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9/11: Lessons Unlearned 
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Post 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
9/11: Lessons Unlearned

September 4, 2002


This thread is for discussing the first article of Noam Chomsky's Interventions. I think this book is going to be a big hit on BookTalk because of the ease at which we can participate.

While the entire book is probably best read from front to back, there appears to be no real need to adhere to such a format. Each article is a stand alone piece and anyone can read any of the articles without having ever read any of the others.

Having just got the book and read the first article I thought I'd get the ball rolling and create this first discussion thread. Dissident Heart will decide on whatever format he likes for this discussion period, but for now feel free to comment on the first article right here.




So why do so many people hate the United States?

Is it because of our "freedom" or because of how we rob other peoples of their freedom by meddling in their business?

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Tue Jul 03, 2007 12:42 pm
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
I think Chris is right that these chapters lend themselves to independent discussion without dependence upon the rest of the book. Still, I think an important part of Chomsky's argument involves recognizing the ways in which these issues unfold in a fairly consistent, somewhat universal fashion (not isolated or causa sui)...thus connection to the other essays will be important. In the case of this thread's question So Why Do People Hate the United States it will be necessary to examine how our foreign policy in the Middle East, Latin America, in relation to Asian and European markets, African genocide, nuclear arms limitations and support of environmental safeguards...and how these policies develop over time, within a given (but interconnected) historical context.

Not having the book with me, I think Chomsky is always careful to distinguish between the policies of the United States Government and the people who live within these borders. This book argues again and again about the democracy deficit that highlights the differences between what the populace wants and what the State demands. Thus, hating the US is not the same as hating the citizens who live there. In the same way as being radically critical of the US govt. is not the same thing as hating the USA.

Chomsky also challenges us to be cautious of overly simplified emotionally potent terms like hate when making sense of complex international political issues: these phrases (like "support the troops") are ultimately vacuous beyond stimulating fear and anger...but they transmit very little, if any, actual cognitive meaning or import.

I don't know if Chomsky ever uses this analogy, but it reminds me of someone challenging the abuses of a parent in hopes of developing a more responsbile, accountable and healthy relationship...and is confronted with, "I didn't know you hated mommy so much!"

It's not about hate but the accountability that arises when abuses are named and confronted. And, the lessons of 911 should have been: what have we allowed our State to do to the world around us...and how can we make sure it doesn't happen again.

Edited by: Dissident Heart at: 7/3/07 3:40 pm



Tue Jul 03, 2007 2:37 pm
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
Few Americans are willing to acknowledge the U.S. Gov't "supports corrupt and oppressive Governments and is 'opposing political or economic progress'" or that this is "because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region". (P.1)

Few Americans agree "Today we do ourselves few favors by choosing to believe that 'they hate us' and 'hate our freedoms'. On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like Americans and admire much about the United States, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they, too, aspire". (p.2)

Some Americans agree "The current 'campaign of hatred' in the Arab world is, of course, fueled by U.S. policies towards Israel/Palestine and Iraq." (P.3)

These concepts are summarily dismissed as traitorous rantings of America-haters. This is discouraging, indicating an inability to learn. Hence the title of this piece. ::70

Edited by: LanDroid at: 7/4/07 10:41 pm



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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
Landroid: Few Americans are willing to acknowledge the U.S. Gov't "supports corrupt and oppressive Governments and is 'opposing political or economic progress'" or that this is "because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region". (P.1)

Why do you think Americans are unwilling to accept these statements as facts? What evidence does Chomsky muster to make his case? Could all these Americans be wrong? ;)




Mon Jul 09, 2007 12:35 pm
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
We should set up a chat session to discuss this book soon. I've read the first 6 articles and have an assortment of emotions pulling me this way and that.

But figuring out how to bring it all together and form intelligent sentences is eluding me at this late hour. I should be in bed! But I instead found myself taking a bath reading page and page. Good stuff. Excellent choice in books, Dissident. I probably agree with most of what Chomsky is saying.




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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned

Quote:
Why do you think Americans are unwilling to accept these statements as facts? What evidence does Chomsky muster to make his case? Could all these Americans be wrong?


Because they're all friggin' brainwashed. A quick illustrative story:

When the first Gulf War ended I was but a wee lad. I found out that the war was over when my teacher announced it to my classroom of about 20 kids aged 4-8. We were a little surprised to discover that the war had ended, since we didn't know that it had started. We asked 'Who won?'

The teacher replied that 'America won' and the entire classroom cheered. It was only then that somebody thought to ask who the US was at war with.

Every four year old in the Western world consumes propaganda that teaches people that America is good and right. That propaganda takes the form of cartoons, war movies, comics etc.

When I was a kid, I didn't even have to think about it. I knew, rightly or wrongly, that the Americans were the good guys. If you were with them, you were good guys. If you were against them, you were bad guys.

When you've be taught something all your life, it's hard to believe that it might not be true.

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Tue Jul 10, 2007 8:55 am
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
Niall: Because they're all friggin' brainwashed.

Yikes...what a chilling thought...an entire nation brainwashed: especially the most heavily armed and economically dominant nation in the history of the planet. Your hyperbole delivers an valuable warning, but it misses an important point, something that Chomsky shows again and again in this book: popular opinion is starkly opposed to official policy. I don't think the issue is brainwashed Americans, but disorganized and discouraged Americans.

Niall: Every four year old in the Western world consumes propaganda that teaches people that America is good and right. That propaganda takes the form of cartoons, war movies, comics etc.

Have you ever heard of Howard Gardner's theory of the Five Year Old Mind? He argues that the basic axioms and fundamental premises of our world views and belief systems are firmly rooted by age five: this is what he calls the "unschooled mind" and it is the task of progressive educators to challenge this mind to expand and grow beyond these axiomatic dogmas- which reflect the dominant paradigms and cultural pathways in which the child is raised. It's a very black and white world for the unschooled mind, deeply mired in fantasy, illusions, make believe and submission to authority. Sadly, Gardner argues, the education system (instead of breaking open these dogmas) often reinforces them.

Propaganda is obviously a key method in keeping these national dogmas alive and operational. I don't think the US is unique in wanting to manipulate its population into submission by way of emotionally potent over simplifications and gratuitous flattery or terrifying threats.

What is unique about the US, and I think Chomsky agrees, is the amount of freedom citizens of the US have in regards to speech, assembly and recourse against unjust demands made by their government. This forces the elite sectors of the population to resort to methods of manipulation beyond clubbing dissidents to death or firing squads for critical journalists. Manufacturing the consent of the governed in the USA needs more than threat of club or gallows: it requires the most sophisticated Public Relations industry in all history, and a basic set of axiomatic dogmas that are simply accepted as true without debate, one of which you capture very well:

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When I was a kid, I didn't even have to think about it. I knew, rightly or wrongly, that the Americans were the good guys. If you were with them, you were good guys. If you were against them, you were bad guys.




Wed Jul 18, 2007 11:35 am
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
I just got the book today and I started reading eagerly. The phone didn't stop ringing and I've just managed to read the foreword and the first article, as well as your contributions in this thread.

From the very moment the book was chosen I had the impression I had better keep in the background and see what you had to say about the role of America in the world and your criticisms to Chomsky's theses. I thought that because, on the one hand, as compared to you, I am absolutely ignorant of American society, on the other hand because I know from experience that it is very easy to hurt sensibilities when speaking to a group of nationals about their country as a foreigner.

This said, I cannot refrain myself from participating because I have always been a very participative nature ;) . I hope you can excuse throughout the discussion my ignorance on many aspects of your society and may forgive any comment I might make which you think is offensive to your patriotic feelings. (I've realized patriotic has a positive connotation in America which does not have this side of the ocean). I'll do my best and try to be careful, my wish being no to hurt anybody, since I tend to consider people rather as individuals than as representatives of a nation, which means that if I criticize America I will be criticizing policies or trends, but not individuals.

One topic in this first article and in the thread so far is that of the American people, in general. Who do you mean when you say the Americans? Do you mean the majority which elected a government? Do you mean people who don't give a damn for what happens in public life as long as they get their salary and can have holidays once a year? Do you mean the well-informed, critical American? Do you refer to the people who care about the environment and are worried of the highest consumption level in the world or do you think rather of those who don't care at all and say life is short not to enjoy all comforts possible? My point here is that I guess all those groups, and many others, are well-represented in any society, and mostly when we speak about Americans (or Germans or Italians for that matter) at a political level we are speaking of the vast majority. I would say the vast majority of Americans feels and acts the same as the vast majority of any other national group: they are not interested in politics, they are just interested in having a job, a salary, and cheap tv entertainment in the evening, after having worked long hours for a far-from-satisfying salary. This is not just American, this is human. Not everybody has the call to read and, for that, to read critically and, on top of that, to be continuously critical to one's own political stance.

I agree with Niall when he says people are brainwashed. We all, not only Americans, are brainwashed. We can use the decaffeinated term "indoctrinated" or any other more pleasant term you might choose. Because how else could I interpret it when Diss.Heart speaks of "the education system reinforcing dogmas'? Everybody, everywhere, is brainwashed. Americans



Wed Jul 18, 2007 5:28 pm
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
RaulRamos: ...I had the impression I had better keep in the background and see what you had to say about the role of America in the world and your criticisms to Chomsky's theses. ...because, on the one hand, as compared to you, I am absolutely ignorant of American society, on the other hand because I know from experience that it is very easy to hurt sensibilities when speaking to a group of nationals about their country as a foreigner.

Welcome to the foreground indeed and I'm glad you made it! I think you are right to proceed cautiously when pointing out the errors of others...even if your criticisms are accurate, the critique of outsiders is rarely welcome, no matter the community under scrutiny. I hope Booktalk will welcome your critique and insight as it would any other: critically, intelligently, and with a generous dose of hospitality.

There is another principle at work, I think: and it is the notion that the best criticism I can deliver is one where it will make a difference, most specifically, starting with myself and the mess I make intentionally, unintentionally, or addressing others acting in my name with my approval. Scrutiny starts at home and criticism should begin with my own part in the problem. Chomsky often makes the point that it does really little good for US intellectuals to devote the lion's share of their talent to describing the vices of our enemies while genuflecting toward the virtues of our great nation. The real work is the other way around: holding ourselves accountable to the same standards upon which we judge others...the alternative is hypocrisy, and perhaps the best we can do is avoid that- but that is still no small task.

RaulRamos: I've realized patriotic has a positive connotation in America which does not have this side of the ocean

I think you'll discover in Chomsky's book (where I am not sure if the term is ever used in a positive way) that there is a great, subversive and radical tradition in the US that has always struggled against nationalist, militarist, xenophobic, elitist habits and attitudes...where patriotism is a matter of holding the powerful accountable and the patriot is one who is not willing to submit to tyranny or illegitimate authority...I think a better term than Patriot is Citizen.

RaulRamos: I would say the vast majority of Americans feels and acts the same as the vast majority of any other national group: they are not interested in politics, they are just interested in having a job, a salary, and cheap tv entertainment in the evening, after having worked long hours for a far-from-satisfying salary. This is not just American, this is human.

I suppose human nature includes a wide array of possibilities, and I don't know what sort of laboratory or experiment could actually capture the definitive, fundamental, and complete expression of that nature. Chomsky is from the Enlightenment school of rational thought: humans seek freedom, desire creative expression, and want social structures of solidarity and justice. This is, as I see it, a type of faith, rooted in a kind of love for humanity and hope for its future flourishing. I think it is an essential faith for any sort of genuine democratic experiment...and we may discover that humanity's experiment with democracy is a tragic failure...a nuclear catastrophe.

RaulRamos: Not everybody has the call to read and, for that, to read critically and, on top of that, to be continuously critical to one's own political stance.

This is a point that Chomsky makes quite often: our dominant economic system is not conducive to equipping citizens for democratic participation. On the contrary, it keeps most citizens tied to meaningless rote activity where their decisions are trivial and their participation in planning that impacts their life is minimal. It drains essential intellectual, emotional and physical energies. It reinforces a hierarchical structure of top-down management, where a very few get the lion's share of the profit and the vast many scramble for what's left over. It is a violent system of predatory domination and anti-social distrust of one's competition and customers. This kind of economy will not produce active, engaged, informed democrats...it will produce depressed, overwhelmed, frightened, pissed off, apathetic, addicted masses: where their consent is manufactured by way of slick public relations technologies and media propaganda.

Chomksy argues, and I agree (or I want to agree, because the alternative terrfies me) that humans can organize around values of solidarity and mutual respect, form rational economic systems, and work towards a more just and sane society. By the way, have you ever listened to Sports radio in the US? These are largely blue collar workers, not college educated, and substantially removed from any sort of economic power or political leverage. In any case, their grasp of the most minute details of the game (Baseball, Football, Basketball, whatever) is astonishing...they can quote facts, details, comparisons, analyze, projections into the future, with comprehensive historical context and keen articulation of their opinions...transfer these skills to the political or economic arena, and they would be leading intellectuals.







Thu Jul 19, 2007 11:27 am
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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
Diss.Heart:

Quote:
I suppose human nature includes a wide array of possibilities, and I don't know what sort of laboratory or experiment could actually capture the definitive, fundamental, and complete expression of that nature


I am afraid the topic we are dealing with here is a complex one, and open to endless interpretations. The scope of possible interpretations goes from thinking that humans have produced Jeffersons, Goethes and Michelangelos



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Post Re: 9/11: Lessons Unlearned
It's been about 15 years since I've read much Chomsky, and I was curious what my reaction would be. Overall, the horrors of the Bush administration, especially the Iraq war, made Chomsky's portrayal of US foreign policy, as imperialistic and brutal, far more convincing.

In other words, while my knowledge of the countries mentioned here is limited, there's no doubt that Chomsky's characterization applies to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Quote:
In recent years, the United States has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Central America, Panama, Sudan, and Turkey, to name only a few, that meet official US. definitions of "terrorism" -- or worse -- that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.

As Chomsky argues, brutal foreign policy explains "Why do they hate us?" After the 9/11 attacks, I read bin Laden's speech describing his motivations. His main complaints were about US troops in Saudi Arabia, US support of Israel, and sanctions against Iraq. Interestingly, leftists like Chomsky opposed those US actions on moral grounds, and had the government listened the 9/11 terrorism wouldn't have occurred.

When people on the left brought up these issues following 9/11, the response from the right was ferocious. People mentioning US foreign policies were labeled the "blame America first" crowd and vilified in a time of extreme patriotic attitudes. Keep that in mind when considering the views of the American public.

Edited by: JulianTheApostate at: 7/31/07 8:11 am



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