Defending the Anti-Obesity Movement, Again

DrRich | May 15th, 2010 - 12:15 am

(A Heartfelt Plea To Certain Authors Of The Health Care Renewal Blog)


The other day, President Obama gave a commencement speech in which he pointed out one of the downsides of living in a new age of electronic communication:

“Meanwhile, you’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t rank all that high on the truth meter. . . .[I]nformation becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment. All of this is not only putting new pressures on you; it is putting new pressures on our country and on our democracy.”

In other words, too much information can be bad (since it can be untruthful, and places pressure on our country and democracy). Clearly implied in this statement is the idea that something ought to be done about all that extraneous information out there. Presumably, disinterested truth-tellers in our unbiased government bureaucracies ought to sort out fact from fiction, and take the necessary steps to get rid of the fiction. This is not the first time the White House has offered to monitor the utterings of wrong-thinking Americans, and to do what is needed to correct their misapprehensions. Rather, it is simply another reinforcement of a consistent theme under our current administration.

We had best take it seriously.

And so, it is with some reluctance that DrRich finds it necessary at this time to perform an intervention. He does so with the kindest of motives, namely, to protect two people he greatly admires from finding themselves on the wrong side of a Federal disinformation bust.

DrRich speaks, of course, of Dr. Roy Poses and his colleague MedInformaticsMD (who had best not rely on an easily-decoded pseudonym for protection), two of the principle authors of the excellent Health Care Renewal blog. Both of these highly respected physicians and bloggers have posted articles this week which are critical of individuals who have spoken out against obese Americans.

Dr. Poses started it, pointing out that certain high-profile executives who have made recent public statements decrying obesity, and ridiculing (and offering to discriminate against) the obese, are pontificating on an issue about which they have no professional expertise.

MedInformaticsMD upped the ante by referring to these same executives as obesity bigots, and pointing out (rather colorfully) that such a person “talks stupidly and discriminatorily out of his anal orifice about how much people put in the other end of their GI tracts.”

Now, DrRich does not know how likely it is that Federal truth-tellers will stumble across these offensive posts. Given the stuff DrRich himself has said about healthcare reform and our government, he hopes it is unlikely indeed.

But Gentlemen of the HCR blog! Whereas DrRich habitually employs enough irony in his writings that most stone-witted bureaucrats (he hopes!) will have trouble discerning what he actually thinks, your prose is uncomfortably straightforward, and leaves no room for interpretation. If they find it, you are screwed.

And so, DrRich begs you to allow him an opportunity to set you straight on American obesity, and the importance of the anti-obesity movement.

To understand this, one must understand the underlying premise: Under any soup-to-nuts universal healthcare system (which, DrRich submits, is the ultimate goal), our central authorities, in the name of controlling costs, have got to be able to restrict, control and tax virtually any human behavior they can claim may lead to an increased risk of healthcare expenditures – which, really, encompasses virtually any human behavior you can think of.

Such power on the part of our central authorities will feel “unnatural” to many if not most Americans, if not developed judiciously. And so, it makes sense to develop such power – to set precedents which, once set, will be impossible to stop – by demonizing the obese, and making it not only OK, but imperative, for the government to control their unutterably selfish behavior, and, failing that, to punish them.

It is not difficult to demonize the obese. In literature and films the obese have long been portrayed as unreasonably jolly, slovenly and lazy, or just plain evil. (Hello, Newman!) Nobody likes to sit next to them on airplanes or buses. They block the aisles at the grocery store (their favorite haunts), and they reduce miles-per-gallon (and cause excessive tire wear) when they ride in our cars. On humid days, they sweat (and thus smell) more than you and I. So, with rare exceptions (and it is unfortunate that you two Gentlemen comprise one of these), nobody complains when the obese are criticized and attacked.

Given the current hypersensitivity to anything smacking of criticism of various races, ethnic groups, professions, political movements, sexual orientations, immigration status, victims of certain diseases, and scores of other categories of Americans, the obese present us with a refreshingly – and indeed the only – safe target. As the authors of the HCR blog point out, prominent and respected figures feel no compunction whatsoever against making the most offensive public statements against the obese, and when they do they receive (with rare exceptions such as provided by you HRC Gentlemen) applause rather than condemnation.

Obesity is a condition which is immediately visible to all – and from a great distance – and which immediately labels one as being selfish and lazy, and, now, as entirely unconcerned that their bad behavior is costing the rest of us our healthcare dollars, and thus, potentially our lives. Hating the obese has become nearly a patriotic imperative.

Fully government-funded and government-controlled healthcare (by whatever subterfuge we finally get there) permits – nay, demands! – that we declare to the obese that their unsightly physiques are no longer a matter of personal choice, but are now a matter of legitimate public concern. The choices they are making – that is, their gluttony, sloth and all other manner of self-indulgence – are placing unwanted and unsustainable demands on us purer, svelter, fellow-citizens, not to mention placing us in danger of not receiving the healthcare which we (in contrast) actually deserve.

It is already far too late, Gentlemen, to appeal to mere reasonableness, rationality, or, especially civility.  We are well past that stage. Observe: It has become acceptable to write, and accept for publication, “scientific” papers claiming that the obese are the chief cause of global warming. Observe again: It has become acceptable to write, and accept for publication, “scientific” papers claiming that obesity is contagious, and that – never mind associating with the obese themselves – it is risky associating with the very friends of the obese. (That is, even those who like, or tolerate, fat people are to be shunned.)

By their own selfish actions, actions which threaten the collective far more than merely themselves, the obese have become fair game for whatever manipulations our government can devise to cause them to either lose weight, or pay for their sins. Such maneuvers may begin with simple taxes on foodstuffs favored by the obese, but the sky’s the limit. A special “carbon tax” based on their BMI would be legitimate, for instance, since it will always cost a lot of energy to move a fat person from point A to point B, whatever the mode of transportation. The periodic mandatory public “weigh-ins” such a tax would justify would serve the useful purpose of public humiliation, an important incentive to weight loss. And it goes without saying that the ultimate censure – already employed in more enlightened cultures such as Great Britain – would be simply to withhold certain healthcare services if one is deemed too fat.

Demonizing the obese provides several important precedents to our central authorities. That it sets an important precedent – and establishes the mechanisms and techniques – for controlling the private behaviors of American citizens is obvious. But it also allows us to place the blame for a medical condition, which largely depends on genetic predisposition, solely on the chosen behavior of its victims. Discriminating against those who have genetically-mediated conditions thus becomes possible.

Discriminating against obesity also sets a precedent for discriminating against the lower economic classes (since obesity, rather than starvation, is the chief nutritional problem of the poor in America). This will prove a useful tool when we set future behavioral standards to reduce healthcare spending, since so much of that spending is for the economically disadvantaged.

And so, Gentlemen of the HRC blog, it ought to be painfully clear that successfully demonizing the obese is a vital pillar of our new healthcare system. And when you express the unfortunate ideas the two of you have published this week (namely, that discrimination against the obese is somehow unhelpful), you are placing a large target on yourselves, and on your otherwise excellent blog. (And by extension, you may be placing more innocent blogs, like this one,  under more official scrutiny than might be comfortable.)

DrRich sincerely hopes you will take these comments in the communal spirit in which they are intended.

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