Thursday, September 15, 2005

The madness of John Berger

At the bottom of his commentary today in The Guardian, John Berger is described as “a novelist and a critic”. Not mentioned is that, judging by his own standards, he is also apparently in the throes of madness.

In the article, titled Ignorance and abdication that amounts to madness, Berger attempts to argue that Bush and company are, in a word, insane.
Is it possible that this administration is mad? Let us try to define the variant of madness, for it may be that it has never occurred before. It has very little to do, for example, with Nero when he fiddled while Rome burned. Any madness, however, implies a severe disconnection with reality, or, to put it more precisely, with the existent.
If a “severe disconnection with reality” is indicative of madness, then Berger himself should be on the lookout for the men in white coats. After all, he speaks of…
…the systematic cutting of [US] government investment in public institutions
In the real world, with which Berger seems unfamiliar, US discretionary spending has in fact increased annually over the last five years by an average of 11.7%. Spending on Medicaid has nearly doubled since 1994. Federal spending on education has gone up by an average of 9.1% per year since 2000. Indeed, even adjusting for inflation and excluding expenditures on defense and homeland security, President Bush has been (regrettably, in my view) the most profligate Oval Office spender of any in the last 30 years. Systematic cutting? What was that about a “severe disconnection with reality”?

Berger also claims that:
40 million Americans live without any aid if they fall ill
Presumably this derives from the infamous “40 million Americans without insurance” sound bite that we so often here about. As deceptive as it is, the claim about insurance does have the benefit of having at least some referent to reality. Berger’s claim, on the other hand, does not. Not only does Medicaid provide aid for many of those 40 million uninsured, but federal regulations actually prohibit hospitals from turning away sick patients, regardless of their ability to pay. And there is a network of so-called Safety Net Providers, some legally mandated and others voluntary organizations, whose very mission is to “organize and deliver a significant level of health care and other health-related services to uninsured, Medicaid, and other vulnerable patients” and to “maintain an "open door," offering access to services to patients regardless of their ability to pay.”

Without any aid? Again, more delusions.

Berger speaks of the “as-yet-innumerable dead” victims of Katrina. For those of us not inhabiting a fantasy world, “as-yet-innumerable” can be taken to mean “as-yet-640”. He carries on about America’s “dire poverty”, ie that poverty in which 97% of households have a TV and 72% have a VCR/DVD player. He says that in the US “black people are typically treated as unwanted second-class citizens,” a fact which was apparently confirmed to him by the scenes from a couple of weeks ago of typical black people living their typical lives in the midst of a typically calamitous natural disaster.

Perhaps most revealing, however, is this remarkable statement:
Katrina was allowed to produce the worst natural disaster in US history
Allowed? What, was Bush supposed to hop into a phone booth, don his cape, and blow the hurricane back across the Atlantic? Natural disasters are not “allowed” to happen by the president or by anyone. They happen all on their own. That is precisely what makes them natural disasters.

Allowed Katrina to happen, indeed. Is Berger, um, mad?


Anonymous James Hamilton said...

If I may just pull on my professional psychotherapist's hat for a moment, Berger's definition of madness would be worthy of the eighteenth century.

8:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Berger's definitely a few slices short of a Big Mac.

10:20 AM  
Blogger John F. Opie said...

Hi -

Of course Berger is mad: he's showing all the symptoms of BDS.

Bush Derangement Symptom



2:09 PM  
Blogger chip said...

Such is the Left's faith in Big Government that it's quite possible that he really believes bureaucracy could have turned back the hurricane if it so wished.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...


I think you're reading a bit much into what Berger said in your last quote: "Katrina was allowed to produce the worst natural disaster in US history"

I don't think he meant that anyone could've prevented Katrina from coming ashore. Rather he's complaining about the slow emergency response. The "disaster" that was "allowed" to continue for days with effectively little help from public institutions at any level. As is the British inclination, he blames the whole thing on Bush. It's unjustified, given the system we have, but since the Brits are unused to any system except their own, it's kind of excusable (unless of course he's a U.S. correspondent who should know better).

I've thought recently that Florida has handled multiple hurricanes year after year, a few almost as strong and destructive as Katrina, and come out of it much better than Louisiana did. There's been little coverage of Mississippi, even though they took a "direct hit" from Katrina, suffering storm surges 4 stories high that ripped entire houses off their foundations, wiping out the whole coast of the state. It was almost like the tsunami that hit Indonesia. There were deaths there too, but I suspect the reason there's so little coverage there is because their evacuation was handled better, by the state, and so therefore there's been less tragedy. The contrast should show where the most responsibility clearly lies, at the state and local levels.

I think the problem with the reporting here in the U.S. as well as abroad of this disaster is it's like the reportage of Iraq. Most of what gets reported is where people are killed, and what gets screwed up. The things that went right, and where people have not gotten killed, due to proper preparation, doesn't.

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Mark T said...

The 40 million without insurance was trotted out in a letter to the FT last week, which also included the statistic that 13% of Americans live on less than $11 a day. I wrote a reply pointing out that the US census bureau put the number at around 3% (under $5000 a year)as well as the ongoing points about that 40 million being whittled down through temporary status, existing government provision not being claimed and the proportion earning over $50k a year. And guess what? They didn't publish it. That's the trick, publish the lie but not the correction.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Mark T said...

update........they published it.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

It's unfortunate to see more than 45 million currently lack coverage and I hope something can be done to improve situations.

7:43 AM  

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