Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Manufacturing Counterculture

Manufacturing Consent is a documentary supposedly about Noam Chomsky's work of the same name, though ironically it functions as little more than an advert for Chomsky, essentially ignoring the book's other author Edward Herman. This is clear from comparing the subtitles of the book (published 1988) and the film (released 1992). The book's subtitle is 'The political economy of the mass media', the film's is 'Noam Chomsky and the mass media'. The man himself is introduced by the description 'the most important intellectual alive' and it continues in a similar vein.

The point here is that Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive, because he's probably the most famous, the most widely read, and therefore the most influential. Not because he's got the best ideas and arguments, but because films such as this one have propelled him as close to rock star status as an MIT professor could hope to be. However, this means we should treat his work with the utmost caution, not with fawning praise and uncritical coverage, yet the latter is mostly what happens. However, from his philosophical bases to his advocacy of global government Chomsky appears at best a misguided and outmoded fool and at worst a shill of titanic proportions. Whether knowingly or otherwise, Chomsky is part of a dynamic of deception that affects everything from the shoes people wear to which country gets invaded this year.

Old Noam's background is in linguistics, and he belongs to a school of thought stretching back through the fraud Rene Descartes all the way back to the first writer of the dialectical method, Plato. This is significant, because Descartes willingly suppressed his own work at the behest of the Church during the Copernican revolution, and Plato was part of an aristocratic culture of knowledge where intelligent young teenage boys were sodomised by older men as part of their apprenticeship. Neither were men of great fidelity or credibility.

Descartes committed what I consider the greatest intellectual hoax of all time, and it has become the most quoted bit of philosophy of all time. This is 'cogito ergo sum', in essence 'I think therefore I am'. The argument in Rene's Meditations is essentially that one can doubt pretty much anything, except that oneself much exist, in order to be doubting the other stuff. 'I think, therefore I am', because I must exist in order to think. At first glance it seems a plausible argument, but it is an ideological confidence trick that makes Fukuyama seem like a parlour game. The most straightforward fallacy is that the argument is circular: 'I think, therefore I am'. Naturally, if you assume from the off that it is 'I' that is thinking, or that there has to be a 'I' that thinks at all, then you're going to conclude that this thing exists, because without it you're left with a tautology 'If I exist then I exist'.

Friedrich Nietzsche put forth essentially this sort of criticism in his most famous text Beyond Good and Evil, which is now the name of a popular computer game franchise.

There are still harmless self-observers who believe that there are "immediate certainties"; for instance, "I think," or as the superstition of Schopenhauer puts it, "I will"; as though cognition here got hold of its object purely and simply as "the thing in itself," without any falsification taking place either on the part of the subject or the object. I would repeat it, however, a hundred times, that "immediate certainty," as well as "absolute knowledge" and the "thing in itself," involve a CONTRADICTIO IN ADJECTO; we really ought to free ourselves from the misleading significance of words! The people on their part may think that cognition is knowing all about things, but the philosopher must say to himself: "When I analyze the process that is expressed in the sentence, 'I think,' I find a whole series of daring assertions, the argumentative proof of which would be difficult, perhaps impossible: for instance, that it is _I_ who think, that there must necessarily be something that thinks, that thinking is an activity and operation on the part of a being who is thought of as a cause, that there is an 'ego,' and finally, that it is already determined what is to be designated by thinking--that I KNOW what thinking is. For if I had not already decided within myself what it is, by what standard could I determine whether that which is just happening is not perhaps 'willing' or 'feeling'? In short, the assertion 'I think,' assumes that I COMPARE my state at the present moment with other states of myself which I know, in order to determine what it is; on account of this retrospective connection with further 'knowledge,' it has, at any rate, no immediate certainty for me."--In place of the "immediate certainty" in which the people may believe in the special case, the philosopher thus finds a series of metaphysical questions presented to him, veritable conscience questions of the intellect, to wit: "Whence did I get the notion of 'thinking'? Why do I believe in cause and effect? What gives me the right to speak of an 'ego,' and even of an 'ego' as cause, and finally of an 'ego' as cause of thought?" He who ventures to answer these metaphysical questions at once by an appeal to a sort of INTUITIVE perception. - Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

While Nietzsche calls believers in such Cartesian horseshit 'harmless observers' it has become clear that he's being too kind (or sarcastic). The assumption of one's own existence, of individual ego as the origin of thought, will, desire has become the dominating belief of the Western world in the 20th century, and on into the 21st. While conformity has in some ways never been more prevalent, the grand irony is that the thing to which the greatest number of people conform is this particular conception of individuality as origin. People cling to their mass produced cultural identities claiming to have chosen them for themselves. If this genuinely were true then the advertising industry would not be worth nearly 20 billion pounds in the UK alone.

So why is this such a tremendous hoax? For two reasons: firstly, because in allowing this fallacious presumptuous ideology to become dogma philosophy has become about the analysis of internal experience, about chipping away at words and creating ever complex ways of trying to describe the indescribable. All this time we should have been focussing on our role in the world, how we interact and develop as a result of that interaction, instead of some stupid reinvention of the notion of the eternal soul. Secondly, by taking this idea as the explanation for human behaviour people become intensely selfish, introspective and thus spiritually stagnant. The rise of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy has contributed to this immensely, as Cartesianism spread throughout the academy and spawned its own discipline. A sense of isolation followed, with people increasingly seeing others as competitors, or as means to an end for an aim they see as theirs alone. Frightened, distrustful, needy - the perfect citizen.

Chomsky does nothing to alleviate this, because as part of the same academy he cannot challenge what is so inherent to the intellectual system. In the video above he talks of a Cartesian 'common sense', saying that people just talking to each other demonstrates an inherent creativity that separates us from all other animals. As a critical writer on the left old Noam should be familiar with the work of George Orwell, in particular his essay Politics and the English Language, since Noam is a political writer with a background in linguistics. There, Orwell explains how imprecise use of language encourages imprecise thought, so instead of being masters of language, using it in the way most useful to our needs, it is a means of encouraging anodyne, repetitive thinking and using people's mouths as just another means of spreading propaganda.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one's elbow. - Orwell, Politics and the English Language

Noam is someone who should, and probably does, know better. However, his answer of praising 'common people' is more about cultivating popularity than it is about a realistic explanation of the philosophical and political relevance of language.

The film briefly explains Chomsky's contribution to linguistics, and while it flatteringly tries to portray the notion of Universal Grammar as revolutionary it is little more than a reworking of Plato's notion of innate ideas, that the mind has inherent structures common to all people which enable them to learn language. As Noam argues, 'if you took a Japanese child and brought it up in Boston it would grow up speaking Boston English, if you took my child and brought it up in Japan it would grow up speaking Japanese' and therefore it 'logically follows' that there is a structure common to all languages that 'flows from' an inherent structure in all human minds. Of course, Chimpsky is assuming that one can treat languages (and for that matter human minds) as distinct, fixed entities, because otherwise one literally couldn't make the argument that he's making. As such, there are implicit proposition in his argument and his claim that it 'logically follows' is nothing more than arrogant bluster. Put another way, if one defines language as an activity rather than a structured entity then there's no need to confine oneself to a discussion about inherent structures in the mind. Besides which there are rather obvious structural difference between alphabetic languages such as modern (or 'Boston') English and idiogrammatic languages like Chinese, as Derrida discussed in detail.

This particular intellectual debate reached something of a pinnacle in 1971 in a recorded live debate between Noam Chomsky and poststructuralist Michel Foucault, a man well versed in the work of anti-Cartesians such as Nietzsche. Foucault consistently pointed out the assumptions Chomsky was making and rephrased a number of his arguments more accurately and acutely. The whole debate was broadcast on Dutch TV, and you can watch a telling extract below:

Foucault explains how Chomsky's narrative of liberation is based in the very social mechanisms that he says he is seeking to overthrow, and that he is using concepts derived from a particular philosophical tradition which itself has much to answer for in the formation of the institutions that should be overthrown, or at least radically altered. As radical as Chomsky might seem in the stuffy corridors of MIT, or in what remains of the progressive Left in America, sat alongside Foucault he comes across as conservative. In terms of being able to critically respond to the models of progressives like Chomsky, a lot depends on one's awareness of other possible ways of looking at the world. Despite being a self-proclaimed anarchist Noam goes on in Manufacturing Consent to state that the 'totalitarian society' that existed in the US during World War 2 'was justifiable due to the wartime conditions'. For all his discussion about inalienable rights, an inherent human need for creative work and the merits of libertarianism when it comes down to it Noam is happy to see fascism fighting against fascism.

Why is this important? Primarily because Noam is so famous and so widely read, and to a great many people he represents the alternative political perspective. In talking about propaganda in the way he does (five filters and all) he encourages a specific view of it and way of analysing it. The things Chomsky doesn't talk about (false flag terrorism, the creation of money as debt, secret societies and so forth) are widely ignored, or even ridiculed, by those who consider themselves radical and alternative. Control of the mainstream is a given in any system of political propaganda, but control of the fringe is if anything more important, because it enables the distraction and diversion of decent, intelligent people who might otherwise prove difficult for the ruling class.

One of the more notorious examples of this is the FBI's COINTELPRO program, formally run from 1956 to 1971. They targeted and infiltrated radical groups and either sought to destroy or discredit them or if necessary take out their leadership. Nearly a year before the much-disputed assassination of Martin Luther King FBI director J Edgar Hoover wrote:

The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder. - Hoover memo, August 1967
Likewise, according to Vincenzo Vinciguerra supposed neo-nazi terrorist group Ordine Nuovo had no political ideology, and were nothing more than an instrument of 'parallel' networks maintained by the intelligence and security services. during the Mossadegh coup in Iran in 1953 the CIA paid protestors to cause trouble on the streets, adding to the tension and making it appear like a popular insurrection from within. The following year during operation PB/Fortune, the CIA's plan to get rid of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala veteran covert operative and Watergate burglar E Howard Hunt was the head of propaganda for the mission. Echoing what Orwell said about language, in his memoir he wrote that the mainstay of the psychological warfare part of the operation was a guerilla radio broadcast. Hunt wrote:
Relatively few Guatemalans owned a radio at the time, but it was considered to be an authoritative source of information, and we knew that wherever interested ears tuned in, gossiping lips would soon follow, spreading the message. - Hunt, American Spy p74

Thousands of anti-communist pamphlets were dropped in towns, an Archbishop was persuaded to write a letter urging the people to rise up against the allegedly communist leadership, housewives were even taught to riot in the street, banging pots and pans in protest. Students were coerced into a widespread graffiti campaign, and fake death notices about the president were sent out to local newspapers to disrupt the agrarian community from which Arbenz was given so much support. Under the guise once again of an internal revolution, the CIA ousted a leader who was trying to help peasants, and radical students groups aided the rise to power of the military dictator Castillo Armas.

One man fighting in Guatemala on Arbenz's side was Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, a communist revolutionary who would lead the CIA on a chase halfway around the world until his assassination in 1967. Hunt commented that letting Che leave Guatemala after Arbenz had been ousted was the greatest regret of his professional career, however the image of Guevara's face, typically reproduced black on red, dominates a huge range of mass produced products, initially in the counterculture but now in the mainstream.

Along near identical lines, when punk first because popular in the mid to late 70s certain groups explicitly identified themselves with the symbols of communism, notably lead singer of The Clash Joe Strummer, pictured wearing a Brigade Rosse/Red Army Faction t-shirt.

These symbols, though typically of the Soviet Union rather than militant groups, became mainstream fashion in the 1990s, with even sportswear giant Addidas getting in on the action. Much like grunge, then into goth/metal, at least in the UK these were the accepted symbols of the youth who wants to look their best while sticking it to 'the system'. What this illustrates is not just how the fringe often becomes the mainstream, but how the very symbols of the old enemy are now the carefully branded, pre-packaged alternative for those who want to conform to non-conformity.

What it also illustrates is just how easily people can be made to see the very images and emblems of totalitarian regimes as a fashion choice, and therefore an expression of their ego. So much for Chomsky's common sense when you see 'freethinking' adolescents volunteering their bodies as adverts for the symbology of control, in short, when they are so carefully indoctrinated that they see wearing a communist uniform as their own choice. My advice is to get ahead of the game - get a Kosovo Liberation Army uniform and t-shirt with Bin Laden's face on.

Curiously, when Prince Harry wore a Nazi armband to a friend's party there was enough controversy that an official apology was issued. However, while Nazism is still a little too close to home, Stalin and Mao appear on t-shirts in much the same way Barack Obama does, as is wonderfully satirised at the start of an episode of Peep Show. One particular tale sums up just how easily capitalism and communism, the corporate and state machinery, combine and how their symbols have become 'superbrands', in the sense used by Naomi Klein in No Logo.

As documented by Anthony Sutton, the Caterpillar Tractor Company was critically involved in a transfer of technology to the Soviet Union which enabled them to develop their tanks. They were involved in the first five year plan in 1930 and the Chelyabinsk plant was started in the same year. It would end up producing tractors that were virtually identical to Caterpillar models, and from there adapted the technology for use in tanks. In 1980 they were still involved, through the Russia No. 6 project which built a huge pipeline to get Siberian gas to the Western European market. In 1986 the company changed its name to Caterpillar Inc. and by the 1990s had developed into a fashion label brand. Though they initially broke into the market with rugged-looking footwear, presumably so middle class suburbanites could pretend they worked on oil rigs, they have expanded into a huge range of shoes aimed at an array of markets. They even have their own fashion shows.

The Rolling Stones, fronted by middle class boys from Kent, with a lead singer who studied business courses at the LSE, were identified as devilish, rebellious and thus icons of 60s counterculture. However, the most satanic thing Mick Jagger ever did was draw a crude image of a goat on his chest which he revealed while performing 'Sympathy for the Devil' at the Rock and Roll Circus in 1968. The Stones have appeared on movie soundtracks for decades, even having a film named after one of their songs, and were the first band to embark on a corporate sponsored stadium rock tour in the 1980s. By 1997 Tommy Hilfiger had taken over from Jovan (a perfume company) and had the rights to clothe not only Mick Jagger but also the support act Sheryl Crow.

From protest movements to pop music the inside (the mainstream) and the outside (the fringe) are largely defined, mediated and regulated by the same people and institutions. Though corporate branding has taken over much of the propagandist role previously adopted by intelligence services the outcoe is much the same. Whether intentionally or not, Chomsky participates in this by defining the alternative to mainstream political discussion, but when the alternative to arch-globalists is a man who advocates global government it's not surprising to see a backlash of sincere criticism.

A study of Chomsky's stands on particularly dreadful actions such as JFK's assassination, 9/11, and with regard to the roles of the CIA and FBI, shows Chomsky to be a de facto defender of the status quo's most egregious outrages and their covert agency engines. He conducts his de facto defence of the Empire he appears to oppose through applying the very propaganda methods against which he has warned, including use of the derogatory phrase "conspiracy theorist," which in one context he has characterized as "something people say when they don't want you to think about what's really going on."

His recommendation that people practice "intellectual self-defence" is well taken. But how many could dream the person warning you is one of the most perilous against whom you'll need to defend yourself? That he is the fire marshal who wires your house to burn down, the lifeguard who drowns you, the doctor with the disarming bedside manner who administers a fatal injection? If Noam Chomsky did not exist, the diaboligarchy would have to invent him. To the New World Order he is worth 50 armoured division. - Barrie Zwicker, Towers of Deception

Zwicker, a Canadian journalist and media critic, has written extensively on 'conspiracy theories' and the role of not only mainstream but also more fringe, progressive media in refusing to discuss matters of critical importance. To finish this time here's one example of his work that is widely referenced and admired - The Great Conspiracy: The 9/11 News Special You Never Saw.