Money, Medicine, and the Cosmos

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Our government is officially closed for business, at least for now. Hopefully, it’s a relatively short closure and not the beginning of a long road toward complete atrophy in Washington. The cause of this closure is, theoretically, health-care reform. In truth, that’s actually stating things too literally — the real issue here is a battle of ideologies that’s been decades in the making and has found its focal point in the health-care debate. But let’s take it on its face value for a moment.

The health-care debate comes down to money. The conservative viewpoint has always been that a free-market system encourages innovation. This claim can’t be dismissed — the quest for profit has certainly spurred forward a great many medical innovations. The liberal viewpoint is that money should not be part of the equation when it comes to medical research, at least not the primary driver. This claim can’t be dismissed, either — I read an article recently in which researchers were lamenting the fact that a great number of vitally needed vaccines aren’t produced, and a number of research queries aren’t pursued, because there’s simply not enough profit in them.

The health-care law brings this debate to the fore. The new law DOES have elements of socialized medicine, though it is a far cry from a truly socialized system of insurance. It is still a free-market-based system of private companies vying for consumers’ money. The key differences are the individual mandate, which spreads the burden across all people in order to offer affordable coverage to people like us who have preexisting conditions, and the fact that the government is imposing a stronger set of rules and overseeing these private companies much more directly in the form of the “insurance exchanges.”

In truth, I think if we could get past the deeply divided ideological battle, we’d see that this law really is a pretty decent combination of the two viewpoints. It’s often overlooked that this law actually incorporates a LOT of the ideas originally floated by conservative think tanks when health-care reform first began gaining traction. The free-market-based exchanges were a purely conservative idea. The requirement that all people participate is a more liberal idea, though even this idea was suggested by those same conservative voices initially.

So, how did we get here? How did a law with roots as deeply planted in conservative thinking as it is in liberal thinking become the center of a deeply dividing battle BETWEEN conservatives and liberals? The answer is rather simple: This battle really ISN’T about the health-care law at all. This battle is about “us vs. them.” This battle is reflective of a very broad ideological divide based more on passion and allegiance than it is on facts or reason. Because the facts show us that this law IS a blend of the two viewpoints.

This is where the cosmos needs to come into play. I was browsing Netflix the other day, and I came across a great documentary series on the workings of the universe (I’m really a sucker for scientific documentaries, even though my own science knowledge is rather pitiful). It was fascinating, and as I watched the series, I found myself simply astounded by the pure SIZE of our universe, by the incredible mechanics of how stars are born, by the incomprehensible (for us, anyway) scale of cosmic time, measured in millions and billions of years. The relative size of our planet against the size of our universe should be humbling to all of us. To put it in perspective:

• Our planet is part of a solar system orbiting a star, our sun.

• There are more stars in the observable universe THAN THERE ARE GRAINS OF SAND ON THE ENTIRE EARTH.

• Around each one of those stars is the potential for multiple planets.

THIS is the backdrop against which we fight. THIS is the backdrop against which we accuse one another of evil, against which we kill, against which we scream and yell, against which we shutter the doors of our government over a health-care debate.

I don’t bring all of this up to say there’s an easy answer to the differences of our opinions, or that we should all just sing Kumbaya around a campfire and agree on everything. We will always have differences of opinion. But the vitriol and the passion, the stubbornness and the clinging to ideology over facts, holding to blind allegiance over reason, needs to stop. We are so incredibly UN-important to the universe it’s absurd. All of our passion, our allegiance, our deeply felt convictions, amounts to an imperceptibly small blip on the cosmic radar.

I’ve taken you on a bit of a tangent this week with the talk of the cosmos. But the consequences of health-care reform have a very direct impact on those of us living with chronic diseases. And because of that, the nature of our national dialogue IS our problem. We need to be part of the push to bring reason BACK into politics; we need to be part of the push to put rational thought and facts ABOVE passion and ideology; we need to help foster humility, perspective, and compassion in our political debate.

I hope next week I’ll be writing about something like exercise and blood glucose — that was my initial plan today. But as one of the people who will be directly impacted by the wrangling going on right now in Washington, I had to write about it today. For the people reading this who disagree, all I ask is that you disagree with my words and leave it at that. You’re not evil, I’m not evil, and neither one of us wants to destroy America. We simply disagree. And for those who DO agree with me, simply agree. But I urge ALL of us to rekindle our humility, our perspective, and our respect for one another. We’re a cosmic blip, here today and soon forgotten. We don’t matter to the universe. All we have is each other. All we have is this short little window of time on this miniscule little rock. Let’s drop the hatred and the arrogance, the passion and the vitriol, and come back to reality.

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