Health and virtue - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Health and virtue
Monday, 11 September 2006 at 08:47 pm
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More and more, I am noticing a really pernicious meme: the subsitution of health for religious virtue, or even salvation. And the notion of virtue that is being replaced with health was a bad and dangerous frame for morality anyway. An LJ post like this is only the tiniest of drops towards countering this bad meme, but I would rather make the post than do nothing. And of course I welcome any criticism or development of my argument.

The other week I was in synagogue for a Progressive service. The rabbi commented that the prayerbook we were using omitted the traditional practice of reciting the passage from Deuteronomy which states that if you follow God's law you will have good weather and good harvests, and if you don't you will have famines. I might question the wisdom of drawing attention to passages that you have decided to omit, but anyway. The point is that most people see this as a pretty nonsensical position; they either conclude that the Bible is rubbish, or they read it in such a metaphorical way that the plain meaning vanishes out of sight, or they don't read it at all, depending on their approach to Scripture. (The commonest Orthodox practice, by the way, is to read it, because you mustn't change the liturgy, but in an undertone because it makes people uncomfortable.)

Of course, religions come up with all sorts of devious ways to explain the problem that transparently, people aren't happy in proportion to their moral or religious virtue. For example, apologists may regard undeserved suffering as a test of faith, or they may relegate the reward and punishment business to the afterlife or other incarnations. To my mind, this kind of thing is pretty bad theology. Anyway, it's very hard for anyone taking any sort of rational approach to believe that good people get rewarded while anything bad that happens is a punishment.

However, many rationalists who would laugh hilariously at anyone who tried to take literal reward and punishment seriously, are quite prepared to accept something completely analogous when it comes to health. Everybody knows that it's important to eat a balanced diet, do proper exercise, refrain from ingesting toxins, and avoid obvious unnecessary risks. Let me be perfectly clear: I'm not denying that all those things are important and desirable.

But it doesn't follow that if you live healthily, you won't get sick or have any debilitating accidents. Everyone dies eventually. Everyone. You don't attain immortal life by following the appropriate magic ritual. And the very great majority of people get sick at some point during their life; at the very least people either die young or grow old. On average, people who make healthy lifestyle choices are healthier. But that average tells you absolutely nothing about a particular individual.

It most certainly doesn't follow that anyone who does get sick must have made bad choices. Just as Christianity goes way off the rails when it preaches that people who are rich must be enjoying God's favour because of their good moral choices while anyone who is poor must deserve it, any philosophy which argues that everybody whose health is less than perfect must have done something to bring it on themselves, is complete bullshit. Stated like that, of course, few people would agree with that position, yet many people argue as if that were a valid assumption and take positions which do very much boil down to the idea that "good", ie healthy, people get rewarded and "bad" people who deliberately choose to be unhealthy in spite of all the evidence get punished.

One parallel with bad theology is that what is considered to be healthy behaviour consists of a set of rules that are extremely baroque, not at all internally consistent, and often simply arbitrary. Plenty of people think I'm weird for keeping kosher and avoiding pork and shellfish, but are perfectly happy to cut out whole major food groups from their diet such as fat or carbohydrates. There's definitely a kind of ascetism going on. A healthy diet is a sparse one, and any food that tastes good or drug that produces good emotional feelings is treated as decadent, even "sinful". (This ties in with the false connection between health and thinness, which I'm not going to go into here because that's too much flamebait even for me.)

And there's the hierophantic aspect of authority. Who gets to decide what is healthy or unhealthy? The mysterious "They", or "scientists" or "doctors" or even "the government". Scientists are playing the role of priests here. They are initiated into the mysteries; as a scientist myself, I don't deny that it does take years of study to become one! And the ordinary lay people (now, there's a significant word, don't you think?) must simply accept the wisdom from on high. And of course, most scientists and experts don't bother to communicate directly with the unwashed masses; we get our information about health filtered down through the media, and through groups that are blatantly manipulating us, either for our own good (one hopes) in the case of government propaganda, or simply for the sake of profit when it's snake-oil merchants peddling their latest diet plan. Or perhaps somewhere in between. Of course, there are all kinds of rival cults each claiming that they have the One True Way; just observe a debate between supporters of Conventional Medicine and believers in Alternative Medicine some day.

Indeed, there's a very direct link between equating richness with virtue in bad forms of religion which have degenerated into just props for a corrupt political establishment, and equating richness with health. Not everybody has equal ability to make "right" choices. Yes, it is theoretically possible for a person in financial straits, lacking access to good education, and perhaps with a tendency towards addiction, to live healthily. But it's very unfair to hold disadvantaged people to the same standards as privileged people. Rich people are almost always healthier than poor people, and better able to deal with any health problems they do have. This does not mean rich people are morally superior, just that the definition of virtue we currently have is one that is vastly easier for rich people to live up to than poor.

There are a myriad of factors which are not within an individual's control. Of course, that doesn't mean people should give up trying, but those factors are important and being too busy rushing to moral judgements to account for them is dangerous. To go back to the economic issue, nobody chooses to live somewhere that is unsafe in terms of exposure to violence or toxins, but many people can't afford to live anywhere generally healthy. No amount of eating up your greens will prevent you from getting sick if you are constantly exposed to asbestos or can't afford to heat your poorly insulated house properly or you are forced to work unreasonably hard in a stressful job. These issues need to be tackled at a societal level, and blaming individuals who fail to be absolutely saintly in a bad situation is a huge distraction, as well as being morally wrong.

There's also just random bad luck. This is a concept that many people have a really hard time dealing with, but that's just how the world works. Sometimes a person gets sick or has an accident not because of anything they did wrong, or because they suffered the consequences of bad politics, but for no reason at all. It's easy to see why it's tempting to believe that a healthy lifestyle will keep you safe and healthy; knowing that you do all the right things allows you to be confident that you are one of the "saved", but it's a completely false confidence. You might just as well believe that if you do the right magic ritual, some benevolent spirit will keep you safe from harm. And it's not just that this belief is wrong, it's also actively harmful to people who do suffer from bad luck, because they get blamed as a psychological defense mechanism so that healthy people don't have to confront the possibility that something terrible might happen to them too.

Here's an example: I posted about a news item regarding a test for dementia being developed. And adrian_turtle pointed out that I was completely missing some huge potential flaws in the study and its presentation. The assumption is that if people do the right thing, they can prevent developing dementia. I am sure this research was carried out in good faith, but it seems likely that it was influenced by the pernicious meme that I am complaining about.

A couple of additional notes, to pre-empt the most likely criticisms I expect for this essay. Firstly, I'm not in the least saying that Christianity is terrible or any worse than any other religion. I think some of this view of virtue may be partly influenced by Protestantism, but that's a guess I can't prove. It happens that Christianity has been a dominant influence in our society for a long time, and there's nothing more to any bias in my depiction than that.

On other occasions when I've made arguments similar to this, I have found myself getting distracted into stupid debates about whether people should take responsibility for their actions. I absolutely believe that people should take responsibility and should know and accept that their choices have consequences. That's a given, as far as I'm concerned. But taking responsibility is a completely different thing from believing in magical rituals, or trying to claim that virtue is always rewarded.


Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
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chickenfeet2003: bayes
From:chickenfeet2003
Date:September 11th, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC)
12 minutes after journal entry, 04:40 pm (chickenfeet2003's time)
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Maybe I've led a sheltered life but I've never met anyone who thought that healthy lifestyle choices guaranteed good health. It's all about probabilities and I think, in varying degrees of sophistication, the great majority of people recognise that. At that point it parts company with 'salvation' which the (self) righteous mostly seem to believe is theirs by right once they adopt the Fundie Diet or the Ratkins Diet or whatever.
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leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:September 11th, 2006 09:54 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 02:54 pm (leora's time)
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I usually see it happen the other way around. It's when people become ill or disabled that people start to make assumptions.

Say person A finds out person B has lung cancer. They are likely to assume B smoked or exposed him/herself to smokers.

Now, smoking does increase your odds of lung cancer. But people who don't smoke, even those not exposed to smoke, can still get lung cancer. And out goes the benefit of the doubt. And heaven forfend the person did smoke - out goes all sympathy. No questions asked about the details. Smokers deserve cancer, don'tcha know.

Everyone wants to know what caused my health problems. Everyone gets very uncomfortable when I say that none of my doctors know.

They want to offer me diet changes to make me better. Even though I've discussed diet quite a bit with doctors, and the simplified answer is: it has nothing to do with diet. For the eyes, they said it has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle, there are no changes I can make that will make a difference as best as is known. Other than to avoid getting hit in the head a lot, which I already was doing.

They really don't like that. People squirm. It's kind of fun.

But people do want to blame me. And, in fairness, they can. I believe certain aspects of my lifestyle did increase my risks. Having an unusually stressful life probably weakened my body. I didn't get enough sleep for a good portion of my life. I bought into the myth about working hard for my future, and I overdid it. Sorry I was a stupid guillible kid in a crappy situation. But it's okay - I'll pay for it for the rest of my life.

Anyhow, yeah, I agree with Liv, but I'm biased.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:September 17th, 2006 07:00 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 08:00 pm (livredor's time)
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Thanks for this, it's a very powerful and pertinent example. Also, I think a lot of the time you get a situation where someone did take a risk and then they get ill, and everyone jumps to blaming for them for what they did, such as working too hard in your example. But how many of the people doing the blaming always without fail eat the healthiest diet they could, always keep up with regular exercise, always get a good night's sleep and so on? Maybe the risk led to the illness, but there are so many factors it's really hard to tell.

And as you say, the "punishment" is way out of proportion to the error. You could maybe argue that serial rapists maybe deserve cancer (and even then, I'd hesitate on that opinion), but they quite often don't get any nasty diseases at all, whereas people who smoke and eat fatty food really don't remotely deserve cancer. And again, if you put it like that, of course nobody is going to argue with that statement, but they can easily lose sight of the fact that they may be implying it.
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redbird: default
From:redbird
Date:September 12th, 2006 12:03 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, September 11th, 2006 08:03 pm (redbird's time)
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Relatively few people will say, explicitly, "if you live a healthy lifestyle [however defined this year] you won't get sick." But enough people will attempt to find a "reason" in terms of the person's behavior for any serious illness that the message is out there, even if they wouldn't state it explicitly: if every illness is the result of doing something wrong, than a person who made no wrong decisions wouldn't get sick. The fallacy is, of course, that not every illness is the sick person's fault. Some are nobody's fault, and in some cases, if there's any fault, it's not that of the person who is sick. (If company X pollutes a town and the residents get sick because of chemicals they didn't know about, the fault, logical and ethical, is not that of the sick people.)
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chickenfeet2003: default
From:chickenfeet2003
Date:September 12th, 2006 11:01 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 07:01 am (chickenfeet2003's time)
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I guess you are right though I think to some extent it depends on the disease . I don't think I've ever seen any imputation of 'wrong living' attached to breast cancer for instance whereas lung cancer is often attributed to the victim's lifestyle choices. Once someone has the disease, being judgemental about it isn't very helpful.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:September 17th, 2006 07:08 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 08:08 pm (livredor's time)
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People with breast cancer get blamed for not keeping up with their regular breast checks, or for taking hormones (both contraceptive pills and HRT are believed to be risk factors). Not always, of course; not if they're Kylie or someone like that. But it does happen.

You would be amazed by how many people tried to blame my brother for breaking his neck. He shouldn't have gone to such a dangerous place as Israel (not that the wars or terrorist attacks had anything to do with his accident). He shouldn't have been such a crazy communist anarchist vegan weirdo. He is too principled and so he attracted bad luck to himself. It was bad karma accumulated from a previous incarnation. And honestly, I'm talking about people who like him and care about him, they just couldn't deal with the concept that a random accident that couldn't have been forseen or prevented could have such serious consequences.
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:September 17th, 2006 07:19 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 08:19 pm (livredor's time)
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The fallacy is also that someone who makes a tiny slip-up on healthy living, or even someone who does something obviously dumb such as smoking or having unprotected sex, is somehow a morally lesser person. Yes, they might be partially to blame for their illness, but a painful or even fatal illness is completely out of proportion to anything the victim might have done wrong, unless you assign a quasi-religious significance to certain ritual actions.

Good point about diverting blame away from those who may actually be responsible for someone's bad health, such as polluters. Very good point.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:September 17th, 2006 06:43 pm (UTC)
5 days after journal entry, 07:43 pm (livredor's time)
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People don't generally say that healthy lifestyle choices guaranteed good health (though I have come across people saying almost exactly that). Stated like that, it's pretty obviously ridiculous. What I'm trying to point out is that people draw conclusions about health, as if that connection existed. I'm trying to convince people that since the underlying assumption is obvious wrong, the conclusions are wrong too.

It is about probabilities, but most humans are notoriously bad at handling probabilities. Our intuitions for risk are horribly wrong, and very few people have the training to overcome bad intuitions.
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chickenfeet2003: death
From:chickenfeet2003
Date:September 17th, 2006 09:34 pm (UTC)
6 days after journal entry, 05:34 pm (chickenfeet2003's time)
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though I have come across people saying almost exactly that

I wonder if they will still feel the same way when they get to the point in life when it's their contemporaries rather than another generation who are dying apparently at random. I'm just about old enough to have hit that point. Friends, colleagues, team mates, acquaintances just a few years older than me starting to snuff it in numbers. It's quite sobering.

It is about probabilities, but most humans are notoriously bad at handling probabilities. Our intuitions for risk are horribly wrong, and very few people have the training to overcome bad intuitions.

Good point. I was a probability theorist in my youth and forget sometimes how unusual my ease and facility with stochastic arguments actually is.
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beckyzoole: default
From:beckyzoole
Date:September 11th, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
45 minutes after journal entry, 04:14 pm (beckyzoole's time)
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I quite agree with you.

I have noticed a pattern of reaction, when people are informed that someone they know is gravely ill: they try to find out why. If told that John in Accounting is not in the office because he was diagnosed with cancer and is taking chemo, the first response will often be, "Oh no! Does he smoke?". If John's cancer can't be neatly blamed on cigarettes, the next statement will mention his weight ("Well, he's so heavy, you know he didn't eat properly") or personal life ("He was divorced a few years ago, and they say stress can literally eat you up".) If John was a tee-totaler no bad habits and led an exemplary life of exercise and meditation, someone will be sure to nod sagely and say that they've heard that alcohol in moderation is good for you, look at John, he never had a beer in his life and see how he has cancer now.

I think this is because we tend to be most afraid of that which we have no control over. If we can let ourselves believe that we understand why bad things happen, then we feel that we do have control. We can avoid those things. We are not dependent on the genetic lottery; we can keep ourselves safe.

It's illusory, and ultimately harmful, but certainly understandable.
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From:ewtikins
Date:September 12th, 2006 07:53 am (UTC)
11 hours after journal entry, 08:53 am (ewtikins's time)
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I think this is because we tend to be most afraid of that which we have no control over. If we can let ourselves believe that we understand why bad things happen, then we feel that we do have control. We can avoid those things. We are not dependent on the genetic lottery; we can keep ourselves safe.

It's illusory, and ultimately harmful, but certainly understandable.


Yes.
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rysmiel: moon dragon
From:rysmiel
Date:September 12th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 03:36 pm (rysmiel's time)
(Link)
I don't think trying to understand why is of necessity a bad thing; sometimes the answer may be a clearly identified causal factor, sometimes not, but obtaining more information on the patterns that go with any particular illness - and "this is totally random" is still information, it's one more point going into the set of datapoints to tell you how statistically siginificant causes in other cases actually are - seems an unavoidable part of obtaining better treatments for it.

There is a difference between asking why in any specific case and assuming everything must be causal; the state of not being able to identify causal factors, and the state of not having asked the question, are different.
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From:wryelle
Date:September 11th, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
(Link)
I think this has more than one influence lurking behind it. As well as the Puritain streak in Western culture, I think there's also lately the influence of atheism - if you believe this life is all you've got, it's logical to be focused on prologing it as long as possible. And in countries where there's state healthcare, there's the feeling that someone who takes care of themselves maybe shouldn't have to pay for someone who doesn't - which itself must be influenced by utilitarianism (and personal meanness!).

My guess is that it's part of the human condition to feel vaguely guilty about not meeting some impossible cultural standard or other!
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doseybat: default
From:doseybat
Date:September 13th, 2006 02:12 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 05:12 am (doseybat's time)
(Link)
People always seem to be in need of that little something to make them feel a bit superior. Now that the majority is no longer religious by default churching attendance or commiting less sins no longer does the trick, and the 'health virtue' seems to be partly filling that niche. Hence the race to exclude the greatest number of harmful ingredients etc.
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From:lyssiae
Date:September 11th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry

Waffle waffle waffle

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The CCC says (somewhere) that a large family, i.e., one where the parents have many children, is a sign of God's blessing.

It doesn't say that a one-child family, like mine, is "lacking" in blessings. It doesn't say that my relatives' families, some with more than seven children living in extreme poverty, are somehow blessed in a way that will give them a rosy existence that will enable them to drift past the dirty clothes, hole-in-the-ground toilets and filthy streets in a haze of angelic hymns and incense smoke.

I have yet to come across any Christian text that I give a smidgin of credence to that attributed such a simple causality to things as you imply in your sixth paragraph. I hope I never will, and to be honest I'm pretty sure I won't, because I trust the people who write that stuff to a) be listening to the Holy Spirit a lot and b) having a damn sight more intelligence than I do.

Last year, when Katrina whacked into the US' south coast, it diverted at the last minute and didn't smash all of NO entirely into next Tuesday. Some guy said this was because he and some mates had done a "visualisation exercise". Some Christians said it was because Jesus had had compassion (what, like he hadn't had any the day before?) and tweaked His Little Finger and LO! Katrina tweaked. Now I have about as much patience with the Tweaked Pinky view as that of the "visualisation exercise" stuff, but I'll give the former a tiny bit more value.

My point is this: stuff happens either because God wills it, or God permits it. Those two possibilities are mutually exclusive, but they make no reference as to whether we (with our not-so-puny powers of reasoning and intelligence either, I should stress - we're not stupid) can discover a "scientific" explanation for any particular event. That Katrina diverted when she did could perhaps be explained by meteorologists. If so, that's a testiment to our intelligence and advancement. But that does not preclude the fact that God either willed it or permitted it. The world of "God" is not simply the unknown quantity in the equation of total possible knowledge == known stuff + x, ever destined to get smaller as we get smarter.

I am overweight to an extent that it affects my health. Now, I have no-one to blame this for other than myself (I set little store by the genes thing in my case), with my lazy anti-sport habits and over-fondness for St. Giles' chips'n'cheese when I was younger. I see it as my responsibility to get myself in shape, lose weight and make myself a healthier person. Whilst all that is going on, I can also see that whilst God perhaps did not plan for me to be the pudger I am, He has let it happen. Why? Not something I can answer. But I'm sure He did that for a reason - perhaps to teach me self-control, to overcome my self-image issues, or a string of other stuff.

On the other hand, I'm also short-sighted. This is clearly also a defect in how my body works, but it's not like I can say I caused it by stabbing my eyelids with blunt pencils, or even the fault of my parents for producing an egg and sperm that somehow produced the unfortunate genetic formula. And yet He has surely planned/permitted this for me too - Why? Not something I can answer.

My point here (I will shut up soon) is that in the one case I carry a mandate to do something about the problem. But in both cases perhaps the greater charge is to see these shortcomings not only as physiological/medical/whatever phenomena needing physical treatment, but as aspects of the life God has given me, and deeper, to seek out His will for me through these imperfections.

Here the blabbering ends. Thanks be to God. Dude.
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j4: kanji
From:j4
Date:September 12th, 2006 02:36 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 03:36 pm (j4's time)

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

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lyssiae, I read your comment with interest & was reminded of a blog post I read recently, which I link to here simply because I think you might be interested to read it too: "http://weblogs.mozillazine.org/gerv/archives/2006/04/thank_god_for_cancer.html">Thank God for Cancer</a>.

(Disclaimer: I have no hidden agenda, no implied argument/criticism, and no answers -- just fascinated to see how people think about the interactions between God/'free will'/chance etc....)
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From:lyssiae
Date:September 13th, 2006 06:38 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

(Link)
Thank you for the link. I was pointed to it when livredor posted it back in April.
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rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
From:rysmiel
Date:September 12th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)
23 hours after journal entry, 03:41 pm (rysmiel's time)

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

(Link)
There seems to me to be something of a logical difficulty in drawing a line between what an omniscient, omnipotent deity wills, and what said deity permits [ even setting aside for a moment the assumption of benevolence ]; if I'm not misinterpreting your original premises, I should be interested in how you perceive this.
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From:lyssiae
Date:September 13th, 2006 06:42 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

(Link)
You're right, the distinction is not always clear-cut. But in many cases of daily life - by which I mean stuff that doesn't come under "theology" (which is a bit of a misnomer because people should do theology, just as the Christ, the Logos did) - it's not essential to be able to classify which value a particular event has.
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From:wryelle
Date:September 13th, 2006 10:30 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

(Link)
Hope you don't mind that I've friended you. :)
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From:lyssiae
Date:September 13th, 2006 12:29 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry

Re: Waffle waffle waffle

(Link)
No, I don't really mind; however I should, in all fairness, tell you that I don't post much anymore, I can get abnormally defensive with just abaout everyone when it comes to "discourse", most of my LJ posts are sparked by extreme moods (LJ tends to be my foul-weather friend) and thus aren't entirely indicative of Who I Am, and that I'm about as uncompromisingly Catholic as I can get.

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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:September 12th, 2006 01:29 am (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
(Link)
It is tangential to your point, but thank you for your description of the religious side of things, it may be obvious, but I think no-one had explained it that way before (and as an atheist curious about religion, whether and to what extent God affects what happens to people in life is something people always seem to have difficulty explaining, regardless of what interpretation they believe).

About health. You're right, people *do* seem to want to know what behaviour caused something. But I hope, if asked, most would say they knew that whatever you did, sometimes you were unlucky, even if they instinctively feel otherwise: so how do I go from knowing it's not like that to feeling it's not like that?
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From:ewtikins
Date:September 12th, 2006 08:16 am (UTC)
11 hours after journal entry, 09:16 am (ewtikins's time)
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My mother has had breast cancer twice.

I don't think she's been more than ten pounds overweight in her entire life, she's never been a smoker, she has always taken lots of exercise and she eats very well by most standards.

There's a strong family history of breast cancer, though. And her parents did smoke in the house when she was young, and she's had a very stressful life in many ways - lost her own mother at 18, divorce, moving every two or four years since about 1980, and a bunch of other stuff I don't want to mention here.

My mum is still alive today, partly because she's lucky enough to live in a country where she has access to reasonable health screening, partly because her first cancer was a type (I forget the name) that tends not to spread and grows really very slowly, and partly because she has always been vigilant about her health. Had she been apathetic about screening, it would be another story. Had she had her second type of cancer (not so lucky that time) first, it may not have been caught in time to treat it effectively.



We are responsible for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions. This doesn't mean we are responsible for the unforseen or unexpected consequences of those actions. We are responsible for what we do, but not for all that happens to us. The world is too complex for us to always know what is best, and too unfair for the 'best' course of action to always be available without hideous costs.

People get this wrong in two ways - they think that everyone is to blame for all that happens to them, which is what you are writing about.

Or they realise they can't control everything, and stop taking responsibility even for the choices they do have. They give up and do whatever feels best at the moment and hang the consequences, because hey, you could be hit by a bus tomorrow and we're all going to die anyway, so why bother? And so they drift through life without ever making anything better, and sometimes completely lose sight of the link between their actions and the state of their lives, always blaming external circumstances.

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From:neonchameleon
Date:September 12th, 2006 10:20 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry
(Link)
*snarls*

Don't get me started on that evil American reinvention - the Moral Hazard theory of Healthcare (depressingly popular with right-wing politicians) which states, as you indicate, that ill-health is the fault of the person suffering that ill-health, and therefore Public Healthcare is wrong because it will encourage people to make these faults.

And there are four major reasons my health is, by historical standards, amazing.
  1. Clean food and water (refrigerators and cookers help a lot here) and both nutritious and in large quantities
  2. Shelter and insulation
  3. Sanitation
  4. Vaccinations

That combination makes me healthier than almost anyone who has existed in the past. And my influence on it has been pretty trivial. (It's also why I am really angry with idiots like Dr. Wakefield for undermining the fourth of those).
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j4: orange
From:j4
Date:September 12th, 2006 02:26 pm (UTC)
17 hours after journal entry, 03:26 pm (j4's time)
(Link)
This is a fantastic post -- thank you!

I'd like to link to it, if I may, but probably not until I've assembled some of my own thoughts on the subject (which will probably wander off a bit more into the realm of diet/weight, because that's been on my mind a lot recently for various reasons) -- is that okay? (I don't want to suddenly encourage lots of people to go back to an argument you thought you'd finished with if that's going to be a pain!)
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livredor: teeeeeeeeea
From:livredor
Date:September 12th, 2006 02:34 pm (UTC)
18 hours after journal entry, 03:34 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Thank you, j4! I'm supposed to be working but I'll take a moment to reply, because this comment really touched me.

Links are always good. And carrying on discussions and drawing more people into them is even better. I actually hate the way posts expire within a day or two of posting, so you'd be doing me a big favour. Plus I really enjoy reading your thoughtful posts, you're such a talented writer and original thinker.

As for talking about diet and weight, I think that's a great idea. I may talk about it at some point but people have so much emotional investment in believing that fat people are unhealthy that it can get fraught. I will need to gather some actual data rather than just writing my opinion, so it'll be big essay if I do it. I mainly wanted to keep all that stuff out of this particular discussion, because it would cause people to ignore the main point rather than because I absolutely don't want to talk about that angle. But the more challenges there are out there to wrong and harmful ideas about weight, the better.
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From:ploni_bat_ploni
Date:September 17th, 2006 01:16 am (UTC)
5 days after journal entry

Health

(Link)
*Going off on a tangent* (I must admit that I scanned through your posting, and didn't read it thoroughly)

It kind of reminds me of the discussion we were having on Shabbat about tbe beauty industry and self-image. I do agree that health in today's Western culture, has become analogous to virtue in some ways. Health is seen as a consequence or a by-product of beauty and beauty itself is perceived as virtue. That now it is phrased as health, strikes me as thinly-veiled hedonism.

We live in an indulgent society. But simultaneously, society gives off a lot of mixed messages about restraint and instant-gratification. Obviously, oscillating between these two polarities cannot be good for anyone. Often this is the fate of many modern women. Yes, health is linked to virtue.

I temporarily live in a very affluent neighbourhood in Stockholm. It sometimes reminds me of a Leni Riefenstahl filmset. People walk the streets extremely confident and well-groomed. They have the resources and time and priorities to do so. In a way it appears that the bourgeois Stockholmites flaunt their health more than anything.

The problem with this construction of health is that it is divorced from responsibility and care. Living a healthy lifestyle is no longer a case of moral stewardship of one's body and one's world, but rather has become an end in itself, a fetish, almost. Health is no longer an outcome of a responsible lifestyle but rather a status symbol of affluence and decadence. It seems ironic, but this is how I perceive it.

The question is, of course, if we can go back to a truly more virtuous conception of health, without being regressive in our social or medical views. Health is about causality and about dignity and self-love. It's about modesty and restraint without falling into the trap of ascetism. Guarding one's body and protecting it from unhealthy physical and emotional influences is perhaps a vision that needs to be reclaimed. Only then can we truly feel a balance between our bodies and our souls.

It is late and I am not coherent, but these were just my 2 krona.

P.S. Thank you for being my Shabbos company. It was very stimulating. And, I've decided to be more rigorous about updatng my blog.
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(no subject) - eirias (11/15/06 03:04 am)
siderea: default
From:siderea
Date:November 15th, 2006 04:37 am (UTC)
64 days after journal entry, 12:37 am (siderea's time)
(Link)
Excellent post! I'm here via Leora. A topic dear to my heart, actually, though I'm approaching it from the other side. Part of my thesis touches on psychiatric nosology -- what is and is not a mental illness, what is and is not in the DSM -- and, tangentially, on the tendency of people to try to get things they feel are morally wrong listed as diseases. The obvious example (which has to do with my thesis) is homosexuality (which has been removed from the DSM, though there is a small faction of psychiatrists who want it returned), but then there's things like "Voyeurism" (302.82), which perhaps should be crimes, as defined in the DSM, but hardly seem to be illnesses as specified.

But will they be removed? What's the chance of that? The general public wants to be able to call criminals sick -- it is, of course, one of our worst epithets. It is not enough to say something is a sin or a crime, our culture demands that it be pathologized, too.
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