While doing some research, I came across this extraordinary video from May 2012, in which Chomsky vindicates beyond all doubt, my contention that among his many services to power is the rosy view he offers of state repression in the U.S.
In the video, Chomsky answers the perennial question, “What Can We Do?” not with concrete suggestions for political engagement, but with a starry-eyed assessment of how hard it’s become for the state to persecute dissenters. “I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression”, he announces at one point in this sunny tribute to American political freedom.
At the time of this interview, Anwar al-Aulaqi, his son and Samir Khan had been dead close to a year; Chelsea Manning was in year two of pre-trial imprisonment; the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was in its 11th year of holding presumed Islamic anti-imperialists without charges; CIA torture whistleblower, John Kirakou had recently been arrested for disclosing classified information to journalists; and six months had passed since a wave of violent police assaults closed down Occupy encampments all over the country. As ever, close to one million African Americans were living in cages.
Chomsky ignores all of this, cheerfully announcing that the “opportunities” for political engagement are “almost boundless” and admonishing gloomy comrades for their “paranoia about concentration camps.”
“The state may try to repress you,” he says, “but they can’t do a lot.”
Diehard Chomskyites, the dimwitted antecedents of Glennbot derangement, will of course write off this pernicious nonsense as anomalous. However, this cheery little speech is very consistent with a pattern of whitewashing that I have previously discussed here and here. The diehards will probably write those discussions off too, but a rich, basement-dwelling, Leftier-Than-Thou Purity Cultist can dream, can’t he?
Commenter rsmatesic has helpfully provided a transcript:
Q: In your essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”, you posed the question, What can we do?
NC: Well the fact of the matter is we can do just about anything. I mean, with all, you know, people like us, let’s say–we wouldn’t be here otherwise–are pretty privileged. And we have the kind of privilege that few people have ever had in history or have now. And if you have privilege you have opportunities. And the opportunities are almost boundless.
I mean thanks to the struggles of the past–it hasn’t always been like this–but thanks to the struggles in the past there’s a tremendous amount of freedom.
I mean the state may try to repress you, but they can’t do a lot. Now, they can pass the NDAA, let’s say, but they can’t really implement it against the will of the population.
I mean, look, there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression. Oh, it’s not that it’s not there–you know, sure they’d like to do it–but first of all it’s always been there and it’s just kind of inherent in states and [other/similar] power systems. And it’s much weaker than it used to be.
So take, say, there’s paranoia about concentration camps. You know, they’re gonna lock us up, NDAA says they can detain us indefinitely. Concentration camps have been there since the 50s. Back in the 1950s the liberal Democrats, Humphrey and Lehman, introduced legislation to set up internment camps in case people got out of control. I don’t know, I never followed to see what happened but I know the legislation was passed. But they can’t do anything about it.
I mean take, say, the surveillance systems. Okay, they shouldn’t have systems, we shouldn’t tolerate systems where everything you say gets sent to a central computer, massive supercomputer in Utah, and they do this and that. But, even if they have that data, what are they going to do with it? I mean, you know, nothing, effective, if the experiences with the FBI from resistance days [sic]. They can’t do anything with it. And if they try they’ll arouse popular reaction. So power really is in the hands of the governed if they’re willing to use it.
And so what can we do given that we’re people with privilege? We have an enormous number of things we can do. I mean, there may be efforts to shut you up or something. But you’re not gonna be sent to a, you know, have your brains blown out. It’s not like El Salvador.