February 19, 2011

(More) Cranial Rectitis

So, here I am, reading the NYTBR for Feb. 6, a review of the book Hot, by Mark Hertsgaard. This author apparently deflates the notion that saving ourselves from global warming is a matter of some combination of cash and technology. No, the real issue, he says, is "social context." Politics and culture, he argues, may trump wealth and tech. Example: Louisiana. Efforts to prepare for future hurricanes have been crippled by the state's "continuing reluctance--even after Katrina--to acknowledge the reality of global warming for fear that might harm oil and gas production, and an abhorrence of taxes and public planning as somehow socialistic."

There really is no end to Cranial Rectitis in America; it seems to be infinite. Wen Stephenson, who wrote the review, says that Hertsgaard's book "makes me wonder if there isn't more hope for the Sahel than for the vulnerable South and Southwest of the United States. After all, why prepare for something--much less try to halt it--if you refuse to believe it's happening?"

But Hertsgaard's "solution" is the usual type of voluntarist nonsolution: what we need, apparently, is "an honest, urgent, grown-up national conversation--beginning in Washington." Um...duh?! When was the last time we had a "grown-up national conversation" in Washington? Every time I check the newspapers, it seems more like the antics of children than anything else. Mr. Obama, deluded in the extreme, thinks technology will save us, so he wastes his time talking to Steve Jobs and (that great human being) Mark Zuckerberg. Gosh, I can't wait to learn what exciting new plan they have in store for us. Meanwhile Hillary, as we've seen, flies off to Mexico to trumpet a nonsolution for the drug wars that everyone in Mexico knows won't work (because it hasn't now for years), then returns to DC to give an absurd "in this country we protect freedom of dissent" speech as her security team hauls off and beats up a silent protester in the audience (a guy who worked for the CIA for 27 yrs, but what the heck). (An event that went unreported in the major newspapers, BTW.) And the GOP is trying to get the economy to fail so they can blame national misery on Obama come November of next year. Why act like adults and try to help Americans when you can just act out like cranky children? Oh I tell you, I can't wait for the upcoming grown-up national conversation that will be held in DC on global warming and eco-disaster! I just have to get a ticket for that (non)event, so I can sit in the front row and take notes, absorb all the wisdom and hard-hitting plans for change that will swing into action as soon as the grown-up conversation is over.

Not to be too cynical (ha!), but I think that a massive study conducted by the NIH on the average amount of chicken fat located in the heads of these "grown-ups" in DC would be a much more worthwhile enterprise.

But let's move on. So much excitement recently over how Facebook recently precipitated the "revolution" (what revolution?) in Egypt. A thesis easily rebutted, as Malcolm Gladwell has done, but never mind. A few pages after the Hertsgaard review we find a review of The Net Delusion, by Evgeny Morozov. "What if the liberating potential of the Internet also contains the seeds of depoliticization and thus dedemocratization?," he asks. Morozov shows that more often than not, the Internet constricts or abolishes freedom. He points out how confused Hillary Clinton is, who, in a speech in 2005, called the Internet "an instrument of enormous danger"; but then last year, glorified it as a way "to advance democracy and human rights." (What a whack job this woman is. You, the reader, could do a better job as secretary of state than this clown in pants suits.) This belief, that the Net can be a force only for positive political change in repressive societies, Morozov calls "digital Orientalism."

Street protests in the wake of the last Iranian election is a good example of this, he points out. Oh the excitement, that "the revolution will be Twittered," as political blogger Andrew Sullivan proclaimed. Lee Siegel, author of the review of Morozov's book, cites this as a classic example of "Two decades of inane patter about the magical powers of a technology of mere convenience" ("inane," BTW, is a code word for Cranial Rectitis). He goes on:

"The Iranian protests against what the protesters believed was a corrupt election were brutally crushed because, as Morozov unsentimentally says, 'many Iranians found the elections to be fair.' The elements of a successful revolution--the complicity of the military, of a powerful political class, of an almost universally discontented population--simply weren't there. But the Internet boosters [people who typically know shit about history, in short], from journalists to officials in the State Department, succumbed, Morozov says, to 'the pressure to forget the context and start with what the Internet allows.' These people think only in terms of the Internet and are 'deaf to the social, cultural, and political subtleties and indeterminacies' of a given situation.

"What was broadcast on Twitter and elsewhere was repression of the revolution. The Iranian regime used the Web to identify photographs of protesters; to find out their personal information and whereabouts (through Facebook, naturally [nota bene]); to distribute propagandistic videos; and to text the population into counterrevolutionary paranoia." In 2007, a State Department official named Jared Cohen waxed eloquently as to how the Net was a place where Iranian youth could "say anything they want as they operate free from the grips of the police-state apparatus." Siegel comments: "Thanks to the exciting new technology, many of those freely texting Iranian youths are in prison or dead." As for Cohen, he is now working for Google as director of "Google Ideas." (How glorious.)

Morozov also documents how Mexican drug lords use social networking sites to gather info about their victims, and how Russian neofascist groups use the Net to fix the positions of minorities so as to organize pogroms. Meanwhile, both Twitter and Facebook have refused to join the Global Network Initiative, which is a pledge (writes Morozov) "to behave in accordance with the laws and standards covering the right to freedom of expression and privacy embedded in internationally recognized documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Siegel concludes: "The Internet is creating an egalitarian antidemocracy in which the strongest inhumanity tramples on the most eloquent rationality and decency."

It's so great, then, that the president regards a "faster Internet" as a key to solving our social and economic problems. What insight, what maturity. Clearly, the "grown-up national conversation" has already begun.

(c) Morris Berman, 2011

80 Comments:

Anonymous farbror Frej said...

About "Cranial Rectitis" - do a Youtube-search on "Eminem Chrysler Super Bowl AD Among The Best?" Its the 2.05 minute long Super Bowl AD about Detroit "the town thats been to hell and back", promoting the latest variations of Chrysler cars.

After that, do a google-search on "KunstlerCast #143: Imported From Detroit? The American Inferiority Complex". Its James Howard Kunstler, an American author and social critic talking about what above AD really has to say about his fellow citizens.

For those who wants further sobering up (and also some city-history added), check out this new 2010 documentary "Requiem for Detroit - a documentary about the decay and industrial collapse of America's fourth largest city". imdb.com/title/tt1572190/

Finally, go to msnbc.msn.com/id/11843382/ and check out this 2006 news-video on what kind of a "cannot be replicated" Italian renaissance-style mansion one could get for just under 1 miljon dollar - unfortunately situated just 3 miles from Detroit City center.

Today, almost 5 years later, one has to wonder if that nice old mansion has been sold yet - for that price.

5:40 AM  
Blogger jerome langguth said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Thanks for another sobering and wise post. Will your next book include the reflections on technology that I believe you alluded to some months ago on the blog? I have been reading Ellul, Borgmann, and Heidegger on technology recently, and it seems to me that the reflexively superficial way in which we tend to think about technology and technological progress (not to mention global warming,etc.) is what will ultimately seal our fate. James Lovelock has recently said that homo sapiens is probably not quite bright enough to save itself from global catastrophe. I see very little evidence to the contrary. I am very much looking forward to reading your further thoughts on this and other matters.

Jay

8:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hi Jay-

Thanks for writing in again. A huge number of people have written abt technology, of course; what I try to do in this book that's different (I wish it were appearing in March, instead of August, but that's the book biz) is connect techno-worship to other parts of American values and behavior, historically speaking--for example, the importance of the frontier. Lovelock is right, of course (I knew him briefly in the 80s, BTW; a charming guy w/a wonderful dry British wit); but the stupidity he speaks of (and if u haven't seen the documentary, "The Age of Stupid," now might be a gd time) is esp. American and Chinese; Europeans (I'm not including the UK in this category) have strong Green parties and environmental sensibilities. The problem with living in a corporate-consumer-wraparound-technocapitalist society, in some ways for 400 years, is that it renders even smart Americans stupid. As I've said over and over again on this blog, in the US high IQ and real intelligence have no particular relationship to one another. (Folks like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are extremely gd examples of this.)The turn to technology as some kind of answer, over and over again, when it palpably makes things worse, is clear evidence of this. I wd personally prefer to see Mr. Obama as cynical and calculating, understanding that a faster Internet won't amount to shit, in terms of America's predicament, but that this is what Americans want to hear, than to see him as techno-brainwashed. But I do see the poor shmuck as looking for a technofix to problems that are social and political, in classic American style. I guess my real sadness in all this is that as the country goes down the drain, we can't seem to figure out why; which is really the subject of my next book (the causes); which I'm quite sure will be vilified and ignored. (The paradox is that if this were a different country, I wdn't need to write it; but because it is the country that it is, I have to write it, but it cannot possibly make the slightest difference.) As Gore Vidal once said, "Americans never learn; it's part of our charm."

In America, Cranial Rectitis is literally endless.

mb

8:46 AM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

MB,

Your comment about your forthcoming book,

"The paradox is that if this were a different country, I wouldn't need to write it; but because it is the country that it is, I have to write it, but it cannot possibly make the slightest difference"

is something that could grace your blog as one of those ironic quotes in italics at the beginning of a chapter in one of your books, or that of many sagacious critics.

It is sad, it is depressing, it is scary, and it borders on despairing, not an inappropriate response in the absence of a viable alternative.

It is also funny, in the tragi-comic posture of the European existentialist, the zen recluse, or the hopeless but philosophical Russian peasant.

The later image is one we could all try on for size should we find ourselves unable to do anything other than stay put and face what is coming to our hometowns.

(The best vodka to stock up on is not necessarily the most expensive.)

2:58 PM  
Blogger W. Kasper said...

What you're saying needs to be heard more. Ironically, the internet is the main place where we get to hear it!

It's also ironic that some of the smartest people I know (that is, instinctively able to view a bigger picture outside mainstream discursive agendas) are distinctly alienated, switched off, from our current tech-mania. The downside is that they're less employable and therefore mariginal to society.

I write from the UK, where our very enclosed media is tightly wound up with our 'alternative' media. Trends and delusions tend to disseminate much faster than they do in the US or mainland Europe - which can be particularly dangerous at a time like this.

8:26 PM  
Blogger jerome langguth said...

Dr. Berman,

Thanks very much for the reply. I will certainly pick up a copy of your book as soon as it is available.

Jay

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

A week ago on the Newshour on PBS was a feature story about a supercomputer, Watson, that had been painstakingly programmed to win at Jeopardy. When a prominent computer scientist was asked what the value of this would be, he lamely replied--well, it could solve all kinds of problems like global poverty. That's right! In between answering questions on the capitals of obscure countries Watson would feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless. He was vague on the details but this ludicrous proposition seemed to satisfy the interviewer. The technology-will-save-us crowd is every bit as evangelical and deluded as any holy roller waiting for Jesus to turn up and solve all our problems.

BTW, my daughter met Jared Cohen and the professor she worked for said he didn't have the slightest idea what he was talking about. I think he's a kind of David Brooke success story too; he wrote a paper that said what someone important liked (even though it was inaccurate) and landed a plumb job that he's unqualified for. So now he's widely quoted as an "expert."

7:04 AM  
Blogger tide said...

Thanks Dr. Berman. Another great post.

This reminds me of when those corporate jackasses wanted to drop solar powered netbooks on poor African kids who didn't even have clean drinking water. When Cholera's got you down there's nothing better than streaming Oprah in for a litle self affirmation!

7:07 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Also regarding the dominance of the techno-buffoons: be sure to see Adam Gopnik's essay, "The Information," in the New Yorker for 14/21 Feb. He makes the pt that techno-buffoons typically have no understanding at all of history, and that the history they use "seems to have been taken from the back of a cereal box." Also how family life is now broken up by the eternal consultation of these devices, etc. Anyway, worth a read.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

For me, a heretical thought, possibly envincing gross misunderstanding of Maury Berman's project. If so, please kindly correct me:

Culture is a transitional object. We swathe ourselves in it to protect ourselves from an encounter with hunter-gatherer horizontalizing and the spacious silence of empty natural places. The silence is natural because non-human and therefore not noise. The sounds of birds, frogs, insects, soothe the heart and calm the spirit. (This take is also part of Culture).

And by culture I do mean Donatello, Michaelangelo, Ruskin, Jazz, Mozart, Shakespeare, politics, history, philosophy, magic, occult, Li Po, Du Fu, Chinese landscape painting,etc.

Or perhaps culture, especially Chinese poetry, Taoism, Zen is nostalgia for the spacious silence and the silent spaciousness, the numinous realm of the hunter-gatherer. (Or perhaps I'm channeling Rousseau?)

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

It seems that the history of Western political thought is the history of one false messiah after another. Now it's techno-dreck (techno-crap).

And I don't think it's just techno-buffoons. My impression of academic scientists is that most of them get their knowledge history etc. from the back of cereal boxes too. Back in the 70's I remember a professor of microbiology, in a course on veterinary serology (antigen-antibody reactions), stating, "Research in antigen-antibody reactions goes far back in history. As early as 1890, Landsteiner etc..." Nobody seemed to think there was anything strange about what he said, but as a teenage army brat, I lived in Bad Kreuznach, in the Rheineland, which had been a frontier post of the Roman Empire. "Far back in history," indeed.

This guy was probably one of the world's leading authorities in this field, but it seems that he never even looked at the back of a cereal box. I don't mean to disparage the poor guy, he was a pleasant enough fellow. It's just that you talked to him about veterinary serology, or the latest TV sitcom.

And don't think that this was just because it happened in Iowa -- my impression is that, outside of their specialized fields, few academics are educated people. Dr. Berman is not at all typical.

David Rosen

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Lorien said...

About Technology as Savior and climate change, the Economist regularly issues glowing articles about geo-engineering. What is funny about these is that the author usually touts whatever insane geo-fix (seeding the oceans with iron to create massive algae blooms, nevermind the resultant die off of species, piping sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere (essentially to create more smog), as a *temporary* fix until we can develop the political will to actually stop emitting carbon. I guess the Economist is nothing if not practical, because, as you write, cranial rectitis ensures that we'll NEVER get the "political will" to do much of anything to save the climate, or the ocean from acidification (which may have even worse ramifications).
The tech as savior idea has boggled my mind in the geoengineering context for a long time, but I've only recently begun to see the anti-democratic potential of the internet, and very very recently to even question it as a "good", in part because, as someone here just commented, I can use it to read articles like yours, as soon as you post them, and in part because I hang out with computer geeks. Last fall, I had a sort of meltdown where I just felt I couldn't deal with the whole ungroundedness of social networking sites. Coincidentally, I've begun to wean myself from the net a bit (although it may not be obvious because here I am on a glorious snowy day-off commenting on your article), spending more time either reading real books, playing the piano or hanging out with nonhumans (I help out a wildlife rehabber sometimes).

In any event, I have no point. As usual, you articulate things that need to be articulated, and, as usual, you've given me more reading to do. Thanks for this post.

12:22 PM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Thanks, MB. Gopnik's "The Information" is not only salient in discussing the 3 main ways to view the techno-revolution, but is excellently written.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2011/02/14/110214crat_atlarge_gopnik?currentPage=1

Score 1 vote for the Cassandras if you find it interesting and delightful, but pause to question going on when you get to "Next," and see how many pages there are.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Thought for President's day:

In some ways President Jimmy Carter was a more benign and tragic figure than President Abraham Lincoln.

BTW, American Experience's (on PBS) topic tonight is President Jimmy Carter. Will they do a hatchet job?

1:07 PM  
Blogger Bruce said...

This reminds me of something that my lifelong hero Albert Einstein once said about so many of our predicaments -
"You cannot solve a problem by employing the same level of thinking which created the problem in the first place."
The technofix crowd (including the foolish Obama) are part of that mindset and they never seem to notice how self-defeating the cycle is. One example - there are scientists who feel that the way to help counter global warming is to dump huge quantities of iron filings into the oceans so that they will be able to "fix" large quantities of CO2. The trouble is that the net effect would be very uneven and the filings would poison the phytoplankton which are a major part of the food chain in the ocean. This is classic technofix idiocy. Rather then finds way to slowly wean ourselves from fossil fuels and become more pollution neutral in order to try and return the climate to a more natural state we embrace this plan and others like it. That is a good example of the kind of thinking that Einstein warned us about. I see no evidence that our so-called "leadership" is capable of anything better. Indeed, I am inclined to agree with Mark Twain that the Congress is America's only native criminal class.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kel-

This is going back several decades, but I learned to read German in grad school using something similar to yer French bk; but I can't recall the name or author! It may have been "German for Reading Knowledge," and the author's name began with L; but u cd call the German dept. of any major university, and I bet u they'll know what I'm talking abt.
As for culture as a T.O.: true on one level, but kind of meaningless on another. It's like trying to analyze human behavior with a shovel, when a scalpel might be more appropriate. Winnicott, Nishitani, and Heidegger all argued something like this, but there is a problem of failing to distinguish between Mozart and drug addiction. Check out Peter Gordon's bk, "Continental Divide," abt the 1929 debate between Heidegger and Cassirer at Davos. It is generally agreed that MH won that debate, but Cassirer's pt, that you still hafta live in the real world, can't be avoided.

Bruce and Lorien-

My fave example of a tech fix occurred a few decades ago in the Pacific NW, where some sort of chemical poison was getting into the river and thus into the flesh of the salmon. The answer the TB's (techno-buffoons) came up with was not to stop the industrial pollution of the river (heaven forfend), but to treat the fish with another chemical that would neutralize the first chemical. I have no idea how this turned out, but I know techno-buffoonery (aka techno-dreck) when I see it.

We might also call this the EDF: Escalating Dunce Factor.

mb

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

I suspect that you are really three-persons-posing-as-one in a sort of parody of the Holy Trinity. Yes, I've got it! You're really Salman Rushdie, Christopher Hitchens, and Martin Amis (all friends). That's my thesis. The evidence to support it is this: only three intellectuals could effect consumption of the trillions of linear miles of source reading that go into the composition of "your" books. Furthermore, "your" dismissal of CH is a clever ruse by which CH can take cover under the umbrella of "Morris Berman" so that he can escape the embarassment of publicly admitting to his aberration of reason w. resp. to Iraq. And the clincher is that your two other identities are revealed by the logical fallacy of guilt by association (in this case friendship) which sometimes leads to the truth.

I trust that I've ferreted "you" out.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear MB,
Always good to start out the week with one of your fine posts.
I would like to respond to Tide's entry:
"This reminds me of when those corporate jackasses wanted to drop solar powered netbooks on poor African kids who didn't even have clean drinking water..."

What is probably just as true is that those kids would run trampling one another for those devices, just because they would be something "different and new." Ah, human, all too human! When I lived in Burkina Faso, West Africa, some twenty years ago, Nigeria was (and still is probably), cranking out 17 in. black and white televisions that at that time ran about 35 USD to purchase. African adults from several extended families in my neighborhood chipped in to buy one, and all the clans would gather for one or two evening per week in the largest courtyard of the largest house, and watch episodes of "Dallas." I used to give explanations endlessly about how this was not "the way it was" in America, which did at least help me improve my fluency in French.
It was Wendell Berry, I think, in his "The Unsettling of America" who mentioned that the native American community began to decline culturally the minute that it traded for a shiny knife from the forges of Europe (or took as a gift). Human beings have an innate attraction to the new and unusual.

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Maury,

I briefly consulted Professor Google and found *Jannach's German for Reading Knowledge* by Richard Alan Korb consisting of 30 chapters. From the Amazon sample, one of the readings is "Was ist Aufklarung?" whose author isn't listed but could be Kant.

If this is the book, then it's interesting to note that the only authorial "L" appears in Korb's middle name, but Jannach...Korb, i.e. J, K, then, L, of course. The quirks of memory.

I'm grateful to you even if it isn't what you had in mind. It looks just like what I've been searching for.

I'm eager to read the Heidegger/Cassirer debate. Hard to keep up with you.

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I'm about half way thru "Radical Evolution" by Joel Garreau. Apparently tech is going to save the planet by "enhancing" us. huh? (or at least the 1% who can afford it) The fact that the enhancements are funded by DOD primarily to create better killers for the military doesn't seem to bother the author. Morris, do you know this guy? Considering the round file for this one.

NYT book review says it is "captivating....dazzling." No, more like fkng scary. How do we change the fundamental laws of thermodynamics and biology? Who would want to live 200 years in this meat market, even with new knees, heart, etc.? hmmm...sex like 25, at 135? This will sell.

I do get a certain thrill from the vision of a super smart robot running around killing people. We're almost there with our drones.Hey, that's one solution!We have a cadre of Fed.lawyers to make sure everything is legal.

Be well, all.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Pedro said...

What frightens me is that the TB do have a point: technology and 'progress' will continue to escalate geometrically (Kurzweil's Law of Accelerating Returns), and will allow seemingly impossible 'solutions' to today's problems. The effects of those rapid and enormous changes on the society and the human psyche (a la The Saturated Self) is what the TB cannot fathom.
If you want to know more about the TB's wet dream, read about the Singularity.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Gary A-- said...

Hello everybody. Speaking of the magic powers of technology, at a friend’s house I saw a TV ad for some daytime blabshow in which the host of this show, staring straight out of the screen at the viewer, ended her little watch-my-show spiel with--I kid you not-- “Where have you been? I missed you.” As though the viewer couldn’t distinguish between an actual person and … man, if my blood were milk, I would be yogurt. It seems to me that some important line has been crossed with that one--or not so much as crossed as vanquished. The television was telling me that it missed me! When it comes to those kind of lines being crossed in (and the huge and little examined ramifications of) this weird new technoworld, I found The Peep Diaries by Hal Niedzviecki highly interesting, not to mention unnerving. Also, keep meaning to mention a great quote by Don Marquis. “If you make them think they’re thinking, they’ll love you. But if you make them really think, they’ll hate you.”

8:41 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

MB. Thank you very much. Again. That was an interesting note on the ex-CIA person.

Sue. I saw that Jeopardy with Watson and when I heard that comment about solving poverty my eyes nearly rolled rt out of my head. Some time ago I heard a scientist say that about nuclear fusion too.

And just hot off the CNN front page, facebook has a totally super new app: know the moment when your friends have relationship changes, e.g. dumps their significant other or bff, via email notice.

We are fucked. The end is going to really hurt.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Re: Watson.

I hypothesize it's pupose is to make bets for profits for the few that desire it. And if it benefits those that foot the bill as well - the bottom 90% - that's just coincidental. World hunger? Love and kindness can whip that problem in a heartbeat rendering Watson immediately useless.

Indeed, knowing a few people who see love and kindess as the way they want to live here and now keeps me from going into despair amidst the madness.

10:33 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Many thanks for the Gopnik article!

The whole delusion of a technological fix for everything just seems to get stronger, doesn't it? I recall a letter to the editor of a local newspaper a few years ago, claiming that pollution was no problem, because "scientists can just create more clean air & water, right?" What Roszak called Scientism, worshipping Technology as God.

But going even deeper, what's struck me is the way the digital web of (alleged) communication flattens & homogenizes everything. For example, I know people who claim to have watched Bergman films -- but on their cell phones, interrupted by calls, checking Twitter streams, looking up odd facts & celebrity gossip, etc. -- and then they complain, "What's the big deal about Bergman? He's boring!"

Well, if everything is reduced to the lowest common denominator, what else do you expect?

Susan,

Interesting to hear that behind-the-scenes info about Watson. I watched part of "Jeopardy" last week, and it seemed like a gimmick right from the start. Sure, computers can find programmed data -- that's what we build them for! -- but we're talking about idiot savants, not genuine intelligence. Though many people seem to think the two are the same thing.

You might want to read Mark Slouka's book The War of the Worlds, written in the late 1990s, which explores the psyche of those who want to replace the real world with the virtual -- practically a Gnostic dread of physicality & flesh, as opposed to the supposed purity & transcendence of the digital world. Scary as hell & even more relevant today.

As someone once said, the danger isn't that computers will learn to think like us, but that we'll learn to think like them.

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Here are the lines from Gopnik's article that really summed it up for me:

A social network is crucially different from a social circle, since the function of a social circle is to curb our appetites and of a network to extend them. Everything once inside is outside, a click away; much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solitude.

That's what really troubles me: the absolute erosion of boundaries & privacy, and the glorification of appetites above all else. It's a sort of narcissism, even solipsism, that demands constant attention & validation from the rest of the world. It's "me, me, me," but "me" doesn't exist unless acknowledged by others. It's the individual as the center of all things, but there's no autonomous person there; the center is empty & hollow.

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Dovidel, a few years ago I took a course in multiculturalism and the professor was brilliant. He was well versed in the works of Henry Girot, Cornell West, and added a number of brilliant insights. Later, at a kind of end-of-class party we started talking and he was convinced that Man lived with the dinosaurs because he saw photos of human footprints alongside dinosaur footprints. Oh well, some of the most notorious Natzis had PhDs, right?
Yes, Dr. Berman, the techno thing is getting to me bigtime. I was at a poolside recently where an entire family was engaged in some kind of tech crap, not saying a word to each other. One wonders how they were even able to decide to go to the pool unless that was also done by twittering. And what the hell is twittering?
Finally, I work as an elementary school teacher where almost the entire year is devoted to test taking strategies. Students may not be graduating with much knowledge but damn they are par excellance in filling in bubbles on multiple choice questions.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, another avalanche of messages. I gasp, I faint.

-Kel: yes, I'm those people plus Sam Schmeck, owner of the Stage Deli in NY. German bk: that's the one, exactly; Kant is the author of Was ist Aufklaerung?, indeed. And yes, author was Jannach; I think I got the idea of L from Langenscheidt. Anyway, damn gd bk.

-Mark: check out a film, ca. 1980, called Derzu Uzala, or something like that.

-Dave: I can't recall, but I think I skewer Joel Garreau in "Wandering God"...something abt "edge cities" or whatever.

-Everyone else: TB's rule, let's face it. Every day there are more of them, creating more death which they seem to regard as life.

10:46 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

This past weekend my wife & I took a 30-40 minute drive to a small town to browse through their used bookstores. We'd seen a listing for an estate sale along the way, so we decided to stop & check it out.

Tucked away behind normal houses, this was a McMansion. Inside it was huge, empty, just space for the sake of impressive space. Every room had a titanic TV, including the childrens' rooms. The DVDs & CDs for sale were all popular blockbuster stuff that's bought because everyone else is buying it. Stacks of computer games. The decor, even in the dining room, was framed movie posters -- not even classic films, but popular blockbusters, e.g., Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (which seemed appropriate). Not a single book to be seen anywhere. Not one.

We discussed it on the way back to our car, agreeing that being there made us feel physically ill & chilled to the bone. I said, "sterile" & she said, "soulless." It didn't feel lived in. People ate there, slept there, sat before TVs there -- but the feeling of actual lives being lived was entirely absent. People moved through that house, but left no real imprint, no aura of time & years & emotions. It felt dead, dead, dead.

OK, maybe we were being unfair. But I don't think so. And it's indicative of how many Americans "live" now. It's not living. It's barely even existing.

Yet it's what so many aspire to with consuming desperation.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

One of my favorite Terence McKenna quotes:

“Can cultural values be saved? I don’t think so….I mean I think we should save the Rembrandts, save the Piero della Francescas and all that but we cannot save the values – racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, product fetishism, enormous pyramids of class and privilege – none of this is savable; none of it is worth saving.

Science is worth saving – it’s worth reforming because it is, as a method, powerful. But in the presence of people contaminated by these other values it becomes an engine of madness, of consumer fetishism, of propagandizing, of the waging of war on unimaginable scales.

Religion as we’ve practiced it I don’t think can be saved because what religion has given us are laundry lists of moral dos and don’ts that are preposterous on the face of it. I mean if the people who preceded us believed all that then this world is the consequence of those beliefs. And this is hell – this is hell!

So, if there’s a message here rather than just a rant, I think it would be to return to nature, observe, open your eyes, get smart. Culture is not your friend. Religion is not your friend. The values of these cultures are fatal and if we don’t wrench the direction of human society into an entirely new way of doing things the clock is ticking – nature is unforgiving. Intelligence is a grand experiment that if it does not serve novelty and diversity and the production of love and community and true caring…who needs it? Who needs it?!?”

The comment "[s]cience...in the presence of people contaminated by these other values...becomes an engine of madness" summarizes the geo-engineering/techno-fix crowd (and the singularitarians, for that matter) perfectly.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Lorien said...

Dersu Usala is one of my favorite movies! Yes. It's amazing. Highly recommended.

Another irony: You've talked a bit about the science-phobic (religious) nature of politics in America; which is *really* evident in global warming denialists (like most of the GOP, not that the Dems are much better). But then we have tech as savior buffoonery, which seems, outwardly at least, to be an over-reliance on science (hey dat rhymes). Maybe because tech fits in with religion somehow, or maybe, as some other posters have mentioned, it is just because tech is shiny and new mostly, and doesn't involve all the messy parts of science.

I used to know someone who worked at IBM, and he remembered, quite clearly, the point where research scientists were basically told to stop the "pure" stuff, and come up with something to further the technology arm of IBM.
I guess you can sell tech to a creationist, which you can't do with a lot of science.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Ah technology. Years ago (ca 1965)I spent some time in a native village on the upper Amazon. The only tech was machetes and a few metal pots. Except.... one small radio hanging on a tree, around which people gathered.

I thought of McLuhan's "when the first tin can hits the beach it's all over." I wanted to throw the damn thing in the river.

I'm going to read Mumford again, just to be even more depressed.

1:15 AM  
Blogger HansfromDK said...

Dear dr. Berman & gang

I'll try to keep the avalanche moving - dr. Berman take a deep breath, it will keep you from fainting.

Gary A:
I am certain, that your experience with the TV adressing you, telling you that it missed you, is just a beginning - remember Orwell's "1984"? We shall soon have two-way TVs with a small camera pointing at the audience built in. I imagine millions sitting eagerly waiting to be picked up by the camera and watch themselves on their TV. Lots of possibilities: "We have a winner! Mr. Elmer Fudge of Nowhere, Calisota, has won a week in Disney-world. Mr. Fudge has TV no. 62525892569, and NOW we switch his TV-camera on, so that you can all share his joy!"

Tim Lukeman
"The danger isn't that computers will learn to think like us, but that we'll learn to think like them." I think it was the cybernetician Norbert Wiener, who first said that. Interesting scientist and writer, definitly not a techno-fixer. Another recommendable author on the man-computer relation is Joseph Weizenbaum. Ever heard of him?

greetings from DK

Hans

5:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

Gd story. Meanwhile, it's in DAA that I deal w/Garreau, not WG. My brain is turning to shit.

Mark-

Actually, the attraction to novelty is not innate at all; it's only abt 500 yrs old. For the other 5 million yrs, Homo sapiens was attracted to stillness and continuity, and this shows up quite clearly in the archaeological record. Check out WG, where I discuss this in some detail. Even 40,000 yrs ago, with the beginnings of cave art and new tools, things moved at a snail's pace, and this is even true after the Neolithic Revolution (10,000 yrs ago). The lust for novelty only starts in the West with the Renaissance, and part of the snowjob of the modern era is to convince us that what we are doing in the modern era is innate, has been there all along. Meanwhile, I went to an Orozco exhibit yesterday in Mexico City, and there's a rm of the stuff he painted during his time in NY (late 20s-early 30s). The comment on this work in the museum notes (Museo de San Ildefonso) was: Orozco learned that "the dictatorship of progress is a cul de sac." I wd put "progress" in quotes, but the pt is clear enuf.

mb

10:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This American Life Dept.:

Someone named Amy Dickinson runs an advice to the lovelorn column for Tribune Media Services. Here's a letter she published yesterday:

Dear Amy: A friend of mine died recently after a long battle with cancer. She had been a very social person until the last year of her life when she was too sick to get out much.
During her last year, many of her lifelong friends dropped her.
I continued to call her several times a week, took her to the movies and shopping, and when she couldn't go out, I stopped by her home and brought her books or pastries that she liked.
She told me how lonely she was and asked that I call specific friends and ask them to visit her. Two friends increased their visits.
All of the others said they wouldn't go to see her because it was too hard on them.
This makes me angry; after all, they are alive and well and knew that our friend wouldn't be with us much longer.
Some of these "friends" had known her since childhood.
It might hurt me to see her dying, but think how much it must have hurt her to know that her friends wouldn't come to see her in her last months!

10:36 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Tim L., you wrote:

"It didn't feel lived in...People moved through that house, but left no real imprint, no aura of time & years & emotions. It felt dead, dead, dead."

You're probably right about the lives of the family that occupied the place Tim. However, (and I don't know if this is a consolation or even more depressing)the house might have already begun to be "staged," by a professional real estate outfit, meaning all meaningful items were taken out, embarrassing signs of individualism removed, everything made to look like a catalogue, etc. etc., except the family decided to hold a sale in the middle of all this. But you're right, whatever private values the family had are already suggested by what the possible "staging" left behind.

BTW, the skills required for "staging" a house for sale seem to overlap a lot with the skills of specialist firms that contract to clean up murder scenes to make these premises once again inhabitable or sellable. Except of course soul murder in McMansionland is far more frequent than actual murder. And far better business. As you say, "dead, dead, dead."

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Maury,

Re: American Life Dept.

What to say? Words seem useless and pretentious. Is the dying woman's abandonment by her friends unique? Probably not, in the U.S, anyway.

One pauses to commiserate.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Tim,

re dead houses. Back when I was designing and building I had clients who wanted to put a lot of money into their kitchen. It was huge, had every convenience, redundant energy systems, all the gadgets.

I commented, "wow, you guys must love to cook!" Her reply, "no, we usually do "takeout.""

They also had another contractor designing a swimming pool. I wondered if they knew how to swim.

1:15 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear MB,

Ooooo, I knew using that word "innate" would get me into trouble the second I sent that post off! I guess I should have said that a globalized, capitalistic economy which can marshall so much to generate "appeal" is a seductive force difficult to resist getting tangled up with, especially for children.

I haven't seen "Derzu Uzala," for a number of years, but I do from time to time recall the images of him sitting solemnly, quietly, before a campfire-- a poise I hold forth to myself to emulate. inwardly. (When I remember to, not often enough.)

Somewhere in the Gurdjieff literature it is mentioned that the word "sin" derives from the ancient Greek "hamartia" which literally meant "to miss the mark," as in using a bow and arrow. I still do hold to the idea that human beings have the potential to lapse out of consciousness, into error, folly, or worse; although it is true, our economic system encourages this to a degree unprecedented in human history, that it make you think you are getting somewhere the more and more you are missing the mark over and over again in pursuit of what isn't needed.

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Keith said...

Dr. Berman,

I know you have been a big fan of Sarah Palin for President and I agree, I think she's the right person to take America on that rocket sled to Hell. Well, at least the last few miles.

The thing is, she has about as much chance of being the GOP nominee as Ron Paul, which is to say, none.

But there arises another dark horse from the fetid soulless pit of hell - Wall Street. But this is no ordinary technocrat, ala Michael Bloomberg. This man strides like a colossus through several worlds - finance, television, bad architecture.

I am speaking of course of Donald Trump.

As incredible as it seems, a new poll shows him trailing Obama by only three points. I truly believe if he goes 'all in' he can do it. He would be a rock star acceptable to the business community, the military and 20 million TV viewers who might put the Cheetos down long enough to actually get off their couches and vote.

Remember, people laughed at the thought of Reagan becoming POTUS. And we're far more mad than we were in 1980.

So what say you? Would you jump on the Trump bandwagon? We'd still go down the shit tubes but just think of the fun! The glamour! The ratings! Mr. Obama - you're fired!

no, seriously, I think this country is crazy enought to do it. . .

Keith

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

I hereby bequeath upon thy noble person (referencing Sam Schmeck) the Mongolian (barbecue) honorific,
H.H. The Deli Lama, N.D.N.B, loosely translated, "Boundless Ocean of Delicatessen, No Deli No Bermo."

[Thank you Lama Surya Das's mother]

12:27 AM  
Blogger Athos said...

"The Internet is creating an egalitarian antidemocracy in which the strongest inhumanity tramples on the most eloquent rationality and decency."

That's an interesting perspective. Compelling. Frighteningly believable.

But as we've all been sold: "The technology will set you free." Witness all the free people texting like addicts. Unlike the telescreens in Orwell, people willingly submit to the compulsion to stare into the screens, distracting them from the unraveling of the society and culture.

7:06 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Athos-

Well, not to be too severe abt it, but every time I see someone flip open a cell phone, I think to myself, "That's right, moron; kill yerself, kill the culture." Which is not a problem for me when I'm in the US; it's like cheering for Sarah Palin. But it depresses me in Mexico, which has such a vibrant culture and yet crazily believes that copying the US is the way to go. To go to hell, I try to tell them.

Kel-

OK, confession time: in 1982 I was teaching at a Canadian university, and invited to speak at a conference in Austria and receive a semi-private audience with the Dalai. I told all my colleagues that I wd address him, "Hello, Dolly!" Then the moment of truth came. There were 20 of us in a circle, and the Dolly went from person to person, grabbing our hands like a child, and shaking them vigorously. It had so demented a flavor to it that I was speechless, failed to cry out, "Hello, Dolly!" And so the moment passed, and I returned to Canada thorougly ashamed of myself.

Keith-

In terms of social and political and economic suicide, it really is hard to trump Trump. He encapsulates all of the hustling values I discuss in my forthcoming book, and is greasy, disgusting, and grotesque as well (and of course admired by most of the American population, who wish to be him). But I tell u, my heart's with Sarah; she's my babe, and I know we'll consummate our love on an ice floe among the meese shortly after her election in Nov. of 2012. True, she hasn't responded to any of the 275 text messages I've sent her, but that is merely evidence of her own unbridled sexual desire for me: she's playing hard to get, the little minx.

Sarah, Sarah!

mb

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Ray,

Fascinating background info on "house staging" -- thank you! How interesting that there's such a profession in the first place. The proper image IS all, I guess.

Dave,

And speaking of image! The fancy kitchen on display but not used because it's -- what? An indicator of success? A manifestation of the need to prove to the world (and probably to one's own self) that you're somebody after all?

Today's letter to Cary Tennis at Salon was about "a mysterious kind of depression" that made the letter writer's otherwise successful & happy life "grindingness" (as he/she called it):

http://www.salon.com/life/since_you_asked/
2011/02/23/anhedonia_and_depression/index.html

Among all the suggestions made by various posters, this one really struck me:

...please consider that your feelings may not be depression. Did you ever consider that it's dawning on you that our society/culture is soul-crushing? If one is sensitive, it's challenging to maintain equilibrium. Thinking that it's "your fault" removes any motivation to see the culture as needing serious improvement. Isolated and alone in your despair is how "they" want you. It's not you. It takes effort and work to find authentic meaning and pleasure in our culture. Consider reviewing your definition of success.

The culture will tell us they've got a pill for that, but I don't think it works ...

2:56 PM  
Blogger dharmaguerilla said...

Kevin,
Thanks!

I was just about to throw in Terrence McKenna when you brought him up. Some people criticize him for being half-baked and romantic in a New Age way, but the man had a way of slicing the techno-bufoons and conventional flatlanders that was as delightfully wicked as it was profound.

But then, the man was famous for taking "heroic" doses of mushrooms and ayahuasca. For comic relief with substance, I recommend him to everyone. But he is better listened to than read, as his droll sarcasm rolls off his tongue in that over-enunciated cadence that is as trippy as the stuff he ingested.

One of his most interesting, but hopelessly flaky innovations was to use the King Wen sequence of the I Ching hexagrams to formulate a fractal wave of time, measuring degrees of stasis versus novelty. By playing with different events in history to correlate with the wave, he stumbled on one that seemed to fit all of historical periods of novelty. It has a teleological bent, going from the beginning of time to a singularity, which happened to fall within days of the famous end of the Mayan calendar. Woo-woo.

But his lectures about repression of consciousness by static governments are always a good listen.(Cultural Institutions is one title) deoxy.org avoids the timewave chatter.

9:44 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Great...now there are TWO people that are equally capable of expediting the drain-circling of America. Trump...geez. I know Sarah has your heart, Dr. B, but Trump really does add some excitement to the mix. He doesn't even pretend to give a shit. He exemplifies this sewer of a culture. Every narcissist's wet dream, hairdo and all. Can we have them both as president at the same time? Why not? we are sort of making up the rules as we go, right? Marcus Aurelius did it! They represent the two halves of our collective cultural conscience...angry/stupid and happy/evil. Just think, we can have an eastern and western empire, with New York and Wasilla as Rome and Constantinople. I like it. I may vote this time.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Neb said...

Pres: Donald Trump

Vice Pres: 50 (Get Rich or Die Trying) Cent

Synergy anyone?

Polls about Palin not being a winner are silly. It doesn't matter if your geography is lousy or if you can see Russia from your house. Clearly what the repubs are doing rt now are showing that each of them just have a different brand of stupid. Its like going to the supermarket cereal aisle and getting baffled about how you want your sugar delivered: on a flake or an 'O'? Not a benefit to anyone in the bottom 99%. In the top 1%, one is likely a contributer and as Bush would say - his base. That folk is helping sell the shit in a box for future profit.

Diff between dems and repub cereal boxes? Dems have a garden on the box and repubs have a superheroe.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

There's an interesting article on Alternet today about the internet and how it can be used to destroy open discourse rather than promote it: Corporate-Funded Online "Astroturfing" Is More Advanced and More Automated Than You Might Think. It was originally published in The Guardian. I've always been skeptical about the social networks and their value to anyone's life. They look like a big waste of time and feed into our worst qualities--a desire for self-promotion, polishing our image and making everything about ME. I do use the internet (obviously)for news that isn't reported in the mainstream media. Without the internet I wouldn't have known about the protester hauled off as Hillary was speaking about freedom of speech. Classic.

Dave and Tim,

My former husband built custom homes for the wealthy in Dallas for many years and all of them had top of the line appliances, such as $8,000 Viking ranges, etc. The most any of them needed to feed their families was a microwave and a telephone. And many of these homes also had separate rooms for gift wrapping and home theaters with recliners.

8:44 AM  
Blogger sharonsj said...

Okay, so my older sister couldn't even program her VCR. But this old lady has been using computers for 20 years and I'm on the internet every day getting the real news.

However, if the younger generation is using technology for sexting or sending videos of their latest physical attack, then don't expect technology to save us.

11:13 AM  
OpenID brutus said...

Regarding technocrats and technofixes, I've often made the argument that such people and thinking isn't really the result of outright stupidity but of a sort of willful blinding engendered by addressing the wrong questions. Of course, the argument always fails, in part because I can't articulate it quickly enough to withstand the tiny attention spans of listeners or readers. In my experience, technocrats are typically adept at manipulating systems, but their motivations remain limited to earning a living and careerism. Sometimes making money for someone else (institutions such as universities or corporations) also appear, but that's merely the same thing by extension. So they frequently experience what the French call professional deformations of character: the doctor with his omnipotence, the lawyer with his omniscience, the economist with his panaceas, etc. Notions of improving ourselves (individually or collectively) and making the world more just and humane don't generally enter the picture, and government has long since given up harnessing professional expertise for those purposes, if in fact it ever did.

Lastly, I picked up this quote (can't remember where) by Jose Ortega y Gasset in The Revolt of the Masses that is on point, though he calls the problem stupidity rather than blindness:

"Anyone who wishes can observe the stupidity of thought, judgment, and action shown to-day in politics, art, religion, and the general problems of life and the world by the 'men of science,' and of course, behind them, the doctors, engineers, financiers, professors, and so on. That state of 'not listening,' of not submitting to higher courts of appeal which I have repeatedly put forward as characteristic of the mass-man, reaches its height precisely in these partially qualified men. They symbolize, and to a great extent constitute, the actual dominion of the masses, and their barbarism is the most immediate cause of European demoralization."

12:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, the subject of technology does seem to get everyone all worked up. I jus' can't keep up w/u guys.

Brutus-

Try to keep yer messages just a tad shorter in the future, if u don't mind. It's not a strict rule, but I appreciate it if folks can limit themselves to abt 1/2 a page. Thank you.

Joe-

Well Rome did have 2 consuls at one pt...It's just that I'm so in love with S.P., I can't think straight anymore. You know what these hormones are like; I'm totally shitfaced and pie-eyed.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

I am positive one of you writes for the Onion because you have another nice piece today:

http://www.theonion.com/articles/openminded-man-grimly-realizes-how-much-life-hes-w,19273/

Kudos.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

This just in from economist Doug Henwood, which he filed under the title of "Everyday Ideology":

"The spelling dictionary for Adobe’s Creative Suite 5 does not recognize the names “Marx” or “Engels.”"

Hmmm.......

10:50 AM  
Blogger ivojanier said...

Dear Prof. Berman,
I am well-aware of the uni-dimensional personality among scientists/professors, engineers and graduate students in science and technology. It is definitely a product of the corporate ideology, the industrial revolution, post-modernism, and especially in this country, the religion that you and others call "America".
When I was a student of Physics at the University of Havana, my colleagues and me, the typical government ideology's annoying pestering aside, were very intellectually curious and eager to learn, read, discuss and watch anything having to do with human creativity, culture, art, sociology, history, philosophy, science and its history and philosophy, etc.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ivo-

Thank u for writing in. Since yer new, let me give u one of our informal rules: pls don't send multiple postings with tons of text. One a day is fine, with abt half a page length. I'm not a screen person, and after abt half a page my mind blanks out and I can't read the message. The only exceptions are positive messages abt Sarah Palin, corned beef, or chopped liver.

Thanx mucho, amigo-

mb

12:58 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Friends,

Please excuse this off-topic post. Recently, I blacked out, passed out, and later told that I suffered a heart attack. I wish I could say that this latest (and greatest) wake-up call has, well, woken me up. But I'm still surrounded by all the bullshit that, most likely, led to this event. Perhaps it's just too soon; I'm still somewhat in shock, and am spending most of my time looking for alternatives to the horrible drugs they want me to take.

More on topic: I'm not sure I would have made it out of the hospital had it not been for the caring shown by the nurses (as opposed to the arrogance of the doctors). And, the reliance on technology! I was given a CT scan, soon after getting to the hospital; one doctor later admitted to me that CT scans rarely show anything useful, and that I would still need an MRI. So why give me a CT scan in the first place? I doubt that it was because they believed my brain needed more radiation.

11:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

Whew! You sure caught me by surprise. Glad yer still with us. I'm sure I speak for all of the regulars on this blog when I say how sorry I am you had to go thru this, and how relieved I am that you are OK.

I suspect u.r. rt abt the role of b.s. in all this, which we all are drowning in. Illness is hardly something divorced from the culture, or from our psychological state. Personally, I see health as a kind of internal "vector," pushing us to live in ways that are meaningful and creative; and American life as fundamentally anti-health. So maybe it *is* a wakeup call, to follow that vector, and do what is healing for yourself. Unless u believe in reincarnation (and I don't), this is it. We are not in some sort of dress rehearsal, so to speak.

Thank you for telling us what is going on w/u, in any case-

mb

12:41 AM  
Blogger Gary A-- said...

Dear Art--

I have fibrosis in my lungs (a condition apparently only caused by exposure to asbestos or chemicals), Hep C, and various other health problems and I just wanted to say: Hey, if you need someone to vent to about all the bullshit, medical and worldly, my email is arch18_1961@hotmail.com. The phrase “get things off your chest” comes to mind. I am here. I will listen. Take care, Art, and if you don’t email, that’s fine too.
-----Gary

11:56 AM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dr. Berman,
The wonders of technology!
I listened to two reporters on CNN talk about Watson, the computer; I had missed the Jeopardy show, but it hardly matters. Enough blabber was out on the networks about it that I might as well have watched the whole thing, including the commercials. One reporter said that the designers of Watson had already agreed to lend "him" - or rent out, I forget which - to the U Md. medical school and to some Wall St. hedge fund groups. Both reporters agreed that "he" would be a big help on Wall St as the traders had such vast amounts of money left to steal and such inferior computers with which to do it. No, that isn't right. No, they said "he" would be a big help since the traders had so much information to process at one time and Watson could speed up the decision-making processes or some such BS. (That's exactly what our economy needs now, fer shur.) The use of Watson for the purposes of medical diagnoses was much less interesting to them.
One of my sons had an interesting story about technology recently. His ladylove grew up in Kenya. The two of them, my son and his girl, flew to Kenya in January to spend time with her father, who runs a giraffe reservation there. They left their cell phones in the US, as they didn't want the distraction. As part of the visit, the girl's father took them out into the Maasai Mara [this is the Kenyan portion of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem and national reserve] for a week of camping out and animal watching. Some of the local Maasai tribesmen went with them, as they consider the girl to be one of their "adopted" children and they wanted to share in her visit home. So there they were, out in the wild bush, miles from human habitation. One evening, as they prepared camp, my son heard an odd chirping sound. What could it be, he wondered. A sort of African insect he had not seen before? Vampire bats? Should he be worried?
He looked to the head Maasai to see if the man was concerned about the new sound and was stunned to see the fellow put up a finger to signal "wait a moment", grope around in his robes, and pull out a cell phone.
My son said it was the strangest and most disconcerting moment of the trip.
-Teri

P.S. Oh, and a little silliness from my own Dad, which I pass on for fun. We were talking about Obama and his sneaky neoliberal turncoat ways, and Dad quoted, "He saw ye were a stranger and he took ye in."
That's from the Good Book. The parable of the conman and the sucker, I believe.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Art,

I'm glad you’re still here.

A story that relates to the heart in all of us: When I was still in CA I worked for a neighbor who owned a lumber mill. 48 of the 50 employees were Mexicans without green cards. Many of them were from rural Mexico, some from remote villages. The working conditions were awful. Serious injuries. Low pay. I was in charge of payroll, safety and some other stuff. Everything I suggested was turned down by the owner. It was awful. I wanted to leave but needed the money and felt like I stood for the workers when nobody else would.

I began to have heart problems. Fibrillations of some kind. At the time my doctor was an Osteopath. He shut his eyes, put his hands on me, and “listened.” Then he said “your heart is broken.” Needless to say, I quit my job. I was indeed breaking my heart.

I learned the lesson many of you already know. We have to set aside the horror story and find the healing peace, beauty, music, silence. Sometimes disengagement is necessary. And, don’t forget comedy. The vision of Morris chasing Sarah through the snow, carrying a bowl of chopped liver, is definitely good for our health.

In the ER with my heart fibrillating, the doc got out his paddles and said “we’re going to convert you.” My Jewish wife responded, “I’ve been trying to do that for years.”

1:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

Mazel tov. I guess a toxic environment makes all of us sick.

Teri-

What a Teri-fying story. Reminds me of the scene of Dersu Uzala, at the end of the film, sitting in front of his tent and watching an American sitcom on TV.

We need a new measuring device: the World Vomit Index (WVI).

Sarah is indeed the answer; the problem is, I forget the question.

mb

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

For Dave, regarding his broken heart. I don't know if this will make you feel any better or not, but Camus shares your thoughts. Here he is a long time ago back in his native Algeria:

"At noon, on the half-sandy slopes, strewn with heliotropes as if by a foam which the furious waves of the last few days had left behind them in their retreat, I gazed at the sea, then gently rising and falling as if exhausted, and quenched the two thirsts that cannot long be neglected if all our being is not to dry up, the thirst to love and the thirst to admire. For there is only misfortune in not being loved; there is misery in not loving. We all, today, are dying of this misery. This is because blood and hatred lay bare the heart itself: the long demand for justice exhausts the love which nevertheless gave it birth. In the clamour in which we live love is impossible and justice not enough. This is why Europe hates the daylight and can do nothing but confront one injustice with another. But I rediscovered at Tipasa that, in order to prevent justice from shriveling up, from becoming a magnificent orange containing only a dry and bitter pulp, we had to keep a freshness and a source of joy intact within ourselves, loving the daylight which injustice leaves unscathed, and returning to the fray with this reconquered light. Here once more I found ancient beauty, a young sky, and measured my good fortune as I realized at last that in the worst years of our madness the memory of this sky had saved me from despair. I had always known that the ruins of Tipasa were younger than our new buildings or our crumbling towns. There, the world was born again each morning in a light that was always new. O Light! This is the cry of all the characters who, in classical tragedy, come face to face with their destiny. Their final refuge was also ours, and I now knew that this was so. In the depths of the winter, I finally learned that there lay in me an unconquerable summer."

So it's in there, alright, in each one of us. You just have to listen and look and try, mightily, to ignore or maybe just unlearn being an American in the 21st century. That's what we're here for on this little blog. It also helps to have someplace like Camus'Tipasa to return to for refreshment of the soul. For me, it's hunting and fishing in a few special spots.

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Art,

all the best to you, friend. Glad you are still here and posting. I agree with Dr. Berman, this culture is anti-health, because health runs counter to full-out every-man-for-himeself consumerism. How is it not a conflict of interest when the people who are in the business of our health-care (insurance companies, pharm, hospitals) are also trying to make (huge) profits?

At any rate, take care of yourself.

4:42 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

Dr. Berman,

Sorry this is a bit off topic, but I just finished CTOS and at the end of the book you discuss the transition between Cr. II and Cr. III and you say "Something very unexpected may await us on the other side of the watershed."

Do you still believe this is possible? It seems counterintuitive to what I hear you saying here that human beings (esp. in the West) would choose Cr. III instead of (what I see happening) an ever-increasingly addictive and pervasive version of Cr. II(a).

4:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ashley-

I don't think any type of creativity is possible for the US, or for Americans, really; the path we are on is addiction/self-destruction. As for the larger picture, I really don't know...regimes like China seem hell-bent on snuffing out anything creative, as far as I can see (genuine democracy or dissent, Falun Gung, etc.). This leaves Europe and Latin America...in which case, this transition may be happening on a local scale, it's hard to say. I think the major impetus behind a serious change will be the failure/inability to continue doing things on the addictive model. Lots of things can happen individually, of course...

Bis-

Try to compress a bit, if you would...thanx.

mb

5:18 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Art--I'm so sorry to hear you've been seriously ill and hope you'll take good care of yourself. Glad the nurses were nice (hope they gave you some extra jello) and after reading your post several times, wanted to add this explanation. Often tests are run that seem useless but are done to rule out certain diagnoses. The doctor probably wanted to see if the reason you passed out was due to blood clots; I know pts often are frustrated that tests are run that come back negative but it's an important step in making an accurate diagnosis. And without an accurate diagnosis, treatment can't be prescribed to prevent another MI. Sorry--that's the way it works but you have the right to know why he ran the test, what he was looking for and a lot more information than it sounds like you got.

Teri--Excuse me but I heard on PBS that Watson the Amazing Computer would be used to solve global poverty. Anyone who believes he'll be used on Wall Street in the service of self-enrichment projects is simply trying to tarnish his good name and discredit the fine, upstanding civic minded scientists who have slaved night and day to further the betterment of the human race, cast Wall Street traders in the worst possible light, cynically question the worth of Watson himself and, in general, destroy Capitalism, the credibility of our Founding Fathers and undermine the morale of our brave troops fighting on foreign soil to preserve our Way of Life.

Bis--that was a beautiful quote from Camus and thank you for posting it.

7:18 PM  
Blogger ivojanier said...

Art,
I don't know you, even as a blog follower, but I am very sorry for what happened to you. If you live near Miami, let me know. All the best, and stay in touch.

(If anyone lives near Miami, please get in touch with me at ivojanier@hotmail.com)

Dave,
I am sure you had a broken heart, after witnessing so much injustice. I would suggest staying away from useless activism, it seems like you really need time to heal. Good luck! By the way, Florida is one of the wort states when it comes to modern day slavery (labor and sex).

10:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

You might enjoy "Love and Other Drugs" (movie) rt abt now...just a guess.

mb

10:34 PM  
Blogger ivojanier said...

Prof. Berman,

I bit off topic here, but I recently finished reading "Twilight of American Culture", and I have to confess I should have studied Sociology.

Also, I was a full-time faculty in Math at a very large college in Miami, and my experience there was quite similar to the ones you describe in this book.

I was actually punished for my passing rates being too low, and retention rates as well: I refuse to be a class clown or have an "exciting" personality in class. My supervisor (somehow called "Department Chairperson"), grinded me on those stupid "touchy-feely" questions on the student evaluations (nevermind that these narcisistic students don't know how to properly read, write, think or even honestly venture beyond their immediate consumerist existence).

I left the place convinced that it was being run as a huge educational scam or ponzi scheme, the "college" being run by a cadre of administrators acting like members of an organized crime outfit... and I have a few more observations to support my suspicions.

I am reading DAA and AQOV now. Thank you for taking the time to write and be honest, and intellectually honest, which is very difficult to find in the US.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ivo-

Thanks for yer input. American 'higher' education is a joke; it's basically a replay of the Church selling indulgences in the Middle Ages. The % of students and faculty who care abt whether anyone learns anything is very small; the prevailing ethos is corporate-consumerist. The % of admin who care abt whether anyone learns anything is 0. I usta get letters all the time from faculty looking for'd to retiring, telling me it was all a 'race to the bottom'.

On another subject (Portrait of a Scumbag Dept.), I want to alert everyone to a brief reality-check on Ronald Reagan, by Alexander Cockburn in The Nation, Feb. 28. Amazing how he regularly comes up as one of our favorite presidents in polls taken on the subject, and what a piece of trash the guy actually was in real life. (Of course, 'real life' has never been a major concern of the American public.)

mb

11:20 PM  
Blogger tide said...

Prague cafeteria (yesterday)

Sometimes the consistency of things is breathtaking.

I was in a common, cafteria-style restuarant in Prague yesterday. A free Wi-Fi place. I sat for about an hour and a half noticing 20-25 people come in and out. Despite the wi-fi, only one young woman was on a laptop. The TV on the wall had relatively soft music and was smaller in dimensions than any of the paintings on the wall.

Only two people checked to see that they'd recieved a cell message. These folks never interrupted the real conversation to talk on the cell phone. Everyone else kept on visiting with people w/ no technology. Clearly they prefer real conversation. It's hard to believe this when you see it as an American but it is quite a real difference.

In the meantime, I've had very nice conversations with people from France, Venezuela, Spain, Ukraine, England and of course Czech Republic. Americans here generally don't seem to say hello,good morning or engage in conversation. Sad.

I had a very nice conversation with a 21 y/o non-University graduate who was very educated about Czech history and socialism.

At the end of the great conversation she politely whispered that Czechs often say American's have hamburger for brains. She winked at me, we both laughed and went on our way.

4:09 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

Thanks for report from Prague. Of course, it's not merely damaged American brains that are at issue; it's also the heart, emotions, and social skills. The danger is that our way of life will continue to spread. The other day I was in a public john, and some guy was in a toilet stall, talking on his cell phone while shitting. He was Mexican, not American, and apparently the insanity of this didn't occur to him. The American Way of Life is basically a cancer.

mb

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Nearly 40 years ago, the immortal Archie Bunker proudly proclaimed, "America has the grossest national product!"

Damn right!

Art, as someone who had emergency triple bypass surgery some 9 years ago, I especially empathize & hope for the best for you. Take good care of yourself!

I've been thinking about technology, and the biggest problem with it is that it makes life too easy. Of course that's desirable & seductive in a lot of ways -- I like having music from every era & culture so easily available, or classic films like Wild Strawberries, which I saw for the first time the other night & found deeply moving.

But when we saw that movie, my wife & I devoted our time just to that, with no other distractions. That's what's missing from modern life, I think -- that sacred space & time, the truly private & contemplative -- a place of meaning. Maury, you've spoken of cellphones in use at museums, even when they're clearly forbidden -- that's basically the same thing. The boundaries between public & private are utterly dissolved, leaving nothing that's focused or precise or suffused with meaning.

"When everyone's somebody, than no one's anybody!" said Gilbert & Sullivan. And that's as good an epitaph for modern America as snything, I guess. If everything's leveled to the lowest common denominator, then nothing means anything.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Friends,

Many thanks for all your kind thoughts. I wish I could experience community like this in my "real life". A neighbor emailed me, saying that I was too young to have a heart attack. So now I should feel guilty, on top of everything? He's a nice guy, and I'm sure he meant well; but his words seem to reflect the "blame the victim" attitude so prevalent today. On the other hand, I also realize that I need to accept responsibility for my part in all this. Still, there's very little balance in this "every man for himself" society.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Teacher in AZ got fired for having a bumper sticker on her car saying, "Have You Drugged Your Kids Today?" Why aren't we giving her an award?

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Unfortunately, I was out of the USA for most of the Reagan years so I was unable inhale the "Morning in America euphoria that so capivated my compatriots. So, dear readers, let's relive those pivotal years with some facts. In 1980 the US debt was 930 billion dollars. By 1988 it had reached 3 trillion dollars. He raised taxes in each of his 8 years and, in fact, raised them 11 times during his presidency. And of course let's not forget the banner year of 1986 when he reduced taxes for the rich but raised them for the poor. I am wont to end but let's not forget such stellar accomplishments such as the real start of income inequality, increase imprisonment, end of locally owned media, Iran-contra, and essentially created the Taliban in Afganistan.
But Americans are such a forgiving people that in a recent poll 19% say he was our greatest president (beating Lincoln) and there is the Ronald Reagan Legacy project which aims to name at least some landmark in each of the US's 3,067 counties. Let me end with one of Reagan's quotes. When told that there were 17 million Americans who go hungry every night, Reagan said that those were the people who were simply on a diet. Such insight rivaling only perhaps Reagan asking Gorbachev if he could call him Mike.

12:36 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Best of luck with your heart, Art.

In absolute keeping with the drift of this thread;

If you wish to see a pitch for the role of children in marketing that will make you want to crack open your skull, scoop out and flush all the contents and replace them with cranberry sauce, check this out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P81bb0Tzwbo


We are lost.

(Apologies to Russel Tovey for the scoop out part)

1:13 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dan-

Let's not forget the support of death squads in Central America, claiming that the homeless didn't really want to have homes, responding to questions at press conferences by reading slogans off of 3 x 5 cards, insisting that trees caused pollution and that ketchup was a vegetable. Speaking of which, he probably had Alzheimer's during his last few years in office. Oh, and making decisions of state based on advice from his wife's astrologer. And most of the American people loved him (landslide elections).

mb

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to a rather interesting documentary on the trajectory of technology and where it might lead, or where "they" want it to lead. Considering the ramifications of Anthropogenic Climate Change, it's a race against time....to build the Ark. Imagine being "uploaded" for eternity. I consider the notion a nightmare, but others, and they have considerable influence because they are on the leading edge of this, consider it bliss.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7141762977713668208#

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7141762977713668208#docid=2258529707984107504

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7141762977713668208#docid=8945702810854373085

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Paul Emmons said...

I don't know where to put this latest development for the WTF department, but...

According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, suburban librarians re deciding that the Dewey Decimal Classification is too arcane for the public they serve. They are beginning to keep their collections, instead, in crude market-driven categories such as bookstores use (which, of course, are themselves going bankrupt).

We university librarians wouldn't think of doing likewise. Some of our users still have very specific questions and, with the aid of catalogs and other tools, we want to help by directing them to a particular book, or a small section of books. Each must be in its place, specified not only uniquely but compactly enough to fit on the spine of the volume, so that we or they can find it. Hence classification. Otherwise how aren't we wasting our time?

That's still today's standard, anyway. But those suburban public libraries must be cutting-edge. Ten years hence, who knows how academic libraries will operate?

3:06 AM  

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