April 05, 2006

Editorial Reviews

Starred Review from Kirkus

A resounding, if sometimes overwrought, indictment of all that is wrong with American culture, from arrogance to xenophobia and all points between. As sociologist and cultural critic Berman (Wandering God, 2000) notes, the rest of the world hates us because we don' t know it hates us - and don’t much care. The American empire is both military and cultural, and both are weaker than we think; two pitiable Asian nations are enoughto pin down our vaunted fighting forces, and "many of America 's values in the early twenty-first century are corrosive, and unless the nation can do some rather elaborate soul searching, it needs to lose influence in the rest of the world.” Neocons will dismiss the claim that America’s influence is anything but benign, but Berman fires with both barrels at a culture that, he argues, is rapidly slipping into “second- or third-rate status” as an international power, to be replaced, one supposes, by China, which by Berman’s account is just an Asian iteration of the same problem, in which society is an arena for personal enrichment with none of the requisite reciprocal obligations. The great mass of Americans, by Berman’s depiction, live lives driven by “infantile needs and impulses,” thereby - and here he grows breathless - making possible a society marked by latchkey kids, college graduates who can't find America on the world map, idiotic television shows, obese mall-goers, knee-jerking reactionaries and a president who “lack[s] the ground-level gray matter necessary for the job.” Not that it’s all Bush’s fault. By Berman’s lights, he’s a symptom - but also a cause, a perfect exemplar of a Darwiniansociety that doesn’t believe in Darwinism, a country of a few wealthy people and of “competition, extreme individualism, and loneliness forced onto everybody else,” what passes for freedom these days.
There’s no room for comfort in Berman’s critique: If he’s right, we’re doomed. Hope he’s wrong, then, but by all means consider his provocative argument.

-- Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2006


Anonymous Kenny MacCormack said...

The book is fascinating, although depressing. Usually books of this nature take the form "You're all doomed, but I can fix it for you; follow me!". This one doesn't do that.

Anyway, I have 3 related questions and one not so related:

1) You say there is no cure, but what about causes? Going back to about 1970, what are the causes of the current mess?

2) If there are causes, then what should/could we have done differently?

3) Or, is it inevitable? - i.e., there's nothing that could have been done differently. Note that as a fellow fatalist, I think it is inevitable than any organism will eventually drown in its own success (aka, its own excrement, just like a yeast plant fermenting wine)

4) You focus on the bankruptcy of American culture, but what about other countries? Are any other "Western" (G8) countries doing any better? If so, is there anything we can learn from them?

3:53 PM  

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