July 20, 2013

The Existential Strain

Dear Wafers:

I continue to receive attacks from Autonomous, and have become fascinated by his bile, his bitterness towards me. What, exactly, did I do to the poor guy? Essentially, I asked him to take a leap to a larger life—which is exactly the spiritual meaning of the poem I recommended he study, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” by John Keats. Here it is (George Chapman, by the way, 1559-1634, was a classical scholar and famous translator of Homer):

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne:
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

(It was Balboa, by the way, not Cortez, who discovered the Pacific, but no matter.)

What is this “wild surmise,” except the realization that you have entered a new realm, and that your life is changed forever as a result? (“a new planet swims into his ken…”)

This is what George Steiner, in In Bluebeard’s Castle, called an existential strain (not his exact words, but…): a demand on an individual so great that it is terrifying, because he knows he cannot meet the challenge, and thus will remain a diminished person. Steiner’s argument was that starting with Christ, the Jews repeatedly issued these existential challenges to the Christian world, challenges they simply couldn’t live up to, but felt they should (e.g., Christ’s injunction to love your enemies—keep in mind that the guy was Jewish). Over the centuries, says Steiner, enormous resentment built up toward the Jews on the part of Christian Europe, which suffered from the existential strain of their inadequacy. The result was the wanton, wholesale murder of the Jews during World War II—a revenge killing, in other words.

It’s an interesting thesis, and I don’t know if it’s true (how would one prove it, for one thing?). Nor am I calling Autonomous a Nazi; of course not. But I think Steiner may be onto something, and I think it may be relevant to the existential strain I inadvertently imposed on Autonomous, and his subsequent need for revenge. He probably is not capable of reading and understanding Keats; he is probably also aware that online ‘learning’ is totally inadequate for the study of such a subject; he feels he should know about such things, be the type of person who does; and the consequent rage at his own impotence had to find a target—namely, the person who issued the challenge. I never expected he would take me up on it, of course (i.e., read Keats), but I assumed that would be because of his obvious stubbornness. But it seems it went deeper than that, and his virulent response is the result.

Of course, the problem is not that of one particular unhappy individual; it is, rather, that he represents so much of America—most Americans, I suspect. How resentful Americans are about their lives; how desperate they are for scapegoats, targets for their hatred. Who can they blame? There are limits to blaming corporations and Wall Street, because Americans themselves, as I’ve stated repeatedly, are complicit in the values promoted by the latter. And so they are haunted by their own betrayal. Here’s a real vignette, the product of a conversation I had with a dean of humanities at a major East Coast university a couple of years ago; I’ll call him Dean Guide. He was telling me of a former student of his (when Guide was a faculty member), whom I’ll call Toys, who came to see him twenty years later. Toys had been a rather poor student, not terribly interested in the humanities; he may have even dropped out of college, never have gotten his degree (I forget the details). But he went into business, where he was very successful, and as a result made piles of money, which he enjoyed spending on electronic gadgets. He invited Dean Guide over to his house for coffee, to “catch up on old times”; but the real purpose—or so Guide believed—was to prove to him (Guide) that he (Toys) had made good in the world, despite his failure to understand what Guide had tried to teach him—things he regarded as meaningless at the time. Toys paraded all his toys: stereo system, plasma TV, computers and their various functions, half a dozen cell phones, and so on. Guide was very polite, just nodding, or saying, “Very nice,” or something to that effect. Then the two of them sat down on opposite couches, Toys poured out coffee for both of them, and a pained and embarrassed look came over his face. “What gives you meaning?,” he asked his old teacher. Toys was literally squirming in his seat.

Guide told me he was taken aback. The obvious discomfort that Toys revealed was that he knew, on some level, that all of these toys were shit; that in any ultimate existential sense, they didn’t amount to anything. Guide didn’t know what to say, and I can’t recall what he did say. What gave him meaning, of course, was teaching young people about values that they might use to guide their lives; or now, as a dean of humanities, running a department in which the faculty members were committed to the same agenda. I don’t think he said that, however, precisely because of the issue of existential strain. What could he say to Toys, really? Your life is a mistake? These toys are worthless, they have nothing to do with what’s really important? As I said, I don’t recall what he said to Toys, but to me he said something along the lines of, “There are no shortcuts. Either you are living a life that is real, that is courageous, that is existentially valid, or you aren’t. Toys was suffering because he understood that he had made the wrong choice.” Once again, this is a true story; this exchange actually occurred.

I think there is something crucially important here, not merely to understanding Toys, or Autonomous—whose own situations are neither here nor there, really—but America in general. Why America Failed describes a hustling culture in which the nation repeatedly rejected the possibility of the “other path,” whether it was offered by Emerson or Thoreau or Mumford or Jimmy Carter, and opted instead for what Sartre referred to as “bad faith” (mauvaise foi): the phenomenon whereby a human being under pressure from societal forces adopts false values and disowns his/her innate freedom to act, to live an authentic life. (What Tolstoy’s Ivan Illych realized too late, just before he died.) The American Dream was a siren song, and now that it has run aground on the rocks, Americans are left with nothing, because they thought what Emerson et al. were saying was just a lot of soft-headed rot. Toys, to his credit, was not bitter; he was just hurting and confused, in need of guidance. Maybe there’s hope for him after all (I suppose I should check back with Dean Guide as to how things turned out). But the case of Autonomous is, I suspect, much more typical, the path (again, pardon the hyperbole) of revenge of Christian Europe against the Jews: lash out in your existential guilt, your hatred and impotence.

If you ask me what can be done about America, about this psychological configuration, you of course already know my answer: nothing. There is no remedy; this is as obvious as horns on a bull. I write this not to ‘rectify’ the situation, but merely to illuminate another aspect of our national suicide, one that I have thus far not seen in print. Of course, for a whole host of reasons, I’m not expecting any great public discussion to follow in the wake of this essay; that would be a miracle all its own. But I think it’s worth putting the argument out there, if only for the tiny handful of people who might want to think about it. Long ago, Americans bet on the wrong horse, and they are now unable to change horses in midstream. This existential failure, it seems to me, is a crucial piece of the puzzle as to why we are now in a state of widespread collapse. We stare down from a peak in Darien, and on some level we really do understand it: we blew it; there is no place to go.

©Morris Berman, 2013


Anonymous Eric in Hiroshima said...

Dr. B,

I didn't follow all of Autonomous's comments, but from what I could see, he wanted to defend the MOOCs, because he felt he had gained from them. He was hurt to see that people here reacted negatively to something that meant a lot to him. After that I guess he over-reacted, though I didn't see those comments.

Maybe I have a bit of sympathy for him, just based on his initial comment alone. If his personality isn't suited for a US university classroom, he could feel pretty frustrated. But who could blame him for bailing out of most colleges these days? The politics, the careerism, the jargon... Universities don't need MOOCs to destroy real learning. They were doing fine with that already.

I am old enough that I was raised on paper books and patience, and discussion with humans. But I get a lot from lectures on YouTube, including those by a certain Dr. Berman. We surely don't want to rule out new media entirely.

I hasten to add: MOOCs really will kill education if and when they begin to dominate. The fact that they are cost-effective from a profit-making school's point of view means that they will probably take over. And that means that "distance learning" with celebrity profs will put give-and-take learning with non-celebrity profs (like me) out of business. So I know that the medium is the message, and money will triumph. But if Autonomous got something from his MOOC that was good for him and unavailable elsewhere in his life then, you know, good for him.

I agree that he should get the paperback Keats and read it, too.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Gd hearing from u, and sorry I missed u when I was in Hiroshima last Nov. I did appreciate your input on the 'real' Japan, I hafta say. Work on the bk is coming slowly, but hopefully it'll be out sometime next yr. I'll be back, incidentally, giving some lecs at the U of Tokyo next April, tho I won't be going to Hiroshima this time around. Nagasaki, instead.

As for the new media, I'm certainly not ruling it out, as I'm sure u.r. aware. I just think it has been very destructive of real education, tho I agree w/u that real education barely exists anymore anyway. But Autonomous wasn't merely upset abt the issue of online learning, but of what he took to be my supposedly total opposition to technology--this w/o having read a page of what I have written (e.g. ch. 3 of WAF). I cd also say "good for him"; the problem is that there's a down side to that "goodness" that he will never know, or even be able to see. Hence, "good for him" is, in my view, superficial and simplistic; the 'good' is finally not very gd, and is covering up a whole can of worms. Getting turned on to MOOCs or whatever hides all that. He is, however, in the majority camp (for what that's worth), as I'm sure u know. If truth is a matter of majority vote, he wins hands down.

That aside, I think the real issue for him was that he just cdn't do what I suggested, and this unplugged a vitriolic hatred that I chose not to post. When folks come completely unplugged, they are not welcome on this blog. (He'll continue to rant and rage, of course, but I just delete his postings now w/o reading past the pain and craziness of the 1st sentence.) But the pt of this post was hardly to rag on him. In fact, I'm quite grateful to Mr. Autonomous, because his bile and poison, by their very intensity, got me to see something that has been missing from all analyses of the American decline, my own included: the issue of existential strain, and the feeling of betrayal Americans feel--not just from the collapse of the American Dream, but because they sold their lives out from the get-go, and are living lives of bad faith that they can't even articulate, but wh/is making them crazy w/unrecognized grief. It may be that someone else has written abt it, but I can't recall seeing it in print (or on screen). Anyway, this was a major discovery for me, and--no irony here--I have Autonomous to thank for it, by embodying this particular psychological configuration. Again, you didn't see his messages, but I was flabbergasted at their violence, the sheer rage and pain they contained, and cd only ask myself: mother of god, where the fuck is all this coming from? And then, I think I figured out what it was all about, and felt that it wasn't that much of a stretch to extend it to the nation at large. Which is not to say that I'm correct, but this is how it appears to me, and all I can do is offer it up 2u guys as what I believe is a likely possibility, an educated guess.


10:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This American Life:


11:01 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Excellent essay, Maestro. I believe this to be extremely important and true, and perhaps it explains a portion (a very large portion) of why Americans, as you mentioned in response to one of my recent posts, lack the ability to step outside of their own respective emotional experiences and look at the facts of a situation. I believe I experienced this existential strain, or something like this, in college, when I started feeling like I was completely alone, and something was just plain wrong with our culture. I discovered you in a used book store (Twilight) and was extremely grateful b/c an author had identified and articulated so much of what I was feeling. At any rate, I still wanted desperately to believe that American culture had meaning, hope, that 'we're #1', and yet I knew deep down this wasn't true. I was pretty miserable for a bit there, and I got pretty emotional and irrational when someone disagreed with me (and/or forced me to take a look into the void) and felt a whole bunch of existential angst. Then I spent some time overseas, and came back and found this blog, and, although living in America - and having to deal with my countrymen - is still a pretty miserable experience, I was able to let go of the need for it to be a meaningful experience ipso facto. (it also helps to have an exit strategy!) It was extremely healing for me to begin to live an authentic life and this essay of yours really captures that...and what is behind so much of the deep suffering that ppl in this country experience...and it manifests as such outward ugliness. As if Autonomous is accomplishing anything worthwhile by spitting vitriol at you...and yet in this context, it makes perfect sense. He is railing against the strain.

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Just curious- did Autonomous get anti-semitic? I am still haunted by an exchange in Woody Allen's Deconstucting Harry in which Woody's brother-in-law says to him:"You don't care about the 6 million." To which Allen replies: "Of course I do since all records are meant to be broken." American Jews are delusional if they continue to think that the US is a safe haven.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Oh no, nothing like that. I made the comparison w/the Holocaust only because of Steinter's analysis of existential strain, wh/I felt was operative in this case as well, tho obviously not in the same category of effect.


As I said, that's why I'm genuinely grateful to him. I never picked up on this as a factor in the American decline, but it makes perfect sense, when u think abt it. How many Americans are living the lives they think they were meant to live? There's a film w/Ryan Reynolds in wh/he works as an advertising exec, and says to himself, "Who thought I'd be making a living by trying to convince people to feed their kids Cap'n Crunch instead of Fruit Loops?" (or something like that)
You know, the gold brick of all find-a-job bks is called "What Color Is Your Parachute?"--I shd have 1% of that guy's royalties--wh/is based on the unlikely notion that you can get a job by insisting that you do exactly what u were 'meant' to do. Like the mkt is not relevant to where you'll wind up. But the author comes from a religious perspective, I believe, that work hasta reflect yr soul; which is why the bk sold millions of copies. Americans *want* that, and rightly so; but that's not how the country is set up, economically. So they wind up pushing Cap'n Crunch, and feeling this deep sense of bad faith/existential strain. After all, for most of us, work is something like 80% of our waking hrs. This insight is on a par w/Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents," tho I'm obviously no Freud. But how is it that I didn't make this connection b4? To quote George Costanza, "This is like discovering plutonium by accident!" Existential strain = rage, pain, and spiritual emptiness. This may actually be a greater factor in the American downfall than American stupidity. I feel like offering Autonomous a 4-yr scholarship to a real school (tho chances are I won't).


11:51 PM  
Anonymous Shane w said...

Now, as an NMI project, someone should see to it that autonomous, and others like him, receives and uses his very own high powered assault rifle. Mb, aren't you glad you live in a civil country where the possibility of an autonomous showing up at your doorstep to mow you down with an ak 47 is very remote?

11:58 PM  
Anonymous J S RANK said...

Dr. Berman ...my apologies. The 'one post a day' that I follow semi-religiously.

Anyway... Every hero NEEDS a bete noir.
'Autonomous' is kinda low class in this regard for you, I guess.

When I run into his kind, I go 'Chicago'.
Typically, "Watch it, Pally", which is slang for, "Fuck off, asshole".

You can't teach the unteachable, you can't help those unwilling to learn, you can't have influence on the most intractable of opponents.

You can only ignore them, or kill them.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

JS, Shane-

I tend to doubt that I'll be killing Autonomous, or he me, anytime soon. He's not that wigged out, and as for me: I practically love the guy. I'm serious. Auto opened a door for me that I simply wd never have opened on my own. And here I've been encouraging him to allow "a new planet to swim into his ken," while that is precisely what he made possible for me. Jesus, talk abt irony. Enlightenment shows up in the most unlikely of disguises. As far as getting mowed down in Mexico: only if yr a narcotraficante, and I don't have much connection w/the drug biz, thank god.


12:08 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Here's an example of political protest that actually worked (not in the US, of course):


12:12 AM  
Blogger Dan Henry said...

"but because they sold their lives out from the get-go, and are living lives of bad faith that they can't even articulate, but wh/is making them crazy w/unrecognized grief."

You nailed it. This sentiment has been very conscious in my own mind in my dealings with my mothers siblings and friends. Boomers have always seemed so hypocritical to me. I zone out in public but I have been pushed to freak outs at several parties and family gatherings... but I have also lately now been recognizing how overwhelming the pressure to conform is...I hate boomers, but Christ Im beginning to look like one...One of your comments re cube and depression becoming a self involved state struck home as well. More of the same, but I need to make emigration a concrete goal. Maybe publishing it here will help spur me.

On another note, Naked Capitalism has had several posts in the past few days knocking our great land. You have been mentioned in the comments a fair bit MB...Take heart.

1:06 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The great comedian and satirist, George Carlin, had his own take on what you have said. He stated that "the reason tht they call it the
"American Dream" is that you have to be asleep to believe it". Even late in his life he traveled extensively across this country. I think he was a brilliant observer of the decline that we are experiencing. Many of his shows are available on YouTube.
Very good news about Monsanto in Europe.

1:45 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

The mention of Ronald Reagan had me revisiting an old TV programme from the 80's. It became a serial search bit 'The Pesident's Brain is Missing' over many episodes. Hilarious then and still evokes a chuckle now:


Former GOP Senator Gordon Humphrey has emailed Snowden
"I wish you well in your efforts to secure asylum and encourage you to persevere."
--gobsmacking stuff when such a senior figure admits that there is no hope and encourages this US citizen in his bid for asylum elsewhere:


And finally Matthew Lee, an AP reporter, tackles a State Dept rep on some of the circular logic/insanity that is fuelling this unrecognised rage/grief/depair in the uninformed folks:


4:58 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for yr input. In the future, however, pls pick a real handle; I normally don't post Anons or Unknowns. I suggest Sam Schmeck, Ph.D.


6:32 AM  
Anonymous Michael in Oceania said...

@Dan: "American Jews are delusional if they continue to think that the US is a safe haven."

Although it runs the risk of hijacking this thread, I do think Dan's point is worthy of discussion. It is a well-documented fact in history, that when a major Empire "checks out," dominant minorities always get scapegoated.

I am using the term "dominant minority" in a different sense than Toynbee used the phrase. In this context, "dominant minorities" are peoples of a distinctive ethnic background, who are clannish (in-group enclosed) and who usually have a high achievement ethic, which makes them dominant in one or more niches of society. The Jews in Europe and America are only one example of such a people. The overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia (and also in California and New Zealand!) are an example of such a group. The Indian population of Fiji is another. A tragic example is that of the Armenian diaspora in the Ottoman Empire.

The 1916 massacre of the Armenians was just as much of a Holocaust as what happened in WW II. The numbers were lower, but the intent was the same - the extermination of the scapegoated "Other." The Armenian massacre happened in the context of a collapsing Ottoman Empire, and the Turks needed a scapegoat.

Here in New Zealand (where I now live), the only true "anti-Semitism" I see is directed, not against Jews (who are practically non-existent here) but against the overseas Chinese. There won't be any pogroms, if only because China is now a rising power, but the attitudes are the same.

Spengler has a discussion on this whole topic in Volume II of The Decline of the West (pp. 315-321 of the English translation), which I still think is the best discussion of its kind.

Pogroms and Holocausts are characteristics of Empires in decline and collapse, whether it is Tsarist Russia, Ottoman Turkey or post-WW I Germany. It would be foolish to think that this won't happen in the U.S.

I might add, that one reason the Jews have done better in America than nearly anywhere else, is that there is what Goethe called an "elective affinity" between the Jews and the Puritan Calvinists who settled New England and the Upper Midwest. Back in England, the Independents and Roundheads under Cromwell were actually called "the English Jewry." The best research on this connection was done by Max Weber's contemporary Werner Sombart. Sombart became persona non grata in the Anglo-American academic world after Goebbels lifted his work and utilized it in anti-British propaganda during WW II. Carl Jung's reputation survived his brush with the Nazi tar-baby - Sombart's didn't.

In the American context, this "elective affinity" is reflected in the power of the Israel Lobby, which (as Walt and Mearsheimer point out) is largely, if not mostly, a Gentile phenomenon. The average American Jew wants nothing to do with the Lobby. My concern is, that as the American Empire collapses, that there will be a backlash against the Israel Lobby, and that the average American Jew will get it in the neck because of it. This, mind you, despite the fact that the fiercest critics of the Lobby in America are Jews!

Well, that is enough for one post! This topic is probably worth a separate thread all its own, and if MB wants to split this off, that is fine with me.

I am sure that MB was not thinking of this when he left the U.S. However, in retrospect, I think his decision will look even smarter than it did at the time.

6:46 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


It did occur to me, as early as 2003, that there might be an eventual backlash against the destruction of Iraq, and that that backlash cd focus on the Jews, since they played such a prominent role in precipitating that event. Not Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld, of course, but Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, and a few other American 'Likudniks'. That's obviously not why I left the US, but it struck me as a possibility. That being said, I'm wondering if the Jews will be vulnerable if and when the masses do go nuts. I suspect Hispanics, blacks, and Asians will be 1st in the crosshairs, rather than Jews; altho Jews have traditionally been associated w/high finance, and perhaps some rage might be directed at Goldman Sachs, for example. But the American people in general tend to operate at a visceral rather than an intellectual level, and probably won't target their real oppressors--i.e., the Pentagon, Wall St., and their own value system--but rather go for minorities who are more easily at hand. I dunno; it's a gd question, obviously, and only time will answer it.


7:09 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

This is a wonderful post, MB. And I've seen evidence of your conclusions myself.

For instance, over the years at work, I always had a book or two handy for lunch, breaks, downtime. It might be a volume of poetry, or a classic, or something obviously non-bestseller. Quite often someone would notice it on my desk & make a remark about it. And it would invariably be a snarky or even angry remark: "What are you reading that crap for? What the hell is this? I never heard of it!"

At first I was startled, then bemused. But sometimes the initial remark would lead to another, along the lines of, "You think you're so smart/superior/better than me? I make X times the amount of money you do!" And eventually it penetrated my thick skull that a lot of people found my reading choices -- or just my reading, period -- to be a threat.

Now, I've always been an introvert; I just read my book & didn't comment on their lack of interest or dislike of it. If they raved about some fad du jour, I'd be polite, because I had no interest in attacking or insulting them.

This also applied to the CDs I brought with me, listening on headphones while doing computer work. If it wasn't a recognizable current Top 40 CD, I'd get similar remarks.

I've gotten this response from some younger freinds & family members, too. "Why are you always showing off your big words?" (My normal vocabulary.) Or, "Why can't you talk about anything fun? Why do you always have to be better than everyone else?"

That last one was always the most puzzling to me, as I didn't impose my choices on others, only mentioning them if asked. And I was always well aware of my flaws & shortcomings, not thinking of myself as better than others just because of my interests. Different people have different interests, right?

Again, it finally penetrated that they weren't accusing me of thinking myself superior. (Which I'm not.) They were afraid that they were inferior, or at least that's how they felt. And on a few occasions, some felt it strongly enough that they were on the verge of physical violence. Once it actually turned into a shoving match, until I beat a hasty retreat.

Your post helps me better understand what they were feeling, I think.

The wonders of neoliberalism:


As always, comments column is worth reading.

8:34 AM  
Blogger Boris the Spider said...

I ordered a copy of Counting Blessings on amazon. It said "Only 1 copy left -- more of the way!"

As for Reagan, I find the following anecdote from Jean Houston about her childhood dog, Chickie, quite telling. (It's from her book "Mystical Dogs".) Sorry for the length, but I think the punchline is worth it:

Thus it was a shock when one day one of the actors in a picture my father was working on came home with him, saw Chickie, and immediately wanted to buy her. "Jack," said the actor, "that is the greatest dog I ever saw in my life. I'll give you fifty bucks for that dog."

"Can't do it, pal," said my father. "It's the kid's dog."

The actor persisted. "I'll give you a hundred bucks for the dog. I know you need the money." Indeed, we did, and driven by the panic of incipient poverty, the one thing he dreaded more than any thing else, my father acted in an uncharacteristic manner.
Excusing himself, he went into the kitchen to discuss this with my mother. "Certainly not!" she adamantly declared. "It's Jeanie's dog."

"You're right, Mary," my father sheepishly agreed. "It's just that I think I'm going to lose my job at the studio and am damned scared of not being able to bring home the bacon."

"Well, you certainly cannot bring home the bacon by selling the child's dog," my mother fumed. "Anyway, if we go broke again, I'll just do what I always do—start an acting school for children."

A few days later the actor came back, saying, "Jack, I've got to have that dog on my ranch. I want that dog. I'll give you 250 bucks for the dog."

During this ordeal Chickie and I were sitting on the floor behind the couch, listening in horror. I was already making my running-away plans with her.

"Well, I sure do need the money," said my father. "Just a minute; I've got to talk to my wife."

"Mary, he's offering 250 bucks for the dog! We can always get Jeanie a new dog at the pound!"

"No way!" said my mother.

The next day the actor returned. He had rarely known failure and was not about to start now. "Jack, I'll give you 250 bucks and my secondhand car. I know you need a car to get around."

"Wait a minute," said my father. "I'm sure this time I can convince my wife."

Upon hearing the latest offer, my mother, bless her heart, stormed out of the kitchen, stalked up to the actor, and chewed him out. "Ronald Reagan," she railed, "how dare you try to take away my child's dog!"

10:05 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

Dr. Berman,

I’m sorry my comment did not come across too well, I’m with u on ur High Doltage paragraph.

Q: Did you ever run into William Boardman in ur Vt. travels?

Here is a recent article by him.



I remember you at OWS!


Too bad about Panama, must have gotten a suitable bribe.

A Quote (directed to black crime),

“CRIME is an economic construct of poverty and NOT a product of moral failure.” Pascal Robert

& finally,

I grew up listening on the radio, with my father, to Sugar Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, and, Carmen Basilio boxing matches . I heard Sugar Ray win his fifth championship. I went crazy. I don’t remember if my dad was even listening.
Boxing (I read one time) grew out of a ‘sport’ called gouging where the match ended when u plucked the other guy’s eye out! (lot's of Long John Silvers). Eventually the Marquess of Queensberry rules came about where gloves were mentioned as a must wear. The rules came to the US in the late 19th century. Yesterday, I saw a program where they are bringing back so- called bare kuckle boxing. (BKB). We are returning to the jungle.


11:11 AM  
Anonymous Shane W said...

regarding Auto & guns, just a a little tongue in cheek, gallows humor about one of our favorite topics, mass shootings. I thought the irony would show thru.
RE: runaway global warming: Greer really takes on these apocalyptic predictions on his blog: his basic argument is that everything in nature is based on a negative feedback loop, and rarely, if ever, does a runaway positive feedback loop ever present itself in nature. Regarding global warming, he states that once we reach a certain temperature, carbon, in the form of algae and other organisms will fall to the bottom of the ocean, the ocean will basically become a big carbon sink. It has happened before when the atmosphere has been loaded with way more carbon than now. Basically, the thermohaline circulation shuts down, precipitating an oceanic anoxic event.
Honestly, I think I'm as skeptical as Greer when it comes to apocalyptic predictions, they just don't seem to be born out by the evidence...
In all this discussion about Autonomous, nobody has mentioned that everyone now demands their education "their way", and if they're not sufficiently entertained, then it's the instructors fault for not making it "entertaining", never mind the learners responsibility to show the discipline to learn the material and to see the value in the material regardless of its "entertainment" potential.
I'm not sure if Cube saw my last post, but I want to reissue the challenge to Cube to break outside the autistic label, to see if you can describe and think of yourself without using the autistic label, and to see that label not as a god's honest truth about you, but as a product of a sick society that creates a DSM to pathologize everyone who is different and doesn't fit in. Again, how would you, Cube, describe yourself without using the autistic label, how do you think of yourself without using the autistic label?

11:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That's all well and gd, but what abt Rocky Marciano?


Yeah, a real collection of jewels, the crowd at Amazon. They don't order more bks from the publisher until the bk runs out; they don't allow her to contact them abt it, or send in bks on her own; and they don't say *when* they'll contact her, once it runs out. It cd be listed as out of stock (as it is rt now) for weeks, I have no idea. Meanwhile, potential buyers are not encouraged to purchase it until it's listed as actually available. This is a writer's nightmare, courtesy of Amazon.


That's exactly it. Those are gd examples of existential strain. Now extend this to 315 million people, who feel on some level that they are inadequate, that the boat sailed w/o them, and that there's fuck all they can do about it. The resulting rage and resentment has to be a major factor in our decline, I'm guessing.


11:37 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


This 'homework assignment' is one that I hope Shane means 4u 2 do by yrself, not here on the blog. Just to clarify. Thanks.


12:09 PM  
Blogger NearFar said...

That's unsettling & causes me to deviate from my (other) prepared remarks abt Melville, Hedges, and "crisis cults." Instead, to try to explain this concept of 'existential strain' to myself, here are a few preliminary notes. First off, just to find some kind of point that we can all agree on: as a (western) civilization the "fix" is in, the thing is unraveling, we're going down the tubes. But just how this 'end-game' will ultimately play out for us is, in a sense, anyone's guess. Fortunately that doesn't need to be the whole story because, even as we discuss these possible (future & contingent) scenarios, Wafers (or let's say those who've read & enjoyed WAF even as each of us, separately, bring a wealth & lifetime of experiences to the table) aren't *only* operating in the realm of guess-work. We're also able to (as Octavio Paz suggests, albeit in another context): “hazard something that is more than an opinion and less than a certainty: a belief." Paz refines this further by saying that "it is a belief nourished by uncertainty.”¥ Perhaps this it is this kind of uncertainty that contibutes to our "existential strain," and where it enters into the picture. To discover (too late) that we've been operating out of "bad faith," (I mean on a personal level, as a singularity, ie., capable of free will) and telling ourselves that, as a society, we can 'a-void' or refuse to hold (or adhere) to what Hedges calls the "moral imperative," (that is, as social creatures & as political animals) is to guarantee, or seal, a very bad fate. It ain't going to be pretty any way you look at. Of course,I'm aware I've set up a sort of dichotomy that will unravel. For instance, we're both of these: individuals (singularities) and social creatures/political animals (or a mutiplicity, in a sense). These terms are not mutually exclusive. It's not going to be an "either/or" proposition. Or these concepts interpenetrate, and that seems to be just one part of the existential strain. For example, can we choose to let one precede the other, get the upper-hand, or gain prominence? Furthermore, in existential terms, we cannot *not* choose. And this seems to be a paradox because, as the wikipedia article on "bad faith" mentions: "by pointing out the freedom of the individual, Sartre seeks to demonstrate that the social roles and moral systems we adopt protect us from being morally accountable for our actions". Anyhow, I was going to bring up the concept of "crisis cults," something that forms as a kind of (manic & desperate) response to a society in various stages of collapse; I'll do that manana. But I can see how existential strain does, and will contine to, feed into this kind of "mania" & insanity.

¥ excerpt from: Paz, Octavio. “The Bow and the Lyre.” Univ. of TX Press

12:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, this sounds downrt Talmudic, but what the heck. W/the aid of Geo Steiner (and Autonomous, of course), I was able, I think, to enrich the analysis of the American collapse. But as the Talmud shows, from very early times to Rashi (11thC) to Maimonides (12C) and beyond, concepts have a way of acquiring an independent life, interweaving w/the old and branching out into the new. The result is that whole new vistas, new possibilities, open up, and no one can predict where they will lead, and what insights they will yield. Altho I've always been sure that I will die in total obscurity (to be realistic abt it), and that my work will at most be minor ftnotes in minor texts, it's possible that "Strain Theory" will flourish, and become a field of its own, in the ensuing decades. Ha ha! I can see myself in hell, after my demise (because I'm sure I'm not going to heaven), looking up at all this intellectual ferment, and chuckling to myself (even tho the heat is unbearable): "Berman, you son-of-a-bitch, look what u started!" And then the Chinese historians, 50 yrs from now, wrtg bks on the collapse of America, looking at all this literature and saying to each other: "You see? It was existential strain that finally made it impossible for America to sustain itself." I tell u folks, we may have just crossed a watershed, and--You Are There (Cronkite). Be sure to tell yr grandchildren.



1:18 PM  
Anonymous Pretentious Skullfucker said...

I think you're wrong about America. It's not dying, it's just relocating. To China. I was looking at their major online equivalent of wikipedia -- actually it seems to be a hybrid of wikipedia and The Huffington Post -- I think it's called The Hudong. Anyways, when you go to the "people" section you see rows of subcategories with individual headshots of important people. The pictures are links to stuff about each person, blah, blah, etc. Anyways, you see Obama, Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, and then a few Chinese faces here and there. There are probably just as many Americans represented as there are Chinese. Imagine an equivalent scenario here in America (ie, pictures of Chinese celebrities and businessmen everywhere you look). The empire never dies. It just bifurcates and moves around. From Greece to Rome to Byzantium to Venice to the Netherlands to Britain to the US. Something like that.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, maybe the *idea* of empire never dies, but there aren't too many causal connections among the examples u cite. A better case can (and shd) be made for the
continuity of deli-meats. Wafers wd be grateful if u cd do some research on the subject and report back to us.


1:59 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: we have an informal rule on this blog, of not posting more than once in 24 hrs. So pls, re-send yr 2nd message tomorrow. Many thanks.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That's message no. 3! I didn't violate any rules because I hafta reply to lots of different people all the time; isn't that obvious? Look, if u wanna be on this blog, I suggest u not be a smartass, and that u play by the rules. Up 2u, amigo.


3:36 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Hi Professor,

I read your book, Why America Failed, and I loved it! I'm curious about a few things: who were the philosophers and historians who had the greatest impact on your thinking? Hope to hear back from you!

Warm regards,

5:02 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Welcome to the blog. The problem w/answering yr request is that the list is rather huge; it's not like I have 2-3 favorites, or something like that. I might be able to answer yr question, however, if u cd get more specific. What areas of study are u interested in? (Ancient Greece? Medieval Europe? Etc.)


5:12 PM  
Anonymous star rover said...

When Hedges talked about Moby-Dick I was wondering why he did not mention that wonderful scene when Starbuck points a musket at Ahab. Of course, Starbuck lacks the courage to do what must be done. Ahab reminds him of that fact by saying, "Starbuck, you are too good a man." Apparently, better the whole thing sinks (which is what happens) then we defend ourselves.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous Carol said...

Hi Professor, thanks for getting back to me so soon. I can understand if there are too many to list. The breadth and sophistication of your knowledge and insight is extraordinary! I'm interested in alot! I would love to hear about your main influences in regard to Greece, Rome and Medieval Europe. Hope that isn't too broad, lol. Thanks so much Professor.

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

Tim L,

Your encounters read as a classic case of negative identity, if anything else. I have personally run into similar situations. There is someone at work is constantly making public his opinion on the mainstream media's talking points of the day/week. Unfortunately, his opinions are more often than not formulated by the fools at Fox.

It took several attempts to finally get another person at work to watch one of the Zeitgeist films. A couple of days after watching the second film he came to work mad at me. His anger was rooted in the fact that some of the truths elucidated in the film hit too close to home. He had swallowed one of the "red pills" and didn't like the answers to some of his questions as to why I don't like to engage in discussions with people who are ill informed, not well read, and especially propagandized by the "technologies colonizing our minds" as MB has put it.

Thank you for sharing you experiences. Take comfort in knowing that there are other introverts out here in the Empire. At this point in my life I feel like a witness. The blind faith in magical thinking is just too great a force to throw your life against.


7:02 PM  
Anonymous joe hohos said...

Dr. Berman,

Thinking about your "existential strain theory" while I was out and about today, and it seems to be correlated to "kick the dog syndrome"; dad has a bad day at work, screams at/hits mom, mom screams at kids, kid kicks the dog, only on a society wide scale. All the bitterness/anger about not doing what we are "meant" to do internalized and taken out on people who seem "different", smarter, or inferior than ourselves since the only person to blame is our individual self and most Americans have to have someone else to blame. BTW Dr. Berman, you have an amazing way with words and I look forward to every long post you do.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out short story by Jas Joyce, "Counterparts."


Let's start slow, OK?
Greece: J.H. Finley, "Four Stages of Greek Thought"; Philip Wheelwright, "The Presocratics"; Stephen Greenblatt, "The Swerve"; Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy"
Rome: Tom Holland, "Rubicon"; Anthony Everitt, "Cicero"
Medieval Europe: Umberto Eco, "The Name of the Rose"; David Knowles, "The Evolution of Medieval Thought"; MB, "The Reenchantment of the World" (1st half)
Note also that my bk "Coming to Our Senses" has sections on Greece and medieval Europe, but 0 on Rome. BTW, in future pls post only once every 24 hrs. Thanks.


Check out WAF ch. 5 for more on the subject.

Reminder to all Wafers-

Did u check yr post-it today?


7:41 PM  
Anonymous Mike Daniel said...

Hi Morris,
I found your insights about existential strain ending in existential failure connected very strongly to what I have been feeling as well. I have a background in healthcare and I would often encounter individuals who had life conditions that were giving them big hints (a plethora of physical ailments, accidents, and repeating life patterns) that they were leading lives that needed introspection and ultimately change. Yet I would say maybe less than one in ten would actually be able to take on what was required to change. If I pushed at all I would get a push back and often the individual would stop working with me. I have spent a lot of time and energy working on creating a relationship with my own psyche. I found some of the work extremely challenging, I’m going to die/suicidal challenging. In retrospect going through the intense suffering into the underlying pain of my existence allowed me to begin to see into myself and into the world differently. I came to realize that to do this kind of thing, trying to handle the existential strain or psychic tension of it can feel like an impending death to an individual. Fear is evoked as a result. Even a whiff of fear/anxiety by the individuals ego and they are outta here so to speak. Despite each person’s set of wounds and their personal background being different there was the consistent terror of going inward. So I agree with you that the likely outcome at the moment is for nothing outwardly being of help the plight of America. At a deeper level I feel that more may be at work than we can perceive right now.
Isn’t it often the case that people seem to change only when they are pushed right to the wall outwardly and the ego has exhausted all of its defensive strategies to correct or control the source of terror or fear? At this point the person’s ego hopefully surrenders and change might be possible. The existential tension or strain energy can then move towards change despite the fear. Whether he or she will step through the open doorway is open to question. When groups of people or the thinking of individuals in groups are considered the likelihood of change becomes more interesting to look at. Group thought/functioning tends to gravitate to the level of the lowest common denominator of the group. Because of these dynamics outward change is blocked as well. What group energy supported Hitler and brought on the Holocaust? It can work the other way as well. What group energy brought down the Stasi or instigated and supported the French Revolution?
There are an infinite number of examples of human behaviour where they do things we don’t expect or out of the blue, e.g., a fundamentalist pastor who never did an “evil” thing in his life goes out and sleeps with a prostitute. What is that? What going on at the level of psyche in these individuals? Often they are just as surprised.
It’s my sense that human beings are at the level of infants both in our understanding of and relationship to our own psyches and obviously then the group psyche. This sense is beyond what Freud was writing about and more along the lines that Jung tried to elucidate in his life. I’ll write more about this perspective in another comment on another day because it relates to what I think you are saying in innumerable ways in your books about the quasi-religious group psychosis of hustling in America and here in “Existential Strain”.
These psychic forces which many people are unconscious of are very powerful and can easily overpower the rational reason based ego if the circumstances are right to the point even that the ego can easily rationalize its own potentially destructive point of view. Consider the effect on Obama of his relationship to his Dad. Now some might say well he should be able to see what he is doing in so many things is wrong, criminal, psychotic even. As far as I am concerned as I read through his book I must agree that he is empty. Empty in relation to father energy for example and so fills it up with a blighted example of masculine leadership.
Mike Daniel

8:10 PM  
Anonymous JWO said...

Great post Dr. B, I hope it makes it into the second edition of AQoV, or a future essay collection.

Regarding the Ex. Strain I think I've mentioned this on the blog before but the NMI path was(is) rather existentially straining for me, especially at the beginning. Realizing Obomber is not the solution to any problem (except how to commit warcrimes and win the nobel prize), realizing the US is going down and OWS won't fix anything, etc., etc.

MB, Joe, Tim and others have the experience exactly right. Joe said, "I discovered you in a used book store (Twilight) and was extremely grateful b/c an author had identified and articulated so much of what I was feeling. At any rate, I still wanted desperately to believe that American culture had meaning, hope, that 'we're #1', and yet I knew deep down this wasn't true. I was pretty miserable for a bit there, and I got pretty emotional and irrational when someone disagreed with me (and/or forced me to take a look into the void) and felt a whole bunch of existential angst." The same thing happened to me, it is almost like the 5 stages of grief (or is it 6). At the end you become an NMI or emigrate.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

Abt existential strain: I was always tacitly aware it isn't a gd idea to play classical music in anyone's hearing, for ex., or to read a book within most ppl's sight. I get the response Tim gets. Here's a twist: anyone gotten friends, acquaints, or relatives saying out of the blue something like "I've studied a LOT of things in school, I took an economics course [or whatever]" or "I took an IQ test & they said I'm very smart"? Again, apropos of nothing, & in an aggressively challenging tone (i.e. not as an invite to discuss it).

Nothing made my family more resentful than to see me off in a corner w/ a book. I successfully hid from everyone my music prefs, tho. Even at age 46, I keep my standard response ready: "I like [name of current pop/hip-hop/country group]." Have ready answers for sports faves too.

Did temp work at one place where on the 1st day a permanent worker said something to me abt others "conversating." "Conversing," I lightly corrected & we went on to have an apparently friendly conversation. Next morning the agency called and said it was over; the co-worker had complained to her mgr that I was "racist" because my correction had offended her. The agency never used me again. Got dozens more anecdotes like this, most of them worse.

Advice to NMIs: keep to yrself, speak like u've been lobotomized, & prepare fake answers to personal questions. Never forget that where there's a dolt there's likely also a gun not very far way.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...


Yes its me--the baboon attack catalyst!

Great essay. It reminds me of Eric Fromm's ideas described in Escape from Freedom (smart jewish guy who also spent time in Mexico city actually). The existentialists were about escaping from this or that. From was about escaping to an authentic creative life. One of his ideas was that conformity (and conventional wisdom, thought leaders,media, technological fetishism and all other conforming belifees and attitidudes) keeps people from thinking and is actually enslaving. breaking patterns of conformity will generate anxiety and often psychosis. Somehow I think this in part ties and or is complementary to your great insights.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, dolts and violence tend to go together, precisely because of the existential strain issue. This might suggest an asterisk to our favorite post-it, I Am Surrounded By Dolts. Ftnote shd read: Who are inevitably hurting and angry. Yr rt, u have to tread lightly, because the pain/rage is very close to the surface--as we saw w/Autonomous: just scratch the surface and the lion comes roaring out of its cage. This is the norm, because most Americans simply can't cut it on a human or spiritual level, and they are vaguely aware of this. So if they find u rdg a serious bk or listening to Bach or discover that u don't own a cell fone, their self-betrayal (existential strain) comes flying out, and it ain't pretty. The whole thing is very sad; but it's also the case that such people are dangerous. So be careful as to how you conversate. In the US, anyone w/half a brain hasta lead a double life, as many of u have in effect said.


Gd reflections; sounds like the post got u wading thru a lot of yr own stuff. One favor: watch the length. In future, 1/2 page max, por favor. Thank u.


You and all Wafers hafta keep in mind that getting in touch w/reality means getting out of touch w/yr culture and most of the people around u. Let me be honest: I'm personally too susceptible to my surroundings, and I know it, wh/is the main reason I left the country. To live thru a day in DC, where I was, was to suffer emotionally and spiritually. I felt like I was getting sicker and sicker. It's no exaggeration to say that Mexico saved my life; the poems in "Counting Blessings" attest to that. In short, if I was, up to the time I moved, an NMI, I was not a very happy or successful one.

Whom can anyone with even a slight insight into reality, into life, talk to in the US, really? 315 million people living lives of bad faith, existential strain, short fuses, and who are depressed as hell w/o realizing it. Getting out of that context enabled me to do something that I guess needed doing: to provide a haven, via discussion here or thru my work, for those who are sick and tired of thinking they're crazy, when they know in their bones that it's the culture, not them. Toward the end of WAF I wrote that it was unlikely the country had 200,000 individuals who cd see thru the mythical narrative Americans are fed abt the country. Frankly, I doubt there are 200,000 Americans who can define the word 'narrative', and on some days I wonder if the real figure is more like 20,000. The rest live in The Matrix, and if u even slightly suggest that, the reaction is quite violent. NMIs need to live below the radar, and find other NMIs. Or hit the rd, as u pt out.

This is a gd discussion.


9:15 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Hackenbush said...

Dan Henry- Yes, Naked Capitalism has been posting the Hedges interviews and there are long comments sections about them WAFers might enjoy (see posts by Banger especially) that mention MB some.

Further, Dan Henry, those tidbits about your exp. of boomer groups (ha ha) are kind of vague, yet tantalizing! Would be great if you care to elaborate...

Jeff T, JS Rank- in case you missed it, check my replies to you in prev. thread. If you saw it and don't care, -sniff- disregard this note...!

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


it sounds like our experiences were/are quite similar. I appreciated Dr. B noting that he was/is very susceptible to his surroundings. I am ever so sensitive to my environment and it has often frustrated me, stoic as I try to be. When Epictetus said (to paraphrase) that it wasn't things that upset a man but his perceptions of those things, he wasn't really surrounded by High Doltage, I don't think. I could be wrong, of course, but how could he have been? how could the culture from which he came have produced such thought and wisdom if it were anything remotely resembling this soul-killing culture? Therefore, I realize that I will need to emigrate. It sounds like you have worked hard towards the NMI option...I have too, and will continue, as long as I have to stay here. I'm also working hard on my emigration plan...have a country picked out w/family already there, etc. I think, as El Maestro noted in his experience, it is the only way I will be free. The existential strain really makes sense w/regards to all the mental illness, anti-depressants, rage, etc. If I'm sounding redundant, it's just that this concept blew my mind and makes things so much clearer. Great great post, and great discussion. Thanks guys for sharing your experiences.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Hail the conquering hero! You were indeed the catalyst for all of this. I guess in Australia they call it poking the hedgehog w/a stick. There sat Autonomous, little more than a hedgehog at the side of the road, and you gave him a poke! Something stirred inside his fogged-up, minuscule brain: he reacted! He was miffed at u, indignant, for suggesting that he might transcend his hedgehog condition. Then, referring to u, I also poked, and Blammo! The existential strain exploded in venom and rage. And I was amazed. I thought: What is this, the hedgehog liberation front (HLF)? (Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh! HLF is gonna win!) And then the memory of Steiner's essay, read long ago, came flooding back to me, and b4 I knew it, "The Existential Strain" was born. I have already offered my deep gratitude to Autonomous for his central role in all this, but let me now officially thank u, the buffoon attack catalyst, aka hedgehog poker, for your crucial role in the birth of a new theoretical understanding of the American collapse. 50 yrs from now, Chinese historians, assessing that collapse, might say: "You see? Belman had the idea; but he was dependent on Capo and Auton-Mouse, a type of hedgehog, to clystarize it in his mind." When the Chinese empire is on its last legs, thousands will gather in the center of Beijing, and the protesters will be holding various signs: BELMAN; CAPO; and one w/a picture of a hedgehog on it, which will finally transmute into a symbol of freedom. And You Are There (Cronkite) amigo; You Are There.


11:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


My email address is mauricio@morrisberman.com, tho I shd say that I don't really have much time to discuss blog procedure etc. or really much of anything else, to be honest. What I *wd* suggest is that u stop worrying so much, and apologizing all the time, and just post abt stuff that has abs. 0 to do w/yr own personal situation (it's not a question of it being 'bad' or negative; the issue is to try to leave the personal behind, if u can). I really don't know how else to say this. Wafers do talk abt their own personal experiences here, of course (see above), but as part of a dialogue abt a collapsing empire. You seem to be trapped in a 'woe is me' psychology, and there's no need to reiterate this--we get it. I don't know if you've bothered to look for a support group, but I wd urge u, once again, to do this asap. As far as this blog, wd it be possible for u to engage the larger world, w/no reference to yrself? There's also no need to fret or obsess abt blog rules and so on; the blog itself is not the focus of the blog, and I'm not particularly interested in hosting a meta-blog.

I'm hoping u really get this: we seem to keep having this (meta-) conversation over and over again. Hey, man; just--live!



12:14 AM  
Anonymous curfuzzled said...

The recent comments on naked capitalism yielded a link to this article by Mark Ames which, imho, ties in well with this thread about existential strain:


Some other thoughts:

As noted in other posts, I think existential strain results in a strong need to associate with a successful narrative. That narrative could be your sports team, your county, or your car. Don't rain on that narrative or things can get ugly. It also reinforces a dualist perspective on life.

Envy is a strange thing in this country. We are taught to not be envious (because our system is a meritocracy), but at the same time that greed (which I think is really envy 90% of the time) is a necessity for the functioning of our economic system.

1:21 AM  
Anonymous J S RANK said...

@ MB and WAFers....Yes, very compelling dialogue, with lots of explanatory and reinforcing personal narratives.
The way I see it, the 'existential strain' so evident in abberant and dysfuntional behaviors and attitudes that is endemic in the American psyche is primarily due to those persons trading the pursuit of happiness for the pursuit of self and 'success'. The individual is most often removed from their own thinking, including reason and what used to be called common sense, in order to fit the paradigm of conformity ... to be popular in a perceived and seemingly plausible mass popularity culture. It's like a form of crowd hypnosis ...a subtle hysteria. Undoudtedly, many ARE dolts that can't think for themselves or ever had an original thought; yet there are millions of educated and professinal people that operate in similar fashion. Here's the kicker: their ego's are so divorced from reality and introspection that they don't even realize it. They fall right in line with the latest fads, electronic gadgets and sundry other toys, and all of the 'hidden persuaders' and various marketing ploys.

I also observe that this crowd pathology has unleashed legions of denialists with Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.
I had a very recent, very unpleasant experience with a now ex-sibling that erupted in a rage of multiple OCPD symptoms. Threatened to have me arrested ( actually called the cops ), and forced me to leave the very small room I was staying in that was barely bigger than a prison cell ( that's what it felt like ).
I ended up living in my car for about a week, homeless, until I was able to relocate with help from some friends.

@ Dr. Hack, re: screenplay about my OWS . Could happen. I do write, but think I would need a collaborator.
Among other things, I'm a pro editorial cartoonist, and so, often communicate in snippets or very truncated. 3 seconds is about the attention span I try to work with. Any longer just confuses the typical dolts...er...readers.
Guess you could call me an itinerant wiseass.
I might title my epic, "America is a House Built on Sewage".
I envision the script as being a blend of "Brazil", "The Man In the White Suit", "Duck Soup", and "Blade Runner".
The theme song would be myself playing Toots Thielman's "Bluesette" in a minor key on harmonica.
Perhaps some of us could convince Dr. Berman to play the role of the evil mastermind !

4:09 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

Steiner wrote a great novella, 'Portage to San Cristobal of AH', based on his earlier work 'In Bluebeard's Castle.'

In it Hitler presents an astounding defence of himself and his actions:
1.Firstly, Hitler claims he took his doctrines from the Jews and copied the notion of the master race from the Chosen people and their need to separate themselves from the "unclean". "My racism is a parody of yours, a hungry imitation."
2.Hitler justifies the Final Solution by maintaining that the Jews' God, purer than any other, enslaves its subjects, continually demanding more than they can give and "blackmailing" them with ideals that cannot be attained. The "virus of utopia" had to be stopped.
3.Hitler states that he was not the originator of evil. "[Stalin] had perfected genocide when I was still a nameless scribbler in Munich." Further, Hitler asserts that the number of lives lost due to his actions are dwarfed by various world atrocities, including those in Russia, China, and Africa.
4.Lastly, Hitler maintains that the Reich begat Israel and suggests that he is the Messiah "whose infamous deeds were allowed by God in order to bring His people home." He closes by asking, "Should you not honour me who have made [...] Zion a reality?"

A fine bit of whataboutery that will impress some.


In reality, Hitler was not defeated by the conscience-stricken heroics of the Western Allies but by the war of attrition on the eastern front in which 27 million Russians died, as that war's greatest General makes clear:


(One commenter states truthfully that the US funded the war effort but the Russians fought and died for it.)

Star rover,
Perhaps this is what Melville was alluding to when manoeuvering Starbuck into a 'good' but ultimately impotent challenge to Ahab? "Starbuck, you are too good a man."

Perception matters, yes, but reality always bites.

4:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Terrific article in "Exiled," thank u. He doesn't quite make it to the existential strain theory, but comes pretty close. In other words, he gets it that Americans are awful human beings; but strain theory adds that they secretly aspire to be more, to be people of depth and character, and are in a lot of pain because they just can't do it. They actually do (subliminally) understand that that's where happiness lies, rather than in some piece of electronic dogshit; but they are aware that they can't get to that place, so they live in rabid hatred of those who can, or at least try.

Here are some excerpts worth reprinting:

“...the awful possibility that maybe a lot of Americans are just contemptible jerks in dead-ender lives...maybe a huge bloc of American voters are worse than merely “irrational.” What if there’s not much to like about them at all?...the comforting lie that Middle Americans are actually innocent victims in all this, duped by an evil corporate-political machine that subtly but masterfully manipulates the psychological levers of cultural backlash, implying that if average Americans were left to their own devices, they would somehow make entirely rational, enlightened choices and elect sensible New Deal Democrats every time...the most obvious question no one has the guts to ask: “What if Americans don’t want to be enlightened? What if they’re a bunch of mean, miserable hicks as hostile to enlightened thinking as they are to the possibility of free, quality health care?”...The underlying major premise of humanist-leftist ideology assumes that people are intrinsically sympathetic, reasonable and fair, and are only spoiled by nefarious outside influences. But if you allow that tens of millions of Americans are defiantly mean and craven and defiantly ignorant, the humanist-left construct loses its purpose and self-destructs. “Why the fuck should I bother fighting for Middle Americans,” [the left would] ask, “if they’re just as loathsome, in their own petty way, as their exploiters, with whom they actively collaborate?”...[it’s] a desire for vengeance, to externalize the inner famine.”

That's a great phrase, the desire "to externalize the inner famine." The author (Mark Ames) is making the pt I've argued repeatedly: the 99% are actually no better than the 1%. The vast majority of Americans are not very attractive human beings; in fact, they are quite awful. But the 'progressives' can't let this insight in, because then their whole program--liberate the people from being exploited--wd collapse in an eyeblink. So the charade of Amy Goodman, The Nation, etc. goes on, while "the people" pretty much hate everything and everybody, esp. their own lives, and certainly don't wanna be "saved." Now just extend this whole constellation to asking someone to read a poem by Keats, and there you have it: existential strain. The request pokes a deep wound; the hedgehog roars in pain: "I should be a person who is larger than this, a person w/a real soul, and I CAN'T! I'M GONNA KILL U, MOTHERFUCKER!" And this, my friends, is the real America, and why (a) there is no stopping the collapse, and (b) you'd do well to hit the road.


Yr getting close...the sewage is *inside* Americans--this is the crux of it. I love yr proposed screenplay, and I'm down, but only if I get to play Rufus T. Firefly. Meanwhile, change title to "The Degradation of the Buffoons."

Clearly, we need to modify our post-it: I LIVE AMONG AWFUL HUMAN BEINGS WHO ARE TRAPPED IN EXISTENTIAL RAGE. Well, not quite as catchy as I Live Among Dolts, but perhaps more on target. I wd also suggest T-shirts that simply say, DEGRADED BUFFOONS, but you might wind up getting stoned to death, wearing it in public.

Yes, Amy: the next Democratic candidate is going to change all of this; w/o a doubt.


5:55 AM  
Anonymous Eric in Hiroshima said...

I hear the existential strain when I telephone my younger brother. He devoted his career to schools in a red state, and now Governor Tea Party has cut him off at the knees. He would do about anything to get out of the situation, but with three kids the need for health insurance forces him to stay put. I'm three years older than him and look ten years younger, and that's not due to my sushi diet.

Remember a few years ago there was a minor boom among economists to calculate some kind of Happiness Index? I think Bhutan had some mixed success with this. Maybe instead of maximizing happiness, it would make more sense to think in terms of minimizing strain. I guess *some* strain would always be present, even in near-utopias. (Japan has its share, as evidenced by the number of suicides.) But it makes for an interesting way of gauging the quality of a society: how much of the strain is clearly unnecessary? How much is due to sheer dumb cruelty? Not that an awareness of this would serve to improve the political situation...

As for the disapproving glares when an American dares to read a book or listen to real music:

When I go back to my hometown, I find that I can't even walk in the street without getting insulted. Everybody drives everywhere. If they see you on the sidewalk, one car in twenty will offer you a ride, because they assume your car has broken down, and another one in twenty will yell insults, just because they can. And if you make the mistake of wearing clothes a little nicer than are required for lawn work, this will also draw sarcasm.

My Japanese students have the idea that Americans are freer than people in Japan. It's a surprise for them to hear that the rules from below in the US are stricter than the rules from above in Japan.

Dr. B, I will be very interested to hear what kind of response you get at Tokyo University. As you know, that is the Harvard and Yale of Japan, and its students are the best and the brightest. When I gave a talk there, the response was noticably quicker and better than it is in the provinces. So they have good brains.

On the other hand, they got into that school by jumping through a hundred government-approved hoops. They are unlikely ever to question the validity of those hoops. Having already won their way into the Elite, they have no reason to think that maybe the current system needs changing, that it is deadly to some people. They are the means by which the status quo perpetuates.

If you tell them, sorry, bail out, your elite future is doomed, I wonder if the message will make it into those smart heads. It'll be interesting to see.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Elliott Middleton said...


I deal with these issues in my novel "Incident on Summit Avenue" which I would be honored if you would review.

See http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DHSKWP0

The basic premise is a meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and crazed teenager from a religious cult on Summit Avenue in St. Paul during Gorbachev's 1990 visit, when he was "The Man of the Century" for [trying to] bring democracy and freedom to the USSR. You might enjoy this read.

Elliott Middleton

8:52 AM  
Blogger Jack at CASCADIA ARTPOST said...

As a result of this blog's recent discussion, I made a new Post-It as a daily reminder:

Watch out for BWATIERs

I also just finished historian Jackson Lears' Fables of Abundance, an exploration of the roots of advertising in shaping what he calls American "commodity civilization." Thank you for mentioning sources like Lears on this blog and in references to your research.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

What a rich discussion!

Mike Daniel,

Man, you really got to the heart of things. I was reminded that many therapists state in their books that quite often, when a patient is on the verge of a real breakthrough, with genuine insight just ahead -- the patient will leave (or flee) therapy, because the prospect of changing one's life so deeply & fundamentally is just too frightening & painful. They hunger for surcease, but fall back on the familiar, even if it's simply more of the same suffering that's eating them alive.

Incidentally, I'm not so noble & enlightened that I haven't done this myself in the past -- not in therapy, but in everyday life. It's a lesson we're taught by society: you've got to stay where you are & tough it out, even if it's killing you; it's manly, after all; simply choosing not to play the game any longer is rank cowardice; you're supposed to be an obedient soldier, not a deserter.

(Look at how Vietnam-era draft dodgers were reviled while the majority of the country defended & rallied behind the likes of Lt. Calley of My Lai infamy, proclaiming him to be the victim.)

Mike, your comment about Obama reminded me that practically all of the presidents within my lifetime have had major father issues. Perhaps a mutilated psyche is a requirement for the White House?

And yes, I sometimes have to cut off contact with much of the news & popular culture myself, because it seeps into the soul like a toxin. Oh, I do like some current musicians, for instance ... but they tend to be those living on the margins, without much airplay or press. "Who ever heard of them? They don't make any money! What, you think listening to them makes you special?" And so on.

The thing that's really changed in popular culture, it seems to me, is that it's in a stage of being resigned to the way things are. "It is what it is," to quote a popular phrase I loathe. The idea of changing one's own life, of reclaiming it, isn't meaningful for the majority today. The illusion of doing so is still used to sell product, of course! But it's socially approved, mass-produced "change" rather than the real thing.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Samuelina schmeckless, a reader in Finland said...

Ah, what a juicy article, and discussion.

As a sort of closet intellectual, opening the door and coming out has been a long process. And scary, too, but only in the beginning. I feel for the folks having to lead double lives.

But really, in regard to existential strain - what a great find! Giving it a name makes it easier to spot. I would just want to remind, that it just takes one moment to change the page - aim at authenticity. There is value at pricking balloons, but there is also the reality of seeing past the delusion, and aiming, finally, right. I think there is something like a Rumi poem saying something like Don't we rip off all our clothes, even the flesh and bones, that separate us from the Beloved? So the transformative thing is not so much about seeing what is wrong, but getting what is right. Getting as in letting it come in. The bigger the frustration/anger/rage is - that really tells thre is great unhappiness that has potential to change. Not through any "education". Only insight. Wherher that happens is up to the unhappy. But anyways, thank you for the article!

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Jerome L said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Friends,

Thanks very much for this insightful discussion of American rage and its existential origins. My experience mirrors that of most everyone who has posted on this thread so far. I believe that Americans today have essentially two modes emotionally speaking, passive aggression and active aggression. Passive aggression is everywhere in the culture, and can easily be seen in the hostile happy talk of the endless advertisements, the memos from the boss, the coach’s pep talk, the leadership training (we actually have a leadership training facility called “Camp Joy” nearby), work e-mail exchanges, and especially internet comments and Facebook posts. It is really quite breathtaking. A little nudge and the passive aggression is a seething rage. I would guess that it is not a coincidence that an exchange about technology was the catalyst here, as I have seen much the same happen among academics discussing MOOCs, etc. There is a Walker Percy novel I read years ago called The Thanatos Syndrome that, if I remember correctly, delves into all of this as well. I think existential strain (or panic?) is also behind the many willful misreadings of “The Rebuke of History” in Why America Failed. It touched rather too close to the bone, I guess, and showed the depth of our self-betrayal as a culture.


9:49 AM  
Anonymous MK said...

Thanks again MB for you blog, comments and books! Do understand Vince and Tim L's experiences.
Hope you'll love this-co-worker tells me of another's response when they mentioned that Jesus had dark skin. Her response, haven't they seen his pics?? Dolt isn't a strong enough word. Just finished reading The Long Emergency and also just watched Zeitgeist. MK

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Nelson said...

I think the existential strain is probably correct. The only part I would quibble with is saying that it's an 'American' problem. The American Dream is merely a crystallization of a capitalist dream. So I would argue that this is actually a capitalist problem and is probably everywhere. I've lived in US, UK, and Japan and I see/saw similar angst in all 3 places. Trying to solve an existential issue with "Toys" (house, cars, gadgets) can't succeed anywhere.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Gordon Gekko said...

Hi Wafers,

Interesting article from the BBC for once:

"Why baseball is a metaphor for the American Life"

Cheers from London.


9:58 AM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Dr. B & WAFers~

Dr. B, so glad you used the recent kerfuffle with Autonomous as a catalyst to produce "The Existentialist Strain" . . . really *names* a chord that's always been there, but that I never could name (and I appreciate everyone else's experiences with detecting this strain in others).

Of course, be careful out there, WAFers--truly. I'm continually amazed at the virulent, explosive reactions from folks when any one of us WAFers says something that shines light on existential strain.

For me, I enjoy toying around with that most-god-awful-of-all-secondary-substitutes: careerism. At a recent party (more formal . . . bourgeoisie nonsense on octane), several chaps asked, "What do you do?," and I ticked off a number of activities and interests--from my independent reading to work in the social economy, but also, yes, what I do for wages in the market economy--that fill my days. However, because I deliberately mentioned my "job" 3rd or 4th in conversation, some chaps quite literally walked away, while some became incensed, red in the face, and didn't take too kindly to my "schtick," as one chap put it . . .

Existential strain, indeed . . .

"I don't have a career; I have a life." ~Edward Abbey

In solidarity--


10:33 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Probably true, except there are varieties of capitalism (Scandanavia, e.g.); and the US, being the birthplace of the American Dream, and the home of casino-capitalism, has probably taken ES (existential strain) to a fine art.


No need to read this blog, or post anymore. 1st, I don't read yr posts, and haven't for a while now--I just see yr name and hit Delete; and 2nd, this discussion stopped being abt u per se a long time ago. We all thank u for your contribution to the birth of ES theory, and bid u a fond adieu. Yr Numero Uno, boychik; we salute you. Good luck in all yr future endeavors.


And there are millions just like her; u can bet on it.


I never made the connection between ES and the reaction to ch. 4, but yr probably rt. Some of those 'reviews' were quite amazing, given the fact that I explicitly stated that the Civ War had to be fought to eradicate slavery. Talk abt denial. It's possible that the rage had more than one source, of course--race is the 3rd rail of American politics--but to talk abt the antebellum South in pos terms at all, and as the repository of a relaxed, nonhustling way of life, may have evoked rage because of the meaningless, hustling life we now hafta live. Plus, by crushing the South, even in the aftermath, and reducing its entire history to 'slavery', we missed an opportunity to learn from it (which is how we treat all our enemies, of course). So ch. 4 touched, as u say, on our self-betrayal; hence the resulting rage. Anyway, thanks; I never made the connection w/ES.


Great handle, thank u, and thanks for yr observation. I'm guessing that the possibility yr talking abt is one with odds of 1 in 10 million. After all, ES is as much a property of the intelligent as it is of the dolts; challenged to live real lives, they typically go ballistic as well. For all we know, Autonomous may not be in the category of the woman who said Jesus was white because u can see it in his photographs. What he is, rather, is an existential coward, and so when the hedgehog is poked w/a stick, it erupts in rage. And frankly, that's the 'normal' reaction. The chances of the poor guy actually following my suggestion of rdg Keats was roughly negative infinity, and this will apply to most people living in the US. Your scenario is wonderful but, I think, utopian.


Thanks for recent postcard. Check out Wm Leach, "Land of Desire." I got the acronym, BTW.


Looks gd! Best of luck w/it.


Well, u know how polite the Japanese are. They'll probably think I'm a total dunce (henne gaijin), smile, and say Totemo yoi!


11:09 AM  
Anonymous JWO said...

Joe, et.al.

Thanks for your words. Luckily for me my existential strain was mostly intellectual, not so much emotional. For the same reason, I think I can survive in the US as a NMI. My family is here (and not leaving), I have a great low-paying job (museum photographer/collection manager) and I love the nature found here.

I guess I'll be on the Titanic, but thanks to MB and WAFerites I'll know enough to sit quietly wearing a life-vest.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous in.fern.all said...

Mr. B,

I have been away from the blog for a while and am catching up. I'm a bit baffled by your interaction with Autonomous Forehead; I don't understand what the brouhaha is about. Without seeing at least one or two of the offensive postings by Autonomous I have no context in which to understand your responses. As Eric, the first poster on this thread mentioned, he/I didn't see his (Auton's) comments. We didn't see them because, apart from the first two or three, which weren't all that rabid, they didn't get put up for us to see and judge for ourselves. I can't find anything in those three to justify the vitriol you display in response. You might have been justified but judging from what's actually printed here it's not clear what his/her offence actually is, apart from disagreeing with you. I gather that he/she posted a whole bunch of times in one day, contrary to your stated request, and that does count against him/her. What was his/her reaction to your request to read
Keats' poem? Which comments, specifically, inspired the hedgehog analogy? The idea of existential strain is intriguing but with only your side of the story to go on the argument is incomplete. If you want to convince me that Autonomous is a rabid moron give me some actual examples, some quotes, not a long litany but enough to demonstrate your point.
I find a lot of useful ideas here and a kind of sanctuary from the insanity of this society. It would be a shame for this blog to devolve into the kind of place where people get attacked and banished simply for disagreeing.

11:46 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

From Eduardo Galeano:

Maybe this was the beginning of ES.


From Fire to Fire

On this day in 1492 Granada fell, and with it fell Muslim Spain.

Triumph of the Holy Inquisition: Granada was the last Spanish kingdom where mosques, churches and synagogues could live side by side in peace.

That same year the conquest of America began,..."

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

A couple of years ago a family member came over to watch My Dinner With Andre and, I admit, I was hoping it would help her perhaps gently look at her life and think about the direction it was going. Toward the end she became angry and agitated, picked a fight about some minor issue and slammed out of the house and refused to watch the rest of the film. Interestingly, several months later she and her family went to the beach and she was telling me how nice it was to simply be able to live simply and not worry about getting the kids into the "right" school, driving to endless "play dates" and practices, and taking care of too much stuff in too big of a house (I'm paraphrasing her remarks). Then she started crying and couldn't stop for several hours. I think at the root of her pain was the realization that life should be about more than what it was and she needed to have to courage to look at it honestly and change it, challenge herself to live more in harmony with what instinctively felt right to her. But the investment is too great and the risk of not "fitting in" isn't one she can make, or perhaps be willing to gamble the benefits will outweigh abandoning the middle class life(less) style. If I understood your essay correctly, this is the existential strain you've described.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Henry said...


Not interesting really. The arguments always boil down to pensions and terrorism because as a society we are driven by fear. We've got to be the most fearful population in the history of our species. And fear that our lives have been wasted, as MB has pointed out with ES. Boomers are the easiest to spot it in I think because they're bodies are now literally breaking down. 60 hours a week of hustling and profit driven "food" engineering are hitting the cohort like a bag of bricks. The younger generations are largely just as enamoured with the hustle, but basic biology still drives them on for a while yet.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Anyone can disagree w/the arguments posted here--by me or anybody else. But in America, 'disagreement' is not in the category of, "Let me show u the contradictory evidence." No, it's typically loaded w/sarcasm and personal attack. You shd try running a blog sometime; you'll discover that by and large, Americans don't know how to be civil (and I suspect ES has a lot to do w/that). I've been doing this blog for more than 7 yrs now, and in the beginning--being fairly naive--I wd post such abuse, and try to reason w/it, or refute it. After a couple of yrs of that, I decided, Why put up w/this shit? If people want to disagree in a courteous way, and provide evidence for their pt of view, fine. (It does actually happen once in a while, and such folks are hardly banished from the blog. Personally, I enjoy that type of intellectual exchange.) But if they are going to attack me (or others on the blog) personally, I'm just not interested. And this is why I began to delete Auto's posts: they were ad hominem attacks, rather than discussions of the subject at hand. His response to my challenge to read Keats, after all, could have been (a) Take up the challenge, or (b) just disappear. Instead, the problem was me personally, how I was living my life, who I (supposedly) really was, and so on, and the tone was quite hostile/put-down-sarcastic. Well, I don't have the messages anymore; but I also am not able to offer u very much in terms of recall because once I see what an ad hominem attacker is up to, I don't read too much further. (And also because I really don't want to repeat that sort of derogatory stuff; it's ugly.) What sort of dialogue am I going to have with such a person, after all?

Which doesn't, I realize, help you very much. If u choose to think that I lied abt all this, or that no disagreement w/the blog is possible, there's not a lot I can do.

Let me pt out, however, that this theme of ES is no longer abt Autonomous per se, but abt a phenomenon that he represents, and that I think is quite widespread in the US--as people's testimonies here wd indicate. I'm grateful to him (for what that's worth) because he really did bring it to my attention. And frankly, I wish him well; I hope the miracle referred to by Samuelina (above) does happen for him. Beyond that, I don't think I can say much that can help you w/this. You certainly aren't required to trust me, quite obviously; but I do think that the phenomenon identified exists with or without that particular individual; and I believe that's the major pt.


12:53 PM  
Anonymous joe hohos said...

Dr. Berman,

Read "Counterparts" by James Joyce. Found it on this website here - http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/957/. Great story - I pretty much lived through that, except my dad is bipolar, not drunk. I'm going to visit family near D.C., the most wonderful place in the world, where you had a lot of great experience (ha), and I'm going to "troll", as it were. I'm going to reread my copy of DAA on the plane and see if I can bring out "existential strain" among the populace. I love the "homework" assignments Dr. B., and would love some more.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...

In Fem,

No need to split hairs. The ES idea is a fine idea and it does not require reading autonomous's rantings to determine its worth. While not particularly nasty, Autonomous' response to my post (the catalyst) was pretty smug and well stupid as he/she missed some pretty obvious points (which by my lights kept to the them of MB's blog and well my interests/perspectives) Moreover, the ES idea is not just some opinion. Its been articulated in various ways by the existentialists (see fanon) Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom and some of the early social psychologists. Much of the work in PR actually is based on creating ideas and or products (experiences) which assuage the pain of reality realization for people. So the ideas of ES are not just a random thought that popped into MB's head from some interaction w a twit but more of a jiggling loose a lot of stuff in MB's memory banks to an aha moment. Being an MNI, breaking ou of the Matrix or coming up with an essay such as ES usually is born of stress, strain or other painful, annoying or alienating events which lend clarity. See the good shit can't be gotten in 10 easy lessons on-line, by voting for Hillary or driving a prius, using an ipad and supporting gay marriage. Its a bit tougher than that.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, everybody, the posts keep coming fast and furious, so apparently this theme must have something to it.


Yes, ES shows up when you realize that you've been living a life of 'bad faith', and you simultaneously want to change that and don't want to. Then rage--or weeping--occurs. Let me tell u a similar story, and also similar to the one I related abt Guide and Toys. This was related to me by a former colleague of mine, Bob, about a colleague of his (who is also a former colleague of mine). Let's call her Gwendolyn. Her dean (a guy very unlike Guide, BTW) gave her some assignment, I can't recall the exact details, but it involved digitalizing her students' grades--something that was totally pointless--as I think the dean himself practically admitted to her. Anyway, she threw herself into the task, completed the assignment, handed it in to the dean, and that was that. Or so she thought. And then one evening, shortly after that, she was giving Bob a ride home from work, and parked the car in front of his house. She related to him the digitalized-grades project that the dean had requested, and then suddenly--so Bob told me--began sobbing, and it went on for a long time.

Now Bob didn't tell me what she said after (or during) that, if she said anything at all; but his own interpretation (no coaching from me!) was that she suddenly came face to face with the fact that this project, wh/had absorbed a lot of her time, was totally meaningless; and therefore, What the hell was she doing w/her life anyway? This is a classic case of ES, imo, and like the story of Toys, there is something terribly sad abt it. Again, there is no dolt factor here: Gwendolyn is not only a faculty member w/a Ph.D., but also head of her dept. As I've said b4 on this blog, there's intellectual knowing and there's ontological knowing, and often the former is used to obscure the latter. In this case, ont. knowing broke thru the facade, and all Gwen could do was cry abt what she felt was a wasted life.


ps: Many yrs ago I had a female colleague in Canada who wd practically foam at the mouth when "My Dinner w/Andre" was mentioned. She styled herself a feminist, and dismissed the film as "two old geezers having a midlife crisis." It was impossible to get her to consider that the film might have some philosophical import. In this case, her ideology was a way of keeping ES at bay, I suspect.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Jeff T said...

Greetings Dr. Berman and Wafers,

Dr. Berman and Wafers,

A Comstock Lode has been struck! I'm taking it all in; and wondrously so...

Dr. Hackenbush-

In terms of Gore Vidal's support of Russ Baker's book, "Family of Secrets," I dunno. It's probably due to the fact that toward the end of Vidal's life, he largely discredited himself with his embrace of ultra-right causes, i.e., Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Timothy McVeigh. Vidal even came round to argue that the Bush admin was somehow complicit in 9-11. Truth be told, I was kinda shocked and saddened by this. Of course, much of his writings on these issues were brushed aside as just part of Vidal's eccentricities and goading charm. However, at some point, one had to wonder if it was just eccentricity at work here, or was it a form of delusional thinking. For me, all this stuff had to be kinda sorted out, because the reign of "Bubba" and "W" made a lot of seemingly rational people go bat- shit crazy; embracing conspiracy theories and moving in questionable and surprisingly destructive directions.

I'm kinda baffled by Dan Rather's overall support of the conclusions of Baker's book as well. So, in the spirit of compromise and Wafer friendship, I summon the words of another legendary anchorman, San Diego's own Ron Burgundy, when I say [cue deep voice here], "Agree to disagree?" ;)

On a more serious note, however, here's a critical review of Baker's book:



1:32 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Wow! What a discussion!

As it did for Capo, the ES phenomena reminds me of my reading of Erich Fromm, in my case “The Sane Society” – (which ours is certainly not).

From Chapter 2:

“Despots and ruling cliques can succeed in dominating and exploiting their fellow man, but they cannot prevent reactions to this inhuman treatment. Their subjects become frightened, suspicious, lonely and, if not due to external reasons, their systems collapse at some point because fears, suspicions and loneliness eventually incapacitate the majority to function effectively and intelligently. Whole nations, or social groups within them, can be subjugated and exploited for a long time, but they react. They react with apathy or such impairment of intelligence, initiative and skills that they gradually fail to perform the functions which should serve their rulers. Or they react by the accumulation of such hate and destructiveness as to bring about an end to themselves, their rulers and their system. Again their reaction may create such independence and longing for freedom that a better society is built upon their creative impulses. Which reaction occurs, depends on many factors: on economic and political ones, and on the spiritual climate in which people live. But whatever the reactions are, the statement that man can live under almost any condition is only half true; it must be supplemented by the other statement, that if he lives under conditions which are contrary to his nature and to the basic requirements for human growth and sanity, he cannot help reacting; he must either deteriorate and perish, or bring about conditions which are more in accordance with his needs.”

There you have it – apathetic stupidity, rage when challenged, and a tiny number of free and independent Wafers. How does one become a Wafer? Are they born or made?

David Rosen

2:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


See Twilight p. 9, quote from E.M. Forster, for an early (1939) anticipation or description of the Wafer phenomenon.


3:00 PM  
Anonymous Politically Incorrect said...

to some degree I can relate to the difficulty anyone who has the challenge of staying afloat financially and otherwise in this culture. The stakes are pretty high... go along to get along or starve! Find a way to fit in with the geeks because after all, they direct this mass of technology we are flooded with and if you don't? well, then there's the high possibility of unemployment, living on the fringe, or worse... As much as the arts and humanities feed one's soul they won't necessarily put food on the table or a roof over one's head, unless you find a wealthy benefactor or a tenure teaching job (neither of which I have had much luck or desired to pursue). One reason I gave up "following my heart" in the arts early on and have just recently returned to drawing and painting after 35 years... was it a right decision.. putting things off? could I have just struggled and made a life of painting pictures nobody much cared about? I look at my endeavor now from my deal with the devil and feel like I have to be satisfied with playing catch-up. The regret of had I had more self confidence and emotional support might I might have circumvented a lot of misery over the years in jobs working for people I would rather have avoided. Working in industry does have it's payoff in providing the necessities and then some - but it's a choice we all have to face... follow your heart or seek security in a cushy job with benefits... I think a lot of people make this choice out of trying to 'be realistic' and regret it 20 or 30 years later... some find that something is missing early on and look outwards onto the world and think what a waste and want to blame someone, anyone but themselves...so 'maybe this 'toy' or 'maybe a trip to some vacation spot will take my mind off things' ... for the most part technology in and of itself is really kind of neutral but we get sucked into thinking it's all there is - having been brought up on it or thinking it's the end all savior of mankind.... Not saying this is Auto's pain or anyone else's but it's certainly something to think about.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Hey Jeff, the bush administration WAS complicit in 9-11. The evidence is irrefutable. I suggest you have a look at the work of Peter Dale Scott, then TRY to refute him. Shoving your head up your bungus doesn't change the facts, my friend.

As for Russ Baker -- he's a first rate investigative journalist. It would be nice if you'd cite specific parts of the book you disagree with rather than simply dismissing it outright. Why would you take the LA Times seriously? Hasn't it occurred to you by now that the establishment utilizes journalists at major outlets like the LATimes to discredit people like Baker?

-- Larry

5:16 PM  
Blogger bowtiejack said...

I'm sure everyone's heard that various collections of dolts are pooling their dimes to buy George Zimmerman a new gun (the government is holding on to his for the nonce).

These are people, who I suspect did not do too well in school, who have managed to construct an American history and theory of political science based entirely on cowboy movies.

If they're going to buy Zimmerman a gun, I hope they also get him the cowboy hat, because he really should have the whole outfit.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I'm definitely opposed to buying GZ a revolver. But I'm very much in favor of getting him an AK-47 and a drone; and getting the rest of the country the same. We need to defend ourselves!

Larry & Jeff-

We've had this come up numerous times b4 on this blog, but I do hafta repeat if from time to time: I'm not interested in discussing 9/11 as a supposed inside job, and for a long list of reasons that I've already posted. There are a large # of blogs devoted to the topic, and that wd be the place to go. Por favor, amigos, do not have that argument out here. Gracias.


That is, of course, a gd pt. From age 14 I worked as a janitor, secretary, bank teller, chauffeur and a few other similar jobs that I've repressed out of memory. And much of academia was a drag as well. I wasn't born rich, so there wasn't much choice, and most are in that position, I'm guessing. So it boils down to how much of yr soul yr willing to pack away, and for how long. But yr rt, few of us get off scott free. The trick is not to kid yrself abt what's going down, and that, I'm happy to say, I never did.


5:58 PM  
Anonymous Percy said...

Hi there, Dr Berman. I read that you majored in the History of Science. What do you think of Thomas Kuhn?


6:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I knew Tom, actually, altho we never spent a lot of time together (he was at Princeton, and I was at Rutgers). But I 1st came across his work as a 1st-yr grad student at Johns Hopkins, when at least 14 courses in the humanities and social sciences had assigned "Structure" to their students (this included things like English lit). The word 'paradigm' itself became a paradigm; it was as tho no one cd think abt anything except in paradigmatic terms--thus oddly proving Tom's pt. There has been a lot of critical analysis of his work since he died in 1996, and even before. I followed it for a while, then lost interest. As a result, I can't really pose as a Kuhn expert. As a paradigm itself, Kuhn's work stimulated a lot of research and reflection, which was all to the gd. But finally, the term became so all-encompassing as to lose definition, and thus utility. That's abt all I can say.


6:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman,

I'm am finishing Twilight... and wish I had more true teachers such as yourself. For now, I'll just read and contemplate what I am reading from everyone here.


7:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for the compliment, and am glad yr enjoying the bk. But in future, do me a favor: I normally don't post Anons, and wd thus ask u to pick a handle. Something like Sam Schmeck, D.D.S., or Cranston Butterworth III. I think you'll enjoy the blog; we have a gd group, and are contemplating instituting an annual weenie roast. Even the morons are fun, occasionally stimulating me to new heights of analysis. Y'all come back now, y'hear?


8:06 PM  
Anonymous al-Qa'bong said...

Hello Dr. B., Wafers, and respected guests:

I teach at a tech. school. A couple of years ago we had a conference/series of workshops about pedagogical concerns for all the school's instructors in my field in the province. The organizers asked for suggestions for workshop topics. I asked that someone give advice on how to deal with racists and homophobes in a productive manner.

Until then my best way of handling such yahoos was, for example, in a particularly disturbing discussion about First Nations people with a bunch of good ol' boys, to ask one guy, "Would you want to be an Indian?"

The guy replied "No," to which I responded, "Then shut up!" I thought there must be more diplomatic ways of getting similar messages across.

The upshot is that not only was my request ignored, but every single workshop had to do with applying technology to the classroom.

I conducted a field trip in London and France over the last couple of weeks to gauge the levels of CRE and techno-buffoonery in Europe. I must report that the English-speaking peoples are doomed.

Whilst riding on the tube and double-decker busses I was dismayed to hear over 50 % of the lone passengers talking to some mysterious devices or thumbing their cell-phones, oblivious to their surroundings. Pedestrians weren't much better. Police actually had to yell at cellphone zombies, "Come on people, keep moving" to get them to cross streets.

That said, I had a couple of nice chats with grocery clerks while buying the evening's victuals in London stores. It wasn't just the usual, "howarya?...havaniceday" that we get in NA.

France was better. There is some zombieism there, but not at the levels I've seen in Canada and England. Moreover, I participated in a couple of lunches that took three or four hours to complete. They still have their traditions on the continent.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Dr. Berman,

Thank you for the essay, appreciated as always. As much as I agree I with you about the danger of bad faith, I think extrapolation from the case of one American to American society as a whole can sometimes be problematic. For instance, you say that "on some level we really do understand it: we blew it; there is no place to go." Here, I think you're in danger of over-generalizing and give Americans way too much credit, many of whom do not on any level realize we are in a state of collapse. You and the readers of this blog might realize America is collapsing, but the vast majority of Americans really do not grasp that, and lack any vision of 'America' in the collective sense, seeing themselves instead primarily as isolated individuals.

Many Americans are totally complacent in their materialistic individualism (like Toys), and seek nothing more than material pleasure and gain, without ever once recognizing, even subconsciously, that the sole pursuit of consumeristic individualism leads to destruction on the collective level.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for the report. Hafta tell u that when I was in Paris 2 yrs ago, I watched people running down the street while texting into their cell fones. And not just a few.


You cd be rt, and I've said as much at various pts: there is no such thing as false consciousness. But I can't help wondering abt the phenomenon of ES, which is very real and very widespread. If all these folks are happy w/their toys, why do they fly off the handle if someone is reading poetry, or doesn't own a cell fone? It's a difficult call...


9:51 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Hackenbush said...

whew.. interesting, but too many comments... MB, don't write any more popular posts, it makes it hard to have little idle side-conversations :-)

Jeff T- I think I can address your comments without detouring into 9/11. #1 (and don't read all this as harsh, I'm just being direct), you contradict yourself- you say Vidal became "ultra right-wing", yet then you say he was making anti-G.W.Bush statements? Doesn't add up to me. #2, as Larry says, you haven't specifically shown where Baker has misrepresented anything. You just use the standard red-flag label "conspiracy theorist" that you've picked up uncritically from news organizations controlled by giant corporations, and declare him an untouchable.

I really am curious though: when I say his book is heavily documented and footnoted, is your assumption that it's all fabricated? Maybe this is an area of "existential strain" for you... but certainly we can "agree to disagree" if it makes you that uncomfortable.

JS Rank, MB- MB as the villain is genius IMO, I'm sorry he'd rather play Rufus T. Firefly... MB, you know you already play a villain (in the eyes of Dolts), when you chortle at the collapse of (ahem) great nations, and say "Whee! O&D!" :-)

Writers are always advised that in the villain's mind, he thinks he's being quite reasonable... :-)

Maybe, it would mirror reality: WAFers would see the "MB" char. as a hero, Dolts would boo and throw (genetically modified) tomatoes at their (giant flat-screen) teevees...

Once more to Jeff T, this strikes me too: Your "on Gore Vidal, I dunno, it's probably.." Listen to yourself: that's a typical rationalization somebody uses to filter out unpleasant data. "Vidal is good but Vidal likes Baker? Does not compute! But I must not re-assess my own thinking and check for accuracy! Instead I will limit the damage to a small % of Vidal, decide he was getting senile, and file this under Dangerous Ideas to Dismiss Out of Hand.."

Dan Henry- Oh, okay. I like this though: "The younger generations are largely just as enamoured with the hustle, but basic biology still drives them on for a while yet."
That cracked me up. Rather dry and dark, ha ha.

9:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This American Life:


9:56 PM  
Anonymous AvengerSentinel said...

You know what I find remarkable Morris? When I was watching "Twilight of American Culture" 2000 book speech on Youtube, you had mentioned wealth inequality....even though wealth inequality back then is diddly squat compared to what it is now.

I have a question though. Pretty much the big question. Are you religious? Do you believe in a God or are you an agnostic?

10:06 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I'm a mystical atheist. I don't believe in god, but I do believe there is such a thing as sacred experience. For further detail, if u really want it:

1. Coming to Our Senses (re-released edition supposedly to appear on Amazon shortly; u can buy a used copy now, however)--on the somatic basis of religious experience
2. Spinning Straw Into Gold (which they keep telling me is abt to be released)


10:17 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Oh, OK; I'll play the villain. It's just that w/a fake moustache, I look just like Groucho Marx. (I do the eyebrow lifting very well.) Freedonia Lives!


10:20 PM  
Anonymous J S RANK said...

@ MB and Hack.
This is how things go.
There you are , wherever that is.

I see this is a Gaulier/Saltykov parody.

Dr. B ...I have alternative character names for your 'evil genius' persona:
Delbert Pumphandle, Curious T. Picklesmoke, Buford Brightpillow, Rumpole Brownwinkle, Merdon Dunbeadle, and Fuller G. Brushwacker.

Pick a handle, and then a predicate: Dr., ... Prof. ,....Generalisimo, ...Leader, ...el Jefe, ...Grupenfeurher...

I'm good with greasepaint. Could make you look sinister and still loveable !

As for a title... we need to shorten it. Four syllables or less.
( My 3 second recognition rule ).
"Misanthropia"...AHhhh, too intellectual.
"Mensaville", only the false liberal smartasses will get it, and never pay to see it while being a critic.

"Saga City"

I leave this for your WAFer interpretations.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Suggest we stick w/tried and true: Conceited Rumpholes.


12:44 AM  
Blogger NearFar said...

Thanks MB. I'm grateful for (and appreciate) the "what the heck" pluckiness & humor of your response. Seems you were invoking what remains in the shadows for too many of us: the creativity & vitality of the "concept." As opposed to how the concept is typically portrayed: a static image on display to be manipulated ("commodified"). Or represented and "employed" & "used" by our faculties (ie., judgement). We're in a world of hurt. We may as well be on a different planet from the ancient Greeks, who I think referred to philosophers as "friends of the concept." But whatever the concept is, maybe it was just beginning to use me, instead of the other way around. Or: maybe not! But I almost missed that, so there you go: what the heck. Btw: I also appreciate yours & D. Rosen's responses a little while back, after I relayed my disgust with all things "Bumni." Anyhow, while thinking abt how (or if) I should respond further, I had my own tiny watershed moment. Long-story-short: my insights (in general) are residing too much in the vertical: objects, light, & the obvious. There are better uses for my time. Not enough urine indeed. (tho I still want to give some of them a "water shed" moment).
Wafers, I'd planned to discuss "crisis cults." I mischaracterized what that is exactly (in my previous post), More research required. Then I'll post. But it's good to see that Melville continues to make an appearance on the blog. Two items then: this remarkable excerpt from ''Typee,'' tho it's posted as a new article at truthdig: "Chris Hedges and Herman Melville Assault the Fruits of Enlightenment"

& this (hope you've read MB's talk "In Praise of Shadows") from 'Moby Dick' (chap. 7: The Chapel):

“Yes, there is death in this business of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot."

1:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


If u just keep in mind that Bunmi Laditan is the voice of a new generation, u can't go wrong. And also that only if we ride on the wings of a cosmic whaling boat can we address the Foucauldian essence of weaponized urine in a post-Utah surveillance state. (I've said too much already.)


1:54 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

Something has been bugging me about 'existential strain' as a concept--existential angst I am familiar with, it is inescapable and has been much covered in literature in the last 50-60 years.
Then I realised that the 'strain' element in its extreme mental manifestation has also been much covered as the concept of 'cognitive dissonance', a term coined by Festinger in the mid 1950's:


Near Far, I think you have nailed the point at which the use of concepts (which are only ever tools for thinking) loses utility on a personal level-- when they become static, accepted images (still immensely useful in belief management imposed from outside, and in any form of overt communication between individuals, for which they are indispensable
Our cartoonist Wafer's will have innately grasped this.)

Any dynamic use of concepts as tools for thought involves the willingness to chuck out the old models--which has its own very real dangers and almost guarantees outcast status in a static social milieu. (Most any social milieu becomes static very quickly, it stabilises-- which is the whole point of the 'social' bit.)

Festinger wrote an accessible book on the subject that is very helpful in understanding such complex mass phenomena:


4:07 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I don't know much abt Festinger, but my understdg of cog dissonance is that it doesn't really go as deep as the personal anxiety involved in ES, wh/puts the entire character on the line. In the examples we've discussed here, crying or raging was involved, because what got evoked was a deep existential shame abt who one finally was. The UFO thing Festinger studied is external to the person, or at least doesn't go as deep as ES. Hence, when the UFO didn't appear, cult members were able to say that the aliens had given the earth a 2nd chance. The word 'cognitive' is fairly cerebral; 'existential' suggests something more global--the entire personality is at stake; some level of grief is triggered, grief abt who one finally is.

But then I'm not that familiar w/cog dissonance, and wonder if there's a blurry line here. How wd Milton Rokeach's "3 Christs of Ypsilanti" fit into this, for example? In my new (1 week till Amazon posting, my publisher tells me) bk, "Spinning Straw Into Gold," I discuss the problem of having a narrative that one is forced to change. Suppose, for example, I have a narrative or mythology abt myself that I am basically a decent person, and then I have a dream in which I beat someone to a pulp because he criticized me. How deep does this dissonance go, and is it existential? For example, I cd say to myself, "Well, after all, it's just a dream; I didn't really do this thing in real life." True enuf; but then a voice might say: "But it's w/in yr capacity; you dreamt it, after all." This may make me uncomfortable, but it probably is more cognitive than existential, because I really didn't attack anyone; how responsible am I for my dreams? Etc.

In the case of having really done it, this wd presumably cause greater problems. I might not be able to reconcile the act w/my narrative abt myself, and this cd lead to serious depression--wh/is more existential than cognitive. I knew an Israeli yrs ago who told me that in the 1973 war, I guess it was, he burst into some house and opened fire, killing a woman and her child. He threw up. He told his sargeant what happened, and the guy said to him, "C'est la guerre." I guess it worked for him, I dunno. In other words, it stayed cognitive; he was able to use this rationalization to keep it from reaching the existential layer. Post WW2, Klaus Barbie was asked if he had any regrets re: murder of the Jews. All he said was, "We could have better used them in work detail, I suppose." This is the true definition of evil, imo: you do genocide but manage to keep it cognitive.

What abt the fact that many or even most Americans react w/rage at the suggestion that the country might be sick or depraved. Nick Turse et al. notwithstdg, we have never come to terms w/Vietnam. It's a hot-button issue, wh/suggests that an American's identification w/the narrative of the US as fundamentally benevolent is not merely cognitive; it's also existential. Wh/means that 'American' has become part of his/her defn of himself, really. Or consider the earlier pt made, that the reaction to ch. 4 of WAF was so angry because to let in any pos info on the antebellum South opens up the fact of our national self-betrayal (the South is the nonhustling 'shadow' of the dominant Northern culture, wh/has also reduced us to slaves, in its own way, etc.). How personal does it get? is the question here. Apparently, entire countries can experience ES: we hide from what we did to the South, which is why yelling "Slavery!" and insisting that this was the cause of the Civil War becomes so important. We continue to hide from the Vietnam experience, and France hid from the experience of Algeria for a very long time. (For a brilliant allegory of this see the film "Sundays and Cybele"; to me, the greatest film ever made.)
(Continued below)

6:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

(Continued from above)

Anyway, I suspect that the divide between cog and existential is a graded one, not B&W; and the divide between the personal and the political may be as well. But all this might be another rich vein of discussion to tap. Thanks for bringing it up. (We may be on the theme of this post for the next 3 yrs, at this rate.)


6:22 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

As we diverge...

I am lost as hell. I cannot keep up with all the esoteric speak because I ain't an intellectual. It isn't any fun anymore except every once in a while. Too bad for me. I will be fine. I will continue to try to decipher every comment though because I staunchly believe in Waferism. (It is impossible to read every juicy book recommended but, I am, ordering some Keats. BTW, WAF is out on big A. WTF. My son needs a copy.)

On to Ireland, anyway, to meet some of u characters!

BTW, did anyone see the great Cornel West on Miss Amy's program! He killed it. He (Jesus) nailed it. (I am a (c)hristian Atheist). He is MLK, Jr., re-born! Way mo better than the one white hope in Jimma Carter.

BTW. Gore Vidal did not embrace the right wing.

P.S. Would anyone like to be black? Is there a black Wafer yet?

8:06 AM  
Anonymous samuelina Schmuckless, a reader in Finland said...

Ah, the plot keeps thickening. I have always wondered about the brittleness that one senses in americans. No rocking of the boat, the pressure to conform is quite extreme compared to many other places. What Dr B is saying makes sense: there's that history (civil war/vietnam). Have not elsewhere seen this expressed so clearly. Have to say the adventures of american empire are somewhat dull fodder from this distance - so maybe there's much insight I am not aware of. But it is obvious that the whole world gets to enjoy the fruits of this dysfunction.
Concerning the fearfulness: this quote is snatched from the web page of a channeler:
"Why of course the people don't want war ... But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship ... Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."
Hermann Göring, Nazi leader, at the Nürnberg Trials after World War II

Seems like everything's progressing along this songbook in the us. Elsewhere it does not seem quite as smooth. But that's hardly a comfort. Still, I see spotting existential strain as a postive development. To change, one has to see what one wants to change. And concerning transition from fake into authentic: y'all know V for Vendetta? The graphic novel? The movie is passable, too. An attempt at outlining what kind of pain it takes to change one's mind.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Politically Incorrect,

Like you, both my wife & I made similar deals with the devil. For me, it was just going to be a few years, save some money, etc. -- and of course it turned into 1/4 of a century. I kept doing some sort of creative work, though never with the drive & hunger I had as a young man. And I feel that I did let too much slip through my fingers due to fear & lack of confidence. At least my job enabled me to meet my wonderful wife!


I think while the majority may not be consciously aware of their own emptiness, that's because so much of their life energy goes into keeping it that way. I think on some level deep down inside, they know they made one deal with the devil too many, sold their souls for a cellphone or whatever. In fact, they're so desperately trying to avoid that self-knowledge, that it causes the existential strain: what might seem like an insignificant comment or moment is often enough to puncture their incredibly frail self-delusion, and the terror of it results in a bolt of raw anger & even violence.

I also think that as their self-delusion frays more & more, they'll defend it with that much more intensity & desperation. As Morris has stated, America has never come to terms with Vietnam; if anything, the denial has grown over the decades, resulting in the public beatification of the military today. Everyone is expected to continually praise "our heroes" & never ever once question the policies they're serving, much less what atrocities they're committing. Just as every politician must wear the flag lapel pin, proclaim America "the greatest country on earth" & so forth.

Seems to me it's rapidly approaching the breaking point.

9:42 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, I wdn't worry too much abt following these discussions. As long as you grasp the importance of Bunmi Laditan for weaponized urine, you'll be all rt. As for WAF, my agent is still trying to find a publisher for the pb edn, but in the meantime you can get another copy used off of Amazon. And rest assured, the blog welcomes Wafers of all colors, religions, creeds, races, and ethnic groups. To Ireland, muchachos! Erin go bragh!


10:55 AM  
Anonymous Mike Daniel said...

Great discussion A couple of things
Have a look at Dr. Gabor Mate on youtube-Who We Are When We Are Not Addicted:The Possible Human for an interesting perspective on existential strain. I'm reading Stephen Cope's "The Great Work of Your Life" within it he describes a flow from something a person might find unpleasant or a cognitive dissonance which then flows to avoidance then to aversion to fear, then to hatred finally to aggression. Pretty much anywhere along this progression cognitive dissonance can be repressed into the unconscious where it can hook onto emotional issues and just keep rolling along. This example could be applied to a group such as a significant portion of the US population which then produces reactions like right wing militias who hate and kill, neoliberal killers like Obama who rationalize everything in a one sided way, etc.

Consider then that our psychological separation from nature as in a cognitive dissonance might lead to some unwanted consequences.

I have spent 30 years now working with my dreams. Not my egoic dreams but the ones we can remember from sleep. Consider that if we are separated from nature then if we can't consciously connect at a deep level with nature then nature may contact us through our dreams. So now along with interpretation of my dreams I engage with them as a message from a deeper place that is asking something of me, something of my essence in a creative way to give to the world. This is somewhat along the lines of Mathew Fox's Original Blessing rather than Original Sin.
Mike Daniel

11:25 AM  
Anonymous k_pgh said...

I like the title of this local article:

    Phones, social media posts make us afraid we’re missing out on something

Personally, I think the title is more revealing than the article itself, but there are still some interesting data and tidbits interspersed among the usual banalities.


1:22 PM  
Blogger Jeff T said...

Greetings Dr. Berman and Wafers,

Dr. Hackenbush-

I can see where you think I'm contradicting myself, so let me explain and defend my position:

1. Gore Vidal's support of Timothy McVeigh, his description of him as "heroic" and comparing him to a modern-day Paul Revere, for example, was extremely irresponsible. After all, McVeigh was tried and executed for killing 168 people in the name of anti-government freedom. I'm sure right-wing militias, gun fanatics, and anti-government types didn't have a problem with Vidal's rhetoric or description. I did. It made me question Vidal's sanity, credibility, and his support of the left. Even if his intention was something totally different, it still made me do a double take. If he was a man of the left, he sure had a bizarre way of showing it. This is what I mean by his embrace of right-wing causes.
2. Of course, Vidal's endorsement of Russ Baker's book, "Family of Secrets," is a reality and the book does attack the right, specifically the Bush family. This much is clear.
3. However, I largely have to take Vidal's support of the book with a grain of salt, because the claims that Baker's book makes are ludicrous and unreasonable. I know enough about it, it's so-called research, not to take it seriously, nor waste my time reading it. I'm surprised you can't see through this as well.
4. This is not an example of any, as you say, "existential strain" on my part not to discuss the book with you. It's an example of adhering to rational thinking and being polite in the face of sheer nonsense.
5. Baker's use of innuendo, speculation, provocative suspicion, and mere insinuation and suggestion of things; what you see as well-documented research, do not add up to, or constitute solid proof about anything or anybody. The conclusions that Baker draws from his questionable research, are quite simply, ridiculous: the Bush family behind practically every nefarious plot in recent history; connected with JFK assassination plots; Bob Woodward as intelligence agent in a coup to remove Nixon; John Dean as co-conspirator. I can tell you this, I have met John Dean(a guest of my professor in a graduate-level history course on Watergate), and I can assure you he wasn't working for "Poppy." Jesus, if the discipline of history was this easy, I would be out of a job and all I would need is Baker's Grand narrative.
6. Lastly, you, as well as Larry, draw the wrong conclusions from my providing you a review of this drivel: Instead of being grateful for it, you think it's all part of a continuing conspiracy against Baker! I suggest you read something of credible value about how easily one can gravitate toward conspiratorial thinking. For starters, try Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." If you can't find the time to read it outright, it's been peer reviewed in American Historical Scholarly Journals. This is certainly more than I can say about Baker's creative mythology.


1:25 PM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...

Jeff T,

Much conventional wisdom. I suspect Gore Vidal and H.L Mencken would have liked Snowden and Manning--would that be irresponsible?

Both Vidal and Mencken liked anarchists and revolutionaries and were independent and like many of the best thinkers from Plato, to Hume, Montaigne, Augustine, Maimonedes, Spinoza and many more did not use scholastic notions or peer review to advance ideas. Blowing up a government building is nasty business as is killing people but guess what--that tends to be the job description of revolutionaries. The American (and fill in here others) revolutionaires did commit violence condemned by status quo.

Rationality is what got is in mess we are in now. Peer Review process in history is just old farts keeping lid on status qou and approving narrative. If a interesting or useful idea has emerged from academic humanities or history in last 50 years word of it has failed to get out.

Seriously such confining notions of approved ideas and the approved process of communicating would be at home in the old soviet union--must have seal of committee approval!

Am former academic (at a top school even) and have a sense of this. vidal upsetting your sensibiliites (or that of many others) is not the same as being irresponsible.....

2:05 PM  
Blogger Robo said...

Reporting here from your old upstate NY hometown. Thanks for this new shorthand for the troubled expression I see on almost every face in the Wegmans supermarket. Existential strain. Although forsaken Kodakers still pretend they will be able to retire from their downsized replacement job, the illusion of the good life is really starting to shimmer and flicker around here. Trees and weeds grow in the highway medians, empty houses slowly become obvious on suburban streets and rusted minivans rattle along with plastic headlights dull and yellowed, driven well past their expiration dates. The cheapest brand of engine oil for a do-it-yourself oil change costs $5 a quart. Some people must be coming to the understanding that they will never be able to afford a new automobile, or maybe any automobile, ever again.

Bankruptcy has become a perfectly acceptable bailout strategy for all, but it’s a dead end in a shrinking economy. This year Detroit, next year Rochester? I hear brave talk of Kodak’s emergence from Chapter 11, but there’s no enthusiasm in that discussion. Xerox pretends there’s a future in ‘business services’ as they exit the moribund copier business. We all pretend that the partially demolished skeleton of the Midtown office tower will be rebuilt into luxury condos, the vacant shell of Irondequoit Mall will be repopulated with high-end stores and the high-school graduation rate for young males in the city will climb above 19%.

Last night I saw Cornel West interviewed by Amy Goodman. Brother Cornel is a genuine 20th century liberal intellectual, but unlike most of that old-fashioned breed he is not shy about speaking his mind in the most colorful and entertaining language. He was coming down pretty hard on Brother Obama, describing the various ways in which the President, his Attorney General and various civil rights leaders are all captive house negroes on the ‘plantation’ of the corporate military-industrial state. It struck me that slaves come in all colors and most Americans are stuck on the same plantation.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century Africans found themselves suddenly transported into captivity in America, and their traditional cultural and family structures have never recovered from that existential strain. Likewise the growing population of discarded corporate slaves in the United States will probably never recover from their permanent dislocation from the comfortable and familiar consumer world they’ve inhabited for generations ... a world that has suddenly become too small and exclusive to accomodate them.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mike D.-

That Mate lecture is 1st-rate; I cdn't find a thing to disagree with.


Last 50 yrs have, in fact, been quite rich academically, esp. in humanities and history. I draw on a lot of these folks in my own work. Not just the ldg lights, either, such as Foucault or Habermas or Gadamer etc., but there are also tons of 'non-stars' in academia that have written marvellous, ground-breaking work: C. Vann Woodward, Jackson Lears, Mark Lilla, E.R. Dodds...whew!


2:19 PM  
Anonymous Smith said...

Berman, if I may play devil's advocate for a second, I think it's possible to criticize the South without hiding with the North did to it.

I, for example, learned a great deal from you about what the North did to the South.

But in my opinion, the two sins don't "cancel each other out."

Maybe slavery's been used as a pretext, but the fact still remains that the South dominated black people, and then complained when it in turn was dominated by the North.

Complaining about bad behavior you're doing, when it's done TO you, is exactly the sort of myopia we don't want to encourage.

I also don't believe that I am simply experiencing "existential strain" if I disagree with you about whether or not slavery was important.

Can't both be true? Can't it be true that the North dominated the South, AND SIMULTANEOUSLY the South was hiding from its OWN domination problems?

2:36 PM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

I listened to the Mate lecture. He is very smart and wise, but hoo boy, did he drop in my esteem when he quoted Eckhart Tolle. Yikes!

2:46 PM  
Blogger Sarasvati said...

Dr. B,

A previous comment about seeing yourself in hell brought to mind one of my favorite GBS plays, “Man and Superman,” and the dream segment, Don Juan in Hell:
Ana: “…Can I go to heaven if I want to?”
The Devil: “Certainly, if your taste lies that way.”
Ana: “But why doesn’t everybody go to Heaven, then?”
The Statue: “I can tell you that, my dear. It’s because heaven is the most angelically dull place in all creation: that’s why.”
The Devil: “…..the strain of living in heaven is intolerable. There is a notion that I was turned out of it; but as a matter of fact nothing could have induced me to stay there. I simply left it and organized this place.…it takes all sorts to make a universe; there is no accounting for tastes…..”
Ana: “Father: I shall expect you to come with me (to heaven). You cannot stay here. What will people say?”
The Statue: “People! Why all the best people are here….”

So you’ll be in good company! And although I won’t get to meet you in Ireland, I’m sure to meet you in hell one of these days. Your “Strain Theory,” however, is a good bet to be immortal.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, Tolle is a douche bag, for sure. Of course, Mate is not talking abt the larger world, but how to deal w/one's own internal dramas. A shift in consciousness won't stop the drones, obviously. So I guess he feels free to draw on the "change yr mind and you'll change the world" school, wh/I certainly don't buy into. I call my new book (SSIG) The Anti-Oprah Spiritual Guidance Bk. Her promotion of "The Secret," Tolle, and all that sort of New Age dreck fits in well w/the neoliberal economy (see Janice Peck).


Not sure where yr coming from. I never said two sins cancelled each other out, or that slavery was unimportant, or that the South gets a free pass. You sound like most of the misguided reviews on Amazon. r.u. sure u read the book? I'm wondering, however, if we cd finally put this topic to rest. I know I raised ch. 4 recently as an example in another context, but quite honestly, it's exhausting to go over the same territory again and again and not be able to get thru to folks like yrself, to be repeatedly misread (or not read) and misunderstood, and to hafta read straw man arguments that are indeed, it seems to me, the product of ES. Thank you.


Poor Rochester. It was always a nothing town, and now it's headed for below-zero status, I imagine. As for West and Obama: Harry Belafonte was fond of saying that in the antebellum South, there were the Negroes that worked in the field, and then there were the 'house Negroes' who made it inside--the ones who agreed to support the Man and his interests. I can't recall if he mentioned Colin and Condi by name--maybe--but Barack sure fits the description.


3:23 PM  
Blogger LittleBrother said...


I enjoyed the “Man and Superman” excerpt.

You may know that Mark Twain expressed The Statue's position more succinctly, to wit:

"Heaven for climate; Hell for society."

4:01 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sorry not to publish your comment, but I feel we need to put this behind us now. This is not a blog for discussing the nature of the blog, and I don't want to get bogged down in that. Yr rt: I feel that what Capo had to say was rt on target, and that there was nothing wrong w/it. Happily, Auto has gone his own way, is not bombarding the blog anymore, and I honestly wish him a full and happy life. But we've gone way past all that, as you can see from the discussion over the last few days, and need to concentrate on things more interesting than was Capo condescending or whatever. I'm tired of all that; it's boring; and as I said, this is not a blog about a blog. My apologies if u can't live with my style or whatever (or Capo's), but I think we're doing just fine, don't need to rehash the interactions (I answered Fern abt it to the best of my ability), and move on.

Hope u understand.


7:11 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Jeff said, "I know enough about [Russ Baker's work], it's so-called research, not to take it seriously, nor waste my time reading it."

You need to read the book before you can say that you understand the research, Jeff. Once you've read it, if you still take issue with the book, then you should point specifically to the parts that you disagree with and provide reasons for why.

-- Larry

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Captain Spaulding said...

Alternet is getting on the Wafer bandwagon:


8:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Curfuzzled gave us this, about how nasty Americans are:


Now there's yours, abt how dumb they are.

Will u tell me what it's going to take to wake 'progressives' up?


8:48 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Dr Berman,

I become really obsessed with this blog every few weeks or so. Before I drift off again, I thought it might be fun to offer to send you a Google Glass.

9:52 PM  
Anonymous cubeangel said...

Dr. B


I think this article is spot on. People in America vote in the people who are against their own interests. To add to this, I believe it is also because Americans want to be the elite.

The left assumes that Americans are brainwashed and with the right logic Americans will turn around. This is not so. Americans are not against the elite they want to become the elite and even better than the lead.

Look at the slogans like "Always exceed the standard."

9:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, chico, u got that rt: an accurate but depressing article.


Champagne glass wd be much better, thanx.


11:26 PM  
Anonymous J S RANK said...

@ MB ..."Conceited Rumpholes" it is !

Concerning the Mate address: many similar themes re: WAF. More focus on the individual, and the 'difficulties' and 'problems' that lead to alienation or feeling of alienation from society.
WAFers may see that it is the corrupt and gamed 'society' ( more of a group psychosis )that creates the difficulties...a dynamic that is impossible to live happily under without submitting to the insanity of the status seekers.

I was reminded of some of Grandfather's comments in "Little Big Man" ...
"Human Beings beleive evrything is alive....
White men believe everything is dead, even their own people".
"A world without Human Beings has no center to it".

As for 'waking the progressives up" ...it's an enigma.
Most are as convinced of their intellectual superiority as conservatives are certain of their moral superiority.

Pancho Sanza, here we come !

1:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Keep in mind that Conceited Rumpholes Are Pathetic (CRAP). Another bumper sticker, perhaps.


2:10 AM  
Blogger Zosima said...

“Steiner’s argument was that starting with Christ, the Jews repeatedly issued these existential challenges to the Christian world, challenges they simply couldn’t live up to, but felt they should (e.g., Christ’s injunction to love your enemies—keep in mind that the guy was Jewish). Over the centuries, says Steiner, enormous resentment built up toward the Jews on the part of Christian Europe, which suffered from the existential strain of their inadequacy. The result was the wanton, wholesale murder of the Jews during World War II—a revenge killing, in other words.”

This sounds like a misunderstanding of Christianity, esp the US brand. Ethics (“do unto others...”) don’t matter at all, all that matters is belief. US fundamentalists either ignore or completely change Jesus’ ethics, so that there is no ethical challenge, the only challenge is to be rich -- just like Jesus. Remember, “Jesus Ceo”, I saw a new title today, “The Millionaire from Nazareth: His Prosperity Secrets for You!” Basically, he was just the Warren Buffett of his day, who also happened to be the creator of the universe. Also, Jews needn’t worry because the list of groups these people hate is a long one, that includes essentially everyone on the planet who doesn’t believe the way they do (and the poor and blacks for their failure to be prosperous like Jesus was). Plus, all any Jew has to do to deflect any hostility from these maniacs is to say the magic words: “I support the State of Israel.” On anyone’s list of reasons for America’s pathological behavior, fundamentalist Christianity should be very close to the top. I can think of no other western country with this crippling feature as so prominent a part of its makeup. One problem may be that many intellectually may not have spent much time outside the NE corridor or liberal west coast cities and therefore may not realize how awash the rest of the country is in it.

Btw. Can anyone think of any other sacred text (New Testament) that singles out one ethnic group as being solely responsible for both rejecting God walking in their midst, and then killing him? I’d say that’s something that’s inevitably going to have some serious consequences if said sacred text ever became popular, wouldn’t you? There’s your foundation for the holocaust right there, no fancy psychological theories needed. What’s really sick is that the NT was written by Jews, and so they bear responsibility for planting this vile idea in people’s minds, for creating the idea that led to their slaughter. I’ve come to the conclusion that the Christian cult was a horrible mistake from its inception.

3:15 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

Dr B,
I haven’t read the 3 Christs of Ypsilon so cannot comment on how the theory of cognitive dissonance fits with it. I did find an intriguing review and particularly appreciated the last paragraph regarding the 4 madmen in the asylum:


Rokeach had no success with his subjects but Milton Erikson reported a similar tale of 2 Christs in his teaching stories where one of the subjects managed to slowly divest himself of his ‘psychotic identification’ first through a mirroring technique (realising that the other Christ is crazy so he himself must be crazy too) and then by a tortuous process of understanding that, as Korzybski put it, the map is not the territory. Perhaps the poor chap had a developmental problem rather than a ‘psychotic identification’ (whatever that means) but who will ever know for sure? Erikson was renowned for his ability to work within the very diverse realities that his patients presented for a pragmatic result.
My own developmental kink is stalled at the level of realising that the other fellow is innately crazy so it logically follows that I must be also. I find I can live with that with some equanimity. Camus’s essay ’The Myth of Sisyphus’ suggests that this particular observation on the human condition has an antique pedigree, but he still insists, and I agree, that there is an imperative to persevere in the face of such absurdity.


Regretfully, I’m passing on the rest of your response, way too much hot-button emotion swirling there for an alien outsider like me to attempt to discuss in such a restricted medium.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Add this charmer to the Plenty More Where He Came From Department:


Wonder how many other Americans believe they're living in an action movie? Or want to be?

Seriously, this is undoubtedly how an increasing number of people will react to the collapse; too many are doing so right now. Awash in stupidity indeed.


Really eager to read Spinning Straw Into Gold. It's fascinating (and depressing) to realize how many attempts at a "new consciousness" over the decades have all turned into money-making self-delusion. I can accept that a change of one's outlook (or more properly worldview) can help an individual survive in this culture, that you have to stake out your own psychological free zone so to speak. But this whole "your thoughts can change your reality" business--!

I knew someone at work who believed exactly that, blaming all his difficulties (genetic health problems, poor pay, etc.) on himself. He beat himself up constantly for not being "good enough" to change his life for the better, unable or unwilling to see that his superiors were deliberately screwing him over, along with others in their office. No, he just had to focus his will all the more, and everything would turn out OK. It was sad, even painful to see; but eventually it was just frustrating & infuriating. And he's not the only one I've encountered.

I'm suddenly remembering Wally's comment about all those people buying self-help books being so pathetic in My Dinner With Andre.

Meanwhile, this stalwart of higher education wants to exorcise Howard Zinn from the curriculum:


Or, to paraphrase Reverend Lovejoy, "Bad historian, I condemn thee to Hell!"

9:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, this (SSIG) is one self-help bk that ain't gonna make a lot of $. I figure 20 Wafers will buy it, and that's abt it. Oprah's got the 'right' formula; I don't. But her version of reality has got 315 million dolts all agog. As 'Liz Lemon' (Tina Fey) once says on '30 Rock', "I don't have a religion; I just do whatever Oprah tells me."


Well, u might wanna give Steiner a whirl; it's one of the great texts of the 20thC.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, this (SSIG) is one self-help bk that ain't gonna make a lot of $. I figure 20 Wafers will buy it, and that's abt it. Oprah's got the 'right' formula; I don't. But her version of reality has got 315 million dolts all agog. As 'Liz Lemon' (Tina Fey) once says on '30 Rock', "I don't have a religion; I just do whatever Oprah tells me."


Well, u might wanna give Steiner a whirl; it's one of the great texts of the 20thC.


9:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: ellen: understood. Lots to think abt. Do try to get a hold of "Dimanche et Cybele," however--I've seen it 6 times.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous cubeangel said...


Here is another yahoo article that captures the essence of how screwed up America is.

Mr. Lukeman

you said you're an introvert so you may like this one.

In the future, I predict that being an introvert will be considered a mental disorder at the rate things are going.

Dr. B

You're right, the show is over. The fat lady has sung. I think I'll share some of that Champagne with you.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


"Quiet," by Susan Cain.


10:10 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

Here is Sundays and Cybele:


10:29 AM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...

From the economists corner a few things to validate the Wafer ideas on the economic plane.

As for the net worth of the people in the middle (the median) among 100 countries the U.S. is number 27 at a whopping 38k. the much maligned Italians tote in at 112k and the good time Aussies a whopping198k. Even the Spaniards are at 50k. These are the numbers for people at the 505 percentile. Advance Australia Fair!

On an even more somber read my old mentor Robert Gordon's work is reviewed quite well and accessible to non economists. Nice conclusion--its easier for poor Mexicans to get by in Mexico than the U.S.!
Call me presumptuous this is todays must read: http://www.readability.com/read?url=http%3A//nymag.com/news/features/economic-growth-2013-7/%3Fmid%3Dlongreads

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

You are right. After the Boston bombing Senator Dan Coates said teachers need to be on the lookout for students who are loners. Needless to say, Senator Coates is not aware of the various learning styles students exhibit in the course of their academic career one being intrapersonal; that is, students who do best when left alone.

1:10 PM  
Anonymous James Newlin said...

" I was a miserable failure in college, yet I find I'm able to learn advanced topics in mathematics and computer science using free online courseware"..."But for me, the classroom was always a miserable and useless experience"

Most of the time I spent learning in college was not in the classroom. The classroom was something where after thinking about ideas alone, discussing with other students outside of class, we would discuss with a professor in a larger setting. I'm not sure how MOOCs do this, since this dialogue is missing. I also had the chance to have 1-on-1 discussions with professors during their office hours. I don't see how discussing ideas with an expert in person could be considered miserable and useless. Maybe a hard time with being punctual? Fear of social situations? Embarrassment? Bad professors?

MOOCs and a university education shouldn't be compared, except that you're learning something. I think it's like comparing ebooks to hard copies; they're different, and one will never replace the other.

MOOCs seem like a way for colleges to make money and issue certificates to students, that may or may not have value. What's to keep corporations from partnering with a MOOC provider to create a certificate to pass the cost of what used to be on-the-job training from the employer, to the employee? This way the universities, banks, and corporations profit, at the expense of the student. I'm concerned where MOOCs may lead.

I think all this leads to the question of why people want to participate in MOOCs. Is it for personal growth? Is the end goal of education for most people just to make more money? Is it because you think ivy league professors are better than other professors? I think it's money that brings so many people to college, and it's money that's driving the development of MOOCs.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Not quite in line with the current responses but I do want to mention that I read this past week end John Gray's "The Silence of Animals" which MB had mentioned not long ago, and I agree that WAFers would find his thoughts and writing worthwhile. But the book almost seemed like a collection of notes and quotations from others taken in preparation for a longer discourse---some of the others, such as Malaperte, I had not heard of before, and plan to read them on my own. Gray is very good at being short and sharp with the fallacies of both neoliberalism and progressivism. I am not entirely at home with the type of individualism (if that is what indeed it is) he seems to be proposing at the end of his book Kierkegaard in his faith and Spinoza in his rationalism strike me as more profound than Gray in his scepticism--but this may be not so much Gray's fault, and the book more a mirror of out times than of the man himself. He likes to set off fireworks, and they are brilliant, but do not go that far into the dark. But also to his credit--no bromides.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I was writing a friend in VT recently abt how there were limits to blaming the elite or the govt, since the 99% were pretty much angry, stupid, and out of it. His reply:

"It [the leadership] is our reflection in the mirror, isn't it. I remember somewhere in the Cantos where Pound says, "don't look at the leaders to see if the people are happy; look at the people first." In so many words. A short walk [around this town] would show you just how well our leaders are doing; you've never seen such hopeless lives, and so many obese people who have given up on everything but starch and sugar and cigarettes and whatever booze they can afford."

R.I.P., everywhere u look.


2:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: I remember when I was a freshman in college, studying Russian, among other things. The course was really intense; 6 mos. into it we were able to read Pravda, almost w/o a dictionary. The problem: Pravda was boring as shit! Every day the headline was some variation on the following: "Millions enslaved by capitalism." Jesus, I thought, get a life. But now, I think it wd probably be OK if the daily headline of any major American newspaper was, "Millions have heads wedged in rumps." This I don't find particularly boring. To quote Gore Vidal (Toronto Globe & Mail, 9-10 June 2006), "Stupidity excites me."


3:03 PM  
Blogger jml said...

While listening to Mate's talk, the quote that you (MB) included in your most recent media ecology talk about American culture being an experiment in the deprivation of what humans crave most kept coming to mind. This seems to be the cause of addiction.

After the talk I went to Mate's website where I found this quote:

“I believe that to pursue the American Dream is not only futile but self-destructive because ultimately it destroys everything and everyone involved with it. By definition it must, because it nurtures everything except those things that are important: integrity, ethics, truth, our very heart and soul. Why? The reason is simple: because Life/life is about giving, not getting.”
- Hubert Selby, Jr., Requiem for a Dream (Preface, 2000)

This all seems to be related to the recent medical study that shows that Americans are extremely unhealthy and live shorter lives despite spending so much on "healthcare."

3:46 PM  
Blogger Jeff T said...

Good day Dr. Berman and Wafers,

Capo Regime-

You said, "Much conventional wisdom" at the head of your comments. It's a bit unclear, but I assume you're directing that phrase to me. So, here are a few points about your points:

1. You're right, Vidal would have liked Snowden and Manning, I like them as well, however, I didn't like Tim McVeigh. What's that got to do with anything? Placing a McVeigh in the same category as Snowden and Manning, and calling them all revolutionaries, is a bit like placing bin Laden in a category with Daniel Ellsberg. Perhaps you disagree, but there are limitations to conventional wisdom in the face of murder, no?
2. Sure, many great and insightful works of history have not been peer reviewed in professional journals. Dr. Berman's WAF is a perfect example, and what a great tragedy that is, really. My point, again, would be that his work is based on solid historical sources and real evidence. It doesn't rely on erroneous and absurd conspiracy theories. Do you see Russ Baker cited anywhere in there?
3. If you want to blame reason for the mess that we are in, be my guest. I would only argue that you can't dismiss it entirely. Are you ready to turn the academy over to the postmodernists, Bunmi, and the Christian fundamentalists? Albeit, I'll take the postmodernists over the latter two anyday!
4. The reason the academy exists, in the field of history at least, is to keep untruth masquerading as truth at bay, or to remove that shit altogether. I'm in big favor of that.
5. Lastly, some ideas and arguments are better than others based on a level of quality, truth, and hierarchy. Shouldn't we be giving a seal of approval to some ideas over other ideas? It seems to me that this is a key part in the pursuit of being a NMI.


You're right. In most cases, you read a book, evaluate its evidence and conclusions, then formulate an opinion. In this case, however, it wasn't necessary for all of the reasons I gave in my response to Hack. With all due respect, I'm gonna move on...


4:14 PM  
Blogger Paul Brodsky said...

MB, just out of curiosity, can you still speak Russian or is it now just a remnant of your college years? I love the Russian language, having rediscovered my hunger for Gogol and Dostoevsky in recent years (and since I left the US).

4:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Problem is, I have this sinking feeling that Bunmi is the future. Not u, or me, or Capo, but Bunmi. Just think abt that for a moment. You know how people usta say, "Yes, the New Yorker"? Well, in 5-10 yrs they'll be saying, "Yes, Bunmi."


4:38 PM  
Anonymous 21st Century Poet said...

Aloha WAFers ~

Looks like shep just beat me to the punch, but here is a link to my blog post of Les Dimanches de Ville d'avray / Sundays And Cybele:

Sundays And Cybele

I'm listing it because I also included a link to MB's books and the Thom Hartmann interview.

MB: I have about 100 regular followers on my blog, so I thought I would take the opportunity to plug your books. If you'd like me to include any other info or links just let me know.

By the way, I'm not trying to promote my blog (I make no money from it and post for myself and a few friends). Because of the way wordpress works, it seems a few more people than I expected want to know what I'm posting, so I thought why not try to get a few more MB readers on the bandwagon...

Also, I think many on this list will find other posts of interest if they peruse my blog. For example, samuelina Schmuckless mentioned "V for Vendetta" here not too long after I posted a movie and interviews of Alan Moore.

Alan Moore

MB - I usually tend toward academics, but I think you will find Moore a compelling character. He is an auto-didact and creative human of the first order. He has woven a worldview that connects (or rather re-connects) science, history, magic, and creativity. I think his (underground) pop culture cache has enabled him to promote ways of seeing and a common humanity to many who would never otherwise have come across a subversive weltanschauung such as his...

Speaking of which, do you ever miss Evergreen and Ramparts? I would love to create something like a fusion of the two for the 21st Century. Maybe I'm out of the loop, but I don't see anything them these days. I think Grove and other presses of the time made up what I refer to as the last golden age of publishing.

On a related note: didn't you mention once you were going to work with a printer in Portland? How is that going?

~ Cheers All

4:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Mostly a remnant, tho I can speak a broken Russian if I have to; wh/ did happen last yr in Japan, oddly enuf.


5:41 PM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

MOOCs: in terms of both the job market and the life of the mind, higher ed in Amer is now a scam. Many econ elements are going to or coming from overseas (cheaper) so why educate Americans for a diminishing job market? And intellectually, forget it.

Higher ed knows the gig is up. Like many institutions, it's cashing in by cannibalizing itself. It is divesting itself of its mission & putting all its chips on $ports & "affordable online courses," raking in the last pennies of a futureless populace.

Academic programs will be no more than online diploma mills functioning as subsidiaries of publicly subsidized super-duper coliseums, trying to be as important as the concessions. If u don't think this is every State U in 10 yrs, u're an optimist.

You know that moment when u're observing a fatal disaster in progress, that terrible moment when u realize "those ppl are going to die" b/c it's impossible to do anything to save them? That moment of letting them go & letting urself go into fate? That's what seeing the demise of the US Pequod feels like to me: there goes higher ed, into the vortex.

(The Pequod metaphor is from WAF Ch 5.)

Want a hot dog & a Big Gulp w/ yr undergrad diploma, ma'am?

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


After 70 CE the Jews of Palestine were ‘insurgents’ against Rome. So to thrive in the Roman Empire, gospel writers had to change Jesus from a rebel against Rome who was executed (along with many others) by the Romans, into an enemy of the Jewish religion who was killed by Jews.

Talk about minds twisted like pretzels – Christians treating the Crucifixion as something that shouldn’t have happened!

Other amazing mind twisting is described by Christopher R. Browning in his book, “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.” It’s about German policemen who participated in mass shootings of Polish Jews, and who were interrogated after the war:

“In addition to the easy rationalization that not taking part in the shooting was not going to alter the fate of the Jews in any case, the policemen developed other justifications for their behavior. Perhaps the most astonishing rationalization of all was that of a thirty-five-year-old metalworker from Bremerhaven:

‘I made the effort, and it was possible for me, to shoot only children. It so happened that the mothers led the children by the hand. My neighbor then shot the mother and I shot the child that belonged to her, because I reasoned with myself that after all that without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live without their mothers.’

"The full weight of this statement, and the significance of the word choice of the former policeman, cannot be fully appreciated unless one knows that the German word for ‘release’ (erlösen) also means to ‘redeem’ or ‘save’ when used in a religious sense. The one who ‘releases is the Erlöser – the Savior or Redeemer!”

Go figure.

David Rosen

6:42 PM  
Anonymous joe hohos said...

James Newlin,

There are quite a few life circumstances where you want to go to school, but do not have a way to get to class, single parent, older w/ a job and children etc., so you still try to get an "education" through online school. Is it the best option? No. Is it one way for some people to get an education who otherwise wouldn't? Yes.


"Affordable online education"? Where do you get that from. I go to a low-budget state university online and pay a little over double what I would pay if I was on campus.

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Hackenbush said...

Jeff T- I don't think it's fair to lay out a whole list of numbered views that people will want to discuss, and then say you want to move on. Especially since they open up broader topics such as how to evaluate sources.

Even if you don't wish to engage, your comments raise questions for me that others can respond to as well. To begin with, I never studied McVeigh, but I do remember reading a slim late book of Vidal's where he described his admiration for him. IIRC Vidal was impressed with McVeigh's writing. I cannot remember if Vidal accepted the media's narrative about what happened in Oklahoma ("consp. theories" abound!) but just as you rely on trusted sources to judge Baker's book without reading it, well, Vidal's testimony is good enough for me to consider the possibility that there may be more to McVeigh than one who relied on the US media alone would suspect (and really, given that the media's world is usually one where black is white, up is down, etc., and is basically one of propaganda and psychological warfare, I'm inclined to suspect on that basis alone that anyone they demonize may or may not bear any resemblance to their televised portrait.)

On the issue of sources and drawing conclusions from them, Baker's technique in "Family of Secrets" is actually to play his cards very conservatively. Rather than speculating wildly, he sticks tightly to documented facts, but the facts _in themselves_ are so mind-bending that the reader cannot help imagining (in the absence of the subjects of the investigation suggesting any alternative interpretations that don't stretch plausibility) that they indicate skullduggery. It is not unheard of, you know, for powerful people to engage in skullduggery.

One thing I would ask Jeff T or any who agree with him is, how much trust and/or skepticism do you give media sources; and likewise, academic scholarship? Are these institutions truly intellectually independent? Are there not various mechanisms that enforce conformity within certain boundaries? (This is not to suggest they don't do any valuable work, just that there are limits beyond which they cannot go.)

9:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Can't remember if I already mentioned this:


10:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This American Life:


11:33 PM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...

Dr. Hackenbush,

Very keen observations. As an assistant professor starting out one of the experienced full professors told me that if I did not want certain people to peer review my work to merely "thank them" in the manuscript submitted to the journal and thus the editor would exclude them from being reviewers (thus insuring people hostile to my approach or views would not review the paper--got a lot of pubs that way! The other thing was that editors would always take papers from the higher ranked institutions so if you were at Southern Alabama good luck. Did I tell you I left "the academy" for this and many other reasons. Not many truth seekers there I assure you.

But I agree w you I think Jeff does miss the point. The academy is there to further truth to the same extent that lawyers exist to seek justice and politicians represent the interests of their constituents.

there are academics (scholars) and scientists (empiricists). Academics coming from the scholastic movement are all about authority and hierarch and quality--much like Jeff argued. Very Catholic and authoritarian I suppose and true to the origins. Empiricists are well data driven. By my lights MB is a bit of both and thus he is uniquely interesting.

Empiricists ( I try) observe, keep an open mind and well frankly we are never too sure. Some people are empiricists and others are rational in the Kantian mode. Lawyers are very rational actually and chemists are empirisists. To the mind of some of us, Kant never really disproved Hume.

As for the 99% they are neither empirisits nor scholars they are guided by emotion or their instincts. Even academics. Most political science departmens are just activist units of the democratic party. Most academics (non science) are secular humanists and that is a variety of religion much like Methodism but even less charming and fun.

As for these MOOCS, the drop out rate is 90% and online education is base credentialism at most--research shows that most students benefit not at all in terms of skils or knowledge but if you need a "a degree" or a "masters" to move up the chain of command in the army, or wal mart or the Tennesse Department of corrections I guess one could argue an online "education" has had a certain instrumental value.

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Mike Daniel said...

Jung wrote and spoke a lot about how the world can only change at a deep level when individuals work on themselves at as a deep a level as they can. Group mind continually tries to disrupt and hates individuals who step away from the herd and speak truth to power, to injustice and so on. Hence the stoning or banishing of individuals who threatened the group in the past, right up to neo-liberals supporting x,y or z murderous policy and labeling any dissenter as a terrorist and killing them literally or indirectly by putting them in solitary. It is still the same thing as in more ancient times. So I don't disagree that in the short term drones won't be stopped, the Earth is going to go further down the tubes and so on. New Agers many of whom have egoified (my word) deeply spiritual meaning have not helped people turned off by religious organizations to connect with their own inner truth/soul. So we are left with what Reason? It won't be enough. It must be connected to ones heart and soul in consciousness or we will be right back where we were. Well maybe not this time given the breadth of what is taking place. As I wrote previously dreams may be one of the few ways through this quagmire. A well respected depth psychologist I know says that the dreams of people are changing. Nature is calling out to us through our dreams for us to do something. For those that don't remember their dreams the collective unconscious as Jung termed it really Nature in it's vertical and horizontal senses will cause us to change if there is time.

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Dr B,

It seems to me America is a land of paradoxes. The paradox is that on the one hand, Americans sees themselves as the most free, equal and democratic society on Earth, as truly civilized because they have the rule of law. On the other hand, in actual fact, each of those beliefs is false. Americans aren't the freest people, with a massive national security state spying on all their communications. They aren't the most equal, since there's radical income disparities. And they aren't really governed by the rule of law, when their president commits war crimes with impunity and shreds the freedoms guaranteed Americans by their constitution, especially the fourth and fifth amendments. But the vast majority of Americans simply don't recognize this reality, since they prefer to focus on "positive thinking" and avoiding negativity.

As I take it, any true reform of American society depends on recognizing this paradox about American society, and the falsity of the prevailing American self-conceptions.

1:40 AM  
Blogger Zosima said...

Dovidel said...After 70 CE the Jews of Palestine were ‘insurgents’ against Rome. So to thrive in the Roman Empire, gospel writers had to change Jesus from a rebel against Rome who was executed (along with many others) by the Romans, into an enemy of the Jewish religion who was killed by Jews.

Yes, I read that in either Elaine Pagels or Karen Armstrong, or was it A N Wilson’s book on Jesus, I can’t remember, anyway, it does make sense from a marketing standpoint. But I’m not sure that all the Gospels were written after the Jewish revolt, or that the blame the Jews theme was concocted completely for that purpose, since was such a major theme. Jesus blames the entire Jewish people for not listening, the fault lies with them, not just the leadership (this mirrors MB’s take on the American people, does it not?) Plus there is the nice theme of revenge where Jesus tells his followers not to worry about those who reject your message because those people will burn in hell (MB: Americans will be punished by collapse.) Well, Christians certainly lived up to that challenge, didn’t they? I’ve got Steiner's book, but I didn't study it in depth, just kind of skimmed it and took away that here’s another genius who writes incredibly well. My larger point though was that there's a lot of poison in the NT that crowds out the ethics, and it is this poison that America fundamentalists love to emphasize. For years now I have worked buying books online for a major independent bookstore, I see what Americans read by the thousands every week, from this I believe I have an intimate knowledge of their warped Christianity. There are basically only two sins, sex outside of marriage and alcohol, oh sorry, make that three - and not being rich. This is the only challenge they take from their religion.

Morris Berman said...What abt the fact that many or even most Americans react w/rage at the suggestion that the country might be sick or depraved. Nick Turse et al. notwithstdg, we have never come to terms w/Vietnam.

And isn’t it interesting to see how Americans did come to terms with that futile and criminal slaughter? They adopted a new version of right-wing German’s and Hitler's WWI stab-in-the-back myth. It wasn’t the fact that it was doomed from the start and that the Vietnamese didn’t want us there and kicked us out, no, we lost because of the liberal press and hippy peace protesters betrayed our troops. Of course, since we only lost 50,000 compared to Germany’s 2 million, no holocaust resulted, only the election of Ronald Reagan.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous cubeangel said...

I went to truthdig and I read the article "The violence of Organized Forgetting." http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_violence_of_organized_forgetting_20130722//
The author, Mr. Giroux, who wrote this, has put a lot out there to think about. I am going to have to read this article 3-4 more times to understand it better.

After reading this article I see what it is meant by the greater world. What this man is doing is analyzing and discussing how our system has been co-opted to a belief system called neoliberalism.

I looked up what neoliberalism is and from what I understand of it so far it is an economic system in which the means of service and production is transferred more towards the private sector in an extremist fashion.

There are some who want to eliminate the public sector completely. I need to read a lot more when I have more time. I will have to look up definitions to understand it better. This is what I have so far.

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

joe hohos,

I'd agree that the Internet is a useful tool for learning -- to a degree. Certainly it's enabled me to discover many new writers, artists, ideas, etc., and follow up on them. But the following up has been by way of books, the way many people who couldn't afford college gave themselves an education in the past. That, and discussing everything with anyone who knew more about the subject than I did (i.e., a hell of a lot of people). The way of the autodidact is a good one; you just have to be aware that there'll be some strange gaps in your education, things that college-educated people take for granted, as I'm constantly discovering. Or took for granted,, anyway, back when they got an in-depth education.

But as we all know, a college education these days boils down to buying the most insanely expensive working papers imaginable. What people are desperately struggling for is that single slip of paper, the precious certificate that says they're officially allowed to work at job X, Y, or Z. Doesn't matter if you know the job inside & out by personal experience, far more than anyone with the certificate but not the real knowledge -- it's the official authorization that counts & nothing else. I saw that many times when I was working, with quite a few college graduates who couldn't put together a coherent sentence, much less a paragraph -- and this was in the field of technical writing!

There's also the fact that to many grads today, having the certificate means the end of education. Hey, you've got the paper, you already know everything, no need to go on learning, right? I had several co-workers who boasted of never reading a single book after graduation. For some, this was 20 or 30 years ago.

Mike Daniel,

As one who works with my own dreams, I'm especially enjoying your recent posts.

Here's a perfect example of the existential strain, taken from the IMDB message board for Mindwalk. The poster has taken the film as an outrageously offensive personal affront, and the ensuing discussion is illuminating:


10:12 AM  
Anonymous James Allen said...

Capo Regime said:

"Empiricists ( I try) observe, keep an open mind and well frankly we are never too sure."

You are in good company.

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser men so full of doubts." [Bertrand Russell]

Mike said:

"But the vast majority of Americans simply don't recognize this reality, since they prefer to focus on 'positive thinking' and avoiding negativity."

This focus on the harmful effects of ill-founded positivity was the subject of Barbara Ehrenreich's book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Worth reading.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

Anyone for a little levity?

1. What a bloody joke are the Royals.

2. Here is a banner at an event I saw on last night’s Frontline presentation 7-24-2013: The big, elaborate, expensive banner proclaimed the purpose of the gathering: “Defending the American Dream Summit”. Morons in action.

Back to the horror.

1. Nature Bats Last. Talk about existent Strain!


No more glaciers? - Check some of the before/after pics.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Ehrenreich was making a futile attempt to extract the American head from the American rump. She failed. Nothing less than a crowbar and bucket of vaseline, going door to door, is gonna do it.


Impt to take breaks every so often, go out and get yrself a corned beef sandwich w/cole slaw and Russian dressing, side of chopped liver. To be washed down w/a bottle of Cel-Ray Tonic. I find it clears the brain completely. (Also known as "Jewish meditation.")


11:13 AM  
Anonymous James Newlin said...

Joe Hohos -

I understand not everyone can go to class. Education seems good however you get it -- high school, university, library, discussing with friends, video. Also to note, getting a liberal arts education doesn't necessarily mean you'll be a better human being. I'm just worried where MOOCs might lead -- partnerships with corporations and banks, so you'll be required to take out a loan to get a certificate to get a job, for education that used to be free and on-the-job. It used to be that you could get a good job with a high school degree, and college was cheap or free for those who went.

You can't compare MOOCs and universities. We'll never see comparable degrees coming from MOOCs. Schools have done distance learning for years, and many big name graduate schools do online learning. However, class sizes in distance learning programs are still small, and everyone is hooked up to audio and video to participate as if you were in class.

People are taking out loans for school, so they can make money. Most people laugh at going to school to get a liberal arts education. All this MOOC stuff is about money -- namely, corporations and banks having people take out loans, so they can make $30k a year with benefits, rather than making minimum wage. This isn't about personal betterment. I think students who want to get a good education are being duped by this corporate junk into thinking MOOCs are good for them, instead of realizing many of us are backed into a corner, and have little choice but to take out a loan for a bad deal.

11:40 AM  
Blogger jml said...


here's a recent interview with chris hedges entitled "america is a tinderbox." it's interesting, at the beginning of the interview he speaks about the progressive movement in the past tense as if he knows there's really no hope, but by the end of the interview he's talking in the present and future tenses as if there might be hope.

i must say the recent reading/movie recommendations on the comment thread have been wonderful. in the past week, i have read joyce's 'counterparts', watched 'sundays and cybele', and am now reading 'the 3 christs.' as a previous commenter said, keep 'em coming. they are a much needed antidote.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous joe hohos said...

Tim, James N.,

I agree with both of you. Most people in college, whether online or in class, aren't there to learn anymore. They are they to get the slip of paper that says, "look I belong in your world now, give me money". But this is what the American Dream has done - reduced everything, and I mean everything, to a commodity, to be bought and sold, where nothing has value in and of itself, only the worth of it as a commodity to an investor, or the masses. I think most everyone on this blog values beauty in various ways, art for its aesthetics, words for making us think, nature for the peace and solace it gives us, but as Dr. B. asks, how many people in America are with us? 200,000? If we're lucky. Americans are so dumb, brainwashed, or unable of critical thinking that a 3rd party candidate can't get 3% of the vote (I know they need 5% to get federal matching funds, but only 60% vote). Our "leaders are elected w/ approx. 32% of the vote (53% of 60%). It's a dysfunctional society, which produces dysfunctional families and dysfunctional minds. I want to buy land, become sustainable and self-sufficient, and tell the world to take a long walk off a short pier, but you have to play within the rules first to be able to "make your own rules" as it were. How much of ourselves do we lose giving in to the predominant "culture"? As Tim, and others, have stated blending in to the corporate culture, acting like a moron, and keeping your mouth shut are the daily interactions with the world. What sort of existence is that? O & D is for me.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, too bad it's just Wafers rdg this stuff. If I cd get out to the larger American public (who wd be *so* appreciative of these recs, to be sure), I would hafta call the blog The Cranial-Rectal Extraction Project (CREP). Chris is better than most progressives, really; he does know it's Game Over, but sometimes the existential strain is too much for him and he reverts to 'hope'. And hope for what? When he worked at the NYT he regularly received the most vicious voice mail every day, from the very people he was trying to liberate. Why liberate people who *want* the current system that oppresses them? Chris also knows the motive for their attacks on him: you can't really take on yr oppressor, so you ally yrself w/him and hate those trying to take on the oppressor--a version of the Stockholm Syndrome (or Existential Strain Theory). He's really a gd guy; he wants the best for America, even tho he really does know it's not possible. As I've said b4, our temperaments are different because of very different trainings: he as a seminarian, I as an historian. Ultimately, those w/a religious background believe in the redemptive power of God, whereas I believe in the redemptive power of history (but not in any Marxist sense).


1:52 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...


There's been some chat on this recent thread about MOOCs, higher education, and such, and I just wanted to affirm that engaging in dialogue and ideas with all of you on this blog is *true* online learning.

I'm currently pursuing graduate work to make sure that I'm "relevant" from an employment perspective; that said, only *here* on this blog do I feel that I'm *learning.*

As jml noted, so many terrific learning resources (e.g., texts, films) are shared on here, and I'm incredibly grateful. From Philip Slater and Janice Peck to Tainter and Mumford (and so many more), I never would have constructed my ongoing independent reading list if it weren't for everyone's collective efforts.

As ridiculously corny as it may sound, I'd like to give y'all a big "virtual" hug, for--while I only know handles on here--I consider you all part of my extended NMI family.

I've added a new Post-It in my bathroom (next to the "315 million dolts"): "I am not crazy."

Best (and in solidarity)--


P.S. Posts are so much easier to read when constructed in concise, unified paragraphs . . . thanks to those of you who keep this writing aspect in mind when posting.

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Savantesimal said...

Something from Bloomberg News I bookmarked a while ago but forgot to post here. Maybe it fits the "Existential Strain" theme, but it is certainly a stellar example of CRE.

Kansas's Self-Destruct Button: A Bill to Outlaw Sustainability

Kansas, the place where I spent my formative years skipping school to go fishing in farm ponds, is populated with thoughtful stewards of the nation’s breadbasket. It also has a habit of turning reason on its head. The state famously dropped evolution from its educational curriculum in 1999, along with the age of the Earth and the history of the universe, for good measure.

Now the state’s “Committee on Energy and Environment” is proposing a law that would prohibit spending on anything that won’t set Kansas on a course to self-destruction. House Bill No. 2366 would ban all state and municipal funds for anything related to “sustainable development,” which it defines as: “development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come."

If this definition sounds familiar, that’s because it was lifted verbatim from what’s commonly referred to as the Brundtland Report, one of the seminal documents in the modern practice of sustainability. The Brundtland Report was the product of a four-year commission set up by United Nations member countries that were increasingly concerned that the world’s resources were being squandered and its environment spoiled.


2:52 PM  
Blogger Boris the Spider said...

The title of this article days it all:

"University Suspends Online Classes After More Than Half the Students Fail"


3:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Sav, Boris-

Thank u for these wonderful examples of CRE. Kansas wd seem to be the cutting edge of it; I may just hafta move there. When Americans ram their heads up their asses this deeply, I rejoice. The path of our downward trajectory is accelerated; perhaps the online course folks and the anti-sustainability folks are wiser than we give them credit for; perhaps they are saying, "Might as well get the show over with, and this should do it!" I love them; I love stupid people everywhere. They are my comrades-in-arms. Dolts United in Self-Destruction (DUSD)--join now! (Another great T-shirt)


4:07 PM  
Anonymous J S RANK said...

@ joe h ....200,000 ? That's rather optimistic, don't you think ?
I would put the number at less than a thousand for genuine WAFers.
They'll never be viewed by the rest as visionary realists, but as crazy heretics and fatalists.

Dr. B as for CREP: right concept, inadequate tools.
I suggest the "Jaws of Life" and insemination gel ...and even this exercise contains a degree of hopefullness.

What could possibly be the prescription to combat willful blindness ? I doubt that there would be many "Damascus" moments to assuage the millions living in comfortable ignorance. Too much belief in externals, and the consequent externalising by souls isolated from their own consciousness.

We ( the US in particular ), are caught up in a dream world construct, a reliance on 'deus ex machina' ; always in quest of the 'miracle drug', a hero, a new age of understanding to bring back "the good old days", a lottery ticket to paradise.
A state populated by eternal Ralph Cramdens that think they're different from everyone else; but with the aspirations of Croesus, and not just a new TV.

@ MB ...consider this: Dolts United in Mass Buffoonery ( DUMB ).

4:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Or maybe, Tetes Wedged in Tushies (TWIT). As Ralph Cramden usta say, "How would you like to go to the moon, Alice?" Gels are gd, probably when combined w/high-speed drills. Imagine Wafers fanning out across the countryside, extracting heads from rumps on a daily basis, and singing inspiring Pete Seeger songs all the while. u.c.? America has a future after all!


5:14 PM  
Blogger Jeff T said...

Good day Dr. Berman and Wafers,

Dr. Hackenbush-

My comment about "moving on" was in response to Larry's comment to me. His comment was similar to your question, i.e., read the book then critique it. I felt that I had already answered that in the body of my response to you. At any rate, let's dive into this a little deeper.

As a result of my education and training in history, I do trust peer reviewed work, the academy in general, and I try to respect the axiom, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." This is very good advice to follow; adhering to it whenever I evaluate historical sources or read works that attempt to prove controversial conclusions or make broad historical judgements and determinations. Think about this for a moment: How do you deal with a Holocaust denier who uses historical sources in an attempt to prove that the final solution never occurred? This is an extreme example, but be assured that they are out there.

The questions you raise about trust of academic scholarship, source skepticism, and conformity within academic institutions, vis-a-vis, history and Russ Baker's book, "Family Secrets," are all good questions! I welcome, respect, and appreciate those types of questions. However, they go deep into the nature of history, the historical method, questions of epistemology, legitimate versus illegitimate revision of history and so on; topics that are above and beyond the scope of this response for sure. I can recommend a few excellent sources that address these issues and concerns. Let me know if you are interested.

I appreciate your description of Baker's research and his willingness to take a conservative approach; always a good idea. You know, my description of the book as "creative mythology" should not be construed as a total condemnation of it. This might be a bit of a stretch, but I use myth here, in the sense that "myth" does not exactly mean untrue; not an outright falsehood. It's kinda like analyzing a religious text: many may consider it "true," but not exactly factual. Sure, in an institutional academic setting, Baker's book is DOA and will be systematically decimated. However, I'm willing to bet that there's some good research in there and it's appropriately sourced. As you indicate, skulduggery committed by people in positions of extreme power is not a new phenomenon.

But, in terms of Baker's overall conclusion,i.e., around every corner is a plot by "Poppy," as it were, I have to ask many questions about it as an historian; regardless of the research that backs that conclusion. Take a look at the list of questions below:

(please excuse another list, it's just how I think)

1. How plausible does all this look? Is it too much of a stretch, a bridge too far, too outlandish?
2. Can Occam's razor be applied here-- a more plausible explanation of the same fact pattern?
3. Are certain aspects of the evidence given undue weight? Does it uncritically ignore contrary evidence?
4. Does the author anywhere state that his claims have been under appreciated by others, namely institutional organizations?
5. Does the work state that it can provide claims to truth that institutional analysis cannot?
6. Does the work appeal to conspiracism? Such that it typically traces all evil, or malfeasance back to a single source, or hidden hands, or secret plots, or secret knowledge by powerful people or agents.

A "yes" to any of these questions raise red flags and makes a professional historian suspect. These questions, and many others, have to be addressed and dissected. Always remember, conspiracy theorists consider the masses and institutions to be brainwashed sheep [They are... but you know], while they are in the know, so to speak.
Sorry about the length of this response Hack. I hope this helps answer some of your questions and helps contribute to Wafer [Hey, Hey! We are in the know] dialogue.


6:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


This is a gd debate, but we do need to try to keep posts to 1/2 page maximum, if possible. You guys could start writing books to each other, after all. What if it weren't Bush Sr.? What if it were Alfred E. Neuman? I suspect he's behind a lot of what happened in the 20thC, myself.


7:12 PM  
Anonymous fnn said...

shep said...
... I saw a program where they are bringing back so- called bare kuckle boxing. (BKB). We are returning to the jungle.

When you think about it, bare knuckle is more civilized than boxing with gloves. After all,the gloves and wraps are there to protect the hands, not the skull.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


Most New Testament scholars think that Mark’s gospel was written around the time of the first Jewish revolt, and the three others years or decades later.

The NT has many sources and many (often contradictory) story-threads running through it. The oldest NT writings are Paul’s letters, which say very little about Jesus, his life and his teachings, and each of the four gospels tells its own story. To find the ‘original meaning’ of what’s in the NT you would have to look inside the heads of all the people who originated, orally transmitted, and finally wrote down each story. We don’t really know what we know about Jesus and his teachings!

No matter what originally motivated the NT’s anti-Jewish propaganda, generations of Christians have been picking it up and running with it for various reasons ever since. A Swiss psychoanalyst and Lutheran pastor named Oskar Pfister once said, “Show me what’s in your Bible, and I’ll tell you what kind of person you are.” Well, the Bible has been a great Rorschach test for the last 2000 years.

Go to YouTube and type in: “Paula Fredriksen, Paul and Augustine on the Redemption of the Jews”. In a superb one-hour lecture she tells a great deal about what Augustine and other early church fathers thought about ‘the Jewish question.’ She also discusses the role of Jews in early Christianity’s ‘negative identity’.

Who knows what metamorphosis America’s tortured ‘social character’ will undergo? Right now Christian fundamentalists are into Christian Zionism, but as they sour on that, Jews may move up a few places on America’s long scapegoat hate list.

It’s always been a good idea for ethnic or political minorities to have escape plans. And as America crumbles there are simply much better places to be.

David Rosen

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Dr. Hackenbush said...

Hm, Alfred E... I'll have to think on that next time I get to conspiracy theorizing.

Capo- Thanks for the insider perspective. My understanding of the academy is mostly from my personal reading. Speaking of, I have not read it, but I always liked the title of Thorstein Veblen's book on education: "The Higher Learning in America". God, what a dry sense of humor to title a book that. That's really all you need, isn't it? Kind of sums it up. No disrespect to those of you who actually do have doctorates :-)

Jeff T- On the question of whether the claims are so outlandish or not, well, it's a crazy world. Plenty of accepted historical facts are quite incredible when you stop and think. Baker himself has said (in interviews) that historians seem willing to credit "conspiracy theories" in other places and other times, but somehow imagine that their own place and time is exempt from such things.

Also, I had a little epiphany that may or may not be anything to others, but it was this: the existence of an "alphabet soup" of intel agencies, which are basically a professional corps of experts in skulduggery (or one might say conspiracy), is acknowledged by everyone. Yet somehow everyone assumes that they just twiddle their thumbs all day, and never get up to anything questionable at all. Or, perhaps, the public assumes that they are just spying on other spies. Yeah. I'm sure that's all they do, they're just like the boy scouts.

But then, we do have documented cases (which I'm not good at reeling off, sorry) where intel agencies have done all sorts of crazy stuff. So why assume they aren't doing crazy stuff that we ***have not*** yet found out about? (Or may never read of if a controlled press just reports the official story?

Finally, a podcast rec for WAFers:

Only listened to 1/2 so far, but I'm impressed by the guest's wide background across science and economics. She seems to be synthesizing a lot of important data.

9:45 PM  
Anonymous infanttyrone said...

Haven't read the book that y'all are going back 'n' forth about, but wasn't Poppy the head of the CIA for a while ?
A-a-and wasn't Poppy's Pop one of the directors of a bank that was seized by the U.S. Gov't in 1942 under authority of the TRADING WITH THE ENEMY ACT and whose assets were frozen between October 1942 and the end of WW2 ?
Presumption of innocence ? C'mon, now...really ?

On the other hand, one of our principal conspiracy analysts issued the following advice about 4 decades ago in Gravity's Rainbow

“If there is something comforting - religious, if you want - about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.”

Not to mention that non-conspiracy is pretty tough to substantiate...


12:29 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

Dr Hack,

Like every other government agency, the alphabet soup agencies have to justify their existence to ensure continued and escalating funding. So if there is no real external threat one will be either invented or fomented. The MIC has grown to monstrous proportions through exactly this mechanism. (which is not to say that there is no threat at all but to ask the question: 'By how much is it magnified to serve particular interests?')
Corroboration is difficult due to the secrecy surrounding these efforts, but then that is why whistleblowers who have first hand knowledge become traitors overnight.
The Gladio story, a 'strategy of (existential) tension', which has been tested and accepted in the Italian courts, is instructive.
scroll down for the vid:



Bare knuckle boxing never went away in Britain and Ireland, it just went underground, having been banned for its often lethal outcomes. Gloves, timed rounds and a finite number of them were first introduced as safety measures to reduce the death toll.
'We are returning to the jungle.'

Who said we ever left it? :)

4:26 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, logically speaking, u can't prove a negative. Burden of proof is on those arguing for conspiracy, not the other way around.


8:24 AM  
Blogger NearFar said...

@Ellen & MB - thank you both for your observations there.
Hi Wafers -
I've been looking into the phenomenon of "crisis cults"[1] after CH responded in this way to a question I asked (or posed) of him last month (transcription mine):

"All societies that die fall into a state of self-delusion, whether it's the Roman Empire, whether it's the end of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, whatever empire it is ...that's what happens. You...you...fall into illusion, you substitute illusion for reality and you respond to illusion rather than reality. That's how societies die. And that's ...there's a book called "Easter Island, Easter Earth,"[2] which again is a really smart book by two anthropologists, which is a study of...I mean they chose the title consciously, because at the end they talk about how we have replicated what happened in Easter Island. I mean at what point on Easter Island do you cut down the last tree and think you're going to make it? And what happens at the end? They fall into what anthropologists call "crisis cults," which is basically, you know, hyper-Christian Right...you know: "Jesus will save me" kind of stuff.[3] And um...and so you build...they spend...You know the whole civilization, or the whole society is dying. And they exhaust all their final energy building monolithic giant stone statues and killing each other. That's it. And...and, and...the anthropologists have the courage at the end of the book...and it's actually not a new book, it's been out for awhile...to talk about how that's precisely what we're doing..That's why they call it "Easter Island, Easter Earth." And so the danger is that as things go down you see a kind of revival of what anthropologists traditionally call "crisis cults." That then begin to essentially turn whole swaths of ...the population... into...insane people. And many of them live in Georgia...(sustained laughter heard)."[4] {end of transcription}

[1] for an extended treatment of this phenomenon, see CH's piece here: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_myth_of_human_progress_20130113/;
[2] CH also mentions this in his talk w/ MB (starts at 35:55):
[3] CH's newest piece. Also consider Noel Lyons in terms of existential strain(?):
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/mind_rape_and_the_christian_right_20130721/ ;
[4]Boisterous & uproarious response at this bit of comic relief. Besides its overt humor that Wafers (at least) won't miss or necessarily take exception to...it was also a sort of 'inside joke' referencing both CH's and another trekker's experiences in Georgia (USA) & how their adventures were undercut, every step of the way, by the (let's say) "bumptious" locals.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


It's pretty obvious to me that cell phones and other electronic devices are our equivalent of the huge stone heads of Easter Island. We worship them, they don't really amount to shit, and they serve to distract us from real issues. It's just CRE in a different form, but I guess Chris is saying that all dying empires go into CRE, and create symbolic manifestations of that. It's not so much that the population goes insane, as that they ram their heads up their asses and then proclaim the glory of their vision. This is why the CREP (Cranian-Rectal Extraction Project) is basically futile, but it might possibly be fun. We need Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain at the helm now, more than ever; but in lieu of that, the Dems will do, since embedment is still embedment.


9:06 AM  
Anonymous cubeangel said...

Dr. Berman, you make the claim that you can’t prove a negative. I believe it is logically possible to prove a negative and here is how. Let’s say that we have proposition A. Let’s say that if we have A then it implies (B and not-B). Since we do have A we do have (B and not-B). The conclusion is a contradiction and by proof of contradiction the negation of the premise that led to the conclusion has to be it. Not-A is the answer and it is a negative as well. Therefore, the negative is provable through proof by contradiction.

Your proposition “You can’t prove a negative” is a negative as well. By stating this proposition you’re stating that you can’t prove your own proposition. If all propositions all people make have to be proven including this one and then how does this claim “you can’t prove a negative” hold up? It leads to a contradiction. Another question I have is a double negative a form of a negative as well? If it is and because of the law of double negation aren’t positives a form of negatives as well? If a positive is a form of a negative through double negation then how would it be possible to prove positives as well? How would one be able to prove anything at all if one can’t prove a negative?

Posit the concept of the existence of an invisible pink unicorn. I know for certain that I can prove not only a negative but an invisible pink uniform does not exist. I assume invisible means invisible to the naked eye. To do this I have to define what pink and invisible mean. Pink represents a particular frequency on the visible spectrum. The visible spectrum is a set of frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum. If something is invisible to the naked eye then it can’t be pink because it can’t be on that frequency.

By stating both invisible and pink as non-mutually exclusive they’re both contradictory to each other because by stating pink and invisible it is stating that this unicorn is both on this frequency and not on this frequency at the exact same time. Since this is not possible, proof by contradiction states that an invisible pink unicorn does not exist.

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Capo Regime said...

MB & Near,

Your noting of the Austro Hungarian Empire made me think of the one of the truly great novels which very few in the English speaking word have read--The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. Latest English translation is very good. Fin de Seic Vienna and the efforts of local grandees to put together an event commemorating the Emperor--rich in detail on delusion, mental masturbation, bureaucracy, media, influence of big money, catering to tastes of masses via spectacles. Its all there. Devotees of Musil (I am a recent convert) will put his work up there with that of Proust and Joyce but with Conradian themes. Its no Oprah book club book--its hearty but truly amazing. I would say its advanced Wafer reading.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Any logician or mathematician will tell u that u can't prove a negative. However, this kind of talmudic rumination is not going to be helpful 2u, I don't think. Suppose yr rt; so what? Forget abt this scholastic nitpicking; get out and smell the flowers. Much better direction 4u, I think. (Think of what happened to Georg Cantor.)


9:36 AM  
Anonymous mike daniel said...

Mike Daniel here

So if I imagine a pink unicorn in my mind which is a form of electrical energy is it not real in that moment? If I see a face in a cloud of say Barack Obama is that not real? Energy weaves in and out of what we call solid matter into the infinite who is to say what is real. This to me is an example of the issue we have in the west of a separation between subject and object which is a fundamental part of the whole existential strain issue we have been discussing. As Morris Berman has written consider the empty and dark spaces for in this space lie the answers or more the non answers that the human ego must explore to be able to move easily between matter and spirit/soul and thereby heal the existential split that most people are unconscious of. Just a few thoughts maybe a rant, maybe.

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Savantesimal said...

There really can be no other reason for the anti-sustainability bill in the Kansas legislature than sheer spite. These people are so caught up in the "divide and rule" game being played by the elites that they want to just ban something because its popular in those "other places" where all the hippies and queers live. I wonder if they know ethanol fuel is about sustainability? And while the circus over abortion or gay marriage or sustainability or whatever continues on camera, the campaign to strip everyone of their rights and property continues. The indications are that the bankruptcy of Detroit was planned and even deliberately arranged by the governor of Michigan. The state was cutting funding to the city even while warning the city government that an emergency manager would be installed if they didn't get their budget in order. And who did the governor appoint as the emergency manager? A bankruptcy lawyer. Now there is a major court battle brewing over whether they can pull the rug out from under all those public employees even with bankruptcy. Michigan's constitution may forbid any reduction in public employee pensions. Public employees in other parts of the country may not be so well protected.

Onpoint: Public Pensions, Under The Gun

Detroit is in crisis, and the city’s emergency administrator says Detroit’s public pensions have to be on the table as the city faces bankruptcy. On the table as in “on the chopping block.” We’ll see what happens.

The average public pension in Detroit is $19,000. For pensioners, there’s not a lot to cut.

But across the country, coast to coast, many cities, states and towns are looking at pension numbers that do not add up. And a political environment that may say “bring in the axe.”

This hour, On Point: Solemn promises and red ink. Public pensions, under the gun.

[Meanwhile, the broader issue of decline of the entire "Western" world has been covered by another recent NPR talk show.]

KQED Forum: Niall Ferguson on the Degeneration of the West

Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson, prized by many conservative economists and politicians, joins us to discuss his latest book, "The Great Degeneration". Ferguson recounts what he sees as the decline of the era of Western progress and power. We'll also get Ferguson's thoughts on recent news from unrest in Egypt to impediments to the Affordable Care Act.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

Hi Professor Berman,

I have a list of questions I want to ask you. Hope you don't mind.

1. You have a mathematics degree, right? Does math still play a prominent role in your thinking? Do you have any interesting theories about math that you'd like to share with us?

2. You talk about a kind of decentralized, steady-state feudal order that might emerge in post-capitalist America. In your opinion, how might such a system be governed? Would there be a monarch? Would religion play a large role?

3. After America collapses, will the Christian-right militias likely become the enforcers of "law and order," in the same way that the Russian mafia took over after the Soviet collapse? Will these militia forces function as private armies for the feudal lords? Are we likely to see the kind of violence that's so common in Mexico, Colubmia, Honduras, etc? Do you think these militia forces will start wars with the Mexican drug cartels? Do you think beheadings and that sort of thing will be commonplace?

I realize there's no way of knowing for sure, but I am just curious about what kinds of scenarios you think are more likely than others, given your knowledge of history.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Christ Puncher said...

Hi Dr,

Are you heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual?
Is it easier to find lovers in Mexico than it is in the US? Or about the same?
I am heterosexual, and I struggle to find lovers in the US.

-- Christ Puncher

2:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I'm polymorphously perverse. Last time I was in NY, I had sex w/a corned beef sandwich. You know that great line from Portnoy, after he jerked off in a piece of raw liver: "So now, doctor, you know the worst thing I've ever done: I fucked my own family's dinner." Roth cdn't go to a restaurant after bk was published that w/o someone coming up to him, looking at his plate, and saying, "Liver?"


I don't mind; it's just that I don't have time to answer yr questions. I am so drowning in work that if u saw my daily schedule, you'd weep.

Mike D-

Yr giving me an existential splitting headache. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? I forget.


4:09 PM  
Blogger Defining Quality said...

I tell everyone - if you want to know what's wrong with America, look in the mirror! The scapegoat is We The People. Manipulated by our own government for the benefit of the CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire$.
I totally disagree America can not be fixed, but that can't happen as long as we allow so few to have so much! The Ultra Wealthy only exist because We The People allow them to exist. TAX ALL wealth or income over $10,000,000 world wide any EVERYTHING changes!

4:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Ain't It Grand Dept.:

(This off cnn.com):

"The Justice Department says it will not seek the death penalty for U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden."

And here u guys have been telling me how nasty the gov't is!


4:48 PM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

File under "US slouching toward Suez moment"?


At first I thought ABC was featuring something abt Chomsky because he had died. Nope, he's still alive & kicking... & recommending Europe broker Mid-East peace talks, cutting America out totally.

If this were in the alt media, one might say meh. But it's ABC News (& trending on Yahoo headlines up there w/ the royal tot and future POTUS Kim Kardashian, et al). So either it's slouching toward Suez, or establishment reporter John Heilprin just made a questionable career move while his editor was asleep.

Conspiracy theories: u know when Blogger asks for u to type in the "two words" below, before you can submit yr comment? U know how one of the "words" is actually a photo of a street number? Well, get this: u can omit the street number part & type in only the real word & it works anyway. The conspiracy rumor is that Google (which owns Blogger) is getting everyone who uses Blogger to help them identify street numbers. Don't help these sneaky snoops; omit the number.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous infanttyrone said...

Yes, *proving* a negative is difficult to impossible...granted.

But there is something to be said for establishing a pattern of prior acts which makes assertions of current bad actions more plausible.

If a guy beat his former/late wife x times (with domestic disturbance calls responded to and related reports documented by the police), claims of the same behavior by his current spouse will be looked at with less skepticism than if the prior acts were unknown to investigators. Maybe not enough to park his ass in jail or prison, but probably enough to get a restraining order against him while she is recovering and arranging divorce proceedings.

Conspiracy analysts (as Vidal described himself, in contrast to the term 'conspiracy theorists') don't expect a black/white, agree/disagree reaction to their investigations. They must be satisfied with a wide spectrum of responses, some of which are far from the maxima & minima of all or nothing. For some analyses my reaction is to give it a vanishingly small chance of being true...others seem almost impossible to not be true...and others take us back to American Bandstand ratings such as "I'd give it an 87 Mr. Clark. It's got a good beat; you can dance to it."


7:48 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...


Isn’t it amazing how Americans love to demonize Hitler and Nazi Germany, when if the US were to honestly look into a mirror they would see so little difference?

Sometime around 1961 Look Magazine had an article about several right-wing ‘neo-Nazis’ who were elected to the West German parliament. One of them when interviewed by an American reporter said, “What are you Americans so upset about? You’re the Nazis in the world today.” That got me thinking differently, and it became a habit.

Many Americans have come to terms with Vietnam exactly as you describe – with another myth. Children reflect the thinking of their parents, and a 13 year-old nephew told me that the US military could beat any country in the world. When I replied that the Vietnamese had kicked ‘our’ butts pretty well, he said, “We could have won that war if we really wanted to.”

So, the ‘Greatest Generation’ taught Americans nothing as they came home to become consumers. But then who expects them to learn anything anyway?

Here’s part of a poem that Americans ignored when Brecht wrote it after the defeat of Hitler’s Germany:

“This was the thing that nearly had us mastered;
Don’t rejoice in his defeat, you men!
Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Be certain that capitalism is not going to decline gracefully and die peacefully in its sleep – it will go out kicking, screaming, and producing monsters – practicing scorched earth policies all the way.

David Rosen

PS: Oh, by the way – no holocaust in Vietnam? Well, maybe not exactly – but the two to three million Vietnamese ‘we’ killed in a war of aggression must count for something.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous MLW said...

Hi Dr. Berman,

I stumbled upon "Why America Failed" rather by accident, and after reading it I've lost all of my delusions about how wonderful Obama and the Democrats are (Chris Hedges also helped me come to this understanding).

I have a question about the book. Do you think it is a coincidence that Jimmy Carter, the president who broke with the "consume-till-you-die" rhetoric of politicians also departed from traditional New Deal liberalism by deregulating the airline and trucking industry and abandoning efforts to pass a consumer protection bill (Ralph Nader talks about this in "An Unreasonable Man"). Clearly Carter's focus on appropriate technology and moving away from consumerism is admirable, but can that be separated from his policies that began the reversal of New Deal Liberalism?



9:13 PM  
Anonymous Mikbeth said...

I thought I would share some thoughts from Barry Ritholtz whose blog I have come to enjoy especially his daily reading lists. Here are the closing two paragraphs.

"Its called “Independent Thought” for a reason. I assure you this will not be the path most people take. The vast majority of television watching, corn syrup anesthetized, self-medicated, endlessly entertained masses only confirm Skinner’s claim. They are spoon fed empty headed nonsense, even saying “thank you” for it. Most are poorly educated, taught to rote memorize instead of being taught to think critically.

While I am thrilled not to be a practicing attorney, I have great respect (and gratitude) for what I learned in law school. The Critical Thinking, Research and Analytical Skills that was taught stands in stark contrast to much (not all) of my prior education. I suspect there is about a year’s worth of critical thinking lessons that could be pulled out of the three years of legal course work, and made useful for high school and college students. Society would be much better off for it. No, we do not need more lawyers, but we do need more people who can think rationally, critically and have analytical skills.

I am not holding my breath waiting for this to occur . . .


10:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I don't know much abt it, and haven't read Nader's bk. I do know that it was Reagan who deregulated the airlines (and just abt everything else).


12:24 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

CRE Dept. (big time):


12:43 AM  
Anonymous Michael in Oceania said...

Actually, MLW is right about Carter and airline deregulation. I was there, and I remember.

In 1977, I was an intern at the FAA, while I was attending American U. in DC. Alfred Kahn was the man who wrote the deregulation, and it was done on Carter's watch.

1:28 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

Very good podcast Dr Hack. The much vaunted new energy sources as basically Ponzi schemes chimed with my own observations and gloomy outlook. Being a finance and economics naïf I'm going to have to read more from this person.


Dr B,
I did watch 'Sunday's and Cybele' but cannot say that it touched me much. No visceral reaction to it at all. I have been thinking a lot about your Israeli soldier though, or more accurately his sergeant's seemingly callous but fundamentally honest response to his distress. What more could be said once the deed is done? It can't be undone. The sergeant presumably knows this and the soldier might eventually, if painfully,learn it through experience:


'War destroys without regard to what’s fair or just. This isn’t a new or terribly profound revelation, but witnessing it, and sometimes participating in it, makes it seem like both. In a professional military, the entire point of training is to minimize the nature of chance in combat. But all the training in the world will never eliminate happenstance in war, or even render it negligible.'

Dovidel said: 'no holocaust in Vietnam?'
Well, there was that little knock on effect of (CIA's secret war)
'destabilisation' of the region in Cambodia. Pol Pot took out a quarter of his own countrymen-- 1-3million of them-- was eventually ousted by the Vietnamese (again) but was never really held to account.

Pilger again:


re 'crisis cults' --born of desperation-- have you come across this famous one?


4:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman & WAFERS,

I want to let you know that "Spinning Straw into Gold" is available on Amazon. I found this morning, the 27th.

'bout damn time!

Looking forward to reading it.


Rufus T. Schmeck

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Bingo said...


Apologies for my late arrival to this thread.

I enjoyed reading your The Existential Strain essay. But I would guess that Dean Guide has long retired and has since been replaced by a young hustler with an MBA. The tiny glimpse of meaning once offered by some American education institutions is all dead now. All dead. Today, universities are nothing but corporate shills or government crime apologists. American universities have wholly internalized the values of Wall Street and the military complex, so much to the point that they have now become Wall Street and the DoD. So, Toys would be wise to just keep playing with his iPads and iPhones, because they will certainly provide him with more meaning than a college education.

Case in point: Over the years I’ve been teaching humanities at several so-called US “universities.” Recently I gave a zero to a student who plagiarized 100% of his last paper. After a few threatening illiterate emails from the student, I also got a call from the dean, who gave me a 30 minute lecture about how this student probably did not know he plagiarized, etc. So, I had to go back and give the student a 98 (because the plagiarized material was well-written by its original author).

Here’s another example. Recently “Big Sis” Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, left the government to become president of the University of California. She has zero (0) education experience. So, why would this despicable woman mired in sexual harassment scandals and lawsuits was chosen as president of America’s largest university system? The answer is simple: because “Homeland Security” is the fastest growing major across American universities, and Big Sis will bring in the bacon for UC. In fact, at least one third of my own students pursue the Homeland Security major, all hoping to become prison guards or NSA analysts. That’s the future of employment in America: prison guards and NSA analysts.

And when I tell my stupid friends who are still in the United States that the country is finished, they laugh. They laugh!

8:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


And that dean gets up in the morning and looks at himself in the mirror w/no problem at all.


Well, u guys obviously know more abt it than I do. What I recall is that the major airline strike occurred very soon after Reagan took office, and he reacted by firing anyone who didn't return to work and then deregulated the airlines. It sure made big headlines at the time, and the way flight changed (hub cities etc.) certainly didn't occur until after that.


10:14 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Professor Schmeck:

What a surprise! I was so excited to hear the news that I lost control of all my bodily functions. For more info, pls go to next post.

Thanks for bringing it to my attn (seriously).


10:45 AM  
Anonymous Pilgrim said...

Dr. Berman,

I've never heard of Steiner's existential strain idea. What a fascinating theory! Thank you. I don't know if he and Eric Hoffer ever corresponded, but the existential strain theory would seem to dovetail very nicely with Hoffer's ideas - being that self-loathing and a desire to flee the self are the primary drivers of violent mass movements. This prompted me to find my copy of Hoffer's True Believer book.

So many of our behaviors seem driven by such inadequacies. Of course there's many candidates: the worship of Brand, consumerism, the desire for wealth and status, the pursuit of glory, etc.. Your essay "Tongue in Chic" discusses one such need. So many examples! So many examples of people running in circles around some hole in the Self. With decades of life behind me, I'm developing a keen eye for my own motivations. I'm much more critical of the rabbits I chase. I grow more fond of Thoreau's comment. I paraphrase, but my version is ... "The quality of a man's life is not based upon what he has, but on what he can do without". But, as you well know, this assumes one has achieved a degree of communion with one's self (Self).

As you have mentioned before, this behavior is even more mysterious in that these frantic pursuits are usually not directed at the remedy, but rather obliquely away from it. As Hoffer says ...

"They demonstrate the fact that we can never have enough of that which we really do not want, and that we run fastest and farthest when we run from ourselves".

And again, as you have pointed out so well, this is painfully clear throughout this culture of ours, with it maniacal pursuit of distraction. It's truly scary. All these people, strangers to tranquility, contemptuous of nuance, with no skills of introspection, and possessing little patience. Those "...that have no Solitude". We're right to fear the day when/if these folks ever have to confront themselves. From "The True Believer"...

"In a modern society people can live without hope only when kept dazed and out of breath by incessant hustling".

Also along these lines, was it Pascal who said something like ... "Most of the world's problems are due to humanity's inability to sit still"?

I want to thank you for your thoughts, and for this site. Particularly during the past decade, I find my myself dazed by what I see before me. Stunned. Reeling. Like I've awakened, and landed on the wrong planet. Your efforts have provided some refuge. Thank you.

BTW: I just left Amazon where I purchased SSG. I look forward to its arrival.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous mike daniel said...

Hi Morris,
I like the dancing on the head of a pin image. I'll have a look at your new book, congrats on getting it out.
In basic language my concerns are really about what underlies history. What are the psychological forces working in groups and individuals that create repeating patterns of history, like the collapse of civilizations. Not much is written about this at a deeper level. History, psyche, love are all part of a great story with each individual knowing or relating to certain parts better than others.
Individuals structure their brains/lives with stories of one form or another in order to function. Gradually we discard old stories and take on new ones. Perhaps that's like what you are presenting in your new book.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous 21st Century Poet said...

WAFs ~

Yves' post at naked capitalism:

A Pox on Optimists

Though it will be obvious to most, she is a little late to the party. Better late then never though. She has been responsible for some pretty great economics/finance debunking over the years, so I'm willing to cut her a lot of slack.

I disagree with some of her thoughts in the piece, but overall she is coming from the right place.

The more interesting thing is that if you peruse the comments after her piece, you will see it seems to have opened the floodgates to - surprise - big time WAFer conversations, with many of the same references...

Her site has many more finance and corporate people than this one. There may be some overlap because she espouses progressive ideas, but I have a feeling it is more than that. Many (who still can), are reading the writing on the wall. Granted they often draw different conclusions, but that is probably as old as language itself. Of course (to mix metaphors), we are all like the proverbial blind men feeling the elephant at this point. Here is an excerpt from a description of the ancient tale:

"In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement.

The stories differ primarily in how the elephant's body parts are described, how violent the conflict becomes and how (or if) the conflict among the men and their perspectives is resolved.

In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant. When a sighted man walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, they also learn they are blind. While one's subjective experience is true, it may not be the totality of truth. If the sighted man was deaf, he would not hear the elephant bellow. Denying something you cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for your limitations."

Well, at most, I think there is a rapidly growing understanding of our predicament amongst different groups. At the very least, there are few more people with their hands on the elephant. So, I come back to the most intriguing part of the quote above:

"In some versions, they stop talking, start listening and collaborate to "see" the full elephant."


3:38 PM  

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