March 16, 2010

C-SPAN BookTV Video, 2006

Dear Friends,

I did this talk (with Q&A) at the New Dominion Bookshop in Charlottesville, VA in May 2006. Apparently, C-SPAN just made its BookTV video archives available online, and the bookstore folks were kind enough to send me the link. As follows:




Blogger Dave said...

I enjoyed that discussion. Interesting how people ask you for something positive, some action, something for which they can hope. In reality the absence of typical political action, positive thinking, hope, etc., is a relief, at least for me. To see things as they are, even if disastrous, seems to create space for a personal life that is more positive.

I have no "levers of power" and don't want any. Maybe just a selfish "cop out?" I don't know.



7:50 PM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Thank you for sharing that. I relate it to the experience I wrote about in a previous comment, being around young people planting trees. These volunteers are growing up in a culture that is declining perceptibly by the week. Yet there is something in the human spirit that allows them to create relationships based on meaning. The Indians have an image from the Hindu tradition, where the mind is seen as a beautiful lotus flower that grows out of the muck.

It is ironic that individuals can seem to hold onto values, while as a group society is obviously coarsening, becoming shallow, materialistic and narcissistic.

The rule of large numbers says that you cannot predict death, accidents, or even purchases on any given day in small groups, but that if you take an entire city, you can predict within a few percentage points what those statistics will be.

In this case, it seems that the large number reflects the cheapening of Guatemalan culture, easily observable by individuals both in it and on the outside looking in. Yet, at the same time, there are examples of individuals who live in this muck who retain their perception of who they are as a people.

Perhaps these are your "monastics," the preservers of culture who, while not being untouched, have somehow not been destroyed, either.

I see this phenomenon all the time. It can't be that all the people I know and meet just happen to be hip to Morris Berman's theories. Most have never heard of you, but make comments that intuitively mirror the same sense of what is happening to us.

If we are aware that decline is happening, is it happening? Do individuals in schools of fish know what they are doing with their moves?

I think the answer in our "democracy" is that large numbers always vote for the top brands, including in politics. Religious fanatics and ultra conservatives in Texas just re-wrote history by their textbook recommendations, which will be adopted statewide, and due to the size of the state, become the de facto text the publishers will write for the whole country.

And yet, kids will survive, even without stumbling upon Howard Zinn.

8:49 PM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Prescient, prescient, prescient.

I wonder if the guy who stormed out ever saw the video later, after the economic collapse and the shift to the other right wing of the American political system?

Your comment that if your main value is growth, you have no value reminds me of what the argument always is for some unnecessary development that spoils the environment: "It will create jobs, and grow the tax base," or against some progressive move like preserving land or prohibiting certain chemicals or practices: "It will cost jobs!"

What does it say about our system if our population cannot maintain its standard of "living" without ruining environments and killing off entire species?

As if it is natural for the economy to grow faster than the population. If food companies need to make a profit percentage higher the population growth rate, they have to process and package it in such a way that we each spend more money on the same amount of food every year. Otherwise, the stockholders "starve."

Empires collapse because they are parasitical; they suck the blood out of the workers they depend on for their wealth, and out of the biospheres they live in. You are right that distribution is the problem, aside from the destructive methods of accumulation in the first place.

And so far, the only thing Obama may have in common with Carter, who wanted to do things as differently as Obama campaigned on doing, is that he may end up a one-term Democrat.

11:40 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Yes, a one-term Dem if we're lucky. I'm still pulling for Palin in 2012, that would be the coup de grace, no doubt abt it. I actually don't find it hard being in the US anymore, when I do get up there, from time to time. I just assume everyone around me literally has fried rice in their heads. And I mean literally. Try to imagine how a person who had fried rice instead of gray matter would behave. (Stewed prunes could be another possibility.) Would you expect a lot of them? Would you expect them to be friendly, courteous, intelligent, engaging? Now multiply that by 307 million. What kind of policies would such a nation have? What would be their hopes, their dreams?

12:58 AM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Oops. My comment above was intended for your Zela post. (At least I didn't include another misspelled acronym for DAA.)

7:37 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Not to worry. It's Xela, by the way (pronounced SHAY-la).

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi guys, my names Eva and im completely new to this forum.

I hope that I'll learn and share a lot of interesting things.


12:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Welcome! Learning and sharing are what we're trying to do here...with varying levels of success. No need to lurk...expose yerself to Art (and to Dave, Susan, et al.).


1:18 PM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

Thank you for the link.

I can see you're as impatient as I am with this impulse among far too many people to request -- almost demand in fact -- that a critic furnish a solution along with the problem he or she is identifying, instead of sitting back, absorbing the information being communicated and reflecting on it.

It's become such a predictable reflex that I've become almost hostile to the very notion of solutions. Not because I've lost faith in problem solving entirely, but because I suspect people are not spending the requisite time (whatever it is) wondering whether anyone has bothered getting the analysis right before coming up with the so-called innovations that are being proposed to deal with whatever issue is at hand.

I'm not sure if you've ever addressed that in any of your writing, but it's something I find interesting, particularly when it comes to our so-called agents of change; politicians, entrepreneurs, researchers in applied science and technology and experts of various kinds.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Hello Dr. Berman,

Well i just got back from a huge anti-war demonstration in Washington DC. I actually found about it by clicking on one of your links and researching the group who made the video. It was really encouraging to see so many young people there. They also had some amazing drummers from South Korea...i think.

I also just purchased your book 'Dark Ages in America' and George Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia'. There is a great movie by Ken Loach called 'Land and Freedom' that really does a great job of showing the international volunteers coming together.

Anyway i'm not sure how much money you get from your publisher when a book is sold but i hope its enough for you to get a nice Mexican beer.
I hope everyone is having a great weekend:) I'm going to get some rest now because i'm well knackered.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for the report from the front, as it were. I saw the Loach film yrs ago; it's more abt how the factions of the Left managed to make greater enemies out of each other than of the Fascists; an old story. I believe Orwell talks abt that as well. I also have the feeling that today's march in DC will have as much impact on Obama as the ones I went to, a few yrs ago, had on Bush. After all, Obama hasta prove he's "tough on terrorism." Oy.

Norton doesn't send me royalties anymore. Perhaps they're drinking my beer, who knows. What's a poor author to do?

Thanks for writing-


11:59 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

In yesterday's newspaper, I read: "The health care reform program would affect nearly every American and remake one-sixth of the U.S. economy. For the first time Americans would be required to have health care insurance and face penalties if they refused."

Now, I find economics more difficult to understand than quantum physics. But it seems that this could make the insurance industry even more powerful, and the people who cannot afford it poorer. Dennis Kucinich is now in favor of the bill; I would appreciate hearing what you think about all this.

1:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman,

Thanks for posting this talk, the Q&A was quite good. I'm an avid reader of your work. Your trilogy on human consciousness pertains more directly toward my academic interests, but I've also enjoyed your more recent work.

As a young person (24 years old), I find it difficult to navigate in a culture so entrenched in consumer capitalism, so culturally bankrupt, and so individualistic. I sometimes run in to bouts of apathy where I can't bring myself to pick up a newspaper or engage my friends in conversations about these issues.

I honestly fret about the future and wonder with angst what this country will look like 10, 20, 30 years down the road. I'm not going to ask you the stock question of "what can be done to reverse course?" etc, as I think you've addressed this quite clearly through this discussion and in your writings.

One of the things that interests me the most is how science and technology, in conjunction with capitalist expansion, have led to our current state of affairs. I'm not necessarily arguing for a causal link here, but it seems that these two forces have played a large role in organizing our value structure and beliefs.

A quote from Marcuse tells us: "If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator -- the commodity form.”

This, to me, seems like the crux of our current dilemma: a commodity based culture that forsakes meaning/substance for economic gain places itself on a disastrous course for collapse. Those who want to argue that bottom up, grass roots approaches can change this overall structure should be more modest about their goals.

At the end of the day, I think that the American psyche just simply lacks the necessary components for building a sustainable and egalitarian society. The things the work extremely well for pumping an economy along don't necessarily work that well when it comes to fostering a sense of citizenship, intellectual discipline, etc.

One could go on and on, but I guess I just wanted to say thanks for providing a public forum where these ideas can be talked about.


P.S.- As a Philadelphian, I can assure you that, should you return to Philadelphia on another book tour, i'll be there with all my friends and will personally make sure none of them fall asleep during the talk!

2:33 AM  
Anonymous paul said...

I have to wonder if a lot of our troubles aren't also a result of the lack of inclusion of the native population as players in their environement. It's always been about conquest...profit... there is no spiritual core. They 'were' it. Maybe there are remnants of whatever can be tapped into individually as you've alluded to in your Trilogy and as NMI's. The history of Europe and the rest of the Eurasian continent for that matter has a more direct connection of the people to their land base and their cultures which have evolved over millenia. We don't have that lineage here. Considering that the governing principles here are based on what you mentioned as 'bourgeois' ideals, people have no stake in where they live here other than what they can get out of it. It doesn't say very much about our value system for sure but I can't help thinking it plays a part. Besides, there is little (to no) history about what came before beyond what the Europeans brought with them and written over. I suppose we can see where that's put us in terms of environmental awareness and such. From Europe's perspective they have a much longer history of their collective struggles as a 'people' in their own lands. They also have a more intimate connection to that environment and each other - at least as it relates to the idea of 'Noblese Oblige' and the social safety net which you mentioned. I suppose as this culture expands to more corners of the globe the more troubling is it's impact on the environment at large. Europe seems to be at least trying to do something about it - probably not enough - but at least something... we pay lip service at election time. Anyway, they seem a bit more 'connected' in that respect. The 'immigrant' presence here is what, 500 years? I mean, Eurasian history dwarfs that... I just wonder what it would have been like had the Native Americans been allowed to evolve their culture undisturbed.

4:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Jesus, leave it to you guys to write these profound contributions just as I'm abt to slip out the door. Once a month I hang out for a wk in Mexico City just to have fun and see my friends there, and hafta rely on Internet cafes to stay in touch with the blogger gang...which ain't all that convenient, as you might guess. I think u guys shd hash all this out amongst yerselves, I suppose, but let me give u a few thoughts off the top of my head:

Art: I don't know what paper yer rdg, but it sounds like Palinesque scare tactics to me. There's abs. no way anything like that wd pass, nor do I think it's being proposed. The real problem is that Obama began with a commitment to the 'public option,' as it was called, and then backed down. But w/o that option, it definitely goes into the hands of HMO's and large ins. co's. Hence, why bother? It might as well fail. In no way is the current proposal similar to the med care system of Canada, the UK, and Europe. This as far as I know, because I haven't followed these debates in detail. As with America going 'green', I just assume the US version of health care will be corporate. Everything else is, including love (see Rachel Greenwald's bk on how to use principles from Harvard Business School to catch a man; yuck).


I haven't been re-invited to Philly, but when I do, u and all yer friends will get free eye exams, as I promised in my lecture. In all seriousness, however, given what u are able to see abt US culture and society, I strongly suggest you emigrate. You're young. Don't stick around for the future we are going to have. It's going to be unpleasant (putting it mildly), and will not nourish you in ways you obviously want. There's a whole planet out there; the US is geographically isolated and less than 5% of the world's pop. There are countries where people have real conversations with one another. So do yerself a favor, and start exploring other options. Regarding role of technology in all this: it's enormous, and constitutes a chapter of the book I'm currently writing, the 3rd in my "America" trilogy. Check out works by David Noble, David Nye, Neil Postman, et al. Also a recent article in The New Atlantic (a rt-wing Christian crowd whose politics I detest, but once in a while they publish an essay that's pretty much on the money) by Paul Cella; you can find it online, I'm sure. Thanks for wrtg.


Yer obviously onto something, tho it's a *very* complex picture. There are bks that argue that the Native American wasn't really very ecological, for example. But in general, tho I think "Avatar" draws the lines too severely, the overall picture it gives is correct: European techno-capitalist culture detroyed native ways of life. (See the recent discussion of the film in the New York Review of Bks--very gd analysis.) The European situation itself is complicated because of the feudal-catholic template, which never fully went away, and which preserved some meaning to life beyond making a buck (or its equivalent). On the N. American continent, the Mexican experience is v. different from the US one; Cortes and Co. didn't wipe the entire indigena population out, as we did in the US (or herd the remnants onto reservations). Rather, they catholicized them, or tried to; with the result that 'sincretismo' prevailed for centuries and still exists here, despite the desire of the Mexican elite to emulate nortenyo culture. There is a ton of lit on this. Anyway, your letter provides enuf material for several doctoral dissertations.

Gotta go, amigos, and thanks for writing!


11:01 AM  
Anonymous paul said...

Yeah, the whole myth of the peaceful and enviro friendly indians to some extent is true.
(woolly mammoth extinction excluded) However, there was a macro and micro cosmic relationship to their world that we don't have other than what we want to shape "it" into. (for the glory of God, of course) Some see through this and are breaking away little by little but it's a loooong process and we are not a patient species. Time will tell how it all plays out I guess.

Anyway, enjoy your connections and the rest of the weekend.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response. As far as emigration is concerned, i've given it some thought (i'm tinkering with the idea of going to grad school in Canada). I've also had the opportunity to travel quite a bit already, so I have seen the breadth of life outside the US.

But there remains a number of issues that I think will remain unresolved for me even if I make such a move. For starters, even though i'm strongly critical of the US, I am, nevertheless, a product of American culture and can't bring myself to resort to this sort of Manichean idea that the US is either all good or all bad. I think the reality of the situation is infinitely more complex. I don't deny that our empire is in decline, but I do have trouble with accepting some of the overly broad generalizations you paint about Americans, with all do respect. The evidence you provide is at times anecdotal and perhaps a tad exaggerated.

The other thing that troubles me is that, if the things that I believe you and I see eye to eye on are true (that is the urgent necessity for enlightened leadership (oxymoronic?), critical thinking, and cultural literacy in this country), then what's to be said about the thoughtful individual that just up and leaves? Granted, if you think the US is a lost cause to begin with then this decision makes a great deal of sense. But as much as I fear that this conclusion might be true, I think the jury is still out. (I don't want to give you the wrong impression here or feign some idea of hope, by "lost cause" I mean a totally barren and hopeless state of ignorance and stupidity, a state that the US has obviously not reached (yet?)).

I guess all of this goes back to the NMI, where small changes can and do take place at the micro level. I guess what i'm trying to say is that this seems like a more appealing and gratifying option to me then just leaving.

Any follow up thoughts you might have would be appreciated.


8:31 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman and friends,

The article on health care reform I quoted was from the Associated Press. This morning, msnbc said the same thing: "For the first time, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refused."

Last November, in an article for truthdig, Dennis Kucinich wrote that "...the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies--a bailout under a blue cross."

But Kucinich recently changed his mind and voted for the bill. The bill has passed; whether this is "change we can believe in" remains to be seen.

7:01 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

P.S. Check out the new truthdig post by Chris Hedges, "The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed":

The bill, he wrote, "will force tens of millions of people to fork over a lot of money for a defective product and, in the end, will add to the ranks of our uninsured." Palinesque scare tactics?

9:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dan,

Well, as I've said many times on this blog, the decision to stay or leave is a personal one. I really did, and do, feel that the US is finished; that there is no possibility of its solving its problems. Hence, I left. But to anyone wanting to stay and turn the place around, all I can say is, "Knock yerself out." As far as data on ignorance etc.: you wd be very mistaken to think it's all anecdotal. There are pages of data on this in both Twilight and DAA, and since they appeared there have been a number of studies of American ignorance, which is breathtaking. You hardly have to rely on anecdotes to realize this.


I was very sorry to learn Kucinich caved. Will check out the Hedges article, in any case.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I may be missing something, but I just read a lot of the major newspaper coverage on the bill, and I cdn't find a single sentence on the plan being obligatory. I'm assuming if it were, this would be front-lined in any reporting on it. However, maybe I've been looking in the wrong places.


7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Dan. There is way too much all or nothing thinking going on here. All Americans are not idiots, and there is a minority as smart as anywhere else. We should also remember that Dr. Berman, and most of us blogging here are products of this idiotic, consumerist culture. Why aren't we immersed in professional wrestling, etc.? Actually life in the U.S. is pretty good for many people right now. For some perspective, go live in Uganda or the Congo for awhile, or even in Ukraine, or most places in Eastern Europe. There are many much worse places than America, and that includes Mexico, Brazil, etc. In other words, America has a long way to fall. There are also better countries: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc. England is still nice, even though its empire fell long ago; think about it. Most Americans still live pretty easy lives in comparison with most of the world. Honestly, we don't know how this will all turn out, and we should try to keep an open mind about all scenarios both positive and negative.

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Interesting that Tom Paine wanted Native Americans to be included in the newly-formed government, if I remember correctly. Equally interesting that Paine, who truly embraced the ideals of equality & reason, has never been offically included in the pantheon of Founding Fathers. (He wanted women to have a voice as well.)

I wonder how often Paine is mentioned in contemporary grade & high schools -- or if he's even mentioned at all? Not in Texas, I'm sure!

This is the thing I notice more & more now: not only the increasing loudness of the American True Believers, but the ceaseless narrowing of their focus & outlook. Talk about boiling everything down to the lowest (and dumbest) common denominator!


You said:

"I honestly fret about the future and wonder with angst what this country will look like 10, 20, 30 years down the road. I'm not going to ask you the stock question of 'what can be done to reverse course?' etc, as I think you've addressed this quite clearly through this discussion and in your writings."

I don't know that things can be reversed at this point -- but as Dharmaguerilla has said, we can at least live as preservers of culture. We can bear witness to a better use of life.

I'll be 56 this year, and retiring soon. If I were younger, I'd be giving serious thought to emigration, as MB recommends. As it is, my wife & I haven't entirely dismissed that possibility for ourselves even now. But I do fear for our nephew & nieces, considering the world they'll almost certainly inherit.

I was away in Virginia for the past week, and saw what looks like the future: a crumbling town, with every 3rd or 4th building a check cashing office or auto parts store; empty, boarded-up houses; abandoned malls with weeds coming up through the parking lots; blank-faced people walking nowhere on trash-strewn sidewalks. The overall sense of desolation was chilling.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Insurance Mandate Update:
Obama is signing the bill as I write this. In the newspaper this morning (AP) I read: "Most Americans will be required to carry health insurance, either through an employer, a government program or by buying their own. Those who refuse will face fines from the IRS." But in a sidebar, it states that there is an exemption for low-income people, without going into further detail. Often, it's difficult to find the information you want in this information age!

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've read all of MB's books. Some more than once. I'm not a scholar but it appears he has it nailed.

But you're right. MB uses a broad brush sometimes so I'm always a bit nervous abt the broad generalization that Americans are stupid. A great number of them are, but almost every day I see and talk to people who are doing what they can to change things.

Permaculture, alternative building, localization, co-ops, energy geeks, etc. These are not stupid Americans. They are folks trying in their small ways to reverse the awful effects of bad education, centralized industrial corporate capitalism, etc. I respect them and they always need others to join them. There are lots of serious conversations going on here.

Wherever we are it usually comes down to "here I am, these are the conditions in which I find myself, and this is what I can do." Moving is just one of many options, and no more predictable than most.

Read "Ill Fares The Land," by Tony Judt. The core problems are not restricted to America.

MB,don't worry, I'm saving a place for you in the wood-fired hot tub and as long as you like beans, brown rice, wild veggies and venison you'll be happy.

Have fun in the city.


12:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, yer rt...I checked the NYT this morning, and apparently there are penalties for nonparticipation, tho there are some exempt categories as well. I guess if too many people are allowed to escape the loop, the system won't work. Perhaps the crucial pt is the absence of the public option, to which both Obama and Kucinich once said they were 100% committed. Hedges states it clearly: this thing is in the hands of large corporations, and we all know (or should) where that winds up.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and friends,

The health care bill is over 2,000 pages long and God only knows what's in it. The only bill that would have truly saved our health care system would have been a universal plan. Several Congressmen have already introduced a bill (Alan Grayson of Florida plus others) that would remedy the one passed today. I know from experience the insurance companies have plenty of ways to skin a cat, including simply dropping medication from their list of approved drugs----and this is perfectly legal. A family member has a rare genetic disorder which requires an expensive medication and there's no generic or substitute. We found out last year that the insurance company no longer will pay for it for her or anyone else, period. So we'll see how well this bill works out for patients. I don't want to be a cynic, but I've seen so many underhanded tactics and the overall deterioration of our healthcare system in the 30+ years I've been a nurse that I'm hoping for an improvement but not holding my breath.

Anon on leaving the US:

There are people who read, care about permaculture and practice it in their own yards and do their best not to drown in the crazy culture we live in and if you look hard enough, you can find them. I've been very lucky in my life to have benefited from the good in America and recognize there are many good people here. But what I see is this (and why I support my 23 yr old daughter who says she'll probably emigrate at some point): America has lost its core values and the things that most humans need--strong communities, public spaces, care for the ones who are most in need, balance in material/spiritual needs, respect for nature,courtesy, critical thinking and discussion---are steadily disappearing. We're also turning into a surveillance state at the same time habeas corpus is undermined. I worry that in ten, twenty years time anyone who calls it as they see it will be labeled a "terrorist" and dealt with accordingly. If you saw Food, Inc. there's a part in the movie about Monsanto Corp. using their immense resourses to crush some poor old seed-cleaner who helped farmers who didn't want to buy Monsanto's products. And this too is perfectly legal. It's possible to build a good life just about anywhere but it helps if the culture you live is basically healthy itself. You might be interested in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. She and her family moved to a homestead and made a commitment to live on what they grew or could buy at local farmer's markets.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Dan Buckley said...


I will most certainly pick up the Judt book, as well as the other titles recommended by MB. My prior comment was not intended to give any impression of "hope", i'm in agreement with MB's overall analysis, just nitpicking on a few points I guess. It's understandable why one would want to paint a general picture in this way, especially if the aim of the work isn't to flesh out all the subtle nuances of contemporary american culture, but to give a sense of where we are and how we got here.

MB: looking forward to the third installment of the "America" trilogy. Thanks for the recommended readings.


6:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Fellow Berm-Bloggers:

Thank you for all yer comments. I tell you, in 2006 I was dragged kicking and screaming into setting up this website/blog by my publisher, Norton. I'm not a screen person, and my feeling is that virtual reality is much too virtual--evanescent, really. But they didn't give me a whole lot of choice, so I did it, but not without making it clear that I thought most hi-tech was a shuck. That being said, and even tho the total Berman-blog-afficionados must be 42 at the max, I have really gotten a lot out of the exchanges here (most of them), and want to thank you all for participating. Whether we agree with each other or not is not the major pt, I'm guessing; it's more about dealing with real issues in a real way, and finding a small breathing space from the kaka that passes for truth, knowledge, or even information in this culture. Anyway, back in 2006 I never imagined I'd do 75 postings and meet such dedicated people. So again, thank you all, and let's keep the ball rolling...


10:12 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Thanks for your kind comments. Now ya got me all nostalgic; and so I'm going back through the archives. Reading the piece you did for the Guardian, c. Oct. 2001 -- seems to be the outline for DAA.

Something struck me there that's relevant to the perpetual debate here and elsewhere between those who say "but there are people who act against the grain, and if enough act, then ..." or "but not everyone is a dolt, and so ..." vs. those who argue, with Berman, that our destiny is set, and the historical trajectory clear (we're analogous to Late Empire Rome, i.e., lights out).

You remarked in your Guardian piece about the "classical formalism" (a symptom of spiritual death) of our day: going through the motions of art, politics, work, leisure, and so on, when in fact the Spirit (Hegel's "Geist") has already flown the coop.

And here we should take note that there is no contradiction between local creativity and national (or even civilizational) spiritual death. Permaculture, etc. are largely good and important things, but not a "solution" to anything as it now stands (the Taoists -- early "permaculturists" -- had no illusions abt. this, for example).

We need to keep in mind that you draw partly on Spengler (though, sans his "organicism"), and it is Spengler that provides us with the reply we need here to those struggling to reconcile Destiny and individual action. "Within every epoch," writes Spengler in *The Decline of the West*, "there is unlimited abundance of surprising and unforeseeable possibilities of self-actualizing in detail-facts, but the epoch itself is necessary, for the life-unity is in it. That its inner form is precisely what it is, constitutes its specific determination (Bestimmung). Fresh incidentals can affect the shape of its development, can make this grandiose or puny, prosperous or sorrowful, but alter it they cannot" (p. 81, abridged Vintage ed., 2006).

We do not determine History. Rather, History -- we should say Destiny -- determines us. Of course, we cannot turn *this* idea into a formula ... and so there will always be those who want to assert their individual, radical freedom from Destiny. But this largely misses the point (or rather, ironically, it makes the point more clearly). The realization (by Goethe, Spengler) that we are a manifestation of Destiny -- that Destiny (or what the Hindus might call "dharma") works through us -- actually contains the paradox of our freedom: by acting, our actions determine us. Our "freedom" is the working out of an Idea, in the dimension of time: the idea is really time + being. In this sense, what we do does not "affect" the Idea (cause-effect relations are irrelevant here); rather, the Idea is working itself out through us. What we do to "try to make things better" is itself the absent Geist. Our best intentions do not "matter", in the end (though, they certainly are valuable individually, locally ... hence, the "NMI": "the kingdom of Heaven is within").

We could return to Spengler's organic model here: we who act in time are the "cells" in the "organs" of an organism-civilization, the Idea of the civilization marking the boundaries of the organism, which is "contemporary" with other organisms of its kind: Late Empire Rome (c. AD 300-400) is therefore "contemporary" (in Spengler's sense) with twenty-first century USA.

I don't know if this helps -- but I wanted to help the ideas work themselves out nonetheless.


12:58 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Susan (and everyone who eats food):

Moving to another country may not be necessary, but living in a community that has access to family farms *is*. Growing vegetables in your backyard is all well and good. But, increasingly, we'll need to seek out sources of grass-fed meat and dairy, pastured eggs and wild fish. Especially for children already depleted from too much fast food and Fruit Loops. The health insurance and pharmaceutical industries will likely keep rolling along. But we're beginning to see some interest in breaking up the monopoly that Monsanto, ADM and others have on the food supply. I'm cautiously optimistic that this "Real Food" revolution will make a real difference.

Supposedly, Dennis Kucinich has spoken to Obama about the importance of nutrition in our health care system. But, as he's a vegan, I think Kucinich misses the mark in practice. I highly recommend Lierre Keith's amazing book, "The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability".

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading Dan comments, who is considering a move to Canada for Grad School, reminded me of my earlier question about immigrating to other Anglo Saxon countries like Canada, U.K., etc. Prof. Berman responded, with in terms of culture issues, they are as bad there as they are hear, and Scandinavia is where it’s at. As for an ordinary person like myself, seriously considering emigration, a move to Jupiter seems easier than Scandinavia with its language and employment issue. Before reading DAA I was a career soldier, DAA among other books helped me view my role in the world more clearly, a roll that was probably shaped as an American with an empty soul that was exploited by religion and patriotism forming me into a “gangster for capitalism” to give meaning to my life. My final decision to end my carrier was after reading a Conservative, Michael Scheuer book, Marching Towards Hel l, Sheuer’s ideology seems to be fine with Empire, if America is not the evil empire someone else will be. But he tells the insiders account of how as a nation we are intellectually bankrupt and details all the bad decisions as well as predictions of the future bad decisions we will make, playing right into Bin Laden’s hands. Not to mention that we pay the Sunni Muslims money not to attack us just as Rome paid the Huns. As Robert Baer argues in his book The Devil We Know, by ousting Sunni Sadam we have guaranteed our own destruction, now only a Shiite can take control and we did for them what they could never do, defeat Sadams T-72 tanks and they will do what we can never do , rule the 3 ethnic groups with an iron fist after Americans Saigon exit. Then the Persian Empire will run the show as the world’s largest supplier of oil and as America goes further and further bankrupt they will expand to take over the Sunni oil in Saudi Arabia once America’s bankrupt Navy can no longer protect it. The Saudi military is basically useless other than keeping down internal peasant uprisings. Without America’s foreign aid to keep Israel on finical life support they might take them on , sometime in the next 100 years.
My question in terms of emigration, despite social problems, do you think the other Anglo Saxon countries as well as the rest of the world will or do have the same structural problems as the U.S., will they collapse when America collapses. Or will they survive considering they haven’t wasted 68 cents on every tax dollar to the military industrial complex. Also I wonder what Prof. Berman and others opinions/ predictions on how an American collapse would affect the rest of the world? With a giant web of foreign aid, loans in both directions, military protection of trade routes, etc. How might the shakeup of the world look over the next century.
Mike O'

2:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In other words is it fair to say that just as Boston or Seattle are better options to Washington D.C. or L.A. living in Canada or the U.K. is less of a “Cultural Death Valley” then America. All things considered such as the difference between Oxford and Glasgow.
Mike O'

2:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike O-

Well, I never said Scandanavia is where it's at; just that it's a whole lot better than what we got here. I didn't opt for Scandanavia, after all. But the world is a big place, and happily the mindset of other peoples is very different from that of Americans. Not only cd u have a better life elsewhere (economically and socially), but u cd have one that is a lot more interesting and a lot more meaningful. All the rage on the part of the Right in this country is finally abt loss of meaning--and they aren't wrong. What is the avg American living for, when u think abt it?

That being said, I wdn't recommend a move to another Anglo-Saxon country. The mindset is not as extreme as here, but it's not that far removed. Anglos live in a kind of glass sphere, or (un)emotional bubble; they view contact with others as a form of contamination. Iron in the soul, to quote Sartre.

As for the ricochet effect of an American collapse: check out Jos Stiglitz's latest work, "Freefall." He says other countries have wised up to the US; they realize it's not a reasonable model, and are protecting their flanks. In fact, on that basis, the crash of 2008 didn't hit Scandanavia or China that hard, because they had rejected neoliberalism. More and more countries will. So of course there will be shock waves as the US acts with increasing stupidity and avarice, but fewer countries are buying into our madness, and are going to be more resistant to effects of collapse than they were 1.5 yrs ago.


3:53 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...


The food issues are so interesting. Many local produce farms here. We don't actually *need* the food in the big markets. But, it is very hard for the locals to compete, even with their better quality. Mechanized ag. can deliver so much quantity, at such low prices. When diesel prices skyrocket, local farmers will thrive. (I hope.)

Personal gardening has some benefits beyond better food and exercise. We reconnect to the elements. Soil. Sun. Water. The parts of life that go unnoticed by so many. This connection must be necessary, it seems to me, if we are to aid/save any part of it. and, it is *so easy!*


12:18 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


I live in Florida, along the coast. No farms here, so food is a big issue for me. (Gotta get outa here). Then again, there's the beach: a great place to "reconnect to the elements". Sun, sand and surf. But today, more kids are growing up with a "nature deficit disorder". Most can't even tell the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini. Goddess help us!

9:14 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...


I wanted to pick up on a comment someone (i think Susan) made that America has lost its core values. I speaking as a Bi-Racial Man (African-American/Irish and English) don't believe America had any to begin with. When you create a country built on people's suffering (Africans and Native Americans) you get a terrible society at least for people of color. We are beginning to see the end result of this savagery.

The way of life here has never been good for black people...not at all. My Dad grew up, in and around New York and used to tell me his mother told him to be wary of the police because they had a habit of scooping up 10-15 black youths at a time. They would then bring them to the police station, fingerprint them and release them. This was done of course as a form of intimidation but also in case they needed to frame someone later down the line.

I've honestly never read about a white person getting shot 19 times by the police just for pulling out his wallet as he is trying to get into his apartment. There are many other cases i could point out as well. My Dad subscribes to the Southern Poverty Law Center's newsletter and one of the lead articles this Spring was about a 73 year old grandfather from Louisiana who was shot and killed by the police on his porch at the family barbecue!!! I mean this stuff happens all the time.

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...


Bob Herbert has written several articles over the last few months documenting how blacks are targeted with illegal arrests and fingerprinting. Apparently the police are at it again, or maybe never stopped.

You might be interested in the book Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson. A friend recommended it and I haven't read it yet but intend to. I don't know what the black community can do about this---there doesn't seem to be anyone in power to champion the cause of justice. Lyndon Johnson wasn't perfect and he'll always be associated with escalating the Vietnam War but he pushed through real reforms for civil rights. What does Obama do when a black professor is arrested in his own home? Rather than the policeman getting a rebuke he's offered a beer.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

We quite agreed with your book (DAA), so I taped a Book TV rerun of your 2006 presentation and discussion at the New Dominion Bookshop --which my wife and I watched again this evening.

But I winced when you attributed the events of 9/11 to Osama bin Laden and our wretched international behavior.

That and Google brought me to this section of your web presence --to ask: do you still believe that OBL and a crew of 19 Saudis brought down three WTC buildings and holed the Pentagon?


11:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Craig,

It's a tough call, and a topic I've avoided on this blog. The best evidence is circumstantial, as far as I can make out; there is no smoking gun, such as an email or document that cannot be denied. I did see the film "Loose Change" recently, that makes a very good (but circumstantial) case. There is a lot that could be said about all this; but the most telling comment is probably that the 9/11 conspiracy crowd will finally not get a real hearing, or be able to convince the public at large that it was an inside job. As with the assassination of JFK, speculation and counter-assertion will probably whirl around us for decades, and ultimately make no difference.


11:39 PM  

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