Existential Problems Block Pragmatic Solutions

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I just endured what many folks have done-standing on the sidelines while family members decided whether or not to end the life of a loved one. Nothing unusual there, as so many of us have been on the periphery of such events. But as I watched the ethical- morality issue of the right to die with dignity played out. For a while, there was a grid of opinions, which made me reflect on two of our most difficult existential problems facing our modern society: affordable health care and economic survival for those with limited future opportunities.

Euthanasia v Healthcare costs

While economists, politicians and insurance actuaries try to craft some sort of “free market” healthcare program that would represent some form of “rights guarantee,” I wondered about our modern view of death.

We have all heard the fact that about 60% of medical costs take place during the last six months of life. The miracles of modern medicine and technology seem to be a double edged sword when it comes to longevity and the economics of national healthcare. Okay, I see your eyes roll back and your mind shut down. The memories of long dinner table philosophical discussions about the meaning of life and death make your head swim. But, that existential question is now becoming a pragmatic problem. Genetic engineering and medical research has said that we may be able to extend the average mortality out past the century mark. But is that really a desirable thing? Indeed, is prolonging life for mostly unproductive elderly retired citizens a good social investment or strategy? This challenges the existential conundrum of individual rights trumping (a new political word) the rights of the common good? That very same conundrum is also at the center of the coming age of Artificial Intelligence and over population.

Individual v The Common Good

In some European countries, there are experiments looking at the feasibility of guaranteed income. Both Capitalism and Socialism look good on paper but perhaps the devil in the details is the real behaviors and desires of we Homo sapiens. Perhaps we need to more deeply explore the idea that we need to find some balance between our own personal needs and those of others. We talk a good game but history on that subject is written in blood. And perhaps that is the way it is supposed to be. Maybe we are just closely tied to entropy and evolution…survival of the fittest and mutation?

Losing developmental momentum?

The law of regression-to- the-mean may signify that our astonishing growth cycle that really took off with the industrial revolution may be regressing to the mean? We certainly should hope not. But it is a possibility. Consider this idea: if we are headed for some sort of global social-political-economic inflection point of change, we, as a species will need to have an open and meaningful discussion about the existential values we will need to build pragmatic solutions for a growing number of complex problems, mostly results of our species’ successes.

Logic or the law of un-intended consequences?

The family members finally got together and decided to tell the doctors to not keep the loved one alive and to pull the plug on life support other than provide comfort. Two days after being off life support, the dying loved- one woke up out of the coma and sat up in bed asking for something to eat. Perhaps the symbolism is clear: some things may be better left to chance and unintended consequences.


Additional Reading

Getting Beyond the Usual Suspects in the Quest for Innovation

One Size Fits All – Finding the Right Strategy for Innovation

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