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Friday, November 20, 2015

Sociology with an Attitude

So I'm taking a Sociology course this semester, and, needless to say, I've decided that my role in the class (online class, that is) is to be a gadfly and try to make my co-students think. I'm not sure I'm succeeding; however, here's a selection of my recent posts.

Ch18: How is religion defined according to your text? What are the benefits of such beliefs and the limitations? What role does this play in your life at this time?
Our text defines religion using Durkheim’s work and theory. As such, there are three elements that differentiate a religion from any other form of group gathering:
  1. Beliefs that some things are sacred (forbidden, set apart from the profane)
  2. Practices (rituals) centering on the things considered sacred; and
  3. A moral community (a church) which results from a group’s beliefs and practices
(Source: Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach; 12th edition; Henslin, J.M.; Pearson; Boston et al, 2014. P.514)
These elements – especially the difference between the sacred and the profane – provide the separation of a religion from any other group such as those derived from a common culture or location. While a religion can incorporate elements of the local culture, it is much more common for a culture to incorporate elements of the dominant religion. One example of the former is the current practice of celebrating Christmas; evidence suggests that the early Catholic Church incorporated elements of both the Roman Saturnalia (a winter celebration that involved, among other things, geniality, generosity and the giving of presents) and the Natalis Invicti (Nativitiy of the Unconquered Sun), a Mithraic holiday that fell on December 25th in ancient times. (Source; Babylon Mystery Religion; Woodrow, R.E.; Ralph Wilson Evangelistic Association; Riverside, CA, 1966; p.143) And an example of the latter is the current legal system in the United States, which has at one time or another pronounced as ‘criminal’ witchcraft, sodomy, and alcohol based on the teachings of the most politically influential religion at the time.
Belief in a particular religion can have benefits, as the text explains using the functionalist perspective. It does attempt to answer otherwise-unanswerable questions of ‘why’; there is an emotional comfort in this. A sense of social solidarity is created, potentially much tighter than an ethnic or racially based bond since the participants have all chosen to enroll. For those who are unsure it provides guidelines for living and allows newcomers to a culture to adapt to the new society by allowing for some measure of familiarity. From an external, pragmatic perspective it also allows for a measure of social control and support for the government (if the government is of the same religion); one need only look to the UK (Anglicanism is the official state religion) and Israel (Judaism) and Saudi Arabia (Sunni Islam). However, for every benefit there is a potential limitation:
Benefit                                                                 Limitation
Answering ‘why’                                              Squashing intellectual curiosity to the point of repression (see                                                                                   the Inquisition)
Social Solidarity                                                 Creating easily identified minorities that can be persecuted (see                                                                                               the Inquisition, again, and the Holocaust)
Providing Guidelines                                      Disallowing change as society evolves (see the Catholic Church’s                                                                                               position on contraception and homosexuality)
Familiarity in New Society                            Maintaining cultural disctinctiveness can be isolating (see the                                                                                     Amish)
Social Control                                                     If the religious group is the majority, you can end up with a                                                                                         ‘tyranny of the majority’ where minority groups are persecuted
Government Support                                    If the government changes to one that is indifferent or hostile                                                                                  toward the religion, the group can end up at a disadvantage.
As for the final question, how this affects me in a personal way, I reply first that to a large degree it does not. I do not subscribe to any particular religious faith, so I am bound only by my own moral compass. I am of course affected as the society around me reacts to religiosity from one angle or another, but unless and until such time as a particular faith is forbidden or demanded it is a question of abstract interest rather than personal importance.
In closing, I will leave you with a few quotes from Robert Heinlein that might enrage, might amuse, but hopefully make you think:
One man’s theology is another man’s belly laugh.
There is no conclusive evidence of life after death But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?
Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.
And finally: God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent – it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills.
Ch19: Describe at least 4 areas that are negatively impacting the healthcare system?  What can be done to overcome and improve these obstacles?  In what areas do you think it is working well? 
Four areas that negatively impact health care in this particular country are medical monopoly; medical malpractice lawsuits; medical incompetence; and medicine for profit. All four of these are tied together, and by curing one we may be able to cure them all. We must begin by defining what we mean by each term, however.
  1. Medical monopoly is the control the American Medical Association has over determining who can practice medicine, what the practice of medicine consists of, and how medicine should be studied.
  2. Medical Malpractice Lawsuits are those civil actions brought against members of the medical profession by patients and families of patients for perceived faults in the execution of care.
  3. Medical Incompetence is the failure of medical professionals to adhere to minimum acceptable standards of patient care through ignorance.
  4. Medicine for Profit is the concept that the purpose of medical care and the pursuit of a medical career is to generate wealth for corporations and people.
Okay, so we have our culprits. How do we solve them?
First, we eliminate the monopoly. Yes, there need to be standards for care and training, but the essence of the free market system is competition, so why not have competing standards? Establish minimum standards of performance and an independent organization – one which is not involved in any other way in the medical field - to create the needed examinations. This will ensure that any such competition is judged in a fair manner. This will also allow for the revitalization of alternative forms of medicine, as long as their efficacy can be proven and not simply believed. This will be the longest part of the process, re-establishing competition, and will likely take decades.
The second step, to eliminate medical incompetence, begins in the first step with the establishment of independent medical examinations for the practitioners. Rigorous and repeated testing of the care-givers, with low tolerance for errors, will soon weed out those who cannot tell a scalpel from a retractor. Those that fail an exam will need to return to school for education in the area of weakness, followed by a re-examination and a probationary period. Anyone caught practicing with a suspended license, or without any license, will be severely punished, since under the first step any style of medicine can be licensed as long as it can be proven to work.
The third key will come after the second. Once all medical professionals are operating at an accepted standard, the legal requirements to file a medical malpractice suit will be altered. Rather than allowing suits to proceed simply due to accidental negative results, active, malevolent intent will need to be proven for such a suit to be victorious. The doctor who did everything she could to save a child but failed because the disease was too advanced will be safe; the doctor who cuts off the wrong limb will not. Basically, shit happens and it happens all the time despite anyone’s best efforts. Sometimes, oft-times, there is nobody to blame.
Finally, we will remove the concept of medicine for profit. The reduction in malpractice suits will reduce the cost of insurance, which currently runs $6,000 to $20,000 annually; there are currently approximately 700,000 physicians and surgeons in the United States, meaning they spend between 4.2 and 14 billion dollars each year on insurance! (Source: You can see, then, how this would immediately lower the costs of medical care. In addition, put a cap on profits for hospitals at some percentage. This will discourage giant corporations from becoming involved in the operation of medical facilities. Staying with the ‘active and aggressive’ oversight theme, establish commissions to examine and compare costs of medical supplies as charged to hospitals compared to that paid by a private citizen. The day of the fourteen-dollar aspirin is over! Now, you might be asking ‘Why not go after Big Pharma?’ The answer, of course, is competition. Allow, hell, encourage more competition and less consolidation in the industry. Yes, R&D costs megabucks, and of course those companies are entitled to make a profit to cover their expenses. But if company A is charging $10 per dose, and company B is charging $110, which do you think will survive? Freedom of choice! And that is the answer to the health insurance question. Not have a government takeover of the industry, but rather to allow more and more competition. Again, you have to create a set ‘floor’ for standard medical care to prevent the ‘pay-nothing, get-nothing’ policies of yesteryear, but that can be done. As for people who cannot afford medical premiums, well, Medicaid should absorb Medicare into a single program; the age limits should be abolished and a simple ‘ability to pay’ means test established (can you imagine Hillary Clinton, who is eligible for Medicare right now, needing it because she can’t afford it?). This way the people who need medical coverage but cannot afford it will get it, while those that can afford it will buy it. And for those who don’t want to buy it? Fine, let them pay for the services they need as they occur; but their costs should still be lessened since the overall cost of care will be reduced.
The final part of the question, what is the system doing well? When you can get into it, the system works amazingly well for most people. My partner has lived in the UK and in Canada, two places with government-run health systems, and she states categorically that the level of care she has received here has been immeasurably better. The issue she faced was getting into the system; once she was able to breach the barriers, the care has been good.

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