Yasser Farres Delgado
HAVANA TIMES — A resolution recently passed by the Cuban Ministry of Health (MINSAP) establishing natural and traditional medicine as a new medical specialty that can comprehensively and holistically address health problems has given rise to a curious debate. Not only is this decision the result of almost two decades of experience in the implementation of different kinds of traditional therapies in Cuban medical centers, it is also in tune with the trans-disciplinary approach that has been gradually gaining ground in Western academia.
Although many are the practices that fall into the “natural” and “traditional” categories, homeopathy is probably the one that has been questioned the most by men and women of conventional science, whose mentality is still tied to the modern rational/reductionist logic that continues to prevail in Western medical sciences. These are the people who have put forward opinions of this sort: “The active principle of homeopathy is groundless,” “Homeopathy is a scam”, “Its effect is no better than a placebo,” among others.
Interestingly, and in contrast with those opinions, there are various universities in the world that recognize the validity of homeopathy. The University of Barcelona, for instance, offers a Homeopathic Medicine Master’s program. Additionally, scientific databases like Elsevier or Scopus, which are widely recognized by the international scientific community, have acknowledged the scientific worth of certain journals of homeopathic medicine. The American Journal of Homeopathy, for example, has remained between the first and second quartiles of the SCOPUS ranking for ten years, while Spain’s Revista Medica de Homeopatia (Journal of Homeopathic Medicine) and Italy’s Revue d’Homeopathie (Homeopathy Journal) have been also making progress.
To contribute to the debate about this new MINSAP resolution, I would like to put forth some ideas that seek to go beyond the narrowness of the arguments dealing with “laboratory tests” and “clinical trials”. My aim is to promote an ethical debate on the control of knowledge in Cuban sciences, a discussion that, judging for the lack of academic freedom –there is no freedom of thought, nor many other freedoms- doesn’t seem to have taken place.
I would like to begin with a reminder: that modern science (scientists) invested itself with the knowledge authority it enjoys today thanks to power relations that were consolidated during the Enlightenment. This has been explained by many authors, including Cuban Hiram Hernandez, whose article on the issue (2005) is not very well known. The abovementioned relations had their origin in the expansion of Catholicism, and the colonization of the world by the West (see Grosfoguel, 2013). Less has been written about these links, and it’s therefore more important to divulge them.
Science in general, and the medical sciences in particular, are inheritors of the Cartesian rational method, which would come to be imposed as the only reliable knowledge method. In his “Discourse on Method”, Descartes laid out the foundations that justify the authority of Western scientific knowledge (modern knowledge, that is) over any other kind of knowledge. What Decartes proposes, grosso modo, is that, in order to generate “real knowledge”, we must isolate ourselves from any previous knowledge (solipsism) and distrust all of our senses (dualism).
There are two important consequences to Descartes’ proposal: (1) it denies all the knowledge previously generated by all the cultures of the world in its entirety; and (2) he attributes himself the capacity to generate a knowledge that should be considered universal and, therefore, accepted by everyone. He thus sets the philosophical and scientific basis by virtue of which Western thought and Western science attribute themselves the capacity to generate the only possible true knowledge (see Grosfoguel, 2008).
What conditions converged for this global power relation in the field of knowledge (colonization of knowledge) to consolidate itself after Descartes? What conditions favored such an arrogant attitude? How could anyone deny the possibility of generating valid knowledge by other means, through a different approach, different from that of the “scientific method”?
To answer these questions, it is important to understand how all the other kinds of knowledge were silenced or eliminated, and that opposing opinions were not allowed. One must not lose sight of the great genocides/“epistemocides” of the 16th century: the ancestral knowledge European women had of nature (the properties of herbs, potions, etc.), acquired through their role as caregivers, was banned as “witchcraft” by the Catholic Church – and its bearers were burnt at the stake; the knowledge gathered by the Islamic culture was also destroyed by the Catholic Church (the libraries of the Caliphate of Cordoba were destroyed and the books burnt); thousands of codex and quipus were destroyed in the New World, and the indigenous cultures that created them were annihilated; and so on and so forth (see Grosfoguel, 2013).
Modern scientists were also in the sights of the Catholic Church, or rather, of the patriarchal hierarchy that took over Catholicism. In fact, Descartes was forced to explain in writing that his ideas did not contradict the existence of God, and that God was the ultimate source of knowledge. The same happened to Newton and many others well into the 19th century, when the Catholic Church started to decline.
How is this connected to homeopathy and the dilemmas of Cuban science? I’m running out of space, and, therefore, I will continue to explain my ideas at another time. All I’m going to say for now is that what I’m putting forth is not taught in the courses Cuban scientists pursue for their training.
- Dussel, Enrique (2008). Meditaciones anti-cartesianas: sobre el origen del anti-discurso filosófico de la Modernidad, Tabula Rasa, 9, 153-197. Bogotá – Colombia ISSN: 0120-4807
- Grosfoguel, Ramón (2008). Hacia un pluri-versalismo transmoderno decolonial. Tabula Rasa, 9: 199-215. Bogotá – Colombia, ISSN: 1794-2489.
- Grosfoguel, Ramón. (2013). Racismo/sexismo epistémico, universidades occidentalizadas y los cuatro genocidios/epistemicidios del largo siglo XVI.Tabula Rasa, (19), 31-58.
- Hernández Castro, Hiram (2005). Poder-saber: una ciencia política de la liberación.La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.