May 29, 2006

Beacon blinking out: Dark view of America

Dark Ages America:
The Final Phase of Empire

By Morris Berman
W.W. Norton & Company. 416 pp. $25.95

Reviewed by Gresham Riley
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 May 2006

To readers who already believe or suspect that the United States is in deep trouble at home and abroad, Morris Berman’s new book will come as no surprise.

To those who, like Ronald Reagan twenty years ago, continue to think of the U.S. as "a city on a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere," it will most likely be dismissed as simply another exercise in knee-jerk anti-Americanism. Ironically, such a response will only hasten the outcome that Berman sees as inevitable: the end of the American empire and the dawn of a new "Dark Age."

Morris Berman is not another crackpot eschatologist. He is a serious and careful scholar who charts the final phase of a movement that began as 13 colonies, became transformed into a Republic, changed again into an empire, and now (like Rome at the time of Constantine’s death in A.D. 337) can only look forward to the sun’s setting on its period of world domination.

Berman believes that four characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome have reemerged in American society, and he uses these features to build his case for the book’s main thesis: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture.

The critical turning point in our history, Professor Berman argues, was the transubstantiation of the American republic into an American global empire. Unlike bread and wine, this change was not a miracle but the result of deliberate choices by policy makers and support from the public. Two in particular, one in the foreign policy arena and the second having to do with monetary policy, loom large in Berman’s account.

Regarding foreign policy, common wisdom has it that the diplomat George Kennan was the architect of American Cold War strategy, the principle doctrine of which was the political--not military--containment of the Soviet Union as elaborated in his now famous "long telegram" and the "X" article in Foreign Affairs. Of much greater significance, in Berman’s view, was a subsequent top secret National Security Council document known as NSC-68 (1950), written by Paul Nitze and approved by his boss, Harry S. Truman. Basically, NSC-68 declared that "a defeat of free institutions anywhere is a defeat everywhere" and that, consequently, there was no such thing as "peripheral interests" with respect to American foreign policy. NSC-68 embodied an "Orwellian vision of world domination and permanent war" that guides our decision-making today.

The economic policy choice was the withdrawal by Richard M. Nixon in 1971 from the Bretton Woods Agreement (1944). As described by Berman, Bretton Woods "created a system of more or less fixed exchange rates among world currencies, and placed controls on international capital mobility." The objective was "to create a favorable environment for trade and investment while allowing countries to pursue full employment and social welfare policies." By withdrawing from the agreement, Nixon paved the way for American economic hegemony.

Berman explores these and other "policy roads" taken and not taken in a decidedly non-academic, informal style that is easily comprehensible to the intelligent lay reader. At the heart of his analysis is the idea that becoming an empire was the beginning of the end, because "the process of trying to maintain an empire would generate the resistance sufficient to undermine it."

Empire not only sets loose forces that eventually undercut it, but also corrodes the values, manners, indeed the very personhood, of its citizens. The emptiness and ignorance of the American public provide further evidence for Berman’s conclusion that there is no warding off the Dark Ages. Symbolic of the emptiness at the core of America is the replacement of values derived from the Western heritage and the Enlightenment by a MTV culture: unfettered individualism, consumerism, and hedonism.

As for basic knowledge, there is such a lack of it, Berman writes, "that one has to wonder if we are talking about ignorance or just outright stupidity"--adults who don’t know who our enemy was in World War II; who quiz their travel agents about whether it's cheaper to get to Hawaii by train or plane; who can’t locate the United States on a map; who can’t name the three branches of government; and who lack even an elementary understanding of thesis and proof, evidence and argumentation.

Although Dark Ages America breaks no new ground, Professor Berman assembles with uncommon clarity a vast amount of scholarship, data, and commentary in support of conclusions that most readers will resist. Unfortunately, this timely and important study will most likely be perceived as insufficiently scholarly by the "theory class" and as excessively gloomy by the "leisure class" to be taken seriously by either. Berman obviously anticipated some such reception. But, he explains, "there is value in the truth for its own sake, not just because it may possibly be put to some utilitarian or optimistic purpose."

Gresham Riley, President Emeritus of Colorado College and former president of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, lives in Philadelphia.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your book. It was like swallowing the red pill.

Several of us were inspired to write a blog based on its ideas. This blog was to perhaps get some theories flowing among radicals.

The blog is www.americandarkages.blogspot.com

Thanks again for outlining so clearly the psycholoy of American Think.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the same day the NYT panned this book it carried a long front page article about Angola. In much text not one mention was made that official US policy destroyed Angola'a infrastructure by arming the madman Jonas Savimbi.The official US policy at that time was pro aparthiet. Angola was anti aparthied.

The NYT is another symptom of the dictatorship of ignorance.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Regarding the Times review of DAA by Michiko Kakutani (16 June 06), it would be hard to imagine anything more dishonest or savage. While she has a reputation for this sort of thing, it is also the case that this kind of (fraudulent) castigation of left-wing analyses serves to protect the Times itself from accusations of being left-wing. Hence, her reference to Coulter and O'Reilly at the conclusion ("See, we really aren't as bad as you say!"). An old game, for so-called liberals: Truman gets us into Korea to refute the GOP charge that he "lost" China; JFK gets into office on a phony claim of "missile gap"--etc. In any case, I've written a reply to the Times, and will post it eventually on this blog.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article was pretty informative, and one of the comments made is about a topic that always makes me wonder: the way the media influence America. If there's anything out there right now which can actually have a pretty big impact in numbers on what people hear about and know about, its online information... in blogs, and generally in what individuals write, not corporations. the question that arises is... is cyberlaw going to take over? will 'world' law be implemented on the world wide web to monitor what is being said, and accordingly 'deal' with it? Just a thought. If you feel like telling me your thoughts on this, just post it on www.thoughtfulplanet.blogspot.com

Thanks.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is likely that Michiko Kakutani does not interact much with people outside of her social circle. She probably does not even read articles published in her own newspaper, such as the ones about the Kaavya Viswanathan case, accredited colleges that enroll high school drop-outs, "undervaluation" of Cornell University's "brand name", globalization of exorbinant executive compensation practices and product placement in children's books, among others. It is also lost on her that increasing mainstreaming of the likes of O'Reilly and Coulter, who pollute what passes for public discourse today is a reflection of our deeply flawed values.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well I agree with most of your
analysis , I still have some
fears about a
Catholic/Communitarian trojan horse.
If you cannot reject and abjure
monomaniacal, mediterranean
monotheism and all of its evil works,
well then you'll just have to
be identified with its evil quirks
Duh!
By the way: The "review" on the
NYT site is a scurilous indicator
of the subservience of the
gleichgeschalteten Presse.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you tell us please is there a way for one to E mail you - Morris Berman, a personal message? I have something important to say. Thanks

12:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Regarding contacting me via e-mail: it's mauricio@morrisberman.com. Thank you!

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has become apparent to me lately that a deliberate "dumbing down" of American society, & our school curriculums, has taken place. I always wondered why anyone would want this to happen, but it is like the Founders said: "You can't be both ignorant & free", so they wanted us to be too ignorant to vote. Then they could take away our freedom without much opposition.
Students today do not know about the Bill of Rights, or the basics about our Constitution, so they would not even know the difference if they lost it all one sunny day. And much has been lost in the last 5 yrs since 9/11. Public apathy has been encouraged, & "circuses" have been invented to distract us from any serious subjects of national concern. It is even a matter of pride for some people to display ignorance & stupidity, while they admire sports heroes & the weirdest musicians & entertainers. At Duke Univ, most of the female population engage in something akin to prostitution, instead of normal dating, & they are supposed to be from the upper class sororities. Decay is also seen in that most Bush appointees are not chosen for their education, or experience, or qualifications for the job, but instead are given the job because of a proven ability to write checks for the Bush campaign.
Also, like Rome, we have allowed the "barbarians" at the gate to enter our country & take part in our policies. It is a major mistake to allow illiterates without any real loyalty to the US, to VOTE & become citizens too easily. OUR Founders did not allow slaves or even women to vote. It was a very restricted privilege. Women had to wait 144 years to vote. So why should Mexicans be able to waltz in here & vote in a short time? It is all set up for failure of America. And NOTE this: Daddy Bush gave 2 speeches while he was Prez, saying we should look forward to a New World Order, where USSR & other nations would work together for trade & harmony. He gave credibility to the Soviets & to Red China to be our allies, when both of those Communist nations were only working against us.
It is truly a Dark Ages coming down - & we are not ready to accept it. After our Economy collapses, due to Bush policies that are "identical" to Hoover's that led us into the Great Depression of 1929, we may have to finally face the music. Mass unbridled corporate greed, along with treasonous sell-outs of our industrial base, & those more interested in "not paying their taxes", instead of taking care of the stability of the American economy, have all triumphed over much sounder minds. Before we even knew a problem existed, it had already spread thru our system & demolished much of our infrastructure. MORE TO COME.

7:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the "rigged" elections in 2000 & in 2004, you can read much more detailed information in an article written by Robt F Kennedy, Jr -- (son of Atty General Robt F. Kennedy) --in the ROLLING STONE magazine -- dated June 15, 2006 -- (issue 1002)--- on page 46.
It is 7 pages long & gives very detailed info about the way the election of 2004 was not legally conducted. (Putting it mildly).

4:21 AM  
Blogger ATLien30310 said...

I concur with all that has been said about the failures of the U.S. education system, and the resultant lack of intellectual preparedness of the U.S. electorate as a whole. TV news is a glaring indication of the sad situation.

I have a neighbor and good friend who is a compassionate intelligent person with a Masters in sociology and who administers a social services program with a staff of 40 people, and from all i've heard, does it well.

Yet his idea of getting the news is to watch the local "if it bleeds it leads" news on the local Fox station followed by watching Geraldo!

I have to take issue with a previous poster who says that Mexicans can waltz in and vote and that they are "illiterates without any real loyalty to the US". First, undocument aliens (if that is his concern) cant vote. One has to be naturalized in order to be able to vote. Therefore one has to attain a certain literacy in english (which some native-born US Americans have gotten by without attaining).

Also Mexican-Americans, like other voters of color already have attained a level of education which apparently difficult for "white" Euro-American voters to attain: i.e., the knowledge of what it is like to live under a white supremacist environment. Having this knowledge enables people to understand more clearly economic and political developments in the U.S. and the world.

As an aside that is off-topic to the main thrust of this thread, I would also note that the whole southwestern third of the current US territory was flat-out stolen from Mexico in a war of agression. So morally speaking Mexicans should have the right to come and go as they please without the necessity of being documented by the political entity that stole their land. And Spanish should be one of the official languages in this country.

This post is offered as the expression of opinions and not meant as a personal comment against anyone contributing comments here.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

REPLY: My stmt that Mexicans can "waltz in here and vote" (& become citizens in a short time) was only as a comparison to the simple fact that women could not vote here for 144 yrs -- & it certainly does not take aliens that long to vote, after they come here. Also, women learned to live under a male dominated environment for 2 centuries & STILL have to fight for basic rights to their own bodies & lives. So they know about oppression even though they may be "white". Just being under the thumb of a male boss can really be a headache for many women who are often demeaned, & harassed by employers.
---You said that aliens can't vote & must be naturalized citizens, which requires they attain literacy in English. If so, then why do they require ballots to be printed in Spanish?
--- Also, there are Catholic priests this year telling illegal aliens to go register to vote, since Calif & other states do not require proof of citizenship to vote.
--Speaking of official languages, maybe we should have Cherokee as another one of our main languages, since I am sure they were here before the Pilgrims. But that would start to get ridiculous, so we must pick "one" main useful language & stick to it --Our first Founders spoke English & all our govt documents were written in English & the majority population of the US has spoken English for 2 centuries - so that seems to be the best choice for the modern era. If you refer to AZTLAN, as a reason to allow aliens to come & be considered citizens, with no need for documents, THAT land is a Myth.
My history on South West USA is not perfect -- but part of that US land was once owned by Napoleon (France) & they sold it to the USA, long ago when they needed money. Once land has been sold, it becomes property of the buyer. Or else there would be no legal claim to ANY land in the world.
In ALL history, the current nations belong to whomever WON them in warfare, or PAID for them in the distant past. (That is the way of the world, not a recent principle set up by the USA). --The white gringos came to this land & built a great govt, & beautiful bldgs, & roads, schools, & bridges -- & gave us just laws, & freedom & opportunity unheard of in the rest of the world. They planted the seeds of our crops, and our civilization & all the inventions of radios, airplanes & telephones & autos that were to change the world.
-- So now the men who claim to come from Aztlan want to walk in & claim ownership of all this, when they did NOTHING to build it or
establish it? If we had to return any land to them, as it was received by us,it would be barren empty land.
--If anyone could make a claim vs the US govt for this land, it would be the native Indians, who had tribes here before 1492 & were here to welcome the Pilgrim explorers.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Education in the USA must be a joke, since 1/2 of the students are now dropping out, & many are not literate enough for good jobs. It is appalling in the era of computer & worldwide webs & 24/7 TV coverage that people could be DUMBER than they were in the 60's & 70's. What happened? Is it possible that intelligence is purely hereditary?
And no amt of school & education can make some people capable of learning? If so, then we might as well put them all in jail at age 18, since it would save law enforcement the trouble of having to arrest them later.
Make jails a workplace community 4 permanent residence of ones who would be committing crimes otherwise. Classroom studies could give field trips to local prisons to demonstrate future home environment unless they shape up & attempt to learn or at least pay attention. NOT SERIOUS commentary,
as much as conjecture
and satire.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should we really expect anything more from the NY Times?

Afterall, this kind of reaction is what your book is about.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last night on C-SPAN, they had a USAF Lt Col Bowman who was a pilot in VietNam -- who told us the 9/11 plane attack was not true as advertized.
A physicist said the WTC bldg was brought down by use of Thermite that leaves a unique chemical residue in the debris.
All bldgs that fell (on 9/11) have the earmark of deliberate implosion.
The panel of speakers said that our air defense was not functioning at all for 1-1/2 hours that day, so did not launch any defensive missiles. And all the speakers declared that this 9/11 attack was only "synthetic terrorism" made in the USA for the purpose of launching an attack on Iraq. It had all been planned ahead of time -- & Cheney said "We need some severe catalyst event similar to Pearl Harbor to get this going" & VOILA' - 9/11!!
---Funny how they attacked the wrong nation for 9/11. They all said it assuredly was Osama who did the evil deed, but then went totally off track to invade Iraq --- which is pretty poor intelligence, if you ask me. If they can't even figure out what country Osama was from, since he was an investor in G "W" Bushs own oilwell company at Harken Energy. The bin Laden family has close ties, allied to the Bush family due to investmt in OIL, & also in the Defense industry. The Carlyle Group is one place both families are connected. (Bush/binLaden) as it involves US govt contracts for weapons --- People who invest there make a BUNDLE when ever there is a WAR, so ??? Gee, do you suppose THAT is any reason why Daddy Bush & Georgie W both waged wars with Iraq? ---- Now let us play CONNECT THE DOTS ---- Osama binladen worked for the CIA, & of course Daddy Bush was the CIA director a few yrs ago -Cozy, huh?
-----------
Next, Osama invests in Bush oil co & defense hardware. Then for no good reason he makes a plan for planes to attack the WTC bldg in New York, & takes all the blame for it, but Bush lets his entire family flee the USA without any detention or interrogation -- & mysteriously nobody ever catches Osama.--- Mostly because they are stupid enough to be looking for him in a cave in a desert some where. He is a millionaire & a college grad & most likely is hiding in a 5 star hotel in Zurich, near the Mtns, using a/c & lots of room service. He has lots of siblings in Paris & Zurich as binladens have 50+ children -- so Osama likes to be with his dear bros & sisters. And go up to the Alps once in a while for a photo opportunity -- & give out a new videotape.
BUSH FAMILY & Bin Laden family have probably made $$ BILLIONS from this stupid Iraq War -- & will make even more, the longer the war goes on. (Yawn) This CONNECT THE DOTS is much too simple. It bores me..

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New show on Oprah tells of drop-out rates in Wash DC, where the schools are in horrible condition & 12th grade students are reading at the 7th grade level ---& drugs are every where. It is mostly a minority school, & as studies have shown, IQ certainly is hereditary.
Would millions of dollars in computers make them capable of giving up drugs & sex long enough to be able to study algebra? Is there some way to motivate kids to stay in school when they are bored, & have no goals except for the moment?
---A recent show C-SPAN interviewed 6 hi school teachers, & asked about their main troubles in educating modern youth. It was appalling, to see that those 6 teachers were themselves very ignorant. They were supposed to be teaching history & govt, but it was obvious they were not well versed in those subjects themselves.
Also, when asked who the first 5 US presidents were, many of the kids could not answer even one. But kids in CHINA could tell who the first 5 US presidents were. Wild.
---Bill Gates said it was a crisis in our nation, to be way behind the rest of the world & we would lose our status as world leaders. It was titled on TIME mag we are the "Drop-out Nation."
----Once we lowered the standards to allow for integrated schools, we began the process of decay. In the 50's we had serious standards set to graduate, & many schools now are just happy if the kids do not burn down the school, or stab the teachers. They can get an "A" just for showing up.
It is pitiful because it then makes ALL diplomas null & void. How do employers know which diploma is for REAL achievement & which have been given out like potato chips? ----
Bill Gates said not only were the kids dropping out, but were not really qualified for any good jobs. A whole generation of semi-literate druggies will soon be the ones in charge of running this nation -- voting & teaching & piloting your planes --- adding up your bank accts, & filling your RX at the pharmacy. God help us ---it is already so bad that you can't find anyone anyplace capable of answering the simplest question. One day recently I called up a Law Office & asked the secretary what kind of law they practiced?
Was it criminal law, or patent law, or divorce law? The girl did not know, & yet she worked there every day. You'd think she might be curious enough to find out!!
--Most of the younger generation do not vote, & I guess it is a good thing, because frankly they do not know, or care, about any of the issues. They only live for their acrylic nails, their suntan & their white teeth. It is true, they are so superficial--- How can any teacher reach this mindset? I guess Morris would know about that, as he lectures a lot. But I assume he goes to an audience that is already educated. Any ideas or suggestions?

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

US-Mexican War ended in 1848 with Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The US had invaded & occupied all major cities in Mexico, & so their president met with US & made a Treaty to define the borders & set rules.
We had WON the south west states in warfare, & then as part of the treaty, the US PAID $20 million dollars to Mexico for the land we acquired. It sounds fair to me.
They even offered US citizenship to many Mexicans who lived in ceded areas. It was as fair as these things usually can be. There is no real reason for Mexicans to be offended now -- 156 yrs later, as to terms of that agreement made eight generations ago. None of us can go back & change history, & it would serve no useful purpose. It is important for all people involved to live for NOW, & try to make the best of their lives now, thru education, hard work & character.
---And it never hurts to buy a lottery ticket now & then:)

3:04 AM  
Anonymous Tommykey said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

As with other commenters here, I found out about your book when I checked out C-Span 2 a couple of weekends ago and they were showing a talk you gave about your book at a bookstore.

I was actually on a weekend vacation at the time with my wife and kids out on the east end of Long Island. After hitting the Tanger Mall, I made a point of going to a nearby Borders and looked for your book in the Politics section. I did not see it so I looked on the computer and it reported that it had 2 copies of DAA in stock. I asked a clerk to help me and he still had no luck. After searching other sections of the store where it might be, I took one last stab in the Politics section and out of curiosity, I decided to see if it was hidden behind other books and sure enough I located both copies. I wonder if someone who did not approve of your book's thesis deliberately hid them.

Anyway, I remember an important argument of your book is that our culture of individualism and the pursuit of material gain, and the rise of suburban sprawl at the expense of cities, planned communities and public transportation. This morning while riding the train to work, I was reading a copy of Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene", which a coworker loaned to me.

I came across the following paragraph (edited by me) which touched on the theme described above: "An evolutionarily stable strategy of ESS is defined as a strategy which, if most members of a population adopt it, cannot be bettered by an alternative strategy. Another way of putting it is that the best strategy for an individual depends on what the majority of the population are doing. Since the rest of the population consists of individuals, each one trying to maximize his OWN success (emphasis in the original), the only strategy that persists will be one which, once evolved, cannot be bettered by any deviant individual.... Once an ESS is achieved it will stay: selection will penalize deviation from it."

12:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tommykey:

Thank you for your kind comments. With regard to Dawkins and the emphasis on the individual gene, you might check out the alternative view presented by David Sloan Wilson in "Darwin's Cathedral," which I thought was very enlightening.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding the above post, I find it sad that any or all "deviant" individuals who differ from the norm (ESS) would be punished. It is probably true, but what if that one man was able to offer a unique perspective that could solve a few problems of that society? It sounds like they were advocating conformity.
Like the imposed conformity of the Nazi era. Nobody dared to be deviant back then. You could end up in the ovens. (A sort of human deviant pretzel).---- But if the norm of a certain society had evolved to cannibalism --- should all persons be forced to participate? --- What if they were all trying to maximize their OWN success, by committing crimes & robberies? In cults & orgns like Manson's Family, they did drugs & even murder as part of their social norm
----And some religions perform ritual sacrifices of animals & humans. ---If a deviant person came along & tried to change that, would he be much better off if he remained silent? It seems hard to accept that everyone must sacrifice their heart & soul to the "group" just to get along. We'd lose the one unique thing we have as human beings. The right to be who we are.

4:43 AM  
Blogger phil_k said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

I have really enjoyed reading and re-reading your latest book - DAA. What a great thought-provoking and moving analysis of our current situation in this country!

I am a first generation American, having emigrated to the US at the age of 14 from St. Petersburg, Russia where I was born. Being somewhat of an outsider, I can definitely attest to the truth of the "American portrait" you have drawn in your book. What amazes me the most about average Americans is the lack of plain curiosity about the world around them; everyone seems so content to just run in circles as fast as they can until they finally collapse at the finish line with a heart attack. As Nelson Demille quotes in his book "Gold Coast", (one of my favorites), "the business of America is business". That seems to sum it up.

Certainly, some of the same elements are, and always have been present in Russia as well, especially prior to the Revolution of 1917. Amazingly, one of the positive things about the Communist regime was the general increse of literacy among the Russian population on the periphery.

Of course, in St. Petersburg (Leningrad when I lived there), most average schoolboys could easily carry a coversation about elemental aspects of history, science, and art. I know this next things will sound conceited and snobbish, but it simply seems to be true - even though I was only 14 when I emigrated to the US, and I never went to liberal arts school here, I find that I am much more versed in world literature, history and sciences than most adults with a college degree.

Having said all this, I can equally attest to the advantages of living in this country. Growing up during the end of the Cold War, I observed a gradual shift in perception towards US; first it was regarded as "evil empire of decadent capitalism"; however towards the mid 80s the "underground" attitude was one of admiration of American culture and "freedom". There was definitely an allure, a glittering "dream" that lay across the ocean and was oh, so tempting.

For the first couple of years after emigrating in 1991, America truly seemed a paradise (even though we had to live in an overcrowded apartment in Brooklyn for the first year). Abundance of choices, accessibility and supersaturation of entertainment, polite smiles in stores and infinite number of cable channels - could this be heaven?

However, after a while I began to see that the "freedom" aspect was precisely what you describe as a freedom "from" and not a "freedom to ", at least not for a vast majority of people. The commercial "advantages" prove to be less than satisfying for any thinking person who refuses to accept that life means having the latest gadgets.

Where I live now (in Greenville, SC - don't ask how I ended up there), most people have a very primitive if not ignorant view of outside world, most don't have any contact with outside world. Some, I am sure, have lived their entire lives and died, without any awareness of the larger world all around them, not only in the geographical sense, but in the realm of thought and purpose.

However, amazingly enough, I see some beacons of hope.

Greenville,for one, has made some impressive strides towards creating a true "community atmosphere" and popularizing liberal arts among its citizens. In your chapter on city planning you describe how most cities lack walking spaces, and how pernicious the "car culture" can be in relation to developing a sense of "connectedness" with other people. In that sense, I have to really applaud the city planners of Greenville that have literally transformed the downtown area to one of the nicest spots in the Upstate to relax, walk, have fun with kids and enjoy the beauty of about 26 acres of tastefully landscaped trails, waterfalls and botanic garden spots. The downtown area features a symphony orchestra which performs some of the best classical pieces directed by Edvard Tchivzhel (who incidentally was also born in St. Petersburg) (see Greenville Symphony. Performances are held monthly and attendance is normally at about 60%-70% of the full capacity of the concert hall which is probably around 800-900.
There is a free trolley service that circles around downtown and allows one to get a good feel of the area. See this link for more details on our downtown and the activities. All this, coupled with a good public library network and community activities, has served as a wonderful channel of enlightenment for the Greater Greenville population and has created much support and excitement from those in the community that applaud these efforts and participate in the cultural rennaisance of the area.

In short, while I think, you analysis is accurate about the general trend of cultural decline nationwide, it seems there are "pockets of resistance" tucked away in most unexpected places, and who knows, maybe that's all we can ever reasonably expect in this world?
Maybe Giordano Bruno is always doomed to be finally burned at the stake for daring to be just a little bit too curious about the world around him?

3:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Phil:

Thank you for your long and informative posting. The business about Americans running in circles as fast as they can to no purpose reminds me of a postcard I once saw, mounted on the coffee machine in the Lost Dog Cafe, Shepherdstown, WV: DRINK COFFEE, said the headline. Underneath it:
"Do stupid things faster with greater energy." A sad description of too much of American life, I fear. BTW, the line abt the business of America is business is from Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.

All the best,
mb

7:30 PM  
Blogger phil_k said...

Thanks for replying to my post,
I do have one other thought for discussion that I'd like to share (hopefully this one will be shorter, than the previous post, all of my English teachers have always told be I am much too verbose).

In your book you frequently bring up the subject of religion and its role in the American outlook on life. It's a subject fraught with much emotion not only in this country, but all over the world and throughout history. It's also a subject that is perhaps the hardest to be objective about because of
1) its subjective nature by definition
and
2)its intense personal/emotional nature. I am sure you will be able to easily perceive my own bias in the discussion.

Having said all of this, here are some of my observations/reflections on this topic:

1. General lack of depth in practically all spheres of life has affected religion in America as simply another aspect of life to be conquered. To paraphrase Dostoyevsky's "Brothers Karamazov": "To follow Christ is more than giving thirty pennies to a beggar". Perhaps Bush is a symbol of this depthless religiosity that is really a mockery of people with real faith based on a well thought out conviction. A good contrast here might be someone like C.S.Lewis, a professor of English literature at both Cambridge and Oxford, who had to wrestle with a lot of issues before and after he came to faith as an adult(see his books "Surprised by Joy" and "The Problem of Pain"). Another example could be Francis Shaeffer who founded L'Abri fellowship in Switzerland as a place for respectful discussion with students about philosophy and religion. All this to say that while in US culture religion and intellectual englightenment and love of knowledge seem to be antithetical , in my opinion, they definitely need not be so.



2. Growing up in an atheistic country we were always given a negative spin on religion in general , no matter what the name. "Opium for the masses", to quote Marx. Religious fanaticism throughout centuries was presented to us as kids in school as the true representation of a whole gamut of religious sentiment present in the world. As an adult I now see that religion is not bad per se, it's the fanatical and often childish attitude of "I know it all, you are wrong, so down with you" that is the problem. After all, Christianity in particular has inspired some of the greatest works of art ("Prodigal Son", "The Last Supper"), music (multiple works by Bach, Handel's "Messiah"), and even social reforms - Salvation Army, Red Cross, abolitionist movement by Wilberforce are all examples that immediately come to mind.

3. The subject of evolution vs. creation and the "intelligent design" movement has definitely caught national attention and can definitely warrant a book of its own (and it very well maybe a rabbit trail that you really did not intent for your readers to turn off on). I am only going to bring it up for one point: I think the cornerstone of scientific methodology is ability fo falsify or verify a theory via rigorous testing . This test seems to fail when discussing origins since we are talking about an event that's non-recurring in nature by its very definition. So, in a case like this, one has to look at different frameworks/presuppositions and then (understanding the assumptions in each framework) try to explain the evidence in terms of each framework. Unfortunately, because of seemingly irreconcilable hostility of each camp towards the other, the dialogue has never taken place, whereas in my opinion, each "camp" could benefit from a respectful discussion. A lot of the so-called debates very quickly degenerate into mud flinging from each side.

Comments?

1:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Phil:

Honestly, I'm the wrong person to be running a blog, as I've never been into long intellectual discussions online. My apologies. What I *can* suggest is that a lot of the questions you ask are addressed in a book I published years ago, Coming to Our Senses. Despite what they say, it is available thru Amazon (be persistent with yer mouse); or from the distributor, Book Clearing House (bookch@aol.com)in Harrison, NY (they have a 1-800 #). Good luck, and I hope this helps.

-mb

8:46 AM  
Blogger phil_k said...

No problem,

I'll check out the book :),
and will probably post some feedback
after that. Speaking of intellectual
discussion, I recently performed an
online search for "intellectual forum",a place to share ideas, etc. , but what mostly came up were advertisements for "protecting intellectual property", I thought that was a commentary of sorts on the triumph of utilitarianism on the web.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman

i havnt read your book
i have heard your inerviews on booktv. it was curious the life of early 70s when we where fighting for individualism while the corperations, and politics uesd Bernay to take our souls and put hands in our pockets by classifying our identities again blind folding us by awnsering the wishes of our petty desires. there was a short golden age that wasnt complete oblivion. and the crowds dont believe in evolution this primative hunger for power isnt enough evidence. its obvious to say that there could only be a miriacle to save a empire.
perhaps a wonderful chemistry
the consioussness of the egyptions
the courage of the french revolution
the compassion of the sun.
thats already asking much hah
heres to a bitter ending and a sweet beginning. my friends and i very much appriciate your honesty.
thank you

IV

7:01 AM  

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