Noam Chomsky on Donald Trump

Image for post

[Note: This is an overview of Noam Chomsky’s views on Donald Trump.]

[Dates Updated: 3/27/17 — 2/18/21]


If you look at the “Trump phenomenon,” it’s not so surprising. During the last fifteen years, in election after election, more candidates have arisen that were once considered “intolerable” to the Republican establishment. The answer for this intolerability is that over the years, under neoliberal policies, the Democrats and Republicans have shifted more to the right. (3) (7)

“The Democrats — by the ’70s — have pretty much abandoned the working class.” (3)

In 1978, the Humphrey–Hawkins Full Employment Act was the last kind of progressive policy (which Carter had ordered down “so that it had no teeth”) (3). While Democrats shifted to resemble moderate Republicans, Republicans moved so far right that they fell off the spectrum. (7)

Republicans have a primary constituency — extreme wealth and corporate power — that they have to serve. It’s hard to get votes when serving those interests. Therefore, they have historically appealed to evangelicals, southern racists, and disenfranchised white people, under the pretense of certain issues such as voting against abortion or fighting for gun rights. These issues are not necessarily favored by the establishment (and were previously not supported by the Republican party), but they are tolerated in recent decades because they ultimately serve the real constituency. (3) (6) (7)

“As for Trump’s base, they are indeed quite loyal. Most Trump voters were relatively affluent and probably are fairly satisfied with the ultra-reactionary policies. Another important segment was non-college-educated whites, a group that voted overwhelmingly for Trump (a 40 percent advantage). There is a close analysis of this group in the current (Spring 2018) issue of the Political Science Quarterly. It found that racism and sexism were far more significant factors in their vote than economic issues. If so, this group has little reason to object to the scene that is unfolding, and the same with the white Evangelicals who gave Trump 80 percent of their vote. Among justly angry, white, working-class Trump voters, many apparently enjoy watching him stick his thumb in the eyes of the hated elites even if he doesn’t fulfill his promises to [working-class voters], which many never believed in the first place.

What all this tells us, yet again, is that the neoliberal programs that have concentrated wealth in a few hands while the majority stagnate or decline have also severely undermined functioning democracy by familiar mechanisms, leading to anger, contempt for the dominant centrist political forces and institutions, and often anti-social attitudes and behavior — alongside of very promising popular reactions, like the remarkable Sanders phenomenon, Corbyn in England and positive developments elsewhere as well.” (2) (13)

Trump, on the other hand, understands how to serve corporate interests while getting the votes of evangelicals and extremists. The Democrats, in their focus on his outrageous antics, are helping him succeed in the 2020 election. For example, Democrats vigorously attacked Trump for Russia-Gate, for which evidence was slight (possibly for corruption), but there is more evidence for important things like the Israeli election interference. Furthermore, the highest interference in the United States elections is campaign funding. Campaign funding alone gives the highest prediction of who will win. Not to mention, the United States interferes with elections often, overthrowing leaders in coups, installing dictators and puppet leaders, placing harsh sanctions on impoverished countries. While the Democrats invested a lot of their energy into Russia-Gate, they wasted a lot of time when they could’ve focused on crucial problems that can devastate the world, such as climate change. (5) (7) (8)


Trump is basically a conman, a showman. He’s never had any political experience prior to being president, speaks all over the place in his speeches, never showing a consistent political position.

He knows how to get the mainstream media to focus on him.

“In order to maintain public attention, you have to do something crazy. Otherwise nobody’s going to pay attention to you.” (3)

While he’s showboating, lying, or doing something to offend a lot of people, in the background, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and other members of the government that are writing executive orders, are working to “systematically dismantle every aspect of the government that works for the benefit of the population.” This ranges from worker’s rights to health standards to environmental regulations. Those in power want more power for their constituency at the expense of the people. Meanwhile, some of the most disastrous policies under the Trump administration are barely discussed. (3)

“This generation is going to have to decide whether organized human existence is going to continue. Global warming and nuclear war are the two main issues… Trump’s actions are making both of them much more dangerous.” (3)

The United States has pulled out of the international effort to reduce the effects of climate change. Trump hasn’t only withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, cut a large portion of the EPA and environmental regulations for multinational corporations, but he’s actively increased the threat of climate change. Even in his State of the Union Address, he barely talked about the environment or pollution — other than “beautiful, clean coal.” (3) His administration has drastically taken away funds for research on renewable energy sources, but has increased the subsidies for multinational oil and gas companies.

Additionally, when Trump started his second year in office, “the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, citing increasing concerns over nuclear weapons and climate change. That’s the closest it has been to terminal disaster since 1953, when the US and USSR exploded thermonuclear weapons. That was before the release of Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, which significantly increases the dangers by lowering the threshold for nuclear attack and by developing new weapons that increase the danger of terminal war.” (9) (12)

Meanwhile, his Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is “an enormous gift to the very wealthy, [giving] virtually nothing to anyone else.” The architects of the bill, such as Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, worked to undermine the already weak welfare and benefits systems of the general population. Paul Ryan had successfully accomplished his goals with the “‘Donor Relief Act of 2017’ and the deficit cuts that open the way to sharp reduction of entitlements: health, social security, pensions — whatever matters to the people beyond the very privileged.” (2)

He exploded the “the deficit (a trademark of Republicans since Reagan), which means that they can move on to cut away at entitlements, as the chief architect, Paul Ryan, announced happily at once. The US already ranks near the bottom of the [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries — the 35 richer and more developed countries — in social justice measures. The Republican triumph will sink it even lower. The tax scam is only the most prominent of the devices being implemented under the cover of Trump buffoonery to serve wealth and corporate power while harming the irrelevant population.” (3) (9)

Trump’s policies on immigration, such as separating children (even infants) from their mothers, is having disastrous effects on people already in turmoil. Many of these families are fleeting from poor countries, suffering the consequences of US foreign policies, seeking security far from their homes. For example, “Honduras has been the main source of refugee flight since the US, almost alone, endorsed the military coup that ousted the elected president and the fraudulent election that followed, initiating a reign of terror.” (6)

Trump’s hateful rhetoric has roused the passions of many extremist groups. His leadership has further pushed the narrative of fear for outsiders or “invaders,” including his claims about a Nicaraguan army ready to invade or a caravan of miserable criminals that want to cause harm. He’s exploiting people’s resentment and anger about their stagnating conditions, which has grown for more than forty years, due to the effects of enhanced corporate power. (6)

He has strongly supported the Saudi War in Yemen. Despite UN agencies warning that the Saudi blockade could lead to one of the largest famines in modern times. The blockade prevents many “desperately needed imports of food, medicine, and fuel.”

Yemeni people are tragically dying from the world’s worst cholera outbreak. With “firm U.S. backing of systematic Saudi destruction,” priceless antiquities destroyed and countless deaths out of control, there seems to be little help for civilians.

There is little help for victims elsewhere either, such as in Raqqa, after a US-led attack on ISIS had absolutely obliterated the city. Rather than rebuilding or helping those harmed from such destruction, Trump has instead “sharply cut funding to the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], which barely keeps millions of Palestinian refugees alive. In general, ‘make America great’ means great at destroying, and that’s where the greatness ends. It’s by no means entirely new, but is now raised to a higher level and becoming a matter of principle.” (8) (9)

Trumpism is a consequence of neoliberal policies. Many lives have declined or stayed the same while only a few have become more powerful. Deregulated financial institutions are bailed out of multiple crashes while those who suffer are ignored and forgotten. American voters have become bitter, angry, and depressed, while they compete on a global scale for stagnated wages. “The real surprise in the election was the Sanders campaign, which broke with a long tradition of pretty much bought elections, and was stopped only by machinations of the Obama-Clinton party managers. The Democratic Party is now split between the donor-oriented New Democrat managers and a growing activist social democratic base.” (1) (12)

“What all of this portends, worldwide, is far from clear. Though there are also significant signs of hope, some commentators have — with good reason — been quoting Gramsci’s observation from his prison cell: ‘The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’” (8)


Updated: 6/7/20

[On Trump’s response to the George Floyd protests during the coronavirus pandemic] Trump wants to call forth a strong military response to those protesting against police brutality. His ideology is very simple. It’s called “me.” He wants to appeal to his white supremacist/racist base by calling for law and order. (11)

Trump is concerned with his own power. His outrageous antics will be tolerated by the corporate sector as long as he enriches them (the already rich and powerful). While at the same time, during COVID-19, he’s removing regulations for how much air pollution can be emitted. This is estimated to increase the number of deaths by the tens of thousands, mostly of poor black people. What matters to him are his electoral prospects, not the people who suffer the consequences of his policies. (11)

Trump-Republicans are trying to pass legislation to immunize corporations, so they can order their workers back to work, despite the threat of Covid-19. White-collar crime prosecutions, such as for wage theft and environmental violations, have dropped significantly, while the general public is being consistently robbed through tax havens and stock buybacks.

[In response to the Coronavirus pandemic] The government could have used their resources to do research on viruses and prepare for vaccines. They’re blocked by (Reagan and Thatcher) neoliberal policies, which aim to put decision-making power into the hands of private tyrannies (corporations), whose goals are short-term profit. While the government is partially accountable to the public, the corporate sector is not. (11)

“This is a capitalist crisis exacerbated by neoliberalism, exacerbated further by malignancies like President Trump. Countries did respond in one or another way to the crisis. The US just didn’t respond… Since the stock market went down, he finally noticed. Since then it was just efforts to cover up on chaos. Some of the things that have been done are just surreal like [for example] everyone’s concerned, of course, about getting a vaccine. There was a scientist in the government in charge of vaccine production. He was fired by the president. Why? Because he questioned some of his quack remedies.” (12)

Trump has surrounded himself with sycophants like Mike Pompeo. Everyone else has been kicked out and not just in the last few weeks. For example, he had purged all the inspector generals, who were hired (incidentally by the Republicans) in the departments of the government to weed out corruption.

“Trump has created a total swamp of corruption. He has just fired all of the inspector generals. That’s a coup reminiscent of a fascist state.” (12)

This pandemic was caused by a “capitalist crisis, neoliberal crisis on top of it. Gangsters from the top capitalist class exacerbating it.” The corporate sector manipulates this terrible crisis to make profits, while the poor suffer the most. (12)


Updated: 12/9/20

“The Trump administration has purged the executive branch of the government of any independent voices. Nothing left, except sycophants. The Congress, years ago, had installed Inspectors General to monitor the performance of executive offices for corruption, maleficence. They began to look into the enormous swamp of corruption that Trump had created in Washington. He took care of that just by firing them. They’re gone.” (12)

There was an election on November 4, 2020. It was a total disaster. The Republicans — who completely fell off the political spectrum — are now comparable to European parties with neofascist origins. They are “environmental denialists, ultranationalists, evangelical Christians, militarists, xenophobic, racist, white supremacists… very dangerous organization.” (12)

The Republicans won the election at every level — from state legislature up to Congress. They only lost the presidency because of a hatred for Trump rather than a love for Biden. Trump will presumably leave office on January 20, 2020, not conceding that he lost. Trump’s absurd legal maneuverings (suing with claims that the election was rigged, that dead people voted, etc.) will energize his base, showing them that the election was stolen. He wants to appear to be a hero who lost a rigged election because of the deep state. His increasing support will enable him to set up his “true” government, alternative to the “fake news, liberal” government. (12)

The Senate, which is controlled by the Republicans with Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, will block anything that the Democrats propose. They want to pass legislation that empowers the corporate sector, enriching the already rich, while passing the burden onto the public.

Secondly, they want to stack the judiciary with ultra-right lawyers who will “block any mildly progressive legislation for the generation, no matter what the public wants.” With Trump removed from office, they will do whatever they can to make the country ungovernable.

In regards to the pandemic, countries such as China and Korea, have taken measures to effectively deal with the coronavirus. In the US, the government has given up on its people. US citizens are inundated with right wing propaganda, which says that there is no virus, the liberals made it up, there is no real crisis, masks take away our freedom. “People are literally dying in hospitals, claiming that there is no disease.” (12)


Updated: 2/18/21

There was an attempted coup on the Capitol. It may not have been a military-backed coup with “ample bloodshed, torture, [and] ‘disappearances,’” but it was a coup. The people who stormed into the Capitol believed that the election was a fraud and they were saving their white Christian country. Many believe that Trump is their savior. They are reinforced with propaganda daily (from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the communities they live in, etc.), so their beliefs are not often challenged by outsiders. (10)

Donald Trump is “…the malevolent figure in charge,” who “deserves credit for his talent in tapping the poisonous streams that run not far below the surface of American society, with sources that are deep in U.S. history and culture.” (10)

He has become a successor after decades of neoliberal assault. While he may have “harmed the image” that neoliberals often “project as humanists dedicated to the common good,” he still enriched private enterprises at the expense of the American people. (10)

Trump is not finished as a politician. His base is too loyal to him. He understands how to manipulate people into following him by taking advantage of their suffering condition. “Trumpism will not be so easily contained. Its roots are deep. The anger and resentment raised to a frenzy by this talented con man is not limited to the U.S. The $50 trillion robbery is only the icing on the cake of the neoliberal disaster, which itself is built on foundations of deep injustice and repression. We are not out of the woods, by far.” (10)


Works Cited:

1. Chomsky, Noam. Noam Chomsky: If Trump Falters with Supporters, Don’t Put ‘Aside the Possibility’ of a ‘Staged or Alleged Terrorist Attack’, 27 March 2017, chomsky.info/20170327/.

2. “Climate Change and Human Rights.” Global Policy Journal, 26 April 2018, www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/26/04/2018/complete-disaster-noam-chomsky-trump-and-future-us-politics.

3. English, TeleSUR. “Special Interview: Noam Chomsky.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Feb. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=sDYIINbaKWs.

4. Johnson, Stephen. “Noam Chomsky Says Trump and Associates Are ‘Criminally Insane’.” Big Think, Big Think, 7 Feb. 2019, bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/chomsky-says-trump-is-criminally-insane?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3.

5. Kulinski, Kyle. Talk, Secular. “Chomsky BRILLIANTLY Dissects Trump, Democrats & RussiaGate.” YouTube, YouTube, 23 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=llzoItQgLOQ.

6. Now!, Democracy. “Noam Chomsky on Pittsburgh Attack: Revival of Hate Is Encouraged by Trump’s Rhetoric.” YouTube, YouTube, 2 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn_M4xK-Bpk&t=781s.

7. Now!, Democracy. “Chomsky: By Focusing on Russia, Democrats Handed Trump a ‘Huge Gift’ & Possibly the 2020 Election.” YouTube, YouTube, 18 Apr. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLyS0E91H1o.

8. NUTMEG, PRIMO. “PRIMO NUTMEG #169​: Noam Chomsky.” YouTube, YouTube, 16 Mar. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtqWezfIhMY&t=21s.

9. Polychroniou, C.J. “‘A Complete Disaster’: Noam Chomsky on Trump and the Future of US Politics.” Truthout, Truthout, 7 May 2018, truthout.org/articles/a-complete-disaster-noam-chomsky-on-trump-and-the-future-of-us-politics/.

10. Polychroniou C.J. “Chomsky: Coup Attempt Hit Closer to Centers of Power Than Hitler’s 1923 Putsch.” Truthout, 19 Jan. 2021, truthout.org/articles/chomsky-coup-attempt-hit-closer-to-centers-of-power-than-hitlers-1923-putsch.

11. Chomsky, Noam. Barat, Frank. “NOAM CHOMSKY: ‘Trump’s Ideology Consists Of Two Letters : Me’” June 2, 2020. https://youtu.be/n_LD6alcsn0

12. 6th Yohsin Lecture: A Conversation with NOAM CHOMSKY.” Youtube, uploaded by Habib University, 7 Dec. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGsUh3dOF0c.

13. Zareian, Ramin. “Dissection of US Politics: A Conversation with Noam Chomsky.” Chomsky.Info, 4 Dec. 2019, chomsky.info/20191204.

Requiem for the American Dream

Image for post
Released on April 18, 2015

“NOAM CHOMSKY is widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of our time. Filmed over four years, these are his final long-form documentary interviews.”

Inequality in America is unprecedented. A fraction of one percent of the population have super wealth. Because of this unequal wealth distribution, there is a corrosive effect on the principles of democracy.

The notion of class mobility is now antiquated. While back in the Great Depression, there was an expectation of future prosperity, of idealized success. In this modern period, the American Dream has collapsed.

In a real democracy, the public has influence over policy decisions. For privileged elites, however, democracy takes power out of their hands and puts it into the general population’s. They desire a concentration of wealth for themselves, so they can have more power, more influence. If politicians want to win elections or even to run, they’ll need ever-increasing sums of money. In order to get funded, candidates must serve corporate interests that financially support their campaigns. Corporate power becomes legislation through their influence on those running and elected. Legislation passed protects the rich, helping them to gain even more power, often at the expense of taxpayers.

This cycle is inherent in the United States. Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” wrote that in England, the “principal architects of policy are the people who own the society.” In the 1770s, the merchants and manufacturers were the architects. Despite the impact on other members of the population, their interests were always taken care of. Nowadays, instead of manufacturers and merchants, financial institutions and multinational corporations are in control.

They are the “Masters of Mankind.”

PRINCIPLE #1: REDUCE DEMOCRACY

James Madison believed that the United States should be structured. He wanted most of the power to transfer to the senate at a time when the senate wasn’t elected. Senate members were selected from an elite class of white men in the population.

In debates of the Constitutional Convention, Madison said that “the major concern of society has to be to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He wanted the constitution to prevent the majority from taking the property of the rich. Whereas Aristotle wrote that a democracy should reduce inequality, Madison wrote that an unequal society should reduce democracy.

The general population often pushes for more democratization, such as in the 1960s with civil rights, environmental rights, and anti-war activism, while the masters want the population to be apathetic, subservient, and powerless.

PRINCIPLE #2: SHAPE IDEOLOGY

There has been a coordinated effort to undermine democracy. When “previously passive and obedient” members of the population, who are sometimes called “special interest groups,” have tried to become politically active, the state resists them. Private businesses can lobby, buy elections, staff the executive branch, but when young people are “too independent and free” and not responsive to indoctrination, they’re deemed as dangerous and must be subdued.

PRINCIPLE #3: REDESIGN THE ECONOMY

Since the 1970s, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies, have gained more power. For example, in 2007, before the economic crash, they had 40% of corporate profits. The United States once was the greatest “manufacturing center of the world.” Financial institutions had a smaller part in society, performing roles like distributing unused assets. They were regulated with more control over their risky investments. By the ’70s, there was an increase in speculative capital, risky investments, money manipulations, and so on. Manufacturing was exported out to third world countries, putting workers from different countries in competition with each other, which reduced their wages while exploiting the poorest of workers. Top managerial positions have shifted to more business graduates than graduates from other departments, financializing the country even more.

“Workers can’t move, labor can’t move, but capital can.”

While highly-paid professionals are secure, workers are made insecure. They fear losing their jobs, discouraged from attaining livable wages, better health and safety conditions, and unionization.

PRINCIPLE #4: SHIFT THE BURDEN

Dissidents are often vilified. Depending on the society, critics are imprisoned, abused, executed, tortured, or censored. The United States has a high degree of freedom, compared to other countries. Yet terms of abuse, such as anti-American and Marxist, still arise when one criticizes corporate state power. Abusing critics in a developed democratic country, such as the United States, is a sign of the influence of elite culture on the general population.

***

During “The Golden Age” of the ’50s and ’60s, there was a high period of relatively egalitarian economic growth. The lowest fifth of the population was improving about as much as the upper fifth. When the U.S. was considered the largest manufacturing center in the world, businesses were made to be more concerned with consumers domestically.

When only a small percentage of the population owns an increasing amount of wealth, however, what happens to American consumers matters far less. What matters to the wealthy is their quarterly profit, even if it is due to money manipulation, higher salaries for their top executives, and decreases in taxes for multinational corporations.

“Taxes on the wealthy has reduced, while the tax burden on the rest of the population’s increased.” The pretext for this drastic shift is so there will be more jobs and investment. Despite the lack of evidence for this poor rhetoric, to truly stimulate production and job growth, money should go to poor and working people. The reality is far different, however. Corporations pay little to no taxes, receive exponential profits, while sending their manufacturing work offshore. They shift “the burden of sustaining the society on the rest of the population.”

PRINCIPLE #5: ATTACK SOLIDARITY

The masters want to indoctrinate people to only care about themselves. To care about other people is dangerous. They have put in a lot of effort to undermine people’s instincts for compassion and generosity, such as with the attack on social security. Social security is about helping others. “I pay payroll taxes so that the widow across the street can get something to live on.” A lot of the population survives on social security. The rich don’t need it, so they want to destroy it. They will first defund it, eventually privatizing it. A similar attack has happened to public education. The United States used to be a leader in funding mass pubic education. Now most college students are burdened with tuition. If they don’t come from wealthy families, they are trapped in debt.

PRINCIPLE #6: RUN THE REGULATORS

“The business being regulated is often running the regulators. Bank lobbyists are actually writing the laws of financial regulation; it’s gotten to that extreme.” The business world has worked steadily against the welfare measures of the sixties, ending with Nixon as the last “New Deal” president. Businesses didn’t like “consumer safety legislation, safety and health regulations in the workplace, the EPA,” and so on, because of high taxes and regulation. They began a coordinated effort, through lobbying, to overcome it. When regulations started to become dismantled, there were more economic crashes. Then the government bailed out the banks, over and again, under the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations. Taxpayers were forced to bail out the institutions that started the crisis. These financial institutions had become “too big to fail,” not responsible for their risky investments. Instead, they were chosen to fix the crises that they created.

PRINCIPLE #7: ENGINEER ELECTIONS

“Corporations are state-created legal fictions” that have manipulated the fourteenth amendment to be considered persons. They use their “persons” status to have personal rights and the right to due process under the law. This notion of “persons” is expanded for corporations, but not for actual people. If taking the amendment literally, undocumented immigrants would not be deprived of rights because they are persons. In the U.S., however, General Electric is more of a person than someone from another country.

In Buckley V. Valeo (1970), “the courts decided that money was a form of speech.” Later, in Citizens United V. Federal Electric Commission, a corporation’s free speech couldn’t be curtailed anymore, because they could spend as much money as they wanted. Now, corporations can buy elections, completely unrestricted.

PRINCIPLE #8: KEEP THE RABBLE IN LINE

“Organized labor is a barrier to corporate tyranny.”

Because organized labor is a democratizing force, leading to worker’s rights and those of the general population, it has been consistently attacked. The United States, in comparison to other developed countries, has had a long history of violently opposing organized labor. The core principle of free association, of political pressure through the masses, is a threat to business interests. Violence against workers, campaigns of propaganda, threats, and imprisonment, has drastically reduced unions.

PRINCIPLE #9: MANUFACTURE CONSENT

It is not easy to control a population by force alone, especially in developed countries like the United States and Britain. Manipulating a population’s beliefs and attitudes is far more effective. To control what the public wants, turning people into consumers is the goal of business. The masses are taught to crave superficial things, distracted from meaningful change. They spend their lives buying what they don’t need and wanting what they don’t have. They are seduced by advertisements, uninformed about desires, persuaded against their own interests.

Ever since Reagan, the PR industry has been marketing candidates like toothpaste. There is little discussion of policy issues and more discussion of personality. Meanwhile, private interests are marginalizing the public, while securing their selected candidates into office.

PRINCIPLE #10: MARGINALIZE THE POPULATION

Most of the population doesn’t influence policy. People are increasingly frustrated with institutions, alienated, demoralized, but are often lost for answers. The manufacturers want the population to turn on each other, to hate and fear each other. They want activist groups to fragment. They want people to care only about themselves and not about others. If a society is controlled by private institutions, it will reflect those values. A society based on the value of greed will not last.

To progress as a society, institutions should be under a participatory democratic control. All structures should be questioned for legitimacy. If they’re not just, then they should be dismantled or improved upon. If there are oppressive structures, the public must come together and not accept them. They must organize and challenge what is unjust. To become a better citizen, to change the world, people need to learn, to contribute, to find opportunities for speech and direct action. As Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

Civilized to Death (book review)

Image for post

“An era can be considered over when its basic illusions have been exhausted.”

— Arthur Miller

Modern civilization is seen as necessary for “progress.” With every breakthrough in technology, science, medicine, and so on, with every new comfort and convenience, advancement and novelty, what is the cost?

People often assume that progress is steadily increasing, and at a linear pace, believing that the livelihoods of the hunter-gatherers were primitive, dangerous, and simple, despite their survival for most of human history.

Since the domestication of animals and move into agriculture from small bands of roaming hunter-gatherers, civilizations have both developed and fallen from a depletion of natural resources, conflict, famine, and disease. Populations have become denser and temperatures have risen to new global extremes every year.

Humanity, overcome with dissatisfaction and anxiety, has rushed into a shadow future. They have chased after novelty without knowledge, or concern, for the consequences of their desires.

Americans, for example, generally work longer hours than in past decades while the global competition rises and wages stagnate. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Rates of people who struggle with starvation, who earn ten dollars a day, who can’t afford to deal with a medical emergency, increases steadily.

Civilization doesn’t necessarily imply progress. Hunter-gatherers are not inherently miserable. One must ask always when speaking of progress, “progress for whom?”

What seems like progress for one person, group, community, or civilization, may be contextually a benefit, but not absolutely. Furthermore, what is normalized for one group may not necessarily be “good” for that group or another group, but rather, an adaptation overtime of that group to an advantageous environment. Those who do not gain any benefits from that environment would suffer, die, or merely not flourish enough to gain much from it.

In our modern age of progress, millions of people have been displaced from their homelands due to war, conflict, famine, persecution, and climate change. More species are increasingly going extinct while the ocean currents have slowed down.

While every unstoppable civilization such as Rome, Sumer, and Ancient Egypt, have all crumbled in the past, they have done so regionally. If our civilization falls, it will happen at a global scale.

Hunter-gatherers may not have been idealistically perfect but those who survived and succeeded through reproduction did so from trust, cooperation, and generosity. They would’ve perished under brutal environments if not for their interdependence and mutual interests.

The days of the hunter-gatherer are over, however. It is too late to turn back to the prehistoric world. Population densities have swelled beyond small bands of undomesticated hominids.

“We’ve lost too much of the knowledge and physical conditioning necessary to live comfortably under the stars. If our ancestors were wolves or coyotes, most of us are closer to pugs or poodles.”

Even though no one can return back to prehistory, it’s possible to learn from the past to create better conditions for the future. If stories of the past are misused, misunderstood, or abused, however, then the accepted narrative of civilization can imprison just as much as free.

There’s an assumption of prehistory as being a Hobbesian nightmare where people brutalized each other in harsh environments to survive and reproduce, where primitive peoples lived lives that were “nasty, brutish, and short.”

While precivilization is condemned, civilization is often seen as perpetually improving, all despite human nature’s competitive, aggressive, and bloody history. This view of humankind is routinely used in the justification of slavery and war and colonialism. Rather than connecting more intimately with one another, civilized people are conditioned to not trust each other, to compete, to feel shameful over their bodies and instincts.

There may be a more accurate story than the Hobbesian one. When studying modern foragers, who have similar relationships with their environments as peoples did thousand of years ago, from how they settled conflict and had children to how they hunted and built their homes, structural insights into their groups can help researchers see the past.

Looking deeply at the anatomical/physiological functions of the human body, especially since human beings have evolved for thousands of years as hunter-gatherers (longer than as agriculturalists), provides a glimpse into the past as well.

“Well over 95 percent of the time that our species has existed we’ve lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers moving about in small bands of 150 people or fewer.”

These bands, despite how long ago they lived or where they had come from, were egalitarian, mobile, social, and generous. Power was fluid rather than hierarchical, based more on social value than status and property. Women were given similar opportunities to men, gaining respect for their intelligence, skill, and integrity, while being able to make decisions that would profoundly impact the rest of the group.

With these universal traits displayed among the hunter-gatherers, however, there are still no absolutes. Exceptions of child abuse, unequal treatment between the sexes, disproportionate power, and so on, can exist and have before, but never on the scale of hierarchical, agriculture-based societies.

While hunter-gatherers, traveling with minimal shared supplies, relied on each other for reciprocal generosity, treating each other as extended families, giving and receiving in order to survive and to grow, when the State first arose, people became inferiors, subservient to kings, priests and dictators, being taxed and controlled by those with unequal power.

For hunter-gatherer tribes, an individual is prized for their intelligence, hunting skills, and so on. When they exceed their skills through arrogance, selfishness, pride, or an unequal amount of power, they are laughed at, socially exiled or eventually killed. As long as they provide social benefit to the group, they are mutually benefited themselves. In agricultural societies, however, there is a conflict regarding the messages of promoting generosity and support and sharing, competition and survival and private ownership. Large populations with complex civilizations are prone to conflicting value systems.

Nevertheless, humans have complex moralities based on social values that were deeply woven into their biological makeup for thousands of years to ensure their survival.

While civilization has definite benefits, what is the long term cost of perpetual expansion? Civilization has solved many problems while simultaneously being the reason for those problems to exist in the first place. Everything from gum disease to obesity, depression to anxiety, overly medicated children to heart attacks, rose since the advent of civilization rather than before it.

Agricultural societies may have developed independently from each other, thousands of years ago, due to extremes in climate. As the hoarding of resources began, complex social hierarchies did as well. These hierarchies may have led to more conflict among groups, artistic creation, nuanced relationships with the dead, ritualistic practices, warfare, and enslavement.

While hunter-gatherers revered the flow of nature and relied on it with their lives, the agriculture-based civilizations dominated and controlled it. Rather than mobility and sharing, humans became sedentary and owned more possessions. They became conditioned by the institutions that had arisen with their settlement. As humans domesticated plants and animals, they too became domesticated.

When civilizations encountered foraging societies, they often brutalized them through the theft of land, enslavement, human sacrifice, rape, wanton murder, exploitation, torture, spread of disease.

The stronger the civilization, the greater the need for using up natural resources while expanding to conquer other places and peoples. Those apart from civilization were seen as less human and treated as such. And within powerful civilizations, the disparity between wealth and freedom grew between the powerful and the powerless.

Rather than living as an egalitarian web of relationships in a band of intimates, rather than as an extended family caring for one another’s benefit, people were treated like property in civilization. These forced participants, who were enslaved and worked until death, who procreated out of necessity for survival, for the labor of the system, who were manipulated by their rulers to keep civilization from collapsing, were not treated as humans anymore. Those who tried to break away from the confines of civilization were severely punished or manipulated into returning out of desperation and systematic coercion.

This practice continues today: “Multinational corporations routinely expropriate land in poor countries (or ‘buy’ it from corrupt politicians), force the local populations off the land (so they cannot grow or hunt their own food), and offer the ‘luckiest’ among them jobs cutting down the forest, mining minerals, or harvesting fruit in exchange for slave wages often paid in company currency that can only be used to buy unhealthful, industrially produced food at inflated prices at a company-owned store. These victims of market incursion are then often celebrated as having been saved from ‘abject poverty.’ With their gardens, animals, fishing, and hunting, they had been living on less than a dollar a day. Now, as slave laborers, they’re participating in the economy. This, we’re told, is progress.”

While civilized people are systematically forced to remain in civilization, they are conditioned to fear any alternative. They are routinely propagandized with fear of death, fear of old age, fear of outsiders, fear of a dangerous environment, fear of disobeying the structure of society, fear of being different, and fear of questioning.

While fear is being mass communicated to those who serve the system, messages of self-interest are justified as natural for a species that is interpreted as inherently competitive and selfish.

While the social hierarchical system, built upon control and expansion, rationalizes itself under these premises, messages of altruism, generosity, and sharing, which are prominent in foraging groups, are conflicted with and misrepresented.

Foragers nevertheless have some form of social hierarchy, except their structure is in support of social autonomy. People can gain more power in these groups, except at the expense of the group. Those who violate the rules of the group, benefiting themselves at the expense of others, are shamed, excluded, or eventually killed, depending on the person’s effect upon others. Foragers are often quite aware of the social hierarchy in their groups and have ways of keeping a check on power, maintaining egalitarian principles with tradition, stories, humor, and so on.

Another way that foragers have often maintained social harmony is through group fluidity. Members of small bands can leave the group, join other groups, based on climatic conditions, the hunt, and so on. In many tribes, once women are old enough, they leave their families for another tribe. Rather than based on biological necessity, many foragers come together out of a mutual practicality and show attitudes of abundance rather than scarcity.

These behaviors may be influenced from their evolutionary past. Humans share a common genetic ancestor with bonobos and chimpanzees. Those who argue the progress myth often cite chimpanzee behavior as the source for human aggression, conflict, and war, but conveniently ignore the deep human relationship to bonobos. Bonobos are mostly peaceful, resolving conflict with sex and bonding, rather than with war. While chimps do show some organized group violence, bonobos are different.

Whereas hunter-gatherers are highly mobile in small groups, adapting to changing environmental conditions, experiencing occasional food shortages while still being mostly well nourished, millions of people in modern societies, dependent on certain crops or water sources, are often undernourished.

Caloric restriction, which occurs at periods with hunter-gatherers, may actually be healthful, preventing some neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, diabetes, while supporting a longer lifespan.

Foragers don’t necessarily die at an earlier age than those born in agricultural societies. There may be a higher mortality rate among infants and children, which statistically, brings the average of life expectancy down, but those who live usually do so into a healthy old age, similar to those in agricultural societies. Except the children who grow up in the foraging communities had better quality of life in regards to childcare, clean air and water, communal support, etc.

Living in agricultural settlements with swelling populations drastically altered human beings. Status, family dynamics, power, treatment of women and children, food quality, exposure to new diseases, relationship to death, worsened. Even the worship of friendly and nourishing gods transitioned into religions where a God dominated nature and had absolute power with His control. While foraging societies protected their young ones, having an extended family to raise a child, within agricultural societies, children were seen as property, labor, as potential heirs to wealth, as rivals.

Even in modernity, infants and children develop quite differently than those in hunter-gatherer societies. C-sections, which don’t provide the immunological advantages of natural births, less time physically touching an infant, less time breastfeeding, more separation from offspring, contribute significantly to the emotional development in people in agricultural societies. In foraging groups, infants are closely attuned to, nurtured, and emotionally responded to, by dozens of loving caregivers beyond the mother or father(s). They are breastfed longer and supported in a cooperative social world.

“When you receive no significant social support from your society and have to work two jobs just to pay for the daycare that allows you to go to work, nobody can blame you for putting your kids in front of the TV, feeding them what you can afford, and not wanting to spend the night comforting them when they’re restless. Many progressive European societies have policies that replicate hunter-gatherer parenting values by assuring community support for parents via generous maternity and paternity leave, subsidized medical and child care, and free education.”

Societies that support infant/childhood development and a healthy expression of sexuality during puberty correlated with more peace and fewer mental/behavioral problems. In societies where there was less developmental support, such as in the US, the likelihood of violence as well as mental/behavioral conditions rose.

Modern societies have often repressed play in children, healthy sexuality in teens during puberty, homosexuality, and so on, while increasingly over medicating those who show conflicting behaviors to the procedures of the controlling systems. Institutional structures, from religions to governments, have controlled, punished, repressed, misinformed, and shamed people for their natural human tendencies. This has predictably increased the rates of anti-social behavior, anxiety, and depression in young people within industrialized nations.

In hunter-gatherer groups, children and teenagers are treated with respect and autonomy. They play their social roles of hunting, foraging, and tool making, until their play becomes an essential part of the group. Rather than being infantilized, they’re free to become themselves. When they do choose to work, if they choose, it is only for a few hours a day, often in the spirit of play.

Meanwhile in modern civilization, people are working for longer hours while wealth inequality is growing. Even those who own more than 99% of the wealth are trapped within the system, desiring only to acquire more, while the poorest of the population are starving. This inequality creates more distance between people and makes their suffering an abstraction. The wealthy may seem like winners, but with money comes isolation from others, working tirelessly to compete with rich peers, ignoring natural impulses to help those in need, while still feeling unsatisfied. Having a vast amount of money/power makes people detach, have more trouble when reading social cues, feel less empathy for others, while their risk of heart disease, stroke, and depression increases.

Modern civilization deals with death differently too. While in industrialized societies, people are put on expensive machines and treatments, attempting to prolong the quantity of their lifespan (but not the quality) for a miserable length of time, doctors are discouraged from being near their dying patients or frankly giving them the truth of their conditions. Yet in foraging societies, death is present with people. Terminally ill or elderly people are neglected, given an option of committing suicide, killed by a member of the tribe, if they’re no longer able to help the group. Rather than wasting away into nothing, they’re put out of their misery.

Civilized life is no better. Deprived of nature, socially isolated, working more than 40 hours at a job that one hates, paying off debts, consuming more and more medication, pursuing happiness through materialism, people live for a mirage of successes in industrialized societies.

In these same societies, aberrations of behavior, strange thoughts, auditory hallucinations, and so on, are seen as conditions to be overcome, treated, and suppressed. In foraging, shamanistic groups, people experiencing strong hallucinations, for instance, are often integrated as healers in their cultures. They’re supported lovingly rather than repressed.

As more conditions are managed in industrialized nations with prescription medications — often leading to high rates of addiction and overdose — therapeutic psychedelic drugs with little to no toxic effects are demonized in the population. Psychedelics with a long history in tribal cultures as healing agents are penalized severely in the civilized world, despite an assortment of benefits in treating people with depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, etc. Furthermore, psychedelic medicines can lead, under the proper conditions, to enhanced awareness, profound mystical experiences, and long term well-being after an initial dose.

As population exponentially increases in modern civilization, humanity is further devalued. “Endless growth is the ideology of conventional economics and the cancer cell.”

Insight into how humans successfully lived in the past can help those in the present design a world based on inborn, natural values, which allows societies to flourish.

There can be a promotion of cooperation in egalitarian communities, a vast network of people helping each other, or there can be institutions that distort human values, preying on people’s fears, controlling their lives with propaganda and violence and social repression. In the second scenario, “progress” will inevitably lead to extreme climate change, civilizational collapses, planetary ruin.

It will take a radical shift in consciousness for people to work toward the values of environmental protection, egalitarian treatment, communal development, investing in alternative energy sources, applying effective therapeutic approaches to social deterioration, challenging long-standing institutions, and so on. It may even be too late. But there is still hope.

Requiem for the American Dream (Review)

Released on April 18, 2015

“NOAM CHOMSKY is widely regarded as the most influential intellectual of our time. Filmed over four years, these are his final long-form documentary interviews.”

Inequality in America is unprecedented. A fraction of one percent of the population have super wealth. Because of this unequal wealth distribution, there is a corrosive effect on the principles of democracy.

The notion of class mobility is now antiquated. While back in the Great Depression, there was an expectation of future prosperity, of idealized success. In this modern period, the American Dream has collapsed.

In a real democracy, the public has influence over policy decisions. For privileged elites, however, democracy takes power out of their hands and puts it into the general population’s. They desire a concentration of wealth for themselves, so they can have more power, more influence. If politicians want to win elections or even to run, they’ll need ever-increasing sums of money. In order to get funded, candidates must serve corporate interests that financially support their campaigns. Corporate power becomes legislation through their influence on those running and elected. Legislation passed protects the rich, helping them to gain even more power, often at the expense of taxpayers.

This cycle is inherent in the United States. Adam Smith, in “The Wealth of Nations,” wrote that in England, the “principal architects of policy are the people who own the society.” In the 1770s, the merchants and manufacturers were the architects. Despite the impact on other members of the population, their interests were always taken care of. Nowadays, instead of manufacturers and merchants, financial institutions and multinational corporations are in control.

They are the “Masters of Mankind.”

PRINCIPLE #1: REDUCE DEMOCRACY

James Madison believed that the United States should be structured. He wanted most of the power to transfer to the senate at a time when the senate wasn’t elected. Senate members were selected from an elite class of white men in the population.

In debates of the Constitutional Convention, Madison said that “the major concern of society has to be to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” He wanted the constitution to prevent the majority from taking the property of the rich. Whereas Aristotle wrote that a democracy should reduce inequality, Madison wrote that an unequal society should reduce democracy.

The general population often pushes for more democratization, such as in the 1960s with civil rights, environmental rights, and anti-war activism, while the masters want the population to be apathetic, subservient, and powerless.

PRINCIPLE #2: SHAPE IDEOLOGY

There has been a coordinated effort to undermine democracy. When “previously passive and obedient” members of the population, who are sometimes called “special interest groups,” have tried to become politically active, the state resists them. Private businesses can lobby, buy elections, staff the executive branch, but when young people are “too independent and free” and not responsive to indoctrination, they’re deemed as dangerous and must be subdued.

PRINCIPLE #3: REDESIGN THE ECONOMY

Since the 1970s, financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies, have gained more power. For example, in 2007, before the economic crash, they had 40% of corporate profits. The United States once was the greatest “manufacturing center of the world.” Financial institutions had a smaller part in society, performing roles like distributing unused assets. They were regulated with more control over their risky investments. By the ’70s, there was an increase in speculative capital, risky investments, money manipulations, and so on. Manufacturing was exported out to third world countries, putting workers from different countries in competition with each other, which reduced their wages while exploiting the poorest of workers. Top managerial positions have shifted to more business graduates than graduates from other departments, financializing the country even more.

“Workers can’t move, labor can’t move, but capital can.”

While highly-paid professionals are secure, workers are made insecure. They fear losing their jobs, discouraged from attaining livable wages, better health and safety conditions, and unionization.

PRINCIPLE #4: SHIFT THE BURDEN

Dissidents are often vilified. Depending on the society, critics are imprisoned, abused, executed, tortured, or censored. The United States has a high degree of freedom, compared to other countries. Yet terms of abuse, such as anti-American and Marxist, still arise when one criticizes corporate state power. Abusing critics in a developed democratic country, such as the United States, is a sign of the influence of elite culture on the general population.

***

During “The Golden Age” of the ’50s and ’60s, there was a high period of relatively egalitarian economic growth. The lowest fifth of the population was improving about as much as the upper fifth. When the U.S. was considered the largest manufacturing center in the world, businesses were made to be more concerned with consumers domestically.

When only a small percentage of the population owns an increasing amount of wealth, however, what happens to American consumers matters far less. What matters to the wealthy is their quarterly profit, even if it is due to money manipulation, higher salaries for their top executives, and decreases in taxes for multinational corporations.

“Taxes on the wealthy has reduced, while the tax burden on the rest of the population’s increased.” The pretext for this drastic shift is so there will be more jobs and investment. Despite the lack of evidence for this poor rhetoric, to truly stimulate production and job growth, money should go to poor and working people. The reality is far different, however. Corporations pay little to no taxes, receive exponential profits, while sending their manufacturing work offshore. They shift “the burden of sustaining the society on the rest of the population.”

PRINCIPLE #5: ATTACK SOLIDARITY

The masters want to indoctrinate people to only care about themselves. To care about other people is dangerous. They have put in a lot of effort to undermine people’s instincts for compassion and generosity, such as with the attack on social security. Social security is about helping others. “I pay payroll taxes so that the widow across the street can get something to live on.” A lot of the population survives on social security. The rich don’t need it, so they want to destroy it. They will first defund it, eventually privatizing it. A similar attack has happened to public education. The United States used to be a leader in funding mass pubic education. Now most college students are burdened with tuition. If they don’t come from wealthy families, they are trapped in debt.

PRINCIPLE #6: RUN THE REGULATORS

“The business being regulated is often running the regulators. Bank lobbyists are actually writing the laws of financial regulation; it’s gotten to that extreme.” The business world has worked steadily against the welfare measures of the sixties, ending with Nixon as the last “New Deal” president. Businesses didn’t like “consumer safety legislation, safety and health regulations in the workplace, the EPA,” and so on, because of high taxes and regulation. They began a coordinated effort, through lobbying, to overcome it. When regulations started to become dismantled, there were more economic crashes. Then the government bailed out the banks, over and again, under the Reagan, Bush, and Obama administrations. Taxpayers were forced to bail out the institutions that started the crisis. These financial institutions had become “too big to fail,” not responsible for their risky investments. Instead, they were chosen to fix the crises that they created.

PRINCIPLE #7: ENGINEER ELECTIONS

“Corporations are state-created legal fictions” that have manipulated the fourteenth amendment to be considered persons. They use their “persons” status to have personal rights and the right to due process under the law. This notion of “persons” is expanded for corporations, but not for actual people. If taking the amendment literally, undocumented immigrants would not be deprived of rights because they are persons. In the U.S., however, General Electric is more of a person than someone from another country.

In Buckley V. Valeo (1970), “the courts decided that money was a form of speech.” Later, in Citizens United V. Federal Electric Commission, a corporation’s free speech couldn’t be curtailed anymore, because they could spend as much money as they wanted. Now, corporations can buy elections, completely unrestricted.

PRINCIPLE #8: KEEP THE RABBLE IN LINE

“Organized labor is a barrier to corporate tyranny.”

Because organized labor is a democratizing force, leading to worker’s rights and those of the general population, it has been consistently attacked. The United States, in comparison to other developed countries, has had a long history of violently opposing organized labor. The core principle of free association, of political pressure through the masses, is a threat to business interests. Violence against workers, campaigns of propaganda, threats, and imprisonment, has drastically reduced unions.

PRINCIPLE #9: MANUFACTURE CONSENT

It is not easy to control a population by force alone, especially in developed countries like the United States and Britain. Manipulating a population’s beliefs and attitudes is far more effective. To control what the public wants, turning people into consumers is the goal of business. The masses are taught to crave superficial things, distracted from meaningful change. They spend their lives buying what they don’t need and wanting what they don’t have. They are seduced by advertisements, uninformed about desires, persuaded against their own interests.

Ever since Reagan, the PR industry has been marketing candidates like toothpaste. There is little discussion of policy issues and more discussion of personality. Meanwhile, private interests are marginalizing the public, while securing their selected candidates into office.

PRINCIPLE #10: MARGINALIZE THE POPULATION

Most of the population doesn’t influence policy. People are increasingly frustrated with institutions, alienated, demoralized, but are often lost for answers. The manufacturers want the population to turn on each other, to hate and fear each other. They want activist groups to fragment. They want people to care only about themselves and not about others. If a society is controlled by private institutions, it will reflect those values. A society based on the value of greed will not last.

To progress as a society, institutions should be under a participatory democratic control. All structures should be questioned for legitimacy. If they’re not just, then they should be dismantled or improved upon. If there are oppressive structures, the public must come together and not accept them. They must organize and challenge what is unjust. To become a better citizen, to change the world, people need to learn, to contribute, to find opportunities for speech and direct action. As Howard Zinn once said, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”