I saw Richard Dawkin’s two-part documentary The Enemies of Reason a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to add a note of criticism here.
It’s not that I disagree with his assessment that people such as spirit mediums and alternative health gurus are not antithetical to enlightenment values; far from it. My problem is that the programme lacked analysis about why such movements have grown in popularity over the past forty years.
Take homeopathy for instance, and the fact that the NHS now ploughs millions of taxpayers pounds into clinics such as the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital. How has such a thing come to pass? Have health managers lost their minds? While no doubt there are true believers working inside the NHS who are pushing for homeopathy, I suspect the underlying reason is more prosaic. Indeed, Dawkins himself alluded to this, as Susan Blackmore points out, by alluding to the Placebo effect and comparing the amount of time a homeopath spends with their patient – 1 hours – to the amount of time a GP spends with their patients – 8 minutes.
We could, arguably, achieve the same effects as homeopathy by allowing GPs to prescribe a wider range of treatments. A week in a health spa, for instance. Healthcare professionals know however that such leftfield treatments would be politically untenable. Mental health treatment is very much a Cinderella service, despite the fact that it is now well recognised that depression and a whole range of long term health problems are inextricably linked. So is it any wonder therefore that they turn to an approach with is supported by people such as the Prince of Wales and has at least a quasi-scientific basis to it? Who can blame them for indulging in a noble lie, if the result is more people treated successfully?
Who, then is responsible for creating this climate whereby mental health treatment is marginalised while homeopathy is lauded? We can’t really blame the Prince of Wales. The real problem is that the latter is championed by a whole section of the media. The same media champions horoscopes, the Bible Code and all sorts of anti-intellectual faffery. By coincidence, it also advances an agenda that women are better off staying at home being dutiful housewives, that Princess Diana was murdered, that the poor get what they deserve, that padeophiles are lurking on every street corner, that asylum seekers live like sultans at taxpayer expense while local people struggle to find housing and that the house price boom is an unequivocal good.
What I’m getting at, of course, is that the missing third part of Dawkins’ the Enemies of Reason is an expose of Paul Dacre, his poisonous empire and his competitors at the Express. It seems odd to expose well meaning dowsers as frauds while failing to lambast the people at the top of the chain. Of course, were Dawkins to indulge in such a project he would find himself having a torrent of shit poured onto him by the very people he chose to attack. That may be what is holding him back. But if he doesn’t, who will? It would at the very least be entertaining to watch the likes of Melanie Phillips and Peter Hitchens go bright purple.