Bill Bridges's Reviews > A Question of Values

A Question of Values by Morris Berman
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Jun 25, 2011

really liked it

I first discovered Morris Berman's work back in the '90s, with The Reenchantment of the World and Coming to Our Senses. It was rather influential on my thinking, especially when working on Werewolf: the Apocalypse. Years later, when I read his Twilight of American Culture, I was sympathetic to his viewpoint but felt it was, well, strident and overly alarmist. By the time his Dark Ages America came around, I begrudgingly had to agree with his assessment, but I had trouble finishing the book; the darkening times were hard enough to live through without rubbing it in. Now, I wonder why there aren't enough other people clued into Berman's viewpoint.

A Question of Values consists of essays he's written for mostly Spanish-language sources. (They're in English here.) These are critiques that range across politics, history, economics, social sciences and literature. Berman turns his incredibly well-read eye to our modern situation and explain why we're so screwed. That's the easy part. The hard part is the realization, built up over multiple arguments about the structural problems of our culture and economy, that we won't fix it. I won't reiterate the argument here; you can read the book or dip into his blog to get it. Suffice it to say that I agree, and yet… I hold out hope, that crazyiest, most perplexing trait of Americans. Hope that somehow we’ll turn course at the last minute. Berman makes it clear how that's just not going to cut it, but I still look to the horizon for the white horse. And if it doesn’t come, well, I'll just have to read Berman's new work of fiction, Destiny, to while away the wait.

The problem Berman wrestles with here -- why we won't fix our problems even when we're made aware of them -- is one I've struggled with for a while now, especially after reading Douglas Rushkoff's Life, Inc. It's full of interesting ideas on how our situation is no accident -- it was engineered once upon a time, although we've forgotten that and mistake it as natural law. And yet, despite Rushkoff's hope that we can hack or reprogram our society, it doesn't happen. But people (like me) still cling to the idea that, with the right argument, the spell will be broken. Berman makes it clear that the spell is too well-wrought; it won't be broken with a kiss. Jung's answer was individuation. But that's not a program for society or institutions. We remain stubbornly resistant, as a society, to escaping the pull of the drain.

If you don’t like having your bubble burst, stay away. If you like well-argued ideas, mixed with personal anecdotes to enliven them, then give A Question of Values a read.
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