April 21, 2013

Power Systems by Noam Chomsky

Power Systems by Noam Chomsky
Conversations on global democratic uprisings and the new challenges to US Empire. Interview with David Barsamian.

If you study international relations (IR) theory, there is what is called ‘realist’ IR theory which says there is an anarchic world of states and states pursue their ‘national interest’ It is in large part mythology. There are a few common interests, like we don’t want to be destroyed. Adam Smith said that England the people who own the society make policy. The people who own the place are the merchants and manufactures. They are the ‘the principal architects’ of policy and they carry out in their own interests, no matter how harmful the effects on the people of England which is not their business. Today, the power is no longer in the hands of the merchants and manufacturers, but of financial institutions and multinationals, but the result is the same.

China is largely an assembly plant. Like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, send parts and components to China, where people assemble and export the final products. Within the doctrinal framework, these are called Chinese exports, but they are regional exports in many instances and in other instances it is actually a case of the US exporting to itself.

Even in the poorest country in the world, say Haiti - white, Europeans, multinationals that lives in tremendous wealth and luxury. You find the same structure in India. Even though India has couple of million people now have cars & homes, the consumption of food on average has actually declined during this period of growth.

There is a reason why everybody has been invading Afghanistan since Alexander the Great. The country is in a highly strategic position relative to central Asia and the Middle East.  There are specific reasons to do with pipeline project in the background. Since 1990s the US has been trying hard to establish the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAPI) from Turkmenistan, which has a larger amount of natural gas to India. It has to go through Kandahar and so, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan & Pakistan and India are all involved. US want the pipeline for two reasons. One reason is to try to prevent Russia from having control of natural gas. The other reasons have to with isolating Iran. The natural way to get energy from Iran to Pakistan to India. US want to block this from happening.  TAPI pipeline would be a good weapon to try to undercut that.

On Martin Luther King Day, he is greatly celebrated for what he did in the early 1960s when he was saying “I have a dream” and “let’s get rid of racist sheriffs in Alabama”. But that was okay. But by 1965 he was getting to be dangerous figure. For one thing, he was turning against the war in Vietnam pretty strongly. For another, he was working to be at the head of a developing poor people’s movement. He was assassinated when he was taking part in a strike of sanitation workers and he was on his way to Washington for a poor people’s convention. He was going beyond racist sheriffs in Alabama to northern racism which is much more deeply-seated and class-based.  The civil rights movement was partly destroyed by force and partly filtered away at that stage. It never really made it past the point where you get into class issues.

Regarding Indian PM Man Mohan Singh’s comment “if left-wing extremism (Maoists) continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment”:  There are foreign investors and Indian investors who want to get into the resource-rich areas, even if that means, getting rid of the tribal people, destroying their way of life. India has been war internally ever since it’s founding; in fact, it goes back way before, to the British in earlier periods. The relations with the US and Israel are very close. Indian forces attacking the tribal areas are apparently using Israeli technology.

It is very clear and articulated recognition that people had gained so many rights that it was hard to suppress them by force. So you had to try to control their attitudes and beliefs or divert them somehow. As the economist Paul Nystrom argued, you have to try to fabricate consumers and create wants so people will be trapped. It is a common method. It was used by salve owners. In UK, when official slavery gone, what would stop a former slave from going up into the hills, where there was plenty of land and just living happily there?  They hit on the same method that everyone hits on: try to capture them with consumer goods. So they offered teasers - easy terms, gifts. And then people got trapped into wanting consumer goods, and started getting into debt at company stores, pretty soon you had a restoration of something similar to slavery, from the plantation owner’s point of view.

Bahrain hosts the US 5th Fleet which is by far the most powerful military force in the region and it is right off the coast of eastern Saudi Arabia. Eastern Saudi Arabia is where the most of the country’s oil is. Like Bahrain, it is also largely Shiite, while the Saudi Arabian government is Sunni. By some weird accident of history and geography, the concentration of the world’s energy resources is in the northern Gulf region, which is mostly Shiite and in a largely Sunni world. it is long been a nightmare for Western planners to consider the possibility that there might be some kind of tacit Shiite alliance, beyond Western control, that could take control of most of the core of the world’s energy supplies. So there was barely a tap on the wrist when Saudi Arabia led a military force into neighboring Bahrain to violently crush the protests there. In Libya where there is plenty of oil, but Gadhafi is very unreliable and it makes sense from an imperial point of view to see if you can replace him with someone more pliable and more trustworthy who will do what you want him to do. Therefore you react differently in Libya. The Clinton doctrine was that the US is entitled to resort to unilateral forces to ensure, “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources:

The US Federal Reserve, at least in principle, has a dual mandate: one of them is to control inflation; the other is to maintain employment. The European Central bank (ECB) has only one objective, to control inflation. It is banker’s bank, nothing to do with the population. They have an inflation target of 2% and you are not allowed to threaten that. They insist on not carrying out any stimulus or anything like quantitative easing or other measures that might increase growth.

The effect is that weaker countries in the European Union are never going to be able to get out of their debt under these policies. In fact, debt levels are getting worse. As you cut down growth, you cut down the possibility of debt repayment. Hence they sink deeper into misery. The effect of these polices is to weaken welfare-state measures and to reduce the power of labor. That is class war and it is fine for the banks, for financial institutions, but terrible for the population.

Pashtun population which crosses the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan has never accepted the Durand Line the British imposed boundary that cuts through their territory.

When people wanted enough freedom that they couldn’t be enslaved or killed or repressed, new modes of control naturally developed to try to impose forms of mental slavery so they would accept a framework of indoctrination and would not raise any questions. If you can trap people into not noticing, let alone questioning, crucial doctrines, they are enslaved. They will essentially follow orders as if there was a gun pointed to them.

A friend of mine who teaches sixth grade described to me once how she had taught her students about the American Revolution. A couple of weeks before they got to that assignment, she started acting very harshly, issuing orders and commands, making the kids to do all kinds of things they did not want to do. They got pretty upset and they wanted to do something about it. They started to get together and protest. By the time it got to the right point, she opened the lesson on the American Revolution. She said, “OK, now you can see why people rebel”. And the kids understood why you would. That’s the type of creative teaching.

Florida announced recently that it is cutting back funding for the state university, but increasing funding for sports. I remember going to some college for a talk, but the first thing we drove to was some huge stadium. Right next to the sports stadium was a big building. I asked the students what it was and they said, “That is where the football players lie”. They get special training to enable them to pass the courses so they can keep playing football.

There are two striking images that I think capture the essence of the conflict. One view is that education should be like pouring water into a bucket. As we all know from our own experience, the brain is a pretty leaky bucket so you can study for an exam on some topic in a course you are not interested in, learn enough to pass the exam and a week later you have forgotten what the course was. The water has leaked out. But this approach to education does train you to be obedient and follow orders, even meaningless orders. 

The other type of education was described by one of the great founders of the modern higher education systems, Wilhelm von Humboldt, a leading figure and founder of classical liberalism. He said, education should like to lay out a string that the student follows in his own way. In other words, giving a general structure in which the learner will explore the world in their own creative, individual independent fashion. Developing not only acquiring knowledge, but learning how to learn. In one of the MIT class, students asked their Physical professor Victor Weisskopf what his course would cover, he would say, “It does not matter what it cover. It matters what you discover”. In other words, if you can learn how to discover, then it does not matter what the subject matter is. You will use that talent elsewhere.

Languist is somebody who can speak a lot of languages, and linguist is somebody who is interested in the nature of language.

Capitalism is based on production for profit, not need. It is also based on a requirement of constant growth for profit. That is self-destructive - quite apart from things like the steady process of monopolization, forming more and more oligopolies as well as overproduction and the decline of the rate of profit. These are long-term tendencies that can be delayed, but they are inherit to capitalism.

Books mentioned in this book:
David Montgomery - The fall of the house of labor.
Benjamin Ginsberg - The fall of Faculty

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