Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Historicity of Disease

Disease is not simply a natural occurrence so much as an historical and cultural phenomena. That is, disease is not entirely natural - however ambiguous such a statement may be. Indeed, this nexus of historical, cultural and physiological forces manifests in culturally specific diseases. Cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes - relatively rare before the industrial revolution - are a few of the most common diseases in the U.S. today.

Among the harms that contribute directly to these pathologies - e.g. a largely sedentary lifestyle, regular and consistent exposure to significant levels of pollutants, poor diet, etc. - are the less direct harms that in the aggregate produce significant stresses. These not only diminish sleep, rest, and other necessary functions, their persistent pressures weaken immunological strength and resistance. Consequently, greater and more severe illnesses result.

A common response to this information is the suggestion that people take it upon themselves to exercise, and eat better food - that they exert some personal responsibility. This suggestion, however, largely ignores the fact that exercise and food collection and preparation take a considerable amount of time; and in this society, where time is money, most people have little of either. In fact, as far as money is concerned, the vast majority of people have negative worth. While this figure may not be correlative with time debts, the fact is that the health problem that this society possesses is endemic to this particular society. That is, even if everyone exercised regularly, and ate well, there would still be basic, structural harms making people ill - systematic deprivation of sleep, pollution of air, water, etc. In other words, politically, economically, and legally, this society is organized in a manner that is hostile to the health of people as individuals, of societies, and the very ecosystem as a whole. As such, these problems cannot be corrected merely by adding more exercise, or better food to people's already taxed lives. The deeper structures need to be radically transformed.

If a society is to develop beyond merely superficial levels of health, not only must it supply the positive things people need to be healthy, it must supply the negative things as well - that is, an enormous amount of harms must be removed. That a society has a positive duty-of-care to produce the conditions necessary to support general, and individual, health, and is only legitimate to the degree that it functions to produce those conditions which allow health to flourish is one of the central tenets of hygiecracy.

These 'conditions of health' include, among other things, free access to all of those conditions necessary for health to develop, such as housing, nutrition sufficient for optimal health, a clean environment, unlimited education, transportation, communication, as well as health care, to name just a few. Moreover, people need time - time to sleep, and to exercise, to cook and to eat well, as well as time to study and to socialize, all of which is necessary for psychological and physical health.

Skeptics may reply that though such an arrangement might be nice, it is unrealistic. For just how, for example, are we to get more time? There are only 24 hours in a day. The hygiecratic response to this is that the elimination of the need to pay rent (an obstruction of the conditions of health) would pretty much halve the amount of time people would need to work. Since food, transportation, and health care, among other things, would be free, people would only have to work to reproduce/maintain/develop these conditions of health. And because the production and reproduction of the conditions of health can be accomplished at less than a quarter of current person-hours, people in a hygiecratic economy would have to work no more than ten hours a week to maintain such conditions. Additionally, there is an exponential aspect to the strengthening of health. As the condition of our health improves, even less work will need to be pursued. We will be free to work on our own labors of love.

Moreover, since large swaths of the capitalist economy would be superfluous in a hygiecratic economy (entire industries like banking, finance, and insurance, to name just a few, would have no role to play in an economy organized around producing the conditions of health, rather than producing financial gain) more people would be able to work in producing and reproducing conditions of health, further reducing the amount that any particular person would need to work to maintain a hygiecratic economy. While it may not be possible, or even desirable, to eliminate disease completely, such an organization would at least eliminate much, especially those caused by the stresses and toxins of contemporary culture - the plague we bring upon ourselves.

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