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Month: August 2022

Crowdfunded Medical Care Manifests the Rebuilding of Social Capital

Crowdfunded Medical Care Manifests the Rebuilding of Social Capital

Recently one of our friends put up a GoFundMe for medical expenses, meaning they started a campaign to raise money on a crowdfunding platform. They need help, to the tune of potentially tens of thousands of dollars, because their insurance is denying a claim for arcane reasons.

It was recently reported that one third of GoFundMe campaigns are to cover medical bills. Arguably, GoFundMe has become one of the nation’s major health insurance companies (although crowdfunding doesn’t work quite like insurance).

When I saw my friend’s post on social media, I knew was witnessing what has become a commonplace in the United States of America, which has the worst ratio of healthcare costs to healthcare performance in the developed world. I mean, it’s embarrassingly bad compared to other countries.


Granted, the U.S. is much larger and much more diverse than any of the other 10 countries on the chart above. But if we had something closer to universal health care, if we just had better insurance coverage for everyone, then maybe we could move closer in the direction of lower costs and higher performance.

That we don’t have universal health care could be attributed to our particular governmental system, with its gridlocked legislature in the thrall of special interests. I’m tempted to bring in this concept of the “market state,” which I have blogged about in the past. In this context, the gist of it is that government has less power over the economy than in the past, and we are governed more by informational markets.

In that case, substituting a mutual aid network easily enabled via the Internet for a fully functional healthcare system could just be the wave of the future. It’s how the informational market state does healthcare. Whee!

It doesn’t seem adequate. A better way to think about this might be in terms of living through the Crisis Era of the saecular cycle. Institutions have broken down to the point that we can’t rely on them. Instead, we rely on one another.

The Crisis Era is a time of gathering, of rebuilding the social capital that was lost during the previous social eras. That’s why we’re forming social networks, to which we can then turn in time of need. These social networks are a manifestation of the rebuilding of social capital.

Unfortunately, as a “system” this doesn’t work for anyone who doesn’t have a social network. It is dangerous to be isolated in these times. We need better institutions, that serve the people instead of special interests. But for our institutions to be reformed in this way, we first need to restore democratic government.

Homelanders in Hell

Homelanders in Hell

We recently watched an excellent zombie horror TV series called All of Us Are Dead (one season so far available on Netflix). It’s set in a high school, so it’s also a coming of age show, with accompanying side stories about fitting in and surviving bullying and whether or not to reveal your feelings to your crush. Not to say too much, but you can probably guess from the title that things don’t go very well for most of the students.

One theme that runs through the show is the expectation that the kids have of being aided or rescued by adults as the zombie apocalypse rages through their school, but ultimately being disappointed. There are heroic adult characters in the show, as well as cowardly ones, but for the most part the high school students are left to their own devices and it’s up to them to save themselves. The fantastical circumstances don’t allow for many options.

This is common enough in zombie shows; they always end up as survival against all odds stories. But in the case of this show there is an overarching sense of cluelessness and irresponsibility coming out of the adult world, while it’s the kids who end up paying the price. In fact, the zombie virus origin itself is tied to a subplot involving both negligence and recklessness by adults.

It’s a depressing show, and watching it I couldn’t help but compare the fate of these fictional schoolchildren with those who in the real world have been victimized in their classrooms by horrific mass shootings. They too should have been protected, but were abandoned instead. It’s an unmistakable parallel which aligns the young characters in this show with the Homeland Generation in the United States. You might say that this show belongs to a new genre I will call “Homelanders in Hell.”

What do I mean, “the Homeland Generation?” In terms of Strauss-Howe generational theory, this is the generation, born since 2005, currently in childhood and filling the halls of middle schools and high schools. By their age location in history, as children during a Crisis Era, their role is stay out of the way, protected by adults who are doing the hard work of managing multiple unfolding catastrophes.

Except, tragically, when adults fail them, overwhelmed as they are by the magnitude of the disaster. Then their role is to be mourned in death, and in death to be held up as an inspiration for adults to find the courage and strength to do better.

A still from the TV series All of Us Are Dead
The Informational Market State Culls the Herd

The Informational Market State Culls the Herd

In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic I blogged about how the crisis was proving to be a “tempering test of the market state.” What I mean by “market state” is this concept by legal scholar Philip Bobbitt of a newly evolving constitutional order. It’s an order where government has less power and instead markets provide the decision-making and regulation. It’s also been called the “informational market-state” or the “neoliberal market-state.” More and more I’ve become convinced that while Bobbitt is correct in his broader theory of periodic changes in the constitutional order, with the “market state” he has really just identified the priorities of the market-driven social era of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the new era, I would expect faith in markets to collapse and a return to government regulation to be in demand.

But let’s grant that the market state premise is correct. We are now in an individualistic, market-regulated constitutional order. In the earlier blog post, I framed the Covid-19 tempering test in these terms:

The Covid dilemma as it relates to this constitutional order is this: if the market state is supposed to protect the citizen while maximizing opportunities, what does it do when these goals are mutually exclusive? Simply put, an endemic disease that is highly infectious and lethal entails restricting economic activity in order to save lives, but that necessarily reduces economic opportunity

It would seem, based on the experience of the past year, that the market state’s resolution to the dilemma is simply to accept the loss of life. A premium in human lives must be paid in order to maintain the open society so vital to sustaining economic opportunity and generating financial wealth. The latest guidance from the CDC puts the onus on individuals to mitigate against the coronavirus as they see fit, certainly in keeping with the logic of the market state.

Some individuals have more leeway to make these choices than others, a fact not lost to many on social media.

I’ve seen a ton of posts like the one above, about how the CDC, and our society as a whole, have abandoned the vulnerable. It’s a brutal truth about our current state, where the government has essentially given up on the pandemic. It was just too big a creative leap to get out of our “normal” mode of an open society. And since we couldn’t get to herd immunity, we’re settling for herd culling.

How sustainable this will be, I do not know. Covid-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, well ahead of vehicular accidents. And it’s even worse for certain age groups, and presumably also for the immunocompromised. It’s just a cold fact that if we keep going the way we’re going, then one fallout of this crisis era will be significant population loss. It wouldn’t be unprecedented in the grand scheme of things.

On Group Feeling and Group Conflict

On Group Feeling and Group Conflict

As part of my general sociological research on the Crisis Era and the recent pandemic, I have been studying the topic of ingroup solidarity and outgroup aggression. Essentially, this is the social theory of group identification and the idea that people are more likely to support those whom they perceive as belonging to their group and to be hostile to those whom they perceive as being outside of their group.

I’ve browsed some academic works, which typically define the ingroup and outgroup in either nationalistic or ethnic terms. The studies find support for the hypothesis (idea) above, with interesting twists. For example, level of support can be affected by perceptions of status difference and whether one’s own group’s status (privilege) is threatened, or whether an outgroup is perceived to be particular hostile to one’s ingroup. Both of these perceptions will lead to increased hostility towards an outgroup. With each of two groups perceiving the other in this way, they can get caught up in a vicious cycle of mutual hostility, certainly a recognizable phenomenon in many of the conflicts in our world.

Two groups caught up in such a vicious cycle may well be the political parties in the United States today. The degree of partisanship and rancor between the two factions has become legendary. I’ve been blogging about it for a long while now, and recently speculated that we have social media bubbles to sustain “group feeling”, in the words of Ibn Khaldun. To put it differently, social media bubbles serve to maintain ingroup solidarity, and sometimes even to encourage outgroup aggression.

I found this one fascinating paper which speculated that Trump’s election victory in 2016 might well have been because of greater group solidarity among Republicans than among Democrats. The resisters like to mock the MAGAs for acting like they are in a cult, but really MAGAs are just exhibiting stronger group feeling. This will only help them in the ongoing conflict. Link to the research paper follows.

Another source I studied as part of this little project is the book Tribe by Sebastian Unger. In this brief work, the author argues that one reason for so much anxiety and depression in modern life is that we are removed from our evolutionary past, in which we lived in small, cohesive groups (tribes). In other words, by nature, we have a deep need to experience group feeling. In times of war and disaster, this atavistic experience returns. And though no one wants to be in a war or disaster per se, those who do, such as veterans with PTSD, often report that they miss the feeling of solidarity they had with their group while they were in the midst of hardship and danger.

An interesting tidbit that I got out of Junger’s book is that personalities who tend towards aggression, while not well adapted for ordinary life in peaceful times, become an invaluable asset when survival is at stake, such as during wars and disasters. This is hardly surprising to learn; I only mention it in the context of the previous discussion of ingroup solidarity and outgroup aggression. To whatever extent people in one group (say, a political faction) feel that their status (privilege) is threatened or that they are targets for another group (faction), then aggression will be seen as a valuable survival trait.

I don’t want to end this post on such an ominous note, so I’ll also mention that in the research papers I looked at there was evidence for factors that mediate against hostility between groups. One, believe it or not, was simply persuasion. So maybe your social media posts aren’t all just shouting into an echo chamber. Another is the perception of a shared common fate with outgroups, or a sense of belonging to the ultimate group, “all of humanity.” If these factors can be encouraged, maybe there is hope for us after all.

For those who are interested, I’ve put links to the research papers below.

Mini-Review of Starmites at The Arts Bubble

Mini-Review of Starmites at The Arts Bubble

The Arts Bubble’s production of Starmites at Pottsgrove High School is an absolute delight. This talented bunch of teens puts on a super fun show, with great production values and a big heart. It tells the story of a troubled teenage girl who escapes into a comic book fantasy world – or is it real? – only to discover her true potential. The production has a wonderful 1980s sci-fi/superhero comic feel and smoothly carries the plot, involving the machinations of a wicked villain and the conflict between two groups who have more in common than they think. It has lots of colorful, well-defined characters, brilliant comic book effects, and lovely singing and dance numbers. You won’t want to miss it!

If you saw the show on opening night you might consider coming to see it again on Friday or Saturday night, since it’s double cast! Different performers will be playing the roles of Eleanor, Bizarbara, and the Diva.

You can get tickets at the link below:

The Starmites in action, battling the Banshees of Shriekwood Forest.
The Mighty Starmites Are Coming to Pottsgrove, PA

The Mighty Starmites Are Coming to Pottsgrove, PA

The last show that the Vagabond Acting Troupe put up before Aileen merged the company with another theater company was the musical Starmites. This was also one of the first of her shows that I saw after we got together around 2014. Her company used to put on shows in an old church that was out in the country, but since they left the building was torn down.

I remember how enchanting the show was and how impressed I was with the production values and with the talent of the kids. This show was done with kids and young teens! And it’s a tough one, too, with complicated songs with challenging harmonies.

Some set pieces from Aileen’s 2015 production of Starmites

Challenging kids to take on difficult work and discover their power to get it done is Aileen’s specialty. It’s what makes her such a great educator. There’s even a quote from this show that is apropos: “to a Starmite there is no such word as can’t.”

What is a Starmite, you might ask? Well, they’re kind of like a superhero. They kind of live in an imaginary world in a girl’s mind, called Innerspace, and they help her to find her courage and unleash her full potential. So maybe they’re a real part of her, inside?

Do we all have a superhero dwelling in our inner space? Yes, and that is essentially the message of the show. You have to dig deep inside yourself to find them. That’s what Aileen has been doing with young people for her entire career, which is why this is one of her (our) favorite shows.

Another reason Aileen likes this show is because it has a lot of great parts for actors to play. It provides opportunities for many individuals to stand out with a special character, and has multiple strong supporting roles. That’s important for Aileen, because the point of her shows is to be inclusive and give everyone who auditions a chance to participate.

Why have you never heard of this show? Well, it’s not often done. Possibly because it’s so challenging, or because it’s so nerdy. Aileen thinks it needs better marketing. It’s hard to tell from the title that it has a comic book superhero theme. Since those are big these days, maybe it would get more press if it were subtitled “A Superhero Musical.”

Why do I bring this up? Because Aileen is doing the show again! The same group of teens that she did Chicago with last summer asked her to come back for another summer production, and they picked this show. I’m really proud of her for continuing to shine as a theater educator, in spite of the troubles these past couple of years have brought.

The show is going up this weekend at Pottsgrove High School, which is in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, to the northwest of Philadelphia. Below is an article about it in the local paper.

This blog is probably not the best promotional platform in the world, but on the off-chance that one of my two readers other than my Mom is in the area, you should think about getting a ticket! You can do it at this link: