Lies Of Big Pharma
The System Stinks: Smell It Then Quell It!
– or –
Whose Pants Are On Fire, Anyway?
Before we get to the breathtaking lies that permeate American culture, I’d like to explain why I agree with the Buddhist Peace Fellowship that it’s high time we Buddhists took a look at the system we live in.
For some of us, The System may seem like an artificial or even irrelevant construct existing outside our personal lives or sangha, but for the vast majority of the world’s population it is very real, potent, and inextricable from daily life. By itself neither good nor bad, a political or economic system is simply a framework for organized social relationships. It can no more be dismissed from an engaged life than can ecology be ignored by a sentient being.
In most “civilized” societies hierarchical social relationships are characterized by some form of exploitation. Yet as history unfolds, the specific form of oppression of the many by the few has changed – for example, in the West, from slavery to serfdom to wage labor under threat of unemployment. The transformation of each stage to the next is complex and unique but is always propelled in large part by popular discontent.
Revolutionary change requires the participation or at least support of masses of the population and is inspired by the hope for more freedom, justice, and security.
The first efforts by those in power to make good may be sincere, but time and again the promises of emancipation have not been kept. And the longer a new regime holds power, the more thoroughly and irreversibly hope is betrayed and inspiration turns into deception.
The lies that build empire are not simply delusions arising from ignorance or well-intentioned attempts to shield others from a painful truth. They are deliberate, bald-faced distortions concocted to safeguard power and privilege by glorifying hatred and greed, ridiculing compassion, and turning people against each other.
So how can we tell which sound bites in the blizzard of political-speak are lies? Are global warming, the widening disparity of wealth, and economic imperialism just the phony inventions of disgruntled losers?
Part of our Buddhist practice is clear perception. It’s not too difficult to make out mountains of reality looming over the clouds of hype: a world poisoned by industry gone wild, vast oceans of poverty and despair alongside unimaginable riches, and never-ending racism, war, and violence. To start seeing behind the lies, it’s always a good idea to follow the money. He who has the biggest bucks has the biggest stake in things staying pretty much the way they are, so he gets his bought-and-paid-for politicians and media to tell the biggest whoppers to discredit any serious challenges to the status quo.
What can Buddhists do about the Big Lie, or more importantly, about the heartless empire it attempts to legitimize? Should we point out the deception, educate the deceived, or silence the deceiver? Shall the liars get a $100 fine and 1 hour of community service for every time that a person was seriously hurt by a lie they uttered? That’s a lot of revenue and reconstruction to undo all their damage, not to mention consecutive life sentences for rehabilitation. I will work off my deceit debt if the billionaires will!
Given the shameful falsehoods by Buddhists of several countries to justify genocide over the last century, can we now stand up against reactionary, unquestioning patriotism and intolerance? Are anger at mercenary cruelty and passion for change attachments? Loving kindness and selfless service are essential for our growth as bodhisattvas, but are they enough to transform the world before it turns into a smoking cinder? How will a nonviolent movement prevail against the inevitable brutal reaction by a threatened imperial oligarchy? I honestly don’t know all the answers (and we should be cautious of anyone who says they do), but I am happy that engaged Buddhists seek to discuss and act on these vital issues.
What I do know is that I need to get up off my zafu and make a difference where I work and live.
For me that means being an active part of the movement for universal health care in this country, where the truth is that we pay more for less care for fewer people than any other developed country in the world, and where the lie is that the best way to deliver medical services is under the thumb of for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations.
Associated falsehoods spread by those venal institutions and their apologists are too numerous to count:
Who wants to spend all their time in a doctor’s office or hospital having unnecessary tests and procedures?
As imperfect as Medicare and the VA system are, they are run with much less overhead than private plans. And just ask any senior citizen if they want to give up their Medicare benefits and pay market prices for insurance. It is true that our government isn’t very honest or efficient, but look who runs it now: insurance companies, Big PhRMA, Wall Street, and lobbyists, the same people who screwed up health care in the first place. Let’s push our government to keep its promises and protect human rights!
Actually, let’s look at Canada: they spend half of what we do to get equally good care; wait times can be longer for non-urgent services, but no one goes without care because they can’t afford it (and if they spent what we do they wouldn’t wait at all); medical debt is the most common factor in bankruptcy in our country but it’s almost unheard of in Canada. And while we’re at it, check out France, Britain, Sweden, Italy, or for that matter any of the three dozen countries that have better public health outcomes than the United States.
What if the activists of yesterday had been persuaded that the timing wasn’t right for Women’s Suffrage or Civil Rights? Don’t be tricked by those who tell you that Right Action is unrealistic! I belong to Physicians for a National Health Program, a group (open to everyone) that has done seminal research on the ethical and economic sensibility of single payer health care. We are now joining with a number of other organizations to achieve it.
Every Buddhist has a community and a righteous cause that we can be advocates for. Many of us are already connected with movements for social change. The challenges we face may seem overwhelming but our tradition can be an invigorating force by recognizing the interrelatedness of these struggles, working for unity, and embodying conviction, empathy, and perseverance. Our problems have both a spiritual and a systemic source, and as we patiently and creatively seek solutions, we will overcome the obstacles to a better life for all Earth’s family.
I look forward to sharing the thoughts and art of others who smell the rot in our system and want to clean it out. Forums like this will be essential to develop experience-based principles and strategies that will guide the transformation of The System from greed to compassion. I thank Dawn Haney and Katie Loncke for the opportunity to participate at this defining moment in Buddhist history.
With love and solidarity,
Jeff Gee has lived in the SF Bay area since 1975 and has practiced Family Medicine in Daly City for 30 years. Fed up with the deteriorating health of the Earth and its population, he believes that it is time to move beyond self-aggrandizing capitalism to a society based on cooperation and compassion. He’s working out the details on this but is pretty sure it will require hard work and engagement with the broader community.