Noam Chomsky - Wikipedia
Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, social critic, and political activist. Sometimes called “the father of modern linguistics”, Chomsky is also a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. He holds a joint appointment as Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and laureate professor at the University of Arizona, and is the author of over 100 books on topics such as linguistics, war, politics, and mass media. Ideologically, he aligns with anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism.
Born to middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia, Chomsky developed an early interest in anarchism from alternative bookstores in New York City. At the age of 16 he began studies at the University of Pennsylvania, taking courses in linguistics, mathematics, and philosophy. From 1951 to 1955 he was appointed to Harvard University’s Society of Fellows, where he developed the theory of transformational grammar for which he was awarded his doctorate in 1955. That year he began teaching at MIT, in 1957 emerging as a significant figure in the field of linguistics for his landmark work Syntactic Structures, which remodeled the scientific study of language, while from 1958 to 1959 he was a National Science Foundation fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study. He is credited as the creator or co-creator of the universal grammar theory, the generative grammar theory, the Chomsky hierarchy, and the minimalist program. Chomsky also played a pivotal role in the decline of behaviorism, being particularly critical of the work of B. F. Skinner.
An outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, which he saw as an act of American imperialism, in 1967 Chomsky attracted widespread public attention for his anti-war essay “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”. Associated with the New Left, he was arrested multiple times for his activism and placed on President Richard Nixon’s Enemies List. While expanding his work in linguistics over subsequent decades, he also became involved in the Linguistics Wars. In collaboration with Edward S. Herman, Chomsky later co-wrote Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, an analysis articulating the propaganda model of media criticism, and worked to expose the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. Additionally, his defense of unconditional freedom of speech – including for Holocaust deniers – generated significant controversy in the Faurisson affair of the early 1980s. Following his retirement from active teaching, he has continued his vocal political activism, including opposing the War on Terror and supporting the Occupy movement.
One of the most cited scholars in history, Chomsky has influenced a broad array of academic fields. He is widely recognized as a paradigm shifter who helped spark a major revolution in the human sciences, contributing to the development of a new cognitivistic framework for the study of language and the mind. In addition to his continued scholarly research, he remains a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, neoliberalism and contemporary state capitalism, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and mainstream news media. His ideas have proved highly significant within the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movements, but have also drawn criticism, with some accusing Chomsky of anti-Americanism or alleging that he is sympathetic to terrorism and genocide denial.
Will Organized Human Life Survive?
Video recording on YouTube: Noam Chomsky - Best Speech In 2018
Transcript by Felton Davis, c/o Catholic Worker, and published by Dissident Voice.
Will Organized Human Life Survive?
A talk at St. Olaf College
by Noam Chomsky / September 24th, 2018
Quite a number of interesting and important topics were raised by the students who invited me here, and I wish that there were time to talk about all of them. I hope you will feel free to bring them up in discussion, but I thought what I would try to do rather than trying to review those briefly is to focus on just one question, the most important question that’s ever been asked in human history, a question that should be uppermost in everyone’s mind. It’s been hanging over our heads like a “sword of Damocles” for many years, becoming more urgent every year, and it has now reached the point where the question will be answered in this generation.
It’s your challenge to answer it, it can’t be delayed. The question is whether organized human life will indeed survive, and not in the distant future. The question was raised clearly to everyone with eyes open on August 6, 1945. I was then roughly your age. I happened to be at a summer camp, where I was a counselor. In the morning an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that the United States had obliterated the city of Hiroshima with a single bomb, the atom bomb. People listened, a few expressions of relief, and then everyone went on to their next activity: a baseball game, swimming, whatever it might be.
I was horrified, both by the news, and also by the casual reaction. I was so utterly horrified that I just took off and went off into the woods for a couple of hours to think about it. It was perfectly obvious if you thought about it for a second, not only about the horror of the event, but that humans in their glory had achieved the capacity to destroy everything. Not quite at that time, but it was clear that once the technology was established it would only develop further and escalate and reach the point of becoming what Dan Ellsberg in his recent book — central reading incidentally — calls “the doomsday machine,” an automatic system set up so that everything becomes annihilated, and as he points out, we have indeed constructed such a machine and we’re living with it.
Coming forward until today, leading specialists in these topics echo much the same double concern, but now in more stark and urgent terms than 1945. One of the leading nuclear specialists, former defense secretary William Perry, has been touring the country recently, with the message that he is, as he puts it, doubly terrified, terrified by the severe and mounting threat of nuclear war, and even more so by the lack of concern about the possible termination of organized human life.
And he’s not alone. Among others, General Lee Butler — formerly head of the US Strategic Command, which controls nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons policy — he recently reflected with deep remorse on his many years of service, in implementing plans for what is sometimes called “omnicide,” a crime far surpassing genocide, the crime of wiping out every living organism. He writes that “We have so far survived the nuclear age by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”
And he adds a haunting question, “By what authority do succeeding generations of leaders in the nuclear weapons states usurp the power to dictate the odds of continued life on our planet? And most urgently, why does such breathtaking audacity persist at a moment when we should stand trembling in the face of our folly, and united in our commitment to abolish its most deadly manifestations?”
And again, Ellsberg in his most recent book — and I urge that you read it, if you haven’t already — describes the record that he reviews, mostly from inside the government at the highest planning level for many years, he describes it as a chronicle of human madness, and that’s accurate enough. Repeatedly, we have come very close, ominously close, to terminal disaster. The record should really be studied carefully, it’s shocking. Sometimes it is due to the reckless acts of leaders, sometimes our leaders, very often through sheer accident. I’ll give you a couple of examples, there are actually hundreds, literally.
Take one in 1960, when it was discovered that the Russians might soon have missiles, the first early warning system was set up to detect a missile attack. The first day it went into operation it provided to high leaders the information that the Russians had launched a missile attack, with 99.9 percent certainty. Fortunately, people did not react the way they were instructed to react, and it turned out that there had been some miscalculations, and the radar had hit the Moon and bounced back, when it wasn’t expected to bounce back. That’s one case.
A couple of years later, in 1962, during what’s been called rightly the most dangerous moment in history — the Cuban Missile Crisis — the background is worth studying. I won’t have time to go into it, but it is reckless acts of leaders, including our own leaders. At the peak moment of threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis — which came extremely close to terminal disaster — at that moment there were Russian submarines outside the quarantine area that [President] Kennedy had established, and they were under attack by US destroyers that were dropping depth bombs on them. The conditions in the submarines were such that the crew could not really survive much longer, [because] they were not designed for service in the Caribbean , they were designed for the far north. The US did not know it at the time, but they had missiles with nuclear warheads, and the crew at some point decided, “Look, since they’re dropping bombs on us…” — they had no contact with anyone else, and thought there must be a nuclear war — “we might as well send off the ultimate weapon.” That would have been the end. There would have been a retaliation, and then we’re finished. To send off the missiles required the agreement of three submarine commanders. Two agreed, and one refused — Vasili Arkhipov — one of the reasons why we’re still here.
Many other cases. In 1979, the national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was literally on the phone ready to call President Carter, saying that there was definite information of a massive Russian missile attack, when he got a call saying there was an error. So he didn’t call him.
A year later, [President] Ronald Reagan came into office, and one of his first acts was to start a program to probe Russian defenses. The objective was to determine what kind of defenses the Russians had against our attack, if we had one. The official wording was “to practice command and staff procedures with particular emphasis on the transition from conventional to non-conventional operations, use of nuclear weapons.” The idea was to simulate air and naval attacks on Russia , with all of this made as public as possible to the Russians, because they wanted to see how they would react, including simulated nuclear attacks.
At the time it was thought that the Russians would probably figure out that it was simulated and would not react. Now that the Russian archives came out, it turns out that they took it pretty seriously, just as we would certainly have done. In fact one of the leading US intelligence analyses that recently appeared concludes from the record — it’s title is “The War Scare Was For Real” — that they took it extremely seriously. Right in the midst of this — the Russian detection systems which were far more primitive than ours — they did detect an ongoing US missile attack. The protocol is for the human being who receives it — his name happened to be [Stanislav] Petrov — he’s supposed to take that information and send it up to the Russian high command, and then they decide whether to release a totally destructive missile attack on us. He just decided not to do it. He decided it was probably wasn’t serious — another reason why we’re alive. You can add him to the roll of honor.
This goes on time after time. There have been literally hundreds of cases that came very close. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, as you probably know, established what they call “the doomsday clock” shortly after the atomic bombing. What they do is that every year a group of physicists, nuclear specialists, political and strategic analysts, get together and try to assess the state of the world and threats to the world, and set the minute hand of the doomsday clock a certain number of minutes before midnight. “Midnight” means say goodbye, we’re finished. The first setting, in 1947, was seven minutes to midnight. It reached the most frightening setting, just two minutes to midnight, in 1953, when what was easy to anticipate in 1945, had happened. First the United States, and then the Soviet Union, carried out tests of hydrogen bombs, vastly more destructive than atom bombs. In fact, an atom bomb is just used as a trigger to set it off, with huge destructive capacity.
That meant that human intelligence had reached the point where we could easily destroy all life, no problem. And the minute hand reached two minutes then. Since then it has oscillated, but in recent years it’s been approaching midnight again. In January 2017, right after President Trump’s inauguration, the minute hand was advanced to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight. Last January , after a year of Trump in office, it was advanced another half minute, to two minutes to midnight. That’s a sign that we have now matched the closest point to terminal disaster in the nuclear age, ominously close. That was January. A couple months later, President Trump’s nuclear posture review was released, and raises the dangers further. I presume that if the clock were set now, it might be moved another half minute to midnight.
I will return to current crises, which are very real, how they are being handled, and what we might do about them, to avoid disaster. But first something else. Since 1945, we have been somehow surviving the nuclear age, actually miraculously, and we can’t count on miracles going on forever. What we didn’t know in 1945 was that humans were entering into another epoch, a new one, which is no less ominous. It’s what geologists call the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which human activity is destroying the environment.
There have been debates among scientists about when to date the onset of the Anthropocene [epoch]. But last year the World Geological Society determined that a proper time to set it is right after World War II, the same time as the nuclear age. The reason is because of the sharp escalation at that point in human activities which were significantly damaging and will soon destroy the environment for organized life. We might add that the Anthropocene carries with it automatically a third major epoch which is called “the sixth extinction.” If you look through millions of year of history there have been periods in which some event caused a mass extinction of animal life. The last one was [65 million] years ago, when an asteroid hit the Earth, and destroyed about 75 percent of animal life, ending the age of the dinosaurs, and actually opened the way for small mammals to survive. They ultimately became us, and we are determined to become another asteroid, intent on destroying all or most animal life on Earth, and we’re well advanced in that process.
So there are three major epochs that we’ve been living with: the nuclear age, the Anthropocene, and the sixth extinction, all accelerating. So let’s just ask how dangerous is the Anthropocene? I’ll give you a couple of illustrations from some of the leading scientific journals, and recent articles, starting with Nature, a British journal, the leading scientific article. The title of the article is “Global Warming’s Worst Case Projections Look Increasingly Likely.”
that temperatures could rise nearly five degrees centigrade by the end of this century. The odds that temperatures could increase more than four degrees by 2010, in the current scenario, increased from 62 percent to 93 percent.”
In other words, pretty near certain. If you go back to the Paris negotiations of December 2015, the hope was in the international negotiations that the temperature rise could be kept to 1.5 degrees centigrade rise, and they considered that maybe 2 percent would be tolerable. Instead we’re heading to 4 or 5 percent, with very high confidence.
Here’s one from a recent World Meteorological Organization: “Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere surged at a record-breaking speed in 2016” — the last figures they have — “to the highest level in 800,000 years. The abrupt changes in atmosphere witnessed in the past 70 years” — the Anthropocene — “are without precedent in the geological record. Globally averaged concentrations of CO reached over [410?] parts per million, up from just 400 parts per million in 2015,” which has been considered the upper tolerable limit, so we’re now beyond it.
“The concentrations of CO are now 150 percent above the pre-industrial level. Rapidly increasing atmospheric levels of CO and other greenhouse gases have the potential to initiate unprecedented changes in climate systems, leading to severe ecological and economic destruction.”
The last time the Earth experience a comparable concentration of CO was somewhere around 3 to 5 million years ago. At that point the temperature was 2 to 3 degrees centigrade above now, and the sea level was 30 to 60 feet higher than it is now. That’s what we’re moving to in the near future. In fact we’re going beyond because the prediction is 4 to 5 degrees centigrade. Well, I’ll leave the effects to your imagination.
Here’s a final example, from Science, one of the leading American science journals: “Even slightly warmer temperatures, less than anticipated, in coming years, can start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice. There’s twice as much carbon in permafrost as in the atmosphere. This will release huge amounts of methane which is actually far more lethal than CO, although of shorter persistence. And that accelerates other processes that are already underway, like the rapid melting of polar ice. Polar ice, as it melts, reduces the reflective surface for the Sun’s rays, and creates more absorbent surfaces than dark seas. So that accelerates warming, and could lead to a non-linear process in which everything blows up. It’s leading among other things to the breaking up and melting of huge Antarctic ice caps. One of them, West Antarctica , contains enough ice to raise sea level more than 10 feet.
Pretty easy to continue… In brief the prospects are extremely serious, in fact they’re really awesome, which raises an obvious question: what are we going about it, how are we reacting? Well, the world is actually taking some steps, inadequate, but at least something, there’s a commitment. And states and localities in the United States are also taking steps, which is quite important. But what is of prime importance, of course, is the federal government, the most powerful institution in human history.
So what is it doing? It’s withdrawing from the international efforts, but beyond that, it’s committed to increasing the use of the most destructive fossil fuels. So our federal government, for which we are responsible, is dramatically leading our race to destruction, while we sit and watch. That’s pretty astounding. That ought to be the screaming headline in every day’s newspaper, ought to be the main topic you study in every class. There’s never been anything like it. And it is astounding, as is the lack of attention, another doubly terrifying phenomenon. We should be asking, among other things, what this tells us about our society, and about our culture, what we are immersed in. And remember, all of this is imminent, we’re approaching this rapidly, this century, your task is to do something about it, and we’re ignoring it. We’re racing towards it, and we’re ignoring it.
Meanwhile our chief competitor in destroying the planet, the Saudi Arabian dictatorship, has just announced plans to spend 7 billion dollars this year, for 7 new solar plants, and a big wind farm. That’s part of an effort on its part to move from oil, which destroys everything, to solar, renewable energy. This is Saudi Arabia. And that highlights how lonely we are in our race to destruction. Even the extreme reactionary dictatorship of Saudi Arabia, which lives on oil, refuses to join us in our unique insanity, which is dedicated to destroying organized human life.
And it’s not just the current administration. The entire Republican Party leadership agrees. If you go back to the 2016 primaries, every single candidate denied that what was happening is happening, with the exception of those who were called “sensible moderates.” Jeb Bush, who said it’s all kind of uncertain, but we don’t have to do anything about it, because we’re producing more natural gas, thanks to fracking, in other words making it worse. The other sensible moderate, an adult in the womb as he was called, was John Kasich, the Governor of Ohio, he’s the one person who agreed that anthropogenic global warming is taking place, but he added, “We’re going to burn coal in Ohio , and we’re not going to apologize for it.” On ethical grounds, that’s the worst of all, when you think about it.
Well, what about the media? They totally ignored this spectacle. Every crazy thing you can imagine was discussed extensively in the massive coverage of the primaries, but not the fact that the entire leadership of the party was saying, “Let’s quickly destroy ourselves.” Nothing — go back and check. Almost no comment about it. The denialism of the leadership is having an effect on public opinion.
So Republican voters have been climate change skeptics for a long time, way beyond anything in the world, but it’s gotten far more extreme since Trump took office. And the numbers are pretty shocking. So by now, half of Republican voters deny that global warming is taking place at all. And only 30 percent think humans may be contributing to global warming. I don’t think you can find anything like that among any significant part of the population, anywhere in the world. And it should tell us something. One thing it should tell us is that there’s a lot to do for those who hope that maybe organized human life will survive. We’re not talking about a remote future. Just think about the numbers I gave you before. We’re talking about something imminent.
Well let’s put [climate crisis] aside for a moment and go back to the growing threat of nuclear war. Are these ominous developments inexorable? So should we just throw up our hands in despair, and say okay, we’re finished, have a nice time, good-bye? That’s not at all true. There are very plausible answers in every single case that exists: diplomatic options are always open, and there are straightforward general principles that can be quite effective.
One principle is quite simple: obey the law. Not a particularly radical idea. Almost unheard of, but it could have some consequences. So what is the law? Well there is something called the US Constitution which people are supposed to honor and revere. The Constitution has parts, Article Six for example. Article Six of the Constitution says that valid treaties are the supreme law of the land, and every elected official is required to observe them.
What’s the most important treaty of the modern period? Unquestionably it’s the United Nations Charter. Article One of the Charter requires us to keep to peaceful means to resolve international tensions and disputes, and to refrain from the threat or use of force in international affairs. And I stress “threat” because that is violated all the time by every president and every high political leader. Every time you hear the phrase “all options are open,” that’s violating the supreme law of the land, if anyone cares.
Let’s take a couple of examples. Let’s take Iran, an important example. A good deal of the talk about the possibility that Iran may be violating the joint comprehensive agreement — the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the “Iran deal” — there’s absolutely no evidence for that. US intelligence says they’re observing it, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] that carries out repeated inspections says they’re observing it completely.
There’s a lot of discussion about it, but there’s no talk about something else: is the US violating the agreement? Try to check to see if anybody’s talked about that. The answer to that is pretty simple: the US is radically violating the agreement and has been all along. The agreement states that all participants — meaning us — are not permitted to impede in any way Iran’s re-integration into the global economy, particularly the global financial system, which we pretty much control, since everything works through New York. We are not permitted to interfere in any way with the normalization — I’m quoting it — the normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran. We’re doing that all the time, and in fact are proud of it. All violations of the agreement. But it’s ignored on a principle that’s kind of interesting, the prevailing tacit assumption that the United States just stands above the law, including its own laws. So we don’t have to observe our laws, or any other laws, because we’re just unique, we do what we like.
See if you can find an exception to that in the discourse on this topic. Well, in a couple of days as you know President Trump will probably withdraw from the treaty, possibly. That’s a gift to the hard-liners in Iran , it tells them that maybe they should return to nuclear programs. That’s an opening for the new national security advisor John Bolton, or Binyamin Netanyahu, both of whom have called for bombing Iran right away, even while they fully respect the terms of the agreement that we’ve already violated quite publicly, there’s no secret about it. And the consequences could be horrendous. But there happens to be a way of blocking those consequences, namely, by the very simple device of respecting our own law, in fact the supreme law of the land. Again, see if you can find the suggestion to that effect.
Are there peaceful options? Pretty obviously, in this case, we could join the rest of the world, and permit the agreement to continue to function. Or better, we might turn to improvement of the agreement. That’s one thing that Trump has vociferously demanded. And there’s good ways to do that. One obvious proposal for improving the agreement, which is ignored entirely, is to move towards establishing a nuclear weapons free zone in the region. There are such agreements in various parts of the world, in Latin America, for example, and it’s a step towards mitigating the threat of disaster.
So what about a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East? If that were established, it would end any conceivable Iranian threat that you could imagine. So is there a problem of establishing it? Actually there is one problem, but it’s not the one that comes to mind. There’s certainly no problem convincing Iran because they have been calling for this for years, vociferously. Certainly not any problem with the Arab world, they’re the ones who initiated the proposal 25 years ago. And the rest of the world agrees as well. There’s one exception: the United States refuses to allow this, and it comes up every couple of years in the annual review meetings of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, countries in which it’s continually brought up, and continually vetoed by the United States , most recently by President Obama in 2015.
And the reasons are perfectly clear to everyone. The US will not permit Israeli nuclear weapons even to be examined by the International Agency [IAEA], let alone be dismantled. So therefore we can’t proceed with this very simple way of eliminating any nuclear threat from Iran or anyone else in the region.
And also not discussed is that the United States and Britain have a special obligation, a unique obligation to pursue a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. The reason is United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 — you can look it up on the internet — which was initiated by the US. This was the resolution that was initiated when the US and Britain, back in 1991, a resolution which called on Iraq to terminate any nuclear weapons programs. The US and Britain relied on this resolution in 2003 when they were trying to concoct some pretext for their planned invasion of Iraq. So they appealed to this resolution and said, we think Iraq is violating it, which in fact they weren’t, and they knew they weren’t.
But if you read that resolution and go to Article Fourteen, it commits the signers to work for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. So the US and Britain are uniquely committed to working for this by the Security Council resolution that they initiated. Again, check to see if it ever discussed.
So in short, US willingness to observe US law could bring this crisis to a very quick end, and could even move on to a better solution. For example, if we were willing to observe Security Council resolutions that we ourselves have instituted to end the illegal threats of force by every recent president and other high officials, and to end our constant violations of the Iran nuclear agreement.
So there’s an easy answer to this crisis, really simple: obey the law. Okay? That would end the crisis. Again, I would advise you to search to see how often this is discussed, and what that implies about our educational system, our culture, our media, our universities, and so on.
Well, let’s turn to the other major threat, North Korea. There has been a proposal on the table for some years about how to reduce the threat in northeast Asia. It’s called a double-freeze. It was initiated by China, supported by North Korea, supported by Russia, general support throughout the world. The idea is that North Korea should freeze its weapons and nuclear programs, and in return the United States should call off the threatening military maneuvers that the US constantly carries out on North Korea’s border, including flights on the border by our most advanced nuclear-capable bombers, warning of the threat of total obliteration of North Korea, constantly happening.
It’s no joke for the North Koreans — they have a little memory that we may want to forget, but at the end of the Korean War when it was more or less settled, US bombing was so intensive that there was nothing left to bomb, literally. So the Air Force General MacArthur started destroying dams, major dams, and if you read the Air Force history they exult about this. It happens to be a crime for which people were hanged at Nuremberg, but again, we’re above the law. But the North Koreans can remember, and when these advanced nuclear-capable bombers are flying they evoke some memory.
So double-freeze is one possibility. Double-freeze could easily open the way to further negotiations, and at this point, the record becomes important, and you can find it, in the scholarly record, not in the press, but in the scholarly record. There have been successes in negotiations. The major one was in 2005. The Bush administration was pressured by international pressure to return to negotiations, and the negotiations were extremely successful. North Korea agreed — I’m quoting the final document — agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing weapons programs, and to allow international inspections. In return for that the US agreed to establish a consortium that would provide North Korea with a light-water reactor for medical use. The US would also issue a non-aggression pledge and an agreement that the two sides would respect each others’ sovereignty, exist peacefully together, and take steps to normalize relations.
Instantly, the Bush administration renewed the threat of force, froze North Korean funds that were in foreign banks, and disbanded the consortium that was to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. The leading US Korea scholar, Bruce Cummings, writes that the sanctions were specifically designed to destroy the September pledges, and to head off an accommodation between Washington and Pyongyang. That was 2005, and I’ve been searching the press for some time to see if these facts could even be reported, breaking the constant refrain that North Korea has broken all agreements and so can’t be trusted. We can’t review it now, but I urge you to try, you’ll learn a lot.
That path could be pursued again, but as we know, there are even better options, and it’s worth taking a close look at them. On April 27 , North and South Korea signed a remarkable historic document — the Panmunjeom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity, Unification of the Korean Peninsula — and it’s worth reading carefully. I urge you to do that. Not the commentary, the actual words. In this declaration, the two Koreas “affirm the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord.” On their own accord. Continuing, “to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, to actively cooperate to establish a permanent and solid peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, to carry out disarmament on a phased level manner, to achieve the common goal of realizing through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, to strengthen the positive momentum towards continuous advancement of inter-Korean relations, as well as peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean Peninsula.” And they further agreed “to actively seek the support and cooperation of the international community,” which means the United States, “for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
It’s important to read those words, their import is very clear. What they’re saying is, the US should back off and allow the two Koreas to achieve peace, disarmament, unification and complete denuclearization on their own, “on their own accord,” in the words of the declaration. So we, the United States, should accept the call for support and cooperation in this endeavor by the two parts of the Korean nation to determine their destiny “on their own accord.” To put it more simply, the declaration is a polite letter saying, “Dear Mr. Trump, declare victory if you want to prance around in public, but please go away and let us move towards peace, disarmament, and unification without disrupting the process.”
That plea could hardly be more clear, and the general interpretation here is quite revealing. The general interpretation is that this complicates Washington ‘s strategy. As the New York Times explains, “Mr. Trump will find it hard to threaten military action against a country that is extending an olive branch.” Okay? That’s the liberal side. It’s entirely true that threatening military action, which happens to be a criminal act, us hard when the target is extending an olive branch, so we have some problems.
Well, case after case — and I won’t go through other cases — we find that there are peaceful diplomatic options. We can’t ever be certain that they will work, but they should always be prioritized, in accordance with our international obligations, in fact, in accord with the supreme law of the land. Is this hopeless? No, far from it, we have plenty of evidence for that.
So let’s go back to that very important date in modern history, November 8, . Huge coverage of that date, and several events happened that are significant. The least significant of those was the one that gets most of the coverage, the election of Donald Trump. It’s a little bit unusual, but not that far out of the norm, that a billionaire with a huge amount of campaign spending and huge media support wins the presidency. That’s kind of within the norm. But something really surprising did happen, the Sanders campaign broke with nearly all of American political history. For well over a century, American elections have been mainly bought, literally. You can predict the outcome of an election with almost complete certainty by just looking at campaign funding — there’s extensive, detailed, academic study of this, both for president and congress. What happened in November 2016 was different. For the first time, a candidate came very close to winning the nomination, and would have won the nomination, probably, if the Democratic Party managers hadn’t manipulated affairs to keep him out and he did it without any campaign funding from any of the major sources. No corporate funding, no wealth, no media support — he was either ignored, or denigrated in the media. That’s a real breakthrough. What’s more he ended up by becoming by far the most popular political candidate in the country. Take a look at the polls. You can see it on Fox News in fact, well above any other figure in popularity.
In a democratic society the most popular political figure in the country just carried off a remarkable break in well over a century of political history, you’d hear him once in a while. Okay, I urge to you to take a look and make your own decisions. That’s a more important event that took place on November 8, 2016 .
There’s another one that doesn’t get covered, but should. At that time the world was carrying out the successor negotiations to the Paris negotiations on climate change of December 2015, aimed at a verifiable treaty to do something about this ominous threat. They couldn’t reach a treaty, for one reason, the Republican Party would not permit it. So they couldn’t have a treaty, it was a voluntary agreement. The following year, 2016, they were meeting again to try to put some teeth into the treaty. On November 8th, the day of the American elections, the World Meteorological Organization — this was taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco — where the World Meteorological Organization released a study on the very dire state of the climate, the kind of thing that I gave a couple of samples of before. Then the election results came in, and the meeting basically stopped. The question before the international world is: can the world survive when the most powerful county in history is taken over by a political party that not only denies that what is happening is happening, but is committed to accelerate the race to destruction?
And they kind of hoped that maybe China would save the world from disaster. Just think about that for a moment: maybe China will save the world from the disaster that the Republican Party is bringing to the world. I’ll let you think about that. But the fact is that there are plenty of things that can be done, and the success of the Sanders campaign and particularly in the aftermath, lots of things are going on that fed from it that could make a difference. But it doesn’t happen on its own — it takes serious engagement.
Well, to go back to the beginning, your generation — that’s you — is facing the most awesome question that has ever arisen in human history. The question is: will organized human life survive? And we’re talking about the near future, can’t escape it. There are plenty of opportunities, but like it or not, it’s up to you to determine the fate of the human species. It’s an awesome responsibility, one that cannot be evaded. Thanks.
Noam Chomsky full length interview: Who rules the world now?
Video recording on YouTube: Noam Chomsky full length interview: Who rules the world now?
Channel 4 News Published on May 14, 2016
Cathy Newman’s full interview with Philosopher Noam Chomsky. From Trump and Clinton, to climate change, Brexit and TPP, America’s foremost intellectuals presents his views on who rules the world today.
Transcript by Henry Kim, and published in Blogspot
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Chomsky. Transcript. Kathy Newman. Ch4. 14 May 2016.
- Newman: Mr. Chomsky, that impotence of voters, that angry impotence as you talk about, presumably you’d say that is what is responsible for the rise of Donald Trump.
- Chomsky: It’s pretty clear what is responsible for the rise of the support for Trump and there’s general Agreement about it. If you take a simple look at economic statistics, the primary support for Trump is coming from mostly white, Working Class, poor People who’ve been cast by the wayside during the liberal period. They’ve lived through a generation of Stagnation or Decline. Real Wages are about what they were in the 1960s, but it’s also been a Decline in functioning Democracy. Overwhelming evidence reveals that even their own elected representatives barely reflect their interest and concerns. Contempt for Institutions, especially Congress, has just increased, skyrocketed. It’s down in single digits often. These are People who. Meanwhile there has, of course, been Wealth, Wealth created. It’s gone into very few hands, mostly into a fraction of the top 1%, so there’s enormous opulence.
- Newman: Yes, indeed. How dangerous do you think this all is in terms of Donald Trump, for example? I mean, he has been toning down some of his most extreme pronouncements recently. He may, if he ever got anywhere near Power, he could be held in check by congressmen. How dangerous do you think he is to America?
- Chomsky: Well, the greatest danger that he, and indeed every Republican candidate poses is barely mentioned. It’s kind of reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes’ dog that did not bark. The greatest danger is that there are two huge dangers that the human Species faces that we’re now in a situation where we have to decide whether the Species survives in a decent form. One is the rising danger of nuclear War, which is quite serious, and the other is environmental catastrophe. On these issues, Donald Trump and the other Republican candidates are basically uniform.
- Newman: Do you believe that Hilary Clinton, the Democratic front runner, would champion those issues in a way that would satisfy you?
- Chomsky: Not in any way that would satisfy me, but at least she recognizes that climate change is going on and that we have to do something about it. Every single Republican candidate denies that it’s happening with the sole exception of Casey, who says, “Sure, it’s happening, but we shouldn’t do anything about it.” That’s having an impact.
- The Paris negotiations last December were aiming at a treaty. They couldn’t reach it for a simple reason, the Republican Congress would not accept it. It’s a voluntary Agreement which means even the weak standards that were proposed will be … It undermines the likelihood that even they will be met. Every Republican candidate, including Trump, wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and Richard Nixon’s legacy to cut back Regulation, to restore the precipices as quickly as possible.
- On militarism, every one of them wants to raise the huge military budget. It’s already over half of discretionary spending leading right now is one factor leading to Confrontations, which could be extremely hazardous. This, again, is not being discussed.
- Newman: Indeed, well I suggest one thing perhaps that you might agree with Donald Trump on would be about the EU. He talks about the fact that the UK may leave the EU. You’ve railed against European Union Bureaucracy. Could you agree with him on that?
- Chomsky: No, I don’t. In fact, I actually have no real strong opinion on Brexit, but my concern about it would be that it would weaken the European Union, but it would also probably leave Britain even more, don’t want to use too strong a word, subordinate to US Power than it is today, which I don’t think would be a good thing for the World or Britain.
- Newman: What, in a nutshell, is the answer to who rules the World now?
- Chomsky: As I try to discuss in the book, there is no simply answer. We usually think of States when that question is raised and with regard to States, there’s no doubt that the United States, despite its decline for many, many years, is still overwhelmingly more powerful than any State or Group of States. That’s only one factor. States have internal structures and internal distribution of Power. In the United States, Power is overwhelmingly, and increasingly in recent years, in the hands of a very narrow sector of corporate Wealth, private Wealth and Power. They have counterparts elsewhere who agree with them, who interact with them largely, and that’s another dimension that rules the World. There’s also the Public. The Public can have, sometimes does have, enormous Power. We can go back to David Hume, first major modern Work on Political Philosophy, Foundations of the Theory of Government, pointed out that Force is on the side of the governed. Those who are governed have the Force if they are willing to and eager to and recognize the possibility to exercise it. Sometimes they do. That’s a major Force in who rules the World.
- Newman: When it comes to State Power, you don’t buy the idea of China is the next Superpower, the imminent Superpower?
- Chomsky: China? China plays a very important role in the World, undoubtedly. If you take a look at, say, per capita Income, it’s far behind the United States and other developed States. It has enormous internal problems like demographic, ecological, resources, and so on. It’s undoubtedly going to play an important. In military terms, it’s not even a fraction of the United States and Western Power. Yes, economically it’s significant, but bear in mind that a good deal of Chinese Production is actually foreign-owned. Apple, World’s major Corporation, happens to produce in China largely, but that’s US Production, which happens to use Chinese facilities, Labour and other facilities. China is a growing, developing Power in some domains. In fact, it’s gone quite far even in high technology industries. For example, in Production of solar panels, China’s in the lead, not just in mass Production but also in innovation and high tech Development. All of this is significant, but is by no means a Power on the scale of the United States. In fact, take a look at the Confrontations between China and the United States now. There are serious Confrontations. Are they in the Caribbean? Are they off the coast of California? No, they’re in Waters around China where China and others have territorial claims. That’s a symbolic reflection of the nature of State Power.
- Newman: Well, you described your scathing about the United States. No one would be surprised to hear that. You describe it as a leading terrorist State. I’m just interested how you describe Russia.
- Chomsky: How do I describe Russia? Authoritarian, brutal, and harsh. Carrying out ugly actions in its own region. The United States, on the other hand, Carries out such actions all over the World. In fact, again, look at. There are serious Confrontations between Russia and the United States. Once again, are they on the Mexican Border, the Canadian Border? No, they’re on the Russian Border. In fact, right at the point of the traditional invasion route through which Russia has been virtually destroyed several times in the past century, also earlier History, again it’s no apologetics for what Putin may be doing, but it should lead us to have a rational perspective on the Relationship between these Forces in the World. As for the US being the leading terrorist State, I should say that’s hardly just my opinion. For example, when I was introduced, the person who introduced me said that how I regard the United States is the gravest Threat to World Peace. That’s not exactly, that misrepresents the situation. There are international polls run by the leading US polling agency, Gallop. It’s international affiliated. One of the questions they ask is: Which [Nation] is the gravest Threat to World Peace? The United States was first by a huge margin. Far behind, in second place, is Pakistan. That’s undoubtedly inflated by the Indian vote, and others have slight mention. That’s global opinion. I should mention that this was not even reported in the United States. It happened to be reported by BBC. It wasn’t reported in the United States. As for being a terrorist State, President Obama’s global Assassination Campaign is an extreme terrorist War. I mean, if Iran, let’s say, was Carrying out a Campaign to assassinate People around the World who it thought might be planning to harm Iran, we would regard it as Terrorism. For example, if they were bombing the editorial offices of The New York Times and The Washington Post, which publish op-eds by prominent figures saying we should bomb Iran [fucking] right now, not wait, so obviously they want to harm Iran. Suppose Iran was assassinating them and anybody who happened to be standing around all over. Would we regard that as Terrorism? I think we would.
- Newman: Well, let me put a few questions to you from People online who are sending in questions via Facebook. First, Gary says, what are the dangers of TTIP?
- Chomsky: Of Putin?
- Newman: No, no, no, sorry. What are the dangers of tee-tee-eye-pee? The Transatlantic Trade Partnership? Tee-tee-eye-pee. Tee-tee-eye-pee.
- Chomsky: Tee-tee-eye-pee. Yeah, they’re pretty extreme, in fact. Chuckle of Newman. GreenPeace a couple of days ago released 280 pages of internal documents on this so called Trade Agreement, and they spell out details of what all of us should know. The so called Free Trade Agreements are not Free Trade Agreements. In fact, to a large extent they’re not even Trade Agreements. These are Investor rights Agreements. There’s a reason why they’re kept secret from the Public. As soon as you look at them, you see why. Notice I say secret from the Public, not secret. They’re not kept secret. They’re not secret to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the detailed Regulations. Of course, in the interests of their constituents. It doesn’t happen to be the Public of the World or their own Countries. These are highly protectionist for the benefit of a private Power. So called intellectual property rights effectively raise Tariffs, they’re called Patents, which have an enormous impact on Economies. Wonderful for pharmaceutical and media conglomerates and others. The Investors at Corporations are given the right to sue Government, something you and I can’t do but a Corporation can, to sue Government for harming their potentially future Profits. You can figure out what that means. Such cases are already in the courts. They’re not in the courts, they go to private adjudication Groups made up largely of corporate representatives. They’re already with NAFTA. We can expect more of them. There are provisions that undermine efforts at Regulation, including incidentally a Regulation of environmental dangers. Rather strikingly, the phrase climate change does not appear in these 280 pages, which are illustrative of the whole structure. They have almost no. I should say these Agreements, so called Pacific and Atlantic, have virtually no effect on Tariffs. Tariffs are already quite low among the major trading partners. When you read the propaganda about it, it says, oh yeah, sure, Vietnam’s going to have to lower its Tariffs. Almost no effect on Trade. The major trading partners already have Agreements that have reduced the Tariffs very substantially with a few exceptions, not many. We should disabuse ourself of the illusion that these are Free Trade Agreements. Anything but. And to a large extent, not even Trade Agreements. We have the Experience of others like NAFTA, many years of Experience. Take, say, NAFTA, it has all of the aspects that I just described but even more, consider even what is called Trade Interactions across the US/Mexico Border. They’ve increased substantially since NAFTA. Economists will tell you Trade has greatly increased, but have a look at them. For example, suppose that General Motors that produces parts in Indiana sends them to Mexico for Assembly and sells the Car in Los Angeles. That’s called Trade in both directions, but it’s not. It’s Interactions internal to a command Economy. It’s as if during the days of the Soviet Union, parts were made say in Leningrad, sent to Warsaw for Assembly, then sold in Moscow. We wouldn’t call that Trade. That’s Interactions internal to a command Economy.
- Newman: Well, Noam Chomsky, thank you very much for being so generous with your time and for staying on to have that live online discussion. Thank you.
Noam Chomsky - Why They Hate the West
Video recording on YouTube: Noam Chomsky - Why They Hate the West
Transcript automatically generated by YouTube.
- 00:00 why is there hatred against us there
- 00:03 George Bush’s famous question well
- 00:05 everyone knows the answer to this a
- 00:07 couple of days after the I mean they
- 00:10 have to distinguish two things here
- 00:11 there’s a category of people called
- 00:14 intellectuals their task is to make up
- 00:17 fabrications that protect power and
- 00:21 divert attention from what’s obvious and
- 00:24 indoctrinate people and so on they’ve
- 00:27 concocted all sorts of complicated
- 00:29 stories about globalization and you know
- 00:31 failure din to the modern world and this
- 00:34 that and the other thing okay we and
- 00:36 they envy us because we’re so wonderful
- 00:38 etc etc are we put all that aside that
- 00:40 standard propaganda let’s talk about
- 00:43 what is plainly the case and it is in
- 00:47 fact discussed by serious people like
- 00:49 say the Wall Street Journal so a few
- 00:51 days after the September 11th the Wall
- 00:54 Street Journal to it began running
- 00:58 serious stories in which they
- 01:01 investigated opinions of the people in
- 01:04 the Islamic world who they’re interested
- 01:06 in what they called money Muslims the
- 01:09 ones with the rich ones important ones
- 01:11 so bankers international lawyers
- 01:15 directors of multinational corporations
- 01:18 people who are right inside the US
- 01:21 system who certainly have no opposition
- 01:22 to what’s called globalization in fact
- 01:25 that part of it who certainly hate in
- 01:27 Laden because he’s trying to kill them
- 01:29 you know but who nevertheless agree with
- 01:32 much of what he says and what they say
- 01:35 is their opinions are that the United
- 01:38 States supports brutal and corrupt
- 01:40 regimes which block democracy and
- 01:43 modernization and development they
- 01:47 oppose particular policies like the
- 01:49 decisive us support for the 35-year up
- 01:53 military occupation of Palestinian
- 01:57 territory which has been harsh and
- 01:59 brutal and realized crucially on us
- 02:02 military and diplomatic support you read
- 02:04 in those papers that Israeli helicopters
- 02:07 and jets are attacking Palestinians
- 02:10 that’s total fabrication
- 02:11 US jets and US helicopters which
- 02:15 happened to be piloted by Israeli pilots
- 02:17 are attacking those concentrations
- 02:20 that’s what oughta be said Israel
- 02:21 doesn’t manufacture helicopters and wear
- 02:24 f-16 and they understand all that they
- 02:29 know that the US has been blocking any
- 02:30 diplomatic settlement for active for 30
- 02:33 years since dot offered 1 1971 it’s not
- 02:37 reported here and in the West’s not
- 02:39 talked about much but they know it the
- 02:42 and they know what’s going on there they
- 02:44 also know perfectly well that the US and
- 02:47 Britain are carrying out operations
- 02:50 against Iraq which are devastating the
- 02:52 civilian society and strengthening said
- 02:54 on the saying and they also remember as
- 02:57 Westerners like to forget that the US
- 03:00 has no and Britain and France and
- 03:02 Holland and so on have no opposition
- 03:04 objection to that the Saddam Hussein’s
- 03:06 crimes we know that for sure because
- 03:09 they support supported Saddam Hussein
- 03:11 right through the period of his worst
- 03:12 crimes gassing the Kurds unfollow
- 03:16 chemical weapons they continue to
- 03:18 support him very happily remained a good
- 03:20 favoured friend an ally of the West
- 03:23 which helped provide him with the means
- 03:25 for developing weapons of mass
- 03:27 destruction when he was really dangerous
- 03:28 so they listen when Tony Blair and
- 03:31 Madeleine Albright condemn Saddam
- 03:34 because you know the ultimate monster
- 03:36 even gassed his own people they listen
- 03:38 but they add the words that are excluded
- 03:42 in the West they say yeah he committed
- 03:44 those crimes with your support okay
- 03:47 rather crucial omission which you never
- 03:50 hear from Tony Blair and the rest but
- 03:53 they are not that indoctrinated so they
- 03:56 remember that
- 03:57 those elementary truths and those are
- 03:59 other reasons why if you want there’s
- 04:01 hatred against us furthermore there’s
- 04:03 absolutely nothing new about this
- 04:05 anybody who wants to understand any of
- 04:08 it that’s exactly where to go you go to
- 04:10 the Declassified US record us a very
- 04:13 open society we have Declassified
- 04:15 records of internal deliberations from
- 04:19 the past all these questions came up
- 04:21 decades ago so in 19th and had the same
- 04:24 answers in 1952 58 personal year for
- 04:29 many reasons look I’m not talking about
- 04:32 internal record the u.s. so the
- 04:35 Eisenhower administration discussed
- 04:37 three major crises for the United States
- 04:40 one was Indonesia one was North Africa
- 04:44 third was the Middle East all Islamic
- 04:47 countries all oil producers the question
- 04:51 arose whether the Russians were involved
- 04:53 that was dismissed as ludicrous no
- 04:55 Russian involvement
- 04:57 it’s just independent nationalism in the
- 05:00 three countries which was the main
- 05:01 crisis then Eisenhower pointed out with
- 05:04 regard to the Middle East
- 05:06 his words approximately he said there is
- 05:09 a campaign of hatred against us not by
- 05:12 the governments but by the people and
- 05:15 that was an issue that was discussed no
- 05:18 globalization you know no they hate us
- 05:20 because we have McDonald’s and none of
- 05:21 this stuff why is there a campaign of
- 05:24 hatred against us well the National
- 05:26 Security Council have discussed it
- 05:27 that’s the highest analysis and planning
- 05:30 body and they said the problem is that
- 05:33 there’s a perception among the people of
- 05:35 the region that the United States
- 05:37 supports corrupt and harsh regimes which
- 05:42 prevent democratization and development
- 05:46 and does so because of its interest in
- 05:49 controlling near-east oil and they said
- 05:52 it’s hard to counter this perception
- 05:53 because it’s true and furthermore it
- 05:57 should be true because we should support
- 06:00 those regimes in order to maintain our
- 06:02 control over Near East oil so therefore
- 06:05 it
- 06:05 campaign of hatred against us by the
- 06:07 people who see that we’re robbing their
- 06:09 resources and preventing democracy and
- 06:12 development but you know we can’t do
- 06:13 much about it because that’s what we
- 06:15 ought to be doing well you know like I
- 06:17 say no McDonald’s no and being us our
- 06:20 magnificence no globalization just
- 06:23 perfectly obvious things same reason why
- 06:27 there was a campaign of hatred against
- 06:29 England from the people of India or
- 06:32 against Holland from the people of the
- 06:34 East Indies and so on and so forth now
- 06:36 you crush people under your boot they
- 06:38 don’t like it so this campaign of hatred
- 06:40 against it in fact what they what they
- 06:43 were discussing internally in 1958 is
- 06:46 the same as what the Wall Street Journal
- 06:48 found and in nineteen in 2001 you know
- 06:54 and for the same reasons because the
- 06:56 policies haven’t fundamentally changed
- 06:58 so that’s so we understand I mean the
- 07:01 Wall Street Journal only was concerned
- 07:03 with a lead opinion if they’d gone down
- 07:05 to the slums of Cairo there was gotten
- 07:08 stronger opinions but of the same kind
- 07:10 and more different ones also because in
- 07:14 the slums of Cairo they wouldn’t like
- 07:15 the fact that the wealth of the region
- 07:17 is going to the west and not to the
- 07:19 people of the region the ones who The
- 07:22 Wall Street Journal was talking about
- 07:23 are quite happy about that because they
- 07:25 are part of the ruling elite and they
- 07:28 enrich themselves while the resources go
- 07:31 to the west so they’re part of the
- 07:32 Imperial system so you get different
- 07:34 opinions if you bother to ask people in
- 07:37 the so-called streets but fundamentally
- 07:39 it’s the same so there’s a camp so there
- 07:42 are so bin Laden’s messages certainly
- 07:44 resonate and people agree with a lot of
- 07:46 the things he’s saying about 80 percent
- 07:50 of Egyptians for example I say that the
- 07:53 most important issue to them is the
- 07:55 crushing of the Palestinians so when
- 07:58 they hear bin laden say it they agreed
- 08:00 as night to it with a like him or hate
- 08:03 him
- 08:04 on the other hand there is a clique of
- 08:07 Terror radical Islamists who were
- 08:10 organized and trained and brought
- 08:12 together by Western intelligence for
- 08:14 their own purposes and I’ve continued to
- 08:16 do for 20 years just what they’ve always
- 08:18 said they were going to do so while some
- 08:21 things are obscure I don’t think the
- 08:23 skewer the answers are quite transparent
Noam Chomsky - What We Really Want
Video recording on YouTube: Noam Chomsky - What We Really Want
Transcript automatically generated by YouTube.
- 00:00 you mentioned just in passing teenage
- 00:06 girls if they have a free Saturday
- 00:09 afternoon they like to walk around in
- 00:13 the shopping mall rather than going to
- 00:16 the library so I found that very
- 00:23 thought-provoking
- 00:25 because I think that many people and I
- 00:28 would have to include myself believe
- 00:34 that deep deep down what we all really
- 00:40 want is material comfort for ourselves
- 00:45 that this is what we all want more than
- 00:50 anything else we we we may make an
- 00:54 effort and go to the library we may make
- 00:58 an effort and vote we may make an effort
- 01:03 and go to work or even visit a sick
- 01:09 friend or say a friendly word to someone
- 01:13 who is in trouble but what we really
- 01:18 would like to do is sit on a big
- 01:21 comfortable sofa and watch a
- 01:26 entertaining program on a big beautiful
- 01:30 television set and maybe have somebody
- 01:34 bring us some hot fudge sundaes or
- 01:39 bonbons while we’re watching the program
- 01:43 that this is what people what I really
- 01:47 like what what everyone is really like
- 01:53 selfish and and really seeking material
- 01:59 comfort and that that is human nature
- 02:03 that is bedrock human nature and I think
- 02:07 a lot of our political attitudes come
- 02:10 from the fact that we think we can never
- 02:13 get away from that that’s what we are
- 02:15 now do you share that view not Melissa
- 02:20 and I think the plenty of evidence
- 02:23 against it there is has been a massive
- 02:26 effort for over a hundred years to try
- 02:30 to convince people that that’s what we
- 02:32 are
- 02:33 it’s called advertising there so it’s a
- 02:36 huge industry it’s dedicated explicitly
- 02:41 openly to trying to you read the
- 02:43 business person hundred years ago and
- 02:45 it’s taking off to try to direct people
- 02:50 to the superficial things of life like
- 02:52 fashionable consumption get them out of
- 02:56 our hair by getting them involved in
- 02:58 consumption and huge efforts go into
- 03:02 this
- 03:03 for example about 20 or 30 years ago the
- 03:06 advertising industry realized that
- 03:08 there’s a sector of the population that
- 03:12 they’re not reaching because they don’t
- 03:14 have money known as children so then
- 03:17 some bright guys figured well we can get
- 03:20 around this the children don’t have
- 03:22 money but their parents do so what we
- 03:24 have to do is direct television programs
- 03:28 for children and so on to try to induce
- 03:32 what’s called nagging try to get fit
- 03:35 this is literally the case create
- 03:38 nagging propaganda by now if you look at
- 03:41 academic Applied Psychology departments
- 03:45 there is actually program studying
- 03:47 different kinds of nagging and how you
- 03:48 can induce it and if you watch
- 03:50 children’s television I’ve seen this
- 03:52 with my grandchildren it’s two year old
- 03:54 kids or looking at things and they’re
- 03:56 being induced to try to get your parents
- 04:00 to get me this thing or also I’m going
- 04:03 to die you know and so on and the
- 04:05 parents get it and you throw it away in
- 04:07 five minutes but every aspect of our
- 04:09 life is to cook devoted to this okay my
- 04:14 wife and I but we’re taken by a friend a
- 04:16 couple weeks ago to see a what do you
- 04:19 call it the baseball in the preparations
- 04:23 of pre-season baseball spring period
- 04:27 right and you take a look at the stadium
- 04:30 every inch is covered with an ad I mean
- 04:33 I remember first baseball game I went it
- 04:36 was in the 1930s there were no ads
- 04:38 anywhere now every inch is an ad every
- 04:42 taxicab you look at is not every minute
- 04:44 of your life is inundated with efforts
- 04:47 to turn you into the kind of person
- 04:49 you’re describing
- 04:51 so is that human nature I don’t think so
- 04:54 so take a look at these Trump voters
- 04:56 again so these working-class people and
- 04:59 as a rural towns which manufacturing
- 05:02 towns in Arkansas and take a listen to
- 05:05 what they’re saying these are people who
- 05:07 men who want to work in coal mines which
- 05:10 is not fun rather than to take a
- 05:13 government handout they don’t want to
- 05:16 sit on the couch and being given a
- 05:18 government handout that undermines their
- 05:21 sense of dignity of self-worth of doing
- 05:24 something significant and I think that’s
- 05:26 what people are you go back further
- 05:30 plenty of evidence for it there’s
- 05:32 there’s a wonderful study of huge study
- 05:36 of the reading habits of the British
- 05:39 working class in the late 19th century
- 05:41 Jonathan rose very detailed said what
- 05:44 were British workers reading turns out
- 05:47 they were better educated than than the
- 05:50 aristocrats American say eastern
- 05:53 Massachusetts Boston where I live the
- 05:55 the an Irish blacksmith if he could make
- 06:00 enough money would hire a boy to read to
- 06:03 him while he’s working I’m not going to
- 06:05 remember this from childhood in the
- 06:07 1930s most of my family were
- 06:10 for immigrants you know first first
- 06:13 generation unemployed working-class
- 06:15 quite educated many of them didn’t go to
- 06:18 school you know maybe fourth grade but
- 06:20 they read they went to concerts they
- 06:24 went to Shakespeare plays they talked
- 06:26 about it they were interested in
- 06:27 politics I mean I think it’s taken huge
- 06:31 efforts to try to drive all of this out
- 06:33 of people’s heads I think the natural
- 06:36 thing for humans is to want to be
- 06:38 independent creative whether created I
- 06:43 mean maybe you work on a you know the
- 06:46 fixing up old cars in your garage in the
- 06:50 weekend instead of sitting in the
- 06:51 watching television whatever it may be
- 06:53 you want to do something that’s
- 06:55 significant that’s worth it’s worthwhile
- 06:58 maybe even if it’s a ugly horrible job
- 07:01 like we’re going to call nine instead of
- 07:03 taking a government handout because
- 07:06 people I think want a dignity and a
- 07:08 sense of self-worth and a sense of
- 07:09 creating and doing something important
- 07:12 that’s what we are and I think it’s
- 07:14 taken huge effort enormous efforts a
- 07:18 huge part of the economy is devoted to
- 07:20 trying to drive these things out of
- 07:22 people’s heads to make you think that
- 07:25 all you want is more commodities so you
- 07:28 should go shopping instead of reading
- 07:29 Latin so that people most people by this
- 07:38 account really have been unnaturally
- 07:44 squashed into being something much much
- 07:47 smaller than they could be or than he
- 07:50 should be and want to be and want to be
- 07:53 in fact it’s pretty interesting to go
- 07:55 back to there’s good studies of the
- 07:58 working-class press in the early
- 08:02 industrial revolution in the United star
- 08:06 inland it’s earlier in the United States
- 08:07 it would be mid nineteenth century late
- 08:10 nineteenth century it was a very lively
- 08:12 working-class press a lot of it written
- 08:15 by young women
- 08:16 young women from the farms called
- 08:19 factory girls who run their own
- 08:21 newspapers and the material is a lot of
- 08:24 material on and it’s pretty interesting
- 08:26 that what they wanted was dignity they
- 08:30 hated the industrial system because it
- 08:33 was turning that it was destroying their
- 08:35 rights as independent people they
- 08:39 attacked what sometimes they called the
- 08:42 idea the slogan they denounced the
- 08:46 slogan gain wealth forgetting all but
- 08:49 self in other words the kind of person
- 08:52 that you think we all are that we’re
- 08:54 taught we all are that’s what they were
- 08:56 condemning we don’t just gain wealth
- 08:59 forgetting all but self we want
- 09:01 dignified independent lives they
- 09:04 regarded wage labor as not very
- 09:07 different from slavery which was a
- 09:10 popular idea there was a slogan of the
- 09:12 Republican Party literally Abraham
- 09:14 Lincoln’s on because it takes what
- 09:16 you’re selling yourself if you’re a wage
- 09:19 laborer if you sell something you
- 09:22 created let’s say you’re an artisan and
- 09:24 you make something and you sell it
- 09:25 you’re not selling yourself if you sell
- 09:28 your labor you’re selling yourself
- 09:30 you’re losing your dignity and
- 09:32 independence it’s an attack on your
- 09:34 fundamental rights these are themes that
- 09:36 run right through the spontaneous
- 09:40 productions of mostly uneducated
- 09:43 working-class what we call uneducated
- 09:45 working-class people it was the same in
- 09:48 England before us and I think it’s the
- 09:50 same elsewhere I just don’t think people
- 09:52 are when you talk about human nature I
- 09:55 think we’re talking about something
- 09:56 that’s constructed and contrived with
- 09:59 enormous effort conscious effort you
- 10:05 look at in the television industry
- 10:09 there’s what’s called content and fill
- 10:13 in a program content is the ads fill is
- 10:18 the car chase that you pull off the
- 10:21 shelf to keep people watching between
- 10:23 the ads and if you just watch television
- 10:26 you can see that the
- 10:28 give Atia the thought the funding zone
- 10:31 is going into the ads not into the fill
- 10:35 you know in newspaper industry there’s
- 10:37 what they call the news hole so you lay
- 10:40 out the newspaper first to get all the
- 10:42 ads that’s what matters then there’s
- 10:44 this if it were to sit in things to keep
- 10:46 people watching I mean this is literally
- 10:49 hundred millions dollars a year huge
- 10:51 part of the economy goes into this an
- 10:54 interesting aspect of this which is kind
- 10:57 of interestingly not studied very much
- 10:59 has to do with basic economics so anyone
- 11:04 who took an economics course or you know
- 11:06 reads about it knows that the market
- 11:12 economy is supposed to be based on
- 11:16 informed consumers making rational
- 11:19 choices that’s what we’re taught our
- 11:21 economy is turn on the television set
- 11:26 and take a look at the content the ads
- 11:28 are they trying to create informed
- 11:32 consumers make rational choices see I
- 11:34 mean if we had a market economy if there
- 11:38 was an ad it would be an announcement by
- 11:41 say Ford Motor Company here are the
- 11:44 characteristics of the cars I think
- 11:46 there’s a nice here here’s what consumer
- 11:49 review says about them that would create
- 11:51 informed consumers making rational
- 11:54 choices it’s not what you see there’s
- 11:57 huge efforts to try to create irrational
- 12:01 consumers uninformed consumers making
- 12:04 irrational choices to undermine market
- 12:07 economies and to turn people into people
- 12:11 who believe may even believe that what
- 12:13 they want us to sit on a couch and watch
- 12:15 television that’s not what they want as
- 12:17 yeah things
2014 “Noam Chomsky”: Why you can not have a Capitalist Democracy!
Video recording on YouTube: 2014 “Noam Chomsky”: Why you can not have a Capitalist Democracy!
Transcript by user “Tokyo Rose in La La Land”, and published in Blogspot
August 03, 2015
TRANSCRIPT - VIDEO - Noam Chomsky: You Can’t Have Capitalist Democracy
You Can’t Have Capitalist Democracy.
I started by saying that one of the relations between capitalism and democracy is contradiction. You can’t have capitalist democracy, and the people who really sort of believe in markets (or at least pretend to understand them) - so if you read Milton Friedman and other philosophers of so-called libertarianism - they don’t call for democracy they call for what they call ‘freedom.’
There is a very constrictive concept of freedom. It’s not the freedom of a working person to control their work, their lives, and so on; it’s their freedom to submit themselves to control by a higher authority. That’s called ‘freedom’, but not ‘democracy’. They don’t like democracy and they’re right; capitalism and democracy really are inconsistent.
Actually, what’s called libertarianism in the United States, is about as an extreme example of anti-libertarianism that you can imagine. They’re in favour of private tyranny – the worst kind of tyranny. Tyranny by private, unaccountable, concentrations of wealth. When they say, “Well, we don’t want government interference in the market”, they mean that. They mean - maybe they don’t understand it, but if you think it through, it’s pretty obvious – the kind of interference in the market they want blocked is the kind that would permit unconstrained tyranny on the part of totally unaccountable private tyrannies, which is what corporations are.
It’s worth bearing in mind how radically opposed this is to classical liberalism. They like to invoke, say, Adam Smith. But if you read Adam Smith, he said the opposite. He’s famous for not, you know, the claim is that he was opposed to regulation – government regulation – interference in markets. That’s not true. He was in favour of regulation, as he put it, when it benefits the working man. He was against interference when it benefited the masters. That’s traditional classical liberalism.
This, what’s called ‘libertarian’ in the United States, which likes to invoke the history that you’ve concocted, is radically opposed to basic classical libertarian principles and it’s kind of astonishing to me that a lot of young people - say, college students - are attracted by this kind of thing. I mean, you can, after all, read the classical text.
So take, say, Adam Smith. Adam Smith, at the time – he’s the icon, you know. He was considered to be a dangerous radical at the time, because he was pretty anti-capitalist in this pre-capitalist era that he was opposed to, and he condemned what he called the ‘vile maxim of the masters of mankind’: all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else. That’s an abomination. Take the phrase ‘invisible hand’ – everybody’s learned that in high school or college – Adam Smith actually did use the term, rarely. But take a look how he used it. In Wealth of Nations, his major work, it’s used once. And if you look at the context, it’s an argument against what is now call neo-liberal globalization and what he argued is this (in terms of England, of course): he said, suppose in England that the merchants and manufacturers invested abroad & imported from abroad; he said, well that would be profitable for them, but it would be harmful to the people of England. However, they will have enough of a commitment to their own country, to England (it’s called a ‘home bias’, in the literature); they’ll have enough of a ‘home bias’ so that, as if by an invisible hand, they’ll keep to the less profitable actions and England will be saved from the ravages of what we call neo-liberal globalization. That’s the one use of the term in Wealth of Nations.
In his other major work, Moral Sentiments, the term is also used once, and the context is this - remember, England is basically an agricultural country then - he says: suppose a landlord accumulates an enormous amount of land everyone else has to work for. He says: well, it won’t turn out too badly, and the reason is that the landlord will be motivated by his natural sympathy for other people. So he will make sure that the necessities of life and the goods available will be distributed equitably to the people on his land, and it will end up with a relatively equal and just distribution of wealth, “as if by an invisible hand”. That’s his other use of the term.
Just compare that with what you’re taught in school, or what you read in the newspapers. And it goes across the board. Like, everybody probably has read the first paragraphs of Wealth of Nations, which talks about how wonderful it is that the butcher pursues his interests, and the baker pursues his interests, and we’re all happy, so we should be in favour of a division of labour. Everybody’s read that. How many people have read a couple of hundred pages into Wealth of Nations, where he has a bitter attack on division of labour for interesting reasons, and reasons that were standard in the Enlightenment in which he lived (very different from ours)? He says if you pursue division of labour, people will be directed to actions in which they’ll complete the same mechanical actions over and over. They’ll be de-skilled and that’s the goal of management for over over 100 years: de-skill the workforce. He says that’s what will happen if you pursue division of labour. He goes on to say, this will turn people into creatures as stupid and as ignorant as a human being can possibly be and, therefore, in any civilized society, the government will have to intervene to prevent any development like this. That’s Adam Smith’s view of division of labour.
Next step – now, here’s a research project. Take the standard edition (scholarly edition) of Wealth of Nations produced by the University of Chicago Press – naturally, on the bicentennial – with a scholarly apparatus (you know, footnotes and everything else) – and take a look at the Index. There’s a scholarly index. Look up ‘division of labour’. This part of the book is not referenced. You can’t find it, unless you decided to read 700 pages; then you can find it.
But that’s his concept of the division of labour, and it continues like this – and I’m not extolling, you know, a lot of things that you can harshly criticize, like his advice to the colonies – but, nevertheless, it’s a very different picture from what’s called ‘libertarianism’ or ‘capitalism’ today.
Capitalist democracy would self destruct - capitalism would self destruct – and that’s why it hasn’t been instituted. The masters understand that they cannot survive a capitalist economy – a laissez fair economy.
Take a look at the history; it’s pretty interesting.
So the United States, when it was independent – so it could reject the rules of sound economics and develop. There were other countries that were poised for an industrial revolution and were given the same advice. Like Egypt and India. In fact, India already was the commercial and industrial center of the world, more so than England . Egypt was poised for an industrial revolution and it’s not impossible that it might have developed as a rich, agrarian society. It had cotton – produced cotton. As I said, that’s the main product (like oil today), and it didn’t need slaves. It had peasants. It had a developmental government aimed that the industrial development. It could have taken off – just as India could have taken off. But they were not free to reject sound economics because they were ruled by British force. So they were forced to accept sound economics, and Egypt became Egypt, and the United States became the United States. India went through a century of de-development before it finally got independent.
That’s what happens when you apply laissez fair principles. In fact, that’s essentially how the Third World and the First World divided. Take a look at the countries that developed. They are the countries who violated the principles. England, the United States, Germany, France, Netherlands. One country of the south. One country developed: Japan. The one country that wasn’t colonized and was able to pursue the same course that the rich countries developed.
I mentioned that in mid Nineteenth Century – 1846 - Britain was so far ahead of the rest of the world in industrial development that they did decide that laissez faire would be possible, so that moved to what’s called a ‘free trade era’.
First of all, they imposed sharp constraints on it. They’ve cut off the Empire. India. India was not allowed. Others could not invest in India, their main possession; and India was not allowed to develop. And there were other restrictions.
Pretty soon, British capitalists called the game off because they couldn’t compete. By the 1920s, they couldn’t compete with Japanese production so they literally closed off the Empire to Japanese exports. It’s part of the background for the Pacific War of the 1940s.
The United States did the same with a smaller empire in the Philippines. The Dutch did the same with Indonesia. All the imperial systems decided: no more free trade, we can’t compete. So they closed off the empire and Japan had no markets, no resources, and they went to war. That’s a large part of the background.
The United States, in 1945, did move towards laissez fair. In fact it was an important conference (the united states was basically running the world at that point, for obvious reasons) – there was a hemispheric conference called by Washington in February 1945 in Mexico, where the western hemisphere was compelled to adopt an economic charter for the Americas, which banned any interference with market principles. The goal was, in the State Department reports, to oppose the new nationalism in Latin America, which is based on the idea that the people of a country should benefit from the country’s resources. That’s ‘evil’, we can’t allow that; it’s Western and US investors who have to benefit from the resources.
So that was the economic charter of the Americas imposed on the countries of the southern hemisphere, with one exception – here. The United States did not follow those policies. Quite the contrary.
As I mentioned, there was a massive development of a state based economy with an industrial policy – the kind that created the modern high-tech economy. You can see it right across the river. Take look at MIT, one of the main centers of this. If you had a look at MIT in the 1950s (when I got there) it was surrounded by electronics-based high-tech firms, like Raytheon and iTech, and huge IT firms. Take a look at MIT today, take a look at the buildings, it’s Novartis, Pfizer and so on. The reason’s completely obvious: during the 50s and 60s, the cutting edge of the economy was electronics based, so the way to get the public to pay for it was to scream ‘Russians!’ and to get them to pay higher taxes for the Pentagon, and then the Pentagon would fund the research and development – like my own salary, for example (I shouldn’t complain too much) – and, of course, private industry was around there like vultures to pick up the products and the research and to market.
Well, since the 70s, the cutting edge of the economy has been moving towards be biology based, so funding – government funding – has shifted. Pentagon funding is declining. Funding from the NIH and other so-called health related government institutions is increasing, and the private corporations understand that. So, now, Novartis, genetic engineering firms and so on, are hanging around trying to pick up the research that you’re paying for, so that they can market it and make profits. It’s just transparent. It’s in front of our eyes, and it takes a very effective educational system to prevent people from seeing it. It’s virtually transparent. That’s the way this really exists in capitalist democracy, folks.
A final word about democracy then, before I have to leave.
There’s a major attack on democracy all the way through. But by now it’s reached the point which is pretty remarkable. Take a look at one of the main topics in the mainstream political science (and we’re not talking about radicals). Mainstream political science is comparing public attitudes with public policy. It’s a fairly straight-forward – it’s hard work but a straight-forward effort. We have the public policy so you can see it. There’s extensive polling. Quite reliable generally and consistent in its results. It gives you a good sense of what public attitudes are, and the results of this are published in the major books and articles - with references, if you like. The results are very straight-forward. About 70% of the population – the lowest 70% on the income scale – are literally disenfranchised. Their opinions have no affect on policy. Their elected representatives don’t pay any attention to them. That’s one of the reasons why many of them don’t bother voting they’re not going to pay attention to them anyway. You know, I’ve read the technical literature to understand it in other ways. As you move up the income scale, you get a little more influence on policy. When you get to the top (and contrary to the Occupy Movement, it’s not 1% - it’s more like one-tenth of 1%) - when you get to the top where the massive concentration of wealth is, they basically set policies. That’s not democracy; that’s plutocracy. And that’s what we have accepted. The good thing about it is that it’s changeable. It’s not controlled by force. We are very free in that respect, thanks to victories over the centuries. It’s not possible now for a corporation to do what Andrew Carnegie, the great pacifist, did in 1890. That gives a lot of options and you have to make use of them.
I’m afraid I’ve got to leave.
Noam Chomsky - The Political Economy of the Mass Media - Part 1
Video recording on YouTube: Noam Chomsky - The Political Economy of the Mass Media - Part 1
Transcript by William Greene, and published by CHOMSKY.INFO
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
Delivered at University of Wisconsin – Madison, March 15, 1989
(transcription courtesy of William Greene)
Well, let me begin with two recent events, both of them widely publicized.
The first has to do with the famous Salman Rushdie case. A couple of days ago, you may have noticed, the Prime Minister of Iran suggested a very simple way to resolve the crisis concerning Rushdie, he suggested that what should happen is that all the copies of his book, The Satanic Verses, should simply be burned. And I guess the implication is that if that happened then they could cancel the death sentence. That’s one case. Lots of coverage.
Second case had to do with an interesting thing that happened here. There was a- what some people are calling, a mega-merger of two media giants — Time Incorporated and Warner Communications Incorporated — each of them huge conglomerates, and putting- coming together they form, apparently, the biggest- the world’s biggest media empire. Now, that also had a lot of publicity, even outside the business pages, and there was concern over the effects of the merger, by increasing media concentration so effectively, the effects on freedom of expression.
Well these two events are- they seem rather remote from one another, and in a sense they are. But we can draw them together by recalling an event which was not considered important enough to be reported, but which I happen to know about because I was personally involved.
The title for this talk is, you may have noticed, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. That’s actually the title of a recent book that I was co-author of with- my co-author is Edward Herman, and the two of us have been working together for many years. We- the first- our first book was published in 1974, a book on American foreign policy and the media, in fact, and it was published by a publisher, a textbook publisher, flourishing textbook publisher, which happened to be a subsidiary of Warner Communications Incorporated.
Well, unless you’re a very rare person you never saw that book. And the reason was that when the advertising for the book appeared, after 20,000 copies were published, one of the executives of Warner Communications saw the advertising, and didn’t like the feel of it, and asked to see the book, and liked it even less, in fact, was appalled. And then followed a- an interaction which I won’t bother describing, but the end result of it was that the parent company, Warner Communications, simply decided to put the publisher out of business, and to end the whole story that way.
Now, they didn’t burn the books, they pulped them, which is more civilized. Also, books don’t burn very well actually, I’m told, they’re kind of like bricks, but pulping works. And it wasn’t just our book that was eliminated, it was all the books published by that publisher.
Well, there are a couple of differences between this and the case of the Prime Minister of Iran. One difference is that this was actually done, not just suggested. The second difference is it wasn’t just one book, it was all books, which happened to be tainted by being published by the publisher who had done this bad thing. A third difference is the reaction. The reaction in the case of Warner Communications putting the publisher out of business to prevent them from publishing our book, the reaction to that was zero. Not because it wasn’t known, it just was not considered of any significance. Whereas the Rushdie affair, of course, has had a huge furor, as it should, and the Prime Minister’s proposal was greeted with ridicule and contempt as a demonstration of what you can expect from these barbarous people. So there are some differences.
Well, let’s go back to the question about the mega-merger. Would the- will this new media empire restrict freedom of expression by excessive media concentration? Possibly, but the marginal difference is slight given what already exists, as is, perhaps, illustrated by this case. This is, incidentally, not the only case, far from the only case, which illustrates how hypocritical and cynical the reaction to the Rushdie affair is. The reaction is legitimate, but we can ask the question whether it’s principled or not. And if we look, I think we find that it’s not.
Well actually, this whole story that I’ve just told is kind of misleading. It’s accurate in identifying the locus of decision-making power — not only in publishing and in the media, but in political life and in social life generally — in that respect it’s accurate, but it’s very misleading with regard to how that power is typically exercised. This is a very unusual case. I wouldn’t want to suggest that this is what happens typically. It’s usually much more subtle than this, but no less effective. Now, I’m going to come back to some of the more subtle ways, and the reasons for them, and in fact if there’s time, or maybe back in discussion, I’ll talk about the aftermath of this particular incident, which is also kind of illuminating in this respect, though more complex.
Well, with that much as background let me turn to the main topic, manufacturing consent, a- a topic- and, thought control and indoctrination and so on. Now, there’s a- and, I’m going to discuss how this relates to the media.
Now, there is a standard view about the media and the way they function. The standard view is expressed, for example, by Supreme Court Justice Powell, when he describes what he calls the crucial role of the media in effecting the societal purpose of the first amendment, that is, enabling the public to assert meaningful control over the political process. So the idea is, this is a kind of an instrumental defense of the first amendment. The value to be achieved is the democratic process, and for the democratic process to function, it’s necessary for the public to have free access, open access to relevant information and opinion- a wide range of opinion, and it’s the job of the media to ensure that, and the first amendment has the instrumental function of guaranteeing that this is served, and the media then do it. That’s the standard view. And notice that it has a kind of a descriptive component and also a normative component. It says, this is what the media ought to be like, and this is what they are like.
Now, that they ought to be this way seems sort of obvious, in fact, kind of almost tautological, if democracy means- has something to do with the public having a capacity to shape their own affairs, it obviously presupposes information, and that means the information system in a free society would have to serve this function.
Since it seems so obvious, it’s worth bearing in mind that there is a contrary view. And in fact, the contrary view is very widely held. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the contrary view is the dominant view among people over the last couple of centuries who have thought about liberal democracy and freedom, and how it ought to function. In any event, it’s certainly a major position.
This contrary view can be traced back to the origins of modern democracy in the 17th century English revolution, when, for the first time, the- there was a challenge to the right of authority — whether it was the gentry, or the king, or whatever — and there was actually the beginnings of a real, radical, democratic movement, with a commitment on the part of the people involved, who were very widespread in England, to public involvement and control over affairs. They didn’t want to be ruled by the king, and they didn’t want to be ruled by parliament, they wanted to run their own affairs. And they were defeated, the radical democrats were defeated, but not before doing some important things which had a lasting effect.
Well, what I’m interested in now is the reaction to this. The reaction to the first efforts at popular democracy — radical democracy, you might call it — were a good deal of fear and concern. One historian of the time, Clement Walker, warned that these guys who were running- putting out pamphlets on their little printing presses, and distributing them, and agitating in the army, and, you know, telling people how the system really worked, were having an extremely dangerous effect. They were revealing the mysteries of government. And he said that’s dangerous, because it will, I’m quoting him, it will make people so curious and so arrogant that they will never find humility enough to submit to a civil rule. And that’s a problem.
John Locke, a couple of years later, explained what the problem was. He said, day-laborers and tradesmen, the spinsters and the dairy-maids, must be told what to believe; the greater part cannot know, and therefore they must believe. And of course, someone must tell them what to believe. Now, there’s a modern version of that — and of course he didn’t just mean those categories, he meant the general public — there’s a modern version of that. This goes all the way up to the modern times, it’s discussed in the American revolution, and all the way through to the modern period. But let’s just come up to the contemporary period.
Now in the last- in the modern period you get a much more sophisticated development of these ideas. So, for example, Reinhold Niebuhr, who is a much-respected moralist and commentator on world affairs, he wrote that rationality belongs to the cool observers, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason but faith. And this naive faith requires that necessary illusions be developed. Emotionally potent oversimplifications have to be provided by the myth-makers to keep the ordinary person on course, because of the stupidity of the average man. That’s the same view, basically.
Walter Lippman, who was the dean of American journalists, is the man who invented the phrase manufacture of consent. He described the manufacture of consent as a self-conscious art and a regular organ of popular government. This, he said, is quite important, this is a revolution in the practice of democracy, and he thought it was a worthwhile revolution. The reason is, again, the stupidity of the average man. The common interests, he said, very largely elude public opinion entirely, and they can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality. That’s Niebuhr’s cool observers. You can guess who’s part of them. The person who pronounces these views is always part of that group. It’s the others who aren’t. This is in Walter Lippman’s book Public Opinion, which appeared shortly after World War I. And the timing is important.
World War I was a period in which the liberal intellectuals, John Dewey’s circle primarily, were quite impressed with themselves for their success, as they described in their own words, for their success in having imposed their will upon a reluctant or indifferent majority.
Now, there was a problem in World War I. The problem was that the population was, as usual, pacifistic, and didn’t see any particular reason in going out and killing Germans and getting killed; if the Europeans want to do that, that’s their business. And in fact, Woodrow Wilson won the 1916 election on a mandate, which was, peace without victory. That’s how he got elected. And, not surprisingly, he interpreted that as meaning victory without peace. And the problem was to get this reluctant and indifferent majority, and get them to be- to create emotionally potent oversimplifications and necessary illusions, so that they would then be properly jingoistic, and support this great cause.
And the liberal intellectuals were convinced that they were the ones who had primarily succeeded in doing this, and they thought it was a very good task, for obvious reasons. And, in fact, they probably had some role. Whether they had as much role as they think you could question, but some role. They used all sorts of necessary illusions, for example, fabrications about Hun atrocities, Belgian babies with their arms torn off, and all sorts of things that were concocted by the British foreign service and fed to the educated classes in the United States, who picked them up and were quite enthusiastic about them, and distributed them. They used such devices as, what they called, historical engineering. That was a phrase proposed by Frederick Paxon, an American historian who was the founder of a group called the National Board for Historical Service. That was a group of historians who got together to serve the State by explaining the issues of the war that we might better win it. That’s historical engineering.
The Wilson administration established the country’s, I think, first official propaganda agency — it’s called the Creel Commission — which was dedicated to convincing this reluctant or indifferent majority that they’d better be properly enthusiastic about the war that they were opposed to.
That had some institutional consequences. In fact, there were a number of institutional consequences to this whole period. One was the institution of the national political police, the FBI, which has been dedicated to thought control and repression of freedom ever since; that’s it’s primary activity. And another development- institutional development was the enormous growth of the public relations industry.
A lot of people learned lessons from the capacity to control the public mind, as they put it — slogan of the public relations industry. One of the people who came out of the Creel Commission was a man named Edward Bernays, who became the patron saint of the public relations industry. That’s a big, substantial industry which is actually an American creation, though it’s since spread throughout other parts of the world. It’s dedicated to controlling the public mind, again quoting it’s publications, to educate the American people about the economic facts of life to ensure a favorable climate for business, and, of course, a proper understanding of the common interests.
Bernays developed the concept of engineering of consent, which, he said, is the essence of democracy. That’s- and of course he didn’t bother saying that there are only some groups who are in a position to carry out the engineering of consent — those who have the power and the resources.
He himself showed how this was done. Often. By, for example, demonizing the government of Guatemala, the capitalist democratic government that we were planning to overthrow with a successful CIA coup. He was then working for the United Fruit Company, which was opposed to the government because it was planning to take over unused lands of the United Fruit Company, and hand them over to landless peasants, paying the rates that the United Fruit Company had given as their value for tax purposes, which, of course, they regarded as very unfair, because they had, naturally, been lying and cheating about the value. So that was his achievement. And in fact the public relations industry in general has been dedicated to this project ever since.
The Creel Commission, incidentally, is a predecessor of a contemporary phenomenon that the Reagan administration constructed, it’s their Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy. That’s by far the largest propaganda agency in American history, and maybe one of the largest of any Western government. And it was also dedicated to controlling the public mind. It was dedicated, primarily, to controlling the debate and discussion over Central America, to demonizing the Sandinistas, as one of its officials put it, and mobilizing support for the U.S. terror States in the region. And it did it by framing the debate, by intimidating critics, by producing fabrications which were then happily repeated by the media.
So, for example, one famous one, just to illustrate some of it’s achievements, when Ronald Regan in 1986 read a spectacular and effective speech, which convinced Congress to vote a hundred-million dollars of aid for the Contras, right after the World Court had denounced the United- had condemned the United States for the unlawful use of force, and called upon it to end this aggression. This speech was extremely effective. It described all the- you know, whole litany of Nicaraguan crimes, and it ended up by saying that these communists actually concede that they are planning to conquer the hemisphere and undermine us all. They themselves say that they are carrying out a revolution without borders. That was the peroration, that’s the way he ended up, you know, big excitement, Congress voted the aid, the Reagan administration declared that this meant war, this was a real war, and everybody was excited and happy.
Now, that phrase, revolution without borders, actually had already been used. It had been used by a State department pamphlet that was called revolution without borders, describing Sandinista crimes. And there’s actually a version of that phrase that exists. The phrase appears, or something like it appears, in a speech by Sandinista commandante Tomas Borge. He had given a speech in which he said that the Nicaraguan- the Sandinistas hoped to construct a kind of a model society, a society which will be- which will work so well, and will serve the needs of the poor so well, that others will be inclined to try to do the same thing for themselves. And he went on to say that there- that every country has to- every country has to carry out its own revolution, there’s no way for one country to make a revolution somewhere else, but the model that the Sandinistas were constructing, he hoped, was to be so successful that others would want to do it, and he said, in this sense our revolution transcends borders.
Well, that phrase was immediately picked up by the Office of Public Diplomacy and turned into a threat to conquer the hemisphere. That fraud was at once exposed by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which sends out a weekly news analysis in Washington that journalists read. It was even exposed- it was even mentioned in the Washington Post, somewhere in the back pages. They noted that the phrase, revolution without borders, was not exactly what he had said. In fact it was nothing to do- it was the opposite of what he had said, but that didn’t make any difference. The phrase was useful, the construction was useful, and since then, the media — and when the State department document came out there was no criticism of it, when Reagan made the speech nobody pointed out that this was a fabrication, even the Washington Post, which had exposed it, referred to the Sandinista revolution without borders — the media have repeatedly- have repeated this over and over again, look they say themselves they’re going to have a revolution without borders, and so on.
Well, that’s the kind of thing that’s done by an effective propaganda agency, of course, if the media are willing to go along, because it wasn’t very hard to figure out that this was an incredible fraud. Well, that’s the kind of thing that was done.
All of these operations were completely illegal. There was a Congressional report done on them- General- GAO report, which simply pointed out that of course they’re illegal — they were run out of the National Security Council, and, not allowed to propagandize Americans. But it was very successful. When this was exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings, one top administration official described the activities of the Office of Public Diplomacy as one of their really great achievements. It was a, he said, a spectacular success. He described it as the kind of operation that you carry out in enemy territory. And that’s quite an appropriate phrase. I think the phrase expresses exactly the way in which the public is viewed by people with power: it’s an enemy, it’s a domestic enemy, and you got to keep it under control, and you have to make sure that the mysteries are not revealed, so that the people don’t become so curious and arrogant that they refuse to submit to a civil rule, to put it in 17th Century terms. And to control that domestic enemy, propaganda and fabrications, and so on, are important, and that’s what the public relations industry is for, for corporate purposes, and what the media are for if they properly serve the State.
Well that’s- notice again, we have a view that says the media should not function the way the standard rhetoric claims.
There’s also an academic twist to this — let’s come closer to home.
If you go back to the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences published in 1933 — days when people were a little more open and honest in what they said — there’s an article on propaganda, and it’s well worth reading. There’s an entry under propaganda. The entry is written by a leading- one- maybe the leading American political scientist, Harold Lasswell, who was very influential, particularly in this area, communications, and so on. And in this entry in the International Encyclopedia on propaganda he says, we should not succumb to democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests. They’re not, he said. Even with the rise of mass education- doesn’t mean that people can judge their own interests. They can’t. The best judges of their interests are elites — the specialized class, the cool observers, the people who have rationality — and therefore they must be granted the means to impose their will. Notice, for the common good. Because, again, because- well, he says, because of the ignorance and superstition of the masses, he said it’s necessary to have a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda. Propaganda, he says, we shouldn’t have a negative connotation about, it’s neutral. Propaganda, he says, is as neutral as a pump handle. You can use it for good, you can use it for bad; since were good people, obviously, — that’s sort of true by definition — we’ll use it for good purposes, and there should be no negative connotations about that. In fact, it’s moral to use it, because that’s the only way that you can save the ignorant and stupid masses of the population from their own errors. You don’t let a three year old run across the street, and you don’t let ordinary people make their own decisions. You have to control them.
And why do you need propaganda? Well, he explains that. He says, in military-run or feudal societies — what we would these days call totalitarian societies — you don’t really need propaganda that much. And the reason is you’ve got a- you’ve got a club in your hand. You can control the way people behave, and therefore it doesn’t matter much what they think, because if they get out of line you can control them — for their own good, of course. But once you lose the club, you know, once the State loses its capacity to coerce by force, then you have some problems. The voice of the people is heard — you’ve got all these formal mechanisms around that permit people to express themselves, and even participate, and vote, and that sort of thing — and you can’t control them by force, because you’ve lost that capacity. But the voice of the people is heard, and therefore you’ve got to make sure it says the right thing. And in order to make sure it says the right thing, you’ve got to have effective and sophisticated propaganda, again, for their own good.
So in a- as a society becomes more free — that is, there’s less capacity to coerce — it simply needs more sophisticated indoctrination and propaganda. For the public good.
The similarity between this and Leninist ideology is very striking. According to Leninist ideology, the cool observers, the radical intelligentsia, will be the vanguard who will lead the stupid and ignorant masses on to, you know, communist utopia, because they’re too stupid to work it out by themselves.
And in fact there’s been a very easy transition over these years between one and the other position. You know, it’s very striking that continually people move from one position to the other, very easily. And I think the reason for the ease is partly because they’re sort of the same position. So you can be either a Marxist-Leninist commissar, or you can be somebody celebrating the magnificence of State capitalism, and you can serve those guys. It’s more or less the same position. You pick one or the other depending on your estimate of where power is, and that can change.
The- and in fact the mainstream of the intelligentsia, I think over the last, say, through this century, have tended to be in one or the other camp. Either- there’s this strong appeal of Marxism-Leninism to the intelligentsia, for obvious reasons — I don’t have to bother saying. And there’s the same appeal of these doctrines to the intelligentsia, because it puts them in the position of justifying- of having a justified role as ideological managers, in the service of real power, corporate/State power. For the public good, of course. So you naturally are tempted to one or the other position.
Well, going on to the post Second World War period, the same ideas continue to be expressed. For example in 1948, when it was again necessary to drive the reluctant and indifferent majority to a new war fever — remember 1948, the war was over, everybody was pacifistic, they wanted to go home and buy refrigerators, and so on, and they didn’t want any more wars, they wanted to de-mobilize, we’re done with that stuff — but they had to be whipped up into a war fever, because there was a new war coming along, the Cold War, which was a real war, as the internal documents explain, and it was necessary to bludgeon them into a belief in the demands of the Cold War, as Dean Acheson put it.
The- a presidential- well-known historian, presidential historian, Thomas Baily, explained in 1948, that because the masses are notoriously short-sighted, and generally cannot see danger until it is at their throats, our statesmen are forced to deceive them into an awareness of their own long-run interests. Deception of the people may, in fact, become increasingly necessary, unless we are willing to give our leaders in Washington a freer hand.
In other words, if we continue this nonsense of trying to control them through elections, and that sort of thing, it’s going to be necessary to have deception of the people, because the masses are too stupid and ignorant to understand the danger that’s at their throat. And that’s the role of the media, to carry out the appropriate deception.
Coming up to the present, or near-present. In 1981, when we were launching a new crusade for freedom, in Central America, Samuel Huntington, who is a professor of government at Harvard, and a long-time government advisor, explained in a discussion in the Harvard journal International Security, that you may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union you’re fighting. That’s what the United States has done ever since the Truman Doctrine. And that’s what, of course, we’re now doing. We’re fighting Nicaragua, but you’ve got to create the misimpression that it’s the Soviet Union that you’re fighting. That’s the job of the Office of Latin American Public Diplomacy, and of the cool observers, and of respectable intellectuals, and of the media, and so on. Actually that remark of his is quite accurate. It gives a certain insight into the Cold War, and also the modern period.
Well, these concerns about controlling the public mind, rather typically they arise in the wake of periods of war and turmoil. There’s a reason for that. Wars, depressions, and such things, they have a way of arousing people from apathy, and making them think, and sometimes even organize, and that raises all of these dangers.
So for example, Woodrow Wilson’s red scare — a very harsh and effective repression — immediately followed World War I. And that’s when you get the- this revolution in the art of democracy, about the need for manufacture of consent, and you get the FBI to really do the job properly, by force if necessary, as they did. What we call McCarthyism — which is actually a poor label because it was actually initiated by the liberal democrats in the late 1940s, and picked up and exploited by McCarthy — but what we call McCarthyism was a similar effort to overcome the energizing effect of the war and the depression in mobilizing the population, and causing them to challenge the- to reveal the mysteries of government, and do all these bad things. And after the Vietnam war the same thing happened. The Vietnam war was one factor, a major factor in fact, in causing the ferment of the 1960s. And that caused a lot of concern, deep concern which still exists, incidentally, because they haven’t been able to overcome it.
The Vietnam- the 60s created what liberal elites called a crisis of democracy. That’s the title of a quite important book on all of these topics, the first, and in fact, only book-length publication of the Trilateral Commission, published in 1975, called The Crisis of Democracy. It’s about the problem of governability of democracies. And there was a problem of the governability of democracies because people were getting out of hand. The domestic enemy was getting out of control, and something had to be done about it.
The Trilateral Commission puts together liberal corporate/State elites from the three major centers of State capitalism — Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, that’s why the trilateral. And it is the liberal elites. This is the group around Jimmy Carter. That’s where he came from, in fact, and virtually all of his cabinet and top advisers. It’s that segment of opinion.
The American rapporteur, the guy who gave the report on the- for the United States, was, again, Samuel Huntington. And he pointed out that Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers. Then there was no crisis of democracy. That’s the way things are supposed to be.
Incidentally, this kind of vulgar Marxist rhetoric is not untypical of internal documents in the government, or in the business press, and so on, and this was intended to be an internal document; they didn’t really expect people to read it, but it’s worth reading. I’m sure the library has it. They should.
The- but now this crisis of democracy had erupted. What had happened was, during the 1960s all sorts of segments of the population that are normally apathetic and passive and obedient and don’t get in the way, began to become organized and vocal and raise questions and press their demands in the political arena, and that caused an overload. That caused a crisis of democracy. You couldn’t just govern the country with a few Wall Street lawyers and bankers any longer, you had all these other pressures coming from the general population, and that’s a problem. And we’ve got to overcome the problem. And the way to overcome the problem, they said, all three- the whole group, is to introduce more moderation in democracy to mitigate the excess of democracy. That means, in short, to return the general population to their apathy and passivity, and the obedience which becomes them. That’s the stupid and ignorant masses have to be kept out of trouble, and when you get these crises of democracy, you’ve got to restore the norm, what we had before.
Well, that’s a view that goes right back to the origins of the republic. If you read the sayings of the founding fathers, you will discover that that was essentially their view as well. They also regarded the public as a dangerous threat. The way the country ought to be organized, as John Jay put it, the president of the constitutional convention and the first supreme court- chief justice of the supreme court, his- one of his favorite maxims, according to his biographer, was that those who run- those who own the country ought to govern it. And if they can’t govern it by force, they’ve got to govern it in another way, and that ultimately requires deception, propaganda, indoctrination, the manufacture of consent.
Well, let me summarize. There’s a standard view- rhetorical view, a standard view in rhetoric is basically that of Justice Powell — the public ought to exert meaningful control over the political process, and it’s the role of the media to allow them to do it. That’s the rhetoric. There’s a contrary view, which is that the public is a dangerous enemy, and it has to be controlled for its own good. And that contrary view is very widely held. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the dominant view among sophisticated commentators on political theory, going back to the 17th Century- democratic commentators. So we’ve got these two views counterposed.
Well, with regard to the media, turning to the media, the standard view is, again, the one I just described by Justice Powell, they have to- the media have to serve- if you’re going to serve the societal purpose of the first amendment, they have to be free and open and so on, and then the descriptive part of that is that that’s exactly what they do. That view is expressed, for example, by Judge Gurfein in a important case where he permitted the New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers, Nineteen Seventy-One or -Two. Gurfein’s decision says, that we have a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press, and it must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression, and the right of the people to know. So, granted, the press is a nuisance, but it’s important to allow it to maintain its adversarial and cantankerous ways, because it’s even, you know, serves an even higher purpose.
Well, at that point we begin to have a debate. The debate is between the people who say that the media are cantankerous and adversarial, and so on, and they’ve gone too far, and we’ve got to do something to control them and constrain them. In fact, the Trilateral Commission liberals also suggested that. They said the media have gone much too far in their adversarial ways, and we have to- if they can’t regulate themselves, probably the government will have to step in and regulate them. That’s on the liberal side. On the reactionary side, of course it’s much harder, you know, harsher ideas come along. So you have- the one side says that, we’ve got to curb the press, they’re too cantankerous, and then you’ve got the spokesmen for free speech, Judge Gurfein and so on, they say no, no, we agree, they’re pretty bad, but you’ve got to allow them to do this because of the higher purposes.
Well that’s the debate. And if you look over- there is a good deal of discussion of the media, and that’s the way it’s framed. Assumption: the media are adversarial, cantankerous, independent, and maybe even so much that they’re threatening democracy. And then comes the question: should we let them get away with it, or should we curb them? And the advocates of free speech say, sorry, you’ve got to let them get away with it, and the others say, no, there’s other values that are more important, like the governability of the country, and so on, so we’ve got to stop them.
Well, outside the spectrum of debate there’s another view. The other view says that the factual assumption is wrong — the factual assumption that’s taken for granted, not even argued, is just wrong. According to this alternative view, the media do fulfill a societal purpose, but it’s quite a different one. The societal purpose is exactly what is advocated by the elite view that I’ve described. The society inculcate and defend the economic and social and political agenda of particular sectors — privileged groups that dominate the domestic society, those that own the society and therefore ought to govern it — and they do this in all kind of ways. They do it by selection of topics, by distribution of concerns, by the way they frame issues, by the way they filter information, by the way they tell lies, like about revolutions without borders, by emphasis and tone, all sorts of ways, the most crucial of which is just the bounding of debate. What they do is say, here’s the spectrum of permissible debate, and within that you can have, you know, great controversy, but you can’t go outside it.
The right wing continually claims that the press has a liberal bias, and there’s some truth to that, but they don’t understand what it means. The liberal bias is extremely important in a system- in a sophisticated system of propaganda. In fact there ought to be a liberal bias. The liberal bias says, thus far and no further, I’m as far as you can go, and look how liberal I am. And of course it turns out that I accept without question all the presuppositions of the propaganda system. Notice that that’s a beautiful type of system. You don’t ever express the propaganda, that’s vulgar and too easy to penetrate, you just presuppose it. Unless you accept the presuppositions, you’re not part of the discussion. And the presuppositions are instilled, not by, you know, beating you over the head with them, but just by making them the foundation of discussion. You don’t accept them, you’re not in the discussion.
So, in the case of the, say, the Vietnam war, which was a major topic of debate, if you look over the media, there was a big debate over the Vietnam war. There were the hawks who said that if we continue to fight harder, if we’re more violent, and so on and so forth, then we can achieve the noble end of defending South Vietnam and the free people of South Vietnam from communism. And then there were the doves who said it’s probably not going to work, it’s probably not going to be too- it’s going to be too bloody, and it’s going to cost us too much, and therefore we’re not going to be able to achieve the noble end of defending the people of South Vietnam from communism.
Now, again, there’s another view, and that is that we were attacking South Vietnam. That other view has the merit of being true, obviously true, but it was inexpressible. That’s outside the spectrum of debate. You can enter the debate only if you accept the assumption. And if you check the media over the entire period as far as I can see — I’ve- Hermann and I in this book review the media from about 1950 to the present on Indochina, and I don’t think you can find an exception to this, even statistical error — that’s the spectrum, you’ve got to accept it. And the same is true- and there’s a liberal bias in the sense that towards the end of the war, like by about 1969 or 1970, after Wall Street had turned against the war, then you got a preponderance of doves, saying you probably aren’t going to succeed in defending freedom and democracy in South Vietnam, the country that we’re attacking.
Well, that’s- this conception of the media, which, notice, challenges the factual assumptions of the entire debate, that says that the media function in the way that Hermann and I call the propaganda model in this same book — they function in accord with the propaganda model. Now, propaganda sounds like a bad word, but remember that in more honest days, like in the International Encyclopedia of Social Science, propaganda was considered a perfectly good word, and in fact something that we ought to have. More of it. Because it’s needed for the reasons that Lasswell explained.
Well, notice that the propaganda model has lots of predictions. It predicts the way the media are going to behave. You can test those predictions. But it also has a prediction that’s kind of reflexive about the propaganda model itself. It predicts that the propaganda model can’t be taken seriously. And there’s a reason for that if you think it through. The propaganda model states that the debate has got to be within assumptions that are serviceable to powerful interests, and the propaganda model challenges those assumptions, so therefore it’s got to be out of the debate. OK. That prediction is, incidentally, very well confirmed. It is outside the debate. So that’s one bit of positive evidence for the propaganda model.
Notice, incidentally, that this model has a kind of disconcerting feature to it, if you think about it. Obviously the claims of the propaganda model are either valid or invalid. If they’re invalid, we can dismiss them. If they’re valid, we have to dismiss them. Right? So one way or another, you can be sure that this model isn’t going to be discussed. And that’s, in fact, true.
Well, now the basic questions from this point on are factual. Is the factual assumption that bounds the debate correct, or is it wrong? That’s a factual assumption, you can study it. And the real topic, you know the topic that ought to be investigated is that. Now, there isn’t time to do that now, so I’ll just make a couple of comments about it, and give a few illustrations.
Three comments first.
First, notice that the propaganda model has a number of features. One feature that it has, is that it’s advocated by elites. That is, it conforms with the normative opinion — the proposal that the public is dangerous, you got to ensure that they don’t get out of control, they have to be controlled by deception and propaganda since you don’t have the means to do it by force — and the propaganda model simply says, well yeah, they work the way elites say they ought to work. So, one point about the propaganda model is that, in fact, it has elite advocacy.
A second point about the propaganda model is that it’s- it’s got a kind of prior plausibility. In fact it’s almost natural under completely uncontroversial assumptions. If you look at the structure of the society you’d almost predict the propaganda model without even looking at the facts. Why is that true? Well, simply ask yourself what the major media are.
Now, the way the media work, there are some media which kind of set the agenda, you know, the most important ones, like The New York Times and The Washington Post, big national media, they set the agenda. If the government wants a story to get into television that evening, what it does is leak it to get into the front page of The Washington Post and The New York Times, on the assumption that television will pick it up and say, OK that’s important, so we’ll give it the front news. The same is true of national television. It sets- it sets the agenda that makes people think. The New York Times front page is sent over the wire services the afternoon of the day before — there is a thing, if you read the- you know, you look at that stuff that’s ground out of the AP wire, you’ll notice around four o’clock comes something that says, The New York Times front page tomorrow is going to look like so-and-so. Well, if you’re an editor of a journal in some small town, you read it and you say, oh, that’s what the important news is, and you frame your own reporting that way. Now, you know, it’s not, sort of, a hundred percent, but there is a kind of an agenda setting media — New York Times, Washington Post, the three television channels, a few others that participate to some extent in this.
Well, ask yourself what those institutions are. Answer: those institutions are first of all major corporations, some of the biggest corporations in the country. Furthermore, they’re integrated with, and in many cases owned by, even larger corporations, you know, like General Electric, and so on. So what you have is major corporations and conglomerates. Now, like other corporations, they sell a product to a market. The market in this case is advertisers; that’s what keeps them alive. The product is audiences. They sell audiences to advertisers. In fact for the major media, they try to sell privileged audiences to advertisers. That raises advertising rates, and those are the people they’re trying to reach anyway.
So, what you have is businesses- corporations, which are selling relatively privileged audiences to other businesses. Well, just ask yourself the natural question: what do you expect to come out of this interaction — major corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Well, what you expect to come out of it, on no further assumptions, is an interpretation of the world that reflects the interests and the needs of the sellers, the buyers, and the product. That wouldn’t be very surprising, in fact it would be kind of surprising if it weren’t true. So on relatively- and that, of course, means the propaganda model. So what you expect on relatively uncontroversial, sort of, free market assumptions, with nothing else said, is that you’ll get- the media will function in accord with the propaganda model.
Now, if you look more closely, there are many other factors which interact to lead to the same expectation. The ideological managers — the editors, and the columnists, and the, you know, the anchormen, and all that stuff — they’re very privileged people. They are wealthy, privileged people, whose associations and interests and concerns are closely related to those of the groups that dominate the economy, and that dominate the State, and in fact, it’s just a constant flow and interaction among all those groups. They’re basically the same group. They’re ultimately the people who own the country, or the ones who serve their interests. And, again, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to discover that these people share the perceptions and concerns and feelings and interests and, you know, attitudes of their associates and the people they’re connected with, and the people whose positions they aspire to take when they move on to the next job, and so on and so forth. Again, that wouldn’t be very surprising. And on and on, I won’t proceed. There are many other factors which tend in the same direction.
Well, that’s my second point. The second point is that the propaganda model has a kind of prior plausibility.
A third point, which is not too well known, is that the propaganda model is assumed to be true by most of the public. That is, in polls — contrary to what you hear — when people are asked in polls, you know, what do you think about the media, and so on, the general reaction is, they’re too conformist, they’re too subservient to power, you know, they’re too obedient. That’s the either plurality or sometimes even the majority view. And they’re not critical enough of government, for example, that’s the standard view.
Well, we have three observations now. The propaganda model has elite advocacy — that is, elites believe that’s the way it ought to be- the media ought to be. It has prior plausibility, it’s very plausible on uncontroversial free market assumptions. And it’s accepted as valid by a large part, probably the majority of the population. Well, those three facts don’t prove that it’s valid of course, but they do suggest that it might be part of the discussion. It’s not. It’s off the agenda, exactly as the propaganda model itself predicts. That’s interesting. That’s an interesting collection of facts.
Well, what about the factual matter of how the media behave? On this there are by now literally thousands of pages of documentation, detailed documentation, case studies and so on, which have put the model to a test in the harshest ways that anybody can dream up. I’ll talk about some of the ways of doing it later, you know, in discussion if you want, but I think it’s been subjected to quite a fair test, in fact a very harsh test. There’s no challenge to it as far as I know. If there is, I’ve missed it. The few cases where there’s any discussion of it, the level of argument is so embarrassingly bad that it just tends to reinforce the plausibility of the model. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that this is one of the best confirmed theses in the social sciences. But in accord with its predictions, it’s off the agenda. You can’t even discuss it.
Well, what I ought to do now is what has to be done in a course, actually, not a talk, and that is to turn to cases — you know, ask how you can test it, what the results are, and so on. And there’s plenty of material in print, and more coming out, which you can check and see whether you’re convinced that in fact it’s plausible, or accurate. My feeling is, it is. I’ll just give a couple of illustrative cases. And let me stress that I do this with some reluctance, because the illustrative cases are misleading, they suggest that maybe it’s a sporadic phenomenon. In fact, when somebody gives you a couple of cases, you rightly ask whether they’re an adequate sample, you know, maybe they were just selected to work. So you ought to be suspicious about isolated cases. That’s why the model has, in fact, been tested from many approaches. But that misleading necessity aside, because I can’t do more than that, let me give you a couple of cases to illustrate the kind of thing that I think you will find if you pursue the question of fact.
Let’s take something that you’d certainly expect the media to be concerned with, namely, freedom of the press; they’ve got a professional interest in that. And in fact there’s a good deal of discussion of freedom of the press in the media.
In the- keeping just to the last decade, the problems of the press in repressive societies has been very widely discussed. Many examples. The case that has been by far the most discussed, in fact I suspect it has been discussed more than all questions of media- of freedom of the press throughout the entire world during this period, is the one newspaper in Latin America that ninety-nine percent of the literate population would be able to name if they were asked to name a newspaper in Latin America, namely, La Prensa in Nicaragua.
There has been an overwhelming amount of reporting on the tribulations of La Prensa in Nicaragua. One media analyst, Francisco Goldman, who studied freedom of the press in these countries, pointed out that in four years he found about two hundred and sixty references to this in the New York Times. That’s an incredible amount of coverage. I’m sure — I don’t think anybody’s done the study, but try it, if anybody wants — I’m sure you’ll find that this is more coverage than has been given to all other problems of the freedom of the press, combined, all over the world, probably by a considerable factor. Anyhow, that’s the one- you know, that’s the famous case.
And this coverage has been very irate and angry because of the tribulations of La Prensa. For example, when- well, let’s go back to the moment when Ronald Reagan succeeded in convincing Congress to vote a hundred million dollars in aid so that we’d have a war a real war, in violation of the demand of the World Court that the United States consider its- stop- terminate it’s unlawful aggression. Right after that, after the government announced that we finally got a war a real war, the government of Nicaragua suspended La Prensa. And that caused tremendous outrage in the United States.
There’s a group- there’s a distinguished group of journalism fellows at Harvard, the Nieman Foundation, and they immediately gave their award for the year to Violeta Chamorro, the editor of La Prensa, to express their solidarity with her in this moment of crisis, to show how deeply committed they are to freedom of the press. The Washington Post had an editorial right after that called newspaper of valor, in which they said Violeta Chamorro should receive ten awards, not one award. The New York review of books had an article by a left liberal correspondent, Murray Kempton, appealing to people to contribute funds to keep, you know, La Prensa alive during this period. Those funds could then be added on to the CIA subvention that had kept the journal going since the Carter administration in 1979, right after the Sandinista revolution succeeded. And in fact in general there was great frenzy and hysteria about this terrible attack on freedom of the press.
Well, let’s look a little more closely.
First of all, what is La Prensa? La Prensa is a journal which calls for the overthrow of the government of Nicaragua by a foreign power, which funds it, and which is trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua. It’s an interesting fact. You might check the history of the West to see whether there’s ever been any such thing.
For example, you might ask whether a major newspaper in the United States, you know, the wealthiest newspaper in the United States was funded by the Nazis in 1943 calling for the overthrow of the government of the United States, and you might ask yourself what would have happened if that was possible. Well, you can get the answer very quickly. Even tiny little newspapers which weren’t funded by anybody, and that raised questions about conscientious objection, and so on, they were censored and controlled and suppressed, and so on. During the First World War it was even more vicious, we even actually put a Presidential candidate in jail for ten years after the First World War because he had- because he had declared opposition to the draft. The- so- and in fact there’s nothing comparable to this in the history of the West, or in world history altogether.
Now, La Prensa is described in the United States as the journal that opposed Somoza. In fact there was a journal called La Prensa which did oppose the Somoza regime, courageously, its editor was, in fact, murdered, and it had the same name as this journal, La Prensa, and it’s described as the same journal. But is that true? Well, now it’s a little tricky at this point. It certainly has the same name.
In 1980 the owners of La Prensa decided to convert the journal into a- into a journal dedicated to the overthrow of the government. At that point they fired the editor — the brother of the editor who had been murdered under Somoza — and there was a split in the staff. Eighty percent of the staff left with the editor and formed a new journal, El Nuevo Diario, which is the successor of the old La Prensa, at least if a newspaper is defined by its editor and its staff, not- of course if it’s defined by the money that’s behind it supplied by the CIA, then you have a different answer to what’s the old La Prensa. That, incidentally, is also something that’s never discussed.
But suppose that’s true, let’s suppose it’s just a CIA journal, and in fact that there’s no parallel to it in the history of the West, all of that being true, calling for the overthrow of the government, funded by the outside power- superpower that is trying to overthrow the government. Well, nevertheless a true civil libertarian would defend La Prensa from harassment. I think that somebody who really believes in civil liberties should say, yes, England should have permitted the press to be dominated by Nazi Germany in 1942, and if they didn’t do it, that shows they don’t believe in freedom. That’s the position of a real civil libertarian. And that’s the position of the American intellectual community with regard to La Prensa.
And now at this point we ask the obvious question: is this passionate commitment to freedom of the press based on libertarian enthusiasms and passions, or is it based on service to the State?
Well, there’s a way of answering that question. In fact we all know the way of answering that question. It’s a question that we regularly ask — or don’t even bother asking because the answer’s so obvious — when we look at propaganda of our enemies. So you take a look at productions of, say, the World Peace Council, which is a communist front peace organization, or the East German Peace Committee, you know, the Government Peace Committee. You read that material, and you’ll find that there’s all sorts of descriptions there, generally valid descriptions, of crimes and atrocities and repression in the United States or committed by the United States and its agents, and so on, and great outrage over these horrors. Often that material is accurate, and often in fact it’s material that’s not reported here. Well, do we praise them for their, you know, libertarian passions? No, we first ask a question. We ask, how do they deal with repression and atrocities carried out by the Soviet Union and its clients, where they are, the ones they’re responsible for? Well, as soon as we get the answer to that question we dismiss the whole story with contempt and ridicule, properly, even if their charges are accurate. That’s a fair test, and we ought to have the honesty to apply the same test to ourselves. So let’s do it.
We now ask the same question about the defenders of liberty of the press in the case of La Prensa — New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Review of Books, the educated community, and so on, the Nieman Fellows, and so on. How do we test that? Well we look at- same test, we look at cases of repression of freedom of the press in our domains, and we ask how they reacted, and there are many such cases, very close by in fact.
So take El Salvador. El Salvador had independent newspapers at one time. It doesn’t have them any longer. These were not newspapers funded by a foreign power trying to overthrow the government in El Salvador. They were not newspapers supporting the guerrillas. In fact, they were mildly liberal newspapers calling for mild reforms, like, land reform and things like that, raising questions about the concentration of land, and so on. Those newspapers don’t exist anymore. They were not censored. They were not harassed. Rather, another technique was used by the government that we installed, trained, directed, and armed. The technique was, in the case of one newspaper, the security forces picked up an editor and a photojournalist in a San Salvador restaurant, took them outside and cut them to pieces with machetes, and left them in a ditch. The owner then fled. That took care of one newspaper without censorship.
The second newspaper, it took a couple of bombing attempts, three assassination attempts, finally the military that we train support and arm surrounded the premises of the newspaper, entered it, smashed the place up. At that point the editor then fled. That took care of the second newspaper.
So that’s the end of the free press in El Salvador.
Well, now we ask the question. Where- how would- did the American press respond to this? Well, that was actually investigated by F.A.I.R., Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting — media monitoring organization — they checked eight- I guess it was eight years of The New York Times to see what there had been- what had been said about this. Well it turns out there was not one word in the news columns of The New York Times about this. I checked the editorials. There was not one phrase in the editorials about this. In fact the only reference to these two things in The New York Times was that the editor of one of the journals who’d fled was allowed an op-ed, in which he described what had happened. And that’s important, because it means all the civil libertarians knew about it — the ones that read The New York Times, like the Nieman Fellows, and the editors of the New York Review, and the editors of The New York Times — they all knew about it, it just wasn’t important enough to report or to comment on. Well, that tells you where the commitment to the freedom of the press is.
Turn to the neighboring country of Guatemala. There, too, there was no censorship. They took care of freedom of the press by simply murdering about fifty journalists in the early eighties, including people, you know, journalists murdered right when they were on radio and television announcing. Somehow that took care of freedom of the press without any censorship. Virtually no discussion — a few words here and there. Well now this- but this was the government that we supported- that we supported, remember. Supported enthusiastically. That government is supposed to now be a democracy. They had an election that we all proudly hail and so on. And after the democracy was established, one of the editors who had fled returned, this was last year, just a year ago, to try to open a small newspaper. Again, wasn’t funded by a foreign power, you know, wasn’t calling for the overthrow of the government, nothing like that, just a small, very small, limited capital, sort of left liberal newspaper. La Epoca, it was called.
He- as soon as he came back to the country, the death squads, which are just adjuncts of the security forces, threatened him with death if he didn’t leave the country. But he continued, he started up the newspaper. It ran a couple of issues. Then, fifteen armed men, surely from the security services, broke into the offices, fire bombed them, destroyed the premises, kidnapped the night watchman. The editor called a press conference the next day in which he announced that this shows that there can’t be any freedom of the press in the so-called democracy of Guatemala. Some members of the European press came, I don’t think any American reporter came. There was- he then received another death threat warning him to leave the country or be killed. He did flee the country. He was taken to the airport by a Western ambassador so that he wouldn’t be killed along the way, and he went back into exile in Mexico.
Well, how much coverage did that one get? In The New York Times and the Washington Post, which are the two that I checked, the amount of coverage was zero. Not a word about it. And it’s not that they didn’t know it. They did know it. And you can prove that they knew it, because if you look in the small print you’ll find oblique references to it. So for example, in the culture section of The New York Times a couple of weeks later, there’s a report — somebody went down to some, you know, meeting in Mexico, and met this guy, and he sort of refers to the facts. So they knew about it, it just wasn’t important enough to report.
Let’s take the other major client of the United States, in fact, the major client of the United States, the State of Israel. That’s the major subsidized country of the United States, so you want to find out what American elites think about freedom of the press, let’s take a look at the way they react to freedom of the press in Israel.
Now, here history was kind enough to set up some controlled experiments for us. Literally. The week- let’s go back to the week when La Prensa was suspended — remember, right after the United States had declared war against Nicaragua, as the administration said, in violation of the World Court ruling and they suspended this newspaper funded by the United States and calling for the overthrow of the government. Well, that- just- right then Israel closed two newspapers in Jerusalem, two newspapers in Jerusalem were closed, permanently. That’s not the first time that had happened. The case went to the Supreme Court, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled that it was legitimate to close the two newspapers, because the security services had claimed, without providing any evidence, because they don’t have to, that these newspapers were funded by hostile elements, which presumably means the PLO. And the court declared, high court declared that no government would ever permit a business to function, however legitimate it may be, that’s funded and supported by a hostile power. Freedom of press, they said, exists in Israel, but it’s limited, and is not permitted to undermine the security of the State. That’s the high court.
Well, how much coverage was there of those two things while everybody was hysterical about La Prensa? Answer: zero. Or, to be precise, there was a reference. In a letter to The Boston Globe, in which I was commenting on the total hypocrisy of Harvard University and the Nieman Fellows, I mentioned it. But that, as far as I know, is the total- is the total references in the United States.
Now, the week after the Central American peace accords went into operation, October 1987, La Prensa was opened again, and it returned to its task of calling for the overthrow of the government, and so on, and identifying itself with the Contras, and so on. The week that La Prensa was reopened, history again ran a nice experiment for us. That week, the State of Israel closed a newspaper in Nazareth — that’s inside Israel — and closed a news office in Nablus. The newspaper in Nazareth was closed because the State had again alleged, without providing any evidence, that it was associated with a hostile group. And the courts went- again, went to the courts, and the courts declared that this was legitimate, even though the editor had stated — which, of course, was true — that everything that appeared in the newspaper had gone through censorship, because they have heavy censorship. Didn’t matter. The news office in Nablus was closed on the same pretext, you know, some connection with a hostile group. As far as I know it never went to the courts.
So how much coverage was there of those two things? Well, the usual answer: zero.
I could go on, but these facts show very clearly, they answer very clearly the first question. The concern over freedom of the press in Nicaragua is a total fraud. It does not have anything to do with concern for freedom of the press, it simply has to do with concern for serving the State. In fact, the number of people in the United States who believe in freedom of the press, and who, I don’t mean ordinary- of the people who write about such topics or speak about them, the number who believe in freedom of the press, I think they could easily fit in somebody’s living room, or maybe in a telephone booth in fact. And they would include virtually nobody who’s gotten hysterical on this topic, or even mentioned it.
Well that’s the kind of thing you’ll discover if you look closely. I’ll just give you one final example.
When I talk about this topic I like to use this morning’s New York Times, and you can always find a perfectly good example there on the front page, but today, unfortunately, I didn’t have- I got up at five o’clock in the morning in Eau Claire in a snow storm and had to drive here, and I didn’t have time to find the Times, so I’ll have to use yesterday’s. I apologize. Last one I’ve looked at.
The lead story in The New York Times yesterday, you know, major story on the left- right hand side of the front page is a story entitled: U.S. Envoy Urges Hondurans To Let The Contras Stay. And then comes, as the Bush administration is trying to convince Honduras to let the Contras stay there, and it goes on, and you get down to the middle of the second page, you know, the continuation page, and you find the following sentence: on its face, the administration proposal to keep the Contras in place would seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the regional peace agreement which calls for their relocation, but administration officials say there’s no inconsistency. OK. There’s a forthright critique of the government. Let’s look at the facts that lie behind that.
It’s not that the proposal seems to be inconsistent with the spirit of the regional peace agreement, it’s that it’s flatly inconsistent with the wording of the regional peace agreement. And it doesn’t matter which regional peace agreement you’re referring to. If you’re referring to the Central American Peace Accords of August 1987, they identify one indispensable element, they call it, for bringing peace to the region, and that’s the termination of any aid — logistical, technical, propagandistic — any aid whatsoever to the irregular forces, meaning the Contras, attacking from another country. There was a more recent agreement, just a couple of weeks ago, in which the Central American Presidents committed themselves, all five of them, to remove the Contras within- to work out plans for removing the Contras within ninety days. So, this is not- does not seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the agreements, it’s flatly inconsistent with their precise wording.
And it goes on, the point goes on. There’s going to be a vote in Congress about humanitarian aid to the Contras, who we’re convincing Nicaragua to leave in- to Honduras to leave in Nicaragua, and the press is going to refer to this as humanitarian aid, as they’ve been doing all along. Well, the term humanitarian aid has a meaning. In fact the meaning was made very precise by the World Court, the highest authority on such issues, in the very same judgment in which it condemned the United States for its aggression in Nicaragua. They defined humanitarian aid as aid which meets- it says, to qualify as humanitarian aid, aid must meet the hallowed purposes of the Red Cross, that is, must serve civilians in need and suffering. And furthermore, to qualify as humanitarian aid, aid must be given to civilians on both sides of the conflict without discrimination, otherwise it just doesn’t qualify as humanitarian aid. So, by the ruling of the World Court — in fact that’s the standard definition — what the media call humanitarian aid isn’t humanitarian aid at all, it’s just military aid. It’s aid to keep the military force in- present in a- so that they can continue to pose a threat to Nicaragua.
I should add, incidentally, that it’s very likely that the United States is sending military aid to Contras inside Nicaragua, illegally, from the Ilopango air base in San Salvador, exactly as they’ve been doing all along. That was- that’s what’s called the Hasenfus Group, because it was exposed when the American mercenary Eugene Hasenfus was shot down.
Now that had been going on for years, and the media knew about it for years and they weren’t reporting it. The scandal came when they were forced to report what they’d always known. And then some of the more honest of them admitted, yeah, we knew it all along, we weren’t reporting it. In fact, they were being informed all along, by Nicaraguan intelligence, that these flights were coming, they were told how many there were, where they were, you know, they got radar sightings, it just wasn’t the kind of story you report if you’re a good commissar. So none of it was reported until the plane was shot down with the American mercenary, and then, you know, you can’t stop reporting.
Well the same Nicaraguan sources that were ignored before, and were accurate, as everyone concedes, are once again reporting that Nicaraguan radar is starting to pick up Contra flights from Ilopango air force base into Nicaragua. And there’s no particular reason to doubt that those reports are accurate now, but I don’t think there’s a single reference to these reports in the media, at least, I haven’t been able to find one. And it’s not because they don’t know it. They came across the AP wire, which means that everybody knows it. And it’s not that it’s an obscure fact, after all that’s all the Iran-Contra hearings were about. It’s just that a disciplined press doesn’t report things like that.
Now this is a free country, so you can find out about it. All the readers of Barricada Internacional, the Sandinista newspaper that’s put out in, you know, that’s distributed from San Francisco, so that’s about fifteen-hundred people, and so on, they could find out. So fortunately, you know, nice not to be in a totalitarian country, but the readers of the news — or people who happen to have access to the AP wires and read them all day, you know, they could find out — but people who are looking at the tube, or reading their newspaper are not going to find out, though it’s pretty important.
Well, continuing with humanitarian aid, there’s going to be a vote on it in a couple of weeks, and probably they’ll vote it. The so-called humanitarian aid that’s been given is in violation of the Central American agreements. It’s actually even in violation of the very Congressional legislation that legislated the aid. In other words, there’s- it’s internal self-contradiction, which nobody will point out in the media. How’s that work? It works as follows.
The congressional legislation last year to give humanitarian aid stipulated that that aid must be in accord with the Central American agreements, and with the cease-fire agreement that had been just settled between the Contras and the government of Nicaragua. That’s the legislation. Well, that cease-fire agreement is quite explicit about the point. It says, aid may be given to Contras in designated cease-fire zones, inside Nicaragua, for the purpose of relocating them and reintegrating them into Nicaraguan society. Now that’s what the- so that means the Congressional- the- according to the Congressional legislation, that’s the only aid we can give. Furthermore, it says that the aid has to be given by a neutral carrier. Well, Congress immediately voted to violate its own legislation that it had just passed, by designating US Aid as the carrier. By no stretch of the imagination is that neutral, in fact — I don’t have to bother talking about that, that’s a State department affiliate which has often functioned as a front for the CIA. Furthermore the aid was to go to Contras in Honduras, not cease-fire zones inside Nicaragua, and to maintain them, not to assist in their relocation and reintegration into Nicaraguan society.
So Congress at once voted to violate its own legislation. Furthermore, the same cease-fire agreements designated a responsible authority to determine how the agreements should be met. The authority was the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Secretary-General Suarez of the Organization of the American States. As soon as this happened, he wrote a letter to George Shultz, condemning the United States for carrying out this violation of the cease-fire agreement. In fact, we even violated the Congressional legislation. None of this has ever been reported as far as I know. Try to find it somewhere.
So, even the fact that the responsible authority at once said the aid was illegal, even the fact that the Congressional aid that- is violating even its own stipulations, let alone the cease-fire agreement of the regional peace accord, none of this is reported, and I’ll make a prediction, when the issue comes up in a couple of weeks about renewing it, you’re not going to find any of this reported again.
Well, that’s the kind of thing you find when you look, and you find it all over the place, in fact I think you find it near universally. I mean, it would be hard to find an exception to it. It’s to be expected. That’s the way you’d expect the media to function on pretty plausible assumptions.
Let me return finally to the prediction of the propaganda model that I mentioned.
However well confirmed it may be, it’s not going to be part of the discussion, it’s going to be outside the spectrum of discussion, it’s very validity guarantees that for the reasons that I mentioned. And that conclusion, again, is quite well confirmed, and one can assume with reasonable confidence that that will continue to be the case.
[Discussion follows below.]
NOAM CHOMSKY: Is there somebody standing at the mike? Why don’t we- let’s just make it mechanical. Start over there, then go over there, and then go up there. OK? And then we’ll go around. OK. Because I can’t see-
QUESTIONER: Professor Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
QUESTIONER: I have listened with great interest to many of your theories considering political systems and the ideologies behind them. However, a number of statements which you have made in the past are of great concern to me. First and foremost among them is your claim that the Soviet Union is, in fact, a dungeon. And to my way of thinking, such blanket condemnation of an entire society can only be regarded, to say the least, as inappropriate. Moreover, I believe that these kinds of statements can become quite destructive in serving to propagate inadequate and outdated notions of the communist enemy, and I- I just wonder if your- if these ideas- I’ve been waiting three years to respond to that statement of yours, and I wondered if in the light of the changes that have- that have come about with glasnost and perestroika, openness and restructuring — arguable- it’s arguable how significant they are — but if you- I don’t know if you still maintain that strict view on the subject.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. Well, first of all I didn’t say that the society is, I said that the State is, the government, and the, you know maybe people living in their homes are not. But, I said it because I think it’s true. I mean, I think that the Soviet Union is a dungeon, and I also don’t think it has anything to do with communism or anything to do with socialism. As to the changes, I think, you know they’re, one hopes that they’ll work. What’s happened is that the jailers have decided to relax it a little bit. Notice that those changes are coming from the top. Which is good, you know, better than having no changes. But, in fact, Gorbachev has concentrated more power into his hands than the leadership had in the past, and he’s using that power in something like the manner of Peter the Great, to try to liberalize the society from above, which means to cut back the restrictions, to open it up a bit, and I think that’s all to the good. I mean, I have a feeling that those changes will — they have already set forth lots of, you know, they have- when you introduce changes like that, lots of things begin to happen. Popular forces do begin to develop, and you get all kind of conflicts, and interesting things happen, and it remains to be seen where it will lead. So I’m glad to see that the, what I- as I see it, if you want to continue with the metaphor, that the jailers have decided to open the cells a little bit, and to allow a little more freedom in the society, I think that’s very good, and I hope that other forces get them to continue to do it. But as to- I mean we could discuss whether this is an accurate perception of the society or not. I guess you think it isn’t. I think it is — I’ll explain why if you like — but to get to your- to the point you raised, suppose I think that it is. I think I should say it. I don’t see any reason not to say it if I think it’s true.
QUESTIONER: I guess my only real question is, there’s political repression in the United States too
NOAM CHOMSKY: Sure
QUESTIONER: does that make the United States a dungeon?
NOAM CHOMSKY: No,
NOAM CHOMSKY: because the United States is a much freer- in fact the- what I’ve said about the United States, and I’ll say it again, it’s in many ways the freest society in the world. Sure there’s repression here, but it’s also a, by comparative standards, a very free society. In fact I think that’s one of the reasons it has such sophisticated thought control, as I tried to explain.
The capacity of the- the capacity of the State to coerce in the United States is relatively limited. You’re quite right that there’s plenty of oppression. I mentioned the FBI, which is the national political police, which is dedicated to oppression. That’s its job. It’s been doing it ever since it was founded. Well, you know, that’s inconsistent with the free society. But, again, by comparative standards, remember I’m talking about comparative standards, the United States is quite a free society. The capacity of the State to coerce, I think, is limited, probably- more so than any other society I know at least. So I don’t think that it would be correct to call it a dungeon.
QUESTIONER: Well thank you.
QUESTIONER: Yes, Professor Chomsky,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah.
QUESTIONER: if you walked two blocks back from where you’re standing right now, you’d come across a marvelous example of what I’ve described on various- various occasions as an excellent example of above-ground bunker neo-fascist
NOAM CHOMSKY: Of a what?
QUESTIONER: of above-ground bunker neo-fascist architecture, called Vilas Hall. Vilas Hall is the school of communications, the com-arts building, the school of journalism. I imagine there are a number of journalism students in the audience tonight. I imagine there are a good number of people who, well, they filter in, they become middle-echelon apparatchiki for the media empire that you discussed. They come out imbued with the ideology of value-free objective reporting. It’s the major ideological offensive against the kind of model that you want to pose as an alternative. I wonder if you could talk to the audience here about the ideology of objectivity and value-free reporting within this system.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there is such an ideology, and it’s interesting to see how it’s interpreted. Objectivity means, you take what people in power say and you report it accurately without distorting their quotes, and then, sort of down at the bottom of the column, you know, down at the bottom of the column you may say things like what I quoted, if you’re really an intrepid reporter, you say, well this may seem to be inconsistent with the spirit of the peace agreement. That’s, you know, that’s objective reporting. If the State department announces that Nicaragua has called for a revolution without borders, then even if you know it happens to be a lie, an objective reporter just reports it, because they said it after all, it’s true that they said it. And it wouldn’t be objective- it would be introducing opinions to say it’s a lie, I suppose.
So there is an ideology of objectivity, and I wouldn’t just scoff at it, incidentally. The fact of the matter is that, by and large, American reporters- if you had two, you know, a bunch of reporters describing something they saw, I would tend, by and large, to trust the American reporter at least as much, maybe more, than those who come out of other traditions, because this business of objectivity is not completely to be scoffed at. The effort to try to keep your reporting to the facts and not to introduce opinion is a worthy effort, and sometimes it shows up in accurate description. And there are some reporters, I should say, who do it extremely well, and have a very good record of it. And in fact this even includes reporters who work for the journals that, in my view, are right at the core of the propaganda system.
So take, say, John Kifner of The New York Times. I think you can tell when The New York Times editors want some story to be reported accurately for their own purposes. That’s when they send John Kifner to report it, because he’s going to report it accurately. Now when they don’t want it reported accurately anymore they take him off and put him back at the metro desk. That’s one test as to what the editors have in mind. And there are times when they want stories reported accurately, and there are some journalists who really do it.
On the other hand when they send Thom Friedman out, their current chief diplomatic correspondent, you know what they want is propaganda. You want somebody who’s going to say, as he just said after he was advanced to this august post, that the United States is now, you know, sort of, under the Bush administration, planning to support the Central American peace accords which were introduced and proposed and advanced by Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Omission there, but that’s part of the game. That’s what happens when you send Thomas Friedman to report a story. And I presume that the editors understand these things. That’s incidentally, I presume, why Thomas Friedman is chief diplomatic correspondent and John Kifner isn’t. But you’d have to ask the editors about that.
The- so, to get back to your point, the objectivity- it’s a good thing, it’s a good value, to be objective in reporting, and the people who do it honestly do very good journalism. But, as you’re implying, that ideology can be used to be a distorting mechanism, and quite commonly is.
QUESTIONER: Is George Bush’s hands-off policy just a cover, and all the action of the executive branch will be handled covertly? Or is it an opportunity for the legislative branch and the American people to take back the reins of power?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, I don’t- first of all, what makes you think George Bush has a hands-off policy?
QUESTIONER: That’s how it’s reported. That’s what I,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, OK. But.
QUESTIONER: that perception of
NOAM CHOMSKY: Right, but that’s,
QUESTIONER: a hands-off policy
NOAM CHOMSKY: that’s not very good evidence
QUESTIONER: I think the perception isn’t-
NOAM CHOMSKY: The fact- the fact of the matter is, Ronald Reagan had a hands-off policy. In fact, Ronald Reagan didn’t- probably didn’t even know what the policies were. This is an interesting fact about the last eight years, which, again, should not be laughed at. The fact of the matter is, for the last- I mean the media had to put on a big pretense about this, but everybody knew, you know, everybody with their eyes open knew, and most of the population knew, that for the last eight years the country hasn’t had a chief executive. Now, that’s an important fact. In fact, I think that’s a step forward in manufacture of consent, and in fact it’s maybe a sign of the future of political democracy. I think the United States made a leap into the future in the last eight years. If you- they have sort of retracted a little, but I think they’ll go on, and I think other industrial democracies will follow us.
If you could get to the point where voting is simply the matter- a matter of selecting purely symbolic figures, then you would have gone a long way towards marginalizing the public. And that pretty well happened in the last eight years. You know, you had somebody who probably didn’t know what the policies were. His job was to read the lines rich- written for him by the rich folk — what he’s been doing for the last thirty or forty years. And he seems to enjoy it and he gets well paid for it, and everybody seems happy, but to vote for Ronald Reagan is like voting for the Queen of England. And that’s an advance.
I don’t really mean this as a joke, I think that’s an advance, you know, it’s progress in marginalizing the public. Part of marginalizing the public is, taking the formal mechanisms of participation which exist, and ensuring that they don’t lead to a crisis of democracy by being substantive. And what better method can you think of that simply reducing them to the selection of symbolic figures. I think that happened, and I think the press hasn’t covered it, though they doubtless know it.
But as for George Bush, I think you’ve got to return to a, you know, to a sort of more normal situation. I don’t have any reason to believe that there’s any hands-off policy. If- there will be the same kind of resort to covert activities that there’s been in the past.
When does the government resort to covert activities? Well, typically, when the domestic enemy doesn’t allow it to carry out the activities in public. That’s when a government resorts to clandestine activities. Clandestine activities are difficult, complex, expensive, they carry the danger of being exposed. It’s much easier and more efficient to carry out violent activities overtly. And a government typically, our government in particular, when it resorts to clandestine activities, it’s usually because it’s afraid of the public.
Those activities are not much of a secret from anybody else. They’re certainly not a secret from the victims. They’re not a secret from other- from the various mercenary States that we have involved in it, like the whole stuff in the Iran-Contra hearings. That wasn’t a secret to Nicaragua, it wasn’t a secret to Israel, it wasn’t a secret to Taiwan, or Saudi Arabia, or Brunei, you know, nobody- it wasn’t a secret to anybody out there. It wasn’t a secret to the whole array of shady businessmen who were in it to make a buck, like Richard Secord and Albert Hakim and so on. Fact of the matter is, it wasn’t even a secret to Congress and the media. As I said, they knew about the Contra flights, they just weren’t reporting it. They also knew about the arms sales to Iran through Israel, and they weren’t reporting it. They couldn’t suppress any of that any longer after a plane was shot down with an American mercenary, and after the Iranian government revealed the fact that the national security advisor was wandering around Teheran giving out bibles and chocolate cakes. At that point you couldn’t suppress it any longer so it became public, and then comes a cover-up operation.
But the point is, it wasn’t really secret to anybody much, and I think you can easily document that. I was, for example, writing about it from public sources throughout this whole period. But the point is, you can keep it secret from the public. It was at a low enough level so you could keep it secret from the public, and that means the domestic enemy didn’t get too outraged over it. Remember that you’ve got to control enemy territory, and that’s what covert operations are for. If the government happens to be committed to activities — to violent or terroristic or subversive or other activities — that the domestic public, the domestic enemy will not tolerate, it’ll move to covert actions. That’s what they’re for, and there’s no reason to believe that the Bush administration will be any different from others in this respect. Especially, you know, in fact less reason, after all what’s Bush’s background?
QUESTIONER: Dr. Chomsky, you- a statement in the recent [inaudible] interview regarding the feminist movement, that it has had- been the most important in the actual effects it’s had on social life and cultural patterns. You’re quoted accurately, it’s been a lasting important movement [inaudible] impact on everything. Why is it that not only the left has trouble with, you know, in some ways, working with the feminist movement, but perhaps tolerates, to what I feel is an unacceptable degree, anti-feminist individuals and perspectives within its mix? That’s one question, and the second question,
NOAM CHOMSKY: Did- could you be more specific about what you had in mind? I mean,
QUESTIONER: Well, I- I don’t know, that’s a tough thing, because I’d rather not go on,
NOAM CHOMSKY: OK.
QUESTIONER: but, another one I’d like to throw out for you is that you are a world-class linguist, and I’m wondering how this kind of blends in or interfaces with your political work.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, well, I mean the- actually the issues of feminism- the context of that remark was my expression, if I recall correctly, was my- was an answer to a question of what happened to the movements of the ’60s. And there is a propaganda story about this. The story is that movements of the ’60s had all this idealism, and so on and so forth, it all faded, and after that everybody’s just interested in themselves, and it all just disappeared. And I think that’s nonsense. I think that’s propaganda, and it’s, in fact, an attempt to make people feel that they ought to give up.
But the fact of the matter, if you look objectively, at least as I look, it seems to me that the movements of the ’60s just expanded and grew in the 1970s, and expanded and grew even more in the ’80s, and they now reach into much wider areas of the society than ever before. Groups like this, for example, would not have been around, and certainly wouldn’t have listened to a talk like this twenty years ago. But now they do all over the country, and not just in universities, also in, you know, small towns, and churches, and so on and so forth. I think the movements just expanded. That’s why the Reagan administration was forced into clandestine activities, in fact. Enemy territory was out of control.
But as for the- the reason I mentioned the feminist movement specifically is because that’s a product of the ’70s. And in my view, as you quoted, accurate, I think it- in terms of its overall impact, it’s probably the one that had the greatest impact on cultural patterns, and relations, and structures of authority, and so on and so forth, of any of them, and that’s the ’70s and the ’80s.
Now to get back to your point about the left. A large part of the origins of the contemporary feminist movement were in the left, and they were in reaction to the sexism inside the left. That was a big issue in the late ’60s, you know, big issue, and a very emotional and complicated issue. And that was one of the roots of the modern feminist movement. Of course, you know, feminist movements go way back. And it could be that the left still tolerates sexism and sexist individuals, I’m sure it does. If- to the extent that it does, that’s just something to be overcome. Not just on the left, everywhere else as well. I don’t see that it has anything special to do with the left.
QUESTIONER: My name is Nancy, and I work with the international socialist organization, and I just want to start by saying I, like I’m sure many, many, many, other people who are here tonight are deeply indebted to your work. It’s been absolutely essential in helping us cut through the kind of garbage that we’re faced with every day when we try to figure out what’s going on in the world. But I think
NOAM CHOMSKY: Here comes the but.
QUESTIONER: But I think there’s also, if I could continue, I think there is also a problem in the analysis that I’ve seen in your works, and that you presented tonight, in the sense that, I think we can tend to lose the forest for the trees — that you present so many, you know, astonishing details about what is wrong with the system, and about what is wrong with the media, that we can tend to lose sight of what I think the really key question is, which is, why is this control necessary in the first place. And I would submit, at least, that I think it’s because there’s — I’ve got a minute and a half, I swear to God it’s no longer — it’s because there’s antagonistic interests involved. They didn’t talk about milkmaids and dairy- whatever it was, dairymaids, and spinsters, and laborers in the seventeenth century for no reason, it was because they were the working class. And what we see today in this country, I think, is quite frankly, let’s speak bluntly, a ruling class which tries to control a working class population. And that’s what it’s about, is holding on to that power.
If that’s the case, then it seems like to me the question that we face is how to organize to change that system, to challenge capitalism. And I think in that effort you do a disservice to your listeners, and to the people who respect your work, when you equate Lenin with Stalinism as blithely as you did tonight. I say that, and I think it’s also important to point out that that is an unquestioned assumption, and also an easy applause-getter, we saw, that you share with the mainstream media. And I think if it were actually that simple, the horrific kinds of measures that even bourgeois historians describe as a counterrevolution under Stalin would not have been necessary if they were all the same to begin with.
Now, in short, to sum up, the situation that you have outlined tonight I think is extremely serious, and I think it’s important that we all take it seriously. What we’re talking about is literally the fate of millions of lives around the world, as particularly in the international politics that you describe. That being the case, then I think we need a full, and a serious, and a fair discussion of various different alternatives, not just talking about the horrors of capitalism, but actually how to change it to end the stuff once and for all.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well I think you made, yeah, I think- well, there’s several questions there. One is about the discussion of the United States, and I think what I said is approximately what you said, except I didn’t use some of that rhetoric. The- I, you know, which I don’t particularly think is particularly helpful, to tell you the truth, either analytically or to understand or whatever. But it’s the same picture. John Jay had it straight, the people who own the country ought to govern it — and the people who own the country have, basically, now are a network of corporations and conglomerates, banks, and so on — they ought to govern it, and the way they do it is by the methods we’ve described.
Now as far as the Soviet Union is concerned, I didn’t happen to talk about it tonight, but I’ve written about this topic. I haven’t just made the charge, I’ve written about it, and explained why I think it’s true. And it doesn’t bother me if I happen to agree with the mainstream media on this. Trotsky, to pick somebody who you remember, once- he was charged in the 1930s with agreeing with the fascists in his condemnation of the Soviet Union. And he pointed out that his critique was- to be true, he didn’t- wasn’t going to abandon it if somebody else happened to say it for different reasons. So the question is about the Soviet Union, and particularly about Lenin.
So, what was Leninism?
Well, in my- here we have to look at the facts. Now, you know, you look at the facts, I think here’s what you find. Lenin was a right wing deviation of the Socialist movement, and he was so regarded. He was regarded as that by the Marxists, by the mainstream Marxists. We’ve forgotten who the mainstream Marxists were because they lost, and you only remember the guys who won. But, if you go back to the- to that period, the mainstream Marxists were people like, for example, Anton Pannekoek, who was head of education for the Marxist movement. And a serious- he’s the one- one of the people who Lenin later denounced as an infantile leftist. But he was one of the leading intellectuals of the actual Marxist movement. Rosa Luxembourg was another mainstream Marxist, and there were others. And they were very critical — in fact Trotsky was one, up until 1917 — they were all very critical of Leninism, because of this, what they regarded, as this opportunistic vanguardism. The idea that the radical intelligentsia were going to exploit popular movements to seize State power, and then to use that State power to whip the population into the society that they chose.
Now that was quite inconsistent with Marxism as understood by the mainstream, sort of, I’d say left Marxists. From this point of view, Bolshevism was a right-wing deviation. Trotsky made the same points up until 1917.
Now, when Lenin came back to Russia, in April 1917, he took a different line, quite a different line from the one he’d had in the past. You take a look at Lenin’s work, it shifted character in April ’17. In April 1917 it became kind of libertarian. That’s when he came out with the April Theses, and that’s when he wrote State and Democracy, it came out- it came out a year later, but that’s when it was written, and these were — State and Revolution — these were basically libertarian works. They were very much more in the mainstream of, sort of left, libertarian-socialism, from sort of, you know, this range that goes from Anarchism over to left Marxism of the Pannekoek/Luxembourg variety. And he talked about Soviets, and the need for, you know, workers organization and so on, and in fact came really closer to what the essence of socialism was always understood to be, after all the core of socialism was understood to be workers control over production. That was the core. That’s where you begin with. Then you go on to other things. But the beginning is control by the workers over production. That’s where it begins.
Then Lenin took power in October 1917 in what’s called a revolution, but in my view ought to be called a coup. And the- then- and things followed that coup, or revolution, if you want to call it that.
One of the things that followed it was the immediate moves to destroy the soviets and the factory councils. Those were some of the first moves of Lenin and Trotsky after they took — Trotsky joined at that point — after they took State power.
In fact if you look at what Lenin wrote after that period, or did, you’ll find it’s a reversion to the earlier position. This sort of left deviation, is that, a deviation. You could ask why. In my view it was just opportunistic. He knew that in order to gain power he was going to have to go along with the popular currents that were developing, which were, in fact, spontaneous and libertarian and socialist, as most popular movements are, have been, in fact, since the 17th century. And being an astute politician, which he was, he sort of went along with that, and talked the line that the people wanted to hear. It’s just like when an American politician goes somewhere, and his pollsters tell him, say so and so, he says it. It doesn’t mean he believes it. And I think Lenin was doing the same thing without polls.
In any event, whatever your interpretation is, when he took power he reverted to the former vanguardism, and moved at once to eliminate the organs of workers control. Now that meant he was moving to destroy socialism, if socialism has as its core workers control over production. The soviets and the factory councils were instruments of workers control. And same- you could say they’re defective instruments and they had to be worked out better, and so on, yeah, no doubt, but they were the instruments that had been developed in the course of popular struggle, for- to implement, basically, workers control. And those were the first things to go.
By early 1918 — this is now- this is still really before the civil war set in — Lenin’s view was pretty clearly expressed. It was the view that- both he and Trotsky took the position, that what you need is what Trotsky called a labor army, which is submissive to the control of a single leader. He says modern, you know, progress and development and socialism requires that the mass of the population subordinate themselves to a single leader in a disciplined workforce.
Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with socialism. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of it, and was criticized for that by the — in a sense, in a spirit of some solidarity because, you know, the revolutionary forces were still operative — he was criticized for that by people like Rosa Luxembourg and by Pannekoek and Gorter and the other mainstream, sort of, left Marxists. And that- and I think they were right. It seems to me that- and then it just goes on from there. I mean, Lenin reconstructed the Tsarist systems of oppression, often more efficiently — Tscheka, KGB, and other techniques of control and oppression — I think from that point on there was nothing remotely like socialism in the Soviet Union. I think it was in fact a- in my view it was a precursor of later forms of totalitarianism.
Now, you know, you could- that’s what I think happened, and I think that’s what you’ll discover if you look at the facts. Now, why is it called socialism?
Well, I think there- see- I think that’s complicated, and we should look at it. There’s two- the Soviet Union calls it socialism. And, you know, after they took control of the- they did take control pretty soon of most of the international socialist movement, because of, primarily, the prestige of having created something, sort of, socialism.
Incidentally, just a side remark, Lenin remained, despite it all, a sort of an orthodox Marxist in many respects. And as an orthodox Marxist he didn’t believe that it was possible to have socialism in the Soviet Union. This was supposed to be- up to his death, or, you know, shortly before his death, when he was still writing, you know, speaking lucidly, he took- kept the view that the Soviet revolution was a holding action. They’re just going to hold things in place until the real revolution took place in Germany, because the revolution, according to Marxist doctrine, was going to take place in the most advanced sector of modern industrial capitalism, you know, for all the reasons that you read about in Marx. That’s where the revolution had to take place. Obviously that wasn’t the Soviet Union, so there couldn’t be socialism there, it was just some kind of holding action. And that, presumably, gave some sort of justification for eliminating the socialist institutions. I don’t think it’s a real justification, but probably that was the internal justification. And again, in taking that view he was in accord with the mainstream Marxist tradition.
Well, after that comes the view that all of this is socialism. And why should the communist parties take that view? I think the reason is because they wanted to, sort of, exploit the moral force of socialism, which was quite real. You know, it’s kind of hard to remember that today, but at that time it was very real. This was regarded as a, you know, as a progressive, moral force, and by associating their own destruction of socialism with the aura of socialism they hoped to gain credit, in the working classes and other progressive sectors.
Now, the West also identified that with socialism. And they did it for the opposite reason. They wanted to associate socialism with the brutality of the Russian State that undermined socialism. So what you had is that the two major world propaganda agencies, for their own quite different reasons, were claiming that this is socialism — that this destruction of socialism is socialism. And it’s very hard to break out of the control of the world’s two major propaganda agencies when they agree. They agreed for different reasons, but they basically agreed, and that then became doctrine and dogma.
Well, I think people should ask whether that’s true. Take a look back and see whether the moves that Lenin took, and that Trotsky supported him in taking, and that they both advocated, had anything to do with socialism as it was understood by the, say, in the Marxist tradition, or in the left libertarian tradition. And I think the answer that you’ll discover when you look at that is that they didn’t. In fact, this was a destruction of socialist institutions.
Well, you know, this may be true or it may be false. But if it’s true, and I think the evidence pretty strongly supports it, then I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t express that fact. And I certainly don’t think that we should be deterred in expressing this fact if other people whose, you know, fascists, whatever, happen to condemn the Soviet Union, just for the same reasons that Trotsky mentioned in the 1930s.
QUESTIONER: Getting back to losing the forest for the trees, could we have part two of the book pulping story please?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Pardon?
QUESTIONER: Part two of the- your book pulping story. You promised during the question and answer it might come up. You had said you had some further
NOAM CHOMSKY: Oh, the aftermath of that pulping incident, yeah. Is that what you meant?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of a little more subtle and complex, which is why I didn’t talk about it, but here’s what actually happened. We- the book was- later we decided to rewrite and update it. And we did, and it came out from South End Press, which was then in existence — a small, radical press run by- a cooperative, run by a couple of young people — and it was published as The Political Economy of Human Rights, a two-volume book that came out in
- Well, South End Press wasn’t going to pulp it, so it exists, in fact you can even buy it.
Now, what happened at that point? You can’t pulp the book any longer, so how do you react to it? Well, there are two ways of reacting to it. The main way is to ignore it. There are a lot of things in the book — you can read it and see what was there — but for example, there was a discussion of- it was a discussion of U.S. foreign policy and the media. Basically, that’s what it was. And extensive case studies of both topics, and so on and so forth. Mostly it was ignored, as you’d predict. But it wasn’t entirely ignored. There was one exception. And a very interesting exception. Let me give you the background. It explains some of the more subtle ways in which the system works.
In this- one of the things we did in this- in order to put the propaganda model to a test — we didn’t call it the propaganda model then, it’s the same thing — in order to put it to a test, we tried to compare, sort of, pared historical incidents, kind of like I was doing in connection with the freedom of the press issue. I mean, history doesn’t create exact, controlled experiments, but there are enough cases that are similar enough so you can test how the media are going to deal with them.
Well we looked for such cases. We- in particular we looked for atrocities. And we divided the atrocities we looked at into three categories, what we called, constructive bloodbaths: meaning, ones that are good for U.S. power and the corporate class, so they’re constructive, benign bloodbaths: one where U.S. power probably doesn’t really care very much one way or another, it’s sort of irrelevant, and nefarious bloodbaths: those are the ones carried out by official enemies. So we had various types of benign, constructive, and nefarious bloodbaths. And we gave quite a number of examples of these.
Well, our prediction was that he media would welcome the constructive bloodbaths, that they would ignore the benign bloodbaths, and that they would become outraged over the nefarious bloodbaths. And in fact in the case of the nefarious bloodbaths they would invent all sorts of fantasies, and so on and so forth, to make them look even worse than they were. That was the prediction. And we gave a bunch of cases, and we showed that, I think- we tried to show, and I think did show, that the predictions were correct.
Now there’s actually another prediction that comes out of that model, which we didn’t make, but it’s implicit, if you think about it. And that has to do with the way that this exposure will be responded to. What you’d predict, if you think it through, is that our discussion of the constructive bloodbaths would be ignored, because to reveal the fact that the media welcomed huge bloodbaths, as they did, would not be very conducive to the interests of power or to the media. It would also expose the fraud about the apparent anger over nefarious bloodbaths. So you’d expect the constructive bloodbaths to be ignored.
As far as the benign bloodbaths are concerned, you might expect an occasional statement, since it’s- the fact that the media ignored the benign bloodbaths doesn’t show too, you know, such terrible things, it doesn’t- at least they didn’t applaud them. And as long as you can exclude the role of the United States in being involved in them, not terrible, maybe a few odd comments.
With regard to the nefarious bloodbaths, what you’d expect is fury and venom over the fact that the media- that the fabrications over bloodbaths of the enemy were exposed as a fraud. And that’s important. And that can be used. It can be used, in fact, to defame the critics. See, if you show that people are lying about the crimes of official enemies, then you can easily distort that into a defense of those crimes. Right?
OK, now what happened?
Well, let me take two cases which were very close. Two cases that we were- that we discussed were the slaughter in Timor from 1975 to 1979, and the slaughter in Cambodia from the- in the same years, 1975 to ’79, and we compared those two cases.
The one in Timor, we called a benign bloodbath — the United States didn’t care much one way or the other. So, hundreds of thousands of Timorese get killed, you know, it’s not very interesting. The case in Cambodia was, of course, a nefarious bloodbath. That was the bad guys doing it. And we gave a very detailed account of what evidence was available about these two- they’re in the same area of the world, the same years, the same time-frame, the evidence available was comparable, the slaughters were, apparently, comparable in scale — the one in Timor was considerably greater relative to the population, but probably roughly comparable in scale. The difference was, that in Cambodia it was carried out by the enemy, Pol Pot, whereas in Timor it was carried out by a friend, Indonesia. And furthermore, it was carried out by Indonesia with American arms, which were provided by the Carter administration, which were expanded- the arms flow was expanded by the Carter administration as the atrocities increased.
Well, how did the media deal with this. First- fact number- we went through this in detail. The media dealt with the Timor bloodbath by suppressing it. There was considerable coverage of Timor, believe it or not, in 1974 and ’75. This was all in the context of the breakup of the Portuguese empire. In- as the- as Indonesia attacked Timor, and the massacre started, with U.S. support, coverage began to drop. When the massacre hit its peak in 1978, when it was really approaching genocide, with increasing U.S. support, coverage dropped to zero. Literally zero. That’s the way they dealt with the Timor massacre.
What about the Cambodia massacre? Well, within weeks after the Khmer Rouge took power, they were already being accused of genocide by The New York Times. About a year later they were being accused of carrying out auto-genocide, and of having murdered two million people, in fact even of having boasted of having murdered two million people. That became the conventional line. There then came a huge outcry, ranging from The Reader’s Digest and T.V. Guide, over to The New York Review of books, and including just about everything in between — vast outcry of outrage over the communist monsters who were carrying out this horrifying bloodbath, and so on and so forth.
Interestingly, in all of- there was a tremendous amount of fabrication. Just, plain fabrication of evidence. For example, I’ll just give you one example, take this two million- boast of two million killed. You know where that- that’s what everybody’s heard- you ask people, how many people had Pol Pot killed, by, say, 1977, they’ll say two million. Here’s where it comes from.
In- there was a book published by a French priest, Fran ois Ponchaud is his name — he’s from Cambodia, he wasn’t there then, but he knew about Cambodia — he published a book in French. The book was, of course, not available in English, it was in French. It was reviewed by a French journalist, a journalist named Jean Lacouture. It was reviewed in France. That review was immediately picked up and translated in the United States; it appeared in The New York Review of Books. That’s the fastest translation of a review of a French book that’s ever appeared. In the review, Lacouture said this. He said, according to Ponchaud the Khmer Rouge boast of having murdered two million people, auto-genocide, horrifying, and so on. He gave a whole bunch of quotes from the book about the horrifying things the Khmer Rouge said, and so on and so forth. That was immediately picked up by the rest of the media, it was all over the place, newspaper articles, oh my god look what they’re doing, and so on and so forth.
Well, I was curious at the time, because that didn’t, you know, I didn’t- I hadn’t seen the evidence about that. I just wanted to know what was going on. So I- the book was unavailable, so I wrote to friends in France and asked them to send it to me. And I got the book, and I was probably the only person in the United States who had read it, although it was being quoted all over the place on the basis of this review, and I quickly discovered that the whole review was a total fraud. Whatever was going on in Cambodia that’s not what the book said. The book didn’t say anything about a boast of two million people. The quotes that were given in the review either didn’t appear in the book, or they were- or you- maybe you could sort of figure out what they were from, you know, some wording a little bit like them, though they were grossly distorted, some of them didn’t even- weren’t even quotes from the Khmer Rouge they were quotes from Thai- and so on. But- and in fact, every factual statement in the review was just totally false.
Here’s the way the two million figure came. Ponchaud, in the book, says that about eight hundred thousand people were killed in the American war, ’70 to ’75, meaning, primarily by American bombing and the war that the United States ran from ’70 to ’75, that’s eight hundred thousand people. He then said, that according to the American embassy in Bankok, one point two million had died, not been killed, since the war was over. Well, Lacouture during the review just added those two numbers together, called them the Khmer Rouge killings, and then added the boast for good effect. Well that’s- that’s where that figure comes from.
Anyhow, after I read the book, I wrote a letter to Lacouture, and I — who I know — and I told him, look I don’t know what the facts are about Cambodia, but the relation between your review and the book is zilch, and I think you ought to correct it because your review is being quoted all over the place. Well, he actually published corrections in The New York Review. You know, he said, yeah made a couple of mistakes, he said, well, maybe the number killed wasn’t two million, maybe it was just in the thousands, he said. A slight difference, you know, a factor of a thousand difference. But he said, it really doesn’t matter, you know, it’s terrible anyway, and so on. Well, after his corrections appeared, they were dismissed, and people kept repeating the two million figure that he had invented, almost half of which was attributed to the American war notice.
Well, that’s one example, but it’s just typical. If you read our chapter on this, you’ll see a level of fabrication which, you know, is mind boggling, I mean, it’s just mind boggling. Now, this has nothing to do with the fact- of course there was a massacre. In fact, as we pointed out, the massacre was probably comparable to the massacre in Cambodia, which was a huge- in Timor, which was a huge massacre. We also pointed out that of all the evidence available there was one part that was being suppressed systematically by the American press, interestingly. That part was the information given by State department intelligence.
Now, the State department Cambodia watchers, you know State department intelligence, they were the only people with any evidence about what was going on in Cambodia. And they apparently had pretty good intelligence — they claimed to be able to pick up radio transmissions and all sorts of stuff — and they were giving a totally different story. They said that what was going on- that there was, you know, big slaughter, but they said it was in the tens or hundreds of thousands, and it was not mass genocide, but it was, rather, mostly harsh conditions and, you know, brutality and so on. That was the position of the only people who knew anything. And that was systematically excluded. It was just the wrong picture. You know, it wasn’t bloody enough for the purposes.
Well, we went through all of this stuff — the suppression of the Timor massacre, the vast amount of lying about the Cambodia massacres — and we gave that as a- an example of treatment of paired massacres, the way they were both treated. Now here’s the one place the book was not ignored. What we said about constructive bloodbaths, totally ignored. What we said about Timor, almost totally ignored — to the extent that it was mentioned, the U.S. role was excluded. What we said about Cambodia, however, that elicited a huge new outrage over the fact that we were defending Pol Pot. Well, we were defending Pol Pot by saying that he was carrying out a slaughter comparable to the major slaughter that the United States was backing in Indonesia, and pointing out that, in fact, that was the picture given by American intelligence, the only people who knew anything about it, and then talking about the way this was distorted in the interests of the propaganda system.
But that didn’t matter. Here- this- see, what we were doing was challenging the right to lie in the service of the State. And that’s a very important right to maintain. So, therefore the standard view is — and you can read this all over the place now — is that we, or usually it’s me for some reason, I don’t know where they decide it’s me, but we were defending Pol Pot, and you know, sort of apologists for Pol Pot. You take a look back, and you’ll see that we started- we described it as a major massacre, we said a lot is uncertain, you know, just described the facts as they were, and compared them with the media fabrications.
And you’re not allowed to do that. You’re not allowed to expose media fabrications. And the reason why that was discussed, the one part of the book — there’s virtually nothing about Timor ever is discussed — the reason why that one part is discussed, is because that can be used by further lies to defame and undermine critics. So, therefore that’s done.
Well that’s the more subtle way in which the propaganda system works.
I should say, incidentally, that some of this stuff is really kind of amusing. Those of you who read this stuff will have seen it. William Shawcross wrote a book a little after that, in which he claimed — The Quality of Mercy it’s called, very favorably reviewed all over the press, everybody fell in love with it — in the book he claims that there was silence over the Pol Pot atrocities, and then he asks the question, how could this happen, you know, it’s called Holocaust and Modern Conscience.
Well, first of all, was there silence over the Pol Pot atrocities? No, there was a vast uproar over the Pol Pot atrocities. That started a couple of weeks after- at the time when they were being accused of genocide they had probably killed a couple of thousand people at the most. Within a year, as I said, it was being- everywhere from T.V. Guide to Reader’s Digest over to the New York Review, and then it went on like that. Huge amount of- huge chorus of protest, furthermore, tons of fabrication. But it’s flattering to- it’s useful, it’s serviceable to say there was silence. Why is it serviceable? Because if you can claim that there was silence, then you can raise the profound question of why the West was silent over this massacre, and that means that from now on, we must be even more diligent in exposing the crimes of official enemies to overcome the fact that we were silent this time.
So, immediately Shawcross is quoted all over the place, and every newspaper was saying, oh my god we were silent, how could we have been silent, and so on. Then Shawcross goes on to explain the silence. Take a look at his book, he explains the silence — first this was in The Washington Post, then in his book — he says, the reason for the silence, the primary reason for the silence is the skepticism of the left, primarily me.
See, in other words, by my skepticism I silenced all the U.S.- all the Western media and governments. That’s a lot of power. Furthermore, this- and remember what that skepticism was, it was a skepticism about documented lies. Furthermore he then- he- then he cites an alleged statement in a footnote. He doesn’t date it, or identify the source. There’s two good reasons for that. One is that the citation is fabricated. The other is that the source, to the extent that there’s a source, it’s in a book- it’s in exactly this book, which appeared- which went to press after the fall of Pol Pot, and came out almost a year after the fall of Pol Pot.
So what he’s claiming is, that in a book that appeared- that went to press after Pol Pot was overthrown, and that appeared almost a year after, in that book we succeeded, retrospectively, in silencing the entire Western media and governments for four years. Well that’s, you know, not only were we powerful enough to scare the entire West into silence, but we even could do it by magic.
Now that was quoted. That was quoted all over the place with great awe. The point is, there is no absurdity so extreme that it won’t be quoted with respect if it’s useful. And here it’s useful for several purposes: one, to protect the right to lie in the service of the State, two, to undermine and defame critics who you can’t answer, and three, to claim that we didn’t look hard enough we were silent over this atrocity.
Well, there was an atrocity that the West was silent over. It’s the one we documented. Timor. And they were silent over it because the West was doing it, and therefore you’re silent over it. That’s the real, you know, question of holocaust and the modern conscience, but nobody will discuss that one.
Well, these are all examples of more subtle ways of controlling thought, more subtle and complex. That’s the aftermath I had in mind. It’s a very interesting story. We review it in Manufacturing Consent.
Who’s next? I lost track.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: I’m Liz Chilsen, and I’m the executive director of the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua. I think that most people here probably know that Wisconsin and Nicaragua have been sister States for twenty-five years. And the Wisconsin Coordinating Council on Nicaragua has led in transforming what was originally a symbolic relationship, to a vital tool for peace. And we just published a book which will just mention, called Friends In Deed: The Story of U.S.-Nicaragua Sister Cities, which is about the over one hundreds U.S.-Nicaragua sister cities that have formed since the revolution.
One of- my question has to do with that movement and some of your insights on it. Because I think that recently the popular opposition to the war in Nicaragua has fallen out of the major news media. It’s been identified, I think, as a non-issue, and that kind of effect of the media has a very fragmenting effect on movements for social change.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah
QUESTIONER: And I think that sister cities is one way we can begin to institutionalize
NOAM CHOMSKY: Yeah, I think you’re quite right. The coverage of Nicaragua altogether has dropped very significantly. And I assume that that’s, as usual, on command. The New York Times, in fact, removed its bureau chief, Stephen Kinzer. And if you look at coverage, it’s in fact dropped very fast. Well, I think that’s connected with U.S. policy.
There is a shift in policy after the Reagan period. And here you have to look back a little bit. Back- as far as back as 1980- there has been a debate over Nicaragua — like over Vietnam — the debate is, how you strangle and destroy Nicaragua. Now, the hawks say you do it by terror and violence. The doves say you do it by what are now called kinder gentler methods. You do it by economic strangulation, you know, by maintaining a low level terrorist force, by mobilizing on the border so they can’t demobilize and turn resources to reconstruction from the destruction, and so on. That’s the other way.
And by 1986, about eighty percent of those who are identified as leaders in the polls — that means elites, basically, you know, managers, executives, political figures, those guys — about eighty percent of them were opposed to the Contras. They thought that the terror option pursued by the Reagan administration was just stupid. Stupid for a number of reasons. One is, it was stirring up protest at home. You know, overt violence does have a way of stirring up protest among these unwashed masses who don’t like, you know, murdering children, and you know, raping women, and cutting peoples heads off, and so on. There’s all these un-reconstructed people, and they get annoyed by that kind of stuff. So you stir up disruption at home when you have- when you direct your terrorist army to attack defenseless targets, soft targets as they were called, as the U.S. terrorists were doing at that time. Openly, in fact. It wasn’t a secret. So that stirs up too much protest, so it’s dumb.
Also it makes the United States look bad internationally. I mean, the United States is in overt violation of the World Court decision, and you know, it doesn’t look good in our international relations, and so on. And finally, it’s kind of useless. I mean, there are much better ways to strangle and destroy a tiny country, which, for all kinds of obvious historical reasons, is totally dependent on its relations with the United States for survival. Just do it in smarter, quieter ways. That was the major, you know, that was the dominant position among elites by- already by 1986.
Now the Reagan administration is not off the spectrum of American opinion, but it’s at an extreme. It’s at an extreme position on the spectrum. It’s extreme- I mean the people around Reagan were people who were deeply committed to violence for its own sake. I mean, it’s as if you kind of like torture in itself, rather than using it as an end for some, you know, as a tool for some other purpose. Well, that’s kind of counterproductive, and rational people don’t do that — you use torture when you need it, but it’s not an end in itself. There’s no gain in itself to torture, inflicting pain, and terror, and so on. And their conclusions are a rational conclusion, was it’s just not useful, it’s bad, it’s stirring up protest, and so on an so forth. So the more rational thing to do is the policy that the Bush administration is now turning to, I think.
That policy is — here’s what it looks like to me — maintain the economic strangulation, which, incidentally is also unlawful. I mean, we talk about the — or we should talk about — the World Court having condemned the Contra attack. It also condemned the economic warfare as illegal. Illegal violation of treaties. Again, this is never reported, but that was the World Court decision. The violation of treaties- the embargo was unlawful. It’s also a criminal act. And the World Court demanded that it be terminated. But the point is, you can assume that nobody’s going to talk about that. So you continue the strangulation, keep the Contras- keep- it’s interesting that the United States, with all the huge amount of resources that were poured into maintaining a mercenary force inside Nicaragua, they were unable to do it. That’s a pretty remarkable fact. There’s no guerrilla movement in history that had a fraction of the support that the Contras had. It’s just unimaginable. I mean, they were getting three supply flights a day just to keep them going. They were armed at a level- you know, they were better armed than the Sandinista army. They were better armed than units of the American army, in fact — that’s actually true. They had advanced communication equipment in the field, which allowed them to get information from U.S. surveillance flights — it’s always under surveillance, the country, by, you know, high-tech aircraft — which could give them information on the actual disposition of the Sandinista forces so that they could attack defenseless targets with impunity, and carry out terror there in accordance with the orders of the State department. That’s not secret incidentally. Now, you know, that kind of level of support- there’s just no guerrilla army in history that could dream of anything like that. With all of that stuff, they couldn’t keep them in the field. The minute the level of support began to drop, they all broke for the border.
The contrast to El Salvador is fantastic if you bother to look at it. You know, El Salvador you had an indigenous guerrilla force, no support from outside, as far as anybody knows. They were- their arms were mostly gotten from the Salvadoran army, or purchased internationally, so they’re using American arms, like, you know, they’re using M-16s.
Incidentally, just a side remark, for the first time now, the guerrillas in El Salvador are, apparently, being aided by Nicaraguans, so Eliot Abrams can finally be happy. What’s happening is that as the Contras broke for the border, and went across, because, you know, the game was over they figured, they began to sell their arms to corrupt Honduran army officials who were selling them off to the Salvadoran guerrillas. So for the first time, the Salvadoran guerrillas are beginning to show up with Soviet arms — AK-47s, and so on and so forth — and the reason is, that those are the arms that the CIA supplied to the Contras. So instead of having just M-16s, like they used to have, you know, American arms they got from the Salvadoran army, they now got Soviet arms sent to them by- sent by the CIA to the Contras, now sold off to the Hondurans who are selling them off to the Salvadoran guerrillas. So there is, finally, aid from Nicaragua to El Salvador like they’ve been claiming all along.
Incidentally this- here’s another — side remarks, I’m sorry — but, this information comes from a very good source. So good, in fact, that the press totally censored it. This information comes from the head of Contra intelligence, who defected in Honduras, went to Mexico, was widely interviewed in the Mexican press. His name is Horacio Arce. Like most of the Contras, he has a nom de guerre, you know, a pseudonym. His pseudonym was mercenary — Mercenario, you know, they don’t kid around when they’re- for the American press- they know who they are. He was the chief of Contra intelligence.
He was the guy who became chief of intelligence in 1985, replacing a man named Ricardo Lau, who was beginning to be an embarrassment, because it was beginning to be pretty obvious that he was involved in terrorist activities throughout Central America, including probably the murder of Archbishop Romero — he was identified by a chief of Salvadoran intelligence, who defected, as having been involved in that — this guy was getting to be an embarrassment. So he disappeared. He was probably killed. And they needed a new chief of intelligence, and this guy came in.
Well, he’s been chief of intelligence since 1985. He defected last November. That’s the most important defector yet. Far more important than, you know, the defectors who get huge publicity when they come from Nicaragua with all kind of fabricated stories. This guy was ignored. He had totally the wrong stories, you know, he was telling about how they were advised, you know, they were directed- he told, for example, about how he was trained illegally in Elgin air force base, somewhere in Florida or someplace like that, where he was flown in, illegally of course, trained in the United States by green berets, and the 82nd airborne, and so on and so forth. He talked about- he identified people in the American embassy by name in Honduras, who were posing as aid officials, but were actually working with the CIA, and were, you know, giving tactical advice and support to the Contras. He mentioned their names. He described the way the Honduran army- the Honduran military is directly involved in Contra military activities in Nicaragua, both by intelligence, and participation, and so on. He went through all- he described how they were- how their task was to attack defenseless targets for the purpose of ensuring that Nicaragua cannot carry out social reform. He describes this. And all sorts of stuff which is just useless, and he also describes what I just said, how the Contras, now that they’ve broken for the borders, are selling their arms to the Salvadoran guerrillas.
Well, you know, all of this stuff is news, and in fact, important news, in fact so — and from a very good source — so important that, as far as I know, there isn’t a word about it in the American press. You might look, and check and see. Well, that was kind of a digression.
So the Salvadoran — coming back — the Salvadoran guerrillas had no support from outside as far as anybody knows. They’re indigenous to the country. They’re facing a military force which, on paper at least, is the most powerful in the region — much more powerful on paper than the army of Nicaragua — and they’re somehow ineradicable. In contrast, the Contras, who involve all sorts of mercenaries including Nicaraguans, Hondurans who are bribed, Honduran peasants who are bribed with big bribes by their standards, like five hundred dollars — that’s a couple of years income — to join, all sorts of things, huge amount of support, tremendously high level of military equipment, and so on — they just can’t keep them in the country. I mean, I think you could keep a guerrilla force in the United States with that kind of support, and I’m not kidding. I think you could probably maintain a guerrilla force in the mountains of Kentucky with the kind of force that was- with the support that was given to the Contras. They couldn’t keep them there.
There’s a lesson in all of this. There’s an obvious lesson in this comparison. So obvious that nobody in the press is ever going to draw it, because it’s the wrong lesson. You can figure it out, so I won’t draw it.
Well, alright, so what is the- back to the Bush administration plans. I assume that they can maintain a low-level terrorist force inside Nicaragua. It’s inconceivable that they can’t do that. So probably they’ll keep, you know, that’s why I think- that’s one of the reasons, I think, that those reports about the illegal Contra flights from El Salvador are probably accurate, apart from the fact that the sources were accurate in the past. Presumably the Bush administration will keep some low level of support for mercenaries and terrorists inside Nicaragua. They assume that the level will be so low, that the cooperative press will be silent about it, as they’ve been so far. That’s important, because that means Nicaragua can’t demobilize. And it’s important to keep them mobilized. For one thing, because when you mobilize, the society is repressive — just like the United States during World War II, which was virtually totalitarian. And if they’re repressive, you can use that for propaganda. So you can get, you know, the Nieman fellows to cry about repression, and so on, in the manner that I described. So you want to do that, you want to make them repressive, you want to keep them mobilized, you want to make sure that they can’t divert their extremely limited resources to reconstruction from this fantastic damage.
Second thing the United States will try to do — if Congress and the press goes along what they will do — is maintain a Contra force on the Honduran border. That’s what all this humanitarian aid nonsense is about. You want to maintain the force on the border, in violation of everything, as I’ve pointed out, and the reason, again, is you maintain a threat. As long as you maintain a military threat, you can ensure that the government won’t demobilize. OK? And that’s important, because we want them to suffer. But of course, that’s less- at a lower level than terror. You know, the idea is precisely, here I get back to your point- also you continue the economic warfare, and the pressure on international lending institutions, you intimidate the allies so they won’t give them aid, and so on.
All of this was abetted, incidentally, by the hurricane. The hurricane was a devastating blow. Close to a billion dollars in damage. The United States, of course, doesn’t give them a penny. In fact they love it, you know, they’re gloating over it. The allies, the U.S. allies are giving them a pittance — like Canada, and Western Europe, are giving them virtually nothing. Partly because they’re intimidated by Big Brother, and partly because they’re a lot more colonized than they like to believe. You know, they like to believe that they’re all independent, and free thinkers, and so on. Mostly the European intellectuals believe every bit of nonsense they read from the American press. The amount of cultural colonization is very high, though they don’t- they’re not aware of it. So, you know, they’re all upset about Sandinista repression, although the repression in El Salvador and Guatemala, which is a thousand times worse, that doesn’t bother them at all. So they keep giving them aid. So there’s that.
And, you know, this combination of operations, it is assumed, will prevent Nicaragua from recovering. And after all, that’s the point. The point is to prevent what Tomas Borge- Tomas Borge had it right on the nose — you’ve got to prevent them from constructing a society that works, because if they do, others are going to emulate it. And pretty soon, U.S. domination of the region is going to erode. And besides, that kind of rot can spread to other places, where people have similar problems, and decide to use their resources for their own ends, and so on you get in real trouble. So you’ve got to prevent it from working. And the United States certainly has the means to do that short of the Reaganite absurdity of just inflicting pain and terror for its own sake.
Well, that’s the kinder, gentler methods.
And one part of that is that you’ve got to cut back the coverage, you know, part of that is the role of the media. Stop reporting it, so people forget about it, and don’t notice it, and so on. And the idea is, the effect will be you’ll quiet the domestic dissent. You’ll return the public to apathy and obedience by stop- by not reporting this stuff anymore. So I think you’re point is precisely accurate. The role of the media in this system is precisely, to keep quiet about what’s going on. And I expect we will find less coverage.
I mean, you know, you’ll find coverage when you can, you know, you can find something you’ll call Sandinista oppression. Or when- if there’s mass starvation, as there may well be because of the hurricane, that’ll be covered, and it’ll be attributed to Sandinista incompetence, you know, or mismanagement, or something. So that kind of thing will be covered.
Or here’s another thing that’ll be covered. The next big move — it’s already been announced — is for the Contras to demand that- they’ve asked for ten million dollars to establish an independent television station in Nicaragua. Well, if Nicaragua allows, what’s called, an independent television station, that means it’s telling the United States, you take over our television. There is no way in the world in which a small country can compete with the United States in television. I mean, that’s just out of the question, you know. I mean, if Nicaragua continues to do what most countries do, and have State television, then of course, they can be denounced as totalitarian. Notice, we don’t denounce Israel as being totalitarian because it has only State television, but that’s the usual dichotomy.
So the idea is, now we demand that Nicaragua have a television station run by the United States, with beginning capital of ten million dollars, which by, I mean, Nicaraguan standards there’s- I- you don’t even know how to discuss it. It’s out of- you know, it’s off the wall. I mean, the United States already dominates the media in much of the country. Much of the media, the only thing you hear is U.S. radio from powerful radio transmitters in Honduras and Costa Rica, and even television. If they can- if the United States can put a television station right in Managua, with all the resources the United States can pour into it- I mean, they just- you know, that’s the propaganda agency for all of Nicaragua. So, that’s the next thing, and the media will be all excited about this. And that’ll be the test of freedom, you know, they’re only free if they allow the total communications system to be run by the United States, otherwise they’re totalitarians. That’ll be the next line that comes along. And there will be that kind of coverage, but no coverage about what’s going on. That’s got to decline, precisely so that the American movement will decline, and people will go back to the passivity and obedience that becomes them, as I said. So I think your point is quite accurate. And the question, as usual, is whether the American population is going to allow them to get away with it. You know, that’s the device, we don’t have to let it work.
QUESTIONER: Bravo, professor Chomsky, you are very brave. This is about the U.N.. I don’t get information from The New York Times, and ABC, NBC, all the news, when I want information, I go to the specialized agencies of the U.N.. And there you can find- nowhere did they know that the population of the world was five billion, the U.N. got that information, information on the radioactivity of the air, and so forth, we have a vast amount of information. They also had information about Cesium in milk products which were going to highly populated areas, Boston and New York, for two years. The U.N. had this information. Citizens groups badgered the media to bring this information. It was never there. At the U.N. we were able to get that information.
So what we did is we wrote a proposal which was presented to the General Assembly, because we felt that we as parents have a right to vital information about the food and the water and the air, and the U.N. has that information and it just sits there. So, we wrote this proposal calling for a two-way global information service. We presented it to the General Assembly, very well in ’87 at the international conference on the relationship between disarmament and development, it was a very important conference. It received very good support. A year later, we tried to present the proposal again. This time we had gained the support of the Swedish government, the Australian government, and Costa Rica. There was violent, violent opposition to the proposal, to the point where two ambassadors were told that they would be terminated if they in any way supported any proposal asking for a global information service.
Now in September the U.N. is meeting again, and we’re going to try to push the proposal. We were shocked by the opposition that this proposal got, because after all it’s a very modest proposal. We’re just asking for vital information, and we tried to get- anyway, terrible the opposition. So we’re going to present the proposal again in September. Do you have any ideas on strategy?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Was that a question or a statement? Well, it wasn’t a question, so I don’t really have to answer it, but let me just say in response to the non-question, that I- actually I have a book coming out- I like these phrases like manufacture of consent and necessary illusions, and so on. They’re too good to let drop. So, I have another book coming out called Necessary Illusions, thanks to Reinhold Niebuhr, and in it, one of the things — it’s more of this kind of stuff — one of the things I discuss is the coverage of the U.N., and it’s extremely interesting.
It’s not that the U.N. is never covered. Whenever the U.N. passes a resolution denouncing the Russians for the invasion of Afghanistan, big story, you know. If the U.N. condemns the United States for violation of international law, there’s no story. The coverage is extremely interesting, when you look closely. I actually- if- for those of you who were there this afternoon I mentioned one example, the terrorism thing, which is very important. But let me take one case which is illustrative of the kind of thing you’re talking about.
That same U.N. session, in 1987, there was a big series of disarmament resolutions. And they were very interesting, because they came out right at the time that Ronald Reagan was being hailed in the front pages as a peacemaker. That was the summit in Washington, December 1987, the summit in Washington, Reagan the peacemaker, you know, very excited, and so on. Well, right at that time the U.N. passed a series of disarmament resolutions. Here’s what they were. There was a resolution opposing militarization of outer space, Star Wars, 154 to 1, no abstentions. You never get a vote like that in the U.N.. You can guess who the 1 was. A vote against- a vote in favor of a- of- opposed to the development of new weapons of mass destruction, a hundred- I think it was 135 to 2. The United States picked up France on that one. A vote for a comprehensive test ban, which is, incidentally, supported by something like 75% of the American population, the vote on that was like, I don’t know, 140 to 3, something like that; France and England picked up on that one. That’s the way the resolutions were.
Well, they were not reported, because that just wouldn’t fit with the idea of the United- of Ronald Reagan the peacemaker. On the other hand, other things were reported, like, for example, the resolution condemning the Russians in Afghanistan. Big story on that. And there was a lot of coverage of the U.N., but this is the way it was. Now, this has been going on over the years, for many years.
You go back to the 1940s and the early 1950s, and the U.N. was everybody’s darling. Tremendous coverage of the U.N., it was marvelous, it was magnificent. And the reason was that, or let’s say the correlation is, I assume the reason, that at that point the United States had an automatic majority at the U.N.. Anything the United States proposed, the U.N. voted. That just had to do with the relations of power at the time. The Russians were obnoxious. They kept vetoing things. And there were all- you take a look back at the discussion at that time, the leading American scholars, you know, anthropologists and so on, had all kind of deep theories about why the Russians are vetoing everything at the U.N.. The- I was a graduate student at the time, and, you know, we used to make fun of- the three or four of us who sort of thought this was idiotic, made fun of this. One of the main proposals, which came from people like Margaret Meade, and others, was that the reason that Russians were so negative and obnoxious at the U.N. was because they raised their children in swaddling clothes, and that makes them negative. And then when they get up at the U.N., they just say no all the time. Diaperology is what we called it. Anyhow that was the big, you know, profound theory.
Well, over the years, the thing has changed, you know, by now the United States is isolated at the U.N.. The United States vetoes everything. We veto way more resolutions than anybody else. These- the votes I just reported are not untypical, you know. So what happened? Well, it turns out that the U.N. has lost its moral authority. You find articles, like The New York Times Magazine had a big story, about why the world is out of step. Literally. You know, how come the whole world is against the United States? What’s wrong with them? I mean, it’s not that we raise our babies wrong, you know, it’s that they, the rest of the world, is doing something wrong. And then comes the profound analysis of why the world is out of step, and you know, what’s the matter with the world culture, and so on and so forth. And the U.N. has lost its moral authority, the United States doesn’t pay its dues anymore, you don’t report it, and now they- the U.N. is, you know, is obnoxious, because they’re not following orders.
Well, you know, that’s a dramatic example of how the media fall in line. And what you’re talking about is another case of it. And, again, as you, just the way you’re doing- the reason you’re getting such outraged reaction is that, implicitly at least, you’re exposing all of this. And that’s no good. So therefore, the outraged reaction, which is just all the more reason to keep doing it.