Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The common good

More warnings about modern life causing high blood pressure, which in turn brings about cardiovascular disease. One in four adults already has the condition, but, the report warns, in 20 years time, if nothing is done that figure could rise to 2 in 5. So why are we moving ever further away from the conditions which prevailed in Roseto in the 1950s?

Let's consider how the problem and its solution are framed. One researcher from the London School of Economics claims
Uncontrolled high blood pressure among people in their 30s, 40s and 50s will inevitably lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease and stroke that will strike down men and women at the height of their earning power, potentially turning them from drivers of economic growth and sources of public revenues to long-term recipients of extensive social benefits with increased healthcare needs.
The problem, then, is not just one of individual ill health. It effects us all. But notice how we transcend the individual only to the extent of worrying how others will become economic liabilities for us. Wouldn't an inhabitant of 1950s Roseto have used a different vocabulary? Wouldn't we have heard them worry that ill health might prevent people from participating in the life of the community?

Last month I was invited on to Radio Leeds to discuss the book. Thinking back about the questions I was asked by the DJ, what was so striking was how they were informed wholly by the modern conception of 'self help'. If, as we suggest, the way people worry matters to their health, what can someone do about it? My responses were so many ways of resisting the 'self help' construction.

The idea that the solution rests with the individual appears again in reactions to the high blood pressure study. We must each 'choose a healthier lifestyle'. How far we are from a political conception of a society organised in terms of the common good, and the individual citizen's good lying in that common good. But even when that political conception prevails, it is no easy matter to protect it from others which govern neighbouring communities. Returning to Roseto, what led to its demise was that a component of the common good was the aim to enable the next generation to achieve a 'better' life through a college education. It is not hard to imagine how this could bring about the dissolution of communal life. That the only islands of self-sustaining communal life in the West occur in groups such as the Amish suggests how radically different the political organisation of such communal life may have to be.

Now I wonder what blood pressure levels are found amongst the Amish.

1 comment:

david said...

Of course, any finding of low blood pressure in a group such as the Amish may be attributable to many factors. One study finds the levels of physical activity in the typical adult to be much higher:

"The men reported 10 hours per week of vigorous physical activity, 43 hours of moderate physical activity, and 12 hours per week of walking. Women reported 3.4 hours per week of vigorous physical activity, 39 hours of moderate physical activity, and nearly 6 hours per week of walking."

As William C. Roberts observes

"only 4% of these Amish adults were obese compared with about 30% of the US adult population."

Little chance then to understand the effects of social cohesion.