Why Can't a Woman...

Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.

(Henry Higgins: My Fair Lady)

based on an article originally published in the house journal of the New Zealand Charter of Health Practitioners

Natural health practitioners are told that if we expect to receive government funding in the same way that doctors do, we need to establish that what we are doing has a "scientific" basis.

The temptation to dress up what we are doing in "scientific" terms, to try and look "respectable", is very strong, but in the end I believe we do ourselves a disservice. Much of what occurs in natural healing is outside of the reach, outside of the terms, of science.

Even homeopathy, whose effectiveness has been well documented, does not have an explanation for the way it works that fits existing scientific models.

What we are being asked to swallow uncritically is the implied claim of "science" or "rationality" that it is the only valid way to know anything. We know, as natural healers, that it isn't. "Why can't a woman," asks Henry Higgins, "be more like a man?" and the answer, of course, is that men everywhere, and women also, would be the poorer if she were.

Joseph Campbell, the renowned mythologist, spoke of two kinds of religion. These, he said, have been shaped by the social structures that gave rise to them.

Nomadic communities, he said - herdsmen, hunter/gatherers - held the interests of their social group to be primary. Their environment was there simply to serve the needs of the group. When local food resources had been exhausted, they moved on. The gods that emerged tended to be shaped in the image of the strong (male) leaders whose qualities ensured that a nomadic group thrived..

Settled, agricultural communities saw the land they occupied as central to their existence. Their loyalty and their relationship was first of all to the land they occupied. Instead of viewing the environment as something separate from themselves that they could exploit, they saw themselves as part of a larger whole that included the environment. Their gods tended to be nurturing mother figures.

These fundamentally different attitudes are reflected today in the split between the "environmentalists" and the "scientists". They also mirror the great divide between the orthodox or exoteric forms of religion (nomadic) and the esoteric or mystical strand (settled).

There is of course no question that technology has allowed massive exploitation of the earth's resources and placed the benefits of that exploitation firmly with western civilisation, where a tiny fraction of the earth's population consumes the vast majority of its production.

Do we assume, then, because the exploitive "scientific" model has brought us all these obvious benefits, that it is superior? Or are we looking at a person who has jumped off a skyscraper, and comes to believe on his way to the ground that he has discovered how to fly.

So successful has science been in defining itself as the only way to know anything worthwhile, that most of us look in puzzled bewilderment at the "greens" when they try to get their message across to us. We regard with scorn Maori who are content to let land lie fallow or even revert to gorse and scrub. Why are the "lazy bastards" not exploiting it, making it work for them? Why are they not pouring on fertiliser and weedkiller? (Some are doing just this, mind you.)

As Higgins asked his famous question, "Why cant a woman be more like a man?" we want to know why Maori and aborigines do not do more to "fit in" and be more like Europeans. Why are "greens" - "tree-huggers" - often so opposed to the effects of "science" when it has produced such obvious benefits for us?

Campbell points to the Hebrews and to the ten commandments. Consider, he says, the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The chapter which follows straight afterwards in the Bible lists a whole series of offences for which the penalty is death. And the Bible stories of the wars fought by the children of Israel show quite clearly that the commandment did not apply if one was killing the enemies of Israel. (Nor does it apply today, for that matter.)

The commandment, and presumably the rest of the commandments as well, are clearly not intended to apply universally, or absolutely, but only among those who are part of a defined group, God's "chosen people". (There are, of course, inclined to be problems when two groups with conflicting interests each believe themselves to be the sole "chosen of God", and entitled on that account to destroy His enemies.)

"Good" for the children of Israel was purely the good of the in-group. "Good" in the Old Testament was purely the good of the nomad, exploiting his environment for the benefit of himself, his family and his tribe. Good, in the United States at present tends to be whatever suits the interests of the Republican fundamentalists who run the White House.

So it's quite OK, then, on these terms, to covet somebody's wife, or his horse or his ass, or his oilfield, just so long as it isn't your neighbour's.

Christ used the parable of the Good Samaritan to ask, "Who is your neighbour?" and so illustrate the new message he was bringing about oneness.

The basic assumption of the nomadic outlook is that the rest of the world - or as much as can be controlled - exists for the benefit of the in-group, and western "Christian" civilisation has grown up in this tradition. The Inquisition is part of it. Colonialism fits right into it. Slavery fits perfectly. The existence for a time in Australia of a bounty for the killing of aborigines is completely in line with it. And with a terrible irony, the holocaust is also completely consistent with this attitude.

It doesn't take a lot of thought to realise that widening the in-group to include aborigines or Maori does nothing to change the fundamentally exploitive attitudes that direct the activities of an in-group.

(I do not address the question at this point whether Maori and aborigines are necessarily happy to become honorary whites.)

I picked up a soccer ball belonging to my son the other day, Lotto brand, made in China. A small panel on the ball proclaimed "PRODUCED WITHOUT THE USE OF CHILD LABOUR". What do we assume, then, about the thousands of Asian-sourced items that do not carry such a panel.

No child-labour sweatshops for our aborigines and our Maori. No, Sir!!

No jobs either... We can get manufactured goods dirt cheap by exploiting "third world" labour sources where the rules about industrial pollution, minimum wages, workplace safety, and child labour are pretty much non-existent. (We can even kid ourselves that we are bringing them prosperity by putting work their way.)

What "scientists" and those who employ them have yet shown little inclination to recognise or acknowledge is that we are fast running out of environment- and people - to exploit and move on from. We are running out of resources to mine and we are running out of places to dump our toxic chemical and radioactive industrial waste. We are already beginning to see the end of many of our natural energy resources and the effects of technological pollution are beginning to be widely visible in our waterways and in the air we breathe.

50 years ago, I caught whitebait with my father in the Waikato River. We lowered a horizontal white painted board some 600-750 mm into the water and watched for the whitebait to cross it and then netted them. Today, at that depth, such a board is all but invisible in the murky river water.

Inasfar as "scientists" relate to this problem at all, they tend to see it as a problem at which even more technology and science should be thrown. They simply cannot think outside of the limits of their model. And unfortunately they are likely to be making the decisions.

How can a model which is fundamentally and basically exploitive produce a solution which is non-exploitive. How can a model which is fundamentally and basically exploitive produce a solution which does not further compound the problem.

(One of the payoffs of getting into space on a large scale would be an almost infinitely exploitable resource and an almost infinite dumping ground.)

So what is the alternative? What might the other religious strand have to offer us? (Dammit - it's there, it might be useful. We might be able to exploit it!) Yeah?

Obviously it is not present in as unified or consistent or systematic a fashion as the beliefs which underpin western - and Islamic - civilisation and belief systems. Nor is the tradition commonly present in any kind of pure form, or completely free of in-group elements. As I remarked earlier, it tends to be separate from tribal concerns. It features a primary relationship between an individual and the land he occupies. A shared relationship, but an individual one nevertheless.

It ranges through ancient western fertility religions, the pre-colonial traditions of America, Africa, India, Polynesia, and the Far East, (the "undeveloped" world) to modern mystical and Buddhist traditions.

Firstly, it is non-exploitive. It is inclusive. It does not of itself set up an in-group. It is in touch with the concept that we are all one people; and not just one people, we are all one creation.

How do we then approach something that we are not going to make use of - that might indeed make use of us? How do we approach something that does not recognise an "other" which we can use or exploit for our benefit? How do we deal with something that does not acknowledge an "in-group", that functions collectively within each of us?

From this point of view the activities of the exploiters are like the activities of a cancer in the human body, draining the body of resources to feed the proliferating cancer cells until the body dies and the cancer with it.

Secondly, this spiritual strand typically includes ways of knowing and communicating that are non-rational, beyond the resources of spoken and written language. The primary skill is the skill of listening, of paying attention to the still small voice that links the mystic with the wider creation of which (s)he is a part. If language joins someone to his social group, and allows him to communicate with it, we need to ask what it is that joins a man to the land he occupies, and allows him to communicate with that.

Thirdly, there is typically a reverence for the elements which make up this wider creation, a sense that they too are alive and participating in what is going on. And alive in their own right, not simply as some kind of subordinate, subhuman, and therefore inferior consciousness. In the west, St Francis of Assisi probably best embodies this awareness, this reverence, (so long as we avoid making of him a capering Walt Disney or Doctor Doolittle figure, harmless in his cuteness.)

I have written about this split in religious consciousness before, and used the parable of the prodigal son to represent the spiritual journey of mankind from oneness to exploitive separation and eventual bankruptcy, and back to oneness. But recall that in the story of the prodigal son, the elder son remained behind with his father and their servants. So has the home of the mystical tradition been present throughout history, awaiting the return of the western prodigal.

As practitioners of natural health care, we draw extensively on the wisdom of this second holistic tradition. We should be wary of demands that we necessarily be "scientific" in everything we do.

We should instead be asking scientists and their spokesmen to demonstrate rigorously - in a fashion that satisfies the demands of a mystical consciousness - WHY theirs is the only way of knowing. We should even perhaps ask Higgins why he himself should not be more like a woman.



A Hands Off Guide to Spiritual Healing

Our freedom, in the very movements in which it asserts itself, creates budding habits which will stifle it, if it does not renew itself by constant effort.

Evelyn Underhill

The Abyss

The Man on the Cross

Frying Pan's Theology

In a time of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, forest fires, heatwaves, freezes, and tsunamis....

Beyond Darwin - which is even further out than back of Bourke

God and...

It all started...

Back of Beyond

Mysticism and Magic

At the House of Simon the Leper


The Siddhis

The Fall


Angels and Ministers of Grace


The Word of God

The Word of God II

The Word of God III

Scientists are Sinners

Why Can't a Woman

Precious Moments

Random Jottings

'Tis the Season