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Trade?
Noam Chomsky  

Questioner: In a debate I had with a capitalist once, he asserted that
most US investment occurs in European and developed Asian countries,
saying that that means that free trade is beneficial. Your reaction?

He's right that most Foreign Direct Investment (not only US) is in
developed countries, and the rest is mostly in a small number of
countries. But the gross numbers are almost meaningless. Egypt had more
FDI than South Korea until about 10 years ago, but it was mostly in the
extractive industries, while Korea, which radically violated the rules
and therefore was able to develop, controlled and targeted FDI for the
purposes of economic development. In the mid-1990s, during the period of
great enthusiasm for "emerging markets" and the great investment
opportunities they offered, Commerce Department figures for US FDI in
the Western Hemisphere (minus Canada, considered part of Europe,
rightly) showed that 25% went regularly to Bermuda, about 15% to the
British Cayman islands, and about 10% to Panama. Not to build steel
mills. The rest was largely takeovers, much of it close to robbery. One
has to look at what is behind the numbers, always.

I doubt very much that you met a capitalist who believes in free trade.
To my knowledge, that is close to a non-existent category. What "free
trade" was he talking about? Certainly not WTO, NAFTA, etc. They are
remote from any notion of free trade. In fact a large part of what is
called "trade" is not trade in any serious sense at all, but rather
interactions within huge command economies (corporations) that happen to
cross borders -- about 2/3 of US "trade" with Mexico, apparently. Note
that all such numbers are estimates, because the private tyrannies that
dominate the international economy are largely unaccountable.



Humanitarian Interventions
Noam Chomsky   

About Somalia, Steve Shalom had a fine article about it at the time in
Z; I wrote about it right away in Z too. More later, after other facts
dribbled out. In brief, there had been a terrible famine after the chaos
following the overthrow of the murderous US-backed dictator. By the end
of 1992 it was declining, Red Cross supplies were mostly getting
through, it looked as though the situation was coming under control. At
that point Bush 1 decided to make a spectacular show of "humanitarian
aid." Marines were sent in a manner so comical even the TV teams
couldn't take it seriously. There was a night landing in front of TV
cameras (of course all networks were notified: what else would be the
point?). But the marines with their night vision equipment were blinded
by the cameras and the crews had to be ordered to shut them off. There
was no resistance of course. 

After that came a tragicomedy in which some lives were saved by
humanitarian aid and probably as many or more were lost by heavy-handed
military tactics -- which were later blamed on the UN when it became a
fiasco, though it was all under US military control. Black Hawk Down and
all the rest are one fictionalized version of it. The US estimated that
7-10,000 Somalis were killed, for what that's worth. Specialists who
have worked on the area, like Alex de Waal, estimate that deaths and
saving of lives were about in balance, and that the whole matter could
have proceeded better without the military intervention, which appears
to have been done mostly for PR purposes, and was virtually announced
that way. That's only the beginning. But a good enough reason to suggest
plenty of skepticism.

Genuine humanitarian intervention would often be a good thing. And it is
often quite easy. Right now there is much soul-searching and
self-flagellation on the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda massacre, when
the West would not intervene to stop it. For 100 days, people were
killed at the rate of about 8000 a day. That happens be about the number
of children who die every day in Southern Africa from easily treatable
diseases. That's Rwanda-level killing every day, not for 100 days, but
constantly. And it's far easier to stop than sending troops to Rwanda.
All that's necessary is to spend pennies a day to bribe drug companies
to produce the needed remedies, instead of doing what they are required
to do by law: maximize profits by producing "life-style drugs" for the
rich rather than life-saving drugs for the poor. That would suffice to
stop ongoing Rwanda-style killing -- again, not just for 100 days, and
just among children in one region. Is anyone doing it? What does that
tell us about the alleged humanitarian concerns over Rwanda? Or Darfur?
Or... What it tells us, loud and clear, is that humanitarian concerns
are wonderful as long as it's someone else's crimes and we do not have
to do anything about them apart from striking heroic poses.

It actually tells us a lot more. Consider the savagery and criminality
of a society that is based on institutional structures so utterly insane
that in order to stop permanent Rwanda-style killings among children in
one region of the world -- there's a lot more -- we have no means
available except to bribe unaccountable private tyrannies to save them.

 
Rising Boats
Noam Chomsky  

Questioner: Frequently, when conservatives respond to allegations of
inequality in capitalism, they say that "The boats are all rising, who
cares if the tide carries some higher?" That is, if growth is occurring
at some rate, capitalism's good. What is your reaction to this...

It's a fine argument for Stalinism and Nazism. Russia had quite a
substantial growth rate until the 1960s -- that caused great concern
among US and British leaders. Same with Eastern Europe on Kremlin Rule.
And pretty egalitarian, by the standards of the US and its satellites. 

Hitler's enormous popularity was based in no small part on the economic
progress in Germany. 

In the US, there was high and egalitarian growth from World War II to
the mid-1970s, when the "neoliberal" reforms (absurdly called
"globalization") were introduced. Since then growth and other relevant
economic indices have deteriorated, and for about 90% of the population,
real incomes have stagnated or declined, along with benefits, while for
the ultrarich they have skyrocketed, particularly under Bush. 

In other words, there's nothing to respond to. It's hogwash, and these
people should not be permitted to defame the honorable term
"conservative." There are scarcely any genuine conservatives in the
public arena, political or other.


Bush Lying?
Noam Chomsky 
 
Did Bush lie on the reasons for 9-11 ("they hate our freedoms," etc.)? I
think one has to be a bit cautious. 

Lying requires a certain competence: at least, it requires an
understanding of the difference between truth and falsehood. When a
3-year old tells you an obvious falsehood, it isn't really fair to call
it a lie. The same was true of the huge whoppers that Reagan came out
with when he got out of the control of his handlers. The poor soul
probably had no idea. With Bush, I suspect it is more or less the same.
There is a literature of "exposures" (Woodward, etc.), which is taken
seriously, but I don't frankly understand why. Among the people he is
interviewing, some have the competence to lie, and it only makes sense
to suppose that they are doing so; why should they tell him the truth?
As for the others, it doesn't really matter what they tell him. The same
is true of people who are deeply immersed in some religious cult, like
the Washington neocon intellectuals. It is hard to know whether they
have the competence to lie, just as it's hard to know for someone who
has a direct line to some divinity.

For people who tried to be serious and honest commentators, the answers
to "why they hate us" have been easy to find all along, and it is rather
striking to see the systematic avoidance (what anthropologists sometimes
call "ritual avoidance") of the clearest evidence. I've often reviewed
it in print -- in World Orders, for example, when the documents were
declassified. In brief, Eisenhower and his staff were concerned in the
1950s about the "campaign of hatred" against us in the Arab world, and
understood the reasons: the perception that the US supports harsh and
oppressive regimes and blocks democracy and development, and does so to
gain control of the energy resources of the region. In later years, that
remained true, though new reasons arose. Thus when the Wall St. Journal
and others studied attitudes of "moneyed Muslims" (bankers, managers of
multinationals, corporate lawyers, etc.) after 9-11, they found the same
reasons, along with others: the decisive US support for vicious Israeli
repression of Palestinians and robbery of their resources, and the
murderous US-UK sanctions that were devastating the civilian society of
Iraq. In the streets and villages, the attitudes would be far more
extreme. Since Western intellectuals don't like to hear unpleasant
truths about themselves, not surprisingly, we are treated instead to a
stream of fantasies about "why they hate us".

It remains true. 

Take Iraq. Among Western intellectuals, it is a virtual axiom that the
US goal -- sometimes Bush's "messianic mission," as the elite press puts
it -- is to bring democracy to Iraq, the Middle East, and the world.
Critics in the liberal press (e.g., the New York Review, American
Prospect, etc.) agree that it is a noble and generous vision but object
that it is beyond our reach, etc. Iraqis apparently see it differently.
A few days after the President affirmed his noble vision to rapturous
applause in Washington last November, a poll in Baghdad was released in
which people were asked why the US invaded. Some did agree with
near-unanimous Western elite opinion: to establish democracy. 1%. 5%
said it was to help Iraqis. Most of the rest gave the obvious answer,
dismissed with some hysteria here as a "conspiracy theory" or with some
other intellectual equivalent of a four-letter word: to control Iraq's
resources and to reorganize the Middle East in the interests of the US
and its Israeli client.

Furthermore, it is not just Arabs and Muslims. The reason why many
crucially important polls are simply suppressed in the media is that
they tell us too much that it's better not to know. Take, say, the
bombing of Afghanistan -- a "no brainer" according to virtually
unanimous articulate opinion in the US and UK. No one but lunatics or
absolute pacifists could possibly oppose it, we are solemnly instructed
by leading moral philosophers, the executive editor of the NY Times, and
others. To uphold that stand, it was necessary to suppress an
international Gallup poll taken right after the announcement of the
bombing, which found very limited support for it, and in the region that
knows US power best, Latin America, virtually none. Thus 2% in Mexico
supported the bombing IF it would not hit civilian targets (of course it
did, at once) and IF the perpetrators of 9-11 were known (eight months
later, the FBI conceded that there was still nothing more than "belief"
that the plot might have been hatched in Afghanistan, but carried out
elsewhere). Removing qualifications, there was virtually no support
anywhere. But that won't do, so it is silenced, to this day. And the
same is true of "why do they hate us."

Same elsewhere. I happened to be listening to NPR a few days ago, where
the usual mellifluous voices were discussing how Moqtada al-Sadr is a
marginal figure greatly disliked by Iraqis. Maybe. However, I had just
read a report in the quite respectable London Financial Times of a poll
they regarded as quite credible, taken before the revelations about
torture, which found that the US attack on Moqtada had succeeded in
turning him into the second most popular figure in Iraq, right below
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, with about 1/3 expressing "strong support"
for him and another third "some support." The reasons were that he had
at least stood up to the hated occupation. Maybe it's been published
here. I didn't see it.

However, I'd be reluctant to call what you describe "lies," for the
reasons mentioned, which extend over a broad range, not just to 3-year
olds, cultists, and poor souls whose knowledge of the world may be
restricted pretty much to their note cards.



More Symmetries
Justin Podur 

I don't have anything to say about Reagan. This is one of those things
that is covered ad nauseam in the mainstream and as a result there will
be ample coverage in the alternative media as well. Paul Street's blog
has a comparison of Reagan and Bush II, for example.

A couple days ago I blogged about the symmetry between Colombia and
Venezuela <http://blog.zmag.org/killingtrain/archives/000523.html>  --
Venezuela's elite attempting to halve Chavez's term, Colombia's elite
attempting to double Uribe's term.

Today's symmetry is from Israel/Palestine.

Marwan Barghouti, one of the most respected Palestinian leaders and
political prisoners, has been sentenced to life in prison
<http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/06/06/1086460172807.html>  (five
life terms plus forty years) by an Israeli kangaroo court. The
interesting part is that he was convicted not for any direct role in
violence, but because -- and this is a quote from the judges decision --
"He did not have direct control over the militants, but did wield
influence". 

Coupled with the fact that Israel doesn't really have jurisdiction over
Palestinians in a legal sense (a point raised by Barghouti himself and a
Palestinian spokesperson -- Barghouti said "The Israeli courts are a
partner to the Israeli occupation ... the judges are just like pilots
who fly planes and drop bombs.") this means that the Israelis should be
rounding up, at the very least, the entire leadership of the United
States, including Congress and much of the media -- they don't have
direct control over US terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere, but they do
wield influence." They should also round up Sharon and his cabinet.
There would be at least one difference between Barghouti and these
arrests: they are much more demonstrably guilty than Barghouti was.

And now for the symmetry part. So, around the same time Barghouti's
sentence is coming down, Israelis were killing
<http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/435881.html> a 19-year old
Palestinian, Omar Farah, in the West Bank, a 17-year old Palestinian,
Mohammad Nabahan, in Gaza, and a man in a wheelchair at Qalandya, in the
West Bank. 

His name was Arafat Ibrahim Yakub, and he was in a wheelchair because he
had been injured in the first intifada, in 1987.

An Israeli tank also ran over a man in a wheelchair in Jenin during the
2002 massacre there.

No one is serving a life sentence for any of these murders. Nor will the
people who "influenced them" serve life sentences, any more than Reagan
was punished for his crimes.

 
Colombia and Venezuela, again
Justin Podur

In a state of preoccupation about the recall referendum trap that
Venezuela has found itself in, I thought I would check Colombia's
national newspaper, El Tiempo, to see what they are saying about it. El
Tiempo is actually a better paper, even on Venezuelan issues, than any
of the Venezuelan papers. I saw something that is quite ironic. It seems
that yesterday, the very day that the results of the signature drive for
the recall referendum came out in Venezuela, the Colombian Congress
narrowly passed legislation enabling Colombia's current president Alvaro
Uribe Velez to be re-elected. 

So, while the oligarchy of one country conspires to cut the term of a
decent president in half, the oligarchy of another conspires to double
the term of a most indecent president (see ZNet Colombia Watch for a
mountain of articles about Uribe, going back years, and for the most
damning piece, see this interview with Javier Giraldo).

When Uribe tried to get his own re-election prepared in a referendum in
October 2003, it failed. So he defied the will of the people, defied the
constitutional court, defied the constitution itself, and has finally
slipped his re-election through the cracks, with no one paying
attention.

Imagine if Chavez had tried to pull the same thing? Imagine the appalled
notes of concern about democracy and constitutional process and the will
of the people, coming from not only the State Department but other
equally hypocritical sources? 

Imagine, in other words, if Venezuela was ruled by someone like Uribe
instead of someone like Chavez?

The frightening thing is that you don't need to imagine it. If the US
and the Venezuelan elite have their way, that's exactly what you are
going to see. And when that happens, you'll find parts of the 'left'
supporting it, the kind of 'left' that supported the paramilitary
killers to take over Haiti and are supporting the ongoing slaughter
there by focusing -- at a time when Aristide has been driven out, the
will of the people torn to shreds -- on supposed crimes committed by the
very parties (Aristide, Lavalas) who are now being hunted down, hounded,
and murdered. You can be sure these people will be back to claim that
whatever the US is doing in Venezuela is for the best, and what the
'left' in Venezuela really wants.


Of Markets and Tourism
Mandisi Majavu 

Recently, one of the South African newspapers Cape times, published an
angry letter from an English woman who was visiting the country. This
woman, let's call her Madam E, reproached South African politicians and
the media for politicising tourism, warning everybody that if we South
Africans continue on this path, she and the other tourists who think
like her, will stop visiting our country, for when they are
globe-trotting they do not want to hear about poor people's struggles -
in short reality, but what they want to see is beautiful beaches and
smiling waitrons. Madam E went further saying as much as there should be
social justice but, at present, markets rule. 

The underlying logic being at present the markets are not interested in
social justice and equity. Mind you, Madam E was not lamenting this
fact, rather she, as a member of the market, was reminding South
Africans of her wants and expectations. 

Those who know the markets will tell you that the markets are for the
rich and powerful who want to turn our world into a private club that
reserves the right to refuse admission. These markets are very
exclusive, and, I think Madam E is a perfect example here, encourage
anti-social tendencies. Madam E is not only anti-social, but arrogant
and lacks compassion for others. 

People like Madam E who are slaves to money are respected and admired at
these markets. One can buy and sell anything at these markets, from
public open space to human dignity. And of course the reserved role for
the poor at these markets is the role of a servant. 

A compassionate and self-respecting person wouldn't want to be ruled by
markets. Understandably, only those who benefit and, as a result,
anti-social would want to preserve the markets. That is why the
Apartheid regime lasted almost five decades without the white class that
was benefiting from it staging a demonstration against the evil system.
The benefits were too overwhelming, and today, understandably, the same
people do not want to be reminded that they are enjoying fruits of
injustice. But I digress. 

It is impossible to depoliticise tourism, after all tourism is regarded
as one of the key industries in South Africa, especially in Cape Town
where tourism generates about R20 billion ($1 trading at R6) in revenues
annually. And so, it follows that the process of distributing profits
from any industry is politically, for the process of sharing fruits of
the country reflects the country's political economy. 

Hence, especially in the South African context, a country that has one
of the biggest gaps between the rich and the poor, and a gap that is
still growing, we cannot afford not to always keep in mind that tourism
is politics in action. 




Missing Ronnie? Bush II Makes the Reagan Era Seem Kinder and Gentler By
Comparison
Paul Street 

Its hard to imagine a lifelong leftist like myself feeling nostalgic for
the late neo-conservative icon Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), but the
presidency of George W. Bush II is simply that bad. 

To be sure, much of Bush's miserable record comes straight out of the
reactionary Reagan playbook. Among the many interrelated and by no means
accidental parallels and continuities we can include: 

* The cynical use of populist "little guy" rhetoric and claims of
"economic stimulus" to justify tax cuts that have gone
disproportionately to the wealthy few and been passed at the expense of
programs for lower-income people

* The introduction of massive federal deficits as part of a strategy
that seeks to to fiscally disable those parts of government that serve
the non-affluent and the general welfare - to "starve the [government]
beast" in the language of Bush's neo-Reaganite tax-cut maven Grover
Norquist

* The diversion of huge federal resources from "butter" to "guns," that
is from social programs to "defense," showing that it's not the state
per se but the "left hand of the state" (the part that serves the social
and democratic needs of the non-affluent majority) that Reaganites and
their progeny wish "to starve" (prisons, police, and military are
actually both directly and indirectly fed by their project)

* The calculated exploitation of racial, sexual, religious and other
social and cultural divisions to entice socioeconomically ordinary white
Americans to vote against their pocketbooks by signing on to the
regressive, plutocratic Republican agenda

* The repeated paranoid pushing of the national-security panic button,
invoking terrible threats to ordinary Americans from such minimal and/or
non-existent dangers as Libya, Grenada, Nicaragua (Reagan) and Iraq and
other members of the dreaded "Axis of Evil" (Bush II) to divert the
electorate from regressive, inequality- and poverty-exacerbating
policies that most Americans (who poll as relative social democrats on
many specific policies) actually oppose

* The promotion into the world's most powerful office of individuals
with profoundly limited mental abilities and imagination - shining
monuments to the power of anti-intellectualism in American life 

* Description and justification of imperial U.S. foreign policies as
part of a new "War on Terrorism" (actually first proclaimed under
Reagan)

* The appointment of anti-civil rights and anti-feminist judges to the
federal judiciary and a record of opposing racial and gender equity. 

Beyond these and other terrible continuities, however, Bush II has been
worse than Reagan. As retired political journalist John Margolis noted
in today's Chicago Tribune, Dubya has been "a more consistent [far
right] ideologue" than the comparatively more conservative and
"pragmatic" Gipper. Even though Bush II actually lost the popular vote
in 2000, lacking the majorities Reagan got in 1980 (51 percent) and 1984
(59 percent and 49 of the 50 states), Margolis notes that "he has
pursued his conservative [I would say radically regressive - P.S.]
agenda with more single-minded fervor than Reagan." 

"Bush," Margolis writes, "has abrogated international treaties, launched
a war opposed by important U.S. allies, started construction of the
anti-missile system Regan envisioned, cut taxes more often than Reagan,
and used his executive authority to weaken protections for workers and
the environment. He has even proposed measures Reagan never dared
espouse as president, such as semi-privatization of Medicare and Social
Security" (Margolis might have added public school vouchers and the
rollback of core civil liberties) "Devoted Reaganite though he is,"
Margols adds, "Bush is now in trouble for pursuing a most un-Reaganlike
course. Unless one counts the skirmish in Grenada, Reagan never took the
country to war." 

It strikes me that much, probably most, of the explanation for these and
other differences is found in the changing, that is worsening, political
and institutional context. Whatever Bush II's inferior electoral numbers
in 2000, he has operated in an environment that has provided far less
political and institutional deterrence to the toxic agenda of the
radical corporate-Fundamentalist right. At home, labor, the civil rights
movement, the environmentalist movement, the remaining segments of
"liberal" and independent media, the welfare state and public sector,
the Democratic Party (which held congressional power under Reagan) - the
broad sweep of 20th century New Deal and Great Society constituents,
programs, and organizations that have been consistently targeted and
demonized by the American right during the last three decades - are
farther back on their overworked and underpaid heels than in the Reagan
era. Reflecting both weakness and corruption, the Democratic Party is
even less seriously oppositional and social-democratic than it was
during the Reagan period. 

Globally, the collapse of the Soviet Union (under the weight of its own
internal contradictions rather than the supposedly heroic pressure of
the Reagan administration) removed the leading planetary deterrent to
the grand imperial ambitions and strategy of the United States. That
collapse permitted Uncle Sam to wage two vicious bloody "wars" in the
strategic, oil-rich Middle East and one quick air-"war" against formerly
"socialist" Serbia - right in Russia's geopolitical backyard. 

Of course, the terrible jetliner attacks of September 11, 2001 provided
rich political cover for Bush II to launch a radically regressive and
imperial onslaught on humanity at home and abroad. The Bush
administration seized on the al Qaeda operation as a great window of
opportunity, a political windfall to pursue the Reaganite agenda along
with an ambitious new imperialist war and a previously unimaginable
assault on cherished domestic civil liberties. 

To no small extent the Bush II record has been one of Reaganism
unleashed by the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers and the
ongoing crisis of the domestic "opposition." 

Beyond these contextual differences, however, it strikes me that there
are at least two personal differences that have also helped make Bush
worse than Reagan. The first is bully boy-king Bush II's sickening and
aristocratic mean-spiritedness, reflected in his frequent sneering, his
nasty little knick-naming habit, and his spiteful mockery of a Texas
death row inmate who pleaded for clemency prior to his order that she be
electrocuted to death. There's no "friendly fascism" in the Bush White
House, not with remorseless souls like Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, and
Ashcroft in charge. 

The ever-cheerful and optimistic former Chicago Cubs broadcaster and
Hollywood actor Reagan (a New Deal Democrat up through the late 1950s)
had a different predisposition, something that served him well in the
political realm, however much it was contradicted by his policy record. 

This might seem like a small and even silly thing to mention, but the
power of the White House has a way of magnifying the significance of its
holder's personal predispositions. 

The second and I think much less trivial personal difference is that
Bush II is far more than an exploiter of American Fundamentalist
Protestantism. He himself is a "missionary militarist" (Ralph Nader's
excellent description) - a fully converted and convinced Fundamentalist
who thinks that God speaks to his dullard West-Texas "gut" on key
matters of imperial and high state policy. 

Reagan probably had no such dangerous delusions, at least none on the
scale of Bush II. While he appealed to many fundamentalist and
evangelical voters, the Tribune noted today, Reagan "rarely went to
church, nor did he outwardly practice a formal religion." 

Bush's authoritarian Christian Fundamentalism, which reflects and feeds
the narrowness and evil of his dark little mind, is perfectly matched to
bin-Laden's project of provoking conflict between the Islamic world and
western "Christendom." It should not be taken lightly when you decide if
and perhaps how to vote this November. 


Tortured Minds
Michael Albert

Doesn't sufficient evidence of deceit and destruction now exist for
everyone to see it? Can the average American - much less the average
citizen of England given their far better media -- be unaware of the
vile nature of our government's pursuits, other than by adopting an
ostrich approach that actively denies reality? There is a parade of
images and rhetoric blasting into everyone's line of sight. The spin
campaign to obscure its meaning is utterly absurd, yet we know it will
largely work. Why?

Some people will see the truth, and will honestly from the depths of
their inner values and commitments react with the attitude "who gives a
damn, crush the worms." 

Some people will see the truth, and will honestly from the depths of
their inner values and commitments react with the attitude that "it is a
shame, but we live in a horrible world and so we must be horrible too." 

And yes, some people will be confused by media machinations and will,
against their humane inner values and commitments, honestly doubt the
evidence to think, instead, that the U.S. is on a mission of peace and
understanding. 

But isn't it obvious that a great many people will prevent themselves
from seeing and especially from having an emotional response to now
ubiquitous truths because if they allowed themselves to feel an
appropriate emotional response, they would be irate and unpatriotic, and
they do not want to be irate and unpatriotic?

I contend that at least one important factor at work is that people feel
there is no alternative to the injustices that surround us and, at any
rate, that they are helpless regarding altering those injustices. To
become irate will buck social norms and make their lives harder, not
easier. No gains, in their view, will accrue to themselves or to others
either. People thus reject the uncomfortable, alienating, and in their
view unproductive world of social judgments to instead focus their
energies on the relatively comfortable, acceptable, and productive
worlds of sports, tv, lawn care, shopping, dating, business as usual,
survival, and other daily interaction with friends and family. 

What difference does it make to acknowledge this fact? 

As activists, shouldn't our prime priority be engendering larger and
larger numbers of more and more committed dissidents? But if that is our
prime purpose, shouldn't we try to reduce all obstacles to dissent, not
just a few?

One major obstacle to dissent is certainly the ignorance and confusion
induced by mainstream media. Ubiquitous media misdirection confuses many
people into pursuing agendas contrary to their own values and intents.
One leftist task is therefore to rebut media lies, and we should be
proud that countless leftists have over the years energetically
addressed this task. However, we should also admit that the
organizational results of all the media correcting we have done have
been spotty. 

What if media manipulations take hold not as a result of being
convincing, but because people desire to adopt them as rationalizations
for life choices even though they are utterly unconvincing? What if most
folks would easily see through media madness if they were inclined to
pursue truth, but will not see through it because other concerns trump
truth-seeking? Then, of course, to be most effective we would have to
address those other factors and not just the media lies themselves.

Don't the other factors include a deep cynicism that there is no better
world possible, and that even if there were such a world, people are
powerless to attain it? If so, doesn't it follow that activists should
make a positive case about vision and strategy in addition to addressing
what is wrong with war, poverty, and so on?

This argument has for a long time seemed to me overwhelming in its
implications for leftist agendas and is even more evident at the present
moment. So I have to wonder what prevents us, year in and year out, from
rebutting doubts about a better world being possible and about reaching
it.

Is it that we don't actually want to win a new world? It can't be that,
can it? 

Is that we are afraid of the responsibility that would come with trying
to win a new world? That is more plausible, but still not likely, I
think. 

Perhaps we just don't see the above logic but could see it at any
moment. That is hopeful, if true. 



Q/A More Personally...
Michael Albert

I recently put a Q/A on the ZNet site and in the mail about the Parecon
paperback edition, the recent mailings re parecon, etc. I thought I
would answer the same questions here, a bit less formally -- a bit more
personally -- in accord with blog expectations. There is certainly some
overlap, but some new tone and content, as well...

(1) Why have you sent messages about your book's paperback release as
ZNet Updates?

To prod people into reading it. 

This seems necessary because there are no ads for the book and few
reviews so without this prodding the paperback's existence would be
virtually unknown.

And, oddly, it works. The more you prod the more people in fact look up
the book page and, in many instances, order it.


(2) If you want the book to get out widely, why don't you make it
available free? 

We have. You can find Parecon: Life After Capitalism in its entirety at:

www.zmag.org/books/pareconv/parefinal.htm

But people who can afford $11 or thereabouts for the paperback ought to
buy it, to support Verso, among other reasons. 

On the other hand, if you can't afford it, or you want to check it out
before deciding, well - that's what the link is there for!


(3) What is "Parecon"?

Descriptions are all over the site...

"Parecon" is short for participatory economics which is the name of an
economic system meant to replace capitalism. Parecon's institutions
enhance solidarity, diversity, equity, and self management, while they
produce and distribute economic products to meet needs and develop
potentials. Parecon is classless.

Parecon's defining institutions are: (i) federations of workers and
consumers councils; (ii) decision-making with each actor having a say
proportional to the degree affected; (iii) income rewarded for duration
and intensity of work as well as for hardship undergone while working;
(iv) a division of labor that gives each participant a mix of
responsibilities conferring comparable empowerment and quality of life
while at work; and finally, (v) producers and consumers cooperatively
negotiating economic inputs and outputs in light of true social costs
and benefits.


(4) Why did you write the book?

Activists need shared economic vision to effectively combat the TINA
view and help guide practice. Lots of people need to be involved in
developing and defining such a vision. If they get out widely,
descriptions of parecon can help that process. 


(5) The participatory economic model has existed for thirteen years. Why
isn't it better known?

(a) It takes time for new perspectives to percolate to audiences and
then still more time for the audiences to reach conclusions.

(b) There seems to be a widespread movement inclination to avoid issues
of vision and long-term strategy. People don't rush to produce or to
read vision and don't discuss it as a priority.


(6) Are there good reasons why people shy away from institutional
vision?

They fear that vision can overstep what we know, elevate an elite rather
than propel explorations by a whole movement, promote sectarianism
rather than free and flexible innovations, and waste time on utopian
impossibilities, with few implications for the present.


(7) That's a compelling list. What's your answer?

They are real dangers. The reaction to them , to avoid vision and
strategy, is horribly counterproductive.

To not overstep what our current experience and knowledge justify we
shouldn't reject making proposals at all, but should make careful
proposals and welcome their widest possible debate.

To not be elitist we shouldn't avoid having vision or strategy, but
should avoid being elitist. 

To avoid being sectarian we shouldn't forego shared vision and strategy
but should share and explore vision and strategy in a non-sectarian
manner. 

To do better than propose vision that has no implications, we should
develop vision that is usefully related to current needs and pressures.

Do these four claims seem trivial? Well, they are. And that's why I
don't understand why so many people are so reticent about or even
hostile to pursuing vision and strategy.


(8) Is there any bias against discussing specifically parecon?

Parecon rejects not only private ownership, but also the monopolization
of empowering work in a relatively few hands. Those who like or who
greatly benefit from capitalism will tend on average to dislike
proposals for reducing their monopoly on productive property. We
understand and expect that. Similarly, those who like or who greatly
benefit from a corporate division of labor will tend on average to
dislike proposals to reduce their monopoly on empowering work. We should
understand and expect that too. 

People who understand what class analysis is about should have no
difficulty seeing the logic of the above paragraph. But does it apply in
this case?

Well, many leftist publishing venues that we would expect to comment on
an anti-capitalist vision, are not doing so. Why is that? Is it only
reticence about vision per se. Or could it be that they find parecon
particularly disturbing? 

Parecon implies that these venues should adopt self-managed decision
making procedures, remuneration for effort and sacrifice, and balanced
job complexes. People running these institutions may not want such a
transformation or even for anyone to discuss it. If so, I think it is a
defense of harmful class relations in our movement that is quite like
the defense of race and gender hierarchies that went on in years past.


(9) Is headway being made?

Yes, quite a lot. Internationally parecon is taking off at a great clip.
I do interviews and essays all over, as one indicator, and the book is
being translated ten times as widely as my past work.

Oddly and surprisingly the vision seems to be making considerable
progress among various Trotskyist and Leninist groups around the world.
When you think about it it isn't so odd - on what grounds would they
reject a classless vision? Anarchist response seems mixed, with many
anarchists having problems because parecon is vision period - and with
others being critical because they find institutions and organization
per se problematic, but the issues are getting addressed.

In the U.S., there is growing discussion in less ideological activist
groups also, and among students, and so on. But there is also the
continuing difficulty in getting public discussion in left media venues
slowing things down. Hopefully that will turn around too.


(10) What do you think the response to the book should be? What are you
hoping to accomplish?

For books on institutional vision I think everyone seeking a better
world should be broadly interested. It isn't that we should all try to
produce proposals for visions of all sides of life, or even that we
should all read and discuss at length every proposal to come along. But
I do think it is incumbent on critics of existing relations taken as a
collective group to learn about visionary proposals, to assess them, and
if we feel comfortable with them to adopt them as goals or, if we don't
feel comfortable with them, to reject them for clear reasons. I think as
a movement we need to do all this to ensure that our efforts are
participatory, democratic, anti sectarian, and geared to attain worthy
aims that we can clearly enunciate.

So - it may sound outrageous, but I think most of the ZNet audience
(which in sum might be as many as half a million people or more) should
be eager to personally assess parecon. And I find it hard to understand
why they aren't. It is a full anti capitalist proposal. It comes from a
source that this audience respects. It has all kinds of other support,
again from very trusted directions. It is accessible, requiring no prior
background. It is cheap to even free. Every activist is continually
asked what do you want. So what is the obstacle, is my query? Time is
one, and I understand that, sure. But the point is, we need to be giving
more time to trying to arrive at shared vision, not ruling it out on
those grounds.

So, with these views, it turns out that even with the escalating
distribution of the new book and with the even more widespread use of
the online parecon resources, and even with the translations and the
discussions in other venues and the 20,000 pages that now turn up in
Google searches for parecon, I find myself frustrated with the seemingly
endless slowness of it all. But then again, how could anyone feel other
than frustrated at our progress, until we win a new world, that is?

I think the anti-capitalist left should either find parecon wanting and
reject it due to being an unworthy vision for going beyond capitalism,
or should find it worthy and then advocate it, and while I of course
know that either result will take time, not least because the debate
should be widespread, I am impatient for it to occur -- just like I am
impatient for there to be visions proposed and assessed and finally
advocated for other domains than economy.


(11) What difference would it make to recruitment if leftists had a
shared economic vision?

People lead hard lives, and don't have a lot of free time. They don't
want to be on the side of the angels or to fight the good fight only to
lose. They want to make their own lives and the lives of the people they
love better - and, yes, when it is plausible, they also want to add to
the prospects of peace and justice for all. But most people don't think
it is plausible for them to try to win a better world without knowing
what would be better, how we can win it, and why their participation
would be significant enough to be worth giving to the project.

So I think if our movements had shared positive vision as well as
critique, and if we could enunciate where we are trying to go and why we
believe we can get there, and if we could compellingly show people how
and why actions they could take in the present will contribute to
winning lasting change - many more people would be attracted.


(12) Do you really think having a vision would have such a large
recruitment impact? Isn't the reason people don't join the left because
they have confused images of reality and don't see current conditions as
unjust or oppressive?

If you think the welfare budget is bigger than the defense budget, and
you think it is having no good effects, it will certainly skew your
views on government spending. And if you think Iraq is about to nuke or
gas you, it will certainly affect your views on war and peace. But,
while this is true, and while it accounts for some resistance to
movement involvement, honestly, no, I wouldn't describe the overall
situation as you do in this question.

I think instead that people who don't act on behalf of justice will
always have some explanation that claims reality is less unjust than it
really is. What's the alternative to their saying that? Are they going
to say, hey, I see that society is horrible, unfair, oppressive, unjust,
hypocritical, but I am not going to join you in activism anyway? And so,
yes, we certainly have to counter the reasons people offer for why tings
aren't so bad or so unjust, sure. But I think these reasons are often
largely rationalizations rather than deep-seated confusions. And I think
that the additional very important obstacle to people becoming active
that causes them to adopt these rationalizations is that people think
that nothing better than what we now endure is possible.

Consider, as a bit of evidence for this rather unorthodox position, May
1968 in France.

France, in May of 1968, went into a gigantic turmoil in which large
sectors of the population were acting in a revolutionary way. A few
months before this truly stupendous upwelling of activity, France was
comparatively quiet. A few months after the tumultuous events, France
was relatively quiet again. What happened?

Was it that in March and April people learned all kinds of new things
about reality and this corrected their confusions about oppressions so
they suddenly saw injustice clearly and as a result rebelled, and that
then in June and July they somehow lost all that new knowledge, somehow
siphoned out of their minds, so they fell back into confusion and
relative passivity?

Or was it that some mixture of events generated hope leading into May,
which overcame cynicism and fueled the momentous upsurge, and that then,
in June, the hope dissipated in turn dissipating the activism?

If we think the latter is a more compelling explanation of what
occurred, that is that the obstacle that is banished when there is
tumultuous activism is cynicism and doubt, then it seems to me that
movements have to spend considerably more time addressing doubts about
efficacy as compared to making a case that the world around us is
unjust. That doesn't mean we should do no critiques of the world we now
endure, and provide no rebuttal of lies and confusions. But it does mean
we should find a new ratio between analysis of current ills and
presenting positive vision and strategy. We should increase the volume
of the latter elements.

I hope readers will agree that vision and strategy need attention, and
will for that reason consider getting a copy of Parecon to help evaluate
the model, improve it, and finally reject or advocate what results. And
that is why these mailings have gone out.

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