Friday, June 27, 2008

Chomsky- "US Public Understood to be Irrelevant..."

Check out this interview with Noam Chomsky from Al Jazeera...Interesting points, especially about the changing healthcare policies:
"The main domestic issue for years … is the health system - which is understandable as it's a total disaster.

The last election debate in 2004 was on domestic issues ... and the New York Times the next day had an accurate description of it. It said that [former Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry did not bring up any hint of government involvement in healthcare because it has so little political support, just [the support of] the large majority of the population. "

"No, the public is the same, it's been saying the same for decades, but the public is irrelevant, is understood to be irrelevant. What matters is a few big interests looking after themselves and that's exactly what the public sees."
The most interesting part of the interview is when Chomsky is asked about the nature and the progressive vision of changing the electoral system. Who should we be studying? Bolivia:
"We have models right in front of us. Like pick, say, Bolivia, the poorest county in South America. They had a democratic election a couple of years ago that you can't even dream about in the US. It's kind of interesting it's not discussed; it's a real democratic election.

A large majority of the population became organised and active for the first time in history and elected someone from their own ranks on crucial issues that everyone knew about – control of resource, cultural rights, issues of justice, you know, really serious issues.

And, furthermore, they didn't just do it on election day by pushing a button, they've been struggling about these things for years."

A couple of years before this they managed to drive Bechtel and the World Bank out of the country when they were trying to privatize the war. It was a pretty harsh struggle and a lot of people were killed.

Well, they reached a point where they finally could manifest this through the electoral system - they didn't have to change the electoral laws, they had to change the way the public acts. And that's the poorest country in South America.

Actually if we look at the poorest country in the hemisphere – Haiti - the same thing happened in 1990. You know, if peasants in Bolivia and Haiti can do this, it's ridiculous to say we can't."


  1. I'd actually read that from other people as well about Bolivia's political system. They polled voters, and in one of the poorest countries in Latin America, they were extremely well educated on the issues, and were voting based on what they'd learned.

    I'm not really sure what the quickest way to remedy that in the US is, but undoing media consolidation would help in getting more accurate information to the majority of the population, at least for starters. It wouldn't have the effect of a large mobilization like in Bolivia, but it least might start undoing the damage.

  2. the media definitely has a lot to do with it but i think the populace just needs to become more active. J was telling me about how we need to make the politicians act & fight for the issues that the people care about and they just don't do that. if we mobilized to the extent that the Bolivians did, but on issues like the war or health care as Noam was talking about, it should put pressure on the politicians to actually enact change.

  3. Don't get me wrong, Chomsky is something of a hero of mine, but I really wasn't that impressed with his response to the "what is an actual progressive vision of changing the US electoral system" question. It's interesting to point out the Bolivian situation, and certainly what they've done should be admired and held up as an example of what true democracy means, but it's not actually that helpful (pragmatically) for realizing change within the U.S. electoral system (which I believe was the original question). Perhaps Chomsky chose not to answer that question directly because of how hopelessly long the answer would have to be, but for a guy who doesn't bullshit around, his response was kind of deceptively off topic.


  4. @ Sam, in particular:

    You're right that it isn't an answer. At best, Chomsky's point is that we can solve America's problems by looking into the deeper question of why the Bolivian election worked. Which, though certainly worthy of interest, would be the study an entirely different set of circumstances.

    As one on-topic excuse for Chomsky's refusal to clearly answer in a straightforward manner, I submit that it is no longer possible for an individual to understand the extent that mass media controls their lives. That's not to imply some sort of conspiracy, or even an "elite" that's grander or more powerful than the people whose names we know or could find out; frankly, I don't think they know what they're doing all that much better than we do, though they do have a unique observation platform.

    I mean this in the most radical sense: as far as I'm concerned, any issue that involves the American public is, first and foremost, an issue of mass media. But that's just where it starts: a complete (or near-complete) understanding of that phenomenon would be just one of several steps to clear the air before even figuring out the questions we want to ask. Chomsky doesn't know the answers to those questions any more than we know what to ask him.

    But hey, that's no real excuse for not trying. It's not like he (or we) has stayed out of anthropology/psychology/sociology/philosophy before, and it's not like we can afford to do nothing right now.

    Anyway, since we're already talking about him, here's Chomsky and Buckley talking about political apathy in 1969: (I think I've already posted parts of this debate – and I don't mean to imply that there was ever a golden age of intelligent television, though it was apparently more academic back then – but it's damn fun to watch those two go at it.)

  5. damn, i kept trying to find that video via download sites and news services......and of course the one place i didn't try was where it was...
    oh youtube....

  6. Nick,
    I just finished watching Fight Club and I think I've found the solution to the problem of mass media's hold on public opinion...

  7. Project mayhem indeed...

  8. Clearly, Anarcho-Primitivist Fascism will win the day.

    Actually, it well might, but probably not for a few years.