February 26, 2009

The Moral Order

The notion that there was a way of life characteristic of modern (or industrial) societies that was qualitatively different from the way of life found in pre-modern (or folk) societies goes back, at least, to the German sociologist Max Weber. Modern societies, said Weber, were governed by bureaucracy; the dominant ethos was one of “rationalization,” whereby everything was mechanized, administered according to the dictates of scientific reason. Weber famously compared this situation to that of an “iron cage”: there was no way the citizens of these societies could break free from their constraints. Pre-modern societies, on the other hand, were permeated by animism, by a belief in magic and spirits, and governance came not through bureaucracy but through the charisma of gifted leaders. The decline of magic that accompanied the transition to modernity Weber called die Entzauberung der Welt–the disenchantment of the world.

The distinction between these two fundamental types of social orders emerged in a variety of contexts in the decades that followed. Thus Ferdinand Tönnies saw the two in terms of Gemeinschaft (community) vs. Gesellschaft (society, especially the culture of business), noting that whereas the former was characterized by bonds of kinship or friendship, the latter was notable for the preponderance of impersonal or contractual relations. Linguist Edward Sapir, in turn, cast the dichotomy in terms of “genuine” vs. “spurious” cultures, and eventually the American anthropologist Robert Redfield would label it the “moral vs. the technical order.” In one of his last books, The Primitive World and Its Transformations, Redfield tried to argue that the technical order would eventually give rise to a new moral order; but it was finally not very convincing. Ultimately, Redfield believed that while the human race had made great advances in the technical order, it had made virtually no progress in the moral order–the knowledge of how to live, as it were–and that because of this, the human prospect was rather dim.

Indeed, for all one can say about the scientific inaccuracy of the pre-modern world, at least it was imbued with meaning. This is not the case with the modern industrial-corporate-consumer state, which expands technologically and economically, but to no other end than expansion itself. As the sociologist Georg Simmel wrote over a century ago, if you make money the center of your value system, then finally you have no value system, because money is not a value. All of these writers (a list that includes Franz Boas, Arthur Koestler, Jacques Ellul, and Lewis Mumford, inter alia) were pessimistic because they could see no way of reversing the direction of historical development. It was obvious that as time went on, the technical order was not merely overtaking the moral order, but actually obliterating it. This loss of meaning does much to account for the rise of the secular-religious movements of the twentieth century, including Communism, Fascism, Existentialism, Postmodernism, and so on. It also accounts for the depth and extent of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States. For there is no real meaning in the corporate-consumer state, which is at once empty and idiotic. On some level, everybody knows this.

We might, then, characterize the crashes of 1929 and 2008 as spiritual rather than strictly economic in nature. John Maynard Keynes saw the fluctuations of the stock market as being governed by human psychology, i.e. by faith and fear. So while in the case of both crashes, one can point to financial “bubbles” and hyperinflated investments, the core of meaninglessness at the center of the consumer-driven economy means that a boom-and-bust cycle is inevitable. In the case of the Depression, it took a war–which involved a huge mobilization of Meaning–to pull us out of it. At the present time, the situation is very different: American wars are now neo-colonial and self-destructive, a drain on the economy. They can only make the situation worse. Hence, the U.S. government has turned to massive bailouts of financial institutions as a solution, but this is analogous to putting band aids on the body of a cancer patient: the core of the problem remains untouched.

And what is the core of the problem? Basically, that the technical order is meaningless; that the American Way of Life finally has no moral center. Indeed, I doubt whether it ever did. In Freedom Just Around the Corner, historian Walter McDougall characterizes the United States as a “nation of hustlers,” going back to its earliest days. What began as trade and opportunism finally issued out into a full-blown crisis of meaning, and it is this that now constitutes the crisis of late capitalism.

It is with this understanding that the political scientist Benjamin Barber recently (9 February 2009) published an article in The Nation magazine claiming that the only thing that could save us now was “a revolution in spirit.” Barber points out that President Obama’s economic advisory team (which includes Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers) is squarely in the tradition of neoliberalism and the Corporate State. How, then, can we possibly expect the “change that makes a difference” that Obama promised the American people during his presidential campaign? As Barber notes, “it is hard to discern any movement toward a wholesale rethinking of the dominant role of the market in our society. No one is questioning the impulse to rehabilitate the consumer market as the driver of American commerce.” His solution is to “refashion the cultural ethos” by shifting our values from shopping to the life of the mind. We need, he says, a new cabinet post for the arts and humanities, which will somehow get Americans to think in terms of creativity and the imagination, not in terms of mindless consumerism. “Imagine,” writes Barber, “all the things we could do without having to shop: play and pray, create and relate, read and walk, listen and procreate–make art, make friends, make homes, make love.” “Idealism,” he concludes, “must become the new realism.”

How is this change going to happen? What are the political forces that will bring it about? Barber doesn’t say, and I confess that when I read his article, I couldn’t help wondering if the man had recently suffered some kind of mental lapse. What also came to mind was a book written in 1977 by the American sociologist John Robinson, entitled How Americans Use Time. Robinson discovered that on an average daily basis, five minutes were spent on reading books (of any kind), one minute on making music, thirty seconds attending theater and concerts, and less than thirty seconds on visits to art galleries or museums. As depressing as these figures are, they are surely much worse thirty-two years later, given the heavy corporatization of the culture, the dramatic increase in the attention paid to television and video screens in general, and the widely acknowledged decay of the American educational system. Indeed, the square footage of shopping malls in the U.S.–4 billion as of ten years ago–vastly exceeds that of schools and churches. All of the available data show that the typical American citizen has about as much interest in the life of the mind as your average armadillo. Rather than being on the verge of some possible cultural renaissance, or a reversal of our entire history, what we are now witnessing is the slow-motion suicide of the nation, with Mr. Obama guiding us, in a genteel and intelligent way, into the grave. Indeed, what more can he, or anybody, do at this point? For despite appearances to the contrary, Professor Barber must know that substantive political change is not a matter of voluntarism or exhortatory messages or a purported cabinet post in the arts and humanities. These are little more than jokes. To buck 200-plus years of history requires massive political power moving in the opposite direction, and no such force has emerged on the horizon.

Nor will it. There is no record of a dying civilization reassessing its values (or lack of values, in our case) and altering its trajectory. Whether the type of moral order that Professor Barber imagines can ever become a reality somewhere on the planet is certainly worth debating. But what is not worth debating is whether such a moral order might make an appearance on American soil. History is about many things, but one thing it is not about is miracles.



©Morris Berman, 2009

53 Comments:

Blogger relmuche said...

Dear Mr. Berman:

If we accept that wars are economical battles about possessing, revolutions are political battles about doing and chaos are social battles about feeling, then, crisis are cultural battles about being.

Therefore, crises are the deepest and most crucial of human conflicts.

Therefore this evident sinking of the world's monetary, casino stock market and financial system we are witnessing these days, with great risk of the Real Economy, is much worse than just another economical hurdle to be saved by the late (I prefer savage) capitalism.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of an overall wrong way of being humans.

The same economists and politicians that have helped accelerating the human decay process are blinded to the way out from this mess, and therefore the worst motors and drivers.

For too long, they have been pulling and driving society towards the interest of the very few.

Like it or not, Human Society or Community is already being Pulled by All of Us the People and Driven by the Social Groups towards the Interest of All of Us, the People of Earth.

Whether we call it Moral Order, Spiritual revolution or simply Conversion from regresionism to Progressism is immaterial. What is clear is that it will not be a miracle from wall streets, white houses or capitols around the World but from our very Homes and Souls.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Relmuche,

If that's what we are waiting for, then I suspect we are in deeper trouble than even *I* ever imagined! I tell you, mon cher, optimism is a good thing, but only when it has a basis in reality.

mb

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Matt Thomas said...

Great, albeit depressing, post. Thank you.

The New York Times recently reported that our long national love affair with malls may be on the rocks. I hope so, though I imagine such an article provides you with little solace as the consumptive ethic remains intact, having more or less simply migrated online.

One of the great ironies of a blog post like this, however, and to an even greater extant your books, is that it makes me want to go out and buy the books you reference. As others have noted, “Twilight inspires copious note-taking and several runs to the library to find the many texts to which he refers in making his impassioned argument for a monastic approach to preserving what is best about our culture."

But many of the books you reference can't be found in libraries anymore, especially since most libraries in the U.S. are increasingly becoming more like video stores. Regardless, I usually want to buy them anyway, so that, in true monastic option fashion, I can develop my own library, and so I can take notes in them.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Matt,

My royalty checks amount to something like $50 a year these days, but not to worry: it was never about the money. The fact that I toil in utter obscurity (boo hoo!) is much more depressing. But here's a thought: why not buy used versions of the books off of Amazon, eBay, or some of the other related sites? You can pick up a used copy of DAA, for example, for $5.

Thanx for writing--and for reading!

mb

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Matt Thomas said...

Perhaps you misunderstood me. I meant to say that your books make me want to buy (and read) all the books you reference. In other words, one of the weird ironies of your books, more so than other books, is that they make me want to buy and consume things, even though those things are books.

And for the record, I bought your last two books new. Many of the books you reference—thank God—are available used, yes. Still, you reference a lot of books, though I wouldn't want it any other way.

7:01 PM  
OpenID brutus said...

Matt,

Perhaps this is too subtle a distinction, but consuming books is less like the banal type of commodity consumption that ultimately renders everything meaningless and worthless and more like living the life of the mind by pursuing interest ideas whilst developing one's educational breadth. In that context, the irony you note, while literally true, doesn't carry much force. It's like observing that we all must eat, but not all ways of getting fed make us into gluttons.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of books. I just saw Dark Ages America on the shelf here in Oaxaca (In Spanish of course!). Nicely displayed I might add.

Just a quick thought on the recent comments.

One of the things I appreciate about MB's blog are the references to other writers and the various audio links buried in the older posts (interviews, discussions etc.). If you get the chance, they are worth your time. I started reading or I should admit, struggling with, Zygmunt Bauman whom I discovered through MB´s older posts.

MB´s right, these books are often available under the "used" links for a lot less......let´s face it, there aren´t a lot of people killing themselves to get books on this stuff :-)

El Juero

8:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Estimado El Juero:

1st I should tell you that I sometimes write email messages to my colleages at the Tec de Monterrey that I sign as "El Bermo." They have probably concluded that I am a demented gringo.

As for what the American public is killing itself for: I suspect that for every volume of Zygmunt Bauman purchased in the US, Ann Coulter sells 100,000 of her books, and Danielle Steele a million. And then people wonder why I say the country has no future!

Abrazos,
El Bermo

8:57 PM  
Anonymous edward field said...

it's scary to hear that we're waiting for a 'moral order' to save us. that's what the churches that most of us don't spend any time in have in mind for us. b-r-r-r-r. maybe the system has to collapse into chaos before something new can begin -- but i fear it won't be 'moral.' or maybe obama can patch things up for a little longer, hopefully for as long as i'm around. the collapse of empires isn't usually pretty--and we don't have a united states to rescue us like the british empire did.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Edward,

I'm not sure I understand you correctly (or you, me): I am not saying that we are waiting for a moral order to save us. That is Barber's hope; as I made clear, that kind of expectation is basically pissing in the wind, it seems to me. Nor was I referring to a 'church' order, but one associated with folk cultures for millennia, and which were imbued with meaning. The tech order has destroyed it; meaning has definitely left the scene. As the US collapses, my guess is that any moral orders that might arise in response will be very right-wing and authoritarian. And if there is hope for the planet regarding this issue, I very much doubt it will arise on US soil. But it will probably arise somewhere; the human spirit is ever-renewing, n'est-ce pas?

mb

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

In your essay, you asked what the political forces might be to bring about "a revolution in spirit". But, surely there are other forces on the horizon that will have a significant impact, such as the environmental one. The Buddhist teacher and comic, Wes Nisker, recently wrote:

"Some of you may remember a movement in the 1970s called 'voluntary simplicity'. Well, unfortunately, not enough people volunteered. Now we may be in for a period of compulsory simplicity. Nature is foreclosing on its loan".

More than any other factor, perhaps, Peak Oil will soon put the brakes on the technical order. As the era of cheap gasoline comes to an end, we'll be dragged, kicking and screaming, into a new way of living. Necessity is the Mother of spiritual revolution?

5:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

These are the kind of political forces that make sense, as far as I'm concerned. 'Voluntarism' is a pipe dream; it's not how history works. The real question is how we will respond to the new constraints--creatively, or like dolts? You know which I'm betting on...

mb

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,
I'm not sure where these new idealists are supposed to come from---hasn't that been what sunk every utopia? Only us folks to live in it and we usually have significant faults. Alot of the basis for re-establishing the arts, at least on a community level, seems to me to have been destroyed. It takes real effort now to make sure your child learns to play music, read or even water colour. It's just too easy to turn on the TV or buy them video games. I'm sure Prof. Barber is hoping against hope (and reality) that his ideas aren't hollow dreams. Tom Robbins summed it up at the end of Jitterbug Perfume:

"Meanwhile, we are beleaguered. We hold the pass. The fragile hold the pass precariously, hiding behind boulders of ego and dogma. The heroic hold the pass a bit more tenaciously, gracefully acknowledging their follies and absurdities., but insisting, nevertheless, on heroism. Instead of shrinking, the hero moves ever toward life."

The New Age monks you talked about in TAC may save the day yet.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

"As the sociologist Georg Simmel wrote over a century ago, if you make money the center of your value system, then finally you have no value system, because money is not a value."

A perfect illustration of this fact is the news story linked below. The article proclaims that many states are ceasing capital punishment, not for moral, philosophical, or even empirical reasons (for instance, whether capital punishment is a deterrent to murder), but because it costs states less money to incarcerate prisoners for life than to execute them.

So, in the current "value system", even decisions that directly implicate life or death are down to a matter of cost savings.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090307/ap_on_re_us/expensive_to_execute

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

And how are we supposed to establish a moral order when our intellectual leaders of the past and of the present are giving us schizophrenic ideas on what the moral order actually IS?!

Aristotle tells us that man is a workhorse for example, and John Stuart Mill's father forbade Mill from playing with the other children because it was a waste of time and would lead Mill to be slothful, but YOU (as well as the poet William Blake) seem to think that playing is a GOOD thing, and that man constantly working turns him into a machine.

You draw a dichotomy between "religion and the past are good" and "the present and science are bad," but Susan Jacoby, a proud supporter of science AND the arts (which according to this article is an oxymoron), is also a strong supporter of modern medicine AND a strong opponent of television and video games. (Meaning Susan Jacoby actually draws a distinction between good and bad technology.)

I'm 23 years old, with dreams of becoming a librarian and saving humanity by preserving human knowledge, but how am I supposed to do that when in reality, instead of 2 viewpoints, there are 20 viewpoints, ALL of whom will say I'm doing something wrong if I don't do things their way? How am I supposed to create a moral society, when advocates of a moral society can't even agree with EACH OTHER on what a moral society actually is?

8:31 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Brad-

Well, one contribution you could make is to figure out what, for yourself, a moral order would consist of, yes? Meanwhile, I'm puzzled that you think I am making a simple B&W dichotomy. There is much of technical value in the technical order (I hardly have any quarrel with Susan Jacoby on this pt); the problem is the overall lack of meaning, which the US does not seemed poised to solve--something I think Benj. Barber knows in his heart of hearts. In any case, for a nuanced view of the problem of technology in contemporary context, I suggest you read Albert Borgmann's work, "Technology and the Culture of Contemporary Life," and the recent article by Patrick Deneen in New Atlantis, Summer 2008,
"Technology, Culture, and Virtue."
Also try to get out a bit--walking and fresh air will do you a world of good, my friend; worrying about all these conflicting viewpoints--probably less so.

mb

9:05 AM  
Blogger Carl said...

And no one really knows how an industrial age (or post industrial age) global technological society is going to turn out, since we are living in the first one ever created. The US may be a failed model of how such a society should work, but that doesn't mean that such a society cannot work. But if the only way for society to have meaning is by turning 90 percent of the population back into illiterate peasant farmers who drop dead from infectious diseases before they turn 40, then meaning may be a luxury we can't afford.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Carl,

Well, I doubt meaning will ever be a luxury we can't afford, but the problem is with your vision of the Middle Ages: it's a cliche. Things are a lot more complicated than that, and as the historian Marc Bloch amply demonstrated, there is no way of making a judgment as to which society was happier. A medieval peasant in the south of France may have led a happier life, subjectively, than a suburban businessman in Connecticut commuting to a corporate job. The problem with progress--so-called--is that it creates its own propaganda, such that no other life seems viable. There is a lot of academic lit on this subject, but I suggest you have a look at Ursula LeGuin's novel, "The Telling," just for starters. As for the future of 'progress'--some combo of "globalized consumerism meets cultural diversity" (whoopee!), the film "Bladerunner" may just provide a glimpse at what's coming.

As for length of life: the notion of short life span in the past may be questionable, since high infant mortality rates, averaged in, fail to tell us the real life span--i.e., of those who survived birth. This is an issue of quality vs. quantity. Infanticide rates among hunter-gatherers may have been 50 percent, but those who lived had a high-quality life. Much of this is discussed in my book "Wandering God," if you are interested.

Just try to keep in mind to what extent you might be echoing modernist propaganda (you are hardly alone).

mb

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That politics and science have become joined at last to be included among our superstitions whose magic has waned to ineffectiveness is no cause for despair, except for those who had hoped for salvation through politics and science. For them it will be a "Dark Ages" because politics and science have lost their power to elucidate. They now merely predict an appropriate allocation of predicates. But heart!! Our Cartesian way of seeing is but one way, and "through a glass darkly," at that. Is it really a disaster that these failures suggest that humankind is more than what its reflexivity and language games can describe? Should we not rejoice that we are not bound to a wholly self created charismatic (a la Nietzsche's superman), nor to a wholly deterministic and determined technocratic mankind? We say hello again to Epicureanism and Stoicism, and then again, goodbye. I would suggest for reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and pay particular attention to the Judge as the unholy hybrid of the charismatic and technocratic men, and Giambatista Vico's New Science, particularly the last part on the course nations run. It is possible to see outside.

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Brad (and Carl):

I wouldn't be so quick to place modern medicine in the "good technology" category. Not when 100,000 Americans die each year from the side effects of prescription drugs they took just as the doctor directed (Melody Petersen, "Our Daily Meds"). Not to mention all the chemical and radioactive waste hospitals dump into the environment every day.

Meanwhile, in Germany, about half of prescriptions written by MDs are for herbal or homeopathic medicines. If there's to be any kind of return to a Moral Order here, it will include a return to more traditional methods of healing as well.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

Thanks for your contribution. The whole subject of medicine is key to this debate, really. As only a single example, I recall, when I was living in Washington DC, perhaps about 7 or 8 years ago, a series of articles the Wash Post did on death and/or illness being generated by American hospitals. The figure was surreal: something like 1/3 of Americans admitted to hospitals with minor ailments wound up dead or with major ailments. Then just a couple of years ago, there were some news reports on the US ER system being a total shambles. The data on this sort of thing keep pouring in.

mb

12:55 PM  
Blogger Wendy Koenigsmann said...

Most of the malls are empty. I sometimes go to malls just to get out of the house and walk about with my husband, but to be honest, I also go out of sheer curiosity to see how many more stores have closed up. The bookstore in the local mall was the latest one to close, which is saddening because it was one of the few places I liked to visit. I think that most people can't afford to go to the malls right now; the only people I still see shopping, with big bags of goods, are those who still have higher-paying jobs, like in La Jolla, California, where more affluent people live. I hate to say this because it's disheartening, but when you see these people you can sense an air about them, some of them walk around with their noses stuck up high in the air and look really haughty. A few are friendly though and will actually talk to you (which I was shocked by the last time I complimented a lady on her cute little Yorkie). Not all Americans are bad people, but there is always that "top percent" which seems to set the standard, and then you've got the general population who just spends their free time watching television and sports. I suspect humanity has always been this way to some degree or another, after all, you can't expect am average person to be a genius or something. But it's true that in general, malls have always been a place where most Americans converge on their weekends, but this is changing slowly. People don't have money anymore. I guess now they're just watching more television. I'm not sure whether this is for the better!

(I hope my comment wasn't too long.)

6:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Wendy,

Closing malls would be a good thing, if people discovered a human alternative. Obviously, sitting at home and watching TV ain't it. As of 10 years ago, the US had 4 billion square feet of shopping malls--much greater than that of schools or churches. This--shopping--is our true religion; and now that (as with Communism) the god failed, we are literally lost at sea, afloat in meaninglessness. No communities, no real friends, no meaningful work--zip. Just sports and TV. What a country; we have so much to be proud of, culturally speaking. I just learned today from a friend in Seattle that the Post-Intelligencer is folding, along with the Rocky Mountain News (Denver). Well, increasingly, Americans don't read, or are functionally illiterate, so things will continue to funnel down to the tube, the Net, the visual and the simplistic.

When the USSR cracked up 20 years ago, there was a great hue and cry over the 'victory' for our side. Not all of us believed that; some said, 'Just wait, the other shoe is going to drop.' (In fact I predicted an economic collapse within 10-15 years in The Twilight of American Culture, publ. in
2000; guess I was a bit optimistic!) Well, that day has come. If we had had different values--ones both social and socialist--this might have been avoided. But in American history, the individual has been seen as the be-all and end-all of existence, and now we are paying the price for that.

Thanks for writing (no, not too long at all)-

mb

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman was correct about "Bladerunner". A few wealthy elite a la Bill Gates, an environment that is poisoned, lots of techno garbarge, and a mass of culturally diverse, uneducated humanity scraping by. I have no misgivings as far as the future goes. It will never be again as it once was. This is the end of a world system, not just an economic recession or depression. Mr. Berman was right in 2000, and I knew instinctively that he was. I tried to warn friends, but they were all flying high at that time and called me crazy. The speed of the collapse takes your breath away. Mr. Berman, how rough do you think this is all going to get? We will have to have schools (keep kids off the streets), police, military, prisons...or do we? Will America balkanize along ethnic/cultural lines? Someone told me that local communities will pull together and protect themselves, etc. like during the Middle Ages. Maybe my imagination is out of control. I'm really at a loss as to how this will all play out. I am also shocked about Iceland. I imagine that crime and violence will spiral. What do you see coming in the next few years? Should we all start constructing our bunkers?

11:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Chris Hedges posted an essay on truthdig a few weeks ago, predicting something of that sort, that as things go increasingly out of control, there will be a rise of government authoritarianism and rt-wing paramilitary groups. And then there is this Russian sociologist or whatever, I forget his name, who is predicting that the US will balkanize into 5 regional sections by 2010. Secessionist literature is being published in Vermont as we speak, and they make a good argument: the US has lost its soul, why bother holding it together?

All of this could occur, and as you point out, the speed of events these days is quite amazing. Still, I think the US is much more like the Roman empire than the USSR, and that its disintegration will have nodal points--like the current crash--but for the most part, we shall witness a gradual decline.

However, the World Systems Analysis folks (Wallerstein, Chase-Dunn, et al.) basically argue that capitalism (mercantile, then industrial, and now financial) has run its course. It had a 600-year career, starting around A.D. 1500, and now the curve is definitely in steep decline. What we are witnessing, in short, is not just another glitch or recession or whatever, but the end of a long-term, slo-mo collapse of an entire way of life.

One interesting aspect of this situation is the distinction the World Systems folks make between core and periphery. The US is a core country, e.g., whereas Mexico is a peripheral one. The problem with living in the core is that it is very difficult to grasp what is happening; hence your friends' ignorance in 2000. Peasants in Chiapas, for example, understand that 9/11 was payback for U.S. foreign policy, while lawyers on Wall St. do not, and foolishly yammer on about the threat of 'Islamofascism' or whatever. Nothing will wake them up--abs. nothing. This type of ignorance is a key factor in the American decline.

I don't recommend building a bunker. I do, however, recommend hitting the road.

mb

1:12 AM  
Blogger Wendy Koenigsmann said...

I agree (re: the last comments about Bladerunner), everything really does remind me of a Bladerunner world, especially in the United States. We aren't quite there yet technologically (close, but getting closer), but psychologically, I think we are. I think that the Japanese are a lot closer to this world, just take a look at Tokyo for example, it's scary in the sense that so much importance is placed on electronics and so forth. It's also really depressing. It's really depressing that everyone is so disconnected, (and this is coming from a person who is kind of shy and doesn't like to socialise). What kind of society is it that we're living in? I ask myself that every day, and it just seems to get more dark day by day.

4:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That we are not completely geographically balkanized hardly means that we are not a balkanized society. In fact, we embrace balkanization, since we prefer "diversity" (check the root of the word) to "integration." But we miss the greater point completely when we continue to use one or another Kantian "ism prism" through which to see and judge. The "problem," if you will, is that the whole Cartesian- Kantian worldview has lost its currency, just as all such systems have and must. The protestant reformation of modernity (postmodernism to some) has exposed its inherent fallacies and limitations. Utopia will not be gained by control of the object unless humankind is reduced to objects to be controlled through some billiard ball determinism, be it force of politics or science (drugs, psychology, etc.). I, for one, say good riddance to this sterility and welcome the time when "the last men will be stunned to learn that events are beyond their control." Enough of utilitarian materialists, be they Marxist or Randian capitalists or anything in between. There is no "solution" in your closed political-economic circle, but merely one ism vs another ism, because life is not some scientific problem to be solved, it is a mystery to be lived.

5:16 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,
You mentioned some stats on the number of errors in health care. There's no doubt the benefits of modern medical science are off-set by serious problems. Greed and lack of integrity have ruined medical care. Businessmen now run all aspects of heathcare and dictate the terms. I learned today the Medical Director was told he needed to work longer hours for less pay---up to 11 hours a day and be on call most weekends. The patient-staff ratio has skyrocketed---2 RNs are required to care for up to 24 patients. So as long as administrators and the Board of Directors tighten the screws, errors, negligence (some of it unavoidable) and doctors who "don't keep up with the latest in their fields" will make the numbers you quoted look like the good old days in hindsight. I'm not trying to justify mistakes as I know some of them are tragic. There are incompetent practitioners but many conscientious people have left the field---I plan on working part-time for a few more years and that's it. But whether it's alternative or modern medicine the only real criteria that matters is its effectiveness, side effects and accessibility to the people who need it.
As far as the bunker goes, the problem with going to the bunker is then you're in the bunker. Didn't you say in one of your books (I don't remember which one) the challenge was not in doing away with civilization but in doing civilization well?

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman,

Thank you for the detailed response, and I agree with all of it except for the part when you say to leave the country. Wouldn't it be better to be in one of the "core" countries rather than suffering in the "peripheral"? The suffering will go downhill, don't you think? For example, many people think that Mexico could collapse, whatever that means. How much fun will that be to join the millions of other suffering souls in some kind of drug war? Also, how much fun would it be to be unemployed in Africa, or China, or even South America? An individual life means very little in these places.

I can understand going to Scandinavia, Ireland or Canada, (somewhere better) but not to 2nd or 3rd world countries. With all due respect, how could that be a practical course of action? I think this question of moving has more to do with class. Paris is nice when you live in the city with view of the city, but it is hell if you live in one of the Muslim ghettos on the outskirts. I live in an area of America just as nice as Europe, but 30 miles from me is the worst ghetto you could ever imagine. It's all perspective, money, and class to me. I would rather be poor in Sweden than in America. I would rather be poor in America than in Mexico, China, or Africa. Is it better to be wealthy in America or drive a cab in Sweden? Germany is better in many ways, but people don't smile at strangers, much more paperwork, etc. I would tell young Americans to go to Ireland (extremely friendly, fun, soulful) or Denmark (sarcastic, dark humor, beautiful people, socialized medicine, etc.) Go someplace better, not worse...

10:56 PM  
Blogger catsrno1 said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

I have a forthcoming book which addresses many of the issues you tackle in Dark Ages America but from a different angle: how to make things better. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that "the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time; to know things are hopeless yet be determined to make them better." In that spirit I have been working.
Your focus on the fragmentation of modern life due to technology includes some good observations, but you say nothing about the fact that most of the gadgets in question are tools of connectivity, not isolation. You can check your email, sent a text, and still care about your loved ones.
I find your claim that 9/11 resulted from U.S. foreign policy to be unsatisfying on many levels, and I do not think you made your case there as well as you could have. Would you not be equally justified, by this logic, to argue that Pearl Harbor was due to American foreign policy as well since we "allowed" imperial Japan to exist? What is the value of such analysis? Everything that happens in the world is not the result of American activity or the lack thereof.
As for Iraq, a conflict in which I served in 2006, yes I think there is a good case that Americans were deceived by their government. But we let ourselves be deceived.
But most important to any Democrat is the need to respond to your claim that "America no longer has any purpose; it is simply running for the sake of running." I think I make a good case to the contrary in my book, but I will let you and other readers decide.
Bottom line I enjoyed reading your book and found it to be nearly exhaustively cited and researched but nonetheless it makes you think, and for that I thank you.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Cats,

Thanks for writing; I can only wish you the best of luck. All empires die, and the evidence that our time is up is SO comprehensive that I can only pat you (and Obama) on the back and say, "Best of luck, kid!" You might want to start reading Chris Hedges' articles on truthdig.com for a healthy corrective to 'The Audacity of Hope'. Some thoughts, anyway:

1. The test of a first-rate intelligence is not to be optimistic if this consists of naivete, and that depends on the situation. As I said above, the evidence is pretty much in on this.

2. It is also in on how disconnecting and alienating the new telecommunications technologies are. Quite seriously, there is a large literature on this, showing that the hype for the Net etc. is bogus, and that what we now have are phony 'communities' and lots of lost souls. These articles have appeared in sociology journals, but also in Harper's, Atlantic, The New Atlantis, and a number of other popular periodicals. Again, you want to be grounded in realism, not optimistic naivete.

3. Re: Japan, I think the faulty logic is your own here. The analogy doesn't work, and cannot be extended in the way you wish to do. The situation with imperial Japan had little in common with that of the Middle East, where we had meddled destructively for decades. A good dose of Stephen Kinzer, Chalmers Johnson et al. should help you with this. The claim that not everything that happens in the world is America's fault is of course true--but the analysis has to proceed case by case. The case here (9/11) is pretty solid, and the value of such an analysis is precisely to tell it like it is. I do agree with you, however, that Americans let themselves be deceived, but this extends to way more than just Iraq, amigo; it goes back at least to 1945.

In any case, I look forward to reading your book. If you can identify a raison d'etre for the US today that goes beyond wishful thinking or the trap of American exceptionalism, my hat will be off to you.

Thanks again for writing-

mb

8:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris,

I am professor, who desires to remain anonymous, in a state university in Florida. I taught before in an elite university. What I am witnessing is an increasing chasm in the quality of education between "elites" and nonelites. Many of the students in the state university here are functional illiterates. The university panders to these students, and most professors have been coerced into handing out high marks. The students, having grown up with this in Florida, have a false sense of entitlement. I did not witness this in the more elite university. Contrary to popular belief, I did witness massive grade inflation, etc. Instead, the students were held to high standards and most took it with a sense of pride to comply. What is your thought of this growing chasm?

11:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anonymous Prof,

Actually, I think I answered this already--you wrote in response to a different column, and I wrote back about the similarity to selling indulgences in the Middle Ages, and how we needed a new Martin Luther.

A few years ago I was in Barcelona, and ran into an art history prof from the state university system in Florida. We shared a few beers at an outdoor cafe. Basically, he told me what you did: the whole thing is a wash. His students could care less about art history, he was just hanging on until retirement, and all of his colleagues agreed with him that it was a race to the bottom. He said that when he was a student, he and his fellow students were more excited about art history than their professors were. Now, just the reverse is true. Kids are jaded, there is no meaning in their lives, and they certainly had no interest in anything as 'uncool' as art history.

And this, my friend, is what happens when a culture dies. This is *how* it dies. You are in the midst of it, and it ain't pretty. I don't know how far along you are in your 'career', but if there is any way you can change countries and teach somewhere else, or just go somewhere else and write, I would recommend it. The US has lost its soul; you are merely suffering the effects of this.

Of course, you might consider returning to an elite university, if possible; but profs at these places (Harvard included) write me of rampant grade inflation, and it is only a matter of time before the rot spreads to the better places as well.

It does come down to meaning, after all. How much meaning can their be in a paycheck, finally?

Best of luck,
mb

1:31 PM  
Blogger catsrno1 said...

My name is Jason, and thank you your comments.
Empire does not concern me per se, my interest is in the future of the United States.
Pre-determined pessimism is no more valid that optimistic naivety, and if we take your works at face value it seems to me the former is what we find. If optimists need more grounding in reality, realists must face the fact that their assumptions do not amount to evidence.
I really enjoyed your section in Dark Ages America on cities, a topic that figures prominently in the second half of my book. My starting point is not to dispute or deny the problems you identify, but on the contrary to recognize them and the need to ameliorate the situation.
On 9/11, the complexities of the Middle East go far beyond U.S. "meddling." It is reductionist and untrue to lay the blame for this region, if the "Middle East" is even a valid concept as a region to begin with, at the feet of the U.S.
The same could be said of central Asia and Afghanistan. The people there are not interested in our notions of democracy and really only want one thing from us: for us to leave. I think we should oblige them.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jason,

Thank you again for writing. If you take my work at face value, sure, you'll find 'predetermined pessimism.' But how about going beneath the surface? I did not come to these conclusions lightly, or overnight, and once again: you badly need to educate yourself about American institutions and what has happened to them, historically speaking. Also about how civilizations function in general. For the most part, I am not making 'assumptions'. If you want to naively adhere to Fitzgerald, it's your choice; just keep in mind that he knew abs. nothing about history.

2nd, nothing I have written about the Middle East is reductionist--again, you need to get beyond face value, and again, to give yourself a real education. Not only Kinzer and Johnson, but also William Blum and Michael Scheuer ('Imperial Hubris'), who was the CIA's Osama-watcher for 17 years. He makes it clear that 9/11 is fully understandable in the light of what we did in the region, and that Osama's objections to our actions are fully justified. Kinzer says there is practically a straight line between our destruction of Iranian democracy in 1953 and the attacks of 9/11. You can hide from the kind of evidence these men provide with labels like 'reductionist' all you want, but wouldn't it be better just to wake up?

Finally, you *do* wake up (a bit) in your last paragraph, which comes off as a non sequitur from what's written above. That part, at least, I'm happy to applaud.

Good luck,

mb

12:19 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Prof. Berman,

I don't see how anyone could be optimistic now. A reasonable study of history leads to a realistic view that we're a rolling disaster. I have difficulty listening to Obama talk about a return to something. What world is he talking about? I'm a privileged white guy born in 1935. I lived in the U.S. in the 50's! The whole thing rested on violence, aggression, slavery and genocide! It still does.

I do believe one can hope that faced with collapse some humans will create a moral order of interdependence between members of small, decentralized circles. Certainly, we knew how to do that once upon a time.

But to get there from here? I have no idea! Oh well, I won't be here to see it anyway, or will I.....?

7:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Prof. Berman and readers:

Getting back to Weber's notion that ours is a world fully dis-enchanted, we might take a bit of time to ponder this gem: a "TED" talk featuring another technological toy:

http://www.ted.com/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html

It's really the beginning, perhaps, of a long process of transformation of self into a full-on cyber-self, a cyborg in effect (I think there's now quite a bit of lit on this topic -- not all of which is despairing, e.g., Donna Haraway).

It's eerie how science fiction is being folded into the imagination of scientists and technologists, who in turn birth those fictions into reality. The Pandora's Box is open, I'm afraid. (Sometimes I start to wonder if Plato had a good point about putting serious restrictions on artistic expression in his Republic, but then I recall Huxley and Hesse and I recant my sins).

The loop from self to technology is not yet fully closed. With this bit of technological acumen (a "seamless interface" information access system), the circle is now complete: people can continually feel that they know something about an object or another person (having "meta-information" literally cloud up like a fog around those objects and people) before an actual interaction takes place, indeed *as* that very interaction is taking place. No "interruption" -- pulling out a cell phone to access information -- is needed.

The TED crowd stands and applauds, of course -- all in honor of technological progress, right? I love how these technocratic, a-historical and a-moral geeks like to frame the whole thing in terms of self-acatualized human beings making choices for themselves -- the tech toys being *merely* vehicles for free choice, *merely* a neutral enhancer to our lives, an enabler.

Nonsense. That's not how things tend to work, in the end. Eventually, we become dependent upon the toys, and they define our "freedom", rather than express it. They define, that is, what can and cannot be done, how we can and cannot think, what we will and will not buy (and that's the ultimate end, of course: sewing human life into the Corporate Machine; yes, "seamless" indeed. I can already see the Google "gadget" moving in to make a killing). Quite chilling.

We are not so much witnessing the "disgodding" (as Schiller puts it) of the world, as we are witnessing the rise of a new god, a new form of what it means to relate to the world. With it, though, comes another loss, one inherent in technology as such: and that is a loss of self-doing, or, as Emerson might have put it, self-reliance.

But as the distinction between self and technology erodes, it becomes harder to see Emerson's idea, I think. And harder to understand, for example, a philosopher like Heidegger.

But then again, history is just a long forgetting, no?

8:42 PM  
Blogger catsrno1 said...

I do wish to retract the earlier comment I made about pre-determined pessimism. I think I came to that conclusion in haste, ironically enough. I know how much time and effort it takes to write and arrive at conclusions.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dave, Mike, et al.:

Well, this is turning into an interesting little discussion, isn't it?

As far as optimism or human possibilities go, be sure to check out the "monastic option in the
21st century" chapter in 'Twilight of American Culture'. There are NMI's everywhere in the US (tho the sum total is small, I suspect): call it the Nader vote or the Kucinich vote, but not everybody has bought into the dominant culture. I don't think they can change the course of where we are going, but as Gregory Bateson once remarked, we don't *all* have to be lemmings, running off the edge of the cliff. Some of us can at least bear witness to what is happening; others can take a shot at cultural preservation. And as I say at the end of DAA, the human spirit always prevails; it's just not likely to prevail here, in the US.

As for China, the next likely hegemon, the prognosis is not good (see "The Asian Road to Victory"). Already 1% of the population owns
40% of the wealth, and if the 'moral center' of the nation is a Confucian one, in practice it shows up as enforced 'harmony'--hardly a free society. Yet even within China, there are writers and artists who risk all to tell it like it is.

I guess there is something about institutionalization, or mass society, that makes the alternative world view I'm talking about very difficult to achieve. I mean, it would be nice to get all these decentralized NMI's together, and start a movement of sorts...but then they'd be fighting about who should be top dog. Unfortunately, individual solutions are not real solutions, i.e. insofar as society itself goes--this is Sociology 101. So we are kind of stuck, thinking about E.M. Forster's "Best People" or John Fowles' "Aristos," and realizing that all we can do with our lives is leave a trace, a memory of what the alternative tradition is, so that others can (hopefully) dig it up and carry it on. Ray Bradbury had these folks living in the forest, at the edge of 'civilization'; in Huxley's Brave New World, they are relegated to the physical margins of society, like Native Americans. But I take at least some small satisfaction in knowing that up to now, the dominant society has not been able to eradicate them entirely. Eye of the hurricane, my friends.

-mb

ps: Mike: I plugged your TED url into my browser, and got a 404 response (page not found).

10:44 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Prof. Berman, the url is:

http://www.ted.com/talks/

pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense

.html

I've chopped it up, but if you recombine, you'll get the complete link.

I'm sorry I don't know the syntax for the url to get embedded (somebody posted that, but I forget where!).

--MCC

12:04 PM  
Blogger Newfoundout Potter said...

Dear Sir,
A few days ago I visited a small bookstore in Ottawa in search of a pottery book. I quickly found out that Octopus Books is a different bookstore , specializing in books that encourage analytical thinking on the social, political and economic world. As I felt that I should encourage such an endeavour I ending up buying your book 'Dark Ages America', even though most of my reading apart from pottery and gardening related material are mysteries. Surprisingly I find that I am having a hard time putting down your book. It is helping me to make sense of what I have long felt to be a downward death sprial of consumerism, violence and environmental degradation. Although depressing, we do need to face the facts. You have inspired me to continue to read more on this subject.

Your book I am sure will leave the same lasting impression on me as a course in environmental studies that I took in 1990, based on James Lovelock's 1970's theory of GAIA - that the earth is one organism, composed of self regulating systems. It was the most depressing course that I ever took - as all systems were in trouble and the future looked bleak indeed - and after almost 20 years it is even truer today.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Potter,

I actually knew Jas Lovelock years ago. One of those great, quirky Brits with a wry sense of humo(u)r.
He keeps turning out books saying The End Is Nigh, and the world keeps on ignoring him.

Thanks for your appreciation of DAA, in any case. Oddly enuf, I enjoy reading pottery books! Bernard Leach was always a favorite; plus, you might want to have a look at Soetsu Yanagi's masterpiece, "The Unknown Craftsman" (if you are not familiar with it already). I also enjoy reading Rosemary Hill.

Thanks again-

mb

12:48 AM  
Blogger rock said...

Dear Prof. Berman

Interesting discussion indeed. While I'm probably not intellectually qualified (enough) to respond on the demonstrated level in this blog--I had to constantly re-read again and again many a paragraph in TAC--, the fact that I'm an old guy that's lived around the world and has made up for lack of "schoolin'" (other than the reliable Hard Knocks U.) with "book learnin'" and experience may count for something when I say that, when water and food is low and the power goes off, I suspect the "civilized" Danes and Swedes will try to grab what little YOU have every bit as quickly and savagely as the "3rd-worlders" will. (How's THAT for a run-on sentence?) I lived in Eastern Europe enough to see the cunning
and determination exemplified in separating one's neighbor from his/her goods.

If safe survival is what you're looking for, I believe that it's not about leaving America for a "more civilized" place but for a (relatively) safe place with PLENTY of water and the means to grow your own food. I chose Panama for that reason.

Another interesting observation is,
that when I taught at a major university--I want to say LSU but I won't--I noticed an admittedly unscientifically supported but nevertheless direct correlation between poor students on an academic scholarship and those from both middle-class and (especially) those coming out of posh private schools with regard to "attitude" towards study and work. Even when I was teaching in the U.S. high school system I could see it--the desire in certain students to LEARN (which is different from the desire to achieve, no?) everything they could. In the U.S. there was at least one or two in every class when I taught in the ghettos. They really, really wanted to LEARN with achievement a secondary goal while, in the private schools I taught in, it seemed to me that those kids just did what they had to in order to get into the "best" schools. Of course, in the inner-city school I worked at, the good students were constantly berated by their so-called peers for 1. being a "nerd" or "smartass" if they were white or 2. "acting white" if they were black.

In Panama--decidedly a 3rd world country--this difference is even more apparent. With very few scholarships of any kind you either come from a family that has money or you don't--there isn't much of a middle class here. I noticed that the ones with money don't really care that much about their grades because their families will get them into a typical U.S. "pay your fee, get your C " university while many more of the poor kids--the ones with minimal fetal/environmental setbacks--were DESPERATE to learn (and make good grades as a consequence) so they could get the hell out of their situation at what passes for "home" in many parts of this country. You could see it in their eyes, mostly. They are sooo very eager to absorb. When one starts to get "brownout" from the teaching profession, it's just a few students like this (and a couple of glasses of wine each night) that keeps me trying do the best that I can. Perhaps this is an example of an approach to the dichotomy issue in the sense of "why try, it's hopeless" vs. "gotta make things better"

saludos,
rock

5:53 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

El Bermo,

Haven't stopped by in awhile. I see the dialogue is still fertile.

I recently had the privilege of reading, as well as listening to Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason. Her writing and outlook reminded me of your books, particularly in her assessment that America is now a nation that is both anti-intellectual, and anti-rational.

I spend a great deal of time on the road for my job and having books on CD is a great way to stay engaged, and not have to listen to the drivel that is AM/FM radio today. When I find a real gem, I also pick up the hard copy at the library, or ultimately buy it, so I can go back and reference key elements.

I own both DAA and TAC, and I'm happy to have made a contribution to your small royalty checks. Good lord, I'm a regional publisher of books, and had no idea that a mid-level national release via Norton brought so little in the way of renumeration for a writer's efforts. I guess our anti-intellectual free fall is just about complete.

I've embraced my own form of monasticism. I continue to read as much as I can in the non-fiction vein of your work and others, like the above-mentioned Jacoby. You also referenced Chris Hedges, who I so appreciate.

I've tried to counter much of the anti-intellectualism that passes for blogging by posting a regular post every Monday, highlighting a historical figure that has been forgotten, or is under appreciated. My wife and I also try to gather a group semi-regularly to discuss poltics, books we're reading, and ideas, over wine and dinner. It's harder and harder to find people that want to engage on that level, however. As friends move away, our group has dwindled, as most people prefer the flickering screen of TV, or social media, to face-to-face interaction.

I always know when a book has special meaning for me--it's one I continually refer back to for ideas, reference material, and use it to stock my own bookshelf. TAC has been that kind of book.

I enjoy the give and take here at this blog, as it is an oasis in a desert for me, and many others that still value the life of the mind, and seek to cultivate the ability to think, reason, and frame ideas in more than 140 characters, ala Twitter.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hey Jimbo,

Welcome back. And thanks for your support, I appreciate it. Didn't know you were a publisher...would like to talk 2u about it. Perhaps write me directly?: mauricio@morrisberman.com.

Thanks again, amigo-

mb

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman, I remember reading somewhere on your blog you stated within two years Americans would be disillusioned with Obama. Other than the diehard supporters I can't imagine who wouldn't be shaken by the revelations about the ties to Goldman-Sachs of all his top economic advisers. William Black on Bill Moyers Friday night called it fraud and a cover-up that began in the Bush administration and continues. But there doesn't seem to be any demand for an investigation into this wide spread corruption even though it's destroying millions of jobs and pushing families into poverty. Is it possible that all of them are so corrupt no one wants this exposed? I never thought that Obama was going to be our savior but I did think he was smart and hadn't been in the business long enough to amass the kind of political quid pro quo "favors" to be repaid to get something done. Less than three months into this administration and it certainly appears to be business as usual---big pentagon budgets, escalating war, no challenge to big money and oblique references to cutting social services for the elderly and poor. Your ability to look at the larger picture and accurately analyze it is impressive. DAA got it right and the NYT owes you an apology, not that you'll ever get one.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Yeah...he's also blocking the possibility that those whom the US tortured will have their day in court. And the ACLU is surprised at this! As for the American public, they seem to be getting what they deserve. Gringos who come down to Mexico are enthusiastic about Obama because he clearly has half a brain and can speak decent English; never mind the fact that what we have is a more chic version of the Bush admin--stylistic changes are apparently enough for Democrats. What can I say?

mb

10:45 AM  
Blogger catsrno1 said...

The focus on scandal or potential scandal blinds us to more serious issues. Often the left criticized Bush the younger for consolidating power in the executive but I think Obama has far surpassed Bush's power grabbing efforts in only a few months. If W. was a little 1984 then welcome to Obama's Brave New World.
As for Gitmo, yeah its a mess and we have only ourselves to blame. Injustice yes torture no. I know people who have worked there and their first-hand take is the media stories are so far out of touch with reality they wonder if it is even the same place being discussed. I felt the same way about Iraq when I came home in 2007.
Meanwhile where is the outrage over North Korea's torture camps, where real torture is going on? Thousands suffer beyond the imagination of Edgar Allen Poe daily but no one pays any attention unless they launch a rocket. But I guess Emerson was right when he said "people only see what they are prepared to see."

8:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Cats,

I agree with you on Obama: he's blocking attempts of US torture victims to have their day in court, gearing up for a war in Afghanistan, and now it turns out that the exact co's he bailed out have been paying millions in lecture fees to Larry Summers! Yes, change we can believe in.

But on the torture issue: you can't imagine how off base you are. Time for you to read Mark Danner (most recently in the NY Rev of Bks, April 9), Jane Mayer, and a host of others who have done their homework. And what does N. Korea have to do with us? The fact that other nations torture hardly makes US torture OK, or nonexistent. I fear you see only what you are prepared to see.

-mb

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I don't understand why torture in North Korea would be of greater interest to any American than getting the facts and administering justice if allegations of US torture prove to be true. If they're groundless, put the matter to rest; if they're guilty, punish our home-grown "evildoers" so the world can see we really mean justice for all when we say it. Obama's vague dismissal that we must be forward-looking is disingenuous and his actions to block or, at the very least, not facilitate access to information is not exactly change. Remember too the media relentlessly informed us of Saddam Hussein's history of torture, we invaded then set up shop in the exact same prison the atrocities took place in. Surely we can do better than this-----but I must admit, I'm not very hopeful. Glenn Greenwald and a small percentage of citizens want our constitution and the Geneva Conventions honored but my guess is Obama considers this a political loser and has no intention of pursuing it. I want very much for this to be different and America respected for living the values we we say we believe in.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, what *other* nations are doing has always been a way for Americans to ignore what *we* are doing, even if there's no relationship between the two. In the postwar period, only Jimmy Carter was courageous enough to see the emptiness of this position, and to tell the American people that we couldn't keep blaming the Soviet Union for the world's ills; that we needed to look at ourselves instead. Since this was *real* Christianity (log in your eye, mote in the other person's eye, etc.), as opposed to Bushian psychotic fundamentalism, the American people (always a source of great wisdom and compassion) weren't having it. After all, why think when you can blame?

mb

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes and I think the way he's been treated is shameful. George Bush's Christianity looked like the empty vessel it was next to Carter's active intervention to help others. The way he was shunned not only by the American people but the Democrats says a lot about our real values. The last thing we want is someone who asks us to put on a sweater or build affordable housing for the working poor.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Morris,

can you elaborate on how life in the Middle Ages had Meaning?

My first instinct is that it was as false as today's.

I'm really appreciating your blog "Coming To Our Senses" right now. Thanks for all that you're sharing.

9:42 AM  

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