One of the more subtle flaws in thinking that supports unproven alternative medical approaches is the notion best described by Edward Said in his book Orientalism. Though I don’t agree with Said’s post-modernist approach in general, I see great utility in the concepts labeled by the term “orientalism.” Essentially, this term refers to a process of mythologizing and idealizing non-Western cultures and projecting our own agenda onto them, rather than trying to objectively see and understand the complex, messy reality of such cultures. Said’s focus was the Middle East, but the same process applies to indigenous cultures throughout the world.
Sometimes, orientalism takes the form of obvious prejudice, such as reference to “ignorant savages” and the like. But more often, especially among the post-modern left wing intelligentsia which so often also advocates for alternative medical approaches as “equivalent ways of knowing” alongside science, the form orientalism takes is more sophisticated. It often involves an expression of admiration for the purity or simplicity of cultures not tainted by modern scientific or political ideas or other products of the Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe. Non-Western cultures, and people, are sanitized and seen as exotic and not polluted by the moral or intellectual conflicts that decadent imperialist Western cultures suffer from.
This, of course, is ignorant and patronizing and merely another form of racism which ignores the fundamental commonalities of human beings and human cultures as well as the complexities and conflicts that characterize non-Western societies as much as our own. But it is difficult to convince the dedicated orientalist of this since their sense of admiration for the exotic seems to them like respect rather than simple patronizing psychological projection.
Cracked.com has an entertaining, but oddly sobering piece up today on the subject which pretty much says it all: