Our systems treat us as objects

You wake up in a hot, stuffy room. You don’t know how you got here. You don’t even know where here is. There are no windows, the walls are plainly painted and there is a distinct sterile smell. The florescent lights shine in your eyes, making it difficult to sleep, even as you lay immobile hour after hour. But no sense of time makes it impossible to know how many hours you have laid there. You can hear people speaking but they aren’t speaking to you. You are aware of people passing by but they don’t acknowledge you. When you do manage to speak to someone, they don’t know what is happening. We are waiting, they say, but they aren’t clear what you or they are waiting for, or how long the wait might take. So you lay there. Disorientated. Disconnected.

You aren’t a character in a dystopian sci-fi movie, you’re just another patient in a hospital.

Why then, that experience? Why, if you are in a place that exists to take care of you, is there so little human connection? Why would caring, compassionate people knowingly create a system of treatment that places the patients in that experience?

To the hospital, in fact to any system, a person has to be treated as an object. Systems can only understand objects, they are unable to understand subjects. Since the sixteen hundreds and the thinking of Descartes we have placed the ‘subject’, the person who knows they exist because they are able to ask themselves if they exist, at the centre of our philosophical world. And over five hundred years that subject used the power of reason to conquer the world of objects. They created science, maths, technology. Reason lead to amazing advances in medical treatment that saves millions upon millions of lives. Reason created the hospital system. That system treats subjects as objects, people as things. The French philosopher Baudrillard talked about the triumph of the object over the subject. Perhaps it is the surrender of the subject to becoming an object.

Accepting of yourself as an object, your experience abstracted away by a timeless placeless room, you loose your origin. It doesn’t matter how you came to be here, how you became ill or injured, all that matters is that within the system, existing as an object, you the patient is not a real person. You are merely a representation of a real person. And it is the representation that matters. Symptoms written on charts, blood pressure readings, test results, dosages of medication, records in databases updated and time stamped. All these objective measures of the patient represent them to the hospital system. To you, reality and experience have been replaced by the signs and symbols the system uses to represent you. You can no longer ask if you exist because you think you exist. The representation of you exists because the system says it does. You have no choice but to do what patients do. Your pain is not real, it is just a precursor to pain-relieving medication. Your sense of disorientation and disconnection is not real, it is just a consequence of the system being efficient.

There is no escape from the system. You wouldn’t even know what to escape from. As an object in the system you are as much a part of it as any other object. Like all objects, you are replicable, replaceable, disposable. As one patient leaves another takes their place. The hospital doesn’t care, you patients are all the same.

The system treats you to make you well, without treating you well.