From Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich…
Working out is another form of conspicuous consumption: Affluent people do it and, especially if muscular exertion is already part of their job, lower-class people tend to avoid it. There are exceptions like the working-class male body builders—“ meatballs”— who can be found in places like Gold’s Gym, as well as the lower-class women who attempt to shed pounds at Curves (a descendant of the women’s-only gym where I started my workout career). By and large, though, working out is a reliable indicator of social status.
And why should the mind want to subdue the body systematically, repeatedly, day after day? Many gym-goers will tell you cheerfully that it makes them feel better, at least when the workout is over. But there’s a darker, more menacing side to the preoccupation with fitness, and this is the widespread suspicion that if you can’t control your own body, you’re not fit, in any sense, to control anyone else, and in their work lives that is a large part of what typical gym-goers do. We are talking here about a relative elite of people who are more likely to give orders than to take them— managers and professionals. In this class, there are steep penalties for being overweight or in any other way apparently unhealthy. Flabby people are less likely to be hired or promoted; 13 they may even be reprimanded and obliged to undergo the company’s “wellness” program, probably consisting of exercise (on- or off-site), nutritional counseling to promote weight loss, and, if indicated, lessons in smoking cessation.
The author points out that the fitness culture provides equal opportunities for misery:
But if women are in a way “masculinized” by the fitness culture, one might equally well say that men are “feminized” by it. Before the 1970s, only women were obsessed with their bodies, although in a morbid, anorectic way. But in the brightly lit gyms, where walls are typically lined by mirrors, both sexes are invited to inspect their body images for any unwanted bulges or loose bits of flesh and plan their workouts accordingly. Gay men flocked to the gyms, creating a highly chiseled standard of male beauty. The big change, though, was that heterosexual men were also “objectified” by the fitness culture, encouraged to see themselves as the objects of other people’s appreciation— or, as the case may be, scorn. For both sexes in the endangered white-collar middle class, the body became an essential element of self-presentation, not just its size and general shape but the squareness of shoulders, the flatness of tummy, and, when sleeves were rolled up, the carefully sculpted contours of muscle.
Ehrenreich points out that blue collar workers are likely to be so damaged by age 50, e.g., with back pain, that they can’t participate in the fitness competition.
Knee and lower back pain arise in the forties and fifties, compromising the mobility required for “successful aging.” … The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 40 percent of people age sixty-five and older suffer from at least one disability, with two-thirds of them saying they have difficulty walking or climbing. … “You don’t become inactive because you age,” we’ve been told over and over. “You age because you’ve become inactive.”
Who is fighting the hardest against what formerly had been accepted as the natural order?
The goal here is not something as mundane as health. Silicon Valley’s towering hubris demands nothing less than immortality. The reason why Kurzweil has transformed himself into a walking chemistry lab is to prolong his life just long enough for the next set of biomedical breakthroughs to come along, say in 2040, after which we’ll be able to load our bodies with millions of nanobots programmed to fight disease. One way or another, other tech titans aim to achieve the same thing. As Newsweek reports: Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, plans to live to be 120. Compared with some other tech billionaires, he doesn’t seem particularly ambitious. Dmitry Itskov, the “godfather” of the Russian Internet, says his goal is to live to 10,000; Larry Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, finds the notion of accepting mortality “incomprehensible,” and Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, hopes to someday “cure death.”
If you are one of the richest men in the world, and presumably, since this is Silicon Valley, one of the smartest, why should you ever die?
Maybe it is time to hit the gym…