Thursday, July 19, 2012

Just because we can. . . .

I was reading the other day about doctors, ordinary general practitioner type doctors, who only treat rich people. For an annual fee (the article said it was around $15,000 a year), your doctor would guarantee that you would never have to wait for a doctor's visit.  No waiting room, no out of date magazines, no frustrating 'we can't see you until Friday' phone calls.  In fact, in a lot of these practices, the doc will make house calls.  And he'll also work with specialists so you don't have to wait there either.  Prescriptions--hand delivered to your home. 

In the article I read about this, the author thought this was a bad thing.  Of course some rich businesspeople are very busy, their time is worth money, and I can see how an annual fee guaranteeing doc availability is attractive.  These docs-to-the-rich don't see anywhere near as many patients as ordinary doctors do, which is why they can do this.  Rich guys can queue-jump because the queue isn't very long.  But, said the article, this is bad because it causes people to resent the rich. And we do sort of resent the rich, not because they're rich, but because we just sat in a doctor's waiting room for two hours reading back issues of Field and Stream, and when we finally saw our doctor, she was harried, and her exam was cursory, and we think she wrote a script for antibiotics just to get rid of us, and Scrooge McDuck got his doctor to come to his home.  And that's really aggravating.

(I'm not sure Mitt Romney gets this, by the way.  When he says "I pay all the taxes I owe, and not a nickel more", we think 'yeah, and you can afford accountants to find every possible loophole.'  And we resent it.  We don't resent him being rich.  We resent a tax code that seems so easily manipulable by rich guys.)  

Where I really relate to this is in commercial aviation.  I hate flying.  And I think I can make a case for flying being harder for me than it is for most of you.  I'm huge.  If you're a woman, and say you're 5'6" and weigh, say, 130.  I'm a foot taller than you, and weigh three times your weight.  Cramming myself into an airplane seat is painful, and stays painful the whole flight.  No position is comfortable. My illness also makes my legs ache. So I tend to really resent the people in first class.  I hate their extra leg room, their extra butt room.  I see them sipping on a pre-flight martini--one flight attendant just dealing with them--and I get kind of surly.  This is surely wrong of me, and I need to get over myself, and I am working on it.  But it's easier to not feel unkind thoughts if I'm able to book a flight on Southwest Airlines.  

It's like queue jumping at Disney World, where, again for a fee, you never have to wait in line for a ride or attraction.  You can buy a special pass that enables you to just jump ahead of everyone else.  If you see that, if you're waiting patiently for an hour to go on a ride, and you see Richie Rich get escorted to the front, you get frustrated, you get resentful, you end up disliking rich people.  The article I read also pointed out how bad this is for the kids of rich folks.  Their kids end up with this sense of entitlement, and that's unhealthy.  We all get that being rich is a good thing.  You live in nicer houses, you drive nicer cars, you eat at swankier restaurants, you fly in Elton John to perform for your spouse's surprise birthday parties.  We all get that.  But queue jumping seems . . . . more dickish.  We respond to it viscerally.  We want to punch someone who queue jumps in ways we don't want to punch people driving BMWs. 

But I also can't imagine wanting to make queue jumping illegal.  I think that to make Cadillac-doctoring illegal would be arrogant and stupid.  It would reinforce the 'liberals want to restrict our freedoms' narrative much loved by conservatives and libertarians.  And they'd be right.  In America, we do have the right and the freedom to be an arrogant jerk.

No, I think queue jumping should be socially discouraged, but not legislatively banned.  In other words, I totally get why queue jumpers are resented.  I get why rich folks would use their money to make their lives more convenient, and I'm okay with it, up to a point.  Disney World is the point at which I start to resent it.  I just wonder if we can suggest to folks 'just because you can, doesn't mean you should.'

Another example: political ads are ugly and mean and we all hate them.  And most political ads are dishonest, not because they're lying, but because they only tell one side of a story.  But it's possible to create political ads that aren't just deceptive, but that are just plain lies.  It's possible for politicians to say things about their opponents that are factually untrue. One example were the Swift Boat ads used to attack John Kerry.  John Kerry really did have a distinguished military record.  The ads just plain said things about him that weren't true. 

But actively mendacious political ads are hard to combat.  People do believe them, not that most people believe everything they see in a political ad, but in the 'well, there must be some truth to it' sense.  You can't really prosecute lying political ads.  And the public is heartily sick of 'you're a liar,' no, 'you're a liar' dialogue between politicians.  I think the whole world of political advertising is rotten, and bad for the country.  It breeds cynicism, it makes people hate politics.  Just because you can lie about your opponent, Iand probably get away with it), doesn't mean you should

Recently, two clergymen, one Christian and one Muslim, sent a letter to the heads of hotel chains, urging them to stop the practice of offering pay-per-view porn in their hotel rooms.  I thought that was awesome.  They urged hotels to stop this practice, not because it was illegal, and knowing it was profitable, but just because it was immoral.  Just because you can do this, doesn't mean you should. 

This whole post, turns out, is about rich people.  I'm not rich, and maybe that makes me feel morally superior to people who are, which is wrong of me and I should quit.  (Just because I can. . . .)  But when I go grocery shopping, how hard is it for me to go back to the cereal aisle and put back the box of Cap'n Crunch instead of hiding it in the zucchini bin?  How hard is it to be polite to the telemarketer, how hard is it to wait patiently in the parking lot instead of honking, how hard is it to actually drive the speed limit?  We can do all sorts of rude and obnoxious things.  Should we?

Please understand, I'm not equating rich people paying doctors for better service with porn.  I'm saying that people should perhaps think carefully about the moral implications of things they do, including things that are legal.  Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. 


  1. From some of your phrasing, it sounds as though you watched the Daily Show Tuesday night. Well played, sir.

    1. Replying to Eric, not Rolfo: Agreed...true in many instances that some things shouldn't be done even though they can, and those were good examples. Outlawing queue jumping? Please.

      I also believe that just because someone else believes it's wrong to do something doesn't mean you shouldn't.

      When I get a little extra cash, I plan to bop out to Smokin' Jack's Rib Shack and get a rack of their killer ribs. There are people on the planet who believe I should be stoned or beheaded or some such for the horrible sin of eating pork. I plan to anyway, budget permitting.

      This Saturday, it's very likely I'll have a high-quality imported beer with my evening meal. What's unlikely is that I'll have more than one. There are many in the world, millions, in fact, including beloved friends, who consider this immoral on my part. As with my ribs, this will have no direct impact on anyone else. In fact, no one but me will ever know if I drank the beer or not. I'd no doubt be told by someone I shouldn't do it anyway. Having just reviewed the moral considerations, I can tell you it's very likely that bad boy is goin' down. Is this morally worse than buying a pass to cut in line in Orlando?

      Who's worse: the guy on a business trip who watches some cheap porn flick on pay-per-view, or the equine rectum who cuts people off and flips them off in traffic?

      I'd present that the moral implications of any particular action have more to do with its direct effects on others than it does with whether or not it adheres to what others believe.

      And I also believe that applies with those who facilitate rather than carry out such actions. Again:
      who's worse, the hotel chain that includes pay-per-view porn among its offerings, or the former superiors of Jerry Sandusky?

      That there are versions of The Golden Rule in most religious and philosophical tradions is no accident. And to compliment that outstanding rule, I would also present a moral position held by a truly great philospoher, Popeye: "Treats people right, and if they steps on ya, socks 'em."

      And the most important moral consideration of all, of course: Beat Purdue!

    2. And I'll probably be enjoying ribs at the same table. Seems a bit different to me, though, because nobody's being inconvenienced when I do. Enjoy your beer with my compliments; ain't no skin off my nose.
      My argument on the porn thing is that it contributes to a attitude towards women that does actually harm society as a whole. That's also what the guys' letter says. But of course Joe Pa was far more culpable-obviously.