We express shock when the lovely bloke next door – “wouldn’t hurt a fly” – is taken away in a dawn raid for a savage granny attack. We never understand it when certain people with “kindly” jobs and characters – teachers, animal-lovers, vegetarians – turn out to be murderous maniacs. Radovan Karadzic’s double life as the hairy, benign-looking Dr Dabic, an alternative medicine guru, has surprised many. Even though it really should not be so surprising.
New Age ideas and mass-murdering have had a long and fruitful history together. Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot all believed in aspects of what would come to be called the New Age movement. They all rejected evidence-based medicine and technology and advocated back-to-nature policies.
Himmler looked to horoscopes and the occult, Stalin to dodgy agrarian scientists and Pol Pot to the Prince of Wales. Well, he might have. For “Brother Number One” demanded the implementation of non-mechanised farming, ie, organic food. He instituted a technological programme that had no experts – his comrades were proud that their pharmaceutical companies employed no graduates, just illiterate 12-year-olds.
The reason for this marriage between New Age voodoo and dictatorial tendencies is their philosophical similarity. Both rely on egotism, claiming that change will come from them alone; both feed off secret gnomic knowledge; and both imply a superiority to what has come before – usually the past 150 years of Western science and learning. If you believe in one quack idea, it’s likely that you’ll buy into others. Those who think the US covered up an alien landing at Roswell often believe the Elders of the Protocols of Zion are true – and books on both often sit side by side in New Age bookshops.
The New Age Dr Karadzic was not a disguise; it was a peep at what could have been, an alternative history. If Pol Pot had come to Britain, he might have opened a respectable stall at the Stoke Newington farmers’ market. If Dr Karadzic had moved to Camden market he could have become a quiet and harmless guru. As it was, he butchered half a country. The lesson is: keep an eye on those health stores.