Today I would like to address the issue of so called “health fascism”. This phenomenon is something I often meet when advocating for healthy lifestyle choices, or frankly, any kind of living with some “higher meaning”, whether it be for reasons of solidarity, health or moral issues. I would actually go so far and say that the prevalent norm in western societies is to lead an unhealthy lifestyle as it is so often associated with indulgence, “carpe diem” and enlightenment.
Some might say that my observation is wrong and point to the empirical data of emerging health trends with vegetarianism, super berries, different kinds of yoga etc. I certainly acknowledge these trends but I would still say that they rather represent anomalies compared to the general population, as most people (except the ones following them) condemn these health trends and advocate some kind of “everything in moderation, even moderation” way of living. In addition to this attitude comes also a widespread disrespect and distrust towards any kind of state intervention or even government recommendations as these are often met with skepticism and no-one-is-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do-mentality.
3 Questions concerning the dominant ideology influencing lifestyle choices and environments
The questions I would like to ask are
- How did we get here?
- How did we make prudency a negative word?
- And why do we associate unhealthy living (like eating habits) to indulgence and some kind of revolt towards the “nanny state”.
I hope to find, at least, some answers to this.
First of all, throughout history prosperity and high status have often been associated with well being. For example, being overweight has for a long time been a sign for prosperity, since it was a signal of having enough food, that is, enough money.
Although the norms might have changed concerning the image of what well-being looks like; for instance around 1910 the ideal was to be more athletic and this idea is quite similar to today. One could, and should, of course have a intersectional perspective when discussing questions about ideals and norms since they differ between genders and class among many things.
Still, I’m confident to say that we have reached a period where the average person regards decadence as something slightly romantic rather than the opposite.
The emergence of a new kind of ethos
Someone who has affected the idea of man during the last hundred years is Martin Luther. You remember him? A German monk who nailed his writings to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg (later found out to be a myth though) where he criticized the roman church for selling indulgences as mean of buying yourself out of purgatory. Luther questioned the mentality that freedom of sin could be bought for money and not only through righteous actions, which resulted in his excommunication by the pope and the condemnation as an outlaw by the emperor. His reformation, and later different kinds of protestantism, gave rise to a whole new kind of ethos, with a new set of values, ideas and devotion to life. Max Weber writes in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism about the importance of protestantism in shaping the ideal of hard working and entrepreneurial spirits that made capitalism so successful, and even possible. With this new religious devotion the protestant ethos lent moral weight to hard work, far-sighted investment and ascetic self-denial, the very qualities capitalism needed to thrive. Important to note, this devotion was, according to Weber, not an expression of greed. It was rather a moral statement to which hard work was praising God and to sit idle was not.
But then something happened. During the middle of the 20th century capitalism couldn’t satisfy any more needs of the market, since consumers only bought what they needed, and most importantly, consumers bought goods (and services) and not brands. A change was about to happen, although this time not in the production, but in the consumption of goods.
Read my next post to get my thoughts on the rise of the modern consumers and the ethos of the new world…