The mantra of the industrial age rises in intensity, all around us, louder and more insistent as it becomes less defensible: we have to change everything, is the way it goes, but we can’t change any single thing.
On health care: yes, it’s terrible, the system is broken. The industry (imagine: in this country, health care is an industry), President Obama likes to remind us, is on board this time, agrees we must reform the system. It’s just that they are against changing any single thing about the system. Reduce their profits? That would be un-American. Offer Medicare to the people they have rejected as too poor or sick to help? Socialism!
Sure, the insurance industry is willing to stop refusing or cancelling coverage of people who are, or get, sick. But that’s a no-brainer when, in return, 45 million Americans, now without insurance, are going to be required by law to pay them premiums, with the help of government subsidies. Now that’s a reform even an insurance company could like.
The journalism industry — yes, it’s an industry now, too, I’m afraid — is complicit in all this. To cite just one example: two of the country’s most successful and respected columnists, Gail Collins and David Brooks, discuss the health care reform battle as if it were a contest of ideas between Republicans and Democrats (or the House and the Senate, or the Administration and Congress, or the Left and the Right). [Compromising on Health Care – The New York Times]
It is no such thing. It’s a contest between the 70% of Americans who want access to decent health care at a reasonable cost — and the industries that are making their profits by either denying the care or bankrupting the patient. Of course the industries are winning, at least partly because the journalists who should be shining light on what the companies are doing are instead flapping their right wings against their left wings.
Similarly. the oil industry agrees that we are going to run short of oil, and soon. Their most optimistic scenarios put peak oil — the beginning of the perpetual and irreversible decline of the world’s oil supply in the face of steadily increasing demand — at 20 years away. Most reputable observers believe it’s happening now. But Big Oil says yes! we have to change everything! They even allowed their wholly-owned President, George W. Bush, say it explicity: we are addicted to foreign oil.
Just don’t try to change any single thing. Higher gas-mileage requirements for cars? No way. Tax gasoline to reduce consumption and stimulate atlternative, renewable fuels? Are you kidding? Limit carbon emissions as a late and lame admission that we are changing the climate of the planet, to our own peril? No, no, no. Instead, British Petroleum will rebrand itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” and run TV ads about how we have to change everything.
What I argue, here and in Brace for Impact, is that survival requires that we flip this brain-dead mantra on its head, admit that we cannot change everything, and then change something. You and I can’t change the health-care system — staying healthy is the only revenge — but we can do our best to reduce our exposure to it. We can’t change the country’s oil consumption habit, but we can change our own.
So don’t just sit there. Change something. To hell with everything.