I had a friend who was sociology major as an undergraduate, but grew to hate the discipline when he began to sense the sociological view of human beings. It took me a while to figure out what he meant but the more one reads sociology the more one sees that human beings are herd animals. That overall view is connected to the idea expressed by an early social thinker, Helveticas, who said that human beings are apes of each other.
I have been trying not to think about anything to do with teaching, education, and my job, but I thought about this when I notice an article on the first page of the LA Times: “Obesity is ‘contagious,’ study finds Friends help friends get fatter, a report in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates.” Followed by:
Obesity can spread among a group of friends like a contagious disease, moving from one person to another in an epidemic of fat.
That’s the finding of a novel study released Wednesday that reported that having close friends who are fat can nearly triple your risk of becoming obese.
First, I have to say, as I used to say, when I taught a research paper class on eating in America. This idea that obesity is an epidemic—while it may serve to medicalize the problem—is pure nonsense and misleading because it makes it seem the whole thing is somehow a biological problem, which of course it is (and isn’t). You simply don’t catch obesity like the flu.
What human beings do “catch” and depend on for their very existence is the behavior of other people. We are in a loop of mimicry. Don’t know what to do. Well, do what that guy does. That’s what we do all the time. Society has stuff built into it that does our thinking for us.
But we US citizens have a problem with this whole idea because we have been taught to think we are individuals who prize individuality. This idea serves to cut us off from seeing the obvious. We aren’t individuals. We are not born individuals. Maybe a very few people become individuals over a life time, but even that’s pretty rare. Mostly we muck along unthinkingly via mimicry and herd behavior.
Any way this whole business is all tangled up. When people start talking about individuals and individuality, they are usually talking about “responsibility.” The importance of this study on obesity is that it suggests obesity is not a “personal problem.” Which of course does not make it any less of a problem for the person who suffers from it.
For years, as a joke, when students came to my office and wanted to know how to get write an A paper, I would say, “Well, the best thing to do is go and find the people who write A papers and hang out with them—all the time—and after a while, not long really, you too will start to write A papers.” Actually, this is not a joke. It’s the truth.