you don’t have to die
October 2, 2010, 8:51 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

To the ancient Greeks life was cheap and to Americans cheatable.  Dying is un-American says Lewis Lapham in his preamble to LQ: Medicine, The God in the Machine.  If rationality and science and empiricism don’t work for you, then the ever busy ever tinkering new world uses whatever is at hand, in this case magical thinking.  And why not?  Why get stopped by things that get in the way, including things that seem final like death?  Magical thinking: American zombie.

The Greeks, on the other hand, seem happy to volunteer up the rest of their lives if they are no longer useful to the world.  It saves doctors having to give scientific names to farts, says Plato.  Medicine to them was for special occasions – at least more special than merely prolonging the lives of the rich.

The quotation from The God in the Machine:

Affiliated with the several theories of American exceptionalism and entitlement, the great expectations also were a product of World War II. Prior to the advent of the atomic bomb, answers to the question, “Why do I have to die?” were looked for in the teachings of religion and the languages of art, in Plato’s discourses and the music of J. S. Bach. The experiments conducted at Hiroshima and Nagasaki referred the question to the politicians in charge of the nuclear weapons and to the research scientists clearly destined to discover that death is a preventable disease. America’s military and economic command of the world stage fostered the belief that America was therefore exempt from the laws of nature, held harmless against the evils inflicted on the lesser nations of the earth. For the last sixty years, the intimations of immortality have supported the habits of magical thinking that enable the country’s codependence on both its military-industrial and its medical-industrial complex. As America’s enemy-in-chief, disease serves as a body double for godless Communism, the doctrine of mutually assured salvation as a stand-in for the doctrine of mutually assured destruction.


Plato thought it “shameful” to provide medical help “not for wounds or some seasonal illnesses” but because one “is filled with gases and phlegm, like a stagnant swamp, so that sophisticated Asclepiad doctors are forced to come up with names like ‘flatulence’ and ‘catarrh’ to describe one’s diseases.” Socrates in the dialogue with Glaucon compounds the argument with the observation that it is wrong to prolong lives no longer “profitable either to themselves or anyone else.” Medicine, he says, isn’t intended for such people, “not even if they are richer than Midas.”

The God in the Machine, by Lewis H. Lapham


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