“Capitalism establishes rational means of production, but the ends are irrational.” Frederik Jameson.
We can make the larger reading of the above statement: the rationalising of all production via technology since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the consequent destruction of all traditional ways of doing things leading to us standing on the edge of environmental chaos; or we can focus on something smaller.
Let me, for a moment, look at dentistry, as a means and as an end. The technological means have vastly improved. When I was a kid people got all their teeth out at twenty one and bought a set of dentures, because it saved all that trouble and a lot of money. Today, dentists can drill root canals, fix most things and if not, implant new teeth. You floss and have fluoride to toughen the enamel and can generally keep enough teeth to be functional until you die. No longer the sight of the one fanged grimace or the sunken cheeks of the crone. Marvellous. Also of course, expensive. You can judge a person’s earnings by their shoes and the state of their teeth. The middle portion is irrelevant. Perhaps one day the state will be sensible enough to offer free, or at least subsidised oral health care.
Instead, dentistry is being taken over by corporations who then operate via a franchise system (a 40:60 split it seems). As usual, marketing and supplies arrive via the corporate office. The workforce is becoming globalised, with many Asians arriving. No problem so far, except for the disappearance of the community-based local dentist and the fact that the corporations, like the Aussie banks, adopt a hard-sell approach. You go to a franchise dentist with a broken filling and they find a great deal wrong with you – at my age a litany of scrapes and groans and chips and fissures. There are teeth whitening crazes, Jacinda-like smiles on all the advertising, and a multitude of hygiene possibilities. The nice Indian dentist has an expert’s demeanour and I feel like a peasant. He assumes a pattern of necessary treatment if I am to keep my teeth. If I were peasant obedient, I’d be in for years of treatment and most of my discretionary money would be committed. And they pursue you via mail and email, scheduling appointments.
As in most things, the means are rational, the end chaos. The question remains: why do we put up with it?
Ooops, is that John in this picture?
That’s enough of this Winston-like rave.