Post Script: A friend of mine did a great job for me. She checked the second transcription thoroughly and pointed out 61 mistakes in it. Thank you, Ms. G, I can't thank you more. In fact she's a linguist who introduced me to Chomsky's views. I've realized that many of my mistakes come from my insufficient knowledge in grammar on which I'm going to focus from now on. Thank you.
My second transcription. I find it extremely difficult to punctuate his talks. Wrong punctuation can lead to misinterpretation, so I'll do the best as I can. Highlighted are where I cannot be sure. I've realized I have a big problem in catching prepositions. I suppose I'll be coming back to do a lot of correction, but I'm exhausted right now..this thing sure requires a tremendous amount of concentration.
G’day world podcast “Basic view of the world” interviewed by Cameron Reilly on October 25, 2005
(0:44)Cameron Reilly: Good day world, Cameron Reilly here with the most exciting interview that I’ve done in the last 12 months since we started this Good day world show. If you don’t know who Noam Chomsky is, hopefully by the end of the show you’ll have an insight into his political activism of the last 50, 60,70 years and my goal with this show is that some of you will be motivated to go out, buy some of his books, get your head on what he’s talking about, investigate the subjects for yourself, and hopefully get involved in some form of political activism. Let me read you a short biography of Professor Chomsky, this is from Wikipedia.
(reading from Wikipedia) Avram Noam Chomsky ph.D born in December 7, 1928, is the institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, often considered to be the most significant contribution to the field of theoretical linguistics in the 20th century. He also helped spark the cognitive revolution in psychology through his review of B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, which challenged the behaviorist approach to the study of mind and language dominant in the 1950s. His naturalistic approach to the study of language has also impacted the philosophy of language and mind. He is also credited with the establishment of the so-called Chomsky hierarchy, a classification of formal languages in terms of their generative power.
Chomsky is also widely known for his political activism, and for his criticism of the foreign policy of the United States and other governments. Chomsky describes himself as a libertarian socialist and a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism .
What does all that mean, I have no idea, but I hope that over the course of next half an hour in my chat with professor Chomsky, you’ll get a little of an insight into where he’s coming from, in terms of political activism we don’t touch on linguistics. And if I have one goal with this show is that access to introduction for people who aren't familiar with his work, perhaps they’ll then go out and maybe buy a book, maybe start to investigate some of his issues on their own behalf and decide for themselves, what’s going on in the world, maybe some of you will then get involved in some form of political activism, get involved in political process in your country. So, without wasting any more time? I’ll bring you my interview with professor Noam Chomsky. Hello?
Q: Hello, professor Chomsky?
Chomsky: Yes, speaking.
Q: Cameron Reilly from the podcast network in Australia, how are you?
Chomsky: Sorry to keep you waiting, everything behind all this.
Q: That’s OK, I appreciate your taking some time to share with us.
Chomsky: Tell me what we are doing.
Q: Well, this is a recording for a podcast that we’ll put out in the next couple of days to global audience. What I’m hoping to do with the time we have with you today is just …almost a basic primer on Noam Chomsky’s view of the world if we can.
Chomsky: Well, it’s simple.
Q: Are you up for that?
Chomsky: Sure. Why not?
Chomsky: Not on the universe? Just the world?
Q: Just on the world.
Chomsky: OK, I’ll keep it simple.
Q: OK. So, professor Chomsky, recent poll voted you’re a world’s leading thinker. I've read that only Shakespeare and Bible have been cited as scholarly publications more often than you, but over the last couple of weeks I’ve sort of been telling friends and colleagues about this upcoming interview with you, and I discovered that many of my peers either aren't familiar at all with your work, and if they haven’t studied humanities, they were not political activists, or if they have heard of you, but they haven’t read your books, they have this impression that you’re some kind of left-wing conspiracy nut. So, for my peers who don’t know who or what Noam Chomsky is and obviously leaving aside your work on linguistics now cause I’m sure that's over most of our heads anyway. Can you summarize for us your political views, I know I’m probably asking a lot of after 30, 40 years of political activism, but can you summarize for us as an entry point perhaps your view on what’s happening particularly, obviously with US politics and US foreign policy.
Chomsky: Well, that’s a ……I’ve written extensively on it. The US policy let’s just keep to the post Second World War period, just set a time frame. At the time of the Second World War, the Unites States for the first time, became a major actor in world affairs generally. Prior to the Second World War, the Unites States had…first of all, conquered the national territory, meant eliminating the indigenous population, it had conquered a half of Mexico, it had extended its power over the Caribbean region that is taken, they had kicked the British out of Venezuela, big oil producer, then it moved on to Hawaii and Philippines, and was engaged in joining with other European powers and undermining China, but it was not a leader in world affairs. In fact Britain was much more so. But after the Second World War, that changed totally. And it was understood. I mean there were planning sessions of high state department officials and council, and foreign relations, I mean so-called private, input foreign affairs. They were having study groups from 1939 through 1945, in which they recognized clearly that the US would emerge from the Second World War as the world dominant power. And they made extensive plans about how they should use that power. And if you look at the years that followed, when many of the same people were in government, in corporations, in planning and decision making positions in various ways they implemented similar plans, and it continues pretty much to the present. Of course plans always change, circumstances change, you need different tactics, there were different pretexts and so on, but the basic themes remained pretty much the way they were articulated in the war-time study groups of which we have documents, you can read them, they’re not terribly surprising, they are the basic idea that the US should create a system of global order, extending as far as possible, which would operate for the benefit of privileged sectors of power within the Unites States and their counterparts elsewhere. That means primarily the corporate sector which pretty much dominates American society and is closely linked to similar sectors in other societies.
And that means world of that kind of liberal internationalism in which countries are compelled in one way or another, to subordinate themselves to the economic and political and social arrangements that are supportive of US power interests. And that means opportunities to invest in exploitations of populations, access to resources in markets that controls the central resources like energy as understood-- clearly in the Second World War and before--that the control of energy resources of the world is a major instrument of global power. The Middle East oil producing regions were described in mid 1940s as "stupendous sources of strategic power," and one of the great material prizes in world history, the most strategically important part of the world, of course the US is going to take control of that, that's a lot of contemporary developments are about, that’s a major theme that runs through the whole period. Europe and Japan had to be reconstructed in certain ways, in ways which undermine labor movements in the left, restored the traditional societies pretty much, with regard to the third world, it simply had to be kept under control. So if moves towards developing, intended development took place, they had to be stopped and if it looks as if they might be successful, and influence others, they might be what the planners call a "virus" might infect others. Then they have to be really destroyed, so we have a brutal history of intervention and violence to try to ensure that the South will subordinate itself to the interests of the major sectors of power in rich developed countries, and the Unites States is foremost among them. I mean those are basic themes of policy. They don’t explain everything happens, but policy rarely departs very far from those major themes and they can be implemented in different ways. So if the Clinton administration and the Bush administration are not identical, they are somewhat different in fact the ways they proceed, but the basic dominating themes have not changed very much. I mean to call it a conspiracy theory is utterly insane. I mean it’s like saying that governments and corporations and other institutions are engaged in conspiracies when they do planning. I mean it’s like saying that General Motors is involved in conspiracy when they try to sell cars. That’s just a word, is just a way of trying to sort of prevent rational analysis. There’s no conspiracy, I mean if US planners and Australian planners and others try to develop international or domestic programs, that’ll serve interests of their constituency which are usually the wealthy and the privileged. There’s no conspiracy any more than there’s conspiracy when General Motors tries try to sell cars.
Q: I guess the challenge for most people, when they first pick up one of your books, is that they’re gonna be confronted with an image of the west which doesn’t correspond with the image they probably have today, the commonly held view. They’re gonna be confronted with an image of the west of engineers of large scale terrorism, and being directly and indirectly responsible for terrible humanitarian crimes over the last, say, fifty years in particular.
Chomsky: You can go back long before that. I just started with the Second World War.
Q: Yeah, this obviously isn’t the picture that most people in the west have of country they live in, it can be an extremely confronting exercise for them to come to terms with that change in perception. Do you have any suggestions to help people reconcile that perspective with that more commonly held view?
Chomsky: Yeah, very simple suggestion. Look into the facts. This isn’t quantum physics. I mean the evidence is pretty much easily available if you want to look at it. Actually it’s one of the hardest things to do, whether in personal life or in thinking about international affairs. One of the hardest things to do is just look into the mirror. We all know this in personal life. It’s too much more convenient to have illusions about yourself than to look into the mirror and see yourself honestly. Anyone who doesn’t know that is just lying to themselves. We all know it. We create our image and pictures of ourselves in which it fits our need to believe that what we’re doing is basically benign, helpful, forthcoming, sympathetic, sometimes it’s true but often it isn’t. When it isn’t, we typically find ways of explaining it away, but if we’re honest, we’ll look into the mirror and see what the truth is and do something about it. The same is true when you look at international affairs, now but there’s a difference in this case. When it’s a matter of just yourself, I mean it’s a matter of how you deal with, when you try to look honestly at your own society, its history, its actions and so on, you are facing a massive deluge of propaganda and indoctrination. That’s trying to create a delusionary picture. So power systems are naturally, not conspiratorial, naturally they’re going to dedicate enormous efforts to try to get the population to view the exercise of power in the hierarchy and authority as if it’s benign…full of benign intentions. I don’t know any exception to that in history, if you read the pronouncements of even the worst monsters, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Hirohito ..it's all full of the most eloquent rhetoric about their noble intentions, how they’re sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the people, so on and so forth. Yes, major institutions are developed to try to promulgate those ideas. In fact, it’s true in most countries people believe them. So for example, in Nazi Germany, until it began suffering serous military defeats, in Nazi Germany, Hitler was very popular, maybe the most popular leader in German history. His conceptions of the nobility of their engagement in world and domestically was widely accepted. The same in fascist Japan, the same in Stalinist Russia. Yeah, that happens, and also it happens in more free societies, and furthermore there’s nothing novel about it. I mean centuries ago, David Hume had an important work on political philosophy, what he called foundations of theory of government. As the first principle of foundations of government, he pointed out that power is actually, in any society he said, power is in the hands of those who are governed. They don’t know it, but power is actually in their hands. Therefore, to maintain authority, it is necessary to impose consent, it is necessary to compel the general population to consent to the authority of the masters. He said that’s true in every society from the most free, to the most despotic. That’s basically correct. Anyone with any degree of authority knows it. Whether it's in a family or school or corporation or government, you know, or bank. Yeah, you know that. You have to compel consent somehow and to do that, we now have massive institutions, huge institutions, media, educational systems, huge public relation industries, which are to a large extent developed…devoted to this. If you want to look at, so if you want to discover the truth about your own society, its history its working and so on, you do have to overcome barriers, barriers which are erected to prevent such understanding. But it’s not very difficult. Again, it’s not quantum physics.
Q: So you obviously see a relationship between the large commercial mainstream media organizations and these interests that hold power?
Chomsky: How can anyone doubt it? I mean what are the mainstream media organizations, take, say the United States, OK? I mean mainstream media organizations are major corporations, the parts of even larger conglomerates, they, as economic institutions, they sell, they produce something, you know namely TV and the newspapers. But that’s not what they’re selling. What they’re selling is audiences. They’re selling audiences to advertisers. The advertisers are their market. All the advertisers are just other major corporations. Yeah, but not in a local town, maybe local drugstores but in the national media, the major media, what you have is major corporations selling audiences to other major corporations. If you look at the elite media, one of the ones more or the less set agenda for others, resources and so on, say, the New York Times, the product they’re selling is the privileged audiences who read the New York Times. So you have this……I mean major corporation selling privileged audiences to other major corporations. Or someone from Mars was looking at this, some rational scientist, what would he predict the nature of the news product would be? Well, something that suits the interests of the sellers, the buyers and the product. And there’s a very substantial tendency for that to be true. It’s not 100% true, there’s other factors, there’s professional integrity, there’s honest journalism, there’s popular protest, many other factors, the world is complicated. But the basic institutional structures are so transparent, you have to purposefully blind yourself not to see it. And the general intellectual world works the same way. I mean if you want to write an article, say, denouncing a dissent, say, denouncing me, let’s say, oh it’s trivial. You could produce any kind of lies you like, any sort of hysteria, you don’t need any evidence, you’d get a major journal to publish it. On the other hand, if you try to do that, with picking as a target, anyone who is in the …somewhere within the system of respectability and power, pretty subordinate to power, you’d never get away with it for a minute. Those factors also enter, plenty of very corrupted intellectuals are willing to do that in every society. We tend, if you look at Soviet Union, the people we respect under the old Soviet Union, are the dissidents. But they were a tiny minority. The mainstream intellectuals are the ones who are writing denunciations and diatribes of the alleged crimes of the dissidents. They are the ones who were respected. Sure. Very much like our society. (20’35”)
Q: Which brings me to, I guess the thing that I’m most interested in chatting with you today is your personal motivation behind political activism for the last 30, 40 years, what is it that drives you?
Chomsky: Same as it did 60 years ago, 70 years ago. In fact, there are poor and suffering people in the world. They need help and we’re in the position to give them help, because we’re very privileged. We have a legacy of freedom and privilege which has been won by hard struggle, hasn’t been given by from above, it’s been won but we have it. We can use that to help people who are suffering seriously, if you try. Furthermore, by now, as distinct from 70 years ago, there are major issues having to do with the survival of species. Two major issues at least. One is the threat of nuclear war, which is very high, maybe as high as it’s ever been and that means, .. could mean total destruction. The other is the threat of environmental catastrophe, which is coming, and will come unless we do something to avert it. All those two major issues, quite apart from the constant suffering, oppression violence all over the world in our own societies as well, which has many causes, but if you look carefully you’ll find that our own role is usually quite significant, sometimes decisive, and therefore we can do something about it.
Q: There seems to be a general acceptance I find, post 2003 the US led invasion of Iraq, there seems to be this very interesting general acceptance to even people that I talked to, friends in the US and certainly in Australia that the motivation for invasion was mostly around oil and a general show of power. If I think back to the early 90s during the first Gulf conflict that didn’t seem to be a very popular well accepted opinion. Do you think it’s…changed, do you think people are more aware than they were a decade ago?
Chomsky: Well, they’re a lot more aware now but it was a popular opinion then, I mean it wasn’t concealed. I mean did the United States…I mean Iraq invaded Kuwait and it was correct to force Iraq out of Kuwait, probably could’ve been done without a war, they’d argue that one way or another, it was a right policy to force Iraq out of Kuwait. If those hadn’t been huge oil producers, would anyone have cared? I mean look, you’re in Australia. When Indonesia invaded East Timor, did Australia force, try to force Indonesia out of East Timor? No, in fact Australia was the first country to give de jure recognition to the conquest even though it was much worse than the invasion in Kuwait. I mean killed a quarter of population, but nothing much was at stake for Australian power of interest, so why stop? Kuwait is quite different. Kuwait is a major oil producer. The British economy for example as relied extensively on its quasi-colony in Kuwait, it’s very closely tied to US interests, in fact if you go back to 1958, when the first … 1958 is an important year, that was the first break in the Anglo-American condominium over Middle East energy production. The US, Britain, pretty much ran at it until 1958. In 1958, there was a military coup in Iraq, which overthrew the British-run client state and moved towards independence, in fact towards independent development and even towards democracy, and the US and Britain were terrified. We’re free and open society so we have the documents, we know what they said to each other, we knew it in 1991, the press kept quiet, in 1958 the British foreign minister flew to Washington and Selwyn Lloyd had a long discussion with John Foster Dulles. They tried to decide how to react to the fact that Iraq had broken free of Anglo-American control, and they conclude, the following, which had direct bearing on 1991. They said the British colony of Kuwait should be given nominal independence, not real independence, but nominal independence. Let them run their own post office and that might prevent the tide of nationalism from spreading to Kuwait but if anything went wrong with this arrangement from inside or outside, then Britain would, now I’m quoting, “ruthlessly intervene to prevent it.” And the United States took the same stand with the regard to the bigger oil producers: Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Emirates, anything went wrong, the US would ruthlessly intervene with force to prevent it. Any move towards independence or anything else, that was a plan in 1958. That’s exactly what was implemented in 1991. I mean any honest newspaper in country or commentator would have been citing all of this. That’s the background for the war. No one did, actually not no one, there were two or three people who did, I was one of them but virtually none, because you don’t want people to understand what’s happening, on the other hand even with suppression that pretty much anybody with their eyes open knew that crucial issue in the first war was that in fact these major oil producers. It didn’t happen when Indonesian invaded East Timor, when Israel invaded Lebanon, case after case.
Q: So, I guess I know you gotta go shortly. Let me ask you people living in the west are concerned by sorts of measures that are being passed by the governments in the US, UK, Australia over the last couple of years. What’s your recommendation, what should they be doing, people who aren’t experienced political activism, what can they do to change the course of events that they are unfolding at the moment?
Chomsky: If there were any magic key, somebody would have told us a long time ago. The ways to do it, everyone knows, they’re hard, they’re slow, overtime they’ll work. I mean it requires efforts, patience, education which includes self-education, organization, try to develop and take part in popular organizations which are committed to these efforts, and then undertaking activism of the kind that happens to be appropriate circumstances. There’s no formula for that. That’s how the progress was made, that’s how we got rid of slavery, that’s how we have woman’s rights, to some degree, civil rights. That’s why oppositions’ aggression has grown so enormously over the years. That’s why we have freedom of speech. Every one of the benefits we enjoy in our current legacy was achieved this way, not by going to demonstration that didn’t work, someone going home quitting, but by working at it day after day. In electoral system, no use coming every couple of years saying vote for me, if you want a political alternative you got to work on it everyday, locally, regionally, setting up the bases for it, getting people engaged and involved in it. Then maybe you’ll have something to offer when a major election comes along. The same with everything else. The same with trade agreements, for example. Australia just agreed to an outrageous, trade agreement with the US, which may end up in seriously harming the quite efficient Australian health system, Australia didn’t have to agree to that. But if there was enough protest, it wouldn’t have. And so goes with every other issue.
Q Rosa Parks, recently passed away almost exactly 50 years after she refused to give a seat on an Alabama bus to a white man. I guess in her life time, she saw a lot of change, progress is possible.
Chomsky: Yes, it is. And remember that Rosa Parks was a marvelous and important person, but the story is falsified. Rosa Parks didn’t come out of nowhere. She came out of the organized community.
Chomsky: That was a planning action like that and had a support system set up. And she was the person who did it. As history was written, it’s made to be personalized, as if some great person suddenly did everything. That’s an effort to disempower people to make them fail to understand what’s involved. What’s involved was just what I described before as was the Rosa Parks case. And intensive educational programs, substantial organization and then this action, which was courageous and appropriate, and made a difference.
Q Professor Chomsky, I’ll let you go, you’ve got a very busy schedule today, thank you so much for your time and thank you for your work over the last 40, 50 years, we appreciate it.
Chomsky: OK, thank you.