The Guilt and Riches of our Ancestors: Take it or Leave it (Sort Of)

Whoah:

“Land was acquired back in the day through theft and murder …

I agree to a point that individuals shouldn’t be held guilty for the sins of the past. But if that is true, then individuals shouldn’t at the same time be able to benefit because of the sins of the past. [WHOAH!] [#WhyDidINeverThinkOfThis]

I don’t believe land can be owned by a person or a bloodline.”

~Mark Van Steenwyk [brackets mine]

When I shared this excerpt, a friend asked me: “So does that make purchasing or inheriting a home/plot of land wrong?”

My reply, revised a bit for a blog post, went along like this:

The above quote is definitely fairly radical, especially the lattermost sentence. The middle paragraph is of greatest interest to me. The lattermost sentence is, for me, an interesting application of the middle paragraph.

The middle paragraph resolves something that I’ve been chewing on. We needn’t inherit the guilt of our ancestors, but neither then should we inherit their ill-gotten gains.

To the question: I think that specifically avoiding buying or owning land would miss the point. Even renting is basically temporary land ownership. Inheriting wealth and using it to rent stolen land all your life is not really very different from inheriting stolen land and living on it.

In a way I think that Christians etc. have a useful mental model for how to think about this; we’re used to saying “everything I have is God’s, I should use it accordingly”. (Not that we’re great at living it out! But I digress.) The point isn’t, then, that everyone must sell everything and give all the money to the church (though doing so is a well-known and powerful approach/calling). But rather, you should live with a posture of humility and dedication, and be willing to and seeking out ways to leverage what you have toward the good of those the resources are intended to bless. With God, it’s all intended to bless those who are suffering, marginalized, poor, etc.

That goal isn’t too different than when we say “all this land and lots of this wealth I have was gained from genocided natives and enslaved africans (and people across the world who were colonized, etc.)”… you’re basically saying “nearly everything I have belongs to people who are now suffering, marginalized, poor, etc.”

All I have is actually God’s, who wants me to use it to serve the poor and oppressed. // Almost all I have actually belongs to people who are poor and oppressed.

It’s hard or impossible to parse out just how much of our parents’ wealth stems from theft and genocide and slavery vs. honest hard work. It would require mountains of historical work, calculous and economic modeling, etc. So refreshingly, a legalistic approach here is completely unfeasible.

What would definitely be “no dice” would be to say “I accept the wealth stolen by my ancestors – it is mine now and is for my enjoyment, but I reject their guilt and responsibility in having stolen it”.

Now, legalism certainly won’t work; no purity can be earned here; even if I were to do all the calculus and give back everything that was stolen, that wouldn’t be any different than giving back the money my grandfather gave me after he mugged and killed someone else’s grandfather.

As my spouse just wisely and succinctly summarized:

“Of course it’s sinful [to own stolen land]. But this is a sinful world so everything is sinful… we can’t avoid sin, but we just need to do the best we can.”

My brain’s understanding of “doing the best we can” would entail seeking to learn and follow the will of those to whom my wealth and land belongs. Following my metaphor; like a Christian who knows all is God’s would seek to know and follow God’s desired uses of the resources, a person who realizes that most of what they have is stolen would seek to know and follow the intent of those from whom it is stolen. Conveniently, a person can coherently be both of those things!

Admittedly, the latter realization is less perky. Honoring and giving to the grandchildren of someone murdered by your grandfather comes with a lot more pain and trauma than honoring and giving to a God who has willingly entrusted you with resources. But I suppose in both cases a deep need for mercy and forgiveness is present.

Speaking of mercy and forgiveness… as well as regarding intent of the bereaved: Native voices I know of are not asking all whites to pack up and leave and go back to Europe. As from Black americans, I hear a deep cry for truth and reparations, but “go back where you came from” is not something I hear. It is up to each to do their own integritous listening to the voices of these communities. There’s a book called What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland, written by native scholar and activist Waziyatawin. She first overviews what happened 1500s-1900s, and then lays out point by point her recommendations for reparations. “Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples.” (from author’s excerpt here)

She is one voice among many in her community. To continue my drawn-out metaphor: like a person of faith attempting to discern the voice and call/will of God through various and nebulous sources, a grandchild and beneficiary of the murderer has a tough task to try to listen to the many grandchildren of the murdered.

Engaging with and supporting reparations and reconciliation on a large scale is one valuable response, but it’s also quite distant. Personal-scale donations to good native+black-led efforts around these communities is a good “other half of the coin”. Painting houses on the Rez (like I did with my church and family ~15 years ago) is really not the ticket. Our group eventually quit going because natives running multiple different nonprofits out there said to us (“we don’t need your paintbrushes, we need your money”). Rebekah and I are sitting on the idea of paying “first rent”. Basically loosely/non-legalistically figuring out what it would cost to rent the space we live in, and “paying rent” to a combination of Native and African American nonprofit organizations. This wouldn’t earn us any purity or whatever… but rather would just be a way to say “hey this is theirs not ours… we should probs be paying them for our use of it…”.

I’m not sure how to conclude, so instead I’ll hold in tension those two quotes:

“Of course it’s sinful [to own stolen land]. But this is a sinful world so everything is sinful… we can’t avoid sin, but we just need to do the best we can.”
~ Rebekah, my wife.

“Without justice, many Dakota say, healing and transformation on both sides cannot occur, and good, authentic relations cannot develop between our Peoples.”
~ Amazon excerpt for What Does Justice Look Like?: The Struggle for Liberation in Dakota Homeland

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Why I have found it hard to have sincere theologically liberal/postmodern faith

Saying, as I sometimes do, something like

“I can’t tell you whether My God is THE God, but I can tell you that My God is My God”

sounds fancy and good… but is actually really hard FOR ME to live out.

People of what I’ll call [warning: buzzword ahead]”indigenous” faith, as I have experienced, do this all the time. A pan-african drum troupe’s leader told the audience “every faith, all Gods worshipped, are true”. A Dakota who prays to and sees spirits and ancestors also worships Christ the son of God, and minds hindu Gods and wisdoms. A Mohican told us the story of the Celestial Bear (Ursa Major / “Big Dipper”) whose blood gives us a red sky, but I don’t think he’s saying that those stars are ONLY a bear and not whatever other people’s faiths hold.

I, on the other hand, don’t know how to get excited about and motivated by my faith unless it’s the only  true faith. I feel like my moments of religious experience, faithful passion, etc., are vestigial/residual. I cry when I pray a doctrine (e.g. God is present in all people, loving and loved through us all) that I learned when I thought the Bible dispensed truth.

Different people see God through different lenses. Different people see Rebekah (my spouse) through different lenses. I see someone who is tender, warm, deep, wise… James sees her as proficient, efficient, competent. But it’s the same Rebekah. But how far does that really stretch? Mono vs. Triune vs. Many? Different structures for afterlife, etc?

I KNOW that James and I are observing the same set of matter that consists Rebekah… but are Hindus and I actually observing anything that is indeed the same? How could they see millions and I see 3? We see different parts of the same elephant… a classic reference. But when I hear that, I’m saying “okay, well, I don’t want to worship a trunk (‘snake’), or a leg (‘tree’), I want the full truth”. I tell myself something humble sounding like “far be it from me to tell God which parts of God’s self to show me”. But at that point I’m already checked out. My reassurance does me nothing. With Rebekah, I get the full her; I know the whole picture. I may experience some things more, but I even hear about the version that James interacts with. Rebekah shapeshifts, but not so much as to go from being 0 to 1 to 3 to 330,000,000 people…

It’s tough for me to get excited about a God who is just one image (i.e. a Christian one) of God, even when I say “but that’s the image of God that God chose to show me”.

With Wave and Particle Duality (where we see that light behaves as both a wave and a particle, even though those two things are different) I just assume that there’s an UNDERLYING reality that manifests as following both of these contradicting patterns (wave = widely spread out / particle = in one tiny place). An underlying reality like… a “waveparticle” (I just made that word up). But as soon as I acknowledge that, I’m interested in the UNDERLYING reality… I don’t want to sit there and stare at the wavy part only…

Just like how the proposition of functioning as specifically a Christian is hard for me. I’m observing that the likelihood of me having found the 1 religion out of thousands out there that happens to be true approaches nil… but it’s tough for me to say “but this one’s mine so I’m going to focus on that”.

I do this in marriage though.

Rebekah is the most ______ (superlatives superlatives superlatives) in the world. Without having cause to believe she’s truly actually objectively the best out of all the ones out there… I can nonetheless unwaveringly say she’s definitely the best.

Indigenous people [whatever that means] – it seems to me – can do this with religion/faith/belief. Quite handily.

Whereas I feel like theologically liberal euro/western culture is basically merely — as I feel I am — milking the emotional remnants of a faith-nostalgia while finding ways to be okay and feel okay while not actually believing anything.

Meanwhile various sects claiming exclusive truth squabble over who has it, all believing themselves the lucky winner. So no, I can’t just go back to that.

I guess in a way I’ve been trying to be like my understanding indigenous faithful people… approaching religion to draw strength but not being hung up on exclusivity. And in a way, I feel like it’s not really going so hot. I feel basically faithless.

I have a dear friend who believes he’s got exclusive truth… not because he has evidence that it’s exclusive (he’s fairly open about the lack thereof), but because he can’t figure out a way to believe it’s true at all if it’s not exclusively true. And I kinda can’t blame him.

And of course there’s good old atheism (and its variants) right around the corner. Which is basically a religion with zero Gods, no less exclusive a claim than any of the others, and not qualitatively more defensible.

Finding myself, ironically, somewhere I’ve found myself continually: with the conclusion that there’s no good place I can be. Tempted to say that the ancient/indigenous way is better/best… but even if that’s true I’m not sure I could get there…

 

Capitalist gov’t is an absurdly large mercenary guard service.

squirrel with ak47.jpg

Some economic musings. Don’t mind me. I hold this all pretty loosely. Thought experiment follows:

I drafted this a few months ago and wasn’t going to publish it, but in light of Trump’s tax dodging, and people’s response saying he’s just “keeping what he earned”, I figured I might as well hit the “publish” button.

———–

In a world without any weapons, it’s easy to steal from someone who has lots of food/possessions. Non-human animals in nature work like that; if a squirrel has 1 billion acorns, they will be ceaselessly stolen until the point where the squirrel has only the acorns it can defend with its bare teeth. Let’s say, 100 or 1000 acorns. (Let’s call this scenario “Squirrels in Nature”)

How can the squirrel accumulate more acorns, then?

Weapons. The squirrel now has a spear. Or a bow an arrow. Or an AK-47. It can guard substantially more acorns now. Maybe ten thousand acorns. But still not a million or a billion. (let’s call this “Stone Age Squirrels”.)

Militia/guards. The squirrel hires his own troop of independently contracted guardsquirrels. On a good day, with his hefty posse, they protect his million acorns. But on a bad day, the captain of the guard stages a little coup, kills Bob the squirrel, and is the new (albeit probably temporary) owner of all the acorns. (Let’s call this “Feudal Squirrels”.)

Well-reputed militia/guard services. Bob the squirrel needs a guard service brand he can trust — one reputed to prevent this type of coup. An armed organization so large that it has more to gain by building a reputation of faithfully guarding acorn piles than it could ever gain by stealing them. So large, perhaps, that competing military entities are thousands of miles away, and unlikely to ever overrun and plunder the territory of his own. His ten million acorns are very safe. (Let’s call this “Imperial Squirrels”.)

Business is the means whereby acorns are accumulated.

Government is the means whereby they are guarded for whoever has accumulated them.

Some people think that governments “play robin hood” by taxing its rich constituents and creating services for all its constituents.

Here’s what I’ll say to that:

If government were to “get out of your life”, you would be a lonely squirrel with bare teeth, or maybe an AK47.

You would be terrified.

To defend yourself better, you would perhaps form a pact with your neighborsquirrels to protect each other, so that you were not SO lonely of a squirrel. You might agree to how that protection would work, what support was required of the constituents, etc. Guess what you just created. Yup … Government. A cooperatively owned and governed guard service.

armedsquirrel

A reason the wealthy pay more in taxes [OR SHOULD, AT LEAST!] is because they have the most to benefit from a guard service. If there were no conglomerations of martial power, I could guard my little house with my spear or AK-47 well enough to de-incentivize any individual thief from breaking and entering. But your real-estate, manufacturing, or technology megacorp? It needs so much protection that if somebody halfway across the country or world conquers your hotel or factory or even takes your ideas or information, you’ll be covered.

That is, perhaps, why the population gets real mad when you think you should pay a flat tax. [or when you completely dodge taxes!] 95% of your assets would need police forces to protect them from individual thieves, whereas maybe only 10% of mine (macbook, car, bike) do.

At this point, the U.S. is serving as the Huge Guard Service for vast chunks of the world. Whether that’s a good thing or bad is outside of scope here… but you’d better believe that the fees paid to it (taxes, etc.) are [OR SHOULD BE] paid by the people who benefit most from the protection.

 

 

The scariest thing about humankind

The scariest thing about humankind is this:

  • Our ability to scale.

Or in other words,

  • Our ability to concentrate resources and power. 

Or in other words,

  • Our capacity for removing boundaries for the expansion of power.

Or in other (nerdier) words,

  • Our capacity for removing negative feedback loops (“damping effects”) regarding the concentration of resources and power, making us subject to to positive feedback loops (“runaway effects”).

A capitalist economic society/system is often described in terms of “survival of the fittest”, modeled after the highly potent process of evolution in nature. However, there are some very dangerous differences that a capitalist economic system has by comparison to survival of the fittest in nature:

Nature is full of damping effects:

  • If an elephant gets too large, it will run too slow. It will be eaten by lions.
  • If a population of gazelles gets really large, the population of lions will swell, and then diminish the gazelle population.
  • The same is true with populations of plants and the bugs that eat them, and with the birds that eat the bugs… and the eagles that eat those birds.
  • If you get too many apex predators (birds).

NONE OF THESE DAMPING EFFECTS ARE TRUE FOR CORPORATIONS.

  • Corporations are not allowed to act as predators each other. Proliferation of WalMarts does not trigger a swelling in the population of a company whose niche is to raid walmart stores.
  • Corporations can quickly switch niches. Unlike aphids, if the thing they were doing is no longer available to do, they can reorganize and take on a different challenge. “AT&T” is “American Telephone and Telegraph”. “3M” is “Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing”. And Google… Google is whatever it wants to be this month! Unlike cacti or freshwater fish, they can quickly add (or acquire!) the capacity to fill a new target market OR IF THEY DON’T, THEY JUST GET BOUGHT BY SOMEBODY BIGGER!
  • Those are literally the 3 things that keep species’ populations under control and dominance limited in nature: 
    • Predator populations swelling.

    • Prey populations diminishing / niche exhaustion.

    • Inability to merge

  • AND NONE OF THEM APPLIES TO CORPORATIONS!!

 

SO. then we are just subject only to RUNAWAY effects among corporations.

  • Bigger corporations ->
    • better lawyers
    • more lobbyists
    • ability to price-gouge in limited space and time to destroy smaller local competitors
    • more capital to buy less huge corporations — within or across niches.

Dear libertarians out there… who it seems don’t like antitrust… and who think The Market is the guide for all of that…

STOP IT!

But before that, let me say,

I GET IT! I LOVE the idea of the free market emulate the ways evolution in nature keeps each species adapted and optimized to its surroundings. And I hate the idea of putting an inefficient beaurocracy in the way. I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. Let me say that again so you know I care and validate you… I LOVE the way supply and demand guides production quantities. That would have been great when Mao was (probably accidentally) starving the heck out of his constituents! He just didn’t know that the people were hungry! Supply and demand would have helped!

Okay. Now that you know I care. … I’m going to spend even more time convincing you that I understand, that I care:

Government cronyism really DOES screw up our economies and lives! Look at our addiction to corn syrup… corn puffs… corn everything… because it’s so darn cheap because it’s subsidized!

I hate cronyism too. But let me say this:

Laissez-faire / hands-off economics works great for grass, gazelles, and lions. (In the CIIIIIIIRRRCLE of LIIIIIIFE!)

BUT IT DOESN’T WORK FOR US!

If we’re going to:

  1. protect corporations from their competitors (and individual citizens) physically raiding/looting/conquering them
  2. allow them to switch niches, and
  3. allow them to buy each other

(measures I generally agree with!)

…then we NEED SOMETHING ELSE to stop our current spiral of concentration of power into fewer and fewer companies.

ALSO, libertarians and libertarian-tempted-thinkers: keep in mind that point #1 above is NOT laissez faire / hands off! As soon as a larger force like a government prevents people from stealing each others’ stuff, it creates the “conditions for growth”. It really does. Because in a society like that, most people are generally spending more time creating wealth and less time stealing and protecting it. And that’s generally / arguably / potentially a good thing… but ONLY IF you also create conditions to prevent runaway growth!

Humans generally have unique, non-nature-like capacity for scalable growth, and capitalist governments’ protection of private (and corporate) property causes it to occur specifically within business corporations. (In communism, we can get similar effects but more directed toward governments).

Here is my sense of the 2 things we need to do to prevent the runaway corporate growth:

  • Serious “early-and-often” Antitrust
    • CURRENTLY ANTITRUST BREAKUPS ONLY OCCUR WHEN THERE IS ONLY ONE COMPANY LEFT IN A NICHE!!!!!!
      • So what, then? We’ll live in a world with 2 companies per niche? 2 oil companies, 2 ag companies. Are we sure that’s okay? AND since companies can span niches… maybe that just means 2 companies in total!
      • ALSO, BE AFRAID because think about what happens when a company is bigger than the U.S. (and/or bigger than China). What happens when a company is so big that it can successfully boycott the biggest nation!?!? Good heavens. I’ll tell you what happens then. Then we can’t do antitrust at all. … Unless all the nations merged into one to do the boycott. Also reasonably terrifying.
    • So… yeah. I’m thinking early-and-often antitrust is needed. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I much prefer that over the world being gobbled up into 1 giant ACME congolomerate, and nations themselves become figureheads and cultural niceties.
  • Every measure possible to keep companies out of government.
    • Yup. Every. Possible. Measure.
      • Companies can’t give a dime.
      • Individuals have flat campaign giving caps.
      • No PACS (super or with any other prefix) can advertise.
      • Unions don’t get to give either. (we gotta be fair here. our point is to combat runaway giving.)
      • Lobbyists may not receive any compensation. Or maybe it’s that they can’t give any money to the candidates.

 

We need to take these measures because if we don’t, the current runaway growth of corporations will have nothing – literally nothing – to stop it.

The horrors of a world with only one company (or a handful thereof) can only be imagined.

  • But I’ll say this: the past and present can show us horrors of scenarios — whether for coal miners or jim-crow-south sharecroppers — where your life is owned by a single company; where you always owe money to the overpriced “company store” so you can never. stop. working. … where the law exists to bring you back to your boss if you ever try to run.
  • In terms of the environment, we must remember that corporations have almost unilaterally pushed for looser environmental policy, and governments have pushed toward more constraints. Runaway corporate power could generate runaway greenhouse gas-driven warming (sometimes called the “Venus effect”).
  • In terms of war, I imagine corporations with all the power and armies and WMDs of todays nations, but accountable only to their shareholders… I could see them warring for resources or for customer-bases. I’m not fully certain that megacorporations commanding armed forces would be worse than today’s nation-states are, but I’m quite certain that I don’t want me or my children’s children to find out.

This blog post discussed reasons for the runaway affect we’re already seeing, discussed the fact that it is an unfettered runaway cycle with catastrophic possibilities, and discussed what I think needs to be done about it.

To recap:

  • The idea of business mimicking the “survival of the fittest” we see in nature is appealing. Supply and demand, and The Market, truly are powerful effects that can accomplish swiftly what bureaucracies cannot. It is tempting to think that if we remove the regulative interventions of government, those forces will create balance, efficiency, and a flourishing economy that benefits all.
  • This idea, however, is severely flawed, for the following reasons:
    • Businesses do not experience several key damping effects that species’ populations face:
      • Companies do not have to shrink when their niches shrink, as they can switch niches much more rapidly than animal populations.
      • Modern companies are not regulated by the proliferation of predators that normally keeps a growing population in check. Modern capitalist governments actively apply incontestable force to prevent the raiding or takeover of firms or their locations. Even a very libertarian government is not “laissez-faire” or “hands off”, but rather, is applying a strong force in favor of property accumulation. I find deep, or “anti-antitrust”+”anti-social-net” libertarianism to be highly misguided in that it believes it can safely apply the above martial property-protecting force without applying forces to constrain that runaway effect in which property and power beget more property and power for the increasingly few individuals and corporations that hold them.
  • The above “runaway effect” must, I believe, be countered by socialist-capitalist hybrid policy in the world’s most powerful governmental agencies, before those agencies are no longer powerful enough to constrain the worlds’ largest corporations, or we will suffer a one-world-company distopia or whatever bloody revolutionary chaos it takes to break it up. I believe those needed constraints are:
    • “early and often” AntiTrust… I’m not sure how it would work but I’m imagining something like a forced version of how Google is always internally breaking itself up into little competing companies.
    • election reform; i.e. extreme constraints on the degree to which money (corporate or union) can influence government… and in general efforts to make the government accountable to and representative of voters on a per-person rather than per-dollar basis.

my field

I had sort of forgotten my “field”.
“Unselfishness” is my field.
I see people in the fields of renewable energy, political transparency, racial justice, etc., and I’m like, man… that’s pretty sweet. I should be an engineer, or politician, or activist.
But somehow this morning, I remembered my “field”.
Unselfishness: making decisions without making the assumption that my well being is more valuable than that of others.
Not the same as altruism, which is more narrow and surface-level: taking actions with the betterment of others as the immediate goal.
Altruism, if practiced completely, will cause you to die of thirst in a week’s time.
Unselfishness, if practiced completely, will generally cause you to be fairly helpful in the world.
— Altruism: to the other. Positively implies a directing outward. I am not being altrustic when I take a drink of water. The water is directed inward.
— Unselfishness: I can certainly take a drink of water without assuming my well being matters more than others’!
So…
That’s my field. Exploring how to invite and facilitate people (including me!) in exploring and practicing philosophies of unselfishness.
It’s a field that can have bearing on all the others. Folks practicing unselfishness are better equipped to support renewable energy, etc. I don’t have to feel like I’m “missing out” or “leaving behind” those other fields by focusing on this one.
And it’s a field which makes it make sense why I’m in web-comm as a trade-skill… because unselfishness is a philosophy, a concept… one that requires communicating about, and facilitating with communication tools.
So… I should probably keep being in web-comm (at least for now)… AND,  I should remember to write and converse and maybe even speak about such topics every now and then!

A Story About a Man

There is a story about a man.

At first, he was a boy with wide eyes — he loved to take in everything he could.

As he became a man, his eyes stayed wide, but they also began to be very full with so many things.

He wrestled to reconcile and integrate everything he saw, felt, and came to believe.

He wanted to love his Creator. But his ideas of how to do that could never sit still… and sometimes neither did his resolve.

He wanted to love his fellow humans. But likewise his ideas about how just couldn’t sit still, and at times, his resolve in this too would wane.

From year to year, or month to month, or day to day, he would remember one of these wild hopes that had come through his wide eyes into his eager heart. In fits and starts, he ran here, stumbled there, and sometimes just laid there in the dust and licked his wounds or played in the dirt to distract himself from pain.

He walked a long time, seemingly trying to find “it” — that just-right task or way of life that let him really love himself and his Creator and his near-loved humans and the faraway-lovable humans… as well and big and thoroughly as his heart hoped to.

His hopes were so big, sometimes because he wanted such good things for others, sometimes because he thought that being smart or energetic would be enough to make him succeed. So many times he would try things with big hopes, and then leave them when he realized that he hoped for something more.

Sometimes along the way, the things he learned and tried were helpful to others. Sometimes less so.

In his old age, he spent hours sitting by himself, or talking agitatedly or wistfully with others, scratching his head or with his face in his hands, wondering when or where he should have stopped and sat still and stayed put.

But some other times he smiled, knowing that he had gotten to experience a lot, and that others had loved him, and he had loved others, and that the way he was is okay, and it was okay that his journey didn’t end up sitting still long enough to do anything worth writing articles or history notes about.

He died with some people who he loved — especially his Creator — still loving him back.

And this was a beautiful story.

I’m loving it: Retrace Health: “family-doc”-styled online primary care by nurse practitioners

Time for a big fat shout out and plug for a really sweet (and cost effective) way to get basic healthcare needs taken care of.

My housemate works for an online healthcare startup called Retrace Health. I feel lucky, cuz I wouldn’t know about it otherwise, and am on-board in a phase of the startup’s growth that’s quite advantageous to me.

TL;DR: $100 yearly fee, then video visits are $50/visit. (12 months of visits are free if you sign up using the promo code I posted on Facebook!)

I’ve been very happy with the video visit / remote-primary-care structure; my video visits tend to be 45 minutes with my primary care provider, whereas my doctor visits generally afford me no more than 15 minutes with a doc, at ~$150 / visit.

So yes, it’s a tradeoff – you’re getting an advance practice registered nurse (APRN) instead of a full-on MD… but you get ~3x as long of a visit, for 1/3 the price… (or 0% of the price through 2015). APRNs can write prescriptions, order MRI’s and specialist care, etc. Affordability has made it a lot easier for me to be proactive about little things as they’re arising, rather than following my usual strategy of “waiting it out” to save money.

I also really dig the convenience of the video visits vs. driving somewhere.

It’s obviously limited, which everybody – including them – recognizes, so they’re good about referring to specialists to visit in person as the needs arise… but it’s a good home-base. I never had dreamed of being able to meet with a primary care (e.g. family medicine) provider as often as every month or two without concern for cost, but during this phase of health issues recently (knee, hemorrhoid, screwed-up-toe, tight right-upper-back) I’ve felt like I can basically get all the primary care I need without that worry.

I also feel really cared about and invested in personally/individually. I feel that I have a really thorough and connected relationship with my primary care provider. The accessibility for frequency of visit, and the ability to directly e-message and call my primary provider rather than just one of their staff – is really helpful to my ability to feel personally and closely cared for — in a way that more than outweighs the distance caused by connecting remotely. Retrace has worked hard to make it easy to get appointments with my main provider, rather than just being assigned random to a provider from an available pool who happened to have time available, which, according to my housemate, is often the unfortunate norm for online care.

(I also think my care provider, Jessica Fashant-Peterson, is pretty legit at this as well, so it’s not just a “systems” thing.)

Once, I actually even received a prompt from them to schedule a followup visit with me, even though it was a free visit. 🙂 They also post a custom-typed-out care plan into your online portal account after every visit, something I’ve not received elsewhere.

Frankly, as a bit of an entrepreneur myself, I’m not sure how they manage to provide all this at the rates they’re charging (even without the 2015 free deal). It’s a young startup, and time will tell whether they can actually make money delivering so much effort and value at so low a fee… but — at least for the moment — that’s their topic to be concerned about, and not mine…

(Another note: Membership is per-family… so though I’m the gimp right now, Rebekah can get free visits this year as well.)

Retrace is not the be-all-end-all, and like anything it has its tradeoffs. In-person care from MD’s has its advantages over online care from APRNs, there’s no question — but there are plenty of advantages of the Retrace setup as well, most of which I’d boil down to accessibility. It’s very affordable (basically free in 2015) and convenient… from which flows high frequency of care, and subsequently, both high quality of relationship and the ability to be more proactive rather than reactive with my care. The only scenario in which I wouldn’t find something like retrace to be of value as a part of my “care portfolio” is if accessibility was not a major problem for me with conventional healthcare, e.g. if I worked somewhere with amazing, low-deductible, low-copay health insurance… which I definitely do not!

(UPDATE: I now understand you can get free home visits too as a part of the coupon code offer.)

So yeah, I decided to share this because I’m quite happy to have stumbled across Retrace by the luck of a housing arrangement… and figured it was silly to not take half an hour or so to write this up and share it with others.

P.S. Here’s the official blurb I got from their ops director: (emphasis is mine)

RetraceHealth is welcoming people to become Premium RetraceHealth members for $99/year/household. If they sign up using Daniel’s coupon-code, they will get 12 months of free video and home visits. If you are interested, become a member at this link and enter Daniel’s coupon code.