Hitting Society With A Sledgehammer

Interview with Noam Chomsky, by John Holder and Doug Morris, published on ZNet, January 24, 2013.

Minutes before the interview began we received news of a school shooting in CT (the Sandy Hook tragedy). Details were unclear at the time, but there was an indication that many young children had been killed. We thus opened the interview with a question about the school massacre:  

Q: We are going to start with something we did not plan, we just got word about a tragedy in Connecticut. The Superintendent of Schools for the State of Connecticut just robo-called me to tell me, as a parent, that there has been a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 18 to 22 children killed. There were apparently two shooters, two teenagers, and one of the shooters is dead. The school has 600 students.

  • NC: Is there any motive, or anything?

Q: This is the latest. We don’t have much information.

  • NC: So there is nothing understood about the background?

Q: No. Nothing. So, does this say something about the society we live in?

  • NC: If it was just one incident you could think maybe [it was] some psychotic individual or something. But it’s been happening with unpleasant regularity, and it’s got to be a sign of social breakdown of some kind, which is not too surprising. I mean, the whole society has been under severe strain for about 30 years. [It’s] not at the level of Haiti or Central Africa or something but people don’t measure themselves against totally different circumstances—like nobody feels they’re rich because they’re richer than they were in the Stone Age. People judge their circumstances by what it ought to be, given what’s available in the society, given the wealth in the society, and given similar societies that they may know something about. After all, we’ve gone through a period of roughly a generation—late 70s, accelerating sharply in the 80s—of the US phase of the worldwide neoliberal assault against the populations of the world. It’s been taking different forms in different places.
  • This morning I happened to have a conversation with somebody in Slovenia. They were part of the old Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia collapsed in the 80s, partly under the impact of the [neoliberal] structural adjustment programs that were imposed by the international financial institutions.
  • Take a look at the Rwanda massacres. The conflicts go far back—I was writing about them in the 70s, happened to be in Burundi then but it was the same conflict, a lot of massacres—but in the 80s Rwanda was subjected to very destructive structural adjustment programs. It raised conflict, ethnic tensions, a society becomes dissolved, and relationships between people erode. We know what happened later. Actually it was discussed by anthropologists at the time working there, so it doesn’t surprise us.
  • Sometimes it can be more rapid like say Syria. If you go back two or three years it wasn’t that everyone loved each other but you didn’t have murderous Aloite-Sunni conflicts, and others rising too.
  • After the US invaded Iraq, for about two years Iraqis were confident that there would never be significant Sunni-Shiite conflicts because people lived together, there was a lot of intermarriage, just a lot of interaction between the two groups. But once you hit a society with a sledgehammer lots of things can happen.
  • And the US has been banged with a sledgehammer for about 30 years. The general facts people are familiar with: stagnation or decline for a considerable majority; plenty of growth—not growth at the level of the 50s and the 60s, the big growth period, but there’s growth—and wealth created and it’s going into very few hands. In fact for a tenth of a percent of the population it’s gone through the roof. It’s gotten much worse in the last ten years. There’s actual decline [for the population], which is quite unusual, even since the recession … //

… (full long interview text).


Work, Learning and Freedom, on ZNet, by Noam Chomsky, December 26, 2012;

On Civil Liberties, Obama and the Future of Progressive Politics, on ZNet, by Noam Chomsky, December 22, 2012.

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