Rather than giving The Reykjavík Grapevine an interview, we in Hatari instead ask they publish the following words of Noam Chomsky. We demand this in light of the political climate in which Iceland Airwaves takes place, locally and globally, in the past weeks and recent years. We would like to add that we offer no alternative to neoliberalism; we can imagine no such alternative just as a fish cannot imagine being removed from the ocean or as none of us can imagine the doom at hand.
If you take a look at recent history since the Second World War, something really remarkable has happened. First, human intelligence created two huge sledgehammers capable of terminating our existence, or at least organized existence, both from the Second World War. It was immediately obvious on August 6th, 1945 that soon technology would develop to the point where it would lead to terminal disaster.
Scientists certainly understood this. In 1947 the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists inaugurated its famous doomsday clock—how close is the minute hand to midnight? And then there’s the environmental disaster, which wasn’t much thought about in 1945.
It turns out, we now understand, that at the end of the Second World War the world also entered into a new geological epoch. It’s called the anthropocene, the epoch in which humans have a severe impact, maybe disastrous, on the environment. There was a sharp spike in such activity and disaster in 1945. So geologists pretty much date the origin of the anthropocene to about the same time as the nuclear age. Observing that, the analysts moved the clock to three minutes to midnight in 2015, the closest it had been since 1984. Immediately after the Trump election the clock was moved again to two and a half minutes to midnight. The closest it’s been since 1953.
So there are the two existential threats we’ve created. Then a third thing happened. Around the ‘70s, human intelligence dedicated itself to eliminating, or at least weakening, the main barrier against these threats. It’s called neoliberalism. There was a period of transition from what some people call regimented capitalism, the ‘50s and ‘60s, the great growth period, with egalitarian growth and advances in social justice and so on.
That changed in the ‘70s with the onset of the neoliberal era that we’ve been living in since. If you ask yourself what this era is, its crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy. Freedom means subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance or other kinds of association, which could allow people to participate in decision-making, are systematically weakened. Margaret Thatcher said it rather nicely in her aphorism, “There is no society—only individuals.” She was actually (unconsciously no doubt) paraphrasing Marx, who in his condemnation of the repression in France said the repression is turning society into a sack of potatoes—just individuals, a mass that can’t act together.
That was a condemnation. For Thatcher it’s an ideal. And that’s neoliberalism. We destroy, or at least undermine, the governing mechanisms in which people, at least in principle, can participate. So weaken them, undermine unions and other forms of association, and leave a sack of potatoes. Meanwhile, transfer decisions to unaccountable private power all in the rhetoric of freedom. What does that do? The one barrier to the threat of destruction is an informed and engaged public acting together to develop means to confront the threat and respond to it. That’s systematically weakened for people to become more passive and apathetic. For people not to disturb things too much. That’s what the neoliberal programs do. So put it all together and what do you have? A perfect storm.
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