Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Lance Armstrong, Der Fuhrer

Holding impatience up to be some kind of gold standard that gets things done is a horrible and irresponsible precedent to set. It's is because of impatience that we have laws protecting against illegal medical experimentation. Impatience has led to unsafe drugs being rushed to the market and lives being risked out of the drive to get to the finish line first. Yes, people are dying from cancer. It's affected my family. It's affected everyone. But to set aside an essential societal attribute like patience is an open invitation for disaster, and will likely set cancer research further behind as a result.

Here is a short excerpt from his "speech," courtesy of CNN:

I'm not known for my patience. Patience is a polite quality and often appropriate, but it rarely gets things done. Impatience, however, is the hunger for results and intolerance for excuses and delays. Impatience got me over countless mountain passes, across the finish line in New York City and through four rounds of ruthless chemotherapy 10 years ago.

Yet this election season I patiently waited to hear a candidate for office explain to constituents what he or she planned to do about one of the leading threats to the health and well-being of all Americans -- cancer. My patience was greeted with silence.
Washington is not a bike race, Mr. Armstrong. Trust me, the last place you want extra impatience running rampant is here in the nation's capital.

1 comment:

Dan said...

A good friend of mine called me out onto the carpet regarding this post. I'll post his comments and my response in hopes of clarifying what I meant by posting this Lance Armstrong rip.

Friend:

Dude, your post about Lance Armstrong and patience makes no sense.

We don't refrain from medical experimentation because we believe in patience, we do so because we believe in the autonomy and dignity of the human species, because we value individual life, not because we think that life is better by waiting around more. That's just nonsense.

And, frankly, if a doctor and a patient, who is dying, agree that trying an unproven or risky drug is worth the trade-off, then who the hell is the FDA to tell them not to? The FDA is the kind of paternalistic, let-us-be-the-adult-for-you kind of institution that Big Government has ushered in that we small conservatives can't stand. We're not talking about selling any old cancer pill on the corner to some kid that wants to get high, we're talking about drugs that go through a laborious, capital intensive process that's onerous and risk averse. And even FDA approval doesn't insulate the drug companies from lawsuits, nor are all drugs that get approval risk-free, so what's the point? The point has been made that aspirin would never make it through the FDA approval process now because its side effects are so dramatic to so many people.

We don't espouse patience as a virtue in an of itself. It's not like Jesus ever said, it is good to have a muffin, but I say unto you, it is better to wait in a long line for much time for a muffin. No -- we are patient when we need to be, like when we suffer a trial due to the nature of mortality, so that we don't treat other people or God poorly as a result of our impatience. It's an issue of controlling our thoughts and feelings and not acting impulsively or childishly.

But Armstrong has a valid point. A better word choice might have been something along the lines of the opposite of apathy or contentment or sloth. It's no vice to be impatient at the suffering of others, and it's no vice to employ all of one's faculties to right a wrong. The evil lies in giving up or trampling on the rights of others to benefit the few. And I don't see the connection between what Armstrong said and der Fuerher.


My response:

Point well taken and received. I just take things at their surface value, and post what I think right then and there (it's not a philosophical blog). I know there are other reasons why we refrain from medical experimentation (not least of which are the reasons you outlined). But since I was speaking in the context of patience (or lack thereof), it's important to understand, in that context, that humans are capable of dangerous choices when patience is thrown to the wind. I'm not saying all forms of impatience are inappropriate. But a societal attitude that trends toward impatience isn't necessarily a good thing. Given our history, it's easy to see why we as a civilization have put checks in place that make us stop and think about what we're doing - if only for a moment.

I agree with you about the FDA. Steyn makes a similar point about paternalistic society when he talks about airplanes being the ultimate expression of the nanny-state. I also believe wholeheartedly that patients should be able to choose the course of their treatment. If that is ammonia and leeches, so be it. But Lance Armstrong's bold assertion that Congress needs to move with impatience when it comes to cancer (without clarifying his choice of words) sets a dangerous precedent in politics, and gives people the wrong idea about what they should expect from government when it comes to disease research. Or really, what they should expect from government at all. Democracy isn't a government of results. By nature, it is a government of patience. Fascist states are extremely impatient in nature, hence my der Fuhrer comment.

Again, I'm not talking about the kind of impatience that can motivate. I certainly don't advocate patience when your dealing with an irrational situation. Civilization moves forward through action, I understand that. But it isn't action, all the time - at any cost - that makes us great. Patience can and does lead to better decisions. But that doesn't mean positive outcomes cannot happen as a result of impatience. They do. However, as a matter of rule, wouldn't you rather be subjected to patient leaders and societies than impatient ones?

As for patience being a virtue, I support the notion. The First Presidency (of the Mormon church) has espoused patience as a "heavenly virtue" many times, and I agree with them. You said it yourself, we use patience as a means to avoid the poor treatment of others. This is exactly why, as a society, we should decry impatience as a gold standard. It doesn't mean we need to qualify it every time by saying, "...but sometimes impatience is good." It's better just to stick to one code that works with less problems.

I get Lance Armstrong's point. I just don't think he is approaching it in a way that will benefit people.