July 13, 2014

On Walking Cabbage

A switch in my head got flipped while watching a video last month. And that video dovetails with my developing reflections on health care and aging.

First, the video. After viewing the New York Time's, A Man Takes His Cabbage for a Walk, I looked up the video's subject, Han Bing. Born in rural China, now living in China and India, Bing produces art commentary that is at once deceptively simple and complex. I've been mulling how his diary entry, The Walking Cabbage Project, speaks to my own behavior and culture half a world away.

credit: Han Bing Studio
He describes Walking the Cabbage as "a playful twist on a serious subject—the way our everyday practices serve to constitute "normalcy" and our identities are often constituted by the act of claiming objects as our possessions."

Bing's essay "offers a visual interrogation of contemporary social values." While many Chinese still struggle at a subsistence level that includes cabbage, "what's changed is the value structure that dictates what—and who—is valuable or worthless in Chinese society."

This observation lays bare what is well established here in the U.S. And, with concerted encouragement from vested interests, we publicly vilify the use or need for assistance as a moral failing.

When I am financially comfortable, it is natural to conflate this comfort with moral superiority. "I must be a better, moral person because I have things. You must be doing something wrong because you don't." This makes sense, as the alternative means addressing an essential component of capitalism - that I get mine at your expense.

Now the dovetail part. I spend time inside an industry so massive, it is difficult to comprehend unless you witness it first hand.

This trillion dollar industry - comprised of big pharma, medical equipment companies, doctors, nurses, administrators, insurance companies, banks, hospitals, nursing homes, luxury senior complexes, paramedics, police, fire, construction companies, landscape architects, parking valets, cafeteria staff, laundry facility workers, municipalities, and then some - is built around the steady stream of elderly humans who will all die within a few years, regardless of medical intervention.

And their accumulated mass of consumer goods must be down-sized when they (we) invariably get marginalized, warehoused, and buried. The billions spent for objects assumed by us to project our value wind up in estate sales, storage lockers, landfills, rivers, trucks driven south of the border, and containers shipped overseas.

All the while, both U.S. infrastructure and education - key to our nation's very survival - lack adequate funding because meaningful investment must benefit everyone, including people who are obviously less valuable.