Renouncing Affluence Previous - Next


Encouraging Self Healing

Charles Gray, because he is committed to living with only what he sees to be his fair share of income, has to face the issue of health care. His suggestions are both practical and profound, stemming from the idea that one should not live frantically and then run to the medical establishment for a 'fix-it' solution. Rather one could live more healthily, get to know one's body, and be one's own 'expert' in relation to personal health.

By Charles Gray  
  One of the main causes of anxiety in America is the high cost of medical care. These anxieties in themselves must contribute to a good deal of illness. To reduce such anxieties people generally pay significant portions of their incomes to insurance giants. That only reduces the anxiety somewhat because of the fear that the policy fine print might disqualify one when a claim is made and also part of the anxiety concerns not the cost, but the feeling of helplessness the medical system tends to engender. We have surrendered our health to the presumed experts in white coats. The rich pharmaceutical corporations, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies have profited greatly from the fear and helplessness to which they have reduced us. I think it is an axiom of social life that we are willing to pay dearly to reduce our fear. Look what the taxpayer puts out to support the military establishment, police and 'intelligence' agencies. The health establishment also plays on our fear and profits immensely. Doctors vie with lawyers for the dubious distinction of being the richest professionals. Pharmaceutical companies as well as the illicit drug business vie with the arms manufacturers for the distinction of being the most profitable businesses.

Simple livers can at least partially liberate themselves from this double grip of anxiety and helplessness and can cut their health costs as well. Here, as in other parts of our cost of living, some attitude changes are helpful. We can empower ourselves by no longer totally delegating our health to the medical profession. We are the most constant observers of our own state of health and therefore we know some things about our own bodies and we can learn more. Our bodies are amazing self-healing organisms and we can facilitate these natural advantages by living sanely, knowing our limits and giving our bodies a chance. This in contrast to living crazily and then when the body breaks down, rushing to the high cost professional for a drug fix. We can learn to appreciate long known and simple remedies when our bodies need an assist. We can learn about healthful eating, exercise and other preventive practices.

Our bodies are amazing self-healing organisms and we can facilitate these nnn natural advantages by living sanely, knowing our limits and giving our bodies a chance.

We can rebel against the health pecking order of this society that puts aleopathic therapies with their heavy reliance on very toxic drugs at the top, and we can open ourselves to the wisdom of alternative therapies, homeopathic, chiropractic, dietary, herbal, acupuncture, etc. Elevating the alternative therapies in our minds means that we are more able to choose a therapy appropriate to our specific condition when our preventive and self-healing efforts need help.

Reducing our fear of death also plays a part. The extreme individualism in which we have been raised contributes greatly to our fear of death and our victimisation by the medical system. An excessive fear of death robs life of much of its joy and leads to strange behaviour such as the expenditure of several hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last few months of a person's life in a frantic effort to extend that life a few weeks or months longer. The same resources used in a society that valued the health of the community as a whole could enhance the life chances of thousands of persons. We have been taught that it is not only the true test of our love, but that it is rather heroic to use extraordinary and exceedingly costly treatments to keep one person alive a little longer even if the disease or the therapies have reduced the person to a vegetable appendage to a cluster of machines. Such is the state to which our fear has pushed us.

If instead, we view ourselves as part of a community without which life would have little meaning, then the health and survival of the community becomes more prominent in our system of values. We then recognise that our contributions to the health of our human community are more important than the indefinite prolongation of our own individual lives. The peoples of Central America can teach us much about this. Partly because of the new sense of community there, many people willingly risk their individual lives in combating the fascistic, death squad social structure, knowing that such risks are a necessary part of a community of faith and struggle. If their only concern was to protect their own individual lives, fascism would continue to triumph because fascism depends on the individual's fear of pain and death.

These are a few of the attitude changes we have been working with. We have a long way to go and we only feel semi-liberated at this juncture. We have attempted to live healthful lives. We have generally, but not always, used alternative therapies and self-healing. With this combination and with a lot of good fortune we have spent very little on medical care. We have also had some free care from aleopathic and homeopathic physicians, dentists and acupuncturists who considered our peace work as barter for their assistance.

Because of our good fortune and moderately good habits we have not yet had a major medical crisis and consequently we have not faced some of the health related dilemmas of living on the WEB1 in this society. We have not had to choose between a very costly therapy which would violate the WEB by causing us to use greatly more than our equal share of the world's financial resources in general and our share. The poor of the world don't usually have such a choice. They don't have access to expensive therapy. However, even though we live poor we are part of a rich empire that has public funds for 'indigent' citizen's health care.

Having lived through a life-threatening fast we have some appreciation for the stress suffered by loved ones when one takes certain principled positions with or without their consent.

Should those who would not use more than their share refuse such funds? We could argue that those funds should be redistributed to health care in the Third and Fourth Worlds. That sounds good, but taking such a position would be very difficult against the pressure of one's family and friends who would consider such action as totally unreasonable and impractical. They would likely insist that one had a right to health care and they would proffer resources themselves. If one insisted on refusing expensive therapy, they would accuse one of desiring martyrdom as well as putting them under unjustifiable emotional stress. Having lived through a life-threatening fast we have some appreciation for the stress suffered by loved ones when one takes certain principled positions with or without their consent. They might possibly consent when the situation was hypothetical, but very likely reverse themselves if it became real.

Equally, one might make a hypothetical decision, and this could be helpful, but faced with the reality, the desire to take advantage of one's privileged position and live, plus the pressures exerted by one's loved ones, could be overwhelming. We have not worked our way through this one yet and perhaps we won't unless we have to face it.

Thus far our largest health expenditures have been for dental care. We have tried to reduce these costs by cutting sugar in our diet not a very successful effort and by avoiding cosmetic dentistry. We have also liberated ourselves from the idea that a tooth must be saved whatever the cost. As a consequence, I have a hole in my mouth where a root canal job was the alternative. In some communities dental costs can be reduced by use of student dentists and hygienists.

As for health insurance, we have seen no way to pay for it under WEB, nor do we want to participate in and contribute profits to this establishment industry that invests its funds in the perpetuation of the status quo. However, we have not ignored the problem of insurance security altogether. For a number of years we participated in a small emergency fund organised with some of our friends in Eugene, Oregon. About fifteen persons including children were members. $5 a month was put in by or for each member. If a member had an emergency (defined as such by her or himself) s/he would discuss it with another member. If the need was for an amount under $50 as I recall, and the other member approved, then the amount needed could be withdrawn from the fund. If a larger amount was needed a group meeting was called and the other member would act as advocate.

Some of the many advantages this scheme had were: It covered whatever the member considered to be an emergency; it had all the advantage of a small face-to-face group as opposed to the faceless anonymity and coverage specificity of an insurance giant; the funds were kept in a local credit union that focused on loans to the poor instead of in a giant corporation investing in racism or militarism or drugs; trust and love grew out of the sharing in this group and that is better security by far than the distrust of an insurance adjuster who must assume that you may be trying to cheat the company; the sharing of financial information which was a prerequisite of membership helped us get over our money-secrecy individualism; the group often found in-kind assistance or creative solutions to the emergency that helped the individual without depleting the fund.

During the seven or eight years when we were members, the fund, called Friend In Need (FIN), usually had somewhere between $500 and $2500 in it. That meant that it could cover small or medium sized financial emergencies and it covered many of them from sudden unemployment to stolen bicycles to unexpected funerals to stitching up an accident prone teenager at the emergency ward.


From our experience we would highly recommend such an alternative to establishment insurance. If one took on such organising it might be possible to form clusters of such small groups and work out ways that their combined financial reserves could be called on to meet larger emergencies, even major ones. I think the small groups are best formed by people who have known each other for some time and have somewhat similar values and a fairly high level of trust. During the last four years we have been too mobile to organise such a group, so we have had to depend on whatever we could save under the WEB to deal with emergencies. So far our needs have not exceeded our resources. If they did, we, like the rest of the poor of the world, would have to fall back on the oldest insurance system of all, the love of our family and friends. We cannot afford the luxury and loneliness of independence.

I think that here again some new attitudes are in order. We have fewer establishment financial resources than we ever had in the past, yet we feel more secure. That comes in large measure from the fact that at some point we realised that true security does not depend on the bank account and the insurance policy, but on the loving community. Without a loving community no bank account or insurance policy can possibly be big enough to take care of us.

This is an extract from "Towards a Non-Violent Economics" by Charles Gray (1989). Complete copies of the reduced version (used above) are available from Ben Searle, 5 Fairlawn Rd., Montpelier, Bristol B56 5JR, England, for ST£1.25 plus postage.

- Next