Tuesday, October 24, 2006

whose bodies?

Something for libertarians to chew over
Dieticians get indigestion over websites promoting anorexia. A bit rich considering the pushy food-nazis helped feed the problem in the first place with their invention and propagation of an "obesity epidemic" (and its unspoken subtext: "you're fat! you're fat! you're fat!").

Food is indeed problematic. Human life - all earthly life, in fact - is centred around nutrition: getting it, growing it, distributing it. Unsurpisingly, eating is imbued with profound emotional significance; nurturing, comforting, life-enhancing, pleasure-giving, the satisfaction of primal physical urges. In the context of hospitality and festivities, food becomes a focus point of culture, girt with both ritual and taboo. Even in the modern world prohibitions abound. The many campaigns for/against cholesterol, trans-fats, GE-food, irradiated food, organics, folate in bread, junk food in schools, etc etc, remind us that not all food is kosher. Veganism and the proliferation of austere diets are, imo, yet more manifestations of our self-imposed restrictions, and our uneasy relationship with eating (and our bodies).

The emergence of anorexia is perhaps unsurprising given the long histories of asceticism in world religion. Monks, hermits, yogis, priests, eremites and sahdus have always employed fasting, chastity and self-flagellation as purification rites, to renounce the material (physical) world in pursuit of spiritual attainment. The same body-denial also underlies the gruelling physical regimes of bodybuilders, athletes, dancers and soldiers who seek to transcend ordinary physical limitations so as to achieve extraordinary results.

My guess -- reducing the world to a Cartesian mind/body split -- is that anorexics over-identify with the physical plane. Their entire self-worth is dependent upon their bodies; their starved souls hunger for spirituality (not necessarily organised religion) but something 'transcendental' in order to realise they are more than mere fleshly beings. You also have a soul (or if that's too irrational) you are also your ideas, ideals, emotions, aspirations, achievements and accomplishments.

Mention of a 'soul', however, is often uncomfortable in modern society, heir to enlightenment ideals, particularly for libertarians who champion the primacy of the individual. For the defenders of one's inalienable rights, anorexia
poses hard complex moral questions. Previously, eating disorders were the private domain of those who suffered in guilty silence. Having shed some of its shameful connotations, young anorexics have begun to embrace it openly as a conscious, autonomous decision. A young woman ponders:
"It was only recently that psychiatrists changed homosexuality from a disorder. Now it is an alternative lifestyle choice. Why can't anarexia (sic) be the same?"
What's going on here? Anorexia pride? A woman's right to starve herself? It presents a dilemma for those who argue that an individual's right to do with their body, is sacrosanct. In the drugs and euthanasia debates, libertarians rail against govt rules that impose restrictions on one's body. In the abortion debate, libs defend it on the grounds that a womb is woman's property, and her property rights trump all (likewise, feminism's first commandment: "no one has the right to tell a woman what to do with her own body." Now that women are starving their bodies, do libertarians have the right to tell them to do otherwise?

Compare some common libertarian positions:
Drugs: people should be in charge of their own bodies. Deaths result, but no one should interfere.
Euthanasia: people should be charge of their own bodies. Deaths result, but no one should interfere.
Abortion: women should be in charge of their own bodies. Deaths result, but no one should interfere.

Anorexia?: women should be in charge of their own bodies. Deaths result. But should anyone interfere?

What would a libertarian do?


Lindsay said...

This is a terrible subject because young girls are literally starving themselves to death. If it were my daughter would I condone force-feeding? (which happens in some cases). I guess if I was buying time for persuasion to work maybe I would. But ultimately persuasion away from the negative thoughts and actions is the only cure.

Oswald Bastable said...

When the party invoved is an adult-

A Libertarian would mind their own bloody business!