Saturday, March 29, 2008

An Irrefutable Analysis of Total Domination

The publisher of Noam Chomsky's Hegemony and Survival calls it "an irrefutable analysis of America's pursuit of total domination and the catastrophic consequences that could follow". It's the typical hyperbole of a publisher's blurb, of course, but also a disturbing notion.

Kirby's comment about the possible relations between Islam and "respect for life and freedom" (see previous post), got me thinking. I come back to this nugget of wisdom from Ezra Pound quite often these days:

In August 1942, the following elucidatory statement was heard on the Berlin radio: the power of the state, whether it be Nazi, Fascist, or Democratic, is always the same, that is—absolute; the different forms of administration are merely a matter of the different activities which one agrees not to allow. ("A Visiting Card", 1942, SP, p. 276)

Here's what I'm thinking: A democracy is committed to allowing the free expression of ideas, even the idea that democracy is a bad idea. A fascist state is committed to controlling the expression of ideas; it is committed to "the free expression of opinion by those qualified to hold it" as Italian radio stated the "Fascist policy" in its introduction to Pound's broadcasts. It is therefore in the difficult position of implicitly endorsing views it does not explicitly suppress.

This was once a paradox. But I don't think it should stop us from thinking. The genius of democracy is that the state can maintain its absolute power over allowable activities without having to suppress opinions to the contrary. But these days, for some reason, Western intellectuals (i.e., liberal-democratic thinkers) are in a tizzy about people who express the view that we should do away with democratic rights like freedom of speech.

In my opinion, we should talk as much as we are able. If the state begins to restrict our freedom of expression, well, then, we'll have to continue covertly. Obviously. Pound's insight is dead on: whatever we do, we are living under the "total domination" of the state. Once again we see the relevance of Lewis's "art of being ruled."

15 comments:

Kirby Olson said...

Does Chomsky still deny the role of the Khmer Rouge in the holocausts in Cambodia in the latter part of the 1970s? I can't keep anything straight about what he's saying any longer, since I've basically unplugged from left news sources.

He seems to get very one-sided views.

He thinks America is a horrific imperialist country killing everything every which way, but because the Khmer Rouge were communist, they were fine?

I'm still not sure why you're using Pound's radio addresses as a measuring rod of any kind for your thought, here.

But between Pound and Chomsky, it's hard to tell what's what in your post.

"An irrefutable analysis of total domination"?

I would buy this as satire of thought.

the funny thing about you is that I like your independence. You don't sound like everybody else. But then on the other hand you seem almost as squirrelly as I am at times. Sometimes even squirrellier, or just plain nuts.

Do you think that Pound was just plain nuts, or even in his right tree, when he made those broadcasts?

Do you think that usury is the major problem?

People often ask me if I'm a humorist and I'm forced to reply yes, at times. Are you at least at times having us on?

Thomas Basbøll said...

Yes, there's definitely some satire in this post. I think the ideas of "irrefutable analysis" and "total domination" are nonsense. I was amused to see Chomsky's publisher put them together—with a "catastrophic" twist to boot!

You're wrong about Chomsky's position on the Khmer Rouge. Chomsky said that Pol Pot was no worse than Suharto. Since the ideologues of American imperialism (and unhappy phrase, but...) could not see Suharto as a personification of evil, they had to see Chomsky's comparison as an apology for Pol Pot. Chomsky said they were both bad. His critics were committed to the idea that, because Suharto was a US ally, he was fine.

My position on Pound's madness: he was sane, if increasingly kooky, up to his detention at Pisa. Then he lost his mind temporarily because of mistreatment. His radio broadcasts were not insane, but not treasonous. He was by no means right; but he was taking a position that was "by definition" wrong. He was on the wrong side of history, and I think he understood that at some level of consciousness.

The obvious "wrongness" of his argument caused him, I think, to lose restraint. I may have to develop this idea in a post one day...

It's an over-simplification, but I think Chomsky and Pound are each half right. But I think I think I just mean I've learned a great deal about how history works from both.

Kirby Olson said...

Oh, ok. I would argue that the notion that government is always "total domination" has to be qualified by the notion that some governments can be voted out: democracies. Whereas some governments (esp. communist and fascist) cannot be voted out.

That's a pretty huge difference!

The only way Hitler would leave was in a body bag.

Mugabe, too.

Pol Pot, too.

Suharto may have been bad, but did he kill half of his population, as Pol Pot did? (Some estimates say it was only a quarter, and at any rate, this is difficult to determine since record keeping is difficult if you kill anybody who can either read or write). By definition, the Khmer Rouge census bureau did not exist, or it would have immediately had to kill itself.

My favorite story about the Khmer Rouge was on TV about four months ago on the History Channel. It was a program about some infamous prison in Cambodia. In it, there were 17,000 prisoners. Two survived.

Among the things for which you could be killed were rolling over in your bed at night without asking permission. The permission had to be asked for in writing. However, if you asked in writing, you were killed for being literate.

If you rolled over, the crime was called "Individualism."

I mean, there are degrees of "total domination."

Anarchists (many argue that Chomsky is an anarchist and if you sift carefully through his writings you can find this thread) believe that all government is based on total domination.

But if you think about it, having no government is just as bad. It means that there is no system of law to which anybody can defer a judgment. Anarchism just means that the toughest SOB in any given group dominates.

Government is actually a gift from God. But, like any gift, it can be made rotten if those governing have a. no sense of principles other than personal whim (Mugabe) or b. no sense of God (Pound) or c. just see government as a way to totally dominate others.

Government has to be based on sound principles, and people who don't follow the principles have to be able to be voted out. Then things work pretty darned well.

Kirby Olson said...

That is, voting improves the situation of government pretty well, wouldn't you agree? And it puts a lot of the power back into the hands of the people.

I can imagine in fact that many politicians feel that they have almost no power except to do what the people in a democracy demand for them to do. Otherwise, they're out.

It's not perfect. However, there was another show on the History Channel a month ago that argued that the Danish were the world's happiest people.

I really doubt if the same could be said for Mugabe's Zimbabwe. With a 100,000 percent inflation rate, racist thugs killing white farmers and no police of any kind or any laws to protect them, you have everybody who can get out doing so.

But perhaps yesterday's ELECTIONS will make the crucial difference, even though they haven't yet been announced and foreign monitors were disallowed.

A third of the country has left. 1000 a day enter South Africa.

Is it the world's worst country?

Probably not. At least you can get out. North Korea is still worse.

Now there you have total domination.

Thomas Basbøll said...

The most important thing I've learned from reading Chomsky on this issue is that the history of the Cambodian genocide is complicated. One thing that complicates it is that whoever took over at the time of the Khmer Rouge victory would be presiding over a massive reduction in population due to starvation and disease. The country had been completely destroyed by a war that the US (especially by its bombing campaign) had actively participated in. Chomsky points out that the Western media was committed to calling this period a genocide well before any such thing was going on.

I don't think anyone is denying specific stories about Khmer Rouge brutality. I simply want to caution against simply stringing them together as one's account of a period of human history.

As for democracy: there is the despairing answer. Regime change in a modern democracy never really happens. All the real power remains in place after an election, i.e., in the top management of major corporations and banks.

I don't know, but my feeling is that a junta is better positioned to remove an unprincipled dictator from his position of power than a media-massaged population of "voters". Can we really be sure that changing governments by election brings better leadership than changing governments by coups?

You may be right. This is a bit squirrelly. But my "kulchural studies" approach here demands thinking this line through. I hope I come out of it with my marbles still all in the bag.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Pound had no sense of God?

Kirby Olson said...

Some say Pound was a Catholic and that St. Francis against usury was his basic take.

I never got that far in Pound studies.

And I'm way over my head on Chomsky, too.

Still for the vote, though, and against the notion of the junta.

Tapping fingernails to see what's taken plac ein Zimbabwe, Tibet, etc.

Would much rather live in a western democracy than anywhere else.

Hav eyou tried to read Amartya Sen? He has the glamor of being from the Third World (India) but he also won a Nobel Prize in Economics (1998), and is pretty smart in terms of valorizing electoral politics over the alternatives.

I rather like what's left of classical liberalism.

Not much, and you have to hunt for it, but it does still exist. Probably even in Denmark?

Your funny statistician who wrote The Environmental Skeptic (Lomberg) is quite the hoot. I always glom on to anything he's written and love to show it to all my sky is falling pals.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I have to admit, I'm a romantic about Cuba and Venezuela.

Of course, I would insist on occupying a social position similar to the one I currently enjoy.

That is, I would like to try living under an alternative set of freedoms. (I know that word gets ya.)

Chomsky's really good on comparing socialist and capitalist countries. Instead of comparing life in the USSR with life in the USA, whose GNP was very different at the time of the revolution, he proposes comparing Russia with Brazil and Hungary with Guatamala. If you were given a choice between living in those four countries at roughly the same time, what would you choose? Socialism or Capitalism?

Do you prefer the vote adminstered by Diebold to a junta?

Nicholas Manning said...

I'm really interested by your reading of Pound here Thomas, which is very congenial to me. Would love to see this developed even more.

Kirby Olson said...

Brazil and Guatemala are Catholic countries, the latter being part of the bloated Spanish empire that has now flopped in every country due to its emphasis on the CounterReformation and Inquisition which completely destroyed intellectual life in those countries. That's why Cuba and Mexico are stupid countries, too. Basically nothing can salvage them. The only thing to do if you're born with a sombrero is to get a map, and a knapsack, and take off for a Protestant country.

Chomsky is a fool partially because he doesn't recognize the powerful role that religion has in most countries. Christ said "I am the leaven in the lump," but the Catholic countries don't rise, which proves they have somehow remove true Christianity from their recipe.

Protestant countries are always better than Catholic countries.

I'm talking about now for people on the bottom. In Protestant countries the poor can rise. In Catholic countries, they can't.

Would you rather be the poorest person in a Protestant country like Denmark, or the poorest person in a Catholic country like Guatemala.

There aren't any poor Protestant countries.

Chomsky is a fool because he's never even thought about this.

He doesn't even realize that E. Timor was destroyed by the Islamics of Indonesia because it had been a Christian enclave.

He's what the French would call a nullard.

I don't know why you want to try to think through either him or through Pound. Pound had no brains at all!

You come from a Lutheran country that functions. Why don't you read and bring to bear someone like Kierkegaard or Lomberg, instead of creeps like Chomsky and Pound?

I guess it's your American background. Ha. I push you to look further than the Cultural Studies field which is nothing other than a continuation of Mao's Cultural Revolution -- the worst atrocity in human history.

How did you get your last name btw? It's so weirdly American (baseball hall of fame is about an hour from here in a town called Cooperstown).

Sorry if I was too abrasive today. I'm in a rush, and no time to be little nicer.

Thomas Basbøll said...

"Someone like Kierkegaard or Lomborg"??????

Kirby Olson said...

I love to link unlinkables, it's one of my kinks.

And yet to find a link. In this case, Danish-ness.

Thomas Basbøll said...

I think counter-Danishness might be more accurate. Both were/are writing against the easy consensus, the popular faith of their age, if you will.

Kirby Olson said...

I can see that. It's very very important that someone do that, and that they do that with a brain and a conscience.

It might be a Lutheran thing to do that, insofar as Luther himself did it.

Not that there isn't also a Lutheran consensus.

Is Lomberg Lutheran?

I will Wikipedia him.

Kirby Olson said...

Actually, he has his own website and I asked him pointblank. We'll see if this worldfamous author has time to respond. He's considered one of the top 50 most influential people in the entire world today.