The Politics Of Hope

I have a guilty confession to make – I’ve recently become fascinated by secrets and conspiracy theories. I spend an inordinate amount of time on YouTube and fringe websites watching videos and reading about aliens, secret underground bunkers, shadowy government programs, black helicopters and men wearing black suits, the Annunaki, HAARP, the Philadelphia experiment, Dulce Base, Hangar 18, Area 51, Area 52 (that was a new one, even to me) the third phase of the moon, grays, reptilians, Nordics, hybrids, Zeta Reticuli, The New World Order, the Shadow Government, the Illuminati, MK ULTRA, Majestic 12, Betty and Barney Hill, Rendlesham Forest, Roswell New Mexico, The Phoenix Lights, the Olmos Basin (right here in town – that one scared the crap out of me), and a whole stack of other REALLY weird stuff, as if the foregoing wasn’t weird enough.

I’ve been a science fiction fan since almost before I could read. I love the sense of wonder and amazement science fiction brings me, and the facility with which it explains the unexplainable and raises even more unexplainable questions. I come away from a good science fiction story with the sense that the universe (both the parts that we understand, and the parts that we don’t) ultimately makes sense, and that although we will probably never understand everything, there’s a chance that someday, we just might. In my opinion, the best science fiction feeds our thirst for hope, and simultaneously nurtures our desire for explanations. At my most lucid, I don’t believe the things that I read in science fiction, but I still sometimes wish that they were true. As Jebediah Nightlinger said in the John Wayne movie “The Cowboys,” “…if it isn’t true, it oughta be.”

As a person with Parkinson’s disease, hope and faith figure strongly in my life. I could not get through each day without the hope that tomorrow will be better, and the faith that, with God’s help, I can go on whether it is or not. Another confession, this time not guilty – the phrase “with God’s help” is a new part of my lexicon, and I still sometimes struggle to reconcile it with my scientific, deterministic nature. A topic for another time, perhaps. I do think that, at one time or another, we are all caught in the struggle between our greatest hopes and our deepest fears, and at such times we have a tendency to believe the most outlandish things.

I have absolutely no desire to be offensive with some of my comments to follow. Everyone is entitled to the things that they believe, and sources of hope and faith are widely varied. However, some of those beliefs can be harmful, in my view, and I feel compelled to comment about it today. It’s my blog, and I can do that. It’s time now to move along if you’re easily offended.

I think that people affected by a chronic, currently incurable disease such as Parkinson’s may have a tendency to believe that a cure is just around the corner, and it will suddenly emerge like the sun after rain storm if we just stay vigilant. We have a tendency to exchange snippets of information that we glean from various places around the Internet about previously unknown treatments, therapies, positive research results, or breakthroughs. There’s often an undercurrent that the medical establishment, whatever that is, is conspiring to keep these emerging treatments from us, but that the truth is out there if we can only find it. The short time that I’ve been diagnosed, I personally have seen this happen with Coenzyme Q-10, coconut oil, stem cell therapy, the disease-modifying potential of rasagiline, forced exercise, cinnamon, glutathione, curcumin, and medical marijuana, to name just a few. Even as I write this, I’m aware of the fact that there are people out there who are just itching to tell me how I’m wrong, that one or more of these or something that I haven’t mentioned is truly the secret to success, and that all that I’m doing is diverting people from the search for the truth. So be it.

Although it’s boring, I think that we have to evaluate claims about cures or new therapies using a technique that Carl Sagan once described as “the baloney detection kit.” Here’s a description: http://homepages.wmich.edu/~korista/baloney.html. It’s not rocket science; it basically says that claims require evidence, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It does not eliminate the possibility of a revolutionary breakthrough and it does not limit the potential for hope and faith. It does, however, work to keep us from being drawn in by the most egregious of the spurious claims that are being made, and gives us armor in our battle to get through the day.

What do I suggest, as an alternative? I try to live each day fully regardless of whether or not a cure is imminent, finding things to do that are valuable and useful, and looking out rather than in. I try to exercise every day, and learn something new every day. I tell my wife and my children that I love them every day, and I tell my dog that I love her about every 15 minutes because she’s here more often. I take my medications as prescribed, and I check my DBS battery level regularly. I have hope for the future and have faith in God, my family, my friends, and my doctors. And about everything else, I’m skeptical. I’m no more closed off to the possibility of a miraculous cure than I am to the possibility that aliens actually exist and they live in my guest bedroom. I just think it’s not likely. As an old work colleague of mine used to say, “Fascinating, if true. Big if.”

We are all entitled to find sources of strength and hope where we can. I hope for you that your sources are helpful, and don’t cause you anguish, despair, and pain. There’s enough of that in the world as it is.

3 thoughts on “The Politics Of Hope

  1. Corey, this is an important piece. Being involved with CDC’s immunization programs, you can imagine I run into a somewhat analogous set of circumstances and people with some frequency … analogous, that is, in terms of the search for anything better and a suspicion that the medical community is colluding to withhold it from people; not analogous in that my own life and health are not in the equation with the same immediacy.

    I would love to see you write more about how your (reasonable IMHO) adoption of Sagan’s “extraordinary claims” standard fits with where you now land in regards to your faith in God. I certainly don’t have to remind you that many folks who have made the choices we have in that vein, apply the very same standard to the very notion of God. And maybe that’s more a conversation for our offline chats first … but I think perhaps you’re in a unique place to comment, and I for one would value your perspective.


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