Current events have demonstrated the power of society to censor our behavior.
In sociology class there was this thing called the social mirror, discovered by a famous sociologist, I don’t remember who. Was it Emile Durkheim? Anyway, the principal of the social mirror is that we see ourselves in a virtual mirror of the reactions we cause in other people’s faces. There is a powerful instinct of mimicry in our species that exerts a coercive power of social control unless you have some kinds of psychological disorder where you are blind to what you see in that social mirror. How Facebook, etc. interacts with the social mirror theory, I’m not prepared to conjecture.
Graphically demonstrating the face of fat shaming, that powerful, ineffectual, wrong, but still all too common force in modern societies, is a book of some 50 pictures with several spontaneous commentaries interspersed, called “The Watchers,” by Haley Morris-Cafiero (2015, The Magenta Foundation). They are pictures of herself out and about, but they catch the faces of ridicule in people around her. These pictures were priorly published online (www.haleymorriscafiero.com) where the title is “Wait Watchers” or it’s a quick read of the copy in my office if you’re interested. But obesity is not caused by blindness to the faces in the social mirror. Obese persons see it very clearly.
I just read a book by Amy Chua called “Political Tribes,” that has done the best job explaining to me the impossible craziness of the last presidential election. (Chua is also the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom,” that worldwide best seller that explains one particular tribe’s tactics of child raising in contrast to some others.) A political tribe is a subculture within the bigger, wider one, that seems to flock together and enforce it’s own mentality more or less different from the society of the whole country. Chua writes that the U.S. used to seem to be beyond tribalization. We were a “supra-group,” a melting pot of many backgrounds. A strong collective where different races and ethnicities and religions could get along. Maybe not so much after all. Tribalism is another deep-grained human instinct.
In the case of the government and our leaders, it’s a two-way street. On the one hand they can direct or disregard our mores to some extent, but on the other hand, they reflect what the prevailing sentiment tells them to. If the government tells us to do something that contradicts most people’s social sense, it ain’t going to happen.
Politicians practice political correctness as a reasonable effort to try to make as many constituencies as they can vote for them. Or there is the usually, hopefully, less effective political strategy of demonizing smaller constituencies to make a more major constituency afraid.
I don’t think obesity can quite be considered a tribal constituency. It cuts across all tribes. Indeed it could be a supra-group. If present trends continue, it won’t be long before we all violate the social ideal of thinness. Then maybe we will change that evil, useless prejudice.
John DiTraglia, M.D., is a pediatrician in Portsmouth. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-354-6605.