Bread and Circuses

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altI have fallen into my usual melancholy funk, having recently finished watching the conventions of the two major political parties. Let’s get this out of the way forthwith: I’m an equal opportunity despiser. I hate all the two-faced lying and the useless intellectual crap. Generosity to this upper echelon is not my forté. One group tells us we are in Xanadu while the other tells us we are in hell.

Enough with the vacuous political conventioneering. Show me a politician who can face the real issues – the real numbers – with practical wisdom and moral strength.  
I have fallen into my usual melancholy funk, having recently finished watching the conventions of the two major political parties. Let’s get this out of the way forthwith: I’m an equal opportunity despiser. I hate all the two-faced lying and the useless intellectual crap. Generosity to this upper echelon is not my forté. One group tells us we are in Xanadu while the other tells us we are in hell. My lucubration of the political scene over many years has led me to one conclusion: We as a people do not learn from history. We are bereft of any analysis. Demonizing rhetoric has nothing to do with fact. The simple fact that most politicians have law degrees is an obvious problem. They don’t understand mathematics; they’ve never understood mathematics. Everything is in blithe, simple terms. Nothing can be put into a quadratic equation. No one can ever define what the true issues are, let alone mention them at a political convention. No one ever talks about what their true vision is. It’s the old Roman “bread and circuses” routine again, writ large for all to see.  



If we’re going to talk politics, let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m a conservative on all issues. I’ve been described as slightly to the right of Louis XIV. The principal difference between Louis and I is, to my knowledge, Louis never packed heat. News flash to both parties: I worked at dirtier and tougher jobs than either of these guys did while working my way through college and medical school. I don’t want their rendition of “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” to let me know that they are “one of the people.” We all had tough upbringings. So what? What I want to hear is something about what we are going to do about the deficit which has destroyed our children’s futures. I want to know why the discussion hasn’t been raised about the adjustment of Social Security benefits and the age of retirement. I’d even be happy with a discussion of ending Saturday mail delivery and closing more post offices. But please, give me something which deals with the role and function of government and not sob stories and cheap patriotism.

We are caught in the wreckage of a post-modern 21st century liberalism which has cultivated a culture of mindless consumption, appetite and human detachment, as well as depleting our age-old reservoir of civility and decency. If this makes me a paleoconservative, so be it. We must respect the term “liberty” as meaning self-governments and self-limitations occurring in a logically-derived organization we call government. The government has proven itself incapable of motivation to excellence. The four biggest and most expensive services which we purchase from government at the combined state and federal levels are healthcare, prisons, education and protection (i.e. police, fire, military). But most of these services lack definition and means of measurement. Why do you think public schools in urban areas are being deserted in record numbers for charter schools? These questions could go on and on ad nauseam, ad infinitum.

The fundamental political question focusing us today is: What should be advocated to allow the individual to flourish? This was Aristotle’s question when he defined meaning as “attaining eudaimonia,” – the joy derived from making your time on this earth count for something. Aristotle believed this required a certain amount of material goods, but more importantly membership in a society, and human interaction with other citizens in a broad sense of connectedness. This was “virtue,” as practical wisdom with moral strength.



Secondly, answers to real questions require real data. We really need to do away with the hype and political spin and decide what our measures really mean. Very few people even know how the unemployment numbers are calculated, let alone subcategories (i.e. full versus part-time employment, with or without benefits, etc…) to let us know how we are doing. Vice President Biden was asked to comment on the shift in the dependency ratio and didn’t even know what it was. Let me get this straight. The Vice President of the United States didn’t know the principal economic issue facing and draining all western democracies at this time? This makes him equal in economic knowledge to Sarah Palin, without the decent heels. Now, do you understand why I can’t stand to watch these people on the tube?

In all pagan, late-capitalistic constitutional democracies that are spiraling out of control (you can insert the United States here, or Spain or Greece if you’d like) there will be a general consensus that we are out of control but no unified solution until we go over a financial cliff. Why? The simplistic, blissfully ignorant reasoning of the political machine is unaware of what their political theories have wrought because they have a party and a position to defend at all costs. They do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. It’s lunacy.  

Finally, we need to view any and all attempts at political advocacy as a lens to bring problems into the light of day. We live in an age which has decided to call a spade “a manually operated earth-moving system.” A spade is a spade, and we need facts as facts. And we need to avoid the political speak which has dominated all discussions. I would give my eyeteeth just to see one guy stand up and say: “Yeah, we were wrong on that.

That was a big mistake. Maybe we’ll try something else.” I just want to hear it once. One of my favorite southern poets, Walker Percy, understood the problems of dealing with wisdom-lacking government officials spewing their version of political science for the masses when he said: “Such science continues to underwhelm me in its inability to approach us not as organisms but as beings with a soul.” Walker was both a poet and a physician and he believed in two things that make him one of my favorite folk heroes. He believed in something – maybe not a God with a white beard – but a force beyond our understanding. Late in life, Walker Percy seemed to convert effortlessly from agnosticism to Roman Catholicism – quite a leap in your late 50’s and in an already established and storied academic career. He believed that we do not simply die; that we are survived by a spirit which we share with other, or work which can inspire others across generations.

The problem with the political parties is intransigence. Political philosophical intellectuals believe political discourse ought to be largely theoretical and that matters of hope, honor and our observable realities should be set aside as immaterial when they have greater lockstep societies to build. They believe they can diagnose the ills of society with their own unaided intellects. And the reason that such people are so dismissive of the opinions of the “untermenschen” is b
ecause, given time, we will see their light. What these people fail to realize is that they do not control reality. They write off as anachronistic love, hate, national pride and religious belief, and all those other gut level forces displayed every night on the news. Such people are always one theory short of an actual thought. As I am well aware, the vast majority of Americans have already decided who they will vote for in the coming election. If pollsters are correct, there’s less than five percent of the electorate that is “up for grabs.” Let me just say that what leads us is more important than who leads us. Is there any objet trouvé in this societal jeremiad? I think so. We have all been complicit in this macabre dance. We have led Lucullian lives and medicine in particular has been sheltered from the slings and arrows of this current economy. But it won’t go on forever.

There you have it. As a simple country boy from the hinterland, I have vented my frustrations. There are no painless answers. But vouchsafe to understand both parties have led us down blind alleyways, and the road to hell is paved with government dollars. Intellectual confusion covered by duplicitous rhetoric served up by people with exorbitant senses of self-importance can best describe these quadrennial displays by the culturati and the cognisanti.

Ave Obama, morituri te salutant.

Greg Henry, MD Founder and CEO of Medical Practice Risk Assessment, Inc.; past president of ACEP.


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