So, today Tash K and I went on a fact-finding mission to a local homoeopathy shop, Because We Can And Who’s Going To Stop Us (TM). Technically, it actually stocks a rather full and complete range of bullshit, along with some wholly unobjectionable items including marmalade, waffles and a rather tasty looking ginger cake. (Never say we’re not fair.) But it was the homoeopathy we were most interested in, so we lingered around the aisle whilst waiting for the talkative advisor woman to be free.
Took a while. Y’see, it turns out that in alternative-world you do your detailed patient consultations seated on chairs in the middle of the shop, presumably so that anyone who’s interested can eavesdrop. So we listened in, naturally, and – I kid you not – some of this conversation would get rejected from a sketch on dumb middle-class preoccupations for being too unrealistic. The woman was clearly fine, disregarding her obsession with eliminating salt from her diet and once eating “some dodgy hummus”. And yet all sorts of mental effort were being wasted on collating and disseminating such novel wisdom as “y’know, I was told that if you fast for two days, your body actually starts to break down bacteria for food, destroying it”. Mmm, tasty bacteria waffles.
Anyway, once Hummus Girl was finally done, we had a chance to corner her advisor. Sadly, she didn’t seem very keen in chatting, since as a ‘nutritionist’ all she could really say was that homoeopathy was a totally different kettle of watery fish altogether. Oh, but that it involved ‘vibrational energies of the organs’ and cured ‘like with like’. “But this booklet suggests remedies for bereavement,” I persisted, “how can you dilute a little piece of ‘someone dying’?” Sensible answers were not forthcoming.
There is a serious point underneath all of this fun, and that is how we’ve got into a position where human beings are gleefully selling other human beings expensive sugar pills to combat problems as serious as bulimia or anorexia. (I take rather personal offence, incidentally, to the labelling of anorexia as ‘loss of appetite’.) This is inexcusable. And furthermore, is there not an overload of irony in the constant invocation of ‘nature’ in these people’s products? The lazy criticism of ‘conventional’ (‘actual’) medicine is that it eschews ‘holistic’ remedies for a cocktail of drugs with nasty side effects. And yet here, in this shop, there was a bottle of vitamin pills – inexplicably shielded with a UV filter – labelled ‘positive thinking’. This is as artificial as you could ever hope to get: a whole state of mind reduced to a pricey glass bottle. How stunningly pathetic.
When it comes to mental health, incidentally, the whole beauty of science lies in the acknowledgement that we start from great ignorance. I’ve never heard of anyone – aside, perhaps, from the most unscrupulous of pharmaceutical sources – who believes that antidepressants offer a simple ‘cure’ to depression today. For heaven’s sake, we don’t even know very much about how the brain functions ‘normally’ yet, let alone to be in a position to start ‘fixing’ it. You can see where the space opens up for quacks to peddle the ‘well then, what have you got to lose by trying something else?’ line, or others to complain that it’s all hopeless and we would be better off seeking solace in spirituality instead. Nonsense. Future generations will hopefully be as appalled by our mental health as we are today by the physical hardship of the past (or, indeed, poorer parts of the world today). But we will only get from here to there via the same quiet empiricism which our predecessors used to gift us an end to plague, smallpox and polio. And I’ll take that over sugar pills any day.