Noam Chomsky: The Richest Countries Are Racing Us Towards Disaster While 'Primitive' Societies Are Trying to Stop It
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In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.
Happily, though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.
Chomsky told Natasha Lennard about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.
Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance-state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?
In principle it’s not an innovation; things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Philippines scholar at University of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and in many ways the Philippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “Red Scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.
Q: Do you think revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?
Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.
We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.