Morris Berman

McFarland, USA

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdomgc2sm From the keyboard of Morris Berman
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

 

 

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdom

Published on Dark Ages America on January 9, 2016


It occasionally bothered me that I had lived for a number of years in Mexico and had published several books, none of which were about the country in which I was living. Indeed, I had spent 2011-14 sweating over a long, fairly complicated cultural analysis of Japan. Recently, I was asked to give a talk to the sales personnel at the book chain Gandhi, in Mexico City (Mexico’s equivalent of Barnes & Noble), about my work, and in the question-and-answer period that followed one member of the audience asked me how it was that I hadn't written about my adopted country. I felt somewhat guilty. 

"You're right," I replied; "I have no excuse. After all, I've been here for nine years. Maybe next year I'll move to Tokyo and write a book about Mexico."

Ha ha. Everybody laughed. But it may not be all that funny, and the question, as in the past, nagged at me. It might have been that I felt I had nothing new to say about Mexico, about which so much has been written. I mean, was I seriously going to rehash Cortés, sincretismo, Lázaro Cárdenas, and the emergence of the modern state? It didn't really appeal.

And yet, thinking I had nothing new to say didn't stop me in the case of Japan (and as it turned out, I was wrong); and in that case, I couldn't even read the language. So what was the problem? I kept scratching my head until, quite by accident (or synchronicity?), I happened to see a Kevin Costner film called McFarland, USA, released in the United States early in 2015. While not a documentary, the film is a true story, about a football coach named Jim White who accepted a position at the local high school of a dreary, 100%-Hispanic town in the Central (San Joaquin) Valley of California in 1987. He hated it, and took the job only because he had no other options. His students typically got up at 4:30 a.m. and worked as fruit and vegetable pickers—backbreaking labor for miserable wages—after which, at around 8 a.m., they went off to school. All Jim White wanted was the American Dream: to get out of this low-paying job and move up the socioeconomic ladder. The tension in the story, and its central theme, revolves around the Mexican/Chicano vs. US value-systems, i.e. warmth (the traditional Hispanic family structure and culture) vs. power (the go-go world of US capitalism).

But this tension, I realized, was an old theme for me, going back to 1981: The Reenchantment of the World, a study of the collapse of the magical tradition in Western Europe and the concomitant rise of modern science. Much of my book on Japan, for example, is an exploration of the conflict between the ancient Zen craft tradition and the imposition of modern US values that had eventually turned the country into an economic powerhouse at the cost of driving the Japanese people somewhat crazy (hence the title, Neurotic Beauty). Was Mexico so different? As the film ended, I recalled the words of Porfirio Díaz, that Mexico's problem was that it was tan cerca de los Estados Unidos, i.e. too close to the United States, and also a study by Professor William Vega at the University of California, Berkeley, which revealed that the rate of mental illness among Mexicans living in the US was almost exactly twice that of Mexicans living in Mexico. The theme of modernity vs. tradition is a very rich one, representing a conflict with no easy answers, and which is not likely to get resolved any time soon. Was it perhaps time for me to be examining it in a Mexican context? Had I finally found the topic of my "Mexico book"? Let me, then, talk a bit about the Costner movie, and the questions that I think it raises.

Of course, "Mr. White" is a rather ironic name for an American who moves into an all-Hispanic town, and in fact his students take to calling him "Blanco." Everything is alien to the White family: the language, the food, the entire way of life. Upon arriving at the house they have rented, they find a mural painted on the wall of the living room, of a beautiful indígena woman, a Mother Earth archetype, holding out a platter of fruit and vegetables and surrounded by flowers—a symbol of nurturing, sustenance, female wisdom. White's reaction is, "Paint store, first thing tomorrow!" Going to the only diner in town, they don't know what chorizo is, or what enchiladas are, and play it safe with tacos, which they presumably are familiar with from Taco Bell. And so on. It's as though they are walking across the surface of the moon.

White, in any case, discovers that while the football team is basically useless, not having won a game in decades, the school has a number of kids who can run like the wind, and so persuades the principal to launch a cross-country running team. In a series of endearing adventures, he whips his charges into shape, until they actually win the first annual cross-country state championship. (In real life, White coached his teams to victory 9 out of 14 times between 1987 and 2001.) He also gets the boys to start thinking about college, so that they don't have to remain pickers for nothing wages all their lives; and in fact all 7 of the boys (on the 1987 team) went on to graduate college and become teachers, coaches, policemen, and so on—solid middle-class jobs. The dirt-poor Chicanos, with White's help, thus make it into El sueño americano, the American Dream.

The impact White has on these kids is actually quite significant. For what was the alternative to the American Dream, if not stagnation, poverty, or worse? As one of the other teachers says to White, pointing to the building next door to the school, "That's the town prison. Handy, no?" But a few months later, she comes to White's office to read him a poem written by one of his runners, José Cárdenas (who later became a writer for the Los Angeles Times): 

"We fly like blackbirds through the orange groves/floating on a warm wind./When we run, we own the earth;/the land is ours./We speak the birds' language,/immigrants no more./Not stupid Mexicans./When we run, our spirits fly./We speak to the gods./When we run, we are the gods."

"Welcome to McFarland, Blanco," she says to White.

White takes the boys to the ocean for the first time in their lives, and he gives them a sense of pride. "You kids have the biggest hearts I've ever seen," he tells them. And they begin to see themselves that way as well, and to open their minds to the wider world.

It's all very moving, and perhaps a bit too romantic—the film was made by the Disney Corporation, after all—and falls into the very successful Hollywood category known as the "White Savior" genre. Kevin Costner is hardly new to this role, having played it brilliantly many years ago inDances with Wolves, in which he protects a branch of the Sioux Indians from an American Army intent on destroying them, and from which he deserted. (In the wake of the film, the Sioux Nation adopted him as an honorary member of the tribe.) The criticism of this genre is that it is patronizing: in order for the "natives" to be saved, a white male (usually) figure has to come in from the outside and organize/liberate them, since (the implication is) they would not be able to do this for themselves. (See also The Last Samurai, Avatar, and a whole host of American inner-city schoolteacher films.) However, a crucial element in most of the White Savior films is that the Savior himself gets saved, gets liberated in the process. Thus at the same time that Jim White's students enter the American Dream, he himself finds reason to reject it in favor of the lifestyle and values of traditional Mexican society. To my mind, this redeems the film (as well as White), and highlights the conflict of traditional vs. modern cultures. Let's look at a few examples from the movie.

-The mural of the Great Mother painted on the wall, which White said he would paint over. When he finally gets around to doing it, several weeks later, entering the room with two buckets of paint, his younger daughter tells him, "Don't even think about it." Clearly, the image has begun to percolate through the family's consciousness. (Compare this with the Starbucks computer-generated logo of the Great Mother archetype, which is nothing more than an empty corporate image. Sad to say, many Mexicans have bought into this trendy US lifestyle, sitting in cafés that have spread across Mexico like a cancer, hypnotically staring into their laptops, and drinking bad, overpriced coffee. Progress?)

-The town embraces the White family. A neighbor gives Jim a chicken. The Díaz family has him over to dinner, stuffs him with enchiladas, and gives him food to take home. "You are not family unless you eat with them," Sra. Díaz tells him. (Do even 10% of US families eat together anymore?)

-Over and over we see the town engaged in group rather than individual activities, such as a combination car wash and tamale sale, that the White family is drawn into.

-The town makes a quinceañera (coming-of-age party for girls) for Julie, Jim's older daughter, which overwhelms him, emotionally. "Gracias por todo," he tearfully announces in Spanish, to all who attended the event.

-Meanwhile, Jim comes to the attention of a rich white high school in Palo Alto, which offers him a coaching job. One of his runners finds out (from Julie, who is not happy about this), and confronts him about it: "Were you going to even tell us?" he asks, "or were you going to just run off into the sunset with those country club kids? We all get it: This is America. Gotta go bigger. Nicer place, better pay; everyone's always gonna go for the better everything. There ain't nothing American Dream about McFarland."

Jim says to his wife, regarding the job offer: "This is the situation we've always dreamed about." His wife replies: "Think of everything the town has done for us. They have protected Julie like family. You think we are going to find that in Palo Alto, or anywhere else [in the US] for that matter? Nowhere I've ever lived has felt this much like home."

-Then come the state playoffs, and Jim leads the opening cheer for the team—in Spanish: "Uno, dos, tres, McFarland!" he cries. After the match, he tells the recruiter from Palo Alto that he won't be taking the job. Jim White lives in McFarland to this day.

The psychologist Fritz Perls liked to tell the story of a Mexican farm worker who swam across the Rio Grande in search of work. Come Christmas, he swam back to visit his family, who wanted to know all about life in the mythical United States. "Well," he tells them, "the gringos are actually very nice people. There is only one thing that gets them angry: they don't like to be reminded that they are corpses."

And so the flip side of the White Savior, who breaks open a closed, dead-end life for his students, so that they can enter the American Dream, is that Jim himself becomes disenchanted with that super-individualistic, alienating dream, in which people are turned into the walking dead. He becomes, in other words, a human being.

Of course, a lot of Mexican life gets omitted from this picture. My neighbors across the street from me in Mexico are cold and rude, and used to toss their garbage off their balcony down to my front door, until a series of hostile exchanges put an end to it (more or less). In terms of being supportive as regards success, a Mexican friend told me that the society is like a pot of crabs: if one of them manages to get to the top and tries to climb out, the others pull him back down. (One of the runners' fathers in the film reacts to his son's desire to go to college by telling him, "No one needs a book in the fields".) ReviewingMcFarland, the New York Times wrote that places like McFarland are often "nightmares of crime and dysfunction," and that the film is really "a slick and safe Disney version of a fascinating and complicated reality." If the movie expresses an important truth in terms of a conflict of values, it also papers over the dark side of traditional societies as well.

As for the American Dream: it works, in this film, but by and large it is a con, as Mexicans coming up to the US (legally or illegally) eventually find out. There is the study by William Vega, mentioned above, which surely says a lot about how psychologically damaging US culture is for Mexican immigrants. And what jobs are available to them, in any case? I am reminded of that song from West Side Story, "America," in which the Puerto Ricans say that now they are free—"to wait tables and shine shoes." It goes on:

"Skyscrapers bloom in America/Cadillacs zoom in America/Industry boom in America/Twelve in a room in America!" (Etc.)

In fact, it turns out that a rather heavy reverse migration has set in, such that between 2005 and 2010, 1.4 million immigrants moved backto Mexico from the US, and 90% of these voluntarily. According to Alysa Hullett, an American reporter living in Oaxaca, these folks are lonely and miss their own culture. One immigrant she interviewed in Washington State complained that it took him eight months to meet his neighbors, whereas in Mexico City, “the whole street piles into one house for dinner.” Clearly, things have changed. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey discovered that 65% of Mexicans say they would notmove to the US if they had the means and opportunity to do so.

Surely, values must have a lot to do with this. At around the same time that Jim White was coaching his cross-country team in McFarland, Kevin Conway, owner of one of the largest farming operations in the San Joaquin Valley, was telling the American anthropologist Daniel Rothenberg:

“We’re in business to make money and bankrupt our competitors. That’s why we exist. We don’t exist for the benefit of the farming community. We don’t give a damn about the farming community. We don’t believe in promoting agriculture in general, so that all may benefit. We believe in promoting our label.”

A pretty good summary of the American ethos, it seems to me: life is about me, myself, and I; about making money, and not much else. This is the stark reality that the Mexican immigrant encounters.

As Rothenberg documents it in his book With These Hands, Mexican workers come up to the United States with images in their head of the country as a type of paradise: they are going to make a fortune up north and then return home and live like kings. It’s not a total fantasy: material life has improved for many towns in Mexico, as a result of migrant labor. But what most migrants typically get caught up in is a system of brutal exploitation—among the worst faced by the American working class. They often live in shantytowns, work 14 to 16 hours a day, make very little money, have their wages stolen from them, and are frequently subject to severe physical violence. Over the years there has been a lot of legislation attempting to curb these abuses, but as Rothenberg notes, given the “floating” nature of the farm labor system, these laws are very difficult to enforce.

There is also a heavy social and psychological cost in terms of value systems, according to Rothenberg. In Michoacán, Rodolfo Gutierrez, a student at a local university, told him: “I know a lot of guys from here who’ve gone north and returned really different, really cholo. They change—their personalities, their ideas, their clothes—their whole way of being. When they come back, they don’t show their parents the same respect.”

Also in Michoacán, Alberto Mosquera, a priest-in-training, said of the migrants that they “often lose their sense of community obligation. Their goals become individualistic and their attitudes become characteristic of North American culture. The men invest in their homes, but not in their community.”

The larger picture is that the imposition of neoliberal economics, and the American Dream, on traditional societies—whether we are talking about India, or Mexico, or Japan—allows a certain sliver of the middle class to rise to near-elite status, but at the expense of the rest of the population, and this then tears at the fabric of those societies. During the first two years of President Peña Nieto's sexenia (2012-14), 2 million more Mexicans fell below the poverty line, and Carlos Slim's personal wealth is equal to something like the combined wealth of the bottom 17 million people. This is the real upshot of the "meritocratic society," that the gap between rich and poor gets greater, not less, despite all the hype. Social mobility is largely an illusion, and certainly in the United States, which has nearly the lowest rate of social mobility among all the industrialized nations in the world, if not actually the lowest.

As for tradition vs. modernity, Oxford professor Terry Eagleton has this to say in his brilliant essay, The Illusions of Postmodernism:

"'Traditional' or pre-modern societies have a great many merits which our own set-ups lack…On the whole they have a richer sense of place, community and tradition, less social anomie, less cut-throat competition and tormented ambition, less subjection to a ruthlessly instrumental rationality and so on. On the other hand…they are often desperately impoverished, culturally claustrophobic, socially hidebound and patriarchal, and without much sense of the autonomous individual. Modernity has precisely such a sense of free individual development, with all the spiritual wealth that this brings with it; it also begins to hatch notions of human equality and universal rights largely unknown to its forebears. But we also know that this is the more civilized face of a barbarous uncaring order, one which sunders all significant relations between its members, deprives them of precious symbolic resources and persuades them to mistake the means of life for the ends of it." (Italics mine)

All I can conclude, at this point in time, is that too much traditionalism—what anthropologists call "hypercoherence"—leads to stagnation, and too much individualism and enterprise leads to chaos and alienation. Balance is finally the issue, which is one thing I took away fromMcFarland. In terms of values, Jim White was living at one extreme, his students at another. The collision of the two ways of life modified both, for the better. The real question is what this might mean on a larger political scale. For surely to have nearly half the country stuck in poverty while a small elite pursues the American Dream, can in no way be called "balance." It is, in fact, a disaster, and confronts us with a question that I, as a foreigner who has made Mexico his home, think about quite often: What would true success for Mexico be, and how is it to be achieved?

©Morris Berman, 2015


Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

The Waning of the Modern Ages

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdomgc2smFrom the keyboard of Morris Berman
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Like us on Facebook

 

 

 

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdom

Published on Counterpunch on September 20, 2012


La longue durée —the long run—was an expression made popular by the Annales School of French historians led by Fernand Braudel, who coined the phrase in 1958. The basic argument of this school is that the proper concern of historians should be the analysis of structures that lie at the base of contemporary events. Underneath short-term events such as individual cycles of economic boom and bust, said Braudel, we can discern the persistence of “old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic.” An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.

The “arc” of capitalism, according to this school, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In his classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through.  One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss. What lies ahead is largely unknown, and to have to hover over an abyss for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well, on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose.

I was musing on these issues some time ago when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock DoctrineIt was called “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” and was published last November in The Nation.  In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British writer James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

What Ms. Klein is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate change is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius.  Commentators like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”

In one of the essays in my book A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of America’s so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all).  Of this, Naomi Klein writes:

“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits….These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.”

(This is exactly what I argued 31 years ago in The Reenchantment of the World; it’s nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, because what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to earlier. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters—if there are any left at this point; I’m not sure—need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means. It also has to be said that almost everyone in the United States, not just the upper 1%, buys into this. John Steinbeck pointed this out many years ago when he wrote that in the U.S., the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The Occupy movement, as far as I could make out, wanted to restore the American Dream, when in fact the Dream needs to be abolished once and for all.

Naomi then provides us with a list of six changes that must occur for this new paradigm to come into being, including Reining in Corporations, Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich. I found myself writing “good luck” in the margins of much of this discussion. These things are not going to happen, and what we probably need instead is a series of major conferences on why they won’t happen. But note that part of the answer is already embedded in her essay: vested interests, in both the economic and psychological sense, have every reason to maintain the status quo. And as I said, so does the man or woman in the street. What would our lives be without shopping, without the latest technological toy? Pretty empty, at least in the U.S.  How awful, that capitalism has reduced human beings to this.

In terms of recommendations, then, Klein’s essay is rather weak. But it offers something very important by way of analysis, and also by implication: Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the farce of electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s rather rapid conversion from liberal hero to war criminal and shredder of the Bill of Rights, the huge popularity of violent movies, the attempt of the rich to impose austerity measures on the poor, the well-documented epidemics of mental illness and obesity—these are ultimately not separate spheres of human activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Ms. Klein says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.

What then, can we expect, as the arc of capitalism comes to a close? This is where Naomi shifts from unlikely recommendations to hard-nosed reality. She writes:

“The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations.  Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. ‘Free-market climate solutions,’ as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets.  And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks….As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, and that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed.”

To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the current system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, it was true at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today. In the case of the Roman Empire, as I discuss in The Twilight of American Culture, there was the emergence of  monastic orders that began to preserve the treasures of Graeco-Roman civilization. My question in that book was: Can something similar happen today? Naomi writes:

“The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement—remember, it was quite vigorous last November—embodies this; that they have taken “aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying…radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.”

Is this true? Four things to consider at this point:

1. I personally never visited Zuccotti Park, but most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten. This reminds me of an anecdote about Martin Luther King, who apparently said to Harry Belafonte, just before he (i.e., King) was assassinated, that he thought he might have been making a big mistake; that he sometimes felt like he was herding people into a burning church. This is a very different insight, quite obviously, than the notion that black people should be getting a larger share of the pie. After all, who wants a larger share of a rotten pie, or to live in a church that is burning down?

2. The Annales historians, along with the World Systems Analysis thinkers, have been accused of projecting an image of “history without people.” In other words, these schools tend to see individuals as somewhat irrelevant to the historical process, which they analyze in terms of “historical forces.” There is some truth to this, but “historical forces” can become a bit mystical. Just as it is forces that motivate people, so it is people that enact or manifest those forces. I mean,

someone has to do something for history to occur, and at least the Occupy crowd was trying to throw sand on the wheels of the machine, so to speak, as have their counterparts in Europe.  But I confess that for a number of reasons, I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election.  In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught. This is basically the “new monastic option” I wrote about in the Twilight book. On one level, it’s probably innocuous; it hardly threatens the power elite. But that may not be the whole story, especially in the long run—la longue durée.  After all, as the system collapses, alternatives are going to become increasingly attractive; and you can be sure that 2008 is not the last crash we are going to live through. The two sides go hand in hand, and ultimately—I’m talking thirty to forty years, but maybe less—the weight of the arc of capitalism will be too onerous to sustain itself. In la longue durée, one is far smarter betting on the alternative worldview than on capitalism. Thus the biologist David Ehrenfeld writes: “Our first task is to create a shadow economic, social, and even technological structure that will be ready to take over as the existing system fails.”

3. What, then, is that alternative worldview, that “new civilizational paradigm”? In Why America Failed I lay out, unsurprisingly enough, the reasons for why America failed, and I say that it was primarily because throughout our history we marginalized or ignored the voices that argued against the dominant culture, which is based on hustling, aggrandizement, and economic and technological expansion. This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others. In England it is particularly associated with John Ruskin and William Morris, who argued for the need for organic communities with a spiritual purpose, for work that was meaningful rather than mind-numbing, and who did manage to acquire a large number of American disciples. In a forthcoming book by a colleague of mine, Joel Magnuson, entitled The Approaching Great Transformation, the author states that we need concrete models of a post-carbon economy, ones that break with the profit model of capitalism—and not in cosmetic or rhetorical ways. He gives a number of examples of experiments in this vein, ones that I would term elements of a steady-state or homeostatic economy: no-growth, in other words. After all, writes Magnuson, “permanent growth means permanent crisis.” Or as I have put it elsewhere, our job is to dismantle capitalism before it dismantles us. Again, this does not mean taking on Wall Street, which I don’t believe can succeed. But it does mean leaving the field: for example, seceding. (Movements for secession do exist at this point, Vermont being a prominent example.) And if that’s not quite viable right now, there is at least the possibility of living in a different way, as David Ehrenfeld suggests. My guess is that “dual process”—the disintegration of capitalism and the concomitant emergence of an alternative socioeconomic formation—is going to be the central story of the rest of this century. And I suspect that austerity will be part of this, because as capitalism collapses and we run out of resources—petroleum in particular—what choice will we have?

4. This does not, it seems to me, necessarily mean a return to some type of feudalism; although that could well happen, for all I know. But we are finally talking about the passing not only of capitalism, but of modernity in general—the waning of the modern ages, in effect. In her interesting biography of the Hegelian scholar, Alexandre Kojève, Shadia Drury writes: “Every political order, no matter how grand, is doomed to decay and degenerate.” As for modernity in particular, she goes on:

“[M]odernity’s inception and its decline are like those of any other set of political and cultural ideals. In its early inception, modernity contained something good and beguiling. It was a revolution against the authority of the Church, its taboos, repressions, inquisitions, and witch burning. It was a new dawn of the human spirit—celebrating life, knowledge, individuality, freedom, and human rights. It bequeathed to man a sunny disposition on the world, and on himself….The new spirit fueled scientific discovery, inventiveness, trade, commerce, and an artistic explosion of great splendor. But as with every new spirit, modernity has gone foul….Modernity lost the freshness and innocence of its early promise because its goals became inflated, impossible, and even pernicious. Instead of being the symbol of freedom, independence, justice, and human rights, it has become the sign of conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and the destruction of the earth.”

In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.

 

©Morris Berman, 2012 


Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

Open Letter to President Putin

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdomFrom the keyboard of Morris Berman
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 

Anthony-Freda_empty-kingdom

Published on Dark Ages America on October 17, 2015


Dear Mr. President:

Gaspadin:

I am writing in response to your remark–accurate in the extreme, in my opinion–that members of the American government have mush in their heads instead of brains. Indeed, Mr. Obama has no coherent foreign policy, is basically adrift, and as you have no doubt figured out long ago, is a political and intellectual lightweight. He has no idea at all of what he is doing, and this applies to the majority of American politicians. 

However, what you wrote about the members of the American government also applies to members of the country at large: they have gavno inside their heads; they are a collection of duraki. After all, as a famous American comedian once remarked, our leaders come from the people; they don't originate on Mars. The remarkable thing is that in the US, even the smart ones are dumb, due in large part to our remarkable system of brainwashing. Let me remind you of that hilarious exchange you and Mr. Obama had a while back, regarding American "exceptionalism." Your response to his speech on this topic was to rebuke him, pointing out that regarding oneself as exceptional was a potentially destructive position to take. His response–I told you, he's not very smart–was more exceptionalist propaganda. The problem is that roughly 99.99% of the American public believes this nonsense, that we were chosen by God to lead the world by example. (A bit ironic, considering the fact that that example has not been very exemplary.) There is a knee-jerk reaction in this country, whenever we have a conflict with any other country, that we are good (always innocent) and they are evil, or at the very least misguided. We don't have a great talent for looking within, and the only president who asked us to do that–Jimmy Carter–is regarded by most Americans today as a loser and a fool.

You may well wonder how this nation of "individuals" wound up with a completely uniform ideology. The Australian journalist, John Pilger, tells the story–possibly apocryphal, I have no idea–of a project undertaken by America in the wake of Stalin's death in 1953, and the beginning of a thaw or detente between our two countries. The idea was to invite about two dozen apparatchiki over to the US to view a pluralistic society, "democracy in action." They could go anywhere they wanted, unescorted, and they did: the Senate, the Supreme Court, high schools, newspapers, universities–the works. At the end of the two weeks they all convened at the White House, and the official in charge of the project, beaming with pride, said, "Well?" The response was not exactly what he expected. After an embarrassed silence, one of the Russian officials spoke up:

"How do you do it?" he asked. "To get this extreme degree of conformity of opinion, everyone thinking exactly alike, we in the USSR have to beat our citizens, send them to Siberia, put them in psychiatric hospitals and fill them with drugs, shoot them, and so on. Here, in your country, you achieve the results we can only dream about, and with no coercion at all!"

Anyway, I don't mean to condone your own methods. The assassination of critical Russian journalists under your tenures in office is notorious (Anna Politkovskaya, for example), and forgive me, but I suspect your hands aren't completely clean in these abysmal events. So quite obviously, if you want a free society that allows for real dissent, you've got a ways to go. But Pilger's example, even if it never happened, is true to the spirit of how the United States operates, and to the very low level of citizen awareness of what's really going on in the world. All of which is to say that you might as well pursue your own interests (which you are already doing), and not worry too much about what we say, because all we are doing is pursuing our interests, and it is clear enough to most of the world that American "democracy" is a pretext for the projection of power into every corner of the globe, much of it for the purpose of economic gain.

In any case, it's not very likely that you will be reading this, inasmuch as I am a very minor intellectual figure in the US, not really on the radar screen of public discussion. But if you do happen to run across this, and would like to continue the conversation, I would be glad to do so with a nice samovar of tea from Sochi sitting between us. At the very least, I can assure you that it will be a far more interesting discussion than any you have had, or are likely to have, with virtually any American political figure.

Thank you for listening (if you did). Do svidanya, and vsevo haroshevo.

-Morris Berman

 

©Morris Berman, 2015 


Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

The American Sage

From the keyboard of Morris Berman
Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 

 

mumford

Published on Dark Ages America on November 16, 2014

 

[From an essay a Mexican journal asked Berman to write on Lewis Mumford;  published in Spanish translation. Herewith the English original. For those with enthusiasm for the SUN project, for those who argue for the importance of human dignity in an ear of commoditization and the Age of the Machine,f or fans of Heinberg and Greer, Kunstler and Jensen, you will hear echoes of their ideas and a more clear idea of in which direction to face to pay proper homage to their inspiration. -Surly1]

“(The processes are) doubly ruinous: they impoverish the earth by hastily removing, for the benefit of a few generations, the common resources which, once expended and dissipated, can never be restored; and second, in its technique, its habits, its processes, the paleotechnic period is equally inimical to the earth considered as a human habitat, by its destruction of the beauty of the landscape, its ruining of streams, its pollution of drinking water, its filling the air with a finely divided carboniferous deposit, which chokes both life and vegetation.”

-Lewis Mumford

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) was one of those rare American geniuses whom almost no one paid attention to during his lifetime. The United States has a tradition of ignoring (or even ridiculing) those talented individuals who have been critical of its dominant culture—unbridled materialism and individualism—and who have offered an alternative to it, one that might be called spiritual and communitarian. Indeed, in my book Why America Failed, I argue that the reason America failed was that it consistently marginalized the representatives of the alternative tradition, from Capt. John Smith in 1616 to Emerson and Thoreau and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith down to President Jimmy Carter in 1979 (a number of congressmen believed Carter was actually insane). Lewis Mumford quite clearly belongs on this list, and most Americans who bothered to read him, during his lifetime, regarded his views as “precious” or “quaint”—well-intentioned, but out of sync with the real world. It should come as no surprise that by the end of his life Mumford, who began his career as a kind of “utopian realist,” had become a pessimist, and a fairly depressed one at that.

And yet, the remarkable thing is that when one reads his work today, one can’t help being struck by how sane it all is. To those who contend that Mumford’s ideas are irrelevant to the real world, I can only respond: “real” on whose definition? “Real” according to Goldman Sachs, whose goal is to amass trillions of dollars (to what end?)? “Real” according to Google, which seeks to digitalize and virtualize us out of (human, physical) existence? Mumford was not one of those who held that “progress” consisted of the latest gadget, the latest innovation, and he surely concurred with Octavio Paz, that we need to clarify what we mean by that word. If Mumford’s world view seems, at times, a bit medieval, we might want to remember that much was lost in the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity: craftsmanship, a deep appreciation of beauty, community, silence, and above all, a sense of spiritual purpose. It was this collection of values that Mumford stood for, and that he struggled to preserve or reintroduce into modern American life. His “failure” as a supposed fuddy-duddy or hopeless romantic was, to my mind—given the integrity of his work—a great success; America’s (material) “success” has proven to be, in the fullness of time, a colossal (human) failure.

What, then, was Mumford about? His career as a writer began in the context of the go-go capitalist era of the 1920s, with a book called The Story of Utopias,which criticized the Western utopian tradition as one-dimensional, projecting futures based purely on technological development. This was followed (in 1926) by The Golden Day, which took its theme not from the leading lights of the time, e.g. Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor, but from Oswald Spengler, whose Decline of the West argued that the northern urban culture of Europe was a “Faustian” world, characterized by bigness and rationality, eventually to be dominated by the soldier, the engineer, and the businessman—as America is today. This, said Spengler, marked the end of true civilization, and all that it could look forward to was fossilization and death. Mumford repeated this argument, but with an important twist: he believed the trajectory could be reversed, based on a revival of regional and organic life. A few years earlier, he helped found the Regional Planning Association of America, whose goal was to promote the “garden city” concept of the British town planner Ebenezer Howard. This emphasized limited-scale communities that would combine home and work in a single locale. These were not suburbs in the usual sense of the term; no commuting would be involved. (Mumford once described the American suburb as “a collective effort to live a private life.”) The towns would be surrounded by farmland and forests, and be community owned. As opposed to the dominant culture, that of hustling and the acquisitive life, these centers would promote the good life, which he said “means the birth and nurture of children, the preservation of human health and well being, the culture of the human personality, and the perfection of the natural and civic environment as the theater of all of these activities.” People would enjoy a sense of belonging, a relationship to nature, and be able to pursue meaningful work.

If all of this sounds utopian, it is important to note that such a community actually got built (in 1928), Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, designed for workers and the lower-middle class. It still exists, after a fashion. The houses are small, and front inward, toward a common green area. It still retains a village atmosphere, and constituted a real break with the model of commercial real estate development. Mumford lived there for a number of years, as did the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mumford later described the time as the happiest years of his life. Writing in the New York Times in 1972, Ada Louise Huxtable remarked:

“Public ownership of land, one of the basic premises, made possible a planned community, rather than speculative piece-meal exploitation…It was simple physical planning—the kind of humane, paternalistic,thoughtful layout that dealt clearly and primarily with a better way to live.”

“Un-American,” in short; quintessentially Green. Of course, it eventually became a privately owned haven for the upper-middle class, as it got overtaken by the juggernaut of the dominant culture, which apparently nothing can stop. Wal-Mart, not Sunnyside Gardens, would carry the day.

For Mumford, all of this turned on Americans acquiring a different set of values. The nation, he wrote, needed to slow down the pace of industrialization and “turn society from its feverish preoccupation with money-making inventions, goods, profits, [and] salesmanship…to the deliberate promotion of the more human functions of life.” If Mumford was heir to Spengler, he was also in the lineage of Henry David Thoreau. Thus in Technics and Civilization (1934), says the historian David Horowitz, Mumford “envisioned the replacement of an age over-committed to technology, capitalism, materialism, and growth by the emergence of a humane, life-affirming economy based on the values of regionalism, community, and restraint.” Democracy, Mumford wrote a few years later, could only be reinvigorated by substituting spiritual pleasures for material ones; by an “economy of sacrifice.” He urged his readers to turn away from the American Dream, which he called a “deceptive orgy of economic expansion.” Instead, they needed to commit themselves to “human cooperation and communion.” Utopianism indeed.

Mumford struck a (somewhat) more realistic note in The Condition of Man (1944), a book that was influenced by his study of the late Roman Empire. It was precisely the unwillingness of the Roman people to look at their way of life, he said, a way of life founded on “pillage and pilfer,” that led to the fall of Rome. This must not happen to America, he cried; and as with the construction of Sunnyside Gardens, Mumford took his philosophy into the streets. Working with other activists in 1958, he was able to stop Robert Moses, New York City’s controversial urban planner, from constructing a four-lane highway through Greenwich Village. (Jesus, the thought of it!) In an essay he wrote the previous year, Mumford skewered those Americans who allow their cities to be trashed, à la Moses, and then go on holidays to Europe to enjoy beautiful, historic urban centers. But he did see the handwriting on the wall. By 1975 his comment on the American city was, “Make the patient as comfortable as possible. It’s too late to operate.”

Following his inspiration, however, there was at least one city that tried to protect itself from the dominant corporate-commercial model, namely Portland, Oregon. Portland’s success in doing so can be attributed to Mumford’s long-range influence; indeed, the city’s urban planners (in the 1970s) drew specifically on the garden city concept. Mumford had delivered a speech to the Portland City Club in 1938, and also submitted a memo entitled “Regional Planning in the Northwest,” which regional advocates still quote. The memo recommended the construction of a series of “urban inter-regions,” which involved the greening of the city core and the connection of greenbelt towns so as to ease congestion. Portland, Mumford wrote, would need a regional zoning authority, which he referred to as “collective democratic controls.” The mayor of Portland, Neil Goldschmidt (elected in 1972), brought a number of these proposals into his administration, and Mike Houck, charged with setting up a Metropolitan Wildlife Refuge System there, appealed to the legacy of Mumford in his plan to design an interconnected system of natural landscapes, which would include a network of “greenways” to bring people together. In 1992, the Metropolitan Service District published A Guidebook for Maintaining and Enhancing Greater Portland’s Special Sense of Place, which included a reprint of Mumford’s lecture to the City Club.

Much was accomplished in Portland, as a result. The city rezoned, so as to create diversity-of-income neighborhoods. While other cities were busy building expressways, Portland tore down an old four-lane highway and reconnected the town with its waterfront. In 1975, it cancelled a planned freeway that would have devastated part of the city and set up a light rail system instead. It also established an Urban Growth Boundary that forbade the building of commercial projects beyond a certain point. Buildings were required to have their display windows at street level, and a cap was put on the height of high-rises and the number of downtown parking spaces. The business district has parks full of fountains and greenery, and the downtown area is vibrant, replete with bars and cafes. Of course, some of this got rolled back beginning in 2004, when Oregon voters passed a referendum to abolish many of the state’s land-use regulations—a defense of individual property rights, or so they believed. But with Mumford’s ideas in mind, Portland made a definite attempt to move in an “un-American” direction.

Mumford, in the meantime, kept writing. In Technics and Civilization he had argued that the technological model of “progress” required human beings to submit to the cult of the machine. In the Middle Ages, he pointed out, technology was used in the service of life, e.g. the building of cities or cathedrals. But in the “paleotechnic era,” starting with the Industrial Revolution, the defining idea was to bring all of human experience under a technological regime, a program that would ultimately throw life out of balance. Mumford picked up this thread many years later in The Pentagon of Power, in which he asserted that the American “megamachine” was based on a poisoned arrangement, namely that the individual could enjoy the benefits of techno-capitalism if he or she pledged unquestioning allegiance to the system. (This argument was recently updated for the digital age by Dave Eggers in his brilliant, depressing novel, The Circle.) The solution, said Mumford, was obvious: reject the myth of the machine, and the whole structure will collapse like a house of cards. By this time, however, Mumford didn’t really believe Americans were capable of such a shift in values, and like Heidegger, stated (at least in private) that only a miracle could save us. “I think, in view of all that has happened in the last half century,” he wrote to a friend in 1969, “that it is likely the ship will sink.” This is exactly what we are witnessing today.

But the story is not quite over, as it turns out. As America “settles in the mold of its vulgarity/heavily thickening to empire” (Robinson Jeffers, 1925), other forces are stirring. Every day, more and more people are coming to realize that ecologically speaking, there are limits to growth, and that the configuration of late capitalism is politically unstable. As one urban designer has written, “sustainable society will come because the alternative is no society at all.” It is more than likely that we shall have to change our basic values not because we are especially virtuous, but because there will be no other choice.

When Mumford published the first volume of The Myth of the Machine, in 1967, Time Magazine branded it a call to return to Neolithic culture. This is, of course, the kind of quip designed to get potential readers of the book to dismiss it out of hand. But the word “return” is not entirely inaccurate. When Mumford wrote that the good life means “the birth and nurture of children, the preservation of human health and well being, the culture of the human personality, and the perfection of the natural and civic environment as the theater of all of these activities,” he was not referring to Neolithic civilization, but certainly to a civilization that antedated the culture of techno-capitalist frenzy, and that has been all but erased by what came after. He was also referring to the elements of life that human beings simply can’t live without—not in the long run. If some form of restoration is no longer possible, then the future is no longer possible, when you get right down to it. “Utopian realism” may turn out to be our only hope.

Stirrings such as these have been going on for some time now. In 1975 the American writer, Ernest Callenbach, published a book called Ecotopia, which is clearly in the alternative tradition I described above. It was rejected by no less than 100 publishers; Callenbach had to publish it himself, after which it sold more than 1 million copies, becoming a kind of underground classic. He died in 2012, and shortly after, his literary agent discovered an unpublished essay in the files of his computer. The last two paragraphs read as follows:

“All things ‘go’ somewhere: they evolve, with or without us, into new forms. So as the decades pass, we should try not always to futilely fight these transformations. As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi—the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else. We can embrace this process of devolution: embellish it when strength avails, learn to love it.

“There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth. Let us learn… to put unwise or unneeded roads ‘to bed,’ help a little in the healing of the natural contours, the re-vegetation by native plants. Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth.”

What can one say? The future may prove to be a Mumfordian one, whether we like it or not; and after all those decades of being marginalized, Lewis Mumford may, in the end, have the last laugh.

©Morris Berman, 2014

 

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

Love and Survival

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 connectedness

Published on Dark Ages America on August  3, 2014

 

“When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. “

The Dalai Lama, Nobel acceptance speech, 1989


By late July, 2014, I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had been living in Mexico for almost eight years with Washington, D.C., license plates on my car, and if I wanted to apply for permanent resident status in Mexico, which I did, I would have to drive up to a Customs station at the border and “nationalize” my car, i.e., get Mexican plates. Frankly, I have never cared what passport I was carrying, or what driver’s license plates I had, as long as I could move around freely; but as I had no intention of returning to the U.S. except to visit, it seemed that the time was ripe for sorting things out with Mexico. The plates would enable me to become a permanent resident; or so my immigration adviser told me.

A little background info here: when I moved to Mexico in 2006, I was quickly “adopted” by a family in the town where I set up shop. It has been a very close relationship; I drop in on them at least once a week, and they would, and have, give(n) me their left arm if I needed it. I have already described (in A Question of Values) how they showed up in full force at the hospital, an hour away, where I had surgery in 2009, literally sleeping in my room to make sure the nurses were taking good care of me. Now, in the case of the placas (license plates), my “hermana” Raquel (not her real name) had a niece in the border town where the Customs office was located, whom (Raquel said) knew everyone and would be able to help me with the whole nationalization process. So, off I went.

Before continuing with this story, I need to say that just “coincidentally,” I was at the time reading a book by Dean Ornish called Love and Survival. It’s an intriguing study, arguing that there is much evidence to show that being immersed in a network of loving relationships significantly prolongs one’s life, strengthens one’s immune system, counteracts illness, and so on. It was first published in 1988; in the intervening years, I doubt Ornish’s data managed to impact the American medical profession in any serious way. As Ornish makes clear, this is not how the profession thinks. But let me review some of his stats and examples, in any case.

■The Roseto Study

This is an examination of an Italian-American town in eastern Pennsylvania that was found to have had a very low mortality rate for heart attacks during the first thirty years it was studied, as compared to two nearby towns. Citizens of all three towns smoked, ingested cholesterol, and in general exhibited the same physical behaviors that would be expected to impinge on human health, at roughly the same rates. But what Roseto had that the other two towns didn’t was close family ties and very cohesive community relations, including a host of traditional values and practices (religion included). However, in the late sixties and early seventies, all of this broke down. Roseto saw a loosening of family ties and a fragmentation of community relations. Concomitant with this was a substantial increase in death due to heart disease. The mortality rate rose to the same level as that of the two nearby towns.

■The Ni-Hon-San Study

This was an examination of 11,900 Japanese individuals who lived in Japan, as compared to those Japanese who had immigrated to Honolulu and San Francisco. Scientists found that the incidence of heart disease was lowest in Japan, intermediate in Hawaii, and highest in California. The closer they came to the American mainland, in other words, the sicker they became. None of this was related to differences in diet, blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol levels, and so on. The crucial factor was the degree to which each group retained a traditional Japanese culture. The Japanese-Americans who maintained family ties and community had a rate of heart disease as low as those living in Japan, whereas the most Westernized group had a three- to-fivefold increase in same.

■Ornish recounts several other studies with similar results, all indicating that beyond any physical factors, social and emotional factors—love, in a word—were No. 1 in promoting health and longevity. As an aside, I should mention a study conducted by William Vega of U.C. Berkeley that found that Mexicans living in the United States had twice the rate of mental illness as Mexicans living in Mexico:

http://berkeley.edu/news/berkeleyan/1998/1021/immigrant.html

It really comes down to the way we live.

This brings me back to my adventure with the license plates. I expected it to take two days; I wound up staying with the family of Raquel’s niece, “Brenda,” for nearly a week. The Mexican bureaucracy is something to behold, possibly worse than that of India. Just when you think you’ve got all your ducks in a row, one more obstacle pops up for you to deal with. Clearly, this was not going to be a two-day operation.

But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I don’t think I was quite prepared for what I was about to experience. Despite the fact that the family had Raquel’s word for it, that I was a fabulous guy (and who, really, could deny it?), I was a total stranger to these folks: we had never met. Yet from the moment I arrived at the front door, I was folded into the warmth of Brenda and her family as though I had been living next door to them for twenty years. It kind of took my breath away. The love that permeated this family was both dense and palpable, and I was suddenly part of it. They were literally kissing and hugging each other (and me) almost constantly. The small children related to me in the same way, not at all afraid of a strange adult, as is usually the case with American (i.e., U.S.) children. There was a coffee mug in the house that had the word “Family” printed on it (in English), with slogans like “celebrates together,” “eats together,” “laughs together,” “stays together”—a gigantic cliché, except that this family was living that cliché. If this were a U.S. sitcom, it would be regarded as a joke, a kind of satire. But this was no fantasy of some nonexistent loving community in New York, along the line of Friends. No, this was the real enchilada. (In fact, I suspect shows like Friends are popular because they depict what Americans badly want, but cannot have.)

It also turned out that family connections extended to the local bureaucracy. Without this, I could have wound up spending a month or so with Brenda & Co. (which would have been fine with them). But because business relations and official relations are not (as in the U.S.) contained in sharply different categories from family relations, Brenda was able to finesse the bureaucracy and get the job done. Within a week I had the plates, even though on the official level the obstacles were formidable. Once again, I was amazed at how the family went all out for me, ignoring their own schedules, schlepping me from one government office to another, and translating the bureaucratese into normal Spanish for me. Since they didn’t expect a peso for their efforts, I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be able to repay them. But they weren’t thinking in those terms, in any case.

A few vignettes may serve to drive home the point.

■Three doors down from Benda was a neighbor, “Elena,” who lost her daughter-in-law in a car crash fourteen months before I visited, and who (since her son was working full-time) took the two surviving grandchildren in, to raise by herself. As luck would have it, several months after that her husband of forty-one years died, and she was left alone with the two kids. Brenda’s family then swung into action, basically taking Elena and the children into their house. Elena came over several times a day, and often slept over with her grandchildren. I wish to emphasize that there was no blood relation between Elena and Brenda or her family. She was “merely” a neighbor. In the U.S., people typically don’t even know the names of the people living next door to them.

■While I was there, Brenda’s brother-in-law and his wife, who were currently living and working in China, were back in Mexico for a month’s holiday. After they came over, and after the usual flurry of hugging and kissing, “Emilio” gave each of Brenda’s kids 200 pesos. The next day, Brenda told me that “Ricky,” her seven-year-old, had wanted to give her the 200 pesos. “I don’t need it, Mami,” he said to her, “and I know you have to struggle a lot.” Brenda told me it was all she could do to keep from crying. I tried to imagine a U.S. child doing something similar, but I couldn’t. The data on the sharp decrease in empathy in America during the past three decades are well-established.

■Half an hour ago, while I was sitting in the living room writing this essay, Ricky came through, went to the kitchen, fetched himself a popsicle (bolis) out of the fridge, and then asked me if I wanted him to get me one. This to a foreigner sixty-three older than himself, whom he knew for all of three days.

■Emilio, his wife, and I had a long and interesting discussion about life in China. They were extremely intelligent and articulate; it was the kind of discussion that is generally hard to have in the United States anymore, because Americans are, by and large, not very articulate, not particularly interested in other nations, and given to “thinking” in slogans. On another occasion, Brenda’s husband, “Jorge,” said to me: “I mean no disrespect, but can you tell me why the United States always has to go to war with someone? And why it supports Israel, which is massacring women and children in Gaza?” Why indeed. Should I have replied, “Because we are a collection of ignorant, and quite violent, people, who are suffering for lack of the kind of family life you and Brenda have, and thus need to hurt other human beings as a result”? But of course, I respected his honest questions, and we had a good discussion of issues that most U.S.-persons don’t give a damn about.

Brenda told me that every time she goes to the U.S., she has the impression that Americans believe that Mexicans sit around under trees wearing sombreros and drinking cerveza all the time. But that’s only part of the stereotype, of course; overall, it’s that Mexicans are backward, inferior, living a million miles from the “progress” exhibited by the go-go capitalism of their northern neighbors. And yet, what is the family and social life of that “superior” civilization? A divorce rate of 50 percent; kids who are abandoned, both emotionally and literally; the highest number of single-person dwellings of any country in the world; the greatest amount of antidepressant use of any country in the world; and—as many studies have by now affirmed—a large population living lives of quiet desperation. In the occasional “world happiness studies” that appear from time to time, Mexico typically ranks in the top five, whereas the U.S. is much farther down the list.

All of this is not to suggest that life in Mexico is perfect. It’s not, by a long shot, and an annoying bureaucracy is a minor issue compared to the poverty, corruption, and racial bias that are depressingly rampant in Mexican society. But on the interpersonal level, the country has got things right. It doescelebrate family, as that coffee mug says; its priorities are not ones of hustling, trying to make huge amounts of money, being “important,” or getting “ahead” (of what, exactly?). I have a saying I like to repeat, from time to time, that in Mexico nothing works and everything works out, whereas in the United States, everything works and nothing works out. That’s been my experience after eight years of living here.

So yes, dear reader, I got my plates. But that was the least of what I got. Gracias, Brenda; voy a regresar.

 

©Morris Berman, 2014

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

 

 

Our Exciting Future: 2016

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 Mitt-Romney-2016

 

Published on Dark Ages America on June 19, 2014

 

It's kind of fun, watching the American media getting all worked up about the 2016 presidential election, 2+ years in advance. As if it mattered, who was in the White House. As if the important national decisions emerged from a mouthpiece of the corporations, the banks, and the military, as opposed to originating with the corporations, the banks, and the military, themselves. And if the media are clueless, so are the American people, of course, who get very exercised over the differences between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. (One party is insane, and the other is full of shit.) Well, as I keep telling you guys, the American people aren't exactly a collection of Einsteins.


Nevertheless, I confess that I got all hot and bothered myself over the following article that just appeared on CNN:

 

Poll: Romney the frontrunner in 2016?

 

(CNN) – He's said over and over that he won't run for the White House a third time, but a new poll indicates that if Mitt Romney changed his mind and made another bid for president, he'd be the frontrunner among Republicans in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire.

According to the Suffolk University/Boston Herald survey, which was released Thursday, 24% of Granite State Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say that Romney would be their first choice for their party's presidential nomination.

Among the potential 2016 GOP contenders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was a distant second, at 9%, with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky at 8%, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at 7%.

While the survey may make headlines, it's important to remember that Romney's very well known in New Hampshire. He owns a vacation home in the state, has often appeared at GOP events in New Hampshire, and was governor of neighboring Massachusetts. Romney easily won the 2012 Republican primary, but lost the state by six percentage points to President Barack Obama in the general election.

Romney on 2016: 'The answer is no'

And the 2012 GOP presidential nominee has been very clear about his 2016 intentions.

"I'm not running," Romney said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," a line Romney's used in interviews every time he's asked about whether he'll make a third bid for the White House. Romney's wife, Ann, has also been adamant against another run.

"Very sorry, Mrs. Romney. We had to ask the question," Suffolk University Political Research Center Director David Paleologos joked to CNN…. Paleologos added that the results speak to "the weakness of the GOP field at this point in time."

Without Romney, Christie and Paul were tied at 11% as the first choice for the nomination among Republicans in New Hampshire, with Bush and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas each at 8%.

The Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll was conducted June 14-15 and June 17-18, with 800 likely voters in New Hampshire questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

 

The fact is, I was brokenhearted, two years ago, when Mittney lost. He is my kinda guy, really: a walking haircut with nothing underneath it. America deserves no less, IMO. And what's the alternative, really? Hillary, a major yawn. What is she? A lackey of the imperial state, who knows who her friends are (the corporations, the banks, and the military). All we can expect–and she's likely to win, sad to say–is an extension of the Obama presidency; which is to say, ad hoc crisis management, to no purpose at all. She's a tedious person; every time I see that depressed, pasty face in the news, I think of 3-day-old cottage cheese.

The tragedy of Mittney is that no one really understood that he stood for absolutely nothing at all, and at this juncture in American history, when decline is the inevitable order of the day, that's a good thing. Who better to lead us into the American "future," namely nowhere, than a Nowhere Man? He keeps saying he's not a candidate anymore, but if polls have him as the GOP "frontrunner," maybe he'll reconsider. Yes, he's a moron; but Hillary is a douche bag. I know whom I'd rather have leading us into the abyss. And so it is with some fervor, I hope not entirely futile, that I feel compelled to cry out:

COME BACK, LITTLE MITTNEY! WE LOVE YOU! DON'T FAIL US IN OUR HOUR OF NEED!

 

©Morris Berman, 2014

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

[amazon text=www.amazon.com&template=carousel&asin=B00A323CPU, B00KSR2Z6Mz, B00JSZMC5E, B00I7J6BEU, B00D0O7AZ, B00HWGLW9I, B0015KGXR8, B0097DHRMK, B00J39MTF8, B00GO83VUI]

 

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 

revenge-of-the-nerds

Published on Dark Ages America on May 19, 2014

Who are we, really? Does anyone really know him- or herself? Buddhists say that personality is a ghost, that the self is an illusion, but it strikes me as being a pretty real illusion (whatever that means).

Here’s an odd story. When I was in elementary school, I had a friend named David, and this friendship lasted from ages 5 to 16, when his parents moved away and David wound up at a different high school. The next time I saw him was in 2000. Apparently, I did some TV show (c-span, maybe) about the Twilight book, and David caught the show, contacted me, and we got together in Upstate NY, where he was then living. He had become a physician, had been a rebel, attacking the whole corrupt system of insurance and HMOs. Not popular with his colleagues, as you might imagine. He was also an early champion of the MRI, when there was a lot of doubt about introducing it. Anyway, he made a dinner reservation for us just down the street from our old elementary school (which had burned down years ago; this was its replacement), and after dinner we walked around the small building, smoking cigars despite the light drizzle that had started to come down.

Now you have to understand that from my own perspective of myself—from elementary school running through college (but not in grad school, which was a whole different ball of wax)—I was a nerd. I was heavily nerdile, with interests that were not ‘cool’. I was not ironic or hip, in the accepted American style; girls had no interest in me, for the most part, and I had very few friends. This left me a stranger in a strange land; and from a fairly early age I had a hard time identifying with America, or relating to Americans, most of whom struck me as obtuse. Conversations with them were boring, at least for me; who cared about the new Mustang, or the World Series (they did, obviously)? (Revenge of the Nerds is one of my favorite movies, as you might expect.) But given the social context, and the fact that children and teenagers are in the process of developing their identities (and even their frontal lobes), I was very much conflicted by the reality that I didn’t fit in: simultaneously wanting, and not wanting, to be part of the mainstream. As Goethe once observed, adolescence is funny only in retrospect.

Anyway, there we were, David and I, walking around our old elementary school, when he suddenly said to me, completely out of the blue, and apropos of nothing: “You know, when we were kids, you were my hero.” “Yeah, right,” I replied. What kind of crap was this? “No,” he said, “I’m serious. The fact is that you made knowledge, and learning, cool. At age 7 you were reading poetry and playing chess. Who does that, at age 7?”

I was literally thunderstruck. How was this possible? I mean, I’m sure most of the kids around me regarded me as completely square, someone you don’t bother giving the time of day to. And here’s this old pal telling me that I was a role model for him! He obviously knew me, or saw me, in a way that was very different from the way I saw myself. I stood there, in the rain, trying to rethink my childhood, which had suddenly taken on a whole new dimension.

Just so you know, before I go on with this story: a year later David got cancer, and took a room at the NIH in Bethesda. I was working in DC during those years, so every Friday after work I would drive up to the hospital in Maryland and sit with him, talk with him for a few hours. I thought he would make it, pull through, but he didn’t: he died in 2002, and then, with a heavy heart, I drove 12 hours through a blinding snowstorm to Upstate NY for his funeral. My real sadness, however, was rather selfish: here I get reunited with an old friend, after all those years, and after only one year of renewed friendship the Universe takes him away. Shit.

Anyway, fast-forward now from age 7 to my early 20s, when the Vietnam war was in full swing. Once again, I was aware of my own strangeness, in America. Sure, many Americans demonstrated against the war, but percentage-wise it didn’t amount to much: most were for it, until we were clearly losing the battle. Very few saw through it, realized it was a neo-colonial war in which we were using our sophisticated military technology to pound a peasant people, who had no beef with us and certainly did not constitute a threat, into the dirt. But it went beyond that. Ho Chi Minh was a Gandhi-type figure, a great statesman and intellect who wrote poetry. America has no comparable figure—George Washington is not really in the Ho/Gandhi category, it seems to me. And America’s contemporary leaders, like LBJ and Nixon, were gross, vulgar, and violent. Can anyone imagine them writing poetry? I realized I felt a closer bond to Vietnamese peasants (who do read poetry, in fact) than to the folks around me, with whom I was supposed to feel connected, but didn’t. And what I found during my recent trip to Vietnam was just that: a very gentle, very gracious people, with (amazingly enough) no bitterness toward the US, although we murdered 3 million of them and tortured tens of thousands. As a people, they are about as far apart from Americans as one might imagine. Now back home, I’ve been reading Neil Jamieson’s book, Understanding Vietnam, and here’s what he says:

“It is very difficult for Westerners, especially Americans, to apprehend how significant poetry can be as an expressive mechanism in society. For many of us poetry has connotations of elitism, obscurity, impracticality. Few of us read poetry, and fewer still have a real appreciation of it. But in Vietnam this is not the case. Many Vietnamese read poetry with enjoyment, commit it to memory, and recite poems to each other with unfeigned enthusiasm. Everyday speech is liberally sprinkled with poetic allusions. Even the poor and the illiterate imbibe deeply of a rich oral tradition that has incorporated much that originated in the written literature of the educated elite. Poetry has been and remains much more popular and important in Vietnam than in the United States.”

As an example, Jamieson cites the immensely popular poem by Phan Khoi, “Old Love” (1932). The author tells how he was not able to marry his true love because of restrictive social mores, which required both of them to agree to the marriages that their respective parents had arranged. In a very real sense, their lives were destroyed. And then, 24 years later, quite by accident, they run into each other. The poem concludes:

“Twenty four years later… A chance encounter far away… Both heads had turned to silver; Had they not known each other well, Might they not have passed unknown? An old affair was recalled, no more. It was just a glance in passing!

…There still are corners to the eyes.”

And this is the real truth of our lives, what shimmers for us at the deepest level of our being. The real revenge of the nerds is the life that goes its own way, that is not hip, one that the mainstream—at least in America—will never understand. A peripheral vision, if you will. Yes, my friends, there are still corners to the eyes.


©Morris Berman, 2014

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

[amazon text=www.amazon.com&template=carousel&asin=B00A323CPU, B00KSR2Z6Mz, B00JSZMC5E, B00I7J6BEU, B00D0O7AZ, B00HWGLW9I, B0015KGXR8, B0097DHRMK, B00J39MTF8, B00GO83VUI]

 

A Collection of Degraded Buffoons

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Dark Ages America on March 19, 2014

automatons

 

Discuss this article here inside the Diner

 

A few years ago I read a monograph by Sara Maitland called A Book of Silence. Lately, I’ve been thinking how precious silence is, how little of it exists in the U.S., and how I now have an abundance of it in my own life; so I decided to reread the book. Here’s a bit of text worth thinking about:

“In the Middle Ages Christian scholastics argued that the devil’s basic strategy was to bring human beings to a point where they are never alone with their God, nor ever attentively face to face with another human being….The mobile phone, then, seems to me to represent a major breakthrough for the powers of hell—it is a new thing, which allows the devil to take a significant step forward in her [sic] grand design. With a mobile, a person is never alone and is never entirely attentive to someone else. What is entirely brilliant about it from the demonic perspective is that so many people have been persuaded that this is not something pleasurable (a free choice) but something necessary.”

2001 Ape with iphone.jpgEverywhere you go in the U.S., you see Degraded Buffoons on phones. People talk on them while driving cars (resulting in lots of accidents, including fatalities), or while running down the street. You go into a café, and half the clientele are either on phones or on laptops, distorting what used to be a social experience, or a private creative experience (reading, writing), into a hustling experience—a rude hustling experience. The issue of people never being attentive to another person is so obvious: I’ll be talking with someone, their phone rings, and they completely forget that they are having a conversation with me and immediately go off on some diatribe with someone a thousand miles away. There is not even the faintest awareness that this is rude beyond belief. Indeed, it’s a good example of what Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to call “defining deviancy down”—that over time, what used to be regarded as vulgar becomes the norm. We’re pretty much at rock bottom by now.

I remember, a number of years ago, having a leisurely lunch with my then girlfriend at an outdoor café in Philadelphia. We were the only customers, and it was a nice balmy afternoon. Suddenly, some bozo runs up to the café, his cell phone rings, and he yells: “This is Joe Blow! What can I do for you?” This is what I mean by a Degraded Buffoon—a man reduced to nothing but hustling. He doesn’t say, “Hi, this is Joe Blow, how are you? What’s happening in your life?” No, it’s “Let’s do business!” Nor does it bother him to be disturbing a couple having a quiet lunch six feet away from him—fuck everybody else, I’m Joe Blow! Hard to describe how stupid he looked: crew cut, hatchet face, a bundle of tension. And I thought: yes, this is America, my friends; this rude, stupid piece of trash is who we really are.

Shortly after her cell phone discussion, Ms. Maitland takes up the topic of how (quoting Ernest Gellner) “Our environment is now made up basically of our relationships with others.” Not our relationship with a larger spiritual reality, or with nature, or with ourselves. No, it’s always with others, as though this were the only source of happiness. Kind of sad, when you consider how thin those relationships typically prove to be. She continues:

“This idea, that we feel ourselves to be happy and fulfilled only when we are interacting with other people, creates a dissonance with the equally popular mythology that stresses individual autonomy and personal ‘rights’. If I need interpersonal relationships and I have a right to what I need, it is obviously very difficult to have relationships of genuine self-giving or even of equality. However, this problem is not addressed, is indeed concealed, within popular culture. The consequence of this, almost inevitably, is the creation of an increasing number of lightweight relationships—relationships that appear to connect people, but are not vulnerable to the requirements of love, and therefore tend to lack endurance and discipline.”

This is an interesting observation: that friendship requires love and—horror of horrors!—staying power, discipline. When I left the U.S. (thank god), I think I had a total of three or four genuine friendships, after all of those decades of living there. One thing I discovered about Americans was that they have no idea of what friendship really is, and that it does take love, endurance, and discipline (effort, in short). These are alien concepts to Degraded Buffoons. “Lightweight” is precisely the right word here. Over the years, I noticed that it was not uncommon for people to disappear from my life, and the lives of others, overnight, and without so much as a word of explanation. In a few cases this even happened after a year or two of knowing someone, having had dinners together, having had (I thought) meaningful discussions. And then: poof! They’re gone, and apparently could care less. If you live in a world of noise, cell phones, and hustling, why would any one person mean anything to you? And this is the norm, in the U.S., my friends; what I’m describing—you all recognize this—is hardly aberrant.

What kind of lives are these? What kind of empty, stupid lives? People in a rush, people blabbing inanities on cell phones, people who have no idea what silence is and who probably fear it; people who can’t begin to imagine what love, endurance, and discipline consist of. These are what we call Degraded Buffoons.


©Morris Berman, 2014

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

Home of the Brave

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

 quote-if-there-is-a-country-that-has-committed-unspeakable-atrocities-in-the-world-it-is-the-united-nelson-mandela-249582

Published on Dark Ages America on December 7, 2013

One of the more famous quotes made by Nelson Mandela during his lifetime has been curiously omitted by the mainstream American media in the gushing obituaries that have recently appeared. It goes like this: “If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care for human beings.” I had occasion to remember this remark upon recently reading a review of Stephen Kinzer’s book The Brothers, recently published in the NYTBR (issue of November 10). Kinzer used to work for the NYT, then switched over to The Guardian, and in between wrote two important books on American interventionism: All the Shah’s Men and Overthrow—both of them powerful indictments of U.S. foreign policy. He now returns to the scene with a biography of the Dulles brothers, John Foster and Allen. The opening paragraph of the Times review is worth quoting in full:

“Anyone wanting to know why the United States is hated across much of the world need look no farther than this book. The Brothers is a riveting chronicle of government-sanctioned murder, casual elimination of ‘inconvenient’ regimes, relentless prioritization of American corporate interests and cynical arrogance on the part of two men who were once among the most powerful in the world.”

Both brothers, Kinzer tells us, were law partners in the New York firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, a firm that, in the 1930s, worked for I.G. Farben, the chemicals conglomerate that eventually manufactured Zyklon B (the gas used to murder the Jews). Allen Dulles, at least, finally began to have qualms about doing business in Nazi Germany, and pushed through the closure of the S&C office there, over John Foster’s objections. The latter, as Secretary of State under Eisenhower, worked with his brother (by now head of the CIA) to destroy Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, and Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, among others. The two of them pursued a Manichaean world view that was endemic to American ideology and government, which included the notion that threats to corporate interests were identical to support for communism. As John Foster once explained it: “For us there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” It was not for nothing that President Johnson, much to his credit, privately complained that the CIA had been running “a goddamn Murder Inc. in the Caribbean,” the beneficiaries of which were American corporate interests.

The destructiveness of the Dulles brothers in foreign policy was mirrored by what went on in their personal lives. They were distant, uncomfortable fathers, not wanting their children to “intrude” on their parents’ world, and they refused to attend the wedding of their sister, Eleanor, when she married a Jew. At home and abroad, the two of them were truly awful human beings. But the most trenchant comment made by Kinzer reflects an argument I have repeatedly made, namely the relationship between the macrocosm and the microcosm. “They are us. We are them,” says Kinzer, and this is the God-awful truth: that it is a rotten culture that produces rotten representatives. Americans benefited, materially speaking, from the corporate profits generated by the violence fostered by the CIA and the State Department, and didn’t say boo. They mindlessly got on the anti-Communist bandwagon, never questioning what we were doing around the world in the name of it. Their focus was on the tail fins of their new cars, and the new, exciting world of refrigerators and frozen foods, not on the torture regime we installed in Iran, or the genocide we made possible in Guatemala. By the latest count, 86% of them can’t locate Iran on a world map, and it’s a good bet that less than 0.5% can say who John Foster Dulles even was. When Mandela says that “they don’t care for human beings,” we have to remember that the “they” is not just the U.S. government; it also consists of millions of individual Americans whose idea of life is little more than “what’s in it for me?”—the national mantra, when you get right down to it. The protesters who marched in the streets against our involvement in Vietnam, after all, amounted to only a tiny fraction of the overall American population, and it’s not clear that things have changed all that much: 62% of Americans are in favor of the predator drone strikes in the Middle East that murder civilians on a weekly basis. You don’t get the Dulleses rising to the top without Mr. John Q. Public, and he is as appalling as they. Like the Dulleses, he typically believes in a Christian world of free enterprise vs. the evil others who do not, “thinks” in terms of Manichaean slogans, and is not terribly concerned about anyone outside his immediate family—if that. America didn’t get to be what it is by accident; this much should be clear.

“They are us. We are them.”

©Morris Berman, 2013

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

In Treatment

From the keyboard of Morris Berman

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Dark Ages America on September 17, 2013

In Treatment

 intreatments3wallpaperlarge

Discuss this article at the  Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

 

In Treatment was an HBO TV series that debuted in 2008 and ran for three seasons, starring Gabriel Byrne in the role of a psychotherapist named Paul Weston. It was based on an Israeli series of the same name (Be Tipul, in Hebrew); apparently, many of the episodes were verbatim translations of the Hebrew originals. Personally, I found the show highly addictive. Dr. Weston has a veritable parade of troubled patients traipse through his office, and their problems are unfailingly gripping, even mesmerizing. He seems to be a good therapist, although the results are rather mixed: some folks improve, some seem to go nowhere, one may have even “accidentally” committed suicide (triggering a lawsuit from the dead patient’s father). But the most powerful aspect of the show is that in the fullness of time, nothing is quite what it seemed to be. Paul’s own therapist (played by Dianne Wiest) seems to be empathic and supportive, but winds up using Paul as material for a novel she writes, in which the “Paul” character is cast in a very bad light. One of Paul’s patients, an Indian man living in an unhappy situation with his son and daughter-in-law, tricks Paul into getting him deported back to Calcutta, which is where he wants to be. Paul falls in love with his second (and final) therapist (played by Amy Ryan), but knowing how the mechanism of transference works, can’t decide if it’s love or illusion. What she gets him to see, in the course of a few weeks of therapy with her, is that he has spent his entire career getting over-involved with his patients as a substitute for having a life of his own. At age 57, the ground has shifted from under his feet; he has no way of knowing what is true and what is invented, and as he tells his therapist, “I’ve lost my way.” He even wonders if he ever loved his ex-wife, or whether he is capable of love at all.

The final session is a tour de force by virtue of being anti-climactic. Paul ends his therapy and walks out into the Brooklyn night, having nowhere to go and nothing to do. This is as un-Hollywood as it gets: no satisfying wrap-up, no happy ending, just a state of wandering through the world with no meaning and no sense of direction. The most one can extract from this last scene, if one insists on being optimistic, is the Socratic dictum, “Ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.” Maybe. But for the time being, existential loss is just that—loss. The gray night of the soul, perhaps, except that to me, the non-resolution of the story had an almost religious quality to it.

Which is probably why I watched the last episode several times, on DVD. I had been in Paul’s situation at age 28, when I came to the conclusion that my academic career was a farce; or at least, unreal. I remember I was living in England, on leave from my university in the United States to write my first book, and a British graduate student came to see me for advice about his research and his career. I can’t remember what I told him, but I remember feeling hollow, formulaic. Could I encourage him to pursue something that I no longer believed in? It was late afternoon by the time he left, and it was already starting to get dark. I sat in my chair and looked out across the room, feeling depressed. I had no idea what life was about, or how I might ever feel happy again. I felt like an empty shell. As the months passed, the dark night of the soul became increasingly dark.

How all that got turned around is another story, and a rather involved one, best saved for another time. But in a nutshell, it involved faith, which to me meant betting everything on something that was invisible, and in contemporary American culture very much of a long shot. Not God, I hasten to add; but definitely something involving the life of the spirit. I guess, at the end of the final episode of In Treatment, I wanted to pull Dr. Weston into a nearby café and talk to him about belief. Why, I’m not sure. Perhaps because he’s such a sympathetic, earnest, and honest character; perhaps because I felt that people with that level of integrity deserve a good life. Perhaps because I would have felt lucky to have had him as a therapist, or at least, a friend. I really don’t know. But belief is not really transferable, in any case. It’s hardly a matter of an intellectual decision, but rather something that emerges from your body, in a visceral way. There are no shortcuts in the life of the spirit, as it turns out; each of us has to find our own way.

I guess it says something that In Treatment ran for three seasons. Americans are not big on ambiguity, or non-resolution, after all; they aren’t a terribly sophisticated people, in my experience. But are Israelis so different? I guess I would have to say yes: more honest, more in-your-face. Two Israeli films come to mind that have this quality of non-resolution, and are (like Be Tipul) very powerful because of it. The first I saw about twenty or thirty years ago, and can’t recall the name; but it involved a New Age guru living in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, and his devoted followers, who come to his apartment once a week for a group session. The guru, meanwhile, gets increasingly wigged out, until he finally becomes convinced (inasmuch as everything is supposedly in the mind) that he can fly. So he jumps off the roof of his apartment building, only to discover that gravity has other plans for him. In the wake of his death, his disciples are not able to put their shattered lives back together, and become like the children of Israel, wandering through the desert, but without Moses to guide them. I found it a very courageous film.

The second film is called The Footnote (2011), starring Shlomo Bar Aba and Lior Ashkenazi as a father and son caught up in an epic Oedipal struggle. I won’t bother to recap the story here, except to say that it ends on a huge existential question mark. The moment of truth has arrived in the relationship, and it is up to the father to bite the bullet or cop out, in accepting or not accepting a prestigious award that was actually meant for his son. As he is in line to be called and walk up to the podium, the film ends. It’s unclear what he is going to do. (At this point I had actually stopped breathing.) All three of these stories—Be Tipul, the flying guru, and The Footnote, affected me very deeply, and in recent weeks I’ve been trying to figure out why. Because they are Israeli, and I’m Jewish? Nah, that didn’t really ring true. And then it hit me: all of them involve uncertainty. Of course, if you were to ask me how I feel about uncertainty, I would tell you that I hate it; but I’m not sure I do. I may not love it, but I’m certainly intrigued by it. My first memory, at age two-and-a-half, was precisely about this theme; and I recall that Camus wrote somewhere that our first conscious moment contains the issue that we will dance around for the rest of our lives. As one psychoanalyst puts it, the infant’s first sensory experiences presage the way he or she will view and construct the external world. But here’s the catch: the external world that we seek out is in synchrony with our first sensory experiences; and if those experiences are, for example, ones of uncertainty, then what the adult will seek out—for comfort(!)—is uncertainty. This, then, is a paradoxical type of harmony, what this psychologist calls “primal confusion,” or the paradox of finding solace in uncertainty.

In the Jewish tradition, when you paint your house, you are supposed to leave a small but visible section of one of the interior walls blank. The idea is that only God is perfect, so it’s important for us humans to be imperfect as a reminder of this. I believe there is a similar tradition in Navajo weaving, of leaving one strand loose, unwoven, so that there is a place for the Great Spirit to enter. And the asymmetry of Japanese art may be based on the same sort of premise. Uncertainty—things out of order, out of kilter, unfinished and incomplete—is, on this interpretation, a great gift. Dr. Weston left the therapist’s office to float around Brooklyn like a rudderless ship; but if his therapist was right, he had never really lived an authentic life, and now that terrifying opportunity had been presented to him. Ditto, the devotees of the flying guru. And something similar is going on at the end of The Footnote, where the father could, if he chose, abandon his need for a hollow Oedipal victory and come clean—in public, no less.

I have not enjoyed uncertainty in my life; I have endlessly pursued ways to be able to stand on terra firma. But I have never escaped the aura of that first primal awareness, which stimulated me to search for the sources of security in human life for the next sixty-seven years. Nor is it an accident that my current research is on Japanese culture, which is based, like karate, on the creativity of empty space—the “meaning of meaninglessness,” as one Japanese philosopher called it. I have always envied those who were blessed with a deep sense of security, who moved through life free of anxiety—or so it seemed. I guess I still do. But there is no getting around it: for better or worse, without uncertainty I wouldn’t be, to quote the epitaph on Kierkegaard’s tombstone, that individual.

©Morris Berman, 2013

Morris Berman is well known as an innovative cultural historian and social critic. He has taught at a number of universities in Europe and North America, and has held visiting endowed chairs at Incarnate Word College (San Antonio), the University of New Mexico, and Weber State University. During 1982-88 he was the Lansdowne Professor in the History of Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Berman won the Governor’s Writers Award for Washington State in 1990, the Rollo May Center Grant for Humanistic Studies in 1992, and the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity (from the Media Ecology Association) in 2013. He is the author of a trilogy on the evolution of human consciousness–-The Reenchantment of the World (1981), Coming to Our Senses (1989), and Wandering God: A Study in Nomadic Spirituality (2000)–and in 2000 his Twilight of American Culture was named a “Notable Book” by the New York Times Book Review.

Hustlers to Thugs

Off the keyboard of Morris Berman

Published on Dark Ages America on February 27, 2013

Discuss this article at the  Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Purely by coincidence, I recently happened to read the New York Times Book Review review of Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn’s latest work, and Jill Lepore’s New Yorker essay on the American military, within the same hour. Whether there is, historically speaking, a causal connection between the events described by Bailyn, and the situation depicted by Lepore, would be hard to prove in any strict sense. All I can say is, it seems right to me. 

 

Let’s begin with Professor Bailyn. The book is called The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America, and deals with the settlement of this continent during 1600-1675. The review, by Charles Mann, appeared in the 6 January 2013 issue of the NYTBR, and describes a very different Bernard Bailyn than the one I’ve been used to. The Bailyn of The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) argued, contra Charles Beard, that the colonial rhetoric of liberty and freedom was real, not a cover for economic motives. The American Revolution was, in his view, an idealistic revolution, one of “transforming radicalism.” A similar “triumphalist” portrait of the Revolution is central to the work of his student Gordon Wood, who has had a huge impact on the popular (including textbook) conception of the foundation of the Republic. Yet this rosy interpretation can be seriously questioned with the aid of historians such as Joyce Appleby or Richard Hofstadter (who once referred to the American Republic as “a democracy of cupidity.”) As I quote Appleby in Chapter 1 of Why America Failed

 

“If the Revolution was fought in a frenzy over corruption, out of fear of tyranny, and with hopes for redemption through civic virtue, where and when are scholars to find the sources for the aggressive individualism, the optimistic materialism, and the pragmatic interest-group politics that became so salient so early in the life of the new nation?” 

 

As I argue in that book, all of these things were salient on the American continent from the late sixteenth century on. The core of the American experience from that early point, according to historian Walter McDougall (Freedom Just Around the Corner), was hustling: competing, getting ahead, expanding your individual economic position in an opportunistic environment. One doesn’t have to wait until the Jefferson presidency for this to become obvious. 

 

Much to my surprise, Bailyn’s latest work seems to be an indirect confirmation of my, and McDougall’s, thesis—something I would never have imagined possible. As Charles Mann says, The Barbarous Years is not yet another mainstream tome celebrating the greatness of the Founding Fathers; far from it. Rather, Bailyn’s book gives us “a group portrait in tones of greed, desperation and brutality.” In the case of Jamestown (founded 1607), for example, the “colony was a commercial enterprise, started by the Virginia Company with the sort of careful financial evaluation that in the more recent past was the hallmark of the dot-com boom.” (I’m assuming heavy irony here, on Mann’s part.) Mann continues: 

 

“Ship after ship of ill-equipped migrants…went out, each vessel intended to fulfill some new harebrained scheme: wine-making, silk-making, glassmaking.” As for tobacco growing, “Thousands of migrants were willing to risk death for the chance to cash in on England’s squadrons of new nicotine junkies.” And then came the Dutch settlements, such as New Amsterdam (later New York), created by the Dutch West India Company: “Unaware of and unconcerned about prior treaties or contracts, individuals spilled willy-nilly into the land, constantly setting up new ventures in ever more remote areas.” 

 

Hustling, in a word. Surely, this is a very different America from the one Bailyn started out with, nearly half a century ago. Could it be that at age ninety, Professor Bailyn had something of a conversion experience, took off his rose-colored glasses, and chose to give us a much darker—and more accurate—picture of colonial America? At the very least, it suggests a greater continuity with later developments. 

 

Which brings me to the essay by Jill Lepore. Let us fast foward four centuries to the American military establishment, as described by Lepore in “The Force” (New Yorker, 28 January 2013). Here’s what she tells us: 

 

•“The United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined. Between 1998 and 2011, military spending doubled, reaching more than seven hundred billion dollars a year.” 

 

•“Around the world, ‘power projection’ is, in fact, a central mission of American forces.” 

 

•“In the nineteen-fifties…military spending made up close to three-quarters of the federal budget.” 

 

•“On September 8, 2011, when Buck McKeon convened the first of his House Armed Services Committee hearings on the future of the military, no one much disputed the idea that the manifest destiny of the United States is to patrol the world.” (Howard McKeon is chair of the HASC, the largest committee in Congress.) Nevertheless (she goes on), John Garamendi (a Democrat from California), read aloud from “Chance for Peace,” Eisenhower’s first major address as president, which he delivered to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1953: 

 

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This is a world in arms. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children….This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”(Italics mine) 

 

•Lockheed Martin, whose contracts with the Pentagon amount to $30 billion annually, was the single largest contributor to Buck McKeon’s last election campaign. In all, LM contribute d to the campaigns of 386 of the 435 members of the 112th Congress, including51 of the 62 members of the HASC. 

 

•The U.S. sells more guns than any other country. “At home and abroad, in uniform and out, in war and in peace, Americans are armed to the teeth….Much of the money that the federal government spends on ‘defense’ involves neither securing the nation’s borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.” 

 

•On 13 October 2011, at the fifth of Buck McKeon’s hearings on the future of the military, the HASC heard testimony from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. “But the moment Panetta began to speak a protester interrupted. He identified himself as an Iraq War veteran.‘You are murdering people!’ he shouted. ‘I saw what we did to people. I saw.’ He was escorted out of the room.” 

 

I’m not sure there is a lot more to say, beyond res ipsa loquitur—the thing speaks for itself. I mean, could such a development have been an accident? It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in the fullness of time, the hustlers of the 17th century evolved into the thugs and murderers of the 20th and 21st. And when you think about it, how could it have been otherwise? If you start out with a “group portrait in tones of greed,” where else could you wind up? 

 

©Morris Berman, 2013

 

The Question Concerning Technology

Off the keyboard of Morris Berman

Published on Dark Ages America on November 22, 2012

 

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasboard inside the Diner

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?

Mittney, we hardly knew ye!

Off the keyboard of Morris Berman

Published on Dark Ages America on November 7, 2012

 

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

Ay, Mittney, Mittney!

Who were you, anyway? You streaked across the dark, Obamaesque sky like a comet, and then just as quickly–you we’re gone. A nation weeps.

You were, like the man who defeated you, an empty person, a Nowhere Man. Basically, a shmuck with a haircut. But there is one crucial difference: whereas your rival stands for nothing at all, and thus got filled up with Wall St. and the Pentagon–in other words, wound up as a corporate shill and a war criminal–you did have a philosophy. True, it wasn’t much–warmed-over Reaganism, really–but you believed it. You believed that 47% of the American public were worthless layabouts; that the government is there to promote the rich and grind the poor into the dust; and that we should project American power to every corner of the globe, just for the hell of it. You probably think trees cause pollution, that ketchup is a vegetable, and that the homeless are homeless because that’s what they really want for themselves. Pretty thin gruel, intellectually speaking, but at least it was something.

Of course, your rival has done enormous damage to America in four short years. He shredded the Bill of Rights, institutionalized kill lists and destroyed thousands of civilian lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan, increased hatred and bitterness toward the US, funneled $19 trillion into the pockets of bankers while the real unemployment rate stood at 18%–man, the list goes on and on. He even murdered American citizens on a whim, and has probably implemented the torture of many more. But what bothers me about your defeat, O Great Mittney, is that you could have done more, you could have made things even worse, and faster, too. And that’s what America really needs, O My Mitt: to just fucking get it over with, instead of dawdling around with social/economic and cultural disintegration. So we’ll continue slouching towards Bethlehem, committing suicide in piecemeal fashion, where you might have put us on the fast track to hell. This is indeed a sad day for our great nation, as you sat in your hotel room eating meatloaf, and composing your concession speech.

Who will remember you, in a month’s time, O Mittney? Who remembers John Kerry? Who the hell was John Kerry? You get my point. Ay, Mittney: we hardly knew ye!

Land of the Rising Sun

Off the keyboard of Morris Berman

Published on Dark Ages America on September 28th 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

 

Dear Wafers,

I fly to Japan early Monday morning, and will be there for six weeks. I don’t know what the Internet cafe situation is there, esp. since I’ll be spending two weeks in the wilds of Northeast Honshu; plus, I’ll need to concentrate on my research while I’m there. So as of Monday, things will be kind of iffy on this blog, touch and go. I’m telling you this so you know that messages might not get posted for a while. But never fear: I’ll be back, and hopefully everything sent in will get preserved.

Meanwhile, I wanted to ramble a bit about how I got into this project, and what my thoughts are about it at this point in time.

One of my early books (1981) was The Reenchantment of the World–the only best-seller I ever had. I guess it hit the market at just the right time, when there was a lot of interest in holistic healing and nonscientific systems of thought. The book generated a lot of interest because of its central, radical thesis: that in their own terms, these nonscientific thought systems were true; that they described a world that did, to a great degree, exist. And that if the scientific world view was also true, it was so in its terms, i.e. the parameters of the modern world. This didn’t mean that I believed (for example) that arrows fell to earth in a straight line (Aristotle) prior to the Scientific Revolution, and that they changed their trajectory to a parabola around 1600 (Galileo). (Man, wouldn’t that be a hoot.) Rather, that in the rush to modernity, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater: a whole world of learning, an alternate sensibility, got lost. This, I still believe, and I believe that we are much poorer for it, despite the very real benefits of the modern world. (A theme, I should add, that is echoed in Ursula Le Guin’s brilliant novel, The Telling.)

(Much to my surprise, I still get letters from folks out there saying, “That book changed my life.” This not from folks who took too much acid back in the 60s, but from philsophers, therapists, and people who have their critical faculties very much intact.)

I wouldn’t call it my best book, and if I were to rewrite it today, I certainly would change a lot of what I originally wrote. As Noam Chomsky once remarked, if you are a professor and are giving the same lectures 20 years on from the same yellowed notes, it might be time to start thinking about retirement. Any scholar worth his or her salt is not going to agree with everything s/he wrote 31 years ago. And yet, there are a few themes that remain more or less consistent within the body of my work, and one of these is the costs of modernity. Modernity certainly has its blessings, and these are continually celebrated both in academic works as well as in the popular press. The costs of modernity, on the other hand, the aspects of the premodern era that were really valuable (as well as true)–well, these are things that most writers are not terribly interested in; and in the US, of course, at least 99% of the population is not even aware that there is an issue here.

My interest in Japan was born many years ago out of a fascination with its craft tradition, which is one of the most breathtaking the world has ever known. I remember my high school English teacher, Harold Sliker–this around 1960, when teachers were dedicated and students paid attention in class, and were still able to read–talked about the Japanese tradition of sword making, and how the artisan would fast and meditate for three days before beginning the work, and then would forge the hot steel by repeatedly folding it over, and tempering it, until the result was a brilliant blade. I was fascinated by this, but never followed it up. Well, not as a teenager, at any rate. Years later, however, when I was writing the Reenchantment book, I found the same sort of dedication in the Western alchemical tradition. Care, dedication, tradition, craft, community, infinite patience–this was the baby that got thrown out with the bathwater.

Of course, I realize that there is a socioeconomic and political context here that makes the whole subject tricky. It is perhaps not an accident that Heidegger joined the Nazi party, and that the Nazis got involved in a weird amalgam of tradition and modernity that the historian Jeffrey Herf aptly calls Reactionary Modernism. Or that the world of the medieval alchemist was one of feudal-organic hierarchy; or that the samurai tradition, including the mingei, or folk craft tradition, got cleverly channeled into the militarism of the 1930s, culminating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. And as far as contemporary Japan goes, young people are for the most part interested in landing a job with Mitsubishi, making a ton of yen, and sticking the latest iPhone up their noses. Things like the tea ceremony, in their eyes, are for squares and tourists. Which is not all that surprising, given the impact America has had on that nation.

The first impact came in the form of Commodore Perry, who sailed into Edo Bay in 1853 and threatened to blow the place to kingdom come if the Japanese did not open themselves up to commercial trade with the US. This was the catalyst for major turmoil within Japan, culminating in the overthrow of the shogunate in 1868 and what is known as the Meiji Restoration. While England, e.g., had more than a century to adjust to capitalism, Japan had to turn itself on its head in the space of a single generation. The result is a society that is extremely neurotic, still torn apart by issues of tradition vs. modernity. I wrote this recently to a Japanese friend, an anthropologist of about 50 years of age, who wrote back: “I struggle with all of this on a daily basis.”

The second impact came in the form of General MacArthur, and the Occupation of Japan during 1945-52. The Americanization was fairly relentless, and the Japanese got on the bandwagon in a hurry: Coca-Cola, jeans, American movies, the whole nine yards. “Irresistible Empire,” Victoria de Grazia called it for the case of Europe being steamrolled by the US, and one can say that it was even more irresistible in the case of Japan. (Check out Oe Kenzaburo’s Nobel acceptance speech, 1994.) In any case, the land of green tea and ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) is still reeling from the double whammy delivered by the United States. (By the way, this does not mean that I think Japan should have won the war; I don’t. I’m just vainly trying to head off that accusation, like the one that surfaced in the wake of Ch. 4 of Why America Failed, in which because I said that the antebellum South had certain nonhustling characteristics that were admirable, a whole bunch of readers took this to be a defense of the Confederacy and of slavery. Man…my mother told me I should be a plumber instead of a writer, but did I listen? I keep saying on this blog that Americans are not very bright, and I have no doubt that when my book on Japan appears, the same crowd will be jumping up and down and screaming that I want Japan to have been the victor in WW2. Too many people in this country with lobotomies, apparently.)

Anyway, all this by way of saying that Japan and what it represents, historically and culturally speaking, is a very complex subject, and that whenever one asserts X about it, there is always a non-X or anti-X that needs to be taken into consideration. That being said, let me return to Harold Sliker, Japanese sword makers, and the significance of the craft tradition. On craft in general, Octavio Paz wrote in 1973: “Between the timeless time of the museum and the speeded-up time of technology, craftsmanship is the heartbeat of human time.” Or to quote Alan Watts (The Way of Zen), “people in a hurry cannot feel.”

Here is Watts on Zen art:

“The aimless life is the constant theme of Zen art of every kind, expressing the artist’s own inner state of going nowhere in a timeless moment. All men have these moments occasionally, and it is just then that they catch those vivid glimpses of the world which cast such a glow over the intervening wastes of memory—the smell of burning leaves on a morning of autumn haze, a flight of sunlit pigeons against a thundercloud, the sound of an unseen waterfall at dusk, or the single cry of some unidentified bird in the depths of a forest. In the art of Zen every landscape, every sketch of bamboo in the wind or of lonely rocks, is an echo of such moments.”

(If you want to get an idea of what Watts is talking about on film, check out Enlightenment Guaranteed and Cherry Blossoms, both by the German filmmaker and Japanophile, Doris Doerrie.)

Bernard Leach, England’s greatest potter (who lived in Japan for many years), says that shibui is an aesthetic ideal in Japanese craft, referring as it does to the austere, the subdued, and the restrained. This element, he remarks (A Potter’s Book), gave the work a religious and psychological basis–something quite different from the hi-tech products being turned out by Japan today. During its integrated periods, adds Donald Richie (A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics), Japan presented the spectacle of a people who made art a way of life. All of this got lost in the rush to modernize, to Americanize. Yet one wonders whether any society, be it ours or the Japanese, can sustain itself without this kind of religious or psychological foundation. In this regard, the Japanese reaction to the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai, when it was released in 2003, is rather instructive (I need a stronger word here). The film is not really historically accurate; it is a romanticization of the last samurai rebellion, led by Saigo Takamori in 1877 (a folk hero in Japan to this day)–a shorter equivalent of our own Civil War, and fought, perhaps, for similar reasons (see the infamous Ch. 4 of Why America Failed). On blogs, newspapers, radio programs and whatever, there was this huge outpouring of emotion in response to the film, to the effect of: “This is us; this is the real Japan.” Shades of Ursula Le Guin, once again: a corporate-commercial reality had been rammed down their throats, pasted over a deep, spiritual reality, and suddenly, the Japanese came out of the closet and declared: We’re not having it; modernization tried to destroy our soul, but ultimately that soul still exists, and it will have the final say.

Well, I don’t know how real (i.e., lasting) that outpouring of emotion was; everybody eventually went back to Mitsubishi to put in 14-hour work days, I’m guessing. But it does seem to me that there is a kind of ‘magical’ substrate that simply won’t go away, and that we should be grateful for that. Can human beings really live without meaning? Japan tried to do it since the Meiji Restoration, and it hasn’t worked out very well. America tried to do it since the late 16th century, and it seems to me that that is why it failed. In the last analysis, meaning is not a luxury.

Still, the US, as well as Japan, are too far gone to embrace the substrate voluntarily; this much seems certain. But the modern world will pass, as I’ve suggested in previous writings, and as we transition to a more austere world–by necessity, not by choice–certain things may come to the surface once again. I’m thinking of my earlier post on Ernest Callenbach, and his posthumous essay, in which he wrote the following (please pardon my duplication of part of that post):

“All things ‘go’ somewhere: they evolve, with or without us, into new forms. So as the decades pass, we should try not always to futilely fight these transformations. As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi–the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else. We can embrace this process of devolution: embellish it when strength avails, learn to love it.

“There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth. Let us learn…to put unwise or unneeded roads ‘to bed,’ help a little in the healing of the natural contours, the re-vegetation by native plants. Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth.”

Mono no aware, the Japanese call it: the somewhat melancholy awareness of the impermanence of things. There will be something of great value on the other side of the Great Watershed we are facing, I’m convinced of it. Perhaps, Japan offers a clue to what it might be.

The Waning of the Modern Ages

Off the keyboard of Morris Berman

Published on Counterpunch on September 20, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

 

Time to Abolish the American Dream

La longue durée —the long run—was an expression made popular by the Annales School of French historians led by Fernand Braudel, who coined the phrase in 1958. The basic argument of this school is that the proper concern of historians should be the analysis of structures that lie at the base of contemporary events. Underneath short-term events such as individual cycles of economic boom and bust, said Braudel, we can discern the persistence of “old attitudes of thought and action, resistant frameworks dying hard, at times against all logic.” An important derivative of the Annales research is the work of the World Systems Analysis school, including Immanuel Wallerstein and Christopher Chase-Dunn, which similarly focuses on long-term structures: capitalism, in particular.

The “arc” of capitalism, according to this school, is about 600 years long, from 1500 to 2100. It is our particular (mis)fortune to be living through the beginning of the end, the disintegration of capitalism as a world system. It was mostly commercial capital in the sixteenth century, evolving into industrial capital in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and then moving on to financial capital—money created by money itself, and by speculation in currency—in the twentieth and twenty-first. In dialectical fashion, it will be the very success of the system that eventually does it in.

The last time a change of this magnitude occurred was during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, during which time the medieval world began to come apart and be replaced by the modern one. In his classic study of the period, The Waning of the Middle Ages, the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga depicted the time as one of depression and cultural exhaustion—like our own age, not much fun to live through.  One reason for this is that the world is literally perched over an abyss. What lies ahead is largely unknown, and to have to hover over an abyss for a long time is, to put it colloquially, a bit of a drag. The same thing was true at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire as well, on the ruins of which the feudal system slowly arose.

I was musing on these issues some time ago when I happened to run across a remarkable essay by Naomi Klein, the author of The Shock Doctrine. It was called “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” and was published last November in The Nation.  In what appears to be something of a radical shift for her, she chastises the Left for not understanding what the Right does correctly perceive: that the whole climate change debate is a serious threat to capitalism. The Left, she says, wants to soft-pedal the implications; it wants to say that environmental protection is compatible with economic growth, that it is not a threat to capital or labor. It wants to get everyone to buy a hybrid car, for example (which I have personally compared to diet cheesecake), or use more efficient light bulbs, or recycle, as if these things were adequate to the crisis at hand. But the Right is not fooled: it sees Green as a Trojan horse for Red, the attempt “to abolish capitalism and replace it with some kind of eco-socialism.” It believes—correctly—that the politics of global warming is inevitably an attack on the American Dream, on the whole capitalist structure. Thus Larry Bell, in Climate of Corruption, argues that environmental politics is essentially about “transforming the American way of life in the interests of global wealth distribution”; and British writer James Delinpole notes that “Modern environmentalism successfully advances many of the causes dear to the left: redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, greater government intervention, [and] regulation.”

What Ms. Klein is saying to the Left, in effect, is: Why fight it? These nervous nellies on the Right are—right! Those of us on the Left can’t keep talking about compatibility of limits-to-growth and unrestrained greed, or claiming that climate change is “just one issue on a laundry list of worthy causes vying for progressive attention,” or urging everyone to buy a Prius.  Commentators like Thomas Friedman or Al Gore, who “assure us that we can avert catastrophe by buying ‘green’ products and creating clever markets in pollution”—corporate green capitalism, in a word—are simply living in denial. “The real solutions to the climate crisis,” she writes, “are also our best hope of building a much more enlightened economic system—one that closes deep inequalities, strengthens and transforms the public sphere, generates plentiful, dignified work, and radically reins in corporate power.”

In one of the essays in my book A Question of Values (“conspiracy vs. Conspiracy in American History”), I lay out some of the “unconscious programs” buried in the American psyche from our earliest days, programs that account for most of America’s so-called conscious behavior. These include the notion of an endless frontier—a world without limits—and the ideal of extreme individualism—you do not need, and should not need, anyone’s help to “make it” in the world. Combined, the two of these provide a formula for enormous capitalist power and inevitable capitalist collapse (hence, the dialectical dimension of it all).  Of this, Naomi Klein writes:

“The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally. The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits….These are profoundly challenging revelations for all of us raised on Enlightenment ideals of progress.”

(This is exactly what I argued 31 years ago in The Reenchantment of the World; it’s nice to see it all coming around again.) “Real climate solutions,” she continues, “are ones that steer [government] interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.” Hence, she concludes, the powers that be have reason to be afraid, and to deny the data on global warming, because what is really required at this point is the end of the free-market ideology. And, I would add, the end of the arc of capitalism referred to earlier. It’s going to be (is) a colossal fight, not only because the powers that be want to hang on to their power, but because the arc and all its ramifications have given their class Meaning with a capital M for 500+ years. This is what the Occupy Wall Street protesters—if there are any left at this point; I’m not sure—need to tell the 1%: Your lives are a mistake. This is what “a new civilizational paradigm” finally means. It also has to be said that almost everyone in the United States, not just the upper 1%, buys into this. John Steinbeck pointed this out many years ago when he wrote that in the U.S., the poor regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The Occupy movement, as far as I could make out, wanted to restore the American Dream, when in fact the Dream needs to be abolished once and for all.

Naomi then provides us with a list of six changes that must occur for this new paradigm to come into being, including Reining in Corporations, Ending the Cult of Shopping, and Taxing the Rich. I found myself writing “good luck” in the margins of much of this discussion. These things are not going to happen, and what we probably need instead is a series of major conferences on why they won’t happen. But note that part of the answer is already embedded in her essay: vested interests, in both the economic and psychological sense, have every reason to maintain the status quo. And as I said, so does the man or woman in the street. What would our lives be without shopping, without the latest technological toy? Pretty empty, at least in the U.S.  How awful, that capitalism has reduced human beings to this.

In terms of recommendations, then, Klein’s essay is rather weak. But it offers something very important by way of analysis, and also by implication: Everything is related to everything else. Psychology, the economy, the environmental crisis, our daily mode of living, the dumbing down of America, the pathetic fetish over cell phones and electronic gadgets, the crushing debt of student loans, the farce of electoral politics, Mr. Obama’s rather rapid conversion from liberal hero to war criminal and shredder of the Bill of Rights, the huge popularity of violent movies, the attempt of the rich to impose austerity measures on the poor, the well-documented epidemics of mental illness and obesity—these are ultimately not separate spheres of human activity. They are interconnected, and this means that things will not get fixed piecemeal. “New civilizational paradigm” means it’s all or nothing; there really is no in-between, no diet cheesecake to be had. As Ms. Klein says, it’s not about single “issues” anymore.

What then, can we expect, as the arc of capitalism comes to a close? This is where Naomi shifts from unlikely recommendations to hard-nosed reality. She writes:

“The corporate quest for scarce resources will become more rapacious, more violent. Arable land in Africa will continue to be grabbed to provide food and fuel to wealthier nations.  Drought and famine will continue to be used as a pretext to push genetically modified seeds, driving farmers further into debt. We will attempt to transcend peak oil and gas by using increasingly risky technologies to extract the last drops, turning ever larger swaths of our globe into sacrifice zones. We will fortress our borders and intervene in foreign conflicts over resources, or start those conflicts ourselves. ‘Free-market climate solutions,’ as they are called, will be a magnet for speculation, fraud and crony capitalism, as we are already seeing with carbon trading and the use of forests as carbon offsets.  And as climate change begins to affect not just the poor but the wealthy as well, we will increasingly look for techno-fixes to turn down the temperature, with massive and unknowable risks….As the world warms, the reigning ideology that tells us it’s everyone for themselves, that victims deserve their fate, and that we can master nature, will take us to a very cold place indeed.”

To put it bluntly, the scale of change required cannot happen without a massive implosion of the current system. This was true at the end of the Roman Empire, it was true at the end of the Middle Ages, and it is true today. In the case of the Roman Empire, as I discuss in The Twilight of American Culture, there was the emergence of  monastic orders that began to preserve the treasures of Graeco-Roman civilization. My question in that book was: Can something similar happen today? Naomi writes:

“The only wild card is whether some countervailing popular movement will step up to provide a viable alternative to this grim future. That means not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—this time, embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She believes that the Occupy Wall Street movement—remember, it was quite vigorous last November—embodies this; that they have taken “aim at the underlying values of rampant greed and individualism that created the economic crisis, while embodying…radically different ways to treat one another and relate to the natural world.”

Is this true? Four things to consider at this point:

1. I personally never visited Zuccotti Park, but most of what I saw on the Web, including very favorable reportage of the Occupy movement, seemed to suggest that the goal was a more equitable American Dream, not the abolition of the American Dream, as I indicated above. In other words, the basic demand was that the pie be cut up more fairly. I never had the impression that the protesters were saying that the pie, in toto, was rotten. This reminds me of an anecdote about Martin Luther King, who apparently said to Harry Belafonte, just before he (i.e., King) was assassinated, that he thought he might have been making a big mistake; that he sometimes felt like he was herding people into a burning church. This is a very different insight, quite obviously, than the notion that black people should be getting a larger share of the pie. After all, who wants a larger share of a rotten pie, or to live in a church that is burning down?

2. The Annales historians, along with the World Systems Analysis thinkers, have been accused of projecting an image of “history without people.” In other words, these schools tend to see individuals as somewhat irrelevant to the historical process, which they analyze in terms of “historical forces.” There is some truth to this, but “historical forces” can become a bit mystical. Just as it is forces that motivate people, so it is people that enact or manifest those forces. I mean, someone has to do something for history to occur, and at least the Occupy crowd was trying to throw sand on the wheels of the machine, so to speak, as have their counterparts in Europe.  But I confess that for a number of reasons, I was never very optimistic about the movement; at least, not as it existed in the United States. As many sociologists have pointed out, America has no real socialist tradition, and it is no surprise that the serious maldistribution of wealth that exists in the U.S. is no issue whatsoever in the forthcoming presidential election.  In fact, a recent poll by the Pew Charitable Trust revealed that most Americans have no problem at all with the existence of a small wealthy class; they just want to be able to join it—which takes us back to the quote from John Steinbeck. My own prediction, several months ago, was that OWS would turn into a kind of permanent teach-in, where the disaffected could go to learn about a “new civilizational paradigm,” if that would indeed be taught. This is basically the “new monastic option” I wrote about in the Twilight book. On one level, it’s probably innocuous; it hardly threatens the power elite. But that may not be the whole story, especially in the long run—la longue durée.  After all, as the system collapses, alternatives are going to become increasingly attractive; and you can be sure that 2008 is not the last crash we are going to live through. The two sides go hand in hand, and ultimately—I’m talking thirty to forty years, but maybe less—the weight of the arc of capitalism will be too onerous to sustain itself. In la longue durée, one is far smarter betting on the alternative worldview than on capitalism. Thus the biologist David Ehrenfeld writes: “Our first task is to create a shadow economic, social, and even technological structure that will be ready to take over as the existing system fails.”

3. What, then, is that alternative worldview, that “new civilizational paradigm”? In Why America Failed I lay out, unsurprisingly enough, the reasons for why America failed, and I say that it was primarily because throughout our history we marginalized or ignored the voices that argued against the dominant culture, which is based on hustling, aggrandizement, and economic and technological expansion. This alternative tradition can be traced from John Smith in 1616 to Jimmy Carter in 1979, and included folks such as Emerson, Thoreau, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Vance Packard, and John Kenneth Galbraith, among many others. In England it is particularly associated with John Ruskin and William Morris, who argued for the need for organic communities with a spiritual purpose, for work that was meaningful rather than mind-numbing, and who did manage to acquire a large number of American disciples. In a forthcoming book by a colleague of mine, Joel Magnuson, entitled The Approaching Great Transformation, the author states that we need concrete models of a post-carbon economy, ones that break with the profit model of capitalism—and not in cosmetic or rhetorical ways. He gives a number of examples of experiments in this vein, ones that I would term elements of a steady-state or homeostatic economy: no-growth, in other words. After all, writes Magnuson, “permanent growth means permanent crisis.” Or as I have put it elsewhere, our job is to dismantle capitalism before it dismantles us. Again, this does not mean taking on Wall Street, which I don’t believe can succeed. But it does mean leaving the field: for example, seceding. (Movements for secession do exist at this point, Vermont being a prominent example.) And if that’s not quite viable right now, there is at least the possibility of living in a different way, as David Ehrenfeld suggests. My guess is that “dual process”—the disintegration of capitalism and the concomitant emergence of an alternative socioeconomic formation—is going to be the central story of the rest of this century. And I suspect that austerity will be part of this, because as capitalism collapses and we run out of resources—petroleum in particular—what choice will we have?

4. This does not, it seems to me, necessarily mean a return to some type of feudalism; although that could well happen, for all I know. But we are finally talking about the passing not only of capitalism, but of modernity in general—the waning of the modern ages, in effect. In her interesting biography of the Hegelian scholar, Alexandre Kojève, Shadia Drury writes: “Every political order, no matter how grand, is doomed to decay and degenerate.” As for modernity in particular, she goes on:

“[M]odernity’s inception and its decline are like those of any other set of political and cultural ideals. In its early inception, modernity contained something good and beguiling. It was a revolution against the authority of the Church, its taboos, repressions, inquisitions, and witch burning. It was a new dawn of the human spirit—celebrating life, knowledge, individuality, freedom, and human rights. It bequeathed to man a sunny disposition on the world, and on himself….The new spirit fueled scientific discovery, inventiveness, trade, commerce, and an artistic explosion of great splendor. But as with every new spirit, modernity has gone foul….Modernity lost the freshness and innocence of its early promise because its goals became inflated, impossible, and even pernicious. Instead of being the symbol of freedom, independence, justice, and human rights, it has become the sign of conquest, colonialism, exploitation, and the destruction of the earth.”

In a word, its number is up, and it is our fortune or misfortune, as I said before, to be living during a time of very large, and very difficult, transition. An old way of life dies, a new one eventually comes into being. Of this, the poet Mark Strand remarks: “No need to rush; the end of the world is only the end of the world as you know it.” For some odd reason, I find that thought rather comforting.

Slouching Towards Nuremberg

Off the Keyboard of Morris Berman

Posted originally on the Morris Berman Blog on May 9, 2012
Cross Posted on Counter Punch and Tikkun

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasboard of the Diner

Strange things are happening in the United States these days, and every day seems to bring additional scary news.  The similarity to the erosion of civil liberties in Germany during the 1930s is a bit too close for comfort. Many will regard this statement as hyperbole, and, to some extent, it is. But let’s take a close look at what is going on before we dismiss the comparison out of hand.

In terms of the historical record for Germany, legal discrimination against Jews certainly existed before the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and grew steadily over time. There was always a feeling in the Jewish community—most of whom regarded themselves as Germans, after all—that “OK, that’s the worst of it.” Hence, the decision to stay. Then came the next set of restrictions, and again the response: “This is as far as it will go.” It was like the classic experiment of turning up the heat on frogs placed in warm water. Gradually, they get boiled to death, because the increase of heat is incremental.  It was only toward the end of the thirties that the choice began to look like: jump or die. Finally, it became simply, die.
In 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service banned “non-Aryans” from the civil service.
In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and prohibited marriage between Jews and “Aryans.” They also prohibited sexual intercourse between Jews and “Aryans,” and the employment of “Aryan” females under forty-five years of age as domestic workers in Jewish households. In addition, Jews could not work as lawyers, doctors, or journalists; could not use state hospitals; and could not be educated by the state past the age of fourteen. They could not enter public parks, libraries, or beaches, and could not receive winnings from the national lottery.
In 1938, Jews with first names that were not characteristically Jewish had to adopt the middle name Sara (if female) or David (if male). Passports of German Jews were stamped with a “J”.
In 1939, Jews living in German-occupied Poland had to wear the yellow star. This was extended to all Jews living within Nazi-controlled areas in 1941.
By way of comparison, one thing that makes me particularly nervous is what has been called the “conspiracy of silence.” Almost nobody spoke up in Germany as this process was unfolding, and the American public has been similarly silent about the events documented below. Indeed, I would venture to say that 98% of the American public (maybe more) is unaware of events such as these, or of the passage of repressive legislation, and that they wouldn’t care even if they did know about it. (“Hey, I ain’t no Ay-rab!”) The classic quote that has come down to us is from Martin Niemoeller, a German pastor and theologian who wound up in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps (he was liberated by the Allies in 1945). It goes something like this:
“First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, but by that time there was no one left to speak out.”
It is no accident that Chris Hedges entitled a recent article “First They Come for the Muslims”(see below, Item IV). God forbid something like that might happen in the U.S., but the signs of a gradual slide towards Nuremberg, and concomitant citizen apathy, are very much present in the current political milieu. Let’s have a look at what has been going on in the decade since 9/11. I’m going to discuss the following topics:
I. The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything
II. The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters
III. The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA)
IV. The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists
V. The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s)
VI. The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act
VII. Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government?
I. The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything
The evidence for this is perforce anecdotal, but events such as the ones discussed below are getting to be so common that we have to keep in mind that when you have accumulated enough anecdotes, the result is called “data.”
-In June 2011 the sheriff of Nelson County, North Dakota, called in a Predator B drone from the local Air Force base to capture three men who had stolen some cows. Once the unmanned aircraft located the suspects, police rushed in to make the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with the help of a Predator spy drone. It turns out that predator drones are frequently used for domestic investigations all over the U.S.—by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and by state and local law enforcement officials.
-In July 2011 police in a small town in Georgia shut down a lemonade stand being run by three girls, ages 10-14, who were trying to save up for a trip to a local water park. The police said that they didn’t know what was in the lemonade; and in addition, that the girls needed a business license, a peddler’s permit, and a food permit in order to run the stand. The permits, by the way, cost $50 a day.
-In January 2012 the library system of Charlton, Massachusetts, called the police to collect some overdue books charged to Hailey Benoit—a five-year-old girl.
-Also in January 2012, a young couple was arrested in Baltimore for asking a police woman directions to highway I-95. They spent the night in jail.
-In April 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that jail authorities may strip search people arrested for minor offenses before they are jailed while awaiting a hearing. Individuals have been strip searched for offenses such as biking with an inaudible bell, walking a dog without a leash, and driving with a noisy muffler. The sexual humiliation involved in these searches, writes Naomi Wolf, is clearly a way of keeping the masses in line, politically docile. How long, she asks, before saying anything controversial online or on the phone (see Item III, below) will result in the “guilty” party facing arrest and sexual humiliation?  I think we need to pause a moment before we summarily dismiss this as paranoia.
II. The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters
This has been going on throughout the past decade, first under President Bush, and then more aggressively under President Obama.  According to the New Yorker, “the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness.”To which the New York Times added:“In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions.” In the famous case of Bradley Manning, who revealed government documents to Wikileaks, Mr. Obama publicly declared him guilty before he went to trial or was convicted of a crime. The overall result is that the government has basically criminalized public servants who speak out to expose waste or corruption or unethical behavior. Whistleblowing and dissent have, in themselves, become criminal activities.
-Since 2006 the filmmaker Laura Poitras, who made a documentary about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, has been detained and questioned at airports more than forty times. Government agents confiscate her computer and notebooks without a warrant. She is hardly an isolated case. With no oversight or legal framework for its activities, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them at the airport when they return to the U.S. from an international trip, and then seizes their laptops, cameras, cellphones, notebooks, and credit card receipts.
-William Binney, an intelligence official who worked for the NSA for nearly forty years, resigned in October 2001 when massive domestic spying became the norm. Binney and several other NSA officials reported their concerns about this to Congress and the Department of Defense. In 2006, he exposed the NSA practice of installing secret monitoring rooms in major U.S. telecommunications facilities.  Finally, in 2007, a dozen FBI agents charged into his house with guns drawn, pointed their weapons at his head, and interrogated him at length. Three other ex-NSA employees were raided the same day.
– You can now go to jail in the United States simply for speaking. In July 2011, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison for his repeated declaration that environmental protection required civil—i.e., nonviolent—disobedience. One wonders if the same judge, Dee Benson, would have also put Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi in jail, had he been around during their lifetimes.
-In March 2012 the president signed H.R. 347, the so-called trespass bill, into law, which allows the government to jail anyone protesting near someone with Secret Service protection for up to ten years. This makes it quite easy for the government to criminalize protest per se, because the exclusion zones defined by the law have no clear boundaries. In fact, they can be as large as the law wants them to be; which means that the free speech zone is a moving target.
III. The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA)
-On 19 July 2010 theWashington Post reported that 854,000 people work for the National Security Agency in thirty-three building complexes amounting to 17 million square feet of space, in the DC Metro and suburban area. Every day, collection systems at the NSA intercept and store 1.7 billion emails and phone calls of American citizens, in what amounts to a vast domestic spy system. Writing in the New Yorkeron 23 May 2011, Jane Mayer reported that the NSA has three times the budget of the CIA, and has the capacity to download, every six hours, electronic communications equivalent to the entire contents of the Library of Congress. They also developed a program called Thin Thread that enables computers to scan the material for key words, and they collect the billing records and the dialed phone numbers of everyone in the country. In violation of communications laws, ATT, Verizon, and BellSouth have opened their electronic records to the government. At the height of its insanity, the Stasi in East Germany was spying on 1 out of 7 citizens. The U.S. is now spying on 7 out of 7.
-To make the surveillance of American citizens even more comprehensive (assuming that is even possible), the NSA is currently building the biggest-ever data complex in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret surveillance program code-named “Stellar Wind.” The center, scheduled for completion in 2013, will be twice as large as the U.S. Capitol, and contain 100,000 square feet of computer space, at a cost of $2 billion. In addition, the NSA has established listening posts throughout the country as part of this operation.  All in all, there are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism and homeland security in about 10,000 locations across the U.S. The goal is to store and review the e-mails, phone calls, online shopping lists, and virtually every bit of information about every single American. Everything you do, from traveling to buying groceries, will be displayed on a graph. William Binney (see above, Item II) has stated that we are about two millimeters away “from a turnkey totalitarian state.”
IV. The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists
This was discussed at length by Chris Hedges on truthdig, 16 April 2012. That very week, Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced to 17½ years in prison. He was convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers in Iraq and giving material support to al-Qaeda. No proof of these charges was provided. What seems to have been the more relevant issue is that Mehanna had spoken out against U.S. foreign policy, and had refused to become a government informant.
These types of trials have been going on since 9/11. In them, federal lawyers are allowed to prosecute people on “evidence” that the defendants are not allowed to see. Stephen Downs, a lawyer who has defended Muslim activists since 2006, has documented the phony charges used to label these people as terrorists and then put them behind bars, typically for long stretches of time. He told Hedges: “People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and‘disappeared’ into prisons designed to isolate them.” Basically, they are condemned before they have committed a crime, in a process that Downs calls “pre-emptive prosecution.”
Downs discovered all this in 2006, when Yassin Aref, the imam of a mosque in Albany, New York, was entrapped in a government sting operation. What then happened, he told Hedges, was that the government “put together a case that was just one lie piled on top of another lie, and when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew it was a lie….But the facts are irrelevant. The government has decided to target these people.” Essentially, he went on, the government lawyers “must know they’re prosecuting people before a crime has been committed based on what they think the defendant might do in the future.” These are, in other words, kangaroo courts.
The bottom line, of course, is that if you destroy the judicial system, then finally nobody is safe. The government could wind up railroading anyone they don’t like, and I very much doubt that this possibility is far-fetched.  First they came for the Muslims…
V. The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s)
Where do the suspected Muslim terrorists go? It turns out that the government is using secret prison facilities to house inmates accused of non-violent activities, i.e. of allegedly being tied to terrorist groups. As it turns out, these are not just Muslim groups; the CMU’s are also being used to house environmental activists. The first CMU was built in 2006 in Terre Haute, Indiana; in 2008 a second facility was constructed in Marion, Illinois. Restrictions on contact with the outside world are quite severe—for example, having all phone calls monitored and limited to fifteen minutes per week. Among the so-called terrorists housed in these units are the following:
-Rafil Dhafir, an Iraqi-born oncologist from Syracuse, New York, who created a charity called Help the Needy to provide food and medicine to the people of Iraq who had been suffering from U.S. economic sanctions. He was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for violating those sanctions. (I cite some of these in Dark Ages America; they include a ban on the importation of medicine and toilet paper.)
-Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist who committed two acts of arson to protest logging in the Pacific Northwest, was sentenced to seven years. He was not convicted of any terrorist crime or being affiliated with any terrorist group, although the government claimed that he was a member of the Earth Liberation Front, which they regard as a domestic terrorist organization.  One thing that did not help was his public visibility, both through media appearances and his website.
-Andrew Stepanian, recently released—the first prisoner ever to be released from a CMU. He spent three years in jail, which included six and a half months at the Marion facility, for trying to shut down an animal testing laboratory. He was then put under house arrest in New York. In fact, he was not accused of any violent crime or property destruction.
What distinguishes the CMU’s from other jails is that they are political prisons. All of the defendants are incarcerated there for what appear to be ideological reasons. Meanwhile, the definition of “terrorist” continues to grow (see below, Item VI); it won’t necessarily stop with Muslims or environmental rights activists.  Significantly, the word“ecoterrorism” was coined by corporations in the early 1980s. The CMU’s even contain antiwar tax protesters. In general, the legal wall separating “terrorist” from“dissident” is starting to break down, if, indeed, it hasn’t already.
VI. The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act
The NDAA, also known as the “indefinite detention bill,” was signed into law by President Obama on 31 December 2011. It has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by Mr. Obama or any future president to military detain U.S. citizens. As in pre-Magna Carta days, you can simply be swept up and put away forever—disappeared—with no explanation of why, no right to call a lawyer or anybody else, and no right to a trial.  You can actually be tortured to death, if the government decides it is in the national interest. The NDAA is probably the greatest rollback of civil liberties in the history of the United States. Under the Act, literally anyone can be described as a “belligerent,” or as they are now called, “covered person.” The president claimed that he signed the bill only to provide funding for American troops, and that he had been reluctant to sign it because it included American citizens. This b.s. was subsequently exposed by one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Carl Levin, who revealed that it was Mr. Obama himself who insisted that the indefinite detention clause include U.S. citizens.  Meanwhile, the White House had been conducting a misinformation campaign to secure this incredible dictatorial power while portraying the president as some type of reluctant absolute ruler. It is also important to note that there was virtually no coverage of this issue on the part of the mainstream media. In effect, as Naomi Wolf has written, the U.S. “is sleepwalking into become a police state.” The New American website posted the following comment on the new law:
“The universe of potential ‘covered persons’ includes every citizen of the United States of America. Any American could one day find himself or herself branded a‘belligerent’ and thus subject to the complete confiscation of his or her constitutional civil liberties and nearly never-ending incarceration in a military prison.”
You don’t have to be convicted of terrorism to be rounded up, under this new law; you only have to be suspected of terrorist activity. And as Senator Rand Paul pointed out prior to the passage of the bill, the Department of Justice now has a list of “identifying characteristics” of terrorists that includes having one or more fingers missing from your hands; having more than seven days’ worth of food in your house; and having a loaded weapon on your property—which describes half the households in the United States. In effect, with the NDAA, if the government, for any reason, doesn’t like you—for example, if you are simply a critic of the U.S., nothing more—they can brand you a terrorist and put you away forever, with literally no one knowing what happened to you.
Note also that even before the passage of this law, the president had the legal right, even though it violates the Geneva accords, to designate anyone on the planet an enemy, and have him or her assassinated. Thus on 30 September 2011, Mr. Obama had two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, assassinated because of suspected—i.e. not proven—al-Qaeda membership and terrorist activity.  Two weeks later, the CIA killed al-Awlaki’s sixteen-year-old son. The real problem in these cases is not whether these people were actually guilty of terrorism; it’s that the Constitution says that no matter how heinous the crime, every American citizen has a right to his or her day in court. If I remember correctly, it does not say that the president has the right to rub them out without a trial.
(Just as an aside, there are, in general, more people under “correctional supervision” in America than there were in the Russian gulag under Stalin, at its height. Writing in the New Yorker on 30 January 2012, Adam Gopnik declared: “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today.”)
VII. Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government?
This leads me to my final point. The distinctive characteristic of American democracy, from 1776, was the protection of the individual and the preservation of individual rights. That no longer exists. Anyone is a potential terrorist now; anyone can be persecuted, prosecuted, and in effect, destroyed. Democracy is only  possible if dissent is not only permitted, but also respected. This too is finished. What does this mean for someone such as myself?, is something I lay awake nights thinking about. I have published three books, and half a collection of essays, showing where we have gone wrong, predicting our eventual collapse—indeed, this repression is part of that collapse—and arguing that the U.S. no longer has a moral compass; that it is spiritually bankrupt. I run a blog that is anything but polite: it says the U.S. is finished; that it is basically a corporate plutocracy, run by a gangster elite; that the American people are basically morons, with little more than fried rice in their heads; and that anyone with half a brain and the means to do so should emigrate before it’s too late. I’m not really a threat to the U.S. government, largely because I am not a political activist and because it’s not likely that more than 74 people out of 311 million regularly read my blog (it’s probably more like 24, in fact). But as the definition of terrorism widens in this country, what is to prevent the creation of a category known as“intellectual terrorism” from arising, and putting folks like myself in that category? What is to prevent the government from calling such activity a clear and present danger to national security? As must be obvious by now, the government can do anything it wants to now; as in Nazi Germany, we now have a government of men, not of laws. Indeed, the “laws” are little more than a pretext for whatever the government wishes to do.
Is the following scenario completely paranoid? Five or ten years down the line, as I fly into the DFW Airport en route to giving a lecture somewhere, or simply visiting friends, I am suddenly surrounded by government agents, whisked off to a holding cell, and eventually sent to Guantanamo. Nobody knows what happened to me, and I’m not allowed to phone anyone—not my lawyer, not a friend, and certainly not Chris Hedges, who is probably being tortured in the adjoining cell. Two points to remember here, historically speaking:
-When a country puts laws such as torture or indefinite detention or arbitrary assassination on the books, sooner or later it will use these legal instruments. They won’t just lie dormant, in other words. As in the case of technology, once the mechanisms are there, the temptation to employ them simply becomes too great to resist. That is what is happening today.
-In a world that is politically construed along Manichaean lines—which, as I have argued elsewhere, America has been doing since Day 1—the first line of attack is against the enemy outside. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Protestants or Catholics or al-Qaeda operatives or infidels of any kind, the first order of business is to go to war with them. But as the British anthropologist Mary Douglas shows in her book Purity and Danger, or Norman Cohn demonstrates in The Pursuit of the Millennium, if the war goes on long enough, inevitably the enemy is also seen to be a fifth column, i.e. within the walls of the body politic itself.  They become Huguenots or Marrano Jews or heretics of whatever stripe, and as in the case of Goya’s famous painting, Saturn Devouring His Son, the country begins to eat itself alive. Everybody becomes an enemy; no one is safe any longer. And so I believe that I, and you, really do have reason to worry.
Somewhere along the line, God stopped blessing America. We are not marching to Pretoria; rather, we are slouching towards Nuremberg.  To quote Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck.
References
(c)Morris Berman, 2012

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

https://image.freepik.com/free-icon/musical-notes-symbols_318-29778.jpg

Support the Diner

Search the Diner

Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D

Archives

Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

Earlier this week, Governor Jay Inslee announced that he was ending his presidential campaign. Inslee’s presence in the race was welcomed because of how he centered his campaign around the climate crisis, but at this point a climate plan has become an ...

Inspired by the 1989 "Baltic Way," Hong Kongers held hands across the city in protest of the government.HONG KONG — Hand-in-hand, pro...

What if I said I wanted to borrow $100 from you and pay you back $99 five years later? Would you do it?Hell no!And yet this is exactly what’s happening right now in the banking systems of Japan, Germany, France, and other European countries.Negative...

China said Friday it will impose new tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods and resume duties on American autos.The Chinese State Council said it decided to slap tariffs ranging from 5% to 10% on $75 billion U.S. goods in two batches effective on ...

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline protested in Omaha in 2017.Nebraska’s highest court approved the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s pla...

Recent Facebook Posts

Man dies unable to afford his insulin prescription; states tackle the rising cost

According to new data from the CDC, more than 13 percent of adults don’t take their insulin as prescribed because it’s too expensive and..

52 minutes ago

'Skeleton Lake' mystery deepens with strange DNA discovery

‘Skeleton Lake’ mystery deepens with strange DNA discovery

55 minutes ago

Sure, Trump Can Buy Greenland. But Why Does He Think It’s Up to Denmark?

Dept. of Ridiculous News Cycle: Sure, Trump Could Buy Greenland. But Why Does He Think It’s Up to Denmark? It’s not 1850 anymore. Here’s..

1 hour ago

Humans Are Making Excellent Progress

“Once in a while I check in to see how humans are progressing toward their own extinction. I did so yesterday, which was fortunate because we’ve..

1 hour ago

Andrew Yang Was Absolutely Right That It’s ‘Too Late’ Over Climate Change, NASA Scientist Says

Andrew Yang Was Absolutely Right That It’s ‘Too Late’ Over Climate Change, NASA Scientist Says

1 hour ago

Diner Twitter feed

Knarf’s Knewz

Diner Newz Feeds

  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

Amazon deforestation is close to tipping pointUnco [...]

Doomstead Diner Daily August 24The Diner Daily is [...]

[img width=600]https://scontent.forf1-2.fna.fbcdn. [...]

Quote from: UnhingedBecauseLucid on March 18, 2019 [...]

CleanTechnicaSupport CleanTechnica’s work via dona [...]

QuoteThe FACT that the current incredibly STUPID e [...]

Scientists have unlocked the power of gold atoms b [...]

Quote from: azozeo on August 14, 2019, 10:41:33 AM [...]

Wisconsin Bill Would Remove Barrier to Using Gold, [...]

Under extreme conditions, gold rearranges its atom [...]

The cost of gold futures on the Comex exchange inc [...]

Now UP on GEI!http://econintersect.com/pages/opini [...]

The Wasilla Fred Meyer has reopened.  They're [...]

Quote from: AJ on August 16, 2019, 03:08:52 AMYeah [...]

Yeah, anybody who follows the climate change catas [...]

Alternate Perspectives

  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Meanderings By Cognitive Dissonance     Tis the Season Silly season is upon us. And I, for one, welc [...]

The Brainwashing of a Nation by Daniel Greenfield via Sultan Knish blog Image by ElisaRiva from Pixa [...]

A Window Into Our World By Cognitive Dissonance   Every year during the early spring awakening I qui [...]

Deaf, Dumb and Blind Who Is Better at Conceding They Are Wrong - Conservative or Liberal Extremists? [...]

The Apology: From baby boomers to the handicapped generations. by David Holmgren Re-posted from Holm [...]

Event Update For 2019-08-22http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-08-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-08-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-08-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

Event Update For 2019-08-18http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.htmlThe [...]

With fusion energy perpetually 20 years away we now also perpetually have [fill in the blank] years [...]

My mea culpa for having inadvertently neglected FF2F for so long, and an update on the upcoming post [...]

NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

The Dark Cloud"Skynet needs to send a terminator back to 1984 and take out Mark Zuckerberg’s mom before he ca [...]

Accelerating Climate Solutions"When politicians set a lofty goal like zero emissions, engineers scramble." In 1834, Alex [...]

Roots"A foray into genealogy prompts some observations about the Anthropocene." Last week, an h [...]

The Hawkwood Elephant"Large-scale problems do not require large-scale solutions. They require only small-scale solut [...]

How the gourd killed the whale"It was a dried gourd that brought whales to the edge of extinction in the 19th Century. " [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Why has it taken so long for the climate movement to accomplish so little? And how can we do better [...]

To fight climate change, you need to get the world off of fossil fuels. And to do that, you need to [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

"Collapsed" means in case of Romania means that the population started to decline, which a [...]

The perfect example of total crash was Romania during Nicolae Ceaușescu: the energy crisis from risi [...]

I see that the album "I'd Love to Change the World" was on an album released in 1971. [...]

It is not clear to me that Jancovici understands that the economy cannot really shrink back. There a [...]

Since its not centrally planned. People will adapt with what is most optimal at the moment. So canni [...]

Hi Steve. I recently found what I believe is a little gem, and I'm quite confident you'd a [...]

The Federal Reserve is thinking about capping yields? I don't know how long TPTB can keep this [...]

As some one who has spent years trying to figure out what the limits to growth are. let me say that [...]

Peak oil definitely happened for gods sake. Just because it isn't mad max right now is no indic [...]

@Volvo - KMO says he made some life choices he regrets. Not sure what they were. And I don't th [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Mitigating climate change to limit the global temperature increase (relative to pre-industrial tempe [...]

An urban heat island (UHI) is a phenomenon that shows a higher temperature in urban areas compared t [...]

Passive microclimate frames are exhibition enclosures able to modify their internal climate in order [...]

European climate change objectives aim to reduce CO2 emissions, promote the spread of renewable ener [...]