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Prepared on the occasion of World
Homeopathy Awareness Week
and the publication of the Global Financial Stability Report of the International Meonetary Fund
Abridged version published in Journal of Futures Studies, March 2010, 14(3), pp. 61 - 74
At the time of a global financial crisis for which the adequacies of proposed conventional remedies have as yet to be demonstrated -- and with further economic consequences yet to emerge -- it is appropriate to explore mindsets through which the remedial response to any form of globality under stress might be articulated and envisaged.
In using therapeutic metaphors here, this approach contrasts with a previous use of geometrical metaphors to explore such possibilities (Metaphorical Geometry in Quest of Globality: in response to global governance challenges, 2009; Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009).
The argument here is that there is a curious parallel in the discourse -- to the extent that there is any -- between the remedial strategies of "allopathic remedies" and those of "alternative remedies", whether in the case of the global financial system or in the case of global approaches to individual health care.
"Homeopathy" is used here metaphorically as a widely recognized exemplar of the therapies of "alternative medicine" as distinct from those of "allopathic" conventional medicine, understood here as typical of the financial prescriptions of the G20 Summit (April 2009). A more generic focus on the metaphoric potential of the range of alternative remedies is discussed in a concluding section.
The use of therapeutic metaphors for a challenged economic system was illustrated in 2005 by Andrei Illarionov (economic advisor of the Russian President) in an insightful press conference on Russia's Economic Diseases and Ways to Treat Them (2 June 2005, Johnson's Russian List, #18, JRL 9169):
...between the economy as a sphere of activities and humans as an organism, there is much in common. There is also a lot in common between economics and medicine as spheres of research. In fact, there also are parallels in our language and each of us has made use of that many times, when commenting on certain economic events, using medical terms, while sometimes not even paying attention to that. We say sometimes: the economy is ill, the economy recovers, the temperature of the economy is high, the economy is in paralysis, and there are lots of other medical terms used to describe the state of an economic body....
Like pathology in a human body, there may be different pathologies among economic pathologies. For instance, in a human body there may be cardiovascular diseases. In the economic sphere, something similar happens to diseases in the financial system, because the financial system performs functions similar to those performed by the blood circulation system in a human body. There are locomotor apparatus diseases. In the economic sphere, similar diseases are described as structural problems. They emerge when some or other parts of the economy have been distorted and structural reform is required or, in other words, surgery is required to mend inborn or acquired deviations. There are digestion diseases in a human body, and there may be similar problems in an economic body. There are respiratory diseases in a human body, and something similar may happen in the economy. Perhaps, in the economy the analogy is the energy sector, because it provides energy to the economy like the respiratory system supplies oxygen to a human body.
Naturally, there are lots of nervous system diseases, mental diseases, diseases related to other systems in the body. So, to get some idea of that, one may take a look in the medical encyclopedia, a doctor's reference book. So, for a human body and an economic body, the set of diseases is similar, as it turns out.
Illarionov offers a brief survey of an extraordinary range of diseases of economic relevance. His unusual press conference notably refers at some length to possibilities of treatment, including homeopathy:
There are lots of other diseases, pathologies, syndromes, and where possible, we may touch upon some of them, but as we are discussing diseases, we have at least three main spheres of medicine studying those diseases, those dealing with, first, symptoms, with monitoring of economic behavior, deviations from the norm, second, their diagnostics, primarily with the help of statistics and economic analysis, diagnosing some or other diseases and finally, issuing recommendations concerned their treatment, which may belong to homeopathy, therapeutics or surgery.
Andrei Illarionov is now a senior fellow in the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity of the Cato Institute (Washington, DC), which might well be held to be an exemplar of "allopathic" strategy development. In considering appropriate responses to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, use is also made of a medical metaphor by Hazel Henderson, Reforming Global Finance: diagnosing the economic body politic, Ethical Markets, 9 January 2009) -- who might be more closely associated with "homeopathic" strategy development.
The possibility of an orderly identification of systemic parallels to diseases of the body has been explored in relation to the emergence of a knowledge-based information society (Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008).
Medical metaphors may indeed be used to describe the economic remedies. The economic sectors are then to be compared with "organs" of the economic "body". But in exploring the labelling of "allopathy" and "homeopathy" as contrasting approaches there is a significant caveat which is relevant to the argument here regarding their potential use as metaphors.
As described in the Wikipedia entry on allopathy, the term is not commonly accepted by the world of medicine, namely the broad category of medical practice that is sometimes called Western medicine, biomedicine, scientific medicine, modern medicine, mainstream medicine or evidence-based medicine. The term was introduced, with pejorative connotations, by those seeking to contrast it with the philosophy and practice of homeopathy, considered by them to be more appropriate (see Homeopathy and Allopathy). Briefly:
This definitional game-playing -- a binary, adversarial, "us and them" mindset -- is closely paralleled by the relationship between mainstream political economy and proposed "alternatives" (notably to the paradigm of economic growth).
With the importance attached to the G20 Summit (April 2009) and the remedies it proposed for economic "stimulus" packages by industrialized nations -- plus the increased financial buffer for vulnerable economies through the IMF -- there is a resemblance to allopathic remedial strategies. Particular "medications" are selected and targeted to particular sectors of the economy in the expectation that this will engender a healthy global response in the economic system as a whole. Various forms of "buffer" are made available to those who do not respond as desired, or experience "pain" during the therapy prescribed.
This perspective is highlighted by Frank Shostak (Obama's Allopathic Economics, We Live in Interesting Times, 6 January 2009) in distinguishing between the "allopathic" strategy adopted by Obama and an alternative based on naturopathy (which includes homeopathy):
It struck me this morning, while listening to Obama talking about "saving the patient" that is our sickened economy, that the way that he intends to treat the patient is entirely parallel with allopathic medicine. The patient is sick. The treatments he wants to give are suppressive; they do not treat the cause nor induce a cure, rather they suppressed the symptoms of the disease and drive it deeper into the patient. This suppression of an acute disease causes the disease to shift to a chronic condition with much more fatal complications. And so it is.
The treatment I wish that Obama would offer would be one based in Naturopathic principles. What our sick economy needs is not more bailouts to suppress the symptoms of its illness. Rather, the economy needs to go through a healing crisis, during which it gets a hot fever and exudes waste products from every orifice. Our economy needs to eject all the corrupt banks, the military-industrial complex, the corporate-medical system and auto-makers like so much snot, vomit, sweat and diarrhea. The patient would feel weak but much better after such a crisis.
As argued by Steve Messer (Thinking Homeopathically, 1995), the succeptibility to disease is in the whole person, not in the particular organ affected by the disease:
Homeopathy works on the level of the whole person to increase vitality and reduce the succeptibility to disease. In modern medicine bacteria and viruses have taken the place that demonic posession held in medieval medicine. In both cases the goal of treatment is to drive the invader out. Allopathic medicine is filled with violent metaphors for medical treatment and these metaphors color its approach to treatment. Homeopathy says that healing comes from the self healing force of the organism, while allopathy views the patient as helpless to cure the disease on their own...
One "official" approach to an "alternative" -- indeed one that might possibly be said to be "naturopathic" given its emphasis on "nature" -- was taken by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which, with leading economists, launched on 22 October 2008, the Green Economy Initiative (GEI) -- aimed at "seizing an historic opportunity to bring about tomorrow's economy today". Ironically it might be said that 'global warming' is just such a 'fever' - even to the extent that a rise of 2˚C or more is considered potentially fatal to both the human body and to many on the planet
The financial crisis has been engendered through the inadequately constrained risk-taking logic of conventional financial economics -- whose proponents are in the main largely unrepentant. It might be said that an equivalent is to be seen in the level of "medical mistakes" made by the proponents of conventional medicine -- and hence their dependence on very high levels of insurance to compensate for the risks they typically take and for which they may be held responsible, as perceived by the insurance industry, especially if malpractice can be proven. There would seem to be little possibility that malpractice will be recognized in relation to the financial crisis. Ironically those who might be so accused are being rewarded -- in fulfillment of their contracts.
With respect to the financial crisis and an op-ed column by Paul Krugman (Depression Economics Returns: the United States economy has entered a state of affairs in which the usual tools of economic policy have lost all traction, New York Times, 14 November 2008) one respondent (Mike B), as with Shostak, points to a possible complementarity between the two styles of remedy:
In seeking a solution, the closest analogy or metaphor that I could find would be in the medical field. Our current system of medicine is largely based upon allopathy -- a system where opposites are used to force the body into a balanced state. In other words, if one is too agitated or excitable, you introduce a depressant or calming agent into the process.
In our economic example, where the economy is entering into a dangerous pattern of increased depression or inactivity, we need to excite or invigorate the economic body through a bold stimulus package -- a sort of economic amphetamine.
Under ideal circumstances, my preference would be for a more holistic approach -- a homeopathic approach that treats the core deficiencies in an effort to restore the body to its natural, healthy state. But that will have to come later. Right now, emergency care or treatment is warranted. We need shock treatment to restore economic sanity and prevent the patient from going off the deep end. Clearly, the patient -- our economy -- is in the Emergency Room and quick, bold, and deliberate action is called for.
Those drawn to "alternative" economic models tend to have close personal experience of the inadequacies of the "conventional" model and believe that there are more appropriate ways of acting in support of community development. This is of course framed as totally misguided by those promoting conventional approaches -- now somewhat at a disadvantage given the many with direct experience of their application. Again the parallel is to be seen with health therapies -- where those whose health has not been improved by allopathic remedies are drawn to a variety of proposed alternatives.
The relevance and nature of "homeopathic" therapy in response to the global crisis is discussed further below.
Beyond the immediate contrast between "allopathy" and "homeopathy", there is intriguing potential for confusion in the connotations of the terms, their roots and suffixes, in framing any discourse between "us and them" or "same and different" in relation to a range of systems with which people variously identify. These confusions arise from various possible understandings of the roots:"Allo-": meaning "other", "otherness" or "difference" (in terms of the etymology)
As noted by Victor E. Taylor and Charles E. Winquist (Encyclopedia of Postmodernism, 2001), the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that xenophobia was not enough to target the Jews since Europe was full of strangers. Instead, the tradition of allophobia meant that Judaism came to embody ambivalence and incongruity, the great enemies of order; the Holocaust was but the most literal and extreme "expression of that tendency to burn ambivalence and uncertainty in effigy". (Life in Fragments: essays in postmodern morality, Blackwell, 1995, p 220).
The French sociologist Monique Selim (An anthropologist between banlieues and globalized world, Eurozine, 6 December 2007) describes how she used "allophobia" (purportedly an "obsolete word") in preference to "racism" in her earlier research, which also focused on the "ethnicization" of social relations and demonstrated how social relations were reorganized around the mental image of "foreigners".
In French it is comparable with hétérophobie: 1. Rejet de la différence en tant que telle ou de toute marque d'altérité. 2. Plus précisément : 'Le refus d'autrui au nom de n'importe quelle différence' (Albert Memmi). Pour certains auteurs, l'hétérophobie constitue la catégorie générale dont le racisme classique représente une variante, définie par le rejet des autres en tant que porteurs de différences 'raciales'.
Use of allophobia has also been advocated in the USA in preference to racism (Call for a new word to cure an ill-defined American concept, 2000)
"Allo-": implying "all" (irrespective of the etymology)
These potentials for confusion are especially intriguing because they reflect many of the challenges of responding to otherness, whether through a reactive "us or them" or, as is explored here, in terms of the manner in which sameness and difference are considered in any remedial strategy in response to dysfunctional systemic imbalance (cf "Human Intercourse" "Intercourse with Nature" and "Intercourse with the Other". 2007).
It is appropriate to recognize (in passing) the potential phonetic associations (for some) of "allo" in relation to greeting an "other" (although this is far from conclusive in the extensive discussion of the etymology of Hello in Wikipedia):
Given the definitional game-playing, the future may find the quality of the discourse between "conventional" approaches and "alternatives" to be quite pathetic -- whatever the justification for those most directly involved. Perhaps to be caricatured as a combination of "allopathetic" and "homeopathetic" !
Denial: The "conventional" and the "alternative" approaches, whether with respect to the global economic system or individual health, are in general quite systematic in the denial of the merits of "the other". This may simply take the form of ignoring the achievements of the other. In a more active mode this takes the form of active denial -- notably focused on the quality of the research and proof by which the recommended methods are substantiated and the results evaluated.
With respect to the global economic system, this has been most evident in the parallel discourses of those configured around the World Economic Forum (Davos) and the World Social Forum (Porto Alegre). In the current phase of the argument, the World Economic Forum is faced with embarrassment at the failure of its globalization agenda whose claimed successes it has previously trumpeted widely. The World Social Forum -- with five heads of state and 100,000 activists gathered to promote an alternative economic model in face of recession -- indulged in a comprehensible riposte (Rory Carroll, World Social Forum message to Davos: We told you so, The Guardian, 30 January 2009).
With respect to health delivery systems, their failure even in the most advanced industrialized countries, is only too well recognized by anyone with personal experience of their challenges. They are only too obvious to the impoverished. This in no way prevents the proponents of such systems, whether the conventional medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry, from denying the value of any other approach to health care and delivery as risky, if not dangerous (although substantive "proof" of such claims is seldom offered). The fact that there may be no way that adequate health care can be supplied, notably at the cost demanded, is considered to be irrelevant. At the same time, alternative therapies -- even when reframed non-confrontationally as "complementary" therapies -- are dismayed at the lack of responsiveness of conventional health delivery and their seeming incapacity to deal humanely with the individual as a whole person.
Deception: Whether conventional or alternative, each is perceived by the other to indulge in a degree of deception as to the effectiveness of its remedies and the claims it makes regarding the effectiveness of the other.
In the case of the economic system, "deception" has been a key feature of the sale of "toxic assets" to unsuspecting (or gullible) buyers. It is now argued that the regulatory measures were inadequate -- whether or not the new measures proposed by the G20 prove to be any more adequate, given the propensity of those so regulated to deceive whenever this is profitable. The role of so-called "dark pools of liquidity" has recently been highlighted as necessarily operating "under the radar". The tendency of the regulators themselves to deceive -- if only regarding the efficacy of their oversight -- has also become evident.
To what extent can those advocating and implementing alternative economic models be said to be indulging in deception and misleading claims? At one extreme there are the many examples of intentional communities that are subsequently recognized by their supporters to be practicing a degree of deception. Many larger socialist experiments are accused of being defective with regard to the improvements promised. Other than communist systems of Europe and China, there are the cases of Tanzania and Cuba. Such accusations are of course now made against Venezuela. Whilst the many experiments in local exchange trading systems (LETS) appear to offer possibilities that are welcomed by their members, the question is whether their partial success on the scale at which they are implemented is inherently deceptive with respect to their applicability to larger scale and global systems -- as claimed.
In the case of the conventional health delivery systems, they are held to be deceptive both in the level of care effectively offered and in the efficacy of the remedies prescribed. Critics argue that many of the remedies may be toxic, even known to be so. They point to the deception associated with "sponsored research" in which eminent physicians effectively approve results generated in a less than transparent manner. Claims made through costly advertising campaigns as to the efficacy of the resultant products may well be considered suspect. Critics would also claim a degree of deception on the part of professional regulatory bodies with whom "cosy" relationships are cultivated. In this context, most questionable is the objectivity of allopathic professionals regarding terminal patients and their access to euthanasia -- given that patients in that condition are a major source of income for the allopathic industry. Is this pattern also to be found with respect to economic entities in "terminal" condition?
Alternative therapies emerge from a long tradition in which there is a complex mix of charlatans ("snake oil" vendors) and those whose health care is appreciated by multitudes. The rule has been caveat emptor -- a notion considered curiously unnecessary in the case of conventional health care. There it is replaced by the detachment associated with the phrase "you are free to seek a second opinion". To what extent is an array of professional opinions any more deceptive than the offerings in the alternative therapy market -- especially given the level of medical malpractice, to which insurance premiums are very sensitive? As to claims regarding "snake oil" vendors, one might ask how well this label applies to those creatively promoting the sale of toxic financial assets to the gullible.
Demonisation: Again, whether conventional or alternative, each is perceived by the other as inherently dangerous in terms of the potential harm it may cause. The term "allopathy" is readily to be seen as a deliberate negative framing of conventional medicine.
In the case of economic systems, this has been most evident on the larger scale between capitalist and socialist systems -- each readily considered by the other as "evil". Following the decline of the purely communist form of socialism, this is now translated into the relationships between "right" and "left" in the political arena -- each again being susceptible to demonisation, and prepared to engage in it. With respect to more recent approaches to framing economic alternatives, as noted above the World Economic Forum and World Social Forum readily indulge in a form of demonisation of each other.
Potentially more vicious is the manner in which any economic "alternatives" are viewed as a fundamentally dangerous threat to the values and way of life of "conventional" capitalist systems -- as the response by the USA to the experiments of Cuba, Chile and Venezuela have demonstrated. "Alternatives" cannot be tolerated. The evangelist Pat Robertson has been readily able to frame Hugo Chavez as an embodiment of evil -- thereby justifying his surgical removal by the USA. Advocates of conventional economic systems have however proven to be very silent regarding who should be sanctioned -- as "evil" -- in relation to the collapse of the financial system, although suitable scapegoats have been highlighted. The challenge for conventional economics is that the level of social unrest, now engendered by those who are feeling the pain consequent on the application of its methodologies, readily leads to many in elite positions being demonised -- rightly or wrongly (as always).
Eminent advocates of conventional medicine freely and vigorously expound on the potentially mortal dangers of alternative therapies -- even though cynics note that it is because they are undermining sales of allopathic medication. Little is said in that context regarding the dangers of allopathic medication -- despite the need for heavy insurance against malpractice. It is of course the case that advocates of alternative therapies accumulate evidence regarding the "evil" practices of "Big Pharma" -- which are assumed to extend to "dirty tricks" wherever possible (Martha Rosenberg, 15 Dirty Big Pharma Tricks That Rip You Off and Risk Your Health for Profit, Alternet, 22 December 2010). Of course "snake oil" vendors may be discovered to be delivering potions which are either dangerous in their own right or as a result of deluding those in pain into avoiding more appropriate therapy. Alternative therapists may even have strong views in this respect with regard to practitioners of "other" alternative therapies. Any such perceptions regarding nefarious practices in the health field suggest useful questions regarding proposals for remedial strategies in other fields and more generally.
The succession of the above phases (involving denial, deception and demonisation), in progress towards global recognition of new strategies, is explored elsewhere (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009).
Whilst any set of "3 D's", like that above, is characterized by a quality of "targeted" focus, paradoxically -- as with "conventional" approaches to global economic or health challenges -- any set of "3 R's" is likely to be much more diffuse in its implications. Curiously the quality of this diffuseness might be compared with that challenged in relation to "alternative" approaches. Whether economic, physiological or psychosocial, "health" is necessarily subtle and qualitative rather than being readily assessed in quantitative terms.
Remedy: Whatever the ill, any viable remedy tends to call upon resources and understanding beyond a simplistic framework. This may be as true of corporate bankruptcy as of a broken leg. These resources may be understood as "extra-systemic" -- "transcending" any in-the-box systemic framework.
The year 2009 is witness to an extraordinary focus on the subtleties of "building confidence" as vital to the viability of the financial system. The actors within the latter could not be more quantitative in focus or more prepared to exploit trust and confidence (on the part of the gullible). Similarly the remedy of a broken leg may involve more than repairing the bones -- if it came about from systemic causes (dietary, environmental or attitudinal). At critical moments, reference may then be made to the patient's "will to live". This suggests an intriguing question in relation to any unconscious "death wish" of a civilization (Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005; John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization, 1995).
Recovery: The focus of the G20 Summit recommendations is to "get the system working again". The possibility of "business as usual" would then be defined as successful recovery. Such an appreciation has been challenged by those who perceive the economic system, notably as promoted by the advocates of globalization, to have been in an inherently unhealthy condition for a long period. As with an individual faced with a health crisis, recovery does not necessarily mean enabling the person to indulge once again in heavy substance abuse (smoking, drinking, drugs, overeating, etc). "Recovery" then rather implies enabling the system -- whatever its nature -- to become more "healthy". The challenge here is that there is very little consensus on what is meant by "health". The health of the global economy has indeed been called into question with regard to what is effectively substance abuse (peak oil, water shortage, pollution, deforestation, etc)
Economic systems that pride themselves on being healthy may achieve this sentiment by ignoring the conditions of those exploited to sustain that belief. This