By Martin Walker
We live on the cusp of unbelievable change. The era of industrial production and the mass society which it created is coming to an end. The evolutionary necessity of the industrial revolution created enormous problems. The new means of production, the factories, belched out pollution and filled the air with chemical toxins. The noisy metal machines imposed upon their operatives the anonymity of yet another part of that machine.
Contemporary Western society is a product of that industrial revolution. The monumentally rewarding ideas which gave birth to it, concepts of rationalism and scientific enquiry which were to free the human body from its travail of work, were twinned with the debilitating effects of the new industry, effects which were inseparable from it. Nowhere was exempt from this maelstrom of the machine: from the depths of the sea to the bowels of the earth, to the planet's poles, the effluents of the new riches came to permeate everything.
The science which accompanied the industrial revolution was a science which grew from engineering, the making of metal machines. It was locked irrevocably into the understanding of industrial production. Science re-created a structure of knowledge which was itself based upon knowledge of the machine. The new science fought ceaselessly with the older and often religious ideologies through which people had previously understood their condition. From the beginning of the nineteenth century in Europe and America, the dominant ideology, of the most powerful groups, came to be based upon science.
Chemistry and medical science were intimately allied to the process of industrialisation. For the first time in the history of healing, medical practitioners divided up the body into its smallest functioning parts. With this came the separation of bodily functions from the life which those functions maintained. The whole ceased to be greater than the sum of the parts. This dissection of the body exorcised the being's inner self.
As the industrial revolution advanced, it was accompanied by the complete separation of objective science and the subjective conscious¬ness of the scientist. Medical science and its teaching forbade, at the risk of exile, the involvement of the non-scientific mind of either the doctor or the patient in the mechanics of healing. It was to be as if one machine operated upon another.
The society which grew with the industrial revolution was a mass society. The individual of the eighteenth century was gradually displaced by the collective power of the nineteenth. In medicine particularly, the older individual-based art of healing, which depended upon the specific relationship between the healer and the sick individual, was crushed by machine-based medicine. It was not until Freud and psychoanalysis that medicine was confronted again with the idea that individuals might be essentially, if sensitively, different. By that time, however, it was too late for the mechanized world which science had created to divert its energies and cater for individually specific treatments. The pharmaceutical remedy had already been invented, and this was a remedy for the masses. The barbiturate paid no heed to the individual's history nor the idiosyncrasy of their dreams. Like a hammer blow, it sent all into the same deep and unreasoning sleep.
The period of post-industrial production began in the latter part of this century. Like all new epochs, it came quietly at first, heralded by almost unnoticed changes in the means of production. Profit no longer needed the great machines of the industrial revolution. Their demise gave birth to cleaner machines, able to create even greater but less visible power.
A revolution in the method of production changes everything, even our ideas and our relationships. The change which is upon us now, from material power to invisible information-based power, is a vortex. It is passing over the globe leaving nothing unquestioned. The new post-industrial social relations affect all aspects of our lives. In the most conservative and power-based sciences the transition from the old physically based knowledge to the new more imaginative age has been hard won. The knowledge of the sciences which grew out of the industrial revolution consisted of immutable abstractions welded to social power. This power will not be transcended without a way of life coming to an end.
Those who hold this power will hang on like grim death.
My book "Dirty Medicine" is the result of a two-year investigation. I was first asked to provide background material on the Campaign Against Health Fraud (CAHF) late in 1989. My report was finished in two months. I did not resume the investigation until I was approached a year later in November 1990, by a group of people who had been 'attacked' by the Campaign, which by then had changed its name to HealthWatch.
My first short investigation developed quickly from an examination of CAHF to cover a conflict which had divided the gay community in London. The conflict centered upon the right of people who were HIV antibody positive, or had AIDS, to choose their own treatment and be given the full information about the Wellcome-manufactured AIDS drug AZT. Those who had faith in the pharmaceutical companies and medical orthodoxy supported the prevailing medical research establishment in its propagation, testing and prescription of AZT. Others, wary of apparent medical altruism, and previous iatrogenic disasters, began to organize self-empowering treatment and therapy programs. In the main, they did this by making information available on non-pharmaceutical treatments.
My first investigation showed that when a small number of gay men and alternative medical practitioners tried to minister to their own community, they were immediately labeled 'quacks'. AZT often appeared to be at the center of these conflicts.
The conflicts around AZT and AIDS treatment were located within a much more extensive terrain of struggle involving alternative medicine, the processed food industry and the pharmaceutical companies. When I began to explore this wider landscape, keeping the Campaign Against Health Fraud firmly in sight, I found it difficult to orientate myself.
Why was a 'health-fraud' campaign aiming at health food products and progressive nutritionists? Why was a 'health-fraud' campaign attacking qualified doctors who, after years of orthodox practice, had made the decision to practice a non-pharmaceutical approach? Perhaps most confusing of all: should not a health-fraud campaign called Health Watch be critical of the food industry and agribusiness over such things as additives and pesticides? Why was Health Watch attacking those therapists and scientists who thought that the destabilisation of our natural environment was making us ill? Why was this particular 'health-fraud' campaign focusing on immunologists and those non-orthodox practitioners who might treat AIDS or cancer sufferers?
In this book, I have tried to answer some of these questions, although even I have to admit that the route to my conclusions seems on occasions tenuous. This is not due to any lack of intellectual rigour on my part, but more to do with the fact that my investigation only scratched the surface of a powerful and extensive underworld spawned by big business. It will be some time before we are able to understand fully and record in detail the present period of crisis and the shifts in paradigm which have thrown up the surveillance, sabotage, harassment and fraud which are increasingly becoming an everyday part of commercial competition.
In the last months of writing, three unrelated things affected me, forcing me to focus my mind more sharply on the importance of finishing the book.
On May 6th 1992 in the United States, the surgery and the laboratory of a well-respected nutritionist and doctor, Jonathan Wright, was raided by officers of the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The clinic was surrounded and then stormed by armed police officers. Clinic employees were made to raise their hands and stand against the wall, while officers pointed guns at them. Fourteen hours after the raid began, the FDA and accompanying police officers had stripped Dr Wright's laboratory and surgery of all its patient records, equipment, vitamin and mineral supplement preparations.
Coincidentally, at around the same time, I received a call from a doctor and research scientist in Europe. Much of his work has concentrated upon chemical food additives and their effect upon the immune system. From 1986, he has been the victim of threats from an unknown source. An anonymous caller tried to lure him to a meeting in another country; when he checked the address with the country's embassy he found that it did not exist. Phone calls threatened his life and that of his partner. Anonymous letters to his local tax office falsely claimed that he had assets in Swiss accounts.
Again in May, I read Christopher Bird's book, which narrates the criminal trial, in Canada in 1989, of the renowned cancer scientist, Gaston Naessens. In a re-run of the charges brought in the sixties against Dr Josef Issels, the German cancer doctor, Naessens was charged with having caused the death of a woman to whom he gave treatment. Like Issels, Naessens was exonerated. His acquittal did not however diminish the terror, suffering or social destruction which such a case brings. Bird's book and the case it describes address a matter of growing importance - the developing legal power of orthodox scientific medicine.