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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bleak but necessary diagnosis, November 5, 2010
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This review is from: A Question of Values (Paperback)
Morris Berman is one of our most insightful observers & critics of contemporary American culture -- and also one of the most neglected. Given the state of our culture, that's not only inevitable, but actually a badge of honor. In other words, he refuses to pander to his audience, and insists on laying out the full scope of our cultural emptiness & despair. What he describes isn't pretty, but it's undeniably honest.

And what is he describing?

Well, he approaches our culture in several ways -- politically, psychologically, economically, and (for lack of a better word) spiritually. In fact, the political aspect is really seen as less important than the forces below the surface that drive it. Whether Bush or Obama is in office doesn't matter all that much, since both fiercely uphold the great myths of American exceptionalism & progress, and the true religion of our culture, unlimited consumerism. The result is a world that glitters with electronic toys & gadgets, that flexes enormous military muscles, that floods the globe with pop product of every kind -- all in a desperate attempt to deny its own essential hollowness.

While he provides plenty of studies & statistics to back up his argument, much of it is made even more effectively through anecdotes of daily life, ones that we'll all recognize: the disintegration of civility in so many ways -- the distortion of genuine individuality into a narcissistic mantra of "Me! Me! Me!" -- the ubiquitous cellphones & iPods & SUVs & plasma TVs -- the rampant anti-intellectualism -- the public fascination with "Survivor," "American Idol," Lindsay Lohan, torture porn, and so forth.

So he's describing an immature, childlike culture that's aggressive, greedy, needy, and terribly frightened -- especially of growing up. That's something I really took away from these pages. It seems the model American of today is frantically trying to remain in perpetual adolescence; the notion of maturity, of aging gracefully & wisely, of developing into a whole human being, simply isn't an option. And not only do we pay the price for it, so does the rest of the world, all too often in blood.

I called this book a diagnosis. At this point the reader may ask if there's any cure. There is -- but it's not one that America will ever take, not unless total catastrophe forces it to do so. Because the only cure is to step back from the relentless pursuit of power, (false) security, status, and then completely reassess what we are, and what we could be. That's something America has never been very good at, and less so with each passing year. Berman quotes W. H. Auden to this effect: "We would rather be ruined than changed, / We would rather die in our dread, / Than climb the cross of the moment / And let our illusions die."

For the majority of Americans, this is simply unacceptable. Easier & happier by far to continue as we've always done, consuming the world's resources within an insulated, artificial bubble that we firmly believe will never burst. As Theodore Roszak wrote more than 40 years ago, once you've sold your soul for a new washing machine [or cellphone or computer game or ...], what's left but to pretend that it was worth it?

Except, as Berman makes quite clear, the bubble will burst. And soon. And probably quite violently.

If you're ready to let your illusions die, then start with this urgently recommended book!
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 12, 2010 3:55:02 PM PST
TJ says:
Sounds very, very interesting. I love reading perspectives on American Culture. This review should be nominated for that new award that's honoring the best reviews online - have you heard about it? You could win the best book review of 2010, for sure! Find out details on nominations and voting here: Lunch.com/t/9

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 13, 2010 2:38:59 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 13, 2010 2:41:28 PM PST
Thanks, TJ! If you find this book to your liking, you should definitely read the author's previous books, "The Twilight of American Culture" & "Dark Ages America."

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2010 12:42:20 PM PST
TJ says:
Sweet, thanks! And let me know if you have any questions about the Lunch Awards, ^_^

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 7, 2010 10:37:55 AM PST
TJ says:
Hi William! Just a friendly reminder to submit your reviews for the Lunch Awards before the holidays! lunch.com/t/9 The deadline is Dec. 31st so get those reviews in! ^_^

Posted on Dec 2, 2012 8:00:37 AM PST
N. pearson says:
Excellent review. I have read all but one (the poetry collection) of Berman's other books and will now order this one.
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