January 29, 2011

The Structuralists

[Once again, let me apologize to those of you who bought a copy of A Question of Values. The following essay is included in that collection, but is posted here online for the first time.]

Limbo is our Way of Life.

–William Appleman Williams

The word "structuralism" is commonly associated with a group of French intellectuals who were prominent in the sixties and seventies, and whose work, which was based on linguistics, came to dominate the human sciences for a good many years. Indeed, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Louis Althusser constituted a veritable galaxy of talent. Although one can find numerous academic texts explaining what structuralism is, the philosophy (or mode of analysis) can be summarized as follows:

1. Every system, whether it be a novel or a civilization, has a structure, i.e. is characterized by deep underlying patterns.
2. That structure is more significant than the individual elements of the system, and in fact determines the position or role of the elements in the system.
3. In any system, continuity is much more common than change, and that continuity follows the "map" provided by the deep underlying patterns.
4. Structures are the "real things" that lie beneath the surface phenomena, or appearances (cf. the distinction between light and shadows in Plato's Parable of the Cave).

Understood in this way, it seems fair to assert that structuralism is not the exclusive property of the French. For example, although structural analysis is not typical of U.S. intellectual circles, a few American scholars have nevertheless used it in their research to great effect. I am thinking of four writers in particular, whose work, when integrated into a comprehensive whole, provides a radically different picture of the United States than the one commonly held: the land of freedom and opportunity. It is not likely that many Americans would be able to tolerate this alternative structuralist view of American history, although they needn't worry, inasmuch as anything even mildly resembling it remains very far removed from public discussion. Thus for most Americans, Vietnam was an unfortunate "mistake"; Iraq is part of the effort to "spread democracy" (but now in the process of being reclassified as a mistake); September 11th was the result of enemies who are "evil" or "insane"; and the economic crash of October 2008 was the product of individual greed, the work of a few (perhaps even quite a few) "bad apples". None of these sorts of events (which could, in fact, be multiplied indefinitely) are seen as being endemic to the system, to the American Way of Life; as following inevitably from its underlying structure. That would, needless to say, be a wake-up call of the first magnitude.

The four scholars I have in mind probably never met, and for the most part (not entirely) were ignorant of each others' work. These are the historians William Appleman Williams (d. 1990) and Joyce Appleby (Professor Emerita, UCLA); the philosopher Albert Borgmann (U of Montana); and the Chilean-born writer and journalist Ariel Dorfman (who has lived and worked in the United States for several decades now). Ostensibly, they don't have all that much in common, having directed their attention to very diverse topics. But as indicated above, when you put them together you get a picture of the United States that forms a coherent whole, one that most Americans would find very disturbing to contemplate. As the saying goes, they don't teach this sort of thing in school.

To begin with Williams, then: 2009 marked the fiftieth anniversary of his most famous work, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy. In this book, Williams argues that the expansionist or imperial tendencies of the United States were present from its earliest days. American political leaders, he writes, believed that the doors to economic expansion had to be open in order to secure U.S. democratic institutions. They couldn't imagine the American people living within the limits of their own resources. And the American people, he goes on to say, were thoroughly on board with this program. Whether we are talking about farmers or workers or the middle class, they all shared an ideology of informal imperialism. Empire, in a word, was seen as essential to the good life. In particular, the Founding Fathers regarded territorial expansion as key to keeping American society from congealing into a European class system. But there was a price to be paid for all of this, and it was not a small one. For what the frontier did, according to Williams, was take us away from what was essential–a fair and just society, organized along the lines of democratic socialism. Instead, there was a collective (if unconscious, I would add) decision to run away from this, and thus to run away from (real) life. In The Contours of American History (1961), Williams puts it this way:

Americans...have the chance to create the first truly
democratic socialism in the world. That opportunity
is the only real frontier available to Americans in the
second half of the twentieth century. If they...acted
upon the...intelligence and morality and courage
that it would take to explore and develop that frontier,
then they would finally have broken the chains of their
own past. Otherwise, they would ultimately fall victims
to a nostalgia for their childhood.

I shall return to this theme of childhood in a moment. For now, let us be clear about the conundrum that Williams identified: the choice between individual capital accumulation, or obsession with private property, and a more equitable capital distribution, or concern for the collective well-being of the nation. Williams traced this fundamental conflict back to England's Glorious Revolution (1688), by which time it was clearly understood that expansion was the only way to reconcile these opposing ways of life. In the American context, it took the form of an addiction to the frontier as utopia. As a result, there really was no positive vision of commonwealth. In the nineteenth century, says Williams, the focus was on expansion, pure and simple, at the cost of social and personal values. To put it bluntly, Americans have always relied on expansion to escape from domestic problems, and resorted to violence and aggression when this failed. Williams was fond of quoting James Madison on the subject: "Extend the sphere and you have made it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens."

According to Williams, then, the United States was caught in a kind of balancing act, in which outward movement–territorial conquest, market expansion, or war–became the default solution to all of its domestic ills. Empire would reconcile avarice and morality. You defuse demands for a redistribution of wealth by opening up "surplus social space." "We have been playing hide-and-seek for two centuries," he wrote in 1976; "limbo is our Way of Life."

Still, it is not clear what Americans are running from; it is probably deeper than democratic socialism, and at one point Williams argues that we are afraid of our own violence. Whatever this dark presence is, it has to run very deep, because as Williams shows, anything that stood in the way of expansion--Native Americans, the Confederacy, the Soviet Union, and finally the Third World--was regarded as "evil," unnatural, beyond redemption. Looking inward, looking at ourselves, was never a serious option, and examining the structures that underlay its behavior was never America's forte.

Before we can ascertain what Americans are running from, however, it will be necessary to get some idea of how they wound up in a state of internal conflict and competition in the first place. On the surface, it seems almost as though aggression, narcissism, and imperialism are literally woven into the country's DNA; as though, in the United States, life and greed are synonymous. The shift from a European-based sense of commonwealth to a me-first free-for-all dates primarily from the 1790s.* Until that time, according to Joyce Appleby, the idea of a greater good and a system of reciprocal obligations still carried some weight, and the word "virtue" was defined as a commitment to those things. Under the impact of the ideas of Adam Smith and the Scottish enlightenment, however, this began to change. The new Newtonian-based philosophy held that societies were collections of individuals ("atoms"), and that the pursuit of profit on the part of each of these entities combined–i.e. the collective result of individual self-interest–would be the prosperity of the whole. "Virtue," in other words, had by 1800 come to mean personal success in an opportunistic environment; looking out for Number One.

The result was that the glue that had held colonial life together began to disintegrate, for individual greed is basically an antiglue. Historically speaking, according to Gordon Wood, this constituted a complete transformation in human social relations, amounting to a very new type of society. One might even call it an antisociety. Contemplating these developments in the early years of the Republic, the Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush was forced to conclude that the nation "would eventually fall apart in an orgy of selfishness." The reality of contemporary America would undoubtedly shock Dr. Rush, were he to return from the grave, but it probably would not surprise him.

(As an aside I offer the following anecdote: a friend of mine who happens to be the dean of a major medical school in the United States read Appleby's work some time ago and was very impressed with it. But he discovered that whenever he tried to discuss her thesis with members of the faculty, their eyes would glaze over within thirty seconds and they would change the subject. I believe this attests to the massive brainwashing prevalent in the United States, such that even the nation's most intelligent citizens literally cannot tolerate even a casual examination of the country's structural premises.)

In any case, the U.S. Census Bureau declared the frontier closed in 1890; there was no more unclaimed land to be had. Having stolen half of Mexico in 1848, the United States really couldn't now lay claim to the rest of that country, so it began looking farther afield for new conquests. Thus, the Spanish-American War of 1898, and the formulation of the Open Door Policy in 1899, which asserted the importance of overseas economic expansion. Yet the real frontier of the so-called Progressive Era was internal, which is to say, technological--a conception that has lasted down to the present day. For this development we need to move on to the third figure on our list, Albert Borgmann, whose Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life (1984) takes the work of William Appleman Williams to the next level.

In some ways, Borgmann was anticipated by the historian David Potter, who recognized (in People of Plenty, 1954) that Frederick Jackson Turner's famous "frontier thesis," while correct, didn't have to be conceived of in strictly geographical terms. The psychic frontier in the United States, he said, is based on the interaction between technology and the environment, and hence the promised expansion is without limit. This had actually been made explicit by the first presidential scientific adviser, Vannevar Bush, in his definitive essay of 1945: Science the Endless Frontier. But the basic structural mechanism–expansion as a way of mitigating domestic conflict–was in place long before Potter or Bush arrived on the scene. "Commodity expansion," to coin a phrase, was merely the old structure of Manifest Destiny mapped onto a different field; and as Borgmann demonstrates, it "works" even better. For there isn't, and there will not be, an end to the gizmos and gadgets the consumer society can crank out. Where there are now ten varieties of razor blades, there will be twenty tomorrow, and fifty a year from now--all "new and improved," with advertising serving to convince us that all of this junk is essential to our lives. From Milton Friedman to Condoleezza Rice, drowning in crap is regarded as "freedom," with virtually no dissent on the subject from the American people.

Here is a definition of democracy provided by a former American ambassador to Brazil (1961-62), Lincoln Gordon, in his book A New Deal for Latin America:

True democracy...is the regime of continuous social
revolution. I use the word revolution to mean a
process of structural change in society—an alteration
in the pattern of social class, in the social mobility
of individuals and their children, in the educational
structure, in methods of production, standards of living,
and the distribution of income, and in attitudes toward
relationships among individuals, business and other
private organizations, and the State.

Sounds pretty good, right? A far cry from the stagnant, class-based society of medieval Europe, to be sure. But what it amounts to in practice–if we leave aside the reference to distribution of income, which strikes an odd note here–is the society Joyce Appleby described and Benjamin Rush decried: an endless jockeying for position and power. And what fuels this social mobility, as Borgmann recognized, is constant invention and innovation, so that the lower class believes it can acquire the goods and lifestyle of the middle class, and the middle class believes it can acquire the same of the upper class. In Dark Ages America I wrote:

The privileges of the ruling class are exercised in
consonance with popular goals. Rich and poor both
want the same things, and in this way commodities
...are the stabilizing factors of technological societies.
Social inequality favors the advancement of the reign
of technology, in other words, because it presents a
ladder of what can be attained through technology.
This results in an equilibrium that can be maintained
only by the production of more and more commodities.
The less affluent must be able, at least in theory, to
catch up with the more affluent. Hence politics remains
without substance, a realm from which the crucial
dimensions of life, the core values, are excluded.

In reality, this "escalator" of social mobility is an illusion. Very little wealth "trickles down," and the statistics are quite clear on this point: the vast majority of the population never escape from the class into which they were born. But the combination of techno-economic expansion, and stories of the "self-made man," are sufficient to keep the lid on the conflict and hostility that are generated by endless competition. Meanwhile, our lives are filled with toys as substitutes for friendship, community, craftsmanship, quality, an equitable distribution of wealth, and an enlightened citizenry as opposed to a large collection of child-consumers who have literally no idea as to what genuine political debate is about. "Growth" is all...but to what end? This is the question that almost never gets asked.

The matter of children and their toys brings us to the fourth author, Ariel Dorfman, who formulated the concept of "soft power" long before Joseph Nye of Harvard University coined the phrase. What Dorfman asked was this: What makes American culture so popular, worldwide? Why is everyone attracted to its omnipresent symbols--Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, blue jeans, American sitcoms, and the like? What a paradox, that so many nations despise the United States while the citizens of those nations are literally addicted to American television programs. What, in short, is America's secret?

Dorfman is a Marxist, yet he surprised himself when he realized the decidedly non-Marxist answer to this question: "The way in which American mass culture reaches out to people may touch upon mechanisms embedded in our innermost being." In a word, the appeal is archetypal, transhistorical, and transcultural. For human beings are biologically programmed to respond to anything tinged with childhood. We seek to protect our young; we have tender feelings toward them. Mickey Mouse effectively joins power and infantilization, as does virtually all of American culture. That culture broadcasts a message of rejuvenation, a fountain of eternal youth, and (says Dorfman) "the possibility of conserving some form of innocence as one grows up." Whereas previously the U.S. Army was the means of exerting influence, the mass media now becomes a "peaceful" way of extending the American frontier. In fact, it is far superior to "hard power," because it enables Americans to retain an image of themselves as innocent, and to not have to recognize that this is just another version of imperial expansion. "America was able to project a universal category–childhood–onto alien cultures that were subjected politically and economically, and to seek in them infantile echoes, the yearning for redemption, innocence, and eternal life that, to one degree or another, are part of the constitution of all human beings." But when the American is shorn of adult faculties, adds Dorfman, and "handed solutions that suckle and comfort him...what is left is a babe, a dwindled, decreased human being."

The recent remarks of third-party candidate Ralph Nader, who could never manage to garner more than a tiny fraction of the vote, are quite relevant in this regard: the new generation of Americans, he said, “have little toys and gizmos that they hold in their hands. They have no idea of any public protest or activity. It is a tapestry of passivity." But the problem goes way beyond toys as a political substitute. It is all part of remaining a child, and of renewing or "reinventing" oneself through the latest electronic gadget or new consumer product that rolls off the assembly line. (One could include New Age gurus and philosophies in this list as well.) And even beyond this, the notion is that all of the world can be renewed by turning it into one huge market place, or toy store. What else, after all, is life about–for a child?

This, then, is the heart of "soft power," that empire and childhood are linked by an endless succession of new toys; a world in which every day is Christmas, and in which the neurosis of the United States becomes the power of the United States, as every last human being on the planet is sucked into this vortex. The American empire, in reality, is an Empire of Children.

We are now, I believe, in a position to answer the question of what all of this frenetic activity is designed to hide; what Americans are running away from. Toward the end of his life Williams wrote: "America is the kind of culture that wakes you in the night, the kind of nightmare that may [yet] possibly lead us closer to the truth." This is a haunting, if enigmatic, sentence. What truth, after all? Possibly, an example of what not to do. For the truth here is an emptiness at the center, to which is added a desire to never grow up. It should be obvious by now that the American definition of "progress" is little more than a joke, and that running away from the responsibilities of adulthood–including the construction of a society not based on endless consumption, competition, and expansion–could be the single greatest thread in American history. That there is a possible alternative history, and a very different type of progress, characterized (for example) by marginal figures such as Lewis Mumford or the late Jane Jacobs, is something Americans don't wish to contemplate, for alternatives to the life of running faster to get nowhere scare them. No, the expansion game, and the life of limbo, as Williams puts it, will continue until we hit a wall, and the game cannot be played any longer (although I suspect we shall be able to limp along with "crisis management" for two or three more decades). This game, of self-destruction and the destruction of others, will continue until there is no place for America to go except to the graveyard of failed empires. And as Williams suggested, violence is very likely part of the equation.

In the meantime, much of the world, ironically enough, will go on taking the United States as a model for development, ignoring the bankruptcy of this way of life. The sadness of it all was captured by Richard Easterlin in his incisive study, Growth Triumphant: "In the end, the triumph of economic growth is not a triumph of humanity over material wants; rather, it is the triumph of material wants over humanity." Once expansion fails, however, the jig will be up. Whether Americans will finally address the thing they've been hiding from all these years is another question altogether.

The widespread emulation of this model is thus a peculiarly depressing aspect of the whole drama. I wrote this article in Mexico City, and being late for a meeting with a friend, shut my notebook and grabbed a taxi to get to my rendezvous on time. The driver, a young man of about twenty-five years of age, stared into the screen of his cell phone or blackberry while weaving through traffic. As I glanced over his shoulder, I saw that he was looking at cartoons, of the kind I watched on television when I was seven years old. Finally, nervous that he was going to plow into the truck in front of us, I asked him whether watching a screen while driving wasn't just a little bit dangerous. "Oh no," he told me, never taking his eyes off the screen; "not a problem." Meanwhile, he overshot my destination, had to consult the map I had with me, and wound up charging me twice as much as the ride would normally cost. I wasn’t in the mood to get into a long argument with him in Spanish about it, so I paid the fare and wished him buen día. But I couldn't help thinking what a jackass this kid was, and, at the same time, that what was in his head regarding the components of a meaningful life was probably not very different from what was in the head of the president of any Mexican or American or (for that matter) Indian university or corporation. Clearly, the psychology of expand-and-hide spreads like cancer: "growth" über Alles.

We see, then, the picture of the United States that emerges when we look at it structurally. Put Williams, Appleby, Borgmann, and Dorfman together, and it is as though you are looking at America with X-ray eyes. "Freedom" and "Opportunity" are not what stand out, on this view. Rather, the X-ray vision reveals something much closer to disease, what has been called an "ideological pathology." Living in limbo, as Williams told us over and over again, cannot be prolonged indefinitely. Yet the real tragedy, in my view, is not one of American diplomacy but of willful ignorance. Is it likely, when the system finally unravels and the empire is a feeble shadow of its former self, that we (or the hegemon that replaces us) will have learned anything at all?

*This is not quite true. Walter McDougall, in Freedom Just Around the Corner (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), says we were a nation of hustlers (his word) from the get-go; and Richard Bushman documents this for eighteenth-century Connecticut in From Puritan to Yankee (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970).



References

Keith Berwick, review of Williams, The Contours of American History, in The William and Mary Quarterly, January 1963, pp. 144-46.

Paul Buhle and Edward Rice-Maximin, "War Without End," The Village Voice, 5 November 1991, p. 75.

Ariel Dorfman, The Empire's Old Clothes, trans. Clark Hansen (New York: Pantheon, 1983).

Greg Grandin, "Off Dead Center," The Nation, 1 July 2009.

Chris Hedges, "Nader Was Right," posted on http://www.truthdig.com/, 10 August 2009.

William Fletcher Thompson, Jr., review of Williams, The Contours of American History, in The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Winter 1962-63, pp. 139-40.

Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” lecture to the American Historical Association, Chicago, 1893; reprinted in numerous anthologies and available at http://www.historians.org/pubs/archives/Turnerthesis.htm

Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1993).

77 Comments:

Blogger Nebris said...

Oh, man... *sigh* Now I'll have to go watch a couple episodes of the new Hawaii 5-0 just to 'regain my American equilibrium'.

1:55 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I've begun "AQOV" and am jumping around between groups of essays. Interestingly, I read this particular essay last night and after musing and pondering your ideas, took on the following three essays, ending with "Democracy in America" first thing this morning. Great accompaniment to my first coffee of the morning.

I have many thoughts whirling around, but I think books like yours require thought and rumination before merely regurgitating the first thing on our minds that find route to our lips. "Spheres of Influence" was particularly intriguing to me--the dichotomy of beauty/ugliness and how occasions of beauty can set us aright, albeit briefly, before we are plunged back into the ugliness of American culture.

I'm enjoying the book and find it different than DAA and TTAC. I love essays and you are providing a wealth of material that will help better frame my own developing ideas and worldview (and provide respites from America's ugliness). I appreciate your intellectual capacities and your humanity that you share with your readers. I always learn about new writers and books that further enhance my own ongoing education.

Thank you Dr. Berman!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Neb-

Actually, just go to a movie and watch the previews, or 'coming attractions'. What you'll see is a string of violence, including lots of broken glass, for some reason. Throw in a few 'reality' shows, and yer head shd be clear in no time.

Jim-

Jesus, what a way to start the day. I usually set myself straight by watching some Palin clips, first thing, or occasionally interviews w/Tom DeLay. But thank you for your appreciation; it means a lot.

mb

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

There might ironically be “structural” global reasons beyond US control for the unfortunate prolongation of the American “flight into childhood” into the post-frontier twentieth century.

Consider other mid-century alternatives that for a while frighteningly seemed to be more likely outcomes. In practice, many parts of the world in the 1930s and 1940s showed that the espousal by rival societies of “adult” philosophies of collective solidarity could easily degenerate into dictatorial “controlling parent” neuroses that were even more destructive than our own infantilized way of thinking. The overly disciplined, self-abnegating behavior demanded of their citizens by “Nanny States,” “Mother Russias” etc. excused the perverse mapping of the opposing ideology of the “Free World” onto the satisfactions of oral fixation through junk accumulation.

These metaphors suggest that on the level of civilizational mentalites, our childlike Mickey Mouse attitudes (Disney characters were some of the favorite motifs of WW2 bomber nose art) might have been exactly the ticket needed to successfully take on the overcontrolling “Motherland” of “Uncle Joe” or the “Fatherland” of “Nazi Germany.” After the war and after 1989 of course, much of the traumatized world eagerly grabbed onto out bright and shiny toys – the geopolitical equivalent of stuffed animal therapy at child abuse treatment centers. Cairo is next.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

In reading this essay I was struck with the passage:

"Whatever this dark presence is, it has to run very deep, because as Williams shows, anything that stood in the way of expansion--Native Americans, the Confederacy, the Soviet Union, and finally the Third World--was regarded as "evil," unnatural, beyond redemption. Looking inward, looking at ourselves, was never a serious option, and examining the structures that underlay its behavior was never America's forte."

I just wonder why this is so different from the European concept of empire and "commonwealth". You've also written about the influence of religious institutions and how they molded a sense of shared responsibility in society but I have to wonder whether the answers we're looking for are more at the end of a very dark tunnel. One that is more personal (on our own shores - to finally confront that part of ourselves as the violence we're affraid of) Not to say a repeat of WWII or holocaust dimensions will happen or that I'd like to be around if it did but that if it did happen it might prove more transfomative in some sense than the "orgy of selfishness" you mention. In other word, we don't really understand the violence we perpertuate as real unless it happens to us - hence us fighting "over there" never changees things. It's certainly one reason we're so obsessed with security.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

I deeply liked this essay from QoV. For my mind that seeks to understand stuff, this one lends a big helping hand.

I particularly like the flow of it. It left me hanging. By the time I get to,

"We are now, I believe, in a position to answer the question of what all of this frenetic activity is designed to hide",

before I can finish the sentence the conclusion knocks me nicely between the eyes and I get one of those deep laughs on the inside when a truth is said that one somehow knows but never could quite put it together, and certainly not like this.

Bill Maher on his recent comedy show (posted on Huffingtonpost) spoke of how the NFL mirrors a social democracy; a model perhaps the US whole could look to. Too little, too late, and wdn't work; but perhaps the best I've heard on translating social democracy to Americans.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Morris,

I read Williams on your rec a year or so ago. He, and you make complete sense to me. Nothing there to question. But, I always come away with “Yes, but that’s history and people don’t live it that way.” It seems that the wave of time I’ve lived and so many of the people I’ve known do not fit either that history or your collective description of them. My little 75 year local anecdotal view, rather than the larger 200 year scholarly study.

I have witnessed “socially democratic behavior” again and again in so many places, I am convinced that the U.S. as a government, as a culture, as a country will continue to behave stupidly and fail, but there is another wave, another presence that is wiser, more communal, soft, caring and natural. There is probably no good reason that smaller (maybe tiny) wave should be more apparent, except within our personal histories, our own lives.

So this is not a criticism. I just think that focusing on the obvious obsession with toys, violence, money, etc. as accurate an observation as that is, can miss another aspect being lived by a lot of people. Any of us can meet them any time we wish. I have noticed, by the way, they are often plant people.

Thanks for the “Silk” rec. Enjoyed it and can’t stop pondering it.

To the larger DAA group, I thought “Off The Map” was much deeper than just the struggle to do without tech amenities, and for those of you who think you couldn’t do it, you could. It is not that hard. You were designed for it.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

And for you football fans:

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175348/tomgram:_robert_lipsyte,_the_empire_bowl_is_super!/

7:12 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

I don't question that what yer describing exists; I never did. What I *am* arguing is that it is too small and disorganized (and perhaps even apolitical) to make any difference. As Ralph Nader recently said, the folks who have something different in mind have no political leverage. Remember the marginal communities at the end of Brave New World, that Huxley has living on 'reservations' of sorts? Well, it's sort of like that, except that in real life, it's not even geographically locatable, as it is in BNW. Real politics deals w/the dominant culture, my friend; there's simply no way around it...UNLESS...the dominant culture falls apart. Then it's a whole new ball game, and these alternatives may attract a following out of necessity. I've been saying and writing things like that for years. In short, I think you are misunderstanding and mischaracterizing my work; and I don't think that the 'lived experience' you like to emphasize is separate from the 200-year scholarly analysis that we have to deal with, like it or not.

mb

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Dave, true acts of kindness in the US are quite rare I feel. Almost everyone on my 86 year old mom's block has a snowblower, for instance, and not one offered to use their blowers to clear my mom's pavement. So she has to pay someone $50 or the city will fine her.
Anyway, there was certainly no way Harry ("I didn't lose a minute's sleep dropping the atomic bombs")Truman was ever going to promote real social democracy at the end of the war. He was all about setting up the national security state. Henry Wallace tried to influence him but it was too late (perhaps 300 years too late).
In a recent movie, Blue Valentine, the male protagonist attempts some introspection to understand how his marriage crumbled but in the end resorts to violence which I think will and perhaps already is happening as the US economy/Empire crumbles. By the way, Dr. Berman, did you see "Inside Job"? It's about the financial meltdown of 2008. Why are the architects of the meltdown not in prison? Instead they are walking around with millions in bonuses and some, in fact, have been appointed by Obama to steer the economy. Well, I think I can answer my own question. There were only a few of us watching this movie while the overwhelming majority of theater goers that day were watching "The Green Hornet". Did you say something about toys?

10:45 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Re: NFL, last thoughts (I hope). Despite my reference to the B.Maher shtick(?) on social democracy in the NFL, I feel the whole NFL affair is utterly grotesque. The jingoism and commercialism in and around it is torture to witness. That one could say socialism and NFL congruently in the same sentence; I find this ironic.

Thanks Dave on the tomDispatch.com read.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I tell ya, if you want a reality check on where the American head is these days, try this on for size:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/04/911-mcnuggets-call-latrea_n_171744.html

I think I mentioned some time ago, that the figure for mental illness among the American population is 25%, and that I was sure it was a misprint; the newspaper had to have meant 75%. Here's a woman who called 911 3x because McDonald's ran out of Chicken McNuggets. Is she really that atypical? Most Americans have McNuggets in their heads. Put her on the ticket w/Sarah, and I'll be in 7th heaven.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Empire of Children indeed. It explains the egocentrism, the ease with which the average American is distracted, the popularity of such mindless media...Sometimes I feel like the guy in the Career Builder commercials, the guy who is trying to go about his job but all of his coworkers are chimpanzees wearing suits. Except in real life it's alot more frightening than funny, albeit quite amusing at times.

The egocentrism that is expected of a 5 year-old remains throughout adulthood, and it gets uglier and uglier when paired with "rugged indvidualism" indoctrination and all of the other Americanism (we're #1!) until it becomes narcissism, and finally sociopathy.

As Nader said, we carry around gizmos and feel "connected" because we are constantly staring at them and updating our "status" on social websites. How absurd is this? A society of walking dead, ex-humans whose beatings hearts are now the touch screens on their smart phones.

I was enchanted when I travelled abroad, but truth be told I was troubled by how many desperately poor young people were lined up to "load" their cellphones with minutes, and also by the amount of American pop music, fast food, and TV shows I saw. I wanted to tell so many people that their energy and culture were much better without this. This striking essay by Dr. Berman has provided me with some insight into why they are so attracted to all of our bullshit.

A commitment to the common good would require way too much maturity - and effort. Kindness is a not a virtue in America, it is a hindrance. It is inherently out of place in a consumer society. When, as a college student, I realized that fact, I was very troubled, and thought that doubting the "greatest country on earth" was a character flaw. Now I realize it was the first part of growing up - something that most of my countreymen will never do.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

RE: Dave's "another wave, another presence that is wiser, more communal, soft, caring and natural."

It doesn't express the dominant culture now, but it soon may. Theodore Roszak's latest book is "The Making of an Elder Culture":

"The news of the day gives every good reason to despair for the future of our society. And yet, as bleak as things may seem, there are other forces in play...One of these, and I believe it is the most consequential but least appreciated force of all, is the demographic transition usually called the longevity revolution...It is the experience of aging, which brings with it new values and visions, none of them grounded in competition and careerism, none of them beholden to the marketplace...Now, in ever greater numbers, we are aging beyond the values that created the urban-industrial world."

When Sarah (or other Tea Party clown) tries to take Social Security and Medicare away, the docile baby boomers may finally let their voices be heard...loud and clear.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

I like Ted, he means well, but it was clear to me from "Making of a Counterculture" that he really didn't understand how history or politics work. They aren't warm and fuzzy, and things don't change in any fundamental way based on moods or consciousness. (What happened to the Sixties ought to have sobered him up a bit, but apparently it didn't. And oh, that 'new consciousness' seemed so real at the time.) So while it's a nice thought, about ageing etc., it finally ignores the realities of power. In any case, there is no evidence I can see that we are taking on different values, in any profound sense, and this lack of any real shift bears out the end-of-empire analysis of Toynbee, Jared Diamond, and many others: as the game winds down, the empire fights even harder to maintain precisely what is doing it in. That is why collapse, ironically enough, may be our only "chance." But like Charles Reich, Ted never understood that wishful thinking is just that--wishful thinking. Meanwhile the old elites, and the usual centers of power, keep reproducing themselves, and they don't open their gates to those who do not share their world view and m.o.

mb

4:03 AM  
Blogger ryan kloostra said...

The term "Manolescent" or "Manolescence" is what I've been using recently to describe the culture I live in and the people I am around. Thirty/forty year old men, living at home, no job, smoking pot, playing video games all day, never reading abook or doing any kind of work--now *that* is childlike. And all this is the RULE, not the exception. For the more "upright," college and further "education" allows them to escape the reality of life. As I constantly reiterate to those around me "THIS IS WHO WE ARE!"

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

When I was 17 or 18, I rejoiced to find Roszak's books, especially Where the Wasteland Ends. And I devoured The Greening of America as well. And 1/4 a part of me believed in their vision, as 3/4 a part of me hoped for it. But within me I knew, even then, that while their critique of contemporary culture was dead-on, particularly at the spiritual level -- the future just wasn't going to be as golden & green as they (and I) had so fervently hoped.

A look back at all proposed Utopias & Golden Ages reveals the same thing, doesn't it? Not that I dismiss or scorn them -- sometimes a beautiful dream is all you've got to hold onto in the darkness. And maybe it's not entirely a bad thing, as long as you can remember that it's a dream, a vision of what your life could be, not what the world WILL be.

One thing that struck me even then in Where the Wasteland Ends was Roszak's discussion of the political & psychological meaning of William Blake's prophetic poems. Because Blake himself, the archetypal Visionary if ever there was one, saw that he was condemned to maintain his vision of life against a world & culture overwhelmingly opposed to it.

I think Blake saw that living a meaningful, worthwhile life was an option -- but it was a struggle, a terribly hard one, and it demanded endless hard work. It makes me think of Buddha's admonition to be lamps unto yourselves -- but maybe the only part of the world that'll be illuminated even a little bit is your own? Or a small circle around you, at most?

There's a remarkable visionary novel from the early 20th Century, A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay. Its protagonist Maskull encounters one life philosophy after another, and each one is revealed as an empty facade, a trick to ensnare even the most noble of souls. It's a dark, dense, Gnostic vision, where only a handful of people can learn the truth -- and even then, they must struggle to hold onto it.

The truth forced itself on him in all its cold, brutal reality. Muspel [the meaningful reality] was no all-powerful Universe, tolerating from pure indifference the existence side by side with it of another false world, which had no right to be. Muspel was fighting for its life ...

Maybe that's the position we find ourselves in as well?

12:51 PM  
Blogger Patrick D. Fitzgerald said...

Many of us undoubtedly ask the question, “ Why can almost all Americans not view themselves within a historical context and see themselves as a part of that history as it unfolds?” We imagine that if they could, they would be moved to some type of action, some response against the dominate culture(s) of their own time. Of the many reasons one could offer, as Dr. Berman has, one that resonates loudly with me is that of imagination. Not the imagination of creating a work of fiction mind you, but one wherein you simply picture things other than as what they are on realistic terms; terms such as those that already exist in the world Information knows no bounds for an American with a cable modem, yet the same technology that makes this accessible is the one insulating the mind from the realization (felt in a bodily sense) of those truths. TV and internet make us not have to imagine, not have to create (think) thoughts, and so we don’t. We are therefore robbed of the ability to imagine that you can be “free” even if the state pays your doctor, you can still be patriotic without having to endorse torture and atrocities, that corporations are not people (magically taxed at a lower rate people), that life can /used to be different. If 12% carry a passport, I can be assured that socialism for 88% is a fate worse than five deaths, regardless of what the WHO says. Imagination, in lieu of a passport, might dispel this phobia. Zero Sum political rhetoric leaves no room for imagination, and in regards to reacquiring that ability, I agree that collapse is our only hope.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

You're right about Theodore Roszak; when I read "The Making of a Counter Culture" many years ago, I remember that he chose Freud over Marx. He still believes it; in his new book, he writes:

"Change consciousness and you change culture. Change the culture and you change values. Change values and you change politics."

They're taking to the streets in Europe and the Middle East. Is there anything, short of total collapse, that would (literally) change the average American's mind?

4:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ted's simply been in California too long, and we now have scores of hi-powered neurological studies showing that extended exposure to that state finally rots the brain (irrevocably), or at least turns it into humous. It's not that consciousness has no role to play in social change; it's just that for the most part, Marx got it rt: reality shapes consciousness rather than the reverse. Ted also never understood the difference between counterculture and lack of culture. The 'flower children' I met who were reading his book and saying 'far out' all day long were utter (New Age) morons; they had no more grasp of political reality than does an eggplant. Their idea of culture was bell-bottomed trousers. The sad thing is that they represented what America looks like when it tries to do something different. A bumper sticker I have on my wall: "If ignorance were bliss, Americans would be ecstatic."

Let's talk abt reality instead, and move away from the humous-brained world. This is from Sheldon Wolin, "Democracy Inc.":

"What is democracy doing bearing the stigma of empire? Recall that the United States was born in a revolution against imperial power. Recall as well, however, that the Founders favored a republic over a democracy because the latter could not be accommodated to an "enlarged sphere," to a huge geographical expanse. And recall that the American citizenry has a long history of being complicit in the country's imperial ventures. The imperial impulse is not a tic afflicting only the few....Virtually from the beginnings of the nation the making of the American citizen was influenced, even shaped by, the making of an American imperium. The 19th-C expansion of the country to the west and southwest was achieved by military victories over various Indian nations and Mexico. It brought new opportunities for enterprise, exploitation, and ownership. It made conquest and violence familiar, part of everyday experience. Foreign observers, such as Tocqueville, were struck by the appearance of a new kind of citizen: mobile, adventurous, highly competitive, and often brutal."

If there's one thing I keep stressing in my work is the interdependence of the microcosm (individual) to the macrocosm (large-scale domestic and foreign policy). I don't believe Chomsky's notion of a "democracy gap" for a minute. This government IS the American people. Individual daily life is hardly something apart from large-scale historical process. Hence Wolin's crucial pt:
"the American citizenry has a long history of being complicit in the country's imperial ventures. The imperial impulse is not a tic afflicting only the few...." As George Walden writes in his aptly titled study, "God Won’t Save America: Psychosis of a Nation," “The peculiarities of nations, good and bad, tend to reflect the temperaments and qualities of their peoples. As Plato remarked, where else would they have come from?”(This appears in my forthcoming bk, "The Roots of American Failure." My editor wrote in the margin at this point something like, "This is the turning point of the bk.")

This is why Sarah belongs in the Oval Office--really does belong there--and why Latreasa Goodman needs to be her VP. I'm telling u guys, if I had a magic wand and could make just one thing happen to the US in the next 2 yrs, it wd be that (*not kidding*!).

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Patrick,

Look how much of our culture comes not only pre-packaged now, but pre-imagined as well. There's software for writing a screenplay, or a novel; there's software for drawing or painting. Everything is available at the click of a mouse, pre-formatted & ready for consumption. There's no work required, no effort. The popular mantra is, "Why bother to memorize or learn anything when you can just look it up online?"

And this obviously carries over to every aspect of life, especially political & spiritual life. Why do any of the hard work, when it can be done for you? And of course those who pre-package everything will decide what is & what isn't necessary for you to know. We see that already, as you noted, with the Pavlovian responses to words like "socialism" or "family values."

Franz Kakfa said, "War is caused by a monstorus lack of imagination." Poet Diane DiPrima said, "The only war that matters is the war against the imagination." That war has been successfully fought by the powers that be for quite some time now. The ability of people to connect even the most obvious doubts, to imagine consequences, to empathize with the lives of others, is all but gone.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

American landscape: 310 million people rolling around like donuts, w/heads up asses, one hand clutching a cell phone, the other a bottle of Prozac. R.I.P.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Latreasa Goodman for VP...perfect. She could run on the slogan "a (50 piece) chicken mcnugget in every pot and a head in every ass".

I agree with you, Dr. Berman, Sarah's time has come and she is the best thing to expedite the long-overdue demise. Christ, I need to leave. She'll be bailing water INTO the boat.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Where else would we have come from indeed... The Land of Oz, Disneyland, the Mall of America. In one way of looking at things it is the land of dreams. Why would we think things should be any different? It was considered the "new world" at one time - as if this place was on another planet or something. The strange, the exciting, the different. This is why everyone wants to come here... until the dream becomes the reality of an unemployment line, or other difficulty. Then what? Some leave, most stay and try to make a go of it... Not saying this is right or wrong or stupid ..freak show or not.. it just is what people seem to do. If 'Art' put food on the table I'd be an artist... instead I'm a mechanical draftsman... some compromise. I try to keep abreast of what's going on and am not happy about a lot of the idiocy I see but in a way I can't blame people too much for being just products of where they've come from. It's a struggle I don't think many people here think very deeply about. It's probably enough that it's a struggle to stay afloat - in and of itself. That's the reality... I think that's why 'hope' sells...it's all most people have to cling to.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Joe-

The thing that annoys me most abt Obama is that he's been *playing* with collapse. What I think we can count on Sarah to do (with Latreasa faithfully at her side, calling 911 if she gets a hangnail or whatever), is roll up her sleeves and get the job done, take us into war with Ghana or whatever while Tina Fey has a field day on SNL. (The 2nd thing that annoys me abt Obama is that he ain't funny. Truly, Millard Fillmore reincarnated.) What really worries me most at this pt is that the GOP might nominate Rom Mittney instead. Altho if they do, I might show up at his rallies with a big sign that says ROM MITTNEY (code for WHAT A DOUCHE BAG). I tell u, from a certain viewpt, the next few yrs cd be a lotta fun. U think we are a collection of morons *now*? Jus' wait till Sarah (or Rom) is done w/us!

Paul-

Well, as you know, Art is a bit of a food connoisseur, and I think the time is long overdue for him to invite us all down to Fla. for a fabulous banquet. (ha ha; I'm just being annoying) Anyway, as John Aubrey once wrote, "Hope makes a good breakfast, but a bitter supper."

mb

4:55 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Audacity of hope indeed! Here's a BBC video that tells the story of 21st century America, using Gary, Indiana as its main character. Youngstown, Ohio often gets lumped in with Gary in death of American city pieces, although Youngstown supposedly is undergoing some kind of renaissance as a tech center.

http://tinyurl.com/2d8ltyv

Interesting that Mr. Obama lived in Chicago (45 minutes away, along the Lake Michigan shoreline). The one remaining vestige of vibrancy remaining in Gary is Miller, a well-to-do enclave that Oprah uses as a summer getaway (maybe Obama has visited her there.

I went back to Gary a few years ago (I once lived in a neighboring town during my fundamentalist exile period) and filed this report from its "mean streets." It was actually a "tongue in cheek" look at the Democrat race for prez and I think I did a pretty good job casting Mr. Obama accurately in my faux debate. It got picked up by Counterpunch.

http://tinyurl.com/48xv7qs

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Today's indicator is England's cutting of funds for libraries, something we're seeing plenty of here in America as well. Philip Pullman's scathing speech about these cuts & the mentality behind them is worth reading:

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/save-oxfordshire-libraries-speech-philip-pullman#

A quote to give you a taste of his speech:

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”

8:20 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Let me also offer Stanley Fish's column in today's NY Times on Obama, education, and the Race To The Top:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/31/
race-to-the-top-of-what-obama-on-education/

The comments are well worth reading, #30 in particular. It's from a high school English teacher here in NJ, who says in part:

Well, what entity is highly suspicious of the 'populace' gaining the above skills-creativity, thinking outside the box, learning practical independent skills such as carpentry, and having depth? The corporate plutocracy of course. Just as in the 'old days' we wanted 'factory workers' so now we want low level corporate drudges. Honey, higher level science and technology aren't valued either. We 'insource' workers from overseas on pseudo visas and these guys take our computer and science jobs for a much lower salary. Our funding in science is drying up. What is valued in 'technology' are again low level skills that corporations would value. That's it.

What you are witnessing is not the drying up of humanities although that's part of it (and you are witnessing it late because you have been blessed to have been in the higher level universities rather than 'down here' in secondary schools, where we've been witnessing it for years). What you are witnessing is a full scale attack on higher level thinking, creativity, independence of thought--basically all that matters for a free and thinking democracy. We are witnessing the transition to a fascist plutocracy.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

I like to think of it as a buffoonocracy: a govt of buffoons, for buffoons, and by buffoons, which is in the process of perishing from the face of the earth. (And in the meantime causing a shitload of misery.)

Sarah in '12! Keep the faith!

mb

2:39 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

About a year ago, I was going to try to make arrangements for MB to give a poetry reading at Mandala Books (a well-known independent used-bookstore here in central Florida). But then the owner decided to retire and close up shop. And so it goes. As for that banquet...I think we'd all be a lot safer if I just threw a wine and cheese party instead. Spring Break, anyone?

3:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ah, that takes me back to dancing the twist on the sands at Lauderdale...

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Tim --

You're right about the comments to Stanley Fish's column in the NY Times. I was struck by #32 where Lisa Dickman talks about the cathedral schools of medieval Europe where "education for its own sake was the norm."

She goes on to say:

"Therefore, it is no surprise to this scholar that we are sliding again into our own dark ages. We've breed a generation of student-consumers who are enslaved to technology, fads and gadgets. Incapable of and unmotivated to exercise the rigorous struggle & discipline that will develop and expand their minds into the competitive instruments necessary to marshal our civilization for the demands of the future."

Wow! "we are sliding again into our own dark ages." Back in the 70's, Christopher Lasch, in "The Culture of Narcissism," said that "The effective loss of cultural traditions on such a scale makes talk of a new Dark Age far from frivolous."

David Rosen

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a high school teacher for 11 years now. The whole problem of education in this country has, ironically, little to do with the teachers. It has everything to do with technology, lack of parenting, and yes, lousy students. Here is a secret most teachers will not tell you... If you teach an elective and you make it too hard, kids drop your class and you are out of a job. If you teach a required class and make it the least bit challenging, kids complain to parents and deans, parents and deans complain to principals, etc. You start to dumb down, slowly but surely. Who needs that b.s. every day? "Generation X Goes to College" hits this pretty accurately. After a while you get tired of going to meetings with the principal and screaming parents and you stop causing trouble. I know many teachers who won't even stop a child from cheating. They know that if they do, and the student denies it, you are in for meetings, and the principal will just let the student retake the test. "It was just a study sheet, not a cheat sheet, etc." This has happened to me, and I got thrown under the bus, not the student. So, after a while, you start making the course easier, less strenous. You don't observe the kids as closely during quizzes and tests. I leave them alone, and they don't complain to deans or parents, etc. If you really challenge students, which I used to do all the time, you are called "uncaring" by the counselors and the deans. This dumbing down is going to get much worse with the elimination of tenure, etc. We have a faulty culture in this country, and no amount of teacher reform is going to change the "culture".

10:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

A pretty sad picture you paint, unfortunately very accurate. Frankly, I encountered much the same thing when I taught graduate school in the US. I recall catching a student plagiarizing (she actually didn't understand what that was--a graduate student!), and spent large amounts of time in the library, documenting the sources from which she had 'borrowed'. But I got the distinct impression from the admin that they wd prefer I not pursue this; and in general, they found my unwillingness to go along with the general grade inflation (no one was supposed to get below a B) problematic (deans, after all, are concerned about enrollment and cash flow, not about academic integrity, tho they claim otherwise). I was eventually dropped from the faculty, while the admin went thru a lot of contortions to produce phony reasons, and a lot of lies to boot. (It was so transparent it was actually funny. E.g., "We need someone who can teach an anthropology course." I wrote back, "Not a problem; I recently wrote an anthropology book that was favorably reviewed in the "American Anthropologist"; I'll be glad to send you the review." Answer to this: silence. This kind of game-playing went on and on. There would have been no point in asking them how they could get up in the morning and look at themselves in the mirror; it was hardly a problem for them, as their lives had been reduced to bullshit and survival.) This is the culture of education in the US, across the board, and it is basically a corporate model. Since there are very few willing to resist it (everyone is 'paying off a mortgage'), the watering-down, the slide to mediocrity, and the flagrant dishonesty of the whole thing (instructors look the other way while students cheat), eventually overwhelms the entire system. There are a lot of similarities to the selling of indulgences in the Middle Ages, in fact. The whole thing is hollowed out, loses meaning, and as the corruption becomes ubiquitious, the culture dies a slow death. In one form or another, this is the situation in which most American find themselves, because the corporate model cares nothing for quality. But there is no such thing as a true civilization w/o quality, and so...ours is going the way of all flesh.

I appreciate your description of the situation because this is exactly how a society goes under--incrementally, in a type of slow devolution, with everybody playing a small but crucial part in the drama. Eventually, all these little acts add up, and the result of these individual decisions is the disintegration of the whole.
(I'm going to continue this discussion below, because of limits on space.)

11:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

(Continued from above)

A couple of years ago, some gov't agency or educational institute contacted me about how they had received a large grant to 'repair' American education. They wanted to know if I wanted to be part of the 'team'. The literature they had generated on the subject was the usual crap; there wasn't a single word on the corporate domination of education, or on the culture of education as you described it in your letter. I esp. got a laugh out of the fact that Thomas Friedman was invited to be part of the 'team' as well (now there's a revolutionary change agent!). So I wrote back, saying that American education was broken, and that it was broken because America was broken; and that both were beyond repair. For some odd reason, they never wrote back.

The truth is that if you look at every single area of activity in the US, you see quite clearly that we are finished. We cannot reverse the current culture of education any more than we can change the military, foreign policy, the destruction of any form of social safety net, corporate corruption, the medical profession, Big Pharma, and so on. (Is it an accident that Wall St. is now doing the very same thing w/derivatives and CDO's that it was doing to bring on the crash of 2008?) These different sectors operate anthropologically, so to speak; their cultures will not be disrupted. It is for this reason above all that we slide toward our inevitable dissolution. Or, more accurately, to more of it. For that dissolution is here, now; the 'collapse of empire' is not 'out there', awaiting us at some future date. We are in it up to our eyeballs.

Thanks for writing in.

mb

11:36 PM  
Blogger the masked writer said...

I live in a small PA town. Yesterday, I made the mistake of reading the on-line comments about the hot local news story of the day. Our mayor had insulted Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary groundhog, by saying that he was glad we have a winter festival that doesn't involve a mangy rodent. Now, wouldn't anyone see that as humor? Of the 150 online responses so far, almost all have reacted with anger. People trashed the mayor, the town, and all those "Illegal Mexicans" (they blame the "illegal Mexicans" for everything). A particularly moronic comment went something like this: "Phil the groundhog had a movie made about him. They never made a movie about you, mayor." Thanks for this blog that offers me a way to escape the stupidity and viciousness among the Palin world I live in. I particularly enjoy the suggestions for further reading offered by you and others. Harriett

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

More proof that all is broken:

http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/02/01
/my_fake_facebook_profile/index.html

The author was the victim of a fake Facebook page, filled with sleaze & lies about her.

But what's really telling is the number of callous & vicious comments posted in response to her article. The lack of empathy, the glee in tearing her anguished reaction to shreds for their own sneering amusement, is appalling ... and also all too common.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Instead of "buffoons" perhaps we should just revert to Mencken's term: the Booboisie.

More (sadly relevant) Mencken:
Consider... the university professor. What is his function? Simply to pass on to fresh generations of numskulls a body of so-called knowledge that is fragmentary, unimportant, and, in large part, untrue. His whole professional activity is circumscribed by the prejudices, vanities and avarices of his university trustees, i.e., a committee of soap-boilers, nail manufacturers, bank-directors and politicians. The moment he offends these vermin he is undone. He cannot so much as think aloud without running a risk of having them fan his pantaloons.
H. L. Mencken

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Anon and mb --

John Kozy, on his website -- "Expose the Bull," has a wonderful article called "Balderdashing Education Bashing." Check it out at:

http://jkozy.com/Balderdashing_Education_Bashing.htm

In it he says:

"The ultimate truth is that a social institution can be no better than the society that supports it, and unfortunately American society is not and has never been intellectual. Intellect and scholarship have never been esteemed. Too many parents don't or can't read. Too many homes lack educational resources. Books, magazines, and journals, especially good ones, are lacking in too many homes. Television is pervasive and from the point of view of intellect, is almost universally bad. It deserves its nickname, 'boobtube.' Intellect and scholarship are not the 'business of business' and therefore not the 'business of America.' And I might add neither is education."

If a teacher visits the homes of his/her students, and taking a 'ten-cent tour' of the house doesn't see any books, you can bet that the situation is pretty hopeless.

David Rosen

12:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Since we're coming up on MLK's birthday, it might be useful to reflect on a couple of things he said.

1. "The worst possible combination is anger and stupidity"--something like that. He was talking abt the Selma police force and their ilk, but this observation wd now hafta be extended to the rest of the nation. One sees an infinite landscape of buffoons--and hurting, nasty, angry buffoons to boot. Not good.

2. This line I got from a young black man who usta read this blog and correspond w/me, and has since (to his everlasting credit) hit the road for France. He told me that b4 MLK died, he said to Harry Belafonte that he was ambivalent abt what he was doing, "As tho I were herding folks into a burning church." In other words, he was fighting for economic equality for black people, for them to have a better share of the pie...but on some level he felt it was a rancid pie.

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!" (Shakespeare, Midsummer Night's Dream)

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

As long as we have strayed onto a discussion of American anti-intellectualism, here is a little story about how teachers are treated in other countries, and by extension, how learning is viewed as well.

About 4 years ago, I got the opportunity to take a trip to S. Korea for a scientific meeting. It was held in Daegu, which turns out to be about an hour from where my dad was stationed as seabee during the Korean war. I took him along for company and so he could tell me how much things had changed in 60 years (a lot).

Anyway, he and I decided to go to a baseball game while we were there. The game featured the Samsung Lions against some team I can't remember now (notice, only the corporate sponsor is named). Each team had its token washed up American player (pitchers and DH's). Each team had its designated really loud guy leading cheers. The home team had cheerleaders in miniskirts, boots, and white gloves. Dried squid for sale as snacks. But I digress.....

During the game, the guy next to me (who was there with his son and wife) had finally had enough soju to try out his English on me. Needless to say, my dad and I stuck out like sore thumbs. We were easily the only anglos there. So he asks me what I am doing in Daegu? Are you a businessman? No. Are you in the military? No. Puzzlement. I tell him I'm a scientist in Daegu attending a meeting and you should have seen the look on his face. It was all I could do to stop him from buying me 10 rounds of soju (soju, btw, is what amounts to Korean vodka, sold in little hip flasks at the game). He was as happy as could be. He nearly kissed me. I'm just guessing this was a little of the Confucian tradition trickling down on me.

I could live another 47 years and never have that repeated in the US. More likely, I'd be laughed at (which has already happened). Reading books, thinking, and not making too much money? I must be insane or, as they say here in Pittsburgh, some kinda jagoff.

And maybe I am.

7:07 PM  
Blogger diana said...

MLK was right. It's obvious now that the church is burning but sadly black folks will be the last to leave the building. You have no idea how very sad and lonely it is to be black with a degree of consciousness in the age of Obama.
Just this weekend a friend accused me of being anti-Obama. I told him that I couldn't support the head to an empire that murders and oppresses the world's people even if he were black. I then made the mistake of asking when and why did black people give up the struggle of civil rights leaders like MLK and Malcolm X. I was told that I am ignorant of the civil rights struggle. That I am a pseudo radical nihilist or something like that. Can't even remember the full range of insults.

Luckily for me. I have been doing my internal work. Have been reading you work among others and so stuff like this doesn't get me bent out of shape much anymore. I have accepted that most people will never believe that this country is destroyed and nothing can save it now.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

OK, I can't resist two posts in one night! I offer primary evidence collected in the field regarding the decline, or really the very bottom, of what some might charitably call American "Civilization".

I have two e-mail addresses: one for work, one for play. The pretend one is through Comcast (newly merged with NBC to create maybe the largest media conglomerate in the known universe), my internets tubes provider. When you log onto the site, you are presented with a main page with many parts, some of which the average joe might confuse with news. I mean, they are labeled that way, right?

For example,under "Top Headlines" we see the following:
1. Astronaut faces painful choice: will he fly or not?
2. Elementary school principle shot dead by janitor
3. Relatives: woman turns 126
4. Gabor's husband hospitalized

In the same section I can choose from "Cruises from $129", "Sports' most hated", and "Discount Groceries".

As Dave Barry used to say "I am not making this up!". I'm not nearly clever enough to make this stuff up, even if I was thinking hard about it, or was drinking too much.

If I scroll down, I can choose to view "Top Videos" including "Aniston's Bizarre Bra Moment", "Woman Tries to Mail Puppy", "Lauper Explains Ghastly Pic", and "Aston, Demi get Booed".

Further down the page, way past what I can see when I log on I learn that something is wrong in Egypt and that it is Black History Month.

And this is every single day.......

But I am not telling yinz anything you don't already know.

As the man (or really, A man) used to say (although I have not seen this in years), a mind is a terrible thing to waste. And we are wasting millions...........


More to come, I promise.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Diana and Bis-

I don't own a TV anymore, thank god, but I did when I lived in the US, and one of my favorite shows was "Judge Judy." It shd have been called "Parade of Idiots." Watching it was like watching a very bloody road accident. Typical scenario: A tenant is suing his landlord for something or other, and when Judy says, "Let me see a copy of the lease," he says, "I don't have it with me." She then says to him: "What did you think you were going to be doing in court today?" The clown just shrugs.

Anyway, I recall that once Judy just stated, quite flatly, that if you went out into the street of any American city and put your hands on the 1st person you met, it's a 1:3 shot that they are an idiot. I remember thinking: 1:3? More like 99:100.

Anyway, this is just a recommendation to help u guys: When you have a conversation w/an American, keep in mind that the chances are that they don't know shit, and are so stupid as to make your head spin. It's likely this is true. When I lived in the US, this helped me not take conversations too seriously. How can you get angry when the other person is basically brain dead?

What percentage of the American-born population can answer any of the following:
1. Name a verb in French or German.
2. How many justices are on the Supreme Court?
3. Give me an example of a syllogism.
4. What's the capital of Florida?
You get my drift. I'm guessing less than 2%, at the most (Florida residents aside).

A little post-it on yer bathrm mirror might also help: "I Live Amidst Dolts." An alternate (equally true) possibility: "The daily increase of morons is exponential." Or: "No Chicken McNuggets? Call 911!" Be sure to look at it every day.

Thanks for writing in-

mb

10:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Bis-

I really do miss Dan Quayle.

mb

11:00 PM  
Blogger dave warren said...

Palin clips?
Before your cappuccino- perhaps usurping you need for caffeine altogether, get a fine grind a this..

We need the 3 horsewomen of the Apocalypse to keep us safe: Palin on the northwest front scouting out the troop movements across the Russian taiga. Bachman reviving the House on un- American activities interrogations, and O'Donnell making sure that God from above and not the Devil from the underworld preseves all that is good about America.
...thnx for suffering the mis-spellings on the previous post.

2:24 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

A letter from today's Dear Abby column:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 46-year-old woman who has always believed in the adage "A smile is the only language that everyone can understand." Sometimes I will offer a quick, casual smile to people I encounter in a grocery store or other public place.

Last week, a woman frowned at me when I smiled at her. Another woman passed me with a puzzled look on her face. A young man's inflated ego allowed him to respond with a "No thanks!" after I offered him a smile. It's a shame that in today's world some people have become so ill-mannered that they cannot return a smile and accept it for what it is -- a friendly gesture. -- HAVE A NICE DAY IN BARGERSVILLE, IND.


Sound familiar?

Incidentally, I've had people comment negatively when I've been caught smiling -- in public, no less! It seems to elicit anger, confusion, and often suspician.

Bis,

Loved the story of your Korean visit! I'd imagine a typical American response might be, "Do you make much money doing that?" Or maybe just a flat, "Oh, you think you're smarter than me, don't you!"

I've actually gotten variations of that last one after someone noticed a book I was reading -- perhaps a volume of poetry, or a classic novel. That, or else, "Why are you wasting your time with that crap?"

7:50 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

That usta happen to me all the time when I lived in DC. It's a very chilling sensation. After a while, you realize yer living in a terribly sick culture.

I had to stop trying to kid around with cashiers in supermarkets; it typically aroused great nervousness. (This is parodied very well by Tina Fey in "Mean Girls".) I recall 5 yrs ago, when I crossed over into Mexico and stopped at a cafeteria south of the border, kidding around w/the teenagers that were manning the cash register, and they laughed and kidded right back. Then I knew I was no longer in the US. It's really sad that we're so sad that we don't even know it.

mb

9:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Morris:

I took your questionnaire, and I couldn't get no. 3! All I could think was "around 10". Here's the rest:

1. don't know much French, but do know some Deutsch: I picked "sein" -- "to be".

2. (Worrisome that I couldn't recall the exact number)

3. Well, this one's easy 'cause I teach it all the time. Here's a disjunctive syllogism: Suppose a mother says "you can have either ice cream or a milk shake"; kid says: "but I don't want ice cream"; and so mom concludes: "a milk shake it is".

4. I guessed "Tallahassee", but I was not sure, to be honest. Again, worrisome.

It is rather disturbing that I can regularly forget basic facts that are not already close to me for some reason or another (I'm teaching it, studied it recently, etc.). For example, I had to look up measurement equivalents recently, and I was really disturbed. What's going on?

We have to dig deeper: the stupidity indicates alienation. Like in Idiocracy, almost all knowledge not connected to personal entertainment or gain is fully outsourced; and all other knowledge is on a "need to know" basis only. This condition is possible only with increasingly specialized technologies. And, before you know it, we're all alienated from ourselves and the world: there is only (meaningless) information about opaque features of reality, including the devices which make the information available and, indeed, make it increasingly more meaningless. In this world, you can see how stupidity *is* the new 'intelligence' (indeed, educationists seem bent on making students "experts" in "information retrieval" -- i.e., adept at Googling).

Now everyone I know routinely looks up info on the web (Wikipedia). I can't help but recalling Socrates' worry in one of the Platonic dialogues: text alone tends to give the conceit of knowledge, rather than the thing itself. For the latter: well, the Socratic dialectic is a place to start!

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Tim and MB,

Yes, the smile thing. A real smile is always a human act, to be valued. But let me make an opposing case. In this culture, there is some valid reason not to automatically respond postively to random smiles.

First, smiling has become so co-opted by advertising and show business. Not only in things we see in the media, but the entire cult of selling yourself everyday depends on agressive misuse of smiling. Clerks are forced to smile behind counters. High schoolers, cheerleaders, career coaches, sororities, all insist we smile, or there is something wrong with us. No wonder we get sick of it.

And a further puzzle - if we are so hostile to smiling at home these days, why is one stock image of Americans abroad that of the inexpliably, aggressively grinning, patronizing, exchange student, missionary, ESL teacher, blonde interloper on Tahrir Square, etc. in a sea of closed, less-smiling faces.

And back home, the deployment of intrusive smiling and greeting by privileged groups on the street to compulsively interpose their presence on others (older white ladies of a certain polyester age are prime offenders) is only slightly less annoying than prommiscous cell phone use.

Anybody out there who finds the anonymity of daily encounters in your average smiling European or Asian city refreshing? That being said, an honest smile is a good thing. We have just lost the capacity to save smiling for real moments of contact, and in our insecure frightened inability to live outside our own egos we over-deploy smiling as a social weapon. no wonder so many of us are sick of it.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

I doubt this will surprise many here.

Commentary: The dumbing down of America

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/02/04/107949/commentary-the-dumbing-down-of.html#storylink=omni_popular

Regards,
Chuck

2:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Who started the smiley face button, anyway?

2:44 PM  
Blogger Nebris said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Fahlman

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Mike and MB,

Do you know about the recent book by philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly, "All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age"? I haven't read it, but a review in SF Weekly has me intrigued: "Dreyfus and Kelly advise us to concern ourselves less with how to generate meaning than with how to discern and cultivate it." The book is also endorsed by Albert (device paradigm) Borgmann.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"America is the kind of culture that wakes you in the middle of the night, the kind of nightmare that may yet lead us closer to the truth." I'm reading a book on Alexander Hamilton and he was born and raised in the West Indies in the mid 1700's; small islands where everyone saw slavery on a daily basis and no one could delude themselves it was anything but a nightmare and a crime but they participated anyhow. There was money to be made. We (human beings) have proven beyond a doubt we're willing to inflict nightmare conditions on others so we can live lives of comfort and ease. America, following the well worn path of exploitation set by the Europeans (after all, they were the ones filling up the ships with Africans and selling them to the colonists), has taken this human fault to its pinnacle. The avoidance of reality is the nightmare we have to wake up from. This is the empire of illusion and we've been enthusiastically joined by other cultures b/c they too, as human beings, don't want face reality. No wonder your cab driver was watching cartoons, crowds line up at Disneyland and big screen TVs are a must-have in every home from a double wide to a sprawling mansion. Sure beats facing the reality that we'll do just about anything for money---money to buy a comfortable life. There's a price to pay for our comfort and this is a truth no one wants to face. We are all, to a greater or lesser degree, watching cartoons as we drive around in circles and I include myself. Maybe staring sheer excess in the face will jolt us out of this nightmare, collectively or individually.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Art,

Yes, I did come across this in a characteristically annoying NYT review; just read the SF Weekly one (I liked it).

To be honest, I am struggling with this meaning thing in a different way in my own philosophical work. There is something so grotesquely un-meaningful about this urge for meaning; in the end, it defeats itself, I believe. At a crucial point in the Summa, at the very high point of Thomas' rational querying, he stops and, suddenly, inserts an almost-forgotten realization of post-Antiquity darkness: the silence of pseudo-Dionysius (the Areopagite).

Yet, at the same time, to call Silence into Being is grotesque because unjust: Silence, the silent God who abandons Christ (God incarnate), who refuses a Name, cannot be made known, and saying so destroys the Mystery (but have I really destroyed it?). It is in this way that Dietrich Bonhoeffer preaches that Deus Absonditus is our God, the absence our most profound sermon.

It is the same with 'meaning': dare to give it a name, and you blaspheme against It. When you live in the question of 'meaning', you come to see that there are only two options: a haunting Silence, or else, come back around to your own very life right before you, away from that Silence. This is what the great teacher of the Kyoto School Tanabe called "coming back from the Pure Land" -- that is, returning home from an Odyssey that created the longing for return in the first place.

'Meaning' is not what we 'need' -- we don't need nothin'! I cannot help but think that philosophers often get caught in the dialectics of salvation still when then speak about 'meaning'. My "method" for my students, which I often fail at, is to, rather, be meaning, or be nothing to them. I don't say it, and avoid the topic like a plague. But I fear I've already said too much.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Susan, Mike-

Actually, I think a lot of things might clear up once Lindsay Lohan goes to jail.

mb

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Howdy'all:

Many posts ago I asked Maury (Berman) if there was public discourse on corporate ethics in Europe. Maury said he didn't know but cited some European newspapers and the book, *Europe's Promise*, as means of determing an answer. But I still haven't gotten the book or checked out the papers due to family matters

However, I've formulated an a priori answer that will save me the trouble of working!

Corporations wear emperor's clothes. I doubt if any public discourse in high civilization will ever take up the subject of corporate ethics because corporations are the economic engines of those civilizations. It would be self-sabatoge to question corporate ethics in an attempt to make corporations ethical. Corporations need to be unethical so that they can steal resources from the powerless to give to the powerful, their stockholders, American, European, and East Asian. If high civilizations were to attempt to stop corporate looting, they'd be committing suicide, and they know that.

Still, when I rouse myself from my lethargy, I'll try to find an a posteriori answer [and no, that doesn't mean I'll look for the answer in my posterior, not that anyone on this blog would think that, as would my cranial-rectally impacted fellow Americans who cannot but help answer questions from the recesses of their butts.]

1:39 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Lindsay's going to jail again?! Is there no justice left in the world? I had to laugh when I read your response.

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Kel

I work for a small company that's sole purpose is to become a big company...we are global because we apparently have to be. The thing is the constant chaos mode we have to run in - in order to keep up with the corp Joneses creates an atmosphere of disgust at the crap we have to turn out. They're too cheap to invest in doing right by people. (craftsmanship)(and this is probably one of the better places I've worked) We'd rather correct mistakes along the way ('polish turds' as someone put it) than live up to our quality proclamations... Our CEO once remarked to my boss about collateralizing equip. and taking on what seemed unnecessary debt in order to keep the doors open (really to keep the top eschellon in the style they are accustomed) and this person's excuse was that as a corp. you can't save your way to success. Fortunately for my boss he has his own small business where he does right by people and finally left to focus on living more modestly and ethically. He's happier. Id do the same but the hierarchical pay scale has me saving my way to retirement. (which may never happen)... Anyway, I don't buy into the grass being greener in Europe with global corporate reach the way it is. These entities have only one allegiance...profit! Capitalism has become a cancer. I liken it to a cartoon I once saw by B. Kliban (cat calendar fame) where somone on an assembly line was stamping smiley faces on bombs as they rolled by... that about sums it up for me as far as corps. go. I suppose ya gotta do what ya gotta do sometimes but it doesn't havta feel good. Corps. are not people but they -are- the new emperors and they don't care whether they're naked.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Kelvin,

You might search for "business ethics" instead and see what you find (I found something called "European Business Ethics Network") -- this what philosophers in the biz call this stuff.

Btw, you should check out a really fantastic book on the subject by the late Robert Solomon (for those of you who know the film "Waking Life", he's the guy lecturing on Existentialism): *Ethics and Excellence*. It's a refreshing explication of Aristotle on the subject ("arete" = excellence or virtue in *Nicomachean Ethics*). His other stuff's pretty good (very clear).

Oh, and just re-read Intro to Kant's 1st critique re a priori, etc.: the little guy's got a point, but when you ask where he gets off on his ideas ... well, welcome to Hegel ("The Rational is Real and the Real is Rational", etc.). Kant didn't want to go there...

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Here's an article on the 'gipper' turning 100 I thought might interest some. As has been said preiviously - Ya can't make this stuff up.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/why-the-cult-of-reagan-still-rules-in-washington-2205042.html#

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Susan,

Your most recent & eloquent post put me in mind of an essay by Wallace Shawn:

http://www.truth-out.org/wallace-shawn-why-i-call-myself-a-socialist-is-
world-really-a-stage67417

Mike,

I think that we need some sort of meaning, something deep & solid -- but you're right, too much self-conscious "searching for meaning" can easily become a way of avoiding it. Just look at all the self-help books out there, and Oprah-esque "empowerment" & the like -- all a way of glorifying the ego, rather than looking beyond it. In other words, what mainstream culture offers is worlds away from, say, Viktor Frankl's work or Buddhist teaching (to name just two possible approaches).

Going from memory, May Sarton wrote in one of her journals that those hoping & striving to become saints rarely do, because that's their primary focus in life. Those who might actually qualify as saints don't think of themselves as such, because they're too busy doing & acting for others to waste time on the squalling, demanding tantrums of the ego.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Susan-

I dunno if she's been in jail b4; mostly rehab, I think, beating up people at the Betty Ford Center etc. Her lawyer has come up w/some kaka re: the stolen necklace to keep her outta jail, but it may not fly. Plus there's the Betty Ford incident, and breaking probation or whatever it was. A list, in any case, that may see her do hard time. Cd be maximum security, too; the gal is dangerous!

Anyway, when I open the newspaper (or screen), this is the kinda stuff I like to read, along w/310 million other Americans. Altho the other day Sarah did comment that we were on the "road to ruin," which warmed my heart. Bright gal! Soon she'll answer my emails, I know it, and we'll be honeymooning on the ice floes, amidst the meese and the soon-to-be-extinct polar bears.

mb

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Paul,

Thank you for describing your work experience at a corporation. Many years ago I worked for Dupont and what you describe is familiar. I left after a year and took a job as a lowly library assistant but I was happier.

Hi Mike,

Dr. Solomon taught at UT up the road in Austin. I'm familiar with his work. I read a useful early book of his on phenomenology. I'm sorry to hear that he's died because he moved me by his attempts to make academic philosophy address the problems of living.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Lorien said...

I just started reading AQOV (had to do WG first, wow), and was tempted not to read this post, but went ahead anyway. I don't have anything intelligent (or funny...too bad!) to add to the many good comments out there at this point, so I won't try it. Just want you to know I'm reading you loud n clear, even here in Amurka on StuporBowl Sunday.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Lorien-

Thanx 4 yer support. Let's be loud and clear on this: in America, every day is Stupor Day, bowl or not. Just imagine that nearly everyone u meet is either drugged or brain damaged, and u can't go wrong.

mb

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

I had a friend who went in to Army intelligence right out of high school in the 80s. Somewhere in the latter half of that decade he said "we beat other nations most effectively by exporting our cultural battery acid."

As I found out later, this was not meant to be taken as a half-hearted apology - he was proud of this.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Nebris said...

Read this and thought of you MB: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/01/17/110117fa_fact_brooks?currentPage=all

2:17 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

The average America scam artist justifies their role/job thusly:

If I don't do it
Someone else will
And make all the money
Life is too short
And altruistic saps
Live under bridges

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...thank you for articulating what I've been thinking lately, as the dissonance between my personal reality & "American democracy" gets almost as loud as the advertisements made-in-China products that I'm supposed to buy to stay happy.

3:46 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

The official stats are that 25% of the American population is mentally ill. Since those are only the ones who make it onto the radar screen, I suspect the figure is closer to 75%, esp. if you throw in anxiety and depression.

mb

6:07 AM  
Blogger Nebris said...

Bait n' Switch tripe from the BBC: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9398000/9398261.stm

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Damien Moody said...

I can't believe I stumbled upon your blog. It's like reading my own rants! It's very nice to know that I'm not the only one calling the willfully stupid on their stupidity.

I can't seem to get through to people, even people I think are otherwise reasonably intelligent, on a lot of things, and you've illustrated perfectly well why. I can't make people understand that everyone should encrypt their email because everyone is stuck at a 3-year old level. I can't make people understand their collective power for change, or that they are in fact contributing to global climate chaos, or anything else an actual grown-up understands.

Thank you for your writings. I have been reading your blog assiduously for the past three days, and will continue to do so.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Damien-

O, *there* u are! Do me a favor, and in future post to the most recent blog. Otherwise, you'll generally get lost.

Thanx,
mb

4:30 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

I know you'd rather me post on your most recent blog post - but this comment is particularly suited to this post.

I will be studying this fall at the University of Montana (hopefully somewhat with Albert Borgmann), and as I was doing research about him I came across this film, Being in the World, which is a documentary on the philosophy of technology and craft tradition.

Borgmann is one of the contributing philosophers, and the filmmaker's inclusion of craft tradition (including japanese carpentry) as a way of combating technology seems right up your alley. So, I thought you might like to check out the trailer (film has not been released yet):

http://www.beingintheworldmovie.com/fi-film.html

enjoy!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

Dear Mr. Berman --

I attempted just now to send a "comment" to you --one which I hope you would find helpful -- but I seem to have run afoul of some sort of limit to the number of "characters" such an e-mail may contain.

You mention having two e-mail addresses; might I please have one without such "character" limitation? I am a product of the U.W. from when Williams was still there, and learned much not only through his books but also from my association and friendship with perhaps his best grad student, Patrick J. Hearden, and my friendship with his colleague there, Thomas McCormick.

-- William C. Lloyd

6:54 PM  

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