Friday, July 01, 2005

Notes from a Non-Believer Part IV

Science Medicine & the Arts

The discipline of science has two characteristics that it offers the society at large. First, it is knowledge that continually expands its frontiers building on everything that has gone on before. Secondly, it has, throughout its history, depended on the collaborative efforts of many individuals. For this reason, by sheer example, it is a demonstration of how efficacious collaborative efforts can be. Furthermore, the engine behind scientific pursuits has been simple human curiosity: the desire to know how the world works.

Unfortunately, these very characteristics that have made science remarkably important are under assault. The assault comes from the contradictory drive for fame, wealth and power. Since the Supreme Court ruled that biological organisms, genetically modified by human intervention, can be patented, greed has entered the arena of science with a vengeance. It is now common practice for authors of scientific papers, who believe that what they have accomplished can be patented, to first hold a press conference about their discovery and delay submitting the particular findings for publication, until they have explored avenues for economic gain. Scientists, who have in the past pursued their work driven by the desire to understand how the universe works, now are often motivated primarily by the lure of profit. Many start their own companies after having used public monies, in the form of grants, to establish themselves. This mode of operation is strongly encouraged by large corporate interests whose pursuit of profit, above all else, has become quite legendary.

For example, the large pharmaceutical companies fund research that involves the use of drugs that they have newly developed. This kind of activity ensures that disease will be viewed as a condition that can be corrected by the administration of the appropriate drugs. The widespread use of drugs guarantees that huge profits will be made. The marketing of drugs through the mass media, especially television, has become common place. If it is necessary to sew fear into the minds of millions of viewers, so be it.

Medicine has become a very huge business geared towards profit. This has led to the emergence of exceedingly powerful insurance companies who have been largely responsible for the obscene reality that over forty-six million Americans have no health insurance. Corporate power and the legislators that they enlist, with the help of their lobbyists, have a vested interest in maintaining this status quo. Millions upon millions of Americans have been put at risk on account of these perverted policies.

Interestingly, it is the powerful, with superb access to quality health care, who laud the American health care system as the best in the world. Yes, this is true for them. And what about everyone else? The notion of “catch as catch can” seems to have become a fundamental part of the American ethos: a view that has shown itself often, welfare reform being one example that comes to mind. The idea of survival of the fittest has been effectively turned on its head and has become, in fact, survival of the richest.

Advances in medical technology have become a superb vehicle for the making of enormous profits by the few. Advances in biological research are to a large extent subsidized by public money while the profits are reaped by the private sector. This process in which costs are socialized while the profits are privatized is analogous to the way publicly financed advances in physics and technology has led to the development of obscene weapons of mass destruction and the pouring of huge amounts of national resources into the arms industry.
Science and Medicine have ineluctably become conduits for wealth and power where the scientists and physicians are mere cogs in the wealth and profit producing machinery of the nation.

The arts have also succumbed to the siren song of capitalism. So much of what is produced as art is designed to appeal to the largest number of people for the purpose of making profit. In doing this, much of the content has been diluted to the extent that there is nothing valuable to communicate and no significant insight to impart. In this way, much of what is considered to be art is essentially dribble. Publishing, film making and music making have become highly profitable industries that have little concern with content. The “bottom line” has become the mantra.

Of course, there are writers, film makers and musicians who are in opposition to this dominant theme. Theirs is an uphill struggle filled with angst and frustration. They are the modern equivalent of voices in the desert. It is those who speak with clarity and conviction saying what the society at large does not want to hear, that represent one of the last remaining links this culture has to true sanity.

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