This is another ZNet Free Update. You can add or remove names to the update list via the front page of ZNet. Roughly 200,000 people receive these updates.

Another of ZNet's regular writers, one of our Sustainer Commentary Writers, Michael Parenti, has a new book, The Culture Struggle, published by Seven Stories. This mailing is mostly to convey his book interview but I also want to invite you, as usual, to visit ZNet, at http://www.zmag.org/weluser.htm where we update content daily.

Among the recent material, there is a long interview with Noam Chomsky you might particularly want to address. We include below an excerpt, it is too long to present the interview in full, it ranges from korea to iraq, to international relations in general, from science to media, to vision and attitudes - and so on.

So first, below, is the Parenti book interview - and then, below that, the Chomsky excerpt.

Michael Albert

ZNet / Z Magazine


Interviewing Michael Parenti about The Culture Struggle

1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, THE CULTURE STRUGGLE is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Parenti: "Culture" refers to the entire panorama of conventional beliefs and practices within any society. But it has long occurred to me that what we call "culture" is not just a set of practices, mores, and beliefs, the "innocent accretion of past solutions," as an anthropologist once said. Much of culture is certainly that, but culture is also a politically charged component of the social order, mediated through institutions and groups that have quite privileged vested interests.

Culture should be thought of as a changing process, the product of a dynamic interplay-even serious struggle--between a wide range of social and political interests. To understand a society we need to understand the problem of culture as well as that of power. And, conversely, to understand culture we also need to take note of how power is used in society, toward what end and for whose benefit and at whose cost.

I draw from cultures from around the world in the hope of demonstrating how beliefs and practices are subjected to manipulation by dominant interests, and how cultures are instruments of social power.

Many parts of modern culture are being commodified, that is, packaged and sold to those who can pay. Folk culture is giving way to a corporate market culture. Art, science, medicine, psychiatry, and even marriage have been used as instruments of cultural control across the centuries. I deal with all this in the book.

Powerful interests also employ racism, sexism, and class supremacy to maintain their existing politico-economic rule. These too I treat. Culture is both something to be controlled by ruling interests, and is itself an instrument of domination.

In THE CULTURE STRUGGLE I also give attention to the question of how do we judge cultures. Given the prevalence of western ethnocentrism and the awful history of cultural imperialism (a ready adjunct to economic imperialism and colonialism), can we ever dare to judge the cultures of the Third World, for instance? Are not the standards by which we judge also culturally determined? I say, yes we can judge all cultures including our own, and I try to show how.


2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

I explore aspects of culture manifested in social conflict, gender, race, science, sexual identity, and New Age notions such as "hyperindividuality." I also treat the question of human perceptions and various other subjects ranging from the everyday to the esoteric. I have long studied the social sciences and the political scene. The book does not spin theories out of thin air but is filled with lots of illustrative examples.

I didn't try to write a tome. The book is only 140 pages (am I confessing or bragging?). Rather than constructing a rigorous and complex theory of culture, as in a social science monograph, I present a set of discursive commentaries linked by underlying themes, filled with materials drawn from history and contemporary cultures of this day, making it all quite readable I hope.


3) What are your hopes for THE CULTURE STRUGGLE? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

One of the persistent ideological teachings in the United States is that our society is notably free of ideological teachings. Ideology is something imported from alien lands or brewed at home by allegedly sinister groups, as in "Communist ideology." But in fact, we Americans are ideologically indoctrinated into certain precepts about patriotism, elections, world leadership, the self-made rich, and all that garbage about the free market. We also entertain notions about class, race, and gender relations and about the democratic distribution of power in our pluralistic society. Well, most of these kinds of beliefs are themselves ideological. Yet they're widely circulated and remain largely free of critical examination, being seen as representing the natural order of things. These ideologies don't just emerge spontaneously and full blown, they're disseminated through the dominant institutions of society. They serve as instruments of social control. In contrast, iconoclastic views such as those often found in ZNet and Z Magazine are given only limited exposure and are usually relegated to a place beyond the pale, beyond the mainstream.

As for your question, "What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking [of writing this book]?" Robert McChesney and Cornel West wrote wonderful endorsement blurbs for the book. And David Occhiuto interviewing me on WBAI and Larry Bensky interviewing me on KPFA said they found much in it that was eye-opening and worth thinking about-- despite its brevity. Well, that's what makes me happy: the book is designed to get readers to think critically about things that either have been unduly obscured or are so obvious as to be easily overlooked. When even exceptionally well-informed and well-read people like McChesney, West, Occhiuto, and Bensky can benefit from it, I start thinking that other people will also. So far that seems to be the case. And critical thinking is what spurs us to action, protest, resistance, and charting a new and better course.


The beginning of the Chomsky interview…

SUN WOO LEE: How is your health?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I am fine, as you can see.

SUN WOO LEE: Is there any recent issue of interest related to Korea which you have been following?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Korea is playing a very significant role in world affairs. First of all, its economic development was remarkable, but then its political development has been equally remarkable since the overthrow of the Jun dictatorship. It is becoming a lively, exciting society. Many things are happening.

[There're] a number of things I hope to do when I am in Korea. One of the invitations is from a Korea-based international peace organization that is trying ... to lessen the confrontation with the North. They have actions that take place right on the Demilitarized Zone. Both sides participate. So I will probably take part in some of those. There is also an invitation from Jeju Island, which I am very interested in going to. I think they have some anniversary of the massacre. It is a place I have been eager to see for a long time. I think, I mean, I think the President and the government are taking a sensible attitude towards overcoming what could be a very serious crisis of nuclear weapons.

SUN WOO LEE: We Koreans have been in the throes of dealing with the shock from Dr. Hwang's scandal related to his faking of research papers. Have you heard about this?


SUN WOO LEE: Apart from controversies about the existence of the relevant stem cell, some people argue that this research which requires cloning embryonic stem cells raises ethical concerns. What is your position on this?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I think it can be done in a way which doesn't violate human rights. I mean, these stem cells which are being harvested for use are typically taken from embryos which are not being destroyed. You are not harming anyone if you use the stem cells. In fact, it is a way of improving, maybe vastly improving the health and the life of many people.

So, the choice is between taking cells from a basically dead embryo, on the one hand, and using it, on the other hand, for research that has great potential for advancing science and for treating serious diseases overcoming thought-to-be incurable diseases, like regenerating cells and so on. So, I think it's valuable work. I mean it is unfortunate that this incident took place. But things like that happen. And the sciences are different from history or anthropology. When mistakes are made or there is fraud, it is very quickly corrected because other people redo the experiments. So, science has a built-in corrective apparatus which means that things like this are rare and they are quickly corrected and then you just go on. But it has happened before.

In fact, there are much more serious cases right here, I think. It is a very serious situation here which is maybe not as dramatic but in the long run it's much more serious. That is, it's been discovered that technical papers appear in the best journals. Uh, if you do a statistical analysis of them, you can discover that you can, to some extent, predict what they are going to publish on the basis of their funding, which means that the experimental work and interpretation are being distorted in the interests of the corporations that fund them. Now that's very hard to correct. It is not outright fraud; it means not reporting negative evidence and selecting, which is very hard to detect. But over a long term, that can have really harmful consequences with regard to drugs that people use. Are they safe?

This research [= Hwang's research]. There was improper behavior and that was an unfortunate incident. But, it didn't actually hurt anyone. It is quite different from falsifying the record on the character of some drug. So, yes there are things like that and there are much more serious ones like what I just mentioned. And over time, they get corrected, but it is often a very long time.

There are well known cases. I mean, take, say, lead poisoning, which is extremely serious. Nobody knows how many children died from it. When the corporations began producing lead for gasoline, back in the 1920s, they knew right away that it was toxic. They knew from their own work that it was toxic. They kept it secret. They had enough political power to keep the government from investigating it. It was almost fifty years before it finally broke through. I mean, the costs of that were incredible. And that's true all around us. I mean, cancer rates, for example, are rising. In most of the world, particularly in the industrial societies, it is very hard to trace particular causes, but it's very likely that they are coming from chemical pollutants and things of that nature - [Pollutants] are simply not controlled properly. And the reason they are not controlled is just the power of major financial institutions or corporations and others and their power over government to prevent decent regulations. In fact, the most dramatic case of all which may actually destroy the human species is the unwillingness to take appropriate steps with regard to environmental catastrophes like global warming, which could be extremely serious. And the failure to act properly on that is considered a major human crisis, which may make life unlivable for our grandchildren. In comparison to that, the stem cell fraud is a minor footnote.

SUN WOO LEE: As an academic, what opinion do you have on the issue of fabricated research results? In the United States, how are such frauds dealt with?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, if you read science journals, science magazines, for example, or, if you look at the letters columns, there are occasionally cases of where the authors of an article write a letter withdrawing the article, saying that subsequent research has discovered that what they wrote was incorrect or they rechecked the data and it did not come out that way. Or others also write letters correcting things. And in most areas of science, there is enough of a corrective apparatus, so that it is overcome fairly quickly.

In cases of bias due to funding, it is much harder to detect because the nature of the inquiry is much more complex. But it is dealt with seriously, I think. I am not sure there are any better ways of much being done. You have to have peer review. And peer review has potential corruption in it.

SUN WOO LEE: Are they punished in some way? If so, what kind of punishment do they receive? Are they sent to prison?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, falsifying research is not a criminal offense. It is wrong. Take, for example, tobacco companies who did suppress information for a long time on the lethal effect of what they were producing. There have finally been some sentences, very light sentences. Corporate crime is simply not punished. White collar crimes are barely punished. There are extensive studies of this. Just take one example: two of the major drug companies - I think it was Eli Lilly and Smith Kline - which have since been merged into some bigger conglomerate. This must have been the late 1980s. There was, if I remember, a class action suit against them for falsifying information on some drugs which led to tens of thousands of deaths. They found 80,000 people who had suffered severely from this. They brought a suit - these 80,000 people - against the company. And they won the suit. And the company was charged 80,000 dollars - one dollar for each person who they had seriously injured. I mean, if a particular person was guilty of seriously injuring 80,000 people, they would not be fined 80,000 dollars, but that is the way corporate crime is dealt with. In fact, there are extensive legal studies of corporate manslaughter. Killing someone with the understanding that what you are doing may very well kill them -manslaughter- it is called corporate manslaughter, which is huge, but has barely been investigated.

England has a history of hundreds of years of concern for this since the beginning of the industrial revolution. The first book on corporate manslaughter by a British legal specialist just appeared about seven or eight years ago. Actually he asked me to write an introduction to it, which is how I knew it appeared. And in the U.S., I am not even sure how much study there is. Powerful systems tend to have ways of immunizing themselves from punishment. Actually, that is true in all of international affairs. I mean, take the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. Well, those tribunals, especially Nuremberg. It was very explicit that the chief counsel, Robert Jackson, was very eloquent, saying that if the crimes of those we are now sentencing are crimes of everyone, and if we commit them, we have to be subjected to the same criminal proceedings. Has that happened? I mean the supreme international crime - as it was called at Nuremberg - the supreme international crime, which encompasses all of the evil that follows, for which people were hanged at Nuremberg - is a crime of aggression. And aggression was carefully defined. Aggression means sending your military forces into the territory of another state.


There is much to this interview, online...



Reply via email to