|International Vegetarian Union (IVU)|
A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.
CHAPTER EIGHT THE MODERN PERIOD
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The growing interest in alternative medicine in the 1970s contributed to vegetarianism's more favourable reception: certain developments internal to medicine had contributed to this. The first of these was the massive expansion in the post-war period in the prescription of drugs. (1) Their effectiveness changed the nature of medicine and led to the eradication of many of the great killer diseases; however, disquiet grew within the medical profession, and from the 1970s within sections of the population - thalidomide was a turning point here - over the dangers of side effects, and over the easy prescription of powerful drugs for relatively trivial complaints. Iatrogenic illness became a major concern, and polemical books like Illych's Medical Nemesis published in 1975, caught this mood of doubt. There was also increasing concern over the growth in the use of surgery. Secondly, more and more illness presented to doctors was either openly psychological in origin, or attributable in large part to such factors. The training and resources of doctors meant that this demand was largely met by a massive increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs. Many felt, however, that this failed to meet the real problem, and encouraged a medicalisation of what were essentially the pains, and crises of life. This growing perception of the role of the psychological in illness undermined the usefulness of the old model of the body as a machine, medicine, in its pragmatism, had never entirely adopted this model, though its most dramatic successes in the twentieth century did to a large extent rest upon such a view. (2) Now, however, there was a growing interest in the role of subjective factors in illness.
Thirdly, there was the changing nature of illness. Medicine was increasingly running up against the intractability of degenerative illnesses like heart disease, arthritis, back pain, for which drug treatment seemed of limited, largely palliative, use and whose causes seemed rooted not in the attack of a disease but in long-term factors such as smoking, stress, forms of eating, attitude to life. The criticisms that the alternative medical tradition had been making for almost a hundred years, now seemed increasingly relevant. Health did seem to be bound up with the whole personality and with the circumstances of the patient's life in a broader sense.
The cost of high-technology medicine rose by leaps and bounds in the 1970s. Medical treatment was eating up an ever-larger proportion of the GNP of advanced industrial societies. What could be done was becoming less relevant than what could be afforded to be done. The old optimistic theory, put forward at the time of the setting up of the NHS, of a pool of illness that would eventually be mopped up, had been shown to be hopelessly wrong. These factors and the financial crisis in the NHS produced an interest in cheaper solutions and more self-help and preventative techniques, though ironically, these have tended to be among the first victims of government cuts.
These developments also influenced the medical profession, and the 1970s saw a change in attitude - among some doctors at least - towards alternative techniques. Magazines like World Medicine began to carry articles on it; and anthropological material was discussed in a modern medical context. In 1977 the GMC lifted its ban of over a hundred years on doctors working with unregistered practitioners; it was now officially acceptable for doctors to refer their patients to alternative therapies. (3) In 1978, David Ennals, the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, organised a briefing from Health for the New Age (see below) and others on alternative medicine and its relevance to a reformed health service. (4)
A number of umbrella organisations sprang up in the seventies to promote the alternative medical approach. (5) The Wrekin Trust held annual conferences on health and healing, where various techniques and philosophies were described and demonstrated; these meetings were largely aimed at the interested public. (6) A group with a similar range of interests, though a different focus, is Health for the New Age, founded in 1972 by Lt. Col. Marcus McCausland and his wife Marika. The aim is to collect together research work in the field of alternative medicine and deviant science, and to act as a catalyst for research workers. (7) Other centres have also been founded, such as the Leamington Spa Health Foundation, formed in 1977, the White Cross Society, and the East/West Centre, which succeeded the now defunct Quasitor, as a centre for alternative treatment, natural childbirth and groupwork. (8) All these have vegetarian or health food connections; and many, as we shall see, are also involved in wider spiritual ideas. The, vegetarian magazines regularly reviews books on alternative medicine and carries articles. (9)
A wide range of therapies come under the umbrella of alternative medicine: (10) two principles act to define its scope and character.
The first of these is the deviancy definition as emphasised by Wallis and Morley; (11) and they point to the tendency of alternative medicine to encompass wider world-views and to develop, for practitioner and patient, sect-like associations - though cultic, following Campbell, (12) is a better term since social bonds within alternative medicine are loose, approaches are highly individualistic and the ethic of seekership prevails; a sense of epistemological toleration, which arises from the sense of being together, outside a powerful medical orthodoxy, is also marked. (13)
The deviant identity is produced through interaction with orthodoxy; and different historical patterns of entrenchment have produced different forms of reaction and definition. (14) A diverse range of treatments are held together by this deviant definition: some could, with only minor changes in their ideology or in orthodoxy's attitude to them, be incorporated into official medicine - osteopathy is an obvious example - while others rest on such fundamentally different accounts of the world - radionics, for example, with its pendulum passed over letter or hair – that a major paradigm shift would be needed to accommodate them. (Care is needed in the prediction of such debarrment since acupuncture - once the most decried and 'impossible' of treatments - is now increasingly studied in orthodox circles). Which side of the divide a treatment finds itself upon also affects its nature: thus osteopaths in America have, since their incorporation into orthodox medicine, increasingly prescribed drugs and have abandoned most of their alternative aspects.
As evidence of the labelling process, alternative medicine can point to its treatment by orthodoxy: many in orthodoxy have rejected alternative ideas more out of prejudice as to their social and institutional origins than from: any scientific examination of the phenomena claimed (though the history of alternative medicine has not been without its charlatans, a fact that tends to be ignored in the mood of studied credence and disenchantment with orthodoxy). Finally the deviant label is not one-sided: there are aspects of positive appeal here, and alternative medicine can be part of a more general commitment to deviant ideas of a political, social or spiritual nature. The related appeal of deviant science has a similar quality.
The deviant, counter quality can, however, be overstressed. Not all in the alternative medical tradition attack orthodox medicine or its institutional base. Captain Bruce Macmannaway, a noted healer, dislikes the term alternative medicine, arguing, as does Health for the New Age, that what is needed is a combination of the best of both. (15) Dr Ledermann also shares the belief in the need for both. (16) The training of natural therapists with institutions, degrees and. professional bodies mirrors the professional structures of orthodoxy. Though there are important differences in the patient/therapist relationship, there are also similarities: the framework of the consultation, the style of the room etc are similar and draw power and legitimacy from that similarity. (17) Deviance is not pointed up here. Patients can also treat such therapies in the neutral, instrumental way that people treat orthodox medicine, looking for alleviation or cure in a very straightforward way. Though some involved as patients do refuse all orthodox treatment and are committed to the idea of, for example, nature cure as a total system, more common is the mixed or pragmatic approach that would prefer nature cure but would not shun orthodox treatment, especially for major illnesses. Many have come to alternative medicine through chronic illness and though they may become committed in a wider sense and loyal to the treatment that has helped them, the deviance of the approach itself was not part of the appeal.
The second defining principle relates to certain underlying concepts in alternative medicine that give it an internal coherence beyond just the deviant label: these concepts are shared with vegetarianism.
The most important is holism. Alternative medicine is often termed holistic medicine, and the idea that 'healing' means 'making whole' is a constantly reiterated theme. The word holistic involves a series of slightly different but inter-related meanings. Most narrowly, it means the rejection of the fragmenting specialisms of modern, and especially hospital-based, medicine. More frequently, however, it means the unity of mind and body, whereby the two are seen as interacting upon each other; thus emotional stress produces physical illness - cancer, heart disease - and psychic difficulties are mirrored in physiological states. Similarly physiological imbalances - bad diet, particulars foods - directly affect mental and emotional states; the food allergy theory is popular, as is concern over the psychological effects of food additives, not to mention the older ideas concerning the psychic effects of meat. 'Any symptom, on whatever level, is symptomatic of the disharmony of the whole' (18) and thus treatment on one level can help another. Yoga, through the exercise and discipline of the body, can calm the mind; and massage can smooth away psychic tension. Conversely, attention to one's psychological state - whether in the form of talking while having the treatment, or more directly in various alternative forms of psychotherapy - can help one's physical state.
Alternative medicine rejects the dualism that would separate the body I own, from the mind I am; and the focus of identity is here consciously extended to include bodily identity. Thus what one does and experiences physically is given a greater significance. The White Cross Society emphasises the psychic and health ills that come from the neglect of and suppression of bodily identity:
This is a strong theme in the growth movement and in humanistic psychology generally. (20) One of the most common features of the popular psychotherapy movements is the stress on direct feeling through physical experiences like touching, screaming, moving, as opposed to the what is seen as the endless cerebration of conventional analysis; and movements of the EST and Insight variety have as an aim the forcing of the participants into an awareness of their bodily presence.
These concerns are related to a wider social criticism – once again Carpenter is a forerunner here – in the popular counter-cultural feeling that modern society has over-abstracted and cerebralised life: Roszak, for example, argues that the 'body is nature nearest home', and that we suffer not just in our health from this drawing of the self up into the head, but also in the impoverishment of our wider perceptions. Our alienation from our bodies is the start of our alienation from ourselves. (21)
Thirdly, holism frequently involves the belief that a human being is more than just body and mind, but has also a spiritual dimension and that this too is relevant to health and illness. The denial of the existence of the spiritual side of life, or refusal to express it, are seen as causing the kind of imbalance between the different aspects of being that in turn causes illness. Sometimes the sense of different aspects of being is related to a model of levels of the person. There have been a variety of formulations of this since theosophy popularised the idea; they usually start with material existence, followed by the individual's physical self, rising through the emotions, to the intellectual, to the intuitional, to the spiritual planes, and ending in a level of pure spirit that exists beyond the self. Sometimes in the more occult versions, these different levels have different 'bodies', so that emotional or spiritual existence is expressed in auras or 'subtle bodies'.
Finally, holism involves the context of the individual. This can mean his or her social circumstances, in the sense of relationships - this is a particular characteristic in humanistic psychology - or more widely, the society in which the individual lives, or it can mean the cosmic context, the place of man in Nature or within a wider cosmic unity. (22) Any disjunction between the individual and context can lead to imbalance and thus illness.
The second major theme underlying alternative medicine is the idea of nature; nearly all alternative therapies embody the natural model referred to earlier in the context of nature cure. The aim is co-operation with nature and the release of its healing capacity. Frequently this is conceived in terms of a third important feature which is energy, power, vibrations etc - themes that are found also in deviant science.
Sometimes eastern concepts of centres or sources of power are referred to, such as chakras or meridian points. In more psychological versions, the aim is to release damned up psychic energies previously used in the defence of the ego. Healing is also often conceived in terms of spiritual power, usually external to the healer, though sometimes, as in shamanistic ideas, derived from or enhanced by ascetic practices such as the avoidance of meat. (24)
Finally there is the major emphasis on self help. At a concrete level, many of the therapies are consciously simple and practical in character, often using easily available remedies such as herbal tisanes, forms of exercise and fasting. (25)
At a more conceptual level, alternative medicine rejects ideas of illness as something that happens to you and to which you respond with either passive fatalism, or the automatic taking of a pill. They attack particularly the abuses of modern drug medicine, where numbers of aspirins, tranquilisers and sleeping pills are prescribed with little thought by doctors of patients as to why they are needed. Above all, they reject the idea of cure as something external to you that in administered by an autonomous professional body according to an external - and ill-understood by the patient – system of ideas. The NHS is here criticised for encouraging a dependent and authoritarian attitude which undermines the patient's own sense of self and of responsibility. By contrast, real treatment involves co-operating and taking part in the process of getting well – you must do the exercises, follow the diet, talk with the therapist, think about your life. Frequently this self responsibility will involve a change in the nature of your life. (26)
This self-help also has egalitarian aspects. Revolutionary periods - those following the French and Chinese revolutions, for example - have frequently produced attempts to dismantle the medical and other professions as part of an egalitarian upsurge whereby all citizens should participate equally, and as an attack on privileged social groups. Alternative medicine today has some of these aspects, and it has been taken up in radical and New Left circles as part of an attack on the social and academic prestige of the doctors; and to this is added, criticism of multinational drug companies. There is also a connection between self-help medicine and the women's movement, though here there is the added aspect of rejecting the control of women by the predominantly male medical profession, with its authoritarian attitudes and biologically-based definitions of women. (27)
Alternative medicine teaches you that you must take responsibility for your sickness. Illness is ultimately caused by the self: 'The body wants to be well - pain and sickness are signs that we are doing something wrong'. (28) Every illness is a warning, and you cannot become well until you have recognised the nature of the warning and acted upon it. As we have noted earlier, alternative medicine is deeply embued with the search for meaning in illness - as indeed is this whole milieu with the question of meaning altogether - and it poses the question 'Why did I become ill?' in ways that ultimately reach to formulations of meaning that are beyond the medical. Here karma and nature are elided into a natural theodicy; both are seen as operating at the level of objective cause and effect, though both are here essentially moral and spiritual conceptions. You will suffer if you ignore nature's law or the operations of karma. There is a reason in all things but more than that here is a meaning in all things. Illness is meaningful. Suffering can be part of one's spiritual journey; sickness can be designed to teach you something you must learn. (29)