Everything You Need to Know About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Part 2)

(In which we address more of the blatantly obvious. -PB)

5. You Can be Fooled

I’m a fairly intelligent guy Not a super-genius or anything like that but I can tease out the truth of most things if given enough time and, when the wind is just right, can tell a hawk from a handsaw.  And yet I am not so confident in my intelligence that I don’t think I can be fooled. Because, for example, I having nothing but a polite interest in automotive technology I am pretty much at the mercy of my mechanic when he describes the repairs needed by our aging pair of automobiles. I trust the guy because nothing he has ever suggested sounds too outrageous and on a couple of occasions he replaced a three-dollar fuse when he could have taken me for an alternator. I am however at his mercy unless I want to study car repair or haul the thing to more than one mechanic.

Consider the typical customer of Complementary and Alternatative Medicine. They are usually fairly intelligent and, by necessity, prosperous enough to pay for something as exotic as a Chakra tuning. But as far as medical knowledge? Not even a clue except for some superficial things and the usual lies and half-truths they have found on the internet. Medicine is an order of magnitude more complicated than auto-repair (although a good mechanic, like a good barber, is worth his weight in platinum) and cannot be casually learned by most people. I can read about engines and have enough of an understanding of their workings to understand what my mechanic is telling me but compared to learning the necessary background to diagnose, treat, and manage disease, this does not require too much effort. When it comes to medicine, the public who undeniably have a huge interest in the subject naturally gravitate towards explanations that simplfy things a tad and don’t require quite the intensive science background.

It’s just human nature. We prefer the simple explanations that do not require complicated and often non-linear thinking. Acupuncture, for example, is billed as redirecting the flow of mystical energy in the body by the use of needles. It jibes pretty well with what most people learned watching those poorly animated Saturday morning cartoons where, instead of incurring the expense of animating the characters, every important action is mediated by some kind of force field or power ray shooting out of Captain Planet’s hands. Thus there is a natural tendency of the public to accept Acupuncture, seeing as it jibes with their world-view. Or consider Homeopathy whose founding principle, that like cures like, is not only appealing to the ear and the heart but also sounds strangely like some of the dim knowledge the public has about the action of vaccines. If they had a more detailed understanding of the immune system it wouldn’t sound so good but who has the time to read a boring old immunology textbook when American Idol is down to the final four?

Intelligent as they are I have to laugh at the typical consumer of Complementary and Alternative Medicine who, while open-minded to a fault, deride speaking in tongues, Christian faith healing, and other barbaric customs of the uncouth rubes infesting the backwoods but pay good money to have some charlatan extract bad Chakra. The difference between some sweaty little televangelist and your local purveyor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine is nothing but style and body mass index and you are being robbed just as surely as if you are sending money for prayer intercession to the Reverend Jimmy Swaggert. You can be fooled, especially when it comes to religion. What, after all, is the standard orthodoxy of open-mindedness, non-judgmentalism, and self-absorption but a religion? It preaches that belief is a substitute for reality and that to even question its central belief, that self-created reality trumps the real kind, is to be an infidel.

The denizen of a mouldering single-wide trailer in Sisterboff, Arkansas sending money to an oily television preacher so Jesus can reveal the winning lottery numbers is philosophically no different than a fit, professional woman swallowing her homeopathic remedies. One has a faith in her dimly understood religion, the other in her poorly understood notion of science. Both are being played for suckers.

6. Quantum Physics, The Last Refuge of Scoundrels

Quantum physics describes the relationships between energy and matter at the subatomic level where the principles of classical physics (momentum, acceleration, velocity, etc.) do not apply. In particular it addresses the relationship between the orbital shells of electrons and photons. It is not a goofy, mystical endeavor that exists outside the realm of the rational world and in fact, while classical physics cannot explain quantum phenomena, quantum physics explains classical physics which results from the cumulative effects of quantum properties.

Quantum mechanics no more explains Reiki, Homeopathy, or Acupuncture than do magic pixies. Or to put it another way, if you were to posit quantum effects as a mechanism for your particular quackery du jour as is common among the purveyors of complementary and alternative medicine you may as well use it to bolster your belief in just about anything at all, no matter how ridiculous. To be sure the field of quantum physics is expanding and there is much to be learned. But it is not expanding towards Ayurvedic Medicine or Homeopathy. Physicists are hard at work trying to reconcile quantum physics with relativity, not proving the existence of Chakra. So sorry. Like I said, you can be fooled and your Homeopath desperately clinging to quantum theory knows less about it than he does about medicine. It’s just part of the con; his attempt to mix enough scientific chatter into a his otherwise nonsensical duckspeak so you will buy it.

7. Political Correctness Does Not Apply to Medicine

The ancient Chinese did not have advanced medical knowledge which allowed them to live long, healthy lives. And they did not, as has been suggested, have diseases unique to their own culture against which their indigenous medicine was effective but which does not work against the white man’s diseases. It is probably true that the Han Dynasty Chinese did not have too much colon cancer, for example, but then the average lifespan back then was around thirty and to live past sixty represented either an exceptionally privileged or lucky life. I am 43 and I have no health problems nor have I ever had any. But let’s see how I do in another twenty years when all of those bacon and eggs have had a chance to work their magic. Who knows what diseases I will get? Whatever they are they will all be the result of a life lived well beyond genetic usefulness and this potential smorgasbord of morbidity is only to be made possible because Western medicine can extend my life long enough for it to happen. In ancient China (or Europe, or Meso-American, or Africa) I would have been dead or decrepit by now and my predictable decline would have been ascribed to old age or maybe Utapu, the God of Rectal Fire. Not only that but the disease that finished me would have been poorly decribed and my long life into the forties would be testimony to the benefits of keeping my qi in order.

This is not to say that the ancients didn’t occasionally stumble upon some legitimate medicine. Surgeons for the Roman Legions, for example, used silver staples to close wounds no doubt having observed that silver had some antiseptic properties. But they still had no idea of germ theory so anybody who would prefer the Legion’s medicus vulnerarius over a modern trauma surgeon is an idiot.

Political correctness is an apologia by the guilt-ridden children of the baby-boomers for the current but by no means permanent economic, political, scientific, and miltary superiority of the West. It is an angst-ridden, completely irrational philosophy that has as its central theme that only Western man has ever behaved in a violent, selfish, or self-destructive manner. It constructs an artificial worldview and is an insubstantatial foundation on which to anchor medicine, a science which like all practical endeavors should be as rational as possible.

Everything You Need to Know About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Part 2)

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