November 16, 2008

These Are Your Neighbors (Part II)

Rest assured, it can only get worse:

http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/106551

93 Comments:

Blogger curt said...

Presidential Election Spurs Hundreds Of Race Threats, Crimes

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/15/presidential-election-spu_n_144095.html
"Cross burnings. Schoolchildren chanting "Assassinate Obama." Black figures hung from nooses. Racial epithets scrawled on homes and cars.

Incidents around the country referring to President-elect Barack Obama are dampening the postelection glow of racial progress and harmony, highlighting the stubborn racism that remains in America.

From California to Maine, police have documented a range of alleged crimes, from vandalism and vague threats to at least one physical attack. Insults and taunts have been delivered by adults, college students and second-graders.

There have been "hundreds" of incidents since the election, many more than usual, said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate crimes."
There are right wing radio freaks calling Obama the anti-christ! WTF!

7:04 PM  
Blogger Claude said...

In reparable ignorance: I've just started on Dark Ages America, and am new to the world of blogger.com. As regards the U.S.' bumpy ride down that cultural sewage line, merely understanding it may have to suffice. Somewhere or other, I read that Nietzsche said that, in times of decadence, even those who oppose that decadence are themselves decadent.

A depressing thought,
Claude Horvath

10:39 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Claude,

Not to worry: we welcome depressing thoughts on this blog. As for decadence, well, I'm quite sure my critics think I'm irreparably decadent, but I'm also sure there's not a lot I can do to change their minds.

Keep reading,
mb

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

Greetings. This is Brad again, and while the article you cited was completely correct in everything it said, I feel that it missed something important, something that today's intellectuals have also missed. A good critical thinker, as I have learned, tries to determine what information what he's reading is using and what information what he's reading is NOT using. In this case, intellectuals seem to be so busy attacking the ANTI-intellectual, they are completely ignoring a crucial variable (I took a statistics class once which taught me the importance of not being hasty in thinking you analyzed all the variables you need to understand complexity of the problem): the PSEUDO-intellectual, which I define here as the foolish one who actually claims to be defending intellectual tradition.

Believe it or not, Morris Berman, some of the people who are contributing to the problem actually share some of your views! It's where they differ from you that they start getting pseudo-intellectual.

I am, of course, referring to the following list: Christians who share your view that public schools are dysfunctional but then "solve" the problem by homeschooling their kids into hating evolution and science (which is anti-intellectual and similar to brainwashing and therefore NOT a solution), so-called "cultural conservatives" like Newt Gingrich or Pat Robertson who actually share your view that the Enlightenment tradition needs to be respected (or at least they vehemently insist they do) but then foolishly claim that doing so means never questioning authority or never questioning religion or never considering alternate viewpoints or never questioning even humanity's most long-held beliefs (after all, people WRONGLY believed for hundreds of years that ghosts caused disease and WRONGLY believed for hundreds of years before Locke and Sir Thomas Moore and Thomas Jefferson that kings "naturally" had more human rights than the poor), others who share your Enlightenment view but then use that view as a justification to avoid studying anything foreign like the books from China or India that you cite in previous blogs, etc., completely forgetting for instance that John Stuart Mill's father wrote a book called The History of India or that Einstein familiarized himself with Ghandhi or that Thomas Jefferson was able, in his Notes on the State of Virginia, to differentiate between different tribes of Native Americans and eloquently elucidate their unique traditions (something today's "intellectuals" refuse to even consider as knowledge worth preserving).

Why is it that almost every intellectual I read who thinks America is in decline and tries to attack everyone responsible never attacks those who supposedly share their views but then misuse those views to foster narrow-mindedness and mindless obedience? I always see attacks on the anti-intellectual poor masses (the article you cited) or the Internet (Susan Jacoby) or declining high school standards (Rick Shenkman) or pseudoscience (Al Gore) or politicized education (Harold Bloom) but I never seem to find attacks on the variable I have just brought up. One of the intellectual standards that thinking has to pass is the standard of "depth," or the ability to address all parts of an issue that make it complex, but so far "those who falsely claim Enlightenment heritage" seem to be exempt from criticism since the intellectuals seem to only want to attack "those who despise or are not familiar with the Enlightenment tradition entirely."

Again, like I said in my last response to one of your blogs, I am not attempting to "rebel against the professor or replace the professor with the student" or falsely claim as Protagoras did that there is no real system of ethics or attempt to claim that I myself have all the answers or anything else that was displayed by those vicious and nasty students that you attacked in your book, Twilight of American Culture; it's just that my ethical and intellectual conscience (my inner voice, if I may borrow language from Socrates and Emerson) will not allow me to go without speaking up about this, especially since I was hoping to use my future career as a librarian to broaden my knowledge base to such an extent that I can spot everything that you are able to spot with your years of experience (so in a sense, I am trying to do what you wished more students would do, and that is attempt to emulate intellectuals we admire).

If anything I have said above means I have accidentally committed the violation of looking at my neighbor without looking at myself (which is the mistake Laches committed in the Dialogue of Laches), then please correct me as Nicias corrected Laches, and I will refrain from posting in your blog in the future.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

I should start out by saying, as I did elsewhere on this blog, that I'm going to have to limit what I post to letters that are not too long. Most readers don't want to read another essay in the correspondence, so I say this to all and sundry, if you could limit your contributions to 2-3 paragraphs, it would be very helpful.

As far as your worry about pseudo-intellectuals: I think you may have been spending too much time in your apartment reading, I dunno. I don't see it as a *huge* problem, and keep in mind that no position is airtight--including your own. On the project of always finding the Achilles heel: well, that will keep you busy for a long time, and I'm not sure to what end.

Sure, my views are not in any particular "camp," so there's no doubt that they will overlap with people who hold views the majority of which I *don't* share. I recently got some lit in the mail from a secessionist group in Vermont, and liked a lot of what they had to say. But (besides the fact that secession doesn't have a hope in hell) I can't join them, because their ranks include the Palins from Alaska, and I'm guessing you have some idea of what I think of Sarah Palin. I think just as little of Pat Buchanan, to take another example; but I appreciate the fact that he pegged the Iraq war as phony, or "pre-cooked," as he once said, and that the price of empire is terrorism. Right on both counts. Which is just to say that politics makes for strange bedfellows, and that you are looking for a purity that doesn't exist. This will keep you busy for a long time, but I'm not sure it will do you a whole lot of good. As I suggested, time to leave your apartment, get some fresh air. The trouble with the "pseudo" charge is that it goes nowhere, which is why these folks you are criticizing don't get into it: after all, the response can always be, "No, *you* are the pseudo-intellectual." Mon cher, there are better ways to spend your time.

mb

9:00 AM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

Mr. Berman,

I've travelled a lot in the US (and have lived in three different countries, including the 3rd World) and I genuinely have been empathetic and optimistic about Americans most of my life.

What I believe about the US is not simply knee-jerk anti-Americanism or "smugness" of which we Canadians get accused of, often enough by our own ruling elite.

I think I've got a grasp of the circumstances (particularly those that have characterised the US since the beginning of the Reagan era, when I started university and when I really started to worry) of what has led to a population that is thoroughly propagandised and yes, quite clearly irrational. What I have trouble understanding is the morality (im- or a-) of those public figures who quite obviously know better and still resort to pandering to people's gullibility, petty prejudices or, conversely, their pie-in-the-sky idealism. I just don't get it anymore.

This happens everywhere on Earth, but I'm struck by the extent to which this is formalised in the US and the level of popular support this pandering has. To an outsider, it sometimes appears that a lot of Americans prefer to be manipulated and pandered to; to be lied to, quite frankly.

I've read your trilogy (and many others works by American dissenters and critics) and that's the one thing I can't quite understand.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Ti,

Well, I tell ya: it's not all that hard to figure out. Check out my post on Conspiracy--esp. the parts on frontier mentality and extreme individualism--and also ch. 7 of DAA (the section on the shift in the definition of virtue). Winning is everything in the US; if you're not a 'success' (defined in a particular way--power, money, influence), you're nothing. The whole culture is soaking in this, and while it goes back to the
1790s, it really climaxed from Reagan onwards. Look at the shame McCain brought on himself during the campaign, using tactics on Obama that Bush had previously used on him--and he doesn't have a moment of remorse about it. Sure, why not insinuate that a patriot is really a traitor and a terrorist, if it might help you win? And when the American public--also for historical reasons discussed in DAA and Twilight--is little more than a large collection of buffoons, then why not manipulate them to advance your career, since you (rightly) don't respect them anyway? (This is hardly limited to McCain, of course.) Remember what Edward R. Murrow said 55 yrs ago: "A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves." And Obama will do a much better job in terms of style, but he's basically the GOP with a human face--wait and see. His transition team is filled with lobbyists, his appointees are ex-Clintonites, his foreign policy is bellicose, and his public is unable to see through him. But it doesn't matter, because a change in style, not substance, is what Americans want. They are less than 5% of the world's population, and consume 25% of the world's energy. To do that, you need a huge military and a self-destructive ideology, and politicians who will uphold this, maintain the status quo. It's just not rocket science, amigo; I'm sure you understand this. These are the "sorrows of empire."

mb

6:21 PM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

It's just not rocket science, amigo; I'm sure you understand this. These are the "sorrows of empire."

So, as a citizen of "Romanised Gaul," as Margaret Atwood put it, any advice (besides beating a hasty retreat back to the wilds of Northern Ontario, where I'm from)? I'm frankly despairing that even progressive Americans aren't really concerned about the corrosive effects of empire. As long as it's the empire they want, they don't seem all that concerned about us "foreigners."

Should I just hope for economic collapse?

6:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ti-

No need to hope for anything; the collapse (economic, social, cultural, and political) is taking place as we speak. As for your own life: forget the US, just do what you love.

mb

7:00 PM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

As for your own life: forget the US just do what you love.

From your lips to Stephen Harper's and The Canadian Council of Chief Executives' ears.

My love is education. How tragic, eh?

7:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman I agree whole heartedly with your statement to TI that the collapse (economic, social, cultural and political is taking place right now) and many have no ideal of the signs that is going on all around. I even hear some fools say "I am a optimist and bullish on America and you better not bet against America." and all that bullshit. Even though some of the troubles of America is widely known the true crisis and bad condition isbeing kept hidden from the buffon citizenry. Mr. Berman give me your honest opinion and most intelligent observation as to what you see when the stuff really hits the fan and the economic crash hits and that stock market comes down like a ton of bricks and there is no jobs, no social safety net and no money to start one. I see civil unrest, an uproar in violence, martial law and the constitution shreded and massive ignorance. It is gonna be one hell of a hang over that will never end. When all this happened what type of America do you see?

8:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ti-

There are a few quiet pockets of the world left--perhaps even in Canada--where education is real and rewarding. You may have to do some serious searching, but what else were you planning to do with the next 30-plus years, anyway?

As for Anon, and your worry about the crash: we're in the midst of it, amigo. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it didn't fall in one. During the late-empire period, one day was like any other (for the most part). It was only cumulatively, looking back, that it became apparent how much had been lost. We can see that now looking back to 1950, say, and by 2025 it will be even more obvious. For most empires--Mayan and Soviet excepted--it's not an overnight thing. The stock market *is* coming down, huge numbers of people are being laid off, and the safety net is in tatters. And Americans, desperate people that they are, actually believe Obama's gonna fix all that! Rude awakening in two years, mark my words; and then, instead of truly waking up, these poor folk will go looking for another savior (check out Howard Kurtz's "Spin Cycle" for a profile of how it works).

mb

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

The latest essay by Chris Hedges at truthdig.com is also worth reading. He writes: "...if Barack Obama drinks, as it appears he will, the dark elixir of war and imperial power offered to him by the national security state, he will accelerate the downward spiral of the American empire."

I am having some trouble, though, with the idea of keeping the balance between individualism and community, democracy and elitism,etc. For example, Hedges talks about "the core values of our open society". But, reading his essay, one might never guess that he is also a Christian with a Master of Divinity degree. How does one find the balance, and attempt to live a meaningful life? Is keeping the balance just a matter of personal choice?

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

Greetings, this is Brad again. I'm taking your advice; I'll only contribute 2 to 3 paragraphs this time. (And I'm also looking for book clubs to join in a local bookstore I'm familiar with; I think you were right about me needing to leave my apartment.) Please tell me if this comment is more up to your standards, I tried to keep it shorter this time.

Of course most Americans can't see through the lies of their public figures. Of course they all behave as a herd. That's because even many of our so-called "scholars" no longer see critical thought as a positive cultural value! I just read an essay written by William J. Bennett back in the 1990s. He listed "church" as among those positive institutions that were "enfeebled" (and unlike you, refused to acknowledge that religion has contributed to our decline), and among the "values" he saw in decline were "social conformity" and "respect for authority!" Since when were conformity and obedience to authority more important than critical thought (a point you yourself have made on this very blog)? How can Americans learn to question irrational authority and learn intellectual noncomformity when they are told by trusted "scholars" that noncomfority and questioning authority are wrong actions?

In short, it's no surprise at ALL that Americans can't learn to think critically and independently when those supposedly speaking on behalf of "culture," when those Americans TRUST for ideas, actually place a premium on conformity and obedience. I just thought I'd submit the Bennett example to contribute to the general discussion of "why Americans want authority figures to lie to us."

1:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

Ah yes, Bill Bennett, the right-wing blowhard who lectures on virtue and then blows $8m on a gambling addiction. A fine example for Americans to follow, clearly. But not to worry: a large fraction of our countrymen can't read, wouldn't be able to understand a Bennett (or any) lecture, and have no idea what critical thinking even is.

Glad to hear yer getting out a bit. Socialize, mix with a few bores, and inhale all that lovely winter air. As for the dolts: remember there are (many) more of them than you, so you've lost the struggle in advance. Might as well just enjoy the spectacle.

mb

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

I asked,"Is keeping the balance just a matter of personal choice?" I was wondering how it is that one social critic- Chris Hedges -turns to theology, while another- Morris Berman -is comfortable with a mystical atheism. Are you playing Zen Master, prodding me to figure out the answer on my own?

6:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

When I lived in Canada I had a doctor named Art Hister (I think it was); a very nice guy. But he did have one quirk: posters about "ART" all over the office. So if you were lying on his examining table, looking up at the ceiling, you had to read a sign that said: "ART is basic."

The sound of one hand clapping, I guess.

mb

8:46 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

Greetings, this is Brad again. The "Zen Master" comment above has just caused me to notice something very strange that didn't occur to me until just now.

In your book, Twilight of American Culture, you scorned the idea of teaching "multicultural" studies in school, and you said THAT contributed to our decline. You ridiculed people who would teach Asian poetry instead of European poetry (I have the book with me as I type this).

So why is it on your blog, you reference Indian and Chinese works like Lao-Tzu, Buddhism, Rabindranath Tagore, and Fareed Zakaria? Why is that in Twilight of American Culture, you asserted that European culture (the Enlightenment tradition) was superior to everyone else and the people who would teach Asia were idiots beholden to fads and trends, but on your blog HERE, you recognize that it is part of the Enlightenment tradition ITSELF to study viewpoints and cultures that aren't your own? (You even list this as a dying POSITIVE value elsewhere and even expressed regret that Buddhism could never catch on in America; although you said it was a NEGATIVE value in Twilight of American Culture!) My apologies, but I'm very confused. Have I missed something?

1:45 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

Boy, you *are* confused! I don't know what version of the book you're reading, but I certainly don't remember writing that. That was Allan Bloom's position; I'm not Bloom. The real problem with students today is hardly that they are reading Asian poetry, or whatever, but that they can't read *any* poetry. That was my concern. I do think it's important to know the Enlightenment tradition, but ignorance of that pales in comparison to ignorance of everything (or anything). If students will be motivated more by Lao-tzu than by Keats, my feeling is and was that they should start with Lao-tzu.

In any case, Twilight does *not* say that Europe is superior to everybody else, that people who teach Asian culture are idiots, and that Buddhism is a negative thing. I don't and didn't believe any of that. How about you give me the page numbers where I supposedly wrote that, amigo? This I gotta see.

mb

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

Please don't get me wrong; I meant no harm. It's just that, since I've also been reading Christopher Hitchens' Letters to a Young Contrarian, and since Mortimer Adler's How To Read A Book (although I don't agree with all of Adler's ideas) says it is one's ethical duty to point out anything wrong with any argument (as long as there is, in fact, something wrong with the argument, a caveat added by Adler), I am merely trying to be an ethical, critical human being by pointing out what I do. I mean no ill will, but I HAVE to speak up whenever I see something wrong (elsewhere on your blog, you yourself were saddened that nobody in America cared about the breakdown of civil liberties because they trust blindly in what the government tells them)

Very well, here are the page numbers: let's take pages 147-148, for example. You said that "the true division in education is between a market-driven culture and the humanities, not between an Asian poem and a European one." You were paraphrasing Shoris, who you admired because he disliked political correctness as horribly misguided. You then quote from Shoris as saying humanities are always being (and must be) influenced by dead white men (European men) because they were the troublemakers of history, and that no one else on earth is capable of denying silence and loneliness.

Or let's take your discussion of "multiculturalism," which you clearly despise on pages 125-126. You only seem to be attacking the very worst strands of multiculturalism, the ones that are themselves tyrannical, without realizing that there are multiple strands of multiculturalism.

As I learned from Richard Paul and Linda Elder's works, two components of thought are "assumptions/premises" and "inferences/conclusions." Your book, at least on the pages I have cited above, seems to operate under the implicit (not explicit) assumption that "real" study (as opposed to "market" study) necessitates the study of Europe, which is why you draw the inference and come to the conclusion that the African-American scholars and the feminist scholars are contributing to our decline. I must admit I've seen strands of that myself, especially in the intellectual hypocritical (now-deceased) Lucy Dawidowicz who scorned black people and women for wanting special treatment in school curricula--and then demanding special treatment for Jews and the Holocaust in the same essay! But the clear inference (implicitly stated, not explicitly stated) of your Twilight of American Culture book is that the mere act ITSELF of studying non-European cultures and traditions (as opposed to the misuse of such studies by anti-intellectual groups; yes, I also learned the intellectual standard of "precision" or the ability to make distinctions) is causing us to be dumbed down to the mercy of the markets.

That's why I was so confused when I discovered on your blog that you seem to have changed your tune. I wasn't trying to hurt anyone, but I MUST speak up about anything wrong that I see if I am to call myself ethical, especially since when I first read your Twilight of American Culture (before discovering your blog), I immediately became angry, thinking of Thomas Jefferson only wanting to add to human knowledge by writing about the histories of different Native American tribes in Notes on the State of Virginia, thinking of Albert Einstein who admired Ghandi (who was from India and therefore not from Europe), saying that the world would scarce believe such a little brown man ever walked the earth, and thinking of John Stuart Mill's father, who wrote History of India just to add to human knowledge (John Stuart Mill's father didn't seem to think gathering in-depth knowledge about India was detrimental to the study of humanity as a whole).

So I'm confused. Do you think the study of non-European cultures is detrimental to the Enlightenment because it takes the focus off the European troublemakers and innovators, as you say in Twilight of American Culture, or do you think the study of both European and non-European cultures within the same lifetime is the only way to truly OBJECTIVELY search for the truth and add to the totality of human knowledge of the entire planet, as you say on this blog?

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Maybe your Canadian doctor's name was Art History. I think you're right: many of us need to get out and "inhale all that lovely winter air". But it's often warmer, in more ways than one, here on the internet. Prof Berman, thanks for all the time and energy you put into this blog.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take a good look at below CNN-video.
Isnt it a rather sad and telling scene?
The man was voted two times for president as the best one to lead the worlds most powerful country - the second time around prefered with an improved margin:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6Y_ncOVlDw

Now tell me that every problem begins and ends on this poor mans shoulders alone.

7:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

Once again, I have to say to you and other contributors that I do not wish to publish very long letters on this website. But I'm going to let your last one through just to be done with an argument that strikes me as virtually meaningless and hair-splitting. Readers can check the pages you cite to see if I indeed "scorn" Asian culture, for example, or really believe that we should not study other cultures. I see no "change of tune" that you are pointing to, and again, Brad, I have the impression that you are living in a kind of self-invented academic hothouse, in which your brain is getting overheated and you are pouring energy into fairly trivial issues. What's the point, or the point of writing me (and probably quite a few others, I'm guessing) endless diatribes? You really do need to get outdoors and get some fresh air, man; this is not doing you a whole lot of good. And when the fresh air treatment helps you recover a bit, here's a bit of advice--which I hope by then will be unnecessary: There are bigger fish to fry than the minnows you are chasing. Your life deserves better than this, amigo. Please, go out and get one.

All the best,
mb

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's some more of our neighors (to the north). Thank god the Canadians will accommodate us, otherwise our fat-selves would have nowhere to sit!

http://www.news.com.au/travel/story/0,28318,24696478-5014090,00.html

Obviously Canada is pandering to American consumerism...Mexico's tourism agencies should be worried!

4:51 AM  
Anonymous raquelita said...

Thanks for the Murrow sheep/wolf quote.

Judging bu Obama's first appointments I'm afraid you may be right about his being a conservative with a human face (excuse me if I'm misquoting your actual words). I hope he can manage to preserve the goodwill his election evoked abroad instead of dissipating it as did GWB after 9/11. If Obama succeeds in closing Guantanamo and takes advantage of any opportunity to promote civil liberties in making Supreme Court appointments, those will be positive outcomes. Poco a poco may have to be better than nothing at all.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hola Raquelita,

y gracias por escribir. If I read the NY Times and Wash Post correctly, the future Obama admin is basically a recycled Clinton admin with a few GW Bush key players thrown in for good measure. "Change" my pompis, is all I can say. This guy is nothing but a false dawn, and the projection onto him of a Savior role by millions of deluded Americans will be a major embarrassment to them 2 years hence. In four years, they'll be on the hunt for a new savior, as the country continues to go down the drain. Keep in mind 2 crucial quotes: "American politics consists of one political party with two right wings" (Gore Vidal); "If we keep voting for the lesser of two evils, how come things keep getting worse?" (Dick Gregory).

Have you thought of voting with your feet?

Best,
mb

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Chicago John said...

Dr. Berman,

I don’t consider myself any kind of intellectual, but I am astonished at the complete lack of basic human curiosity in most of my countrymen. What is even more disturbing than their understanding of geography is the widespread inability of Americans to do anything practical. Try finding someone under 40 who can reattach a button or remove a stain; few can cook, maintain, or repair anything, not to mention properly budget a household.

In DAA you mentioned splitting wood. Growing up, my brother and I had to split the wood used to heat our home. Repetitive, mundane tasks provide a time for meditation (when you are alone) and discussion (when you have help). Sure we weren’t debating the merits of Kant out in the woodshed, but it certainly forced us to interact and cooperate, not to mention it gave our minds some valuable time to wander.

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris, You and some of your readers may like this assessment of where we are at, and why.

www.ispeace723.org/gcfprinciples2.html

And what we can do about it--everybody all at once and Zero-Point re-education.

The election of Obama at least provides a window of opportunity for something completely different to emerge.

McCain and the GOP were fully committed to continuing all of the pathologies listed on the above reference.

Plus a new video and e-book which makes some surprising connections between what we put in our mouths, how it gets there, and to global politics altogether, including global warming and our disease patterns.

http://adelicatebalance.com.au

It is all one inter-related essentially death-infused negative pattern, created or patterned by what Lewis Mumford called the Invisible Megamachine---the Myth of the Machine.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Thank you for your input. I agree with Mumford that the US is governed now by the death instinct, and I agree that McCain was offering more of the same. But I don't agree with you that Obama is offering anything substantially different. To me, he is just McCain (or Bush) with a human face. You may recall during the debates in October, Obama cited the 25% energy figure that the US burns up (25% of the world's use, in other words), and unlike Jimmy Carter, he didn't say, "This has got to stop." Far from it. His "debate" with McCain was over the means whereby this rate of consumption could continue (e.g. alternative energy sources); nothing else. And now we see that Obama's appointees are largely recycled Clintonites, from an administration whose goal was to "grow the economy." Some key players are even from the Bush admin, in fact. There are very few voices suggesting that there is something wrong with unlimited growth, because that is really the American Dream, when you get down to it--a sacred cow that can't be challenged. Unlike Carter, Obama wants to stay in power, and that means honoring sacred cows. And he will, rest assured. Carter lost the presidency for the sake of the nation; Obama won't be making that mistake. His historical function, in fact, will be to preside over our demise--a funeral director, as it were.

But the US is not the rest of the world, and that's why the author you refer to has got it somewhat wrong. Things are a lot more nuanced than 'armageddon around the corner', so to speak. What he says applies to China, because China is little more than the US in Mandarin; it's goal is economic and technological expansion, and it has no moral center. But the case of Europe, for example, is a bit more complicated--a consumer society, to be sure, but it has other values as well. The same might be said of Latin America. New Zealand has different values from Australia--etc.

And then there is the question of the wisdom of going down the 'world government' path; the remedy could well be worse than the disease, given the totalitarian possibilities of such an entity.

My own hope would be for a revival of some pre-modern traditions: the values of care, craft, quality, silence, meditation, community, and so on. But it's a long shot, to be sure. When you see people talking on cell phones in St. Patrick's cathedral, you know the US is lost. It may be possible in other parts of the world, but the most likely scenario is that of 'Brave New World', in which Huxley pictured those with counter-cultural values living on the margins of society, herded into something like Indian reservations. This type of orientation may become more attractive as the dominant culture continues to break down, but even with severe 'nodal' crashes, it will still be a long-term process.

Which brings up the case of the Middle Ages...surely a major culture-shift, but it took two to three centuries, plus a major population reduction (the Plague) to accomplish. My own worry is not the length of time per se, but the possibility that the shift will be *more* in the direction of the Megamachine, of scientific abstraction: a Blade Runner world. In the meantime, I suspect that most of us will just muddle through.

Food for thought, anyway.

mb

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

In two years along with the shock of the economic meltdown will be books exposing where all the money went from this bailout (oops, I mean "rescue")and how, as usual, the perpetrators stroll away scot-free, cash and reputation, slightly soiled, but intact. But then again, the American public may not even notice if the celebrities on Dancing with the Stars put on a good show. While the news centered on the callousness of the Big Three auto maker CEO's jetting to DC, maybe it should have demanded more of it's viewers----why were so many seduced by SUVs,the refusal to look at our own greedy consumption habits and what would a responsible vehicle look like and be, etc. I'll bet you're really, really glad you live in Mexico now. Smart move.
To John in Chicagoland---when I was in high school all the girls had to take home economics and the boys, shop and auto mechanics. After the women's equality movement these were dropped and replaced with (as far as I could tell from raising daughters) organized sports and, other than learning computer skills, nothing practical was offered. So here we are---no one can boil an egg, hem a skirt, change a tire or the oil but everyone can play basketball.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

I moved to the suburbs for good schools etc., and I will get those. Even in the city there is little "community" just lots of discordant atoms running around. You don't really "know" anyone. Maybe small towns are still o.k. in the U.S., I really don't know. The cities and suburbs are dead. Thank god for schools. They seem to be the only vestiges of community left, and yes, don't forget churches, etc. I just couldn't stomach the true believers in any religion. The same trends are happening in Germany, but Germans do have tight childhood friends, and they rarely move far from their childhood friends and family. It was only in the small villages of Ireland that I witnessed what community used to look like. Returning to America from Donegal was a rude awakening let me tell you. The Irish may not live long. (drinking, smoking, bad food, etc.)Yet they live more in one year than most Americans do in ten. The last time I went to Dublin, they are becoming more Yuppie: not talking to strangers, taking themselves too seriously, etc. Maybe affluence and comfortable housing kills communities. If you don't need to borrow the sugar, why talk to anyone? I'm sure poor African villages are full of storytelling, friends, and close family. The modern western industrialized world is a lonely place.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan and Anon,

There might be some hope for the US if Americans really understood how sad and empty this kind of life really is. But the propaganda is so strong it isn't even recognized as propaganda, and as long as Americans can get hold of a pet, Prozac, and the latest electronic gadget, they won't object to the Coca-Donald Society. In fact, they'll continue to believe that this is the best of all possible worlds. I recall when Mother Teresa was here some years ago, her remarking how spiritually impoverished the place was. I'm guessing that less than .1% of the population understood what she meant by that.

Onward and Downward,
mb

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

These are your neighbors, too:

"NEW YORK (AP) – Police were reviewing video from surveillance cameras in an attempt to identify who trampled to death a Wal-Mart worker after a crowd of post-Thanksgiving shoppers burst through the doors at a suburban store and knocked him down. [...]

Kimberly Cribbs, who witnessed the stampede, said shoppers were acting like 'savages'.
'When they were saying they had to leave, that an employee got killed, people were yelling "I've been on line since yesterday morning,'" she said. 'They kept shopping'."

Happy holidays, everyone!

9:36 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kev-

Another example of history repeating itself. Exact same thing happened five yrs ago to the day; see DAA, p. 237. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "Thus consumerism doth make morons of us all."

Yes, happy holidays!

mb

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More food for thought, regarding one reader's link to adelicatebalance.com.au : on this website we are informed that "the only hope for the planet is if people give up meat and dairy." Yes, the factory farm system is immoral, unsustainable and unhealthy. And many of us would love to live in a world where we could thrive on nuts and berries alone; but the science of human nutrition tells us otherwise.

As a counterbalance, then, to this line of thinking, other readers might be better served by checking out the website of the Weston A. Price Foundation- westonaprice.org They provide useful information on viable options such as community supported agriculture, pasture-fed livestock and raw dairy production.

Gary Snyder wrote: "Otherworldly philosophies end up doing more damage to the planet (and human psyches) than the pain and suffering that is in the existential conditions they seek to transcend." But I'm afraid that, the worse things get, the more wishful thinking we'll see.

4:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Snyder's remark has been said by wise men and women all through the ages, to no effect. What people seek above all is redemption, and it is that search that is the most damaging of all. Hence, no end to gurus and visionaries, who are probably the most destructive folks around.

In "The Future of an Illusion," Freud made some remark that it will be very difficult for neurotics once they are able to see through their neuroses; they won't know what to do, he said. The reply came from some Jungian analyst (whose name I forget), reviewing the book, who commented: "The greatest illusion of all is the belief that people will someday give up their illusions."

I guess I should probably shut down this blog, move to Oregon, and grow rhubarb. My mother told me to be a plumber, but did I listen?

mb

5:56 PM  
Anonymous Melker63 said...

Do a Google-search on "Big Bailouts, Bigger Bucks" to get some food for thoughts on the concept of diminishing returns.

5:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Gary Snyder wrote: "Otherworldly philosophies end up doing more damage to the planet (and human psyches) than the pain and suffering that is in the existential conditions they seek to transcend." But I'm afraid that, the worse things get, the more wishful thinking we'll see."

I guess the economic meltdown might persuade the New Agers that "oneness" and "interconnectedness" are oppressive and terrible doctrines. All of our lives are in the hands of a bunch of Wall Street assholes and it is truly scary. When the chips are down, lets see if the Oprahs and Chopras really believe their "oneness of being" doctrines and are willing to spread the wealth that they have accumulated by ripping off millions of suckers.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Melker63 said...

Ano: I guess the economic meltdown might persuade the New Agers that "oneness" and "interconnectedness" are oppressive and terrible doctrines."

I say get rid of the dirty bathwater, but dont throw out the baby while you do it. ;-)

Powerhungry and unscrupulous people may still rule the world for a while. But only at an increasingly self-compromising moral cost - for an evermore interconnected worldwide public to view and feel the consequences of. Also; evermore desperate and threadbared camouflage-techniques is needed to help their show stagger along to its pitiful end.

Neither of above two facts bodes well for the idea of those with the sharpest elbows shall forever rule our civilisations destiny.

Infact, I view ALL humanistic progress throughout history and nearest future, as result of an indirect process. Not primarily as a direct process lead by starry-eyed idealists, but an indirect process where the most powerhungry always gets their chance first to thoroughly compromise themselves over and over. Gradualy the more wise and meak gaines terrain - until the latter categorys final moral meltdown.

Then "the meek" shall inherit the world (and it wont be the openly religious ones by the way).

3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is that corporate America has largely succeeded in infiltrating the educational system and it has resulted in intelligence being defined in a mechanical way that doesn't really exemplify intelligence at all. Chris Hedges hits the nail on the head:

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20081208_hedges_best_brightest/

5:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Actually, if you just walk down the street (in the US, that is) imagining that you are surrounded by clowns, it gets a lot easier. It's also pretty much the case. The stats on American stupidity now approach vertiginous levels; soon, there will be no one left to record this (cf. 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers').

mb

12:47 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

Yes, I happen to agree that "oneness" and "interconnectedness" are oppressive as well as anything else that is considered PC.
In many schools today they have these "zero tolerance policy" and "bully free" doctrines. Every year someone, usually the guidance councilor, comes in and gives a speech about acceptance and basically tells all the children that everyone is supposed to be friends with everyone.
The problems I am noticing with all of this is they don't actually solve anything, they just seem to make things worse. The bullying as I am told now occurs almost always outside of school and is much worse. It really is no wonder why today's youngsters don't have any passion when we now live in a society we're a boy can get kicked out of school for writing a love note to his girlfriend, because it's considered sexual harassment (it happened in a school close to where I live).
Kids don't understand anymore that some teasing is considered beneficial and healthy, nor do they understand why not everyone wants to be their friend.
A lot of schools don't give out F's any more or use red ink when grading papers, because they believe that it harms a child's psyche, nor is it acceptable anymore to give a child a swat on the rear end if they may need it, but it is perfectly acceptable to give them ritalin or some other behavior altering drug.
Don't get me wrong by no means am I all for bullying, no I believe that it is heinous and should be punished. But I also believe that "zero tolerance" and "bully free", as well as the drugs, are just band aids on a mortal wound. Instead of creating a more understanding public, instead they are creating a more hostile, more gullible one.

11:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Heather,

This is another reason why I feel US society is permanently broken. We have no tradition of community, solidarity, or even friendship, and so when we try to do it it comes off as enforced, artificial. Where else would 'human potential' groups on 'how to relate' arise, for example? Or phoney imitations of Native American customs? It's all touching, in a way, but since competition and basically aggressive behavior have been the American norm since the 1790s, how in the world can these behavior mod tricks change all of that? Kindness exists in the US, of course, but it is basically accidental. Community shows up as pseudo-community, and friendship is a struggle, because it moves against the grain. So political correctness is literally the best we can do. This is a society one has to weep for.

mb

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Morris Berman wrote:

"It's all touching, in a way, but since competition and basically aggressive behavior have been the American norm since the 1790s [...]"

Here's something similar that I wrote a while back, when I was undertaking an analysis of "the American character" (feel free not to post this message if it seems too long, though):


COMPETITIVE AND AGGRESSIVE

Many of the above-mentioned traits [of Americans] relate to status anxiety, and, in adults, arise from lack of job security and of a viable and humane "social safety net".

These qualities also relate to Americans' materialistic, externally driven nature. There is intense competition for scarce resources that reflect achievement and offer social status and security. Two resultant paradoxes:

A) Such qualities often conflict with Americans' deep need to be liked and approved;

B) Although Americans are often competitive or aggressive, they generally dislike and are embarrassed by direct interpersonal conflict and disagreement (Exceptions: Situations that provide anonymity, such as driving and "road rage").

These paradoxes are a tremendous source of interpersonal tension in American society.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

I listen to my co-workers and neighbors and, although they're educated, know what orbits what and can find Iraq on a map, the level of denial is astounding. I'm not trying to be gloomy but let's face it----we're trillions of dollars in debt, have no real health care system, our auto industry is about to collapse and the price of oil is only temporarily suppressed. Yet person after person say the same thing--"yes, we're in a recession, but it will be over in a year". On Sixty Minutes the other night the Saudia Arabian oil minister was interviewed and he gave all the usual reassurances that we'd have unlimited, cheap oil. He then went on to show a new oil field where extraction was really difficult and expensive----do Americans honestly think this will never be passed on to the consumer? Our gullibility has been a safe bet so far, hasn't it? We can't live on credit, we can't take a pill and our illnesses and problems will evaporate, we can't believe everything we're told just b/c they're wearing expensive clothes and attended impressive universities. Our faith in the power of positive (magical) thinking will be our undoing, I'm afraid.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Our faith in the power of positive (magical) thinking will be our undoing, I'm afraid."

Blame the epitome of modern magical thinking: neo-liberal economics. This current crisis should hammer home the point that the differential equation works well in physics, but that it is pure pseudoscience when used in the social "sciences."

9:31 PM  
Blogger Wendy Koenigsmann (Cruelty-Free Lifestyle) said...

Who are the people agreeing with your blog posts? I haven't met any in "real life" and have been searching for such intelligent and thoughtful people since college without avail. Not to sound or seem rude, but these few people who read your blog must be very rare indeed.

I have a sort of dilemma about how I'm supposed to feel about all of this. I want to like and be nice to people, but when they treat me like an outcast for being "weird" (I read a lot of books, care about social issues, etc.) then I sort of get turned off and I'm not sure if I can really "like" people in general anymore. I only seem to end up being used by those who I am nice to, because I can offer them something for free or whatever else. A meal ticket, right? Meanwhile I'm trying to become a more "spiritual" person, only to become more hateful. Sort of like Harry Haller in the book Steppenwolf.

Are we "critical ones" all becoming misanthropists, and, is that such a bad thing anymore? Sounds so horrible to be this jaded at an early age, but this is where I'm heading . . .

5:14 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Wendy,

Good question! Here's how I figure it: In a nation of 300 million people, DAA sold 30,000 copies, or .01% of the population bought it. This is roughly equivalent to what Dennis Kucinich received in the Democratic primary in '07, so I call my tiny sliver of fans the "Kucinich vote." That minuscule number of people have one of two options: 1st, vote with their feet--i.e., leave the country and go live somewhere else; 2nd, follow the path of the "NMI" outlined in the Twilight book. I chose the first, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each, quite obviously; it's a personal decision.

The advantage to leaving is that you don't have to be surrounded by Americans anymore! As a result, your misanthropy drops off dramatically. Suddenly, the people around you are gracious, intelligent, and refreshingly unbrainwashed. Not all of them, of course, and not everywhere; but you'll be amazed how great it feels not to be ensconced in a homogeneous world.

Some of my readers suggested I provide a list of email addresses of the folks who write in, so that these "Kucinites" can band together. I notice you are pursuing a cruelty-free lifestyle. I think that the Kucinites want to pursue a dolt-free lifestyle, actually have a few intelligent conversations. The problem is that (a) I don't have anybody's email address; (b) most correspondents tend to sign in as Anonymous. So I guess this idea is dead in the water. What I wish folks would do is write in to address the comments of others (this happens once in a while), so that we get a little cross-fertilization going. Everyone can also write their address to me at mauricio@morrisberman.com, and I can connect those who want to be connected. Whatever works is fine by me.

Keep in mind that trying to be spiritual in the US is--to quote the 1st Zen master who came to the US (he died in 1945)--like holding a lotus to a rock, and hoping that somehow the energy will take. Not bloody likely, eh wot?

Stay in touch-
mb

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

It's always been difficult to find like minded people who're interested in ideas, read the news or want to discuss anything other than superficial crap. You'll never find very many, Wendy, but don't use that as a reason to become embittered or a misanthrope. I've lived in primarily in the South (mostly Texas) since I was nine so I know quite a bit about the lack of intellectual stimulation-----in fact, just today I got an email from an old friend explaining why Texas should secede from the union (b/c Barack HUSSIEN Obama was now president elect)which, I hope, was a joke but you can't be sure. Only fifty miles away is another friend who recommended Dr. Berman's books and lives in a small, dreary Texas town. You will meet people you can connect with and there are probably alot more in Mexico or DC or Portland than there are in Houston but it's never hopeless. As far as a spiritual journey (please excuse the cliche)one of the best I've read is The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Diamond Geezer said...

Hello Wendy and Dr. Berman,

I think there are quite a few people who agree with most of the posts on this blog. I would also like to live a life that is centered more around kindness and treating other people with respect. Unfortunately it seems that in America its more important to make sure you (and only you) are doing well. Helping others here is not really seen as worthwhile occupation.

Honestly i feel it is impossible to change this society its so firmly grounded in people taking advantage of one another. We are definitely not encouraged to treat each other well. It seems to be setup on the concept of 'survival of the fittest' and if you are at the bottom its your fault.

I have a similar background to the President Elect (I'm also multi-racial). My mum is Irish/English and my dad is African American. I grew in England during the 70s and 80s and i should feel good that someone like me is President...right? But Obama honestly doesn't fill me with any confidence. I see the cabinet appointments and the rhetoric and it looks like more of the same.

Its the whole system that needs to change and you can't do that from within. A more humanistic society (in my opinion) can only be achieved by people working outside the mainstream. Of course this has been tried and the individuals that attempted it ended up in jail, dead or part of the system they were trying to change.

Wendy...you are more than welcome to email me at zuberi02@yahoo.com if you want to talk sometime. I have also sent my email address to Dr. Berman.

Take Care,

Mark

12:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Glad you guys are starting to get together, that would be great. I'm only too happy to serve as an email address broker. I tell you, anyone who thinks Obama is going to change anything (for good or bad; which amounts to 99.9% of the US population) needs to have their head examined.

Meanwhile, I just arrived in Ushuaia, which is a trip and a half (google it, see what I mean). Even at the ends of the earth, I have to listen to gangsta rap and people on cell phones. Why don't I just shoot myself, and get it over with?

But I'm reading a fascinating book, "In the Jaws of the Dragon," by Eammon Fingleton. Highly recommended. It should be called "Chumps in Action," a study of our ridiculous misreading of the Far East...like we do everywhere else.

OK, I'm feeling the need for a glacier sandwich, so I'll sign out now. Keep the faith.

mb

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that so many of us writing into this blog took different paths to becoming "educated." My father had a Swedish girlfriend who exposed him to more intellectual types, and thus began my father's real education, and eventually, my own. I also lived in Germany for a few years, and say what you want about the Germans, but they aren't a bunch a dummies, at least not in the late 1980s when I was there. To be intelligent, surrounded by a bunch of morons is nothing new in human history. Look at the movie, "Tombstone" starring Val Kilmer. There was Doc Holliday, educated in Greek and Latin, surrounded by a bunch of yahoos in the Wild West. I don't think you have to find a super intellectual husband or wife either. I actually think that those power couples don't last long (Sylvia Plath, etc.) Too much imagination doesn't help you live in a mundane marriage. All marriages are boring, but I digress. I actually find it relaxing to be around my practical wife who thinks about food. She takes care of the micro and I can think about the macro. I don't need an intellectual sparring partner 24 hours a day. You can connect with people on many different levels, and you don't have to find intellectual equals in all of your friends.

John in Chicagoland

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Melker63 said...

What is the future of the mankind anyway?

Well, one thing is for sure: Its very easy to either go defiantly hopeful based on blurry emotions alone - or dystopic based on intelligence alone. Lets try out a synthesis of emotion and logic; a third way perhaps.

First off: The mammal we call Homo Saphiens can (at her best) see logical contexts and coherences with her "inner eyes", so to speak. We often dont think about it, but this is an almost unfathomably impossible/Godlike ability seen from the instinct-carried, but logic-blind animals viewpoint.

Now above is a good evolutionary milestone - but what can we still not "see" yet?

Isnt it the ability to actually SEE - not just instinctively "believe", but to fully overview and clearly understand the very meaning and purpose of absolutely everything, including life and destiny itself? Even more: an understanding resulting in the grand finale conclusion: "everything is very god"?

My point is that it is almost just as hard for modern man to grasp above "impossible/Godlike" ability as a result of a near-future evolutionary braketrough, as it is for the pure animal to fathom the idea of "logical thinking".

So what stopping mankind at this point? Well, the words "You cannot increase your knowledge above a certain point without also develop your moral", might give us a clue.

Unfortunatelly one cannot "develop the moral" in the same direct way as one can train and develop the intelligence. Instead, as I suggested in my previous post, increasing the moral (both indevidual and society-based) is a much more indirect process there one have learn mostly from painfull selfcompromising mistakes. Compare: "the rejected stone that becomes the cornerstone".

Finally: lets insert and combine above ideas with the suggestion that the whole evolution might be devided in two eras - just as any indevidual mans life is divided between 9 months in the dark womb, and 70+ years outside in the light. Mankind can in this model be considered to be a "wounded refugee" between two "kingdoms", so to speak: right between the animal kingdom behind her, and a real humanistic and high-intellectual future global civilization in front of her - although she cannot see the horisontal silhouette of the latter quite yet.

By the way: have a nice christmas all of you!

And remember: we may have the lowest temperatures peaking in late january and februari, despite getting past the winter solstice long before that. The same could perhaps be said about mankinds nearest future. But is that proof against a succeeding spring and summer for mankind?

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Sorry, Dr. Berman, don't expect my sympathy. We're all listening to gangsta rap and cell phone conversations too without the beautiful scenery and charming city to stroll around in. Does the trip include a visit to Antartica? When I win the lottery, that's one of the places I plan to see. I hope you have a great trip and the weather's perfect for you and your family. Happy Holidays!

9:48 AM  
Anonymous David G. said...

Greetings Dr. Berman,

I have been keeping up with your blog and comments for many months now. Thank you. The ideas you put forth resonate with what I experience in the world.

I am a social worker who serves frail elderly adults and their caregivers. I love my work. It has always been important for me to live a life that contributes, in some small way, to making the world a better place in which to live. Beyond my work, I believe it is also essential that we treat in other with as much respect and kindness as possible. I become discouraged when I see others not even make the effort to be civil, let alone kind. Selfishness angers me. I know it is a "pie in the sky" dream, but if more people were able to place value on things beyond mere self-interest, we would all be much, much better off. It sounds simplistic, but seems to be very difficult to achieve. I will add that I have also observed many acts of heroic kindness. I just wish there would be more.

Sincerely,

David G.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

The DAA community getting together to talk would be wonderful, but I wonder if what we have in common would be outweighed by our differences. I recently wrote in, anonymously, about nutrition and wishful thinking. On the issue of food alone, I can imagine vegans arguing with paleos quarreling with macrobiotics. Food fight! But at least we'd be talking about something real.

Now, concerning that .01% you keep referencing: I think there's a lot more of us. More than that are reading Gore Vidal, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Chris Hedges. Ralph Nader got 1% of the vote. Doesn't that cheer you up?

7:37 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

I'm cheered up; tho I'm not sure that that 1% has any other option than to leave the country or become an NMI. What is *not* an option is Obama's famous promise: change (unless it's cosmetic or negative or very short term).

mb

7:31 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

There's a third option, along with leaving the country or becoming an NMI: moving to another place within the US. Places where that 1% are more like 10%, perhaps. Places such as Portland,OR; Ithaca,NY; Kamuela,HI; or New England. Trying to be an NMI in Daytona Beach,Florida is no fun at all. But then there are issues of affordability, leaving family, etc. No easy way out. As the holiday song goes: "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams".

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman,

This comment may make me sound like a survivalist nut, but I assure all of you that I have not built my bunker and gathered my weapons yet... How bad could this transformation become? I met a guy who told me that if we do go into a depression level world there could be anarchy. He doesn't believe that there are enough police to control everyone if young people started rampaging a la Katrina (almost), or the riots in L.A. It makes sense to me on some rational level. How long can the government print funny money? People during the Depression probably had better values, religion, community spirit, etc. that prevented them from really rioting. Will America go peacefully into Second, or Third world status? If you base a whole country on getting "rich" (at least the illusion) then doesn't it make sense that people will freak out if it doesn't go that way? This old wise man also told me that it took a war to get out of the Great Depression, and it would take another great war to
1. kill off enough excess population
2. reconstitute some kind of industrial base
3. eliminate the competition (Japan and Germany in WWII)
We do have the population for an industrial society, but way too many for a service type of economy. What do you envision happening in the next ten years or so? Or will this be very gradual? It seems to be coming on very quickly.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

I expect there will be certain nodes, or points of discontinuity--like the crash of last October--but these will be "punctuation marks" in a rather gradual disintegration. I don't have a crystal ball, of course, but I'm guessing the US will follow the pattern of Rome, not of the USSR. As a result, I think the population will be pretty passive, and continue to collude in the general decline. Not a pretty picture, but I personally doubt it will be a violent one. And a character like Obama is perfect for presiding over the decline, when you think about it (in general, Republicans are bigger fools then Dems, but who knows who will succeed B.O.).

In any event, your best bet might be to find somewhere else to live. "Fun" is not exactly on the American agenda, I fear.

mb

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Interestingly enough, there were two articles in the Washington Post this morning about the changing scene in America. One was on the disappearing way of life in Chesapeake Bay and the other on rising property crime in the DC area. The only way the people in one Maryland town were able to survive was by turning the town into a Disneyland-like recreation of the past----how pathetic that this passes as "life" after the real charm and vibrancy has been destroyed. The other was about scared people arming themselves rather than building community ties and strong neighborhoods to ensure their mutual safety. I don't think Americans are much given to rioting for better living conditions. Look at Detroit or the horrible ghettos in our cities----the crime rate is high and poverty is endemic but there are no marches on city hall or the capital. Of course, all of that could change if some non-Obama types emerged and galvanized the poor but my guess is that these men would be quickly silenced (accused of being "terrorists")and the deteriorating status quo would be restored. I guess we'll all get to find out what the future holds.

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I've been following this discussion ever since reading Dr. Berman's books & sadly agreeing with their conclusions.

While we watch very little TV these days, using it primarily as a DVD player for classic films -- I'm immersing myself in Kurosawa & Fellini right now -- I do pay special attention to the content & format of "news," entertainment, and commercials.

What strikes me most strongly is the desperate craving for comforting illusion. Not only that, but illusion at the lowest common denominator. There's such a hunger to imitate anything & everything famous, without ever having to do any real work to get there ...

For example, video games like "Guitar Hero," or shows like "American Idol" -- all based on imitating popular, proven commodities. For "Guitar Hero," you don't even have to possess rudimentary musical skills, such as an average cover band might need -- but then, the goal isn't learning music, much less creating it. The goal is to bask in imitation celebrity, to "be somebody" for a brief time. Our national drug of choice, it would seem.

Just this morning, while checking the day's weather, some morning show (they're all the same) touted a new use for Wii: now you can create your own "Jackson Pollack-style" paintings. You don't need artistic skill or vision. Why bother? They've got a machine that'll do it for you. Picasso, Rembrandt, Klee, you name it. I'm just waiting for Thomas Kinkade to market his "Painter of Light" software at this point. That'll be far mor popular, I'm sure.

The same morning show also had a story on the new "Transformers" movie, made with the full cooperation of the US military, giving Marines the chance to act in it. At the same time, a companion story happily shows us how Wii technology can be used in actual warfare. (We've already see violent videogames being used as training devices by the military, of course.)

In all of this we see the continual homogenization of entertainment & reality. Everything is a game, an illusion, something to remove you from all worries or concerns -- just as any good drug should, right? Best of all, you never have to think about anything!

I fully expect that companies are even now working on ways in surgically implant cellphones, iPods, Internet access -- and that masses will eagerly pay fortunes to be truly wired in. Hmmm, this is essentially the origin of the dreaded Borg from "Star Trek," don't you think?

But my sarcasm is a very nervous whistling past the digital graveyard, where the living dead are busily texting, downloading, and handing control of their lives & their culture over to their corporate masters. Or is that owners? All in exchange for a ceaseless hologram of happiness they've been trained to crave, one that'll simply make them all the more dependent on it.

And yet, what else is there to do but strive to live as meaningful a life as possible? Which is why I try to encourage younger friends & family to look beyond the bubble of mass-marketed soma. Because as Dr. Berman has said, quoting Lew Welch: "And now and then a son, a daughter, hears it. Now and then a son, a daughter gets away."

Maybe that's the best we can do.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Claude said...

I still don't know how properly to participate in this to-and-fro; but here goes another attempt.

There's an interesting article in the current Atlantic Monthly (which can be found at: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/01/schwarzlayne.htm) which seems, on a partial reading, to locate the U.S.'s assumption of a global role in order merely to protect itself back in the criminal and catastrophic war in and on Vietnam. Unfortunately, the author was something of an oh-so-reluctant hawk on this west Asian war (http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/01/schwarzlayne.htm), so anything he says may need to be viewed with skepticiam.

Still, even a warped tool may be useful. Fodder, at least, for thought.

In closing, does nobody here think that governmental torture might be another sign of the decay of empire (the subject of my previous post)? Cynicism, apathy, coruption --- might brutality be added to the signs of cultural dissolution?

Sorry so wordy,
Claude Horvath

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Claude,

Brutality is definitely a sign of cultural dissolution. It manifests in every corner of contemporary culture, from film (torture porn like the "Saw" movies & their ilk), to TV (not just shows like "24," but so-called "reality" shows that revel in the humiliation of others & invite viewers to do the same), to computer games (mostly of the "shoot 'n' kill everyone" variety), to music (glorifying "gangsta" life & the crassification of sexuality), to comic books (superheroes gleefully smashing, dismembering, killing villains in the name of "realism") -- but need we go on?

I know, the retort is, "We're just reflecting the world around us." There may even be a bit of truth in that -- but even so, there's a big difference between drawing moral attention to cruelty & brutality, and simply wallowing in it.

Do you know what it is, really? Laziness. Intellectual, moral laziness. It requires absolutely no effort, no risk, to indulge in a glib, detached cynicism that hasn't even been earned by the crushing of deeply-held ideals, or by bitter experience. It's what a generation has been fed from birth -- and as we know, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

I laugh (sourly) when so many creative people proclaim how edgy & daring their work is, how they're pushing the envelope, and so forth. First of all, it's almost always mass-produced, corporate-approved crap. And in any case, what's so daring about creating what everyone else is creating, knowing that your peers will embrace it? Frankly, I think that creating something of genuine beauty & depth is what's truly transgressive & taboo today!

Tim Lukeman

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I laugh (sourly) when so many creative people proclaim how edgy & daring their work is, how they're pushing the envelope, and so forth. First of all, it's almost always mass-produced, corporate-approved crap."


What do you expect in a society that only cares about producing mechanized minds for the capitalist meat market? I think back to the agonizing period in my 20s when I was forced to suppress my real intellectual interests in order to pursue a "practical education" (getting a law degree) by my relatives. Years later, I am stuck with a well paying but completely unfulfilling and mind numbing career that has negatively impacted most of the other areas of my life. It's sad that our educational system has repudiated humanistic ideals and embraced the corporate influenced goals of creating an elite class of producers and consumers.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Time for me to suggest a couple of films relevant to this topic: "Big Night," with Stanley Tucci, and "Mr. Holland's Opus," with Richard Dreyfuss. Highly recommended.--mb

4:19 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

"I laugh (sourly) when so many creative people proclaim how edgy & daring their work is, how they're pushing the envelope, and so forth. First of all, it's almost always mass-produced, corporate-approved crap."
AS an artist and a lover of film and music. I had to laugh when I read this. The first person I thought of was Madonna. To think many of her fans will nw=ever know what true art is.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tim,

Violence and brutality are "natural." Civilization is just a thin veil over our beastial selves. Violence and brutality, like it or not, are integral parts of being human. Laws, civilization, education are things that try to temper this blood lust, etc. Getting older also helps calm it down. Our ancestors killed, raped, and destroyed for thousands of years in tribal warfare. Today mostly males find catharsis via violent video games, films, violent sports, etc. I don't find it so terrible. There should be an outlet. People have been violent way before video games and rap music. Look deep into yourself. I have a graduate degree, but I still remember the few street fights I had as a younger man, how alive you felt, how intoxicating those experiences were, how "high" you were for the rest of the day. Study your history. Brutality and violence have also been with us and always will be. We aren't a species of labrador dogs, we are a brutal, predator ape. Just because you can imagine goodness and kindness, don't kid yourself. All people are selfish and don't give a crap about you. It's this way all over the world. If someone dies (not family) they may act sad, but mostly they are sad because they imagine what would it be like if it happened to them. Here are my two books: "The Murderer Next Door" Buss and "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Carnegie. I believe Dale Carnegie wrote, "people care more about a bump on their own head than a thousand strangers dying." Now, there is some truth.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Happily, the picture is a lot more complex than that. Check out a book I wrote 9 yrs ago, "Wandering God"; it might change your perspective on the human condition.

Thanks for writing,
mb

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Anon, If you believe people to be selfish and violent why do you want to win them as friends or influence them as people? Yes, we all, to a person. look out for ourselves and I don't deny that. That's a basic survival skill and with the breakdown of community, and sometimes family, support sometimes that's what has to happen. Here's a story for you: a man awoke from a dream and described it to his son---"two wolves were fighting, one was good and the other was evil. When his son asked, which won? he replied--the one I fed." Violent video games and the like take a more insidious toll than you realize.

8:11 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Susan W. wrote:

"If you believe people to be selfish and violent why do you want to win them as friends or influence them as people?"

Perhaps to use whatever techniques he can to blunt their wolfishness.

"Violent video games and the like take a more insidious toll than you realize."

I've heard this assertion for decades, with regard to different media. It's a pity that there are absolutely no hard, unequivocal data to support it. For every study you can cite that finds a correlation between exposure to violent media and anti-social behavior, I can cite one that shows no such correlation (let alone causation, which is another matter, entirely).

At any rate, Anon may have exaggerated his point for emphasis, but it remains a valid one. The beast in man must receive his due, as much as the angel, and to pretend that one can exist without the other is risibly idealistic. The question is, how best do we satisfy the beast?

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Kevin and Dr. Berman,
The problem with winning friends and influencing people to change them (even for the better)is that it relies on manipulation no matter what the technique is called. The people I've wanted to be friends with and who've influenced me have done so by their example and by simply being themselves with no ulterior motive attached. To set out with an agenda of "winning friends and influencing people" is an ulterior motive no mater how well meaning the individual might be. If I want to blunt another's wolfishness I have to deal with my own first---look at all the so-called motivational speakers/ministers whose personal lives don't bear scrutiny. I'm not idealistic and know my own personal wolf is in no danger of starvation or even applying for food stamps; and I hope, I certainly try, to understand how difficult it is for all of us to deal with our own greed, self interest and fear. As for violent video games, there'll probably never be a definitive study backing either side of the argument. I'm basing my opinion on observation and the belief (perhaps erroneous) that how we spend our time has an impact on our behavior and our view of the world. I don't like games where people are presented as targets---even imaginary ones. I don't deny man's aggressive impluses but how a person channels them would seem to me to be an individual decision and best not left to society to choose for him. It does seem to be a dilema that primarily men face and I'll bet there are lots who feel like caged animals in our cubical, work place enviornment.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dale Carnegie's timing for his classic work couldn't have been better, coming at the height of the Depression. It presented a way of dealing with other people that on one hand was very courteous, but that on the other hand was basically designed to use them for your own purposes--esp. the purposes of money and success. But even beyond the Depression, the idea fits in well with the basic US outlook on life, which is essentially instrumental and egoistic. If the goal in life is to be wealthy and successful, than other individuals cannot really be valuable in and for themselves (i.e., in a spiritual or emotional sense), but only for what they can do for my "agenda". And I have to tell you the truth: I have met very few Americans in my lifetime who were not running some sort of agenda, no matter how muted or disguised it was. You can certainly treat people that way; but I doubt that will ever truly win you any friends.

Just a thought.

-mb

5:19 PM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Kevin,
While there may be no conclusive proof that violent video games produce violent behavior, I maintain that the larger problem, and one not confined to only the games, but to much of today's technology, is that of social isolation. Having three children ranging in age from 15 to 24, I have seen the emergence of the new techno-world in real time, as it were. The games which started as "ping-pong while sitting" sort of stuff and which now are very vivid blood and guts shoot-em-ups have this in common; the children may sit next to one another while playing, but they aren't playing together. This is what we Moms (and child psychologists) call "parallel play". The problems I see with constant parallel play (and many of the computer games are of the same sort as well, no matter that one may play with dozens at the same time) as opposed to interactive play are that the children lose the skill to read social cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice, begin to show a lack of empathic ability, and lose a certain amount of conversational skills.
I had an interesting discussion about this with my two oldest kids and some of their friends. My kids felt that it is very true, in their experiences, that this generation has difficulty maintaining conversations of any length, solving disputes through discussion, and shows a marked lack of patience for problem solving. They also pointed out that the text message feature on most cell phones seemed to lead to quite a few broken friendships. We wondered if this may be due to a person's ability to say instantly whatever pops into mind, without having to think over the consequences of the words first. As an example; suppose, when I was a kid, lo those many years ago, a friend had chosen to sit with someone else at lunch and my feelings were hurt. I would have had to sit through afternoon classes and a long bus ride home before I might be able to use the phone and call her to express my feelings. This forced wait would give me time to imagine a conversation and ponder what her reactions might be to the various ways I might express myself. Now, the kids can immediately, without aforethought, "blurt out" their first impulsive reaction through texting.
During this discussion with my sons, one of their friends present, a young woman of twenty or so, who graduated high school with the highest honors and was enrolled at a good college, but who loves her video games, kept repeating the sentence, "But there's no proof that video games lead to violent behavior." Although I tried many times to convince her that we were not arguing *that* point, she finally halted the whole conversation by bursting into tears, proclaiming that she wanted the latest game system and would therefore have it, didn't care what anybody said about "stupid societal effects" and left the table. One of my sons left to "console" her and the discussion ended. Of course, she just effectively proved the point, but that irony was lost, I fear.
It is no doubt true that most, if not all, of us have to fight selfish and/or violent impulses frequently. This may or may not be exacerbated through the viewing of certain material. However, I wonder if the more pressing issue with video games and the like might not be the loss of the ability to bond and empathize properly with other humans. In other words, the technology may not cause us to become more "wolfish" because of the content, but because we encourage the over-use of these products to the detriment of time which should be spent learning the mores of the tribe.
I am not saying the tribe is always right, or even deserves sympathy at all times; I am saying humans need to learn to read their fellow tribesmen, even if only to be able to figure out which of them *are* the wolves.
- Teri

7:50 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

There is by now a fairly large lit on how the new technology encourages isolation and depression, and has not led to "community" at all. For a recent piece that I thought quite good, see Christine Rosen, "People of the Screen," The New Atlantis, No. 22, Fall 2008, pp. 20-32 (it can be accessed online).

I always come back to that classic article by Garrett Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," which argues that any commons, or commonly shared part of society, will eventually be destroyed by individuals making individual decisions for themselves about it, out of the desire for profit, convenience, or whatever. I recall a colleague of mine a few years back buying a cell phone, out of the desire to be in constant touch with her daughter. I pointed out that as a sociologist, she ought to know better: there are social effects to giving in to this desire. She didn't really care, and most people who violate the commons don't. But the effect is clear. For example, I spent a bit of time in Barcelona in 2004, and the cell phone ratio was about 1:100. I was back a year later, and it was now 1:3. The city had gone, in those 12 mos., from a quiet and lovely place to a noisy, commercial, Catalan version of the US. End of commons.

How technology developed in the US is quite interesting, because many of the key inventions--e.g. car, TV, air conditioning, and cell phone--are all about living private lives, and destroying the commons (along with intelligence and the environment). This is not surprising, since the US ideology is one of extreme individualism, and we can expect that industry would not be pouring energy into mass transit, e.g. But the effects of a century of this type of technology are pretty clear by now, and the disease is spreading from the US to Barcelona to primitive tribes in New Guinea. A tragedy indeed.

-mb

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also agree with Teri. I wasn't promoting Dale Carnegie's book. I was simply stating that he described human nature well. Human nature, underneath all of the culture and cultural difference, is nasty, selfish, and violent. Every culture on the planet has a history of war, killing, etc. That was the point I wanted to make. Evolutionary Psychology is right on the money, but many, including Mr. Berman, don't buy it. That is the one point where I disagree with Mr. Berman.

Technology does destroy community as Mr. Berman states, and it is beaming out all over the world. To find people adept at conversation, you have to find very old people (my grandmother is 93), or you have to go to low tech countries, where people actually spend time talking to one another. Imagine that. On a recent trip to Scotland, I just hung out with the older people who could chat and weave stories in the pubs. The young Scottish kids were in American-style "bars" playing the music too loud for any conversation, and they all looked angry and aggressive. Dreams die hard, let me tell you. If I knew Glasgow was just Chicago with a funny accent, I would have saved my money. Ironically, we don't have to travel anymore. It has all become homogeneous at least in the Western world. If you become too educated, then you can't fit in anywhere, except maybe with a few colleagues in a university. I don't know. What I do know is that even top high schools are run by mostly morons, except for a few of us....

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Susan W., Teri, and Morris:

Interesting points, all. I should have added that the Dale Carnegie book makes me recall the paraphrase of Laing's concept of schizoid interaction that appears in The Reenchantment of the World.

The interesting question, to me, is not "how should we suppress 'bad' emotions and behavior", but rather, how should we give proper due to the impulses that give rise to them. For instance, social isolation is not inherently negative--indeed, I think that most people need more "alone time" and contemplation, and time away from "the human aquarium", and all of its manufactured drama.

What can be pathological, however, are the motivations behind the creation of the atomized "individual", and the forms that such types take. Even though I dare say many of us here have widely differing perspectives and values, part of what brings us "together" here is the realization that we do reside in a terminally ill society, one that has created a highly unstable and unsustainable human type: The modern egotist who is simultaneously a herd animal. How should the rest of us muddle through? That remains the question.

By the way, for an interesting perspective on the value of "disintegrative" experience, see the work of psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski, whose work is far too little known, in my opinion. The Wikipedia article on "positive disintegration" offers an excellent introduction to this concept.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Dr. Berman,
The first thing that struck me in reading the Rosen article, "People of the Screen", was that I was reading in *exactly* the manner she described; i.e., the quick scanning of the article combined with the use of the scroll bar. I have only been using a computer for several years, as I don't need one in my job, and usually limit my use to one hour a day. I have found it particularly helpful as a quick resource of news articles and like the fact that I can grab several viewpoints instantaneously on any given issue without the need to leave home to buy a couple of papers. Even with this self-enforced limited exposure, however, I have found that I have become more easily distracted while reading *real* books. Obviously, this is completely anecdotal, and the changes in my ability to concentrate may well be due to some menopausal-induced brain malfunctions rather than a re-tooling of my reading skills through the use of the computer, but I rather think not. It's not that I suddenly dislike reading, but that I am beginning to read differently, if you see what I mean.
It's sort of horrifying to a voracious, life-long reader like myself.
And how quickly the change occurs! Wow.
I sometimes wonder about future generations; if there will be some special group of scribes somewhere, mindlessly copying the "sacred shopping list" of the Blessed Leibowitz, like Brother Francis in "A Canticle for Leibowitz", in a vain effort to preserve the written word.
-Teri

7:23 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Anon,
I don't think anyone really knows conclusively what human nature is. Everyone of us can qualify to a greater or lesser degree on any given day to being selfish, nasty or violent---throw in petty, childish, pretentious,shallow,envious, easily aggrieved---well, you get the picture. It's a long list and, like someone said, no one ever lost money underestimating the public's taste so marketers understand that side of us pretty well. But even under terrible circumstances humans are also capable of selflessness, charity and generosity so this, too, must be part of human nature. In American culture, for all the reasons stated in Dr. Berman's books, it's harder to connect and express these qualities. That's the tragedy here b/c these qualities do exist and wither in isolation. As for video games they're like that kutzu vine that's rampant in Tennessee----out of control and smothering everything of value (time, energy,attention,genuine interaction)that stands in its way. Whatever value they may have like teaching good eye-hand coordination is eclipsed by the negatives---but I admit I probably can't be unbiased as I dislike them so much.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Thanks for reminding me about the film, "Big Night". What a gorgeous cinematic portrayal of many of the themes discussed in DAA. So much has been lost. Yet it's full speed ahead into the future, without any regrets. After turning off the DVD, the television was squawking about how much I could benefit from the foreclosure crisis. As Primo told his brother, "this place is eating us alive!"

1:38 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Prof. Berman and readers: another grim article about the dying of the humanities:

http://fish.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/the-last-professor/?em

I read and wept. Part of what is annoying here is that Prof. Fish holds this little frustrating description over our heads but doesn't seem to offer a value judgment either way, because Prof. Fish, I think, has already been seduced by a philosophy that wants to take off those rose-colored glasses. Trouble is (to stretch the analogy), without 'em, we're blind.

If there is any value at all in his remarks, it seems to be that the humanities are killing themselves whenever they adopt a philosophy of in-utility. So, on this reading, I think the moral may be a dilemma: adapt or perish. Problem is, you can adapt only so much until the adaptation becomes a substitution: the substance of the Humanities is finally lost, replaced by another (i.e., it becomes *just* a business). And I think the article is basically right: let's not kid ourselves, the real "purpose" of the humanities can no longer live and thrive Academia -- it already gave up the ghost (perhaps as long ago as the 1890s, as the article suggests).

To use another analogy, Academia is really a Funeral Parlor and Burial Company, hosting a series of wakes; after the two-cent minister gives us and the cadaver his blessing, we go off to bury the dead and live our "real" lives.

For me, all this just means that the tradition of authentic learning and thinking (and living, in the end) has migrated away from most if not all institutional structures in the modern world; the only hope for survival, it seems, is if this tradition goes inward (perhaps for a time), hopefully to resurface sometime in the future (I think Prof. Berman makes as sound a case, and in the clearest terms, as I've yet read).

As Heidegger actually suggests in a fascinating piece called "The Turning", I think that now is the time to do this inner work, whose fruit will hopefully be a more well-adjusted human being (now and later) -- one that can healthily engage with the gadgets and institutions that now make the soul sick. But who knows? History is often a dark and foreboding corridor, many blind alleys and false hopes.

What to do until then? Live the life that preserves the tradition, but live it *outside* the institution of Academia, and outside institutions, period. Go NMI, as we say here.

Maybe I should take up carpentry? I'm basically signing my death-certificate here, so to speak (and I'm now seriously questioning whether I should even get my PhD), so if anyone is looking to hire a useless, embattled student of philosophy (one who doesn't want to spend his life going blind by cranking out specialist articles), let me know!

In any case, thought you might like to reopen this wound.

All best,
MCC

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mike,

Many of us feel your pain. I am a German teacher in a high school, and my French and Latin colleagues and I are fighting for survival every year. What is the chance of German/French/Latin/Philosophy surviving an economic downturn? It will be back to the basics my friend. Yes, we are entering a "Dark Age" in history. Life will go on though in a more trailer park kind of way. Democracy in America is just a tyranny of the imbeciles. "Fahrenheit 451" and "Brave New World" seem more accurate than ever. I am not optimistic about our future in any kind environmental/economic/intellectual way. That part of America will die. You have to think more along the lines of pro wrestling, the octagon, America's Got Talent, obesity, movie star worship. This will be your America by popular demand. You will have a really smooth talking guy to soften the blow and make everyone feel better as the ship goes down. Remember perception is more important that reality in McDonald's Land. Seriously,you should study what you want! You have to learn for the sake of knowledge alone, and take your vow of poverty. I did this long ago. You never know what will happen. What is the practical use of a journalism school anymore? What is the use of a drama department? Most Hollywood stars had a mommy or daddy in the business. One student out of 50,000 will make a living...The down side of this education is that it will be nearly impossible for you to do an ordinary job. I found it hard to work any labor intensive type job. You may also become cynical. Good luck to you! Teach English in Europe or in Japan. Explore your options. There are better (less sick) societies.
John

8:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as Guitar Hero is concerned, it is interesting to note that one of its inventors is Tod Machover, a noted contemporary 'opera' composer and interactive media artist very focused on education. He's an interesting fellow to look up, if you're not familiar with his work.

12:59 AM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Dr. Berman,
This is rather off the topic, but I felt this reference would be of interest to both you and to several of the regular readers of your blog, who are in the field of education. There is an interesting article on tomdispatch.com regarding Obama's choice for Sec. of Education, Arne Duncan. The article is dated 18 January and is entitled "Andy Kroll; Will Public Education be Militarized?"
-Teri

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Below is a link to an article that is certainly pertinent to the some of the themes of this blog, and that I cannot recommend highly enough: "The End of Solitude", by William Deresiewicz.

Among other things, the article shows how complex the entire phenomenon of "individualism" and (post-) modern life really is.

http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i21/21b00601.htm .

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

I read the article Kevin recommended and found it very interesting. All of our electronic equipment has a hypnotizing effect it seems to me even when we're doing our best to be aware of it. About a week ago I was taking care of my 4yr old grandson and had picked him and a buddy up at preschool. It was a beautiful day, 75 degrees outside, and I sent them out to play. There were plenty of toys and even though they were having fun, about every 5 minutes the friend would come and ask me to turn on a movie and this went on for over an hour. He was relentless and when I finally just gave up and turned one on, he pulled something called a "leapster" out of his back pack, played some electronic game on that and watched the movie out of the corner of his eye. Are we raising zombies? I would have understood this better if I hadn't been watching them have fun outside doing things little boys have done forever-----swing on a tire swing, ride bikes, play in a fort, throw balls against the house, etc. All these videos and handheld games separate them from each other and teach them (perhaps unintentionally)to prefer isolation to interaction. Teri's story about her son's friend crying about a mere discussion of the downside of technology was unnerving. Maybe a good byproduct of the recession (or depression, if you've already lost your job)will be people can't indulge their children with this stuff.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Well, addiction is addiction, so depression or not, people will find a way to get their stash. I've been thinking of starting a company called Shoot-a-Vid, in which my scientific team manages to convert technological toys into a liquid that then gets mainstreamed into the veins, like any needle drug. Why not just cut to the chase?

mb

11:39 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Sounds like a plan to me but you'd better hurry----the pharmaceutical companies are always on the lookout for another drug with highly addictive qualities to market to Americans, all of course with little oversight by the FDA but with it's full blessing. There's an article from 2/11 on Alternet about mental health tx in the US by Joe Bageant that I'd recommend to you and your readers. He pretty much echoes what you've said for a long time (we live in a sick culture and won't or can't acknowlege it) but from the point of view scrutinizing how mental health care tx has been turned into an industry that does little to help people and much to keep them "numbed out" to the pervasive sadness around them. Hope you get a chance to check it out.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Thanks, Susan, for recommending Joe Bageant's article, "Only in America Could Misery Be Turned Into a Commodity". Our mental health system, he says, "refuses to acknowledge that our aggregate society holds any responsibility for the conditions it produces in our fellow individual members." This reminds me of something the psychologist, James Hillman, wrote years ago:

"The 'bad' place I am 'in' may refer not only to a depressed mood or an anxious state of mind; it may refer to a sealed-up office tower where I work, a set-apart suburban subdivision where I sleep, the jammed freeway where I commute between the two."

Urban design as psychotherapy. But that's not the American way: stop your whining and take this drug!

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Art,

I'm glad you liked the article---I've worked as a nurse in public mental health clinics and psych hospitals on and off for the last 18 years and thought he made valid points. Anytime I've brought up the idea that maybe, just maybe, our culture itself is depressing and could be a big contributing factor in the patient's problems I've been told that "everyone is responsible for dealing with their own 'issues' and to think otherwise provides them with excuses." Whatever real good could have come from the 1960's interest in mental health has, I think, deteriorated into silly, psychobabble homilies epitomized by "The Secret"---recommended to me as a great book by a therapist just a few months ago. While AA isn't a perfect organization and I've seen a few patients become obcessed with it, it is, none the less, based on the premise that we help each other and are helped in return. In short, a community where people relate to each other as human beings and not objects to be exploited.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Susan,

The idea that each individual is entirely responsible for what befalls them is pervasive in this society, it seems to me. "The Secret", and other similar "you create your own reality" ways of thinking, has been recommended to me on numerous occasions. I've found, though, that more healing takes place with a compassionate ear and a kind word. But, we're going to have to "slow down to the speed of life" for that to become the norm.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

The fact that we really are responsible for important aspects of our lives -- what we read, what we watch, how we care for our health, etc.-- is true and obvious. So this all-encompassing "personal responsibility" mantra has an element of truth to it and, I think, that's what makes it so destructive b/c we do recognize areas we have power to influence. But here are so many things in this world we have no power to influence but are told we're responsible for the outcome. You could engage in every healthy practice known to man but if your appendix ruptures and you have no health insurance then you could die (if misdiagnosed in the ER and sent home)or be crushed under the hospital bills when you recover from surgery. Our educational system teaches no critical thinking skills or practical education in personal finance yet people are now up in arms about the "losers" who took advantage of cheap money and now need to take 'personal responsibility'. From what I can see, the personal responsibility crowd and the you-create-your-own-reality bunch are singing from the same hymn book---and using it to intimidate and shame people with little capacity to counter their claims.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your book Dark Ages America, and found it immensely satisfying. In fact, I continually reread certain sections because it so resonates with my past readings and my own perceptions. I've attempted to refer your book to others who I think are thoughtful as well, but to no avail.

What is so satisfying about your book to me is that, for most of my life, I've been thought of as a contrartian or nihilist. Your book beautifully crystallized my perceptions and my own geo and socio analysis.

On a somewhat related note, I referred your book to members of the forum, Don'tGetMarried.com. At least one of the members, a highly literate fellow has read your blog. I guess that's the only way change can be truly effectuated-one thoughtful person at a time.

3:24 PM  

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