Friday, November 06, 2009

I put nothing but grapefruit juice in my car

This year, I had the misfortune of spending some time in close proximity with a former co-worker who was both an idiot and a person of epic proportions. One day she boomed, to anyone who could hear, that she was going to cleanse her body of "poisonous toxins". I asked her if there was such a thing as non-poisonous toxins, but she didn't understand the question. There are lots of people like her who like to "cleanse" their body in variety of ill-advised, medieval-inspired methods. They even have their own online communities, but that shouldn't surprise anyone (here are serious communities dedicated to running, fat acceptance, graves and white supremacism).

Slate's Samantha Hennig decided to try a 10-day cleanse in which she abstained from any food and only consumed some unholy liquid concoctions. On its own, it makes for interesting viewing, but it's an interesting insight into the warped thinking of that subset of the population which insists on shunning conventional medicine and will try anything as long as it has no evidence to support it and sounds kind of nice. This entry was spawned by a letter printed in the National Post today, which questioned why people will run from the flu shot and entrust their body to all sorts of quackery, but not, say, their cars.

Nobody goes to a mechanic, who says that you need the sort of new part whose name I would know if I knew anything about cars, and then disregards that opinion by going to an alternative, all-natural mechanic, who does nothing but rub your seats with elephant urine. With machines, we don't think twice about trusting the experts, who often do suggest unnecessary products and services. With healthcare, the sort of person who studied medicine for seven years is not to be trusted, but you should probably trust the person who completed a six-week course in naturopathy.

A working theory I have on the appeal of non-scentific medicine is that much of the appeal comes from cures that just sounds nice. There are many things that though we don't enjoy on a regular basis, we like the idea of being able to enjoy them on a regular basis. That's why we buy books that we have no intention of reading, talk about watching soccer if it was ever on, and always drink strange teas, as long as they're of an exotic East Asian origin. On a vague level, many people like the idea of being able to cleanse their body of bile just as the ancients would have liked. Unlike buying War and Peace and occasionally reading its first few chapters, there can be serious consequences to not eating any food for ten days.

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