Jan 18, 2011

Critical Care

For those who are not Star Trek fans, it is probably not very clear what a geek sci-fi show that is not even being broadcast anymore has to do with anything barely real. Fans, otherwise, know better. When Gene Rodenberry created Star Trek, his idea was to to discuss the problems of society in a disguised language. By placing them into the distant future and on distant planets, he could be excused from criticizing his own country. Just to give an example, it was on Star Trek (the Original Series) that the first interracial kiss in the US television took place, with William Shatner being highly responsible for it not being cut from the original text. But that's another episode. The episode I really want to talk about was the one I watched last weekend.

By showing the social side of Star Trek to my wife, I was able to convince her, who's a lawyer, to watch the whole five Star Trek series with me. She's actually enjoying it so much that she's also a fan now. Okay, from now on I will spoil the episode. So if you like surprises, stop reading now. The episode is from the last season of Voyager and it is called Critical Care. The ship's doctor, which is a hologram, is stolen and sold in a planet where the health system has some similarities with the real (not the idealised) terrestrial one. The story goes like this. The planet's economy was crashing (any similarity here?) and then an alien race appeared to help. They ended up leaving them with a health system where people would be treated accordingly to an index named the treatment coefficient, TC for short. The TC of a person would be calculated by an advanced computer, left by the nice aliens, that would carefully take into consideration the impact of the corresponding person upon society, i.e., how much the person in question contributes to the well being of all.

As in all societies, it turns out that the ones with the highest TC receive the best treatments, while the others, which are less relevant, receive just an annual quote of treatment. You can read other synopses on Wikipedia and IMDB. Alternatively you can watch the whole episode, although I am not sure for how long, on YouTube by following the links starting with this:
There are very interesting dialogues and scenes. For example, the higher TC patients are treated in a Blue Zone (or something like that) where everything is nice and clean. Then, the computer allows the doctors to treat the patients with a certain quote of medicines but if the doctors do not use everything, the computer decreases it in the next month. At first sight, it seems okay, but if you think deeply, that is just absurd. Try. Of course the episode was meant to be a direct critic of the US health system, but if you change the time to today, the country to UK and the terms Treatment Coefficient by Research Impact and patient by scientific project, you have an isomorphism.

As a friend of mine said, the messenger changes, but the message is always the same. In fact, what is happens with people in that episode is presently happening with science and education in the UK. And it's not just metaphorically. The methods are literally, and I really mean LITERALLY, the same as in the Star Trek show! Is it possible that there are profound and important things that science fiction writers can see about how to make a better society while politicians cannot? If so, aren't we giving the wrong job to each of them?

I am not a person who thinks that politicians do not know what they are doing (well, maybe some...). They are clever people. They know exactly what they are doing. Our duty is not to call them stupid. That's actually just helping them. What we need to think is 'They are not stupid, so they are doing this for some reason. What is the reason?'. The answer to this question is the most important.

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