Monday, June 11, 2012
Against the Law
If, as legislatures and courts have proclaimed for centuries, the Health of the People is the Supreme Law, then what is against the health of the people is against the supreme law. And if what is against the health of the people is against the law, whatever is against the health of the people must be stopped and transformed until it conforms with this supreme law. So, if most people in this society are sleep-deprived to some degree, as indeed they are, and since these phenomena have structural causes that produce these conditions, these structures must be transformed.
Beyond sleep deprivation, most people are daily exposed to a plethora of toxic chemicals that - with greater and greater frequency - pollute our food, our water, and our air. To be sure, incidences of cancer have reached epidemic proportions. Nearly 50% of women and 33% of men in the United States will develop cancer at some point in their lives. And, unlike viral diseases, cancer is caused largely by environmental conditions that persistently agitate and deform cellular growth. In a society that is dominated by an individualist ideological ethic, people may initially consider these problems in an individually-oriented way. It may be suggested that people could exercise more, or pay more attention to their diet. While such corrections may to some extent ameliorate some of the problems one encounters in a society where conditions of disease are highly prevalent, they do not alter the basic conditions of disease. These conditions are institutional and structural and, therefore, can only be meaningfully corrected on the institutional and structural levels. As such, what is required is a reorientation of basic social institutions and a shift in how value is measured. In present society, in which conditions of disease are omnipresent, value is measured at the institutional level monetarily. Such a system of measurement, by relating to environments and resources as commodities, subordinates their health-value, or their use-value, to their exchange-value in a system of exchange, irrespective of the concrete harms these relations engender. Such relations would be precluded, however, if the maxim the Health of the People Is the Supreme Law were actually employed, since health-value would prevail over exchange-value.
If the Health of the People were in fact the Supreme Law, anything that would harm the health of the people would be against the law. The Health of the People, however, can be harmed both by harmful presences, as well as by harmful absences. It is not sufficient to remove only harmful presences, like war and poverty, not to mention standard industrial practices that pollute the land, air, and water - or the day-to-day physical and psychological harms of traffic, noise, stress, etc. attending modern capitalist society. Along with harmful presences, harmful absences must be removed as well. For example, the harmful absence of nutritious food must be removed. Such an absence can only be removed by transforming its absence into a presence - by providing these entities - transforming conditions of disease into conditions of health.
Economic production for exchange-value does not so much comprise an instance of 'putting the cart before the horse' so much as it exchanges the cart for the materials necessary to enslave the horse (and its descendants as well) in order to make them produce more carts for exchange, ad infinitum. Production for use-value, on the other hand, produces materials for their uses as ends in themselves. In this respect health-value is a subset of use-value. But where the use in use-value is general, with health-value it is specific: it is produced in order to produce and reproduce the elements and conditions of health - the concrete conditions of actual justice.