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The Sickness Unto Death: WebMD and the Outsourcing of Western Medicine
© 2018 Chad McNabb

© 2018 Chad McNabb

by Chad McNabb
The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology. The actual threat has already affected man in his essence
— Martin Heidegger

America is sick. We are getting fatter and we do all the drugs we can get our hands on. Yet, we have outsourced our medical care to semi-professionals, machines or in most cases ourselves. Where have all the doctors gone? When was the last time you actually saw one? Americans see a doctor far less than any industrialized country, averaging just 4 visits per year. I thought this number was somewhat high. I haven't been to a real doctor since the Bush 43 administration and I have health insurance! Upon reflection, I realized I have been practicing medicine for over a decade now. Why am I doing this?

So what used to be the case? You got sick; you made an appointment and saw a doctor. Hell, doctors used to make home visits! Can you imagine??? You ideally followed the doctor’s advice and got well. If you broke a bone in the 1950’s, you were hospitalized for a week.  Friends came to the hospital and visited you.  They signed your cast while you were in a hospital bed! This is no longer the case. The first stop for any medical problem from a hangnail to avian flu is WebMD. Founded in 1996, WebMD has more visitors than any other healthcare site, private or governmental. Over 180 million unique visitors diagnose themselves each month, with 3.6 billion views per quarter! Gucci! 

What is WebMD actually telling us? Not much. You have a cough. You search WebMD for help. Immediately a screen appears with the phrase "when is a cough just a cough?" Great! That's what I want to know! I can live with it if it's just a cough. It continues "a cough could be brought on by a cold, allergy, digestive issue or even disease." The table is set. An interactive slideshow is dialed up to help diagnose what brought on the cough.  The first slide says “things in the air.”  Allergies, that’s what I thought! Slide two says “the common cold.”  Who hasn’t had that? Slide three “Flu.” No, I don’t feel that sick. Slide four. “Postnasal Drip.” Exotic! Maybe? Slide 5:  “Whooping Cough.”  Saucy, but pretty sure I got a shot for that back in the 80’s. Then the turn. Slide 6 “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.” Shit! “Heart Failure.” Fuck! Then the biggie. “Lung Cancer!” I then go to the mirror to check my color.  I exhale and inhale through a stethoscope on my futon.  I have lung cancer. 

I light a cigarette.  I experience the five stages of grief.  I can’t have lung cancer.  I’m too young.  I’m so pissed off that I have lung cancer and Keith Richards doesn’t.  Maybe I don’t have lung cancer and I have Postnasal Drip.  I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds like I can live with it.  Did my skin look that yellow? I don’t feel like moving.  Maybe I’m really not sick at all and it’s just in my head.  I haven’t coughed since my diagnosis.  And then.  I do nothing.  I either have allergies or lung cancer.  What has this accomplished? In hindsight quite a bit.  We use logic to determine we are probably ok and avoid going to the doctor’s office or hospital and being exposed to real disease.

The outsourcing of Western medicine was like a mutual break up.  The rising health care costs which have no direct link the actual product or service was the catalyst.  The affair in the relationship that led both parties (patients and doctors) to realize this wasn’t working.  Hospitals have started devoting so much space to insurance companies they resemble some strange Felliniesque night terror. The experience of the ER closely resembles a Stalin era Gulag.  Any sane person would take their chances to avoid it at all costs. And we do.

The American patient has strong inherent inclinations toward self-reliance and anti-authoritarianism. We trust ourselves better than doctors.  Jordan Peterson, in his excellent new book, 12 Rules for Life, makes the point that Americans take better care of their animals than they do themselves.  Only about a third of patients actually take the medicine a doctor has prescribed them as directed.  Yet with a veterinarian’s advice, the prescription is more likely to be carried out as directed. 

The rise of the walk-in clinic is evidence of this.  Americans diagnose themselves at home via WebMD, and only when they have something they determine they need medicine for, do they venture out to the last resort.  The Walgreen’s walk-in clinic.  We can go there to visit a Nurse Practitioner who will give us what we have determined we need.  The doctors are completely out of the mix.  We have gotten our collective fill of their snake oil.

The acceleration of this model will result in home surgery.  This is nothing new here in Appalachia.  Countless successful home surgeries have been performed using Jack Daniels and Tweezers. We are reverting back to a pre-western medicine era where babies were born in homes with no anesthesia.  Yet with all this, we are living much longer in this post-medical reality. WebMD is successful because of the enormous need for it. There have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions of trips to a doctor avoided because of it.  Just imagine what our health care costs would be without it.

We are all Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter, and the chamber is usually empty.  What WebMD subconsciously tells us is, it’s usually not lung cancer.  Just wait it out. 



Pursuit of the Hyper Real Hero: America's Love of the MCU
© 2018 Chad McNabb

© 2018 Chad McNabb

a collaborative article by Chad McNabb + Daniel Hodge
Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is a generation by models of a real without origin or reality
— Jean Baudrillard

This May will mark the 10th anniversary of the release of the original Iron Man film, and the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) box office domination. It’s hard to overstate the success of these films.  Over the last ten years, the 18 films of the MCU have generated just shy of 15 billion dollars in revenue. This is not including the merchandise deals also valued at billions of dollars. Recent films in the MCU franchise such as Black Panther are continuing to break box office records. With more and more of these films being turnt out every year it’s safe to say the MCU isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  The time has come to question this.

This wasn’t always the case. Before Stan Lee achieved holy GOAT status, the history of the MCU pre-2008 is largely one of failure. In the late 80s onwards, Marvel housed more bombs than Ted Kaczynski’s cabin.  Howard the Duck, Elektra, and Punisher films all lost money.  The 1990 Captain America film which had a 10 million dollar budget, had box office receipts of just over $10,000.00, dying a straight-to-video death. The outlook of the fully produced 1994 Fantastic Four film was so bad, it remains unreleased! 

But something happened in 2008 with the release of Iron Man. The movies got better sure, but that’s not it.  The plots of these films are very similar to their failed predecessors. The special effects of these turds were largely on par (or better) than those of their time.  What changed, was America.  

To understand 2008, we must first look at the year before it. What happened in 2007?  A lot to make the world retreat to their polarized corners.  In 2007 alone, the iPhone is released. Twitter and Facebook become global platforms; Amazon unveils the Kindle. YouTube is purchased by Google. This life-altering year is profiled with considerable stank and gusto by Thomas L. Friedman in his book Thank You for Being Late.  So let’s move forward to 2008.  On September 15, 2008, about 4 months after Iron Man is released, Lehman Brothers collapses, triggering the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Which means that while many Americans were getting their Iron Man on, they were living in houses they were about to lose, that they could never afford in the first place. 

Americans in 2008 were yearning for hope.  After being exposed to new technology that only further alienated and polarized them, Americans wanted to feel like Americans again.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is emblematic of this nihilism.  In an attempt to recreate misguided 60’s nostalgia, Americans took to the streets in a synthetic attempt to protest a complex financial system so disconnected few of them understood it. What exactly were they protesting? The election of Barack Obama in November 2008 is further direct evidence of this.   His platform was literally “hope” and “change”. However, many more Americans placed their hope that year in Tony Stark and the MCU. Sho Nuff.

The MCU never succeeded pre-2008, because there was no need for it.  There was a sense of collective identity that outweighed the voice of the individual. Granted, America has always been a country of divisions, but these were largely a battle of ideas.  Not narcissistic alienation or outright exile. Even the philosophy of the vile 60s is telling.  Protestor’s goals were quite utilitarian in retrospect. “Leave us be, we don’t expect you to understand us. Just move out of the way.” Society today blames the other side for their problems and shortcomings.  In the 1960’s, counter-culture chose the middle finger, today it’s always the index.  The MCU allows us to use the index finger not to point straight out to an enemy, but up to a greater good.

There are no longer bonds that make us all Americans.  The American idea has failed. We can longer get behind someone as a “hero”.  We no longer see greatness in our leaders.  There are no more Roosevelt’s, Kennedy’s, or Patton’s.  But we can all agree on the fantastical “extra” that is Captain America or Iron Man.  Americans still have hope for an external communal existence bigger than the individual, a collective hero. We have often gone to the movies to escape. The question should be, what are we escaping to? The MCU allows you to escape into a collective world of duty, hope, and honor. We are grasping on to a thread of hope, even if we have to make it up. It’s not just a distraction; it’s something to believe in. 

Enter, the sidekick with some additional albeit different perspective.

An interesting facet of the escapism delivered by the MCU is that it offers us a compartmentalized, identifiable force that is easily discernable as the bad, in stark contrast with the easily identifiable force that is the good. Never mind that the spawn of the MCU’s “enemy” was ostensibly conjured by the negligence of the superheroes in the first place, what’s important is that the enemy, from the lay-perspective, is distilled enough into the bad guy/group who is villainous chiefly because the aims are against humanity, thereby unjust prima facie.

And theirs is a cause of justice and cosmic balance, after all.

Swooping in to save humanity from the ails of utter extinction, slavery, or worse, subordination to otherworldly beings with questionable fashion sense, are these superheroes:  humanoid beings with powers and personal affectations of altruism so great that power or wealth have no primacy over the pursuit of justice and the provision of humanitarian aid. This is a hyperreal aim, as it has no basis as a positive characteristic in human nature. It is aspirational.

In the objective sense, there would be no humanity or civilization if there were superheroes from the outset. Yet, as the saying goes, faith is the essence of things hoped for – and when nothing seems to mean anything, perhaps the victory over otherworldly injustice (over which normal humans have no intrinsic power) behooves our collective faith. Mr. Joseph Campbell has much to say on this topic, especially our propensity for latching onto origin stories and subsequent identification with the hero’s trials. It’s likely not a stretch that the recent uptick in superhero fandom has increased in lockstep with the inclusion of these superhero’s trials and the human-like problems they encounter along the way. 

The contrast between the Iron Man and Thor origin stories is a particularly striking quirk in the MCU. Tony Stark is a human genius channeling his vast wealth and knowledge while Thor is more of a mythical god, tasked with protecting and serving humanity. One broadcasts his identity while the other chooses to downplay. Interestingly, their common denominator is a collective pursuit of justice characterized by a hyperreal conviction:  that humanity is worth saving.

And perhaps we need to be reminded of this basic tenet of existence as Dawkins’ attempts to do with The Selfish Gene. Perhaps the emphasis on the hero’s journey and the less-than-super inner conflicts and tribulations experienced by the MCU superheroes affords us a chance to see the value of working together to achieve common aims. Even if the ultimate reason is a zero-sum game, when presented from the perspective of extra-human beings, the beauty of existence is confirmed as worth preserving.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.
— Joseph Campbell