Snake Oil Science…

-Chapter Eleven

In the years I worked as a chemical addictions’ counselor, one of the first things that became quite apparent to me is that no person can give up drugs or excessive alcohol if they didn’t want to give them up. Quite often, the clinic I worked at was sent court-ordered clients who had no desire to give up their drug of choice, and therefore we tended to have a long litany of revolving door patients who would come and go multiple times, repeatedly being sent to us by the court due to various misdemeanors and felonies.

A similar phenomenon occurs with men and women who have become ensnared in a cult. Whether they are religious cults, pyramid scheme cults, or whatever kind, the conditioning they’ve experienced through the use of symbols, oracles, origin stories, and priests; each of these components of religion reinforce a particular ideology in their mind that the cult is the only place the ‘truth’ truly exists. Thus, unless the individual reaches a point where they truly want to leave the cult, then more often than not they will stay connected to the cult.

In the Western World, through the educational systems, government ideology, and even religious institutions, the cult of fact-based science has been the bedrock that mankind has been reared, and this cult is so powerful, very few are able to break away from its snare. Merely stating the ‘facts’ and flaws of fact-based science does not free the minds of the masses. For every ‘fact’ one mentions to the modern person, they will respond with an opposing ‘fact’ that negates your ‘fact’. The end result is a mass of ‘facts’ that are hurled back and forth with no resolution.

In the old world, where modern ‘facts’ did not exist, it had long ago been realized that evidence and your personal interpretation of evidence were subjective; evidence needed to be interpreted, and opinions, were simply that, opinion. Thus, in the climate of the old world, oratory debate and persuasion did not involve appeals to arbitrary ‘facts’ that could change, but instead comprised of classical rhetoric; appeals to self-evident truth, figures of speech, emotion, symbology, style, delivery and other such elements.

In the new world, it is extremely rare that an orator actually persuades the audience through the ‘facts’ of their argument. The art of persuasion has more to do with persuasion techniques than it does with listing a litany of ‘facts’. Since humans are religious creatures by nature, persuasion is more likely to occur when the orator uses emotive ideas, symbols that connect with the particular audience at hand, and when the orator speaks authoritatively. Because of the irrationality of modern people, appeals to ‘facts’ die on deaf ears, but rather, emotional appeals, and using symbols that new world people understand tend to be more effective.

One of the great failures of new world people who realize the danger of the scientific method and fact-based philosophy, is that the symbols they use to disparage these ideas are either completely not understandable by new world people, or they are poor symbols at best. Take for instance the use of Hitler as a symbol of socialism or fact-based philosophy; merely saying, “Hitler was a socialist” does not persuade someone that socialism leads to Hitler, since the average person can ‘factually’ site many socialists who are not Hitler. Likewise, merely saying that fact-based philosophy leads to Hitler also does not resonate with a new world person, since nearly everyone knows of scientists and fact-based teachers who are not Hitler.

The first step in leading people away from the cult of fact-based thinking is presenting to them an origin story with symbolism that is palatable to their mind. One of the main problems in the Western World is even those people who recognize the fallacy of fact-based thinking; these same people adhere to many various elements of fact-based philosophy without even realizing they are doing so. The fact-based scientists have been so effective in their ideological religion, that very few people consciously realize they have been duped and believe in ‘facts’ that are not actually true. Fact-based scientists in the new world are really nothing more than the snake oil salesmen from the old world.

When we think of snake oil salesmen from the old world, most likely a picture takes form in our mind of an oily looking codger with one of those Salvador Dali mustaches and a sinister snark to his demeanor. The true snake oil salesman looked nothing of the sort, far from it. In order to sell his wares, it was vital he embody characteristics that imbued wisdom, knowledge, and trustworthiness. If he looked something like a Disney film villain, then it is unlikely snake oil salesmen would have ever existed in the first place. It was absolutely vital that snake oil salesmen and the ‘facts’ he proselytized appeared to be entirely objective; the evidence he provided often involved real life experimentation of his elixirs against what he believed to be real ailments. The fascinating reality of snake oil salesmen is while we associate them as being connected to the old world, there was never a period where they ever stopped existing; snake oil salesmen have an unbroken line of succession of hawking their wares on the unsuspecting public all the way to the present day.

Consider for instance one of the snake oil salesmen of the new world; psychologists. For decades they told everyone their elixirs could cure an ailment they called Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and so hundreds of thousands of children were administered an elixir called Ritalin which appeared to cure the ailment. However, decades later the cult of Ritalin has found so many hundreds of thousands of detractors that you are more likely to meet people who believe Ritalin destroyed their life rather than help them. The sheer volume of critical books and essays against the doping of our children with Ritalin can fill a small library. In retrospect, it is rather a bizarre thing that Western Culture chose to dope up young children as a way of ‘calming them down’.

Snake oil psychologists never responded to the question of whether or not it was ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ to have young boys sit for hours a day behind desks at school five days a week. In the old world no sane parent would ever force their young child to sit at a desk for seven hours a day, five days a week, for nearly the entire year! Commonsense led parents to the self-evident truth that boys are naturally born with tons of energy and need to run around outside or perform physical chores to express all that energy. And so, as the new world created a very new concept of all-day school for young boys, psychologists ‘discovered’ an ailment they called “hyperactivity” that needed to be cured. An elixir was mixed, bottled, and administered, and by the time the 21st century came, Western Culture had bought into the idea that it is a ‘fact’ that ADHD is a real disease that needs a real cure.

Do some boys have more physical energy than others? Undoubtedly so, but that it is not a revelatory concept that humans only learned in the new world. All humans have known that men, women, boys, and girls are all born with different levels and types of energy, personality, strength, talents, gifts, etc. The key change that occurred in the new world is that for the first time in human history, boys were being forced to sit at a desk for 7 hours a day, five days a week, nearly all year long. This was an entirely new concept to humanity and might I add a very untested concept. All day schooling only became normative around the early part of the 20th century, and even then, there were many exceptions and qualifiers through the 1910’s, 1920’s, and 1930’s. Few boys even graduated high school for the first few decades of all-day schooling. It wasn’t really till the late 20th century when it became normative and expected that boys graduate high school, and it was also around this period that snake-oil psychologists suddenly “discovered” ADHD and determined that an elixir needed to be administered.

Because the snake oil psychologists projected themselves as trustworthy, wise, and objective, nearly no one thought to question the concept of all-day sit-behind-a-desk schooling for boys. Of course, there could have been dozens (maybe even hundreds) of alternative ideas of teaching boys; perhaps spending the day on walks in the woods while the teacher taught history lessons, or spend the day picking up bugs and creatures in the woods to learn about anatomy and physiology would have been more ‘natural’ to the nature of boys. Conversing on the subject of how to do school could have been a great opportunity for adult men and women to figure out a more effective form of educating boys, but because the snake oil psychologists were deemed to be the most trusted members of society on the issue of behavior, they ruled the day, and sadly, they ruined our children lives.

The sheer number of different snake oil salesmen in the new world is simply too many to list. However, a defining characteristic of these men and women is that they do not know they are selling a sham. Once again, our initial perception of the old world likely involves the idea that snake oil salesmen knew they were con artists, and while a few of them might have had such self-awareness, the great majority of them did not.

Take for instance the medical field of chiropractic care; I can neither prove nor disprove ‘factually’ that chiropractic is good or bad, neither do I care to do so, but one of the things that stands out to me about the field is that it’s founder, Daniel David Palmer, had originally spent years using magnets to ‘heal’ people; Palmer was truly convinced of the healing benefits of magnets, but because he struggled to earn the kind of living he had hoped, he turned to a new ‘science’. This is not to disparage anyone who finds relief by going to a chiropractor, but rather to point out that Palmer truly believed he was healing people through the use of magnets. Central to Palmer’s effectiveness in gaining a following was partly due to the well-crafted origin story he produced and shared with people who came to him. Let’s consider Palmer’s own words and notice how he tells of the ‘old world’ and how he became enlightened in the new world, notice the authority with which he speaks and the use of symbols in his narrative;

I was born on March 7, 1845, a few miles east of Toronto, Canada. My ancestors were Scotch and Irish on my maternal and English and German on my paternal side.

When my grandparents settled near the now beautiful city of Toronto, there was but one log house, the beginning of that great city. That region was then known as “away out west.”

I came within one of never having a mamma. My mother was one of a pair of twins one of which died. The one which lived only weighed one and a half pounds.

When a baby I was cradled in a piece of hemlock bark. My mother was as full of superstition as an egg is full of meat, but my father was disposed to reason on the subjects pertaining to life.

I was a magnetic healer for nine years previous to discovering the principles which comprise the method known as Chiropractic. During this period much of that which was necessary to complete the science was worked out. I had discovered that many diseases were associated with derangements of the stomach, kidneys and other organs.

In the dim ages of the past when man lived in rude huts and rocky eaves, even up to the present time, he resorted to charms, necromancy and witchcraft for the relief of mental and physical suffering. His whole object was to find an antidote, a specific for each and every ailment which could and would drive out the intruder, as though the disorder was a creature of intelligence. In his desire to free himself from affliction and prolong his existence, he has searched the heavens above, he has gone into the deep blue sea, the bowels of the earth and every portion thereof. He has tried animal and mineral poisons, penetrated the dark forest with superstitious rite and with incantations, has gathered herbs, barks and roots for medicinal use. In his frenzy for relief, trusting that he might find a panacea, or at least a specific, he has slaughtered man, beast and bird, making use of their various parts alive and dead. He has made powders, ointments, pills, elixirs, decoctions, tinctures and lotions of all known vegetables and crawling creatures which could be found, giving therefore his reasons according to his knowledge.i

In Palmer’s narrative, he writes an origin story that the reader is able to connect with; it is filled with lots of ‘facts’. Throughout the narrative he disparages the old world at great length, the unassuming reader doesn’t realize that Palmer is effectively introducing a presupposition; ‘in the old-world people were stupid and superstitious, in the new world, thanks to people like me, we have used science to free us from the bonds of superstition (religion)’. Palmer uses the symbol of ‘science’ as a replacement for ‘superstition’ (religion), and Palmer declares himself the oracle as he is the one who “discovered” chiropractic care.

To this day, the myriad of ‘facts’ pro and con for chiropractor adjustment are many; tens of thousands of doctors believe it to be a legitimate ‘science’ and tens of thousands of doctors say it is a sham. Some doctors believe chiropractors can end up hurting someone or making an ailment worse, yet coupled with the millions of people who ‘feel’ like they are helped by going to a chiropractor it is really a difficult issue to come to any firm conclusion.

Modern medicine has not increased the average lifespan, and with the exponentially increasing numbers of Americans who cite loneliness, depression, and a whole host of ailments that seemingly did not exist in with such prevalence in the past, one cannot help but wonder if all the modern elixirs are hurting more than they are helping.

Thankfully there is a significant contingent of young people who have begun questioning modern snake oil salesmen and natural lifestyles have been trending in recent years where men and women attempt to live with as few chemical additives to their food and throw out all the brain candy that the medical field heaps upon people.

i Palmer, D. (1910). The Chiropractors adjuster. Portland: Portland Printing House.

*Stock image Christian Hume

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