Recently deceased author Robert Pirsig wrote in his famous philosophy / roadtrip / mental illness book Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance about two ways of looking at the world: romantic and classic.
“The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. “Art” when it is opposed to “Science” is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience. […] The classic mode, by contrast, proceeds by reason and by laws – which are themselves underlying forms of thought and behaviour. […]”
This difference is at the heart of Raz Degans documentary The Last Shaman, which is entirely in the romantic mode and that is it’s fatal flaw. It plays like an infomercial preaching the gospel of Ayahuasca (an Amazonian plant mixture that is capable of inducing altered states of consciousness) without the balance of classic critical thinking to offer the viewer contrasting arguments.
College student James Freeman is severely depressed and not responding to treatment. Degan goes out of his way to point out that Freeman is rich, white, privileged, and has been raised with all the advantages to make the point that the trappings of wealthy American life weren’t making him happy, nor could make him happy. Which is all bullshit. Freeman has an illness. Full stop. Mental illness is like any other illness, only it’s in your brain. It’s not a cultural condition.He didn’t have spiritual congestion. He wasn’t suffering from the industrial disease malaise of being a Westerner out of touch with the spirit of the land. He was simply ill. He still is. Despondent and frustrated with not having seen progress in treatment, he’d set himself a 12 month deadline at which time he meant to commit suicide if he didn’t feel better or at least feel something.
“It plays like an infomercial preaching the gospel of Ayahuasca…”
The unsuspecting villains of the piece are James’s parents. They love their son but he’s never fit into their educated and erudite view of the world and even though they are both physicians themselves they don’t understand what’s happening with him or how to help him. James’s father is an authoritarian old-school dad and his son resents him for that. In Degans formula his parents bear the brunt of representing the failed ideas of Western culture. Even though James is sick there’s a whiny brat component of his response to them and to his illness. Fair enough: being sick doesn’t mean you’re not also an a*****e.