Some thoughts on compulsory wellness. Why are we told that being healthy is necessary?

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Yesterday I read a fascinating essay by Nikolas Rose, titled “The Politics of Life Itself“. It’s an in-depth look at what the biopolitics of the 21st century entails. (Biopolitics, coined by Foucault, describes how political institutions surveil and control the individual processes of life.)

Before scientists discovered biological mechanisms, life, illness and death were more or less a mystery, something up to the will of divinity/nature. There was no point regulating them because nobody knew how they worked.

Now, though, we know a lot, and medicine and biotechnology have immense power over the way we lead our lives. Tests and measurements and FitBits and IVF–our bodies, our very genes, are quantified, categorized, assessed for “risk”.

Since reading Sexuality and Citizenship, I keep wondering how the state sees me as a “deviant” sexual citizen: bisexual, childless by choice, kinky. Certainly it is difficult for non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people to get full citizenship rights. And then I wonder: am I also a health deviant?

Being unhealthy makes you a target for extra surveillance and control–and not just by the state, but by everyone. As a fat woman, my body is always a target for comment and advice. I am told that I should be thin because that’s what healthy people are; I should be thin because it’s “wrong” to be fat. States of unhealth–obesity, chronic disease, etc.–are not only seen as risky from a financial point of view (how much does it cost the state to take care of you?) but also risky from a moral point of view.

In short, we have made health into a moral virtue. Our bodies are external signs of inner value. It’s phrenology extended to the whole body, not just to the cranium. Our dignity as human beings is contingent on our health. Fat? Depressed? Disabled? On the autism spectrum? Less human, less worthy, justifiably mistreated, or at least treated less well than others who appear healthy, normal.

One of the justifications for treating unhealthy people differently is that they can’t contribute as much to society as healthy people.

But what kind of contribution are we talking about here? Working 50-hour weeks in order to keep the coffers of our employers full, and then spending that money to keep the coffers of our employers MORE full? Working less = making less money = spending less. In that judgment, our value as a human being is tied to our value as a cog in the capitalist system. If I don’t enable employers to make money off of my labour, and if I don’t spend the little money I am allowed to keep off the value of my labour, then what good am I to capitalists?

Opting out of health–opting out of compulsory thinness and wellness–is as good a way as any to resist capitalism.

Good advice? Helpful information? Thank me with a coffee!