Saturday, January 27, 2007

"It works for me"

There has been a source of personal discomfort in my place of work for some days. A member of staff has suffered from an ailment and, needing to find an adequate diagnosis and its accompanying cure, sought an alternative therapy.
This alternative therapy is known as 'applied kinesiology' and, as the name attests, is not actually related to the scientific practice of kinesiology. It boggles me that the 'application' of it creates a therapy somehow so different (and I would imagine somewhat antagonistic due to competing perspectives!) to the science it takes its name from. It is as if someone has started an 'applied Conservative party' that is actually quite socialist.
When an applied kinesiologist diagnoses allergy, relative 'weakness' or 'strength' of the muscle is tested. You hold some food stuff in one hand while your other arm is held out. When you are holding something bad you cannot resist a downwards pressure from the therapist, when you are holding something good you can.

Now. Let us imagine that this is actually true. Why is it that we do not notice people putting foods into their shopping bags and suddenly becoming weak, arms sagging to the floor? Nor do we notice people eating a new food - which it turns out is bad for them - collapsing in a sad and soggy heap. It seems to me that this method of diagnosis must be questioned, as everyday observation shows us that we do not become noticeably weaker when holding or eating foods that this method would find us to be allergic to.

I was worried. A member of staff has been told they have a delibitating illness based on some recently invented procedure that, quite clearly, cannot be true without everybody everywhere having noticed certain persons becoming weak while holding/eating certain foods. And concern drove me to research the topic. Unsurprisingly, such therapists cannot actually find what people are really allergic to. They cannot use their methods to find out whether those with wasp allergies are holding a vial of wasp or water. Nor can they civilly accept their wrongness, with one failed applied kinesiologist stating "You see, that is why we never do double-blind testing anymore. It never works!" Imagine someone complaining in this manner after failing their driving test numerous times: "this test is bogus, it never works!"
Leaving aside the staff member's use of homeopathy and general interest in holistic medicine, I questioned this method. I was not met with a 'how do you know anything about it', or 'I base my belief on creditable studies that show otherwise'. All that was said was "don't tell me, because it works for me. I don't want to know".
Shocked and, let's face it, appalled; by the treatment of my concern, by the unapologetic nature of the outburst, by a total and uncritical absence of interest. To say, 'well, other studies have shown it does work' would at least show that there was a basis for their belief, even though I would disagree. It would be what could be termed a 'respectful disagreement', though, with things learn and opportunity for further discussion. But a total disregard for the possibility of testing, for their to need to be evidence of truth other than one's own has awful consequences.

Believing it was my fault for being so rude as to take issue with what I had been reliably informed was a lie, I prepared a page of studies and opinion from m'learned friends. Nothing more than excerpts, with web addresses for the reader to pursue further if desired. Why? I needed to explain my position, to offer what I had to say in an unconfrontational way. To absolve myself of whatever crime I had committed. And because I have developed a certain trust in truth, in living honestly, and being without deception. To say 'it works for me!', backing away from evidence, from discussion, is to be decieved and to be deceiving. It is something that I cannot accept. (Also, it seems that I am of the opinion I can lecture people on their health while many others would defiantly disagree with me. In this respect, we are all alternative therapists.)
Apologising for earlier, and stressing my desire to not disagree confrontationally, I provided the list. It was immediately put aside. "I don't want to look at studies or evidence. It works for me, and that's enough". Now I am not sure on what grounds I can ever really talk to this member of staff, as we may not even share a common concept of truth.

"It works for me" is vividly unsatisfactory thinking. It has bold, poisonous colours. It tells you to keep away. What are its consequences?
  • How can anyone manage their condition if they base their opinion entirely on 'what works for me', and disregard outside evidence from various authorities on what is best? Not only does scientific enquiry show that X does not work, but there are many competing alternative therapies. To settle on 'what works for me' means that you do not settle on what describes what you have most closely and/or objectively. It means you settle on what suits you. This will be different for different people. It will be different in different cultures. It will change over time, in different historical climes. In short, it is a choice not related to whatever problem you are really suffering. What is 'works'? It makes you 'feel better'. It is 'what fits me'. But medicine is not a valentine's card. Illness is not a lifestyle choice. What 'works for me' can be something that only appears to work, when the real cure is simply time, or some other change. What 'works for me' may not actually work at all. The diagnosis may not be right, and the treatment only accidentally helping the symptoms. Might you actually get iller?

  • Is 'what works for me' falsifiable, that is, can it ever be proven wrong? What if you try all sorts of therapies, which one is the one that is working? All or none or some, or the one you 'like best'. Were you even ever really ill?

  • There are so many works-for-me's out there that it seems impossible for anyone to choose. Almost anything has the anecdotal evidence to be a cure for almost anything. How can you choose, when all the evidence is absolutely and totally equivalent - somebody saying 'it worked for me'? Maybe everything works. Maybe illness is a personal matter, and we are all so personal that our cure must be personal too. Maybe as long as we are treated individually, nothing matters. Leave poor people to the mass-produced drugs, to the faceless hospital wards. The elite can have personal treatment, that works for them. Each to their own (when they have the ability to pay for it).

  • What if someone who says 'it works for me' is asked by someone else, 'what would work for me'? What if they suddenly assume that their small and local truth is worthy to be universal - it works for me AND you? And what if the person gets worse. And what if they die. Is it simply that 'it did not work for them'? And is the first person in any way responsible? Is anybody responsible if the treatment they administered or recommended did not work, as it is all down to the 'me'?

  • It is impossible for an 'it works for me' to offer criticism. I have a student who smokes and plays football. I tell students who smoke that they must be aware it is bad for them, and I told this student that it would impair their football ability eventually. "I've smoked for years... and I'm fine!" Well, it works for them. Can an 'it works for me' complain that somebody who takes drugs, who will ruin their body, who makes any choice that they disagree with is somehow wrong? What they do is working for them, just as what you do is working for you. Tough. You have lost the ability to compare. You have personalised the issue. Everything is atoms with no connection. There is no reason in anything except the individual, there is no link, there is no sense in making connections. There is just you and what you do and nobody else can comment.

Yes, our confident convictions must oppose each other. We must test opinion and belief. But to test false belief against evidence, and to learn only to ignore it when evidence has the upper hand, is to turn away from the possibility of testing and examining truth. It is to turn away from any universal of right and wrong, and possibility of reconciling differences.
Truth dissipates when 'it works for me' is used. My truth is my ointment. There is no way to reach out to others and share that truth, it is so infinitely personal and therefore beyond the reach of anything. Nobody can touch it so nor can you ever touch the truth of others.
When we prioritise our own difference, make it so noble that we turn away challenge to it, we can only accept ourselves.

What works for me? The truth, when it can be found. Yet, it is far more than just something that works for me - it is something that is also always there. The universal has much more power than the personal, much more use, and therefore the capacity to do far more good. Do not throw it away just to please yourself, as you will lose the chance to please and be pleased by others. That anyone could choose to act like because they feel it is in their own best interests leaves me heartbroken.
Everything that is hopeful is based on the predicate that people can agree, that we are more than a here-now-me. Do away with that and I challenge you to find anything left; we would be gone.


Blogger Atum said...

News: I'm currently slamming into a few brick walls myself at the moment. How do we communicate to people what is in their best interest? What do we do when the offer of help, essentially of love, is refused flat out without a second glance?

A couple of suggestions I can think of:
Your colleague is either 1) quite typical of those affected by the need to feel somehow mystical about their health, somehow religious. 2) feeling over-processed, as health is so bound up into the machinations of institutionalised modern life that people will accept lies rather than a beurocratic prescription. 3) Deeply stupid. 4) Ego-centric and childish, such that when they are ill the world needs to pat them on the head and say 'there there, you're special'.

I think alternative therapies are mostly accepted for the same reason we accept soap operas, and since we have a penchant for encouraging stupidity because we don't want to impose on each other. It's all a bit 'Most Haunted'.

""It works for me" is vividly unsatisfactory thinking. It has bold, poisonous colours. It tells you to keep away"

It really does. I'm trying at the moment not to see this as a brick wall, but as a cry for something better, some touchstone of interpersonal empathy that the person can trust. It's very hard when people mistrust you on principle, because you're a man, or because you're persistant, or because you're in some regards stupid.

"Nobody can touch it so nor can you ever touch the truth of others.
When we prioritise our own difference, make it so noble that we turn away challenge to it, we can only accept ourselves."

Well put. Don't be too quick to put someone in the solipsism box though, since if they should be in there you can't scare them off by pointing at it. We should ask the question 'why does this person need others?', and augment and support this. Unfortunately people are often like children in this regard and have no real rational awareness of each other.

What do we do when 'it works for me' is fundamental to someone's personality, and underpins how they relate to the world? Solipsism is an odd thing, enabling the world by precisely denying it. To what modulation does our behaviour shift when everything we express that is positive and truly felt is irked away from like so many fairy tales? How do we love now?

9:19 PM  
Blogger editor said...

Once again you are feeling affronted. All your posts boil down to your infuriation with what you see as other peoples' egotism, solipsism, lack of care for others, greed, rudeness etc. You spring from one person's answer to a whole raft of concerns that clearly you have been stewing about for some time. It is acceptable to examine one person's comment as a spring board for a discussion of a topic, but to claim that all of your concerns are actually contained in that comment is obsessive and a little deluded.

"the science it takes its name from"

the science from which it takes its name.

10:34 AM  
Blogger News is Good said...

Hello, editor! Have you replied to Atum's challenge to you issued in the previous post? If not, could I remind you of it, although I just have.

Regarding your comments, yes, we do see problems in everday conversations and beliefs. What you are saying, however, does not address the problems I have diagnosed in this article, having failed to give any reasons for your conclusion that my concerns are unwarranted, and having failed to show that there is a strong case for saying that "all of [my] concerns are [not] actually contained in that comment".
You are merely arguing from (your beliefs about my) motives. As a teacher of critical thinking, I would have to inform you that this is a fallacious argument.

12:21 PM  
Blogger editor said...

"Now I am not sure on what grounds I can ever really talk to this member of staff, as we may not even share a common concept of truth."

Why would that mean you can't talk to the person? I talk to people I disagree with all the time (or to put it your way, we do not share a common concept of truth). It's actually often an enjoyable experience.

8:33 PM  
Blogger News is Good said...

And this one would be more enjoyable if I could feel that we were both as responsible in replying to each others' points.

8:59 PM  

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