Then the Mennonites Showed Up
Do you remember the iPod rage? The intuitiveness of a single button and the sensor that just needed a slight touch to scroll through information. Then the iPhone? Again, a single button and a screen so intuitive and interactive that the need for instructional manuals fell by the wayside.
Now imagine that the iPhone only worked for calls made between certain hours or days of the week. Would the iPhone have become so popular? Would it have revolutionized our way of communication if it required careful reading and consideration of a lengthy contract? Certainly, while we all have to sign away our rights in order to use the device, we don't have to understand the contract to use the device. We are well aware of how the iPhone works, how we can use it, when and where.
This past weekend, I stepped into an art shop and began chatting with the charismatic, well traveled, handlebar mustached and flannel clad shop owner. I was drawn to a set of photographs taken with vintage camera and delicately painted by hand. In explaining the artists' process for developing the work, the owner mentioned the artist lost her dark room and stored pieces during the Hurricane Harvey floods in Houston.
He was beside himself. "She filed a claim with her homeowners insurance company and they denied her! They said they..." I finished the sentence with him, "don't cover flood."
I nodded sympathetically. He continued, "She has loyally paid her insurance premiums on time for 25 years, but didn't read the fine print so the insurance company wouldn't help her!"
It's a story I've heard before. Really, most anyone working with catastrophe insurance has heard the story because it's a common one. And quite frankly, anyone who with any interaction with insurance has heard the story in one form or another. Who hasn't gone to the doctor only to be told that while the visit is covered by insurance, treatment is not- or something else equally absurd?
What's upsetting is that insurance contracts do not offer consumers any sense of intuitiveness. Why would hurricane loss not include water damage caused by the same hurricane event (either directly or indirectly)?
The process of characterizing life and geophysical activities as quantifiably discrete events and subsets of events conflicts with human sensibilities and complexity in lived experiences. In my perspective, nothing so coldly demonstrates the incongruity between an insurance governing system and living life as the "qualifying life events" health insurers offer as opportunities to readjust your chosen plans. Not only does the insurance market mindset seek to partition the complexities of life into a series of events it then morally judges those events as appropriately qualifying for reconsideration of your health needs.
Returning to the artist lady in Houston who would not have imagined that insurance protecting her from hurricane damage would not also include the associated flood losses, her intellectual gifts are apparently not in contract work. It is well likely that the insurance policy included quite large and bold face type explaining that it doesn't cover flood losses and such protection need to be purchased separately.
Still, that the lament is so common leads me to believe that the problem is in making individuals and life itself fit into the categorical nature of insurance and not developing a financial regime better equipped to deal with vagaries of life.
Luckily for the artist lady her troubles were answered by the grace of humanity.
"The Mennonites came, " said the shop owner. " I didn't know their were Mennonites in Texas but like 30 of them showed up and fixed up her home in a day or two. Can you believe it? So kind."
Sociologist have written for some time about community ability to help itself after disasters in an effort to discourage unhelpful metaphors turning human suffering into "war zones" requiring military intervention. This is not to say that government should turn its back on a disaster area within its borders (or abroad) but their is room for human ingenuity in the way we deal with disasters.
Such change should not include further classifications of society and the environment- partitioning of the lived experience into financialized products. More holistic approaches are needed perhaps through bolstering the abilities of Habitat for Humanity or an insurance scheme that is more intuitive in use and application.