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Chomsky on concision and the whole brevity thing, Chomsky on media you could describe as democratic media.
So first this little nugget of interview extracts about Chomsky combined with some Chomsky response to it. After that some longer heavier reading from the place where I personally first encountered Chomsky's work - the Massey Lectures of 1988, known as "Necessary Illusions" when published as a book.
This exchange about Chomsky and his response tells us a great deal about why the vast majority of opinions held by most people you speak to in our 'educated', 'civilised', 'modern' society are such that a survey produced results causing some journalists to conclude that the British Public is wrong about nearly everything.
Clip of Greenfield interview: <<
Q: Why is Noam Chomsky never on nightline?
Greenfield: I couldn't begin to tell you.
Q: He's one of the (most) leading intellectuals in the entire world.
Greenfield: I have no idea. I mean I can make some guesses. He may be one of the leading intellectuals who can't talk on television. You know that's a standard that's very important - to us. If you got a 22 minute show and a guy takes 5 minutes to warm up - now I don't know whether Chomsky does or not - he's out. Now one of the reasons why nightline has "the usual suspects" is one of the things you have to do when you book a show is know that the person can make the point within the framework of television. And if people don't like that they should understand it's about as sensible to book somebody who will take eight minutes to give an answer as it is to book someone who doesn't speak English. But in the normal given flow, that's another culture-bound thing, we gotta have English-speaking people. We also need concision.
>> end clip
Chomsky: So Greenfield or whatever his name is hit the name on the head. The US media are alone in that it is - you must meet the condition of concision. You gotta say the thing between two commercials or in 600 words, and that's a very important fact, because the beauty of concision, you know, saying a couple of sentences between two commercials, the beauty of that is that you can only repeat conventional thoughts.
Clip of Greenfield interview: <<
Greenfield: I was reading Chomsky 20 years ago. Didn't he co author a new book called engineering consent or manufacturing consent. I mean some of that stuff to me looks like it's from Neptune.
Archive clip: <<
Announcer: this is the first time the Neptune system has been seen clearly by human eyes. These pictures taken only hours ago by Voyager 2 are its latest contribution.
Clip of Greenfield interview: <<
Greenfield: he's firmly entitled to say that I'm seeing it through a prism too, but my view of his notions about the limits of debate in this country is (it's) absolutely wacko.
Chomsky: Suppose I get up on nightline say and given whatever it is, 2 minutes. And I say Khadaffi is a terrorist, Khomeini is a murderer, etc etc, the Russians invaded Afghanistan, all this sort of stuff, I don't need any evidence, everybody just nods. On the other hand suppose you say something that just isn't regurgitating conventional pieties, suppose you say something that's the least bit unexpected or controversial, suppose you say
cut to Chomsky clip:
I mean the biggest international terror operations that are known are the ones that are run out of Washington.
cut to Chomsky clip:
Or suppose you say what happened in the 1980s is the US government was driven underground.
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< Suppose I say the United States is invading South Vietnam, as it was. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< The best political leaders are the ones who are lazy and corrupt. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< If the Nuremberg laws were applied then every post-war American president would have been hanged. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< The Bible's probably the most genocidal book in our total canon. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< Education is a system of imposed ignorance. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
<< No more morality in world affairs, fundamentally, than there was in the time of Genghis Khan, there are just different factors to be concerned with. >>
cut to Chomsky clip:
Well you know people will quite reasonably expect to know what you mean. Why did you say that? I never heard that before. If you said that you better have a reason, you better have some evidence, in fact you better have a lot of evidence because that's startling comment. You can't give evidence if you're stuck with concision. That's the genius of this structural constraint.
And now for the material from the Massey Lectures - heavy heavy reading.The Massey lectures open as follows:
Under the heading "Brazilian bishops support plan to democratize media," a church-based South American journal describes a proposal being debated in the constituent assembly that "would open up Brazil's powerful and highly concentrated media to citizen participation." "Brazil's Catholic bishops are among the principal advocates [of this]..legislative proposal to democratize the country's communications media," the report continues, noting that "Brazilian TV is in the hands of five big networks [while]..eight huge multinational corporations and various state enterprises account for the majority of all communications advertising." The proposal "envisions the creation of a National Communications Council made up of civilian and government representatives [that]..would develop a democratic communications policy and grant licenses to radio and television operations." "The Brazilian Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeatedly stressed the importance of the communications media and pushed for grassroots participation. It has chosen communications as the theme of its 1989 Lenten campaign," an annual "parish-level campaign of reflection about some social issue" initiated by the Bishops' Conference.
The questions raised by the Brazilian bishops are being seriously discussed in many parts of the world. Projects exploring them are under way in several Latin American countries and elsewhere. There has been discussion of a "New World Information Order" that would diversify media access and encourage alternatives to the global media system dominated by the Western industrial powers. A UNESCO inquiry into such possibilities elicited an extremely hostile reaction in the United States. The alleged concern was freedom of the press. Among the questions I would like to raise as we proceed are: just how serious is this concern, and what is its substantive content? Further questions that lie in the background have to do with a democratic communications policy: what it might be, whether it is a desideratum, and if so, whether it is attainable. And, more generally, just what kind of democratic order is it to which we aspire?
So from the outset of those lectures Chomsky poses this extremely relevant (even today) question which is key to all our lives, to the freedom of us all, to whether or not what our society is can accurately be labelled a "demo-cracy" - a place "ruled by the people". What is a genuinely 'democratic' media and why does the very suggestion of one elicit an "extremely hostile reaction in the United States" and indeed similar places such as the United Kingdom, no doubt Israel, Australia and other clones of the United States. Chomsky explains that when Nixon was toppled by the Pentagon Papers there was an extreme "right turn" in the United States (and its vassal states, of course, eg the United Kingdom) and an intense purge of the left wing, a reining in of media to obey a very singular and undemocratic set of rules. Firstly Chomsky explains how the judiciary victim-blamed Nixon's America and refused to acknowledge the place of democratic voices in a democratic society:
The standard image of media performance, as expressed by Judge Gurfein in a decision rejecting government efforts to bar publication of the Pentagon Papers, is that we have "a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press," and that these tribunes of the people "must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know." Commenting on this decision, Anthony Lewis of the New York Times observes that the media were not always as independent, vigilant, and defiant of authority as they are today, but in the Vietnam and Watergate eras they learned to exercise "the power to root about in our national life, exposing what they deem right for exposure," without regard to external pressures or the demands of state or private power. This too is a commonly held belief.
In other words, readers, the US establishment criticised the media for ignoring the false-presumption that capitalism is above the law. Instead of looking to debate whether the media should be making more, not less, of an effort to report objectively on private power, private wealth, capitalist and establishment behaviour, which if you think about it is THE WHOLE POINT of 'journalism' and indeed satire, comedy and much other art and analysis and endeavour, the United States and its vassals like Britain began, at that time, loudly debating whether or not in fact the media has "too much power" and that there is something they (the establishments mentioned) themselves have officially declared to be "an excess of democracy". Observe the relevant Chomsky:
There has been much debate over the media during this period, but it does not deal with the problem of "democratizing the media" and freeing them from the constraints of state and private power. Rather, the issue debated is whether the media have not exceeded proper bounds in escaping such constraints, even threatening the existence of democratic institutions in their contentious and irresponsible defiance of authority. A 1975 study on "governability of democracies" by the Trilateral Commission concluded that the media have become a "notable new source of national power," one aspect of an "excess of democracy" that contributes to "the reduction of governmental authority" at home and a consequent "decline in the influence of democracy abroad." This general "crisis of democracy," the commission held, resulted from the efforts of previously marginalized sectors of the population to organize and press their demands, thereby creating an overload that prevents the democratic process from functioning properly. In earlier times, "Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers," so the American rapporteur, Samuel Huntington of Harvard University, reflected. In that period there was no crisis of democracy, but in the 1960s, the crisis developed and reached serious proportions. The study therefore urged more "moderation in democracy" to mitigate the excess of democracy and overcome the crisis.
Putting it in plain terms, the general public must be reduced to its traditional apathy and obedience, and driven from the arena of political debate and action, if democracy is to survive.
The Trilateral Commission study reflects the perceptions and values of liberal elites from the United States, Europe, and Japan, including the leading figures of the Carter administration. On the right, the perception is that democracy is threatened by the organizing efforts of those called the "special interests," a concept of contemporary political rhetoric that refers to workers, farmers, women, youth, the elderly, the handicapped, ethnic minorities, and so on -- in short, the general population. In the U.S. presidential campaigns of the 1980s, the Democrats were accused of being the instrument of these special interests and thus undermining "the national interest," tacitly assumed to be represented by the one sector notably omitted from the list of special interests: corporations, financial institutions, and other business elites.
The charge that the Democrats represent the special interests has little merit. Rather, they represent other elements of the "national interest," and participated with few qualms in the right turn of the post-Vietnam era among elite groups, including the dismantling of limited state programs designed to protect the poor and deprived; the transfer of resources to the wealthy; the conversion of the state, even more than before, to a welfare state for the privileged; and the expansion of state power and the protected state sector of the economy through the military system -- domestically, a device for compelling the public to subsidize high-technology industry and provide a state-guaranteed market for its waste production. A related element of the right turn was a more "activist" foreign policy to extend U.S. power through subversion, international terrorism, and aggression: the Reagan Doctrine, which the media characterize as the vigorous defense of democracy worldwide, sometimes criticizing the Reaganites for their excesses in this noble cause. In general, the Democratic opposition offered qualified support to these programs of the Reagan administration, which, in fact, were largely an extrapolation of initiatives of the Carter years and, as polls clearly indicate, with few exceptions were strongly opposed by the general population.
As Chomsky takes on the role of Rumpole of the Bailey defending the American media from the accusations that it was a damaging anti-democratic force (by being "too democratic" - and consider today that this is exactly what they're saying about Assange), he lays down the position very clearly:
Two kinds of questions arise in connection with these vigorous debates about the media and democracy: questions of fact and questions of value. The basic question of fact is whether the media have indeed adopted an adversarial stance, perhaps with excessive zeal; whether, in particular, they undermine the defense of freedom in wartime and threaten free institutions by "flagellating ourselves" and those in power. If so, we may then ask whether it would be proper to impose some external constraints to ensure that they keep to the bounds of responsibility, or whether we should adopt the principle expressed by Justice Holmes, in a classic dissent, that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market" through "free trade in ideas."
The question of fact is rarely argued; the case is assumed to have been proven. Some, however, have held that the factual premises are simply false. Beginning with the broadest claims, let us consider the functioning of the free market of ideas. In his study of the mobilization of popular opinion to promote state power, Benjamin Ginsberg maintains that western governments have used market mechanisms to regulate popular perspectives and sentiments. The "marketplace of ideas," built during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, effectively disseminates the beliefs and ideas of the upper classes while subverting the ideological and cultural independence of the lower classes. Through the construction of this marketplace, western governments forged firm and enduring links between socioeconomic position and ideological power, permitting upper classes to use each to buttress the other... In the United States, in particular, the ability of the upper and upper-middle classes to dominate the marketplace of ideas has generally allowed these strata to shape the entire society's perception of political reality and the range of realistic political and social possibilities. While westerners usually equate the marketplace with freedom of opinion, the hidden hand of the market can be almost as potent an instrument of control as the iron fist of the state.
Ginsberg's conclusion has some initial plausibility, on assumptions about the functioning of a guided free market that are not particularly controversial. Those segments of the media that can reach a substantial audience are major corporations and are closely integrated with even larger conglomerates. Like other businesses, they sell a product to buyers. Their market is advertisers, and the "product" is audiences, with a bias towards more wealthy audiences, which improve advertising rates. Over a century ago, British Liberals observed that the market would promote those journals "enjoying the preference of the advertising public"; and today, Paul Johnson, noting the demise of a new journal of the left, blandly comments that it deserved its fate: "The market pronounced an accurate verdict at the start by declining to subscribe all the issue capital," and surely no right-thinking person could doubt that the market represents the public will.
In short, the major media -- particularly, the elite media that set the agenda that others generally follow -- are corporations "selling" privileged audiences to other businesses. It would hardly come as a surprise if the picture of the world they present were to reflect the perspectives and interests of the sellers, the buyers, and the product. Concentration of ownership of the media is high and increasing. Furthermore, those who occupy managerial positions in the media, or gain status within them as commentators, belong to the same privileged elites, and might be expected to share the perceptions, aspirations, and attitudes of their associates, reflecting their own class interests as well. Journalists entering the system are unlikely to make their way unless they conform to these ideological pressures, generally by internalizing the values; it is not easy to say one thing and believe another, and those who fail to conform will tend to be weeded out by familiar mechanisms.
The influence of advertisers is sometimes far more direct. "Projects unsuitable for corporate sponsorship tend to die on the vine," the London Economist observes, noting that "stations have learned to be sympathetic to the most delicate sympathies of corporations." The journal cites the case of public TV station WNET, which "lost its corporate underwriting from Gulf and Western as a result of a documentary called 'Hunger for Profit', about multinationals buying up huge tracts of land in the third world." These actions "had not been those of a friend," Gulf's chief executive wrote to the station, adding that the documentary was "virulently anti-business, if not anti-American." "Most people believe that WNET would not make the same mistake today," the Economist concludes. Nor would others. The warning need only be implicit.
Many other factors induce the media to conform to the requirements of the state-corporate nexus. To confront power is costly and difficult; high standards of evidence and argument are imposed, and critical analysis is naturally not welcomed by those who are in a position to react vigorously and to determine the array of rewards and punishments. Conformity to a "patriotic agenda," in contrast, imposes no such costs. Charges against official enemies barely require substantiation; they are, furthermore, protected from correction, which can be dismissed as apologetics for the criminals or as missing the forest for the trees. The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to the right of deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms. One who attributes the best intentions to the U.S. government, while perhaps deploring failure and ineptitude, requires no evidence for this stance, as when we ask why "success has continued to elude us" in the Middle East and Central America, why "a nation of such vast wealth, power and good intentions [cannot] accomplish its purposes more promptly and more effectively" (Landrum Bolling). Standards are radically different when we observe that "good intentions" are not properties of states, and that the United States, like every other state past and present, pursues policies that reflect the interests of those who control the state by virtue of their domestic power, truisms that are hardly expressible in the mainstream, surprising as this fact may be.
One needs no evidence to condemn the Soviet Union for aggression in Afghanistan and support for repression in Poland; it is quite a different matter when one turns to U.S. aggression in Indochina or its efforts to prevent a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict over many years, readily documented, but unwelcome and therefore a non-fact. No argument is demanded for a condemnation of Iran or Libya for state-supported terrorism; discussion of the prominent -- arguably dominant -- role of the United States and its clients in organizing and conducting this plague of the modern era elicits only horror and contempt for this view point; supporting evidence, however compelling, is dismissed as irrelevant. As a matter of course, the media and intellectual journals either praise the U.S. government for dedicating itself to the struggle for democracy in Nicaragua or criticize it for the means it has employed to pursue this laudable objective, offering no evidence that this is indeed the goal of policy. A challenge to the underlying patriotic assumption is virtually unthinkable within the mainstream and, if permitted expression, would be dismissed as a variety of ideological fanaticism, an absurdity, even if backed by overwhelming evidence -- not a difficult task in this case.
Case by case, we find that conformity is the easy way, and the path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs that may be severe, even in a society that lacks such means of control as death squads, psychiatric prisons, or extermination camps. The very structure of the media is designed to induce conformity to established doctrine. In a three-minute stretch between commercials, or in seven hundred words, it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility. Regurgitation of welcome pieties faces no such problem.
It is a natural expectation, on uncontroversial assumptions, that the major media and other ideological institutions will generally reflect the perspectives and interests of established power. That this expectation is fulfilled has been argued by a number of analysts. Edward Herman and I have published extensive documentation, separately and jointly, to support a conception of how the media function that differs sharply from the standard version. According to this "propaganda model" -- which has prior plausibility for such reasons as those just briefly reviewed -- the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussion accordingly. We have studied a wide range of examples, including those that provide the most severe test for a propaganda model, namely, the cases that critics of alleged anti-establishment excesses of the media offer as their strongest ground: the coverage of the Indochina wars, the Watergate affair, and others drawn from the period when the media are said to have overcome the conformism of the past and taken on a crusading role. To subject the model to a fair test, we have systematically selected examples that are as closely paired as history allows: crimes attributable to official enemies versus those for which the United States and its clients bear responsibility; good deeds, specifically elections conducted by official enemies versus those in U.S. client states. Other methods have also been pursued, yielding further confirmation.
There is too much valuable material in these lectures of Chomsky for me to be able to quote everything important in that book to you here and whilst I will attempt to summarise, to some extent, some of the rest of what Chomsky says, it is very important that anyone wishing to have an honest and intelligent perspective of our society, our world, read the evidence presented there by Chomsky. It is a very detailed and conclusive take-down of what in fact underpins the false confidence of not only the majority of so-called western "elites" but indeed of the "many", not just the few, the many who have been indoctrinated and who, whatever view they take of those "elites" would mostly be "glad" to be in their place. Ignorant of the realities, of the fragile, corrupt and broken nature of our 'system'. And it is not really for me to say 'our'. At least 45 million people in the country I live in do not consider me to be welcome in 'their' country, a country which I was born in and always saw as my home, but I have to recognise most British people do not want the 2 million muslim minority which lives here to be represented, to have opportunity, to be welcome - because as long as we are unwelcome, they have someone more vulnerable than themselves to pass trouble down to. Of course as the 2019 disaster envelops so much of the present and future, as economic collapse is bursting out of the Emperor's nudity, still masquerading as a Gucci suit, the 45 million islamophobic britons will have quite a surplus of horror to absorb themselves even when they've passed as much of the pain as they can onto first the muslim minority, then the black minority and the rest of the asian minority, then presumably eastern Europeans, and after that - 'each other'.
So, how can I summarise the rest of what's important in the book quoted from, for the 'benefit' of people too lazy or with "too little time" to peruse this pivotal presentation of evidence by Chomsky, with sufficient data to enable democratic processes to 'destroy' much of what we call capitalism? Well I'll try (shortly... will add rest here asap, but there's a LOT of key stuff in this book, I'll take a while going through and summarising what I find).
This (dated at the bottom) extract from my previous writings should cover it, for the time being.<<<
Let us not forget, when considering the genocidal racism of right wing Israelis, that Salon reported in 2014: << The Times of Israel is under fire on Friday after publishing a blog post titled 'When Genocide Is Permissible.' The post, written by Yochanon Gordon, was quickly removed from the Times' website, but cached and screen-captured versions of the piece quickly proliferated on social media. >>
The racist blogger wrote: << Hamas has stated forthrightly that it idealizes death as much as Israel celebrates life. What other way then is there to deal with an enemy of this nature other than obliterate them completely? >> (I wonder what the average westerner would feel about that argument's being used in relation to the damage the USA, the UK and much of western Europe has done to the world, for centuries?!!)
Finally this Israeli then declares << If political leaders and military experts determine that the only way to achieve its goal of sustaining quiet is through genocide is it then permissible to achieve those responsible goals? >> (I guess that's what the terrorists who bomb westerners feel they are doing when they commit Israeli-style genocide in Britain, France, the U.S. etc). >>>
<< CHOMSKY: Well this raises quite a welter of questions. Let me begin by saying something about liberalism, which is a very complicated concept, I think. It's correct, surely, that liberalism grew up in the intellectual environment of empiricism and the rejection of authority, and trust in the evidence of the senses, and so on. However, liberalism has undergone a very complex evolution as a social philosophy over the years. If we go back to the classics, or at least, what I regard as the classics, say, for example, Humboldt's limits of state action which inspired Mill and is a true libertarian, liberal classic, if you'd like. The world that Humboldt was considering--which was partially an imaginary world--but the world for which he was developing this political philosophy, was a post-feudal but pre-capitalist world.
That it was a world in which there was no great divergence among individuals in the kind of power that they had, and what they command, let's say. But there was a tremendous disparity between individuals, on one hand, and the state on the other. Consequently, it was the task of a liberalism that was concerned with human rights, and the equality of individuals, and so on. It was the task of that liberalism to dissolve the enormous power of state, which was such an authoritarian threat to individual liberties. And from that, you develop a classical liberal theory in, say, Humboldt's or Mill's sense. Well, of course, that is pre-capitalist. He couldn't conceive of an era in which a corporation would be regarded as an individual,
Or in which enormous disparities in control over resources and production would distinguish between individuals in a massive fashion. Now, in that kind of society, to take the Humboldtian view is a very superficial liberalism. Because while opposition to state power in an era of such divergence conforms to Humboldt's conclusions, it doesn't do so for his reasons. That is, his reasons lead to very different conclusions in that case.
Namely, I think, his reasons lead to the conclusion that we must dissolve the authoritarian control over production of resources, which leads to such divergence as among individuals. In fact, I think, one might draw a direct line between classical liberalism and a kind of libertarian socialism, which I think, can be regarded as a kind of adapting of the basic reasoning of classical liberalism to a very different social era. Now if we come to the modern period, here liberalism has taken on a very strange sense, if you think of its history. Now liberalism is essentially the theory of state capitalism. Of state intervention in a capitalist economy.
Well, that has very little relation to classical liberalism. In fact, classical liberalism is what's now called conservatism, I suppose. But this new view, I think, really is, in my view at least, a highly authoritarian position. That is, it's one which accepts a number of centers of authority and control--the state on one hand, agglomerations of private power on the other hand, all interacting with individuals as malleable cogs in this highly constrained machine, which may be called democratic, but given the actual distribution of powers, very far from being meaningfully democratic and cannot be so. So my own feeling has always been that to achieve the classical liberal ideals--for the reasons that led to them being put forth--in a society so different, we must be led in a very different direction. It's superficial and erroneous to accept the conclusions which were reached for different society and not to consider the reasoning that led to those conclusions. The reasoning, I think, is very substantial. I'm a classical liberal in this sense. But I think it leads me to be a kind of anarchist, an anarchist socialist. >>
Chomsky states in the preface to Necessary Illusions the opinion that << citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for more meaningful democracy. >>
There are some events you need to understand, from our recent past, which have shaped all this. In Necessary Illusions, Chomsky informs us about a great deal. So here come some more lengthy quotations - to those who do not believe that effort and literacy are important when trying to understand the politics of our world, I am sorry to disappoint you, there simply is no other way.
Chomsky begins by saying << These lectures suggest certain conclusions about the functioning of the most advanced democratic systems of the modern era, and particularly, about the ways in which thought and understanding are shaped in the interests of domestic privilege. >> He adds: << But, to my knowledge, there is no serious effort to respond to these and other similar critiques. Rather, they are simply dismissed, in conformity to the predictions of the propaganda model. >> Indeed that is true. I've seen Nick Cohen accuse Chomsky of things which if Cohen had read Chomsky's works Cohen would find the opposite is true - eg claiming Chomsky doesn't tell us about the bad things the Soviet Union did. In fact you can look it up for yourself - what will become clear to you is that men like Cohen attack Chomsky without reading Chomsky. Chomsky on the other hand (and hopefully you and I will be like him, not like Cohen) takes the other approach - knowing what you're talking about before you start talking.
According to Chomsky, then: << the tension [caused by decision making power's being in the hands of the few but impacting on a large scale throughout the social order] could be resolved, and sometimes is, by forcefully eliminating public interference with state and private power. In the advanced industrial societies the problem is typically approached by a variety of measures to deprive democratic political structures of substantive content, while leaving them formally intact. A large part of this task is assumed by ideological institutions that channel thought and attitudes within acceptable bounds, deflecting any potential challenge to established privilege and authority before it can take form and gather strength. The enterprise has many facets and agents. >>
Chomsky suggests: << One way to resolve the tension would be to extend the democratic system to investment, the organization of work, and so on. That would constitute a major social revolution, which, in my view at least, would consummate the political revolutions of an earlier era and realize some of the libertarian principles on which they were partly based >> .
So what exactly has caused us to go so far astray, since the 60s, since indeed the time of Chomsky's Massey Lectures in the late 80s. Well it goes back to before those lectures, of course, and in them Chomsky advises us: << I will be primarily concerned with one aspect: thought control, as conducted through the agency of the national media and related elements of the elite intellectual culture >> . No, not B-movies, perfectly rational and sane assessment of how our society works: << In accordance with the prevailing conceptions in the U.S., there is no infringement on democracy if a few corporations control the information system: in fact, that is the essence of democracy. In the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, the leading figure of the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, explains that "the very essence of the democratic process" is "the freedom to persuade and suggest," what he calls "the engineering of consent." "A leader," he continues, "frequently cannot wait for the people to arrive at even general understanding ... Democratic leaders must play their part in ... engineering ... consent to socially constructive goals and values," applying "scientific principles and tried practices to the task of getting people to support ideas and programs"; and although it remains unsaid, it is evident enough that those who control resources will be in a position to judge what is "socially constructive," to engineer consent through the media, and to implement policy through the mechanisms of the state. If the freedom to persuade happens to be concentrated in a few hands, we must recognize that such is the nature of a free society. The public relations industry expends vast resources "educating the American people about the economic facts of life" to ensure a favorable climate for business. Its task is to control "the public mind," which is "the only serious danger confronting the company," an AT&T executive observed eighty years ago. >>
No, nobody is pretending Laura Kuenssberg is an evil but intellectual giant of a woman, scheming to rule the world.
Chomsky explains: << Despite the frank acknowledgment of the need to deceive the public, it would be an error to suppose that practitioners of the art are typically engaged in conscious deceit; few reach the level of sophistication of the Grand Inquisitor or maintain such insights for long. On the contrary, as the intellectuals pursue their grim and demanding vocation, they readily adopt beliefs that serve institutional needs; those who do not will have to seek employment elsewhere. The chairman of the board may sincerely believe that his every waking moment is dedicated to serving human needs. Were he to act on these delusions instead of pursuing profit and market share, he would no longer be chairman of the board. It is probable that the most inhuman monsters, even the Himmlers and the Mengeles, convince themselves that they are engaged in noble and courageous acts. The psychology of leaders is a topic of little interest. The institutional factors that constrain their actions and beliefs are what merit attention. >>
It goes back to the time of Nixon and Watergate (British 'leftists' pay attention - too few of them have a clue about these matters): << The standard image of media performance, as expressed by Judge Gurfein in a decision rejecting government efforts to bar publication of the Pentagon Papers, is that we have "a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press," and that these tribunes of the people "must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know." Commenting on this decision, Anthony Lewis of the New York Times observes that the media were not always as independent, vigilant, and defiant of authority as they are today, but in the Vietnam and Watergate eras they learned to exercise "the power to root about in our national life, exposing what they deem right for exposure," without regard to external pressures or the demands of state or private power. >>
Where is the evidence of this? Neoliberals may want to ask, accusing you of 'conspiracy theory' if you attempt to persuade them of the truth. Tell them: << A 1975 study on "governability of democracies" by the Trilateral Commission concluded that the media have become a "notable new source of national power," one aspect of an "excess of democracy" that contributes to "the reduction of governmental authority" at home and a consequent "decline in the influence of democracy abroad." This general "crisis of democracy," the commission held, resulted from the efforts of previously marginalized sectors of the population to organize and press their demands, thereby creating an overload that prevents the democratic process from functioning properly. >>
Chomsky tells us that << The charge that the Democrats represent the special interests has little merit. Rather, they represent other elements of the "national interest," and participated with few qualms in the right turn of the post-Vietnam era among elite groups, including the dismantling of limited state programs designed to protect the poor and deprived; the transfer of resources to the wealthy; the conversion of the state, even more than before, to a welfare state for the privileged; and the expansion of state power and the protected state sector of the economy through the military system - domestically, a device for compelling the public to subsidize high-technology industry and provide a state-guaranteed market for its waste production >> . This applies to pre-Corbyn (and non-Corbyn) Labour. Evidently.
Chomsky indicates support for Ginsberg's belief that << western governments have used market mechanisms to regulate popular perspectives and sentiments. The "marketplace of ideas," built during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, effectively disseminates the beliefs and ideas of the upper classes while subverting the ideological and cultural independence of the lower classes. Through the construction of this marketplace, western governments forged firm and enduring links between socioeconomic position and ideological power, permitting upper classes to use each to buttress the other ... In the United States, in particular, the ability of the upper and upper-middle classes to dominate the marketplace of ideas has generally allowed these strata to shape the entire society's perception of political reality and the range of realistic political and social possibilities. While westerners usually equate the marketplace with freedom of opinion, the hidden hand of the market can be almost as potent an instrument of control as the iron fist of the state. >>
One piece of evidence Chomsky presents is this: << The influence of advertisers is sometimes far more direct. "Projects unsuitable for corporate sponsorship tend to die on the vine," the London Economist observes, noting that "stations have learned to be sympathetic to the most delicate sympathies of corporations." The journal cites the case of public TV station WNET, which "lost its corporate underwriting from Gulf+Western as a result of a documentary called 'Hunger for Profit', about multinationals buying up huge tracts of land in the third world." These actions "had not been those of a friend," Gulf's chief executive wrote to the station, adding that the documentary was "virulently anti-business, if not anti-American." "Most people believe that WNET would not make the same mistake today," the Economist concludes. Nor would others. The warning need only be implicit. >>
Chomsky's investigation concludes that << Case by case, we find that conformity is the easy way, and the path to privilege and prestige; dissidence carries personal costs that may be severe, even in a society that lacks such means of control as death squads, psychiatric prisons, or extermination camps. The very structure of the media is designed to induce conformity to established doctrine. In a three-minute stretch between commercials, or in seven hundred words, it is impossible to present unfamiliar thoughts or surprising conclusions with the argument and evidence required to afford them some credibility. Regurgitation of welcome pieties faces no such problem. >>
Where the title of Necessary Illusions comes from is significant and is evident from this extract from chapter one: << Harold Lasswell explained in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences that we should not succumb to "democratic dogmatisms about men being the best judges of their own interests." They are not; the best judges are the elites, who must, therefore, be ensured the means to impose their will, for the common good. When social arrangements deny them the requisite force to compel obedience, it is necessary to turn to "a whole new technique of control, largely through propaganda" because of the "ignorance and superstition [of] ... the masses." In the same years, Reinhold Niebuhr argued that "rationality belongs to the cool observers," while "the proletarian" follows not reason but faith, based upon a crucial element of "necessary illusion." Without such illusion, the ordinary person will descend to "inertia." Then in his Marxist phase, Niebuhr urged that those he addressed - presumably, the cool observers - recognize "the stupidity of the average man" and provide the "emotionally potent oversimplifications" required to keep the proletarian on course to create a new society; the basic conceptions underwent little change as Niebuhr became "the official establishment theologian" (Richard Rovere), offering counsel to those who "face the responsibilities of power." >>
Chomsky explains << in practice, the state media are generally kept in line by the forces that have the power to dominate the state, and by an apparatus of cultural managers who cannot stray far from the bounds these forces set >> .
Many people see the Guardian as the left wing and people like Counterpunch as some sort of radical extreme segment of the political spectrum.
Chomsky points out << One consequence of the distribution of resources and decision- making power in the society at large is that the political class and the cultural managers typically associate themselves with the sectors that dominate the private economy; they are either drawn directly from those sectors or expect to join them. >>
Chomsky then quotes radical democrats of the seventeenth-century English revolution who held that << it will never be a good world while knights and gentlemen make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people's sores. It will never be well with us till we have Parliaments of countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants. >>
Chomsky enlightens us about the demise of the left wing and workers' rights in the 'UK' in the 1960s:
<< As for the media, in England a lively labor-oriented press reaching a broad public existed into the 1960s, when it was finally eliminated through the workings of the market. At the time of its demise in 1964, the Daily Herald had over five times as many readers as The Times and "almost double the readership of The Times, the Financial Times and the Guardian combined," James Curran observes, citing survey research showing that its readers "were also exceptionally devoted to their paper." But this journal, partially owned by the unions and reaching a largely working-class audience, "appealed to the wrong people," Curran continues. The same was true of other elements of the social democratic press that died at the same time, in large part because they were "deprived of the same level of subsidy" through advertising and private capital as sustained "the quality press," which "not only reflects the values and interests of its middle-class readers" but also "gives them force, dainty and coherence" and "plays an important ideological role in amplifying and renewing the dominant political consensus." >>
In Necessary Illusions Chomsky also speaks of << the disintegration of "the cultural base that has sustained active participation within the Labour movement," which "has ceased to exist as a mass movement in most parts of the country." The effects are readily apparent. With the elimination of the "selection and treatment of news" and "relatively detailed political commentary and analysis [that] helped daily to sustain a social democratic sub-culture within the working class," there is no longer an articulate alternative to the picture of "a world where the subordination of working people [is] accepted as natural and inevitable," and no continuing expression of the view that working people are "morally entitled to a greater share of the wealth they created and a greater say in its allocation." The same tendencies are evident elsewhere in the industrial capitalist societies. >>
And what underpins all of this deception? Well, foreign policy. More about all this later when we get round to NATO, but a primer, from Chomsky, first, on what exactly NATO really is.
Chomsky says: << the global planning undertaken by U.S. elites during and after World War II assumed that principles of liberal internationalism would generally serve to satisfy what had been described as the "requirement of the United States in a world in which it proposes to hold unquestioned power."6 The global policy goes under the name "containment." The manufacture of consent at home is its domestic counterpart. The two policies are, in fact, closely intertwined, since the domestic population must be mobilized to pay the costs of "containment," which may be severe - both material and moral costs.
The rhetoric of containment is designed to give a defensive cast to the project of global management, and it thus serves as part of the domestic system of thought control. It is remarkable that the terminology is so easily adopted, given the questions that it begs. Looking more closely, we find that the concept conceals a good deal. The underlying assumption is that there is a stable international order that the United States must defend. The general contours of this international order were developed by U.S. planners during and after World War II. Recognizing the extraordinary scale of U.S. power, they proposed to construct a global system that the United States would dominate and within which U.S. business interests would thrive. As much of the world as possible would constitute a Grand Area, as it was called, which would be subordinated to the needs of the U.S. economy. Within the Grand Area, other capitalist societies would be encouraged to develop, but without protective devices that would interfere with U.S. prerogatives. In particular, only the United States would be permitted to dominate regional systems. The United States moved to take effective control of world energy production and to organize a world system in which its various components would fulfill their functions as industrial centers, as markets and sources of raw materials, or as dependent states pursuing their "regional interests" within the "overall framework of order" managed by the United States (as Henry Kissinger was later to explain). >>
The term "Grand area" is clearly just a translation into 'American' ideology of the notion "lebensraum".
The 'US' is often seen as a mighty and brilliant military superpower which has evolved beyond other cultures in terms of skill and even courage. There is no shortage of people who will cheer this view of the 'US' - everywhere from crappy gungho-films enjoyed by idiots to the 'cultured' broadsheets of the 'privileged'.
As Chomsky explains, << another task was to overcome the dread "Vietnam syndrome," which impeded the resort to forceful means to control the dependencies; as explained by Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz, the task was to overcome "the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force" that developed in revulsion against the Indochina wars, a problem that was resolved, he hoped, in the glorious conquest of Grenada, when 6,000 elite troops succeeded in overcoming the resistance of several dozen Cubans and some Grenadan militiamen, winning 8,000 medals of honor for their prowess. >>
To add to all of this, we are dealing with a society which every day becomes louder in its proclamations amongst its "individuals" that it is "heroic", "brave", "advanced", and even (yes, this will make you laugh) "honourable".
Chomsky wrote << It is beyond imagining in responsible circles that we might have some culpability for mass slaughter and destruction, or owe some debt to the millions of maimed and orphaned, or to the peasants who still die from exploding ordnance left from the U.S. assault, while the Pentagon, when asked whether there is any way to remove the hundreds of thousands of anti-personnel bomblets that kill children today in such areas as the Plain of Jars in Laos, comments helpfully that "people should not live in those areas. They know the problem." The United States has refused even to give its mine maps of Indochina to civilian mine-deactivation teams. Ex-marines who visited Vietnam in 1989 to help remove mines they had laid report that many remain in areas were people try to farm and plant trees, and were informed that many people are still being injured and killed as of January 1989. None of this merits comment or concern.
The situation is of course quite different when we turn to Afghanistan - where, incidentally, the Soviet-installed regime has released its mine maps. In this case, headlines read: "Soviets Leave Deadly Legacy for Afghans," "Mines Put Afghans in Peril on Return," "U.S. Rebukes Soviets on Afghan Mine Clearing," "U.S. to Help Train Refugees To Destroy Afghan Mines," "Mines Left by Departing Soviets Are Maiming Afghans," and so on. The difference is that these are Soviet mines, so it is only natural for the United States to call for "an international effort to provide the refugees with training and equipment to destroy or dismantle" them and to denounce the Russians for their lack of cooperation in this worthy endeavor. "The Soviets will not acknowledge the problem they have created or help solve it," Assistant Secretary of State Richard Williamson observed sadly; "We are disappointed." The press responds with the usual selective humanitarian zeal. >>
"Critics" of Chomsky often imagine that in doing so they are standing up for 'decent' regimes who don't kill journalists.
Outlining the U.S. position on Central America, Chomsky tells us that << There had been an independent press in El Salvador: two small newspapers, La Crónica del Pueblo and El Independiente. Both were destroyed in 1989-81 by the security forces. After a series of bombings, an editor of La Crónica and a photographer were taken from a San Salvador coffee shop and hacked to pieces with machetes; the offices were raided, bombed, and burned down by death squads, and the publisher fled to the United States. The publisher of El Independiente, Jorge Pinto, fled to Mexico when his paper's premises were attacked and equipment smashed by troops. Concern over these matters was so high in the United States that there was not one word in the New York Times news columns and not one editorial comment on the destruction of the journals, and no word in the years since, though Pinto was permitted a statement on the opinion page, in which he condemned the "Duarte junta" for having "succeeded in extinguishing the expression of any dissident opinion" and expressed his belief that the so-called death squads are "nothing more nor less than the military itself" - a conclusion endorsed by the Church and international human rights monitors.
In the year before the final destruction of El Independiente, the offices were bombed twice, an office boy was killed when the plant was machine-gunned, Pinto's car was sprayed with machine-gun fire, there were two other attempts on his life, and army troops in tanks and armored trucks arrived at his offices to search for him two days before the paper was finally destroyed. These events received no mention. Shortly before it was finally destroyed, there had been four bombings of La Crónica in six months; one of these, the last, received forty words in the New York Times.
It is not that the U.S. media are unconcerned with freedom of the press in Central America. Contrasting sharply with the silence over the two Salvadoran newspapers is the case of the opposition journal La Prensa in Nicaragua. Media critic Francisco Goldman counted 263 references to its tribulations in the New York Times in four years. The distinguishing criterion is not obscure: the Salvadoran newspapers were independent voices stilled by the murderous violence of U.S. clients; La Prensa is an agency of the U.S. campaign to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, therefore a "worthy victim," whose harassment calls forth anguish and outrage. We return to further evidence that this is indeed the operative criterion. >>
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