I don’t think I’ve written the word ‘procrustean’ since my A-level religious studies exam, so I’m delighted to finally get it into my writing again.
The word come from Procrustes of Greek myth, a name which means “the stretcher”. To be procrustean means to decide on your theory, then stretch even contradictory evidence to fit it.
Faced with terrible famine and natural disasters, a religious procrustean might say: “It’s supposed to happen, God has a plan,” rather than question their own faith.
Faced with evidence that the universe is many billions of years old, a creationist procrustean might say: “God created the universe to look that old.”
Procrusteanation is a word I just made up. It means the act of being procrustean. Well if others can invent stuff and call it true, why can’t I?
I first came across MaxAwareness via a ‘documentary’ someone (sensitively) sent me a week after my incurable brain tumour diagnosis: Cancer Is Curable Now!
It has to be seen to be believed. Or not believed… (Watch the trailer to get the general gist).
It is a nearly two-hour polemic about how my doctors hate me and want me to die; how they’ll force me to undergo toxic chemotherapy and radiotherapy that is more likely to kill me than the cancer; that governments and Big Pharma don’t want to cure cancer, because it would harm their power and profits.
The real way to reduce cancer risk and cure it (NOW!) is complementary and alternative medicine, as well as taking nutritional supplements and positive thinking. I suspect sticking coffee up your backside is involved somewhere: the grey haired lady in the video is Charlotte Gerson).
The people behind this video sell access to a special membership website, and offer their own 10 Step Action Plan to ‘Truly Heal’ yourself.
Naturally, I signed up to the mailing list. I’m half working on a book about the ‘cancer cult’: the seeming loss of rationality encouraged by the disease. The “well, you’ve just got to try anything haven’t you?” reaction of some people.
So when MaxAwareness hosted a workshop in London, I booked a place.
It wasn’t that I wanted to catch them breaking the law (it’s illegal in the UK to promote cancer cures that don’t work). Nor to execute some kind of journalistic sting on hope pedlars.
I just wanted to understand what made these people tick.
Why were they so adamant that conventional and proven treatments for cancer were wrong, while their unproven methods were right? Were they in it to make a quick buck? Or just deluded souls genuinely wanting to help?
And what about the people who went along to the workshop? How willing were they to leave rationality behind in the face of their own or a loved one’s disease?
A few days before, the organisers emailed to say that their original venue had been cancelled. The hotel feared their workshop might contravene UK law. The event booking site had also been withdrawn, for the same reason.
It’s OK, though. Marcus Freudenmann – the guy behind MaxAwareness – had found a new venue. But from now on the workshop wasn’t about cancer, it was about – nudge nudge – Inadequate Defence Syndrome (IDS).
“Guess what…..,” said his email. “There is no law against IDS. There is not even a regulation against promoting an IDS workshop in London.”
The truth is the workshop was not enlightening, or eye opening, or even enraging. It was just utter nonsense. Like an episode of Vic Reeves Big Night Out, only not funny. Just laughable.
Marcus Freudenmann – who did talk about cancer, and frequently – made the most ludicrous statements about what caused the disease and how we should change our lives to lower our risk. Not once did he mention a credible study or any evidence that what he was saying was true.
It was as if the norms of medicine and science didn’t matter because this is CANCER we’re talking about.
And the most ludicrous thing was this: the audience just nodded along in agreement. Not a critical question, nor a challenge. A couple even hummed their assents after he spoke, like he was a Baptist minister and they were following up with a rousing ‘hallelujah’.
Suncream causes skin cancer. Your cells don’t grow during the daytime. Turn off the power in your house at night. TV causes cancer. Mattress springs reflect cancer causing radiation. Negative thoughts can cause cancer. So can not having a purpose. So can being stressed.
And how to prevent cancer – er, sorry – Immune Deficiency Syndrome?
Everything you eat should be green. And/or juiced. And/or organic. Never wrapped in plastic. And you should only eat your green, juiced vegetables from an organic farm if you’ve actually gone to the farm to inspect how they go about growing the stuff.
That means without toxic things like tractors that run on fossil fuels, or pesticides, or near metal or electricity pylons.
Oh, and regularly take nutritional supplements. (I did expect an up-sell here, but admittedly none came before I left).
The general attitude was that cancer never just happens. It must have been caused by something.
You didn’t eat right. You lived too close to power lines. You used your mobile phone. You didn’t take enough exercise. You didn’t juice your broccoli. You used your computer too much. You didn’t sleep enough and when you did, you slept on a mattress.
Essentially, it’s your fault. And only you can put it right.
There wasn’t one thing anyone could have said that would have led to Marcus Freudenmann admitting cancer is sometimes just really bad luck.
In fact, even if you were squeaky clean, living in an isolated tree house, meditating every day surrounded by scented candles, your cancer could still be the result – he claimed – of your parents, or even their parents, and their cancer causing lifestyles.
This is the ultimate in procrusteanation. You just can’t win.
I actually quite liked the guy. He was funny and charismatic. He may speak absolute bullshit, but he says it with conviction. I also noticed he had a satisfyingly round pot-belly, and a mobile phone of his own. The lights were on, and his seminar was being recorded. Presumably to be watched on some kind of non-cancer causing TV or computer somewhere.
I didn’t find anything about the workshop menacing or outrageous or criminal. There was no masterminding of some snake oil scam.
It was just one big joke.
It was a room full of people, of all ages and colours, hanging out in their own particular church. All with their own stupid beliefs, preaching to each other.
It would be very hard to claim this nonsense was preying on or exploiting vulnerable people.
There are thousands upon thousands of people in the UK affected by cancer. There were just 60 of us in this cheap to rent hall. We all signed our disclaimer before we went in.
Selling a cure for cancer may be illegal, but sharing your own stupid procrusteanation is not. If it was, the police would have very busy Sunday mornings every single week.
This I firmly believe. Nothing you can say will change my mind.
For the record, according to Cancer Research UK, there is no evidence whatsoever that brain tumours are caused by lifestyle factors (diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol or anything similar). Nor is there even close to conclusive evidence that they are caused by pylons or using mobile phones.