February 02, 2008

The Purpose of a Humanities Education

Dear Friends:

I am currently in the process of being appointed Visiting Professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Mexico City campus, Dept. of Humanities; in fact, my first seminar for the humanities faculty is on February 6. Since colleagues have warned me that I may be asked to do some media interviews regarding the "purpose of a humanities education," I thought I should write something up with a view to talking points on the subject, so that I might have something coherent to say. The essay below (for better or worse) is what I came up with.--mb



"No people can be both ignorant and free"–Thomas Jefferson

"If ignorance were bliss, Americans would be ecstatic"–US bumper sticker

Before we can ask what the purpose of the humanities is, perhaps we should ask what the purpose of a university is, or even what the purpose of a nation is.

If the purpose is money and power, then the obvious model is the United States. At least, in the short run. Because in the long run, this has not worked out very well for the US. As I have argued elsewhere, after 230 years the country seems to be on its last legs. Economically, the US is in deep trouble, with some experts predicting a Depression-style crash within ten to fifteen years. In terms of power, it seems clear enough that the US is rapidly losing influence around the world, with the European Union and China set to replace it in its hegemonic role. A major reason for this decline is that the center of the US value system is money, power, and technology. Not that there is anything wrong with these things, so long as they constitute means and not ends. But in the US, they became ends, purposes in and of themselves; which meant that finally, the country had no purpose at all–it became spiritually bankrupt. While it is by now too late for the United States to reverse course, I would personally like to see Mexico (and the rest of the world) avoid this unhappy fate. Not unrelated to this is the fact that most US universities lost their purpose as well, and I am thus hoping that Mexican universities will rethink their admiration for their US counterparts. Consider the following facts:

1. In 1965, something like 75% of the freshman class in the US said that they were in college "to find a meaningful philosophy of life." Forty years later (even less), 75% said their goal was to become rich.

2. In the 18-24 age group in the US, 87% can’t locate Iraq or Iran on a world map, and 11% can’t locate the US(!).

3. During 2003-4, 20% of US undergraduates majored in business, whereas 1.6% majored in English, and 1.3% in history.

4. 20% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, and an additional 9% say they don’t know which revolves around which.

5. In 1982, 56.9% of Americans read a work of creative literature during the previous twelve months. This dropped to 46.7% in 2002–i.e. a loss of 10% in twenty years.

6. Newspapers continue to go out of business in the US for lack of readership, and book sales to stagnate. There has even been some discussion in the US as of late as to whether reading will become a kind of "quaint hobby" in the future.

7. Educational researchers in the US have recently identified a phenomenon known as "negative learning". A University of Connecticut survey of 2005 revealed that at sixteen prestigious universities, including Yale, Chicago, Berkeley, and MIT, the seniors knew less about American history, government, foreign relations, and the economy than the freshmen did.

8. The current president of the United States, who holds degrees from Harvard and Yale, is notoriously uncurious about the world and has a difficult time speaking correct English.


What enabled all of this to happen? Three factors come to mind:

1. Increasingly, after World War II, a college education in the US became little more than preparation for a job. "Learning for learning’s sake" came to be regarded a kind of luxury.

2. American universities adopted the model of the corporation, and teaching was in turn modeled on the corporate-client relationship: the professor is there as a "provider" of a "commodity," which the students "purchase" from the institution. Once education became commodified in this way, respect for it basically evaporated. It became purely instrumental, rather than being seen as a way of life, or a way of deepening one’s understanding of the world and of oneself.

3. As the humanities lost respect, many teachers of the humanities lost respect for their own discipline. By the 1970s, a curious phenomenon known as "postmodernism" emerged, in which professors not only abandoned the search for truth, but began to argue that it didn’t even exist. This was a formula for academic irrelevance, if not suicide.


The humanities exist to ask–and answer–the question, What are we living for?, or What is the meaning of human life? If, as in the United States, the Mexican university answer is going to be the US national-corporate one, i.e., To make money, or, To have more technological gadgets, then education and the nation have no real future. For only the humanities can address these questions in a nontrivial way. If Mexico is to have a future, its universities are going to have to make the humanities central to the education of their students. Sound far-fetched? No need to take my word for it; for the counterexample, just–look north.

110 Comments:

Anonymous A nobody said...

20% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, and an additional 9% say they don't know which revolves around which.

That doesn't surprise me. As a college student who is taking several classes in art, English, history, and philosophy, most of my fellow classmates are just plain ignorant when it comes to science, and their attitude toward learning--much less appreciating--anything in general is negative and full of contempt.

It's no wonder I become even more depressed as the years go by.


btw, thanks for sharing your essay; I enjoyed reading it. And even though most of it is pessimistic and your outlook for America seems rather bleak, I did enjoy it nonetheless. I like how you added a few interesting facts and polls; they were really eye-opening.

But can I ask what you mean by Americans being "spiritually bankrupt"?

And though I agree with most of your essay, I'd like to comment that there is hope for some Americans--we're not all lost causes.

There are some of us who actually . . . READ. Just for the fun of it. Like fiction, non-fiction, mysteries, biographies, history, philosophy. Anything that seems interesting. I must have read about 50 books in the past six months, and it's truly refreshing. By reading other people's work, you gain a whole new perspective on life and the meaning of it.

There is one quote from a book--Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett (pg. 303)--that really stands out and makes me think. After reading it a few times, I felt free and liberated:

". . . one of the best kept secrets in life [is]: let your self go. If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person."


Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and ideas, Mr. Berman. I'm sure you'll get through to all your students.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Somebody,

There was a time one didn't have to go to college to know that the earth revolves around the sun, rather than vice versa. One learned that simply by growing up in the culture, period. Those days are rapidly slipping away, it would seem.

As for being depressed, this is a healthy reaction to your environment. As one bumper sticker puts it, "If you are not appalled, you haven't been paying attention."

Before I comment on spiritual bankruptcy, let me say a few words about mental bankruptcy. This morning I got an e-mail from a friend who teaches at a small college down south, and who is frustrated by his students' inability to make elementary logical distinctions in carrying out an assignment. For example, one student wanted (she said) to write about the dangers of a particular disease, and listed the steps involved in contracting it. "Where are the dangers, then?" my friend asked her. "These are them," she replied. "But steps en route are not the dangers that result once you have it," he told her. The discussion sort of ended there, as she simply couldn't grasp what he was talking about. He also told me that colleagues in unrelated disciplines, such as accounting, were having similar problems with their students. In response, I wrote him the following:

"All of this type of thing has several causes that converged at the same time: in particular, the commodification of education, the cumulative impact of TV, and then the emergence of the Internet. It has led to results that exist across the board, because they may be operating on a neurological level. So finally, the kids may want to do what you ask them to do w/all their hearts, but simply lack the necessary mental equipment to do it. If you and the acc'ting prof can get away with it, I suggest inserting a mini-course w/in your courses, to discuss the changing nature of American culture, how it has affected the mental capability of students, and how there may have actually been a breakdown in their brains. This should also include careful illustrations of how students were able to think 15-20 yrs ago. I recall teaching as a visitor at UNM in 94-95, and with paper after paper, going over with the students the nature of evidence, and how it is the only thing that can substantiate an argument. But as Todd Gitlin experienced with Berkeley's finest over 30 yrs, they simply cd not grasp the difference between opinion and argument, and so even the final papers showed up without footnotes--as if I had said nothing at all. Consider the relationship of this kind of change in the culture to the emergence of 'faith-based reality' in foreign policy. Not good."

As for the matter of spiritual bankruptcy, you yourself captured a good example of it in your opening remarks:

"their attitude toward learning--much less appreciating [italics]--anything in general is negative and full of contempt."

I very much like the Dennett quote--it's quite fabulous, in fact--but I would point to the almost complete absence, in the US, of that state of mind. This would be another clear example of spiritual bankruptcy. Contrary to Dennett's suggestion, America and Americans are all about the self (how do you think Katrina happened, i.e. the nonresponse to it, or the nonresponse to Abu Ghraib?). When finally an entire nation gets atomized, i.e. reduced to nothing but individuals with no other purpose than making money, getting "ahead," and their own private concerns, there *is* no society left--the place has become spiritually bankrupt. As a Baltimore police officer once remarked to me 40 years ago about the presence of crime: "Just look around!" Mon ami, the poverty of the spirit in America is just as obvious now (across the country) as crime was in Balto 4 decades ago; an empty, meaningless conversation with your fellow students or neighbors should be enough to convince you of that. And when you go to a country where that is not the case, the situation in America stands out even more starkly, let me assure you.

Like you, I am sad about where America finally wound up.

Thanks for writing; you are definitely a Somebody.

-mb

9:45 AM  
Anonymous gavdammit said...

Speaking of education somewhat, when we briefly lived in Falmouth MA, by brother was curious as to why a lot of the classrooms in his high school had no windows. The reply he got was "Oh, this school was designed by someone who normally builds prisons". No comment.

In the library at the community college I go to, I'll be reading Adbusters, Harpers, or at least Time or Newsweek...and the majority of everybody else? People, Us Today, Sports Illustrated usw...

Another thing that gets me is that the "nerds, geeks and dweebs" class of students,the pointdexters are just as effin bad. Its not like the stereotype nerd at all where their incredibly intelligent and all that. They waste their intellectual capacities on anime, fantasy online games usw rather then reality or something that at the end of the day isn't just another marketed faddish fantasy (thats just as much so as say, the latest pair of Nikes). My reaction is Jesus H Christ...its everybody. The goddamn thing (modern American culture) has taken out EVERYBODY. Again and again I get the creepy feeling that we are living in some sort of dystopia just as bad as any author has come up with. Fahrenheit 451 anybody?

-Gavin

6:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Lieber Gaven:

Es gibt keine Hoffnung. Make that your mantra. If you keep that in mind at all times, you can't go wrong.

Meanwhile, keep the vignettes coming; we need evidence of the collapse (not that it's that hard to find).

-mb

11:43 AM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

Hello guys;
I'm a frenchman who lives in Houston, and I heard good things about your book and I can't wait to read it so I decided to drop by and say hello.

There is a huge huge difference between Europe and the US. In the US lots of people care about money and this is how they base their standards IMO. In Europe, we don't have the same approach, we are rich spiritually with knowledge, it's very empowering, and it helps us better to deal with and understand the meaning of life.

I believe it was the same way in the US but there has been a shift in different periods, and I've been trying to reconstruct how it happened. The french intellectuals base their opinion on myths and reality with a philosophical approach, but it is not enough relevant to understand the anthropological evolution in american culture(s). Also I may understand that there are natural things to an american mind while on the other hand it may seem striking in french culture, and vice-et-versa but things evolved and we have to find out and question why they evolve this way instead of another way. The question is to know whether we are improving ourselves as a civilization or if we are regressing (new technologies, knowledge, science).

I was a teacher in France but I've always hated elitism. The natural selection in french schools had always been selected on darwinism with a progressive elimination. In the end we just break down mentally people because available workplaces are limited in France.
So my function as a teacher was to reshape the minds of the students,
so that they can gain have hope (Es gibt Hoffnung) and believe in themselves.

Well here in the US I tried to follow the american mentality, going to work, with a corporate culture, I worked with people in the fortune 500, I did things that Americans do, but in my experience something was missing. We are just too much busy to make a living, we want to make money with money, and we are missing so much other little things in our life. The fast-paced environment noticed by Tocqueville is always present and I could not stand it. Maybe we are more aware that we are reduced in time during our lives, but life should not all be about work (5 days of paid vacation in the US is not enough to enjoy ourselves, or working 60 hours a week is too brutal). We emphasized more on work without worrying about the real nature of the human being. God bless everyone of them who still can make choices in their life.

Here when we want something, we want it right away, because the finance system waits for us, and there is no pleasure to save money and look forward to something. These are little things that I found like that in the US, very little facts, but it makes life more enjoyable. Also individualism is okay, because you could or should look at yourself in the mirror, but at the end it feels like loneliness, I think.

There are 2 good books about the evidence of the collapse of the US but there are all in french.
The 1st one is from Philippe Grasset and it's called "Chronique de l'embranlement" and the 2nd one is from Jean-Philippe Immarigeon in "American parano" (coincidentally American parano is the french title from the movie "fear and loathing in Las Vegas").
These books have not been translated into english, and if somebody is interest to publish them in the US, then let me know.

Take care yall.

3:37 PM  
Anonymous Melker63 said...

MB quote: "Es gibt keine Hoffnung".

I just want to add that above is only true for temporary created stuff, like a costume, a car - or by all means: a special ecomical, political or cultural way of looking at things. A costume (or a culture) can over time be so "wornout" and "overmended" that praying for continued use are both unrealistic and futile.

And in that sense I agree: one is then far better of simply to accept the "Mene mene tekel upharsin", without flinching - even then it comes to the civilisation and culture one happens to live in.

Having said that though; then it comes to mankind behind all this created temporary stuff: I say - its NEVER hopeless.

I look at it like this: The life of man is divided into two parts: first 9 months in the dark womb, the 70-80 years outside in the light. Maybe the whole multi-million year evolutionary process is still "in the womb" so to speak, rapidly moving out - with modern man, struggling in labours.

Who knows - about 500+ years from now, mankind is finally "delivered". With a brain of the intelligent and wise man, but also with a heart of the child. :-)

7:05 PM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

I think we should keep a positive philosophical attitude with post-modernism, and I beg to differ with your opinion, there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Everything that we do in life is for our offspring: it took 2500 years to achieve a "spiritual" endeavor while it took millions of years to go from a specie close to the ape all the way through the homo-sapiens. That has been a hell of the time to reach this paradigm. In the dark ages, the species could not even walk, they needed their legs and their arms to move; until that one of them got the wonderful idea to stand up on his feet so that he could look in the wheat fields, then progressively he realized that he was able to walk without using his hands and stand up at the same time in case he would be attacked by predators. This way of life allowed him to change his feeding habits, switching from fruits/veggies to meat, developing the skull and thus, the mental faculty. The human being is the only rational animal that transmits his knowledge through social skills. It took millions of years to do that; so 2500 years of spiritual achievement is nothing generally speaking. Although it is a lot during the cycle of a normal human life. The human being is too damn intelligent to know he is limited in time and too stupid to know that he is not alone in this world (so said a french monk), this is also why they created an imaginary world with mythology and religion. Then came a guy called Nietzsche who wrote "Gott ist tot" (God is dead) and he gave the whole western world a new way of thinking. For the 1st time we were able to say that we were failing and it was not the fault of God, but our own fault. So he killed God to make it alive again in a new fashioned way. This achievement may still seem nothing but it was a lot knowing Europeans went into an intellectual shipwrecking in sciences with the Inquisition that enslaved us spiritually for centuries. In France we finally separated Church from State, and it would not have happened without Nietzsche first and the will of the people. Also the frontier between psychology and philosophy would still be fuzzy (they changed all of that during the XIXth century) and the doors of our inconscient would have been closed for ever. There would be no psycho-analysis (Freud), the medicine would not flirt with psychiatry, we would not treat folly or depression, and there would be no sociology (in part thanks to Nietzsche and also Karl Marx then Weber).

What happened later was a new "renaissance" in the western world. We got existentialism authors such as Camus, Kafka or Sartre, that came up with new philosophical ideas such as "aburditisme" for example. The madman from Nietzsche was still here,in a different way this time, in a new dimension but he was here. Every time we are trying to open new doors to the human mind we find new limits in reason, but there is hope, even if we are losing our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan (we just need to go from hard power to soft power).

Remember this: The true “Westerner” is the man who accepts nothing unreservedly in our civilisation except the liberty it allows him to criticize it and the chance it offers him to improve it. (Raymond Aron). We need to take up to the challenge in order to do that, but we need a new evolution or a "revolution" to re-examine our lives. The unexamined life is not worth living wrote Socrates. He meant by that the human being needs to know what he is striving for. It can be everything in life but it has to be something, It can be writing, painting, jogging, anything that pleases you. But after the 2nd WW we've seen different habits that evolve a different way. People buy things on impulse for example, we entered the consumerism era, sometimes we even buy bigger TVs just to brag about it with the neighbor. In a society there are codes that dictate us what to do and what not to do. Generally speaking only 95% of our decisions are completely unconscious, and even most of our decisions that seem to be clearly conscious are unconscious. So it is a question of judgment, common sense too and choices. What are the values of the human being?
And when you put all of that in the frame of a civilisation, it's even bigger because it is about culture.

Interculturalism is a new approach to understand that Humans are different. It helped to tolerate and understand people, and it help us to criticize intellectually where we are headed.

I'm not finished, I was going to bring the link with education (imagine for example if you bring down education, you can do everything against the US constitution and human rights), but it will be another time, I need some rest. When I start something I never know when it is going to end.

3:32 AM  
Anonymous drwoning not waving said...

Mr. Berman.

What you say is all so starkly true that it is no longer comprehensible to the mindset in American life.

We've lost our soul and zest for knowing, doing, being, and the value of human endeavor unrelated to consumerist thinking.

I do want to believe that you are wrong about it being too late for America, but I have followed you for years now, and with each passing month your words stink with the reality of loss of value and meaning.

Reading and thinking is essential to development and balance. I work in corporate America surrounded by a sea of MBA's that are so vapid and without the ability to master any level of critical thinking about the larger issues that they have allowed the bankruptcy of economic life over meaningful life finally create the financial woes that will collapse the country.

I have a simple BA in the humanities and can posit questions that cannot be fathomed by those above me as we fail time and time again, to accomplish anything of value beyond a false sense of return on investment.

I am passing your latest post on to a host of these mindless thugs, and thugs they are as they assault every sensibility of what a fulfilled life is about. I can venture an educated guess I will not get a single comment back, nor will they find any curiosity within themselves to examine life and meaning.

I grew up influenced by Sicilian immigrants who based their knowledge of life and meaning upon the larger issues of which you write. Even with their lack of formal education they would, today, understand every word you write. They lived it. They discussed it. The quest for meaning never entered the realm of economic life.

Thank you for being here.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Arlene said...

I am beginning to think this collapse of knowledge is more widespread than we Americans know. I read an internet blurb about how 1/4 of contemporary Britons don't think Winston Churchill ever existed--but Sherlock Holmes did--among other really appalling knowedge gaps. Of course, I thought this must be a misplaced Onion satire or hoax of some kind, but no. I ran it down to a real newspaper, the Daily Mail. Read it and weep:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=512087&in_page_id=1770

MB, I've known you were right since I first read your book, but it still hurts to keep finding evidence.

1:46 PM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

About the french Universities.
I was at a University (Blaise Pascal) and I earned a master's in International Cooperation. At the time they were teaching us a ridiculous amount of skills (economics in french, english, german, international/european laws, international patents, marketing, ISO norms, mathematics, language, psychology, sociology, trading techniques, and so on and so on), in only 1 year at the University, we were lost with 30 different disciplines, and we were wore out. Honestly I've never used most of the skills, and I'm pretty sure that most of them went through the memory hole. Since I could not even find a job, I had to specialize myself in IT and I was back to square one. So IMO teaching in the Universities is okey if you look for the truth, if you want to arise your intellectual curiosity, but sometimes and not always it does not even match what the life awaits from us. After the University, you still have to learn to adapt yourself to the evolving world. The american way of life is easier in regards with this perspective I would say, the french case gets you stuck in only one profession, and it's harder to change later your ambitions. It's strange because learning is a social skill foremost. That said I remember during my late 20s that even with skills I still was terrorized of life, because of the unknown. It might be a western disease, I'm not sure, I did not dig in the subject, but I wouldn't worried that much.

Now it might be possible that in the western civilisation we failed technically. One great philosopher wrote "there is no truth but truths", another one a mathematician philosopher wrote "verite en deca des Pyrenees, erreur au-dela". When you look at sciences or anthropology, there are things we can't really explain yet and we'll have to wait years before somebody comes out with a new perspective/theory; in the meantime we don't have to feel annoyed with these creationists because these ones will take us back to the dark ages in a heartbeat.

3:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Drowning et al.:

Thank you all for your intelligent comments. Drowning's letter reminded me of a comparison an American living in London made in a US literary publication a few months back, I can't remember which. He said he was riding the tube one day and listening in on the conversation of a group of businessmen (pinstripe suits, attache cases, etc.) going in to work. What were they discussing? The current nominees for the Man Booker Prize, most of which they had read--! Can you imagine anything equivalent to this happening in the US? I doubt most American businessmen are even aware of a thing called the National Book Award, or when it is awarded, or what the current nominees are--let alone have read them. I found this tiny vignette so symbolic of the cultural difference between the US and the UK, or the US and the Continent. When Herbert Marcuse wrote "One-Dimensional Man" way back when, he really had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Another telling vignette: a friend of mine was on a train up the California coast last year, I think it was from San Diego to around San Luis Obispo. As an experiment, she decided to start at the last car and walk the entire length of the train very slowly, eavesdropping on conversations. She discovered that every single one of them was about some piece of new technology or software or related item that the speakers owned, wanted, or intended to buy. Again, this speaks for itself. How impoverished we are, while curiously thinking we are Numero Uno. We are slipping into oblivion while watching CNN and thinking it's really going to make a difference who the next president is. At the end of the day, the president is the people writ large...a depressing thought, n'est-ce pas?

Thanx again,
mb

8:42 PM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

One of the biggest cultural differences I found between France and the USA is the word "God". In France, if you tell Americans that you are "atheist" or "agnostic", they are going to stare at you and they'll think you have no morals, while in France it is completely normal to feel this way. In the US I think you have to believe in something (there around 1% of people who are agnostic in the US), in France you can also believe in something but you can question it. It's a very fundamental difference that shapes our cultures and our psychologies.
The 1st time when I arrived in the US I was shocked to find on the currency coins the word "in God we trust", then I found out about the pledge of allegiance. Initially the pledge had been written a while ago after the US constitution to avoid social tensions and unite people but it was only introduced in the civil society during the 50s. While it can be interesting and valued in a civil society, I always wondered about the psychological implications and impacts on the US foreign policy. Too often I heard the word "enemies", and I personally look at the pledge like an inhibitor of invasion on cultural values in other countries. Can the human being define his existence without God (the pledge of allegiance) and can we justify our existence without fighting? (wars - punishment). Personally the worst enemy of the US is the US itself.

She discovered that every single one of them was about some piece of new technology or software or related item that the speakers owned, wanted, or intended to buy It's called materialism, and it's a secondary need. The so-called "portable" devices took over our lives. In a student suitcase you can find an I-pod, a cellphone, a PDA, a Nintendo DS or a PSP. The corporate world has to keep Americans happy, as long as they keep shopping (it became a national sport) and they'll notice that the price is less expensive than last year, then people reduce their time to do other critical goals.

Another thought about History. Countries from all over the world have a bogus history, full of lies or misinformation. In France very few people know about slavery, it is very taboo over there. The 1st country that abolished slavery in the world was France (not the US) but it was re-instated years later under Napoleon. Napoleon as you know was the emperor dictator (as bad as Hitler or Stalin although french History glorifies him through his wars) who "sold Louisiana to the Americans". In fact it did not happen exactly this way but that's what History will retain to make it short. Louisiana (it was North Dakota, South Dakota, North Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and other states in the actual states) was sold to the Americans because there was an embargo in the river of the Mississippi against Americans via a spanish declaration, so it was making it harder to trade with american states. It turned out that the Barings Brothers (an english bank that belonged to the english crown) supported this decision - Americans had no money to pay at this time - to ratify the french/american contract in 1801.
Louisiana was a biggest moment in US history because it allowed the country to double its size and continue their trade roads through the far West.
History is amazing but it always simplifies its goal, and that's the sad part about it. Many times a short sentence hides many facts.
I wonder what american/european history will have to tell about Saddam Hussein, he was an "Evil dictator" and we have to "bring Democracy" over there; it can't be about the oil of course...

...etc

PS: no American president will change the US or maybe one or two like Ron Paul or Kucinich but they are not even known from the MSM.

12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Americans have been fretting over the state of their schools for decades. We're often told that parents need to become more involved with their children's
education. Unfortunately, most parents today don't even know what an education is and strive to ensure their children never get one.

I was recently helping a middle school teacher grade some essays. In my day (I'm 50) half of those papers would have received a failing grade for grammar and
spelling alone. Now, all but the most egregious get a 90 or better. Anything less would trigger a spate of angry phone calls from parents to both teacher and
principal demanding justice for their young scholars. The overriding concern is always the grade and its implications for future advancement through the system.

Nothing could be further from the minds of such parents than teaching their children how to think and giving them something to think about.

I must admit I haven't read all your works, but I've read enough to be surprised at not having seen a reference to Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind.

What's your opinion of this book?

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello all,

It's good to see that people are still commenting. I am the German high school teacher just barely hanging on. German is on the decline at our school. Latin was cut last year, and now French and German are soon to be cut. Even my German friends are telling me to get real and forget German, but I can't.

Now, the principal of our school wants to bring in Mandarin. I can't imagine kids that can barely pass through two years of Spanish, French, or German doing well in Mandarin?? Oh well, what the masses want...Another interesting phenomena in our school is the string of divorces..I am convinced that overworked parents are misreable. Everyone is getting pulled in so many directions. These parents out of desperation, frustration lash out at whom they can..their spouses. It is sad. It is all another symptom of the society built on pleasure, escape, technology.

I try to talk to normal Americans about this, but they don't get it. It really is "The Matrix," and you cannot convince them that our empty lives are not great. It is sad. My students do less work every year. Homework completion is a joke, and when I tell them to go home, and find a quiet place to study their German novels they look at me like I am joking, I'm not. Frontline for PBS just did an episode called, "Growing up Online." They reported that this generational gap may be the largest in history. One principal was so proud to report that his teachers entertain their students. They use technology to hook their attention. The teacher was sitting at his computer at the front of the room and typing a question, and then the students were all at computers blogging back their answers. What the hell. I think we should do the opposite. I make my classes read, and discuss German literature (at the AP level), and they hate me for it. 90% do not do the assigned reading. It is dark, so dark.

This whole country is in a funk right now, and I feel it everyday sitting in traffic. I would like to write a great satirical novel that would wake people up, but no one reads anymore. Maybe I should write a movie script? The economy is teetering on the brink of collapse. I don't see anything positive right now in modern America. Maybe I should just watch movies, play videogames and escape like most other people do. I wish I didn't take the red pill. Even if I do succeed in educating some of my students, what will the benefit be? They will simply be able to understand what is happening to them. They will not be able to change one thing, will they? Thanks for continuing this blog Mr. Berman. This blog is a lifeline for some of us stranded out here in the wilderness. Everyday strange things happen that convince me more and more that you are correct. I am not a huge fan of Mexico, but I do have to admit that Mexicans have a stronger sense of family, community, and the human spirit that we affluent northerners don't even come close to.
John in Chicagoland.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Pedro said...

I'm a big fan of your work. It was recommended to me recently by my psychiatrist (yes, depression, the price to pay for living in this era and having some functional neurons) since I have a very similar world view to yours. It was very relieving to find that someone else shared the same thoughts.

I'm glad you will be teaching at a mexican college, but you'll find that ITESM is the most americanized of them (I know, since I study there).

Granted, I had VERY romantic expectations for what college was, specially since the marketing team at ITESM made it look like the "mexican Harvard" (turns out they were right... I just had the wrong idea of how Harvard really was), but even with lowered standards it is difficult to call ITESM a real college; it is really a business dedicated to selling nobility titles so stupid kids can get jobs at businesses owned by stupid adults with the same titles.

Universities are no longer the place where the most intelligent gather to learn, debate and grow. They have mandatory "values" classes! And those classes have self-help books as "text books" (one of those by an author who claims to be the "American Socrates)! There are no real debates (no one wins, because, "de alguna manera todos tenemos razón" (direct quote from a humanities "teacher"), there is no real knowledge.

Just two small examples of my experience at ITESM: In one of my international business classes, 21 people out of 26 thought Portugal was in Latin America. In another class, the PowerPoint slides one teacher was using were clearly (at least to me) out of order -there was no coherence between them; the teacher didn't notice until the "Conclusion" slide came when there were still 10 or so slides left: he was reading them without actually thinking, like a robot.

Anyway, best of lucks there: if you can "touch" even one student there, then it will all be worth it. I hope someday you'll come to the Monterrey Campus too.

Gotta go and take my Cymbalta ;)¡Saludos!

P.S. To gavdammit's comment about how geeks are not what they used to be, I think it's explained by what I call thymic traps (using Fukuyama's concept of thymos).
These people, who would normally use their energy and intelligence in activities that could threaten the current system, are instead lured by the powers that be into black holes where their abilities and "life force" is safely absorbed. Case in point: World of WarCraft and the whole geek culture of games, spills, and all around waste of time.

12:54 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Friends,

Ah, so many great thoughts to comment on. It's nice to know that about 0.1% of the American public still has a pair of functioning frontal lobes. I was watching CNN 2 days ago in my hotel room here in Mexico City (I don't own a TV, myself), and the program was a discussion of the eyebrows of Barack as compared to those of Hillary. Heaven forfend we should discuss Barack's recent praise of Ronald Reagan, and the fact that he is little more than a big smile with little experience behind it; or Hillary's saber-rattling over Iran, her ties to big corporations (esp. in the area of health insurance), and her declaration (like Barack's) that troops would not be coming back from Iraq before 2013--no, let's not talk about reality. Let's talk about
f--ing eyebrows instead. What a clown show.

Pedro, I know all about TEC (ie, ITESM). What you need to know is that I was hired as a counterweight to the mainstream by the Humanities Dept. Whether I and the Dept. will have any success in bucking that mainstream, or reducing the trend toward Americanization--well, probably not. But if I can just fish a few poor souls out of the drink, I'll be happy. Yesterday I gave my 1st seminar for the Dept., 15 faculty and 10 students. I started out by asking everybody to turn their cell phones off, and not use laptops in class--basta with that crap. What then followed was three of the best hrs I've ever had in my history of university teaching. You can't imagine the level of interest, the intensity, the quality of the questions and the discussion--what it was like (mostly) when I began teaching in 1970, and which is now a fairly rare phenomenon in the US. There's nothing like hanging out with minds on fire. In the US, it's more like minds in mud. I get email from US profs and teachers all the time, abt how absolutely idiotic, ignorant, and apathetic their students are, but of course it's hardly limited to the student population. "Judge Judy" once remarked that if you walked out onto an American street and randomly put your hands on people walking by, one out of three you touched would be an idiot (her word). Myself, I'm convinced that random brain biopsies taken of the American population would reveal, in at least 90% of the cases, tuna fish instead of gray matter. Wish I could get that project funded...Why does the US gov't keep ignoring my grant applications, I ask you?

As for what's stamped on US currency, I long ago suggested replacing "In God We Trust" with "What's In It For Me?", but the Mint strangely declined to answer my letter.

Keep writing, you guys--breath o' fresh air.

Saludos a todos,
Mauricio

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

I received an e-mail a few days ago from a friend in Brazil who wanted to know if I would be voting for ‘Obama’ in the upcoming primary. I haven’t replied to her yet but to be quite honest I don’t think I will be voting this year for any candidate. None of them appeals to me. I also have to wonder why this system is setup so that the candidates have to spend so much cash to get elected. Can’t all this money be put to better use somewhere else? I think if you really want to change society you are better off doing it outside the system.

I do tend to agree we have way too many technological gadgets now. I grew up playing computer games during the 80s but my friends and I still found plenty of time to have fun outside. Now we have DVD players, Playstation 3s, Nintendo Wiis, Ipods etc. Its so easy to just stay in your house and not interact with anyone. We are also encouraged by the media to be ‘good little consumers’, buying these gadgets and toys to make our lives a little better. Although in many cases they don’t really improve anything.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi!

I agree, and I say this as being both a current student at a Arizona State University (a small college), and a film school in Los Angeles which I don't even think is worth mentioning. At both places I noticed just an absolute hatred towards and/or obliviousness towards the idea of "meaning philosophy" for living. Times when I would tried to explain this "lofty" thinking to my peers, I was met with sneers and considered "naive" for hoping that life can be more than a race to the bottom.

Not that you didn't know this already, but here's more proof.

Thanks Mr. Berman

P.S.: What are your thoughts on the Federal Reserve?

4:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, students like that--the vast majority, according to all the recent polls--really *do* have a philosophy, regardless of whether they are aware of it or not, and it's basically, "What's In It For Me?" When that's what the youth of a nation have as their defining framework of life, you know that country has no future. There is a great sadness in this, I think, the more so because it is the logical endpoint of the American Way of Life, that all other societies apparently want to imitate. So they get flash, cash, and technological whiz-bang (or at least, their elites do), and lose their purpose for existing at all. Faust revisited, I guess.

As for the Fed: Robt Reich did a very astute review of Alan Greenspan's autobiography, showing how destructive he was for the US, with his Ayn Rand philosophy. It appeared in the Times Literary Supplement (London) in a recent issue; you might be able to locate it online.

Thanks for writing-

mb

10:27 AM  
Anonymous AlbuquerqueGuy said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I've been meaning to write for some time and this chilly February night in Albuquerque seems like as good a time as any.

I must thank you for your writing - I have read DAA, Twilight and Wandering Gods, and I have perused your older posts as well as listened to some of the posted links to interviews (Lopate Show etc..) For those who haven't had the time to check it out, there's quite a bit of material and I think the points made in DAA are expanded upon.

I should also thank you for referring in one of those links to Zygmunt Bauman. I would like to read more of his works but did get a good start with his Wasted Lives & Liquid Modernity. Again, for those looking to read more in this line of work check out Mr. Bauman as well. I haven't been in college for some time so I found it to be a bit of a workout but one that was well worth it. You'll be glad to know that I have been torturing our local Burquenos at the public library with requests for Mr. Bauman's work.

Cities

I've had the opportunity of working in different areas of the country over the last several years including upstate NY (where I am from), Fort Lauderdale, Seattle and finally here in Albuquerque. Unfortunately, the picture could hardly be clearer than your work illustrates. Despite my hope that at least Albuquerque would be different with its "non-Anglo" roots and often charming demeanor, it is as deeply embedded in the American culture as any other place.

Albuquerque, like many American cities, may be a failing city. It suffers from poor public transportation, rampant alcoholism and poverty. I understand from someone who works at UNM that the university struggles with one of the worst retention rates in the country.

Fort Lauderdale is part of an immense urban sprawl divided by nothing more than impersonal strip malls and dangerous freeways. The once beautiful Everglades have been encroached upon with unrestrained housing development and a seemingly endless array of parking lots, chain stores and overly manicured bushes. The days of charming, tropical bungalows are barely recognizable. Hemingway wouldn't go near the place these days.

Baltimore struggles on with block after block of abandoned and dangerous row houses, drug dealing and violence.

Seattle may be the most puzzling of all. Despite it's highly educated, prosperous and entrepreneurial reputation (home of Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks etc.) it's general public can't seem to agree that a light rail system is a good idea despite miles of traffic which threatens to turn King County into another L.A. gridlock. On any given night 8000 or so people are homeless and an additional 700-800 wander the streets unable to even get into a shelter.

Education

My brother-in-law teaches at a small liberal arts school in the mid-Atlantic area and relayed the following tale I'm sure you'll appreciate. Every year he takes a group of students over the mid-term break to Arizona for a back packing trip. This Fall he was approached by an interested student (Junior I believe) who'd talked about the possibility with his father but he still needed some remaining questions answered. His first question regarded the exchange rate in Arizona.......hmmm. Hoping he had misunderstood the question my brother-in-law began talking about the trip when the curious student asked if they'd be taking a boat to the area! It became clear that the student didn't know what country Arizona belonged to and it was suggested the student consult a map before embarking on such a journey.

Another student in my brother-in-law's science related class (again, this is college) could not use a ruler for a lab problem. They could not understand the concept of measuring something. These examples would be funny if they weren't so tragic and yet they are easily found.

Some experiences with other countries....

One of the interesting things I've run into while working in NM is the large number of paperwork challenged Mexicans who are here. Almost without exception, they are the hardest working, politest folks I have met. They honor their family by supporting them back home, are devoted to their religion and more. In trips to Juarez, I was spontaneously invited into two different factories for a tour and spent an hour talking with a sidewalk shoe-shiner who made me feel at home despite my mediocre Spanish. He was very poor but lit up when talking about his dream trip several years ago to Santa Fe.

These folks seem to embody the very values that Americans say make America great Is there any clearer indication of our pathology than the race baiting, anti-immigrant sentiments expressed this year in our country?

We truly seem to hate them. Unconcious resentment?

Other experiences that I can't get out of my head.......

While on a trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago, I was invited in to a courtyard with a woman friend of mine for an afternoon drink. She discussed poetry with a visiting poet while I struggled to converse with a local lawyer on the influence of the French on the Dominican legal system.

While getting lost in Brussels in the early eighties I won't forget the eager faces of a group of Scottish middle schoolers who rushed up to me wanting to get my opinion on Margaret Thatcher!

Can we imagine any of these things happening in the States? Is there anything we could call charming left?

It's hard to imagine what could turn this around.

I'm afraid I've belabored the point - we all know there is an endless stream of examples.

I'm nearly at a point of making a break for it to another country (possibly Central America region). I'm older than I'd like to be trying this. My Spanish is not as good as it should be yet I see little to lose in trying something like this.

As Americans, I think it's worth giving alternatives a try. I think it's worth discussing where our energy should go. The least we can do is contribute to a counter narrative. I'm talking about the narrative that reflexively says we're the best, the most generous and so on.

I've done everything from union organizing to working in community based rehabilitation programs. Frankly, the system is not working and we should all know it. Every library branch that's closed, every additional case added to a case manager's load, every community health program that's closed and every bus line that's taken out is a cut to a body with a thousand existing cuts.

Our government is in the process of buying our compliance with a small tax rebate. Everyone I know, Republican to Democrat, knows this won't fix anything. Our government argues over this and how much of our privacy should be sacrificed to fight an imaginary war in the mid-east rather than funding and building sensible resources. The very public institutions that might alleviate some of these problems or give people hope (as Z. Bauman writes so well about) have been financially degraded or pushed aside.

I've found the only way to survive with a modicum of sanity is something along the lines of your "monastic option". The older I get, I live with less and less. I choose to not have a tv, cable bills and so on. Due to a car accident I'm going without a car and use public transportation or walk. Most of the "goods" you're supposed to get when being a part of this system are simply not worth it when weighed against the cost of being in the system (even a little bit).

Again Dr. Berman, thanks for all of your work and having the blog. To everyone who reads or participates in the blog - I hope we can all read and educate ourselves about where we are at, what is really going on and maybe even find some strategies for keeping our heads above water.

Best wishes on your adventures at a university in Mexico. Keep us posted as I'm sure we'd all like to see how things compare......

Sincerely,
Dan

10:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dan,

Lots I could say in terms of adding to your observations--I've got a ton of them, from both here in Mexico and the US--but it seems to me you've made the point quite clearly. Only thing I can suggest is that you try writing them up. Not that anything you or I write might ever make any difference for America at large, but there is a tenth of 1% that might understand.

Well, here's one vignette; I mention this because it just happened to me. I was in Mexico City a few days ago, and returning to the town in which I live, via the Mexico City airport. My taxi driver asked me where I lived; when I told him, he was familiar with one of the town's leading poets (long dead), and began to recite the man's poetry by heart. In your wildest dreams, can you imagine a US taxi driver capable of anything like this? Not to mention the graciousness, the courtesy, of this driver, as opposed to the US-style of grunt and take your money. How do you tell 300 million people what they've lost, what they are missing?

Best of luck to you-

mb

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Melker63 said...

Dream and reality vs cause and effect? Compare and reflect:

JFK 1961: "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" [...] "If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

Suze Orman 2008: "What you need to focus on is not what your government wants you to do for the national economy, but what you can do for your personal financial security. Help yourself first" ( http://tinyurl.com/2e5dcd ).

Comment: Suzes article comes to logical conclusions, given the sad and crooked state of the economy and US leadership.
Somehow though, something valuable seemes to be tossed out with the bathwater. Also: Am I the only one that sense some kind of cause and effect between above two quotes?

2:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Melker,

Yes, there is indeed a connection, and it's called identity (or almost). I suspect that had JFK lived, he would have proven to be a bad president--or at least, more of the same. He has entered our national mythology as a kind of god, with (to many Democrats) Nixon as his antithesis; but as with Dems and GOP today, if you look closer, it just ain't so. Kennedy was very much a Cold Warrior, and his inauguration speech surely reflects that ("pay any price, bear any burden..."--was he nuts?). He also had no interest in distribution of wealth, and the one person he could have listened to--John Kenneth Galbraith, whose popular "Affluent Society" (1958) advocated less military spending and a move toward a Scandanavian-style economic arrangement--was completely ignored and also packed off to India as the US Ambassador, thus safely out of the way. Here's the bottom line: we've got a nation of 300 million Suze Ormans on our hands; the fact that she is a big honcho on PBS ("educational" TV) ought to tell us something. Even the poor have the same ideology as the rich in the US: it's all about personal wealth, and the more the better. JFK's line about Ask not...is inspiring, but in retrospect it was just rhetoric. The difference between his inaugural, and FDR's (1st one), in which Roosevelt called for a "common discipline," and meant it, ought to be clear enough.

Thanks for writing, amigo-

mb

5:23 PM  
Blogger Norf said...

Mr. Berman,

Let me introduce myself real quick: I am an American who is rather well travelled. I have lived in Ottawa, Berlin, Washington, Portland, OR and now Phoenix. I work as a geotechnical (soils) engineer but have rather wide interests, including world politics, economics and languages. I am fluent in French, German and obviously English. I am by no means your "average" American.

So, now on to my point. I have recently begun reading your new book "Dark Ages America". While it is a riveting read, there are a few points which bother me. Let me list them here:

1. Globalization: Corporations are able to take advantage of of poorer nations and wreak environmental damage, for sure. On the other hand, wealth is being spread more evenly among the world. Americans may be experiencing more income inequality, but I'm sure that the situation has improved significantly other nations, such as China and India.

2. "Vignettes", "Stories" and "Anecdotes": These are not good things for backing up an arguement. If I were to tell you that all Frenchmen were A$$#@&ES because I was recieved badly at a few French hostels when backpacking through Europe, I would be proving nothing. You are not doing yourself a service by telling us stories about friends of yours that feel like Americans have become more "isolated" or obsessed with "gadgets". I challenge you to show me, through some way other than anecdotes how the average American is any more lonely than the the same type of person in Japan, Australia or China, or how they are more obsessed with new technology than Germans or South Koreans.

3. Politics: Unfortunately, your book was written right after the 2004 elections. Let me tell you, I was rather despondant about the state of America at that time as well. Watching GWB pick up another 4 years was jawdropping. Fortunately, people are fickle, and their moods have swung the other direction. The religious right has imploded and every neocon principle has been destroyed.
Americans are largely dissatisfied with the direction in which the country is heading. They want change. You may rail on someone like Barack Obama for having very little experience, but I believe he is good for this county. One could have argued that GWB had "experience" when he took office, but experience in the political world does not mean much.
Barack Obama is energizing the American public in a way that has not been seen in a very long time. His election would present a very good image to the world. We will prove we can see beyond color, origin, background, etc. and we are willing to move forward. No president will ever be an expert on everything... Why do we insist that he/she must? A good moral compass and a willingness to patiently weigh every decision are the two greatest characteristics a presidential candidate could have.

4. The decline of America: You seem to act like the decline of American power is a bad thing. Surely we have learned that a single superpower might not be such a great idea. Other nations are rising to compete with America and that is a good thing. For sure, British people were probably pretty glum when the sun did, in fact, set on their Empire, but one can definately argue that it was for the best of the world.
Arguing that America is going down the wrong path, and they should follow the example of other "better run" nations is, in my opinion, a waste of time. France, Germany, Britain, etc, etc. have all risen and fallen, and I think they are doing OK right now.

Maybe, at 27, I am just an over-optimistic young whippersnapper... I think we should look at the decline of America's dominance over the world as something good. America will finally be forced to learn the lessons it has avoided for so long.

(Sorry this is not eloquently written, but I am an engineer, not an author.)

5:30 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Norf,

Thank you for your feedback. I'll try to answer your questions or objections in the order you presented them. I do want to say, however, that a lot of the questions you ask are already answered in the book itself, and the data/substantiation is in the rather extensive footnotes. You indicate that you "have recently begun" reading it; given some of your questions, I'm guessing you may not have gotten very far into the book. Nevertheless, let me deal with the points you make.

1. The notion that globalization is spreading wealth more evenly among the world is a myth, propagated by writers such as Thos Friedman, whose "evidence" largely consists of interviews with CEOs or those who are benefiting from the gross inequality of wealth that has resulted. See the detailed data provided in DAA p. 14 and 58-63. When you have a situation in which per capita income is lower today that it was 15 yrs ago in more than 100 countries, and which (according to a UN report of 2003) one sixth of the world's pop. is living in slums, with a prediction that this will double in 30 yrs, you know the rosy Friedmanesque view of the process is seriously biased. I suggest you check out the works of Joseph Stiglitz, along with Naomi Klein's recent book, "The Shock Doctrine"--research she did on the street level, not in corporate boardrooms. As for China and India: what globalization does is create even greater gaps between rich and poor inside those countries; it is not about wealth being spread around. Indeed, the situation in China is rapidly approaching that of the US, with 1%
of the population owning 40% of the wealth. This Asian "shark capitalism" has been the subject of numerous articles in the American newspapers, in fact.

2. Evidence: well, there is statistical evidence, and there is anecdotal evidence. Michiko Kakutani, in the NY Times, tried to discredit the book by claiming that most of the evidence was anecdotal. But in fact just the opposite is true: the book is loaded with stats; the anecdotes are there merely to illustrate the stats, bring them to life, as it were. If you read the book carefully (and the footnotes), you'll see this. As for American isolation, I do not have the sources at hand (unfortunately), but over the last decade I have read a number of times, in American newspapers, the results of surveys and sociological studies that document that more Americans live in one-person homes or apartments than any other country in the world. Add to this the stats on divorce and "latchkey" kids, and the picture becomes quite obvious. As for evidence in DAA itself, check out the discussion I have of Robert Putnam's massive study of the subject on pp. 44-45, which documents the colossal destruction of community, friendship, and trust during 1965-95. To this you might want to add the dramatic increase in the use of prescription psychoactive drugs (see pp. 29-30 and esp. p. 344, n. 22), which surely tells us something--other countries don't even come close. As for American obsession with technology: the problem here is that to my knowledge, no such statistical studies have been conducted; all that *anybody* can offer on this topic is impressionistic evidence. And indeed, after you spend a good bit of time in, say, Europe, as opposed to the US, you come away realizing that the conversations you have in Europe are not easily come by in the US because the value-system of the US is fairly one-dimensional: toys and money really do constitute a lot of our attention. Your experience, of course, could be different here, but I tell you, I've spent many years in both places, and the "thinness" of the air in America as compared with, say, Italy is too obvious to warrant comment.

3. I don't think we should get caught up in timing, the 2004 elections, etc.; these are rather superficial issues, and the Democratic victory of 2006 hardly changed my mind, because there have been no substantive differences between the two parties since 1945, with the exception of Jimmy Carter--as I discuss in detail (on Carter see pp. 131-40). DAA deals with the *structural* properties of the American republic/empire, going back in some cases to the 18th century. If you study those properties, it becomes clear that there is very little any particular president can do to change them (Carter tried, and rapidly became a laughingstock)--the "tramlines" are set, in short. The religious right has certainly *not* imploded, and if the Neocons are out of favor, one wouldn't know it from the Bush program of continuing the war in Iraq, the praise for the "Surge,", and the utterances of John McCain on the "rightness" of the war. As for the Dems, Hillary and Barack have both made it clear that they will not be withdrawing troops before 2013, and will not cut funds for the war. Americans are dissatisfied with the war not on moral grounds, or grounds of faulty US foreign policy, but because we are losing it (this was documented in a poll I read about in the NY Times several months ago; again, sorry, I didn't clip the article). As for experience: Barack, like G.W. Bush when he came into office, has none; but given the structural properties I discuss in DAA, we are simply electing a funeral director now, no more or less. It doesn't matter if the next president is black or female or green with little antennae or has no experience or a ton of it; the guest of honor at a funeral is not the director, but the corpse. Barack's hope is naive, as is the (very temporary--don't kid yourself) energy of the American people (they were also energized by 9/11 for a few months, remember?). According to the New Yorker portrait of him a few months back, he is basically an Edmund Burke-type figure, traditionally conservative in seeing societies as organic, understanding that serious social change is unlikely. And if he tries it, he'll come up against the K Street lobbies and the corporate establishment real fast, I assure you. Bill Clinton also offered us "Hope," my friend; he turned out to be a Republican in disguise. Rhetoric is nice, but it ain't reality--something that's easy to forget when you see Wolf Blitzer reporting from the "Situation Room," and that sort of TV fantasy that leads Americans to believe any of this is fundamental.

4. No, I don't think an American decline would be bad--certainly not for the rest of the world. Our influence is baleful now, in my opinion: we export a ridiculous, vapid technoculture; we murder civilians by the hundreds of thousands (millions, in Vietnam). It's clearly time for us to get off the world stage, or at least, become a minor player--which I think will be the case in 30 yrs or so. However, the decline is bad within the country, as the stats of ignorance, apathy, violence and etc.--all heavily documented in DAA--clearly indicate. I am, however, in favor of the American people recognizing that the glory days are over; anything else would be (is) a form of denial. This would entail a different set of actions than the ones we are taking, and would be better for both the US and the rest of the world; although nowhere in my book that I know of do I advocate that America should follow the example of other nations. I certainly agree that it would be good if America is "forced to learn the lessons it has avoided for so long," but I keep coming back to that great line by Gore Vidal: "Americans never learn; it's part of our charm." I honestly don't think we are going to learn anything from what is happening, any more than we learned anything from 9/11 or Vietnam; the habit of blaming others for our problems is far too engrained. As for the UK, it definitely is *not* doing well, as the stats of income and wealth distribution reveal; Thatcher and Blair pretty much destroyed the welfare state there (although happily, some things are still standing). The EU is a different story, although pressure from US neoliberalism has done those nations a lot of damage.

Anyway, I appreciate your questioning of my book, but as noted above, I think you would have found most of your objections met by reading it all the way through.

Best,
mb

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is John in Chicagoland, and I have two more interesting observations for you:

#1. I was at an art show in Evanston, Illinois, and I ran into one of my mentor's star German students from ten years ago. We met by chance, and German came up...He quickly gave me his business card: "Porn Star.com" or something like that. He said that he had worked for a large company, but porn was where it was at. He comes from an affluent Asian family, and I was shocked, to say the least... He then showed pornographic images on his digital camera to me and other "guests" at the art show. How could he just show pornography to strangers at a formal party without even flinching...I never relayed this meeting to my boss. She is old school, and it might give her a heart attack. Sometimes things just jump out at you. He said business was booming....Isn't that precious! Bet daddy is real proud.

#2. The new generation: Ten years ago when I told a student to change seats, there was no discussion necessary, no increasingly students will argue with me and swear at me, refusing to change seats without a large explanation. I am more authoritarian, and tell them to change their seat quickly or I will get security in here right away. Mind you, I teach in one of the best public high schools in the country. What is going on in the rest of the public high schools? Most of my students ask to go to the dean to complain about me, and then the dean calls me down to the office, and in front of the little genius and his family, accuses me of picking on little Johnny and hurting his self esteem. Everything seems the same, but it isn't. Buses pick up kids, kids walk around with books and "pretend" to study. Standards are lowered ever so slightly year after year. We don't want to hurt anyone's self esteem do we!

I could give 100 more examples, no problem. Being a high school teacher allows me to see the changes year after year. You should talk to the teachers who have been teaching for 30 + years, it is like the end of the world!


John in Chicagoland.

11:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Well, #1 is definitely a good example of "Defining Deviancy Down," eh? Previous correspondent, Norf, asked what was so bad about the American empire in decline, and I replied Good for the rest of the world, bad for inside the US. This is a good, and sad, example of what I was talking about. It's painful to live with all this stuff, to watch it get worse on a daily basis, and to be regarded as weird if you suggest there's something wrong with any of it.

As for #2: this too is an example of DDD, and of the collapse of the culture. Wish I cd find the newspaper clipping (I have it somewhere in a huge pile), but I remember reading last year that Pacific Palisades High School in California got so fed up with parental hounding of teachers and concern with their little darlings' self-esteem that it put, on the official school answering machine, a hilarious message making fun of the parents (e.g., "If you feel your child should get an A for no work, press 2"; or "If you intend to sue us, press 6"--that sorta thing)--which I thought was great, but I'm guessing that the parents wouldn't grasp the irony involved, and would treat the answering machine seriously. Let's not worry if our kids are doing any work, or learning anything--oh no!--let's just focus on their fragile self-esteem. God, what dreck, eh?

Thanx for writing-
mb

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

This quote was in Aldous Huxley's The Perennial Philosphy and I'm sending it in response to the German teacher's comment.
"Great truths do not take hold of the hearts of the masses. And now, as all the world is in error, how shall I, though I know the true path, how shall I guide? If I know that I cannot succeed and yet try to force success, this would be but another source of error. Better then to desist and strive no more. But if I do not strive, who will?" Chunag Tzu I don't know what the answer is---I'm not a teacher---and I noticed Huxley didn't have much of an answer either when you feel like you're beating your head against a wall. But, still, the work of teaching the humanities IS important and teachers never know who they're reaching and may even think no one is interested or listening. The young man showing him porn on his cell phone is just that----a young (and stupid,impressionable,"macho")man who has probably not faced even one real crossroads in his life. When it comes, as we all know it will, he may turn back to lessons he never thought he would need or use. That, I think, at least for me, has been the value of learning the humanities-----you can read something written 100 years ago, 500, 2,000---and know the actions, thoughts and attitudes that make for a good life are the same today as they were then. And to try to live these principles is just as hard today as it was then and people who have chosen this path will pretty much always be considered "losers" by the popular culture. This is such an important message to give to students. Good luck to all of you out there on the front lines---you obviously need it.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman,
I'm Canadian, grew up in the seventies admiring the America, even feeling a bit at a disadvantage that I hadn't been born a few hundred miles further south, inside the USA. It was the land of opportunity, no?
I moved to Mexico in the mid' to late 80s, married a French woman and started socializing with more a European and Mexican crowd. Many of the differences that have been mentioned by your commentors became quickly obvious. You mention the story of the poetry-reciting taxi driver. Shortly after I had arrived in Mexico a friend took me to a restaurant, to a back room where a number of Mexican businessmen were sitting around a table. A trio was playing for them and the businessmen took turns singing songs, even duets together. I couldn't help but think of the Rotary meetings back home and how much safer this world would be if a few more American businessmen ended their day this way.
After being in Mexico for a few years, I was asked to attend a breakfast meeting attended by a number of Americans interested in investing in Mexico. I was taken back by how they immediately jumped into talking about business and investing. After a half-hour of questioning someone finally asked me about me, my family and living in Mexico. That would just not happen here; people want to know about you first, and then, if time, they get around to the business at hand.
I live in a Mexican community that has a number of American living here, most just part of the year. The admiration I once held for America and Americans has long been fading, as it has for many of the Europeans and Mexican I socialize with. There are some Americans that live down here because they just can't take anymore what's going on back in their country. But most just don't get it. "Why do they hate us?" they say. "Don't they understand how much America has given to this world?" "We give more aid to other countries than anyone else!" Incredible the naivety.
It has been fascinating, almost becoming an obsession for me, watching this once proud country just fall apart, and so quickly. Thanks to people like you and others, most recently the two Naomi's (Klein & Wolf), and some great blogs out there, I'm now able to make sense of how this all came to be. We are in for some very interesting times. What's concerning is how when it really starts unraveling, will they just go down themselves or take the rest of us along with them?

11:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anonymous,

Truth is, I think it is *already* unraveling, and that it was well underway during the beginning of our "twilight" phase, i.e. the early 70s (on this see DAA, passim, and also George Modelski, "Long Cycles in World Politics"). There are so many indicators, as I and a # of other authors have demonstrated; sheer imbecility is one of them (check out the film "Idiocracy", which is supposedly a satire but seems like it's only abt 30 yrs away). As an American, I have mixed feelings about all of this, since the expectations of my generation, those of us who were kids in the
fifties and came of age in the sixties, never included what is unfolding before our very eyes. But then Gore Vidal made the comment in an interview last year (in the June 9th Globe and Mail) to the effect that stupidity excites him, and sometimes I have that feeling as well--it's so awful it's actually titillating. All the shrieking after Hillary, with her close ties to major corporations and a PR firm that helped the Argentinian junta during the seventies (see http://www.democrats.org/page/
community/post/mceades/Cvm9); or after Obama, who (on a wing and a prayer) is offering to enable Americans to transcend history (lots o' luck); or after McCain, so stupid that he walks around Baghdad last year in a Kevlar vest with helicopters flying overhead and declares the city "safe". Buffoons on parade, and it only gets worse.

But keep in mind that the process of unraveling is slo-mo; only 2 empires fell apart overnight, as it were, the Mayan and the Soviet. We are well into our descent; it confronts us on a daily basis. There won't be a (say) August 4, 2031, at 7:30 a.m., when the US simply "dies"; Rome certainly did not follow that pattern, and we are a lot like Rome. Like Rome, it'll be a slow, stupid death, with one day being pretty much the same, until on 4 Aug 31 you wake up, and you realize: Jesus, this really is The End. The only thing that is predicted to happen precipitously, and within 15 yrs at the absolute outside, is another economic crash on the scale of 1929. Of that event, and the subsequent heavy devaluation of the dollar, I have abs. no doubt.

And what you say abt the American ex-pats in your town is true in mine as well: these folks just haven't a clue. What can I talk with them about? The latest new restaurant that opened, or the price of domestic help? An hour with this crowd and I'm trying to find reasons not to shoot myself and be done with it, once and for all. Hanging out w/Mexican friends is about 180 degrees from this, as you also have apparently experienced. Meanwhile, Americans (I mean, estadounidenses) sit around thinking how "quaint" and "undeveloped" Mexico is, when north of the border the machinery of "progress" is destroying the souls of the citizenry, even while they applaud it.

Well, it's late; on that cheery note, I suppose I shd sign off. Muchas gracias para escribir, amigo--

Mauricio

12:25 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: God, it really *was* late, last night. I mean, Muchas gracias por escribir...mb

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Pete said...

Dear Morris,

Congratulations on your appointment to the University position. As I've written in past messages, I'm a great admirer of you and your books, having read all of them, and looking forward to the next.

I just have some thoughts I'd like to share as to just how bad things have gotten. I'm presently reading a book from 1969 entitled..."Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" by Richard Hofstadter. In the introduction he presents the following passages...first from a TIME magazine article after Eisenhower's victory over Stevenson...

Eisenhower's victory, it said, "discloses an alarming fact long suspected: there is a wide and unhealthy gap between American intellectuals and the people."

He goes on to quote Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the following paragraph...

Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in a mordant protest written soon after the election, found the intellectual "in a situation he has not known for a generation." After twenty years of Democratic rule, during which the intellectual had been in the main understood and respected, business had come back into power, bringing with it "the vulgarization which has been the almost invariable consequence of business supremecy." Now the intellectual, dismissed as an "egghead," an oddity, would be governed by a party which had little use for or understanding of him, and would be made the scapegoat for everything from the income tax to the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Anti-intellectualism," Schlesinger remarked, "has long been the anti-Semitism of the businessman...The intellectual...is on the run today in American society."

So, what I'd like to point out is this wide chasm between not only intellectuals, and the masses of poorly educated American people, but even more startling is the chasm between intellectuals and REALLY SMART People. Like many of you I work with some brilliant people...Software Engineers...Systems Architects...MBA's...Masters of Public Administration...etc. and what I have unhappily discovered is that these really, really smart people are NOT "Intellectuals." They can run circles around us all with their specialized knowledge of their profession, and on the whole are very smart individuals, but they cannot tell you who James Joyce, Voltaire, D.H. Lawrence, or Flaubert were. They can tell you who won the Superbowl, and that Tom Brady and Eli Manning are the Quarterbacks for the New England Patriots and NY Giants, or that Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul are the Judges for American Idol...heck, they can even tell you that the FED lowered interest rates again, and that Ben Bernanke is the FED Chariman, and they can tell you all about Stock and Mutual Fund Investing, but they cannot tell you anything about Spinoza, Kant, Hume, Mill, or Schopenhauer.

So this idea in America that "educated" people, with Masters degrees even, are "truly educated" is unfortunately untrue. Oil Tycoon J. Paul Getty described American's as "Educated Barbarians." How true this is. The problem, from my perspective as a former High School Biology teacher is that at some point in history the American school system stopped "Educating" students and started "Training" them for the sole purpose of economics and the pursuit of a "job." This new "training" paradigm altered the curriculum and shifted away from a true "Classical Education" toward a simple Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic one, and of course, conforming and obeying authority in order to be good "employees" who showed up to "work" on time, and got accustomed to "breaks."

Can anyone dispute that "Business" has won, and is in complete control of the country? And can anyone dispute that as a consequence the country has become more vulgar, debauched, and moronic? I think not.

So, we intellectuals are still on the run, and some of us are continuing to build up our libraries as we personally move toward "Monkdom," and American society and culture continues it's rapid decline into an "Idiocracy." Intellectauls cannot give up hope. We must stick together and educate others where and when we can. We must preserve the "life of the mind" at all costs, and wait for a new Renaissance, either in America, or in other countries where I will be first in line to join.

In the meantime, as the American people continue to commit economic, educational and cultural suicide, I will start writing my new versions of Goethe's & Moliere's books...

"The Sorrows of Young Peter."

and

"The American Misanthrope."

Take care Morris, and good luck.

Pete
San Diego, CA

12:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pete,

Thanks for writing. The Hofstadter book actually appeared in 1963, and was more prescient than its author could ever have imagined. Someone once wrote that the Eisenhower victory represented
"the triumph of shoe salesmen over the intellectuals," or something like that. Not that shoe salesmen can't read Tolstoy, of course; but who does now, in the US? There's a great scene in the recent film, "The Bucket List," where Jack Nicholson, as CEO of a hospital corporation, asks his staff at a board meeting if anyone has read Dante's "Divine Comedy." They stare at him as tho he's gone mad, and then someone suggests taking a break. I remember 9 yrs ago, the day after Guenter Grass won the Nobel in lit, I had a copy of the Washington Post w/me and went into my local Bank of America to see the woman in Customer Service abt something. She was in her early 30s; we had a friendly relationship, and had talked a few times before. "Look," I said, showing her the paper; "Guenter Grass won the Nobel prize!" She didn't say anything, so I continued, "Are you interested in German literature?" At this point, she actually snorted--like, "Yeah, right!" Was it Mencken who wrote abt the "Boobocracy"? And on that note, be sure to see the film "Idiocracy," set in the US in 2505, but it seems more like 30 yrs away. Indeed, some of the features of that society are already with us.

As for American academic degrees, keep in mind that the current head of the American Boobocracy has one degree from Harvard and another from Yale, can't speak English all that well, and says that his favorite book is "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

Finally, as you well know, I have long ago given up on any possible US renaissance, and this esp. applies to the intellectual abilities of the American people. What could possibly turn this situation around, after all? Intellectual shock troops fanning out into the "red" states, armed with copies of Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason," Voltaire's
"Candide"? I think of the idiocy that has swamped the nation as being analogous to a tsunami, but in this case, it would have to be called a "buffoonami." Historically, buffoonamis have been as irreversible as tsunamis, and have wreaked as much damage, in the long run. The fix is in, my friend; ain' nothin' gonna save us now.

Peace,
mb

4:27 PM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

Social Skills VS Technology

The human being is the only specie that learns by social skills. At least, that's what we are supposed to do but in this new age technical world, we have been losing the most essential basic things in our life for at least 3 reasons:

- The specialization of skills that require more technical involvements. Everything is cloistered nowadays, and it's harder to evolve. And whenever it is not cloistered, it is harder to find a job because you remain superficial. Also who wants to hire a guy that knows about philosophy or sociology? We live in a technical world. And if you want to change your career in brand new fields, it won't take you only a few months.

- The lack of time in our life: we spend more time at work than personal time. People, when they get home from work, are worn out or wind up, they prefer to trust television networks, instead of finding the information for themselves. It might reduce our own intellectual convictions; they are often subject to propaganda or lies. In the US the culture of media networks is unhealthy. Media wants to convince you, there is no open space to conventional discussion and if you don't agree with them it is the highway. There is also the imperialist culture from the media: they want to be the center of interests. We barely know what's going on in the rest of the world, and when we know something about it; it often dissimulates an imperialistic reason.

- The familial explosion with divorce rates in Europe and the USA. How can you teach your dysfunctional kid good manners when he cannot even deal with the divorce of his own parents? The kids have all the chances to be dysfunctional because their parents (conventionally it has a union between a male and a female and it should be kept this way) give the kid different skills with their gender; in short this is why the dual function of parenthood is essential to the psychological normal development of the kid. If you remove the male or the female from the nurturing process of the kid's teenage years, then all efforts will be lost. Most of people will prefer to deal it with psychology while it is not even the place of psychology; it means we adapted our tools of thinking to the evolution of our civilization, and that's not good because we are losing our own values, we are not in control anymore.

Even the tribes from Sri Lanka know how to deal with their own life. Most of their health problems are solved by drinking 6 glasses of water everyday without eating anything for 1 hour. We used to do that in the western world, didn't we? Water (the human being is made with 75% of water) should be part of our daily life. It can cure many diseases (IE arthritis, sinusitis, diabetes...etc) but the western world prefers to deal with conventional chemical medicine when it's usually too late.

The list of our social skills that we have lost through the so-called “greatest” emancipation of the western culture is horrible. It is no even a paradox in fact, we preferred to dominate technologically without worrying about the true nature of the human being; the human being became more like an accessory for technologies, and his role and values are lost. It's going to be harder to go backwards and get out of this spiral.

I believe one of the most important values that we lost is called PATIENCE . Today we take everything for granted. We got the credit-cards to help us buying anything on impulse. And most of the times we don't even need it. Also there is this obsession to replicate something with the same objects. When one object works fine, why not buying another one? There is no more pleasure in saving money and get only the things we really need. Technologically we might believe we are at the edge but it's not necessarily true. In the western culture when we buy our little technical devices, we want them to work right away and if we can't, there is always the technical support to help us. In Japanese culture by contrast, they love it when its super super complicated technologically. The more the device is complicated and the better the chances of sales (welcome to the consumerist world) is going to explode. So what does that tell us? Our materialistic needs have to be satisfied right away. There is no more understanding to take the time to comprehend the different technical features of a device. I have seen the marketing example of the new PDA Sony Clio. Its capabilities were very complicated, the product sold like crazy in Japan but it completely failed in the USA and in Europe too. It's only one example, but you can see at least the referential between the human being and his social skills in the place of the technological world. It's pretty bad; we never abolished slavery, we are the slaves of the technical world.

Aufwiederschreiben.

11:51 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pol,

Well, this wd require a very long answer. What comes to mind (briefly) is the distinction Robt Redfield made between the technical order and the moral one. The tech order, supposedly, makes progress over time. The moral order--no evidence for that, obviously. This distance between the two is creating ever-greater problems for us, so that now the US is (correctly) viewed by much of the rest of the world as a baby with a bazooka in its hands. Even then, there is evidence that tech advances are not advances--e.g. recent New Yorker discussion of digitalized knowledge impacting infant brains so that they are unable to think in deep or complicated ways, i.e. forever. A huge subject, in any case.

Thanx for writing-
mb

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings, Dr. Berman!

Just want to add some extra input on this phenomenon known as post-modernism (and hopefully contribute a little more to this discussion): I really believe that the intellectually honest professors and teachers are savvy enough not to take the "philosophy" of post-modernism seriously.

As for the "philosophers" or writers who do embrace post-modernism, they seem to regard their philosophy as a kind of art, rather than genuine, intellectual inquiry or investigation. I believe the real philosophers are scientists, physicists, mathematicians, linguists, historians, or any of those who search for "truth" by achieved by empirical methods, rather than mental masturbation.

Surely you've heard of the Sokal Affair, right, Dr. Berman? There's even a web page on the Internet that generates postmodern essays that are composed of nothing but meaningless pomobabble ('tho grammatically correct)!!! http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/

I think if post-modernism should be studied or discussed in our schools, it should be taught as an example of how not to think. Along with New Age, Dr. Phil, and all that other nonsense, it is an embarrassment to our society.

Thank you for your time.

-Emily

1:23 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Emily,

I seem to remember one of the big honchos of p.m. turning against the whole thing a # of yrs ago, restarting his career by teaching the *content* of Shakespeare, Proust, and other great writers. I'm guessing a # of other pomos followed suit.

P.m. did at least teach us to consider the context, and question why we regard certain things as true. (Dada did the same thing for art, in the early 20th century.) Which is fine. But as one colleague of mine once said, the pomos took a small truth and turned it into a big lie. Plus, their argument that all texts are equivalent was dishonest: they certainly didn't regard their *own* texts as equivalent to everything else--those alone, ironically enough, had special status as comments on other texts. To turn their own mode of analysis upon them, Why did they arise at all? What is the context of *their* ideas? A good answer is provided by Anthony Kronman in "Education's End," in which he points out that as education began to fall apart in the US, with the humanities being particularly degraded and regarded as irrelevant, the sense of meaning that these subjects once had and provided was lost. Hence, p.m. arose as an alternative unifying theory, a substitute for the desperation that humanities professors themselves felt--their own irrelevance. Pity that they would make a bid for relevance by arguing for the irrelevance of their discipline, of course. Where can one go with this? I mean, nihilism by definition doesn't have much of a future. Just as one cannot keep doing Dada as art, one cannot keep doing p.m. as a substitute for creativity or just the understanding of content. I personally identify much of this with the Reagan-Bush Sr.-Clinton years, in which the content of the US seriously got emptied out in favor of a vast corporate-consumer meaninglessness. In a word, the p.m. movement was despair masquerading as radical chic. By the time the French had dismissed the whole thing as worthless drivel, we were up to our eyeballs in it, and are only now just beginning to recover (or at least, one would hope).

Yes, I do know of the Sokal affair, and thank you for that website--great stuff. Only when we are finally able to de-privilege the hegemonic postmodern discourse with the subtheoretical insights of Derrida and Paul de Man, will we be in a position to assess the semantic neo-identities of these disempowered voices.

-mb

4:46 PM  
Blogger Al said...

This is in response to a couple of posts. When we think about education in America and its focus on employment, yes, we can say business now rules all aspects of American life. I think, as Americans search for "the dream" it is, for most, simply a reflex response to what has been taught about belonging to the American society. Too bad.

What we fail to point to is that intellectualism is and always has been a passion more than a discipline of any sort. The discipline comes in the pursuit of broad knowledge, really a byproduct.

If seems as though that which requires passion: art, music, writing., etc, all gets lumped into the world of intellectualism. I believe it is so because the mindset exists to expand the possibilities of the knowledge as it impacts the lives of practitioners and seekers. This is devalued, as has been noted so many times here, in American life.

AS I said on an earlier post, my immigrant grandparents easily fell into the category of uneducated by American standards. They created an economic life at their own hands as they were good for nothing other than labor. They chose otherwise and thrived in spite of their "ignorance." What they did have (that was lost by every generation after them, save me and a couple of cousins) was a passion for meaning, ethics, morality and the ability to think and speak rather eloquently on matters of philosophical (read meaningless in American life as we know it)importance.

Their economic life was just that, economic life. It was by no means the gold standard of their value to themselves and others. I can remember being asked challenging questions as a child by my grandfather, "dummy" that he was to his neighbors.

The quest for knowledge of the arts, philosophy their implications to our lives at large was, once again, a passion, a calling. They, like so many of us here, pursue knowledge in spite of its lack of financial benefit.

I work in a sick corporate environment that values none of this kind of intellectualism, moralism or ethical standards in its daily practices. Now after years of warnings concerning certain behaviors of our company and industry (the housing industry), I am often begin asked how I predicted the outcome when greater minds did not. Morris, I offered NO special genius, just the passion for learning outside the myopic needs of the corporation. My brilliant counterparts cannot, CAN-NOT think deeply, but they can crunch the numbers which lose all meaning past being numbers.

My point. intellectualism will never rise again to an exalted place in consumer culture. Possibly, after the culture collapses due to its weakness, individuals will once again value the boggling knowledge that is out there for each of us to examine. For now, it remains information only as it holds no economic value.

How sad. The end of a culture, dumbed down and unable to even understand the world around us. I wish passion could be reignited, but it can't.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Al,

Thanks for writing. I agree: we have no intellectual future; and since the humanities are the spiritual energy of a secular culture, we have no spiritual future either, unless it will be a Christian fundamentalist one--antidemocratic and anti-intellectual. (When a civilization collapses, said Yeats, the worst are filled with passionate intensity). But perhaps there is this (Stoic) consolation prize, from Seneca: nec spec, nec metu--if you have no hope, you have no fear.

Onward and Downward!

-mb

8:52 AM  
Blogger Pedro said...

I think people, as Pete said, don't know the difference between skilled/technically proficient individuals and intellectuals. As a result, the loss of true knowledge is not recognized because we ARE "advancing" in giant leaps in the technology side (and losing in fundamental knowledge), which is the side people value.

In my personal experience, the state of matters is even worse: I've found that the 'really smart people' are becoming scarce too. We now have an overpopulation of college graduates who are not even skilled or technically proficient in their areas of supposed expertise.

Just an example: my wife is taking a 'diplomado' (short post-grad course) in translation at ITESM. The teacher has a Ph.D. and TWO masters, but ignores the most elementary grammar concepts! (And grammar is an important subject in a translation course). After some discussion with my wife (she has a Spanish Literature degree, but, as I said, the grammar concepts discussed were basic), the teacher said that "for the purposes of this course, the grammar concepts will be those stated by me". I couldn't help but laugh when she told me. It's like taking a math class and the teacher saying: 'for the purposes of this class, 2+2=5". How can a person with two master degrees and a Ph.D., teaching a post-grad translation course in the most expensive Mexican college be confused with concepts of 'predicate', 'direct object' or 'verb phrase'?

Nietzsche warned us long ago of the problem of whoring out our universities to produce workers instead of enlightened individuals.

...

Mr. Berman: aren't you worried that the decline of the American empire will lead to, not only an intellectual dark age but a real one as well? With so many political problems looming in the horizon (Iran, Kosovo, Pakistan, etc.) adding to the ones we had, I fear that some one like 'bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran' McCain will mess up things in a big way and set upon us a global economic and political crisis of gargantuan proportions.

Glad to hear your seminar went well :)

-PedroC.

PS: The p.m. essay generator page is fantastic!

11:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pedro,

Thanks once again for a nice, depressing letter. As Gore Vidal once remarked, "Stupidity excites me." The response of your wife's instructor clearly falls into this category. As for a Dark Age, I feel the US is basically in one already; i.e., as I argue in DAA, it has transited from a decline-of-Rome phase to an early-Middle-Ages phase. From a global point of view, I suspect Europe may be our only hope, since China seems to be hell bent on copying the US model, whereas Europe seems more like it is being *forced* to copy it. On the other hand, you could be right, and the scenario could be a Huxley-ish one, in which people who really care about the humanities and such are relegated to "reservations" on the margin of society. It was with this in mind that I wrote the chapter in Twilight about the New Monastic Individual.

abrazos,
mb

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr.Berman you are so head on about everything that have said in your books and here is this blog about this fallen ignorant doomed country called America. Mr. Berman I want to get your view on somthing. I am a African American man preparing to attend the University Of Pennsylvania to obtain a BA in French and to learn how to speak it, read it and write it well and to become fluent in it all and learn about the country culture and history. After that I plan to move to France to live for good and get a graduate degree over there and eventually obtain dual citizenship. What do you think about this as far as a plan for someone who is trying to get out of this nation of idiots? Now I understand that it aint heaven over there and they have there problems over there especially with racism which has been spotlighted with the riots but it seems like it is better in Europe than here in America. At least they have some sort of social saftey net like natioanl health insurance and I heard that France has a law of a 30 hour a week work law. None of these things could ever be done here in America. It is a badge of courage to have a health insuarance program being run by for profits hogs that many can't afford and which takes advantage of poor people, also it is a badge of courage where you work 2 or 3 jobs like a slave and still cant make a decent living and have no time to raise your family, enjoy life and to worship. I mean people actually leave the house at 7:30am and do not get back home to 8:00pm or 9:00pm. No wonder the family in this country is all messed up. Well I say these are all badges of extreme ignorance and stupidity. Also Mr. Berman a major economic and dollar collapse is on the horizon which will plunge America into an eternal third world country very quickly. This will have a little reverbaration throughout the world as the world enthusiasticly adjust to the collapse of the world greatest superpower jackass called America and the collapse of its worthless peace of paper currency and at the same time make sure that the nails are properly nailed into the coffin of America and at the same time nation states will strive to take the leadership position and put their currency up as the reserve curreny of the world. Everybody in this country will be poor except of the elite who knows what is coming and is adjusting their financial house properly. I mean in this country their will be extreme poverty mixed with extreme ignorance. Can you imagine that mixture? Oh my Lord I gots to go.LOL You better believe that there will be massive suicides and Wall Street will be raining jackasses off of the 20th floor of the Wall Street Stock exchange. Well Mr. Berman What university do you recommed in Paris and what graduate degree program do you suggest. I enthusiasticly wait you posting this and for your response.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Well, as you point out, France ain't heaven, and under the regime of Nicolas Sarkozy, who is extremely pro-American, it is likely to succumb to neoliberal pressures and the Washington Consensus, as it's called. Sarkozy has specifically called the 35-hr work week "absurd," for example, and books such as "Le culte de l'urgence," by Nicole Aubert, reveal an overheated society similar to ours, at least in terms of workaholism and time pressure. (pb edn publ by Flammarion, 2003)

Still: at least there is an opposition to this trend within France, a still-existent social safety net, and a very intelligent middle class. If you haven't seen Michael Moore's "Sicko" yet, I think you'll be inspired by his investigation of the French medical system and interviews with French doctors.

As for where to study in France, I take it there is no rush on this, as you are about to enter a BA program in the US, so have lots of time to sort that out. Frankly, I'd suggest getting good enough in French asap so you might transfer to a French university asap, and do your bachelor's degree there. At the very least, be sure to spend one year of your U Penn career as an exchange student at the Sorbonne, or wherever--nothing educates as rapidly as immersion, mon cher. Talk to the head of the French Dept. at U Penn, find out how this might be arranged. The more time you spend abroad, and the sooner you do it, the better off you'll be.

Finally: my best wishes to you, and congratulations on your decision. You'll learn a lot more at a French university, I suspect, and have a better life in a society that--problems aside (and they are not minor, don't kid yourself)--has at least not abandoned its educational standards, and is not in the process of going completely off the rails. A smart move, and I'm guessing that in future times, you'll look back and be glad you did it.

Bonne chance,
mb

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan Franzen wrote in "How to be Alone" how he had to hide his t.v. in order to continue reading and writing. Imagine that a writer has to "force" himself not to watch television, interesting and a sign of the times...I have to admit that even I, once a huge reader in my youth, rarely open a book nowadays. Mostly this is due to being constantly tired, and working all of the time. I never seem to have the time I once had living in Germany...Reading is much harder than passively watching television. While watching the Oscars I was struck that we don't have any celebration of the best book of the year, etc. Unless your book (anyone's book) is turned into a movie, there will be a very limited audience. Reading as mainstream way of entertainment may indeed be doomed. It is unfortunate, but in our hyperactive, over saturated times, people go the easy way.

I even noticed the Irish kid playing videogames indoors when he could have been outside playing by a beautiful sea. This was 10 years ago when I was in Donegal town. The grandmother could spin fabulous, intricate stories. I was amazed at how well people communicated until I found out that they didn't have electricity until 1971. No wonder...In many ways technology is isolating us. Americans really are the loneliest people in the world! We have through technology locked ourselves in our homes. It is sad! That is why even the marginally more primitive societies "Mexico" end up being more human places. The people have not yet lost the connection to each other. Therefore I think that Europe will go the same way as the U.S. You really need to go off the beaten path to find an authentic community feeling. Even my beloved Ireland is getting overrun now.

I now live in the small town of my childhood in the 1970's. It isn't the same. In the 1970s there were kids playing outside, and now on a sunny day I can walk all around and not see anyone. Where are all the kids? (structured actitivities, sitting in their basements playing video games) It is painful. It is painful to lose the country you grew up. I imagine that Europeans feel the same way. My fellow teacher from France says that the Europe I idealize (cafes, strolling, cerebral) does not really exist anymore. Globalization has put pressure on French society as surely as it does here. I think you really have to put a time to a place nowadays. I would love to live in Germany in the 1980's. Everything worked well, no crime, etc. I wouldn't want to live in Hamburg today. The same goes for Paris.

One Summer I traveled from Chicago to Glasgow. I imagined wood lined pubs and intelligent conversation. I remember waking up one morning and walking through Glasgow: Yes it had a sharp pedestrian walkway, but every store was Starbucks, Burger King, even most of the pubs were American style bars. Yes, the people were more witty, intelligent, etc. but you get my point.

My question Mr. Berman: Do you think that this Dark Ages is really a Dark Ages for the entire Western world? I personally think that the entire western world is in a mental funk. In China, despite the copying of the American style, you see effort and enthusiasm. Europe just seems dying and decrepit,no matter how glorious it once was, and America just seems dumb, fat and infantile. Not to lean towards Pat Buchanan here, but an unlimited number of immigrants, and refugees into Europe and America do dilute the characters and personalities of those countries. Especially if those immigrants are unwilling or unable to join the mainstream cultures. What do you think about the massive human migrations going on? Can everyone from the Third World move to the 1st World? Can everyone live like they do on t.v.? Hasn't the Zeitgeist passed Europe by as well? Thank you for your post. I feel that we are in very strange times.

John in Chicagoland

10:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Great question, and it probably would take a very long answer to do it justice. Personally, I don't think this change is about immigration, but about globalization--supercharged technology and the market economy. We are in the forefront of cultural and spiritual death (the cost of more toys and trash), but yes, the rest of the world seems to want to catch up. I figure in 10 yrs or so, I may have to move from Mexico to Guatemala and start over, to escape the ocean of kitsch enveloping the planet. I do talk about opposition to this in DAA (e.g. the "Citta Lente" movement in Italy), and of course the possible role of a New Monasticism in the Twilight book; but these things have no political clout--they'll be marginal at best. It may be only in the process of decay and disintegration, that people will discover these discarded realities, and undertake the job of slow reconstruction of a pre-Starbucks world; but I'm guessing that'll be long after I'm pushing up daisies. As I wrote Alan Ehrenhalt a few yrs back, after reading his marvelous book, "The Lost City"--about Chicago during 1955-95--"I recommend it to people with the caveat, 'Read it and weep'."

Thanks again for writing, amigo-

mb

10:10 AM  
Blogger Gavdammit said...

Gruss Gott,

John, I know exactly how you feel regarding the difficulty of finding time to even read and being distracted by the TV or technology etc. This happens to me a lot too, more with the internet then the TV, and at the end of the day when my free time is once again up I'm like "what the hell was I just doing?". I feel my "output" is so much lower then it used to be...I love to read but yet I don't get to complete many books (its almost like an ADD effect in many cases), I write a lot less then I should (I took a creative writing class this semester delibretly in hopes of jump starting this again) and I've all but left the world of playing music. Like you, I feel like I'm over worked and always tired. I feel like too much of my free time is either getting ready for or recovering from say work. I feel like theres no goddamn time!
Recently I had suddenly remembered those days back in Germany when I used to just hang out in the maids quarters up on the top floor and just play guitar, read, write,sit on the window sill and watch the world. There was no TV or internet up there, just a decrepit older computer so I could write and listen to music. I look back on this today and go "I actually did that?!? What the @%#& happened to me?"
Same thing when I dig up my art portfolio from high school. That was me? I did art? What the hell happened?!? And I'm only 23 so this wasnt too long ago.
Too much of my free time, being hyponotized by shit.
Too much of my time, rushing around for a two bit job and then at the end of that I'm exhausted and my mind is mush.
Besides technology however, a lot of it is just boredom and I dare say depression from being in this enviroment. What is there to do out here? Shop? Remember, this is Virgina Beach...sprawl, car culture, shop, shop, shop. Its rather agoraphobia inducing. Schiessstadt. And my social life has never recovered since I left Europe (I wonder why) so that doesnt help. This is indeed a lonely, lonely god foresaken land.

I suppose I am guilty of being "part of the problem" in some ways (here theres not much of an alternative anyway) but I'm aware of it. My brother and I seem about the only ones out here who truly are aware that this is all shit. And I think thats the importiant thing. Awareness is the first step if nothing else, being appalled because you paid attention if you well.

People in my political science class would'nt understand any of this, I usually don't even bother saying anything there...it would just go right over those peoples heads and I would be just some wild eyed 'socialist' (the class has a libertarian bent unfortiantly). I recall one of the hard core libertarian kids in that class saying something to the effect of "a lot of immergrants don't want to go to Sweden because of the high taxes there so they come to the US to make the BIG BUCKS" THE BIG BUCKS. Thats all its about here isn't it? THE BIG BUCKS. Oh and universal health care? The devil! As JK Galbraith once said "The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Its shit like that and a billion other things that's pushing me out of this country. I'm expating, no ifs, ands or buts. My brother just started college. The prospect of four more years in this country and in this "city" in particular makes him think of offing himself. I'm with him on that. Just need that UK passport and we're gone as soon as we get the green light. When we went back to Europe a few months ago, we brought one of our friends along who was born and raised in the US and he can't even stand this country anymore...he's even going as far thinking about joing the French Foreign Legion just to do it (the idea being he would have French citizenship at the end of it). Godspeed.

I realize that the EU is not perfect and I realize that theres a lot of junk there like here (miniscule in comparison I would say)...but its still a hell of a lot better, paradise like in fact next to here. There is at least alternatives still there if you well. I remember the bar we used to frequent in Stuttgart...elegant but for the layman...not a dive nor some sterile yuppie hole. They even had Proust readings in there once or twice a month. That does not happen here...most bars here you can't even hear the person next to you to begin with because they play the music so damn loud.

To be fair, I well go as far as to say that because I am a child of the 80's/90's I might not notice or be bothered by some of the things John etc are, who actually saw for example Germany in the 1980's. I for example never knew a world without videogames and cable TV. To some of the older people here, the EU and the US may be looking too much alike these days...for someone like me it's almost night and day, heaven and hell.

Gavin

1:20 PM  
Blogger Dan Flood said...

If you needed any more proof the country is FUBAR'd check this out.If there ever was an example of religous thinking over reason - showing up in a public press this may be it.

You won't see the effect in the electronic edition exactly but it was about half of the front page of today's Albuquerque Journal.

http://tinyurl.com/2jonmd
(copy and paste in your browser).

You may need to push the "Trial Access edition" button and then the "NO Thanks - read article" button to see it.

The journal is now the only paper in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those of you who are not familiar with the city its population is approximately 500,000. It is a University city, home of UNM. It is the largest city in NM. Albuquerque purports to be a modern city where Hollywood makes itself more and more at home.

The header is Be Very Afraid.
Following this is one of the oddest religious pieces I've ever seen in a city newspaper.

The link again is:

http://tinyurl.com/2jonmd
(copy and paste in your browser).

The piece links to a local evangelical church and their new, high production web site. The church video (and news article) links to a video whose chief goal is to apparently scare the crap out of local church members. The article describes the work of the evangelical minister and seems almost semi-promotional in describing the local 8000 membership.

The web info is bizarre and mixes fear, Jesus and Homeland security issues. I simply do not have enough drugs or alcohol on hand to get through the whole thing but it is strange as hell.

I wrote the editor and commented on its lack of even being a news item, its lack of objectivity (a guy in a restaurant they found thought it was ok) and more. I also commented on the increasingly thoughtless mixing of religious, military & patriotic symbols in the media and the need for responsible reporting and editorial practices.

What is the point of it or why would they publish this without some balanced view on it?

I just can't believe this piece was in a public newspaper!

It will be interesting to see what if any response I get from the editor.

I'm not holding my breath.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Gavin,

Go to the E.U., and leave America. I had my chance while in Austria, but I didn't listen, and I was your age. Personally, I would choose Scandinavia or Ireland. Germany is fine, but there is more soul in Ireland, and I love the Danish sarcastic sense of humor. I felt at home among the Danes, and you would too! It was voted happiest place in the world. You could teach English there, and work in an Irish pub. You would have a much more interesting life than working in an American company (see Office Space) You only have one life to live, so don't waste it on a dying culture. Even though I spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria, I prefer Scandinavia and Ireland. Ireland is more old fashioned, having been poor so long, and the people are great and kinder. What you said about the pubs being loud, I couldn't agree more. In Ireland they keep the music down so people can talk, in America they play the music super loud, because the people don't know how to talk. I have complained, but they don't listen to me. I have always thought that it is far better to be a cab driver in a healthy culture than to be wealthy in an unhealthy country. I have always felt lost here after returning here after having lived in Europe. I keep imagining pedestrian walking zones, decent public transportation, free time, etc. You know small things like that. You seem young Gavin, so I would say go for it. Yes, Europe's glory days are gone, but Europe is very socially progressive, and lots of fun! Life doesn't just revolve around making money in Europe like it does here. It is more work to live, and thats the way it should be. Good luck and take Mr. Berman's and my own advice and leave.

John

10:59 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

I'd like to comment on another disturbing reality, I hope particular to the US, but which I fear is just the way it is for all. This is the increasing trend of "specialization" in the Academy, and the increasing fragmentation of knowledge in general.

Morris Berman talks about the "walking wounded" in his second book in the "Consciousness" trilogy, *Coming to Our Senses* (1989). He refers to, of course, the unfortunate fall-out of the deepening rift between subject-object. We've become a race of atomized social units; in the US, this manifests as the trend toward a radical philosophy of social, moral and cultural individualism -- the "what's in it for me" philosophy Berman often speaks about. This is "non-participatory" consciousness in full swing. In such a society, you don't have people relating in meaningful ways; you have social and cultural zombies. Thus, "walking wounded" (or, to continue the analogy, the "walking dead"). Chillingly, you can see this everywhere, from the vacuous conversations on the train, to that deadening emptiness in between conversations with those who you try to relate to. But, this is not simply a phenomenon of "the masses". So-called "intellectuals" are not immune to the effects of this zombification either, as the "nerds & geeks" stories on this weblog attest to. What I find most disturbing is that in the Academy itself there is an awful kind of deadness. Or we could call it a kind of verisimilitude -- the likeness of truth, depth really, but which in reality is a veil of truth covering a profound lack of depth. I am referring to the trend of increasingly minute "specialization" within each academic department.

I am a young academic just now finishing his PhD in philosophy. It has been dawning on me how terribly unfulfilled I am if I stay within the narrowly-defined confines of my "discipline". What's more, the more I must chain myself to a particular literature, the more I must be steeped in a seemingly never-ending and infinitely winding series of controversies, most of which I find utterly meaningless and radically disconnected to any "living tradition". What disturbs me though is that most of our "elders" *never* leave this "descensus ad infernos" as Eliade puts it in *The Quest* (1969). The inbreeding seems to go on forever, and they run into a corner a try to take some time to read a bit of literature or listen to a bit of music in hopes that the emptiness of it all will go away. What is the implication of this? Academics can't usually talk to other Academics outside their "area", and so end up having terribly superficial and uninformed discussions across disciplines. But what is worse, is that even *within* a discipline, academics are finding it harder and harder to talk to *their own colleagues*! "Well, that's not my area" is an all-too-common mantra nowadays. I ask myself: where is the common culture of the humanities in which we all are participants?

Things are worse than these impression suggest, I fear (as you know). Most of the humanities, as Berman suggests at the opening of his "talking points", have basically chosen suicide over struggle. In the face of corporatization and cultural death, brought on by a host of factors (not least of which is the double-edged glory of Enlightenment mentality), what have we done but taken out truth and meaning with us! Or, we celebrate multiculturalism while also selling our students relativism of the most insidious sort. What an incoherent mess. We no longer teach our students what the good life might be -- or, dare I say, *is* -- we just question whether such a thing even exists. But that just reflects who we are as a culture, and that's just plain clueless.

For those of us in philosophy (I "do" philosophy of physics) who still care about truth, truth becomes a series of logical propositions. Philosophy becomes philosophy of language, or (in my case) it gets pegged to a science (not that this is a bad thing, mind you). We like to say that the meaning of life is a "bad question", and maybe it is, but I for one find the trends in "analytic" philosophy more disturbing than those across the continental divide, so to speak. They way I like to put it to my colleagues (not all of whom share my sentiment), is that we've become "Sudokuphers" and not philosophers. And that's it: most of my colleague solve "conceptual puzzles" just as you would on an airplane or over coffee -- and now extend that to your life! The "search for truth" in my philosophy department, and the ones from which I'm supposed to ask for a job, becomes a buzzword that covers up the fact that we do crosswords for a living.

But the analogy of the crossword puzzle is telling, I think. Each of us -- not just philosophers of a certain sort, or academics of a certain variety -- has their own crossword to do, it seems. Our jobs are little puzzles that we hope adds up to some bit of overall meaning. But when you look out at the literary cultures, the philosophical pundits (such as they are), the scientists -- all of those who're supposed to be keeping the culture aflame with knowledge, what do you find? As E. L. Doctorow once said to Bill Moyers, we've become a race of "miniaturists".

8:13 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Mike,

Tell you the truth, I don't really think specialization is the real culprit here. Of course it's a factor, and when you consider a philosopher of science such as Michael Polanyi, you see how unusual it is to work on "large" questions. In fact, he was pretty isolated; his colleagues didn't know how to relate to him. And I'm aware that Anthony Kronman, in his recent "Education's End," argues that specialization is the bete noire etc...But much deeper than this is the factor of the commodification of education, which really got going after WW2 and has now taken over the whole academic enterprise, esp. in the US. On the corporate model, someone like you can only succeed through intense competition, and that means making your mark in a specialized way. What lies ahead for you might be success, but probably not emotional or spiritual fulfillment. Maybe not even intellectual fulfillment.

Hence, you may have to consider a different definition of success. Why not teach at a school, or in a program (there still are a very few around) that is oriented around the Great Books idea, or perhaps Great Questions. I'm thinking of St. Johns (Annapolis and Santa Fe), of course, but there are others as well (Kronman's program at Yale, e.g.). And then, you might consider foreign universities as well. Living your own life, the life that really has meaning for you, is to leave the world of the walking wounded. Or at least, it's a start.

Good luck, my friend-

mb

10:03 AM  
Blogger Gavdammit said...

Hallo,

So last night I went to a nearby English-styled "pub" to meet up with a friend of mine...essentially it was karaoke night and all the "geek and nerd" kids from my school were there. A lot of them (and this is everywhere and everyone these days) as usual carried around their laptops with the wireless internet...a new tech phenomonon growing: not being able to leave the damn things home. First cell phones and now even the laptops with the internets. Well anyway, there was one of these kids who stood in the corner and busted out these glow sticks and started dancing around with them like one would do at a rave...I thought 'ok, strange...he must be doing it to the music his friends are singing to'. I notice that he's still doing it even in between songs or when the song is low key...then I noticed the headphones. He was in a bar full of his friends and instead of interacting, he puts himself in his own isolated world, busts out his glow sticks and goes off. And this is in front of everybody...so in other words isolating yourself in your own wee world, and then letting everybody see and know this. To me this epitomized the modern relationship between people and their technology, this sort of publically stated anti-socialness. I don't get it. Besides, your at a bar...bars are there to have converstation and socialize etc whilst getting drunk or at least buzzed.

And once again, what the hell is the point of a bar if you can't hear what the hell people are saying or you have to yell in their ear? I'm all for music, but shit! Turn it down! Its promoting isolation for one (I used to meet so many people in the old bar in Stuttgart because they could overhear us and it led off from there). What the hell do people not get about this? Ok I'm ranting I suppose, but my point is is a good bar is a good social institution and the fact that they piss away the social function of it and therefore dumb it down is just a microcosmic example of the greater erosion of community and human experience for noise, colors, gadgets and bullshit in the larger realm of society overall.

John; unfortionatly I have yet to visit any of the Scandinavian nations or Ireland but they have always been at the top of my list. If I can break into those countries, I well. From what I understand, they have a lot of what I love about Germany, but more of it. I suppose I lean towards Germany because thats the one I'm most familiar with and could probably settle in the easiest, but the beauty of living in Europe is is when you get tired of one country, its not too hard or even expensive to go to another unique one (whereas in most of the US it can seem like you didn't really go anywhere 1000 miles later...this is why I'm going to NYC for spring break and not sunny FL). And I can definatly hear you on the taxi driver analogy. I know being an english teacher isnt going to make me rich...but who cares. Arm aber glucklich.
And if one can live without a car, all the better (I want to see that new movie In Bruges just so I can look at something that isn't the sprawling car dependent monstrosity a lot of us live in these days) We well be leaving ASAP once we get the green light to do so.

Anyway, like others have said, this blog is a breath of fresh air. Keep it up.

Gavin

1:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Gav-

Thanks for that excellent example of "acceptable" mental illness. What a turkey. Problem is, he's got lotsa company. I remember once seeing a guy in Wash DC walking down the street, holding his laptop in one hand and typing on it with the other. Or seeing a woman in a doctor's waiting room with 3 cell phones. I had to hold myself back from saying to her, "You know, the really hip people don't have less than four." I tell you, the Moron Index rises exponentially in the US on a daily basis.

Bon voyage-

mb

4:53 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

"4. 20% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, and an additional 9% say they don’t know which revolves around which."

I'm not trying to bust your balls, but geocentrism is just as "correct" as heliocentrism within the context of relativity. Sure, the framework is a little perverse and it tends to make the calculations more difficult, but it isn't "wrong:"

http://cosmicvariance.com/2005/10/03/does-the-earth-move-around-the-sun/

2:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Eric,

Well, I have this sneaking suspicion that it *is* wrong, and that no theoretical dancing with Einstein can really change that. But more to the point, I also have a sneaking suspicion that the 20% who believe the sun revolves around the earth do not have Relativity Theory in mind, somehow.
(Man, wouldn't it be incredible if they *did*??!)

-mb

3:01 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Like many others that have posted comments, I also appreciate Mr. Berman’s work. TTOAC was a welcome addition to much of the reading I’ve been doing for the last decade, or so, detailing the demise of literacy, critical and cognitive skills and the coarsening of the culture. Not a pretty picture, but Mr. Berman is to be commended for his honesty and research, as well as doggedness, I'm sure, in getting it published (given our current state of publishing).

I’ve been blogging for about three years, offering observation/criticism of the culture, albeit to a much smaller audience than MB. Still, friends and fellow bloggers have tended to accuse me of being overly nostalgic and offtrack (or just a "crank") for commending writers like Mr. Berman, Neil Postman (one of the my all-time fave writers on technology and television’s caustic influence on said culture), Wendell Berry and many others.

As I grow older (I’m in my 40s), I find myself longing for the community and connectedness that the small town America of my youth had (late 60s and early 70s). I had a paper route and learned to appreciate the stories and experiences of many of my older customers. In fact, it was that experience that led me eventually to take up writing and the publishing of a book about the heyday of baseball in Maine, substituting baseball for Putnam’s bowling.

While my writing is very regional and niche in nature and not something I can rely on for my livelihood, narrative has been my salvation, and a great way for me to process and contextualize many of my experiences. I’m currently working on another book about small town life in rural Maine that I hope to have out this summer.

I’ll leave my own anecdote to this growing documentation of our demise and our descent into darkness:

I’m a workforce trainer by day, helping low-wage/low-skill workers find better employment and upgrade their skills to try to access something other than service sector employment at substandard wages. In my role, I’ve also begun volunteering with Junior Achievement and have been giving a weekly presentation to 7th graders in the city of 40,000 where I work.

Last week, I was conducting an exercise on budgeting, gross vs. net wages and helping the “young skulls full of mush” (the coinage of this phrase is, IMHO, Rush Limbaugh’s one contribution to society) understand the concept.

They had to do basic percentages and every student had use of a calculator. Out of a class of 15 students, I would say 10 of them couldn’t do basic percentage calculations, such as taking 25 percent of a number and figuring out how much of their income they could spend on rent.

Just one small indication that education continues to fail students and leaves them unprepared for anything other than being led down the primrose path to consumerism/destruction. Oh, but they all have their laptops, which the veteran teacher told me, they use primarily to play games.

Out of curiosity, our local libraries are having a community read of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. When I asked the class how many had read Bradbury’s book, not one knew who he was.

That’s all I have for today. I haven’t read DAA, but it’s near the top of my “to read” list.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Friends,

Sometimes, I post a comment and it doesn't "take"--this has happened a number of times, unfortunately. One of these recently was from someone named Lee, who asked what Americans can do to prove that my predictions regarding the US are wrong--"for the sake of our children," as he put it. Good question! Quite honestly, when parents ask me something like this, I tell them to emigrate to Europe, or some place that is not murdering civilians in meaningless wars and that still has half a brain. But that is, of course, beside the point as regards this particular question.

The problem in proving my predictions wrong is that in order for the US not to continue to disintegrate, there has to be a fundamental reorientation of our politics. But politics is by definition about power, and right now, the only political parties that have any are the Dems and the GOP--who are merely 2 versions of the same imperial program. If you look at the actual statements of Hillary or Barack, for example, it's really business as usual: no fast withdrawal of troops from Iraq, no apologies to Iraq for the misery and butchery we rained down upon it, no taxing of the rich and redistribution of wealth, no reining in of major corporations so that we stop destroying the planet, no universal health care, etc etc. The only putative presidential candidate that had things such as these in mind was Dennis Kucinich, and he has no power at all. Hence, there is no possibility that the US could go in a different direction, the more so since Americans don't want any serious changes anyway. Thus the choices, as I see it, are two: an external migration--leave the country; or an internal one--become a New Monastic Individual (as described in the Twilight book).

But Lee is right to be sad for our kids; they are being born into a self-destructive way of life, and are not likely to know anything else during their lifetimes. And that is, after all, how a civilization dies.

-mb

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Matt Thomas said...

Fascinating discussion thus far. Clearly I've come late to the party. In any event, congratulations on your new academic position. Hopefully it's one that will allow you to effect some change.

As it happens, I was at Tecnológico de Monterrey last summer for the Media Ecology Association's annual conference. Two things struck me about the campus: (1) the abject poverty that surrounds it, and (2) the Starbucks that's located smack dab in the middle of campus.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Matt,

Yeah, I vaguely remember being invited to that conference, sort of...someone in the organization wanted to publish an article of mine in the Assn journal, but it didn't work out...I can't really remember what happened.

As for "Tec," as it's called: I teach at the one in Tlalpan, at the southern edge of Mexico City. Monterrey itself is one of the most American cities in Mexico, so your description doesn't surprise me. But I had a good time there, a few months back, at their international book fair, where I presented the Spanish edition of the Dark Ages book. 150 people showed up; I finally had to beg off the Q&A after about 30-40 minutes by explaining that the Spanish part of my brain was about to close down for the night. Lots of intense interest in the topic, I have to say, and lots of applause when I called George Bush an "imbecil" (it sounds much dumber in Spanish than in English, for some reason).

For a good laugh at Starbucks, check out what happens to it 500 yrs from now in the film, "Idiocracy".

Thank you for writing-

mb

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Pete said...

All we have to do is look at the "news" Headlines...It's getting even worse out there in the "Culture"...Here's what passes as "news" from "reputable journalists"...ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC, MSN & USATODAY.

These are NOT just "sidebar" Headlines...these are the Front & Center, TOP Headlines from today 3/6/08...I couldn't make this stuff up..."News" today is Tabloid Garbage...We Americans must be the Dumbest People on the Planet...It's a very sad state of affairs.


TODAY'S "TOP NEWS HEADLINES" - Thursday 3/6

**Swayze Faces Daunting Cancer Battle
**Helping Around the House Gets Men Sex
**Transgender Exec: From Michael to Megan
**Tori's Side of the Story- Tori Spelling reflects on near-bankruptcy, sex among 90210 castmates, and more.
**Jaw-Dropping Jewels
**Stars Show Off Beach Bods
**Buffy's Same-Sex Romp a Marketing Ploy?
**Cops Watch Kids Hurt In Memphis Massacre
**College Student Shot Dead, Car Torched
**4 Marines Face Charges In Japan Rape Case
**Courteney Cox mocks Britney Spears' panty-free partying
**Girls outshine Boys on American Idol
**Father retains control of Britney Spears' estate
**Stallone, Chris Rock, Fawcett subpoenaed in wiretapping trial
**"Magical Lizzy" accused of Operating Apartment Bordello
**N.J. Cops Foil Military Style School Massacre Plot
**Molesters Deadly Courthouse Plunge After Conviction
**Report: Syrian Man Decapitates Child in Market
**Gosh darn! Town bans cussing
**'Danny Boy' thrown out of New York bar
**Woman taped pressure-washing child
**Thrown puppy video leads to death threats
**Woman taped pressure-washing child
**The Birds! Vultures Wreak Havoc on Florida Town
**Obama camp: What's Clinton hiding?
**Who's on top of so-called dream ticket?
**Crisis call at 3 a.m.? No, just a campaign ad
**Idol contestants just wanna have fun on 80's night
**The VIEW isn't wooing Cindy Crawford
**True or False: You must lie to succeed
**Feds concede vaccine worsened girl's condition
**The Richest People in the World
**Lab pays volunteers $4,000 to risk catching malaria
**Why Prince Harry was hairy
**Companies cash in on DNA tests
**Officials agree to monitor mail
**Report finds men pitching in more with chores
**Senate Debates Action on Unsafe Toys
**Facebook CEO is youngest self-made billionaire


I cannot go on posting, I'm practically in tears over just how Dumbed-Down we have become as a Nation. I want OUT of this moronic and barbaric country and culture, and to find a place where Intellectuals can live together in paradise, with our books...our minds...and our conversations. But Where? If only that Intellectual Utopia existed somewhere out there.

Pete
San Diego, CA

6:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pete,

Thank you for sending all those ridiculous headlines. Your perception is correct: the US is basically a large collection of bozos. They know nothing, and that's just fine with them. The stats of ignorance I cite in the Twilight book and DAA just about say it all, but there have been a number books on the subject since then, confirming that the Moron Index is going thru the roof.

As far as finding intellectual utopia, there is none; but just about any place is better than the US in this regard, and I encourage you to do some experiential research. For example, if you ride the tube in London, you'll hear businessmen discussing the nominees for the Man Booker Prize. They not only know the titles; they've read some of the books and talk intelligently about the content. Can you imagine such a thing happening on the Metro in DC, for example (I rode it for 8 years)? Their American equivalents not only wouldn't know the nominees for the National Book Award; they don't even know that there *is* a National Book Award, and wouldn't care in any event, since life is basically about money, and what's literature got to do with anything?

Hit the road, Jack: emigrate, learn another language, and start having the discussions you want with people who actually *do* know what life is about. I don't know how old you are, but are you seriously contemplating spending the rest of your years watching the nation descend into utter dolthood, being unable to talk to your neighbors, and thinking to yourself: This must be satire; it simply *can't* be real!--?

The world's your oyster! Think France, Italy, Upper Slobbovia.

Send me a postcard-

mb

ps: Did you know that a few months ago, when there were something like 10 GOP presidential hopefuls, 2 or 3 of them believed that the world was 6,000 years old?

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach the gamut at my school, (a wealthy suburban school that is slowly getting a rougher crowd) from AP down to the lowest level class. It is like teaching college (AP) and then teaching in a juvenile detention center. It is interesting to observe my classes. A few "gems" in my AP class keep me inspired.

My low level class: gangbangers, learning disabilities, kids kicked out of other schools, is the nightmare you read about every day. I have to constantly take away their cell phones, I-Pods. We go in the computer lab once a week, and they will do anything other than write their assigned papers. I have much more success having them handwrite on a piece of paper. So much for integrating technology. It is depressing, and it makes me feel that I am not doing my job. Taking away points, such a potent weapon with my AP kids, packs no punch with these bozos. The dean just gives them a detention, which they decide not to serve and that is classroom discipline in the 21st century. Wonderful, isn't it?


I am somewhat convinced that family culture is crucial. My AP students come from a few different areas: Strong Christian/fundamentalist, which I don't like, but the kids are respectful and do their homework, Jewish, Asian, or Eastern Europeans. What do these groups have in common? Work ethic! Families that push their kids. The apple does not fall far from the tree. This is why the inner cities in America have been dying for 40 years. You cannot start a work ethic if you haven't learned it as a child.


Dear Mr. Berman, I know that you taught in the innercity as well. Sometimes I wonder what the point of teaching is, especially with those that have no intellectual interest at all. Maybe it is not their fault for being in their situation, but I lose my pity for someone who tells me to f--- off! after I tell them to take off their I-Pod. I have my few "gems" in AP, but they were already going to be stars before I even got there. How many kids have I turned from being a gangbanger into an intellectual? "0". I don't see much that a school can do against this kind of stubborn, disrespectful, vulgar ignorance. Do you? This is why Oprah built a school in South Africa where the kids actually want to learn. Imagine that! I turned to one of my colleagues last Friday and said, "Don't you think something is off when we have to try to force them learn or do anything?" The other teacher just looked at me blankly. I think the only solution is to cling to the wealthy, and keep your family away from the real darkness. Most of the other teachers just let my bad class listen to their I-Pods. As long as they're quiet. It will just be a matter of time until they try to attack me. Every year they get a little more agressive, and posturing. Don't you think that America will turn into two groups. The first will be Asian, Jewish, intellectual white, Indian etc. This small group will be the elite, and the other 90% will wallow in a 2nd or 3rd world type of America. I just don't see the super wealthy falling to pieces anytime soon. Wont we just see a destruction of the middle classes, and America will just become more dangerous? I stand there in front of the class and teach, they look at me, sometimes they are quiet, no one is taking notes. We read along in the book out loud, and no one is following along with me. What the hell am I doing here? They're not interested in what I am selling. Most are trying to text message under their desks. It is something like that show, "Welcome Back Kotter." Except the kids on that show usually had at least one parent that wanted their child to do well at school. In my class there are no parents, I never see them or hear from them. The room is empty on parent night. There is also none of the playful banter like in the show, just cold stares, or doodling on paper. Sometimes kids will say things like, "we know where you live." Charming isn't it. You got to love google earth and all of the personal information on the net. Just fantastic! The idea of the school being a panacea for all of America's problems just seems to be a sick joke to me. Now, they want to start paying me based on how my little sweeties do on standardized tests. That will be the day when many of us retire.

John from Chicago

1:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

It's time for you to retire *now*. Surely that must be obvious. You need to be concerned about the state of your soul. Of course there is no purpose in teaching in a dying culture, as you yourself have made clear. What you really need to do, it seems to me, is write this all up (plus find a different job). It will make you feel a lot better, and will spread the awareness of how bad things are, which anyone (well, most) who has read DAA will probably agree, needs to be done. You have a good eye for both the microcosm (events in your class) and the macrocosm (larger social picture into which these events fit), and need to share all this with the 1% of the American public that still has a functioning brain. But staying in your situation, amigo, is simply not good for your mental health, and there are limits to the joys of a paycheck, as I'm sure you know. Think about the "NMI" section of the Twilight book...there's simply no reason, just because the US is going down the tubes, that you have to be miserable on a daily basis. American culture is meaningless; your life doesn't have to be as well.

BTW, before you become too enamored with Oprah, check out the following url's:

http://shoestringcentury.blogspot.com/search?q=oprah

and esp.

http://www.salon.com/mwt/
feature/2007/03/05/
the_secret/

To me, she is clearly part of the problem, not of any possible solution (which doesn't exist in any case).

Thanks for writing, and please think about what I said; I suspect you are too young to die.

Abrazos,
mb

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman this is in response to John in Chicago inregards to his posted message. John I read your blog about teaching inner city kids and all the rough things that you said about them. Using your words of inner city kids and gangbangers I am assuming that you are talking about African American kids. Well John inner city kids and the schools in the inner city are all messed up they did not get this way on their own. John we have to have a history lessons here I see. You see John these kids are the product of hundreds of years of injustices and oppressions that is still going on today. These kids have never had the opportunity to do anything they are stuck in a rut and most likely will remain there and die there. They where born in unstable homes and a disinfranchise community. A community where there are no jobs nor opportunities at all. The only thing that they have to look forward to is prison and a life of poverty and crime because they have no access to anything. Excuse my bluntness but you white people are to blame for the inner cities and the condition of the black community. You all went to Africa and brought us over here in chains and kept us as slaves and savagely beated us and raped our women and savagely murdered millions of us and we are still being murdered by you all. You all put drugs in our communities and took all the jobs out and and I can go on and on and on. I havent even began to talk about what you all through your government have done elsewhere all over the world. Americas demise is no accident. You reap what you sow in life. God will not be mocked. As far as the super wealthy John do not be in a hurry to fall down and praise them for many of them will fall. There will be a major economic and dollar collapse soon in this country and you will see many of the super wealthy jumping out of windows and knocking themselves off after they loose everything for most of them are blinded with their own wealth and are in love with this corrupt system and cannot see what is coming and will find themselves in the same positions of those they currently look down upon and step on everyday. It did not have to be this way but you caucasians wanted it this way. We African Americans certainly did not have any power to make any decisions in this country. You all decided to hate and do what you did to the Native Americans, African Americans and everybody else. I do not understand what makes you all hate. It just seems to come naturally to you all. You can see a black man walking down the street just minding his business and the N word just flows out of your mouths effortlessly and you also have names for everybody else like wetbacks,spics, gooks and etc. All you all think about is war and killing and spend billions on it year after year. Instead of waisting all this money year after year pour it into the inner city and create jobs and build schools and help these young kids become intellectuals and to better themselves. Take that money and create a national health insurance for everybody. Take that money and create a National Basic Guarantee Income for all the citizens of this country so that poverty can be erased. Take that money and create free college from undergraduate to Ph.D at public universities which are suppose to belong to the public. ALl of these things will create a hell of safety net so that one can pull themselves up by the bootstraps. There was times when we was making some progress but you all came into our communities and literally burned them down. We had our our own stock market which was doing better than the one in New York but you all burned it down. You see John do not blame the kids in the inner city schools or those living in the inner city they are only a product of all the hatred that you all have dealt us and still are dealing to us and now that hatred has reveresed and will bring down the whole country. A black man has a better chance of going to jail than finding a job to support a family. You all would rather spend $40,000 a year on a black man in prison than spend $40,000 a year to educate a black man at Harvard University so that he can become an intellectual. Mr. Berman I hope that you do not mind me going off on a tandrum here but I just believe that we need to have an open and honest discussion on the problems in the country and its present condition. Also please respond to anything in here.

11:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

I'll let John speak for himself, but I do think your own take on things--which contains a lot of truth--may be a bit too B&W. You might get a lot out of two books I know that are coming from a different perspective: Shelby Steele, "The Content of Our Character," and John McWhorter, "Losing the Race."

Thanks for writing-

mb

5:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I teach in a suburb of Chicago, by the way, and I was talking about Mexican "gangbangers" and poor white kids who join Hispanic gangs. I am also not rich, I just stated that I would rather be among the rich, in their bubble, than the poor. I don’t have any black kids in class this year. I imagine that CPS (Chicago Public) is just as bad or worse than my own situation. Gangs are spreading to the suburbs with the death of the middle class, especially in Chicago area, although everyone is keeping it "quiet". My kids are mostly 1st generation Mexican kids who have laborer parents. The parents work hard and are respectful, but the kids have been corrupted by American culture and want fast money etc. without working or effort. Education is not valued, and some of the parents are unable to write or read Spanish. Some of the parents mean well, but due to working all of the time, the kids look to the internet, fellow peers, etc. about what their values are. The kids straight from Mexico are respectful and won’t talk back to me. They even look in shock when some of the “white” gang banger types swear during class and talk back, but after a few months they start joining in. It seems Mexico has a better culture when it comes to respecting your elders, teacher, than we do here. Our top student four years ago was an African American boy with two engineer parents. It is definitely a question of “family” culture, not “racial” culture. I tend to side with Bill Cosby on this issue, and think it’s a question of choices and responsibility. It is time now for all kids to start taking responsibility for their own choices. I agree that things in the past were wrong, and that the future will be hard for all kids. I also try to put myself in the shoes of those who come from horrible backgrounds. Some of my kids have both parents in prison. You should read some of their journal entries. Does tragedy give these kids an excuse to be criminals, or treat people horribly? I don’t think so. It is a complex problem. The Asian culture values the group over the individual. They value hard work and respecting your elders, and that teachers are the most respected individuals in the culture. This is a “healthy” culture, in my eyes, and they deserve to “win” at the game of global Capitalism, even though millions will continue to live on a dollar a day, so to speak. You should see how hard most of my Asian kids work. I love it, and it reminds me of Germany in the 1980s. Yet, there are even Asian gangs now slowly emerging. The rebellious Korean, and even Chinese kids in my school rebel from this traditional Chinese work ethic, and their kids will be telling their teachers to f_ _ _ off as well in the future. The porn producer I mentioned earlier was a "rebel" from a Chinese-American family. It is the corrosive affect of a “sick” or “dying” culture that we have. I also think that the internet is wicked, and brings filth into otherwise normal and healthy families. So, I agree that black people have been wronged. I believe that Jewish people have been wronged by Germany, as well as Asians in 19th century California. My point is that something is wrong here with our culture. I really don’t know the answer to these problems. You can’t go into someone’s home and teach them how to teach reading, or how to set limits for their kids. I wish I could. I get kids at age 15, and by then, the teacher is the enemy. I agree with Mr. Berman that this is much larger than just a black white thing anymore. Many white people are now being pushed out of the middle classes and are finding themselves in the ghetto as well. I also don’t like Oprah, and I think she is an egomaniac. Notice how she doesn’t give much of her money to charity. She is good at shedding tears isn’t she; they seem so genuine. Maybe Mr. Berman knows the answer to the decaying cities of America?? I don’t see any solution. If we lived in the 1960s I would tell my kids to study hard and go to college and find a good job, but now with so many kids going to college, most of whom who are not intellectual, what is the point. Even white kids with college degrees are getting no where unless they have connections-cronyism. How many good jobs are out there there anymore? I really don’t get it. Where will the jobs come from that will replace all of those lost manufacturing, and automobile jobs? This is a new thing. How will Michigan survive? I do agree with the previous writer that white people will freak out soon. White people in America think that a good life is “owed” to them. They are wrong at this time. My gut reaction, and I may be wrong, is that we are in the final phase of Capitalism. You can outsource, but if there aren’t enough shoppers in the core countries, then the whole system downsizes and grinds to a halt. Rich people, which I am not a part of, just save and hoard and get richer. Mr. Berman, how can a school getting a child at age 14-15, already developed, make any kind of impact in a world like ours? This is way bigger than black vs. white, isn’t it? Maybe I am being overly negative..the German mindset did rub off on me.

John in Chicagoland

4:22 PM  
Anonymous Pete said...

I think I would be remiss if I didn't address Anonymous' vituperative screed on the "Evil White Man." Although there are certainly plenty of examples of the White Man's terrible acts, you cannot with one broad stroke label "ALL" White people with the same brush. There are plenty of us white people who care deeply for minorities of all kinds and wish to help them overcome injustice. I sense quite a bit of hate from Anonymous while he/she is pointing out the hate from white people. And the argument that white people have injected drugs into the ghetto is quote specious. I think we all need to step back and take a look at who or what the REAL war is about, and I don't believe it is about Black vs. White, Conservative vs. Liberal, Gay vs. Hetero, etc....I believe the REAL war going on is between the "Insiders/Old-School Networked/Obscenely Rich/Hereditary Aristocracy" vs. the rest of us (Middle Class, Working Class, Working Poor, Poor). I forget who said it, maybe Morris, and I'm paraprasing here..."What is going on today is that there is a great, opulent ball going on where only the insiders are invited, and the rest of the people are on the outside with their noses pressed against the window glass looking in."

I find it interesting when I hear people rant against the poor Illegal Mexican Immigrants as somehow causing them to fall on the economic ladder, never once realizing that it's not the poor immigrant who is his enemy, it's the politicians in Washington, and the "Ayn Rand" Capitalist who is his arch-enemy.

The battle-lines were drawn a LONG time ago and can be summed up in these two quotes...

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

--John Kenneth Galbraith

Vs.

"The battle lines are not drawn so much between Republican and Democrat, or even conservative and liberal, as they are between two diametrically different worldviews. One view begins and ends with government. It is of a statist society in which the government regulates and mediates most human relationships--economic and otherwise. The other view begins and ends with the individual. It is of a civil society in which people organize themselves through voluntary association and exchange. Statist society promises you happiness in exchange for the better part of your freedom. Civil society merely guarantees your freedom. Happiness is up to you."

--Ted Forstmann


I recently posted the following comments on a CBS News Message board in respone to an article about Financier Carl Ichan making $300 Million on a "Mistake" ...


I used to be an Ayn Rand disciple, and used to think that if the "Clever," who had all the advantages growing up, made a killing while everyone else suffered financially, then so be it, they "Worked Hard" for it...and then I grew up and finally realized and understood what JK Galbraith said, that "the rich are always searching for a moral justification for their selfishness," and now I absolutely think that "re-distribution" of wealth is the ONLY fair and logical way for a Democracy to survive. The alternative is a "Winner-Take-All" society, and the creation of a Banana republic, which is what America is going to turn into. You cannot tell me or anyone else that an intelligent child, born into wealth, and the child of intelligent parents, having received the BEST education money can buy, is on the same playing field as a child who is not that bright, born into a lower class, to parents that are not that intelligent. WHY should the first child have ALL the advantges just because, as Warren Buffet said, he/she was "born into the lucky sperm club." NO...that child with all the advantages in life should NOT be able to accumulate OBSCENE wealth at the expense of other less fortunate people. And don't give me this crap about the lower classes pulling themselves up by the bootstraps like "ALL" the wealthy people have done. Bunk!"

...and one guy responded this way...

"Carl icahn is a genius--and if you actually looked into his past you would see he wasn''t born into wealth. He grew up in Queens, went to public school, etc. He dropped out of graduate school to go to wall street.

You people need to stop your whining. Icahn fought, risked and worked hard for everything he''s made. We should respect him.

The world doesn't owe anyone a dime. That's the "comsic law" . . . the sooner you people realize this the faster you will stop complaining and the more you will respect those fought tooth and nail to make their fortunes. You people obviously have never had to fight for anything . . . you probably never had to earn anything either.

Everything around you was built by entrepreneurs. Icahn is an entrepreneur, he's just in finance.

Some Advice:

1. Stop whining
2. Actually READ Icahn's bio
3. Be an entrepreneur--to actually understand how hard it is to actually be successful--
4. Once you''ve ACCOMPLISHED 1-3, you're free to whine away



So I responded with my follow-up argument...

"You are a poster child for Ayn Rand. I used to be one too. Unfortunately you haven't grown up yet as you sound VERY selfish. Your justification for "ONLY Entrepreneurship Matters" is misguided. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur (Who Will be the Workers, You Dope!) No one said Carl Ichan was born into wealth. I didn't. My only contention was that those born into wealth, and those who achieve OBSCENE wealth OWE something to society, which you obviously don't agree with, because you are selfish. OK Mr. Entrepreneur, what's your solution for the "Winner-Take-All" society and the formation of a "Banana Republic"? You tell us. I thought so. Your mental faculties are just as vacuous as your delusional proposition of "just get to work" on "Entrepreneurship" and stop whining and everything will be ok. I bet you haven’t even taken the time to study the issue in detail. Have you even read Locke? Hume? Mill? Rousseau? Smith? Ricardo? Keynes? Friedman? Thurow? Galbraith? Hayek? Mises? Marx? Rawls? I thought so. You are an Economic Dilettante who blabbers about stop whining and pull yourself up by the bootstraps but don't have a Clue as to what's REALLY going on in the world. Do some studying, and then maybe your eyes will be opened. I've seen a lot of Capitalist Bravado in my time, and let me tell you, you don't have the slightest idea of what you are talking about."

As enlightned CEO of OVERSTOCK.com, Patrick Bryne, said recently..."A Grandmother in Ohio, on food stamps, and unable to afford her medicines, should not be eating catfood so that 25-year old Wallstreeters can drive around in their Porsche's."

Think About It.

Pete
San Diego, CA

12:56 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pete,

Many thanks for your contribution; there's a lot there for all of us to think about. I certainly agree that it's ultimately not about White vs. Black, or anything sectarian. And that quote from Galbraith, one of my heroes, and a man who saw the Scandanavian model as a reasonable direction for the US to go in, is really spot-on, imo. (Note that JFK greatly admired "The Affluent Society," publ. 1958, but once in office--being the Cold Warrior that he was--Kennedy packed Galbraith off to India as ambassador, to get him out of the way, so as not to "embarrass" his admin with so-called statist views.)

The real B&W thinking, in any case, can be seen in your Forstmann quote, which dualism probably represents the thinking of most Americans, and of many non-Americans as well. Phrasing it this way, which is very much the world view of F.A. Hayek or Milton Friedman, there really seems to be no choice: it's individualism and "freedom," do or die. But the notion that this winds up leaving people alone is a myth, as is clearly demonstrated, for example, by Naomi Klein in her recent "Shock Doctrine." To impose neoliberalism, or laissez-faire capitalism (i.e., the winner-take-all society) on various countries, as the US has done, it often requires a pretty brutal regime of torture; and the US has definitely supported such regimes--Chile, Argentina, Brazil, etc. In other words, Friedman's economic shock required, on the street level, physical shock, so as to get those opposed to the doctrine out of the way, and to terrorize the rest of the population into acquiescence. Blood, in short, drips from the hands of the Chicago School of Economics.

Of course, the bogeyman that this school, or any neoliberal position typically points to, is the statism of the former USSR. Hayek ("The Road to Serfdom") did this all the time, and his book is one of the oddest bits of Manichaeanism one can read--"a frightful muddle," as John Maynard Keynes called it. For what all these folks can't see is that it's finally not about individualism vs. statism, but about finding intermediate ground--Scandanavia being a rather successful example of this. If, like Friedman et al., you are going to scream "Communism" every time the state is involved in schools, roads, public utilities (or the armed forces, for that matter!), then you block any possibility for real human solidarity, for collective action and support, or for a social safety net. The upshot is the grandmother eating catfood, and the dot.com kid driving a Porsche; or, as Klein documents quite exhaustively, a regime of torture.

Typically, any philosophy is in touch with some basic truth; the problem is when it is taken to its extreme--which is what both the USSR and Milton Friedman both did. Then it becomes dangerous, sick, a huge distortion. As an economic fundamentalist, Friedman never saw how similar he was to a Soviet bureaucrat.

So the central idea of capitalism--individual initiative--is quite a good one; in fact, I think it's great. Pursued to the exclusion of any other possibility, it ends in violence and the torture chamber. The central idea of socialism is that of a safety net for all members of a society; taken to its extreme, it also ends in violence and torture. You can see this in almost any philosophy, really: postmodernism taught us that every culture has its own truth; taken to its extreme, it argued that there was no truth at all. Traditional societies believe in the interconnection of all life; at the extreme, they are suffocating and repressive. Modern societies believe in freedom of choice; taken to the extreme, this issues out into alienation and meaninglessness. And so on.

As far as neoliberalism requiring torture and violence to be successfully imposed, one might well ask why that hasn't happened in the US. Of course, Anonymous is correct, that it *has* happened to the black community, at least to some degree; others would argue that the US prison system, which involves stun guns, solitary confinement, and all the rest, is a massive system of violence designed to keep the poor in their place (I believe most prisoners are serving terms for crimes connected to theft, such as breaking and entering; note that the US incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world--1 per every 143 citizens, last time I checked). But most Americans go along with the regime of extreme individualism, often because they don't know any other possibility, and because the government (GOP or Dem) has done, historically, a good job of convincing them that anything collective is evil. (I just flashed on a line I read years ago in the lit of Alcoholics Anonymous, in which Bill Wilson writes that as for individualism, it is "a juggernaut whose final achievement is ruin"--or something like that.)

The brainwashing effect within the US is thus quite powerful. I don't know if the story is actually true, but John Pilger, the British journalist, claims it is: that after Stalin's death and the thaw in US-Soviet relations, we invited a # of apparatchiki over to the US to view our institutions. They went to Congress, sat in on sessions of the Supreme Court, went to offices of major newspapers, and attended high school classes. After which, the American politicians, beaming broadly, asked them "Well? What do you think?" (i.e., of an open, pluralistic, society). The answer given by the Russian visitors kind of took these politicians aback: "How do you do it?" they asked. "In order to achieve this degree of conformity in the USSR, we have to torture people, send them to gulags in Siberia, or put them in psychiatric institutions and drug them. You Americans, on the other hand, have managed to achieve the level of conformity we seek without any coercion whatsoever! How do you do it?!"

Good question!

Thanks again for writing-

mb

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now the correct statisic is 1 in every 100 incarcerated. How did it happen? Slow, steady, systematic, relentless impoverishment due to our increasingly unfair tax system. Two excellent books on this topic are Free Lunch and Perfectly Legal showing how the rich, without firing a shot here in the US (unlike Peru, etc., in Shock Doctrine), have effectively bought control of our government, and in turn, our tax system. If people are worried about making enough money to simply buy the basics, tuning out and numbing out the rest of the time,spending long hours computing to jobs they're terrified they're going to lose (no matter how bad or meaningless the actual job is)then what you eventually get is despair that their lives will ever get any easier. The ground just keeps getting cut out from under them and you end up with parents who don't show up for open house at school, kids who have reared themselves in front of a TV set that preaches sex and money are the best things in life and a "screw you" attitude is cool. Small wonder the teachers are in despair themselves.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

That's a pretty good description of what a society looks like when it's in a state of collapse. Audiences I lecture to typically ask me *when* the US will collapse, like, on what day. I tell them that's not normally how it works: there was no "day" for Rome, for example. There were "nodes" in the process, such as the sacking of Rome in 410; but for the most part, Roman civ just went down the toilet a day at a time. Which is what's happening to us. American life is significantly worse now than it was 10 yrs ago; can you imagine what it'll look like in 2019? (The year in which "Blade Runner" takes place, if I remember correctly.) I shudder to think.

Thanks for writing-

mb

12:41 AM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

Rome did not collapse (476 AD) from one day to the next, its society changed progressively with christianity and the barbarian invasions. These are those changes that we attribute to the collapse.
Rome was a pretty advanced civilization with its irrigation channels that they unherited from the Muslim empire. Their road system was spreading all over Europe through the middle-east. Some of these roads are still used and have been renovated, the road from Roubaix in France for example is an ancient roman road, and it's not unusual to find these roman roads all over the place in Europe, some of them are still intact, thousands of years later, and others disappear through industrialization.
In France, the barbarians descending from the celtic people were called the Gauls (les Gaulois) and I was living in one of these villages. While Rome was trying to crush down different countries, La Gaule was the only country resisting the roman invasion, until they killed Vercingetorix (battle of Gergovia). In France, every cities ending by "ac" such as Nolhac or Polignac are gallic cities and there is a bunch of them in the center of France (Massif Central) surrounded by volcanoes.
It's not unusual in Europe if you own a garden that you find historical artifacts (pottery, jewellery, coins); my biggest ancient discovery was a roman coin (it was written in Latin) from Julius Caesarius.

1:17 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Politiques,

Well, I always did love that Asterix series (Chez les Bretons, etc.). As for Rome, did you ever see that old Monty Python film, "Life of Brian"? There's a debate between (something like) the Palestine Liberation Front and the Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The speaker for the PLF says, "Wot has Rome done fer us, anyway? Jus' name one thing!" Then speaker for the FLP (John Cleese?) says, "Well, the roads."
PLF: "OK, but besides the roads, wot?" FLP: "The aqueducts." PLF: "OK, the roads and the aqueducts, but what else?" FLP: "The growing and distribution of wine throughout Italy." PLF: "OK, the roads, the aqueducts, and wine; but what else?"

Anyway, by the time this hilarious conversation is over, PLF agrees to something like 17 positive things the Roman empire did...

5:08 PM  
OpenID brutus said...

Comments have been lengthy and sometimes frustrating. It took me a while to wade through. It's curious to note that although the point of reference in the blog entry is the purpose of a humanities education, the discussion veered off toward a variety of complaints of economic disparities, racial injustice, and leaving behind the failed state America fast becoming (we're not quite there yet, but the die appears to be cast). They're all related, of course, but range far afield. So I want to respond to Prof. Berman's blog rather than the comments, interesting as they were to consider.

The two numbered lists of facts and factors Prof. Berman provides are indeed deplorable. It has become almost a fetish among the cognoscenti to iterate examples of plebeian ignorance and misapplied sense of value, which provides an odd psychological satisfaction. Similarly, prophesying the imminent collapse of social, governmental, and economic structures and institutions imparts a bizarre nihilistic thrill for many able to peer a little bit over the horizon. Frankly, they're both well-established postures. Of course, in the long run, societies, governments, and economies do eventually collapse, so such prophets are proved correct, though usually not in the timeframes they foresee. Current conditions make it very seductive to assert that we really are on the brink of collapse, that it's different this time. That's hard to dispute, so I won't try. What's interesting is the number of intelligent, educated people who now think of themselves as "doomers" -- modern-day Cassandras reporting our demise but who are largely ignored by the masses, who are busy getting on with life (perhaps in the very fashion that will seal our doom). I fall somewhere between the extremes of ignoring what's occurring and relishing reports of ruin.

Nonetheless, I feel a deep sadness that we're quickly abandoning the Enlightenment legacy that has served us for some 400 years. Perhaps it deserves to be left behind, considering how it's built on a lust for power and dominance over all of nature and indeed each other. Science has by now bequeathed to us the technical power to wreck the environment, which we've accomplished handily in a modest 150 years. I can't imagine a worse injustice. Jim Kunstler writes that people can be divided into two groups: "those who believe we will 'high-tech' our way out of this predicament; and those who believe we'll organize our way out." He refers to economic collapse, but I suspect collapse of the biosphere may be the trump card -- the bigger problem from which we cannot escape.

Abandonment of the questions posed by the humanities and revaluation of human life on mostly financial terms was discussed by Karl Marx in The 1844 Manuscripts, where he states that money is the "visible divinity" in a capitalist world:

"By possessing the property of buying everything, by possessing the property of appropriating all objects, money is thus the object of eminent possession. The universality of its property is the omnipotence of its being. It therefore functions as almighty being. Money is the pimp between man's need and the object, between his life and his means of life. But that which mediates my life for me, also mediates the existence of other people for me. For me it is the other person." [borrowing here from Pinchbeck]

The establishment of money as the ultimate measure of value has lured us into a trap. Our orientation is no longer as participants in communities or as a humble part of nature. We're now free (condemned, really) to exploit nature and compete against each other in a Darwinian fight for survival, or more properly, struggle for personal wealth. The inevitable perversion of this new orientation is greed, loss of empathy, and narcissistic concern solely with ourselves. The best of Enlightenment thought was a projection of the human mind out into the world and the universe. That's mostly gone now, replaced by inwardness, radical egotism, and sybaritism. For example, recent news of the discovery of a solar system like our own is disdained as irrelevant and a waste of time to think about now that computers and virtual life technology have created a program called Spore that allows people to evolve their own virtual life forms. Discovery of actual extraterrestrial life no longer holds so much interest because now we have very cool video games.

The extraordinary incuriosity of the masses toward learning may be a harbinger of the completion of a cycle away from the Cartesian mind toward what Rousseau called the "sleep of reason," where a utopian minimalist state is characterized by "abandonment of books and other accouterments of intellect in order to cultivate enjoyment of the senses and good health" [borrowing here from E.O. Wilson]. Oddly, this cultural drift may be the very thing described in Berman's final chapter of The Reenchantment of the World and recommended in Coming to Our Senses. The upbeat descriptions contained there are an apparent obligation of cultural critics -- the sugar-coated cures for our ailments. What we actually have instead is characterized by loss. Reason won't be merely dormant, it will be forgotten. We are very likely in the midst of a paradigm shift, a restyling of human consciousness. In the process, we have jettisoned the ideals of the Enlightenment and failed to truly answer or even address the central question of the humanities: "What is the meaning of human life?" That failure may be out of laziness or misdirection, but probably not. Rather, it's in our nature, perhaps best put by John Gray in Straw Dogs:

"The mass of mankind is ruled not by its own intermittent moral sensations, still less by self-interest, but by the needs of the moment. It seems fated to wreck the balance of life on Earth -- and thereby to be the agent of its own destruction .... Humans use what they know to meet their most urgent needs -- even if the result is ruin. When times are desperate they act to protect their offspring, to revenge themselves on enemies, or simply to give vent to their feelings. These are not flaws that can be remedied. Science cannot be used to reshape humankind in a more rational mold. The upshot of scientific inquiry is that humans cannot be other than irrational."

2:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brutus,

Well, I never said that we should abandon the intellect, and I certainly don't agree with John Gray that all we can be is irrational. And at the conclusion of DAA, I say that while I don't think there is much hope for the US, I do think there is for the human spirit, the human race. In short, our cultural evolution, as it will, will not take place on American soil; but take place it will.

For whatever reason, this particular posting--as you point out--has generated a rather large response on a whole variety of topics. Which I welcome, actually; I don't feel those writing in response to this necessarily have to stick to the topic, myself. But I am having a problem with very *long* responses. Some of them are very searching and very reflective, but I feel uncomfortable publishing ones that go on and on, no matter how content-worthy. My request, then, to all of you out there (past, present, and future contributors), is that you try to limit your letters to 2 or 3 paragraphs. This is a venue for exchange of ideas, not for "articles," so to speak, so I think it might be helpful if we could all try to be fairly succinct (myself included).

Thank you!

-mb

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[sigh] Ah well, it was a nice ride while it lasted. With the signs that the economy is increasingly going to sh*t, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the freak show.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon, I liked your sarcastic post there. That was really a great one. Yes the economy is going down the tubes. The mother of all economic and dollar collaspe is just right around the corner and this this will take America down to third world status instantly. The dow will hit zero. People do not understand the magnitude of what is coming it will be a freak show for real.

Mr. Berman I different with you on Americas fall. I think it will happened instantly. I believe that when this economy and dollar collapse happen America will drop just like that. There will be no more for money for this empire and it will be in an weaken state for good with its hand out begging all over the world but will find no friend know where.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Phil Blank said...

Hi Morris,
Just re-read Wandering God- the Zone of Flux chapter is really wonderful. This may be off topic but I wonder if you've ever read James Hillman and if you have, what do you make of his distinction between Spirit (which he describes in similar terms to the SAC) and Soul (which seems closer to Paradox)? Thanks

4:22 PM  
Blogger eric said...

Hello Mr. Berman. First, congratulations on your appointment at the Universidad. No doubt, the tentative ears in your audience will be pricked with a measure of curiosity.
Unfortunately, the Universities here in the U.S. are not so blessed. My recent experiences in college were pathetic, to be really honest and cruel about it. My then eleven year old son had more writing and critical thinking skills than the students I shared class with. On one particular assignment the professor had us engaged in grading the papers of our peers. My son found over twenty errors on a simple two-page essay. And he was in sixth grade at the time!
So what is it that I am getting to? Namely this sir. That there is no hope left for America. The damage is irreversible at this juncture. Corporate America has strangled the very core of our existence and sold it to us on finely polished faux silver platters. Without the ability to think critically our nation, as a whole, cannot stand up against the corporate machine. It's a numbers thing. Not enough citizens in this country care enough to get involved beyond signing over a token amount of money to have some other 'responsible' (and I use that term VERY loosely) party take care of the decisions.
I was raised in Florida, but I have this European mindset thanks to the few summers I spent in Bavaria with my Grandmother and her family.
Over in Germany people are concerned about quality, not quantity. An old saying about it goes something like this: "In Germany, we build a conventional oven with the best materials we can find. That way it will last for years. And after we have built it, then we attach a price to it based on its value. In America, they decide on a price they want to sell an oven for (say $299.99), and then go out and find the least expensive materials and build a $300.00 oven that lasts for about five years." The difference obviously is in the mindset. In America it's all about immediate profits and in Europe its about pride of workmanship. THAT is what has cost America its place in the world. Every civilized country sees America for what it is. But America doesn't even have the capacity to examine itself for lack of pride. We are lazy, clock-watching, selfish, pathetic stunted, children and the day will soon come when the history books will include a section on "The Rise and Fall of the American Empire". BTW - I have wanted to write a book with that title ever since the late seventies, when I recognized how corporations were killing America.
Again, congrats on your appointment. And, when the time comes, I hope that you will go to Congress and educate them on the strategies to avoid anamorphic regression.
Few, if any, Americans will be part of that Monastic Culture you speak of in 'Twilight'.
Sad, really sad.
If I were to travel abroad, I think I would tell everyone I was German, just so I could avoid the laughs and the tears.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Phil,

Thanx for your kind comments re: WG. I tell you, Hillman never turned my crank, and I never had the impression he really understood the horizontal tradition. I read a bit of his work, and heard him speak one time, and it all seemed like warmed-over Jung (or worse, Jos Campbell)--not original, and definitely not scholarly. Hillman never seemed to have much of a grasp of history or anthro, as far as I cd make out; and I'm always wary of authors who are popular with the New Age crowd. But I cd be wrong about this, I'm not sure.

Thanx for writing, in any case-

mb

12:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Eric,

The craft tradition is a good entry point into the difference between the US and much of the rest of the world. The real problem is that the spread of American "values" is rapidly destroying that tradition, whether one is talking about Mexico, India, Japan, or etc. I don't know how it can be stopped, either. When I look ahead, I see Blade Runner, or perhaps the Woody Allen world of "Sleeper" in 2073, when the entire landscape is computer terminals and McDonalds. We are definitely not heading into a world of quality, that's for sure.

Thank you for writing-

mb

12:06 PM  
Blogger Great Galactic Ghoul said...

Hey Morris -- we talked on the phone back around 1995 when I was looking for one of your books. Anyway I'm spreading your "Coming to our Senses" to a coworker and thought you'd dig my latest published article. My masters thesis was in liberal studies at the U of MN (2001) and it's online along with much more work.

drew hempel.

http://www.mind-energy.net/archives/283-Gurdjieff-and-the-Triode-Amplifier.html#extended

12:35 PM  
Blogger Diamond Geezer said...

Hello Mr. Berman,

I have been thinking for some time how a lot of historians like to compare the current ‘American Empire’ with the 'Roman Empire' of years past. I'm not quite sure why we place so much value on Roman or in some cases Greek civilizations. It seems to me that life was good in the Roman Empire if you were one of the elite much like it is in the United States.

The Roman Empire and the United States were both heavily involved in the buying and selling of human beings. The Romans also killed a lot of people as they attempted to expand their empire around Europe and North Africa. I don't think that is a good model to emulate.

I do have some other topics i would like to talk about as well. I came to the US from England in 1992 and lived in Crystal City, Virginia (its near Washington DC). I used to walk to the Pentagon City mall and hang out in the bookstores. I went back a few weeks ago and could not find a bookstore anywhere. They have expanded the mall (the new addition is called Pentagon Row) but i still could not find a bookstore. They used to have at least three or four in the mall.

I don't think you can live in America without being influenced by the culture. I became somewhat of a hermit after breaking up with my wife. I bought lots of TV Shows on DVD (Angel, Battlestar Galactia, Forever Knight...lots of Sci-Fi stuff). I then bought one show called 'Sliders' which really isn't very good at all. I keep wondering to myself why i purchased this DVD.
Then it hit me. My friend 'Robin' used to love this show, primarily because of 'Jerry O' Connell’. She thought he was cute. I haven't spoken to Robin in about seven years so i guess what i'm trying to illustrate is that friendships and relationships are much more important than any material items.

Sorry if i made a few mistakes with my writing but i work on a computer help desk and i don't really have time to check over everything.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Diamond geezer. It is good to be rich. Being poor in any country, or in any time period stinks! (It is good to be king!) As much as we may idealistically rail against materialism and money, this is our system. Capitalism is about money. The only solution I see is to either be rich or become rich. Live in your protected bubble and ignore the nonsense that is going on in the rest of America and the world. Times are getting tougher for the middle and poor classes, but you can avoid all of that by being rich.

There are a few great ways to be rich:
1. You can inherit it. This is a great way to become rich, and takes very little effort. It is also much more fun to be young and rich than to be old and rich.

2. You marry wealthy. Do you have good looks and can carry a conversation? this is the path for you!

3. You can start a business. This has to do with Cronyism and #1. This is very difficult with all of the monopolies: Starbucks, Barnes and Nobles. You can't just open a coffee shop if you know what I mean.

#4. You are the next Michael Jordan or something along that line. Good luck and start practicing every day.

There are also less savory ways to get money (see the Kennedy family) The point is to have money; it really doesn't matter after a generation or two how it is aquired. We can all philosophize forever, but the real solution is to get wealthy, build your walls and cut yourself off from the dumb masses, or am I wrong? Do I want my kids going to school with gangbangers and morons, no! Survival of the fittest! I am only half kidding. If you want to see brilliant satire now have an open mind and look at the video game "Grand Theft Auto 4" It is made by guys from England and Scotland just ripping America to shreds. They pegged us pretty well.

anonymous

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Berman. Visited the D.F. (Mexico City) in the late 80's backpacking around the country. How do you like it?

I'm currently in a very small town in Thailand happy to be worlds away from my home town of Dallas. Seems the debate now is what *type* of collapse the US is in for, not if. We are already living Blade Runner; perhaps Children of Men is next on the agenda. I hear there are people already living in tent-cities outside LA.

Even though there are probably some mean times ahead, I see no reason to be depressed about it. There are many of us who never really fit in to the christian-robot lifestyle and militaristic-corporate value system in the first place so for us it will be no great loss. The educated barbarians are in for a big shock.

Gene

3:07 AM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

Dear MB et al;
I'm gonna try to be brief and straightforward, which is hard, because I've always been unable to explain things in few paragraphs. What happened in the US and Europe is probably one of the oldest debates since the Greeks and different episodes of our philosophical debates in the approach of the meaning of life, and everytime that a new event occurs in our present life (crisis) we are confronted to rethink metaphysicism from scratch, and there are different approaches to apprehend life in general (Kantic, neo-platonism, medieval spiritual catholicism...etc). You have to know how to flirt with philosophy in order to do that, but that's something that will never be solved, and the way that our world has been totally articulated, come from technologies, and we do accept it, because we became dependent on them.
The revolution started in the XVIth century in fact because the human being acknowledged that we were not able to swallow the whole universe like a black hole, therefore we had to divide work and tasks since our world continuum kept stretching itself so that we can progress for the humanity. Since then it's been nonstop (industrial revolution, modern times, postmodernism), and there is no more holistic approach of the world, a way to transcend ourselves (we became slaves). Well I would think, and maybe I'm wrong, that a way to differenciate Europeans from Americans, is that we in Europe can make a difference between the meaning of life and technologies, whereas in the USA technologies became the meaning of life, it's pretty much obvious when I look at the psycho-politics of the US.

If the medieval ice-age had never happened in Europe during the XVth or XVIth century, people would have never been working on other activities at home (cardsgame or pool or knitting), there would not be any furnace, and furnaces would have never divided the human being in different classes (it's from James Burke). Things always happen for a reason, and when reason cannot explain these things, then there are other ways, whose philosophical achievement has been quite a profusion during all these centuries.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that rather than the whole country going down, it will be more like "Blade Runner". There will be an elite 10% or less that will control most of the wealth, etc. The rest will be kept busy with action movies, video games, low education, and well fed via 1$ double cheeseburgers. 90% or so will live in squalor. You see this happening very quickly. It is already this way in Brazil with executives flying by helicopter between buildings because the streets are too dangerous in Sao Paolo. As in the book, "Global Squeeze" education will just enable those to understand what is happening to them, and little else. I don't see education is an answer or solution in any way.
Mr. Berman wrote that this is the end phase of Capitalism, and it is ugly. The new book "The War for Wealth" by Gabor Steingart, a writer for Spiegel, is also excellent. He said that the underclasses aren't even interested in education anymore, and don't see a way out.

The old America from the 1970s and earlier is gone. Soon the wealthy areas will be walled off. How else can you prevent the bottom 90% from taking from the top 10%. This is very depressing and I feel like Obi Wan Kenobi living on the desert planet. You are alone, and everything you value, and the old ways are not needed or wanted anymore. "Work ethic" and "quality" are just quaint little ideas from the past. It is all about instant gratification and attitude now. What kind of world will my son inherit? It is quite a cultural chasm between my old world and his brave new one.

John in Chicagoland

6:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

End-of-empire periods are typically the worst for the empire in question. England in Kenya, France in Algeria--it's a long and ugly list, as the beast is in its death throes. And at home, all purpose is lost...people just drift. As many have already pointed out, the US domestic economy more and more resembles that of a banana republic, and your prediction abt distribution of wealth has already come true. It will just worsen over time.

John: give your son a break. Let him grow up in a different culture.
10-20 yrs from now, you'll be glad you made the move. More important, so will he.

Stay in touch,
mb

8:34 PM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

In the US it's the divinization of the pursuit of the happiness that transcended you guys in your salvation, the pursuit of happiness became your truth, something higher than philosophy itself, it even became a religion IMO. We have the same problem in Europe since Condorcet and Laplace drew scientific models, and there is no going back, we just keep running the machine until it falls apart. It may take a few decades or a few centuries, we don't know.

These are the political sciences that gave birth to the heretic child of geopolitics during the end of the XIXth century, and people from the XXIst century don't even see a problem with that, it's part of our way of thinking in the globalized world. Superpowers don't confront themselves directly, they entertain their wars in proxies (they even finance terrorists) and play the game with economic activities. Sometimes they get pissed off, and they'll decide to invade a country - because they are running short on cash - until the "smartest kid in the room" notices that it's not fairplay and decides not to finance our wars with the T-bonds because the green bill is not worth anything. Then everything will break loose and we'll have to rethink a new international model.
PS: has anyone noticed the rising inflation in this country? What's going on? Oil, food, electricity, everything.
PS2: the best good ol american times were during the 60s and the 70s I believe, but I was not even born yet.
Have a good week yall.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pol,

High noon in the US was around
1950, or perhaps just post-McCarthy. Twilight phase began in the early 70s. Perhaps you should start signing off with "Good Weak"...sorta like, "Good Mourning, America." Sigh.

-mb

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that I am giving up on public education. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink! Maybe we should just let the masses play videogames, get fat and not read. They are going to do it anyway, and maybe I will live a bit longer. They are much happier in ignorance! In Europe I didn't feel very special. There are many well read, philosophical people over there. It was humbling. Here in America I feel like a damn genius, not at Mr. Berman's level, but hey it doesn't take much to separate yourself from the herd around these parts. The perplexing thing to me is that no matter how dumb Americans are, they seem to be able to make money as a society. The average Russian or German (or anyone else) makes the average American look like an moron, but it doesn't seem to matter to the economy. The jobs in America don't seem to require well read, interesting people. I guess if you spend your time selling or dealing with other idiots, then it makes sense. Maybe we are too dumb to require decent vacations? How can America be (have been) so successful and so dumb at the same time? This must be one of the leading puzzles of our age. Any ideas Mr. Berman? Do you still believe in education for the huddled masses of the 21st century?
John

12:01 AM  
Blogger politiques USA said...

LOL good one. There were still good achievements in the US in the 60s and the 70s, and when we go bankrupt, I only hope they won't ask us to turn to religion like they did in the medieval times.

In the medieval times, the human being was convinced that the world had been conceived only for him. His vision was very simple with 3 worlds: angels, human beings and animals. On the medieval maps, the world was very strange. There was Jerusalem and different countries were interpreted with symbols. For example, Russia was drawn with a bear, people from Norway were skiing in the snow. The farther you would go, and the strangest this world would become with incredible animals (unicorns or dogheads).
Back then, when people were describing animals, they were not interested to know what they could do or giving details on their shape, they always emphasize on their characteristics in relation with the human beings. That was the medieval world.

Here is something funny: it was San Augustin that came up with the idea that the human being needed knowledge so they decided to open universities and the 1st one was in Bologna. Then a few years later only (40 years later I beleive) someone at the University of Paris told other people that the world could have not been created in 7 days, then the students started a strike. It was the 1st public fight with the Church that was going to last more than 7 centuries (this is why in France we got rid of the political Church). Also women's rights in the medieval ages were bad at the beginning, but then the french troubadours with their songs started to give a better place to the women, and things changed later in the end of the medieval ages. 2 major events shook up the medieval ages with Marco Polo and Christoph Colombus. Even Christoph Columbus when he took off in the Americas firmly believed he had discovered the gardens of Eden.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

The answer to your question is that we weren't always this dumb. There is lots of evidence for this, both statistical and anecdotal. De Tocqueville commented on how log cabins in the Midwest in the 1830s typically had a volume of Shakespeare on the shelves, and one contemporary scholar--I'm forgetting the source rt now--documents that some small town in Mississipi in 1816 produced something like 20 Shakespeare plays that year. Who could imagine anything like this today? Brain rot takes off in the US after 1945 (TV had a lot to do with it, as did the commodification of education), and the results are plain for all to see. No turning back now, amigo...

mb

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that the foundation of American Wealth required a certain dumbness, an anesthetization of the American worker.

WE have unfortunately morphed this to a very high level of intellectual disconnect that cannot be reversed.

Al C

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that people used to read more, be smarter, etc. You have to be dumb to work with only two weeks of vacation a year. Maybe there will be no systemic collapse. A small elite (rich) will control the 90% that will live in squalor. As long as the 90% has enough to eat (1 dollar double cheesburgers), and entertainment (video games and action movies, t.v., etc.) then there will be no revolt. The masses seem happy now with technological toys. You just better hope that you are in the top 10%. Kind of a "core" within a core country. We see this in any country. This is Brazil to a large extent. As long as there is always a (remote) chance that anyone can join this club, then everyone will be happy. Maybe the broad middle class was just a fluke period when people were smarter. We see the middle class collapsing, so we think that means the whole country is going down. It depends on your perspective. If you are rich, then things are going pretty much as normal. Maybe the system is just going back to normal: winnner take all, feudalism, etc. Socialism, as in Scandinavia, will not last with global pressure anyway. We just happened to see a freak, although great period of time in the history of man.
just some random thoughts...
John

5:40 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Check out World Systems Analysis (Immanuel Wallerstein et al.), which distinguishes between Core and Periphery. There is never a rebellion in the core country, because the citizenry are too brainwashed--panem et circenses, as you point out. Effective rebellion comes only from the periphery (check out # of left-wing gov'ts in S. America today, e.g.). What does happen in the core, however, is a crash, a breakdown...such as we are going to see happen to the US economy within 10 years or so (maybe less). This, people understand; and it serves as a (temporary) wake-up call, of sorts.

Peace,
mb

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm currently in a very small town in Thailand happy to be worlds away from my home town of Dallas."

I wish I had the money and resources to leave my job and my home in Atlanta. The sad thing is that Atlanta, Dallas, and so many other American cities are virtually indistinguishable from one another: no cosmopolitan culture to speak of and just miles and miles of suburbs and strip malls.

10:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Well, that's American capitalism, (not) working to serve you better. Check out ch. 7 of DAA, and also the work of Jas Howard Kunstler.

Thanks for writing-
mb

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently read A Dream Deferred by Phillip Slater written about 17 years ago and The Pursuit of Loneliness written almost 40 years ago. I would be interested to know what you thought of Slater's premise in A Dream Deferred that the authoritarian paradigm is dying (and what we're experiencing now is it's last desperate gasp)and will be replaced by a more co-operative, egalitarian world----and that the first intimations of this new era are already here. He sees in the beginnings of the current era the authoritarian mess that resulted in the creation of hierachies, devaluing of women and people who work directly with the land. It's an interesting and hopeful premise that mankind could return (obviously in modern form) to something like the hunter/gather society.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Gavin said...

Ah, I love the subject of urban design...something DAA opened my eyes to a lot of, and of course being pissed with the rubbish of suburbia. Funny how that emotion can open up doors to you. Never really appreciated how good it was in Europe where they are real towns and cities til I lost it.
Kunstler's book is awesome and of course he has a sequel or two to it I haven't yet read.

The "city" in which I live, Virginia Beach has a lot of these problems (although I would say it's probably not the most egregious example out there). In most places in Europe and some cities like NYC in the US you can walk a few miles and feel like you went somewhere, that you covered ground. A place like this is like walking on a conveyer belt while loud and obnoxious trucks and SUVs whizz by you and idiots catcall, assuming that because you walk, you must be some sort of loser. Public transportation is dismal and using it means you have to deal with gangbanging retardates who can't even perform basic mental tasks (I don't think they even know how to ask a question..."hey you gotta cigarette for me!?" is the best effort I've heard).

This suburban/strip wasteland is simply dismal to be around and look at. Luckily in my area, I can go to parts of Norfolk which are a different story. Lovely neighborhoods and architecture, walker friendly (well the walk/don't walk lights are still terrible...try jay walking instead), stores that are not plastic homogenous chains etc. Ah, its nice, but however the exception and an island. Even better is to go to someplace like DC, NYC or Boston when we can (if we are just limited to this country). What the biggest pisser out of all this is however, is when one goes to these places and realizes that we have the ability to make good towns and cities and yet for the most part we CHOOSE not to. Even sadder is that that can be applied to almost any issue in the US. We in a lot of areas, chose to take the path to get to the dismal spot the US finds itself in today.

Gavin

6:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Gavin,

Churchill once said that America cd always be counted on to do the rt thing, after it had exhausted all of the alternatives. Truth is, it can be counted on to make the worst choice 1st and stick to it; urban (anti)design is a good example.

This is why I'm not convinced by Philip Slater's prediction, as reported by Anon. It's understandable...at the end of one's life, one doesn't want to believe that one's sounding the alarm came to nothing. But the truth is that just the opposite of Slater's prediction is much more likely, and that he'll be leaving the US in much worse shape than he entered it. Same is true for me, tho I've probably got a few good years left yet. But as I told a friend today, the trilogy I did on the evolution of human consciousness found a tiny cult following, and remains unknown (or incomprehensible) to mainstream America; and the 2 bks on the US had as much impact as if I had thrown a pebble at an Abrams tank. After my death, the Machine will kill off what remains of rainforests, air, oceans, etc.; the carrying capacity of the earth will break down (expected population ca. 2050 = 11 billion); probably more than half of those people will be living in dire poverty; and violence will be the order of the day. I wish I cd say different, but I'd be kidding myself.

Smile!

-mb

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read Wandering God and I'll grant you it wasn't the easiest book I've ever read but certainly an intriguing one. Paradox is what makes life mysterious and exciting but it's easy to forget in the mist of strip malls, blockbuster films and American Idol. Perhaps at some point when we hit saturation with this nonsense we'll put down the iPod and live differently. America has put it's special stamp on materialism, greed and self-promotion (some might say even taken it to a new level)but I will always believe these are human characteristics that a society either encourages and rewards or surpresses with the cooperation of the majority of their citizens. I liked DAA because your analysis of where we are as a country clearly reflects we didn't get here without the consent of the majority, however silent or intimidated it may be.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Can't tell you how flattered I am that you read WG. It's my best book, imo, and sold all of 2000 copies. Which says a lot; the subject matter couldn't be further from the American "mind". But all is not lost: my next 2 titles are "Jesus Is Your Friend" and "Thinner Thighs in 30 Days." Best-seller list, here I come!

Thanks so much-

mb

11:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best seller list is highly overrated, as you obviously know from experience. I recently read a small book by Doris Lessing, Prisions We Choose to Live In, and two of the chapters in particular I found interesting. One is on the fickleness and hypocrisy of literary critisism and the other is very similar to your final chapter in TAC on the option of creating (essentially) an inner life to combat the insanity of popular culture. I recommend it.

9:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Literature is dying. We are entering a post literate period. There can be no denying this. Many people who grew up with books see this as the end of time. On the other hand, evolutionary speaking, reading was always an unnatural human activity that ruins the intellectual's eyes. Human eyes were simply not designed to focus on deciphering small text for hours on end. That is why we stereotype someone with glasses as being smart. The way of telling stories is now visual and there is no going back. If you want to influence or move the masses you should write a movie script. Just reading at all will become an "elite" activity, and it is unfortunate. How many books need to be sold for a book to be considered a bestseller? (50,000?) come on, let's get realistic about the state of reading. It is over as far as serious literature goes. Maybe the short story will survive...Look at how dumbed down Time magazine is. Compare any American magazine with the German "Spiegel". It is a joke! This whole process just continues to accelerate.
John in Chicagoland

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further proof of how awful things are in Amerika re even the possibility of any kind of intelligent discourse on important matters, is the fact that the new film Expelled by Ben Stein is taken so seriously.

Plus the scribblings and rantings of clowns like Dinesh Desouza too.

4:51 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hey, check out a recent article in the New Yorker that argues that in the future, reading will be a "quaint hobby"--at least in the US. But you know, Jules Verne was already worried about this for France in the 19th century. In one of his books, French culture and society is completely dominated by science and technology, and a guy goes into one of the very few remaining bookstores in Paris and says he wants to buy a book by Victor Hugo. The store owner never heard of him.

Meanwhile, I just finished writing a novel myself, tho' not quite at the level of Verne or Hugo. I'm guessing it'll sell about 14 copies...

R.I.P.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you ever taught a class using Wandering God as your text book? Some of the concepts in the book seem similar to Buddism to me---the cultivation of silent spaces and the acceptance of death (impermanence)but it's a more complete picture of how we got where we are. Consciousness and how we perceive the world is a facinating subject in many ways. One of the great joys of reading is hearing another's voice from centuries ago telling us what they thought, how life was then and experiencing, to a small degree, the experience of their life. I'm glad to hear you've written a new book and hope to be reading it soon. Is it the one you mentioned earlier---about Jesus and the thighs?!

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really appreciated Twilight, and was fairly blown away by Dark Ages America. I think you're the first and only author on these subjects who doesn't end your book with a chapter on what we all should get together and do, so we can get everything back on track like it once was. And I love the line "optimism can be a very good thing if it is based on facts" - everyone calls me a pessimist for thinking the way you do.
Now my issue: It seems that of "all of you" (you, chomsky, klein, zinn, etc.) Gore Vidal is the only one who has come out and given any credibility whatsoever to the idea that 9/11 was an incident manufactured by people close to the administration. I know you briefly touch on it and discard the conspiracy idea in Dark ages. I get to wonder if it is simply a maneuvre to not "loose credibility" - it seems that there is enough evidence presented to where the idea deserves to be taken serilusly - particularly with Silverstein admitting that building 7 *was* demolished as in: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-649993991751648213&total=100&start=40&num=10&so=0&type=t100_usa&plindex=49 - which is of course not an analysis, but an assertion)
Have you taken the opportunity to see "Loose Change"?
I don't understand, all things considered - why the idea is so far fetched.
Life

7:15 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

I think I'll probably pass on Jesus and the thighs for now, despite the huge royalty payments that I'm sure would be rolling in. Next book is a novel, actually, which I'm hoping will see the light o' day in 2009.

mb

10:54 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Mr Berman I have been reading your works for quite some time. You have been able to but into words so many things that I am unable to.

You are absolutely right there is a big collapse in society.

Here is more disturbing evidence http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/06/05/ignored.hitrun.ap/#cnnSTCVideo

Heather

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Chaz Holmes said...

Earth is the only home we'll ever know, so why not consider it the center of our universe?

3:44 PM  

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