It’s Sunday, so it’s time for a Come To Jesus Talk.
A few months back, I came across this image, which was posted to a couple of sceptical FB groups I follow.
It’s legitimately one of the grossest, meanest, dumbest, ugliest, and creepiest images you’ll ever see on the internet. I can honestly say, with all the authority of being a socially inept internet dweller between the ages of 14-now, that I would rather have my desktop image permanently set to Lemonparty than to ever come across someone I like or respect posting this picture because they agree with its sentiments. I hate all of this picture. I hate the racist implications, I hate that the artist conflates psychiatric medication with fast food and alcohol, I hate the GMO-bashing, I hate the irrational love of organic food, I hate the ugly faces, and I hate the font. Like, there is nothing redeemable about this image, and I hope that the artist who drew it is permanently surrounded by slow-walkers. Forever.
Let’s be clear: there are lots of kinds of people I can’t stand for all kinds of petty reasons. People who take up an entire car space to park a Vespa, for instance. People who are proud of themselves for not swearing. People who live by that Marilyn Monroe quote. People who use the word ‘meninist’ without a trace of irony.
I think the ones I hate most – and this is totally justified – are health ascetics who think their patterns of consumption convey personal or moral value. Like the muppet who drew the cartoon above, they’re the worst. And I don’t know if there is a carbon monoxide link in this house, but I’m pretty over people being impressed with behaviour that is uninformed, pointless, sanctimonious, narcissistic, and resource-demanding just because it has to do with wellness.
Let’s be pretty real here: there is no human being who is adding chia seeds to their porridge (which I did this morning and it was pretty money, no regrets) or drinking filtered water or doing yoga because they will die instantly if they don’t do it. This stuff isn’t do or die. This isn’t stuff that is actually necessary for survival, or even for health, and if you genuinely believe that this isn’t the case, then you may be the most gullible person alive of all time, and hey, do you think you can pick me up a bucket of steam on your way home from work today?
All these little rituals and habits and behaviours are being done for other reasons. If you do all these things because it’s fun and you feel good from doing it, great. Whatever. This article isn’t about you, in this case, so don’t make it about you. Also, don’t be all up in my face because you think I’m telling pregnant ladies to smoke big bongs of heroin or mainline Maccas; just don’t.
But say, for instance, you (the generic you, not the specific you, dear reader) are fixing for a fight and want to be a victim. Sure. Why not. So, take a good long look at yourself. Do you brag about not taking medication? Do you believe you’re a better, more moral, more responsible, more spiritual, more deserving person because of what you eat or use to treat health conditions? Have you made fun of other people for needing medical or surgical intervention, or have you perceived them to be weak, lazy, undisciplined or undeserving for doing so?
If any of these is true, then there’s no pastel motivational quote poster or platitude that can change the fact that you’re probably not a very interesting or good person right now. This is not a fixed state of life, but it’s certainly the one you are choosing for yourself presently, and it’s pretty awful, so you shouldn’t.
Back in 2004, you (actually, the specific you – the person I’m writing about in this article, not the generic you, dear reader, who is probably a pretty cool guy) probably didn’t care about what you ate. You probably had a purity ring, or were really proud of yourself for not listening to rap or country, or patted yourself on the back for not having a tattoo, but the finer ins and outs of the paleo diet were probably not your prerogative. In a sense, the sort of food and medical ascetism we’re plagued with now has replaced sexual purity as the marker of personal worth after people got over that depressing spell of far-right evangelism that we all went through post-9/11. This is probably because you can’t really blog about all the times you’re *not* having sex in the same way you can’t really create a Pinterest board full of people *without* tattoos. And because of that, we now have the wellness movement. So I think it indicates that a tendency for being a bell-end is part of the human condition. It’s just that the current incarnation is so… punchable.
People love the perception of toil or sacrifice. Perception only, because heaven forfend that they might have to sacrifice 10+ years of their life for genuinely rigorous academic study into a restrictive, demanding and risky career in science-based medicine (not when you can spend dozens of arduous minutes in becoming a real qualified paleo nutritionist). It’s a very facile kind of toil they want: it entails repetitive, low-skill yet time-consuming tasks which really only benefit them. There’s no originality, no real sacrifice, no real risk, and no real creativity. In the minds of the very simple and very passive-aggressive, this toil connotes value. That mother had a non-medicated home birth and feeds her baby home-made puree. She is a good mother. Not like those slatternly harlots who put their kids in childcare and give them pre-packaged food. They don’t care. Never mind that these toils could ultimately be bought, for minimal cost and little trade-off in quality, to free up time for activities that genuinely do enrich the community around them. (Of course I don’t have time for Meals On Wheels. It is very hard activating almonds and ensuring my child eats an everything-free diet. I’m a devoted parent, don’t you know?) Or, it involves abstaining from something, which is kind of Basic Bitch toil because it has all the social cachet of work without actually having to expend any kind of effort.
When the hell did we decide that being bad with money and time management because of weird phobias and a poorly developed sense of self-esteem was something that we don’t discourage in our children?
Why did we make an exception to allow narcissistic inefficiency and neurosis when it involves being marginally more healthy than we might otherwise be?
When did we decide that not doing something was interesting or impressive?
It is also a kind of toil that is only accessible for the very most privileged, after all; this time and money can only be wasted if people have this time and money. I would hazard that there are very few public housing families or people in remote Indigenous communities who faff around with flax seed grinders or raw milk.
We all associate this activity with personal responsibility because we’re so self-loathing about our culture, which is admittedly passive, inactive and indulgent, and thus we revere those who do something healthy for themselves – even if it borders on masochism. The logical extension of this, sadly, is that people who don’t self-flagellate and who resort to medical intervention are lazy and passive and irresponsible. It translates into the notion that taking drugs – particularly anti-depressants or anti-psychotics – is the easy way out to many, who believe that health is only possible or earned through pointless, expensive effort. Entailed in all this are some pretty nasty ideologies: chemophobia, pseudoscience, stigma and misunderstanding of the mentally or physically ill, and noxious class privilege, and it’s all dressed up as personal responsibility – and Big Alt-Med exploits the hell out of our fear of seeming irresponsible.
Personal responsibility is a canard usually spouted by the very same people who are least likely to want to take personal responsibility – those people who balk when politicians threaten to reduce middle-class welfare, those people for whom the phrase personal responsibility freezes at the tip of their tongue when their own child is caught bashing another, those people who whine about “nanny states” despite perpetrating the kind of behaviour that necessitates limiting civil liberties for the safety of others. Personal responsibility is a politer “bugger you, Jack, I’m all right”, and a far politer “fuck you, I got mine”.
“Personal responsibility” is tattooed, in Gothic font, on the neck of people who think that the Parable of the Good Samaritan ended in the Samaritan leaning from their pimped-up donkey, its rear plastered in the Biblical equivalent of ‘my family’ stick figures, to tell the traveller from Jerusalem that perhaps if he worked harder and weren’t so lazy he could have afforded a horse that could have outrun the thugs. That if the schizophrenic simply ate better and went raw vegan that they wouldn’t be ill. That if the autistic child was never vaccinated, he would be a ‘whole’ and ‘undamaged’ person. That if that woman had just bothered to breastfeed for another month or two instead of such a selfish cow for needing anti-depressants that she would be a good mother.
Of course, personal responsibility isn’t for them: for narcissists, the social contract is a unilateral convention which they solely benefit from, despite abrogating their own duties. They benefit from herd immunity and mass vaccine programs, despite not vaccinating their children or themselves. They lobby to have fluoride removed from public water sources, even though they’re not the people who are economically dependent on mass public health measures due to their wealth. The idea that the fat, or the poor, or the mentally ill, or the physically ill, are in some way deserving of whatever fate befalls them, and that they must labour to fix themselves of their current malaise, is a really popular one because they don’t have to do this toil themselves. And because we are talking about people with little to no empathy whatsoever, they will never realise that the piddling toil of buying organic food or using essential oils instead of acetaminophen will never compare to the genuinely hard work of managing a severe, chronic condition.
May I propose a radical idea: that the sick don’t deserve to be sick, that the infertile don’t deserve to be childless, that the fat don’t deserve to be harassed and targeted, that the mentally ill don’t need to be shamed.
May I propose a second radical idea: that we stop valuing the opinions of uneducated, uninformed, and uncaring people, that we stop getting intellectually aroused every time we convince ourselves that abstaining from something makes us a better and more evolved person, that we stop providing a platform for people who may exploit the vulnerable and desperate with bigoted, dangerous ideas.
And finally, a third idea: that we practice true personal responsibility. Just as we vote, wear seatbelts, pick up our litter, and pay taxes, we ought vaccinate, ensure that disadvantaged communities can access affordable healthy food and fluoridated water, protest against pseudoscience entering our universities and schools, and protect children from the stupid ideas of their parents.
Maybe – in a secular, non-denominational way – it’s time to remember to love our neighbour as much as we love ourselves. Your neighbour does not need maca powder, or coconut water kombucha, or a tarot reading: your neighbour fundamentally needs you to not bring polio back, and they desperately need you – if they are economically or geographically disadvantaged – to back policies and programs that will meaningfully improve their health.