I think it only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom.
I think, legally speaking, there's a very solid case for impeaching every American president since the Second World War. They've all been either outright war criminals or involved in serious war crimes.
Whether one likes and appreciates him or hates and condemns him, it is pretty difficult to be indifferent to Noam Avram Chomsky (b. 7 December 1928) who is the leading intellectual dissident and critic of the United States government and its foreign and domestic policies (he is also an important linguist; unfortunately I am unfamiliar and ignorant on the subject and leave it to someone more knowledgeable to cover that aspect of his career). It's been claimed that he is one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities (and the only one on the list still living) and the New York Times Book Review once said "Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty, and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive." Even his opponents tend to admit his intelligence, conviction, and formidability.
He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to William and Elsie Chomsky. His father, a respected Hebrew scholar who passed on a love of learning to his son, had fled from Russia to avoid conscription in the Tsarist army (1913). His mother, who had left Lithuania as an infant, also taught in Hebrew school. He was steeped in intellectualism and learning from the beginning. Unsurprisingly, among his mother's relatives were leftists and communists.
As a child, Chomsky recalls "seeing people coming to the door selling rags; and in a trolley car with my mother, I saw people beating up women strikers outside a textile factory." He became "very moved...by oppression, destruction, the intense fear of what was going on in Europe. I'd hear Hitler's speeches on the radio and see the reactions of my mother. By the time I was nine or 10 I was reading newspapers, and it went on from there. It seems obvious: you're responsible for your own actions, and their anticipated consequences." His first school newspaper editorial was on the Spanish Civil War. He was 10. A few years later (yes: 12), after rejecting Marxism, he embraced a form of anarchism, which he refers to as "libertarian socialism" and views it as a "tendency in human thought" instead of a doctrine. His reaction to the dropping of the atomic bombs further reflects his feelings: "I found it shocking, and equally shocking to me was that nobody seemed to care. There was nobody to talk to because no-one saw it as an atrocity" (all quotes in this paragraph from www.guardian.co.uk).
When he was sixteen, Chomsky entered the University of Pennsylvania where he met the linguist Zellig Harris, who not only helped him in his studies in the field but also helped nourish his growing feelings dissent and "radicalism." He graduated from grad school in 1951, and ended up teaching at MIT in 1955. There he worked on and published some very important papers on the subject of linguistics (many more followed, leading to a sort of dual career between that and his more political/activist writings). By age 29, he had become an associate professor, followed three years later by a full professorship. Later he was given an endowed chair and at age 47 he was made an Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy.
During the sixties his political involvement increased and in 1964 was supporting students who were against the draft and criticising US involvement in Southeast Asia. In an essay, he wrote that the duty of an intellectual was "to speak the truth and to expose lies." In 1969, his first collection of political writings was published (American Power and the New Mandarins). Into the seventies, he continued his political criticism and began studying the way the media helps facilitate foreign policy, which led to his best known book Manufacturing Consent (1988, cowritten with Edward S. Herman).
He continues to be prolific, not only writing full-length books, but books of articles and interviews, introductions to other books (he got into trouble in the eighties for writing one for Robert Faurisson, a French Holocaust denier; Chomsky's rationale was that despite being wrong factually and morally, the man's right to publish into the marketplace of ideas was more important than the flak taken from the incident), and other works. He still teaches and lectures, writes voluminously (including pieces specifically for the ZMagazine websitewww.zmag.org where is a top contributor), and has described himself as a "neurotic letter writer" (www.guardian.co.uk). Somewhere in there he manages to do a great deal of reading. His carefully researched writings are full of quotations and analysis of dozens of books each, plus numerous newspaper and magazine articles and interviews, and government and human/civil rights organization reports.
He has been criticized by some for the way he tirelessly attacks the US government. Chiefly, why he so doggedly goes after them and not other regimes around the world that are also guilty of similar sins. His reply is that:
I'm a citizen of the United States and I have a share of responsibility for what it does. I'd like to see it act in ways that meet decent moral standards. It's back to moral truisms: it's of little moral value to criticise the crimes of someone elsethough you should do it, and tell the truth. I have no influence over the policies of Sudan but a certain degree over the policies of the US. It's not a matter of expectation but of aspiration.
His often ironic style tends to come off as cold and cynical, at times, which tends to make the condemnations seem all the more harsh.
He married Carol Schatz in 1949 and has three children: Avi, Diane, and Harry. His wife is also a linguist.
Some of the common ideas and subject matter found in his work:
Chomsky believes that the term " rogue states" applies fully to the US. Noting that its use can serve propaganda purposes when applied to "assorted enemies," it also has a "literal use that applies to states that do not regard themselves as bound by international norms." In his work, time and time again, he notes condemnations from the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, other countries, and other sources (including all major Human Rights organizations), all of which end up being ignored and dismissed by the US.
He's gone at great length to demonstrate how the US uses its veto power on the UN Security Council as a means of denying almost every resolution condemning or relating to Israel and its (also found to be in the "rogue state" category) behavior in its region since 1972. He's challenged the US invasions of Panama, Grenada, Haiti, and elsewhere as self-serving and not at all related to the "peacemaking" and benevolent purposes stated by the State Department. He shows that in many cases, that violence and corruption got significantly worse as a result of US intervention (with often takes place for selfish reasons long after the "abuses of power" and "atrocities" committed by the governments in questionusually while under the aegis of American protection as an ally).
Historical examples of US armed intervention (Guatemala, for one) are strewn throughout his work, where the claimed "threat" of communism (more a threat to US corporate and economic interests) and worker and social reforms are used to put US-sanctioned governments in place, usually at odds with the desire of the people (supposedly a hallmark of democracy: the right to self-determine one's government). Further, he details the often brutal, corrupt and ruthless regimes that end up supported by the US as a result of intervention and/or support (El Salvador, for example) that repress the people and, with "internal security" as an excuse, are responsible for terror, "disappearances," massacres, and countless civil and human rights violations (from the above parenthetical example: El Mozote, Oscar Romero).
Why is the US able to intervene as it does ( Desert Storm being another example, but would require a more substantial summary)? Chomsky says because "with the Soviet deterrent gone, the US is much more free to use violence around the world, a fact that has been recognized with much satisfaction by US policy analysts in the past several years."
The way the US policies work abroad depends on being able to "divert the population, to keep them from seeing what's happening around them." This way this is done is to "inspire fear of terrible enemies about to overwhelm us and awe for our grand leaders who rescue us from disaster in the nick of time." Chomsky demonstrates that this "terrible enemy" was, for years, the Soviet Union (and the "evils" of communism, in general), but with its fall, the "deterrent is gone" and new threats are arranged. Qaddafi, Grenada, Sandinistas "marching on Texas," "Hispanic narco-traffickers led by the arch maniac Noriega," Saddam Hussein, and "crazed arabs, generally." It leads to his point that, at the bottom of it, the enemy is the third world and its potential to get "out of control."
And the main method to reinforce these ideas is through the media, which are corporations whose job is to sell a "product to a market""major corporations selling fairly wealthy and privileged audience to other businesses." Because this is how the system works, the world is reflected through the "narrow and biased interests and values of the sellers" (unsurprisingly similar to those who buy the product). This leads to the sort of self-supporting propaganda of the US government system necessary to maintain its policies (and ensure continued support from the people). As he notes in many places, in a society such as the US, where the use of outright force against its citizens to maintain control is not possible, the use of such propaganda is of paramount importance to "manufacture consent." As it's stated in the book on the subject, "Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to totalitarianism."
As might be expected from his background on the left, Chomsky sees much of what drives the forces of power in economic terms. He speaks out against so-called "economic miracles," so often trumpeted by the US as examples of the triumph of its inspiration and democratic/capitalist system (and usually intervention of some sort). The example of Bolivia shows, with western "intervention," the country (already with its share of "brutal, highly repressive dictators" and debt) was changed by stabilization of its currency, increased agroexport, and production cut for domestic needs. On paper (and in the papers) it was a grand turnaround: the currency stabilized, GNP rose and the debt was reduced.
He then looks deeper, beyond the veil of "macroeconomics" to look at the result of intervention where he notes the educational system has collapsed, malnutrition and sickness are rampant (in no small part due to the switch from a sustaining internal agricultural system, where the people and large farms fed the population, to a largely export-oriented agriculture, where it's shipped to other countries), and the regular citizens are hungry and poor.
This fuels the export of drugs (noting that coca is estimated to account for two-thirds of exports). With US subsidized agricultural policies that benefit the larger farms, the peasant cannot compete nor can he manage to sustain himself (much of the good land being used for agroexport). So, out of necessity, he turns to the only crop available that can give him the profit he needs to maintain existence (and is stable competitively).
This is mirrored in other countries where coca, cannabis, and poppies (opium) are cultivated, Colombia being a stellar example. The poor farmer then gets punished by the US "war on drugs" and biological "poisons" (often untested in the field and even illegal for use in the US) being sprayed indiscriminately (not quite, the larger farms, usually tied to the government seem to be given a pass) on the crops, killing not only the intended target but viable non-drug related crops, as well. Given that the governments are linked to the large farms which also cultivate drugs, it seems this miracle and "war" are highly subjective.
He often questions what would happen if another country would take helicopters with "poisons" to the US to destroy the "drug crop" (tobacco) of the United Statesa drug that is responsible for a significantly larger number of deaths around the world. A brief glance back to the section on "rogue states" would begin to formulate Chomsky's answer.
Palestine and East Timor
One particular subject he has returned to over and over is the plight of the Palestinians under the occupation of Israel and the policies in place that oppress them. He notes the US connections to Israel's ability to maintain and continue, largely because it is under US protection from the UN and other International organizations, as well as a recipient of military and economic aid. As elsewhere, the media's complicit and seemingly deliberate ignorance of the facts, as he presents them, helps in no small part the American public's received ignorance on the matter.
Another area Chomsky returns to often is the violent invasion and genocide of East Timor, a small former colony of Portugal that, upon "independence" (when Portugal pulled out) was promptly invaded and almost systematically destroyed by Indonesia, yet another country given large protection and support, militarily and economically, by the US. Not only does he condemn the US for continuing its support throughout the over two decades of abuse and atrocity, but other, as well, for not acting. He shows that the support has been huge: over a billion dollars since 1975 (as of 2000) and $150 million during the Clinton administration. Not to mention military training of Indonesian soldiers and "security" forces.
World Orders Old and New
In his 1994 book, Chomsky gives a nice summation of many of his ideas and the points he intends to make with his work:
But there are no fundamental changes, and no new " paradigms" are needed to make sense of what is happening. The basic rules of world order remain as they have always been: the rule of law for the weak, the rule of force for the strong; the principles of "economic rationality" for the weak, state power and intervention for the strong. As in the past, privilege and power do not willingly submit to popular control or market discipline, and therefore seek to undermine meaningful democracy and to bend market principles to their special needs. Within the culture of respectability, the traditional tasks remain: to reshape past and current history in the interests of power, to exalt the high principles to which we and our leaders are dedicated, and file away the flaws as misguided good intentions, harsh choices inflicted on us by some evil enemy, or the other categories familiar to the properly educated. For those of us unwilling to accept this role, the traditional tasks also remain: to challenge and unmask illegitimate authority, and to work with others to undermine it and to extend the scope of freedom and justice.
Both tendencies exist, as they almost always have. Which prevails will determine whether there will be a world in which a decent person would want to live.
(primarily political books; excluding pamphlets, articles, book introductions, essays collected with other writers, recorded works, et cetera)
- 1969 American Power and the New Mandarins
- 1970 At War with Asia
- 1972 Problems of Knowledge and Freedom (the Russell lectures)
- 1973 For Reasons of State
- 1974 Counterrevolutionary Violence (with Edward S. Herman); Peace in the Middle East? Reflections on Justice and Nationhood
- 1978 Human Rights and American Foreign Policy
- 1979 The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism [The Political Economy of Human Rights Volume I] (with Edward S. Herman); After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology [The Political Economy of Human Rights Volume II] (with Edward S. Herman); Language and Responsibility
- 1981 Lectures on Government and Binding; Radical Priorities
- 1982 Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Got There; Some Concepts and Consequences of the Theory of Government and Binding
- 1983 The Fateful Triangle: The US, Israel, and the Palestinians
- 1985 Turning the Tide: US Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace
- 1986 Barriers
- 1987 On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures; The Chomsky Reader
- 1988 The Culture of Terrorism; Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (with Edward S. Herman); Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World; Language and Politics
- 1989 Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in a Democratic Society
- 1991 Deterring Democracy
- 1992 What Uncle Sam Really Wants; Chronicles of Dissent;
- 1993 Year 501: The Conquest Continues; Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture; The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many; Letters from Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda
- 1994 Keeping the Rabble in Line: Interviews with David Barsamian; Secrets, Lies and Democracy; World Orders Old and New
- 1996 Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order; Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian
- 1997 Media Control : The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda
- 1998 The Common Good ; Profit Over People: Neoliberalism & Global Order
- 1999 The New Military Humanism: Lessons From Kosovo; The Umbrella of US Power: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of US Policy; Latin America: From Colonization to Globalization
- 2000 Chomsky on Mis-Education; Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs
- 2001 A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West; Propaganda and the Public Mind; 9-11
Personal. I've never been overly political, nor have I ever been much of an advocate and certainly not an activist. But reading through the work makes it difficult to remain insulated or indifferent from the forces outside of one's immediate surroundings. One should take some of Chomsky's conclusions with a bit of salt or healthy skepticism (he seems to overreach on occasion and assigns deliberate intent a bit more often than seems warranted), but denial and dismissal of the work and evidence he so meticulously presents would be folly. And with the amount of supporting material it becomes hard to maintain he is wrong or misrepresenting the "facts." As David Hume said: "A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence." It is sometimes uncomfortable to read himand that is as it should be, Chomsky is attempting to enlighten his readers to a view of the world that is absent from schools and the media. This is a good thing.
(Sources: www.utexas.edu/coc/journalism/SOURCE/j363/chomsky.html, www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4120040,00.html, several of the above titles)