October 02, 2011

Letter to the New Yorker

Dear DAA-ers,

Below is the full text of a letter I'm about to submit to the New Yorker. Given the size allotted to the letters they print, I'm going to have to reduce it by about 50%; but no reason not to post the pre-cut version here, for you to read. As follows:

As a long-time subscriber to the magazine, I found the issue of September 12, 2011 one of the funnier ones I’ve had the pleasure of reading. First we have an essay by Adam Gopnik, arguing that “declinist” theories of history are misguided and/or illusory (“Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat”); then one by George Packer documenting the very real decline of the United States (“Coming Apart”). Packer even writes that after 9/11, “the deeper problem lay in an ongoing decline that was greater than any single event or policy.” But besides taking pot-shots at easy targets such as Oswald Spengler, Niall Ferguson, and Thomas Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum, Gopnik’s argument strikes me as being rather glib and superficial, and mistaken on a number of key points. I’ll cite only three:

1. The notion that for “declinist” historians, the catastrophe never quite arrives. Gopnik makes no mention of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, or Jared Diamond’s Collapse, but it is common knowledge that history is a graveyard of empires and civilizations, and decline and fall is the one thing we can be absolutely sure of. “American exceptionalism” won’t save us now; in fact, it is a major factor in our decline.

2. This mistaken premise leads Gopnik to assert that the most recent declinist book (whatever it is) has to explain why the previous ones were wrong. But in fact, it’s not like predicting that the world will end on such-and-such a date; rather, being large-scale processes, declines take their time. They do not occur on, say, August 4, A.D. 476, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. In addition, declinist works that discuss or focus on contemporary America include, inter alia, Andrew Hacker, The End of the American Era (1970); George Modelski, Long Cycles in World Politics (1987); and my own trilogy (The Twilight of American Culture, Dark Ages America, and Why America Failed), for which I certainly did not feel any need to “explain why the previous declinist books were wrong.” They weren’t wrong at all; rather, they can be seen to form one more-or-less continuous argument that the American empire is coming to a close.

3. Gopnik asserts that ever since Spengler, historians have found it necessary to show that the errors contributing to the decline were “part of some big, hitherto invisible pattern of decline.” The “saner” idea, he argues, is that “things were good and now they’re bad, and that they could get either better or worse, depending on what happens next.” Whose definition of sanity? The fact is that the writing of history does consist in finding or mapping patterns; and instead of citing Karl Popper’s “proof” against historicism, Gopnik would have done better to have referred to E.H. Carr’s What Is History?, which made short (and embarrassing) work of Popper’s so-called proof. Indeed, the belief that “history is just one damn thing after another” (Toynbee’s contemptuous characterization of his critics) is about as outworn as the Great Man theory of history.

There is, of course, the question of why Gopnik wants to refute declinism, which I suspect has a lot to do with not wanting to face the very real decline George Packer talks about. Garrison Keillor once wrote that “We have this ability in Lake Wobegon to look reality right in the eye and deny it.” Gopnik’s essay is a good example of this, it seems to me. The author may not be a declinist, but he is, quite clearly, a denialist.

43 Comments:

Blogger dharmahum said...

Whats unsettling is the need for argument,this resistance to truth and real danger. Perhaps you could comment on the protests outside the machine's building on wall street.

There will be governmental violence in the homeland again and a robotic effort to stamp out free speech, particularly in public.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Robo said...

These observations and those attitudes are time honored.

I remember giving my Dad a copy of Hacker's "End Of The American Era" for a Christmas gift back in the early 1970's. It was the first book I ever saw that addressed the problem. He thanked me for the gift, but his response to the premise was "Bosh !".

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman—

I pre-ordered two copies of WAF so I get free shipping. I have to read it before I figure out who to give the second copy to. Here in rural Iowa I risk turning myself into a pariah by giving it to the wrong person. I once said that people in Iowa are conservative but not reactionary, but there are limits.

It looks to me as though Gopnik can’t tell the difference between historical analysis like yours and millennial predictions like Hal Lindsey’s in 'The Late Great Planet Earth'. You don't tell us the date of the Rapture in your book, do you? I hope include the part where Obama sees strange writing on the wall of the oval office, and Daniel tells him what it means.

David Rosen

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

This kind of denialism too, is part of the long tradition of exceptionalism here.

Except it isn't just stupidity, fear, or pig-headedness. It's a particular kind of cultural "stalling for time" that has a very specific and useful part to play in this country's moral and political economy.

We've seen it at work in the global warming debates. Obviously indisputable truths are nevertheless endlessly questioned by smirking sophists who know that WE know that they are being mendacious. Its a pattern going all the way back to slavery debates.

This denialism has evolved as a kind of Kubler-Ross-style preparatory coping mechanism to help the self-involved multitudes of believers in the exceptionalist dream and their opinion leaders gradually come to grips with truths that they cannot ultimately escape. However, the collective ego is too fragile to honestly and promptly admit the truth of a critique; instead, in the intervening years/decades while the critique is being poo-poohed and belittled, the Thomas Friedman-and-David-Brooks-reading middle mind can slowly and secretly rehearse the validity of the critique w/o too much risk.

This is all in preparation for the sudden bandwagon effect (or as these creatures will eventually put it - "the tipping point," "beginning to think outside the box," "shifting the paradigm," or whatever other atrocious verbal formulation they will employ to congratulate themselves when they opportunistically Grasp Some Important Truth for their own wellbeing and benefit. It will amount to just another episode of WE WILL ONLY CHANGE WHEN - WE - ARE GOOD AND READY AND WE WILL NOT BE PUSHED BY OUTSIDE FORCES OR VOICES.

So weak is the collective sense of honesty, humility, and honor, so great the compulsion to save the perverse free agency with which we arm our precious exceptionalist selves. We will then go around preaching to others about the need to accept NMIsm as Americans' new gift to each other and the world, brayed out by tone-deaf pols at the UN, sold with Amway products by greasy chancers at a thousand second rate business motivation seminars in the heartland.

The same way we have never stopped patting ourselves on the back for "ending" slavery 30+ years after every other Western state had abolished it, the same way Green propaganda is being used to sell SUV's, the culture is using this time lag before acceptance to figure out ways to co-opt and profit from your message Morris; and not very much we can do about it. And like Philo Farnsworth, the culture's owners will not credit you for the insights/memes they appropriate.

11:26 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ray-

Appreciate yer comments greatly, but hafta ask u to try to compress a bit in future...I like to limit letters to abt half a page at most. Thanks for yer understanding.

DR-

Yes, there's this dramatic scene where the writing appears, in Hebrew script, on the wall of the Oval Office, and says to Obama:
YOU ARE A DOUCHE BAG. I do hope he takes it to heart.

mb

5:14 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Ray, well said!

For the majority of Americans, undeniable evidence of decline & collapse will hit them as suddenly & shockingly & destructively as a tornado. It won't matter that the warnings were there all along; they didn't heed the warnings, didn't admit they existed, refused to consider the slightest possibility that they might be true. Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here applies to more than just American fascism -- it's the motto & mantra for anything negative that might occur. "Maybe in other, lesser countries. Not here. We're special."

The only difference between us & Rome is that our barbarians ARE us.

6:42 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Tim L,-

We are our own barbarians – you really said it! Just try getting all but one percent of Americans to see it. Jung put it very well when he said that people repress truths they can’t face, and project them onto others. Americans do this as a nation. I remember hearing Norman Mailer shortly after the fall of the USSR (on BBC World – I was living overseas) talking about how much Americans need enemies. He predicted a frantic search for new enemies, adding, "It's really going to get ugly!"

So how does it work? The US has always been a nation of hustlers, but we can’t believe that about ourselves. Also, where has there ever been a nation so protected from external enemies – by two massive oceans and weak or friendly neighbors. The result has been a desperate need to find scapegoats to project it all onto – we really have to work at it. Native Americans, Blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Muslims, immigrants in general, and many others far and wide. No wonder we have so many people not living in a reality based world. I'm sure that when many of these Tea Party people talk about cutting government spending, they're thinking of Ronald Reagan's "big fat (Black) welfare-queen with a diamond ring, driving to pick up her check at the Welfare office." Stop that, and all our problems will be solved!

David Rosen

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Morris,
Thanks. When I started posting here it took a little time to learn the appropriate post length. Sometimes though, the mental climate in this land gets to me and triggers unedited rant. With sparseness comes clarity - will continue to fight the good (conciseness) fight. This blog is a sanity saver, but I have to remember - it's not a free-for-all therapeutic space. Respect.
Ray

11:29 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Morris,

Off topic question. Any thoughts on Immanuel Wallerstein and global systems theory? Watched an interview with him. Might buy a book. I've read Williams. Anything new here?

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truth Dig's Mr.Fish comic is worth checking out this week. Entitled "Heroes' Welcome" it depicts a hero of 9-11 , a cop, beating a hero of the wall street protests. The comic does a great job at capturing the humanity of the situation. No one is really a hero or "the best" as Chris Hedges suggested. We are after all just mortals trying to get by in life under the obsticals set forth by the "Gods", Governmental  and Corporate. http://www.truthdig.com/cartoon/item/a_heroes_welcome_20111003/
Mike O'

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Per your excellent previous post ("The Wall Street Protests"), my one quibble is the statement "the environmental movement excepted" - they've been co-opted too, as many of the "green" initiatives are just excuses to try to keep a dying way of life operating at any cost (e.g. solar-powered cars, "smart growth" initiatives). Check out this post a few months ago at Frank Rotering's site pointing out the internal contradictions of Richard Heinberg & PCI: http://tinyurl.com/3aoo6co

(And I have great respect for Heinberg. It just shows how difficult it is to truly change the debate.)

1:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kel-

In the US, anything and everything is going to get hustled/coopted, for sure. Al Gore has made a mint from his corporate 'green' adventures, and as for Thos Friedman: don't get me started. But the ideology of the env. movement, certainly from the early 70s, has been about limits to growth, and the obvious fact that you cannot have infinite expansion in a finite space. This remains true, regardless of all the corruption.

Anon-

I really am with Hedges on this. Here's what hasta happen for the US to change course (pick a or b):

a) More than 50% of the American public hasta regard the cabal at Goldman Sachs, with their $20K suits and $20K bottles of wine and private planes, "trash"; they hafta see these folks as pure scum, the worst people America has managed to produce. At the same time, they hafta regard protesters on Wall St. who haven't showered for a wk, haven't had a decent meal, and have been sleeping on concrete, "classy"--the true high-quality people (elite, aristos) of the US population.

b)More than 50% of the American public hasta regard Ronald Reagan as a drooling, demented buffoon who did more to destroy the country than Benedict Arnold or Dick Cheney, *and* at the same time regard Jimmy Carter as a visionary who was trying to save the country.

Good luck, eh?

Dave-

I discuss Wallerstein and the World Systems Analysis school briefly in the last ch. of the Twilight book. In general, I think their 'broad strokes' approach, that the crises we are going thru now are the result of the death throes of capitalism, which had a 600-yr run from 1500 to 2100, is correct. Wallerstein has a great essay somewhere called "The Eagle Has Crash-Landed," and his bk "Utopistics" is a decent read. Christopher Chase-Dunn is also gd, if a bit technical at times. But I encourage u to run down their stuff on Amazon, check out the revs, and see what tickles yer fancy.

mb

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Susan W. and others—

Re: Consumer Boycotts

I am not trying to put down anybody who is struggling, far from it. I have to be brief about this, so let me just say that I do not think consumer boycotts are going to be very effective for the following reasons:

1. Most Americans are nowhere near ready give up on the American Dream, much less realize that it has always been a mistake. Erich Fromm once defined sickness as 'wanting what is bad for you'. Well many many Americans still seem to want what is bad for them. And how does a nation come up with an alternative. (Is Chris Hedges mourning the loss of the American Dream, or attacking it as a bad idea in the first place?)

2. Many of those protesting are out there because they are being denied the American Dream. In order to boycott consumerism, you first have to be a consumer. The middle class is falling, and the working class is being pauperized. How are they going to participate in a consumer boycott – stop eating, become homeless, stop buying clothing at the Salvation Army or Goodwill?

3. Many many, probably most Americans will attack boycotters for 'hurting the economy' and 'costing jobs'. They see consumer spending as the solution to our problems. After all, at a time like this we should be doing everything we can to boost 'Consumer Confidence'.

I don't have the answers, but hopefully what I've just said will stimulate discussion. I could say a lot more, but this will have to do for now.

David Rosen

3:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Consider the stampedes at Wal-Mart sales, in a couple of cases resulting in death or near-death of customers, and refusal of the crowds to make way for the medics when they arrive.

Or Sen. Pete Domenici, after 9/11, telling Americans to "hit the shopping malls" (Bush said something similar)--what Robt Reich called "market patriotism."

One problem w/calling for a consumer boycott is that it assumes an intelligent citizenry.

mb

3:51 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

A couple of interesting postings that will fit in with Dr. Berman's blog regarding our dire situation:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/guest-post-what-country-needs-now-hope

http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/10/04/the-day-america-died/



Chuck

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This one is outright ridiculous. NPR is usually better than this, but I guess they are getting desperate to appear "positive" and not get attacked so much by the more jingoistic media. They re-ran a feature from last year, which was actually about a NYT article from 2009. Get this: "America is on a roll" Now there is a title that can be interpreted in different ways! But he is/was apparently serious. He seems to really believe American consumerism will pull us all back to prosperity again. :P

Is American Style On A Roll?

As Congress takes up legislation today to approve free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, the tech world is waiting for Apple to roll out the latest model of the iPhone. It’s the world’s most popular smart phone, and the news reminds us of a conversation with novelist and cultural critic Walter Kirn.

Writing in the New York Times, Kirn said, “Sorry, you prophets of cultural decline, but American style is on a roll again.” Kirn believes American design is reshaping the world “from the lowly hamburger, which is American style on a bun” to Apple, which he says outmatches “the hottest Paris runway shows.”

Guest:

Walter Kirn, author of “Up in the Air” and “Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever”

This interview originally aired in January 2010.

Walter Kern's November 30, 2009 feature in the New York Times is here:

U.S.A. All the Way

4:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I suspect the only roll the US is on is a roll of flab. Lots of data on how it's getting harder to enlist young people in the army because they are too fat.

5:57 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

David--I admit I'm desperate and probably no one would do it anyway. I wish I had some answers and maybe even a real strategy to share but that's the best I can do. I worry these protests on Wall Street will go the way of Wisconsin, Cindy Sheehan and others. Wall Street not only has political power but the greatest ally of all on their side: time. They can wait them out. The hustlers in the highrises are the worst and most shameful except they feel no shame and are not likely to no matter who suffers (unless, of course, it's them).

I watched Even the Rain about the privatization of water in Bolivia. It's a fictionalized account of real events and how the protesters were able to succeed but they had a very clear target which helped.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Susan-

Time is definitely on the side of the powers that be; also the inability(?)of the protest to coalesce into a political party with a definite platform; or into a large mob able to overrun the Goldman Sachs offices and force the executives to eat nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches for a week or two, plus apologize to the nation for their crimes and resign their jobs. Lack of a clear target remains problematic. Counter example: in 2006 Lopez Obrador had it in his campaign platform that Carlos Salinas return all the money he stole from the Mexican treasury. Not likely, but certainly not ambiguous. I'd like the protesters to declare all the Wall St. bigwigs 'financial terrorists' and demand that they be tried at The Hague for crimes against humanity. Also not likely, but it has a wonderful clarity to it. Might as well go for broke, the more so since those clowns caused the misery/deaths of millions, and got bonuses for it.

Riots/marches in Seattle in 1999 came to nothing; Kyoto and Copenhagen fizzled out; etc, etc. WAF is a study of how opposition to the hustling way of life formed a coherent counter-tradition as early as 1616, but--w/the exception of the American South--never had the political or military strength to seriously take it on. So the challenge I have for the DAA65 is this:

Imagine it's now Jan 1, 2012, and there are no more protesters in the streets. It's just a memory; it fizzled out, and Lloyd Blankfein just awarded himself another $9m bonus. What do you guys feel is the next step? What should potential protesters do? (Keep in mind that I don't think any substantive change is possible, save continuing to go down the drain; but let's leave that gloomy vision aside for the moment, along w/Rom Mittney, the corn dog girl, and the turkey in the White House.)

Or, alternative scenario, perhaps more to the pt: To avoid that result, what shd the protesters do rt now, besides wave signs and march around? The floor is open.

mb

7:36 PM  
Blogger diana said...

The Counterpunch article recommended by Chuck is worth a read. Basic message- It's all over for America. If you can leave pack up and go. If you can't leave, prepare for the nightmare. Bleak stuff. Think I need to start packing..

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

"what shd the protesters do rt now, besides wave signs and march around? The floor is open."

Oh! I love this! Here's my action list for all of us: First, go home and then..(begin each with "never again")

drive a car...patronize a chain store or national bank...live in a house larger than 1000 sq.ft..ride in a commercial aircraft..watch commercial television or listen to commercial radio..

and do move to the country..learn to garden..raise chickens..support only local business..learn the skills of your grandfather..start a "localizing" cooperative movement in your area..read good books.. sing ..dance..stay away from churches..smoke and drink only good stuff.

u think I'm kidding? If we all did these, capitalism as it now stands would come to a screeching halt..nobody does any "business" with us unless he lives in our community..don't ask for a piece of their pie, make your own!

too idealistic? Okay, if it doesn't work you can at least do the drinking part.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Susan W., Dr. Berman, et al—

Sorry to have been such a downer. All I can think of is to say that time is on their side only in the relatively short run. As a group (class) they are weighed in the balance and found wanting and their days are numbered. Rome declined over centuries, but things seem to move more quickly in our time – but don't hold your breath.

About 'Even the Rain', here is what Thomas Merton had to say about that – back in the early 60's. It's from 'Raids on the Unspeakable':

"Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By ‘they’ I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness."

I remember, back in the 60's, reading about the defoliation of forests in Vietnam and thinking of lines from the Irish song, 'The Wearin' of the Green'. They go like this: When law can stop the blades of grass from growin' as they grow/And when the leaves of summertime their colors dare not show… That was depressing too.

Finally, if you want to commiserate with a kindred spirit, look up Bertolt Brecht's poem 'An die Nachgebornen' – 'To Posterity'.

Later we all need to discuss some new monastic options.

David Rosen

9:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dave-

Gd NMI stuff, clearly. But politically, I'm wondering how we can get lots n lots of people to do it--like, many millions. I can hear the screams on Wall St. now...

mb

ps: Speaking of pie, now might be a gd time to watch the Laurel & Hardy film, "Let Me Have It."

10:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Diana, Chuck-

Last para of article:

"To expect salvation from an election is delusional. All you can do, if you are young enough, is to leave the country. The only future for Americans is a nightmare."

Author was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, and Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal.

A very impt article, obviously.

mb

10:27 PM  
Blogger PedroC. said...

With the precedent of the Anwar al-Awlaki murder by Emperor Obama, I would suggest all American posters to start using aliases and proxies.

Maybe it's paranoid, but one should be fearful of the Praetorian Drones: they killed an American citizen without trial on foreign soil, now it's only a matter of time before they kill an "instigator" over here.

11:39 PM  
Blogger jerome langguth said...

Yesterday morning I was reading an essay by George Steiner on Claude Lévi-Strauss and discovered the latter’s term “entropology”, which for Lévi-Strauss apparently meant something like the study of the inevitable disintegration of civilization. I am not sure it exactly fits the spirit of your work but I like it better than “declinism”, which carries with it the suggestion that the chroniclers of decline have simply bought into some kind of formula or meme of decline in a superficial way. In response to your question about what the protesters ought to do, I have always liked the Phil Ochs nugget from the sleeve of Pleasures of the Harbor, “In times such as these the only true protest is beauty.” I am very sympathetic to the protests as a gesture of refusal, but I fear that you are right about the chance of such a thing succeeding.

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

To "Author was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury" I'd add "under Reagan" - shows that not every (former?) Republican (and southerner) is delusional.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree completely, Dr. B.
The New Yorker bugs me.
I think it's a magazine for cultivated people who don't want to think too hard about anything.
The only thing it cares about is consuming. But because it's consuming cultural products instead of jeggings, or whatever, they act like they're entitled to a dismissive attitude toward the preoccupations of folks who get excited about stuff.
Total fail, Gopnik.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA,ers—

I suppose most of you out there realize that "No Child Left Behind" completely abandons anything that could be called "education", by equating it with scores on standardized tests. I was intrigued to see the following news article pop up on Yahoo: "California tells high school color-coded IDs based on test scores not allowed". (Google the title to see it.) I know that schools are trying to motivate kids to actually make an effort get high scores on these tests. Once kids realize that schools and teachers are the only beneficiaries of high scores (that's how they are rated) they tend to zone out during the tests and fill in the bubbles without reading the questions.

The only effective motivation in real education is intrinsic – a desire to learn. Since so many parents have no love of learning, many many kids come to school with no intrinsic desire to learn. When it is an alien concept, it is very difficult for teachers to instill a love of learning – especially when they have to spend all their time coaching for standardized tests. This leaves extrinsic motivation, which consists of bullshit, rewards, and punishment. Kids start seeing through the bullshit and realize that high scores don't benefit them, so the schools start using reward and punishment, like color coded ID cards with special privileges and humiliation as in the above mentioned article. This is when parents start to protest.

The sad thing about all this is that parents seem to be resisting it for all the wrong reasons. This article is not very explicit about it, but what I gather is that most such protests by parents amount to protests against their kids being held to academic standards. What is missing is the realization that standardized tests measure facts learned by rote, half of which within ten or twenty years will turn out to have been wrong – but it won’t matter because they will have been forgotten anyway.

Although there is much more to be said, I have to end it here, but I ask you-all; is this a hallmark of a society with a bright future? As things get even worse, what would be some 'New Monastic' approaches to this problem?

David Rosen

6:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bwahahahahaha!

Watch a Fox News reporter attempt to interview a spokesman for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Obviously, this didn't get presented on the air by Fox. The Youtube video is from one of their own people filming the interview.

6:10 PM  
Blogger diana said...

David,

I broached the subject of testing with a couple parents at my daughter's school and they had no problems at all with it. One parent told me that I should be proud that my daughter is smart and that I had no need to worry about her testing well. Maybe parents who are concerned about testing send their children to Montessori and waldorf schools. Not sure.

In terms of options, you touched on the key issue. Kids who live in households were ideas and learning are valued will be interested in learning. My 8 year old is trying to teach herself French. She goes to the bookshelf picks out a French dictionary and some other books and spends time memorizing words. I also bought her a CD to help out. But how many household still have books on shelves?

I also get materials from the home school store to cover information not covered in school: world history, myths, geography, science etc. We also cook, bake, garden and make regular trips to the library and local museums. It's probably easier for me because my daughter is an obsessive reader who would try to read any book she puts her hands on.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

"To make earth an object of huckstering--the earth which is our one and all, the first condition of our existence--was the last step toward making oneself an object of huckstering. [cf. 'the brand called you', etc.] It was and is to this very day an immorality surpassed only by the immorality of self-alienation."

--Friedrich Engels, "Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy," 1843

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."

--Oliver Goldsmith, "The Deserted village," 1770

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Zosima said...

The protests will come to nothing. The left and its ideas have been in the wilderness for so long that alternatives to Wall St. simply don't exist in the public mind. The protesters demands are mostly vague and tepid. Slogans such as "End corporate greed" always irked me. Its like saying sharks are OK, they can stay in the pool as long as they don't bite. You just can't come out and say "end capitalism". You can only ask them, ever so politely, to please be less greedy.

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Diana—

It sounds like you're doing a great job with your daughter, and I'm sure she is an exceptionally lucky little girl. Really, the most important things children learn from parents or teachers are taught by example. It almost sounds as though you are home schooling your daughter along with sending her to school. I think that is great. I guess if yours was one of those many homes without books, you wouldn't be interested in Dr. Berman's bolg.

Please don't misunderstand my criticism of testing; I am not against it. In fact, testing is necessary for both the teacher and student. What I (and many others) object to is the type of tests that are being used, and what they are being used for. Under 'No Child Left Behind' (NCLB), schools and teachers are being rated heavily (it seems almost exclusively) by standardized test scores. These tests measure rote memory and recall, which is the lowest level of learning. NCLB forces teachers to concentrate on coaching for these tests, to the detriment of their students – especially those who have no other role models. I know that it is hard to generalize in a country as large and varied as the US, and that schools can vary a lot, but I’ve spoken with a lot of teachers over the last few years and they are all very discouraged over NCLB.

Again, keep up the good work with your daughter. When I asked about New Monastic approaches, I was thinking about home schooling, home schooling cooperatives, and things such as you are doing. (Any other ideas out there?)

David Rosen

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"Or, alternative scenario, perhaps more to the pt: To avoid that result, what shd the protesters do rt now, besides wave signs and march around? The floor is open."

Use downtime to set up their own network to establish a framework for a national movement. When they return home they'll have this to build on and hopefully, begin local groups and make it easy for like-minded people to join. How did the Tea Party do it? Steal a page from their playbook and loosely follow it for Stop Wall Street. If they want this to be more than a flash in the pan, they've got to organize.

But if you want the world to be a better place you have to take a cold, hard look at your own life and figure out what you have to bring to it:

First--
Take a realistic look at where you (the protester) are personally and assess your situation. Abandon magical thinking that getting a job is going to solve all your problems and put the effort into really thinking about what you want to accomplish in your own life. When you're sitting on the back porch at sixty, who do you want to have been?

Second---
Face the fact that no political party is going to save you; in fact, with a few notable exceptions, they work for strictly for their corporate masters and their "respect" for the American People is lip service.

Third---
Learn how to actually do something. You don't have to become a Luddite to learn how to cook simple food, grow a tomato plant or learn other skills. Many kids crushed under the weight of student loans have business, marketing, or advertising careers and corporate America can use only so many of those.

Fourth--
Learn to live with less--much less--because this is going to be the new normal.

And last--

Follow Dave's earlier advice on drinking if nothing really seems to be working out.

9:01 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Susan-

Gd list. I suspect the last pt may become the most relevant. Problem is the cost of alcohol; in which case, learning how to prepare moonshine from a homemade still in yer backyard may be the place to put most of yer energies. Drug use may also reach new heights...

For the few who wish to avoid zombism, I'd suggest forming study groups to formulate a vision of a society not based on capital accumulation. John Ruskin, Lewis Mumford--all those 'quaint' and 'unrealistic' thinkers discarded long ago--might make for good rdg material along these lines.

mb

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Good post by George Kenney at Electric Politics. (Dr. Berman - you should be on his podcast.)

http://tinyurl.com/3g7xfzs

10:11 AM  
Blogger Cj said...

Good post on the Wall Street protests:

Matt Stoller: The Anti-Politics of #OccupyWallStreet

An excerpt: Many liberal groups want to “help” by offering a more mainstream version, by explaining it to the press, by cheering how great the occupation is while carefully ensuring that wiser and more experienced hands eventually take over. These impulses are guiding by the received assumptions about how power works in modern America. Power must flow through narrow media channels, it must be packaged and financed by corporations, unions, or foundations, it must be turned into revenue flows that can then be securitized. It must scale so leaders can channel it efficiently into the preset creek bed of modern capitalism. True public spaces like this one are complete mysteries to these people; left, right, center in America are used to shopping mall politics.

I’m not a booster of #OccupyWallStreet. I don’t have to be. I’m not there right now, and there’s no way to really agree or disagree with a carnival or a church. It is going to be an interesting to watch how the organizations that are working, either formally or informally, on Obama’s reelection campaign, work first to praise and then to co-opt these protest campsites. It’s unclear to me how this will happen, if it will happen, and how those groups will change in the process. One organization, called Rebuild the Dream, is focused on a message organized around “The American Dream”. This organization was started by former White House staffer Van Jones, and is packed with former Obama boosters who proclaimed their love for Obama in 2008.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Obama gave a news conference this morning, and was asked about the Wall Street Protesters. He said that we need a healthy financial sector in order for the economy to grow. Then he babbled on about his plans for a consumer watchdog. Later, he invoked the American Dream. He may have gone on to say more, but I didn't want to get sick, so I shut it off.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

The buck, its right antler a forking of branches, its left, a mere stub, walks listlessly around the corner of my neighbor’s house and joins its mate; both of them seem to gaze forlornly at their former habitat overrun with bull dozers, motor graders, and dump trucks that roar, beep, and bang, reducing all the former undergrowth and brush to a dusty tract of bare earth baked by a relentless sun. Did the deer lose their offspring as well as their habitat in the commoditization of the land? That might account for their wistful, etiolated demeanor as they wonder, “What next?”

For the last few weeks the silence has been dispelled by the roar of machinery, the expending of socially necessary labor time to convert valueless land into the site of cheap housing for students at an expanding university. This sad story, of course, can be multiplied a million times to provide the narrative of global destruction by capitalism. But these white-tailed deer did not betoken a former pristine state of ecologically balanced nature. They are signs that that land had long since been destroyed before they arrived; their presence a fait accompli of the destruction of the land, the denudation of real forest.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Kel-

If the future students were going to learn anything at the university, I'd say, well *maybe* this is justified...but they will learn kaka, wasting everyone's time and their money. Poor deer.

Art, Chuck-

I still feel that the greatest contribution the DAA65 could make to this world is rent a plane, fly to DC, and pee on Obama's shoes. A side trip to suburban Md., to hose down Thos Friedman, wd not be out of place either. I can't decide whether these 'spokesmen' (for what?) are scumbags or morons or both.

mb

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear MB,Dave, Susan, et al.

"Problem is the cost of alcohol; in which case, learning how to prepare moonshine from a homemade still in yer backyard may be the place to put most of yer energies."

This weeks presentation on PBS of Ken Burn's documentary "Prohibition" coincides with this sub-topic on the blog, and with my bottling six gallons of various wines I had started fermenting this past summer.

The documentary was good for
TV fare (like a tv dinner with vitamin supplements), and anyway, I am a sucker for vintage black and white footage.

The series is in part, for PBS, an indirect but potent swipe at Today's Right. The "city shining on a hill" was built on a shakey foundation inspired by moral confusion.

I think we can all drink to recognizing that.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Today marks the beginning of a whole new movement down at Freedom Plaza in DC. Check out october2011.org. Meanwhile, one of the articles on that site had this to say abt the NYT:

...the American Pravda, The New York Times (which tells the professional classes their truth)...

Or as I like to say, they need to change their motto: All the news that fits our views.

6:14 PM  

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