Ronald Reagan and the Future of Democracy
I think the Reagan administration was sort of a peek into the future. It’s a very natural move. Imagine yourself working in some public relations office where your job is to help corporations make sure that the annoying public does not get in the way of policy-making. Here’s a brilliant thought that nobody ever had before, so far as I know: let’s make elections completely symbolic activities. The population can keep voting, we’ll give them all the business, they’ll have electoral campaigns, all the hoopla, two candidates, eight candidates-but the people they’re voting for will then just be expected to read off a teleprompter and they won’t be expected to know anything except what somebody tells them, and maybe not even that.
I mean, when you read off a teleprompter-I’ve done it actually-it’s a very odd experience: it’s like the words go into your eyes and out your mouth, and they don’t pass through your mind in between. And when Reagan does it, they have it set up so there are two or three of them around, so his head can keep moving and it appears as though he’s looking around at the audience, but really he’s just switching from one teleprompter to another. Well, if you can get people to vote for something like that, you’ve basically done it-you’ve removed them from decision-making. It won’t work unless you have an obedient media which will fall over themselves with what a wonderful, charismatic figure he is-you know, “the most popular President in history,” “he’s creating a revolution,” “the most amazing thing since ice cream,” and “how can we criticize him, everybody loves him?” And you have to pretend that nobody’s laughing, and so on. But if you can do that, then you’d have gone a very long way towards marginalizing the public. And I think we probably got there in the 1980s pretty close to there, anyway.
In all of the books that have come out by people in the Reagan administration, it’s been extremely difficult to hide the fact that Reagan didn’t have the foggiest idea what was going on. Whenever he wasn’t properly programmed, the things that would come out of his mouth were kind of like they weren’t lies really, they were kind of like the babbling of a child. If a child babbles, it’s not lies, it’s just sort of on some other plane. To be able to lie, you have to have a certain degree of competence, you have to know what truth is. And there didn’t seem to be any indication that that was the case here.
Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky
"Over time, as societies became freer and the resort to state violence more constrained, the urge to devise sophisticated methods of control of attitudes and opinion has only grown. It is natural that the immense PR industry should have been created in the most free of societies, the United States and Great Britain. The first modern propaganda agency was the British Ministry of Information a century ago, which secretly defined its task as “to direct the thought of most of the world” — primarily progressive American intellectuals, who had to be mobilized to come to the aid of Britain during World War I."
"Within the reigning social order, the general public must remain an object of manipulation, not a participant in thought, debate, and decision."
Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies
"Moreover, the institutions of the transnational state largely serve other masters, as state power typically does; in this case, the rising transnational corporations in the domains of finance and other services, manufacturing, media and communications—institutions that are totalitarian in internal structure, quite unaccountable, absolutist in character, and immense in power. Within them, a participant takes a place in a fairly rigid hierarchy of domination, implementing orders from above, transmitting them downwards. Those outside may try to rent themselves to the masters and may purchase what they produce, but few other options are open to the great mass of the population."
World orders, old and new - By Noam Chomsky
"In fact, power is very highly concentrated, decision-making is highly concentrated in small interpenetrating elites, ultimately based on ownership of the private economy in large measure, but also in related ideological and political and managerial elites. Since that’s the way the society effectively functions, it has to have political theology that explains that that’s the way it ought to function, which means that you have to establish the pretense that the participants of that elite know what they are doing, in our interest, and have the kind of understanding and access to information that is denied the rest of us, so that we poor slobs ought to just watch, not interfere. Maybe we can choose one or another of them every few years, but it’s their job to manage things, not ours."
"But we can - and should - certainly begin pointing out that corporations are fundamentally illegitimate, and that they don’t have to exist at all in their modern form. Just as other oppressive institutions - slavery, say, or royalty - have been changed or eliminated, so corporate power can be changed or eliminated. What are the limits? There aren’t any. Everything is ultimately under public control."
How the World Works - Noam Chomsky
"Getting money out of politics is a very crucial matter; it has been for a long time. It’s gotten much more extreme now. For a long time, elections have just been public relations extravaganzas where people are mobilized every four years to get excited to go push a button and then go home and forget about it."
Occupy - Noam Chomsky
"If you go to the Third World, the numbers are fantastic. So for example, another UNESCO report estimated that in Africa about half-a-million children die every year simply from debt service. Not from the whole array of “reforms,” just debt service. About eleven million children are estimated to die every year from easily treatable diseases. Most of them could be overcome by a couple of cents’ worth of materials. But the economists tell us that to do this would be interference with the market system. It’s not new. It’s very reminiscent of British economists during the Irish famine in the mid-nineteenth century, when economic theory dictated that famine-struck Ireland must export food to Britain, which it did, right
through the Irish famine, and should not be given food aid because that would violate the sacred principles of political economy. These principles typically have this curious property of benefiting the wealthy and harming the poor."
Keeping the Rabble in Line - Noam Chomsky
"For global planners, much of the Third World has been assigned the role of service to the industrial capitalist centers. Its various regions must “fulfill their functions” as sources of raw materials and markets, and must be “exploited” for the reconstruction and development of Western capitalism, as secret documents frankly explain."
"it’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations. What kind of freedom is there inside a corporation? They’re totalitarian institutions - you take orders from above and maybe give them to people below you. There’s about as much freedom as under Stalinism."
The principle is that the powerful and the privileged have to be able to do what they want
In general the principle of the World Trade Organization, the primary principle, and related treaties, is that sovereignty and democratic rights have to be subordinated to the rights of investors. In practice that means the rights of the huge immortal persons, the private tyrannies to which people must be subordinated. These are among the issues that led to the remarkable events in Seattle. But in some ways, a lot of ways, the conflict between popular sovereignty and private power was illuminated more sharply a couple of months after Seattle, in Montreal, where an ambiguous settlement was reached on the so-called “biosafety protocol.” There the issue was very clearly drawn. Quoting the New York Times, a compromise was reached “after intense negotiations that often pitted the United States against almost everyone else” over what’s called “the precautionary principle.” What’s that? Well the chief negotiator for the European Union described it this way: “Countries must be able to have the freedom, the sovereign right, to take precautionary measures with regard” to genetically altered seed, microbes, animals, crops that they fear might be harmful. The United States, however, insisted on World Trade Organization rules. Those rules are that an import can be banned only on the basis of scientific evidence.
Notice what’s at stake here. The question that’s at stake is whether people have the right to refuse to be experimental subjects. So, to personalize it, suppose the biology department at the university were to walk in and tell you, “You folks have to be experimental subjects in an experiment we’re carrying out, where we’re going to stick electrodes in your brain and see what happens. You can refuse, but only if you provide scientific evidence that it’s going to harm you.” Usually you can’t provide scientific evidence. The question is, do you have a right to refuse? Under World Trade Organization rules, you don’t. You have to be experimental subjects. It’s a form of what Edward Herman has called “producer sovereignty.” The producer reigns; consumers have to somehow defend themselves. That works domestically, too, as he pointed out. It’s not the responsibility, say, of chemical and pesticide industries to prove that what they’re putting into the environment is safe. It’s the responsibility of the public to prove scientifically that it’s unsafe, and they have to do this through underfunded public agencies that are susceptible to industry influence through lobbying and other pressures.
That was the issue at Montreal, and a kind of ambiguous settlement was reached. Notice, to be clear, there was no issue of principle. You can see that by just looking at the lineup. The United States was on one side, and it was joined, in fact, by some other countries with a stake in biotechnology and high-tech agro-export, and on the other side was everybody else-those who didn’t expect to profit by the experiment. That was the lineup, and that tells you exactly how much principle was involved. For similar reasons, the European Union favors high tariffs on agricultural products, just as the United States did 40 years ago, but no longer-and not because the principles have changed; just because power has changed.
There is an overriding principle. The principle is that the powerful and the privileged have to be able to do what they want (of course, pleading high motives).
Because elections are carefully contrived so that they are like selling toothpaste. In fact, they’re run by the same people who sell toothpaste. I mean when you turn on an ad on television, you don’t expect to get any information. You expect deception. That’s the point. Only economists talk about markets. Business can’t tolerate markets. They don’t want markets in which informed consumers make rational choices. What they want is deluded consumers who will make irrational choices. That’s what hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising are spent on. You don’t get any information about the product.
“But what happens when the same industry sells candidates? Exactly the same thing. I mean, about 10 percent of the crop of voters knew what the stand of the candidates was on issues. What they knew is the delusionary imagery that was created. So Bush is created to be an ordinary guy with his sleeves rolled up and you could have a drink with him in a bar. My guess is he’s taught to make those mispronunciations and grammatical errors; I doubt that he talked like that at Yale. He’s probably taught that way so that ‘them liberal intellectuals’ would make fun of him and then they can say, oh yeah, he’s an ordinary guy just like you, going off to his ranch. That makes him about as realistic as the next ad you could see on television for a lifestyle report.
"Take, say, the invasion of Iraq again. We’re told that they didn’t find weapons of mass destruction. Well, that’s not exactly correct. They did find weapons of mass destruction, namely, the ones that had been sent to Saddam by the United States, Britain, and others through the 1980s. A lot of them were still there. They were under control of U.N. inspectors and were being dismantled."