Ep. 15: In which I ask world-renowened intellectual, activist and political dissident Noam Chomsky to comoment on the unfolding trainwreck of the 2020 US election, the state of humanity, democracy, Julian Assange and more...
This is the podcast companion to our TRUMP2020 Honest Government Ad. If you haven't seen the video, you can watch it here.
This podcast is also available as a video - you can watch it here on our YouTube channel.
For a list of Noam Chomsky's works see here.
Here are links to some of the items Noam mentions in the interviews:
- Doomsday Clock of the Bulltein of Atomic Sciences
- Open letter from military officers to the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- The 1619 Project
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Hey, everyone. Giordano here from The Juice Media. Welcome back to The Juice Media Podcast, a companion to the honest government ad series. This episode is a companion to our recent honest government ad dedicated to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Trump 2020.
The Juice Media: In the space of just a few months, our don't worry, bro, it's just the flu policy has gotten a shit ton of you killed. Some say this tragedy was inevitable, but actual studies show that we'd simply responded like other governments who listened to scientists, instead of Chuck Woolery and the My Pillow guy, we could have prevented almost all of those deaths. Unfortunately for you, the amount of responsibility we take in doing our job comes to approximately... Fuck all! Which is why we got more of you killed than 50 9/11s Trump, 2020. With a president like this who needs terrorists?
Giordano: Normally we tend to focus on Australian politics, but we've had so many Americans begging us to make a video about their government. So, we've heeded your call and I hope we've done your shit government justice, friends in the U.S. Also with the U.S election coming up in November, I really feel like we need to talk about what's happening there because regardless of where you live, the results of this election will impact everyone on earth.
In terms of climate action alone, this could be the most consequential election of our lifetime, and I couldn't think of a more perfect guest to help us understand just how high the stakes are for humanity and democracy right now, than my guest today, professor Noam Chomsky, world-renowned linguist, scientist, intellectual, activist, and political dissident. One of the most cited scholars alive and author of over a hundred books, Noam Chomsky is Professor Emeritus at MIT, where he taught for over five decades and professor of linguistics at the University of Arizona.
I'm so honoured that he accepted my invitation to share a few words with us on our little corner of the internet and I hope those words will reach as many of you as possible because the message that they carry is truly vital. I hope you enjoy the interview and I'll catch you on the other side.
Welcome to The Juice Media podcast, Professor Noam Chomsky.
Noam Chomsky: Glad to be with you.
Giordano: I really appreciate it. So I'll just start off. Do you mind if I - I'll introduce you as professor Chomsky and do you mind if I address you as Noam from then on?
Noam Chomsky: That's what everyone does.
Giordano: Okay, great.
Noam Chomsky: Except my enemies.
Giordano: So welcome to the Juice Media Podcast, Professor Noam Chomsky. It's really great to have you here. First of all, I just want to ask, how are you? I feel like I'm speaking to someone in a Mad Max film, you have climate induced fives on your West and multiple hurricanes on your East and the bits in between are full of social unrest, covid, and frightening amounts of misinformation. So first of all, how, how are you?
Noam Chomsky: As you can see, I'm looking fine. We're seeing Arizona, where I live, is a hotspot for the virus. The governor is a Trump loving Republican, so he didn't really declare a lockdown. And so the disease is rampant, but we stay home. So we're okay.
Giordano: I'm glad to hear that. We don't have much time, both for our conversation today and also for humanity as a whole.
So I want to dive straight into the big picture with you. Can you please give us a sense of the historical moment that we're in right now? We have a saying that we often invoke in our videos, 'history is happening', which is a way of saying, hey, we are currently living through a history defining period for humanity. Let's be conscious of the forces that are shaping our future right now, and act accordingly.
Can you speak to the sentiment of history is happening and help us understand this defining moment for humanity that we're in.
Noam Chomsky: The current moment is a remarkable one. In fact, it's unique in the history of the human species. Never been a moment like this. It happens to be a confluence of major crises, existential crises, and two of them may simply destroy us very soon. One is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe. The other is the also growing threat of nuclear war, both extremely serious.
And there's more, of course, we're in the midst of a raging pandemic that somehow we'll get rid of the - we'll get out of the pandemic at tremendous cost, a mostly needless cost, and the United States, which is handling it more incompetently than any other country. There'll be hundreds of thousands of people killed, needlessly, as we can see by comparing it with records in comparable countries.
But there's a fourth, aside from the threat of nuclear war, environmental disaster, pandemic, there's another threat, which is very serious. And that's the significant deterioration of democracy.
In fact, if you look at the famous doomsday clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which gives a succinct expert snapshot of the world security situation, it was initiated in 1947 after the first atom bombs. The minute-hand at that point was at seven minutes to midnight. Midnight means terminal disaster. Goodbye, it's done. Over years it's oscillated. Every year that Trump has been in office, the minute hand has been moved closer to midnight. Two years ago, it reached the closest it has ever been: two minutes to midnight. This past January, the analysts gave up on minutes, they switched to seconds, a hundred seconds to midnight.
That was before the pandemic had really struck, but actually it had begun, but it wasn't yet recognised. And they gave three reasons from earlier years as to why, the now second hand, is moving towards midnight. One is the failure to deal with the threat of environmental catastrophe, the second is the growing threat of nuclear war.
The third was deterioration of democracy. Now it sounds at first as if that may not belong with the other two, but it actually does because the only hope for escaping the two growing existential crisis is a vibrant democratic system in which an informed public engages directly in the issues of life and death that face us. Take a look at the last few months, president Trump has achieved something quite impressive.
He has made all of these problems significantly worse. The environmental crisis, he's opened up new areas, vast new areas for oil drilling, including the last nature reserve in the United States. Well, he's been tearing apart the regulations that are imposed to somewhat mitigate the effects of the coming disaster in nuclear war, he has proceeded with his campaign to destroy, entirely, the arms control regime that has been meticulously constructed ever since Eisenhower. It's gone. The last parts of it he destroyed in the last few months.
Deterioration of democracy is very serious. He's turned the executive branch of the U.S. Government into a-- he’s-- he's totally purged it. There's nothing left except sycophants. Any critical voice is just thrown out. Just recently, a couple months ago, well there are inspectors general imposed by Congress to monitor executive offices, they started looking into the swamp of corruption that he's established in Washington. Took care of this easily, just fired them. And more recently it's gotten even worse. He's announced publicly that if he doesn't like the outcome of the election, he won't leave.
And this is taken very seriously in the highest places. And just recently, two distinguished senior high military officers, retired, but very distinguished and respected, they wrote a letter to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, highest military official, outlining for him his purpose, his constitutional responsibilities.
If Trump refuses to leave office and gathers around him in defence, the paramilitary forces that he has in fact been using - sent them to terrorise Portland recently, he didn't send the military because they wouldn't have obeyed orders. He sent paramilitaries border police, those sorts of things - if he tries to keep himself in office, as this letter points out, it's the responsibility of the commander to send in military forces, they said the 82nd airborne division, to force him out of office. Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of parliamentary democracy, except for the civil war. That's the moment we're living in.
Giordano: That brings us to the question of the election that is about to take place in the U.S. and it feels more than just an election for the president of the United States, it feels like an election on the future path of humanity. You've just hinted at how high the stakes are, at the same time you've also explained that, you know, we face a real threat to democracy and I really feel that, it feels like a train wreck unfolding where there is deep mistrust. Not just of Trump, but from Trump supporters, also of the Biden campaign, both sides don't seem to trust each other to respect the outcomes of the election.
There seems to be this sort of breakdown of-- is this what it feels like when democracy breaks down and if so, how can people organise and rise to the challenge that this poses to democracy?
Noam Chomsky: Well, if you want to look at the technicalities, which are being intensively discussed now, never before because the situation never arose, constitutions give kind of a general framework for behaviour, but they're not axiom systems, they don't deal with every particularity. The parliamentary democracy relies essentially on trust and good faith and that's been observed until now.
So Richard Nixon was not the most delightful person in political history, but in 1960, the election was stolen from him by manipulations, by democratic operatives who manipulated the vote in Chicago and elsewhere. He knew he'd probably won the election, but he didn't contest it. He put the welfare of the country over his personal ambition. Al Gore did the same thing in 2000 when the election was stolen. Not now. We have a different situation.
Actually, there has been a kind of precursor of this - Boris Johnson. You may recall last year, he prorogued parliament - canceled parliament because he wanted to Ram through his version of Brexit. For sure among legal circles in England, it's breaking down the whole history of the British constitution. Was finally blocked by the Supreme court, but he's continuing.
A couple of days ago he announced that Britain is going to file an international law by rejecting the treaty, the agreement that I just signed with the European Union, which has the force of international law, says we're going to, just going to violate it a little bit, but don't worry.
Of course, the European Union is furious. They've given a deadline of the end of September to conform or to have a total break, which would be an utter disaster for the British economy, which is in bad enough shape under Tory rule, and for Europe, also harmful. That's happening in a couple of weeks, the November election is shortly after.
The two oldest parliamentary democracies are in serious trouble and hanging over them is not only the pandemic, but the growing threat of environmental catastrophe and nuclear war. There hasn't been a moment like this in not only modern history, but human history.
Giordano: Focusing on the U.S. Election. What is your advice to people who care, who are conscious of the threats that you've just described and that you've been raising the alarm about for some time? What is your advice for how to navigate this election so we can get through this, so that democracy can be salvaged?
Noam Chomsky: Well, the first thing to do is try to act decisively, organise, mobilise so that there will be an overwhelming, popular vote against Trump. Usually my own position has been always that elections are kind of a sideshow. I vote if it's important, if it's not important I proceed with real politics, which is constant activism, maybe take off a few minutes to vote against somebody, but then go back to work.
And I've also always felt that in States that are safe, where you know the outcome, it doesn't matter that much, vote green or something.
Giordano: Vote your conscience, yeah.
Noam Chomsky: But not now. Now I think it is extremely important to try to develop the largest possible popular vote against Trump because the higher the vote, the harder it'll be for him and his associates to try to destroy the constitutional order.
They'll probably try anyway, but the higher the vote, the harder it will be. Will this work? Do you want my honest opinion? Probably not. For several reasons. One reason is parts of the left - there are portions of the left that insist that it doesn't matter. They're like the far right in denying the incredible impact of Trump's climate policies and nuclear policies. The far right just dismisses them. They say it doesn't matter.
Far left does the same, say it doesn't matter. They are two corporate liberals, it doesn't matter who wins. They might very well hand the election to Trump. It's not the first time in history. I'm old enough to remember earlier times, like the early 1930s, when I was a young child and the German communist party followed Stalin orders, which held that the socialists were just what were called social fascists, no different from the Nazis. So therefore we shouldn't unite with them to oppose Hitler.
Giordano: You've seen this play out before.
Noam Chomsky: Well, I've seen it before.
Giordano: Can I ask you, sorry. I wanted to jump onto this because part of the problem that seems to be unfolding, on the surface, which is sort of the traditional political sphere with the media and political parties is one issue, but below that there is another current that's unfolding, which is this dangerous turn that American conspiracies have taken.
You've spoken a lot during your lifetime about the role of corporate media and spreading propaganda but now there's another highly contagious form of propaganda and that's the rise of internet based conspiracies, like the plandemic and QAnon, which are turbocharged by social media and in a way, the biggest challenge that we face right now is in the human mind in mass as it struggles to navigate and pass through this minefield of misinformation.
Have you had a chance to think about that and how that integrates into this whole picture?
Noam Chomsky: A lot of chance to think about it, and it's very serious. In the United States it's an epidemic. But it's worldwide. Let me just give you one example that one of the things that can be done on the internet, and I'm sure we're going to see a lot more of it in the future is just faking articles and attributing them to somebody.
There's nothing you can do about it. Well, I've had it happen to me, a number of times. The crazy articles put up on the internet, my name under them. You can say it's not me, but it doesn't matter. Once it's on the internet, it's all over the place.
Well, one of them was about the pandemic, an article saying that the pandemic was created in a U.S. Military lab on purpose to try to control the whole world, signed Noam Chomsky. Got lots of letters from all over the place. Interesting. Many of them from friends, sensible people, Europeans, sensible, left intellectuals, saying, thanks for finally telling the truth. I mean, it's not just the United States. I don't know what it's like in Australia.
Giordano: No, it' s spreading here too, and as you've intimated, it's not just, you know, uninformed, uneducated people that are getting sucked into this. It's really, in fact, it seems to be sucking in people who are genuinely suspicious of government authority.
These people who are valuable players in the struggle that you've just described, they're being taken out of the fight because they've been, sort of led astray and they pose no threat to power whatsoever because they've gone on this kind of goose chase. So it feels like a real threat.
Noam Chomsky: I guess what you're thinking, of the reasons for this. I think the main reason is 40 years of neoliberalism, the neoliberal assault on the population worldwide has been extremely harmful for the large majority of the population. Greatly beneficial to its architects. So for example, you've taken the United States, which is the initiator of the most extreme version by now is 0.1%, not 1%, 0.1% of the population have 20% of the wealth.
That's double what it was when Reagan came in. Majority of the population has seen real wages decline over the last - at best stagnate, mostly declined - a large majority get by from paycheck to paycheck and their world's collapsed, democracy's declined, institutions have collapsed, it's happening to some degree or another all over the world.
And that has an effect, leads to anger, fear, resentment, distrust of authority, the media, the political parties in Europe, the traditional governing parties have basically gone. They're almost not there. Social democratic party in Germany, the oldest mass party. Virtually invisible elsewhere too. Well, that's fertile territory for conspiracy theories.
And for Demagogues to foster people want some kind of an answer. Nothing makes any sense. Why is this happening to us? Okay, so the deep state, it's Bill Gates, it's George Soros, it's the Chinese, or something. That's the territory that's being exploited by demagogues, like Trump, he repeats the QAnon craziness on his tweets so people listen to it, they hear it on Fox news, Murdoch's Fox news, so that's their world.
Giordano: You've just mentioned the deep state and that's such a prominent sort of, part of this conspiracy that we're seeing now, QAnon, everyone's focused on the deep state and so on.
One of the people who has really exposed the real deep state is Julian Assange and yet he is being tortured by that very real deep state right now and we're not seeing a whole lot of people rallying to his defence and I was wondering you know, the extradition hearing is happening right now, as we speak, I think it's day eight now. So many people don't even know that it's happening and yet it's such a consequential court case.
Could you help us understand the significance of this case and perhaps also why the mainstream media isn't covering it?
Noam Chomsky: It's enormously significant. Julian Assange has done what any good journalist ought to do. He managed to obtain information that the U.S. Government would like to keep secret from its own people, other governments too, he's brought them to the public. That's journalism and he's being punished for it.
He spent seven years basically imprisoned in the Ecuadorian embassy, it's not an embassy, it's an apartment, I've visited there. It's in many ways worse than being in a maximum security prison, prisoners at least are allowed to go out and see the sunlight for a few minutes. Not there, British security forces surrounding the whole place. Almost no charge, the charge of skipping bail. I mean, ludicrous, tap on the wrist. Now he's in a high security prison under isolation, the place where they keep the most dangerous terrorists, on the charge of skipping bail. Of course, the real charge is coming from Washington.
If he's released, the British government will almost surely capitulate to its master across the street, cross the ocean and send him to be charged for espionage or 175 years in jail if he even manages to survive which he probably won't, the ultimate torture. you know, you can't even describe it. And that's the crime. He's an Australian citizen. Australia should be saying something about this.
You're supposed to defend your citizens. Of course not when you're in terror of the godfather, who's on the loose and it's very dangerous. So let's admit it, cowering in terror before the godfather, just as Europe is doing. And you can understand why, there's a madman on the loose who has enormous power and very few constraints. And it's not just Trump. I mean, he's turning it into a monstrosity but it's been going on for some time.
In fact, it's the Neoliberal wave being pressed to the ultimate extreme of absurdity, they talk about it, weak state. They don't mean it. Powerful State, working for the most entrenched interests, government and corporate.
Now it's out of control. It can be controlled. We're not finished. We still have functioning democracy. Enough public pressure could induce the British courts to release Assange, could induce the British government, not to accept the extradition demand, could happen, same on the other issues, but if you just look away it's not going to happen.
Giordano: Noam, I wanted to ask you a sort of slightly different question. As you know, we produce political satire, the honest government ad series, where we sort of impersonate governments to give an honest message. I sent you the link to the video that this podcast will be a companion to.
And I wanted to ask you if you have some thoughts about satire, because the resistance to everything that you've mentioned is coming, not just from political parties and activism, but satirists and comedians have also really taken up the challenge and they're engaging with this, I know we certainly are.
And a lot of people write to us and thank us for dealing with these issues that are not always easy to make comedy about because they're very serious issues. I was wondering if you have a word for satirists, for people like us in the struggle and whether, what you think, the role that satire plays in all of this.
Noam Chomsky: It's a long tradition, a noble tradition, goes back to court jesters in the most autocratic, traditional government, they were allowed a certain amount of latitude and they were able to tell the powerful what the people really believed and wanted to hear, because they were considered, just jesters.
I'm not an expert, but I'm told that Kabuki theater and Japan had a similar role, mocking the powerful from the standpoint of the people.
One of my favorite examples is Mark Twain, great humorist. He wrote very powerful essays attacking the U.S. invasion of the Philippines. Interestingly, they were mostly suppressed, this was one of the most popular writers in the country, but the work was suppressed for almost a hundred years. We now have it.
Now, one of the things he was doing was satirising the political and military leaders in the United States who were carrying out this murderous war, he got to somebody named General Funston, famous general, has a big statue in San Francisco.
And he wrote at that point, I'm stumped. I can't deal with Funston, he is satire incarnate. It's impossible to satirize him. Actually, that's what I feel like sometimes when I look at Trump, when I told you, when I looked at the clip you sent me with one of your programs, it happened to begin with an ad for Trump. And I watched it for about a minute and I thought, okay, that's what you mean as the satire, because that's satire incarnate, you know, but yes, there's a very valuable role.
Giordano: Thank you for sharing those thoughts. And yes, it is a very hard act to follow, to come after a real Trump ad, to then do a mock Trump ad.
Noam I have one last question. I know you have a lot on your plate and really want to thank you for taking the time. Before I ask you this question, I just wanted to take this opportunity to really personally thank you for all you have done, you are such an inspiration to my generation and to generations to come.
And, you know, I see so much heartache and desperation and people who are overwhelmed by the collapse of society and life on this planet. And I think I speak for many thousands of people when I say that you have been a guiding light in this age of obscene injustice and inequality.
So in the most sincere way possible, I just want to say thank you.
Noam Chomsky: Thank you very much.
Giordano: I wanted to end with a big picture question. First of all, what motivated your lifelong quest for justice? Who have been your guides? And secondly, Why do you still fight?
You've been speaking truth to power for a lifetime. What keeps you going? And I just wanted to preface that by saying again, that, you know, so many people are conscious of the dire future that lies ahead and for many it's a great source of anxiety and even depression. Many can't deal with it and yet we need these people to be engaged and active.
You engage with all of these issues front on, but you also maintain a sense of calmness. And I was wondering if you could share with people, what advice do you have for people who want to be engaged, who want to deal with these problems, but find it hard psychologically and emotionally? What-- what has kept you going?
Noam Chomsky: Well I think there's a lot that keeps us going, right now. So the, take the United States, after the George Floyd murder, there was a spontaneous development of protest, black-white solidarity, all over the country, and within days it became the largest social movement in American history. Strongly supported. About two thirds of the population supported it, far more support than Martin Luther King had at the peak of his popularity.
These are people who are just finally saying, it's enough. We have to deal, not just with police murders of black, but with 400 years of vicious treatment of the Afro American population, harshest system of slavery in human history, consequences, horrible consequences afterwards, leaving a very grim legacy.
We can't just let this go. We have to do something about it. It's not the first thing. There's been a rising growth of consciousness about this, which is of deep concern to the most reactionary sectors in the United States.
Two years ago, the New York times ran a very powerful series called the 1619 project, 400 years of vicious repression of Afro Americans and president Trump, just a day or two ago, tweeted that if any school in the country uses that as part of their curriculum, he's going to cut off federal funds, okay?
This is a major struggle between the worst, most brutal elements who happened to hold power and a large mass of the population. In fact, a good majority. Well, it's a reason for hope. Take a look at young people. They are in the campaign to try to prevent us from destroying ourselves by neglecting the threat of global warming. They are in the lead. They're the ones that extinction rebellion. They're the ones who carried out the climate strike. They're the ones who, in the United States, occupied congressional offices and forced Congress to put the green new deal on the legislative agenda.
They're the ones who are represented by a 16 year old autistic girl who puts the whole world to shame, stands up at the Davos meetings of the great and powerful, gives a calm, eloquent, factual speech ending up by talking to the greats and saying, you betrayed us. Okay, that's a sign of hope.
They're the coming generation. We have betrayed them, it's a fact. We shouldn't stand by passively and let them fight the thing and hold the batten. We should be supporting them, we're the ones who can do it. That's enough to give people hope and optimism.
Giordano: So that is what you keep in your mind, what helps to keep you sane in a sense is, is looking for where the, where the fight is being taken at. And not only focusing on the problem on the reaction, but actually on what is being done to actively get us through this.
Noam Chomsky: Always been there. My old friend, Howard's Zinn, who I'm sure you know, one of my favourite statements of his is when he talked about what he called the 'countless unknown people' whose acts of courage create the situations, circumstances in which the important acts of history take place.
They're always there. We don't know their names. I don't know their names and sure you don't, but they're there and they're carrying the struggle forward with courage, engagement, integrity that we should not only admire but emulate.
Giordano: And Indigenous people also being on the front lines.
Noam Chomsky: Especially on the environment.
Giordano: Professor Noam Chomsky, I just want to thank you again so much for joining us on The Juice Media Podcast. Thank you for everything you've done and for keeping us informed and helping that consciousness to rise. Thank you very much and good luck with the coming election.
Noam Chomsky: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you.
Giordano: That brings us to the end of this episode of The Juice Media Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. For me, it's been real. I read my first Chomsky book when I was a teenager and he's been a familiar voice ever since, as I'm sure he has been for many of you too, so the fact that I had this opportunity to share this moment with them is something I'll always cherish.
At the same time. I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of sadness during our interview as I know a day will come when Noam Chomsky is no longer with us and I think for many of us it'll feel like losing a family member.
As always a huge thanks to our patrons for supporting the creation of this podcast which allows us to explore the issues that we cover in our honest government ads in more depth and to interview awesome guests. If you're not already a patron and you value the work that we do, you can help keep us going by signing up at patreon.com/thejuicemedia
You've been listening to The Juice Media Podcast with me, Giordano. We'll be back very soon with our next work in the 'noble tradition' of genuine satire. Till then, take care.
Noam Chomsky: Thank you for all you're doing. It's very important.