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Fixin' Healthcare

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Lifestyle Chronicles - Culture, Character And Health

The Wall Street Journal published an article on July 3rd by General Josiah Bunting, former superintendent of VMI. General Bunting discussed the qualities embodied in the leaders of America during the Revolution and Second World War, as well as the cultures that nutured them. He asks if "in our time of crisis will another generation bring forward men and women of the same metier as those of the Revolution and the Second World War?" His answer echoes the concern, if not alarm, expressed by many. Currently, American culture does not cultivate the qualities most needed for self-reliance and useful service to the nation.

American culture has changed throughout the history of the country. Yet, the qualities needed were present over a span of 170 years between the Revolution and the Second World War. Those qualities may not be readily apparant today, but are they missing?

No generation can designate itself as great. Only circumstances of the time and subsequent judgement of history can do that. The Revolution and the Second World War were periods that involved and mobilized almost all of American Society. It is difficult to imagine those circumstances today. America fought in Korea and Vietnam and now in Afghanistan and Iraq while maintaining life as usual on the homefront. The country came close to mobilizing for Vietnam but in the manner of protest that would be hard to conceive during World War II.

Changes in the American culture over the first 200 years cannot match the accelerated pace of change during the last half of the 20th century and continuing to the present. Science and technology have been major drivers for rapid change. Expanding affluence and personal freedom have enabled rapid change. Traditions have been difficult to maintain in the face of such rapid and profound change.

General Bunting refers to attitudes about health in modern American culture. It is paradoxical that Americans desire good health and invest heavily in the science and technology to achieve that end but the result is declining health status characterized by an increasing incidence of chronic diseases. I will go a step further than General Bunting and suggest that declining health status is the most serious threat resulting from today's culture. The well-being and productivity of the population and the economy are in danger. The major cause of poor health in America resides in the culture and lifestyles. Recognizing and responding to danger is so much more difficult when it comes from within. Whether Americans can respond remains to be seen.

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