Saul Marcus, ND - Naturopathic Doctor

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Book Review: The New Human Rights Movement by Peter Joseph

Book image of the new human rights movement

A holistic approach to public health

As a doctor I'm trained to treat people one at a time. Stress, diet, toxicity, infections, genetics and other things that impact health are individual considerations. Individual health choices such as smoking or fast food may be critcized (we love to do taht in natural health), but social criticism as a whole is generally considered outside of our scope.

Nonetheless, virtually all the health conditions we have are related to our environment. Therefore, if our goal is health, then at some point systemic analysis of our society is necessary.

Is our society designed to provide for human health?

Is the world my clients live in, optimized to meet their health needs?

What is clear from reading The New Human Rights Movement is that the answer is no.

Furthermore, instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying "well this is the best that we can do," it is clear humanity could do much, much better at taking care of itself.

Naturopathy is system theory applied to individual health

In naturopathy we often refer to conventional medicine as "allopathic". This is an approach to health where therapies are used to suppress symptoms without an understanding of systemic cause.

For example, someone may be developing rheumatoid arthritis due to inflammation in the gut triggering a systemic inflammatory response. A typical allopathic treatment would be to ignore the gut entirely and give steroid drugs to lower inflammation.

Allopathic symptom suppression cures nothing. At best it is palliative. At worst it creates "side effects" which are even worse than the original symptom.

The same concept can be applied more broadly to social issues. How does creating a "criminal justice" punishment system fix the problem of violence at the causal level? What does prison do to fix the causes of violence? How does it aid to our understanding of what causes violence and what society as a whole can do to stop the conditions that lead to it?

Nothing. It simply traumatizes those in prison even more (plus all those who come in contact with the emotional toxic prison environment) leading to even more suffering and anti-social behavior.

How about education?

If a child is doing poorly in school is it wise to blame the teachers? the parents? the child him/herself? What about the myriad of factors in the child's environment? As a naturopathic doctor is it enough to just talk about nutrition, some supplements and healthy living? It is OK to limit to conversation to just that when millions of children live in poverty, and that is something which has recently been shown to cause literal brain damage?

Poverty Disturbs Children's Brain Development and Academic Performance Delayed brain development predicts lower tests scores in low-income children

Thinking in reductionistic terms, with discrete isolated "issues" is obsolete, anti-scientific thinking that needs to be discarded now.

With individual health we don't have separate organs and diseases that can be thought of individually and treated all by themselves. We have whole people. Holistic health care consider the whole person with appreciation for how a problem one place, can manifest as various symptoms elsewhere.

diagram of holistic versus reductionistic thinking

Likewise, when it comes to social issues and public health - we need to discard the same old reductionism. We don't have things like "education" over here, "health care" over there and "military spending" someplace else. We have one, whole, integrated, dynamic system. Problems arising from one part of the system do have consequences someplace else.

Furthermore society needs to discard loyalties to obsolete ideas once they are shown to no longer be scientifically valid, or socially relevant.

It is with this train of thought, that holistic thinking can be equally applied to not just individual health, but society as well that I read the New Human Rights Movement.

Systems Theory

Right from the start Peter Joseph introduces the concept of Systems Theory

As is the case with the study of the human body, understanding the singular properties of parts only, such as cells or organs, in complete. We need to understand how all those parts work together, producing the human being as a single system. Yet at the same time the human body itself is not an island. It is also a falsely detached construct, as much as we are inclined to separate ourselves in consciousness. A human being is inclusive to the larger-order ecosystem or habitat from which it evolved and upon which it relies for survival and health. It is also inclusive to our man made social structures and institutions, such as political, legal and economic traditions.

After introducing the concept of systems theory it is applied to issues such as health care, prisons, and racism. This leads to discussion of systems thinking and why people have such a difficult time with it.

I doubt many reading this would decide to re-plaster a ceiling that keeps leaking every time it rains, knowing the real leak is on the roof of the building. Yet our localized view of the human condition is still plastering away. To stop the leak, we need to seek out and resolve root causes and continue to lead to social oppression, ecological disregard and other influences that reduced human well-being.

The next chapter delves into social myths.

The term "terrorism" has become the preferred politicized imperial symbol to incite fear and insecurity in a population. It can be viewed as a more modern version of the term "communism" in this sense. This insecurity helps open the door to various power abuses, as seen in the past with the spying and intimidation that occurred during McCarthyism in the 1950's ... As political theorist Carl Schmitt often argued, without a perceived enemy of a given society, something the majority feels threatened by in a unifying way, social cohesion and control may be jeopardized.
Political language by it's very nature imposes an associative mental framework that , if reinforced properly, can narrow one's thoughts about social issues. Through this process, people lose focus on other possible factors or viewpoints.

Social myths about "human nature" with regards to war and competition are subsequently explored. Further topics include "free market" exchanges, ethics in business and free will. This is related back to the foundation of our socioeconomic system and the environmental conditions that has lead to its development.

The third chapter, Structural Bigotry discusses our our society maintains class structure. Joseph take a very different perspective from other thinkers who have in the past who have used class conflict as a term to foster us versus them thinking.

Rather than simply demonize the wealthy, it is important that we realize they are victims of circumstance and groomed into their characteristic world views and behaviors by larger-order forces like everyone else. They are only partially responsible for their actions... This fact is important, for viewing society through this system-oriented lens is needed to better understand the true nature of class conflict. It is also needed to establish a new level of compassion toward others. There is little value in "group vs. group" thinking, as the real problem is not the nature of any group buy how that group manifested its values and biases to begin with. I view those whose values and world view are distorted by power and wealth as little different from those suffering from any other biopsychosocial derangement of culture.

Structural Violence

The problem with viewing "health care" as merely a problem of who is going to pay for conventional (or natural) treatment on an individual level, is that this way of thinking avoids examining if society as a whole is providing for the health of it's own people.

Structural violence is about preventable violence, death and suffering resulting from human institutions.

The issue of socioeconomic inequality is covered in depth and the numerous ways in which it is a hidden source of violence.


Something that sets this book apart is that it does not end as a litany against social problems with piecemeal suggestions for what should be done. Much space is devoted to how society can change. How the structural problems without our socioeconomic system can be changed, so we live in a system that is actually designed to take care of human health.

Shifts needed to increase economic efficiency and reduced scarcity discussed are:

As much as I have tried to praise this book, this review still does not come close to doing it justice.

If there is any one book I wish everyone would read, it is this one.

It's time that we stop trying to solve our social problem through piecemeal allopathic solutions. Systemic analysis and creating a society designed to take care of everyone is what is needed.

Although not a health treatment book per se, I consider naturopathic philosophy as the application of systems theory to individual health. The New Human Right Movement is the application of systems theory to public health.