In praise of bad habits.
November 28, 2001 2:38 PM   Subscribe

In praise of bad habits. Interesting lecture that postulates our bad habits make us human, and help fulfill an evolutionary need for risk. The lecturer also poses some interesting moral questions about the "health police": "Engaging in risk - smoking, drinking, creating the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases, eating fat, sugar, salt and avoiding too much exercise - is characteristic of a different strata of society - the poor and marginalised, the working classes, ethnic minorities and 'deviant' groups. When the proponents of healthism are urging changes in lifestyle in order to achieve, in their terms, 'well-being', they are advocating changes for others much more often than they are for themselves. In this sense they are essentially moralists seeking to stigmatise specific members of society."
posted by kittyloop (15 comments total)
That was a long, but worthwhile read. Thanks for the link.
posted by acridrabbit at 2:57 PM on November 28, 2001

Too many red flags. Too many straw men. Too many easy targets, really.

Okay, he invokes Godwin's Law on himself. Smooth move.

Sorry, I'm not buying this at all. His rhetoric is just that. Just because poor people engage in bad habits, that doesn't validate said habits.

And risk is still alive and well, thank you very much.
posted by solistrato at 3:12 PM on November 28, 2001

Do what thou whilst shall be the whole of the law.
posted by worldsystema at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2001

I have no bad habits to speak of.

Now, as to my unspeakable drinking, overeating, and promiscuous sex ...
posted by MAYORBOB at 3:19 PM on November 28, 2001

There are interesting parallels with the cultivation of "regimen" in the 18th century, when the middle-classes became the first health nuts, and started eating plain diets and going to spas, or, alternatively, indulging in coffee, tea, chocolate, tobacco and spicy foods. What's interesting is the extent to which "unhealthy habits" emerge when a section of the population becomes less susceptible to the more "natural" threats to health: the mid-eighteenth century was really the first period when the middle classes could afford to see doctors when they weren't suffering from severe illness. Richard Klein's books on bad habits -- Eat Fat and especially Cigarettes are Sublime -- are also worth a look.
posted by holgate at 3:38 PM on November 28, 2001

Let me get this straight... promotion of health is opression/stigmatization of the unhealthy? It is possible to be healthy and still take risks... taking risks is healthy. Not all risks are bad habits.

Is he somehow trying to suggest that it is immoral to encourage a healthy lifestyle? I stopped reading shortly after he started wrapping the word health in scare quotes.
posted by tomorama at 3:40 PM on November 28, 2001

there was sorta an onion on this today :)
posted by kliuless at 4:08 PM on November 28, 2001


What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. "And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence? It is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths."

Not bad for an old Tory.

Tomorama, Marsh is not saying it is immoral to encourage a healthy lifestyle. He is saying that concern for the health of others can be used, and perhaps is used, as a pretext for illegitimate moral condemnation and a tool of class warfare.

Eg: it is good to encourage smokers to give up smoking. It is very hard not to yield to the tempation to view smoking as a moral weakness, and smokers as sinners.

He is also speculating that it may not be possible to achieve the goal of a populace that uniformly leads a low-risk life, because humans may instinctively act in ways that conserve risk in their life.

He does naughtily confuse actual risk (eg smoking, fatty breakfasts) with perceived risk (bungy jumping).
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:18 PM on November 28, 2001

Not bad for an old Tory.

Actually, if you read Boswell's Life, there are a few choice anecdotes of Johnson's extraordinary philanthropy to those who most would consider dead-beat. (Especially Richard Savage, a poet who'd have given Brendan Behan and Dylan Thomas a run for their money, and who Johnson supported to the bitter end.) His London lodgings were famously the equivalent of a drop-in centre for the human waifs and strays of the city. I suspect it's because he spent most of his early life in rather grinding poverty, and knew all too well of such sweeteners. No matter: the utter humanity of the man still awes me.

posted by holgate at 5:27 PM on November 28, 2001

I'd have something to say here... ::BURP!:: but I gotta go get more beer.
Jeez, am I out of cigarettes,too?
Mmm...Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk Ice Cream...

posted by y2karl at 7:57 PM on November 28, 2001

Chris Hitchens had an article in the same vein, some years ago, a true delight.
posted by talos at 5:23 AM on November 29, 2001

Hitchens is a right old alky. It says so in Toby Young's new book (so it must be true). Censorious (is that a word?) attitudes are nothing new. Those kinds of people just focus more on health these days because people are becoming immune to having their morals dictated to them. There are always some people who think they know better than everyone else. Blair is one such, as the article says, which is why he needs smacking down soon.

Personally I think the whole weight thing is the most hypocritical of all the health obsessions. It plainly isn't anything to do with health yet that's the stick used to beat overweight people with. 'You'll have a heart attack and die'. Oh yes? Nobody will want to shag you more like.
posted by Summer at 8:23 AM on November 29, 2001

In Oxford, England, the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) calls itself an "independent, non-profit organization founded to conduct research on social issues." It has issued a call to establish a British "code of practice" governing what reporters should be allowed to write about issues of science and public safety. Designed to put a stop to "irresponsible health scares," the code stipulates that "scientific stories should be factually accurate. Breaches of the Code of Practice should be referred to the Press Complaints Commission." Such a code is necessary, SIRC suggests, because of the public's "riskfactorphobia," a term it has coined to describe a condition of excessive sensitivity to health concerns related to genetically engineered foods and foodborne illnesses. SIRC has also published popular reports in the British press about the pleasures of pub-hopping. When the British Medical Journal took a close look at the organization, however, it found that SIRC shares the same offices, directors, and leading personnel as a PR firm called MCM Research that claims to apply "social science" to solving the problems of its clients, who include prominent names in the liquor and restaurant industries. "Do your PR initiatives sometimes look too much like PR initiatives?" asked MCM's website in a straightforward boast of its ability to deceive the public. "MCM conducts social/psychological research on the positive aspects of your business," the website continued. "The results do not read like PR literature, or like market research data. Our reports are credible, interesting and entertaining in their own right. This is why they capture the imagination of the media and your customers."
posted by coolgeek at 1:13 PM on November 29, 2001

Nuts. The link didn't work.
posted by coolgeek at 1:14 PM on November 29, 2001

About ten years ago, on Catalan TV, there was a government campaign consisting of a really fat guy sitting in front of a the telly with a cigar and a glass of brandy saying "pero si son quatre dies" (it's only four days - Catalan for life is short, accents deliberately not used) and the punch line was "aixo no es vida" (this isn't life). The campaign was a complete disaster, people loved the guy and life is short. What people really objected to was being told that this wasn't life (everything is life, even if the government doesn't like it). What they should have said was this isn't health, but of course that would have sounded wooden, just like the campaign. The saying "it's only four days" is more popular that ever. (five if it's a holiday weekend). Of course people here now do everything without heed since it was discovered that the Mediterranean diet they were once told was sending them to an early grave is the bees knees.
posted by Zootoon at 5:18 PM on November 30, 2001

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