illich argued—with lots of data to back up his already persuasive basic argument—that the institutionalization of health care beyond a certain minimum point ended up becoming “specifically counterproductive.” That is, pursued past that break point, the overall cost to society as a whole of such high-tech medicalization of health care ended up becoming ever greater, the more the whole business was allowed to keep going. But Illich was not focused on the cost of health care reckoned in dollars and cents. His focus was not on how much money had to come out of the pockets of those who had some to keep the whole thing running, but instead on what the costs were in terms of health itself. Pursued past the break point he was talking about, so he argued, the medical pursuit of health ended up making people less rather than more healthy. The whole so-called “health-care” system ended up making the people as a whole sicker, not healthier. That’s what Illich meant by saying the whole system had become “specifically counterproductive.” He meant that something the supposed goal, purpose, or end of which was health ended up generating the opposite of health. So the more one invested in the system supposedly designed to produce health not only didn’t deliver that product, but actually produced the opposite. To put it one way, the “health-care” system “took care” of our health, all right—the same way Vito Corleone took care of those who crossed him.

If you’re interested, you should read Illich’s book. (Then read his others, which concern such matters as schooling, generating energy, and going places rapidly.)

At any rate, when Illich eventually came down with cancer, he declined the surgical intervention that might well have kept him above ground for a number of years longer. That’s what I meant when I said he put his very life where his mouth was—and had been for a long time, in fact.

I can’t imagine a healthier—as well as more socially conscious and responsible—thing for him to have done!



After Genocide and Juice came out, I had this interaction with him. Ice Cube and OutKast were doing a show at the Warfield and I think I was back there and I was saying what’s up to Cee Lo. Then Ice Cube saw me and said, “Hey Boots, come here, I’ve got to tell you something.” And so I walked over to him and he was like, “Your music is very impressive, your work is very impressive.” And then he turned his head as if he was looking to see who else was listening, “But let me tell you something. It’s all about making that money.” And then he walked away. So I don’t know what, maybe he thought he was looking out for me. If you look at what he did during that time, he definitely was following his own advice. But so that was a strange interaction and it didn’t necessarily feel good. But of course, I still hung on to him saying that my work was very impressive as being the highlight. I think that I definitely wouldn’t mind being able to make money from what I am doing, but my reason for getting involved in the first place was something more than that.

—Boots Riley, writing about how Ice Cube significantly influenced his own work, in Boots Riley: Tell Homeland Security—We Are the Bomb (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015, p. 59)

It’s so easy to sell out! We can do it without even knowing we are doing it. It’s hard not to. All the rewards of selling out are constantly and everywhere paraded before us, so that it’s hard to resist. The costs of selling out are carefully hidden from us, and all we can see are the shiny lures—all the money, reputation, power, or simply the sense of security—that the pimps hold out to us. We can have it all, they tell us, if we will just accept whatever they’re pushing.

Another book you should read if you’re interested is the collection of Boots Riley’s lyrics and writings that recently came out, the one the lines above come from. If you do, one thing you’ll find there is the following passage, which actually reminds me of Illich and his analyses of medical and other nemeses (as well as reminding me of various other people and things, including Heidegger and technology). Boots is writing about his song “The Gods of Science,” which The Coup performs on their 2012 album, Sorry to Bother You:

The song is about how the Gods of Science have spoken. The Gods of Science are the ruling class under this system and the last line is: “We’ll get science for the people when we run the economics.” So I think that there are probably a lot of really great areas that science could move to, but when it’s run by folks who have profit as their bottom line or making a more efficient system for profit as their bottom line, we aren’t going to explore other areas. I mean, look at everything that we have that we’re able to do. The things that we’ve invented are the things that were in science fiction books when we were kids, and the reason that they’ve been invented is because they were imagined first in those science fiction books. And why were those things the things that were imagined? It has to do with the way the world was at the time, so when, if there is something that’s imagined that could be of benefit . . . I don’t know, some people talk about scientific development that could help feed the world, we just need to have a system in which food doesn’t get thrown away, you know, and in which it doesn’t cost money to be able to survive. The “Gods of Science” is about the gods that scientific funders have to pray to, or people who need scientific funding have to pray to.

I’m not pimping for Boots Riley or The Coup. And I’m not pushing any music. Not that I’d mind getting a few bucks coming my way for my work, but that’s not why I do it. Especially not now that I’m retired from the profession, and no longer have to make my living by doing for money what should only be done for love.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Frank, This is the most succinct, original, and incisive commentary on our health-sale system (I love that term–so accurate) I’ve ever seen. Thanks so much for writing it. Your mind just keeps churning out these pearls. Bravo!! Charlie PS How did your daughter’s project turn out?

    On Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 1:03 PM, Trauma and Philosophy wrote:

    > frankseeburger posted: “I am interrupting my series on “Sanctifying Life” > with this brief (for me) post, to get it off my chest and desk (or at least > computer). * * * * * * 1. The campaign to defeat a > proposal for a single-payer health insurance system in Col” >

    • Dear Charlie,
      Thank you for your comment! In my electronic illiteracy, I did not even realize you’d written it till a little while ago–so forgive my tardiness in acknowledging your kind words.

      In fact, Gayle and I just returned from San Jose, where we’d gone to see Freya and her quartet put on a major performance–namely, of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quarter for the end of Time,” which he composed and premiered while he was a POW in a Nazi camp after the French defeat in WW II. Barron Storey, a contemporary illustrator and artist, put on a major showing of his own new works inspired by the “Quartet,” at a suggestion of Freya’s, in fact. The event was a shared first showing of those works along with a lecture by Freya about the “Quartet,” then her own quartet playing it to a packed house in the art gallery that sponsored the whole thing. It was a great evening–one that will be repeated again twice in March, before the show is closed. Her album, which you asked about, is still in production. It’s coming along fine, and will be out sometime this spring.

      Also, congratulations on your two new poems in the online journal! Great work, Charlie!

      All our best to you and Judy!

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