As I sit in the grand study of the Riverside Manor, relaxing in an armchair in front of a roaring fire and sipping on a glass of brandy, my mind wanders back to a visit this humble sceptic paid to the Mind Body Spirit festival at the Sydney exhibition centre on the 21st of May, 2011.
More commonly known in the sceptical community as “Mind, Body, Wallet”, it is a festival where various alternative health practitioners, psychics, spiritual (cult) leaders, aura readers, astral projectors and purveyors of general nonsense gather to promote their wares and be among likeminded kooks. It is a generally relaxed atmosphere populated by hippies, young and old, who feel that there is more to reality than…reality. They generally feel that there is wisdom in beliefs that are not mainstream, that they are so much more ‘in touch’ with the world than everybody else. What I saw was a bunch of hipsters, all agreeing about how cool they were to be going against the mainstream ideology. They also happen to be wrong, but let me elaborate as to why.
I had spent the previous few days ruminating as to what the exhibition would be like. While I was fairly sure it would just be a bunch of stands filled with people trying to sell their hippy style wares, in the back of my mind I had this image of crowds of the craziest types – anti-vaxxers, hippy conspiracy theorists and the like – that would be very loud and very pushy about getting people to listen to them. Of course when I arrived, I was glad to find out it was the more realistic scenario that came to pass.
The day started off with the Non God Chick, the Skeptical Westie, Bea & I catching a train from our commune/holiday house/podcast headquarters into the city of Sydney. Upon arrival in the city, we travelled by foot to the exhibition centre where we met up with Bastard Sheep, a fellow sceptic/atheist in the Sydney scene. After paying the $18 for entry, we set our demeanours to ‘open & inviting’ and headed through the front doors.
The first thing I noticed as I walked in was that the set up for this expo was exactly the same as any motorcycle, tattoo or employment expo I had ever been to. Rows of stalls with printed signs above each declaring the theme of the quackery being sold, a stage in one corner to present lectures or performances, a canteen in another corner selling wildly overpriced/under nutritious food. It even had the bored looking exhibition centre staff that run the logistics of the building through each and every expo that goes through there.
Before I describe a few highlights of the day, I will quickly run through a list of kookiness that was on offer throughout the day:
· Fluoride filters
· Eternal Consciousness
· Compassion increasing exercises
· Name decoding
· Sound therapy
· Qi alignment
· Astrology charting
· Kinesiology mastering
· And many more
Honestly, if I listed all the things on offer and went into detail about how each one is described and how each is supposed to fulfil some empty part of your life, I would be at this computer for days on end and unfortunately I have a job that prevents me from doing that. All I need to say is that a large range of crap was on sale, a lot of which was contradicting other stuff around it (which didn’t seem to upset any of the hippy people, they were happy to trust it all to work).
One highlight from the day was the chiropractors. Both Bastard Sheep and myself decided to get a spinal alignment exam performed. This exam consisted of us standing on a small platform in front a wire frame that had string running across the front of it. Now, I don’t know what happened to Bastard Sheep, but I stood there for a grand total of 25 seconds before the woman examining my spine gave me my diagnosis – Apparently I have a curve above my hip on the left hand side and my left shoulder slouches down, which is the reason for all the headaches (which I don’t get, but she assumed I did) and sore arms (I lift patients and weights on a daily basis, could that maybe explain the feeling of exercised muscles?). I was then offered a $45 consultation, which was a one day offer compared to the normal $300 consultation. I ummed and ahhhed and finally said “No thanks.” My spine will keep for now, I think.
Another highlight was the stress test I was given by the Scientologists. Now out of fear of legal reprisal, I wish to say that the Church of Scientology is nothing less than the greatest thing to grace mental health and indeed mankind as whole since the beginning of time, or at least since Xenu sent us here on rocket ships and we crashed into the volcano and were released into the atmosphere as spirit things which then inhabited the bodies we now possess. At the same I would like to point out that while writing this I happen to be wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (just on a whim, no special reason why I am). So, anyway, I sat down with a kindly young man who asked me some questions about my personal life while I held two metal cylinders in my hands. As I responded to the questions posed, the cylinders would read my stress and transmit the stress as a current to a box which had a meter on it. The stress could then be measured so the Scientologist could tell what part of my life was making me stressful. I decided to see how much stress I had, so I answered all his questions truthfully and didn’t try to trick the machine. Questions about my love life, work life, friends and family were asked, I answered truthfully and the Scientology man was not happy. Despite admitting to some stressors in life (we all have them) I still came across as an incredibly relaxed, cool customer. The Scientology guy was not happy because he couldn’t convince me I needed help, as I didn’t need any (which is not something most mental health professionals would agree with). After brushing off his not-very determined sales pitch, I donned my sunglasses and strutted off into the distance.
A hilarious moment of anecdotal proof that a lot of this stuff doesn’t work was when we visited the herbal weed stand. This stand offered fake weed, herbal ecstasy and herbal acid. It also offered lollypops that were guaranteed to give a man some pep in his step. To awaken the sleeping serpent. To power up his magic wand. To light his fuse. To prime the purple headed yogurt slinger. To extend his IV pole. To re-vitalise his bottle brush….I’m sure you get my drift. Bastard Sheep stood up tall (using his spine and back muscles, not the dirty kind of ‘stood up tall’, you sickos) and declared “Challenge accepted!” For the next ½ an hour he sucked down on a treat (you people disgust me) and relayed information as to his…umm…erection status (I’m tired and can’t be bothered thinking of any humorous slang any more). Either Bastard Sheep is a liar, he suffers from impotency problems (sorry for outing that if it’s true dude) or the lollypops –shock horror! - didn’t work as they were advertised. Of course, as this is anecdotal proof and not true clinical data, I wouldn’t want to denigrate the name of ‘Happy High Herbs’ or whatever they are called. Scientifically based, clinical trials are a must if we are to conclusively disprove their claims.
I will just talk a little about my pet peeves when it comes to this hippy, alternative health, quackery scene. One argument that you get from nearly all the proponents of alternative health is that western, or ‘orthodox’ medicine is just a conspiracy by ‘Big Pharma’ (the pharmaceutical companies) and the government to take all your money, get votes and even control your thoughts/actions. Now while I agree that, yes, some medications are very expensive (manufacturing costs for uncommon medications are high, as are costs for clinical research), Medicare and/or private health insurance can subsidise a lot of the costs. If you are a sufferer of chronic health problems that require long term medication therapy, there is the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which brings the price of medicines down to make them more affordable. If you have a background which includes risk factors such as disability, mental illness or certain ethnicities you qualify for subsidies as well (for example, my great grandmother was a Wiradjuri tribe Aboriginal and as such I am genetically pre-disposed to certain health conditions such as heart disease and cancer, so I get cheap medications if I need them). My point is – you can be sick in this country and it won’t bankrupt you for treatments. Yet all these purveyors of crazy quack cures, who claim western medicine is about taking your wallets, aren’t exactly civic minded themselves. They charge up to and including a small fortune for untested, unproven miracle cures that don’t work. And you won’t be getting any subsidies from Medicare for that. If they truly held the cure to cancer, why not give it to all seekers of the cure? That would be more in keeping with the manner of brotherly love and spiritualism they all wank on about than the $300 information nights, followed up by $700 appointments weekly for 3 years.
Another thing that annoys me is the practices by outsiders that lend legitimacy (in the eyes of the public) to these quack treatments. For example, a particular private health insurance company had a stand at mind body wallet and were trying to flog health plans to believers in quackery. Now some people may think that if a health fund is there, there must be something to these treatments. While I can’t be certain, I am pretty sure the only quackery that health funds will rebate on is chiropractic. Speaking of which, another thing that makes Joe bloggs believe this stuff is real and scientific is the fact that chiropractic is now an occupation that you have to have AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) registration for, allowing it to join the likes of medicine, psychology, physiotherapy and, of course, my own particular specialty, nursing.
There is plenty more I can rage on about when it comes to Mind Body Spirit festival, but this post is already 2 weeks and too many words in the making. I will recommend that if you are in the mood for a laugh, a cry, an argument and some trolling – go check out mind body spirit. It’s on twice a year in Sydney.
The Reverend Doktor Bob.