The movie Idiocracy depicts a world where humanity has descended into such a dumbed down state that people can barely speak and function as a result of childbearing primarily taking place between people with low IQs. In this dystopian future, Costco issues law degrees, the president of the country is a porn star, mounds of garbage continue to accumulate, not having a tattoo constitutes a crime, displays of verbal intelligence invite ridicule, police remotely shut down cars which talk to people so they don’t have to think about where they’re going, businesses offer adult services to accompany their products and have advertisements laden with profanity, the most popular television show and movie are called “Ow My Balls” and “Ass”, medical examinations consist of pushing a button and inserting tubes into various parts of people’s bodies, and the crops are watered with Brawndo, “The Thirst Mutilator” because “it has electrolytes that plants crave.”
As laughable and unrealistic as this disturbing social commentary may seem, upon closer examination, too many real world parallels exist to simply dismiss everything as hyperbole. Our food and health care systems, for example, represent particularly relevant parallels.
To elaborate, with the increasing centralization of our health care system, doctors continue to lose their ability to exercise independent judgment while surrendering their volition to bureaucratic guidelines. This loss of freedom will continue to undermine the relationship between doctors and patients and erode the quality of medical care as the best and brightest minds will more likely gravitate towards a profession where people can actually think for themselves rather one whose arduous regulatory hurdles make it exceedingly difficult to start a private practice and force most doctors to work for hospitals whose increasing power over their every move conjures up the very image of the scene in Idiocracy mentioned above where diagnoses consist of pushing a button and sticking tubes in people.
There also exists a factory mentality in medicine described by Dr. Daphne Miller that Idiocracy touches on when the main character (U.S. Army librarian Joe Bauers played by Luke Wilson) hears cries of “Hurry up!” given the long line of people waiting to be “treated”. This emphasis on increased efficiency by artificially reducing the supply of doctors who must see as many patients as possible in the shortest amount of time despite the elevated risk of harm to the patient parallels the capital intensive factory farm mentality of cramming as many animals as possible in a confined area while giving them food that causes health problems in order to sell as much food as possible.
Granted, increased efficiency, mass production, and standardization do not necessarily equate with evil, as they have given rise to great inventions and advances in medicine, which have significantly enhanced our standard of living. Medical advancements highly depend on modern technology to solve problems. However, some of these same technologies such as hormones and antibiotics are contributing to a litany of additional health problems along with the excessive amount of corn, wheat, and soy that we consume – the same crops that we produce in excess on industrial farms in order to produce the maximum amount of food.
Furthermore, our world is becoming more dependent on machines and capital-intensive farming, and this dependency has led us further from the idea that a farm serves as more than a mere collection of parts, but part of an intricate and interconnected system which can provide us great benefits if we seek to understand it, much like each system of our own bodies. Technology and nature do not have to be viewed as mutually exclusive. We can use technology in harmony with nature, but in order to do so, it might help to better understand what nature is telling us.
The scene where the crops are watered with Brawndo suggests that we have become so disconnected from the messages of nature (i.e. nature telling us that energy drinks are not actually what plants crave) that we can’t even figure out how to feed ourselves. So maybe what the creator of Idiocracy is saying is not necessarily that machines and technology will destroy us, but that our mindless dependency on them will. And perhaps the best question to ask is not “How are we going to feed the world?” but instead “How are we going to feed ourselves?” and “How can we create a world that enables us to do so?”
If the good food movement wants to make the intellectual case for food as medicine and local and sustainable farming that is harmonious with nature, it must understand the connection between factory farming and factory medicine and that a centrally controlled universal healthcare system rests upon the same foundation of treating people like robots on an assembly line for the purpose of addressing individual symptoms in order to obtain narrowly focused short term results at the expense of our long term health as the capital-intensive factory farming model of treating our land and animals like inanimate objects as though their existence is completely independent from ours at the expense of the long term health of our land, soil, and animals as well as our own. Until this movement gains an understanding of this connection and puts forth a substantive critique of factory medicine with the same vigor as its critique of factory farming, it will remain in a stagnated state of cognitive dissonance.