Saturday, September 30, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-9

Continued from Part-8.

12. Berman's book also has an interesting discussion concerning various trends and movements in the field of urban and rural planning. The author concludes that all current such developments are doomed to fail. (If you want the details, then read the book as I do not have the time to devote the space I would like to explore this topic in depth - I have written on the subject and will do so again.) In summary, my own opinion (partly professional and party not) is that one would need to level the suburbs, then shoot developers and other vested interests to destroy the push to recreate it (just look at New Orleans for an example). Since I certainly don't advocate such fascism (believe that if nothing else) , and thankfully few would at present (such fascism that is), the task of redesigning cities, towns and suburbs away from the automobile (and hence it's culture) is not achievable. It will need to fall apart on its own.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-8

Continued from Part-7.

11a. Suburbia is also discussed in depth by Berman. He believes that America typically has less public space because Americans don't value the public realm. In this regard, his regional bias towards the East Coast definitely has it's flaws when applied to the US at large. Indeed, cities and town are discarding or have never even developed public space in the first place. However, in the West at least, public space is more regarded as something wild. By and large, public land is valued by people in the West. The space is just much larger. The cities and towns are intrusions. (North of the border, including Alaska, is something else again.) In some regards, Americans are at heart a rural people (and possibly even more so in areas settled by those fleeing cities). Americans just don't like people.

11b. Author's tautology:

Car Culture + Suburbia = Oil Dependency = War Culture.

Kids from the inner city and rural areas are fighting for the suburbs. As product of both the mountains and the city, I have always maintained that these two supposed extremes have far more in common than not.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-7

Continued from Part-6.

10. The topic of Car Culture is discussed in Berman's book as well. He views the American Car Culture, not as a nation deprived of the possibility of other modes of transportation, but rather as the continuation of the Frontier Mentality (except possibly in Alaska). The physical frontier was closed, but the gaps could still be filled in. This situation is the result no (collective) inner frontier. American's are not known for introspection. This condition is reinforced by a fear of change.

I do wonder if something like an aggressive space program would have channeled such mass expansionist instincts along a different path. We'll never know. At this point, the cities and much of rural America would need to be leveled and rebuilt. It can never be willingly abandoned and will inevitably fall.

I would have to add his thesis does help explain the miserable people I have had to deal with while working on this nation's highways. Highway workers hate and fear (with good reason) the motoring public. Many work with the assumption that everyone behind the wheel is insane, inattentive or just plain stupid--often a combination. As a benefit, one will certainly live longer by such lack of trust. As most people spend some time on the road, although possibly not to this extreme, this sort of justified paranoia must eats away at society. One learns to hate from the road. The stink of failure smells like exhaust. Cars suck all life away.


Friday, September 22, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-6

Continued from Part-5.

9. Berman devotes considerable energy to the topic of roads not taken. As an historian, the author presents an interesting case concerning the current state being a product of history and not an accident. Falls just don't happen. The USA has spawned a collective culture that reflects its collective values (thus affirming Unity is the Bad Part of Community). Berman points out that almost all Americans by default are effectively Capitalist Protestants individualists. One has little choice in an environment defined by consumer economics. This current state is the result of progress for its own sake. A race towards nothing begets nothing.

The author does make a further interesting observation. As America has no true aristocracy, no obligation is felt toward the greater society by the ruling elites. The USA has become a banana republic.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-5

Continued from Part-4.

7. The next topic Berman touches upon is the American Empire.

a. The author maintains that the conflict with the Soviet Union was really a means towards the ends of empire. The Cold War was a case of manipulation by extreme opportunists on both sides used it to justify war expenditures.

b. Blowback, a term popularized by Chalmers Johnson, is used repeatedly to describe the unintended consequences of the pursuit of empire.

c. Empire represents the intermediate step between decadence and barbarism without any civilization in the meanwhile.

d. Empire can only be fought through terrorism.

8. The meaning of 9-11 is the subject of an entire chapter. The author views the aftermath of those events as the point of no return towards inevitable decline and a new Dark Age. Americans could have chosen to use those events as a source for inspiring self-reflection, as others have chosen to do. Rather the USA began to accelerate down the path of self-destruction by catering to our basest impulses. Hence, world sympathy has gone down the tubes, and the terrorists responsible for 9-11 have become stronger. Bin Laden is now quoted in speeches. In addition, it opened the door to manipulation via propaganda to start an unwinable (as its objectives are indefinable) war in Iraq (and Afghanistan). In addition, the Iraq conflict showed the disdain of the US for civilization itself by the failure to protect the historical treasures of the cradle of Western Civilization.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-4

Continued from Part-3

5. The author also explores Economic matters:

a. The role of technology is discussed. Although Berman does not use the term Maximum Advantage, he adequately describes the situation. The lowest common denominator is not too difficult to discern.

b. The author provides an interesting discussion of the consequences of abandoning the Bretton Woods (and with it the Gold Standard.) He describes it as a turning point on the path towards irreparable decline.

6. Berman touches upon the Curved Spectrum of the secular verses tribal cultural arrangements. The extremes represent stagnation. Too much tribal culture smothers the individual; too much secular culture leaves the individual lonely and ungrounded.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

On This Modern Warrior Archetype Part Six.7.4

7d. Isolation may be encouraged and even embraced. Fear is a component of most Verbal Worlds. Manipulation may be active or passive. An effective combination will produce agitation and dread. Uncertainty is capitalized for advancing agendas and programs at the expense of other competing interests and ideas. In this arena, opposition is nullified by the basest means for the lowest ends. Indeed, after a point, challenge becomes futile on the mass verbal plane. If one cannot win, a better approach is to bypass it entirely. The old, now largely empty niches are still waiting to be filled.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

On This Modern Warrior Archetype Part Six.7.3

7c. Once the future has been assuredly compromised by historical events beyond one’s control, only a few broad choices remain. One may ignore impending doom, or fear it and be wholly devoured. One may embrace it by exploiting the downward spiral to Maximum Advantage in all Things, and be devoured beyond. One may seek to merely survive, and be left with nothing. One may embrace it defiantly, and laugh. Options are neither limited nor infinite.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-3

Continued from Part-2

4a. The author writes at length concerning a concept called "Liquid Modernity" (LM). LM is basically the product of a valueless society characterized by rampant consumerism (everything is a product), social isolation and resultant loneliness, no stability, no tradition and no orientation. He makes the point that Americans have forgotten what it means to be an American (except in the negative sense which defines American by what we are not). Other characteristics of LM also include, the worker being unconnected to craft. Machines do all the work, so there is not sense of craftsmanship. (Or as I can attest as an engineer, machines create so much work and unnecessary revisions that after a time one stops caring and only wants to get the job out the door.)

4b. Globalization is a by-product of liquid modernity. Products are uniform and come from anywhere. It also produced a race to the bottom.

4c. Liquid Modernity is only possible among an over stimulated population. Like any addict, the populace wants more and more of nothing.

4d. Liquid Modernity causes news to become entertainment. A disconnected populace only cares about stimulation, not content. (Like malt liquor?)

4e. Liquid Modernity celebrates narcissism. Selfishness is a virtue.

4f. Children have become nothing but another consumer demographic. Even psychoactive medications are marketed towards children. Rather than deal with a child's reaction to social decay, a pill is pushed to allow the child to adapt to a maladaptive environment. Meanwhile, all sorts of other garbage is peddled to children.

4g. Community has disappeared. Few know or care about their neighbors. Other than stale and plastic malls, there is no center to most communities. In the extreme, a culture of depraved indifference has arisen. The author gives several examples.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-2

Continued from Part-1

Now, to elaborate on actual points and themes from Dark Ages America itself:

1. Collapse is inevitable, but can be mitigated. The downward trajectory (some would say spiral) has too much momentum. Compared to his Previous book, his view is outright pessimism. I would agree, as far as the governmental level is concerned, that the case is hopeless. The drowning of New Orleans is an obvious example of the downward slide. Iraq, not to mentions a whole slew of past presidents, would never have occurred otherwise. A strong nation would never tolerate such losers. However, the actions of those unencumbered by government could be successful. One has to do things for oneself. Lest one become dependent, help should only be accepted from those like minded.

2. The US has ceased to be a nation of law and has become a nation of men. The transition to empire is thusly defined.

3. A nation that justifies torture, especially by comparing its actions to the like of psychopathic religious fanatics, has lost its roots. Its moral values are seriously imparted. The author also asks, why are only grunts being prosecuted for war crimes?


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On This Modern Warrior Archetype Part Six.7.2

7b. When culture and society converge towards unity, the result is either narrow greatness or broad stagnation. Both states lack certain necessary ideas. Mass psychological health entails maintaining identity. The higher orders must be checked. A purpose has constraints and certain drawbacks while maintained by machines. After awhile, the future is bled dry by the demands of the day. Apathy is the inevitable by-product of being treated like a cog, and bled dry.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On This Modern Warrior Archetype Part Six.7.1

7a. Whether one is a product of a society and/or culture afflicted by the universal urge towards Maximum Advantage in all Things, actions speak far louder than words. A fundamental error is propagation to the extreme method. Means become ends. The treadmill goes nowhere. Sympathy can be tarnished. Devaluation is easy to avoid. Propaganda can be used as a gag, but fails in the extreme. Ends become means. Deeds may be silenced. Structural erosion may be masqueraded by display. A society enthralled by the Technical Morality believes force = power.[5] Influence may be sold, but nobody likes a pusher (except an addict). Cultural disease vectors are like an unclean hypodermic needle. A bad situation only becomes worsened by really bad hygiene. Outside of a totally controlled setting, sanitation may not be forced. Sewage treatment is a necessary element toward civilization continuing its existence. At least, by common standards, it can be minimally enforced. Some things are just unacceptable.

[5.] As if proof by example is ever valid.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Interlude: Dark Ages America Part-1

As a follow up to my Review of The Twilight of American Culture, as promised, I will now review Dark Ages America by Morris Berman. As previously indicated, published in 2006, this book is far less optimistic about the future of the US than its predecessor. The author considers the events of 9-11-01 a last chance to reverse course. The opportunity was squandered by an even greater removal from reality. The US chose to accelerate down the path of no return.

Other than details, very little of what the author discusses in this book was new to me. I found this book to be very instructive (and confirming) regarding the causes and consequences of decline. As far as I can recall, I don't believe any other contemporary author has so closely agreed with some of my writing. His points are relatively easy to translate from my own. His writing is definitely more accessible. Therefore, I would highly recommend it to those readers that find me a little too abstract for their tastes. The irony is that in other respects, I find nothing that is not absolutely concrete (pun intended) frustrating; therefore, I would understand the need to deal beyond theory. The author stresses a need for theory. Philosophy should be as universal as possible. Few able are not correctly positioned.

If you happen to prefer aphorisms:

All seeds require fertile soil, but only some will only survive in a harsh climate. Even fewer are removed. Maximum Advantage demands uniformity as a contact vector. A materialist world necessarily demands completely concrete thinking patterns by means of passive positive reinforcement. All affects vary in degree and unpleasantness. Unoccupied outlets are niches. Thundering along, the herd does not stake its turf. Technology allows the human mass animal to become like the largest bison herds trampling everything in its path. In such an environment, opponents and opportunists would choose to think in completely concrete terms. Indeed, at least, the fields are well fertilized.

Anyway, back to the review...

I appreciate that he quotes from The Baffler. (Where's my magazine? I truly appreciate a magazine that publishes when it damn well pleases.)

As a final point (for now), despite the title, this book does not actually contain much about what an actual Dark Ages would entail. His previous book would be a better source.

Part 2.