As Noam Chomsky consistently emphasizes, human intelligence has created two tracks on which we are all riding rapidly toward our collective destruction. In his words they are “two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence—or at least organized existence”. The first track was laid on August 6, 1945 with the detonation of the nuclear bomb at Hiroshima. The second track soon followed as “it turns out we now understand that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene, the epoch in which humans have a severe, in fact maybe disastrous impact on the environment.” Emphasizing our disregard our leaders grease these two destructive tracks, gambling that nothing can go wrong. Instead we upped the ante as “human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism.”
The atomic threat was immediately identified after the devastation was released. The famous Doomsday Clock was begun by scientists where the closer the minute hand was to midnight the closer we are to oblivion. The initial clock was set at seven minutes before midnight. Over the years we have had many events that have moved the minute hand closer, but seldom closer than we find ourselves today. “Immediately after the Trump election late January this year, the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it’s been since ’53”. Meanwhile the neoliberal leaders intentionally ensure there is very little coverage of this or related issues in most media.
Regarding our Anthropocene impact, or climate change, science paints a very specific picture with identifiable cause and effect. Research goes on to suggest changes that could be made. However, most efforts from our neoliberal leaders focus on deferring, deflecting and denying the facts. Reasonable actions to move to renewables or other solutions are continually diluted and lost in endless debate.
The 1970’s brought us neoliberalism with its fanatical focus on a new type of capitalism. “A transition at that time from the period of what some people call ‘regimented capitalism,’ the ’50s and ’60s, the great growth period, egalitarian growth, a lot of advances in social justice and so on”. You know, the time of strong “social democracy”. Of course that had to be changed. What the neoliberals wanted was “freedom … a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power … The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism about ‘there is no society, only individuals … turning society into a sack of potatoes, just individuals, an amorphous mass (that) can’t act together”. And of course Ronald Reagan couldn’t agree more. While everyone watched they “destroy or at least undermine the governing mechanisms by which people at least in principle can participate to the extent that society’s democratic. So weaken them, undermine unions, other forms of association, leave a sack of potatoes and meanwhile transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom.”
As Chomsky points out, this did not occur strictly from the right or the left. No, it occurred with efforts from both sides. “There was a lot of elite discussion across the spectrum about the danger of too much democracy and the need to have what was called more ‘moderation’ in democracy, for people to become more passive and apathetic and not to disturb things too much, and that’s what the neoliberal programs do. So put it all together and what do you have? A perfect storm”. The greasing of the rails, nullifying the people’s ability to do what they want, much less what is needed.
Special Interests had to be contained. The ’60s were viewed as the “time of troubles” by both right and left elites. Those special interests, “minorities, young people, old people, farmers, workers, women. In other words, the population. The population are special interests, and their task is to just watch quietly.” That was no longer happening and that needed to change. “Two documents came out right in the mid-’70s, which are quite important.” Both dealt with this problem.
- From the left: “the Trilateral Commission—liberal internationalists, three major industrial countries, basically the Carter administration, that’s where they come from. That is the more interesting one [The Crisis of Democracy, a Trilateral Commission report]. The American rapporteur Samuel Huntington of Harvard, he looked back with nostalgia to the days when, as he put it, Truman was able to run the country with the cooperation of a few Wall Street lawyers and executives. Then everything was fine. Democracy was perfect.”
- From the right: “the Powell Memorandum, came out at the same time. Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer, later Supreme Court justice, he produced a confidential memorandum for the US Chamber of Commerce, which has been extremely influential. It more or less set off the modern so-called ‘conservative movement’ … the basic picture is that this rampaging left has taken over everything. We (corporations and the 1%) have to use the resources that we have to beat back this rampaging New Left which is undermining freedom and democracy.”
Today we find ourselves hurtling rapidly on these two tracks, towards one, maybe both devastations, with no feasible way to make any needed corrections. We have a democracy, in name only, totally out of synch with the majority of its people. Most of us find ourselves individuals, isolated, stuck inside Thatcher’s “sack of potatoes”, right where the neoliberals want us, glimpsing occasional rays of light, but not knowing how to dispense with the sack and maybe start to correct things.
Read the article by Christopher Lydon in The Nation magazine below and listen to the full conversation with Noam Chomsky on Radio Open Source.