Thursday, September 06, 2012
Israel and homeopathy – sort of. That's not a very good title but, like most titles, it will do. Please forgive me if you think I'm digressing from the basic Zionist narrative of this blog, but if you will read further, you'll see I'm not. I want to start by making some observations about myself and homeopathy, and if you have patience you'll finally see where this leads. My wife is a very experienced and successful homeopath and the author of some twenty books on health issues, including several on homeopathy. In my day, I've been a homeopathic patient and for many years the chairman of Britain's Natural Medicines Society. I'm not trained in medicine, but I am fascinated by many aspects of it, especially the research that has been done into alternative therapies like acupuncture and homeopathy. So, that's my bias. If you know nothing about homeopathy,I won't take up time here to explain it. Google will, no doubt, give you more than one place to go in order to read about it. The main thing (and Google will show this to you quite vividly) is that, ever since its emergence in the 18th century, homeopathy has been enormously controversial. If anything, it is just as controversial today as it was then. Supporters of orthodox medicine hate it. They don't just mildly dislike it, they hate it with venom. But homeopathy has its respectable side. The British Royal Family has used it since the days of Victoria, and one of the Queen's physicians is always a homeopath. In 1948, it was adopted into the British National Health Service. This was always controversial, and there have been attempts to close homeopathic hospitals, something that happened a long time ago in the United States. Just last week, in the cabinet reshuffle, a new Health Secretary was appointed. He is Jeremy Hunt, and he is a supporter of homeopathy. This simple fact has unleashed a torrent of wholly irrational abuse. The Guardian (remember it?) has had several 'Comment is Free' pages, one based on an article by me, and has published one based around the Hunt appointment. In all these cases, the number of commentators reaches to well over 1000. If you read them, substitute 'Israel' for 'Homeopathy' and you will find yourself in familiar territory. About 99% of these posters trumpet themselves as rationalists, yet not one shows the least sign of being equipped to engage in a rational argument. They have never read academic books on homeopathy, never visited a homeopath, never sat in with a homeopathic doctor or vet (many homeopaths start life as conventional doctors), never read the numerous scientific papers on the subject. When asked for evidence to support their position, they just get more abusive. Their language is never temperate. Nobody challenges the homeopaths to engage in a properly moderated discussion. When someone like myself points out that the placebo effect cannot possibly explain how herds of dairy cows recover from mastitis when a liquid homeopathic remedy is put into their drinking troughs, they simply ignore it. Hatred for homeopathy is not, of course, restricted to Guardian readers, any more than hatred of Israel and Zionists has its only home in that paper's pages. But the Guardian does encapsulate a certain world view that relates particularly to a certain category of person, young to middle-aged, would-be intellectual, leftist in their politics, vitriolic when condemning things they disapprove of, be it homeopathy or Israel. We've all seen it, haven't we, that extraordinary ability to criticize without evidence, that need to distort whatever evidence there may be or to present as fact something that simply isn't true ('Israel is an apartheid state'). There are times I want to blow a gasket reading yet another post saying the Jews invaded Palestine in 1948, drivel masquerading as common sense, childish rubbish pretending to be part of adult discourse. The worst thing is how so many present themselves as rational people. Most will have been to a university somewhere, where they have been introduced to the concept of rational, evidence-based argument. That then becomes their pose. But the pose does not disguise the underlying sickness of their minds. Young Westerners who can chant 'Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas' are clearly sick. All those posts calling for the murder of Jews are not the work of the sane, the rational, the commonsensical. The two situations are, I think, analogous. Just as I have no objection to someone engaging in a scientific debate in order to debunk homeopathy (and with the open-mindedness to consider evidence in its favour), so I have no axe to grind with someone who wants to argue the one-state solution or even a total Arab takeover of Israel, provided they do so with statistics and historical records, and avoid aspersions like 'Nazi state' or 'there was never any Jewish temple in Jerusalem'. Greater rationality will get us all further, just as a real desire for peace will bring us closer to it. No country in history has had to endure, not simply physical attack, but the antagonism of most of the world, vitriolic expressions of hatred, outright lies, wilful misunderstanding, immoral assertions of morality, and a self-defeating hatred of the enemy by the enemy itself. Let's look at something related to all this. When we watch film of Palestinian crowds in Gaza or the West Bank or rioters in Cairo or anti-Israel marchers in London or Paris, or members of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign or the International Solidarity Movement screaming at lecturers, drowning the music at a classical concert, howling at a performance by the Bat Sheva dance company – do we not see what so many politicians refuse to see – namely a primitive force seething at civilization. It is the Arab countries that have been and are plunged into wave after wave of violence. It is the Palestinians who have mastered and passed on the art of the suicide bomber and conferred on it the status of the highest aspiration, the most eloquent art form, the art of death achieved in its singularity, its momentary denial of life, not just for the bomber, but for others who did not wish it. It is the supporters of the Palestinians in the West who have denied the best impulses of their own society, the orderly progress of their own civilization, the rule of law and order, and who have found refuge in the weakness of their own countries to clamp down on threats of violence and anti-Semitic abuse. I worry that homeopathy, a slow, gentle but incredibly effective healing method, is at risk of being banned by a crowd of neurotics driven to impose their own beliefs on others. And I am concerned that countries led by dictators, religious extremists, theocrats, torturers, anti-Semites and other legions of the possessed may pile pressure upon pressure to make life almost unbearable for Israel. The only answer is evidence. Scientific evidence (already available) that homeopathy can be more effective than any conventional therapy for the right conditions. And evidence that the Palestinians and their Arab partners (not to mention Iran) have for many decades attacked Israel and refused to recognize it or make peace with it; and evidence that Israel has bent over backwards to make peace and has asked very little in return. The problem is, of course, that evidence as such is of no real use unless those who examine it have the right attitude, that they are unblinkered and not driven by prejudice. But it is rare to find many who are genuinely open-minded. There are two excellent studies that illustrate this issue within a scientific context. Many of you will have read Thomas Kuhn's classic, 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions', which is where the term 'paradigm shift' comes from. Kuhn argues with numerous details that when a younger generation comes along and tries to shift the paradigm of scientific knowledge in one or another field, the older generations snarls and rejects the evidence for the new paradigm ('what do you mean, the earth goes round the sun? How dare you?'). Harry Collins's study, 'Changing Order: Replication and Induction in Scientific Practice' leads the reader through an array of experiments with which he was personally involved or which he observed. The experiments go from seemingly very easy to replicate (but actually hard) to the very outré. In all cases, especially the later ones, scientists display a great deal of personal prejudice, even outright bigotry. If that is the case with science, it is not surprising it happens even more grossly in religion and politics. I don't doubt that I and other Zionists carry illusions and that we are in our own way prejudiced. But I think that our opponents are motivated by nothing more than a distorted weltanschauung, a world view so seriously polluted by lies, myths, and distortions of reality that it is of no use in any debate about the key issues, much less in the negotiation of peace talks. And I think that Israel, whatever its faults, is actually pretty well much what it claims to be, that its reality is incontrovertible. Israel really has been attacked again and again, it really has done its best to create security with minimal harm, it really does work for the human rights of its citizens, and it really is a world leader in all areas of science and technology. These and other things are our evidence. Our problem is to find partners on the other side. I don't believe we can find anyone. Where do we go from here?