Jumping to conclusions

Maggie illustrates why one must be careful when jumping to conclusions in examining the Is Healthcare a “Right” or a “Moral Obligation”? question.

The numbers are irrefutable: low-income people are far more likely than other Americans to become obese, smoke, drink to excess and abuse drugs, in part because a healthy lifestyle is expensive, and in part because the stress of being poor—and “having little control over your life”—leads many to self-medicate. (For evidence and the full argument, see this recent post). This is a major reason why the poor are sicker than the rest of us, and die prematurely of treatable conditions.

The conclusion is that these bad health behaviors are a result of being poor. That may or may not be. All that is readily evident is that there is a correlation. Causation in the direction given has not been demonstrated and a good case can be made for it going in a direction opposite to that presumed here. This confusion between correlation and causation is a well known source of error in many conclusions.

One source of a bias that promotes this sort of error is seen in the assertion that:

Those conservatives and libertarians who put such emphasis on “individual responsibility” are saying, in effect, that low-income families should learn to take care of themselves.

Which commits the error of hyperbole in defining the position of an ideologic opponent.

The dissonance here is ‘resolved’ by noting that the question came up in the context of a narrow definition of rights. That context put rights in terms of “limitations of government power” rather than the obligations of others towards us. This leads to the conflation of rights with entitlements.

That then gets a bit into the binary falsity about health care being either total or nonexistent; health care via the medical profession as being an absolute requirement for a healthy life. Issues of cost vs benefit are seen only as a lump that was swept under the rug and best ignored.

In the end, the idea of a moral obligation – one shared with the ideologic opponents even if such sharing is not acknowledged – is deemed attractive.

What I like about calling healthcare a “moral obligation” is that it presents healthcare, not as a right that “the demanding poor” extort from an adversarial society—or even as an obligation that the poor impose upon us. Rather, Shadowfax is talking about members of a civilized society recognizing that all humans are vulnerable to disease—this is something we have in common—and so willingly pooling their resources to protect each of us against the hazards of fate.

It often seems that one form of political argument is demonizing the other side because they do not advocate some program or other that will save humanity. They are labeled as totally uncaring or evil, not as being caring human beings who just have a different opinion about how they think the problem should be solved.

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