Bach flower remedies and the problem of quackery

This is an ad that appeared in the Hindu on the 16th of November, 2015:

Bach Flower anxiety

[Update] Another one in the same newspaper on the 30th of November, 2015:

The “divine” cure (Re: The cornerstone of quackery)

Among other very interesting things (like “Medical Astrologer”), what caught my eye was “Bach Flower Remedies”. Apparently a solution for your anxiety and stress. I thought I had heard about it earlier, so I decided to take a closer look.

Bach flower remedies were divined by Edward Bach, a British practitioner of homeopathy in the first half of the 20th century. A bit of background check on sites encomiating him reveals that as a young man he had served as a medical aid provider to soldiers during the World War I. Claims are made that he “recovered completely” from some severe medical condition, varying in different accounts from malignant tumors to hemorrhage in the stomach, even though he was only given three months to live. He trained as an immunologist, and became unhappy with conventional medicine, because he was

dissatisfied with the way doctors were expected to concentrate on diseases and ignore the whole person. He aspired to a more holistic approach to medicine. Perhaps this explains why, not being a homoeopath, he took the offer of a post at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital.

He noticed the similarities between vaccines and the homeopathic treatment philosophy of “like cures like”. He developed homeopathic”nosodes”, or doses prepared from body waste containing the products of disease, based on these observations. But he was still not satisfied. He wanted to find remedies that would be “purer and less reliant on the products of disease” than vaccines or anything of the like.

He began collecting plants and in particular flowers – the most highly-developed part of a plant – in the hope of replacing the nosodes with a series of gentler remedies.

By 1930 he was so enthused by the direction his work was taking that he gave up his lucrative Harley Street practice and left London, determined to devote the rest of his life to the new system of medicine that he was sure could be found in nature. He took with him as his assistant a radiographer called Nora Weeks.

Just as he had abandoned his home, office and work, Dr Bach began to abandon the scientific method and its reliance on laboratories and reductionism. He fell back instead on his natural gifts as a healer, and more and more allowed his intuition to guide him to the right plants.

And so Bach Flower Remedies were born. There are 38 different remedies for a range of “energy blockages”, supposedly caused by conflicts between “purposes of the soul and one’s personality and actions”. These 38 different remedies are derived from 38 different flower materials, as mentioned earlier, and then diluted to homeopathic levels using 1:1 brandy-water solution. These solutions are known as “mother tincture”.

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Thailand, monarchy and free speech

Thailand is one of the hottest tourist locations in Asia. Apart from being home to plenty of tourist attractions, it also has to deal with the problem of a booming sex tourism trade which is leading to a variety of problems , not least of which is a spread of the HIV. Nevertheless, the tourism industry is one of the greatest contributors to the Thai GDP, contributing almost 20 percent to it. Thai food is also an attraction, and authentic Thai cuisine in itself is enough of a reason to make a pilgrimage to Thailand for.

It also is a place of historical significance, being the only South East Asian country to not have come under any imperialist influence, among other things. In many ways, that seems to have a flip-side. Apparently there has been no motivation for a popular revolution in Thailand, which might make it a tempting idea that people have not felt like changing the system. This would seem to be true, if there weren’t any coups by the military, and if the democratically elected leader of the executive weren’t arrested on corruption charges. Even though the country is effectively run by a military junta, there has been no dismantling of the monarchical system of governance. Officially a constitutional monarchy, the political system in Thailand is seriously lacking in credibility. After Aung San Suu Kyi’s landslide, and landmark, victory in Myanmar recently, which is likely to make it more difficult for the military to control policy making, Thailand, being another South East Asian country, can probably take heart. However, there is a difference. As mentioned before, Thailand is a monarchy, unlike Myanmar. The monarch might not be making policy decisions, but he is nevertheless the figurehead. Named Bhumibol Adulyadej, he is the longest reigning monarch in Thailand’s history. Quite a feat.

There is a problem though:

Screenshot from 2015-11-09 12:04:04I found this in the newspaper Bangkok Post. Needless to say, I found it quite striking. There are lèse majesté laws in Thailand, which means that no one in Thailand has the right to say anything that offends the monarch. A clause in their constitution says: “The king shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the king to any sort of accusation or action.” This is basically deification of an individual. An individual is above all criticism, by virtue of being the symbolic leader of the nation. This is definitely against democratic principles. For one thing, a monarch is not democratically elected. There is not a whit of evidence that the monarch at all cares about the welfare of the people. As Jack London very evocatively mentioned in his 1902 book The People of the Abyss: “There is a Chinese proverb that if one man lives in laziness another will die of hunger; and Montesquieu has said, ‘The fact that many men are occupied in making clothes for one individual is the cause of there being many people without clothes.’”, describing his emotions while witnessing the extravagant coronation of a new king in England. He knew what it was like, having experienced the plight of the people of the streets and in the workhouses in London himself. The other thing is that such a constitutional dictate has the potential to be abused. What constitutes offence towards the king is very vague, just like the sedition laws in India.

You could argue that Thailand is a high HDI country. But that doesn’t say anything about the poverty and disease that plagues the country. It doesn’t say anything about the desperation of the women who are driven into the sex trade, and who end up either contracting, or spreading HIV. It doesn’t say anything about the communal violence that people who are on the lowest rungs of the survival ladder experience. As I have opined before, such statistical measures rarely take individual factors into account, and hence tend to be seriously flawed sometimes. But coming back to my point, in a country which could use more equitable distribution of its wealth, lavish spending on retaining an undemocratic figurehead is a bit rich. What’s worse is that one cannot point out this flaw in their system if one wanted, because they would be prohibited by Thai law to do so. This kind of cultism persists in quite a few countries, most notoriously in North Korea. Whenever you are supposed to “worship” a mortal, you know things are not right. In the 21st century, monarchical systems are anyway out-of-place, if not unseemly. I really do hope that the Thai people have something to say and do about this. Like the Nepalese people did.