April 29, 2009

How Chic Was My Progress

When it was hip to be hep, I was hep.

–From “I’m Hip,” by Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough

At one point in The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz quotes the German philosopher Max Scheler, who asked, “What is progress?” It’s a crucial question, and in the United States there is basically only one answer, involving the visible expression of technological innovation and economic expansion. Paz was not impressed with this notion of progress in 1950, when he wrote his famous essay, and it is a safe bet that he was increasingly disenchanted with the American model as the years wore on. Although he saw the flaws of his own culture quite clearly, he never felt that the American Way of Life was any kind of solution for Mexico or indeed, the rest of the world. Paz was prescient: at a time when everyone was celebrating America as an unrivaled success, he correctly pegged it as a wounded civilization, one that saw the future strictly in terms of novelty and never questioned what it was doing.

This extremely limited notion of the good life, combined with almost total unconsciousness, presents itself as daily reality in the U.S. I recall a friend of mine telling me, a few years ago, about a train trip she took up the California coast, during which she decided to walk through the cars very slowly, from back to front, almost pretending to be an invalid, so that she could eavesdrop on conversations. Every last one of these, she said, was about some gadget, some aspect of consumer technology–software, computer attachments, iPods, cell phone variations, etc. This is where, she concluded, Americans put their attention; it is what really excites them, makes them feel alive. Nor is this limited to Americans, of course. In the mid-eighties, when I was teaching at a Canadian university, my colleagues were literally ecstatic over the introduction of personal computers, firmly believing that these machines would write papers and books for them, perhaps help them get tenure or upgrade their entire careers (promises that failed to materialize, needless to say). As for south of the border, I was recently riding around Mexico City with a colleague of mine when we saw a huge billboard ad for some cell phone, with the caption, in three-foot high block capitals (in English, for some strange reason), KILL SILENCE. “Well,” I remarked to my colleague, “at least they are being honest about it.” “Oh,” he quipped, “you are fixated on cell phones.”

It’s hard to know how to reply to a dismissive remark of this kind, since even the brightest people don’t get it, and usually have no idea what George Steiner meant when he called modernity “the systematic suppression of silence.” Silence, after all, is the source of all self-knowledge, and of much creativity as well. But it is hardly valued by societies that confuse creativity with productivity. What I am fixated on, in fact, is not technology but the fixation on technology, the obsession with it. Unfortunately, it is hard to persuade those caught up in the American model of progress that it is they who are living in an upside-down world, not Octavio Paz.

For it doesn’t have to be this way. Notions of progress might conceivably revolve around how we treat each other in social situations, for example, not around the latest electronic toy. Some years ago I taught in the sociology department of a major American university, and marveled at my colleagues, who were constantly interrupting their conversations with each other to take cell phone calls–as if a conversation with someone who was not physically present were more important than one with someone who was. They had no idea of how rude they were on a daily basis, and regarded my own views on technology as “quaint.” Considering the damage this behavior was doing to human social interaction, and the fact that these folks were sociologists, I was impressed by the irony of it all. It was like being at a convention of nutritionists, each of whom weighed more than 300 pounds. After all, if obesity is the new health, what is there left to say?

This brings to mind the famous phrase coined by the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “defining deviancy down.” Moynihan pointed out that there was a process in American culture by which behavior traditionally regarded as selfish or vulgar–e.g., abruptly breaking off a conversation with one person to initiate one with someone else–rapidly becomes acceptable if enough people start doing it. Deviancy, in short, goes down to the lowest common denominator, finally becoming the norm. Indeed, the vulgarization and “narcissization” of American society had become so widespread by the mid-1990s that books were being written on incivility, and conferences held on the subject as well. But none of this made any difference for actual behavior, as even the most casual observation of contemporary American society reveals.

I remember, some years ago, then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talking about American (non)relations with Cuba, and stating that “we don’t want that model to be able to replicate itself”–the old contagion theory of communism, as it were. Well, I’m not big on dictatorships myself, but what about the danger of the American model replicating itself? When you go to New Zealand and see the Maori people talking on cell phones and watching American sitcoms, you know that Moynihan’s prediction about the world turning into trash is not very far off.

China, which is all set to replace the U.S. as the next hegemonic power, is of course replicating the American model with a vengeance. “To get rich is glorious,” declared Deng Xiaoping, and the 1990s witnessed the stripping away of time-worn (non-Maoist) Chinese models of good citizenship and moral participation in collective goals. The race was on to crank out as many cell phones, DVD players, televisions, shopping malls, and highways as possible. Monthly car production went from 20,000 in 1993 to 250,000 in 2004, and Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have spread through the country like wildfire. In China Pop, Jianying Zha gives us a vivid (read: garish and appalling) portrait of a country wallowing in mass consumerism, from soap operas to pornography and beyond. China is now dotted with privileged consumption zones, theme parks, and beauty pageants. Cosmetic surgery clinics abound, promising to give young women more rounded, Western eyes. In fact, the beauty industry grosses more than $24 billion a year. ”Consumerism became a religion,” writes Rachel Dewoskin in Foreign Babes in Beijing, as “street kiosks made way for sleek boutiques and cafés, where Chinese and foreigners lounged together, drinking lattes and Italian sodas.” Companies arrived like missionaries, she recalls, seducing the average Chinese with products they never knew they needed. In the progressive China of today, everyone, according to the British anthropologist David Harvey, “speculates on the desires of others in the Darwinian struggle for position.”

This is why we have more to fear from the American model of progress, and its replication on a world scale, than from some aged caudillo in Cuba. For what does it consist of, finally, when “freedom” means little more than “free enterprise”? As Harvey tells us in his remarkable study, A Brief History of Neoliberalism,

“that culture, however spectacular, glamorous, and beguiling,
perpetually plays with desires without ever conferring satisfactions
beyond the limited identity of the shopping mall and the anxieties
of status by way of good looks (in the case of women) or of material
possessions. ‘I shop therefore I am’ and possessive individualism
together construct a world of pseudo-satisfactions that is superficially
exciting but hollow at its core.”

This beguiling quality–the notion of culture as chic–is an enormous shell game, as Harvey demonstrates in his summary of what happened to New York City during the 1970s. A fiscal crisis arose, the product of rapid suburbanization that was destroying the tax base of the city. Financial institutions were prepared to bridge the gap between income and expenditure in the city budget, and expansion of public employment via federal funding was also being considered. But in 1975 a powerful group of investment bankers, led by Citibank, refused to roll over the debt and left the city technically bankrupt. Union activity was curtailed; cutbacks took place in education, public health, and transportation; and wealth got redistributed upward, to the rich and super rich. It was, says Harvey, “a coup by the financial institutions against the democratically elected government of New York City.” Both the social and the physical infrastructure of the city deteriorated, and the city government, the municipal labor movement, and working-class New Yorkers were stripped of their power.

That wasn’t the end of it, however. The next step on the part of the business community was to turn New York into a “good investment opportunity.” “Corporate welfare,” writes Harvey, “substituted for people welfare.” The idea was to sell New York as a tourist destination, and “I [Heart] New York” swept through the town as the new logo. As Harvey notes:

“The narcissistic exploration of self, sexuality, and identity became
the leitmotif of bourgeois urban culture. Artistic freedom and artistic
licence, promoted by the city’s powerful cultural institutions, led, in
effect, to the neoliberalization of culture. ‘Delirious New York’...
erased the collective memory of democratic New York....New York
became the epicentre of postmodern cultural and intellectual
experimentation. Meanwhile the investment bankers reconstructed
the city economy around financial activities...and diversified con-
sumerism (gentrification and neighbourhood ‘restoration’ playing a
prominent and profitable role). City government was more and more
construed as an enterpreneurial rather than a social democratic or
even managerial entity.”

Progress (so-called) has to be chic, in other words, and this integrates well with the neoliberal equation of freedom with lifestyle choice; which effectively kills democracy, or renders it irrelevant. Again, it’s a question of how you define it. Home visits by doctors, for example (the norm, when I was a child), have vanished almost completely, and Americans would hardly regard the return of this practice as progress. It may well be a life saver, but it’s not particularly hip. SUV’s that destroy the environment are chic; mass transit is not. Dog-eat-dog competition is chic; a social safety net, or a health system that actually works, is not. Best sellers praising globalization are chic; community and friendship, rather passé. And so on. Children get excited by toys, bright colors, and the latest gimmick; adults, by the prospect of a truly healthy society. As deviancy is defined downward across the planet, whether in New York or Beijing, it leaves very few adults in its wake.

As far as technology goes, the irony is that it seems to be failing in its own terms. The social and psychological damage of “life on the screen” has by now been documented by numerous studies; but when the technology is actually delivering the opposite of what was originally promised, one has to ask what it is all for. The literature on this is fairly large, so all I can do at this point is touch on some of the highlights.*

In Tyranny of the Moment, Norwegian anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen argues that while the period from 1980 saw a rapid expansion in so-called time-saving technologies, the truth is that we have never had so little free time as we do now. The Internet has made possible a huge expansion of available information, and yet all the data show an increasingly ignorant population. Changes that were touted as boosting creativity and efficiency have actually had the opposite effect. Air travel is now so heavily congested that by 2000, fifty percent of the flights connecting major European cities were delayed. In the U.S., road traffic tripled during 1970-2000, and the average speed involved in getting around decreased every year. In fact, the average speed of a car in New York City in 2000 was about seven miles per hour, and we can guess that it is even less today. Etc.

One activity heavily promoted as “progressive” was multitasking, made easy by the use of a variety of compact technologies. Yet a study conducted by the University of London in 2005, according to the journalist Christine Rosen, revealed that workers who are distracted by e-mail and cell phone calls suffer a fall in I.Q. of more than twice that experienced by pot smokers. In 2007, she notes, a major U.S. business analyst (Jonathan Spira, at a research firm called Basex) estimated that multitasking was costing the American economy $650 billion a year in lost productivity, and a University of Michigan study revealed that it causes short-term memory loss. In general, writes Walter Kirn, “Neuroscience is confirming what we all suspect: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy.” Specifically, it interferes with areas of the brain related to memory and learning; it actually slows our thinking. The problem seems to be that when you move from one task to another, you have to keep “revving up” to get back to doing what you were doing before. Hence, the quality of work gets compromised due to loss of focus and loss of time. In general, the Net lowers the brain’s capacity for concentration and contemplation; “reading on the Net” is almost a contradiction in terms. “We inevitably begin to take on the quality of those technologies,” writes Nicholas Carr; “our own intelligence...flattens into artificial intelligence.”

All in all, it now appears that endless technological innovation and economic expansion, which have only themselves as their goal, finally undermine social relations, redefine common sense, and interfere with our ability to think. Harvey hits the nail on the head when he argues for the existence of an inner connection between “technological dynamism, instability, dissolution of social solidarities, environmental degradation, deindustrialization, rapid shifts in time-space relations, speculative bubbles, and the general tendency towards crisis formation within capitalism.” We are caught in a contradiction, he says, between “a seductive but alienating possessive individualism on the one hand and the desire for a meaningful collective life on the other.”

Personally, I don’t think there is much doubt as to which of these two options is going to win out. By 2050, the planet is expected to have a population of 10 to 11 billion people. Competition for food and water will be fierce; resources in general will be scarce. The majority of this population will probably be living on less than two dollars a day, and “iron” governments will arise to manage politically unstable situations . And yet, there may be an odd silver lining to this, as Blade Runner descends on us in earnest: clutched in the hand of every man, woman, and child will be a state-of-the-art cell phone, and in front of each individual the hippest of personal computers. Granted, we may be collectively dying, but at least we’ll be chic.

©Morris Berman, 2009

*To mention a few key sources: Thomas Hylland Eriksen, Tyranny of the Moment (London: Pluto Press, 2001); Nicole Aubert, Le culte de l’urgence (Paris: Flammarion, 2003); Christine Rosen, “The Myth of Multitasking,” The New Atlantis, No. 20 (Spring 2008), pp. 105-10; Walter Kirn, “The Autumn of the Multitaskers,” Atlantic Monthly, November 2007; Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008.


Blogger Ti-Guy said...

Speaking of Canada, I wonder if you've ever come across the works of Don Tapscott? This man is being flogged all over our media and it's startling just how uncritical the reception of his unbridled techno-exuberance has been. I've yet to cinch my gorge tightly enough to read any of his works, but from what I gather, his assertions are substantiated with the evidence gathered through opinion polls and self-reported surveys.

That last mechanism for discovery is something that has become epidemic with this new technology. I've never had faith in self-reported surveys (people's behaviour tells you much more about them then what they can articulate themselves). Yet this type of evidence is used everywhere to support any thesis imaginable.

If I were dictator, I'd issue an outright ban on opinion polls.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Julius Evola was even more prescient and perspicacious than Paz with respect to his evaluation of the United States' essential nature and future. See the following, from "American 'Civilisation'", which was published soon after the end of World War II:

"There is a popular notion about the United States that it is a 'young nation' with a 'great future before it'. Apparent American defects are then described as the 'faults of youth' or 'growing pains'. It is not difficult to see that the myth of 'progress' plays a large part in this judgement. According to the idea that everything new is good, America has a privileged role to play among civilised nations.

The structure of history is, however, cyclical not evolutionary. It is far from being the case that the most recent civilisations are necessarily 'superior'. They may be, in fact, senile and decadent. There is a necessary correspondence between the most advanced stages of a historical cycle and the most primitive.

America is the final stage of modern Europe. Guenon called the United States 'the far West', in the novel sense that the United States represents the reductio ad absurdum of the negative and the most senile aspects of Western civilisation. What in Europe exist in diluted form are magnified and concentrated in the United States whereby they are revealed as the symptoms of disintegration and cultural and human regression. The American mentality can only be interpreted as an example of regression, which shows itself in the mental atrophy towards all higher interests and incomprehension of higher sensibility. The American mind has limited horizons, one conscribed to everything which is immediate and simplistic, with the inevitable consequence that everything is made banal, basic and levelled down until it is deprived of all spiritual life. Life itself in American terms is entirely mechanistic. The sense of 'I' in America belongs entirely to the physical level of existence. The typical American neither has spiritual dilemmas nor complications: he is a 'natural' joiner and conformist.

The primitive American mind can only superficially be compared to a young mind. The American mind is a feature of the regressive society to which I have already referred".

(My regrets if the post is too long, but it is so pertinent that I could not resist quoting Evola at length. I hope it is not necessary to add that my quoting Evola with approval on this subject does not mean that I endorse or share other aspects of his thought).

5:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kevin,

We'll hafta call it the Evola virus, I guess (ha ha). When Freud visited the United States, he concluded that it was a "gigantic mistake." Perhaps it was for the very same reasons, I dunno.

Thanx for writing,

7:42 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

An interesting counterpoint to these views are in Margaret Atwoods' book Payback, Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. In the last chapter she presents a version of E. Scrooge receiving visits from the ghosts of the Earth, seeing the price paid by the current Market as God syndrome, the loss of species, general breakdown....the chimpanzees have a kind of reciprocal altruism that humans have lost touch with in our numbed-out, techno-crazy lifestyle.
Scrooge is shown the plague from the Middle Ages and our current flu pandemic comes to mind, arising out of animal factories. Our enormous debts come back to haunt us.
(By the way, I wonder how you are surviving the flu
outbreak in Mexico??)
The discussion of debt as plot, selling one's soul is so relevant to your discussion of our rejection of silence, of community.
Thank you for your blog/your enlivening voice...so helpful to me, living in version of life in USA...

12:57 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Lizzie,

Well clearly, great minds think alike. I just got back from a town 1.5 hrs from here (took the bus), where I have my US mail drop, and there in the mail was Marg's book. I started reading it on the bus ride home. Great stuff.
It amazes me how much (a few people) know about our situation, and how little difference it makes--a point made by another CBC "Ideas" program(me) person in 1986, Doris Lessing ("Prisons We Choose to Live in"). A friend asked me why I bother writing at all, at this pt, since I know it won't make a bit of difference. I told him that somebody's got to keep a record of our demise, if only for future generations. I also feel like the guy sitting on the edge of a cliff, watching all the lemmings running over the edge, and saying to no one in particular, "Look at all those lemmings running to their death! Isn't that incredible?" Well, so much for useless self-flattery, if that's what it is. I look forward to finishing Marg's book.

As for the flu: vastly overblown. The real epidemic is panic, imo. Anyway, I feel quite safe down here, but thanx for asking.

And for writing-


7:13 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

A friend of mine recently told me- "Living at the world's pace has become insane by definition: You can't win, you can't break even- and you can't get out of the game without hurting the people you care about." He's concerned that if he attempts to "pull the plug" and slow down, his children will suffer by not having the "advantages" their peers enjoy. I'm afraid he might be right.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Ron said...

Hi Morris,

Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, as always. In my view, "progress" is definitely overrated. Some years ago, I ran across a line by a poet that has stayed with me. Unfortunately, I can't remember the poet's name. Anyway, the line was: "Is it progress when cannibals get forks?"

1:27 PM  
Anonymous Freddy el Desfibradddor said...

Polish poet Stanislaw Lec asked, "Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?"

12:28 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Friends-

Just a short note. Once again, I have to ask that your letters be no more than 2-3 paragraphs. I've been getting ones that go on for pages; obviously, I can't post them. In fact, I don't even read them. So please: take it as your slogan that brevity is the soul of true communication (at least in the context of a blog).

Thank you!


1:48 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I wonder if anyone else has noticed the increased use of the word "dated" these days? I hear it & read it all the time, applied to anything more than a few years old. It's a side-effect of the lust for progress -- the New is deified to the extent that anything Not New is obsolete, useless, offering nothing of value to the present.

Yet what dates faster than the New? This worldview makes everything ephemeral, rootless; it destroys cultural & even personal continuity; it makes even the newest New already seeded with decay & rot. It posits a future where everything is always new & improved, but already out-of-date & essentially worthless.

And it narrows vision. With the flood of technology that theoretically makes the entire world & its past instantly available, most people settle into a very narrow comfort zone of familiarity. Black & white films? Novels written more than 10 or 15 years ago? Novels, period? Ideas? DATED!

This sort of progress promises unlimited potential & possibilities, but winds up locking the indiviudal into some homogenized Now that's connected to -- what?

I could post plenty of anecdotal evidence, things heard in conversation, etc. I'll bet everyone else here can do the same.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

Well, the best source for that subject I know of is Zygmunt Bauman; if you haven't read his work yet, I think you'll "enjoy" it.

I recall being on a panel with Gary Snyder in 1979 in San Fran, at a conference I organized with Peter Berg, and Gary and I were having a friendly debate on modernity vs. tradition. He said, "Well, it's like the used parts bin. We throw things out, but then we find it might be necessary to go back to the bin and recognize that there is valuable stuff there."

Here in Mexico, nothing gets thrown out--literally everything is repaired. It adds to the country's quiet, "disheveled" ambience; and I tell you, I love it. The new, the trendy, the gleaming, the US--boring!


10:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Thanks for the recommendation. I've just ordered "Liquid Modernity," and I'll definitely be ordering further volumes in the near future.

Yes, the disposability of modern society is astounding -- and frightening. Not just for material things, although the amount of waste there is truly appalling, but for ideas, art, human relationships. Gulliver's encounter with the Yahoos is beginning to feel very real to me these days!

11:02 AM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Heard a woman describe the environment at Bear Stearns --a scary free-for-all, street-fighters seemed civilized in comparison. This is extreme but not so different from many business environments. Our economic model has a Darwinian style, though probably not in the true spirit of Darwin, who was not convinced that evolution equaled progress. I always wonder what model we might have had if Wallace had been remembered and read, with his concerns about evolution and survival of the fittest leading to governments offering no safety nets.
Cooperation or mutualisms that are forces in evolution would provide a model that is more beneficial and “evolved” in my thinking. A distant relative made a film about the Japanese people’s interest in insects, and she talked about their seeing beauty in the common thing, the smallest thing. Also a connection with nature that persists despite their “progress”.
I can find few examples of cultural institutions that have a healthy relation to the natural world, and this is where potential progress is-- the only thin alleyway out of our current rampant destruction. Native Americans certainly and the Japanese Shinto could lead us there, only no one would listen.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

"Consuming Life" is another one of his I thought was excellent.

Lizzie: The trouble with anything adopted in the US is that it gets caught up in pseudo-religiosity plus commercial hustle. Remember the New Age?(!) On cooperation as part of our evolution: check out the work of Robert L. Trivers.

Thanx 2u both-


7:53 PM  
Anonymous Kevin S. said...

"a healthy relation to the natural world"

There are an enormous number of assumptions built into this statement, many of them questionable, from my perspective. Perhaps the most questionable is that there are other groups that have figured out how best to live (Native Americans, etc.), and that we should follow their lead.

My one view is that "we" still know next to nothing about anything, and that a wholesale revaluation of every value, a cleansing of the mental Augean stables, is necessary before any further stages in evolution should even be contemplated.

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Lizzie makes a good point about "a healthy relationship with the natural world." I would broaden the consideration to indigenous peoples in many places on the planet. The NW Native Americans lived about 50,000 years here without leaving much evidence of their presence. Native peoples have much to teach those who can listen.

The aggressive and destructive nature of technological people with their centralized religions, politics and alienation from the biological world of which they are a part, is a horrific new global event.

Evolution will proceed, with or without our contemplation and I suspect most of us will be culled.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Lizzie said...

Thank you for your comments. I wanted to interject some Robert P. Harrison to say more about human/nature relation. His ideas are fairly large and I can only give tiny snipets. He says “we live not in nature but in our relation to nature, which means that human nature, for all its indeterminacy, is determined by its relation to nature. (from Uncommon Ground ed. Cronon)
He argues that humans have lost the instinctive knowledge of dying. “Nature knows how to die, but human beings know mostly how to kill as a way of failing to become their ecology. Because we alone inhabit logos, we alone must learn the lesson of dying time and time again. Yet we alone fail in the learning…when we do not speak our death to the world we speak death to the world.” (from Forests) He explains our destruction of nature in our denying death, but I suggest reading Forests: the Shadow of Civilization, as he traces our relation to forest and nature thru literature and philosophy. Harrison and Berman seem to explain different facets of the same piece . (Not sure what you would say.) Anyway, hard to express it all in short blog entry. No real prescriptions. Like M. Berman says…like watching lemmings jump.
Though I have great respect for Freeman Dyson, I disagree on climate change--in that it may not be a bad thing for the planet.
Thank you for mentioning R. Trivers. I am enjoying.

10:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Lizzie,

Thanks again for writing. For a related, but not identical, take on the subject, you might want to check out "The Denial of Death," by Ernest Becker--one of the classic works of the 20th century.


11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


"The aggressive and destructive nature of technological people with their centralized religions, politics and alienation from the biological world of which they are a part, is a horrific new global event."

Your anthropological knowledge is a bit out of date. Do some rudimentary research, and you'll discover that primal and indigenous peoples have also had a deleterious effect on the environment--not on the same scale as technological civilization, but negative, nonetheless.

"Evolution will proceed, with or without our contemplation".

That statement has nothing to do with the point I was making, which related to lizzieoriel's remarks about evolution.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

When Lizzie wrote about cooperation as a force in evolution, the work of Lynn Margulis on symbiosis and cell evolution came to mind. Margulis has been critical of Neo-Darwinism's extension into the economic model Lizzie talked about.

Margulis also collaborated with James Lovelock on the Gaia hypothesis; some may dismiss her ideas as New Age animism. But I doubt that Darwinism and Evolutionary Psychology is sufficient to explain all that's going on here.

4:26 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

This recent post was of special interest to me as I returned from a trip to Turkey just a few days ago. We spent most of the time in the countryside and got to see quite a few villages and meet the people who live there. Our guide, a 33 year old young man, was singing the praises of globalization and praying for the day Turkey would join the EU. His reasons for wanting this were so "everyone could have the same life he did" meaning (I'm pretty sure) cell phones, discos, casual encounters, internet access, etc. We talked about the negative effects of globalization and he admitted that Turkey's currency would be devalued by about 50%, many of the small shopkeepers would be driven out of business and the old ways of producing and selling food would become illegal and have to be changed or eliminated. Yet he honestly didn't consider this to be of any real consequence. Are people so mesmerized by the idea of "progress at any cost" that they're not willing to even look at the REAL cost of doing business this way? Satellite dishes were everywhere and I would guess visitors in ten years will find a much different country than I did. Even though I like electricity, indoor plumbing and the ability to travel to other countries I know they're not free ---- it takes oil and other natural resources to keep us comfortable and these won't last in abundance forever. The consumer, mindless entertainment, technology driven way of life seems to be swamping us and not too many can resist its lure.

10:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Yeah, I was in Turkey 2 yrs ago, and saw much the same thing. It's odd, that at the same time US political and economic influence is waning, its cultural reach grows stronger and stronger. Ariel Dorfman pegged this as the appeal to the childlike and the childish, which America does so well (Cokes, Big Macs, electronic toys, Disney; see his book "The Empire's Old Clothes"). Being an adult requires at least this: grasping the larger picture, and connecting the dots. The number of adults on the planet is dwindling rapidly with the spread of Americanization; the number actually living within the US is probably something like a few thousand (at a generous estimate).


3:50 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Wow, thank goodness I read the following article, "In Defense of Distraction":


Otherwise, I may never have learned the folly of my ways in complaining of technological distractions. The article's author has set me straight, thank goodness. How could anyone remain unconvinced by the following moving peroration:

"Kids growing up now might have an associative genius we don’t—a sense of the way ten projects all dovetail into something totally new. They might be able to engage in seeming contradictions: mindful web-surfing, mindful Twittering. Maybe, in flights of irresponsible responsibility, they’ll even manage to attain the paradoxical, Zenlike state of focused distraction".

(My sarcasm, passim, requires no elaboration, I hope)

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having read your blog and your books, I can't disagree that it really is as bad as your aver: the twilight of American preminence (among other things). Some would add that we're in the final stages of industrial civilization as well, considering that globalization has expanded the reach of American idols and illusions to the point that nearly everyone is now locked into the same destiny. It's sobering, to say the least, to recognize it all slipping away -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Where I differ is your assessment that so few of us have an inkling of what's going on in the culture and the world. Your commenters are proof enough that there is still considerable erudition, sensitivity, and integrity out there. Cultivating and acquiring such qualities is practically heretical, but lots of people are doing it -- I suspect many more than the few thousand you estimate. However, those heretics are undoubtedly overwhelmed by the dominant culture and teeming masses, which renders positive, hard-won qualities both invisible and irrelevant. Still, many of us persevere.

Whether the monastic individual, as you've called the type, or a group of them will be enough to save anything worthwhile from the wreck of this civilization remains to be see. It's anyone's guess, really. I'm not all that optimistic.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kevin,

Yes, one hears that mindless kind of crap everywhere these days--it's a new type of learning etc. The counter to that is by now quite extensive, as I've indicated in the footnote to my posting. Also check out Christine Rosen's article, "People of the Screen," in the journal New Atlantis (this during the last year or so); and the recent essay in The Nation by Elisabeth Sifton called "The Long Goodbye."

Brutus, I hope you are right about the numbers, and that we are really talking about many millions of aware and concerned individuals. I just don't see the evidence for it. I'm telling you, even very bright people I know and like think life is about gadgets and profits.


5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a 14 year old German student, who has been living in our town for two years, visit my high school German class. He started talking about philosophy, the ancient Greeks, the value of a Classical education, etc. He took Latin and ancient Greek in Germay as well as French, and English. He finished by saying that in Germany all of his fellow students are pushing themselves in order to compete with China and India. I reemphasized this point for my American students in English, and they rolled their eyes and several put their heads back onto their desks. My high school also recently took British Literature out of the curriculum and made it into Multicultural/multiethnic perspectives or something like that. No more "Heart of Darkness" or "Hamlet." Now the students read, "The Five Things You Learn in Heaven" or "Jurassic Park". My German program is hanging by a thread. When German goes it will be with a "whimper" and not with a "bang". 90% of the student body takes two years of Spanish and then takes 1/2 day work release. They are even thinking of bringing Mandarin in. That should be easy to master in two years for all of our students who can barely pass French, German and Spanish. But it is all about perception, not reality. The irony here is that we are consistently ranked among the top 100 public high schools in America. I wonder what is "happening" in the bottom 95%.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Lieber Anon,

You *know* what's going on in the bottom 95%: they're steeped in dreck.

I've quoted Schiller here before, no? "Gegen Dummheit selbst die Goetter vergebens kaempfen."

What a joke we are living in, eh?


10:59 PM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Anon. and Dr. Berman,
I have discovered the answer to Anon's question, "What is happening in the bottom 95%?" of schools in the U.S.
Two nights ago, my daughter was inducted into her high school's Honor Club - not to be confused with the National Honor Society, which is a different entity. A student must have 3.5 GPA, good behavior, and a teacher's recommendation to be included in the Honor Club. The principal opened her remarks with the astonishing announcement that fully 54% of the *entire student body* was thusly qualified and was therefore being inducted that night. This comment was met with wild applause and whistles. In my mind, however, it simply begged the question: just how dumbed-down *is* the curriculum anyway, when more than half the students can possess a 3.5 GPA? My daughter pointed out later that included in the inductees were students who had achieved a B-plus average in remedial classes and students who were repeating an entire grade level.
But the answer to your question is: there *is* no bottom 95%. Our children and our schools are all special, wonderful and exceptional. We are all achieving at 100% and we are all being all that we can be. To even suggest that any given American child (or his parent/s) is lacking in any skill, ability, mental capacity or innate inner beauty would be damaging to the self-esteem and hinder the growth of the tender shoots of narcissism that we so clearly cherish and hold dear.
My sarcasm is heavy-handed. In my own defense, I offer as contrast my experience of two weeks ago, when I was allowed to be a member of the audience as my second child defended his senior thesis, "Ending It When It's Over: An Investigation into Turnus' Death and the Last Scene of the 'Aeneid'" at St. John's College, Annapolis campus.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Teri,

Well, you remember that refrain from "Prairie Home Companion," that in Lake Wobegon "all the children are above average." As for your offspring: kudos, but whom the hell is s/he gonna talk to as a truly intelligent young adult in contemporary America? That could be a very lonely road. I'm hoping s/he has plans for graduate school in Europe...

Thanks for writing, as usual-


8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading these comments gets me thinking about what Tocqueville said about the "tyranny of the majority" which is a force that no despot could wield but "democratic" societies routinely use to enforce conformity. This results in a herd mentality that tolerates no dissent and brooks no compromise with the way the masses think and act. No wonder Tocqueville could find no freedom of thought in this society.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Teri,

Congratulations Teri on rearing such bright children---I've known maybe 5 people in my life who have ever heard of The Aeneid much less read it. He may find it difficult to find like minded souls but I think that's always been the case. Reading the post from the German language teacher was sad but predictable too. I wish we would face the reality that only a small percentage --- maybe 10% --- have any business in a university and let the others identify their interest and pursue it without clogging up the system. All my niece wanted to do was coach basketball but there she sat for four years learning nothing. The system is dumbed down b/c of this; in a history class of 100 there could be 10 actually interested but the professor has to deal with 90 others who could care less. I envy no one who's teaching today. Wouldn't it make more sense to stop pushing "a college education" on kids who are too immature, disinterested or untalented to reap its rewards? But that's where the whole self-esteem issue comes in---no one wants to face the fact that the majority (which probably includes them and their kids) don't want to read The Aeneid (but still insist on a university education) and then make it an issue of personal worth instead of a realistic assessment of talent and interest. So not only do people who want to read and study the classics have a hard time finding each other but time and resources are also wasted pretending everyone is equally gifted.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Yes, our neighbors are stupid and infantile, but...how many of the few thousand adults in this country follow Gary Snyder's bioregional advice: "stay together, learn the flowers, go light"? Americans are fond of being on the move, so our family and friends are usually scattered all over the map. When we go out to a Thai restaurant for dinner, discussing Proust, do we care how or where our tofu was produced?

My Father used to complain that my Aunt was an "ignorant peasant". And, in many respects, she was; but she also grew her own vegetables, and cooked food from scratch in her kitchen. Snyder said that "the real work is becoming native in your heart." Sorry for the rant, but to know is not always enough.

12:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think you hit the nail on the head. In every class I am teaching to the 5 or so kids who are interested at all. I keep the rest quiet so that those 5 "gems" can learn, and design my lessons with them in mind. Of course I have to repeat information again and again in order for the masses to pass the class,(there is no studying going on at home) and I can't go as fast as I otherwise would. Germany divides its students in the 4th grade and only the top 3rd or less are even permitted to go to college. The rest go into the apprenticeship system. Only lawyers, teachers, doctors, scientists, etc. go to college. They don't pretend that all are intelligent. In America an undergraduate degree is now like a high school degree. Many of my "gems" say that college is actually easier than what we do in high school. Where is the excellence? Another writer talked about honors society, etc. The grades are dumbed down. In our department 50% of the kids get an "A". There was a British movie called "Notes on a Scandal". One teacher tells another that the "gems" keep you going, keep you motivated, keep you coming to school every day. I couldn't agree more. The problem is when you get a class of thugs, and there is no one interested. This is starting to happen, and those are the years when you wonder what the heck you are doing.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm surrounded by doctors, lawyers, educators, mostly older professionals and intellectuals. One personal acquaintance sometimes teaches at Cambridge. They often talk with me if they want something fixed. None of them kills what they eat. I love them. It is fun to sit around the fire with a good tequila and talk.

I also know some kids in their twenties who know how to build shelters, kill for food, and build skin kayaks. Many of them dropped out of school. They sit and talk too.

My youngest son just graduated from a highly rated liberal arts college. When I mentioned to him that it will someday make a great village with its many rooms, gardening space and big kitchen, he thought I was kidding.

My native neighbors in Panama won't know or care about collapse, except that fewer rich gringos will come around to hire workers and take the fish.

9:20 PM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Dr. Berman, Susan, Art, Dave, Anon;
I regret my last letter, which is snarky and looks like a bid for compliments. My children (the one who just graduated from St. John's is a son, BTW) are much more intelligent and driven to excel than I have any right to expect, given the horrible personal choices I have made, the consequences of which they then had to suffer. By rights, they should be stumbling around walking into walls at this point. The fact that each is more gifted than I cannot necessarily be attributed to my mothering skills, but to their own desire to learn and a certain inner strength - some might say stubbornness - which they simply *had*, from somewhere unknown. Maybe it's as simple as this: they did not want to live *my* life.
Whatever, I can't take credit.
Gibran wrote of children, "They come through you but not from you". That strikes me as true.
As to who they talk to, well, I'm the one with the intellectual snobbery. (Absolutely faux, I am embarrassed to admit, but, *dang* most people are just so stupid. See? I can just never leave it alone.) My kids are very catholic in their friendships. They each have "smart" friends to play chess with, "arty" friends to enjoy music with, and an odd assortment of people they just like because they are "nice" people. Some of the nice people need help with homework at times.
What I forget *most* the time, and what my "Johnny", as St. John's students are called, *never* forgets is that people may have more to offer than is readily apparent. Two little stories about him: He asked for wool socks a few weeks after Christmas his freshman year. I was surprised, as I had just given him new socks, and asked what had happened to them. Well, it turns out that he carries them in his backpack as he's out and about and when the homeless people approach, he offers them a choice; they can split his sandwich (which he gets free from his part-time job off-campus) with him, provided they sit in the coffee shop and actually eat with him, or they can have a pair of socks. They all know by now that he never has much money, being a scholarship student. One time, he came home with a hand-made booklet filled with poetry. He had traded some socks for the poetry, written by a young and not altogether right in the head homeless guy he knows. My son said that although the poetry was really bad, he couldn't help but feel he had the better part of the trade. The homeless man had worked hard and sweated over the poems, and besides, had not been asking for a handout, but an exchange of goods; my son thought that should be encouraged.
The second story is this: I actually just recently asked him who he would talk to when school was done - where would he find other "Johnny-type" people? He responded that sometimes too much intellectual pursuit at the expense of morals or innate kindness could lead to a dangerous authoritarian mindset. "Mom," he said, "fully a quarter of the Johnnies are incipient neocons. They really *are* smarter than most Americans, but believe that that in itself means they should have the right to rule and have complete authority. Unfortunately, they thus also find oligarchy preferable to democracy. I'll always have the other 3/4 of my classmates to talk to, but I'd rather hang out with a few dummies and teach them how to use democracy than discuss Plato with someone who feels the fact that he *can* discuss Plato makes him a more worthwhile person."
I suppose my point, if I have meandered to it, finally, is that we need to find a way to utilize and encourage all sorts of skills, not just the intellectual, while at the same time pushing for as much stretching of the mind as possible in each and every case. I think I tend to overly value "book-learning" at the expense of just "learning"; Dr. Berman's question re: my son's companions made me think a bit harder about that.
The system we currently have, of rewarding mediocrity, mendacity, and greed is really not working at all.

5:33 PM  
Blogger CRE said...

Hola Morris:

Te escribo desde México y por supuesto en español. Interesante reflexión sobre el tema del multitasking. ¿Que piensas de lo que el gobierno de México está haciendo con los programas de filosofía en bachillerato.

Saludos. Carlos Ríos E.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Teri,

I don't think intelligence is merely a question of I.Q. Robert MacNamara must have one of the highest IQ's in the US, and he's an utter fool. The same could be said of Dick Cheney (though I would add 'psychotic' as well). The CIA is staffed with brilliant individuals (not Tenet, obviously, tho he's long gone) who behave like marionettes on strings. Bright people are taken in by gurus all the time. How many Americans see that the 2-party system is a shuck? How many voted for Nader or Kucinich? You get the picture.

Carlos: Que el esta haciendo, especificamente? Dime mas...mb

12:11 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Teri,
Thank you for your moving letter. Your son sounds like a remarkable individual: head and heart working together to form a whole person.

Prof. Berman,
Just because hardly anyone voted for a third party candidate doesn't necessarily mean everyone else doesn't care or isn't thinking. Yes, we're still waiting for Obama's integrity to catch up with his intelligence. About the only thing he's gotten right so far is to plant a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. And, if Michael Pollan is right and it all comes down to food, then at least it's a symbolic step forward.

Who knows what a President Kucinich would have meant: appointing Shirley MacLaine as Secretary of State? I'm not sure I know much of anything anymore.

8:23 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

The question is how many Americans share Nader-Kucinich type values, and I think it's safe to say, less than 1%. I meet so many Americans down here in Mexico who regard Obama as a serious change in direction from Bush merely because he can speak correct English and isn't a dolt--as though changes in style amounted to changes in substance. Added to this, the detailed list of Obama's activities since taking office, as compiled by Chris Hedges on truthdig.com, which amount to his serious allegiance to corporate America and the Pentagon. The fact is that even the symbolic steps are negative, let alone the material ones.


9:47 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Teri,

I didn't think the remarks about your son's accomplishments were snarky. He sounds like an exceptional young man and you're justifiably proud. I found out long ago that intelligence doesn't equal decency and is only one facet to a person. We've all known or seen very bright people use their high IQ more as a weapon than a gift, look down on people who weren't as bright and "out smart" them. Probably the most unusual and best combination is intelligence, judgement and sensitivity. McNamara was very smart with poor judgement and no sensitivity and the results were disasterous. It seems like with the elimination of arts programs, the rise in the number of business majors in college and the relentless testing to raise artifical test scores we're sacrificing important, irreplaceable facets of our humanity. But many people see this as "practical"---and as progress.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous teri schooley said...

Dear Dr. Berman,
Ah, Kucinich, what an interesting man he is. I like to call him my "main man"; he's the only one left in the House or Senate whose opinion can't be bought.
His recent run for president was another lesson for me in how politics in the U.S. actually works (or doesn't), and it is hard to believe that the public still falls for it after the obvious scam of the '00 and '04 elections. He was "invited" to - what? two? - of the "debates" in the primaries and after being completely ignored in the first and complaining about it, the "moderator" deigned to ask him one question in the second regarding his stance on UFOs.
The media then completely ignored him except to occasionally bring up flying saucers or run a picture of his wife. It had been decided, well in advance, I think, who would win each party's primary and Kucinich wasn't the one.
Yet during the Democratic National Convention, Kucinich gave a remarkable speech he called "Wake Up, America!" which is worth watching, if one can find it on youtube or somewhere. Sandwiched between dull and predictable speeches by assorted others, this one had the entire crowd on its feet, roaring in approval. He got a standing ovation at the end. His candidacy was the one I supported and I pondered at the time of the "Wake Up, America" speech that he could have drawn a relatively large following had he *actually been shown to the public*. People did not vote for him simply because he was not allowed to present himself - no-one knew who he was, and that was done intentionally.
He tried to smack some sense into Congress on the "bailout", using his time on the floor to ask the other Congressmen, "What do you think you're doing? You are getting ready to rob the taxpayers and give the money to the biggest schemers in the country. Why are you doing that, what's wrong with you?" After the bailout passed and the other Congressmen had run home to do their re-election campaigning, a reporter found Kucinich in his office, the one light on in an otherwise empty building and asked him why he was there. Kucinich replied that his constituents knew who he was, knew he would always vote on the issues the way he said he would, they would either re-elect him or not; but in the meantime, Washington had made a huge financial mess of things and he had work to do.
He refers to the health reform plans as currently offered by the White House as "a swindle" and "a bailout for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries". His plan, the "Medicare for All Act", is not only not covered by the media as a viable option; it is not covered at all.
He probably doomed himself to obscurity when he came up with the idea of a Peace Department to replace the jingoistic military and defense sectors. Whoever is actually running this country sure doesn't want an idea like that gaining any traction. For some reason, the guy just keeps plugging along, and at least he is valued in his own district.
The public is lazy and stupid and appallingly full of blood-lust, but I think some (all?) of that is deliberately encouraged here in the US. I wonder how different a country we would have if the media weren't so controlled. Witness the credit card reform bill just signed into law (which is the junkiest "reform" I've ever seen), which is touted as a winner for the little guy by the media, the Congress and Obama. It also, weirdly, allows the carrying of concealed weapons in national parks. Enjoy your picnic! Hmm, isn't the area around the Reflecting Pool and the various national monuments under the purview of the National Park System? *That* may turn out to be uncomfortably close for those who work on Capital Hill; gotta wonder if they ever even noticed the Park Police horses as they strolled to the office.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Teri,

Thanks for your searching commentary. I do have to ask you, along with everybody else, to please limit your contributions to about 2-3 paragraphs at most. Otherwise, I shall (normally) not be able to post them.

Yes, the press does make sure that any third party possibility, or any fundamental critique of the system, doesn't get through to the public. The investment in status quo, and ridiculing critics of it, is quite heavy. It goes beyond 'conspiracy', however; it's more about being brainwashed along with the rest of the country. As I have repeatedly shown in the articles posted here, the mythologies by which this country lives by run very deep, and go back a very long ways. Whereas criticism in many other nations gets heard and debated, here it evokes a knee-jerk reaction that simply wipes it off the screen. I've seen this time and time again. So MacNamara (e.g.) is a brilliant guy, and a fool, because along with 99% of the country there are two things he simply cannot do: see the larger picture, and connect the dots. Doing these things enables one to reflect on who we really are, and why we really are that way. 99% of this country is living under water, and any kind of 'Kucinich-wakeup' is simply not going to happen. It makes no difference that Chris Hedges (e.g.), among others, specifically document Obama's sellout to corporate America and the Pentagon; oh no--the Dems love him, the NY Times loves him, and that is (apparently) all we need to know. Who, really, was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright? The press literally abolished him. Yet the guy pointed out the obvious truth: If you terrorize other people, eventually they are going to terrorize you. I doubt that Mr. Obama has uttered a single sentence in his life as obvious, and accurate, as that one. Let's talk about intelligence, all right? Peasants in Chiapas understand that 9/11 was payback for US foreign policy, whereas lawyers on Wall St. with their high IQ's can't seem to grasp it. Oh no, this was the work of Evildoers, of Insane People, etc. If we had 10% of the things that we've done to other nations done to us, we'd be rioting in the streets. But there is no way to get this info out to a public that doesn't give a shit anyway. I recall a title a few years ago by Wm Greider, "Who Will Tell the People?", and I thought: What people are you talkin' about, man? What we've got on our hands is a nation of morons.

There will be a revival of the human spirit, an attempt at a better way of life, as I say at the end of DAA; this always happens. But there will definitely not be such a revival on American soil; surely, that much is obvious.


ps: Relevant to this discussion is Ronald Wright's brilliant book, "What Is America?"--not to be missed (I'm saying this to the 1% who are still thinking).

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

When I talk to my neighbors, friends and family about the topics discussed in this blog, most of them stare at me blankly, call me mad, or even run away (in one form or another). Every so often, then, I fall back into thinking that things can't be as bad as they appear. It doesn't take long, however, for reality to creep in and for me to return to my senses. But I have to say, dear Professor, that sometimes it is you that sends me packing in the opposite direction, when you say things like: "There will definitely not be a revival of the human spirit on American soil." You mean, never? Not even after some kind of collapse? Are Americans, alone, that deeply brainwashed?

1:25 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I tell ya, Art, history is generally the best guide. The American empire is not really comparable to, say, the USSR (which took 2 years to collapse); it is much more in the mold of the Roman one, that of slow, painful disintegration (and making absolutely all the wrong moves, over and over again). It officially ended in A.D. 476; the revival of Europe began six hundred years later, in the 11th century, and it was not in Italy but in the northern countries. This was part of the so-called "urban revolution," brought about by forces that had very little to do with the ones that were endemic to Rome in the fifth century. In terms of our own lifetime, at least, I think it is fairly safe to say that the US will limp along, generating very little in the way of hope or change, except in a cosmetic, Obaman sense. It finally will be remembered as a business civilization, I'm guessing, and you may remember Robert Graves famous phrase, "there's no poetry in money." RIP.

As for your friends, family, and neighbors: amigo, don't kid yourself: they ARE the United States!

chin up!


3:57 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Although I am far from agreeing with them on all points, the Traditionalists offer one of the clearest-eyed views of American "civilization" that I have ever read. Rene Guenon referred to the United States as the "far West", meaning that it exemplified the most senile and decadent tendencies of European civilization.

One anonymous Traditionalist commentator summarizes the essential features of the U.S. as follows:

"1. The meaninglessness of life centred on the economic and productive sphere of existence;

2. The tendency towards the mechanisation and depersonalisation of every human activity;

3. The collectivisation of large masses of individuals enervated by the rhythms of a frenetic, restless society;

4. The negation of any notion of transcendence;

5. The formless and soulless character of the arts; and,

6. The utilisation of all intellectual resources for the purpose of encouraging a solely external and quantitative growth."

Finally, let us not forget Georges Clemenceau's prophetic bon mot from the 1920s:

"America is the only country in history that has passed from barbarism to decadence without the usual interval of civilization".

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Brad said...

I am intriqued by the monastic option idea. Any suggestions for staying motivated, perhaps two or three good books?

I am a stay-at-home father of two; I want to lead, by example and by result, a life of quality.

Thank you.

2:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

It's great to receive a letter like yours...quietly moving, in a way.

As far as I can make out, the modern monastic option has two parts to it: one, finding a practice that enables you to center yourself; and two, once you've got some facility with that, directing your energy toward that which you think is important.

As to part one, I can't instruct you as to your practice of choice, but I would steer you away from the New Age stuff and suggest things that have some depth and aren't trendy. (Anything that's popular is almost always corrupted.) To take just three examples: Eugen Herrigel, "Zen in the Art of Archery"; Eugene Gendlin, "Focusing"; Paolo Ferrucci, "What We May Be".

As for what you think is important: that's something only you can answer, of course; but when you examine your soul on this one, be sure you are not contacting any part of your mind that says "should" or "ought". Your work in the world has to be about love, not about obligation (although when it comes to kids, of course, it's a bit of both, I suppose).

Thanks for writing, and I hope that helps.

And good luck, mon cher; what a different world it would be if there were more folks like you in it!


7:42 AM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Prof. Berman,

As a new reader, may I first re-iterate what has been stated many times before, I'm sure. Your writings are lucid, engaging and stimulating-they don't pander with a hidden, assumed superiority. "How chic.." appeared at a good moment-last night watched the ABC news special Earth 2100, and was totally mystified by it. With all the hi-tech visual mastery we see displayed in sports, sci-fi, and entertainment in general, the bland, childish 'graphics' employed for demonstrating the defining crisis of our age were truly depressing. But then, there was the optimistic solution offered in the last 15 minutes.
Reading this post reminded me why that rosy scenario will (probably) not come to pass. Not since Neil Postman's "Technopoly" has writing done so much to point out the many absurd activities of our 'modern world'-thank you.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Peter,

Many thanks for writing.

It's fascinating how technology is endowed with 'magical' properties, esp. in the US. There are historical reasons for this in general--its emergence (in modern form) out of the magical/manipulative tradition, for example, which I discuss in "The Reenchantment of the World." I believe David Noble has done some work on this topic as well. Robert Hooke,in "Micrographia"
(publ. in 1666, I think), talks about the use of tech to extend the senses, and of course sci-fi has been advertising the 'exciting' aspect of tech for many decades. Plus, there are particular reasons why Americans wd be so turned on to it--the tech fix promises to solve what are really social and economic conflicts in ways that are neutral, not highly charged (it never works).

Two vignettes come to mind. One is in 1964, when I was in NY with my (first) girlfriend, attending some General Motors 'show of the future', or some such nonsense, and how some clown had been hired to order people onto a moving walkway, or whatever it was (it's all very hazy, except for the clown). "Hurry up!" he cried. I couldn't get over how self-important he was, this Man of the Future, showing us peons what the new whiz-bang world was going to be like, and how we had to bow to him, and it. I imagine him now, an unemployed computer techie in Cleveland, his retirement funds wiped out, wondering what happened to the glorious future he was paid to promote.

Twenty years later, at the U of Victoria in Canada, where I was teaching, they mounted an international conference on the future--which was seen in terms of technology. Again, the excitement was over the top. Of the dozens of papers we heard during the three days, mine was the *only* dissenting voice. Not one other speaker stood up to say that the predictions were misguided, or even to point out that everyone was essentially saying the same thing. I gave my talk; lots of snickers, how "quaint" this all was etc. Finally--and I was the only speaker to whom this happened--one of the other invitees, Patrick Suppes of Stanford, couldn't stand it anymore and just interrupted the talk, shouting from the audience that what I was suggesting was a completely different world. Duh! Yes, I said, that's what I'm suggesting. (His own talk argued that the future would be a linear extension of the present; what imagination!)

I think again of the distinction I make (not original w/me, of course) in the essay below, "The Moral Order." We never seem to grasp that unless progress occurs in this sphere, progress in the Tech Order will make no difference, except to promote destruction in the Moral Order by more clever means. But I guess it's the "guru-ish" or addictive quality I find so fascinating with respect to technology--truly the 'magical god' that is going to fix it all, and everybody believes this, whether they are General Motors flunkies in NY or Profs of Philosophy in Palo Alto. It's almost as tho there is something in the water. Meanwhile, life is getting qualitatively worse, and tech has much to do with this. I think real awareness on this issue is going to require a massive system break, before the survivors will finally say: "We believed in *that*? How utterly childish!"

Thanks again,

10:46 PM  
Anonymous Peter said...

Dear Morris,
So many things come to mind following a reading of "The Moral Order"-excellent essay. First, and probably not new to you, is this quote from Frederick Turner (thanks to Jay Hanson): "To those who followed Columbus and Cortez, the New World truly seemed incredible because of the natural endowments. The land often announced itself with a heavy scent miles out into the ocean. Giovanni di Verrazano in 1524 smelled the cedars of the East Coast a hundred leagues out. The men of Henry Hudson's Half Moon were temporarily disarmed by the fragrance of the New Jersey shore, while ships running farther up the coast occasionally swam through large beds of floating flowers. Wherever they came inland they found a rich riot of color and sound, of game and luxuriant vegetation. Had they been other than they were, they might have written a new mythology here. As it was, they took inventory."
One of the seminal works of intelligent and deep exploration for me is David Abram's "The Spell of the Sensuous". If we are to approach the terminally ill patient of Technological Man, we need to draw on ancient wisdom, and the creative wisdom that can only be accessed from the truly "magical" realm of the Timeless Present.
How can I, 57 year old child of techno-America, have an insatiable curiosity and a life steeped in meaning? Yes, I've had to feed it, but the hunger was there-genes, grace, upbringing? I'm just glad for it! And, I'm an optimist, inasmuch as I have a fundamental trust in life. The current American "culture" is woefully afflicted, but for me, the power of re-birth is the lesson of history. As a chiropractor, my philosophy holds that on an individual level, the homeostatic elan-vital is the source of healing, once the interference is removed, or the person re-connected to the intelligent source of life. I hope the same principle holds for the larger groupings of human cells. Out of this crisis of meaning, may an opening to the infinite potential of life emerge.
And, a final starred recommendation for Robert Lanza's new book "Biocentrism", for a deeper understanding of why Life holds such creative potential.
Looking forward to reading your books, and sharing more.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

People are fixated not by technology but by what technology affords them to do, by its empowerment.

Nothing could be seemingly more frivolous than Twitter; yet, when Iran recently tried to shut down all communication to the outside world during the beginnings of this potential revolution, "frivolous" Twitter survived and became a means for individual Iranians to get their respective messages out, e.g., a tweet - "more than 100 students missing from Tehran Uni dorms - reports of several dead from last night."

Maybe THIS is the silence that is being killed by technology. Cell phone cameras and YouTube allow the whole world in behind iron curtains. (Andrew Sullivan has a bunch of these tweets and YouTube videos on his blog.) Text messaging has allowed demonstrations to be rapidly organized in places like Lebanon and China that the local power structure finds difficult to stop. This is real "power to the people." This new empowerment made possible by the cell phone might far outreach the negative effects of occasional social myopia. The absence of this in your essay is conspicuous. One cannot have a "meaningful collective life" without political freedom, and the cell phone may do more to bring that about than any other tool, including the gun, thus far. (Incidentally, the same impulse for a "meaningful collective life" can easily lapse into xenophobic tribalism and fascism. Ever notice how suspicious of "outsiders" the quaint folks of TV's Mayberry were? Maybe it's the very individualistic Pleasant Valley Sunday diversions and preoccupations that keep people out of the goosestep lines.)

And ... isn't there an inherent contradiction criticizing chic consumer technology via an Internet blog?

10:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Bill,

Well, you shd know that the blog was forced upon me by my publisher, quite seriously. I didn´t have much of a choice in the matter, and if I could have skipped the blog and met people face to face instead, traveling around (some of which I did do), I would have much preferred it.

You are right about some political possibilities of these technologies; the problem is what it really amounts to in the end. China, for example, has been very aggressive about keeping ´negative´information out, and has had US corporate cooperation in doing so. Its defeat of the type of tech liberation you speak of has been quite successful, and I´m guessing that will be the norm. It is also unclear as to whether this liberation is real, ie has truly lasting effects. But the long–term neg effects of these technologies, on the other hand, is certainly not in doubt, and has been well–documented by a number of researchers. I suspect you are emphasizing the marginal at the expense of the larger picture. But the marginal does exist, I won´t argue with that. Nothing is ´pure´; rather,
it´s the ecology of the total situation (so to speak) that remains the crucial issue.


12:03 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Bill makes a very good point. But I'm wondering if the advantages of this new technology will ultimately outweigh its negative effect on society?

I can't say for sure; I can only guess, like everyone else. But it seems to me that any communications technology can be/will be monitored by The Powers That Be. And while it gives millions a chance for their individual voices to be heard, it also creates an overwhelming cacophony in which any one voice is more difficult to hear, much less find. And if one particular voice does gather a large enough following, it becomes a visible target for those same Powers That Be. The heroic individual outwitting the massive power structure is a lovely, inspiring story; but as massive power becomes more pervasive & overarching, I wonder how plausible or possible that story can remain?

Don't get me wrong. I'm impressed as hell & deeply moved by the struggle of the Iranian people, and the ways they're using the newest technology to mobilize & maneuver. And I'd very much like to believe that it promises a better future, one geared towards a world of greater freedom & quality. I'm just not sure if that's going to happen -- or more to the point, if it'll be allowed to happen.

The greater issue, of course, is just how much of this new technology is used as a drug & a leveler of intelligent inquiry & thought, reducing so much to the lowest common denominator. And that denominator seems to get lower & lower all the time ...

1:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

Well, like you, I don´t have a crystal ball. But while historical discontinuities certainly exist, it remains the case that the best guide to the future is usually the past. In the case of Americans getting excited over the liberating effects of some new technology, the record is clear, and follows the schema I outlined in the essay, ¨The Moral Order.¨ The record is that the new technology is put to use by the powers that be, as you say; and so while the technological order expands, is ¨progressive,¨the moral order is made worse by that very progress. Americans are not taught to think historically or sociologically, of course; for them it´s all toys and whiz–bang kind of allure that counts. And then, by the time the data are in regarding the failure of the previous technology to be liberatory, the powers that be don´t have to worry, because the American public is then onto the NEXT great liberatory technology, ad infinitum. The only thing that could arrest this process is a culture–wide stepping back from the whole thing, and an analysis of the game itself––such as may be found in (e.g.) Albert Borgmann´s ¨Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life.¨ This is not, however, going to happen.


4:39 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

By the way, thanks for the Zygmunt Bauman recommendation. I'm in the midst of "Liquid Modernity" now. You're right, I can't say that I'm "enjoying" what I'm reading, but it really does bring so much into crystal-clear focus. I better understand what I'm feeling when confronted by everyday culture -- an almost palpable feeling of tawdry, sticky, substanceless crassness -- a cotton candy Big Brother, smothering any attempted spark of individual thought with a terrifyingly vapid grin. Oh, the bludgeon is still there, if need be; but so much easier to "Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV." Not to mention texting, tweeting, Myspace, Facebook, Bluetooth, and all the rest.

8:22 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Also check out Our Posthuman Future by right–wing neoconservative Francis Fukuyama. His book is in the Aldous Huxley genre of soft fascistic dystopia––again, a big–picture look at all this stuff.


10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that technology is an isolating factor for many. Yet, it is amazing that we can sit anywhere in the world and keep this blog going with one of our favorite authors. (Mr. Berman). How could this be possible? I can go on you tube, and watch Anthony Burgess interviewed. I can watch old Heinrich Boell interviews...It is addicting to all of us, no matter what our interests or level of education are. We've lost some focus, and we have gained a more sporadic knowledge. I used to read through the encyclopedia as a boy, and now I can roam the world's newspapers. Samuel Johnson wrote something like, "people will not read when something more amusing is around." Well, we are moving back to an oral culture (t.v., movies, news clips, the Internet, etc.) That is the way it is. One can learn a lot from simply observing fellow human beings, and certainly, I have learned more from living and traveling in different countries than from any novel. On the negative side, we have sacrificed focus, face to face communication skills, imagination and in depth reading ability. The novelist Jonathan Franzen writes about having to throw away his t.v. in order to write. He admits that he just stared at the t.v. for hours and couldn't write. Later, he laments the fall of books.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I guess it´s a question of whether one wants to be well–informed or truly involved in the business of reading and living and learning what life is about. The Net and all this stuff can do the former, but I don´t have the impression it can do the latter. It´s skin–deep, and that, combined with the widespread use of drugs to avoid any kind of conflict or pain, is producing huge numbers of nonpersons (I don´t know what else to call them). O brave new world, that has such people in it!, wrote Shakespeare 400 yrs ago. He should be around now to see what we are turning into.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Anon,

Even though we can read newspapers from different countries, blogs of our favorite authors and have an inexhaustible amount of information at our fingertips, the Internet I believe is only beneficial in small doses. There's an entertainment element to it---even when reading serious material---that's always there. It's the difference between reading an article by Chris Hedges or you and reading a book by the same author. They're both valuable but one, the book, requires concentration and self disciple and other not so much. I don't want to give up either but I see and hear of alot of people, especially young people, spending hours on the net. This isn't progress anymore than TV was----it's just a more efficient form of entertainment.

7:47 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

Some here may be interested in the following vomit-inducing article, "Get Smarter", by Jamais Cascio. It is published in the current issue of The Atlantic, and it appears to be a rebuttal to last year's article by Nicolas Carr, (“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008), which Morris cites in this post. Cascio's article may be found via the following link: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200907/intelligence .

One of my favorite sentences in Cascio's rebuttal is the following:

"As processor power increases, tools like Twitter may be able to draw on the complex simulations and massive data sets that have unleashed a revolution in science. They could become individualized systems that augment our capacity for planning and foresight, letting us play 'what-if' with our life choices: where to live, what to study, maybe even where to go for dinner."

Yes, by all means, let's all "get smarter" by using Twitter as it helps us to decide where to go to dinner!

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Your criticisms remind me of the "logocentricism" of the West that Derrida wrote about. Socrates, St. Paul, Rousseau all were suspicious of the written word over the spoken and imbued the former with the power to destroy organic community with its face-to-face encounters - writing for them was merely an instrument of social control. Levi Strauss confessed to feeling guilty over introducing writing to the Nambikwara tribe.

Yet their criticisms were entangled in contradictions. Plato argued in favor of Socrates views by writing a dialogue. St. Paul wrote down his criticisms as did Rousseau who seemed more at ease at writing than engaging in the type of direct human encounters he championed.

Derrida challenged the whole platonic distinction of origins/presence vs. copies/images (as well as nature vs. culture, etc.) to show that these binaries are artificial cultural constructs where one is then privileged over the other in a cultural manipulation of power.

Likewise, it is not clear to me that certain forms of (non-tech) communication should be "privileged" over others (tech). Your blog has the potential to reach a multiple of tens of thousands over what you could reach with face-to-face encounters. And if those face-to-face encounters are book signings or lectures, then those forms are inherently hampered over say the intimacy of a one-on-one coffee shop encounter, and this blog can offer a more intimate exchange with others than any book signing or lecture.

Also, if you click on my "Lebenon and China" link in my post above, you can read about how hard China et al are having it controlling technology (Chinese workers organizing strikes without unions via SMS, Kuwait women organizing for the right to vote the same way, email getting 800,000 out to vote in S. Korea - it also points out that it was fax machines that helped people organize during the Tiananmen Square protests.) I think this is unprecedented.

I also don't see a cell phone conversation as being less authentic than a face-to-face encounter. There is just a greater opportunity to do the former than the latter, and to privilege the latter over the former seems to be an action first rooted in drawing an artificial distinction between the two forms, like Plato's absolute form/copy. In the end it's all merely the exchange of symbols wrapped in the metacommunication of expression, be it by facial muscles or emoticons :-) If two participants of exchange leave that exchange feeling satisfied, does the medium matter?

11:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Bill,

Yes, the medium does matter--a lot. Marshall McLuhan pegged that one decades ago, as did Herbert Marcuse, and they have yet to be refuted.

The business about my blog being self-contradictory is the obvious criticism, but ultimately it's pretty shallow. As I told you, this was not my choice; but even if it had been, so what? No one can be 100% 'pure' in our society; we are inevitably entangled in our circumstances. I recall critics of Ted Roszak, years ago, taking him to task for criticizing technology because getting his message out required printing presses(!). This is beyond ridiculous, really; a superficial type of criticism that is little more than a cheap shot. Should we also attack Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Martin Heidegger, Albert Borgmann, etc etc.? (Have you read these authors, at all?) And if you think life consists of little more than symbolic interaction, I'm not sure there's anything I can say to shake you out of that; that kind of thinking is basically a hall of mirrors.

And 'superficial' really is the word for the whole postmodern movement, which is apparently very dear to you. I didn't realize anyone still took that stuff--complete with its specialized vocabulary ('privileging' etc.)-- seriously. The critique of it is by now pretty massive, showing how empty it finally is. It's clever, but it misses the boat of what the real content of an author (any author) is. And in the end, what the postmodernists are really saying is, 'All texts are equal, but ours are more equal than others.' As one friend of mine remarked, They took a small truth and turned it into a big lie.

I very much doubt that virtual media offer any type of 'community', as its proponents keep arguing. Again, there's a large lit that demonstrates the opposite--that it promotes solipsistic individualism. You can use the pomo rap to attack the loss-of-organic relationship argument all you want; the truth is that Gemeinschaft *has* been cumulatively eroded--what could be more obvious, if one studies the rise of modernity?

Finally, the Chinese are not having as hard a time as you like to think. Just two days ago there was some article in the papers about Google agreeing to work with the Chinese in controlling Chinese-language websites, and the data on this type of thing (see Eamonn Fingleton's book, "In the Jaws of the Dragon") are pretty good. But even if they were having serious difficulties in doing so, you really seem to be missing the larger picture, that of the overall effect of these technologies. Mon cher, when the dust settles, Heidegger was a giant, and Derrida a pygmy.


4:46 AM  
Anonymous SusanW. said...

I know that for the last week we've heard alot about how Twitter helped organize demonstrations in Iran and it's touted as being a force that will change the world. For the last ten years the US internet has had many sites and articles exposing the war, economic fraud by Wall Street, rampant injustice in healthcare, the courts, prisons, you name it yet the same corporate interests dominate our government. Maybe it can change China but it hasn't shown that capacity here even though there's no limit on what we can view. Without awareness and critical thinking no amount of technology or for that matter, articles and books, will do much to benefit anyone in the long run. A good joke I saw on "progress" consisted of two pictures-----one was labeled Sunday dinner 1950 and showed a stove, a couple of pots and pans and one cookbook but a table full of homemade food; the other was Sunday dinner 2000 and showed a state of the art stove, racks of cookbooks, complicated machines for food preparation and on the table---an empty pizza delivery box. Technology and it's reach are more complicated than a pot roast and I don't mean to compare the two in importance; I'm just a little skeptical that that it's a powerful force for good.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Yes, awareness and critical thinking, which are almost completely lost in the hi-tech world; but also one other thing, if things are to change: power. Political change requires political power, and I doubt that twittering can sustain that for any length of time. Power means organization into an effective entity such that those currently in power are forced to step aside. Since Obama's "changes" are a sham, this would mean an entity that is not connected to either political party in the US; and such an entity has not emerged. Nor would it have the backing of any significant percentage of the American people, who are basically content with cosmetic changes. What I call the "Kucinich vote" is less than 1/2 of a percent, and the Nader vote isn't much better. That we are going nowhere fast is being solidly documented by articles in The Nation as well as on truthdig.com. The portrait of Obama in the New Yorker (2007), entitled "The Conciliator," correctly pegged the man as a conservative, an Edmund Burke-type figure who sees society as organic and does not believe in any radical type of change. And he may be right, i.e. in terms of what is feasible, because radical change requires a popular consciousness that understands that the two parties are nothing more than Tweedledie and Tweedledum, and we don't have that type of understanding. Consequently, we don't have any type of political force in the US that can take the country to a new place, which would involve a radical restructuring of the economy, and a whole new set of values. In fact, if such a political force were to arise in the US, it would come from the far right, not the left; and that may in fact be in the cards for us, as things continue to get worse (which they will). And let's not kid ourselves: the far right can use all of these so-called liberatory technologies just as easily as the political left (such as it is in this country, namely nonexistent).


12:23 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

My intent with referencing your blog was not to shout hypocrite, but merely to underline the inherent advantages of another form of communication. I don't see why it has to be an either/or choice or even better/worse.

As for life consisting of symbolic interaction, I would refer to Saussure and the Structuralist school of thought, not exclusively PoMo. Yes we are primates still at heart and much of the stuff you have written in the past about the importance of holding and the mother/infant gaze holds true for healthy attachments, but from the time of the Lascaux paintings, from the earliest funeral rituals, from adornment with shells and plant-derived inks, symbolistic thought has permeated our sense of being-in-the-world. Not everyone can express with the skill of Picasso, but the need is there, and a person can, say, put up a photo up on Flickr, create a blog or make a Facebook page as a way of expressing him- or herself without necessarily devolving into "solipsistic individualism." We are story tellers at heart. I mean, couldn't one argue that Picasso was a solipsistic individualist? Or Einstein? Or Proust?!? It seems that writing itself, even pre virtual media, is an activity that promotes solipsistic individualism; you have a thesis that you're trying to flesh out and explicate over a period of sometimes several years. Not only is one's thesis on the line, but so is the writer's ego.

I realized schools of thought are fashionable, that there are underlying sociological reasons why one school displaces another. (How the heck can one make tenure or sell books if the jerk before him had all the answers?) So PoMos and the Post-structuralists say the Existentialists are all a bunch of losers who got it all wrong, but that does not mean that nothing they said had value just because there is a vested interest in academia to devalue the established school. There is actually a lot under the big PoMo tent of ideas that would support you: simulacrum (see:Jean Baudrillard) replacing the real for example. But, see, I don't see a Facebook page as simulacrum (or a Lascaux painting) in the way that a mini-mall strip in the shape of a small town town square is; all reference something that isn't there, but only the latter does it in a deleterious way, in my opinion. All virtual is not equally bad and the speech act itself is virtual one - "cow" as you once wrote is not a big word.

As for China, yes they are doing what you wrote, but they are merely buying time. They also want to put a chip in *every* computer to stop "porn" (read: anti-establishment ideas), but they could hardly shut down their cell towers for long and remain economically viable -- a dilemma Iran is facing. Notice that Orwell's 1984 had wall size TV screens but there were no cell phones in the story. Big Brother could hardly hold as much power over such "horizontal" communication capability. The "top/down" form of the 20th century was much easier to police. Surveillance governments of the 21st century may find that they no longer have the resources.

1:09 AM  
Anonymous Bill said...

(I'm putting the 2nd half of my intended reply in a separate post to be observant of your length guidelines.)

I feel strongly that the new communication capabilities are unprecedented and their impact should not be underestimated, and I'll try to support my assertion with 3 quotes from yesterday.

The first references a young woman named Neda who was purportedly murdered in cold blood by the basij in Iran. By enabling this ghastly account to be immediately captured and broadcasted to the entire world (it's presently widely circulated on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter), today's communication technology could rally support for the oppressed by means totally unavailable even 20 years ago. (Iranian woman shot galvanizes opposition - LA Times)

"At 19:05 June 20th Place: Karekar Ave., at the corner crossing Khosravi St. and Salehi st. A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart.

"I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim's chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes. The protests were going on about 1 kilometers away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gass used among them, towards Salehi St.

"The film is shot by my friend who was standing beside me. Please let the world know." Graphic video Graphic picture

"Government has been murdering its own citizens for as long as we’ve had government, particularly when the people begin to pose a threat to those in power. The difference is that now, the entire world is watching. Iran’s brutality is on display for everyone to see, archived for history, in a way that we didn’t have even in Tiananmen, and haven’t had for most of human history. That, at least, is progress." -- Radley Balko, theagitator.com

" ... it was like reading a million little telegram messages being beamed out like an SOS to the world. Within seconds I could transcribe and broadcast them to hundreds of thousands more.

"As I did so, it was impossible not to feel connected to the people on the streets, especially the younger generation, with their blogs and tweets and Facebook messages – all instantly familiar to westerners in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago. This new medium ripped the veil off “the other” and we began to see them as ourselves.

"All the accumulated suspicion and fear and alienation from three decades of hostility between Iran and America seemed to slip away. Whatever happens, the ability of this new media to bring people together - to bring the entire world into this revolution on the streets of Iran - has already changed things dramatically." -- Andrew Sullivan, (who has been posting Twitter messages coming out of Iran), The Sunday Times

2:14 AM  
Anonymous SusanW. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Bill,
In your post you stated that the new communication technologies are unprecedented and shouldn't be underestimated. You're right on both counts---the world has never seen this level of technology and we can only make educated guesses as to what the impact on us all will be. But what we do with this new ability and information is the important thing and Dr. Berman, in his response to me, pegged it correctly---it takes power and concensus to initate change and if the people holding this power don't want it, it's going to be stonewalled. To give a few examples: Glenn Greenwald has exposed the legal corruption of the US torture policy, Jeremy Scahill the massive private army operating in Iraq (Blackwater) and Dr. Berman and Chris Hedges the emptiness and probable demise of the culture we've constructed. But even with all this information (and most of it is on the internet), Greenwald cannot indict anyone, Scahill cannot call Congressional hearings and no intellectual can reach people who spend most of their internet time on Facebook or twittering they're eating a hamburger. I hope you're right and that we'll use this technology to create a better and more equitable world. I would just like to see some evidence of it and maybe that really is in the future.

10:57 AM  

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