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I was in Indiana yesterday. It being primary-election day, I found myself in conversation with a Friendly Native about matters political (and trying hard to avoid giving offense). While assuring me that she hadn't voted for Trump, she also complained about Obamacare: apparently the last time she tried to renew one of her more-expensive prescriptions, the claim was denied on grounds that, as a sexagenarian without employment-for-pay, she's "no longer a productive member of society." As it turned out, her doctor called the drug provider and negotiated a deal whereby she gets the drug for free, so she's not suffering and dying without her drugs, but she's pretty certain the claim wouldn't have been denied this way before Obamacare instituted "essentially a national health care system."

Realistically, no Federal government bureaucrat made this particular claim-denial decision, nor ordered the insurer to make this individual claim-denial decision; even if they wanted to, there aren't enough Federal government bureaucrats in HHS to do that. And insurance companies were freer to deny claims ten years ago than they are today. So Obamacare cannot have directly caused this claim denial (although it's conceivable that an insurance company might say "we make less profit in area X because of Obamacare, so we have to deny more claims in area Y to make up for it.")

I find it unlikely (though not impossible) that any insurance company has a "productive member of society" criterion for fulfilling or denying claims. Even if they did, I find it completely unbelievable that any insurance claims adjuster would say to a customer "we're denying your claim because you're not a productive member of society." Perhaps the most plausible explanation, then, is that Friendly Native, already believing that Obamacare somehow involves government death panels, mis-heard something and interpreted it as "the death panel has heard your case and found you undeserving of life."

Of course, I didn't say at the time "that's impossible; you must have mis-heard something," because that would have been interpreted as an attack, and forced Friendly Native to defend and double down on her belief. So I just said "that's bizarre" and let the conversation go on to other topics.

But I'd like to understand what mindset leads to this kind of conspiracy theory seeming plausible. The ostinato repeat for eight years that Obamacare is "a government takeover of the health care system" would lead a reasonable person to ask why government would want to "take over" the health care system; if in addition one thinks of government as "them" rather than "us", then the "government takeover of health care" must be intended to benefit "them" at the expense of "us" -- specifically, to save money for "them" by skimping on "our" health. (I don't know why the same reasoning doesn't apply to insurance companies, which actually have spent decades unapologetically saving money for "them" by skimping on "our" health.)

Government is the enemy. Government (even a democratically-elected government) is "them", not "us". "Government doesn't solve problems; government is the problem," as dear Uncle Ronnie told us almost forty years ago. There was never any evidence that the statement was true, but it was a terrific sound bite, making the speaker sound cynical-worldly-wise, and Republicans have been repeating it ever since. They've made it an article of the faith that government can't do anything right: if government tries to do something right, they'll sabotage it in order to protect the faith; if government succeeds in doing something right, they'll deny the evidence in order to protect the faith; if you suggest that government might potentially do something right, you're excommunicated from the faith.


I worked for a health insurance provider for several years, and no, they do not deny any drugs because someone "isn't a productive member of society." That's absurd.

As for how someone comes to believe this? A steady diet of propaganda from Fox, Rush Limbaugh, and other right-wing media will do that.
Which begs the question: what's the objectively verifiable difference between a steady diet of Fox, Rush, etc. and a steady diet of NPR, the New York Times, HuffPost, Daily Kos, etc? How do I know that I'm not being led into similarly ridiculous beliefs?

I do go out of my way to read some of the conservative columnists in the Times and Washington Post, and have occasionally read articles, and even gotten involved in comment threads, in Red State and National Review, in an effort to tease out exactly how we reach such different conclusions. With the columnists I can often find an axiom that the conservatives in question accept and I don't, or vice versa, or a specific term that I define differently than they. More often, especially with commenters, I can't figure out the logic at all. as though I were saying "two plus two equals four" and they were saying "fnord beeblebrox therefore snark; step three, profit!"
Also, it is very hard to change the nature of one's thought, and very easy to slip into traditional habits.

Things are going along fine, grudgingly accept maybe, miracle of miracles, this thing is not a total screw up like all other federal programs, then *bang* something happens that allows the person to say "ha! I knew it! Government never gets it right!"

It also occurs to me that the notion of government as "us" depends on having a functioning and fair democratic system, while the notion of government as "them" relies on the democratic system being viewed as unfair and rigged.

Guess which party has been doing everything in its power to make the democratic system visibly unfair and rigged, so blacks, college students, and poor people will see first-hand that government is "them" and can't be trusted.

I actually have an answer to this which is a bit off the beaten path. Could I use this post as a jumping off point in one of my own, and quote paragraphs 1-4? (I totally understand if you would rather I not; "no" is a fine answer.)

Sure, go ahead.

Fun with perception and conspiracy theories

Remember, THEY are watching (grin)

Edited at 2016-05-11 04:25 pm (UTC)