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Monday, June 3, 2013

Do What You Want to the Girl, But Leave ME Alone

Government officials, medical experts, and others are pushing to expedite the approval process for drugs that can treat "superbugs"--those antibiotic-resistant infections spawned in no small part due to the overuse of previous iterations of drugs.  This time, though, government officials are determined to do things right!  They might, for example, forbid using such drugs to treat any but the sickest patients.  That'll work.

Look, I'm a fairly well-educated and, I like to think, rational person.  I understand the concept of "the greater good."  But people will not forego life-saving--or even life-improving--treatment for the sake of abstract notions of long-term benefit--at least if that long-term benefit simply benefits other people.  Sure, my misuse of antibiotics--combined with the misuse of antibiotics by others--will ultimately give rise to an incurable superflu and lead inevitably to a final confrontation between good and evil on the Las Vegas Strip.  But damn it, my tummy hurts!

You all better hope the fate of the world never depends on me.  I mean, you know all those movies where the hero realizes that he must sacrifice himself to save others?  "So, you're saying that, if I voluntarily jump into the volcano, I can appease the gods and they will spare the village?  Yeah, um, sounds great, but what's in it for me?"  If I have to choose between my name living on in glory and my body living on in shame, I'll take corporeal shame every time.

And I'm sure I'm not alone in this.  Yes, many parents would give their lives for their children, but that's about it.  I know plenty of firefighters, police officers, soldiers, and others have died in service to others, and I respect them for it.  But I imagine most of those folks had no particular intention of dying.  Let's face it, altruistic self-sacrifice--especially the sacrifice of one's actual life--is pretty anti-Darwinian (again, except in the case of parents and children).

Harlan Ellison once speculated that what killed the dinosaurs was basically a failure of imagination--an inability to see what was coming: "Gee it's getting chilly out.  Oh, well, what are you going to do? Mmm. . . trilobites!"  Ellison also warned that we--modern humankind--didn't look so hot ourselves.  But I don't think we suffer from a lack of imagination.  We can imagine all too well what will come of our (in)actions.  I suspect we just lack the capacity to care.

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