E Pluribus Ad Hominem, or Why I’m Mean to Acupuncturists

OK, I know everybody’s tired of this particular argument, but I would
rather have it here, in a new blog post, rather than watch it play out
in increasingly skinny comment boxes.

So the basic argument, as I understand it, is that going all ad hominem
on the acupuncture profession’s ass might not be serving us here. Or, to
quote Elaine, “does the CAN tendency to lump all currently non-CAN
practitioners into
one big dishonorable lump that you say you don’t give a shit about
actually help or hinder your goals?”

What triggered the argument was me saying, essentially, acupuncturists
think that working class people aren’t smart enough to be interested in
acupuncture, and even if they were, acupuncturists don’t care whether
working class people are suffering. Elaine thinks these statements are
“likely to– close the ears of BA practitioners to the rest of the very
compelling post, making it difficult for them to take an honest look at
what they do and why they do it, piss off the BA practitioners, giving
them justification for future badmouthing, and, piss off any clients who
love and respect their current practitioner.”  Also, If we were nicer to
BA acupuncturists, more of them might become CA acupuncturists. And if
we were helpful to acupuncturists — even by “getting them to explore
their choices and see if they are indeed living with integrity”, they
might be more likely to be helpful to the patients for whom we are

During the first go-round of this argument, I thought, hmm, maybe Elaine
has a point here. In less than four years, CAN went from being some
notes scratched on the back of a napkin to being linked by the New York
Times; that should be cause for optimism, and would it kill you to be a
little nicer, Lisa?

Yeah, actually, it would, more on that later. But what about this, what
if you didn’t *really* have to be nicer, what if you just strategically
excised the bitterness and the snark from your public communication?
Just a little editing is all Elaine is really asking for. What would you
really lose, if you weren’t so mean to acupuncturists?

I thought about it for a while, and I came up with a list.

For my list to make sense, we have to start with the culture of the
acupuncture profession.

Ah, the culture. It’s so problematic in so many different ways that I
can’t possibly tackle it better than the Zang Fool has.  Actually, CAN
is so disgusted by the culture that one satirist wasn’t enough for us,
even a brilliant and prolific one; we spawned the AcuMartyr and Miss
Bootie Que too. 

I could say that the American acupuncture culture is generally a sugary
confection of self-congratulation dipped in obliviousness, with some
80’s-style greed-is-good affirmations sprinkled on top. It’ll rot your
teeth, but that’s not the point. The point is, the acupuncture culture
is all about acupuncturists. It’s acupuncturist-centric, as in, the
world revolves around us. We are enlightened initiates of an ancient
medicine, and that makes us wonderful by definition. The more esoteric
we are, the more we admire each other. We have our own special language,
our own sacred texts. We are such shining lights that the patients and
potential patients are just dim shadows out on the periphery, we can
barely see them. We’d like them to give us money, of course, but really,
the money is just their admission fee to our culture of wonderfulness:
just being in the same room with us is enough to catalyze ordinary
people to evolve, heal, and transform.

OK, I’m ranting again, I realize that. Let me try to say this more
simply. Acupuncturists tend to have such high opinions of themselves as a
group that it creates a serious handicap in relating to regular people
(patients and potential patients) who hold the strange notion that
respect has to be earned, relationships have to be built, and mutuality
matters. Anyone who has tried to employ acupuncturists knows exactly
what I’m talking about, which is probably one reason there are so few of
us in this category. To be really blunt, if you are an employer, you
have to expect that the acupuncturists who want a job are going to be
fucked up to a greater or lesser degree by the acupuncture culture, and
it could take a lot of work to get them to the point that they are
functional employees. Too many acupuncturists have no idea how to
communicate with patients, and this is because nobody ever told them
that communicating with patients was the most important part of the job.
Because the expectation is that you won’t need to worry about
communication if you’re an acupuncturist; you are so wise you are
probably telepathic anyway, and even if you’re not, you are so much more
evolved than everyone else that patients will just magically gravitate
to you and fall at your feet.

Successful community acupuncturists need to be able to get the
acupuncture culture out of their heads, out of their business
structures, and out of their clinical practices. This includes largely
getting rid of their identity as acupuncturists. The more attached
someone is to her identity as an acupuncturist, the less likely she is
to survive as a community clinic owner or to make it as an employee in a
community clinic. This can be kind of personally apocalyptic: you have
to die to the old to be born into the new, etc. — because,
sadly, so much of what you learned in school has no actual use to
patients in the real world. Because a lot of what acupuncturists hold on
to about being acupuncturists is unconscious or subconscious, tied to
their ego needs and their image of themselves, it’s hard to be rational.

Ad hominem attacks are actually a pretty good filter. If someone can’t
handle me being bitter about acupuncturists in general, the odds of him
being able to extricate himself from the problematic aspects of his
acupuncturist identity, to go through that painful death and rebirth
process, are going to be slim to none. In lots of ways, working in a
community clinic means you can’t be who you thought you were going to be
when you became an acupuncturist. Wouldn’t you rather be offended by a
blog than change your entire business structure because you think it’s
the right thing to do, only to find out that you are deeply grieved by
not being able to counsel every patient about her lifestyle? After you
had the landlord tear out the walls in your treatment room, after you
changed your clinic name, after you bought a bunch of zero gravity
chairs? So:

1) If I stopped being mean to acupuncturists, I would lose an efficient
and economical way of screening people.

Not to mention, I have met any number of acupuncturists who think they
are interested in community acupuncture because it augments their
shining vision of themselves. Not only are they highly evolved initiates
of an ancient medicine, they Care About The Less Fortunate! These
people are very likely not to be able to attract working class patients
in the first place, or to drive them away later with a lack of cultural
competence. They’re not interested in learning about cultural
competence, they’re interested in being wonderful. The minute that one
of the Less Fortunate does not fit their romantic ideal, they start to
lose interest in the whole project. Since these acupuncturists are also
likely to try to idolize me, a good way to save everyone a lot of time
and trouble is for me to be difficult to idolize, and in my
representative function of all the Less Fortunate out there, to start
the conversation with a pre-emptive fuck you.  Acupuncturists who will
do well in working class communities are generally not the ones who care
if I say fuck you. Even if they disagree with me, my meanness,
whatever, they will take care of the patients they want to take care of,
and they’ll be fine. 

2) If I stopped being mean to acupuncturists, I would end up on a
pedestal constructed by people who couldn’t stand me if they actually
knew me.

Of course, this does not protect me from the phenomenon I think of as
“You’re so great — you know, you’d be even better if you were Gandhi
(/Mother Teresa/ less angry/ more patient/etc etc etc)!” Ahem. 

And here’s the thing about my snarkiness leading to future badmouthing
by conventional acupuncturists: I’ll bet you a stiff drink that the
acupuncturists who told the New York Times that community acupuncture
was the equivalent of a chair massage did not think they were
badmouthing us. If you asked them, they would probably say, “Oh, I think
community acupuncture is just great! Of course, I myself could never
practice that way…I truly need to spend more time with people in order
for them to fully heal..this level of quality is just important to me
personally.” No matter what we say or do, how nice we are or aren’t,
what we do is going to be marginalized and defined as lesser. Part of
that is who we treat, and that’s the basic classism of the NYT article.
But part of it is even more basic economics; if what we do is just as
good, then how do you justify those $85 fees?

3) This is the part where being nicer would in fact kill me. i don’t
want condescending “supporters”. Nothing is going to stop them from
being condescending, but being mean is likely to stop them from being
supporters. Meanwhile, they will say what they would have said anyway.

You know what else is interesting about this? People are unhappy that I
am generalizing acupuncturists, and I also feel that the problem with
their argument is that it is way too general. It’s predicated on
high-minded principles about how the world works: be fair to other
people if you want them to be fair to you, it serves you to be open to
all possibilities,  the world is served if people take a look at their
values and we should help them do that, etc. I wrote in another blog
post in which I was criticized for not being Gandhi that I never claimed
to be trying to be a great humanitarian (see pedestal issue, above); I
developed community acupuncture because I was interested in serving
actual, specific people. And I will be an actual, specific bitch to you
if I think you are contributing to those people not being served. How
many actual, specific BA acupuncturists are going to want to serve
working class communities anyway? Are those people really our audience?

Be fair to other people if you want them to be fair to you — that’s a
nice thought, but it isn’t reality inside the funhouse, the house of
mirrors, that is class dynamics in America. Let me try to say something
less general than, “you just don’t get it!” Your perspective is
profoundly shaped by where you are standing in relationship to all those
unequally curved, distorting mirrors. You see things very differently,
and in terms of vision, it’s not a level playing field. Speaking of
mirrors, I’ve had a lot of people tell me lately that discovering
community acupuncture reminds them of the movie “The Matrix”. There’s
that scene after Neo takes the red pill when he puts his hand through a
mirror; this is the beginning of him realizing that his entire reality
was a lie that someone made up for him. That’s a feeling that comes up
when people are dealing with issues about classism, period, not just in
relationship to community acupuncture. When we say, “you don’t get it!”
what we usually mean is, you are on the other side of the mirror. The
part where you stick your hand through it is not fun, not pleasant, not
comfortable, and we have good reason to suspect you’re not going to do
that unless, for some reason, you have to. Nobody’s niceness or lack
thereof has much bearing on your decision to put your hand through the
mirror. Education is not going to make you want to put your hand through
the mirror, though it can help you once you already have.

Queasiness is a normal response to a weirdly bending mirror, and I’m
going to hazard a guess that this discussion isn’t really about whether
CAN is undermining itself, it’s an attempt to sidestep the queasiness
and get things back to safer ground. Which is why we won’t be having
this discussion repeatedly.  I suggest everybody grab your wrists and
press Pc 6, hard, and get back to the business of living outside (or
inside, if you want) the Matrix.

Author: lisafer

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  1. I don’t think that any

    I don’t think that any potential future community acupuncturist would be stopped by a “fuck you” or an “acupuncturists suck,” it’s true that if CA is right for someone none of those comments will put them off.  I used to be very concerned about the negativity, but the main reason for that was because the people who did feel offended were publicly portraying CAN as a fringe group of angry weirdos, and using the comments to make us seem almost like a cult.  

    I knew of people who heard that and simply dismissed CAN.  That made it much more difficult to get people to take the time to come here and learn the truth about what CA is.  I don’t think this is so much of an issue anymore because CAN has grown to the point where many acupuncturists know members, and the information about what we do is out there in the media and in the schools.  I’m still not a fan of the angry bitchy approach, but I respect my fellow member’s right to express themselves, I don’t think it’s going to hurt us. I don’t think there is any stopping CA at this point. 


  2. fuck you

    Murray Hill Neighborhood Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, LLC

    Address: 1926 East Park Place Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53211

    Open seven days a week by appointment. Phone 414 906 8881.

    6 comfortable recycled lounge chair

  3. ok, then!

    and a hearty fuck you all around!-

    followed by a jumping high five-yeah!!

    but then i gotta run, because our clinic has another 100 treatments to give this week.

    and you all better get going, too, fellow CANers, to give what? about 8,000 treatments all together? this week.

    be careful out there, comrades–and have as much fun as you usually do 😉



    Good health is not a measure of adapting to a sick society.

    When the power of love outshines the love of power, the world will know peace.

  4. The irony of “ancient” wisdom and the reality of health

    Your post reminded me of something I posted on another acuthread board. I got a chuckle reading your post, but in many ways, i understand where you are coming from.

    It is tempting to quote ancient sage wisdom from various TCM sources. It is
    also very tempting to cite inspiration from Chinese culture that due to this
    sage wisdom, their state of health is favorable to that of the U.S.

    How has that ancient wisdom parlayed into current cultural practices of health
    in China?

    China is the world’s largest smoking nation. At 300 million smokers, it
    consumes roughly 1/3 of the world’s cigarettes

    Comparing the percentages, it would seem as if the United States has worse
    health numbers in terms of mortality–figures from 2002. However, looking at
    the raw numbers is just as revealing:

    Cereberal Vascular Disease (China): 1652 (or 18% of deaths)
    Cereberal Vascular Disease (U.S.): 163 (or 7% of deaths)

    Ischemic HT disease (China): 792 (or 8% of deaths)
    Ischemic HT disease (U.S): 514 (or 21% of deaths)

    COPD (china): 1283 (or 14% of deaths)
    COPD (u.s.): 128 (or 5% of deaths)

    Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers (China): 321 (or 4%)
    Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers (U.S.): 157 (or 7%)

    Overall life expectancy:
    The U.S. surpasses the WHO estimates on life expectancy (U.S.: 75 for men and 80
    for women. WHO estimates: 71 for men, 77 for women
    China’s life expectancy is on target with WHO estimates

    **However, comparing these two reports, DM, Alzheimer’s, Breast Cancer, and Road
    Traffic Accidents are not listed among the top ten causes of death in China,
    while they are on the list for the U.S.

    Cesarean section rates:
    China: 46%
    United States: 32%
    ***In this study, a survey (2001-2002) was conducted and 50.7% of Chinese women
    had requested a C-Section.

    Just some proverbial food for thought.

  5. great post, you actual specific bitch

    i love this:

    “Since these acupuncturists are also likely to try to idolize me, a good way to save everyone a lot of time and trouble is for me to be difficult to idolize, and in my representative function of all the Less Fortunate out there, to start the conversation with a pre-emptive fuck you.”

    definitely a good reminder for me and made me laugh out loud.

    i also love the whole matrix analogy. my own experience of discovering community acupuncture (though the Acupuncture Today articles and the LRB back in early 2006) was a lot like that, although i think of it more like the second turning of the wheel of dharma, the emptiness teachings at Vulture Peak, when the Buddha completely pulled the rug out from under all his (most highly evolved and supposedly enlightened – remind you of anyone?) students and gave them heart attacks (though my teacher says that the heart attack thing is more metaphoric and that more likely they just stood up and walked out because they could not handle the shakiness of those teachings). it defintely broke down the made up reality of the acupuncture world status quo i was fed in school immdiately. it did not cause queasiness for me (instead it caused this sort of manic obsessive high), but i think that was because i was really looking for something like that already. one of the reasons i believe it was such a powerful experience is exactly because the Acupuncture Today articles and the LRB were completely uncompromising in their rug-pulling. they spoke to the reality of the situation without beating around the bush: we have set up a classist inaccessible practice model, it does not work and i do not like it, here’s what i did about it. you can do it too. now.


  6. This makes a lot of sense…

    and for a while I had nothing to say, and now we’ve got the whole 800 pound gorilla thing going on, which certainly points up the need get folks to wake up to their assumptions.

    And yet, I’ve been thinking about the Matrix a lot.  I don’t remember the movie that well, but I’m thinking that before Neo got the red pill and put his hand through the mirror, he’d been getting these little insights — these clues that things were not as they seemed.  As I recall, he was also getting some positive feedback — you’re the one, and all that.  I’m not sure if one day, as he was blindly living his life within the Matrix he would have found a red pill, taken it, and put his hand through the mirror.

    For the NYT folks, Lisa’s blog post might have been the very first glimmer, hey, things are not as they seem, the first step to the mirror.  It’s about timing.  My concern was that for people who have never begun to think, hey, things are not as they seem, the early anger might have kept them from exploring further.  That’s why I reacted to the NYT piece when I hadn’t reading the same sort of thing within the CAN community.  (Though I understand once it is written there is no telling when in their journey people will come across it.)

    I’ve heard of Buddhist monasteries where the teachers will come up to people who are meditating and give them a big whack with a stick.  Wake Up is the message.  And that may be perfect for someone on the verge of getting it.  But, if that was someone’s first contact with Buddhism, how many people would explore it and begin to ponder whether it was a worthwhile pursuit.  Zang Fool might choose that spiritual path — and love it all the way — but most folks who follow that path were attracted to the wisdom they saw, and some then decide, hey, it is worth the suffering to get there.

    Some of the things you say about acupuncture culture are really, I believe, reflective of American culture, not just the acupuncture community.  It’s all about me, and how great I am, and what can you do for me.

    I certainly don’t think that if you are fair, the world is fair back and I didn’t mean to suggest that all CAN has to do is be nice and considerate and everyone will be considerate back.

    We do need to wake up to the reality of our human situation, and that usually takes a good whack.  My thinking is that if you come in on the attack from the get go, it gets people’s defenses up.  They can’t hear what you are saying because they’ve already shut you out to protect themselves.  If you can speak in a way that they begin to see the glitches in the system, then a well-timed whack can be just what they need to clear their vision and get them to Wake Up.

  7. I’m wondering if this

    I’m wondering if this “acupuncture-culture” is universal, or at least so in Western culture, because it sure sounds familiar in this part of the world too…

    This really helps me in distinguishing the so-called “supporters” from the true hard-workers.

    Thanks, again…


    Roy Green Pach

    Jerusalem Community Acupuncture

    14 Hillel Street, Jerusalem