The Purity Ethic

It’s fairly frequent that I come across something that I can’t finish reading because I am angered by it. It’s a lot less frequently that I find myself unable to finish reading something because I am viscerally disturbed by it. That’s exactly what happened last week when I heard about Miracle Mineral Solution (commonly referred to as MMS). Like many New Age-style cure-alls, it claims to work by cleansing the body of toxic elements, and is used as a ‘treatment’ for pretty much anything. I won’t get into the problems with this product, since it’s pretty effectively covered elsewhere (short version–it’s bleach), but it’s one of many examples of the idea that purity staves off illness and/or misfortune.

Purification isn’t a new thing, the trappings just change. Today, two ways it pops up are to either not put certain things into ones body (artificial sweeteners or pharmaceuticals, for example) or removing substances from the body (MMS or chelation). This is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is largely with people looking for ways to control their lives, trying to avoid illness by only putting the ‘right’ things into their bodies, or removing the ‘wrong’ ones. By and large I don’t have major problems with the basic idea, but frequently it is used to peddle goods that are ineffective if not actively harmful, sometimes as a replacement for proven therapies, or just preventing people from accessing valuable resources. I’ve written before about how there is a major stigma against taking psychiatric medications, which often dissuades people from using treatments that might be very beneficial to them, and there is a sizable contingent of parents today who feel that it is better for their children to contract certain diseases than to be vaccinated against them.

In the end, it all comes back to a belief that the right sort of behaviour will protect a person from any type of misfortune. In the medical category we have homeopathy and other alternative remedies, in nutrition it’s natural foods, in sexuality we have the idea that dressing modestly enough will prevent sexual assault, and in religion it’s the idea that if one is ‘godly’ enough then ones deity of choice will create a perfect life for you. And in most cases, if something bad happens regardless, then you are blamed for not following the regimen perfectly enough. It’s an absurd and very dangerous No True Scotsman fallacy, in essence.

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