The issues that are prominent today in the United States call into question what role government ought to play in dealing with them. Some say as little as possible, others to whatever degree is necessary to meet the needs of the people. Underlying these nostrums often is a fundamentally different understanding of people.

Some see all people as masters of their own destiny, with exceptions usually being made for those unable due to birth, illness or accident to fully make their way in life alone. At the other end of this spectrum is a view of humans as actors in a scene; life being mostly set by factors beyond one’s control or effect. There are, of course, somewhere around 6 billion points of view on this subject.

If you poke around a bit in any political discussion, differences on this topic will appear as underlying assumptions that lead to opinions on issues.

It seems to me those who view us as self-determined often are wealthier, more rewarded individuals than those who feel life has placed them where they are. That is not to question the sincerity of the belief but does raise a chicken and egg question – are well off people that way because they see themselves as a self made person or do they see themselves that way because their circumstances are agreeable?

Is there a health care crisis because some people made the wrong choices or have character defects or is there something wrong with the culture in which we live? Maybe some of “a” and some of “b”? If a person works hard, spends their money wisely and has a health crisis without the means of paying for it, whose problem is that? Should the rest of us who don’t know this person (removing the issue of private charity for the moment) let him simply twist in the wind until he solves matters on his own?

What about the person who has the means to earn a decent living and cover their own health issues if they put in the effort, but who doesn’t do what is required, is lazy, dissolute or otherwise just screws things up? Is there a difference between this person and the one above?

I see us as thrown as a canon ball through life, largely out of our individual control, with the possibility that we have been given the ability to be graceful as we fall forward. That is not to say we are victims, just that we don’t have a lot of real choices in life. There is certainly the appearance of choice and our western culture especially has abundant folklore about this. But close examination exposes that our beliefs in this regard are deeply flawed and the result of our need to have self importance.
Like unpeeling an onion, every level of inquiry into this issue raises more questions than answers. Each item of faith that we claim as fact is built upon an underlying assumption which in turn rests ultimately upon the rather unconvincing “because that is the way it is.”

I remember having this kind of “free will” discussion as an upstart teen with a Catholic Priest. His intelligence enhanced his beliefs and it was refreshing to tangle with a man who had both as strengths to address this topic. We left the discussion agreeing to disagree, and I have yet to find a reason to alter my skepticism about self determination.

Based upon my own understanding of the matter, we are all intertwined, interdependent and the success or failure of one person is that of all of us. We are a family, each of us tied to the other with a fundamental obligation to share the good and bad with each other. No, I am not a communist and am not advocating “sharing the wealth” in that manner.

I think that first, the obligation to share is entirely voluntary and an expression of love and caring. But when that is not enough to meet the need, we should meet it together with that imperfect mechanism of government, relying upon its power to tax those who have the ability to pay. Being an imperfect instrument, government is not always the best way of dealing with a problem; maybe it never is the best way. But if other ways are not in place, then I say government should step in.

That is why I see that it is necessary for government to act now to make sure each person in this country has at least basic medical care. It is right morally and it is necessary for the economy. It is at least as important as our efforts to stave off another act of terror. Because we are so interdependent nowadays, it seems to me only the federal government has the means to address the need.

That is the kind of government I want – one that meets the needs of the people.

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