[Editor's Note: This article is part two of an article on Social Values and Social Wellness. Part One: Red Social Values vs. Blue: Can We Know What Works?]
As the schism widens and passions become more intense, as explosive polemic projectiles fly back and forth across the chasm, few ask what I think is the important question: Is it possible to know which way of ordering society—theocratic Right or social progressive—produces better objectively verifiable social outcomes; which works to create wellness?
What do I mean by wellness? I mean a broad range of good health, a sense of well-being in one’s life, as opposed to anything less. Does one social approach produce less violence, fewer heart attacks, lower rates of familial discord, lower incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, or fewer unplanned and unwanted pregnancies? Higher education? Higher sense of happiness? Long life?
Let’s look at evidence based on objectively verifiable health outcomes. I want to ask three questions: (1) How likely are you to survive birth? (2) How likely are you to have a heart attack? and (3) How long are you likely to live?
The United States, with its illness profit system, doesn’t do very well in terms of infant mortality, children dying before their first birthday, although we are doing better.
The National Vital Statistics Reports stated, “In 2010, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 6.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and the United States ranked 26th in infant mortality among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. After excluding births at less than 24 weeks of gestation to ensure international comparability, the U.S. infant mortality rate was 4.2, still higher than for most European countries and about twice the rates for Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.”
In 2011, even though infant mortality had gone down in the United States, other countries had improved more, and we still ranked twenty-seventh.
But more important to this assessment of social values and social outcomes, the rates of infant mortality are not at all consistent across states. Some are significantly worse than the already bad national average of 6.14 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. There is a reason, and it is not money per se, but how they choose to spend money.
Of the top ten states where a child is more likely to die nine of the ten are red-value states—Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Delaware, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Those states operate under a government controlled by red-value politicians who create policies that are measurably inferior but that reflect the majority of individual choices made by that electorate.
Voting is the moment when a picture of the state’s gestalt is taken by measuring individual choice. Nonviolent change, through a change in individual beingness, is the only way to create an enduring change in that gestalt.
Well-Being and Heart Attacks
It is accepted in medicine that there is a correlation between one’s sense of well-being and heart attacks. According to the American Heart Association’s 2015 assessment approximately 735,000 Americans will have a heart attack each year. For 210,000 of them, it will not be their first heart attack. Approximately 370,000 Americans of that 735,000 will die of heart disease.
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But once again, the spread of deaths is not uniform across the country, and here again, state by state, one sees the difference in social outcome. Clearly there are many reasons people have heart attacks, excluding the genetic aspect. But it is mostly the result of life choices.
As Mike Stobbe reported in the Huffington Post, in addition to heart disease, “Southern states tend to have higher rates of smoking, obesity, diabetes . . . and a range of other illnesses. They also have problems that affect health, like less education and more poverty.”
I go into this because this is not something happening to people. This is something in which the citizens of the states are fully complicit. Individual choice expressed through voting elects the politicians that create the policies that reduce wellness in favor of some other value. Voting is the quotidian choice taken to its sublime level as the lever of democracy and it shows that other values can trump wellness as a social priority.
It turns out that where you live most of your life has a big influence on how long you live—4.5 years difference between Hawaii, which is best, and Mississippi, which is worst. Those living in Hawaii can expect at age sixty-five that they will live another twenty-one years and except for five of those years, they’ll be in pretty good health.
In contrast, if you live in Mississippi, when you turn sixty-five you only have 17.5 years left, and seven of them you will be in poor health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keep all these figures, and they report that life expectancy in the country as a whole has been on a steady upward curve, now at 78.7 years. But as it has done so the disparities have grown greater, and there is a persistent differential.
Once again, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Alabama had the lowest numbers for both life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, significantly worse than states like Connecticut and Minnesota. Not surprisingly, blacks and Hispanics fared far worse than their white counterparts.
Quality of Life
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in early October 2014 issued a regional well-being survey. They assessed all fifty states and the District of Columbia using nine criteria defining well-being: health, safety, housing, access to broadband Internet service, civic engagement, education, jobs, environment, and income. “The values of the indicators are expressed as a score between 0 and 10. A high score indicates better performance relative to the other regions.”
No state was judged to be perfect, but there was a very definite schism in the results. New Hampshire topped the list with a score of 77.6, Minnesota, with 76.2, was second, and Vermont followed with 74.8.
What was almost as frightening was the other end of the scale, all red-value Southern states. In descending order of well-being: Tennessee scored 52.9, West Virginia 52.2, and Arkansas and Alabama tied at 51.3. Mississippi was at the bottom, barely breaking 50 at 50.7. In fact, of the entire South, only Virginia was in the top 25, and then just barely, ranking twenty-second at 65.1.
So the answer appears to be that, yes, one cultural and political approach, one set of social values, produces markedly inferior social outcomes, each state population taken as a whole. Of course the rich, no matter where they reside, live better. But generally, in the red-value states it is harder to be born, harder to live, harder to stay healthy, and you die younger.
Existential Cultural Questions...
This presents us as a nation with existential questions: Do the people in a state have the right to choose badly, to fall further and further behind? Are the blue-value states required to underwrite the costs of these poor policies? The questions are not hypothetical. The tax data tells us that red-value states on the whole tend to get more back than they put into the collective federal treasury. Blue-value states are essentially underwriting the bad decisions being made in the red-value states.
Culture is the result of thousands, upon millions, upon billions of tiny, mundane choices made by individuals. When you fly from Seattle to Vancouver and look down, there is no line traced in the soil. Yet no Canadians fifty feet from that arbitrary line think of themselves as being American, nor do any Americans fifty feet from the line see themselves as Canadian. Why is that?
The answer is that we are embedded in our culture. We participate in its creation through the choices we make about what foods to eat and how to prepare them, what sports we watch, what churches we attend, and a thousand other quotidian decisions that make us Canadians or Americans.
The same process exists between states. Those states with the poor social outcomes have made themselves that way through choices made in every grocery store, every church, every laundromat, every school stadium, every vote made or ignored. And that is the only way they will ever change—at that same level, with different choices. If you live in one of those states, or in a country in a similar situation, your personal choices matter.
©2015 by Stephan A. Schwartz.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Park Street Press,
an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc. www.innertraditions.com
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About the Author
Stephan A. Schwartz is a distinguished consulting faculty member at Saybrook University, a research associate of the Laboratories for Fundamental Research, editor of the daily web publication Schwartzreport.net, and columnist for the peer-reviewed research journal Explore. The author of 4 books and more than 100 technical papers, he has also written articles for Smithsonian, OMNI, American History, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post.
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