February 22, 2007

No, It's SIX Bananas!

Quite a while back, I decided to do something about my habit of waking up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea only (you knew this was coming) to forget it by morning: I started keeping a notebook and pen beside the bed, available for immediate use In Case of Genius.

Sure enough, my subconsious brilliance flared again that night, but this time I was quick enough to capture lightning in its bottle. And what lightning it was! I have no qualms about telling you: it was The Cure.

No, not them (though that would be pretty cool). It was the cure, the solution to all problems plaguing mankind! War. Famine. Disease. this, I was sure, was the Grand Unified Theory of anthropology.

I wrote down this ultimate pancea, certain in the knowledge that my place in history as the saviour of mankind was now assured, if only I could get enough people to realize it. The next morning, I reviewed what would be the most complicated demands ever made upon society. It read:

Eat six bananas!

Clearly, some steps were missing; but I've never been able to decide what they were, and so we struggle on to this day.

I still keep the notebok beside my bed, but my hubris has been reduced a few notches.

And yet, and yet...

In January, President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia declared that he could cure AIDS. How, exactly? Like this:

"From the pockets of his billowing white robe, Gambia's president pulls out a plastic container, closes his eyes in prayer and rubs a green herbal paste into the ribcage of his patient. He then orders the thin man to swallow a bitter yellow drink, followed by two bananas."

There was a time when kings were thought to have healing powers (specifically of scrofula), as they were the chosen by God (natch'). The attention was on the king himself, leaving those who flocked to him to be anonymous when they arrive, and anonymous when they leave. Whether the supplicants were actually cured or not is utterly uninteresting; the story is in the attempt.

The practice continues, of course, among several well known scam artists around the world. But this is one of the few times an actual king has made the claim in recent years for a recent disease. Since it is a member of royalty making the claim, and the insistence that prayer be part of it, defenders of his claim are going to be easy to find.

This is the genius of Magical Thinking. His claim of using seven plants ("three of which don't come from Gambia") and the Koran to cure AIDS is bad enough; but who in a desperate time is going to criticise him? If you doubt the veracity of the cure, then you either doubt the Royal Blood (bad), the "natural wisdom" of plants (bad BAD), or the power of God to heal (potentially fatal)!

AIDS affects more than one percent of the tiny nation's population, and the World Health Organisation observers are growing alarmed at his statements, especially that the "patients" have to stop taking any other medications. When South African Minister of Health (Manto Tshabalala-Msimang) made the claim that garlic, beet root and lemon juice was more effective than drugs, she was widely ridiculed for it (of course, she also thinks that AIDS was introduced to Africa by the Illuminati, so...). But she was only a minister in a democracy (even if she is married to the treasurer of the ANC); again, who is going to dare to criticise a sovereign using prayer?

When people ask "what harm is there in someone believing in the supernatural", I can only point to what can only be considered an unholy combination of ignorance, desperation, and wish fulfillment and ask in turn if the anonymous deaths piling up is sufficient harm.

If anyone thinks that this "remedy" is going to cure anything, they're dreaming.


posted by Thursday at 7:16 pm


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