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September 28, 1970

Life as It Is

JAMA. 1970;213(13):2257. doi:10.1001/jama.1970.03170390047010

In the symposium entitled "Man and Life," Barzun,1 writing on "the quality of life," notes that the term "life" is imprecise and susceptible of varied interpretation. He bases his discussion of its quality principally on the question, "Is life worth living?"— a question that can be answered only personally or, if you will, individually. Nevertheless, he finds signs in our modern industrial-democratic society that the question is being answered in the negative, and he propounds a number of characteristics that have caused deterioration of life's quality.

The first characteristic is the excess of impersonal encounters with other persons—an excess that engenders a feeling of alienation, of being reduced to something like a cog in a machine, of being "manipulated." Barzun contends that these feelings are responsible for statements by university students that their curriculum lacks relevance. What they are really expressing is their frustration in being taught things that