On Covid-19, Dr. Oz has been particularly contradictory. He has promoted the safety and efficacy of vaccines and masks, but also initially recommended the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid, based on a small and soon-discredited study. And his bid to represent Pennsylvania in the Senate is based on his promise to free Americans from some of the mask and vaccine mandates that his medical colleagues widely support.
“We are Americans, and we can do anything we want,” he tweeted recently, alongside a Fox News clip of himself criticizing the Biden administration’s Covid-19 policies. “It’s time we get back to normal.”
If there’s one consistent strain in Dr. Oz’s trajectory, it’s his belief in the power and responsibility of individuals to take control of their health and well being. Strikingly, in his essay announcing his candidacy, Dr. Oz doesn’t speak of unity or community, as many politicians do. Instead he identifies himself as a doctor who is “trained to tell it like it is because you deserve to hear our best advice and make your own decisions.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that this messianic diet guru would offer to cure us of all that ails us, physically and spiritually. The bigger question is why so many are ready to believe that organic, cold-pressed snake oil could stop us from aging, cure cancer, make us lose weight and end a pandemic?
There’s something deeply American in Dr. Oz’s quest to reach a higher state via the improvement of the body. Its roots can be found, arguably, in the spiritual strivings of the Transcendentalists, the group of 19th-century nature-obsessed New England philosophers.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s notion of an “original relationship to the universe,” and his belief that there is a divine spirit in nature and in the human soul that does not require the doctrines and laws of organized Christianity, was radical in its time, but became foundational to the American concepts of individualism and self-reliance. These threads have been woven into everything from the prosperity gospel to my yoga teacher’s instructions to lift our arms over our heads and send our intentions “from Earth to sky through you.”
The same ideas, filtered through the 21st-century preoccupation with wellness, quickly arrives at the idea that we shortchange ourselves by accepting what we are told by society — by doctors, scientists or government health officials — if it contradicts our individual instincts or opinions.