Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Healer and the Hack...Politics, the Market, Steve Jobs, and Barack Obama

[HT to Will Wilkinson on FB]
This 6 ½ minute YouTube video shows us, in the beginning, life as no one wishes to live it. Life when your spirit dims, your body becomes frail, and your intellect fails. Life awaiting death. 
This can be life’s horror in the end. This is the purgatory we Americans choose to place ourselves and our loved ones in because our Puritan heritage demands we treat suicide as a disease and a sin rather than a Godsend and a solution. At least, for some...and only if chosen on their own, not forced upon them. See in this regard Tom Szasz’s latest offering, Suicide Prohibition: The Shame of Medicine, Syracuse University Press, 2011.
Barack Obama, in the landmark [albeit not yet clearly Constitutional] legislation he heralded and  hectored on, log-rolled and lobbied for, the PPACA--better known eponymously as Obamacare--has a solution to all this:

Noting that the last few months of life bring with it the greatest amount of Medicare and Medicaid spending, his efforts to “bend the cost curve down” include “expert panels,” known by opponents as “death panels.” So in Obama’s America--the one governed by noble ideals (or at least Nobel ideals…) rather than Social Darwinism--first you suffer, unallowed to take your own life; then you die, the State unwilling in the end to pay to sustain it once you’ve suffered enough. Coming soon to a hospital near you...
But the YouTube video shows another story as it continues, a story of hope and resurrection, a story of youth returning to reanimate the aged. A simple story, really...and all it took was the insight of Steve Jobs, who came up with the solution without ever once thinking about the aged or their problems.
As famed neurologist Oliver Sacks (see his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) explains, simply allowing these people to listen to an iPod downloaded with their favorite music--jazz for some; religious hymns for others; Tommy Dorsey hits--leads to IMMEDIATE change in the behavior of forgotten geriatrics, men and women who, up until then, led lives of quiet desperation, each day a repetition of the last, of chronic pain, of being left only to one’s increasingly failing thoughts. All of a sudden, their eyes brighten, their feet begin to tap, a smile so long absent again presents itself to their faces. As Sacks puts it, their lives have been returned to them, through a simple device costing well under $100, with music added at 99 cents a shot.
But let Sacks speak for himself, discussing Henry, an old man whose improvement unfolds before us on the video link above:
“We first see Henry, inert, mainly depressed, unresponsive, and almost un-alive.
“Then he is given an iPod containing his favorite music, and immediately he lights up, his face assumes expression, his eyes open wide, he starts to sing and to rock and to move his arms, and he’s been animated by the music...The philosopher Kant once called music the quickening art, and Henry’s been quickened, he’s been brought to life.
“Henry, [formerly] mute and virtually unable to answer the simplest yes or no questions, is quite voluble….So in some sense Henry is restored to himself”
A miracle...of capitalism.
There are two points here:
  1. Steve Jobs set out to make music easier for people to listen to. He no doubt had some selfish reasons. He thought he could make some money this way. He thought he could turn his company around. He personally, it seems, really enjoyed listening to music. He had no idea it could transform the bitter stunted lives of the elderly in rest homes. But that is COMMONPLACE for the market. People offer products EVERY DAY that end up having uses they themselves could never have foreseen.
  1. Barack Obama sees himself as a political visionary, THE man who will remake American healthcare. And yet Jobs, without effort and without knowing--Jobs, no longer even with us--has already done more to improve the lives of actual patients than Obama has accomplished. And yet, to people like Barack Obama, guys like Steve Jobs are just people who don’t pay enough in taxes. 
We live in a society of great injustice. No wonder so many end up abandoned and wishing for an end that cannot come soon enough. But here we see there is hope for change...in a simple iPod. Who knows what else might be done?
If only Barack Obama would get out of the way...