The First-World Doctor

Posted on July 1, 2010 by


A good doctor takes a systems approach. If we speak to a doctor with a whole raft of complaints; poor sleep, lethargy, headaches, skin infections, hair loss, impotence – let’s say general stress – they should not just treat each symptom separately. They would enquire about our lifestyle, whether we are happy in our relationships and workplace and about our diet and exercise. If we are obese, we could not forgive a doctor who failed to notice the problem staring them in the face. The obesity would help explain the cause of the other problems, and the prescription would obviously focus on changing our consumption, which in turn requires both physical and mental advice. Why are we overeating? It may be that we are unhappy, or that we have began to relate eating more with happiness. This may be the case in the short term, but to the detriment of long term wellbeing.

Let’s now consider our whole environment and westernised society being handed to a doctor for consideration. In this comparison, the global environment can be represented as the whole human body, which ideally should be kept in all-round good health. Our society is like the brain, sending out signals and commands for how to use our body, with the primary objective of maximising our well-being or happiness. The economy is our stomach or metabolism, a vital part of the system producing our happiness. The doctor takes a look. It is clear our body is facing a raft of problems – the doctor observes deforestation, overfishing, polluted land, water shortages and pollution, biodiversity loss and a rising temperature. They are a lot of separate problems but a good doctor would of course recognise that they are all related. He calls in a specialist psychiatrist to examine our society in more detail. They quickly note that there are some psychological imbalances and emotional discontents in society. The patient appears anti-social, somewhat greedy, gluttonous and self centred, and in pursuit of pleasure it is sending out the signal to consume as much as possible. It believes the only way to get happier is to eat more; it has become confused, and thus society is instructing the economy to consume as much as possible, and to keep increasing the amount. Now, in an obese state, the society is lost for ideas about improving their environmental health.

Would we forgive these doctors if they failed to notice we are obese? If they failed to connect the raft of environmental problems with our confused signals being sent by society – that the only way we can fix our problems is to continue consuming as much as possible! We shouldn’t. They should see straight away that the one is connected to the other, and rather than giving us many separate prescriptions for each separate problem they should concentrate on the source: our eating problem. Above all, a therapist would help society to figure out what it is that brings happiness – not excessive consumption, but our relationships to one another – and to appreciate our body and to treat it with respect. We can increase wellbeing by identifying new goals and targets and set about pursuing those goals, for it is also a purpose that makes us happy. We would aim to eat better rather than more, quality above quantity. No, if a doctor failed to notice this obesity, they would not be held in high regard, and our existence would more than likely end in cardiac arrest.

We need this first world doctor now more than ever. Our weight gain is faster than ever and our problems are developing rapidly in parallel. This doctor needs to shake us out of this dream, out of this unhealthy obsession, and set us back on the right path to long term health and wellbeing. Consumption is not the answer, and the problems should not be dealt with individually, with short term solutions prescribed. Only a systemic and holistic approach will save us in the long term.