Harlem hospital is three blocks from my house. For me, it’s a three minute walk, but for a disconcerting number of the locals it’s a much more arduous hop, limp or roll. In this neighbourhood, the average number of limbs per resident is significantly less than four. Last-resort amputation is the first and only resort for all but the best insured. The resultant street scenes seem to owe apologies to Hieronymus Bosch. I have to weave through this throng en route to Bank of America, the custodians of my wealth and the beneficiary of significant and ongoing public bailouts since it fell foul of an arguably unlucky bout of financial illness based on poorly considered loans that it surely wouldn’t have offered under the influence of rude business health.
Taken as a whole, the effect makes me feel akin to Higgs, the protagonist of Samuel Butler’s 1872 novel Erewhon, who finds himself in a topsy-turvy world where illness is considered a crime and crime an illness.
Many of the physically and economically debilitating personal amputations could be prevented if medical intervention was available at an earlier stage, or if prescription medication was priced at a level commensurate with personal incomes, or if the price of the worst food wasn’t held artificially low via subsidy payments to farmers, or for any other reason that would make perfect sense in a different world. Instead, I doubt many local eyebrows would be raised at the judgment imposed by the Erewhonian court on defendant who was sentenced to hard labour for contracting pleurisy. The judge refused to contemplate leniency in light of the defendant’s poor living conditions and family history of illness. His logic was that by setting such a precedent, he would be encouraging the illegal actions of others.
In contrast, Erewhonians consider crime to be a temporary malady that afflicts one through no fault of one’s own and is to be managed and ultimately cured through public relief. Higgs finds accommodation and friendship with Senoj Nosnibor, a wealthy merchant who has the community’s sympathy and well-wishes as he recovers from a recent bout of fraud. He’s doing much better, but still has the financial equivalent of the odd sniffle.
In the USA, sickness is a personal responsibility, while business crime constitutes a public concern. Individuals can mitigate the worst consequences of ill-health through personal insurance, which runs at about US$400 a month for the cheapest policy, calculated on the understanding that you have no preexisting conditions. If anything has previously gone wrong with your body, then the financial sky is the limit of what you pay, and the actions of Walter White in Breaking Bad begin to provide inspiration rather than entertainment. Business, on the other hand, can conduct any transaction that takes its fancy on the understanding that if anything goes awry, the government will intervene to remedy the losses.
The basis of Erewhonian philosophy is that children choose to be born, therefore any bad things that happen to them are their own fault. The message emanating from this shining city is that truth and fiction are strangers no more.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.