Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wilfred McClay on Medicine, Limits, and Death

You should be reading the stuff that Wilfred McClay writes.  He is one of the best cultural critics writing today.  If your new to McClay, start with his Merle Curti Award-winning book The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America.  You will not be disappointed.

Or check out McClay's short piece at The Hedgehog Review, a journal published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.  Here is a taste of "Against Mastery": 

How, for one, will we make sense of death if it comes to be viewed as something with no intrinsic meaning, but chiefly as a piece of bad luck, a matter of bad timing—the misfortune, for example, of contracting the disease before the march of inevitable medical progress had caught up with it? Or worse, how can we ever be reconciled to death when it becomes understood as something almost entirely accidental, and largely preventable?

Do we imagine that complete control over our biological fates will necessarily make us happier? Perhaps it will. But one can as easily imagine that there might be little room for uninhibited joy or exuberance in such a world. More likely it will be a tightly wound world, saturated with bitterness and anxiety and mutual suspicion, in which life and health will be guarded with all the ferocity of Ebenezer Scrooge guarding his money. Growing mastery means growing responsibility, and the need to assign blame, since nothing happens by chance. Some of the blame will be directed at the parents, politicians, doctors, and celebrities who make plausible villains, or conspiracy theories that explain why someone else is always at fault. But much of the blame will devolve upon ourselves, since in being set free to choose so much about our lives, we will have no one else to blame when we make a complete mess of things.