Does Malatesta perhaps offer us a false choice, having to choose between a dishonest doctor or medical scientist, and an honest self-appointed expert who doesn't know their subject?
Do we have to maintain a general deference culture towards established doctors, medics and scientists, even if they are often technically correct in their particular specialism?
Does scientific knowledge and expertise have to be the monopoly of an elite technobureaucratic class? Is it not the case that today's skilled and educated workers can start to build up a wide body of knowledge and expertise themselves? Read on and ponder...
Anarchy and Science:
the thoughts of Errico Malatesta from almost 100 years ago
We receive invitations to propagandise in favour of this or that system of treatment, embellished with adjectives such “rational” or “natural”, accompanied by criticism, just or unjust, of “official science”.
We will not do such a thing, because we do not believe that being an anarchist gives us or others the supernatural gift of knowing something that has not been studied.
We understand all the harm that the present social organisation, based on selfishness and conflicting interests, does to the development of science and to the sincerity of scientists. We know that many doctors, driven by greed and often forced by need, prostitute what should be one of the noblest of human missions, and make a vile commodity out of it. But all this does not prevent us from realising that medicine is a very difficult science and art that requires long and arduous training and is not learned by intuition – and, speaking for ourselves, we would still rather entrust our health to a dishonest doctor than to an honest ignoramus who believes that the liver is in the big toe.
In our opinion, those comrades are wrong who take the side of a given therapeutic system just because the inventor professes, more or less sincerely, anarchist ideas and looks like a rebel, thundering against “official science”. We, on the other hand, are immediately on our guard if we see that someone wants to use his political ideas to get his scientific ideas accepted, and makes it a party matter.
There is a tendency among us to find true, beautiful and good everything that presents itself under the sympathetic mantle of revolt against accepted “truths”, especially if it is supported by those who are, or claim to be, anarchists. This shows a deficiency in the spirit of examination and criticism - something that should be highly developed in anarchists.
It is all very well not to consider any of the achievements of human intelligence as definitive, and to aspire always to new discoveries and new advances, but it must be borne in mind that the new is not always better than the old, and that the quality of anarchist does not bring with it the gift of infused science. (...) we do not think it is too much to ask that those who want to criticise and fight the old methods should know what they are and what are the established facts in favour of or against them.
In other words, we simply ask that those who want to talk about something should first take the trouble to study it. So, if there are some comrades who feel competent to discuss health matters, let them do so, but do not ask us to talk about what we do not know.
Besides, we know some good doctors who profess anarchist ideas, but they do not speak of anarchy when they do science, or they only speak of it when the scientific question becomes a social question, that is to say, when they observe that the present social organisation hinders the progress of medicine and prevents it from being applied to the benefit of all mankind.
- Errico Malatesta, “Pensiero e Volontà”, 1 March and 1 May 1924
Errico Malatesta (1854 - 1932) was a passionate anarchist agitator who opposed all forms of political order based on hierarchical power and authority. He argued for the creation of a free and equal society based on mutual aid, a harmony of interests, and the voluntary participation of all in carrying out social responsibilities.
As well as using his words Malatesta was an active militant, participating in a number of insurrections during his lifetime, such as "Red Week" in Italy in 1914, and the workers' factory councils movement in Italy in 1919.
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