Market Street, Youngstown, Ohio

I was in group therapy for quite a few years. Not some nicey happy joy joy mind you, this was a therapy based on unvarnished, in your face, harsh reality. It had to be. For this particular center dealt with late stage substance abuse, alcoholism and eating disorders. They ripped the rose colored glasses off of your face, threw them on the floor and proceeded to stomp them in to bits. And if you continued to come in with a new pair, you had the same thing done.

This is a post on a review done in David Masciotra in Truth Out that is in exactly the same vein. A review of the book or rather, three books, written by historian Morris Berman – The Twilight of American Culture, Dark Ages America and now finally Why America Failed. David does not pull any punches in this review, in which he adds his own experiences and opinions on the subject.

He likes to use from the beginning, the analogy of the rise and eventual fall of Elvis. From the King to a drug addicted fat has been with bizarre behavior. One can be tempted to compare the rise and fall of this country with that of Rome, and many have. Except that Rome rose with high ideals and culture that this country never has had.

David writes how:

Berman was living in the brain of the beast – Washington, DC – and teaching sociology at the Catholic University of America when he began keeping a file of newspaper clippings, academic studies, and handmade notes chronicling disturbing developments of ignorance, cruelty and lunacy in American life.

. . . . . .

After several years of collecting these obituaries of American civilization, and recognizing that the file would grow larger on a daily basis, he decided to write a book. The Twilight of American Culture was the result, and it became a critical and commercial success. Berman wrote that “collapse involves a progressive weakening of a society’s political and administrative center.” It is a “recurrent feature of human societies,” and there was no reason to believe, despite the dogmatic protests of American exceptionalists and Reaganites – what Cornel West calls “cheap American optimism” – that America’s tower would not tumble. Based on his own studies of civilizational decline, Berman identified four factors present during a collapse:

1. Accelerating social and economic inequality – check.
2. Declining marginal returns with regard to investment in organizational solutions to socioeconomic problems or, in other words, the political system becomes dysfunctional – check.
3. Rapidly dropping levels of literacy, critical understanding and general intellectual awareness – check.
4. Spiritual death, what Berman calls the “emptying out of cultural content and the freezing of it in formulas, kitsch” – check.

He then goes on to list some of the particulars, like how the high school drop out rate has risen to 30%, how corporations have maintained tyrannical rule of America, how colleges and universities have been modeled on a business like culture and are no longer places of higher learning for culture’s sake, but more like training grounds for the next generation of con artists, hustlers and racketeers.

How Communications Professor Robert McChesney, in a series of books, undresses the mainstream media as nothing more than a shallow shill for its parent companies and advertisers.”

That “In The Twilight of American Culture, for example, he[Morris Berman] rebukes the wedded notions of “progress” and “growth” to show how they are ultimately hollow, and set people on a road to ruin. He expands on this idea greatly in the third book, Why America Failed.

In Dark Ages, David shows how Berman illustrates how Americas foreign policy is “Exploitative, aggressive and disastrous, the stretch of the American arm around the globe has created enemies – what Chalmers Johnson calls “blowback” – and accomplished very little for the overwhelming mass of its own citizens.” and eats up over half of the budget. And how America has become “an unwelcoming place where people are regularly rude to each other, fail to show minimal courtesy in public places and meet the slightest inconvenience with psychotic levels of bellicosity and belligerence.”

Where people regularly shout into cell phones where ever they damn well please, where employers fail to notify applicants that they did not get the job, that America has lost even the pretense of civility and courtesy and culture.

In the last book, Why America Failed, David explains why Berman moved to Mexico. Even with its drug problems and poverty and political corruption, it had a sense of community. That people there cared about one another and were genuinely happy. How “In the words of President Calvin Coolidge, “the business of America is business.” From its origin, American was a business civilization. Historian Walter McDougall called it” a nation of hustlers,” and the theme of hustling is what fuels Why America Failed. America never cultivated a real identity.” And that despite all the rhetoric and diatribe about being a “Christian” nation, America’s only true religion is making money.

America has no identity and believes in nothing. The snake oil salesman to the world. How America defined itself by war from the first and how the Soviet Union became the ultimate enemy replacing The Third Reich. And how Islamic countries have replaced the Soviet Union after its fall.

To me this really hits the nail on the head. Though it was not always so, at least not entirely. There was a brief time when some American businesses did stand for something other than quarterly profits for the stock holders. When there was a sense of community. When the common good did prevail at least part of the time. But that time has long gone.

As David points out in this review, punctuated with his own experiences – America has degenerated into a façade like the fake town in Blazing Saddles. Where the realities are carefully hidden from view. And when accidentally exposed, like with the current hurricane that hit the northeast – are rapidly and carefully hidden once more. Out of public view once the gawkers and curious leave.

Now this is not to say that there aren’t any islands of decency and decorum and enlightenment around. Like those in the alternative communities and such. But they are like islands in a turbulent sea. Continuously assaulted by the storms of American decadence and the coyotes of capitalistic greed.

Is it any wonder that the Wall Streeters and Banks are not only allowed to continue their rigged shell games but encouraged to do so. That the two main presidential candidates are a poor used care salesman and and mediocre professor from some for profit business school ? That the first people to get helped after any disaster are those with the most money, whether they need it or not ?

I have to say that this has been one of the best reads I have had and certainly will delve into Berman’s books further.