March 08, 2007

University Journal


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I question whether America is really all that unique in seeing everyone as a potential American. Isn't that the mindset of every (wannabe) empire. Didn't the communists purport to see everyone as a potential communist, Christians to see others as potential Christians, Romans to see others as potential Romans. It's the Self wanting to "eat" the Other -- i.e., to assimilate it and/or to destroy it. The Sunnis, for example, purport to want to do the latter (destroy the Other), but it's still rooted in that basic desire of the empire mindset. But in the end, although that may be the stated ideological goal, the Grand Narrative sold to the masses, really isn't it about (male) power rationalizing the seeking of more power ("We must do this in the name of fill-in-the-blank."). The USSR power structure may have talked a good game about the supposed merits of communism, but they just never got around to the part in Marx when the revolutionaries were eventually to disburse all goods to the Collective. Likewise, capitalists play down their exploitations with the myth of the "freedom" in "free" markets (everyone can be rich), but the system is far less dynamic in terms of true class mobility, and many of these "free market" capitalists are just fine keeping the system rigged with them on top. So are the stated goals of empire even meaningful or are they merely the rationalizations builders use to validate against disapproval their basic good-ole power grabs?

On the other hand, I'm not a social relativist either. I think a democratic society is better than an autocratic one, one with little in the way of checks and balances. Did Japan and Germany transform into "better" societies after their respective post WWII "conversions"? Possibly. Is the power structure in the US out to convert out of some noble civil/religious ideology now or merely as a means to create more rigged capitalist markets to sell more sneakers, cigarettes and iPods -- probably the latter. But *have* better values (memes?) ever spread because of this lever of history (say, *aspects* of Christianity or whatever)? Has it ever had positive consequences? -- not for the Empire because it usually overextends -- but is there some utility from a type of eventual meme seeding for succeeding generations? Thesis, antithesis, synthesis, since you like Hegel.

Back to the original hand: The unconscious _________ civic religion's purpose is to fulfill God's will on earth, to "bring a new world into being." -- this could have been said by Bin Laden or a lot of historical figures (just fill in the blank). (Of course, the rhetoric of invocation of "God" provides the speaker with the ultimate approving gaze of the rationalization (of the one who judges but cannot be judged). Again, is this so unique to America?

I also tend to turn first to evolutionary psychology over history or sociology for its explanatory power. We are all animals under the cultural skin, after all. The Sunni and Shiite civil war may have more to do with unemployed young men finding means to assert themselves in the only way they can after being cast out of (relatively) civilized society (by fallout of the invasion if not the invasion itself). And by "assert themselves," I mean in the rutting buck kind of way, in the Darwinian way of making alpha male displays to attempt to secure resources and mates (they can't do it now by building a business, making money, writing hip hop songs, or books). All the cultural rationalizations they invoke for their (violent) alpha male displays are merely garbs (subconsciously employed) to provide ego-securing justifications. I think history (particularly long-ago history ) is less of factor of causation for the individual but is more useful as a kind of library of Grand Narrative to be cherry picked to rationalize one's present (Darwinian) actions. The history of the Sunni/Shiite conflict then is useful to each to justify rape, plundering, and pillaging, but had these men had means to assert themselves in a civilized context (employment) I have a feeling that these historical grievances would never have so vividly materialize out of the mists of time (before the invasion Sunnis and Shiites even married one another); they wouldn't have had a point to invoke them. (It always seems to be the disenfranchised that weaves and invokes a *revolutionary* Grand Narrative rationalization; the establishment meanwhile invokes *everything-should-be-as-it-is now* Narratives - "protect the America/Islamic/Roman/etc. way --even from critique.")

12:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Bill:

Your letter deserves a longer reply than I can give it, but let me just make a few brief remarks. Communists may have *purported* to see everyone as a potential communist, but as KGB archives and other sources now reveal, their preoccupation was with the integrity of their borders, not on world domination. I.e., the latter was basically our paranoid perception of the USSR, not what they were actually after. Christians do of course proselytize, but they were never an empire nor even a state. The same goes for Islam. The Romans were the most tolerant and eclectic of all: they cared not a whit what the various sects within the empire believed, only insisted that lip service be paid to the empire as being in charge. Some scholars have argued that this melting pot quality of ancient Rome was a major factor in its enduring so long. I can't be certain, but I do think that crusading zeal along the lines of mental persuasion is more the exception than the rule, and that we are a great exception in that regard.


8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman:

I thoroughly enjoy reading this blog, along with your other works (Twilight and Dark Ages immediately come to mind) and I hope someday you can come out to California and speak at my university (and perhaps sign my copies of your books!).

But to get back on topic, the article mentioned the United States has a messianic view of the world. Isn't that the view Muslim extremists hold as well? Would the world be better off without religion?

And these next few questions are off-topic, but I would love to hear your opinion, seeing as you are obviously well-educated in U.S. history and foreign policy. So, what's your stance on illegal immigration, and the president's inability (besides uttering a coherent statement of his own) to secure the Mexican/U.S. border? Do you feel it's right that Mexican workers come here and earn a measly $3.05 per hour performing hard labor? Do they belong here? Are they helping the economy at all? Or making it worse for legal citizens? I am undecided on this issue, and I can't rest until I hear your opinion!

Your thoughts are greatly appreciated! :)

Emily Del Real

P.S. I apologize if you receive this comment twice; it seems Blogger is having server problems.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Emily:

Yes, Islamic militants hold a messianic view of the world--as do Christian fundamentalists, for that matter--but they do not constitute nations or states, which makes a big difference historically and politically. And yes, I'm quite sure we would be better off without religion. Besides being mass delusion, it is responsible for the most violent wars, the bitterest conflicts. But if Freud was right in calling it an illusion, the even greater illusion was his own: believing that religion would eventually go away. It won't. (Check out the last 2 bks of my consciousness trilogy for greater elaboration, if you want.)

As for Mexicans in the US: not something I can get into at any length rt now; but it is pretty clear, in the analyses of many economists, that they form the "shadow economy" of Calif, Ariz, NM, TX, and Nevada, and if the US Gov't were to seriously attempt to block their entry or deport them all, the economies of those states would collapse. "Securing the border" is a bluff, designed to pacify the anti-immigration bias of many or most GOP voters. It's basically PR: a "tough stance." In reality, it's just b.s., and the pres' economic advisers must know this.

Hope that helps, and thanx for writing.


6:27 AM  

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