Towards a Marxist workout plan
My wife and I have gotten in ‘shape’ because of wealth, not willpower. I mean, we work at it, but being rich is not hard work. We have a cook and can control our diet. We can buy exercise equipment and, most importantly, have the uninterrupted time to use it.
Capital give you two things, time and money (ie, other people’s labor). Thus capitalism pervades everything, including how and if you can get fit.
Let me explain.
First a digression. You look great today. Just the way you are.
Fitness is extremely complicated, culturally defined, and not really a real thing. Certainly not worth being unkind over. Howard Schatz has photographed many athlete bodies, as above, and someone can be highly fit in a body that does not ‘fit’ culturally.
At the same time, if we are truly worried about other people’s health, WHY ARE WE CRUEL TO THEM? We wouldn’t go up to a cancer patient and say, “you’re looking especially cancerous today, have you tried chemo?” and yet we regularly do this to ‘overweight’ people (note to my extended family). If fitness really is a health issue we should be ashamed at the way we treat fat* people.
We live in a two-faced society which shoves calorie-rich food in our faces and then shames us for eating it. We make people sit for hours at school or work and then blame them for not exercising. It’s not our bodies that are unhealthy. It is our societies.
The paradox is that exercise and diet do wonders for mental health, but we try to get there by making people mentally ill.
To avoid societal shame you have to swim against societal pressure and it’s exhausting. We call this fitness, but it’s fit like a salmon. Just swim upstream, spawn, and die. I don’t think this is fit at all.
I include this digression just to say, you’re beautiful how you are and you don’t need to change for anybody else.
You can feel good eating and moving a certain way, but it also feels good eating popcorn and watching TV. If you want to do that COOL. You’re not a failure as a human being. You’re wonderful.
If you want to change your body you probably can, but you don’t need to do this because of shame. You can do it just as a human being who naturally changes, not from bad to good, but from one state to another. Does it feel like this, for anybody? No. I was unhappy with my body so I changed it. But I feel like the unhappiness was unnecessary. It certainly didn’t help. We can all do without the shame. I know it’s really hard and I’m sorry.
You look great.
Let’s say that you do want to change your diet. I did. I went vegetarian and then due largely to societal pressure, pescetarian. I also reduced portions and eat only one or two meals a day.
What did capitalism have to do with this?
The main point is that we have a cook. Our money allows us to capture another human being’s labor and time. What this means is that I control my dietary environment. I can say that I want to eat only vegetables and fish in these proportions, that is what I’m served. I can also say I want these meals at these times, and that’s what I get. I get healthy, regular meals not because I think or plan better, but simply because I paid for it. That’s literally someone’s full time job.
The paradox is that eating less requires more money. People say eat whole, unprocessed food, but those things have to be bought fresh and processed at home. That takes time, and time is money. We have literally captured the labor and time of another human being to accomplish this.
You’d think that dieting is as simple as skipping meals, but no, because people get hungry. Then you end up opening the fridge or ordering delivery to eat the processed, calorie-dense food that’s widely available and fast. We beat ourselves up over this, but hunger is an animal instinct. What can you do?
Let’s say that you buy groceries and cook stuff yourself. This can be cheaper in terms of money (not always), but it certainly takes more time (= money). This can easily be hours out of your day, more if you’re feeding a family. And you often end up cooking in a rush, or cooking while hungry. This gets exhausting. Some days you just don’t wanna. Maybe the damn vegetables went off. You give up and order a burger. This is both understandable and thunderously condemned. YOU FAILED. But you didn’t fail. You just weren’t rich enough to succeed.
Then snacks. I eat fruits and nuts, aren’t I so virtuous? No. I’m rich. If I may give you a sense, 500g of pistachios cost about $20 here while 500g of Marie biscuits costs $1.30. What is an ordinary person going to buy? The price difference is staggering, and Marie biscuits are amazing.
Does every rich person with a cook lose weight and eat ‘healthy’? No, of course not. In our country we’ve gotten more heart disease and diabetes as we ‘developed’, these are in many ways disease of wealth. But the point is that money gives you choice. If you are making a choice to change your diet, money gives you control of your dietary environment.
Is capitalism inherently healthy? LOL no. But capitalism is power, including power over your diet. This power pervades everything, even exercise.
I was going to say our exercise equipment was cheap, but then I added it up and it’s really not. We use free weights, which are relatively cheap, but then I spent nearly $700 for a spin bike which I use with a $500 iPad to distract myself by playing a $15 game; it adds up. Then my wife swims in her uncle’s pool, which we didn’t pay for, but which nevertheless costs money. However, I can say that the capital equipment is the least of your expenses.
The most expensive thing is time. We exercise for at least an hour, six-days a week. I wake up by at least 6 AM (children are damn farmers), but with all the family stuff and exercise (and Twitter) I don’t start ‘working’ till 10 AM. This is an obscene luxury. Most people have to do the same family stuff and still be in at work by 8:30 AM. They are working for someone else, while I am free to work out. This is capitalism. It’s inherently other people’s labor.
Because we’re rich I can endure the ups and downs of a writer’s life and my wife has investments that earn more than me (as long as I’m kept away from them). I could be doing bong hits all morning and compound interest would still be hard at work.
Hence the advice to exercise for 30 minutes a day is facile. OK, what half-hour? There’s zero minutes between dropping the kids off and going to work (unless you have a driver). There’s zero minutes between making dinner and putting them to bed (unless you have a nanny). Can you see how capitalism pervades everything, because money buys time?
So while yes, anyone can buy some weights and do six compound exercises (dead-life, squat, bench press, shoulder press, bent-over row, pull-ups/curl = wow) only capital makes this easy. Or, more accurately, not so damn hard. Are capitalists stronger or in better health? LOL no. But again, capital gives you choices.
You can choose the equipment that works for you, a trainer to help, and — most importantly — dedicate the time to make it happen. You can capture other people’s labor and time to make your exercise possible. If you’re not working to live, you can work out. This is no triumph of willpower. It’s just power. This is the everyday power of capitalism. If you want to, you can workout everyday. Unless you’re labor. Then get to work. That interest’s not going to compound itself.
Towards a Marxist workout plan
So what, then, is an actual fitness tip? What would make this lifestyle a realistic choice for more people? What would it look like if workers-out of the world united?
The first thing workers-out must seize is time. This is what capitalism consistently steals. We forget that people fought for a five day work-week. As Maggie Smith said in Downton Abbey, “What is a weekend?” For some reason labor stopped fighting (or, more accurately, capital fought back) and the work week never got shorter (even though labor’s share of income certainly declined).
But the work week should be shorter. It should be four days, three days, and certainly not eight hours a day. That would get time for families to exist, and for people to work out, if they want to. And for people to buy fresh food, cook it, share it, etc. Or to watch more Netflix and eat refried beans. Whatever you want. The point is power, time, and choice. That power has to be taken, it won’t be given.
Instead of a world where people work all day and eat in their cars, people should be mostly at home (or wherever they want to be), working not for a living but as part of a healthy life. This sounds radical, but it is literally just how rich people live. It’s how I live. I work out of choice, knowing that my children will eat. Capitalists already get a universal basic income, it’s called interest. Everyone deserves this. It’s not radical. It’s my ordinary life, which I am no more (or less) deserving of than anyone else.
I’m using the word Marxist quite generally. What I mean is that history must keep moving. It is not healthy for society to sit still, to think that capitalism is the end of history. It’s obviously not. This sucks.
As a society we put all this impossible pressure on individuals without changing society to make ‘fitness’ even possible. We’re trying to shame people into ‘health’ so much that it makes them mentally ill. We’re asking people to lift not only weights but the weight of capitalist society as well. It’s impossible.
Every fitness tip is about what you can do personally, but this is wrong. The #1 personal fitness tip is simply being rich. That makes all other interventions possible. We keep offering marginal tips to people (try these berries!) instead of changing the capitalist structure that determines 99% of our choices and opportunities. So focus on the big gains.
If you want to get fit, it’s simple, be rich enough to control your diet and exercise. If you want us to get fit then it’s a bit more complicated. Workers-out need to unite, and eat the rich.
*I’m not entirely sure if the word ‘fat’ has been reclaimed. Please tell me if it has not. I do not use it in a pejorative sense.