Wellness-To-Woo | Pushing the Wave


Opinion, 11 August 2023
by L.A. Davenport
Modern Medications
Modern medicine, often not designed for women.
This week I had an interesting opportunity to return to something I had observed during the various lockdowns for the COVID-19 pandemic, and had continued to preoccupy me on and off ever since.

Each case seemed like an isolated incident from the outside, but the more I talked to people about their experiences with their close, particularly older, friends and loved ones, the more it became apparent that there was, during the worst of our confinement from society, a significant shift in some people’s relationship with the outside world.

Let me give you an example.

Before the pandemic struck, Felicity* was an outgoing, curious and overall content woman in her early 70s.

She was prone to bouts of depression from time to time, and she had a suspicion of received wisdom and orthodoxy, but her beliefs in homeopathy, alternative medicine and what might one call fringe opinions were nothing too far from the ordinary.

The first lockdown affected us all, of course, in ways both predictable and unexpected. We all were surprised, I think, at the complexity and range of responses that we had to having our liberty taken away, and discovering, rather abruptly, that our sense of agency over our own lives was rather more conditional than we thought.

For many, especially those in work, the change in circumstances was stressful and required an awful lot of adaptability, but it nevertheless maintained, or even strengthened, our sense of place.

However, for people who already felt themselves to be more on the sidelines of life, isolation, doubt, fear and suspicion appear to have collided in an extremely unhelpful way, leaving many believing not only that they were no longer part of mainstream society but also that mainstream society itself posed a threat to them.

This appears to have created a susceptibility to conspiracy theories and ‘alternative’ ideas and narratives, which met with an ever-expanding stream of either deluded or cynical people online who were all too willing and able to tap into and exploit their fears.

This perfect storm seems, little by little, to have tipped them over the edge of a precipice, sinking them into radical, racist and, linguistically at least, violent ideas and beliefs that pushed them further and further away from their family and friends, and further and further into the arms of their would-be radicalisers.

In the case of Felicity, this meant that she became deeply depressed, talked darkly of all sorts of conspiracies (all palpably false), and lost her ability to connect with those around her.

She only stopped herself from repeating the worst of the things she had read and heard online simply because she could remember the limits of polite discourse, but it was clear that she was lost, in so many ways, and almost unrecognisable from the person she was before.

With the ending of the pandemic and the return to normal life, she has regain some of her prior personality but she no longer has her previous levity and joy in life. I wonder sometimes if it will ever return.

It is easy to dismiss that sort of journey as something seen only in young naïve men, who have yet to find their place in society and instead of tackling their doubts head-on seek solace in purveyors of magical thinking.

But what I am talking about here, and what a recent Guardian article so clearly laid bare, is nothing short of the radicalisation of “nice, middle-class, hippy-ish” people, via what they call a “‘wellness-to-woo pipeline’ – or even ‘wellness-to-fascism pipeline’,” in which people start with ideas and beliefs around healthy, if alternative, lifestyles and end up believing in conspiracy theories.

It doesn’t stop with a few videos shared among friends, either. One of the leaders of the German branch of the QAnon movement – a conspiracy founded on the belief that Donald Trump was doing battle with a cabal of Satanic paedophiles led by Hillary Clinton and George Soros, among others – was at first best known as the author of vegan cookbooks.

Similarly, Jacob Chansley, AKA the “QAnon shaman” – one of the most visible faces of the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, thanks to his face paint and horned headgear – is a practitioner of “shamanic arts” who eats natural and organic food, and has more than once been described as an “ecofascist”.

The Guardian suggests that the radicalisation of middle class women old enough to be their mothers may lie in looking at why women turn to wellness in the first place.

“Far too often, we blame women for turning to alternative medicine, painting them as credulous and even dangerous,” says Caroline Criado Perez, author of Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. “But the blame does not lie with the women – it lies with the gender data gap. Thanks to hundreds of years of treating the male body as the default in medicine, we simply do not know enough about how disease manifests in the female body.”

Women are overwhelmingly more likely than men to suffer from auto-immune disorders, chronic pain and chronic fatigue – and such patients often hit a point at which their doctors tell them there is nothing they can do. The conditions are under-researched and the treatments are often brutal. Is it any surprise that trust in conventional medicine and big pharma is shaken? And is it any surprise that people look for something to fill that void?

There is no getting away from it. Modern medicine is not only heavily male-centric but is also alienating and, at times, seems almost deliberately constructed to make patients feel intimated.

Everything from getting an appointment to having an operation or receiving chemotherapy is, by and large, arranged for the benefit of the institution and the people who work within it and not in order for the patient to feel calm and receptive, both of which are known to help the effectiveness of medicines and treatments.

One has a similar impression when flying on an aeroplane. It can be extremely disconcerting, as we find ourselves in unfamiliar spaces, looking for something with which we are not familiar, yet on which our plans for the coming days or weeks hang. This sense is magnified 100-fold in the healthcare environment.

All of this has fuelled a suspicion around medicine that has, in some cases, driven people away from healthcare and into the hands of those who would exploit, or at least would benefit, from their sense of doubt and bewilderment. They are seeking a sense of identity and place, and of respect as autonomous human beings.

In my opinion, if the medical world and its practitioners want to ask themselves why so many people seek out alternative medicines and end up falling into a radicalisation trap, they need do no more than look in the mirror.

*Name changed.

I also explored how wellness could lead to another kind of fascism in my novella
Sunlight by LA Davenport
This week has also been a celebration: I have published, after many years of it rolling around my mind, a new short story.

Sunlight is set in the 19th century tells the tale of an escapee dreaming of freedom as he tries to stay one step ahead of the slave catchers. You can read more about the genesis of the story here.

I am delighted to have published it now, as I have made significant progress with the follow-up to My Life as a Dog, including on working with the designer on the cover, and even on the book that will follow that. I can’t wait to share more news with you on those when the time comes.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Wellness-To-Woo | Pushing the Wave