Thursday, February 17, 2011

Noam Chomsky: what about here?

Noam Chomsky
Unless there’s a democratic uprising here, there’s not going to be much of a chance for people elsewhere who are struggling courageously.  What they are doing is inspiring and we must recognize that, but we cannot overlook the fact that what the US and Europe do -- that’s Europe too -- is very significant.  As long as people are quiet and passive -- you know, the CEO of Goldman Sachs can just get a twelve and a half million dollar bonus as he did a couple of days ago and have his base salary quadrupled as a few days ago, already astronomical, while you're attacking pensions for teachers and police.  As long as the population's quiet, yeah, we can continue just as in the Middle East, just as in Latin America, just as everywhere.  Those are critical facts, and we have to face them. . .    Noam Chomsky, lecture clip, Democracy Now!, February 17, 2011

These words are worth pondering.  The US government and those of the other chief western powers control things; control the world.  Egypt, Tunisia, and the other Arab states whose people are staging popular uprisings can make little changes that are very significant locally, but the overall strategic structure remains more than anything in the hands of the one surviving great global power, the United States, and its major allies.  And whether or not the sweeping changes called for in Egypt go through in a form appealing to a majority of the people who participated in their January 25 revolution, there is a new spirit in Cairo and Tunis, and developing in Tripoli, Sanaa, and Manama also.  There is not a new spirit in the US. 

As Chomsky has repeatedly pointed out, a vast majority of US citizens opposed continuation of the tax cuts for the very rich and yet the Congress sent it right on through. America is as much a kleptocracy as Ben Ali's in Tunisia was, only the profits go to a few more people.  Things have changed in Latin America.  They are changing in the Arab world.   Will they change in the US?   That may be a more difficult question.   A vast majority opposed continuing tax cuts for the rich, but they didn't take to the streets about it.

 One obstacle is that here in the US there seems to be a situation that has prevailed in Venezuela.  There is a strong right wing opposition and it owns the media, so public opinion can be molded at election time (assuming there is a choice).  The next presidential election will be more expensive than ever -- hence more bought and paid for by the richest men in the country.  When did we get our regime?  Wasn't it around the same time as Egypt, when Ronald Reagan became President?  Perhaps our Mubarak has simply changed his face every so often. 

But I don't think Chomsky is proposing a direct comparison; even each of the Arab nations where uprisings are occurring is different from the others and America is far different from any of them.  The point is that uprisings work, and sometimes they are all that works, and our government is not representing us.  It is representing the wealthy and the corporations, and the American Empire that the late Chalmers Johnson described so well -- but that doesn't seem as close to falling as he believed. 

What would an uprising in the US look like?  Not like Egypt's, certainly.  The US is not a brutal dictatorship.  Chomsky may be seen by the right as a dangerous radical, a socialist, a communist; but then, they see Obama that way.  Chomsky is not calling for the fall of a regime.  He is simply one of many who think popular demonstrations are the only way that certain important changes can be made to come about.  And if you look at the will of the people as represented in polls and the actions of the government as represented in what happens in Washington, important changes are needed.  And Americans are pretty passive and quiet.  Look at Al Jazeera's world:  Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya.   It's only natural to think about what's been happening in the Middle East and wonder.  Wouldn't that spirit, that courage, that determination, that organization, be a breath of fresh air here?

Bahrain protesters [Reuters]

Libyan crackdown [Al Jazeera Arabic]


  1. Thanks Prof. Knipp!
    I'm ready for USA's next 'evolution', not sure what that might be but I'd offer the following ideas:
    1) sustainable
    2) honoring life in all forms
    3) ensuring that all people have freedom and opportunities and creatures are treated humanely
    4) freedom to living beings is a right, as is security in available food, water, shelter, medicine, and any other necessities for life
    5) domination of peoples, classes, and races is unacceptable
    6) war is considered a crime against humanity
    7) People, planet (ie ecosystem), then profit

    And maybe some more stuff, but that'd be a good start!!!

  2. You conclude with the words:" Wouldn't that spirit, that courage, that determination, that organization, be a breath of fresh air here?"

    Well, yes, it might indeed be a breath of fresh air. But comfort breeds complacency and a liking for the status quo. A comfortable living standard doesn't propel one onto the street. Change comes from below. If enough people are uncomfortable with their standard of living, they may bestir themselves. Until then, we comfortable ones may applaud 'the people' who rise up elsewhere, whilst we go on buying what we want and travelling where we want and happily disporting ourselves how we want. "It's the economy stupid" as someone said. Keep the capitalist ship afloat and benefiting enough people, and there will be no serious uprising in the West, however much one may sound off indignantly about the riches of those who manage the economy.

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