Of medicine and authority

nothing is unsinkableI’ve been writing about postmodernism for almost ten years. This won’t be news for regular readers, but here’s my basic thesis:

Premodernism: I believe, therefore I understand.
Modernism: I think, therefore I understand.
Postmodernism: I participate, therefore I understand.

I think the cultural shift began at the end of the World War II, with my generation — the baby boomers. The beatniks of the 1950s were the precursors, but the counterculture movement of the 60s — and the dawn of yet another war — combined with many other events to put in place a general disillusionment with all that modernism’s logic and reason had built. A part of that disillusionment was a growing and deep distrust of the institutions that govern us, both private and public. Understanding, it became, was less about learning from experts — who were increasingly seen as self-serving — and more about experiencing for ourselves or getting close to those who had such experience. Participation, therefore, equals understanding, because experts can’t be trusted completely.

Media was the first institutional disrupted, but others are coming. One that intrigues me is medicine and for lots of reasons. When the Web first came along, the American Medical Association — the group assigned with protecting the medical status quo — created a special lobbying arm to insure that anything regarding medicine on the Web would be under its authority. We don’t need everyday people practicing medicine, right?

But there’s a remarkable statement from the 1992 film Lorenzo’s Oil, where parents fight to find a cure for their son from a very rare disease, that’s apropos. “The interest of the scientist is not the same as the interest of the parent,” said Lorenzo’s father, and this expresses a part of the dissatisfaction with modernism expressed above.

And so it was just a matter of time before patients everywhere got together to share stories of support and experiences for others with similar afflictions. In “The stage is being set to enable patient-driven disruptive innovation,” Dave deBronkart of the remarkable site e‑patients.net — along with Vince Kuraitis, and David C. Kibbe — writes that our health data belongs to us.

When we as patients get our hands on our information, and when innovators get their hands on medical data, things will change. Remember that “we as patients” includes you yes you, when your time comes and the fan hits your family. This is about you being locked in, or you getting what you want.

To paraphrase Jay Rosen, patients have “overcome their own atomization,” which is to say they’re no longer only connected “up” to the doctors, hospitals or other authorities in the medical community; they are now also connected to each other, and that means trouble for the authority of the institution.

This type of scene is going to be played out across all of modernism’s institutions, and each will scream “foul” and demand protection from the onslaught.

Good luck with that.


  1. You wrote of the Milwaukee phone book-

    I do believe the Kilborn Clapsaddle you made reference to is my father’s biological father. You would have seen our name and number listed too as there were only a couple of Clapsaddle listings.. One of my sisters disliked our last name. Not I. Once someone hears the name they rarely forget it. Johnny Carson made a comment on one of his late night shows in regard to my last name. He most likely knew of it via Vickie Lawrence, [from the Carol Brunette Show] She married my Dad’s cousin Al Schultz- big Al…

    Anyhoo- just thought I’d drop you a line.

    Formerly of Milwaukkee County, Wisconsin…

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.