Almost from its origin there have been eclectics in the medical profession. As the various schools of medicine arose and competed with each other for popular favor and acceptance, there were men who advocated selecting the best from each system. Lacking any valid principles to guide them in their selection, the selections of different men differed greatly. What one man selected as the best in a system, another man totally rejected. What one man regarded as good, another man regarded as bad. As there was no good in any of the medical systems, there was really no best to select.
In his Taming of the Shrew Shakespeare says that between rotten apples there is little to choose. The same principle is true when we attempt to choose between the different systems of medicine that have risen and flourished during the past 2,500 years. As most of these schools of healing have already passed to oblivion, we have no choice to make so far as they are concerned. In this country, at present, there may be a bagatelle of eclectic physicians still in practice; but their schools are all closed and no new eclectic physicians are being turned out. The same facts are true of the homeopaths, so far as this country is concerned. We have left only the allopathic or self-styled scientific school and an aggregation of herbalists, who struggle to keep alive the ancient practice of dosing the sick with what they call "natural medicines." In addition to these drugging practices, there are a number of schools that are more or less drugless, such as the osteopaths, the mechano-therapists, the chiropractors, the naturopaths, the naprapaths and the physio-therapists.
These schools of practice are all based on different principles or theoretical foundations and their practices are as wide apart as their foundations. It is impossible that any two of them shall be right. If one of them is right, all the others must be wrong. Any selecting that is done will simply mean a muddying of the waters. Instead of fortifying the school that borrows from the other school, its principles are compromised, its practices confused and its practitioners stultified.
Lacking any valid principle to guide him in his choice of the "best" in all systems, the eclectic is forced to rely upon what he calls his experience. He merely accepts from the other systems certain elements which appeal to his imagination or to his intelligence and adopts them in his practice. If they do not kill his patients, his experience convinces him that they are good and that he has made wise choices. Eclectics have been relying upon their experience ever since the first eclectic began the practice and their choosings have been as varied, as contradictory and as confusing as anything can conceivably be. Experience has proved to be a very unreliable guide.
Popularly it is accepted as a fact that the utility of any mode of caring for the sick is shown by its results. But results very obscurely indicate the value of the mode of treatment. In such a test, the varying powers of the living system, upon which the whole result depends, are never taken into account. By this test, all kinds of treatments have been shown to be highly efficacious--the properties of medicines and the properties of the living system have been confounded. The seeming has not been distinguished from the reality. The apparent and superficial occupy, in popular estimation, the place of the true and demonstrable; hence, the contendings of medical men about the value of valueless nostrums is interminable and the people join in the unprofitable wrangling.
Was not Trall right when he declared that man's experience "is not worth a straw. A man's experience tells him what he likes best, and this is always what his appetites have been most accustomed to, not what is best for him." No man's experience is worth anything if it conflicts with known principles. Unless interpreted in the light of correct principles, experience may be a very misleading guide. Experience is simply a groping in the dark--a feeling our way over obscure paths or trackless wildernesses, and wither she has led us, history has partially recorded. Not until correct principles strip the mists from our eyes and interpret our experiences can knowledge become systematic and reliable.
We do not want to be understood as disparaging the importance of human experience. It is the ultimate measure of truth, the basis of human knowledge, and yet it is valuable only when tested in the light of truth already established. Experience has been the recourse of the ignorant in all ages and every absurdity within the imagination of man has been practiced in obedience to its teachings. Experience teaches men that their bad habits do not hurt them, even that they are means of preserving health and prolonging life. Experience, except when interpreted in the light of sound principles, has always proved itself an idle tale and utterly untrustworthy. In its name every conceivable falsehood has been propagated, and under its guidance almost every woe that afflicts humanity has been practiced. Principles, on the other hand, are the keys to universal knowledge and, consequently, of universal power.
It is commonly contended that the experience of an educated man is entirely safe. We suggest that this depends upon the kind of education he has received. No man is so confirmed in falsehood as he who has been educated into it; no experience is so unreliable as that of the man who has been educated to falsely interpret that experience. Instead of a man's judgment being safe because of having been educated in medical wisdom, it is all the more unsafe on this subject because of his education. Nothing perverts the judgment like a false education and that medical education is largely education in fallacy is proved by the uncertainties and changeability of the system. It is forever changing its practices and modifying its theories. What was considered superlative wisdom yesterday is denounced today as false and absurd. What is now held to be absolutely curative is being daily proved to be just as certainly destructive.
An excellent example of what happens when systems are indiscriminately mixed is provided by the debacle that the "nature cure" system finds itself in all over the world today. At its origin, naturopathy possessed a few Hygienic principles and practices. Its present plight is the result of having repudiated these principles and of having assumed the despicable role of Mr. Looking-both-ways. It has just about selected and compromised itself out of existence. Its practitioners are all medically orientated; its lay followers are hopelessly befuddled. All naturopaths stand for progress and unity, but none of them are for the things that bring about progress and unity. They are loud in their protestations of their love of health, but none of them are for the things that produce health.
Almost from the beginning, there have been those who would select the best from the various systems and incorporate this best into Hygienic practice. We have those among us who insist upon taking a "realistic" view. They do not want to be visionary. But nobody wins in this "realistic" game that seems to appeal to so many people. There are too many things in modern life to get us "off the beam." We easily lose our ideals and descend to mere money grabbing. When we do this, we soon lose our self-respect and our will to accomplish. When love of money becomes uppermost in our lives, all the worthwhile things flee away. To toss away our vision and our aspirations, to discard our principles and act without principle, to live and perform on the basis of immediate personal gain, to resort to mere expediencies in our care of the sick, to ride each wave of popular treatment only because there is money in it-well, life can be lived that way and a practice can be conducted in this manner; but it is a stupid way and it is an unsatisfying way of life.
The Hygienist rejects all poisons and employs only beneficial substances and conditions to aid the healing processes of the body. Some drugs are worse than others, but they are all bad and we reject them all as not only useless, but always and necessarily injurious. In this matter we can make no compromises. There can be no such thing as selecting the lesser of two evils. So long as there is truth in the world, it is folly to choose the lesser of two evils. We should choose the good and reject the evil.
Eclecticism is a hodge-podge. We take the position, so well stated by Dr. Nichols, that "the only eclecticism an honest man can practice is to choose the good and reject the bad." It is too easy to take the "easy way." The fact that a man took the "easy way" at the outset of his career is a sure guarantee that he will continue to take the "easy way." When he discovers that the "easy way" is to drug and dose his victims and to cut and slash them in the time-honored way, and that it will be difficult for him to care for his patients Hygienically, he will abandon Hygiene and stick with the "respectable" elements of society. He may even become a worse foe of Hygiene than the medical man who never made any pretense of being a Hygienist. In the same way, the pseudo-Hygienist who tries to enter Hygiene through a knot hole in the back door will have to prove his loyalty to the "respectable" profession of medicine by the strenuousness of his opposition to all medical heresy.
Of the many schools of so-called healing now in existence, it must be recognized that they have their origin outside the camps of Hygiene and that each was captained and crewed by opportunists and reformers who sought, so they declared, to save the new and vitally important truths from wreck and ruin by the radicals. We must offer increasing resistance to the reformist and Hygienic-faker elements that seek to get into the movement and who attempt to sway it in non-Hygienic ways.