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Your Call Is Important To Us

Off the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler

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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation  May 19, 2014

 

Funny how, in the current national rapture of techno-narcissism, it is harder than ever to do something that for generations used to be as simple as pie: to get somebody on the telephone. It’s especially funny in a time when phones have become a prosthetic extension of every human hand and pretty much the be-all and end-all of human culture. I hold a phone, therefore I am!

It’s not so funny that the places where it is most difficult to connect to a live human being are among the most critical activities, most particularly every branch of health care. Hospitals now operate under the entirely false and obviously dishonest premise that a robotic phone routing system is the best way to handle communications. Notice that, in the logic of this system, no distinction is made between mundane business and medical emergencies. Everybody who calls get’s the same perky robot —always a woman, by the way, in a dishonest attempt to provide false reassurance that a “caring” presence (Big Sister) is at the other end of the line. Whether you call about a billing error or having just shredded your foot in a rototiller, the message at the other end will always be democratically the same: “Your call is important to us.” (Not.)

I dwell on these matters because I spent an inordinate amount of time last week calling around to several hospitals and doctors offices to get some of my medical records for a lawsuit I am prosecuting against the manufacturer of a defective hip implant that gave me cobalt / chromium poisoning. Note also that we have contrived to make it nearly impossible to obtain our own medical records.

Now I am, going to reveal to you why it is so difficult to get a live human being on the telephone at these important places: because the more of a racketeering matrix medicine becomes, the more it seeks to evade responsibility for the consequences. That is, the more medicine becomes a criminal enterprise, the less it wants to hear from its client/victims. The same ethos is at work in just about every other realm of corporate enterprise in the USA. Our problem in the USA is not “capitalism,” it’s racketeering. Why we fail to comprehend it is one of the abiding mysteries of contemporary life.

The biggest offender after medicine, of course, is banking. They don’t want to hear from you either. They enjoy the privilege of swindling you by both tiny-and-large increments on transaction payments and near-zero interest rates and mortgage contracts where no title record of collateral can be located, and that all works very nicely for them. But they’re too busy creaming off profits to talk to their customers. In both medicine and banking, even the few remaining human secretaries to whose answering machines calls are torturously routed will not return those phone calls. “Your call is important to us.” (Not.)

Now all of this raises a couple of questions. How did we get to this sorry place? And why are citizens not violently angry about it?

To some degree, this situation represents the sheer diminishing returns and unintended consequences of technology. In a nation infatuated with technology, these entropic effects are always ignored. We just don’t want to hear about it, and our related infatuation with feel-good public relations bullshit spews a fog of concealment over it. We apparently like being deceived and don’t mind being tortured.

Robot phone answering systems also allowed corporations to off-load the cost of doing business onto their customers, mostly in the form of wasting vast amounts of their customers’ time. Included in the off-load was the cost of paying receptionists (as telephone answerers used to be quaintly called) and all their medical and retirement benefits — just another manifestation of the vanishing middle class, by the way, since a lot of women used to be employed that way (let’s skip the gender equality side-bar for now). After a while, the added privilege of companies being able to evade responsibility for their actions hugely outweighed the cost-saving advantage of firing some lower level employees.

It ought to be self-evident that this could only happen in a profoundly corrupt, dishonest, and degenerate society, because it took the form of a social compact that accepted this sort of behavior as okay. Doctors especially don’t want to be accessible to their customers. It enhances their aura of supernatural authority to be as unreachable as possible — and most of them these days are safely embedded in the protective corporate matrix one way or another as well. I suppose you can always pray to them and hope for a reply, since that is obviously the system they are trying to emulate. And, after all, this is an especially pious society. But try asking a plain question like, “how come you charged me $34,000 for four hours of anesthesia?” and you will be hung out to dry until the end of time.

As for outrage, I am frankly amazed that the various armed lunatics at large in America are so busy shooting up schools when many more people are actually being harmed, indeed ruined, by the health care “industry” and the banks.

If you have a theory about all this, please offer it up in the Comments department.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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