July 16, 2010

Democracy in America

Since American democracy is in the process of committing suicide, it might be worthwhile to reflect on the nature of the phenomenon, and the sources of its dialectical death. In 1982 the eminent French scholar, Pierre Manent, published a study of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the two volumes of which came out in 1835/40. Manent's work was subsequently translated into English under the title Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy; Harvey Mansfield of Harvard University contributed a Foreword to it. Mansfield writes:

"Democracy produces a sense of independence in its citizens, a sentiment that each is a whole because he depends on no one else; and the democratic dogma [nota bene] states that every citizen is competent to govern his own life. Hence democracy is not merely, perhaps not primarily, a form of government; or it is [a] form of government that almost denies the need for government. And as a society, democracy is antisocial; it severs individuals from one another by pronouncing each of them equally free. All the traditional relationships are broken or weakened...Above all, democracy does not know where it tends and where it should go."

The blurb on the back cover of the book states that "Pierre Manent's analysis concludes that the growth of state power and the homogenization of society are two primary consequences of equalizing conditions." We are, of course, seeing these consequences 175 years later.

Prof. Mansfield is, as one would expect, a proponent of democracy; most Americans are. Yet one wonders what he thinks of his own critique; the characteristics he identifies don't exactly amount to minor drawbacks in the system. I couldn't help looking at it through the lens of Islamic societies (to the extent that I am able to do such a thing). Quite obviously, I'm not a big fan of Allah's, nor of stoning adulterers to death, nor of intellectual stultification, etc. etc., and I suspect it will be a fairly long time before I put down a cash advance on a condo in Tehran. But their problems don't do anything to improve our own, quite obviously, and it seems to me that their revulsion toward the United States is not all that puzzling, if one considers the following points:

-"each is a whole because he depends on no one else"
-"a form of government that almost denies the need for government"
-"democracy is antisocial; it severs individuals from one another"
-"all the traditional relationships are broken or weakened"
-"democracy does not know...where it should go"

Clearly, with friends like these (Harvey Mansfield), democracy needs no enemies; this is a fairly good description of a "psychological slum," as Philip Slater once called the United States. And speaking of enemies, I couldn't help thinking of the message to the American people delivered by Osama bin Laden on the eve of the 2004 presidential election. I don't have the text in front of me at this moment, but I remember him saying, "You have no Guide, no Helper." He understood that America was a ship without a rudder--something that the two candidates, G.W. Bush and John Kerry, were unable to grasp. They both condemned the address without any substantive comment, to show they were "tough on terrorism"; thereby losing the opportunity to reflect, publicly, on what bin Laden was saying and what had gone wrong with American democracy (which of course wouldn't have gone over well with a basically stupefied electorate--and indeed, one of Tocqueville's major points was that democracy ultimately wouldn't work if the population wasn't too bright).

Mansfield's critique also meshes well with the recent book by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, The Lonely American, which documents the lives of quiet desperation that Americans lead. Nationwide, 25% of all habitations are single-person dwellings, and the figure for New York City is nearly 50%. In recent years the number of people who said they have not a single person they can confide in has jumped to 33%, if I remember correctly. It's a sad, if honest, book--an obituary, really, for a bold and brilliant experiment that finally didn't work out. For suicide takes place on two levels: the macrolevel, of public institutions and domestic and foreign policy; and the microlevel, i.e. in the hearts and minds of individual citizens.

Finally: I have always been a great admirer of Isaiah Berlin, the Russian-Jewish-British political scientist who spent his life cautioning the West about the dangers of coercive systems such as that of the former Soviet Union. In his famous Oxford University inaugural lecture of 1958, "Two Concepts of Liberty," Berlin defined "negative freedom" as freedom from; it is the freedom to do what the heck you please as long as you don't infringe on anyone else. "Positive freedom," on the other hand, is freedom to; it is the freedom of a directive ideal, one that holds up a vision of the good life (whatever that might be) and encourages--or forces--people to conform to that image. Going back to at least the 17th century, negative freedom is the Anglo-Saxon conception of what it means to be free; and as far as Berlin was concerned (as a good British subject--he became Sir Isaiah the year before his inaugural lecture), that was the only freedom around; the other variety, he believed, was inevitably dangerous. The only problem is, without a positive vision of the good life, the good society, what are we? How could we be anything else except a ship without a rudder? This, to me, is the Achilles heel in the Berlinian edifice, for negative freedom finally affirms nothing--as the example of contemporary America clearly demonstrates. George H.W. Bush, that great intellectual, was fond of using the word "vision" sarcastically; he was proud of the fact that he had none. (What a shock, that his son became an alcoholic and a Christian fundamentalist.) He was a synecdoche for the nation, and ironically, he confirmed what Osama bin Laden said about the U.S. a dozen or so years later.

There is no doubt, of course, that "vision" can get out of hand; this was Isaiah Berlin's whole point. But what Berlin failed to understand was that lack of vision can also get out of hand, as Harvey Mansfield makes abundantly clear. And that has happened in the United States, which accounts for the odd combination in our contemporary political life of hysteria plus inertia. (The working title of my book Dark Ages America was Colossus Adrift.) It also means that there is no way of reversing the trajectory; I mean, where do you start? You can't just assign the country "vision," and think that's going to work (this was in fact the idea of the communitarian movement of the nineties, led by Amitai Etzioni, and it was an embarrassing failure). The dialectical part of this is that the strengths of American democracy are precisely its weaknesses; the whole thing is a package deal. Or to put it another way, the ideology of negative freedom, of no-vision, cannot evolve into anything else but the negative, visionless society that we now have, and the seeds of this were planted a long time ago.

So here we are, wrote T.S. Eliot in the Four Quartets, "in the middle way...years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres" (obviously more than deux, in the case of the United States),

"And so each venture
Is...a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating..."

The Four Quartets is about many things, but I believe Eliot's major theme here is the acceptance of death. Wouldn't it make sense, at this point, for America to "resign" with dignity? To come to terms with the dynamics of its collapse, and just accept it? To finally (to quote another famous poet) "go gentle into that good night"? I expect that kind of maturity is completely beyond our grasp; but it would be, at long last, a vision of sorts.

© Morris Berman, 2010


Anonymous Peter said...

this essay clearly describes why democracy is only a brief experiment in the history of various attempts at human organization; while the numbers of people left to forge the next form (decimated by the death-throes of this form) my be much fewer in number, something will evolve-just as "democracy" evolved out of other antecedent forces. I read people like John Zerzan, and think, "if only"...
Like Juan Cole, I to spent time following the Baha'i Teachings; although I don't pretend to know his motivations for joining, or leaving, your use of Islam as a counterpoint brought Baha'i to mind, as it is an attempt to recast human life recognizing our essential interdependance (and many other salutory principles);whether it has any longevity remains to be seen. Personally, the "answer" has always been simple: love, serve, and explore this Mystery with humility. As always, thanks for the stimulating epistles,

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am actually not so sure about our financial collapse anymore. This modern world values quantity over quality. America is still a large, mono-lingual colossus, and marketplace. If Americans keep up their desire to consume food, useless gadgets, etc.,then this empire will survive and flourish. By sheer numbers, and having such a dumb populace, America is the new model for the world. This world is ignorance over intelligence, fat over thin. It is the disposable over the permanent, the pretend over the real. Fast food over gourmet, blockbuster movie and not arthouse, etc. this is the way of the future, whether we like it or not. Think Walmart and Target, and not Mercedes. It is also an advantage to have so many dumb people impulse shopping etc. These are the megatrends I see, and America is the leader. We have the fattest, dumbest, more consumeristic populace on earth. We are ahead of the curve. We are the future. The momentum is going our way, and the rest of the world is following us. The bloggers on this blog are nostalgic and still connected to the nuanced world of the past: reading and writing, deep thought, making quality goods, craftsmanship, morality, being thin, deep friendship. That is the old world, and I wish it would stay, but it's disappearing every day. We 50 people can talk about this, but it is like the movement from agriculture to industry. There is no stopping this tidal wave. I even have trouble decided to read rather than watch television! I have to force myself. Human nature always chooses the easier path. In 50 years no one will understand this blog or conversation.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Hell, they don't understand it *now*!

Here's the deal: America failed politically and economically (and morally, psychologically, etc. etc.), but it was and is extremely successful culturally. The No. 1 TV program in Gaza is "Friends"--! Can you imagine such a thing? However, American pop culture, including jeans and Mickey Mouse and Burger King, is (I believe) slowly becoming detached from America itself, i.e. in terms of identification. So you are probably right about the future tidal wave of childishness and stupidity that will engulf us all, but it may not be seen as an American wave. In addition, I doubt it will help the US economically, because manufacturing doesn't have all that much to do with commerce. Our trade deficit is in the trillions, and being the producer of tons of chidish kaka was not able to avert the crash of 2008. Nor will it be able to avert future crashes, which will be worse. China seems to be emerging as the leading manufacturer of kaka, in any case.

The desire to have toys, and live like a child, is in any case transcultural; see Ariel Dorfman's brilliant book, "The Empire's Old Clothes."


12:21 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...

Democracy doesn't seem to work well on a large scale, especially in an environment where power is taken to be the highest good. Still, I grew up on a communist kibbutz, a pure democracy in the sense of "one person, one vote." Yes, there were outbreaks of the "tyranny of the majority" sort, but due to the small scale of operations, errors were quickly addressed and it was relatively easy to redress problems. I would live there still, had I not married an American.

Apparently, even the Creator had issues with institutionalized power: "Are you sure you want a king?" Power, kingly or democratic, maintains itself through force (as long as it is able), however it is defined. Power-worship is our fundamental reality and our fundamental morality. For many, this is the Vision, even if they don't realize it. "Keep Umurkah strong." It all seems rather comparable to competing baboon tribes or to gangs in a men's prison. Yet people cry out for "strong leadership," in their learned helplessness. No doubt, this was some of the appeal of the Bush buffoon, Hitler, Mao, et al. Power-tripping affects every organization, in all matters large and small, unless measures are taken to prevent it (but this rarely happens, because the underlying mentality is not recognized/acknowledged).

Nonetheless, I think we forget how monolithic this Vision is, how totalist. Most people are simply trying to survive and to provide their families with 3 hots and a cot. They may have read Eliot in high school, but they've got to take the kids to soccer, because they want them to have "the good life." I don't think our situation arises simply out of American stupidity (cupidity, maybe), but out of issues that lie very deep in our psyches, issues we find difficult to confront (I love the movie, Parenthood: "My whole life is 'have-to!" and "I like the roller-coaster, you get more out of it"). Of course this Vision always gets out of hand! One can never have enough power, although its acquisition always leads to a 'march of folly.'

For me, I'm hoping that the aliens from 2001 (or the Vulcans) invade and tell us to knock it off. Unfortunately, I fear it is up to us.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out "Society Against the State," by Pierre Clastres.


2:18 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...

Oui, je pense aux idees de Clastres sont tres a propos (doing my part to subvert the "mono-lingual colossus"). Still, we shouldn't idealize totally the supposedly stateless aboriginal life. I would never want to trade my life on a kibbutz for the life of a Bedouin or a Yanomami. I am, after all, a Jew with a genetic attraction to pastries.

I have to admit that all of my time is not taken up contemplating the Big Questions; in fact, much of it is spent on kaka, which I greatly enjoy. One man's kaka is another man's Sartre or Foucault or Berlin or Scholem. I ate pizza and drank cheap wine while dancing to Israeli pop music last night - I suppose Anonymous would consider me fat (a weird fixation, to be sure) and dumb. Should I be ashamed? It's strange to me how Americans talk about other Americans, in an almost Puritanical or Calvinist tent-revival style. Americans do not impress me as nothing but fat, dumb kaka-lovers. The malaise springs from a different source, in my opinion.

Unlike Clastres, I don't think power-mongering arises entirely from religious sanctimony. I think our species-wide sanctimony arises from unacknowledged issues, perhaps our own victimization, which engenders in us the need to punish (especially to punish those most like us), as Arno Gruen terms it.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You need to reread Clastres, as that's not his argument.

However, I do admit that the lack of pastries among hunter-gatherers would be a deal-breaker for me as well.

Why *cheap* wine? I mean, I'm assuming you weren't eating rancid pizza...?


6:31 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...

I *have* read Clastres, and in many instances, I agree with him. His argument is admittedly more sophisticated than I boiled it down (I did not much bother with the axes he has to grind against academic anthropology), but I reserve the right to disagree with him in some particulars and I find some of his premises doubtful (springing from the same academic anthropology he decries). I see Clastres all throughout The Gods Must be Crazy, but perhaps I misunderstood that as well - I did blink on occasion. As an old-school feminist, I say amen to the personal, as well as the alienation, ultimately being political, though I disagree with Clastres on the origins, in part.

Some cheap wines are quite excellent. I was drinking a sparkling shiraz (yes!), Rio Uolo, which I bought for $8.99 at HEB Central Market (next door to the University of the Incarnate Word, as it is called now). In spite of its price, one of those dime-a-dozen wine raters gave it 90 points. Up with cheap wine!

Am I letting the side down? I mean, I could throw away all the Little Debbie Banana Twins and stick to artisanal pastry only.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, yer good on cheap wines, weak on Clastres, that much is clear. BTW, I taught for a semester at Incarnate Word in
1993 and usta shop at the HEB as well. Your letter brought back some frightening memories.

The crucial pt abt Clastres is the levelling mechanisms he describes that these tribes have for staying away from the vertical power structures of agricultural (and a fortiori, industrial) civilization. This is hardly some softheaded version of "The Gods Must Be Crazy," and these techniques have been verified by other fieldworkers, such as Richard Lee. Whatever the origins of power, which is not really his concern, there are ways of controlling or sidelining it; and this is what he observed in the Amazon basin. Not that these things can easily be imported into contemporary Western society (we would undoubtedly find a way to use non-power as a form of manipulation; check out a hilarious movie called "The Tao of Steve"); but Clastres demonstrates pretty convincingly that if the will to power is hard-wired, the will to keep it in check may be as well. No small achievement.


10:26 PM  
Anonymous Gramoflanz said...

Actually, I don't consider myself weak on Clastres - that's your interpretation. Of course, I'm not sure where you get that idea, especially given the nature of what I've written here, which is, if I do say so myself, reminiscent of some of Clastres's ideas, no? I concede the influence of Clastres, et al, although I did not make any attributions or recommendations, simply because I'm not wholly sold. I wrote earlier about the Navajo using humor as one of these leveling mechanisms (although some Anonymous commenter seemed to think I was being New Age-y) and indeed, I'm all on board with the "will to keep power in check" being hardwired into our primate natures (although I could live without Clastres's overly romantic view of "primitives"). I don't think that criticism constitutes weakness of comprehension. I, too, am impressed with Clastres's academic oeuvre, but I find him limited by sexism and enamored of violence as a leveling mechanism - his descriptions are applicable, perhaps, to some "primitives," but I reject the centrality and the mechanisms of expiatory violence, just as I reject his contention that his "primitives" lived with limited, societally-imposed coercion or compulsion.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


He was just reporting on what he saw and lived with, over a long period of time. Once again, you might want to re-read the book.


6:49 AM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

I've thought a lot recently about the transience of governments, have been reading Polybius and whatnot, and he says every govt. has its yin and yang, so to speak. You have rule of one (benevolent monarchy inevitably degenrates into despotism), rule of a few (benign aristocracy becomes corrupt oligarchy) and rule of many (healthy democracy becomes ochlocracy or mob rule)and that every society will go through these transformations, beginning in anarchy and ending in a monarchy and starting all over again. That cycle seems to have been much drawn out the past several centuries in the West, possibly because govts have taken on the "mixed" approach favored by Polybius as stabling. Perhaps democracy is transient, as all forms of govt. are but is it not still the best, most stable form of government humanity has come up with yet? Does it not provide the greatest opportunity for the largest number of people to self-actualize, despite the spiritual decay it seems to facilitate? What is a better alternative to strive for? Perhaps a mixed democracy is the best way, with elected officials running it day to day but some kind of fatherly type supreme leader keeping budgets balanced and moral direction?

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Hello again, Maestro. Great column, as usual.

revisting Freud again, and finding alot of civilization is full of discontents, but perhaps not merely due to the repression of pleasure for the purpose of harmony. There is an energy that flows through cultures, and whether it stems from each respective culture's reaction to civilization (or repression, to Freud), it is expressed in all facets of a culture. Visiting a foreign land recently was a very beautiful experience for me, as I had experienced only American culture (and American "energy"), and the place that i visited was full of life, kindness, music, faith and sensual pleasure (great food, dancing, etc.)...all this while being impoverished.

When I returned home, I realized that the cultural energy of america was very, very different. I try not to oversimplify it, but I think it is consumerism. That's it. Oh, and "individualism", which just lets us believe that we are all special and turns us into childlike and egocentric horrors who treat our neighbors as objects.

We certainly react to civilization with discontent, as Freud felt, but I am hopeful to be part of a culture that expresses this discontent with beauty and passion for life...not passion for property. That's the kind of sublimation I am interested in.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Democracy seems to work pretty well for the people who are included in the decision making but not as well for those who aren't. The way it was set up here was for the exclusive benefit of white males. Any government, it seems to me, has to have a realistic opinion of what mankind is capable of doing to make laws that actually work and then enforce them. After the crash of 1929 no one doubted for a minute financiers (if left unattended) would happily repeat their performance and, sure enough, they did. If we don't have a government that will curb our worst tendencies to excess, violence and greed AND protect our right to freedom of speech, a fair trial, a living wage and other basics that ensure the opportunity for a good life then it will create misery whether it's called democracy, communisism, socialism or constitutional monarchy.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous John McCurdy said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I came across an article by the progressive American writer Alexander Cockburn, published at Znet, that echoes the clear and sensible conclusions you've reached about the collapse of American culture. Cockburn calls his piece, "The Fall of Obama," and the link is: http://zcommunications.org/the-fall-of-obama-by-alexander-cockburn

I just want to say how much I admire your work, Dr. Berman. Yours remains a sane voice in a crazy world - and I am writing from supposedly cozy Victoria, British Columbia, in Canada - things are feeling pretty crazy up here too.

I have read all of your books with care and look forward to writing about them on my own blog in the future. You were right to shift focus ten years ago to examine the nature of American culture after writing your consciousness trilogy. I must say though that I value both phases of your work equally. We need constant reminding of the hollowness of American culture, given its uncanny power to seduce even the wise. But we also need to consider the older moments in human development detailed in your trilogy, in particular moments of psychic balance that arose and were lost or suppressed, for example, as heresy.

I hope you're successful in publishing your next book, which I understand is in the works. Keep writing: the world, as I said, is a crazy place, and it is all too easy to be repeatedly distracted from the sorry state of social reality.

Your writing is one of several centering forces in my life, and for that I am grateful.


7:15 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear John,

Many thanks for writing in, and for the piece on Obama. Alex is actually British, I believe, tho in the US for many yrs now, writing for The Nation. I think future historians may follow his lead in analyzing his election, if they understand the microcosm/macrocosm thing I'm always going on about: he is us writ large. He represented a magical 'solution' to deep structural problems. Americans are not very bright; they think that's the way to solve things. They wouldn't know a deep structural problem if it presented itself in neon, which is in fact what it's doing. Now he is revealed as the little bald guy manipulating levers behind the Wizard of Oz--a joke, a zero--and therefore the perfect representative of the American people. This kind of foolishness has high costs, and as folks like Chris Hedges keep saying, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

But it's nice to hear from Victoria; you may know that I taught there from 1982 to 1987. It's a pity, tho, that both Can and Mexico basically model themselves on the US, esp. in terms of the economy--which, as Cockburn pts out, has tanked. But it's a deeper failure as well, a moral one, and it serves as a yardstick: to emulate the US is a measure of spiritual poverty. But you know this, of course.

And the economic failure is closely tied to the moral one. After a full year of writing agents and publishers about my essay collection, "A Question of Values," I completely struck out. For the most part, this was not ideological: it was about $. Essay collections won't make them a bundle, and that is frankly all they care about. But it winds up being a special kind of censorship nonetheless, because it means that alternate voices--which are not likely to be moneymakers--can't get heard. The irony is rich: if America were not the country it is, there wd be no need to write the book. Because it is the country it is, I can't get the book published! Anyway, I'm reduced to self-publishing the thing on Amazon, which means no reviews, and the likelihood that less than 100 people will read it. A question of values, indeed.
Meanwhile, I'm hoping to finish the 3rd volume in my "America" series by the end of the year, and then start the happy chore, once again, of writing companies that would prefer I did some Harry Potter knockoff.

Thanks again for your kind words.


10:18 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I await the third volume of your "America" series with a mixture of anticipation & dread, much as I await each new Chris Hedges' column. And I for one will buy "A Question of Values" whenever it appears, in whatever format.

Even so ...

Between deciding that something won't make money, and simply refusing to cover news that upsets the mainstream, the de facto censorship in this country has been achieved with an all-encompassing effectiveness that crudely totalitarian governments of the past could only imagine in their most happily brutal dreams.

After all, who takes anything a "fringe" writer creates seriously? If it was worth anything, a major publisher would publish it, we'd see the author on "Good Morning America" & "Oprah," and all the right people would give it their stamp of approval -- right?

The curt dismissal with a mixture of pity & contempt trumps any police vans & midnight arrests. If you aren't officially accepted & approved by the mainstream, you simply don't exist.

But don't forget that there are more of us out here than you might think, finding some of the civilized lifelines we need in your posts!

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Brad said...

One problem I can see is that part of America's collapse is, ironically enough, being CAUSED by people attempting to give America a "rudder."

Evangelical Christians, for just one example (I could think of many more), think that America would have a "rudder" to guide their lives if everyone studied the Bible, but that doesn't stop them from violently attacking homosexual people, coercing the young into joining war, enthusiastically cheering for wars on Muslims (as they once did for Jews), erasing programs that would help the poor, etc.

You might want to be careful: what if people 300 years from now look back on America's collapse, and decide that maybe freedom and love ITSELF caused the collapse, rather than the abuse of it? That certainly seems to be what the older generations are deciding.

If you're going to write the "archive" of America's collapse, be sure you don't send future civilizations the wrong message, and cause future historians to decide that maybe a "vertical society" where everyone is ruled from above (totalitarian politics, religion that bans love and freedom, business that enslaves the poor, etc.) isn't a bad idea, if it stopped people from ending up like America and its abuse of freedom.

Please don't accidentally send future generations 300 years or 400 years from now the idea that "freedom is a bad idea."

8:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Tim,

Well, I definitely don't exist, tho I shd have "A Question of Values" available via Amazon within 2-3 weeks, if all goes well, and vol. 3 of "America Goes Down the Tubes" out next year, unless the Money Censors have their way. Thanks for the support. I don't expect to make two shekels off of this stuff, to be honest, but if more than 42 people manage to read it, I suppose I shdn't complain (too much).


I assure you, nobody is going to give a rat's ass what I say, 300 years from now; or even 30; or 3. Check out Tim's letter, above, for full clarity on this issue. Your library training may have overemphasized the power of the word. Once again: fewer bks, more fresh air--will do u a world of good.


10:02 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Dr. Berman, I will be one of the 42 (or so) that read it, and if I had two shekels to rub together, you would certainly get both of them.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well u guys:

U all laughed when I said I was Pulling for Palin in '12. Now John Nichols, in the current online issue of The Nation, begins his article thus:

"Slowly but surely, and admittedly without much competition, Sarah Palin is emerging as the most serious and effective player in the Republican Party."

And no doubt u thought we cdn't have a dumber pres than Dubya. Think again, my friends: Palindrome Is Nearly Home! I'm already checking out hotels in the DC area for Jan. '13; this is an inaugural I wdn't miss for the world. An actual buffoon(ette) will ascend the throne, sworn in by a rt-wing Chief Justice. Hopefully a rabbi will be present to say Kaddish (prayer for the dead).



11:43 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't even want to think about it said...

Speaking of Palindrome, did you guys read this article from truthdig? Hilarious (and deeply saddening)


Good God almighty, I lived through 8 years of Bush, and now this. Shouldn't president be one of those jobs that requires a little..you know, basic intelligence? How fabulous.

Somehow, i think she is even more dangerous than ol' W.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sorry that url got truncated. Readers who want to know about Sarah saying "refudiate" and then comparing herself to Shakespeare (Jesus, there are so many stupid people in the US!) should go to truthdig.com and click on Ear to the Ground, then scroll down a bit.

During the campaign of 2008, Sarah was asked by someone about a remark John McCain had made that she disagreed with. Not wanting to contradict her erstwhile boss, she said something like, "I'm not aware of that particular verbage." The reply was so stupid that the New Yorker subsequently did an article about it, entitled "Verbage."

To start with, in Sarah's pathetic little head, "verbiage" is apparently neutral. In fact, it means a superfluity of unnecessary talk--hardly a compliment. But in addition, the word is "verbiage," not "verbage"--redolent as the latter is with some combination of meaningless words plus garbage. In the New Yorker article, the author commented that this was a good summary of the Republican party: verbage. By which s/he meant, I take it, totally incoherent; filled with meaningless language; and in general, a pile of garbage.

Of course, the mag has failed to point out that despite excellent use of English, Obama is a spineless war criminal who is little more than a logo, or brand, bent on continuing torture/war/the rule of Big Business, etc. For honesty in reporting, we hafta turn to truthdig or Z-Net, I guess--places where the obituary of the nation is being written in no uncertain terms (i.e. with verbage that cannot be refudiated).


3:37 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Ack! "Verbage!"

This is something I've noticed over the past decade or so: the steady disintegration of words & language. If I turn on TV news & watch the newscrawl, it doesn't take long to see a word misspelled or misused. Dare I say that it impacts me (ugh)?

Hmmm, I inadvertently typed "newscrawl" as "new scrawl" at first ...

In any case, I think we can agree that any genuine democracy must use precise & clear language, rather than mere "truthiness." Though as you point out, eloquence alone is hardly enough. In Obama's case, it's simply more articulate "verbage," isn't it.


You're right about people wanting & needing that rudder, that defining & guiding narrative. And doubly right about Evangelical types being sure that theirs is The One. You go to a fairly thoughtful conservative blog like Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con, and you'll read a lot you'll agree with -- up to a certain point. That Old Time Religion isn't going to save us, though. If anything, it accelerates the coming collapse.

I think Jung was right in saying that a culture reaching its psychological crisis point will tend to look back, clinging to the empty husk of a once vital & sustaining narrative, rather than looking forward to whatever new one waits to be born. But the best of Western civilization, which is what needs to be preserved for the future, is also what's NOT being utilized or honored. Instead, it's the worst that's celebrated & sold to everyone.

This does not bode well.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

I don't think we all laughed when you said you were "pulling for Palin"; I doubt that any of us are surprised that the Republican Party is stupid enough to embrace Sarah. It's just that the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world in 2012 seems to be coming true!

I'm starting to come around, though. What's happening *is* pretty funny. And laughing is a lot better for my blood pressure.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Art, Tim-

Some yrs ago, b4 I left DC, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that I thought said it all: "You Can't Fix Stupid". It may come down to this, because the truth is, you can't! How is a nation of 307 million dolts, and abt 200,000 people who actually know the score, going to turn itself around? Where would the resources for this, the politics and the power, come from? With an idiot rate in excess of 99%, how in the world is the US going to avoid the abyss? In a word: in what way is Sarah *not* representative of this great nation? So please keep these 5 slogans (the last courtesy Edw R. Murrow) in mind at all times (put on a post-it, stick on bathrm mirror):

1. You Can't Fix Stupid
2. Verbage ueber Alles
3. Palindrome will bring it home!
4. Onward and Downward!
5. Good night and good luck


ps: On the bright side, I'm now working with Amazon to put "A Question of Values" on the "shelves". I'm so excited aabout my potential sales of 42 copies, I could faint. Stay tuned.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

You may find the article 'Palin Says Refudiate Appears in Fictionary
Calls Critics Incohecent' on http://www.borowitzreport.com/

Count me amongst the mighty 42!

5:29 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman, Tim, Art,

Today in the NYT was an article by Robert Wright about the plan to build a mosque (not a madrassa with courses in bomb making or flying planes into buildings)near the site of the Twin Towers and how two politicans are using this "issue" as a centerpiece in their bids for public office. This has an ominous, pre-McCarthy ring to it --- this guilt-by-association assertion. In Truthout yesterday was a story Blessed Are the Peacemakers...But Not in America on a recent Supreme Court decision, 6-3, that

"humanitarian groups can be judged guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism merely by holding peaceful dialog and engaging in political discussions with proscribed organizations. Those convicted may be sentenced up to 15 years in prison."

This is the kind of distorting, self serving platform that Palin would enthusiastically gin up for her own advancement, never giving a second thought to the wrecked lives left in her wake. And this has been pre-blessed by the Supreme Court if she cared to escalate it which, if the opportunity presents itself, she will. Take a close look at your girlfriend, guys, b/c there'd be no breaking up with her for at least four years.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I need help from the 42 on choice of cover for my book. I'm slowly working w/Amazon on getting this thing on the virtual shelf. Once it's listed, you can order it and they'll prepare a nice pb edn 4u. One possibility is an autumn scene, very pretty. But do any of you have any ideas here? E.g. a shredded American flag; fotos of Tina Fey and Sarah side by side; a bust of Socrates rammed into a toilet bowl; etc.


Sarah will probably round up the 42 of us and stick us in jail...which would lead to an endless party! Think of all the fun we could have. You *see*, there are advantages to having a fascist dunce in the W.H.!


7:42 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


The bust of Socrates rammed in the toilet thing was too much, my laptop almost fell off my lap. Hilarious.

All 42 of us in jail together? woohoo! can we play scruples?

As for the cover, how about the bust of Socrates rammed into the toilet, except the toilet is the colors of the American flag? good stuff.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I worry that toilet imagery might be a turnoff, altho a collage of Sarah flushing Socrates ("refudiating" him) does capture part of what I want to say. Anyway, I'm glad to have your help, and I'm hoping others will join in, as I've never had to self-publish a bk b4 and am a tyro. I thought of other collages: torture scenes from Iraq pushing into Thoreau's cabin on Walden Pond, for example. So I right clicked on some cabin pics, and on some Abu Ghraib fotos, and emailed them to myself--sans success. How do you download these things? But the real problem is finding two fotos that represent "A Question of Values," w/o coming off as corny or prosaic. I have no idea how to do that.

As for jail for the DAA42, as it were: you did mean Scrabble, yes?


12:20 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I think contrasting two very different images is the way to go, preferably vivid & easily recognizable. You might have a volume or two of some classic novel or book on ethics literally sinking in a sea of tabloid trash -- the face of Sarah Palin or Lindsay Lohan pasted over the face of bust of Socrates, perhaps? -- the infamous hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty? -- or Lynddie England with the prisoner on a leash, only someone like Lincoln or Jefferson replacing the prisoner?

A couple of years ago I began a series of collages which will collectively be called "After the Collapse," inspired by the Bush regime & books like your own "Twilight of American Culture," which used images of a broken Western world:


So perhaps a juxtaposition of those torture photos against a classic American monument or building? Or against the Bill of Rights?

Hell, if there was enough time, I'd be happy to give it a try myself!

The DAA42 -- I rather like the sound of that!


I'm sure you saw the latest anti-mosque story, with Newt Gingrich chiming in like a petulant 4th-grader: "Since Saudi Arabia won't allow any churches or temples in their country, we shouldn't allow any mosques in ours! That'll show 'em! Nyah!" Pathetic ... except that too many Americans agree with him completely.

"..."humanitarian groups can be judged guilty of aiding and abetting terrorism merely by holding peaceful dialog and engaging in political discussions with proscribed organizations. Those convicted may be sentenced up to 15 years in prison."

Now this is utterly chilling. Time to re-release Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, I think.

8:33 AM  
Blogger Cj said...

Hi Dr. Berman, do you read Glenn Greenwald's columns on salon.com?

He's up there with Chris Hedges in writing about what's really happening in this country. IMHO he's a national treasure.

I believe you can access his columns free at http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/index.html .


10:49 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Tim, Chuck-

Cdn't find the url's; got "Page Not Found." Is it me?

But hey, what about Glen *Beck*? Whatta guy!


11:11 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Hmmm, I wonder if part of the URL got cut off -- let me try it again:


I've put a return between "sets/" & "7215etc." to make sure the entire URL remains on the page. Simply copy the URL to Word (or whatever), remove that return, copy & paste the complete URL into the Search bar, and we'll see if it works.

Let me second Chuck's recommendation of Glenn Greenwald's columns, by the way. The man has been relentless in holding Obama's feet to the fire with the same moral clarity as he did Bush's faux cowboy boots. I think Glenn still believes that things could be turned around, if enough people in power actually did the right things -- but that's the kicker, isn't it? Not enough (if any) will.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Dr. B,

Scrabble would be fun too,and considering we could all take turns refudiating each other's verbage, an excellent idea. But Scruples has to be second on the list, because I had played it earlier in the day with a group of inmates (I was running a counseling group for guys getting ready to be released). Just thought the hilarity of the juxtaposition involving the toilet went well with a group of people like the DAA42 sitting in a jail cell reading cards with one-sentence moral dilemmas and debating about them.

You know, maybe playing Scruples should be a requirement for the Palindrome folks. They could change the name to Un-Scruples.

Looking at pictures for ideas for the cover..and also how to properly mingle them. (even thought about going lo-tech and pasting a collage and then scanning it)

2:12 PM  
Blogger Cj said...


Try the one above. It's possible you may have copied the period at the end of my sentence in the previous post.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


The lo-tech, hand-pasted collage has a certain weight & presence that's just lacking in digital collage, I think. Go to it!

Meanwhile, I've got to start wordifying my verbage ...

3:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Nice fotos. I'm still thinking of some combo of torture at Abu Ghraib with Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond, colliding; but I can't seem to capture images off the Net.

Cj: the url keeps getting truncated.


3:32 PM  
Blogger JL1980 said...

Dr. Berman

How about a photoshop of Sarah Palin spouting some verbage at a podium in front of some crumbling Greek classical architecture? Should be pretty easy to put together.

Also, I eagerly anticipate an Obama re-election even more than Palin... if collapse is coming, better sooner than later IMO. Spend spend spend!


great Jung quote, I guess that explains why every movie is a remake, as well as my generation's apparent obsession with reminiscing about the 80's toys, cartoons and video games we grew up in.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear F:

We're on the same wavelength. Earlier today I picked out a pic of some mannikins plus a shot of columns at the Acropolis. So the choice would be Robopathology vs. Know Thyself. Somehow, altho I'm dying to have Sarah in the W.H., I just can't seem to put that ridiculous face on the cover of a book of mine. If there are limits to verbage and refudiation (I hope), there also have to be some for degradiation. Sarah is fully degradiated and buffooniated and will degradiate and buffoonify the country, I'm sure of it.


Thanx fer Greenwald message; I'm hip.


10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An image that’s popped in and out of my head for several years is one with the famous hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner standing on the box, arms extended with the wires off of his fingers. I’d would reinterpret it into a jesus figure on the cross image. More or less all you’d have to do is add a cross behind the existing public image. It shows the weird collision of religious thinking and torture or conversely how we have tortured whatever was good about past values. In any case, if done correctly, I think it could be the “image of collision” that you’re thinking about. You could add something “misspelled” on a sign below it…….to indicate impossibility of our thinking our way out of it.
Just thinking out loud really.

eljuero juero59@yahoo.com

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Berman,

This dodo bird should be the cover of your next book....

Mike O'

11:00 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Mike,

Did this url get truncated? It didn't work for me...Meanwhile, Art sent me an Edvard Munch/Oprah combination foto...I was thinking for the front cover, a pic of me vomiting on Oprah's shoes. Too unsubtle?


12:33 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

How about Oprah chatting earnestly with that hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner? "Join us after the break to learn how you can avoid torture by using The Secret. And everyone in the audience gets a free hood!"

Sadly, the possibilities are endless. And nothing is too absurd or horrifyingly ridiculous.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Alogon said...

Dear Dr. Berman: While I agree with you in the main as always, I also agree with Bush Sr. with regard to "the vision thing," or at least the role for it that you propose. In normal times, why should it be the place of government to set agendas for the citizenry? How often has it been so historically, and how often do we admire those political "leaders" known for doing it? I can easily think of some whom we do not admire.

Such agendas and visions need another source, and can't other sources serve the body politic just as well? I hope citing religion as a potential source that should take precedence doesn't make me a religious nut.

First of all, the first three of the "Ten Commandments" can all be read as limiting the scope of government for any observant Jew or Christian. With regards to this role, I for one doubt that the grass is greener in any way under Islam with its inherent failure to distinguish between "church" and state.

The point that you make with regard to merely "negative" and alienating freedoms being provided by democracy should not be a fatal flaw in view of these other potential sources. In _Being_as_Communion_, John Zizioulas discusses the same problems in great depth and attributes them not to democracy but to the intellectual tradition of the West, where they are-- if not caused-- at least exacerbated by specifically Western theological developments. The Eastern Orthodox church's perspective is different and corrective: a vision, if you will, of a ship sailing in often stormy waters, in which everyone reaches the distant harbor together or not at all.

William Stringfellow is another theologian whose insights, after a couple decades of not-so-benign neglect because he spoke truth to religious as well as political power, are being renovated, and developed further by Walter Wink, because of their relevance to these times. According to him, a "vision" emitted on behalf of a government, along with all ideologies or utopian designs, is liable to be downright idolatrous and demonic. People invest in these tantalizing things, which can never deliver what they promise, to the point of selling their souls. If you are unfamiliar with the ideas and writings of this activist lawyer who became famous/notorious in the Vietnam-war period, give him a try. I think that you will like him.

2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Opera’s giant caboose sitting on you or the bust of Socrates. Another attempt with the Mr. Fish cartoon of a dodo bird called “feeding the empire”

Mike O'

2:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Oprah under a shredded American flag, with the caption, "I Killed America!" Etc.


No luck.


Of course, vision can be good or bad, but I doubt lack of vision could ever be a good thing. Clinton chided Bush Sr. for lack of vision, but his own vision was "Let's All Make Money!" Some vision. I recall Eugene McCarthy, in 1968, drawing up a comparison of US leaders then vs. during the Washington administration. What a sorry lot the Nixon crowd was. Their vision was basically, "We're above the law!" (Nixon said as much in his interview with David Frost, yrs later). Thos Jefferson, on the other hand--different story, quite obviously. You get my pt.


6:51 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


Nice one! Maybe the DAA42 can put together a book of collage and comic strips. Working title: "A Collision of Values".

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Hi Morris,
A question not so much about this current post as about your overall argument for a "new monasticism" as a response to all this accelerating decay:

Since you wrote Twilight of American Culture, there has been a decade or so's worth of water under the bridge. Have new "new monastic" phenomena come up that seem as noteworthy to you as Bargemusic, etc. and the others mentioned in Twilight?

From your perspective, has the rate of emergence of "new monastic" blips remained the same, accelerated, or diminished since you wrote the book?

What would be a more worrisome development - accelerated....or decelerated....rates of "new monastic" innovation? They can't be both equally worrisome...or can they?

11:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Ray,

I have a gd friend, an ex-monk, in fact, who has been urging me to do a book on the New Monastic Option. This was, of course, the most optimistic part of the Twilight book, and I do hope there are Americans out there who are doing things of this nature. But I'm too engaged in other projects rt now, in particular the third volume of my "America" series (which explores the notion that the US "blew it" from a very early pt, and was never really able to entertain alternative trajectories as a result), which I'm hoping to finish up by the end of this yr. As a result, I really have no idea what's going on out there, in the hinterland, so to speak, and frankly wish someone wd write a book on New Monastic Experiments. I did meet someone at the "Debt" conference I spoke at at the Univ of Wisconsin in May, however, who did seem to be pursuing both organizing and writing in Portland, OR: a great fellow named Joel Magnuson (he's at Portland Community College, and I hope he's reading this). I was enthusiastic about his efforts, and hope he is having some (much) success w/them. And I'm sure there are other similar projects around. But I confess my ignorance here, as my attention has been focused on other things since I wrote the Twilight book.

Thanks for writing,

12:57 PM  
Blogger Michael M. said...

A really great guy following his own version of the monastic option:


7:55 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,

In the end, I think its just as well that new monasticism is hard to track.

One of the many perversities of our age is how themes related to apocalypse, civilizational decay, etc. have been so compulsively commodified and fed back into the culture for entertainment value and profit. One result is a pseudo-aware, knowing refusal to take the topic seriously among media-savvy minds who should know better, a glib and self-centered aestheticization into "collapse porn" away from honest "collapse awareness."

These things could have a fatal effect on the effective survival of any New Monastic phenomena, **once identified as such**. Imagine the field day capitalism will have exploiting new-monastic urges to self-expression, in the same way it has commodifed all earlier waves of rejectionist dissent once they have reached a certin point of inflection in the larger culture.

One is hard put to avoid the conclusion that the dialectical dilemma you face with the struggle to publish your current manuscript applies here too; if the market had a place for any book on new monasticism the book would lose much of its value - its rejection reinforces its very argument.

In the case I lay out here, real new monasticism can best survive and proliferate under a total media blackout and ruthless market exclusion. The moment the meme of "New Monasticism" becomes a meme, it has already failed and the whole phenomenon is in danger of becoming a zombified parody of itself, attracting egoists, posers, and slumming cultural tourists.

The somewhat Heisenbergian conclusion to be drawn is that any real "new monasticism" will lie beyond the event horizon we have available to discern such things. Only once through the looking glass of real and final irrevocable social collapse will they be revealed as the real hope for the future.

In other words, I doubt that writing that book your ex-monk friend recommends will do any of these movements that might be out there any good, and such a book might even do them possible unintentional harm.

12:31 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Ray,

As Thos Frank once put it, "commodify your dissent." Herbert Marcuse said the same thing about capitalism: it was so flexible it could market anti-capitalism, and quite successfully. As for "collapse porn"--I like to call it "collapse chic"--more and more I see movies that take collapse as a premise, so Hollywood is clearly onto it. I remember when I published Twilight, some Amazon reviewer said something like, "If this book is successful, then the whole argument is wrong." Well, it was mildly successful, and the twilight idea filtered into the culture for a while...but Rolling Stone never did do a "Twilight" issue, let alone a Monastic Option issue, so I guess we can say the book came and went. Dark Ages didn't even make it onto the horizon, altho again, I've run across the theme (never w/any attribution, of course; but then, most of it is probably zeitgeist) a few times since the bk was published. Anyway, you'll be glad to know that I don't really intend to write an expanded version of the new monastic option theme.

But I guess the violent rejection, and/or wholesale ignoring of the Dark Ages book, shd be a cause for hope. Apparently, there are some pills American capitalism is just not prepared to swallow. (I wd put my forthcoming collection of essays in this category, but most of the rejection here was not about ideology but abt the fact that there's no money to be made from this bk.) Thus I keep thinking of titles or themes I might work on in the future that couldn't possibly become a form of Trash-America-Chic:

-310 Million Degraded Buffoons Can't Be Right

-Americans Have Their Heads Rammed Up Their Rumps And Are Rolling Around Like Doughnuts

-We Are Little More Than A Large Collection of Clowns On Cell Phones

-Americans Are Violent And Stupid And The Government Is Not Much Better

You get the idea. Meanwhile, I encourage readers of this blog to contribute their own titles that have abs. no chance of getting published.


1:06 AM  
Blogger Bobster1 said...

You probably should also define what democracy in America actually is. It seems to be elections plus capitalism, whereas in many other countries it operates slightly differently. de Tocqueville also said that no sooner than an American got comfortable and well situated, he would pull up stakes, sell out and move somewhere else. So he seemed to think that even at the time, dissatisfaction was strongly ingrained into the culture. de Tocqueville also noted how well read many Americans seemed to be, something that has changed for the worse in the interim.
The US seems to attract people who were materially dissatisfied in their home countries, and this trend has probably become even more pronounced in recent decades. It doesn't strike me that people come to the US for the "freedom", however that might be defined, but rather to make money, buy cars, have property, and shop at Wal Mart.
A quick comment about Mexico--Mexico seems to have many elements of pre-industrial societies, and a much higher tolerance for violence in general. The murder rate is 3X that in the US, even though the US has per capita probably 20X as many guns. However, it feels much less violent because everything is beneath the surface, showing anger is not acceptable, generally. Everything in the US feels like a transaction, even personal relations, but in Mexico things seem to be on a more personal basis--love and hate are both on a more personal basis.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That 3:1 ratio is a bit deceptive, because unlike the situation in the US, violence is not a part of daily life, for the most part. It is confined to organized crime and drug-trafficking, and some kidnapping. Most of it is localized, esp. around the border (e.g. Ciudad Juarez), or in Michoacan. The demand for drugs, of course, comes from US citizens; who also supply the guns, as is well known. Daily life down here is actually quite gracious, in a way that is almost unimaginable north of the border. I've also walked the streets of Mexico City at night, and have never been fearful (depends on what part of town yer in, of course).


1:59 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Ray,

The book on the New Monastic option was written and,in my opinion, can't be improved on about 150 years ago and it was Walden by Thoreau. He was only in his late twenties when he decided to confront life in its basics and think for himself. I can't improve on his words:

"I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father's or his mother's or his neighbor's instead. The youth may build or plant or sail, only let him not be hindered from doing that which he tells me he would like to do. It is a mathematical point only that we are wise, as the sailor or the fugitive slave keeps the polestar in his eye; but that is sufficient guidance for all our life. We may not arrive at our port within a calculable period, but we would preserve the course."

To me, at least, that is essence of it. I'm loosely quoting Gandhi here: what we do as individuals is insignificant but it's very important that we do it. I know living in the woods for two years (or even moving to Mexico) may not be realistic for many people but, and again I'll quote from the introduction in my book,

"The heroic journey he takes from a slave-driven life to freedom is not through fierce struggles and dismal swamps but through experiments in self-culture, self-discipline and his announced commitment to a life dedicated to principle."

I do see people carving out lives for themselves in the midst of this insanity. Not easy, but it beats turning on American Idol and caring who wins.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous John from IN said...

-Walking to Stuff: A Free, Unbelievably Goddamned Obvious Green Transportation Solution for 21st Century America.

-The Boston Tea Party Was Protesting a Global MegaCorporation Getting Special Tax Breaks and Other Tiny Details That Don't Show Up On Standardized Tests

-Support Our Troops? (Awesome things that the US Government could have done for all of us if they hadn't blown so much money on killing people.)

-The Bell Curve II: If You Have a Clue, There's Pretty Much No Chance in Hell That Anyone Else Around You Has One.

That felt good, thanks MB.

10:37 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Michael, and friends:

Thanks for the link to Ran Prieur's website. I like the way he summarizes his thinking:

"If the biosphere is a body, then industrial civilization is a cancer, in which disconnected selfish cells multiply and consume and destroy and call it 'progress'."

"I don't believe a big 'Crash' is coming. I think we're already in it and this is what it looks like: a steady series of changes in the background of our lives, with occasional local catastrophes. The new world will replace the old by growing through its cracks."

I was also delighted to see that Prieur also advocates ancestral nutrition, along the lines of Weston Price. More meat, less wheat. Of course, the number of Americans who are willing even to consider this could be healthy is, I'm guessing, less than 1%. Sound familiar?

7:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hate to see a good literary device slandered by association. "Palindrone" seems better, to me.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hard to refudiate that...

1:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Walden is indeed an NMI book! And it serves as a vital reminder, too: the good we hope to do may be better accomplished as individuals, rather than as organized groups. Ray's right about that -- the moment something starts getting noticed by the mainstream, there's a horrible probability of it becoming commodified & homogenized. Far better to be under the radar, I think.


Are we under attack by predator Palindrones, then? I'm afraid so!

My book title for those who believe the digital age will solve everything: Data, Data Everywhere, And Not A Thought To Think!

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


"...the good we hope to do may be better accomplished as individuals, rather than as organized groups." Yes, that's what MB argued in his "Twilight" book. The irony here, is that we also decry the rugged individualistic, "not in my backyard" mentality. We crave community, including cafes where people still talk with each other. And, there are many areas in which organized groups are essential: labor unions, community gardens, etc. We don't want to join the mainstream, but we can't go it alone either.

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I don't think we have to worry much about "new monasticism" becoming mainstream or a meme unless someone uses the term to describe a class of characters in a fantasy movie or video game. This is one case in which the poverty of thought exemplified by nearly all of our countrymen proves to be beneficial: there is way too much cognition and feeling and creativity necessary to truly begin to understand this concept. I get what you're saying, (I think), that if the media gets a hold of it, it loses something, but I think the only possibility would be the term itself becoming exploited and misused by the moronic masses, whereas the actual act of becoming an NMI is far beyond the grasp of the average buffoon (waaaay out there). Now, if you were to have invented a pair of sweatpants that say "sexy" across the ass, you may be in danger of that catching on. Oh wait, I think it already did. God bless our wonderful land.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, I'm still waiting for the Rolling Stone "Moron" issue to appear. Or the final issue of the NYT (a newspaper long overdue for retirement), w/a headline like:


Perhaps we could all pool our money in advance, invest in a "DOLT" T-shirt industry for the day that it becomes chic to recognize the obvious.

Well, I won't hold my breath.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Several fine people here have made the point (essentially concurring with my somewhat banal argument) that if we each commit ourselves to living out our private Thoreauvian quests for excellence, feeling, creativity, engagement, authenticity etc. etc. etc. we will approximate Morris' concept of the NMI - all that is left is to avoid mass exposure and guard against mainstream cooptation.

I agree as far as this goes, although it seems too bien pensant. But on further consideration a somewhat darker point comes to mind. All the posers, egoists, lifestyle consumers, and authenticity sniffers out there are as convinced as we ("we?") are that they are living lives of integrity, creativity, engagement, and hopeful commitment to a better future. How do we know that we are not just an especially self-deceiving variation of the long line of self-obsessed "New Thought," "Human Potential" etc. etc. Chautauquaites that this country throws up like so many indigestible hairballs from its permanent self-indulgence fiesta?

The only answer I can think of is this. Even PRIVATE non-coopted awareness of one's own wonderful and precious NMI-ness is already a danger sign.

The Old Monastic Individuals of the prototypical Dark Ages 500-700were not aware of earlier civilizational collapses (such as the pre-Homeric Doric invasions), or of the whole concept of "Dark Age" We on the other hand are ill suited to weather whatever dark age comes PRECISELY because we have literature like A Canticle for Leibovitz, because "Dark Ages" have become too familiar to us as an intellectual concept. We cannot but start playing unimaginative role-playing games with the idea and with our precious personal place in the unfolding historical narrative, as it is too morbidly fascinating to be left alone. In that sense at least, we are no better than those people who avidly track Fox News for the next item to check off on their Left Behind events checklist.

I submit that the absolutely necessary element still missing in an appropriate personal response to the coming dark age is paradoxically a fundamental refusal to organize a response that is too willed and consciously redemptive. This is a matter of private self-awareness and not anything to do with external overexposure. Augustine's City of God was written not to influence subsequent centuries of church consolidation but because the poor guy felt he was running out of time to say something coherent before the jaws of hell opened up and Moloch came for him and his sinful, self-justifying life as exemplary convert.

The real contributions to a post- collapse future will be made unknowingly by those who thought they were doing something else. That is what embracing the darkness requires.

On a related if tangential point:

Morris, you mentioned your current interest in the question of how early the Republic actually embarked on the off ramp to an unsustainable dead end. You suspect the turning point came early.

Have you considered some possible implications of the Founders' decision to base the new republic's political system and political aesthetic on Roman models? Knowing the Roman outcome of a military dictatorship and unsustainable Empire, surely aware of that year's bestseller (Gibbon), could it be that they were NOT saying that our Novus Ordo Secolorum would Get It Right This Time, but rather, that they were consciously founding a republic with a built in congenital death wish? Those old masons and freethinking skeptics would be perfectly capable of a sick joke like that, don't you think? Posing as Enlightenment philosophes just for the shits and giggles? Positively Hogarthian.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


No argument on that score. Some of what we must do will have to be in small groups.

But if & when I see popup ads for www.nmi.com starting to appear on my computer, with special offers for the official NMI DVD & accompanying booklet, and it's featured on a 1-minute trend-of-the-day spot on local news -- well, that's not a good sign!

I think a lot of NMI activity will be as simple as living out the example for those who have eyes to see. Just handing someone a book, a film, a piece of music, or sharing an idea that's new to them, that might give them a deeper sense of the world & their own potential, will be a subversive & constructive act.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Love the phrase, "indigestible hairballs." Wonderful.

As to what the Founding Fathers were up to: a huge topic. I deal with it in my forthcoming bk (not the essay collection, but the 3rd in the "America" series). The lit is quite vast, but you might want to tilt at Louis Hartz (The Liberal Tradition in America), Richard Hofstadter (The American Political Tradition), and J.P. Diggins (The Lost Soul of American Politics). I'll expect a bk report by the end of next month.


4:16 PM  
Blogger Kelvin said...

Hi Dr. Berman,

I've read several of your books and have always found them thought-provoking. Which ones? Coming to our senses, Wandering god, the 1st and 2nd America books, and I've seen you lecture on BookTV once and have heard you interviewed by Ken Rose. I am always checking your blog for your latest soundings on things.

You've said several times that things will not change in the U.S. and that it is only a question of the gradient of the decline: steep or gentle. You sometimes follow that with "It's sociology 101." Could you recommend a good "sociology 101" textbook? Unfortunately, I managed to sidestep sociology in my miseducation although I fulfilled a social sciences requirement by taking U.S. history and politics. Quite propagandistic that was!

Thank you for any suggestions you might proffer.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kelvin,

I may be wrong, but I think that comment came up in connection with a discussion regarding Obama's "slip" during the election campaign. He said that it was to be expected that workers in Pa. were bitter because of their economic situation, and that they would turn to guns and religion. Of course, Hilary and McCain immediately pounced on this "weakness," asserting that people had the right to own guns, and that their faith was real and inspiring. Obama's comment may have been the only moment of truth in the entire campaign, but politics is not about truth. And this is where Soc 101 comes in. Basically, it's the difference between what Marx called the superstructure and the base. The base is the mode of production, the economic reality; religion, guns, politics, shopping, ideology, Oprah, etc.--this is all superstructure; froth, really, created to compensate for the economic reality by people who suffer from it. This is also known as false consciousness. "All that is solid melts into air," wrote Marx: change the base, the economic substructure, and the froth disappears overnight, because it had no independent reality of its own. The future pres was right on the money, but you cannot speak the truth and get elected, so he quickly backed down. People cannot get along without Jesus, or some form of false consciousness, and if you tell them that there isn't much evidence that Jesus even existed, they fly into a rage (try it sometime). Anyway, it's a long discussion, and of course Marx got a lot of things wrong as well. But I'd suggest starting with him, and then moving on to Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and the other classical writers. (Check out the Fontana/Viking Past Masters series; also the subject entries in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences.) There's a very readable biography of Marx by Isaiah Berlin; I'd also recommend "To the Finland Station," by Edmund Wilson; and of Marx himself, "The German Ideology" and of course, the Communist Manifesto. (Marx is not the last word, but he probably is the first one.)

Hope that helps...


8:51 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Ray,


I read your post about NMI and recognize maybe there's no real way of knowing what the acid test would be for authenticity or if we are "a particularly self-deceiving variation." It's a good point.

An elderly man I knew (he's been dead 5 years now) volunteered at a local, poor school helping first graders learn to read. He'd ask the teacher what the children needed, go to WalMart and buy it, made cookies for his adopted class and had never heard of NMI. His actions were unself-concious decency and he probably never recognized he passed on something precious to those kids just by his example of good will and generosity. There's a selflessness to people who will probably carry the best qualities of humanity on into the future and, if we think we have them (and I speak only for myself), we probably don't.

6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to make myself feel very depressed I spent some time (how Protestant) browsing through some right wing USA magazines in Borders here in Melbourne Australia. American Spectator, National Review, Policy Review, First Things, New Criterion.

In one way or another they all promote the absurd proposition that the Tea Party movement was/is the answer to the current crisis of democracy and culture in the USA. And the necessary antidote to the hegemony and stifling political correctness of the dreaded liberal elite/establishment.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Actually, that sort of stuff tends to cheer me up, because my own feeling is that the US needs to get off the world stage, and the dumber we get the closer we are to that point. When I read that a church in Fla. is arranging for a Koran book-burning day, I think it's fabulous: the dumber the better, I say. Could we get more self-destructive? Of course we can, and we will. Toynbee wrote that in the declining phase of a civilization, instead of doing what might preserve itself just a bit longer, the civ always does exactly those things that will accelerate its decline, i.e. precisely those things it needs to avoid. (Jared Diamond makes the same pt at the end of "Collapse".) That's why I'm printing up bumper stickers that say: Pullin' For Palin in 2012! Just keep in mind that endarkenment is enlightenment, and you can't go wrong. :-)


4:51 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Thank you, Dr. Berman. I'm familiar with many of the titles but have not read them and, in some cases, have only read about them. For example, I know that Emile Durkheim's thesis in Elementary forms of religion (?) is that religion is a projection of society. Therefore society stands in as base and religion as superstructure, using the Marxist model. Did Durkheim realize that he was using Marx?

Would you say that Beethoven, Mozart, Michelangelo and Marx himself are also superstructure, along with Oprah? And wouldn't changing the base create a new superstructure? So which superstructure and base ought to be forged? I'd prefer the one with Mozart in it myself but that was based on the Austro-Hungarian hegemony and the war with the middle east in the form of Turkey (Hence the popularity of Turkish marches that both Mozart and Beethoven wrote).

I will start with To the Finland Station that I'd always been meaning to read.

5:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Durkheim and Marx are actually quite different. Durkheim believed no society could exist without religion; that God was society made divine, so to speak. Hence, its 'superstructural' status was irrelevant. He also saw it as a good thing, not any kind of 'opium of the people'. Etc.

As for Marx being in the superstructure...ah, that one
will keep you busy for years. You'll hafta read Karl Mannheim, and all of the critiques of the sociology of knowledge. Anyway, good luck with all this...


9:37 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

Speaking of guns, religion and self-destruction: here's a report from the Redneck Riviera. "The World's Most Famous Beach", Daytona Beach, allows motor vehicles on its sandy "street". But, recently a child was struck and killed by a car (second one this year). So, naturally there's been talk of banning beach driving entirely. When Hell freezes over! You see, most people in the area consider driving on the beach a God-given right. If, however, sanity does make a special appearance and a ban is enforced, then there will be big trouble. The Tea Party crowd will rally, with their God-given rifles, and force an old-fashioned shootout with the sheriff's department, trying to block access to their patriotic beach. I can see it coming, and Sarah will be there, no doubt. But the county probably sees it coming too, so there will be no courageous standing up for what is right. No use fretting over a little collateral damage when our "Freedom" is at stake!

12:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art,

As u know, stories of stupidity and destruction warm my heart. In fact, I'm thinking of calling my next book Stories of Stupidity and Destruction. A sure-fire best-seller, eh wot? It would include contributions from the DAA42. A typical entry: "You think *that's* bad? Hell..." You get the idea.

OAD (Onward And Downward)-


6:50 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Yes, the thought of us sitting around & congratulating ourselves on how very NMI we are is horrifying! :)


"Tales of Stupidity & Destruction" ... an excellent title, and all too accurate. It is clear that for a great many people, the collapse of culture & civilization is something desirable, the sooner the better.

Remember the 1980s, and all the survivalists, and films like "Red Dawn," "Invasion USA," "The Road Warrior," etc.? It was clear then that a fair number of people didn't fear that sort of post-apocalyptic world, they yearned for it. No more rules, no more having to tolerate anyone different, no more having to stifle & restrain your most primal, savage impulses -- oh, they hungered for such a world!

And that's just as true today, I fear. The idea of an ever-dumber culture, an increased use of force & violence, the wholesale dumping overboard of civility & education -- there are plenty who want this desperately, who see it as their paradise on earth. An uncivilized adolescent's fantasy wrold come to life.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Art said...


"for a great many people, the collapse of culture & civilization is something desirable"
Well, civilization isn't all it's cracked up to be: from monocrop agriculture, to industrial pollution, to information overload. At the very least, the end of the American Empire would be a good thing, yes?

"no more having to stifle & restrain your most primal, savage impulses"
I see your point, of course, but I wish you hadn't equated "primal" and "savage" with incivility and violence. Think of Gauguin's Tahiti, or the studies of the San "Bushmen" of the Kalahari by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, or the novel by Alejo Carpentier, "The Lost Steps". It might actually become a more beautiful world if we could be more in touch with our "primitive" natures. (Dave, help me out here!)

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My gut feeling is that we are going in the far right direction. Perhaps a third party, even more radical than the Tea Party, will emerge. People are angry, and will only get angrier if we go into further economic descent. Most people know that the talk of recovery is propaganda. We really aren't to the Weimar Germany stage yet. First, the entire middle class must be wiped out. There must be no hope left. It wouldn't be hard for a charasmatic leader to excite the European majority that still exists in this country. Many European-Americans feel like they are losing the country they grew up in. Only a strong, far right leader could
1. Close the border/We have enough people and strip malls already.
2.Force business to bring back production at the point of a gun. Jobs!
3. Keep crime levels under control and "deal with" a growing prison population. People want order.
This is the only solution left, and it isn't for the faint of heart. Sometimes, in history, people have to be told what to do. This will be the next stage. I don't think Americans are going to go quietly into that good night. The end will come with a "bang" and not with a "whimper." I also see a fundamentalist Christian component. That is my feeling now.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I would like to submit my vote for "Stories of Stupidity and Destruction". Excellent title, as it really captures the brutish egotopia that the US is. It also speaks to the wholesale destruction, both self-destruction and destruction on the world stage of the sovereignty of so many nations/people. How is the book coming, by the way? When can I pre-order as one of the DAA 42?

Hope you are well, Maestro. Best wishes.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Art et al.,

Check out Bob Herbert's column in July 31 NYT, also E.J. Dionne on truthdig.com, Aug. 1. If anybody seriously believes the US has a hope in hell at this pt, they are suffering from a severe case of CRI (Cranial-Rectal Impactment).

OK, the story on future bks:
1. "Counting Blessings," my vol. of poetry, should be out in abt 2 mos. Cervena Barva Press in Boston. More on that later.
2. "A Question of Values," my collection of essays, will be self-published on Amazon, shd also appear in abt 2 mos. More on that later.
3. "Destiny," my novel: still waiting to hear from publishers, but it's a long shot, because it won't make them a bundle, and given the collapse of the US these people don't much care abt anything else. More on that later.
4. Vol. 3 in the "America" series: I just might have it done by the end of the year. More on that later.
5. My nervous breakdown as a result of overwork, taking a clock into the bathroom, etc.: more on that later.

Favorite saying (suggest u all put it on a post-it on yer mirror): If you think it's bad now, just wait.

On that cheery note, let's blog on!


12:56 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Oh, I take your point!

By "civilization," I meant all the good, artistic, beautiful, complex things -- ideas as much as objects, from civility to contemplation, from tenderness to compassion. And by "primal" I was thinking in this case of pure Id, hormonal & uber-masculine & terrified of maturity -- you know, sorta like what we've got now, celebrated in all media -- Perpetual Fratboys R Us! Now with 87% more violence!

A bit more seriously, I'm thinking of the type Erich Fromm described as "necrophiliac" in his The Heart of Man. This type is obsessed with power, with masculinity, with mechanization, with control, with death & decay. He describes Franco's followers as proudly proclaiming, "Viva muerte!"

Now if that isn't Cheney, Rumsfeld, the whole cabal of neocons & corporate powers, I don't know what is. They revel in their ability to destroy; that's their definition of being alive, in fact. And humane emotions, ideas, institutions -- all these are mocked & dreaded & dismissed as weak, girly, gay, pathetic. The comcept of a mature human being, one operating more from empathy than fear, is utterly foreign to them, something horrible, something to be crushed at once.

And there are a lot of Americans out there who buy into this worldview, each & every one of them believing that he'll somehow be the one on top someday. And in order to be on top, you've got to have a lot more underfoot. That's one of the main attractions, after all.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Dave said...


Here I am, like a moth drawn to the flame, after my wonderful month of silence in the forest. Someone said “when you get the message, hang up the phone.” I wish I could follow the advice.

Yes, the fearful myth of those awful savage primitives lives on to serve our kings and priests. That bs is so imbedded in us. Reich did his best to expose the sexual repression piece of it and was put away. On and on it goes. War is peace, etc. Palin,Obama, Sam (my dog), no difference.

I recommend Paul Shepard’s “Coming Home to the Pleistocene.” Another interesting one is theoretical physicist David Peat, “Blackfoot Physics.”

Fears of bumper stickers “I’m An NMI and Proud Of It” are pointless. Of course that could happen, but no more than groups of educated intellectuals sitting around talking about the end of the world and being so proud that they understand what the stupid masses don’t.

Intention is everything. Who does it serve? What should I do between now and the day my lights go out? We can’t escape the existential questions but we can, as Kellerman wrote, live our dying.

Morris, I join your monk friend in suggesting the NMI book. Think of the 100 copies you could sell on those cozy agrarian communes. Seriously, it is needed. You’re the man.

I want to go back to the woods.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Dave,

I very much doubt that I'm the man. I think there's probably a lot more value in watching the stupid masses self-destruct than selling 100 copies of an NMI book on agrarian communes; but that's only one man's opinion (who happens to not be the man). But I do think a bumper sticker that simply reads, "Are You An NMI?" could potentially turn the country around and give you existential meaning b4 the light goes out. That, and new recipes for chopped liver, which I feel are sorely lacking in this day and age.


5:20 PM  
Blogger NoSpam said...

"we could be more in touch with our "primitive" natures. (Dave, help me out here)".

Hey, just ask ol' Dave about Catholicism and nuns, and you'll see his "primitive nature" leap to life.

6:43 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

Dr. Berman,

My wife makes the world's best chopped liver, at least our German Shepherd thought so. The dog ate a large bowl of it between the time we placed it on the coffee table and came back with the crackers and drinks.

I'll send along the recipe.

Ballots came in the mail today. I shredded them unopened. This is progress.

Arianna Huffington did an interesting piece on Palin and Jungian archetypes.

NMI4SPIN12 would be cute, but would anyone care enough to ask what it means?

6:48 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

"Many Americans, myself included, feel it would be an intolerable and tragic mistake to allow such a project ... to go forward on such hallowed ground," Palin wrote in a Facebook message originally posted July 20.

I'm surprised she didn't say "hollowed ground". Wouldn't that have been ironic. A team of editors must've been assisting.

The article (from msnbc, regarding the mosque near the site of where the trade center was, of course) goes on to quote Newt Gingrich spouting off about how it shows our weakness to let them build the mosque.

Tim, your point is well stated. Does anyone doubt that these two are fine examples of Fromm's "necrophiliac"? Is it not painfully obvious that Dr. Berman's "just wait" phrase is right on the money? And Palin says it's "intolerable" to let the mosque be built? Amazing tricks she plays with the English language, that woman. Isn't it intorable to fight against the building of it?

Perhaps the most troubling part of the whole thing is that Sarah Palin has a facebook page, and she'll probably be our next president. I hope I can get out of here and watch final stages from a distance.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


As many have noted, civilization is a package deal. You can't have the Enlightenment without the dark shadows of progress also being present. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to shine the light as brightly as possible, while at the same time regulating power as best we can.


People say that we can't go back to being hunter/gatherers. Wasn't it Paul Shepard who said that we never left, genetically speaking? Perhaps the 22nd century will see a fusion of civilization and primitivism, if that's possible.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You must forget the idea of writing an actual book and hoping for impact. That is asking a lot! Maybe that literary stuff would work in Scandinavia or Germany, but this is America!

A movie, on the other hand, is the way to go! You have to meet the people where they are. I would suggest doing a screenplay about NMIs in post apocalyptic America. You could make the NMIS violent survivalist monks with guns. People like violent movies especially during recessions. You could have flashbacks showing how America collapsed, etc. (make this very violent- special effects) You can sprinkle in the cultural preservation stuff, but don't make the audience get confused. Stick to simple language and think body count. It wouldn't hurt to have Megan Fox as one of the monks. That would create extra interest! You have to entertain in order to educate! You could call this movie, "The Order", or something simple. Think about it! We can sell this! This movie could electrify the people. We could tie in toys, video games, cups at McDonalds, etc.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well u guys, I recently saw The Road and The Book of Eli; strong stuff, for apocalyptic movies. And I'm sure there are more out there. But for depression, what cd be worse?: Dave's wife makes a bowl of chopped liver, and the dog eats it. I wept for several minutes. As for the mosque: why stop at the mosque? I can't understand why we haven't rounded up all of the Ay-rabs and shipped them off to Antarctica (let 'em eat/penguin meat--that's a haiku), where they won't be able to corrupt our way of life. In fact, yellow stars may be just the thing...In 1999 Silvio Berlusconi referred to the anti-globalization marchers in Seattle as "Talibanized hordes." We simply cannot let our Way of Life become Talibanized, right? (I was actually puzzled by the phrase. Did those marchers become individually Talibanized, and then join a horde, or did they as a group go to a Talibanization camp, and thus become a Talibanized horde? I've been pacing the floor since 1999 over this.) Anyway, all of this will become a whole lot clearer in Jan. 2013, when Sarah is sworn in. Read my next book, "Deep Do-Do".

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Howabout a Stupidity and Destruction Tour? The C-Span bus sometimes tours the country pursuing a theme--last one I saw was on De Toqueville (at least someone has brains). A tour bus could be hired and stuffed with video cams. Start in NY and do street interviews about the mosque. Then head south to DC (that should take a month). Final destination (a year later), the New Mexico border with Mexico. Oh, you can't forget Texas Disasters like the Bush ranch along the way. The video could be uploaded to Youtube or some such thing.

Or maybe instead of a tour bus, something like the psychedelic phenomenon on wheels out of The Electric Koolade Acid Test would do. Ah, nostalgia.

3:44 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kelvin,

Jay Leno used to do a thing on his show called "Jay Walking," where he went into the streets of Burbank and interviewed the typical American, asking questions such as: "What was the War between the States?" (Answer: "Which states?"). Then there were copycat programs...I recall the interviewer asking people, "What is the religion of Israel?" Typical answer: "Israeli". Nevertheless, a Stupidity and Destruction Tour, as you suggest, might still have some allure; although I would suggest the title "Buffoon Tour," with a supplementary TV progam called "American I-Dolt". These could be simultaneously terrifying and hilarious (as was "Jay Walking"). We would learn that there are four quarts in a pint, that the battle of Gettysburg took place in NY State, etc. The question, "What is chopped liver?" would be a rich vein to tap, it seems to me; or perhaps, "What is a mosque?" We would also need footage of G.W. Bush cutting brush, ask him why he thinks an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at him and called him a dog, just before he left office, or why his father vomited on the Japanese prime minister, before *he* left office. I tell ya, I think we've got a winner here. Thank you for suggesting it; I'll be notifying Ken Burns about the possibilities for a PBS series toot sweet. (The truth is, this would actually make a good indie film, for someone who had the guts to do it. 59% of Americans are waiting for the Rapture, according to a Time Mag poll, and 45% think extra-terrestrials visited the US within the last year. And that's just scratching the surface. Read my next book, "It Takes a Circus.")


5:44 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

"Perhaps the 22nd century will see a fusion of civilization and primitivism, if that's possible."


Now that's something worth living for, I agree!

How will we live? That's the question, isn't it. Perhaps we're trapped in old, familiar models & simply can't imagine something truly new & different, only some variation on what we already know.

But it does seems as if some new approach is needed, some new set of values (many of which would be very old ones, rediscovered & celebrated once more). What I fear is that things will get much worse before they can begin to get better, though I'm selfish enough to hope it doesn't happen in my lifetime. Makes me glad I don't have children, to be honest.

I'm afraid MB is quite right in saying that things have to collapse before enough people finally give up on the wrong values that have brought us to this point.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason we haven't heard from other worlds is that the majority of intelligent species in the universe reach this point & fail; only a tiny handful get beyond it, and are too smart to have anything to do with those who haven't hit the crisis point yet.

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

You're giving Woody Allen a run for the money! I've noticed that beginning with your American books you've manifested an inherent comic flair. I suppose the nature of the subject demands it or it happens without your deliberation?

I remember Jay Walking. It was incredible! Was it reshearsed? I think not (is the chilling conlusion).

Maybe you could get a TV stand-up spot. Call it Morris' Morass.

I've ever been a lover of satire just because it runs counter to Oprah's bright-sided vacuities (a most worthy object of satire-- but I'll settle for irony). Jonathan Swift is a godsend. We need more of his ilk. Paul Fussell once wrote a book proving that the Eighteenth century had more genres of writing than did the 20th and, shall I be so bold to suggest it?, the 21st, if writing is even a valid form of expression in this century.

Keep writing indefatigably, thou skeptical mystic.

1:52 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Kelvin,

Well, Chris Hedges might be rt abt an inevitable descent into fascism, but frankly I think moronism is a much more likely destiny (tho I grant u, they aren't mutually exclusive). We've now got a health bill that doesn't really protect anyone, a control-wall-st-bill that has enuf loopholes to drive a truck thru, a pres who talks abt change as he copies the Bush program almost across the board (and murders civilians in Pakistan on a monthly basis), and a Disneyfied culture that really finally is equivalent to Mickey Mouse.

I remember some teen beauty competition 4 or 5 yrs ago...the winner was 18 yrs old, and they asked her why she thought it was, that 87% of her generation couldn't find Iraq on a world map. "I really believe," she said with as much gravity as she could muster, "that there aren't enough maps." And I thought: I'm looking into the face of America's future. (She did, however, have great hair. Whoopee.)

Ever watch "Judge Judy"? She's so disgusted by American culture it's palpable. I remember her once saying, Just walk out onto the street and look around; one out of every three people you see is an idiot. (This is almost a verbatim quote.) And I thought: 1:3? Don't u mean 99:100?

Although there is something horrifying abt contemporary, end-of-empire America, from another angle it looks like something scripted by Laurel and Hardy.


6:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Could any avant-garde absurdist possibly come up with anything half as fantastic & bizarre as modern American culture?

If you look at what were once over the top satric novels & films of the 20th century, you find that they merely describe everyday reality today, from the 1950s science fiction novel The Space Merchants (society based on advertising) to Network (the only thing from that movie we haven't seen is a network-sponsored murder on the air ... and just wait). If you've seen Idiocracy, look up the 1950s SF short story "The Marching Morons," by C. M. Kornbluth -- satire & fascism all in one. And there's another short story form that period I've got to track down in one of my crumbling antholoigies, where ads are everywhere -- you wake up & they appear inside your shooes, in the mirror as you shave, etc. Meanwhile we currently have people selling naming rights & ad space to their unborn children over Ebay.

"And it's hi-hi-he,

In our great stupidity,

Count off your numbers loud & strong:

One! ... uh ... um ...

As those morons go marching along!"

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we are putting to much emphasis on how dumb Americans are. I actually believe that there is a higher percentage of intellectual Americans today than there was at any time in our history. Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive. Most of the common folk in America didn't have access to info., or they were busy tilling the land, fighting mountain lions, etc. Whereas today we might have 50% "true" illiterates; early America had around 90% of people who literally couldn't read, write, etc. That is why rural Americans used to put a X on old documents.

I would agree with you that the values have gone down (lack of community, lack of cohesion, lack of consideration) These values are clearly disappearing, yet don't have much to do with the collapse. I don't think we can blame the American downfall on the masses getting dumber. It seems like the reason has more to do with "our leaders" making the "wrong" choices for the group at various citical stages as you point out in your books. I don't think the masses in America from any era were too educated or bright. I bet they were more courteous in the past, but not smarter. The fault for our downfall has to be more about greed, individualism (faulty values), bad leaders, wrong choices than the stupidity of modern Americans. It's actually good for Capitalism to have people as dumb as possible. If they're dumb, they work more hours, don't complain as much, don't start nasty unions, no vacation, etc. Financially, it's a win-win to have lots of dolts.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Somewhere I have a file on all this, but I don't know where it is, so all I've got is a few random ideas I can remember. But basically, the data indicate greater intelligence in the past. Lawrence Stone did some book demonstrating this, focusing esp. on the colonial period; Tocqueville observed that even the roughest log cabin in the Midwest tended to have a volume of Shakespeare. Neil Gabler, in one of his books, cites productions of Shakespeare plays in Natchez, Miss., for 1816: something like 20 of them in one season. Then Todd Gitlin, in one of his books, compared the NYT best-seller list for 1960 with that for 2000, and the comparison was a joke: out of the lists for top-ten books during 1960, we were reading a few books that were actually challenging--in the JK Galbraith category, let's say. The lists for 2000 were largely dreck: self-help and management bks, for the most part. As I said, I once had a pile of data, and I would refer to it when the question came up ten yrs ago, when I was doing lectures based on the Twilight book. The evidence was overwhelming, that there were still some remnants of true intelligence in the colonies and the 19C, and that it had been downhill ever since. The only serious objection to this I've heard is that the slave system in the South had (at its peak) 4 million slaves, most of whom could not read, which was, of course, hardly their fault. I believe Stone deals with this in his book, arguing that even with that factored in, we were a whole lot smarter, intellectually oriented, and better informed 150 and 200 yrs ago, say, than we are now. But as I said, that file is ten yrs old, and lies buried in the cyclone of paper that constitutes my study. It did show, however, that over time, the Americans that had at least half a brain had sharply decreased. I'm guessing that if you put that curve next to other indicators of cultural decline, the graphs would be isomorphic. Which is another argument for why our collapse cannot be reversed, and why an emphasis on American stupidity is quite justified. (The real question is, to my mind, how this happened; but that's a whole other discussion.) Two bumper stickers I saw a few yrs ago come to mind: "You Can't Fix Stupid" and "If Ignorance Were Bliss, Americans Would Be Ecstatic." Not data, but they do make a pt. In a word, the average American today doesn't know his ass from his elbow; our predecessors generally did.


4:12 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

The paradox is that today, anyone has access to an immense amount of knowledge, right at the click of a mouse, far more than philosophers & emperors had in the past -- but so few take advantage of it. After all, what are the two primary uses for the Internet? Porn & gossip. How many people actually use this amazing tool for actual intellectual purposes, rather than for mere sensation & instant gratification?

The other thing to consider is that the sheer amount of material available is overwhelming. I believe studies have shown that when presented with 9-12 samples of a product in a gorcery store, or 25-36, more people buy from the smaller sample. "Choice" at this level seems to push people back into a few safe, well-worn ruts. And few venture out of those ruts, because they're so comfortable & familiar.

And perhaps the very ease of accessing all that knowledge works against it. We value something more if we have to work at it a bit, I'd think. I'm willing to bet a student with just a few well-chosen books & a good teacher would learn more, and learn it more deeply, than a Web-surfer clicking constantly from one thing to the next, skimming the surface but never diving into the depths.

It's just so much easier to BE dumb today -- everything about our culture encourages it!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Dunno why this particular post attracted so many comments, but yer #100. I suppose I shd find time to post a new article, but I'm drowning in work these days. Meanwhile, apropos yer comment, check out Nicholas Carr, "The Shallows".


8:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anon. -
For a recent book on the decline of education in America you may want to look into Susan Jacoby who has written on this and hit the talk show circuit a year ago after publishing The Age of American Unreason. I think that title has been mentioned here in the past.

There happens to be an editorial by Bob Herbert at the NY Times today on college education trends.

As for the education levels of the past all I can say beyond the literature on it and my observations is I remember things being quite different growing up as a child.

I can recall a number of adult men who, in their day, were skilled machinists, could run a farm and do much more. Many of them read regularly for pleasure and more when the information could be found. These were intelligent people who really knew about the world on different levels.

I think there's a large crowd out there in the States who cannot read, for example, the NY Times and think about what's not being reported, compare two similar articles or read between the lines a bit. No analytical abilities let alone a sense of how things might be viewed from places outside of the country.

I think your comments about capitalism’s corrosive effects shouldn’t be forgotten. A recent GAO investigation on financial aid corruption shows what a lot of “higher ed” is concerned about these days. It's a shame really when people try to get an education and then only incur unnecessary debt.....the American system really.

El Juero (juero59@yahoo.com)

12:24 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Anon,

Along with Bob Herbert's column about the decline in college graduates is another on the most emailed list by MacDonald about pastors whose job has pretty much become entertainment. No more of those annoying, guilt-producing sermons about being our brother's keeper, sacrifice or humility will keep them in the pews any longer. And there you have it---I don't see America as a nation of dolts; I do see us as a nation of duped and tranquilized well intentioned, basically good people who have relied unthinkingly on our leaders to make intelligent decisions and quit thinking for ourselves. But people have forgotten (and want to stay in this state of amnesia) the job of adults is to actually BE an adult and not a pampered, indulged adolescent. My sister and brother-in-law have read all the Harry Potter books and seen the movies (they're in their fifties) and are excellent examples of what has happened in America. Both are good people and I would like them even if they weren't related; but they refuse to think through any topic that's "depressing" like global warming ("there's nothing I can do anyhow"), immigration reform, our two wars or even engage in a brief discussion. They believe a mosque should not be build near the hallowed ground of 9/11 and when pointing out freedom of religion is in our Bill of Rights, the argument is brushed off as irrelevant. Critical thinking and an unwillingness to swallow whole whatever tripe is peddled as "truth" has all but disappeared and I have no idea how or if it could be resurrected. People who can't or won't think end up at the mercy of those who did and history has shown us how that turns out.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Susan,

Well, it's even worse than that; it's a kind of ontological stupidity, really. As I've often said, Robert McNamara had one of the highest IQ's of anyone to have served in gov't, and was one of the dumbest clucks around.

Here's an example: In DAA I discuss Joyce Appleby's book on Capitalism and a New Social Order. She talks abt how the definition of virtue changed in the 1790s, to become some version of Every Man For Himself. (It actually happened way b4 the 1790s, but that is when the definition changed linguistically.) I have a very old friend who is dean of a major med school in the US. When he read that part of DAA, he went out and bought Appleby's bk, and was very impressed by it. He then found, when he tried bringing that subject up with colleagues, admin, fac members, etc., that 30 secs into the discussion their eyes literally glazed over and they changed the subject. Yet the topic goes to the heart of the difference between
republican gov't and what's-in-it-for-me gov't; it ain't exactly a trivial question. But even the brightest Americans are so brainwashed that they are de facto idiots. As a result, we have no creative response to our problems. Obama epitomizes the phenomenon of the pseudo-solution, but he's hardly alone. See Paul Krugman's article Aug. 5 in the NYT on Rep. Ryan's "new" economic proposals, which consist of recycled garbage and are being hailed by the Wash Post etc. as a "breakthru". The guy is described as "intellectually audacious"; Krugman responds, "it's the audacity of dopes." (Also my response to Obama's own comic bk, "The Audacity of Hope"; what utter kaka.) The problem is that for every Paul Krugman in this country, there are thousands (millions?) of Rep. Ryans, Robt McNamaras, etc., all of whom promise to drive us further into the ditch we are in (or actually have done so), and whom get lionized by the press, which also doesn't have half a brain. At the end of Krugman's article is a note from the Times, "David Brooks is off today." No kidding; David Brooks is off every day. He is little more than a joke, but no, the Times has him and Tom Friedman as columnists (the latter even wins Pulitzers) because they come out with the accepted, non-Krugman-type drivel (it's all on a spectrum, BTW; Krugman is no socialist, to be sure). We are living in a glass sphere with mirroring on the inside; no new info can enter; and we have a population that is so stupefied it cdn't care one way or the other. (What % of the country reads *any* of these journalists, anyway?)

Keep in mind that at the height of the Vietnam war, more Americans hated the antiwar protesters (by a huge margin) than the war itself...and those were the Good Old Days, when we actually cared about those types of issues.

I doubt the Buffoon Level (BL) has ever been higher.


12:50 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I wonder if the decline is just that... an unfolding with no real direction. I suggest we haven't hit bottom yet, and probably won't for quite a while. As delusional as Americans may be - the idea of collapse is foreign to most and will probably take a lot more and a lot worse effects to sink into their consciousness.

Dr Berman, you've mentioned that as a species you have hope in the human spirit propelling us forward. I wonder if there is enough of that hope which keeps things from imploding any faster or worse than is already happening and that in that light there has been some measure of progress? I mean, consumerism and idiocracy aside. People in this country still find ways to survive, get enough to eat, shelter, and so on. (whatever the crumbs of capitalism provides) Granted, things are not as good as they could be "intellectually" and getting worse in many respects but things haven't gotten "bad enough" where people have nothing left to lose. And that this probably won't happen due to the bone's that are thrown to the masses every now and then (new entertainment whatever, toys, gadgets....distractions) Collapse (in US terms) being more of a controlled demolition (if you will). So I suppose at what point do toys and distractions not matter anymore? I would say we're a ways off. (Sarah Palin being a very mild distraction in a long line of what we could be in store for as political theatre) People may be "lost" and pissed off but they aren't desperate...and there are plenty of venues to ventilate and diffuse that anger. As far as ideology goes...I also wonder if we're just not all that ideological as a people... there have been times of popular struggle but as you've mentioned in some of your talks, as soon as the dust settles and a few trinkets we're back to business as usual. Perhaps this period of history is different in the magnitude of the problems facing us?

Just some thoughts.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Prof. Berman,

You mentioned that most Americans are so stupefied that they don't care one way or the other, and that there was a time, not too long ago, when we actually did. An article on the Miller-McCune website, "Today's College Students Lacking in Empathy" report on a recent study out of the University of Michigan.

They found "a precipitous decline in the past 30 years in the percentage of college students who report having empathetic concern for others and who are willing to take on another person's perspective."

Being a dolt is one thing; not giving a damn is even more alarming.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I've seen this refusal to look at anything "too depressing" among friends & family members myself. And these are all basically decent, caring people, just as those you know are ... but somewhere beneath the insistent, even desperate cheerfulness & false optimism, you can detect the fear. And the longer it's denied, the longer it's repressed, the stronger it becomes. Until at last it finds an outlet, often a violent & unreasoning one. At the very least, it's directed at scapegoats, as we've already seen jappening ... but it can rasily get worse. A whole lot worse.


Thanks for the Bob Herbert column. All too true, of course. I'm slowly making my way through the nearly 1000 comments posted in response, which are quite revealing.

Let me suggest Glenn Greenwald's latest blog entry, "What Collapsing Empire Looks Like," at:


Just a snippet from several examples he offers:

And it was announced this week that "Camden [New Jersey] is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free."

I expect to see bumper stickers & T-shirts proudly proclaiming "Ignorance IS bliss!" any day now ...

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


I'm not sure about the 'well intentioned' part. Not only is buffoonery at a peak right now, but it seems that we are quite an aggressive and nasty group of morons at that. There are plenty of statistics (crime, violence, etc.) to back it up, but on a personal level, I could share countless antecdotes of nastiness, rudeness, and aggression that I experience on a day to day basis. In fact, most of the interactions that I witness lean more towards meanness than kindness. Coldness is often welcome, as it isn't as bad as being treated just plain rudely. (I can think of three examples today when I witnessed rudeness).

For many years I thought this was just the modern state of things, until I travelled abroad and witnessed gracious and thoughtful public behavior. Imagine that?

I feel a pulse of anger underneath the surface when I deal with people, especially in my counseling practice (I have only just begun the profession). I work with alot of young men, and they are so prepared for a fight, it seems to be the focus of their existences. How sad.

I think it goes way beyond trusting our leaders to make decisions for us. Our desire for property (at the expense of our neighbor)-which is the american way - and our horrible sense of entitlement, often developing into full-blown narcissism, leads to behavior far worse than stupidity. Stupidity leads to mistakes, whereas violence is a choice.

The utter disdain for true intelligence and self-discovery greatly exacerbates the narcissism, the 'f-you' mentality. I guess the only thing worse than millions of idiots is millions of dangerous idiots.

10:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, I think people *are* desperate. Nearly 20% are unemployed, and the prediction is that this won't get better for a full 10 years. Millions of homes have been foreclosed on. It's not a pretty picture.


They aren't mutually exclusive. This country is filled with callous dolts. I'm worried that they get a bum rap, so I'm starting the CDLF--Callous Dolt Liberation Front. Even callous dolts get the blues.


I'm guessing that a large % of the American public can't define the word "bliss," and that that % is growing every day.

Moronism: the final phase of empire.


10:37 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


have you read "The Narcissism Epidemic" by Jean Twenge? Not sure if it's the same study you mentioned, but she published research about how alarmingly devoid of empathy our modern college students are. Excellent book, and it gets at the deep underlying societal problems we have, when every child is taught to feel "special", and to hell with everyone else.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

I guess I should re-phrase 'desperate' as 'activated'. A lot of people in the US just don't seem to be invested in seriously doing much about things other than ventilating or latching onto the usual clowns like the talk radio crowd, fringers, or whatever pol scandal du jur. These are all just planted pacifiers - bread and circuses of our day, no? I guess my point is - protesting only goes so far. Besides, this country isn't about being 'culturally enriched' (with a value system of "more") and ultimately as radical a change that seems necessary to change direction implies an equal amount of action at some point. I guess it's that we didn't get here overnight. Which is why my thought was this would be a longer drawn out affair - also considering our collective denial of and distaste for having to get our hands dirty in our own back yard for a change. Anything's possible I suppose... and it's been a while since there's been any kind of "vision thing". So who knows?

One thing that is an interesting development is the increasing labor rumblings in China. Probably hopeless but that's something to watch too... one thing is they're not stupid... the pressure may be to want what the west has exported as the supposed "good life" but slavery only works on willing participants. Not a lofty goal to emulate McUSA but it could be a catalyst for other things.

Anyway, it sure would be nice if we could all just get along on this rock and selfishness wasn't such an issue. Probably too much to hope for at this stage...

4:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I think it was MLK who said that the worst combination was anger plus stupidity. That was the early sixties, when it was (possibly) limited to the South. Now, it's the national disease.


Well, Rome didn't collapse in a day either; but the signs were there, well in advance. I'm convinced we are in the final phase of the process.


I think this blog is acting funny again. I lost yer last message; you might wanna re-send.


8:56 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I don't foresee some sudden, catastrophic, overnight collapse -- although it's certainly possible, given another (un)natural disaster or two -- but I definitely see a steady erosion day after day.

One thing that strikes me about the comments to Bob Herbert's column is how many people think of good education solely in terms of getting a good job. There are a few scattered voices reminding readers of the bigger picture, of education's value for its humane & liberating qualities -- but the primary concern is degree as job certification.

Not that I entirely blame them. I'd be lying if I said the economic future doesn't scare me. Of course it does, and with good reason.

But so many people seem to be grasping at whatever quick-fix snake oil is offered by demagogues, rather than thinking about their lives in the long term. Is this because the long term simply doesn't exist for them -- isn't real because it's too abstract for them?

I occasionally ask people what they want for themselves. The answers are mostly similar: money & security, the newest gadgets, etc. When I ask about anything deeper -- what sort of meaning do you see or want for your life? what's it all about for you? -- I often get blank stares, or else derisive comments about dorm room bullshitting. Very few actually seem to grasp what I'm talking about.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I remember the 1st time I got to Europe, in 1968. I was very young. Within a month I began to realize that Europeans thought about money, but they also thought (and talked) abt a lot of other things. Slowly, it dawned on me how thin the air was in the US, how one-dimensional the people were. As a young child raised by European parents in the US, I grew up feeling I was a stranger in a strange land. Then when I got to Europe in '68, I began to understand the feeling, the cause of it. We are incredibly impoverished; the American soul barely exists--it's a purely commercial soul. Furthermore, if you read Walter McDougall's bk, "Freedom Just Around the Corner" (this is a guy who won the Pulitzer, and teaches at U Penn), you begin to understand why: from the late 16C, he says, we were a nation of hustlers. It doesn't define us 100%; just about 99%. That 1% wants to talk about education as developing a philosophy of life, for example, but it has to contend with the 99% bozo factor, for whom the cash value of things is the only value of things. Furthermore, only 12% of Americans own passports; the vast majority have no interest in what's outside, and therefore have no chance of being exposed to a diff way of thinking. Slowly, the 1% who is interested in understanding the US can put the pieces together. You travel, you read bks like McDougall's, and eventually it becomes inescapable: we're a nation of buffoons. I mean this quite literally: from the outside, we come off as empty and narcissistic. We are like a 3-yr-old w/a bazooka in its hand. This is why I don't really regret the passing of American hegemony: no nation this dumb, and this out of control, shd have this much military power. Our values are wrong. The tragedy is that thru our cultural influence, which is quite large, we are infecting other countries with those values. Underneath the Chinese mantra of 'harmony', for example, lies an American-style acquistiveness and Social Darwinism; a gross maldistribution of wealth; and a lust for the next model automobile, computer monitor, piece of commercial kaka. The American hustling virus infects everyone it touches. Which means that the folks who care about the nonvocational aspects of education, for example, are a dying breed. Or even, the folks who care about anything beyond themselves and money, are a dying breed. When Georges Clemenceau remarked that America went from barbarism to decadence w/o the intervening phase of civilization, or when Freud returned to Austria from the US in 1909 and said that America was "a gigantic mistake," the two of them knew what they were talking abt.


6:33 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Ah, Mauricio, I count it a stroke of good fortune that my father was in the Army. Because of that, I spent much of my childhood in other countries, and learned early on that not everyone spoke English, not everyone was Christian, and not everyone lived & believed as I did. Not only that, there wasn't much TV. And the one thing I could count on always being the same was the library -- everywhere we went, the library's books were arranged in the same way. The Dewey Decimal System was a kind of magic to me then!

I'm especially happy that we lived off-base much of the time. For example, I spent 1st grade playing with Turkish kids my own age & having a wonderful time, even though we couldn't speak a word of each other's language. I managed to get lost in the ruins of Pompeii & explore it with my mother while she was frantcally searching for the lost tour group.

All of this made me an avid reader, and made the idea of learning about different ways of life the most natural thing in the world. To this day, I don't entirely feel like a regular American ... but that's not such a bad thing, I suppose!

It would do Americans so much good to see other parts of the world in person, especially when they're young.

8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at what the New Secessionists on the right are saying:
As reported by Christopher Ketcham in a recent issue of GOOD magazine, Naylor points to the nation’s decline. The secessionist leader notes, in Ketcham’s words, “Of all the western democracies, the United States stands near dead last in voter turnout, last in health care, last in education, highest in homicide rates, mortality, STDs among juveniles, youth pregnancy, abortion, and divorce. ...”
The nation, he says grimly, has trillions in deficits it can never repay, is beset by staggering income disparities, has destroyed its manufacturing base and is the planet’s most egregious polluter and greediest consumer of fossil fuels. With some 40 million Americans living in poverty, tens of millions more in a category called “near poverty” and a permanent underclass trapped by a real unemployment rate of 17 percent, there is ample tinder for internal combustion. If we do not undertake a dramatic reversal soon, he asserts, the country and the global environment will implode with catastrophic consequences.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear MB,

Thoughts from the East.

I couldn’t agree more with your last post really. I’m currently working on a contract in South Korea. I’ve also lived in Japan many, many years ago. Your comments re: China are right on IMO. SK and Japan (probably Taiwan is similar) are largely clones of the US economically. I know some will point to this or that social/cultural thing as different, but much of it’s about mfg./consuming electronic gizmos and saccharin forms of merchandise. Some call the current culture of Seoul as in a “Happy Days period. Hard to find much depth left as people work or “study” themselves to death. SK was just listed as having the least amount of used vacation time in the developed world with a new rate of suicide that passes even Japan. You can see the US influence beyond culture in terms of military maneuvering, currency valuation and more. I think of Seoul as “vertical Florida” with it’s overbuilt high rise apartments made for the speculative class here.

The Samsung company is Microsoft on sterioids – manufacturing, trucking, massive stretches of housing, banking, insurance companies, grocery stores and media from tv to newspapers. I exaggerate not a bit. Credit card debt and personal debt is rising rapidly. Breaking out of this is nearly impossible for people given what I’d call the Confucian-corporatist thought system here.

Nothing would be more bizarre if it weren’t for China’s Maoist-capitalist system. Entire districts of some manufacturing cities in virtual worker lock-down. Factory suicides are high and sociologists point to social breakdown and stress as the cause of recent attacks at daycare centers. Bottom line – emulate our mess and there’s a heavy price to pay.

El Juero (juero59@yahoo.com)

1:37 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

From Alternative Radio, http://www.alternativeradio.org/ specifically David Barsamian's talk of 11 May 2010 entitled Obama's foreign policy: Old wine, new bottles, I learned that the U.S. is currently bombing five countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen. Somehow that bit of information hasn't made it into the lamestream media of lapdogs with laptops. (Hey, I didn't coin those phrases, I just mix and mash).

Barsamian related that the CIA is lobbing drone bombs into Pakistan. The CIA? Perhaps they're a branch of the Air Force, does anyone know?

8:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

You might wanna look up the essay I think I posted here, some time ago, called "The Asian Road to Victory." Alternatively, it's included in the book I'm currently self-publishing w/Amazon, "A Question of Values". This shd be available in Sept. sometime. Thanks for giving us the view from the trenches, in the meantime--very valuable.


As for the CIA and Pakistan, at some pt during 2010 Jane Mayer of the New Yorker did an article on US drone strikes there. They supposedly try to pinpoint Al Qaeda operatives, but it's pretty hit or miss, and a few hundred civilians have been killed so far this year. Obama knows this, and keeps doing it; which makes him a war criminal. Jane reported that there were more strikes in Pakistan during Obama's 1st year in office than in all of Bush's 2nd term. Barsamian is rt on the money (a great guy, and I wrote about him in the Twilight bk), but how many Americans do you think tune in, or even know he exists? Guys like Dave aren't waking America up (it's in permanent sleep mode); they are just chronicling the demise.


8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually found a quote by Putnam backing up what I have been thinking lately about the Chicago post and this one. "Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division but anomie or social isolation." In other words, people hunker down and avoid each other. This is why Europe pre-1990 was so delightful. They were basically homogeneous countries full of trust and common feeling. It feels good to be among your own tribe, no matter what race you are. This moving to your own kind can be seen all over America. In Germany, I felt a deep kinship with others as a teenager. They looked similar to me, or like my relatives. There was an instant connection. This helps to explain the community feeling in Europe. This is why most American big cities are nightmares where people just go to work then back to the burbs. Too diverse! It is the evolutionary fear of the "other". The last time I went to Dublin, everyone was upset about the Nigerians, Poles, Czechs, etc. flooding into Ireland. There is tension there now. Soon there will be ghettos, and Dublin will be no go, or they will follow the Parisian model. Ireland could explode. I don't think it is wrong for people to live among their own kind culturally, racially, etc. What does Solek say at the end in Hebrew in the film, "Europa, Europa"? There is nothing sweeter than living with those like you. That is a dark truth, which is not politically correct. This is a big reason why American cities are horrible.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Jack said...

Hey! So, I just read a fascinating interview with you, Mr. Berman, from Omni, back in 91 I believe. HOW HAVE I MISSED YOU THUS FAR???

At any rate, just wanted to spam you a note saying that I am now a big big fan, after the interview and this site, and you will most likely be hearing more from me in yr comment section.

Thanks for rocking! :D

2:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Jack,

Welcome aboard. There are about 8 regular contributors, but I like to inflate my importance and say there are 42. We are our own special resistance group, the DAA42 (where DAA stands for Dark Ages America). So, feel free to contribute, and perhaps we can rename ourselves the DAA43.

As for my invisibility: one thing my study of American history told me is that virtually everyone with a fundamental critique of the country gets marginalized out of existence. It's a soft censorship, as opposed to what obtained in the former Soviet Union. The most effective agent of this, in any case, is the shocking stupidity and ignorance of the American people, who are not interested in hearing anything uncomfortable anyway. Noam Chomsky called it "Manufacturing Consent" (see the movie, which is, of course, an underground cult film); he spent most of his life as a US foreign policy critic publishing bks with South End Press, which consists of 2 guys and a typewriter in 2 shabby rooms on the outskirts of Boston. About 30 of his bks never even got reviewed. You get the idea. For an updated, and very powerful version, of "Manufacturing Consent" check out Walter Hixson, "The Myth of American Diplomacy." Basically, he shows how the brainwashing system works, such that even smart Americans (by IQ standards) are basically morons. Of course, in my old age I've developed a sort of soft spot for dolts, and so this website is also the headquarters for the CDLF--Callous Dolt Liberation Front. We are trying to help about 307 million Americans obtain a glimmer of reality, but thus far I can't report fabulous results.


6:43 PM  
Blogger David King said...

I don't know Harvey Mansfield, and I haven't read "Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy". Based on your description of the Forward, I am afraid to read the book.

"Democracy produces a sense of independence in its citizens, a sentiment that each is a whole because he depends on no one else; and the democratic dogma [nota bene] states that every citizen is competent to govern his own life. Hence democracy is not merely, perhaps not primarily, a form of government; or it is [a] form of government that almost denies the need for government. And as a society, democracy is antisocial; it severs individuals from one another by pronouncing each of them equally free. All the traditional relationships are broken or weakened...Above all, democracy does not know where it tends and where it should go.

This may be the American experience of democracy, but it is hardly the Athenian experience, or the Czech experience, or the Swedish experience, or the Canadian experience. (Having said that, we Canadians certainly have our share of challenges, perhaps because we are being overtaken by cultural creep from the U.S.)

What might Mansfield say about the contention that we learn to be independent, not because we prefer to be independent, but because a strong and enduring interdependence requires that we be capable of walking away from the crowd when it has ceased to be a community? What might he say about the contention that democracy is about how best to deal with the messy questions about the future well-being of the community and its citizens (should we go to war with Syracuse?), precisely because "we are all in this together"? Perhaps Mansfield should consider that freedom in a democracy is not license: it is civitas oblige.

2:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear David,

Well, start with the recent bk on Tocqueville by Leo Damrosch, then; it really is terrific. For a Canadian take on American democ u might wanna read the work(s) of Sacvan Bercovitch, which I always found very enlightening. As for democracy in America, here's what Tocqueville had to say:

“I know of no country in which, speaking generally, there is less independence of mind and true freedom of discussion than in America.” “One might suppose that all American minds had been fashioned after the same model, so exactly do they follow along the same paths.” He added that there was “a strange power,” “a mighty pressure on the mind of all” that “imposes its ideas and makes them penetrate men’s very souls.” This is why, he said, “common opinion will become a sort of religion.”

Not a pretty picture, I guess.


9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"America is a psychological slum" -- good phrase!

11:31 PM  
Blogger victorcosby said...

Having read your other books, I am looking forward to finally reading "Dark Ages America." I am working on a documentary about American democracy and want to know where we went wrong and if we the citizens can reclaim it -- if we ever had it.

That said, I wonder should we "go gently" as you suggest.

The poet Dylan Thomas actually wrote:

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Respectfully, shouldn't we do what we can to find and preserve what light is left and not let those who would destroy it for their own gain succeed?

Thank you for your thoughts.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Victor,

The issue of where we went wrong is covered in the 3rd vol. of the 'America' series, which will be published next year. Basically, we went wrong from the beginning--late 16th century. Hence, there's not a whole lot we can do 400 years later, because there's not that much to reclaim.

As far as preservation etc., this is covered in some detail in the first vol., The Twilight of American Culture.

Good luck w/the documentary--I look forward to seeing it.


7:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

May I call you Morris?

Professor Berman, I dont think that "negative freedom" necessarily demands that there be no common or widely motivating vision of "the good life".

Indeed, I would have thought that the entire point of negative freedom, of freedom from "have to", is that one is free to choose whatever vision of the good life one is attracted by.

I doubt this means that there are 317 million visions of goodness in America, as I sincerely doubt there is that much originality of thought, vision, imagination, amongst any people, anywhere.

I strongly doubt there was great diversity of vision amongst the founders who embedded the concepts of negative freedom in the Constitution. I rather suspect the opposite.

As you reference in a later article about your monastery experience, one very plain problem with the USA today is that a singular - but patently false - vision has been conditioned into the stupefied national psyche so relentlessly for so long that dealing with reality has become impossible for most people.

This has been done not by force of arms but by force of money, of influence, of access to being seen and heard.

In that vein I thought of Christopher Locke's contributions to The Cluetrain Manifesto where he describes the major benefit of internet technology as this very conversation you and I are now entering: by contrast, the classic media are intentionally UNIdirectional, and not only do they permit of no response but they SHOUT their advertising slogans, their emotionally loaded intro jingles, their official records of history and its interpretation (i.e. "news") at the audience.

For people trained from over a decade of schooling to submit to the voice of implacable authority, is it any wonder they drool when the bell rings?

4:12 PM  
Blogger relmuche said...

Dear Mr. Berman: part 1 of 2

When you read late you have no choice but to comment late, but since the world is still revolving as if waiting, I am sure is never too late for your eyes....

Sorry I could not comment in your blog (I will try again later)

-"each is a whole because he depends on no one else"
-"a form of government that almost denies the need for government"
-"democracy is antisocial; it severs individuals from one another"
-"all the traditional relationships are broken or weakened"
-"democracy does not know...where it should go"

The US of nA is the cradle of materialism, monetarism, fiduciary money, consumerism and many other modern evils but above all of individualism (I v/s you, never us, not even dream off all us).

How else can you keep for so long the illusion of that non exportable good you call democracy and is nothing but another evil form of cratocracy (power rule by the powerful).

The World is Relentlessly Evolving away from Cratocracy and Technocracy into Fylicracy and Laocracy and Someone that has always claimed to be the leader Should first Demonstrate, and only then Guide and Protect the Way.

No more double standards and discourses....

“The only problem is, without a positive vision of the good life, the good society, what are we?”

You “still are” the naive and enslaved body guards of the invisible rulers of the world and have been bullying the world on their behalf ever since you became strong enough.

You “will be” the same as long as you are useful, or until you finally open your eyes and minds to discover that you have been used all along with the obvious complicity of your corrupt political and economic classes.

Who You Can Become?
After you collapse and get cured from your individualism, and democratically get rid of your rulers, Your People Can Become The Guide of the World.


12:48 PM  

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