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Medicine: The Oldest Profession

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After digging into the social customs of 250 or more tribes scattered around the world, Anthropologist George Peter Murdock of Yale has concluded that prostitution is not the world’s oldest profession. Psychiatry is.

Professor Murdock began by noting that prostitution (as distinct from mere laxity in sexual behavior) does not exist in any primitive society even today, but that the medicine man is universal. And the medicine man in aboriginal cultures is always a magician who practices faith healing. Though he may belong to a tribe skilled in the use of drugs like quinine, he usually leaves the practice of physical medicine to old men or women who become specialists as herbalists or bonesetters. The true medicine man, says Murdock, confines his practice to curing the ills of the mind. And surprisingly often, he succeeds. Psychoanalysis, Murdock finds, has much, in common with primitive magic.

From this, Murdock considers it a short, logical step “to regard the medicine man as the lineal ancestor not of the physician but of the psychiatrist.” Modern sophisticates who speak jokingly of their psychoanalysts as “witch doctors” are closer to the mark than they think.

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