Noam Chomsky interviewed by Jerry Brown

February 12, 1996


JB: Welcome to another edition of We the People. This hour we're going to be talking with Noam Chomsky from Massachusetts. The subject is the continuing critique of those institutions and myths, and propaganda, and notions of respectability that operate, in the words of Noam Chomsky, as "chains," and it is the breaking of those chains which are the first step towards freedom and justice. I sometimes get a criticism: "Well, you're always telling us what's wrong. When are you going to give us the plan?" Well, I want to explore that over the next 45 minutes, and I want to get right to the heart of the matter. Is it time for a plan, such that we already understand so well what is going on? And if we understand so well, how can we be in the mess that we're in? And I want you to consider the case that the public discourse, our own consciousness, a lot of our conversation, our background assumptions are deeply affected by a set of notions that favor privilege, that perpetuate poverty, that facilitate oppression all over the world, not to mention the continuing assault on the environment, even for people who consider themselves moderate or even liberal. And that the function of enlightenment, of philosophy, of getting it straight is to attack these ideas so as to open up the state of the case, so we can really understand it. And I can't think of anyone better to help us do that than Noam Chomsky who, I believe, is now with us. Welcome to the show, Noam.

NC: Hi Jerry. How are you?

JB: Good. Well, I was struck by this: I got an e-mail with one of your recent, I think, it's a speech, and you talk about, I just want to take this last line: "It's about as close to a true historical generalization as one can find, that respectability is won by adhering to these fundamental principles, and that rending these chains is a first step toward freedom and justice." Maybe we could start there.

NC: Well, that is about as close to a historical truism as you can find. In fact, we can go back to the earliest recorded texts that are in our own canon. Say, take the Bible. There were a lot of intellectuals in the Bible. They didn't use the term intellectuals. What they called them was prophets, but they're sort of like intellectuals in the modern period. They gave geopolitical analysis, social critique, they expressed moral judgments and so on. And they actually came in two types, the types that in the Soviet Union we used to call commissars and dissidents. The commissars, the people who served power, are the ones who, if you look back at the text, the Biblical text, they're the ones ... centuries later they were called false prophets, but then they were the people who were the ones who were respected, honored, protected, and so on. They served power. There was another group of people, sort of off in that corner somewhere, who centuries later were called the prophets, and they're the ones who were reviled, imprisoned, driven into the desert, and so on. Then at the time, centuries later, the decision, the evaluation was reversed. And that just perpetuates through history, and for perfectly good reasons. If you serve power and authority and privilege, you'll end up, by and large, with respectability. And if you undermine them, whether it's by geopolitical analysis or by moral critique, or anything else they're not going to applaud you for it.

JB: They're not going to applaud you for it, because basically you're not validating the power structure.

NC: No, what you're doing is, in fact, speaking up for the interests of the general population and for what they themselves, the people themselves, they think about it, and often they do, will see as right and wrong, and that's not what privilege and power want. If there's nothing ..., history isn't physics, but as I said in the quote you mentioned is about as close to a good historical generalization as you can find.

JB: Well, in one sense that tells then what we're up against today is nothing different from what has prevailed for ages.

NC: We're always different because circumstances are different, but there are some things that remain pretty constant because they just have deep institutional roots.

JB: Because when you have a large society you have to ..., it seems to be the historical case that you have to have a certain mythology, you have to prop up the privilege, and you have to oppress dissent.

NC: Well, you have to if you're in charge, and you have to undermine them if you're trying to expand the sphere of freedom and justice. We know that, too. That's why there was an American Revolution.

JB: OK, but then we have revolutions. We had the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the American Revolution, and what?

NC: Well, every one that you mentioned and, in fact, every other revolution I know of was a very complicated affair. It was, in part, a civil conflict, and usually it turns out that these civil conflicts are not two-sided, the way we're taught, but three- sided. There's the two powers, who are fighting each other. A large part of the population, often a considerable majority of the population, have something quite different in mind. Let's take, say, the first modern democratic revolution: the English Revolution of the seventeenth century. We're taught in history books it was the king and parliament that were fighting. That's true, but then there was the population, which was publishing their own pamphlets, and they had their own spokesmen, itinerant preachers, mechanics, and others. And what they were calling for was something else, namely they said: we don't want to be ruled by king or parliament. We want to be ruled by countrymen like ourselves, who know the people's wants, and know the people's sores. And the same was true in the American Revolution. The rebellious farmers weren't at all happy by what came out. What came out was a government ..., the United States was really designed, much more so than other countries. And it was designed on the principle enunciated very explicitly by James Madison, one of the most influential of the framers at the Constitutional Convention, who explained and assisted and stressed that the primary responsibility of government, in his words, is to "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." Therefore, democracy is a threat. We must make sure that the wealthy are in charge, what he called the most capable class of men, and that the rest of the population is marginalized, fragmented, and dispersed. Well, a lot of people didn't like that, and there were plenty a conflict about it, but that's the constitutional system. Actually, Madison himself didn't like it the way it turned out and condemned it pretty bitterly a couple of years later. But there have been a lot of changes in the last 200 years.

JB: Well, as a matter of fact, didn't ..., I believe, both Adams and Jefferson were pretty unhappy towards the last few years of their life.

NC: So was Madison. Ten years after the constitution Madison was condemning what he called the "daring depravity" of the time. He had assumed that the wealthy would act like... He was pre- capitalist. He thought that they would be enlightened aristocrats, but it turned out that they were grasping businessmen, who, as he put it, were becoming the tools and tyrants of government. They were overwhelming the government with their power, and they were being bribed by it as well, tools and tyrants. And he didn't like that, and, in fact, that is a pretty good picture of what is going on in Washington right now.

JB: So, in other words, that mythology of these aristocrats was such that even they recognized that it was a good cover for grasping business.

NC: Well, it's a little more complicated. Madison, like Adam Smith, was pre-capitalist, meaning he was anti-capitalist, in essence, and like Adam Smith he didn't like the rising ... they just saw the early stages of rising industrial capitalism. Jefferson, who was the one real committed democrat of the whole group, and incidentally was not part of the Constitutional Convention. He was much stronger. He warned later in his life, say around 1820 or so, that if the, what he called the monied incorporations and banking interests, meaning what we now call financial and manufacturing corporations, which he saw in their early stages, if they took for power and authority, the revolution would have been lost. We just have a new form of aristocratic rule. Well, you know that, later in the century, that happened to an extent that was worse than his worst nightmares. And people fought against it right through the century. There is a very lively independent press, working class press, right through the nineteenth century, in fact well into the twentieth century. Right around here where I live, around New England, which was the center of the industrial revolution, it was artisans and mechanics and young women from the farms, who were called factory girls, they had their own press and they were bitterly condemning the rise of industrial capitalism, which they saw as just turning them into slaves and undermining the republican principles. And they denounced what they called the new spirit of the age: "Gain wealth, forgetting all but self." That's what we're supposed to admire these days, but it would have been bitterly opposed by everyone we've been discussing.

JB: Could you tell us, I know you've mentioned in many of your books the word the "vile maxim," all for us and none for you.

NC: That's Adam Smith.

JB: What did he have in mind? What's the context for that comment?

NC: He had in mind the basic principle of the rising capitalist classes, which is as working people put a century later without reading Adam Smith: Gain wealth, forgetting all but self. And in his words it was the vile maxim, all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else, what he called the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind." Now, what he pointed out is, well, sometimes, incidentally, it happens to help people, but he certainly wasn't impressed by it. In fact, Adam Smith, who was also rooted in the enlightenment and anti-capitalist in many respects is rather different when you read him than the image that's constructed, as is Madison.

JB: So, you come down to this period and it looks as though there is some kind of revival of...

NC: ... continuation. This fight has been going on for hundreds of years. It takes different forms all the time. The current period, for example, is very much like the 1920s. In the 1920s it looked as though [[ogonek]] they were calling it the end of history: History had reached perfection; business rule was total; inequality was extraordinary [[ogonek]] in fact, we're just about beginning to approach that level; labor had been crushed and smashed; labor had almost no role in what was going on, and that was the great period of mass production and automobilization, and so on. It looked like just pure business rule with nobody interfering with it. OK, then, along came the 1930s, and that proved not to be true. That kind of cycle's been going on all through modern history, our history, too.

JB: I recall when I first started college in 1955, a fellow I remember very well, he said there's really nothing more to be done now. All the liberal issues, it's all been done. That was September 1955.

NC: Well, Daniel Bell, a very smart and well known sociologist wrote a famous article, later it became a book called "The End of Ideology" [[ogonek]] I think it was around 1959 [[ogonek]] saying all ideological issues are over. Now we more or less understand everything. It's just a matter of a little bit of tinkering around the edges. The economists, incidentally, were saying the same. Paul Samuelson, my colleague, the leading modern economist was writing that it would take an idiot not to be able maintain the steady three- percent growth with very low unemployment. From now on it's just a matter of tinkering. Well, a couple of years later the country was up in arms, tremendous ferment, the economy had totally changed. This just goes on and on. A hundred years ago, William Morris, the famous artisan, who was also a revolutionary socialist, he was giving talks in England to English working people about how he knows that all the leading thinkers and so on say that we have reached the end, and the devil take the hindmost. Society, and this is perfection and this is the end of history, and nothing can be changed. And he said, if that is so, civilization will die, and he just doesn't believe it. Well, he was right. People kept struggling and changing, and a lot has been achieved.

JB: OK, we'll take a break there. We'll come right back. You're listening to Noam Chomsky over We the People. [break] You're back with We the People, and, by the way, those of you who want to join the We the People organization, here's the number to call. Please write it down: 1-800-426-1112. I'm talking to Noam Chomsky. The subject is history, where we are in the revolutionary struggle. Let's look at the debate as it goes on now. Is the period now particularly sterile and one-sided, or is this pretty much historical as usual?

NC: Well, there are cycles and changes. You can certainly find an analogue to the current period. The 1920s were quite close an analogue, and the 1950s were a partial analogue. The gay nineties, the last decade of the last century, were very similar. We now have a situation where the enormous power in the last 20 years or so has been shifting towards the very narrow sectors of wealth and privilege. Their goal is, as always, to undermine functioning democracy, to convert the society into roughly a two- tiered society, a small sector of great wealth and a lot of people who may range from suffering to absolute misery, a kind of a third-world structural model, if you like. And they also want to move decisions, the power to make decisions, more and more into hands that are invisible and unaccountable, not accountable to the public. In a sense, that's a realization of the fundamental principle of American democracy, the Madisonian principle that I quoted: the prime responsibility of government is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. However, when we quote Madison, remember he was talking about something that hasn't existed for 200 years, namely pre- capitalist, more or less mythical enlightened aristocracy. But it now means exactly what the words say, and there is now a very sharp shift in that direction. Inequality is back to, getting pretty close to the 1920s, right before the stock market crash. Democratic forms are functioning less and less, and what's more, the population knows it. Over 80% of the population now, on polls, says that the government is run for the few and the special interests, not for the people. That used to run about a steady 50% for many years. It's just shot up to over 80% [[ogonek]] the tremendous alienation, the tremendous cynicism. On the other hand, there is also a lot of confusion, since public discourse is very narrowly controlled, and we have a huge propaganda system. This is a business-run society, meaning dedicated to marketing, to propaganda, to what they call control of the public mind. It includes not only the media, which a lot of us talk about, but schools, the entertainment industry, just about anything you can think of. Business doesn't kid around. This is a society that spends about a trillion dollars a year on just plain marketing. That's a seventh of total gross domestic product [[ogonek]] billions of dollars a year just spent by the public relations industry. And they have a purpose, they tell you what it is. It's to control the public mind, in their words, to fight the everlasting battle for the minds of men and sell free enterprise and indoctrinate them with the capitalist story, and so on and so forth. One of the things they want to train people to believe is that the government is your enemy. Now, there are plenty of bad things about the government, but what they don't like about it is what's good about it, namely the government is potentially, and sometimes actually, influenced by the public. And, in fact, it could be influenced to quite a large extent by the public. On the other hand, if you can shift power into the hands of what amount to private tyrannies like, say, IBM and GE, well, you don't have to worry about it. They're unaccountable to the public, and the public has no way of influencing them. You can adapt to them, like totalitarian states, but you can't do anything about them, and that's the direction, in which things are going. Incidentally, there's a little scam going on here, too. The same people who are telling you and drilling into your head that the federal government is your enemy are also saying we have to strengthen it, but we have to strengthen that part of it that pours money into the pockets of Newt Gingrich's rich constituents. So the Heritage Foundation, the right wing foundation that, more or less, sets the kind of budget and that sort of thing for the right wing, they, and Newt Gingrich, and the rest, also want to increase the Pentagon budget against the will of the population. The population is opposed to that by about six to one, but they want it because they know a little secret that you're not supposed to know, but that the business world knows very well. And that that system is primarily functioning, and has been for 50 years, to transfer funds from the general public to advance sectors in industry, high-tech industry. That's how Newt Gingrich ends up getting more federal subsidies for his rich constituents than any suburban county in the country outside the federal government itself.

JB: Probably a lot more from any inner-city poverty district, as well.

NC: Yea, I mean this is ... People talk about corporate welfare, which is a serious thing, but the whole Pentagon system, which is a much broader system than the Pentagon itself, that's a huge welfare system, which keeps the wealthy wealthy.

JB: Tell me, given the way that you frame these things and the way things are discussed in the press and on the Sunday shows and often in people's conversations. What role do you see in the school system as preparing people to believe in the interpretations that prop up the privileged? And how much is there any liberating element in the school system?

NC: I think ... Let me just begin with a few facts. Back around in the 1940s, actually in the 1930s, the business world was outraged over the fact that the public was actually getting involved in the public arena, though what they thought had they achieved in the 1920s was over, that the New Deal measures, which were forced by ... [[ogonek]] they weren't a gift [[ogonek]] they were a result of public action, the creation of the CIO, a lot of public organization and pressure. And the U.S. kind of moved into the mainstream of the industrial world then. Well, the business press was infuriated. They talked about the [[ogonek]] I'm quoting it [[ogonek]] "the hazard facing industrialists and the rising political power of the masses, which we have to suppress." Well, right after the war, a huge campaign of propaganda began, corporate propaganda, which went after everything, and, in particular, went after the schools. By the early 1950s about a third of the material in schools, meaning textbooks and so on, was straight business propaganda. That's one third of the total material, and the rest was very heavily influenced by it. Well, even the most dedicated teacher is going to be heavily influenced by that kind of pressure. It makes a difference. I mean, the schools, by and large, instill obedience and acceptance of the doctrines preferred by those who have the power to fight what they call the everlasting battle for the minds of men. It goes right through college and it goes right through the professions.

JB: Recently, the Supreme Court with the two Clinton appointees voting in the majority voted six to three to uphold the right of a junior high school to test athletes for drugs [[ogonek]] urine sampling [[ogonek]] with no suspicion needed to make a student give a sample of urine with somebody standing 15 feet behind, and then a certified private company to make the analysis and give back the report. I see in that a real increment of imposing docility and teaching respect for technology, that kind of ... the authority there, it's again putting people in a very submissive and a demeaning role in order to achieve some purpose, in this case, drug cleanliness. But I think the subtext there is docility and submission.

NC: Incidentally, I don't no the details of that case, but why high school athletes, why not high school students?

JB: Well, because, you see, the allegation was that athletes are role models and the role models were acting up, and there was some evidence to suggest they were taking some drugs in this eastern ...

NC: Notice the assumptions there. Role models are supposed to be professional gladiators who you watch. Your role models are not people out working with, helping poor people in the slums. Athletes are basically gladiators. That runs right through watching professional sports. And that, itself, is a very intricate [[ogonek]] nothing wrong with sports, fun, I like to watch the all-star game, too, but the whole system is one of getting people to subordinate themselves to discipline and authority.

JB: How would you compare this system under the so-called freedom, the free world, and how it is done in an authoritarian system? What are the differences?

NC: There are differences. Let's take the Soviet Union, which is the opposite extreme from us when it existed. It was the most totalitarian society among the major societies, and we're arguably the most democratic. And the propaganda systems were run very differently. In the Soviet Union, it's kind of like Orwell described, which he was describing then, there's a ministry of information, kind of like a ministry of truth, I mean, everyone knows where the propaganda's coming from. And it's crude, direct, invariant, doesn't allow very much in the way of deviation, but people can identify it. They know what it is. In fact, it's unclear how much attention they paid to it. In the 1970s there were studies done by [[ogonek]] U.S. government run studies [[ogonek]] done by major Russian research centers at universities, which were trying to figure out just how Russians get their news. And, of course, you couldn't take polls, but they did some studies, which are interesting. They found that a large majority of the population, maybe around three quarters of the population, was listening to foreign broadcasts. Of the more educated sector [[ogonek]] maybe 95% of them were [[ogonek]] which means they were getting their news from BBC, not from "Pravda." Not many Americans listen to foreign broadcasts. We get our new from one source: corporate propaganda. They found that "samizdat," what was called underground literature, technically illegal, but by the seventies they weren't really doing much about it, that was reaching about half the educated population, not even 15% of blue-collar workers throughout the country. Well, the analogue to "samizdat" here is something like "Z Magazine." It doesn't reach, oh, one percent of the population. Here we happen to get, our sources of information aren't controlled by the state the way they were there. They happen to be very narrow. We're trained not to go outside of it. We just keep to them. And they have a very definite point of view that they instill on you. They do have and, in fact, even try to create a certain range of debate and discussion, for all sorts of reasons, one of them simply being professional integrity, which you can't dismiss. But there are other institutional reasons. One of them is to give you the illusion of debate, because if you look closely that debate is within very narrow bounds. You see this everywhere, but let's take what's been the major issue in the United States in the last couple of months: the budget. Government has been closed down, big debate about the budget, and so on and so forth. It's very interesting to look at it, and it is, in fact, quite characteristic. Let's start with the two political parties. We're supposed to have two political parties. Well, both of them take as their priority balancing the budget and eliminating the deficit. That's the top priority for both parties. The press agrees. There's differences like you do it in seven years or you do it in seven and a half years, but for the whole articulate specter of opinion, with very little deviation, that's the top priority. Well, what does the population think about it? This is a very heavily polled society. The reason is that business and the public relations industry want to keep their finger on the public polls. They want to know what people are thinking. Any good propagandist would. So we have a ton of information about people's attitudes. Well, it turns out there is a sector of the population that's in favor of balancing the budget, as of about two months ago I'm talking about. It was five percent.

JB: Five percent. Hold right there, Noam. We're going to come right back. You're listening to Noam Chomsky. I'm Jerry Brown. Don't go away. [break] You're back with We the People. The number to call, again, if you wish to join the We the People organization: it's 800-426-1112. Please do it today. I'm speaking with Noam Chomsky. The subject is the budget, propaganda, the perennial struggle between people and those who are at the pinnacles of power and control. So, let me just focus on that budget debate. I don't recall much at all by way of significant debate about the Pentagon budget. Clinton signed it at 265 billion. The only issues that were talked about were the firing of HIV-positive enlisted personnel in the military and whether or not abortions, or rather the banning of abortions at military clinics, but in terms of the 265 billion and how that stacks up against other countries. I don't think I saw anything in the mainstream press at all, and I saw nothing about foreign aid. Those would be two that one could look at.

NC: Let's take a look at both of them. The Pentagon budget, right now, is the same as the peace-time Cold War average, so it's not as high as relative to ... It's not as high in real dollars as it was at the peak of the Vietnam War or the peak of the Korean War, but if you take the years when there wasn't a major war going on, the current Pentagon budget is at about the same level. Well, there was supposed to be the Cold War then. We had this big enemy, the Soviet Union. And, in some way, that tells you just how seriously it was taken. In fact, right now it's higher than it was in real dollars under Nixon, and it's going up. It's going up over the objections of the population, and here the margins are really huge. It's about six to one opposition to that. In fact, it's going up beyond what the Joint Chiefs want. They don't want it to go up that fast because it's going to get them in trouble. But it's going up for another reason. There's a reason why the Heritage Foundation, Gingrich, and the rest want that budget to go up, and it's the reason that I mentioned. That Pentagon budget, apart from its international role, is part of the funnel, by which public funds are transferred unknowingly to high-tech industry. You take a look at the functioning sectors of the economy, whether it's computers, electronics, aeronautical industry, metallurgy, most of the kind of dynamic sectors of the economy are very heavily subsidized by the public, and for much of it through the Pentagon system. They did most of the research and development. They provide a cushion for a kind of stationary feedmarket for excess production. During the Cold War period it was always possible to claim that we do this because of the Russians. Well, now you need other excuses, and it's intriguing that instantly, as soon as the Russians were gone, the excuses changed. Now we need it, not because of the Russian threat, but as the Bush administration put it in March 1990, because of the technological sophistication of Third World powers. That's why we need it. So it's got to say the same or even go up. Well, this was never reported, incidentally, but that was for Congress. That doesn't even merit ridicule. In fact, a large part of their technological sophistication is: Could we sell them arms? And the public pays for that through subsidized arms sales. In fact, right after the end of the Cold War, when Pentagon procurement was starting to go down, economic policy changed. Now, it turned out that the public has to subsidize arms sales to Third World dictators [[ogonek]] that's where most of them go [[ogonek]] in order to keep the domestic economy functioning. I mean, under Bush and Clinton, that's been almost open. So, for example, we pay [[ogonek]] take, say, Lockheed, Lockheed Martins now, the biggest military industry. Lockheed has its corporate headquarters in Newt Gingrich's district, incidentally. So, we pay them, you and I, the public pays them to upgrade F-16 fighters so that they can sell them at public expense through loans from the Export-Import Bank to the United Arab Republics or something, United Arab Emirates, or Indonesia or wherever. And then the Pentagon comes along, not the Pentagon, actually, the Congressmen, people like Newt Gingrich, or the propaganda agents for Lockheed, come along and say: Look, there's a real danger out there: the technological sophistication of Third World powers. Now they've got all these upgraded F-16s, so we, therefore, have to build the F-22 to defend ourselves from them. It happens to be produced by Lockheed with the same corporate headquarters. And remember that when you're building an F-22 or an F-16 or a Raytheon missile or any of this other stuff, almost all of that is dual-use technology, which means the corporations involved, who are getting the pay-off, can adapt it to commercial markets, and they do.

JB: Is there any debate on that that you've seen?

NC: Try to find it.

JB: So, you would not say that if you combed the New York Times or the Washington Post or Time and Newsweek you'd come across this discussion.

NC: Well, you can get some of the data. If you really look carefully you can find the data. And there's some discussion, but ...

JB: There will be a one-shot story on arms sales to Third World countries.

NC: If you really look you can find the data, like, for example, say, the Boston Globe this week happens to have an insert, which is not bad. I mean it also conveys a lot of illusions, but it's not bad on arms sales to the Third World, and it gives the basic facts. And if you're really a media freak you can find out the facts. Let's take, say, Newt Gingrich. He's a dramatic example. Here he was in the fall of 1994 smashing the Democrats, denouncing them for being in favor of welfare, and talking about the need for personal responsibility and getting rid of the nanny state [[ogonek]] and he's been doing it ever since [[ogonek]] he is the biggest welfare freak in the country. He gets more federal subsidies than any other Congressman in a comparable district. Did you hear a debate about that?

JB: No, you don't. Do you think that is because ...

NC: NPR, at least, is on record, on paper at the time as saying [[ogonek]] of course the question was raised to them [[ogonek]] as saying they would not discuss it because it's not a cutting-edge issue, they said.

JB: They said that?

NC: Yeah.

JB: Well, now, do you think there is a racial element where the welfare, when it goes to mothers on welfare, which are predominantly people of color, or at least almost predominantly?

NC: Well, there certainly is a racial element, but that's part of the really vicious propaganda that has been developed in order to try to sell these programs, the programs of cutting any aspect of public institutions, meaning the government that serves the general population while increasing, expanding those elements that transfer funds to the rich. One way in which this has been done [[ogonek]] this goes right back to Reagan's crazy anecdotes about black mothers driving Cadillacs and breeding like rabbits [[ogonek]] one element is to try to engender race hatred. Public policy for about 20 years now has been directed to very anti-social ends. It has been specifically directed to establishing this sharp divide between a small sector of very rich and a large mass of people whose incomes are, in fact, falling, either stagnating or falling [[ogonek]] that's a large majority of the population [[ogonek]] meanwhile cutting out other public services like transportation and environmental protection, and so on. When you're doing that to people you don't tell them that. You've got to get them to accept it somehow, and there aren't a lot of ways to do that. The rulers usually hit on the same ways, whether their name is Adolf Hitler or the Republican National Committee, or anyone else. What you do is get people frightened, get them to hate each other, turn their attention away from the real power and towards fearing each other or battling each other.

JB: OK, now ...

NC: That's the way to do it. The welfare mother, by implication black, has been used for that purpose. Remember the 1988 campaign?

JB: Yeah, the Willie Horton commercial.

NC: Willie Horton. That was picked up very consciously by the campaign marketers. Lee Atwater, actually, has kind of a death-bed confession about this, figuring, well, this is the way we can really smash them. We will try to connect the political opposition with black rapists out on parole. That will really scare people. In fact, if you look back at the Willie Horton case, that particular case, he was out on parole under a program instituted by a Republican governor. He had already had, I think, eight or nine parole releases with nothing happening. And, furthermore, I should add that this whole war against crime thing is a concocted political campaign for exactly that purpose. Crime has been rather steady for about [[ogonek]] it's bad, you know [[ogonek]] but it's been pretty steady for about twenty years. The perception of crime which is fanned by propaganda has increased enormously, and the number of people in prison is just zooming, about triple during the Reagan years. It's now still going up, in fact, even faster. The United States is way ahead of the rest of the industrial world, maybe all the world, in imprisoning its own population. That's for population control. None of that has anything to do with crime.

JB: Now, when you look at how efficient these kinds of control mechanisms are [[ogonek]] the prisons are now run by companies, listed on the stock exchanges. You've got states like Texas building surplus capacity and then using brokers, private sector brokers out of Oklahoma, to go farm prisoners from states that don't have enough capacity, literally using their lower salary base to provide a 40 dollar a day experience, instead of an 80 dollar a day that you would find in Hawaii or California or somewhere. This thing is working so well. How do we frame this? Some people would call it a conspiracy. It seems to me you are looking at some kind of structural truth or some structural set of principles that explain all this because it seems to be working almost perfectly for those for whom it's working.

NC: Yeah. Everything you said is correct, but I still think that the major goal of this fabricated war on crime, which is not affecting crime, incidentally, and wasn't intended to, the major goal of it is to frighten people and to make them hate each other and fear each other. When people are separated from one another and frightened and suspicious of one another, and so on, then they're not looking at what's really happening to them. The United States, incidentally, is maybe the only country [[ogonek]] I don't know of another country [[ogonek]] where crime is considered a political issue. In other countries it's considered a public problem, and whatever government you have does what you they to do about it. Here it's a political issue, and the reason is because it's primarily a form of following the Madisonian idea of fragmenting the population by fear or by hatred and so on. On the other hand, everything you said is exactly right. This is part of the state sector of the economy. It's growing very fast, and the same kind of people who want to rip off the Pentagon, or for that matter the National Institutes of Health for profits, also want to make what they can from this rapidly rising sector of the state economy. In fact, even the high-tech companies are getting involved. This is not on the scale of the Pentagon, yet, but they see that as another cash cow, you know high-tech surveillance techniques and so on.

JB: So, when you look at this, to take the "debate" between the two parties, look at whether it's the leadership coming out of schools, or churches, or the unions in Washington, all of that seems to be on one side and on the other you've got to look for prophets, grassroots activists, the kinds of people that led social movements in eras past, that then bubble up into political action, but in terms of the debate that we look at on television or read in the newspaper, that's seems to be almost a very clever diversionary campaign.

NC: Well, it reflects the interests of power. The budget is a perfect case. It turns out that most of the population thinks it's a bad idea, and very few think it's a very high priority, but among those who think it's a high priority happen to be the business community.

JB: And they do it.

NC: And that means the two parties, who they mostly run, regard it as their highest priority. It means that the corporate media and the respectable intellectuals and so on, mostly, follow the line. Now, you might ask why the business community wants it, because it's not, it's very doubtful that it's good for the economy [[ogonek]] it's probably harmful to the economy [[ogonek]] but they want it for quite a simple reason, because it's a weapon against social spending, which has been declining pretty rapidly since the early 1970s.

JB: Noam, I'm going to have to leave you there. We're running, we're right up on our 45 minutes. I want to thank you very much for the conversation, for your insights, and, of course, I know [[ogonek]] we didn't get to that point [[ogonek]] but I know there's a lot of optimism based on those who are opposing the system in their own special ways. OK, Noam Chomsky, thank you very much and all of you listening. We'll be back at least in the KPFA area to seek your support for Pacifica Radio, so don't go away.


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