The Right To Service In A Social Contract


Health Care Isn't Slavery, You Idiot

An essay by Dave Van Domelen, copyright 2017.
    A meme has been circulating for a while that tries to equate a right to health care to slavery. "You do not have the right to another person's labor, that's slavery," it goes, usually over some piece of another person's labor that was stolen by the meme-poster (i.e. a frame from a TV show that the meme-maker didn't own). Typical behavior of an intellectually lazy person of privilege going through their Libertarian phase, it misses several important points.

    (Warning: if you couldn't tell already, this is going to be a bit more surly than my usual essays.)

Slavery? REALLY?

    I'll start off with something that could be called a nitpick, but it's important to clarify for the benefit of anyone who may have been naive enough to have bought the whole argument. Let's be perfectly clear: doctors are paid, they can seek other employment if they dislike the conditions of their current employment, and if they are philosophically opposed to the idea that health care is a fundamental human right they can always go into a specialty that is unlikely to require them to show basic humanity.

    When backed into a corner, the Lazy Libertarian might try to claim they were engaging in rhetorical hyperbole, but they weren't. The people who make this sort of argument are very binary thinkers: A or not-A, nothing in between. That's the Randroid way. Anything that doesn't allow total license is seen as slavery. The logic goes, "If you have a right to a service I can provide, I will inevitably be forced to provide that service to you at a price you and the government decide on. I may get paid, but I am still a slave."

    Suffice to say, the whole idea of binary thinking is a trap, but in this case it's particularly insulting to people who have been enslaved or have ancestors who have been enslaved. Having to drive on the same side of the road as everyone else and obey the posted speed limit isn't tyranny, having to work the hours your boss assigns is not slavery. Only those who have never known true slavery can mistake it for anything else.

Rights Come With Responsibilities

    Guess what? If you want to benefit from being in a society, you have a responsibility to contribute. While the full "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs" socialist manifesto may be more extreme than most people are willing to live by, the core of the idea is sound. If you take, you should also give.

    This means that if you like having a society with roads and commerce and people who aren't always trying to kill you and take your stuff, you need to contribute to it. The Lazy Libertarian is really just a parasite, convinced that they have somehow built themselves up from absolutely nothing to wherever they are now, and that no one ever helped them except as part of an agreed-upon bargain. But you can't negotiate everything you need every time you need it. Some things just have to be worked out without being specifically asked. There's a road when you need it because people decided there should be a road without you having to bargain for it directly. They anticipated a need and filled it.

Back To Health Care In Specific

    So, what about health care engages this social contract? Easy: society as a whole benefits when its members are in better health. The members of society have a right to health care as part of the social contract, because they can't hold up their end if they're sick or dead.

    So, yes, my right to health care means I have the right to someone else's services. Not any particular person's services, although if too many people refuse I can seek redress on the grounds that the social contract is being violated. But someone should be available, and if I can't afford the care, I should be helped. Because if I die, I can't contribute. And even if I never get sick enough to really need it, I will be a better citizen, contribute more to society, if I'm not weighed down by the constant worry of being one accident or illness away from death just because I'm not rich enough to pay for health care out of pocket.

A Personal Example

    Okay, so I'm not a medical kind of doctor, I'm the other kind. I use my degree for teaching. And guess what? I think education is a basic human right too. Society benefits from educated members in the same way it benefits from healthy members. Education should not just be "accessible" to all, it should be provided to those who cannot afford to "access" a private education.

    As a teacher, I recognize it is my responsibility to help provide that education. I knew that when I picked my career...if I'd just wanted to make money and let everyone else go hang, there's other things I could have done with a PhD in Physics. So there's the first "not a slave" part of the equation, I chose to do this. I've worked at public and private institutions, big and small, the pay is comparable pretty much everywhere. If I find conditions intolerable, I'm free to resign and seek employment elsewhere, and while I've never done that I came really close once (my frustration with things affected my performance and I was let go before I reached the quitting point). So, I chose the career, I get paid, and I'm not held to my job by explicit threats of punishment, physical or otherwise. Definitely not a slave.

    I am providing a service that others have a right to. If I don't like the conditions, I can leave. People can't stop me on the street and demand I explain Newton's Laws to them, which is the sort of thing the Lazy Libertarians seem to think would happen to doctors if we had a goddamn FUNCTIONAL public health care system in place.

    (Aside: doctors actually do have to respond to someone who stops them on the street with an urgent medical problem, it's part of the Hippocratic Oath and various licensing requirements in most states...a doctor who steps over a dying accident victim is in trouble if they're caught. I can let people stay ignorant with impunity as long as they're not in my class.)

    (Another aside: on the other hand, if I grab people on the street and make them listen to me explain Newton's Laws to them, I could probably get in trouble.)

To Sum Up

  • If you want to live in society, you agree to a web of benefits and obligations.
  • If you want the benefits of society without the obligations, you are a parasite.
  • Health care is a human right, because denying it hurts society and reveals one as inhuman.
  • Slavery is a lot more than not getting to do whatever you want whenever you want.
  • Memes that steal someone else's labor in order to complain about the theft of labor just prove that Privilege is a thing, and it blinds one to irony, compassion, and a lot of other stuff.

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