Sad to think that one day – and sooner rather than later – Noam Chomsky will no longer be with us. He’s in his mid-eighties and still follows a punishing schedule of travelling, lecturing, teaching, reading and writing. On the other hand, once he’s safely dead and gone, perhaps more people will listen to what the world’s number one Wise Man has been saying.
I’ve just read his Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire, a new collection of interviews with Noam Chomsky (the other “half” of the conversations being David Barsamian. I don’t have the brain power or the intellectual baggage to deal with his weightier, technical tomes, but this format is right up my street. Dip into this book anywhere and you come up dripping with common sense and wisdom.
On education, for example:
[…] Private power doesn’t like public education, for many reasons. One is the principle on which it’s based, which is threatening to power. Public education is based on a principle of solidarity. So, for example, I had my children fifty years ago. Nevertheless, I feel and I’m supposed to feel that I should pay taxes so that the kids across the street can go to school. That’s counter to the doctrine that you should just look after yourself and let everyone else fall by the wayside, a basic principle of business rule. Public education is a threat to that belief system because it builds up a sense of solidarity, community, mutual support. […] If you’re trying to maximise profit or maximise consumption, then working together is the wrong idea. It has to be beaten out of people’s heads.
On US drone attacks in Pakistan:
They’re horrible, but they’re also interesting. They tell us a lot about American ideology. The drone attacks are not a secret. There’s much we don’t know about them, but mostly they’re not a secret. The Pakistani population is overwhelmingly opposed to them, but they’re justified here on the grounds that the Pakistani leadership covertly agrees. Fortunately for us, Pakistan is so dictatorial that they don’t have to pay much attention to their population. So if the country is a brutal dictatorship, it’s great, because the leaders can secretly agree to what we’re doing and disregard their population […]. Pakistan’s lack of democracy is considered a good thing. And then in an adjacent newspaper article you read, “We’re promoting democracy.” It’s what George Orwell called “double think,” the ability to have two contradictory ideas in mind and believe both of them. That’s almost a definition of our intellectual culture. And this is a perfect example of it. Yes, the bombing is fine, because secretly the leadership agrees, even though they have to tell their population they’re against it because the population is overwhelmingly opposed.
When coercion doesn’t work anymore you have to turn to persuasion […] to control attitudes and opinion. That’s the origins of the public relations industry. […] We somehow have to persuade or change the attitudes of the population so they will be willing to hand over power to us. Whoever presents these views is always part of the “intelligent minority.” And the way we do it is through propaganda. […] The word took on bad connotations in the 1930s, but before that it was used freely. Now it’s called advertising or public relations.
On solidarity (or Republican crassness):
Rand Paul was asked at a Republican presidential debate what if “something terrible happens” to some guy who has no health insurance? What do you do? He said, “That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.” Then [he] said national health insurance is slavery. He said, I’m a physician, and if there’s national health insurance, the government is forcing me to take care of somebody who is ill. Why should I be a slave to the state? Here we’re getting capitalist pathology in its most extreme, lunatic form. It is the opposite of solidarity, mutual support, mutual help.
Or on climate change, the abuses of big capital, the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, unions, euphemisms… it’s all there, in short, clear sentences that pull no punches. A pleasure to read. And – let’s be honest – isn’t it comforting to have one’s worldview confirmed by Mr Chomsky himself? It’s just a pity he has nothing to say about cricket.