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Sunday, December 29, 2013

RSN - Noam Chomsky: Governments are Power Systems, Trying to Sustain Power


Noam Chomsky: Governments are Power Systems, Trying to Sustain Power

By Natasha Lennard, Salon

29 December 13


Exclusive: The polymath (see Comments below) looks back with Salon on this year's NSA revelations and ahead to the earth's destruction.




n his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.

Happily though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.

Chomsky told Salon about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.

Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?

In principle it’s not an innovation, things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Phillippines scholar at Unviersity of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and many ways the Phillippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “red scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.

Q: Do you think revelation about sprawling surveillance has prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?
Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.

We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.

Q: You’ve often highlighted flaws in mainstream media’s insidious institutional fealty during your career — notably in your book Manufacturing Consent” [1988]. What do you think of the current state of the U.S. media? Do you have much hope for new venture’s like Glenn Greenwald’s, which has already promised to aggressively take on government and corporate wrongdoing?

The availability of the Internet has offered a much easier access than before to a wide variety of information and opinion and so on. But I don’t think that is a qualitative shift. It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development. [The Internet] gives more access — that part is good — but on the other hand, it is combined with a process of undermining independent inquiry and reporting within the media themselves. There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs. And that’s declining. Local newspapers, I need not inform you, are becoming very much narrower in their global outreach, even their national outreach. And that’s the real meat of inquiry of information gathering. We can criticize its character and the biases that enter into it, and the institutional constraints on it, but nevertheless it’s of inestimable importance. I’ve never questioned that. And that’s diminishing at the same time as accesses to a wider range of materials is increasing. The Greenwald initiative is a very promising one. He himself has had an impressive career of independent thinking, inquiry, analysis and reporting. I think there is good reason to have a good deal of trust in his judgement. Where it will go, we don’t know, it hasn’t started yet so it is just speculation.

I think that, for example, the New York Times will remain what’s called the “newspaper of record” for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any competitor arising which has the range of resources, of overseas bureaus and so on again, I think there is plenty to criticize about it, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource. There are many other independent developments which are quite significant of themselves so it’s valuable to have say Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or Salon or any other independent voice. But I don’t see any indication that there is going to be some radically new form of gathering, reporting and analyzing information.

Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe the shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, has spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institutional has affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?

Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country to that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.

Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.

Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.

Q: What other contemporary issues particularly concern you? Do you find sites of hope or resistance around these issues that perhaps you finding heartening?

Well, we can make a long list, including the things we’ve talked about, but it’s also worth remembering that, hovering over the things we discussed, are two major problems. These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing. The second one we know, at least in principle, how to deal with it. There is a way of significantly reducing that threat; the methods are not being pursued but we know what they are. In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control of maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be.

It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.

Yes! "The Ancient Greeks' 6 (or 7) Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)" Roman Krznaric is an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London. This article is based on his new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life (BlueBridge). His website is www.romankrznaric.com and he tweets @romankrznaric.

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HAPPINESS | SIMPLE LIVING

The Ancient Greeks' 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)


Looking for an antidote to modern culture's emphasis on romantic love? Perhaps we can learn from the diverse forms of emotional attachment prized by the ancient Greeks.


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by Roman Krznaric     Roman Krznaric is an Australian cultural thinker and cofounder of The School of Life in London. This article is based on his new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life (BlueBridge). His website is www.romankrznaric.com and he tweets @romankrznaric.
posted Dec 27, 2013

This article originally appeared in Sojourners.


A Greek sculpture from the fourth century B.C. Photo by Tilemahos Efthimiadis / Flickr.
Today's coffee culture has an incredibly sophisticated vocabulary. Do you want a cappuccino, an espresso, a skinny latte, or maybe an iced caramel macchiato?
Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks.

The ancient Greeks were just as sophisticated in the way they talked about love, recognizing six different varieties. They would have been shocked by our crudeness in using a single word both to whisper "l love you" over a candlelit meal and to casually sign an email "lots of love."

So what were the six loves known to the Greeks? And how can they inspire us to move beyond our current addiction to romantic love, which has 94 percent of young people hoping—but often failing—to find a unique soul mate who can satisfy all their emotional needs?
1. Eros, or sexual passion

The first kind of love was eros, named after the Greek god of fertility, and it represented the idea of sexual passion and desire. But the Greeks didn't always think of it as something positive, as we tend to do today. In fact, eros was viewed as a dangerous, fiery, and irrational form of love that could take hold of you and possess you—an attitude shared by many later spiritual thinkers, such as the Christian writer C.S. Lewis.

Eros involved a loss of control that frightened the Greeks. Which is odd, because losing control is precisely what many people now seek in a relationship. Don't we all hope to fall "madly" in love?
2. Philia, or deep friendship

The second variety of love was philia or friendship, which the Greeks valued far more than the base sexuality of eros. Philia concerned the deep comradely friendship that developed between brothers in arms who had fought side by side on the battlefield. It was about showing loyalty to your friends, sacrificing for them, as well as sharing your emotions with them. (Another kind of philia, sometimes called storge, embodied the love between parents and their children.)

We can all ask ourselves how much of this comradely philia we have in our lives. It's an important question in an age when we attempt to amass "friends" on Facebook or "followers" on Twitter—achievements that would have hardly impressed the Greeks.
3. Ludus, or playful love

This was the Greeks' idea of playful love, which referred to the affection between children or young lovers. We've all had a taste of it in the flirting and teasing in the early stages of a relationship. But we also live out our ludus when we sit around in a bar bantering and laughing with friends, or when we go out dancing.

Dancing with strangers may be the ultimate ludic activity, almost a playful substitute for sex itself. Social norms may frown on this kind of adult frivolity, but a little more ludus might be just what we need to spice up our love lives.
4. Agape, or love for everyone

The fourth love, and perhaps the most radical, was agape or selfless love. This was a love that you extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word "charity."

C.S. Lewis referred to it as "gift love," the highest form of Christian love. But it also appears in other religious traditions, such as the idea of mettā or "universal loving kindness" in Theravāda Buddhism.

There is growing evidence that agape is in a dangerous decline in many countries. Empathy levels in the U.S. have declined sharply over the past 40 years, with the steepest fall occurring in the past decade. We urgently need to revive our capacity to care about strangers.
5. Pragma, or longstanding love

Another Greek love was the mature love known as pragma. This was the deep understanding that developed between long-married couples.

Pragma was about making compromises to help the relationship work over time, and showing patience and tolerance.

The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm said that we expend too much energy on "falling in love" and need to learn more how to "stand in love." Pragma is precisely about standing in love—making an effort to give love rather than just receive it. With about a third of first marriages in the U.S. ending through divorce or separation in the first 10 years, the Greeks would surely think we should bring a serious dose ofpragma into our relationships.
6. Philautia, or love of the self

The Greek's sixth variety of love was philautia or self-love. And the clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. A healthier version enhanced your wider capacity to love.


This article is based on the author's new book, How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life.

The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (as is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of "self-compassion"). Or, as Aristotle put it, "All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man's feelings for himself."

The ancient Greeks found diverse kinds of love in relationships with a wide range of people—friends, family, spouses, strangers, and even themselves. This contrasts with our typical focus on a single romantic relationship, where we hope to find all the different loves wrapped into a single person or soul mate. The message from the Greeks is to nurture the varieties of love and tap into its many sources. Don't just seek eros, but cultivate philia by spending more time with old friends, or developludus by dancing the night away.

Moreover, we should abandon our obsession with perfection. Don't expect your partner to offer you all the varieties of love, all of the time (with the danger that you may toss aside a partner who fails to live up to your desires). Recognize that a relationship may begin with plenty of eros and ludus, then evolve toward embodying more pragma or agape.

The diverse Greek system of loves can also provide consolation. By mapping out the extent to which all six loves are present in your life, you might discover you've got a lot more love than you had ever imagined—even if you feel an absence of a physical lover.

It's time we introduced the six (or seven) varieties of Greek love into our everyday way of speaking and thinking. If the art of coffee deserves its own sophisticated vocabulary, then why not the art of love?

Lyrics to What I've Done by Linkin Park In this farewell, There is no blood, There is no alibi, Cause I've drawn regret, From the truth, Of a thousands lies, So let mercy come and wash away What I've Done, I'll face myself, To cross out what I've become, Erase myself, And let go of what I've done Put to rest, What you thought of me While, I clean this slate, With the hands, Of uncertainty, So let mercy come, And wash away What I've Done, I'll face myself, To cross out what I've become, Erase myself, And let go of what I've done For what I've done, I start again, And whatever pain may come, Today this ends, I'm forgiving what I've done I'll face myself, To cross out what I've become, Erase myself, And let go of what I've done [Mike Shinoda:] (Na,Na,Na) What I've Done, What I've Done, Forgiving what I've done...