July 03, 2010

This American Life

[This is Will Okun's column on CNN, 2 July 2010. He taught high school for nine years on Chicago's West Side. Italics are mine.]

Chicago's longstanding ban on handguns, which the Supreme Court this week ruled as unconstitutional, was a complete failure.

Two years ago, every student in my first-period English class on the West Side of Chicago claimed to have easy access to a handgun -- even the goody-two-shoes Honors student in the front row. When I doubted her, she looked at me as if I were a fool. "I could get you one from my uncle tonight," she informed me with a quizzical look. "He might ask me why I needed it, might not."

Guns were so abundant that there was only, maybe, one big fight a year among the males in our school building because it was understood that the simplest of physical confrontations too quickly could escalate into deadly shootings. "You have to walk away from a lot," observed one former student of mine who has lost several friends and relatives to gun violence. "For instance, dude deserves to be beat and I know I could beat his ass, but then what? No one is just going to take an ass-beating, they're going to want to do something about it."

And he added, "Then you got to worry about him and his guys jumping on you. Or more than likely, he's going to get a gun to show that he's not a punk. That's how a lot of these shootings happen, it's over nothing."

Violence was so omnipresent that when I returned to school a few days after being shot in the arm with a .22 (I'd rather not discuss), a staggering number of students lifted their shirts to show their bullet wounds. "What you going to do?" they seemed to say with a shrug, as if this were everyday life.

In a city where an average of four people are shot every day, the random shooting death a few years ago of an amazing, beautiful person, Alto Brown, a friend of mine, was reduced to a single line in a three-paragraph newspaper story coldly tallying weekend homicides. "Everything happens for a reason," the pastor said at his funeral. "He's now in a better place."

As gangs and their illegal guns held whole communities hostage, it seemed as if the only people prevented from possessing firearms were citizens like Keith Thomas, who was raised on the West Side and now works as a mentor to at-risk youth for an alternatives schools program in Chicago

"I don't think anybody in their right mind would argue that more guns are a good thing," said Thomas, who has the scar from a bullet wound on his right wrist. "But I think the Supreme Court made the right decision. I think right now, at this point, the ban is not helping to serve any real purpose."

Thomas does not believe that the court's decision will result in significantly more or less violence, but he does hope that the ruling will force political leaders to seek community improvements beyond just strict gun control.

"It's not enough to just say we need more gun control. That's not what's causing all these problems out here, the guns are the result," he explained. "If we want to stop violence, we need to make real changes. That's a lot harder and requires a lot more money than just saying no guns."

In too many low-income communities of Chicago, the schools are in shambles, quality after-school programs are scarce, well-paying jobs are almost nonexistent, and the family structure is in full crisis. It is an easy notion to disregard, but many of these children are struggling daily to thrive in an environment that fosters failure.

"We have to get them early, before they start getting lost," Thomas said of the youth he advises, get them redirected with organizations like his and other successful mentoring interventions like the Youth Advocates Programs. "Once they start believing there's nothing else, that they have nothing to lose, they're the ones most likely to do the shooting."

After a recent weekend in which 10 people were killed and 60 wounded by gunfire, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley continued to argue the necessity of a citywide gun ban. "Look at all the guns that shot people this weekend. Where did they come from? That is the issue."

But one must ask, truly, is it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

America is almost a set up for becoming neurotic or becoming alienated. We got roads and hedges that never let you see the eye sores that is the life of the poor, city dumps and the resting places of our dead. We have experts that take off our hands the unpleasant slings and arrows of pains, sweat and distress. They care for our kids, elderly, sick, bad marriages, disabled and our dead. If lucky one need never see or know the wounded or jobless. In the USA one can live in a gated community or zip code where every one is more like you than NOT.

Alienation is the American life style and it applies to religion such as places of worship, class, race and gender, education and occupation. It's about inclusion and exclusion. Who is in and what you are not. Where you live and what your parents are not.

In Mill Valley your status is the lot size of your home and the number of BMWs in your garage, but in the inner city of Chicago it's the heat you got at home and the gun you got on your hip.

11:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mauricio te admiro..atte.lagartita,nic

1:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ay Lagartita!

Gracias por escribir!

Eres tambien puercoespinita?


7:16 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

On last week's news was a story about a town in California (I think it was Mayfield) that laid off all its policemen, EMTs, librarians, everyone on the city payroll. The next night was an interview with Petraeaus talking about adding more policemen in Afganistan and insuring the safety of its citizens. The irony is sometimes just too much. A family member was involved in a project last year that interviewed various people in different parts of the country. An elderly woman in her late 70s who always lived in low cost housing in Chicago told her the following comment: 40 years ago the children and teenagers were respectful of adults and the elderly and everyone knew what child belonged to what parent---and the kids knew it. She said she was now afraid to even leave her apartment and the teenagers and young adults were the most frightening. Basic safety is as important as shelter, food, water. If a community is so completely destroyed can it even be rebuilt? The problem seems overwhelming and where to begin to make meaningful changes, I can't imagine. Better not set the stage for disaster rather than try to repair the damage but that doesn't do the people in Chicago any good. What could possibly turn this around?

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman,
It's true that Chicago is mostly ghetto today. You can actually see the huge demographic change since 1920. It is not the city it once was, and different types of people live here now, mostly coming from the southern states. The Europeans, Asians, Jews, etc. left (fled) to the suburbs long ago. I live in a lovely suburb of Chicago. 15 miles south of me is hell on earth and more akin to a
3rd world country as you described. I live in the older America, and the southern, and western part of Chicago is the other America: the permanent ghetto. "The Bell Curve" explains the why in much more detail. We live in the ways and traditions from our ancestors in Europe, Russia, Asia, etc., and they live like their ancestors live today in other parts of the world. There is nothing remarkable about ghettos in America. People are simply reproducing their ancestral home countries. Suburban Chicago is organized, orderly, and virtually free of crime (and boring). The other Chicago is chaotic, filled with violence, and killing, just like many parts of the world. This is about 95% of the actual city. This part is much more exciting. This is a free country, and I don't want to live among murder and chaos anymore than they want to live an orderly, disciplined, boring life. Not all people are the same, and we shouldn't criticize how people want to live.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Well, I frankly doubt they *want* to live that way. Ronald Reagan argued that homeless people were homeless because they chose to be, but then he was a horse's ass. I don't think too many people would choose to live in the midst of poverty, violence, and daily terror. Oprah to the contrary, it's not about free choice; it's about historical forces beyond one's control. For more on the latter, as it unrolled in Chicago, check out Alan Ehrenhalt, "The Lost City."


12:39 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I definitely see a desensitization to violence among younger people today, as well as in the overall culture. Just look at all the torture porn, killer's POV games, etc. People actually believe that the violent fantasies in which they're immersed reflect reality ... and then they do their best to live out that reality. If you can call it living. It's more like remote control living, to go along with all the remote control killing, I guess.

Meanwhile, as you noted, libraries are cutting back or closing altogether, and everyone seems to be attacking teachers & public education. The dominant worldview decrees that the basic necessities of civilization are superfluous luxuries, while the emptiest of (so-called) luxuries are necessities.

But at least we've got that all-important free choice, right? Free to pick from competing brands of crap ... which are produced & owned by the same handful of corporations, hiding behind a multitude of brands.

You think we'd be used to it by now, but sometimes I'm still shocked at just how callous, narcissistic, and petty of soul our culture has become.

MB, I'm well into "The Age of Oprah," and afraid I'll get a neck injury from shaking my head in disbelief so much.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

There's something fascinating about the fact that just when you think it can't get any more degraded, it does. Onward and Downward, and Palin in 2012!


8:48 AM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

Gangsta culture is another hyper-exaggeration of a typical American tendency: The desire to be dominant, physically, financially, socially, etc. Everyone wants to be the big dog. I like 'The Boondocks' on Cartoon Network, they portray this tendency pretty accurately for a humorous animated show.

The ghetto gangsta types may not want to live like they do, but they sure do get a rise out of it, and are so proud of it that they brand themselves with tats that boast of their hardness or dominance or what have you. I even knew a guy once who came from money and chose that lifestyle... needless to say he wasn't a real bright guy.

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They want to live in chaos at least on a subconcious level. They don't want order, marriage, or philosophy. They are simply being what they are (we are). We should stop trying to "fix" these areas or people. Not all cultures are the same, and perhaps, people in the ghetto are living closer to our original human nature. Human nature was always violent, tribal, with plenty of killing, raping, etc. They are just being what we all are absent civilization. Why do we have to train our children to share, not to bite, etc. Without extensive training or education, human beings revert to our "natural" instincts. Going to the American ghetto is similar to Marlowe venturing into the "Heart of Darkness". We hear the drums, and the violence is alluring, at least on some level. Africa is the same story. We can distribute condoms forever, but people are not monogamous by nature. They don't want to play our hypocritical marriage b.s. Africa will never be "fixed" or made into a European country. We can see South Africa's quick descent back into chaos.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

And in Louisiana, Bobby Jindal signs the "Guns in church" bill into law:


9:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Actually, that's not what human nature is at all; "Lord of the Flies" is a myth. And young children want to feel safe and secure, not be living in a jungle. You might check out a book I wrote a while back, "Wandering God," on this topic.


9:52 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Yes, I've noticed over the past few years -- longer, really -- that there's a tendency to emphasize the supposed savage nature of humanity. Films with grotesque torture & horrific violence are lauded as "simply being honest." There's the expectation of violence as a first resort to even imagined indignities or insults. More than that, people are often blamed for being the victims of violence, i.e., "you should have known better than to say/do that, what else could you expect, etc."

And this Hobbesian worldview serves The Powers That Be very nicely, doesn't it? It erodes trust, community, psychological security ... and of course generates even more free-floating fear, making it even easier to manipulate people. "After all, you know what THEY're like!" It's not simply a fear of barbarians at the gates, its a fear that the barbarians are next door.

But they're even closer than that, aren't they? They're right inside us, they ARE us. Frightened, ignorant, desperate -- yet we look in the mirror & don't recognize the ravaged shells of humanity we've become.

And the handful offering something different, something better, are dismissed as elitists, America-hating intellectuals, naysayers -- if they're lucky. I won't be surprised to see libraries burned in the near future, at the very least. And maybe librarians as well?

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...


Your two statements really make no sense. No one actually wants to live in poverty and violence. People (no matter their ethnic background) are essentially the same. We all want to have the chance to have a decent job, a nice home and a family. The violence that is happening in the inner cities of this country is due to neglect not a ‘shared ancestral tradition’. How much money goes into these schools and communities? I’m sure it’s not even close to what is actually needed to rebuild the infrastructure in our cities. I say ‘our cities’ because whether we like or not we are all connected to each other in this country. We can’t just write people off and ignore the situation because they don’t share the same skin colour as us.

You then try to make an analogy between the way people live in the United States and Africa. There is a reason why Africa is so messed up today and it’s not purely because of corrupt dictators. Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism has ensured that the majority of African countries were not allowed to develop; in fact they were and still are exploited by European countries and companies for their vast resources (Oil, Gold, Diamonds, etc.). Additionally the violence that happens all the time in the inner city could be reduced quite significantly by giving people the opportunity to have good homes, jobs and education. This can only be achieved by smashing racist stereotypes and thoughts. We need to look at ourselves as being part of an ‘actual society’ and not individuals. An injustice to one is an injustice to all.

I think it’s interesting that some of the things you mentioned were often said about Irish immigrants during the 19th century. A lot of Americans then described them as ‘dirty, stupid and lazy’ and newspaper cartoons depicted Irishmen looking like apes or gorillas. There were also job advertisements that stated ‘No Irish need apply’. This mirrors the same kind of discrimination Black Americans have suffered for many years but it has been compounded by many other things like slavery, jim crow segregation, police brutality, a racist legal system and poor schools.

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...


My father's parents immigrated from Eastern Europe at the turn of the last century and lived in a community of similar immigrants here in America. Most traces of that culture are now gone and the people you say are simply recreating their ancestor's homeland by living in chaos and violence are many generations (in most cases) removed from the cultures you blame. People don't want the same thing but I've yet to meet the person who wants to live in fear or worry their child will be shot in the neighborhood park---if there is a park. Poverty does awful things to people; it robs them of the freedom to choose their own future, reduces life to scrambling for the bare necessities to just keep going, and in the inner city, surrounds them with an ugly, uninspiring enviornment. With the incarceration rates for poor minorities at staggering heights, I doubt this brings out the best in people.

7:19 PM  
Blogger JL1980 said...


Like you, I think ghetto poverty is a solvable problem... black poverty has been slashed in half in the last fifty years. It could be negligible in the next fifty. But it sounds like what you believe is that "smashing racist stereotypes" is the responsibility of mainstream America. Every ethnic immigrant group has had to smash its own stereotypes by joining the mainstream. Even the Nation of Islam will tell you that poor African Americans need to stand up and seize their own power, not expect it to be budgeted to them by a paternalistic government. Individuals must assume responsibility, that is the only historically proven path out of poverty and desperation.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Anon says:
"We live in the ways and traditions from our ancestors in Europe, Russia, Asia, etc., and they live like their ancestors live today in other parts of the world."


"They want to live in chaos at least on a subconcious level."


"We should stop trying to "fix" these areas or people."

Clearly you're angry as many are about the situation but you are making "others" out of your fellow Americans (species!). Creating an "other" is a historical tool of population-mind control via fear and an easy out regarding problems.

Compassion is utterly lacking here. Compassion for others is what this nation lacks and because of that, soon, there will be no nation. Just a bunch of "others."

America has made it's choice.

But your choice; compassion and consideration or Lock and load?

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of you need to read the "Bell Curve". A British scientist recommended it to me in London, but he warned me that you had to be careful with that book. Of course it was quickly dismissed just as "Twilight" was with Mr. Berman. Sometimes the truth is hard to stomach. Most people live in their own dreamworlds. We only see what we want to see. Few people see or even want to see the "truth". This book is right on, and after you read it, ghettos, cities, and even countries make brutal sense. Reality reflects the truth. What is the safest city in America? Why is it so safe? Hmm. What is the safest country in the world? Hmm. What is the most dangerous continent? Anyone? Forget your multicultural, politically correct nonsense, and see the truth. Don't make excuses. The liberal, politically correct catchphrases were put out there by the liberal elite and media to create peace and harmony. By believing that nonsense, you are labeling yourself as one of the manipulated masses. Most of you have bought this without thinking. Think outside the box. Sure, it makes you feel good to say all people and cultures are equal, but that is far from the "truth." Travel. I will read "Wandering God", but I doubt that it will refute Conrad, Dostoyevsky, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Swift, and Golding. "Heart of Darkness" is the supreme masterpiece.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

In this blog there seems to be the absense of connection by contributors. In the previous blog, "Ia There Life After Birth?" I got a shift in thought given the connections concerning the violence by Abel, King Lear, and Israel with light shed on the perverse effects on others. Here there's a snapshot of violent America and wonder what's the difference or connection to America's outer violence? So obliterating dozens of people with predator drones from a Nevada air base while sipping latte is less violent? Overthrowing eleceted governments for reason du jour is somehow more satisfying or less jungle than capping the thug who's running the next block? I can't just look at this snapshot and not see every American. I pay taxes to help make those international hits (now legal in-border) happen and if I don't pay, I get a shake down. Come on folks, you're in the game; it is a reflection of the wider game and this snapshot is here because of what we are.

11:46 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Well said, Neb!

I think Anon is demonstrating the truth of H. L. Mencken's famous line, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."

"The Bell Curve" has been thoroughly debunked. In any case, demonizing The Other is part of our problem, not the solution so many desperately seek. Anon, I suggest reading up on Jung's idea of projection: that we refuse to see the parts of ourselves we hate & fear, and project them onto another person or group.

But I think there's something more going on here. Anon's insistence on a dark & damned view of humanity as being "just the simple truth" is one that many people WANT to believe. It explains everything, it absolves us of responsibility (because "people are just like that") -- and of course it further reinforces the bunker mentality.

Yes, large sections of America are plagued with horrible violence. Their inhabitants are also plagued with horrible despair, a knowledge that they've been judged expendable, that their lives are no more important than the civilians we kill with drones overseas. I'm not excusing, I'm explaining -- would any of us do much better in the same situation?

Damn, Jimmy Carter was right in his much-maligned "malaise" speech! He WAS facing & acknowledging the truth. Americans preferred the pretty illusion of "morning in America" instead, and here we are now.

Here's the frightening thing: Americans may be frightened, but they also crave their fear. They crave violence as entertainment, they crave the destruction of The Other as an anodyne, they crave the numbing of human feeling & its replacement by mere sensation.

And where is compassion in all of this, as Neb so wisely asks? Dismissed as a sucker's game, no doubt. Yet it's the only thing that will save individual human beings, if not the country & culture, which are crumbling as we speak.

I see the current BP oil spill as metaphor for all this: poison gushing up through the cradle of life, staining & darkening everything, all for profits. But some people struggle to save as many wounded living things as they can, even though it seems futile, even though the damage is too severe. Why?

Because it is the only way to live.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Well, you've raised an interesting question regarding the nature and persistence of evil. There certainly is something to it, and I agree with you that it cannot be explained away with any kind of political correctness. The question is how deep it goes, both historically and psychologically. Sure, if you are going to rely on fiction of your choice, you can see it as "the human condition", end of discussion. But why take Wm Golding's word for it? His story is the product of his own dark pessimism; it's hardly social science. It's not anthropology--by a long shot. Similarly, Hobbes and Machiavelli were certainly on to something--but only for the modern and early modern periods. You might widen your perspective by reading C.B. McPherson's "Political Theory of Possessive Individualism," for example. Hobbes' notion of life in a state of nature as "nasty, brutish, and short" is not born out by anthropological studies of hunter-gatherers, for example. (For a real eye-opener in this regard, check out Pierre Clastres, "Society Against the State"--this by a guy who lived in the Amazon for 10 years and went on to be director of the South America section of the Sorbonne.) Freud's notion of civilization being a thin veneer covering violent instincts is partly true about human beings in civilization, for example (Nazi Germany, e.g.), but again, not necessarily the case for hunter-gatherers and the Paleolithic (in which war only showed up for the first time during the late part of that era). Yes, there's a lot of evil in the world; but Conrad, Dostoyevsky, and Swift can't take you very far: theirs is simply a certain take on it; it's not anthropology or sociology, or any type of carefully researched study. What I was after in "Wandering God" was to assess, as best I could, whether the human race was a flawed species; what the sources of evil were, how far back it went, what the conditions were that did or didn't bring it to the fore, etc. Your authors don't really do that; hence, there isn't anything to refute. (How successful I was is a different story, of course, but at least I wasn't writing fiction--as much as I enjoy it, including the writers you mention.) In the same way, Freud was not doing science or social science. His work is a kind of poetry, and I admire it greatly--it has great wisdom and insight. But on the civilization as veneer thing, it's hardly the last word.

I do agree with you, in any case, that there is real evil in the world (I'm certainly more inclined to believe in the existence of the Devil than in God, for example); and I agree that it cannot be wished away (or washed away) by the political correctness of the Academy--which contains a lot of reflex, simplistic thinking, to be sure. But I think you need to stop for a moment, and think about what Tim is telling you: haven't you yourself done something similar to what the p.c. crowd does? You read Conrad and Machiavelli, decide that that's the last word on the subject, and bingo!--darkness is deep and eternal, and that's the end of the story. The reality is a lot more complicated than that. I think those writers may have colonized your brain; you made up your mind far too quickly, and my guess is, went into the subject biased toward their point of view. One thing that crowd was never famous for is precisely what is lacking in your outlook: nuance. In short, give yourself an education: there are a lot of books out there, and they don't all say the same thing.

But again, thank you for writing in. It's a valid argument, at least for starters, and one that I don't think can be summarily dismissed. It's deserving of serious debate, quite clearly.

Diabolically yours,

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...


I am currently living and working on the Navajo reservation. I'm sorry, but I don't see what you are describing at all. There is limited food and water here, but people band together to help one another, rather than compete mercilessly. Aggression is mostly dispelled with humor - never have I been in a place with so much joy in laughter. The people would be appalled by the picture of human nature painted by Golding, et al. Of course, your Bell Curve dreck does not apply. All the Conrad in the world would not enable you to survive in this region of the world, but if the natives found you wandering in the desert, they would help you to survive with their astonishing knowledge of the desert and its plants. Perhaps you might try Steinbeck, instead, because the milk of human-kindness has not run dry.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Gramoflanz, I can only hope that my community in the US will be peaceful as yours when all the cops and firemen are fired as is occurring in locations such as what Susan W. mentions above.

Tim, thanks. Libraries burning down as you mention above...hmmm. I speculate such a notion would begin as "controversy." I imagine the MSM asks the question, "Are libraries actually wasting your money?" I jump to that clue given the recent MSM "controversy" about Mosques being built anywhere in the US. First it's a problem for one being built near ground zero then the controversy graduated to anywhere USA.
I sense this as kind of a test case; not sure which way it'll go.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...


This is not my community; I am a visitor here, merely pointing out that, in spite of the Bell Curve, these folk are much smarter than we are in their way of life. Dog eat dog is a perverted mentality, quite unnatural, which is why it must be glorified, emphasized and reinforced constantly.

People are depicted, in the media, as being much more violent and insane than they really are. If you are truly worried about fire and police protection, start a community organization, as many small towns do in the USA (yeah, I know, Mad Max and his evil minions could be coming around the corner at any time, but I don't think they could deal with the likes of the Volunteer Fire Department, who would hand them a bucket and tell them to start pitching). Survival depends on cooperation, which will become glaringly obvious to all when the feces hits the flywheel. I really don't think the streets will be filled with blood-sucking zombie killers despite the Hollywood and Armageddon propaganda. Creating a phony climate of fear makes it easier to compel people, many of whom fantasize about throwing off their sedentary, keyboard-warrior shackles to become the next Conan or Gladiator. I imagine it will be painful for them to discover that they are not as tough as the characters they see on tv, nor is there a harem waiting for them.

Much of the alienation I see comes from living in a virtual world, where many of us don't even realize the fakery of it all, rather like the Matrix. Values are attributed to things which have no value, but deep down, we sense how meaningless it all is.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I tell ya, my heart goes out to those blood-sucking zombie killers. Nobody loves them, really. Yet if you prick them, do they not bleed? I'm convinced that deep down inside every blood-sucking zombie killer is a teddy bear, just waiting to get out.


5:48 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...

Indeed, the blood-suckers and zombies have become quite smarmy. Witness the Twilight Nausea; why, George Romero must be turning over in his grave. Night of the Living Dead zombies are a thing of the distant past. I suppose they've been in therapy. The PETA commercials did them in, too. Veganism for Zombie Dummies is a best-seller, especially due to the chapter, "Cauliflower is Better (and Better for You) than Brains." Of course, we shouldn't let our guard down. Homicidal terrorist Teddy Bears may be next! Look under the bed before you go to sleep tonight - just in case. Don't let that foot hang over the edge of the mattress.

9:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

No chance o' that: I sleep on a futon.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Gramoflanz, and friends:


9:19 AM  
Blogger JL1980 said...


Don't step on my zombie apocalypse dream! hahahaha. I rather think a zombie apocalypse would be more like Shaun of the Dead, with lots of humorous bickering between mediocre yuppies who don't really like each other, than anything heroic like Dawn of the Dead. If only!

BTW, George Romero isn't spinning in his grave because... well, he is still living. :)

1:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

To All:

I'm fast coming to the conclusion that this nationwide prejudice against blood-sucking vegetarian zombies (BSVZ) is a disgrace. They have rights too, fer chrissakes. Yes, I know we have murdered about a million people in Iraq and created about 4 million refugees there, will do something similar in Afghanistan, and then move on to Iran and perhaps Bulgaria. But we cannot continue to hide from our shadow, the BSVZ. Only until this is confronted will there be hope for a complete turnaround of our decline/collapse as a nation. The BSVZ may finally be our only hope...the Dawn, as it were, after Twilight and Dark Ages.

Thank you all for joining me in this worthy effort. Arriba!


2:50 PM  
Anonymous John from IN said...

Tim: As the corporate leeches parasitize public sector budgets and slowly transform the US into the mother of all banana republics (sans bananas) the anti-library saber-rattling has already begun:

(FYI--You might want to get a neck brace handy for this one!)


10:57 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

I went to the address given for the Fox news article on libraries and the assault has begun. First, the negative articles will be reported on their TV channel as real "news", then they'll take a fake poll of Fox news watchers to assess how many of them actually use the library (this will then be reported as yet more "news") and then the bar graph showing how much better this money could be used to fix potholes, pay the police and other essential services. The dissemination of knowledge is no longer seen as an essential service or a stepping stone out of poverty and ignorance. A lot of lip service is paid to this concept but the reality is something else entirely. Obama fires all the teachers in a high school in Rhode Island (why not just go back and fire every teacher these kids had EVER had?), so called universities are concerned with installing lavish health clubs and the private sector has been allowed to financially exploit students. A friend sent me the acceptance speech of John Taylor Gatto when he won the award for Teacher of the Year in New York. It was a scathing critique of public education and the systematic dumbing down of children in the public school system. It didn't say if he got a standing ovation at the end---I would guess not.

8:17 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


It seems as if Obama's emphasis on education is solely technical, in order to produce skilled drones & cogs who aren't troubled by too much critical thought. It's always more science & math -- certainly worthy subjects, mind you! -- but never literature, history, art, etc. Teachers are fired left & right, while more money is poured into digital technology & sports.

The argument is made that with the Internet, there's more access to knowledge than in all of human history. Perhaps ... in theory. But a reading of Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows" makes a vital distinction between skimming a constantly-changing monitor & what he calls "deep reading." Besides, what's the most common use for the Internet? Porn & gossip.

This assault on the idea of the library & a common body of knowledge is just as much violence as a physical assault. To me it's no different than clubbing the populace over the head until there's permanent brain damage. The notion of actually thinking about the meaning & purpose of one's life, much less finding the tools to do so, is, like, so old school, you know?

What's terribly sad is how many people will excuse or defend their own lack of depth. I've actually heard some people explain how they're just not smart enough, that it's too late to study anything, that they simply lack the ability of potential to improve their minds.

They're not innately stupid.

They're not hopelessly dumb.

But they've bought into the idea that they are, and that it's better that they are, and that any attempt to realize their potential is somehow a betrayal of "real" people. That they're somehow less "real" if they try to become more than what they are right now. They been taught to protect themselves from a life of the mind, and to fear it.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Neb said...


My interpretations.

Zombies. Part of everyday/where.

Zombie blood-sucker: I think corporate-public elite (indifferent profit centrists, the lie as the truth peddlers, etc), televangelists, inner-city predators

Blood Sucking Vegeterian Zombie: You lost me.

Perhaps certain peddlers of new age spiritualism only?

1:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, I hafta admit that the Bisexual Vegan Zombie Movement (BVZM) is rather small. It breaks my heart, but finally, what can ya do?

However, we do need to worry abt the process of zombification, in which the populace is turned into robots (see my post on American Diary, comment from taxi driver from Senegal).

Partly, it's the process of destroying the life of the mind, as Tim suggests in his most recent letter. But when I lived in Wash DC, 1998-2006, I tell you, I met lots of smart people who were also zombies. Ultimately, it's soul-theft, and it was infinitely more difficult to find people in that town who hadn't been robbed, than who had.

Me, I'm still pulling for Palin in '12. Time to put the finishing touches on the whole process and be done with it, eh wot?


7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reference to T. Lukedman's comment mentioning technology:

As usual - more evidence is not really necessary but there's this story yesterday at the NY Times about computers and literacy.


It turns out, real education is complex, takes time, depth and caring........

El Juero

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...


Some people are born with the desire to learn and question and ask difficult questions of themselves and other people. But I don't think most people are and I don't mean this as an elitist statement. The people most of us can easily observe are members of our own families and my theory works pretty well with them. Only two out of twenty have any interest in world events (other than the BP oil spill which they recognize as having implications in their own lives), desire a broader understanding of our culture or read difficult books b/c they present intriguing ideas. That's not to say they're not nice people but they do want (in fact, in many cases, demand) complicated issues simplified and spoonfed to them. Other than romantic historical novels, there's no interest in history ("it's boring")and other than knowing we're in Iraq and Afganistan, no one could tell you a single fact about the wars including that we're using drones. I don't know why some people have that innate curiosity about the world and how it works, really wonder what the miracle of life means (if anything---maybe we are a random mistake) or ask ethical questions of themselves and others. I don't say this in arrogance and admit that many of them have qualities I lack and wish I had. None of them would burn a library but they wouldn't miss it if it disappeared either.

I haven't spent much time in DC but the impression I got was one of endless "networking" and angling to become an insider in whatever field you were in. Soul destroying enterprises both.

If Sarah Palin becomes President in 2012 I will have to run away---the thought of listening to that nasal, droning voice for 4 years and possibly 8 is more than I can face. The comedy routines would be hilarious but we might have all lost our sense of humor by then so I just can't support her for 2012 no matter how funny South Park would be.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

On the whole tech thing u might check out articles in The New Atlantis (easily Googled, ironically enuf) on the subject. They are a rt-wing, socialist-hating group, but the essays by Christine Rosen and Patrick Deneen over the past few years have pinpointed the destruction of the mind thanks to the Net etc. quite well.


What's wrong with elitism? Why apologize for it? You *are* better than the people you describe, don't kid yourself. It doesn't mean you should be president (I'm leaving that to Sarah) or beat these people with a stick, but inherent in the word "value" is hierarchy. While I admire hunter-gatherers, and have written a fair amount about the nature of those (egalitarian) societies, civilization is a different creature altogether; and it cannot exist w/o a hierarchy of values. Tocqueville's argument that democracy could eventually become so bland or levelling that it would self-destruct, is coming to pass; god forbid I should say Harry Potter is for morons, and Goethe for people of real quality. American Idol means American Idiot: be clear about that. You might also want to check out "In Defense of Elitism," by Wm Henry. In brief, no elitism = no culture or civilization.


12:54 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I agree with you to a fair extent. There is such a thing as innate temperament, and some people are born with more of a desire to learn than others, no question about it. From the four humors to Jung's typology, it's clear that we're not just emotional blank slates at birth. So part of the explanation is indeed Nature.

But then there's Nurture.

I see a culture that once expected & encouraged the young to learn, that held up the well-rounded, civilized human being as a positive role model, that applauded & honored complexity & richness of humanity.

Once, but no longer.

I think the late John Holt was right in saying that just about every child is born with a desire to understand the world, to make sense of it, to learn more about it. But everything in contemporary culture DIScourages that today, don't you think? Education, knowledge, learning for its own sake, art, beauty -- these things are for losers, lameasses, tools; those "lovely intangibles" are worthless unless they can make you money & gain you status, and plenty of both.

This isn't to say that every educated person is automatically a better human being. There are plenty of philistines & outright bastards with a string of degrees & titles, just as there are auto mechanics & file clerks & janitors who meet the highest standards of what we call a decent human being. I've worked with college graduates who didn't give a damn about the mind, and I've worked with high school dropouts who loved Chinese films, or Metaphysical poetry, etc.

So I guess I'm saying that quite a few people who, in other times & places, would be engaged in learning, questioning, exploring, growing ... simply aren't. They were programmed to disdain, dismiss, and deride the very things that their inner being craves, the things that might save them.


Thank you for the NY Times article link. It confirms something I've long felt to be true. Have you seen the running discussion at Roger Ebert's blog about his contention that computer games can't be Art? And just how many gamers have descended upon his head in wrath? Another discussion entirely, I know -- briefly, I think they're confusing intense sensation with genuine emotional depth, mistaking jolts of pleasure for soul.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

RE: democracy and elitism

I know you're still pulling for Palin, but in all seriousness, do you think Americans would be better off ditching democracy and appointing a Platonic philosopher-king instead? (if we could find one)

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

I know it's all a balancing act: between individualism and community, ecology and commerce, quality and equality. But are there examples of civilizations, past or present, that have gotten the balance right for any length of time?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


How 'bout Joe the Plumber?

13C Europe?


11:42 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I think Lawrence Ferlinghetti once said that the only viable form of human government he could imagine was some sort of Buddhist Socialism.

He was getting at something there -- the importance of compassion & empathy, and its gaping absence in any discussion of politics & government.

Compassion & empathy ... those are qualities that make me especially look forward to posts from Susan & Neb, for instance. That's the other half of the civilized human being, along with curiosity & education, I'd say. And that's what's particularly missing from our mainstream culture today.

That said -- what to do about it, other than live as a civilized human being should live?

1:00 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Friends,

There is so much exciting in the news today, even beyond the whole bit abt the Blood-Sucking Vegan Zombies. msn.com reports that Bristol Palin got engaged! I'm literally fainting with joy, and can only hope that Sarah will pyramid this event into a bid for the White House. And then apparently a 'wayward moose' entered a grocery store in Norway, ran around a bit, and then left. I was, I confess, bothered by the slur of 'wayward', since I think it's likely that the moose knew exactly what it was doing, and was not lost or confused at all. Who speaks for these meese? Who will stand up for them? When will we see a Wayward Moose Liberation Front (WMLF)? I tell ya, w/o msn.com, where wd we be?


1:14 AM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Oh, Dr. Berman,
How can you fail to connect the dots? You have all the info you need right there to see the whole picture!
The moose, ever an icon for Alaska, was willingly sacrificing itself to the meat department of the local grocery. Who hunts and eats meese-meat? Why, Sarah Palin, of course.
This is a sign, I tell you, from the great sky-god himself. And to make it even more clear, who else is in the news at the same time? Sarah Palin's daughter. Now do you see?
The failure of the feckless employees of the meat department to kill the great beast was simply due to the fact that the Most Worthy Palin was not present at the time. I assure you had She been there In Person, that moose would have been mince-meece in no time flat.
That this particular moose showed up in Norway is only a sign that Sarah must be made Ruler of the Entire World (REW) post-haste.
Sheesh, I thought it was all so obvious.
BTW, the June 21 issue of Newsweek has Palin Her-own-self on the cover with a feature article entitled, "Saint Sarah".

6:56 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Teri,

You certainly make an important pt, altho the fact that the moose showed up in Norway may render the connection obscure. Unless Sarah is a stand-in for some Norse goddess, of course.

In addition, there may be a relationship here to Edwin Meese, Atty-Genl under Reagan. (You may recall that the latter's successor, Bush Sr., as virtually his last act in office, vomited on the Japanese prime minister.) For more details, I'd suggest googling "Edwin Meese Syndrome," which is not without relevance here. Sarah, of course, is a devotee of Reagan; but that's to belabor the obvious.

Finally, there is, of course, no mention of Meese or Sarah in The Edda; tho that is strictly speaking an Icelandic text. Would it be too much to assume that the ref to the god "Meesara" in the text (13C) is eerily prescient of the dynamic duo in our own era? (Meesara is the god of Lutfisk, or rotten fish.) Further insights may be gleaned from Stieg Larsson, ""Låt den rätte komma in," tho some have argued that the book is rather arcane in its approach to these matters. Personally, I couldn't put it down.


ps: I should also point out that on a standard Mercator projection map of the world, Iceland is enormous, threatening to devour the globe. This might relate to Sarah's ambitions (what you call REW), I'm not sure.

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

This blog for Dark Ages America seems to be turning into Comedy Central (not that I don't enjoy their humor). Susan, rightfully in my opinion, says she will run away if Palin is elected. But, when I ask a serious question concerning democracy and elitism, I get "Joe the Plumber". MB, are you suffering from heat stroke?

Parting shot: I encourage everyone to read "Pandora's Seed" by Spencer Wells. It's Dark Ages Earth.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sorry, I thought yer question was purely rhetorical. Americans aren't going to ditch democracy; it's being ditched for them. Nor would they go for any type of "appointment" of someone intelligent. I assumed you knew this.


4:39 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and friends,

While it is really exciting news about Bethany and Levi I doubt any of us will get a wedding invitation despite the overwhelming support for Palin 2012. I'm with Art and draw the line---yes, Obama is the cultured face of corruption but he isn't a complete embarrassment. I'm for keeping up appearances.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

The last Roman emperor of any consequence was Constantine (Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus), d. A.D. 337. In A.D. 476 Odoacer, a German chieftain, ascended to the throne. Between those two dates--the Final Phase of Empire--the throne was filled with a collection of dolts (and occasionally, children). We are repeating the late-empire pattern, and if Obama is an exception in terms of style, he is certainly not in terms of content (a spineless party hack who has no sense of where he is going and who is actually a war criminal--drone strikes on civilian populations in Pakistan, e.g.). His solution to an 18% unemployment rate, and the loss of millions of homes by American citizens, is to put $17.5 trillion in the pockets of Wall Street's gangster elite--very much a late-Roman pattern, BTW. But yes, he does speak proper English and sound intelligent. In any case, let's have a look at our own late-empire parade of clowns:

Ronald Reagan. He got up in the morning and read comic books (seriously); prepared slogans on 3 x 5 cards to read off to the press during press conferences; arranged meetings w/heads of state based on information from his wife's astrologer; and very probably had Alzheimer's during his last few years in office. Also a war criminal, for what it's worth (death squads in Central America).

Bush Sr.: literally didn't have an idea in his head, and was rightly symbolized by Doonesbury in his comic strip as a feather. Talked in terms of buzzwords ("New World Order"); the list of gaffes is legendary. Final act in office, literally, was to vomit on the Japanese prime minister. Also a war criminal (Iraq).

Bill Clinton: Talked English well enough, but basically a smarmy bullshit artist who was, if not a child, then little more than an adolescent, emotionally speaking. Posed as friend of downtrodden while the gap between rich and poor increased dramatically during his administration. On his watch, US-backed sanctions against Iraq resulted in the death of 500,000 children and teens, from malnutrition. Left impeachment and a come-stained dress as the visible signs of his legacy.

Bush Jr.: Not only the dumbest and most incompetent president in the history of the US, but possibly one of the dumbest individuals on the planet (IQ probably below 90). Severely weakened the US, economically and politically. War criminal (Iraq); could barely talk English. Thankfully he did not vomit on any heads of state at the end of his regime, but had an Iraqi reporter throw shoes at him and call him a dog. Now spends time on his ranch "cutting brush," and generally laying low. A buffoon.

So now, Obama; as I said, a stylistic aberration. We need to get back to the reign of clear and unambiguous dolts, and if history is any guide, we shall. Hence my rallying cry:


I do love these little chats.


9:28 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

I have to admit, *I* am probably the one suffering from heat stroke. But sometimes I'm more lucid in my feverish state, so here goes:

Empires come and go, and history repeats itself. Yet there is always novelty in the world. Never before have we lived in such an interconnected world, and our problems are increasingly global in nature. The game has changed, and perhaps the rules too.

Obama may be just a "stylistic aberration", and personally, I can't stand the guy. But, unlike the parade of clowns you mentioned, he has made some small progress in health care and (most recently) Wall Street reform.

As you're *safe* in Mexico, you may actually want to see the US collapse. But I still have to live here, so will continue to hope that we can somehow wake up in time. (Or, at least, better late than never) Along with our individual voices, hope is the only thing we have left.

2:25 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

All valid points, I grant you. But if Palin and her rabble take over in two years I'm worried life will get much worse for the majority. Paul Krugman in today's column pointed out their game plan to hang on to tax cuts for the wealthiest and gut what little is left of the social safety net--a smarmy replay of voodoo economics. While I agree Obama and plenty of the Democrats richly deserve to be thrown out of office, look who'll replace them. I'm reading The Dream of Scipio now (thanks for the recommendation--it's a great book)and we're looking at a similar situation. Do we go with the administrator who plays along with the corporate masters and tries to temper the consequences or one who enthusiastically endorses repressive policies and acts accordingly? That's what worries me. I have no hope for real change but plenty of dread if the True Believers have no one to even slow them down.

6:45 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


At the end of his life John Aubrey wrote that "Hope makes a good breakfast, but a bad supper." If that's all we have left, we don't have much; which seems obvious enough. It's not that the collapse of the US will occur at some future point, on Aug. 4, 2022, 3 pm in the afternoon; it is in the process of collapse, right now. There will be "nodes" in the process (fall of 2008, 9/11), but in general, the place is going out not with a bang, but a whimper, and we are witnessing this on a daily basis. Are you aware that 4-yr-olds are now murdering 2-yr-olds w/a gun? How much worse do you think it gets?

Check out Hedges' Truthdig columns on health reform; it's a sham. W/o the public option, to which he was supposedly 100% committed, it amounts to shit. 23 million will still be w/o coverage, and the 32 million who will be newly covered will have a hard time paying for it. And the payment goes to HMOs, who will make a bundle off of this "reform". As for Wall St. monitoring: Goldman Sachs ain't quaking in their boots. They don't pay their attorney's $600/hr for nothing, and you can be sure that the loopholes they find will protect the co. As we speak, GS continues to market the very derivatives and credit-default swaps that caused the economy to tank; and when, last April, these clowns were subpoenaed by the Senate, they made it clear that they were insulted to even have to answer questions. What Obama has given us, and will continue to give us, is chic-reform, the appearance of reform. In any event, even good reform is not enuf at this point; only massive restructuring can save us, and that ain't gonna happen--as we both know.

As for Mexico: once the dollar tanks, and Social Security evaporates, my purported 'safety' will be a thing of the past; I'll need to brush up my guitar skills and get down to the Zocalo in Mexico City with a cup. But I do enjoy living in a place where the people relate to one another with elementary courtesy, and hold themselves with dignity; and where they are clear about the fact that whatever might bail them out, it's not going to be the federal gov't. (They may be cynical, in other words, but at least they are not deluded; they understand completely how power works, and who has it.)

President Palin won't be the cause of our collapse; she's merely the icing on the cake.


7:07 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Years ago, when Dick Gregory remarked, "If we're always choosing the lesser of two evils, how come things are always getting worse?", I laughed. Now, I see the wisdom of that remark. Frankly, why drag out the agony? Why not just get it over with? The US is causing great misery around the world, just as England was in its final days (torture regime in Kenya, e.g.). Now, England is a broken country and can't really bother anybody; it has no more clout in the world than Portugal. God willing, the US will soon be in a similar situation. And while that's happening, we at home have the right to a little humor. Since Dick Gregory (is he still alive?) can't become pres, I think Sarah will clearly fill the bill.
SNL right in the White House, what a scream.


ps: Don't forget, the people get the government they deserve. On a long-term basis, Ronald Reagan destroyed the lives of many millions of Americans (inasmuch as Reaganomics came to a climax in 2008); yet on every poll of favorite presidents, he's rt up there with Lincoln and Jefferson. Talk about dumb: we are breathtaking!

7:25 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Dick Cheney is currently on his fifth heart attack (but there's no rel. betw. mind and body, right?); plus, you can now go online and vote for whether you are sympathetic to Lindsay Lohan's situation or not.

And people say the US is in a state of collapse! Fools!

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The latest posts capture something of an internal conflict for years. In recent years I must admit my opinion has shifted away from "hope" to something resembling acceptance of the situation.
On one hand there is a “graduated” perspective - nudge and tweak in the right direction when and where possible. Recognize the limitations but move things forward as we can. On many levels there is nothing wrong with this.
Cornell West makes as good a case as anyone in Democracy Matters. I think his position is that the conflicts we face have always been difficult - victories need to be re-fought and by more than one generation. We have been inspired by the democratic impulses from the past and others by the American experiment with democracy. He describes Obama’s win as symbolically important while (in interviews) acknowledging serious contradictions. Small differences do matter to the poor and luckless. Who wouldn’t be conflicted turning their back on this on some level?
Let me pull the rug out from myself - no one seems more politely bitter about Obama than West (who campaigned for him). You can hear it every time he’s asked about Obama.
I’m in Asia after a couple of years in Latin America. Almost any reading, thinking or talking with people in other countries and it’s obvious we’ve pulled the empire scam anywhere there’s a string.
S. Korea’s recent naval “conflict” w/ N.Korea synced nicely with a controversial resigning of a base agreement with Japan in this corner of the empire (upcoming contracts for both the Phillipines and S. Korea?). This week the US negotiated new military “rights” in Costa Rica in the “war on drugs” (is there a bigger con job?). Many in Costa Rica are outraged. Today - another Chomsky warning on the dangers of US calls for “stability” in Iran – subtext is obvious. There are still those pesky problems in Afghanistan and Iraq. The longest US wars ever while the US economy goes down the tubes.
It is a machine unto itself regardless of what party’s “in power”.

El Juero (juero59@yahoo.com)

8:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

I think you hit the nail on the head here: the American Empire/system is basically a machine by now, and it's simply going to keep doing what it's doing; namely, to auto-destruct. It couldn't possibly matter who's in office; the fix is in, so to speak. George Modelski made this clear years ago in "Long Cycles in World Politics." His Phase 3 corresponds to what I call Twilight; his Phase 4, to Dark Ages. To believe that someone, or some group, or some political party, can arbitrarily "step in" and arrest this is completely delusional. And one other thing, as Toynbee (and more recently Jared Diamond) told us: in the final phase, what the empire does is exacerbate precisely those tendencies that are doing it in. Greater stupidity and self-destruction are on the horizon; you can count on it. As for leadership, since it's basically irrelevant, I'd like to state my choices for president, in order of preference (I ask all of you to vote on this):

1. A tuna fish in a large tub of water, placed on the desk in the Oval Office. It would be named "Fred".

2. Lindsay Lohan.

3. Sarah Palin.

"That's all folks!" (Bugs Bunny)


10:27 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

A minor issue with democracy and elitism. MB said:

“Tocqueville's argument that democracy could eventually become so bland or levelling that it would self-destruct, is coming to pass”

Would you say this is a true democracy? I’ve read you calling it a plutocracy which I agree with. So does Tocqueville apply here? Because here there is elitism albeit a junk-gangsta-individualistic elitism.

This recent coversation once again entertains me because it never stops educating, reminding.
I ‘ve seen it on this blog before where contributors (Art, Susan) talk of their hopes (me too) but MB points out the physics of history; physics of American history (DAA) in particular. I understand that hope sensibility too; it’s really hot up here in the NE so I get those heat-stroked notions too. Thank goodness global warming is a hoax, this will pass. Also, I might frame those synopsis’ of our last few prez’ with a small picture on each for guests and my children to see.

A repeated point on physics: If an object obtains a particular momentum as newton, mb, el juero observes then why should I expect it to make an unexpected right/left turn or suddenly stop or slow when the prerequisite opposing momentum doesn’t manifest? Perhaps that unobservable “hope” force, I guess could be, people awakening enmass from zombie-land. But just reading that I start to giggle.

Another reason I guess for this miracle thinking may be the mass media that’s watched. They need us to keep thinking that this is a cycle that will change in a year or two. Clearly the opportunities to start are staring us right in the face right now and nothing is happening. That’s zombie-land-trajectory physics.

If Obama or any national leader did try to save you little people (see BP prez), I think he knows he’d be knocked off ‘cuz that’s socialism. ‘Sides he enjoys his role in the game.

4:34 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Lindsay Lohan (I) vs Sarah Palin (R) in the 2012 presidential debate. Where does SNL begin?

4:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I just re-read my Tocqueville essay, and I can't find the line you quoted from me.

As for Lindsay vs. Palin: yes, it would be an absolutely fabulous debate, but I do think the tuna fish should be part of it as well. 3-way debates are atypical in this country, but not unheard of (cf. Ross Perot, 1992).

Onward and Downward!


5:25 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Goethe, that writer for "people of real quality", said: "In all things it is better to hope than to despair".

Jared Diamond, in the concluding paragraph of "Collapse", wrote: "While the Easter Islanders were busy deforesting the highlands of their overpopulated island for agricultural plantations in the 1400s, they had no way of knowing that, thousands of miles to the east and west at the same time, Greenland Norse society and the Khmer Empire were simultaneously in terminal decline, while the Anasazi had collapsed a few centuries earlier, Classic Maya society a few more centuries before that, and Mycenean Greece 2,000 years before that. Today, though, we turn on our television sets or radios or pick up our newspapers, and we see, hear, or read about what happened in Somalia or Afghanistan a few hours earlier. Our television documentaries and books show us in graphic detail why the Easter Islanders, Classic Maya, and other past societies collapsed. Thus, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples and past peoples. That's an opportunity that no past society enjoyed to such a degree. My hope in writing this book has been that enough people will choose to profit from that opportunity to make a difference."

Or, we could just accept the way things are and cheer for Palin. I may very well be deluded, but as Susan wrote, "life will get much worse" under Palin for us to be making jokes about it.

P.S. Your Toqueville quote that Neb asked about appeared in a comment to Susan earlier in this thread.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, here's the low-down: Goethe was very much mistaken. Optimism that has no basis in reality is to me a gross disservice to everyone concerned. But then it's your choice. The truth is that writers such as Diamond, Ben Barber, Robt Putnam, and the whole pull-a-rabbit-out-of-the-hat-at-the-last-moment school lack the courage of their convictions, the courage to bite the bullet about what their own analysis has demonstrated. OK, Diamond apparently thinks that because things have speeded up, we will do better. I'm guessing that precisely because of that, we'll do worse. Which people are "going to profit," and exactly what are they going to do? This is more American exceptionalism, which is a major factor in our collapse. What all of these last-minute pollyanas come up with sounds great, but things change because of power, and it's not very likely that progressive forces (whoever they may be) have any--as Ralph Nader pointedly remarked last year. This is delusion on a massive scale; any revolution that might happen in the US, it shd be clear by now, will come from the Right. I prefer to die with my eyes open than live in la-la land; but it's each person's individual choice, quite obviously. I think Dick Gregory was absolutely right about how choosing the lesser of two evils year after year is precisely what has put us in deep do-do. Idealistic fantasies represent no change (or potential change) at all, imo. Why is it so hard to say (as Chalmers Johnson has) that all empires collapse, that we are no exception to the rule, and that our time is now up, end of story? I mean, what could be more obvious?


9:04 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

I found myself arguing with my father this morning over collapse, hope, progress, etc. At almost every turn, I wound up taking your position! I suppose I'll remain, though (along with Jared Diamond), a "cautious optimist" until 2012. But, if the ancient Maya don't return in their spaceships by then, well: it's "game over".

But seriously, there's something you, MB, could do that might make a difference. Instead of rooting for Palin, why not pay Jesse Ventura a little visit in Baja California? Encourage him to run as an Independent in 2012. That's the reason you're in Mexico now: it's your destiny!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

Actually, I'm down here waiting for the Maya to return in two years, and plan to ask them to run for office. I figure that might be a more fruitful direction to pursue than conversations w/Jesse, tho I cd be wrong. In addition, my girlfriend has a Mayan name, so my tendencies are already in that direction.

Anyway, cautious optimism is certainly a respectable position, if the emphasis is more on the first word than the second.

Give my regards to your dad.


12:25 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Is there something wrong with the blog again? I sent a post this morning and got a message I had done something wrong even though it was the same thing I always do.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Periodically, this thing gets screwed up in unpredictable ways. I have no idea why. Sometimes I post someone's message, and instead of posting, it disappears into the ether. Right now it seems to be OK, so I'd try posting again. If you get rejected, send it to me at mauricio@morrisberman.com, and I'll post it myself. I hate screen technology.


6:18 PM  

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