[sixties-l] [Fwd: Zinn and Chomsky / Election and Overcoming Orthodoxies / Dec 16]

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: 12/16/00

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    Subject: ZNet Commentary / Zinn and Chomsky / Election and Overcoming
    Orthodoxies / Dec 16
    Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 19:46:46 -0800
    By Howard Zinn
    As the prize of the presidency lurched wildly back and forth in the last
    days of the year, with the entire nation hypnotized by the spectacle, I
    a vision. I saw the Titanic churning through the waters of the North
    Atlantic toward an iceberg looming in the distance, while passengers and
    crew were totally concentrated on a tennis game taking place on deck.
    It is not just a phenomenon of this particular election. In our
    election-obsessed culture, everything else going on in the world - war,
    hunger, official brutality, sickness, the violence of everyday life for
    numbers of people - is swept out of the way, while the media insist we
    every twist and turn of what candidates say and do. Thus, the
    crowds out the meaningful, and this is very useful for those who do not
    citizens to look beneath the surface of the system.
    In the shadows, and hidden by the dueling of the candidates (if you can
    it a duel when the opponents thrust and lunge with plastic swords) are
    issues of race and class, war and peace, which the public is not
    supposed to
    think about, as the media experts pontificate endlessly about who is
    winning, and throw numbers in our faces like handfuls of sand.
    For instance, as the Gore-Bush contest rose to a frenzy, the media kept
    referring -- to the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876. The education that
    public received about this was typical of what passes for history in our
    schools, our newspapers, our television sets. That is, they learned how
    Founding Fathers, in writing the Constitution, gave the state
    the power to choose Electors, who would then choose the President.
    We were told how rival sets of electors were chosen in three states, and
    Samuel Tilden, the Democrat, had 250,000 more popular votes than the
    Republican , Rutherford Hayes, and needed only one more electoral vote
    win the Presidency. But when a special commission, with a bare
    majority, was set up by Congress to decide the dispute, it gave all
    states to Hayes and thus made him President.
    This was very interesting and informative about the mechanics of
    presidential elections and the peculiar circumstances of that one . But
    told us nothing about how that "Compromise of 1877", worked out between
    Republicans and Democrats in private meetings, doomed blacks in the
    South to
    semi-slavery. It told us nothing about how the armies that once fought
    Confederacy would be withdrawn from the South and sent West to drive
    from their ancestral lands. It told us nothing about how Democrats and
    Republicans, while fencing with one another in election campaigns, would
    join in subjecting working people all over the country to ruthless
    power, how the United States army would be used to smash the great
    strikes of 1877.
    These were the facts of race and class and Western expansion concealed
    behind the disputed election of 1877. The pretense in disputed elections
    that the great conflict is between the two major parties. The reality is
    that there is an unannounced war between those parties and large numbers
    Americans who are represented by neither party.
    The ferocity of the contest for the presidency in the current election
    conceals the agreement between both parties on fundamentals. Their
    disagreement is about who will preside over maintaining the status quo.
    Whoever wins, there may be skirmishes between the major parties, but no
    monumental battles, despite the inflated rhetoric of the campaign. The
    evidence for this statement lies in eight years of the Clinton-Gore
    administration, whose major legislative accomplishments were part of the
    Republican agenda.
    Both Gore and Bush have been in agreement on the continued corporate
    of the economy. Neither has had a plan for free national health care,
    extensive low-cost housing, for dramatic changes in environmental
    for a minimum income for all Americans, for a truly progressive income
    to diminish the huge gap between rich and poor. Both have supported the
    death penalty and the growth of prisons. Both believe in a large
    establishment, in land mines and nuclear weapons and the cruel use of
    sanctions against the people of Cuba and Iraq. Both supported the wars
    against Panama, Iraq, and Yugoslavia.
    Perhaps when the furore dies down over who really won the election ,
    the tennis match is over and we get over the disappointment that our guy
    he really our guy?) didn't win, we will finally break the hypnotic spell
    the game and look around. We may then think about whether the ship is
    down and if there are enough lifeboats, and what should we do about all
    This is not the Titanic. With us, there is still time to change.
    Overcoming Orthodoxies
    Part Two of interview excerpts
    By Noam Chomsky
    David Barsamian: I want to come back to the idea of what individuals can
    in overcoming orthodoxies. Steve Biko, the South African activist who
    murdered by the apartheid regime while he was in custody, once said, The
    most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the
    He^s quite accurate. Most oppression succeeds because its legitimacy is
    internalized. That^s true of the most extreme cases. Take, say, slavery.
    wasn^t easy to revolt if you were a slave, by any means. But if you look
    over the history of slavery, it was in some sense just recognized as
    the way things are. Well do the best we can under this regime. Another
    example, also contemporary (its estimated that there are some 26 million
    slaves in the world), is women^s rights. There the oppression is
    internalized and accepted as legitimate and proper. Its still true
    but its been true throughout history. That^s true in case after case.
    working people. At one time in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, a
    hundred a fifty years ago, working for wage labor was considered not
    different from chattel slavery. That was not an unusual position. That
    the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which Northern
    went to fight in the Civil War. Were against chattel slavery and wage
    slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you^re
    to do it temporarily, but that^s only on the way to becoming a free
    a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man
    you^re not compelled to take orders from others. That^s an Enlightenment
    ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There
    were workers in Lowell, Mass., a couple of miles from where we are. You
    could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that
    time. It took a long time to drive into people's heads the idea that it
    legitimate to rent yourself. Now thats unfortunately pretty much
    So that^s internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks its legitimate to
    be a
    wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have
    intolerable to people in the mills, lets say, a hundred and fifty years
    So that^s again internalizing oppression, and its an achievement.
    Take the demonstrations that are going on right now in Washington, which
    good ones, about canceling the debt. That^s right. They should cancel
    debt. But its also worth recognizing that --- a lot of people know this
    the form of the protests and the objections on the part of the poor
    countries are internalizing a form of oppression that they should not be
    accepting. They are saying that the debt exists. You cant cancel it
    it exists. Does it exist? Well, it doesn^t exist as an economic fact. It
    exists as an ideological construction. OK, that^s internalizing
    You can go on and on. Just as Biko says, its a tremendous achievement of
    oppressors to instill their assumptions as the perspective from which
    look at the world. Sometimes its done extremely consciously, like the
    relations industry. Sometimes it^s just kind of routine, the way you
    To liberate yourselves from those preconceptions and perspectives is to
    a long step towards overcoming oppression.
    DB: Discuss the role of intellectuals in this equation. There^s a lot of
    talk today about public intellectuals. Does that term mean anything to
    That^s an old idea. Public intellectuals are the ones who are supposed
    present the values and principles and understanding. They^re the ones
    took pride in driving the U.S. into war during World War I. They were
    intellectuals. Notice who they were. Walter Lippmann was a public
    intellectual. On the other hand, Eugene Debs wasn^t a public
    In fact, he was in jail. A very vindictive Woodrow Wilson refused to
    him amnesty when everyone else was getting Christmas amnesty. Why was
    Debs not a public intellectual? The reason is, he was an intellectual
    happened to be on the side of poor people and working people. He was the
    leading figure in the U.S. labor movement. He was a presidential
    despite the fact that he was running outside the main political system
    got plenty of votes. He was telling the truth about the First World War,
    which is why he was thrown into jail. Take a look back at what he was
    saying, its quite accurate. So he was thrown into jail and wasnt a
    intellectual. On the other hand, Walter Lippmann, who was part of the
    propaganda agency, the Creel Commission, and later was explaining in his
    progressive essays on democracy how the bewildered herd have to be
    spectators, not participants, and so on, he is a public intellectual, in
    fact, one of the leading public intellectuals of the U.S. in the
    century. That^s rather general. Public intellectuals are the ones who
    acceptable within some mainstream spectrum as presenting ideas, as
    up for values. Sometimes what they do is not bad, maybe even very good.
    again, take humanitarian intervention, take a look. The people who do
    accept the principles, the assumptions, they rarely qualify as public
    intellectuals, no matter how famous they are. Take, say, Bertrand
    who by any standard is one of the leading intellectual figures of the
    twentieth century. He was one of the very few leading intellectual
    who opposed World War I. He was vilified, and in fact ended up in jail,
    his counterparts in Germany. From the 1950s, particularly in the U.S.,
    was bitterly denounced and attacked as a crazy old man who was
    anti-American. Why? The reason was that he was standing up for the
    principles that other intellectuals also accepted, but he was doing
    something about it. For example, he and Einstein, to take another
    intellectual, essentially agreed on things like nuclear weapons. They
    thought it might well destroy the species. They signed similar
    statements, I
    think even joint statements. But then they reacted differently. Einstein
    went back to his office in the Institute for Advanced Studies at
    and worked on unified field theories. Russell, on the other hand, went
    in the streets. He was part of the demonstrations against nuclear
    He became quite active in opposing the Vietnam War early, at a time when
    there was virtually no public opposition. He also tried to do something
    about that. He also tried to do something about that, demonstrations,
    organized a tribunal. So he was bitterly denounced. On the other hand,
    Einstein was a saintly figure. They essentially had the same positions,
    Einstein didn^t rattle too many cages. Thats pretty common. Russell was
    viciously attacked in the New York Times and by Dean Rusk and others in
    sixties. He wasn^t counted as a public intellectual, just a crazy old
    There^s a good book on this published by South End Press called Bertrand
    Russell^s America.
    DB: You make yourself available for various groups all over the country,
    from the East Timor Action Network to an upcoming talk you^re going to
    for the Boston Mobilization for Survival. You made that choice pretty
    on. Why don^t other intellectuals get engaged politically?
    Individuals have their own reasons. Presumably the reason most dont is
    because they think they^re doing the right thing. That is, I^m sure that
    overwhelmingly people who are supportive of atrocious acts of power and
    privilege do believe and convince themselves that that^s the right thing
    do, which is extremely easy. In fact, a standard technique of belief
    formation is to do something in your own interest and then to construct
    framework in which it follows that that^s the right thing to do. We all
    this from our own experience. Nobody^s saintly enough that they haven^t
    that illegitimately any number of times from when you stole a toy from
    younger brother when you were seven years old until the present. We
    manage to construct our own framework that says, Yes, that was the right
    thing to do and its going to be good. Sometimes the conclusions are
    accurate. Its not always self-deception. But its very easy to fall into
    self-deception when its advantageous for yourself to do so. Its not
    DB? And when you have the culture and the media celebrating.
    It is advantageous. If you convince yourself, or just maybe cynically
    to play the game by the official rules, you benefit, a lot. On the other
    hand, if you don^t play the game by those rules and you, say, follow
    Bertrand Russell^s path, you^re a target. In some states you may get
    If its a U.S. client state, you get killed. We^ve just passed the
    anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El
    He was a conservative archbishop who tried to be a voice for the
    So he was assassinated by U.S.-run forces. The anniversary just passed,
    incidentally. David Peterson, who is an invaluable resource, did a
    analysis that was kind of interesting. Virtually nothing in the
    national press. Practically the only place where the assassination was
    reported was Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times had reports. Los Angeles
    happens to have the biggest Salvadoran community in the country, and
    Archbishop Romero is kind of a saint, so they had a couple of articles.
    basically silence.
    A few months earlier, last November was the tenth anniversary of the
    of six leading Latin American Jesuit intellectuals by the U.S.-run
    armed and trained by the U.S., in El Salvador. This was part of a
    large-scale massacre, but they happened to be murdered with particular
    brutality. If say, Vaclev Havel and half a dozen other Czech
    had had their brains blown out by Russian-run forces ten years ago, the
    anniversary would have been noted, and somebody would know their names.
    this case, David Peterson did a media analysis, and there was
    nothing. Literally their names were not mentioned in the U.S. press. In
    addition to the six Jesuit intellectuals, their housekeeper and her
    fifteen-year-old daughter were murdered.
    And hundreds of other people were killed whose names you never heard of.
    is intriguing, instructive, that no one knows the names of the
    Salvadoran intellectuals. If you ask well-educated public intellectuals
    your well-educated friends, Can you name any of the Salvadoran
    who were murdered by U.S.-run forces, its very rare that anyone will
    know a
    name. These were distinguished people, one was the rector of the leading
    university. Some people know. The people who were involved in Central
    American solidarity know. But they^re not well known. Nothing like what
    know about East European dissidents. They^re well known. Everybody knows
    their names and reads their books and praises them. They in fact
    repression. But in the post-Stalin period nothing remotely like the
    treatment that^s regularly meted out to dissidents in the Western
    Its a very enlightening reaction.
    Actually, the story gets worse. Right after they were murdered, Vaclav
    came to Washington and gave a rousing address to a joint session of
    where he praised the defenders of freedom, his words, who were in fact
    responsible for just murdering six of his counterparts. That led to a
    euphoric reaction, rapture in the U.S. Editorials in the Washington Post
    about, Why cant we have magnificent intellectuals like that who come and
    praise us as defenders of freedom. Anthony Lewis wrote about how we live
    a romantic age. That^s quite interesting. Then we passed the tenth
    anniversary and of course its forgotten. The twentieth anniversary of
    Archbishop Romero, forgotten.
    What happens if you^re a dissident intellectual in our domains? In the
    societies, the U.S. and England, you don^t get murdered. If you^re a
    leader, you might get murdered, but for relatively privileged people
    secure from violent repression. On the other hand, there are other
    that plenty of people don^t like. In fact, about the only way to
    continue to
    do it is not to care. For example, if you have contempt for the
    intellectual community and you really don^t care, then you^re safe. On
    other hand, if you want to be accepted by them, if you want to be
    and have your books reviewed and told how brilliant you are and move on
    get great jobs, its not advisable to be a dissident. Its not impossible,
    in fact the system has enough looseness in it so that it can be done,
    but it
    is not easy. Both of us can name plenty of people who were simply cut
    out of
    the system because their work was too honest. That blocks access. It s
    like having your brains blown out or being thrown in jail, but its not
    The Barsamian/Chomsky entire interview will appear in an upcoming South
    Press volume later this coming year.

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