[originally published in KCN, May 2011]
In the 1950’s the islanders of Borneo, specifically the Dayak people, were stricken with a major malaria problem. Borneo is the third largest island in the world and is mostly part of Indonesia. In their efforts to help, the World Health Organization came up with a solution that was simple, straightforward, and, in hindsight, stupid: …spray everything with DDT.
Well their dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane pesticide washdown proved to work, because the mosquitos went away and the malaria dwindled. It wasn’t long after the high-fives and success parties though that a peculiar thing started happening: the thatched roofs of the villagers started collapsing and caving in on them.
You see, the the DDT did more than just kill off the disease vector mosquito, it also killed off the wasp population that was responsible for keeping the thatch-eating caterpillars under control. Consequently, the caterpillars were able to belly up to an all-you-can-eat “thatch roof salad bar,” and the roofs came a tumblin’ down.
But their rooflessness was just the start. They soon learned that the DDT had affected other insects as well. This was bad news for the gecko lizards that fed upon them. And the cats that fed upon the poisoned geckos were dying.
Cats were important to this society, because without them, the rat population skyrocketed. With the infestation of rats came disease, namely typhus and slyvatic plague — two diseases that were not even on the radar screen of this island until the WHO stepped in.
So in an effort to solve this problem, the Royal Air Force instituted “Operation Cat Drop” and parachuted cats onto the island of Borneo. I can only imagine what it looked like from the rats’ point of view.
True story? Yes…. with, invariably some tale sprouting over the last half century, but still true nonetheless. The lesson, though, is one that shouldn’t be called into question: the problems we face today are often the solutions of yesterday. Too often our “solutions” to problems are very narrow in their focus and fail to take into account the broader, longer term ramifications, and thus the “law of unintended consequences” takes its course.
While it is easy to point fingers at governments and large organizations for slipping in this area, failing to consider longer terms effects can apply to individuals as well. Take for example over-the-counter medications. How many times will your body allow you to reach for that extra-strength pain reliever to handle your recurring headache? One hundred times… one thousand times…. ten thousand times? Sooner or later the cost will become obvious.
The other day I paid a visit to our local national chain pharmacy/drug store to buy some super glue. While I was in this store, it struck me that this business’ primary purpose — primary reason for existence — was to suppress symptoms; it certainly wasn’t to sell super glue. Aisles were dedicated to symptoms and conditions — headaches, coughs, colds, constipation. I’ll bet that if there was an aisle for lower back pain, chiropractic (if you could bottle it) would rightfully be hanging in it. Why? Because chiropractic is great for lower back pain, and this is how, as a society, we tend to use it — partly because of insurance companies.
But if you limit chiropractic to this narrow scope, you miss out on a much broader, and far more beautiful, application of it: simply the regular removal of spinal nerve interference to allow the body to operate and interact with the environment at its God-given potential. When you fully grasp this concept, you begin to look at health and healing in a whole new way. And then you understand why a patient of mine once said that chiropractic is “the cat’s meow.”