One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that the debate stays within very narrow margins.
In other words, there is no reason to believe that the trivial variations in mortality risk observed across an enormous weight range actually have anything to do with weight or that intentional weight gain or loss would affect that risk in a predictable way.
How did we get into this absurd situation? That is a long and complex story. Over the past century, Americans have become increasingly obsessed with the supposed desirability of thinness, as thinness has become both a marker for upper-class status and a reflection of beauty ideals that bring a kind of privilege.
In addition, baselessly categorizing at least 130 million Americans — and hundreds of millions in the rest of the world — as people in need of “treatment” for their “condition” serves the economic interests of, among others, the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry and large pharmaceutical companies, which have invested a great deal of money in winning the good will of those who will determine the regulatory fate of the next generation of diet drugs.
Anyone familiar with history will not be surprised to learn that “facts” have been enlisted before to confirm the legitimacy of a cultural obsession and to advance the economic interests of those who profit from that obsession.
If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire… Traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman [psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize] tried to point this out, they blanked him. ‘The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.’
For more than 200 years now the doctrine has been increasingly held that there is such a thing as mental illness, that it is a sickness like any other, and that those who suffer from it should be dealt with medically: they should be treated by doctors, if necessary in a hospital, and not blamed for what has befallen them. This belief has its social uses. Were there no such notion we would probably have to invent it.
It should be acknowledged that people who live with illness require social recognition, inclusion and support. It should also be acknowledged that long-term illness is not weakness, other than in a physical sense: those who live with illness need, and are usually obliged to acquire, many practical and emotional survival skills. They may even have something to teach the healthy. But neither this support nor this acknowledgement will be forthcoming if illness is—as has traditionally been the case with disability—construed as a purely individual problem.
The moral judgements formulated by actors in the course of their everyday activities often take the form of critiques. Moral activity is a predominately critical activity. The sociological doxa taught to first-year students (often invoking a popularized form of Weberian epistemology) consists in making a sharp (if not always clear) distinction between, on the one hand, critical judgements delivered by so-called ‘ordinary’ people and sustained by ‘moralities’ or ‘cultures’, which form part of the legitimate objects of description, and, on the other hand, critical judgements made by sociologists themselves (renamed ‘value judgements’), which are to be banished (axiological neutrality). This distinction is based on the Weberian separation of facts from values. Critical theories of domination necessarily rely on descriptive social science to paint a picture of the reality subject to critique. But compared with sociological descriptions that seek to conform to the vulgate of neutrality, the specificity of critical theories is that they contain critical judgements on the social order which the analyst assumes responsibility for in her own name, thus abandoning any pretention to neutrality.
The division of sciences into natural sciences and others not concerned with nature reveals itself as a symbolic manifestation of an ontological belief – of the belief in a factually existing division of the world. By and large it is hidden belief rarely mentioned in scientific discussions or subjected to scientific scrutiny, thus escaping the need to justify itself. This type of human science usually takes the image of a dual world for granted. What are in fact different but wholly inseparable aspects of human beings are thus treated – if they become objects of scientific research – as if they existed in isolation from each other. […] While human sciences with a monistic bent tend to overemphasize the similarities and to ignore the differences between human and non-human beings, those with a dualistic perspective continue, often without much reflection and in an undeclared way, an age-old tradition which suggests an absolute divide between nature and non-nature straddled by human beings.
This static person is a myth. If each person is seen as a process, we can possibly say that as he grows up, he becomes increasingly independent of other people — although this is only true in societies which offer relatively great scope for individualization. But certainly, as a child, every person has been as dependent on other people as it is possible to be — he then had to learn from others how to speak and even how to think. And, as far as we can ascertain, to small children the feeling of being completely cut off from other people, or of being secluded ‘inside’ their own selves, is quite foreign. Certain difficulties are repeatedly encountered whenever one tries to arrive at a convincing solution to the problem of the relationship between that which we call individual and that which we call society. These difficulties are certainly closely connected with the nature of the two concepts. In trying to free our minds from the limitations imposed by the ideas these concepts foster, the first thing to notice is that they are based on one simple fact. One concept refers to people in the singular, the other to people in the plural. After we have put that into words, this strange way of experiencing ourselves — as if every single person existed above and beyond every other person -begins to relax its grip a little. We cannot imagine a person separate and absolutely alone in a world which is and always has been devoid of other people. The image of man needed for the study of sociology cannot be that of a singular person, a Homo sociologicus. Rather it must be that of people in the plural; we obviously need to start out with the image of a multitude of people, each of them relatively open, interdependent processes. All this was implicit in the game models of the last chapter. From the moment of his birth, every person begins to play games with other people. Even the tiny child has its trump-cards in weeping and laughter. But if we are to do justice to the neverending process by which everyone is constantly relating to others, it is necessary to modify the mode of self-experience spoken of before. We cannot possibly understand the problems of sociology until we are able to perceive ourselves as people among other people, and involved in games with others.
Anyone who wants to rule men first tries to humiliate them, to trick them out of their rights and their capacity for resistance, until they are as powerless before him as animals. He uses them like animals and, even if he does not tell them so, in himself he always knows quite clearly that they mean just as little to him; when he speaks to his intimates he will call them sheep or cattle. His ultimate aim is to incorporate them into himself and to suck the substance out of them. What remains of them afterwards does not matter to him. The worse he has treated them, the more he despises them. When they are no more use at all, he disposes of them as he does excrement, simply seeing to it that they do not poison the air of his house.
The idea that people have always experienced … sequences of events … as an even,uniform and continuous flow…runs counter to evidence we have from past ages as well as from our own … In fact, it is the development of time-reckoning in social life and of a relatively well-integrated grid of time-regulators such as continuous clocks, continuous yearly calendars and era time-scales girding the centuries … which is an indispensable condition of the experience of time as an even uniform flow.