Few things define a community more than its members’ support of a minimum level of well-being for everyone within it. When they have taken care of basic needs such as food, water, shelter, and protection from large-scale threats such as hostile invaders, fire, and poisoning of necessary resources, the members of a community must deal with the maintenance of their health, which is affected by all of the rest (especially defense against microscopic “hostile invaders”). The debate about community-provided health care in the United States is therefore fundamentally about how much of a community we really are.
In several other countries, this is a no-brainer, as it should be. But here, we have a culture which celebrates competition between people and groups for dominance over everyone else. Everything -- including fulfillment of our basic needs and use of basic infrastructure, natural and built -- is up for grabs. In short, we have chosen the maximizing of personal well-being as our highest value, undercutting our identity as a community and, because it maximizes consumption in resource-constrained world, jeopardizing the long-term survivability of our population.
We have become so pathologically disconnected from our community instincts that many of us who yearn for the sense of community that universal health care symbolizes have resorted to the selling tactics of competitive corporations, including telemarketing and e-mail campaigns. Having forgotten how to interact with fellow human beings, we treat each other as tools to attain our objectives rather than as people whose interests are mutually entangled because we genuinely care about each other. It seems that the only time we see our neighbors is when we’re trying to get them to vote for something or someone with their money or their ballots.
Recent reports about people stocking up on guns instead of basic necessities in anticipation of a worsening economy highlight the threat we face by continuing our disintegration as a community. As conditions worsen, communities with strong bonds endure and find solutions, while others end up either fighting among themselves or suffering from too little personal power to survive or thrive on their own.
To confront this threat, we must reengage each other on the core issue and decide whether we will split off into smaller but more sustainable communities that interact in a healthy way, or whether we will recommit to supporting each other as a larger community that values every one of its members. The health care debate is a good place to start this discussion.