Noam Chomsky | Security and State Power This article, the first of two parts, is adapted from a lecture by Noam Chomsky on Feb. 28 sponsored by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif.
A leading principle of international relations theory is that the state's highest priority is to ensure security. As Cold War strategist George F. Kennan formulated the standard view, government is created "to assure order and justice internally and to provide for the common defense."
The proposition seems plausible, almost self-evident, until we look more closely and ask: Security for whom? For the general population? For state power itself? For dominant domestic constituencies?
Depending on what we mean, the credibility of the proposition ranges from negligible to very high.
Security for state power is at the high extreme, as illustrated by the efforts that states exert to protect themselves from the scrutiny of their own populations.
In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his "breaking point" was "seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress" by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.
Snowden elaborated that "The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public."
The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.
The government stance is quite different: The public doesn't have the right to know because security thus is undermined - severely so, as officials assert.
There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it's almost completely predictable: When a government's act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.
A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that "The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA's spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.
"This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia."
A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials.
There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness - namely, security of state power from exposure.
The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: "The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate." (...)
N.C.: Well there is a huge propaganda effort that we are all aware of to try to turn people into psychopaths who don't care about anyone but themselves. That's not new actually. They go back a hundred and fifty years, the early days of industrialization in the United States. Working people were bitterly condemning the industrial system that was being imposed, the way it was taking away their freedom, and one of the things they condemned is what they called the new spirit of the age— 'Gain wealth forgetting all but self,'— Exactly what you're describing. That's a hundred and fifty years ago and ever since then there have been enormous efforts to drive these sociopathic attitudes into people's heads. There are extreme cases like the Ayn Rand cult where it's kind of like, open but yeah we should be psychopaths, and there are, you read a lot of what's called libertarian shouldn't be called that, it's very authoritarian. But a lot of it is based on the same principles. 'Why should I pay taxes to send somebody else's kids to school or why should I support the disabled widow across town with, her social security is her problem, not mine " That's pathological. In fact there's an interesting book that just came out which maybe you've seen called The Sociopathic Society by a very good sociologist, Charles Derber and he's describing accurately the development of these things. And we see them all the time.
Take the huge attack on healthcare systems. I mean, it is, Obama Healthcare system is nothing much to write home about, I mean it's much worse than other advanced countries have, but it's a slight improvement over our totally scandalous privatized system which really is an international scandal. I mean it's more than twice the per capita cost of comparable societies and some of the worst outcomes. Because it's privatized. But even the mild attempt of the Obama system what the call Obamacare to try to modify some of this and deal with some of the problems that deprived, that has led to an extraordinary campaign of some of it just leading to almost comical lying. What we saw recently is an interesting case. I happened to listen to the radio and I heard John Boehner giving a sober talk denouncing Obamacare because of these, the latest statistics that came out of the Congressional Research Bureau showing that maybe two and a half million people would stop working because of Obamacare.
How did he present this? Well the way the right wing is presenting it as showing that Obamacare is taking away jobs. That's not what it said. What it said is it's giving people freedom to free themselves from what amounts to slavery. Keeping a job just because you -
R.K.: I wrote about that four years ago. I wrote an article called Healthcare Slavery
N.C.: Yeah that's what it is. And this offers people the opportunity to free themselves. You have to remember these people call themselves conservatives and what they're saying is people ought to be enslaved. They ought to be trapped in work that they don't want because they can't survive otherwise. They can't even get healthcare which in civilized countries is available to everyone.
That's an extreme case of psychopathic behavior and it's institutionalized. By now it's the doctrine of the so-called republican party which isn't really a political party anymore. It's kind of off the spectrum of parliamentary parties. But yes they're quite openly advocating that. The same is true of the attack on public schools which is incidentally bi-partisan. It's a major attack against public schools in all sorts of ways and I think the main driving force is that same issue. (...)
As the year 2013 drew to an end, the BBC reported on the results of the WIN/Gallup International poll on the question: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”
The United States was the champion by a substantial margin, winning three times the votes of second-place Pakistan.
By contrast, the debate in American scholarly and media circles is about whether Iran can be contained, and whether the huge NSA surveillance system is needed to protect U.S. security.
In view of the poll, it would seem that there are more pertinent questions: Can the United States be contained and other nations secured in the face of the U.S. threat?
In some parts of the world the United States ranks even higher as a perceived menace to world peace, notably in the Middle East, where overwhelming majorities regard the U.S. and its close ally Israel as the major threats they face, not the U.S.-Israeli favorite: Iran.
Few Latin Americans are likely to question the judgment of Cuban nationalist hero José Martí, who wrote in 1894 that “The further they draw away from the United States, the freer and more prosperous the (Latin) American people will be.”
Martí’s judgment has been confirmed in recent years, once again by an analysis of poverty by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, released last month. (...)
(...) His press critiques helped turn me into a media critic, and in 1986 I founded the media watch group FAIR. Chomsky was so influential that I sometimes wonder if FAIR would exist if not for him. He was one of the first people I asked to join our advisory board — he readily said yes, and has supported FAIR ever since. He spoke at the organization’s 25th birthday party in 2011.
At FAIR, we continually pointed out that – while mainstream media in Europe and across the globe regularly featured Chomsky as an expert on U.S. and Western foreign policy – he was virtually blacklisted by the mainstream media in his own country. (...)
Daniel Falcone: Do you find it odd that the country is focusing on a 50th anniversary remembrance of the Kennedy assassination?
Noam Chomsky: Worship of leaders is a technique of indoctrination that goes back to the crazed George Washington cult of the 18th century and on to the truly lunatic Reagan cult of today, both of which would impress Kim Il-sung. The JFK cult is similar.
What does it mean that popular media treat such a date with such unusual honor?
Simply that we live in a deeply indoctrinated society.
Do other countries find it odd that we commemorate such a day?
Others are not all that different, though American patriotic displays do amuse (or surprise, or frighten) the world. In part, it's just confusion. He's very popular among African-Americans; some are unaware of his actual role in the civil rights struggles - which was not pretty. But in part, it's among intellectuals - and JFK understood very well that if you pat them on the head and pretend you love them, you'll get a good image. It worked like a charm.
obviously science fiction can be a broad subject, however i'm disappointed in chomsky's lack of enthusiasm (or almost disdain) for "hard leaning" science fiction
xprize and singularity u are cutting edge visionary stuff
or am i just misinterpreting this interview?
He very likely does not read any science fiction, but of course knows what it is. In a recent interview someone mentioned/referenced, if I remember correctly, Frederick Pohl, and he said he had no idea who this was. Science fiction probably doesn't interest him, mainly because he's obviously interested in other subjects. That's about choices and priorities, as this talk points out as well.
XPrize, so far, simply seems to be about the commercialization of previous efforts, which isn't all that cutting edge or radical. It is simply an iteration of technological progress.
Singularity related visions/predictions, as he points out, are merely speculative, hence the comparison to science fiction (which is a form of speculative fiction). I'd go a bit further by saying a lot of it is just hype by so-called "futurologists". I like to call them technutopians, or technocratic utopians. An example of that would be that by 2030 or something, because of Moore's law, we will be able to upload our brains to a computer.
Also some of these technutopians appear to be wilfully ignorant of ethical considerations, by simply denying those ethical considerations exist. A recent example, which I saw, is that fully autonomous cars do not require any changes to legal frameworks.
The interesting thing is that when predictions are benevolent we tend to buy into them (wishful thinking), while when predictions are dire we go into denial. We are not nearly as rational as we'd like to think we are.
Chomsky, in this case, cuts through the hype and focuses on the real challenges.
So it isn't so much about "hard leaning science fiction" in itself, which some of us can choose to enjoy as entertainment or thought-provoking material. Others have no use for that.
one thing i will say is that there are quite a few people who frame this as a little more fiction than science
xprize in its short history has produced some great results and the projects that they have going now are outstanding
i believe they're on the right track by challenging/incentivizing competitive teams of people to use creative thought, technology and the power of crowd sourcing
inspiring and teaching people exponential thought is exciting stuff