I sometimes wonder what it must be like to live a life without the intervention of modern medicine. What must it be like when your teeth fit together just fine without braces, when you can see without corrective lenses, when you’ve required no surgery to remove oversized adenoids, tonsils, or appendices, when your robust joints have required no surgery, when your skin grows no cancers…
Now, to be clear, I haven’t experienced all the surgical procedures and interventions listed above… but enough of them to wonder what life would be like without them. This dream is partly why the story of Harrison Bergeron is so fascinating to me: a man who is simply profoundly smarter and stronger than any of his peers. In fact, I’ve a peer in my dental school class who is simply an extraordinarily gifted individual. Capable of mind-bendingly precise micro surgery and superhuman feats of long term memory—yet he achieves those tasks with no notable effort. He is, simply put, better than the rest. Does he needs glasses? I don’t know. But that brings us to an interesting point.
Tall poppy syndrome is used in parts of Europe to describe the injustices a truly gifted person suffers at the hands of their inferior peers. While I disagree with this idea being used in politics to shore up petulant complains of the wealthy regarding high taxes, I’ve seen tall poppy syndrome first hand in a small group. 100 people in our class, and there’s a solid contingent that simply hate this truly gifted classmate. I don’t understand this. I do, however, think there’s an underlying theme here: jealousy.
Smart people will go to great lengths and employ endless strings of clever ruses to hide their prejudices and knee-jerk reactions. No one wants to be seen as a bigot: smart people just have more cognitive overhead to work on hiding their tendencies. I think we’re seeing that in the interaction between my classmate the dental savant and his peers. Students will make up reasons to hide their jealousy, skim-coating their feelings with plausible critiques: “he’s not dedicated enough”, “he doesn’t take this seriously”… but what they feel is simply ugly jealousy.
In fact, I’ve seen the same thing with greed in my class. How many people said they were applying to dental school for the money? Nobody. So, everyone’s already had practice hiding their base desires. And so, the state of Minnesota is the first in the nation to introduce “Dental Therapists”—a person with qualifications between a dentist and a hygienist. There have been thousands of hours of a debate: will these Dental Therapists be restricted in where they can practice? What supervision will they be required to have? What procedures will they be allowed to do? Will this really achieve the stated goal: “solve the problem of poor people in remote areas who are unable to get to dental care regularly”?
Those questions are valid, because they are calling for a clarification of this Dental Therapist position. However, in asking these questions, most people are just hiding their greed. Some are genuinely engaged and interested. Most are worried that they’ll make less money in the future because of this position. Me? I just want to pay back my loans. After that, even if they come up with a vaccine to eliminate dental decay and thus dentists as we know it forever, I’ll be fine, thanks. In the meantime, it’s hard to watch everyone lie to themselves and others.
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