Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Sadism of the Market Economy

Recently, I used my national site on to comment on a recent article that Daniel Barenboim wrote for The New York Review entitled "Beethoven and the Quality of Courage." One of the instances of that courage involved embracing the concept of freedom while living in Vienna, still very much in the iron grip of a totalitarian empire. I was particularly struck by the following sentence:
Beethoven would have had no sympathy with the now widely held view of freedom as essentially economic, necessary for the workings of the market economy.
Last Tuesday Charles Simic raised the stakes on this observation in his latest post to NYRBlog, entitled "Health Care: The New American Sadism." His basic point was that embracing the position that providing health care should be entrusted to those "working of the market economy" was basically a sadistic act through which those who enabled it took pleasure in the suffering of those too weak or helpless to do anything about it.

I appreciate the hyperbole. Simic is, first and foremost, a poet. His words live by a principle articulated by Wilfred Owen from the trenches of the First World War:
All a poet can do today is warn.
Simic has sounded a warning as stridently as possible; and, of course, that warning extends far beyond health care, since it also includes education and, for that matter, the very question of gainful employment. However, while the idea of the rich and mighty taking pleasure in the suffering they have caused certainly captures the readers attention, I think that Simic has made the classic logic error of mistaking negligence for malice.

Simic's would-be sadists do not enjoy the suffering of others. They just do not care about it. They are so focused on "wealth creation" that their thoughts have no room for any other factors. It is not that they delight in the horrors of reality but that they no longer perceive them. Thus, Simic's warnings will go unheeded, just as Owen's did as more and more lives were lost (including his own) in the collective idiocy of World War One.

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