I wrote the following on an Ayn Rand forum in response to someone who thought that Chi McBride’s character on the show was anti-capitalist propaganda. I figure if Anne can repost her gay marriage thoughts, I can get double duty out of this. Since it was written with an Objectivist audience in mind, there’s some assumed context from Rand’s novels.
(I suppose I should take a moment to briefly sing the praises of House, M.D. It’s pretty rare for network television to produce something worth watching. It’s even rarer for such shows to survive more than a half-season, especially on Fox. This is one of those rare shows. The writing is sharp, the acting is superb, and most unusual of all it’s a celebration of the mind. Eric Raymond recently described a large number of the top-rated TV shows as “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly.” House, M.D. is about people behaving intelligently. The first season DVD collection was released last Tuesday, and can be had for around forty bucks. It’s a good investment.)
I picked up the House season 1 DVD set the day it came out, and have now finished watching the Vogler plot arc. I didn’t really interpret it as anti-capitalist propaganda. The conflict between House and Vogler is a conflict over how medicine should be approached. Vogler sees medicine as an arena for dollar maximization. House sees medicine as a crusade — saving the patient, solving the problem. Vogler talks about cash flow; House talks about values.
Ayn Rand didn’t think that dollar maximization was the proper end of business. Roark wasn’t trying to maximize his income when he turned down the Manhattan Bank commission. Francisco D’Anconia preferred a single copper smelter in Galt’s Gulch to the entirety of D’Anconia Copper in the outside world. The reasons were essentially the same. Neither Roark’s fee nor D’Anconia Copper would have been values if gaining and keeping them required sacrificing the end to which they were means. Similarly, House believed that a hundred million dollars was not a value to the hospital if it required sacrificing the end to which the hospital was dedicated — curing diseases, one patient at a time.
It’s worth noting the implicit individualism/collectivism split between House and Vogler. Vogler always talks about patients in collective terms. He says he’s interested in saving thousands of lives. House think about patients as individuals. Vogler is willing to sacrifice the life of any given individual patient in the name of saving a group in the future. House is not.
The simple presence of a morally-suspect businessman in a story does not automatically make it anti-capitalist. If that were the case, Orren Boyle and James Taggart would have made Atlas Shrugged anti-capitalist. You have to evaluate the character based on his role in the story. So, what is the lesson to be drawn from Vogler? I think it’s that collectivism damages medicine because it devalues the individual. Vogler tried to invert the hierarchy of values and make money (the means) into the end of medicine. Roark once observed that he didn’t build in order to have clients; he had clients in order to build. House might have said something similar to Vogler. He doesn’t cure disease to make money; he makes money so he can cure disease.
Anne adds: I agree with what Kyle has written here, although would also like to add that Hugh Laurie is hot.