Twofish's Blog

September 29, 2007

Systems of social control – How Chomsky is right — and wrong

Filed under: academia, austrian economics, chomsky, finance — twofish @ 10:20 pm

In George Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith asks O’Brien whether the things that Smith has read in the secret banned book are true. O’Brien’s reply is “As description, yes. The programme it sets forth is nonsense.”

I keep thinking about this in relation the writings of Noam Chomsky

who I think is a wonderfully lucid and accurate description on how the power elites in developed nations keep their control by corporate control of the media. My big difference with Chomsky, is that he assumes that there is a better system out there, and I’m skeptical. Part of the reason I’m skeptical is that I’ve been in academia. Presumably the academics that write about systems of social control want to model society in the image of academia, and in any case they have the power to model academia after their vision of a perfect society. However, my first hand experience is that the world of academia has a rigid caste system and is exploitive in a way that is unheard of in the “corrupt world of business and politics.” Let’s be brutally honest about this, academia is a world of lords (tenured faculty) and serfs (adjuncts and graduate students). The one nice thing about the academia is that academics don’t run society, and there are enough social limits to keep the dysfunctions of academia inside of academia, where they are harmless. In cases where academics have free rein to run a society, the results have invariably been disastrous. The one clear modern example where you had academics running a society was the Khmer Rouge.

Let me give you an obvious example of how the power elite in the United States maintains control over society, and why it isn’t such a bad thing. I want to invite you to a speech by Chomsky. Except that you can’t go because you have to work. Why do you have to work? Just quit your job, and join the revolution. Well, because you have this mortgage and you have car payments, and you just bought this big giant big screen HDTV and you want to catch the latest episode of Lost. Well why don’t you get rid of these things, become a hermit, quit your job, and join the revolution. Well, I just saw this commercial that makes me want to buy this bigger HDTV and I don’t want my neighbors to think that I am a “loser” for having a small HDTV or a small house. Why do you think you are a loser if you aren’t a business success and have a small television? Well, there is this commercial that I saw while I was watching Lost….. And….

So who ends up joining the demonstration. It’s people who don’t care about money and status, and these people generally have no money and connections and so are harmless. The US doesn’t have political prisoners, because anyone that wants to change the system in a way that is unacceptable to the power elite either by bought out or ignored. I’m a good example of this. I say good things about the power elite, because the power elite dumps enough money in front of me to keep me happy and controlled. If the checks stop coming, I become unhappy and uncontrolled, and seeing that I have some useful talents, the people that run the United States don’t want to see me uncontrolled. And this is true for most of the people living in the United States.

So what the hell is wrong with the system????

Personally I don’t think that there is much wrong with the system (and that’s largely because of those semi-monthly paychecks that I get from it that allow me to satisfy the urges that the system makes me thing that I have). Basically what is happening is that the rich and powerful are bribing the less rich and less powerful with wealth and goodies so that the rich and powerful can keep their wealth and goodies.

Chomsky does have a problem because he has a model of economics in which the wealth that the developed world has has to come from exploitation of the third world. That HDTV? Where did it come from? Chomsky would argue that it came from a slave labor factory in China. But that is not what is happening.

The Chinese government is bright enough to know that they just can’t stay in power through tanks and torture. There aren’t enough soldiers and police to keep control, and then you run into the problem of keeping control of the soldiers and police. So the Chinese government has copied the American government and is trying to stay in power by bribing the masses. People work in Chinese sweatshops because *they* want their goodies, *they* want to be seen as a success, and *they* want a bigger house and motorbike than their neighbors. And as long as the checks keep coming, people are too exhausted to demonstrate. If you look in situations where people *are* demonstrating in China, it’s largely because of economic issues. Their checks aren’t big enough. So people make noise, and when they get a fat enough check, they stop making noise. The system isn’t quite as developed in China, so the government has to sometimes resort to jailing dissidents, but what the government is trying to push for is a system like that American system in which the dissidents are harmless and jailing them causes more problems than ignoring them.  The ideal system would be one in which anyone who wants to destroy the system, gets to join the party.  *wink*

For this system to continue to work both the US and Chinese economic and political elites need to generate enough wealth to keep their populations satisfied, and they need to be open enough so that people (like me) that could be threat to the basic stability of the system, get bought out. That’s not a bad thing, and it’s a heck of a lot better than what the academics have come up with…….

Let be close by pointing out the fatal flaw that academics have that I think causes them create such hellish systems. Academics think that they are smarter than everyone else. The people who get a paycheck, buy a high-definition TV, and then relax to watch Lost, they are stupid sheep in the eyes of academics. They should be reading about Chomsky or joining the revolution. The trouble with this attitude is that it means that academics ignore the ideas and perspectives of non-academics, and so when they get into a position of power, they know what is right, everyone else is wrong, and this causes hell to happen…..

So now that I’ve told you all of this, are you going to go out and revolt…… I don’t think so. I think you are just going to go into the refrigerator, pull out a cold beverage and watch TV….. which is exactly what the power elites wants you to do…..


  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptThe people who get a paycheck, buy a high-definition TV, and then relax to watch Lost, they are stupid sheep in the eyes of academics. They should be reading about Chomsky or joining the revolution. The trouble with this attitude is … […]

    Pingback by TV » Systems of social control - How Chomsky is right — and wrong — September 29, 2007 @ 10:36 pm

  2. I like your analysis, but there’s one huge fatal flaw in the system that you seem to have missed: The environment. The current economic system is too purely extractive, and yet the world has a very finite amount of resources to extract. Sometime very soon we’re going to have to change that if we’re going to keep the great unwashed “doped with religion and sex and TV” (to steal a line from John Lennon).

    Comment by chriswaugh_bj — September 30, 2007 @ 1:31 am

  3. The environment is very important. I’m an optimist, and I think that the planet’s resource base can support the entire planet at US/Western European standards of living.

    If I’m wrong, then we really do have a huge problem since it means to have a just distribution of wealth, we are going to have lower the standards of living of US/Western Europe, and I don’t think that people in the US and Western Europe are going to like that.

    If it turns out that the planet can’t support everyone at high standards of living, then I don’t think that what you will see is this nice utopian society, but rather people who “have stuff” hiding behind high walls keeping the people that don’t have stuff on the outside. These tend to be unpleasant societies to live in.

    Fortunately the complexity of human societies here is a blessing. Systems that physicists and mathematicians study are simple enough so that there are some things that just can’t be done. Traveling faster than light. Turning back time. Violating the second law of thermodynamics.

    Human societies are complex enough, and there are so many factors that it is almost never the case that something simply can’t be done. It usually involves figuring out costs and trade offs, you can do this, but the cost is this other thing. Yes, if China and India start living like people in the first world, the cost of oil is probably going to hit $200-300/barrel. OK… So oil is expensive…. The world will adjust.

    The only two things that you absolutely cannot do with respect to human societies is to undo the past or bring back the dead.

    Comment by twofish — September 30, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

  4. Twofish: “If it turns out that the planet can’t support everyone at high standards of living, then I don’t think that what you will see is this nice utopian society, but rather people who “have stuff” hiding behind high walls keeping the people that don’t have stuff on the outside. These tend to be unpleasant societies to live in.”

    But I’m afraid that’s exactly what will happen.

    Sustainability isn’t really the problem. It’s always possible to have sustainability, as long as the high-consumption is limited to a minority of the population. That’s been the way of most civilizations, in most places, for most of history.

    As for the complexity which you hope will prove a saving grace, I think that all it does for the most part is generate the pleasant variations of elite culture that differentiate one civilization from another. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t alter the one huge thing most of those civilizations have in common: deep and hard social divisions.

    Here in Canada, it is interesting to find that many of the “Greens” are actually pure neoliberal capitalists. They want to save the environment by turning it all into private property. Indeed, that might go far to limit the externalization of environmental problems, but unfortunately it will also, in the long term, inevitably lead to control by a minority of the riches of the environment.

    One more comment: if the environment does get turned into private property, I fear that it effectively reduce the incentive to find ways to maximize the potential sustainable global output.

    Comment by Roland — March 23, 2008 @ 6:30 am

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