Breathing Easier, or Against Messianic Pessimism

On the same day the health care bill was signed into law, I happened to overhear a friend diplomatically explain her support of it to a conservative senior citizen. She explained that her daughter has a chronic condition, and she can sleep more easily knowing that she can change insurers without her daughter being excluded.

Later that day I saw my rheumatologist, because I too have a preexisting condition. My psoriatic arthritis is 1> debilitating, 2> extremely treatable, but 3> extremely expensive to treat. It is also not my fault, completely unrelated to any actions, healthy or otherwise, on my part. When it is untreated, I can barely walk, can’t chew anything too hard because of pain in my jaw, and even have a trouble breathing deeply because of the way it attacks my ribs.

My partner also has serious chronic conditions that aren’t her fault: epilepsy and a deformed pancreas. Together, we are a losing prospect for insurance companies interested, as they all are, in making money.

Knowing that in the future we cannot be denied insurance because of these conditions makes me breathe a little easier.

Yes, there are numerous problems with the new law. Yes, there are things to complain about. But this also makes my life more secure in very concrete ways. As the President himself said, we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.

This reminds me of something Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote about the pitfalls of what he called “messianic pessimism”: self-described radicals’ easy, if well-argued, dismissals of actual political changes, and for that matter, actual politics:

[The] “embrace of systematicity —and this is something common to a certain structural-functional tradition of social thought, a tradition whose grand paranoias have made it particularly seductive to literary criticism — that rules out humble amelioration. And while some of the masters of grand total theory will concede the need to struggle for such unglamorous things as “equal wages and social rights,” the fact that they feel obliged to make the (rather left-handed) concession indicates the difficulty; their Olympian, all-or-nothing perspective cannot but enervate and diminish the arena of real politics. In short, my brief— and that of many minority intellectuals today — is against the temptations of what I call Messianic pessimism.” (193)

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.. Loose Canons : Notes on the Culture Wars. Cary, NC, USA: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1993. p 193.

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