Monday, March 29, 2010

Epistemology and Health Care

In an op-ed column for The New York Times a few days ago, Frank Rich criticizes the violent response to the newly passed health care bill as being over dramatized for the size of its importance. Hardly is the bill as revolutionary, Rich points out, as the New Deal or Civil Rights Act, but recent days have seen protesting (from public displays to rash actions by elected officials) on harsh moral grounds rather than political or economical ones. In fact, as Rich says: “as no less a conservative authority than The Wall Street Journal editorial page observed last week, the bill’s prototype is the health care legislation Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts. It contains what used to be considered Republican ideas.” The interesting part of Rich’s article is not about republican or democrat ideals, but about demographic ones. Rich suggests that perhaps the seemingly uncalled for fighting between the parties is about color, not creed. The response would have been the same, Rich says, regardless of whatever first major act Obama took in office, because the response is to the changing hands of power rather than any true objection to governance.

I read this article with our discussion of the impact of politics on epistemology in mind. In class, we talked about how our understanding of epistemology is contingent upon our setting in society and all the things that make up our politics. The idea that we construct our own knowledge, one that is situated at all levels, has a bearing on politics as well. We reify the placement of power in the hands of a thoroughly white male few, and in so doing convey epistemologies of white supremacy into the fabric of politics and American identity. Using that reasoning, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that Rich suggests we are experiencing a national panic at the incorporation of women, minorities, and gays into our political system. True, the health care bill is a controversial topic in our media, but the precipitating nature of malice between elected officials and members of opposing platforms seems too much reaction from a more or less apathetic nation to be brought on only by health care reform. A changing identity would pose both a more sizable and subtle disease to diagnose, and at the root of the conflict is the problematic political nature of epistemology.


  1. Armanda, this is a very interesting post. I think this makes a great connection to what we have been studying in class. I agree with the author of the article in that negative responses would have been observed regardless of the major act he pushed. However, what has been so striking to me in this new health care reform is the lack of approval from the Republican party regarding this new legislation. I believe that none voted in favor of this legislation. That now seems to be very ironic considering that Rich says that it mirrors the health care legislation proposed by Mitt Romney. It seems to me that this does just have to do with the face of the messenger rather than the messenger.

  2. Armanda, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It calls to mind the convoluted relationship between politics and the political. American politics, as you have concisely put it, is inherently biased toward wealthy pale males (whose high social status rests on the discursive subordination of minority social groups). Rich makes it clear that the white supremacist epistemology is historically pervasive in American history, when he states that, “…it was only the civil rights bill that made some Americans run off the rails. That’s because it was the one that signaled an inexorable and immutable change in the very identity of America, not just its governance”.
    Politics is generally understood as a process in which people (engaged within social relations that involve authoritative control or regulation) make decisions about the collective whole. The “political”, coined by philosopher Carl Schmitt, is the essence of politics. It is conceptualized as essential to identity formation. When the “I” and the “other” are born out of a politics, at which the heart of lies a political relationship placing the “I” in a higher relation to the “other”, inequality is generated and conflict is more likely to ensue. Republicans, despite their personal opinions of the Health Care bill, all voted against it out of an attachment to their Republican identity. The essence of a politically conservative mentality is the ‘fear of change’, or the resilience to vote for anything that might alter the status quo. As Rich put it, “The real source of the over-the-top rage of 2010 is the same kind of national existential reordering that roiled America in 1964”.
    People simply can’t handle the truth: that the only constant is change. Despite Dylan’s affirmation that, “the times they are a’changin,” Tea Party members do not seem willing to accept this inevitability. The majority of white male undeservingly privileged individuals wish to keep in place the system that directly benefits his social group; which Rich blatantly reminds his audience of with the fact that, “The Republicans haven’t had a single African-American in the Senate or the House since 2003 and have had only three in total since 1935. Their anxieties about a rapidly changing America are well-grounded”.
    I think your exploration of the politics that influence our Westernized American epistemology is pertinent to breeding a greater understanding and acute awareness of the biases interweaved within the very fabric of the social quilt that blankets our cultural thinking.


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