07 April, 2009

The American Menegele

In a chilling amplification of my previous post comes this article in today's New York Times.

It strikes me in the first place as pretty disturbing that American culture can foster the begetting of soulless functionaries capable of administering torture under the sponsorship of the state. But then we also have such a punitive cultural calibration that to suggest there's anything amiss in having the "free" world's largest prison population (5% of the world's population, 25% of the world's prisoners) is political suicide. As an aid to job creation for its security-industrial complex the same culture endorses inexpensive and unencumbered access to high-powered weaponry, paid for in part by rationing the medical necessities that often ensue from the proper and intended uses of this same weaponry.

Now we learn that there is a branch of our illustrious medical profession capable of repurposing the Hippocratic oath to finesse the maximum of suffering obtainable short of death (usually) in the name of... security. Now, I'm the first to point out the salutary uses of a little well-intended, soulful suffering - it's a tonic and the grist in the mill that gives creative impulses traction. But what kind of world view brooks the commodification of suffering? What kind of society rallies its wealth and genius to expand pain gratuitously, along with the anxiety that attends its anticipation? What kind of cultural spirit seeks to abjure the most basic of human virtues, such as robust health, educated senses and refinement of feeling, learning, the miracle of sex and its importance to the race?

Ours, it would appear. Punish, punish, punish... that's our big idea, our big contribution, pretty much since Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather.

We're good at it in the worst possible ways, and we're only getting better.

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