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Peter Occhiogrosso Headshot

The Michael Moore Archetype: Peaceful Warrior or Destroyer?

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I wish I had a dollar for every time a friend has said, over the years, "I don't much like Michael Moore personally, but he really hit the nail on the head this time." I suspect they're probably just jealous of how good Moore is at self-promotion, an envy I'm afraid I share. But underneath his fiercely combative exterior lurks a deeply spiritual being (or, my friends may be asking, is it the other way around?). This makes it kind of fun to speculate what Moore's dominant archetype might be. He could be the Warrior -- I'd say the Peaceful Warrior, but Dan Millman has trademarked that archetype. Maybe the Spiritual Activist would be more accurate. My good friend Andrew Harvey has staked out that one, but I don't think he'd mind my borrowing it.

Yet Michael Moore has a way of cutting through the knee-jerk responses of both conservatives and liberals to the heart of the matter, so it might be more appropriate to identify his archetype as the Destroyer. Not the shadow Destroyer that grows intoxicated with critical power for its own sake, but more like Kali, the Hindu Mother Goddess who slashes through illusions in order to liberate us from our egocentricity. Moore has done it again with his Christmas Eve letter, entitled "Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns." Unlike many liberals, Moore isn't afraid to embrace his Christian heritage, although some may think he's just being ironic. I don't.

Addressing the surging demand for gun control legislation, Moore agrees that we need to change the laws, and cites Mayor Bloomberg's success in New York City (although the impressive decline in gun-related homicides there may have as much to do with spiraling gentrification as with restrictive gun laws). But, Moore says, gun control alone won't end the mass slayings or address the core problems. These he identifies as poverty, racism, and the "Me" society, another name for good old American individualism. Compared to other "civilized countries" in the developed world, America just doesn't seem to take care of its own with as much genuine compassion. Why not?

"I think it's because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole," Moore writes. "And you help them when they're in need, not punish them because they've had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there's less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another."

Speaking of irony, if Moore is right this would represent a stark reversal of what was once identified as a peculiarly American virtue. Alexis De Tocqueville wrote in his classic Democracy in America that what distinguished the Americans he saw here in the 19th century from their European contemporaries was "how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state." What happened to the primacy of "enlightened self-interest" in the 180 years since the visiting Frenchman identified it as a key to the American character?

I'm not sure even Michael Moore can explain that long and tangled road, but at least he's calling attention to it in a way that defies stereotypes and conventional wisdom. And for that reason I'd say that Moore embodies the best aspects of the Destroyer archetype.