Image by Jonas in China via Flickr
The 30 Second Skinny Alternative medicine has often been taken up by oppressive regimes. Traditional Chines Medicine was revived by Mao Tse Tung following the people's revolution in order to fulfil a promise of healthcare for all. China could not provide Evidence Based Medicine, so resorted to TCM instead. Homeopathy was, for a time, championed by the Nazis.
We live in a world of unintended consequence. Within that world, CAM can be viewed as a tool of oppression. This can be seen at various points in history.
Mao Tse Tung had pledged, as part of the Cultural Revolution of 1949, to provide affordable healthcare for all. This, as it transpired, was an impossibility. There were not enough doctors to provide mainstream medicine, and so Chairman Mao instead turned to the declining Traditional Chinese Medicine, and chose to revive that, rather than create a program by which Doctors would be trained. Although TCM was good enough for the people at large, Mao Tse Tung had no interest in receiving such treatments himself, instead turning to medical practitioners such as Li Zhisui, who went on to write The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Decades later we are still stuck with TCM.
The Nazi Party were keen to integrate the widely popular use of alternative medicine with mainstream medicine in the 1930s. This led to the creation of "Neue Deutsche Heilkunde". This was in part due to the popularity of naturopathy and partly due to the perception of mainstream medicine as being largely Jewish/Marxist. This official adoption of CAM led to Germany embracing homeopathy, itself a German invention. Again, this integration has led to a CAM scene much healthier than it would otherwise be, though ironically as Edzard Ernst points out, the Nazis researched homeopathy and found its evidence base lacking.
Fast forward to South Africa in the twenty-first century and we find the delightful character of President Mbeki, whose embrace of AIDS denialists who believe that HIV does not lead to AIDS, that AIDS is caused by HIV medication, that all you need is a good detox, has led to the preventable deaths of thousands. You can read about these crimes over at Bad Science.
CAM is oppressive, whether its adoption is intended to be or not. Here's an uncomfortable truth that I have couched in terms I hope CAM enthusiasts will understand. Money is an expression of energy. It is created by work, stored, transformed and expended. If you expend your energy on worthless pursuits then you end up with nothing to show for it. This is the root of alternative medicine's oppressiveness. Mao Tse Tung yokes the might of the Chinese Republic Army not to the development of evidence-based medicine, but decides to waste its energies on the pursuit of pins and dried tiger penis. The Nazis yoke the Third Reich not to a strict proof-led regime, but to folk remedies and magic water. Mbeki takes money that could have been spent on medication that would prevent pregnant women with AIDS from infecting their unborn babies and instead spends the money on a few mistaken nutritionists who have put too much faith in the vitamins they are peddling.
This is why Prince Charles, mourning as he does the end of empire, makes me so angry. When not unconstitutionally nixing architectural projects, he can be found attempting to inflict a basket of unintended consequences on his subjects. His Foundation for Integrated Health is keen to divert tax revenues into the provision of homeopathy, acupunture, herbalism and, no doubt, Charles' own unproven tinctures. A nation's energy wasted on non-cures, and non-medicine. And "integrated health" runs the very real risk of, much like the Neue Deutsche Heilkunde, offering a veneer of credibility to a range of fields that frankly has none.