As we scour our civilization in an effort to identify and rid ourselves all of all things unsustainable, perhaps we should look past cleantech for a moment and examine the wider circles of our lives – perhaps at medicine. We’re all very grateful for the advancements in medical technology that are enabling us to live longer and healthier lives. But don’t we have an inkling that, just as we look back on the standards of medical practice 100 years ago with a mixture of pity and horror, the world even a few decades hence will regard what we’re doing here and now in the same way?
In particular, posterity will remember our generation for its fanaticism with the diagnosis of “disease” and the over-prescription of drugs for an enormous and ever-growing set of physical and mental conditions. On the day that I write this short post, 8 million school children in the U.S. alone will receive Ritalin, an extremely powerful psycho-active drug given to quiet the child’s mind – and body, creating greater docility in an effort to address the effects of an ostensible disease, ADHD. Elsewhere today, tens of millions of adults will pop pills to deal with a wider range of other “diseases” — from restless leg syndrome to sexual dysfunction. For more on this, Google “pharmaceutical companies invent diseases” and check out some of the 1,120,000 sites that offer additional detail.
I bring this up in what might at first may appear an unlikely connection with the 200th birthday of Hungarian composer and piano virtuoso Franz Liszt. Here’s something I just read in The Writer’s Almanac:
Liszt was also charismatic, and his onstage presence inspired what may have been the first example of widespread fan frenzy. It began in Berlin in 1842 and came to be known as “Lisztomania.” His admirers would follow him around, snatching up his discarded cigar butts, coffee dregs, and broken piano strings. They fought over his handkerchiefs and gloves, and would scream and faint at his performances. Rather than being considered a harmless and amusing fad, Lisztomania was viewed as a serious, and contagious, medical condition.
From our vantage point today, we’re able to see that “Lisztomania” was really not a medical condition at all, and that labeling it so was only really saying that the medical community at the time had not sufficiently advanced to a point that it could see the proper limit of its dominion. But aren’t we in the same boat today? Somehow we (most of us, anyway) can’t see this same phenomenon at play with ADHD; we’re perfectly happy to pump drugs into 8 million school kids, most of whom only need a better diet, smaller school-class sizes, better teachers, more exercise, more rest, and less television.
Food for thought as we discuss sustainability in the larger sense.
In any case, happy birthday Franz! Here is Evgeny Kissin, IMO the world’s greatest living pianist, performing Listz’s La Capanella (The Little Bell). I hope you’ll invest four minutes of your life and check this out; it’s not hard to see how people could have been deeply moved by the fabulously tall, handsome, and dynamic Listz as he belted this one out to an adoring audience.
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