November 22, 2012

The Question Concerning Technology

Dear Wafers and Other Friends:

As we are approaching the 200-message mark on the previous post (god, you guys have been engaged these days!), it is with some regret that I must leave the topic of Mittney (Rom! Can you forgive me?), and move on to other topics. I'm not really ready to talk about Japan, since I'm still reeling from my trip and need time to process the whole thing, but for now let me say a few words about one thing I observed there that forced me to rethink a basic premise I've had about the history/sociology of technology. This is mostly thinking out loud, if you guys can tolerate something only partially digested (to mix metaphors).

Actually, it involves two premises. One, technology is not, as is commonly thought, value-neutral. In other words, the conventional wisdom is that you can use an axe to fell a tree and thus build yourself a house, or you can chop off your neighbor's head, which would not be very polite. Virtually all Americans (not the sharpest 'race' on the planet, I grant you) believe this, the president included. But as so many scholars have demonstrated, perhaps beginning with Marshall McLuhan, this just ain't so. Technologies are the bearers of culture, and if you introduce any particular technology into a society (print medium into the oral culture of medieval Europe, for example), you eventually transform that society into something else. The introduction of vaccines for cattle into rural Mexico, many decades ago, led to the marginalization of the 'sacred' culture of the curandero, and thus to a different concept of man's relationship to the cosmos. The vaccine cannot be isolated, in other words; it carries with it the world view of modern science and all that that entails (in particular, a 'disenchanted' world).

Second premise: Japan is a hi-tech society and people there are walking around with iPads, cell phones, and whatever stuffed into every available orifice. But it proved not to be so. The Japanese are fascinated with the new, that is true; but technology is not their 'hidden religion' (see Why America Failed, ch. 2). Yes, there is some degree of zombification operating there, to be sure, but much less than I anticipated; maybe 20% of the population is awash in Finnish and Korean (and Japanese) techno-crap. So you do see folks (the young, esp.) walking down the street staring into electronic screens, for example; but only about 20% at most. Tokyo aside, Japan is not a 'loud' country. Even then, I was amazed to ride the subway in Tokyo and see signs showing a cell phone with the word OFF (in English) in block capitals superimposed on the image. Occasionally, an electronic voice comes over the air and says, "Please make sure your cell phones are turned off." You look around, and people are busy texting, but not making any noise. When I took the express bus out to Narita Airport en route to returning to Mexico, an electronic voice also added, "It disturbs your fellow passengers." This bowled me over, because in the U.S., who gives a damn about the people around them? You can sit in a restaurant in LA or NY with some woman three feet away, literally yelling into her phone about her recent gall bladder operation. Y'all can identify with this, I'm sure.

The only exception I found to this was the lounge in the hotel I stayed in in Hiroshima. It was terribly American in design, very un-Japanese: formica tables, fluorescent lights, a completely sterile environment. There, people would sit and yak away loudly on their phones, and to hell with anyone else. So what the heck is going on?

Try this: if the 'hidden religion' of the United States is technology, as well as an extreme form of individualism (which I discuss in A Question of Values), the hidden religion of Japan is interrelatedness, or group consciousness. In fact, it's hardly hidden: everybody knows this about the Japanese, including the Japanese. Nor is it always a positive thing, as it can stifle personal expression and creativity, and some Japanese scholars have argued that it was the root cause of the Pacific War (1931-45), during which time it was impossible to speak out against the military direction of the nation. Whistleblowers have a hard time in Japan. Well actually, they are practically nonexistent, and the 2011 disaster at Fukushima is only the latest example of this. Maruyama Masao, in the postwar period, blamed the war on a "system of irresponsibility," and recently one courageous critic (although I believe he lives in New York) said that Fukushima was the product of Japanese culture itself.

To return to the subject of cell phones, then, what we see is not the introduction of a new technology and the subsequent transformation of the culture. No; the culture of Japan is strong enough to resist the negative effects of this technology, by a factor of something like 80%. I remember sitting in a luncheonette in a subway station and seeing a woman receiving a call on her phone, and actually taking out a small towel and putting it over her mouth, and the phone, so as to mute her voice while she was talking. More often, the Japanese will leave the space, and conduct the conversation out of earshot of those around them. Whereas Americans live like they were individual atoms, bouncing around with no civic responsibility whatsoever (and certainly as it concerns technology, since it is the hidden religion), the Japanese live in society, in community, and in relatedness to other people, and therefore are acutely sensitive to the potential impact they have about those around them. Despite the negative aspects of the group mentality mentioned above, I found this institutionalized, semi-conscious courtesy quite refreshing. So while in the US, technology combines with the ideology of extreme individualism to create a race of obnoxious techno-buffoons and zombies, in Japan the culture of public respect limits what technology can do--even though, as I said above, the Japanese tend to love the new. In a word, Marshall McLuhan doesn't apply to Japan. Or one might say, it is the cultural medium that is the message there, not the technological medium. I had to rethink my basic assumptions regarding all this (always a good thing, if somewhat disorienting).

In that regard, I was fascinated by the recent comment James Howard Kunstler made on his blog, which got reported in the comment section of the previous post here:

"Finally, I have one flat-out prediction, one I have made before but deserves repeating: Japan will be the first society to consciously opt out of being an advanced industrial economy. They have no other apparent choice really, having next-to-zero oil, gas, or coal reserves of their own, and having lost faith in nuclear power. They will be the first country to enter a world made by hand. They were very good at it before about 1850 and had a pre-industrial culture of high artistry and grace - though, granted, all the defects of human psychology."

Could Japan be the model, the cutting edge of a post-capitalist or post-industrial society? Is a kind of "back to the future" logic operating here, in which it is the craft tradition, rather than the latest piece of technological garbage, that might create a viable culture, and thus a viable model for the rest of us? Think of the Renaissance, during which time cultural renewal depended on a return to Classical civilization ("reculer pour mieux sauter"--step backwards in order to better jump ahead). As Gary Snyder once said to me, when I teased him about having a 'romantic' vision: We may have to return to the used-parts bin, and discover that some of the stuff we threw out in our zeal for progress is not so obsolete after all.

Well, I said I was thinking out loud. Food for thought, in any case, eh wot?

(c)Morris Berman, 2012


Anonymous Zero said...

The triumph of Japan’s culture over technology, rather than vice-versa. Fascinating possibility! Would that be an alternative to the impending Dark Ages? Or, is it necessary for them to partake of that as well?

By the way, I’m thinking that sign of a cell phone and the word “OFF” must have been placed there specifically for American tourists. Otherwise, why write it in English.

3:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting comment about Japan. I was impressed recently to learn that in Japan, anyone who has a cold wears a paper mask in public to avoid spreading the virus to others. An American wearing a paper mask in public would probably be suspected of being crazy germ-phobic or having bubonic plague.

I've seen one American busline so far that has a sign prohibiting cellphone usage, citing courtesy to others. So far, just one. -- Karen v.H.

3:26 AM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

Clouds with silver linings dept.:

From the UK Daily Mail -

Nov. 14--A RAFT of hard-up Spaniards ditching their mobile phones has caused Vodafone to write down the value of its Spanish and Italian businesses by an eye-watering pounds sterling 5.9bn.

The problems in recession-hit southern Europe prompted customers to either trade down to cheaper packages or stop using their phones completely, wiping out half-year profits at the mobile phone giant.

The sweeping austerity measures across Europe resulted in a pounds sterling 492m pre-tax loss for the six months to September 30, down from pounds sterling 8bn from the same period the previous year.

Revenues for the period also fell to pounds sterling 21.7bn from pounds sterling 23.5bn as chief executive Vittorio Colao said in southern Europe that, "consumers are hopping from one promotion to another as many have more time to get the best deal of the day -- there are a lot of opportunities."

Service revenue in the region fell 9.8pc over the first half, worsening to 11.3pc in the second quarter. Italy fell 12.8pc in the second quarter, with Spain down 12pc.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

I have been reading Mumford's "Art and Technics" (thanks to WAF) in preparation for teaching an ethics and technology class next term, so this question has been on my mind. Mumford, like Jacques Ellul and McLuhan, emphasizes your premise one-that technology is not neutral and subtly shapes both the environment and the technology users themselves.

I think maybe Albert Borgmann's ideas about "reforming" technology through the cultivation of focal things and practices might help to explain what you noticed in Japan. For Borgmann, the "device paradigm" pattern of modern technology can be resisted if we become advocates for activities and things that encourage contemplation, engagement with the physical world (especially nature), and a sense of community. What you are saying about Japan is that it is especially well suited, due to a rich culture and tradition, to limit the effects of the device paradigm. Alas, our culture predisposes us in the opposite direction and the device paradigm turns us into, as you so aptly put it, techno-buffoons.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Whippy opines:
Yes food for thought indeed. Ta.
Here's an undigested thought on your words.
You say that "it was impossible to speak out [in Japan] against the military direction of the nation". Equally true in the US. I think of the endless wars it wages, and taking Iraq as a sole example,we know the lie on which the war was based. First it was WMD, then seamlessly when the lie was exposed, it was "spreading democracy".No significant mainstream objection to this shift, especially by a complicit, embedded media. Popular approval was enormous. Who in the mainstream would speak against it?
You also rightly speak of the US 'extreme form of individualism', yes,but which is embedded in the group thinking of'American specialism' which partly castrates the individual(ism), and eunuch- like, hires or commodifies it. This can be seen in a US product - the Harley Davidson motorbike. Packaged as individualism and a free cowboy image, it is actually the site of American specialism draped in the flag; e.g."I wouldn't have a riceburner", and 'freedom' accessories and slogans to add on etc. However, that same rugged individualism dared not speak its name when 9/11 happened. I understand that some/many/ people including untenured academics/journalists lost their jobs or were frozen out because they dared to ask "WHY did this happen?". That individual voice was quickly lost to view, crushed by fear of 'the other',(this time Muslims), jingoism and US specialism.
Kunstler's comment that Japan will opt out of being an advanced ind. country, if true is appalling. It's your "axe" example again - it's what you do with it. I love the technology, yet remember the "axe". Pirzig in "Zen and the Art etc" speaks of attitudes to tech, characterised in the two motorcycle riders at the beginning. One deep down hates technology and refuses to understand it, the other embraces it and wants to understand it and control it.
My word count must be up...

6:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I suspect their crunch is going to be demographic; the stats on that are very forbidding. Meanwhile, the fallout from imitating the US, economically speaking, has been 1 million hikikomori and a suicide rate of 30,000 per annum. But in terms of the serious collapse and across-the-board dysfunction that awaits the US, complete with panic, mass migrations, riots, martial law, and so on--the J's might just escape that. When I traveled around Nagano Prefecture, 1-2 hrs north of Tokyo, I saw a heavy commitment to sustainable agriculture and organic cooking. In fact, one chef was actually giving classes in cooking from the Jomon (Neolithic) era. I also discovered, in several parts of the country, that the traditional crafts are alive and well--another thing that surprised me, again given the influence of the US economic model/lifestyle. If that could be enlisted in a post-capitalist way of life, as Kunstler predicts, Japan might just slip thru the noose, so to speak. This, and a very long history of Zen austerity ('wabi sabi'--something Ernest Callenbach talked about as well--see the post below on him), might just do the trick.


Americans occasionally do wear white hospital masks, e.g. during the so-called swine flu epidemic a few yrs back. That highlights the difference: in the US (and China), wearing such a mask is done to protect yourself from germs. In Japan, it's to protect *others* from being infected. There you have it, in a nutshell. As for prohibiting public cell phone use, I'm hoping the term we came up with on this blog, Techno-Buffoons, will get wide currency, and that Americans will use it to ridicule TB's in public when they are caught practicing their Technobuffoonery. With a little luck, perhaps TB can be made a capital crime, inasmuch as the practice of it amounts to cultural self-genocide.


6:36 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

The Japs (Alabama redneck expression) can have their Hikikomori, let’s get to what really matters.

"The continuing devolution of the USA!,,,USA!...USA!. I speak, of course, of Black Friday.

Once we’ve finished our annual Thursday tradition of consuming four helpings of turkey, three pieces of ham, 17 side dishes, six rolls (or was it seven?), three desserts and a Diet Coke and lapsing into a food coma, we’ll segue into Shopping on Steroids. Black Friday is that wonderful time when we rise at 3 a.m. after fours sleep to save $40 on a laptop, $6 on a sweatshirt and 27 cents on Play-Doh."

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Tim Lukeman said...

MB, I'm glad to see you addressing the popular (mis)conception of "neutral" technology. I'm thinking, for example, of Jerry Mander's still excellent Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, in which he points out that every technology has a certain innate agenda, i.e., the internal combustion engine demands an economy & culture based on oil, a major highway system, the cultural dislocation that results from easy mobility, etc. Also, that certain technologies will invariably attract people of a certain mindset, i.e., you don't get many pacifist generals or vegetarian butchers. And of course whatever technologies lead to quick & vast profit will be glorified & promoted over any alternatives, despite their often very dark side & long range defects.

It also strikes me that in a techno-culture of ever-increasing speed & immediacy, with its distaste for pauses & contemplation, people rapidly lose the ability or desire to look beyond the endorphin rush of being wired in RIGHT NOW! What we get, I fear, is a populace like those lab rats with wires stuck in the pleasure centers of their brains -- they concentrated on continual stimulation to such an extent that they starved to death, too busy getting their next jolt -- their next fix, really -- to even stop to eat.

I live near the New Jersey shore & was without power for a week after Sandy, and it was both amusing & frightening to see just how lost & desperate so many people were once the power ran out on their digital toys. Cold turkey withdrawal & no exaggeration!

I'm tellin' you, the public will eagerly turn Borg at the first opportunity ...

9:28 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mr. Whippy-

Please, just one post per day, thanks. Yr rt that the US has created a group-think phenomenon around individualism, so that it has become difficult to actually step outside the norm. But Japan is at a different level of this phenomenon, and u.c. it when yr there. Again, it has both pos and neg sides, but it is far more constraining than the US. As for Kunstler's comment, I personally find it full of hope and promise. For the most part, the 'axe' is not neutral, so yr remarks on this seem scrambled. Japan is not really taking control of its technology; rather, in the context of its special culture, tech can't combine w/radical individualism to create a race of Techno-Buffoons.


9:29 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Shep, there are people who have been living in tents since Tuesday outside of Best Buys here in Philadelphia waiting for it to open on Black Friday. Of course there will be 2-3 people stomped to death across the US as they fall down near the entrance and people simply walk/run over them. Their deaths are almost a sacred rite, sort of like a sacrifice to the gods of shopping.
Dr. Berman, so far I haven't noticed one media pundit point out the irony that it was Egypt that brokered the cease fire and not the US. Still, I'm sure within the foreign policy establishment this must be viewed as a major embarrassment and I'm equally sure that there are is now a serious reevaluation of Middle East policy vis' a vis' Israel. The US is looking more and more like the battered wife whose husband (Israel) won't allow it to speak to certain people. Still, Obama, being the conventional hack that he has always been will resist any significant change other than continue to eviscerate what is jokingly called the social safety net.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Bob Carlin said...

An author who presents an interesting concept of American belief in technology is John Michael Greer. In his book "The Long Descent" he describes the American myth as the belief in progress. His thesis seems to fit well with our current discussion.

Greer's wrote: "Every culture has some distant place in space or time where it parks its dreams of a perfect world, and ours is no exception. Devout Christians in the Middle Ages imagined a heaven somewhere off beyond the outermost sphere of the sky, where angels and blessed souls sang in perfect harmony in the presence of God, far from the discords of life in the lowly world of matter. Centuries before, the ancient Greeks sang of a Golden Age somewhere in the distant past when fields sprouted crops without human labor and the world was at peace under the rule of the old wise god Kronos. We have our heaven and our Golden Age, too, but unlike most other cultures we put ours in the future, and tell ourselves that we’re moving closer to Paradise with every day that passes. Other cultures put their faith in gods or stars or cosmic cycles; we put ours in progress."

10:13 AM  
Anonymous in.fern.all said...

As this is my first posting, let me thank you Mr. Morris for such an engaging blog.
I'm curious to know where you think 3-D printing fits in the focal/device divide, or is it a continuum?

10:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


Your musings on technology actually reminded me of some of Douglas Rushkoff's work, specifically his book, "Program or be Programmed"

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Dear Prof. Berman:
The Bonanza Bus Line's drivers announce: "Please, no cell phone use unless it is a genuine emergency. Show consideration for other passengers." Bravo, Bonanza! At least two of their regular drivers are slightly older men from the Portuguese community of southeastern Mass. and have slight Port. accents. They comport themselves with graciousness and a trace of atypical (in the USA) formality.

On my most recent trip to Boston my first seat partner was a young fellow using a magic pad, swooping and minimizing and maximizing as his fingers glided over the screen. It is quite mesmerizing for aboriginals such as me to watch. My next seat partner was also a young fellow, this one preparing for a career as a marine engineer. We chatted all the way to Boston and, among other things, agreed that as alluring as the magic tablets are---it would have been fun and handy to conjure up some maps that we needed in conjunction with our conversation---neither of us was planning to get one anytime soon.

Re Pirsig: Lots of guys and other people seem to see in him a type of New Age hero. When I returned to the States in 1976 his book seemed to be one of the recent new things--many people told me I just had to read it!---so I started it, thinking I would find a key of some kind. I was at first merely taken aback and then increasingly disturbed and horrified by his account of his relationship to his son. I had to stop reading. It was too painful. I had no further interest in Pirsig's musings.

[[MB: I later met a mental health worker who knew Pirsig's son. She told me some sad things about his eventual fate, but I do not want to put such a comment out there, for a number of obvious reasons. ]]

12:21 PM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

For Turkey Day, here is food for thought: MB's talk "The Way We Live Today," delivered about a year ago.

The body of the talk begins at the 2:35 mark. Moment most relevant to T Day begins at 12:25. Pass the squash.

12:50 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well, I thought these half-baked musings might generate some discussion.


Is Bonanza in Boston? That's progress indeed, not "progress." As for Chris Pirsig, he died in a freak mugging outside the San Fran Zen Center, many yrs ago. I agree that the father-son rel. was not the best, but then Robt was, in fact, in the midst of a nervous breakdown at the time, and was doing just abt all he cd to hold it together. The book remains a profound comment on technology, values, and culture, imo.


I confess I don't know anything abt 3-D printing. There are only a very few subjects I am ignorant of, I'm happy to say:

1. Medieval Bulgarian art
2. The chemistry of the surface of Jupiter
3. 3-D printing.

In any event, my last name is Berman, altho in formal situations in Mexico, such as a doctor's office, the assistant might address me as "Senyor Morris." You can as well, if u like. Keep posting, amigo, and welcome to the blog.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving! Let's all celebrate the near-extinction of an entire indigenous people!


1:19 PM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

Ursula Franklin's The Real World of Technology may be of interest to the wafers.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Zosima said...

Frankly, I’m slightly befuddled by all the concern over cell phones. Americans have never required the aid of technology in order to be loud and obnoxious in public places. At most a few people on a bus or in a cafe are disturbed. Someone brought up the interesting case of the Harley Davidson, which is deliberately designed to make as much indiscriminate noise as possible. It’s considered OK, and even as American as apple pie for one overgrown child on a Harley to be allowed to wake up half a city at 3am. It happens all the time, in every place I’ve lived in America. I wonder, are Harleys banned in Japan? Here, it seems that making as much mechanized noise as you can produces smiles of admiration and envy. As if everyone is is a teenager watching their friend rev the engine on their first car, producing as much noise and pollution as possible for no reason other than cheap thrills. If fact, that may be as good a summation of American culture as you could come up with.

5:14 PM  
Anonymous in.fern.all said...

My apologies to you, Mr. Berman, in addressing you by your first name. I gave an embarassed giggle when I saw your response. Perhaps I was subconsciously thinking about my High School Spanish teacher of that name.
I won't exceed the "one-a-day" posting limit after this but would like to add that this topic of technology and culture is one that concerns me deeply. I very much appreciate the critical and reasoned discussion here laced with humor.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...

For all Techno-Buffoons in this blog, please watch these in order to get in shape for tonight:

5:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Not to worry; I actually wasn't all that upset. As far as tech and culture goes, there's tons to read, of course; you might wanna track down the refs cited in the ftnotes to ch. 2 of WAF.


I've tended to regard technology as being as much the product or expression of culture as the shaper of it. For example: in a society that is basically nuts regarding individualism, what kinds of devices wd be likely to get invented?

1st: The car. Now, instead of using public transportation where u interact w/other people, u can sit in a little metal box and be all by yrself.

Next came: The air conditioner. When I was a kid, we usta play stickball in the st. on hot summer nights, open the fire hydrants, have adults sitting on the front porch or steps talking to each other. Then along came a/c, and everyone went indoors.

3rd: TV (or maybe it came just b4 a/c, I can't remember). Story of the last picture show. Again, no more communal activity; families sit home alone, glued to the box, not even talking to each other.

4th: Personal computer. Lock yrself in yr rm, and become a universe unto yrself. Have a million meaningless Facebook 'friends', and rave abt yr virtual 'community'.

Finally, the cell phone. Now the bubble that u always wanted to live in becomes mobile, transportable. The world turns into non-interacting little bubbles that are everywhere, driving other people nuts with loud (and stupid) conversations. This is now ubiquitous, unlike the motorcycle, and the almost-far-end of the pathetic American desire to be fully 'independent'.

There is one more step, being pioneered at MIT Labs: a wrap-around electronic body suit, where u can walk down the street in total isolation--the ultimate individual. And along w/this, current research on how to implant cell phones and other devices into the brain (predicted by Wm Gibson in "Neuromancer," 1984).

Keep in mind that the original meaning of the Greek word, idiot, was someone who had no relationship to the polis.


6:12 PM  
Anonymous Bill M. said...

Would you describe yourself as a Luddite, MB?

7:52 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


To be that, I'd hafta be living in England in the early 19C. By now, they're all quite dead.


8:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Read WAF Ch. 2, decide for yrself.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Oops! I meant ch. 3. One thing abt us semi-neo-Luddites is a tendency toward softening of brain in later yrs.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A wanker opines-
MB has a point when he refers to my previous post as a bit 'scrambled'. On rereading, there's something in that, but partly due to the tiny window through which we must tap out our wonderful and important musings. I'm no expert but WordPress does a blog which is clear, bright and less restricting. This Blogger setup is like working on an antique handloom wearing an eyepatch.

And so to craft. I love to work with my hands. I value craft/trade, having been a craftsman for the 1st half of my working life in shipyards and oil platforms as a steel fabricator/welder, or boilermaker. Then 1/2 a life in education. So I've "looked at life from both sides now". I note with a sinking feeling that William Morris is alive and well among those who would send others to produce goods by hand. Those who wish others to do craftwork, experience shows, never worked like this, and won't pay the price of handmade objects. They will not be called on (they think) to do the drudge work, and so feel free to indulge in this romantic view of production. They want others to do work that machines do better.
It is true that factory work can and does dehumanise - but so too does the grind of the isolated craftworker, many of whom worked hellish hours to satisfy the indifferent grinder of an early capitalist market. Home weavers being one example.

So what should they learn, our still living Luddites on the blog, and who dont need to be in 19th Century Britain to promote Luddite thinking. Properly handled, machines free us from drudgery. G. Snyder was gently teased about being a 'romantic' by MB - who himself seems to want to return to a rose coloured past. The clothes on our backs and the computer you sit at were made by machines. The aircraft that takes us to other countries was not woven by hand in a rose covered cottage.

On Pirzig - Kath says she lost interest in Pirzig when she discovered he had a difficult relationship with his son, even tho' P was ill. Do you really think it matters if your plumber has a poor relationship with his family, or I do, or MB? Of course not, so K's loss of interest for that reason is a silly response.Does K really imagine that writers are any different from the rest of us? K has bought into the cult of celebrity nonsense, heavily peddled in the US and increasing so in the UK. By that daft token Oprah bloody Winfrey is your greatest philosopher.

Pirzig was right to discuss as he did our relationship to tech. Surely we should understand it and master its effects, rather than turning the clock back in a dewy eyed illusion of the past?

6:55 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yr not exactly an easy customer; need lots more work w/yr tone, eh?

1. Window is not so tiny. Everyone else seems to manage w/o complaining abt it. Perhaps a different blog wd suit u better.

2. Your framework for (mis)understanding my work is quite B&W. In fact, u understand very little; I'm assuming u never read my work. As a result, yr observations abt craft vs. modernity are quite cliched--a stereotype. Grasping nuance is not exactly yr strong suit, and refuting your position (=shooting fish in a barrel) wd be tiresome at this pt.

3. Katherine is not silly, has not bought into nonsense. Talk politely to people on this blog, and state yr objections using more evidence and less attitude.

This blog is for intelligent discussion, not unleashing uninformed broadsides, OK? The problem for me is that I don't have time to teach u how to present your objections or ideas, and it wd, I fear, require a lot of time.


8:46 AM  
Anonymous JWO said...

The question of tech, vs. non-tech has been a huge problem for me. I don't own a TV nor a computer, but I am a museum photographer and am forced to be at the top of the tech game for my job (to be honest, it would be a royal pain in the ass to go back to film cameras for the work I do). In all my reading on the subject, the one thing I keep coming back to is the value of mediation. Technology as we know it is here to stay for as long as there is a power grid, so it is up to each individual to mediate his/her use of it. I'm happily using Photoshop rather than the darkroom at work, but at home I keep the tech at arm’s length. This is why I find many books on the Amish relevant to the discussion, especially their community based technology mediation. The reasons why they would use air tools rather than electric tools, or even the cliché of horses instead of tractors has a meaning beyond that one has a gas engine. Of course there are plenty of things “wrong” with Amish culture, just as there are in Japanese culture, but it is this culture (as MB points out in his latest post) that reinforces critical thinking about how to use technology. Considering that there really isn’t any culture in the US except for the Masscult, technology both good (I like my vaccines very much, thank you) and bad (new smart-phones every year) will rule.

Speaking of Masscult, see this essay ( that adds another level to the schema of US culture, one that is particularly relevant considering O-bomber’s recent reelection.

12:09 PM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

Just in case anyone worried that the WAF thesis was somehow losing relevance:

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

It's Pirsig. Not Pirzig.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, that's why I argue in favor of nuance. Most scholars of technology (as opposed to many popular writers) are way beyond the simplistic dichotomy of craft vs. hi-tech, or feudal society vs. modern capitalist society. (The work of Albert Borgmann remains top of the list, in my view, esp. "Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life.") I suppose there are a # of levels to this:

1. What do u want to do in your own life vis-a-vis technology?
2. What are the alternative models to 'drowning' in it, as we do in the US (e.g., Amish, Japanese)?
3. What is likely to happen as capitalism collapses, and is there a creative response to that collapse? (As an historian, this issue interests me the most.)

1: One's own life. No one living in an industrial society can be completely free of advanced technology. I don't own a TV or cell phone, for example, because I regard them as very destructive in a whole # of ways, but I wd be unable to work w/o a computer--not much I can do abt that. I can appreciate the surface irony of my flying to Japan to interview craftspeople abt their work, but on closer examination it's more a complicated paradox than a contradiction or an irony. At least at the present moment in time, I can appreciate both; which seems both sane and unavoidable. But each of us has to come to terms w/this in his/her own way. I suffer for abt 10 wks during the winter here in Mexico, when it's cold as hell (I'm 2000 meters up) and there's no central heating and portable heaters don't really work because Mexican houses like mine don't have doors inside, so the portable jobs are basically useless. But the upside is that I get to live in a relatively quiet, traditional environment, far from the madding crowd; so it's worth it to me. Another option wd be to increase the amt of what Borgmann calls "focal practice" in one's life, which might include craft activity, for example; but in the short run, that's obviously not going to change society. However, it might change you.

2: Alternative models are important to have, and to understand. During my trip to Japan, as already mentioned, I discovered how the culture of interpersonal respect limits the insanity of cell phone usage such as one finds in the US. But there's more. I stayed overnight in isolated Zen temples, and saw how technology was applied to the construction of shoji and sliding doors in a way so fine that they moved like butter, were very quiet, and were elegant as well. In this case, the line between craft and tech pretty much dissolved. Similar examples can be found among the Amish, I'm sure. In addition, the Japanese have always had a talent for taking something traditional and reworking it with modern ideas. There is a creative tension in this that is absolutely brilliant, and I saw many examples of it while I was there.

3. When capitalism falls apart, it will be a whole new ball game. As Gary Snyder said to me, we'll then hafta go to the used parts bin, so to speak, and may wind up, perforce, leading a fairly austere but sustainable life. Kunstler may be rt, that Japan may be the cutting edge of that development, the more so since all the American tech junk and conspicuous consumption won't be very useful in the context of food and water shortages, breakdown of ether and electrical grids, and so on. "Back to the future" may be the only path open to us, as a society. Of course, Americans are not very resilient or sophisticated, and will just keep trying to do what they've always been doing (cf. the neoliberal insistence on the validity of their economic paradigm after it was totally discredited in 2008). Other nations may be more talented in this regard. Thus Catalonia is busy trying to separate from Spain, printing its own currency, and exploring alternative energy sources and so on. Decentralization will, I expect, be a big part of the post-capitalist world.


1:04 PM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

Over the last 2 years I have met only a small handful of folks that do not refute a belief I share with you that technology is not neutral.

1. Have you read anything by Nassim Taleb? He's different from you, but refreshingly honest.

2. Off the top of your head will you list 2 or 3 books about technology/anti-technology that are important?

Keep up the good work, please.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous neunder said...

black friday, 2012 video

1:45 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

neunder, pinkpearl-

Great videos of Americans being Americans. The horror, the horror!


Check out WAF ch. 3 ftnotes. Relevant authors: Mumford, Borgmann, Ellul, Leo Marx, Heidegger...


4:03 PM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

That video was terrible.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm new to this... What's WAF?

5:43 PM  
Blogger Reader said...

Forgive me if this posted twice, please delete one of them. Thank you.


I find your “food for thought” quite interesting. Industrialization and technology, in the grip of America’s capitalist and imperialist economy, has created a consumer society for whom there is no compelling reason to wake up in the morning. Young America did not have the time to develop binding cultural customs, beliefs, and mores (which develop over a long period of time based on the need for subsistence and survival), before she was seduced by the allures and greed of industrialization; and so continued her speedy descent into “rugged individualism.” Time forward, to today’s techno-culture and Tim Lukeman said it well (in his blog post), “. . . in a techno-culture of ever-increasing speed & immediacy, with its distaste for pauses & contemplation, people rapidly lose the ability or desire to look beyond the endorphin rush of being wired in RIGHT NOW!”

This is America without heart or soul continuing her descent into the abyss. Whether Americans believe in the religion of technology, consumerism, or a twisted, right-wing version of Christianity it matters not, because our very survival is not the least bit dependent upon any of it. In other words, Americans are like chickens with their heads cut off swimming in the maze of a quagmire, while Japan, apparently, engages its armor of meaningful, well honed survival skills against the assault of America’s decline.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

The Bonanza Bus Line is based in Providence and runs routes in southeastern Mass. to Boston, Springfield, Cape Cod, etc. It was previously the Almeida Bus Line, headquartered in New Bedford, which like Providence and all of southeastern Mass has significant Portuguese communities.

Kirkpatrick Sale has written extensively on technology and “progress,” ecology and human civilization, the decline of the American Empire, and other related topics. He is a proponent of secession as the best political response to the conditions we face as “citizens”---or cogs in the wheel---of the American empire, for example, here:

Sale's "Rebels Against the Future" (1995) is about the history of the Luddite movement and the relevance of their economic, social, and political struggle and outlook to the contemporary situ vis-à-vis technological “progress.” I read it back in 1995 and found it a very worthwhile read that introduced me to a lot of new ideas.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Reader et al.-

Check out those Wal-Mart videos for visual proof of our descent into the abyss. What a degrading spectacle, of people who have no more meaning in their lives beyond electronic objects. O&D!


In future, pls pick a handle, as I don't normally run Anons. I suggest Rufus T. Firefly. As for WAF: a bk I wrote a while back called "Why America Failed." And folks who post on this blog are commonly called Wafers. You will never see them in Wal-Mart stores, BTW. O&D = Onward and Downward!, and CRE = Cranial-Rectal Embedment. Hope that helps.


7:55 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Kirk did a review of WAF, in fact, on Counter Punch some time ago. For some odd reason, he didn't think the bk was abt why America failed, but other than that it was a positive review.


9:05 PM  
Anonymous Joe doesn't know said...

appreciate the post, Dr. B. I recently had no power for 8 days due to storms, and although it was but a week, it was an enlightening experience. I hadn't gone without power for more than a day or two in all of my thirty-something years of life. It's staggering how we completely depend on an infrastructure of utilities, food production, etc, to live. My wife, who grew up overseas and did not have electricity until she was a teenager, remarked that it's hard for her to believe we live in the midwest and our house has no fireplace, no well, no alternative power source, etc. Just a staggering reminder of how inept I am compared to nearly all of my ancestors for the entirety of human history.

And then, of course, there's Black Friday, and the perfunctory riots and shootings that occur so people can save a hundred bucks on an ipad. I guess it's' how people use the technology...the Japanese have a cultural identity that sounds to be filled w/nuance, whereas in America, we are so pathologically black-or-white, that the idea that I generally perceive from my peers is that you either have to wholeheartedly embrace facebook and all of Steve Jobs' garbage that americans believe they need and smart phones, or you are a complete neo-luddite survivalist weirdo. No room for utilizing and appreciating craft and humanity and technology all at once. I'm reminded of Jared Diamond's chapter entitled "Necessity's Mother" where it is discussed how inventions are created and then they are needed, not the other way around.

11:45 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...

I decided to spend Black Friday amongst the books, so tonight I went to a Barnes and Noble bookstore. First, I am relieved to report that there was absolutely no stampede to get in the store. Actually, there was hardly anybody there. The second thing that struck me as soon as I walked through the doors was a young buffoon walking around while staring at his smartphone. He was not talking with anybody, was not texting, and did not seem interested in picking up any of the books he was surrounded by. He was just walking around staring at his phone, oblivious to his surroundings. At one point he tripped and almost fell onto the escalator. During the hour or so I spent there, I observed several more techno-zombies exhibiting the same behavior, so it must be contagious. Finally, there were 5 or 6 people in the café section, each sitting at a separate table and staring at their respective laptop screens. None had any books on the tables, and most did not have any beverages either, so I guess they were there for the free wi-fi.

A few months ago I read an article stating that Barnes and Noble is on the verge of insolvency.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Zosima said...

Since this is a thread about the effects of technology, here’s a story that was buried because what some general was doing with his dick was deemed more important. As the computer models get better, the outlook for our immediate future starts to look much, much worse. It doesn’t look like we're going to have much time for crafts since we’ll all be sprinting at full speed away from worldwide forest fires. But relax, its only NASA, using the best supercomputers on the planet. And since America’s favorite climate scientist, Rush Limbaugh, says everything will be fine, I’m buying a bigger Humvee for Christmas.

“temperature rises due to global warming will probably be on the high end of projections, as much as a potentially catastrophic 8 degrees warmer than now by the end of the century.”

5:23 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I guess Techno-Buffoon Levels in the US are approaching asymptotic proportions. As for B&N, it was around a yr ago at this time that I did my c-span lecture at the branch store in Westwood, in LA. It was a Fri or Sat nite; except for the folks attending the lecture, there was almost no one in the store. After the lecture, the manager told me the store wd be closing on Dec. 31. I tell u, if they can't make it in Westwood on a weekend nite, where's it gonna happen? I'm guessing they will go the way of Borders in 2-3 yrs.


Here's a message I got from a Japanese friend living in Nagano Prefecture:

"i saw a documentary on a forgot village in a valley surrounded by mountains. they gave up asking to have electricity from big company and started producing their own while they changed their lifestyle to reduce the use of electricity. suddenly the forgot village became the future model of the country side."

He added that it was micro-hydroelectricity, and hand-constructed. He sent me a link to a short documentary (unfortunately sans English subtitles) to the one in Nagano, but says he knows of another one on Shikoku. I'm guessing this type of activity is starting to spread across the Japanese countryside.


5:55 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Anybody watching that video of yesterday's Black Friday's riots and still thinks you can have a viable happy life in the US is beyond delusional. By the way, Target opened at 9PM on Thursday, so much for spending Thanksgiving night with your family which was its original intent, or did President Lincoln create the holiday to stimulate the northern economy?
Of course techno-buffoonery is everywhere. In fact, teachers being observed by administrators have to show some form of technology during their lesson or they can get an Unsatisfactory rating which could eventually lead to a teacher's dismissal. The only thing I do with my group of 1st graders is occasionally play a song on a CD player. Most of the time we are talking, reading, stretching, ask and answering Why questions; in short, creating a solid, trusting relationship. As a result, I have near no discipline problems, students come to me to discuss personal issues and we treat each other with mutual respect. Then they return to their regular classrooms and have to strain their eyes looking at Smartboards, endure Zero Tolerance, and find themselves in extreme competition with each other for stars like Pavlovian dogs.
By the way, where is our president? Since the election he's almost no-where to be found. My guess is that he's come to realize what a sad pathetic human being he's become. Netanyahu fully endorses Romney, appears on TV adds with him in Florida yet the exigencies of the job require Obama to support Israel in Gaza. Oh, and I can't wait for some reporter to ask him if people have a right to defend themselves from drone attacks since he quite clearly stated that Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks. Yeah, can't wait.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Dear Prof. Berman:

Do you have a URL for the Jap. doc. on electricity generation? Is it available online?
My favorite image from Hurricane Sandy was the bike folk pedaling to create energy for recharging communications devices. My thought on seeing cyclers lined up in fitness centers has always been: What a waste! Hook them up!
Re techno-buffoons, I think it is possible that humans have an evolutionary need to use their hands and fingers and get tactile sensations and info from them---or perhaps this has been established and I didn’t hear about it. Our hands and the opposed thumb are a marker of our species. Greek men sitting around in cafes with time on their hands often filled them with worry beads. Is it possible that the constant manipulation of devices is partially a poor substitute for more constructive uses of the hands to carry out the tasks necessary for survival? The necessary things are pleasurable, right? The thumb is seeing a lot of use with handheld devices.

I am on chapter 2 of DAA and have encountered the term "focal" technology for the first time with explanation. The list on p. 70 of the characteristics of the "person of excellence" might include the ability to "make" with and manipulate expertly at least one material---metal, clay, cloth, wood, concrete, acrylic, bread dough, whatever. This involves learning the material’s characteristics, developing Fingerspitzengefuehl (literally, "fingertip sensitivity" but there is no genuine translation) for its tolerances, etc. and developing genuine dexterity. It is a cognitive process requiring concentration, attention to sensory details, forethought, trial and error, patience, practice, ability to tolerate frustration.

Re Sale’s review ( He is saying that you don't answer the question "why" but show "that it has."

9:34 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, I thought just abt every sentence of the bk was abt Why, but I guess Kirk didn't see it that way. What's a poor writer to do.

Here's the Japanese link:

Some Japanese kids are so obsessed w/texting that a phrase has arisen meaning something like 'thumb addiction'.



9:42 AM  
Anonymous Mr. Decay said...

Long term reader, once in a blue moon poster. When I saw this video, I immediately thought of this blog.

12:00 PM  
Blogger escapefromwisconsin said...

At the risk of self-promotion, I contemplated whether Japan was going into the future ahead of us in a 7-part series here:

Is Japan The Future?

Readers mind find some useful ideas.

I'm glad someone mentioned "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television" which deals with the inherent biases in technology - that was the first time I was exposed to the idea. And I had to chuckle at the Harley comment, I live in Milwaukee and during the summer the whole city sounds like a jet plane takeoff. For some reason, those of us who live here are supposed to hold this company in reverence just because they have not yet entirely moved offshore. It's also a company almost entirely based on imagery and play-acting (tough guys, etc).

2:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Mr. Decay-

Thanks to a culture of hustling, we see human beings in their most degraded state. I tell u, the major reason I feel bad that WAF never got any real publicity, sales, PR, and so on is that it explains things like this, and I like to think that perhaps 0.5% of the country would appreciate having the analysis. (Sigh)


Many thanks for providing this. I look forward to screening it.


3:46 PM  
Anonymous Kevin said...

The other interesting Japanese trend is population size, referenced in one of the earlier comments. An interesting article I read after Fukushima bemoaned the demographic trend of declining population as an additional (after the nuclear disaster) impediment to renewed economic "growth." But the article went on to note that, until the "opening" by Commodore Perry, the population was ~25 million for centuries. Looks like that's the carrying capacity of the islands and Japan is moving in that direction - a good thing, not a bad one per the article's author. If they can make a soft overshoot landing, they're likely to do much better than the U.S.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous infanttyrone said...


Your comment about Japanese kids being obsessed with texting brought to mind Fred Reed's latest piece.

Don't know if you've met or read Fred...think he's in the Ajijic area. If he's not an acquaintance, a reading of a few of his pieces should serve to qualify him an honorary Wafer, at least in my book.

I suspect you sell the average Joe in the USA a bit short...I think 0.5% or more of them already grasp the 'failed' part. WRT spreading the word, the only problem is that many of them are proto-Hikikomori, not a likely bunch to 'catapult the propaganda' to their clueless brethren.

On the bright side, though, as they spend more time online in their rooms, some will eventually download WAF from a bit torrent site and figure out the 'why'.

6:56 PM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

Big Oil and Big Zap cry foul: solar's gonna kill the grid!

"Hawaii’s Solar Market Is Booming; Why This Is a Very Bad Thing"

Energy independence is a worthy goal for the ruler, but when the serfs want it, then it's as dangerous as hell.

Several shrewd comments appear below the story, incl some claiming that the story tells lies about grid tech.

Aside from the question of corp profits, my takeaway is that this is another ex. of the American system's being so rigid and sclerotic that it must regard anyone's lessening its burden or attempting to heal it as intolerable. There are ontological/psychological issues here, very likely.

But then, I'm a wafer; what can you do?

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Bill M. said...


I was at the Stop 'n Shop grocery store today and I saw something that made me think of you. The store had little toy shopping carts for children to push around as their parents did their thing. These little toy carts had white flags sticking up out of them so adult shoppers wouldn't run into them. On the flags were typed the words "Customer in Training."

... Tee hee. Very funny, eh?

10:19 PM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

Occasionally a really good book will many copies.
I wish WAF would.
Why do so few read this stuff?
You're a really good writer with great ideas that gets good reviews from high caliber humans like Chris Hedges (whose books also do not sell in the millions).

10:36 PM  
Blogger Zosima said...

Don’t forget, everything we see around us is the result of the capitalist system. We’re never going to get anything other than what gives the most profits to capitalists. If crafts could somehow have been more profitable than cell phones, we’d see crafts everywhere instead of cell phones. If mass transit was more profitable that cars, we’d have mass transit. If small efficient cars were more profitable than large wasteful vehicles, we’d have small efficient cars. GDP goes up when people get cancer and other chronic diseases, healthy people just aren’t as profitable. So Fukushima may eventually produce an economic boom for Japan. Our capitalist elites may even decide that the only way to stimulate the US economy is to allow a couple of our nuke plants to melt down as well. War, disease, and environmental destruction are just too profitable for us to stop now and live in a steady-state, ecologically sound society. Welcome to the future, welcome to disaster capitalism.

11:02 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Professor Berman,

First time poster, here. Thank you so much for this blog and for Why America Failed. I lived in Mexico for five years and married into a Mexican family - we'd be there now but for extenuating circumstances. I recognize the experiences you describe in WAF as my own in many cases.

I wonder how you square your description of Japan with life in Mexico. I don't recall ever being at the movies in Mexico without half a dozen cell phone calls interrupting the picture. And loud, all night parties were the norm, at least in working class colonias where I lived. It takes some adjustment for a gringo. Ultimately it occurred to me that it wasn't actually inconsideration in the USA sense, but rather a completely different sense of personal space... why complain about the neighbors' loud party? We were probably there anyway and might be planning our own for next month... if you know what I'm saying... It's as if folks just expected to be banging into each other all the time, whereas in the US other people are mostly a nuisance...

While the traditional components of the culture seemed mostly intact, I have many nieces and nephews who want nothing so desperately as the latest iGadget. And they love 'social media' and American junk food... It was quite worrying to me that we'd eventually poison them with all our exports...

Anyway, welcome back to Mexico. Wish I were there too.

My best,

1:17 AM  
Anonymous Festus Z. Glowbug said...

Courtesy is certainly one reason folks in Japan keep their cell phone calls to themselves. But there is another possible reason - privacy. Namely, their own privacy. I can recall being in a bookstore and getting a call on my cellphone. I answered and began talking, while heading toward the exit. The foremost thought in my mind was not " These people don't want to hear me on my cell phone." Rather, my thought was " I don't want all these strangers overhearing a conversation I'm having."
This is probably part of the reason people in Japan are so discreet with their cell phone calls - privacy. And that constitutes a sort of individualism, I think.
In the past I have owned a few of those "pay as you go" AT & T phones, but don't currently. It's just too much money and hassle. Money that could be put to better use. I still maintain that all you need is a land line phone and an answering machine. (If ya wanna get ahold of me, you'll have to catch me at home !) We went from 1880 to 1990 without cell phones, and the world didn't fall apart.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You cd be rt, but it wdn't explain why the subway system posts notices abt not using cell phones, or why I heard a loudspeaker announcement on a bus specifically saying that such usage "disturbs other people." Cf. usage of hospital masks: in the US, to protect yrself from germs. In Japan, to protect *other people* from your germs. This is how the Japanese think, in a very basic way. Your own reaction on the phone--well, you weren't born and raised Japanese, I'm guessing. BTW, wd u.b. related to Rufus T. Firefly?


Thankfully, cell phone usage in movies has tended to die down as of late. But yr rt: the Mexicans have a very different sense of boundaries than obtains in Japan, no doubt abt it. It's lots more fluid, osmotic, and takes some getting used to. I had a lot of conflicts w/a neighbor over this for a while, tho the general consensus on my street is that he's a naco. As for fast food etc.: yes, Mexico is heavily Americanized, sad to say.


The horror, the horror! But check out early part of DAA, where I talk about how corporations are imprinting infants in a similar way.


Por favor, always capitalize Wafer. Lower case refers to cookies, or perhaps the eucharist. Upper case = one of abt 100 Americans who have figured out what the US is about. I really do hafta start bringing out a line of T-shirts, coffee mugs, purses, etc.


Trouble is that it's a much *older* population, and in the long run that will create all kinds of problems for Japan (and Europe as well, I'm guessing).


2:32 AM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

I'm wondering if Japan as a whole is perhaps more condoning of people that focus on one task at a time (seeing as they have the more extensive history of Zen you mention) as opposed to this whole "multi-tasking" thing that is so popular here in the U.S..
I have never believed in multi-tasking.
Not I am not good at it or don't like it--I don't believe in it.
You can only focus on one thing at a time.
Scientific experiments have been backing this up in recent years--saying it takes a moment to get back on track everytime you switch your focus and therefore you spend longer doing those two things, etc.
It's hard for me to imagine there is a country where this is somewhat accepted/undestood on a mass level.

Regarding single-focus vs "multi-tasking" did you, Morris, notice any difference in Japan--or do you in Mexico?

PS Where I work you see some in leadership expound greatly on the value of being able to multi-task. They regularly get off track, forget things, and take longer to do the things than they would have otherwise.

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Ho9sai said...

Dear Professor Berman,

I have been happily living in Japan for the past 24 years, have read most of your books and follow this blog when I have the time but I have never posted before. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised to see that you finally visited Japan. I recently lent "Twilight of American Culture" to an expat friend in Fukushima and while we both found the book to be thought-provoking and insightful we also had a sense that Japan might not hold up to some of your analysis. It's nice to see that your recent experiences have led you to rethink some things.

Anyway, I would agree with the basic premise of your recent post. Both the positive and negative aspects of Japan that you identified are felt by all of us expats who now call this home. However, I find that I can suffer many of the negative aspects much better now than I could at first, presumably because my American brainwashing was more entrenched at that time. Ironically, I now find that many of the things that I once thought were positive aspects of American culture have either lost their attraction or actually become repugnant. I try to go back and visit my family about once a year but after a week or two I'm really ready to come back to Japan.

Yes, whistle blowers are hard to find here, group mentality can be stifling to creativity, and the herd mentality can lead the country down dangerous roads at times. These are all things that the Japanese are forced to struggle with because they value harmony above all else. But perhaps constant vigilance against these dangers is a necessary price to pay for those of us who decry the lack of civility and human dignity on display in the great U.S. of A. After all, to my knowledge, no post-paleolithic culture on earth has yet achieved a perfect system. I guess we have to pick our poison.

One thing I did disagree with in your recent post however, is the quote from James Howard Kunstler. Big change rarely happens in Japan without some form of outside pressure and I find it hard to believe that Japan will "consciously" opt out of the system without some sort of external catalyst (like total global collapse of the system). It seems more likely to me that they will continue to scale back the existing industrial society until such time as they are forced to do otherwise. And I don't think it is accurate to say that the Japanese have lost faith in nuclear power. While much of the populace may have recently soured on the idea, the general consensus of my ex-colleagues in the renewable energy sector is that the conservative liberal democratic party (which is poised to retake power in the election next month) will begin pushing hard for a revival of the industry. Unfortunately, another negative aspect of Japanese culture is that public protest of any kind tends to be rendered impotent.

Just my two yen. Anyway, thanks for doing what you do :)

7:47 AM  
Anonymous shep said...


This Fred fellow is the best.

When I read about his experience with"Soldier of Fortune", I was wary, but, then, he mentioned they did not appreciate him like they shud.


10:36 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for yr input; I shd tell u, I really love yr artwork. I may be wrong, but I don't think Kunstler was necessarily saying the change he predicts will come w/o pressure or collapse. But I tell u, I did see a lot of alternative experimentation w/lifestyle and economy when I was there. Of course, as elsewhere, it won't catch on until there's abs no choice, but at least it's happening. As for nuclear power, I fear yr correct. Just more evidence that most industrial nations will continue to push the capitalist model until they wind up in the abyss. Re: group vs. individualistic mentality: I suspect I wd have a hard time living in Japan because the group mentality is so strong, but there is something relaxing abt a low-conflict society nonetheless, I grant u. (Japan cd probably use a dash of America and vice versa.) One reason I moved to Mexico is that I got tired of being surrounded by angry, aggressive people, all shouting Me!, and all having shit-for-brains. Smartest decision I ever made.

Ja mata-


11:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glenn Greenwald has taken some hits in criticizing the Obama admin's codifying the use of drones in Pakistan, Yemen etc..

Today a NYT's article details exactly what Grnwld was talking about.

Fav. line in the article:
“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,”

No kidding - and this might also apply to tapping of phones, routine invasion of privacy etc...

It prob doesn't need to be said here but I'll say it anyway. If these strikes were happening under a Bush admin. liberals wld be calling them a war crime w/o hesitation.

Thanks everyone for the great discussion, links etc..

El Juero

11:49 AM  
Blogger LJansen said...

"Trouble is that it's a much *older* population, ..." MB

"Unicharm Corp. (8113)’s sales of adult diapers in Japan exceeded those for babies for the first time last year. At Daiei Inc. (8263) supermarkets, customers can feel Japan aging -- literally: It has made shopping carts lighter."

And probably generational competition for diapering resources will not be the only problem.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Dan Henry said...

In keeping with the tech theme...though most here probably already read NC...

4:28 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Thanks, everybody. This has been a very gd/helpful discussion. Not that any of us (myself included) have any slam-dunk answers to these rather complex issues, but I'm enjoying reading all of your posts. Let's continue...


5:09 PM  
Anonymous Reverse Engineer said...

Culture issues aside, Japan is as Industrialized a nation as can be found on the face of the earth right now, and so will inevitably suffer the worst in the de-industrialization process.

All of their cities are concrete and asphalt jungles dependent now on electricity to function. all buildings above around 6 stories need to pump water to the upper floors, natural water pressure won't bring it any higher.

As Steve from Virginia showed clearly in his Japan=Detroit post, lack of credit will over time take the shiny new robotic factories of Japan and turn them into the same type of post-apocalyptic vacant factories that Detroit has already. It's not a question of will it occur anymore, just how long it will take.


6:22 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Maybe, but Japan's economic situation is not a slam dunk. As I mentioned 2u in an email, google 'Eamonn Fingleton Japan', and you'll find a host of essays, w/very detailed stats and so forth, indicating that this just isn't so. Not that he's necessarily correct, just that Japan's situation is not perfectly clear, and the future of Japan certainly isn't either.


7:11 PM  
Anonymous Mark Notzon said...

Dear MB

"I suspect I wd have a hard time living in Japan because the group mentality is so strong, but there is something relaxing abt a low-conflict society...."

Having lived for an extended periods in Mali, Burkina Faso (West Africa) and Indonesia, I observed this in comparing the driving habits of both regions. When traffic jammed at a four way intersection--a common occurence in both countries, for in West Africa there were no traffic lights, while those in Indonesia often did not work, the African drivers would stick their heads out the windows of their vehicles, waving arms and shouting, until a way out was established--this did not last more than a couple of minutes then the traffic would gradually grind on. Among the Indonesian drivers, there seemed to be a quick code of non-verbal communication--hand signals, nods of the head, etc.--which would do the same, and straighten out the snarl in little time.

The only occurence of North American "road rage" I knew of was that of an American expatriate in Indonesia, who chased down a motorcylist whom he thought had scraped the side of his car, but hadn't. The American overtook the cyclist, stopped, got out and punched him in the nose before looking at the car and finding no damage done. The cyclist had simply bumped a flexible side mirror that flipped back unharmed.

--Mark N.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Vince said...

Tim Lukeman,

Thank you posting the title "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television". I found the piece online, saved it, and read it this morning. It is spot on. You are correct about assimilation by the Borg. That is what the blue tooth ear pieces remind of.

Zosima @ EscapeFromWisonson,

I am with you concerning the Harleys. I am a mechanic by trade (truck), and can not stand those obnoxious pieces of junk. The noise is the epitome of American Exceptionalism.


I hope that you had a fine trip to Japan. Thank you for changing up the conversation. This election cycle nearly drove me crazy. I have had to endure people from both major parties clamor about why they were voting for their particular rock star candidate.

I waited until the election was over to remind them that the incumbent always wins and always will. I was told that that was not possible. So I had to clue them in that the real incumbent was money. It is pretty plain to those of us who are aware of the real game at hand; thanks in no small part to your work.


7:15 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Techno-Buffoons out of control:

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thght I'd mention a couple of things related to the topic of technology.

One is an interesting essay and responses to that essay at:
The Online Education Revolution

I couldn't begin to sum it up and the responses are worth reading w/o my adding anything to it.

Also, John Zerzan has an interesting anarcho-primitive weekly radio show at:
The weekly show almost always has a "tech segment" with stories about technology gone wrong and his thoughts on it. Worth listening to IMHO. Plenty of older podcasts there that may be of interest.

I'm in Mexico trying to learn to make shoes by hand. Today I bought lunch for a 7 y/o trying to make a living selling gum. That's where I'm at and about what I can do. I also ate some great pozole verde (green soup) w/ chicken and enjoyed watching the Mexican women here. I frequently find myself hoping for power outages.

BTW, I read not long ago that Joni Mitchell does not have a cell phone or a computer nor even an answering machine.

El Juero

12:14 AM  
Anonymous Reverse Engineer said...

"Maybe, but Japan's economic situation is not a slam dunk. As I mentioned 2u in an email, google 'Eamonn Fingleton Japan', and you'll find a host of essays, w/very detailed stats and so forth, indicating that this just isn't so. Not that he's necessarily correct, just that Japan's situation is not perfectly clear, and the future of Japan certainly isn't either."-MB

I read EFs take on the Japanese Debt, which more or less reflects conventional economics, thanks for the link.

In a sense, debt can be created infinitely, but the resources it represents cannot be. Conventional economics doesn't take into account resource depletion, it makes the assumption that at a high enough price the resources will always be there to extract. Steve is better with the nuts and bolts of this argument, I look more at the big picture on a cultural level.

In any event, Japan bases its ability to create Debt Money to loan to the Eurotrash based on the export economy, mainly automotive and electronic. Said products are becoming ever harder to retail to anyone as credit is constrained everywhere. Their ability to extend credit both to themselves and the Eurotrash will become ever more constrained here, and if the BoJ goes ahead and tries to peg out the Yen, it will destroy the Carry Trade, generally leading to a Hyperinflationary event for the Yen as big investors try to dump it at the same time.

No matter how you cut it, I don't see a good outcome possible for the Nipponese here. Horrible Demographics with an aging population, poor resources and increasing real cost of energy all conspire to spell SAYONARA in the Land of the Setting Sun.


12:32 AM  
Blogger Patrick D. Fitzgerald said...

If you check out this link, keep in mind that the average wage for a Wal-Mart associate is $8.84 or so, teaching thieves a lesson is much cheaper without courts or judges:,0,1089985.story

On another note, anyone seriously interested in fleeing the USA as Professor Berman and others already have, please get in touch with me at I may have an opportunity to share. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a small farm in south america recently and I am looking for fellow future exiles to help me build and establish it. If any like-minded folks are to be found, this is the blog where I would find imagine I'd find them.
Not limited to only serious inquiries, just send me a message if you're curious.

2:25 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


You could be rt, but as I said, this is not open and shut. Fingleton has numerous articles that wd suggest a more positive outcome, and he seems to be pretty gd at refuting his critics. (You might write him directly, see what he says.) Myself, I really don't know. I'm not an expert in these things, and at present I'm just collecting information. But I suspect it's not as cut-and-dried as you make it out to be. One more thing: I'm uncomfortable with racial epithets such as 'Eurotrash' and 'Nipponese'. Let's stick to Europeans and Japanese, por favor.

El J-

How in hell did u wind up doing that? And where, in Mexico?


6:04 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

CRE Dept.:

On another matter, as of this pt the president has murdered 2500 people via drone attacks, i.e. since he took office in 2009.

7:38 AM  
Anonymous Zero said...

This is the just and reasonable punishment to be administered to anybody who refuses to properly partake in the blessed Black Friday techno-sacrament:

8:22 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

Just saw a real nice cartoon illustrating the results of crapitalism and technology.

It was a golden hour glass. The upper portion (saw dust) depicted a V shaped forest falling into the abyss below. The lower portion shows the skyline of many varied and tall buildings.

9:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in Leon. Mexican shoe capital of well, Mexico (also Latin America). I also teach English which gets me around the world.

The shoe interest after having a pair of shoes start fall apart and wondering why I couldn't fix them or make a pair. The interest lead me to make some odd stops around the planet to lrn about it. I've been a desk jockey most of my life but it's been very interesting learning about how markets work & the social connections within.

Only a few old timers here seem to remember the "old" way to make a crafted shoe by hand (all of it). The "need" to compete w/ China has lead to synthetic products, more machine driven approaches & the loss of skills. Too long to go into here but fascinating in its own way.

El Juero

9:33 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I don't understand why Wal-Mart didn't give the 3 employees who killed the guy, promotions. But here's another case of killing people I thought Wafers might enjoy:

This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York island...This land was made for you and me!


9:37 AM  
Anonymous Xiale said...

Given the current discussion I think that Neil Postman is especially pertinent. Postman was extremely prophetic concerning issues of culture, technology, and education. Summing up the radical impact of technology on culture, Postman once told me that new technologiesl are ecological, not additive. As such, I've copied part of the prologue to Amusing Ourselves to Death, which sums up our current situation quite nicely.

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

11:21 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Dear Prof. Berman:
Brian said (speaking of Mexico):
"It's as if folks just expected to be banging into each other all the time, whereas in the US other people are mostly a nuisance..."

I have long maintained that Americans are "space junkies." We need more space than others because we do not possess the social skills needed to be in close quarters for any extended period of time, on both the personal and the community level. Lebensraum a l'americaine. I live in a crowded area of a small state, Massachusetts. Yet a friend visiting from Germany could not get over the amount of space we have: the size of houses, the space around and between them, the "wide open spaces" between towns (even though we have successfully trashed much of this "undeveloped" space at every level). She would be utterly speechless in Western Mass! Space has always been the safety valve in US society, I think. Not just in the "frontier" sense but in the "space around me" sense. If this were not the case, I feel sure that there would be more conflict and tension and open aggression etc. than there is already. Many people are also quite unthinking in their use of space, such as parking their behemoth vehicles (few actually drive a "car" nowadays) so sloppily that total parking space is reduced for everyone.

Yet in orderly countries such as the Netherlands, with, relatively speaking, super population densities, there is, actually, a palpable sense of tranquillity in the out of doors because the disposable space is well designed for low-tech,low-impact recreation based on intense use of trains and bikes.

12:17 PM  
Anonymous Reverse Engineer said...

"You could be rt, but as I said, this is not open and shut. Fingleton has numerous articles that wd suggest a more positive outcome, and he seems to be pretty gd at refuting his critics. (You might write him directly, see what he says.) Myself, I really don't know. I'm not an expert in these things, and at present I'm just collecting information. But I suspect it's not as cut-and-dried as you make it out to be. One more thing: I'm uncomfortable with racial epithets such as 'Eurotrash' and 'Nipponese'. Let's stick to Europeans and Japanese, por favor."-MB

Fingleton is a pacific rim bull, he's certainly not the only one out there either. Did you happen to read either of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's last two columns shilling for China? Eeeewwww.

The Asian Bull Economy is IMHO a massive Subprime Bubble, an enormous population to expand the Ponzi into, but still a Ponzi. It's going to Pop when per capita available energy falls below critical mass, which it is very near to doing. I trust you are familiar with Richard Duncan's theories?

Far as the "Europeans" and "Japanese" go, I follow the Don Rickles philosophy and insult everybody. :) If Jimmy Kunstler can insult fat, beer swilling NASCAR fans from Dixie all the time, I figure it is open season on everyone. Why should just obese Americans get hammered on?

However, I will keep the Gonzo in my commentary here to a minimum and keep it to the Diner where everybody is used to it.

BTW WAFERS, I republished MB's article up on the Diner, so when the 200 comment limit is reached here, anyone is welcome to come over to the Diner to continue the chat.


12:31 PM  
Anonymous Mr. Decay said...

FYI. I'm still waiting for the Santa Fe Public Library to honor my request to add WAF to their collection. There's a comfortable place waiting for it, nestled between "Why Am I Different?" and "Why America Slept: the Failure to Prevent 9/11"

12:56 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


1st: Wafers: no need to go to the Diner blog to continue talking about this subject. Whatever I post at a future pt, you can always continue discussing Japan, or technology, here.

Fingleton may be a bull, but that doesn't nec. mean he's wrong. As I said, u might try running your arguments past him, see what he hasta say. After all, u cd be an anti-bull, and still be rt. Myself, I'm impressed by his detail, at least enuf to say that the jury is probably still out on all of this.

Regarding racial epithets: just be advised that if u use them, I won't post yr messages.


On that topic, check out DAA ch. 7.

El J-

Yr actually an hr away from me. BTW, if u can get to FIL in Guadalajara on Nov. 29, I'm giving a lecture there, 5 p.m., as part of the PR for the Spanish edn of WAF (Las raices del fracaso americano).


I've always been a big fan of Postman's, have quoted him a lot. What we have now, in terms of social control, is a combo of Orwell and Huxley, it seems to me. BTW, if yr anywhere nr Michigan on June 22, I'm going to be given the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity at the annual convention of the Media Ecology Assn. (Bring yr friends and a 6-pack.)


1:30 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Greetings Dr. Berman and fellow Wafers,

Life in America has been reduced to stampeding hordes of fanatical shoppers willing to participate in a pre-dawn frenzy of violence to get their consumer "junk" fix. Their eyes and faces reveal an odd mixture of quickening paranoia and a strange irreality. It begs the question of how much of this behavior is conscious and how much of it has been programmed into these people? Considering what these Techno-Buffoons are willing do to get more crap, it makes me wonder what they will do when there will be less crap to purchase or the techno frenzy reaches its ceiling?

I know it sounds crazy Dr. Berman, but is this the "literal" end result of the hustling culture? Is it essentially a feeding frenzy of out of control American shoppers who basically need psychiatric help?

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Dear Prof Berman:
I am committing a one-post violation, so can be posted some other time. The topic may be timeless.
You said:

Upper case = one of abt 100 Americans who have figured out what the US is about.

There are many more than you may think (not taking your figure literally, obviously, but still). Of this I am quite sure. But they may not have encountered your books. I have been thinking of escape since the Reagan election---and I had returned to the USA just four years earlier!---but the first time I heard of you was the recent TruthOut essay. I won't leave while my truly ancient parents are alive, but when they are gone, I'm outta here.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Reggie D-

It's best to write to the most current post. I just wanted u to know that I never received any email from u.


2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Unfortunately, I won't be in Mexico after Wednesday AM. Back to Asia to work. My job search here has been pretty fruitless around Leon. Some of it's bad timing I suppose. I always seem to come back though to Mexico after work in Asia and GDL is what remains on my list of cities to take a run at.

Honestly, I was going to email but w/ the timing of your trip to Japan I wasn't sure.....I sincerely hope next time I can catch you for some dinner or a beer.

El Juero

6:49 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...


At least they “slaughtered” him in Walmart’s parking lot. This way any wannabe corporate blasphemers will get the message loud and clear that such behaviors shall not be tolerated.

I have been in the US for almost 4 months now. Every day I see countless reminders of why I left 5 years ago. The only positive thing is that we managed to put our daughter in a good school (one of the few remaining), and she is making excellent progress toward becoming fluent in English. Other than that, being in the US is a frustrating, depressing, and expensive experience. The 7 more months I still have to spend here (until my daughter’s school year ends) will be hard, but this blog and the thought that my home in the mountains of Romania is waiting for us makes things a little easier. After this, it is unlikely I will ever come here again, even to visit.

Thanks for a great blog.


7:59 PM  
Anonymous tam said...

Greetings, Doc B!

In a solid effort to limit my exposure to the internet, I always make an exception for you! :) Thanks for being a steadfast teacher! ... And learner! (Real teachers never quit learning.)

I'm so grateful for your works, and just wanted to pop in to let you and the WAFers here know how much I appreciate y'all!

Best wishes! Good health! Cheers!


4:47 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


When Jefferson wrote 'pursuit of happiness', everyone in 18C America knew that it meant pursuit of property. As Oscar Handlin once wrote, "Americans found liberty along the way; that was never the express purpose" (I'm quoting from memory here). This from a very mainstream historian. If Tom was a hustler, what can u expect from some douchebag at a Wal-Mart sale?

Tam and Julian-

I appreciate yr appreciation. Speaking of technology, if there were a way to send u a few chicken enchiladas over the Net, I wd do it.


6:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

This American Life:

7:27 AM  
Anonymous Xiale said...


I understand your idea of a hustling culture from the very founding of the nation. However, how do we reconcile ideas of cultural hegemony, ideological state apparatuses, and propaganda within the context of a hustling culture? Is this simply a question of propaganda and cultural hegemony serving as a means of indoctrination to a people already predisposed to hustling?

7:58 AM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

I had a long post about this guy Dunn and his self-proclaimed justifications for murdering and fleeing, but really I would just like to say R.I.P. to the kid.
What a tragedy.

I am embarrased to admit that more than once I have encountered this type pf ego-maniac hot-head and have stayed alive only by bowing down to them.
Maybe it's better to stand up for yourself and just get shot.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


A long discussion, but the line I wd pursue is that on some level, a hustling culture knows it's empty. I mean, what kind of spiritual belief system is *that*? As a result, there's a corresponding need to keep saying We're the best, We're No. 1, and so on.


Well, the kids were egomaniacs too, when u think abt it. The real solution is that everyone be armed to the teeth, and be encouraged to use their weapons at the slightest provocation. If they had AK-47's, and he had an AK-47, everyone cd have just blown everyone else outta the water. Meanwhile, we need to chg the motto on legal tender from "In God We Trust" to "Bring It On!".


9:28 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

I spent a good few years immersed in a culture with a lot of mutual bowing (Korean), hated it to begin with but eventually learned that it is not at all about subservience, more an acknowledgement of the inevitable.

So I would say bow and save your life every time, Barry Bliss, and have no heroic regrets.

I was thinking also about what I learned about the British history of voting rights; from the beginning it was all about property rights with only landowners having a say, then other property owning males then finally women and non-owners demanding to be enfranchised.

So the freedom and democracy aspect was a side effect of divvying up the goods, not a cause, from the beginning. Truly a nation of shopkeepers, as Napolean said.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too find it Kunstler's prediction that Japan may lead the way back from modern technological society hopeful. If you haven't seen it, here is a powerful Japanese street performance after Fukushima by "Frying Dutchman" titled "human error" that suggests Kunstler may be right. I recommend watching the whole thing for its full impact but if you don't have that kind of time, see esp. minutes 15 - 19.!

9:59 AM  
Anonymous bart said...

mb, on TJ as hustler, Henry Wieneck's Master of the Mountain reviewed in today's NY Times:

....Mr. Wiencek points to a note in the margins of a 1792 report to George Washington that he believes shows Jefferson, then serving as secretary of state, calculating the birth of slave children as delivering a reliable return on capital of “4 percent per annum” — a note, he claims, that no writer on Jefferson has ever mentioned.

“It was all about the money,” he said. “By the 1790s, he saw them as capital assets and was literally counting the babies.”

12:40 PM  
Anonymous Xiale said...


It would appear then, that in recognizing this spiritual emptiness, a hustling culture creates it's own internal sublimating mechanisms, which are expressed outwardly as cheerleading, jingoism, etc. Indeed, if this is the case new technologies seem to serve as a feedback loop, reinforcing spiritual emptiness, and finally cultural death. If all else fails there are always antidepressants.

1:01 PM  
Anonymous Stone said...

Just read this article which starts as follows:

"In Meridian, Miss., it is school officials – not police – who determine who should be arrested. Schools seeking to discipline students call the police, and police policy is to arrest all children referred to the agency, according to a Department of Justice lawsuit. The result is a perverse system that funnels children as young as ten who merely misbehave in class into juvenile detention centers without basic constitutional procedures."

Strikes me as a fitting way of ushering the young into the maximum security state that is the USA.

My only reservation is that the procedure is somewhat antiquated: indeed, I think that every school should be equipped with an on-site jail and a police station.

Source: Nicole Flatow,"Mississippi County Jails Kids For School Dress Code Violations, Tardiness, DOJ Alleges," Nov. 27, 2012,

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Jerome Langguth said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

For what it’s worth, I think the linked article by Iain Thomson, a prominent Heidegger scholar, bears on your question regarding the way technology is taken up in the US compared to elsewhere. Thomson is very good with Heidegger’s rather thorny presentation in his later writings of the “promise and danger” of technology, and discusses why Heidegger came to see America as itself “the danger” of technology,-- and as a “dystopia blithely mistaking itself for utopia.”

2:59 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Greetings Dr. Berman and fellow Wafers,

Doctor Berman-

I wonder what guys like Handlin, Hartz and Hofstadter would write about today while surveying the American political and cultural scene and witnessing the Techno-Buffoons in action? One of the things that stood out in WAF was the fact that many historians of the 1950s and 1960s were clued into the hustling game/critique of the United States. It is also interesting, as you indicate, that many of those guys were quite mainstream. Congratulations to you on receiving the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity. That is great news and a great honor!


Apparently Mittney campaign merchandise has been drastically discounted. Get it while supplies last! Wal-Mart is selling Mittney's books at 35 percent off. I don't know about you guys, but I'm holding out for a Mittney bobblehead doll. I plan on constructing a shrine for our poor venerated Mittney.


5:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Many thanks; I'm printing it out as we speak, will read it on bus to Guadalajara tomorrow (giving lecture at annual bk fair). Heidegger is indeed a thorny issue. That someone so smart cd be so naive abt the political context. I guess he wdn't be the 1st, but for many, his Nazi party membership discounts his philosophy. The Kyoto Schl philosophers in Japan, some of whom went to Germany to study w/him, got caught up in something similar, tho perhaps not as egregiously. It just annoys me that the political rt tends to be into meaning, and the political left into jobs. Like they both can't be simultaneously impt.


This is a step in the rt direction, but still pulling punches. We shd have the police tasering kids in kindergarten, or even in day care. Why all this restraint?


Thanks for the link; interesting article. In the case of someone like Jefferson, I regard him as a true genius who carved out a great possibility for America. But he was, after all, a Lockean individualist, who believed in the importance of hustling--something I discuss somewhere in my trilogy. After all, that was the overall context, and he was a man of his times. His 1800 campaign lit strongly promoted the value of consumerism; when he wrote "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," everyone understood that happiness meant property. Great figures, in short, are almost always complex figures. But I got a kick out of how he has been vilified by academic historians, 1st because he's an indep. scholar, and 2nd because yr not supposed to attack sacred cows in America. It triggers deep rage, because existentially and ontologically speaking, Americans are always on shaky ground. Take away the cows, and one is facing the Abyss. After all, hustling is hardly a spiritual path. I discuss this in QOV (following Robt Bellah) as the 'civil religion': we've actually made a religion out of the US itself, and of course if you tell a Muslim that Mohammed was a crock, or a Christian that the evidence for Christ's existence is pretty weak, they go ballistic. There is very little reflexivity among Americans, in short; even intellectuals worship at the shrine. Of course, the alternative to vilifying a radical pt of view is to ignore it; and I hafta say, I've had my share of both (but mostly being ignored). Those of us in this category, such as Wieneck, can only hope that when America is a 4th-rate power and its history is being written by the Chinese or whoever, these latter-day historians will stumble upon our work and say: "Well I'll be damned!"

Sir Tag-

Many thanks. I just copied into my Japan file and will screen it later.


6:43 PM  
Anonymous shep said...

Sir Tagio:

Thanks. Unbelievably fantastic!

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Savantesimal said...

It is a rather long video, and the "music" is very repetitive. Looks like just an excuse for the guy to rant. Since Japanese culture apparently won't tolerate serious criticism from serious journalists, he has to assume the role of a punk/rap performer to utter what amounts to a long editorial. It's hardly worth calling a "song" since there is no rhythm at all. A little bit of searching turns up the lyrics in print. Much easier to just read his statement. :)

SOTT: Frying Dutchman - HumanError

8:43 PM  
Blogger Reader said...

Sir Tagio,

Powerful, I'm speechless. Thank you. A message we all need to hear.

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Death Spiral Notebook said...

My Very American Thanksgiving:

My wife's cousin just returned from his first visit to Spain. Of the siesta he says, "Why are they all just sitting around? They need to get busy and make some money --they're all broke!"

Also, we played a word game with another cousin and she was unfamiliar with the word "unscrupulous." She has a Econ degree and works for a bank.

You can't make this stuff up.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Dear Prof Berman:
You said, re Thomas Jefferson:
“Great figures, in short, are almost always complex figures.”

Last year I visited Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. I felt a bit silly---chauvinistic tourist trap, etc.---but it is one of the sights to see there, so I went. It was very much worth the visit. I am of course aware of the ongoing controversy as to “who” Jefferson “really” was: wily diplomat, racist pig who exploited a woman he owned, etc. Americans are so ignorant of their own history yet so confident that their contemporary views suffice to explain and pass judgment on the past. Monticello is TJ’s architectural, social, technological, agricultural testing ground for improvements that he thought would be of value to the citizens of the new nation. Yes, economic improvements, but for the larger community. The man was, clearly, a genius. His terrace- cum-cistern thing is brilliant. Etc. I won’t recount further. What is hardest for me to wrap my head around re TJ is the complex relations of many Southern families in those days. Our current categories and attitudes do not suffice. The Jefferson, Wayles, and Hemings families were intertwined over multiple generations. I wonder whether they lived with internal tensions every day, or whether they took their situation for granted, the surrounding society knew what the real deal was (sort of like euthanasia: it’s against the law but we know that doctors do it). A C’ville native told me that it is locally known that Jefferson owned land to the west of C’ville---away from civilization, so to speak---where he planned to establish his mixed-blood (is that expression PC?) sons on farms so that they would be at a remove from the Virginia mainstream.

Something else:
On p. 247 of DAA, you talk about the “noble tradition . . . according to which one is expected to well versed in science, literature, history, play music, do a sport, speak several languages, and be charitable. . . . only a tiny upper crust of these societies could afford to have this sort of life.” You seem to imply, though you do not state, that this sort of life is possible only for the upper crust in aristocratic societies. It seems to me that the sad thing about our current situation is that we have the wherewithal (infrastructures [e.g., libraries] and technologies [e.g., Internet] and space) to bring this sort of life within reach of everyone, or many, but we don’t provide the models that make everyone want to lead this sort of life. Perhaps this is your point? That an aristocracy provides models for the ideal human? Not sure. I think TJ did have this vision for Americans.

Re languages, I am struck that many people working here in low-status jobs get no credit for the intellectual achievement of being bilingual, whereas your average native-born either can’t be bothered to learn a second language, or, if s/he is actually able to communicate in something besides English, it is considered a huge deal!

8:35 AM  
Blogger Robo said...

Lately there have been reports of school districts across the US dropping the requirement that students learn the cursive style of handwriting because of general irrelevance in an age of keyboards and touch screens. Apparently, teaching of the printed alphabet will continue for the time being.

This morning on the radio I heard a New York state school administrator explain that they could always reverse this directive 'in the future' if it turned out to be a mistake. No mention of the lifelong impact on a generation of students who never learned traditional handwriting skills during this trial and error period.

Brave New World, indeed.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Sir Tagio,

Thanks so much for the link. I certainly appreciate it.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous paul said...

Intersting discussion. Haven't been here in a while but the comments surrounding T'day and the madness that ensues. I spent the day with 'friends'. It's a term I use rather loosely these days but what can you do when everyone thinks in terms of: stuff = self.

So, the conversation comes around to what I have been busy 'doing' and the last few months I've been doing things of a more artistic nature, drawing, painting... it soothes my soul. Well, the subject someone asked to see some of my work which I had examples of in my car and of course the detractors came out of the woodwork (I think more out of their own fear) something to the effect referencing the starving artist sort of thing and that I shouldn't quit my day job. Apparently art is only something that kids do these days (and not much at that, I might add) and is not really a viable profession. A few win the lottery as far as financial success goes - so to speak but for the most part it's not something to be taken seriously. Of course 'art' to some of these people would be more in line of spending a fortune on the kind of shlock that has come to grace the most of the art world these days... I suppose writers of any worth are in the same boat... I look at it as my way of keeping sane in this insane "culture" if nothing else. At any rate, I mainly try to interact with people that support the arts but that is getting fewer and farther between these days... Happy belated T'day!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Boris the Spider said...

I watched Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" documentary the other night. A good look at how American's rugged individualism and insane commodity consumerism (wheat, in this case) caused a terrible ecological disaster, and how the same individualism stood in the way of a solution for many years.

The same thing would be happening all over again if the government hadn't bought up so much of the land and turned it into a national preserve, thus preventing the manic over-farming that caused the original Dust Bowl. Still. on the land that is currently being farmed, the agro-concerns are ignoring the lessons of the past. Too much money to be made now, and damn the consequences.

If we do have the kind of collapse Kunstler talks about, we simply don't have the community ties that would get us through it. As this documentary shows, even in those yesteryears we didn't have that kind of community -- everybody had to suffer in their own nuclear families, and had too much pride to let anyone help. And if they dared up and move to another region, they'd become pariahs ("Okies") by the locals.

5:42 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Some friends!


Sorry, I don't post Anons. Pls pick a handle and re-send. I suggest Rufus T. Firefly.


7:26 PM  
Anonymous in.fern.all said...

Mr. Berman,
Regarding the Hikkikomori: is it possible that they are a version of the youthful spiritual sojourner who leaves/rejects home, family, society for some kind of vision quest or transformational experience, but in this case their
social conditioning precludes them from doing anything so "contra" social? A book I read a couple of months ago, "Into the Wild",by Jon Krakauer, describes a similar story of willful but non-violent rejection of family and society, albeit from a more active, American standpoint. Krakauer at one point draws a parallel between the protagonist and the various monastic and indigenous rites-of-passage traditions. Is it possible the Hikkikomori phenomenon is related to this impulse but from a subconscious level? I can't help but think of Zen rocks.

11:42 PM  
Anonymous Xiale said...

This is slightly off topic, but I just can't imagine this happening in the United States. In fact, I'm quite sure most Americans are unaware that a country named Uruguay even exists.

12:11 AM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...

There is a principle I call the replacement principle. According to this, no work, actually no activity of any kind, is or shd be done for its own sake, for the values it uniquely gives. In school you study for the grade (or gold stars, or a trip to Disney World, or some other replacement). It doesn't matter what the subj matter or the product or the work is. You learn and do yr job for the pay day, the bonus, or yr "reputation," etc. This principle "replaces" or substitutes the motive for which you naturally would perform a given activity, w/ a cash award or w/ some other outside, unrelated "incentive." In our culture, incentive seems *defined* as such substitutes.

This bears on craft, maybe, in that few actually care what they're doing. To love yr work is considered impractical or an act. In art for ex., it doesn't matter what the artwork is - cld be old toenail clippings - its raison d'etre (and only respectable value) is market performance. Ditto, more or less, for all activities and products. Gold stars, new cars, a trip to Hawaii: these are the things that are supposed to make you salivate for (fill in the blank).

You're supposed to feel ashamed if you value making pots for the things making pots uniquely gives you...such as sturdy pots that hold water, for ex.

The puzzle is that so many people not only seem well-motivated under the replacement principle, but also can't understand anyone who isn't. What is this "I am not what I am" mentality? Dr. B, any ideas, suggested readings?

12:34 AM  
Anonymous JWO said...


That's awesome! President Mujica is my new hero.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Well gang, here I am at the Feria Internacional de Libros in Guadalajara, doing interviews for Mexican media, and hafta give my public lecture in 2 hrs. Fun, but tiring. Anyway, some short answers:


You might try that old classic, The Divided Self, by R.D. Laing. Also T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."


Zen Rocks! Great bumper sticker. I suspect the hikos just poked their nose outside their door, looked around, saw that everyone was busy doing something stupid and/or meaningless, and said: "No thanks!" They may have a pt.


3:46 PM  
Anonymous Golf Pro said...

Here's a nice evocation of CRE from the BBC comedy show "Harry & Paul"

6:23 PM  
Anonymous ennobled little day said...

I searched Wikipedia for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and started reading it...

Soon I was reminded of my American education. Is there anything I could do to remedy it? I bought a copy of Roger Scruton's Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. It's one of those "A Very Short Introduction" books from Oxford University Press. Would that be a good start?

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Xiale said...

Munica certainly has an interesting take on things. Far greater perspective than any mainstream American politician.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous sanctuary! said...


Laing and Prufrock. Ah, crazy and hopeless is the diagnosis? :)

Will your Guadalajara lecture be online? Inquiring WAFers (& wafers) wanna watch. Thanks.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Reader said...


Thanks for sharing that, President Mujica is one very cool dude. I say this, admittedly, not being current on Uruguayan politics . . . I'm curious now so I'm on it, just as soon as I finish reading WAF.

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Susan W. said...

Dear Dr. Berman,

Boris the Spider--

I saw The Dust Bowl and it should be required viewing for everyone over 16; the subtitle could be A Fool Never Learns. The lead story on the news last night was the melting of the ice on both poles and the dire consequences our lack of wisdom will and is causing us. And this is world-wide too, this core value of money over everything else. While correcting this may be impossible (but I hope not), I've thought a lot about a possible first step to change this trajectory. The only thing I can come up with is rationing resources and subsidizing local farmers to begin the transition back to responsible food production. I realize these are radical suggestions but what else is there that can be practically done? Reading Collapse by Diamond, I remember one Japanese emperor who made it illegal to cut down the trees and essentially saved the forests. I wish someone--anyone---in Washington would stop talking about tax cuts and start talking about this ecological disaster. Maybe what we need is an Occupy Earth movement rather than an Occupy Wall Street movement that continues to enshrine $$ at the core. Dr. B. was right--if it's only about everyone having a shot at a BMW, we're doomed.

I went to my daughter's graduation last week and met many of her friends, all bright, energetic and enthusiastic about life. It wasn't the time or the place but I wanted to shake them and scream "Wake up!!! You need to channel that talent and brain power into the biggest challenge we've ever faced."

7:43 AM  
Anonymous ellen said...

"I suspect the hikos just poked their nose outside their door, looked around, saw that everyone was busy doing something stupid and/or meaningless, and said: "No thanks!" They may have a pt."

Now that's classic, I suspect you may be right.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Zero said...

This is where technology has unavoidably taken this nation of techno-hustlo-buffoons (THB):

1:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I gave my GDL lecture yesterday, no video cameras present. Besides, it's in Spanish, so might not be of much use 2u unless yr an hispanohablante. However, I'm going to give it in English in late June at the annual mtg of the Media Ecology Assn in Michigan, if that helps any. I'm guessing they'll run a video camera and post the link.


4:11 PM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

Maybe Wafers already know about this story, but it was news to me. Adult content in this one.

Just another entry in the "evidence that WAF is correct" file.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Frederick Froth said...

ennobled little day

But Roger Scruton is very closely associated with all of the usual right wing neo-psychotic think tanks that promote hustling as an obligatory virtue and USA exceptionalism too.

He is or was a "scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute. His essays are regularly featured in/on their magazines and websites, included the vile "catholic" based American Spectator.

8:48 PM  
Anonymous bart said...

Susan W et al--

For a sense of what is happening out on the farmland.... Dark Ages America... Onward... Downward..:

7:45 AM  
Anonymous Stone said...

The video posted by Pinkpearl is yet another nail in the coffin that is America.

This place is utterly devoid of hope.

Gotta get out before it's too late.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Has anyone seen the episode of the Star Trek: Next Generation called The Game? Almost everyone on the Enterprise becomes addicted to a game which involves wearing glasses and moving balls into hoops with your mind. It stimulates pleasure centers in the brain and has been sent by an alien ship that seeks to take over the Enterprise. Data removes the spell with beams of light in their eyes. If it were so easy here.
I always think when I see everyone single person in a subway train looking at their iPhone that the aliens have taken over THIS ship.
I think an antidote is applying the capabilities approach of Sen and Nussbaum to the US in whatever ways possible. In this approach, wellbeing comes from expressing your capacities. It certainly ties into the craft traditions MB is describing in Japan. On the community level, the decentralized resilience in NYC after the storm is encouraging, eg. Occupy Sandy.

11:03 AM  
Blogger CJ said...

Hi Dr. Berman,

Great post and insights on Japan! I've been fortunate to visit Japan in recent years for a couple 2-3 week trips... as you know, it's a beautiful country with very kind people. Despite being gaijin, it's a place I'd still love to live for a time despite the Fukushima disaster... it's just so very civilized with an uplifting blend of the traditional and the old and new. You're right on about the group mentality on public respect, which is clearly part of their culture and education system.

Just would like to re-state your great point with an observation and question:
Your great point -- "...what we see is not the introduction of a new technology and the subsequent transformation of the culture. No; the culture of Japan is strong enough to resist the negative effects of this technology, by a factor of something like 80%.... So while in the US, technology combines with the ideology of extreme individualism to create a race of obnoxious techno-buffoons and zombies, in Japan the culture of public respect limits what technology can do."

The roots of Japan's respectfulness go beyond its Shinto and Buddhist roots, it's actually a part of education and society as a people, a country, so there is that genuine respect. I went to a small catholic elementary school where they did a pretty good job actually, although even there as in public schools I went to, there was no actual message that we are a common people and as such should have public respect for each other and shared common space, etc.

Q: Do you think it possible in any way that we can build this public respect for each other today in the USA, and what do you think it would it take? How about new school programs, Schoolhouse Rock episodes for re-building civics and respect, etc.? I know it's like a mission to Mars. Still, would really like to hear any ideas as even NMI's should have this foundation if we're going to keep something together.

Final Q: Have you seen the excellent movie, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"? Talk about respect for a craft, most impressive!

2:42 PM  
Anonymous ennobled little day said...

Frederick Froth-

I know, but I like his BBC documentary "Why Beauty Matters." Also, A.C. Grayling seems to have a good opinion of him, although I don't really know much about that guy, either.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yes, I loved the Jiro film; it's really great. As for public respect for each other in the US: when pigs fly. We wd need a whole new, and very different, population.


5:55 PM  
Blogger Reader said...


Thank you for 'The Dust Bowl' recommendation, so many messages in both Parts I & II, for today. Both parts can be viewed at: Part 1,; and Part2,

I imagine that 60-years hence (should we still have a civilization), there will be a similar series airing on the destruction of fracking.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thanks for yr post, but I don't run Anons. Pls pick a handle, re-send. I suggest Rufus T. Firefly.


6:50 PM  
Blogger Zosima said...

I wish I could be as optimistic about Japan as are you and Kunstler. Japan has embraced every form of destructive technology that we have, and any attempt to tease out subtle differences looks to me like grasping at straws. Kunstler fantasizes about some seemless transition to a world made by hand, but Japan has shown us that that world will include the remnants of more than 400 nuclear power plants. These require an industrial infrastructure to keep from melting down, as do the thousands of nuclear weapons. A good source on what happens to all this nuclear dreck, is The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

By the way, isn’t ridiculous to expect people who live in a society that survives because of the most destructive technology imaginable, to then reject the inevitable technological gadgetry?

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...

Sign of things to come in a Dark Ages America:

"A San Bernardino city attorney told residents this week to gather arms and prepare to defend themselves since the bankrupt town can no longer afford the law enforcement it needs."

12:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


That is indeed an indication of future times in the US, altho for a while I'm guessing the Army will move in to various areas to control riots, migrations, attempted secessions, and so on. It seems extremely likely that the Pentagon has hired 'futurists' to tell them what's gonna happen 10 and 20 yrs out, and is doing contingency exercises somewhere in the South or Midwest, to prepare. In fact, if the gov't were *not* doing that, I'd be amazed.


I don't know how optimistic I actually am, but the Kunstler argument suggests a possible future development. Japan is a very complex society, and psychologically very different from our own, in any case, so it may take a surprising turn. But globally speaking, the end of hi-tech/capitalism is going to be quite messy everywhere. The concluding phases of major socioeconomic formations have never been much of a picnic, and this is why the next 30-40 yrs aren't going to be a whole lotta fun. But keep in mind that in la longue duree, every death is a rebirth, tho the rebirth is not likely to occur on the same soil. In the case of Japan, hard to say; but in the case of the US, I'm guessing the Dark Ages will be followed by More Dark Ages. The wrong place to be, as I keep telling u guys.


8:53 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

ps: Here's an interesting take on the whole Japan issue:

9:15 AM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

"....but in the case of the US, I'm guessing the Dark Ages will be followed by More Dark Ages. The wrong place to be, as I keep telling u guys."
Quote by Morris Berman

That depends on where your interests lie.
If survival is the goal you may be right, but if you have a karmic debt to pay that can only be paid by staying put and helping others in the U.S. in some way, or just staying put and setting a good example--then it's exactly where you need to be.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

The Newman fellow in The Japan Times sounds exactly like a virulently racist Alabamian lawyer to me? Stupid as can be! Come on Notre Dame. Beat the crap out of us.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Dear all,

Re: staying put in the US:

Morris said: ".... The wrong place to be, as I keep telling u guys."

Barry said:"..just...setting a good example--then it's exactly where you need to be."

I can sort of see both sides. If Barry's sentiments get picked up (as they will be) by demagogic polticians, there is the danger of American versions of the old East German laws agains Republikflucht, or "fleeing from the Republic." Congress are already starting to make life complicated for expats with vastly more intrusive tax and bank account reporting laws, etc.

On the other hand, if enough unreconstructed hustlers, "me-first" survivalist assholes and other rats sense a sinking ship and follow Morris' advice, then that's a whole new annoying problem for the whole world to have to deal with. Quotas spceifically on fleeing Americans? Exceptions for NMIs?


11:55 AM  
Anonymous Seth said...

MB and Xiale,

As far as reconciling hustling and America's state propaganda machine and ideological brainwashing,

What do you think about the idea that the propaganda and brainwashing really represent hustling on the international scale? Most Americans really do like going to war with other countries because they believe they will (or might) personally benefit from this monetarily. Maybe the propaganda and brainwashing are merely tools to ensure mass popular support for these wars.

Americans may by and large hate each other and exploit one another, but the one thing that "draws them together" (as much as is possible for people like Americans) is war. For example, in the wake of 9/11, for a few weeks, civic and communal activity (like volunteering) were sky-high. Warmongering for the sake of profit is merely hustling on an international scale, I think, whereas American individuals exploiting one another is merely hustling on the individual scale.

Of course, MB, you're right in pointing out that the propaganda machine and brainwashing also exist to cover up the emptiness at the core of the American psyche.

1:45 PM  
Anonymous in.fern.all said...


I disagree with your assessment that Americans engage in civic and volunteering activities only on rare occasions. In fact, it is one of the few authentic positive cultural traditions we have. As a municipal gardener I lead quite a few volunteer projects (most recently just yesterday, and in my neighborhood to boot!) and most participants are quite enthusiastic. Every culture has it's paradoxes and volunteerism is one of ours.

Mr. Berman,

While listening to the radio recently, I came into the middle of a lecture by a man named Gar Alperovitz who was discussing our country's current political-economic malaise, repeating the terms "stagnation, stalement and decay". He seemed very cautiously optimistic but said the process of transition and possible renewal has a long time horizon and no guarantees. I found a version of the talk on his website titled "If You Don't Like Capitalism and You Don't Like Socialism, What Do You Want?" The most interesting point was the emergence of worker-owned businesses in Ohio, more than anywhere else in the country. He attributes this to the fact that their "stagnation, stalemate, etc." began there earlier than elsewhere and that it was a matter of desperation, all other alternatives having been exhausted. According to him, there is a strong but unreported emergence of worker-owned community supported enterprises. My question for you: Where does this fit in with your views on collapse/renewal of America?

8:10 PM  
Blogger Zosima said...

Japan definitely has some good features, but every culture has its thugs, and if they happen to run a few key industries, well the rest, as they say, is history.

“In Japan, seismologists had warned that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was acutely vulnerable to tsunamis based on records of a wave in the year 869 that historians, at the time, described as so large that it left “no time to get into boats or climb the mountains.” The plant ignored the advice, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Read more:

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Ray said...

Dear all,

Re: staying put in the US:

Morris said: ".... The wrong place to be, as I keep telling u guys."

Barry said:"..just...setting a good example--then it's exac
tly where you need to be."

The Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (author of "Man's Search for Meaning," published in German as [literal translation] "In Spite of All, Say Yes to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp")knew that staying in Annexed Austria was a virtual death sentence, but he decided not to leave his aged father, and he went with his family to Theresienstadt. I cannot immed. recall the circumstances as to why the whole family was unable to flee Austria, though the situation is described in his book. The point here is that Frankl could have left but decided that it wasn't worth it to save his own life and leave his father to face his fate alone. Frankl did survive the camps, and while an inmate helped a great many others to survive psychically and also physically. It is highly relevant to the current context but quite apart from that, a marvelous book. Not even all that long. Anyone with a heart, with elderly or young children whom they care about will have a very eard time picking up and leaving. Unless perhaps with the idea of establishing a beachhead outside this country. Furthermore, it occurs to me that becoming an expat is kind of in line with the "light out for the territories" strain of the American psyche. As for earlier immigrants to this country, doing so in a group will probably be easier than as a lone individual. You have to break quite a few eggs to make this omelette.

Some countries, such as Ireland and I believe Italy, have quite good "right of return" laws for the descendents of immigrants and you can go through a process to get a passport---which, needless to say, increases your options. Others---such as, ironically, Germany---do not. So if you have an Irish or Italian grandparent, go to the consul and find out what your options are.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, Fukushima was not Japan's finest hour, and the attempted cover-up continues. One courageous worker is now suing TEPCO. Of course, he can't find work anywhere as a result. Japan doesn't like whistleblowers. Maruyama Masao called the culture that led up to Pearl Harbor a "system of irresponsibility," and that remains a dark feature of Japanese group culture to this day.


I've always admired Gar for his work on 'atomic diplomacy' (speaking of Japan). And it's nice that he's cautiously optimistic now, tho I think the stuff he refers to is too little and too late. Joel Magnuson has a bk coming out in March on current alternative experiments, and he and I have been in touch as to what constitutes a real alternative to hustling. Crucial question: are we still talking about for-profit economic expansion, or something very different? Things can look promising and then turn into Ben & Jerry's, is my pt.

One thing Joel and I have discussed is a 'dual process' phenomenon, in which concomitant w/the collapse of capitalism there is the emergence of alternative systems. Last August, Common Dreams reported the existence of 325 such alternatives (non-euro currencies, barter arrangements) in Spain, for example. In general, I think Europe has a better chance, because historically it emerged from feudal arrangements; it wasn't born bourgeois, so to speak. The problem for the US is that hustling is our heritage; it defines us, and up to this pt it has been able to overwhelm the alternatives (which is "Why America Failed"). I just don't hold out a lot of hope for the US, but then I don't have a crystal ball. If secessionist movements succeed 30-40 yrs from now, for example, it cd be a whole new ball game.


10:13 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, Barry is rt, of course, in the sense of the NMI option I discuss in the Twilight book. Obviously, not everyone can just pick up and leave, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The problem w/staying is (a) the NMI solution is individual; it's not really a solution in a structural sense, and (b) yr stuck with the hustling ambience, and the sheer foolishness, of an empire in collapse; and with people who are aggressive and not very bright. Personally, I was not strong enuf to resist the ambience. I tried to be a lotus in a cesspool, but finally I just became a dirty lotus. Crossing the border in 2006, I went from being a depressed and angry person to a relaxed and upbeat one. What else is there to say? Oh, a more creative one as well: a monograph, a collection of essays, a vol. of poetry, and a novel, all in 5 yrs. Conclusion: Hit the road, Jack!


10:45 PM  
Anonymous Ieyasu Man said...

On July 16th 2012 the podcast Radiolab did a show about Tsutomu Yamaguchi - a man who survived BOTH the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts and died in 2010. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!

Fascinating stuff - especially the stuff about radiation and its effects on the body / future generations.

5:45 AM  
Anonymous shep said...

To me, volunteers go several ways. We have a soup kitchen here. Food is atrocious and is operated once a week, I guess, to assuage consciences. Then, the homeless and real needy go back to their hovels, trek around town on foot, and wait a week for the next gruel feast.


The best charity hustlin' trick is a mega church.


I am in the process of attempting the "lotus in the cesspool" option. For the month of December, I ain't leaving my house. My wife will continue to mingle with the racists and the faux volunteers.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

“In Japan, seismologists had warned that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was acutely vulnerable to tsunamis based on records of a wave in the year 869 that historians, at the time, described as so large....."

Even recorded history is no predictor.
As N.N.Taleb points out, the largest of the past surpassed what was once the largest of the past--so why not again?

I belong to a food co-op that was founded in 1973.
It now has 16,000 members.
I work under 3 hours every 4 weeks and am welcome to take part (members share ownership) in decision making processes.
They/We could expand and have other branches, but instead offer advice to others that would lke to start their own co-op.

At the co-op you cannot hire someone to work your shift.
(Husbands can work their wife's shift, etc.
Not clear on the details.)

You must be a member to enter the store--unless you are a visitor and vsitors can't shop--so if you are in the store working or shopping you are a fellow member.
It's an interesting set-up.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

K... I respectfully beg to differ somewhat...

You said: "Some countries, such as Ireland and I believe Italy, have quite good "right of return" laws for the descendents of immigrants ...Others---such as, ironically Germany---do not."

Germany is one of the remaining holdouts in Europe for single citizenship - you have to choose. However, it allows two fast-track exceptions: acquisition of citizenship by descendants of Volksdeutsche - ethnic or German-speaking minorities left stuck in Eastern Europe or the former USSR after WWII, as well as descendants anywhere of persons politically or racially persecuted and forced to leave the German Reich before Sept. 1939 - i.e. U.S. based children of Holocaust survivors. The real irony is that same country that allows Holocaust descendants to gain citizenship without learning German or giving up their previous citizenship also allows non-German-speaking Volksdeutsch descendants the same citizenship often based on "racial" surveys of their ancestors conducted in Russia during the war by the Nazis.

But none of this helps the "normal" German-American from the third generation on, admittedly.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I spent 4 hrs at the Memorial in Hiroshima, going thru it once w/an English-spkg guide, and once using the recorded audio tour. It's very well done, and pretty gruesome. I'll be back in Japan next Oct., and plan to visit Nagasaki at that time. Rec rdg: "Black Rain," by Ibuse.


9:36 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Prof Berman said:
The problem w/staying is (a) the NMI solution is individual; it's not really a solution in a structural sense, and (b) yr stuck with the hustling ambience, and the sheer foolishness, of an empire in collapse; and with people who are aggressive and not very bright.

True, all true (though I don't know what "the NMI solution is individual; it's not really a solution in a structural sense" means; what is NMI?). I lived in Yurp for ten years and, gee, wish I had never returned to the USA. My point is just that deciding to leave one's country will be a pretty complicated decision for most, emotionally and practically, and I thought the Frankl example was worth mentioning. (Actually I think Frankl had been offered a position in a sanitarium in the UK or USA.)

I guess this is out of place on the technology thread anyhow, and now I have also broken the one-post rule!

9:41 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


NMI = New Monastic Individual. See "The Twilight of American Culture."


10:25 AM  
Blogger pinkpearl said...

Ieyasu Man – I tried listening to that podcast on Tsutomu Yamaguchi, but I couldn't hack the announcers' beginning with cutesy voices, like they were telling fairy tales to children. If fact, THEY almost sound like children themselves. The whole thing was too chatty and chirpy, given the subject matter.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Reader said...


Would you mind if I ask you a couple of questions . . . Have you given up your US citizenship or do you still pay US taxes and remain attached to the US system, minus living here? Or, do you see that none of this really matters as long as one can be a welcomed and productive expat in a better place?

9:35 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Well, this blog isn't abt me personally, but I'll try to answer yr question anyway.

The only advantage to Mexican citizenship is the rt to vote here, and I honestly can't see much difference between the two major political parties (as in the US). In addition, I've heard that the IRS pursues ex-Americans, altho that cd be wrong. The disadvantage to giving up US citizenship, however, wd be quite large: every time I wanted to visit, to give a lecture or visit friends, I'd hafta apply for a visa, and there's a gd chance I'd be turned down! So it seemed to me that changing my residence was the crucial pt, not anything else. By 2006 I had just had it. Why stay in a place that was getting visibly worse by the month? The people are angry and depressed, and if you have half a brain there's hardly anyone to talk to. Community and friendship have been shattered; love is virtually nonexistent. As for the state, it is now in fact a police state, a corporate-surveillance-military-war establishment that is grinding its citizens into the dirt, and pursuing a policy of genocide abroad. Why wd anyone want to live in a context that has stripped life of meaning and put electronic toys in place of that? Where as u get older, u can look forward to more meaningless wars, meaningless work, absurd elections, economic hardship, lack of any social safety net, uniformity of thought, and empty relationships?

Not that it hasta be Mexico in particular, but I wd encourage anyone who can get out to do so. In the blink of an eye, I went from being an angry and depressed person to being a relaxed and upbeat one (geographical cures work!). Despite what u read in the American press, Mexico is largely an easygoing and gracious place, and it also did wonders for my creativity. In the space of 6 yrs I wrote 5 bks (if u include the 'spiritual guidance' bk I just wrote, which will appear next yr in Spanish trans, but wh/of course I was not able to find an American publisher for, because it's not a cash cow)--not too shabby, it seems to me, and most importantly, I loved writing them. This never wd have happened if I had stayed in the US.

Of course, there are those who feel it's important to stay and fight, to get the US back 'on course' (the truth: it's been on the same course for 400 yrs; read WAF), to turn things around. And to them I say: Go for it! Knock yrself out! Don't let *me* get in yr way. But be sure to write me in 10 yrs, and give me a progress report on all the 'success' you've had, and how fulfilled you are as a result. Of course, it's obviously not as bad as Germany in 1934, but there is this similarity: the 'fix' is in, and only a fool can doubt it. You'd be better off working on reversing the earth's gravitational field. At least in that case, you'd have a fighting chance.

I hope I've answered yr question.


11:15 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...


If I may throw in my 2 cents, many European countries have fast-track options to citizenship if a parent/grandparent was from that country. Some might have language knowledge requirements, though. Since most European countries are now members of the EU, it does not matter from what EU country is your citizenship, since you can freely live and work anywhere in the EU. So, even if your ancestors came to the US, say, from an Eastern European country which might not offer the weather or prosperity level you are looking for, you can move elsewhere once you have your paperwork taken care of in that country.

As far as renouncing your US citizenship, just like MB, I don’t see any reason to do that. The US taxes you based on your US citizenship, but most countries have tax treaties with the US in order to avoid double taxation. So it’s not that bad.

I have US and Romanian (and thus EU) citizenships. I moved back to Romania 5 years ago, but I return to the US periodically. I work online for US employers, so I pay my taxes to the IRS every year. I am concerned about Obamacare, though, and I hope there is an exemption if you live and are insured abroad.

One thing to plan for before you make your escape is how you will earn a living. Don’t count on getting a work permit with a US passport. I hear many Americans teach English. I imagine you might be able to do that off the books too (there is a vibrant black market in Europe). Speaking the local language helps a LOT too.

Otherwise, there are many English-speaking (usually British) expat communities in Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Italy, etc. I’ve been thinking about checking some of those places out myself next summer. I’m getting tired of Romania’s winters, and wouldn’t mind living in a warmer climate.


3:43 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I just spoke w/the Soc Security Admin regarding policy for ex-pats who are insured outside the US. They told me they don't have a policy as yet. Obamacare kicks in in 2014, and I too am hoping I don't hafta pay double insurance premiums. On verra...


6:53 AM  
Anonymous Bill M. said...


It's not Germany in 1934, you say. Does that imply that in my lifetime, America may be a stable, economically sane country? Might it undergo the same transformation that Germany underwent? I'm 25, and I would so love to die in America with a straight face.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Berman, re expatriating to better lands, do you have any thoughts you are willing to share on other Latin American countries sometimes touted by the expatriation selling crowd like Bill Bonner's International Living, such as Chile (up to recently doing pretty well selling its copper to China), Uruguay (largely a farming/ranch country but with Montevideo as a banking and relatively cosmopolitan city near Buenos Aires) or Ecuador (currently attempting to grant asylum to Assange, and with a fairly progressive President)? I know expat advice isn't your thing, but we've thought about these places and would love to hear your thoughts if you are willing to share them.

Apart from the cultural reasons to expatriate from America and head SOUTH rather than to Europe, there is the pesky problem of what one or two Fukushima type events involving the aging plants in America or Europe events will do to the Northern Hemisphere in general. Maybe there's no running away from it, but more distance is better when it comes to radiation, and already recent storms and floods have threatened some plants in the midwest and on the east coast.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Yeah, that wd be nice, of course. I don't have a crystal ball, but I'm quite sure that 2008 is not going to be the last, nor the most severe, crash that we have. And then all bets are off, tho I can't imagine the US Gov't deliberately murdering a large chunk of its population in an assembly-line fashion. We'll have our own way of screwing up, I'm guessing. It's only a prediction, but since capitalism is disintegrating on a worldwide basis, and the US is the cutting edge of that economy, I suspect that things won't stabilize for 30-40 yrs, and that when they do, it will be in terms of a very reduced way of life--austerity plus. As I've said b4, we can choose to abolish the dysfunctional American Dream, and opt for a saner way of life; or we can resist to the end, and have it forced upon us. The latter, sad to say, seems more likely. This is why Left v s. Right is an outmoded dichotomy: both of them want a restoration of the Dream, and a world w/o limits--wh/is just not possible. And if the economy by itself doesn't bring us up short, ecology will be there to do the job.

I suggest you apply for grad school abroad, marry a local, and wind up living in a land that has deeper traditions to draw on than More. What we shall witness, esp. abroad, is a kind of 'dual process' phenomenon, whereby the collapse is accompanied by the rise of alternative socioeconomic formations. For example, Spain is in a bad way, rt now, and Rajoy has no more vision than Obama does. But I recall an article in Common Dreams, last August, that mentioned that to date 325 alternative expts in time share ( barter) and currency (non-euro) had been set up across the country; and of course, there will be strong secessionist movements afoot, as in Catalonia, for example, wh/has little interest in remaining in Spain and is already printing local currency. Spain and other parts of Europe have flexibility and imagination; the US has almost none. It has been on the same track for 400 yrs (see WAF) and is virtually incapable of genuine, structural change.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Thardiust said...

It's ironic Japan is a quiet country that's less zombified than the U.S. while the U.S.A is a loud country that's more zombified than Japan.

1:32 PM  
Blogger NearFar said...

Dear Wafers,

Below is a link to a MUST read interview with Henry Giroux.

I would add Henry Giroux to a short-list (my own, but I believe many of you would agree) of writers who provide cogent, clear-sighted, supple analysis and thinking on "Neo-liberalism", (ie., along with David Harvey & Noam Chomsky to name a few others off the top of my head).

We just can't ignore this subject. And I don't believe I'm simply stating my "opinion": I think if we want to come to grips with any possible kind of "structural solution" depends on coming to grips with neoliberalism.

And Wafers, here's a book (_Neoliberal Culture:
Living with American Neoliberalism_ by
Patricia Ventura) that hits closer to home. I haven't read it yet (it's too expensive) but the publisher's blurb drives home another point I wish I could make as well:

"Departing from the conventional understanding of neoliberalism as a set of economic and political policies favoring free
markets, _Neoliberal Culture_ presents a framework for analyzing neoliberalism in the United States as a culture-or structure of
feeling- which shapes American everyday life. The book proposes five "components" as the keys to any study of American
neoliberal culture: biopower, corporatocracy, globalization, the erosion of welfare-state society, and hyperlegality, these five
components enabling rich analyses of key artifacts of the neoliberal era, including the Iraq War, Las Vegas, welfare reform,
Walmart, and Oprah's Book Club."

3:23 PM  
Blogger NearFar said...

Oops, sorry Wafers, may have forgotten to post the link to the Henry Giroux interview:

I see it is also republished on Truthdig this week too.

Best wishes,
Christian Roess

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Berman,
I can't tell how much I appreciate reading your blog and books. I read Reenchantment of the World in grad school in the early 1990's. It made such an incredible impression on me and still does. I was just listening to an interview on NPR that included Ray Kurzweil author of "How to Create a Mind: the Secret of Human Thought Revealed" and Michael Shermer founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and executive director of the Skeptics Society. I was blown away at how incredibly reductionist the language was and how it just furthered the mechanical world view now concerning itself with the human mind. I immediately thought of your book. Any chances you will go back and revisit these issues for the 21st century?

4:11 PM  
Anonymous Zero said...


Thank you for the info about Obamacare. Let’s keep our fingers crossed they do the logical thing. You know, after I spent half of my 30 years of America living without insurance and with the anxiety that that brings about, now that we got fed up and left, we have to live with the anxiety that we might get hounded down to pay into a system that didn’t give a crap about us when we needed it. What a joke this country has become!

I don’t know if you are aware, but in the beginning of a recent PressTV program they briefly mention you and your book Why America Failed. The program is appropriately named “Post-American World” and the link is below. I thought the program raises many cogent points. And, clearly there would be a nice interest in your books in other countries, where the population is not as brainwashed as here.


5:16 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...

Dear Julie,

Yeah, it's as if I never wrote that book, but then there's no reason American culture shd pay any attention to me, obviously. But thanks for writing; I appreciate yr appreciation. As for revisiting those issues, two possibilities:

1. This if u read Spanish: my Mexican publisher eventually wants to reprint the 'consciousness' trilogy, and have me write updated intros to each of those bks. But this will probably not begin until 2014.

2. I expect to revisit these issues in a slightly different form in my bk on Japan, which also shd be out in 2014 (cross fingers). The whole Japanese craft tradition falls into the category of alchemical work as described in ch. 3 of Reenchantment, for example. So...we'll see!


The Ventura bk looks great, but who can afford to blow $100 on one bk? This is cruel, imo.

Sir T-

The problem is that I've only visited other countries in Latin America; I've never lived in them, and hence my opinion wdn't be worth very much. I'd avoid Chile, tho: it was so ravaged by Milton Friedman and Pinochet that the vibes are very American. Best thing 4u 2 do is go online and find ex-pat discussion websites for each country yr interested in. This shd help a lot.


5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Berman,
Reenchantment of the World is loved by many people I know. I have it on my reading list on my syllabus. I teach painting and drawing at the community college level when the state of California actually has a budget. I'm always mentioning it friends as a must read. It's a very important book. The entire art world should have had a copy of it before this entire cyber culture took off.
I look forward to your book on Japan. I'll be looking for it. Can't wait!
Thanks again,

6:11 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


I did do an interview w/Press TV, the official media organ of the Iranian gov't. But I had mixed feelings abt it, because I wd prefer that the Iranians think abt what's wrong abt their society rather than deflect that by doing programs on what's wrong w/the US (and vice versa). Theocratic regimes can be pretty awful, in a claustrophobic sense; and Islam's treatment of women is hardly exemplary. This is what they shd have asked me abt, imo, but that wd be as likely as the NYT interviewing me on the subject of the US currently committing suicide. Quoting the Bible on the mote and the beam, Jimmy Carter (when in office) said we can't keep blaming the USSR for all of our problems. True, but the Islamic nations need to clean up their own shit as well--even tho, as I show in DAA, we have been the cause of a lot of it since 1953.

Another example: some yrs ago, after Twilight got translated into Spanish, Hugo Chavez appeared on TV in Caracas and talked abt the bk. His gov't then invited me to a conference there, but I declined to go, because bashing the US in Venezuela is too easy, and because I didn't want to be a pawn in his political program. I wd have gone if I cd have asked the following questions, on public TV in Caracas:

1. Why are u, Chavez, trying to install yourself as a permanent president, in effect as a dictator?
2. Why are u, Chavez, encouraging a cult of personality?
3. Talk to me about the repression involved in enforcing your socialist regime.
4. If people dissent, do they get hauled off to jail?

You get my pt: criticism starts at home, and w/o that no nation is acting responsibly. As for America, we badly need some trenchant critiques, but I'd like to see that carried out by Americans! (when pigs fly)


6:41 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


In the meantime, I think that some of the essays in "A Question of Values" might be relevant to yr interests.


6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, I look forward reading those too.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Reader said...

A good article on Truthdig today. "The Archaeology of Decline."


Thank you for your thorough reply to my question. I am looking to retire soon, after almost 30-years in education. I have an expat son living and working in Hong Kong, also well hooked up to an expat community there on one of the out-lying islands; but, it's not where I want to be for the longer run, not much different, really, all hustle-bustle, get ahead, commercialism.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Stone said...

Regarding neoliberalism, I recommend two important papers by political theorist Wendy Brown:

"American Nightmare: Neoliberalism, Neoconservatism, and De-Democratization," Political Theory 34 (2006), pp. 690-714,
available at:

“Neo-liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy,” Theory & Event 7.1 (2003), pp. 1-25,
available at:

Brown shows that neoliberalism is much more than a rekindling of economic liberalism. It is an extremely insidious and dangerous doctrine.

10:49 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Try to find a place that still has remnants of a traditional culture; that lives outside of 'progress' and hustling. That's the key to it, I think.


10:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: Sir Tagio & going abroad.
I think it's worth reinforcing this & I know MB has mentioned it before. If you're going to go ovrseas & you want it to be successful you'll have to do your homewk,prepare & spend time and money on it. As per MB, easier when young for sure.

You may do fine depending on your qualifications and exp. but it is no guarantee at all.
Many places in the world discriminate openly - in ways that would be clrly illegal in the US - particularly w/ regard to race and age. One mght think that Asia w/ hist. of Confcnism, respect for elders etc. is dying to get a 50 something yr old mind in the classroom but you may find they're as superficial as the US (ie. schools in SK, JPN, Bangkok etc..) If you look more like Confucious than Justin Beiber you may find it difficult to make a living.

Latin America has a number of "sinkhole" employment zones for teaching English. Nicaragua, Costa Rica & pts of Mex. like Oaxaca for sure. There is a checkerboard of security issues in L.A.. In many cases, employment is not much more than an adventure job. Additionally, some employers known to be taking advantage of the "economic refugees" from the US & Canada.

The happiest people I've met overseas have often been on an nice retirement check from the US. I don't mean to be negative but working abroad is a complex subject and the ride can be difficult.

El Juero

7:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

Why is that Ventura book costing $100?

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Zero said...

I just watched a recent interview with Chris Hedges by Jeremiah Wright, and would like to make some comments. I think Hedges is a brilliant writer, but what struck me in this interview is that he still clings on to the hope that peaceful resistance will change the US. He drew parallels with the 1989 uprisings in Eastern Europe, but I think he gets this one wrong. There are no parallels between the US and Eastern Europe. While Eastern European societies were tacitly united in hate against Communism and their respective dictators, the American people are divided across every domain. Pre-1989 Romanians knew who the enemy was: Ceausescu and his Securitate goons. It was very clear. However, in 2012 America, the enemy of the working poor are the Postal Service employees because they have a pension and earn a decent wage, or the black family that moved in your white neighborhood, or the Arab (forgive me, I meant “Ayrab”) dentist who drives a BMW, etc. America is the ultimate experiment in divide and conquer. This is why an uprising is just not possible here.

In this interview he again said that one never knows when a revolution might ignite. He is right about that. But that was true about Eastern Europe, where people were tacitly united and laser-focused on their enemy. However, there is no such unity or focus here. The focus is on your neighbor, because he must be the cause of your low Walmart wage.

I could give other reasons why I don’t think it is possible to have an uprising here: high degrees of individualism, American Dream (selfishness and materialism), an unshakable belief that the American system is and has always been the best in history, a fantasy-like conviction that things will somehow miraculously work out great the end, etc.

Anyway, I think Hedges is a brilliant author, but I am afraid the American people are liable to disappoint him in the revolution department.

Any comments?

The interview is here:

7:56 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Thank u for your comments. I agree w/u, parallels w/Eastern Europe don't hold up.

I do wish Chris wd give all that up, and realistically abandon all hope. He badly wants the US to save itself, and I understand that. But I do think that time will make this clear (to me, it has already): the way out is thru. The US has only two choices now: to collapse gracefully, or to rage against the dying of the light. Of course it will do the latter, and this means that if there is any kind of 'revolution' here, it will come from the Right, not the Left. Look how much the Tea Party accomplished, in terms of elected candidates (heavily backed by rt-wing $), and how little the Occupy movement accomplished (backed by no $, no statement of purpose, and no coherent political organization).

In any case, we need to talk more realistically, in terms of the far side of capitalism, 30-40 yrs down the road. And the 'dual process' mechanism I've written about is more likely to have success abroad, e.g. in Europe, than in the US. America has no future; all it knows is how to keep doing what it's always been doing, and that has finally hit a wall.


9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MB and Anonymous,
Thank you for your comments on expatriating. I see that the only way to do it is to really spend some time living where one thinks one wants to end up to really experience it before committing. The idea of vactioning somewhere and drawing conclusions based on that is a prescription for Ze Big Mistake.

My wife and I are nearing retirement age and we and our children (all in their 20s) are committed to riding out the coming storm together, so working out the transplantation idea is a complicated one. They see the handwriting on the wall, but each must arrive at the conclusion to seek better life elsewhere to make it happen. We would have to get everyone in the new locale and make a group decision. It's not quite the same as the immediately necessary life or death decision to Just Get Out, like the rabbits in Watership Down made because Fiver Saw, Hazel loved and knew to trust him and the others did it based on trust in their relationships.

This blog is a haven for honest communication among seers, though, so we very much appreciate it.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Horatio Nelson said...

a lot of us are, and have been critiquing for quite a long time, even if we aren't connected/well-known enough to do it for more than just our personal circle.

problems with "critiquing":

1) "you're just anti-American. move to _____ (commie russia, france, n.korea, etc.etc.) then!"

2) "that all might be true, but we're a lot better off here than _____(some middle eastern country perceived to be repressive politically, some south or latin am. country perceived to have no concept of indoor plumbing, or ANYwhere in africa)."

3) "you're just one of those do-nothing, lazy types lacking business acumen and getup&go. it's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you've got to learn how to run with the big dogs or get trampled underfoot." aka "you should've gotten a degree in engineering or accounting instead of philosophy/literature/sociology."

4) **blank looks of the totally unaware and unconcerned**

5) **startled expression while they tilt away from you, apparently worried that whatever the madness is, it might be catching**

6) "this is so true. if we all just installed efficient lightbulbs, drove electric cars and composted our toilet paper, things would be SO different! the idiots (translation: everyone of lower middle/working class status = proles) just won't get with the program, though."

7) "this is what happens when you remove prayer from the classroom. we've lost our purpose because we've lost sight of G-O-D."

8) "this is what happens when you let a lot of *racial expletive of choice* in here who don't pay taxes and live off welfare."

9) "bashing without any clear & constructive plan to fix things is pointless. when you have a 632 step process for getting us out of here, then come & talk to me."

i could go on. someone outlined the same in much better prose further up-post. after awhile you learn to keep such "critiquing" to yourself.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

MB said:

You get my pt: criticism starts at home, and w/o that no nation is acting responsibly. As for America, we badly need some trenchant critiques, but I'd like to see that carried out by Americans! (when pigs fly)

The possibility of offering constructive criticism is related to whether one opts to "vote with one's feet" (leave) or stay. One of the criticisms leveled against Willy Brandt within West Germany post-WW2 was that he fled the country (for political reasons) instead of staying put and "working from within" or whatever the Germans, with 20-20 hindsight, may have expected him to have done. It may be that to offer trenchant criticism one simply has to stay in one's own country. Of course, plenty of criticism has originated in the USA and it doesn't cut much ice. Brandt accomplished a great deal when he returned to Germany.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Stone said...

Dear MB,

Now I forgot what you mean by 'dual process mechanism'. Just refer me to relevant writing(s), please, and I shall read again.

Thank you,

11:21 AM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Only 1 post/day, por favor. As for serious crit, w/in or w/o, it all gets ignored.


You'll have to check previous discussion. Briefly, the dual process is that while capitalism collapses, alternative expts arise to fill the vacuum. 325 such expts in Spain, for example, concomitant w/economic failure and austerity.

Sir T-

I hope u meant 'peers'.


12:38 PM  
Blogger Miles Deli said...

Greetings Dr. Berman and fellow Wafers,

Julian, thanks for sharing the Chris Hedges interview and your thoughts. I read and listen to Hedges with great attention and sobriety. Like many Wafers, I have great admiration and respect for him as an author, intellectual, activist, and moral leader. Indeed, as Dr. Berman indicates, Chris Hedges is a great guy who wants to desperately save America from itself. And in so doing, he is willing to subject himself to an incredible and bewildering array of abuse from the police state juggernaut that we now call the United States and the sheer stupidity of average everyday Americans. And for what? For what? Getting his head bashed in or worse, getting arrested and hauled off to jail, getting harassed and screamed at by clueless and violently hateful Americans all the while attempting to educate and enlighten them that it is imperative to do something different. It is simply not worth the price that he has paid and will continue to pay. To tell you the truth, I fear for his safety.

The key is that it is virtually impossible to turn around 400 years of this madness. I think Hedges, way down deep, knows this. He has to know it, but he can't let himself realize it. The fact that America is dying and will die is the essential reality and the great unmentionable *truth* that Dr. B speaks of and writes about. There is freedom and virtue in realizing this fact.

Hedges would be much better off taking Dr. B's advice and exiting America...stage left!

About an hour ago, I was stopped at a traffic light behind a guy in a white Ford pick-up truck. He had a bumper sticker on his truck that said "You Keep Your Hope and Change and I'll Keep My Guns" or some such foolishness. While reading his sticker, his eyes met mine from his rear-view mirror. I quickly looked away and then glanced back at him. He was staring at me with an angry scowl on his face that was a combination of hate and constipation! As the traffic light turned green he then flipped me the bird and drove off. Typical American... I had to laugh out loud.

1:41 PM  
Blogger NearFar said...

Insanity that the Ventura book costs 100.00. Cruel indeed, as you say MB.

Here's a link to the publisher's page for _Neoliberal Culture_ where you can get a pdf of the Introduction, TOC & Index.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Barry Bliss said...

I can't speak for Chris Hedges, and maybe he still does have some hope America can turn things around, but he has said it's not about whether you succeed (in the worldly sense) or not, but rather it's that you took a stand.
Not everyone that stays in the U.S. is doing so because they believe they can change it or that it will not collapse.
I know America is collapsing and am staying.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Nice, but I'm not into symbolic or righteous gestures, myself. In Nazi Germany, these were suicidal. Here, a waste of time. But everybody has to make their own decision on this, obviously.


6:33 PM  
Anonymous Katherine said...

Nazi Germany is back in the cross hairs . . .

Julian said: Don’t count on getting a work permit if you have a US passport.
That is the crux of the matter (also the EU situ) and the good reason for having dual citizenship (to avoid the reentry issue). Capital is free to roam the globe whereas labor is more or less stuck at home.

Romania is one of the countries with a fairly good policy toward children/grandchildren. Germany is not. Or, they get squirly where the Third Reich is concerned.

My “ironic” comment re Germany was an aside made in the course of my suggesting that people research their “right of return” options. But since it was fastened on, I’ll elaborate somewhat, briefly, for clarification, even though this is not a history blog.
Ray respectfully differed with my "ironically" comment, stating that the following have a right of return in Germany:
"as well as descendants anywhere of persons politically or racially persecuted and forced to leave the German Reich before Sept. 1939 - i.e. U.S. based children of Holocaust survivors."

I know, it sounds great. It even sounds straightforward. First, this is a very different issue from plain vanilla "ethnic" repatriation on the basis of parents/grandparents' origins, a la Ireland. Second, the “i.e.” tag is IMO somewhat misleading because those who left before 1939 are not “Holocaust survivors” in the sense that victims of persecution are viewed differently in Germany and in German law from victims of genocide. From 1933 to about 1939, prior to the instigation of the Final Solution, the Nazis’ racial and political policies were in flux, and the regime was trying to get people they considered politically undesirable (Bertolt Brecht was one) to leave the country. A list of these people’s names was published in the Reichsblatt. Others just left of their own accord. Then there are those who were unofficially forcibly expatriated, for a variety of reasons, including political but also financial, paranoia, currency issues, etc. Perhaps they had been denounced for expressing the wrong opinions. They were summoned to appear at the central police station Alexanderplatz, to turn in their passports if they had one. They could then either be issued a special temporary passport with which they could leave the country and enter another country or they could take advantage of the generous alternative offer of going to a “reeducation camp.” My mother took the first option. (You might have had to provide a quid pro quo of some kind even to get this option. For many it was straight to Dachau for reeducation.) You had a week to notify the police of your travel plans. It is my view, and that of others---if they know about this issue, which many Germans do not---that Germany owes it to these forced expatriates to recognize them as victims of Nazi persecution and to offer citizenship to their children. But the Germans consider them to have left Germany “voluntarily”; having been made stateless, to have renounced their German citizenship “voluntarily.” The Germans do not consider possession of one of these temporary passports, and a notarized statement concerning the circumstances of expatriation, as evidence of having been forcibly expelled. They define as “persons politically or racially persecuted and forced to leave the German Reich” only those whose names were listed in the Reichsblatt.

The “Volksdeutsche” are a whole nother ball of wax---the thinking there is, I believe, similar to the Irish thinking. Thus, the descendents of “Volksdeutsche,” ethnic Germans expelled by other countries, have a right of return, but the children of German-born persons expelled by Germany itself do not. That, in my book, is ironic. It should also be added that the legal hurdles to actually establishing a “Volksdeutsch” status are probably high.

Back, now, to planet Earth, or planet USA.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is interesting to observe the differences in US and Japanese 'media ecologies,' as McLuhan would have said. (Any article that references McLuhan has got be worth reading.) If our culture does indeed grow in our various media, how is it that the Japanese -with the same gadgets and internet - show a greater respect for tradition and their fellow man than Americans? Money is the another medium that McLuhan wrote about, that probably accounts for a lot of US loutishness.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I saw the killings on TV here in Europe, on RT, Al Jazeera, and France 24. I refuse to watch CNN and also, much less now, the BBC. I dont think I'm getting good TV , I'm just reducing the damage.

I saw the horror of a gun attack, and then I saw in every picture, heavily armed obese military/police etc; pointing weapons as they looked, kicking open doors, running god knows where. An ugly scene, like a shitty Rambo film. Then I learned that US schools have contingency plans in case of armed attack. Dear christ what kind of society is this?

We have had horrors in Europe too, but in the US it seems institutionalised.

Reading 'Coming to our Senses' on the body, and seeing so much shirt/trouser bursting obesity, can anyone comment on what it means (apart from increasingly cunning capitalist marketing) that a nation, around 50% it seems, are obese? It is coming to Europe too, but less in France where I live. Obesity is much worse in the UK, which coincidentally does a Lewinsky on the US.

What does obesity mean in a nation, and I don't mean just fat.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Morris Berman said...


Few people read past posts, so in future you'd do better to send messages to the most recent one. Thank you.


2:34 PM  

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