Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
a book by Noam Chomsky
(our site's book review)
Editor David Barsamian (Alternate Radio) has collaborated with Chomsky on two previous books; this question-and-answer book provides a useful entree into the formidable academic’s nonconformist, iconoclastic mindset. These conversations with the longtime MIT linguist offer lively insights on power, war, inequality and dissent. Chomsky, one of the world's foremost thinkers, casts a skeptical and critical eye over America’s military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, bemoans the squeeze on human rights happening in many places including the USA and Russia, and otherwise asserts that “power systems” such as government and financial and marketing institutions are jealous of power, keeping people feeling helpless by splintering society.
For decades, famed professor and political critic Chomsky has provided a sober perspective on U.S. policy. In this set of interviews (from 2010 to 2012) with journalist Barsamian, Chomsky explores urgent concerns like the power shift from sovereign nations to multinational corporate entities, from the global workforce to the owners of the world: transnational capital, global financial institutions.
Chomsky tells us that Kennedy was no peacenik and that contrary to a lot of mythology, Kennedy was actually a hawk who was simply the latest in line in a series of imperialistic presidents that have appeared since our founding as a nation. There have been a lot of them, and—to be frank—it has been defined by the shadow government as a job requirement. The Council on Foreign Relations tends to select people from their own ranks as candidates. These ranks are either imperialists already or, like Obama, convinced to be so as a vital "career move," since it has been demonstrated that imperialists—especially neocons—add to the wealth of shadow government oligarchs best. And that's the ultimate bottom line for them, which is why warmongering neocons like the Bushes and Obama are their favorite leaders: nothing lines oligarchs' pockets with American taxpayers' wealth as fast as long wars. When Bush and Obama said their wars on terror may go on indefinitely, you can just imagine these fat cats rolling around in huge money bins laughing just like Scrooge McDuck!
When Bush and Obama said their wars on terror may go on indefinitely, you can just imagine these fat cats rolling around in huge money bins laughing just like Scrooge McDuck
"As Carroll Quigley revealed in his remarkable book, 'Tragedy and Hope', the financial powers in [the shadow government in] America control both major political parties, and they choose who will run for president." (Source: Barack Obama: The CFR's man)
Chomsky, a longtime critic of U.S. foreign policy, has written much about 9/11, post-9/11 and the new wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, with American empire building imperialism and a need for cheap oil and strategic military bases at the heart of a lot of decisions that are papered over with patriotic slogans, as was common in the Bush years. The USA is up to 800 bases so far outside the 50 states and Washington, D.C., and still counting.
The horrors of 9/11
If the U.S. senses that something is going to undermine its interests—say, Iran or Russia or Venezuela, as we see today—efforts must be made to destabilize and hopefully control that power. This is contradictory in the face of our country's statements about freedom and democracy.The United States didn’t invade Afghanistan because we were viciously attacked. It’s true that there was an attack on 9/11, but the government didn’t know who did it, says Chomsky. In our opinion, they know exactly who did it and the answer isn't pretty. (See 9/11.) In fact, eight months later, after the most intensive international investigation (coverup) in history, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation informed the press that they still didn’t know who did it. He said they had suspicions. The suspicions were that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan but implemented in Germany and the United Arab Emirates, and, of course, in the United States. We don't know why the author was unable to smell a coverup—it seems obvious to us, most engineers, and millions of people worldwide, especially after seeing this video of a building that was NOT hit by planes. See How America Was Lost: From 9/11 to the Police/Welfare State.
Osama bin Laden
After 9/11, Dubya essentially ordered the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, and they stalled. They could have handed him over, but instead they asked for evidence that he was involved in the attacks of 9/11. And, of course, the government couldn’t give them any evidence because they didn’t have any—how could they? The man had no part in 9/11—he was a scumbag terrorist but there is no known connection to 9/11. See 9/11 Ten Years Later: When State Crimes against Democracy Succeed. The Taliban reacted with total contempt: How can you ask us for evidence if we want you to hand somebody over? So Bush simply informed the people of Afghanistan that "we’re going to bomb you until the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden." He said nothing about overthrowing the Taliban. That came three weeks later, when British admiral Michael Boyce, the head of the British Defense Staff, announced to the Afghans that "we’re going to continue bombing you until you overthrow your government." This fits the definition of terrorism exactly, but it’s much worse. It’s aggression—a war crime.
War is USA's religion
The book discusses the Occupy movement and how repression was used against activists in the movement, just as the government oppressed many countercultural activists in decades past. Occupiers include a wide array of people being punished by the big economic downturn—students, professionals, small business people, workers, the unemployed and the homeless. The 99 Percenters make it clear that people need to stand up to a government and an economic system that is run for the benefit of a handful of very wealthy people. It was obvious that three rounds of mass arrests and park clearances were organized at the national level, with Homeland Security and the FBI coordinating with local officials. It has been far too obvious that authorities are more intent on suppressing dissent than in doing their job of maintaining order. The peaceful protesters were treated like terrorists and were even called that. How exactly are we to exercise the right of assembly and free expression and demonstration in a democracy that uses fascist tactics on peaceful citizens?
How exactly are we to exercise the right of assembly and free expression and demonstration in a democracy that uses fascist tactics on peaceful citizens?
Wall Street Protest: Occupy Wall Street—Copyright © 2011 by Louis Lanzano
'You know, Archibald, my bladder is a tad too full—do these windows open? I'd like to send my regards to those pesky OWS protesters'
But as with any movement, you have to keep thinking through what you’re doing. The Occupy tactic has been extremely successful. It was a brilliant tactic, not just for raising issues but also for creating communities—something very important in a society like ours, which is so atomized. People are alone. They sit all alone in front of their TV sets. They don’t consult their neighbors. Atomization is a technique of control and marginalization. One of the real achievements of Occupy has been to bring people together to form functioning, supportive, free, democratic communities—everything from kitchens to libraries to health centers to free general assemblies, where people talk freely and debate. It’s created bonds and associations that, if they last and if they expand, could make a big difference. Bonds don't often form in online communities but they do in irl f2f communities. See Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? and Why Do We Need Communities?.
People are alone; they sit alone in front of their TV set; they don’t consult their neighbors; they're atomized
Chomsky notes the domestic decision as to who is a “terrorist” or not. In the Reagan 80’s, Saddam Hussein was taken off the terrorist list so the U.S. could do deals with Iraq. Freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, meanwhile, was listed as a terrorist for standing up to South Africa’s apartheid government.
Nelson Mandela, President of South Africa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize and Presidential Medal of Freedom and hundreds of other awards, was listed as a terrorist for standing up to South Africa’s apartheid government
In 2003, Saddam Hussein was upgraded from non-terrorist to evil maniac on the verge of lobbing WMDs at the U.S. any minute, so Dubya "heroically" send our troops there to take him out. The end result of American bull-in-a-china-shop meddling with Iraq was a disaster that made us all miss good old Saddam. (It might be more accurate to say Bush-in-a-china-shop meddling—just about the worst type there is.)
The end result of American bull-in-a-china-shop meddling with Iraq was a disaster that made us all miss good old Saddam
We'll not be surprised if Iraqis start seeing billboards with 'Miss me yet?' under Saddam's picture!
As the US neocons engage in military and intelligence overreach to try and preserve its role as the one and only post-cold war empire, Noam Chomsky continues to supply trenchant analysis of how our American hegemony is a self-destructive force to the nation, and at times the U.S. functions as a lethal world police force to maintain its position of privileged consumption. Yet few countries want us playing world sheriff—a role we decided to give to ourselves. There's only one law in Bushville or Obamatown: Do what we tell you to do or else!
Few countries want us playing world sheriff—a role we decided to give to ourselves; there's only one law in Bushville or Obamatown: Do what we tell you to do or else!
In his latest book, Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire, Chomsky reflects on outbreaks of democracy in the world and a declining ability of the United States to control nation-states who are important economic markets, energy suppliers, and geo-political allies that are vital to the US empire. He explores the most immediate and urgent concerns: the future of democracy in the Arab world, the implications of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the European financial crisis, the breakdown of American mainstream political institutions, the 'class war' fought by U.S. business interests against working people and the poor, the rise of the far right (Dubya), and the rise of the Occupy movement (already discussed above). As always, intellectual superstar Chomsky presents his ideas vividly and accessibly, with uncompromising principle and clarifying insight.
Letting neocons run the decisions in Washington is like letting a fox guard a henhouse
This book is the latest collection of searing insights from Noam Chomsky. These interviews will inspire a new generation of readers, as well as longtime Chomsky fans eager for his latest thinking on the many crises we now confront, both at home and abroad. They confirm that Chomsky is an unparalleled resource for anyone seeking to understand our world today. Praise for Noam Chomsky: "One of the finest minds of the twentieth century". (New Yorker).
"Noam Chomsky is a global phenomenon ...he may be the most widely read American voice on foreign policy on the planet today". (New York Times Book Review).
"Will there ever again be a public intellectual who commands the attention of so many across the planet?" (New Statesman).
An MIT professor, Chomsky is the West's most prominent critic of US imperialism, the closest thing in the English-speaking world to an intellectual superstar, the most widely read American voice on foreign policy on the planet today
"The west's most prominent critic of US imperialism ...the closest thing in the English-speaking world to an intellectual superstar". (Guardian).
Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous bestselling political books, including Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, Failed States, Interventions, What We Say Goes, Hopes and Prospects, Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World and, most recently, Occupy, all of which are published by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin. He is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT, and is widely credited with having revolutionized modern linguistics. David Barsamian is the award-winning founder and director of Alternative Radio. He is the author of several books of interviews with leading political thinkers.
This is a great collection of conversations where Noam Chomsky says that part of the doctrinal system in the United States is the pretense that we’re all a happy family, there are no class divisions, and everybody is working together in harmony. But that’s radically false. All in all: highly recommendable to clarify and simplify what is going on among us—this book can help us see that it’s time to fight. Remember, your anger is a gift.
Chomsky answers the question "To what extent does the propaganda system induce docility and passivity in the citizenry in the United States?" Answer: That’s its point. But that has been its point from time immemorial. It’s part of the function of the reverence for kings, priests, submission to religious authorities. These are the prerequisites of power systems that seek to induce passivity. The major propaganda systems that we face now, evolving from the mammoth public relations industry, were developed quite consciously about a hundred years ago in Britain and the United States, because of a recognition that people had gained so many rights that it was hard to repress them by force. So you were obliged to use propaganda systems to control their attitudes and beliefs or divert them somehow with entertainment, or do all these at once: infotainment. As the economist Paul Nystrom argued, "you have to try to fabricate consumers and create wants so people will be trapped. It’s a common method."
U.S. citizens are controlled like dumb, gullible sheep
Lying to the public to control them doesn't happen if there is freedom of the press and if the U.S. is a democracy. But there isn't freedom of the press: See Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion. And we're not a democracy (we're an oligarchy). See Democracy—an American Delusion. The American Democracy ideal still exists, but the reality is something quite different. We live in an oligarchy that is slipping inexorably toward something few have dared contemplate: feudalism, complete with serfs (you and us) and aristocracy. See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.
American Democracy has degenerated into a few pigs gorging themselves at the trough while the rest of us get crumbs
Chomsky tells us about Omar Khadr, the first Guantánamo case to come to a military commission—not a court—while O'Bomb'em was president. The charge they laid on poor Khadr was that he had tried to resist an attack on his village by a bunch of American soldiers. He was only a fifteen-year-old boy at the time. That’s Khadr's infraction. The kid had the chutzpah to attempt to defend his village from an invading army that has no business being there in the first place. So he’s a terrorist! Khadr had been kept in nasty cages in Guantánamo and, before that, in Bagram in Afghanistan for eight whole years. Guantánamo is a very bad place to be—abuse is frequent—including murder. Khadr finally came to a military commission, where he was given an unfair choice: either plead not guilty and stay here forever or plead guilty and just spend another eight years in detention. This whole situation violates every international convention that you can think of, including laws on treatment of juveniles. But the military elites feel they are above the law, so they do not care about violating anyone's rights. Of course, one reason it grossly violates any principle is that Khadr was fifteen—a child. But there was no public outcry. This is BAU—business as usual, and SOP—standard operating procedure. In fact, particularly striking in some ways is that Khadr is a Canadian citizen. Canada could decide to extradite Khadr to Canada and free him if it wanted to, but they didn’t want to rain on the USA's ugly parade. Child abuse via political expediency. Go along to get along. Ugh!
Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba
According to Chomsky, April 15, the day when you pay your taxes, gives you a good index of how democracy is functioning. If democracy were functioning effectively, April 15 would be a day of celebration. That’s a day on which we get together to contribute to implementing the policies that we’ve decided on. That’s what April 15 ought to be. Here it’s a day of mourning. This alien force is coming to steal your hard-earned money from you. That indicates an extreme contempt for democracy. They say there are only 2 sure things: death and taxes—the alien and his buddy are giving you an offer you cannot refuse about taxes and if you are slow to respond, the death aspect of this deal may just come to pass.
They say there are only 2 sure things: death and taxes—the alien and his buddy are giving you an offer you cannot refuse about taxes and if you are slow to respond, the death aspect of this deal may just come to pass
In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Chomsky told Salon about his thoughts on the NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling toward its own demise.
Salon asked about the scope of surveillance-state activity. Chomsky told them that in principle spying is not an innovation—things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the perversely ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s to be expected. When asked "whether the revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology," he answered that governments are power systems that attempt to sustain their power and domination over citizens. They will use what means are available to do this. For example, in some of their robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop fly-sized drones, which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it. (Source: Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power) So we'd all better stock up on fly swatters before the elites make them illegal!
Fly #353242252 reporting: Citizen #312,756,972 doesn't seem to be hiding a thing—my conclusion is that she's clean; but just to be sure I think I'll hang around a bit longer!
Power systems? The shadow government guided US executive now has a network of secret laws, secret budgets, secret kill lists, and a well-funded, globally deployed army of secret teams of assassins. This is also called fascism.