FOUR PRINCIPLES OF AN OPEN WORLD
Bringing the Third World Home
from “Understanding Power” by Noam Chomsky
WOMAN: What would have to happen for people to be able to do more of the real work of society—like supporting each other and educating children—instead of just spending our whole lives working at lame jobs for corporations?
Actually, a lot of countries tend to emphasize those things, even today— we don’t have to look very far for models. For example, take Western Eu- rope: those are societies not very different from ours, they have the same corporate-run economy, the same sort of limited political system, but they just happen to pursue somewhat different social policies, for various histor- ical reasons. So Germany has a kind of social contract we don’t have—one of the biggest unions there just won a 35-hour work-week, for example.1 In the Netherlands, poverty among the elderly has gone down to flat zero, and among children it’s 4 percent, almost nothing. In Sweden, mothers and fa- thers both get substantial parental leave to take care of their children, like a year or something—because taking care of children is considered something that has value in that society, unlike in the United States, where the leadership elements hate families. I mean, [politicians] may talk about supporting “family values,” but they actually want families destroyed—because families are not rational from the point of view of profit-making.
So even within the range of existing societies set up almost exactly like ours, there are plenty of other social policies you could have—and I think our system could tolerate those things too, it really just depends if there’s enough pressure to achieve them.
Actually, you might want to take a look at an interesting volume published recently by U.N.I.C.E.F. [the United Nations Children’s Fund], about treatment of children in the rich countries—it’s yet to be reviewed in the New York Times, or anywhere else in the United States, but it’s really quite revealing. It was written by a very good American economist named Sylvia Ann Hewlett, and she identifies two basic patterns of treatment, a “Continental-European/Japanese” model and an “Anglo-American” model—which just are radically different. Her conclusion is, the Continental-European/Japanese pattern has improved the status of children and families; the Anglo-American pattern has been what she calls “a war” against children and families. And that’s particularly been true in the last twenty years, because the so-called “conservatives” who took over in the 1980s, aside from their love of torture and misery abroad, also happen to be passionately opposed to family values and the rights of children, and have carried out social policies which have destroyed them.
Well, that’s just the wrong story for the New York Times—so that study never gets reviewed. Instead what the Times editors devote the cover-story of their Book Review to is another extremely deep problem the United States is facing—in case you aren’t aware of it, you’d really better read this. We’re facing the problem that “bad genes” are taking over the United States—and part of the proof of that is that scores on S.A.T.s and I.Q. tests have been steadily declining in recent years, children just aren’t doing as well as they used to.
Well, somebody who’s really unsophisticated might think that the prob- lem could have something to do with social policies that have driven 40 percent of the children in New York City below the poverty line, for example—but that issue never arises for the New York Times.5 Instead the prob- lem is bad genes. The problem is that blacks, who evolved in Africa, evolved in kind of a hostile climate, so therefore they evolved in such a way that black mothers don’t nurture their children—and also they breed a lot, they all breed like rabbits. And the effect is, the gene pool in the United States is being contaminated, and now it’s starting to show up in standardized test scores.
This is real hard science.
The Times’s review starts off by saying, well, maybe the facts in these books aren’t quite right, but nonetheless, one thing is clear: these are seri- ous issues, and any democratic society which ignores them does so “at its peril.” On the other hand, a society doesn’t ignore “at its peril” social policies that are depriving 40 percent of the children in New York City of the minimal material conditions which would offer them any hope of ever escaping the misery, destitution and violence that surround them, and which have driven them down to levels of malnutrition, disease and suffer- ing where you can predict perfectly well what their scores are going to be on the “I.Q.” tests you give them—none of that you even mention.
In fact, according to the last statistics I saw about this, 30 million people in the United States are suffering hunger. 30 million is a lot of people, you know, and that means plenty of children. In the 1980s, hunger declined in general throughout the entire world, with two exceptions: sub-Saharan Africa and the United States—the poorest part of the world and the richest part of the world, there hunger increased. And as a matter of fact, between 1985 and 1990, hunger in the United States increased by 50 percent— it took a couple years for the Reagan “reforms” to start taking hold, but by 1985 they were beginning to have their effects. And there is just over- whelming evidence, in case it’s not obvious from common sense, what the effects of this kind of deprivation are on children—physically, emotion- ally, and mentally. For one thing, it’s well known that neural development simply is reduced by low levels of nutrition, and lack of nurturance in gen- eral. So when kids suffer malnutrition, it has permanent effects on them, it has a permanent effect on their health and lives and minds—they never get over it.
And the growing hunger here isn’t just among children—it’s also been in- creasing among the elderly, to name one group. So as the Wall Street Jour- nal recently pointed out in a front-page story, hunger is “surging” among the elderly: about five million older Americans, about 16 percent of the population over 60, are going hungry, they’re malnourished, many of them are literally starving to death. Now, in the United States we don’t have starvation the way they do in Haiti or Nicaragua or something—but the deprivation is still very real. In many places it’s probably worse than it is in Cuba, say, under the embargo.
And it’s not just hunger: it turns out that contact time between parents and children has declined by about 40 percent in the United States since the 1960s—that means that on average, parents and children have to spend about 10 or 12 hours less time together a week. Alright, the effects of that also are obvious: it means television as supervision, latch-key kids, more violence by children and against children, drug abuse—it’s all perfectly predictable. And this is mostly the result of the fact that today, both parents in a family have to put in 50- or 60-hour work-weeks, with no child-support system around to help them (unlike in other countries), just to make ends meet. And remember, this is in the 1990s, a period when, as Fortune magazine just pointed out, corporate profits are at a record high, and the percentage of corporate income going into payrolls is near a record low— that’s the context in which all of this has been happening.
Well, none of these things are discussed in the New York Times Book Review article either. They are discussed in the U.N.I.C.E.F. book I men- tioned, but the Times chose not to review that one.
So to return to your question, you ask: what would have to happen for us to get social policies different from all of these? I don’t think there’s any rea- son why the “Anglo-American model” Hewlett identifies has to continue— and be extended by things like the Contract With America [a Republican Congressional policy platform launched in 1994] and the Welfare Reform Act [the “Federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” which President Clinton signed in August 1996]. These aren’t laws of nature, after all; they’re social-policy decisions—they can be made differently. There’s a lot of space for changing these things, even in a society with the same corporate control as ours.
But why not ask another question. Why not ask why absolutist organizations have any right to exist in the first place? I mean, why should a cor- poration—technically a fascist organization of enormous power—have any right to tell you what kind of work you’re going to do? Why is that any bet- ter than having a king tell you what kind of work you’re going to do? People fought against that and overthrew it, and we can fight against it again and overthrow it.
There’s plenty of challenging, gratifying, interesting, productive work around for people to do, and there are plenty of people who want to do it— they simply aren’t being allowed that opportunity under the current eco- nomic system. Of course, there’s also plenty of junky work that has to get done too—but in a reasonable society, that work would just be distributed equally among everybody capable of doing it. If you can’t get robots to do it, fine, then you just distribute it equally.
Okay, I think that’s the kind of model we have to try to work towards now—and frankly, I don’t see any reason why that’s an impossible goal.
WOMAN: Mr. Chomsky, I just wanted to say that I saw the New York Times review you were discussing, and I was absolutely appalled by it. If I was a black man in this country, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself— it would just be a burning fire inside, I would feel such rage.
How about if you were a black woman? That article took seriously the idea that black women don’t nurture their children—because they evolved in Africa, where the environment was such-and-such. It was pure racism, something straight out of the Nazis.
But look: it’s really not even worth talking about it. The right way to re- spond is just to ask, what are they doing it for? And they’re doing it for a very simple reason. 30 million people in the country go hungry. 40 percent of the children in New York City, most of them black and Hispanic, live below the poverty line—which means they’re destroyed, okay? And that is the result of very definite social policies that these people are supporting. Well, you want to keep making all your money, but you don’t want to face any of the rest of it, so you need some kind of a cover. And what’s the cover? “Bad genes.” Okay, once you understand what’s really motivating all of this, then at least you’re in a position to deal with it.
The point is, just as it was proper at some point for the Nazis to say, “Jews are a virus that’s destroying our society,” it is now proper for the New York Times to run articles taking seriously the idea that black mothers don’t nur- ture their children, and for the mainstream intellectual culture to pretend that these farcical books on I.Q. have any kind of scientific legitimacy.
But these are such transparent ideological weapons we shouldn’t even waste our time arguing about them. We should just understand them trans- parently for what they are: the product of a real commissar culture that is dedicated to obscuring the most elementary truths about the world, and rich, powerful people trying to justify the fact that they are pursuing social policies which are forcing children to die. It’s understandable why nobody would want to face that—but it’s also clear how we can change it.
Professor Stephen Hawking is backing the academic boycott of Israel by pulling out of a conference hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres in Jerusalem as a protest at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Hawking, 71, the world-renowned theoretical physicist and former Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, had accepted an invitation to headline the fifth annual president’s conference, Facing Tomorrow, in June, which features major international personalities, attracts thousands of participants and this year will celebrate Peres’s 90th birthday.
Hawking is in very poor health, but last week he wrote a brief letter to the Israeli president to say he had changed his mind. He has not announced his decision publicly, but a statement published by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine with Hawking’s approval described it as “his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there”.
Hawking’s decision marks another victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.
In April the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first lecturers’ association in Europe to call for an academic boycott of Israel, and in the United States members of the Association for Asian American Studies voted to support a boycott, the first national academic group to do so.
In the four weeks since Hawking’s participation in the Jerusalem event was announced, he has been bombarded with messages from Britain and abroad as part of an intense campaign by boycott supporters trying to persuade him to change his mind. In the end, Hawking told friends, he decided to follow the advice of Palestinian colleagues who unanimously agreed that he should not attend.
Hawking’s decision met with abusive responses on Facebook, with many commentators focusing on his physical condition, and some accusing him of antisemitism.
By participating in the boycott, Hawking joins a small but growing list of British personalities who have turned down invitations to visit Israel, including Elvis Costello, Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Annie Lennox and Mike Leigh.
However, many artists, writers and academics have defied and even denounced the boycott, calling it ineffective and selective. Ian McEwan, who was awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 2011, responded to critics by saying: “If I only went to countries that I approve of, I probably would never get out of bed … It’s not great if everyone stops talking.”
Noam Chomsky, a prominent supporter of the Palestinian cause, has said that he supports the “boycott and divestment of firms that are carrying out operations in the occupied territories” but that a general boycott of Israel is “a gift to Israeli hardliners and their American supporters”.
Hawking has visited Israel four times in the past. Most recently, in 2006, he delivered public lectures at Israeli and Palestinian universities as the guest of the British embassy in Tel Aviv. At the time, he said he was “looking forward to coming out to Israel and the Palestinian territoriesand excited about meeting both Israeli and Palestinian scientists”.
Since then, his attitude to Israel appears to have hardened. In 2009, Hawking denounced Israel’s three-week attack on Gaza, telling Riz Khan on Al-Jazeera that Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue.”
Israel Maimon, chairman of the presidential conference said: “This decision is outrageous and wrong.
“The use of an academic boycott against Israel is outrageous and improper, particularly for those to whom the spirit of liberty is the basis of the human and academic mission. Israel is a democracy in which everyone can express their opinion, whatever it may be. A boycott decision is incompatible with open democratic discourse.”
In 2011, the Israeli parliament passed a law making a boycott call by an individual or organisation a civil offence which can result in compensation liable to be paid regardless of actual damage caused. It defined a boycott as “deliberately avoiding economic, cultural or academic ties with another person or another factor only because of his ties with the State of Israel, one of its institutions or an area under its control, in such a way that may cause economic, cultural or academic damage”.
• This article was amended on 8 May 2013. The original described Hawking as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. He stepped down in 2009.
Whether the mask is labeled Fascism, Democracy, or Dictatorship of the Proletariat, our great adversary remains the Apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military … ,” Simone Weil wrote. “No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this Apparatus, and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.
A letter written by Tomas Young, US Army Veteran
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.
To read Chris Hedges’ recent interview with Tomas Young, click here.
I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Walking Max to Preschool (April 2013)
I remember living in Swtizerland at the age of 24. I had met a girl named Marie who worked at the same small restaurant as me and one night before going to bed I wrote to her, telling her of a dream I had the night before. I started out the letter by saying that I dreamt it was the year 2000, “when I will be 33 years old”. It’s funny how I hold on to markers and milestones in life and we come back to them and they create some structure and meaning. Well, perhaps there will be something like this in 2013, a year during which I walked my son Max to his preschool. Holding is little hand, walking at a pace slightly faster than his so that I felt at times slightly pulling him along, and then of course wondering what is the rush, and slowing down to enjoy the walk rather than simply getting it over with.
It’s a time that reminds me of being an undergraduate and being aware of the likelihood that I would look back at the chapter with fondness and even some longing. It feels now that we don’t have a whole lot— of course we have material riches beyond the wildest imagination of some…but we live really simply, I think, for American standards. We live in a small, 1300SF home which is pretty small for four people. But I know that families double this size live in boats 1ooSF…so I’ve been spending some time thinking about this… at times I feel absolutely driven to dramatically expand our living arrangements and our income. At other times I bask in the enjoyment of being able to come home after a day of work and watch a movie in our small home… All of this— the back in forth— is meaningless and a waste of energy.
The parts that I remember of the walk are FIRST— that he loves it when I walk with him. Max is like a Cat in that he doesn’t try to let on about how much he loves you… he doesn’t like to seek you out. But he loves being with you and loves you. So to hear him admit that he wants me to walk him to school is kind of a big deal… so it makes it hard not to agree to do it. So that’s the first part of the experience. The second part is helping him get his shoes on, kissing little Sophia before we go… and what does Max normally have on? A little blue windbreaker with a small white graph pattern on it. His orange and dark grey shoes, his little tiny pants and a shirt… and his little mop of dark brown hair… and we’re off.
We head up Eureka Street towards Fern Avenue… we pass by Conrad who wishes Max a good day and to have fun at school…Sometimes Max will say “I’m tired”, and will sit down in the middle of the sidewalk… I’ve come to understand that what this really is is when he doesn’t feel like I’m there or if he and I haven’t gotten through to each other or spent enough time with each other lately. It also happens if my attitude has been off— he will do something like that because he wants to see that I’m OK and so is he. So we continue down Fern Street and in a few more minutes (the whole walk is no more than 5 minutes) we reach the crosswalk leading to the beautiful stone Episcopal church built in 1887. Along the way— and even before the walk begins, Max is negotiating with me how long will I stay once we both get to preschool. “Pause your work”, he’s said now… when he wants us to know that he needs to spend some time with us…
Once in Preschool, I sign in, express some amazement for the paintings being made by Max’s contemporaries, being worked out on easels that a carpenter who knew what he was doing created from scratch in the 1950s. It’s a beautiful place, Max’s preschool. I walk with him down the dirt path from the entrance to the main playing place, where there’s an old twisted dead tree that kids have been playing on for decades, that is smooth and shiny grey from the thousands of little Redlands kids climbing it. After a little while, I’ll tell Max I’ve got to go and I head out. He takes my hand and walks me back up the dirt path to the entrance and then kisses me goodbye. I walk down the road and sometimes he’ll walk the same way on the other side of the metal fence as I walk… saying goodbye to me a dozen times…. other little kids will chime in and say goodbye… and I’m again feeling happy as if life couldn’t be better… A few times, Max has come to a place in the metal fence that surrounds the outdoor playing area which is the last possible space where you can see someone leaving the church, and he’ll tell me, “Goodbye, Daddy!” over and over again.
A Budapest Story
In 1995, I lived in Budapest, Hungary and rented a room in the four bedroom, fifth floor apartment of two retired Hungarians named Erszebet and Deszo Szoverfy both of whom spoke no english. A friend of mine who I recently met helped me look through a newspaper to find rooms for rent, and called the numbers while I listened. “This one sounds good”, she said after calling on the Szoferfys. When they asked my friend that they wanted someone that could speak Hungarian or at least German I told her to say that I spoke German, which I do not, but I needed a place to stay, and believed we would be able to communicate. I went to see the two people, and looked at the room for rent, which looked good but I was not entirely sold and there was a place another friend was going to show me that evening. The three of us walked into the living room in the main apartment and Erszebet asked to see my passport and so I handed it to her. How we communicated at all, I can’t remember. But I left the apartment and somehow they knew that I would call them again in regard to it. In the evening, after looking at this other place far from the center of Budapest, I decided it was not for me, and the friend who I was with named Szabi called the Szoferfys to say I wanted the room. They talked for a bit and finally asked Szabi, “Yes, but who is he?” “He’s from California,” Szabi said. That was good enough for them and I moved in the next day.
The apartment we lived in was a few hundred feet from the Danube River, and the banged-up yellow trolleys #48 and #49 clanged their way passed our apartment. When I was in my room, rarely could I hear the trollies. The sounds I could hear were the faint sound of a radio in the kitchen which was next to my room, or the sound of Erszebet making breakfast. The room faced towards the inside of the apartment building, and a guy and his girlfriend were the only two people who would pass in front of my two tall windows, which were covered by an old, sheer cotton fabric that looked worked by hand. Practically no soul on earth knew I was there. The building was made at the turn of the century and was pock marked from bullet holes and shells during the revolution of 1956. The Szoverfy’s apartment was filled with beautiful antique furniture and beautifully decorated. In the corner of their room and in mine were seven foot high rectangular heaters covered in bright tile that took some time to start heating up the place once you flipped a dial and turned them on, but after that they radiated a warm, wonderful heat in the winter time. The Szoverfy’s were generous and kind and both loved to laugh. I guessed they had seen hard times during the war. I once found a tiny crust of bread that had gone uneaten placed on a small napkin and put in the cubboard— and just the way that nothing was wasted, and the pride and joy Erszebet would have as she showed me the bread and tea in the kitchen I could help myself to. One of the nicest things about living there was a small breakfast that Erszebet or Elizabeth would make for me,which would be ready at a familiar part of the table that became my part of the table. The breakfast was a cup of tea, a small glass of very strong coffee or feketet, some bread, margarine, and honey. And at times, sitting there on a stool with this wonderful breakfast in front of me, and Budapest outside the door, I felt like the luckiest guy on earth. I called the people from whom I rented the room “uncle” and “aunt” and we spoke in sentences made of french, german, hungarian, esperanto, english and hand motions.
It was upon this backdrop of domestic life that one day while walking in the city, I found an art supplies store selling good quality paper for 11 cents for a 3’x4’ sheet. I brought some back home, closed the heavy, tall door to my room and set out the new paper and my materials neatly on the old-style, pale grey carpeted floor. I took off my Swatch watch I had bought in Zurich and put it near the top of the paper. My goal was to make works of art I could see in the greatest museums— each one completed within fifteen minutes. To make collages on the fine paper that told a story of where I was and of the history of the place, I used papers I bought from an antique book store a few blocks from the apartment, a 1913 Hungarian decorative arts magazine, a pre-World War I German journal, maps and train schedules and letters written in 1899 from Vienna to Budapest. I had with me in a large folder paintings and drawings I had made back home in California and other places I had traveled to including New Zealand and the Czech Republic. I cut some of these paintings and drawings up and added them with the old Hungarian and german papers. To this I added gold and silver crepe paper. At the time I was excersizing with a three foot long iron bar I had found while a construction crew was renovating the basement of the apartment building and I got it out and used it to press the collaged pieces firmly onto the paper. I named the works with titles that seemed full of glory and a story: “The Greatest Romantic Picture”, “Ostia Santia in Nice”, and “He Returned”. My friend Melinda found a custom framer who had a tiny shop facing the Danube who framed ten of the 95 works with glass, and a 5’x3’ gold edged wood frame for $30 each. We carried the completed frames back to my apartment a few weeks later and a few weeks later we piled them in my green BMW to Switzerland to sell them. A friend I was tutoring in English told me of an art gallery where he thought the paintings might be exhibited. They entered the gallery and were also put up in auctions and all ten sold to private banks and collectors. Part of art is selling art. I try my best so that someone will want to trade their money— which is a reflection of what they do— for what I do. What were those pictures about which I made in Budapest in that tall ceilinged room? They were about my idea of beauty at that particular time and place. Suddenly there was something of beauty lying on that floor, that was stackable, collectible. And before there was just paints in a box, papers in old journals, some glue stick still waiting to be sold at the corner stationary store. Now there was beauty and a permanent reflection of the moment. A beautiful moment in Budapest, Hungary when I was 28 years old.
A Minute in September