Two Types of Cures

(Note: This is an updated version of this post.)

If I told you that we already know how to prevent or even cure cancer, autism, and many of the other diseases and disorders that plague civilization, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I must be deluded. Surely I know nothing of the greatness of science. I’ve been led astray by the cranks, quacks, and charlatans on the Internet peddling nonsense. With many billions of dollars allocated to cutting-edge medical research, and many of the best minds in the world working tirelessly on the problems, it’s absurd to suggest that a loosely organized group of amateurs on the Internet have come up with cures where so many professionals have fallen flat on their face. My convictions must be more akin to religious faith than rational science.

But there’s a complication that may show why my claim needn’t be so shocking. What mainstream medicine is optimizing for is very different than what alternative health is optimizing for, even if both groups claim that they’re looking for a “cure”. Simply put, Western medicine is in the business of diagnosing, treating, and fixing medical conditions while putting minimal pressure on the individual to change their lifestyle, while the alternative approaches found on the Internet aim to cure health problems even if it requires the person to make changes to the fundamental structure of their life. It’s no surprise that conventional medicine is lagging so far behind a bunch of uncredentialed bloggers on the Internet, since it’s task is much more difficult. Rather than removing the cause of a given disease, and then watching the symptoms fade away, instead it has to develop a technological means to treat the disease without having the luxury of changing almost anything of significance about what caused the disease in the first place.

While the mainstream is like a team of scientists trying to figure out how to make tires impervious to puncture, along with a team of maintenance workers putting in overtime to respond to the constant flood of flat-tire calls all over the city, alternative health is like a guy who tries in vain to get the attention of these people to say, “Wait a minute! How about we simply clean up this sea of broken glass strewn across our roads?”

Tightly controlled by the government but partially left to the free market, the medical industry is a complex organ that has evolved in civilization for purposes that are largely socio-economic in nature. When people get sick, the objective is for them to be able to return to being productive members of society as quickly and efficiently as possible. Western medicine doesn’t suggest you quit your office job because it’s an unnatural stress on your body, but rather provides you with drugs, surgical techniques, and other technological means to compensate for the unnatural character of your everyday life. While an alternative therapy might recommend quitting caffeine, sugar, and sedentary behavior, that would conflict with your role in society. Mainstream medicine won’t suggest treatments that make you less able to fit into mainstream culture, no matter how miraculous they might be. A mainstream that doesn’t sustain itself is soon on the fringe. Even if your best bet is to eat only meat, fish, and non-starchy vegetables while getting plenty of exercise in the sun, reducing your stress, and doing periodic water fasting, you’ll only hear of such therapies by other people who have left society. If you embark on such a journey, you’ll not only cure the supposedly incurable, but you’ll also lose your patience at being a cog in the machine.