4.22.2005

time to geek out.

When it gets to be Friday afternoon and I have a 10 pg. paper due Monday and my wife and baby are out of town, I haven't slept much, and I've had a pot of coffee to drink in the last hour...guess what time it is?!?? That's right--it's GEEK TIME! Duck and cover all you non-geeks! There are so many things to be geeky about...how do I pick just a few? 1. Had a great conversation last night with a guy who is in the Ph.D. program in music theory here. He also happens to be a Wooster grad and his wife is in HPS with me. Talk about synergy baby! But even more important than that is that he loves music, go figure. So we talked for an hour about Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Beck, The Flaming Lips, Sufjan Stevens, Bjork, Bruce Springsteen and then a whole bunch of classical dudes I've never heard of. It's funny to talk to someone who when they say that something is "good" music, they're not kidding around. He believes that, technically speaking, Radiohead is one of the best rock bands ever to exist. Yet he is also very forthright in saying that by and large rock has nothing on classical. I'm not disagreeing, but I fall asleep to everyone except Chopin. And the Rolling Stones...they're kinda classical, right? 2. B and I saw the play Mamma Mia! last week. I want to say it wasn't sappy pap. I really do. But I can't--it is sappy pap. It makes Cats look like friggin' Les Miserables. B, of course, told me to check my snobbiness at the door and it worked for the first half-hour--until the show actually started. The whole premise of 3 possible dads and the terrible uncertainty, not to mention lack of communication, that caused the situation to happen in the first place and perpetuate until a girl's wedding day was so...I dunno...dumb...that I couldn't even enjoy the ABBA music. But then, at the very end, the actors dress up in their '70s glam costumes and redo the greats--Waterloo, Dancing Queen, Take a Chance on Me, etc. Finally I could appreciate it because it wasn't trying to present some sort of message or trying to be taken seriously. 3. I can see the light at the end of the semester tunnel. It could be a train--I still have 3 papers to write, 2 to rewrite, an annotated bibliography to finish, and a final that counts for 1/2 of my general exam. (You have to pass "generals" to go on to phase 2 of the Ph.D. program. If you don't pass generals, you can try again next year but you'll probably lose your funding.) 4. Why do I miss Columbus so much? You'd think that with equally crummy weather, shorter drive-times because there's no traffic, and Chicago only 1 1/2 hours away that South Bend would be all a boy could ask for. Yeah, right. This town sucks. I'm not particularly picky about towns, but this one makes Toledo look like a happening metropolis. Fortunately, I have no time to think about civic fulfillment. But aside from the crummy surroundings (house excluded--it's amazing) I think I miss the Columbus lifestyle. We could walk places. Element rocked. Cup O' Joe rocked. Barley's was great. 'Tain't like that here. I mean, we could go to Applebee's if we got desperate...but we couldn't walk there. Who am I kidding. I think we both just miss our friends. So hopefully this summer we'll get back to the C-bus to hang. But it'll be different. Life has moved on for everyone, so I suppose our expectations shouldn't be too demanding. I dunno, though. Even though there's no way my Ph.D. will take less than 6 years to attain, I keep thinking of this place as a temporary jumping off point and Columbus as "home." I wonder if that's some sort of disease of the sentimental pony-tail type? 5. The books I'm reading right now are pretty cool. Kevles' In the Name of Eugenics is probably the best treatment of eugenics out there. And the writing is so good, it's almost like reading a novel. Except you realize that the plot is really disturbing--people get institutionalized, sterilized, and (in Germany) euthanized for being "unfit." And then Kevles traces the same ideas surrounding "unfitness" through the sociobiology movement of the 1960s-80s and the importance of genetic screening going on today. He suggests that nearly all of the "health" tests conducted on expecting mothers and newborns come straight out of the racist and classist ideas of the eugenics movement 100 years ago. It's just that health professionals don't use that language or think that way anymore, so it seems perfectly innocent. Kevles' point is, however, that genetic screening is but a hair away from the type of "gene-ism" depicted in movies like GATTACA. We get all nervous about cloning and stem-cell research, but according to Kevles, it's the simple stuff like genetic counseling and simple gene testing that's already becoming commonplace in some pre-natal tests that is the most dangerous. Given our irrational fear of disease, the high premium we place on individualism, the rising cost of health insurance, our desire to have "the best" for our children, and plain-old consumer capitalism, vast amounts of genetic information can and will be accumulated without any parallel release of that information to health-insurers or other agencies...and we'll be okay with that. But then when the health-insurance companies and pharmacutical companies, etc., etc. finally get Congress to agree to release the "old" information that's been collected for years (some screening tests started as long ago as 1985) just to do "research", the slope will get really slippery really fast. Designer babies are not just around the corner. Implicit discrimination is. And it will be assisted by "non-biased", basically innocent physicians and medical technicians who have been brought up with and trained in highly mechanized medical procedures without the slightest thought that there might be philosophical issues at work in the background. In other words, we're going to unintentionally and for all the right reasons add numbers of unborn, newborn, and young people (those who undergo the most testing in our society by far) to the growing segment of society that are "unfit" for one reason or another. And, to boot (and this is where I get paranoid), our Protestant work ethic has for at least a century tied together our "fitness" with our social "utility". It's not because we're racist or classist that we think the government shouldn't support those who don't contribute back to society. It's because we're a quasi-puritanical meritocracy. We think that those who "have not" somehow deserve it. That line of reasoning when applied to something like the above genetic screening example could go like this: "If your mom and dad knew--based on genetic tests--that you were going to have [insert high-cost disease here...we'll use heart problems as an example] down the road and yet they decided to have you anyway, instead of adopting a healthy child or going childless, they were irresponsible. As a tax-payer, I should not have to foot the bill for your parents' irresponsibility in conceiving you." No one would say this directly, of course. But we think this way indirectly all the time. We're not responsible for someone else's bad luck, moral failings, or unintended consequences. We are not our brothers' keepers. Admit it. When your health care insurance costs keep rising and rising, you think this way for a moment.... It goes almost without saying, of course, that this underlying ideology originally spawned eugenics in the United States, augmented the claims of sociobiologists, and will resurface again in the near future. Historically, these ideas were most closely associated with conservative movements to "clean up," "reorder," or "reform" society. And as our country continues its move toward conservatism, I guarantee we'll see this line of thought conjoined with advances in genetics, already extant mechanical medical practice, and bio-consumerism. Told you I was going to geek out. Don't say I didn't tell you so....

3 Comments:

Blogger Joshua said...

oh god this is already *true* eric. abortion rates of children with positive developmental disorder test results are already genocidal. and taxpayers implicitly wish that mentally delayed kids in their school district would just die, or at least get bussed to another district, or housed up in an underground bunker and locked away, or something.

4/23/2005 8:15 AM  
Blogger John McCollum said...

Quoth Erik -- "I think we both just miss our friends. So hopefully this summer we'll get back to the C-bus to hang. But it'll be different. Life has moved on for everyone, so I suppose our expectations shouldn't be too demanding. I dunno, though. Even though there's no way my Ph.D. will take less than 6 years to attain, I keep thinking of this place as a temporary jumping off point and Columbus as "home." I wonder if that's some sort of disease of the sentimental pony-tail type?"

----

Yeah, life has moved on, but true friendships are resilient. Hopefully after you've gotten your PhD, you'll find some scintillating career opportunities here in the 'bus.

Then again, by the time you finish, our kids will be out of the house and in college, and we'll have plenty of time to visit you wherever you live.

4/23/2005 8:54 PM  
Blogger e said...

wow. both encouraging and depressing....
par for April, I'd say....

4/24/2005 10:11 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home