… Chomsky also addressed some of the issues confronting anarchist activism, noting that while anarchists stand against the state, they often advocate for state coercion in order to protect people from “the savage beasts” of the capitalists, as he put it. Yet he saw this as not a contradiction, but a streak of pragmatism. “People live and suffer in this world, not one we imagine,” Chomsky explained. “It’s worth remembering that anarchists condemn really existing states instead of idealistic visions of governments ‘of, by and for the people.’”
He then connected the libertarian socialist tradition to currents in American thought, quoting the philosopher John Dewey as saying that “Power today resides in control of the means of production, exchange, communication and transportation … workers should be the masters of their individual fates.” To Chomsky, “Dewey was American as apple pie.”
He contrasted Dewey’s critique of power with the ideals of the liberal/progressive tradition in the United States, noting that many of its leading lights, including Walter Lippmann, Samuel Huntington, and Woodrow Wilson, held extremely dim views of the majority of people, considering them dangerous, ignorant, and in need of control. Despite the historical tendency of elite groups of “ecclesiastical guardians,” like liberal technocrats or the Iranian Guardian Council to which he compared them, to seek control over society, he saw continued resistance. He finished his remarks on an optimistic note by pointing out that the anarchist critics of power are always recurring—during the English Civil War a “rabble” appeared that didn’t want to be ruled by either the king or Parliament—and that anarchism is like Marx’s old mole: always near the surface.
Throughout his talk Chomsky described how he became involved with anarchism. His extended family was involved in left-wing movements in Philadelphia and New York before World War II, and he spent time in New York’s Union Square, where many Leftists congregated—including Catalonian anarchists fleeing reprisals from Francisco Franco. He also pointed out that many working class people of the era were involved in high culture and were familiar with sympathetic poems such as Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, which memorialized the Peterloo Massacre.
It was a theme he returned to with the first question, which was about contemporary engagement with the arts. He contrasted two films from 1954, On the Waterfront and Salt of the Earth. The former was about a worker standing up to a corrupt union, had a wide release, and starred Marlon Brando. The latter was about union workers on strike and was effectively banned in the United States.
“When people in power believe something firmly, that’s worth investigating,” Chomsky said.
Finally, he was asked about the growth of surveillance and the militarization of the police.
“The phenomenon itself shouldn’t be surprising—the scale was surprising—but the phenomenon itself is as American as apple pie,” Chomsky said. “You can be confident that any system of power is going to use technology against its enemy: the population. Power systems seek short-term domination and control, not security.”
(In the US you) get an impression that everything is free and open because there are debates that are visible: the Democrats are debating the Republicans, and the press does its share of condemning. But what people don’t see — and the seeming openness of the debate conceals it — is that it is all within a very narrow framework. And you can’t go even a millimetre outside that framework. In fact, it is even taught in journalism schools here as the concept of ‘objectivity’ — that means describing honestly what’s going on inside that framework and if there is something outside, then no, that is subjective. (…) During the 2012 presidential elections, the two countries that were mentioned way more than anyone else in all debates were Israel and Iran. And Iran was described as the greatest threat to world peace. And that’s what’s repeated in the media all the time. There is an obvious question that no journalist would ask: who thinks so? They don’t think so in India; they don’t think so in the Arab world, they don’t think so in South America. The only countries to think so are the United States and England. But that you can’t report.
Considering today’s JSOC-CIA-drones/killing machines, Branfman reminds us about the Senate testimony in 1969 of Monteagle Stearns, US deputy chief of mission in Laos from 1969 to 1972.
Asked why the US rapidly escalated its bombing after President Johnson had ordered a halt over North Vietnam in November 1968, Stearns said, “Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn’t just let them stay there with nothing to do.” So we can use them to drive poor peasants in remote villages of northern Laos into caves to survive, even penetrating within the caves with our advanced technology.
JSOC and the drones are a self-generating terror machine that will grow and expand, meanwhile creating new potential targets as they sweep much of the world. And the executive won’t want them just “sitting around.”
Actually, the question of the Iranian threat is quite interesting. It’s discussed as if that’s the major issue of the current era. And not just in the United States, Britain too. This is ‘the year of Iran,’ Iran is the major threat, the major policy issue. It does raise the question: What’s the Iranian threat? That’s never seriously discussed, but there is an authoritative answer, which isn’t reported. The authoritative answer was given by the Pentagon and intelligence in April 2010; they have an annual submission to Congress on the global security system, and of course discussed Iran. They made it very clear that the threat is not military. They said Iran has very low military spending even by the standards of the region; their strategic doctrine is completely defensive, it’s designed to deter an invasion long enough to allow diplomacy to begin to operate; they have very little capacity to deploy force abroad. They say if Iran were developing nuclear capability, which is not the same as weapons, it would be part of the deterrent strategy,which is what most strategic analysts take for granted, so there’s no military threat. Nevertheless, they say it’s the most significant threat in the world. What is it? Well, that’s interesting. They’re trying to extend their influence in neighboring countries; that’s what’s called destabilizing. So if we invade their neighbors and occupy them, that’s stabilizing. Which is a standard assumption. It basically says, ‘Look, we own the world.’ And if anybody doesn’t follow orders, they’re aggressive.
[T]he strangest attack on Chomsky is the insinuation that he has changed nothing. Aside from the metrics demonstrating that he has more reach and influence than virtually any public intellectual in the world, some of which Edemariam cites, I’d say that there is no living political writer who has more radically changed how more people think in more parts of the world about political issues than he. If you accept the premise (as I do) that the key to political change is to convince people of pervasive injustice and the need to act, then it’s virtually laughable to depict him as inconsequential. Washington power-brokers and their media courtiers do not discuss him, and he does not make frequent (or any) appearances on US cable news outlets, but outside of those narrow and insular corridors - meaning around the world - few if any political thinkers are as well-known, influential or admired (to its credit, the Guardian, like some US liberal outlets, does periodically publish Chomsky’s essays).
Like any person with a significant political platform, Chomsky is fair game for all sorts of criticisms. Like anyone else, he should be subjected to intense critical and adversarial scrutiny. Even admirers should listen to his (and everyone else’s) pronouncements with a critical ear. Like anyone who makes prolific political arguments over the course of many years, he’s made mistakes.
But what is at play here is this destructive dynamic that the more one dissents from political orthodoxies, the more personalized, style-focused and substance-free the attacks become. That’s because once someone becomes sufficiently critical of establishment pieties, the goal is not merely to dispute their claims but to silence them. That’s accomplished by demonizing the person on personality and style grounds to the point where huge numbers of people decide that nothing they say should even be considered, let alone accepted. It’s a sorry and anti-intellectual tactic, to be sure, but a brutally effective one. [++]
There are solutions, but they do not fit the needs of the Masters, for whom the crises are no problem. They are bailed out by the Nanny State. Today corporate profits are breaking new records and the financial managers who created the current crisis are enjoying huge bonuses. Meanwhile, for the large majority, wages and income have practically stagnated in the last 30-odd years. By today, it has reached the point that 400 individuals have more wealth than the bottom 180 million Americans. In parallel, the cost of elections has skyrocketed, driving both parties even deeper into the pockets of those with the money, corporations and the super-rich. Political representatives become even more beholden to those who paid for their victories. One consequence is that by now, the poorest 70% have literally no influence over policy. As you move up the income/wealth ladder influence increases, and at the very top, a tiny percent, the Masters get what they want.Noam Chomsky (via azspot)
There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.
[…] Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.
These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.
The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.
Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.
In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.
Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.
The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.
Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.
Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.
This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.
This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict – unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD. [++]
'These agencies are good at killing people, targeted assassinations and overthrowing governments,' [Chomsky] told me. 'But if anyone were to honestly look at intelligence records, they'd find it all to be a very dubious affair as far as competence is concerned.' That is to say, the agency may have had no ethical qualms about spying on Chomsky, but whether it did, and successfully organized that information into its databases, is another story. 'We shouldn't be overwhelmed at their pretense of superhuman knowledge,' he added. 'That's mainly for spy novels.'The CIA has nothing on Noam Chomsky (no, really) | FP Passport
[T]he very foundation of the international order is that the United States has the right to use violence at will. … That’s what it means to own the world. It’s like the air you breathe. You can’t question it. The main founder of contemporary IR [international relations] theory, Hans Morgenthau, was really quite a decent person, one of the very few political scientists and international affairs specialists to criticize the Vietnam War on moral, not tactical, grounds. Very rare. He wrote a book called The Purpose of American Politics. You already know what’s coming. Other countries don’t have purposes. The purpose of America, on the other hand, is ‘transcendent’: to bring freedom and justice to the rest of the world. But he’s a good scholar, like Carothers. So he went through the record. He said, when you study the record, it looks as if the United States hasn’t lived up to its transcendent purpose. But then he says, to criticize our transcendent purpose ‘is to fall into the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds’ — which is a good comparison. It’s a deeply entrenched religious belief. It’s so deep that it’s going to be hard to disentangle it. And if anyone questions that, it leads to near hysteria and often to charges of anti-Americanism or ‘hating America’ — interesting concepts that don’t exist in democratic societies, only in totalitarian societies and here, where they’re just taken for granted.
Noam Chomsky, Why It’s “Legal” When the U.S. Does It
[The] Second Amendment isn’t totally lucid, but [what we have now] is a pretty weird reading of it. … I’ve got to be able to carry my assault rifle into Starbucks [to] get a cup of coffee. That takes off in a frightened country. And it is a very frightened country. Always has been, you go back to Colonial times…it was a terrified country.
Actually, you can see it in the Declaration of Independence. People intone the Declaration of Independence like they intone prayers in church without paying attention to what it says. But sometime pay attention to what it says. Some of it is just disgraceful, shameful. Like one of the charges against King George III is something like this: he unleashed against us the merciless Indian savages whose known way of warfare was murder and rape and so on. OK, when they were defending themselves from the invasion of the colonists, yes, there was a lot of that, but it was the colonists “known way of warfare,” the savage Europeans, the merciless European savages.
In fact, the Founding Fathers were well-aware of that. Even much later, you get people like John Quincy Adams toward the end of his life when his own major contributions, and they were major, to these atrocities were in the past, and he started reflecting on the past. He talked about that “hapless race of Native Americans who we are exterminating,” his word, “with such merciless savagery.” And they knew that. Thomas Jefferson knew that when he was writing those words. But we are the victims, no matter what is going on, we are the victims, of people who are defending themselves against us when we are invading and driving them out. We are going to “drive them over the Stony Mountains” and so on, but if they resist, they are merciless savages. Everybody reads that every July 4th, and we nod politely, but we’ve got to arm ourselves, who knows when the merciless Indian savages are going to come again. They had to arm themselves against blacks, there could be a slave revolt; huge number of slaves after all, suppose they revolt, kill all the men, rape all the women, you know, it is just imminent, we’ve got to have guns. And it just goes on like that right through American history.
By now you get things that are almost comical. Take say Rand Paul, Senator who is the libertarian hero, he has been trying to organize people to oppose the small arms treaty that is being negotiated at the United Nations. “Small arms” doesn’t mean knives and pistols. It is assault rifles and practically anything short of a tank. These “small arms” are slaughtering people all over the world. The U.S. is the main arms salesman by a long shot. And all over the world, the things that we are distributing around the world are killing masses of people. Right in Mexico, the majority of the arms that are confiscated in Mexico come from Texas and Arizona. … So, those are the arms. And, why do we have to oppose the “small arms treaty?” Well, Rand Paul explains. It is a plot by the United Nations and the radical socialists, you know, Obama and Clinton, to disarm us, to take away our Second Amendment rights so then they can come and conquer us. For the UN to conquer us is about as likely, actually less likely, than an asteroid hitting the earth. Somebody might just as well organize and say “OK, let’s build shelters because there is an asteroid coming.” It is almost laughable, except that it is real. And in a very frightened society you can do it. [++]
[…] A lot of rights are just being undermined and destroyed. The forms of social solidarity that allow people to combat this in a constructive way, those are being destroyed.
A very important factor is what’s happening to the union movement. The labor unions used to be the main cohesive force that carried people forward towards policies that are more beneficial to the general public. Again not 100%, but the tendency’s pretty strong and that’s of course the main reason why they’re so hated by the business world. They’ve been under sharp attack since the peak of their achievements. As soon as the Second World War was over the attack began, reinitiated I should say because this has happened over and over again in American history, and by now it’s very strong and the propaganda is working like a dream.
Take what happened in Michigan the other day, the so-called “right to work” law. The “right to work” conception is straight out of Orwell. The bills have absolutely nothing to do with right to work. If an individual person wants to make a personal contract with General Motors they can do it. Like you can make a contract with General Motors and say, “I’ll be your slave.” OK, they’ll make the contract with you. But if you want to work for General Motors and get the benefits of a union contract—and there are benefits—that’s why most workers want to join unions—there are real benefits: wages, working conditions, safety, pensions, all kinds of stuff—if you want to get those benefits and not pay for it, that’s what the so-called “right to work” laws are for. It’s really “right to scrounge” laws, but the propaganda is so strong that I haven’t seen a word in the press about this. It’s all “right to work.” And that sounds nice—that’s why I say it is right out of Orwell. You know, why shouldn’t people have a right to work? Should they have a right to scrounge? No, they shouldn’t have a right to scrounge. But that’s what these laws are about. And it’s been effective. There’s no doubt that it’s been effective. I mean, the union leadership has contributed to it as well in many ways. But nevertheless, it’s very effective propaganda and it’s led to blow after blow against working people and solidarity.
If you look back at what happens since that time there have been a lot of measures introduced to impose discipline. Take something as simple as raising tuition fees – it’s much more true in the US than elsewhere, but in the US tuition is now sky high – in part it selects things on a class basis but more than that, it imposes a debt burden. So if you come out of college with a big debt you’re not going to be free to do what you want to do. You may have wanted to be a public interest lawyer but you’re going to have to go to a corporate law firm. That’s quite a serious fact and there are many other things like it. In fact the drug war was started mainly for that reason, the drug war is a disciplinary system, it’s a way of ensuring that people are kept under control and it was almost consciously designed that way… The idea of freedom is very frightening for those who have some degree of privilege and power and I think that shows up in the education system too.Noam Chomsky (via azspot)