“Speaking Truth to Power Makes No Sense”

Noam Chomsky, The Common Good  [1998]

Brandon,

I first read this collection of interviews between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian twenty years ago. The interviews were from the second half of the nineties, the Clinton years when the UN/US sanctions on Iraq were decimating thousands of Iraqi children each month and people like Madeline Albright justified it.  The following are some passages  worth understanding…

Mark

Truth to Power:  “Speaking truth to power makes no sense.  There’s no point in speaking the truth to Henry Kissinger — he knows it already.  Instead, speak truth to the powerless — or, better, with the powerless.  Then they’ll act to dismantle illegitimate power.” 158 

Prophets:  “True prophets like Amos — ‘dissident intellectuals,’ in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of.  Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert.  The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either.  Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.”  148

Looking for the Magic Answer:  “When I speak to elite audiences, I constantly get asked, What’s the solution.  If I say obvious things like Pick your cause and go volunteer for a group that’s working on it, that’s never the answer they want.   They  want some kind of magic key that will solve everything quickly, overwhelmingly and effectively.  There are no such solutions.  There are only the kind that people  are working on in Massachusetts towns, in self-governing villages in India, at the Jesuit Center in Colombia.” 152

Illusion of class harmony:  Like in the faculty departments, “we’re all in this together.”

Business Week Survey:  “95% of the people — there’s a number you almost never see in a poll — said corporations have a responsibility to reduce profit for the benefit of their workers and the communities they do business in.  70% thought businesses have too much power, and roughly the same number thought business has gained more by deregulation and similar measures than the general population has.”  61 Read the rest of this entry »

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