Friday, July 25, 2008

Editorial: Logic and Bureaucracy

October 21, 1921. All is imaginary– family , office, friends, the street, all imaginary, far away or close at hand, the woman; the truth that lies closest, however, is only this, that you are beating your head against the wall of a windowless and doorless cell.

It was such a good idea. In the middle of the 19th century, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis was worrying about the infant mortality rate in his hospital. Long story short, he linked the problem to medical students coming from their autopsy lessons straight to the maternity ward. He suggested that they wash their hands before delivering the babies. He was ridiculed, endured arduous personal grief, was finally vindicated, the world is a better place as a result, etc. It would make a fine TV movie starring Adrian Zmed and Emmys would be duly awarded.

It really WAS a good idea, and I can confidently state that the difference between the washed and unwashed hands was significant. Later, as stronger disinfectant, better gloves, and universal precautions became the norm, even the most skeptical hypochondriac could rest easy. The logic is sound; in this instance.

Of course people still die of infection during childbirth; it's just that there are fewer of them. But, using the same logic of refinement as before, couldn't we do better? Maybe doctors should wear full body clean suits during deliveries. Or, better yet, they could wear them at all times while in the hospital. Perhaps some of the more dedicated doctors should wear them at all times, period. They could become an elite class of viral priests, consulted only for the most heinous threats. We would store them in pristine glass cathedrals, and feed them vaporized nutrients through long silk tubes that have never felt the degrading touch of human skin. And, still, people would die of infection during childbirth. Fewer of them, to be sure, but not by many.

It is this type of thinking that leads well intentioned idiots to put a stop sign on every street corner where some unfortunate child was run over by a Jeep. If only we had a stop sign HERE. If only there was a law against THAT. If only every contingency had been taken into consideration, then Chad would still have the use of his left arm; Dakota would be able to see the candles on her birthday cake as her nurse blows them out.

"Somebody is to blame," exclaims the deranged talk show host as she wrings her hands pleadingly before the camera. "Somebody must pay." And the helplessly uninformed nod their heads in solemn resignation. Because, if even one bad thing happens to even one person, anywhere for any reason, then we must do something about it. Right?

No. It simply isn't the case. Having doctors wash their hands prior to surgery makes sense and works. Still, the logic can obviously be taken too far. We cannot take every variable into consideration, nor should we. That type of thinking has an inevitable deforming effect. It is the reason we have ten million abstruse, self-contradictory laws. It is the reason you need eleven kinds of identification just for the privilege of filling out eleven thousand forms in order to get anything done in any government building. It is the reason that decent people are duckwalked through crowded airports, strip searched and probed on the off chance that they packed three lighters rather than two.

Face it. Crazy shit happens. All the time. And it is due to the fact that existence is almost perfectly indifferent to human desire. Even that randy old philistine, Ben Franklin, was in the know: The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. Sure, he could have used a couple of commas, but Goddamn, buy that man a drink. And go ahead, wash your hands before delivering a baby, just don't cut them off. You'll probably need them.

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