This puts me in mind of a course I once took while living in Rochester New York. Then employed as a psychological counselor, I hoped that obtaining a master's in social work might improve my skills. What I had not expected was the extent of the naivete of my fellow students.
This was revealed during a discussion of Kodak's policies in dealing with disabled employees. These were acknowledged to be generous, but several students argued that they ought to be expanded to cover all of the workers' expenses. Although this would increase the company's costs several times over, it should still be done, they said.
In response, another student observed that the proposed benefits were so generous that they would destroy Kodak's profitability. To this the first student replied that this did not matter. All that counted was that the company should do the right thing. Its employees deserved no less.
At this, the skeptical student commented that if Kodak did not earn a profit, it would eventually go out of business. And if it did, there would be no money to pay disabled employees anything. What then would happen to these workers?
One might have though this would have ended the conversation, but it did not. The first student was not through.
She still insisted that this didn't matter. Profitability could not be the criteria for deciding company policy. All that counted was what was moral. People had to do the right thing, whatever the consequences.
Today we hear similar contentions with regard to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People in need are said to "deserve" these programs whatever the implications of their cost. Policy makers are, therefore, castigated for donning green eyeshades to calculate the costs. They should instead be concentrating on taking care of those who require assistance.
Many of you have probably seen it, but there is a television ad that insists government subsidies to hospitals must not be cut. Three elderly people face the camera to ask legislators, "What were you thinking?"
Limiting the health care of older Americans is such a bad idea, that they should immediately reverse course.
Every time I see this performance I am tempted to reply in kind. "What were we thinking?"
We were thinking that the nation had to be preserved from bankruptcy. We were thinking that it is essential to leave our children and grandchildren with a nation that is solvent enough to meet their needs.
Then I am inclined to ask the TV spokespersons (and those who wrote their script), what were you thinking? Was your sole concern your own selfish needs? Did what might happen to future generations ever cross your minds?
There are times I am amazed by the lack of foresight some people exercise. Those social work students back in Rochester left me flabbergasted by their inability to anticipate the effects of their recommendation. I was even more offended when they declared that they didn't care what happened.
Today I look around and see politicians expressing similar attitudes because they believe that if they make promises they know cannot keep, they may be elected one more time. I also see the recipients of their largesse piously intoning pleas that they deserve what they have always received - no matter what.
Then I look at polls that indicate Republicans are receiving more blame than Democrats for the current budgetary impasse and wonder if I have not inadvertently crossed into Alice's Wonderland. Can adult human beings be so oblivious to facts and logic that they are prepared to march headlong to their own destruction?
As a former clinician, I know the power of denial. It just terrifies me that we as a nation may be repressing facts essential to protecting our shared interests.
Melvyn L. Fein Ph.D. is a professor of Sociology at Kennesaw State University.