January 11, 2011

The Lure of Other Worlds

[Apologies to those of you who have already read this in A Question of Values. Sad to say, not everyone has bought the book (yet), so I thought I’d post this for the bookless among us.]

The essence of man is desire.


At one time or another, all of us ponder the notion of happiness–what it consists of, and how to achieve it. This is my own small contribution to this great question.

Let me start with two vignettes from Proust, in this case from A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs–“In the shadow of young girls in bloom”–the second volume of In Search of Lost Time (and rendered in English as Within a Budding Grove). The vignettes are but a few pages apart. Marcel has just seen the gaggle of the young girls in bloom, and there was one in particular who gave him a “smiling, sidelong glance, aimed from the centre of that inhuman world which enclosed the life of this little tribe, an inaccessible, unknown world wherein the idea of what I was could certainly never penetrate or find a place.” He goes on:

"From the depths of what universe did she discern me?
It would have been as difficult for me to say as, when
certain distinguishing features in a neighbouring planet
are made visible thanks to the telescope, it is to conclude
therefrom that human beings inhabit it, and that they can
see us, and to guess what ideas the sight of us can have
aroused in their minds."

This wonder over who she is, writes Proust, leads Marcel to think:

"And it was consequently her whole life that filled me
with desire; a sorrowful desire because I felt that it
was not to be fulfilled, but an exhilarating one because,
what had hitherto been my life having ceased of a
sudden to be my whole life, being no more now than
a small part of the space stretching out before me
which I was burning to cover and which was
composed of the lives of these girls, it offered me that
prolongation, that possible multiplication of oneself,
which is happiness."

So happiness is the possibility of entering another world, or another culture, which will lead to a multiplication of oneself–an extension to greater realms. Two pages later, Marcel ruminates on the role of the imagination in this process:

"To strip our pleasures of imagination is to reduce
them to their own dimensions, that is to say to
nothing....We need imagination, awakened by
the uncertainty of being unable to attain its object,
to create a goal which hides the other goal from us,
and by substituting for sensual pleasures the idea of
penetrating another life, prevents us from recognising
that pleasure, from tasting its true savour, from
restricting it to its own range."

By comparison, Proust imagines sitting before a plate of fish, and says that between us and the enjoyment of the flesh of that fish we need a certain intervention. We imagine sitting by the water with the rod in our hand, and see “the rippling eddy to whose surface come flashing...the bright gleam of flesh, the hint of a form, in the fluidity of a transparent and mobile azure.” The imagination thus moves in to replace the actual sensual experience (whether of savoring a woman or a fish). This, he seems to suggest, is the Other World that we wish to enter, that offers happiness–the enlargement of oneself.

I remember an ad that was popular in the 1960s–it could have been for aftershave, for all I know–showing an elegantly dressed man sitting at a table surrounded by classic Japanese wood-and-paper screens (shoji), on which was a Go set. The caption read something like: “He is at home in worlds most people don’t even know exist.” And I remember, as a young adult, identifying with that man, wanting to be him, wanting familiarity with unknown worlds–probably because I understood that this would extend my own world, and thus make me happier.

The notion that the imaginary does not substitute for the sensual, but is somehow fused with it, is a major motif in the work of the great Japanese writer Jun’ichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965). In Visions of Desire: Tanizaki’s Fictional Worlds, Ken Ito explores this in detail, showing how Tanizaki is able to create shimmering visions of other worlds–including the world of his childhood–which transcend the ordinary. As he puts it, “Tanizaki’s other worlds are realms limned by culturally determined erotic longing, where men find sensual and aesthetic satisfactions unavailable in the given world of modernizing Japan.”

In fact, in his early work, the West was the other world, the other culture, that Tanizaki found fascinating, and sought to enter. A bit later, he reversed himself, and made the lost traditional world of Japan, a world that was rapidly succumbing to modernization (i.e., Americanization), the culture that was alluring. After the War, Tanizaki came to a more integrated position, and broadened out to an examination of “the desire that underlies cultural aspiration” in general. He became, in short, both a brilliant psychologist and a brilliant storyteller, in a single stroke.

Tanizaki’s novels, says Ito, “brim with characters who labor to realize visions of sexual and cultural fulfillment in the exterior world.” Naomi, for example, is the story of a westernized Japanese woman who is the obsession of Joji, a Japanese man who cannot really distinguish between his yearning for her and his yearning for the West–at least, the West as it existed then in the popular Japanese imagination (powerful, sensual, and replete with all kinds of exotic possibilities). Similarly, in his description of his childhood, Tanizaki evokes “an ‘other world’ that transcends the ordinary,” a world of mystery, in which “sampling just a bit of squid, salty and slick, can be a revelation; the way to a noodle shop can lead through a scene straight out of a Hiroshige print; and a restaurant’s garden can take on the hazy luminosity of a ‘dream world’.” Treated in this way, even one’s own childhood can be exotic. As one Japanese writer put it, in a commentary on Tanizaki, “exoticism is an attempt to find something lacking within the self in an object or person that is foreign, strange, or distant. It can thus be defined as an outwardly projected act of self-recovery.”

(My own encounter with the fusion of sexuality and otherness occurred with my second sexual partner–I was lucky, I guess–who was half Native American. The sensation was something along the lines of, “Where have I been all my life?” For this went way beyond “getting laid”; it was an entrée into a world the existence of which I previously had no idea. Its dimensions seemed gigantic; I suddenly realized that Mystery was not just a concept, and that understood properly, the whole world could be experienced as erotic. Sad to say, that relationship didn’t last very long, and it was more than ten years before it happened to me again. C’est la vie.)

This definition of exoticism has a lot in common with Georges Batailles’ definition of eroticism, which he characterizes as a process where “man is everlastingly in search of an object outside himself but this object answers the innerness of the desire.” Of course, the real question is whether it does answer the innerness of desire. The French psychologist, Jacques Lacan (1901-81), believed it didn’t. For Lacan, these other worlds that we are reaching for, and the desire that impels us, are purely illusory. Lacan argued that the transference that occurs in the analytic situation is really to the knowledge that the patient thinks his or her analyst possesses. The analyst is the sujet supposé savoir, the subject who is supposedly in the know. But what Lacan occasionally hinted at, and what he actually demonstrated in his own life–in his consummate capacity as a charlatan–was that there was no hidden knowledge, no other world. As in the case of The Wizard of Oz, in which the various characters believe themselves to be incomplete (lacking a heart, a brain, etc.) and go off in search of the Wizard, who is supposedly going to make them whole, the journey ends when the “Wizard” turns out to be a nobody. He is just some little bald guy behind a screen, fiddling with levers and pulleys. The knowledge, the other world, was totally in the mind of the desirers. True fulfillment, true self-recovery, consists in grasping that the journey was completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, as Lacan well knew, very few people are willing to recognize this. For then the game would be up, and one would be faced with a very different, and much less dazzling, version of reality.

(I recall a joke in which a young American adventurer learns of some guru in the Himalayas who supposedly knows what life really is. He crosses the Atlantic, hitchhikes through Europe and Asia, climbs the Himalayas, and finally corners the guru, meditating in his cave. “Oh Swami!” he cries, “please tell me what life really is!” The guru, in an authoritative, high-pitched voice, points his finger toward the heavens and declares, “Life is a waterfall.” The young lad stares at him for a moment and finally says, with some anger, “That’s it? Life is a waterfall? I came all this way to hear that ‘life is a waterfall’?” The guru looks at him, a bit puzzled, and then says: “It isn’t?”)

What, then, would be this less dazzling version of reality, and how does it relate to the theme of other worlds? One pioneer in this area–one might well call him the grandfather of body work–was F.M. Alexander (1869-1955), an Australian actor who immigrated to England in 1904 and subsequently developed a technique of mind-body integration that bears his name. He had some very famous students, including Aldous Huxley, who immortalized him as a seer and visionary (as “James Miller”) in his novel, Eyeless in Gaza. Alexander was also in search of other worlds, and an expanded self, but in his hands (literally) these things took on a whole new meaning. For according to Alexander, it is precisely the refusal to indulge in desire, and to inhibit it instead, that opens up a new possibility. In his work with his clients, he sought to disrupt the well-worn grooves of habit and replace them with spontaneity. While not strictly ascetic, the lure here is that a much fuller life awaits one who does not act on impulse, but instead renounces it. This involves crossing a kind of watershed, of the kind I discuss in the final chapter of my book Coming to Our Senses, “The Two Faces of Creativity.” I call these Creativity II and Creativity III, the first being allied to the tormented genius theory, fueled by drama and conflict–Van Gogh, let’s say, or Sylvia Plath. The second is illustrated by the medieval craft tradition, or by much Eastern art, in which the work emerges out of serenity rather than emotional extremes. I point out that it is very hard for us westerners to get to Cr. III because the impulsive, passionate nature of Cr. II makes it seem so alive; and until you reach the other shore, the feeling is one of meaninglessness, loss of purpose. Those who study things such as the Alexander Technique, or emptiness meditation, eventually find themselves face to face with this “dark night of the soul.”

In The Compassionate Presence, Stephen Schwartz talks in similar terms, ones which are reminiscent of my discussion of creativity. The first type, he says, is ego-driven and conflict-based; it prods us into acting, doing. We remain ignorant of the awareness “that there is another kind of impetus besides the motivation of ‘should’ and ‘must’.” This other impetus arises out of trust, not pressure, whereas “ego suggests that no challenge will exist when we stop pushing our life into the ground.” However, if we let go of the old ways before we are ready for the new, Schwartz goes on to say, “a certain kind of forward-directed activity seems to cease.” The ego sees the resulting deflation as “proof” of its theory, that drivenness is the key to life.

“We find ourselves for a while in a kind of paralysis,” writes Schwartz. “This can feel like a barren place,” a place of no hope. It’s a half-way place. “We find ourselves [there] because a specific kind of certainty does not yet exist in full consciousness.” But eventually, another kind of impulse arises, one that is not the result of pushing and doubt. Proust (let alone the Buddha) would say that very few of us get there. In Tolstoy’s famous story of Ivan Ilych, the central character–Everyman, in a word–realizes only on his deathbed that his entire life was a waste of time.

This is where Alexander is relevant, for his teaching was designed to help people work through this “dark night of the soul” on a bodily level. It means putting yourself in physical postures that seem wrong only because you’ve been doing what’s wrong all your life. As in the case of Wilhelm Reich, the idea is to return to a “natural” body, one without tension, without the coercive ego structure of pushing and doubt. “If it feels wrong, leave it wrong,” Alexander used to tell his students. The entire process of the Alexander Technique is counterintuitive. In this case, the other world is an inner rather than an outer world, and as already noted, it is attained not through desire but through its inhibition. This has obvious connections with Buddhism or Taoism, and the classical Chinese notion of wu wei, or not-doing. The promise is that of a richer existence, a happiness borne not out of the multiplication of self, but out of the holding back of the self. As someone once said, Zen is the practice of manifesting oneself as emptiness. The paradox is that renunciation creates a sensation of fullness, of limitless horizons.

Similar conclusions were reached independently by the Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-80), who pioneered something called the Theory of Positive Disintegration. Dabrowski saw depression and anxiety as necessary for real growth, disintegrative processes that he regarded as positive because they were developmental. Crises, in other words, cause us to review ourselves, possibly redo ourselves, and to make new worlds as a result. One has to weather the darkness, which is not conceived of in negative terms. (Not easy!)

I have repeated this cycle of drivenness/surrender a number of times in my life, most recently in the wake of surgery that left me confined to my house for a few weeks. My doctor told me the following were off limits: spicy foods, fats, sugar, salt, soda pop, tobacco, coffee, too much food in general, sex, exercise, and driving anywhere. After three weeks of this, I was pretty much a basket case. It was as though all my “friends” had suddenly deserted me. I had no interest in doing any work; indeed, it felt like nothing would ever turn me on again. Finally, as Dabrowski says, one has no choice (in lieu of spiraling downward) but to trust the process, give it a positive “spin”. In time, with a little luck (or maybe it’s divine intervention, who knows), the outlines of the farther shore emerge, and one lives to write, and love, again.


Blogger diana said...

I had to stop reading this essay a few minutes in to go over to Amazon to purchase copies of a Question of Values and Twilight. I had been procrastinating. Don't know how to explain- but this is so relevant to issues I am dealing with right now.

Thanks for writing with such candor about issues that are so critical to helping some of us to navigate through these times that are frequently challenging to soul and psyche.

10:11 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

MB, I am delighted that you chose to share this particular essay on the blog. When I read it in the collection, I was struck with appreciation for your honesty in relating personal anecdotes in your expressions of ideas ("it" meaning this essay, but also similar instances in other essays.

This one jumped at me from the invocation; you had me from the Spinoza quote, which is a Westerner's version of the Second Noble Truth.

I love examples from Lacan, Reich, Bateson, and other Westerners who mirror the subjective science of the Buddha's observations and conclusions about the self, or lack thereof.

As the West drifted from Eros to Logos, science began to measure objects, reducing the world to pieces-parts, until it got stuck with what seemed to be located in our brains, consciousness. Alexander, Reich, and others showed it was all over the body, and nowhere.

If there is no essential self, then our identifying ourselves as our likes and dislikes is more illusion, and chasing our desires is ultimately the "waste of time" referenced.

On the other side of that dark night is freedom, not from desire, but from the identification with it. The dance between desire and object is not painful when there is no inside and outside of self, no ego to validate or defend.

Fortunately, even if it is true that few of us get from Proust's longing to the Buddha's realization, we can get glimpses from time to time. Sometimes it comes from disciplines like meditation, and contemplation and study, sometimes from retreats, vacations, and sabbaticals. And as you point out, sometimes it comes from unexpected breaks in our conceptual homeostasis: surprises that "stop our minds," and disasters or tragedies.

I love the line from Starman, where Jeff Bridges' character says, "You humans are at your best when things are at their worst."

10:20 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

With only 12% of Americans owning passports," the possibility of entering another world, or another culture, leading to a multiplication of oneself" is not something on America's horizon. So perhaps Lennon was right afterall, especially regarding the US-Happiness is a warm gun.
Regarding Americans finally realizing that they live in an "empire of illusion" (from the previous post), let's not underestimate the human capacity for self-delusion. Afterall, the Imperial Govt. of Japan was able to convince its citizens that going to bed hungry was patriotic and I did read recently where a North Korean personally thanked Kim Jung Il for executing his wife (though many American husbands would wish the same thing but we can reserve that for a later discussion).
Still, with gas prices expected to hit $5 a gallon in 2012, more unemployment (it's actually 22% now) and hyper-inflation about to hit Americans may finally come to the realization that from those heady days in 1776 they've been had.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Don' kid yerself: the American head is too far embedded in the American rectum for any kind of realization/extraction to be possible, now or in the future. In fact, Americans will react tow'd the govt like the guy who thanked Kim Jung Il. Stockholm Syndrome, I think it's called.

Re: yer figure of 22%: where did u get this? Mine is 18%, but it may be a bit dated.


6:40 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

22% is from Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetic Market Intelligence which polls for Investors' Business Daily and The Christian Science Monitor.Last July he found that 28% of 1000 households surveyed had at least one member unemployed which translates to over 22%.
PS. I don't think the employment rate has improved since July.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "lure of other worlds" (when Jesus returns) is of course precisely the message of the hugely popular Left Behind series of novels. Armageddon as "salvation" or the fruition of prophesy.

9:28 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Oh goodie! I can't wait to be "raptured"!! Whee!!!


9:41 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

What was that?! Here was a memorial service for those who died and are wounded in Arizona and audience, or should I say spectators were cheering wildly as if it were a basketball game. Great for the family survivors who were in attendance I'm sure.
Then the Great Healer spoke with words to reach the heavens."We are full of decency and goodness","let us expand our moral imaginations, sharpen our instincts with empathy",and, of course, "What matters most is how well we have loved." Meanwhile Bradley Manning endures 23 hours a day of isolation, renditions continue unabated, and drone attacks are part of daily life in God knows how many countries. It all goes to show that in order to be president you have to first prove that you are a certifiable social psychopath. Oh, and let's not forget his recent powers to assassinate Americans abroad and hold anyone in indefinite detention. But then again "what matters most is how well we have loved".

10:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Consider the audience he's playing to. It's a safe bet that 99% of the American public

1. Have no idea who Bradley Manning is
2. Have no idea what extraordinary rendition is
3. Would not be able to tell u what a predator drone strike is
4. Wdn't give a shit abt any of the above anyway, if they did know.

But when they hear Christian or New Age homilies, they get all worked up. I don't think u nec hafta be a sociopath to be pres (tho I'm sure it helps); but u do hafta know how to work the dolts.


11:18 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

I'm always intrigued by blogs like this one, which end up being an oasis from the delusion that is America (for those of us that are still in her midst), and the commenters that gather here, representing the small bastion of thinkers remaining.

Like Dan, I observed the spectacle in Arizona, where the POTUS delivered his oratory to the delusional and received wild applause and cheering reminiscent of a sporting event.

Nothing President Obama delivered last night remotely addresses the underlying root causes of the rot that's eating away at America's crumbling underpinnings.

Thanks for posting your essay. Eagerly awaiting the arrival of your new book so I can get at the others.

One more point about Arizona and the inane blather accompanying the shootings; every night across the country, large cities experience gun violence and shootings leading to death. Almost all of the victims are people of color, and the media by-and-large ignores these shootings. If Mr. Obama really cared about senseless violence instead of making speeches, he'd use his position to advocate for the kind of changes in policy that address the underlying cause of gun violence, including getting guns off the streets.

Instead, this president continues to take care of the wealthiest Americans and the "Grifter class" (from Matt Taibbi) that are looting the country of its remaining resources and selling off our assets at bargain basement prices to sovereign wealth funds in Abu Dhabi.

7:35 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You've touched on one of the major gaping wounds in American culture. Morris' eloquent & thought-provoking essay explores the dimension of life that most people ignore, dismiss, deride -- if they recognize it at all. They like the vague notion of it, of course, as long as it's confined to homilies, little more than Pavlovian cues. You might even call it the "two-minute 'love,'" after Orwell. It's what Reagan did so well ... the homespun phrases, the voice cracking slightly, the manly tear ... and no substance beneath the facade.

It's just as bad on the so-called "progressive" side of things, for the most part. Some people genuinely mean well, but in the end, it all seems to come down to politics, power, and money. The rest of it, while given obligatory nods from time to time, is just too touchy-feely, too ivory tower, etc., to be admitted into the conversation. We've got to be realistic & pragmatic, folks!

The thing is, most people are scared to death of what Morris is discussing here. Far from being fluffy-bunny philosophy, it demands a great deal of honesty -- and worse, openness & vulnerability, a willingness to go into dark places & be hurt. Even the rewards of such a life are threatening to most people, as they call into question all they've done (or haven't done) with their lives up to that point.

"How are we to live?" That's the most pressing question of our times, and the very one nobody wants to answer, much less ask.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

I just listened to "Alan Watts on American Culture" on Youtube. Watts must have been talking in the 70s? but what he says is no news here on this blog. But I love his beautifully modulated English voice and the paradox of his thesis: that America is NOT materialistic as its detractors insist. But I won't spoil the fun--check it out! Ah, nostalgia! Ageha [Bharati] fittingly canonized Watts.

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the employment rate has improved since July.

And even if it had, the quality of the jobs created, if any were, and the resulting remuneration are never discussed. All jobs are created equal when the propaganda ministers announce that X number of jobs have been created, when in fact, the jobs that are being created, if they are created at all, are ass-wipers and dingle berry pickers for the Elite.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing is, most people are scared to death of what Morris is discussing here.

I think it's not a matter of being scared to death for most people, it's a matter of them not having the capacity to even consider it. It's not on the radar because there is no radar nor the materials to fashion a radar. The thing about living in Plato's cave for too long, or your entire life, is that your eyes have adapted to that environment to the point that the eyes could never properly filter the true light, and so the cave dwelling prisoners will always only know the reflections on the wall. They must be "left behind."

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,


I watched the memorial service last night and was appalled at the tone, or rather, the lack of a consistent tone. It did seem half pep rally, half sermon--it was very strange. And a young couple that was frequently shown were probably the little girl's parents and looked genuinely grieved. His line of "what matters is how much we have loved", while certainly important, I thought was inappropriate within the context of his sermonette. What happened in Tuscon had nothing to do with "love" and everything to do with the glorification of revenge and the profound isolation of the mentally ill. It was the old bait and switch---we'll ignore the real issues that led to this tragedy and cheer ourselves up with homilies, vow to do better in the future and, under no circumstances, repeal the right to automatic weapons or face the fact there's no real compassion for people who are branded as "losers."

Creativity II is what Hollywood glorifies and sells as the only authentic creative process; a lot of people are probably discouraged from engaging in creative projects b/c they don't experience this manufactured drama. My Dad made simple furniture as a hobby and I remember him happily building bookshelves, desks, birdhouses that we use everyday and will always keep. They're functional, beautiful and he made them for us with his own hands. It would be good if more people would stop looking for blinding inspiration to create masterpieces and explore the rewards of crafts.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


This is why I think there are limits to the 'false consciousness' or 'manufactured consent' argument. On one level it's true; but I doubt that's the most important level. When Vance Packard wrote 'The Status Seekers,' Americans--who read the bk by the millions--didn't then say, 'My life is shallow; I'm going to pursue a life of depth and meaning.' No; they ran out and bought more cars and appliances, and many even wrote Packard asking him for tips on how to improve their status! When Janice Joplin ridiculed the American prayer for a Mercedes Benz, Americans didn't laugh with her; they tried to figure out how they could buy such a car. If you would approach them and say, 'You don't *really* want all that crap, or a Mercedes,' the answer wd be: Yes I do. There are, in a word, rather severe limits to the false consc. argument.


9:14 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You may be right as far as some people are concerned. I've asked people what they want from life, and it's usually a list of things: home, health insurance, financial security, etc. All of which are important, of course. But then I ask, "No, besides material things -- what do you want your life to mean?" And I often get a blank stare, because the question has no meaning for them.

Still, I've also had a number of people respond to that question with obvious discomfort. They clearly understand, on some level at least, that their frantic pursuit of The Good Life (as defined by money & things alone) is a way of not facing any deeper questions. I've been told point blank, "I don't want to talk about that sort of thing."

It's the same fear, I think, that makes so many easy prey for demagogues & simplistic religious hucksters of every stripe. Soma by any other name ...

9:19 AM  
Blogger Robo said...

The principal job of the US President is to embody or enunciate the national myth.

Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton filled the bill. Andrew Johnson, Harding, Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, poor old Jimmy Carter and both of the Bushes, not so much, although Carter has partly redeemed himself as an ex-president.

Last night Obama did his job well. He reiterated and reinforced the story line that most Americans are born to believe: that we are a noble nation of good people engaged in God's work, and this is always true in spite of any evidence to the contrary.

As a nation, we must never peer outside of our comfortable cave of imagery. To do so would be absolutely un-American. That's why we fear or externalize anyone who questions the accepted illusion or seeks to explore personal or political alternatives. To honestly examine our national origins and motivations would literally un-make the United States of America.

So, that Alexander guy was obviously an Anarchist. Proust was a Pinko. Tanizaki a Trotskyite and Schwartz & Spinoza were both Socialists. What else do I have to know?

And Professor Berman, your recent move to Mexico has nothing to do with any of this. Right?

1:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I tell ya, it was hard to leave, because I knew I wd miss the great conversations and the penetrating insight of my fellow countrymen. Their colossal intellects, and ability to see thru the national myth, was always a great inspiration to me. I suffer from this absence in my life, more than I can say.


3:34 PM  
Blogger Robo said...


Sorry if you were offended. I'll have to start using emoticons, I guess.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

No, no, I enjoyed it.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Robo said...


Thanks. You know, I live in the Rochester area, your old hometown, and Mexico is looking pretty good this time of year.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Actually, I'm freezing my ass down here, tho (thankfully) there's no snow.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I happened to re-read Paul Christensen's review of DAA and was struck by a reference to Dreiser's line that given the choice of 2 homes, Americans would always choose the unglier. This was contained in a book published in 1916 and nearly 100 years later it's obviously true. In every area Americans have picked the uglier of the 2. Whether its empire over republic, large scale poverty over egalitarianism, privately run health care over single payer,high cost higher education over affordable education (the elites made sure of this so as not to repeat the activism that so marked the 1960's), shlock entertainment over thoughtful art, and most apparently an isolated lifestyle over community and neighborhood.
But why, Dr. Berman? Why are Americans so inclined to choose crap over quality? It has to do more than just individualism taken to its extreme, doesn't it?

11:41 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I have asked people the same question, and received the same answers. Our culture does not encourage such thinking. There is no philosophy of life. Only acquisition, exploitation, and self-worship. People in this country wouldn't even understand what a philosopher would mean by "the good life". The good life to our countrymen is status, possessions, and the perception that one is better than others and others are therefore dispensable.

creativity II is a reflection of our instant-gratification and empty non-culture. What fraction of us would have the patience or character to spend years learning and perhaps even perfecting a craft? Many of the people I look up to are craftsman...furniture makers, martial artists, writers that have obviously spent the steady and un-sexy time developing their abilities. There is so much joy in small tasks when one is working towards such skill development. There is never happiness or tranquility in our culture because all it is designed for is property accumulation.

It is the highest sort of pleasure to be able to draw pleasure from small and hard-earned learnings and accomplishments. Try to explain that to anyone who tweets and updates a facebook page 7 or 8 times a day.

12:43 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...


They were so wondrously beautiful, those large blue butterflies that graced my childhood in Panama. Their wings sometimes spanned five inches and were irridescent in the tropical sunlight.

We boys had pop guns and one day one of the boys blew the wings off a "Royal Blue," our name for those butterflies, with his gun. I started crying and the boys turned against me and that's when I knew I was different and would have to pay for it. I was ostracised from their games and they teased me, calling me "cry baby." The cruel act was made crueller by the cackling glee of the boys as they huddled around the poor creature, half alive, its beautiful wings in tatters, now bare black frames.

So I would play by myself in the jungle around my house, following lonely trails, climbing trees, observing iguanas.

I grew up on military bases in the Panama Canal Zone. I now see how the violence around us--Vietman war, young soldiers being trained in the jungles of Panama for Vietnam--affected even the children.

2:57 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thank you for sharing that very personal story w/us. When my bk of poetry comes out (I'm hoping w/in a couple of mos.), you might be interested in the poem called "The Fish."


Gd question...Democracy has a lot of things to its credit, but one of its dark sides is shlock. I suspect that quality requires elites who are interested in quality...The Aristos, as John Fowles called it. This is one of the bright sides of feudal/hierarchical society: it cultivated such things. American democracy cultivates a kind of misplaced egalitarianism, whereby quality is branded "elitist." Such branding (i.e. stupidity) is, of itself, also shlock. (In this case e-quality = elimination of quality.) Remember that America had no feudal history; it was born bourgeois. This also meant no tradition of welfare, of helping others. We are living with all the consequences of this today.


8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB, I know what I am about to quote may exceed your informal space restriction, so if you could make an exception in this case, I would appreciate it because it is a gem worth sharing, and so perfectly pertinent to the discussion. It was lifted from T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. The book is a tedious tome, but all in all, it was worth the read for the few priceless gems such as this one. T.E. Lawrence has a dismissive, condescending, yet quite eloquently articulated, tone when discussing the culture and disposition of his Bedouin Comrades, but when I read his description I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction that there are many existences that stand in stark juxtaposition and contrast to the ugliness that is the American Dream. I have shown this quote to many over the years as a sort of Rorschach Test and it has been likened to reading Shakespeare to an Eggplant. The test failed because the recipients had no response, which I suppose, is a response in and of itself, so maybe not a failure, but rather validation for what we are discussing here. Without further adieu, here it is:

The common base of all the Semitic creeds, winners or losers, was the ever present idea of world-worthlessness. Their profound reaction from matter led them to preach bareness, renunciation, poverty; and the atmosphere of this invention stifled the minds of the desert pitilessly. A first knowledge of their sense of the purity of rarefaction was given me in early years, when we had ridden far out over the rolling plains of North Syria to a ruin of the Roman period which the Arabs believed was made by a prince of the border as a desert-palace for his queen. The clay of its building was said to have been kneaded for greater richness, not with water, but with the precious essential oils of flowers. My guides, sniffing the air like dogs, led me from crumbling room to room, saying, ‘This is jessamine, this violet, this rose.’”

“But at last Dahoum drew me: ‘Come and smell the very sweetest scent of all’, and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past. That slow breath had been born somewhere beyond the distant Euphrates and had dragged its way across many days and nights of dead grass, to its first obstacle, the man-made walls of our broken palace. About them it appeared to fret and linger, murmuring in baby-speech. ‘This,’ they told me, ’is the best; it has no taste.’ My Arabs were turning their backs on perfumes and luxuries to choose the things in which mankind had had no share or part.

9:35 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I'm sure you've noticed that even when many people have what they believe is everything, they still need more -- especially if a neighbor has a bigger/better/newer Something. Apparently it's not enough to have it all; you've got to have more than anyone else. You've got to be A Winner!


Oh, God, the ugliness! Why do today's nouveau riche want to live in houses that look like hotels or banks? Even their glittering gadgets are cheaply made & instantly disposable. Their very lives are sequential planned obsolescence.


A poignant & heartbreaking story. Does it strike anyone that American culture today is basically Lord of the Flies for adults? Well, technically they're adults, anyway.

Today's indicator of utter decline & moral collapse:

"MLK Jr. Would Be Supporter of Today's US Wars," says US Defense Dept Attorney


9:42 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I believe I read somewhere that Bush Jr., as a teenager, enjoyed blowing frogs up with firecrackers. Later, he graduated to "Shock and Awe."

As for MLK: "When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men."--from his book, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

I've had the interesting experience of occasionally introducing younger people to some of King's fiery denunciations of American materialism & exceptionalism, only to be accused of making it up & attempting to defame a great American.

More accurately, a greatly homogenized & blanderized American, almost lost beneath countless tranquilizing layers of maudlin bullshit, in order to turn him into safe, comforting, easily digestible product.

It's how someone like Glenn Beck can claim someone as radical as Tom Paine as one of his own.

Today's example:


10:16 AM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

Thank you for your kind words. I've never told that story to anyone so I was a little nervous after posting, especially revealing that I cried unashamedly in front of my comrades. Army brats don't do that! I'm certainly looking forward to *Counting Blessings* of which I consider this blog to be one.


You're psychic! We were assigned *Lord of the Flies* in the 8th grade and it contributed to an intoxicating intellectual awakening. Our teacher had us keep a journal about our reactions to the novel. My favorite character is Simon who flees the barbarity of his fellows and is unafraid of the jungle. Now that I think of it, my [de-]formative years defined my future reading list: Coming to Our Senses, Derrick Jensen, Wandering God, Herman Hesse, Alan Watts, etc.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Friends,

The ugliness of the American Dream is readily apparent in our built environment of strip malls and cul-de-sacs. St. Augustine, Florida (the country's oldest city) stands in stark contrast, in spite of tourist trap elements like gift shops and wax museums. Walking the narrow, pedestrian-only streets, surrounded by Spanish-style architecture, one feels part of an organic whole. Or, at least I do; most of the people I know actually feel more "at home" moving within the landscape built for the individual consumer. I guess it's difficult to think outside the box when you (literally) live in one.

3:03 PM  
Blogger abigail said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Well, count me as number 43 (except that by now you probably have at least 47 fans :)). I devoured Coming to Our Senses a little while ago, it put into words things that had been knocking around in my head for ages about humans' weird disconnect from our own lived experience as well as that of the rest of the beings on this earth (and the earth itself). I recently read a book by Clive Hamilton, _Requiem for a Species_, which, in a much sketchier way that yours, argues, in part, that the failure of environmentalism is grounded in humans' turning away from nature, seeing it as nothing more than material to exploit. So environmentalism has even been co-opted by a consumerist, economic growth paradigm, which cannot work to make any real changes in the way we live in this world. Your book, for me, opened up the historical and cultural framework of the tendency to deify economic growth over all.

Now I'm reading Dark Ages America (got it from the library, sorry!), and have ordered Wandering God and Question of Values (redeeming my consumer status). So I'm sort of immersing myself in both of your trilogies, albeit not in chronological order. While I tend to think the world's current, enormous problems, have more to do with humans as a species than Americans, I cannot say that your assessment of America is off base at all. Woe is me.

Anyway, count me as one of your readers/listeners.

thank you,

4:26 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Lorien,

Thanx for writing, and welcome to the DAA42 (or 43). Hey, the library is fine; I've long ago given up on writing as a means of support (I averaged 2.5 cents an hour as an income from it, since 1978, and I'm not kidding). As for corporate greenery: Al Gore has reputedly made over $100 million from his green corporate enterprises, and as for Thos Friedman: don't get me started! Hucksters, all.

Meanwhile, pls write in when the spirit moves u.


5:31 PM  
Blogger abigail said...

Thank you for the welcome!

But I'd add that even the "good" environmentalists (not the corporate shills) have fallen into the trap of thinking of the earth (and nonhumans) as nothing more than resources to be mined for human ends, and environmentalism as protecting those resources, just so that they can continue to be mined for human ends. This mindset, which has already had devastating results (including species loss that is off the charts), dooms the very cause of environmentalism. Maybe it's another vertical versus horizontal example (I keep trying to stuff it in that paradigm since reading CTOS), maybe it's just fighting anthropocentrism with more anthropocentrism. I don't know. Whatever, it is, the environmental news is at least as black as any political news there is.

Anyway, that's off topic of this particular post, which was beautiful, and put me in mind more of your CTOS phase than your DDA one. I can't wait to read Question of Values. I've now plowed through your blog too. I haven't been this energized about ideas since I left the dance world for the law (not the most wholesome move in the world). So thank you again for that!

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I just read the piece where Jeh C. Johnson, Defense Department's General Counsel, said that MLK would surely support America's efforts in Afganistan were he still alive. Perhaps Mr. Johnson needs to be reminded what King said on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church where he called the US "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today." But let's not be so serious. Aterall, a nearby casino is advertising "Martin Luther King Weekend Extravaganza!" and I quote:"3 winners selected every 15 minutes to grab as much slot play as possible inside the money machine! Catch the MLK Jr. slip and win double!" So I think it behooves us to reinterpret King's sturring words at the Lincoln Memorial:"I have a dream...for free slot play." Shoot me.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Hi Maury,

One passage in Dostoevsky's *The Idiot* that usually makes me weep is Marie's story. She's an impoverished waif who suffers the calamity of being impregnated by a passing, seductive stranger. The villagers' ostracize her and the children taunt and throw stones at her. Prince Myshkin, the Idiot, eventually persuades the children to have compassion for Marie.

Later, reading John Cowper Powys's *Autobiography*, I was struck by Powys's observation about his reaction reading Dostoevsky: having struggled with his own sadistic impulses, Powys found that he could not abide Dostoevsky because of the passages that stoked his, Powys's, sadism.
In my own case, one shameful, solitary pursuit was to drop ants into conical depressions formed by creatures that we called "doo-doo bugs." I'd watch, erotically stimulated, as the ant struggled uselessly to escape the conical trap at the bottom of which awaited death: the doo-doo bug would grab the tired ant with its pincers and pull it under.

I know this is dark, but it's more truthful and complicated [thank you Dr. Freud]. However, perhaps an appropriate meditation in the "dark" of Abhu Graib.

Even high culture grapples with this issue: Donatello's David, for example.

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

From Proust to F.M. Alexander, and Wilhelm Reich---and you make it all cohere!

Most of us, I think, if we put ourselves in a room with walls and ceiling covered with mirrors, so that we could observe ourselves from multiple angles, would probably emerge from the exercise
completely disoriented or narcissistic. Alexander came out with insights that apply to all humans, because he freed himself to see the hidden patterns of movement in the human body.

I went to my small town library to check out "Eyeless in Gaza" a first edition of which they had stored in the basement, because no one had checked it out for years. Will be interesting to compare Anglo-European pre WWII despair to that of our own. Huxley seems almost too literate, if that is possible, and quite a stylist.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Kelvin is speaking my language. Frontline just did a show about what is going on in Haiti now. This show confirmed my two essential truisms of human nature:
#1 People are selfish by nature, and don't really care about non-family. Most people are tired of Haiti, and not much help or attention is happening. Where is Anderson Cooper in his muscle t-shirts? I thought he really cared?? He even got misty-eyed a few times.
#2 Men (males) are brutal by nature. Without law, raping, murdering, and pillaging begins. Women in Haiti are getting raped all the time, and people are getting killed. This is unfortunately 'normal' human behavior during times of crisis. Dostoyevsky saw this truth, and didn't like what he saw.

On another lighter note, Henry Giroux is fantastic. I see that you (Dr. Berman) cited him. What is your impression of him? I like what he says about education. Also, what do you think about Gerald Celente?

9:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, you left for a while, came back, and are spouting the same stuff! Gee, what a surprise! I'd suggest having a look at Miriam Markowitz's review article (I think) in The Nation a few issues back, on altruism; but I appreciate that there is no way of getting thru 2u. Dostoyevsky had it all in 1860, quite obviously; why bother looking elsewhere?


11:57 AM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

I cannot speak for all men, but I am not brutal by nature. I have many men in my life that I love and respect and they aren't brutal by nature. Perhaps we are a little more aggressive (and physically stronger) than women, but to characterize us as inherently brutal is pretty broad. What about all of the good men? The ones who sacrifice for others? The ones who work hard to support families? What about all of the authors and artists and poets and clergy who have done so much good?

I know from your previous posts that your opinion of humanity is pretty poor,and living in America, I cannot say that it is easy to disagree with some of your points, but to completely disregard the good that so many people do is to disregard facts. Facts are what you often cite when attempting to show how bad it all is. Also, because I feel no need or desire to stomp on the feelings of others, or take from them or hurt them, and I am a man, I must be a rare exception to your rule. And I gotta tell ya, I'm pretty average, I think. I'm even called Joe.

9:53 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Every now and then I look for things to counter your argument that it's Game Over in the US. Well, surely the shooting of Ms. Griffiths and the killing of 9 year old Christina-Taylor Green can provide enough evidence that there really are decent and kind people in the US willing to do something about guns in the US. But you win again, Dr. Berman. Not only is there no chance any gun control legistlation will pass but Rep. King's idea of at least keeping firearms 1000ft. away from a member of Congress also has no traction. And of course we know why as best stated by a certain Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America. "(Politicians) need to remember that (gun) rights aren't given to us by them. They come from God. They are God-given rights." There you have it. Oh, an artical in the NY Times called Girl's Death Hits Home for Obama" says he was deeply affected by the killing of Christina since his own daughter, Sasha, is also 9. So Mr. President, I have an idea. Do Something!

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: The AZ events.

A young man's (how many others?) failing socially, educationally and is unemployable. No assistance getting MH services. He's got access to high tech, military weaponry though so he heads to the "Safeway" store.

The new House Speaker cries when he's imagining children, just can't pull away from a cocktail party when a real one's gunned down - w/ a colleague from his own institution. His district (as would other districts) thinks he's a pretty good guy to represent them in D.C..

A funeral "rally" to show "respect" to a family we'd be ok evicting, denying health care to or stopping for their papers if they looked too brown.

I saw "highlights" of the funeral "rally" which I thought lacked much solemnity or depth given what happened. You cld almost feel a rush to get to the Oprah moment.

The AZ Univ. students cheered it all on. What exactly were they cheering for?. Lotsa' text msg's to respond to & twittering to be done I'm sure.

Any doubts other promising kids won't get gunned down this year?

The US public seems irreparably distracted, incapable of focusing its attention or contemplating anything of depth for more than a minute.

Not enough duct tape in the world to keep this together.

El Juero

3:51 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

I tell ya, jus' when I think the US has scraped the bottom, and can't sink any further, it manages to show me I was wrong. Bryan McCoy, commander of 3rd Battalion
4th Marines, and the guy who arranged the phony media event of toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein in 2003, is quoted in the Jan. 10 New Yorker as saying (this en route to Baghdad in 2003), "My idea of a fair fight is clubbing baby harp seals." I think we need a whole research institute devoted to the question of how the US manages to produce people like this (and in large #s, I'm guessing).

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Apparently Bryan McCoy is BADASS EXTREME 24/7 GRRRRRRRR!!! Or he's trying to convince everyone (especially himself) that he is, anyway. God, I loathe that sort of thing, that puerile, one-dimensional model of manhood. (Or is "one-dimensional" being too generous?)

Ah, El Juero, "the Oprah moment" ... you nailed it, my friend. Everything of any emotional import is immediately processed like Velveeta cheese by the media & the one-dimensional (there's that phrase again) template of reality that we're all supposed to live by these days. The mawkish sentiment, the uplift at the end -- "dynamic solutions," MB? -- the assurance that everything's all right now & there's nothing to worry about, we're all one big happy homogenized melting pot of sentimental goop.

Both positive & negative emotions are paper-thin caricatures today. Don't try to express genuine feeling, in all its complexity & depth & troublesomeness -- you're supposed to move forward, find closure, get with the program. Hey, there's a new iPhone app!

Don't forget, we're Number One!

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

RE: We're Number One!

I saw Princeton professor, Cornel West, on a couple of talk shows last night. In the first, he said: "Tenderness is what love looks like in private; justice is what it looks like in public." In the other, he talked about America's "spiritual malnutrition and moral constipation". Gotta love the guy.

One of the shows was a panel discussion about America's future; almost everyone started with the assumption that we *were* the greatest nation in the world--the only question was how to regain that greatness. Only Cornel West asked if we were ever great to begin with. For the rest, the message was clear: plow forward!

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

T. Lukeman:
Velveeta cheese.

That's a great metaphor for the emotional state of the country.
It really should be more than ok to sit with the tragedy and say, at length even, just how f'd up something like the Tucson shooting was. Leave it at that to meditate on.

I'm afraid,that wonderful kid's not going to be there in the mornings and everyday may now be a struggle for the congresswoman as well as everyone else.

But it's all done now, like a worn out tv crime drama. We're likely to see reruns and spin-offs.

I saw that same panel with Prof. West. Great example. I love West too.Everyone but West (and the Latina organizer) just wanted to move on to the Velveeta.
Nothing I want to get away from quicker than "innovative" or "dynamic" people. Almost always the "autocracy" talked about by Hedges etc..

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I came across this quote from My Dinner With Andre today, as I prepare to watch it again this weekend:

Andre: "They've built their own prison, so they exist a state of schizophrenia. They're both guards and prisoners and as a result they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they've made, or to even see it as a prison."

And if someone like Cornel West says otherwise, he's dismissed with a condescending chuckle at best, an infuriated sneer at worst.

Everyone's got to be a winner, don't they? At anything & everything! "Gotta beat you to the next stop light, gotta cut you off in the supermarket line, gotta shut the elevator door in your face before you reach it!" Life as a whole is a crumbling wasteland, particularly inner life -- but you can be a winner!

I'll be retiring later this year. When asked how I'll fill my time, I say that I'll be reading a lot of the classics I've always wanted to read, I'll be making art ... at which point their eyes either glaze over, or they say something like, "What good is that?!?" Because no normal person could possibly enjoy doing things like that, of course.

6:35 PM  
Blogger diana said...

There was a piece in Huffpost recently by Rebecca Walker asking if Lego is sending the wrong message to kids by offering Prisoner Transport Vehicles, Tribunal Sets and other crime and prison related toys. The transport vehicle comes complete with a prisoner, police officer and gated windows. In the Tribunal set guards caught raping and abusive juvenile prisoners were held accountable for their actions. After reading the article I decided to look through the comments. Well, that was a shock. I stopped after the 5th or so. couldn't continue. These people all thought Walker was just plain old lame for even raising the issue since kids did not care one way or the other about the prison industrial complex or torture. Apparently this is quite normal fare for most people raising kids in America.

I guess for as long as the military allows so many to go abroad to legally practice the violence learned from lego, Hollywood and other toy companies all is well in the land.

To quote Gil Scott Heron: This is a violent civilization.. if civilization's where I'm at...

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

So how is Mr. McCoy any different from a habidasher from Missouri who can drop 2 atomic bombs and say he never lost a moments sleep. Or a community organizer from South Chicago who can launch drones on wedding parties? Power, as Lord Acton said, corrupts and especially if one does not have any moral training, corrupts absolutely ( to complete the Acton quote). Anyway, the marines are only interested in creating killing machines devoid of any human feelings. Hey, this past year a person who ran on the field during a Phillies game was tasered and the crowd went deleriously happy. I am reminded from that line from Hannah and Her Sisters when the Max Von Sedow character says that everyone asks how the Holocaust could happen. But he says that's not the real question. The real question is why doesn't it happen everyday. Of course it does happen everyday but it's very subtle, he also adds.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Ever see "Little Miss Sunshine"? Now might be a gd time.


9:50 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...


I think your retirement plans sound pretty damn cool. I get the same responses when I tell people what I do for fun, when they pretend to care and ask me. I once told someone about being interested in writing and making art, and her response was something like "why waste your time doing something that has no return?". She only summed up the feelings of 99% of Americans.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


Thanks for alerting us to that Huffpost article. I was appalled, but not surprised, I'm sorry to say.

At first I thought of my own boyhood, when we could get toys of Goldfinger's lair & the like. But this is different, isn't it? Goldfinger was clearly a fantasy, even to a small boy. But these prison toys reflect reality; indeed, to some extent, I believe they help create & sustain the current reality. It's a sick fantasy AS reality.

And look at all those MSNBC weekend shows set inside prisons, and all the true crime shows, and the endless CSI franchises & knock-offs. Everything's devoted to proving (a) the world is full of terrifying scum, and (b) we have to harshly punish anyone who even remotely resembles that scum -- including those who speak out against such a worldview.


Remember at the beginning of the Iraq war? A common phrase was, "Nuke their ass & take their gas." And let's not forget the ever-popular, "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran ..."


"Little Miss Sunshine" is definitely in order for tonight!

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


I've gotten that response, nearly word for word, more than once myself.

It does make me wonder ... if people can only measure success or happiness by money, how do they feel pleasure? I mean real pleasure, satisfaction, the joy of being immersed in soemthing fulfilling & enriching?

You know yourself how life opens up & we feel larger somehow, more in tune with existence, when we write a poem, or make a drawing, or execute a perfect pirouette, etc. There's this sense of rightness, of things being in balance, of having made meaning -- perhaps even beauty & truth -- in the midst of the seemingly mundane & random.

It's the same when any work of art, or some previously unseen or unknown experience or fact, strikes us with its undeniable, complete-unto-itself being. A piece of music, knowledge about some mystery of nature, an unexpected kindness -- these things invite us to become more than what we were. Not only is our outer world enlarged, so is our inner world.

How do people live without experiencing this? Without wanting it?

12:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


2 possible answers:

1. You don't miss what you never knew

2. You collect lots of psychosomatic illnesses


5:30 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Tim, Prof B: Perhaps here is another answer beyond the 2 observed (by Prof B). After the experience one asks a now common modern question - how can I package this experience and sell it?

Having the cha-ching winner experience is a real barrier/challenge to the real experience you reference. As we see the would be geniuses(?) of the society have glutted to wall street instead of being true w/o the how-much-can-I-make question.

Understanding how that question got so much leverage (among certain cultures first), and if it can be undone, is my current contemplation. Wandering God is my current book but to speak to that question directly I wouldn't mind anyone's suggestion to other texts.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


There is a fair amt of lit on the co-optation of the craft tradition; for the opposite, I think the work of Lewis Hyde might be relevant. Note also the conclusion of Proust's work: at the very end Marcel discovers that the two "ways," Swann's (the way of art) and the Guermantes' (the way of money and the aristocracy), literally meet, in Combray--end of innocence, so to speak.


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


well stated, my friend. I think both of Dr. Berman's possible definitions are on point, and it's a little of both. In our consumer society, there is little need for balance or truth. There is only need for consumption, accumulation, and subsequently, exploitation. I thought I was strange and felt out of place for most of my life, and a part of it I think was that I could become immersed in a work of art or a book and be moved by it. I thought I was the crazy one! What an empty life our countrymen live, and try to fill it with junk. Imagine, Tim, how something you create fills you up like no techno-garbage or expensive bauble can.
I had an instructor in college tell me that "Epictetus won't make you affluent or successful, so stop wasting your time with him". Word for word. If the moron only read any Epictetus, he'd know how ironic his advice was.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Neb said...

Prof B, my sincere thanks, looks like a sizeable stack. Others that may give their thoughts on this, thanks in advance.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Some of you have been describing American attitudes that you have been noticing. Sometimes it helps to see people out of their normal environment, where things really stand out. My wife and I taught at Kuwait University for many years, so I offer you the following true story:

A newly arrived neighbor at University Housing in Kuwait was a middle aged Teacher from California named Dorothy. She was already grumbling about everything she saw in Kuwait, and I could never figure out why she ever left California. Anyway, I enjoy helping people, so I took her to a big Co-op supermarket to show her around. Every neighborhood in Kuwait has a co-op supermarket which has a bunch of attached shops unlike anything found in the US, and we went into one where they sell various kinds of cooked beans from giant pots where they keep them simmering. All these bean shops are run by little guys from Central Asia who speak no English, and like most people in that part of the world, they are very friendly. When the guy offered Dorothy a taste of cooked seasoned chick peas, she acted as though he was trying to poison her. I said, "Try it. It's garbanzos -- you know what they are, don't you?" She said, "No, I've never heard of it." To which I replied, "You're from California and you've never heard of garbanzos?? -- Anyway, try it. You won’t like it, but try it anyway so you don’t insult this man who is being very nice to you!" She tried it and said, "You're right, I don’t like it!" At that point I suddenly realized a great truth that I had never been able to articulate before. I said, "Dorothy, of course you don’t like it! You can’t like it -- you're an American and you've never seen it advertised on television! Americans can't like anything they haven’t seen advertised on television!" And my dear friends, that is very shocking, and that is the truth!

Not only can you not miss what you don't know – It seems that most Americans can't miss what they haven't seen advertised.

David Rosen

9:20 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You'll love this.

Over the past year & a half, I've entered a few pieces of collage in local juried art shows, and been selected for 3 of them at this point. In addition, I've also donated a couple of pieces to local fundraising art auctions, and had the pleasure of seeing people bid on them. Very nice, very gratifying. Who wouldn't be happy to see that others like one's work, after all?

But once that happened, some people who had previously scoffed at my making art, have now become rather enthused about it -- "Hey, maybe you can make some money at this stuff!"

Don't get me wrong. It would be delightful to earn a little extra money doing something that I genuinely love doing. I'm just amused & saddened by this change in perception -- money validates everything, I guess.


It's been said that modern Americans don't feel quite real unless they've been on TV, hence their willingness to suffer any humiliation for their 15 seconds of screen time. That must extend to anything else in the world, too. Love your story!

Meanwhile, check out David Brooks' lament & testimonial for the departure of Joe Lieberman:


Man, they closed down the comments section pretty quickly!

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

*Wandering God* affirmatively answers the question, "Are humans inherently good?" Hunter-gatherers lived sustainably and aesthetically off their land bases. War did not exist although aggression did, as it always will do.

War, oppressive hierarchies, mental illnesses, over-population, environmental ruin are the prices we pay for Civilization. Is it worth it? Do we now have the luxury to ask that question or will it be decided for us by the Earth, fed up with our filth, mercifully killing us off?

When one takes this synoptic view of life on Earth now, one is disturbed by its Manichaeism. Is it really black and white? Civilization, evil, hunter-gatherer bands, good? If environmental destruction proceeds apace we will one day be unable to live on the planet. What's causing environmental destruction is Civilization. But must one get rid of ALL Civilization, as Derrick Jensen suggests?

I still wrestle with this question: Can we now get rid of Civilization and will it ever be sustainable? But perhaps I'm wasting my time as I see some intelligent realist gently smiling at me and pointing out that it's really too late. Civilization is here to stay (even if it is transformed dialectically into our collective necropolis) and the U.S. will further cranially-rectally impact, if that's possible as recent events seem to suggest that it is.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Maury and Neb:

The craft tradition was also coopted by artists who saw themselves as individual (non-guild members) geniuses; in a word, the Cult of Genius. Michaelangelo died very rich.

Also, artistic "innocence" has ever colluded with money and power. I love Richard Strauss whose being famous and financially successful does not detract from his musical craft and genius.

But again, the dialectic of innovation and tradition ought to be interesting to trace in the history of artistic creation.

So, Neb, I'd suggest Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) as a response to your question.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I don't think I was saying that human beings are inherently good; I'm not sure they are inherently anything, beyond having a self/other issue (=fear) that goes back a very long ways. What HG society did was not exacerbate that issue; this through population control (including infanticide), homogeneity of population, so-called levelling mechanisms, etc. The problem with civilization is that it does exacerbate that issue: increasing population density, hierarchical politics, food storage, and eventually sedentism and agriculture. I wrote WG to solve the question, "Is the human race inherently flawed?" (which is not the same issue as gd or bad); the answer is Yes, but not severely. It's civ that eventually makes it severe.

And since civ is here to stay for the foreseeable future--unless a global catastrophe brings the pop. down from 7 billion to abt 5 million (estimated world pop. on eve of the Neolithic)--the real question becomes, What type of civ? They aren't all equivalent. I'd rather live in Denmark than the US, the US rather than the Third Reich, etc.


6:28 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Dear Maury,

Thank you for your clarification as it helps me see how CTOS segues into WG. The phrase "The Basic Fault" seems to suggest that this fear of other is basic or inherent in humans but that some cultures can negotiate the divide more successfully than others.

Anyway, why did hunter-gatherers settle down and become farmers and start civilizations? Were some of them cranially-rectally impacted?

BTW, European corporations are just as unprincipled and rapacious in dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands to mine, deforestate, and civilize as American ones are. Derrick Jensen names the European corporations involved in deforestation in *Strangely Like War*. Not pretty.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


A # of factors, but pop. pressure is at top of the list. The mystery of planting was known long before sedentism actually occurred.


9:44 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

It seems to me for any civilization to work it has to be grounded in reality. HG had to face it b/c they lived closely with each other and dealt with nature directly. We're so insulated from that reality and the consequences of being wasteful of resources, violent or neglectful of those we live in contact with and largely ignore the impact of day to day decisions. It doesn't sound like our ancestors had this luxury.

There's a good article on Truthout: Conflict, Fantasy and Frances Fox Piven in American Life that you might find interesting.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Strictly speaking, HGs were a society (or societies), not a civ. A civ is vertically structured (politics, religion), and almost by definition is out of touch with reality. To work, a lot of people have to believe a lot of b.s., including such notions as religion and the idea that the vertical political order reflects the "natural" order of things. This is why they all eventually collapse, because they are inherently unstable. Unless violated by civs, HG societies can go on for millennia.

The b.s. crisis is usually concomitant with an economic crisis (this is where Toynbee, Spengler, and Jos Tainter meet); which is where the US is today. In planetary terms, however, returning to a HG situation would require massive depopulation, which is not very likely in the immediate future, anyway. The HG way of life, in short, is not an option. Hence, our job, so to speak, is to make judgments among civs--which are better, which are worse. On an individual level, however, it really is possible to live in touch with "reality"...tho not easy. On a collective level, illusion is the rule.


11:49 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

All the comments on art for it's own sake versus being valued for it's "return" makes me think about how obsessed Americans are with articulating the value of art (music, dancing, gymnastics, pottery, photography, etc.)

Mostly, Americans are incapable of appreciating art as it is. When subconsciously moved, they sense something, and stumble for words, usually settling on "Awesome," "cool," or, my favorite, "The Bomb."

The next phase is to evaluate it, that is, quantify it. The visceral experience in the moment is not enough; it must be given a numerical value, either in dollars or in rank. Thus, we worship music by having a contest, competing for #1, watching contenders fall to their deaths as we choose the next American Idol.

"Yes, he was my third favorite singer this year;" "She is the second-ranked figure skater. She got the most points for looking like she was really emoting."

We must jury our art so we know what to like. And we like it even more if we buy it marked down from a lofty price.

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

What about indigenous cultures that practice a more simple horticultural/pastoral way of life? The b.s. elements are there, but they seem to be, more or less, sustainable societies. Perhaps they have found a happy middle ground between HG and Empire? For example, when their empire collapsed, the Maya didn't disappear; they abandoned the cities, and took up a more sustainable village lifestyle. So, I'm wondering, is what makes one civilization better than another the extent to which they have embraced Empire?

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

Morris, Susan, Art, Kelvin,

Ag. and civ...the great turning..the great disease....

"Indigenous America was pervaded by a field of active meaning, a relationship that had been created in a world beyond the immediate senses, and which involved the whole of nature in a web of exchange, relationship, obligation and renewal. What happened next was a perturbation of balance, a virus in a field of meaning, the epidemic spread of an alien set of values".....F. David Peat

M, please note I did not use the S word.

And a question: what do you think of Lyall Watson's writings?

8:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Generally, HGs don't embrace empire; it "embraces" (=destroys) them. The Kung Kalahari are a gd example of this, and there are many more. On the Q of the Maya: I'm wondering what yer sources are. I don't know much abt this subject, but everything I've read says that the civ just disappeared. I'd like to know which anthropologists argue to the contrary, and what their evidence is. I mean, what u say seems logical; I just don't know if it's true.


S=Silly? Please, be as silly as u like! Also please note that I love a nice, juicy virus. As for Watson: he and I were speakers at a conference somewhere, many yrs ago, after which I read some of his stuff. I thought he was a nice enuf guy, but his work was too flakey for me: analogies made into identities, coincidences made into causality--solid New Age, in a word. He subsequently submitted a ms. to an editor whom I knew; she told me they had to reject it, since there was no evidence for anything he was arguing. Anyway, after that he just sorta floated outta my mind...Georgia, and Ray Charles, replaced it.


10:04 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...


Is debate about the ethics of corporations part of the public discourse in Europe? It doesn't seem to be the case here in the U.S.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...


S=shamanism. I should never try to be funny.

Reading "Gifts of Unknown Things" by Watson. I can see how he'd be considered flaky. On the other hand I'm enjoying the book, supposedly a true story.

Going back to "The Lure.." Chris Rea sings, in "Gone Fishin," "when my time has come, I will look back and see, peace on the shoreline that could have been me."

A reflection that awaits us all perhaps?

11:27 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Gd question; I really don't know. But I do wish to pt out that the U of Cal Press is about to publish the collected papers of Millard Fillmore, and apparently some of these papers actually have writing on them.


11:29 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Oh...my other guesses were: Saliva; Silk; and Sociopathy.

I don' have a lot to say abt Saliva, but as for Silk, and sitting on the shore: if u haven't read Alessandro Baricco's novel, "Silk," this may be a gd time.

As for Sociopathy: I just ran across a new novel called "Gotham Chronicles," by Byram Karasu. He's Chief of Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Med in NY. The story is abt the interaction between a mentally unstable woman and the (sick) society around her. His arg is that we have evolved from the Culture of Narcissism (Lasch, 1979) to the Culture of Sociopathy. Duh! Well, most Americans are unaware of this, so just as well someone tackled the subject. I might put it on my rdg list when the price drops to w/in my budget. On the other hand, considering the fact that you have large blocks of capital in numbered Swiss accts, u might wanna buy it and give the gang (DAA42) an in-depth review (haha).

You'll like Baricco, tho, I guarantee it.


ps: S cd also stand for Stage Deli (or, Side of Chopped Liver); in which case I'd hafta assume yer trying to get on my gd side. However, the best way to do this is to have a platter of c.l. packed in dry ice and airlifted directly to my house. (Think abt it.)

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

How do civilizations get away from the vertical model and still function effectively? Some skills are more valued than others b/c people's lives directly depend on them being performed competently. And these skills are rewarded accordingly: a surgeon is valued over a teacher; an airline pilot over a carpenter, etc. My Dad made his living as an airplane mechanic and realized we all have to do our job well if the ultimate goal was to be achieved; in his case, the overall safety of flying. Behind every successful operation are a group of people who do their jobs and contribute to the well being of the patient (I use this as an example b/c I've seen first hand what incompetent nurses can do when there's no doctor around---not to complain that nurses don't get enough "glory"). I'm not sure what the solution to this is but it does seem to me to be part of the flaw in the vertical model. Soviet style leveling obviously didn't work but I don't know what would.

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

In "Maya Cosmos", Linda Schele and David Freidel argue that "the world view of the prehistoric Maya lives on in the language and beliefs of the survivors of the Spanish conquest."

I'm currently reading a book by Robert Sitler, "The Living Maya": "...in the mesoamerican area there currently exist more than six million Maya practicing the elements of their culture such as religion, languages, numbering, and medicine based on natural products, arts, and the calendar..."

On the other hand, it's true that most contemporary Maya have also embraced Christianity and speak Spanish. Still, I find them fascinating, and not due to the 2012 hype. The Maya were an empire in their own right, conquered by another empire, and now (at least in the most remote villages) seem to live in a much more sane and sacred way than in the American empire.

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...


I'm afraid the swiss acct has reached dangerously low levels. One must keep some funds in reserve. Tires for the Rolls, the butler's children, etc. I could offer eggs, as the hens are working, but the distance, temp, odor, etc.

CL.. I have seriously considered it. (really) Mi esposa makes the best. But dry ice cannot withstand a Texas mail drop. What to do....

(not to get on your good side, just to avoid the embarrassing withdrawl symptoms)

I'll check out Baricco.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


You mentioned the question of ethics and corporations. The 2003 documentary "The Corporation" is still relevant. Some of the interviewees are Chomsky, Zinn, and Michael Moore.

We know that by legal definition, corporations cannot have ethics, as their sole function is to produce maximum return for the shareholder, which they do by externalizing costs, i.e., somebody else is left with the costs to the biosphere and society for their actions.

I don't know about Europe, but it is not discussed here any more than fish discuss water. The Supreme Court recently completed the act of undermining the constraints set by the framers when they declared them "persons," without much complaint from the public. They can now use their "Right" of free speech to dominate political advertising before elections.

I'd like to know what Europe thinks, too.


On Lyall Watson, I recently recommended his "Gifts of Unknown Things" on your last blog. It's the only book of his I could get through, but there was something about it that appealed to me. He described a sociological transformation from a "magical" event that didn't necessarily imply a metaphysical effect, rather, an alchemy as you describe in "Re-enchantment." I got "awe" and "curiosity" from him, rather than a New Age gloss.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That doesn't help me all that much. Anthropologists are all agreed that the Mayan empire disappeared in the 9th C. Pointing to contemporary Mayan culture--I'm certainly aware of it, living down here--doesn't establish any continuity. In short, we need evidence from the 9thC, and I don't think there is any.


Forget the TX mail drop. You can helicopter the CL directly to my house in Mexico; I'll give you the address offline. This is very kind of u; u won't regret it.


12:14 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Civs can't do it, but subsets can. It requires a small, decentralized community-type situation. These do function informally in various parts of the world, off the map, so to speak. It's one reason I enjoy living in Mexico.


ps: spkg of off the map, check out the 2003 movie by that name; one of my favorites.

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Kelvin said...

Howdy Dharmaguerilla!

Thank you for the documentary reference.

If the ethics of corporations can be discussed in public, then the possibility of reigning in the more environmentally destructive aspects of their operations might be possible.

So, I was trying to evaluate European civilization on the basis of social conscience. If there is such discourse in Europe, then I'd prefer to live there than here in the U.S.

Of course, it's obvious that Europe gets more points than the U.S for a number of other reasons. But I think this particular question would clinch the matter for me.

Thank you for your insights.


I guess that proves Millard Fillmore could write after all. Although I think the blank pages would be the most revealing.

One way of answering my question is to start reading European newspapers for discourse on corporation ethics.

5:46 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Check out Steven Hill's bk, "Europe's Promise." As for foreign newspapers:

1. guardian.co.uk (England)
2. Le monde diplomatique publishes an English trans of itself; if you can do French, there's also Le Monde, of course
3. Barcelona: lavanguardia.es, if you can do Spanish
4. Milan: Corriere della Sera
5. Germany: Die Zeit (zeit.de)
6. Zurich: Neue zuercher Zeitung

Just go to the search function and plug in 'corporate ethics', in the appropriate language. Good luck.


7:54 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

According to Wikipedia (sorry, best I could do): "A number of Maya cities, however, did not collapse, and Maya civilization continued until 1697 when the Spanish conquered Tayasal, the last independent city-state. In fact, after the 'collapse', the Maya of the northern Yucatan prospered, and the Chichen Itza state built an empire that briefly united much of the Maya region."

I'm rooting for continuity, because it may have political consequences for contemporary Maya: "Collapse denies our continuity as the original people of countries in which we reside and our possible claims to that historical continuity. The result of that discontinuation of our history is that Maya are denied a true identity; we are regarded still by the general population and even ourselves as just 'Indios'." (Mayainfo.org)

BTW, how does chopped liver taste with corn tortillas?

3:43 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, I sure wd like to have a more reliable source than Wikipedia for this. As I said, all of the anthropologists and archaeologists I have read argue for disappearance and discontinuity, because there isn't any evidence to the contrary, apparently. Maybe the Maya will just have to be some sort of Rohrschach, I dunno.


6:19 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...


Careful, next you'll be suggesting that indigenous people should have actual rights. This could lead to sovereignty and control of their lands, resources, etc. Those Mayans could be sitting on crude oil or something. Better keep em in their place.

Have you read the UN Resolution on Indigenous Rights? Nice language the USA doesn't respect. History is written by the winners.

Do you follow via campesina? I'd sure walk with those women!

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't you in Costa Rica?
If you are, and it's not an imposition, I've got an off-channel question to ask. Thanks MB.

11:50 PM  
Anonymous Art said...


Thanks; I wasn't aware of Via Campesina before now. I like their commitment to "food sovereignty". I also support, as much as I'm able to, the work of Heifer International. Give the gift of a goat!


"Off The Map":
One of the more complex American films I've seen in a long time. The way this family lived: off the grid, without money, self-sufficient in the extreme... I could never live like that. I felt almost embarrassed watching the movie. How did I become so pathetic?

6:48 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, not too many of us cd live that way. I wdn't be too hard on yerself. BTW, Wm Gibbs was a real artist; check out stanberning.com.


7:33 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


You've hit on one of the difficult points in this discussion. Like you, while I admire & respect the sort of life offered in Off the Map (indeed a truly wonderful film), I could no more live it than you, I'm afraid. There's too much about civilization that I treasure ... yet we can't just pick out the good parts & discard the rest, can we?

And then there's the question of just how much civilization is left. I was struck this morning by the realization that my nephew & nieces have never known a world without school shootings, random explosions, constant surveillance, etc. These things are the norm for them; this is their civilization & their future.

So I think MB is right in recommending life in subsets, even if you & your loved ones, or even just you alone, comprise one of those subsets.

But will our increasingly uncivilized surroundings permit those subsets to exist?

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

This recent post by John Michael Greer seems convincing w.r.t. where "civilization" is and where it's heading:


As noted earlier, Spengler and Toynbee meet Tainter...

12:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Art, Dave re Mayan civ--

Since that region can claim continuity, maybe the US would help them like they did the Israelites to get sovereignty of their own land. I'm sure Mexico and the Yucatan nations would not mind...

As for decentralization, I have always believed, with my mediocre education (state college with limited library)that tightly interwoven local societies/economies compensate for those necessary centralized elements.

The problem has been, with the growth of mega-corporations, local economies have their local flow of capital bled off. Locally circulating money builds stability, loyalty, and appreciation for interdependence, not to mention willingness to pool money for local projects (the original purpose and definition of corporations at the time of the framers).

Instead, most people in a town or city go out to eat an a restaurant not locally owned, shop at hardware and other stores not locally owned, and so most of the local dollars do not recirculate, but leave town. They usually also leave the state, and ultimately end up in the pockets of shareholders or in executive bonuses, none of which have ever set foot in said town.

Even though some of that money returns to town in the form of dividends on portfolios owned by locals, the sense of the source and value of those dollars is diluted or evaporated.

A monograph I wrote around 1980 pointed out the folly of every household owning a lawnmower, each one used once every week or two. That is the isolation found even in small communities who still have a somewhat local economy.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, the Mayas can *claim* continuity, but not on the basis of any hard evidence I know of. We're talking 9th C, amigo.


8:18 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Moving rt along...Here is a Twitter comment that appeared in response to the SOTU Address, parsing that speech in plain English for us:

"Everything we millionaire lawyers say has 2 meanings. One for us and one for you. Thank you for being docile. F*** you and goodnight."

Docile...we're finally getting to the core of the American soul. Another possible version: "As people in power who shill for the corporations and the Pentagon, there is one thing we are absolutely sure of: there is no amount of shit you won't take. Oh and ps, God Bless America."

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

Robert Scheer accurately skewers that speech here:


Americans will still be chanting "We're Number One! We're Number One!" as the waters close over their heads.


Thanks for the link to that essay. It reminds me that not once will you hear anyone accepted/promoted by the mainstream suggesting that we'll have to make do with far less energy in the future, that we'll have to give up most (if not all) of the technological toys we love so much. Not a word about having to give up cars altogether, or learn to do without iPhones & iPods.

Because it's heresy, of course. And I choose that word with precision. Any suggestion that we stop producing & consuming is a sign of madness, or else treason.

As my wife mentioned over the holidays, why doesn't it strike people as strange & sick that the only way to keep the country going is by constantly making & selling & buying crap? That we've built our entire society on a foundation of crap?

I'm going to spend the evening with a good book, or making some beautiful art, thank you very much ...

9:23 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Food for Thought Dept.:

"It is one of the consequences of aggression that it hardens the conscience, as the only means of quieting it."

--James Fenimore Cooper, "The Deerslayer"

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

I don't know about you, Dr.Berman, but I'm ready to "put my fag shoulder to the wheel" (Ginsberg) and join my President in "winning the future". I mean why do we need to mention forclosures (2.9 million), gun control ( 1 million gun related deaths since 1968), and the environment? Thoses issues are so, like, you know,"today", man. So I'm marchin' with my President into the future.
Oh, he's going to stand with the people of Tunesia. Yeah, just like he stood with the people of Honduras. Yeah, the speech was a collective "fuck you ' to the American people. We aren't even the spectators Chomsky says. In the ruling elite's minds we don't even exist (except to supply soldiers for the empire).

7:21 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


CBS News poll taken after the speech revealed that 91% of TV viewers approved of Obama's proposals. As you know, these are insightful, thoughtful people who are aware of what is happening in the world and the US. So, nothing to worry abt, I'm sure. I join you in your embrace of the president, and our collective future.


9:27 PM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

Dr. Berman,

Your idea of "Creativity II" and "Creativity III" remind me of Gurdjieff's distinction between what he called "subjective art" and "objective art".

He defined "subjective art" as the kind of art that seems to flow from the subconscious, so that the artist is almost unaware of its source, whereas the superior "objective art" was deliberately thought through, and intended to teach and instruct.

Gurdjieff classed almost all Western art as subjective art, and therefore virtually worthless, although of course Gurdjieff considered Western civilisation to be the very apex of barbarity.

5:40 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Pro,

Well of course Mr. G needed massive amts of therapy, but that's a whole other subject. I'm not sure his "objective" category corresponds to Cr. III; i.e.,I don't have the impression of its goal being to teach or instruct. It does, however, contain a lot more conscious awareness than Cr. II.

Thanks for writing in-


6:30 AM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

Ah, OK Dr. B.

I've just ordered your "Re-enchantment Of The World" book, so I'm quite intrigued that you don't seem to take Gurdjieff seriously (not that I think you necessarily should).

I say this because when I looked at the Google Books preview of ROTW, I saw what seemed to be a long section on R.D. Laing, who I thought most people dismissed these days.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sure, Gurdj. had a few gd insights, no doubt. Laing too. But as for Laing and ROW: keep in mind that I was writing that bk in the late 70s. Some yrs later, Laing and I met, and I sort of knew him during the last 2 yrs of his life--i.e., wd see him on occasion. This took the shine off it, I hafta admit. Laing was a brilliant and intuitive man, but troubled, deeply confused in many ways, and I think he finally led a lot of people astray. "The Divided Self" remains a great book; ya just hafta take it with a fair amount of salt.


11:54 AM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

OK Thanks Dr. Berman.

I'll look forward to reading ROTW and then your other works.

I'll also get hold of "The Divided Self". I've never read Laing, but I'm always intrigued by these no-longer-quite-respectable types who nevertheless caused a stir in their own day.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

R. D. Laing was extremely important to my teenaged years, and The Politics of Experience still resonates powerfully for me. But I've always seen him more in the mold of William Blake, in a way -- a prophetic voice raging against the very real & terrible horrors of the 20th Century, many of which were acclaimed by the powers that be as shining emblems of Progress.

It seems that time has proven some of his views wrong (or wrongheaded, anyway); but his clear-eyed (if sometimes too-tightly focused) view of what so many refused to see, his outrage & pain at the condition of so-called normality, remains strong for me.

That's what still works for me when I read his books: "There are terrible things in this world, things we won't acknowledge, things we've created, things that are destroying us: LOOK AT THEM!"

12:53 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That remains his best work, I think, written in the late 50s. Ronnie had more than his 15 minutes of fame, clear enuf.


9:07 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Food for Thought Dept. (this from Charles W. Mills, "The Racial Contract"; note that My Lai was not an isolated incident, as I document in DAA):

Lieutentant William Calley was the only American convicted of war crimes in Vietnam and, for his role in directing the mass murder of five hundred women, children, and old men...was sentenced to life at hard labor but had his sentence quickly commuted by presidential intervention to "house arrest" at his Fort Benning bachelor apartment, where he remained for three years before being freed on parole, then and now doubtless a bit puzzled by the fuss, since, as he told the military psychiatrists examining him, "he did not feel as if he were killing humans but rather that they were animals with whom one could not speak or reason."

According to the footnote, this is quoted in Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim, "Four Hours in My Lai." Mills adds:

One popular Saigon graffito of the time was "Kill a Gook for Calley," and telegrams into the White House ran a hundred to one in his favor. There was also a hit song in his honor: "The Battle Hymn of Lt. Calley"....American troops committing atrocities simply appealed to the well-established moral principle of the M.G.R.--the "mere gook rule."

Back to the main text:

If looking back (or sometimes just looking across), one wants to ask "But how could they?" they answer is that it is easy once a certain social ontology has been created.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

Dear Dr. B,

Long time lurker, first time poster. Red your DAA several years ago, recently read your QOV. Only 2 generation removed from my old country peasant grandparents, and best described as Joe Bageant describes himself: leftneck.

Anyway, I am grateful to you for providing this little spot for fellow travelers to connect. As noted many times on this blog, you get the feeling it's just you at times, and that's pretty disheartening. Nice to know it's not.

So riddle me this: my wife and I have relatives in Chicago and will visit them for a city vacation this summer. Debs and Darrow have always fascinated me, so I looked into visiting Pullman, the planned community south of Chicago that got both of them in so much trouble in 1894. I Googled Debs to refresh my memory, and 'Lo and Behold: I can't connect to his Wikipedia page. Coincidence? The weather? Yes. My e-mail? Yes. Morris Berman? Yes. Eugene Victor Debs? Not so much.

Just sayin'

10:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Welcome to the blog, aka the
DAA42. The move from lurker to participant is a huge existential step; few are given to cross this massive divide. Leftnecks are particularly welcome, may I add; and you even bought QOV! I gasp, I faint.

But enuf o' that. Re: Debs: I had no problem, myself. I just plugged "Eugene Debs" into google, and the first entry that came up was the one from Wiki, in full glory. So I'd say: give it another shot. You hafta realize there is actually very little censorship in the US because the Powers That Be are aware that most of the country doesn't read, and if it did wouldn't give a damn anyway. Huxley, not Orwell, in short.

Drop in any time, amigo-


6:11 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Palin, however insane she is, has some sharp people behind her. She noted that the theme of Obama's speech "Winning the future" has the acronym WTF. I mean didn't anyone in the White House catch this?
Anyway, for anyone who still harbors some hope that life in the US will not be so bad, I urge them to read Andrew Belonsky's piece about GOP hopefuls' fusing of "Christian Superiority with Blatant Revisionist American History" in Alternet. Whoever becomes the next GOP president intends to set up a Christian fundamentalist state domestically and export it internationally. Whatever lame social safety net that now exists will be totally eviscerated and each child will be inculcated with good Christian moral values. In other words, sooner of later the Dark Ages of which Dr. Berman so prodigiously writes about, will fully descend on this country.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Patrick D. Fitzgerald said...


I actually live in Pullman. Kind of a longshot since it is now only 4 by 6 city blocks. Feel free to come visit.

Dr B.,

Just finished WG and well through DAA, and I tried to tell my friend with a one year old about your take on toys (I had been pestering him about the same topic previously) but he wouldnt even read the back cover. What can you do...
Thanks for writing, it feels good to read material that doesnt make me call b******t every other paragraph.

11:32 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Sheldon Wolin has a chapter on the mix of the religious-archaic and the technologically advanced in his book "Democracy Incorporated," which u might enjoy. It also has a faint echo of Jeffrey Herf's book abt the same mix in Nazi Germany, "Reactionary Modernism."


If u just keep in mind that virtually everyone around you has their head firmly inserted in their rear end, it makes for greater clarity and understanding.


11:39 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...


This article, "The Return of the Medieval Mind," lays it all out quite clearly & neatly:


But can it really happen here?

All too easily. Memory is practically non-existent in America, both personally & culturally; everything can be rewritten to suit the needs of the moment. Just ask Oprah & Obama (among others) -- it's all about moving forward! Re-inventing yourself! One more chance! Empowerment!

Well, you know the list ...

1:09 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

New Bks Dept:

1. E. Morozov, The Net Delusion. On how the Internet is politically repressive. Skewers the b.s. of how it was going to be an agent of democracy and liberation.

2. S. Turkle, Alone Together. On how the new communications technology is destroying our relationships. Skewers the b.s. of how it was going to be an agent of community(!).

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Art said...

Sherry Turkle ("Alone Together") was interviewed on The Colbert Report recently. Google it and watch the entertaining video. (Oh dear...is it OK to use the Internet to criticize the Internet?)

In light of "Winning the Future", what did you think of the movie, "Little Miss Sunshine"?

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

Is anybody else paying attention to the multiple confrontations going on now in the mid-east (Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt)? For me, at least, it is heartening to see people try to recapture their dignity as human beings in spite of the odds. It's beautiful.

There was a time when this sort of thing even went on in the US...........

Maybe we should place bets on how all this will be spun here when all is said and done. An easy wager is that the US will claim to support democracy. Always has, right? But how will they manage to demonize all those muslims? Can't wait to see how they manage that.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Bisley said...

Dr B,

Any way to number the comments in this blog? I'm showing over 100 now and my poor brain is losing track.


9:08 PM  
Anonymous Dovidel said...

Somebody who calls h/self "Ship of Fools" placed the following comment after an article in The Jewish Daily Forward on Palin’s use of the term "blood libel":

"Frankly, I find the whole thing to be much more simple ... Sarah Palin did not know what the term meant and did not bother to look it up. This is the new standard for those who have political aspirations in my beloved country. If I had the resources, I would leave it as fast as I could."

So, we are not alone in our awareness of the condition of our blessed land -- there are others out there!

David Rosen

10:47 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I usually try to post another essay once the comments exceed
100, but I'm a little overworked these days, so it'll hafta wait just a little more. Sorry abt that. As for demonizing Muslims, Bush Jr's tactic was to say that most of 'em were OK, only a small fraction were jihadists. This did not stop the xenophobia w/in US borders, of course, the talk shows abt banning the rdg of the Koran, and the usual American yahoo behavior. The real problem was that even if the hard-core jihadists were small in number, the "soft-core," i.e. the sympathizers, ran in the millions. The Islamic nations know what we've done to them, ever since Iran in 1953, and they hate us for it. This is why Osama T-shirts were so popular in the Middle East after 9/11, and the #1 name for newborns was Osama.

In any case, as Samuel Huntington once pted out, we are an obsessively Christian nation, which is why we tend to think mythologically and need to demonize whoever our opponents are at the time. There is also a strong Manichaean streak in the American psyche as well, so we are driven to divide the world into Good vs. Evil, and of course we are always good. It plays well--Reagan was the consummate artist of this--and enables the American people to be led around by the nose, and forget who is actually doing them in.


9:35 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Lincoln in his first inaugural address said,"We are a Christian nation," and no doubt the Civil War was fought along Manichaean lines.
Yes,Bisley, I too am very heartened about what is happening in the Middle East now. How pathetic for Obama to ask Mubarak for restraint when the US has supplied the Egyptian army for the past 40 years. First South America and soon the Middle East will be immune to American dictate. The Empire is crumbling before us on the nightly news.
Thanks, Tim, for the Mideival Mind piece. I just ordered Walin's book which should add more how fragile rational thought is in the US. But it won't suprise me. I know professors here who are convinced man walked with dinosaurs because they saw photos of human footprints near dinosaur fossils.

10:11 AM  
Blogger ijcd said...

And here is another piece of evidence of the Dark Age America has taken itself into, from Science News: High School Biology Teachers in U.S. Reluctant to Endorse Evolution in Class, Study Finds
( http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110127141657.htm ).

Prof. Berman,
I discovered you thanks to Nomi Prins' book review of "A Question of Values" in www.truthdig.com. I recently bought your recent trilogy about American culture and empire. I am neither a social scientist nor educated in the humanities; I have studied Physics and Mathematics most of my life, but always had an intellectual and existential interest in other areas of human endeavor. Also, my literary skills are, I think, limited for two reasons: I was born, raised and educated in Cuba (hence my first language is Spanish, but now living in Miami), and I was always more naturally adept in every school subject except grammar and literature. I mention all this as an advance apology, just in case my postings are not up to standards; but rest assured, my interest is well "up there". I see this blog, and authors like you, Hedges, Saul, Chomsky, Klein, Zinn, Parenti and others as the voice of the conscience of America, the voice this unconscious civilization keeps ignoring, and to an ever-growing degree, each day of my short life in this world. Also, I treat this as some form of "group therapy", a place where I can find relief and comfort in the fact that I am not alone, that my own social observations are not wildly distorted by my personal childhood traumas, and that it seems like I may be more normal than the "normal" individuals in our society. You and Hedges in many ways help me put things into a clearer and more encompassing perspective, and the eloquence in your writing, and Hedges' as well, help me solidify my thoughts, ideas and perception of reality in a more wholesome, healthy, and useful way... useful because I feel more prepared to argue with people that at times seem to be creatures living in a psychotic nightmare, as if they didn't have real eyes, but high-tech devices providing them with all sorts of illusions and fantasies...

6:10 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Hola Ivo,

Thank u for writing in, and God bless Nomi Prins--a great human being, in addition to being an astute political analyst.

What it comes down to is something like this: everything is now upside down in the US, and everything conspires to lead the population into thinking that what they are seeing, and how they are living, is somehow correct. Personally, I believe that on some level they know this isn't true; but since they don't have the intellectual tools to get to the bottom of this, and would be afraid of the conclusions they might reach anyway, they just lash out at the wrong targets. (The Tea Party couldn't be a better example of this, of shooting oneself in the foot.) This kind of upside-downness is what Sheldon Wolin refers to as "inverted totalitarianism." It's my belief that this kind of "bizarro world" takes over in the final phase of empire; and since even the "best and the brightest" subscribe to it, believe in it (stupidity is not a matter of IQ, in other words), the society is doomed. After all, what does it mean when the Dark Ages book gets slashed to pieces by the NYT, in a review that doesn't even have the decency to tell the reader what the bk actually contains, and gets praised by the Berlin Tageszeitung (TAZ), which says that I'm a true patriot and the US wd benefit from listening to what I have to say? Or when the New Yorker dismisses Chris Hedges' latest book as "a rant"? The power of this bizarro world is manifest in the fact that Americans are living in a kind of hologram ("The Matrix"), and virtually no fresh air can get in. Hedges and I and the 20 or so cultural critics that attempt to do this are easily dismissed as lunatics; I often feel like the character in that classic Victorian work, "Flatland". Anyway, Hedges must still have some hope, since he gets himself arrested at the White House etc.; I have none, which is why I left the country. All that is left to us, imo, is to document the race of the lemmings toward the cliff ("Jesus, will ya look at that??!"). Do I wish a general awakening wd take place? Of course. Do I think it's gonna happen? Yes, when pigs fly.

As for Miami, why bother learning English? When I was last there, I saw signs in shop windows saying, "Se habla ingles"(!).

As for my trilogy...it's not quite done yet, as Question of Values is not part of it, just a collection of essays. The actual 3rd vol. in the series, after Twilight and DAA, is "The Roots of American Failure," and will be released in August. For every copy that gets sold, Anne Coulter will sell 100,000 of her latest--of that, I have no doubt. Matrix ueber Alles.

You might also wanna check out the interview I did last Dec. w/Ken Rose (see previous post); as I told Ken, I'm truly sad abt all this. Who cd have seen this coming, in the late 1950s, when I came of age?

Otra vez, gracias por escribir, amigo-


8:24 PM  

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