It is nearly impossible to live in today’s world without having come across mention of the legendary Noam Chomsky. His work as a linguist, historian, political activist and philosopher, which spans nearly a century, has had an immeasurable impact on contemporary world views. Not only have his over a hundred books become the basis for a vast milieu of modern thought, but he himself has become a widely-admired public figure whose thoughtful take on current events is as crucial as ever in our increasingly hostile, chaotic sociopolitical climate.
While the renowned left-wing thinker, and Truthdig’s award-winning Editor in Chief Robert Scheer are both well known in progressive circles for their lifelong work challenging systems of oppression and false narratives about American exceptionalism, until now, the two had never met in person. In a remarkable two-part interview, Chomsky and Scheer meet to discuss topics ranging from the type of dystopian future we face, to the unfortunate, brutal success of the U.S. empire.
Basing his first question on Chomsky’s immense body of work, Scheer focuses on the two well-known dystopian texts written by Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, “Brave New World” and “1984,” positing that there is “an amalgam of these two totalitarian, dystopian models emerging.”
“I think we can start with the assumption,” says Scheer, “we have to be concerned about a dystopian future. Which model do you see emerging?”
The linguist offers a detailed response based on the novel “We” by Yevgeny Zamyatin and Shoshana Zuboff's "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," which in his view best predict and outline the techno-surveillance system that has already begun to take hold in in the U.S. and beyond, where companies such as Google, Amazon and others are finding novel ways to exert control over mankind.
“The kind of model towards which society is moving is already illustrated to a substantial extent in China,” says Chomsky, “where they have very heavy surveillance systems and you get a--they have what they call a social credit system.
“You get a certain number of points, and if you, say, jaywalk, violate a traffic rule, you lose points,” he elaborates. “If you help an old lady across the street, you gain points. Pretty soon all this gets internalized, and your life is dedicated to making sure you follow the rules that are established. This is going to expand enormously as we move to what's called the internet of things. Meaning every device around you--your refrigerator, your toothbrush, and so on--is picking up information about what you're doing, predicting what you're going to do next, trying to control what you're going to do next, advise what you do next.”
Perhaps most alarmingly, Chomsky asserts that “Huxley was kind of right” in positing that “people may not see [this form of surveillance] as intrusive; they just see it as that's the way life is, the way the sun rises in the morning.”
The conversation later moves into a discussion of American empire and what Chomsky views as its little-understood but undeniable success. While Scheer approaches the question from a military standpoint, in which the U.S. has led a series of bellicose failures that have ushered in an era of immense global instability, Chomsky takes an economic approach.
“The imperial model, which succeeded,” says the MIT professor, “[has] prevented other countries from moving towards independent development, and therefore led to a situation in which U.S. multinationals dominate the world. It's led to a situation in which [the U.S. empire is] primarily designed for the benefit of U.S. capital, which has succeeded beyond belief.”
Listen to the first part of the remarkable discussion between Scheer and Chomsky, and tune in next week for the second installment, which will touch upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its global impact.