Art-Care, Justice-Care, Education-Care, Health-Care: Some System Looks Toward Placing Care at the Core of Systems

3 December 2014


People I know usually
use the word system casually
to describe something pre-existing
as a mess
without resisting it
or the fitness
of its itness.

What is a system?
What are we really looking for?
And how do we undo the true
and all the systems
that have gone before?

Art treats an audience; medicine treats a patient. Justice disciplines criminals; education disciplines students. Art and medicine treat its subjects as involuntarily afflicted—both whole-heartedly hope to be treated. Justice and education treat its subjects as obdurately ignorant—both at most only half-heartedly want what’s offered or forced.

Art & medicine treat; education & justice discipline.
Art & education elevate; medicine & justice restore.
Art & justice temper; medicine & education empower.

Art & medicine trick; justice & education degrade.
Art & education indoctrinate; medicine & justice collude.
Art & justice disinform; medicine & education intoxicate.

The art of medicine, education, & justice          The audience of medicine, education, & justice
The medicine of art, education, & justice          The patient of art, education, & justice.
The education of art, medicine, & justice          The student of art, medicine, & justice.
The justice of art, education, & medicine          The criminal of art, education, & medicine


A system requires inputs (resources) and generates outputs both desired (products) and undesired (waste). A system that maximises desired outputs to the detriment of all else necessarily generates maximum indifference to its waste, if not a maximum of waste itself. In the domain of industrial production and human resource consumption, for example, in the last fifty years we have destroyed 50% of the biodiversity on the planet, dramatically increased the consequences and growing threats of global climate change, and decimated or degraded innumerable ecologies (including our own) all over the world. In the pursuit of product and lifestyle, we have maximized or at least greatly increased pollution.

At times, a euphemism in economic circles for this waste is surplus, an excess. And such surplus sometimes serves as a new input to a new system. In Japan, for instance, they’ve made meat from recycled human faeces.

  • In the system of mass incarceration, for instance, a surplus of human beings generated by the previous systems of slavery, Jim Crow, gentrification, deindustrialization, and globalization gets used as material for warehousing; like nuclear waste, systems profit by simply containing this human surplus.
  • In the system of the culture industry, literal garbage and discarded objects from the previous systems of culture get used as material for new works; like recycling, systems profit from this cultural re-use but critics say it wastes more energy and effort than it saves.
  • In the system of compulsory education, although a mind is a terrible thing to waste, the technically infinite human potential of the next generation of human beings brought about by the previous systems of social reproduction gets lost in the transmission of that education; like the distribution of power in an electrical grid from the source to its consumer, only a fraction of the energy expended on education (as little as 20 per cent) occurs in schools.
  • In the system of corporatized health care delivery, [medical waste, human waste, wasted time]


With respect to time, education and justice treat it as lavishly abundant, and supply long sentences to be endured by criminals and students alike.[1] Art and medicine, by contrast, especially in their industrialized forms, treat time as a very limited resource—so limited, in fact, that any strict routine, however desired, cannot be articulated or maintained. Thus, the old days of the house call as well as the hyper-social and protracted time of art (in the museum stroll, in a night at the opera, in the extended interaction of a Baroque dance suite) stands in stark contrast. The time of art and medicine once were abundantly lavish as well, so that their reduction seems significant, and the imperative of their restoration, therefore, obvious.

With respect to space, all four systems are highly disciplined. Beginning with the confinement of Dionysus’ riotous rituals to within a building in Athens, the theatre (or museum), the school, the hospital (or the clinic), and the prison have long-since established their own specialised zones. While the scope of each space seems always lavish overall, the interior discipline of the space has since maximised capacity: closely cramped theatre seats, double occupancy prison cells and hospital rooms, tiny clinic rooms, overcrowded schoolrooms.[2] Once again, the original outdoorsiness of these spaces, an especially how they permitted a porousness of interaction with those around a participant, makes all the more obvious the sharp isolation of the theatre seat, the prison cell, the clinic room. We learn this isolation—this detachment from others—in the school room, require the privacy of it in the clinic, demand it from others (as silence) in theatres, and may discern its (neurotic) emphasis on security and safety from the value implied by the cell within prisons. More than money, which merely enables our isolation from others, school indoctrinates us to positively crave that atomisation. In general, though, a greater volume of space seems formally dedicated to prisons and schools than to theatres or hospitals, but this might well be a misperception.[3]


[1] This lavish expanse of time does not mean that time itself is not disciplined. In both schools and prisons, time breaks own into very routinized sequences.

[2] Apropos of overcrowding, the US Supreme Court declared overcrowding in prison fundamentally contrary to human dignity.

[3] There are approximately 5,723 hospitals (9.2 million beds; 36.1 million admissions; $829.6 billion in revenue), 5,928 movie theaters (9.9 million seats; 1,340.0 million admissions; $10.9 billion in revenue), 4,575 prison facilities (*), and 132,183 schools (**; $607 billion in revenue). *When it comes to prison “seats” counting becomes difficult. The total number of inmates = ~2.2 million, but their housing consists of one-man cells (usually with the occupancy illegally doubled, sometimes tripled) or bunk-beds set up in in gyms. So whatever the number of humans, prison administrations have provided at best only half as many “seats” as needed. **Similarly for students, where the number of seats provided does not necessarily meet the approximately 54.8 million students.

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