Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review

By Stephen Wilson
[2017 Random House /Penguin , New York]

It felt like the book was disintegrating in my hand. Pages of the paperback
began to slip out . The poor binding was damaged so I discreetly placed
the book back on to the shelf lest I be taken as a vandal or hapless butter
fingers. I felt as if I had committed an act of sacrilege so promised myself
that I 'd buy the book later. The book I had been avid absorbed in was titled
' Who Rules the World, ' by Noam Chomsky. And I was spellbound by the
book. I could hardly put it down .The reason for this is that I discovered
obscure facts and revelations you almost never find in most media outlets
and textbooks. And Chomsky offers a trenchant critique of American domestic
and foreign policy. The account is remarkably lucid .Chomsky offers a clear,
concise and articulate critique of American capitalism which destroys any
last illusions or justification.

I first became aware of Chomsky when I was a psychology student at university.
There we had to learn about his Universal Theory of Grammar . Only later did
I discover he was an anarchist who was also known for his merciless attacks
on capitalism. Then , in 1990, when I interviewed the Scots writer James Kelman
I heard him raving on about him and how he was fond of Chomsky and had attempted
to open up a correspondence with him. One fact which Kelman revealed to me
was how Chomsky stated that there is no correlation between the intelligence of
highly educated people and critical thinking. Chomsky stated that a survey indicated
that most educated people supported the Vietnam war while the less educated were
more inclined to condemn it. This should not astonish us. The present Russian Duma
is full of people who have graduated from Moscow State University and practically all
of them but two , endorsed the Moscow mayor's demolition program. For example,
Vladimir Zhirinovsky is a linguist from Moscow State university but seldom questions
anything or is self-reflective.

In his book, Chomsky writes on how most intellectuals will compromise and collude with
the existing powers in return for protected job security and promotion. An intellectual
brave enough to be outspoken risks being imprisoned , blacklisted or fired from his job.
To do good is to be punished. The recent case of the fired teacher Sarah Chambers
confirms Chomsky's analysis. She was fired for simply doing her job in the best way
she could. I mean it should be accepted as the normal and natural thing to not only be
a good teacher but strive to improve the conditions of teachers, students and the
community as a whole. Her case reminds me of how an English teacher in Moscow
was replaced by a new teacher brought in from England. The students were happy with
their former teacher and did not want a replacement. This angered the administrator who
phoned him up and scolded him with words ; "What have you done to them ? " The exasperated teacher retorted: " I was just trying to do my job ! "

In an interesting chapter on Israel, Chomsky writes on how most intellectuals chose to flatter
a tyrant King Ahab. They were all rewarded for their flattery. In contrast, the outspoken prophet Elijah was persecuted and hounded being described by the king as ' a traitor ' and 'self Jewish hater.' If Elijah was alive today he would also be regarded as 'anti - American '.
It was interesting to hear that Chomsky reveals that the scripts of the 1950's television series on Robin Hood were written by blacklisted Hollywood scriptwriters.In the chapter , Magna Carta, Chomsky describes how a forest brotherhood had to struggle tooth and nail from the landlords to preserve their right to use the forest.

Chomsky undermines any naive presumptions concerning the Oslo Peace process and the
Middle East . The notion that America can be an honest broker strikes him as absurd.On the
contrary, Chomsky points out that for the past forty years America has been the main force
blocking any peaceful settlement. He has no hesitation in describing the American government as 'a terrorist state'. He points to numerous examples of the double standards of American politicians . For example, a Malaysian airliner was shot down over Donbass resulting in the deaths of 298 passengers. Yet Americans have forgotten that their battleship the Vincennes shot down an Iranian 655 airliner. The captain who fired those missiles was not arrested or brought to justice but instead awarded with the Legion of Honor two years after the incident!

When the American president was asked to apologize for this outrage he replied : " I will
never apologize for this whatever the facts '. So why are they so concerned about 'the facts'
in Donbass?

The book is updated with a new chapter attempting to make sense of Trump's victory. Chomsky explains that Trump can rely on a huge reservoir of support from the conservative communities in America who are white, highly conservative and religious church goers. They strongly believe in family values . For instance, 40 % of Americans believe that Jesus Christ will return to the world in 2050 and that the World is only a few thousand years old. The new secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, believes scripture should take precedence over science.

But Chomsky also blames the Democrats for Trump's victory . They have long abandoned the working class . The Republicans , exploiting the resentment against the establishment,
manipulated workers who had either lost their jobs or seen their living standards devastated,
into voting against the Democrats, believing Trump would stick up for their interests. Part of the problem is that too much blame has been put on officials and not corporate business who have been driving down the living standards of Americans by paying a pittance to employees.

Civil servants are being made convenient scapegoats and are an alibi which allows business men to get off free.

Chomsky states that he has been warning of the danger of a charismatic ideologue prepared to manipulate the base prejudices of so many angry, resentful and bitter Americans. They will blame the wrong people instead of a rotten unjust system .Chomsky warns of a potential 'friendly fascism'. In this regard it was not clear to me whether he sees Trump and La Pen as 'fascist ' or simply potential fascists.

This book provides a deeply disturbing and disquieting picture of America . That is putting it
mildly. Some people will claim Chomsky is exaggerating, overstating his case and over the
top. Yet Chomsky's work is well researched and he can back up his claims with a lot of listed
sources. Chomsky ends his work with the positive words : 'Popular mobilization and activism, properly organised and conducted can make a large difference'.

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