Leath Tonino’s interview with David Mason [“The Molotov Cocktail of the Imagination,” April 2015] highlighted Mason’s reverence for life despite (and maybe because of) the inevitable suffering and disappointments we all face. He reminds us to enjoy natural beauty and spend less time pursuing material wealth. In essence, he expresses the wisdom of the great philosophers: psychic pain can be transformative when we accept it and continue to grow.
I grow more hesitant to read your interviews each month. Only a small number have been enlightening or entertaining, specifically the one with Pete Seeger [“The Word Gets Around,” May 2014]. Most are preachy and barely informative. Take Tracy Frisch’s interview with Daniel Lieberman [“Too Much of a Good Thing,” March 2015] for example. Sitting is bad for you? Fruit juice is “essentially bad for you”? Why do you consider this information worth printing?
If I followed the advice of every “expert” interviewed by The Sun, I’d be standing nude and half starved in a dark corner with my eyes shut and my hands over my ears. I’d rather sit back with a cocktail and some peanut-butter cups.
Daniel E. Lieberman responds:
Connor Meek’s instincts are a perfect illustration of the principle that we didn’t necessarily evolve to be healthy. But he mistakes offering information with preaching. I never said that people shouldn’t sit or drink juice. I hope he enjoys his cocktail and peanut-butter cups as much as I enjoy the many things I do that do not promote my own long-term health.
I recognized myself (an engineer on the obsessive-compulsive, left-brain end of the scale) and my former spouse (an artist on the emotional, right-brain end) in Lauren Slater’s essay “Bloodlines” [March 2015]. Our distorted perceptions of each other made it difficult to find common ground. After years with no relief, my wife summoned the courage to end our codependent relationship, resulting in a better quality of life for us and our family.
It is now twenty years after our divorce, and I still ask myself: What did my children learn about relationships from my first marriage? I sympathize with the Slater family. There are no easy answers.
Although my husband and I chose to remain childless, our marriage is quite similar to Lauren Slater’s. I thank her for articulating what has been happening in our relationship, and for helping me to stay in it despite its imperfections. My spouse and I resemble roommates more than we do a married couple, but we have remained friends, and I would be lost without him. As I get older I am learning to treasure that friendship.
My favorite essays in The Sun tend to be about married couples. I am twenty-four and dream of getting married someday, and these essays either give me hope, as Beth Alvarado’s “Stars and Moons and Comets” [December 2014] did, or provide fodder for my deepest fears, the way Lauren Slater’s “Bloodlines” has. I watched my mother go through two divorces: the first from my father, who came out of the closet in his late thirties, and the second from my alcoholic stepfather. I finally have the courage to say that I was emotionally abused in past relationships. I have also had partners, even ones who abused me, show me kindness and love.
I’m currently dating someone who seems like a good man. We’re still getting to know each other, but every time I’m with him, I wonder if he’s the one. I just hope I can be as brave as the married people who write for The Sun.
At the end of Jim Ringley’s “What You Don’t Know for Certain” [March 2015], I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. He describes his pain and frustration so vividly. There is beauty in the essay as well: not holding on to animosity, letting go, acceptance.
As an organic gardener for more than thirty years, I agree with everything Stephen Harrod Buhner said in Akshay Ahuja’s interview with him [“Living Medicine,” December 2014]. I have seen how government agencies, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals use pesticides to eradicate what they consider to be invasive species, with little care as to how other plants, fish, insects, and humans are affected. If only people were connected to the trees, plants, and dirt, our lives would be more enriched and healthier.
At my herb gardens, I use homegrown teas to heal myself — a continual process of learning and growing. I could go on, but I have to get back to tapping our maple trees and boiling down the sap.
As an ER physician, I found many of Stephen Harrod Buhner’s views on Western medicine resonated with my own, but I am disappointed with his lack of knowledge regarding its scope and accomplishments. Buhner’s concern with medicine’s overuse of antibiotics is justified (although the larger problem is agriculture’s rampant abuse of them); however, sober investigation by trained experts is needed, not his cable-news-style propaganda: “Technological medicine will return . . . to the nineteenth century. . . . Diseases will come back with a vengeance.” He goes on to claim that “the one thing modern medicine is good at is trauma.” What about the endocrine system? Would he watch a diabetic die in ketoacidosis? Or the renal system? What does he recommend his mother do if her kidneys fail? (I don’t have space to address every organ system.) “Technological” medicine isn’t limited to distributing antibiotics. The idea that natural herbs, meditation, and diet will lead to good health makes sense, but implementing these is difficult. Try telling a morbidly obese, poorly educated patient to meditate, fast, and chew some garlic to lower his blood pressure. But an affluent yuppie like myself may be amenable to such therapy. The big issues have more to do with economics, culture, social structure, and education than Buhner allows.
Moreover, a patient’s role in his or her own healing is recognized in Western medicine. Like Buhner, the medical community rejects the idea that mind and body are separate entities. New sub-studies of medicine, such as psychoneuroimmunology, look into the immune system’s response to the nervous system and stress. Epigenetics examines how changes in mood and lifestyle can affect DNA. Behavioral medicine acknowledges that what people believe and how they live profoundly affects their health.
Buhner is right that people need to be more aware of this beautiful world and to live more in harmony with it if humanity is to survive in the long run; however, we need to do so intelligently. We live in a world we cannot comprehend in all its complexity, but we are capable of understanding a lot of it. Rather than engage in vague arguments regarding things that can’t be known, we should strive to understand what we can by using our wonderful human minds, hard work, and a bit more intellectual honesty.
Stephen Harrod Buhner responds:
It is a common strategy, when discussing technological medicine’s limits, for its proponents to use slight of mouth techniques to alter the conversation’s point, focusing instead on medicine’s successes while emphasizing the limits and failures of other systems. Unfortunately it often works. Nevertheless, Dr. Severy and I are talking about two different things. Technological medicine has a great many useful aspects to it, as I continually note in my books. But that is not the point. The point, as a majority of people in this country know, is rather that the medical system in the United States is broken. Further, the purpose of the U.S. medical system is, contrary to its proponents’ assertions, not healing the sick. Its purpose is profit. If this were not so, then medical costs would not be one of the major causes of bankruptcy in the U.S. Obamacare would be single-payer, not the mess that was created to enrich insurance companies. And acupuncturists, midwives, massage therapists, traditional-Chinese-medicine practitioners, chiropractors, nutritionists, herbalists, and other nontechnological healers would not have had to deal with continual accusations of quackery and years of court battles in order to practice. Dr. Severy is part of a medical-industrial-pharmaceutical complex whose purpose is to control the healing approaches that may be used in this country in order to maximize its profits. There are hundreds of studies confirming the problems within the medical-industrial-pharmaceutical complex. High among them are the lack of innovation in the profession, excessive costs, poor outcomes, and, most egregiously, a generalized contempt among many physicians for their patients.
As to psychoneuroimmunology, I studied with the founders of psychoneuroimmunology (who were attacked for years as quacks) in the late 1970s and have used it for more than thirty years in my work. I can tell you exactly how many medical professionals in my town use it in their practice: zero. Nationally less than 1 percent do. It is all very well to throw out assertions about how amazing the medical profession is, but it is not the reality that most patients encounter. I know. I have worked for decades now with patients who have been damaged and even abandoned by the medical system. (The average number of doctors seen before an accurate diagnosis of Lyme disease, for example, is four; the average time to appropriate treatment is 47.3 months; 15 percent of the infected have continuing neurological problems. Nearly all of them are told by their doctors that it is all in their heads.) Oh, and regarding Dr. Severy’s comment that “sober investigation by trained experts is needed, not his cable-news-style propaganda”: my sources for those statements are Brad Spelling (Infectious Diseases Society of America), Dame Sally Davies (Chief Medical Officer of England), Stuart Levy (Tufts University), David Livermore (Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring and Reference Laboratory, UK), and material carefully hidden in several hundred peer-reviewed journal articles.
I’ve been reading and subscribing to The Sun sporadically since the early eighties, and I pass each issue on to others after I finish it. Recently the magazine has been arriving in my mailbox with the pages already folded back and smudged by fingers. It appears that someone in the post office reads it before delivering it to me. So I, too, am receiving a passed-on copy!