Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pulverization

-Sometimes vows of positive thinking aren't enough. There's a pill - legal! - that will take a person from Rhoda to Mary. I suppose I had heard of such a thing. If it also expedites dissertation-completion and preempts sunscreen-induced breakouts, and comes with Mary's wardrobe from the "Dick Van Dyke Show" days, and helps with learning how to merge onto the highway, I'm interested.

-Speaking of negativity, teacher-rants are so-very-now. Re: the second one, the consensus is that the prof is right, but I'm going to say he isn't entirely. Yes, it's irritating when students meander in and out of class as is convenient for them. Yes, the student email is of the sort that sets off instructors' uh-oh-another-entitled-one alarm bells. But this "course shopping" period - at least for the undergrads - is something they seem to think they're supposed to partake in, while instructors are instructed not to allow it. Because it clearly wouldn't work - the course has already started once it's started. There is no wishy-washy month of discussing what the course will be. The prof's substantive beef might actually be with whoever it was at the university who gave students the impression that the beginning of the semester is come-and-go-as-you-please. That, and as much as we-the-teachers wish it were so, I'm not sure that the kids who don't give a damn in school are equally apathetic at work. There are a lot of young adults in school because that's what one does, but who'd be thrilled to be at some job.


-The problem with scrapping negativity is, sometimes it really is called for. For instance, this new (or not?) emphasis on "clean eating." It's on the one hand a positive development - no longer are people assumed to be unhealthy for being overweight. "Health," we must agree, is independent of weight. So take that, thin privilege! On the other, now even those who are normal-weight and who eat plenty of vegetables are apparently poisoning themselves if they also consume sugar, refined flour, or very blended wheat flour (and that includes whole-wheat pasta, Petey), or wheat of any kind, or dairy, or any animal products, or anything cavemen didn't eat, or who on earth knows. What "clean" consists of varies in all kinds of contradictory ways - either everything must be pulverized, or nothing. 

The only constant is that not worrying about it - not obsessing over meals - isn't an option for anyone. Real food - as in, foods not engineered by Doritos scientists - is not enough. Healthy eating and a healthy attitude about eating are incompatible. But, well, consider the source. There are beauty and personal-style bloggers who, after some caveats about how they're not experts, give "health" advice that is, let's face it, advice on how to go from thin to thinner. But you're not even allowed to say that, because what they're doing is noble and pure. And according to Science, the GOOPitariat is kind of... right. Perhaps I'm the one with the problem, gambling with my health every time I open a box of DeCecco. Perhaps my defiant, feminist, but unglamorous not-worrying-about-it places me in the same category as those who really, truly don't worry about it, and who go down with whichever chain-smoking, fake-tanning, motorcycle-riding ship. 

18 comments:

Petey said...

"There's a pill - legal! - that will take a person from Rhoda to Mary ... Real food - as in, foods not engineered by Doritos scientists - is not enough ... and who go down with whichever chain-smoking, fake-tanning, motorcycle-riding ship."

I'm of the (currently) lonely opinion that the obvious correlation of dramatically lower tobacco usage going along with dramatically higher obesity and psychiatric drug usage has no small amount of causation to it.

Tobacco has some obvious health drawbacks, but I do think it had some major mental health upsides, and that it's semi-eradication has had an major unacknowledged role in the rise of obesity and psychiatric pill-popping.

I think there is some not insignificant chance that in a generation, everyone will decide that a collective insanity took place.

After all, what did the Americas really give us besides tomatoes, chili peppers, and tobacco? We should take its gifts with proper gratitude.

"(Gwyneth's admission) isn't a hedonistic slip-up. It's still more image-control."

It's sanity. It's civilized behavior. It's better than I'd expect from Gwyneth.

Phoebe said...

It's not exactly swimming against the tide to say that people are fatter these days now that they don't smoke so much. And is it really all that out-there to be skeptical of whether whichever prescribed drugs are safer than the known-quantity ones? I would have thought both of these things would be the majority position, but what do I know.

Petey said...

"I would have thought both of these things would be the majority position, but what do I know."

I find most folks look at me as if I'm a Martian when I merely mention the correlation, even before getting causation into the mix.

And I believe that if I loudly said I thought it was a debatable proposition that the attempts to eradicate tobacco usage have had a net-negative effect on human well-being, I'd be either lynched, imprisoned, or perhaps merely deported.

Phoebe said...

Well yes, if you say that scrapping tobacco has been "net-negative," you will be dismissed as a crank, and rightly so. That's something else. But obviously people were thinner back when everybody smoked, obviously self-medication is a thing.

Miss Self-Important said...

Smoking is also a more sociable activity than taking anti-depressants. So if your problem is sadness and loneliness, Parliaments might work better than Paxil. However, as smoking becomes increasingly the preserve of the low class and indigent, these social options shrink. So taking up smoking if you are a non-bum is a favor to yourself (the lonely person) and a civic service to other lonely people who would be better off with friends than with pills.

For provocation's sake, I will agree that scrapping tobacco has been a net-negative. Dying from cancer is bad, but living well is good, and cancer has neither been eliminated nor life improved by the scrapping of tobacco. Why not divert some of our pharmaceutical efforts into manufacturing cleaner cigarettes instead of psychopharmacology?

Phoebe said...

MSI,

"Why not divert some of our pharmaceutical efforts into manufacturing cleaner cigarettes instead of psychopharmacology?"

That seems reasonable (and aren't they, with e-cigarettes?), but doesn't require adopting the "net-negative" stance. There are all kinds of health problems other than lung-cancer-at-80-rather-than-whatever-else-at-85 that smoking leads to (like the whole thing where lungs semi-stop working when you're still middle-aged). Inconvenient things like that get in the way of what might otherwise be a fun contrarian stance.

Miss Self-Important said...

Earlier than 80, I'd think! Although at one cigarette a week, maybe not until 120. As for the other effects - yes, bad. But enhanced happiness, creativity, sociability (and cross-class sociability!), thin-ness (I guess? I've never seen personal evidence of this). What's worth more?

E-cigarettes look weird so I've never tried them. Also, apparently, they have, like, anti-freeze in them? But in any case, the social effect can only be achieved when there are disposable cigarettes to be shared and lit, so e-cigs might not qualify. But why not cigarettes with just tobacco and no nuclear waste in them?

Phoebe said...

"But why not cigarettes with just tobacco and no nuclear waste in them?"

I think there'd need to be more of the engineering you referred to in your previous comment for there to be safe-ish cigarettes. But I'm the world's furthest thing from a scientist. Anyway, I gave "80" as the kind of standard smoking-defense age people like to give - the idea being that one will still die at a respectfully old age, just not as old. Whereas, once you're an adult, 55 stops sounding a million years away. And - to reiterate what I said to Petey - that tobacco isn't all bad doesn't somehow prove it's less bad than good. Being able to breathe is kind of important.

And clearly one issue with tobacco is that those with Gwynnie's level of restraint (if we take her at her word) is, while not unheard-of, unusual. This is in part because, nicotine addiction, but also because of the cultural assumption that "a smoker" consumes a pack a day, give or take. I feel as though I read some Well blogging or some such that even yearly cigarettes lead to instant death, but if it turns out that's not the case, there could be some mix of tweaking nicotine levels for less addictiveness and a rethinking of "portion size," as with the enormous sodas.

Phoebe said...

Anyway, we're getting side-tracked. My issue is really with the culture of female perma-dieting (even if already thin), and the way it now hides under the guise of "health." Meaning, we can argue about whether or not health should be considered as important as it is, but that's beside the point.

Miss Self-Important said...

So there is a guy in front of me at this coffee shop smoking an e-cig RIGHT NOW, which is serendipitous, and also really weird looking. It seems like it must be illegal b/c smoke, but then it's not.

Mainly, I'm posting this comment to note this excellent coincidence. However, my broader point about the virtues of smoking is not that it's good for you by any measure of strictly physical health, but that, by contrast to the personal health puritanism of the past 25 years, its goods can't be easily quantified by things like BMI and cholesterol counts in the way that kale and yoga and other supposed goods of the present can, and that points to an idea that for humans at least, living is not entirely reducible to organ functionality and how far you can lift your leg behind your head. I don't know how much weight exactly to attach to the good of not-getting-emphysema vs. the good of having-friends, but I would it's at least not obvious that physical health is always the highest good.

As for the addictions, I thought the tacit point of your exchange w/ Petey was that population-wide, addictions are inevitable, but their objects are subject to change depending on availability. My addition is that some addictions are better for civil society than others. You might say that if society ultimately bears all health care costs, smoking is more expensive. That might be true. But we don't yet know the long-term costs of putting all the Rhodas on meds, and you seem to be ambivalent about that too.

Phoebe said...

MSI,

You seem to be coming at this from the perspective that non-smokers have no friends and, unless medicated, spend their days staring, or sobbing, at a wall. Some are, but then again, so are some who use all manner of drugs, legal and otherwise. A substance can improve mood without the alternative being catastrophic.

Which... brings me to a third-way (contrarian! maybe even conservative!) argument we've been ignoring, which is that there's too much emphasis these days on being happy/positive/cheery. Maybe Rhoda-ness isn't a problem. Maybe social awkwardness isn't (usually) a spectrum disorder. And so on.

But to try to drag this thread back on topic, my beef here isn't with the there-are-greater-goods people, the enjoy-your-life people, but rather with the health-is-the-greatest-good people who are conveniently OK with everything unhealthy that helps one reach/stay a size zero.

Phoebe said...

Oh, and the only e-cigarette in action I've ever seen was on the subway. Like, in a subway car. My first thought was that this person looked more with-it than the people one sometimes sees smoking on the subway. Then I thought, oh, it's electronic, this is allowed. But then I feel like I read somewhere that it's not.

Miss Self-Important said...

"You seem to be coming at this from the perspective that non-smokers have no friends"
No, that people on anti-depressants sometimes are so b/c they are lonely, and in lieu of anti-depressants, they should try smoking because smoking is social and can make them some friends. I don't know that smoking itself makes you feel cheerful, at least not anymore than drinking coffee does. If all you want is the feeling, then maybe meds are a better route. But smoking wouldn't make you go from Rhoda to Mary, personality-wise, it would just make you a less lonely Rhoda, if you were one, so it is more in line with what you want - toleration of the dark-humored and negative through private, non-interventionist means, eg., by permitting them to find one another outside building lobbies and bond.

Britta said...

Smoking is a mild stimulant. I know people who smoke for that reason (at UChicago, where smoking never went out of style). I am an occasional social smoker, and I get a buzz from smoking. Smoking a pipe feels like drinking several espressos. FWIW, many of the people I know buy high quality tobacco roll their own cigarettes, which seems healthier than smoking fiberglass, or whatever. All the very mentally ill people I know smoke, and I've been told mental hospitals encourage it, because the mental health benefits far outweigh the dangers at that level of mental illness.

Petey said...

"Smoking is a mild stimulant."

While it definitely does have an aspect of that physical effect, we're not just talking about a coffee-substitute here. Tabac is mentally far more magical and subtle than just that.

It both stimulates and relaxes. It seems to have the effect of essentially focusing consciousness, which allows the user to stimulate and/or relax depending on what is needed at the moment.

Back when I was a reckless young pup, smoking two packs a day of the very yummy black Gauloises, I'd have the first right after I opened up my eyes in the morning which would wake me up, and the last right before I closed my eyes at night which would make me ready to sleep.

Tabac's magic is that it basically provides whatever the user needs at that moment. (Phoebe's dissertation would be finished long ago were she a tobacco user, for example.)

"I've been told mental hospitals encourage it, because the mental health benefits far outweigh the dangers at that level of mental illness."

That's pretty much the only ghetto where the advantages of tobacco are still openly acknowledged.

------

"My addition is that some addictions are better for civil society than others. You might say that if society ultimately bears all health care costs, smoking is more expensive. That might be true. But we don't yet know the long-term costs of putting all the Rhodas on meds"

And don't forget the long-term costs of the obesity epidemic too.

I'm not flatly asserting that the attempts to eradicate tobacco usage have had a net-negative effect on human well-being. I'm just saying that I think the question is far more open to debate than is currently acknowledged.

Phoebe said...

Scattered replies to some of this:

-Petey, the absolute cliché of the 15th-year humanities PhD student definitely involves tobacco. And coffee. And... I think you may be somewhat confusing health and aesthetic factors. Being however much overweight relative to what one would be if one smoked is simply not as bad for you. It may not look as glamorous/recall whichever era you're nostalgic for, but that's something else. If you want to be Team Health-Is-Overrated, fair enough, but the health net-negative argument is, alas, bunk.

-MSI, I do indeed see potential dangers in pharmaceuticals as vs. old-time self-medication, but that's because everyone knows both the good (and obviously dangerous substances/activities we're meant to believe teens try b/c "peer pressure" are also, for many, enjoyable, thus why the "peer pressure" explanation is flawed) and bad that comes from the latter. I mean, most adults are going to a) have at least tried smoking, and b) at least know of people who've died relatively young from the habit. It's a known quantity. Whereas personality-change through medication, less known, and potentially harmful in ways we don't know yet. Clearly incredibly useful in dire cases, maybe less so in others. As you may have gathered, I have something of a personal bias in favor of suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it (cheapness, I suppose, would relate to this), within reason, and I mean in terms of my own life, not what I'd necessarily advise others.

Petey said...

"Petey, the absolute cliché of the 15th-year humanities PhD student definitely involves tobacco."

But those folks are the ones committing the mortal sin of not blogging while dilly-dallying on their dissertation. For someone like you who blogs, the dissertation would be well in your rear-view mirror were you a tobacco user.

(Worth your time to click-thru that link.)

" I mean, most adults are going to ... at least know of people who've died relatively young from the habit."

Personally know? Likely not. (I certainly don't.) The nice thing about the un-nice physical health effects of tobacco usage is that they tend not to kill or maim the relatively young. If you draw the unlucky one-in-three lottery ticket, it is highly likely to pay out at a relatively advanced age.

"And... I think you may be somewhat confusing health and aesthetic factors. Being however much overweight relative to what one would be if one smoked is simply not as bad for you."

I'm not talking about model-thin here. There has been a massive epidemic rise in genuine obesity which has almost perfectly correlated with the fall in tobacco usage rates. We can debate causation, but the correlation is there.

And I think it's quite debatable whether tobacco usage is "as bad for you" as being genuinely obese. Obesity brings about a whole host of related maladies, keeps folks from exercising, seems to have negative mental effects, and importantly, unlike tobacco, negatively impacts folks throughout their whole lives, rather than overwhelmingly hitting in (relatively) old-age.

(And that's not even touching on the economics of tobacco maladies being much cheaper to the overall healthcare system than obesity maladies.)

"but the health net-negative argument is, alas, bunk."

As stated at the top of the thread, my position that that is a debatable proposition, in the sense that one can make valid arguments on both sides, is (currently) a quite lonely one...

Miss Self-Important said...

I think cigarettes are defensible (and not really mind-altering as per Britta, although combined with alcohol, they get upgraded from defensible to FANTASTIC, and that might be what she means), but they haven't finished my dissertation for me, so I have to get off Petey's train at that station.