Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality

Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality

Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality

Against Health: How Health Became the New Morality

Synopsis

You see someone smoking a cigarette and say, "Smoking is bad for your health," when what you mean is, "You are a bad person because you smoke." You encounter someone whose body size you deem excessive, and say, "Obesity is bad for your health," when what you mean is, "You are lazy, unsightly, or weak of will." You see a woman bottle-feeding an infant and say,"Breastfeeding is better for that child's health," when what you mean is that the woman must be a bad parent. You see the smokers, the overeaters, the bottle-feeders, and affirm your own health in the process. In these and countless other instances, the perception of your own health depends in part on your value judgments about others, and appealing to health allows for a set of moral assumptions to fly stealthily under the radar.

Against Health argues that health is a concept, a norm, and a set of bodily practices whose ideological work is often rendered invisible by the assumption that it is a monolithic, universal good. And, that disparities in the incidence and prevalence of disease are closely linked to disparities in income and social support. To be clear, the book's stand against health is not a stand against the authenticity of people's attempts to ward off suffering. Against Health instead claims that individual strivings for health are, in some instances, rendered more difficult by the ways in which health is culturally configured and socially sustained.

The book intervenes into current political debates about health in two ways. First, Against Health compellingly unpacks the divergent cultural meanings of health and explores the ideologies involved in its construction. Second, the authors present strategies for moving forward. They ask, what new possibilities and alliances arise? What new forms of activism or coalition can we create? What are our prospects for well-being? In short, what have we got if we ain't got health? Against Health ultimately argues that the conversations doctors, patients, politicians, activists, consumers, and policymakers have about health are enriched by recognizing that, when talking about health, they are not all talking about the same thing. And, that articulating the disparate valences of "health" can lead to deeper, more productive, and indeed more healthy interactions about our bodies.

Excerpt

How can anyone take a stand against health? What could be wrong with health? Shouldn’t we be for health?

On behalf of the authors, let me reply to these questions by proclaiming that we believe that anyone who feels ill before, during, or after reading this book should seek immediate medical attention. We believe in the germ theory of infectious illness. We believe in penicillin. We believe that physicians should wash their hands between patient visits. We are optimistic about the promise of stem cell research. We believe that the transition from the rigid sigmoidoscope to the lower abdominal MRI represents indisputable progress. We are for bike helmets, sunscreen, and enteric-coated tablets, and we are against the swine flu. Perhaps most of all, we believe that disparities in incidence and prevalence of disease are closely linked to disparities in income and social support. We believe that documents such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ “Healthy People 2010” prove beyond doubt that access to health care and availability of adequate health insurance remain unattainable goals for many Americans. We believe that such disparities need to be rectified, and we stand firmly behind recent expansions in healthcare coverage.

At the same time, we believe that defining the mission of this book solely as a call for redistribution of healthcare resources is to miss part of the point. That is because arguments supporting the reallocation of resources understandably assume that health is a fixed entity that can be transported from one setting to another. The rich have health, for instance, and the poor do not. While valid, such claims overlook the ways in which health itself is part of the problem that we mean to address.

As recent political debates in the United States have demonstrated, “health” is a term replete with value judgments, hierarchies, and blind . . .

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