Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Of Suckers and Charlatans

I'm almost fifty years old.  (Is that true? Can't be! Can it?)  In that time, I've seen a lot of ideas come and go.  Some of them represented actual progress, some of them turned out to be wrong, and some of them turned out to be snake oil.

I don't think of my myself as a deeply cynical person, but I do have a fairly lively awareness that some people will tell you anything if it gets you to give them money.  I'm also very aware that the latest and greatest thing may be sincerely believed to be such by it's promoters, and it may be incomplete, oversold, or flat out wrong anyway.  In any number of ways, such an awareness may be vital to survival in our culture.

But that awareness can also make it tough to make choices about how to improve my self-care.  I've seen many, many nutritional ideas arrive on the scene, be a big deal, and then evaporate.  (How many diets do you suppose "Ladies Home Journal" has published in the last fifty years?  Gotta be well over a thousand, right?)  This is hard to shake as I evaluate options.  Is "inflammation" really a key player in various metabolic disorders, and I should be learning everything I can to reduce mine, or is it just the latest thing being used to sell books and get authors on talk shows?  On what basis do I decide?

This afternoon, I was looking at books about stress management, and couldn't bring myself to check out any of them.  As I browsed, I couldn't lay aside my awareness of the possibility that it's all nonsense long enough to make a reasonable assessment.  Whenever I read a self-help book, I am haunted by the image of the stereotypical 1970's self-help guru, weaving a lovely-looking tapestry of psychobabble, uncaring that his message is useless -- or worse.

Yes, I know, I know -- a sane person could read with an open mind, make evaluations of what seems reasonable, and experiment to determine what's actually helpful.  Such a person could try out an anti-inflammation diet and see if he or she felt better, or whether a couple of weeks of deep breathing exercises really did promote relaxation.

This is yet more proof than I am not fully sane.

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T Minus Two by Bob Pedersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.