April 20, 2007


"Look at that fat lady. She is gasping for breath. Why can't she control her food?! Some people have no will power": A friend of mine quipped.

Given below is an excerpt from the book God's Debris. It is on Willpower. Before you dwell in the excerpt: If you are fat and have no diet control, please don't take the given below excerpt as an excuse for your obesity. You will end up digging your own grave.
“You’re very fit,” the old man observed.
“I work out four times a week.”
“When you see an overweight person, what do you think of his willpower?”
“I think he doesn’t have much,” I said.
“Why do you think that?”
“How hard is it to skip that third bowl of ice cream? I’m in good shape because I exercise and eat right. It’s not easy, but I have the willpower. Some people don’t.”
“If you were starving, could you resist eating?”
“I doubt it. Not for long, anyway.”
“But if your belly were full you could resist easily, I assume.”
“It sounds as if hunger determines your actions, not socalled willpower.”
“No, you picked two extremes: starving and full,” I said. “Most of the time I’m in the middle. I can eat a little or eat a lot, but it’s up to me.”
“Have you ever been very hungry—not starving, just very hungry—and found yourself eating until it hurt?”
“Yes, but on average I don’t eat too much. Sometimes I’m busy and I forget to eat for half a day. It all averages out.”
“I don’t see how willpower enters into your life,” he said. “In one case you overeat and in the other case you simply forget to eat. I see no willpower at all.”
“I don’t overeat every time I eat. Most of the time I have average hunger and I eat average amounts. I’d like to eat more, but I don’t. That’s willpower.”
“And according to you, overweight people have less of this thing you call willpower?” he asked.
“Obviously. Otherwise they’d eat less.”
“Isn’t it possible that overweight people have the same amount of willpower as you but much greater hunger?”
“I think people have to take responsibility for their own bodies,” I replied.
“Take responsibility? It sounds as if you’re trying to replace the word willpower with two new words in the hope that I will think it’s a new thought.”
I laughed. He nailed me.
“Okay, just give it to me,” I said, knowing there was a more profound thought behind this line of questioning.
“We like to believe that other people have the same level of urges as we do, despite all evidence to the contrary. We convince ourselves that people differ only in their degree of morality or willpower, or a combination of the two. But urges are real, and they differ wildly for every individual. Morality and willpower are illusions. For any human being, the highest urge always wins and willpower never enters into it. Willpower is a delusion.”
“Your interpretation is dangerous,” I said. “You’re saying it’s okay to follow your urges, no matter what is right or wrong, because you can’t help yourself anyway. We might as well empty the prisons since people can’t stop themselves from committing crimes. It’s not really their fault, according to you.”
“It is useful to society that our urges are tempered by shame and condemnation and the threat of punishment,” he said. “It is a useful fiction to blame a thing called willpower and pretend the individual is somehow capable of overcoming urges with this magical and invisible force. Without that fiction, there could be no blame, no indignation, and no universal agreement that some things should be punished. And without those very real limiting forces, our urges would be less contained and more disruptive than they are. The delusion of willpower is a practical fiction.”
“I’ll never look at pie the same way,” I said. “But what about people with slow metabolisms? They get fat no matter how little they eat.”
“Have you ever seen pictures of starving people?” he asked.
“How many of the starving people in those pictures were fat?”
“None that I’ve seen. They’re always skin and bones. But that’s different.”
“It’s very different but still, according to your theory, some of those people should be starving to death while remaining fat.”
I didn’t have an answer for that. I was happy when he changed the subject.

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