Monday, July 30, 2007


I have seen Michael Moore’s SICKO.

It is a truly remarkable work of theatrical advocacy. There are more than a few statements of alleged fact with which one could take exception, but they pale into insignificance compared with the broad sweep of the case he makes. It is movie that everyone ought to see.

Towards the end of the film, Moore summarizes its overall theme by making a statement to the effect that the issue he is posing is whether we will respond to the needs of our fellow Americans as we or me. SICKO is an argument for we.

It might fairly be said that this we/me question was the dominant social and economic issue of the 20th century, with the we side being identified with socialism and the me side with capitalism.

By the end of the century, it seemed that the me side had won out. China and the countries of the defunct Soviet Union, formerly claiming to be champions of the we approach, were converting their economies to private enterprise capitalism. After years of left leaning governments, Great Britain turned to the me philosophy of Margaret Thatcher, much of which was soon adopted by the Labor Party under the leadership of Tony Blair. Similar trends could be seen elsewhere in Europe and in the U.S.

None of that has fazed Michael Moore. An unabashed advocate of we, he was bold enough to include in his film a rather extended interview with Tony Benn, an articulate leftist among leftists in the heyday of socialist rule in the U.K., now an octogenarian who hasn’t been heard from for years.

The we philosophy is morally compelling and has great emotional appeal. Who wants policy to be enforced when a fellow human being is ill or in genuine need? Who wants to defend the right of insurance companies and drug manufacturers to make huge profits from human misfortune?

But the problem with we-ness is finding a way to make it work. Some of the difficulties are included in the film, such as the French worker enjoying a three-month recuperation at full salary on the French Riviera surrounded by buxom beauties and the government-paid home help aide doing laundry for an English single mother. Moore made much of the we philosophy of France, but between his filming of the movie and its showing in the U.S., the French showed their impatience with its excesses by sweeping into office a President promising to move France in the me direction.

There is nothing attractive about a me approach that lacks sensitivity to the needs of others. At the same time, it may be that something in human nature makes pure we-ness impractical.

So maybe, as in so many other cases, the truth lies somewhere in between.

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