September 20, 2010

Tongue in Chic

I’m in with the in crowd
I go where the in crowd goes
I’m in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows.

–Dobie Gray, “The In Crowd”

For many years now, I have been fascinated by the human desire to be “cool,” to be perceived by others as in the know, “hipper” than all the rest. I recall one fellow-student in my dormitory, during my first year at university, writing an essay on the subject for a class in English or sociology. This was in the early years of the sixties, when the work of Vance Packard (The Status Seekers, The Pyramid Climbers, etc.) was very much in the air. In any case, this student interpreted the actions of everyone on campus–students, staff, faculty, administration–as attempts to demonstrate that one was more sophisticated than everyone else. He wasn’t far off, as it turns out: a student guide to American universities subsequently described the ambience of the place as that of “one-upsmanship.”

I was impressed by the analysis of this student’s essay because it corresponded to my own experience. Thinking back, it seems to me that virtually every conversation I had or witnessed during those years had as its subtext the desire to impress. Not much of a basis for friendship, of course, and it is not surprising that I never returned to the place, never attended a class reunion, and never kept in touch with anyone from that era.

But it would be wrong to assume that university is where all of this begins. The phenomenon of cliques and in-groups dates at least from high school, which sets the template for all our future relationships. I remember one extremely intelligent student, Roger S., deciding to run for class president one year. There was a school assembly at which each of the candidates had five minutes to present their “platform.” After a series of morons in suits talked about how they would institute free coke machines or whatever, Roger got up, dressed in everyday clothing–definitely uncool–and quietly told his audience, “I’m not here to impress you. I don’t intend to dress up for you. I have no free gifts to offer you. I’m just going to give you honest student government and a real opportunity for you to participate in it.” Roger was the epitome of unchic and was consequently slaughtered at the polls, end of story. (Well, not quite: Roger went on to become Chief of Cardiology at one of the largest medical schools in the country. As for the guy giving out free Coca-Cola, he has long since disappeared from the historical record.)

In a sense, we remain in high school all our lives. This is pathetic, but it finally is what politics, and our social lives, are all about. I recall the wife of a famous psychiatrist–a guru, really–telling me that if she had friends over for dinner, the next week all of the women who had been at her house adopted her style of dress and cuisine. If she then changed these, they followed accordingly. It was as though they believed in a contagion theory of chicness: if they copied her, some of the “glow” would rub off on them. Absurd, yes, but this desire for chicness is no small force in human psychology or history. It’s the norm, not the exception.

The truth is that trying to be cool is a behavior that dates from the Paleolithic. When Paleolithic skeletons are dug up from roughly 35,000 years ago, and are found wearing jewelry–beads, pendants, necklaces–what else can this indicate but an attempt to say one is special–in fact, better than others? The same goes for “special” grave sites for the elite. Personal adornment and special graveyards are about status differentiation–Vance Packard in the Stone Age, one might say. All the evidence points to a new type of personality organization around that time, which made possible culture as we know it, and which also included the need to feel superior to others–in particular, wanting to be seen as superior to others. After all, being cool is something that has to be publicly agreed upon; it is essentially other-defined. Which means it is as insubstantial as gossamer; who or what is cool can change in the twinkling of an eye. But human beings pursue it as if their lives depended on it. In fact, very few human beings manage to escape the lure of superiority. When you meet Zen masters who are proud of their humility (an experience I’ve actually had), you know, as André Malraux once observed, that “there really is no such thing as a grown-up person.”

Chasing status may be puerile, said John Adams, but it nevertheless seems to be hard-wired. In his Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America (1787), he said that history makes it quite clear that man is driven by vanity, by a desire for social distinction. “We may call this desire for distinction childish and silly,” wrote Adams, “but we cannot alter the nature of man.”

As a result, literally anything can be made chic, even garbage. There is a famous scene in Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up in which a band leader goes crazy and smashes his guitar to pieces on the stage. The central character (played by the British actor David Hemmings) leaps onto the stage, seizes the guitar “carcass,” and runs off with it, pursued by the crowd, who is convinced he is in possession of something extremely valuable. He manages to give them the slip, and standing alone in an alley, trying to catch his breath, looks at this broken piece of guitar. What is it? A useless piece of trash, really. He tosses it on the ground and walks away.

Even the anti-chic can be made chic. A Canadian magazine, Adbusters, became somewhat famous for ridiculing the need to be chic. It is now one of the chicest journals around–“underground chic,” as it were. If you are not aware of this publication, you are definitely out of it, and not as good as the people who are aware of it and read it on a regular basis. You are leading a diminished, unchic life.

This brings us to the causes of chic. If it really is as frivolous as it looks, why are we all doing it? Why does all of life finally boil down to high school? Alfred Adler, the psychoanalyst whose major concepts were “superiority complex” and “inferiority complex,” argued that the two were intimately related: the desire to be superior masked a deep sense of inferiority. If I care that much about being chic, it must be because I know, on some level, that I am terribly unchic. And this feeling of being inadequate, which dates from infancy, can finally never be overcome; which means that chicness is infinite: you can never be chic enough. Malraux was right: we never grow up.

Imported into politics, all of this points to the limit of any egalitarian experiment. Status always manages to sneak in through the back door. Somehow, so-called left-wing writers in the United States (Noam Chomsky excepted; he really is the “real thing”), in their arguments for a just society, compete for influence and visibility, for being the important cultural critic. (I know of one case in which a major left-wing guru actually showed up at a lecture hall in a stretch limousine, surrounded by paparazzi.) The apparatchiki of the former Soviet Union all had dachas (villas) near the Black Sea or in the countryside, and got to buy forbidden Western goods at special stores reserved for them alone. In the end, Lao Tzu was right: the only person you want as a leader is the one who is not interested in the job. (Man, that dude was really chic.)

I recall, early on in the Clinton administration, the attempt to institute a program that would have involved holding and loving infants for the first three years of their lives. I don’t think the Clintons were trying to be chic here; I think they were genuinely committed to the fundamental concept of child psychology, that feeling secure and loved as a child means one will be less likely to be aggressive and competitive as an adult. Of course, the whole thing fell out of sight in less than a month, as the news media moved on to the next trendy topic. But it was a utopian project, in any case: if we are going to have to restructure human child-rearing in order to restructure our politics, we are going to be waiting for a very long time. The yogic idea that social transformation is personal transformation multiplied millions of times sounds good in the ashram, but has very little applicability in the outside world.

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity,” wrote Immanuel Kant, “no straight thing was ever made.” On the individual level, the antidote to chic is probably a good sense of humor. I mean, there really is something hilarious about it all, no? But in social or institutional terms, I don’t see that there is very much that can be done. Although lately, I’ve been working on a movie script, in which a large, dark, unchic force comes out of nowhere and sweeps across the planet, de-chic-ing everything in its path. I think of it as a kind of a reverse horror film. So stay tuned to this station; I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

©Morris Berman, 2010


Blogger Russ said...

Just before reading this entry, I came across this from David Foster Wallace (in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself):

"And to the extent that it [TV] can train viewers to laugh at characters' unending put-downs of one another, to view ridicule as both the mode of social intercourse and the ultimate art-form, television can reinforce its own queer ontology of appearance: the most frightening prospect, for the well-conditioned viewer, becomes leaving oneself open to others' ridicule by betraying passé expressions of value, emotion, or vulnerability. Other people become judges; the crime is naiveté. The well-trained viewer becomes even more allergic to people. Lonelier"

7:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Russ,

Well said. You know, I lived in the US for decades, and always felt like a stranger in a strange land. During the last few yrs I was there, I began to realize that it was actually a very violent society, in terms of everyday interaction. Except that since that was the total ambience, Americans were not able to see it. For them, that kind of interaction was normal. And also, of course, the level of loneliness on which they live.


7:26 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Morris and friends,

It is amazing how this essay has captured to a 'T' one major aspect that I have been struggling with in a recent, now sadly ended, relationship I was trying to have. It has ended sourly, and at the moment I am still quite hurt and angry about the whole thing; but at the bottom of it all, I can't help but feeling that I had been confronting a very powerful demon in the culture, which has also managed to colonize and finally overrun my relationship, despite my intentions.

I was dating someone considerably younger than I (by 10 years), and I entered the relationship after a couple months of trying to get to know the person.

Besides the physical, what attracted me was his interest in film (esp. Woody Allen and John Waters), literature (he inspired me this summer to read D.H. Lawrence's *Lady Chatterly's Lover*), and music (mostly good popular music that I was interested in learning more about) -- all of which I deemed essential to the formation of a real connection.

But there seemed to be no inner motivation in him to explore these things as ideas open dynamically to meaningful discussion -- they seemed to be, like his clothes, accessories, something to show others "who he was" and that he was really "in the know", with taste and distinction, etc. etc. I soon realized that I was playing the same function. I was another "chic" adornment, it seemed (guy with a PhD, etc.).

At a certain point, then, I realized that I was dealing with someone built up entirely from images, references and appearances and desultory to the core, or 'core,' for I literally could not find a coherent center -- it was like there was no actual person there, just a husk needed to made real by someone or something else. Conversations were fleeting and sleepy.

Now, clearly, there were and are other psychological dynamics going on in this (now just ended) relationship which I cannot talk about here -- but I was just hoping to get us talking about love and social relations in light of Morris' piece tonight.

I am feeling really angry and frustrated about my failure(s) at developing a meaningful and substantial relationship, and I am just about convinced that a great measure of the difficulties we face here are sociological in nature (see also Zygmunt Bauman's "liquid" series).

Is there an "NMI" possibility for love?!

Best regards,
Mike Cifone.

7:37 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Mike,

In the US, it's an uphill struggle.

You know, I remember years ago, Erich Fromm wrote something about how the market had penetrated every aspect of life, including that of love. People "invested" in relationships, he wrote; they marketed themselves to get the best "product" out there--etc. None of this analysis made any difference for the culture, of course. A few years ago, Rachel Greenwald wrote a book for women, on how to catch a man using techniques she learned in Harvard Business School. Market yourself with a logo, she said; develop something like "architect, charming, international," and try it on a focus group of your friends before floating it out there. Pretty pathetic, but that really is how Americans think. Most of them have no idea of what a "core" is. A fluff culture can only turn out fluff, and a soul-destroying culture can only turn out soulless individuals. What percentage of the culture falls into the category of Roger S., after all? For every one of him, probably a million Rachel Greenwalds.

A few things stick in the mind. Something like 40 years ago, I was at some sort of polisci or history conference, listening to boring speakers. An older gent came in, sat down a couple of seats away from me. "Anything interesting?" he asked me. "The last talk was basically a non-argument," I said to him. "Well," he replied, "this century has turned out more nonpersons than any other in the history of the world."

I think if you change 'century' to 'country', you've got a pretty fair description of the US. If the Market is all, then there can be no core; everything turns into appearances, right? This is what you were dating, and probably what a good percentage of the single population in the US is, and is dating. Of course, it's sociological; what else could it be? It's the romantic form of "liquid modernity," as you point out.

That being said, there's probably not much you can do about it--except date men in other countries; which has its own complications, of course. Or place an ad for a non-American guy living in the US. I think back to what that guy said to me, at that history conference, and can't help thinking that there has never been as superficial a collection of people in the world, as the US population of today. In America, human beings are the (rare) exception, not the rule. (If you haven't seen the Demi Moore film, "The Joneses," now would be the right time.)

In the meantime, you might curl up with a copy of Daniel Boorstin's classic work, "The Image". (Cold comfort, I know.)

Good topic! Thanks for writing.


9:12 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I admire your openness in bringing up a topic so personal and yet so pertinent. I often consider love and the state of relationships in our culture and it's saddening. There is so much emptiness that we try to fill with junk, and with "chic" and with money. How can we be with someone else? It's common now for Americans to teach their children that they are each special, unique, a "little princess" (or prince), that there is no one else like them..(case in point: take a look at the baby names that were popular in 100 years ago or in another country and look at them now in the US).

Then these children grow up and enter the stage of life where they begin looking for a mate, and no one is good enough for them because they are "special" and their mommy's told them to never settle.

All the self-esteem building stuff builds narcissism. Ugly self-centeredness. This certainly doesn't lend itself to happy relationships, because as we know, happy relationships require sacrifice, commitment, compromise, etc. To put off instant gratification for the greater good is also quite helpful. All things that this "facebook" age of Americans are incapable of. What is love, if not putting another's needs before yours? Can you imagine the soulless, mindless, walking and talking ids that we have for countrymen actually doing that?

I agree with Dr. Berman about meeting someone from another country. My significant other was born and raised in another country. She's been here a long time, but still has a soul, a heart, and alot of dignitiy. She helped me find mine and put it back together after all the damage that was done to it from our American culture and all the violence and selfishness that surrounds us everyday.

I was in a relationship before my current one that ended with the woman telling me that I wasn't tuned in enough with success to be a good long-term solution for her and her needs. This was a woman that I was in love with. Talk about business-talk mixed in with love!
Great essay and topic once again, Dr. Berman. Thank you for having this blog and writing what you do. You give words to things that I cannot, and you provide a much needed "safe place" for me in a depressing world (country).

10:55 PM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Morris (and Joe),

Thanks so much for your words and analysis.

Funnily enough, I curled up with Bauman first, and he referenced Boorstin's "Image" (I actually met the guy way back in undergrad and asked a dumb question to which he gave me a suitable reply, i.e., learn some history, chap). So, I'm going to get my copy upstairs ...

In this relationship I really really tried to form a substantial connection; I even went so far as to compile a 6 cd set of music that I love from the Middle Ages to 20th cent; I tried to show him what real food tasted like; and gave up my time for the two of us ... but it all just seemed not to be able to stick to anything. He believed and believes that he was sincere abt us, but in the end, as you point out, there's nothing there but a vacuum.

I just didn't believe how thoroughly real this phenomenon was until I found myself caught right inside, like a kind of Hegelian subject trying to overcome the blankness of an object. I really tried, but in the end, you can just *be* substantial with another, and they can either accept it and reinforce it with you (I and thou), or they recede back into the vapid intensity of their mirrored sphere of chicness (me and them/him). The whole thing was just so very heartbreaking to me.

But as Nietzsche said, "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger".

Thanks so very much again for giving us a grip on how deep this stuff really, truly, goes. The microcosm and the macrocosm are really in accord, sadly. There's a lot of personal work to be done. Thanks for the advice.

Mike Cifone.

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Andrew said...


What you have written resonates on so many levels that experiences and texts are tumbling over each other for attention.

In the Christian mythology, humans are created to be The Image of God, essentially the glory of creation, and when they sin, the first thing they feel is Shame.

It seems they're on to something.

Page after page of Plato's writings expose the pretense of people living for appearance over reality.

Tennyson reminds us, as do so many poets, that men will march into the cannons to secure a song.

Even good old Samwise hopes to turn up in a story - and his childlike simplicity makes him, perhaps, Tolkien's most admirable character. Compare him with Achilles when Agamemnon steals his glory!

Then there's Herodotus describing Xerxes (or Darius') lashing the sea out of Hubris.

It seems that something deep inside us knows we aren't what we are supposed to be.

If there's one thing I *might* differ with you on, it is the sense that this hunger for honor (I can think of no better word) must be puerility.

What if we really are supposed to be honorable beings? What if there really is some sort of honor that we ought to strive for and could even achieve?

What if the problem is not that we seek honor, but that we seek such a low form of it?

I think the person who discovered the right honor and taught us how to get it would probably be ridiculed, but his story would make a great film.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman,
I have to politely disagree with some of this. First, no one outside of family gives a damn about you or me. This is all over the world. They may be polite, and they may ask, "How are your kids?", but it is fake. It is just being polite. They don't care, not in America, or in Sweden. This is human nature, regardless of the surface "culture." Everyone thinks about themselves 24 hours a day, and that includes Dr. Berman, and everyone reading this post. You all know that this is the real "truth". I care more about my hurt finger than a million people dying in some far away country. I am not alone.

I have travelled a lot, and yes, some cultures are more chatty and seem warmer, but deep down, it is all the same stuff. I see right through it. Those are just cultural differences. Go to Germany, and you will feel this much more. Germans aren't into chattiness, or fake smiling, and if they don't know you, they don't care. You have to enter their close friend circle, and this is the same everywhere, no matter the cultural differences. Everyone has family, and perhaps one or two close friends, and that is the end of caring. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but this is the real truth about people. You just need to pay close attention....

9:34 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Anon,

Welcome back! We've missed your darkness. Not that you are completely wrong, but as before, it's a picture lacking in nuance. There are differences between cultures, and differences within cultures. All human beings aren't cut from the same cloth. And if the pursuit of chic goes back a very long way, some people do escape it (hence my ref to Chomsky, for example; and Roger S. is a real person, BTW). I know you want to find a universal formula, a la Wm Golding etc., but the world (thankfully) is more complex than that. An education in anthropology might help you let go of some of these platitudes. When you tell me "you all know," I have to tell you: No, in fact we don't. Do you really want to hang on to these cliches based on a few novels? A whole world of learning awaits you...


11:25 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

A book published about 40 years ago, Games People Play, made the point that all games are just variations on "my dog's better than your dog" (one up-manship). As you stated, this has been played for a long time with varying degrees of competition but it seems to have taken on a new edge in the last thirty years. I lived in Dallas for 25 years where beauty/style/status symbols were pursued with an intensity that made hockey look like a peace summit. It's soul destroying b/c everywhere you go you're being scrutinized and judged---you're literally on display from the minute you walk out the door. A sense of humor helps but bailing out of the game is the only option that will save you. I recently read that Dallas is one of the highest in credit card debt per person in the nation and I can easily believe it.


Sometimes the person you fall in love with has nothing to give in return b/c they're desperately holding it together and that's taking everything they've got. It takes maturity and a certain degree of mental health to recognize loyalty, affection and acceptance in an intimate relationship and be able to believe it. To a person who's on shaky ground this can feel overwhelming and frightening---I know; years ago I dated a young man who was worth 10 of me and, in your description of your former boyfriend, recognized similar behaviors. He didn't lack a core so much (I am guessing) as the courage to trust there really are people we can be safe with. I'm sorry you were hurt and I'm sorry for him too that he walked away from a real chance for love.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

Dr Berman and friends,

Thank you for the thoughts.

Yes, I agree, it is childlike, we are children trying to create stories, working with thier past and present experiences, circumstances, understandings. Morals come in handy...(a moral to the story),only nowadays they are trying to outsmart morals, (it sells more tickets),(or makes more money) by going straight for the guts.

I think a good way to cope is to just relax and watch the show, if the 3d gets too intense just shut your eyes for a while. Or even better, don't go to commercalized movies...including 'real life ones'.

* * *

It's 'survival of the fittest'- Darwin.

I tried to let go of my ego, but it keeps following me around.

I think the more fair and balance, the more love, the more evolved.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


The bk is by Eric Berne, and actually it includes a number of games people play. Berne just took all of the Freudian defense mechanisms and gave them cute names. What most impressed me was the final sentence, which I never forgot: "Thus, although there is no hope for the human race, there is hope for a few individuals in it." My kinda guy.


9:51 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Susan W.,

Your words are very warmhearted. Thank you!

You've added another important nuance here: he was indeed struggling to keep things together, and so had no means left to let me in, emotionally. On some level I saw this, and decided I could stick it out, hoping for that entry point. It didn't seem to be happening, and so I had to end it.

What really saddens me over and over is that I know that in him is the desire for substance, the desire for a real human connection. That's what drew me in to him even deeper ... but all of that eventually seemed just words and thoughts with no action -- unrealized potential.

But last night I had a moment of detachment where I saw what was lacking in myself, where I went wrong: did I really love him or did I (do I) love love itself, the mere potential for love? Holding him close to me, saying "I love you", was I speaking from the depth of my soul, or was I saying "I want to love you, but I love to be in love"? Was I trying to overcome something that was not in my own destiny, in my own character to begin with -- which I knew on a much more subtle level?

Underneath it all I just can't get it out of my mind that more subtle forces were (are) in play all along; that within my character is my very destiny, which, for better or for worse, is playing itself out, and that the blindness of (my) love is Fate itself. Nothing left to do but just the doing.

I happened to return to Morris' powerful essay "Fate" written to us the night before Christmas '09 (dated 24 December). I think we might want to return to that Fate.


11:12 AM  
Blogger Cj said...

Hi, I read Adbusters but don't feel more chic than others. Adbusters, despite the ridiculous and overwhelming graphics, has introduced me to names and ideas I wasn't aware of-such as steady state economic theory (Herman Daly).

You've a great blog Dr. Berman. I really appreciate it.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, you may not *feel* more chic, but if u.r. reading Adbusters, let me assure you that u.r. Ultra-Chic. As Bob Dorough once said, "When it was hip to be hep, I was hep." Be clear abt this: yer hep. In fact, everybody on this blog is Super-Hep, just by virtue of being here. Sometimes, sitting here and typing, I realize how incredibly chic I am and I actually faint onto the keyb...

2:18 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

Hi all,

great discussion here. remember i posted on another discussion about my new partner and his belief in ghosts? well, it turns out that this belief is part of a larger core he has, a true center that is interested in finding alternate explanations for things (ie different forms of energy that aren't part of mainstream science research into energy).

It is so absolutely rare to find what I think is best described as sincere people in America. I have noticed three characteristics in people all across the world in my travels and at home which I consider sincere:
1. in conversation, their default isn't to only speak of themselves but to ask about others and be genuinely interested and actually *listen* to what others are saying
2. they do not have a tendency to be consumptive. they do not find happiness in the accumulation of things
3. the generally stay away from mindless entertainment and seek out
kinds of art, music, culture that grows them.

I know that these people are speckled even within the US (I have met them although they are a rare species in such a death culture), but I wonder what the readership here thinks - are there particular countries where you feel this is a less rare phenomenon? I am looking to immigrate away from here in the future, where should I go? Suggestions?

Dr. Berman - why Mexico? and are you finding more sincerity there?


2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I think I am just a realist. I am trying to shed all the superficial stuff at this point in my life. I just don't have time for false illusions or dreaming anymore. It's interesting that William Golding and I are both teachers. (different subjects) As a teacher, you become an observer of human nature. You see the fighting for status, the selfishness, the striving for sex, etc. Teachers have a unique insight into human nature, just by the fact that we observe groups of teenagers five hours a day or more. You also learn that classroom discipline only works if you are strict and tough in some ways. As a new teacher, many of us were too nice: smiling, acting caring and concerned. Human beings have to be forced to behave. This is one of the cold, hard rules of human nature. No school is a Democracy. These nice teachers are abused by their classes, and usually come back tougher the following year. Eventually, by acting tough, and being strict these teachers actually earn the "respect" of their students and are able to actually teach them something. A great scene in the film, "Master and Commander" talks about this with the young officer being "nice" to the crew. You should watch it. Human nature can be molded by culture, but this is a very superficial difference. Underneath it all humans have the same "nature". Selfishness, ego, status-seeking, hierarchy, etc. These are with humans everywhere, in every country, in every time. What does anthropology tell us? Human societies always went to war, took slaves, and even cannabalized each other. The same goes for chimps. Yes, the small tribe stuck together, and shared, but they killed strangers, etc...How is this any better? Am I missing something?

10:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, indeed; you are missing tons. But I've tried in the past to suggest sources to you (beyond a few novels and a classroom experience that is severely limited in terms of time and space) that might get you out of a simplistic mode, and its clear to me that you are going to stay exactly where you are. You want to live by slogans. I appreciate that there is great comfort in that.

Best of luck-


10:35 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


Why teach, and earn the students' respect, as you put it, if humanity is so inherently evil? Honestly, I am wondering why you chose that career path. I am not mocking you. I do not envy high school teachers in this country, and I admire you for doing it but it sounds like it ground you down and turned you against everyone.

Would you really care more about a hurt finger than a million people dying in another country? Seriously? I just can't see that. It's in our "nature" to love just as much as it is to gain status, take advantage of others, etc. I just see so much of the latter in the US that it is heartbreaking. I'm assuming I travelled much less than you, but when I did, I saw (and felt) a much more loving, harmonious energy...a much smoother and more gracious set of transactions between human beings.

I empathize with your frustration about how ugly people are towards each other and hope you realize that I do not mean to trivialize your opinion. I just think these things you've observed are all learned behaviors, just like kindness. That's something that we should be teaching our young, and the best way is by example.

12:55 AM  
Anonymous REO Spudwagon said...

Gurdjieff called this sort of behavior "considering", i.e. endlessly considering what other people think of you and behaving accordingly.

Gurdjieff himself thought that this was one of the prime causes of automatic behavior and personal slavery, that leads socially to an endless chain of imitation. It's basically down to the tragic fact that we possess imagination, and our imagination allows us to fool ourselves into believing that we can assess what other people think of us and adjust our own behavior accordingly. In reality we just end up performing a series of meaningless rituals that eventually become petrified.

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

After being away for a couple of weeks, it's refreshing to be reading this blog once more. While I'm still catching up on what I missed, I'm especially struck by this newest post & its heartfelt responses.

Yes, O yes, I've found myself trying to be superior in being "above all those trivial things for the trivial masses." Not one of us escapes it, though we can at least become aware of it.

Is this all we are, though? Is there something more we can aspire to be? Something genuine, whole, and more adults? I think there is ... but very few people get there, and very few even realize that it even exists.

I want to respond to every post here -- Mike, for your honesty & vulnerability; Joe, for your discussion of self-esteem & the infantilization of contemporary culture; and everyone else contributing to this conversation. But a little at a time, not in one huge post!

Ironically, I've encountered this narcissistic oneupmanship since returning from a trip to Virginia. My new neighbor in the back appeared at our door with a couple of workmen last week, announced that a new survey showed he owned part of our backyard -- exactly enough, to the very inch, to put in his proposed pool -- and that they'd be tearing down our fence & shed that same week. Too bad, but them's the breaks, and we're doing you a favor by increasing your property values anyway.

When we showed him our survey from years ago, clearly showing the boundaries, his first response was to give us a tour of his huge, sterile house, a McMonument to vulgarity, and try to impress us with his obvious money, lots more than we could ever have or want. It was clear he believed that money proved he was a success, and thus he was more deserving of the disputed property than my wife & I were.

I won't bore you with the details of what'll obviously be a lengthy process of setting things right. Assuming they can be set right, of course. No guarantees with this sort of thing, alas.

What struck me most was the attitude -- constantly giggling & superficially amiable, but clearly convinced of his own superiority due to his bank account. That was obviously the measure of all things. That other human beings might have any feelings, desires, interests in this matter -- not a chance. Really, it's the class & economic story of this entire country in miniature, I suppose.

Enough of that specific case. I'm looking forward to getting caught up & participating in the conversation once more. It helps maintain my sanity.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman,
Since you brought up anthropology, here is a quote from Steven Pinker "The Blank Slate :The Modern Denial of Human Nature". I like that title, and it sounds relevant to this discussion. "The archaeological record is no happier. Buried in the ground and hidden in caves lie silent witnesses to a bloody prehistory stretching back thousands of years. They include skeletons with scalping marks, ax-shaped dents, and arrowheads embedded in them; weapons like tomahawks and maces that are useless for hunting but specialized for homicide...In an 850-year-old site in the American Southwest, archaeologists have found human bones that were hacked up like the bones of animals used for food." Speaking of prehistory, Pinker continues, "Now they are known to kill one another at rates that dwarf the casualties from our world wars." Another quote may discuss what you have been reading, "For decades "anthropologists of peace" denied that any human group had ever practiced cannabalism, but evidence to the contrary has been piling up." I guess the nuance would be between getting eaten, or killed by an arrowhead, or maybe both. I guess Steven Pinker is living by slogans too.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I agree with you; he is. I always saw Pinker as a Chomsky re-do, linguistically; nothing terribly original there (the more so since Chomsky is looking increasingly wrong). And in this case, he is just repeating well-worn formulas that are contradicted by lots of evidence. Aggression has certainly been with the human race since earliest times, as far as we know, but war dates only from the Late Paleolithic--roughly 15,000 years ago, as the archaeological record makes fairly clear. I think earlier I gave you a ref to Robert Trivers on altruism; there are numerous other refs in the footnotes to my bk "Wandering God" that could take you into a more complex world than the one offered by Pinker and the cliche school of human violence. But as I said, I don't have the feeling that anything, ultimately, is going to change your mind. I have the impression you read to confirm what you already believe, and honestly, it's not my karma to get in your way.


10:22 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

"...feeling secure and loved as a child means one will be less likely to be aggressive and competitive as an adult."

I know parents who were very proud that their infants weaned from breastfeeding earlier than normal. Getting a head start on becoming a "rugged individual", I suppose. Jean Liedloff's Continuum Concept is even ridiculed in the Sam Mendes film, "Away We Go". (Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the mother)

The eco-psychological idea of "nature deficit disorder" is also largely ignored. Why should little Billy be encouraged to explore the woods, when playing his new video games will keep him quiet for hours?

No televisions or computers are used in Waldorf elementary schools; learning to order stuff from Amazon has to wait until high school.

Yes, American society simply doesn't have the time to wait for a restructured human childrearing. But, we can't expect broken adults to make mature political choices either. What a depressing state of affairs!

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

I recently had an eye exam at a setup where an optometrist examines your eyes, recommends the most expensive lenses in stock, and sends you to the parlor to be assisted in selecting frames. I told the staff member that I’m on Medicaid and would like to inspect the free frames. She brought forth a small tray of plastic frames none of which I liked. After suggesting two frames from the regular (and expensive) stock that I rejected, she lost interest in me helping me and went to other patrons who, presumably, weren’t on Medicaid.
The unchic, Medicaid frames looked pathetic but were free whereas the chic frames cost between $180 and $200. But I found some chic Perry Ellis frames and wound up with a $460 pair of eye glasses of which Medicaid covered only around $70! After an uncomfortable night of sleep, I returned to the shop and asked that the order be cancelled. But I was told that the order was being filled and that store policy only accepted cancellations made by the end of the business day on which the glasses were purchased. So I was out of much needed funds but, hey, I was still chic (in my mind)! (No feedback yet from my fellow chicsters since I have a week to wait for my frames).
Applying what I’ve gleaned of sociology 101, I would say that chicness is defined by a relational contradiction (as opposed to a logical contradiction, an important distinction made by Robert Heilbroner in his *Marxism: For and against*). Chicness can only be defined in relation to unchicness. This contradiction ferrets out a mechanism of capitalist production: advertising, the appeal to the herding instinct in order to sell stuff. That’s why advertising cuts a huge piece of the capitalist pie. So much marketing research is spent on determining cool. What school children are wearing is solemnly scrutinized to determine what’s chic and cool and so what will sell. Advertising relies on making people feel uncomfortably unchic if they don’t by that which will enable their membership in cool. And it really works, as I personally attest.
I’m reminded of the anecdotal analysis of this phenomena in *Coming to our senses* by Morris Berman in which he observed that the young waiter serving him at a café was wearing designer jeans that Berman estimated as costing three times the boy’s regular salary. This is in the context where Berman was discussing the ineradicable gap that we feel, the persistent feeling that we don’t belong and can only cover the gap by shopping at the Gap (don’t know if that’s still in business as so much is swept away by the forces of capitalist expansion).

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman,

I am ordering your book, "Wandering God", and I will read it with an open mind. We all read things that conform with how we see the world, but I will give it a shot. I don't normally tip my hat to a superior intellect, but I do with you, so I will investigate this further. I'll be back...

8:18 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If it goes back to paleolithic, it goes back further. Not to be totally Freudian, but it's all sex. Look at the courtship rituals in the animal kingdom, from insects to wolves to primates. Impress, or die a virgin.

We use terms like alpha-male, high-status female, challengers to the harem, etc. The contest is not always brute, and sometimes is about -gasp- looks. Some special stripe or flashy markings, some deftness and agility, some display of protecting and nurturing.

It's not to hard to see how this process of mate selection and social climbing found in animals and their communities would become more imaginative when processed through the human cerebral cortex.

Societies are always a blend of individual and collective dynamics. And America is the most individualistic society ever to develop, if that word can be applied to the direction to which it has led.

First, red paint, then piercings and jewelry, then fashion, and ultimately the invention of hipness, and carefully designed selling of "cool."

9:33 PM  
Blogger Neb said...


Thanks for your post. It's interesting as I was about to comment on one-upmanship in the animal domain (seeing it slightly in anon's post) you bring a more weighted comment.

My question is doesn't chic play a role in evolution given it spans more than the human domain?
In the arc of human existence with its many terrible dead ends, what are your thoughts (or anyone else's) on whether ultimately the chic aspiration may turn out to be one of those traits that rather than help ulitmately burn humans out of existence it elevates humans to a nobler state?

After considering the essay and the thoughts above, I'm beginning to consider chic/cool more like humility; the cool/humble zen masters don't have to point to the trait or even acknowledge it. The moment you do, you're not. However, after you collapse on your kboard pondering your own brand of hip MB, i think a trace of cool remains.

you're land experience seemed pre-capitalist: feudal. Like you were dealing with a nobleman; a 16th century experience. It might be a good thing it's happening now, a few years hence and there might not even be a smile and discussion, just hordes of unlcean, vile bankers coming to pillage.... oh that is happening now, elsewhere, isn't it?

12:02 PM  
Blogger JB said...

Thomas Frank's "The Conquest of Cool" came to mind as I read this entry. I love reading "The Baffler" as well.

One of my rituals has been a year-end reading of "The Twilight of American Culture" as I prepare for a new year of living in the US of A.

I am reading "Wandering God" now, reveling in the new insights it's bringing forth. I just started Chapter 4.

Dr. Berman, I'd like to know your thoughts on the emergence of the "local food" movement in the United States. Is this just another "chic" trend, a throwback to the "back to the land" movement, or do you see any potential for a true shift in consciousness to occur within American society?

Personally, I suppose I'm beginning to think that its best applicability is within the context of the modern "monastic option" --in which foraging, coupled with small-scale food production leads to hospitality for "wandering strangers." I'd like to know your thoughts on this.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


The local grocery store is always having a fund raising drive for something which is an admirable public service. But I don't contribute to most of them, not b/c I don't want breast cancer to be cured, children with CP to have wheelchairs or any of the other genuine needs that require money to help them cope. It's a world of competing miseries and as humans we're limited emotionally, financially and on a practical basis. Extended families (tribes) in the US are pretty much no more as the foundations crumbled along with communities and we've all grown increasingly isolated. Within extended families the help we could give was immediate and real---babysitting so a cousin could attend classes, taking your uncle to a doctor's appt, etc. A friend of mine at work is from Nigeria and she's horrified by the social system here. Her mother visited (she's from a small village there) and begged to go home after six months. She lives within her extended family and is probably more concerned with the hurt finger of a niece than the Haitian earthquake victims. But she can't actually help them and so she does what she can where she is. It's imperfect, I'll grant you that, but it's reality.


If I were young, I'd move to Italy. Can't say I know much about job opportunities or immigration law, but the people are really nice and the country is beautiful.


I think it's natural to want someone to love so please don't be so hard on yourself. I wanted to share this quote with Wallace Stenger with you--

"It is something--it can be everything--to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below"

9:09 AM  
Blogger Mike Cifone said...

Dear Susan and friends:

I do come down hard on myself in these cases b/c on some level I know that my own insecurities were also at work, and that makes me fearful that I am not approaching things in the 'right' manner (I mean, in a 'coherent' way -- I don't know enough psych to make my ideas precise here). After all, I did stay with him for abt 6 months, despite the anxiety and doubts.

Morris suggested taking out an ad, and I've done these things before, without much luck. Meeting someone this way is tricky, because the context is overwhelmingly marketing/consumer based, and the background is the "liquefied" world Bauman talks about: so many choices to chose from which in the end renders each choice irrelevant ("on to the next friend, date, etc."). Context is crucial here; it's hard to escape it -- and this is what I'm resisting. I'm an "exile" looking in, to use Bauman's terms, in this place but not quite "of" it (or so I think).

But I'm not an exile in other ways: I've participated in the superficial world of drinking, parties, sex, etc. and that has def left an impression on me, to put it mildly. I know the allure of that lifestyle, and in Buddhist terms there are still (inner) fetters there -- thus, the fervor for substance I have expressed is partly derived (as a "relational contradiction") from those experiences. I cannot escape them; this is the existential material with which I have to work.

So, like Steppenwolf, I struggle with two opposing dynamics. At the moment, the one that looks for real human connection (one that does not reduce to pure eros and the physical) is emphasized and the other (the erotic, visual-physical) somewhat de-emphasized -- but both are there, and both were 'activated' quite powerfully during the relationship. My mind and heart wanted one thing, but the erotic dimensions of my person nonetheless were quite strong.

All of these more subtle forces were in play, and only some managed to make it into the light of day, so to speak. And that's where I have to leave it, in the end: as Morris keeps reminding us, there is a point where all this talk and analysis stops dead, and there's nothing but a quiet mystery at the center of it all, humorously delaying its revelation (which never comes -- Beckett inside your soul).

Thanks for your wise words, in any case. I truly appreciate them.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...


since MB hasn't weighed in yet on your question, let me put in my 2 cents ahead of his more learned perspective.

You wonder if chic and its attendant behaviors could lead to a more evolved human state rather than a degenerative state or extinction.

Well, if rich guys get the best looking women, it doesn't mean the world becomes populated by rich, good-looking people. For one, thing, their birth rate is probably lower, by choice.

Seriously, if nature selects for aggressive, dominant behavior in individuals, but also selects for altruism in groups, you end up with societies led by greedy, power-hungry egomaniacs, containing many kinder, more generous individuals.

It may be true that "It takes all kinds." Not many people would have built the Golden Gate Bridge. Or flown a plane into a skyscraper.

The question really is: Is evolution progressive or just sequential? Is there such a thing as progress? How much more evolved is modern human consciousness that that of the period prior to the first migration out of Africa?

Maybe the axis period gave us the technology of managing our minds via religions, and that was a notch. But is it evolution? We still are born not knowing how to read, or to maintain nirvana along with the formation of ego by age 2.

MB's description of civilizations collapsing under the weight of their success is pretty compelling.
Perhaps the death of civilizations is like the death of individuals; it keeps recycling information in new "bodies."

Are humans through evolving, like domestic cats appear to be? Is sentient life through evolving, or will there be another species beyond homo sapiens, who will study us as we do the Neanderthals?

Inquiring minds want to know, and some of them hang out on this blog!

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'll second JB- I think the Conquest of Cool would be a fascinating read to those who think that this condition is chronic to humanity. Alphadogs and social hierarchies may be universal but the way America determines status is unique and truly funny/horrifying and of course has a fascinating basis in its own obsession with race.

There is also some selection bias here- coming from the rural part of the southern US, I see many uncool people all the time. Of course, they are invisible in the media and banished from advertising. But they don't seem to care. The situation seems to be most unbearable in big cities, where anonymity allows you to reinvent yourself every week and the need to impress *quickly* is greatest. A word of warning- those fleeing the freedom of that urbanity may have to reconcile themselves to some sort of traditional rural culture. Choose wisely and learn a trade! Thanks for the writing.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I've begun to wonder whether evolution automatically equals progress myself. As a boy, evolution always implied Upward to me; that's how it was explained to us in school, if not explicitly, at least implicitly. By fits & starts, things moved towards Perfection.

But it doesn't seem to work that way, does it? Things can just easily -- perhaps more easily -- spiral Downward instead. The visceral emotions of fear, dread, horror are all so immediate, requiring no thought or reflection. We don't stop to consider them, we simply react. And doing so just reinforces that direction.

I've posted this before, but the more I look at our current culture, the more fragile & thin the web of civilization seems -- a glossy film over a very dark, seething abyss.

Maybe that explains the growing need for increasingly empty chic & trendiness -- the right clothes, the right accessories, the right ideas, etc. -- as a protection against recognizing that fact.

Chris Hedges' latest column, "Retribution for a World Lost in Screens," sums it up starkly. I quote:

Mass entertainment plays to the basest and crudest instincts of the crowd. It conditions us to have the same aspirations and desires. It forces us to speak in the same dead clichés and slogans. It homogenizes human experience. It wallows in a cloying nostalgia and sentimentalism that foster historical amnesia. It turns the Other into a cartoon or a stereotype. It prohibits empathy because it prohibits understanding. It denies human singularity and uniqueness. It assures us that we all have within us the ability, talent or luck to become famous and rich. It forms us into a lowing and compliant herd. We have been conditioned to believe—defying all the great moral and philosophical writers from Socrates to Orwell—that the aim of life is not to understand but to be entertained.

And this is what's chic. This is what we're told to aspire to at all costs.


"Feudal" is the word, all right! The labels may be a little different now, but the result is clearly the same.

9:42 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Normally, I don't subscribe to Steven Pinker's dark view of human nature. But whenever I see a nature documentary on PBS, I wonder if I'm just fooling myself.

Mike mentioned returning to your earlier essay on fate. I recently watched the Woody Allen film, "September". The main characters were on the verge of making a breakthrough, and possibly changing their fate. By the end of the movie, each has returned to their (unfulfilling) routines.

At the end of yet another long day, my father told me: "It's just not worth it." The wear-and-tear of everyday, with little positive outcome, has become seemingly pointless. Beckett's "I can't go on; I go on."

Neb asked whether we may ultimately be elevated to a nobler state. Dharma nailed it: "Is evolution progressive or just sequential?" I sincerely hope that nature has *something* in mind for us, other than the "many terrible dead ends." (Not that I'm holding my breath)

10:25 AM  
Blogger Nocti said...

"Are humans through evolving, like domestic cats appear to be? Is sentient life through evolving, or will there be another species beyond homo sapiens, who will study us as we do the Neanderthals?"

According to many biologists, the answer to your first question is "no".

As to the second question, I suspect that many of the very fundamental differences between types that we see today (inner vs. outer-directed individuals, introversion vs. extroversion) could be signs of speciation.

Unfortunately, however, I tend to think that C.M. Kornbluth is likely right in his science fiction tale "The Marching Morons", which predicts that natural selection will ultimately select for stupidity in humans.

In any case, something, someday, will replace humans as they are. Maybe, as Nietzsche hoped, it will be something greater; maybe, as Kornbluth surmises, it won't. In any case, I think that H. P. Lovecraft has the right view of the matter:

"My perspective is too inherently cosmic and analytical to make me feel the importance of what the tridimensional world regards as changes in the relative setting of dust-grains as negligible as terrestrial men".

Still less reason, then, to twist our knickers too much over one declining empire, a mere mote among motes.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I'm going to hafta let u guys take the ball and run with this one, inasmuch as (a) the cosmic nature of it all is giving me a headache, and (b) I'm packing to go off to England for a few wks, and for some reason (i.e. 8 million other things to do) it's taking up a huge amount of time. But as far as evolution and stupidity go, all of u shd run out and rent "Idiocracy," if u haven't already. Morons Rule!

5:54 PM  

Hola Mauricio:

It’s frightening to realize that something so fundamental that people pursue is so fragile, that as you say changes with a “twinkling of an eye”. As this is the norm and not the exception, were one literally “lives for others”, not altruistically speaking but instead with pure vanity that looks for public approval that other-defines us. Essentially “We are the rest” is politically correct tehn, even holistically speaking in new age terms. Everyone agrees one this, is the funny thing. The paradox is that I am achieving distinction (identified as one, superior, chick or sofisticated) but from the eyes of another-other’s. This is an external illusion that I think is not part of the “nature of man”, as Adams says. Why?

I think the desire to be superior stated by Adler, is about establishing oneself as a goal or image within a certain reference, context or paradigm, that makes us feel resolves the uncertainty we feel but doesn’t have a place (the real emptiness). To elaborate this emptiness we “figure” it as inferiority, positioned in same context or paradigm, to have a sense to “overcome” one with the other, both in the same context, the antithesis that justifies the thesis in Nietzsche’s terms. Basically dualistic thinking operates with this logic I guess This is what makes us fight for position in the social paradigm for example. So I think the problem then, is not what we desire to be or see ourselves as (illusions of many kind), but the form we give to our fears, to make us think we can resolve them with those illusions. In Spanish a good example: “El ideal del yo es el problema y no el yo ideal” dice Lacan.

Thank's as always, for these good thoughts that make us think.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Let me pull this crystal ball out of my knapsack. Ball On!

I see a distinct branching of humankind now, not according to prior manner of splitting like geographic boundaries but on ways of living: those with ideas of fairy-tales concepts such as good and evil (cool/uncool) as absolute and "out there" contrasting those moving toward direct experience, letting go of absolute conceptual truths, dichotomies and not being afraid to say 'don't know.'

The first group are and will be continuously caught up in what happens and manipulation - stock prices, bombings, trade negotiations, .. - the later will simply become more connected which presents visions I see but have no clue what I'm looking at. Yet I comprehend these people will become more invisible to the first group, for the first group will be less able to see anything other than itself over time.

Eventually the split will be permanent and the fairy-talers (gasp! crystal ballers included) that remain will at times wonder what are these other creatures that roam afar and sometimes amoung them.

Ball off! It's overheating.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Nocti said...

"(a) the cosmic nature of it all is giving me a headache".

Whenever that happens to me, I just add a couple of Excedrin Extra Strength caplets to my psilocybin, and I'm right as rain.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Neb said...


Thank you for the Chris Hedges reference. It was powerful. He heightened my awareness to what's happening on my insides and underscored what's on the outside with phrases like "moral leprosy."

9:23 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

"O lente lente currite noctis equi"--Run slowly, horses of the night. Said by Dr. Faustus at the end of the famous play, when Mephistopheles was about to return, to claim Faustus' soul.

10:26 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Nearly 40 years ago, Theodore Roszak wrote that America has not only sold its soul in a Faustian bargain with power, it sold that soul incredibly cheaply. Everything Americans think they're getting for happily buying into the consumerist game is an illusion, fairy gold that turns to ashes & dung in the light of day. And it's getting harder for them to believe in that illusion with each new day ... ironically, causing them to become all the desperate & irrational.

And everyone else pays the price for it.


I can see the possibility of a split such as you describe with your magic crystal ball. Maybe it's even for the best if the fairy-talers dismiss & ignore us as irrelevant, ignorant, out-of-touch losers. Unless things get so bad that they need a lot of scapegoats in a hurry ...

I'm currently reading Dale Pendell's novel The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse, which is a future history depicting the end of civilization due to fuel shortages, a pandemic, and global warming. It eventually covers 16,000 years, and ponders what sort of cultures might arise from that ruin. Food for thought.

You might also be interested in a short story from the 1930s, "City of the Living Dead," which attributes the fall of civilization to what we would now call virtual reality, mass entertainment. You can find a free download of the story at:

(Just remove the return between "titles/ & "Pratt," then copy & paste into your browser.)

Even then, some saw what people like Hedges are describing today.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

And minutes after my previous post, I find perfect proof of America happily selling its soul:

(Just remove return between "com/" & "phil-bronstein," copy & paste into your browser.)

Quite simply, a man is offering to sell his family, kids & all, to any corporation who wants them as living billboards. He says his dream job is to be "a professional T-shirt wearer."

At this point, I think even Mephistopheles is shaking his head in disbelief ...

8:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


There's a movie out called "The Age of Stupid," abt global warming, u might wanna watch. Meanwhile, I keep saying that the country consists of 310 million degraded buffoons, and people ignore this or laugh. In addition, these people:
1. Would not be able to say who Faustus or Mephistopheles is, let alone Christopher Marlowe.
2. Would not be able to understand the quote (O lente...),originally from Ovid; nor would they be able to say who Ovid was; nor would they give a shit.
3. Would not be able to produce a single Latin (or French, Spanish, etc.) verb.
4. Would not be able to identify Nader or Kucinich; or if they could, would see them as wide-eyed radicals.
5. Would sell their grandmothers for 50 cents, without blinking.
6. Cannot name the nominees for the National Book Award in any given year, and in fact have no idea there is such a thing as a National Book Award.
7. Should appropriately be wearing clown suits 24/7. (This is the first bit of legislation I'll try to get thru Congress, as soon as I'm elected pres.)

I trust I've made my pt. Meanwhile, I invite you and the rest of the DAA42 to extend this (much-needed) list (we need documentation of why we went to hell in a handbasket).


9:22 AM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Dr. Berman,
I would like to humbly offer a few additions to the timely and accurate list you began about the 310 million buffoons.

8. Would verbally or physically assault another human being for the slightest grievance (whether perceived or real)
9. Think that aliens or angels will eventually carry them off
10. Cannot grasp the concept of empathy
11. Would prefer to tell everyone to "fuck off" rather than the standard "have a nice day"

Pardon my language on the last one. Sad, but true. Have a good trip, Maestro.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Those are pretty good.

I was talking this afternoon w/a German friend of mine who lives in Va. He teaches at a kind of alternative college, and recently an old friend of his from Heidelberg sent his son to the school, to improve his English and learn something about the American Way of Life. Two weeks into the semester, Peter asked the kid how it was going. "Everybody is very friendly," he replied, "but they all want to sell me something."

And when I say we are a collection of 310 million buffoons, people laugh! Please, let's keep expanding the list. Future civs are going to need documentation, when we are buried beneath the sands (like Ozymandias), that such a totally fucked up place ever existed.


11:41 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

As pessimistic as anon is, I would have to agree with him (or is it her?). My cousin is also a teacher and his stories and analyses are very similar to anon’s. For many years I struggled with the question of are people generally good or bad? I finally came up with the answer recently. We’re all born as babies. And babies are neither good nor bad—they just do what they can to survive. As they learn survival techniques from the adults around them, they become “bad.” Just as a lion needs to kill a gazelle to eat, so do humans. The reason I put the word “bad” in quotations is that we need to first establish that this concept of morality is universal and timeless—which it is not.

Perhaps there is no such thing as good or bad—just survival. Can anyone fault the lion for eating the gazelle? For some reason, when humans evolved into intelligent beings (if you can call us that), the concept of good and bad was created and we judged each other by this relatively new idea. What if, just hypothetically speaking, the notion of morality was simply another means of survival? Killing is deemed bad, simply because no one wants to be killed. At what point did morality become a steadfast rule? 10,000 years ago? 100,000 years ago? Surely, 1,000,000 years ago when we were no more advanced than today’s chimps or great apes, notions of good and bad would be inapplicable.

I agree with Doc B only to the extent that there are some good people in the world. I have to… my mother is one of them. However, I would place the number at about 10%. The remaining 90% of us are still evolving and still need to eat.

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

A couple more:

12. Regard the deliberate public humiliation, or even outright pain & suffering, of their fellow human beings as entertainment.

13. Cannot grasp the meaning of "fellow human beings" in the first place.

14. React to any indication of thought or knowledge in someone else as a personal threat & insult.


At this point, I prefer to slightly paraphrase Gandhi & reply to the question, "What do you think of human intelligence?" by saying, "It would be a very good thing."

Looking at the history of life, the vast majority of all species that ever lived are extinct. And of those still living, a large number of their offspring don't survive the first year. So by all indications, only a small percent of any species reaches its full (or even partial) potential. "Many are called, but few are chosen" -- maybe that's simply recognition of a basic biological, even existential truth?

Because quite a lot of people are happy to be dumb, willfully ignorant, wrapped in that comfortable cocoon. It's certainly encouraged these days!

More & more, I feel like Gullivar stranded among the Yahoos ...

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I dreamt about Demi Moore the other night (someone I haven't given a moment's thought of in recent memory). The very next day, you recommended her film, "The Joneses". This kind of thing happens quite often; very strange.

In any event, I found "The Joneses" to be a very powerful movie about our "culture of make-believe", to use Derrick Jensen's phrase. I'm not too concerned about providing future societies with documentation on how we screwed up; looking back, it will be obvious. But films like this are needed that show those of us trying to live (and love) in this society today a way out.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Umm, GullivEr, of course!

In this morning's news, a Rutgers student commits suicide after his roommate secretly makes a webcam video of him having sex with another man, and then posts it on YouTube as "a joke."

In Florida, a 48 year old dishwasher is killed by a hit-&-run driver, and one of the first comments posted to his online obituary says that anyone who was 48 & only working as a dishwasher didn't deserve to live anyway.

What was Joe's 10th point again?

"Cannot grasp the concept of empathy."

8:40 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


As you know, the Gandhi quote was "What do you think of Western Civilization?" I wonder if anyone asked him what he thought of America. (Mother Teresa was in fact asked, and commented on our spiritual poverty.)


It won't be obvious at all; human beings tend to have short memories, and then there may be a few deluded American historians who try to fog over the truth anyway. As for guidance for today: as there is no way out, it doesn't make much difference; but at least Demi et al. can entertain us. BTW, what were you and she doing in your dream, you dog you?


9:51 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You're right, I'm afraid -- Americans do have very short memories, and they're getting shorter all the time. And fictionalized to a greater extent, too.

I've been reading the comments posted at the NY Times about that Rutgers case, and having trouble not breaking down & crying. There are plenty of posters denouncing the utter crassness & callousness of our culture ... but what's sickening is the number of posts making excuses for this heartless act, or even blaming the victim for not "getting a thicker skin."

Obviously, increased cruelty & lack of empathy ARE the norm. I've known it intellectually for some time now; but I'm still surprisingly shocked & heartsick when I come across such awful reminders of it.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

It's time for a major Stupidity Archive. We could start storing CDs, DVDs, books and newspaper articles in the Washington Monument. In fact, I think I might apply for a grant!

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


I like your additions. I also read the article about the Rutgers student and find it sickening but sadly, the rule rather than the exception. One does not have to look far to find the stark lack of empathy. Not just heinous acts that make the news, either. Just wait in line at a store or drive in traffic or go watch a sporthing event.
It's part of a great triangle that helps make our society what it is: violence, stupidity, and lack of empathy. I agree with you about wanting to break down and cry about it. In our culture, aggression is rewarded and kindess isn't.

5:38 PM  
Blogger NoSpam said...

"In fact, I think I might apply for a grant!"

Frame the proposal as a Post-Modernist conceptual art project, and you may very well receive funding for it.

8:03 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

"Buffoon Tower: Privileging Deconstructive Post-Legitimacy Within the Meta-Narrative Discourse of Imperial Agenda: A Longitudinal Analysis."

Pretty good, eh? Now all of u out there, roll up yer sleeves and start writing! Wait till this lands on the desk at the NEH!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Tuan,
It's not that kids are "evil" they just respect strength and not friendliness. Being "nice" or smiling is equated with weakness just like in prison. Women aren't attracted to weak men, etc. This is human nature (not learned). The Alpha male wasn't the nice guy; he was the strong, silent type (warrior). When men try to be too nice to women, they are saying, "I am not an alpha." This is why women stay with abusive mates, bad boys, or jerks. That is their instinct and they have to fight it. Why do young babies get "stranger anxiety" and why is it mostly directed against males they don't know? Seeing an unfamiliar male must have meant death, rape of mother, etc. This is an evolved response to a stranger over thousands of years. In response to what Dr. Berman wrote, it isn't easy realizing the truth about human beings. It's actually heavy and dark, and I try to kid myself sometimes and pretend that people (not family) really want to see a picture of my kids- they don't. When you get sick, they say, "That's too bad!" They just think I am glad it's him and not me. We all think this way deep down. Some cultures like Germany admit it and have words like "Schadenfreude" while others pretend and live in fairy tale land. Altruism is you help me and I'll help you. Wow, how noble! A friend is also a status enhancer. Altruism and friendship are inherently selfish.

Yet, there are good things too like the love between parent and child, which is very real, lasting and potent. This is unlike the love between the parents ha ha. Young love is also one of the positve parts of human nature. I am not all doom and gloom.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

Dear all,

A few posts up, Susan shared a musing of Stegner, on love, Such memorable expressions, often contain birds or nature. And a while back, Tim shared Auden's line about, "...children, casual as birds, / Playing amid the ruined languages."

Also, sadly, we need to add, /amid the ruined people, lands.

We can almost forgive and laugh at each other as adults not knowing or teaching our kids simple English grammer, let alone the plethora of existent knowledge, but can we tolerate/survive living in this ugly, ignorant/selfish lifestyle much longer?
The rational and analytical and well known answer is NO.
Tongue in Chic...
First we lose the language, then the people, then the land, then the civilization, but do it in style!
The last ones standing will be the most chic of them all, but will no longer look pretty, vanity will be seen behind the broken facade one devoid of love, true beauty, meaning.

As a result of trends, (rather than knowing knowledge) there is a plethora of ignorance that creates the actions & inactions caused by fear and compliance to the popular precedents, with serious consequences. The economy of personal power, or false hierarchy, is the only thing that most folks have been taught (manipulated) to think is the only way to live and they believe it is what life is for.

We are unwittingly distracted from each aspect of what could be our true healthy self/collective. The 'look at me' and ,me first', turns people into idol worshipers, worshiping themselves and blind to the crumbling structures that cannot support the constant raping, looting, and trashing of the all.

Yes, Dr. B. is in the know, blessed. But even just a glimpse of knowledge is beneficial. Shelley's Ozymandias is a powerful message. For a layperson, (not a scholar) to open a door to the past invisible world of say, Lucretius or Herotodous is wonderful and surreal and provides wisdom and empathy for our own struggles.

But, think of the simple beauty of the old world peasants or of the barefoot gypsies or the mindful native's (Americans), or of the self awareness of the yogi, all living simply (and fairly responsibly), this type of ignorance is not bad at all. What is pitiful is that 310million 'simple people' of the U. S., (or elsewhere, following modern precedent), driving SUV's, accumulating all the paraphenelia that goes along with it. Living out the grand American dream of the commoners; those me first, personal comfort aspirations and priorities that all are striving for, are not just for comfort anymore, but have become necessary for survival. So unwittingly futile is this dream of having it all, as to ironically take away the all from the all /amid the ruined people and ruined lands.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Try again, but cut your message down to about 1/3 of its length. Also, no need to post it 5 times. I do love the word 'bloviating', BTW; I love to bloviate, and I encourage you and other contributors to bloviate as well.


6:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

annonymous, what's u'r email? we think alike. email me at


8:40 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

(Dear Morris, here a shorter version - sorry for the multiple tries – computer was acting up. Do let me know if I have to cut even more. Thanks – Bloviator Ray)

We're up to number 14.), by my count, on the Buffoon Checklist. Sad but true, etc. etc., but really, this is shooting fish in a barrel, or putting dunce caps on the less admirable passengers on the Titanic. A better way to pass the time might be to develop a comparative checklist to distinguish between, on the one hand,
A.)Semi-intelligent bloviators playing with the idea of "collapse" to liven up their boring lives
and on the other,
B.)People who grasp less obvious implications of some of the things this blog talks about.
Let me get the ball rolling with the following..where “1.A)” refers to the semi-intelligent, and “1.B)” refers to those who really get it....
1.A) Assume that the appropriate personal answer to our civilizational collapse is to look at the various "consumer choices" represented by "the best possible country to emigrate to," and simply Go For It...
1.B) Realize that this blithe "I'm out of looking into emigrating to (name of chosen country here)..." response is a byproduct of the spoiled atmosphere of consumerist “personal empowerment” and overchoice we've all inhaled in this land for so long.
How do you suppose these other nations will react to those of us seeking to emigrate when the very conditions that inspire us to flee - mass moronization, creeping political apocalypse, economic collapse, continued clueless bellicosity, and the triumph of that boundless self-involvement that lies behind our very desire to flee the mess we have made of ourselves - become THE hallmarks of American identity abroad? One subliminal reason out of many to dislike Russia and China in the Cold War, and remain uncomfortable with them and India today, is that those countries CAN REALLY KEEP US OUT with serious visa and entry requirements unlike the joke formalities other countries have for US passport holders. Imagine that the list of countries determined to crack down on our well-nigh unfettered access to them expands in the near or medium-term future…
In this scenario, to then say..."that's why I'm bugging out when I still have the chance.." reveals the same selfish mental squalor and infantile self-involvement for which we routinely indict our more buffoonish fellows. We assume that our desirability/acceptability as emigres will somehow survive intact the decrepitude of the Republic that gives us these nice blue passports.
Why do we make this assumption?
One reason is our extension of the frontier myth to other countries. If we've fucked up this valley, why, there's always more free land and opportunities to start over exploiting (and fucking up again) in that valley/(desired emigration destination). A second reason is growing up in a consumer society where travel is relentlessly commodified as "experiences" that can be bought and sold. Even when "free" from the opium of consumerism in our current enlightened Berman-blog-reading state, the underlying facile assumptions about being able to continue "consuming" the world outside the borders remain.

Who wants to play the game I suggested - who has 2.A and 2.B?

9:55 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Wonderful bloviation!, tho I disagree with much of what you say. Nevertheless, it's sure to evoke even greater bloviation. The hot air is literally pouring out of my computer.


10:01 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

After reading Ray's ...thoughts....

The world is being consumed!

4:44 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

And bloviated. Perhaps, even, *over*-bloviated!

6:05 PM  
Blogger RainbowShadow said...

Wait a minute, Ray, then what would you suggest? That people who are suffering in this country should shut up and take it? That ultimately, the desire to not be abused and exploited by other people is a selfish desire?

That ultimately, the very idea of "inalienable human rights" and human justice and compassion and basic human decency are all selfish ideals?

That we should just give up and accept a planet divided into classes, because the American experiment didn't work out and we accept that any desire to avoid being cheated and defrauded and kicked in the face is ultimately untenable?

That's GIVING UP! And I can't do that! Because if I ever told myself that the masses of humanity were born with saddles for the few to ride, which was what the American experiment was originally supposed to event, then my entire life of reading and learning has been for nothing! Then all of human learning from Socrates to Jung has been a waste of 3,000 years!

I CANNOT accept that outcome! Maybe you can, Ray, but I for one am going to fight. I'm going to stay in America, I'm going to become a librarian, and I'm going to educate as many people as possible.

I'm 25 years old; I refuse to become jaded and cynical at my young age. I'm going to fight. And guess what, Morris Berman, this is the last post you're ever going to get from me, whether you post it or not.

Because you're wrong. There ARE still good people in this country, there ARE people who still believe in those ideals.

I know this because I DID leave my apartment, like you suggested to me all this time, and now I TALK to such people every day. All of you on this blog have given up. I'm not going to. The future of the human race is at stake, and if things have really gotten so bad that people don't even read, well then that's what my job was INVENTED for.

I don't care if ultimately my efforts count for nothing. At least at the end of the day, I can come home and look at myself and say, I bothered to TRY.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

To bloviate or not to bloviate...

The old pond
A frog jumped in,
--Matsuo Basho (Allen Ginsberg)

8:09 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Brad,

Now *that* was some pretty fabulous bloviating. Altho I really doubt you ever got out for a walk and a bit o' fresh air, after all (it's the rhetoric that gives it away). But never mind: knock yourself out. Ya never know what's gonna happen, after all.


u.c.? Bloviation begets even more bloviation, as I predicted. Now with Brad we have over-bloviation (aka grandstanding), and I'm guessing soon, some super-bloviation. This blog is catching fire; we're on our way to ecpyrosis!


Thanks for the Basho; no bloviater, he. Haiku is nothing if not succinct. Here's one from Issa:

Lots of words
Where is my
Chopped liver?


10:22 PM  
Blogger Ashley Colby said...

all right Ray. my only comment to your string of attacks is to note that I think you are making a real distinction here between people who are acting out of sincerity and those dabbling in intellectualism (i.e. this blog, emigration) to spice up their alienated and consumption-oriented lives.

I see this distinction in Mike's posts when he speaks about the difference between his desire to constantly learn from texts, new music, etc and his partner's desire to consume those things not out of sincerity but to be chic.

my problem with your post is that you have cast yourself as judge and jury. Which brings us back to MB's post here. Here we all are, deeming ourselves better (hipper) than other Americans, people, blog-readers. And isn't this hipness what we originally sought to throw off (even if it is part of our post-paleolithic history)?

i'll end with my own haiku:

bloviation and
hot air suffocating me
break from the hipness


12:31 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

With the leg bone connected
to the knee bone,
and the knee bone connected
to the thigh bone,
and the thigh bone connected
to the *hip* bone.
Oh mercy how they scare!

-From "Dem Bones," traditional black spiritual

I tell ya, we're all so hip here I could just faint.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’ll jump in here a second….

Ray – I’m not sure how long you’ve read this particular blog but trust me, this is not a hip group!

I think most of the regular readers here have been thinking about these issues in one form or another for sometime or they wouldn’t be interested in the discussion on a regular basis, read the books being referred to etc..

My “experiments” in stepping out from the American experience has often come at personal expense and hardship. I won’t list them here but the choices have usually put me far away from anything resembling a “consumer” lifestyle in reality – low wages, super basic housing, a limited bank account w/ no trust fund/government check waiting for me etc.. They certainly weren’t choices I could easily just switch off or on like I was shopping online.

I do think there is a segment of expats (if that’s the term you want to use) who live in what might be called a co-existent state out of the US. I’m thinking of people who live on military bases, retirees who are barricaded in an expat community somewhere, backpackers who are “doing the _______ experience” etc.. - I think there’s a jet in and jet out mentality that’s related to being a consumer for sure but this is far more nuanced and not indicative of everyone. Usually a short discussion is all it takes to sort that one out.

As for “selfishness” or “bailing out” on the situation – I don’t know what to say to that line of thinking but I take fairly seriously the need to create an alternate narrative. I do this for my own sanity and in way to show for friends and family.

Low or no-participation in a game that's inherently rigged against you is not such a bad move is it?

I pay taxes, vote in most elections, pay my way all while realizing I may be the biggest fool of my close circle…….hardly chic or cool to go back to the theme.

Ok, to be honest, if I drank a few Toñas in Nicaragua there were a couple of good cumbia dance moves under my belt....just sayin'

By the way MB I started Freedom Just Around the Corner. Thanks for the reference - looks like an interesting read.

El Juero (

8:29 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El J-

When you finish that, have a look at Walter Hixson, "The Myth of American Diplomacy." Don't let the postmodernism (ugh) faze you; he's got some good things to say.


You see, my friend: you really were bloviating. It was all a superior judgment of us, off the top of your head. It would be easy to do a point-by-point rebuttal of what you wrote, but I thought, why bother? This blog has been going for 4.5 yrs now, with a lot of significant issues--ones that mean a lot to the readers and myself personally and politically--worked over in detail. We are not 'playing' with the idea of collapse, our lives are not boring, emigration is no copout, this is not another consumer option, and most of the people writing in don't give a damn about being hip, as far as I can make out. (You, I think, do.) They think about things; they are not just venting or being cute. You have some potentially serious points to make (my disagreement with them notwithstanding); why not engage us respectfully?

Something to think about, I guess.


8:52 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

practicing Haiku

flesh n bones
fans o steel
O how shit
hits it

good children
attempting to live
forgive, forgive

Ovid Amid
Rome or Singapore
a sacred door
in ruins

speckled starlights
laurel silhouettes
floral sweetness
life begets
chopped liver

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,

First my apologies to you and the fine people on this blog for my indiscriminately critical tone that blurred the distinctions between various kinds of expats and would-be expats. I hold you and the vast majority of the folks on here in the highest esteem, ever since my first exposure to your work in Twilight.
Ironically, the vehemence of my original post stems from having, as you have, thought long and seriously about these and other related issues for several years. The post was not an attempt to seem hip by trashing others, despite the context and the unduly broad brush. Thanks for the invitation to re-engage in a different tone. I gladly accept the chance to restate my case in hopefully a more accessible way…I appreciate the welcome and the continued readiness for further discussion, and count myself lucky to be in this community of unhip (yes me too) thinkers.
More later, perhaps a succession of shorter posts, if Morris could be persuaded to accept.
Also, I have no intention of hijacking this thread, so if it becomes advisable, I would be glad to discuss this further in other fora…

4:23 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear friends,

I hope it's not too hip to share a favorite old "drinking song" by the poet, T'ao Ch'ien (365-427 A.D.). Chanting poems: almost as good as talking about food.

"The Way's been in ruins a thousand years. People all hoard their hearts away: so busy scrambling for esteemed position, they'd never touch wine. But whatever makes living precious occurs in this one life, and this life never lasts. It's startling, sudden as lightning. These hundred years offer all abundance: Take it! What more could you make of yourself?"

5:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Longest haiku in English language, I'm guessing. The part abt chopped liver nearly had me in tears.


Fora? Jesus, you are truly ueber-hip! Please send me your various curricula vitarum.


How fab! Thank u.


1:21 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


No offense taken -- please stick around!

...those me first, personal comfort aspirations and priorities that all are striving for, are not just for comfort anymore, but have become necessary for survival.

For so many, this is sadly true. If you suggested going without a cellphone or computer access for a week, millions would exclaim, "But I can't live without them!" If you try & discuss what constitutes a meaningful life with them, they'd undoubtedly tell you that those things are IT!

I think the very concept of an inner life has been lost for all too many -- and even among those who espouse it, many do so in a narcissistic, New Age fashion that demands little & puts a premium on reinforcing a self-referential comfort bubble.

When I was younger, I desperately wanted to be cool & hip in the worst way. The only thing that saved me was my utter & complete ineptitude at it. It certainly wasn't due to any heightened self-awareness at the time!

E. E. Heart & Art,

Poetry nourishes the soul. Thanks for those posts!


Any further news on the collection of your essays? I'm looking forward to buying, reading, and reviewing that volume soon!

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Nocti said...

Here's a bellwether of things to come, let's hope:

"No joke! Illiterate clown triumphs in election"

2:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Just keep in mind that Buffoons Rule, and you'll never go wrong. As for essays: endless proofs back and forth with Amazon. Why they didn't tell me in advance that shooting myself would be preferable to this project, I have no idea. Anyway, there's another proof coming my way in a few days, when I'll be in the UK; if I can get that corrected from an Internet cafe, the 2nd physical proof will be waiting for me in Mexico in late Oct. If that is actually OK, I'm guessing the thing will be up on Amazon in Nov. sometime. If it's not done by Xmas, I shall have an eggnog laced with arsenic and be done with it.


6:08 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Check this article out, seems like we have another exciting moron that may be in office soon. It just keeps getting better, doesn't it, Dr. B?

Ray, one important thing I've noticed on this board is the kindness and respect that posters are treated with, even if they have differing views. It's really a safe place because that kindness is so lacking in normal American life. I understand and appreciate your frustration, as well as your second post. I am certainly a person that hopes to be an expat sooner rather than later, so I fall into one of those groups. My biggest reason is that I long for just what I see on this board: respect, kindness, and graciousness. We have fun and respect differing views.

7:33 PM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

It was the Taoist Huainan masters who said: "Those who used arms in ancient times did not do so to expand their territory or obtain wealth. They did so for the survival and continuity of nations on the brink of destruction and extinction, to settle disorder in the world, and to get rid of what harmed the common good." They also said, "Those who make war in their own interests cannot make their accomplishments stand."

10:04 AM  
Blogger Nocti said...

"Ray, one important thing I've noticed on this board is the kindness and respect that posters are treated with, even if they have differing views."

That's really funny. You obviously haven't been reading this blog for very long. Dip into the archive to see just how mistaken you are. This comments area is better than most, but it's hardly the peaceable kingdom you envision.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

And today's example of The Dumbening:

Last week, the New York Times reported on Library Systems & Services, a private, for-profit company that an increasing number of towns are contracting to take over their local public libraries. The company pares budgets and turns a profit by, among others things, replacing long-term employees with those who will "work." In the article, CEO Frank Pezzanite mocks "this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries" and ridicules the idea that "somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization."

1:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Nocti,

Yer rt, but the peacocks slowly drifted away. The peacock factor is esp. strong among men, I've found, whether on a blog or if I'm giving a talk somewhere. There is a tendency to ask a question that has an agenda, viz.: see how smart I am! This was esp. true at the beginning of this blog; there was almost an Oedipal feel to it, as younger guys wanted to display their feathers. I would occasionally go back and forth with them, but finally it really is boring, and I guess most of them came to the same conclusion. If I did endure their hostility, or sarcasm, or win the argument, they would then find another topic to attack me on--in short, it wasn't really about the topic, it was about them. But eventually the dross fell away; now we are for the most part serious abt what we are doing, not trying to impress each other (a huge relief). Occasionally a newcomer wanders in and does the peacock put-down dance, and it looks so labored and silly, really; but I think most of that crowd has wandered off to find blogs in the "hardball" category--which is basically the American Way (my pipi is bigger than your pipi).


I say, close 'em all down. What do we need them for, anyway? Seriously, most Americans don't read at all, and the ones that do go for self-help or management books. The Camden NJ library recently shut its doors; now it's time to tear down the NY Public and build a shopping mall at the corner of 5th Ave and 42nd St. Frank Pezzanite is my kinda guy; and if he runs on a Palin ticket, you know who I'm voting for. Check out "Fahrenheit 451" (Bradbury) for support of this position, BTW. Remember, we're in the bizarro world now: bad is good.


3:54 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


I have been reading it for a few months. Perhaps I missed alot of the pipi measuring contests, and that's a good thing. I don't envision a peaceful kingdom, however. Just a respite from the constant competition for attention and self-aggrandizing that I suffer through in normal everday American life. A respite where a real, thoughtful discussion can occur, and some serious work can be done.

I am not so foolish to think that no one will ever come on here and angrily post. I have seen it. However, how it is dealt with by other posters, as well as the moderator, is what continues to bring me back. The DAA 42 (you all know who you are) engage each other and it is the type of discussion I have been looking for. If there is an aggressive, disrespectful poster, he or she is usually not offered an aggressive or insulting response. This is one way of telling the poster that he or she will not get the situation they are looking for on this board. Thank you for your comments and insight and I think it's great that you have been reading this board for a while and keep coming back.

Dr. B,
I read an article in a local newspaper recently about how "boring" libraries are being updated with gaming "pods" (cubicles where you can play internet video games), software cards which allow the user a certain amount of hours of using different forms of software, projector rooms with "video books", etc. The article proceeds to explain that the "behind-the-times" libraries will not get funding because levies will not pass unless they are updated to "reflect and embrace technology for learning".

What if the frickin' power goes out? Do you think anyone will be able to read Moby Dick and imagine a whale? Or do you think they will be unable to do so without the help of a "video book" in a projector room?

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


I've only been exposed to one expat community and that was very briefly on a visit to San Miguel, Mexico a couple of years ago. I was thinking about relocating there but decided not to due to personal reasons. Some of the people I met there participated in the culture and some exploited it--cheaper prices, a maid, a gardener. Particularly as someone gets older, these aren't bad reasons but I wonder about Americans and Canadians who simply recreate the emptiness of our culture somewhere else. There was an element of consumption to it; not by everyone, but yours was a valid point. But what's true too is there really are better places to live than others, places more in sync with your values and the life you want. Austin is better than Dallas, Portland is better than Atlanta, etc. (this is only my opinion and I don't expect others to agree with me). It's a big decision and it takes a lot of courage to commit to a new life, if it truly is a new life, and not just a move to a different condo complex.

Tim and EE--

There's an article by Henry Giroux on Truthout about the destruction of public good titled Bill Gates: Generosity, Public School Teachers and the Politics of Humiliation. While it's primarily about exposing the new movie "Waiting for Superman" for the propaganda it is, it's also an excellent commentary on the deterioration of public discourse. Thought you might be interested as you've recommended many interesting articles I've followed up on.

10:48 AM  
Blogger relmuche said...

Dear Mr. Berman:

I believe that:

• All us “grow-up by evolving” from being you, to being I, to being us, and finally to being all us.

In other words:

• All us “grow-up by evolving” from dependency, to independence, to interdependence, and finally to transcendence.

• All Us “grow-up by evolving” from showing our power and what we possess, to explaining our knowledge and what we do, to transmitting our inspiration and who we feel, and finally to demonstrating our wisdom and who we are.

This evolution is as subtle as subtle is the difference between showing, explaining, transmitting and demonstrating that all us “do” simultaneously but at different dimensions.

If we are not, loved and happy dependants, while fetuses, babies, and toddlers, or later while at play school, kindergarten and primary school, we might never recover from the experience, and never be prepared to take our next step and become independent.

This way, while at high-school, and also during the rest of our lives, we will be and behave as dependents from others, instead of being for others as we need to be, and thus, we will never go beyond showing our power and what we possess.

This of course until we discover love and experience us, that as you know, can happen at any magic and right time....

Regarding Adams quote that “we cannot alter the nature of man”, I am more optimistic that our famous economist, not about his statement that I fully agree with, but with his negative perception of our nature.

I believe that the nature of human beings is that of an individual married to a person for life, and:

• Our individual is driven by many desires and projects, while our person is driven by one yearning and vocation.

• When our individual subordinates to our person we eventually become an altruistic person.

• When our individual insubordinates from our person we eventually become a selfish individual.

The fact that Malraux, or others like him, have not been not able to find a grown-up person, in this individualistic world of ours, is thus easy to understand: they are hard to find and they do not show-off.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


There was a time that univ. bkstores sold bks. Now, it's mostly T-shirts, mugs, and stuffed animals. I'm hoping this will happen to public libraries as well. I'm hoping to buy a stuffed Moby Dick, myself.


6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Susan for the link to the article on Truthout. It's a good read.

Regarding the article. It looks like America will be lead down a road by Forest Gump-like philosophers, clowns and feel good entertainment until it is completely bewildered. Then it will start to eat itself.

By the way, I worked in a public library 6 years ago. Libraries were something I really believed in on a number of levels. Unfortunately, I can recall a number of discussions then that the circulation was largely about dvd movies not books. Sad, as it can be such a great resource for everyone and the idea of sharing things within the community would be a healthy direction to go in.....

I trust everyone is enjoying the web story on the fire department that showed up to a fire but wouldn't put it out because (essentially) the house wasn't one of their "customers".

Christ, I can see stories about people scrambling around for change in the burning house to pay the waiting hose company for the service.......giddyup!

El Juero (

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Thanks for the recommendation. An all too accurate & chilling article, I'm afraid. The demonization of teachers, and education as a whole, has been quite apparent over the past few years (though of course it began much earlier). The goal appears to be the production of technically skilled drones who won't cause trouble by thinking critically about anything, but will simply do their assigned tasks.

The growing culture of humiliation in the United States suggests that anyone who does not believe in the pursuit of material self-interest, unbridled competition and market-driven values is a proper candidate to be humiliated. If one makes even the slightest gesture of protest toward the dissociation of economics from ethics, the stripping from social relations of any vestige of public values, the undermining of important modes of solidarity or the promotion of a market fundamentalism that views social responsibility as a weakness, they are fair game to be publicly denigrated and insulted, or at least dismissed as irresponsible.

Human decency? That's soooo yesterday!


Why not a plush toy Moby Dick? Or "Moby Dick: the Video Game," for that matter? You can already play "Dante's Inferno: the Video Game." Wonder if they'll make action figures for that?

I saw a local news story this morning about one of the few surviving bookbinders still open for business. The tone was, "My, how quaint, especially in this coming age of no paper books." Wonder what happens to that digital library when the Internet goes down for one reason or another? For that matter, how long before digital data begins to degrade?

But digital is so very chic, of course!

11:12 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

Hi All,

Dear Dr. Berman,
Can you substitute this one for my earlier submitted post.

The man behind the Dead Poets Society of America is inaugurating what he hopes will one day be a widespread literary holiday to honour and remember poets.

Walter Skold is kicking off the first Dead Poets Remembrance Day with readings scheduled to take place across six towns in Maine on Thursday — the death anniversary of macabre poet and author Edgar Allen Poe.

Just sharing the above that at least they might establish a day for poetry! And sharing, my great great grandfather's name was, Edgar Allen Poe Ferguson.

Still, one so relevant here...

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

* * *

In response to some prev posts...
I am sure Starbucks will soon market plush Moby Dick's that's go good with a sickly sweet frappelchino.

My grandfather and his friend once opened and operated a bookbindery in Mill Valley, Ca., that was when I was a teen 25 yrs ago. I remember old books on old wooden shelves, my very special grandfather, a warm, lovely memory.

p.s It is hard to read MB's sobering articles in the archives of this blog, yesterday I had to pull myself together and try to smile. I used to just think that love, decency, and compassion rule, but it seems that these are not rules in our game anymore. I truly miss those old friends.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Speaking of Forest Gump-like philosophers and clowns, Donald Trump is seriously considering running for president. "Somebody has to do something. We are losing this country." I couldn't agree more, though I don't think he's talking about moving in the direction of a democratic socialism. "The U.S. is a great country and it's not doing as well as it should. It could be doing much better and I think, with proper leadership, it would do unbelievably well." I think we all know what "The Donald" means by doing "well". It's high time we stop using that quaint term, "the American citizen", and replace it with "the American consumer" instead. How about a stuffed Donald Trump doll for X-mas? Then we all get a chance to pet his hair.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After further research, I have found that my dark view of humanity is shared by Hobbes, Burke, Smith, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, as well as Karl Popper. My view of humanity is the (constrained) tragic view of humanity. Adam Smith wrote virtually the same thing I did in an earlier post when he imagined how a European would react to the entire population of China dying: "...when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, wht the same ease of tranquility as if no such accident had occured...If he was to lose his little finger tomorrow, he would not sleep to-night: but provided he never saw them, he would snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred million of his brethren." Chomsky and Dr. Berman (apparently) believe that people are good by nature and that violence and competition are learned. This is also called the Noble Savage view of people. Anyone who has raised a young male child will soon discover that the child will bite and scratch at a young age even with no instruction. No one on this post lost a night's sleep when the Tsunami killed thousands, etc.,unless you had family there. Chomsky is a brilliant man, in some ways, but his view of human nature is dead wrong. He's unable to see the truth. This also explains the difference between liberal and conservative thinking, and this is why many liberal thinkers refuse to acknowledge the "truth." They think that society determines behavior, when it is in fact the opposite. Communism failed because it runs opposite to human nature. I am still waiting for Dr. Berman's book...
"from the crooked timber of humanity no truly straight thing can be made." Kant

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


Speaking in global terms, you're right--I lost no sleep over the tsunami victims as I was not going to get on a plane and help them and knew no one involved. But that's not the whole picture of human nature and that's not where the flaw lies, in my opinion. It lies in not doing what we can where we are and really examining our own motivations and selfishness. Last night I watched via the internet an interview with Joe Bagenant (he was promoting his new book)and he talked about some decisions he'd made in his own life to live on less and contribute to the sheltering and feeding of children in third world countries (the implication was to counteract the damage done by American imperialism). That's something we can all do, if we will; I'm not trying to oversimplify this---your despair over indifference, selfishness and complacency is justified. It may be that larger causes are better suited to your personality and talents and, if that's the case, I hope you'll use them. But I like what Gandhi had to say: anything we do is insignificant but it's very important that we do it. He understood how immense natural and historical forces are, how difficult it is to get people to work together for a common cause without bickering but he did what he could.

10:07 AM  
Blogger EditNetwork said...

Dear Anon:

I'm not here to pile on, by any stretch. I feel every ounce of pessimism about humanity I can conceptualize.

As for caring more about my hurt finger than about the death or half-life of millions far away: I believe the point raised for discussion was how our concern for how others view us is manifested in this (industrialized Western) culture of death, as another has termed it.

In many cultures, there is every bit as strong a desire to be well thought of by one's neighbors and peers -- but that is a motivation to cooperate, to fit in productively, to genuinely honor one's fellows and their families, to revere the community's credos and resources, etc. In the video- and logo-soaked West, how others view us tends to turn us into narcissists, and it takes a relentless resistance -- and good guidance to founts of character -- to learn to be or have neighbors at all, let alone to honor or treasure them. To worship anything besides ourselves, one might paraphrase.

Chris Hedges has recently posted a fine essay on the imperial narcissism threatening to carry the planet over a cliff: I apologize if someone else has brought up this essay or perhaps even a discussion has ensued; I thought I'd jump in before I finish reading all the comments.

Peace to all -- Paul H.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

The truth is that the subject of altruism remains one of intensive research, by biologists as well as anthropologists. To get an idea of the complexity on the bio levels, check out recent article on the subject in the NY Rev of Bks (I wd give u guys the exact ref, but I'm currently in London w/o my piles of papers and clippings). It's an impressive piece--how altruism can get naturally selected for on one level, but then cancelled out (or perhaps reinforced) on another, etc. I practically had a headache when I finished reading it. But it does suggest that we are in the embryonic stages of understanding so-called 'human nature'.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous REO Spudwagon said...

I suspect that altruism, like the origins of life and the origins of the universe, is one of those things that we will never understand, but will only be able to create myths about.

I particularly dislike the kind of scientised myths that are currently peddled about these things by the likes of cosmologists, anthropologists, psychologists, biologists, economists etc., and how these are dogmatised as a kind of "rational" improvement on the doctrines of religion.

It seems to be one of the recurrent pathologies of Western civilisation that it just can't admit to itself that there are things it cannot and will not ever know.

On the other hand, this kind of farcical cult of the "expert" can't go on for ever. When you're having to carve out mountains to make progress in Partical Physics, and when research science is being subjected to the kind of capital-starvation as the rest of the economy, then surely the concept of limits must even dawn on the scientific profession?

I suspect that the response by the scientists will be ever more fantastical models of 15-dimensional multiverses, while the public reason that actually God is a much simpler explanation, and Spengler's anticipated Second Religiousness will therefore ensue.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear REO and friends,

RE: limits to scientific knowledge

"We want to believe that things last for ever, whether it is love, life, God, or the laws of nature. But death, as Freud continually reminds us, is what certainty looks like. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to live in uncertainty for as long as we can bear it."

-Christopher Potter, "You Are Here"

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I think we are at our best when we are "good" or altruistic when it does not come naturally. When we are not feeling sad or sentimental, when we have to force ourselves to do something that benefits others over ourselves. Putting the needs of others before our own is true kindness, and putting the needs of someone close to us over our own is one of the best descriptions of love I can think of. Not to sound sappy, but kindness is the highest thing we as humans can strive for. Any obstacle that gets in the way of kindness, whether it be pride, anger, narcissism or racism, is a barrier to harmony and these are the barriers I wish more people focused on.

I will certainly read the article that Dr. Berman suggested, it is very interesting to learn about the bio of altruism and even kindness. We are an animal that can go against our insticts and use our cognition to overcome our emotions. When someone does me wrong, I can be kind in return, as difficult as it may be.

As I have stated previously, we, as a nation, do not reward altruism and graciousness. We reward aggression and bluntness. Our media and politicians speak of tolerance, and yet they aggressively humiliate their enemies, whether real or imagined. Being blunt is considered a gift and a level-head is considered a sign of weakness. It is difficult to teach empathy to adults, so we have a nation of individuals with very little. How can we expect kindess to prevail in this wasteland?

10:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

There's also an interesting essay in today's Guardian (UK) by George Monbiot regarding the social and political influences on altruistic behavior vs. selfish behavior that I found very interesting. I'm currently in England, so I read it in the hard copy (p. 31); but I'm guessing it's online as well: something like

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


This bears repeating:

As I have stated previously, we, as a nation, do not reward altruism and graciousness. We reward aggression and bluntness. Our media and politicians speak of tolerance, and yet they aggressively humiliate their enemies, whether real or imagined. Being blunt is considered a gift and a level-head is considered a sign of weakness. It is difficult to teach empathy to adults, so we have a nation of individuals with very little. How can we expect kindness to prevail in this wasteland?

The key, as you say, is choice. We can choose who & what we are to a large extent -- though many who fully endorse the "me me me" view of life love to fall back on genetic excuses for it. "Let's just accept that we're all like this & stop pretending to be civilized."

Choice is what civilization is all about, it seems to me. We can recognize our greedier, frightened selves, and learn to deal with them, so that they don't rule & control us. Though, again, those darker passions can still control us in many unconscious ways, even as we blithely believe our rational sides to be in charge.

It also seems to me that those eagerly contributing to the coming collapse of imperial America actually WANT it to happen. The prospect of an uncivilized world, where rules don't exist, where the social contract is null & void, where you don't have to give a damn about anyone but yourself -- this is what they want, what they hunger for so desperately. It's narcissistic nihilism, really.

And in their eyes, anyone who tries to live a richer, more meaningful lfie is a sucker.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morris, the cover on the Bantam edition of Coming To Our Senses summed up the situation in which we now live, and which has always been the driving force of the Western cultural meme.

In my opinion that image is/was a reworking of the archetypal image of St George on his Dragon.

This drama was recently featured in the Avatar film. At a very basic level the film was about the culture of life versus the technocratic "culture" of death which now rules the entire world.

It was interesting to observe the entirely predictable right-wing group-think response to the film.

They all came out loudly cheering for the technocratic barbarians.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Berman,

Please share with us your observations of England. I always found England more intellectual than America. Of course, I was interacting with those of the higher classes. Please let us know what you observe.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Note to relmuche:

I can't post anything that long. If you could compress it by at least 50%, that would help. Also: no need to send it to me 7 times--I'm actually a pretty good reader.


11:01 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Tim,

"We can choose who & what we are to a large extent..." Careful, you're flirting with "The Secret" here.

Regarding "genetic excuses", this certainly doesn't apply to our physiology. Within civilization, we can choose to eat agricultural foods (like grains and legumes) to which we are poorly adapted. On the other hand, if we follow the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (a variety of animal and plant foods in their whole state), we would probably be healthier for doing so. Sadly, it seems that making the wrong choices, over and over again, is what civilization is all about.

Have you read John Gray's "Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and other Animals"? He opens the book with a quotation from Jacques Monad:

"All religions, nearly all philosophies, and even a part of science testify to the unwearying, heroic effort of mankind desperately denying its contingency."

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


Good points. I certainly think there is an aspect about a lawless chaos that appeals to the 'nihilistic narcissists' as you aptly put it. I suppose that is one reason why the 'apocalypse' genre is so strong in cinema and fiction these days. Instead of instilling a sense of dread in us, as I think (and hope) that Cormac McCarthy was attempting to do with "The Road", people seemed to be excited by the concept of a future that is completely devoid of any gentleness or humanity, and one in which 'kill or be killed' is the rule.

11:30 PM  
Anonymous Paul said...

Regarding the George Monbiot piece (If I'm referring to the correct one) MB referes to: He seems to be talking along similar lines of George Lakoff in his book "Moral Politics" where he contends that our values are communicated through language which is internalized from the world in which we live, where we're brought up, who we're influenced by, and so on. He also asserts that 'framing' in this sense trumps facts and that this manipulation of language has been driving the cultural and political conversation. Hence, right wing conservative values = self interested (business minded, concrete, individualistic) and progressive = altruistic (socially minded, nuanced, egalitarian) worldviews. There's more to it than this but in short, no values(or at the very least being "wishy washy") = no voice = no power. By our very nature, Americans would rather drive headlong over a cliff and be sure about it than be "wishy washy" about anything...

Monbiot's conclusion that we become the change we want to see in the world echoes Ghandi. However, this doesn't address the internalization of values most people aren't even aware of. Parroting and sloganeering works for a while and may even get you elected but it isn't based on anything real which is why there is no "voice of the people". Which is also why most of us feel fragmented and alienated - just how the 'powers that be' want things.

Granted, "if" people were more "intrinsically" minded (altruistic) as opposed to "extrinsic" (selfish) we'd all be better off. Some of us are content to follow the NMI model or at least try to and enjoy life on a day to day, moment by moment basis. I suppose one could consider this as being "what's left" - or the "new beginnings" of a more "humane-kind"...maybe the pendulum will swing the other way...someday. After the smoke clears?

Evolutionary baby steps I guess.


1:08 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Pickwick to club:

Dear friends,

An item of human behavior in the era of high capitalism that might interest you:

There's an area for nude sun bathing in the heart of Texas known as "Hippie Hollow."
The Colorado River is damned to form an artificial lake surrounded by rocky hills covered with cedar. The way the land slopes steeply down to the lake in a series of concentric rings of levels succeeded by drops to yet lower levels is a good image of a Dantean malebolge (I'm only beginning to bloviate!)

Some have boats that they anchor near the shore upon which lay, sit, stand or walk those who've no boats. The non-boaters sometimes get invited (especially if they're cute young men) on board the boats. One young man on shore hailed some friends on several boats lashed together to form an extended floating social island. The man had come with his backpack and asked that one of the many floats tied to the boats be sent to him so that he could cross and board with his things. I'm pretty sure you can guess what happenned next. There ensued a dull, staring silence to his request. Finally, someone on one of the boats said, "Leave your things on shore and swim over." At this point I thought, "Why would anyone consider these indifferent, chic, boat-owning (renting?) saps to be friends!? Not one of those boat people offered him a float. But an altruistic thing transpired! A stranger on shore, seeing the young man's predicament, kindly offered his float so that the young man could join his "friends" without having to leave his possessions on shore unguarded.

The friend I was with did not notice what happened. When I described it to him, he wasn't struck by the lack of graciousness of the boat crowd. I didn't bother to explain.

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Oh, I don't want to go anywhere near "The Secret" territory, you may be sure!

The choice I'm talking about, of course, is the choice not to simply attack someone else out of anger, or to steal their food or money, simply because a primal part of me -- the reptilian brain? -- has been triggered & wants to do just that.

Though I can't deny some of what you say. Perhaps Freud was right: repression IS the price we pay for civilization.

I do wonder if the best explanation is an ever-shifting balance/uneasy relationship between selfishness & altruism. We've seen that very young children, too young to speak, can react in pained empathy if another is injured or frightened. And human success as a species owes as much to cooperation as competition.

But we do react more viscerally & immediately to what we call negative emotions & stimuli, don't we? This was a major point of Jerry Mander's in Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television & its follow-up, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations.

In many ways, that's easier. You don't have to think, you don't have to wrestle with nuance or ethics. Civilized behavior is hard work! Especially if your entire culture emphasizes & glorifies the exact opposite.

Kelvin, you offer a perfect example ... and the sting in the tail is your friend's failure to see anything wrong with their behavior.

Paul, I think you're right about how much framing is internalized without our being aware of it. And many people simply do not want to be made aware of it, either. It took me awhile to realize that, and longer to understand it. But ignorance is not only bliss, but freedom from responsibility, I guess.

Joe, I also get the distinct feeling that a lot of people can't wait for the collapse. That'll be true freedom from responsibility, won't it!

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Nocti said...

"progressive = altruistic (socially minded, nuanced, egalitarian) worldviews."

It's a matter of perspective. Nietzsche actually found such values (aside from "nuanced") to be regressive. I agree with him.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

Art Said:
"Sadly, it seems that making the wrong choices, over and over again, is what civilization is all about."

We learn from mistakes, yes?

I Wish to share..
I wrote a 10 page poetry style piece in 2009 entitled, "Messages from Einstein" I consider it intuitive. Written after one night of thoroughly honoring truth and Einstein for some reason, after a few hours of honoring, I realized it was the anniversary date of his death.

just a small bit...

We have a choice
About choosing whether or not to understand
Our true powers
And within that choice there is either
The illusion of freedom which is harmful
Or there is true freedom which is optimal.

6:05 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


I see, and agree with, your point about the "hard work" of choosing empathy and cooperation. I'm just not sure we should call that "civilized behavior". The HG native Americans in Jerry Mander's book most likely experienced the things that are most important (meaning, love and spirituality) even more so than Voltaire and Jefferson. When all is said and done, perhaps, civilization will be looked upon as an unfortunate (if necessary) stage in humanity's journey. From participation to separation to...who knows what? I better stop now before I sound like Richard Tarnas!

E.E. Heart,

"With every mistake we must surely be learning/ Still my guitar gently weeps" (George Harrison)
Earlier on this blog, I called myself a "cautious optimist". MB said that was fine, so long as the emphasis was on the first word. I've got my eyes open, but I'm not sure that what I'm learning is optimistic or not.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Tim,

I appreciate your eloquently stated views re: civilization. However, I'm less confident about the inherent "goodness" of civilization and "civilized" behavior due to a synergy of ideas that I experienced after reading Morris Berman's *Wandering God* and Derrick Jensen's *Culture of Make-Believe*. However, since you mentioned Freud's Civ book, you may sympathise with what I will say.

Both works thrust in the same direction in revealing the apodictic linkage between civilization and war. I won't restate the arguments. However, Jensen would be happy to thrust us back to a non-technological mode of sustainable behavior whereas Berman is pessimistic (probably sensibly so) about the likelihood of success of such a project.

I'm straddling the issue because, on the one hand, I love "high culture," the products of civilization, but, on the other, I am impressed by the evidence and arguments that Berman and Jensen make in their distinctive ways that persuade me that war and civilization are siamese twins and so, in that sense, Hobbes was correct to see the world as always in a state of war. 'Twasn't always so, according to Jensen and Berman.

I caution myself that Berman and Jensen should not be collapsed into saying the same thing because that would be a "regressively un-nuanced" thing to do (thank you Nocti).

I've been watching Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, and Glen Gould on Youtube. Chomsky made favorable remarks about religion insofar as it has historically inspired people on occasion to redress injustices. But then he added, "But then things don't come in neat packages," packing as much punch as possible in his understated way. So likewise with civilization. It doesn't come in neat packages. An appetite for nuance, negative capability, complexity are probably requisite when grappling with this one.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Thanks Morris, Susan, Joe and Tim and the others for your honest reactions. They help me reformulate, and be (I hope) clearer.

There are two groups of Americans (really, Westerners and Japanese) abroad. Call them A and B. There are functional as well as dysfunctional people in each group. Group A you might want to belong to. Group B not. It is not for me to judge what group any of us actually or potentially belongs to. Only you can honestly judge yourself.

The justifiably successful component of folks in Group A would excel anywhere, with any nationality or passport. Their helpful US passports are not absolutely necessary, and they add wisdom and grace to wherever they are. The less-vigorous Americans in Group A deserve better, but they do not become problems for whatever foreign society hosts them. They make the best of things and harm no one.

The unjustifiably successful people in Group B are only successful because they have exploited the possibilities of an American passport and all the extra agency and access that provides in the world. Otherwise they have nothing to recommend them – shady contractors, jingoists, child-kidnapping missionaries, philistine consumer hedonists, experience vampires. Less functionally, criminals, sex tourists, wannabe-artist lowlifes in expat lint traps around the world. Guys who dogpaddle lakes to “rescue” Burmese resistance leaders and instead get them 10 more years’ house arrest. The entire plot of Eat Pray Love.

Group B (potentially millions of us) represent injustice, as the whole world still lies open to them as a stage on which they have the access needed to act out. Similarly dysfunctional people with less powerful passports are contained within their home societies and do not become annoyances for the rest of the world.

Susan reported on Mexico; ...”I was thinking about relocating there but decided not to due to personal reasons.” Susan, I wish you every personal success at home or abroad. It strikes me though, that this largely “personal” focus on the self dominates most narratives of relocation. Might there be other factors equally valid - ex. the preferences of local communities that are the targets of our moves? Once there, does “causing no harm” to local societies while pursuing our own personal bliss suffice to land us in Group A? Do we make any appreciable net contribution (barring money) to whatever non-American human community we land in? Or are these places merely fresh new stage sets for our harmless but ultimately self-contained personal dramas of self-actualization?
A and B are indeed different, but are they really that different in essence? They are both based on the desire for as much choice, empowerment, and agency as possible. And there is a grey zone in between. Where do you stand?
Leaving myself, someday, I ask myself these questions all the time.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman and Ray,

Actually the personal situation I referred to has to do with my family here in the US and not anything to do with Mexico. This was vague b/c I didn't think anyone would be interested in my families' needs and it didn't really occur to me it would be misinterpreted. Our contribution to any community, whether it's the one we live in or one we move to, is based (I think) on our willingness to be a good neighbor, participate in the culture on their terms and not try to alter it by creating "home away from home"(ie, Starbucks and McDonald's everywhere)and keep all personal drama to a minimum. Eat, Pray,Love---I admit I haven't read it or seen the movie and I don't really want to----looks to the relentless self absorption for "fulfillment" that's promoted by Oprah, Wayne Dyer and the rest who pretend selfishness is a virtue. As Americans (or maybe just as human beings) we don't need any encouragement for that. Where do I stand? Well, I know I wouldn't move to Mexico or anywhere else just so I could have a maid or gardener so Group B doesn't seem to fit. But Group A? My neighbors would have to say if I'd added to or subtracted from the community as they would be the ones with impartial judgment. If they took up a collection to buy a bus ticket to send me back to where I came from, I guess we'd have the answer.

9:47 AM  
Anonymous Michael in the Bronx said...


"Might there be other factors equally valid - ex. the preferences of local communities that are the targets of our moves? Once there, does “causing no harm” to local societies while pursuing our own personal bliss suffice to land us in Group A?"

The difficult thing for me here, how does one know the preferences of the local community? How do you get an overview of what they are before you actually live there? I feel like I struggled with these questions constantly when I lived abroad in rural China for a couple years.
On the one hand, we had a fellow American who had no problems unabashedly asking her students why they always wore the same shirts (because they did not own any other shirts) or unpacking her Christmas gifts (new Bose headphones, new iPods, etc.) in front of students who didn't eat meat as youngsters because it was too expensive.
On the other hand, it was all too easy for the other Americans to engage in a who's-more-sensitive contest, when of course none of us really knew squat about the local wants and needs. It was a constant battle to avoid this.
At the end of the day, it seemed more the case that no matter what we did, we were not part of the local community and could not derail it by any actions, big or small. We could ruffle some feathers (aforementioned American sparked off a series of student protests after some imprudent comments re: Tibet), but ultimately, we were always seen as a foreign element that would not integrate, and so were treated nicely--often with tremendous hospitality--but with the understanding that we could never really affect the local life.
I never really did feel like I knew what to do to avoid patronizing or presumptive "understanding" on the one hand, and bull-in-China-shop flouting of local practices on the other.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Wow! I haven't visited this site for awhile, and just read through all the postings for "Tongue in Chic." It was like paddling a canoe around the next bend and then the next and then the next..etc. A lot of fun fellow philosophers, but as the autumn daylight shortens, I have to make my way back.

Let me start with "Eat, Pray, Love" Susan W. mentions in her post. I have not read the book. I have not seen the movie. The title alone has a Zen-like simplicity which would appeal to a reading audience who need the direct assurance of a curt aphorism. The same audience who need Oprah and Wayne Dyer, as Susan W. mentions.

And that told me enough about the book. The review of the film in "The New Yorker" mentions that the main character asks her spiritual teacher in Bali about "how to find balance in her relationships."

I don't know the answer her spiritual teacher gave, but given the commercialization of Bali, I am sure he came up with one because he would have been paid to do so.

If I knew Julia Roberts had at least picked up a stomach virus from eating in the Indonesian archipelago, I would go see the film. The effort to continue working while undergoing a degree of physical hardship is an admirable trait--and for me would give more meaning to the persona of her beautiful smile.

Where chic reigns, cliches are sure to follow. I lived and worked in Indonesia for ten years.
Alfred Jarry once said that "cliches are the armature of the absolute," and thus he does give recognition to their limited value. If you really do live in a foreign culture, nature and experience will force you to throw them up, and only then will glimpes of the absolute begin to appear.

(What applies to eating also applies to praying and loving.)

& so, to paddle homeward.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

I picked up about a week ago, 'Reenchantment', but could not find where I placed it in my house.. Lucky enough I then in my fav, used book store found a work of genius, in my opinion, and not at all outdated: 'Coming to our Senses', for just $5. Due to lack of time had to skip & pick and chose (though I will read it all in it's entirety a. s. a. p.). It was only about 2 mos ago when I first found out about Dr. B and w/Wandering God from the library. In C. T. O. S' I fully read the two chapters on Hitler and occult, The Twisted Cross and also, The Gesture of Balance. This turned out to be a liberating chapter, I even prior to getting to the part about "composition" in regards to the book, "Noise" by Jacques Attali, when during a break in reading the chapter, I mused a little thing about, what if we were all without status and living in happy little villages or wandering the lands of plenty, then we would not have the least bit to talk about (and wouldn't that be nice, actually). I tried to imagine that world and saw much color and beauty, a thought of singing and imitating the birds and cooing as doves entered my simple mind/heart. I began to read again & few minutes later was that part just mentioned and how, "composition' is really about the trust in direct experience. This chapter is what I have been longing for, it actually, finally gave me back to me. I have known these things all along and the books were tailor made for us. But really maybe not everyone is there yet, so our own experience brings us to fully identify & the chapter, The Gesture of Balance, fully explained so much of my own experience and how so many wonderful things have evolved from there, including this work of Coming to our Senses.

I especially wish to share w/ some of the last posts (in regards to U. S. citizens relocating out of country), and I have to say, that I am thankful to actually understand C.T.O.S' ' by Dr. Berman

"There is some sort of larger process operating that we can not directly apprehend, but that permeates our bodies and moves toward healing. Einstein's question remains the crucial one: Is the universe friendly? (What do you think?)"

6:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Just wanted to tell u all that I've spent the last few days in the Lake District in the UK, in a tiny village. Breathtaking, all of it. One local told me he was afraid the gov't wd turn it into a theme park. Another Yorkshire bloke I met said that the L.D. had a council that was dedicated to the place not changing--they controlled all attempts on the part of developers etc. to introduce 'progress' (what a joke that word is). So, absent the fact that the place is cold and overcast in Oct., I'm enjoying it. Went to house of John Ruskin 2 days ago ("There is no wealth but life"), that of Wordsworth in Grasmere yesterday. Today there will be a lecture in the local library on medieval woodcarving by a Mr. Wood (I kid u not). I cd retire here quite easily.

Oh, ran across something on altruism the other of a book by some anthropologist abt Neanderthals, whom she believes have gotten a bum rap. Stereotypes to the contrary, she says the archaeological evidence shows that they were a cooperative society, very much into group support. I have no idea if this is true, but I'm enjoying the image of cuddly Neanderthals.

OK, time to hit the trail again, and get back in time for the insights of Mr. Wood.

4:38 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

You're at my favorite place on earth and I'm sick with envy. About 8 years ago I went to England and stayed in Kessick for 3 days and walked out of town to see the stone circles. It is one of the most wonderful places I've ever been and want to return someday. When you get back you might want to check out the movie "Miss Potter" about Beatrix Potter. She used her royalties to buy up large sections of land in the Lake District and then deed them over for parks to stop developers. And there's a lot of gorgeous scenery too.

About relocating:

About 15 years ago affluent Californians moved to various towns in Montana after it was popularized by chic movie stars buying ranches there. They tried to "upgrade" the town with boutiques, coffee shops and other trendy stuff and didn't understand why they were greeted with hostility---after all, they were raising property values! To me, this is the perfect example of what happens (whether in the US or abroad) if a person doesn't treat the culture they enter with respect and the humility to realize they got along just fine without us and, if we plan to stay, it will take a long time for the locals to trust us. I think as Americans we tend to treat others as stage props in our quest for meaning, fulfillment or enlightenment---whatever you choose to call it.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Actually, I agree with you more than you might think. I'm painfully aware that I'm picking out the "good parts" of civilization, as if we can have them without their very dark shadow side as well; alas, it doesn't work that way, does it?

In fact, much of contemporary culture strikes me as having the worst of both worlds -- the dark shadow sides of both civilization & what is called "primitive" culture. In other words, self-centered children of all ages with access to high tech & unlimited sensation, but a humanity with all the depth of a puddle.

Mark, Susan,

I've no desire to see Eat, Pray, Love myself. One thing struck me when it came out, and that's the question of having to travle to Bali, with stops for every meal possible in Italy, in order to achieve some sort of insight. Why couldn't you strive for that right at home? Although in this case, "insight" undoubtedly equals "feeling good about myself."


Sounds as if you're having a lovely & fruitful trip. Please tell us more!

10:30 AM  
Anonymous REO Spudwagon said...

This may be interesting reading for everyone:

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Let me second Susan's recommendation of Miss Potter, a lovely film in so many ways. Speaking as someone who loves the Lake Poets, it really resonates with me!

And I certainly agree with her comments about property values being the end-all & be-all for so many people. I'm sure we've all seen distinctive neighborhoods, with charm & atmosphere, replaced by sterile, soulless buildings that justify their ugly existence in the name of property values. What IS this preoccupation with making even homes look like banks or hotel lobbies? (OK, the answer to that is sadly obvious.)


A fascinating article, one that confirms something I've felt for a long time now. The desire to blame everything on genetics has always seemed like an attempt to absolve one's self & one's society for any human responsibility toward others. It's the same reasoning that led to all psychological & emotional problems being regarded as strictly chemical problems, and the treating (silencing) of symptoms rather than delving into root causes.

Not to say that there are NO genetic reasons for some psychological illnesses. But I still believe RD Laing was right in saying that many emotional & psychological "diseases" are a sane response to an insane world -- that an inability to fit in may sometimes be a sign of intelligence & self-preservation, not insanity. Do any of us WANT to fit into what the mainstream defines as normal?

I see at the NY Times Opinion page, the discussion about the value of the humanities is still going on. The mere fact that the humanities have to be defended in the first place, especially on the basis of monetary value, is depressing. Not surprising, though.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

RE: anti-development in an English village

I just watched "The Age of Stupid", the climate change documentary you recommended recently. What do you make of the story about the wind-farm developer who tried to bring sustainable energy to a village in Cornwall? The villagers were concerned that the wind turbines would ruin their view; the "not in my backyard" attitude prevailed and the wind-farm was rejected. I can't say that I blame them, but future generations probably will.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...


Your question:

"Why couldn't you strive for that at home?"

There are many who wouldn't travel if they didn't have the reassurance that the MacThink they are accustomed to at home can also be found abroad. The book and the film ("Eat, Pray, Love") have a large audience, already accustomed to a flatland, convenience culture gone global. I have the feeling that the "heroine's" or narrator's spiritual longings are not much different from the ill-define yearnings that send one rummaging through the fridge to find "something" to eat or to the shopping mall on the weekend for "something" to buy.

If one's quest isn't much above that level, then going abroad would simply have the additional glamour of being exotic or diversionary, and there are still some in this economy for whom this would incur no palpable extra cost. Promoting this glamour is the job of popular media, and a"Gatsby-esque" sign of success the appeal of which endures even in hard times.

I recall a footnote from Robert Graves' "The White Goddess" read many years ago, in which he remarks that the word "travel" shares the same root as the French word for work (travail) and that the medieval Sufis recommended for spiritual practice "frequent travel," by which they meant not the standardized tourism of their own time (probably pilgrimages of some sort), and certainly not, by extension, those of our own.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Well, Dr. B,you're not missing anything back here on Fantasy Island. The political dialogue is truly breathtaking in its stupidity. No one talks about the wars, levels of poverty, the millions of people without healthcare, the environment, civil liberties or what is left of them, and America's lack of competitiveness in the world (save for weaponry). Instead, who is a witch and who said the word "whore" in the California governor contest gets top billing in the media. What a pathetic place to live in. But in the end I suppose it really doesn't matter who wins these elections. Both parties support continuous wars and simply front for Wall Street and major corporations. Still, one wishes there would be at one candidate running who could at least seriously define the challenges facing the country. Perhaps some do but they remain thoroughly on the margins.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I just ran across a quote from Oscar Wilde. Supposedly his last words were (as he looked around the room), "Either this wallpaper goes or I do." My kinda guy.

4:30 AM  
Anonymous REO Spudwagon said...


Rupert Sheldrake, among others, has been calling genes "over-rated" for at least a decade now. The Human Genome project has been one of those failures that everyone involved in has tried to keep low-key. IIRC, humans are genetically less complex than wheat or rice plants.

Whatever it is that shapes and motivates us, biology is a much smaller component than the scientific profession would like us to believe. I think R.D. Laing may be someone whose ideas may come back into favour within the mainstream.

One of the things that made me laugh recently was a blogger called "Heuristic England" who pointed out that behavior control drugs such as "Prozac", "Xanax" etc. always seem to contain the occultishly significant letters "X" and "Z" and look like words straight out of medieval grimoires. This is especially interesting when one considers that there are studies that indicate placebos given the same name are just as effective.....

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear Morris,

I posted yesterday but wasn't sure if it went through. didn't press the button again for fear of multiple posting. If it didn't get through please let me know so I can re-post it. Thanks.


7:28 AM  
Anonymous Michael in the Bronx said...

Re: Eat Pray Love,

"I'm not here to be happy. I'm here to get work done. What does happiness got to do with any of what I'm doing? F--- that. The problem with this culture is that it puts so much value on happiness. Happiness is for kids. Kids can be happy, not adults. Kids -- and yuppies."

-John Zorn

As a side note, I'm a musician who teaches ESL in the mornings as my day job. I teach at a school for international students, so it's mostly college- or grad-school-bound folks who come my way. Occasionally, a class will have one really standout student--really talkative, engaged, sharp, kind, friendly. They want to learn about the language for its own sake, not just to pass the TOEFL cause dad says they must. When we discuss plans for the future, about 75% of these then tell me:

"I studied finance, and my dream is to work on Wall Street."

Oh well.

7:43 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You summed it up beautifully, especially with that explanation of the roots of the word "travel." I'm reminded of Thoreau's famous line, "I have traveled much in Concord."

I'm also reminded of the scene in My Dinner With Andre, where Wally says, "Tell me, why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? I mean...I mean, is Mount Everest more 'real' than New York? I mean, isn't New York 'real'? I mean, you see, I think if you could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next door to this restaurant, I think it would just blow your brains out! I mean...I mean, isn't there just as much 'reality' to be perceived in the cigar store as there is on Mount Everest?"


So depressingly true. I'm sure you've noted O'Donnell's latest gaffe concerning separation of church & state -- "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?" It's amazing, in a way. You think they can't possibly get any dumber, and then they lower the bar yet another notch!

9:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I really can't remember. When yer on holiday in the Lake District, yer brain slowly turns into cottage cheese (small curd). Cd that be Sarah Palin's secret?


11:20 AM  
Anonymous E. E. Heart said...

I love him.

Truth lies in the paradoxes.

De Profundis

“ I wanted to eat of the fruit of all the trees in the garden of the world... And so, indeed, I went out, and so I lived. My only mistake was that I confined myself so exclusively to the trees of what seemed to me the sun-lit side of the garden, and shunned the other side for its shadow and its gloom.[2]

O. Wilde

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear friends,

But seriously...what about those wind turbines in the English countryside? Wordsworth doesn't seem to mention them in his poetry, but I'd like to hear your opinions on this issue.

On the one hand, beauty and tranquility are extremely important. And, I've seen wetlands and forests gobbled up in order to build more country clubs and Wal-Marts, all in the name of progress. I don't believe there's a technological fix to most of our problems.

But on the other hand, I don't think that all development is bad; isn't there such a thing as appropriate technology? If we're willing to fly off on jets for business and pleasure, shouldn't we be able to make some sacrifices concerning our aesthetic surroundings to make a positive impact on global warming? Or, is the trade-off too high a price for our souls?

1:04 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Love & agree with the Zorn quote!

Jungian writer James Hollis, and of course Viktor Frankl before him, agree that seeking happiness is what trips up so many people -- especially continual, unbroken, permanent happiness, which is the American obsession. As if that's even possible! They recommend finding (or at least striving to find) meaning rather than happiness, which is always fleeting. Wonderful when it happens, certainly, but inevitably fleeting.

So we have a culture that equates "feeling good about myself" with "understanding myself," with celebrating Ego rather than The Whole -- or conflating the two, I suppose. It's what turns Eastern religious ideas of transcending the Ego into "I [this specific individual] am God." The idea of working hard, making personal sacrifices, suffering to reach some sort of deeper understanding -- all that went out the window. So much easier to wallow in the wonderfulness of ME.

I recall a popular little book from some years back, The Lazy Man's Guide to Enlightenment, though I don't recall if it was satiric or serious. Still, the title alone is telling, isn't it!

2:41 PM  
Anonymous REO Spudwagon said...


The interesting thing about wind turbine developments, is that if you visit one, what you will generally find alongside the turbines is a nice, new asphalt access road for the maintenance vehicles.

Which suggests that the whole scenario hasn't been thought through. If we run out of cheap oil, and need to rely on renewables, how are we going to service and replace the huge gear mechanisms, turbine blades etc. if we don't have the vehicles/fuel to bus in the replacements?

I personally take the Kunstleresque line that windfarms are a final expression of techno-grandiosity than a genuinely viable future strategy.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Nocti said...

A bit off topic, again, but I don't know where else to ask: Morris, have you read Sam Harris's new book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values? If so, then a review of it from you would be of great interest. If not, then I hope that you plan to do so and to comment.

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Yes, the assumption behind all alternate energy proposals is that we'll be maintaining our current high level of energy use, and that we'll need even more of it in the future. The notion that there simply may not be enough to go around in the future, that we may all have to learn to do with much less energy overall, and adopt a more frugal lifestyle -- well, that's not even open for recognition, much less discussion.

If the idea is to find new ways of merely sustaining current consumerist culture, then all it amounts to is making ongoing, increasingly futile fixes to a machine destined to break down sooner rather than later.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Art said...


Thanks; what you said makes a lot of sense. Trouble is, Americans don't want to hear James Kunstler's call for "making other arrangements"; they want technological solutions. Perhaps the most appropriate response to the energy crisis isn't anger at the oil companies or politicians, but simply a profound sadness. The best "solution" may turn out to be unplugging as much as possible.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Just had to share this with you guys...excerpts from an article in the Huffingtion Post. This one seems like she may be more fun that Mrs. Palin. Maybe Sarah should pick her for a running mate. here goes:

WILMINGTON, Del. — Republican Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell of Delaware on Tuesday questioned whether the U.S. Constitution calls for a separation of church and state, appearing to disagree or not know that the First Amendment bars the government from establishing religion....

"Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" O'Donnell asked

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O'Donnell asked: "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"...

Good stuff, I know. These people are running for frickin' office. To make frickin' laws. Anyone have any doubt that the Empire is crumbling?

Dr. B, glad you're enjoying your trip.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Cj said...

Another great article by Glenn Greenwald:

12:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Why not turn Christine and Sarah into altern. energy sources, i.e. windmills? I like the idea of them spinning on a hilltop, blowin' in the wind. But it's all good, as people like to say: hopefully the Dems will take a good shellacking on Nov. 2, the GOP will retake both houses, Obama (one of the great clowns of modern American history) will have egg on face and lose in 2012, and the Yahoos and the Dolts will run the country into a ditch (ie rapidly, as opposed to slowly--the Tories are doing a fab job of this in England, BTW). Remember: when an empire is collapsing, bad is good. Why limp toward disaster when you can embrace it wholeheartedly?

Haven't read Sam Harris, but check out Tzvetan Todorov's 'In Defense of the Enlightenment,' which presents (I think) a very different view of the question.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Nicholas Colloff said...

My mother told me that as a child I never wanted anything. When Christmas came round, there was my brother with his list of wants and there was I leaving them puzzling over what to buy. Later I learnt the social convention of indicating what I wanted, mostly books, but it is true my appetites expand (and contract) according to my means (and never exceed them) and make very little point of checking in with 'what is 'in' or 'out' or 'shaken all about'.

This is rather relaxing (and I know I am deeply privileged in having always been employed at work I enjoy though not always with abundant remuneration). I have done absolutely nothing I know of to achieve this 'state'!

But reading the commentary here if I could only bottle and sell it I would make a killing - except why would I bother:-)

8:23 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


We'd probably all get lynched if you did; or perhaps sent to a Palin Correctional Facility for attitude adjustment.


5:33 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"What's hip today will soon become passe"

2:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this post is the best thing you have written. It hits the target dead center. You better believe all of life is high school. I could never see Hilary Clinton as anything but Senior Class President. This was a depressing discovery. In high school, I believed only high school was high school. The fact seems to be that just as we reach physical maturity at 16, we reach our top mental maturity at 16 also.
Now I think as social beings, we have an emotional need to feel accepted, respected, appreciated, valued. The opposite, disregard, indifference, rejection, condescension, scorn, are depressing.
Two important facts are involved. First, almost everything that earns us positive feedback is bullshit, fetishism of some kind. Whether a headhunter's tattoos, a yuppie's SUV, or a mathematician's proof. This must be true, because in reality, we are all of exactly equal value, able to see, hear, make love, and all natural functions.
The other crucial fact is that most people are not satisfied unless they have much more positive feedback than others, and are very happy to let others not have squat if it means more honors for #1 . In fact, they disregard others when they can, to increase the delta they enjoy. Most people are, in fact, simply sadistic. And the entire nightmare of history comes from this side of human nature.
And by the way, there is an Almighty Unchic Force, It is called Time, and it grinds every Cool Dude and Dudette into dust,
I don't know Spanish, but I hear Mana and Elefante on my iPod every day. "Justicia, Tierra y Libertad"
Fred Strohm

1:24 AM  
Blogger GeoT said...

Those who think industrial wind turbines represent progress are seriously mistaken. They are literally the tallest, most garish man-made objects in the countryside, they kill birds and bats, annoy people (and untold animals) with unnatural noise, and simply don't work very well due to wind's fickleness. They also can't exist or be maintained without fossil fuels, including for backup power when the wind fades.

People also have a poor understanding of how many it would take to make much difference. What you see now is only about 1/12th of what would be needed globally (up to 4 million large wind turbines on land and sea) which is an absurd level of industrialization for something claiming to save the planet. Natural aesthetics are already under siege with the current count. How did environmentalists reach a point where they chide people for wanting nice scenery?

Subsidies drive wind "farm" construction, often placing them in marginal wind areas where they barely spin. How such visible, ugly towers came to be called "green" is a topic for an entire book, and many have been written. "Green Illusions" (2012) is one of the better ones.

1:51 AM  

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