>Noam Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part II

The fact that the two main candidates in the 2008 Democratic primary were a woman and an African American were a welcome sign, Chomsky acknowledges, that the country has managed to get at least somewhat civilized. Still, we cannot expect the joy from this reality to keep us perennially blind to the numerous ways in which Obama has not been living up to his promise. Chomsky reminds us that “Obama’s message of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ offered a virtual blank slate on which supporters could write their wishes.” And write we did, only to be disappointed in most of our expectations.

Chomsky points out that we do not elect politicians based on what policies they will promote. Rather, we vote for whomever presents us with the best PR campaign. Of course, we conveniently forget that after our candidate gets elected s/he will have to pay for the expensive campaign by servicing corporate interests and screwing us, the hardworking folks who put them in power. This is precisely why politicians have been working so hard to destroy the education system in the US. If you keep people in a state of permanent ignorance, you can feed them soap operish melodrama instead of real political discussion. Gossiping about Bristol Palin’s engagement and gushing ver the puppy Obama bought for his daughters is much easier than educating oneself on what it is that the Congress does and what the Supreme Court is responsible for. (As I discovered to my complete horror last semester, none of my 80 students had the slightest suspicion of what the role of SCOTUS might be).

The biggest disappointment of the Obama’s presidency has been, of course, his Economic Advisory Board. As Chomsky points out, it was packed by the poeple who engineered the economic crisis and then bled the government dry to compensate themselves for that. Chomsky is right, of course. I remember this sinking feeling I experienced as soon as Obama surrounded himself by criminals like Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers (a vile prick, if there ever was one), Timothy Geithner, Alan Greenspan, etc. It was the best indication we could have received that the only change we could expect would be for the worst. Of course, even Obama’s feeble attempts to rein in the robber bankers immediately resulted in threats to withdraw funds from his future campaigns. Ultimately, the responsibility rests with us, the voters, to educate ourselves about what the candidates actually stand for and insist that they carry out the will of the people. As good as this plan sounds, something tells me we have neither a hope or a prospect of it working out any time soon.

Chomsky offers a very bleak but an undoubtedly correct vision of Obama’s position on warfare and torture. As we all remember, a lot of Obama’s supporters preferred him to Hillary Clinton because of his opposition to the Iraq war. Understandably, we also believed that his position on torture would be in opposition to the barbaric practices adopted by the US starting in the 80ies. Chomsky departs from this hopeful attitude that has blinded many of the American progressives to the sad realities of Obama’s real position on these issues. What Chomsky says in this part of this book is something that no one wants to hear. However, his analysis in this part of the book is unassailable. After all his anti-war and anti-torture rhetoric, Obama has failed to deliver any actual change in these areas.

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12 thoughts on “>Noam Chomsky’s Hopes and Prospects: A Review, Part II”

  1. >Nice review Clarissa. I haven't read it yet but I've read a lot of Chomsky and can't wait to read Hopes and Prospects.You said in part 1 of your review that you're not usually a fan of his work and I'm interested to hear why that it is?Also, as someone who clearly has an insight into the American education system, I'm interested to hear in what ways the US government is destroying the education system?By the way, apart from an interest in politics, I also notice we have a love of Spanish football in common. It seems quite unusual that a female American academic is interested in football (or soccer as you call it!). Out of interest, do you have a Spanish background or do you just like the Spanish team's style?

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  2. >I started reading Chomsky when he was still writing about the Soviet Union. His treatment of that topic was extremely tendentious and plagued with errors. Also, I'm not a huge fan of Chomsky's writing style. It's repetitive and often very heavy-handed.As for the destruction of the education system, this is a topic one could write about for weeks and still not exhaust it. For one, the horrible "No Child Left Behind" Act, which trains children not to think for themselves but rather to memorize and reproduce. On the college level, we now see increasing number of students who come out of high schools thinking that Latin America is a country in Africa or that there is a country called "Ustingay." At the college level, when Bush II came to power, all funding was removed from theoretical disciplines that don't have a very visible and immediate "practical" application. Today, in public universities we are constantly pushed to teach students "marketable skills" instead of non-marketable critical skills and useless knowledge about the world.

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  3. >As for football, I specialize in the literature and culture of Spain, so I root for the Spanish team. 🙂 Of course, in the 2006 World Cup, when Spain played against my country of origin (Ukraine), I rooted against Spain.

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  4. >Funny because I've always found Chomsky's writing style to be very accessible and plain speaking – in my mind its one of the reasons he reaches so many people. As for repetition, I think if he does repeat himself a lot, it's because he's held onto the same basic beliefs and thoughts his entire life – beliefs and thoughts that are so radical in the current mainstream media and so buried by propaganda on a daily basis that they need repetition to be heard or even for people to get their head's round e.g. "The USA is the world's leading terrorist state." A simple elementary fact that Chomsky has to constantly remind people of because its so completely off the spectrum of debate.Also, if you can remind me of something specific he's written about the Soviet Union that's inaccurate, I'd be very interested to hear it as having read him quite a lot, I've learned that he's meticulous in cross-referencing and backing-up his claims and writings.As regards education, as someone who graduated from the British education system just over a decade ago, I can tell you that things are not so different there. Looking back, I can now see that apart from a sociology course I took, I was not furnished with the skills to think critically about the World – or about anything – in any way. I was conditioned to regurgitate and repeat and rewarded very handsomely for it.I've had to learn to think critically myself outside of the educational system. Basically, I've had to leave the education system to receive a proper eduction, mainly self taught. But this shouldn't be a surprise. The education system is just like any other system of indoctrination in a capitalist society and that role is to produce robots and machines that consume, don't think too much about the power systems that frame society and perpetuate the system.Thanks for explaining about the football by the way – very interesting. I'm a Barcelona based journalist that's written on a wide variety of topics about Spain – although not much about culture and literature except an article about Walter Benjamin who died in Catalonia.If any are of interest to you, you can find them here:http://nicholasmead.com/category/published-articles/

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  5. >Funny because I've always found Chomsky's writing style to be very accessible and plain speaking – in my mind its one of the reasons he reaches so many people. As for repetition, I think if he does repeat himself a lot, it's because he's held onto the same basic beliefs and thoughts his entire life – beliefs and thoughts that are so radical in the current mainstream media and so buried by propaganda on a daily basis that they need repetition to be heard or even for people to get their head's round e.g. "The USA is the world's leading terrorist state." A simple elementary fact that Chomsky has to constantly remind people of because its so completely off the spectrum of debate.Also, if you can remind me of something specific he's written about the Soviet Union that's inaccurate, I'd be very interested to hear it as having read him quite a lot, I've learned that he's meticulous in cross-referencing and backing-up his claims and writings.

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  6. >(Part 2 of my comment because Blogger said it was too big to publish as one!)As regards education, as someone who graduated from the British education system just over a decade ago, I can tell you that things are not so different there. Looking back, I can now see that apart from a sociology course I took, I was not furnished with the skills to think critically about the World – or about anything – in any way. I was conditioned to regurgitate and repeat and rewarded very handsomely for it.I've had to learn to think critically myself outside of the educational system. Basically, I've had to leave the education system to receive a proper eduction, mainly self taught. But this shouldn't be a surprise. The education system is just like any other system of indoctrination in a capitalist society and that role is to produce robots and machines that consume, don't think too much about the power systems that frame society and perpetuate the system.Thanks for explaining about the football by the way – very interesting. I'm a Barcelona based journalist that's written on a wide variety of topics about Spain – although not much about culture and literature except an article about Walter Benjamin who died in Catalonia.If any are of interest to you, you can find them here:http://nicholasmead.com/category/published-articles/

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  7. Obama’s position on torture seems pretty clear to me. The U.S. will not do it at all. Even prior to Obama, the U.S. had a pretty solid anti-torture policy. The only torture (if one can call it torture) performed was waterboarding, and only then in extreme circumstances. Obama has decided to curtail the waterboarding as well.

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    1. “. The only torture (if one can call it torture) performed was waterboarding, and only then in extreme circumstances.”

      – I wonder how fast you’d call it torture if it were done to you. Buddy, what made you a jerk of such enormous proportions, eh? You are a total monster. Just a complete and utter piece of vile, stinky rubbish, that’s what you are.

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    2. The only torture (if one can call it torture) performed was waterboarding, and only then in extreme circumstances.”

      Dude even allowing this … this … God, I can’t find the words for this smug, insane ignorance … have you not seen the Abu Ghraib pictures? Where PFC England is smirking and pointing at the hooded guys’ balls while said balls are hooked up to a car battery? Or where she and her sicko sergeant / lover are posing with big cheesy grins over the contorted bodies of shit-smeared prisoners?

      Because those pictures are kind of fucking everywhere.

      As for waterboarding, John McCain and John Petraeus have acknowledge it as torture. That’s two high-profile military veterans to fill in the “one” in your “if one can call it torture”, and that’s just a start.

      This isn’t even what this thread is about but this handful of words you’ve just farted makes me so goddamn mad.

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  8. “I wonder how fast you’d call it torture if it were done to you. Buddy, what made you a jerk of such enormous proportions, eh? You are a total monster. Just a complete and utter piece of vile, stinky rubbish, that’s what you are.”

    You should not be so judgemental just because we disagree on some points. Regarding waterboarding, we do it to our special operations soldiers and it isn’t torture, it’s part of their training. Just because something is very unpleasant, doesn’t make it torture, in particular when it is performed by people trained at it so as not to harm the person. An even then, it is never to be done if there is an alternative method, it is for extreme circumstances (like three mass-murdering terrorists who commit an act of war that in one day kills more people than any other attack in American history, including Pearl Harbor, who then claim other attacks are coming.

    “I will not be surprised that “Waterboard-the-daylights-out-of-’em” Kyle is one of those churchy freaks. Will not be surprised at all.”

    Where did I ever say to “waterboard-the-daylights-out-of-’em?” And you would be wrong on the religion, as I am a deist.

    “Dude even allowing this … this … God, I can’t find the words for this smug, insane ignorance … have you not seen the Abu Ghraib pictures? Where PFC England is smirking and pointing at the hooded guys’ balls while said balls are hooked up to a car battery? Or where she and her sicko sergeant / lover are posing with big cheesy grins over the contorted bodies of shit-smeared prisoners?

    Because those pictures are kind of fucking everywhere.”

    You do realize that this was NOT acceptable behavior and that these soldiers were punished, right?

    “As for waterboarding, John McCain and John Petraeus have acknowledge it as torture. That’s two high-profile military veterans to fill in the “one” in your “if one can call it torture”, and that’s just a start.”

    Patraeus has said he is against waterboarding as a means of interrogation, but that he would leave it up to the judicial system to decide whether exceptions could be made in certain extreme circumstances (which is where the exception was made; only three people were waterboarded, and that was only to force them to cooperate, not as a means of interrogation. When you have an attack like 9/11 occur, which was not a criminal act, but an act of war, and someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says more such attacks are planned, he does not get to lawyer up and have a right to remain silent. He was a non-state, illegal enemy combatant who violated the laws of war while committing an act of war, which means neither the standard Constitutional rights nor the Geneva Conventions apply.

    Patraeus also said he is for closing Gitmo. Who isn’t? Obama and the Democrats were all for it as well. Gitmo was opened for specific reasons (like there being nowhere else to put the terrorists there) and it remains open for those reasons. If Patraeus could come up with a way to close it, then I’m sure the government is all ears. And I’d be willing to bet that if Patraeus had been in Bush’s position when 9/11 occurred, that he wouldn’t have just allowed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other two terrorists to lawyer up either (keep in mind also that the Bush administration repeatedly checked to see if they had the legal authority to pursue such measures before pursuing them).

    Regarding McCain, I respect his opinion. However, to me it doesn’t matter if waterboarding is torture ultimately or not. If it is torture, then in extreme circumstances that would warrant it, torture the terrorist to force them to cooperate. Just make sure that it is only done by people specifically trained in what they’re doing, with medical personnel present, with the authority only coming from the highest levels, and only justified by extreme circumstances.

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