February 21, 2010

When Decline Is Staring You Right in the Face

Dear Friends,

Sometimes the ongoing collapse of the US is so obvious, you almost have to laugh. The very newspaper that (4 years ago) dismissed my analysis of the end-of-empire as a "tirade" is now substantiating the analysis. The stories on the front page of today's NY Times (Feb. 21), when taken together, form an interesting picture. One article says that millions are unemployed, and that they can forget about finding work for years to come. (The official figure is 10%, but these figures are always doctored, because typically the US Labor Dept. doesn't put folks whose unemployment compensation ran out back on the unemployment rolls. Actual figure is 1 in 5, or about 20%.) The middle class lost its retirement savings and is now lining up at soup kitchens. However, you'll be glad to hear, the stock market is making a modest recovery.

Then there's an article on how the Afghan Army isn't doing squat, and how the US armed forces are actually the ones waging the (oh-so-necessary-to-our-freedom) war over there. Yes, we really need to send 30,000 more troops into that black hole, without a doubt.

Problems with a deadlocked, do-nothing legislature? How's this for a muscular solution: Evan Bayh, who is leaving the Senate in disgust, thinks that a monthly bipartisan Senate luncheon might create a warm, fuzzy feeling among the bitter ideologues and get things rolling once more. Why he hasn't also come up with a plan to reverse the earth's gravitational field is not quite clear.

And as a lovely ps, an article about Amy Bishop, the biology prof. at the U of Alabama who recently (Feb. 12) responded to not getting tenure by gunning down six of her colleagues, killing three. I can't help wondering if she had been on a steady diet of best-selling management books, such as Winning Through Intimidation and The Brand Called You.

America, America!


Blogger ryan kloostra said...

When I bring these things to my fellow countrymen(even family and friends), many of them educated, they laugh me off. "Every generation says its the end of the world," they say. "No, you don't understand, there are some fundamental problems here that have been proven, by history, to be present during the last days of an empire," I say. Then they usually end the conversation with "whhhaaateverrr" or "eh, whatcha gonna do."

I believe the biggest sign of decline within the last week wasn't the fact that an American citizen flew his own plane into an IRS building in Texas, although that can't go ignored, but that the story got very little press the following day bc Tiger Woods was issuing some sort of contrived apology that morning.

With this kind of stuff happening, I'm hardly worried about the barbarians...

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am surprised that this article made it through the Ministry of Truth.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Staring? I might use the word slapping. But actually sometimes it feels like a psychic gangster beat-down. I think I'm numb.
I just recently heard your interview from "Living Heoroes" (on the web) in 2008 and thought, did I really read DAA? I started reading it again and it is exponentially more intense today than back then. It is utterly fresh, still, and still will be 10+ years from now because this is a wreck of the highest order in very slow motion. When DAA first came out and got it, I had that problem called hope so a soothing conversation in my head commenced, "Don't be scared man, it's gonna come out ok." Now, the there is no conversation, no debate. As a waking zombie it's all too clear.
-Corporatist pig Evan Bayh, ughh
-Mass under/unemployment; even those working in the surviving superbanks are scared sh!tless for their jobs (i hear it direct). Let me field the notion on this blog that there may be a market for a management book parody; "Who Moved My Cheese Part II, Mad Cow Nightmare"
-Open-ended unaffordable war. Now that should be an oxymoron but here we are
-Professor on Professor violence; one can count on the south to take tragic/appalling to special new places.
And the hard stories don't end for all over the US. Is there actually still a US?
"Structural problems require structural solutions." says you. In a congress full of Bayhs, no one's holding their breath. Really, I bet the world is just waiting for that final wimper, that final gasp.

So yeah, I've entered your class again. I'm on the path of squeezing out as much conditioned bile as I can also hoping for a buddha experience before during after some meditation to have some perspective (you said you had a vertical experience; did you write about it anywhere?). I want to read Wandering God but should that be the last to read of the trilogy or it doesn't matter? If it's available in audio that would be a big help for me.

student Neb.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Barbarians on the inside, but that cd be a gd thing: a fast decline might be better than a slow one. Why diddle around when we can just cut to the chase? Palin in '12, I say! Urge yer friends in denial to vote for her.


Don't thank me, thank the NYT.


Rest assured, it won't be OK. The New Age wisdom of crisis also being an opportunity is kaka. There is no opportunity here; it's just a crisis, end of story. When in Rome...the Stoics had it right; they didn't go around saying that the collapse of Rome was a great opportunity. Meanwhile, who moved my formaggio? WG not in audio, and u can read them in any order.

Hugs to u all,
The Berm

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I heard on the news after the Alabama prof shot her colleagues that Birmingham had had an unusually bad week with a middle school student shooting and killing another student. Now this has become so common that it takes an even more spectacular, crazy act of violence to highlight just a routine school shooting. Yet very few see this as a disturbing sign as how indifferent we've become to violence. Is the rest of the world so callous or is it just media-saturated America? In another one of your posts you posed the question what if? What if TV hadn't been invented? While it's difficult to choose the worst technological "advance" I'd have to put my money on this one.

The NYT has a clique mentality (from what I can tell) and the fact they endorse a mediocre writer like Thomas Friedman says it all. I'm sure his books got glowing reviews even though there's no research or scholarship involved, just his observations. When I read DAA I thought then it was ahead of its time and not many people would agree with your conclusions. But time has proved you right and though it might be cold comfort to know this, you did try to sound the alarm. The almost cult-like belief in positive thinking that Chris Hedges writes about in his latest book has had a chilling effect on reality. Ryan's observation that attempting to discuss larger problems in our society is met with indifference or the accusation that you're "being negative." I know very few people who keep up with any world events much less try to understand them in a larger context.

4:54 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Occasionally online sources such as cnn.com do report "low-level" shootings, i.e. of 1 or 2 people, but these don't make it into the regular press anymore because with so few people dead, nobody cares. In order to make real news you have to blow away a whole bunch of 'em. When I moved to Mexico it was by car, the week of Aug.
17-22, 2006, and I listened to the radio much of the time. One station in La. reported that a six-yr-old boy shot a four-yr-old girl in the chest, killing her; this in Indiana, I think it was. I never saw or heard anything more abt it, online or elsewhere. Nice to know that 6-yr-olds are conscious of their 2nd amendment rts, and are packing.


7:37 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Friends,

Here are a couple more news bits, emblematic:

weekinreview/21bilton.html -- brings anonymity to new, ironic heights. Is it Jacques Lacan who thought that the solution to our psychological maladies was to externalize the internal (this according to his disciple Zizek)? I'm not sure if this is what he had in mind.

http://constitutioncenter.org/Rome/ -- Have these guys have read their copies of DAA yet (though I kinda like the sound of "DAM")? Maybe we should call this the Disneyfication of collapsing Empire? (If anyone wants to visit Philly to see the exhibit, lemme know: I can host).

Not only do we have bread and circuses, we've made a circus out of the decline itself! Talk about postmodern vertigo.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

One more:

After reporting that 27 civilians (including children) had been killed in a NATO air strike on Afghanistan this Sunday, National Public Radio immediately noted that top military officials were upset: now it's going to be harder to maintain Afghan support.

At least Gen. McChrystal (and NYT) got the order right: "We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives," the General said. "I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will redouble our efforts to regain that trust" (NYT article dated 22 Feb.: "NATO airstrike is said to have killed Afghan civilians").

10:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Yes, if there's one thing we've established around the world, it's trust. Admiration coming in at a close 2nd.

This country has the worst case of cranial rectitis in the history of the world, I'm guessing.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

The "Chatroulette" phenomenon is really important to think about; it really goes back to the "We Live In Public" experiment c. 1999/2000 (people living always visible, private turned inside out).

This also brings to mind Hitchcock's "Rear Window"; but rather than being (private) voyeurs, on the inside looking out, the inside has *become* the outside (our "public private lives").

During the European Dark Ages, there was little internal life to speak of (as far as we can tell), and knowledge was treated like an object, external to you, something to be manipulated & collected, with no depth to it, like that horribly frozen 2D Carolingian art.

Depth explodes during the "renaissance" of the Middle Ages (Aquinas, Dante, Troubadours, etc. -- just listen to the music of Guillaume de Machaut!): we can participate with ideas, develop them, make them our own ... they are the soil with which we nurture our own interior life.

The Scientific Revolution ushered in a fresh dose of critical inquiry -- but centered on a new understanding of nature. We can not only nurture our inner life, but the physical world, considered in its quantitative aspects, can itself be mastered by our critical faculties. We participate with nature, but at a distance, as the master manages his estate (the logic of the State, the Church and Science here converges).

The late eighteenth century and nineteenth centuries saw a backlash against this, trying to put the inner and outer worlds into some kind of balance (Kant's struggles here are particularly poignant, when you get down to it), but ultimately this furthered the division: eventually, Nietzsche leads (historically) to solipsism, and Newton leads to scientism (itself a kind of intellectual solipsism).

The logic of this trend towards fragmentation seems to be putting us back into the grip of Dark Ages epistemology -- but with a horrible twist this time 'round ("First as tragedy, then as farce" as Marx wrote, correcting Hegel): not only is knowledge becoming fully external to us ("Google it!"; manage the information -- it is *your* external memory! -- and you "know" it!), we are ourselves becoming fully externalized.

Whereas in the Dark Ages, the monochromatism and stasis of life helped to sustain the intellectual blankness, our technicolor, "liquid" world is having an analogous effect, so that, dialectically (and ironically), our progress *is* our decline (as MB and many others have shown).

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I think a reading of those Roman writers who saw the imperial collapse coming is definitely in order now.

When I mention to younger people that there was no such thing as school shootings during my high school days, it's obvious that I might as well be talking about the 1800s. For them, it's a fact of life. Things have always been that way, things will continue to be that way. (Or worse.) What's the big deal? It is what it is (to use a popular expression I've swiftly come to loathe.)

I recently watched the film "Pascali's Island" again, set during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. The atmosphere of overall corruption, affable cynicism, and the ever-present threat of violence, seemed all too familiar ...

Just keep thinkin' those good thoughts, and all will be well. If it isn't, you just ain't thinkin' positive enough!

3:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Please re-send yer latest message. It's late, I've been working for several hrs, and my brain is fried. By accident, I hit Reject instead of Publish. Mea culpa, 1000 apologies. This does happen once in a while, even when I hit Publish. But from what I can remember of it, yer nervous abt a Palin presidency (don't be; she'll be "managed," like Bush was; altho his handler was obviously psychotic). She'll be a riot; we'll be rolling on the floor, even without the parody from Tina Fey. BTW, Fellini's 1st name is Federico, and "Satyricon" is not representative of his great work.

So let's get the chant going, in any case: PALINDROME, LET'S BRING IT HOME! (I know, it makes no sense, but then neither does she. Our goal now is to promote maximum idiocy. We live in a land of dolts; the only serious political action left to us is to out-dolt them.)

Again, sorry about my faux pas here.


12:04 AM  
Blogger Bahayla said...

I've always thought that the grand farce of a Palin Presidency might be worth the end of civilization as we know it.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Carl,

Well, American civilization, at any rate (despite Georges Clemenceau's perceptive comment about it--we went from barbarism to decadence without the intervening stage of civilization). I doubt very many Europeans or Asians regard Sarah as anything more than a clown. But if we're going down the drain anyway, why not have some fun in the process?


It's possible that if more than a tenth of 1% of the American people knew what a palindrome was, we wouldn't be getting Dubya and Sarah in the White House, I dunno.

And what about Dick, working on his fifth heart attack, eh? All that rage and pain...just what you want to have in a man who's running the country...

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Athena did spring full blown from the head of Zeus, who was suffering from a migraine. So there may some hope of learning from such headlines which generate cluster headaches on a daily or weekly basis.

But it seems a lot of folks are getting relief from the idealogy expressed in the popular documentary circulating on the Internet, called "The Zeitgeit Addendum" which I viewed yesterday for the first time. I was impressed with it as a piece of rhetoric, as it certainly touches and responds to lot of the bruises and sores folks are enduring. In sum, though, it finally struck me as an exercise in proto-fascist, pop-gnostic salvationism offering a technological escape hatch from our social ills, all conjured by an individual who is apparently immune from error because he can "see through it all."
I don't know if you, Morris, or anyone else on the blog has seen this yet. Solutions such as the one proposed in this film are as much a sign of the times, as are the headlines.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Speaking of the NYT, it looks like Roger Cohen may have curled up with DDA recently. His latest column laments what we as a society have become. Here's his opening:

Where Oedipus once tormented us, it is now Narcissus. Pathologies linked to authority and domination have ceded to the limitless angst of self-contemplation. The old question — “What am I allowed to do?” — has given way to the equally scary “What am I capable of doing?” Alain Ehrenberg, a French author and psychologist, speaks of the “privatization of human existence.”

Community — a stable job, shared national experience, extended family, labor unions — has vanished or eroded. In its place have come a frenzied individualism, solipsistic screen-gazing, the disembodied pleasures of social networking and the à-la-carte life as defined by 600 TV channels and a gazillion blogs. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy grow in the lonely chamber of self-absorption and projection.

These trends are common to all globalized modern democracies, ranging from those that prize individualism, like the United States, to those, like France, where social solidarity is a paramount value. Ehrenberg’s new book, “La Société du Malaise” (“The Malaise Society”) is full of insights into the impact of narcissistic neurosis."

--Roger Cohen, Feb 22

MB, thanks. Your blog is one in a gazillion.

4:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, thank *you*, for yer input and the info. Dark Ages America = DAA, BTW. Altho I can think of a # of titles that might correspond to DDA, such as Deepening Doltage of America, Dummies Destroy America, Don't Depend on America, etc.

I'm actually working on a bk rt now on the Ehrenberg theme, but from an historical perspective. It might actually be obsolete b4 it's published, who knows.

Hang in there, vote for Palin, and it'll all work out.


5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: unemployment. I am a 2008 graduate of a top-quarter ranked law school. I am working for $7.50 an hour as a cashier in a bookstore. Everyone assures me that this economic "phase" (a laughable term) will pass. Frankly, I think the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

On the re-comment prof Berman dropped I was giving props to MikeC for the his site reference and offered the Satyricon movie as a point of contrast. i was just made aware of Fellini films and upon reading about this one Irealize it may take some daring to watch given my sensibilities.

and props to ryan for the "whatever" experience; it was funny-been there.

MB, whether Palin wins or not may not matter given the understanding there are those behind the scenes pushing the real decision buttons. It's understood they wanted Bush not McCain in 2000. Actually the concept I'm concerned about is called "Full Spectrum Dominance" that began under Bush/Rumsfeld. The capability to strike anywhere... Anywhere! In 2 hours or less. They want a winnable war of any scale.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Things will improve slightly for the wealthy, but nothing is being done for the 1 out of 5 that are unemployed--as that NYT article of Feb. 21 makes very clear. You might wanna think abt emigrating; I doubt there's much of a future here for the unemployed, the underemployed, and the badly paid.


Yes, I talk abt Full Spectrum Dominance in DAA; it's in the literature of the PNAC crowd. As good an example of legalized mental illness as I've ever run across. "Full Spectrum Flatulence" makes more sense, quite frankly. But I'm still pulling for Palin in '12, I just can't help myself.


I know, it looks like I'm in the midst of a complete mental breakdown, but (once again) it's late, and I'm tired.


1:11 AM  
Blogger Avital Pilpel said...

I'm not so sure. Looking back at the predictions in "Dark Ages America", it seems to me that most of them did not come to pass.

Bush had not given himself dictatorial powers; the Republicans are not in a permanent majority; the "surge" in Iraq had succeeded, and Iraq is doing far better than anybody imagined in 2006; the EU had not emerged as a "formidable entity"; and so on.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Actually, most of the email I get these days is from people documenting all the things that I *did* get right; I could give you a long list. As for your list: Bush did give himself those powers, at least on paper, and they remain on the books--arbitrary right to identify "enemy combatants" and throw them in jail for indefinite time periods (this was not just on paper); repeal of habeas corpus, etc. Nor has Obama objected to any of this stuff, or rolled it back, and torture and extraordinary rendition continue, as Leon Panetta has made clear. In a whole # of ways, the Obama admin is just Bush with a human face--the continuities are striking. Hence, it really is Bush Admin #3, a de facto continuation of Republican power. The surge in Iraq, as Obama himself admitted, just brought us back to Square One, and it looks like we are going to be stationed there for 10 to 15 more years--hardly a great success for us or them. The EU certainly is a formidable entity in terms of sci and tech research, pulling ahead of the US on a number of fronts; altho as a world challenge, its older demography is a drawback, as I said in DAA.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


The "privatization of human existence" ... that phrase is terrifying, all the more so for being so succinctly accurate.

We see it every day, don't we? So many people who need to be wired in, constantly connected, totally immersed in media -- because if all that were suddenly cut off, there wouldn't be much of an autonomous person left.

I think we're seeing the origin of Star Trek's Borg here -- not a hive mind brutally forced upon the populace, but eagerly & hungrily embraced. I fully expect to see cellphone & internet implants made available in my lifetime, plugged right into the jaw or skull. And people will gladly pay a fortune for them.

The digital opiate of the people, I'd say. And behind the mesmerizing media facade, the actual powers at play.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

On digital opiates: be sure to see the Robin Wms film, "The Final Cut." As for telecommunications implants, Wm Gibson anticipated that in 1984, in his novel "Neuromancer." Also relevant are "Bladerunner" (the director's cut) and Marge Piercy, "He, She and It." Enjoy!

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Apologies in advance, but I still can't shake the feeling that a change in consciousness is the primary requirement for the mess we're in. On the other hand, I don't believe that consciousness is separate from the body. So, here's my proposal (in half seriousness) for reducing the number of dolts in America:

"For every excess pound piled on the body, the brain gets a little bit smaller. That's the message from new research that found that elderly individuals who were obese or overweight had significantly less brain tissue than individuals of normal weight." -U.S. News & World report (2009) "As Waistlines Widen, Brains Shrink"

So, rather than starting each morning with high fructose corn syrup-sweetened cereal, we nourish our brains with an omelette instead. Of course, Kraft and Monsanto won't allow that to happen. But, you've got your campaign slogans; here's mine:

"Don't be a Bird Brain-- be an Egg Head!"

4:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

Yer slogan does have a nice ring to it. The problem I'm having is that I feel it is abs. essential that Sarah Palin get elected president in 2012, and if between now and Nov. 2012 lots of Americans become more intelligent, this would threaten the possibility of a Palin presidency. So I'd prefer a slogan like, "Eat High-Fructose Corn Syrup and Vote for Sarah," but it isn't very catchy, sad to say. Perhaps we could bat this around a bit, see what we come up with.

Palindrome, etc.-


5:57 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

"Go ahead and eat away, then you can be led astray"

8:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

"It'll be smooth sailin'
If you glut yourself, and
Vote for Palin!"

10:30 AM  
Anonymous John from IN said...

Whoa MB, you dipping into the good stuff lately? I love it!

I've taken to calling her "Generalissima Sarah", just to prepare myself for the awful nonsense to come. I really must save my kid from all this, but who takes Americans?

...and I must weigh in on the IN bits:

Bayh is as awful as his father was great.

Several years ago my neighbor shot himself in the foot at age 9. I guess we do start 'em early down here.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Many years ago Arthur Miller made the remark that Richard Nixon really was America; that his character was ours. He was rt, of course; but times have changed, and now it's clear who America is: Sarah Palin. Every American has a little Palin inside him/her, and it's just itching to come out. I tell u, if she doesn't get elected, I'm leaving the country. Oops, I forgot: I already did!

Country failin'?
Only one remedy: Palin!

1:42 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Got Palin?
Start bailin'!

It still does amaze me that so many are so utterly besotted with Sarah ... but you're right, she is the face & embodiment of what's become of American character. I wouldn't be surprised to see libraries & museums abandoned or torn down in the near future ...

A friend of mine says that for years now, she's been thinking seriously about stockpiling books in caves & other hidden places, to preserve against the advent of the next Dark Age. And I find myself going to as many library sales as possible, since discards & donated books are so inexpensive, because I hate to think of them ending up in a landfill somewhere.

Whenever I mention that to a lot of people, though, they assure me that it'll all be available on the Internet, so why worry? Well, who's ultimately going to control access to it? Or edit & revise it to suit The Powers That Be? How long before better & more voracious computer viruses eat up all that data? And I'm sure every nation is working on EMP weapons of some sort to cripply & destroy an enemy's digital capabilities with one swift stroke.

But a book will last a long time if it's protected.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out recent article by Niall Ferguson on commondreams.org. It's an attempt to analyze imperial collapse by means of systems analysis. You know the idea: tipping pt, straw that broke the camel's back. He thinks the US is gonna topple a lot faster than I do. No matter. Impt pt is that he says that "One day, a seemingly random piece of bad news" will come along, and puf! Synergistic anxiety, disaster multiplies, end of US. But nowhere in this article does he mention Sarah Palin as the possible bit of bad (to me, good) news! I searched in vain for Sarah, or Palin, and nada. Talk about not seeing the nose in front of yer face.

Stop yer wailin'!
Here comes Ms. Palin!

11:54 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I just read the Niall Ferguson article. It dovetails with some of my own thoughts this past week, after the latest blizzard to engulf the Northeast, where I live, as well as the earthquakes in Haiti & Chile. These things made me think more deeply about just how fragile civilization really is -- more so for one as complex (in a Rube Goldberg way) as ours. Seems to me it wouldn't even require a manmade catastrophe to damage us to the point of immediate collapse; some natural event could do it just as easily. Katrina was a foreshadowing of this possibility -- or is it more of an eventuality at this point?

Mike Cifone,

Your post on internal life (and the lack thereof) really resonates with me. That's what I see lacking in so many people -- and they themselves are somehow aware of it, as they desperately try to fill the hole within.

I'm not going to pretend I don't feel that urge sometimes myself. Even though I avoid as much commercialism as I consciously can, there's no filtering all of it out. It's insidious & powerful; those who create it know exactly what they're doing. I know there's no permanently safe mental place where we can't be touched by it, no bubble or sanctuary secure enough. Like Superman, we have to fight a never-ending battle against it!

Still, there's a difference between walking the consumerist world naked & vulnerable & unaware, and doing so with some knowledge of the dangers & pitfalls. If the environment is toxic, we at least know where to find some healing -- books, art, music, genuine human relationships. Doing that is just a bit harder these days, that's all.

I guess I'm proposing a hardheaded sort of hope, one with eyes wide open & seeing things clearly, however harsh at times. Bonhoeffer was right about there being no salvation in cheap grace, so to speak.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I will vote for Sarah Palin only if Dog The Bounty Hunter is her running-mate for vice president.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Cd happen, I suppose. The pt is that the way things are now, an actual tuna fish cd be president; it wdn't make any difference. In other words, you enter the oval office, and there in a large bathtub is a tuna fish, swimming around. This wd be the president, the creature running the country, making all the vital decisions. There's no way that Mr. Tuna cd do worse than what we've had in that office since 1981. And unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Tuna has a spine--real vertebrae.

Personally, I think a Palin-Tuna ticket wd hit the ball outta the park.


3:58 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Regarding a Palin presidency, be careful what you ask for...If elected, she just may decide to invade Mexico. You see, she probably believes that it would be the best place to set up a "Pyramid" scheme.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

True, but I have a feeling she might be especially vulnerable to Montezuma's Revenge. Now there's a neat image for you!

5:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read most of your books years ago. Thought to myself, now there's a guy who thinkslike I do. Just read Chris Hedges "Empire of illusion". 190 pages and 1 1/2 pages of solutions. If any of you hadn't figured it out yet, human nature is defective, and there will be no happy face ending. Being human is to suffer and we are doomed. So sorry.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim or whoevers reading, I'm starting to develop a classics reading list for educating my young kids. The mere notion of what was written above says I better work faster at this. I appreciate any website pointers.

Was his spine volunteered away by him before he decided to run for pres (in which case "hope" was pure deception) or was there a conversation with him somewhere on the campaign trail with cabal messengers that made him realize that either he'd have to volunteer it or they'd rip it out of him anyway? (hope this question wasn't already discussed).

The thing that I don't quite get is how he hasn't changed much/any of what Bush has implemented yet, Yet! he's called a socialist continuously. I'm flipping between, yeah we're dumber than dirt and we're dumber than dirt + the conspiratorial mass manipulation to keep people from going beyond left and right. Clearly some people don't want to like him at all, but that the media is helping them get substantial airplay is curious. Maybe it's simply hate and fear sells the clorox.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Neb,

On the spine thing: In 2007, the New Yorker ran an article abt Obama called "The Conciliator." Depending on yer pt of view, it cd be seen as very flattering--certainly, the writer of the article was very admiring of Obama. But the essential pt was that he was politically an Edmund Burke-type figure, who regarded society organically, and felt that change had to come abt very slowly; a kind of managed care, don't rock the boat outlook. Which is what we now have. That article turned out to be very prescient, except that "managed care" is basically a formula for acting as a funeral director for a dying nation--which is what both I and Francis Fukuyama have said in the past regarding Obama's historical role. This formula dictates a path of continuity rather than change (despite his absurd campaign slogan); which is why--check out Chris Hedges' column today (March 1) on truthdig.com--literally everything Bush Jr. launched is still in place, torture included. It depends on the context, of course. In some cases conciliation is wisdom; in this case, it's cowardice.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just read Niall Fergusons Fragile Empire article when he says "debating the stages of decline is a waste of time". I think he is way off base and Prof. Berman’s shot group is more on target. DAA’s argument of collapse based on the slow/ rapid (depending) trajectory carries more weight that Fergusons argument of one grain of sand will topple the hill. The phases of decline are very important considering America is well out of its twilight phase and in its dark ages with a dolt populace and a gov't rewriting that law to boil people to death (Uzbekistan), because fighting the war on terror traditionally is inconvenient (or more like impossible), any law to protect the American people such as a collective bargaining agreement when it becomes inconvenient is little more than a joke. Massachusetts Governor Duval Patrick a long time Union Buster dressed in the disguise of a democrat is already trying to get through legislation that would allow cities and town to not uphold there collective bargaining agreements with municipal workers. Governor Patrick has already started his offensive with cutting Police Officers education incentive and replacing their road side construction public safety detail jobs with flag men working for a private company’s profit. When the Government is turning against the people who are there to enforce its will; I think is a sign things are about to get very bad.

Another element of his story I have a beef with is when he says "Over the last three years, the complex system of the global economy flipped from boom to bust -- all because a bunch of Americans started to default on their subprime mortgages, there by blowing huge holes in the business models of thousands of highly leveraged financial institutions. The next phase of the current crisis may begin when the public begins to reassess the credibility of the radical monetary and fiscal steps that were taken in response. ” I don’t know for sure because I’m not an economist but I would say he is either not in reality or is helping pushing the “Mohawk valley formula “to blame poor people for the crash rather than the elite with their credit default swaps and proprietary trades. Every society needs its scapegoat’s whether in an small work place or a nation. Chris Hedges is probably right in last week’s article when he declares that the N word will probably return to the American vernacular.
~ Mike O'

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Speaking of decline, Roger Ebert's lastest blog entry was fascinating (in a scary way):


He begins:

"Sometimes in the noise of the news there will be a single item that pops out with clarity. That happened when I heard about Tracy, California, which is charging $300 every time the fire department answers an emergency call that doesn't involve a fire.

"That summons up not only the prospect of little Susie's kitten being left to die up in the tree, but also of her dad who has just collapsed with an asthma attack. One citizen said if her husband had a heart attack, she'd set her kitchen table on fire to dodge the fee."

The comments are even more fascinating. These two samples represent the two tones of those comments:

"I have been wondering lately why it has become so popular to be heartless and indifferent about our fellow human beings. Access to quality health care should be considered a basic human right, and it is inconceivable that the richest nation in the world will not adequately provide for its citizens."


"You and your elitist cocktail party buddies are really hilarious. Raise your glasses and smirk yourselves silly in your smug little lives while you can because you are correct when you say a storm is coming. Beginning in November 2010 when all of us poor pathetic losers in flyover country get together you will see real change that you can believe in."

And the voice of the Palin is heard throughout the land ...


I'm working on narrowing down a few choice sites recommending literary classics, and I'll post them within a few days.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

If you keep in mind that you are living in a nation of soulless morons, then these things won't get to you too much. By way of comparison, here is an excerpt from the Swedish Social Democratic platform of 2004:

"Everyone is fragile at some point in time. We need each other. We live our lives in the here and now, together with others, caught up in the midst of change. We will all be richer if all of us are allowed to participate and nobody is left out. We will all be stronger if there is security for everybody and not only for a few."

And they mean it! Can you imagine such a paragraph ever appearing, with serious intent, in the Democratic or GOP party platform? Oh no, not in the land of Ayn Rand...Fight, compete, get ahead, make money, and ps, enjoy your life!


5:59 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I don't really see (at least with the people I come in contact with) a lot of "soulless morons" but I do see people who are just interested in living their lives -- probably very shallowly I admit -- and not having much demanded of them. They relied on their leaders to be honest and ethical and we all know how that's turned out. Even though I agree with you that Obama has turned out to be even more spineless than his worst enemy could have hoped for, I think the hope and optimism he generated during the election was an encouraging sign. I live in a university town and lots of students knocked on my door to ask me to vote for him---and I did. If he had had the leadership qualities to be bold and demand real change from all of us I think he would have found young Americans behind him. When I talk to friends of my daughter they all want to do something significant with their lives and would, I believe, be willing to sacrifice to accomplish it. They seem to be lost and wanting direction and the outpouring of support for Obama temporarily focused them. Where's a Martin Luther King, Jr when you need him?!

6:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

There comes a pt in the history of every civilization when "the fix is in." We are at such a pt. It wd be nice if Obama weren't a coward, and had actual values he was willing to defend; but the major structures of this country won't permit that to make a difference. In fact, they won't permit such a person to even get close to the White House (Nader, Kucinich, etc.), and they are certainly in a position to prevent it from happening. The Pentagon, the banks, the major corporations--they have a particular historical trajectory that isn't going to change, and is not going to allow change except in a cosmetic sense. From that pt of view, Obama is no fool: he understands this. Of course, given these structural realities, it helps if the president doesn't have any clear values--that is, it helps him, makes it easier, because he can just pretend to be doing things. I suppose it's nice that all of these young people were initially optimistic, but I can't see it leading anywhere. The US will not become a different country; it's not Sweden, for example; and unless things break down in a major way, the country will just continue on in its gradual downward descent. No president, no MLK, no public leader can change that now; things are much too far gone for any particular individual to be able to make a difference. If the excitement the youth of this country originally had over Obama is finished (and I'm hoping it is), the solution is not to look for another leader (which will just repeat the same illusion), but to come to understand why such a search makes no sense. When young people ask me what they should do, I counsel them to emigrate, and I'm very much saying that for their own good, i.e. so that they can have a decent future. What do they think is going to happen here in the US, in their lifetime? Some miraculous turnaround? It takes very different values backed by real political power for that to happen, and this combination is nowhere to be found. We are not living in "Avatar"; that is a total fantasy. All our youngsters today have to look forward to is increasing military adventures (our hit list is quite long), a dysfunctional economy that will quite definitely not provide for them in old age, and a cultural ambience devoid of meaning. I find Americans soulless because they literally don't know who they are. I strike up conversations with ex-pats down here, and I can barely stay awake--it's all about Mexican weather and lower prices; that's what they think life is about. It's as though I were talking to ghosts. Although the decline of any civilization is a very complex process, I can't help thinking that ol' Oswald Spengler was right (and Toynbee as well, of course): when a civ loses its central Idea, its sense of purpose or meaning, it goes into slow suicide; and although it can rally momentarily, even for ten or twenty years, the overall trajectory cannot be changed. The loss of soul on the macrolevel is reflected by its loss on the micro, i.e. in individual lives. We are drifting now, with no discernible purpose. O, there's art and literature and love and philosophy and all that, but these are pursued--if at all--as private endeavors, personal preoccupations. It's not enough. Although I detest the political right in this country, as you know, I do have to give them credit for one thing: they understand that the US no longer has a moral center, and they are angry about it. (What they propose to fill that vacuum with, of course, is a whole different story.) I'm angry too, but perhaps I shouldn't be: after all, Spengler and Toynbee were talking about large-scale historical processes, and it doesn't really make sense to be angry at them; they just are what they are.


11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prof Berman,
When you speak of counseling students about emigration what do you think of countries similar to America. What do you think of Canada for instance, how similar is their corporate state to Americas? For instance I have read that Canada’s Supreme Court has made unfair rulings favorable to companies like Monsanto and against the Canadian farmer. Do you or anyone on this blog have any recommended reading for a young person considering a move to a place such as Canada? Books shedding light on the nuances of Canadian life & culture… and /or European countries that would be relevant to an American making a move.
Thank you for your consideration, Mike O’

12:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Mike,

A gd question. I tell you, I lived in Canada for 7.5 yrs, and in England for 3; and although there are some real differences between the US vs. Canada and the UK, I wouldn't encourage a young American to immigrate to an Anglo-Saxon country. The isolation of the individual in those societies is as bad as it is here, and the ideology of life as a scramble for money and success is very similar to that of the US. Of course, there is no such thing as utopia, the perfect country; but I suspect the similarities of the US and Canada would finally be a turnoff for someone seeking a genuine alternative to the American Way of Life.

As far as Europe goes, I was considering that before I decided on Mexico, and my web search turned up a number of ex-pat sites that were very helpful. There are sites, newsletters, books, etc.; you just have to do the research. And this is important; I would never recommend just moving somewhere without doing a good deal of prior investigation. Every country has a down side; it's a question of what you can tolerate. The socioeconomic sanity of Scandanavia, for example, has to be balanced by a tolerance for cold weather, very short days (in winter), and impossible languages. Or I ask people who want to move to Mexico, How do you feel about scorpions and dysfunctional bureaucracies? Finally, in the end, you do have to just take a leap of faith, of course; but it doesn't hurt to have the benefit of other people's experience.

And one last thing: the US has an upside as well, and if (for example) a young person tells me they want to stay here and make a difference, I say: "Knock yourself out." Personally, I think they are going to be badly disappointed, but that is their choice to make. Also, by about 2003 or 4 it was clear to me that the down side of America was too down/dark for me; I was profoundly unhappy there, and I couldn't see for the life of me how it was going to change, since the things I objected to were quintessentially American. But again, this is just me. The only thing that worries me about anyone staying in the US is lack of exposure to other possibilities. Something like 88% of Americans don't travel abroad (Mexico and Canada excepted). It's hard to get a sense of America as a whole, from the outside, without actually getting outside of it; and of course it's also hard to get a sense of other countries, and what they are like, unless you go there for a while. This is all pretty obvious, I suppose.


1:08 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Honestly i believe if another leader like Dr. Martin Luther King emerged and had enough Americans willing to at least listen to or acknowledge his or her ideas, it wouldn't be long before they were neutralized in some way. Other 60s activists like Jerry Rubin who originally protested against Wall Street actually worked there later in life.

I agree with Dr. Berman's comments about other English speaking countries like the UK and Canada. I grew up in England and came to the States in the early 90s. The UK has very close ties with the US and is quite similar in many regards but does have a National Health Care system. Their social welfare system is a lot stronger as well. However the country is dominated by the thought (much like the US) that your status is determined by how much money you make, what car you drive etc. At the same time it’s no way near as bad as it is in America.

I do read British newspapers daily and find things are changing and becoming more Americanized though. When i was growing up you didn't really have to worry about paying for university or further education after secondary school (its like high school) but the last government proposal i read would require students to pay 3000 pounds a year which works out to be about $15,000 for a university degree. I was planning to send my kids back to the UK for their higher education but it looks like by the time they grow up it will be just as expensive as the US.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim thanks in advance for whenever you narrow down your list. Indeed there are many sites out there and its going to be interesting research on my part for the "classical" education that I want for me (again) and my kids.

The headlines are awful as usual
- teen suicides, child neglect, fire departments charging to put out a fire, professors, teachers fired enmass, (no torture today)...
but today I found one that tweaked me in a different way:

"Rogue Wave Hits Cruise Ship"
--says mainstream media.

I never knew a wave could be rogue.
This is like war on terror language now being applied to the natural environment. To apply our individualistic, out-of-control human characteristics to a wave, to nature seems just crazy, yet it seems widely accepted. Somehow it smells like thought conditioning. Somebody tell me I'm going paranoid and making too much of it. I can handle it.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

RE: "...Some miraculous turnaround? It takes very different values backed by real political power for that to happen, and this combination is nowhere to be found."

You often talk about "how history works"...but what about meta-history--how does that work? In "The Passionate Mind Revisited", Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad write:

"This is not a book that resigns itself to a diminution of human life and possibility in the face of the reality that the mechanisms and modes of human interaction that brought us to the top of the chain are now bringing us down. This is the way evolution works, by putting up a wall that seems insurmountable-and actually is, unless the species involved, us, can cut the Gordian knot by doing something really different, by springing out of millennia of conditioning and becoming a conscious ingredient in the evolutionary process."

The authors are talking about humanity in general, not American doltdom. But even here, there may be real hope. I do not wish to see a Palin presidency, but I do think that it could be a good thing if the health care reform bill does not pass. Then, out of utter frustration, the single payer system that we should have been discussing to begin with, may be put back on the table--sooner than later.

I am not, by nature, an activist; I would leave this place, in a heartbeat, if I could. But, staying put--and fighting-- may not turn out to be such a bad gig, after all.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

I'm not sure "metahistory" can do much more than comment on history, although as I say in the Twilight book, there can be (very) long-range effects we cannot predict. There's a great film on the subject I always found inspiring, "Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000," by Alain Tanner (Swiss filmmaker). As I have said on this blog, on more than one occasion, the decision to stay or leave is a personal one; I would just counsel those who care to stay and fight to realize that history moves much more slowly than a single human life. So the chances of seeing any results in, say, 50 years are small (except negative ones, for now). In addition, this is just my prediction, but following the pattern of the Roman Empire, if there is to be any kind of renaissance, it won't happen on our soil; it's likely to take place somewhere else.

I did read the blurbs on Kramer and Alstad a few days ago, and I have to tell you that I'm just not impressed by the stuff in that genre, because it never talks about real power. The idea of change is simply voluntary effort and shifts in consciousness--well meaning, but in the end, nothing much is different. The Green movement is a perfect example: in Europe, they form real political parties and get hold of seats in parliament; in the US, we "talk green," read Al Gore and Thos Friedman--the corporate cooptation of green--and finally it's just same old same old. Do you know how many books since 1965 came and went, saying that if we change our minds we can change the outside world? Evolution, by definition, means that substantive change is not up to "conscious agents"; it's much more a question of what T.S. Eliot called "vast, impersonal forces." Which is not to say that one should not act--hence the role I assign to NMI's in "Twilight"--but again, the results will happen (if at all) long after one is dead, most likely, and may very well be the opposite of what one intended (history is nothing if not ironic).

Just my 2 cents on the matter; I didn't get a doctorate in Prophecy.


9:37 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I know what you say about the overall culture and steady decline of America is true; a person would have to be blind not to see it, especially since the economic crisis has highlighted the defects of the culture and excellerated the decline for a lot of people. It's hard for me to look at the hardworking people I work with (for example) and not want a better future for them too. I know they're leading unexamined lives but despite that, they are good people. They would qualify as dolts (and perhaps I would too) but what I see are people struggling to stay afloat. What they want appears to be pretty simple and what most people want---to raise their families in peace, earn enough to live in dignity and decide for themselves what's important in their own lives. It's a dilemma---they should be paying attention to what Larry Summers is up to rather than The Bachelor but that's not going to happen.

I've been encouraging my youngest daughter to emigrate and build a life outside the US and have considered it myself. When the full extent of the cumulative mistakes we've made in the last 30 years hits the fan (and I don't think it has yet) then life here will be unpleasant----crushing taxes, restricted civil liberties and limited honest journalism.

9:55 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


The difficulty isn't in finding good websites devoted to the classics, it's winnowing them down to a manageable number. :)

I agree with your comment about the "rogue" wave, and don't think you're being overly sensitive about it. NBC's coverage of the Olympics was larded with martial metaphors -- Americans were "fighting, struggling, taking no prisoners, attacking, waging mortal combat," etc. If Americans won, it was a well-deserved victory. If they didn't, there was something fishy going on, even if no one could quite define what it was.

Everything is a war these days, isn't it? Notice how "break-in" became "home invasion" a few years ago, for instance.

Susan W,

I empathize with your post. Who wants to live a life of despair, after all? I don't want to be slowly & mercilessly crushed by the sheer amount of brain-dead crap that chokes our culture, believe me! It's just a constant struggle, and that can wear you down. Some days it cuts more deeply than others, I guess.

Just today my wife & I stopped at our local contemporary arts gallery, which offers classes, studio space, exhibits, to all. It's one of the warmest, un-snobbish places I know. Turns out they may have to close because of the economy -- although the town can find plenty of money for car shows & doo-wop revivals.

At the same time, I read that 43 states have laws permitting the open wearing of handguns, and there's a push to make it nation-wide. What does it say about a culture that wants & needs such a thing? That believes it'll cut down on crime & increase civility?

The NMI model is sounding better & better all the time, to be honest. I'm starting to think of our home as our own little monastery ...

Let me second Professor Berman’s recommendation of “For Jonah …” If you can find a copy of the out-of print-tape, it’s well worth getting. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be available on DVD, at least not in this country. Funny, that …

1:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

The crash of '08 is nothing compared to what's coming, esp. since the bailout was a bandaid on cancer; it helped the rich, and didn't address the fundamental structural flaws in our economy. Your daughter would be smart to start making plans to leave now. Eventually, the Army will be patrolling the streets; I can't imagine how that *won't* happen; unless there really are enuf people glued to the TV, watching The Bachelor, I suppose. Teddy Roosevelt once said it was more important to have a hard head than a soft heart. I'm sure we need both, but I'm also sure very little can be solved with soft heads...which extend right up to the White House. At least Bush had an excuse: he had nothing upstairs. Obama has plenty upstairs, which he's somehow managed to puree in an osterizer.

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

From what I understand, Kramer and Alstad are talking about social evolution, not biological. So, consciousness is the wild card here. We don't really know what consciousness *is*, let alone how it may operate within history. Add a little chaos dynamics, and anything is possible.

But, not everything: you're undoubtedly right about the Green movement. I voted for Cynthia McKinney, along with about seventeen other people. The Green Party is going nowhere in this country. Then again, we have yet to run out of water, oil, and topsoil. So there's still hope for us! (Not very pleasant, no matter how you slice it).

9:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, when T.S. Eliot talked about "vast, impersonal forces," he certainly wasn't talking about biological evolution. And we do know something about consciousness in history: the evidence is that Marx was right: existence determines consciousness (much) more often than the reverse. Long-term, I agree with you: it can be subtle and unpredictable. But again, Marx was correct when he said that the outcome of events is the product of everybody's intentions, but typically not what anybody expected. The whole New Age consciousness genre, of which I suspect Kramer and Alstad are a part, is usually historically uninformed, and based on a notion of individual consciousness multiplied by millions = X. And of course, the X is always good: we are on the cusp of a new global consciousness, we are transcending former problems, and so on. Sure, when pigs fly. A very good antidote to this sort of New Age b.s. is a work by a genuine scholar, namely John Gray, in his book "Black Mass". Hell, our problems are just beginning, and the weight of history is very powerful in this regard. The chances that the 21st C will be the most brutal yet are very good. But rest assured: 5 years from now (or perhaps next month), another Kramer-type book will tell us that planetary consciousness and global transformation are right around the corner. And man, does this stuff sell! Americans can't get enough of it. I suspect that for every John Gray book sold, Kramer sells 10,000. This ought to tell us something...


ps: Chaos theory is just a theory--nothing more. Heuristically it is valuable, in that it can be very imaginative; but it doesn't prove all that much. Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point," that summarized a lot of this stuff, was rightly castigated by a number of scientists as simplistic and generally incorrect. A lot of systems theory in general fell into the category of intellectual fashion, in fact. Again, heuristically useful; perhaps more durable than "string theory" in physics (which now carries as much weight as phlogiston theory, if I'm not mistaken); but it seems to me it is a "lens" of possibility, not anything that is empirically solid.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Your "genuine scholar", John Gray, advocates nuclear energy and "clean" coal as the remedy for the environmental crisis. He writes: "It would be ironic if, because of their irrational hostility to high-tech solutions, the greens were to end up as much a threat to the environment as George W. Bush."

You're right: Kramer and Alstad are certainly no Marxists. They ask the question, which came first: the chicken or the egg? and come up with a different answer.

"The world we find ourselves in was created by humans and is an expression of us, so it will not change until we do. It is a product of our beliefs, fears, desires, perceptions, and power structures. Our social, economic, political, and other power structures were all created and perpetuated by the human mind. Our problems involve the nature and problems of being human, and unless there is real change in people's minds and hearts, there is no change at all. The external is a manifestation of the internal."

Usually, I argue just the opposite, as you do--"existence determines consciousness". But, I wonder, can both be true at the same time? Returning to my earlier nutritional proposal: you eat eggs, your brain gets smarter, you make smarter decisions.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You need to read more than 2 sentences from Gray before you decide he's full of it. "Black Mass" is an extrapolation of the work of Carl Becker, one of the most astute analysts of the modern world the US has ever produced. Yes, amigo, a genuine scholar.

Which Kramer and Alstad are not. It's not just a question of arbitrarily picking chicken or egg: the historical evidence is not on the side of consciousness makes reality, and the argument that if each of us changes our minds and this multiplies, all will be well, is not the way history works. As I said, in the long run there are "waves," and there certainly is some sort of reciprocal interaction. But we've heard this argument over and over again, and it sure sells a lot of books and gets people all excited. But it's not all that removed from arguing that if we all concentrate, we can reverse the earth's gravitational field. The only harmonic convergence we are likely to see is cash flow into New Age wallets, I fear.

There is more evidence that problems are not solved so much as forgotten. The USSR didn't fall because of "consciousness," for example, but because of structural problems in that economy that took 73 years to cause it to crack. All those fierce debates during the Cold War, Arthur Koestler and John Le Carre and etc--seem almost 15th century now. Folks like Kramer and Alstad read a lot of Buddhism; not much history. As for the American public, they generally think history began around 20 years ago; which means you can sell them anything--esp. the idea that the mind creates reality. As an antidote to that genre, I cannot recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book, "Bright-Sided," enough.


5:15 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

It would be unfair to characterize Kramer and Alstad's work as New Age "positive thinking". In their previous book, "The Guru Papers", they critiqued the concept that "you create your own reality". And, in a recent interview, Joel Kramer even takes aim at Buddhist mindfulness: "What are you mindful of? Your breath? Or are you mindful of the war in Iraq?" A blurb on their website says that they advocate an approach they call "possibilism", which "frees you from unrealistic optimism and deadly pessimism." Yeah, I know-- you're a realist, not a pessimist!

5:18 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I'm both (since they are the same these days, at least for the US), but thanks anyway for setting me straight on Kramer and Alstad. I do wonder, however, where the issue of power fits into their scheme of social change. I should probably read the book, but I have this terrible feeling that I would suffer a lot, doing it. I know, no excuse.


8:42 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Here's a little tease, from a section in Kramer and Alstad's book on "Pleasure & Power":

"One of the great challenges facing us in evolving socially is how to use power without being a slave to its pleasures...How can those with less power regulate those with more?...And how to get those with more power (including corporations, governments, and other institutions) to make human viability and the necessary well-being of people and the planet their top priority?"

They don't appear to have any real answers, but then, you probably wouldn't trust them if they did.

Here's another slogan for you: "No, I'm not a pessimist--I'm a Sarah Palinist"

7:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, it wd depend on what those real answers were. For one thing, they would have to be very specific: point to political parties or power blocs that have real leverage. All K & A seem to be doing is talking about "us" (when there is no "us") and power in the abstract. Anybody can do that. And to talk about current corporations and institutions making the public good their priority is to be vastly ignorant of the inherent nature of those entities, and of American history in general. The tension between private and public interests in the US was pretty clearly resolved in favor of the former in colonial times. (Richard Bushman deals with this for Connecticut during 1690-1765 in "From Puritan to Yankee," but a case can be made for it happening even earlier.) My pt is that change has to have muscle behind it, and K & A are talking feel-good, as far as I can make out, not muscle. Nor is individual change (a non-solution in this country with a very long and ineffective history, tho immensely popular), change. Again, I haven't read the book, but from what you quote, it sounds a lot like Oprah--whose "politics," as Janice Peck shows, is the perfect product of the neoliberal era.

Anyway, keep in mind that a Palinist is a person who is optimistic about decline, welcomes Sarah because she would be hilarious in carrying out her job, and feels that if the US cd use anything rt now, it's a gd laugh. Mr. Obama is a lot of things (sad, incoherent, spineless, and most offensive of all: boring), but he definitely ain't funny. I'm guessing we can at least agree on that.

Thanks, as usual, for writing-


8:04 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim, thanks.
What you said on the olymics resonates though I didn't catch the much of the sliding olympics this go'round with the exception of the gold hockey match. All i kept noticing were the corporate logos and broadcaster hubub about what player would play for what corporation and national heroism. As Prof MB has said, "the fix is in." The logo count went to Nike. I think.

More in-your-face-DAA: democracynow.org broadcast on Mar 3. Violence against women written into law; the abortion issue and more. Arm women against the present and increasing brutality.

Prof MB / Art:
In following your conversation I wonder what is your thought on the role of consciousness when slavery is abolished in a nation and is recognized nationally as cruel? Or apartheid is repealed? Reconciliation is opted as opposed to revenge? Not asking for an answer in each general case but how does history work where people did change their minds (simply or not) about some institution now detestable and more people started behaving more consciously?

12:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


As to your question, you'd have to take these things case by case, I suppose. Consciousness can become very different in a social situation without it making any difference for the larger political entity. This is sometimes called "cultural lag." In the case of slavery, for example, it was an anachronism by 1860, yet there were no signs of it being abolished in the South. Some historians argue that it was economically successful within the larger capitalist economy, so that there was no motivation to change anything. Others, that it was economically weak, and would have eventually disappeared, as a result. But consciousness alone wasn't going to do it, because if that were the crucial factor, it would have already disappeared. The Civil War did it, and the motivation for that was much larger than slavery or no-slavery. As for the causes of that...a very long discussion, with no 100% clear answers after 150 years. But many historians say that the South was in a box; given the economic pressure coming from the North, it had to fight, or become a totally different civilization, and it chose to fight. Consciousness, attitudes, began to change (slowly) *after* the defeat of the Confederacy.

Much the same thing can be said about the "cultural lag" of apartheid. It was certainly an anachronism for decades prior to its official ending in South Africa, but it took a changed existence--in particular, demographics--to render it no longer tenable. My guess is that something similar will happen in Israel/Palestine--i.e. the demographics by 2050, say, will make it impossible for Israelis to stay in charge when 90% of its population is Arab. Do you realize how long overdue a two-state solution is in the Middle East, with absolutely nothing being done about it? I'm not saying that consciousness is a nonfactor in such events; but it certainly isn't a sufficient one, and if we were depending on it for history to "move," so to speak, we'd be waiting a very long time. The transition from medieval to modern, for example, is clearly a change in consciousness; but it took raw empirical events--plague, wars, technological changes, and a collapsing economy--to make that happen. Even then, the medieval consciousness stayed with us in various mutations, even in the case of things that are regarded as quintessentially modern, such as the ideas of Enlightenment and perfectibility of man. (Check out Carl Becker, "The Heavenly City of the 18th-C Philosophers".)


ps: Another good example of cultural lag is the question of who was to be the leading hegemonic/imperial power in the world. If you check out newspapers from the early 50s, for example, you'll see that despite the fact that England had been severely weakened by two world wars, and had lost control of India, consciousness had it that she was the world leader--"the sun never sets etc." Economically, she couldn't compare to the US by the early 50s, and yet the perception remained that "Britannia rules the waves." It changed over night, after the Suez crisis of 1956. Eisenhower told Harold MacMillan that if England didn't retreat from Suez immediately, he would destroy the pound; and MacMillan understood that this was completely do-able. So England withdrew, and it finally became clear what "should have been" (if we were to rely on consciousness alone) decades earlier: the US was now the world's policeman, not the UK.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

I see. It brings to mind what kind of lag until some future renaissance could occur from today. The extreme individualist way of life has to become "anachronistic:" impractical or maybe just not interesting. And that may not occur due to some heightened consciousness but rather it will follow (If i'm following your right). And from today that is way out there in the future.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Individuals tend to change (if at all) when there really is no choice, and societies may behave in the same way. Keep in mind that a lot of alcoholics "hit bottom" on the other side of death. In terms of its basic value system, the US appears to be doing something of that sort. As Gore Vidal once put it: "Americans never learn; it's part of our charm."


9:03 AM  
Blogger Nicholas Colloff said...

Sometimes it is a snippet of recent history that highlights have far we have come down a bleak road. I have been reading Frances Spalding's excellent biography of the artist John Piper and his wife Myfanwy. She was the librettist for Benjamin Britten's 'The Turn of the Screw' and in passing it is mentioned that its premiere performance was broadcast on television, live, in thirteen countries! I paused considering how unimaginable that would be, now, a mere forty years later (my own current span of life)!!!

4:08 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Friends,

As we continue our discussions of consciousness, decline and the US Empire, you might want to take about 1.5 hours and listen to this rather fascinating audio interview done with David Foster Wallace back in 2003 for a German TV show (it's in English):


It is quite telling to hear an author such as Wallace struggle, awkwardly, to find the language and concepts to clearly articulate the nature and extent of the cultural problem we now face with increasing severity each year (just take a look at the stats on reading in the USA: a study published by the NEA (*Reading At Risk*) predicts that by 2050, book reading will all but disappear, becoming a "novelty" or an "eccentricity". Rgt now, less than half (46%) of all Americans aged 18 or older read literature, with the rate of decline clocking it at an astounding 10 percentage points since 1982 (thus the predicted end of book reading by 2050). Then you ask how and what we are actually reading, and you get the picture ... I just picked up another copy of Fahrenheit 451).

Wallace's remarks resonate so very deeply with what MB wrote back in his 1989 piece, Coming To Our Senses. In a 2008 Rolling Stone article eulogizing Wallace, he is quoted as saying that what he really wanted to do was to write "stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live".

Perhaps the quote with which MB's CTOS opens furthers, beautifully, this sentiment, this holy quest of ours:

"The brave new world to be explored by the twenty-first century is the immense labyrinth of the soma, of the living bodily experience of human individuals. And we of the latter third of the twentieth century have been appointed discoverers and early cartographers of this somatic continent" (Thomas Hanna, *Bodies in Revolt*).

7:59 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

A hard head (and a clear head) will be indispensable but, for me at least, the recognition of others limitations without feeling contempt for them is equally important. Mike C. posted some discouraging information on reading stats and we've probably all seen this in our circle of family and friends. I gave my brother-in-law a copy of TAC and he "hasn't gotten around to reading it yet." What he has read are all the Clive Cussler and James Patterson crap plus A Purpose Driven Life. What to do? He's a nice man and unlikely to change. I've never known many people who are interested in the culture we live in or ideas larger than the mundane concerns we all have to deal with. What they don't realize (but are becoming dimly aware of now) is how this pervasive disinterest and lack of attention is now impacting the mundane details of their lives. As Americans we've had the luxury of reading fantasy (to the extent we read anything) and ignoring reality but it's about to catch up with us.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Thanks for the David Foster Wallace link. A video of the interview is also available on the web. Go to the Wikipedia article on Wallace; under Interviews, click on: "David Foster Wallace im Interview (2003)"

Nobody in my family reads anything but detective novels. My brother's birthday is coming up--I'm sending him a music CD with "thoughtful" lyrics, instead.

"Yeah, you think you can live/And dream your own fate/You think you can wish/And walk through the gate/Oh, it isn't gonna be that way/It isn't gonna be that way"--
Steve Forbert

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Susan W.,

It's true, so many people are simply struggling to get by, even if they're making "enough" -- but it's never quite enough, is it? Somewhere inside, there's the fear of slipping behind, losing it all, having nothing to show for their lives. And with good reason, given the times we live in. They know there's something terribly wrong.

Again, I'm not pretending to be immune to this feeling myself. I can understand not wanting to look too closely at things, to lose yourself in comforting distractions. There's just so much free-floating fear & anxiety in the air now! Who wouldn't turn away from the happy shiny illusion, leaving it in place rather than tearing it away with a sweep of the hand?

But while many are deserving of sympathy & empathy, there are many more who do fit the description of "soulless morons." And I think it's in large part because they've willingly chosen that life. I can see them as victims too, but they still frighten me -- we're precisely the sort of scapegoats they crave & need to destroy.

That does sound harsh, doesn't it? I didn't used to be like that, and I try not to let it overwhelm me now ... but I fear for all the beauties & art & culture that have made my life so rich & meaningful, because they seem so threatened these days.

2:54 PM  
Anonymous tim lukeman said...

And this is the sort of thing that frightens me:

Infant starves to death while parents raise virtual child online:


The blogger quotes William Saletan:

"That’s the real horror behind the Korean story: The balance of power between the worlds is shifting. Here and there, virtual reality is gaining the upper hand. The clearest evidence is death. When people consumed by the digital world begin to die and kill in the physical world, flesh is losing its grip. It still defines our deaths, but it no longer defines our lives.

"South Korea is a warning of what lies ahead. It’s a digitally networked country in which 71 percent of people use the Internet, many of them at 24-hour broadband cafes. At least two Korean men have died of exhaustion after round-the-clock video-game marathons. Another man, nagged by his real-world mother for disappearing into video games, allegedly resolved the dilemma by killing her. The dead baby is just another casualty of this war between the worlds — a war increasingly dominated by the world in which you’re reading this."

Illusion over reality.

Hey, but "it's just a game, you've got to relax sometimes, life is hard enough without bring dragged down by the outside world ..."

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman, Art and Tim,

There was a Frontline special on about 2 months ago about the virtual world that was extremely illuminating to me. They reported the two deaths in Korea had occurred in a huge video/computer arcade but not the other information you mentioned. I detest this kind of "entertainment"and I've seen children as young as 4 mesmerized by it. It's hard to imagine anything more dehumanizing.

I know what you're saying about people with a genial, pleasant surface---under pressure that can crack pretty quickly and then they're looking for someone to blame and pay for their pain. The majority of people I'm making excuses for are soulless (lacking in purpose or awareness)and want to spend their time cruising thru life on autopilot. I know a lot of people like this and have no answers. Really, all I'm saying is I know it's pointless to do anything other than like them for the good they do have and hope they return the favor. I don't think we should only read serious material or watch documentaries and never read a murder mystery or something just for fun---it's just, from what I've seen---a steady diet of that has the same effect watching crap TV. I don't want Americans (or anyone else) pushed to the edge of their endurance. History has shown us how really ugly that can be.

6:58 PM  
Anonymous John from IN said...

Susan and Tim,

In a way this maniacal approach to life makes sense. After all, if you live more-or-less exclusively in a man-made environment, while you consume man-made images & pre-digested ideas (the ideas that allow you to be a "winner" in life 2.0), surely you'd prefer a virtual life that behaves predictably. It's like a good detective novel, it's comforting because you know the rules going in.

And not to pick on Korea, but they are home to the 17 hour school day. Not to mention the absurd lengths that are gone to in order to make sure a kid learns fluent English. Bizarre stuff, it's like a smaller US with more ambition to destroy itself.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Friends,

So much to say. Where to begin?

It's a good deal worse than technology just creeping up on us and slowly taking over -- transforming -- our lives and ways of being. Our culture, or rather the educated elites who manage the various apparatuses of our culture & society, seems to be caught up in a religious ecstasy over technology. I think Slavoj Zizek is basically right when he says that what we're looking at here is a kind of new gnosticism -- but (I'd add) of a "secular" sort that MB chronicles in CTOS (I don't want to say it's the *same* as the Nazi variety -- there are no death camps, etc. -- but perhaps it is formally/structurally analogous).

It was explained to me over dinner this evening by a wary school principle how, essentially, technology is no longer a mere means to convey intellectual content. Technology rather *is* that very intellectual content itself: technological prowess and "mastery" *is* the end of education. Of course, as my guest further hypothesized to me, this fits in with the US's primary (if quixotic) goal, to be No. 1 at all costs. If we are to be No. 1 in a "global, technological" world, our students must therefore be technologically skillful and knowledgeable (to be "competitive"). Thus our ultimate socio-economic and military end -- Empire, or maintenance of superpower status -- is achieved by this inversion of educational ends: technology as the end of education in turn becomes the means to achieve (again, however quixotic) socio-economic and military supremacy.

Take a look at this slice of propaganda, well known to educators now (or so I'm told):


This is where the whole techno-ecstasy thing is really getting Riefenstahl-esque.

As for this migration from real life to virtual/avatar life: take a look at Jaron Lanier's "manifesto", published this year: "You Are Not A Gadget". (I never thought that Turing's infamous "test" could ever be given a spiritual/moral interpretation ...).

Lanier's manifesto is sincere, but not deep enough: technology changes us as much as we change/create it -- it's one of the determining factors of consciousness, insofar as it's part of existence. There is no "solution" here because in a sense there's no "problem", or rather, the only real change here -- or "solution" -- is historical, and so we have to simply see where things go. MB's "monastic" option is the only real option here. Seriously. (And I think Lanier would agree.)

Also of note (though I haven't dipped into it deeply yet) is Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" (2005).

(It would be good if we could all get together now and then and do a couple seminars on this stuff, and see if we couldn't write up something formally -- something kind of like the Medieval "Quodlibet", which, if you know, was the published summary of a long session of disputations between students and master teacher.)

11:03 PM  
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