This crisis is putting a bright spotlight on a lot of society’s problems for all that are willing to see. The US economy was already a broken system with no support for those in crisis, it’s just that now there are more in crisis. Forcing people to chose between a pay check and staying home sick was always a public health issue as well as exploitation of the work force, it’s just that now more people realize that the “public” in public health crisis includes them. The US health care system was already broken and unable to provide care for all that need it, and even where it isn’t overwhelmed we’re seeing people making choices based on their insurance coverage. But hopefully this will become obvious to more people now, though with the parallel epidemic of fact resistance that has been on the rise for years I’m not optimistic.
Another thing it puts a spotlight on is how entertainment has grown so big that it now constitutes the main way people get information. The chief example of this is the President, who shows over and over again that dry facts have zero effect on him, whereas nonsense from the screaming heads on Fox flow straight from their scripts to his tweeting little hands. A particularly sinister part of this profit driven entertainment system, where entertainment masquerades as facts, is programs like Dr. Oz and The Doctors where the facts in question are medical and health advice. Dr. Oz has now, unsurprisingly, recommended the unproven remedies the president thinks will save his botched pandemic response, while The Doctors …
Well The Doctors are at least at times responsible adults, but they are still an entertainment product. The current front page of their website clearly shows that. Following a main article on how to obtain health insurance if the pandemic response has led to you be unemployed comes three links looking like they are all regular content. One is to a partner online doctor site, one to an article about one of the hosts’ weight loss books and one to a kitchen renovation site, only that last of which is labeled as advertising.
This approach to medical and life advice as entertainment and a profit source is detrimental to keeping people well informed, even when the hosts aren’t charlatans themselves or provide a platform for such. Which brings me to the main topic for this post, self-described Shaman Durek, one of the many individuals living at the edges of the entertainment/wellness industry, benefiting from the legitimacy Dr. Oz and the Doctors provide in the eyes of their audience.
Durek Verrett came to my attention when Norwegian media went into a frenzy about him dating Norwegian princess Märtha Louise. (For those unfamiliar with Norwegian royalty, Märtha is the eldest daughter of the current king, would have been the heir if not for archaic, and now amended, laws of succession. She has long been known to be, and profit from, some serious woo.) But apparently he is a bit of a “Shaman to the celebrities” with connections to Gwyneth Paltrow and now several appearances as “the first Shaman to be invited to be on The Doctors“. On that show as everywhere else his game is to peddle his personal style of self-empowerment, dubbed “spirit hacking”.
On his website he describes himself as “A 6th generation Shaman […] an evolutionary innovator, spirit hacker, women’s empowerment leader and a visionary for the New Age.” Some grade A bullshit there. What is an evolutionary innovator anyway? But the part about “women’s empowerment” is particularly galling and clashes violently with a statement that caused a Norwegian publisher to drop their edition of his book on spirit hacking.
In a puff piece on his practices that it is reproduced in full on his website he states:
There’s certain imprints that women get inside of their vaginas when they have too many sexual partners that they need to clean out – I give exercises for that.
Did that just made you go WTF? It definitely had that effect on me. But to the crowd that is into “spirit hacking” it was apparently not that big of a deal.
Does this seem like the kind of guy we want giving COVID-19 advice? Hell no, but of course he’s giving it anyway. Most of his posts these days are perfectly innocuous and about dealing with the emotions of stay-at-home life and his one clear COVID-19 post has good advice mixed in. Wash your hands, wear a mask if necessary, don’t let fear overwhelm you. But his other recommended preventative measures are:
- Home made “natural” hand sanitizer, possibly with witch hazel instead of vodka, or, you know if you want to just make an oil, leave both of those out even though they are the only sanitizing part of the recipe!
- Spirit hacking
Not much help to write “Make sure to use 75% alchohol for Coronavirus!” when your recipe says, “Hey, just leave the alcohol out if you don’t feel like including it!” And what half way informed person would have forgotten to include “But just ordinary soap works better for this!“
And then spirit hacking. Which is what exactly? It is, as you will have discovered if you felt like clicking through to the Instagram post, self-affirmation, talk to your spirit, bullshit like this:
To download protection say out loud:
“Download into my immune system yellow red and green codes at 100,000”. Wait till you feel sensation and say, “Thank you, I felt that. Run that 24 hours in my body”. If you don’t feel something say, “Ego, disconnect from any belief that blocks me from being and feeling protected from energy and spirit.” […]
If you have bought in to fear from media,
say out loud “Download the wisdom in my body to eliminate this fear.”
[…] Remember, Tribe, Fear is a weapon of the matrix that is used to draw mass hysteria.
The first part is the usual fetishizing of the immune system as something magical that you can just talk to, instead of the biological and chemical system we know it to be. Not much harm in it, until you get to the part where not falling hook line and sinker for the bullshit puts the blame on you for having beliefs that block the protection activating.
The second part is … Well, what is it? Is it just friendly advice to not let fear overwhelm you? Part of a feud against all the serious journalists calling him a fraud? (He did not enjoy that part of the media scrutiny in Norway!) Double speak to placate both followers who are worried and followers who have been tricked into believing Covid is a media hoax? If it’s the first, it is irresponsibly imprecise, and if not …
But say we give him and the many like him the benefit of doubt and say it’s all well meant. Most of the stuff from Verrett and his like isn’t going to cause much harm as long as the people following the advice are also doing social distancing, following other public health advice. What’s the harm in offering a framework for positive thoughts?
The harm is that:
- the woo crowds out evidence-based advice
- the woo is differentially consumed by people with fewer protections and resources, even if the most visible consumers are celebrity white women (see previous re: health insurance, working while sick)
- public health depends on all of us working together; if some fraction of the population is relying on essential oils instead of handwashing, this crisis is going to last a lot longer and kill a lot more people.
Much like the President and his reckless recommendation of unproven drugs should be blamed for the death of the guy who took chloroquine phosphate bought for his aquarium, Verrett should be blamed for the death of anyone infected due to people relying on scenting their hands pine fresh instead of using a real hand sanitizer or plain old soap.