Mylan and Dr. Malcolm

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Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park), one of the great characters in pop-fiction/film, couldn’t have said it better:

If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now your selling it.  You wanna sell it…

Malcolm was talking about making dinosaurs, but it could just as easily be said about Mylan’s jacking up the price on Epipen when it found out a generic was going to be allowed. This action is going to cause a lot of immediate pain. The callousness of companies like Mylan is morally reprehensible. But this particular company’s profiteering is just part of the rot. The underlying rot is the capitalization of intellectual property, the buying and selling of patents on the open market.

Why should we expect Mylan or Turing or anybody else in big pharma to have any moral investment in the drugs they sell? They didn’t, as Malcolm said, earn the knowledge for themselves, so of course they take no responsibility for it.

Suggested reading: Philip Mirowski’s Science-Mart.

   

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Zizek on Populism

I recently came across Zizek’s (with apologies for the inappropriate orthography) post on The Philosophical Salon, in which he defends himself from tweeters and comment sectioners. I’m not terribly interested in the specifics of his rebuttal, except to say that it’s a fascinating state of affairs when the likes of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift seem far better equipped to defend themselves than Slavoj Zizek. “The medium is the massage” and all that.

As always, though, Zizek has a way of turning the perfectly intuitive into something worth arguing.  I’m referring to the following passage from Part Two of his defense:

The stance that sustains these tweet rejoinders is a mixture of self-righteous Political Correctness and brutal sarcasm: the moment anything that sounds problematic is perceived, a reply is automatically triggered—usually a PC commonplace. Although critics like to emphasize how they reject normativity (“the imposed heterosexual norm,” etc.), their stance itself is one of ruthless normativity, denouncing every minimal deviation from the PC dogma as “transphobia,” or “Fascism,” or whatever. Such a tweet culture, combining official tolerance and openness with extreme intolerance towards actually different views, simply renders critical thinking impossible.

Again, I have nothing to say about the specifics of this, as I have neither the expertise nor the ethos. But in general terms, he points to something I’ve been struggling with for a while: How does one separate an authentic political movement from just another iteration of populism? Although populism goes hand-in-hand with reactionary thinking and so mostly afflicts those who identify with the Right, that’s not always the case. Badiou has devoted much of his career to figuring how to draw the distinction between a properly transformative Event and a reactionary episode. However, Zizek points to something much simpler. Perhaps populism is just a multitude with an orthodoxy (which of course is a contradiction).

Or maybe I’m just looking to preserve my own ego, for instance, for having been a wheaty Bernie Sanders supporter without being a chaffy BernieBro.