CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Fahrenheit 9/11

My reviews will be idiosyncratic and focused on books and films tying together issues of complementary and alternative medicine, health care, ethics, law, and spirituality; I will pick up a few elements that correspond to themes in my work or trigger further reflection. Two things stood out for me in Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11: curses; rule of the techno-mind's violence. What captures my attention in the film is not politics, but currents of spiritual energy, as I try to connect the dots of what is happening to our world as it pertains to definitions of health and human evolution.

Blessings and Curses
The film contrasts two women: one, an American who lost her son when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq; the other, an Iraqi whose house has been destroyed during the American occupation. The American has the comfort of Jesus. She still grieves--mightily--and has no ready answers as to why her son was taken, but the strength and solidity of her relationship to the divine permeates each of her appearances. Curiously, she has no hatred for anyone, though she does ultimately state that she is finding a locus for depositing her anger at the fence to the White House. Moore, with his obvious agenda, wants the viewer to empathize with the deposit of rage against Bush; but the woman also states that this is part of her release, and healing, so something much deeper--and more internal--is going on for her than "get that man out of the presidency."

The woman curses neither Iraqs nor Arabs, neither Bush nor Republicans; she grieves, but I felt her leaving us with a blessing. She clings to Jesus. It is irrelevant to me whether the name is Jesus or Allah; what I mean is that she clings to the principle of love. That is what I feel when I watch her on the screen: love, tolerance, acceptance, surrender to something awful beyond imagination; a remarkable absence of bitterness; fortitude; trust in a higher power, even though she does not understand--we humans cannot understand--the why of suffering.

In contrast, there is a scene in which an Iraqi woman cries out to God: Allah, where are you? The woman cries in despair, then asks for curses to rain down on those who killed. (Note: the roles easily could have been reversed--a saintly Iraqi and a vitriolic American; I didn't choose who played whom, it was the film-maker.)

I felt there was energetic power in her curses. By virtue of those words and thought-forms, articulated with force into the atmosphere of all-that-is, she is bringing a wish-fulfillment of negativity and destruction. I cannot say I blame her; only that I wish she had awareness, beyond the understandable emotions, of what her actions are creating. Awareness that energy, words, have force beyond the physical; that destruction will come; and that ultimately, when someone is harmed from that force (be it a husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister of another human), whether in the next year or next incarnation, the God-part (or Allah-part) of that woman will--inevitably--experience remorse, as well as ... on some level ... compassion for that injured human being.

This is my opinion, my understanding of course: that the law of action and reaction (known as karma) is inexorable, and that we are all connected by bonds of love. This is my experience in meditation. Someday her curse will bear fruit, and she (and those affected) will reap the sorrowful consequences of her intention. Alas, if there were a way to move through all the (again, understandable) destructive emotions accompanying her situation without cursing--without wishing destruction on someone else. I say this knowing that at times I have no greater wisdom than that afflicted woman--catching myself wishing ill on someone who has cut me off (dangerously) on the freeway, and having to reverse the negativity that escaped, the anger that let loose, the monkey-mind gone from the cage of spiritual discipline. I have heard that anger let loose on others also hurts the one who lets it fly, and I suspect that the woman cursing will also be affected; that some of the negativity falls back down like precipitate.

I had another question, though: who was she cursing? Was it the specific soldiers who had destroyed her home? The people in the plane that dropped the bomb? The chain of commmand that resulted in the destruction? The president who served as commander-in-chief of the war effort? All Americans? The non-Islamic world? I wondered how wide the repercussions of that escaped hostility. Even Michael Moore would be included in that group; so would Democrats and Republicans alike, Muslims and Jews and Christians, believers and infidels. When a hurricane hurls down a given path it does not discriminate in its destruction; curses are non-partisan.

My last thought on this was that we have a choice: we can curse, and we can bless. Since they are opposites I would surmise they have equal power, equal potentiality. And we have to learn what to do with the toxic waste that accumulates after destruction has been rained on us. It may be a superhuman feat to expect someone to "bless one's enemies" when those enemies have killed a relative or destroyed all of one's possessions. And yet, there is another level at which the human family and chain of consequences needs to be recognized. Where will we get the wisdom? Will medicine teach us? Will religion teach us? Will meditation teach us? Will politics or film teach us? Or will ultimate destruction teach us?

The Techno-Mind's Violence
Psychologist Jay Lifton used the phrase "psychic numbing" to describe what is happening in our post-nuclear generation: we cannot bear the chronically high state of violence and terror in our world, and therefore, as a protective mechanism, automatically numb ourselves. Lifton argued that the unconscious, psychic defense mechanism was the same, whether used by Nazis or any other people perpetrating atrocities, or emissaries of a state government justifying nuclear weaponry. Lifton pointed out that killing by "pressing a button" preserves psychic numbing and augments the ease with which violence can be perpetrated (and compassion thereby decreased within the human family).

The film is so replete with images of violence it is unnecessary to catalogue them. I do not usually "watch the news," as I prefer not to subject my system to the new threshold of violence. (How many times on September 11, 2001, for example, did the press replay images of the Twin Towers burning?) There is something almost voyeuristic, and ultimately sickening, about the pleasure viewers seem to experience watching these replays. (It reminds me of a television ad from my childhood in suburban Detroit: "Aggressive hockey is back in town!" (CRUNCH)). Surely it must be pleasure, otherwise why would someone sit through the public beheading in Moore's film, and many live killings, woundings, maimings on the daily "tube"? Is it pleasure or just information? In our hyperactive culture with the ADD camera switching from one shot to another (literally and figuratively) many times faster than one can even blink, what does this do to the mind?

We've come a long way from the argument that rock-n-roll is degenerative to teens (Elvis Pelvis increasing our fragile hold on sexuality, etc.)...an argument that may seem silly to our modern sensibilities, but has strange echoes in the relationships between violence in the media and violence in society. (Indeed, in Fahrenheit, the tank drivers explicitly compare killing real people to video games). What struck me was the interview with one tank commander who found it 'inspirational' (pardon the perversity) to wire specific CD's into the tank that made the killing easier and more enjoyable.

The soundtrack of "Burn, Motherfucker" in the tank while one watches the blaze on-screen (together with shots of burn victims) is unforgettable. Question: How do the recording artists of that CD feel, knowing that their music is a seamless inspirational track in mechanized murder? And, Moore's film gives them an added advertising boost (recall that publicity is free advertising). Is it not the same energy that they put into the music and the energy that goes into flaming human beings through tank nozzles. Consider that, and then tell me your definition of the Devil.

Again I return to personal responsibility. In a sense we are all caught: we live in this world, full of violence and pain. What choices can we make? I'm not going to go out and buy a copy of "Burn, Motherfucker" and "blast" it (forgive the metaphor) at high speeds nor hum its tunes in the supermarket. If I join a band those will probably not be the kind of lyrics going into my song--or into the songs I play in my head. I'm all for free expression; the question is how to contain (not repress, but contain) the energies.

Once again we're back to spiritual themes: what does it mean to be "healthy"--physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually? I do not see how any discussion of "complementary medicine law and policy" (not to mention ethics) can omit discussion of this. I am not speaking of regulation; not suggesting we ban murderous lyrics as obscene; no, I'm all for free speech--it's how we exercise our freedoms that takes up the spiritual question. How do we reach health; how to define it; how to incorporate spiritual as well as psychological/mental health definitions that make sense, that are universal, that can embrace both the Iraqi woman screaming to Allah to punish her transgressors and the Flint, Michigan woman calling out, why did You take my son?

A lot of mental health (as well as spiritual) literature addresses these questions--from Robert Jay Lifton to Carl Jung's work on the Shadow to our friend Wilhelm Reich, who wrote about the psychological propensity toward fascism in a book perhaps inaptly titled, The Function of the Orgasm. (I don't like the title and neither did the FDA, but their response was a bit harsher.)

Whether we choose Bush or Kerry, Allah or Jesus, we still have to confront these same issues: individually, collectively. Truly the fate of civilization is in the balance, and confronting our dark energies is as much part of the question of "regulating CAM" as any other.

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Michael H. Cohen, Esq.; 468 North Camden Dr. | Beverly Hills, California 90210 | 310-844-3173