No. I’m not very good at titles. You may have realised that already.
This post is not really about obesity at all. It’s written out of ignorance – as well as a reluctance to make myself seem more learned than I am by spending five minutes Googling statistics held online.
A couple of days ago, Jonathan Freedland connected – as symptomatic of two very current Western conditions – the Islamic State and Ebola crises. He identified two states of mind as representing our shared responses. Firstly, fear:
They are dark, unseen enemies, come from far away – and they are scaring us witless. Isis is not a disease, and Ebola is not a terror organisation. But fear is their common currency: intentional for one, inevitable for the other. [...]
But the greater similarity is the feeling of impotence that both crises prompt. The US, the most armed nation in the history of humankind, the world’s hyperpower, which spends more on weapons than the 10 next highest-spending nations combined, that country – along with five European allies and partners from the Gulf states – is pounding Isis from the air and yet making only marginal progress. No one is talking of victory over Isis; most speak of merely containing it. Meanwhile, the same US, with all its state-of-the-art technology and germproof suits, couldn’t prevent one of its nurses catching Ebola. You can hardly blame those inside and outside America who look at both situations and feel overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, as I read Freedland’s perceptive train of thought – especially as he avoids with his perspicacity what the neocons will prefer to describe as that almost psychotic connecting of ideas (what, indeed, I myself have recently called the corrosive relativism of the Guardian‘s “Comment is Free”) – I may actually be falling into the trap of doing what he so successfully avoided. “What trap?” I hear you ask.
Well. I look at the two plagues currently assailing our Western civilisation – obesity and mental ill-health – and wonder why no one (as per Freedland’s methodology) cares to make the connection too often.
As the Guardian reports in the obesity story just linked to, on the initiative by the state to encourage health workers to sort out their own weight problems in order to give the country a good example:
The move by Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, comes amid mounting frustration within the medical profession and NHS over the failure of successive governments to invest sufficiently in public health campaigns.
One in five young people and one in four adults in the UK now suffer from obesity, which each year causes 34,000 deaths and costs the NHS more than £1bn. Last year almost 11,000 people – 8,000 of them women – were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity.
However, I am minded to point out that in both the contexts discussed, the economic drivers soon push aside any primary considerations of a more humane nature, by coming to the fore of most policymakers’ mindsets. Whilst the first report only mentions the cost to the NHS (others will I am sure go on to upfront the cost to businesses), the second – on mental health, and even as it starts out by talking about the impact on people – communicates the following (the bold is mine):
Dame Sally said the costs were “astounding” and NHS bosses needed to treat mental health “more like physical health”.
“Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time,” she said.
“Underinvestment in mental health services, particularly for young people, simply does not make sense economically.“
And this, if anything, if we are to use Jonathan Freedland’s carefully couched methodology, is why in the cases of IS and Ebola we are both fearful and impotent – and why in the cases of obesity and mental health we are getting far more ill than we should be.
A focus on economic drivers is driving our whole Western civilisation – once so liberal, caring, socialising and forward-looking (that little-by-little but positively remorseless progress of social democracy) – into the hands of these four hoarse men fed up of shouting out truths into the night.
The fear and impotence we are manifesting when faced with terrorism and horrific disease, as well as steady-state physical and mental infirmities such as obesity and mental ill-health, are all consequences of our leaders’ inabilities to make connections at the simplest level. These inabilities to understand what makes us obese, mentally ill, unnaturally fearful of disease and terrified of terrorism … well, it all leads our makers and shakers to assume even more of their same is needed, when – in reality – it’s been more of their same which has failed us.
We are frightened, but not because we the people have done something very wrong in our lifestyles; rather, it’s because, deep down, we have already realised technocracy is not up to the job.
We are impotent, but not because the communication from our lords and masters has been inadequate to the task in the hand; rather, it’s because, deep down, we have already realised that those in charge, the technocrats and their economic sponsors, are now too powerful for us to be able to shift them in their error-making ways. They refuse to make the connections we’ve struggled to make ourselves and, instead, look to multiply inability a thousandfold.
And when we try and communicate a different idea or approach, they see us as threatening their already fearfully threatened positions. So instead of verily being part of the solution, we quickly become part of the threat.
We are living the rapid decline of pyramid capitalism.
They don’t know it, but we do – and that’s what’s making us fat.