Will the post COVID 19 world be more socially, environmentally and economically stable? Or will humanity’s plight continue in a downward spiral? Noam Chomsky asks, “What kind of world do we want to live in?”
Principals Of This Interview
It was Linda Solomon Wood’s third ZOOM conference with key thought leaders.
According to the New York Times, “Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today” He is also considered the father of modern linguistics and one of the most cited authors in modern history. Chomsky has 37 honorary degrees and has been teaching philosophy and linguistics at MIT since 1955.
The COVID Crises
As with her previous conversations, Solomon Wood began with a recap of the current situation:
“Most of us have been in some form of isolation going on five weeks now, because of the pandemic sweeping the world. Some of us are struggling with the fear of losing jobs and others with the fear of losing loved ones. Some of us already have. There is a pervasive sense that we really don’t know what is coming.”
“Cities like Vancouver are on the edge of default. Provinces are looking for help and in the U.S, the same thing … According to an article in Bloomberg News, half of us, in Canada, live paycheque to paycheque. For over a million people in Canada, those paycheques just disappeared.”
“Around the world, 250 million people are now in danger of starvation … And in an article in the National Observer today, Maude Barlow, who founded Council of Canadians, wrote that more than half the global population lacks access to water to even wash with soap – the basic protection against COVID 19.”
The Real Crises
“Do we want to live in a world where things like the pandemic do not happen?” asks Chomsky.
Scientists have predicted a coming pandemic for years but, in a civilization where the bottom line is market driven, it was not profitable to prepare for it.
He added, “While we are suffering from the pandemic right now, it is not the main crises – by far.”
In response to the fear that our global economy is collapsing, Chomsky pointed out this did not happen after the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. (COVID 19 seems insignificant compared to that catastrophe.) While 50 million people perished, the world recovered and surged ahead to the Roaring Twenties. The global economy is much stronger and capable of withstanding a major shock today.
“Sooner or later, we will escape from the pandemic, but we are not going to escape from the melting of the polar ice caps, the rise in sea level or the other extremely harmful consequences of global warming … The coming crises may end the prospects for organized human life.”
Chomsky framed our current predicament in terms of a class war between ‘those who call themselves the masters of the universe, who are already trying to plan the future economy’ and the general population.”
If the rest of humanity lets them, the ruling order will:
“ … reconstitute the economy pretty much the way it has been under the Neoliberals, roughly the last 40 years, but harsher and with more controls over people, more authoritarian measures and more efforts to ensure there is no interference with this model.”
The United States
It is no accident that half of America’s citizens have no assets, or that 60-70% live from paycheque to paycheque. Neoliberal economic policies have also led to the concentration of 20% of the nation’s wealth in the pockets of the most wealthy Americans.
“ … The most important country in the world, the United States, happens to be in the hands of someone, an effected party, who wants to exasperate the crises.”
Chomsky believes Donald Trump is worse than Hitler.
“Hitler was perhaps the worst criminal in human history. He wanted to murder 6 million Jews, murdered my extended family, 30 million Slavs, gypsies and homosexuals and others.”
“That’s pretty evil. But what does Trump want to do? He wants to destroy the prospect for organized human life.”
4 Degrees Celsius Above Preindustrial Levels
“… That is what it means to maximize the use of fossil fuels and cut back on all regulations that might diminish or restrict the danger.”
” … Two years ago a document produced by the National Transportation Agency … a several hundred page assessment of the environmental situation … concluded that by the end of the century global warming will reach 4 degrees celsius higher than pre-industrial levels. That’s taken to be catastrophic by just about every analyst. And [the Trump administration] drew a conclusion from it.”
” The conclusion was we should stop adding emissions controls. The logic is sort of clear: we’re going off the cliff anyway, so why not have fun and make profit?”
“We see this in every action. It’s not just global warming …”
This Morning In The Senate
“Let’s look at something that happened this morning. The senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who is really the guiding hand, the thinker, in the administration, said that the stimulus program cannot give money to blue states. No money for states like New York that voted Democratic … ‘future generations do not have to pay for mistakes that these states have made in past.’ The mistakes are that they granted pension plans for the police, fire fighters, teachers and others. If they want to waste their money, we are not going to pay for it,” said Chomsky.
“So who are the Republicans willing to give money to? Enterprises like the airline industries, who have spent their profits on stock buybacks to raise money for investors, managers and CEOS. How much did they spend that way? – about $45 billion. How much are they getting in the stimulus? – about $50 billion.”
“In other words, if the rich and powerful and corporate sector want to misspend their money by enriching themselves – we’ll pay them off, but if states misspend their money by giving pensions to working people – tough luck, we’re not going to give it to you.”
Trump’s Budget Proposal
Another example of this mentality is the budget that the Trump Administration submitted on February 10, 2020.
“The pandemic is raging; people are dying; hospitals can’t keep up: so what is the budget? The budget proposal is continue the cuts in health related parts of the government. To cut back further on the Centre for Disease Control.”
“Trump has throughout his term been regularly cutting back and in the midst of the pandemic, lets cut back more, but not cut back everything. Let’s increase the subsidies to fossil fuel industries. What are the fossil fuel industries doing, undermining the prospects for organized human life. Then, of course, let’s have more funding for the bloated military.”
“That’s the mentality of this administration, which in fact is just an extreme version of the mentality of the Republican party.”
Dismantling The IMF Treaty
“One of the contributions of the Trump Administration [that threatens] human life, is to dismantle the arms control regime which has offered some protection from thermonuclear war. Anyone who has looked at the record will see that it is almost a miracle we have survived. So Trump’s decision was to make it worse,” said Chomsky.
“Last August Trump dismantled the INF Treaty, which was established by Reagan – not a leftist. Reagan and Gorbachev reached an intermediate nuclear forces treaty in 1987, which has significantly reduced the threat of nuclear war.”
Sixteen days after the treaty expired, the United States launched a Tomahawk cruise missile in California. According to the the Department of Defence press release, “The test missile exited its ground mobile launcher and accurately impacted its target after more than 500 kilometers of flight.”
“That’s saying to Mr Putin, please develop weapons to destroy us. That will be great for the arms industry. In fact, if you look at their pronouncements, they love it. They are getting a huge shot in the arm, an enormous amount of money to build weapons that can destroy everything and down the road they will get more money to try to build defences against these weapons.”
Other Arms Treaties
“Next on the chopping block, just announced a couple of days ago, is the Open Skies Treaty” which allows unarmed surveillance flights over America, Russia and several other nations.
“The Open Skies Treaty has reduced the threat of accidental nuclear war, quite significantly. So lets get rid of that.”
“Next on the agenda is the New Start Treaty which limits the number of missiles and nuclear warheads for Russia and the United States. Putin, not the most lovely guy in the world, has been pleading with the United States to renegotiate the treaty. It is due early next year. The United States won’t do it. The trick that they are using is to say we want a broader treaty that includes China, that is a bad joke. Chinese nuclear facilities do not come anywhere near the minimal level of the Start Treaty. This is just a trick to use the Yellow Peril hysteria to prevent the signing of the new Start Treaty.”
“When that is done, we are finished with the arms control regime. How serious is that?
Chomsky says Trump’s White House heads “a new International of the most cruel and harsh reactionary states”:
” … Bolsonaro in Brazil, who is worse than Trump but doesn’t do as much damage because it isn’t that powerful a country, but he is helping to destroy the world by wiping out the Amazon … Moving to the Middle East: the al-Sisi dictatorship is the worst in Egypt’s history. The brutal family dictatorships of the Gulf States are brutal, harsh. Israel has moved so far to the right that you can’t see it anymore. In India, Modi is working to destroy secular democracy. In Europe, Orbán is wiping out Hungarian democracy and turning it into a dictatorship …”
Comparison To The 1930s
In some ways, Chomsky thinks our era is similar to the 1930s.
“The Great Depression had an enormous impact, much worse than this [economic downturn] and on a much poorer country. There were two ways out. One way was Fascism, spread over all the world. Another way was New Deal style democracy and liberalism. That was the way the United States took … a version of regimented capitalism that was extremely beneficial to people and now being torn to shreds during the neoliberal period, but for a long time was very effective.”
“We are in the same situation, not exactly, but we can either choose to make the world harsher … to march on to more brutal destruction, or we can overcome these problems by means that are readily available.”
“How much would it cost to carry out policies that will control the enormous environmental crises?”
“You aren’t going to end it, we have already done too much damage, but to keep it within liveable limits would cost a small percentage of the mobilization for World War II and we are much richer countries now. So is that feasible?”
How Can We Push Back?
“What advice do you have for us? How can we push back against the things you are describing?” asked Solomon Wood.
“We’re not the same as we were even fifty years ago. We have a much more civilised society,” he said. “Okay, we can do this too.”
Chomsky pointed to several examples of individuals who have stepped forward to help their communities. Though they have not been given protective gear in many nations, doctors and nurses are in the front line in the fight against COVID 19. After the government of Brazil abandoned the favelas, gangsters stepped in to help. Self Help groups have sprung up in communities around the world. Young people like Greta Thunberg have taken leadership in the struggle to mobilise public opinion against rising global emissions.
“So take the fossil fuel industry. Look at the world prices, pretty low. The United States, Canada and others could simply socialise the industries and put them out of business. That would be a great boom to the world. You can’t do it in a day, but you can replace it by sustainable energy.”
We can change, if we have the collective will to do so.
Top photo credit: Noam Chomsky – own work via Wikipedia (CC BT SA, 4.0 License)