March 29, 2010

We're Just Not Very Bright

Well amigos, y'all need to have a look at Chris Hedges' column at truthdig.com today, on America yearning for Fascism. The disintegration of America continues apace, and the real dummies are not especially the Palin-Beck crowd, but the Democratic establishment and those who support it. As Hedges points out, the forces that are now lining up, and the way they are expressing themselves (gun imagery, targeting of minority groups), follow the classic fascist pattern. How intelligent is Mr. Obama, really? In the wake of the crash of 2008, did he move to rescue the (by now nearly 20%, in real figures) unemployed? Or the millions who were/are losing their homes to bank foreclosures? Nah...start with an $800-billion bank bailout, quickly up it to $12 trillion, and now, apparently (figure estimated by Nomi Prins in It Takes a Pillage), $17.5 trillion. What will that do for the angry Americans who are now searching for scapegoats? Will they target the Bernankes, the Geithners, and the Summerses, who are (stupidly) seeing to it that the cash goes to the rich? Will they go down to Wall Street and rage against Goldman Sachs or AIG? Will they rail against Mr. Obama in the right way--i.e., not as a 'socialist' (what a joke that is), but as the man who delivered 32 million uninsured Americans into the hands of corporate health care? Will they be angry at the president for scuttling the 'public option', which would have by-passed obligatory corporate control of the health-care system? I'm guessing not. And all of this is working together with the Tea Party crowd, really; they and the 'power elite' are doing a synergistic, downward dance, reinforcing each other as they go.

Of course, a lot of our continued spinning out of control is due to the absence of any moral center in this country--as the Right has argued all along. The problem (or one, anyway) with the right-wing argument is that you cannot simultaneously decry the lack of a moral center and exalt corporate market (or even true laissez-faire) capitalism, whose only philosophy is 'more!'. Money is necessary, but it's not a value system; and 'more' certainly isn't. An article by George Packer in the March 15th New Yorker ("Obama's Lost Year") argues that Obama is failing because he has no narrative of where the country ought to go. Nobody knows what he wants, writes Packer; we don't know who he really is. But I would add that Mr. Obama himself doesn't know what he wants, or who he really is. True, he is not the creepy, eerie, near-psychotic hologram that was George W. Bush; but is he all that different? It seems to me he's just a chic version of Nowhere Man. In that sense, however, democracy does work: he is us. We have no values, we have no goals (beyond 'more'), and we certainly don't think a whole lot. I used to point to the .00001% 'Kucinich vote' as the only hope we had, but as you all know, Mr. K has sold out as well.

How could this scenario possibly have a positive outcome? This is precisely how civilizations collapse; this is exactly, Dark Ages America.

24 Comments:

Anonymous Dave said...

Dr. Berman,

What would an honest leader say? "The empire is dying. There is no frontier left, either here or elsewhere. The myth of endless growth and expansion was just that, a myth. Our nation was built on expansion and war for markets and resources. We will now contract,whether we want to or not." ??

So-called "liberals" bought into the myths along with everyone else.
The growth, frontier, capitalism and technology myths have destroyed us. (Susan, those are the actual "core values" of America and we most certainly have not lost them.) There is no escape from the results of our collective stupidity.

I said much of the same at our early Seder Saturday night and got the typical responses about gains in civil rights, rights of women, etc. Oh good, that makes it all better. As the ship sinks, women and blacks can crawl to the bow and go down last. I feel better now.

I have to stop this. I feel like a broken record. Why discuss it?

Watching "Brothers" tonight. Movie revue to follow.

Dave

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Sadly, the past week left me feeling the same way, with its threats of violence, actual violence, and the promise of more to come -- now with 47% more virulence! And Hedges' column this morning was the poisoned icing on the cake.

While I don't necessarily think that America MUST descend into fascist violence, I feel in my heart that it very possibly COULD, and well within my lifetime. That's a relatively new feeling for me. Previously, I'd imagine the possibility, but it seemed like "What if?" fiction more than anything else. Now it feels all too possible & real.

In an artcle about Creationism in 1984, Isaac Asimov described its proponents thusly: "And they are a strong and frightening force, impervious to, and immunized against, the feeble lance of mere reason." If that doesn't describe the mindset (such as it is) of the reactionary forces in America today, I don't know what does.

For the entire article:

http://www.the-ridges.net/ev3e.html

If this does come to pass, I wonder just how well cultivating our own gardens & maintaining a level of civilization in our own homes is actually going to work out. During the Cultural Revolution in China, you could be condemned for having the wrong books; now I can see being condemned for having any books, period. Because reactionaries need scapegoats, and lots of them.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dave/Tim,

I tell u, Jimmy Carter did say something like that to the American people, and they didn't like it very much.

Yes, so great to have a black president, so he can run us into the ditch under a multicultural banner. Like having Maggie Thatcher destroy the UK; but hey, she's a woman! What liberation!

Here's a little poem I say every day, which might help:

"The number of buffoons is high;
Someday, it may reach the sky!"

Well, maybe it won't help; what do I know.

A friend recently asked me, If I'm so sure we cannot escape from this mess, why bother writing? I told him, Well *somebody's* got to chronicle it. There has to be a written *record* of our buffoonery.

mb

2:31 PM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Ok, MB, if you're going to use poetry to illustrate your point, I'll quote one from a favorite of mine, and then shut up, because i have nothing else to add to what has been ably said so far.

P.S to any literalist lurkers out there: the lady here is not just a lover, it's America.



...People see me all the time and they just can’t remember how to act
Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.
Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at,
I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that
Sweet lady.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike
I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long I can’t remember what it’s like.
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door,
You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars
After losin’ every battle.

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies.
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes,
Blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb,
Blowing through the curtains in your room.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart.
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped,
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom.

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
don’t look into mine.
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the
building burned.
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the
springtime turned
Slowly into autumn.

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read
Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead.
Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy,
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory
And all your ragin’ glory.

I been double-crossed now for the very last time and now I’m finally free,
I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline which separated you from me.
You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above,
And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love,
And it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

-Bob Dylan

IDIOT WIND
from Blood on the Tracks

Copyright © 1974 by Ram's Horn Music; renewed 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music

10:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dharm-

Yes, a great song, but please observe length guidelines in future: half a page is good, a whole page is pushing it. I normally delete anything beyond that.

Thanx,
mb

12:04 AM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

I'm seeing the type of irrational exuberance bubbling up again in the breathless reporting in the mainstream media of the last quarter's impressive growth in GDP and I can only think "here we go again." It's all marvellous up and until the moment it collapses.

Try to argue with any economist about what is so special about "growth" and you just can't get anywhere. And I'm convinced the economists, with their unfathomable, mystifying "science" are the ones who are preventing anyone (even moderate capitalists like myself) from having/promoting candid discussions on the true nature of economic expansion. It's even worse now in the globalised economy, since the objective merits of economic expansion are relative to where they occur. Economic growth in a poor country or region means something very different compared to economies in the developed World.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ti-

Now's the time for u to read Jos Stiglitz's bk, "Freefall". He pegs the Meathead Factor among neoclassical economists pretty well, I think. Talk about dumb bunnies: these folks couldn't see a failure of capitalism if it happened in neon--which it did!

mb

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Brothers

Several layers, the most obvious of course that war is insane and permanently traumatizes everyone connected to it, both the soldiers and the families at home. The statistics on murders, suicides, abuse, etc. speak for themselves. We now have thousands of these young men in our country, many drawn to police forces.
“Oath Keepers” also comes to mind.

The deeper level of who gets to feel like a real man and who doesn’t is clearly demonstrated by the emotionally locked father’s own traumatic Nam history and admiration for his football star, marine captain son. The younger ex-con son will never be a man. Only a violent sport or war will do the trick. We’re programmed for war.

Kids often sense the truth. The softness of the younger son and his slow evolution into the role of male head of the family runs counter to the cultural preference.

The love between the brothers prevented the suicidal, murderous, ptsd rage of the captain from doing even more damage, but there was enough for a lifetime. Everyone was wounded and changed forever. “Stop, don’t shoot him, he’s my brother!” Sometimes love can stop violence. Usually, not.

The other wife’s dream was a gem. She saw the truth about her husband’s death but it was “just a dream.” Ignoring the dream’s clear meaning she said to the captain, his killer, “you’re a good man.” Wow! I wondered why that was written in there. It will go mostly unnoticed.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dave,

Yeah, I liked the film a lot, for reasons you indicate; my only problem was that it was telescoped down to a narrow psychological dimension. The Taliban are made to look evil, in forcing the central character to kill his fellow-soldier--and of course, it was evil. But the film never showed us torturing anyone, or the American enactment of evil, which is just as great. In addition, what the Afghanis forced Joe Willis to say on the video--that the US has no business in Afghanistan, and that it should leave the country to the Afghanis--is (in my view) substantially correct. But since it was forced on Willis, by rather unsavory characters, the American public can watch the film and come to the conclusion that yes, we have a right to be there and to 'democratize' them. I also wish there had been some direct expose of the cult of military masculinity, but perhaps that might have come off as heavy-handed, I dunno.

mb

3:54 PM  
Blogger miked said...

Mr. B
sometimes you take the time to write and sometimes you just rant.
this is a rant (short form, telegraphic style, preaching to the choir). There is actually a lot of good in this bill as Rosa De Lauro explained to me. Take the time to read it. it isn't perfect . no sausage is. there is not a government or agency or company that can effectively write a plan for 18% of the US economy. It is a work in progress. This too will evolve.
mike Dewar

10:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike-

I understand that this is difficult for you to hear, and that you need to call it a rant--a cheap shot, and an easy way of dismissing what I write. I don't see it that way, and I suspect a lot of readers don't either (tho some will, quite obviously). If you want the facts on the health care bill, I suggest you check out Chris Hedges' post on truthdig.com of 22 March
2010, "The Health Care Hindenburg Has Landed." Of course, you'll probably regard that as a rant as well.

mb

ps: BTW, the bill is more than 1000 pages long. You took the time to read it?

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Well, in this morning's news, Obama reverses the ban on off-shore drilling. After all, we need more power, we need more growth -- right? The notion of reassessing our supposed needs, to say nothing of our values, is less than moot. Negative moot?

Mike, I do agree with you ... in ideal theory. But as MB has noted in his work, any Dark Age will have lulls, counterswells, and the like -- things will undoubtedly look a little better at times, and encourage optimism. Nor do I deny that this can generate some very good immediate (if short-term results. Even so ...

You know, it's not as if I WANT to agree with MB's conclusions; I don't look forward to a darkening culture in the least. I'd love for him to be completely wrong!

But I don't think he is. Not in the long run. It's just that I've seen such a decline in so many of the intangible but vital aspects of culture since my childhood -- such a coarsening, such an ever-lowering lowest common denominator -- and I don't see it reversing its course to any great degree at this point. This, from someone who's always been naturally optimistic & upbeat.

I find myself wanting to read many of the Roman poets & historians who watched as Rome steadily crumbled ...

11:25 AM  
Blogger ryan kloostra said...

Dr. Berman,

Thank you very much for turning me on to Chris Hedges. His columns (and previous posts) will keep me busy in-between your posts.

I just read a post of his from January 29 of last year, stating that, one day, we will all be (considered) terrorists. I am very concerned about where our legal (or,illegal) system is headed. Before, my wife and I were more concerned about our economic future in America. Now, I am starting to wonder if I should be more worried about my political beliefs being labeled "extreme" than the devaluation of my dollar. I mean, who cares what your bank account looks like if you are detained for thought-crimes against the state. I say this all somewhat in jest, but only somewhat.

Further, I find more and more people labeling these types of conversations as "rants," therefore dismissing them without real consideration. That type of labeling is much easier for the general population to deal with, rather than thoughtfully considering what is being said. In the same way, the government takes an activist and labels them a terrorist, which is much easier than actually considering the message and examining what it really means.

I believe you stated in one of your posts or books that the micro and macro levels of society end up resembling each other. This seems to be one of those parallels.

Palin 2012!!!

11:48 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, I tell you, I do sympathize with people who want to call Obamacare a 'work in progress', and hope that things are going to turn around. What are the facts? According to Harper's Mag of abt 2 mos ago, the med insurance lobby was spending $1.5 million a day--a day, mind you--to defeat the single-payer option and the public option, and they succeeded. Now, they are apparently trying to roll back the few crumbs being offered by Obamacare. If this is progress, I'm wondering what kind it actually is. It's a question of whether one is going to go to a Democratic member of Congress for info, or to those who are analyzing the situation from a structural viewpt. Kucinich wanted to save his seat, so he voted the party line; but he's no fool--he understands the underlying structure, and who is running the show.

The same might be said of Obamanomics. Was the bailout a 'work in progress'? As Jos Stiglitz points out in "Freefall," all the pres did was reinstate previous economic policies as tho nothing had occurred in the fall of 2008. Wall St. is apparently once again into derivatives and credit-default swaps, as tho nothing had happened. Neoliberal economists continue to talk about the 'self-regulating properties of the market' in the teeth of a market that fell apart and had to be bailed out by the gov't (as was the case during the Depression and many times since).

Of course, there are periods during which a dying culture can rally, as Arnold Toynbee pointed out many years ago. And this can be confusing; those who insist on 'progress' will clutch at this as evidence. But Toynbee also pointed out that the issue is not the occasional rally, but the overall trajectory. And that is, or shd be, abundantly clear. But how many Americans pay any attention to Krugman, Stiglitz, Hedges, et al, or are even aware that this tiny handful even exist? To the mainstream, their writings will undoubtedly appear as 'rants'. Unfortunately, it is only these 'rants' that make any sense, if you look at things with a cold, analytical eye.

And from that perspective, the fact is that history is a graveyard of empires, and the US no exception. There is not a single empire on record which, in its final phase, chose to take a hard look at its value system and say, 'Whoa! We need to reverse gears here.' That never happened; and from Tea Party crowd to Wall St. neoliberals, we can be sure it's going to be business as usual...until the business is finally over, thanks to them.

Ay, America!

mb

12:16 PM  
Blogger Merula von Mondlicht said...

I moved back to my home country. I couldn't take the USA anymore. I will never go back.

9:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Liebe Merula,

Sprechen wir von Deutschland? Brauchen wir mehr Information, Liebchen...was passiert?

-Moritz

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Recently, I read that about 80% of Americans believe that Heaven exists; the only uncertainty is whether or not we'll have bodies when we get there.

No, we're not very bright. But, along with an increasing inability to think clearly, I'm equally concerned about the atrophy of feeling. Earlier, you wondered how Obama could sleep at night, with his war in Afghanistan escalating. Just as thinking has been reduced to what we believe, feeling amounts to little more than what we want.

It's Spring. The delicate, golden green color on the river oaks (especially set against the blue sky) is a marvel to behold. Not many people though, jogging past, bother to look up and notice.

No brains, no heart, no sense. What human qualities are left?

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and friends,

A professor of anthropology explained to me one time the core values of shame and honor which he said are lacking in American culture and, without these values, a culture cannot sustain itself. Within one generation of the Pilgrim's landing they were slaughtering Native Americans and enslaving and selling them (according to Philbrick in the book Mayflower) and after that came slavery of Africans by different segments of the population. So these values were never in great abundance even then but it does seem to have gotten worse---or maybe just more visable. I can remember when a person's word was their bond and it would have been considered dishonorable to break it or to lie. I don't see that anymore and the perfect example is campaign promises---we cynically don't expect them to follow through and know they'll just say what they need to to get elected. Two days ago there was a story in the news about a group of high school students bullying a 15 yr old Irish girl to the point where she went home and killed herself. Cruelty used to be considered shameful behaviour and was exposed to public censure. I don't mean this as a rant, simply an observation of a culture that no longer even pretends that shameful, dishonorable behaviour is unacceptable. There are very few people who read you, Hedges, Stiglitz or anyone else who identifies larger trends and refuses to sugar-coat the facts. Do I wish it was different? Yes I do; but I know my wishing it won't make it so and despite knowing many good, decent Americans, the larger picture is one of greed, corruption, cruelty and indifference to suffering.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

I think you might like Hedges' "Zero Point of Systemic Collapse" article published in AdBusters Magazine a couple of months back.

https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/88/chris-hedges.html

There are very few people writing now with the intensity with words and real grasp of reality that Hedges has. Enjoy!

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Susan,

I'd just spent part of this morning reading about that sickening case of bullying & suicide myself. As we know, it's hardly an uncommon thing these days. And it points out just how accepting of sociopathic behavior this country has become -- hell, not just accepting, but encouraging!

Is it a bloated sense of entitlement? Individualism diving headlong into sheer narcissism? The cultural mantra of, "Screw you, I've got mine & I deserve yours, too!" at work? All of the above & more?

Certainly everything in our culture preaches, "More, more, more, for me, me, me!" Other people don't count. Other people aren't even people.

And yet, when I do something as simple as talk kindly to a harried cashier, I'm thanked for it -- and I often get a startled look, as if basic decency wasn't expected. Alas, even then it's sometimes a suspicious look, i.e., "Are you up to something?"

As Art put it so succinctly, there's an atrophy of feeling. Oh, there's more & more sensation! But not much feeling, nothing deep or meaningful. Very little, anyway.

That, more than anything, is what I find frightening today.

2:47 PM  
OpenID brutus said...

Maybe it's because I pay attention that there appears to be no lack of pundits, columnists, bloggers, and authors observing and chronicling the decline of the American Empire and our current flirtation with incipient or creeping Fascism. Reader comments demonstrate lots of agreement. I can't judge whether such assessments are mainstream or just a few lone voices preaching to an embattled choir. Certainly, categories and opinions have hardened over time and the noisiest, most reactionary bunch on the far right tend to dominate the public sphere. But I still read lots and lots of doomers and post-civilization folks getting the messages out.

Not that it matters much. The metaphor that history is a graveyard of empires without the circumspection to alter their downward trajectories is a significant observation. It echoes admissions about the inalterable nature of humanity in John Gray’s book Straw Dogs. Like history and evolution, culture drifts without guidance or purpose, though not without an array of delusions and lies we tell ourselves.

I suspect that a few intelligent politicians (increasingly, rulers) recognize the ship is going down but patronizingly judge that the masses lack the fortitude to face the truth. Of course, we mostly demonstrate that assessment again and again. So lies are told and false hope is instilled. Personally, I wonder why suffering and dying so disconnected from reality is preferred to seeing clearly what it is that's ruining us.

4:58 PM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

Just a thought experiment...

What do Americans fear most would happen if, say the US closed its global network of military bases? Do they believe the rest of the Western World would be incapable or unwilling to support the US if, one imagines, the faceless hordes threatening the country were no longer kept in check? Do they think the rest of us wouldn't care and would gladly welcome the demise of the US and would stand by idly while the country was invaded?

I'm not an American, so I can't relate to this attachment to the global projection of power. But what I don't really understand is the fear I sense the US is experiencing at the thought of losing global dominance.

Does America really believe it's that alone?

5:54 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Ti,

It's not that difficult to understand. The US has no inner content, so external control becomes paramount. We're addicted to it, in fact; hence, the terror over losing it.

Which we will.

mb

10:36 AM  
Blogger Judy Sacco said...

If you want to read more by Chris Hedges, here's a good link to several articles. He makes Mr. B sound like an optimist!
http://www.truthdig.com/chris_hedges

Judy

1:54 PM  

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