August 25, 2010

Clowns on Parade

http://www.newsweek.com/photo/2010/08/24/dumb-things-americans-believe.html

34 Comments:

Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Well, this is depressing, but hardly surprising, alas.

During the decline of Rome, wasn't there a similar welter of bizarre belief systems, the equivalent of so much fundamentalist & New Age stuff today?

For many people today, the naked truth is just too painful & frightening to face. I can understand that; I often find it painful & frightening myself. There are times I have to shut out most, even all of the news & despair, just for the sake of my own well-being.

But I can't imagine doing that on a permanent, ongoing basis. I feel that I must have some idea of what's really going on, that I've got an obligation as a human being to know.

On a tangential note, I came across an article about the rapid decay rate of digital information, warning against a Dark Age when so much of modern information technology inevitably breaks down:

www.computerworld.com/s/article/9181658
/Fending_off_the_digital_dark

(Just take out the return between "9181658" & "/Fending_off_the_digital_dark" when pasting into browser.)

As you've noted in both ToAC & DAA, most people accept the wonders of technology without having any real understanding of how that technology works. "Scientists will come up with something ... somehow. Clean air, clean water, unlimited energy - can't they just make it in a lab?"

And all the while, physical books & films are abandoned, replaced by "superior" high-tech storage that'll be utterly degraded in a decade or two. It seems there'll be less & less knowledge to try & preserve at this rate!

Of course, one of the big problems is the complete capitulation of the mainstream media, and its insistence on "balanced views." The concept that some ideas are just plain wrong or crazy, certainly absurd by any scientific or historical standards, has gone out the window.

But they'll believe the most ridiculous conspiracy or crackpot theory based on their feelings ...

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

For hideous proof of the above, just look at coverage of Glenn Beck's weekend rally ...

11:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

I think a Palin-Beck ticket is getting to be more of a reality every day. I don't think I can adequately express my joy at this prospect. I may even return to the US for a while in 2012 to campaign for her.

I don't know if you've come across "Europe's Promise," by Steven Hill, publ. just recently. It's a real eye-opener, a view of a system constructed by people who are actually intelligent (starting with Churchill, Monnet, and Adenauer in 1945). He also shows how the American press has been reporting Europe as economically "sclerotic" at the very time that its economy was surging ahead of ours. The comparison of the US vs. the EU, institution by institution, is quite dramatic (see esp. Table 1).
His discussion of what the American Way of Life does to Americans psychologically, as compared to the relatively relaxed and secure European Way, is particularly revealing. Frankly, any American who reads this book and doesn't start packing their bags immediately has to be mentally defective...i.e., 99% of the population (conservative estimate).

Onward and Downward!

mb

2:00 PM  
Blogger TheFarrellist said...

hi Dr. Berman

Heh yeah thats pretty disheartening information. But what I wonder is, is it evidence of decline? Have large groups of Americans always been ignorant? Hasn't literacy improved over the past century?

While I do agree we are in decline (I'm reading Tainter currently, after your reference in 'Twilight'), its tough to say what real evidence of decline is.

8:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idiocy knows no end.

You’ve mentioned in past posts about your mindless conversations with ex-pats. Related to your comments and Europe’s Progress I recently tried having a conversation with an expat here in South Korea about problems in the States (its decline) and how some things are done as well or better in other countries. I mentioned some things about Europe as well as Latin America. He sounded “educated”, makes 3x’s what I make and has “lived” all over the world.

He interrupted me rhetorically, to ask “what other countries can you drink water right out of the tap?” to make his point about how great the US is.

Clean tap water is the new American vision of excellence?

I explained that you can drink tap water throughout much of Nicaragua (a poor socialist country) as well as Costa Rica (as well as get basic, free medical care!) etc., etc.

His eyes just glazed over.

When American’s travel (rare relative to their wealth) they don’t see anything but what they’ve been told to think about the rest of the world.
For many if not most, there’s little to compare or think about in relation to the state of the US. It’s why Americans can alternatingly refer to themselves as a 3rd World country at the same time bragging about their tap water “exceptionalism”. With so little experience or thought about what’s going on - anything’s a go.

On a side note – there’s an interesting article in the 8/9 New Yorker this month called “The Empty Chamber”. It’s about the uselessness of the US Senate at this point. Of particular interest to this blog and Professor Berman’s points are sections that point out the historical exclusiveness of the Senate. It hasn’t “gone down hill” as it never was a democratic institution with a couple of exceptional periods (late 50’s and late 70’s).

Later amigos
El Juero (juero59@yahoo.com)

8:58 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

I know you will love this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?ref=homepage&src=me&pagewanted=all

12:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Farrellist-

Things are much dumber today. I actually answered this question at length in a message to Anon, under the "Democracy in America" post. If you scroll down under that, you'll find it, including the refs (Neil Gabler, Lawrence Stone, etc.).

El J-

Yes, great article. I referred to it briefly in a message under "Spheres of Influence," if I remember correctly, but thanks for bringing it to our attention.

mb

9:03 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Yes, tapwater, the criterion of civilization, clearly. It's amazing how much meat is packed into the average American head. Meanwhile, there are probably a gd # of countries where you can drink tapwater; I remember doing it in Turkey a few yrs back.

mb

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE:Tapwater - Yeah, I'm sure it's not that unique really.

The irony is, is that a guy who'd mention that kind of "advancement" of the US would be the last guy to support say, regulation of industry to keep the water clean.

It's not a disconnect at this point - it's the Grand Canyon.

El Juero

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I lived in Turkey for a brief time back in 1961, when I was 5 years old, and I could drink the tap water even then!

My example of decline for today is an interview with Aaron Kupchik, author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear, a new book about school security & the zero tolerance policy.

The pertinent quote:

Q: Why are [zero tolerance rules] so detrimental?

A: We're teaching kids what it means to be a citizen in our country. And what I fear we're doing is teaching them that what it means to be an American is that you accept authority without question and that you have absolutely no rights to question punishment. It's very Big Brother-ish in a way. Kids are being taught that you should expect to be drug tested if you want to participate in an organization, that walking past a police officer every day and being constantly under the gaze of a security camera is normal. And my concern is that these children are going to grow up and be less critical and thoughtful of these sorts of mechanisms. And so the types of political discussions we have now, like for example, whether or not wiretapping is OK, these might not happen in 10 years.

Q: So these policies are giving the kids a civics lesson.

A: Exactly. As part of my research, I interviewed students, and one of the questions that seemed like a good idea at the start was asking them whether they liked having the SROs [school resource officers] in their schools. For me, having gone to public schools without cops, this really seemed odd to me, to put police officers in peaceful schools. And the students were puzzled by this question, and I quickly realized that it makes no sense to them because it's all they've ever known. It's completely normal. It makes about as much sense as if you asked them, "Should your school have a principal?"

1:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I tell u, u guys, I have this theory abt UFO abductees who meet annually in Laramie, WY. They weren't abducted by UFOs but by the CIA, in a project called Operation Meathead. The CIA selected a few thousand people randomly from American telephone bks, kidnapped them, drugged them, and then did biopsies on their brains. The results are very hush-hush, altho the CIA called me personally to tell me about them. Anyway, they then convinced these folks that they had been abducted by UFOs, to cover up the Operation Meathead story.

The results: in every case, there was no actual gray matter in the brain. Scientists found mostly meat (flank steak, some hamburger); and then crania that contained cottage cheese, wood shavings, and small random objects like paper clips and Bic pens. If u think this doesn't explain the conversations you've been having with yer neighbors, or the headlines in American newspapers, think again.

mb

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely off topic, I suppose, but here goes...

Whatever happened to Gregory Bateson? He was the veritable hero of one of your earlier books. How do you value his work, today?

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Tim,

The point you made about children feeling it was normal to have security in the school is just a larger red flag for what may be an even greater concern that's now the new normal. I read (I don't remember the author) an interesting point about reality shows recently. Not only are they turning us into a nation of voyeurs but insidiously desensitizing us to being filmed when going about daily activities in our own homes. I had never thought of it that way but it makes sense. I can see why you like Mexico, Dr. Berman.

I don't think the UFO's put meat in people's heads but perhaps have some advanced form of imprinting (like when a newborn baby duck will believe the first thing he sees is his mother)----how else to explain the following of Beck, Palin, Fox News? Some how people have become unquestioning dupes of dopes, will show up at rallies, vote against common decency or common sense and follow them blissfully down the path to higher unemployment, gutting the school system, reduced benefits and lax regulation. I recently picked up a copy of It Can't Happen Here but if it's too depressing, well, maybe Harry Potter isn't such a bad idea. If Palin and Beck are the future then escapist literature if the only hope.

7:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

I'm not positive, as my mind gets increasingly feeble as I get older (making me a good candidate for organizing Sarah's campaign, I would think), but I have the impression that some time ago I posted an essay called "The Parable of the Frogs." If I did, you can find it by scrolling down, rooting around, etc.; and I believe that essay will answer your question.

If u can't find it, lemme know, as I shd really post it.

mb

12:36 AM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

I have a problem and was hoping the readership here might be able to help:

I am starting a relationship with what I perceive to be a thoughtful, intelligent person. He has learned several languages, is connected to the idea of our industrial collapse, etc. The only problem - he believes in ghosts and I don't know how to convince him otherwise.

I thought a good starting point would be to get him to read WG, which he is now doing, because I thought it would put these kinds of beliefs in an historical context for him, but are there any other suggestions you all might have?

How do you disprove the existence of ghosts?

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reference to "The Parable of the Frogs". I found it, and it does answer my question about Bateson.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ashley-

Logically, you can't prove a negative, so that's a dead end. But I have an unusual suggestion for you: for a time, why not adopt his belief system and see where it leads you? If your friend believes in ghosts, explore his empirical experience of them with him.

Also, "Coming to Our Senses" might be more relevant, because it explains occult phenomena in terms of bodily energy. From that point of view, it seems to me that apparitions could exist (whatever ontological status that might entail), if they are a manifestation of that energy. In other words, when people say they were abducted by UFO's, it's clear something happened to them; it might not just be what they thought it was! The same thing might obtain with seeing a ghost. I don't for a minute believe in something "out there" that has nothing to do with us; but given how complex the mind-body relationship is, lots of odd things can occur in this world. In short, don't fight him on this; go with it, see what happens. (Don't forget to keep us informed!)

Ooga-Booga,

mb

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Ashley,

are his ghost beliefs that bad? Are they causing him any undo anxiety or a significant amount of distress or a disturbance in social or career functioning? If the answer is "yes", then your desire to address this with him is a noble gesture. On the other hand, I know many people who, as part of their culture, believe in ghosts, and they are not negatively affected by it. In fact, (probably because they are from a different culture) they are some of the wisest, most sensual, most passionate people I know.

It could be worse, you know. He could believe that divine providence steers Glen Beck or Sarah Palin. Or believe in the American Dream. Now that would be scary.

El J,
love the tapwater story, so true. I was talking to an ex-pat when I was in the Philippines and I mistakenly expected him to share my intense and wonderful emotional experience at being in another land and amongst another people, and he responded by saying he hated the hamburgers and the people were "too nice" so they were probably up to something. He couldn't wait to go home.

Dr. B,
Greetings, another awesome post, the article was both hilarious and pitiful. My bags are coming out of the closet soon and the packing will commence. Hope you are well, Maestro.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Joe-

We have to consider the possibility that God looked at the United States and said, "Bold experiment gone wrong; what a shame." He then gave us His Servant, His only begotten Daughter, Sarah, to come to earth and act as His Agent to assist the U.S. in closing up shop. "Creative Destruction," Joseph Schumpeter called it. I hope the DAA42 will join me in actively working on Her campaign in 2012, thereby fulfilling the will of God.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis!

mb

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I'm envious of you because you've had the zero experience, aka oceanic experience (Romain Rolland's term for it in letter to Freud), cosmic consciousness, or feeling at one with the universe in a deeply embodied way(?).

Since I haven't had it, I can't even begin to choose terms for it.
Zero-experience is what Agehananda Bharati called it in his book _Light at the center: The context and pretext of modern mysticism_(1976).

(Btw, Bharati wrote a positive blurb on the back of the dust jacket of your _Coming to our senses_. I bought your book chiefly because of that blurb and my high opinion of Bharati. But that was then when I didn't know who Morris Berman was.)

Bharati, born Edwin(?) Fischer in Vienna, having studied anthropology and ordinary language philosophy at the University of Vienna in the 1930s, and in addition being initiated into an authentic order of Hindu monks (his autobigraphy _The Ochre Robe_ is fascinating), created the most persuasive explanation for the mystical experience as well as occult phenomena by employing the distinction between etic and emic used by anthropologists like Marvin Harris. For example, etically, an Indian sage does not levitate but, emically, many of the sage's followers claim that he does. Bharati adds that he proved the claims unfounded by sneaking his Leica camera under his robe and photographing said sage when followers were seeing sage levitating. Photographs recorded sage with butt firmly glued to earth.

Perhaps that was just an anecdotal example. But "etic" is what a phoneticist does by discriminating between aspirated and unaspirated consonants not so discriminated by speakers of a language because speakers are "emically" (phonemically) engaged in the language.

So, it's necessary to discriminate between what someone says or spins (emic) and what they actually do (etic).

Daniel Lawrence O'Keefe in his brilliant _Stolen lightning: The social theory of magic (1982)_ has as his first postulate that "magic is a form of social action." Postulate 4 is: "magical scripts achieve their social effects largely by pre-existing or pre-figured agreements." (Like the sage's followers all agreeing to agree that the sage levitates).

But that wasn't what I wanted to quote from the book. It's too large and O'Keefe, like yourself, seems to have read everything. The social action of magic, to paraphrase, may manifest as a curse being effected by blowing the head off the accursed with a bush gun. A sorcerer will resort to such ordinary means to effect his/her magic!

But all this is not to mix and mash mystical experience with the occult.

As for ghosts...One of my favorite passages in literature occurs at the end of Thomas Mann's _Magic Mountain_ (that word again!) when Hans Castorp's cousin, Joachim, pays him a ghostly visit after having been killed in battle in WW1. Don't worry, I won't quote or paraphrase. But it's so extaordinarily poignant and weird that it makes me, like my fellow Americans, want to believe in ghosts!

6:14 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Ashley,

I read your post about your new boyfriend believing in ghosts and your request for suggestions on how to dispel this belief. I don't have any of those but did want to recommend a book by Alan Lightman, aptly named, Ghost. I agree with his assessment at the end----polarized opinion where one group slavishly believes the flimsiest evidence of their existence and the other group that denounces the possibility seem equally too sure of themselves. I've never seen a ghost and don't belong to either group but, like most people, have had some experiences I can't logically explain. It will be impossible to find anyone who shares your every belief or to be in complete agreement, so, if he seems like an intelligent, aware young man, I hope you'll take the time to give him a chance. Good luck!!

10:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Yeah, ghosts...I guess all of u have seen "Ghostbusters" by now. Again, I don't believe in a supernatural, or 'genuine' occult, in the sense of there being an Intelligence out there, separate from us, which we can contact. I believe we generate this thing thru certain forms of bodily energy, which can be so remarkable that yogis can, for example, melt ice-frozen blankets in a few minutes. I also believe that energy is nonlinear: can be compressed, moved, transferred, so as to create paranormal effects. Western science tends to study energy abstractly (E=mc2, e.g.), not things like biophysical transfer of it. It seems likely to me that in another century, we'll know why people think they have UFO experiences, or see ghosts. I suspect these things are valid, but not in quite the way they are perceived internally (yes, I knew Bharati and am familiar with emic vs. etic etc.).

As for my oceanic experience...It was brought on by a form of kundalini meditation I was doing in London in the summer of '74 with a direct student of F.M. Alexander (ironic, because Alexander was definitely a 'horizontal' sorta guy; I guess his student was not). You can't plan these things; they either happen or they don't. Certainly, it was the greatest gift the universe ever gave me, and it took me 3 books to work out the consequences (apparently it took Philip Dick more than three, as a result of seeing a 'purple line'). It also occurred on the South Bank of the Thames, nr. the Royal Festival Hall complex--all concrete and glass, a very unlikely place--and lasted for several hours. Go figure.

Ooga-Booga,
mb

4:15 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

Thanks All -

I guess I had better get to reading these things and not be so closed off to what could be a somewhat valuable belief. I will let myself wade into the corners of his thoughts as he is now wading into mine (he comes back from work everyday exclaiming "I came to a great place in WG!"), and there is always something new to be learned from this kind of exchange.

gracias!

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe RE: Philippines

I was just in the Philippines (Cebu)myself. People there were great.

The expats were a mix at best. A couple of nice old timers and a whole bunch of weird there. One nice expat I spoke with was talking about the rising tide of what he termed "trailer park trash" that was showing up to be the latest conquistador there.
Sad but looks like it may be true.

But people were super sweet there and I'd like to return in the next year.

El Juero (juero59@yahoo.com)

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know much about ghosts, and UFOs, but I have seen people, and things that have come to happen. I would think that it was crazy too, if it didn't happen to me. It only happens when I am very relaxed, and everything is quiet. I see a face, or an image of something to come. Once I saw a face of a girl I met in Chicago, in my mind's eye. It is kind of a "shade" image,black and white, see through. I hadn't thought about her for 10 years, and walking to the L, I saw this image of her in my mind, and couldn't stop thinking about her. I kept saying to myself, "What's her name?" I then rationally said to myself, "why I do care?" Strange. I hit the bars, and at the very end of the night, I told my friend that we should try this new bar. We went in, sat at the bar. A girl was sitting next to me with her back turned away. I turned and saw that it was this girl in my mind. I only went on one date with her 10 years before, and never thought about her again until that one day. How did I know that I was going to run into her? I think that there are things beyond our understanding. This is also the "gut" feeling that people get. A sixth sense. I have always felt violent situations coming a mile a way. I think we all have some of this ability. Perhaps our rational adult minds turn off this ability. Being glorified monkeys, we shouldn't be too confident that we know it all. There may be a whole world of which we know nothing. If you are interested, you should compare the Tibetan Book of the Dead with near death experiences from around the world..interesting stuff. What if life is the "illusion" or dream?

11:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

I taught university on and off for abt 30 years. During that time, I had two students who had the experience (more than once) of prescient dreams. I.e. they had a dream the night before, then the events in the dream happened the next day. Go figure.

mb

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

El J,

Cebu is where I was too...my (almost) inlaws live there. What part of the town where you in? That's way cool..glad you want to go back! Did you see alot of expats? I didn't see too many near where my family lives, but of course at the malls and stuff I did.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joe - Happy to hear more about Cebu & email more.
Drop me an email if interested?
juero59@yahoo.com

El Juero

7:20 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

I suggest anybody having doubts about UFOs read Leslie Kean's new book 'UFOs'. This is a very real phenomena that too many, without ever studying, have foolishly dismissed. Although it's area of study with its fair share of nutcases, I'd like somebody to show me an area of interest that doesn't.

James Oberg, a close minded debunker, has tried to critique the book but has been easily refuted by Ms. Kean.

This is a very real phenomena that appears machine like, under control by some kind of intelligence, defies known physics, and seen worldwide.

Please don't dismiss this due to some type of academic or narrow minded snobbery. Keep an open mind, the world is a much stranger place than we realize.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Cj,

I saw Leslie Kean promoting her UFO book on the Colbert Report. She seemed pretty "down to earth". Even more than UFO experiences, the crop circle phenomena can't so easily be explained away by psychological or bodily energy. There's something out there, though I doubt that it's "super" natural. On the other hand, the evolution of life on earth is rather incredible, too.

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

John A. Keel wrote about UFOS coming from another dimension whatever that means. That was his conclusion after many years of research and study. "The Mothman Prophecies" is also in the unexplainable category. So many people saw this thing. Also, American Indians even had a name for this Mothman. I think that there is a difference between bloggers here keeping an open mind towards the unknown, and dumb people believing in angels, and the coming of Jesus. Isn't there? I noticed at a recent doctor's visit how much medicine is still guesswork, and primitive. We are so much further along with mechanical engineering than medicine for example. We aren't as advanced as we would like to believe.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Anon,

Don't get me started on our medical system. I recently came down with bronchitis, and the doctor automatically put me on antibiotics without bothering to determine whether it was a viral or bacterial infection (antibiotics for viruses are worthless). So, now I have to deal with the side-effects on top of the illness.

I don't think modern medicine is primitive, though. It's so sophisticated as to be downright dangerous at times. Clowns in white jackets, but clowns just the same. Most Americans trust their doctors without question. But, I think that believing in UFOs might be safer! (I still enjoy modern dentistry).

2:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

I don't know if I ever revealed this online, but a couple of yrs ago I was abducted by extra-terrestrials, who took me to their planet and gave me a root canal. I still have nightmares abt it.

mb

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

MB,

Yeah, dentistry has its problems too. The mayor of our town is also a dentist, and largely because of him, our water supply is fluoridated. Great idea: let's take one of the most toxic substances known, and put it in the drinking water. In spite of protests from the Fluoride Action Network, our mayor (also an anti-union Republican) stands firm. You know, for the kids!

8:40 AM  

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