October 06, 2011

Dumping the American Dream

Many years ago, as an undergraduate at Cornell, I heard about a radical economics professor, Douglas Dowd, who stood out from the pack and gave riveting courses. As a mathematics major, I didn't have much time for social science classes, so I had to miss Prof. Dowd's teaching. I really regret it now, but lately I've been trying to make up for lost time by dipping into his work. The Twisted Dream, published in 1974, is a history of US capitalism since 1776, and makes for fascinating reading.

At one point Dowd quotes from Thorstein Veblen's The Instinct of Workmanship (1914), that "history records more frequent and more spectacular instances of the triumph of imbecile institutions over life and culture than of peoples who have by force of instinctive insight saved themselves alive out of a desperately precarious institutional situation." Dowd goes on to talk about the destruction of the environment and of our cities, stating that "growth for its own sake, production for its own sake, consumption for its own sake, and power for the sake of continuing the rest--these are the drives that have shaped the modern world, whose leader is presently the United States." He continues:

"We can seek to live at peace with our environment, our fellow human beings, and ourselves in an urban and industrial civilization. We can, but not so long as the bulk of Americans continue to strive for profit and power and an overflowing cornucopia of increasingly contrived and expensive consumer goods--strive as donkeys strive for carrots fixed beyond their noses. The bulk of Americans cannot achieve what they seek.

"The time has come to take thought, to reflect on what the genuine needs and pleasures of life are, and to find some symmetry between our ends and our means. Those ends are not mysterious, or the province of a few: we wish ourselves and our loved ones to eat well, to be comfortably clothed and housed, to learn through education what we can become and do, to be healthy, to enjoy nature and the works of the species; to have control over our lives. Each of these ends moves away from us, not closer, with each passing year. We count as our treasures what we have been socialized to count as treasures, though they defile our lives and make robots of us all: the automobile, the TV, the encapsulated suburban existence, the gleaming high buildings, the ever-rising GNP, 'fast' food. [To which we might add: the terrible legacy of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg--"heroes" only in an upside-down world.] We are moving in the wrong direction for human beings."

Nothing like telling it like it is, and I hope that the protesters on Wall St. and elsewhere understand that the proper goal for their movement is not extending the American Dream, but putting it to rest. As for Prof. Dowd: he is 92 years old and lives in Italy. Until very recently he was teaching classes on a p/t basis at the University of Modena. A truly great American figure, who understands what it means to live a genuine life.

(c)Morris Berman, 2011

112 Comments:

Blogger Alex said...

I spent my time as a mathematics undergraduate ditching a lot of the curriculum I was buying and reading both his and your books, among others of course. It struck me then, a few months prior to the seismic events of 2008, that the game was a particularly nasty, destructive and ultimately unfulfilling one. I've taken comfort in what I think you would call a "monastic" retreat but I'm afraid in my corner of the World it can still feel terribly alienating. As I am young and have "graduated into a terrible jobs market" (ad nauseum) many, many of my peers see it as their task to tell me I shouldn't have done that. In fact my last relationship ended due to the girl's frustration at my "lack of ambition".


So, here's to the dumping of the American Dream!

9:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Alex-

Yr well rid of her. Now go out and get yrself a healthy 'deviate'.

mb

9:31 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks for the advice, I'll get cracking.

As it's my first time posting here (DAA66 anyone) I'll just say I love your books. In particular Reenchantment of the World was fantastic.

Alex

10:00 PM  
Blogger dax said...

Alex, I hear you - I'm 15 years out of college (an Ivy League, no less) and every time I apply for a job I can tell they think I'm an alien because I've eschewed the high-powered path that many of my classmates took. Still, I notice that all of us "deviates" are pretty happy over all, and there are many of us - I married one! :-)

And thank you, Mr Berman, for pointing me to another thinker to add to my library.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Alex--

There's another option -- you might want to consicer going to another country and finding a relationship there. It's a great language learning method. Make sure she's into her family and community. Remember, 'Life is With People' -- not things.

David Rosen

10:28 PM  
Blogger John Andersen said...

Unfortunately, it is too much to ask for more than a few to understand the futility of the American Dream.

The indoctrination goes too deep.

They will only give it up when much of the infrastructure of industrial society has collapsed, and the majority are forced into a subsistence existence.

I put that as happening in the next decade.

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Valis74 said...

While the mantra of "Grow, Grow, Grow" has been present in the Americas from the moment the Spanish landed, has the concept we call "THE AMERICAN DREAM" really existed over that time? Or is it a media creation constructed and propagated at the start of the Television Age to sell advertising?

It seems to me that US history can be pretty neatly divided into the Pre-TV Age and the Post-TV Age.

In the Pre-TV Age, people lived smaller lives in their communities, related with their families, friends and neighbors and pursued hobbies that interested them.

Then in the Post-TV age, all of that changed. Television, to survive, had to sell advertising, advertising that had to work in terms of manipulating people into consuming the products hawked by the people paying for the ads. The constant images on the screen showing how life "Should Be" led people to compare their lives/possessions with the TV images and, finding their lives lacking, they then set out accumulating and consuming all that the little screen told them they should so they, too, could live the good life, aka "The American Dream".

It occurs to me that if a race of benevolent aliens came here and beamed away all of our TV sets, everyone would soon grow bored sitting alone in their homes and they would seek out friends, neighbors, families and hobbies. In fact, I wonder if the whole "consume, consume,consume" mania would disappear absent the TV.

12:00 AM  
Blogger ryan kloostra said...

Remember John, as I tell my students, history moves slooowwwwly...

might take longer than the next ten years, there's a lot of muddling and patching that will get us through for a while. Unfortunately, I don't know if people can even fathom a "subsistence" lifestyle, nor do I think they have the tools (mental and literal) to pull that off. More likely, people will just prey on each other to get along...

Onward and Downward!

oh, and sorry Maury, looks like Sarah isn't going to throw her tiara into the ring this year.

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Alex, glad to read your post. My old friends laughed at me when I told them what I pursued as a career and why; i wished to help people through acceptance, presence, and empathy. Anyhow, I think David is correct; my heart is already in another country, and, with a little time, the rest of my body will be there too. It's difficult to have empathy for people who have none for anyone else; it's even more difficult to be present with people who are not present themselves. It's sickening how the values of equity, kindness, generosity, and peace were never part of the American dream, and yet out of pure logic, it seems that these values are the ones that sustain culture and lead to a meaningful life.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ryan-

My hopes of copulating w/Sarah on an ice floe among the meese, possibly w/Ed Meese present, have been cruelly dashed. Altho ever since she sorta faded from the scene many months ago, and that corn dog foto of Michele came out, I more or less switched romantic allegiances. Whether Michele opens her mouth to let a corn dog in, or to let a remark like "The American people are concerned abt the Soviet threat" out, I feel a frisson of sexual arousal (can't help myself).

Val-

You'll find the American Dream in promotional literature for colonizing the continent dating from 1584. Things really take off abt a century later (see Richard Bushman, "From Puritan to Yankee"), and are in full swing by the time of the American Revolution (Washington wrote in his diary that he never saw such avaricious people). Crucial transformation occurs during the Gilded Era, 1890-1930; TV, and the telecomm. revolution of the 1960s, push it to new heights. We have never not believed that life was about acquiring objects; it's just that this insanity went thru several increasingly rabid stages.

Onward & Downward!

mb

12:46 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Joe-

Keep in mind that every religion, and every civilization worth the name, has at its center (theoretically, at the very least) the notion that you are your brother's keeper. America is the only 'civilization' based on just the opposite idea: Look out for No. 1 (and screw the other guy in the process, what the hell).

mb

12:50 AM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Why are we supposed to pay homage to Steve Jobs like he's some kind of a saint? Anyone else disturbed by the incessant articles online and news stories about his passing? Front page of Yahoo News just now-"9 things you didn't know about Steve Jobs"...how about "I don't really give a shit". I'm sorry to bash a guy that just died, but I feel like he did more harm to mankind than good; anyways he was a billionaire, and what billionaire is really worth a damn? In the true sense of things. if someone got to that much money, they didn't do it through any of the virtues i mentioned in my earlier comment. What a disgusting culture; to canonize guys like Steve Jobs and Mark fucking Zuckerberg.

1:15 AM  
Blogger Nicholas Colloff said...

Alex, I can endorse the language learning 'side benefit' of having a relationship with a person fully embedded in their own culture and not mesmerised by 'English'! Makes the arguments more fun too - there are whole new dimensions to being insulted in Russian:-) and to making up too:-)

Meanwhile my latest encounter as a 'deviate' was trying to explain to the nice young man from a bank who rang me up offering a loan why I did not want one. Was n't there anything I wanted to buy he asked incredulously. Not that I can think of,came my reply, and if I do I will save up for it. Nothing??? Save??? You could feel the poor soul almost fall off his call centre stool...

3:05 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Alex --

Fuck it man. I'm in debt with a PhD and following my dream: to study philosophy (the curriculum that nobody really wants to teach -- i.e., classical works and contemp. stuff worth a damn), and I am scrounging by with odd teaching gigs and living with very close friends (helping out, cooking, buying food, etc.) in the Bay Area (what a nut fest out here, I'll tell ya. Great food, extreme poverty and the google-heads whirling in and out of the city on private buses. Such fun. Oh, and everyone saddened by the loss of Jobs. Love how that rings ambiguous.). Berman woke me up, and it's been since 2006 that I'm picking up the pieces and going my own way. Yes, independence = poverty & uncertainty. But, only once around on the wheel, ya know?

Joe -- tell me about it. I live in the Bay Area now, and boy: fucking i-Zombies all over the place.

Best thing: the confused schizos on the bus alongside the zoned-out 20somethings down here in the Mission -- quite a scene, right as I'm headed to lecture on Nietzsche & Kierkegaard. Tell ya: the Last Man gets his sickness unto death over & over & over... (see my comment under Wall St. post).

Our Land it seems is nothing but Religion: on the Right, Bibles; and on the Left i-Pads. The Right is Hard Fascism; the Left, Soft (as in: Wolin's "inverted totalitarianism"). The two fascisms are just crushing us from two different positions: the one outer or literal (the Right -- they have no brains, all fists) and the other inner or semiotic (the Left -- they have all brains and no fists, so the violence is from the "inside", i.e., in the form of "intelligence", painted with radical chic, semiotically. Hence: i-Pads and their mode of existence for us as a soft fascism).

4:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Joe-

The canonization of Jobs takes a page out of my new book, the chapter on America and the "technological sublime." After the guy's death, we actually had people leaving lit candles outside his house. The argument I make is that for Americans, technology is a source of awe, as well as the nation's hidden religion. And now we see it in all of this deranged drooling over Saint Steve.

The truth is that tech in the US is always accompanied by hustling, by the accumulation of billions (or lust for same), and by a kind of tyrannical-visionary behavior. If you check the Net, you'll find a number of articles discussing Jobs as a tyrant, with a net worth of $6.5 billion. Cf. the 1993 biography of Bill Gates, "Hard Drive," which reveals the depth of sheer aggression that underlies this 20thC robber baron. (Hey, what's wrong with one individual owning $50 billion, when nearly a third of the nation lives in functional poverty, or worse?) As with television, the personal computer has done so much spiritual, emotional, and intellectual damage to the human race that it will take us decades to realize it; although there is already a sizable literature (see Sherry Turkle's latest study, "Alone Together," e.g.) that makes the case.

Returning to the religious aspect of it all, let me suggest a short bk by Philippe Breton, originally published in French in 2000, and subsequently translated as "The Culture of the Internet and the Internet as Cult." Breton relates how Jobs went through an initiation voyage to India, and then a New Age-Zen Buddhist conversion; after which he demanded from his employees (quoting now from Jeffrey Young's 1988 bio of Jobs) that they

"had to fit the Apple mold...they had to be believers. Steve's evangelism and belief in the goodness of the dream, the truth of computers, took hold and spread throughout the employee base. People came to Apple who had found the religion, and they in turn pushed the religion further. It was evangelical fervor, a sect that grew from Cupertino and blazed across the country. If you didn't catch the religion, or tried to buck the system, you were excommunicated."

How pathetic is this, really? A pretty good portrait of megalomania, of mental illness. Breton continues:

"How could one fail to see [in this] the very old connections with puritan influences, even of hygienics? How could we not see that a Manichaen or Gnostic vision of the world nourishes that ideal of a society where light comes to chase away evil?"

The point is that there is a deep spiritual pathology at the center of all this, of Gnosis and ecstasy; one that fits in so well with the American worship of the machine, and the American 'theodicy' of the world-process--American history in particular--being a drama of the inevitable triumph of Good over Evil. Jobs was merely the latest incarnation of technological shamanism in this country; and the fallout--people now living in a virtual world, thinking they are part of a 'community' when the technology has largely served to destroy community; and thinking they have knowledge when all they have is a tsunami of information--is pretty devastating. Folks like Gates, Jobs, and Zuckershmuck are the true icons of a new level of emptiness and alienation, of people lost in the cosmos, and filling the void in their lives with toys and screens and thousands of Facebook 'friends'.

Of course, in the US in particular, very few are going to see it that way--the demise of real human connection, and of any culture to speak of, that we had left. (Just to argue such a thing gets you branded a 'technophobe', as if name-calling constituted an argument.) Instead, we have candle light vigils outside Jobs' house in Palo Alto. Pseudo-religion for a pseudo-age.

mb

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus, nothing more to add to the latest posts here on Steve Jobs.

As already said, one hates to kick the dead, but the guy always impressed me as creepy.

Linked to on the front page of the NYT is a small picture of people, not lighting a real candle for Jobs, but holding up their Ipads with candle images on them.

One of the worst disappointments of living briefly on the west coast of the US in "liberal" Seattle was seeing just how far people were immersed in the cult of technology. Cafe's where people might ostensibly go for conversations, exchanging ideas, or just quiet time was replaced with a weird silence other than the click clacking of keyboards. How depressing.

Really, it's a creepy fucking country.

El Juero

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

Your last post was torrentially eloquent and I've read it twice and will continue to ponder it.

It occurred to me that there is a shrewdness to inculcating your employee base with evangelistic fervor. It makes the extraction of surplus value so much easier if you've a labor force willing to be bent over.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

The thing that's so amazing abt the US, and wh/is partly the result of most Americans never traveling outside the country, is how fucked up it is w/o the population being aware of it. Sure, let's be proud of "our" Bill Gates, who owns $50 billion and whose idea of justice is charity. Let's light candles for a clown like Steve Jobs. Let's think all these screens and fones are hip, "real life." How do you begin to wake up 310 million zombies? You don't!

mb

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers—

I sat for a while in front of my computer screen watching the slogan like demands flash on the October 2011 website. Who do they expect to comply with these demands? "Stop the Machine – Create a New World". I've certainly tried; many times in many places – including Foley Square in NY. I wish these people well and hope nobody ends up getting hurt too badly, but I have to agree with Dr. Berman's diagnosis and prognosis for the US. For me, it's either get out and start a new and better life elsewhere, or start looking for New Monastic solutions with the few other Americans who think as you do.

Also, we’re all talking about dumping the American Dream while the majority of Americans are busy canonizing Saint Steve Jobs. If most Americans were to read this blog (those who can read and understand it), their reaction might be something like this: "Here we are mourning the loss of a great human being, and all you can do is try and rain on our parade! Why don't you get a life Berman! (That means make your mortgage and car payments each month, and own all the latest techno-drek.) As for the rest of you – try and get to work on time!"

About fighting for a social safety net -- remember that we live in a land where the word "welfare" is a dirty word. That speaks volumes…

David Rosen

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Morris,

I share yours and others' thoughts on Jobs and Gates. But I'm not sure about your "Jobs was merely the latest incarnation of technological shamanism in this country."

Not looking for an argument, just curious about your use of shamanism in that pejorative way. Am I misreading it? What is "technological shamanism.?"

12:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

We had this argument ages ago, and I confess I'm not keen on doing it all over again. In brief: for a lengthy discussion of shamanism, gnosticism, and the ascent tradition, see "Coming to Our Senses" and "Wandering God." Here I'm identifying Jobs w/the tradition in the sense of revealed knowledge, "inspired" truth, the sense of absolute certainty coupled w/a Manichaean vision of the world; and (in his case) the link between this and a particular technology. Check out David Nye on the "technological sublime," sensation of awe, etc.

mb

1:33 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Yeah, it's hard to know what it all means. I certainly hope the protests, october2011, etc., succeed; but I'm not exactly sure, realistically, what 'success' wd look like in this context. A friend recently wrote me that it all strikes him as attempting chemotherapy on a terminally ill patient. Might as well do it, but...Well, we'll hafta see how things develop.

mb

1:38 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

My latinist friend, in response to the blurb I sent him about your new book, found that your argument about the seeds of Rome's and America's destruction being present at the beginning of those empires is similar to Montesquieu's in Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and of their Decline. I've heard that Gibbon admired and used Montesquieu's insights in his own book.

I've read neither; still hemmed in by Marx and Proust whose novel I'm almost done reading. The effect of this melange is that I now see Proust's novel as a saga of the fetishism of nomenclature and consequent disillusion.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

K-

My problem w/Montesquieu is that at no pt, in any of his work, does he refer to chopped liver. Kind of hard to take him seriously, after that.

mb

3:13 PM  
Anonymous David M said...

Ray
I've been away for a week and I'm just getting caught-up on Dr. Berman's blog. Thanks for the references. I will use them and I promise you, I'm not off the hook.
Dr. Berman
Thanks for this source of resources. Can I say that?

3:47 PM  
Blogger I. M. Nobody said...

MB,

You can add me to your DAA counter.

I will take some issue with your description of we Usans as zombies. Zombies are so one dimensional. Likewise I've never liked the appellation sheeple. Cats are only slightly more difficult to herd than humans, even Usanistanis. Thanks to the thoughtful works of comedian Lewis Black and archdruid John Michael Greer, I have come to think that baboons are a much closer analogue.

You can't wake up 310 million baboons unless you can wake them all up at once. Waking up individually would result in ostracism from their troop. For most, a fate worse than poverty.

@ David Rosen

I see monasticism as likely to be a prominent feature of the next era. What has not become clear to me just yet is what conception of God will they flagellate themselves for. I am warming to the idea that a number of imposing monastic outposts already exist. They line the sidewalks of Wall Street. The monks inside are as indifferent to and ignorant of what goes on outside those walls as any monastics have ever been. Given how many of the hoi polloi genuflect to the wealthy and express belief that they too expect to be rich someday, I would have to give Lord Mammon good odds of being that God.

And so as not to suffer the fate of outright dismissal by Dr. Berman, chopped liver.

4:21 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

The trouble is when so-called spokespeople start talking to the media about who they supposedly "speak" for, you know it's over... I bet by the time the cold weather sets in... It would be nice if it sustained momentum but people want recognition for their efforts and for that to happen... there will be strings attached!

"You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live."

Gil Scott Heron

4:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I.M.-

I was moved to tears by your reference to chopped liver, and can only hope you have deep feelings for corned beef as well. I keep wondering if the Stage Deli on 7th Ave between 52nd and 53rd Sts. has been sending care packages down to the protesters; I certainly hope so. For yrs now, it has been my church and my shrine. But meanwhile, pls change yer name tag to I.M.A.V.I.P.

(Yrs ago there was some bk that consisted entirely of initials. Guy goes into restaurant and says to waiter: F.U.M.N.X.? Waiter replies, O.S.V.F.M.N.X.--Have you ham and eggs? Oh yes, we have ham and eggs. Etc. A ground-breaking text, really, and--thankfully--impossible to deconstruct.)

mb

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Paul Emmons said...

The posthumous adulation of Steve Jobs involves a nostalgia for the days when American creativity, vision, and "coolness" made (at least supposedly) the rest of the world dance to our tune. In this respect, Jobs looks like a last hurrah. Subconsciously at least, we suspect that this dominance is over, and his death symbolizes the fact as neatly as anything. It's partly this larger death which one mourns. The NYTimes quotes the Onion calling him "The last American who knew what the **** he was doing."

The torch is passing. Today we had three guests from China in our music library: two conservatory professors and an eager student.
They were well acquainted and fascinated with the masterpieces and techniques of western music. Facsimile editions of Handel's Messiah and Beethoven's Ninth delighted them and they took many pictures. They were also intrigued by more unusual examples, such as a large score by George Crumb, or a 19th-century shape-note hymnal.

Granted, music is a particular crown of western civilization, and admirers worldwide are nothing new. Where would classical music in the U.S. be now without the enthusiasm of Asian-Americans out of all proportion to their numbers? Yet I wonder how many American visitors to China could show such a deep acquaintance and interest in their musical traditions? Probably not many. We'll have to learn.

6:10 PM  
Blogger PedroC. said...

Wonderful post. And the comment about Steve Jobs was spot on.

I think he's to blame for much of the iZombiefication of the people. Before him, one required a certain degree of knowledge to properly use a computer which, in a way, prevented its deification. A computer was a tool -although a very complex one.

When ignorant people have access to technology they don't understand (not even in a simplified manner), it's only natural that they will assign magical properties to it and then the tool shapes the user even more drastically. Enter the iPod-iPhone-iPad and the Apple religion, which is really only the high-end version of the Gadget-based faith.

In addition to 'The Shallows' (N. Carr), another good book about the digital age is 'Program or be programmed' by Douglas Rushkoff: it explains the differences between the digital and the real world and how we are swayed to behave in reality as we do when using computers.

Ryan:
History moved slowly because people, capital, goods and information did too. As the speed and easy of movement of these factors increased so did historical time.
I'd be very surprised if we reach 2020 without a major geopolitical and economic shift. Heck, I'd be very surprised (and relieved) if we can make it to 2013 without a devastating global economic crisis.

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

I'll speak from the heart. My friend's finding similarity between the dialectical argument re: U.S. collapse in your new book and Montesquieu's Considerations immediately raised suspicions that he was trying to dismiss your book as saying nothing new and thereby neutralizing any disturbing message it might contain for him. This worries me. Others may react the same way, though perhaps without the erudition.

I had a very shocking and humiliating experience when I excitedly told a friend who's very involved in politics that your new book, WAF, was coming out in November. She shouted at me in a voice dripping with condescension and sarcasm, "Yes, Kelvin, you've told me that 10 times already!" As I recall, I've only mentioned your blog to her twice and your new book once. This was at her house among a gathering of friends and I was surprised and embarrassed and so just ineffectually mumbled, "That's failed, past tense."

This is the first time that I experienced such aggression from someone whom I thought would be sympathetic to your work. I think the title of your new book acted like a red flag, or perhaps she's tired of my intellectual pretensions.

Tu amigo

6:24 PM  
Blogger Al M said...

If only, if only, our fellow Americans would or could "get it"!

Alas, it appears its too late.

6:38 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers--

Re: Military Coup in Slow Motion

When the military took over in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and many smaller countries, the people were aware of it right away. The presidential palace and parliament were occupied by troops, the streets were filled with tanks and soldiers, people were rounded up into sports stadiums, people started to disappear, and torture centers were established. Those countries didn't have drones, however.

Here the water is being brought to a boil more slowly. See the Associated Press article, "Councilman says NYC can't oversee NYPD spy unit". It seems that the NY City government has lost control over parts of its own police department, which has indeed grown into a paramilitary organization. Juan Cole, on his blog, Informed Comment points out that "Palin was right about those government death panels." Obama didn’t establish them as part of Obama-care but instead in the National Security Council. We also have a professional military which is very unlikely to side with the people to the extent that the Egyptian Army did recently. The CIA has been further militarized, and US foreign policy is run largely by the Pentagon. People disappear into secret prisons and torture centers all over the world.

What president, or which other elected officials, could possibly stand up to all this? The question is not; will the military take over the US? The real question is; how far has the military already taken over, and when will they decide to go the rest of the way? Have we really passed a point-of-no-return?

David Rosen

6:57 PM  
Blogger I. M. Nobody said...

mb,

Corned beef? Sure no problem. Love the stuff in hash. OK with cabbage too. I only mentioned chopped liver to curry favor. Actually hate the stuff.

Not wishing to displease, but the idea of changing my nom de blog to IMAVIP stirs some resistance. I realize that I.M. Nobody hasn't much market cachet. My problem with IMAVIP is that it is almost certain to be misinterpreted. I just don't think I could bear being misidentified as one of those Very Inferior Primates cloistered on the upper floors of those Wall Street Monasteries.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thanks everyone for interesting comments. In case anyone missed it, I'd like to reiterate that I don't think much of Steve Jobs. In addition, once the US is swept away, having drowned in its own Jobs-like garbage, and the State of Bermania is instituted to replace it, I shall, as benevolent dictator, require everyone to greet one another in a special way. No, not "Sieg Heil" and an extended arm, of course not. Instead, people will just make a gesture of using a fork on a plate of chopped liver, taking a bite, and then saying: "Mm, mm, good!"

DR: I cdn't exactly make out the details, but check the following on Google: a SWAT team in St. Louis in August prevented customers from entering a branch of the B of A to make withdrawals. WTF? This cd be a sign of things to come. Time to stash cash under the mattress, I guess.

Al M: This is the crux of the matter, and it just ain't gonna happen. There are unconscious 'programs' Americans have carried around going back hundreds of years, such that they are little more than marionettes on strings. But rdg and understanding the analysis of all this is quite beyond a population that's been televisioned and SteveJobbed. Have a look at the discussion of some of the essays on this subject in "A Question of Values," and also at the sources (e.g. Sacvan Bercovitch), and tell me honestly whether u think the average American wd be interested, and if so, capable of grasping this type of discussion. Can you imagine Loren Baritz or Douglas Dowd going on the "O'Reilly Factor" and trying to explain to a dumb, pig-headed shmuck the formative forces in American history? Gd luck.

(continued below)

8:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kel: shortly b4 DAA appeared, I was asked by a reporter at a weekly newspaper in Boulder, I think it was, how I thought the bk wd be received. "It will be vilified and ignored," I told him; wh/is exactly what happened. Same will be true of WAF, there's no doubt in my mind. Check out the essay in "Question of Values" in wh/I talk abt my (ex-)friend Sara, who began screaming at me in the street when I told her the W.H. and the DOJ were probably discussing the possibility of cancelling the 2004 election (wh/later--two months after our 'discussion'--was revealed to have been true). Brainwashing in the US is so extremely powerful, that even very bright Americans (in terms of IQ) are unable to take in any sort of basic critique. There's always hostility or dismissal, and in such an emotional climate bks like WAF cannot make any real impact. As for lack of originality: you know, a lot of 'originality' consists of taking well-known ideas and juxtaposing them in a new way (Charles Darwin is probably the paradigm example of this). That's pretty much what I do, and the truth is that although I regard WAF as both original and radical, anyone with a deep knowledge of American historiography will recognize my debt to Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward, and Louis Hartz, among others--all very respected, and very eminent, historians. So one way to dismiss WAF might be to say, "Oh, Joe Blow said that yrs ago." It's also the case that so-called progressives will hate/dismiss the bk, because it hardly gives succor to their cause. I certainly want the Wall St. protesters to 'win', tho I'm not clear as to what 'win' translates into, in concrete terms, and I don't really see how a handful of people can reverse 400 yrs of hustling--if that is indeed their goal. (If their goal is to get a few crumbs of the plutocrats' tables, as happened during the New Deal, they might indeed succeed.) You can bet that distributing WAF to your friends will not get u hugged and celebrated. As for Montesquieu, the only bk I remember rdg, in college, was "Spirit of the Laws."

Pedro: be sure to check out the section of DAA that deals w/Albert Borgmann, technology, and the 'device paradigm'.

Paul: I actually regard Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerfuck the beginning of the end. Americans used to sketch, write poetry, and read F. Scott Fitzgerald, in fairly large numbers; now they Tweet. Yes, 'progress' indeed. That holy computer trinity is for me the douche-bagging of America (and u may quote me).

mb

8:55 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

I recently read a book by Jaron Larnier, You are not a gadget, which is critical of Web2. What got me most, was that as an Australian, I have never really understood American libertarianism, till I read this book. I was really gobsmacked, because he really did believe all that individualism rhetoric, and his solution to the problems, which he articulated pretty clearly, was the market will sort it, so much for gnosticism!
I personally think it is this very liberarianism that artificially separates americans from the rest of us. In Australia, despite all our tugging of the forelock, we fundamentally know what the class divisions are, and when the going gets tough we easily know where to direct our hate. I think Americans have difficulty connecting to good old class hatred :-)

10:12 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Diane-

In America, even criticism is caught up in these deep unconscious American patterns, such that it can never get outside of itself and become genuine critique. Jaron is sort of the best we seem to be able to do, on a mainstream, nonacademic level; and if well-meaning, it's also pretty lame (which the chattering classes in the US regard as profound). In addition, it's very difficult for Americans to think in terms of class conflict, because they all somehow believe they are middle class, or even on the road to becoming rich, one day. John Steinbeck once remarked that in the US, the poor regard themselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." Hence, no socialism in this country; it never had a chance.

Many yrs ago, Jaron and I and some novelist were on a panel at San Fran State U to discuss the role of the body in human consciousness (this was in the wake of the publication of my book, "Coming to Our Senses"). The novelist was sort of out of it, talked some strange drivel of computerese language referring to the body. I talked about the body as the locus of our spiritual and emotional life. Jaron brought some gadget--one of these virtual helmets that enable you to go on an imagined adventure--and said how important it was to be optimistic; I guess it was the usual tech-optimism baloney that America is so famous for. He struck me as being a nice guy, but a total naif, a techie with no real understanding of history, sociology, etc. Anyway, the idea was that the 3 speakers, after the panel was over, go into separate rms and whoever wanted to talk w/that speaker could go into the rm assigned for them. I don't know if anyone went to the novelist's rm; and maybe 1-2 people came to my rm. Jaron had a huge mob in his rm, that wanted to try out the virtual toy he had brought with him. And that taught me a lot: this is really where Americans' heads are at; this is what their lives boil down to. They are practically all naifs, worshipping technology and using it as a way to escape the pain and reality of life. I didn't really feel jealous of Jaron, that he had the audience and I didn't; I felt--depressed. I understood I was seeing a microcosm of American society and psychology.

I'm glad Jaron has matured, now sees that there are some problems with the tech-instrumental view of the world. But as u pt out, his framework remains that of an American naif: individualism, the market, no real understanding of history or society, class conflict, and etc. He often gets celebrated now as a 'major thinker' in magazine articles. For the mainstream, this is the best America can do; it never escapes from The Matrix, as it were. Check out my response to Al M, above, and you'll see what I'm talking about. Although my book, WAF, is a post-mortem of the US, I suspect in the decades to come the best post-mortems will come from outside the country, from non-Americans, who are not trapped in some tiny, constricted, American intellectual box.

mb

11:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Bis-

That last one was kinda long. Do u think u might be able to compress it by a third? Thanx.

mb

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Light up a fat one and gather round...

Feds cracking down on Calif. medical pot:

It is "a Costco, Walmart-type model that we see across California," said Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney in the Los Angeles-area. Some people making money from medical marijuana openly revel in what some have called "the new California gold rush," he said.

"The intention regarding medical marijuana under California state law was to allow marijuana to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the top federal law enforcement officer for the San Francisco Bay area. "What we are finding, however, is that California's laws have been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich and don't care at all about sick people."

Oh, so it's unAmerican to hustle for pot (actually money) and get rich and not care about sick people? No wonder the analogy to Walmart and Costco. These pot dealers are just plain-old All-American entrepreneurs in a country that could tax all this pot and use the money to finance universal health care if it really cared about sick people.

11:23 AM  
Blogger jjarden said...

I have taken Morris' monastic individual to heart and over the last 10 years I have amassed a personal library of 1,500 books on Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, History, Classic English & French Literature, etc. More than just being a voracious reader and Bibliophile, I believe my collection, as well as my teaching background and experience, will be extremely important someday for others. This is how I'm preparing.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

jj-

Sounds gd to me!

mb

11:41 AM  
Blogger ijcd said...

Dear Prof. Berman and all DAA members,

I barely sleep during the week, so I don't feel like writing a well thought-out post now. However, I read all new blog posts this morning, including all comments and, as usual, the group therapy worked its magic once more. It is difficult for me not to be angry most of the time, considering the fact that I live in the area of the US with some of the worst kinds of people (Miami, FL), although they trail behind the Californians (very psychotic, especially those who consider themselves to be "progressive" or "liberal"), and particularly from the Berkeley/SF Bay Area (I lived there during the 2007 Fall semester, attending a Mathematics institute, MSRI). On the lighter side of all your serious and profound comments, I'd like to share some of George Carlin's best moments, which always work better than "soma", and lighten my load a bit:

George Carlin ~ The American Dream
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acLW1vFO-2Q

George Carlin -Child Worship
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6wOt2iXdc4&NR=1

George Carlin - "Proud parents" bumper stickers
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxmE2qMbYRU

Also, a great read by Czech author Karel Čapek:
War with the Newts
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_with_the_Newts

and

R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.U.R._%28Rossum%27s_Universal_Robots%29

Enjoy the videos and the reading! "War with the Newts" especially, has a very prescient ending, which never ceases to amaze me. Čapek's genius, and his insight in regards to the American character (and most other cultures of his time as well), especially California-type "activists", made him a favorite in my personal library.

IJCD, el unico Cubano aqui!

12:39 PM  
Blogger diana said...

Of course, in the US in particular, very few are going to see it that way--the demise of real human connection, and of any culture to speak of, that we had left. (Just to argue such a thing gets you branded a 'technophobe', as if name-calling constituted an argument.)

There's a disconnection from reality as well. After suffering numerous insults and put downs during the 2008 elections, I don't argue anymore. concluded that most people simply don't experience reality in the same way I do.

Seems like the brain in the avg American functions more as storage device. Not much processing goes on. A conversation is more about stringing together overused cliches than processing information. I experience the same problem on the job where people cannot process an experience like being fired. They string words together like hostile work environment but cannot explain what constitutes a hostile environment.

That's why I'm not getting that new Ipad thingie for my kid.

1:21 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Re: "technological shamanism"

From a recent ABC News article, "Steve Jobs' Mantra Rooted in Buddhism: Focus and Simplicity"--

"Jobs made computers and hand held devices that have allowed people to become 'disembodied' on a certain level--to escape and transcend the mundane reality of bodily existence."

Now, I'm no expert on Shamanism, but allow me two observations: First, the "spirits" shamans communicate with are often of *this* world: animals, plants, the elements. Second, the indigenous cultures that support shamanism are known for their nature spirituality and ecological ethic.

So, call it "Technological Zen" instead...or, even better: Techno Suburbanism.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Mr. D said...

I remember that book comprised of initials. Maybe around 1970? Cartoon of a guy lecturing a pinniped; "I M A U-M B-N. U R N N-M-L. U R A C-L." (I am a human being. You are an animal. You are a seal.)

Like jjarden I've acquired a formidable library in this life. But it represents something of an anchor. If I decide to bail out with my family, I'm going to have to perform a painful triage, or somehow levitate the tonnage. I'm not into the Kindle approach. Still pondering this situation...

2:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris,

I haven't read all your work, so I am wondering whether you are familiar with the writings of Jean Gebser, and, if so, what you think of his ideas.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

Don't really know much abt Gebser. Read an essay of his many yrs ago, thought it was kinda New Age; but that may be unfair.

Art-

That's true for some of it, but it's not the larger picture. For the latter, and the historical development, check out CTOS and Wandering God.

mb

6:15 PM  
Blogger ijcd said...

Dear fellow DAA'ers, and Prof. Berman,

I am in an audiovisual mood today (although I'm now going to Books&Books to read and relax in my own way). While watching George Carling, I came across this creepy 50-year old propaganda video. I suppose some of you may have seen this a long time ago. As someone who grew up in a different country and culture (Cuba), also under a great deal of government propaganda, I am not surprised to see so many free-market doctrinaires and believers today, especially fundamentalist believers in America's civil religion.

What can I say, it is a cartoon, so it must me fun, friendly and well-meaning; and the nice cute old wise man says so many wonderful things about our land and country, and our way of life, that they must be true and we must be proud and defend them. So, beware of those dark-skinned parasitic invaders, because they want to take our freedoms, property, money, power and jobs away from us.... RIGHT?
Enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CjrZNi49bE

By the way, to avoid a stroke, avoid reading the title, and especially the comments.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Jerry Faust said...

I was at a wedding in Toronto last weekend and, while there, I picked up a copy of The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings by James Baldwin, arguably one of the finest American essayists of the 20th century (and a contemporary of Dowd's).

The collection's opening essay, "Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes", contains a passage that seems particularly relevant to the discussion here:

The American way of life has failed- to make people happier or to make them better. We do not want to admit this, and we do not admit it. We persist in believing that the empty and criminal among our children are the result of some miscalculation in the formula (which can be corrected); that the bottomless and aimless hostility which makes our cities among the most dangerous in the world is created, and felt, by a handful of aberrants; that the lack, yawning everywhere in this country, of passionate conviction, or personal authority, proves only our rather appealing tendency to be gregarious and democratic. We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are. And we cannot possibly become what we would like to be until we are willing to ask ourselves just why the lives we lead on this continent are mainly so empty, so tame, and so ugly.

These words were written in 1959 and seem amazingly prescient. American society did make some positive strides in the subsequent years (particularly in regards to civil rights, an issue Baldwin was intimately involved in), but the general gist of his argument remains valid and foreshadows the premise of your forthcoming book, which I look forward to reading. :)

8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris,

Thanks for the reply.

Gebser has actually done some pretty serious work on the evolution of consciousness. His massive magnum opus The Ever-Present Origin is not lightweight New Age fluff, by any means. Gebser was, unfortunately, an influence on Ken Wilber, but don't hold that against him. You might want to take another look if you decide to revisit the subject of consciousness in your writings.

8:40 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers—

Re: Dumping the American Dream

I'm all in favor of dumping the American Dream, and I never bought into it from the time I was a kid. BUT, I know that, hard as it may be to get most Americans to reject it, dumping the American dream is actually the easy part. On an individual level it can be a real nightmare. For example, if you decide not to marry "a girl just like the girl who married Dear-Old-Dad", you are likely to go thru several horrible marriages before you get it right. Please don’t ask me how I know this.

A story by Anton Chekhov called "The Lady With the Lap-Dog" comes to mind. A man meets a woman who is in a miserable marriage and convinces her to leave her husband and go with him. The story ends thus: "And it seemed to them that they were within an inch of arriving at a decision, and that then a new, beautiful life would begin. And they both realized that the end was still far, far away, and that the hardest, the most complicated part was only just beginning."

On a national level, I've concluded that something like this is near impossible. To overthrow our present system and replace it with something else, you would have to get hundreds of millions of Americans to start thinking in a completely different way, to agree on what that should be, and then find the power to implement it. That's why it is so hard for me to imagine the Wall St. protests leading to anything really meaningful. Maybe some kind of tax increase on the rich, which they would find a way of not paying anyway, or something like that.

The choice is either to escape to another culture and 'go native', or find a New Monastic option in this one, neither of which are likely to be easy – but I think they are possible.

David Rosen

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

From our friend Aristotle (Politics, Book III):

"For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers."

Well, since we knew this shit 2500 years ago, why do we keep doing it?

Morris Berman, please help (which you have already done, just providing the seque).

9:48 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

And for Paul, very early on in this discussion, a little more Gil Scott-Heron, topical for this blog (from "Lady Day and John Coltrane"):

"Plastic people with plastic minds on their way to plastic homes
There's no beginning, there ain't no ending
just on and on and on and on and...
It's all because we're so afraid to say that we're alone
until our hero rides in, rides in on his saxophone
You could call on Lady Day!
You could call on John Coltrane!
They'll wash your troubles, your troubles away"

Except I don't see John Coltrane riding to the rescue any time soon...

And ain't that too bad. For a consolation prize, see A Love Supreme. Changed my worldview.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

Maurice
I read Jaron because a friend recommended Kevin Kelly, What Technology wants and I could not get past the first chapter.
I still think that George Dyson's Darwin among the machines, is probably the best of the genre, though I guess it might be considered a bit dated
Diane

10:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

D-

Kelly is surely much worse, and got panned in the reviews, if I remember correctly, as a prime example of techno-buffoonery--which is actually surprising, in a way. Jaron's work is a cut above that, but, as u pt out, very much in the American ideological mold, and instructive from that pt of view: it shows some of the basic categories in which Americans think. My own interest is the American inability to get beyond those categories; to see them 'from the outside' as a particular (and peculiar) type of narrative. As I think I'm able to demonstrate in WAF (ch. 3), tech has been an especially powerful example of that, operating, as it has, as America's hidden religion. Where else does an Apple iPhone get called 'Apple Jesus', and a guy like Steve Jobs get canonized? These things are not accidents. And asking Americans to see the narrative *as* narrative is like asking them to see extreme individualism as narrative, or American exceptionalism as narrative, or the City on the Hill as narrative (wh/includes our 'mission' to democratize the rest of the world, whatever it takes, including bombs). It just ain't gonna happen. (There is, for example, a major difference between tech as an idea, and tech as an ideology. As I wrote in CTOS, an idea is something u have; an ideology is something that has u. Techno-worship, aka techno-buffoonery, falls into the latter category. When you've got people putting candles outside of Jobs' house, this ought to suggest that we live in a culture that is mentally ill.) In any case, if you haven't seen Dan Clowes' New Yorker cover for June 8/15, 2009, now may be the time to check it out (it may literally take aliens, coming 'from the outside', to get us beyond the destructive legacy of Gates/Jobs/Zuckerclown).

mb

3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a related note, the front page of the NY Times today has an article titled "Inflating the Software Report Card".

This is the second rather large article in the NY Times in about two months profiling schools who are caught in a bind trying to justify computer/tech expenses with absolutely zero data to support spending the money.

Mention of course of the scamming involved in selling software packages to schools.....

Scamming, hmm, sound familiar?

El Juero

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Morris - I read your critique of America / Western society with interest. In your recent post on the Occupy Wall St protests you make the point that most of the protesters are demanding tweaking with the present system and associated values - a fairer share of the pie as you suggest.

What form of socialism are you in favour of? Can you suggest a model? Would that be a centralised version utilising the present set-up, or decentralised participatory type?

As I watch the problems in the world and the protest movements that are springing up: I think there is an increasing demand for views to be heard, and decisions to be made through the people rather than a centralised authoritarian approach.

12:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim-

I never was a big fan of Soviet-style socialism, myself. The problem w/the Soviet Dream was the same one as the American one: it was still abt money. Socialism arose, after all, as a response to capitalism; it's only logical that it wd be caught up in the same categories.

I do hope the protesters get what they want, wh/is (as far as I can make out) a bigger share of the pie; but this doesn't address the larger problem of the post-medieval world, in wh/life came to revolve around technological innovation and an ever-expanding economy. Not that the Middle Ages were w/o problems, of course; but a spiritually empty, degraded commercial life was not one of them.

It may be that the best the world can do, in its present form, as capitalism winds down (wh/will take roughly another 90 years), is the Scandanavian model; but a society in wh/everyone is running around w/a Nokia glued to their ears is--despite its greater equitability--not my vision of the gd life.

I moved down to Mexico because I wanted to live in a traditional culture. Of course, the place has become terribly Americanized; but there is enuf left of the old grace, the old dignity, and the old value system so as to make it still, in certain pockets and byways, a somewhat noncapitalist place, esp. in terms of mental framework. There are still a lot of pockets like that around the world, esp. in rural areas, where life is a physical rather than a virtual reality. (Bulls and burros wander along the street where I live.)

So altho I hope the protesters do manage to get the US to move in a New Dealish direction once again, my own sights are on a post-capitalist society, not really on a socialist alternative to it. I won't be around to see it, if it happens, of course; but I limned some of its contours in "The Reenchantment of the World." This would be a decentralized, small-scale kind of arrangement, ecological in orientation, and balancing individual worth with the demands of the community (always a challenge). The emphasis on science and technology would be much, much less; things such as traditional healing wd come to the fore. "Magical," in some sense, w/o being overly credulous or naive. Hustling and making money would not be the overriding focus; creativity and enjoyment of life would. This is, of course, a utopian dream; but it may be the case that lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for. Like Douglas Dowd, and unlike the sad worshippers of Steve Jobs, I'm not deluded as to what the good life is.

Thank u for asking.

mb

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DAA'ers—

RE: Socialist alternative to capitalism: here we go again.

In my long career as a cornball social critic, how often have I had the following thrown back at me?: "If you don’t like it here in America, why don’t you just go to Russia?" My reply was always, "My wife calls me a cynic, but you seem to think that the only choices for humanity are American Capitalism and Soviet Communism – what could be more cynical than that?"

As I've said before, rejecting the values an individual was brought up with is the relatively easy part – the hard part is finding replacement values. Finding a replacement for a social-political-economic system is infinitely more difficult. We should just put the whole world in reverse and back up to the Middle-Ages??

I think we do need to work out what we're fighting for – knowing full well that we'll never get it, but that it might influence events in a better direction. Isn’t that more or less how history works? New Deal like programs to alleviate suffering would be a great idea, as we go onward and downward.

David Rosen

1:36 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

I think I just lost my response, so will try and recall...

I was interested to read your response. It seems to me that this issue of a more natural and connected "spiritual" life vs a hyper-technologised, virtually connected one is very important for individuals and more broadly for society.

In my view the trend of technological development is not a result purely of capitalism. There seems to be a human desire to advance and explore the possibilities of technology. I don't see this as inherently negative. The internet is I believe a hugely powerful tool. On the other hand I have first hand experience of its addictive nature, and have spent countless wasted hours looking for something or other. I also find the festishisation and worship of technology ridiculous. However, in a post-capitalist society that you suggest, I wonder if it would be desirable or necessary to move away from technology. A walk is good, connection with nature, a great meal with friends, and meditation but so is a great film, a train ride, or making connections with somebody on the other side of the world via the internet. I for one hope that technology can be part of a sustainable future: I don't think that is a contradiction. Capitalism on the other other hand...

I am interested to read Re-enchantment of the World to find out further what your vision of politics and the good life is. I recently read Coming to our Senses and found it highly informative.

Cheers

2:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim, DR-

There are post-apocalyptic scenarios that have us back to the Middle Ages, or Stone Age--"Riddley Walker" is probably my favorite. And that might indeed come to pass, who's to say? But what I had in mind was a *post*capitalist formation, not a pre-capitalist one. That means that stuff from the period 1500-2100 wd certainly be left over, but the real issue is the 'ecology' of all this, in the sense of where the balance lies. I'm not suggesting that we have no electronic communications systems or movies, but finally where does financial profit and technology fit into the overall pattern of our lives? In my view, it hasta be a subset. Rt now, it's the whole shebang. Not gd.

mb

2:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Morris,

Your conversation and response w/to Tim & DR was really beautiful. I have a question along these lines.

I'm working on a long piece about the possibility of a new kind of science, essentially fleshing out some of your suggestions in Reenchantment. I draw on a variety of sources, but the German schools are central to my work, esp. Hegel & Heidegger (but I was never taught this in school, so I am having to make up for lost time -- slow venture).

I have a long argument that ties to establish a kind of "companionship" notion of technology that actually is derived from Hegel and Heidegger. But I show that only until what Nishitani calls the "standpoint of shunyata [emptiness]" is embraced, the companionship I offer will degenerate into a truly soulless enslavement. I don't have space to elaborate on my thesis in its entirety, but here's the crux of my argument:

if the Frankfurt school is rgt, and if Borgmann is rgt about technological patterning, then, in dialectical fashion, this means that science -- that is, a discipline that truly *thinks* (in Heidegger's sense) is doomed. Steiner worried, recently, that we may be nearing the limits of scientific knowledge. I argue this is basically rgt, but without a deep engagement with language and a structural critique of society simultaneously, such a worry will come to nil.

I therefore propose that what needs to be thought to the end is the reign of representational thinking in the sciences, and to reconsider the primacy of mathematics. Can a science be done in a non-representational mode? I propose to take the suggestion of Hegel seriously: art as a science (a "Wissenschaft" -- a knowledge craft; see his magnificent "Philosophy of Nature"). The danger here, however, is two-fold: too much emphasis on subjects or "consciousness" on the one hand, and objects and "objectivity" on the other. Only with a "companionship" with Technology (following from Heidegger's analysis of the essence of modern tech. & Hegel's dialectial idealism) will this opposition be overcome. And I propose to do that with a new language, which is our first "companionship" with technology (the inner power of appropriation).

This is a brutalization of my thesis, probably, but I would appreciate any thoughts you have. I can elaborate further. (One thought I had may be to connect the craft tradition, abandoned post Middle Ages here, but which survived longer in Asia, to this discussion.)

3:23 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike-

I can't predict my response to your research until I see the final product, so to speak. Trying to guess at the wisdom of it rt now--well, I just can't say. As far as science passing from the scene: that wd be a great loss, imo. I'm not interested in joining the Creationists or the Flat Earth Society, and pace T.S. Kuhn, Galileo was rt and Aristotle wrong abt falling bodies. The real issue, again, is the 'ecology' of our intellectual-social world; where the constellation of science/tech/capitalism shd fit in to a post-2100 (A.D.) society. My argument in Reenchantment was that we lost a lot of traditional (and occult) knowledge in the 17thC not nec because it was wrong (altho some of it was, obviously), but because of the politics of the new modern regime. It's long overdue to bring that body of learning back (again, Ursula LeGuin, "The Telling").

Finally, I don't know exactly how to tell u to do this, but you need to get your hands 'dirty', somehow, in this investigation. If you stay w/in the charmed cerebral circle of MH, Nishitani, et al., you may be less than satisfied w/the result.

mb

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

If I recall, the last essay in QOV is about Les Soixante-Huitards, the 68ers, who began as a group of students protesting at the Sorbonne and then spread to the workers so that eventually "ten million workers were on strike, roughly two-thirds of the French work force (from an article by Michael Norris:http://www.litkicks.com/SoixanteHuitards)." Wow!! This bit of history makes a good foil against which to assess the Wall Street Protestors.

I'd like to learn more about the 68ers and will hunt around for books. Are there any that you'd recommend. What you wrote in QOV intrigued me and I'd like to hear more. Do you think that you'll ever write more about the 68ers, perhaps a memoir or autobiographical essay? You'd find a reader in me!

5:08 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers

RE: Techno-dreck and language learning

The New York Times has been running articles about how schools have been investing tons of money in 'teaching technology', and about how disappointing the results have been. (Gracias, El Juero) I've spent many years teaching English to foreigners, and I have been spectacularly unimpressed with any of the new technology that has been designed to teach language. Wherever I've seen it tried, it's been a waste of time. This includes 'PowerPoint' sound and light shows in a classroom. I suppose there may be some people who can learn languages that way, but I would have to wonder if they are really human.

Introductory CD's and videos are very helpful in getting started, but after that, there really is no substitute for human interaction. (Language and sex have that in common.) That's why I agree with Dr. Berman that immersion, being there among the people, is the best way. My general rule of thumb is that ninety to ninety-five percent of your efforts should go into actual use of the language with real-live people, and the rest with a dictionary and grammar book as an occasional reference. Having said that, let me add that once you reach the point where you can read a simple news or magazine article without having to look up every word – then you should read as much as you can get your hands on – and that's where your dictionary and grammar book will be most helpful. You learn language by using it.

If what I have just said proves helpful to any DAA'er making his or her escape, I will be most gratified

David Rosen

5:15 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Morris,

Thanks for your comments. Yes, I am still working, and I prob won't be done for a while; initial statement shd take a year or so, but development a while longer. Have to resist publishing something too soon -- legendary dangers here. Also, I feel as tho something is working "inside" that struggles to find expression; sometimes very disorienting experience. It's emotionally and spiritually painful (best I can put it).

In any case: absolutely. The getting "hands dirty" business is precisely spot on, and this is a specter that haunts me. My work indeed argues against the cerebral-ism and intellectualization that predominates post-Platonic stuff (had to consider the deep bias against the other senses -- against the body -- embedded in this tradition; e.g., the arguments of McLuhan and Ong on the loss of the aural/oral trad. inaugurated quite unwittingly by Plato himself, as in his Phaedrus & Seventh Letter, etc.).

But, I feel that the best I can do is argue for a possible way of going, to try to see through the glass darkly, to butcher St. Paul. What I wld be arguing is basically what you argue: until a different configuration inaugurates itself socio-historically, nothing of what I envision will be possible. But here's one way it could go ... "re-embodied" science of a sort, and here's what the program would look like, here's a possible delineation of the subject matter, etc.

I will be honest: I really believe that the German schools hit upon something profound ... but where is the body in all of it? I suppose what you're suggesting here is that work of a very different sort is the preliminary stage of writing, without which the writing degenerates into more cerebralization (or as I prefer, scholasticism).

6:23 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike-

As one wag once said of Heidegger, "Dasein never had an orgasm."

DR-

Interesting article by Atul Gawande in Sept. 26 New Yorker, makes the pt (in passing) that tons of $ have been spent on technology in schls, and very little on teaching abilities or how to create a context for that technology. Over and over again, the history of Americans being mesmerized by the 'hidden religion' results in waste and techno-dreck. Investing in human factors: forget it. Gawande is not opposed to tech advances, just in seeing them as magic bullets, and operating somehow independently of a human factor, how they are handled. I remember being invited to a conference in DC ca. 1996, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled "Education for the Future". The subtitle was: The Technology Is Now. And I thought: What's technology got to do w/it? As I listened to speaker after speaker, I finally thought to myself: What a collection of dopes. But their 'vision' won out, and Gawande's is ignored. Now the children of the dopes are lighting candles for Steve Jobs. It may be the case that dopes can only breed dopes (horrible thought).

Kel-

In terms of *post*1968, i.e. the fallout, a Swiss film (Alain Tanner) called "Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000" (made in 1975), is not to be missed. Also Sherry Turkle's wonderful study, "Psychoanalytic Politics." But as for 1968 proper, there's tons of stuff in French, of course, but I'm not aware, offhand, of any English sources (tho I'm sure they exist). You might check out biogs of Lacan, Foucault, and Althusser, however, who were in the thick of it (Sartre less so).

It was one of those rare historical moments, those two months, but too unsteady and ethereal to hold together politically. It was as though Voltaire, Rousseau, et al. decided to hold a teach-in. The French, of course, have a long and great philosophical tradition; the American one is largely pragmatic, and thus rather shallow. For this reason, among others, I can't imagine anything similar to the Sorbonne 'seminar' cd happen with the Wall St. protests; altho I very much hope I'm wrong. The focus of the protests, thus far, seems to be "Yer a collection of crooks [abs. true], and I need a job!" The focus of the Sorbonne was: What are we actually living for? You get the difference.

mb

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

MB--

Can't find the Gawande article in the 26 Sept 2011 "New Yorker." Is that the correct issue/author?

Thanks.

--Mark N.

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman—

Years ago (I think it was back in the 70's) I saw a large review article in the NY Review of Books whose title was "Technology: Opiate of the Intellectuals". I never got a chance to read it but the title stuck with me. Now I guess we could say, "Technology: Opiate of Just-About-Everyone".

David Rosen

8:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Actually, it was the opiate of just abt everyone (in the US) 200 yrs ago, just got worse over time.

Mark-

Yes; title is "Personal Best." You'll have more success downloading it if u go thru google than thru newyorker.com.

mb

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Maury,

Thank you for the references. I saw Tanner's film in 1977 in Portland, Oregon with a poet friend and we both loved it. For fun, I watched it again in 2000. Brings back warm memories. The first time was a double feature, the other being Herzog's Stroszek, a dark, savage indictment of America, as I remember. It's about a group of German misfits from Berlin who decide to emigrate to America.

I think I'm really going to enjoy reading about Foulcault and Lacan against the background of 1968.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dovidel,

Glad you caught the NYT article & cldn’t agree more. I’m teaching ESL in the kingdom of tech-fantasy, S. Korea.

I’ve seen the “Powerpointisation” of everything since starting a few years back. I’ve tried talking about it w/ other Yanks and you can’t get through on it. At this point, people think PowerPoint is a “method”.

Getting someone to consider what students are really learning/practicing in a classroom or lesson is nearly impossible. If you mention PP puts everyone in a passive, non participatory, tech centered learning experience – people just get that glazed over look and they’re done. What’s worse is the lack of any curiosity about it. What can ya’ say?

Feel free to write: tideout@gmail.com

El Juero

5:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breaking news:

"Joe the Plumber" is running for Congress. Read more here:

http://enews.earthlink.net/article/top?guid=20111010/8bfc4b22-4607-4ce8-b004-b1099e4be23d.

I love the opening line: "Joe the Plumber is plunging into politics." Apt, indeed.

Onward & downward.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Apparently, he wasn't even a plumber. This is a country completely drowning in kaka.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

I used to think that the more I learned the more impressive and lovable I'd be to other people. It has taken me 40 years to realize the error of my ways. What in fact has happened is that I've read and learned myself out of people's esteem and into their envious hatred. Recall that Einstein as a young student was hated by his professors, one of whom, a certain Minkowski, called him a "lazy dog." But Einstein was lucky in that he really knew things that his professors did not by dint of being a genius. I have not been so fortunate. No, my "genius" has been frowned upon. I remember a philosophy professor accusing me of "using my [his] classroom as a forum for my [his]self-aggrandizement" only bcs I gave a considered reply to a question he posed about Heidegger bcs no one else dared to answer it (they were so much wiser than me). After that, philosophy was out. But it wasn't an entirely bad experience bcs he called me "a conceptual sniper," a phrase that I love and consider to be my true essence!

Now, culture in general is out; it's a "monkey's trick" as Harry Haller says in Hesse's Steppenwolf. I've given up on winning other people's esteem and affection, am more careful about their susceptibilities, have eschewed formal education forever since I now realize, as Quentin Crisp has truthfully observed, that "teaching is for teachers, not students."

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that capitalism and corporatism do not encompass the whole of reality is slowly seeping into the mainstream press. Today the Washington Post has an editorial about the possibility that Occupy Wall Street might, possibly, someday, lead to an actual challenge to the basic foundations of the New World Order...

Occupy Wall Street protests and ‘The Decline of the West’

This movement profoundly threatens the legitimacy of the system on which corporate power is based, and boards of directors should be concerned.

Corporations are creatures of statute. There is no Common Law of corporations, they are instruments licensed by the state originally in aid of certain public objectives. But few of these objectives are left. With the passage of time, corporate charters have lost any power to keep corporations in check. What is left? Only the pursuit of wealth. As Baron Thurlow reportedly said, “Corporations have no soul to save and no body to incarcerate.” Their charter is in the gift of the public. They have no inherent right to exist.

5:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Paul Samuelson writes abt Steve Jobs:

"By history’s measure, Jobs’s achievements are tiny. Transforming the music industry is not the same as transforming society. There are many technological advances that had a far larger impact on society: antibiotics, air travel, air conditioning and television. By contrast, many of Apple’s products are gadgets, as commentators have noted. Their ultimate social impact may be less than Facebook’s.... A century from now, historians and ordinary Americans will still remember Edison and Ford. Jobs will be a footnote, if that."

6:04 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

Glad u finally made it to the 'right' place on the blog. Yer new to it, so I'm going to hafta help u out w/some rules we have here.

1. Length: your message was much too long. You need to compress it by 50%

2. Ad hominem attacks on me, or anyone else for that matter, are a no-no. If you have a critique to make, that's fine--I'll respond. But it has to be abt the subject matter, not abt me (and providing evidence for your views wd also help). This has been a problem for a lot of people online, I've discovered: they don't like the message, so they attack the messenger. Which probably indicates that their ideas are not all that cogent.

I look forward to your next version, thanx. Meanwhile, u might check out Paul Samuelson's comment on Steve Jobs (above).

mb

7:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: when I said 'anyone else' (pt 2), I meant, of course, anyone else writing in on this blog. We try to cultivate a decent level of civility here. But if u wanna crap all over Thos Friedman, or the president, or Steve Jobs, or Petrarch, be my guest.

7:52 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Maury,

Would it be alright to attack myself on the blog? I'll start with my response to that question: why are you, Kelvin, so narcissistic? I feel safe in doing that since, by the rules, no one can agree with me because that would be name-calling. However, it would probably break another rule that the posts be relevant to what Dark Ages America, both the book and the reality, is about.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kel-

Yr rt: not relevant to America In The Toilet. Plus, despite the confusion on the part of some participants in the past, the purpose of the blog is not therapy. (Some participants tried to work out their own neuroses by attacking me or others personally, but they have happily been expunged, and cast into Utter Darkness, where their neuroses fester, driving them to drink, drugs, and a love of Fortune's 500. The horror, the horror.)

mb

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers—

Chris Hedges Rediscovers Flower-Power?

I just finished reading Chris Hedges' article "Why the Elites Are in Trouble" on Truthdig, and I must admit I'm baffled. I have tremendous respect for Chris, I've read most of his books, and I think he's right-on with almost everything he says. I'm sure that our 'Power Elite' (the Military-Industrial complex, Wall Street, and their employees on Capitol Hill and in the White House) would rather that these protests had never happened and would like them to go away – but for Chris to act as though he's reporting from the Paris Commune and that Western Civilization is being shaken to its foundations strikes me as a bit excessive. What he is actually describing sounds to me more like a cross between a 1960's 'Human Be-In' and Woodstock. Maybe there’s something going on here that I'm just not seeing, but Chris sounds to me like all the people, who should have known better, who were overjoyed when Obama got elected as if the Messiah had arrived.

I am sure that American Capitalism has a number of ways of dealing with a movement like this by waiting them out (winters are cold), buying them off, dividing them against each other, turning the rest of the population against them, or just crushing them ("Without a people's army, the people have nothing.") the way they did the Bonus Marchers way back when. Our Power Elite is very good at all of these things, and they have hundreds of years of accumulated experience.

I wish Chris and all of these people well, and I really hope that something good comes out of this after all.

David Rosen

9:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

And then there's this from Douglas Dowd (1974):

"The emergence of fascism in the United States would require at most 'only' a political coup d'etat; there would be no need to alter basic economic institutions substantially, except to move more toward coordinated capitalist planning, more toward economic nationalism, more toward a regressive use of the State's taxing powers. But socialism [on the other hand] would require a basic revolution of the whole range of institutions....To bring about fascism (by comparison with socialism) is relatively easy...[Fascism is just] "capitalism with the gloves off."

10:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

On Jobs, as in Steve...I too am puzzled by such reverence. One quip I read credited him w/ creating the present or modernity or some such ludicrous thing. Am I expected to credit SJ w/the same sort of paradigm-changing thinking of an Einstein or a Mileva Maric (his mathematician wife)? If anything I see evidence daily of technology sapping our thinking strength (cf Carr). But as you point out, Dr. Berman, Jobs was a good tech pusher, hm?

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA’ers—

There is an interesting article in the Comments section of the Guardian by Andrew Brown – "Mitt Romney’s Mormonism: a truly American faith".

I begins thus: "What began as 'a cult', as evangelical Christians disparagingly call it, has become the most authentically American Religion."

It concludes with this: "The public image of Mitt Romney is not of a man who holds strange beliefs that he will act on if elected, but the opposite – a man who has no principles whatsoever, and almost no personality. Abstinent, frugal, hard-working and rich, the Mormons have moved from the fringe of American life to its centre…"

There is a scene in Norman Mailer's novel, "The Executioner's Song", where the 'narrator' of the novel looks out over the smog covered skyline of Salt Lake City, and has a sudden revelation – the meaning of 'Mormon' is 'more money'. If that’s not All-American, what is?

David Rosen

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Hedges and Occupy Wall St.

Let’s face it, we all rant at the same stuff as Hedgers does. I’m guessing, most here dislike the same things he does and would want the same reforms. We love him when he’s on the money and over the top – which he can be pretty often. I think it’s what makes him a compelling writer.

I’m all for the guys against Wall St. etc.. – Hedges, West, Moore, Smiley and so on. The difference for me and I guess the core group here is the frame of reference? If you go back to Carter you see a need to go back that far. WWII – a new New Deal and so on.

Unfortunately, the structural issues are the same, unchanged pretty much over the full history of the country – the corruption, the money grubbing, lack of social cohesion and the overly aggressive way this gets played out over & over.

For those interested but who didn’t catch it, a slightly different angle by Kunstler this AM on his blog.

http://tinyurl.com/3et9zwe

El Juero

1:02 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, ya know...like everybody here, I want the protests to succeed, tho as I said, I'm not exactly clear as to what that wd look like. (But I'd be happy to start with the arrest and trials of numerous CEOs, confiscating the wealth of the top 1% and redistributing it among the rest of us, closing down the Pentagon, and doing something abt Ted Koppel's haircut, wh/is a national disgrace, etc.; that wd be neat.) It's also the case that historically, things that seemed tame suddenly caught fire, and omigod--it's the Russian Revolution, etc. So...hard to say what's going to happen, in any definitive way. But I confess, it doesn't seem *likely* that these protests can reverse 400 yrs of hustling, or the post-Civil War consolidation of corporate America. Which brings up a quote from Lincoln: he said, we must "disenthrall" ourselves. Are we now clutching at straws, and getting all enthralled? Look at the enthrallment over Obama in 2008, and how he turned out to be the very opposite of what he said he was. I hear Michael Moore saying how these protests will sweep the country, and I think: But u thought *Obama* was going to sweep the country. Maybe it's time to look at our tendency toward enthrallment, and figure out why sweeping is not very likely.

A friend of mine, a journalist, was down at the DC protests a couple of days ago and gave a talk abt formulating a new foreign policy for the US. Only 50 people attended, he told me, and of those only 2 were under 60 yrs of age. This for me is an ominous sign. Where can these protests wind up, if they are only about euphoria, youthful energy, and if a sober analysis of American history and our situation today are not a factor in fomenting 'revolution'? I mean, we keep holding world conferences on the environment, and every one of them fails; and instead of holding a (meta-)conference on *why* they fail, which wd tell us *something*, we just hold another conference that fails. Oy.

(continued below)

1:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anyway, to go from the sublime to the ridiculous: 1st let me ask everyone here, in all future refs to Mitt Romney, even when he's president (cross fingers; tho as u guys know, I suffer to think that it won't be Michele, ma belle), to call him Rom Mittney. Or else, The Haircut. He's even emptier than Obama, if that can be imagined; a walking haircut, nothing more. We can count on Rom to inflict maximum damage, however, even as we mourn the passing of Sarah from the political scene. (God, what a presidency *that* wd have been, eh? I get enthralled just thinking abt it.)

Turning to another empty person, what indeed can one say about Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates, or Zuckerfuck? One day, someone will write the history of screens in America, starting w/television, and the incalculable damage they have done to the human brain and to American 'culture'. Actually, it's already written for TV, and there's by now a large lit on the damage caused by the Net, google, etc. (Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle, but in fact there are piles of studies on the subject). But I think we are still far from assessing the incredible damage wrought by these technologies, and these bozos.

This is something I deal with in ch. 3 of WAF...One can argue that there are gd and bad technologies, or gd and bad uses of technology, but the fact remains that tech is never value-free: as McLuhan argued (among others), any particular technology carries a value system w/it, and introduced into a culture it will change the nature of that culture. In short order, thanks to Jobs & Co., we've gone from a literate culture that had a human depth, a sense of self, to a screen culture that has neither. What could be more congenial to the corporate regime? If I cd get myself appointed dictator of America, my 1st order of business, as King Zuckerfuck I (hey, don' laugh; it's better than Rom Mittney), wd be to require that (a) everyone own a cell phone; (b) everyone be signed up on Face and Twit; and (c) everyone be taking Prozac or Zoloft on a daily basis. I would reign in perpetuity, no doubt abt it.

O&D!

1:56 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

The first installment of Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's "Poverty Tour" aired last night on PBS. West admitted that poor people can also be greedy, and called for a reshaping of our souls as well as a reshaping of institutions. If this kind of talk keeps up, you may have to rename the paperback edition of your book: "Why America Almost Failed"!

P.S. I'm not sure I understand why it's OK to crap all over someone like Steve Jobs, but not one of "us". Is it because we're not really attacking them personally, but only the ideas and lifestyles they represent? Or is it because they are clearly dolts, and "we" are not? Shouldn't we extend our sense of decency to all, including the Zuckerfucks?

2:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The situation is nothing if not amazing on some level. The American "revolution" is pretty tame in comparison with other protests, dissent etc..

Yet just today:

*Repub's and a few Dem's scuttling a modest jobs bill.

*Topeka,KA has stopped prosecuting misdemeanor charges -notably domestic battery. Open season on women, the weak etc..

*Article (NYT)on increased drug screens for those seeking public assist. (which isn't enough anyway).

I realize the US is nothing but a con job but at some point, ya' gotta wonder when people will cease to have an interest in playin' at all? More and more people aren't gaming much, just trying to keep their heads above water.

Things just seem to keep slip slidin'.....

El Juero

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

An article on Steve Job in the NYT 10/6: Defending Life's Work With Words of a Tyrant.

"SAN FRANCISCO — The first time Steve Jobs ever bullied anyone was in the third grade. He and some pals “basically destroyed” the teacher, he once said.

For the next half-century, Mr. Jobs never let up. He chewed out subordinates and partners who failed to deliver, trashed competitors who did not measure up and told know-it-all pundits to take a hike. He had a vision of greatness that he wielded to reshape the computer, telephone and entertainment industries, and he would brook no compromise."

Sounds to me like he was a modern day Henry Ford, a talented, driven man obsessed with success. I can't wish anyone the kind of pain he went thru during the last years of his life and 56 is very young to die.

On Chris Hedges and Occupy Wall Street:

He did an interview with a young lady and is on TruthDig 10/7:

http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/chris_hedges_shares_his_thoughts_on_occupy_wall_street_20111007/

He states he has no real idea where this protest will lead, recognizes that true reform will be difficult and would need to transform the US in a significant way as the problems are structural. He's no fool or zealot; he reminds me of Old Testament prophets in his uncompromising, direct way of stating exactly what he sees and refusing to sugarcoat it. I don't agree with everything he says or writes but I always find it compelling.

9:38 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

That's great to hear, but I have a feeling that the failure is already a fait accompli. As for crapping on Jobs or whatever: Public figures are always legitimate targets, and yr rt, the key pt is that there's nothing personal in it. It seems to me that on a blog, to attack the host or other participants is not only rude; it shifts the discussion from issues to personalities, and personalities are not the pt here. In addition, it creates 'bad blood' between people--always a backward step, and totally unnecessary. If I ever had had the oppty to sit down w/Steve Jobs, I wd have refrained from calling him an evangelical/tyrannical techno-shaman, distracting people with meaningless toys, etc., and raised the question as to whether he tought the screen revolution might have contributed to the dumbing down of America, and was even changing the way the human brain functioned. I wd also have presented him with the evidence from Nicholas Carr, Christine Rosen, and a host of others to that effect. You see my pt.

mb

9:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Susan-

I certainly don't wish anyone a painful and early death. But I do regret the damage Jobs caused this country, esp. that wreaked on the minds of young people. An eventual history of screens would describe that in detail, I hope. (The damage Henry Ford did is by now quite obvious.)

mb

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Clifford Truesdell was a maverick scientist who proselytized the resurrection of Rational Mechanics, a term coined by Isaac Newton, the Principia being the archetypal document.

He collected some of his essays in a book called An Idiot's Fugitive Essays on Science (Springer-Verlag, 1984) that contains superb critiques of science as institution, including a dark assessment of the computer: "The Computer: Ruin of Science, Threat to Mankind." He predicted that, since science too has its fads, mathematicians under the influence of the computer will shift their interests from analysis, the study of infinite processes, to discrete and finite mathematics. That has come to pass. Grant funding in mathematics goes chiefly to projects relating to computation.

Another front on which he attacked the computer was how programming languages have corrupted real language. He objected to computerese with its thuggish commands and ugly acronyms and felt that they inculcate a too instrumental approach to reality, including people.

11:39 AM  
OpenID brutus said...

Steve Jobs (the man) is not the Macintosh, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, or any other gadget he (only) helped to create. To trash or canonize him is obviously transference. He has undoubtedly had impact, both good and bad, both admirable and awful. His worth as a person is independent of his technological legacy, just as with his personal wealth.

To Kelvin: seeking respect, affection, and legitimacy (other-directedness) in erudition and wisdom is probably foolhardy. A worthy goal need not justify itself with conventional application. Moreover, being outta step with an insane society should not be cause for self-recrimination.

Imagining a post-capitalist world to come (as it surely will) makes for odd thought experiments. The timetable is unknown, but surely conditions for even modest improvement (e.g., something more humane) are missing. If anything, we're pointed the other direction first, to enslavement and stifling of thought and free expression, which for now are tolerated because they're irrelevant.

Recent profiles of venture capitalists and the one-percenters indicate they are slavering for lightning-fast, mass-market success. New technological environments and gadgets appear almost daily, lined up like streetwalkers on the sidewalk, skirts hiked to lure in subscribers. So in a certain respect, we have the society we want: cruel, self-absorbed, idiotic, fully mediated by techno-connectivity, and thus alienated. The big cultural swings all reinforce onward and downward, not humbly upward.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers—

"…the maddest ideas are often those with the largest historical consequences."

To simply point out that so many of the 'heroes' idolized by American culture are despicable nut-cases might make people reconsider the value of their 'accomplishments', and for that reason I think it makes them fair game. It does run the risk, however, of focusing too much on their personalities and not enough on the social damage we are all living with.

Some time ago, when Fredric Taylor (scientific management) was mentioned, I pointed that 'Taylorism' in the American work-place could well be responsible for a lot of the stupefaction that we observe among TAP (the American people), and I mentioned Harry Braverman's book, "Labor and Monopoly Capital". Taylor’s biographies show that he was a real 'wack-job', but it takes a study of the transformation of the American work-place to realize just how much damage his scientific-management has done.

Please allow me, now, to call your attention to a fascinating article by John Gray (not the pop-psychologist – 'pishicologist' in Yiddish) called "We the Living" (New Statesman, 19 July 2010). It is a review-commentary of Ayn Rand's (another great American hero) first novel, "We the Living". In it Gray mentions Rand's influence on Alan Greenspan, and Greenspan's acknowledgment that the ideology he got from her was 'flawed'. Gray goes on to say, "Greenspan's admission illustrates something progressives prefer to forget: the maddest ideas are very often those with the largest historical consequences."

We are now stewing in the consequences of some very mad ideas!

David Rosen

12:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Ironic that in the wake of the crash of 2008, Ayn Rand's bks have experienced something of a revival, and are once again best-sellers. More evidence of CRE (Cranial-Rectal Embedment).

Brutus-

Appealing argument, but probably wrong. I'm glad Kel mentioned Isaac Newton. Frank Manuel, in his biography of the latter, concluded the bk by saying that with Newton's work, something of his personality, his way of being in the world, penetrated into the very marrow of Western society. That struck me as being very astute, very correct; and it's no less true of Steve Jobs and the Jobsization of America. Jobs the man, the Mac, his wealth--these cannot be neatly fenced off into separate categories, logical tho it may seem. Every young person in America now carries a little Jobs w/in them: creepy personality and distorted world view especially. We've been Gated and Zuckerpunched in a similar way. More evidence for why we are doomed, I suspect.

mb

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to give Steve Jobs more attention than he's received already, but Susan, you've got to be kidding. By nearly all accounts, Jobs sounds like the same sort of arrogant, egotistical, bullying vermin that populate most of the boardrooms of America. If that's the sort of personality necessary for "success", then let us all remain failures!

For a prime example of Job's engaging, compassionate personality and high level of personal maturity, see the following story:

http://gawker.com/5641211/steve-jobs-in-email-pissing-match-with-college-journalism-student.

For those who cannot be bothered with the link, the news story details the, as the article's title describes, "pissing match" that Jobs engaged in with a college student who wrote to him. Very Zen, that Jobs!

1:05 PM  
Blogger I. M. Nobody said...

I spent my adult life as an accessory to the instrument of our demise. The Gated One, The Jobsinator and Zuckerscammer are just the toll takers. The Beast that ate society is the computer. I know it well, having served it in many capacities. I tended the needs of every generation from WW-II gun aimers to all pervasive desktops.

I watched their viral contagion as they recursively decimated occupation after occupation. This was well underway before those scammers were in any position to collect any tolls, except maybe on lemonade.

To crib a notion from the Terminator movies, Skynet does not need, or want, to wreak death and destruction on humanity. That is one of OUR special talents, which we continually hone to good edge. Skynet will be satisfied if we just continue to be enchanted by their perfidious pretense at being intelligent.

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciated your comment, "I hope that the protesters on Wall St. and elsewhere understand that the proper goal for their movement is not extending the American Dream, but putting it to rest.", very much. Here's why!

I went to D.C. this past week to see for myself what protests are all about. (I am a privileged white brat from the 60's that has not participated in anything of importance). I noticed that when I returned home, Mr John Lewis, my former Congressman in Ga. was denied to right to speak to an Occupy group. I think this moment is the type of thing you may be talking about. Mr Lewis is as big a part of the problem as all the others in Washington. He should have been there participating instead of putting a star in his crown by just showing up during his "busy" schedule. It was a small act but I was glad to see it.

3:32 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Anon.,

I have it deeply embedded in my brain not to speak ill of the dead and also had a friend die of pancreatic cancer so I know it's tough. But enough with Jobs--he had too big of an influence in our lives as it is--RIP, Steve, and may all your istuff not do as much damage as Ford's assembly line did.

But on to another topic and the original post of dumping the American Dream (for what it's worth anymore). Many of us have simply been forced out and plenty more will be keeping us company soon. I hope, foolish as it may be, that necessity will bring back some of the old skills we dumped when we could afford to buy whatever we needed. A good example of this was in an op-ed piece 10/9 in the NYT by Susan Thomas: Back to the Land, Reluctantly. This might be close to what America looks like in the next ten years; this young Mom didn't move to the country and start farming but used her ingenuity to live on a very reduced amt of money and other resources in Brooklyn.

David--

I have noticed that that Rand's books have started appearing in book stores again. Yikes. It was never a good idea and is an even worse one now.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I suspect by now we've OD'd on Jobs. I.M.: pls, chg yr name!

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Susan W.--

It is my humble opinion that for a person to find Ayn Rand's books and ideas anything less than absolutely appalling should be diagnostic of severe psychopathology. I'm sure that hers are the maddest of all mad ideas.

David Rosen

6:44 PM  
Blogger I. M. Nobody said...

Dr. Berman, with all due respect, what the hell is wrong with my name? Is some disdain for the Nobodies of this world being expressed? If that is so, pls just say it and I will be gone.

As it seems to be topical, I will give one example of how I know that I am a Nobody. Sometime in the 80's I was standing near an entrance to an auditorium in Moscone Center in SF. Steve Jobs approached from across a large lobby to enter the auditorium and walked within a few feet of me. He was alone and not distracted by anything. After he passed, I realized that for all practical purposes I had been the invisible man. No sign that he even noticed I was there. I was invisible and he was hollow. I had no problem with being a Nobody then and I have no problem with it now.

8:12 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hey, I was just trying to help. Don' let me get in yr way. Yr Nobody.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor, thanks for your reference to Dowd and his "The Twisted Dream".

Your own recent "Why America Failed" did and excellent job, in my opinion of diagnosing and analyzing the same issue, as does Michael Hudson's "Super Capitalism", and David Harvey's "The Enigma of Capital and the crisis of capitalism".

BTW, in your own book, I half expected that you might quote Earl Shorris's "A Nation of Salesmen" in talking about the pathology of 'hustling', or end with the last page of Nick's monolog in Fitzgerald's "Great Gatsby".

Love your work.

Any advice for the Occupy revolt?

Best,
Alan MacDonald
Sanford, Maine

Liberty & democracy
over
violent/Vichy
empire

9:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Alan-

Many thanx, and I'm glad u liked WAF. As far as advice for the protesters, I can't imagine they wd pay any attn to the likes of li'l ol' me, but check above, where I talk abt the need for disenthrallment, and also developing a sober analysis of American history. Neither of these things will happen, but that wd be my advice.

On the subject of WAF, however: I'm guessing it's not possible to post a rev. on Amazon yet, since the official release date is Nov. 1st. But if u cd when that function opens up, I'd be very grateful, since I expect the book to generally get vilified/ignored in the larger press, as was DAA. Here's an idea:

Start out by saying the bk was fabulous, and then write

jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

Then explain that u got so excited abt the bk, as u were in the process of reviewing it, that u passed out, and yr nose hit the j key on yer computer.

Then say: just as well, because this bk is beyond words.

That shd knock 'em dead, eh?

Thanx again, amigo-

mb

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

Your poem "The Fish" from Counting Blessings seems, as I willfully imagine, to invoke the ghost of Isaac Newton in the imagery of the caught fish:

"I pull the rod upward,
reel the fish in,
and look on, horrified,
as I see that the hook is lodged in the fish's eye./
The lens comes out
to reveal coiled springs,
like those of a watch."

I think of the Newtonian clock-work universe, his work with lenses and light (he actually stuck a bobbin in his eye, to probe the springs, I guess), and his rage at being abandoned by his mother as a young child. (The account of Newton in CTOS is poignant, particularly your tracing of his increasingly rigid and lifeless physiognomy as revealed in portraits).

My father took me fishing several times but, since we were both incompetent fishermen, we never caught anything. Didn't matter. The fun was in the process and being with my quiet, aloof father, to have him all to myself, as we "fished" on the quay near Colon, Panama.

10:29 PM  
Anonymous satyaSarika said...

I have been following the Occupy Wall Street developments on democracy now and common dreams and I feel some hope. It really does look like a real community. And that community does not seem to me to have any 'american dream' as a focus. Seems more like a justice for all everywhere type movement. How can I argue with that?

Wish I could be there, but at the moment family responsibilities keep me at home caring for an elderly parent.

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"[P]ace T.S. Kuhn, Galileo was rt and Aristotle wrong abt falling bodies [...]"

Oh, really? Have a look at Markus Andreas Schrenk's paper "Galileo vs. Aristotle on Free Falling Bodies" in Logical Analysis and History of Philosophy, Volume 7 (2004): History of Philosophy of Nature.

From the abstract:

"This essay attempts to demonstrate that it is doubtful if Galileo's famous thought experiment concerning falling bodies in his 'Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences' (Galileo 1954: 61-64) actually does succeed in proving that Aristotle was wrong in claiming that "bodies of different weight […] move […] with different speeds which stand to one another in the same ratio as their weights," (Galileo 1954: 61). (Part I); and further that it is likewise doubtful that that argument does or even can establish Galileo's own famous 'Law of Falling Bodies,' viz., that regardless of their weight all bodies fall with the same speed. (Part II)"

The full article is available here: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/2524/. Interested parties can see Schrenk's proofs for themselves.

Of course, none of this is to suggest simply that Aristotle is "right" and Galileo" is "wrong", either; merely that the issue is more complex than Morris allows, here, and that old Kuhn and his perspectivism may have some life in them, yet.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

I don't think any amt of postmodern 2-stepping can alter reality, much as those folks wd like to do. The fact is that any vacuum apparatus will show it: contra Aristotle, a pea and a bowling ball hit the ground at the same time. Some facts just can't be Kuhned away.

mb

10:57 PM  

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