Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky
a book by Noam Chomsky
(our site's book review)
The Amazon blurb says that Noam Chomsky is universally accepted as one of the preeminent public intellectuals of the modern era. Over the past thirty years, broadly diverse audiences have gathered to attend his sold-out lectures. Now, in Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, Peter Mitchell and John Schoeffel have assembled the best of Chomsky’s recent talks on the past, present, and future of the politics of power.
In a series of enlightening and wide-ranging discussions, all published here for the first time, Chomsky radically reinterprets the events of the past three decades, covering topics from foreign policy during Vietnam to the decline of welfare under the Clinton administration. And as he elucidates the connection between America’s imperialistic foreign policy and the decline of domestic social services, Chomsky also discerns the necessary steps to take toward social change. With an eye to political activism and the media’s role in popular struggle, as well as U.S. foreign and domestic policy, Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky offers a sweeping critique of the world around us and is definitive Chomsky.
Characterized by Chomsky’s accessible and informative style, this is the ideal book for those new to his work as well as for those who have been reading and/or listening for years.
". . . he consistently blasts the United States for what he sees as its guiding principle of maintaining its own power while claiming to fight for freedom and democracy."—Publishers Weekly
Here the U.S. drops a little 'democracy' on some country
This book is an effective introduction to Noam Chomsky's work. This 2002 book covers the breath of Noam's topics over the years of the 20th century, giving you a summary of each topic that he has written about over his lifetime. If you have been curious about his brilliant writings but you do not want to jump into one topic in particular, this is the book for you. Note that he has created even better books later in the 21st century:
- Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
- Optimism over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change
- Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, the best book of this century and the best Chomsky book ever
- Hopes and Prospects
- Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (American Empire Project)
- Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance
- Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky
- Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World
- Interventions (City Lights Open Media)
- How the World Works
- Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians
- On Palestine
- Propaganda and the Public Mind
- Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance (City Lights Open Media)
- Global Discontents: Conversations on the Rising Threats to Democracy (American Empire Project)
- Masters of Mankind: Essays and Lectures, 1969-2013
- What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World (American Empire Project)
- Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
- What Kind of Creatures Are We? (Columbia Themes in Philosophy)
- Because We Say So (City Lights Open Media)
- Perilous Power: The Middle East & U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice
- Occupy (Occupied Media Pamphlet Series)
- Chomsky on Democracy and Education (Social Theory, Education, and Cultural Change)
- Optimism over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change
- Government in the Future (Open Media Series)
- Towards a New Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy from Vietnam to Reagan
- Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Updated Edition)
- Making the Future: The Unipolar Imperial Moment
- Doctrines and Visions
- New World of Indigenous Resistance (City Lights Open Media)
- The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (The Political Economy of Human Rights - Volume I)
- New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor, and the "Responsibility to Protect" Today
- Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews
- Power and Terror: Conflict, Hegemony, and the Rule of Force
In Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, Chomsky pulls back the curtain on the machinations of power in all its forms to reveal at its core a horrid doctrine of greed for the elites at the expense of health, dignity, safety, and life for the "bewildered herd" of citizens—all citizens in the world. Why must these elites continuue to express negative power such as killing and threats and tyranny as opposed to positive power like love and compassion? Are they mentally ill? Or just evil?
Chomsky pulls back the curtain on the machinations of power in all its forms to reveal at its core a horrid doctrine of greed for the elites at the expense of health, dignity, and safety of non-elites
If mankind cannot individually and collectively agree to increase positive power and decrease negative power, to increase love and decrease hate, to increase knowledge and decrease superstition, and to increase personal responsibility, compassion, and morality and decrease irresponsibility, cold-heartedness, and immorality, then he can expect only conflict, tragedy and devastation in his future. The 21st century is off to a scary start, mostly dumping science in favor of religious dogma. This does not bode well.
Humans are regressing toward pre-Enlightenment thinking that depends upon "authorities" to guide them, rather than reason, logic, and knowledge. So life will be about two things: tyrants and religion. It's almost as though civilization is stuck in reverse and along with that it would seem that human evolution is stuck in reverse.
Humans are regressing toward pre-Enlightenment thinking that depends upon "authorities" to guide them, rather than reason, logic, and knowledge. So life will be about two things: tyrants and religion. It's almost as though civilization is stuck in reverse and along with that it would seem that human evolution is stuck in reverse. Think about it: brains that cease thinking for themselves and instead let authorities do it for them are unused organs that will degenerate. Thinking takes lots of effort and energy, but replaying tired old religious dogma in one's head takes hardly any energy. Sort of like watching a movie compared to writing a movie or using an app compared to programming an app.
Humans are more evolved than apes because they think. Nonthinking humans are like apes without body hair—not much else is different. There are sayings that point out that if something isn't growing it's dying, and a flowing river stays healthy, while a stagnant pool generates diseases and smells bad. A mind replaying tired old religious dogma in place of thinking and being closed to new experiences and ideas does not flow, grow, or create. It stagnates, degenerates, and is unproductive.
If humanity is like a flowing river it stays healthy, while if it's like a stagnant pool it generates diseases and smells bad
The 21st century Dark Ages (a.k.a. Dark Ages 2.0) will be ripe for exploitation by tyrants, demagogues, and psychotics. Narcissistic political performers will fill leadership positions—they will be people out to gain power and wealth not for the people but for themselves—to stroke their egos and improve their lot in life. Sometimes their goal will be to try to make up for the fact they dislike themselves by getting others to admire them.
You won't find it written that we were not defending South Vietnam, says Chomsky. It is taken for granted. It is elementary knowledge, because the elites kept saying that for the whole war. The North Vietnamese knew better and said so. But they were dirty commies that were lying, or so we were told. They said we weren't defending—we were attacking South Vietnam. According to Chomsky, they were telling the truth and our elites were lying to us. We have to be able to make it look as if we're defending ourselves from the Russians to have successful propaganda that changes our attacking of South Vietnam to defending both them and the U.S., using lies like the domino theory. We did this, but the lie sold well only to our citizens, not the other people of the world.
Chomsky says the same things about our other military adventures, including Central America and the Mideast and Africa. Our elites' cover stories were that we were helping, defending, democratizing, and freeing them. But Chomsky says—and proves—that we were doing the opposite and using the cover of propaganda so the truth would not be learned. We were exploiting, wrecking, killing democracy and freedom, and our corporatocracy was helping ourselves to their resources, sometimes leaving environmental devastation in our wake. Once we corrupt and exploit a country and install a dictator and dump the free press and install government controlled presses and starve to death a couple of hundred thousand peasants, we call them democracies because they cooperate with the U.S. corporatocracy.
You won't find it written that we were not defending South Vietnam, says Chomsky. It is taken for granted. But it's a lie.
"U.S. interventionism has nothing to do with resisting the spread of Communism, it's independence we've always been opposed to everywhere—and for quite a good reason. If a country begins to pay attention to its own population, it's not going to be paying adequate attention to the overriding needs of U.S. investors. Well, those are unacceptable priorities, so that government's just going to have to go," says Chomsky.
As Chomsky says, about the fact that in the U.S. we all know the U.S. is supporting various peace processes, even though the U.S. is in fact sabotaging the peace processes, "You can't have the United States opposing the peace process, because the peace process is what the United States is doing, by definition. And if anybody is opposing the United States, then they're opposing the peace process. That's the way it works, and it's very convenient, you get nice conclusions." Or you are a "radical" country if you don't follow U.S. orders, but a "moderate" country if you do. It is all very Orwellian. Others have studied how language has been Orwellized especially in the U.S. for political and propaganda purposes by the elites: See Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market.
Inside the U.S., preventing citizen organizing is accomplished by the elites via propaganda, warmongering, false flag events, and distractions (i.e., bread and circuses)
And Chomsky also says, "And since one of the main purposes of social policy is to keep the population passive, people with power are going to want to eliminate anything that tends to encourage the population to get involved in planning—because popular involvement threatens the monopoly of power by business, and it also stimulates popular organizations, and mobilizes people, and probably would lead to redistribution of profits, and so on." To elites, citizen organizing or cooperation or unionizing or boycotts or protests are nonos and must be prevented at all costs. Outside the U.S., the elites accomplish this via death squads, torture, assassination, coups, threats, and election rigging. Inside the U.S., the elites accomplish this via propaganda, warmongering, false flag events, and distractions (i.e., bread and circuses).
If you want to make sure the economy is healthy, you need government spending, and to ensure that the government can finance the electronics industry, and the aircraft industry, and computers, and metallurgy, machine tools, chemicals, etc., and you don't want the citizens to have a say in it, you have to maintain a pretense of constant security threats. They can be Russia, they can be Libya, they can be Grenada, they can be Cuba, etc. Propagandists spewed Domino theory, world Communist conspiracy, "stop them there or we will end up stopping them on our shores," and these days terrorism, the war on terror and the war on drugs and the ongoing low-key cyberwarfare the world keeps enduring, which lately includes fake news and election hijacking. See Fake News: How Propaganda Influenced the 2016 Election, A Historical Comparison to 1930's Germany.
Propaganda influenced the 2016 election—there's a shocking historical comparison to 1930's Germany
Chomsky looks at the thorny problem of economic sustainability. It's not enough just to cut off the Pentagon budget, since all that will do is just make the economy collapse. Our economy is dependent on it. He says we need to be creating both a culture and an institutional structure in which public funds can be used for social needs. We need to create the basis for an alternative before we come up with cookie-cutter solutions like replacing military spending with social spending (since the empire building costs, the huge weapons stockpiles, Star Wars defense spending, the war with Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror and the war on drugs are all phony, destructive, bogus and fraudulent and merely create pain, death, fear, and environmental catastrophes—all this while our infrastructure rots). Our idea for the culture and an institutional structure in which public funds can be used for social needs is conceptually simple: the MC movement for the culture in which public funds can be used for social needs, and Toffler's Third Wave institutional ideas for the institutional structures in which public funds can be used for social needs. We need to remember that the ecological-holistic paradigm underlines the fact that: garbage in, garbage out. GIGO is in effect both environmentally and socially. MCs deal with the social aspect.
Toffler's Third Wave predictions have been confirmed. Synthesis, integration, cooperation, ecology and eclecticism are all systems terms, represent systems thinking, and epitomize the new, ecological-holistic paradigm. Many other great thinkers—and scientific trends of many types since 1980 when the Third Wave was written—have confirmed beyond any doubt the beliefs that Toffler is expressing. These beliefs represent the systems theory and ecological-holistic paradigm that MC movement thinking derives from. Economics is seeing that the systems they are dealing with are more complex and more interrelated with other social systems (especially ecology) than John Keynes or Adam Smith ever would have imagined. The new globalism is set up—for and by the elites—to have a few winners and everyone else as losers. This is immoral and wrong. It needs to be integrated with systems theory and ecological-holistic paradigm contexts, which do not include running around the world like a bull in a china shop killing anyone who wont kiss the U.S. corporatocracy's ass.
U.S. economic sustainability needs to be integrated with systems theory and ecological-holistic paradigm contexts, which do not include running around the world like a bull in a china shop
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! (Who knows how far the NSA will take modern surveillance techniques?)
"But what if modern surveillance techniques and perfected manufactured consent, the bread and circuses spectacles of Hedges' nightmare visions, the endless distractions of election farces and social media and caterwauling talking heads spreading fake news and infotainment have all anesthetized us to the point of having no energy left to apply to dissent—or even thought itself?" This is Chris Hedges' worry and we and Chomsky share it. What if the corrupt shmucks running things issue equally corrupt executive orders permanently abolishing our right to either dissent or rebel? The way the Occupy Wall Street protests were muffled and marginalized in the press and the mainstream media news channels tells us that said abolishing may already be a fait accompli.
Occupy Wall Street was allowed as long as the protestors weren't really allowed to occupy or disrupt Wall Street, which would be blasphemy to the rich and powerful, and as long as protestors could be conveniently shuffled off to a convenient private park—out of sight, out of mind.
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'
The Occupy Wall Street movement struck a chord with millions of Americans with its new sloganeering regarding "We are the 99%" which referred to growing income disparity and the fact that those who caused the 2008 Depression/Recession got bonuses while the 99% of us regular Americans got the shaft. However, two years after OWS the growing income disparity had just gotten worse, and no economic policies in the U.S. had been revamped to prevent a repeat of the crisis.
We are the 99%' referred to growing income disparity and the fact that those who caused the 2008 Depression/Recession got bonuses while the 99% of us regular Americans got screwed
U.S. neocons' imperialism and warmongering is out of control yet the Congress tasked with stopping such abuses is mute—something smells rotten in Washington!
The mainstream media is closed to dissident opinion—too much truth would be learned by the citizens and they'd learn they'd been choking on propaganda misinformation for years
Chomsky spells out the harsh truth: The corporatocracy oligarchs don't want a political system in which the people genuinely participate—this would empower democracy, which they hate because it messes up their bottom line. The corporatocracy oligarchs would never open up the mainstream media to dissident opinion either. Too much truth would be learned by the citizens and they'd learn they'd been choking on propaganda misinformation for years, and they'd try to revolt. The corporatocracy oligarchs would never let the universities teach honest history, since the truth of how our government elites support our corporatocracy around the world would be so shocking the leaders would be overthrown. All this explains why the corporatocracy oligarchs act so anti-humanistic, anti-democratic, and anti-people. To protect their bottom line. Their actual moral values are that people and the environment do not count—only money counts. The solution to our continuing to be exploited and robbed and deceived is to return to democracy, rejecting oligarchical rule.
When corporatocracy prevails, democracy takes it on the chin
Chomsky relates how the major media in only the U.S. and the former Soviet Empire pretty much exclude anybody with a dissident voice—like Chomsky. He gets interviews and articles in major journals and newspapers in Western Europe, Australia, Canada, Israel, and all up and down the Western Hemisphere. But such interviews and articles of dissidents like him are unheard of in the United States. The main reason is just that what people think, and are allowed to think, is much more important here, so the controls are much greater—elites do not wish to use violence to get people to fall in line in THIS COUNTRY, even though they prefer that in most other countries since fear is a great motivator. In other words, the U.S. and Russia are the propaganda capitals of the world. We all know this happens in China, Cuba, North Korea, the Mideast, and other unfree countries and areas, but many wrongly assume it cannot happen here. They'd be surprised to learn we are the experts at thought control and propaganda. Our politicians, neocons, elites, and regular talk show "experts" are all very experienced at misinformation spewing, delivering fake news and truthiness with a straight face.
Our politicians, neocons, elites, and regular talk show 'experts' are all very experienced at misinformation spewing, delivering fake news and truthiness with a straight face
The Founding Fathers had wanted to put "enlightened gentlemen" in control so that they would protect everyone from the tyranny of the majority, but instead, said Madison, "what we've got is gangsters in control using state power for their own benefit." A couple of centuries later, the not-so-"enlightened gentlemen" have morphed into the Shadow Government, as greedy and exploitative as ever. As Chomsky tells it, the principle of the people who own the country ought to govern it continues to be the dominant feature of American politics. It's been the prevailing guiding principle from the start, in spite of what you might find in a high school Civics book. It is an acknowledgement of this covert but obviously functioning principle that led the recent high court ruling in the Citizens United case.
Special interests cough up lots of money and buy the policies they want and the candidates they want. This was made very easy by the recent (2014) Supreme Court ruling. After the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizen's United case, the movement of the U.S. towards a corporatocracy is complete. Justice Stevens, of the minority dissenting opinion, wrote: "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding . . . "
Chomsky, like Erich Fromm, says we need rational social planning, carried out by accountable people representing the whole population rather than business elites. I.e., we need real democracy, not the pretense. See The Revolution Of Hope.
The not-so-enlightened gentlemen (Founding Fathers) who acted like gangsters around 1800 have—centuries later—morphed into today's Shadow Government, as greedy and exploitative as ever
Thomas Jefferson warned that if power shifted into the clutches of what he called "banking institutions and moneyed incorporations," then the democratic experiment would be done. We'd have a form of tyranny worse than what the colonists had struggled against. We have allowed just this type of nightmare scenario to evolve. And we compounded the error by giving these corporations human status—they have all the rights that we do, and because of slick lawyers that have inserted insidious loopholes into legislation, they actually have more rights than we do. See Supercapitalism.
Thomas Jefferson warned that if power shifted into the clutches of what he called "banking institutions and moneyed incorporations," then the democratic experiment would be done
When Joe Blow goes up against a multinational in a lawsuit, the lawyers for the multnational stall and wrap Joe up in countersuits and motions until Joe runs out of money so they push him into debt
When Joe Blow goes up against a multinational in a lawsuit, the lawyers for the multnational stall and wrap Joe up in countersuits and motions until Joe runs out of money and mortgages his house but they drag out the proceedings until Joe is flat broke and homeless and the multinational wins and Joe is assessed court costs and now he is in deep, hopeless debt. The whole brutal exercise is a purposeful lesson to all who would challenge the magnificence and eternal power of the elites of the multinational. If Joe had possessed a billion dollars and if he was represented by a dream team of slick, expensive lawyers, he might have had a chance. Lesson: those that got, get. And—the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules. See When Corporations Rule the World
Those that got, get. And—the golden rule: he who has the gold makes the rules
You can get involved in activism, says Chomsky, by writing to any of the major progressive funding organizations, like Resist in Boston, for example, and they'll be delighted to give you a list of the couple hundred groups which they have funded in the last few years.
If you love this country, resist oppression and repression, organize, protest, boycott, and unionize
Despair is not an option, says Chomsky. Organize, unionize, communicate, boycott, and protest! See Optimism over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change.
An interesting aside here is that Trump's calling everything he doesn't agree with "fake news" has had nasty international effects—unanticipated consequences which bolstered despot's repression and undermined free speech and human rights in authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Syria, the Philippines, Venezuela, Libya, Poland, Uganda, Somaliland, Angola, Cambodia, Turkey, and Singapore: "Authoritarian rulers across the globe are adopting President Donald Trump’s favorite phrase to limit free speech [and oppress and delegitimize reporters], with prominent leaders or state media in at least 15 countries using his 'fake news' line to denounce their critics, according to a POLITICO review. By aligning themselves with Trump’s words, despots have been able to use the U.S. president as a shield for their attacks on press freedom and human rights, said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists." (Source: Trump’s 'fake news' mantra a hit with despots, Jason Schwartz, Politico)
Trump thinks he can spread fake news and simultaneously call everything not agreeing with him Fake News and people will buy it. The sad thing? About a quarter of them do!