September 05, 2006

Milksop Nation

This essay by Jack Gordon (winner of the 2002 Shell Economist Prize) is worth a read. You can also listen to Richard Dreyfus read the essay. (Though reading it is faster. Link via reddit.)

It is fashionable to remark that America “lost its innocence” on September 11th. This is balderdash. Our innocence is too deep and intractable for that. The thing we’ve really lost doesn’t even deserve the name of bravery. We’ve lost the ability to come to grips with the simple fact that life is not a safe proposition—that life will kill us all by and by, regardless. And as a society, we’ve just about lost the sense that until life does kill us, there are values aside from brute longevity that can shape the way we choose to live.

The essay resonated with me. Somehow the USA has fogotten that there is no victory without risk; that there is no heroism without sacrifice. If every medical procedure had to be risk-free, Heidi would never transplant an organ; indeed transplantation would not exist. If every harebrained idea had be proven before it was tried, I would never write a line of code; indeed there would be no Microsoft, no Google.

Mandating perfect safety eliminates discovery. Requiring safe perfection squashes creativity.

What is life without mistakes?

Posted by David at September 5, 2006 02:41 PM

Wow. That really resonated with me as well.

His take on the response to the Challenger accident is particularly striking. Never really thought about it that way but it really is true.

Posted by: Patrick Calahan at September 6, 2006 03:42 PM

Gordon pegs all it so well.

Have you ever encountered a urine test? A couple weeks ago my wife was subjected to a urine drug screen in order to be annointed a transplant surgeon. After 15 years of grueling training, this was the only job requirement that was double-checked. She was searched and observed by neutral third-party urine sample monitors to eliminate any chance of "urine fraud."

Does this attitude towards our doctors encourage better medicine?

When your liver has failed to the point where you are waiting in line for a donor to die, you are facing far more serious risks than the imagined possibility that you might have gotten stuck with a surgeon who is somehow now sneaking a cup of pee into a grungy urine lab in South Philadelphia.

When your body is falling apart you do not need a "safe" doctor. Life is not safe. What you want is a superb doctor who can give you a fighting chance.

Posted by: David at September 6, 2006 07:38 PM
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