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Author Topic: Health as an ethical framework?  (Read 456 times)

Hariti

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Health as an ethical framework?
« on: May 09, 2020, 08:00:15 am »
Sorry for the clunky title, wasn't sure what to call this thread. I wanted to discuss something I have repeatedly observed during debates with people both online and offline—the tendency to treat what is healthy as ethical.

I have seen quite a lot of people who decide what they should, or should not be doing, based entirely on what is healthy for them. Not only that, but I have seen people arguing that others should also, always, invariably do whatever is healthiest. Basically putting health on a pedestal and elevating it to the point that it is the only factor worth considering when deciding what to do or not do.

As an example; I have seen people on both sides of the vegetarian debate using health as a platitude. Something like "You should not be a vegetarian because it's less healthy," or "You should not eat meat because it is less healthy."

Which are perfectly valid arguments if you're having a debate about health—but I have repeatedly seen these argument thrown in the face of people who decide to eat meat, or not eat meat, based on factors other than health. Trying to convince an ethical vegetarian to eat meat because it's healthy is an odd argument to make, in my opinion, because it's missing the entire point of their vegetarianism. The inverse is true as well—trying to convince someone who eats a meat-based diet because they enjoy it, to skip meat because it's healthy, it once again putting health above all other factors.

Vegetarianism/meat isn't the only place I've seen this kind of reasoning applied to, either. I have seen it applied to celibacy, for example. People will argue that "Abstinence before marriage isn't healthy," or that "Polyamory/open relationships aren't healthy!" As if health is the primary factor that drives people do decide what kind of relationship they want to pursue. It seems very reductive to tell someone to put aside their romantic feelings or religious convictions simply because the thing you want them to do is healthier.

I've even seen this argument applied to forgiveness before. A victim of a violent crime said he forgave his attacker, and there were comments angrily berating him because, in their words, forgiving people is less healthy. Never-mind the fact that, once again, health was not his motivation. Rather, he was trying to uphold the teachings of his religion.

This idolization of health seems very strange to me. It appears in my eyes as an attempt to reduce all the various things that motivate human actions down into a single, easy-to-argue category. I don't think it actually reflects how human beings decide what to think or do at all.
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Morag

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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #1 on: May 09, 2020, 07:50:46 pm »


As an ethical framework, it's mostly just another form of control, and it has the added benefit of being something that people can point at and say "But I'm just CONCERNED!!!!!" when they're called out on it.

Healthism, I've seen it called. It's very common against fat people, because people are really just concerned about our health when they send us death threats and harass us to the point of suicide attempts.

The truth is that health is not wholly under our control, nor is it a barometer of worthiness.

The truth is also that you can truly be concerned about someone's health, and truly want people to be healthy, because you want them to be happy. "May all beings be well and happy" is a good example of health as an ethical framework in a way that isn't controlling, imo.

The delicate balance is between truly advocating for healthier behaviours and proscribing what people do.

The key to the first is to realize that health is very individual.

For example, I don't think either polyamory or monogamy is more healthy than the other. Nor do I think it's more healthy to be abstinent before marriage, but I also don't think it's more healthy to NOT be abstinent.

If someone goes against their sincerely-held beliefs -- or the way they're wired -- for "health", they're not actually doing what's healthy for them. Because mental and emotional health count too! And they affect physical health to an immense degree.

Most things aren't universally healthy or not (save things like clean drinking water, air, food that HASN'T been dipped in toxic waste, etc). People really like to point to fat as an example of something that's ALWAYS unhealthy, but the truth is people are naturally different shapes.

Excess weight can exist, yes, and it can have a detrimental effect on one's health. That doesn't mean fat people are automatically unhealthy because they're fat.

Making Mr. Morag become skinny would not only be absolutely impossible, it would be severely unhealthy for him. He has some excess weight right now that is probably dragging on his spine (just like mine is doing to me), and some weight loss would likely be beneficial for both of us. But the actual healthy result would still get called fat, would still get shamed, would still be told, constantly, "you're so unhealthy, omg, you're going to DIEEEEEEEE".

(newsflash, buttercup, we're all going to die. at least I'll have cake.)

And the true "warrior" physique involves a gut. As hot as I found Captain America holding that helicopter back with his incredibly muscled arms, it was by no means a picture of male health. (It was sexual objectification for the female gaze. Which, you know, thank you Marvel.)

To continue to use Marvel movies as an example, "Fat Thor" shouldn't have been played for laughs at all, because THAT is closer to a Viking warrior physique than what they had him look like for previous films.

But our current culture says it's unhealthy, and plays it for laughs.

tl;dr: "But your health!" is the modern-day "But your soul!" The person who's saying it may BELIEVE they're truly concerned, but at its base, it's about control.
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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #2 on: May 09, 2020, 07:55:03 pm »
Sorry for the clunky title, wasn't sure what to call this thread. I wanted to discuss something I have repeatedly observed during debates with people both online and offline—the tendency to treat what is healthy as ethical.

I have seen quite a lot of people who decide what they should, or should not be doing, based entirely on what is healthy for them. Not only that, but I have seen people arguing that others should also, always, invariably do whatever is healthiest. Basically putting health on a pedestal and elevating it to the point that it is the only factor worth considering when deciding what to do or not do.

Honestly in this context, healthy is more of a buzzword then anything. Different people have different bodies, needs and tastes. Not everyone can be 'healthy'. In fact, I think what most people are missing for a healthy diet is balance. You either eat like a fitness junkie instagramer or Macdonalds for lunch everyday and there is no in between. It's not as simple as 'sugar bad, carbs bad, only veggies + protein good.". What about what is mentally healthy? It's might be good for me to eat a salad everyday, but what if my reasoning is that if eat anything else I'll get fat? What if the reasoning behind my healthy eating is an obsessive need to feel like I have control over death?

Okay maybe that got a bit personal but ya know what I mean? Basically, even the concept of healthy is debatable and based in what we believe/have been taught about health.

Jenett

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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2020, 11:02:08 am »
This idolization of health seems very strange to me. It appears in my eyes as an attempt to reduce all the various things that motivate human actions down into a single, easy-to-argue category. I don't think it actually reflects how human beings decide what to think or do at all.

I'm with Morag that the idolisation of health is extremely dangerous and destructive. (As someone who is fat, has a bunch of chronic medical issues, and who thinks about this stuff a lot.)

Personally, I am fond of the definition of health proposed by Moshe Feldenkrais (who designed the body modality method, the Feldenkrais method, named for him, which is all about how to look at the patterns of your body, and figure out which ones are not serving you, so you stop spending energy on them, among other things.)

He said: ""A healthy person is one who can live fully his unavowed dreams." (From this essay from 1979) I've been trying to follow that as a guiding principle since I discovered it (which was a bit before my health crisis a decade ago), and I've had multiple medical professionals since tell me that I'm one of the healthiest people they know, in terms of approach and attitude, despite the chronic stuff that probably isn't going to have significant improvement ever.

But that approach isn't about what we eat, or how (or whether) we move our bodies, or who we build relationships with (or whether we do), or any specific activity - it's a lot more about our attitude to our bodies and lives, and an attitude of looking what's working for our particular selves at a particular moment, and what will open up options, and what will close them off.

And then it's about whether we care about those options in the first place.

I'm never going to run a marathon, but I don't want to. I do sort of wish that my lungs permitted scuba diving as a thing, but they don't and in reality, that's a thing I'd probably enjoy a lot, but there are other things I enjoy I can do, and choose to do a lot more frequently. I have a life that has a lot of stuff I enjoy in it, and I'm able to do a lot of the stuff I do really want to do, much of the time.

So I keep choosing things that give me more options, with an eye to stuff that isn't going to make a big difference today or this year, but might make a big difference in ten years if I start doing it regularly now (like getting regular exercise, which is not what I'd choose on any given day usually, but does make me feel better and gives me options long-term. On the other hand, my idea of regular exercise is a walk or qi gong or a bit of free-form dancing, not a gym workout, because wow do I hate those, that is not healthy for me by any definition except the ones that idiolise time in the gym and amount of sweat.)
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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #4 on: May 11, 2020, 12:52:22 pm »


tl;dr: "But your health!" is the modern-day "But your soul!" The person who's saying it may BELIEVE they're truly concerned, but at its base, it's about control.

SO much this!

And I think it's an important distinction that some of these people actually think they believe they are making these suggestions 'for their own good'.  When someone is truly interested in what is good for you, they listen to what you are saying and make suggestions based on your personal situation...not based on a one size fits all 'solution'.

A lot of the health craze goes back to media and the oversexualization of the current ideal.  Whatever is seen as 'attractive' is considered healthy.  If you actually look at most of the images in print media (you know, the photo shopped ones), people are 'perfect'...and completely unreal.  And everyone flocks to trying to make themselves look like the pictures...which is absolutely unhealthy because the pictures aren't real!  To look like the pictures you have to starve yourself, you have to have this body shape that (for virtually everyone on the planet...I am sure there are exceptions) just isn't going to happen.  When they shave off bits of hips and ribs and chin, they are making us think we aren't good enough when we look in the mirror, so we go out and buy products, programs and therapy to make ourselves feel better about how we actually look.

I also think that people are taught to believe they are only good if they are better than someone else.  So anyone who has one habit they feel is good..they have to point out how other people aren't doing it to actually feel good about themselves.  I see this a lot with vegetarians/vegans (not all, but a large majority), who aren't just doing their thing and politely declining when offered something they don't eat...they are shouting on social media about how anyone who eats meat is a monster and there is no reason for us to ever kill animals.  It's no longer about them and their journey, it's about trying to show how much better they are than everyone else and shame on you for not being awesome and incredible like them.

My personal philosophy is to find the balance I need (and for full transparency...I'm horrible at it).  I want to be more healthy than I am...because I get winded walking up our hill from checking the mail or when I clean the house.  I know I sit too long at the computer and don't always eat meals as balanced as I would like (or in the proper proportions).  I definitely don't take care of my skin.  But on the flip side of that....I don't want to be miserable in my daily life because I am so busy chasing this 'healthy' ideal.  I've often said that there are many things I will not give up.  I am slightly lactose intolerant, but I love (like LOVE) cheese, and there are certain foods that I know will bother me, but the joy of eating them is worth (to me) the discomfort of digesting them.  So, I try to find that middle road, where I can enjoy life and not be held back by things that I had the ability to change.
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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #5 on: May 11, 2020, 07:37:41 pm »
not a gym workout, because wow do I hate those, that is not healthy for me by any definition except the ones that idiolise time in the gym and amount of sweat.

Likewise.

Also, wow, the consumerism. Sometimes there's an attitude that a gym is the only kind of exercise that 'counts', and free things like walking outside or taking the stairs don't. And there's superfoods, fitbits, meal kits; The way 'beyond meat' products get so heavily marketed (what's wrong with lentils, anyway?).   

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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #6 on: May 11, 2020, 07:41:12 pm »
(newsflash, buttercup, we're all going to die. at least I'll have cake.)

This is why they can take my saturated dairy fat from my cold dead hands. :)

*wanders off to start a cooking thread*

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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2020, 12:03:03 pm »
(newsflash, buttercup, we're all going to die. at least I'll have cake.)

From quotes.com, attributed to Anonymous:

Quote
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, "Woo Hoo! What a ride!" (Slightly edited for punctuation)

Edit To Add: Apparently the original derives from a line of Hunter S. Thompson.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2020, 12:07:43 pm by ehbowen »
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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2020, 04:42:07 pm »
(newsflash, buttercup, we're all going to die. at least I'll have cake.)

Pity I have no more room in my .sig (and nothing I'm willing to remove in favor of this, I admit). I liked this line when I first read it, and the more I read it the more I like it.

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Re: Health as an ethical framework?
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2020, 10:30:28 am »
Sorry for the clunky title, wasn't sure what to call this thread. I wanted to discuss something I have repeatedly observed during debates with people both online and offline—the tendency to treat what is healthy as ethical.


I suppose we're programmed to find this an effective argument from a young age: "Eat your peas, they are good for you!"
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