I n t e r p r e t i n g B . J . ‘ s W r i t i n g s

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There is perhaps no writer in chiropractic who is more
misquoted, and misinterpreted than B.J. Palmer.  His writings
are constantly distorted in an effort to denigrate him and
the approach to chiropractic that he presented to the world.
He is also misquoted by those who would like to justify their
personal philosophy that adds to or changes the practice or
philosophy of chiropractic is some manner.
     Interpreting anyone’s writing correctly is of the utmost
importance.  It is especially so when we do not have the
luxury of the writer still with us to explain what he meant.
There is an entire science and art that deals with
interpretation, called hermeneutics.  It usually deals with
biblical interpretation.  Clearly, it is an inexact science
and art.  Many disagreements, some very violent, occur
between theological scholars.  Even the interpretation of the
United States Constitution, which is a relatively recent
document, is open to much discussion.  Rarely do we see a
Supreme Court decision handed down that is unanimous.  While
it would be an interesting endeavor to analyze B.J.’s
writings, line upon line, that is not the thrust of this
essay.  Rather, I would like to present certain concepts
which can and should be applied to his writings regardless of
who is interpreting them.  Those concepts include:

1. Context.  You must master context in order to understand
something.  Statements must be read in the proper context.
What is being said above and below a particular statement is
essential.  I can recall an article written by a well-known
chiropractor some years back.  In this case, he was quoting
D.D. rather than B.J. in support of his argument.  The only
problem was that in context D.D. was quoting a letter from an
antagonist, as he so often did.  D.D. proceeded to attack the
letter and the position of its writer.  It caused great
embarrassment to the present day chiropractor when it was
pointed out D.D. disagreed with both him and the letter
writer whom he mistook for D.D. as the author.
2. Language.  One would think that the differences in
language would only be important when translated from an
ancient manuscript to present language.  However, the English
language has changed over the past 200 years, and even the
past 100 years.  Second amendment discussions focus on what
the framers of the constitution meant by the term “militia”
and its right to bear arms.  Closer to our chiropractic
discussion is the term dis-ease.  What is the meaning of the
term, how did B.J. use it and how is it related to the word
without the hyphen?  I could go on for pages on the
difference between the two terms and their usage, but again,
that is not the purpose of this essay.  All too often
however, people interchange disease and DIS-EASE .  Sometimes
it is done purposefully by critics of straight chiropractic
philosophy.  That, of course, is academic and intellectual
dishonesty.  Those that reject chiropractic principles
sometimes reject principle altogether.  But with words like
DIS-EASE, it is important that we understand the meaning.  If
it is not clearly stated in the context, then other writings
of the author are necessary to understand the meaning and
usage of terms.  One great thing about the volume of B.J.’s
writings, there is enough written that he can explain himself
in other writings.  Of course, this necessitates familiarity
with his entire scope of writing.  Unfortunately, all two
often chiropractors just want to use bits and pieces of B.J.
rather than the big idea that he presented.
3. History and culture.  Environmental factors are important
in interpretation.  One must know B.J. to be able to clearly
understand what he is saying.  An individual must be
understood in the time in which he lived.  Fortunately, we
are given history books and biographies to learn about the
time in which an individual spoke.  Understanding the force
and the power of the medical community helps us understand
B.J.’s presentation of chiropractic as something different,
an alternative, not to the practice, but to the philosophy
(outside-in) of medicine.  Understanding the circumstances
surrounding the development of the neurocalometer and the HIO
technique gives us better insight into B.J.’s writings on
these subjects and better ability to discern his position in
light of today’s knowledge and approach.  Historical events
that take place prior to or at the time of writing help to
interpret what is being written.
4. Figures of speech, metaphors and other literary concepts
must be understood.  B.J. was a genius.  Unfortunately
geniuses often are poor communicators.  Simply because their
thinking is so much ahead of everyone else.  Their thought
processes are on a higher level.  Sometimes B.J. spoke and
wrote to lay people.  Sometimes be wrote philosophically,
sometimes in scientific jargon, sometimes in sarcastic humor
and sometimes almost poetically.  These different styles must
be understood.  The “subtle substance of the soul,” contained
in The Truth, needs to be understood in context of the poetry
of the article rather than as a scientific or even
philosophical concept.
     The last point to be made, relative to B.J.’s writing
and in interpreting it, is that B.J. rarely rewrote anything.
Had he rewrote three to eight times as I do, he would
probably not have produced such a volume of material.  We
would be better off with more tight, clear writing but poorer
by the decrease in the volume of his works.  B.J.’s failure
to rewrite was in large part because he believed that his
writing was “inspired” by innate and, as such, came out the
first time exactly as it should.  In writing that way, he has
left us with a number of unclear thoughts, which is
unfortunate when he writes about a subject as clear and as
simply understood as chiropractic is.  I do believe, however,
that B.J.’s writings can be explained and confusion can be
corrected.  It is a formidable task, that of taking his
writings and clarifying them in light of the objective
chiropractic philosophy.  In the end, it is the philosophy
that is the overall theme of all his writing.  Hopefully it
will be done in the not too distant future.  Meanwhile, if we
consider these few principles, we can avoid the pitfalls
associated with incorrect interpretation.v11n4

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