September 30, 2011

The Wall Street Protests

It began on September 17, and has now run for thirteen days. There are, perhaps, only a couple of hundred of them, but young people especially have shown up to protest the greed and corruption endemic to the American economy, epitomized by Wall Street financiers. The regular news media gave them almost no coverage; the NYPD overreacted with predictable violence. Many got arrested and hauled away, but the protest continues. Unions have pledged their support, and the movement is now spreading to other cities across the nation. Finally, it would seem, someone is standing up and saying No. Even more, “Go fuck yourself.”

I agree with Chris Hedges when he says that these folks are the best of society; I also think the crowd at Goldman Sachs and their ilk are the worst: bloodsuckers and leeches, to put it as politely as I can. Personally, I hope the protest grows from 200 to 2 million, and affects every city in the land. I hope it succeeds…but this is where I start to have certain problems. What is, in fact, the goal? What would success look like in this case? It’s not altogether clear; and beyond a desire to have an economy not run by vampires, by a gangster elite, the protesters’ message is rather muddy.

On one level, it would be great if the protesters could put it on their signs, and say it directly to the American public: socialism; we want a socialist economy. It’s not exactly the way to win friends and influence people in the U.S., and I’m not sure that is what they really want anyway. But there’s at least this, that they want a fairer society, one that does not have a huge gulf between the top 1% and the rest of us. Some form of redistribution of wealth, that presumably would resurrect aspects of the New Deal that the GOP has striven to destroy since Ronald Reagan (and actually, before). After all, we have millions now thrown out of their homes, millions with no prospect of a job, millions living in tent cities and on bread lines, millions without any health insurance, and so on. Re-instigating things such as the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934, real union strength, collective bargaining, workers’ benefits—all of this would be to the good, and I’m assuming that this is on the protesters’ agenda.

The problem is that we did have all this once, and to be sure, it was a much fairer and healthier society; but it was still capitalism. This, as most historians will tell you, was FDR’s historic role: he wanted to save capitalism, and he did. In the end, the mental framework, that of a society and way of life based on greed, was still the same. It was just that with the New Deal there were some constraints in place, and it is those that were unraveled in the ensuing decades. But as I argue in Why America Failed, greed has been the touchstone of the American experiment since 1584, since the earliest colonization of the continent (for its resources); it didn’t suddenly emerge 400 years later with Ronald Reagan and Gordon Gekko. Asked, on one occasion, what it was that the working man wanted, labor leader Samuel Gompers was quite explicit: “More.” Socialism doesn’t envision a different type of system; it envisions the same system with the goodies spread around more evenly.

That some labor unions have indicated their support for the protesters is therefore not surprising. Nor am I condemning them: in the face of Reaganism and Gekkoism run riot, fighting against a 1%-99% split in the wealth is obviously necessary. But when the dust settles, it will still be the United States, with the 400-year-old ideology of the United States; even if we could get the New Deal back, the slogan would still be More. Even so-called progressives think the American Dream is where it’s at. They see no problem with “growth” at all. They just want to extend its benefits to everyone. But suppose—radical thought—that the American Dream was the problem, not the solution? Unfortunately, the ideology of the Dream, of an endless frontier, casts a long shadow over all of us, so that grasping this possibility is quite difficult even for the most intelligent Americans.

Case in point: an article in the 10 October 2011 edition of The Nation by Robert Borosage and Katrina vanden Heuvel entitled “Can a Movement Save the American Dream?” The authors rightly describe how the very rich have screwed the rest of us out of the A.D., and argue that we need to restore it—redistribute wealth and benefits so that every American can live it. But again, there is no recognition that this Dream is conceptually grounded in the notion of a world without limits; that it is the core of what America is and has always been about; and that it is (as a result) the rock upon which we are now foundering. In spite of the identification (or excoriation) of this ideological pathology by a rather long list of eminent historians, including David Potter, Louis Hartz, C. Vann Woodward, Richard Hofstadter, William Appleman Williams, and Jackson Lears, “progressives” just don’t get it, any more than neoliberals do. Writing in the New Republic nearly twenty years ago, Lears stated that “myths of progress continue to mesmerize intellectuals at all points on the political spectrum, from The Nation to the National Review.” Thus Williams repeatedly pointed out that the Dream was based on a program of endless economic expansion, which eventually made imperialism, and thus the suffering of millions, inevitable. Cornell University economist Douglas Dowd made his own opinion of our way of life explicit in a book he published in 1974: The Twisted Dream. As the anthropologist Gregory Bateson argued many years ago, there is a great difference between the “ethics of maxima” and the “ethics of optima,” and the U.S. is definitely addicted to the former: “growth”. A more accurate word for it might be “cancer.” In recent times, only Jimmy Carter had the courage to tell the American people that this was the vision of those who were spiritually empty, and his audience wasted no time in voting him out of office in favor of a man who told them they could and should have it all; that the A.D. was Life Itself.

So I don’t really know what the protesters’ goals are, and I’m not sure they do either, beyond shipping Lloyd Blankfein out to Antarctica, to live among the penguins. The problem is that historically speaking, protest against the system is not really against the system as such. We like to talk in terms of a multicultural society, but women, blacks, Hispanics, union leaders, you name it: they all really share the same vision. The goal is to get my group a bigger cut of the pie; it’s not to suggest that the pie is rotten. The environmental movement excepted, there is very little thinking in America about getting beyond “growth” and “progress,” beyond a purely materialist-consumerist society, and this certainly applies to the poor as well. As John Steinbeck famously remarked, in the U.S. the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

One protest leader who did understand the spiritual dimension lacking in all this was Martin Luther King. The story might be apocryphal, but one black colleague of mine told me that just before he died, King said to Harry Belafonte that he sometimes had the uneasy feeling that his activism was only serving to “herd people into a burning church.” Sure, he was saying: we might be able to get black people a larger share of the pie, of the American Dream; but the pie is an inferno, a hellish way of life.

Are the protesters saying that?

(c)Morris Berman, 2011


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every organic or technological organization wants to flourish and grow. If you don't flourish and grow, then by attrition and your competitor's success you will be eliminated. Wall St. will take whatever soft targets are available, and unfortunately Washington will help them. The U.S. middle class was an easy target. Move the jobs to low-wage countries, foster a consumer society with “everyday low prices”, provide a debt cocktail and start counting the profits.

After the pump-and-dump tech bubble burst, a lot of burned people decided they would only put money into their house because it was the only safe investment. That worked out well.

What do the protesters want? Maybe they want the looters to get out of their house, their country, their lives. But if they're successful, it means that debt and growth are done, and there won't be a return to some imagined past normalcy or smooth transition into sustainable living. We will all descend a staircase that hangs in the ether which becomes narrower and narrower with each step. Only a fraction will make it to terra incognita, which will be littered with the remnants of the technological growth and the bones and broken dreams of those that lost their footing.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well put. Time 4u 2 take up fiction wrtg, I think.


11:58 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Your blog reminds me of David Goewey's "Careful, You May Run Out of Planet," an essay in which the author points to America's love affair with the SUV as a symbol of all that's wrong with the expansionist nightmare--a.k.a the American Dream. And I have to wonder, too, why it is that the protesters, et al. appear to ignore not only history but the very blatant evidence of the present they live in. Perhaps because the project of revamping the system or tossing it out altogether is too huge to contemplate. I don't know, but you've certainly made me think on it.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Even if U.S. citizens were to be less materialistic and greedy--and I wonder how many really are because now the scene is just to keep one paycheck away from Tent City--we would still have this execrable mess called Capitalism. Why? Well, alright, Karl Marx is my human god, as Rowdy will be pleased to have divined. Because one cannot escape the superstructural conditioning of capitalism. It has to keep going in "eternal" pursuit of surplus value and the reason why it can do so independently of whatever altruism and socialism its operatives may endorse is that it is utterly mystifying to said operatives. Europe is beginning to go down because it still wants capitalism or because it's being siphoned into the global juggenaut of capitalism. And our own Jamestown, VA. was an early capitalist venture that had as its purpose to make a profit for its investors back in England.

It's clear from Marx that capitalism is a dynamism. Capital must move or die. The artificers of 9/11 cunningly recognized that. As David Harvey has remarked, in the few days after the 9/11 attacks, the exchanges closed, people stayed indoors, planes were grounded and the leaders panicked because capital had stopped moving. So Bush gets on the airwaves and urges people to fly, Giuliani urges them to shop. The movement produces the illusion, greed, environmental destruction, and a lack of paradox.

12:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about transaction fees? How about them paying the rest of us back for the bailouts? How about restitution for the untold damage 'externalized' onto the 'losers'? The trader/leeches depend on the rest of us allowing them to get away with no Investment (pun intended) in their decisions.

But as the previous comment said we have to imagine a new type of society. Sustainable yes, socialist, yes. European and Australia and New Zealand are socialist (although becoming more neoliberal all the time). Plausibly the US needs to become productive again. You can't eat financial transactions!

1:48 AM  
Blogger Brett said...

They are not saying that, no. But everyone wants an answer. Is it some form of egalitarianism?

Isn't the reality going to be a guaranteed onward and downward, foot to the floorboard until the tank is empty? Voluntary sacrifice will not happen. I am on a computer on a 20mbps internet connection at 1am before I go to bed to wake up and deliver pizza in one of the richest cities in a sports car...

Would I give it up? LOL.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Russ said...

This is the problem with the repeated complaint that the protesters don't have a clear "list of demands." The best sign I heard of at Occupy Wall Street was, "This Shit is Fucked Up." Kind of says it all. Seems to me what they want is fairness, and a list of a half-dozen policy demands won't make that happen.

I looked into attending the Occupy LA protest, but the plan is to march on City Hall. Seriously?

4:29 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thank u all.

I guess I look at these anti-capitalist protests in historical perspective. They were quite violent during the Depression, and thus frightened the powers that be. This brought about the construction of some sort of social safety net--the New Deal. But even this most unexpected shakeup of the capitalist trajectory finally didn't affect that trajectory all that much. The ravings of the political Right notwithstanding, FDR was no socialist, and he actually managed to save the capitalist system by making it more flexible and curbing its worst excesses. In terms of shared wealth, Social Security (e.g.) was really small potatoes, a sop to the poor and middle classes. Plus, with the foundation of the Mont Pelerin Society (Hayek, Friedman et al.) in 1947, the stage was set to roll back these gains and reverse Keynesian economics; and ultimately, these guys and the "Chicago School" pretty much succeeded.

As I argue in WAF, the system we live with is by now more than 400 years old, so it's not clear to me how the current protests can amount to much, in the end (though I'd like to be wrong). I just don't share Michael Moore's populism, that most of the country is enraged at Wall Street. I suspect rather that most Americans would like to be wheeling and dealing on Wall Street, or at least have that kind of wealth. Sinclair Lewis satirized American "aspirations" in "Babbitt," but the fact is that most of his fellow-countrymen wanted to *be* Babbitt, not to laugh at him. And as I said, I'm guessing that the current protesters want a fairer pie, not a different one.

The likely trajectory is thus that the system run out of steam, break down; that various parts of the United States secede; and that (hopefully) what slowly evolves from the rubble is a local, decentralized, small-scale type of society and economy. Think Ursula LeGuinn (among others).


4:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Sorry, that's LeGuin, not LeGuinn.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous VW said...


As always, your observations, along with Chris Hedges, cut right to the heart of the matters facing us. I look forward to WAF.

As for the protests, I have to agree with you. I am looking forward to the upcoming October 2011 movement. I will not be attending (still have a full time job and go to school part time). But I will support them financially.

What book would you recommend by Ursula LeGuin?


7:55 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I hope this post makes it to Truthout or The Nation as it has more sense and maturity than anything else I've read about this protest. Chris Hedges wrote on Truthdig yesterday that the best and most courageous are the ones putting themselves on the line and "you're either a slave or a rebel" if you don't participate in this occupation of Wall Street. As much as I like Hedges I found this post to be offensive. What about people who barely have gas money to get to work? What about single parents whose children have no where to go but CPS if they're jailed? Really, Chris? They'd like justice too so come up with a genuine non-violent movement that everyone who wants to participate can do so. And you're right, Dr. Berman, in stating it's the structure that's rotting and must be acknowledged and revised if we want a world where dignity and humanity can flourish. Greed (DBA capitalism) whether its American, European, Chinese or Indian has a death grip on us and has to be faced individually as well as collectively.

Want to bring Wall Street to its knees, Chris? It will take some time but encourage people to quit using credit/debit cards, stop buying crap, save money and file for bankruptcy if you're over your head in debt, do strategic defaults on homes underwater and begin the process of eliminating "more" from their lives. Wall Street trembles when "consumer confidence" and spending drop. Just yesterday BofA announced some new fee on debit cards b/c their transaction fee on credit cards dropped to a paltry 500% (from 1000%)profit. What if transactions themselves dropped and we learned a valuable lesson about our own love of "more"?

9:19 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Yer starting to sound like Pres. Carter! Thanx for the kudos...


Her classic is "The Dispossessed," but my own favorite is "The Telling." I like these explorations of anarchic, local, traditional societies (not that they wd be a bowl of cherries either). "Lathe of Heaven" is also gd.


9:39 AM  
Blogger diana said...


Agreed. Protest is great if you can afford to. Many of the people most abused by capitalism can't afford to protest. However, as you mentioned, many more people can certainly adapt lifestyles that can be very effective in getting back at the greedy bankers.

And while I admire anyone for taking part in these protests, I suspect that they would not be on the streets if the pain had not come home to them. Had they not felt the squeeze long reserved for a small percentage of the population. If the goods and cash kept flowing at the expense of oppressed and brutalized people in far off lands, there would be no protesting Wall Street. So in the end, it's naked self interest isn't it? If the goal is to bring balance to the system, not to throw it out.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


Ursula Le Guin has been described as a "trans-human anthropologist". I agree with Dr. Berman's comments; "The Telling" is also my favorite. Here's a brief quote:

"…if the Telling was a religion it was very different from Terran religions, since it entirely lacked dogmatic belief, emotional frenzy, deferral of reward to a future life, and sanctioned bigotry." (My goodness, where have we seen anything like that?)

I can see why the author of "Destiny" (MB) would like "Lathe of Heaven" – read them both and see if you agree. Also, don’t neglect "The Left Hand of Darkness", it deals with gender in a really unique way.

Get ready for some good reads.

David Rosen

11:09 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Ursula's maiden name is Kroeber; her father was A.L. Kroeber, one of America's great anthropologists, who taught at Berkeley for 30 yrs. He discovered the last member of a particular Indian tribe in California (Yahi?) and wrote a famous bk abt him, "Ishi in Two Worlds." It's not hard to realize that Ursula's work is not so much sci-fi as it is anthropology and social criticism.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

VW & Dr. Berman-

Sci-fi has gotten a bad rap, I guess because there’s so much junk out there. It was Theodore Sturgeon, the Sci-fi writer, who said that ninety-five percent of science fiction is junk because ninety-five percent of everything is junk. He added that the best sci-fi is as good as the best of any type of literature. Good sci-fi is about so much more than rocket ships.

I thought that Ursula's mother was involved in writing that book about Ishi? I could be wrong about that. In any case, I can also see why the author of "Wandering God" would like "The Telling".

David Rosen

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

I'd wish I'd known that about Le Guin when I was studying in Portland, Oregon many years ago. A classmate and friend of mine used to baby sit the Le Guin children and I might have had an opportunity to meet her. Well, I'm a Miniver Cheevey and think that all greatness is in the past. Need to start reading more contemporary fiction! Thank you for the book recommendations and thank you Dovidel for appositely quoting from The Telling. Makes me want to go read it now.

Unfortunately two fat books have me hemmed in right now: Marx's Capital, vol 1, and Proust's Remembrance that I started a year ago, and my friends have therefore been tedious French aristocrats who have inveigled me into attending Madame Verdurin's petit cenacle where I frequently find myself glared at by M. de Charlus who demands to know my pedigree. Alas, they are my only friends right now.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

The most recent posts & responses have really made me think. Thank you all!

I've just finished reading The World Without Us & watching Children of Men for the first time, and both offer dark but seemingly accurate descriptions of the near future ... or even the present, I suppose. There's a thinning, a diminishing, of the social fabric & civilization itself -- the previous post about the digital worldview is one aspect, the protests & their dismissal by The Powers That Be another aspect.

This is what's truly frightening about the years ahead: civilization is such a gossamer thing, so very frail & ephemeral, especially compared to the brute forces of fear & greed & endless consumption. What we treasure & would preserve means little or nothing to the majority; if anything, it represents an obstacle, a threat, something to be destroyed as quickly & thoroughly as possible.

From The World Without Us, describing the downfall of the Maya:

He describes a culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all needing quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, fancy corbeled roofs, and animal furs. [ipods, SUVs, McMansions, etc.] Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society's energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings

Check out the extra feature on the Children of Men DVD for comments from Slavoj Zizek, Naomi Klein, etc., describing the future as one of global Green Zones/gated communities that survive by voracious, insatiable capitalism, while the majority suffer & toil & die to produce their luxuries.

Except that such a future is Now, isn't it?

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Zosima said...

It does seem like the outsourcing/financial bubble economic model may have finally collapsed America's immune system. And no more cheap oil B12 shots in sight. The America I grew up in would never have come into existence without two things - cheap oil and empty land. I grew up in Florida in the 1960's. Gasoline was 35 cents a gallon and the place was empty. Now, that sunbelt model is dead. These places are full. Built out. Can a country with 310 million people continue with an outlook formed when it had 3 million? I think we could be in for some surprises.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Zosima said...

BTW. I work at Powells Books and I thought I would pass along some info I have on who to contact regarding arranging an event to speak at Powells. This is the guy to contact:

Michal Drannen (there is no e in his first name)
phone--503-228-4651 ext 5889

There is also a local radio station called KBOO that usually interviews authors before they speak at Powells. Your books seem right up their alley, content wise. They air many of David Barsamian's lecture recordings. I notice they also do interviews by phone, so even if you don’t come into town, it might be worth while to do an interview after your books get in the stores. They have a web site.

Love it if you could make an appearance in Portland. If I can help regarding Powells or these other areas, just say the word.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Nicholas Colloff said...

Ursula would imagine that anthropology was a science and thus as legitimate a basis for science fiction as anything 'harder'!

What I love about her is that her positive envisioned futures - anarchist, green, local - are never free from their own internal self-criticism and at least if you are local at least your mistakes are too!

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

Greetings, all. Enjoying the thoughtfulness.

Some random notes:

1. First, any protest of the wall street parasites of any kind is good news. The longer it goes on the better. The wider it spreads, the better. It beats sitting in front of the glowing cube. And having the underlings get all uppity provokes really stupid remarks from our betters like Michael Bloomberg (e.g.,, which is a great form of entertainment;

2. I get the impression that it was so much easier to get people to understand how fucked up things were in the '30s, in part because you had a working class that was knowledgeable about its predicament and who knew the score. You had had decades of organized labor activity, a lot of it pretty bloody, so nobody was too ignorant of who was doing the fucking and who was doing the bending over. That knowledge was lost from the '80's on and I guess (well at least I hope) people are relearning it. Better late than never.

3. As far as limits to growth go, you can check out old Rev. Malthus for the physical impossibility of screwing Mother Nature indefinitely. There is an objective reality out there, like it or not. Backlash from Nature can really suck.

4. And to end on an Ursula Le Guin note, my favorite of hers is "The Word for World is Forest". I think it was the first really good science fiction I ever read.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Good discussion.

Mike Cifone: Too long, I cdn't post it. Pls compress by 50%, and I'll be glad to share it w/all. As for relief from SF, I usta regularly hike Pt. Reyes.

Z: Many thanx for info on Powell's. Here's the deal: At some pt I'd like to do a 2nd West Coast tour, this time Vancouver/Portland/San Fran. Problem is I have no $ and Wiley won't pay for it (I may hafta spring for a NY-DC tour myself, stay w/friends etc.). The only way I cd do Portland etc. is if it got subsidized, so the Q is whether anyone at Powell's has connections to Reed or the U of O or PSU or any of the local univs. If some history or polisci dept. would invite me to lecture, and pay the airfare/hotel, I'd do the gig for free. If u cd ask yer coworkers abt this (long shot, I know), I'd be really grateful.

Am glad I got everyone worked up abt Ursula, in any case--a national treasure.


7:43 PM  
Blogger eric said...

I really enjoy your blog and the discussions that follow the posts. I would have to believe that the core of the occupywallst protest is probably in favor of a different "pie" as opposed to a limited improvement in fair allocation of the pie. This protest was initially prompted by Adbusters magazine, I believe, and having read several issues of that magazine I can say for sure that they advocate for significant structural changes including a shift in focus from growth and consumerism...In any case, if the protest grows it will likely shift to a fairness approach because that would be more palatable to the masses. At this point I am too deeply pessimistic to envision this becoming a large social movement, but it is inspiring to see it growing bit by bit and maybe it will at least be a decent counter to the tea party.

really looking forward to your book and maybe seeing you speak.

Durham, NC

8:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few comments kept short to respect post length. (While these are contrarian to your thesis, I do want to add that I am pro-the Wall Street Protests.)

I don't particularly buy the "'myth' of progress" formulation. The American Dream for many is merely a desire for a better standard of living, and the standard of living for most living in the US during the 20th century is remarkably better than it was for most of humankind over the last 100,000 years.

A 19th century paper declared "Mankind Has Conquered Pain" when anesthesia was discovered. Up until then, for most of human history it had been liquor and/or a bite stick. Most people would not want to go back to this. Anesthesia is progress. With respect to Emerson, progress is real.

The desire for "more" is hardwired, not cultural. Bees have a neuro-chemical called octopine which arouses the bee when it encounters a greater than expected source of nectar. It orients the bee to pursue greater gains (against calorie expended). Our version of this neuro-chemical is called dopamine. (Yes, this system can go into runaway as with addiction, but it can only do so because the pursue-greater-gains orientation exists in the first place.)

I'm not sure if superimposing Bateson's systems analysis with the ideal of optimization always works as a self-validating critique of economics. Systems don't exist in a vacuum. Steady states can mean death if the environment changes. Steven Jay Gould's punctuated equilibrium theory involves, I believe, a chance mutation sometimes leading to rapid reproductive runaway of species variation until a new stasis is achieved -- runaway in nature doesn't always lead to bad outcomes. Maximizing vs. optimizing is too simplistic of an economic critique.

I look forward to your book, and I hope you propose some economic arrangements you'd favor. If it's the 19th century Jeffersonian gentleman farmer, I'd have to say that, after doing some genealogy research on my family, it seems to come with much higher death rates for children and spouses (the latter more responsible for second marriages rather than divorce).

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Great post, Dr. Berman. I agree w/ Susan regarding the Chris Hedges post. While I admire Chris greatly, and look forward to his books and weekly columns, I found his recent post typical for him in that he has way too much optimism for significant change, and the optimism at this point seems a tad bit like magical thinking.

Dr. B is absolutely right. The crumbling we are experiencing was built into the machine. The trajectory could not have been any other way. Not when the whole thing was built upon the endless pursuit of property. Kindness was never really part of the picture, was it? All of the Europeans that left and came to America throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries came for a "better life"; aka "more". and so it goes. We are based on a model of acquisition, yet what we strive to acquire has no inherent value.

How can the protests change anything? What, specifically, are they hoping to change? Instead of despising the rich, and all they stand for, Americans all want to be the rich, and that is the only impetus for attacking the upper class. What sickens me the most is the lack of graciousness and integrity; the coarseness and anger in the million daily interactions Americans share. It's what makes us crumble, one heart at a time. It just weighs so heavy on me sometimes, and I imagine many of my friends here feel the same.

9:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, obviously I don't agree. We need to have clearer definitions of 'progress' and 'better', perhaps. Yes, anesthesia is good, but all in all I know of no way of proving that a peasant in 15C Provence was unhappier than a stockbroker in contemporary Connecticut--a pt made by Marc Bloch many yrs ago, in his studies of medieval society. Happiness is too subjective to prove this sort of thing, and the truth is that the peasant cd have been quite content w/his lot and the stockbroker utterly miserable with his, 'objective' factors notwithstanding. For those in it, the samurai culture of medieval Japan could have been far more rewarding (it did have Meaning, after all, the bushido code) than the bureaucratic straight-jacket culture of contemporary Tokyo (which seems to have very little Meaning at all--check out the suicide rate there, not to mention the alcoholism). All of these things are mediated by perception, and one thing I've observed about the 'progress' school of history is that it carries a heavy load of propaganda regarding the superiority of the present--seen from a modern vantage pt, of course (and thus, how can it lose?). The same kind of propaganda is projected onto 'backward' societies, i.e. ones that don't have our way of life; and becomes a justification for invading them, colonizing them (or destroying them); for changing their way of life. It's all very self-serving, it seems to me, and ideologically dubious--as Claude Levi-Strauss told us years ago. (Is the chador oppressive of women, or a mode of protection that they appreciate having? Ask the Islamic women who wear it, not 'sophisticated' female corporate executives in NY who go on endless, depressing dates.)

I also doubt that sociobiology and bees (or ants, in E.O. Wilson's formulation) proves very much about human beings, and there's no evidence I know of that 'more' is hard wired into the human species. In fact, given the steady-state nature of economy and society for many millennia--most of human history, by a long shot--I think the evidence proves just the reverse. The lust for 'more' wd seem to be a fairly recent development.

You might want to read Bateson's work on the subject of optima and maxima; it's anything but simplistic. He certainly didn't believe that systems existed in a vacuum, for example. In addition, punctuated equilibrium remains a theory, not an established fact (tho an attractive theory, I grant u that). I don't think Gould ever truly demonstrated that a runaway system ever led to a good outcome, but I could be wrong (I read some of his work yrs go, but not tons of it). But for me to concede that, I'd need to see a rather elaborately worked out historical example, at the very least (several wd be even better). I mean, it's an intriguing possibility, so my feeling is: bring it on!

WAF is history, not prophecy. I propose no economic arrangements in it, simply because I don't think any personal preferences I have on the subject matter very much. I'm much more interested in what's likely to happen, not in what I think *should* happen, in short. What I do guess at is the eventual disintegration of the US, amplified by secessionist movements. What will result after that, say in 2050--well, who's to say? The word 'change' is neutral, after all; what comes next could be worse than what we've got now, esp. in an 'interim' kind of phase. What we *can* be sure of is that any new socioeconomic formation will have its own special problems; of that I have no doubt. (Utopia, in other words, is not an option.)


9:38 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


I wonder if these Wall St. protesters really know what they're up against. This system will eventually collapse by itself. But if anybody seriously threatens it before that – they'll be crushed. The wars on drugs and terror have enabled the government to build up a huge police-state apparatus, and the NY City police department has become a paramilitary force.

I'm not trying to glorify Communism at all, but most Americans, living inside their hologram, don't seem to understand how indebted they are (or were) to it. I was working in Kuwait when I first heard that the USSR had fallen apart, and that the Berlin wall came down, and I remember how some Americans I knew were rejoicing over it. "Wow, we won the cold war!" My reply was, "Just wait; now they don't even have to try and make capitalism look good to anybody anymore. There is no longer any alternative. You guys are screwed!" Was I wrong? All of this is aside from the fact that both Communism and Capitalism were chasing the wrong goals. What a victory – we did a better job of chasing what turned out to be worthless!

By the way, it wasn't long before my Hungarian friends were telling the following joke:
Question- What has our new regime accomplished that the Communist Party could never do?
Answer- Make socialism look good.

David Rosen

9:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for yer input. This particular thread is turning into one of the richest discussions we've ever had on this blog. One thing I'm fascinated by, as an historian, is how substantive change comes about. I mean, any one day is just like any other day, sequentially, and yet the
20thC is hardly the same as the
14th. 'Arab Spring' in Cairo got rid of Hosni,'s pretty much the same ol' Egypt, it seems to me; it's not a fundamentally different type of regime. The New Deal came and went, and capitalism only got worse and more aggressive in the ensuing decades. In a few months, or maybe even weeks, the Wall St. protests may be nothing more than a memory...and yet, I'm quite sure that 100 yrs from now, capitalism will be regarded as a curious and destructive political formation that ran from A.D. 1500 to A.D. 2100, and gradually morphed into something else. It will certainly not be regarded as some kind of eternal truth, the 'end of history' or any of that crap. Maybe punctuated equilibrium is relevant in this case: there are nodes (French Revolution, e.g.), and then there's minute Darwinian, incremental growth. And the past always hovers over us, the ghosts of former civilizations. So there's no more French aristocracy, for example, but look closely: the wealthy families send their kids to Les Grandes Ecoles, and these kids eventually have the plum jobs, live in the chic arondissments, and drink the best wines. God is not impt in this secular state, but look closely: read any French newspaper or magazine, and what you'll see is an absolute worship of French culture. Etc. You get my drift.


9:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Re: NYPD as paramilitary force: plug 'NYPD moroccan initiative' into Google, see what u come up with.


10:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be nice to jettison the portions of the brain that are responsible for our reptilian appetites, but the thinking mind is no substitute for feeling, and as there is no “reason for living” beyond biochemical justifications, some lesser mechanism must be employed to extend our presence. Additionally, our logic would fail miserably to incite sufficient coital rhythm just at those moments when the reproductive organs of two great cellular societies have, by nefarious or long incubated means, met in conjugal union. However, the seductress of the mind, the dopaminergic pathways push us in those directions that meet our cellular needs, which happen also to be our own needs. When we imbibe drink and masticate food, are we “thinking” of nourishing our cells? No, we are just phantoms rewarded in our ethereal world for a behavior whose positive return on investment keeps the machinery of life humming.

Being of an ethereal nature, our biochemical requirements are modest, but our psychic appetites can be immense. We give our seductress her due and then return to the cerebral atelier where we tend not to the call of our cellular minions but rather to the phantom whose realm is only limited by scope of experience and knowledge.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


What language, amigo. Don't take this personally, but abt halfway thru I got a throbbing headache. At the same time, I found it rather breathtaking. Was it u I recommended switching to fiction? Henry James, move over...


11:06 PM  
Blogger ryan kloostra said...

Seems that the true nature of the NYPD paramilitary abilities accidentally came out earlier this week when Commissioner Raymond Kelly slipped and admitted they had the ability to knock commercial air liners out of the sky(alluding to some sort of missile defense system). Apparently a few people quickly redirected him and he backpedaled by saying that he was referring to some .50 cal guns they had mounted on copters to take down crop-dusting sized planes.

Don't worry, though, Mayor Bloomberg put everyone at ease when he said, "The NYPD has a lot of capabilities that you don't know about and you won't know about." Well, thank God.

Sadly, most of the techniques and technologies (torture, drones, surveillance, assassination etc) eventually get turned inward on the general public. If these protests grow to be seriously problematic, we'll see the military-industrial complex turn inward in a weird form of cannibalism.

On the topic of the protests, I believe that people are really rallying against crony-corporate capitalism. This is the same type of crony-ism that pervades socialism and communism, also. The problem is not our "ism," but the fact that we build huge centers of power and become surprised when they are corrupted. Decentralization is inevitable. Unfortunately, as I believe Dr. Berman has shown, we won't get there properly, we'll force growth until we implode, destroying the very things we love in the process.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The system is totally corrupt so I agree reform per se is likely impossible.

Still, resistance is good. I'm with those protesting. Active resistance is good. If you're poor and can only manage passive resistance do that. Why not clog the bkln bridge, clog the entryway of your local B of A? After all, these banks are no less thieves than a guy breaking & entering at 3 am.

Make control and oppression as costly as possible to those in power. At a bare minimum, your monkey wrench drags the machine

I think many here have complained about the anemic response of the US public vs. those protesting in Europe (I think I have). I don't recall anyone asking "but what do the Greeks want?", "what is their message?" as a prerequisite for demonstrating their general contempt for the system. As for poor people not being able to protest as per the Hedges column, I think there is a history in this country of poor people protesting. Certainly most of those protesting in the Mid-east were poor and managed to protest?

I can't predict what the protests will change, probably nothing but advocating surrender is a grim position to take no?

Dr. Berman, I think your latest post asking "What really changes the history of a country is a great question....a topic worth learning more about.

Thanks everyone for your posts.

El Juero

6:39 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

The self-deception & illusion of the American Dream was there right from the start, wasn't it?

During high school in the 1960s, some students were naive enough to compare our heroic ancestors fleeing unjust conscription to dodging the draft, a matter much on our minds then. Horrified elders quickly pointed out that those were two entirely different things!

Others wondered if those who came to America, rather than being ambitious, go-getting pioneers, were simply those who couldn't hack it in Europe, who didn't have the guts & tenacity to stick things out. Again, the poor deluded students didn't understand the subtleties of the matter!

So the spin was built-in from the beginning & continues to this day. Rapacious greed is entrepreneurship, poverty & failing health are un-American criminality, attempts to level the playing field are attacks on freedom, etc.

I guess the only difference now is the sheer overwhelming power of the digital age to utterly immerse us all in spin, right from birth -- or even before, if some can get their way.

Although things have reached a point where they don't need too much spin, as the general public has internalized it all quite nicely. Acts that would have been morally appalling to many even 10, 15, 20 years ago are now patriotic & the natural order of things.

Id like to see massive protests that actually chnage things for the better, I really would. But I can't see that happening now.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

That's a gd question: What *did* Greek protesters want? I honestly don't know, because I wasn't there, don't speak Greek, and didn't follow those events very closely. But I do believe that the Greek and American situations are very different, esp. in terms of a tradition of a social safety net that exists in Europe. In a word, their purpose/message might have been obvious (or even, explicitly stated); the situation w/the protesters here, not. And I cd be wrong, but if and when the NY-US protests finally fade away, not having an explicit goal or message beyond "yer a collection of fuckers" (no matter how true) might prove to have played a key role in the lack of success. But then, who knows? History is nothing if not messy...


10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These are complex issues - your point about the diff's between US/Gr. are worth noting.

I do think it's possible that those in the NY/US protests see the fx of robbery on such a grand scale that at least they're pissed and want the most basic issues of crime, finance regulation etc. addressed. As you say, we've had a lot of this before and at least on one level, it's not rocket science.

If Taibbi's even half right there's no issue finding evidence.

I don't have a link now to it but at some point in reading about the protests, I saw a organizational statement paralleling your points on what they were looking for.

What's it all about Alfie?

As you say, we've been here before. Without a serious look at the big issues ie, capitalism, class issues, spiritual rot etc. this will likely be just a pit stop.

More thoughts on this - will post later.

El Juero

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


I glanced at the NY Times this morning, and I had to go down to the very bottom of the page to find it mentioned that the NYPD had arrested more than 700 people at the Brooklyn Bridge. To arrest 700 people like that takes planning, logistics, and special equipment that only a substantial military organization has. Although they've denied it, NYPD has always had a 'red-squad'. Now I guess they also have a 'Muslim-squad'.

About the goals of Greek vs. US protests – As MB has said, European countries have real, solid social structures to help make life decent for all their citizens. These include real social safety nets and some form of universal health care. What we have in the US is hardly worthy of mention, fading away as I type this, and unpopular with most of the people anyway. I mentioned above that both communism and capitalism were chasing the wrong goals, and our 'victory' in the cold war was to do a better job of pursuing what was worthless. Please don't sell the Bible short – it tells us what our descendants will say about our generations. Jeremiah (2:5) asks, "What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and pursued what was worthless, and became worthless?"

Don’t worry, I'm not some old Marxist who has gotten religion in his old age – I've always had it. MB's grandfather (see the first poem in "Counting Blessings") was still holding on onto a thread that goes all the way back to Jeremiah, at least. Well Marxists have been holding onto the same thread, only they've interpreted it a little differently.

David Rosen

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...


I think Hedges is informed by a deeply held christian (the good kind)perspective. I agree, sort of, that we are either rebels or slaves but Susan is right, the suggestion that if you don't rebel in Hedges' way, you facilitate the oppression, is offensive. There are many ways to rebel.

Camus writes about the necessity of being aware of another "order." I respect the kids in the streets and hope for a leader to describe it.

Excited about Seattle. I'm sure someone will ask "okay, what should we do now?" I loved your reply (on video)some years ago: "go to a different meeting."

If the next book is about NMI's I will personally drive you to every cozy agrarian commune in this sad country if we can stop by 4 PM for Tequila. (or..)I can't live in this fkg country without drugs.

Run for the hills! (after Seattle)


1:53 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

1. Regarding arming the police to control the citizenry on behalf of the wealthy. Well, duh. That's sort of the whole point. This idea is ancient. And if we jut consider big US cities, then you need look no further than your local National Guard Armory: these were established in the 19th century to deal with labor unrest. And it Pennsylvania, we even had our very own special Coal and Iron Police to boot! And when all else fails (including Pinkertons), you can call out federal troops.

I've seen the full monty of what these guys have up their sleeves. When the G-20 conference was in Pittsburgh several years ago my city basically converted to martial law (at least in downtown). I will never forget the sight of an Apache and Chinook helicopter flying over downtown. Gotta protect the folks on top.

2. Arresting 700 people requires a plan, but it's also easier on a bridge. You close off both ends and, presto! A pen. It's called kettling.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Gd to hear from u again. And be sure to come up and say hi in Seattle. It will be interesting 2c what has transpired w/the Wall St Protest Movement by then, more than a month away; tho I doubt I'll have any great answers, and in any case, I'm not really the one to provide them.

Let me get down to the crux of the matter. If I really did have a positive, optimistic answer for that poor kid on the c-span video in 2006--i.e. an answer that was also honest--I wd have given it to him. I understood that he wanted it badly, but I'm not into b.s., and my honest assessment (altho I'm hoping the current protest swells into the millions) is that nations are like individual people in that what gets fixed early, stays. This is what "Why America Failed" is abt. To cross the ocean for a moment, Russia was autocratic from A.D. 1000; the Tsars continued the pattern; so did the Bolsheviks; and now Putin, former KGB head, wants to take the power back, for himself. What a surprise. The problem w/Russia was never Communism per se; it was the autocratic history (of wh/Communism was just a particular variant--see Bulgakov, "Heart of a Dog").

In the American case, the continent/colonies/republic/empire was about money from day 1, late
16thC. It has always been a business civilization; and this is why, when Lloyd Blankfein says of Goldman Sachs, "we are doing god's work," he actually believes it. We can't alter this any more than Russia can suddenly become a nonautocratic nation; in both cases, it wd be like trying to turn around an aircraft carrier in a bathtub. Nationwide protests that got quite violent during the Depression didn't do it, or else we wdn't have Blankfein and we wdn't have the current protests. The NYPD may look bad, but they can ride it out, until once again it'll be business as usual (possibly w/some slight modifications).

Historically speaking, revolution can only happen when the police or military 'defect', or at least remain neutral during an uprising. The chances of that happening here are roughly negative infinity. In addition, and this is one thing I keep saying in all my writing on the US, *everybody* buys into this system--even the protesters. The protest might (I don't really know) be about a more socialist economy, a more equitable pie; but I doubt it's about having a completely different pie.

(continued below)

3:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

As you know, I put a lot of this down to the stupidity of the American people, esp. if the word is extended to include ontological stupidity--brainwashing, in short. Douglas Dowd, one of America's great economists, in the preface to "The Twisted Dream," puts it more politely, but is basically saying the same thing. After an analysis of the structural properties of the American system, he writes: "Most Americans have had little or no exposure to such analysis; even worse, the 'best-educated' in social analysis have been trained much as the feet of Chinese women used to be: bound from childhood, resulting in a crippled elegance."

That's a telling phrase, no? Mr. Obama is crippled elegance no less than Dick Cheney; and so are the NYPD. In addition, the country is a kind of hothouse: 88% of Americans never travel outside of the country (save the occasional vacation in Canada or Mexico), and so can't imagine anything different, let alone better, than what they have now. This is my microcosm-macrocosm argument: in order to have a different country, we wd have to have different people--fundamentally different, psychologically different--and there's no way for that to happen, that I know of. This means than any serious change is likely to come from the political Right, wh/can only ensure a greater grip on society and economy on the part of the corporate powers that be. In other words, it wd be a 'revolution' that is moving with the American grain, not against it; and only a change against the grain can save us.

This is why I keep saying that whatever positive possibilities await us, they are on the other side of a collapse; wh/is in fact in process as we speak. We can expect slow, 'geological' change, not fast, 'meteoric' change. Not what that poor kid in the c-span video wanted to hear, but my job in this world is not to deliver feel-good messages unless I believe them.

That being said, protests and arrests are much better than docility, no question abt it.

Long-winded answer to a short comment, I realize.

c.u. in Seattle-


3:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: next bk is on the Japanese craft tradition. Do u speak Japanese? I cd use an interpreter. And oh, it'll be sake, not tequila.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Looking forward to that next book on the Japanese craft tradition, MB!

It occurs to me that individuals or small groups practicing their craft, whatever it may be, might provide the positive action so many crave -- both for the present & for the future. There are still plenty of people hungry for emotional, intellectual, spiritual nourishment -- the NMI provides that in countless ways, most of them probably small & personal.

I'm not dismissing the power of protest. It does my heart good to see people standing up to the debauched & soulless would-be "nobility" of money & power & status. Isn't afflicting the comfortable as important as comforting the afflicted, after all?

In the short run, that "nobility" will win; in the long run, they'll be swallowed & destroyed by the same forces that bring down everyone else. Not sure how much comfort that can offer us, but it seems to me that if nothing else, the NMI will offer a better example to the future than that "nobility" ever could.

If the only hope that exists is for a somewhat better civilization, with better values & dreams, arising somewhere else in the world one day after we're gone, I'll live with that hope, and live as if it's going to happen.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Maui Mart said...

Very good critical thinking here on this post...thank you all...
I am an optimist for significant (positive)change but not due to human improvement or intervention.
Instead the changes are coming quite involuntarily due to the inevitable collapse of our unsustainable cultures of greed, overkill, etc. In fact, we who observe carefully, can see the acceleration of decay in all of our systems at this very moment in time. The writing is clearly on the wall for those who think clearly.
What I find most interesting is the mental mindset of most of the citizenry at this pivotal time.
Staggering, breathtaking ignorance and denial...we're talking like 90% of the population clue.
So let it come as it must and don't forget to fasten your seatbelts: It's going to be a bumpy ride down to sustainability!

7:58 PM  
Blogger PedroC. said...

Every day it seems clearer to me that we're not experiencing America failing. We are actually seeing our whole race going down in flames.

I agree with Anon (the one with the psychological musings and Id-oriented thesis) that there are hard-wired things in the reptilian part of the human brain that cannot be outgrown.

The technology around us has allowed that Id (Chtulhu, I like to call it) to run rampant: first by enabling its worst dopamine-mediated behaviors and then by saturating and eroding the Self -the only countermeasure to the Id.

At the end of this age we'll be gone (as George Carlin said: we were a promising race, but it all got fucked up when the priests and the merchants took over).

My only doubt is if our replacement will be Homo silico (as transhumanists argue) or pure machine AI: the Techno Buffoons are right that Singularity will come, it's just that we won't be the ones to benefit from it (unless we take the transhumanist route, but even then, by definition, we would no longer be humans).

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

RE: Violent suppression of protests

I agree with you completely, and I’m well aware that the US has a very violent history – especially a violent labor history. I'm just saying that in many ways they are better prepared than ever to crush anything they perceive as a serious threat than ever before. And they are probably better prepared to do it with much more finesse than in the past. If push comes to shove, it won’t look like the Ludlow Massacre. If they want to, they will probably be able to head off any serious protest before it even starts.

Of course, you’re right about it being easy to arrest in large numbers on a bridge. At first I thought that the protesters simply didn't know what they were doing, but when I saw pictures in the Guardian, I realized that this is what both sides wanted to happen. The protesters didn't seem to be resisting very much, and the police were making nice to them. The police weren't in riot gear, didn't seem to have their badge numbers covered with black tape, and even appeared to be wearing name tags. I've seen the NYPD in action when they weren't making nice to protesters. When the charge was 'disorderly conduct', the person was arrested. When the charge was 'resisting arrest', the person was arrested and roughed up quite a bit. When the charge is 'assaulting a police officer', the person got a pretty savage beating. Of course, sometimes, a person actually did what he was charged with.

David Rosen

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...


Ahh!Japanese craft. Yes. The pull saw. The first time I used one I wondered why we (users of European saws) were so stupid.

Did some timber framing with Ted Benson years ago. To learn how to tf a compound roof he brought craftsmen from Japan. He could find nobody here who could do it.

Back to collapse. Einstein loved the laws of thermodynamics for their simplicity and wide applicability. Just finished "Storms of My Grandchildren" by Hansen. Climate change may trump all. The entropy train just keeps rollin!

Sake is good. Japanese, none.

1:10 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well what're u waiting for? Get yerself a tutor, toot sweet. Dom'arigato gozaimas!


3:39 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr.Berman,

I didn't mean I wasn't supportive of the people who are protesting in NY; I am and I hope they'll be able to extend this and formulate a strategy for including many others. If they requested that people across the country on (for example) the first week of every month show solidarity with them by not using their debit/credit cards (they could still buy whatever they wanted with cash) then the # of transactions would fall. And this falling number could get the banks attention, not involve breaking any law and enable everyone who wants to demonstrate support to be able to participate. For this protest to be effective, it's going to require creative boycotts and not rely solely on demonstrations.

Bisley, Dave--

An interesting fact about the NYPD from an article on Alternet:

"News also came in that the NYPD, which according to protesters has not allowed its officers to even accept donuts from protesters in the square, gratefully took $4.6 million from JP Morgan Chase, one of the Wall Street banks targeted by the protesters, in donation to its foundation."

An unexpected and hilarious bonus to the Wall Street protests has been the complete unmasking of that shameless hypocrite Bloomberg. See the 9/30 article in Salon about him and his girlfriend self-righteous statements about "the banks are our friends." A must read for every cynic.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


No, I knew you were supportive, and agree with what you had/have to say on the subject. Boycotts of consumerism need to become a major part of this movement, assuming it lasts.


9:56 AM  
Blogger Robo said...


The American dream: More! The American reality: Less!
When it all hits the wall, whatever remnants that survive the dribble to the floor will be the ingredients for what comes after. We've been on this trajectory for centuries.

I'm sure this idea is in one of your books somewhere.

10:28 AM  
Blogger abigail said...

This is spot-on, and this is exactly why I can't get behind progressives or lib dems or whatever any more than I can get behind conservatives.

I've also been rooting for the protestors, who wouldn't? (wall street...) And, while I've been disturbed by the lack of a coherent message, I thought: well at least it's a gesture. In America, land of denial, that's saying *something*. But your point strikes home. The message, assuming there is one, *doesn't* seem to question the Amurkan Dream at all, merely wants a fairer version.

I'm one of those environmentalists who *gets* that unlimited growth is destruction. This applies not only to America, but to the rest of the world. Have you read _Requiem for a Species_ by Clive Hamilton? He addresses the growth obsession too, it's everywhere. America just seems to do more of it.

Sad, in any event.

Looking forward to your book by the way! I tried to win one a while back but I was waaay too late. Oh well. Since I read DAA in the library, I can sure shell out some bucks for WAF.


10:32 AM  
Blogger seppops said...

Mr. Berman,
I have realized, what I believe is a central theme of this article, since I was a freshman in high school, that things can not exponentially grow forever. Now of course the lecture of my freshman bio class was in regards to populations, but what I took away from that lecture was that nothing in this universe can grow unchecked forever. I think this and the fact that every 30 and 40 year old grew up in the Reagan pass the buck era, has lead to a quickening of the inevitable decline.
-backman is a god

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Nick Berry said...

What do the protesters want? I hope they want monetary reform, to remove the privilege of money creation from the banksters and assest strippers whose only product is debt. Money creation, these days mostly created digitally by the touch of a button is a historic privilege that banks have abused on an absolutely monstrous scale.

By giving the function of money creation back to the US Treasury and only the UST, or in the UK to the Bank of England, we could start to pay down our national debts and save ourselves a fortune in debt repayments to private banks. Consequently taxes could be cut, benefits/social security payments could be paid for not by taxation, but by money created specifically for the purpose by the central bank. I would favour a Citizens Income to replace social security. Please note, we are not creating extra money, just replacing the existing money supply with a largely debt-free one. Incidently, there are now a small number of mainstream economists (not just 'Green' economists) who recognise a debt-based monetary system is incompatible with a sustainable economy.

Monetary reform has a long history with some illustrious advocates, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. I also understand that a certain Jesus Christ was doing more than a symbolic act when he threw the money lenders out of the Temple. He was connecting with an ancient tradition in the Middle East that debt slavery should and was overturned by regular proclamations of debt cancellation.
Now there's a thought!

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Ursula's maiden name is Kroeber; her father was A.L. Kroeber, one of America's great anthropologists, who taught at Berkeley for 30 yrs."

Bit of an irrelevant aside re. Ursula K. LeGuin: Her recently deceased brother, Karl Kroeber, is less known than he ought to be. A scholar specializing in the English Romantic poets and American Indian literature, he was one of my very favorite professors at Columbia, a fine teacher and a fine gentleman. His book Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and the Biology of Mind might be of interest to some here.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear DAA-ers,

You know that we are one f-ed up place when supposedly well-educated people all around you are "lamenting" the passing of a "visionary". One friend of mine called him his "hero". I asked for a def., and I got basically this: he did a lot of cool stuff, oh and how about that "quest" to find the best "washing machine" he sent his family on! ... having them research all possible "variables" for a good washing machine. I.e.: hero. I burst out laughing; my friend looked at me as if *I* were the odd one.

Today, in the Times, someone puts him in this line-up, the three apples that changed the world: 1. Eve's handed to Adam (original sin); 2. Newton's (gravitation theory) -- and 3. Jobs' apple (to us all?).

Now, aside from the strange juxtaposition (strange and ridiculous, even if tounge-in-cheek), what are we to conclude? Has Jobs offered us a salvific fruit?

In flat-footed ironic cynicism, this is precisely it, isn't it? We have been saved from our solitude and boredom, Steve, haven't we now?

Look at the blank faces zombified by their infinitely tediously fascinating i-This and i-That. What a joke: the "I" is just an "i", a collection of units tied together by a tissue of digital dreams soaked daily by the acid rains of a social chaos, a configuration of others so ephemeral that even our clouds' weeping is more eternal. Thanks Steve, for your toys and your vision; and thanks for all those Jobs, too.

Mike --

(reporting from that bastion of silicone brilliance, the ground-zero of the i-Zombie, of the techie workforce charged with fanning the flames of the "California Dream", bused daily through my town in special dark buses, busy with keeping our boredom one-click away, one toy beyond reach -- oh San Francisco! Innovate! ... and the next pork-belly ice-cream sandwich is only around the corner.)

2:09 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I cdn't agree more. The PC was a real step backward for humanity, but in a culture that worships technology above all else, what can one expect. I'd say the same thing abt Bill Gates-worship: what a joke. Among other things, a country that allows one individual to accumulate $50 billion while nearly 1/3 of the pop. is living in functional poverty, or worse, is a disgrace. These toys have a positive side, of course, but what we have lost in terms of real human communication is huge. More solipsism, more alienation, more emptiness. Yeah, some hero.


2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That "critique" of Steve Jobs is just straw-man junk. The guy plainly doesn't even understand the anecdote of the washing machine. If you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, particularly the passages when the protagonist relates his idea of quality by using the bike and the focused attention toward making it work well, then you understand Jobs.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” - Steve Jobs

Steve was a different kind of CEO, and not just because of the overtly hippy stuff like saying that “doing LSD was one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life" or wearing jeans and going barefoot at work, but because his whole approach came from his zen philosophy (focus, simplicity, the value of negative space). In Job's view, computers were "bicycles for the mind" (coming from a Scientific America article he read that noted that condors as a species exhibited the greatest efficiency for locomotion - until you put man on a bicycle). His technological idealism tempered as he got older, but distributing that power in an intuitive form that the average person could harness rather than have it only in the hands of corporations in the form of the mainframe seems to have been one of his main goals in life -- there have been worse.

I guess it's still fashionable for liberal arts guys to trash talk engineers (B.A.s vs. B.S.s), but there is no reason why engineers can't aspire to truth and beauty as can painters and writers. There is no reason why the products of the former are inherently less worthy than the products of the latter. And there is no reason why one cannot appreciate the products of the former equally to the products of the latter - even in "lowly" consumer goods - without that appreciation being conveniently dismissed as neurotic fetishism.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


In future, pls send message to most recent post. Once there's a new post up, people tend not to read the previous ones. In any case, in reply to your defense of Jobs:

Yeah, I guess I just can't really appreciate the tyrannical behavior, the megalomania, the evangelism, the 'you're with me or get lost' framework, the accumulation of $6.5 billion, and the fact that the computerization of society has been a very destructive thing on a whole number of levels. What wd we do w/o all those cell phones, ipods, and other screens? How empty our lives wd be w/o them! How enriching has been the surfeit of toys that Jobs bestowed on us!


7:27 PM  
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