Medicine doesn’t show up in the classic utopias. If you think about it for a second, it’s striking, even shocking — Campanella, More, et al, all the way up through Edward Bellamy and V.I. Lenin, describe their paradises in detail, and they always mention that disease has been overcome, but there’s never even the hint of a mechanism. They just somehow assume that common property and communal living make illness a thing of the past.
Medicine didn’t show up in the Progressives’ political fantasies, either, though these were specifically designed to be (and, alas, all too often were) made law. This is not, you can be sure, because of some weird vestigial respect for personal autonomy. The Progressives, after all, thought that the State could and should run your sex life for you. Medicine doesn’t show up in Socialist fantasies because medicine was, for all practical purposes, completely useless.
Historians of medicine (of which I’m not one) like to joke that if you somehow get sent back in time, and you get sick, you’d better stay the hell away from the doctor if you’ve landed anytime before 1920. It turns out that physicians have the same joke, only they pick 1950 as the annus mirabilis. In other words, “medicine” is so recent an invention that there are probably still a few guys in nursing homes somewhere whose professional medical practice was little better than voodoo. The three great medical accomplishments of the late 19th century — germ theory, aseptic surgery, Koch’s postulates — laid the foundations for modern medicine, but without an effective broad-spectrum antibiotic, actual treatment remained all but medieval.*
The history of medicine highlights the deepest, most dangerous irony of “Progressivism:” They must assume that what’s now is forever. Progressivism is, at bottom, just organized envy. If anyone, anywhere, possesses X, then there can never be justice until everyone, everywhere, possesses X. That X might just be an accident, a historical hiccup, a blip of static on Time’s radar screen, never occurs to them. It can’t. Otherwise, they’d be praising the Gilded Age’s “universal access to healthcare,” since John D. Rockefeller’s kid was just as likely to die of some horrible infection as the poorest immigrant’s. Same for Rockefeller himself — burst appendixes are no respecters of rank.
This locks “Progressives” into their categories, such that they can’t see the runaway freight train heading right at them. Bernie Sanders is still on the campaign trail sounding like a refugee from the Wobblies, talking about poverty. Poverty, fer chrissakes! As if America’s “poor” people didn’t keel over from heart disease while fiddling with their Obamaphones in front of their HD tvs. The real driver of social change isn’t poverty, it’s idleness.
The signature pathology of the 21st century is our utter lack of purpose. Our inner cities aren’t vibrant because the people there are poor. It’s because they’re bored. They don’t lack jobs; they lack the very notion that anything they could possibly do might be meaningful for its own sake. Likewise, people don’t jump the border for “economic opportunity.” They jump the border because they want to loaf on the public dime. Why else would all those hardworking immigrants, working 24 hours a day doing the jobs Americans won’t, end up acting exactly like our very own native-born ghetto bangers?
If you think it’s bad now, wait until the robots start taking over for real. The consequences are obvious — so obvious that H.G. Wells, himself a moron Socialist, saw them back in 1895. But that’s “progress” for you…. We should all thank God that medicine didn’t really get going until after the Progressives had shot their wad. Otherwise your Obamacare doctor would want to bleed you fortnightly to release your bilious humours.