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Contemporary medicine is not comfortable with polymaths: it cannot easily handle visions that transcend its narrowly defined specialist boundaries. This is paradoxical given medicine’s cultural imperialism—the ways in which it constantly crosses social boundaries and in which (as Marxists have it) it continually reproduces itself as it gobbles up more areas of our social lives (a current example being the invention of “female sexual dysfunction”1).
Ivan Illich was well ahead of his time2 in identifying and classifying the health hazards of the “medicalisation of society”. In the mid-1970s he …