Classic J. Neil: Medical Technocracy
Originally published in 1995 on The World According to J. Neil Schulman
If you hang around fringe political movements, as I’ve done for the last quarter century, you’re constantly getting a sense of déjà vu — “been there, done that.” Bring up any current political controversy for discussion, and within a couple of minutes you’ll be deluged with several centuries of forgotten political movements who were essentially saying the same thing.
You don’t have to go back further than the period surrounding the two world wars to find the Technocrats.
The Technocrats believed that the world should be run by the men who understood the technology that was transforming the world. Those who weren’t competent to do so would just have to take a back seat and let the experts decide things for them.
Interestingly, the Technocratic movement lost a lot of its luster when men such as Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler took their ideas and tried putting them into practice. Of course, any Technocrat still around might complain that their ideas were misunderstood and never really tried out. This is the sort of complaint one gets from obstinate followers of Karl Marx when one points out the body count every time some regime calling itself Marxist tries to put those ideas into practice, too.
But the Technocratic movement has survived; it just isn’t called that anymore, and it has some new homes.
Nowadays, you can find the Technocrats hiding out at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New England Journal of Medicine.
Note this quote from David Satcher, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, writing in the November 5, 1995 Washington Post: “Because it typically focuses on human behavior, research on the prevention of disease, injury and disability often broaches matters that are controversial and on which people feel strongly — subjects such as firearms, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, smoking, job safety, environmental hazards. If scientists cannot look deeply into such matters without having their characters impugned, research will be inhibited, and ultimately the public will suffer.”
And pay attention to this quote from Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, writing in the December 5, 1991 issue: “A decision about whether such mildly restrictive [gun control] measures are adequate or whether access to firearms should be more severely restricted is in many respects similar to the medical decisions physicians make every day about disparate choices. Such decisions depend on an objective assessment of the benefits and risks (and costs) of the relevant options and the weighting of these countervailing values. In medicine, this kind of analysis is often applied to decisions about using diagnostic tests, drugs, and other therapeutic approaches. Benefits are assessed in terms of the accuracy of tests and the efficacy of treatments, and risks in terms of morbidity and mortality. When one choice yields benefits that clearly outweigh the risks we embrace it, and when the reverse obtains we reject it. When the comparison of benefits and risks fails to yield an unambiguous choice, we develop either a formal or an informal benchmark, or threshold, based on the benefits and risks, that defines how a procedure or treatment should be used. We would use the procedure or treatment when our suspicion of a certain disease exceeds this threshold, and we would avoid it when it falls short of the threshold.”
To an old-fashioned classical liberal, a humanist, a libertarian, or even a populist, whose movements disposed of Technocracy as an approach worth taking seriously years ago, this discussion has already reached its conclusion. Doctors Satcher and Kassirer are condemned out of their own mouths as closet Technocrats. They want the money and power to determine what people do with their lives, and they claim the expertise to do a better job of telling people what’s good and bad for them than people could figure out without their studies, statistics, and charts.
It’s a pseudo-intellectual con game that Cambridge professor C.S. Lewis was wise to in 1958, when he wrote in his article, “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” “Again, the new oligarchy must more and more base its claim to plan us on its claim to knowledge. If we are to be mothered, mother must know best. This means they must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists, till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets. Technocracy is the form to which planned society must tend. Now I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects.”
Pay attention to the sleight of hand used by the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: firearms, smoking, job safety, and environmental hazards are all now to be lumped in with AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases as subjects which doctors claim they can cure … if only we give them enough money to study them … and the political power to impose their cures upon us. Medical doctors are now to be regarded as priests, social workers, inspectors, and police. Medical schools will replace anatomy and physiology with courses on theology, criminology, nuclear physics, and ballistics. Murderers won’t be punished but lobotomized. A rapist shot by a woman who refuses to be his victim will be just another shooting victim to the compassionate physician.
And to Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., the decision of whether you want to defend yourself from the psycho breaking into your house, or dial 9-1-1 and pray that the police get to your bedroom before he does, isn’t one you are competent to access. No, Dr. Kassirer will decide for all of us. He will analyze your sickness then tell us what pill will make us better. And why should we object — did we object when we gave him the power to tell us what drugs we could take into our own bodies?
Ladies and gentlemen, do you see your folly yet?
There are men among us who regard you as lab rats and suckers. They intend to run experiments on you — and they expect you to pay for it to boot. They think they are gods because they can saw into a man’s chest without puking. They think you are too stupid to run your own life … and they know just the geniuses to take over.
Not me, Dr. Kassirer. You’re not my doctor — I wouldn’t trust a quack like you. Get your hands out of my pocket, Dr. Satcher. I don’t trust you with my money because I’ve seen the bogus science you’ve bought with it … studies which count up dead bodies to determine whether guns save lives … studies which can’t tell the difference between an accident, a murder, or a suicide … studies which make no distinction between an honor student and a 13-year-old serial killer.
Technocracy was discredited because whenever you give some men the power to make the rules for everyone else, you just get another group of tyrants.
The question is before Congress to take funding away from these tin gods who think they know how we should run our lives, and want to make white lab coats into royal robes.
As far as I’m concerned, it will be an advance to both science and humanity if we not only take away their next paycheck, but make them pay back the grant money they’ve already wasted on their pipe dreams.
Either that, or make them spend the rest of their lives in inner-city clinics, giving babies immunizations.
That, at least, they were taught how to do in medical school.
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