At times of great stress, when your relationship is changing, or your job is disappearing, or you are faced with a fateful choice, it can be extraordinarily helpful to get even a glimpse of what lies in your future.
From my favorite futurists~ Stephan A. Schwartz
Trends That Will Affect Your Future … Mr South Whidbey, Globalization, and the Worship of Profit
By the time we get there it is already a raucous party. The elderly Freeland Hall on Whidbey island, off the coast of Seattle, with its walls and ceiling made of short strips of ancient pine boards, vibrates with the noise. Two hundred fifty people have packed themselves in tonight to eat a simple box dinner on folding tables and watch six men make fools of themselves. One of them will be voted Mr South Whidbey. The voting is done by buying votes, in the form of business card–sized bits of paper, for $1 a card. There is much encouragement to buy as many cards as possible.
As I sit there eating my chicken salad, men in odd outfits—one wears a kind of apron upon which is airbrushed a nude female form with a fig leaf, another is got up as Abe Lincoln—circulate with cardboard beer six-pack carriers. Where the beer would be there are paper cups with the names of the contestants, who are also wearing improbable outfits and who range in age from one man in his early 30s wearing a kilt and sporting a chain saw—sort of like one of the Village People seen by someone on a bad drug trip—to an octogenarian dressed as a 1920s Parisian boulevardier. The evening is a parody of any beauty pageant. There are dumb questions for the contestant interview, a runway promenade, and a talent segment. It is all uniformly awful, and so self-consciously so that it calls forth from the audience cheers, hoots, and laughter. As the evening progresses, we vote by placing the little cards in the cup labeled with the name of our favorite.
I have just moved to Whidbey and am here at the party with my partner Ronlyn, and neither of us is very clear why; it is largely at the urging of my physician friend, Rick Ingrasci, the man wearing the nude apron. We know no one at our table, and to make conversation I introduce myself to a modest, plainly dressed, middle-aged woman across from me, asking her what it's all about. She explains the purpose of the evening is to raise money for Friends of Friends, a local philanthropy. When I ask her what Friends of Friends is, she tells me it is a community-supported fund offering financial help to our fellow south islanders with medically related bills they cannot afford to pay. The man next to her introduces himself and tells me that it all started in 1997 “and so far has helped about a thousand people with $400,000 in medical expenses.” The woman to my right joins the conversation by telling me she would probably be dead had it not been for Friends of Friends, since “I have no health insurance, and could not have obtained the treatments I desperately needed if they hadn't helped me.” The woman across from me nods in agreement and says, “I would have lost all my teeth except for Friends of Friends.”
As the octogenarian carries the day, an obvious favorite—how can you not vote for an 80-year-old man wearing a beret and smoking jacket willing to sing old Maurice Chevalier songs in public—I am moved by the community spirit the Mr South Whidbey Pageant represents and heartened by yet another example of the interlocking safety network my new community has created to help itself. And at the same time I am outraged that any of this should be necessary.
Whenever I confront the illness profit industry's impact on American society, I always imagine I am speaking with my sister, Susan, who has lived most of her life in Europe and is now in France. As I sit there while several men in trench coats and large black witches hats, blowing kazoos, march the hall's length, this particular imaginary conversation plays out with me explaining that little communities such as the villages of South Whidbey have to band together so that the weak, the poor, and the afflicted amongst them can have the basic healthcare that every other industrial nation in the world provides as a matter of course. I imagine my sister's face as she hears about the pleasant woman sitting across from me who almost became one of the 122 people who die daily in America—more than die monthly in the active war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan—because they have no health insurance.
Viewed from another perspective, I realize, Mr South Whidbey represents a powerful trend shaping our future—and not a happy one. It is the response of a caring small community to a massive failure on the part of the larger society. If we had national healthcare, the nice woman sitting to my right eating the last of her salad would never have faced the abyss of involuntary death because she lacked the insurance to open the door to a continued future. She wouldn't have needed $10,000 to pay for a procedure that in most countries would be considered a right. What must that be like to wake up each morning lying in your bed and knowing that without some drug or medical procedure you are doomed?
What if instead of giving $10,000 to the woman because she didn't have health insurance, this collective effort, and thousands of other efforts like it in other communities around the country, were focused on something else? How about local preparation for climate change, or to assist local businesses to navigate the “Green Transition” that is occurring as the world moves out of the “Age of Petroleum?” Not that such efforts do not exist, of course they do. But the many programs like Mr South Whidbey support not preparation for the future, but assuage an immediate unnecessary present day failure. Of necessity they compete for time, energy, and money, of which local communities like the villages of South Whidbey have only so much. Suppose Mr South Whidbey gave that $10,000 as a loan to local government to build charging stations for electric cars that local people drive, so they could recharge when they went shopping in the village? If you collected a modest fee like a parking meter, and the city paid the loans back over time, the whole business might even be self-financing. Everybody would benefit, if simply with cleaner air.
One of America's great defining characteristics is this capacity for coming together in volunteer local effort. “About 61.8 million people, or 26.4% of the population, volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2007 and September 2008,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported.1 If you have ever lived in another country you realize how rare this is.
Another of our strengths is the deep commitment of the American people to philanthropy. We commit 1.7% of our gross national product to this purpose—nearly $300 billion a year.2 The next most philanthropic nation is Great Britain at .73%—less than half as much—and it falls off precipitously from there.2
And the generosity of spirit that is such an American hallmark can be found at every level of the culture. About 65% of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity.1 Even the poor give. Their share of the nearly $300 billion offered up is just as green.3 In 2007, as individuals and families, we spent nearly $25 billion a month serving what we felt was good and life-affirming as we understood it.
This squandering of volunteer action, and philanthropic purpose because the failure to have universal healthcare requires local programs such as Friend of Friends, is a consequence of the “Illness Profit” model. Along with people working sick, or having simple inexpensive medical problems become complex and expensive because they were not treated, these social failures constitute a kind of friction, or a tax. One that in a global world makes us less competitive and less prepared for climate change. I suddenly have images from Katrina in my mind. Once again, like New Orleans and FEMA, are we going to ignore the warnings and be less prepared than we could be if other considerations were not draining off our time, passion, and resources?
Why is this happening? I think this is one of the great questions that our public conversation should focus on. Barbara Tuchman's 1984 best seller, March of Folly,4 Jared Diamond's 2005 book, Collapse,5 and Naomi Klein's 2007 book, Shock Doctrine,6 all spell out how powerful societies can, and have, destroyed themselves. Almost always it results from an obsessive commitment to something that proves again and again that it is destructive, yet that society continues to focus on it in spite of the evidence. The Easter Islanders kept cutting down their trees, even as they were punished by nature for the destruction of their ecosystem. I always wonder what the last man—cutting down the last tree—thought.
In our case, the culprit seems to be that profit has become our only bedrock value. Because this is our default consideration, we have chosen to develop a model of healthcare that reflects that value. As a result we have millions, literally millions, of people who cannot make their full contribution to our society's success, either because they cannot contribute at all or are contributing in varying degrees of diminished capacity. But this is just one manifestation of our obsession. Here are a few others.
When profit is the most important consideration, then social programs like prenatal care, having no immediate payoff, get severely cut even though we know that if a mother does not get a proper diet between the 19th and 23rd week of pregnancy, her fetus' brain will not develop properly and her child will become an unacknowledged handicapped person for their entire lives, in a way that can never be repaired. When short-term profit is the only consideration, then long-term education, particularly of the poor, never really becomes a social priority. And when privatized profit-making prisons become the rice bowl for communities left destitute because of earlier outsourcing, it becomes important to keep a steady flow of the poor into those institutions as the justification for their existence and the mechanism for tapping the public till.
People are beginning to gather up their coats and I am left with this: in a world that is globalizing, the future and national security of a nation are directly correlated with its ability to field as many brains—literally neurons—and as many fully committed hearts working on behalf of societal success as it can. When profit is the only priority governing the social infrastructure, our recent history shows it sabotages this success.
Whidbey island, off the coast of Seattle
original article here;
The SchwartzReport tracks emerging trends that will affect the world, particularly the United States. For EXPLORE it focuses on matters of health in the broadest sense of that term, including medical issues, changes in the biosphere, technology, and policy considerations, all of which will shape our culture and our lives.