June 13, 2007

Interview on WYPR-FM, 11 June 2007

Dear Friends:

Here is the link to an hour-long interview I did on the Marc Steiner Show, on Baltimore's NPR station, WYPR-FM. Note that it took me 25 mins. to download this; I sincerely hope your own computer is faster! As follows:



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great talk Morris,

There is a chance that the USA will wake up and pull back from the brink but this will entail a real Democratisation and participitation by the US population in creating a new society.

I live in the UK and I have great respect for many American traditions but I lean towards the ideas of Tom Payne not that of the elites.

If you want to talk more Email me and we can have a dialogue.

I think the big issues are Israel, oil, the ecology, poverty and finacialisation of the global economy.

I think that Marxism will come back big time as the world fragments. It is not clear yet if this will be a benign version of Marxism or if it will come back with a vengence.




9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview! I wanted to get up and cheer when you discussed the problems with American schools. As I have written earlier, I teach in a top public high school in Illinois. (What is going on in the rest of the country? I often wonder.) Yes, parents call me all the time, "German is too hard." Kids ask me, "is German II harder than German I?" "Of course," I tell them, and then they tell me that they are going to drop German. Foreign Language learning in America is a joke!! 90% of American students take 2 years (minimum requirement) of Spanish and then drop language. They believe that Spanish is the easiest. Every year I preach to my classes that four years is just enough to get you to high mid level, and they all snicker and shake their heads at me. They want to pretend to study a foreign language, not master the material...Most of my students are gone after two years believe me. It is very disheartening/disturbing. I do what I can in two years, but most of these students will no doubt complain that they aren't fluent in German after two years when asked years later. There is no value placed upon education in this country period! The parents just want to hear positive comments. My French teacher mentor asked me exactly what was she supposed to say positive about a student that does absolutely nothing. She has taught the same way for 20 years, and she is having a nervous breakdown with classes where 90% never do homework! She was called to the carpet by the principal and counselor for not saying anything positive about a certain student. There is little punishment for bad behavior. If I tell a student to take off their I-Pod or put away their cell phone, they get mad and tell me they want to go to the dean. Then, get this, the dean calls me down to discuss why I am picking on the said student, and why can't I give the child more positive comments??. The principal devotes himself solely to sports and pleasing the parents. If the parents want grades online, then by god lets give them instant results. Where does this end? Is education simply a product to be purchased? This whole process is worse at the University level where your job is on the line. I am tenured now, so I get away with lots of dripping sarcasm, which the kiddies don't understand. They are all literal-minded if you know what I mean, no complex interpersonal conversations going on, just pushing and shouting. I asked some administrators where it will end. Will we just give everyone A's in a few years? I have no doubt that this is where we are headed. I walk a fine line. Make German too hard, and all students will drop/program cancelled. Make German too easy, and the bright/motivated kids (very few throwback types) will get bored and drop, or will never be able to get through German AP. The French, Latin and I have decided to stick to our guns and teach language as it should be taught, and let the numbers fall where they may. In a sick way, it is almost interesting to witness the disintegration first hand. It is hard to fight as one teacher when the whole system is against you...I just saw the British movie "Notes on a Scandal", and the teacher said the few gems over the years get you through your job as a teacher..Amen to that. I wonder how many people read this blog? My German scientist friend said that his American fortune 500 company will only hire European scientists, and they wont hire from Harvard or Yale anymore. The American scientists just aren't up to snuff. This problem is pervasive! Are we just a few voices in a wilderness? Keep up the good work, it is nice to know that other people think the same way...Your books and interviews do give some comfort to those of us who are isolated.

I agree with Tim that Communism/Socialism will return if globalization continues to tear apart the middle classes both in America and in Europe. Just look at Eastern Germany...

John in Chicago again.

1:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Thanks again for writing. No, virtually nobody reads this blog, and 99.5% of the American public thinks real education is for the birds (conservative estimate). A friend of mine in Mexico runs a hostel for exchange students coming down to learn Spanish, and something about Mexican culture. Her two most recent guests, young women about 19 or 20 yrs of age, are from U of Texas. After 2 weeks they dropped their course in history of Mexican art, because the instructor asked them to write 2 2-page papers in Spanish, and because "Why is Mexican art important anyway?" Sure, why is anything important beyond making money, to (North) Americans? Who gives a damn about Orozco or Rivera? And since there's no economic payoff, why *should* they care?, is the idea here. For a teeny-tiny fraction of the (North) American population, it is slowly dawning on them that they are living amidst a large collection of clowns who don't even know they are clowns. Not good, not good.

Have you thought of buying a farm in Oregon and devoting yourself to growing rhubarb?


10:57 AM  
Blogger Jackson said...

After reading "Twilight", I did something you might find interesting: I applied at a local university for their Master of Liberal Studies program. I already have a master's and a law degree, but after reading "Twilight" I realized what I felt my life was missing was any real intellectual stimulation (and contrary to popular belief, law is often not intellectually stimulating, but in fact only a source of tremendous stress). This program has really filled the void. So I appreciate the direction "Twilight" has taken me.It helped open a door to something I've always wanted without realizing it.

I have been reading "Empire", though slowly. It is an outstanding book, but quite depressing. I'm reading it in smaller segments so I can more fully absorb the material. I find most of your arguments incontravertable, which is a rarity for someone who tends to be hyper-critical, such as myself.

But I have to say that for the first time since reaching voting age (20+ years), I am likely to completely sit out the election in 2008. I cannot find a single candidate I can believe in, and when I thought of doing a write-in ballot, could not come up with the name of a single person I thought was fit for the job. It almost makes you want to cry. At some point I just stopped believing, but I can't put my finger on when.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jackson,

Congratulations on the MLS program; sounds like a good thing to do. As for voting and belief, we might paraphrase Socrates here and say that in the case of the contemporary US, lack of belief is the beginning of wisdom. You might write in Dennis Kucinich, or perhaps your mother; I can't see that it makes a whole lot of difference. People who are hoping that Barack or Hillary are going to save the US are clutching at straws, it seems to me. At this point, it doesn't really matter who the funeral director is, so to speak; what we've got in front of us is a corpse, and *that* is the "inconvenient truth" that is staring us in the face.

Best of luck, and thanks for writing.


1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman,

I recently read DAM. I liked it very much. Thank you for being blunt.


2:42 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anthony,

İ tend to abbreviate it DAA, but perhaps DAM cd work just as well :)


1:02 PM  
Blogger Toad47 said...


The link to this interview appears no longer to be available. Is there another way to access it?

I'd like to thank you for writing DAA. While it is depressing, I also found it heartening that others are concerned about and even documenting these issues. Others, of course, rail about this or that symptom, but you capture the larger structural trends.

I appreciate that you didn't apply a candy-coating of false hope. I agree that one of the largest impediments to our being able to rebound, as from previous dips, is the explosion of the always latent anti-intellectual climate in this country. Working, unfortunately, in the business world, I experience this acutely. Several years ago, I joined a company full of very smart, well-educated individuals, hopeful that I'd find more stimulating conversation than ever before. My illusions were quickly shattered when, at the start of a multi-day meeting of a new group, everyone was asked to mention the latest book they had read as part of their introductions. The few who'd read anything mostly cited lightweight business or inspirational books, with a couple of pop mysteries thrown in. More than half, however, said they'd no time to read (all of us were frequent flyers, and there's no better opportunity to read undisturbed than on a plane).

Worst of all, they stated their lack of reading proudly. I recall being struck by John Paul Paulos' observation in "Innumeracy" that intelligent people will readily declare themselves to be "bad at math," but would never admit to illiteracy. I'm afraid that we're not too far from the latter being worn as a badge of honor in our shallow, fast-moving, video-laden world. With that will go our means for reclaiming the best elements of our culture.



2:08 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

Yeah, sorry: Marc Steiner at WYPR said the link would only work for about a month or so, and I guess my time is up. Probably the best thing to do is to call him or his assistant, Justin Levy, at WYPR-FM in Baltimore, and ask him if there's a way to listen to the interview. I thought he was a good questioner, BTW, so it might be worth the effort.

Your description of illiteracy or antiliteracy in the business world is depressing, but hardly surprising. To be a bozo in the US is to be on the cutting edge of our "culture," sad to say. Just think of what it means when the citizens of a nation are proud that they don't read. I couldn't help thinking of a friend who described to me riding on the tube in London, and overhearing a few businessmen discussing the current candidates for the Man Booker Prize--books they were obviously familiar with, and typically among the best contemporary literature available. What clowns we are in the US; what sad, out-of-it clowns.

Thanx for writing, mon cher-


7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Berman, My daughter is a senior at Georgetown and wanted to know if you have any lectures scheduled for DC. Do you have a schedule on your blog and I simply missed it? I gave her a copy of Twilight of American Culture and she thinks it's great----because it is. And thank you for facilitating such an interesting blog. I enjoy reading the comments posted by others and your response to their questions and comments. It gives me hope---"Say what you have to say and not what you ought. Any truth is better than makebelieve." Not many people understood Thoreau over a hundred years ago so I guess it should be no surprise we're where we are today. But, anyhow, best wishes to you and Merry Christmas.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

There isn't much of a demand for me to speak in the US; no great surprise there. Next talk I've got scheduled is in Kentucky, in October. Only thing I can suggest is that your daughter try to talk GU into inviting me...which is probably a long shot. She might also talk to the folks in Sociology at CUA, where I was a Visitor for 3 years, as they might be willing to sponsor an event. Other than that, I don't know what to suggest. If it were a different country, I'd have an invitation every week; but then, I wouldn't have had to have written the 2 bks on the US that I did.

Glad you like the blog...yes, we don't worry abt saying the "right" thing here. I just encourage people to speak from their heart, and their head, in the most honest way they can.

Thanks for writing--I appreciate it.

Merry Xmas!


9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Berman, Thanks for the information and I'll pass it on to my daughter. They probably won't be too interested in her request particularly since her degree is in Foreign Service. I have a question for you----one thing that has puzzled me for a long time is the rampant materialism of my generation (the baby boomers) despite the supposed "sixties revolution" with the rejection of traditional values, an interest in Eastern spiritual values, protesting the war, etc. Was this a hollow show or passing fad? Our houses have gotten bigger and more elaborate (for example)and we've been pretty much in charge for the last twenty five years---certainly long enough to have changed America into a truly humane and just society if that's what the hippies really wanted. It felt hypocrital to me then and the results look it now. What do you think?

10:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Well, if she's in Foreign Service, you think the school would be interested in a speaker who wrote a book that was heavily devoted to US foreign policy. Fat chance, right? As for the 60s and materialism: I think the 60s thing was, at least in part, a genuine window onto another possibility; an alternate universe for the US, so to speak--what cd have been. This actually has a long tradition in American history (see David Shi, "The Simple Life"); Lewis Mumford was, way before the hippie generation, a leading light in the crusade for an alternative to commercialism, and for one person, he managed to accomplish quite a lot. But see ch. 7 of DAA, for example, regarding what happened to his aspirations in general, and to the attempt at a different kind of urban design. The problem is the context in which all of this has had to operate, which in the end trumps everything different and everything decent. There finally is no real possibility of routing the dominant culture, or even getting free of it. A Zen master sleeps with his (married) female students and needs to ride around in a Mercedes, for example. Ads in the late 60s in mainstream mags proclaim a "revolution in deodorants" (or whatever). Or more generally, the alternative path was not going to get one's kids into lucrative jobs, so it was easily shucked off as "youthful enthusiasm." Within a context of severe competition and incredible narcissism, one can't expect a whole lot. I recall that the very 1st Buddhist teacher in America, who d. in 1945,
left the comment that trying to get Buddhism to take root in the US was like holding a lotus to a rock. (What wd he say today?) Or to quote Mumford regarding the future of the American city (this ca. 1957; later, he wd have probably applied it to the country as a whole): "The disease is terminal; let's just make the patient as comfortable as possible."

Happy New Year!


11:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did reread the chapter you recommended and was reminded of the reasons "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Toward the end of the chapter you gave the example of Sen. Bond stating he wouldn't tell anyone they shouldn't be driving inefficent cars as (apparently)this is their God-given right. He has lots of company and some are members of my own family. I tried to talk to my oldest daughter about the SUV she drives and was told I was being "negative" and she didn't drive that much anyhow! The only thing that seems to have gotten her attention even for a second was the picture of a polar bear on the front of Time magazine stranded on a small icefloe. She and her other 30-something friends seem to be blissfully disinterested in the world around them and the cause and effect of their consumption----on the enviroment, economy, politics, everything. They do seem to be very satisfied with simplified explanations placing all the blame elsewhere. And this is not a dumb young woman---she has a PhD. I wish we had taken different roads and most particularly in the field of health care. The people who work in this field know how grim this reality really is. As bad as it is to have no insurance and no hope of any medical care, I've seen the flip side of this story, too. I rarely work with children but one night I was pulled to work on the child/adolsecent floor to do an admit. This child would never have been admitted to the hospital if he didn't have health insurance----he was six and had gotten into a fight at school and because he had been diagnosed with "explosive disorder" and rule out bipolar disorder his parents were told to call his psychiatrist. The mother (who looked exausted and discouraged)told me it takes one of her paychecks every month to pay for his "mental drugs" most of which are the newest (and most expensive) miracle drugs heavily marketed by the drug companies. He was six and most little boys get into fights but with the school's new zero-tolerance policy and the parent's good intentions to do everything the so-called professionals tell them to do, they were caught in the middle. If we had socialized medicine maybe some common sense would prevail. Maybe someday we'll know.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Unfortunately, it takes common sense first, to have socialized medicine and all the other things we need. Your daughter is actually a very typical American, Ph.D. notwithstanding. I live in a small Mexican town, and watch gringos come in here and pour $1/2 million into redoing a house, thereby putting the thing forever beyond the budget of the average Mexican citizen. So the town core becomes increasingly white, and the character of the whole town eventually changes--this has happened to so many places here--until the place sort of looks like a boutique-mall in California. These Americans are frequently "intelligent" (whatever that means) and well-meaning, but it never occurs to them to look at the larger picture; to say, "What will the effect of my doing this be on the community, on the social ecology of the place?" As in the case of buying an SUV or whatever, the only consideration is Me, that I feel good--and any thoughts to the contrary are just "negative." Americans are not merely grossly ignorant, as the stats in DAA and so many other contemporary books reveal; they are socially and sociologically stupid, and this is what the larger culture teaches them to be. I was just looking at the DVD of the very last Seinfeld episode (the "trial"), and it's quite obvious what Larry David wanted to drive home: the norm in American society is to go about your business and be completely oblivious to everybody else. Jerry's lawyer says, "You don't have to help *anybody*; that's what this country is all about!"; and the judge, when sentencing them to a year in jail, tells them that their behavior has "rocked the very foundations of civilization." Translation: American behavior rocks the foundations of civilization as we have known it for millennia. It's even possible that before the collapse I predict occurs, the whole planet might start to collapse, because of this out-of-control narcissism. And the truly odd feature of this is that it is perfectly "nice" people who are bringing all of this about--a fact that tends to render our cultural disintegration largely invisible (unless one really wants to see it).

As for our medical system, let me suggest another DVD: "Sicko," by Michael Moore--a real tour de force.

Sorry to be "negative." Thanks again for writing.


5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Berman, I read about 10 years ago when alot of Californians started moving to Montana the same thing happened that you describe happening in Mexico. The locals were not pleased and how (of if) they worked this out I never heard. They are, for the most part, well intentioned and genuinely believe they're doing the locals a favor raising the property values and perhaps, adding a little class to the neighborhood. I suppose it's natural to want to recreate elements of the home you left in the new place but, you're right, it pretty much defeats the reason for moving in the first place and the charm is unintentionally lost. But I think the Me first agenda is a human failing and not limited to Americans, it's just the consequences have never been greater and we're voracious consumers (tho India and China are showing real talent in this area, too). Why else would Buddha warn about self-interest and materialism 2500 years ago if they hadn't been present then, too? I don't pretend to have your scope or education to make these judgements, it's just based what I have read. And I have seen Sicko and found it to be a fair representation of our inadequate health care system. Two hours can't do it justice and that's not Micheal Moore's fault. The only candidate running for president who endorsed a single payer system was Kusinich and he withdrew from the race today! But we can always hope Hillary is our next President and First Hubby, Bill, can make a total mess of it just like she did. Thank you so much, as always, for your response.

8:20 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Yeah...I remember years ago, living in both Wash State and Cal, seeing bumper stickers on cars when I would drive thru Oregon: "Don't Californicate Oregon." As for the Buddha, if he was worried about this sort of thing 2500 years ago, I'm guessing he would faint dead away, were he to suddenly make an appearance in the US today. Talk about the Saint of Lost Causes...As for Hillary and health care, check out the article by Ari Berman in The Nation, 4 June 07, which documents her ties to medical corporations and Big Pharma (her recent health care proposal mentioned the word "drugs" 14 times...gee, what a shock). I don't think we can expect much more than a rerun of the Bill Clinton admin with her in office, which involved acting like a "compassionate liberal" while destroying the welfare system, manipulating identity politics, and overseeing the great Consumer State, whereby by 2000, the rich were significantly richer and the poor significantly poorer. Don't forget Marx's famous remark, that history shows up first as tragedy, then as farce.

Thanks for writing-


3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did read the article you recommended and am not at all surprised at the corruption---nor am I surprised that the information is not common knowledge. Watching the run up to the conventions and the elimination process in both parties, it's discouraging to see how much power to shape the issues (and choose the candiates) the media has. Several months ago Bill Moyers covered the public hearings relating to media consolidation. The vast majority of Americans were against it and showed up to protest in public hearings and were flatly ignored. So our sources of information will grow fewer while the biases grow more entrenched. The American public has shown itself to be quite malleable and this truly frightens me. And people seem to be receptive to extreme rhetoric when financial worries are high and they're looking for a scapegoat. My former sister in law sends me emails "how the Muslim's goal is world dominance" ---- of course, without a shed of evidence. She's met one Muslim in her entire life and he's a university professor and my daughter's mentor. Hardly a wild eyed insurgent building car bombs. The people who are paying attention are appalled----and powerless to change it.

12:39 PM  

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