A thought experiment on choosing while angry

As we approach the important Wisconsin primary, here’s an imperfect but hopefully illuminating thought experiment.

Imagine you have a serious heart condition.  You need surgery, probably to save your life.  But you have decided that you despise doctors, especially cardiologists, whom you view as being at the top of the medical profession’s evilness food chain.  You are angry at the medical profession for running up the costs of health care, for being cold and aloof, and for caring more about dollars than patient well-being.  You are angry at doctors and see them as part of the problem with this country – you don’t trust them, you can’t understand them when they try to explain things, and you rarely have good experiences with them.  So, in your anger and distrust, and fervent desire to stick it to all of the doctors, you decide to consider having the surgery performed by someone who is not a doctor and who has no medical education, training, or experience.  Assume that this is legally permissible in your state.

You meet with a wealthy businessman who has been touring the state saying that he wants to be a heart surgeon.  He says he will do it for you, and it will be great.  He tells you everything you want to hear: how the medical profession is corrupt and untrustworthy, often incompetent, and not looking out for you.  He reassures you that he will.  He is – he reminds you repeatedly – rich, smart, and successful.  He explains that he went to the best business school in the country, and has a really smart uncle.  He tells you that he has many friends who are cardiologists and he has made many great deals with them – after all, the medical profession is a business, too, and he knows business.  He knows how to fix things, how to make things work, because, he boasts, his deal-making skills have always resulted in new ventures that were successful.  He assures you he can do the same with your heart.

You have concerns, though.  You see that while he has experience in the business world, he has never done a medical procedure before, certainly never anything as complex as heart surgery.  You have heard him speak publicly about health care and medicine, but his understanding seems shallow.  When he is asked questions about his knowledge of medicine, he changes the subject and never answers the question.  You see the transcript of an interview he did recently with a group of doctors who questioned him about important issues in the field of medicine, and he demonstrated a complete lack of knowledge.  He also seems like a hot-head, someone not in control of his emotions and not able to focus.  This is not, you fear, ordinarily the kind of person who should be doing heart surgery.

But when you meet with him, he continues to reassure you, seducing you with his appeals to your sensibilities about the corruption and incompetence of the medical profession.  He tries to vindicate your anger, explaining why you should be mad at the medical establishment and why you should use that anger to bring down the status quo in medicine, the guys who have let you down so much already.  He also impresses you by speaking in plain and simple terms, not using the medical terminology that doctors use.  His self-confidence makes you feel like you will be safe in his hands.  “I’m very rich, smart, and successful, and I’m not like the others guys.  I’m much better and smarter than they are,” he says.  “Don’t worry about the details of what I will do when we get into the operating room.  I like to be unpredictable.  Just trust me.  I’ll make your heart great again.”

Do you go forward, allowing him to perform the heart surgery on you?

The point, of course, is not that picking those who govern us and picking a heart surgeon are the same thing.  Rather, the point is that there is great risk in making important decisions merely out of anger, frustration, or revenge.  Feeling disaffected does not require us to put ourselves at risk by giving in to the shiny new thing that validates our disaffection by reassuring us with pandering rhetoric of confident strength and absolute safety.  As Russell Kirk might say, ill-tempered, ill-informed governing can be just as perilous as ill-tempered, ill-informed surgery.




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