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Battle of Ideas: Whose Data Is it Anyway?

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Andrew Siebert Avatar
Andrew Siebert
Posted: 02.17.09, 06:42 PM
I wish one of these discussants would have poignantly mentioned Hannah Arendt's work, "Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil." It is somewhat depressing that the painful lessons of fascist Nazi Germany seem to have already been forgotten by the baby-boomer generation. When listening to those on this panel who were so enthusiastic about what amounts to adding another block to a totalitarian system, I immediately recognized the underlying similarity of the enthusiasts' arguments to those eased central Europe onto the slippery slope it found itself on in the 1930's. We don't need technicians making moral decisions for society-at-large, in secret, simply for the benefit of some non-human, overly-rational "system." We don't need to enable another Dr. Mengele. They still exist. Secondly, if better health-care was the real aim, this could be accomplished in many other ways, all much more humane. For instance, simply increasing the number of general practitioners ... regular, non-specialized medical doctors that actually know their patients personally. Or more preventative care. The list is endless, and few of the other options would help crush the basic civil liberties of societies. Thirdly, there was little discussion about health-insurance companies and the profit motive, or the great potential for basic, common corruption. A major insurance corporation with millions of dollars at its disposal is fully capable of bribing or hacking its way into digitized health records, allowing "IT" to make "better informed decisions" over your treatments, potential policies, denial of treatments, premium hikes, etc. This is simply an awful idea; it will not guarantee better health care, but it does guarantee the eventual, gradual loss of individual privacy. We have seen parallel situations before, only decades ago, both in fascist Europe, and in the eugenics movement of the early 20th century in the United States. It might do us all well to ponder what Ms. Arendt meant by that powerful phrase of hers, "...the banality of evil."