WE LIVE IN A WORLD of early childhood damage, says Morris Berman. This is what caught my eye when I was turned on to Berman’s website, Dark Ages America. The reader will find below excerpts from an interview with Berman by Murray Cox for Omni magazine (August 1991 issue).
What follows is an abridged version of their exchange. I have taken a liberal editorial license with the layout of the quotes. I also added a few observations to make this more than just an abridged interview.
“The [first Gulf War] was basically unconscious. We live in a world of early childhood damage, of which George [H.] Bush is probably an excellent representative.
Look at his stiff body language, his mechanical behavior. He got elected because he echoes our body language. When the opportunity arises to forget our internal damage, we embrace it.
The ego, in order to maintain its integrity and identity, has to have an enemy, so it becomes like a heat-seeking missile. After glasnost, we lost our enemy of forty years, the Soviet Union.
For a few months, we talked about giving money to art or medicine or education. We floated around in ambiguity but finally couldn’t handle it.
If we can understand our inability to tolerate ambiguity and the fact that the ego must have an enemy in order to feel whole, then this war is completely explicable. We would have fought Ghana, Antarctica, it doesn’t really matter. We had to find an enemy …
What emerges as strength in this culture?
The person who wages peace or lives without heroism?
Just the opposite.
Watch the body language of our elected officials: it’s wonderful—I mean sad, but wonderful.
When George Bush announced that we were going to war, The New York Times declared, ‘A somber President Bush.’
He was giddy.
There’s a pathetic quality to our heroism, and eighty-seven percent of the country thinks that’s what strength is about.”
Of course, if Mr. Berman is correct, then this observation applies to Noriega and Gaddafi and our current invasions/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. If Mr. Berman is correct, then there is more of the same, endlessly.
The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room in the Palace of Versailles, was built to replace a large terrace which opened onto the garden. The terrace was awkward and above all exposed to bad weather, and it was not long before the decision was made to demolish it. Work started on the Hall of Mirrors in 1678 and ended in 1684. The whole length of the Hall of Mirrors (73m) pays tribute to the political, economic and artistic success of France. (Chateau de Versailles)
Emergence of the individual
“I assume that if mirrors are present in a culture at any point, it means a greater interest in self-awareness. It turns out that the Venetians began to manufacture silvered glass on the Isle of Murano during the Renaissance—part of the so-called ’emergence of the individual.’
The obsession with mirrors climaxes at the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, where people constantly looked at themselves. Chart the manufacture and diffusion of reflecting surfaces, and you get a curve of the nature of self-awareness in any period.
The mirror as the map of the evolution of consciousness is a god example of the types of methodology we might consider when examining somatic history. Technology is also a record of consciousness.”
Merriam-Webster defines somatic as “of, relating to, or affecting the body especially as distinguished from the germplasm or the psyche; of or relating to the wall of the body.”
Merriam-Webster defines germplasm as “germ cells and their precursors serving as the bearers of heredity and being fundamentally independent of other cells.”
So, we can interpret “somatic history” as the interpretation of history through the body and the awareness of self, rather than through mere artifacts and constructs.
This is the paperback edition of The Reenchantment Of The World from 1985. For better or worse, this book had a profound impact on many of what came to be called New Agers. I like the title and the third generation psychedelia of the cover art didn’t hurt.
Soul travel and ascent
“The control of nature—the very heart of the modern scientific paradigm—has its historical root in the renaissance Hermetic version of soul travel and ascent. But the alchemical worldview hardened into the mechanical worldview of the 17th century, which I think is breaking up today.
Experimentation, measurement, technical mastery became the hallmarks of the new age. The question, How? replaced the question Why?
Truth was equated with utility, thanks to Bacon, among others. Newton told us, What is, is measurable. Fact and value were split apart. Vex nature and nature will yield its secrets.
So we tortured nature for four hundred years, uninterested in the consequences of our inventions. Technology became the source of a new epistemology embodied in the concept of experiment.”
Mr. Berman follows this statement with a brief discussion of his disappointment with the New Age movement, of which his book The Reenchantment Of The World (1981) was one of the more remarkable (and readable) examples on the New Age breathing life back into the Old Age.
Which I actually bought and read in the early ’80s—before Reagan and the resurgent Rep*blicans started ripping everything asunder.
Of which Mr Trump is only the most recent agent.
Painting by Mandiri Bhanduri titled “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
A world of early childhood damage
To wrap up the interview, Mr. Cox remarks, Isn’t it ironic that in the Information Age we seem to know less and less about the world. To which Mr. Berman replies with his final statement:
“The Gulf War was portrayed by the news as the war of graphics. We’re fed lots of information but we learn nothing.… We think in thirty second soundbites, and the information industry caters to that mentality. Information is instantly packaged so we don’t have to think, though we think we’re thinking.
But there are significant countermovements. Some people are dissatisfied with the larger culture and they’re moving away from a packaged and prefabricated world in which everything is handed to them in the form of a Harlequin romance.
Like many authors, I get the most remarkable letters from people all over this country. Dramatic stuff.
When the opportunity arises to forget our internal damage, we embrace it.
Not everybody has been so overwhelmed by the media that they want to stuff their pain, questions, and doubts [and] believe in the Gulf War, and think everything’s just fine. There are people who want to get to the bottom of their pain.
On a hidden, somatic level such change might be afoot and that’s a hopeful possibility.
Here’s another quote from Roethke: In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
Not Utopia perhaps, but just possibly a nonformulistic experience of life. And that’s not half bad, you know.”
And not once in the five pages worth of exchange with the interviewer did Berman mention “shock and awe,” the horrifying phrase conjured by the evil warlocks in the White House to sell the murder of tens of thousands of people, the destruction of countless ancient buildings, and the illegal plundering of countless historical and cultural artifacts.
Of course, that was not germane to the topic—I just wanted to mention it in case you have forgotten the countless horrors and crime leveled upon the Iraqi people by the American people.
Aside from Mr. Berman’s books, he oversees a rather interesting blog, Dark Ages America. DAA is noteworthy not only for his observations, but for the many comments he receives from his readers and his interacting with them. Go ahead and give it a read.
FEATURED IMAGE: For the image at the top of this page, I took Mandiri Bhanduri’s painting, flipped it on its side, then cropped the section you see from it! I wanted the section with the children’s art (?) to cut across the page horizontally, rather than vertically.