One of the first comments from one of my college students pertinent to the Mysterious Mister Chomsky, was that she was told by her linguistics professor that he-Mister Chomsky-was a reputable linguist but his cultural commentary was readily discardable.
I read snippets of the works by the Mysterious Mister Chomsky on-again, off-again over a period of decades. For the life of me, I could not understand what he was trying to say, if he was saying anything at all. It seemed to be "something" about war and dropping bombs and lax newspapers.
"Ahhh, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now."*
Somewhere along the line I got lost. Between 1970 as I was plodding in the streets of Los Angeles protesting against the war in Vietnam, knowing just enough that somehow the war was wrong [and sufficiently fleet-of-foot in those days to evade the cops]; and now in 2000-something teaching the odd college class on human evolution-somewhere in between, I got lost, and then re-discovered.
I, surely like everyone else, wanted to fit in, to be accepted and valued. Surely this is the "normal" thing to do. Surely, if I did as I was told to do (with the odd exception of my recalcitrance over the occasional war or two), I would be rewarded with the blissful and successful life. Isn’t that the path of the "good citizen?" Honor parents, community, and nation.
I was a Boy Scout. I tried so hard to be a "good" one, too. I really was sincere. I even got a Merit Badge in Citizenship-something about honoring parents, community, and nation.
I was a good boy, and a good Boy Scout, and I tried so hard to be a good student at college (never mind that no one around in my family had any interest in college, or community, or the nation-or the family, for that matter).
I WAS a good student at college (never mind that I dropped out of high school. I wasn’t a "good student" in high school, but as Mister Obama says, let’s not look too closely at the past we don’t like-so I’ll obey the President’s wishes. I do thank him for that "out." You don’t suppose he has a past which he would like to escape, do you? We won’t go there.).
I was such a "good" student at college that they "let" me have a doctorate degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Surely, by then, I was a model citizen of obedience to family, community, and nation (never mind that I didn’t FEEL like a "good" citizen; I didn’t FEEL valued; I had nagging thoughts about how all this was just a scam-but surely, everyone else around me was acting like they were living the good life, so I must be wrong. Granted, the odd person here and there was angry about the homeless, the hungry, the bombed, and the bedraggled, but we mustn’t tarry too long with such intrusions into our thinking because what I want, and what I think is right is subordinate to-parents, community, and nation.)
So, enters the Mysterious Mister Chomsky. (what in the world is he trying to say? He makes no sense! What’s his point? I don’t understand! What is all this talk about power and democracy-EVERYONE knows we Americans have a democracy, and everyone on the planet envies us. If the US government kicked the crap out of the Nicaraguans, then, they must have had it coming to them-but wait-isn’t Nicaragua an awful lot like Vietnam? Vietnam, "just wasn’t right." "Everyone knew Vietnam "just wasn’t right." Isn’t Panama, El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and even Brazil, etc, etc an awful lot like Vietnam? Wait a minute! That can’t be right! America is always right (granted the odd and occasional "mistake")-they say so on TV–and Radio–and Newspapers–and Magazines—–
How come it’s only me, and maybe a couple of my friends, who think Vietnam was wrong? How come "no one else" thinks like this? I try to dispel such thoughts (being that I’m the "good" citizen and want to be just like everyone else-who obviously think that I’m wrong and that American foreign and domestic policies are—well–American! To be American is–well–to be patriotic. Come on, everyone knows this, so I must be terribly wrong in my own quiet thinking about how abusive and–well–un-American America is! How can I think such un-American thoughts, to think that American itself is un-American! Surely, I’ve gotten my wires crossed. I must be wrong.)
(There’s nothing left to my social self but parenthetical living. I live in the "real" in a shallow vacuum of lies and nonsense and fake patriotism which smells more like fascism than rational thinking, while I live out a tiny parenthetical existence where my own judgements have some freedom to breathe–but it’s stuff in here, living between two curved lines bracketing the social "real" from the "real" real. The Real Real returns—-)
WHEN IT BREAKS OUT OF THE BRACKETS OF INDIVIDUAL, LEARNED REPRESSION-WHEN IT MANIFESTS ITSELF AS THE RETURN OF THE REPRESSED WITHIN THE VISIBLE SOCIAL DOMAIN. COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IS THE FIRST OVERT SIGNAL OF THE RETURN OF THE SOCIALLY REPRESSED. ALCOHOLISM; DRUG ADDICTION; SO-CALLED HYSTERICAL PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS; DEPRESSION; AND DISPLACEMENT ONTO OTHERS SUCH AS IMMIGRANTS, THE POOR, GAYS, ANYONE ELSE WHO IS AN EASY SCAPEGOAT, SUCH AS THE IRANIANS.
(wait a minute. i was only joking. i didn’t really mean it. i’m a good citizen. i pay my taxes and vote. i give to charities. i go to church every sunday [well, i did when i was seven until age fourteen--that ought to count for something] i don’t think we should pay any attention to that Mysterious Mister Chomsky-he keeps talking like Pogo in that comic strip–you know–"We have met the enemy, and he is us!"** with a twist, though, that there is an "us" and then there is also another "US." "us" is people like you and me–regular folks without a lot of money; and then there is another "US" which is the rich people who tell the rest of "us" what to do, and even the very special "US" tell the U.S.-of-A. government what to do.)
(…after awhile. it began to sink in. now i get it. the Mysterious Mister Chomsky is offering two simple, but difficult-for-the-educated-and-sincere-among-us [includes me] to comprehend ideas. the relationship is roughly linear; the more educated we are, and the more sincere we are, the more susceptible we are to lies. i would characterize the two principles thusly:)
(1) Golden Rule: don’t bomb others, unless we would have them bomb us. it’s not okay to invade other countries, drop bombs on real, live, living, breathing people, or give money to other people in other countries who then, with our money, harm others, or train them here in the US, either. this is not okay. American exceptionalism is a euphemism for hypocrisy. it’s not only not nice to bomb and invade others, but at some point the rule of "what goes around, comes around is invoked by others–tragically." they might get angry and retaliate, or to use the CIA term, blowback: people angry because we bomb them, kill their kin, steal their resources, overthrow their governments and other not-nice things; angry people may return the favor in kind by harming us. the best foreign policy to defeat so-called terrorism is, as the Mysterious Mister Chomsky states, not to participate in it. simple idea: don’t kill other people on behalf of the United Fruit Company.)[radical; un-American ideas]
(2) Historical Continuity: if the US committed domestic and global crimes in 1898, it’s a reasonable concern that we may be continuing to commit crimes today in 2009; we should take particular care to examine the behavior of "our" government. true, times have changed, but we should be careful to ask, "what has changed, and what has not changed." some old bad things are now good things such as the end of slavery, but alas, many crimes continue to be committed by the US-inside and out-using multifarious invalid supporting arguments [then, as now]. an anti-corollary of this principle is suffused through modern, state-supported educational institutions: the here-and-now is categorically disconnected from history as if collectively we are one of Mister Oliver Sacks’ patients who have no memory of anything prior to ten minutes ago. Gore Vidal characterizes this cultural condition in the term, "USA = United States of Amnesia. We live categorically disconnected from human historical events; US history has no meaning for modern government because everything done now by politicians is good-especially so with respect to foreign policy. America: love it or leave it. don’t look too closely, for to do so is un-American. the news media are know-nothings, and that’s the good, old fashioned, American way. To question US foreign policy is ipso facto un-American.)
(regrettably, these two principles fly in the face of a third principle [also elucidated by the Mysterious Mister Chomsky] which governments since time immemorial have honored–)
(Principle of Irreproachability: "we, the government, never, ever do anything illegal or immoral." sure, we make a mistake or two from time-to-time, but never-ever-ever assert that any govern policies are immoral, out-right wrong, or illegal–that is un-American. it’s un-American to question the "American-ness" of living-breathing, mortal government officials–especially if the issue has any remote connection to foreign policy or that dangerous, un-American idea of "socialized" medicine.)
(so, if we can ever get out of this parenthetical social order, it will be with gratitude to the Mysterious Mister Chomsky and many, many others who have voiced the unthinkable and thought the unspeakable. having done so, they have been marginalized into the parenthetical space where truth lives as subjugated knowledge: Vandana Shiva’s term.)
(all governments lie, but there is no conspiracy, either. it’s right there in front of our faces every day, wherein the US causes uncountable miseries and commits uncounted crimes against others, in the name of "us" while acting in the interests of the moneyed few. the rich tell us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, and for how much-and dictate what is, and what is not "news" and what is and what is not "real" and who is and who is not the "good citizen.")
(paradoxically, as the Mysterious Mister Chomsky suggests, the good citizen is the bad citizen. perversely, we should revel among the reviled…but don’t tell anyone i said so; i wouldn’t want word to get around..what would people think? they might take away my Citizenship Merit Badge.)
* with apologies to Mister Zimmerman.
** the words of Mister Kelly