Health is now a moral duty Picture: Pexels

“I really should be taking better care of myself.”

Who hasn’t thought that at least once in the past year? And maybe you’ve made a few health resolutions in 2018 — to cut back on the junk food, up the daily exercise, start meditating or get more sleep?

It’s clear that “healthism” — an elevated consciousness about health, lifestyle and related practices of risk and disease prevention — is on the rise.

On the surface, this might seem like a positive cultural development. Who can argue with trying to be healthy? But healthism has another side — a tendency to locate responsibility for health and well-being squarely on the shoulders of individuals.

Or, to put it another way, it lets the state off the hook for looking after its citizenry. 

Health is now a moral duty

The fact is, we’ve progressively been “responsibilised” in recent decades to look after ourselves, with less and less support from our provincial and federal governments. The pursuit of “wellness” has become a kind of moral imperative that cannot be separated from the state’s broader political and economic objectives.

If your bad habit is that you “often put off exercise,” you just need to “choose more positive online influences.” If your bad habit is an inability to stick to healthy eating goals, then you just need to “predict your feelings about food” before you begin eating.

Exhorting individual readers to become entrepreneurial self-managers and take responsibility for their well-being, to conduct their lives more responsibly for the good of everyone.

Citizenship is a biological project

And this is where the idea of “biocitizenship” comes in.

Through engaging in practices of self-care — that is, making the “right” kinds of lifestyle and medical choices — modern citizenship in the West has become a kind of biological project. It depends on individuals fulfilling their responsibility to the rest of society by accepting and carrying out the duty to care for themselves.

From relaxing baths to kale smoothies, self-care is definitely “on trend.”Increasingly, though, we find ourselves morally and socially obligated to be proactive about our health risks, whether it be eating right, exercising more, quitting smoking or even screening for genetic disease potential.

So, will you strive to become a better biocitizen in 2018? Or can you count on your government to do more of what it used to do — and look after you too?

The Conversation 

The Conversation