Bring a chicken to the doctor, the dance remix!
I think Sue Lowden’s suggestion that people pay for health care with chickens was greeted with so much, “Chickens?! Really?!” type responses that very few people took the time to note how her statements were funny on many, many different levels. For my money, the part that cracked me up was the way she dropped the phrase “olden days”, a phrase that I was unaware was used by anyone over the age of 10 to refer to much beside the great swath of history that was anything prior to their birth. Saying “olden days” is so telling! The phrase has a fairy tale vibe to it. I’d imagine Lowden thinks her grandparents took the surrey with the fringe on top to go see the doctor and pay him in chickens, and then they perhaps white-washed a fence and then fought some dragons to win the hand of the youngest of the generic king’s 7 daughters. Hey, it’s all the same, right?
I’ve been generally amazed at how the conservative tendency to replace logic and rationality with a knee-jerk nostalgia has grown weirder and broader since the election. It’s not enough to be nostalgic for the 1950s, because there are people walking around who remember those times, which takes some of the allure off. No, it’s now about a generic “olden days”, or if you want to intellectualize it a bit, idealizing the 1880s.
I feel like I shouldn’t even dignify this shit with an answer, but I think it’s worth pointing out that people actually still pay in cash for the kind of care that Lowden was imagining. What a doctor could do for you in the chicken-swapping days was pretty minimal. There were a handful of drugs that treated symptoms of certain diseases, and nowadays those drugs or their analogues are mostly available over the counter. They didn’t have vaccinations or antibiotics, much less chemotherapy, cholesterol medication, or most forms of surgery. The treatment for diabetes was worse than the disease—they basically didn’t let you eat, figuring a slow death of starvation was better than the rapid one from diabetes. People paid cash, because they weren’t getting very much for their dollar.
Nostalgia is one of the weirdest and most persistent mental farts of our species. I never stop being amazed at how people across the political spectrum will assert that our ancestors did something as evidence that this something is good in and of itself. People on the left are guilty, too, often idealizing hunter-gatherer or agrarian societies, without stopping to think about how life was short and brutish throughout most of human history. The greatest wisdom of our ancestors was often in saying, “Screw this system, let’s develop something better.”
It’s why I got a kick out of writing this blog post at Double X. The article I was responding to by Hannah Seligson was perfectly pitched to get the “tradition is better because it just is!” response. The issue at hand is the way the traditional marriage proposal is on its way out, because it’s stupid and sexist to have a system where men unilaterally have most/all of the real world power to make decisions about if and when a marriage will happen. But of course, people want to have their romance—mainly because they don’t stop to think about the darker patriarchal implications of certain traditions—and so the new tradition arising is one where a couple quietly decides to marry as a mutual decision, and then they conduct a fake proposal. The recipient of the proposal often orchestrates or even scripts it. I defended this on the grounds that women who find a way to take control of their own lives and still have their romantic fantasies are modeling the sort of self-care that women are often discouraged from engaging in.
Unsurprisingly, the comments were a bunch of men chastising women for self-care. “Olden days” was the reason for this, of course. In the “olden days”, there was romance and spontaneity. (In other words, men had complete control.) In the “olden days”, people didn’t quibble over money. (Because women weren’t really allowed to have their own.) In the “olden days”, love meant never having to worry about finances and responsibility. (In other words, women had no control over their destinies.) In the “olden days”, people (read: women) didn’t care about career success. And so on and so forth.
So that’s why every time I hear someone wax on about the “olden days”, regardless of how they phrase it, I keep an eye on my wallet.