Conservatism, pt. 2

I got away from my main point talking about the shooting, I think. Emotions got the better of me, I suppose.

My point was primarily that I identify with a lot of the toxic beliefs that those angry young white men have. The most toxic one to me is that the world is fair.

It’s not. If you truly believe the world is fair, ultimately, you are going to develop some terrible beliefs. I don’t know how to justify children starving or dying of illness. I don’t think it’s God’s fault, but I also don’t think God is going to help out either.

This is a common problem for religious believers–theodicy, or the problem of suffering–and it’s a large part of why I’m not religious anymore. Bart Ehrman, Duke theologian, articulates it a bit here:

How can one explain all the pain and misery in the world if God—the creator and redeemer of all—is sovereign over it, exercising his will both on the grand scheme and in the daily workings of our lives? Why, I asked, is there such rampant starvation in the world? Why are there droughts, epidemics, hurricanes, and earthquakes? If God answers prayer, why didn’t he answer the prayers of the faithful Jews during the Holocaust? Or of the faithful Christians who also suffered torment and death at the hands of the Nazis? If God is concerned to answer my little prayers about my daily life, why didn’t he answer my and others’ big prayers when millions were being slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, when a mudslide killed 30,000 Columbians in their sleep, in a matter of minutes, when disasters of all kinds caused by humans and by nature happened in the world?

My fundamental problem with what I see as the core of American conservative beliefs, is that they hold American society to be a mostly fair place.

  • The free market works, AND we live in a free market society.
  • The wealthy earned their money. Therefore, people in poverty too did something to deserve it.
  • Fortunate people are Godly and deserve their good luck. Again, by extension the unlucky deserve their luck as well.
  • Private charity can take of those in need. American society is not so unjust as to require things like social services, affirmative action, etc.

Those are four big problematic ideas for me, and they’re a large part of why I drifted away from conservatism in college. But. But but but but. These are uncontroversial beliefs among many US conservatives. And they are terrible. If you are even remotely privileged, these beliefs essentially tell you it’s okay–you deserve it. 

These angry young white men all had a sense of entitlement that I had. They were decent, young, middle-class men. Surely the world was going to be their oyster. It wasn’t that easy.

But they deserved happiness! They deserved money, and sex, and good careers! Someone took those dreams away from them–whom?

Women? African-Americans? Immigrants?

That’s my point. These angry young men believed they were owed ideals, money, women’s bodies, that never belonged to them. Their core belief system seemed to reinforce the idea that they deserved good things happening to them–it is only fair. But the world isn’t fair.

And so my problem with conservative beliefs in the fundamental fairness of the world, as I see it, is that they create two terrible outcomes.

  1. You are fortunate. Congratulations. Maybe you’ll donate a little bit of money to charity, but fundamentally if people are righteous, decent people they would have your luck. So it’s not really a moral imperative to help the less fortunate.
  2. You’re not fortunate. Clearly you’ve been wronged, because the world is a fair place. It’s time to get angry.

These aren’t the only outcomes, of course–that would be silly. But I’ve seen an awful lot of #1, and #2 seems to not be uncommon either.

The world isn’t fair. And that’s okay, sort of. We’re humans. We can create social systems and structures to mitigate the worst effects of poverty. We’ve made a lot of positive steps towards the equality of all humans. Shit, we’re not living in a feudal system anymore–that alone is worthy of praise. We can improve peoples’ lives if we want to.

But with conservative faith in the Just World fallacy, there’s just this sort of deadly complacency. This seems to be especially true among some of the evangelicals I know–having the “correct” belief is enough to guarantee heaven, so why bother with deeds?–but it’s seen in a lot of conservative policies. You see it when Jeb Bush tells single mothers to just get married already. Or why have abortions, ever, when you can just find the right husband who earns enough to raise all of your children? Why help the poor, when charity will obviously take care of it? Why bother to improve things at all when the world is going to end anyway?

So, anyway, that’s my long-winded explanation of how being raised conservative turned me into a liberal. And it’s why I think those angry young men probably were raised to be conservative–the core belief of entitlement practically demands it. I had it too, years ago, and I still remember its appeal. A simple explanation for the world, where I had been wronged? It was great, and seductive, and the only problem of course was that it was 100% dead fucking wrong.


I took a news break for a few days. It was sorely needed.

I have been following the Baltimore news the last few days, though. Twitter has been more useful for following protests than official news outlets: it’s more chaotic, perhaps, but you get a much broader collection of views than you would get otherwise.

Baltimore sun article:

It’s a familiar story. A young African-American man, 25, entered police custody. When he arrived at jail, he mysteriously had a broken spine. He was “rushed” to the hospital but succumbed a week later to his injuries.

To this point, Baltimore police officials have not been very forthcoming.

Police said Gray, who was dragged by officers to a transport wagon, should have gotten immediate medical attention. Batts said the department is investigating whether Gray’s injuries resulted from his arrest or a “rough ride” — in which police vans are driven erratically to harm unbuckled, handcuffed detainees. Batts said Gray could have sustained injuries during arrest and transport.

“We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon as he should have been. No excuses from me. Period,” Batts said. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”


Except, of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The Baltimore Sun released an extensive series of articles about ongoing police brutality settlements in the city. Since 2011, the city has averaged about one settlement every other week.

Moreover, economic inequality remains pretty brutal in Maryland. Even though the state borders Washington DC–a metro area offering some of the highest average salaries to be found– black residents are affected disproportionately badly. The NYTimes featured an article about 1.5 million “missing black men” and many of them, oddly, come from this area.

It does not take a great deal of insight to say that there is ongoing violence in Baltimore. But until yesterday, that violence was largely inflicted by society as a whole upon the city’s residents. When the less-powerful start fighting back, well, suddenly the violence is worth reporting.

If you’re wondering why these protests turned violent, well… how much attention did the broader news media pay to Baltimore before yesterday? Did coverage of Freddie Gray crowd out the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? Or did it take a burning CVS store to do that?

Progressives in foreign policy: or, where the hell are they?

The dominance of the President, Senator McCain, and Senator Paul on foreign policy should trouble progressives. Why? To state the obvious, because none of these three camps adequately represents the views of most American progressives.

This is true. The President (both Obama right now, and the person who will fill the role in the future) is very likely to pursue a muscular, interventionist foreign policy. He/she is the Commander-in-Chief, and almost certainly has the most immediate and direct influence on foreign policy compared to the sausage factory of domestic politics. McCain, meanwhile, has scarcely seen a fight overseas he would not like to involve the US in. Rand Paul, meanwhile, combines a nominally non-interventionist foreign policy with what I suspect are likely to be Ayn Randian economic and trade views.

What’s more, Chris Murphy has a fairly compelling vision of his own here:

Frankly, it’s not hard to figure out what would be the organizing principles of this vision. A substantial transfer of financial resources from the military budget to buttress diplomacy and foreign aid so that our global anti-poverty budget, not our military budget, equals that of the other world powers combined. A new humility to our foreign policy, with less emphasis on short- term influencers like military intervention and aid, and more effort spent trying to address the root causes of conflict. An end to unchecked mass surveillance programs, at home and abroad, as part of a new recognition that we are safer as a nation when we aren’t so easily labeled as hypocrites for preaching and practicing vastly differently on human and civil rights. And a categorical rejection of torture, under any circumstances.

In a nutshell: an emphasis on diplomatic “soft power,” an increased focus on economic aid, an end to mass surveillance, and a rejection of torture.

Sure, sign me up. To be honest, I suspect you could get many conservatives to agree this is a good start to policy if you change the rhetoric slightly. There are some voters who are never going to be satisfied unless the current US President is literally hacking ISIS members to death with a machete. But if you can convince people that this would shift some of the costs off the US–as it arguably would, since you’d require a smaller military, fewer bases everywhere–you could probably find plenty of sympathetic ears. “Why is Europe allowed to freeload off US defense capabilities?” There.

Of course, the greater challenge might be getting Americans to care about US foreign policy in the first place.

Chinese State-Sponsored Hackers Suspected in Anthem Attack

Well, this is awkward:

Investigators of Anthem Inc.’s data breach are pursuing evidence that points to Chinese state-sponsored hackers who are stealing personal information from health-care companies for purposes other than pure profit, according to three people familiar with the probe.

The breach, which exposed Social Security numbers and other sensitive details of 80 million customers, is one of the biggest thefts of medical-related customer data in U.S. history. China has said in the past that it doesn’t conduct espionage through hacking.

The attack appears to follow a pattern of thefts of medical data by foreigners seeking a pathway into the personal lives and computers of a select group — defense contractors, government workers and others, according to a U.S. government official familiar with a more than year-long investigation into the evidence of a broader campaign.

I have two conflicting responses to this: one, this is fairly normal fare for rival nation-states, and two, this is creepy and possibly an escalation of what was known before. That China has a keen interest in US military technology is no secret, and should not be. That China is almost certainly stealing US technology is similarly not news. That China may be sponsoring hackers to steal private health information of defense contractors, federal employees, on the other hand is news to me.

My first guess would be that this might be useful to determine who might be vulnerable to bribes. If Timmy the Contractor has some serious medical conditions, and you can hack into his bank and determine his overall financial picture isn’t great either, that’s useful information.

I’m honestly not sure how useful knowledge of peoples’ health conditions alone would be. Obama has asthma, so let’s smuggle some mold into the White House? Billy with the DIA smokes, so let’s slowly increase the nicotine dosage on his cigarettes to shave 2 years off his life? Clearly I’m not very imaginative here.

More on doctor visits etc

I haven’t visited for a while because I’ve been in a state of limbo, trying to persuade my school that I did in fact leave while also going to a batch of incredibly useless doctor visits. In a nutshell:

“Hey doc, a shark bit my foot off last weekend. See, right there, it’s still wrapped around my leg? Can you help me with this?”

“Gosh, I see here you have a past history of anxiety and depression. Are you sure you don’t think your foot is missing because you’re depressed?”

“Well, uh, I don’t think so. See, that’s clearly a shark. He’s still biting my leg. Shit! This is really painful!”

“All right, I’m going to write you a prescription for Prozac and see you in 6 weeks. If the shark thing is still bothering you, we’ll talk then. Okay, bye! Say hi to your wife for me!”

“But, but, but…”


Counseling, doctor visits, and why it can be so hard to find good help

I came across this post via Brute Reason. The author is a counselor.

The course I hated most in grad school was taught by a professor who said, “If your clients talk about the outside circumstances that keep them down and make their lives horrible, about how they’re so hard done by, they can’t ever take responsibility for their own lives.”  It was supposed to be a course on marriage and family therapy, which is a topic I love a lot on its own; but most of what I learned was about the use of institutional power, from a rich moderate liberal white guy who thought that talking about inequality of any kind was actively harmful to therapy.


I had to noticeably hold the door open to conversations about inequality.  There is a lot that subjugated groups know about their experience that they likewise know isn’t safe to talk about with people who have privilege over them, whether the power differential is sex, race, disability, or anything else.  In therapy, clients fear that relationship-shattering moment when their therapist–someone who has so far been a warm and supportive figure–strikes out at them from a place of privilege to enforce social norms.  If I say, “Oh, let’s not make this a race issue, not every white person is racist,” I’m proving that I, at least, am a white woman it’s not safe to talk race with.And often when I opened the door, the immediate and enthusiastic response was the equivalent to, “I’m allowed to talk about racism? OH MY GOD LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE RACISM I’VE SEEN.”

Now, the original author was writing about racism, and I’m going to take that ball and run with it a bit. This dynamic exists in medicine, too. Perhaps the easiest example is where the tone of your doctor visit switches, as he/she tells you that you need to quit smoking, or lose weight, or exercise more. If you’ve never had a visit like that, congratulations! Keep doing whatever you’re doing. But for everyone else, this is often an uncomfortable experience. It’s uncomfortable for many doctors, too.

But it’s certainly true that there are elements of privilege here. If you look at AMCAS data for medical student demographics, you’ll notice a lot of medical students have one thing in common: wealthy parents, usually a stable upbringing. And this is in addition to the ability you need to get INTO medical school: reasonable intelligence, a solid work ethic, etc.

Maybe there was a time where medical students were mostly bookish and not super physically active. I’m not sure that’s still the case; at my school, many of our really good students were also generous volunteers who were also in great physical shape who also had good relationships with their family who also had research interests… you get the idea.

I would hazard that the reason these “let me tell you what you need to do” moments is not because what the patient is hearing is uncomfortable or unwanted advice. It’s because there is a ton of privilege being conveyed all at once. You’re a Black woman. Your doctor is an older white guy. He’s about to give you advice on how to live your life better. How awkward is that?

Okay. Now let’s turn things up a notch. Your doctor is a somewhat conservative guy. What does that mean for you?

Keep going. Your doctor is a very conservative dude, who loves talk radio, boats, and by the way he’s an OB/GYN. Shit, is it Ron Paul?

We’re switching gears. Your doctor now loves NPR, organic food, and yoga. And your doctor is now a white woman. Will this affect your doctor visit? Are you sure?

Now, this sort of stuff doesn’t matter in many situations. If you’re diabetic and discussing what medication/diuretics you need, great! If you’re discussing your cancer progression, again, hopefully this won’t matter. Or will it? Wait! What if your cancer is causing you pain? Uh oh.

Racial/ethnic minorities consistently receive less adequate treatment for acute and chronic pain than non-Hispanic whites, even after controlling for age, gender, and pain intensity. Pain intensity underreporting appears to be a major contribution of minority individuals to pain management disparities.

Why is that? I mean, surely we’re dealing with purely medical matters–pain is, after all, considered by some to be “the fifth vital sign”–so surely treatment shouldn’t vary, right?

So to sum up this mess of a post… you’ve got a lot of privilege if you’re a doctor, or counselor, just by virtue of your role. There is an excellent chance you have other privilege–wealthy parents, a more stable upbringing than most, or just the fact that you’re goddamn smart and hardworking.

As a result, when you’re a patient going in to see one of these people, it can be damn uncomfortable. When I first started seeing doctors at my school, they treated me like one of the gang. It would have been great, except this mostly involved quizzing me on trivial bullshit, or asking me what I would do to treat myself (yes, really). I was one of them, just having some temporary setbacks!

And then I kept being sick.

And slowly, things changed. I was depressed and in need of attention, or something. I wasn’t a medical student like my doctors were, no–I was struggling, or clearly uninterested in being a doctor. For shit’s sake, autoimmune diseases run in my family. If someone has the flu you don’t ask them if maybe they just don’t like their job, do you?

And then I was just another patient, one of those weird people who shuffle in a few times a month to get some pain pills or emotional validation or who fucking knows. I was usually a good two decades younger than any of the other patients, so that was unusual, but otherwise I filled a similar role.

Over the course of two years, I basically got to watch my doctors’ level of respect for me slowly drop. When I first switched to my current one, she was excited. A sick medical student! I just needed some proper TLC and then I’d go pass Step One and be a cardiologist or neurosurgeon or who knows. A fixer-upper! A project! Yes!

And then I kept being sick. And I was less exciting. And more of a pain in the ass.

And that’s where I still am today, unfortunately.