April 19, 2010

Choose Your Violence

I have never worried about violence in Mexico. Of course, I know it exists. Like everyone else, I read the newspapers, and the evidence for widespread, drug-related violence is clear enough. True, the guns for this violence are largely supplied by American arms dealers just north of the border, as President Obama himself omitted when he visited Mexico early in 2009. But leaving that inconvenient fact aside, there is no doubt that there is a lot of crime-related violence in Mexico, not only from drugs but from extortion and kidnapping and sex trafficking as well, and that it casts a long, dark shadow over Mexican life.

And yet, I never feel nervous walking the streets of, say, Mexico City. I have walked around the city at night, many times, by myself, and (call me naïve) I have never felt the need to keep looking over my shoulder. On the other hand, I find that I am typically edgy when I visit the United States, and over the last few months I began to think about why this is the case. Finally, it came to me: yes, Mexican violence is quite real, but it doesn’t seem to extend much beyond the boundaries of gang wars and criminal activity. American violence, on the other hand, is a different kind of creature. It doesn’t have the dramatic flavor of the Al Capone-style violence of the 1920s anymore. Rather, it seems to be woven into the fabric of everyday life. It often feels to me as though the entire society is violent; that random incidents could turn very ugly very fast. Which they often do, in the U.S. (a casual put-down remark leads to someone getting blown away in a drive-by shooting the next day, for example—events that are by now so common they get reported online, but not in the newspapers), and I suspect it is this that makes me nervous, because you never know what’s going to happen. The question is, which of the two types—Mexican or American—is worse?

I had occasion to confront this dilemma in the form of two incidents that occurred in the closing months of last year. In September, I was staying for a week in a part of Mexico City that has always seemed to me to be relatively safe. One evening during that time I had dinner with a friend of mine, and she subsequently dropped me off about a block from my apartment building (the street was temporarily closed to traffic, for some reason). As I walked home, I passed a young man of about twenty-two years of age, who seemed to want something. I stopped for a moment; he looked at me with rather glazed eyes and said, “Que pasó?” (what’s happening?), slurring his speech. He was obviously drunk. I turned away and kept on walking, whereupon he attacked me from behind, striking me in the head and knocking my hat off. My reaction was one I would not have anticipated: I was filled with rage. I wheeled around and advanced on him, inexplicably yelling “déjalo!” (let it go!). Of course, I should have shouted “lárgate!” (get lost!), but “déjalo!” was what came out. However, the words didn’t really matter; it was the body language that stopped him in his tracks. He was aware, as was I, that if he made one false move he was going to have a fight on his hands. We stood there for about twenty seconds, staring at each other. Finally, I felt he got the message. I turned and left; he didn’t follow me.

In the ensuing days, I puzzled over my surprising reaction to this strange encounter. For one thing, I was aware that if it had taken place in the United States, I would have reacted quite differently. Specifically, I would have been very cautious, because I expect Americans to be unpredictable and potentially volatile. (In fact, in a confrontation of this sort, the American assailant could easily have been carrying a gun.) My experience of Mexico, however, is that daily life is not permeated by the kind of free-floating anger and incipient aggression that I find characteristic of American life. Indeed, Mexican behavior in public spaces tends to be polite, if not actually gracious. Hence, when this drunken kid unexpectedly jumped me from behind, my feeling was one of outrage. If I could have put my thought process into words at that moment, it would have been something along the lines of, “How dare you attack me in my adopted country?” For clearly, he had violated my standards of expectation of public behavior in Mexico, and I wasn’t about to let him off lightly.

The second incident occurred on a flight from Mexico to Houston just after Christmas. Once again, the “attack” (not quite the right word) came from behind, but the guy in question was an American. As we took our seats on the plane, I adjusted mine so that it reclined a bit. The man in the seat behind me—white-haired, my age or a bit older (he looked a lot like Colonel Sanders of KFC)—asked me to keep my seat upright, as his legs (he told me) were right up against the back of it. I noticed, however, that he had a briefcase tucked under his calves, which were pushing his legs forward, and I was aware that this violated flight regulations (carry-ons have to be stowed in the overhead bins or under the seat in front of you). However, I decided to give “the Colonel” the benefit of the doubt. He did have rather long legs, and the seat didn’t recline that much anyway. I figured I could live without the luxury of a reclinable seat for what was a relatively short flight.

At some point toward the end of the flight, I must have fallen asleep; and my seat, for some unknown reason, slid back on its own. I was rudely awakened by the guy behind me shoving my seat forward, quite violently, and pitching me into the back of the seat in front of me. “I asked you to keep your seat upright!”, he exclaimed quite vehemently, nearly shouting. I was absolutely stunned by this behavior; I hardly knew what to say. All I could think of was, “If you stored your briefcase where it belonged, there would be enough room for both of us.” Which I told him, and left it at that.

Nevertheless, I was quite angry at being treated so rudely. Is this enough?, I thought to myself. Should I report him to the flight attendant? I mean, he could have just tapped me on the shoulder, or at least checked out what had happened, before going a bit loco. Reacting violently when things don’t go your way is, after all, the behavior of a spoiled child. But in the end, I decided not to pursue it. We were almost in Houston, and I didn’t want to make a scene. It was very different from the confrontation with the drunk in Mexico City, who actually struck me. This was a tantrum, not a physical attack, and I just couldn’t see the wisdom of making a federal case out of it. I decided to write the airlines about it, and leave it at that.

As in the case of the Mexico City event, however, I was subsequently led to think about the implications of what had happened. What occurred to me was the following:

1. There appears to be a level of rage in American society simmering just below the surface, a rage that most other societies—crime and political conflict excepted—don’t seem to possess. For example, some years ago a U.S.-Canadian research team conducted a poll that asked the question, “Do you believe that the use of violence is acceptable in the pursuit of your goals?” While 12% of the Canadians surveyed answered in the affirmative, exactly twice as many, i.e. 24%, of the Americans did.

2. This level of incipient violence is probably inseparable from the ideology of “American exceptionalism,” whereby Americans believe that they are the “chosen people,” entitled to whatever they want whenever they want it. One can call it narcissism or extreme individualism, but it does seem to boil down to a kind of infantilism. This is a people who never grew up, and who will throw a tantrum if they think their “rights” are being violated. The result is aggressiveness and endless competition as a norm; they are raised in a Top Dog/Bottom Dog philosophy, one that says, “I come first and other people don’t count.” I doubt whether many Americans are free of this unconscious programming.

3. I regret that the U.S.-Canada study was not extended to Mexico, because after visiting Mexico off and on since 1979, and living here since 2006, I cannot imagine a Mexican individual behaving the way the guy on the plane did. As already noted, I experience Mexicans as being courteous or even gracious in public spaces. I can only imagine that most Mexicans would find “Colonel Sanders’” behavior grotesque. In the U.S., on the other hand, it merely falls at the far end of the social-behavioral spectrum. If nearly a quarter of the population thinks violence is acceptable in the pursuit of one’s goals, and if establishing oneself as “Top Dog” is a something of a norm, then “Colonel Sanders’” behavior may not be all that aberrant. For me, a rather unhappy conclusion to come to, and one, as I said, that makes me nervous when I am in the U.S.

So there you have it: two types of violence. South of the border, largely restricted to criminal activity. North of the border, literally part of the air that Americans breathe. Which would you choose?

©Morris Berman, 2010


Blogger Neb said...

Bravo for your candor! I'm glad you weren't irrevocably damaged from either incident. This type of 1st person account gives dimension unobtainable from US media.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Berman

Thanks very much for this illuminating account of something that I sense almost every day in my little corner of the northern Kentucky commercial/suburban moonscape. I think that in addition to the reasons you cite, violence is palpable in the atmosphere in the US in part due to the invisible influence of what Albert Borgmann calls the "device paradigm." As I understand him, Borgmann argues that modern technology, characterized by "devices", shapes the society and the individual by continually introducing technologies of disengagement; devices that displace more centered, and more communal, activities that he calls focal things and practices. This leads to a culture that encourages a life of "mindless labor and distracting consumption", which in turn might help to explain the barely concealed anger and aggression that pervade our social lives here. Life under the device paradigm is grimly commercial and ruthlessly, yet mostly invisibly, dehumanizing.

Thanks for an always fascinating blog,


5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear MB – As always thanks for your post and the blog. Neb has it right. We’re not likely to see an account like this in the mainstream.

I’ve wondered about this same topic off and on for the last couple of years while in Latin America (Nicaragua and southern Mexico ). I’m conflicted about it frankly. Almost all of the violence I heard of in Latin America was related to robbery – in short, resources. Obviously, it’s a poor region and people get desperate. Being a pickpocket in San Jose or Managua is, while not a respected career option, understood.

Having said that, I’ve always felt safer in Latin America than the states as well and I associate that with the general decency and friendliness in day to day life. There’s a strange pathology to the aggression and violence in the states and you may have captured it as well as anyone can.

It seemed the violence in Latin America was specific in a way – robbery in Nicaragua or Honduras (friend recently almost lost an arm in a robbery/knife attack in Nicaragua) politics or interpersonal conflicts gone bad in Oaxaca and so on.

Still, there is a brutality to Mexican life that’s hard to ignore. The list is long and does go beyond the narrowly reported area around Juarez. Mexican corruption is less sophisticated than Lehman brothers etc.. but is corrosive to Mexican life beyond what I recall in the States.

Tough to call but that's what makes this piece interesting for me.

El Juero

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

The counterpoint to this free-floating rage we sense below the surface of life north of the Rio Grande is a cynical deployment of surface courtesy as a tool in social one-upmanship, in the dealings of authority with its subjects, or market handling of the public. No other society uses such behavior in quite this way - to patronize, to deflect justified anger, to deny the uncomfortable reality of what is being said. The particular tone of officious security personnel enjoying a couple-of-points boost above their actual class origins. The voice of telemarketers or credit card help lines not bothering to hide their contempt for the insincerity of the scripts they talk us through. It is an excessively smiling, yet fundamentally hostile and unhappy tone found on the therapeutic left as well as the sanctimonious right.

This has a direct, chicken and egg relationship to the growing rage we all sense is bubbling beneath the surface, but I'm not sure its a result of cultural decline. It might actually be something from pre-modern court culture that has been hardwired since the Tudor era or so into that enduring part of Anglo cultural DNA we term...smarm, refracted by a thousand training seminars and a million media iterations into a standard mode of adversarial communication for all demographics.

It seems to me that when practiced abroad, (except perhaps in similarly afflicted Anglo Saxon cultures) such behaviour has no purchase, no ability to stoke helpless rage. Instead it stands revealed for the pathological and parochial cultural tic that it is.

Other cultures have other tics. The finely honed perversion of reasonableness and courtesy for uncaring ends is something particularly well inscribed in ours.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That last sentence is really a zinger. Thank you.


4:29 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Thanks for the compliment Morris.

Apropos tics.....

Whatever your views on the tic-like repetitiveness of most Peak Oil pieces, you might be interested in a piece by a blogger called Scott Schneider (via James Howard Kunstler's ever reliable online crawlspace of crustily curmudgeonesque concern)...


It meditates on the psychological damaage from sprawl and car culture in a way that transcends more generic discussions of road rage, etc.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Nicholas Colloff said...

A very interesting piece - though I remember Luis Buneul 'commending' Mexico City in his autobiography for its surreal acts of random violence, examples of whch he would collect from the newspapers. However, I found myself triangulating your piece with my current adopted city: Moscow. Here violence is deeply contained within either criminality (including, sadly, racism) or domestic relations so you are, and felt to be safe (or if coloured, unsafe), yet people in public space are phenomenally ungracious, guarded by a carapace of armour. However, step into private space and you are subject of the most generous hospitality. There cannot be said to be any undercurrents of rage - violence is clear and predictable, has its own known logic and can, thus, be accounted for unlike what I experience of the US where there is a perceived gap between external civility that is a conformity and unpredictable rage (as you experienced). I am reminded of once standing in a queue in Bruges for an exhibition of Hans Memling: a modest queue and finding behind me an outraged American, complaining that if the exhibition had been organised by Disney he would not be standing there. By implication 'behind others' all of whom but himself were enjoying the October air and the expectation of a great treat.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Ochen' priyatno, and thanks for writing. Here's a lovely vignette, told to me by the secretary of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra some years ago: It seems that there was some confusion about seats for a concert, so that when some couple arrived at their seats there was another couple already seated there. Things escalated to shouting very quickly; one woman took off her shoe (stiletto heels) and began beating the other woman with it. I love this story; I found it quintessentially American.

5:45 PM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

Dr. Berman

I noticed this same difference in cultures the first time I traveled Europe...the cultures in Britain, France, Germany etc. are so much more laid back, lacking that underpinning of hostility you see in America. Even the police were nicer and more genial tan their american counterparts and got along better with even very drunk stragglers wandering around Dublin. You can go out to a bar and hang out without looking over your shoulder and thinking somebody might mess with you-- just because they can. I was very reluctant to come back to the states after that month.

I am reading 'Twilight of American Culture' and you have put into a book every concept I have been thinking but have been unable to articulate coherently, thank you!

12:09 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jason,

My pleasure. Were you born in 1980, or have a rebirth at that time?

The only time I was pulled over for speeding in Mexico, the cop shook my hand and said, "Buenas tardes, caballero" (good afternoon, sir). What planet am I on? was all I could think at that point. We had a friendly conversation; he told me to slow down. In the US, my feeling has always been that the cop is on the verge of exploding; that he takes my speeding personally; and that if I say one wrong word, I'll wind up in jail for the night.

It's amazing that such a psychologically disturbed society cannot see it--not even slightly.


12:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Estimado profesor,

Big BIG fan of yours since I read "Dark Ages America". Think you’re on the money re: what's been happening now in the U.S. for decades.

Would love to see you in Wisconsin, if you're still doing that, on May Day, but doubt if I'll get a chance to go...

Anyway, just wanted to join your community and add some comments on this post.

One thing that nags me as I read your piece and then read some of the comments: Isn't, at least partially, some of your experiences and perceptions of these experiences do with your race, gender, and class status in a country replete with a long history of colonization, misogyny, machismo, and racism?

You are, quite obviously, "white", and a foreigner to boot. This no doubt plays some influence as to the perception of most Mexicans, especially those of the lower classes who have a whole different set of relations with people from different (i.e., “higher”) class backgrounds than with their own.

As an academic, a professor at a rather prestigious institution of higher learning in Mexico, doesn't this influence anything in your relations with common Mexican folk (drunken youth, cops, etc.)?

I bring this up because I am a working-class Mexican immigrant who was raised most of my life in the United States; Chicago, really, which I'm not so sure is (or is not) exemplary of the United States in general. Chicago ain’t Peoria, for example!

Thus, in a situation such as the one you experienced on the airplane, an African-American or a Mexican has to also deal with the spectre of the question: “Is this racism? Or just a crass, crabby-ass American?” Worse, we have to navigate, VERY carefully, how we respond to such acts of aggression. Just ask Henry Louis Gates, Jr.!

And while I agree with you on your characterization with how "American exceptionalism" works its way into quotidian interpersonal relations between "Americans", there are too many questions to ask here regarding Mexico’s own social problems, but really, my experiences as a Mexican in Mexico have not always been smooth or as friendly.

Then again, that said, I have seen friends of mine (born and bred “chilangos”; you’ll recognize the term!) who, because of their status (professional, educated) and the color of their skin (“güeritos”) and their blue eyes get treated by service industry people and cops with a kind of solicitous preference, an obsequiousness, that sickens me.

Aren't our own (yours, mine) perceptions, as shaped by background, upbringing, education, racial background -- even skin color -- have something to do with how others perceive us? How society moves and acts around us?

Just asking...

In answer to your rhetorical question, I prefer to have NEITHER Mexican nor American violence. They are both cruel, severely damaging to both the personal and societal goals of a decent life, extremely counter-productive to the project of a democratic society. Not that we aren't all already in a state (States?) of darkness...

1:50 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hola Ignacio,

Y gracias por escribir. Mira: I was only a prof at the Tec de Monterrey for a year or so, and I can't say I was treated differently during that time than I was before or after. Also, the time that the cop pulled me over was before my academic appointment. Whether he would have treated a Mexican driver differently...I honestly don't know. Same goes for incident with drunken kid (I wasn't a prof anymore, at the time). In my mind, in any case, I'm just an American writer living in Mexico, with no professional status at all.

But you raise an obviously important point, because skin color is a mark of status here, and has been since Cortes. Of course, Mexicans might regard a guero like me as an oddball, out of it, esp. since I live in a town with comparatively few gringos in it. Again, I don't know. But yes, there have been times when I think a sort of "deference" has been operating, and of course I wonder about it and am not comfortable with it. I.e., *I* may see myself as someone without visible status, but perhaps the folks around me see me as something more. The status thing, I suppose, is operative in almost every country...If there is a deference factor here, there is (in my experience) a hostility factor in the US, tho as I say in my essay, hostility in the US is the norm; it seems to operate (in a repressed kind of way) everywhere.

A lot more I could say, of course, but I appreciate the major food for thought you've contributed here. Welcome to the blog, amigo.


9:29 AM  
Anonymous Judy said...

When I moved to Panama, I noticed two things immediately. No road rage and teenagers who showed respect to older people. I used to exhale and relax whenever I entered Canada. I didn't realize how uptight I was until I crossed the border. America definitely has a simmering rage, getting worse I think, as evidenced by the tea party people and the increasingly visible militias. It's a scary place.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Again, the thing is that Americans have no idea how screwed up the country is. Here's another example: when I crossed over into Mexico in 2006, I was about
30 km into the country when I needed gas. I stopped at a Pemex station that was also a cafeteria. Got gas, went into cafeteria for lunch. The service people were teenagers, and were kidding around w/each other. So I joined in, and began to kid with them. They loved it, and came right back at me.

What happens in the US in a public place, when you try to kid around with people, esp. young people? They stare at you uncomprehendingly, and very suspiciously. They literally have no sense of humor at all, or even a sense of what it is to be a human being. Hostility is 2 mm. from the surface. Honestly, they might as well be dead. Tina Fey plays on this theme at one pt in her film, "Mean Girls". God, what a strange place the US has wound up in.


5:07 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

There's definitely an increasing amount of free-floating rage here in America. From my own limited experience, it seems to be worse in the suburbs than in the city, oddly enough. And in the well-to-do parts of the suburbs. People erupt for the most petty & trivial of reasons, if you can even dignify them as "reasons." I swear that the worst incidents of road rage I've encountered are from drivers of a Lexus, or BMW, or some other high-end car.

7:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

MB, You may have more influence that you realize, judging from reports from the Bulgarian Department of Tourism of a sudden increase in inquiries for the southwestern part of the country.

7:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, in particular basement apts; a totally Palin-free environment.



9:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Here is a cartoon especially relevant to Ray's comment:


Recently I was waiting at an intersection and I saw this old guy cut off another guy in a big truck. They stopped at a nearby traffic light and the guy in the truck got out went up to the other car and started screaming at the driver. I thought he was going to pull the old guy out and start pummeling him. Don't know what I would have done... luckily he stopped screaming and got back in his truck. It was shocking and disturbing.

2:38 PM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

haha I was born in 1980. I have even noticed in Canada people seem so much nicer and almost completely without the insecurities and hostilities that plague so many Americans. I may yet move to Europe some day...

6:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Just a guess, but I think Americans have so little in their lives in terms of meaning, that the fuse is very short. The American Dream failed them, after all.


You are young, but need to start making plans now, not "some day". Don't let the years slip away while the country commits slow suicide. Jesus, man, there's a whole world out there!


7:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Outward behavior is heavily influences by cultural norms, and cannot always be interpreted accurately by members of other cultures who don't "grok the zeitgeist."

In America, we have all seen the opportunistic driver make a selfish and somewhat dangerous move, and get honked at heavily, sometimes accompanied by verbal comments and hand gestures. In India, every person is that opportunistic driver and that gesturing honker, and no one calls it road rage; it's just the way in India, where a city intersection resembles the trading floor of the Chicago Merc.

Here is a quote from a story in the April 2010 Sun, called "Submit to Mother India," by Andrew Boyd:

"India asked for my submission before I'd even arrived. While my Mumbai-bound India Air flight was still on the tarmac in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a large Indian woman didn't sit down next to me so much as on me. I scooted aside in surprise and good-naturedly began to point out this unfortunate violation of my personal space, but she just nodded hello and busied herself with items in the pouch in front of her. Meanwhile, her not-unsubstantial ass extended halfway into my seat and gave no signs of moving. My ticket clearly said 23A; her ticket, I have to believe, said just as clearly 23B, but in her mind, 23B was a rough approximation, a frontier space with fluid boundaries. Already I was in a kind of cultural awe -- not just at her rudeness, but at the casualness, the naturalness of it.

After a few weeks in India, I would realize what she'd expected of me: to oh-so-pleasantly slam my own ass into hers. She wouldn't have thought it rude at all. It was just business as usual, and I was just another of the 1 billion souls --and asses-- with whom she had to share the subcontinent."

10:53 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting. You were actually physically attacked in Mexico but suffered only bad manners in the US, but still you manage to twist this into evidence that supports an argument that the US is thoroughly violent, whereas Mexico is fundamentally well mannered.

You also manage to avoid any discussion of facts beyond mere anecdote: the Mexico homicide rate is triple that of the US.

You also dismiss as largely groundless the very real fears the people of Mexico City have about violent crime. Are you so much smarter than all those shopkeepers in Mexico City who hire armed guards to protect their stores?

11:24 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Short answer (in practical non-rhetorical mode): I don't have much choice, I live in the US and it takes considerable effort to take a family and make a choice other than the US. In the extremes, Mexico with its kidnapping is not an improvement to US random shootings. In the main I practice not internalizing unavoidable bad incidents and trying to live a more gracious way myself. I don't have to be or identify with the anger out there.

1 year of my life, I was in and out of Mexico on business and pleasure. Each time staying or working with citizens of that country. They were great. One of them told me about an experience he had being kidnapped. He told me about others who had similar experiences. While there my friends went out of their way to make sure I was safe, they felt I could be target being norteno. I was in Puebla.
I decided I'd try to climb La Malinche while there once. When I got past 1/2 way to the top just where the brush and trees ended, I got real sick. I was there with a guide and we stopped. Shortly after, 2 fellas come up the mountain near us showing huge cutlass'/knives for cutting through brush. They camped near us and approached our camp later. One offered us a swig at a huge bottle, (gesturing his bottle in hand toward me) of unknown clear liquor while wielding his cutlass in a perpendicular direction. The guide was somewhat scared but kept his cool. We both declined. Later, I tell the story to others saying I don't think they meant harm, if they wanted to do harm they could've. But at the time I was pretty scared. FYI, i lost most of what spanish skills I had.

Ignacio: As an african american, you wrote some of my thoughts. But that's why I liked this particular post. I wanted to see MBs perspective and read contrasting perspectives on this. Interesting note, when I was in Mexico, strangers weren't sure if I was norteno or Panamanian. They were pleasent nonetheless. Costa Rica though, was another story...

12:19 AM  
Blogger Ti-Guy said...

It seems to me that when practised abroad, (except perhaps in similarly afflicted Anglo Saxon cultures) such behaviour has no purchase, no ability to stoke helpless rage. Instead it stands revealed for the pathological and parochial cultural tic that it is.

This is an important point. I don't think there is any other Anglo-Saxon culture so similarly afflicted with this tic outside the US, not anymore anyway. Canada, Australia and to a lesser Britain have moderated it somewhat to permit being direct and candid to counter its lack of sincerity (which is very obvious to people living elsewhere in the World). It has its definite advantages (its outwardly and uniformly civil) but generally does not accommodate confrontation all that well, which includes the ability to use humour to diffuse a tense situation.

I can imagine having to behave like that all the time only causes a build up of resentment and rage that explodes at the earliest opportunity and completely out of the proportion to confrontation at hand.

1:06 PM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

You are right Dr. Berman, I may need to look into that very soon... I once moved from CT to CA on a whim, why not London?

6:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, William,

The Mexican situation involved a drunken 22-year old kid, and the American one a 70-year old (supposedly mature) adult who could have acted decently but chose to act like a spoiled American. Who's got it twisted?

As for crime in Mexico: did you actually read what I wrote? You might start with the first paragraph.

Finally: what's with the attitude? I understand you are an American, but would it cost you that much to be polite?


8:17 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Estimado Profesor,

Thanks for answering my comment, at least in part. I'm sure you have, as you say, a lot more that could be said about the topic. We both could share a lot about it.

I agree with you completely that here in the U.S. there is an operative hostility in relations between people; a bitter, defiant hostility that is shocking when it arises unexpectedly, precisely because it does manifest in rather unexpected situations or settings in which one would reasonably NOT expect abuse, vulgar language, hostility, or violence.

But again: in Mexico my family has been caught up in the recent escalation of drug cartel shootouts; the stories they tell are harrowing.

Also, here in Chicago, in the last month, there have been dozens of killings and easily several scores of shooting incidents. Both situations are very much unacceptable on a theoretical or social justice or “quality of living” level, but in either case, people accept this violence and learn to live with it, just that, again, there are different reactions to it.

In general, while Mexicans may consciously accept (perhaps fatalistically) the violence, in the U.S. there is this sense of not accepting it. Americans, used to the myth of “having control”, bristle at the fact that they can’t control what is going on around them (the economic collapse, rise of even suburban violence, and to a certain group, the “creeping socialism” of Obama! Which might be risible to us, but to many of those “tea-baggers”, they’re seriously spooked…) and thus an increase in daily hostility.

Popular culture may elucidate this a bit: current movies are a great example of this, in that they relish in vigilante fantasies, and most of the highest rated TV shows are “law and order” types where the “law” always gets those darn criminals. Laughable, on a superficial level, because of the obviousness of it, but also worrying, because for me, it indicates that most Americans are willing to have “law and order” (read: fascist, police-state tactics) than freedom.

There was a movie in the early 90s called “Falling Down” which I think touches on this somewhat. The white, male, middle-class is VERY upset at the way their beloved “America” is going… and just try to tell them that it was never a reality!

4:28 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One of the difficulties for some people – Americans especially – with this topic, and which I think William tried to raise (although in an unnecessarily hectoring tone) is that there is a difference in perception in violence between both cultures.

William might be right about the statistics, but the violence in Mexico is neither justifiable nor worshipped. However, it is an accepted reality. This might have something to do with our history, which is bloody and torturous. This has affected our perception of it, and also our acceptance of it. Not that it is right, but that it IS.

In the United States the reverse is true. Firstly, there is a complete ignorance of America’s historical, bloody violence. Second, since violence is the means through which America could carry out its imperialist project on this continent, violence must be justified. Violence is always justifiable: from the cops who kill an innocent black man (Amadou Diallo), to gangbangers shooting innocent bystanders, to the unleashed might of the American military upon Iraq, to the killing of wedding goers in Afghanistan. Collateral damage. Americans JUSTIFY violence even if they don’t like to think about it. Guns don’t kill people, right? The corollary would be: Americans don’t kill people, it’s their guns! It's their military! But no, not Americans...

In general, culturally, Mexicans don’t need violence; they may accept it, as an unfortunate and inevitable by-product of having had to suffer from the imperialist design of others, but they do not make a religion of it. Americans, however, THRIVE on it; need it, desire for it illicitly as well licitly. Americans raise it to a religious state akin to ecstasy; they sprinkle it everywhere: in humor (‘punch line’), sports; it’s everywhere and indeed, forms an integral part of ENTERTAINMENT. Americans are entertained by violence. They make a fetish of it: Americans have gun shows and air shows, shooting ranges and paint-ball.

Mexicans have fiestas. We have mariachis.

Yes, the Mexican narco-terrorists kill innocent people, and that’s reprehensible; but how many innocent civilians has an American tax-payer funded war-machine killed so far since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan? A million? Two million? How many wounded, mutiliated? How many tortured, raped by our “boys and girls” in uniform? But somehow all that violence doesn’t count... And how soon before that violence comes home to roost? If it hasn't already...

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In light of the most recent posts I want to mention again my appreciation for this post. "Choose Your Violence" in itself, reflects the fact that decisions we make may be difficult or trade offs.. Let's be honest, an American with even modest means can shield themselves from many of the difficulties of Mexico (or choose your spot) and race can play into this but it's not perfect. Everything's not a child like fantasy picture painted in web headers like "the 25 most beautiful places to retire" etc..

Why take these chances is the compelling question isn't it?

I've asked myself this many times in the last few years while coming to my own conclusions and ideas about things as well as reading MB's books and other writings. I've come to the decision it's better to live light with few possessions so I participate in less bs in the US.
After one discovers real community and conversation in places outside of our borders it's easier to try difficult options – even the possibility of violence and other difficulties to live closer to that ongoing possibility.

I think it would surprise many in the states to talk to ex-immigrants back in Latin America (again pick your spot) and elsewhere. In many cases, they often go to the states, make some money and return to the village, city etc.where they're from. They want to level the economic playing field not because they prefer US culture over their own. Again, this is off the radar map in a media that's obsessed with fright journalism and immigrants "taking over" the country. It's just too complex a world for most US media.

El Juero

9:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

As usual, I want to thank all of you for your insightful comments. I've enjoyed reading these contributions a lot. Actually, I never imagined this essay would spark this level of discussion, but now I'm very glad I wrote it.

Ignacio--re: William's stats on 3:1 homicide rate in Mex vs. US: he's rt; the problem comes in lumping them together as gross statistics. As I wrote in my essay, the majority of Mexican violence occurs in drug-related gang wars along the border--with guns supplied by US arms dealers. Most Mexicans don't experience this sort of thing in normal daily life, altho it does exist (esp. via kidnappings and extortion). I happen to be in Ciudad Juarez right now, the most violent city in Mexico, staying with a friend. There was a drug bust yesterday, and police had the streets blocked off. Yet the two of us have been able to walk in the Parque Central (which contains a giraffe!), go to an arts festival, eat in a Chinese restaurant, etc etc. In a word, the majority of Mexican violence is on the margins of Mexican life; it's closely tied in to (un)organized crime. This skews the stats. To take another example, the world capital of homicide rt now is Colombia, but this is due to a deep and unending political conflict (much of which is the product of US meddling). (Even then, when I was in Cali a few yrs ago, which is the capital of the Colombian drug trade, the violence was in the shadows, not visible.) If the US were to give up the attempt to establish more military bases there, I suspect things would change rapidly for the better, and the violence level would drop precipitously. (Same for violence in Mexico, if drug use were to suddenly be legalized--which is really the only solution, as Carlos Fuentes, among others, has pointed out.)My point is that political violence and criminal violence are exceptional categories from what I'm talking about. These things are real, but in some way adventitious. But in the US, violence seems to be personal, "casual," and everywhere. We lead the European countries in homicide by several orders of magnitude, for example. Even beyond actual shootings, it's just part of the air we breathe--as you say, part of the movies, TV, general entertainment, and aggressive interpersonal relations. And yr rt: we get high on it; it's finally a whole way of life, even with religious dimensions. This doesn't make drug shootouts in Cali or Ciudad Juarez OK, but I do think it puts them into perspective.


10:44 AM  
Anonymous paul said...

I would have to agree with Ignacio on preferring -no violence-. I don't think it matters what flavor it is - to me it's personal... The reasons why people act the way they do may be different but the results are what counts. Whether it's local or foreign the stats don't really matter... it's the victims who have to live with the aftermath of whatever is going on in a person's mind to unleash their pent up hostilities.

Culturally speaking, your right, the US has a uniquely exceptional view of itself.... and rightly so.. after all we still have enough nukes to blow the world to kingdom come and then some and the John Wayne mentality that won the "great war" is still running the show. It's a warped view of the world and yet it's this vision of "what we say goes" that keeps being repeated in everything we do. It's become a religion and I believe fundamentalist in nature. Chomsky and Hedges has also highlighted this in many of their talks.

I thought it interesting that most of the vocalized responses to 9/11 I kept hearing from people immediately after the event was that it was a good thing that "the country was being run by "adults" now (republicans - as if it mattered) who would finally take care of things"... well, I guess we know how that's turned out...

Anyway, I guess it's a question of what a person can judge is right for them in terms of re-locating and for what reasons. There are many who've emigrated to the US from unspeakably horrible circumstances and (I suppose in some cases the opposite may be true for some people tho to a much much lesser degree). Then there are those of us born and brought up here who are sick of what we as a nation and culture have become and represent to the world. If only the answers were so easy...

I just wonder about the old saying that goes about: "taking the boy out of the country - but being undable to take the country out of the boy"...(The Ugly American) I suppose identifing with the term "American" has a lot to do with how we come off too.

2:56 PM  
Blogger heather said...

The violence is bad and will continually get worse. In my profession I have seen things that I never thought I'd ever seen.Children as young as three are deep down angry for no apparent reason. Parents who justify and make excuses for everything their children do, even if it's punching another child in the face. There is no responsibility anymore in the home, public, or entertainment realms.

Many of the children I work with love Pro-Wrestling. They like to talk about and repeat the things that are said it quite often. My brother watched when he was younger and turned out quite well. I was quite shocked when I had come across it one day on television. The language is atrocious, men hit the women, the story lines are way more mature for their young audience to understand. At one point in time (1980's) if a wrestler had used a foreign object in the ring he was disqualified. Hitting below the belt was also frowned upon.Now, it is apparently perfectly acceptable to hit anywhere, hitting your opponent with a sledge hammer and shooting fire into their face is perfectly acceptable. What's worse is that it doesn't just air on Saturdays anymore. It's pretty much everyday. Parents don't have enough now how or will power to shut it off as a matter of fact they sit there and enjoy it with the kids and make every excuse as to why it's acceptable to treat people that way, then wonder why there is so much pent up aggression in the children. Just taking a long walk for entertainment is out of the question, mostly because it means actually having to come face to face with people and speaking to your children.

In less than twenty years the message "Hulkamaniacs, say your prayers, take your vitamins and you'll never go wrong". To the new message of "Suck it".

I can't wait to see America in the next twenty, ought to be interesting, hopefully my family will be elsewhere.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

My hypothesis is that Americans now feel, as individuals, that they have so little power, so little personal autonomy, that they must always be on their guard against someone exploiting them. That can range from being ripped off in a business deal to the merest conversational slights.

Our hyper-competitive society fosters this paranoia. When you are constantly reminded that you are replaceable, that no one owes you anything, that very real people live in boxes under overpasses in this country, it lends itself to something perhaps a little worse than the 'quiet desperation' Thoreau wrote about.

Most people don't go to work to work - they go to defend their livelihoods against their co-workers and bosses. The threat of 'losing it all' hangs over almost everyone.

It's no wonder we're so touchy.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Please humor me, once again, as I entertain the relation between food and the topic at hand. Lierre Keith, author of "The Vegetarian Myth", gave a talk in San Francisco recently. Three vegan males snuck up from behind and pushed cayenne pepper-laced pies in her face. (and you think that *you* are unpopular in the States!) Some members of the audience, who apparently knew what was coming, sat back and laughed. Afterward, Keith commented that you cannot have a balanced emotional life if you don't eat enough saturated fat.

Most Americans are not vegan, of course. But a grain-based diet, filled with wheat flour and corn syrup, does predominate. Additionally, nutrient-dense foods like butter and red meat are shunned. Americans are running around on sugar; is it any wonder that they are often less than centered and grounded?

In your village in Mexico, are "Slow Food" traditions still alive and well? Do people still cook with lard, or has it been replaced with soybean oil? When making caldo de pollo, is only boneless/skinless chicken breast used? Is guacamole, even, avoided because avocado is high in fat? I'm guessing not. And the result, perhaps: "a sound mind in a sound body"?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That's a pretty good description of Life in Hell, imo. I'm so glad I left it behind.


Mexicans don't eat healthy, but consistently wind up near the top of all the international 'happiness' polls. Americans are constantly fussing over what they eat, how much they exercise, what vitamins to take, ads for Lunesta and Claritin and Caca--there's no end to it, and it makes them sick. I suspect the #1 cause of illness is stress, so...do the math.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mas tiempo que vida (“more time than life”)
A nice expression in Mexico........

A small personal comment on the food - diet posts. Morris is right. I had lost enough weight in Mexico to substantially reduce a blood pressure medication I had been on in the states. The food isn’t on any US dietician’s list that’s for sure but the actual satisfaction you can have from sitting in a colorful, relaxed environment for a two hour lunch conversation means you eat less. This isn’t a “professionalized”, clinical thing you’re “supposed to do” but rather really enjoying a normal state of being more relaxed.
Six weeks back in the states and I gained 10-12 pounds, was depressed and suffering from high blood pressure problems again. You might want to take this into account when calculating the violence issue……just saying.

El Juero

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Prof. Berman,

"Mexicans don't eat healthy". Well, that settles it then. Actually, there's considerable confusion over just what constitutes a "healthy" diet. Best-selling authors like David Kessler ("The End of Overeating") demonize fat, while at the same time make no distinction between highly processed polyunsaturated oils and natural saturated fats. Mexicans, following their traditional diet, may very well be "eating healthy". Stress certainly plays a big role, and I don't want to sound overly reductionistic about this. Nevertheless, what we eat couldn't have anything to do with how we feel, could it?

12:55 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

P.S. Whether or not Americans obsess over what supplements to take, the standard diet is pretty much the same: high on starches, and low in fat. Perhaps Mexicans are happier, in part, because their diet is more satisfying.

At the turn of the 20th century, the most popular cooking fats were butter and lard. Heart disease was virtually non-existent. Today it's corn and soybean oil; heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US. Do the math, indeed.

2:13 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

There's also been a serious increase in obesity in both Mex and the US (and, I'm assuming, Canada and Europe) concomitant with the introduction of diet drinks and low-calorie foods a few decades ago. What irony.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I did a double-take reading your post this morning, because just yesterday we were visiting my youngest brother, and our soon to be 9-year old nephew was telling us how much he loves pro wrestling, and how he wants to go to military camp. Apparently there are such ghastly versions of traditional summer camps! He loves military computer games, needless to say -- just part of the aggressive programming all children get today. It's the norm for them. I dread the thought of seeing him become one more bit of cannon fodder in a few more years.

Keith, you're absolutely right. People are SCARED -- at some level, they know they're screwed, that they're in a loser's game, that even if you win the rat race you're still a rat. It's ME ME ME & nothing else matters. Divide & conquer, it never fails. Which is just what the powers that be want.

Look at all the "reality" shows that emphasize power, pettiness, betrayal, and humiliation. And viewers eat this stuff up, just as happily as Roman citizens enjoying a day at the Colosseum. Only now they don't even have to go out to see the fun, it comes directly to their living rooms. As if much actual living gets done in those rooms!

It saddens & sickens me to see so many young people mainlining this worldview, knowing how it'll be used to manipulate them. All that potential for reasonably whole lives, twisted & distorted at the root. And it's easy to envision the future they'll inherit.

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

About a year ago my youngest daughter was involved in an anthropology project and interviewed a number of random Americans, immigrants and experts in cultural anthropology (when they could afford it). Her professor and H. both noticed this "inarticulate rage" that you describe in your post. It was all over the country and from unlikely sources too---the most privileged, entitled Americans seemed to have the most anger. Maybe it's the emptiness of the American dream or the cost (emotionally, financially, socially) of "keeping up appearances" that have taken its toll. I don't really know and haven't read any explanation that seems to explain it fully. It's similar to free-floating anxiety---a person can say he feels threatened or worried but can't pinpoint the reason why he should realistically feel this way.

Despite the fact there are thousands of recipe books, supermarkets bursting with choices and phony bistros in all the upscale neighborhoods, our food seems oddly sterile. When the number of fat grams is a constant concern, well, it's hard to enjoy the whole enchilada. Our culture appears to me to be pornographic rather than sensual and this includes our food, in a strange way. There are tempting pictures of food everywhere and we're encouraged to consume--but only the "right" food and in strict amounts. Maybe all these conflicting messages are driving us crazy.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thanks again, everybody. The conclusion I came to in writing this essay was that I really wasn't sure which type of violence was worse. If unchecked, the Mexican situation could (d)evolve into a type of warlord-rule, in parts of the country. On the other hand, the US situation is pure lunacy: a culture literally soaking in violence, down to its children, its infants, down to the finest details of a minor interaction on an airplane, and the people not even being able to recognize this because they cannot get outside of it.

Art: I stand by what I said: Mexicans don't eat healthy. The diet is high in carbos--the classic peasant diet, in fact, of rice and tortillas and etc.--plus it's soaking in oil, typically lard. I don't know the heart-attack rate for Mexico, but I'm guessing lower than the US, because despite the poor food choices (as we say in the US), the worry or stress level is much lower. All Americans have accomplished w/their diet is to worry more about it--yet another thing to serve as fodder for stress or prestige. I think Mexico may be similar to Denmark in this regard: the Danes eat tons of butter and cheese, but the low-stress life tends to promote longevity.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: As an interesting 'solution' to our situation, I recommend Chris Hedges column of today (April 26) on secessionism; and also a small book by Thos Naylor called "Secession".

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I'm remembering that in "Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut posited a future America that had been broken into several smaller nations to ensure the peace & safety of the rest of the world.

But would our corporate masters allow that? Or would they find a way to make even bigger profits out of it? Hmmm, maybe they could have these smaller American nations declare war on each other & make additional fortunes that way!

2:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

Long ago, in "One-Dimensional Man," Herbert Marcuse claimed that corporate capitalism was so elastic that it could make money off of anything, even direct opposition to it. (Cf. Thos Frank's bk, "Commodify Your Dissent".) We now have "green chic," with Al Gore making something like $100 million from his private ecological investments; and Thos Friedman to follow suit, no doubt. So I am quite sure that as secessionism gains strength, and various parts of the country begin to break away from the empire (in 20-40 yrs, I'm guessing), the corporations will move into secessionist chic mode, complete with ads like "Break Free! Exxon Endorses the Lone Star Republic!", etc. There's no winning with these jokers.


2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for the secessionist article (interesting piece) and the breaking up of the states I'm thinking we should just quit calling it a country and make the states franchises? Corporations could later bid on the states and just take buy out the infrastructure to run it as they wanted. Elect Palin as the CEO?
I think I should stop - I'm starting to scare myself.......

El Juero

7:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Sr. Juero-

You remember Che's comment, that we need "Two, three, many Vietnams"? Here's an update: "Two three, many Palins".


10:16 PM  
Anonymous Someone said...

The people in this blog seem to be quite competent in analyzing their cultural situation. But is the questions seriously asked that all this leads to? The personal questions? That is "Do I want to do something about it or is it just for the effect of lamentation?"
And the question "What can I do to make my culture a better place to live in?" After some pondering the answer is like, I think, that "I can't do anything about it".
So the question follows "If I can't do anything about them, what can I do for me and my immediate surrounding?"

I think Morris more or less got the point where this practical questions and answers do lead to. Even if he, just in my opinion, didn't run far enough. It seems that being the germ cell of change is a very tough business, to say the least. It's the kind of work that Bodhisattvas, Gandhis and similar saintly figures are supposed to do, so don't try this at home ;)

One can see from how people reacted to Obama, that they are desperately looking for the saviour. But one can wait forever, until he realizes that he must look no further than himself to see one.

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

One last comment on nutrition, and then I'll let it go; you're not running a food blog, after all. I'm sorry to hear that the Mexican diet is loaded with carbs. And soon, even Mexican blue corn (higher in protein than American seed corn) may become a thing of the past, if Monsanto has its way. So much for my romantic notion of a Slow Food Mexico.

According to an abstract on PubMed, "Coronary Heart Disease in Mexico..." (2003), the incidence of heart disease is on the rise in Mexico. One out of three die of acute myocardial infarction. So much for the protective effect of a more relaxed lifestyle?

"The Danes eat tons of butter and cheese, but the low-stress life tends to promote longevity." This reminds me of the famous "French Paradox": the French have a relatively low incidence of heart disease, despite all those heavy butter and cream sauces. American dieticians have an explanation: it must be the antioxidants in the red wine! But, what if there actually *is* no paradox? What if saturated fat and cholesterol aren't bad for you to begin with? The definitive work on this is Gary Taubes, "Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health".

Finally, let me come at this from another direction. Our economic, energy and foreign policy experts are manipulated by corporate interests. But the good folks at the USDA make recommendations based solely on the best available science? In the words of comedian Tom Naughton: we've been fed a load of bologna.

2:05 AM  
Anonymous David said...

Bravo for this dissection of the American Empire in its dying stages!
Tocqueville could not have said it better, although I suspect during his time he was seeing a growing Republic and Americans, while starting to exhibit the restless symptoms of greed, still could count on a community spirit that had not evolved into the violent society of today. Perhaps I am beginning to understand why this society consumes so many drugs.

6:59 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, 2/3 of Mexicans apparently don't die of heart disease, so maybe the relaxed lifestyle is working. You'd also have to break it down regarding lifestyle: hustling nortenyos vs. peasants in Chiapas, for example. And then there's the question of comparative longevity (about which I know nothing, however).


7:50 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Someone said,

Yes, that thought crosses my mind sometimes. I don't want my every post to be just one more godawful example of the American empire's decline & there ain't nothin' nobody can do about it nohow.

Some of the little things I do:

I go to library sales & buy as many discarded books as possible, and give quite a few of them to younger friends & relations -- books they might not only enjoy, but find enlightening -- often books that are out of print. And as gently as possible, I encourage reading the classics, and discussing them afterwards.

I mention that I don't have a zillion cable channels, and that I mainly use the TV for watching films -- and I recommend a wide range of older or non-commercial films.

Recently I introduced one young friend who likes action/suspense films to "Three Days of the Condor," which he thoroughly enjoyed. I mentioned that Cliff Robertson's speech at the end about what the public will demand when the oil & food begin to run out is rather prophetic ... and he wanted to pursue that idea further.

Similarly, introducing several friends to the Grant-Hepburn film "Holiday" spurred a discussion of what money's for, and whether there's such a thing as having too much of it. I then mentioned that quite a few 1930s films, both comedy & drama, had strong populist, anti-capitalist themes.

Watching Kurosawa's early 1960s film "The Bad Sleep Well" had one friend exclaim, "This could have been made today!"

Does this do any good? I honestly don't know. It does get people thinking about ideas that seldom get exposure in the mass media -- unless it's to scornfully dismiss them. If nothing else, I hope it shows the possibility of another way of life. Seeds for a few more NMIs? Maybe ...

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Life Expectancy:

France (80.7)
US (78.2)
Mexico (76.2)

2:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Hell, it's worth a shot. We need a Kurosawa remake, however: "The Goldman Sachses Sleep Well." And they do. These guys are actually indignant that the government is attempting to call them on the carpet. And they have a point. Who called Halliburton on the carpet, after all?


Well, I guess Mex didn't do too shabbily. However, once again, I think a breakdown by lifestyle and/or geographical location would actually be more revealing than gross figures.


3:31 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Friends,

Just thought I'd throw in some more data (but, as MB points out, a qualitative breakdown is more explanatory than these raw quantities, which, in themselves, mean little):

Death rates per 100,000 population for total cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and Total Deaths (data c. 2007).


USA: 289 (CVD); 174 (CHD); 35 (S); 907 (TD)
Mexico: 235 (CVD); 130 (CHD); 58 (S); 1056 (TD)
Denmark: 286 (CVD); 142 (CHD); 52 (S); 956 (TD)


USA: 150 (CVD); 73 (CHD); 27 (S); 575 (TD)
Mexico: 166 (CVD); 69 (CHD); 47 (S); 713 (TD)
Denmark: 127 (CVD); 51 (CHD); 37 (S); 642 (TD)

Source: American Heart Association; americanheart.org

10:47 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I was just reading an article about the founder of Facebook, who laughingly said that he didn't believe in privacy. Quite a few comments on the article said that so much of the under-30 generation (not all, mind you) seem to share that attitude.

That got me thinking about the classic division of "inner-directed" & "other-directed." I'm wondering if investing so much of one's self in a social network, a digital & intangible world, erodes the inner person to such an extent that there's little of it left. One's "life" becomes the digital persona, so to speak.

If so, if there are no boundaries between the inner & outer worlds, do emotions -- especially negative ones -- spill out all the more easily? Does this contribute to the increasingly violent bent of society? Encourage it? Do people vent fear & anger & rage because those are the last things still reminding them that they were once whole human beings, even as they see that fading away? Is it terror of becoming nothing, nobody?

People know they're being cheated, robbed, deprived of what makes them human -- and on some level, I think they know how much they allow it to happen. How much they actively contribute to it. Have they learned that the only feeling that matters now is what you direct outwards?

1:36 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I have a feeling that as American society becomes dumber and dumber, thought substitutes for feeling. As we lose the ability to express ourselves intellectually, we become convinced that emoting is more authentic. At the far end of the American decline, all that will be left to us is grunting and drooling. If u haven't yet seen the film "Idiocracy," now may be the time.

Palin in '12!


4:19 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim: you want to read about inner and outer desires expressed? From HuffingtonPost,
"Facebook Group 'Praying' For President Obama's Death Passes One Million Members." I don't know why but somehow this makes me laugh more than the dramatic negative progression Heather pointed out above regarding the WWF; from ...take your vitamins.." of the 80s to today's "Suck It!" These folks are so scary its funny.

MB: What is the tenor of political discussion in Mexico? What kind of violence comes with that?

7:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


This is a long discussion, but briefly, Mexicans generally are cynical regarding the possibility of fundamental change. They have a kind of insight, or maturity, that American voters lack. The latter believe that change comes thru the ballot box, even though history shows that is not the case. Mexicans know it doesn't. They know there isn't any real difference between the two major parties (PRI and PAN). I admire their willingness to live in reality, to recognize what's what. At the same time, as some Mexican friends have pointed out to me, this wisdom also has a resignation attached to it; too great a willingness to comply with the status quo, to be passive in the face of events.


10:09 PM  

Hola Mauricio, great subject as always.

Maybe its not a pasive atitude in the face of events, but the wisdom to face the fact that “large scale” issues actually do not concern us really. The worst thing one can do to a large scale politician is ignore him, he feeds on our approval, not even a real one, but just as a number for the survey and speculation they love so much. C. Geertz has a “dilema”: “Amor a la tribu (small scale) o amor a la patria (big scale)”. In the latin world I believe we are irrationally loyal to our loved ones (here) and not the rational “cause” (over there).

Latin world doesn´t have superheroes that every common can project himself in (messianic figures that get closer to a god as they find “The Truth” of right and wrong), but criatures among criatures of a god that share a fatality with that “big picture”. US’ers all use the “small leagues” to be “some day” in the “big leagues” that for me is basically the american dream or rather say delusion. Small towns to the big city is the business. There is an intrinsic sense of expansion, but a self expansion that is at the end pretty lonely. Because to get there you must not only “sacrifice” your life, but comply with a series of repressive protocols, that permit the lonely american life style. (In all it’s “splendor”.) Law and Order is very expensive.

This is why I think latin violence is pational and intense, because it deals with true small scale social problems of power and love, fusion and gangs. On the other hand US’ers violence is psychopathic, because it deals with this obsesive “stik to the cause always” a distant cause, that “some day maybe “I” will live in”. Not us now and here. A distant cause that works for a boss I don`t even know, that deals with world scale matters of which I am totally ignorant of, and actually don’t even care that much. ¿Why? Becuse it’s not real, it’s abstract, a promise, an ilusion. The world needs small tyranny’s with the good and bad random in them, real intensive life “scaled tu us” and not on a “wide-screen” CNN seeing a bomb atack on Iraq. Our resigned latin wisdom has a saying that always makes me laugh: “Son unos hijos de puta, pero son nuestros hijos de puta”. A small “almacen” has less variety and is more expensive that a supermarket, but what the hell. Latin women have a wise joke: men care about the important thing’s, the war in iraq, god, macro economy problems, and leave us the trivial problems, decide where to go on holiday, what to eat everyday, how to organize the house and family... what’s really the important amigo? “Cariño y contacto “con” otros”, or awareness of the “big picture”?

5:02 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Estimado Profesor:

That was a REALLY great synthesis of the Mexican socio-political reality! You distilled it as best as anyone, in my opinion, could have. Very succinct.

I agree with the statement, unfortunately, that this sense of cynicism or "resignation attached... too great a willingness to comply with the status quo, to be passive in the face of events". It defintely affects the culture and how it deals with our great social problems.

Paloblanco... I'm not sure what you're getting at, but I take issue with the old hackneyed stereotype of "latin" anything: violence, society, "wisdom", etc.

If you are referring to Mexico or Mexicans, just say Mexican! Nothing wrong in that.

"Latin" is a whitewashing of centuries of historical, social, etc. relations and events which are completely disregarded and disrespected with some simplistic and ultimately incorrect generic label like "latin".

I don't have enough space here to eviscerate the continued usage of this unfortunate word when it comes to discussing issues regarding Mexicans, or Spaniards, or Italians, all of which are "Latin" according to the typical usage, and all of which are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT cultures which some cheap epithet does no justice to.

Mexican culture, and cultures in Guatemala, Nicaragua, etc. each have their own historical, cultural, social, political, and economic reasons for some of the violence that takes place in our respective countries, as the U.S. has its similar reasons.

Finally, I thought it was Roosevelt who said about Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator, that he "might be a sonofabitch, but he's OUR sonofabitch..." quien sabe... maybe Roosevelt was "latino"... LOL!

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone for these great posts.

We were talking about various political issues in a group of friends in Oaxaca when a friend of mine said, “you guys have too much information”, referring to the Anglos in the group. This wasn't about knowledge mind you as this guy's incredibly savvy. Just differentiating the “information” we feast on in the States vs. Mexico and knowing what is important.

One thing that I found distinctly different in all of Latin America , and I believe you have mentioned this in the past Dr. Berman, is the awareness level of Latino's about “the system”. I found this in countless conversations. You can't bullshit a campesino about the great American way. In many cases these people have seen more of it than us. Mexicans have worked from Jersey to Seattle to Guadalajara and back. Nicaraguans and Hondurans know all to well what being in the middle of a war is like when the Yanks are involved and Indigenous people in Guatemala know how history gets re-written. This list could go on as you know.....

Another distinction is that People in Latin America are far more likely to move to the next level in political terms. Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Zapatistas in Chiapas and the Unions in Mexico especially as you see in Oaxaca or Mexico city. I know there are problems within these movements but they are far closer to the real deal than most Americans could imagine. They are for the most part engaged in a real struggle and for this they have my admiration. Americans are living in a dream world. The closest thing in the United States is the Tea Party a misguided lot if there ever was one with racist inclinations as we are now seeing in Arizona.

El Juero

9:03 AM  

Thank you Mauricio for letting me “try” to express myself. The terms I use, respond to my why to structure “my” notion of reality that tries to be shared with others as honest as posible, simple as that. Mi querido Nacho: LOL? ... Very kind of you. I don´t know what “sickens you” so much about the use of the particular word “latin”, any way “american” is much more disturbing, and the use of latin-america, north-america or central america can make certain distinctions, am I right? Maybe I could have said mediterranean or larico? Don’t really know, en español europeo mediterráneo o nórdico. Anyway it’s not the point .

It’s honest to say backgrounds “do” matter, what does the statement “we are esencially the same” mean? Plato is not one of my favorites. I don´t intend to be racist, but the “melting-pot” has it’s issues. Isn´t Puritan democracy quite cynical? English colonialism simply exterminated natives, (the Spanish at least were merged), and now the “American model” wants to sell the american dream to any immigrant without distinction? Come-on! That inconsistency itself constitutes a neurotic repression that makes US’ers “dream” so violent, forcing “peace” when there wasn’t even a dialogue in the first place on native soil. Talk about a way to heal wounds by believing in something that is not. US owes a debt to his own native town. What can make us think it cares about “other” people or nations?

El “ninguneo” product of miscegenation Octavio Paz talks about in the “Latin” american world “IS”. The US model tries to use “money” (or before that “knowledge”) as a way to make abstract distinctions between people with the “same” background (being poor) becuase there was never a blending. As incoherente both worlds can be, I find the “latin” american structure more honest because one can “see” that reality and the dialectical conflict in everyday life and the consequences that implies (underdevelopment in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile etc). In the States on the other hand, for the system to work, there canot be a “palpable” dialectical conflict, the machine needs to “do work”, the belief must be an internalized coherence in every “model citizen” or savior of the ilusion, that needs to “exterminate” anything that upset’s that deep belief, (like finding the word “latino” a cheap epithet, jajaja). No sea intolerante a la intolerancia amigo Nacho.

Mauricio, from this moment, waiting for another subject (new post) I thank you for everytime. Un abrazo.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the risk of belaboring the point – there is yet another facet of violence in Mexico and possibly the one that concerns me most as well as others in the Oaxaca region.

This is the use of the military or police who can be allied with local business interests in forming paramilitary style groups. There are many who are concerned that the “war on drugs' is often a cover for the use of military equipment and resources against the poor and undermining legitimate political activism. I'm including a link to an incident this week where two activists were murdered (one mexicana and one woman from Finland) while supporting a town under duress from the military. I think this is a much more serious issue in the wrong run for Mexico – essentially state-sponsored, privatized violence for economic and political benefit.......

Paramilitaries Kill Two Human rights activists in Oaxaca

El Juero

5:49 AM  
Anonymous JTEilers@mac.com said...

Recently researched a "socialist" newspaper from the the early 20th century, THE APPEAL TO REASON, which described the bank-and-corporation plutocracy in the U.S. in analyses that could have been written yesterday, proving how deeply that system is deeply embedded in the organizational structure of the United States. Buckminister Fuller provided a good analysis of that history pointing out how that was signaled with the tragicomic beginning where the first U.S. flag was just an alteration of the commercial flag of a tea company. Would that U.S. citizens could see the elemental simplicity of the fact that almost everyone in the U.S. is, to some degree or other, no different from the old-time tenant farmer, locked into the same kind of economic captivity. So far there is no equivalent of Eugene Debs who might awaken and educate -- but he or she would suffer the same fate as Debs, I fear, facing a nation that rebelled at being a colony under control of a monarchy not from a humanistic ideal but so that every citizen might dream of snaring the power of being each a king. It is a country badly in need of psychotherapy -- Can it be done on a national scale?! In regard to violence, I have been physically attacked and mugged in the only districts where I can afford to live in cities (being the poor poet), but felt the presence of violence impulse, as you note, in my native Indiana -- that simmering gunnysacked anger that destroys human feeling and breaks out suddenly (with everyone acting amazed when it happens) -- the anger of those who don't even understand that they are angry about being captives.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear JT,

The nation is beyond psychotherapy; the only thing I can suggest is massive lobotomy--except that would appear to have already happened.


8:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You phrased it exactly right -- this is indeed a country in dire need of massive psychotherapy! And I could see this having a real chance of working ... if the vast majority gave itself wholeheartedly to such a project, and utterly rejected the prevailing American worldview & consumerist life(death)style.

"If" -- well, there's the rub, of course.

What MB said earlier about emoting replacing thinking -- and at the loudest, most ferocious levels, too -- makes me see that national-cultural reassessment as a beautiful but impossible dream. We had the chance to do it in the wake of Vietnam, and too many people preferred to cling to their "We're #1!" illusions rather than face the abyss. Which is why we got Reagan instead of Carter in 1980.

You know, I'm willing to bet there are still a fairly large number of people who would like to have such a reassessment happen ... but now it's just too risky, and they're afraid to take the chance of being so vulnerable & naked. Perhaps with good reason, as their more feral fellows would probably devour them raw.

How many times do we hesitate to call someone on their public selfishness & rudeness, only to stop because that someone might have a gun? Might simply go berserk? I'm no bastion of limitless courage; I've found myself biting my tongue more than once, and hated myself for it afterwards.

But that someone just MIGHT have a gun or simply go berserk.

And everything we're fed in the mass media only encourages violence all the more.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Time for you guys to read "Why We Hate Us," by Dick Meyer.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

line from the movie "V" for Vendetta:

"People should not be affraid of their government"

People here are terrified of ours. Is it any wonder? This is one reason why many are naively arming themselves. It's a hopeless reaction at best considering the extensive database on gun sales and psychological profiling going into job applications and other avenues of control. Not to mention public sureveilance biometrics and such...

The affect that otherwise rational people may get blown away over some minor disagreement only highlights the amount of pressure people are under to maintain the facade they live under.

Peace...and be careful out there...

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

MB -

Just checked out reviews of "Why We Hate Us" & ordered a copy. From what I can see, Chris Hedges' latest article, "After Religion Fizzles" --


-- in some ways seems to cover the same territory, in that America no longer has a positive, moral, guiding narrative that binds both culture & people together. Certainly it has a negative one: the bottomless maw of consumerism!

The ongoing discussion here has been very good for me. In the past few years, I've gone from feeling something's terribly wrong, but not quite knowing what, to the relief of having a genuine prognosis. Even if that prognosis is less than promising, to put it mildly.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting & thought provoking, as usual. Wish someone would do a comparative study of countries in Western Europe, Africa, and North and South America. It would be interesting to learn how Americans compare. Oh, but I don't want to sound communist or unpatriotic here.

Many years ago, someone did a study on social interaction w/in several countries around the world & the result determined that Americans and the British were the unfriendliest people in the world.

7:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Estimado Profesor,

Talking about violence, Mexican and American...

Last week on May 4th was 40 years since the Kent State murders... and then I think of the mass murders by the Mexican state in 1968... and then I see the angry Greek protestors and their rage in which several have died.

Violence is spreading as a form of response to things that, ultimately, really can't be ameliorated by violence.

Referring to your book "Twilight of American Culture", I think the world, in its "americanized" condition, has accepted the virulent, seething violence that is prevalent in the U.S. via the products of American culture that it greedily consumes (everything from food to movies, TV, fashion, and even religion -- McWorld, in other words).

Thus, a world of hostility and meanness that is spreading like the oil in the Gulf, via the "American virus" of McWorld, threatens to overwhelm local cultural and regional behavior, attitudes, etc.

Not to mention race, class, etc., all issues that the U.S. has never really dealt with very well -- THAT'S what's spreading...

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, six in ten Americans support more offshore drilling, even after the recent oil spill in the Gulf. In addition, nearly two-thirds of Americans back Arizona's new immigration law.

But, how many Americans view these attitudes as an insidious form of violence? Our mission: destroy the environment, destroy anybody who's "not one of us", and then self-destruct.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Just before reading your post, I got a frenzied e-mail from a co-worker about the menace of immigrants, who are supposedly gobbling up all the benefits only real Americans are entitled to enjoy -- "real" having a very narrow definition, of course.

I won't be surprised to see more actual violence -- beatings, shootings, bombings -- because of this attitude, this visceral fear of somehow being cheated. And the frightened ARE being cheated ... but not by the carefully chosen & assigned scapegoats.

Michael Ventura's latest article on American oligarchy deals with the deliberate divisions driving & utilizing those fears:


As for the uppermost tiers of the oligarchy & their attitude toward violence, Obama's little "joke" about sending predator drones after the Jonas Brothers is chilling & telling. No different than Bush making a "comic" video about looking for those pesky WMDs in the Oval Office & and not being able to find 'em, consarn it.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Relevant to the 'immigrant threat' and scapegoating in general: the sections on the Reagan presidency and neoliberal economy in Janice Peck's superb book, "The Age of Oprah." This one's a real winner, folks.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Last night got a chilling reminder of the American predeliction for violence.

Long story short: Some local Chicago radio talk show host, who's not particularly right wing, decided to raise the story of a 69 year old man who murdered a younger man -- a neighbor -- for that man's dog peeing/defecating (not sure which) on the old man's lawn.

The host was adamant about not trying to "justify" the murder, but all he could say was that he could "understand" the annoyance and snapping of the 69 yr. old's patience, thus 'justifying' the killing in a surreptitious way.

Worse, ALL the callers were in agreement: the man's property had been "violated"; retribution was necessary, etc. One even had the audacity to say that if were to be on the jury, he would find the murderer innocent because he did the "right thing".

Some notion of "respect" was raised, and that he had been "disrespected" and therefore he had to "do what he had to do", never for a moment thinking of trying to be a better person.

Have Ameicans forgotten the ol' notion of "two wrongs don't make a wrong?"

These were mostly Chicago suburan callers; around here, people -- neighbors -- kill each other over parking spaces in the winter. Neighbors killing neighbors over triffles that could be dealt with in much more different ways.

But the attitude of the callers and the host was that 'you can only push a man so far'. I thought it asinine, but when I called in to voice a contrary voice, the producer hung up on me. Maybe it was an accident.

I found it so typical of American attitudes. The sanctified sense of property, the right to 'go violent' first and foremost.

I should state that from what was reported, this "propertry owner" broke off from the argument, went into his house, got the gun, came back out, WENT LOOKING for the young man, and shot him several houses down.

To me, this sounds like cold blooded murder.

And most callers seemed to have no problem with this. The violence was, in some way, RATIONAL, or LOGICAL to them. "Of course, it was his lawn, probably the most important thing in his life, etc..."

Really... I gotta get outta here!

2:33 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I'm hoping the guy was arrested. Perhaps the day will come when you can shoot your neighbor and if everyone agrees it was OK to do that, the police won't make an arrest. To my knowledge, we haven't gotten to that pt quite yet. However, I'm quite certain it is not too early to hit the road, considering where the average American 'head' is at.


12:49 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

The thing that gets me is why people buy into the belief proposed by many that there is a way out - if we just "try" harder...There are those who know better and have looked at it from the NMI perspective. I suppose the old saying of leading a horse to water holds true. And perhaps there are other factors as Freud and his nephew Edward Bernaise probably knew us better than we know ourselves? As a collection of irrational basket cases constantly seeking outlets for the repressed energy we hold inside dealing with whatever hellholes we've crawled out of or continue to reside in...

My question is are we just evolving to a more cunning and ruthless version of ourselves? Judging by recent developments it would appear so. I recently heard that Obama is looking to upgrade our nuclear stockpile as a 21st century 'deterent'... deterent to what?

I guess ya gotta wonder how the dinosaurs lasted so long....

3:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, the guy was arrested... but in another scary story from Chicago (among the many), some knucklehead assistant manager at a CVS (corporate-owned drugstore franchise for those who don't know) ran after a shoplifter.

The suspect was a young black man, in his 30's. What was he stealing? Crayons and two tubes of toothpaste.

Anyone who has ever worked in retail (as I have) knows that it's just not that important to chase after a suspected shoplifter.

Well, this corporate slave (I'm not sure how else to describe him) ran after this suspected shoplifter, caught him, and proceeded to place him in a choke-hold after a scuffle.

The man died in the corporate slave's choke-held. Because he stole two tubes of toothpaste and some crayons.

What's scary? The assistant manager who killed this young man WAS NOT ARRESTED, nor was he even charged with manslaughter or some other degree of murder. He was let go. Again, comments on the story range from the apathetic to the outright triumphant ("Didn't expect he'd get a fight!" "Got what he deserved", etc.).

This is beyond aberrant behavior. Why be willing to KILL a human being for something that is not even yours, that belongs to a mega-corporation that is probably purchasing these items from exploited workers in China or Singapore?

Of course, the black community here initially made a ruckus, but the story has disappeared from the news. I don't think the ethnicity of the killer has been reported, but honestly, I don't think it really matters. He definitely is an American in his thinking, defending and willing to kill for his corporate masters' goods and property.

And that man who killed the young man with the dog? I wouldn't be surprised if he has already bonded out, or if he gets acquitted by a "jury of his peers" -- which are probably as psychotic as that corporate slave who killed a shoplifter...

There are WAY too many stories like this, from Chicago and around the nation. They stun me with their attitudes towards human life when it's taken by someone who "did something about things".

There was a killing just the other day in Arizona where even the police say the murder was preceded by racial slurs hurled at the victim before he was shot and killed in cold blood. And oh yeah, they were neighbors.

No, seriously, I want OUT!

2:04 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Can it be argued that the NMI concept is threatened because of the unprecedented level of violence that exists in our societies globally?

I ask this because obviously in the past certain forms of violence: outright killing, starving a city in a siege, even rape, were common forms of expression of violence.

But in the current historical context, violence is just... well, beyond historical norms. In conflicts in Europe (the Balkans) and Africa (the Congo), i.e., rape became an actual TACTIC of war. This not even the Huns or Vandals did.

Not that they weren't savage in their own violence, but they also didn't have any pretentions of being civilized, like the despicable "Lord's Resistance Army" in Uganda, say, or American Marines who raped girls in Iraq.

My point is that the level of violence is so unprecedented, or at least seems to me to be so, because there is NO respect for any norms of behavior, etc.

We saw this during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and how the historical treasures of Iraq were plundered. Not even the Mongols did as much damage in the past...

If people can't be polite and civil to neighbors, how long before they savage each other with violence?

Examples in the past are numerous: Jews and Germans, Dutch, or French; Bosnians and Serbs; Hutus and Tutsis; Conservative and Radical Argentinians, Uruguayans, or Chileans...

So how can the new monastic individual survive if everyone is fair game? I'm sure there were probably several monasteries that were ravaged and razed to the ground by ransacking armies during the Middle Ages; maybe not. Again, I think that the violence now is... different?

Just some thoughts re: how a NMI can survive in this new, more hostile environment.

2:28 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Sobering food for thought. It's true, the violent mindset we're discussing seems to take a special delight in destroying what it fears & doesn't understand, which particularly includes civilization & all its artifacts. It's not simply that they wouldn't care if libraries & museums & books & all the cultural heritage of their society vanished -- a great many would go out of their way to destroy it, and take great delight in doing so, and feed on the anguish of the civilized few forced to watch.

Chris Hedges' latest column, "BP and the 'Little Eichmanns,'" scathingly dissects this mentality, one completely divorced from any notions of culture & moral responsibility:


1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is more or less how I experience these things, too. Glad someone else finds daily life in the US so violent - I mention it and people don't understand what I'm talking about.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS I think Ignacio Manuel has a point in that one is treated esp. well in MEX if one is white, middle to upper class, etc.

However the main point I see in the article is the simmering rage that seems to exist at all levels in US society (look at most comments threads on US news sites and see how much hostility there is).

I've seen similar rage levels in Brazil, interestingly, and could theorize on that sometime.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pro,

For explanation of US violence, and probably Brazilian as well, check out last few pages of "Europe's Promise," by Steven Hill. When societies take care of basic arrangements, such as health care, education, sick leave, etc., the anxiety of daily life drops, and people are less violent as a result. In the US, the sink-or-swim society, nothing is provided for, and everyone is consequently hostile and on edge. Hill's description of the European system is one of the best arguments I've read that the US is finished--a broken model, self-destructive, and beyond repair.


5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This makes sense except then how does one explain the civility one finds (I find it, at least) in Mexico and some other places where there's good reason to have a high level of anxiety ... or is the answer in the fact that people don't feel as entitled (or something like that) as Americans do ... ?

(There are lots of fascinating ideas in this thread, among them Lukeman's musing on Facebook / the erosion of the inner world.)

3:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear sptc-

The answer re: Mexico is at least twofold. 1st, there is a bit of a caste or class system that leads to deference rather than a sense of aggressive entitlement. I'm not happy with the deference, obviously; but the aggressive entitlement is collectively a drawback as well--both tedious and exhausting. The poor in America, as one sociologist once wrote, think they are "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Mexicans aren't that stupid. In any case, I'm sorry the Zapatistas fizzled out; that was an attempt to correct the situation of indigena poverty, at least.

The other reason is that despite the lack of a European-style safety net in Mexico, there is a family network that does afford some protection and comfort. This is virtually nonexistent now, in the US; it's been shredded over the last 30 years. A study by Prof. Vega of U Cal Berkeley, publ. in 1998, revealed that Mexicans living in the US have exactly twice the rate of mental illness as Mexicans in Mexico. That ought to tell us something.


11:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes. And as one Anonymous said way above, there's something about the randomness and gratuitousness of the US violence that really bothers me. I have not figured it out but I notice something similar in parts of the Caribbean and Brazil; I cannot come up with a satisfactory theory to explain this.

I'm now fascinated by Ray's comment, way upthread, on the perversion of court behavior: "the finely honed perversion of reasonableness and courtesy for uncaring ends."

2:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


U might wanna check out "How to Win Friends and Influence People," by Dale Carnegie--a classic in that genre.


4:28 PM  
Blogger guyberliner said...

Apropos of social inequality and violence, a recent Scientific American article cites studies that support the point with statistics (ie, inequality is murder, literally)


9:27 PM  

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