In what was surely the speech of his life, Facing the Future, (The Richard Dimbleby Memorial Lecture broadcast on BBC last night – you can still hear it here, Prince Charles made an impassioned appeal for a new way of viewing the present world crisis with special regard to the environment.
Rather than condescendingly lecturing and hectoring his supposedly ignorant audience like an Al Gore, the Prince of Wales sought to understand the thinking processes and philosophy that got us into this mess and how the way we apprehend the world, nature and the universe will need fundamentally to change in order to get us out of it.
The media reported the speech as yet another warning about the environment which would hardly have been very original. The text of the speech, however, was more about the difference between a reductionist/mechanistic philosophy and an holistic one. And let me be crystal clear by what I mean by ‘holism’. The word holism was first used by Jan Smuts in his 1926 book, Holism and Evolution and defined as ‘the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution.’
The future monarch made the point that it is our exclusively reductionist and mechanistic thinking that has got us into a lot of trouble. Opponents will miss the point and naturally adopt a reductionist approach to the whole speech and ask for scientific evidence for saying this! However the whole point of the talk was about the ‘interconnectedness’ of things – in other words holism. The problem is that we understand that the planet is in danger and so seek a reductionist answer instead of looking for the answer deep within ourselves. This results in us pointing an accusing finger at others for the state of the world and saying things such as ‘Look what they have done now!’.
As far as medicine is concerned, I’m sure Prince Charles would love to have mentioned homeopathy in this talk but desisted because that and only that would have made the headlines. Homeopathy epitomizes an holistic view of the universe and is perhaps one of the greatest victims of the contemporary, reductionist, mechanistic, naively realistic attitude to medicine – arrogantly, condescendingly and patronizingly espoused by such ‘post-Enlightenment’ (there were NO great thinkers before The Enlightenment – you had better understand) commentators like Edzard Ernst, David Colquhoun, Michael Baum, Simon Singh and many others. The problem with these eminent doctors and scientists is that they seem to be incapable of thinking in a non-reductionist way – so holism is off their radar completely.
I read that David Dimbleby, unlike his brother Jonathan who introduced the speaker, intended to give the lecture (given in honour of his father) a miss because he disagreed with the prince ‘meddling’ in public affairs. Perhaps he thinks the Royals’ opinion should be confined to the Queen mechanically reading a platitudinous homily off an autocue on Christmas Day. I don’t want Henry VIII back but I do think we deserve a bit better than that. In this lecture, perhaps the finest given by a monarch in waiting, Prince Charles delivered the goods. Not everyone will agree, but he has at least invited the most interesting and critical of conversations.