October 23, 2007

"A Public Affair"

Dear Friends,

I just did an hour-long interview with WORT-FM in Madison, WI, that might interest you. I haven't tried it myself, but the host told me after the show that the program could be downloaded by going to www.wortfm.org, clicking on Archives, and then going to the listing for "A Public Affair," 23 October 2007. I personally felt the hour went by in the blink of an eye. Most of the time is devoted to call-ins and my responses. Enjoy!



Anonymous Kenneth said...

I recently read your book and I found it profound and important. Every American of conscience should read it. But I do have one serious complaint to make. According to your book I don't exist.

I'm paraphrasing, but in it you write that with the exception of a few white liberals every ethnic group in this country is actively pursuing the consumerist "Coca-Donald" American dream with no thought to the spiritual, environmental, or socio-political impact of such a path. After reading that I looked at my 28 year old black male son of West Indian immigrants self and realized you just Hanna-Barbara'd me. To explain: do you remember how there are no black people in either the Flintstones or the Jetsons? Well those cartoons made an obvious statement that for the larger white establishment it would be a lot simpler and more desirable if people of color didn't exist in the past and won't exist in the future. Well you made a similar omission. Believe it or not the ranks of the enlightened do include more than just a few "white middle class reds and greens". To say that it doesn't exposes your own myopia and makes me wonder what other convenient leaps of logic you make in your larger social analysis. I've already recommended your book to my Dominican born Bronx raised fiance and my Trinidadian best friend. Lucky for you the money of the non-existent tallies just the same in the registers of book sellers. Other than that, job well done.

8:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kenneth,

Sorry if I offended you in any way. My observation was largely impressionistic, because a topic like this is too sensitive in the US to allow any studies that would generate hard data. In fact, it seems that almost any honest discussion of race in the US is impossible. It's kind of a hot wire; nobody wants to touch it. My own observation--and it's nothing more than that--is that every time I've ever gone to, say, a large colloquium on environmental issues, the presence of minority groups amounts to about 1 or 2 people out of 300. We could argue as to why that seems to be the case, but I've attended numerous events of that sort and the "whiteness" of them is quite striking. I also have to say that your own observations are also personal and impressionistic--you have no data either. It's all well and good to cite yourself, your son, and 2 friends, but that's four people out of millions. Offhand, I'd say my impressions are more reliable than yours; but without real studies of the subject, both of us are clearly in the dark.

Thanks for writing-

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Kenneth said...

Thanks for clearing the post and responding. I would never argue that I represent anything more than a minority opinion within a minority group. That being said it doesn't serve any constructive purpose that I can think of to dismiss mine and my friends existence. Perhaps these conferences you mention aren't the right places to look. My point is that your statements on this topic assign entire groups of people a homogeneous mindset with as you admit, no data are even analogy to back them up. The fact is we cannot take a census of who holds a particular set of abstract and constantly shifting beliefs, so how about we don't make any assumptions about their ethnicity?

South America seems to have no shortage of Latino socialists, certainly they have some ex-patriot or sympathetic representation here in the States. In New York, where I live, you can find Black Muslims, 5 percenters, Rastafarians, Communists, Anarchists, and whatever else counts as contrarian this week. I'm sure we both could locate plenty of Asian, Black, Latino, and every other hue of people who would consider a life of 2 hour commutes in a SUV to a cul-de-sac of FoxNews oblivion pretty unappetizing.

Remember my gripe wasn't that you said our numbers were few, but rather you said we don't exist at all. And I have very strong data that proves we do.

P.S. To clarify my earlier run-on sentence, I'm the son of West Indian immigrants, but i do have an 8 month old daughter so I guess your count of 4 people still holds true.

Thanks again for responding.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kenneth,

There's no place in my book that I say you don't exist at all. If you read my discussion of David Potter's work, what I'm getting at is that despite many ethnic groups in the US, there seems to be one overall value system; and that dissent from that value system seems to be minuscule. So yes, one can find pockets of this and that, but voting patterns do tend to indicate a great uniformity (and conformity) in the US--a great homogeneity of outlook. (So do recent surveys of the goals of college freshman, for example, regardless of color or ethnic background: something like 80% say their goal in life, and in coming to college, is to become rich.) In that sense, American multiculturalism is a myth. Not, of course, if you want to focus on identity politics; but as a very few astute sociologists have indicated, this is a red herring, covering up the reality of a society that revolves around commercialism and competition.

Anyway, I doubt we are going to be able to change each other's minds, but thanks again for writing.


6:05 PM  
Anonymous Kenneth said...

Well we can both agree that we're not going to change each other's minds, though I never intended to since I agree with nearly everything you say in your book and was reacting to your mention of race.

Perhaps the "whiteness" of the events you mentioned can be better understood by looking at our little exchange here.

Again my point was not to challenge that the U.S. has an overall value system and resultant conformity. But only to point out that when you say that is the case with the exception of a few politically insignificant middle class white "reds" and "greens" you neglect to mention that some non-whites share a similar mindset. So I'm in the enviable position of arguing for acknowledgment of my own political insignificance.

It was not my intent to come across as offended, focus on identity politics, or serve herring. But rereading my first post I'll admit that my annoyance is more than obvious. I'll chalk that up to being upset that even a piece of work that I find so compelling contains a germ of the very stuff that reminds me that I am hyphenated American. And no I don't want to play the pitiable victim card. Man, is there any way to talk about race in this country and not feel like you're going through the motions of some scripted role?

7:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Ken,

No, there isn't, tho you and I probably did abt 1000% better than any conversation between a black person and a white person I can think of offhand. Thanx for the exchange, I really appreciated it. BTW, in terms of where each of us is looking, as you put it: I do wanna say that your examples from NY make me wary, because NY is abt as representative of the US as Berlin is of the rest of Germany. Sure, you can find expat Latino socialists there, but where else? If you had said you lived in Omaha, then you wd have shaken me up.

I never mentioned this in our exchange (no reason to, really), but nearly 1.5 yrs ago I left the US. I don't miss that much: friends, of course; the landscape, which is fabulous; but certainly not DC, where I lived for 8 yrs, and certainly not the ambience of America, which I wd describe as a good example of autistic hostility. But what I miss above all--is New York.

Thanks again, amigo-


11:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A parallel between our times and a declining Rome?


6:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anonymous,

Panem et circenses, my friend--bread and circuses. That's about what we're down to. Whoda thunk it?

Thanx for the ref,

8:18 PM  
Anonymous susan w. said...

Dr. Berman, After reading your books on the recommendation of a friend several years ago, I now regularly check your blog for new interviews and articles. I was surprised to hear the NY Times book reviewer had given Dark Ages America such a bad review. That was unfair and unjust---what you've written is obviously well researched, the anecdotes were used to illustrate relevant points and there was no "true believer" rant about it. I don't like true believers even when they believe what I do. But I'm personally suspicious of critics since I read a review in a well respected journal touting a new author as "being an heir to Dickens." After reading about 50 pages, I knew this book was a dog but read over half of it b/c I just couldn't believe she could be so wrong. So much for their infallibility. But I'll keep recommending your books and have sent my youngest daughter (a senior in college) a copy. She wants to live and work in Europe after graduation and I'm encouraging her to do so. I don't want America to lose much of its young, idealistic talent but I know I'm powerless to stop it. And, selfishly,I don't want her to mortgage her life b/c of her elders mistakes. So, please keep writing and publishing for those of us who know reality when we see it---and read it.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Thanks for your kind words of support. I'm guessing the # of Americans interested in reality is abt 200,000 at most, which would indicate quite clearly in which direction the country is headed. Myself, I think your daughter is doing the right thing. As for the NYT, that they've abdicated their role as objective reporters or editors also suggests how far we have sunk, and how little in the way of disagreement with the mainstream is possible in the US. I wish they'd just replace their traditional motto with "All The News That Fits Our Views," and be done with it.



7:48 PM  
Anonymous Regular visitor said...

In a Jungian collective unconscious level, the truth about Americas current future is starting so trickle trough to the masses:


Everything in this upcoming B-movie trailer is very symbolic. Young people having a welcome-home party. Suddenly, alien and scary noises, and - of all things: the decapitate head of Stature of Liberty comes thumbling down the street.

6:31 AM  
Blogger bunbunget said...

Dear Prof Berman:

Alongside your salient remarks on a host of other related topics, I was particularly struck by your characterization of the contemporary zeitgeist of the People's Republic of China as a variant of United States which happens to speak Mandarin. I am by trade a conference interpreter and have sat through countless sessions of those pompous discussions among international dignitories and Harvard economists and Chinese financial ministers and Goldman Sachs economists and what have you and believe me I know all those talk about "the next rising superpower" in and out. But yours were the only comments I had ever heard coming from an American intellectual within the last 5 years which actually made any sense regarding the recent developments of China. Thank you for your courage to brush aside all the cliches and honestly state what you saw, though you are neither a Harvard economist nor a Columbia expert on Chinese politics.

And I have two questions for you:

1. What with the dollar sliding into the basement and the oil reaching for 100 a barrel, and in our lovely "rising next superpower" what used to be Tai Lake turning into hundreds of square miles of putrid shit-smelling dark grey waves of slime, and what used to be Dongtin Lake swept over recently by well over 600,000,000 scurrying rats, and your president's proposed next democracy project in Iran, is it not possible that the big fall your predicted might actually occur quite a bit sooner? And is it not possible that the falling Empire and the Allegedly Rising Next Superpower would inevitably tumble down the deep end more or less in tandem?

2. I have for some time been mystified by this almost fetish like new found love displayed by everyone from editors of Financial Times or Newsweek to economists for Goldman Sachs for this whole "growing new China " thing, their passion even occasionally reminded me of a parallel collective crush displayed by a sizable segment of white male students for the "Asian girls"... well parden this inappropriate comparison. But what's with all these sterling gentlemen of the global economic elite? Could the black smog over Beijing and the oily Chinese bureaucrat-billionares really have such an aphrodisiac effect upon them? Could there be some sort of a conspiracy there? Or is China simply the last hallusinatory drug for their dying paradigm?

All of the best to you, good Doctor Wang Zhaoyang

2:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Mr. Wang:

This is one of the most important letters I have received in a very long time; thank you for writing.

Yes, China is but the US in Mandarin. In fact, the same problems of wealth distribution (to take just one example) that exist in the US--something like 1% of the population owning more than 40% of the nation's wealth--now exist in China as well, with nothing being done to address it (or the massive industrial pollution proceding at a fierce pace). But I don't think it's going to collapse at the same time as America. ("Time" is in quotes here; Rome didn't fall on 4pm August 8, A.D. 476--it's a process, quite obviously.) I do think you could be correct about the disintegration of the US (now going on all around us) happening at a faster rate than I imagined, and certainly, the US situation is going to look *very* different in 2025, say, than it looks today. But it is China's time to expand (as it is India's, and to some extent, the EU's)--9% increase in GDP per annum, for example. And keep in mind other factors that are crucial: on a gut level, I do believe that Americans know it's all over, whereas in China, my guess is that the populace sees their star as rising. Literacy is probably increasing in China, certainly decreasing in the US. Etc.

But your second question is the really crucial one, imo. I recently did an interview for the magazine Milenio, in Mexico City, and the interviewer asked me if I saw the shift from my concerns in my trilogy on human consciousness, to my concerns in Twilight and DAA, as a "paradigm shift" (a term I really hate, BTW). I told him no, inasmuch as a paradigm shift means something got discarded or left behind, whereas I still stand by the argument of, say, Coming to Our Senses or Wandering God. What was really going on was a shift in attention, not belief. And one of the crucial points of the trilogy is the absurd need for a paradigm itself, the "blindness of involvement" (to quote Anatol Rapoport). Somehow, human beings always need to have an idol to worship, something to stuff the nemo, the hole in the soul. Even systems that try to challenge the need for that "rush", such as Zen or the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein, get corrupted by the process, as students worship their Zen masters, and W's students followed him around campus imitating his gestures. So when I hear you describing the China-lust among editors and economists using words such as "fetish," "aphrodisiac,"
"passion," "crush," and "drug," all I can do is shake my head. Somehow, the human race is never going to see through this behavior, which is the largest block to genuine insight and intelligent action I can think of. Somebody needs to write a book entitled "Collective Cranial Rectitis", except that we'd then have several billion people running around, as in the case of the Little Red Book, holding this book up and chanting about the evils of CCR. There is a never-ending desire to be hip, with it, on the crest of the wave, in possession of The Answer; which, when you get down to it, is the search for salvation. Jacques Lacan, that great charlatan, was onto this issue, saying that the core of transference was the attachment to "knowing" itself. He was very much like the Wizard of Oz, his own life demonstrating that people will chase this illusion to the end of time. It's always the New New Thing, innit? I doubt there will ever come a day when the fog will lift, and the folks at Newsweek or wherever will say: "My God, it's just an idea, and I've turned it into religion!" Some folks have told me that one of the most quoted lines on google is from my book Coming to Our Senses: "An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you." So no, my "paradigm" is pretty much the same--sans fetishizing it, I hope.

Thanx again for writing. You can also contact me via mauricio@morrisberman.com.

All the best to you,

6:57 PM  
Anonymous mj214 said...

Hello Mr. Berman, I heard you interviewed on WCPT radio in Chicago a few weeks ago and I couldn't believe my ears. The things you talked about in your new book are changes I have noticed in out Culture/country in the last 15 years or so. I thought that I was the only one that could see the "emperor has no clothes". I am halfway through "Dark ages america" and though I can't say that the book is uplifting, the truth certainly is. I encourage you to keep writing and talking via the media. Maybe someone will listen. When I tell my friends and/or family what has been happening, I am looked at like a nut. I don't know why no one else can see what has happened to our country. Thanks for telling the truth. Jonathon

10:25 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jonathan,

The problem is that your friends and family are 99% of the country, and you and I are 1%; probably less. I keep doing what I'm doing, but I don't live in some fantasy of the nation waking up to reality one day; that's not on the historical agenda. Hear's a quote for *my* candidate for president, Barack's wife Michelle:

"Life in America is not good. We're a country that is just downright mean, we are guided by fear, we're a nation of cynics, sloths, and complacents." She left out "ignoramuses," quite obviously, but the point is nevertheless well taken.

I do get mail from that less-than-1%, however, and it is encouraging, because they all basically say the same thing: I've known all this for at least 10 years; you just put it into coherent form for me. The truth is that my life work amounts to little more than taking a pebble and throwing it at an Abrams tank. Nevertheless, I am quite encouraged by people such as yourself.

Thanks for writing-


10:52 AM  

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