March 01, 2011

Playing TAPs

One thing I’ve noticed about “progressive” or left-wing analyses of American politics is an absence of any critique of the people who inhabit this great nation of ours. The government is always fair game, but there is some sort of mystique about The American People (TAP). Uttering this phrase, writes Fareed Zakaria, is tantamount to announcing a divine visitation; anything has the force of biblical revelation if it is ascribed to this mystical, all-knowing entity. Thus Noam Chomsky, for example, believes that there is a “democracy gap” between this (potentially) enlightened population and its evil masters; that popular consent has been “manufactured”; and that if we (= who, exactly?) could only remove the wool that is covering their eyes, they would reject the government and institute some form of democratic socialism. In a more generally populist vein, Michael Moore seems to believe something similar: Americans are inherently decent and rational, they’ve just been led astray. And yet evidence for a “democracy gap” is quite shaky. True, Americans finally turned against the war in Iraq (if they even think about it anymore), but this happened only when it was clear that we were losing; in the beginning, they were all on board. And polls that claim to show, for example, that we want socialized medicine are extremely misleading, because polling results typically depend on how the question is phrased. “Should everyone be entitled to health insurance?” The answer will be (has been) an overwhelming Yes. “Would you be willing to be taxed for it?” Well No, not really. “Do you believe in socialized medicine?” “Arrgh! Socialism! Get thee behind me, satan!” Etc.

Personally, I suspect there are limits to the “manufactured consent” argument, because I believe that TAP really do want, in Janice Joplin’s words, a Mercedes Benz, and that this is their vision of the good life. In my forthcoming book, Why America Failed, I quote from George Walden’s 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?” When my editor saw this, he wrote in the margin: “This is the turning point of the book.”

Locating the problem within the “soul” (such as it is) of TAP is of course not very popular among so-called progressives, because once that reality is admitted, it becomes clear that there is no fabulous future, socialist or populist or genuinely democratic, awaiting us. If it were merely a question of eliminating Reagan or Bush Jr. or Obama in favor of a truly humane regime, then we could retain our optimism—freedom is “just around the corner,” as the historian Walter McDougall once put it. But if the problem is 310 million people sitting around dreaming of the day they’ll have a Mercedes Benz, then you can kiss the optimistic vision goodbye: TAP are getting the government they actually want. The “wool” covering their eyes proved to be—their eyes!

As a result, even the most penetrating critiques of The American Way of Life omit any examination of TAP or play it down. William Appleman Williams, for example, does say at one point that in the nineteenth century, merchants, farmers, and artisans were all on board with the American imperial-expansionist program; but he doesn’t really develop the theme, because he still (1961) had some hope for a democratic socialist state. The best one can find on the subject are a few desultory remarks, such as are tucked away in the pages of Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated. This is an extremely important book, because it examines the nuts and bolts of how “The Matrix” arose, and how it operates; but for the most part, Wolin’s focus is on the elites, the ruling class, as the critical factor. However, if we gather his remarks about TAP all in one place, a more comprehensive (deeper and disturbing) picture of our situation takes shape as a result. I’ll list them in the order that they appear in the book; you see what you think.

►(Quoting from George Kennan, 1947): “The fact of the matter is that there is a little bit of the totalitarian buried somewhere, way down deep, in each and every one of us. It is only the cheerful light of confidence and security which keeps this evil genius down….If confidence and security were to disappear, don’t think that he would not be waiting to take their place.”

►(On Iraq): “…to support a war…that bears responsibility for the deaths of thousands of innocents, reduced to rubble a nation which had done us no harm, and burdened coming generations with a shameful and costly legacy—without generating massive revulsion and resistance.”

►“The lesson of Hobbes and Tocqueville can be boiled down to a brief but chilling dictum: concentrated power, whether of a Leviathan, a benevolent despotism, or a superpower, is impossible without the support of a complicitous citizenry that willingly signs on to the covenant, or acquiesces, or clicks the ‘mute button’.”

►(On Iraq): “Does innocence mean not being implicated in wrongdoing such as torture of prisoners or the ‘collateral damage’ to hapless civilians? And is it that the citizens are innocent but not their leaders?...As citizens are we collaborationists? To collaborate is to cooperate; to be complicit is to be an accomplice.”

►(On the Bush “election” of 2000): “…an illegitimate president took office amidst scarcely a ripple of discontent.”

►“While 83 percent of Americans believe in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, only 28 percent admit to a belief in evolution.”

►“What is democracy doing bearing the stigma of empire?....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….Foreign observers, such as Tocqueville [1831], were struck by the appearance of a new kind of citizen: mobile, adventurous, highly competitive, and often brutal.”

►(Quoting Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council): “In a general election, the candidate with the most hopeful message is going to win it. Most people in the U.S. want to be rich, they want to get ahead, and that’s why an opportunity-oriented message works.”

►“For their part American citizens are expected to support the project of imposing democracy [on the rest of the world] while remaining in denial of their own complicity in ravaging foreign populations and economies.”

►(On Iraq): “Fault is attributed exclusively to the White House, never to the citizenry for its unthinking support of the venture. If, by luck, the war had been won as quickly as the administration assumed…it would be, would ‘democracy’ have even blinked? Not only did the citizens endorse the president’s war by reelecting him; in 2000 that same citizenry watched supinely as the Bush team defied the electorate and achieved a political coup….Much as one is justified in blaming Bush and his coterie, one also needs to figure in the culpability, complicity, and apathy of the citizenry.”

►(On Iraq): “…there was the political loss of nerve among Democrats, the press, and the punditry, a failure so profound as to call into question the health of the political system as a whole. That failure extended to all but a minority of the citizenry; the vast majority waved an occasional flag and then, when possible, heeded the advice of their leader to ‘fly, consume, spend’.”

►“In 2006, two years after the lie of Saddam’s WMDs had been exposed, the percentage of Americans who continued to believe that there were such weapons in Iraq increased from 35 to 50, and a near majority believed in links between Saddam and al Qaeda, lack of evidence notwithstanding.”

This is all I could find in a book of 300 pages, but these quotes are enough to suggest that Wolin understands that there are limits to blaming the ruling class. TAP aren’t very far from the elites in terms of values or world view, as it turns out.

At the conclusion of the book, Wolin tries to suggest what it would take to get our democracy back. This kind of optimistic prediction is obligatory in today’s market: TAP wants to hear a solution, even if none exists. Hence after demonstrating, in extenso, that we are totally screwed, the author will conclude his or her discussion by pulling a rabbit out of a hat at the eleventh hour. To his credit, Wolin does this only half-heartedly; he’s far too smart to believe that we can turn our situation around. Thus he says that the recovery of democracy depends first and foremost upon TAP changing themselves, “sloughing off their political passivity and, instead, acquiring some of the characteristics of a demos. That means creating themselves, coming-into-being by virtue of their own actions.” How this miracle is going to occur is of course never spelled out, and in fact two pages later Wolin writes:
“While the project of reinvigorating democracy may strike the reader as utopian, it requires an accompanying, even more utopian project: to encourage and nurture a counterelite of democratic public servants.” He didn’t quite write “when pigs fly” at the end of the book, but the implication is clearly there.

So there we have it: TAP exposed as complicitous in all these events, and in the actions of corporate and military elites. There is no “democracy gap,” in a word; the elites and TAP have essentially the same vision, and decency and rationality don’t figure big in it. Both have acted to create the America that we live in, the America that is now dying—by our own hand. And thus, as Wolin is reluctantly forced to admit, any talk of fundamental change, of a different sort of nation, is little more than fantasy.

©Morris Berman, 2011


Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

This is the Faustian bargain The American People make (though most would be hard-pressed to identify it by that name, or identify Faust himself for that matter): "Do the things to keep us happy & comfortable, including & especially lying to us; in return, we'll keep putting you into positions of power & supporting you, because we're too lazy & frightened to take on that responsibility ourselves. Keep us blind, keep us fat, keep us dazzled! We'll keep enabling you to do so."

Yeah, that pop psychology concept of "enablers" applies perfectly, doesn't it?

The power elite, while certainly hungry & greedy & insatiable enough on their own, are in many ways the projected Id Monster of TAP, as in the classic Forbidden Planet. Dr. Morbius sent out his Id Monster to kill, ravage, destroy anything & everything that threatened his little fantasy world & delusions of grandeur, while at the same time being sufficiently unconscious of it so as not to disturb or trouble that fantasy world with anything so ugly & vulgar as blood & truth.

And I ain't so pure & noble that I don't recognize my own complicity in this, either.

10:28 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I have a copy of Williams "Contours.." I'd be happy to give anyone who wants it. I'll also throw in "What Is America" by Wright, and "Ill Fares The Land" by Tony Judt. All good. Send mail address to dhanson(at)

The R wingnuts think Jesus is returning and the L wingnuts think we just have to get organized. Religious crackpots both.

I love Hedges but he's wasting his time.. the illusion that if there's only a lone demonstrator it will keep some flame alive.

Thanks for a great summation Morris.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thanks u guys. At this pt the 'flame' is gd for nothing more than roasting marshmallows. As for complicity, I pay taxes; some % of that money goes to buying hoods and attack dogs and paying the salaries of the waterboarders and drone strike pilots. Which means I'm a war criminal, in fact: complicit in those crimes.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

There is something that struck me while reading this account: what is your model of 'change'? There can be no 'fundamental change' if by 'change' you mean 'a simultaneous structural reconfiguration' -- the only real change for you must be structural, because for you the only reality at the historical and cultural level is itself structural in nature. And furthermore, you always claim that, in so many words, individual changes don't amount to any real changes because 'structural problems require structural solutions'. But then, if this isn't going to be a self-sealing claim -- a tautology in short -- you must address the relationship between structure, on the one hand, and the 'parts' this structure can be 'resolved' into, and this means that you must address the relationship between concrete individuals and (historical/cultural/social) structures.

I think what frustrates your readers, on occasion (and you always get someone complaining, now-and-then), is that you move between the two points of view -- the structural and the (concrete) individual -- in a manner that is seemingly without clear pattern or rule. Here is a test case: what do you say about the events in the Middle East?

Suppose it's a "revolution": well, if it's going to be a 'real' one in your sense, it better imply "structural change" -- that is, the levers of power must change; if they don't "no real change". Let's suppose they *do* change: then what do we say? Is this a boon for 'freedom and democracy'? On your account, most likely not: nothing can really be such for you, it seems ... indeed, at the structural (social) level, such notions as 'freedom' and 'democracy' are always, in a way, illusory (or pure 'faith').

But I'm not convinced that anything whatsover can satisfy your structural sense of change *in the present*, and, in any case, anything that does, can only be known "in the rear-view mirror" -- that is, like the Fall of Rome, can only be really seen for what it truly it (was) when it's all over and part of history. For you, structural truths can only be historical truths, and so it follows that nothing that happens in the present can ever be "true" (or "real").

This forces, in a way, your Nomadic point of view: civilizations are structures so solidified and inertial as to always inhibit the inherent spiritual freedom of man, who is, underneath his civilizational accretions, radically free (that is, nomadic). Thus, NMI is the only "real" change for you. (I would agree).


11:31 AM  
Anonymous Jari Chevalier said...

Great essay, mb. My version of same, published yesterday is here:

How quickly people change the subject whenever they are asked to look at what they are actually doing to support the system of war, agribiz, big pharma . . . . They yak endlessly about what a monstrous shame it all is. But they don't want to share that shame, perhaps will excuse themselves just then to take some more white flour crackers made by Nabisco and chunks of hormone-laden cheese on a paper plate to go with their third glass of whine (sp. intentional) in a plastic cup.

Are the people in Mexico really so different? I actually have a few great friends here now who are serious about change and who are changing their lives radically to reflect their understanding. But I also know many, many people who are full of hot air, who zip around in planes burning jet fuel to go talk hither and thither about sustainability, buying their fast food in plastic all the way . . . and/or can't even muster the energy to get their money out of Chase, BoA . . . or . . . and all the rest of the utter hypocrisy! 'nuf said. Thank you very much for continuing to write and for the intelligent exchange I find here among the DAAmericans!

12:02 PM  
Blogger Ned said...

You forgot spite & ignorance. Many in the USA will push for punishment of The Other without considering (or recognizing afterwards) the consequences which harm them directly. So long as their notion of justice is fulfilled, they will be satisfied.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Athos said...

>>But if the problem is 310 million people sitting around dreaming of the day they’ll have a Mercedes Benz, then you can kiss the optimistic vision goodbye<<

Seems like the core of our essence. And if so, it's over. There's no transformation or even evolution. It's done. It reminds me of the end of Lord of the Rings, the passing of the Third Age, and the ushering in of the age of men. The elves departed middle earth. I want to go where they're going.

Wow, Tim Lukeman, Forbidden Planet? Not only is your analogy is apt, you cite one of the best sci-fi films ever done.

Complicity, yes. I rail against Wall Street and predatory capitalism but have investments in the stock market. I rationalize by thinking I am underemployed, making a poverty wage (a fair consequence of the system I am investing in), and need supplemental income.

On the other hand, I've beat the system to a point by maintaining zero debt and not using credit to the point of burying myself.

Complicity in one's own demise? I was in line at a convenience store to pay for gas. In front of me a man in his 40s perhaps, a bit worn about the edges, (seemed a bit old for the silliness I observed) was texting madly. He purchased a bottle of water and candy bar with a CREDIT card. During the transaction, he paused not a whit, his thumbs a blur. Seemed like one of those frogs at the pleasure bar. Of course it's anecdotal, speculation, and I don't know his whole story.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you, Mr. Berman, for exposing the TAP myth so eloquently. It's refreshing.

The same thing happens here in México: everybody blames the government, the rich, the political parties for the vicious spiral of violence and fails to see that this descent into chaos didn't come out of a vacuum: the Mexican people are to blame, and here, too, there is no deus ex machina to come and save the day at the last second.

I'm sad George Carlin died, he would've enjoyed the coming world apocalypse and would've had us laughing till the very end.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Damien Moody said...

This provides motivation for me to not ever earn a "salary" again. Why would I want to contribute to death and destruction of the entire planet?

12:52 PM  
Blogger Patrick D. Fitzgerald said...

Dr. B,

I agree with your skepticism about manufactured consent, and I guess I have only met about .1% of Michael Moore's neighbors, because I admire almost none of my friends and family (and these are the people I like and love!).

I would however offer to you that GenX and the Millenials really have been the product of mass media basically raising them since birth. If you couple that with Teacher reinforcing the same narrative in grade and high school, little to no challenge of such ideas on the home front, then Chomsky appears less of a mad scientist than some have suggested. With these generations raised in tv-cyberspace, I am not surprised with the returns, I would be shocked by any other. In my personal experience, being forced to read Thoreau in 11th grade is the only "legitimate" alternative philosophy I was ever exposed to as a child.

Do you think there is a possible generation dependent interpretation of manufactured consent or democracy gap in light of the changes in mass media in particular?

Thanks for your time & writing. Dont fret, I am not trying to redeem my or any other generation, I'm just glad it didnt take me 25 more years to reconcile the first 25.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Lorien said...

I went to one of the few "protests" against the (second) Iraq War back in 2003. What was striking about it was the feeling I got that it was a *gesture*, not a movement of people who actually had a say in anything. It felt futile, the die had already been cast (like...25 years before, or maybe 200). I am not old enough to remember much about the Vietnam War protests of the 60s, but I'm sure that was quite a bit different. Nonetheless, if the TAP ( too) have always been enablers (to borrow Tim Lukeman's term), maybe the difference is less than I imagine.

I live in NY. People here are a lot less comatose than in a lot of other places, but I look around lately and I see this sort of collective shutting down. It's gotten worse in the past 10 years too.

Anyway, another wonderful post. I now have to read Wolin's book (as if I needed more despair). When does yours come out again?

1:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


The latest version of the title is "Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline," and we are currently arguing abt the release date. Originally they told me August; now, October. I wrote that I was unhappy with the change for a whole number of reasons, and felt that Aug. was completely do-able. However, authors' requests are usually ignored, so (sadly enuf) it'll probably be Oct. I guess I shd be grateful it'll be published this year.


I guess it's a question of where, within The Matrix, an alternative set of values might come from. Those voices are increasingly shut off...


Thank u for that vivid portrait of a classic American douche bag. The breathtaking thing about these folks (= roughly 310 million) is how completely unconscious they are.


Check out the pages of DAA that deal with violence. 24% of Americans say that it's OK to use violence to achieve your goals; 38 states have capital punishment (nonexistent in Europe, which regards this as barbaric); 39% want Muslims in the US to carry a religious ID at all times--etc. As for ignorance, the data on this are so extensive that I wdn't know where to begin in terms of giving you a bibliography. The upshot of a nation of violent and stupid people is a violent and stupid country--gee, what a surprise!


Ay, mi gorda pichona! Always great to hear from u. The problem w/individual voluntary efforts is that they exist on the fringe, really don't amount to systemic change--except in terms of national disintegration (see my reply to Mike, below). By now, the fix is in, so to speak; might as well pour yerself a third glass of whine. Also be sure to see the film, "The Age of Stupid," which leaves no doubt as to where we are heading.


3:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Actually, my analysis of change is not quite so murky as you suggest. There are only two types that fall into the structural category: revolution, and disintegration. Revolution requires widespread popular dissatisfaction; defection of the army at the critical point; and a serious split w/in the ruling class regarding values and objectives. All of these were present in France in 1789 and Russia in 1917, for example; none of them are present in, say, Iran today. Egypt's 'revolution' is bogus, and won't amount to shit, because the widespread dissatisfaction was with Hosni, not the entire economic system. Eliminate Hosni and the army steps in as the gov't--hardly a defection, and I don't think the Egyptian ruling class is pushing for any kind of revision beyond Hosni getting hosed. As for the US: who are we kidding?: 310 million people are still(!) chasing The American Dream; the ruling class is as solid as they come; and the army is about as close to defection as I am to fluency in Urdu.

Which is why, in civilizational terms, disintegration is a lot more common, if a whole lot slower ("organic"). This requires the 4 factors I mentioned in the Twilight bk for Rome, and which are clearly present in the US today. The model is erosion of structure rather than any sudden structural shift, and this does relate to individual behavior--but in an oblique and nonlinear way. Thus the individual craze for $ produced the crash of 2008, and will produce the next crash (which will be far more devastating) as well. Intelligent folk (all 200,000 of them, at most) leaving the country will also deplete the social capital; or engaging in personal withdrawal of the NMI variety might have a similar effect. As more and more people come to see that the nation has no future because it has no heart, the erosion gathers slow momentum. By 2040, this may coalesce into secessionist movements that have real clout (see Thomas Naylor's little bk, "Secession," for more on this). The model here is not only the Roman Empire, but also the Middle Ages: slowly, one way of life is increasingly nonviable, and another way of life comes into being. Individuals have a role to play in this, but as I said, it's quite nonlinear and indirect, and of a far larger time-frame than an individual life. If, like Ted Rall, I believed revolution were possible for the US, I wd endorse it; but I think the guy is so far out of touch w/reality as to be a bad joke. Disintegration, on the other hand, is not only possible--it's inevitable. Meanwhile, I think we shd all enjoy the show, as Ed Sullivan once said.


3:06 PM  
Blogger Chad In Chicago said...

Tim, seriously, love the Forbidden Planet analogy. How appropriate.

I don't post that much but I'm a big fan of Dr. Berman's work and I check in often. It's always great when there's a new post as this always sparks a new round of discussion.

TAP has been a subject close to my heart as it truly seems to be off limits in the public discourse. But as usual, our moderator hit the mark. I'd like to add one observation of mine if I may. During the last decade, it was always my feeling that people turned on Bush not because of the war, the lies, the incompetency, the abuse of power (I could go on), but the price of gas. Really, that was the single biggest complaint that I heard about him. That he and his oil buddies were out to screw the American consumer.

Now, needless to say Bush and his "buddies" were indeed out to screw the average American, but this said two things to me. One, TAPs preoccupation with conspiracy theories and two, their preoccupation with their wallet.

Not to be repetitive, but who cares if we killed a couple hundred thousand innocent people in the desert when gas is so high? It shows where their priorities are.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You may recall a popular American soundbite often used with vehement & vicious glee whenever something boils over in the Middle East: "Nuke their ass and take their gas!"

As I recall, Dr. Morbius got his IQ boosted by Krell super-science, making him a genius among humanity ... but a moron by Krell standards. Isn't that what we've got now? "Leaders" who consider themselves geniuses by their own standards, but are morons by any civilized standards?

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I'd like to report on the complete findings of the Gallop poll about who Americans regard as our greatest presidents. They are, in order, Reagan, Lincoln, Clinton, JFK, Washington,FDR,Obama,and George W. Bush tied with Thomas Jefferson. In other words, the elites can sleep quite soundly tonight knowing that with an electorate this clueless they can get away with anything. In fact, they won't even have to manufacture a pretense, like WMD, for the next foreign conquest. I am truly convinced that if the American people were reduced to living in grass hut, they would say that it's the price one needs to pay to fight international terrorism without once realizing that being reduced to a grass hut is state sponsored terrorism perpetrated on them.
Mike, as the good doctor says, get a cold one and watch the disintegration. You'll enjoy it more than football, I assure you.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yep, Reagan is No. 1! To see this, just plug "gallup poll greatest president" into google, and there it is.

Many eons ago, as an undergraduate in college, I studied Russian for 2.5 yrs. For practice, I tried reading Pravda every day. Jesus, what a drag. The daily headline was some variant of "Millions Enslaved by Capitalism." It was true (although there was a curious omission, that of millions being enslaved by communism), but after about a week of this it got quite boring. However, that was then; what we need now is a similar daily headline in the US papers. I suggest: "Millions of Americans Have Heads Wedged in Rumps." Subtitle: "No Signs of Extraction on the Horizon."


5:34 AM  
Blogger Russ said...

Morris: This is why "What's the Matter with Kansas?" put me off on Thomas Frank (and Obama, for that matter). What's the matter with Kansas is that they love their guns, hate people different from them (which makes guns useful), and idolize the military which puts violence against the other on a global scale. It's a legacy of violence (whether domestic or through a military proxy) from Bleeding Kansas to WWI era attacks on Mennonites to the present, which makes them not all that different from Americans generally. The question, istm, is if they share that with all humanity, or if there's a detour on the way to that dead end.

7:22 AM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Dr. Berman,

Thanks again for putting into writing what at least some of us feel. I cringe every time I hear TAP rolled out by a politician (or anyone else) as some sort of talisman for why they are screwing us over one way or the other. I think, isn't this TAP 80% of whom did not read a book last year? 70% of whom cannot find Iraq on a map? What a joke!


9:08 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Thanks for clarifying.

I think the what I called your "simultaneous" for of change (revolutions) might have more to do with pop. size; you suggested something like this in your (structural) analysis of civilizations vs. non-civs (Rome v. the !Kung let's say). It may be so rare these days as to be impossible -- in this "global" world.

Now, as for Egypt: there is widespread dissatisfaction and the military did defect, and there are still on-going protests -- so I'm not convinced with your opinion yet of the Egyptian populace. The military is in "power" -- but it's not clear what "power" is at the moment. There are reports of military strong-arming at Tahrir, but the significance of this isn't yet clear. I am worried, tho ...

So, ok: the relation b/w structural disintegration and individuals (their "behavior") is "non-linear" and "oblique" ... could you elaborate a little?

10:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I posted your message, but either it failed to appear (which does happen sometimes)or you sent it to an old column. In any case, I cdn't find it, so you might wanna post it again--to the most current blog post, if you will. Glad to have u on board, in any case.


4:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


My figs are a few yrs old now, but I had 60% that didn't read a bk, and 87% that cdn't find Iraq or Iran. And of the 18-24 age group, 11% can't find the US on a world map. Also, 47% of Detroit is illiterate. Etc.

Not a day goes by that I don't take a big breath and exclaim, "What a collection of douche bags!" This is an excellent exercise for clearing the nostrils and increasing one's energy.


9:14 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Great post, Dr. Berman. I have often felt that many social critics are way too easy on TAPs; all this while castigating our evil rulers and corporate bosses. I could never buy the "wool over our eyes" stuff even though I always liked Chomsky, Hedges, etc...I felt like if the wool were pulled away, TAP would want it right back up in The Matrix where the guy has seen the "real world" and wants back in the faux-reality. "ignorance is bliss". Although I don't even think the average American cares about what "really" goes on or how many people are slaughtered by our military, etc. I think as long as we are fat and entertained, we don't even need the wool over our eyes. There are so many days when I feel like I'm in some kind of alternate universe because I cannot fathom how a culture could be more content without a heart or soul.

I keep thinking what a burden it is to live in our society, a society which 99.9% of Americans think is the best possible society on Earth. I've had many conversations with our countrymen where I've suggested that perhaps this isn't the best there is, (especially when I wanted to believe that if people only knew what was really going on, they wouldn't stand for it) only to be met with dumbfounded (and often angry) reactions. And yet I continue to feel that living in this country just sucks the life out of me.

11:49 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Art,

A special regard just for you. I'm very sorry that you've had a heart attack and I hope that you are recovering comfortably.

It's odd that you were feeling unsure of yourself and guilty the week before your illness. It may have been due to the illness. Guilt grips me and saps the joy out of so much living. It's a rather useless emotion but has grips like a vampiric insect.

I wish you well. Contiue to enjoy your own life--counting blessings as Morris would have it.

Take care, my friend.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


A couple of things come to mind. Tocqueville observed, in 1831, that when you pointed out problems of American society to Americans, they became "fierce". Clearly, it's only gotten worse in the last 180 years; which means that no fresh air can ever get in.

2nd, I myself had to get out because I felt I was not strong enough to resist the toxicity of the American environment, which is very powerful and omnipresent. The yogic or buddhist ideal, I guess, is to become "a lotus in a cesspool"; by the time I left, I felt I was just a dirty lotus.


12:27 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

I too had a brush with greatness when the Dali Lama came to speak at the University of Washington. Some commies woke people up during Dolly's rather dry, scholastic talk on the 4 noble untruths--I thought the commies made some valid points before being escorted from the auditorium by security. Dolly, to his credit, appeared more saddenned and puzzled than frightened, even though his security thought otherwise. The woman next to me--I was with my Buddhist sangha from Portland, Ore.--was busy reciting her mantra on mala beads for the duration of the drama. After which, Dolly simply and sadly said that some people simply don't understand, hence their commotion.

Later, Dolly had a private audience at his hotel with American Buddhists, including my group. After his talk (an abstruse meditation requiring advanced abilities--I think he underestimated the depth of our practices) he offered to shake hands with everyone. There was a rather un-Buddhist hustle to be the first in line to shake Dolly's hand and I was shrinking from the encounter when someone shoved me torward Dolly and I mustered all my strength to keep from toppling Dolly over--Hello Dolly! [down there on your meditative rump after having been knocked down by an "overly zeolous" follower.]

Since then, I've avoided celebrity encounters.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Robo said...

Thoughtful types need to be reminded of this basic truth on a weekly basis, lest we get optimistic. Of course, your previous books came to similar conclusions. Looking forward to the next one. Might as well get them published while there are still publishers.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Kelvin: thanks so much for your warm regards. It's interesting that you and Joe were thinking along the lines of vampires last night. Joe feels that living in America is sucking the life out of him. And, you say that certain feelings can sap the joy out of living.

This morning, I came across a quotation by Goethe: "Just trust yourself--then you will know how to live." Dr. Berman, why does this seem to be the hardest thing for us (Americans, at least) to do?

7:55 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, ain't it the truth. I guess I got old at just the right time (or maybe a tad too early). Publishers are not that eager now to get bks out to the tables at B&N and what is left of Borders; and they are not that eager to send authors on bkstore rdg tours. A shame, because there are still a few folks out there who like to hold a physical book in their hand, leaf thru it b4 they buy it (or not); and who want to see the physical presence of the author--see who he is. All of that is rapidly evaporating: Brave New World, where people scan instead of read, and live "life" on the Net.


Yeah, not easy. I cdn't do it myself, which is why I left, so I guess I'm no one to give advice here. Americans live in a culture where the only reality is an outer-directed one; they have no sense of living one's own unique life, one's inner reality. It's such an irony, that the nation most spiritually impoverished should think that "there's nowhere else to live, baby." You and me and the rest of the DAA55 can shake our heads and sigh, but one thing we aren't going to do is wake up 310 million zombies.


9:59 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Why don't we trust ourselves? Man, there's a question! We're immersed in a culture that tells us not to, of course. It tells us that our natural instincts are wrong, that whatever we do on our own will offend/embarrass, that we've got to listen to Those Who Know.

Yet at the same time they feed us a line about Being Individuals -- but only according to their standards, never ours. Then they convince us that their standards ARE ours.

When this is imbibed almost literally from birth, it's accepted as the norm.


To be honest, I feel that pull to be put back into the Matrix every so often myself. It just gets tiring having to fight the same battle day after day, doesn't it?

At such times I keep in mind the words of William Blake, surely a proto-NMI:

I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds,
to open the immortal Eyes of Man
Inwards into the Worlds of Thought;
Into eternity, ever expanding
In the Bosom of God,
The Human Imagination.

I must create a system or be enslav'd by another man's.

If that last line isn't an NMI credo, I don't know what is!

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear MB & All,

C'mon guys and gals, cheer up!

I've just been reading "Overcoming Your Addiction to Rebirth in Human Form: The Amazing Twelve Step Program to Roll Your Wheel of Dharma Out of the Biggest Rut Its Ever Been In."

(OK, OK....So its twenty four steps or more for an American...or even an unlimited number of steps if you have been prepared by educationists for "life long learning" which means learning nothing in particular at all, and you have your whole life to do it in. No matter, this technique works!)

Feel "iffy" about reincarnation? Now available with the expanded "Pascal's Wager Option" described in the appendix.


But seriously folks.......somewhere in the Vedic literature it talks about the God of Fire (Agni) in this way: There is borrowed fire which you may need to get from someone else, there is the fire by friction that you learn to create through your own work,, and there is the fire that comes from lightening---that is rare and beautiful, emerging from divine inspiration.

All these ways provide light.

If I didn't visit this website, I would feel that much more isolated and alone, without any "matches."

1:53 PM  
Blogger eric said...

The way I see this is that the majority of the people in our country lack higher education and the ability to critically analyze discourse/communication. In addition, many people lack the resources (ability and time) to spend considerable effort in doing said analysis (breaking through propaganda) even if it were their wish to do so. Analyzing political discussion and media messaging is not encouraged and is actually discouraged in many contexts. As a result the "wool over their eyes" is the information vacuum being filled by the most prominent and easily-consumed messaging...things that make sense on a simplistic level and clearly appeal to unconscious urges. I believe this vacuum COULD be filled with something else, but that would obviously not be in the interest of corporatists who control our imperial agenda and who benefit from the status quo. Thus, I would find it hard to blame TAP for their condition while at the same time granting that the objective reality is that TAP as a whole have a fundamentally limited ability to engage in critical analysis and thus are in the inevitable condition of being extremely limited in their ability to uncover relatively well-hidden truths. I tend to agree that criticism of TAP should not be off limits (I have done a fair amount of that over the years) but I still see things in a context whereby there is some hope that individuals can be provided the encouragement and support necessary to view things more clearly. However, I have no hope that this will happen on a scale large enough to ever impact the agenda of our entrenched sociopolitical apparatus.

Thanks for the interesting article. I am a long time reader of the blog and really look forward to your next book.

4:40 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You have a pt, of course, but a lot of those "well-hidden truths" are in fact right out in the open, available on the Net. All one needs is the motivation to look; which, of course, TAP don't really have. When you spend all yer time breathing nitrogen, it's hard to imagine oxygen; but one cannot say that it is "hidden".


5:45 PM  
Blogger HansfromDK said...

Dear dr. Berman & friends

Found an interesting homepage, where students, who do not ”have time” for writing term papers, can order absolutely original papers on any subject. This procedure may look a bit disturbing or even damaging to the very idea of what education is, but fortunately I am able to prove that the market mechanism will assure an equilibrium. Here is why: 1) Students who do not write their own term papers will never learn how to write. 2) If fewer and fewer will be able to write, the price of term papers will soar. 3) This will encourage people to learn to write, because ghost-writing will be a well paid job, but 4) If too many can write, demand and the price will drop again. So have trust in the invisible hand of the market! (Quite an analysis, if I may say so myself.)

Best to all of you

4:03 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I thought readers of this blog might be interested in this story. It says a lot, I think, about TAP and what our true values are. Kentucky poet Wendell Berry received the National Humanities Medal yesterday.
Saxophone great Sonny Rollins and Jacques Barzun (among others) were also recipients of the medal. Here is an interesting quote from Obama's remarks at the ceremony:

"We have to remember that our strength as a people runs deeper than our military might; it runs deeper than our GDP — it’s also about our values and our ideals that each generation is called to uphold, and that each artist helps us better understand.”

Now if only he had said "our strength as a people is not about our military might, it has nothing to do with our GDP: instead, it is about what values we ought to uphold, and that each of these artists helps us to better understand." But of course no one in power in the U.S. will ever say that. This, I think, indicates the deep conflict in the psyche of what Chris Hedges calls the liberal class. We never admit that to truly "change course" is a matter of (really) changing our values, as you have pointed out on many occasions. And as for TAP, it seems that it is impossible to give a speech to them without referencing military might and money, even when the goal is to honor poets and jazz greats.


5:14 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Jimmy Carter, in his TV address from Annapolis, 15 July 1979, did tell the American people that their values were wrong, and in no uncertain terms. They didn't like it, and voted him out of office the next yr by one of the greatest landslides in history. Since he lost anyway, I've always regretted the fact that he didn't call TAP "a huge collection of shallow morons," which is what his intellectual sources--Bell, Bellah, and Lasch--had basically said.

I don't have any actual figures, but I'm willing to bet u that for every book Wendell Berry sells, someone like Ann Coulter sells 10,000. I'm also disappointed in Wendell: why didn't he refuse the reward, use the occasion to say that Mr. Obama is in the pocket of the Pentagon and Goldman Sachs, and is in fact a war criminal? What a pity.


5:26 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Thanks for that revealing story, and your all too accurate analysis of it. Presidents & public officials feel compelled to praise the arts & the life of the mind, but they really only value those things if they make a lot of money -- just like most Americans! Still, it gives them an unearned aura of civilized nobility, I suppose.

As MB notes, it would have been interesting to have Berry refuse the prize, perhaps with a statement about actually living up to the values Obama was praising so lavishly. That, or send someone to accept the prize in his place & make such a statement. Where's Sacheen Littlefeather when you need her?

Really, is any public official any different than the typical student who reads the Cliff Notes & can regurgitate the appropriate plot points & basic literary symbols of a classic novel, without being able to explain any of those things in his/her own words? Just have to say the right things & sound as if you mean them ...


Wouldn't it be something if grade schools offered courses in media analysis, with the homework being that students had to ferret out the (not so) hidden messages in commericials, talk shows, political speeches, sitcoms, etc.?

Instead, more & more schools get the likes of Channel One & its corporate propaganda. Besides, how many parents would sit still for their kids learning something so un-American?

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dark Ages maybe over soon and it will be pendulum theory “Morning in America” as Harvard University reinstates Naval ROTC. Now the last decade of brain drain will be undone. Lost leaders like Admiral Fallon will soon be replaced by smaaaaart (Boston accent) Harvard kids and we can continue shaking up the world as we see fit.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I refer to this as the "Pete Seeger vs. Bertolt Brecht" problem. American liberals tend to be like Pete Seeger and assume that people are good and innocent and saintly. In Europe, there was a lot of liberal thought that stemmed from the opposite conclusion- that people were generally corruptible and seedy (see Brecht's poetry).
Many people, baffled by the complexity of the real world, base their political loyalties on their view of human nature. In the US that means "people are good"=lefty, "people are bad"=conservative. But it is interesting to see that there no inherent connection btwn human nature and progressive or conservative "thought". Both can exist with either assumption. But, for cultural reasons, the lines were drawn in one way in the US. Of course, even conservatives can't say TAP are bad so they hide behind a whole range of symbols and codewords (see Lakoff).

12:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for your response to "The Real Gold." The only trouble with posting on past posts (note alliteration there) is that there's no way I can respond to it, and in addition, nobody's really reading the ancient stuff anyway. Would like to hear more from u in future, but it's best to stay w/the current post if u can, since that's where the discussion is. Also, if u cd limit yer message to abt 1/2 page, that wd be helpful as well.

Thanks for writing in-


9:26 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and friends,

An excellent op-ed piece in the NYT this morning by Bob Herbert on the dismal cognitive skills of college students. One of the comments I thought was particularly on target:
Boston, MA
March 5th, 2011
1:40 am
In almost forty years of teaching at the freshman college level, I have never seen such poor attitudes (including 7th grade behavior) and skill levels. As a result in part of our entitlement society, schools are treating students as consumers. We, as teachers, no longer have the authority as we did in the past to "hold their feet to the fire" to perform. We are increasingly being asked, either overtly or implicitly, to pander to these patrons or suffer the consequences (results of teacher/course evaluations). In short, the inmates are running the institutions and our society is the big loser.

We need society to give teachers the authority to carry out their responsiblities and not pander to the student with gimmicks of play masquerading as new and wonderful educational methods. The "student" needs to take responsibility for learning. I tell my classes that no one can teach them anything; all we can do is help them learn. This is a skill that will pay them rewards many-fold in the years to come.

I thought this was a pretty good summary of why, in part, Johnny Can't Think anymore. I was over at a close relative's home a couple of weeks ago and an ad for Sarah Palin's Alaska came on their big, flat screen HD TV and they both said--"she's a cool lady and her show is really good but I don't think she should be president." They are both college graduates (one has a PhD from Yale) and neither of them read anything more challenging than legal thrillers or historical romances, rarely watch the news and opinions are formed from tidbits of "facts" they read on the internet. You are right on target with your assessment of TAPS.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I guess now we know what a doctorate from Yale is worth, eh?


9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The worst thing right now is that people are cutting the taxes on the rich and corporations and then turning around and accusing the public employees of bankrupting everyone. The public is too ignorant to see through this elite manipulation. The elites have turned the remnants of the middle class against the unionized middle class. The Third Reich couldn't have done this better. There are even propagandistic movies like "Waiting for Superman." Obama is silent. It is amazing that people vote against their own self interest. Now, I really do believe that the thinking people should go to Denmark, Canada, or some other "functioning" society where the government does care about its people. This is the beginning of the fall. Many country roads are being turned to gravel again. This era will be called devolution..Next stop will be widespread suffering...then war, etc. We are Weimar, but with dumber, less civilized people.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Inspector Clouseau said...

We have a tendency in America to argue for or against a concept based on our own personal philosophy or view of the world, what advances our personal interests, or the interests of our party, family, organization, or region. Perhaps viewing the issue from a management or systemic perspective might result in innovative approaches to the issue. The American national mindset, citizen philosophy, lack of citizen motivation to be proactively healthy, and governance model make the socialization of health care in America very problematic, particularly at this point in time. A country needs to know its limitations.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Athos said...

I have my share of freshman students, fair number of them having no business being in college. They come right out and say I hate to read. Once I did an announced quiz and said they could use their notes. One piped up, “You didn’t say we had to take notes.” Another time I surveyed one class and not one had heard of Thoreau’s Walden Pond let alone having read it. I ask what do you do in high school English? “Practice standardized tests and watch movies.”

But it’s open enrollment, the student is the customer at McUniversity. Would you like a plus with that B?

11:55 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

One particularly annoying TAP habit, born of constant coddling by politicians;

...delay delay delay coming around to an obvious but inconvenient position the rest of the world has long accepted - say on global warming, death penalty, Iraq, Afghanistan, anything really (TAP emitting a collective social noisefart the whole time along the lines of "we won't be rushed, we will come around to it when we're good and ready, on nobody's timetable but our own")

And THEN, once the decision to do an about-face on some social or political issue has been made, TAP proceeds to indulge in collective orgies of righteous self-congratulation...because only when TAP espouses something does it become some newly discovered, universally valid piece of common sense that the world ought to thank TAP for. And aren't we great and admirable for (finally) having done the right thing.

The prototype for this smug, dilatory self-backpatting TAP behavior pattern seems to have been set on the slavery issue. The rest of the Western world had abolished it by the 1830s, but down to this very day we have never gotten tired of patting ourselves on the back for you know, sort of abolishing it in the 1860s and then spending the next hundred years sort of congratulating ourselves for how much progress we make on the civil right issue, and how courageous, you know, TSouthernAP were for oh so generously finaly allowing their minds to be changed....

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

When I was a newly graduated RN I remember working with a young intern who had received his BS from Yale. I can't begin to tell you how impressed I was---I thought you had to be incredibly intelligent to go to one of those universities and maybe, at the time, that was true. Now (and please correct me if I'm wrong since I'm not a professor)it seems more like a brand name -- like Ralph Lauren, Gucci -- and predicting intelligent, thoughtful discourse based on these so-called credentials is a craps shoot at best. These brand name universities open many doors in the world it's true but have we lost the entire point of education? Maybe curiosity, judgment, discernment are qualities that can't be taught. Believe me, I'm not holding myself up as a model for any of these virtues b/c I'm not---I'm simply saddened when I see someone who had the opportunity for a first class education telling me Sarah Palin is a "cool lady." And this was after the shootings in Arizona when she defended her "right" to place rifle sights over Congressional districts.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thank u all, again.

We *are* sort of in a Weimar-type situation; which does make me a bit nervous. Under the surface there is a huge amount of violence and bitterness; that seems clear enuf.

As for education: we've talked abt this on this blog b4, of course. It's basically meaningless, now, because in a situation where the teacher/prof needs to keep his job in order to survive, and where enforcing real academic standards will lead to negative evaluations and thus loss of job, the end of the road is obvious. For the most part, he or she can't appeal to the admin for support, because they want to keep *their* jobs, and this depends on cash flow (tuition) or keeping parents happy, etc. The next generation of teachers then arises from precisely those students who were sitting in his classes...dilution follows dilution...and basically, the country implodes, collapses from within.

Two things (at least) come to mind:
One is that this is such a fucking grim situation. My own education was in no way like this. Instructors had real authority and they used it to see to it that we struggled with difficult material. We didn't get an A for effort, that's for sure. What a loss it is for American students, never to know the lyrical passages of the Odyssey, never to feel the alienation of "Prufrock," never to follow Durkheim's brilliant analysis of religion and society. And finally, the populace simply becomes The Rabble, whose only interest is some updated version of bread and circuses. What can possibly be the political future of a country whose citizens can do little more than drool, and where Yale Ph.D.'s think Sarah P. is cool (as opposed to scary and brain-dead)?

Second thing: If we realize all this, and just give up on the country (which I think is unavoidable, if you really grasp the situation), what is to be done about that world of learning that runs from Heraclitus and Lao-tzu to Borges and John Cage? This is where the whole scenario of the Twilight bk comes in (NMIs etc.), as the Dark Age continues to descend: a handful of people as points of light. But beyond that, I'd like to think of a place, a nation, an actual political entity that would preserve all this, and it ain't easy. China is a no-show on that score; parts of Europe may be a possibility; but I really can't say, for sure.

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...


ALL nations are at least 98.64% populated by destructive, self-regarding yahoos. Its when the yahoos are in charge of significant superpower strength (i.e industrial era Germany, us) that geopolitical mayhem and civilizational death ensues. Even before there were nation states, all earlier political formations (empires, etc.) served at best as temporary incubators and carriers for whatever valuable cultural content outlasted them. I would say the proper emergence of the NMI phenomenon itself implies the destruction or collapse of its political hosts. You can't have both, and I for one would prefer the NMI's over whatever "revived" or "rejvenated" state-sponsored version of late Western sense of mission might still be possible in the Europe of a few decades hence.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Happily, that's just not true. Mexico has huge problems, but one sees generosity and intelligence on a daily basis. Much of Europe remains oriented to great intellectual traditions. You simply can't generalize from the US; we are (thank god) hardly the norm.


9:49 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...


I start my day with my humor sites on the internets tubes, which includes a visit to Jesus' General. The General includes book reports on the weekends. And this weekend must be Mexico weekend, cause that's what's featured! Maybe Dr. Berman can validate these tomes, which might help yinz in your transition from Gasland:

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,

Pardon my hyperbole, it is indeed far less than 98% yahooism abroad. I can’t help wondering though, if the rising, materialistic middle classes in Asia, Latin America, etc.) are about ready to spring a massive wave of global cranial rectitis on us that has very little to do with the US version. Given the same cultural assumptions that obtained in the US moment (the entire world open to exploitation with impunity, no more hectoring from foreign powers strong enough to force their viewpoints on us, a resulting readiness to ignore social contradictions or displace them onto a mythologized, eventually global other, a massively successful culture of consumer materialism)…would ANY given population around the world would be able to resist the temptation of slowly turning into assholes over a few generations?

As to Europe…Since the age of total war and colonialism perhaps Europe has indeed become a kind of postapocalyptic civilization where the NMIs have taken over…and de rigeur NMIism in the hands of conformists has therefore hardened somewhat into a Citta Lente, slow food, afternoon-paseo-type orthodoxy. But only by paying the price of two big and bloody civilizational enemas 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were the Europeans able to transcend THEIR case of terminal cranial rectitis. The tradeoff is that …playing the role of conscience-stricken, civilized trustees of all that is true, good, and beautiful in abendlaendische Kultur is the current justification for now enforcing increasingly hermetical immigration barriers against the developing world they trashed over the last 500 years. I suspect that just like certain denizens of the American South, many of these people are capable of displaying extremely courteous, considerate, aware and intelligent behavior – until the core hubris, insecurities and racist prejudices of a defeated civilization are touched.

As always, I appreciate the spirited exchange. No other forum keeps its members as honest.


2:10 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, you raise a number of issues; I'm not really sure I can address myself to all of them. I was just thinking aloud on the possibilities of alternatives to the US model of everything of quality, and anything truly intellectual, getting flattened, diluted, and finally hollowed out. As Rome went under, those things became increasingly marginal, and finally got preserved only in monastic contexts, as I discuss in the Twilight book.

With regard to your own take on Europe, let me just shift the argument a bit...Some time ago I was reading a bk by Gary Cross, "An All-Consuming Century," which argues that consumerism was the ism that probably saved the US from isms such as fascism and communism. At the time, I thought this was ridiculous: that the only alternative to these killer ideologies was Cranial Rectitis (or perhaps jackass-ism might be another name for it). Now, I'm not so sure; I'm wondering if he wasn't right, given the nature of mass society to spread and reproduce itself everywhere. But that (consumerism as a substitute for killer ideologies) strikes me as cold comfort, inasmuch as the corporate-consumer vision of "life" is not merely destroying the human mind, but the planet as well. (The "reign of quantity," as Rene Guenon once put it, is a killer ideology all its own.) And charges of "elitism" for the type of preservation I'm talking about finally have their limits, because ultimately you can't have a civilization without a hierarchy of quality. I'm just musing on the possibilities of the sort of enclaves of quality I talk about in the Twilight book being larger than a marginalized or fringe phenomenon. John Fowles also speculated on this many years ago in "The Aristos," but I don't know how successful he was.


5:34 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury and Ray,

You raise interesting issues. Consumerism may have saved U.S. from fascism and communism but not imperialism. Maury you say, "you can't have a civilization without a hierarchy of quality," and I add, having read your WG, that a horizontality of quality is not a civilization but a band of HGs.

I wonder if consumerism and imperialism are siamese twins. They are peculiarly horizontal in their rhizomic progression across the surface of the earth. [Thank you, E. R. Heart. I miss you and your rhizomic haiku on CL]. Maybe consumerism drives imperialism.

To conclude, in the U.S. Maslow's hierarchy of needs has always been flattened to its base pyramidal base. The eye on top is chimerical which is to say blind. The pyramid is chimerical too. "The lone and level sands stretch far away."

7:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, I think eventually consumerism at home needs markets abroad, and imperialism becomes inevitable. But I don't think its spread can be described as truly horizontal, in the way HG society is; its actual practices, surely, are vertical ones, at least in terms of politics and economics (gross social inequality etc.). It does, however, act to flatten culture, bring it down to the lowest common denominator.

To my knowledge, there are no Mozarts among HGs. They have a culture, of course--witness cave painting in particular--and music, dance, storytelling (in some cases), and so on. But they are oral cultures (no literature), and I don't think theirs is the same as the "high culture" of, say, modern Europe. Perhaps there is a price to be paid for the latter...after all, the same milieu that generated Beethoven eventually generated Hitler, so one has to wonder if there is a relationship. Tricky questions, that's for sure.


9:01 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Athos, I work in an inner-city public school and your students are correct- all they essentially do in public schools in the US is prepare for state standardized tests (especially in 3rd, 8th, and 11th grade). And woe to any teacher who even slightly deviates from the required and often scripted curriculum. So of course they haven't heard of Thoreau or any of the cannon. Truly, if anyone graduates from a public school with some ability in critical analysis it was an accident (and something the authorities will look into to make sure it doesn't replicate).
By the way, Dr. Berman, our favorite lady was in TV the other day deploring Gaddafi for firing on unarmed civilians almost the same day that 9 Afgan boys were shot one at a time by a helicoptor gun ship. Did anyone form the major media outlets notice the irony? Of course not.
Then she bemoans that the US is losing the propaganda war. But as Alexander Cockburn points out in his piece on Friday, what does the US have to crow about?
Finally, yes, we will have braindead (say)administrative assistants in years to come, but what about the professions like medicine and law? Will it be safe to get an operation in the US? Will lawyers be well versed in the law? And most importantly, will it be safe to fly knowing that mechanical engineers spent and spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook?

9:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Maybe we'll have virtual medicine and law, along with virtual flying. Whee!

Meanwhile, for a more specific look at how the American collapse is shaping up, check out "Broketown, USA," in today's NYT Magazine.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

When I turned on CBS Sunday Morning today, they annouced tat it was the annual Money Show. My first thought: isn't every episode of CBS Sunday Morning the Money Show? Either someone's shilling something, or we're being told about something & how much it makes or costs. The more the better, of course.

And on the front page of the NY Times, this story:

Talk Doesn’t Pay, So Psychiatry Turns to Drug Therapy

The switch from talk therapy to medications has swept psychiatric practices and hospitals, leaving many older psychiatrists feeling unhappy and inadequate. A 2005 government survey found that just 11 percent of psychiatrists provided talk therapy to all patients, a share that had been falling for years and has most likely fallen more since. Psychiatric hospitals that once offered patients months of talk therapy now discharge them within days with only pills.

Recent studies suggest that talk therapy may be as good as or better than drugs in the treatment of depression, but fewer than half of depressed patients now get such therapy compared with the vast majority 20 years ago. Insurance company reimbursement rates and policies that discourage talk therapy are part of the reason. A psychiatrist can earn $150 for three 15-minute medication visits compared with $90 for a 45-minute talk therapy session.

Mere coincidence that more & more Americans are suffering from severe depression?

I guess the new version of the Hippocratic Oath is: First, do no harm ... to the profit margin.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

I don't think Beethoven's milieu was the same has Hitler's on the basis of historical evidence. But perhaps I misunderstand your point. Could you offer more explanation or refer me to sources? I like to think of the Beethoven who tore up the 3rd symphony dedication to Napoleon on learning that N. had crowned himself emperor. "All men are brothers" from Schiller's Ode to Joy, the "libretto" of the 9th symphony's final movement. Maybe I'm a sucker for propagander.

Anyway, tricky questions indeed and I appreciate your thought-provoking response.

There is a musicologist who specialized in the study of Native American music and who was also a devotee of Mozart's music. He wrote a brilliant essay comparing the two musics. I'll search my files and give you the reference, perhaps email it to you as an attachment.

My memory is suffering from acute bozone poisoning!

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

I found the reference:

Nettl, Bruno. "Mozart and the Ethnnomusicological Study of Western Culture: An Essay in Four Movements," In *Disciplining Music: Musicology and Its Canons*, ed. by Katherine Bergeron and Philip V. Bohlman, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992. pp. 137-155.

My abstract of it:
The author compares the social values reflected in the musical system of non-Western culture, primarily that of the Blackfoot people of Montana, with those of Western art music. He judges that the latter values are negative, even brutal, and concludes his essay by posing the problem of reconciling those negative values with the positive exemplars of the great, master composers like Mozart.

So, he too, remains on the horns of a dilemma.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Pardon me for posting on your essay before reading all 57 comments so far (everyone, I promise I will), but I wanted to raise one question about the culpability of TAP in the disintegration process.

Your thesis is that we are all complicit due to our collective character, that being, among other things: selfish, greedy, materialistic, shallow, superstitious, and gullible.

The items at the end of the list have something to do with ignorance, a function of poor education passed down by ignorant forbears and facilitated by an incompetent education system (deliberate or no).

And yet, we have the DAA 52, who all presumably hang with many others who are aware of the myth, the folly, the shameful outrage, and our complicity in it. There are many who are onto the sheer bogusness (I love that word) of the American Myth, and even mainstream people have an inkling that politics is just rhetoric and that the fix is in with the plutocrats.

And Vance Packard is not on the reading list of every 7th grade civics student (because civics is no longer taught)and nobody is taught how to think, much deconstruct advertising, which is what every political ad, press conference, talk show appearance, and photo-op is.

I know many people with basically decent, compassionate, generous dispositions, who are merely clueless because of the households in which they were brought up.

What about the theory that Americans are so Mercedes-oriented because they have been hypnotized into their priorities and immersed in a culture that is hostage to product placement?

5:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


On milieu: in a larger sense. The Q is, how could the same nation that produced Beethoven produce Hitler? I.e., by 1933 Germany was the most brilliant, the most culturally advanced nation in the world. The lit, the music, the art--etc. Wouldn't that *prevent* the descent into bestiality? Two slender vols. you need to read on this: Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents; George Steiner, In Bluebeards's Castle. These'll rock yer world.


That's the "manufactured consent" argument, or the "false consciousness" argument, and yer rt--it's not entirely wrong. I do have some sympathy with it. Get yer brains fried at an early age, and they stay fried. The problem with the theory, as I see it, is that proponents of it insist that deep down inside is really a person who knows better, whose values are not kaka, and if we (who? the DAA55?) cd reach in there and touch them, their True Selves wd come roaring out and they'd start smashing Mercedeses w/tire irons. But oddly enuf, that day never comes; and when they accidentally run across someone w/non-kaka values, they reject them. So finally if you have a person, or huge #s of them, living their entire lives out in kaka-land, and never giving the slightest hint of non-kaka values, it becomes a strange act of faith to say, "Oh but really, what they really wanted was..." What would the evidence for that be? Maybe it's true, but my concern is that it also may not be relevant: the wool over the eyes, is the eyes. (And if it walks and talks like a duck, it's probably a duck.)

That being said, if u want to read a brilliant exposition of the false consc. theory, try Tolstoy's novel, "The Death of Ivan Ilych."


6:46 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Thank you, Maury.

I've read Freud's Civ some years ago. Can't say that it rocked my boat but in the light of milieu in the larger sense, maybe it will now.

I like George Steiner and see him as an ironist in the tradition of Thomas Mann. I think Harold Bloom said somewhere that Mann is a "lost" author to present generation of readers (if there are many left), the reason being that irony is a lost trope, no longer understood or appreciated.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Great essay and interesting discussion. I'm going to just jump in here if that's ok...

It just goes to show how big an effect life experiences have on who you are. The problem is living in a polluted environment that we created. I'd like to think it's not a question of how does one stop the polluters but what is a better way to live? Lots of people I'm sure would answer that it's just a matter of "being the change you want to see in the world and passing it on". Fine. Unfortunately, most have the attitude of "you first" type of thing...this is the remaining dissilussion i've had with the 60's. I also see this at work and on the street all the time. It's like the litterer... instead of throwing their trash in a receptacle it's "who gives f&&K" it's someone elses job to clean up... There is no pride in a healthy sense of knowing what you're worth when the world is your personal garbage dump and you live life like you are just a commodity - To be discarded at the end of it all... This is what people don't see in themselves. Quality of life translates to everything and that's what is so difficult to face on a daily basis. It's a constant struggle with people who basically don't give a shit about anyone or anything as long as it doesn't personally affect them. (even when it does) Not sure where to go with this other than to try to not let it drag me down... I mean moving to some other 'place' sounds great if it works for you...When I moved from NH to Ca. years ago it seemed like a great move for me -personally- 'at the time' but came to accept not long afterwards that this is truly the land of fruits and nuts...and there is no escaping the nuts in the land of the doomed. One thread of hope presented itself recently with a friend considering retiring in Thailand.. I'm sure that's not all pie in the sky either but he raves about the place and the people. Anyway, who knows what the future will bring. All I know is it takes energy treading water.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Tim, thank you for the link and quote. I am in the mental health profession, a talk-therapist (no MD, so no prescriptive powers) and am astonished by my clients' stories of meds being pushed on them by their psychiatrists. I recently heard an anectdote of a middle-aged man seeking talk-therapy (he had never sought mental health services, but he was suffering from the emptiness felt by some who realize what a soulless, pointless, aimless culture this is) who arranged to meet with a psychiatrist. He waited two hours only to see the doctor for approximately 5 minutes, when he was given a script for an antipsychotic which was generally only given for severe depression with psychotic features. He never had it filled and called the psychiatrist a week later to see if he could just come in and talk, and was told by the nurse that it would be a waste of his time and the doctor's. Yet it gets more and more difficult for my colleagues and me to receive third-party reimbursement for "talk only" treatment.

Dr. Berman, thanks for the link to the NYT magazine article. My father and brother and uncle work for the same city in the midwest, and my father is a year from retirement, and due to staggering municipal debt, he may lose a huge chunk of his pension. He is pretty scared about it, considering he was always under the impression that it was "ironclad".

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Just saw a video of Michael Moore giving quite a stirring address to 1000's of people in Madison, Wisconsin. He addressed the fact that the US is not broke but that all the money is concentrated in in very few hands.
Still, as soon as one Dem decides to return to the state, the bill eliminating collective bargaining will pass as well as similar bills in Ohio and Indiana.
Yes, the passion is (finally) there but it's still too little too late. Instead of waging class warfare as the Right has done since this nation's founding, the great mass of the American people have tried to identify with the elites. In some ways it's like the Aesop fable of the monkey who rode on the back of the tiger in order to feel strong until the tiger got hungry and ate the monkey.
Interesting piece in the NY Times Magazine. So class size in Detroit is now 60? This is truly a society that cares not a bit about it's future.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out a film called "Love and Other Drugs." There are a few scenes there re: Big Pharma that not only evoke, but abs. require, projectile vomiting. You might wanna bring a few like-minded friends, and sit in the 1st row.


I dunno much abt Thailand ("Don' know much about history..."), but the commitment to move somewhere starts by visiting the place, preferably for a month or two. Eventually you can put stuff in storage and rent something abroad for a year, which is the acid test. Then, if it was a gd experience, you can make the leap. But the important thing is to bite the bullet and get the process going.


12:56 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I too find Europe’s maintenance of a commitment to culture and quality very congenial; I’m with you on the vital (yet currently mostly unmentionable) importance of an element of elitism in any culture. However, the NMI life may not necessarily be compatible with such “quality of life.” True NMI is sustainable in perhaps a narrower range of conditions than we would prefer; (c.f the old “life zone” theory in planetology where a narrow band of viable conditions excludes both too-hot Mercury/Venus and the frozen gas giants).

Trying to be NMI in an underdeveloped country can devolve into fetishizing and protecting the “unspoiledness” or at least “refreshing daily authenticity” of the locals, bemoaning every new fancy piece of hardware or consumer attitude they inevitably start adopting. On the other hand, a “mature” culture such as Europe where NMI-like attitudes have spread might tend to start enforcing “NMI” values with the power of the state/immigration/police forces. Even the insincere, the opportunist, and the conformist (always the majority, if not 98%) might begin parroting NMI-like stances, i.e. a culture of compulsory “elitism” and commodified “quality.” Much of the neo-Fascist critique of the “materialistic,” “soulless,” “philistine,” US is couched in precisely these pseudo-NMI-sounding terms.

I share your desire for a place where authentic NMIsm is possible as a community way of life. I think however, such a milieu would need mutual repudiation between the NMI group and the dominant majority. What might an NMI-and-state “elite” regime in a future Europe look like? We’ve seen the ones of the recent past.

NMI life is catacomb life, not citta lente. Perhaps the ideal environment for true NMI group survival will be an “American-style” food court in the vast Chinese-owned open-air mall formerly known as Dubai in 2082. There, an emerging tribe called DAA55 will quietly gather periodically from all over the world to celebrate with chopped chicken liver and Szechuan pork their Leibovitizian cultic founders, dimly remembered figures like mb, dharmaguerilla, and timlukeman.

As always,

10:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, all of that's true, or potentially true, but I still can't shake the feeling that yer closing the door a bit too fast on the liberatory possibilities. After all, what I'm talking abt *shouldn't* be utopian; in some ways, it's just common sense. And I do think a lot of people know that.


10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cultural milieu that formed the backdrop for Beethoven and then Hitler are part of a historical continuity. It developed over time, just as developments in the U.S. on which we comment, but the connecting threads are easily uncovered. More specifically, there is a powerful narrative style in Beethoven's music based on conflict and resolution. Resolution rarely or never leads to abnegation but instead insists on triumph. It's become a familiar convention by now used in cinema and elsewhere: the happy ending. Those familiar with the phrase Sturm und Drang should recognize that expression of such ideas/values had been gaining traction, particularly in Germany, for some time and reached a point of maturity, in music at least, with Beethoven. Others continued to refine -- part of a historical continuity.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Tim,

Interesting statistics re: talk therapy. Another factor leading to its demise might be the discrediting of Freud as a scientist and the popular academic sport of Freud bashing. He can be seen as the fons et origo (Maury, I'm getting reading for our day of bloggin in Latin!) of talk therapy.

On a historical note: It was actually Joseph Breuer who discovered talk therapy when he attempted to cure his hysterical patient, Anna O. Although, I think one could argue that it was the brilliant Anna O. who was its co-inventor. She referred to it as "chimney sweeping."

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears:

Beware the Ides of March! I shall--with great difficulty--post in Latin on that day. Et vos, aetas obscurae Americae quinquaginta quinque?

4:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I tell ya, we're getting so intellectual here I cd just faint.


1. Bertha Pappenheim
2. O lente lente currite noctis equi!
3. ?

4:40 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...


1. Yes!
2. Poor Adrian Leverkühn
3. "It is my thesis that certain specific origins of the inhuman, of the crises of our own time that compel a redefinition of culture, are to be found in the long peace of the nineteenth century and at the heart of the complex fabric of civilization." --In Bluebeard's Castle

I've discovered that professor Google teaches Latin and will usually give one free assistance.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Full marks on all 3; altho let's not forget Adrian's cousin, Heinrich Leberkaese.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This just in:

"About 2.4% of people around the world have had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder at some point in their lifetime, according to the first comprehensive international figures on the topic. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of bipolar disorder at 4.4%."

I got this off, which got it off Unfortunately, the study did not include Horse's Ass Syndrome (HAS), in which the US weighs in at 99.8%. Fiji was next, at 12.2%.

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Friends,

Need a break from intellectual pursuits? Well, you're in luck: it's Bike Week yet again in Daytona Beach, Florida! Half a million motorcycles roll (and roar) into town for ten days of fun in the sun. The newspaper calls it a "mega event for the local economy", which I'm sure is true. But no mention is made of it's impact on the community: the noise, traffic and the fact that many elderly residents become prisoners in their own homes during the event. Why would I want to spoil the bikers' fun, I'm told. I guess I'm not much in the mood for mud wrestling. Is this what the rest of the country will look like in twenty years?

5:52 AM  
Anonymous J said...

Just came across a new (to me) word about TAP and DAA. "Endarkenment." It is a little precious, but it usually has connections with lack of science education and belief in gnomes and such. It could also descibe the view you get from suffering with Cranial Rectitis.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Maury, Tim,

Have you come across or recently discussed (here) the work of Ethan Watters? He argues that there is pretty good evidence that the mental illnesses of the US are being exported (and, lets add: along with our schlock, smut and schmaltz). Globalization is more than just finance & econ ...

In *Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche* (excerpted in the Times), he writes:

"For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world. We have done this in the name of science, believing that our approaches reveal the biological basis of psychic suffering and dispel prescientific myths and harmful stigma. There is now good evidence to suggest that in the process of teaching the rest of the world to think like us, we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them — now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases. These symptom clusters are becoming the lingua franca of human suffering, replacing indigenous forms of mental illness".

And the point is that whether or not you think that mental illnesses are "socially constructed" (or whatever), certain phenomena like anorexia are appearing where there is evidence that there was *no* such phenomenon previously. In other words, we looked for it prior to deep Americanization, and then in its wake, and ... voi la! You get Pop and self-starvation (but we shold also note that obesity is on the rise in China, in the wake of radid industrialization).


9:37 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."--Adlai Stevenson

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Now I must read the Ethan Watters book -- thank you!

It does seem as if the American approach to psyche has become increasingly biological, even mechanical: Unit X not functioning properly, prescribe 20 mg of Y or Z. Follow clearly delineated & numbered stages of healing process exactly. Complete recovery & return to normality estimated to occur at 9:47 AM, July 27.

There's no whole human being in this model. There's barely even the pretense of one. I'm reminded of that scene in My Dinner With Andre, where Andre talks about visiting his dying mother:

You know, we'd gone to the hospital to see my mother, and I went in to see her. And I saw this woman who looked as bad as any survivor of Auschwitz or Dachau. And I was out in the hall, sort of comforting my father, when a doctor who is a specialist in a problem that she had with her arm, went into her room and came out just beaming. And he said: "Boy! Don't we have a lot of reason to feel great! Isn't it wonderful how she's coming along!" Now, all he saw was the arm, that's all he saw.

And if I understand what Watters is saying, it's that we've exported this mechanical model of the human soul & its list of parts & the proper maintenance required to keep it running "normally" to the rest of the world. Even though our model has abandoned any genuinely humane, healing aspects & retained only the lowest common denominator, that of repairing malfunctioning units so they'll produce more efficiently.

What's the catchphrase of Star Trek's Borg? "You will be assimilated."

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Bisely said...

Tim Lukeman, re the Borg: The other catchphrase is "Resistance is futile" which is kinda what Dr. Berman is getting at when he says to get the hell outa Dodge.

DrB: Why pick on Fiji? Grumpy today or what? I prescribe pastrami.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

OK, Micronesia, then; or Patagonia, if u prefer. What the hey.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Tim,

Indeed. I too often return to MDA -- quite an amazing film. Kind of like an NMI/gnostic scripture. Hopefully a couple fragments will survive (maybe just the "what's *this*; ah..., potato soup, I'll have that" part?).

Anyway, the mechanization you describe -- a *real* phenomenon if any is -- is quite deep. My grandma was suffering from Shingles recently (in part brought on by some serious stress our family went through recently), and was put on some powerful new nerve analgesics (Lyrica). The so-called "medical assistant" at the front desk of the local doctor said "if you feel ok, just stop taking it". Well, turns out this is totally wrong: doing a little search on the NIH website, I read about serious withdrawal symptoms; so, I put her back on the meds and she was ok. Eventually, we managed to get her off the drug.

Point is: it's so mechanical that, increasingly, you have to deal with layers of people handing you the drugs, and people advising you, who have no idea what they're talking about and who don't care enough to figure the situation out. All they know is drug X at rate Y for Z days, etc. Idiocracy again: push some buttons, and a lever or two, otherwise, I dunno... Pretty soon, you'll arrive at an Everything Anytime store, punch in some numbers, and some stuff will appear -- and all you'll know is that "you need it".

Hopefully, in a thousand years, after the floods have receded and the snows have melted, somewhere, in an isolated coastal town, a barefooted wild man, staring blankly up into the firmament, will once again ask "why?", and mean it.

Thales of Miletus -- eat your heart out!

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

I myself would prescribe Leberkaese in all cases of mental illness. Maury, if only Adrian had listened to his cousin Heinrich!

All right, I did reach for my concordance to Mann, figuratively, to figure this out but Wikipedia supplied the answer and I had to laugh.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Techno-Buffoons Out of Control Dept.: check out article by Chris Lehman in, issue of March 2. It's a review of Clay Shirky's "Cognitive Surplus," a major techno-buffoon manifesto (for which Shirky winds up w/a full professorship at NYU and consulting gigs for Nokia, the BBC, US Navy, etc.; not that I'm looking for a job, but I cdn't get hired as a janitor at NYU if I endowed an entire new building); and "The Net Delusion," by Evgeny Morozov. The essay is a good debunking of techno-buffoonery. Of course, techno-buffoonistic declarations work in the US because of a techno-ideology going back a long time (I devote a whole chapter to this in vol. 3 of my 'America' series, "Why America Failed," coming out this fall). Lehman scores Shirky for hailing "a cascade of unrefereed digital content as a breakthrough in creativity and critical thought." He writes: "It's more than a little disorienting--and not a little obscene--in a society of increasingly desperate financial distress and joblessness, to be marched one more time by a beaming missionary through the key points of the New Economy catechism, which holds that the social achievements of the web are remaking the world as we know it remorselessly for the better."

By contrast, Lehman pts out that the root causes of the Egyptian uprising (for example) were not Facebook or some digital kaka, but rather "scarcity, official corruption and social conflict, none of which fit the cyber-utopian narrative or flatter America's technological vanity." The original protests spread "to the less wired workers in Egypt's long-pinched labor economy." Protests gained momentum not from Twitter or Facebook but from the direct physical presence of the populace congregating in Tahrir Square. "Translated into policies," writes Morozov, "the very concept of Internet freedom, much like 'the war on terror' before it, leads to intellectual mush in the heads of its promoters." And while authoritarian regimes love these cutting-edge technologies, which (for example) enable them to locate online dissidents in real time, techno-buffoons like Shirky never mention this. For the TB's, "digital technology by definition," says Lehman, "unleashes and pools human creativity and generosity, because that's what we Western progenitors of these technologies like to imagine them doing." Put another way, TB's have a strong tendency to have shit for brains. Lehman concludes: "If only we had spent the past two decades reading books like 'The Net Delusion' instead of embracing the Clay Shirkys of the world as serious public intellectuals, we could have a far more coherent view of our new media revolution--and probably a much saner set of policy options in the bargain."

Meanwhile, the president (an excellent case study in intellectual mush, along with intellectual incoherence--the Millard Fillmore of the 21st century) thinks that technology is going to solve our problems; he thinks Steve No-Jobs and Mark Zucker-Shmuck are the right people to consult. Cutting-edge social change, that. This can only deepen our Cranial Rectitis, and accelerate the pace of our national decline. We might figure out far too late that the Shirkys were totally full of hot prunes, but by then we'll be on to the latest society-saving techno-gimmick, you can be sure of that. Why can't one of these clowns come up with an Internet program called Cranial-Rectal Embedment (CRE), designed to measure the degree of techno-buffoonery in which we endlessly wallow?

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Mike & Tim,

I got out of the hospital with a bag full of drugs for my heart. Aside from the fact that most of them actually *increase* one's risk of further heart disease, the mechanics failed to give me anything for the ongoing bullshit: the lack of community, access to real food, and the underlying existence without soul. The prescription: get the hell outa Dodge, even if that means no DAA pastrami party.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of technological foolishness. My cousin went to the recent Ted conference and he witnessed the "Khan Academy". This man has made thousands of videos ready to be broadcast into thousands of schools. The teachers, not trusted to deliver content by the elites, would simply be "coaches" or answer student questions or keep their mouths shut. I predicted this years ago. Just play the same video for every school in the country and "presto" everyone is educated. I would also suggest large guards with tasers lining the walls to keep the students' eyes focused on the screens, but that is just me. We could just sit hundreds of students side by side and make them look at the screen. Bill Gates is completely behind this idea, so it must be great, right? This just gets nuttier by the minute...

9:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Gd idea. I have a feeling that there is nothing in any of the numerous medical schl texts about how it's possible to die from a culture (unless they mean throat culture).


9:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Kinda long, I fear. If u cd compress by 50% and re-send, I'd appreciate it. Thanx.


Which do u prefer: Cranial-Rectal Embedment, or Impactment? I really can't decide.


11:34 PM  
Anonymous Paul Emmons said...

Janette said:

>You forgot spite & ignorance. Many in the USA will push for punishment of The Other without considering (or recognizing afterwards) the consequences which harm them directly. So long as their notion of justice is fulfilled, they will be satisfied.

I'll second that. Here in Pennsylvania, many of us are still gasping in horror over revelations about the two judges in Luzerne County who were bribed by a corporation operating a juvenile prison to send them as many kids as possible. The judges ran a brazen travesty of justice for years, getting defendants to waive their rights (apparently via an underling who had a table set up in the hallway outside the courtroom) and then sentencing them to jail terms, for even the most trivial offences, after only a few minutes in front of him. One judge was known and often celebrated for his "tough on crime" stance. Meanwhile, his lavish lifestyle was way above the means of a county judge. Michael Moore covered this scandal in his "Capitalism: a love story".

What amazes me most is that this had gone on for so long. Why did no one think to blow a whistle sooner? My suggestion: vindictive demonization and Schadenfreude towards anyone who steps out of line, however young, seems to be in the air that we the people breathe.

Unfazed, our new governor's budget calls for a $600 million cut in higher education and cuts for much else-- but the "corrections" budget is to be increased. But he won't hear of taxing the companies doing extraction of shale for gas, as nearly every other State does.

11:38 PM  
Blogger Athos said...

One aspect of the "TB", the texting addiction seems to be a Trojan Horse. Would the TBs even notice an invading enemy? Well, it's not a physical enemy--yet, but rather a sort of "de-culturalization."

May I offer:

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

On Ethan's Watters observations about the spread of "North American" disease and "healthcare" patterns:

A friend of mine in Thailand, who managed herself to get off medication for depresssion (prescribed by a German psychiatrist in Bangkok) by practicing a variant of Therevadan meditation, tells me that the upper middle class of that city consider it very trendy in a Westernized sort of way, to take Prozac or Zoloft.

When I arrived in Indonesia in 1992during the SE Asian economic boom, diabetes was becoming epidemic as the residents of Jakarta were becoming accustomed to increased empty calorie intake of a "cuisine industrielle" modelled on the American way.

I was a one of a group of expat teachers at a semi-private high school in Jakarta back in 2000; we all noticed that an eleventh grade girl was becoming extremely thin and refused snacks offered by her classmates. We, in a rough and ready way, "diagnosed" anorexia, and spoke to her parents who took her to Singapore (where the disorder had become a novelty,and got a lot of press attention) for examination, and it turns out we were correct. Of course, you have to be from a relatively high socioeconomic level which allows you to imbibe, adopt, and indulge in American-style habits, eating and otherwise, to consider yourself eligible for getting drafted into the ranks of those with this disorder.

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

or Patagonia, if u prefer. What the hey.

I was seriously thinking about Patagonia, but then I ran across this. Apparently, others were having the same thought, and had the means to act on it.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - the End of the World version - are known as Tompkins, Turner, Lewis and Benetton. They are the 21st-century breed of Patagonia's conquistadores, adventurers and pirates - from Francis Drake and George Newbery to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (their ranch is still there in Cholilla, a dejected pueblo which would be at home in the more dejected parts of New Mexico). Foreigners have always dreamed of the end of the world. And its violent beauty - as we'll see - makes grown man cry.

Californian green guru Doug Tompkins, former founder of both The North Face and Esprit, is known in Patagonia as the "owner of the water". He's the biggest private owner of natural resources in Chilean Patagonia as well as the Corrientes region in Argentina, and owns a number of strategically placed haciendas. When Tompkins first saw southern Patagonia, on the Chilean side, and then northwest Patagonia, on the Argentine side, in 1961, he cried like a baby. Then he came back - and started buying.

Trout-fishing fanatic and CNN founder Ted Turner has a spectacular 5,000 hectare villa in the south of Neuquen province and controls most access to one of Patagonia's most pristine rivers. He has another 35,000 hectares in the same province plus another 5,000 in Tierra del Fuego. Outside of the US, Ted only bought in Patagonia.

9:40 AM  
Blogger Athos said...

From my book review of Fight For Your Long Day by Alex Kudera, which about a day in the life of adjuncts:

"[The adjunct] does represent a growing class of academic paupers in particular and the growing dominance of menial wages everywhere in America in general whether the work is menial or not. And, yet, it’s not little enough. Menial wages, that is. Another sad irony is that the adjunct is no lifetime indentured servant, but rather an endangered species as institutions of higher learning contemplate “satellite hookups and TVs in every classroom…with the finest Indian universities teaching virtual classes long-distance…The fifteen grand a year they were paying the graduate student [or adjunct] has become fifteen hundred for a hungrier South Asian.”

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is capitalism! You seem out of touch with education in America. Come on, get with program. Outsourcing has been successful at all levels of American society. The stock market is doing great! Also, the basketball coach has to make at least a million a year, so the college can pass on the extra savings towards him. That is what really matters, you know. Most of the undergraduates are just partying and doing drugs anyway. Do you think they are forming study groups? Colleges in America should concentrate on what they do best like big arena sports. Those events really bring in the crowds and donations! One of the worst students in the high school where I teach just got into one of the best schools in the country. His grades are terrible, but he sure can run really fast with a ball in his hand. You've got to watch this kid run! He's no Einstein, but he can run and jump with best of em! It's also interesting that he got so much extra help from the teachers in my school, and extra tutoring that other kids weren't offered. Everyone was just so interested and involved in making sure that he did well in his classes...

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

So The American People (at least the Wisconsin franchise) seem to be not acting like the normal TAP. Is it possible, maybe just a little, that we might be reversing a historical trend and are now importing some good ideas from the third world? Like finally recognizing that our interests are not automatically the same as that of the rich? Like taking to the streets again? I mean, this was pretty normal stuff 100 years ago (thanks to a whole lot of Italians and Germans, bringing all that wonderful socialism from the old country).

I'm just asking. I'm pretty jaded at this point, but this is looking promising. At a minimum, I might be able to find a protest in town that will be worth it for a change.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Athos said...

I think in Division I sports, basketball for example, they should give adjuncts a chance to make a few extra bucks by letting them be the people that come out with the mops to wipe sweat off he the court.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I've been lucky with my doctor, as he actually gives a damn about my emotional state as well as my repaired heart. I have ambiguous feelings about medical technology, since without it I would have died 9 years ago, just a little over a year after getting married. So I'm grateful for it, though still wary of its potential side effects.

Still, it's clear that a mechanistic approach with an eye on the dollar is the default mode for every aspect of life today. (See subsequent posts from Paul & Anon, for instance.) The business model is deemed appropriate for everything; the very living of life should be for profit above all, apparently. My wife jokes (more than half seriously) about corporations eventually owning the atmosphere & charging us for every breath we take. Considering how voraciously they're pursuing water rights even now, that doesn't seem so far-fetched.

MB is right. America is dying of its own culture -- or is it more accurate to call it anti-culture? Sometimes I feel the sheer grasping crassness of it seeping into the very pores of my skin. It's a miasma of mediocrity, rising from a bottomless sea of sludge. I feel like one of the few relatively sane people in an asylum taken over by the inmates, who are gleefully destroying themselves & everything around them. But since insanity is the new normal, that makes us the crazy ones, I guess.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


See BEK cartoon in recent New Yorker. Executive comes into his boss' office, says to him, "Marketing and sales recommend that civilization be destroyed." Indeed.


Yes, a real departure from the usual American roll-over-and-die behavior. We'll hafta see if it catches on.


4:27 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

OK, Maury,

If deep down inside, there is not an individual that has core values, then what is the basis for pointing to Americans as kaka buffoons who are ruining it for the rest of the human population?
Isn't the implication that all humans are this way, and America is the place that has become most successful in maximizing the kind of mentality that induces total blindness and destructive behavior?

Again, I ask, who are these people who are outside of that, looking at the immorality of the American population, saying, "I am not that; that is not sanity, but perversion of human nature?"

If we are not mutants, but a perennial minority like left-handers (which I also am), then are we morally superior, stuck observing the helplessly inferior, or do we all possess both selfishness and altruism?

If the latter, is it not correct to argue that the vast majority of Americans are not less capable of responsible behavior, but simply caught in a maelstrom of ignorance feeding ignorance?

Giving Hobbes his due, we must ask, was America, the nuclear trigger, inevitable as the predominant agent of the collapse of civilization on earth, and its people no different than people anywhere, but just the ones here and under the self-reinforcing influence of the market economy that bred the concentrated corruption?

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


My hospital nurse told me that she predicts (or hopes) that the future of medicine will see a rise in nurse practitioners as primary care givers, because of their more holistic orientation. Doctors will be relegated to doing what they do best: saving lives (yes, with their technology) in emergencies and acute conditions. But I'm pretty sure they're not going to give up that power voluntarily.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


While seeing people demonstrate against the crushing of unions might be a glimmer of hope that people are waking up to the true agenda of politics in America, I have to wonder how many people in those crowds voted for Walker and the rest. When Walker talked about balancing the budget and making cuts, did they care if it was the poor, the uneducated, the elderly, defenseless children? I'm sure it was quite a jolt to find themselves in the crosshairs and not the usual victims. Sorry to sound like such a cynic but my sympathy with their betrayal goes just so far. I don't want to see unions disbanded (my father and grandfather belonged to one)and the Koch brothers running the country from behind a curtain; I do want people to rightfully earn living wages and have collective bargaining powers but they have to stop being satisfied with bumper sticker platforms when these crooks run for office.


I hope you're feeling better and on the mend. I know several months ago Dr. Berman suggested you start your own blog--have you given that any thought? Take care of yourself.

2:51 PM  
Blogger madame o said...

God I love this blog....even as it does wholly show the depressing truth about this country---at least to those who care and can and will read. Too bad you don't provide dramatic video footage or photographs to portray what you write, you know a picture in lieu of a thousand words, so as to reach out to the rest of them (=> the majority of TAP) and in the spirit of free enterprise expand your audience share (please don't blame me for wanting you to expand your audience. I'm programmed this way, as I'm part of the so called "culture") to try to help them fathom their reality. Granted it would be pointless. I mean said video(s) could play for 20 years in reruns and it wouldn't impact them. But I still dream a little. And if you did have such a video and uploaded it on You Tube, you'd be advised to choose a title like "Miley Cyrus Gone Crazy" or "Charlie Sheen Shocks" so that you'll get more than 55 hits. Your title on this post, "Playing TAPs'' is perfect but too faceted for them to understand not to mention a tad late: hope for The American People/US died some time ago.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris Berman -- on your "playing TAPS" pun I highly recommend a deeper "horizontal" analysis of music and peaceful culture

This new book by Dr. Victor Grauer is totally amazing and I was immediately reminded of your work.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've just read Empire of the Summer Moon, about the defeat of the Comanche nation. Also rereading all of Leslie Marmon Silko. These books make clear the difference in view of the land among peoples who were long on it, and the new peoples who came to claim the land in the Americas. In the latter case, the land was definitely there for the squaring off and grabbing. No notion of the commons or common good. If one had any romantic notion about TAP otherwise, a good look at how we came to hold this land, the assumptions it implies, quickly makes the nature of our social conscience clear.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anthony DiMichele said...

Thank you for this Mr Berman. I am an artist/social worker living on 800$/mo. and the assisted living facility I work at just suffered a corporate coup. The management was fired, wages cut from 14$/hr to 11.
Chores double, etc.
I have lived (quite happily for the most part) as an Underachiever in the USA all my adult life. You are the only social critic I read who directly calls TAP on the carpet... it has always driven me crazy... the passivity... the distractions and the complacency.
again, it is wonderful just to see the truth in print.

3:21 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Today in TAP ...

Some of you may have heard about the horrific bus accident in NYC today, with 14 of 32 passengers killed & several more in critical condition. I was watching a little local news coverage, which also checked in periodically on the earthquake aftermath in Japan ... and something struck me.

The TV reporter had some "expert" on who was talking about the need for grief counselors, how viewers might be so shaken & distraught by all that's happened in the news that they've got to "process" it with someone appropriate.

Now, what struck me was the almost hysterical tone of this expert, and the inescapable conclusion that he expected his audience to be so emotionally fragile that they'd fall to pieces if they didn't rush out RIGHT NOW & get help. Talk about infantilization!

Further, there was the unspoken assumption that there's only one way to deal with such emotional fallout, and that anyone who doesn't pursue that one way is "in denial," or "unable to deal with his/her emotions," etc.

I'm not minimizing the usefulness of genuine psychological help in shocking circumstances, mind you. That's where the vanishing talk therapy of several posts back comes in quite handy.

But it is indicative of the superficial, one-size-fits-all therapeutic approach to those thousand natural shocks flesh is heir to. There's only one socially approved way to react to them, and only one socially approved way to get through them, it seems. You've got to get with the program & process according to schedule, find closure, move forward ... well, you know the drill.

Bt happy coincidence, let me recommend a film we saw last night: The Bothersome Man. You'll never hear the word "nice" without a chill again!

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

A Crispian fantasy:

Wisconsin may be the exception that proves the rule. Yet again, another weary day glooms through dirty window panes, as Hope, the old whore, refreshes her tired make-up and saunters out “blind with mascara, and dumb with lipstick” to meet her friend, Anna Dyne, on the street corner where they do it not only for money, but to oblige.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


As for my own blog...the only energy I have lately is nervous energy, and most of that is being directed into putting my house in order. Besides, there's no shortage of excellent food blogs out there, written by people much more qualified than I'll ever be. If you're interested, the blog of Kristen Michaelis (Food Renegade) is a good place to start. Stephan Guyenet's "Whole Health Source" is outstanding, but more technical. Many of the best food blogs have a Libertarian bent, which I find somewhat troubling. Still, I'd rather get my dietary advice from them than Michelle Obama.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear Tim:

I have recently obtained my practitioner's certificate as an APGC (Associate Personal Grief Counselor) from a well known online university. It doesn't have a motto yet although they just sponsored a lottery for all the students: "May the Profit Motive Ever Rise from the Ashes." It doesn't have to be in Latin or anything fancy because that is a dead language nobody understands anymore, and as my university believes in being forever online, on target and on task, who has time for that stuff anyway? After all, what made this nation great? If you take time to answer that, then you probably aren't working, which isn't what made this nation great. Now I want to work and that is why I went to this school and got this certificate, because I like people who need to grieve a lot which is what the loan officer at the school liked on my application, and then he gave me a lot of money. You can see a lot of smiling faculty faces at their website too which made me feel that was the school and program for me. These people have what it takes to meet the "Challenge of Grieving In Our Times." That was the most moving article in that big fat textbook with hundreds of colorized pages I paid two hundred dollars for, which I had to lug around, although for another fifty dollars I could have gotten the CD edition.

But now, like I was saying. Who has time for Hamlet's soliliquoy in that headachey English of his, or Christ in Gethesemane (except in movies with a lot of gory special effects. These are big pleasers and part of the economy), or in some foreigner like Doestoevsky. I believe as I learnt from the Power Point presentation in my class, in the three C's of which the first two are Comfort and Convenience.I believe that everyone has the right to access Safe Grieving, which is just like Safe Sex not mixed up with a lot of mystery, the cosmos, or anything risky or messy, including emotions. People don't have time for that. And that brings me to Cash, the third "C. All that pre-scientific grieving creates depth that no one has time for. Why go through all that when we can help you get over it professionally?

Can I send you a cute refrigerator magnet from the AGPC Association of America with their 800 number and logo to demonstrate my good will?

11:53 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


I think you make a valid point and we're all a mix of selfishness and altruism and America is not unique in its abuse of power. It's the paradox of humanity that people as individuals can be (and often are)loving, generous and likable but as a group, self righteous and brutal. What I see in America is a blind allegiance to the belief of American superiority even with the people who, individually, are well educated, thoughtful and well intentioned. It's the Nixon response: "if America does it, it means it's not illegal" (or immoral, vicious, an outrage). Our worst qualities--greed, ambition, destructiveness, refusal to look at the consequences of our actions--are not merely ignored but encouraged and rewarded. DDA did a good job of illuminating this as did Empire of Illusion. Americans, as individuals, are probably not much worse or better as run of the mill individuals go and I know a lot of people whom I like very much. But they don't think a lot or examine issues beyond a sound bite. And they all think the party should never end and are dismissive if such an idea is floated. I'm guessing from your name that you have studied Buddhism. From what I understand, Buddha said we first had to confront our own greed, ignorance, desire for revenge and anger or we'd be caught in a never ending cycle of destruction and consequences but remain blind as to why. That's how I see American culture today -- blind to the roots of its problems but unable to break the cycle whether it's education, health care, or climate change.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Fun Tzu said...

Dr. B

Here's an article I suspect you might like very much:

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...


I appreciate your candor in expressing your ambiguity about medical technology and disease.

You may know that Derrick Jensen suffers from Crohn's Syndrome that attacks the digestive tract. When his opponents needle him by saying that he is alive thanks to civilization in the form of medical technology, he replies that Crohn's Syndrome is a disease peculiar to civilization, unknown among the indigenous. It may be likewise for heart disease.

I suppose the appreciation of antinomies and the apparently dialectical nature of living is an indication that one has arrived at a certain intellectual maturity if not middle age.

2:51 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...


Politics and food!

The totalitarian nature of French haute cuisine...*Chicken Liver and False Consciousness in the Works of Ayn Rand* by Heinrich Leberkaese.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You may actually be going mental. I like it.


7:56 PM  
Blogger SRL said...

I wrote and song about this subject a few months back. Actions speak louder than words.

See Here and Here.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for writing in. I esp. like the chump-in-a-fish motif. Cd u write a song called "Cranial-Rectal Embedment"? I think it's time has come.


1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Budapest workshop

I'll spare everyone all of the details but on my mini-swing through E. Europe I landed here for what I'd hoped would be an interesting workshop on a traditional art/craft. Unfortunately, the Hungarian guy giving the workshop turned out to be something of a con man and I lost some money. My experience with my fellow Americans was interesting.

I've lived outside of the US for most of the last two years so some of this was quite a shock. Dr. Berman, you've mentioned this in previous posts but I've never experienced this so directly or strongly before.

The conversation was horrible. One lunch "thread" covered ipad/ipod/kindle/how some grapes tasted/back to ipad. I was bewildered, to tell you the truth, with the oddly aggressive and competitive tone of the "conversation". The "friendliness" people exhibited seemed to fade quickly to what I can only describe as an incredible superficiality.

The Europeans I've met are undeniably better educated, far more interesting to talk with and usually friendlier (Hungary may be an exception in my limited experience here). Still, I have a nagging feeling that the cell-toting, fashion obsessed 20-somethings here are not far behind their American counterparts.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...


Just saw the film *The Bothersome Man* -- really fantastic. Thanks for the recommendation.

Even the inconvenience of death, or at least of willful death, suicide, is taken care of for you.

I have to tell you Tim, there was much in that film that I could, sadly, relate to. This sort of life is the sort that I find almost all of my academic friends sucked into: the endless choosing of this-and-that sleek, Norwegian mausoleum decor that turns out to be a metaphor for the dullness of the comfort-in-the-establishment thing. All that grey and blue and "azure"...the endless parties with (yes) steamed rice and blah-blah, and another new "wonderful" kind of wine that you "must" try, and so on and so on.

Not that my ho-hum life in my working-class family is better; it is certainly no worse -- but the other side has about as much vibrancy or life as a florescent-lit cubicle in a mortuary.

The most saddening thing, and most terrifying thing, is that either nobody notices, or, if they do, you get this fateful attitude, as in the film: "well, most of us are as happy as we can be, really". I thought it interesting and important that the woman, biding our main character a cold farewell, said "most of us".

You point out to people that it's not about some radical, revolutionary change -- an outer change ... the Marxist thing. It's about "essence", inner change ... a re-orientation or maybe a "metanoia". All you get typically is an icy silence -- like the icy world that the main character was relegated to in the end.

Tim, thanks again for the film suggestion.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Thanks for your reply.

Again,awakening can only happen one at a time, following the realization that one is asleep, and dedicating oneself to the discipline required to train mind to wake up.

I agree, Americans are incapable of realizing they are asleep and in a shared delusion. It is not due to our nature, character, or any such "trait." It is living in the milieu of self-reinforced support of the delusions of American exceptionalism, etc., that makes it seem so real. In the last century, the technology had been invented to create group-think to unprecedented levels, at the same time that mega-corporations consolidated their power to influence the masses with marketing, and finally, by owning the media. Content and advertising are now the same, the medium is the message, and the amplitude of voices of the few relatively awake individuals is no match for the unison thrumming of the national vox populi.

I agree with Sam Harris, et al: religious belief is the biggest enabler of ideological blindness, and both moderate and fundamentalist strains are contributors to the delusions.

To respond to your observation, I am a Buddhist practitioner. It is not based on belief, but direct observation, to cut through the illusion of ego. Reading thinkers helps me understand what's going on; meditation helps me recognize when I am thinking like the crowd and gently slap myself awake.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I have this feeling that after 400 yrs of kaka, it just seeps into our DNA. I know this violates orthodox science, the Weissmann barrier and all that, but I do believe there is some sort of neo-Lamarckian mimicry going on, such that if the whole thing is not actually genetic, it's doing a good job of looking like it.


5:48 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

It's so pervasive and begins at such an early age I can see why you might wonder now if its been encoded in the genes. I think it's more the triumph of media to the point of brain washing. Even well educated people have problems facing the reality to a degree that's absolutely bizarre. In a post by Kuntsler about TV coverage of the tsunami:

"I tried to follow the story on American cable TV Sunday night but with the exception of stolid, dogged CNN, all the other news channels were playing one sordid and titanically stupid program after another: meth freaks, show-biz narcissists, and sex chatter without sex. What a nation of morons we are. Over six hundred cable TV stations and only one that even tries to tell you what is going on in the world. How many citizens of this republic were watching a dessert chef undergo staged humiliation for the failure of a cupcake batch while two nuclear reactors melted down across the Pacific? We deserve what just happened to Japan three times over. And we might just get the equivalent at least in social and political trouble as our money follies unwind and normal living here becomes untenable on the old terms."


I agree with Sam Harris about religion, whether it's moderate or fundamental as typically practiced in the US, has simply provided cover for our own materialism and entitlement and has very little to do with basic tenets of Christianity. It's anti-awakening--it's the gospel of "abundance" not abundant life. Thanks for your reply.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


When I opened my mail in AOL just now, one of the hottest stories vying for my attention was, "Today in Chicken McNugget History."

Dharma & Mike,

I agree that an inner awakening & awareness is necessary -- "metanoia" is the exact word, sending me back to the work of Thomas Merton, who introduced me to Buddhist thought when I was 14 or 15. This was the countercultural message, of course, and a good one -- as far as it went. The flaw, as MB has noted, is that so many of us assumed that if enough of us reached that awakening, the balance would tip & all would be transformed into an instant Golden Age.

Well, it was a noble & beautiful vision. But it's looking more as if that awakening, while it may be enough to save us as individuals, to give our souls some glimpse & taste of reality & something greater than crassness ... it probably won't move the masses to any tipping point. If anything, it'll make many dig in their heels all the more, defending the very forces devouring their souls.

I'll be watching The Bothersome Man again before long. In fact, it might be interesting to work up a short list of similar films ... though how many would watch them? And of those who did, how many would get the message?

Mike, a couple of scenes especially struck me: the interminable kissing scene, which was a kind of empty, endless devouring without any passion or nourishment; and Anne Britt's abruptly changing the conversation when Andreas speaks of his disturbing dream, and she comes the closest to showing genuine emotion -- which she squelches immediately.

Again, I'm not glorifying myself as some enlightened being above it all! Like everyone here, I'm struggling up a very steep slope, doing my best not to lose my footing & slide back down into the Slough of Despair.

Note: while I agree with much that Sam Harris has written, I was put off by his defense/rationalization of torture in certain circumstances.

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

In commemoration of the Ides of March--would that Qadafi say, "Et tu, Akbare?--I've posted a Latin translation of one of my favorite passages from Maury's *Wandering God* that I'm sure contains a few synactical and lexical howlers, my Latin that is. However, it took my mind off things much in the manner of working out a crossword puzzle and perhaps is a safer anodyne than alcohol.

"On the individual level, there are two things that strike me as integral to HG [Hunter-Gatherer] civilization that we moderns can adopt, though the process of making these things a part of our lives would be a slow and difficult one. The first is the cultivation of silent spaces; the second, the radical acceptance of death. Both of these contribute greatly to the ability to experience paradox." *Wandering God* by the author Morris Berman, page two-hundred-and-thirty-one or 231

"In aequo proprio, puto res duas esse ad humanitatem Venandam-Carpendam necessarias quas huius nos aetatis possumus asciscere, quamquam ratio facendi has vitarum partim nostrarum tarda difficilisque esset. Prima est cultus spatiorum silentium; secunda est acceptio mortis penita. Hae ambo ad facultatem admirabilia experiri magnopere largiuntur." --Deus Errabundus auctore Maurico Bermano, pagina ducentae triginta una vel CCXXXI

As an antidote to CR-embedment, I recite this mantra: prima est cultus spatiorum silentium; secunda est acceptio mortis penita. Prima goes with the in-breath, secunda with the out-breath.

3:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well done, tho I shd warn u that dementia takes many forms.


4:20 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

RE: "fluorescent-lit cubicle in a mortuary" (Mike)

Soon, with the phasing-out of incandescent light bulbs, even our cozy living-rooms will become ghastly, fluorescent-lit spaces. And, with an added bonus: mercury. This is what passes for progress in this insane world?

5:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


We're all Dilbert now.

How's yer health?


7:33 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

My elderly mother with whom I live unbeknownst to me (and her) had dialed a wrong number. When she got an alien voice mail reply, she hung up. Later, our phone rings and I answer it for my mother. A young woman's voice laden with aggression asks me if I'd dialed her number. Since her voice reminds me of my niece, I ask, "Who's this?" Instead of saying whom, she repeats her phone number that means nothing to me. I reply "I don't think we dialed you," whereupon she says "alright" and hangs up.

Now if it were me I'd simply delete a wrong number from my phone menu. Perhaps she's being harassed and wants to confront the person. I don't know but the situation, though trivial, bothers me (maybe dementia is setting in). It reminds me of Maury's car accident en route to the Clinton epiphany and how no big deal was made of the light tapping of bumpers. Here, you're liable to be reported to the police for dialing a wrong number!

9:24 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


It is indeed fascinating to wonder about genetic modification due to the pervasiveness of the culture. After all, genes mutate all the time. With the massive shift in the structure of the environment, people with the genetic tendency to have their brains wire a certain way may thrive more than those whose brains resist the new wiring.

Of course, thriving in recent centuries does not necessary mean reproducing in greater numbers and influencing the gene pool.

But if the reason the qualities of our brain led us into this dead-end is a genetic mutation to begin with, it stands to reason that other adaptations can arise to help some specimens survive the meteor of civilization that we have hurled against the earth's crust.

Here's where Terrence McKenna's theories about the purpose (and history)of mushrooms comes in.
What if someone put ayahuasca in the Potomac? No wait, they would have to put in the water lines on Wall Street.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


Man, that was pretty cool, giving props to the Ides like that.


Re: the Kunstler post, I have found it appalling (but not surprising) how difficult it has been to get un-sensationalized, un-biased, un-fucked news coverage of the unfolding tragedy occuring in Japan. The "news" articles on the big internet sites are about "miraculous" rescues of a single baby (love how Americans always have to have their feelings coddled when a tragedy occurs) and the rising prices of electronics and Toyotas because of the disaster. How characteristically disgusting of us as a nation to be concerned about how much a Sony blu-ray player will now cost.

I believe Mr. Kunstler is accurate in stating we deserve, and will receive, what Japan is facing three times over, yet as we circle the drain, the news stories will still be about Kardashian fashion flubs and dogs being rescued from wells, and Americans will still try to get our fix of stupidity and hedonism as we starve.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out the interesting discussion on re: absence of looting in Japan, as compared to what wd be going on here (e.g., Nyawlins 2005) if there were a massive quake. This is a gd comparison of the dignity and pride that the Japanese carry, and complete lack of same among Americans. In the meantime, consider the possibility that the US has already been hit by a tsunami: of idiocy.


You've failed to develop a chain of reasoning that cd help u in such situations. You might want to write these down on a 3 x 5 card, and carry it w/u at all times.

1. Is the offending individual an American?
2. If Yes, then there is a 95% chance s/he is a douche bag.
3. Douche bags are just douche bags; they are not really responsible for their actions.
4. Therefore, I'm not upset about the behavior of this particular douche bag. Rather, I'm sad that I'm living among douche bags.
5. Which leaves only one thing to consider: how do I create a douchebag-free life?

(Please don't translate these 5 Rules for Living into Latin, BTW; altho I believe Cicero may have used the term, 'douchebagus' at one pt.)


11:47 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Tim ... re the "flaw, as MB has noted, is that so many of us assumed that if enough of us reached that awakening, the balance would tip & all would be transformed into an instant Golden Age" ...

on the concept of "metanoia" in relation to your observation here: I may have suggested this before, but I really think that the Japanese Kyoto school has provided a quite profound development of Buddhism (Zen) & Western phil that is basically MB's "paradox" (MB uses as a paradigm case Zen, in fact). Read esp. Nihitani's *Religion and Nothingness* and even more importantly Tanabe's *Philosophy as Metanoesis*. In the latter, the theme of metanoia -- but in the paradox mode -- is developed very thoroughly. Tanabe and Nishitani are influenced by Heidegger, who, as you know, opens the West up again to the importance of Death (and this too is MB's final point in WG, as Kel just quoted & Latinized).

But these Japanese thinkers make paradox (what the "standpoint" of emptiness amounts to in the end) the next phase of Heidegger's acceptance of "nihilation" or death. Paradox neutralizes this Age of Aquarius bull & levels the SAC thing.

And ... funny you just mentioned the horrifyingly cold & bestial "kissing" scene: I just can't get that one out of my mind. Yes, it was like they try to devour each other, without passion -- and so they end up just kissing, furiously, to no end.

Art: we are so f***ed, as Kunstler points out again & again. I am watching the Japanese meltdown thing and thinking "four Chernobyls". Large areas could well be uninhabitable for centuries. Is Japan not a terrible microcosm?

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You may have seen the brief brouhaha about CNBC pundit Larry Kudlow's comments on the disaster in Japan, something along the lines of, "Luckily, the human toll was far worse than the economic toll."

And my wife happened to turn on the opening of The 700 Club yesterday, just in time to hear Pat Robertson's very first words about the same disaster. In this case, how terrible that so much money was lost in the destruction ... and oh, yes, people too.

This IS one f**ked up culture.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


Actually, I'm not a fan of Sam Harris at all but that was a confusing reference I gave. I've seen him interviewed several times and on a panel discussion once and he came across as insolent, intolerant and self-important. And his support of the Middle Eastern Wars and torture is mystifying.

Mike C.--

I think it's time for the human race to simply admit they can't handle nuclear power and destroy the bombs and shut the plants. These plants sit right on the Pacific Ocean and even though I don't know if this is a possibility or not, but what would happen if even a portion of this spilled into the water? What happens to the bird population in these toxic fumes? I hope we stop before the earth is completely scorched and the oceans poisoned beyond repair.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


The one topic avoided in the discussion of nuclear power right now is that of an increasing population & decreasing power sources. Nobody, NOBODY wants to face the fact that humanity will either have to (1) shrink considerably, or (2) learn to do with a lot less energy, period. Because there just won't be enough for the industrialized world's demands.

Actually, we'll have to do both, though I fear we'll live so firmly in denial that nature and/or war will take care of the population in the most horrific of ways. And it may take a disastrous collapse of global proportions to make humanity adopt a saner mode of existence. Honestly, I'm glad that I probably won't live to see that ... and I'm profoundly saddened that I can say that.


As always, you're a font of knowledge for me to investigate further!

10:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

dr. b,

its tuan. i commented a few times a few months ago. i was emailing with "annon" or dan in korea and suddenly his email went bad. do you have a current email for him?

btw, your book america the dark ages is brilliant. i look forward to reading your next book.


4:19 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I don't have an email address for anybody on this blog. You might want to post your request again, on the current blog post. Most people read only the current posting, so the chances are that El J won't read this one, but may eventually read the most recent one.

Hope that helps-


6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tuan,
My bad. I tried to consolidate my email mess and deleted the other account.
You can email me at
Sorry for the confusion!!!
El Juero

8:18 PM  
Anonymous JP Merzetti said...

That TAP fails to swoon at the magnitude of the lies is perhaps least surprising; after all, the distractions of highly evolved "entertainments" are just too rich...(bred to the bone with desire of "stuff".)
But what strikes a deep chord here, is that we have become very good at the doom and gloom, without imagination to clear those clouds - wearing sunglasses at midnight.
One might anticipate that this is where revolution is born, although I think TAP is still far too comfy.

I am reminded of the endless examples of entertainment extravaganza, epic tales wherein the hero is a cardboard travesty, and the villain is compelling, by comparison.
Somehow, we cannot imagine our salvation anymore. Is this not when real vision is bred out of the national populace?

7:34 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home