Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hopes and Prospects, By Noam Chomsky


Reviewed by Johann Hari

An antidote to lies: Noam ChomskyNoam Chomsky is one of the most hysterically abused figures in the world today. Even his critics have to concede that his work in the field of linguistics – beginning to decode the structure of how language is formed in the human brain – makes him one of the most important intellectuals alive. But when he applies the same rigorous method to figuring out how power – especially the American government's – works, he is pepper-sprayed with smears. He is a self-hating Holocaust denier, a jihad-loving traitor, a Pol Pot-licking communist, and on and on.

If all you know of his work is the smears, then Hopes and Prospects will be a revelation. In his dry, understated way, he excavates the reality behind the Babel of 24/7 corporate news, and places long-buried truths on the table to examine. Every one is sourced to the leading academic journals, the best experts, the sharpest medical advice – yet each one is a shock if you rely on news brought to you by corporations and corrupt right-wing billionaires.

For example, he uncovers the story of why Haiti is so poor, and could be shaken to pieces by an earthquake that would have killed only a handful in California. It's a story of man-made earthquakes, one after another. The country was the first to rebel against slavery and to cast off the whip-hand – and was brutally punished by the French Empire. Every time it has begun to rise to its feet, it has been kicked back down, with the American Empire taking over to topple its elected leaders (the last was put on a plane at gunpoint in 2008) and stifle any moves towards development.

But who has heard about it? Who tries to hold our leaders accountable for it? Chomsky is trying to rescue crimes from the memory-hole. He explains that Ronald Reagan – the great hero of the US right – was a great champion of jihadism. It was Reagan who encouraged Pakistan simultaneously to become fundamentalist, and acquire nuclear weapons. Chomsky coolly condemns "the global jihad launched by Zia and Reagan," for geopolitical reasons, with no concern for the after-effects.

But Reagan remains unstained. Chomsky quotes the great American historian Francis Jennings, who noted that "In history, the man in the ruffled shirt and gold-coated waistcoat levitates above the blood he has ordered to be spilled by dirty-handed underlings." Instead, Chomsky says, history is too often ruled by Thucydides's maxim: "The strong do as they wish, while the poor suffer as they must."


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