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In her new book, Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer, the veteran reporter Barbara Ehrenreich takes aim at a host of maladies in the world of modern medicine: bloated hospital and insurance industries, Silicon Valley charlatans preaching everlasting life, and especially wellness and self-help gurus. Against the fitness entrepreneurs and “positive thinkers,” Ehrenreich (who has a PhD in cellular immunology) is putting forward a “dystopian view of the body.” She writes: “The body is not a smooth-running machine in which each part obediently performs its tasks for the benefit of the common good. It is at best a confederation of parts—cells, tissues, even thought patterns—that may seek to advance their own agendas, whether or not they are destructive of the whole.”
Ehrenreich argues that a delusion of Control pervades the culture, and good or bad health is increasingly pinned on “individual responsbility.” Dying is not a crime, she says, neither a sign of weakness. In conversation here, she’s expanding on these themes, as well as the ironies of “successful aging,” and what exactly is wrong with the Ray Kurzweil view of the human body.
Produced by Homa Sarabi-Daunais and Conor Gillies. Photo by Reed Young for The Guardian, 2014.