We live in an increasingly polarized political landscape. More and more it seems that Americans are entrenched in their views, with little desire or ability to see things from other perspectives. We approach discourse as though there is only one right answer, one correct point of view: our own. And yet the truth is, there are different, often opposing points of view that are based in fact and experience on both sides of an issue.
Take, for example, the pharmaceutical industry.
On the one hand, the pharmaceutical industry, and the revenue which that industry produces, are the foundations of American communities from Ventura County California (where Amgen is the county’s largest employer) to New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan (each of which houses thousands of Pfizer employees). In these communities, pharmaceutical companies are integral to survival and the maintenance of a decent quality of life.
On the other hand, from a speech by United States Senator Sanders of Vermont:
Americans pay, by far, the highest prices for prescription drugs in the entire world. When we talk about health care, we are talking about the need of the American people to be able to afford the medicine their health care providers prescribe. A life-saving drug does no good if the people who need it cannot afford that drug. Yet, last year, nearly one in five Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 – 35 million people – did not get their prescriptions filled because they did not have enough money. […] Instead of listening to the demands of the pharmaceutical industry and their 1,400 lobbyists, it is time that Congress started listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly believe that the cost of medication is too expensive. More than 70 percent of Americans believe drug costs are unreasonable and that drug companies are putting profits before people.
Which of these perspectives is right? They are both “right” in the sense of being factually correct. Which is morally right? That depends a lot on where you live. If you are one of the 2,100 Pfizer employees in Michigan, and you and your spouse are planning to get by on one person’s salary for a couple of years so you can have a child, you might have one point of view. Especially when a large portion of the profit sharing you are getting is because people with epilepsy are now paying $85.06 for phenytoin sodium capsules that used to cost $3.57. If it’s your kid who has epilepsy, you might look at it differently.
If you live in Thousand Oaks California, the headquarters of Amgen, and are working by the hour at a shopping mall, but you see a brighter future for your child who is on a college prep track, you might be okay with people with high cholesterol being charged $14,000 per year for Repatha knowing that over $13 million of your district’s budget comes from Amgen.
The truth is, there is enormous complexity to most of the issues we are currently so divided on. People experience the impacts of these issues very differently based on their life circumstances, and most of the time their opinions are not “good” or “bad”. They are based in their lived experience and the experiences of those around them.