The Healing Professions, Human Freedom and The Social Good: Book Burning and the Psychic Depravity of Authoritarianism

From their heights the Gods reach down into the ocean of humanity and feel the warmth of love. We know that the Gods lack something when man does not live in love. The more human love there is on earth the more food for the Gods there is in heaven; the less love there is, the more the Gods hunger. – (Rudolf Steiner – GA 105 – Universe, Earth and Man: IX – Stuttgart, 13th August 1908)

Those who are genuinely engaged in the healing professions have an absolute and unshakeable responsibility to perpetuate and promote health, harmony, love, truth, and justice in the world. Medicine is to be practiced in the service of The Good. The primary task of a healing professional is to work for the benefit of humankind, to promote the flourishing of life, to alleviate suffering to whatever extent they possibly can, and to allow for individuals and communities to reach their highest potentials in body, mind, soul, and spirit. It is incumbent upon healers to cultivate the courage to heal in themselves and in their patients, for it is no small responsibility to help the sick and requires nothing less than unwavering and unfaltering devotion.

It is untoward for healers to perpetuate lies, illusions, and false-truths. Lies and illusions affect human beings in very deep ways, and are in fact the underlying cause of a great many illnesses and states of dis-ease. Our soul life becomes greatly compromised when we are fed unlawful images or repeatedly exposed to deceptive and manipulative words. Such impressions that are marked with the insignia of their own falsity and untruth create unconscious disharmonic resonance patterns that affect the entire organism in very adverse ways. Unlawful images direct the soul away from what is good, beautiful and true in nature, and this inevitably leads to states of malaise, characterized by mental instability and tendencies to violence. The healing of the soul and the healing of nature both require that we pay attention to the flow of inner images, and learn to be guided by true Imagination, which is integral to our capacity for genuine love and devotion.

True Imagination is also what allows us to feel into the inner experience of another, to demonstrate empathy. Rudolf Steiner taught that empathy is a prerequisite for true healing. Healing must start with empathy, for it is empathy that allows one to generate an understanding of and feeling for another person’s underlying circumstances and condition. It is empathy that teaches and allows us to metabolize another’s experience, and to recognize what it is that needs to be healed in them.

The Controversy

Recently, a massive controversy has erupted in the international online herbal medicine community. An article written by Stephen Harrod Buhner entitled ‘The Day The Woke Mob Came for the Herbalist’ is what sparked this controversy. This article is available here for anyone who cares to read it.

Many people took issue with Buhner’s article for a variety of different reasons, and many adamantly supported and promoted his views. It is not my prerogative here to explore what Buhner is or is not saying in this piece. Both sides of the divide have ended up accusing each other of misunderstandings, exaggerated and false opinions, distortions of reality, misconstruals of history, inflated egos, and all the rest of it. A condition of disharmony was created that is now reflecting negatively on the herbal community as a whole. We are dealing with a pathology that has infected the psychic life of our profession, and which has adversely affected the capacity of many to exhibit truth, empathy and understanding.

Irrespective of what Buhner said in his article, he had the absolute right to say it. If you disagree with his words, or the words of any other author, then there are a number of legitimate ways of voicing your opinion, and of raising critical opposition. It is through such civil debate and dialogue that we are able to strive towards the ideal of an enlightened society, as the philosopher Immanuel Kant understood it:

“Enlightenment is the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another” (Immanuel Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment?’).

Rigorous public dialogue and debate, with the aim of arriving at truth, is what allows for enlightened self-understanding to emerge in a social world. Censorship, and the negation of free speech, is inherently opposed to this ideal of communal truth making. When one speaks or acts in the public sphere they are accountable to all, for they are acting as a member of “the society of the citizens of the world” (ibid). We all must take full account of our words, for our capacity to speak freely carries with it immense responsibility.

The Freedom of Speech

One of the greatest negations of free speech and the perpetuation of authoritarian censorship is to be found in the act of burning books. This is how one herbalist of Toronto decided to respond to Stephen Buhner’s article. Book burnings have been carried out by some of the most despicable parties in world history, including the Nazis and the Hitler Youth, Mao Zedong (as part of his Cultural Revolution), and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (who in 1956 burnt the publications of Dr. Wilhelm Reich). Many other examples can be given to illustrate just how pernicious the act of book burning is, and how it serves as an assault against the pursuit of freedom, truth and justice. The motivations and values behind book burning are diametrically opposed to the motivations and values that a true healer should always and in all circumstances maintain and serve to uphold.

As medical professionals, we must stand against all that which is opposed to harmony and freedom. If we fail to do so, then we have clearly lost sight of the true aims of healing. I have written this article today so that we may remind ourselves of our true responsibilities as healers, and serve to uphold our integrity in the face of a world that is falling ever more quickly into the threat of fascism and authoritarian modes of social control.

Psychic depravity inevitability emerges from totalitarianism and the drive to eradicate human freedom. And as the Jewish American poet H.D. expressed it:

Though the burning of books remains

The most perverse gesture

(H.D., The Walls do not Fall (1944)).

As healers our most important responsibility is to support and uphold the true, the beautiful, and the good. As healers we must learn to cultivate unconditional empathy, for if we fail to do so then we have fallen short of the true potentials of our healing arts. Modern pharmaceutical medicine, as Martin Miles has written,

“was born from war, and it is a fact that everything in existence carries with it the spirit prevailing at the time of its creation. Everything in the seed will be carried forth to the plant and the subsequent fruit… Fear is the weapon that spreads dependence on the system amongst the people” (Martin Miles, ‘Homeopathy and Human Evolution’).

It is empathy that truly distinguishes the healer from the unfeeling and insensitive medical technician. It is empathy that distinguishes holistic medical systems that support the flourishing of life from those that serve to merely suppress disease. Empathy allows our medicine to unleash human potential, allows our medicine to be a celebration of the freedom in health. As healers we must never forget: there can be no love where there is fear.