December 04, 2010

Papering Over the Void

Law professor Ronald Dworkin has a short note in the current (9 December 2010) issue of the New York Review of Books on the midterm election of November. Marveling at the American voters’ ability to self-destruct by handing the GOP a landslide victory, he points out that their real dissatisfaction with the government—articulated most energetically by the Tea Party folks—is the feeling that they are losing the country, and they are desperate to take it back. “All their lives,” he writes,

“they have assumed that their country is [sic] the most powerful, most prosperous, most democratic, economically and culturally the most influential—altogether the most envied and wonderful country in the world. They are coming slowly and painfully to realize that that is no longer true; they are angry and they want someone to blame.”

“Our requests and demands are more and more ignored in foreign capitals,” he goes on; “our vaunted military power suddenly seems inept: we are unable to win any war anywhere.”

All this was very interesting for me to read. In The Twilight of American Culture I argued that we were in a state of collapse and had no real future as a nation—a provocative, perhaps even aggressive notion at the time. Ten years later, this argument is, at least among American intellectuals, no longer that controversial. Indeed, it’s becoming a truism, and Dworkin represents nearly mainstream thinking on the subject. I just found it satisfying to see it in print, with no editorializing about it: the US is finished, and that’s just the way it is. History did not work out in our favor; what could be more obvious? Let’s call a spade a spade, and not try to put a positive spin on it, for chrissakes.

If this is now being articulated clearly among the intellectual class, it is nevertheless being felt subjectively by a great majority of American citizens, as Dworkin points out. Although objectively speaking, they cannot reverse the decline, they nevertheless are pissed as hell about it, and are lashing out in a futile attempt to reverse history. It’s a purely emotional reaction, without an ounce of intelligent reflection behind it; but then the latter has never been America’s strong suit.

Just coincidentally, while I was reading that issue of the NYRB, I was also reading the work of the Japanese philosopher Keiji Nishitani (or as the Japanese would write it, Nishitani Keiji). Nishitani wrote a book in 1949 called Nihirizumu (Nihilism), which was subsequently translated into English as The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism. In the postwar period, Nishitani was concerned about what he regarded as the emptiness of Japanese culture, and regarded the various manifestations of the latter as “mere shadows floating over the void.” Nishitani, who died in 1990, was of the Kyoto School, a city associated with medieval Japan and the world of craft, meditation, and religious traditions. The “centering” of the latter was giving way to the commercial chaos of Tokyo, the world of Sony and Mitsubishi and the economic frenzy of modern Japanese life. Nishitani felt Japan’s only hope was to recover its traditions (of course the Japanese paid no attention to this, and are now in a major economic tailspin); he did not feel that either the American or Soviet model could solve the problem at the core. He wrote:

“Today non-European powers like the United States and the Soviet Union are coming to the fore; in any event, they are the players who have stepped on to the stage of history to open up a new era. But neither ‘Americanism’ nor ‘communism’ is capable of overcoming the nihilism that the best thinkers of Europe confronted with anxiety, the abyss of nihility [sic] that opened up in the spiritual depths of the self and the world. For the time being they are managing to keep the abyss covered over, but eventually they will have to face it.”

As we all know, the USSR had to face it in 1989-90; the Leninism and Stalinism of the previous seventy-odd years were, in Nishitani’s words, “mere shadows floating over the void.” America, for various reasons, had a more impressive run: about 400 years, I would say, of doing something very similar, if with a different ideology. Its crackup began around 1971, and has proceeded in a much slower manner than that of the Soviet Union. But there is no papering it over any longer, as both Dworkin and the Tea Party understand (if in rather different ways). The hollowness that haunted us from the beginning is now terrifyingly present; the Void, like Mephistopheles, has come to collect its due. As in the case of the USSR, there is no stuffing it this time around, and Mr. Obama has proven to be representative of our emptiness, not a remedy for it. He’s nothing more than a logo, a guy who is all dressed up with no place to go.

So now Russia has become a kind of wasteland, governed by crony capitalism and KGB-style autocracy. Our own wasteland will probably take the form of crony capitalism and American Idol vapidity. Orwell in the one case, Huxley in the other, might be another way of putting it. But there is finally no hiding from the reality of all this. “The wasteland grows,” proclaimed Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra; “woe to whomever conceals wastelands!” Wise words, sure to be ignored by the American public and government alike.

©Morris Berman, 2010


Anonymous Dan said...

Seeing Obama in Afganistan yesterday talking the same crap about "taking the fight to the terrorists" while the US only produced 32,000 jobs in November was truly pathetic. Then to read some of the wikileaks cables which only reveals the US as the world bully was equally disconcerting. Well, why not be the world's bully? Afterall, the US has nothing in terms of ideals to export. A country would be mad to copy our economic, political, educational or judicial systems. So the only thing the US can and does with a furry export is war and weaponry. The 21st century as the American century? We'll be lucky to reach 2050 intact.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Robo said...

Like little children displeased with a worn out toy that no longer pleases us, we smash our nation to bits in anger and frustration.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Morocco Bama said...

Wow, I loves me some Nishitani. He resonates, and quite prescient. In fact, as prescient as Bakunin, I'd say.

Although, I'm not sure if you caught it, but did you notice he capitalized americanism, yet didn't afford the same treatment to communism? He did encase both in quotations, granted. A Freudian slip, or a Nishitani slight of hand? You be the judge.

I saw a documentary not too long ago, of which I cannot remember the name, that proffered the fact that many of the younger generations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have no knowledge of the dropping of the Atomic Bombs on the cities in which they reside. I wonder if this has anything to do with Sonyism and Mitsubishism? Really, I don't wander...I'm quite certain.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Don' ferget McDonalds and Burger King!


Probably the work of his translator, I would say; I have no idea what it was in the original Japanese. But even in English (as opposed to French and Spanish, say), 'Americanism' has to be capitalized because it refers to a country, whereas 'communism' can be left lower-case because it refers to a concept. In short, I wdn't read too much into it.


Keep in mind that Americans really *are* children. They 'think' emotionally, not analytically. If Iran takes a bunch of hostages (this in 1980), Americans don't say, "Well, what would we expect? We fucked up that country in 1953, deposed a popular leader and put a torturer on the throne, and then our gov't personnel lived high on the hog there in full view of the Iranians while they had to struggle to survive." No; Americans say: "Waahh! They took our people! How awful of them! Waahh!" For idiots and children, political events get personalized and emotionalized; there is no attempt (or ability) to understand historical events, or political process. (How many Americans today can tell you who John Foster Dulles was, e.g.?) So We're No. 1, and all those nasty people out there wanna hurt us! Waahh!

Read my new book, Douche Bag Nation.


11:59 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I just finished writing a play about the Kennedy marriage during the primary season and 1960 campaign and I'm still not sure if the public would recognize names like Humphrey, Stevenson, Symington, or even Johnson or Nixon. I even make references to the Vietnam war and Watergate and again I'm not sure if the general public knows anything about such seminal events. I already know the answer to that in the future. The elementary school I work in has been directed not to teach science or social studies. We are just to teach reading and math to prepare our students to take state assessment tests. Hey, no one can beat American young people in taking multiple choice tests!

12:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I recall some contest for new college grads, 2-3 yrs back, which I think was moderated by Jay Leno (but I'm not positive), in which the question was: What was Richard Nixon's nickname? The young woman to whom this was addressed probably had no idea who Nixon was, but in any case said, "I don't know." Jay (or whoever) said, "He was called 'Tricky Dick'." The young woman replied: "Well that's not very nice!"

So this is the level of political analysis which America's youth (and I'm sure she speaks for many) operates at: "That's not very nice."

As Edward R. Murrow used to say, Good night and good luck.


2:20 PM  
Blogger Chad In Chicago said...

Another great post.

I've been reading "A Question of Values" all week and I must thank you for another excellent analysis of this country's decline.

Unfortunately, with the exception of maybe one person I can't discuss your ideas with any of my friends (I'm 36). Honestly, they don't really know anything about history, they don't like to dwell on the "negative," and they look at you like you're crazy when you point out that this place has devolved into a farce.

It makes for a rather lonely existence. I can take some comfort in the fact that I have a good understanding of what is happening to us. I think it's best that I keep my mouth shut as well. When the shit hits the fan, the last thing my fellow countrymen will want to hear is that we did this to ourselves.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


True, but that's because they're dolts. Here are 3 things that might help you with regard to your situation.

1. Stick a post-it on yer mirror on which you've neatly printed the words, I'M LIVING AMONG MORONS.

2. Have a pile of business cards made up, with your phone # at the bottom, and above it, again in caps, the words: UNDER NO CONDITIONS WILL I TOLERATE HORSE MANURE. Give these out at parties, esp. to attractive women. (1 in 500 will phone u, but she'll be a keeper.)

3. Do what you can to find 1-2 like-minded souls in your area. (This may require an older crowd, but u never know.) Place ads for a US foreign policy discussion group, for example, or an empire-collapse group. Just having a group of 3 that meets 2x a month could make a big difference in your life.

4. Let us (the DAA42) all know how it turns out.


6:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I feel very alone these days....I'm the only person at work who supports Wikileaks and doesn't think the exposure of US misdeeds is a bad thing.

I also feel very scared...more so than any time in the past even though I know we've been going downhill for decades. The boot is literally on our throats these days...but most can't seem to feel it.

It seems that it should be so easy for us to fight back--as the old song goes, they have the power, but we have the numbers. How many of us sit at our keyboards and feel the call, but have no connection with others, or simply don't trust anybody...and why exactly is it that we are so alone, so isolated, that we don't have trusted friends and confidantes?

7:40 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out Olds and Schwartz, "The Lonely American," and at least you'll feel yer not alone in yer loneliness.

Americans are *supposed* to feel alone. The whole country is based on competition and extreme individualism, so what else wd one expect? Our expressions reflect this: "There is no free lunch," "Sink or swim," "Self-made man," "What's in it for me?", etc. The slogans of morons, in a word. It might help to take up some of the suggestions I made to Chad, above (only if u can't emigrate). But keep in mind that your fellow countrymen are not only out of it (would they condemn Daniel Ellsberg as well, if they even know who he is?), but actually callous and violent. I say this over and over again, but it's not hyperbole: this is who we are, and this is how we treat people. Plug "brooklyn hospital woman dies" into Google, see what comes up. In the Land of Ayn Rand, this sort of thing goes on every day. I'm telling u this in all seriousness: on a world scale, your co-workers and the people around you are not normal; they are emotionally disturbed.


8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


As MB has pointed out, it's really the state of the country and not you.

In general, US society is geared to lightweight "be happy" kinds of psychology when it is taking a break from acclimating people to blaming themselves (Who ate my cheese/Why you'e not successful bullshit etc..).

When this isn't in play and work hasn't exhausted you then there are a million messages about your need to kotow to authority - your doctor,the cop stopping you, increased "security" ie. surveillance cameras etc.. All of this teaches us we can't be trusted and shouldn't trust our insticts.

Try to get out of the country some and you'll see. Medical care is more accessible and friendly every where I've been outside the US.

I never, ever deal with cops or think about them outside of the States.

Try flying from one foreign country to another. You'll feel like you're taking a city bus ride (except friendlier and safer). No cavity searches required.

Keep reading.Dump the TV and as many electronic attachments as possible.

Find the fringes. You'll make new friends and find the world is loneliest in America. A lot of Europeans and Latinos live differently already. Best wishes.

El Juero

6:13 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

El Juero's pt is terribly impt, it seems to me: when u view the US from outside of the US, you begin to see its quality as a 'bubble' that contains only one reality and convinces its citizens that there *is* only one reality (which is, of course, the 'best'). In fact, the persuasion is so pervasive, and so subtle, that Americans aren't even aware it is going on; they just think what they see is 'reality', or the only reality worth having. But I lived in Canada for nearly 8 years and experienced a health care system that was quite effective, and cost me next to nothing for doctor's visits. Now I live in Mexico and abs. never think abt the police--they just aren't ubiquitous, waiting to swoop down on u w/a lot of anger, as tho speeding were a personal insult (I've been stopped twice in nearly 5 yrs, and the officers were polite to a fault--which I found kind of stunning). Other countries aren't drowning in this "be happy" psychology that is just a form of brainwashing, or have a system of surveillance that gets more intrusive w/each passing day (when I left Wash DC in 2006, my condo had just finished installing surveillance cameras in all the elevators--creepy as hell). But the stats are that 88% of Americans never leave the country, and thus buy into the 'best system in the world' propaganda. American capitalism has been the most effective system in the world for accumulating wealth, to be sure; but most of the accumulating is done by the top 1%--in fact, the top 0.1% apparently has the lion's share. The rest of us have to scramble, inasmuch as the Reaganite theory of 'trickling down' has been pretty much a myth. And the result of that kind of pressure is an endless undercurrent of anxiety about our lives, an anger that is always near the surface, a prison system stuffed to the gills (1 out of every 31 Americans are involved in it, in one way or another), an intake of antidepressants that represents 2/3 of the global mkt (while we are a mere 4.5% of the world's population), and a loneliness that is by now haunting, terrifying. These 'intangibles' never get factored into the meaningless GDP, or data on per capita income. I'm not an advocate of poverty, and Mexico is rife with it; but how is it that Mexico manages to place in the top 5 countries whenever there is a world happiness survey? Americans are hurting, scared, lonely, and continually mouthing the (inaccurate) slogan of 'We're No. 1'. This is such a strange, and sad, state of affairs.

Our only hope is that Americans wake up, but this simply isn't going to happen. There are a # of journalists and writers who have figured out that this whole thing is structural, and has been going on for a very long time now. I argue in my forthcoming book ("Capitalism and Its Discontents," which will be out next yr) that this particular way of arranging things is actually 400 yrs old, and Matt Taibbi, in "Griftopia," calls it 'the long con'. But who reads Matt, Chris Hedges, me, or a small handful of 'deviates'? A tiny minority. By now, outrage is beside the pt; all one can do is be rather philosophical abt it all, and just watch the train wreck inevitably unfold. (More below)

7:17 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Continuing on...

Since I quote from Nishitani in this post, let me quote him some more:

"The phenomenon of nihilism shows that our historical life has lost its ground as objective spirit, that the value system which supports this life has broken down, and that the entirety of social and historical life has loosened itself from its foundations. Nihilism is a sign of the collapse of the social order externally and of spiritual decay internally--and as such signifies a time of great upheaval. Viewed in this way, one might say that it is a general phenomenon that occurs from time to time in the course of history."

"As soon as the ground which has supported historical life both within and without begins to be perceived as something unreliable, an immense void begins to open up within history. Profound anxiety shakes the foundation of human being; and the more foundational the supporting ground had been, the greater the void and the deeper the anxiety. If the ground is an ultimate one--if it has to do with a goal for human existence, a direction for life, a doctrine on the meaning of existence, or any similarly basic metaphysical issue--then its loss ushers in an abyssal nihility [sic] at the basis of human history."

The American Dream, of course, is just such a metaphysic. What is happening to us now shd be abundantly clear. This is why I wrote "A Question of Values," because this is what it finally comes down to. But there is no redressing of our values going on; Goldman Sachs is now doing the same thing it was doing prior to Oct. 2008, only more aggressively; and the wo/man in the street is still operating under the belief that happiness is about getting ahead, having more money, or being important. Auden said that we wd rather be ruined than changed; so--we're being ruined.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We are fed a stream of one sided cartoon clips on domestic as well as foreign issues, told how we should be "engaged" and so on by the press etc..

A look behind the curtain on the recent foreign policy issue of North Korea. Watch these very nuanced discussions and in particular, the pics at the end of the Hecke talk:

The C-Span lecture by B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race


C-Span lecture by Stanford Professor Siegfried Hecke on NK nuclear facility. Hecke's a real authority and there only days before the latest incident.

....and come up with the conclusions of this guy - chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen on CNN. His only Cliff note on the subject seemed to be "North Korea - scary"

Stupid or just plain manipulative? In either case it's how we interact in the world at large. In many cases, I suspect these cartoon versions of reality serve corporate/military interests. I'm guessing there isn't much interest beyond that.

El Juero

9:13 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing out I lapsed into an Americentric are quite correct.

I'm originally from England and have backpacked through Europe extensively in my younger days so I am well aware of how things should be and could be--but I married a Yank and am now firmly enscounced in the US as of the last 30 years...

I would love to move back to Europe, but the love of my life won't I'm trying to figure out how to make the best of the coming ruins I will be living in. I'm sure my helplessness is shared by many here--you want to just shake some sense into people and make them open their eyes, but there is a realization you can't bring sight back to people with hollow eye sockets.

Is there any chance at all small, caring communities might rise out of the ashes?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Chad In Chicago said...

Thank you MB for the excellent advice. As for Random's comments, he made me think of something I had read recently in Chris Hedge's new book The Death of the Liberal Class:

"...all who speak in a moral voice, one tied to facts rather than illusions, will become freaks."

And I think that's where Random's at as well as myself. At my work I and one other person believe in what Wikileaks is doing. The rest think they are an enemy of the state. Similarly, most attribute the financial crisis of 2008 to individual homeowners, not the financial institutions who are really responsible. I've also been told that the real problem with the country is that we're supporting people who don't contribute to society (i.e. it's the poor's fault we're in the red, etc.).

So yes, being in the reality-based community is a lonely place. I guess the best thing to remember Random is that you're not alone, you are sane, and as MB points out it's the society itself that is abnormal.

(Also, for an excellent dissection of the lunacy of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, read chapter 2 of Matt Taibbi's Griftopia. The chapter is about Alan Greenspan, who Taibbi refers to as "The Biggest Asshole in the Universe."


1:24 PM  
Anonymous Unfeasibly Large Testicles said...


Maybe you should take some small comfort from the words of Peter Mandelson, the UK's most Machiavellian politician:

"People only start to take heed of your message once you get sick of delivering it."

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Nishitanai's eloquent attempt to inspire the post-bellum Japanese to renew their spiritual and cultural heritage may have failed, but there was, at least, a heritage to refer back to.

It is the most conscientious American citizen (not the most "American") who attempts the same, and may have more of a problem because there is less history, time-wise, to deal with. I think right now, off-hand, of Wendell Berry who published "Culture and Agriculture" in the mid-1970's, warning of the social, environmental, and economic hazards of food production "revolutionized" by agribusiness. As well as being a masterpiece of the prose style and idiom of American English, it depicts, without romanticization, the loss of the small farm in America. Berry does not have as much history to deal with as Nishitani, but the resources in the US were of a grander scale, and so too the subsequent plunder and exploitation


The following extract from an essay by Frijoth Schuon I perused for the first time last week aptly applies to the rage and confusion of the American electorate:

''...on the verge of every new fall, the order then existing then shows a maximum of abuse and corruption, so that the temptation to prefer an apparently clean error to an outwardly soiled truth is particularly strong...."

"Apparently clean errors" may be peddled by neo-fascists as the vortex widens.


I instantly soften when I come across an excellent prose style. It of course, does not always mean as much as the allure suggests. However, I do take Pascal's wager regarding an afterlife (or pari passu, reincarnation) and I do believe those whose mind's reverberate with the sound of well-expressed thoughts will have an advantage in crossing through the devachan (as well as an American shopping mall during holiday season, if circumstances force one there).

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this story, regarding the dramatic budget cuts at SUNY Albany campus, were mentioned in some other posts here:Here's the story at the NYT.

I spent very little time in Texas but I was surprised how few non-hispanics actually know Spanish there.

Now, as the article suggests, the Tejanos can focus on other idioms like Chinese & Arabic. Sorry to pick on the Lone Star state just LMAO at the concept.

El Juero

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

Dr. B,

as you said, all one can do is be rather philisophical abt it now. Musonius Rufus said that wealth and fame had no real value and that striving for such things, even a little bit, will never lead to happiness. I mentioned this to a group of colleagues the other day and they became rather angry with me. One told me I'm stupid and that only a stupid poor person like me would make the statement that wealth had no value. I'm not joking.

Once she got up from the lunch table and left, apparently incensed, another told me that it was naive to think what I said and that it's all of our ultimate goal to attain wealth and/or fame. He asked me what stupid self-help book I read it in, and when I told him it was actually an ancient Roman Stoic philosopher who said it, he said "see? It's all bullshit" and left as well.

Great post, by the way. El J, you are right about being on the outside and looking in, even briefly. Having the opportunity to speak with foreigners quite regularly, I also get their outside perspective, and it's pretty clear that we are the only ones who think we are No. 1. They also seemed to be very confused by our isolation and desire to be far away from other people unless we need to use them.

Speaking of police, I have had many bad experiences with them, and every time I have been pulled over for a routine traffic stop, I have felt like I'm close to being physically assaulted.

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Yes, apparently there is one thing only & only one thing: material success!

My wife & I have heard co-workers say things like:

"All liberal arts & humanities programs should be eliminated, even from high schools; they don't help you get a good job."

"I haven't read a single book since graduating from college; I'm not being tested any more, so what's the point?"

"I don't like movies that make you think."

As an experiment, watch CBS Sunday Morning all the way through sometime, keeping in mind what it was like a couple of decades back, when they had critics like John Leonard, features on classical music, stories about ordinary people, etc.

Without fail, every story is either hyping someone's new book/CD/movie, or else telling us how much something is worth. Whether it's about a particular painter, or writer, or scientist, it's always about how much money that person's work will make. Whether it has any intrinsic value, whether it's any good or not -- utterly beside the point.

I know, I know -- TV exists only to sell product & manipulate people -- who are also product.

"America is #1 in _____________" is the reflexive default of most Americans. Denying this is tantamount to heresy, and you're appropriately shunned.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

This is off topic, but I hope you'll reply:

Are your books from your consciousness trilogy available in ebook format?

I own all three in paper form, but they are well-used at this point (my copy of the first one is literally falling apart). Having ebook copies would be a great alternative (more searchable, portable and I can better preserve the paper copies).

Apple, Amazon and now Google all have ebook stores that, I believe, offer 70/30 splits with authors. If any of your works is out of print, this might be a worthwhile alternative for you and your readers.

(It looks like Coming to Our Senses is out-of-print. Why is that? That was the first one I bought; it was the one that made me get the other two.)

2:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Bill,

Thanks for your inquiry. Coming to Our Senses is actually available on Amazon; u just hafta look for it rather hard. (I think u can also click on the CTOS icon on this blog to get there.) However, it is also available from a distributor in Harrison NY, Book Clearing House. You can write them at, or phone them (I can dig the number up 4u if u want).

I have kept my books away from the e-bk format because I think it is destructive of the rdg process. The technology encourages one to scan, not to reflect. This is extensively discussed in articles by Christine Rosen, in "The Shallows," by Nicholas Carr, and a lot of other sources (e.g. Sven Birkerts, "The Gutenberg Elegies"). However, in future I might not have a choice; my contract for my next bk, "Capitalism and Its Discontents," has a clause abt e-format, and there was no way I cd get out of it.

In any case, u can get a used copy of the Reenchantment bk off Amazon pretty cheaply, I believe.

And thank u for being such a faithful reader, in any case...mb

3:21 PM  
Blogger Patrick D. Fitzgerald said...


Not surprising, I'm a Spanish teacher, and the middle school that feeds my high school has already sent French to the guillotine, and Spanish may be on the way to the quemadero.

Our school's response to our budget shortfalls is predictibly UnitedStatesian though, as 7 of 9 "student announcements" last week were in regards to fundraisers selling trash to the already poor taxpayers who fund our district in the first place. Thats 77% for those of you scoring at home. One announcement had to do with a student receiving a college scholarship, with no mention of why he earned it, but the dollar amount of the scholarship was of course impossible to miss.

3:55 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

FYI: CBS News has an opinion piece on the decline and fall of the American empire:

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am at one of the top public high schools in the U.S.(hard to believe), and now the admin. wants us to allow unlimited retakes for tests and quizzes. No child left behind, right? How is that for rigor? Here we are in an incredibly competitive world, and this is what we are doing, unbelievable...The Chinese and Germans are going to destroy us. We had a speaker, and the administration liked it goes. It's hard to be a teacher now. I think that this technology is really changing what a human being is or isn't. At 39, going to college without a computer, I feel ancient. The generational gap is growing every day...Dr. Berman, Thanks for saying what I felt to be true. I hate this kindle crap...I will never stop reading real books. Awful stuff.If you want to feel the future of America, go to a Costco. Huge lines of Americans buying a dozen bottles of ketchup...Music blaring, pizza and hotdogs for $1.50. I walked around, lost in my thoughts, almost getting run over by eager consumers. It was close to feeding time, you know. Lines consumers deep, huge boxes of pretzels and zip loc bags. I staggered out of that huge box..nauseating..."The Horror."

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Paul Emmons said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I'd be curious as to your response to the Wikileaks exposure of the challenges and increasingly regular ineffectiveness of American diplomacy these days. This is the predominant impression that it leaves with me, more than the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the objectives themselves. The State Department has the unenviable task of kissing a growing number of asses abroad, and with fewer cards in its hand (to mix metaphors), simply so that the people it serves might blithely continue living in the manner to which they have become accustomed. One senses that the game can't continue much longer. But it is left to the sources on Wikileaks to reveal the truth, because no high official in Washington will undertake the suicidal task of sharing it with an electorate who is certain to shoot the messenger.

What's your take?

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the education front -

Compare two of the leading stories in the NY Times over the last few days.

The massive cuts in the State University of New York at Albany (posted back a few) and today's front page article on the latest OECD scores for Math, Science and Reading.

The article is self-explanatory. Be sure to check out the multimedia file in the left column for the chart.

I'm guessing kids in Shanghai have more time to study than the kids here working on why Jesus had pet dinosaur type problems.......

El Juero

5:17 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

The void up here is growing quickly and we're running out of paper. Maybe we used too much printing those multicolored posters of Obama a couple of years ago and keeping up the flow of junk mail. The latest chapter is currently being played out in the tax cut drama and what could be a better metaphor for the US? The sullen extention of unemployment benefits for the desperate, a so-called tax holiday to reduce Social Security payments rather than increasing contributions by the wealthiest (the beginning of the defunding of the trust) and a big, fat gift to the greediest people on earth. You called it right ten years ago with the publication of TAC but the grim reality has taken some time to unfold. It's the Wasteland and there's no where to go from here. But no matter what, this will rarely be acknowledged as structural and the myth of "they hate us for our freedom" or "we have the best health care system in the world" or "we're bringing democracy to the oppressed" will continue nonstop. If you put it to music and piped it into Walmart as a subliminal message it couldn't be more effective.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, lots of gd documentation here that the US is in a state of permanent cranial rectitis. Honestly, all of it cd be used to make a very bad movie. As for the Wikileaks, I'm not sure I understand the fuss, because it seems to be abt how we called this or that diplomat a jackass. Nothing like Dan Ellsberg and the revelations re: Gulf of Tonkin etc.

I studied Russian for 2.5 yrs as an undergraduate. It was pretty rigorous; after the 1st yr I cd read Pravda w/o a dictionary. Daily headlines were kinda boring: "Millions Enslaved to Capitalism," or some variant thereof. I got rather tired of it. But maybe the repetition served some political goal, I'm not sure. What we need now in the US is a daily headline in every newspaper (those that are left) along the lines of, "Nation a Bad Joke, Caught Up in Self-Destructive Behavior with No End in Sight". Or perhaps, "Clowns in Charge, Things Getting Worse." Because that is the real story now; virtually everything that happens can be subsumed under these types of headlines. "Government Screws the People; the People Cheer"--etc.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Thanks for the CBS News link. The posted comments are especially interesting! And the fact that this argument actually appeared on a CBS News page is remarkable - I have noticed that the decline & fall of the American empire is no longer taboo in the mainstream media. Even if they're reporting it simply to refute it, they're still acknowledging it - something they wouldn't have done in the past.


"... unlimited retakes for tests and quizzes." I'm shaking my head, but I'm not at all surprised. You might check out Mark Slouka's new book, Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations. One of the things he deals with is the destruction of American education, particularly the arts & humanities, and the placing of monetary value (and nothing but) on what's taught. In short, treating students solely as future employees, not potentially whole human beings.


It may be that some of the Wikileaks fuss is that Wikileaks is doing the job that journalists have stopped doing. Or is it simply that someone not within The Inner Circle is daring to report anything at all - and that it isn't just the usual sycophantic court stenography?

8:29 AM  
Anonymous C. Ryan said...

I'm reminded of the Ghost Dance in the waning days of the Plains Indians. Following all these defeats, there will be a last, desperate surge of magical thinking. Hell, maybe the Tea Party is already it. In any case, this piece in Salon on the end of the American empire is quite provocative:

1:45 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

One thing I'm looking forward to is the frenzy of rage/stupidity we're going to see as the disintegration gathers momentum. What a sight that will be. I tell u, I can't wait to work on the Palin campaign.

5:18 PM  
Anonymous im Lukeman said...

I have to admit, I'm a bit frightened of seeing that frenzy of rage/stupidity up close. But it's bound to come. Frankly, I'm surprised we haven't seen it already, with so much free-floating anger & fear & desperation.

The country is a gasoline-soaked mountain of tinder, just waiting for a match.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

No, it's not here exactly yet. We are kinda like 1929-30 when the full weight of the Depression still hadn't hit. But I think when the Republicans are in full control of the House and when they take both houses in 2012 then the gloves will come off in full view. Then there will be no more unemployment insurance and drastic cutbacks in foodstamps. So this country will have millions of homeless, unemployed, hungry people wandering city streets begging for handouts while jobs are continually outsourced ( the real agenda behind tax cuts for the rich) and states reduced to selling their toll roads and bridges to foreign countries.
By the way, I know Obama is a joke, but still doesn't it get on your nerves to see him constantly telling the American people all the things he cannot do (public option, Guantanamo, DADT, etc.)? What President has even gone on TV to say what he can't do? Those who supported Hillary were right afterall: Obama is more poet than politician and has a deep dislike if not hatred for the Democratic base. Man, were we fooled!

11:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

The guy's a putz, man; an actual putz. In his own chic way, he's like Bush: nothing upstairs. Hopefully a one-term nonentity who will be remembered as a buffoon. Sarah, we need you!

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Yes, a putz indeed. After Obama the country will never go ethnic again. From then on it will be white bread all the way. To paraphrase something you said on an interview, Americans would sooner vote for a poontang natzi than vote for anyone not caucasian.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Nishitani felt Japan’s only hope was to recover its traditions (of course the Japanese paid no attention to this, and are now in a major economic tailspin)"

If you're getting this from the recent NY Times series, then I suggest you reconsider. As Eamonn Fingleton, Robert Locke, and others have pointed out, the Japanese are notoriously opaque about the workings of their economic system so they can keep gutting the American economy (think of it as an economic version of Muhammad Ali's "rope a dope" strategy). Fingleton and others have rebutted the NY Times articles:

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also find it hard to believe the Japan "lost decade" story when they have the most Michelin 3-Star restaurants (along with France) and when the country is the most concentrated source of revenue for luxury brands:

11:04 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

As someone who lived and worked in Japan for nearly 10 years I can tell you that there is no comparison with the US- Japan, even in economic hard times (which I didn't see much) is a far superior country than we are in almost any area. Here we have Chicago with almost 500 murders and Tokyo with 12 million people have about 20. And of course, the Japanese are the gold standard in manners. One story I feel is emblematic. I knew an owner of a hospital whose wife wanted him to add a new room to their home. He refused saying that to do so would make his neighbor feel bad. Can you imagine anyone in the US thinking that way?
As for education, we are truly the world's joke. I taught 10th grade at a mid-level high school. I entered the classroom after their math lesson. The equations I saw on the board was as if Einstein had taught the lesson. As the good doctor has said, go into any high school classroom in the US and the students are learning to divide a pizza. Hey, just between us-in their mind they didn't lose WW 2. They just decided to wage it economically. They won.

10:33 AM  

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