Ideas have consequences

As you may have gathered from my post last Monday, I’m in America at the moment. If you follow the news at all, you’ll know that one of the biggest, most contentious issues in American politics at the moment is healthcare. A lot of Brits have been amazed to discover that there is no such thing as free healthcare for all in the USA.  We can’t comprehend a) how an apparently civilised nation has never yet introduced it, and b) how there can possibly be so much antipathy towards it now.

I am not going to express an opinion about whether or not they should adopt a new healthcare policy at all, or whether or not Obama’s plan is the one that they should pick if they did – I simply don’t know enough of the details to be able to make that judgement. What I do know is that all the people I have spoken to are very aware of what a good friend of mine often points out – ideas have consequences.

Americans like to be independent. The American Dream is all about individuals working hard to overcome their circumstances and pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps to become wealthy, powerful and successful. They place a high value on taking control of your own destiny – probably because the gene pool they have inherited came from the kinds of people who were likely to say ‘This life isn’t working for me – I’m going to get in a boat, sail to the other side of the world and start again’!

When you say ‘Socialised Healthcare’ to them, they hear ‘Government interference in my life’, and they see that the consequences of surrendering control of an area of life often means (or leads to) surrendering personal responsibility for it. We have many examples of that in the UK today – much of the debate around unemployment benefits concerns the question of how to provide for the needs of those who genuinely want to work but cannot find employment, while not enabling those who are just lazy and want to live off handouts for the rest of their lives.

We have enough generation now who have grown up with the NHS that we expect the Government to take care of us ‘from cradle to grave’. I think it is a good thing for a society to ensure that there is no need for anyone to die purely because they can’t afford to visit a doctor. But I also think that in the UK we are beginning to cede too much responsibility to other people. We are gradually being seduced by the idea that our misfortunes or difficulties are somebody else’s fault or responsibility. That fosters a ‘victim’ mentality in which we feel both powerless to change anything and apathetic about wanting to.

The political parties vying for our votes in the coming election are aware of this, and are all seeking to minimise any language which might suggest that the citizens have to play a part in bringing us out of recession, in improving our communities, in educating our children or in generally taking responsibility for making our world a better place.

Yes, we need to care for the poor and needy in society, and there are some things which only the state can provide, but when we think of healthcare, education, safety etc as our rights, which somebody else is duty-bound to protect and provide, we are in danger of slipping into sloth and apathy, allowing someone else to direct and shape our lives. Only God should have that power and that privilege.

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