October 18, 2011

Why America Failed: An Overview

I got the idea for the book from a number of sources, but one of the most important was a book published in 2004 called Freedom Just Around the Corner, by Walter McDougall at the University of Pennsylvania, a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. I want to stress that McDougall is a very centrist historian; there is nothing left-wing or radical about him. But in the opening pages of his book he says that what most characterizes America, going back to the late sixteenth century, is hustling. American English, he writes, has more than 200 synonyms or related expressions for the word ‘swindle’, and when two Americans get together, they pretty much understand that the other person has an angle or agenda and is trying to promote it. We are a people relentlessly on the make, we are all encouraged to develop “The Brand Called You” and market it. It reminds me of the comment made by the comedian Chris Rock, that in the United States, when you are talking to someone, you are actually talking to that person’s agent.

We Americans don’t realize what a strange, and indeed perverse, way that is to live, because if everyone is doing it, it just becomes normal. But Paul Fussell, in his book Class, has a very low opinion of this supposedly normal way of life: “In the United States,” he writes, “everything is coated with a fine layer of fraud.” I suspect most Americans experience the truth of this on some level, and I think it is why we always rate low on international happiness polls: very few of our relationships are real, including our relationship to our work, and consequently our lives are pretty empty. We attempt to fill that emptiness with cars and houses and computers and cell phones, but in the end, it doesn’t work. As one of Jimmy Carter’s advisers put it thirty-two years ago, the United States is “a goal-oriented society without goals.” “More” is not a real goal; it has no actual content.

The original title of Why America Failed was Capitalism and Its Discontents. My publisher was afraid that that sounded too academic, and insisted that I change it. Probably a good decision; I don’t know. But Capitalism and Its Discontents does reflect the thesis of the book: that although there was always an alternative tradition to hustling, with one exception America never took it, and instead it marginalized those alternative voices. The exception was the antebellum South, which raises real questions as to the origins of the Civil War, which were not about slavery as a moral issue, no matter how much we like to believe that. As Robin Blackburn writes in his recent book, The American Crucible, antislavery ideas were far more about notions of progress than about ones of racial equality. That’s a whole other discussion, however, and I have it out in the book for an entire chapter. But the main narrative here is that from Captain John Smith and the Puritan divines through Thoreau and Emerson to Lewis Mumford and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith to Jimmy Carter, this tradition of capitalism’s discontents never really stood a chance. It never amounted to anything more than spiritual exhortation. Reaganomics, also known as greedism, was not born in 1981; more like 1584. The result is that for more than four centuries now, America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive. Our political and cultural system never let fresh air in; it squelched the alternatives as quaint or feeble-minded. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. This ideology is so powerful that we don’t even recognize it as such, but it certainly explains why socialism was never able to gain a foothold here, because the ideology has been the same for rich and poor alike. As John Steinbeck once remarked, in the United States the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” In any event, the result is that we are now in a situation of irreversible collapse. The American Dream, as the Cornell University economist Douglas Dowd wrote thirty-seven years ago, is a twisted one. We treat Bill Gates as some kind of national hero, when the truth is that any system that allows one person to accumulate $50 billion, and leaves fully two-thirds of its population living from paycheck to paycheck (assuming they can even find a job, that is), is pretty sick. As many of us know—from Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times to the Wall Street protesters—in terms of collective wealth, the top 1% of the country owns more than the bottom 90%. This puts our social inequality on a par with Egypt and Tunisia, in fact.

Consider the fact that every religion, and every civilization worth the name, has as its central tenet the notion that you are, in fact, your brother’s keeper. But the ‘hustling’ way of life enshrines just the opposite: it says that virtue consists of personal success in an opportunistic environment, and that if you can screw the other guy on your way to the top, more power to you. “Looking Out for No. 1” is what really needs to be on the American dollar. As Jerry Seinfeld’s lawyer in the final episode of the series tells him: “You don’t have to help anybody; that’s what this country’s all about!” The problem is that if you live by the dollar, you die by the dollar. That’s what’s going on today. In fact, perhaps the really interesting question is not why we are finally coming apart, which strikes me as being more or less obvious, but how we managed to stay together for this long. Competition cannot be the glue of a society, because by definition it’s an anti-glue. Thus David Ehrenfeld, Professor of Biology at Rutgers University, recently wrote: “A society driven mainly by selfish individualism has all the potential for sustainability of a collection of angry scorpions in a bottle.” There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Native American scouting expedition that came across the starving members of the Donner Party in 1847, who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The expedition, which had never seen white people before, observed the Donner Party from a distance, then returned to base camp to report what they had seen. The report consisted of four words: “They eat each other.” Frankly, if I could summarize the argument of Why America Failed in a single phrase, this would be it. Unless the Wall Street protests manage to turn things around in a fundamental way, “They eat each other” is going to be our epitaph.

Of course, establishment journals and newspapers are going to dismiss Why America Failed as the ravings of the political Left—that is, if they review it at all. Of this, I have no doubt. Unless you are singing in the chorus, you don’t get to have a voice. As Chris Hedges repeatedly points out, any writer who formulates a critique of the U.S. that goes down to the root of things has been marginalized, rendered invisible. America has very little appetite for self-examination, as our history shows. But there is a good bit of irony in this, in that the line of analysis developed in my book has some very distinguished antecedents, going back way before myself or Walter McDougall. These antecedents include three of the greatest historians that America has ever produced.

1. Richard Hofstadter, in The American Political Tradition (1948), says that America was a market-oriented society from birth; that it never went through a feudal period; and the result is that all of the country has been united in a common political tradition that is fiercely capitalistic and individualistic. “A democracy of cupidity,” he once called the United States. “America doesn’t have ideologies,” he added; “rather, it is one.”

2. C. Vann Woodward, in an essay written in 1953, refers to the “Ironic contrast between our noble purposes and our sordid results,” and adds that “economic systems, whatever their age, their respectability, or their apparent stability, are transitory, and any nation which elects to stand or fall upon one ephemeral institution has already determined its fate.” A seer, that guy was.

3. Finally, Louis Hartz, in The Liberal Tradition in America (1955), developed the idea of “fragment societies,” ones that, like ours, were founded on fragments of European ones, and that take their entire character from just one of those fragments. America, he says, was founded by the English middle class, a class that possessed a liberal, aggressive, entrepreneurial spirit characteristic of the bourgeoisie. America, he writes, was never really a society at all, but merely the embodiment of a fragment, a specific interest that from the first dominated the entire political landscape. What does the phrase “We the People” really mean, after all? The business of America, as Calvin Coolidge famously put it, is business. In the history of the United States, nothing much else has really mattered, and that chicken is finally coming home to roost. If you can’t or won’t understand your own narrative, then there is no way you can change it, and there exists very little evidence today that we will. “Americans never learn,” wrote Gore Vidal a few decades ago; “it’s part of our charm.”

©Morris Berman, 2011

67 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mention that Capitalism has to eat itself, eventually. I agree. Recently, I came to the same conclusion about evil. Evil has to consume itself. I consider capitalism to be evil so there you go.

This post has lots of quotable stuff. Tks.

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's certainly true that slavery as a moral issue in the sense of concern for others was not what drove the Civil War. The Abolitionist movement peaked at about 200,000 members. Even if you use the 10-to-1 rule about actvist causes to include sympathizers, that's only 2 million at a time when the US had a total population close to 25 million. (I won't try to do the math around the definition of a slave as 2/3rds of a person...)

But it was slavery in another sense that caused the Civil War. Clearly, it was the collision of the economic interests of North and South. When the Dredd Scott decision effectively nullified the legislative compromises that had prevented slavery from entering certain states, the Northerners were terrified that slave labor would invade their communities and ruin them. Thus the political apocalypse that destroyed the Whig Party (the only genuinely left-of-center mainstream political party the US has ever had), split the Democratic Party, and created the Republican Party as an explicitly anti-slavery party...

It was fear for their own economic welfare that drove the anti-slavery of the Republicans, even if a few leaders like Lincoln spoke in moralistic terms. And of course the Southern slave owners were not going to accept being deprived of billions of dollars of property (even in 1860 dollars) so they had to resist, and when they saw they had lost the political struggle they seceded rather than risk losing the legislative and their property.

So the Civil War was really a contest between different kinds of self-interest. Definitely not a moral conflict...

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMjU0NDI3OTk2.html
Mr. Morris,
In regards to your blog of the chinese tot run over. Enjoy some more Chinese traffic clips.
Mr. Chan

2:06 PM  
Blogger James said...

Straightforward business is even a scam, the kind where shoes are made in Vietnam for $10.00 a pair and sold to the unfortunate believer in magic for $200.00. in the U.S. The key is to cultivate the magic with a motivated sales force and a larger than life spokesperson (authority). Many in business will rationalize their behavior by admitting they're selling a dream. Of course, they may get picked-off by the yacht broker selling a three million dollar yacht for some greater multiple of that. Costs of production are usually top secret and not included on the packaging.

The conditions of tribal or village life where exchanges were more even, on an hour to hour of labor basis, are gone. Now it's hide the production costs, push the magic and collect the money. It helps if you're an entrepreneur and able to leverage your own eight hours a day of labor with the labor of 1,000 slaves in southeast Asia, a little Madison Ave., free trade legislation, and a sales force that can really work the hoodoo.

Cha-ching, pretty soon the entire edible earth has passed through a factory and made everyone's dreams come true, mostly to maintain a disparity in income that makes a few rich and the remainder poor.

2:36 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon (too many Anons! Wd u guys pick a handle already?)-

Well, I shd refer u to ch. 4 of WAF. It eventually did evolve into a moral issue; but in a sense it always was, if the 'morality' is seen as a conflict between two ways of life or cultural value-systems (wh/is not the same thing as an economic conflict, tho it hardly excludes it, of course). The funny thing abt the historiography of the Civ War is that the more studies and facts that are generated, the less consensus there is (regarding origins). It's never going to be resolved; emotions run high; and everyone cherry-picks the info they want. My own guess abt causes--and I'm not terribly invested one way or the other--is derived from a close rdg of the various arguments, and is the best evaluation I can make. Fact is, even the 'it was about slavery vs. freedom' school--e.g. Eric Foner, Jas Macpherson--do wind up saying it was a clash of cultures, if u read them closely. To my mind, Eugene Genovese is still the best of the lot, even if politically incorrect and outta fashion (big deal).

Other Anon-

Nice thought, but it seems to be the case that the more evil eats itself, the larger and fatter it gets. Enjoy the quotes.

mb

2:36 PM  
OpenID markbittner said...

Although I’ve read “Twilight of American Culture” and “Dark Ages America,” I only recently discovered your blog—happily, on the day of the giveaway for “Why America Failed.” I read a lot of so-called “doom and gloom” books, most of which say that America is going down because of the lack of certain resources, the mountains of debt, and our over-stretched imperial forces. It’s refreshing to find minds who understand that another reason we’re going down is that we can’t sustain our way of life psychologically or spiritually. We’re going nuts.

Another issue, I think, is that we’ve been telling countries with the resources and labor we need at low prices that if they work hard, they too can have the same lifestyle that we “enjoy.” That is, of course, impossible. We can’t all be office workers. (As a writer—even though they are my own books—I often feel like one.) I think we’re going to see immense resentment over this.

Anyway, this is mostly a “howdy do.” I check your site daily. And I’m looking forward to receiving my free copy of “Why America Failed.”

2:59 PM  
Anonymous del said...

Re: James -- I wonder what would happen if all goods, regardless of where they were manufactured, had to have the real production costs clearly labeled on them? You know, break it out, sort of like nutrition labels, so everyone could see where the money was really going...

3:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mark-

Glad u were able to score a freebie; enjoy, and pls keep posting. The DAA65 welcomes new members. Today this blog, tomorrow the world.

mb

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

David and DAAers:

I forgot to mention re: damage done by screen tech:

Take the case of the young people who recently committed suicide after they'd been been teased or bullied for being different. Perhaps their extreme action was abetted by the cruel, public exposure via social networks.

Scenario: You drink too much and decide to post a flame-out on a friend or relative's Facebook page that can be seen by a number of people. At the very least, it will make your AA apologies more numerous and beyond that may hurt other people so deeply as to have effectively destroyed your relationship with them.

Of course, this can happen w/o screen technology, but it seems to me that conducting a relationship on Facebook is like declaring eternal fealty to someone else over the microphone at a football stadium. Some things seem to demand quietness, privacy, and, with any luck after the other two have been esablished, intimacy.

4:28 PM  
Anonymous VW said...

MB,

I am very much looking forward to WAF (pre-ordered from Amazon). Could we possibly attempt to summarize the Civil War in this way: Northern Corporate domination vs. Southern private exploitation? Perhaps this is what happens when an empire turns to cannibalism.

For the last several decades we have had states competing with each other (hustling) to attract as much business to their respective states as possible. This usually involves free infrastructure projects and immense tax rebates or incentives. The costs to a state like Michigan have been devastating. We have lost jobs to Mexico, China, and the South.

But memories are short, even here in MI. As long as people are hustling up some overtime and can afford the latest and greatest toys and distractions everything is alright to them.

To all of the posters:
Keep up the good work. It is nice to read that I too am not crazy.

VW

6:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

VW-

Shd tell u, my 1st car was a VW. 1956 Beetle convertible, looked like it had gone thru the War on the German side. I loved it.

I doubt the Civ War can be summarized, really.

As far as hustling goes, it is so total a way of life that Americans are unable to see it *as* a way of life, an ideology. They just think it's what they are doing, and that they have choices (e.g. Wendy vs. Burger King). The day that they see that consumerism is an ism, and that unless the whole way of life changes they have no choice at all--well hallelujah, bless the lord, I been to the mountain top, the next round o' drinks is on me, etc.

mb

6:24 PM  
Anonymous VW said...

MB,

I switched to a VW back in '09. It is a solid car. It didn't make my car people family too happy. I told them that such a car is the result of a strong social safety net, good wages, and a balanced work / life ethic (German built).

VW

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

To add useless grist to the civil war mill, I would agree with the comments that the Civil War was not about abolition, but it was about slavery.

Lincoln said, to paraphrase, that he would preserve the Union by freeing none of the slaves if he could, or some of the slaves if he could, or all of them. He tried to pitch resettlement of slaves in Africa. He pitched "compensated emancipation". He thought slavery would die a natural death if left alone and was not allowed to expand.

But everybody pretty much knew that extending slavery outside the old south was a serious threat to working white folks. And there you have your problem. It's more complicated than that, but it's economics one way or the other. Cheap labor has always been what makes this country run.

What the CW wasn't was some new found recognition of black slaves as fellow citizens.

As far as capitalism goes, you had some homegrown criticism in the past, but an awful lot of it was imported with the waves of German and Italian immigrants who brought their experience of home and their native socialism here to the US. It petered out once that wave stopped and their children got assimilated (resistance is futile after all). Still, the fact that we are seeing explicit criticism of capitalism BY NAME with the OWS movement almost makes me believe in miracles, cause I sure didn't see that coming.

Onward and downward,

Bisely

9:25 PM  
Blogger Diane said...

For some reason this post reminded me of a book beloved of my children and grandchildren, 'the very hungry caterpillar'. I now have this imagery in my head of America move slowly around the globe steadily eating all before it, Africa next maybe?
This may have been brought on by the fact that our national TV station SBS showed Adam Curtis's,'all watched over by machines of loving grace' last night, the first episode very much focussed on Ayn Rand . There is a part where she is shown being interviewed and this very weird thing is going on with her eyes :-) it certainly took Greenspan apart
diane

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman and VW—

My first car was a 1960 bug. But let me share my late father’s VW story. He was a major in the paratroopers, and was captured by the Germans in January, 1945 in Belgium. He and a number of others were lined up against a long wall by a German captain, who had a machine-gun set up. At the last minute a German colonel drove up in a Volkswagen and stopped what was about to be an execution.

There was an article on Lew Rockwell's libertarian website recently about the VW bug. They called it a good, simple, reliable, 'non-government' car. By 'non-government' they meant that it didn't have all the environmental and safety features which are mandated by the government today. The thing about this 'not-government' car is that Hitler himself commissioned Ferdinand Porsche to design it as part of a Nazi government program called Kraft Durch Freude (Strength Through Joy), which sought to strengthen the country by making the people happy. The first prototypes were test driven by a group of SS storm troopers. Well, so much for our American libertarians and their 'non-government' car.

I remember hearing Noam Chomsky saying that in the rest of the world 'libertarian' means anarchist-socialists, but in this matter, as with so much else, America is just 'out of the world'. Here libertarianism seems to be a mixed-up petty-bourgeois mentality. That's all we brought with us from Europe – the mentality of the Main Street Chamber of Commerce business person is what we have. Anything else is foreign, alien, or downright un-American. (All this by way of a Volkswagen story!)

David Rosen

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Rom frickin' Mittney and Rick goddamn Perry "debating" about such stimulating issues as Rom's employing of landscapers w/out proper green cards, Mittney's Latter Day-ism, ...these guys are at the top of the polls. Monkeys throwing their own shite at each other would've been more intellectually stimulating. It's painfully obvious that in order to take this shit seriously, one must embed head in rump. Honestly, it is so psychologically grim to me that you have no choices but to be self-deluded or face cognitive dissonance while chasing the "dream" in this nightmare. Fucking circus. As the late Mr. Carlin said, it's a freak show, we might as well enjoy.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Note to Constantine: I'm very interested in your contribution, but we do have a length limit on this blog. If you could compress what you submitted by 50% and resubmit, I'll be glad to post it. Thanks.

Joe: Time to crack out the T-shirts: HRIR (Heads Rammed in Rumps). Who could have believed, even as late as 1980, that American politics would come to *this*?

mb

3:45 AM  
Anonymous satyaSarika said...

I'm driving a '90 subaru legacy. 347k miles. When I bought in in '97, I was hoping the next cars would run on sustainable renewables. Not in sight.

I look forward to reading WAF, but after I read http://www.commondreams.org/further/2011/09/20-3 and after the business with Assange, I'm doing my best to go elsewhere so I'll probably wait for some used copies to turn up. In the meantime, I am working on 'reenchantment' and twisted dream.

I've never been attracted to the hustler way. I tried to have a 'career' a few times; the most successful (in terms of making a living, not a vocation) was computer programmer. H1Bs, outsourcing, age, and the refusal to make my job my life pretty much did that in years ago.

I started taking care of my elderly parents in '07. That phase of life will be over soon and I have learned much. I regard CNAs with huge respect and admiration.

I was very sad when my only son chose 'business' instead of what I would consider an honorable profession, but at least he is able to support himself.

I completely see that this current pickle is the inevitable consequence of those centuries of theft and hustling.

And, tho I am hopeful re: OWS, I don't imagine any quick fix and have a great difficulty seeing how a real transition can occur peacefully. Anything else would probably not end up well since the fux are the weapons experts.

Happy for you you managed the expat thing. I haven't given up hope, but don't have much going with $$$, so I'm not terribly optimistic there. So I'm happy to have a wonderful spice (spouse) and a beautiful dog and the life of the mind.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

McDougall says that, 'when two Americans get together, they pretty much understand that the other person has an angle or agenda and is trying to promote it.'

Is there a country where this is not generally the case? Possibly in degree America is different, but not in essence. Amongst Israelis there is a common saying that if you do business with another man, and don't somehow cheat him, then you can be sure you've been cheated.

The Italians have a somewhat similar concept in that when two meet to do business, the first thought in each of their minds is, 'how can this person hurt me.'

Why was Diogenes, 'looking for an honest man?' And from Machiavelli, ‘One can make this generalization about men. They are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit, while you treat them well, they are yours.’

In this world then each organism battles for the space and resources of the next. The degree to which men cheat each other is determined, as a rule, by the level of their desperation.

5:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Michael-

U cd be rt, but that has not been my experience. I mean, it can always be a factor, but it doesn't *have* to be. It's not true of Mexico, for example, or Guatemala, or France; it's not even entirely true of England, where I lived for 3 years, or Germany, where I lived for nearly one. Instead, what comes up is the interest in knowing who and what the other person is; what their interests are, and a discussion of these things for their own sake. I recall the 1st time I was in Europe, in my 20s, and being somewhat shocked at the reality of this, because all I was used to at the time was the one-dimensionality of American conversations--wh/I had never realized were one-dimensional. It suddenly occurred to me how thin the air was in the US, so to speak; how impoverished we were. Other nations are not necessarily utilitarian in orientation. Germans really do want to talk about German literature, and the French about French art. And so on. Americans, as Tocqueville observed in 1831, want to talk about money; and it has only gotten worse in the ensuing 180 years. One of the reasons I left the place was that I had virtually no one to talk to.

mb

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts on WAF, tho I want to avoid redundant summarizing.

It’s a great book and the two parts that stand out for me personally are 1) the writing on the Civil War and it’s connection to overall US aggression against anything that did not fall under the industrial/hustling umbrella and 2) resolution of a long standing conflict for me w/ US history.

I’ve never been able to resolve my admiration for Emerson,Carter etc. with the ugly side that’s discussed on this blog so often. Dr. B, your descriptions and way of laying out a perspective on this is amazingly well done.

I have to say the section on the Civil War may be the most brilliant part of the book. Suddenly, Gettysbrg looks connected to Baghdad & San Salvador. Not that we need a lot of convincing on this blog, but this really strengthens your ongoing argument about the long term issues of the States and its way of doing business. It’s almost a shock at first. We do have such a standardized version of the war in our heads.

I’ve often said to one of my best friends – we’d prefer to eat each other than help each other in the US. Hard to find a better example than the Civil War.

El Juero

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

MB et al--

Your original title "Capitalism and its Discontents" with its echo of Freud's "Civilization and its Discontents" is much better--but ah, (and here comes the marketeer sub-personality) much too literary, Mr. Berman, much..unh..too cultured.

Shortly before his death, Anthony Burgess mused about how the readership of his legacy would decline as the allusions would be beyond them.

Here is Burgess's take on American society, in the persona of Enderby, the fictive British poet from the novel of the same name:

"The past was spat upon, and the future was ready to be spat upon, since this would quickly enough turn itself into the past."

8:56 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"C. Vann Woodward, in an essay written in 1953, refers to the “Ironic contrast between our noble purposes and our sordid results”. I would modify that slightly: "the hypocritical contrast between our sordid (hidden and denied) purposes and our claim of noble results". Iraq would be a perfect example.

Joe--the local news here is quite entertaining and NBC isn't too far behind. Several days ago there was a local piece on Anita Perry telling an audience of the faithful that God told her he wanted Rick to be President. The woman looks depressed and not terribly bright. Then there were two back-to-back commercials promoting Mormons as just plain folks; one was a young Mom with a special needs child and the other a recovering drug addict. But the icing on the cake was a clip of Obama hugging a pretty young blond and they showed it twice in case you missed it the first time. So the debate you mentioned about Rommney's lawn service may be the intellectual high point.

David--You know a lot more about currency than I do and are probably right about the US possibly even wanting the Euro to crash. Drones aren't free you know. But from what I've read b/c of a lack of transparency nobody really knows who owes what to whom--like the old game Hot Potato--and how much is in CDS. Guess we'll see.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

Thanks for your appreciation; means a lot to me. If u have a moment, maybe u cd write something on Amazon (perhaps a modified or amplified version of what u wrote here); tho I guess that option is not open just yet.

I shd tell u that my original energy for WAF came from accidentally reading about the Southern Agrarians and "I'll Take My Stand," in a bk that was not abt the American South at all. I had/have no investment in what the causes of the Civ War *were*; I just became absorbed in finding out simply because I wanted to know the truth. Up to then, I had never questioned the orthodox version, or even thought abt it that much. But that this version might actually be upside-down fired my historiographical brain, and that is probably why ch. 4 comes off as the key chapter, even tho the book is a study of capitalism/hustling and its discontents. But then, I also didn't know beforehand that the conflict was a war between precisely those two world views.

mb

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Constantine Porphyrogenitus said...

I enjoy your analysis of U.S. history, and am especially intrigued with comparisons to Rome.

Recently, I've been thinking about about the reign of Emperor Valerian. The former senator was a man with no military experience who was so confident of Roman military might that he launched a direct attack into the heart of the Persia. He and his entire army were captured.

Now I’ve been hearing the Republicans debates and their calls for war with Iran – A nation of 70 million with enough missile reserves to block the Straights of Hormuz for a long time, sending oil markets into chaos. How is the U.S. supposed pay for this war and where will troops come from? We’re already in immense debt and in the midst of a terrible economic crisis.

Are we doomed to repeat Valerian's hubris? A Iran war would break the U.S. as a global power. It would destroy our economy. Yet almost all Republican candidates and some Democrats think it's a good idea.

We don't understand other people. When I was in the army, I tried to explain Iraq's history to a lot of my buddies but none cared. For them, the Ziggurat of Ur was just a pile of stones and dirt. Hell, half of them thought Iraq was responsible for 9/11.

I’m only 26 and have no confidence in U.S. society and government. I feel like I’m living in a nation that’s on its last legs as a superpower - Rome 400 AD.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Ron said...

Dear Morris,

I think your analysis is on target. In his book Heraclitean Fire, the biochemist Erwin Chargaff says that, on arriving in the US, he was surprised to find that in America it is a crime to be poor. His observation is consistent with your analysis. I look forward to reading your book!

10:32 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

The holiday gift catalogs are already appearing in my mailbox. Here's one for that techno addict on your list: Gadget Gloves! "A stylish, fun and practical way to keep your hands warm while giving you the freedom to easily use electronic gadgets... Allows you to scroll, tap and slide even as the temperature starts to dip." (Fair Indigo--only $54.90)

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman and Michael—

Here in America, I've found that when you get into a discussion with so many people about politics or economics, you end up hearing the same thing – "Well, that's human nature!" I remember hearing Erich Fromm speaking in a 1976 radio interview. He said that 'human nature' "is a concept that has caused great havoc." He added that "every society thinks that what it is, is human nature."

Oskar Pfister (February 12, 1873 – August 6, 1956) was a Swiss Lutheran minister and lay psychoanalyst, who said, "Tell me what's in your Bible, and I'll tell you what kind of person you are." I've often converted that into, "Tell me what you think human nature is, and I'll tell you what kind of person you are."

Reading the exchange between Michael and Dr. Berman makes me want to change that to, "Tell me what you think human nature is, and I'll tell you what kind of society you come from."

How refreshing it has been to meet people all over the world who simply wanted to know who I was, to know more about where I come from, and to tell me about themselves, and their families and communities. Show the slightest interest in their culture and society by knowing anything about it or knowing two words of their language, they recognize that you are not like other Americans, and they welcome you as a brother. It's happened to me again and again.

David Rosen

11:23 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art-

Thanks for the heads-up; I've already sent in my check. Can't wait to receive my Gadget Gloves. This is very similar to when I was 7 yrs old, and sent in a dollar plus a Corn Flakes boxtop for a Howdy Doody Climber. I used it so much I think it broke in just a few days. Hopefully I'll have better luck w/my Gadget Gloves. Whee!

Constantine-

Check out the essays in "A Question of Values," where I develop the notion that there is a large gaping hole in the center of the US psyche, and if it's not filled with Gadget Gloves, it's filled by war. So if we don't go to war with Iran--and intelligence has very little to do with it--we'll go to war with someone else. It's really all we know. Since u.r. young, I strongly suggest u emigrate. Long b4 u.r. ready to retire, there will be no social safety net in the US, very little in the way of employment, and not a whole lot in the treasury. Plus, we'll be bombing some godforsaken country on the other side of the globe, u can be sure of it. Act now: go live in France or Italy or Denmark. It'll be a much better life 4u, guaranteed.

mb

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,

Quick questions about the "road-not-taken" aspect of the Southern agrarian alternative; still waiting for WAF to arrive, perhaps this is answered therein....

Are the negative aspects of Southern experience 1865-today incidental, externally triggered deformations of a marginalized preindustrial ethos, or rather...

Was that original Southern ethos itself also dysfunctional from the get-go, only in a different way than the hustling commercial option?

Did the Southern agrarian ethos completely lose out? Herrenvolk tribalism disguised as religion, a self-help fetish and contempt for an occupying central state, the more arcadian aspects of gun culture, anti-unionism in local government, personal honor and violence issues, all seem to have an original Southern regional correlation, but, now metastasized nationally, are just as central - and problematic - parts of mainstream US culture as the hustling commercial ethos.

Isn't the dominant culture rather a hybridization of turbo-capitalism PLUS post-1865 mutant traumatized Southern agarianism that began sometime between the Scopes Monkey trial and the end of the TVA?

11:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Consider these lines from Constantine's message:

"When I was in the army, I tried to explain Iraq's history to a lot of my buddies but none cared. For them, the Ziggurat of Ur was just a pile of stones and dirt."

This was also the attitude of Donald Rumsfeld about the destruction of antiquities in Iraq: "Stuff happens," he said w/a shrug.

The fact is that Americans are douche bags. There is simply no getting around this. This is why we can wipe out other peoples and cultures and not think twice about it. It's also why, a few yrs ago, when an international poll was taken asking the question, "Which country do u think is the greatest threat to world peace?", the US and Israel said Iran, and virtually everyone else said the US.

mb

11:51 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ray-

I suspect yr rt on target, that we are living out some sort of hybrid. One thing I puzzled over was whether u cd have the South, i.e. Southern culture, w/o slavery. Idle question, because it came *with* slavery, obviously, and this was the basis of the economy. Still, there are traditional cultures (or parts of them) left, around the world, that do seem to be leisurely, laid back, nonhustling, that are not slave-based.

The honor code is also problematic; it's hardly a social environment I'd want to live in, myself. Perhaps the answer is, It depends on how fierce u want to be.

Anyway, read ch. 4 of WAF and tell me what u think. Yours is a profound and searching question.

mb

11:58 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dr. Berman,

Sure, go live in France or Italy; but perhaps not Denmark, anymore, now that they've implemented a tax on saturated fat consumption. The price of pastrami just went up; you know, for your health! Maybe they're not getting enough sunlight up there...or enough blue cheese.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Brett said...

Señor Berman,

I am 25, near Constantine's age. I managed to quit the delayed enlistment program before being shipped out though. However, like most wanting to join the military, money is tight. I have been thinking about moving out (to Costa Rica, specifically) for a year or so...

But so far haven't developed a plan that motivated me enough, if I could save the $ to do it. I do have a (virgin) passport at least.

But how does one move to Europe (who is presumably in worse shape jobs wise) or Mexico and find menial work that is enough to support oneself?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Constantine Porphyrogenitus said...

Dr. Berman:

It gets even worse. My brigade established an outpost nearby and used the ziggurat as a lookout tower for several years. By the time I left Iraq, the entire site had become riddled with bullet holes. There was also a lot of damage to the facade caused by vibrations from M120 mortars and tracked vehicles. I'm sadden it took my stint in the army to realize what the United States is.

More than anything I would love to leave the U.S. but I'm certainly not in the position to do so now. I barely scrape by as it is. I save, live frugally, and avoid drowning myself in TV, corporate media, and games. At this point I'm considering putting on my old fatigues and joining the Veterans for Peace who are now part of the Occupy Dallas protests. I doubt it will bring about significant change but at this point I'm too fed up and angry. The ruling class don't bother to hide their contempt for the common man anymore.

There is just so much that is wrong with the United States. Your blog does provide some comfort though. I take solace that not everyone in the nation buys into the two-party paradigm. I just wish more young people cared. Too many are glued to facebook, twitter, and texting.

- Constantine

12:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Constantine-

Check out the Dark Ages bk, pp. 215-16.

Brett-

I agree it's difficult, but worth fighting for nevertheless. You need to research the countries u might be interested in--via the Net, and also buy used bks off of Amazon. Then go visit for a month, talk to people, see what the possibilities are; there's only so much u can learn at a distance. Finally, explore the possibilities of a student visa and scholarship. This cd put u in the country of yr choice for for yrs or more, during wh/time u might fall wildly in love w/a local and marry her. Or, manage to find work. But just get the process going; u can't solve this one abstractly, amigo.

Art-

Thanx for the info. Any nation that taxes pastrami is beyond the pale, imo. I intend to buy a Danish flag and make a dartboard out of it. Fie, a pox upon thee, etc.

mb

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

I'm particularly looking forward to the "revisionist" history of the Civil War in WAF. The subject is new to me (hence "revisionist"). Maury, do you think Southern Literature (Faulkner, McCullers, O'Connor, etc) can contribute to your argument? Anyway, I'd like to read more of that to get a sense of what observant writers thought of their region.

Interestingly, Marx and Engels usually referred to the American Civil War as a "pro-slavery rebellion" (Marx, Preface to the English Edition, Capital, vol. 1)."

2:49 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Morris, Kel,

There is a slight risk that Neo-Confederates will mis-appropriate useful debates in WAF about whether the "lost" Southern agarian alternative was a valid one - as an aid-and-comfort Care package for their own mendacious "revisionist" agenda.

"Revisionism" itself has beoome one of those formerly-academic words that got hijacked by polemicists, particularly on the right.

It started I think as a useful term for certain strands of US professional history-writing in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to counter the self-congratulatory narrative of the earlier "consensus" school of US historiography.

Lately however, it's cropped up in ever more oversimplified, dumbed down form as simply an accusation of twisting facts and re-writing history in general.

Ironically, some of the main purveyors of Holocaust denial are the "revisionists" behind the pseudo-academic "Institute of Historical Review"

WAF might want to avoid becoming associated with this term in any way.Despite the term's respectable origins, its hopelessly compromomised now.

Thanks Morris, I look forward to continuing the Southern discussion after digesting WAF Ch. 4. And anonymi or no anonymi, I much prefer "add hominy grits" to "ad hominem."

3:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ray-

I had an uncle ("Ruby," in the poem by that name in "Counting Blessings") who usta sit down at the dinner table and say, "How many grits are in this food," etc., while the rest of us wd roll our eyes and groan.

As far as revisionism goes: Americans generally display two related characteritics: one, they are not very bright; two, they have no capacity for nuance. When I was writing ch. 4, I was aware that despite all my disclaimers regarding the Civil War, and that in the end I felt it had to be fought to end slavery on this continent, the political Left might attack me as being 'pro-slavery' (oy), and the political Right or Southern faction might take the chapter as a blanket confirmation of the antebellum Southern way of life (which it is, in part, but not as a blanket). Picking thru the details of an argument to actually get what the author is saying, is not exactly an American strong pt, in other words. Americans wd prefer to recast things in B&W and then get in a tizzy, because tizzies make them feel good. Bring on the slander, what the hey!

Getting back to reality for a moment: your pt abt hybrid culture is a gd one, except that after I last wrote a reply to u, I realized that what had really happened was an amalgam of Northern hustling and the *shadow* side of the Southern way of life: the items on yr list. What Vann Woodward and others objected to was the failure of the North to grasp or appreciate the sunny side of that way of life. In opposing the South, the North saw only the shadow; and so this was what got absorbed. Woodward's pt, also Genovese's, is that the North missed the boat entirely on this score; it lost out on what the South had to teach the nation at large. The positive parts of the Southern agrarian ethos got lost, in other words.

I shd say that hustling also has a positive side: the sunny, bright, Yankee 'can-do' mentality that embodies a lot of creative energy. It's what foreigners first notice abt the US when they come here. The problem is the total ecology of the situation: hustling rapidly became the whole of American life, and shut out all the alternatives. This is what made the nation lopsided, a place suffocating on its own economic ideology, and why it is now falling apart. As Woodward wrote in 1953, life can't be abt just one thing, to the exclusion of everything else.

mb

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman,

In your reply to Ray, I found your words, "…the failure of the North to grasp or appreciate the sunny side of that way of life. In opposing the South, the North saw only the shadow…" very intriguing. Today, our ruling elite sees any country or society which exhibits a "sunny side" to be a threat, a bad example, and a "template that must not be replicated". They do their best to destabilize or stamp out such societies. I guess it has always been that way. It has happened again and again, and I'll be very happy when they can't do it anymore; even if that means that the Tea Partiers don't get their 'America' back, or the Great American Middle-Class doesn't get their 'American Dream' back.

David Rosen

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

From Wikipedia (Mark Twain on Sir Walter Scott):

"In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain satirised the impact of his writings, declaring that Scott "had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the [American Civil] war", that he is in great measure responsible for the war".[22] He goes on to coin the term "Sir Walter Scott disease", which he blames for the South's lack of advancement."

This is what I had in mind about Southern writers' view of the South. It sounds like Twain was on the side of Northern industrialization. I'd heard of Twain's remarks about Southern character and would like to explore more Southern writers who had views on this and expressed it in their writing, both fictional and non.

Any thoughts on this, anyone?

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yelling "stop" in the midst of the lemmings...

Robert Reich bemoans labels and factions

But he's been saying these things for years and it just gets sluiced away by the continuing faction-rallying soundbites and sloganeering.

6:45 PM  
Anonymous David M said...

Dr Berman & DAAERS
Some of the folks associated with the Iraqi museum have put together an excellant book about the looting of the museum. It contains pictures and descriptions of many of the antiquities stolen. It also provides chronological history as the pieces relate to succeding settlements, cities and empires, where the pieces were found and their significance to civilizations. Its a facinating read and the pictures are exquisite. Profits go to the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage for rebuilding the Museum. An excellant book for someone wanting to get their feet wet about Mesopotamia. The title is "The Looting of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad" and is published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers

7:28 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Anon-

This is supposed to be news, a headline? In this case Reich, like Obama, is a bit of a fool. Exhortation is literally never politically effective. Why shd anyone pay attn to this, when the game is abt power? How long will Obama call for bipartisanship when the GOP regards it as a sign of weakness (which it finally is, in fact; and of stupidity). It makes more sense to write the participants and say, "Keep doing it! Be as violent and destructive as u can!" To that, they'll pay attn.

Kel-

Paradigm case is W.J. Cash, whose love-hate rel. w/the South was so intense that shortly after he published "The Mind of the South," he killed himself.

mb

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Thank you, Maury, for the reference to W. J. Cash. I've read a little just now of his 1929 article for American Mercury of the same name as his book and find his voice reminiscent of the late Joe Bageant. Cash is a good source for other authors as well since his ideas apparently influenced Faulkner and other Southern writers.

9:46 PM  
Blogger James said...

The economic compass has some mysterious effect upon the moral compass. By sheer animal magnetism, the moral compass is often brought into line with the economic one. Once the two are pointing in the same direction, the mind can feel justified in pursuing a course of righteous economic improvement.

The civil war was as much about slavery, as the Gulf War was about Iraqi Freedom, IMO. Would honest Abe have freed the slaves without economic considerations? Not likely, since he offered the South constitutional protection of slavery in exchange for not seceding. There were additional reason for keeping the Union together besides slavery.

The bloody hands of the beast are often washed in christianity's font of virtuosity.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

DAA'ers—

RE: Destruction of Antiquities in Iraq

"Franz Rosenthal (August 31, 1914 – April 8, 2003) was the Louis M. Rabinowitz professor of Semitic languages at Yale from 1956 to 1967 and Sterling Professor Emeritus of Arabic, scholar of Arabic literature and Islam at Yale from 1967 to 1985."

When he died, I was teaching English to foreign students at Texas A&M University – of all places! I printed out his NYT obituary and took it into the office of a colleague. (She was Turkish, had grown up in Germany where her father was a surgeon, and was clearly the best educated person in that department.) This was at the depth of the US war of aggression against Iraq – "the supreme war crime". I found her in tears over news of the looting of antiquities, and especially the burning of libraries in Bagdad – she said, "A big part of the history of the Ottoman Empire is being destroyed!" I gave her the obituary, told her a little about Rosenthal’s life and work, managed to say, "I don’t know how he died, but if he knew about what's happening, maybe that's what killed him." We just sat there for a long time in silence.

What more is there to say except "Take your 'American Dream' and shove it!"

David Rosen

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The civil war was as much about slavery, as the Gulf War was about Iraqi Freedom, IMO. Would honest Abe have freed the slaves without economic considerations? Not likely, since he offered the South constitutional protection of slavery in exchange for not seceding. There were additional reason for keeping the Union together besides slavery."

All of which is perfectly true. I've heard all these arguments in defense of the Confederacy before, and agree with them. Lincoln did away with the right of habeous corpus, the Northerners didn't treat the free blacks any better, the Sherman March destroyed the South, Lincoln actually didn't like black people and wanted them shipped to Liberia.

All of which is true.

But...the fact remains, whether or not the war was ABOUT slavery, the South did in fact own slaves. I absolutely think Lincoln denied the South the right to govern themselves, but what is missing is the fact that the South's right to govern themselves meant denying black people of THEIR right to govern themselves. Those were the choices Southerners would have continued to make in their version of "self-governance" had the war not occurred.

The Southerners owned slaves. That fact cannot be erased, politically correct or not politically correct. They violated the black people's rights FIRST, long before the North violated their rights. We cannot simply turn our eyes away from that hypocrisy. To do so is to ignore the efforts of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, etc.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Connecting the dots between Abu Ghraib and the assassination of the Yemeni-American, Anwar al-Awlakiأنور العولقي,by a drone attack ordered by President Obama, it is possible to discern an orbit that circles the fringes, at first, but imperceptibly becomes tighter (but larger) until it has within its hangman's noose any citizen who dares to speak out against the U.S. Naomi Wolf, in her book The End of America (2007), says that the ten-point fascist agenda articulated by Mussolini provides an eerily accurate timeline for the tightening of the noose, the squelching of free speech, due process, habeas corpus and other Constitutional protections. The U.S. has progressed from torturing "POWs" to assassinating its own citizens. Is there a hit list? Wolf, writing during the Bush regime, says that there are two lists. ‎

2:44 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

Hi Dr. Berman, figured out what I was doing wrong. You can delete my earlier attempt.

link_words

'This site is about how animal rights and environmental activists are being targeted as "eco-terrorists," and what that means for our safety and freedom. '

There's a particularly chilling article on facilities called CMUs (Commnunication Managament Units) that are used to house political prisoners:

<a href="http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/communication-management-units-mcgowan/1747/>CMU</a>

Chuck

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Dr. Berman--

Good news, I just got a message from Amazon that WAF will arrive in my mailbox in rural Iowa between Oct 26 and 29 instead of sometime in November.

I'd love to join you and 11 other disciples in Mexico City for what I hope won't be your 'last supper'. I'm sure nobody remembers this, but I mentioned way back that I'm on a small Iowa farm caring for my 99 year old mother who is completely out of it with Alzheimer's. My wife, who is a nurse, would be able to care for her for a while, but she is on crutches for the long term – so I'm really stuck here.

Funny you should insist on twelve disciples to join you in Mexico City. I should warn you that Jesus had twelve, and one of them betrayed him. By the way, I think that Jesus probably did exist, that he was a Jewish teacher with a small following in Galilee, and that he was crucified – along with thousands of other Jews around that time. Aside from that, we probably know nothing about the 'famous' Nazarene. It just seems much more likely that the whole thing got started from stories about somebody who actually existed. Stories grow with the telling, but it's easier when you have a germ of a story to start with. Of course, I could be wrong about this.

David Rosen

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facepalm...

And now they are talking about "treating" children as young as FOUR for ADHD. Of course we know that "treatment" is drugs.

Onpoint: New ADHD Guidelines Examined

This is getting scarier by the day.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

DR-

Sorry u won't be able to make it to Mex City. I wasn't thinking in terms of disciples or apostles, since I'm not into founding a new religion (we have enuf of them as it is), but why I said 12 is an interesting question. Perhaps I was thinking of that classic work, "Cheaper by the Dozen." Besides, 12 is a very reassuring #; I can't imagine saying 11 or 13.

Chuck-

I dunno if I got it rt, so if u wanna add anything else, feel free.

mb

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor, the first review of WAF seems to have appeared on Amazon, and not surprisingly it looks pretty favorable.

From some damn Kindle electronic toy geek, but what the hell.

BTW, Steve Jobs was not into the same kind of notably inhuman and abusive use of technology as caused Norbert Wiener to go off the tech reservation, and refuse any further math, science involvement with the MIC 'hustling' types who kill for kicks --- even before he wrote G&G Inc.

Jobs probably never had any interest in the IBM type of financial gains in building the first (fictional) HAL 9000, or the real danger of building the type of non-fiction Hard-Take-Off Golem that Wiener feared.

I'd be inclined to give Jobs some slack relative to seriously deformed technology mad scientists like Drs. Frankenstein, Strangelove, and the fictional Hoenikker (who the consummate black humorist and humanitarian, Kurt Vonnegut invented to invest Ice 9).

I turned down an offer to work on the Lisa/Mac development in '79, and it wasn't because I thought Jobs was working on inhumane stuff.

Best,
Alan Mac

6:13 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Alan-

Hilarious review, thank u.

mb

7:15 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

Hi Dr. Berman, I believe the gist of the website www.greenisthenewred.com is that the corporate/government alliance, exploiting the fear generated by 911, has found it expeditious and advantageous to label environmental and animal rights activists as eco-terrorists.

If corporate profits are threatened by activists they risk this labeling, potentially being proscecuted and imprisoned.

CMUs (Communication Management Units) are as Will Porter writes:
"The government is using secretive prison facilities on U.S. soil, called Communication Management Units, to house inmates accused of being tied to “terrorism” groups. They overwhelmingly include Muslim inmates, along with at least two animal rights and environmental activists."

According to Porter, those unfortunate to be detained as these facilities greater communication restrictions on their phone calls, mail, and visitation privileges. Out of sight and out of mind.

Porter closes his piece with the following:

'The power to create and maintain secretive prison facilities for political prisoners is antithetical to a healthy democracy. If there is one thing that we should learn from history, from governments that have gone down this path, it is this: If there is a secretive prison for “second-tier” terrorists, it will only be followed by a secretive prison “third-tier terrorists,” and “fourth-tier terrorists,” until one by one, brick by brick, the legal wall separating “terrorist” from “dissident” or “undesirable” has crumbled.'

The more I read and the more I learn, the angrier I get. I have children and grand children in this country and I deeply fear for their future.

I hope this wasn't too wordy.

10:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Chuck-

Thanks for the info; very impt. You remember that quote from Martin Niemoller, "First they came for the Communists, but I wasn't a Communist..." etc. You know, I spent a lot of time studying heretical movements and Manichaean behavior, and one thing that happens in the final stages is that the system needs to find enemies w/in, not just w/o (Mary Douglas also talks abt this in "Purity and Danger," a classic work). It's an important aspect of the self-destructive process, and I have no doubt that the US will work its way down the 'tiers', as u suggest. I often wonder how many years away we are from rounding up dissident bloggers and intellectuals. It only seems far-fetched until it becomes the new reality, the new normal; and with everyone following the Niemoller pattern of remaining silent. Real democracy is a fragile thing; and as an empire dies, it gets increasingly frightened and so, hysterical. Very few are willing to stand up and say, "This is wrong."

mb

10:38 PM  
Blogger Robo said...

The more I study our current national situation, the more I realize that it can really only be understood from very wide-angle perspective.

The apparent suddenness of the American collapse is a result of our short cultural attention span. The process has actually been going on for a long time.

I'll be interested in reading about the CIvil War in your new book. Many of my ancestors were members of the Lee family of Virginia, a proud clan with a very high degree of self-regard and a very long view of history. Many of the Lees fought for the South in the War, and their heroic exploits are still actively celebrated today. After all, those great events happened only 150 years ago, which is really not such a very long time in the grand scheme of things.

For many Southerners, the War Between The States never really ended. It continued on through Reconstruction, into the battles of the Civil Rights era, and continues now with the rise of the Tea Party Conservatives.

It could be said that the South has actually been the ultimate victor in the grand struggle with the Industrial North that started in the early 19th Century. It's no coincidence that a contemporary map of the Republican Red states would overlay very nicely onto an old map of the Confederacy with the addition of some western Territories. The Democrat Blue states still mostly huddle in the same northeastern territory that the Yankees have always defended.

Why is it that the accent of dominating power in the United States government today is a Southern drawl, while the Yankee twang is most often associated with feckless capitulation and compromise?

Perhaps the long-term Southern strategy has been to hang tough and wait until the North finally ran out of industrial ammunition. After all, it would only take another century and a half. Not that long at all.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I'm away from the computer for a couple of weeks, and see how much rich discussion I miss!

Looking forward to my copy of WAF -- an Amazon review will follow immediately after reading, never fear.

Yes, the first question an American usually asks or is asked is this: What do you do? Your job is your identity, and your salary is the measure of your worth, and your humanity as well.

And it's not just how much you make, but how you spend it. Books, art, museum or lecture daytrips? Waste of money! There's something wrong with you! Now, that 40" HD plasma gas-guzzling cellphone Twitting Rolex -- that's the American Way!

Even our words for higher qualities -- worth, value -- are all about money!

My wife & I just found out that the New York Folk Art Museum has closed its main building, as its conservators would rather conserve money than art. And we all know how many libraries are shutting down across the country.

I happened to see some old (circa 1963-65) episodes of Mr. Novak recently, about a dedicated high school English teacher. Its emphasis on education wasn't just about getting a good job, but on shaping the whole person, learning to think critically, and defining yourself rather than being defined by social pressures & demands.

Of course, there's no way any network would air such a show today! When you watch popular entertainment from 40 or more years ago, even when it basically upholds the status quo, there's still the assumption that knowledge & wisdom are good & desirable qualities in & of themselves, not simply for monetary gain.

Now, maybe that was just a piety for public consumption even then, but obviously it was considered the appropriate attitude. Hypocrisy as the tribute vice pays to virtue, perhaps? Or a genuine belief among many?

9:11 AM  
Anonymous appleseed said...

I hope you don't mind that rather than ordering a copy for myself, I contacted the local library and asked them to order WAF (which they have.) The assault on libraries in the US has been sustained and devastating. Libraries deserve our support as a cultural bastion against barbarity.

1:05 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Apple-

I'm much more interested in the bk getting read, than getting sold. Thank you for having yr libe place the order.

mb

ps: BTW, it's best to send yr messages to the most recent post, since no one tends to read the old stuff (well, not much, anyway).

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Mike from MA said...

I hope WAF is a hit abroad.
Maybe it'll persuade other countries not to be like us, no matter how tempting it looks on TV to live like make-believe people.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike-

Many thanks; I just hope foreign publishers are interested. BTW, in future pls send message to most recent post; most people tend to not read the old ones.

Stay with us,
mb

1:19 AM  
Blogger John Steinsvold said...

An Alternative to Capitalism (if the people knew about it, they would demand it)

Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: "There is no alternative". She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: "Home of the Brave?" which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:

http://evans-experientialism.freewebspace.com/steinsvold.htm

John Steinsvold

Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
--Georg C. Lichtenberg

10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“One of the reasons I left the place was that I had virtually no one to talk to.”

Morris,

i feel the same. i am thinking about moving to mexico. are there any places you recommend in particular? should i go to costa rica instead? another expat writer i read says things in mexico are getting a little rough, and kooks like perry are suggesting we send in the troops to fight the war on drugs. brilliant… afghanistan west.

anyway, is mexico still a good place to consider?

thanks,

gregg

12:12 AM  
Anonymous Madame O said...

MB, Constantine----I haven't read all the comments on this post or other posts lately (forgive me, my head has been up my rump or in the kissing vicinity of corporate rump. YECH, I tell you!), nor have I been following all the presidential dopefools in the gop. So, I only just learned that Michelle Beotchman believes that Iraq should pay/compensate/remunerate the US for ''freeing'' their country. I thought they had paid dearly already....BUT if we can get more moolah, well, why not? Like she says, Iraq is a rich country. (God know's we're not...well not the majority of US.) And as the US war machine aims toward Iran,let us remember we can make the Iranians pay--again and again and again for US!! WE CANNOT LOOSE!!! MUHAHAHA!!!

10:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you think that Capitalism is evil, why don't you think about how many people have been fed by it? Now how about how many people who have gone hungry under Communistic rule? I think Capitalism is the strongest system because being greedy, which can't be avoided in human nature, can be reversed into productivity.

7:58 PM  

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