Thursday, November 12, 2009

The 20-60-20 Rule

Confused man wakes up in ditch
with empty moonshine jar in overall
bib, loaded rifle, machete, and pot.

I could be wrong (as I often am), but my experience leads me to believe that the 20-60-20 rule is pretty accurate when it comes to almost everything. That is, it doesn’t matter much what it is or what you are doing: making a speech, manufacturing a product, teaching a class, talking about an idea, inventing something, or even being President of the United States, 20% of the population will like it, 20% will not like it (or even hate it), and 60% will not think much about it one way or the other. I suspect this is pretty much the way people think now about Obama, and I suspect it is probably the way they think about the health care bill, and even abortion. This is not often obvious because polls show that the population is pretty much split on things. Obama’s poll numbers, for example, or the split on abortion, or the Afghanistan “war,” and so on. But if you think about it, this, too, makes sense, because the 60% who don’t think much about things, if forced to decide, probably split 50-50 pretty predictably. These numbers are not very precise, of course, and there are sometimes exceptions. It is possible, for example, to have a teacher who is so bad most everyone hates him or her. And in the case of Dick Cheney or George W. Bush, things got so bad their numbers were skewed as well. Cases have to be really extreme however, to violate the rule by very much. What this means, unfortunately, is that the 60% who really don’t think about things very much, are the ones who ultimately decide elections. You notice that most elections are decided by only a few percentage points, 53%, 47%, or less, or something like that, and rarely, by an overwhelming majority. This is also one reason they can be unpredictable.

Another such rule I believe holds true as well, the 20%, 80% rule, that states basically (and I think pretty accurately) that 20% of the population has 80% of the health problems. This is how the Insurance companies make their money, by refusing to insure the 20% that need Insurance the most. One might argue, of course, that the healthy should not have to pay for the unhealthy, but that seems to me to violate the very notion of empathy and looking out for each other that a decent society should aspire to do. Remember “love thy neighbor as thyself,” or the Golden Rule, that ought to influence our behavior (but doesn’t seem to very well in our “free-market,” capitalistic system, or among Republicans).

Another rule that is sometimes called into question has to do with democracy. We tend to believe that in a democracy the majority should rule, and most of the time it does. It is what happens when that rule is challenged that trouble can arise. This is what is happening at the moment when it comes to abortion. Abortion in the U.S. is legal, the majority has spoken on this, the courts have gone along with it, and you would think that would be that. But the pro-life crowd simply refuses to give up, as we can see now in the battle over health care (which really isn’t about abortion). The Stupak amendment tries to extend the rules on abortion in such a way as to make it more difficult for women (especially poor women) to get abortions, and thus is a subtle attempt to shade Roe vs Wade. Needless to say, the many women (the majority) who believe in choice are not at all happy about this amendment and insist it be removed from the health care bill. Stupak and others are insisting it must be in the bill or they will not support the (health care) bill. The women say they will not support a bill if it remains in the bill. This could potentially kill any health care bill once again. Either one side must prevail or there will be no compromise and thus no bill at all. I believe it would be absolutely unconscionable to not pass this vitally needed health care bill because of this one amendment. We might hope that when it comes down to the wire the proponents of the amendment will blink and agree to remove it. The worst feature of this is that unfortunately if they do not ultimately give in they will not only do away with changing health care for the better, they will basically be challenging the democratic system itself. If you live in a democracy you must abide by the rules, rules established by the majority, you cannot just pick and choose which rules you will follow and which ones you will not. If allowed to violate whatever rules you wish you have anarchy rather than democracy.

Both sides in this battle over abortion believe they have morality on their side, and they tend to believe their particular moral standards are absolute. Absolute moral standards unfortunately are not compatible with democracy, where standards are decided politically rather than theologically or philosophically (although these might well feature in individual decisions).
The corporate entities that are opposed to any change in our dysfunctional health care system could care less about abortion, but they will not hesitate to use it as a means to torpedo the health care bill. This is as undemocratic as it can be, and un-American as well (if you believe America actually is a democracy). This marriage between corporations and fundamentalists, however unlikely it may seem, has been a very unhealthy partnership for our country and the interests of its citizens.

What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike.
Alfred North Whitehead

The comic strip L’il Abner was drawn and published for 43 years by Al Capp.

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