correctness not truth
jimd48 at btinternet.com
Sun Dec 16 20:41:21 MST 2001
>From Jim Drysdale.
Writers of recent note are giving up writing here in the UK, and elsewhere.
' Lost my inspiration', a not uncommon reason.
This honesty reveals inability to grasp the essence of why society is
crumbling. The following review (and book) does not move beyond that
In the Financial Times 15th Dec. 2001, under the heading ' It's not the end
of the world', Prabhu Guptara reviews.....
' The Twighlight of American Culture' by Morris Berman:
The US is already past its most triumphant years. Not because of September
11, but because American civilisation is in its twilight phase, rapidly
approaching a point of social and cultural banruptcy.
In Morris Breman's view, at least, only casual observers can be taken in by
the speed with which money and new enterprise circulate in the US. Vigorous
promotion of everything creates a society of " vital kitsch".
The US lives "in a collective adrenalin rush, a world of endless promotional
/ commercial bullshit that masks a deep systemic emptiness".
Everything appears tremendously energetic and upbeat, but the energy is
devoid of any purpose beyond the generation of that energy, the vitality
celebrates nothing beyond buying and owning things. So, " it is itself the
cultural decline I am talking about".
The US has ways, both individually and culturally of hiding from itself.
Start with the belief that the country is the greatest and best. Go on with
love of "pap" and willingness to pay huge sums to hear that things are not
really that bad in the first place and in the second that they can be
Then there are so many anodynes around, such as the constant out-pouring of
new technological toys. Finally, the media is brilliantly adept at keeping
the country focused on the trivial and the sensational: O.J. Simpson's
trial, Princess Di's death, Bill Clinton's sex life and CNN-style muzac.
The depressing facts are that over 60 per cent of adult Americans claim
never to have read a book, 50 per cent believe in UFO's, 42 per cent cannot
find Japan on a map.
Artists and thinkers are trapped in a society that celebrates ignorance:
publishing is now little more than brand marketing. Books have been
reduced to the level of "mental chewing gum". There is barely an empty
space that does not carry commercial messages.
" We live in a systematic suppression of silence".
There is more. The highest bastions of intellectual life have become
infected with with postmodernism, "a philosophy of despair masquerading as
radical chic". Nothing thrives unless " inflated by hyperbole and gilded
with a fine coat of fraud".
There is no longer any ability to distinguish quality from garbage: the US
has become a nation where "hype is life". America's educational system "
has become a gigantic dolt-manufacturing machine". Popular entertainment
has been Rambofied and culture lobotomised.
The gap between the rich and poor has never been greater, and Americans'
long-term willingness to pay for basic social programmes is increasingly in
The takeover of America's spiritual life by corporate / consumer values is
nearly complete. An economic superstar, the US is, in reality, a cultural
shambles, an " empire wilderness".
Berman offers compelling descriptions of falling productivity, apathy,
cynicism and overwhelming spiritual anomie which, in his view, herald the
coming of a new dark age: " It doesn't take an Emerson or an Einstein to
recognise that the system has lost its moorings and (is becoming)
Worse, the privileged class tries to co-opt the challenges by incorporating
the rhetoric of the discontented - ecology, multiculturalism, women's
rights - so as to give the illusion that serious changes are under way,
when in fact the essential relations of wealth and power remain the same.
Such an analysis bodes ill not just for the US but for the whole world,
because the American transformation is part of a broader global
What solutions does Berman have?
Analysing the constraints on social systems, he is sceptical of the human
capacity to make wise collective decisions. Berman thinks that we can
address the challenges of a globalised McWorld by urging scholarly-minded
individuals to focus on preserving knowledge to keep alive the possibility
of a cultural renewal, making comparisons to the monks of the Dark Ages who
preserved the knowledge acquired by the Romans and Greeks while 600 years of
plague and disintegration took place outside the monastries.
However, Berman's "monks" will be committed to the avoidance of "group
think", whether provided by corporations or by the anti-consumer
counter-culture, pursuing their activities not for grand, heroic outcomes,
but for the sense of worth and meaning inherent in the activities
" The work may lead somewhere; it may not. Our job is only to give it our
Such an approach will undoubtedly appeal to some, but Berman does not seem
to recognise that the radically individualist cultivation of ideas for their
own sake is quite different from a mutually supporting community working for
love, peace and justice. He does not wish to reject group or institutional
solutions out of hand, but he has obviously not come across any that make
sense to him.
He can therefore only retreat to the non structural solution of a merely
individual preoccupation with quality.
It remains fashionable in the US to propound individualist solutions even to
(end of text)
JD: The long wait for the thought of Marx (and others) to be sought after,
is over. What is evolving and will continue to evolve is not and will not
be pretty but, the pendulum swings for the last time. Go to your
constituencies and prepare to "talk". Also, take a hard-hat.....for a
while at least.
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