Gallup released a poll this week showing that Americans are, on average, getting heavier. Oddly, at the same time, the percentage of people who say they believe they are overweight is declining, as are the percentage of people who say they are trying to lose weight or want to lose weight.
The results are probably explained by the fact that researchers found that the “ideal weight” of Americans —for both men and women—increased as Americans get heavier.
The poll seems to reflect a troubling trend in America: denial.
Now, I’m not talking about self-denial, which is an ancient virtue. I’m talking about self-deception, which Plato called “the worst of all deceptions.”
Denial of this kind is part of the human condition. As a famous poet once noted, humans cannot handle much reality. It’s quite human to deny that which is difficult to face or bear.
But I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that denial is being normalized by postmodern man in ways that are unhealthy. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, hinted that self-distraction and denial have become a national pastime of sorts.
“That’s pretty much how we get through our own lives, watching television. Smoking crap. Self-medicating,” he wrote in the novel Choke. “Redirecting our attention. Jacking off. Denial.”
This denial, however, is not just reflected in our personal lives; it’s revealed in our politics and public policy, too.
The federal government has a $20 trillion debt, yet our leaders behave as if we had a surplus. We add entitlements we know we cannot pay for. We pump cash into failing schools year after year expecting things to change. We deny our very biology.
Some have bought into the myth that America is special and somehow resistant to the realities that afflict other nations. Others have fallen for the idea that history is a march of human progress.
In some ways, our resistance to reality makes sense. Truth and her brother Reality have little place in a postmodern world. As Nietzsche reminded us, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.”
Perhaps Nietzsche was right. On the other hand, perhaps he was wrong, and we’ll soon find ourselves facing a reality that is quite daunting.
The philosopher Philip K. Dick offered one explanation on how we’ll know.
“Reality is whatever refuses to go away when I stop believing in it,” he wrote.