Everyone’s using feeding tubes (or are they?)

A typical news story on women, especially brides, losing weight by having a feeding-tube inserted nasally, is subtitled:

The latest weight-loss method to hit U.S. involves inserting a tube into your nose — and it’s proving popular with brides-to-be desperate to shed pounds fast.

I’ve seen so many internet links and alerts to this “disturbing new trend,” almost always described by columnists as popular!, hot!, dangerously widespread!, that I spent some of my limited and precious time on this earth trying to find a story that actually says how many women are doing this.  It must be bigger than Atkins was! Right?

Here’s the thing: I can’t find a story about more than two people doing this, and sometimes it’s the same one or two people.  As far as I can tell, it is possible that more people have written about the “trend” than have actually pursued it.  Why is this lighting up the interwebs, and why is it implied that the feeding-tube diet has the freaking momentum of a runaway freight train?  Whose interests does it serve to write about it this way? Who finds this so fascinating to read?  Possibilities:

  1. Don’t laugh, but it crosses my mind that providers of the dratted procedure are the ones salting the media with the stories of ersatz concern over just how awfully effective it is.  Not one of the stories I’ve read fails to call attention to this.  It’s bad but so gosh darn effective!
  2. Some of this coverage and alarm is reminiscent of the literature on the watchers of reality TV; evidence suggests that those who enjoy watching reality television are motivated by schadenfreude and senses of superiority, inclined to vengeful thinking, and self-comforting of one’s own insecure thoughts (of the “I’m better than THEM, at least” variety).  The more women that do it, the more foolish we are.  Silly women!  We’re not smart, are we!  Shake your head at how big the trend is!  Not that there are numbers on this, but come on!
  3. Some of us readers, on the other hand, are not motivated by meanness or schadenfreude, but fear.  We’re horrified to think that women would pursue dangerous ideals of body image and appearance, and really fear for the well-being of vulnerable people who suffer with varieties of disorders with respect to ourselves and our appearances.  But are we looking in the right direction?  Are an unstated number of well-off American women, who want to spend thousands of dollars to look a certain way in a photo, the people we should be attending to?

Don’t get me wrong – if even one person thinks this is a good idea for weight-management, I agree that it is one person too many.  But something about the spread of this as a news story bugs the heck out of me.

Can’t get a philosophy job? Why not go out and try to change the world?

I think the question “Why not change the world” can look quite irresponsible, so I’m going to try to make it sound more sensible than it might at first.

Some background: There’s a non-obvious link between two recent posts, the one on the AWID Istanbul conference and that on Homophobia. The link is actually Elizabeth Reid, with whom I’ve been meeting up in Oxford. We were grad students together at Somerville College, and she has a B.Phil. in ancient philosophy, with special emphasis on Aristotle.

It is Elizabeth who has just been to the Istanbul conference. It is also Elizabeth who has tried to reconnect virtuous behavior and eudaimonia in her work in developing countries on topics such as women’s welfare and AIDS. Some things she has done are spectacular, I think. She was the UN Development Program’s first Director on AIDS in developing countries and from about 1986 advocated what is now a standard opinion: AIDS is as much a social problem as a medical problem.

Advocating new approaches can make one’s life difficult, but I am certain Elizabeth thinks she has been extremely fortunate to bring philosophical and feminist positions to her now quite long period of advocacy.

So of course I have been wondering about the comparative quality of a life as, say, a UN official working for things that are probably more important than, e.g., developing a better account of the mind’s cognitive relation to its environment. Such as working on alleviating the suffering of millions of people.

Going into work on global problems is not especially easy. Entry points today are very often internships, Elizabeth tells me. That is, exploited labor, even with the UN. Still, when we think of what we might do other than teach philosophy, it might be worth shaking things up for a bit and looking at something entirely different, as Monty Python might say. Elizabeth does say one should start with some area one would really like to affect. But she did have a clarity of insight that might have provided unusual motivation.

I can hardly believe I’ve raised this topic, but I probably believe it is true that there are more important things than being a philosophy professor. One answer to “Why Stay?” could be “Don’t”. Mind you, thinking about trekking around Africa to hold workshops on AIDS prevention does make staying in philosophy seem like an easier option.