People prefer health over illness.
Health is what allows living organisms to function and enjoy life. itis not amenable to analysis along the domains of Being. Not-unpleasant sensations may accompany it but it is not a sensation. It is not a thought, an emotion or an action, though our thoughts, emotions and actions can promote or demote good health; and some thoughts, emotions and actions are unhealthy. We can be healthy without experiencing much pleasure and without being happy. We can be healthy and still die young, such as from an accident. Health is not an abstraction or an experience of the brain alone. It is a measurable physical reality, which we might call a predicate desire, in distinction from our other basic and core desires.
Entire disciplines of medicine are devoted to aspects of health, including cardiology, neurology, psychiatry, nephrology, pulmonology, gastroenterology, urology, immunology, endocrinology, oncology, the broad field of internal medicine, and many others. Industries have developed around physical fitness and mental health. You could spend your life in the study and practice of any one of these fields, as our doctors do, but little explanation is necessary to make the point that good health is an essential preference.
Book narratives on the effects of public issues on health:
- Catherine Coleman Flowers, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret (The New Press, 2020): “ Rush’s home had no septic system. It would have cost at least $15,000, a price she couldn’t afford. Moving wasn’t an option . . .”
- Linda Villarosa, Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on the Lives and On the Health of Our Nation (Doubleday, 2022): “How this country understands birth, personhood and privacy — why its laws even presume to dictate what happens during an individual pregnancy — is deeply rooted in slavery. A couple of hundred years ago, the reproductive health of enslaved Black people literally decided the state of this country’s economy . . .”
On dealing with illness:
- Tessa Miller, What Doesn’t Kill You: A Life With Chronic Illness – Lessons From a Body in Revolt (Holt, 2021): about getting good medical care for IBS.
- Fred D’Aguiar, Year of Plagues: A Memoir of 2020 (Harper, 2021), about the author’s aggressive prostate cancer: “D’Aguiar teaches, he writes, that gender is fluid. And yet he’s not at all pleased when, thanks to testosterone blockers, his testes shrink and his breasts begin to grow.”
- Jan Grue, I Live a Life Like Yours: A Memoir (e-book, 2021), about living with spinal muscular atrophy: “. . . his rage to live shivers in every sentence.”
- James Tate Hill, Blind Man’s Bluff: A Memoir (W.W. Norton & Company, 2021), about being declared legally blind at age 16: “. . . the book is largely about Hill’s attempts to pass as a sighted person.”
- Ross Douthat, The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery (Convergent Books, 2021): “Douthat sees symbols everywhere; he is telling a story not only of his own illness, but also about the stories we tell ourselves, secular and religious, to make sense of illness.”
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Elizabeth Rosenthal, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back (Penguin Press, 2017): “As Rosenthal describes American health care, it’s not really a market; it’s more like a protection racket — tolerated only because so many different institutions are chipping in to cover the extortionary bill and because, ultimately, it’s our lives that are on the line.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Health is not easily expressed in music. Steven Halpern has created two albums, “Radiant Health & Well-Being” (1993) (56’), and “Optimal Health” (2017) (79’) – soothing albums focused on inner health, or well-being. Other offerings are “Meditation Music for Optimal Health” (2018) (135’), from Tibetan Singing Bowls Meditation; and “Optimal Health and Self Care” (2017) (118’), from Heart Chakra Association.
From the dark side:
- Rebecca Makkai, The Great Believers: A Novel (Viking, 2018): “ . . . a page turner about illness and mortality.”
- Lakiesha Carr, An Autobiography of Skin: A Novel (Pantheon, 2023), tells “the stories of three contemporary Black women, each struggling with different manifestations of trauma that finds its primary expression through their experience of their own physicality.”
From the dark side:
- Edgar Lee Masters, “Zenas Witt”