The core problem with the medicolegal system in Mississippi is that it’s easily manipulated—it serves those in power. Historically, it has served as a means of preserving the state’s white power structure. But that’s only because those in power wanted it that way.

i recently read both bad blood and the cadaver king and the country dentist. both books are good and worth your time, and i’ve been thinking about them a lot.

the former is about a founder of a company who discovered that it was in their economic self-interest to defraud investors, employees, and, well, pretty much everyone, and built a company worth $10 billion at its peak doing so. the founder was given a deluge of fame and fortune and adulation and decided to continue receiving that waterfall at any means possible. this included sociopathic 1 behavior such as lying to investors, business partners, and employees. this was easy because the founder operated in an environment that enabled it: it was in everyone’s best interest 2 to assume that the founder was in the right, that they were a visionary and worth the wealth and power they had assumed.

the latter is about two state officials who discovered it was in their economic self-interest to perjure themselves constantly in order to convict accused criminals. the two individuals — one a medical examiner, the other a forensic layman — were beloved by the state, particularly prosecutors, because they made it easier to convict accused criminals. they lied a lot: about fake bite marks, about bullets, about how people die. this was easy because the two operated in an environment that enabled it: they antagonized the folks who were already the weakest in the court of law, and they supported (and were in turn supported by) the courts, the state, the prosecutors, the suits.

it is obvious that i think these two stories are very similar, and it is boring to write about the details why: the lies themselves feel very object-level. they are, at one level, about sociopaths whose lies endangered lives — they are much more importantly about the way institutions empower these sociopaths.

the cadaver king recognizes this; carrington and balko devote the denouement of their narrative to the courts that enabled the two individual’s terrible behavior, the lawmakers and the district attorneys who profited from the lies, the states and institutions and gangs of supremacy that persist despite the downfall of the eponymous duo. they understand that rot breeds rot.

carreyrou, on the other hand, seemed to cast the web of powerful individuals and companies whom enabled elizabeth holmes as victims, as unwary sailors under her siren spell — rather than what they were, which were people who had the ability to write checks for millions of dollars and empower individuals to radically change small chunks of the world, and who did so motivated solely by projected internal rates of return. this was a disappointing end to a thrilling book: that if it weren’t for holmes and her tricky ways, the system would work as intended.

i think a good mental exercise would be: how would this book read if theranos worked out? like, there was all the lying and the fraud but in mid-2016 they actually cracked it, they figured out how to find eden from a drop of blood. how many darling narratives does that fit?

anyway, i don’t really know how one reads books about institutions and the people who abuse on their behalf and comes away thinking that the institution is the victim. but i am going to keep reading those kinds of books, and if you have ones you particularly like please let me know.

  1. i use the word sociopath a lot in this essay, and I don’t mean it medically so much as “adjectivally adjacent to ‘rational evildoer’” 

  2. except, of course, the employees, particularly the ones brave enough to whistleblow 

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