The first half of my interview with world-renowned political activist, linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher author, MIT Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky.
Photo by Rob Kall
Thanks to Don Caldarazzo for help editing the transcript.
And here's the link to the audio podcast: Exclusive: Rob Kall Interviews Noam Chomsky: America in Decline, US Operating Procedures for Blocking Democracy
Rob: "Station ID (WNJC 1360 AM, the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show)" My guest tonight is one I'm very excited to have back - he's a world renowned political activist, linguist, cognitive scientist, philosopher, author; he's MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. Welcome to the show!
Noam: Good to be with you.
Rob: Now, we met earlier this month in Princeton. You were speaking with Amy Goodman at the Coalition for Peace event, and I wanted to start out asking you about one thing you talked about. You compared objectivity versus reality. Would you go into that a bit?
Noam: Well, I was using the term "objectivity" with a touch of irony. There is a concept of objectivity that's taught in journalism schools and that editors and journalists subscribe to, and they say so. Objectivity means "reporting accurately what is going on inside the beltway, within power circles." If you report that accurately, then you are objective. If you discuss it, or critically analyze it, that is subjective. If you talk about things that aren't discussed within the beltway, that's biased and subjective. In fact, it came up pretty recently. There was a little item -- do you know the group called Fairness and Accuracy in Media, FAIR? They have a journal called Extra, which is a journal of critical media analysis. That had an interesting little clip there, where they quoted the managing editor of (I figure in) one of the main journals - either the Washington Post or the New York Times - who was criticizing a writer or reporter, because the writer had reported this famous speech of Paul Ryan's, which was full of the most outrageous fabrications. And she commented on the fabrications and corrected them, and his point was that no that's not what you're supposed to do. You're just supposed to report it "objectively." And then, they also quoted one of the main reporters for the New York Times, Ethan Brenner, who agreed and said, "Yeah, that's our job: to be 'objective.'" So: don't critically analyze what is said; that's for columnists, and don't report things that aren't discussed. And there's plenty that isn't discussed, because it's outside the accepted framework of dominant doctrines. So that's the tactic of "objectivity." It's a mode of -- I wouldn't say censorship - but of molding the world, so that it looks the way it's supposed to from the perspective of the powerful. The reality is what's actually happening out there, and objectivity and reality can be quite different.
Rob: And that really brings us to this whole challenge of the state of the media today. What's your take on where the media is now, and where it could be?
Noam: Well, there's plenty to criticize about the media, but my own view is they are probably better than they were forty or fifty years ago in this regard. The media, like the rest of the country, were influenced by the activism of the 1960s, which had quite a significant role in just civilizing the country on lots of issues. That's had a -- first of all lots of people in the media now, say reporters and others, that have lived through those experiences - but it just also just generally changed the tenor of conversations of things. Now, there's been a big regression and a reaction against it, but nevertheless it made significant and lasting changes, and that means that things are discussed now that were kind of off the spectrum years ago. So, in some respects, I think the media have actually improved, but the major issues remain. One of them is what we just were discussing: there is a strong tendency, in fact an overwhelming one (even an ideology) about keeping to the kinds of things that are discussed and debated within systems of power, and marginalizing things that are outside. That's very significant, in fact both in domestic and international politics. So take domestic affairs; if you've read this morning's newspaper, the lead story in the New York Times about how difficult it's going to cut entitlements, which has to be done to reduce the deficit, because people are just resisting it. Well, you know, there are things to be said about that, which aren't discussed within the beltway. For one thing, for quite a long time and by large margins, the general population - it's pretty much across the board, all the way over to Tea Party people - think that the biggest problem that we face is a lack of jobs, and that that's much more important than the deficit. And, in fact, I think they're right. I mean, even the Business Press agrees with that, plenty of economists do.
But the banks and financial institutions, investors, they are interested in the deficit. So, therefore, that's the focus of attention. Almost all the discussion inside the beltway, metaphorically, is about the deficit -- "we gotta do something about the deficit." Although, in fact, I think the population is right: it is a relatively minor problem. Furthermore, if you're concerned about the deficit, you can also turn to public opinion and ask what people think about it. They have opinions. For example, they've been well studied, the majority think we ought to cut military spending. We should sharply raise taxes on the rich, who are very much under-taxed. We should not touch so-called entitlements (Medicare and Social Security) in fact, but strengthen them. And those are ways to deal with the deficit. That's almost the opposite of what is being discussed and proposed. And, in fact, there's a further point which people don't discuss, probably because they don't know the facts, but the deficit, such as it is, could be overcome if we move to a rational healthcare system.
The US healthcare system is an international scandal. It's about twice the per capita cost of comparable countries, and there are relatively poor outcomes. And the reason traces mostly to the fact, not entirely, but mostly to the fact that it's largely privatized and pretty much unregulated. And that leads to huge administrative expenses on other non-health expenses, like advertising profits, and so on; it leads to cherry picking, all kinds of things. So it's a highly inefficient system, and it's been [proved] - with pretty good evidence, some good economists worked on this, especially Dean Baker - that if we move to just the kind of healthcare system that other industrial countries have, it would wipe out the deficit. Now, that's not discussed, and instead what is being discussed are ways to make the system worse! So, for example, one of the proposals about cutting down healthcare costs is to raise the eligibility age for Medicare in a couple of years. Well, what does that do? That shifts people from a fairly efficient government run program -- Medicare - to a highly inefficient private program, much more expensive, namely, private insurance. So that's a way of making the problem worse! Of course it makes it look a little better from the point of view of the power system, because it shifts the cost from government to individuals; individuals are still paying more, just themselves, but the total healthcare expenses go up.
These things just aren't discussed. You don't read about them in the media, because they're not discussed within the beltway, and they're opposed by major centers of power. I mean, for example, for a long time there has been strong popular support -- often majority support, large majority support - for some kind of national health care system. But when that's ever discussed, it was called "politically impossible" or something like that. I mean, the big financial institutions don't like it. Well, you know, that's on domestic issues, the major domestic issues. On international affairs it's the same: lots of critical things either are not discussed, or are discussed through such a distorting lens that you just can't get a realistic picture of it. This is part of almost the institutional structure of the media.
Rob: We have a media and a government and a political system that has become corporatized. It's more of a duopoly than separate different parties anymore. And there are a lot of people who see that we're almost -- humanity is facing a looming collapse. In the Atlantic interview that you did with Yarden Katz, you talked about -- was it the Atlantic interview? No, it was with Amy Goodman -- you talked about how intelligence could be lethal. And I wonder: do you see a way out? Do you see a future for our economics that goes beyond the corporatist system that we have now, in any kind of an economy, whether it is Capitalism or something else, that has light at the end of the tunnel for the Middle Class or for humanity even? You brought up the issue of intelligence being lethal in terms of Global Warming, and how all these different leaders are making things worse rather than better.
Noam: Well, I don't recall the exact discussion, but if I was talking about intelligence being a lethal property it was probably in the context of"
Rob: Ernst Mayer! Ernst Mayer was who/
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