Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hegemony or Survival
Chapter 1: Priorities and Prospects

This first chapter of Noam Chomsky's book is very short. But it seems to set the stage for the remainder of the book (or at least I am thinking that's what's going on). I appreciate his thoroughness (without being pedantic [like that Mike?]) and his referencing of many different sources. Note that all quotes from the book are italicized.

His thoughts on the "manufacturing of consent" and "the control by the elite" are what captivated my imagination for most of this chapter. He goes back to the days of the beginnings of the United States, when Madison had faith that the "enlightened Statesman" and "benevolent philosopher" who were to exercise power would "discern the true interest of their country" and guard the public interest against the "mischief" of the democratic majorities. He goes on to quote David Hume in saying that the control of opinion is the foundation of government, from the most despotic to the most free. Trippy.

He moves forward to President Wilson's Committee on Public Information which had great success in whipping the population into war fever. Then he turns to the Reagan administration's Office of Public Diplomacy which [manufactured] consent for its murderous policies in Central America. (A side note: To understand Iraq, you must read some material on the 1980's Central American affairs that the US was involved in. Seems like Deja-vu in so many ways. Confessions of an Economic Hitman is a good starting place for this.) Also, the White House...installed and supported forces in Central America that could "easily compete against Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate for the World Cruelty Prize."

He actually begins the chapter in the present, remarking tha the war on Iraq had popular opposition that was without historical precedent. And that due to this, propaganda had to be used to sway the public...the linking of Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden, Al-Queda, and WMDs, etc.

Watching V is for Vendetta, of course, stirs similar suspicions...that the powerful manufacture consent in order to sway the masses. It's an interesting thing to consider. I do not watch TV news anymore because of this very suspicion.

Chomsky closes the chapter with these thoughts that I'll quote to wrap up.

Destroying hope is a critically important project. And when it is achieved, formal democracy is allowed–even preferred, if only for public-relations purposes. In more honest circles, much of this is conceded. Of course, it is understood much more profoundly by [the masses] who endure the consequences of challenging the imperatives of stability and order.

These are all matters that the second superpower, [that is,] world public opinion, should make every effort to understand if it hopes to escape the containment to which it is subjected and to take seriously the ideals of justice and freedom that come easily to the lips but are harder to defend and advance.

As an addendum, tonight we watched The Future of Food at home. This film, which documents the move to GMO foods in the US and it's effects, is very important to every N. American consumer. It offers a great example of the rule of the many by the power of the elite few (or perhaps I need to be corrected that it is by the power of the many...the shareholders?)...but instead of being a strictly government-run operation, it's corporate-run. Perhaps scarier?

The worst of all is that many of those who work or who have worked for MONSANTO are in Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Cabinet. Spooky. This is not unusual. Look at the list of Bush's appointees. Okay, just rambling, but it's a film worth checking out.

Okay, thoughts from others who read the chapter?


Mike Stavlund said...

I haven't read or watched either piece of media, but I just wanted to say that I find re-posting to be exceedingly pedantic.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Mike, it's the only way I can get the numbers on this blog that I need to feel good about myself. And wouldn't that be less pedantic and more conceited or something?

secret said...

I appreciated that the first chapter was short, seeing that this book comes from a whole other world than what I'm used to hearing. I think I would have been served well if Chomsky had been a bit more pedantic (so what if i had to look it up to make sure i understood how to use it) since I would be interesed in a lot more background on each the afore mentioned areas he hit on (wilson, reagan, the brits, etc.) All in all I think I get where he's going, although I'm not sure where it's all comes from... does that make sense?
I resonated most with the section on Propoganda, a bit of it's history, and it reminds me of what a good and bad thing all of these constructions are. Without them we wouldn't be where we are, with them we are on the wrong track.
It reminds me of how things like the electoral college make now sense, and I guess voting in general seem like a big joke... an opiat for the masses. What then shall we do... read chapter 2.

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

You're right, Brad, in that he assumes that his readers are tracking with this stuff already. There are a great many books out many that he is referencing. And like I said, CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HITMAN, is a great book. It'd be worth grabbing a copy before you head out of town. Or even Howard Zinn's A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES...that might be even better.

Anonymous said...

Just finished reading Field Notes from a Catastrophe (Elizabeth Kolbert), a great book about global warming. A quote in it resonated with the idea of the Few controlling the Many.
A few years ago, pollster Frank Luntz prepared a strategy memo for Republican members of Congress, coaching them on how to deal with a variety of environmental issues. Under the heading "Winning the Global Warming Debate," Luntz wrote, "The scientific debate is closing (against us) but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming in the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly." Luntz also advised, "The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science."
I thought that was worth sharing.

Anyway, I wonder if Chomsky is indicting democracy, per se, or rather what democracy can/has become?

Emma said...

...well, what's that old churchill quote..."democracy is the worst form of gov't except for all the others that have been tried" (or something to that effect)... anyway, the one thing i thought about reading this chapter when he was talking about the americas and how little the average US citizen knew about what was going down was how my old prof, Dr. Bello told us that in reality although we want to deem bush as this huge pillar of evil as far as american foreign policy goes, the truth is that we were already bombing iraq once every two weeks under the clinton administration and nobody knew it.... (if you want more about that i believe he talks in greater length in dilemmas of domination).

Ryan Lee Sharp said...

I'm with you Emma. While there is a feeling that we are at some all-time low in American History, we must look at the foundations that this country was built on...that is, we must consider the heinous acts committed throughout it's entirety. Like I said in the post, I think to understand Iraq, you might consider reading America's turn-of-the-century, post-Spanish-empire interactions with Cuba...and the Philippines...and then understand the Central American "wars".

The Bush administration is not some's where America has been going in some ways. And that is what makes me the saddest.