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the tyranny of "healthy"

Originally posted as a comment in this entry of the very thoughtful journal of keryx. Somewhat edited and expanded here.

keryx writes:
Is the way our culture beats people with the healthy stick really about [an entirely demented concept of] what's good for you? Or is it about conformity?
It's definitely about conformity, but even more than that, it's about control, and moral judgement of others.

Even though this is supposedly a scientific information age, people still feel on some level that being not healthy means you did something wrong and you're being punished for it.

Health is in fact mostly a matter of luck (chance, genes, environment). One can have some influence on one's health conditions through behavior and environment, but one cannot absolutely control them and one cannot pick which health problems one is going to have to deal with. But people desperately want to believe that their health is entirely in their control, and part of sustaining that myth is to look down on people who are farther away from the health norm than they are, and believe "they did it to themselves." The other part is to look at their own health status, largely influenced by chance, and believe "I made this, I am this healthy entirely because of my own choices."

People do the same sort of thing with poverty. Even though there are enormous social and economic forces keeping poor people poor and rich people rich, people look at poor people and want to believe "They're there because they're lazy." And people look at themselves, if they aren't poor, and want to believe "I am a self-made success through hard work and sacrifice."

Note: I see this has come out implying that everybody always thinks this way. I don't really think so. But I do think these are general trends and attitudes that are part of the social fabric, and everybody who is part of the social fabric is influenced in some way by these beliefs.


( 31 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 16th, 2004 11:19 am (UTC)
I didn't interpret it as assuming everyone thought that way, simply as a description of a cultural theme. ;)
Apr. 16th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC)
I do so enjoy your posts.
Apr. 16th, 2004 01:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I appreciate knowing that!
Apr. 16th, 2004 12:07 pm (UTC)
Personally, I think it's about marketing. You can sell people products to help them be "healthy". You can't sell people products to help them learn to be comfortable with themselves as they are.
Apr. 16th, 2004 01:10 pm (UTC)
What are your thoughts about the Steven Covey 7 Step empire?
Apr. 16th, 2004 05:34 pm (UTC)
Well, okay, I hastily used a universal. :) I think that the marketing opportunities of telling people that they're bad/wrong are greater than the marketing opportunities of telling people to be comfortable with who they are.
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 05:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - epi_lj - Apr. 16th, 2004 05:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 16th, 2004 01:26 pm (UTC)
Well, you can sell people products purported to improve their self-comfort. But I agree a large part of the "healthy" stick is about selling stuff.
Apr. 16th, 2004 05:33 pm (UTC)
Well, yes -- self-help books are a great example. I shouldn't have used the universal. I don't think becoming comfortable with yourself lends itself to as *much* sales, and most of them (aside from perhaps therapy) aren't of the stuck-for-life variety.
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 05:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - epi_lj - Apr. 16th, 2004 05:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
IM Marketing O - rmjwell - Apr. 17th, 2004 09:31 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 16th, 2004 12:33 pm (UTC)
I think people like you who make it out of poverty deserve a lot of credit because it's very difficult.

I also think that because it's very difficult, it's wrong to assume that people who don't make it out of poverty are making "bad choices." (As you mention.) They probably are making average choices rather than exceptional ones.

I also agree with what you say about society's training people to stay in poverty.

I think in part this happens because there's lots and lots of information pushed at people about "what you should do" to fix something -- and usually it's far more than you actually can do. But there is much less information about "how to prioritize." That's because teaching people how to prioritize involves teaching them how to think, and society doesn't want people to think, because then they'll stop conforming.
Apr. 16th, 2004 01:13 pm (UTC)
I'm not disagreeing with your thesis, but I'm curious who you are refering to when you point the accusatory finger at "society?"
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 01:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - rmjwell - Apr. 17th, 2004 09:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 17th, 2004 09:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 02:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 16th, 2004 12:43 pm (UTC)
You make persuasive points, but I want to offer one niggling (possible) disagreement. I Am Not A Health Professional, but I would say that getting sick can be related to any one or more of:
  • Environmental conditions (exposure to contagious illness, toxin, or allergy trigger)
  • Bad luck, either individual or familial (autoimmune conditions like arthritis, genetic conditions like Parkinson's)
  • Anything which can lower one's resistance to infection, such as poor nutrition, insufficient rest, etc.
  • Poor health habits like not washing hands
  • Psychosomatic causes
  • Other causes that I'm not thinking of at the moment.
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - janetmiles - Apr. 16th, 2004 02:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 16th, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sashajwolf - Apr. 17th, 2004 02:20 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 17th, 2004 08:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sashajwolf - Apr. 17th, 2004 10:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Apr. 17th, 2004 11:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 18th, 2004 08:07 am (UTC)
Wow. Thank you so much for posting this. I've been trying to articulate much of what you've written here. I would very much like to copy this and post it in my own journal, and a couple of places on the WWW where I've seen people being all "spiritual and evolved" by spewing their "facts" about health.

If you don't mind (and I won't fall over and have a fit if you do... I just won't copy and post), how shall I attribute you?
Apr. 18th, 2004 08:29 am (UTC)
I'm pleased! Please attribute to "Stef Maruch" when you post outside LJ, and to firecat within LJ.
Apr. 18th, 2004 08:30 am (UTC)
Also, I'd be curious to know where you end up posting it (but that's not a permission requirement).
( 31 comments — Leave a comment )

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