On my whiteboard:
Religious Hatred => How do we determine which thought to respect?
Half-erased, it’s been sitting there since I read a Harper’s article on the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy more than a year ago. The essence of the question I intended to explore was, what are the criteria for thoughts and beliefs we should respect? And what is the behavioral manifestation of respect? In the case at the time, did the beliefs of the incensed Muslims qualify for respect? And if so, what did that respect look like?
Last night I watched What the Bleep Do We Know!?. This afternoon I’ve been sifting through information about the movie, including criticisms, on Wikipedia and elsewhere. Before that, I had already begun to draw some conclusions.
The question, “What thoughts should we respect?” can be taken on two levels, depending on the intended effect or the value placed on different effects. I answer one way for circumspect diplomacy, and another way for personal honesty. I consider the latter way here.
I think the only thought worthy of respect is the thought that does not perpetuate a myth. A myth is a belief, held on any level from the conscious to the deeply subconscious, that stunts the growth of an individual. Binding influences, if you will, or “chemical addictions” as the movie refers to them. Insofar as a thought suppresses the pursuit of happiness through creative, honest expression, of either the individual thinking the thought, or others, I would say that it perpetuates a myth. The myth is of the strictly demarcated, limited potential of the individual.
It’s a given that the trio of directors for Bleep?! are trying to express some shared sentiment to a wide audience. They took significant liberties in editing the content to appear consistent with that sentiment, which understandably raised many a skeptic’s eyebrow. It’s easy to lambast novel ideas – preemptive criticism, no matter how unfair, often has the effect of making the unmade-up mind. This is the sort of criticism I’m seeing for the movie. Character assassination of the speakers in the movie (the Wikipedia article repeatedly and pointedly refers to them as “purported experts”), as well as labeling of the concepts as “New Age” and the organization the directors belong to as a “cult” are proven as effective techniques for discrediting any message, quick and dirty like.
But was the intent to deceive and manipulate the viewer through unethical editing? Far from it. I believe the directors simply wished to expose the viewer to fresh and potentially liberating ideas. In contrast, negative reviews of the movie do nothing but trap the imagination, while at the same time indulging the reviewer’s egoistic pseudo-objective judgmentalism. The myth being perpetuated here: the reviewer in his profound insight has the viewer’s best interests in mind. On the contrary, negative commentators generally have nothing to say regarding the more powerful messages presented in the movie, such as of the value of individual agency. Bleep?!’s directors express as much in their repartee to the media response:
Today we use the media to publicly crucify people and new ideas. The media helps us correct the errant ways of radical thought. Anyone who steps out of line is verbally ridiculed, so that the general public can feel safe that another nuisance has been dealt with. It seems that some journalists of late have been ‘heroically’ challenging, ridiculing, and snubbing the ideas presented in “What the Bleep Do We Know?!” They have once again protected the safety and sanity of the general publicâ€¦.
â€¦Or have they? The consensus reality of the people that the media is protecting is, by and large, on closer examination, extremely unhappy. One only has to look on the street, or in the news, and then listen to the quiet desperation of peopleâ€™s thoughts to see a deep well of sadness, grief, anger and unhappiness in this current culture.
An Open Letter to the U.S. Media
Indeed, sometimes the media response to Bleep!? seems much like it would be from Church to heretic. In other words, “Religious Hatred” as written on my board – intolerant, repressive, dispassionate. Not worthy of my respect.
To the directors’ point on the media which has shed little light on elevation from a culture of dissatisfaction: before watching the movie yesterday, I was reading an article entitled Manufacturing Depression from the latest Harper’s. The author describes his experience as a test subject for a depression-related pharmaceutical research experiment. The process is impersonal and, ironically, not at all uplifting.
The HAM-D questions, Dording’s unconvincing solicitude, the banality of this exercise, the tyranny of the brain – they all seem as unassailable, solid, and impenetrable as the office building itself.
Gary Greenberg, Harper’s Magazine, May 2007 (45)
For depression, chemical subjugation of the mind seems to be the greatest promise of the defenders of the status quo. Interestingly enough, the author also comments on the role of the placebo effect in evaluating drug efficacy following lab experiments, as the unwanted “pain-in-the-ass brother-in-law” who keeps showing up. Perhaps this effect is less troublesome than it is auspicious, however – could it also argue for the transformative power of the mind upon reality?