Humans marvel when they study social animals. We are all taught as children that bees and ants and other animals have complex and predictable organized behavior that makes their groups behave almost as one functioning organism — predictable, orderly and essentially healthy. We marvel when animals display grooming, caring and predictable service behavior to each other, and we cried back in the eighties when we read the books about the sign language-capable gorilla Koko grieving the loss of her adored companion kitten “Ball.”
So “social” is good. Right. Every one wants a social life. Humans are born interacting and if given a chance will suckle soon after birth from the left breast of their mother where they can securely continue to have an ear up against the steady heartbeat they have been hearing before birth and drink the living food that has sustained infant health for all of history and pre-history as humans grew into their capacity for social being. That is the beginning of a social life. It is different from being separated from human contact in a padded plastic baby container sucking on a plastic object which is not necessarily connected to any warm human social embrace. Social is what humans need.
Social is also responsible. I respond to you, you respond to me. I take care of you, you take care of me. I take care of myself, you take care of myself…and our self-care sustains the group. Our health is part of our social life. By serving our own well being we help establish the health of the group, the community, the social web that creates a society. Too many sick people leave to few resources for people to reliably serve their community with basic work which provides for basic human needs.
My health is your health, my healing is your healing. We really all are in this together. When too many are sick the society is sick and too many resources are siphoned off to the “health care” realm, and the rest of the social fabric of the society can’t work right.
American society is at a stage right now where it is increasingly difficult for people to be social in this broader sense. We are so stressed by financial, time, health and family demands that we have fewer personal resources for basic social interaction in community….the kind that makes life more secure, fun, happy and workable. Lots of people are barely getting by or are not getting by. This week’s Nation magazine presented a piece by former NARAL president Kate Michelman, a woman from a family with “good” health insurance and a reasonable pension situation, who is now becoming destitute and completely at sea over how to deal with the devastating health care requirements of two of the three people in her immediate family.
There is no social network in America for responding to such a personal crisis except among the very few who have extremely high personal financial assets. No social structure exists in communities to help people who are losing their homes or going bankrupt because of debt for health care. This is true even for people who do have reasonably good health insurance. For the almost fifty million who have no health insurance, the choices are unimaginable for any of us who haven’t been there, and are the definition of a loss of social life. People are on their own, there is no resource in most communities, except small scale personal fund raising campaigns, to even start to help people through the devastation of paying for care for catastrophic and long term catastrophic care.
Because of our profit-driven health care system, we have lost any coherent predictable social way of helping those in need of disease care. We have lost our social life when it comes to health care. It is in this broader sense that we need to “socialize health care.”
This week is National Public Health Week. If my health is your health, and we really are all in this together, which is true, we need to cure our media language of the distortions and 1950′ style rhetoric over the word “socialism”…and see it as a way of structuring society so that we are putting at least some of our common resources in to taking care of each other in a social way. I would far rather pay for your preventative health care and for community health promotion than pay for a senseless violent, chaos-producing war in the Middle East. How did it get to be that socialism to pay for the military is just fine for the Republicans, but social…ism…I take care of you, you take care of me…is unpatriotic and “bad” when it comes to health and healing? The answer is that it’s not; we just have to positively redefine what socializing health care can mean.
I’m ready to take care of you. I’m ready to take care of myself and my community and help my community stay healthy. That is socializing human care. Maybe that’s what social-ism can mean if we rethink and redefine that word in a new and positive way.