August 08, 2006

Q&A with Washington Independent Writers

Q&A: Morris Berman
By Michael Causey, WIW Board Member

As a lauded social critic and cultural historian, Morris Berman is an acute observer of humanity and specifically America and Americans in the 21st century. He does not like much of what he sees. In his new book, Dark Ages America (W.W. Norton), he offers a heartfelt and depressingly convincing portrait of a nation in a Roman-style decline and a people adrift. It was not a surprise, in fact, to learn from Berman that the working title for the book was "Colossus Adrift."
The book is brave in that it does not promise any easy solutions. Indeed, Berman argues, perhaps the best we can hope for in a post 9-11 America, where civil liberties are being shredded and the gap between the rich and poor widens each day, is to slow our national decline and to fashion the softest possible landing.
WIW spoke with Berman in May in the midst of a book tour that included vibrant, well-attended stops in cities including D.C., San Francisco, and New York, as well as a surreal event in a Philadelphia bookstore where the three people in attendance had come thinking the book was written by a noted ophthalmologist.
Berman has been visiting professor in sociology at the Catholic University of America in D.C. since 2003. He also offers writing workshops in the area.

Dark Ages America is a fine book, but it was clearly hard to write and it is not fun stuff by any stretch. Why do you do it? What drives you?

Well, this is my sixth book. At one point two or three years ago, I made a rough calculation of all the hours I had spent writing the books I had published and the royalties I had earned. I then did some division and determined that since my first book in 1978, I had made roughly 2.5 cents an hour.
I often tell people that even if you are in the business to write a bestseller, which is a long shot and was never my intent anyway, writing is not a career you enter upon because it is lucrative.
Obviously, if I wanted to support myself a lot better, this was the wrong career to choose. I didn't write to produce a bestseller or turn a big profit. I wrote because these were important statements to me and represented problems I believe we need to try to solve.
Personally, I write to solve what I regard as crucial cultural questions, or dilemmas. When it is working, writing has a certain quality whereby the characters or ideas take over, and the energy starts to move you along, involuntarily, as it were. That is a sign that things are on track. It's larger than the writer, and pulls him or her along.
Writing becomes an adventure if you are open to exploration. In all six of my books, I rode the energy; I let it carry me rather than the reverse.
As far as I can make out, there are two categories of writers: Those who have something to say, and those who want to say something. I think the second category is largely worthless. But if the writing comes from your core, from a really deep place within you, it will carry you. You may not earn a cent, but again, that shouldn't be the point of it. The best book I ever wrote, Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality, sold something like 2,000 copies. I made virtually nothing from it in royalties—a few hundred dollars at most—and it took me ten years to write.

What kind of reaction have you received from readers and out on your book tour?

Well, I can tell you the most fun reaction, at least for me, was in a bookstore in Philadelphia. Apparently there was no listing in the local newspaper for the talk, but I was identified on the bookstore flyer as the Dean of Optometry at University of Southern California/Fullerton. Three people came, and one of them fell asleep (not that I really blame the guy). So I've taken to telling people that if they buy the book, I'll throw in a free eye exam. All of which goes to show that you can't take yourself too seriously.
But in San Francisco and New York there was a lot of advance publicity, and more than 100 people showed up at most of the talks. The reaction varies from city to city, but generally speaking, audiences have been pretty intense. Most of them wanted answers and they were appreciative of the fact that my book doesn't offer up easy solutions, such as meditating or logging onto an Internet grassroots website. There is no easy or even hard way out, really. We Americans have been raised on Emerson and Disney... we believe there is always an answer. But I think most of us are divorced from reality, and this is an important aspect of the fog in which we move. As Gore Vidal once wrote, "Americans never learn; it's part of our charm."
Dark Ages America is a record of our demise, and as such I don't expect it to sell much more than the 35,000 copies my previous book [ The Twilight of American Culture ] did.

Turning to nuts and bolts a bit, how do you work? How do you write?

I don't have writer's block too often, thank god. But I remember that on one occasion—with The Reenchantment of the World—I did get stuck and painted myself out of it. I was living in San Francisco. An artist friend gave me the keys to his loft. I got a canvas and some acrylics and 'solved' the problem on the canvas. In the case of Wandering God, the topic is so comprehensive, and the thesis so counterintuitive, that a few times I thought the whole thing had gone on the rocks. There were at least two occasions with it where I thought I'd lost the book entirely. So for days, I let it sit on my desk while I walked the streets, talking to myself—and finally I realized I could solve the problem by making the 'box' of the argument larger, i.e. enlarging the scope. In both cases I was able to save it, but I have to admit that it was a close shave, and actually kind of scary.
My biggest challenge is probably finding time to write in between making a living—I teach workshops in writing and editing. I can't do these and write at the same time; it is just too exhausting. But on days when I'm not teaching, I like to sit down at my desk around 8 in the morning and write until about 1 p.m. Then I feel like I am done for the day. After that I might go to the gym, see friends, go to a movie, or read fiction. I write about five pages a day that way. That would mean about 1,800 pages a year, which is obviously too long for a book. But obviously, much of the work is pure research. Generally, a chapter takes me about six months to research and write; sort of like going back to graduate school in each case.

How do you teach writing?

I've taught writing in two contexts. The first is in continuing education programs over several weeks. Say, every Thursday night 30 people for 2.5 hours for eight to twelve weeks. I really enjoy it because I can watch the material get better over time. We do a lot of exercises that are quite intimate and involve risks—and that's how you become a good writer.
The other way is a workshop for one or two days. Students have a variety of reasons for taking these, but I'm guessing that most of them are job related. In these, all I can really hope to do is give the students the confidence to launch into writing, to get the whole process started. I make it clear to them that I can't turn them into accomplished writers in a day or two, but maybe I can open the door just a crack.
I've been doing both for a long time and am quite happy with it. I know the mechanics and psychology of writing and love the fact that the majority of people who attend seem really interested and just soak it up.
With any writing, though, it comes down to this: If it is not happening for you, if the hair on the back of your neck isn't standing up when you sit down at your desk, then it probably isn't working. If you are bored, your readers will be, too. You know the old saw: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. If the emotions and the intellect come together, you are probably on the right track.

Morris Berman's books are listed on Amazon.com. For in-depth discussions of Dark Ages America, please go to www.morrisberman.com.

33 Comments:

Blogger goethean said...

Mr. Berman, Are you coming to Chicago? Or did I miss you already?

5:39 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Gothean:

No plans to speak in the Windy City, alas, unless I get an invitation from some organization or institution. If my publisher sends me on another book tour next spring, when the pb edition of DAA is out, I'll be sure to ask him to put Chicago on the itinerary. Thanks for asking, in any case, and let's keep our fingers crossed.

Best,
mb

4:50 PM  
Blogger Matt Cardin said...

I really appreciate your posting this interview, since I've long been fascinated with the self-accounts writers give of their own work habits and creative processes. This is the first time I've seen you talk about your own writerly experiences and approaches -- actually, it's the first time I've seen an interviewer ask you about such things, although I may just be uninformed -- so I found this to be quite a welcome blog update.

I especially appreciate your observation that the experience of writing each chapter of a new book feels like going back to graduate school, and also your description of the internal energy that emerges and begins to propel a project almost automatically when the writing is going well. The second is a state that I seek and cherish. The first describes something that I, too, feel whenever I'm approaching a major new nonfiction project. So thanks again for sharing this.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Nancy Hand said...

Dear Morris,

I'm watching your book talk on Book TV and think yours is a very important book and agree with many of the ideas you express. I agree we are obsessed with answers and Hallmark endings, which is illusory. But we also have to live in this world and I wonder if your saying that "meditating or joining a grassroots group won't help" in such a dismissive way isn't likely to encourage inaction and apathy. If nothing will help, why bother to write books? This is not intended as a challenge as much as a desire to explore this very important issue with which I grapple continually. At the moment, I think the most powerful thing we can do is actually treat one another differently, create, in reality, alternative models of relating to one another, as best we can. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Best,
Nancy

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Kevin Moreland said...

Hi Morris,

I am one of two co-founders of WorldwideRenaissance.org. I just viewed your airing on C-Span and appreciated your insight very much. We like covering this type of material in our 3 websites. If you have time could you please visit us and leave us a comment? A link to our site would be great in your links section! We are looking to cover material relating to "Dark Ages America" and would welcome your suggestion. We are looking to partner with as many individuals and organizations as possible to focus energy and get this country and world turned around.

Sincerely,
Kevin

3:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Nancy:

My own feeling is that the truth always helps in some undefined way (at least), even if it's only in a personal or individual sense. I didn't expect DAA to change anything, but I still found it worthwhile to see what was out there, what the reality was. Truth, certainly, is not a question of optimistic or pessimistic--its job is simply to be the truth, not to make us feel good or necessarily lead to any action. This framework, I believe, makes for good history and social science. And most of the email messages I get, I have to say, are along the lines of 'Thank you for just telling it like it is.' It helps, in short, to just know what the score is; where we are at. For me, at any rate, that's enough.

Thanks for writing-
mb

6:25 PM  
Anonymous vincent g thomas said...

I just saw and heard you on Book TV and I am looking forwrd to reading your latest book.
Small town media, seems to go out of its way to report "good news." Recently, a locl newspaper decided to place national and world news on inside pages.
Local TV always ends its newscast with the weather and upbeat comments,
I was at a gym the other day. A woman clicked on Fox TV which had a newscast on the wars, Iraq and Lebanon. her comment: " Oh, that's so depressing." She changed to Tony Danza.
Meanwhile, we spend $3 billion a week on a "war" losing our young men and women; as you said we find it too difficult to do anything about.
Keep on keepin' on.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Matt Cardin said...

Count me among those who see great value, although not of a utilitarian type, in simply telling it like it is. This kind of truth talk provides an odd sort of comfort because it helps people to gain a bird's-eye view of what's going on around them. If it's truly the case that American cultural decline has progressed to the point where a system-level fix is now impossible, as you argue in DAA, Morris, then I think the sort of wide-ranging analysis and critique that you provide is all the more valuable, as opposed to being superfluous, precisely because its effects therefore occur and accrue at the level of individuals.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Johann said...

I watched you on C-SPAN yesterday. It was the most interesting talk by an author I've seen in a while. I don't know if you've been on Charlie Rose yet, but your topic would make a great Charlie Rose interview.

Like most of your audience, I found myself looking for the easy answers. I want to believe that America can "will" itself beyond the challenges it faces.

12:06 PM  
Blogger 123-I-Love-You said...

Mr. Berman -

NMI: If you say it quickly it sounds like "enemy." Was this intentional (as in, "enemy of moronification")?

Really love your writing and your outlook.

Derek.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear 123: Or "enemy of the state"; but no, I missed the verbal dimension of the whole thing; thanks.

And Dear Johann: Thanks for the shot in the arm. As for Charlie Rose, he has his stable of "house" authors or visitors, and rarely goes outside his very tight comfort zone. The chances of an invitation are roughly negative infinity. But Rose is a great example of how censorship works, American-style. When he does (almost never) have someone on who thinks outside of the box, it's so threatening for him that he barely lets the guy speak. This happened with Noam Chomsky abt 2 yrs ago. Charlie wd ask Noam a question; Noam wd start to reply; then Charlie became so threatened/terrified that he would talk over Noam, or even shout him down. I think in a 1-hr program, Noam managed to speak for 7 mins! And Charlie is a fairly bright guy; which goes to show you that real stupidity is ontological in nature, ie goes down to the very nature of being. This is why intelligent people voted for Bush; they are coming from a place of deep irrational fear--which is, of course, what this administration plays on. God forbid, Charlie might have listened to an alternative viewpoint for more than 7 mins. Bottom line: you'll see me on his show when pigs fly.

7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

I am big fan ever since your earlier book. I also hope you can come to Chicago, maybe Evanston? I think the whole problem is perspective. I lived in Germany for a few years, and I was able to see a Social vibrant economy. I was able to walk through Hamburg at all times of the night with no fear. I encountered this in Ireland as well, where you feel that everyone is in this together. Being poor in America means having terrible schools, violence, and ignorance all around you. Look at Chicago today. Where are the middle class areas? It is either rich or incredibly poor. Evanston manages to have the rich and poor literally side by side, but the growing strain is apparent and cannot hold forever. I never would have seen any of this without the comparison of my time spent in Germany. Most Americans don't travel, and when they do they are so focused on having the comforts of home; it is sad.

I do consider you a mentor, although we have never met. It is a wonderful thing to have your inner thoughts expressed by someone else on paper. I had previously felt very isolated and alone back in America. All of the problems that I saw all around me: the have and have not's, the car culture, the strip mall (geography of Nowhere) etc., I alone only seemed to see. Other people just looked at me like I was nuts when I brought up these complaints. Everyone is so busy here that there is little time for reflection, just work, work, work!!

I want to thank you for your book, and I hope that you realize that your book has reached out to many of us disaffected, and given us compfort in knowing that we are not alone. Keep up your good work, and although I agree that a positive turn around is impossible, we should keep trying to save those who can be saved. I personally think that the movie "Snakes on a Plane", which is sure to be a national blockbuster, will be heralded by future generations as the catch phrase for the fall of the American Empire.

All the best!
A teacher in the Chicago area

11:58 AM  
Anonymous wlow said...

I'm one of those 2000 who bought Wandering God (well, ok, I got the pb version), and I also happily own all the rest except the first one, Social Change & Scientific Organization. That one I got from the library maybe 10 years ago, and I remember liking that one as well.

My comment is how disheartening it is to not see a single copy of your book on the "Current" shelf of Barnes & Noble but to see many copies of garbage like Ann Coulter's new book -- I mean, c'mon, which work makes a more worthwhile contribution to the public discourse.

I asked for your book, and neither B&N nor another big chain store had a copy (though both offered to order it -- I'll probably go with Amazon.com.) So it's a Catch 22, I guess: people don't get the chance to encounter your book if its not displayed, and I suppose the big chains won't display it unless it's selling. (Having it displayed helps: I passed by Wayne Curtis' And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in 10 Cocktails, and I picked it up out of curiosity, and I have found it to be a very entertaining and informative book on the history of rum and how it influenced culture.) There has got to be a way to get at least one copy of your book displayed on the shelf of the big chains in the big markets.

You may be happy to know that a quick scan of my local public library catalog shows that all 12 copies of Dark Ages America are currently "checked out"; so the real readership is probably a good deal larger that what any sales figures suggest (I wonder if there is a standard multiplier in publishing of sales versus actual readership.)

One last thing: Putting your name in Google brings up a less-than-flattering review of The Twilight of American Culture as the first link; your own web page is much further down. People who encounter this may be unduly influenced unfortunately by this review and not give your works a fair hearing. There use to be ways to get a higher ranking, like filling the keyword area of your web page with relevant keywords, but I must confess I do not know what crazy witchcraft controls it now. As an example, currently if you put in the word "failure" in Google by itself, the first link returned, no kidding, is the official White House biography of George W. Bush.

Best wishes,

wlow

8:00 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear wlow:

Thank you for your concern. A major part of my argument in DAA is that a nation gets the destiny reflected in the nature of its population, and that for the US to have a different destiny than the one that lies ahead, it would have to be a different country. I mean, if Ann Coulter's work were obscure, and DAA celebrated as a major breakthrough in national self-understanding; or if the NY Times had written a rave review of DAA instead of a savage and dishonest one; or if Jimmy Carter were regarded as a great visionary, and Ronald Reagan as an embarrassing joke--well, then we *would* be a different country. But none of these things can happen in the US, and for the very reasons (I believe) I identify in DAA. There is, in short, a Catch-22 involved here, and this is part of the no-exit, self-destructive situation in which we currently find ourselves. As one reviewer of the Twilight book wrote, If Berman's book becomes a best-seller, then his thesis would be wrong! Well, it sold 35,000 copies in a nation of nearly 3 million people. As the saying goes, do the math.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Grreg said...

Mr. Berman,

Allthough I count myself among the uninformed, by my presence here at your blog I obviously am aware that there is something dark and sinister on America's horizon that I should be preparing my family for.

Have you discussed what your personal plans are in the event of a collapse of our society? Are you going to head for the hills? Try to slug it out in the city?

Just curious.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Grreg (Greg?):

Fair question, and one that deserves an answer. It is: After a year of careful reflection, I finally immigrated to a small town in Mexico, where I now live.

Let me know what *you* decide!

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

Did you really move to Mexico? My mother's cousin moved from Wisconsin to Mexico years ago for similar reasons. He told me that he would never come back to America after having experienced a "real" community, friendly people, and a more meaningful life.

I felt great anxiety after returning to America from Ireland to begin teaching. I missed the daily interaction with people and the walking. In Ireland in 2000, you could still have that feeling that "we are all in it together". Old people would greet me and my young friends with a, "how are you doing lads?" It was a much more humane way to live. The pubs are more for conversation and are kept quiet. In American Irish bars the music is turned up as loud as possible, so that no one can talk without shouting??? It is all primitive!

Yet the last time I went to Ireland, the children in the family were staying indoors all day playing video games instead of skipping stones alone the waterfront. Technology just plays a very large role in all of this deterioration.

Kurt Vonnegut adressed this when he said that the reason for all of the divorces had to do with human beings not living like they were meant to live. Mexicans do know the value of extended families, while we in the North send our grandparents to Arizona or Florida. It is all so sad to me.

It is really just modernization. The grandmother told me that in their area of Ireland (Donegal), they didn't have electricity until the 1970's...No wonder they were so adept with story telling and humor, etc..

Do you, like Franzen, think that the novel only plays a very peripheral role in our world today?

Don't you think that America will change when things get really bad? Wont there be a groundswell of anger, like during the Great Depression, which will change things at the last minute? I, personally hope that America will pull it together once the white middle and upper middle classes begin being hit by lack of jobs etc.? Traditionally, don't people only rise up once the situation becomes truly desperate?

Thanks again for your books,

Alex

10:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Alex:

That seems to be a fairly good description of the way the world is going, and America is surely at the forefront of killing that which is essentially human. We are a nation that happily exchanged love, community, and friendship for electronic toys, and think this is a great bargain. In his remarkable book, "The Shape of a Pocket," John Berger describes Americans as people who know how to do two things: transfer money, and drop bombs. I think they are also very good at shopping, and living in a space of emotional deadness and stuffing the reality of that. When you live in a place like Mexico, typical gringo behavior stands out like a sore thumb. Today I was on a bus to Mexico City; not a single person was on their cell phone, disturbing everybody else around them, as would be the case on an American bus. Finally, as we approached the bus terminal, two pendejos did take out their phones and call people to say they had arrived, and blah blah (how absolutely essential!). It was also noteworthy to me that the empty chatter that one hears on American cell phones does not improve when rendered in Spanish. But most noteworthy is that this socially destructive behavior is still atypical here. In a few years, under the relentless pressure of the American corporate machine, there will be much more gringo behavior in every corner of the known universe, I'm quite sure. Berger writes: "What is happening in the world today is wrong, and what is often said about it is a lie." But things do emerge at the edges...we're still a democracy, after all (tho how much difference an alternative consciousness makes in the US is an open question). Thus there was a cartoon in the Miami Herald 2 days ago (but I don't know if the cartoonist was an American)that showed Uncle Sam pursuing Terrorism, and the Grim Reaper pursuing Uncle Sam. Berger continues: "In the dark age in which we are living under the new world order, the sharing of pain is one of the essential preconditions for a redefining of dignity and hope." Who knows, maybe that's what (some) blogs are for.

Thank you for writing.

-mb

7:14 PM  
Blogger TS said...

Mr.Berman I agree with you whole heartedly about Americas future collapse. I believe that it is coming sooner than people think. I believe that America will become a third world country. I do not want to live in a third world nation nor will I go down with America. I have been looking at different countries to plan to move to when Americas collapses. WHat do you think about Canada and what nations do you think Would be good ones to look at and consider?

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman.

Thank you for your last reply. I sense that we are in the end phase of Capitalism. With Globalisation there will be simply too many losers and too few winners. Germany had a Social Market Economy, which functioned well during the 80's and 90's, but now, faced with Globalisation and competition that Socialist safety net stands little chance of survival. In this respect the "Dark Ages" are really coming for Western Civilization as a whole, and not just for America. Do you feel that the whole system will just crack? How long will the majority of the people for settle for the scraps, while the top 10% reap the lion's share?
In other words, how bad will it have to get? I don't know a lot about the Great Depression, but I do know that the system made some concessions and kept moving.

thanks,

Alex

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Zach Thomas said...

Morris,
This is one of the few books I've read word for word and underline on every page. Congratulations for speaking the truth.
How can we get you to Charlotte again? Remember when you made a presentation here on Coming to Our Senses?
Why doesn't someone make a bumper sticker that says "Demoronize"?
Zach Thomas

3:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear TS:

I lived in Canada for most of the 80s. I didn't find it terribly different from the US; but now, as things get increasingly worse at home, perhaps I would. Frankly, I'd urge you to go for the exotic, as you have only one life to live, and why spend it in English? Think Buenos Aires, for example...

Buena suerte,
mb

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Keith Milton said...

Dear Morris Berman,

Thank you so much for your books. I found the trilogy on Consciousness extremely helpful, and your recent works on American culture and politics to be very thoughtprovoking. I have a few questions relating to these themes:

- Taking the schema you described in "Coming to Our Senses", would you agree that the Frontier Thesis you examined in "Dark Ages America" is an American Stage of attempting to both avoid and fill the 'nemo'?

- Do you think there may be historical parallels between the present Iraq War and the Boer War of a century ago? Both conflicts arose from Imperial anxiety over resources (and denying them to perceived enemy threats). Both wars involved loose coalitions of the willing that fractured as the war went on. Both wars led to the Imperial Superpower being diplomatically isolated and having to address serious international and domestic criticism. The British, of course, moved rapidly out of 'splendid isolation'by establishing alliances with first Japan, then France and Russia. Thereby destabilising the global Alliance System and setting up the conditions for World War One.

Finally, I'd just like to add my sincere best wishes for all your efforts to clarify the present crisis, and to state my hope that you can one day lecture again in Victoria,B.C..

5:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Keith,

Funny how it is sometimes...2 messages from Victoria today, the other from my old dept. chairmman at UVic, Ian MacPherson. Yes, it would be fun to get back there at some pt.

Re: your comments: right on both counts. Sidney Mead refers to the history of the US that gets left out of the usual accounts, the one that is sad, because it is our "internal" history, and ignored. There is no doubt in my mind that much of American history can be understood as an attempt to keep expanding a psychological frontier now (1890) that the geographical frontier is closed. We are a terribly restless and unhappy people, stuffing our anxiety with literally everything out there--and it's not working. Consider that book I cite, "Land of Desire," that documents the hunger for external goods once the frontier closed down.

As for the Boer War, most historians of the subject now recognize that it seemed like the height of British power, but looking back, England had economic feet of clay, and it only got worse over time. I do believe that Gulf War I & II will be analyzed in the same way some day, by Chinese and European historians if not by American ones(!).

Thanks again for writing, and all the best.

mb

10:13 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

As the child of German immigrants, I found your previous book (Twilight of American Culture) disturbingly on the mark, especially as regard the sorry state of education in America, The phenomenon of how it's "cool to be dumb" is something I got to experience firsthand during my early years in primary school here in the US. That being said, I found things to be very different when my parents moved back (temporarily, as it turned out) to Germany and transferred me into that country's primary school system for two years. Beyond the fact that my classmates seemed to be far more advanced in terms of knowledge of foreign languages, mathematics, history, their native German grammar, and just about everything else one might think appropriate to teach 10-year-olds, I also found the general atmosphere among both the kids and their teachers far more respectful of the value of learning and education than what I'd experienced previously in America. Though we later returned to the US, I've had several opportunities since then to live among Europeans for extended periods, and I still sense, somehow, that there seems in general to be a much stronger "anti-intellectual" tendency among Americans than among Europeans. Do you agree, and if so, why do you think this might be the case? And might it not argue for the possibility that some sort of "structural resistance", political or cultural, to the corrupting influences of systemic "moronization" by a decaying educational system might be possible after all?

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Fritz Berggren said...

Professor Berman,

Delighted to watch you on C-Span -- I was riveted, so much so that my two year old was left to tear grandmother's house apart. (I paid for my indolence later).

You've given excellent form to ideas I've wrestled with for some time. I rushed down to the library, devoured "Twilight," and I'm almost finished with "Dark Ages." I remain spellbound.

I wrote an essay the day Terry Schiavo passed away; it asks whether she was a mirror to America, America too being in a permanent vegetative state. I pulled from Alexander Solzenitsyn's Harvard Address (1978) to argue my point.

Two ideas I've worth further exploration are the role of the Academy in the process of de-civilization and the role of the Church (Christianity) in the process. I'm working on papers for those.

My premise is that the Professors are the priests/prophets of a civilization. Universities are the seminaries in which we train our teachers/preachers/leaders and idea makers. It's a closed system. Its orthodoxy is rigously guarded. Heretics are excommunicated (they fail to complete their Ph.D.s and/or never achieve tenure). It is this sytem, however one feels about it, that has been responsible for the education of America for at least a century.

Universities are religious institutions -- they are the priests/prophets/seminaries of this culture. They bear a substantial portion of the blame for the implosion of our civilization. They're a body without a soul, strong in science and technology, but unable to offer meaning for life.

This is no surprise -- historical Christianity offered meaning implicit in European Civilization after the Enlightenment. Over time, what's been implicit has become explicit, and exorcised. The exorcism of Christian meaning from the West has happened concurrently with the exposition of the Enlightenment as a faith itself, morally structured, valued laden, etc. The Enlightenment (via it's postmodern critics) find no place for myth and morality in a system dedicated to stripping thought of those presumptions.

In turn,Christianity is a vapor wafted about by the dominant civilization; it's essentially salt that's become tasteless, good for nothing. I concur with your thoughts on American Christianity (Dark Ages, p. 285). I say that, too, as a Christian, the type who attends church and reads the Scriptures and "really believes."

From my perspective, God does not fail, but certainly American Christianity has. That is no excuse for Christianity -- one can't separate "real Christianity" from what is practiced any more than one can separate "real Marxism" from what was practiced in Russian, China, and elswhere. That defense is a sham -- either it delivers or it doesn't. My Church (American Christianity writ large) has not delivered. The failure is largest in the intellectual realm . . .

Anyway, I write to thank you for your work and encourage you to continue. I'd invite you for dinner with friends if I were in DC or you were in Washington state. Thank you for ignoring academic demands for overspecialization -- you've followed your heart, your gut, and your very broad interests for the benefit for the rest of us.


Fritz Berggren

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman -

Are you thinking about coming out with another book in the near future? I was fascinated with the foreign policy section in Dark Ages America, and I think that an expanded version of that would interest a lot of people.

Also, any plans to visit Toronto?

Thanks,

Bob

3:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Bob:

Thanks for your interest. I'm not sure I can really expand the foreign policy (fp) section much beyond what I have. Not that there isn't more to say, and certainly, many have said it (the whole Wm Appleman Wms school, e.g.). The strength of my own particular approach, I believe, is that I managed to sew fp and domestic policy together fairly tightly, and then show how both of those were grounded in "micro-behavior," that is, the very specific actions and values of Americans on a daily basis. At this point, I'm not sure that whole line of reasoning needs any further elucidation. What I *have* thought of, in terms of future work, is something along the lines of the religious basis of US fp; but I understand that the topic has now become chic in academic circles, and a number of historians are now working on this. Still, I might eventually decide to put my oar in the water on that one. It's quite fascinating how the mindset of the Puritans isn't all that different from, say, John Foster Dulles. One general outlook I have is that like the child-adult relationship, nations in their late phase seem to be doing just about the same thing they were doing in their early phase. Too bad nations can't be sent to therapists, I guess; poor ol' USA surely could use one.

Re: Toronto: I'll get their sooner or later because I have a very close friend/former student who lives there, and whom I've visited a couple of times in the last few yrs. In terms of any speaking engagements, however, that depends on UT or whoever is interested; and to be honest, that's probably a long shot (sad to say).

Thanx again for writing-

mb

9:08 PM  
Blogger Peuma said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

I just wanted to know if you know the work of Paul Goodman and if that has had any influence in your own writing in relation to the future of the (nort) american culture.

Roberto

8:47 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Roberto:

Hard to say. I read Goodman many years ago, and liked a lot of what I read. I certainly admired his deeply humanistic approach to things. It got stirred into the pot, perhaps, but I don't have a sense of direct influence.

Thanx for writing, in any case-

mb

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman

Two things to ask, the shorter one first. Are you finished with all book tours regarding DAA, or is there a schedule somewhere you can give a link to? I would love to catch it, if not too late.
Second, this was an enlightening interview to read, but I have lately been working on what could turn into my first book, and with no real name or credentials for oneself, what would your advise be on trying to initially get oneself published? It's mostly on something you touched on in DAA, on how critical thinking has become an undesirable trait in this nation, which I attribute to corporate culture, politics, and above all, religion. (Or actually, religious people's knee-jerk fear reaction to science which put us on the moon LAST century having nothing promising to say about a god or life after death yet, which is bad news they aren't equipped to handle, even though it isn't in the nature of science to question a possible spiritual entity.) I don't expect a large public audience, but as you said here, I have something to say that I'm quite passionate about. I would just love advise on how to say it so people have a chance to hear. Thank you for any response, as well as a wonderfull, though painful to read at times, book.
Shane

7:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Shane,

Norton sponsored me for the hc edition of DAA, ie to do a book tour, but not for the pb, which just appeared. I guess that's standard procedure. Hence, I'm giving talks when invited, but otherwise staying close to home. Only thing I can say to you or anybody else, if you would like me to come out, is that perhaps you could have your local university tender an invitation (my address: mauricio@morrisberman.com).

As for getting published: you are picking up the stick at the wrong end. Don't worry about that now. Instead, concentrate on writing the book. When you hit the halfway mark, write me again, and I'll give you Step 2.

Thanks for writing-

mb

11:09 PM  
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2:58 AM  

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