Oh, how many times us fat activists have seen trotted out this tired platitude:
“Don’t you know, there were no fat people in concentration camps?”
It’s a brilliantly ignorant phrase, at once loaded with misconceptions about fat and about the nature of concentration camps, all while insulting the experience of those who actually had to survive, I dunno, war and genocide and stuff.
As such, I think it’s beneath us to really take it on in a serious manner, debunk, and explain where the misconceptions have taken root. Really, it’s about as well-thought out as the playground curse, “Well you wouldn’t be so fat if you were dead, fatty!” …Well, no kidding. ‘Cuz I’d be dead. Which means eventually a skeleton. Which has no fat.
Usually it’s only the supremely ignorant, or the supremely hateful, who would dare unleash the “no fat people in concentration camps” platitude. A Temporary Lapse of Reason recently posted on a New Zealand doctor who apparently teaches this platitude to his students. (I wonder, does he ever have any students who are fresh from a course on the human metabolism take him to task when he brings this up?)
I think it’s important at this point to remember one important thing, that’s often lost on the non-academic media: there are crackpots, who are so entrenched in some kind of bias that it skews their whole perception of their research and academic goals, all throughout academia. I come from a background of math and physics. At one point in time I was very interested in theoretical physics, and learned a lot of various theoretical physicists (I’m still quite interested, though I come from a different field at this point — complexity theory). I discovered that there was a different theory for the universe for every day of the week, color of the rainbow, flavor of ice cream, and so forth. And that many very serious, life-long academics, were entrenched in theories which, on their face, were a house of cards.
In mathematics it is the same way, though you’d think it would be the field least yielding to crackpots (and it might very well be, but that still doesn’t mean it is entirely free of them). There are many mathematicians so entrenched in expressing ideas using one particular branch of mathematics, that when they encounter these ideas more cleanly and intuitively expressed via different methods, they reject the different methodology all together. These people, who have to prove thousands of statements, using mathematical logic, before they are granted a PhD, can entertain irrational impulses in their professional lives.
Imagine then, a field that is much less precise, much more opaque, much more influenced by politics (and vice versa), much less known than mathematics and physics. It would stand to reason that there would be many more wrong-headed and irrational life-long academics. That is, life-long academics from prestigious places who cling to irrational ideas and theories, because they can bear to think out of the tired, dusty box in which they learned and in which they’ve spent the better part of their life researching within? These people, even when encountering a preponderance of counterexamples to their claim, have the ability to weave in and out of rationality, at once making grandiose, easily disproven claims, and using the force of their dusty “experience” to lend credibility (this is a fallacy of logic called “argument from authority.”).
Getting back on topi, it’s therefore not important to debunk the heath claims made by this so-called doctor — we’ve done it handily, many times before. And, quite frankly, he’s a crackpot if he would ever state such irrational platitudes in the first place. His hate, sense of superiority, and disgust is showing, worn proudly on his sleeve. Through the lens of his hate and bias, his statements might make some kind of sense (and certainly do to the writer of the article, who sadly takes him seriously). But without that lens? Even on their face, to someone who knows nothing about the science of the human metabolism and genetics, they’re utterly ridiculous.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous. Sometimes, insulated by the Fatosphere, we forgot what the average politician likely believes about fat people.
Quoted from A Temporary Lapse of Reason:
But Dr BirkBeck’s desire to take ‘further steps’, to ‘make people realize’, shame people, legislate their bodies, medicate, mutilate, or otherwise impel people into his ideal of what is good for them is FAR from uncommon. And it all stems from the root of moral superiority that says ‘I know what’s best for you’.
This is such an important distinction to make. As it stands, if you are a fat person in New Zealand, Dr Birkbeck’s words are just words. If you don’t like him, he doesn’t have to be your doctor. However, his words can become dangerous if it is possible to legislate one’s health (I’m not sure if this is currently the case in NZ).
Then all it takes is for one demagogue-doctor to sway some committee comprised of the majority party in power, and suddenly a fat person finds that they are disallowed from obtaining health insurance, or penalized/taxed for their fat, or given an ultimatum to lose weight or be financially penalized at tax time, etc. The legislature can even exonerate itself in the eyes of the non-fat and self-loathing fat (the majority of voters, to be sure) by claiming the extra money from the fatties will be going towards “programs” to “help them” lose the required weight.
Of course, we all know such programs don’t work in the long term (or even short term, looking at some examples from the UK), and what you’ll end up with is a fat tax and useless programs set up to torture fat people. Fat people will be tortured (and possibly mutilated via ‘discounted’ WLS, when the Bunsen Burner weight loss programs don’t work), and will have to foot the bill for their torture.
Dr. Birkbeck, I recognize your methodology, but it hasn’t been in practice for about 80 years or so…
This is another reason why it is vital to make sure that no body of people has the power to legislate your health, and at the very least you have the option to opt-out without financial penalties, the non-payment which could land you in prison. It should never get to the point where some people are fined or otherwise for simply existing as they are. And fat people, by virtue of their existence, would be fined/taxed by a government if any government believed it would be popular to do so. As long as they can get the votes they mean and bring in more revenue, what do they care?
Given our current culture’s entirely irrational views on health, it would be the worst possible thing to get government involved in the legislation of health. It would take a single Dr. Birkbeck to sway some subcommittee regulating the distribution of healthcare that cutting fat people out of the system, and making them pay for it besides, would be a boon to their balance sheet, and it’s all over.
It’s vital to preserve competition in the field of healthcare, just as competition is a boon to any industry. That way people can still vote with their dollars on a much more grassroots, individual manner, that could have the power to see fail one healthcare company overnight, and rise a new, better company in the morning. Actual voting will not give an individual this kind of power over their healthcare, not by far. An individual vote for a politician is so far displaced from the choices those politicians might make about healthcare, there’s no way effective change could occur in the time it would need to occur. The idea that voting for a particular politician will give you more power over your own healthcare than currently exists, is a fantasy, and a dangerous one.
The last thing I, as a fat activist want, is the current fatphobic culture to have the majority vote over my private health matters and, as a consequence, fundamental way of life (since I would be forced to become a marionette to their anti-scientific whims by virtue of my fat). What we have in the US now, and in every other country that hasn’t adopted a government-run healthcare monopoly, is not ideal. There should be far less regulations, restrictions, and tax fiddle-faddling with healthcare as it stands, so that the average person might have a chance of actually affording basic care out-of-pocket (like most people can for auto-insurance).
But that’s not the point. As many prominent economists have noted, it is nearly always a worse idea to move away from greater competition than towards. When you adopt a planned economy, you become a planned citizen. And a planned fat person, in our current culture, and certainly as well detailed by the words of Dr. Birkbeck, is a nonexistent fat person.