1 December 2008 **** Front page

American dream — or nightmare?

By Tapani Lausti

Vicenç Navarro, Entrevista a Noam Chomsky: La situación política en Estados Unidos. Editorial Anagrama 2008.

In this interview book Vicenç Navarro draws attention to the fact that Noam Chomsky is celebrated around the world as a leading intellectual of our times but in his home country he is almost completely ignored by the media. This fact was once again confirmed to us during a recent conversation with an American couple who seemed to have some interest in progressive ideas. They live in the same region as Chomsky but have never heard of him.

Coincidentally our conversation took place in Barcelona where Navarro's book was published. Navarro himself is a Catalan veteran of anti-Franco struggle who was forced into exile in 1962. He has worked in various academic institutions in Sweden, Britain and the United States. In 1994 he resumed his academic career in Spain but also works at the American John Hopkins University.

When Navarro discusses his interviewee's position in American public debate, Chomsky draws attention to the fear of critical opinions. He explains this fear by the fact that in most important issues the political parties and the political class in the US hold opinions which are more right-wing than those held by the rest of the population. Therefore there is a fear that any small deviation from the approved thinking can lead to a disaster. Although freedom of opinion in the US is admirable, the distribution of ideas is very controlled.

Thus the stability of American society is not that obvious. The potentially rebellious population must be kept in some degree of ignorance about how the system works. It was clear during the recent presidential campaign that real issues tended to be hidden behind questions of the personality of the candidates. Yet, polls showed that people wanted to know the two candidates' views on important issues. Indeed, Chomsky believes that there is a lot of left-wing potential in the real mood of the public. If the US were a really functioning democracy, where public opinion matters, the country would, for instance, have a proper national health service. Polls show that people prefer putting money into health and education rather than into military adventures abroad.

The violence of US foreign policy is something that the US media hardly dares to touch on in a completely honest way. The US is seen as a mainly benign force in the world even if mistakes are sometimes made, and George W. Bush has made lots of them. The rest of the world's elite opinion tends to go along with this kind of non-analysis.

The history of this culture of violence is described by Chomsky in a way that partly explains why so many people want him left out of any public forum. European and American elites like to think of themselves as the epitome of civilised behaviour. But to understand the background to American military violence Chomsky takes us first to 17th century Europe.

The establishment of the nation-state system was an orgy of mass destruction. Probably 40 per cent of the German population was annihilitated during the wars of the time. This savagery created a culture of violence which with the new technology of violence helped Europe to conquer the rest of the world.

After the Second World War a wave of radical democratic enthusiasm swept over Europe. With the help of US subversion these radical movements were silenced. Yet, reasonable welfare states emerged. At the same time the US took over the role of the leader of the world system. Again, this required the use of violence to crush any opposition. European elites went along with this, enjoying the benefits which came their way in this new setup whilst peace reigned in Western Europe.

Now suddenly the world is in the throes of unpredictable developments. The current financial crisis will fuel deep resentment among Americans who even before this dramatic turn of events have been deeply unhappy about their political class and the corporate system. More Americans than ever before in the country's history have to use food stamps to survive. Veteran journalist Chris Hedges writes from Trenton, New Jersey: "The swelling numbers waiting outside homeless shelters and food pantries around the country, many of them elderly or single women with children, have grown by at least 30 percent since the summer. General welfare recipients receive $140 a month in cash and another $140 in food stamps. This is all many in Trenton and other impoverished areas have to live on." (Starving for Change, truthdig, 24 November 2008)

In his book, Vicenç Navarro, who is an expert on the US health ystem, points out that every year one hundred thousand Americans die because of the lack of health care. And this is the richest country in the world. Sooner rather than later Barack Obama will have to decide whose side he is on: ordinary Americans or the corporate world. In a recent article Chomsky writes: "Preliminary results indicate that by the end, Obama's campaign contributions, by industry, were concentrated among Law Firms (including lobbyists) and financial institutions. The investment theory of politics suggests some conclusions about the guiding policies of the new administration." (The Election, Economy, War, and Peace, ZNet, 25 November 2008)


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