Modern technology has made our lives much easier in many respects. All fields of human endeavor have dramatically benefited from modern scientific miracles. Medicine is no different. Looking back on history one may be tempted to assume that former lifestyles and technologies where “backwards”, or “primitive”. While this would be true in many instances, such conclusion would deprive one of considerable wisdom that may be applicable even today in our technology-driven society.
The wisdom of the ancients, in the form of fables, mythology and legends, is redolent with advice we would do well to heed today. In my opinion, the state of our society with its multiple social, political and economic problems may well be a sign that our technology has not been enough to avoid said maladies.
The tug of war between technology and natural things, or Mother Nature, has raged from the dawn of mankind.
“Vulcan (the God of technology/science) raped Minerva (Gaia/Mother Earth), the consequence of which was the birth of Ericthonius, whose body from the middle upwards was comely and well proportioned, but his thighs and legs small, shrank and deformed like an eel. Conscious of this defect, he became an inventor of chariots, so as to show the graceful, but conceal the deformed part of his body”.
The same tension between opposites has been symbolized by every society in different ways. For example, the ancient pre-Christian sign of the cross, which symbolizes both as above so below, also represents the resolution of the tension between both extremes; in fact, the ancient auroboros, or the snake eating its own tail also means at-one-ment. Think of the Yin-Yang, or Plato and Aristotle pointing up towards the heavens and down towards Earth while they argue about whose viewpoint is correct.
I do not wish to contradict anyone who would take the side of science 100%, or for that matter, doctors who feel our Health Care system is the best in the world. They do have a point. I only wish to suggest that one may then be watching Ericthonius riding by on his chariot and only seeing him from the waist up. And he is beautiful.
Let’s do an exam below Ericthomius’ waist:
1. Technology has brought on unsustainable industries that cannot continue without severely compromising our very lives on planet Earth.
2. The pharmaceutical industry, which began by using products from Mother Earth to treat people (herbs, micro and macro nutrients composed 80% of pharmaceutical products until 1990; now it’s 50%) is now encouraging the indiscriminate use of pharmaceuticals for many conditions that are, for the most part, benign issues. Practically all problems are addressed with pharmaceuticals, instead of focusing on the underlying factors (nutrition, stress and toxic environments) that lead to diseases. Polypharmacy, side effects and exorbitant costs are among several other problems we may see, while chronic care is not managed optimally.
3. Medicine often relies on expensive technology and invasive surgery to replace good judgment, and communication with patients. “In the current environment the balance has tipped toward market exchanges at the expense of medicine’s communal dimension”. Defensive medicine adds fuel to the flames. Disturbing reports continue to emerge that the practice of medicine is in many cases driven by expensive technology to maximize profits for those involved. “The role of the doctor is diminished to one of a competent technician who is interchangeable with any other with similar training… the same is applied to patients… they become interchangeable units of health need”.
4. The internet has dumbed down our society. Doctors are not immune. While surfing the net for information, very few are compelled to dive under for depth. Our children’s writing and comprehending skills are so deteriorated that most corporations have remedial English courses for new hires. The story of Ulysses comes to mind. He was tempted by the song of the sirens promising unbounded knowledge. He knew he would go mad if he yielded to the false promise of vast information with no wisdom, balance or integration. I am afraid that we, doctors are not immune to the sirens’ music.
5. Medicine and our society as a whole have over-emphasized the male aspect of our nature in favor of a more competitive, logical approach, while relegating the equally important feminine side of our nature. Cooperation, communication and feelings are not favorably received in corporate circles. I am afraid that often the same attitudes are found in medicine. We denigrate intuition in favor of logic, instead of marrying the two. We prefer aggressive interventions rather than spending time helping our patients change their lifestyles. While there is a place for acute medicine, the same “masculine” approach to chronic problems is not the answer.
“Deeply concerned about the dehumanization of health care… emotions of knowing intuitively that the way medicine is now taught and practiced is simply wrong, that the humane is being supplanted by unfeeling science and uncaring economics”.
Practically all facets of human endeavor seem to be affected by the rape of Nature. Think of the ills of industrial agriculture, environmentally unsustainable energy production, cities valued above small towns (rural medicine), etc, etc. A more comprehensive view of our society is likely to yield many other examples of Ericthnonius at work, unless you are inclined to think that technology is King. My point is the King needs a Queen.