The Twilight of American Culture
a book by Morris Berman
(our site's book review)
This book could be called elitist, except that it is not written from a context of privilege or class, but from a context of the preservation of the knowledge elite, the seekers of truth, the people not afraid of thinking beyond the cliché, the superficial, the naïve, the fad, the conventional wisdom, and the easy answer. Such critical thinkers are valuable not only in their own right but because they hold the key to cultural preservation and perhaps civilization itself. (After all, a society will either progress or regress—what doesn’t grow will stagnate and degenerate. And a healthy stock market says nothing about the moral, psychological, existential health of a nation. Lately, it has become obvious that society is headed for regression, not just because they elected Trump who is proud to be taking society backwards as fast and thoroughly as possible, but because truth and science and knowledge and wisdom are on the way out while religious beliefs and ignorance ("alternative truths") are in.)
Evolution seems to be going in reverse lately, with billions of brains that have dumped science, embraced religion, and stopped thinking completely since they believe religions will tell them all they need to know; but, unfortunately, all this disuse of human brains can have only one eventual effect on human evolution
Morris Berman shares with such people as Alvin and Heidi Toffler a keen interest in the reconstruction and/or transformation of a disintegrating culture. But while the Tofflers have Third Waveers helping civilization benevolently transform via knowledge rather than mere force or wealth, and Robert Reich has symbolic analysts as the knowledge workers that he wants to invest in cultural preservation and progress for us all—as opposed to continuing their virtual “secession” from the non-knowledge worker culture, Berman has monastic monks of the past and cultural preservationists of the present saving the good values, ideas, inventions, art, literature, knowledge and truths of the past and present for future generations.
His aim is no less than the salvation of the culturally good and worthy so that the cultural preservationists of the present and as many humans as will reach out for it in the future shall have available to them the best and most valuable aspects of human culture. He feels that rebels—in the normal sense of the term—will not be able to aid this cause, since once the rebels wrest power from the greedy corporate power elites, they will simply replace them and the oppression will begin anew.
The wealth of the greedy corporate power elites
Cultural preservation in the 21st century won't necessarily require monks sequestered in monasteries like it did centuries ago (they saved European culture and specifically the treasures of Greco-Roman civilization). But it is unlikely that our conventional institutions will be able to reverse the current cultural decline sufficiently to effect cultural preservation, since most of them are contributing to this decline. Infotainment, fast food, pseudoscience, the decline in critical thinking, the loss of respect for knowledge and truth-seeking—the examples of cultural decline are omnipresent. So if our institutions aren't our answer, then can Berman come up with a better plan?
Monk making copies of books
He calls his cultural preservation plan “the monastic option.” Since the preservation of culture in monasteries was successful and is the only proven strategy known, he feels that his customized version of this strategy is the best plan currently as well, although he's not looking to either monks or monasteries as necessary elements this time.
Berman notes that the power elites have always either tried to destroy or exploit the thinkers, the best people, the true knowledge seekers—those who could think for themselves and weren't afraid to do so. These are the people with Enlightenment values who attempt to live by such values, never following the crowd. These are the people who, in today’s world, “resist the spin and hype of the global corporate world order,” according to the author. They're the ones who avoid the reverse evolution seen above.
A politician full of social engineering plans
He is, of course, right that thinking, autonomous individuals rather than conventional institutions are the key to cultural regeneration. We will not get where we need to go via the actions of political saviors full of social engineering plans. Politicians will definitely be following, not leading. Only enlightened individuals choosing to go for informed autonomy rather than conformity can effect the needed social changes. (The MC movement is the premier example of autonomous individuals acting in concert to transform American life for the better. See Why Register for an MC?. The problem with the monastic option is that it’s too much like dropping out. The world is too dangerous to let the problem of cultural degeneration be addressed solely by the monastic option approach.)
The author is correct that mergers, monopolies, and the Internet have driven intellectual discourse to a new low, but fails to keep his book balanced by outlining what opportunities any of these mechanisms have bestowed upon us.
Berman overdoes his condemnation of corporations, citing oppression of the masses by the economic elite several times too many until verging on Marxism or at least the darker aspect of socialism. (He calls the socialist tradition “one of our greatest treasures.” There's nothing wrong with the compassionate, populist, community-minded, humanistic desire to see equality reign; it’s how the socialists of the world attempt to accomplish these things that is the problem, since their gentler methods destroy incentives, raise taxes, overburden business, undermine character, and put undeserved faith in social engineering solutions administered by political saviors, while their infamous draconian methods wrecked much of what could have made humanity proud about the 20th century.)
Our nation's actions are making the Founders turn over in their graves
The Corporatocracy is undermining democracy and making our Founders turn over in their graves—here's one of them who's been turning like crazy lately
However, the corporations that are part of the Corporatocracy which in turn is in bed with the Oligarchy—these corporations deserve his condemnation. (But a big percentage of Americans are part of corporations that are NOT part of the Corporatocracy.) The Corporatocracy is undermining democracy and making our Founders turn over in their graves. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.) Corporatocracy: rule by an oligarchy of corporate elites through the manipulation of a formal democracy. Oligarchy: a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. After the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United case, the movement of the US toward a corporatocracy is complete. Justice Stevens, of the minority dissenting opinion, wrote: "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt."
President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” (But isn't he the same ass clown that fed these same powerful interests big windfalls via ObamaDon'tCare and—without even asking us—gave away nearly a trillion dollars of the public's money in the world's biggest bailout, giving it to these same Corporatocracy members so they could have huge bonuses and golden parachutes? He turns out to be the biggest culprit of all in the schemes to "drown out the voices of everyday Americans"! He talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk. He's a hypocrite, a poser, and a liar. And like a bad parent, he sets a bad example for citizens by saying one thing but doing another. Kids emulate what parents do. They don't follow what parents say.)
See also 8 Reasons Young Americans Don't Fight Back: How the U.S. Crushed Youth Resistance and Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite.
Obama turns out to be the biggest culprit of all in the schemes to 'drown out the voices of everyday Americans'
Berman is totally correct to condemn rampant materialism, corporate greed, and too many special interests superseding the interests of the American people. (Gordon Gekko is a fictional character in the 1987 film Wall Street who famously stated that greed is good. But good for whom? Not the middle class that's being robbed by the mercenary Oligarchy. It's good for the bank accounts, but not the souls or hearts of the greedy who generally leave a body count on their climb to the top. And as the 2008 financial crisis and disaster amply demonstrated, greed is not good for the country, the people, the future, the jobs outlook, etc. For a deeper look at greed, see Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Google, Privacy, and Anonymity—the very first section heading is "Greed is Good (?)".)
If you could see right through all the lies and pretenses of our leaders and politicians, what would you see? What is their true essence?
Berman's probably correct that the system is too out of balance to mend itself by use of its built-in self-corrective mechanisms. People will, as he says, have to work to repair it from outside the system. But it doesn’t therefore follow that we need to shift to liberal left or even Radical Left thinking about the economy. Where would the American standard of living be right now without corporations? Perhaps his personal experiences trying to teach members of the underclass took a toll on his objectivity; he was around many to whom “the establishment” was the enemy.
Berman's teaching of the underclass took a toll on his objectivity; he was around many to whom 'the establishment' was the enemy
He also has the problem—usually found in more conservative people—of equating self-actualization with a kind of self-absorption in which one refrains from confronting uncomfortable truths. One wonders where exactly this man learned about this term—perhaps from Rush Limbaugh? The most likely people on earth to face uncomfortable truths are the self-actualized, as they have the psychological strength to do so and, indeed, have usually gained such strength via a very specific strategy: confronting uncomfortable truths about themselves and their families and reality and the nation and the world.
It is wise to to choose a life that empowers, nurtures, inspires and creates happiness, regardless of how badly ones peers may be mucking up their lives due to mindless conformity
The popular fad of taking potshots at psychological growth, as if one should be guilty for making the time to get one’s act together, was born from unfortunate and mostly ignorant sources such as: the self-denying asceticism and guilt infliction traditions of the Christian Church generally and the Catholic Church specifically, the notorious confusion about everything remotely related to psychology demonstrated by nearly everyone with fundamentalist or conservative leanings, and the monotonously predictable force of mindless conformity wherein a few loudmouthed louts happen to put down growth movements as if they were all about 1960’s naivety and it caught on and now they are the favorite target of the ignorant, and, what's worse, the educated semi-ignorant of academia and the media who ought to know better.
The Twilight of American Culture was written as “a kind of guidebook for disaffected Americans who feel increasingly unable to fit into this society, and who also feel that the culture has to change if it is to survive.” The author says that we must embody our best cultural knowledge by reflecting it in the lifestyles we live—it’s not enough to just preserve our wisdom on CD-ROMS. (This “reflecting it in the lifestyles” is what MCs are all about. See Why Register for an MC?.) As the Tofflers have pointed out, knowledge, the core of the Third Wave, has its value because of what you do with it. Is a person who buys the Great Books series thereby wise?
Registering for MC search and match
Is a person who buys the Great Books series thereby wise?
Berman criticizes movements because they start with enthusiastic idealistic fervor led by thinkers but end up as a collection of frustrated joiners bickering over details and often led by tyrants and/or hypocrites. It is an insightful observation, and all movement people would be well to heed its implicit warning. He wants his monastic option subscribers to help preserve what was precious about the Enlightenment not as a movement but as a way of life. He doesn’t see, unfortunately, that if these people communicate with each other they will become a movement, and if they don’t, they will fail. Nor does he see that if a movement stays out of politics and avoids the pitfalls of groupism, it can stay pure and successful.
The Environmental Movement from the 1950s to the present and The Women's Rights Movement from 1848 to the present are examples of critical movements that were and are successful. They've kept vital ideas in the public consciousness and inspired various pro-women and pro-environment actions, legislation, and consciousness raising. There was little sign that frustrated joiners bickering over details did much more than slightly slow down the actions, legislation, and consciousness raising of these successful movements, and neither was led by tyrants and/or hypocrites, as Berman cautions. The Temperance Movement of 1851-1933 which ushered in Prohibition, on the other hand, was a moronical idea pushed by holier-than thou hypocrites and it is utterly amazing they were listened to by Congress. People thumbed their noses at this stupidity, happily, and were drinking so much that in 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt traded in the Volstead Act for the Beer and Wine Revenue Act. Later that year, in December 1933, the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition, was enacted. So the "sin tax" movement was born and the government and those that care about discouraging vice were both happy, even if alcohol and cigarette companies had to make up for their losses with more and sneakier marketing. Therefore a successful movement was born from an idiotic movement. This sin tax movement suffered little from those arguing over details, nor did it suffer from tyrants and/or hypocrites mucking it up. And the sin tax helped pull the US out of the Great Depression. Which made the sin tax movement a Great movement, in the eyes of the people.
The main takeaway here is simply that if you do movements RIGHT, they will be successful. Happily, the MC movement is going to be the most successful movement in world history, but not just because it needn't worry about Berman's cautions. (There are NO leaders—ALL MCs will be 100% instigated by families and individuals at the local level, and there are no unknown details to bicker over because all details needed are already spelled out in detail on this website, and those who will be joining a specific MC will iron out their concerns before ever joining.)
The MC movement will succeed because it will do what no other movement has ever even thought about or dared hope for: give everyone a flawless blueprint for creating successful parenting, relationships, families, communities, and nations, and world peace—all backed by scientific knowledge. And ONLY families and individuals engineer ANYTHING—not even a molecule of "social engineering" will be allowed. Is it overreaching? If it planned to empower all this overnight or if it expected everyone to join at once, yes. But its speed of adoption will be in the hands of the Microcommunity Corporation and its famous speakers and media blitz and movies and TV series. And, like all social marketing, the immediate target market for MC adoption, in social marketing terms, is the innovators, calculated to comprise 2.5% of the population of the USA. These are the people most open to new things, and this will be the most exciting thing they ever heard of!
Isolated loners living the good life will have no effect on society, and will miss the boat
Who will be the community for each of these cultural preservationists? Will they be loners? Isolated loners living the good life will have no effect on society, and will miss the boat. On the other hand, will the autonomous individualists with uncommon wisdom who are his cultural preservationists accidentally live near or with others of their type, or are they more likely to be what we already know: few and far between? So does this mean that they reject community outright or just make token gestures around folks they're bored stiff being with? And how can a humanity-rejecting isolationist life or a phony, token socialization life really be a reflection of the best traditions of the Enlightenment? Perhaps his assessment that his cultural preservationists wouldn’t have to be a movement to succeed is a bit naïve. Perhaps more than just a bit.
The preservation of culture in monasteries was brave and successful and was precious to humanity. His updated version of this monastery activity is a fine concept, but perhaps not the best game plan. The world is incredibly different. What has not changed much is people. The same greed, corruption, hatred, envy, violence, intolerance, and foolishness of back then is alive and well and infesting the character of modern civilization.
If the homo sapiens go extinct will the surviving cockroaches learn to read or watch CDs before the books or CDs crumble to dust?
Let's say all-out nuclear war occurs. Will the few radioactive mutants left give a damn about culture or just basic dog-eat-dog survival? If the homo sapiens go extinct will the surviving cockroaches learn to read or watch CDs before the books or CDs crumble to dust? If the polluters so corrupt the environment that massive ecological failures spell doom to humanity, who will be left to read books? Preserved culture has value only in the context of preserved environment and preserved peace and preserved freedom. Preserved culture helps little if the next Hitler succeeds at the global level, since all info on planet Earth not supporting the Fourth Reich will be destroyed and those possessing it will be exterminated.
We're all in the same boat, and we must pull together and cooperate or perish
A simple way to say this is that we're all in the same boat, and we must pull together and cooperate or perish. The wise among us see that peace is a necessity, not a luxury. The defense industries that sell tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons globally every year do not agree. For them, war is big business. The fact that it sometimes makes nations so mad that they'd be happy to use WMDs of the nuclear or biological types and wipe out enemies is simply a calculated risk. Life on Earth is a spin of a roulette wheel, hoping that red will keep coming up, since black is armageddon. All this gambling with precious life just to make a buck. Makes one wonder just how much our culture is worth saving, if it has, indeed, brought us to such a precarious juncture.
Armageddon will be our reward is we continue warmongering insanity for no reason—all these neocons gambling with precious life just to make a buck: makes one wonder just how much our culture is worth saving, if it has, indeed, brought us to such a precarious juncture
The fall of the Roman Empire
The author is quite sure that we are on the verge of a new “fall of the Roman Empire,” with the United States replacing Rome. Materialism has so overwhelmed spiritualism and corporate/consumer values have so efficaciously replaced all other types of values (artistry, intrinsic worth, true compassion, humanism, respect for knowledge and wisdom, learning, originality, the Great Books, critical thinking, real democracy, etc.) that dark days are surely ahead. What he admits is unpredictable is whether or not a recovery to more balanced and happier times will follow the darkness soon after, long after, or never. Chaos theory helps Berman see not only how prophesying the future is impossible to do, but also how very small causes can have enormous effects.
Very small causes like wing flapping can have enormous effects like a storm
He predicts a we-them, rich-poor dichotomy will eventually blow up in violence if not addressed, both nationally and internationally, and the result won't be pretty.
But once the historical cycle completes itself and the disintegration changes to reintegration (hopefully), what will this New Enlightenment be like? His guesses about this renaissance are quite interesting. Business and material concerns would be subordinate to intellectual concerns. The former would be mere tools of the good life, and wouldn’t be viewed as being the good life, like currently. It would be realized that corporate control of our lives had been a “toxic arrangement,” and that the virtual extinguishing of real critical thinking in our culture, like the replacement of real substance with style and sensationalism, is to turn our back on the words of both Thomas Jefferson and John Philpot Curran, who told us that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Regardless of whether one is referring to political corruption, terrorism, or overall cultural disintegration from within, the price of “fiddling while Rome burns” is higher than we realize—and then one day liberty is just a memory. Is there no way to prevent the Great Collapse? None. (Or perhaps only ONE: We Found the Answer to How to Turn This Country Around, and Now We Need Your Help Figuring Out How to Get It to the Few People in a Position to Act on It.) But the other side of the coin is that the shock of the collapse will be the wake-up call we need to reestablish a balanced new democracy based on wisdom, humanism, respect for knowledge and learning, and vigilant responsibility.
Democracy in the USA is degenerating rapidly, but perhaps the shock of the coming collapse will be the wake-up call we need to reestablish a balanced new democracy based on wisdom, humanism, respect for knowledge and learning, and vigilant responsibility
The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm
This book needed both a Tofflerian and Fritjof Capra context to pull it back from overdosing on academic liberalism and pedantic snobbery and to give it balance. The ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm and the Third Wave replacing the Second Wave are concepts that together build a framework that no other context can replace to analyze the historical transformation our culture is now going through. And his treatment of power is sorely lacking the vision of the Toffler’s Powershift book. But his “monastic option” is a powerful, insightful, and timely concept sorely needed by civilization as both a touchstone with which to measure cultural disintegration theories and a Rosetta Stone with which to grasp the depth and gravity of the present cultural decline.
Our society is slowly sliding down the greased, sloping sides of the pit of materialistic excess, attracted by what looked like the lights of an amusement park but—alas—turn out to be lights of a refinery that boils the approaching humans down into their basic component: consumers. The Tofflers want us to be Third Wave “prosumers” that participate in production and/or design of our consumables rather than passive factors in target marketing strategies, and he and we want society to be humanistically evolving beyond corporate/consumer mentality in ways yet to be established.
It was odd to read a book about the essential nature of cultural preservation, and yet search in vain for any mention of Alexandria, which was of course the single most devastating loss of cultural and scientific knowledge in all of history. (Caused by the Church, of course—they've always hated science and knowledge, even demonizing it in the Adam and Eve story. These days they mostly peddle idiocy about birth control and abortion, which is continuing to do great harm on this planet.) But, back to Alexandria: as Carl Sagan has said, when they (religious fanatics) came to burn down the libraries (the main repository of all knowledge at the time) in Alexandria a few centuries A.D., no one even tried to stop them—such was the unmitigated power of the Church. Had such degenerate, regressive forces not been challenged by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, mankind would still be living in a regressive Middle Ages full of pain, suffering, ignorance and poverty.
The Middle Ages were full of pain, suffering, ignorance and poverty
For a book about details of ancient history, this is a good choice. But for a deeper look at the meaning of history and current events, Toffler books are must reading. And this website contains some of the most vital information any cultural preservationist could ever hope to find. It is the only website (and novel) on Earth with the actual plan needed to allow long-term preservation of human culture, as well as peace and happiness, to occur.
If the culturally and socially degenerative forces continue as they are now, not only will progress shift into reverse, but evolution itself will make a similar regression.
You can see why evolution is spinning its wheels—degenerate, regressive forces are no longer being challenged by the wisdom of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, so a New Middle Ages full of pain, suffering, ignorance and poverty may be our fate
If only someone had a social evolution raygun to zap humanity toward social-cultural enhancement; but until they invent that, the MC movement will be our only real hope