How privileged we are to be alive

Lately I’ve been revisiting socialism. Most people, politicians or otherwise, seem to fear it more than H1N1, and I don’t respect these people much. Therefore, there must be something good about it.

I have a vague memory of learning about socialism, along with democracy, theocracy and Marxism, but no memory of what it is exactly. If required, I could pick the correct answer on a multiple-choice quiz, but until recently, if asked to explain socialism on an essay exam, I’d most likely fail.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of civics, like Spanish, is a ghost pain: I can remember learning the material but never the material itself. As an adult, I find myself far too often deciding whether I want to teach myself something I know I memorized in high school.

Wikipedia, while never being a source on which I would allow my students to base their entire understanding of a subject, is my go-to for quick information. In just three sentences, I understood the fear of socialism, if not fully the concept:

“Contrary to popular belief, socialism is not a political system; it is an economic system distinct from capitalism.”

This means we can have health care for all and not be commies.

Don’t agree? Maybe I should start with the concept of privilege.

We need socialized health care — aka universal health care, aka government-run, tax-funded health care — because of privilege. That is, those not afforded the privileges that allow many people to purchase health insurance need a buffer, or somewhere to fall. The resistance to public health care is either fueled by greed or a poor understanding of the role privilege plays in American society.

Let me explain. The deck will always be stacked. We believe in America that if you work hard and abide by the rules, you can accomplish whatever you want. In a lot of ways this is true; however, being born as a member of a majority, right or wrong, has undeniable perks. There is something to be said for being able to identify with most of the people you see on TV and in government. That is privilege. (This is not to say members of the minority can’t accomplish great things — hello, President Obama.)

White men, heteros, etc. are all born with innate privileges their counterparts will never have. They were born as a member of the overall majority. As children, we are told privileged kids go to private schools, while everyone else is required go to tax-funded, government-regulated schools. We are taught that privileges are earned, something we could get if we behaved (driving privileges, a later curfew).

If whining about not getting the latest and greatest sneakers, we were curtly told we should be happy we have shoes because some people don’t. But that sentiment was lost on most of us because we tended to hear it in the context of not getting an object of desire. Walking away from Foot Locker, angry at the recent injustice imposed, we were unable to comprehend that not all privileges are earned, or requested; that we can be lacking, want many things, and still be privileged.

Privilege can be difficult to accept because it is not necessarily chosen; because plenty of rich, white men have really shitty lives; and because not many people are capable of understanding what it’s like to lack something that simply comes along with being alive, like the color of your skin.

Economic privilege is the easiest to understand because we can see it in cars and clothes. Because most of us are simultaneously privileged and not (rich and Latino, male and Asian, straight and female, American president and black), Republicans with really nice health insurance can scream “socialism!” whenever universal health care comes up and get away with it. The majority of us do not feel the sting of not having something so fundamental to humanity as care when we are ill.

It’s an unfortunate privilege to be able to live without health insurance in an economic system that will punish you — and everyone who doesn’t have your privilege — for it.

I think it’s funny we hired politicians, gave them excellent health care, and then asked them to decide if we deserved the same. Socialized medicine — simply put, health care for all — is one more step toward a truer leveling of the playing field in America. It would be one less thing rigged against those whose privileges are limited to simply being alive.