It’s Friday now, and for many it is the last day of the work week. If you are one of those people, congratulations. If you expect to work tomorrow, as I do, then, well, congratulations on having gainful employment. It’s not a contradiction to consider both cases worthy of celebration.
I’m writing on my phone today because I didn’t want to take my laptop to the house with me‒I took my Radiohead guitar chords book home with the notion that I might actually get the acoustic guitar out and do some strumming, and the book and laptop together seemed likely to make my backpack unpleasantly heavy to carry. Alas, the strumming part didn’t happen, but I couldn’t retroactively choose to take the laptop with me.
Because of that, I’m not going to write about Alzheimer’s and/or Parkinson’s disease today; I feel that I can deal with them better when I can type more naturally, and so I’ll address those things perhaps tomorrow. Today, I’ll try to address a random, walk-in set of topics that crowded my head this morning for unclear causes. The things that popped into my mind as I headed to the train station included the notions of healthcare as a human right, unconditional love, and free education (free anything, really), all loosely linked to something a coworker of mine said yesterday.
I’ll start with the middle one, because it presents itself (rather intrusively) in my mind in the form of the old song, Unconditional Love, performed way back when by Donna Summer and Musical Youth. The chorus goes, “Give me your unconditional love; the kind of love I deserve; the kind I want to return.”
I may have written about this notion before, but do you spot the logical flaws there? First of all, the notion that one can (apparently) demand another’s love, conditional or otherwise, is rather obscene and also unworkable. But that’s a separate issue from the notion of “unconditional love”. One big problem with this is revealed in the second line of the chorus: that such love is the kind the singer deserves. But if it’s unconditional, then‒to quote the movie Unforgiven‒”deserve’s got nothing to do with it”. If love is unconditional, then everyone and anyone (and presumably anything) deserves it. That’s what unconditional means!
Perhaps they might have meant something along the lines of “non transactional” love, but if so, they reveal hypocrisy in the next line, “the kind I want to return”, because they’re saying, openly, that their own love is not merely conditional but also transactional…I’ll love you if and only if you love me unconditionally. Maybe that was supposed to be the message of the song, to ridicule such words and thoughts and attitudes toward love by revealing their absurdity, but it certainly didn’t come across that way.
On we go to the notion of healthcare as a human right. This is something one sees at times brought up and bandied about by activists of various stripes, and I can readily understand and sympathize with the urge, but it is illogical. One cannot have a right to anyone else’s skill or work or abilities or resources, and the provision of healthcare requires these in spades.
True rights are and can really only be rights to be free from things‒free from coercion, free from threats and violence, free from theft, free from censorship and from unjust imprisonment, that sort of thing. To claim a right to the work of other people, especially if one claims that right precisely because that work is so important, is the opposite of any kind of right or freedom; it is coercion in and of itself.
Now, it may be that a society could decide that it is best for everyone, as a whole and as individuals, to provide (and therefore to pay for) healthcare for all its citizens without any at-the-time-of-service charge, since illnesses and injuries are often unpredictable, and they do not choose convenient times to strike. A society may decide that taking away some of that danger, that threat, that uncertainty, will be better for everyone and anyone. It’s not an unreasonable idea. But that doesn’t describe any kind of right, even if one is a citizen of a society that has chosen that path. Give it the credit it deserves and call it a privilege, and one that should be cherished, not a right.
This ties in nicely with the notion of other “free” programs or privileges, the main one that comes to my mind being that of “free college education”. As with most positive, physical things, the notion of “free” simply doesn’t apply. Air is free (for now), because it’s pretty much everywhere, and it doesn’t require any work apart from the effort of breathing. But education requires many resources, including the information gleaned by the innumerable predecessors who worked to develop the knowledge that is being shared, and the time and effort of the scholars and teachers who are sharing it.
Some of this is getting cheaper and easier thanks to advancing computer and communications technology, but those things also required the efforts and resources of numerous people before they became available to so many others, most of whom do not have the knowledge or skill to recreate such resources on their own.
Again, this is not to say that it is not worth considering whether a society might be well-served by making education available without local charge to all citizens who wish to participate. It may be well worth the expense and effort involved for the society, in the long or even the short term. I’m a big fan of public primary and secondary schools, and I wish they were better funded and in a more egalitarian way, because there are untold numbers of people with great potential who have not been able to realize it because they had effectively no local resources available to do so.
This is truly a shame and a tragedy. Who knows what scientists or artists or innovative business people (and so on) we have lost without knowing that we lost them? But calling for there to be “free” education is silly. Someone, somewhere, has to “pay” for every good thing that requires effort in transforming the world into a desired form, decreasing local entropy by expending energy and producing compensatory entropy increase through the efforts made.
This all ties in‒in spirit‒with the complaint by a coworker yesterday, who moans frequently about lack of money and a fear of being unable to pay rent, etc., but when the boss asked her to come in this Saturday to work, so she could make more money, said she just can’t work six days a week. Of course, she doesn’t work six days a week, she hasn’t worked six days a week that I can remember. I work six days every other week; if I don’t, things don’t happen for the many people who come in on Saturdays voluntarily, to try to make a little extra money for their own expenses.
The problem was not with her choosing not to come in on any Saturday‒that’s her decision, and she is the one who loses the opportunity to make more money‒but with her complaint to me that it’s just “not fair” to have to work six days, which is truly nonsensical given to whom she was speaking, and given the number of people who voluntarily come in and work more Saturdays than not.
My response was pretty unsympathetic. I told her that “fairness” is a fiction, at least as she’s apparently imagining it. There’s no injustice in her being encouraged to work an extra day once in a while to make extra money, if she’s truly worried about her expenses. If anything, it would be unfair for her to expect to make more money without doing extra work.
In a sense, nature is always fair; the laws of physics apply everywhere and for all time, as far as we can tell. They make no exceptions and provide no “get out of jail free” cards or cheat codes to anyone regarding their application.
Other than this, any notion of fairness is purely a human invention. It may, in some senses and cases, be very good to seek and to create, for a society and for the individuals within it. Indeed, I would say that it is worthwhile. But it too is not free; it requires effort, and it requires ownership of one’s responsibility for one’s share of the effort. It is not unconditional. To expect unconditional anything from anyone or anything is not fair, but is in many ways quite the opposite.
Education is very good and beneficial, and probably the more of it we have, the better, all other things being equal. Reasonable pay for good work is certainly a good thing. Healthcare is an almost miraculous good that we take for granted at our peril, but which would almost certainly benefit all of society more if it were more efficiently and evenly available. And love is, quite possibly, the most wonderful and beautiful thing the universe has ever brought into existence. We should show these things the respect they deserve by not taking them for granted in any way.