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Asunto:[redanahuak] Noam Chomsky
Fecha:Jueves, 3 de Enero, 2008  01:32:00 (-0600)
Autor:Proyecto Interredes <lacasadelared>

De: "GlobalCirclenet" <>
Fecha: 2 de enero de 2008 09:57:05 PM GMT-06:00
Asunto: [globalnetnews-summary] Noam Chomsky

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Education is Ignorance
Noam Chomsky
Excerpted from Class Warfare, 1995, pp. 19-23, 27-31

DAVID BARSAMIAN: One of the heroes of the current right-wing
revival... is Adam Smith. You've done some pretty impressive research
on Smith that has excavated... a lot of information that's not coming
out. You've often quoted him describing the "vile maxim of the
masters of mankind: all for ourselves and nothing for other people."

NOAM CHOMSKY: I didn't do any research at all on Smith. I just read
him. There's no research. Just read it. He's pre-capitalist, a figure
of the Enlightenment. What we would call capitalism he despised.
People read snippets of Adam Smith, the few phrases they teach in
school. Everybody reads the first paragraph of The Wealth of Nations
where he talks about how wonderful the division of labor is. But not
many people get to the point hundreds of pages later, where he says
that division of labor will destroy human beings and turn people into
creatures as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being
to be. And therefore in any civilized society the government is going
to have to take some measures to prevent division of labor from
proceeding to its limits.

He did give an argument for markets, but the argument was that under
conditions of perfect liberty, markets will lead to perfect equality.
That's the argument for them, because he thought that equality of
condition (not just opportunity) is what you should be aiming at. It
goes on and on. He gave a devastating critique of what we would call
North-South policies. He was talking about England and India. He
bitterly condemned the British experiments they were carrying out
which were devastating India.

He also made remarks which ought to be truisms about the way states
work. He pointed out that its totally senseless to talk about a
nation and what we would nowadays call "national interests." He
simply observed in passing, because it's so obvious, that in England,
which is what he's discussing -- and it was the most democratic
society of the day -- the principal architects of policy are the
"merchants and manufacturers," and they make certain that their own
interests are, in his words, "most peculiarly attended to," no matter
what the effect on others, including the people of England who, he
argued, suffered from their policies. He didn't have the data to
prove it at the time, but he was probably right.

This truism was, a century later, called class analysis, but you
don't have to go to Marx to find it. It's very explicit in Adam
Smith. It's so obvious that any ten-year-old can see it. So he didn't
make a big point of it. He just mentioned it. But that's correct. If
you read through his work, he's intelligent. He's a person who was
from the Enlightenment. His driving motives were the assumption that
people were guided by sympathy and feelings of solidarity and the
need for control of their own work, much like other Enlightenment and
early Romantic thinkers. He's part of that period, the Scottish

The version of him that's given today is just ridiculous. But I
didn't have to do any research to find this out. All you have to do
is read. If you're literate, you'll find it out. I did do a little
research in the way it's treated, and that's interesting. For
example, the University of Chicago, the great bastion of free market
economics, etc., etc., published a bicentennial edition of the hero,
a scholarly edition with all the footnotes and the introduction by a
Nobel Prize winner, George Stigler, a huge index, a real scholarly
edition. That's the one I used. It's the best edition. The scholarly
framework was very interesting, including Stigler's introduction.
It's likely he never opened The Wealth of Nations. Just about
everything he said about the book was completely false. I went
through a bunch of examples in writing about it, in Year 501 and

But even more interesting in some ways was the index. Adam Smith is
very well known for his advocacy of division of labor. Take a look at
"division of labor" in the index and there are lots and lots of
things listed. But there's one missing, namely his denunciation of
division of labor, the one I just cited. That's somehow missing from
the index. It goes on like this. I wouldn't call this research
because it's ten minutes' work, but if you look at the scholarship,
then it's interesting.

I want to be clear about this. There is good Smith scholarship. If
you look at the serious Smith scholarship, nothing I'm saying is any
surprise to anyone. How could it be? You open the book and you read
it and it's staring you right in the face. On the other hand if you
look at the myth of Adam Smith, which is the only one we get, the
discrepancy between that and the reality is enormous.

This is true of classical liberalism in general. The founders of
classical liberalism, people like Adam Smith and Wilhelm von
Humboldt, who is one of the great exponents of classical liberalism,
and who inspired John Stuart Mill -- they were what we would call
libertarian socialists, at least that ďs the way I read them. For
example, Humboldt, like Smith, says, Consider a craftsman who builds
some beautiful thing. Humboldt says if he does it under external
coercion, like pay, for wages, we may admire what he does but we
despise what he is. On the other hand, if he does it out of his own
free, creative expression of himself, under free will, not under
external coercion of wage labor, then we also admire what he is
because he's a human being. He said any decent socioeconomic system
will be based on the assumption that people have the freedom to
inquire and create -- since that's the fundamental nature of humans
-- in free association with others, but certainly not under the kinds
of external constraints that came to be called capitalism.

It's the same when you read Jefferson. He lived a half century later,
so he saw state capitalism developing, and he despised it, of course.
He said it's going to lead to a form of absolutism worse than the one
we defended ourselves against. In fact, if you run through this whole
period you see a very clear, sharp critique of what we would later
call capitalism and certainly of the twentieth century version of it,
which is designed to destroy individual, even entrepreneurial

There's a side current here which is rarely looked at but which is
also quite fascinating. That's the working class literature of the
nineteenth century. They didn't read Adam Smith and Wilhelm von
Humboldt, but they're saying the same things. Read journals put out
by the people called the "factory girls of Lowell," young women in
the factories, mechanics, and other working people who were running
their own newspapers. It's the same kind of critique. There was a
real battle fought by working people in England and the U.S. to
defend themselves against what they called the degradation and
oppression and violence of the industrial capitalist system, which
was not only dehumanizing them but was even radically reducing their
intellectual level. So, you go back to the mid-nineteenth century and
these so-called "factory girls," young girls working in the Lowell
[Massachusetts] mills, were reading serious contemporary literature.
They recognized that the point of the system was to turn them into
tools who would be manipulated, degraded, kicked around, and so on.
And they fought against it bitterly for a long period. That's the
history of the rise of capitalism.

The other part of the story is the development of corporations, which
is an interesting story in itself. Adam Smith didn't say much about
them, but he did criticize the early stages of them. Jefferson lived
long enough to see the beginnings, and he was very strongly opposed
to them. But the development of corporations really took place in the
early twentieth century and very late in the nineteenth century.
Originally, corporations existed as a public service. People would
get together to build a bridge and they would be incorporated for
that purpose by the state. They built the bridge and that's it. They
were supposed to have a public interest function. Well into the
1870s, states were removing corporate charters. They were granted by
the state. They didn't have any other authority. They were fictions.
They were removing corporate charters because they weren't serving a
public function. But then you get into the period of the trusts and
various efforts to consolidate power that were beginning to be made
in the late nineteenth century. It's interesting to look at the
literature. The courts didn't really accept it. There were some hints
about it. It wasn't until the early twentieth century that courts and
lawyers designed a new socioeconomic system. It was never done by
legislation. It was done mostly by courts and lawyers and the power
they could exercise over individual states. New Jersey was the first
state to offer corporations any right they wanted. Of course, all the
capital in the country suddenly started to flow to New Jersey, for
obvious reasons. Then the other states had to do the same thing just
to defend themselves or be wiped out. It's kind of a small-scale
globalization. Then the courts and the corporate lawyers came along
and created a whole new body of doctrine which gave corporations
authority and power that they never had before. If you look at the
background of it, it's the same background that led to fascism and
Bolshevism. A lot of it was supported by people called progressives,
for these reasons: They said, individual rights are gone. We are in a
period of corporatization of power, consolidation of power,
centralization. That's supposed to be good if you're a progressive,
like a Marxist-Leninist. Out of that same background came three major
things: fascism, Bolshevism, and corporate tyranny. They all grew out
of the same more or less Hegelian roots. It's fairly recent. We think
of corporations as immutable, but they were designed. It was a
conscious design which worked as Adam Smith said: the principal
architects of policy consolidate state power and use it for their
interests. It was certainly not popular will. It's basically court
decisions and lawyers' decisions, which created a form of private
tyranny which is now more massive in many ways than even state
tyranny was. These are major parts of modern twentieth century
history. The classical liberals would be horrified. They didn't even
imagine this. But the smaller things that they saw, they were already
horrified about. This would have totally scandalized Adam Smith or
Jefferson or anyone like that....

BARSAMIAN: ....You're very patient with people, particularly people
who ask the most inane kinds of questions. Is this something you've

CHOMSKY: First of all, I'm usually fuming inside, so what you see on
the outside isn't necessarily what's inside. But as far as questions,
the only thing I ever get irritated about is elite intellectuals, the
stuff they do I do find irritating. I shouldn't. I should expect it.
But I do find it irritating. But on the other hand, what you're
describing as inane questions usually strike me as perfectly honest
questions. People have no reason to believe anything other than what
they're saying. If you think about where the questioner is coming
from, what the person has been exposed to, that's a very rational and
intelligent question. It may sound inane from some other point of
view, but it's not at all inane from within the framework in which
it's being raised. It's usually quite reasonable. So there's nothing
to be irritated about.

You may be sorry about the conditions in which the questions arise.
The thing to do is to try to help them get out of their intellectual
confinement, which is not just accidental, as I mentioned. There are
huge efforts that do go into making people, to borrow Adam Smith's
phrase, "as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human being
to be." A lot of the educational system is designed for that, if you
think about it, it's designed for obedience and passivity. From
childhood, a lot of it is designed to prevent people from being
independent and creative. If you're independent-minded in school,
you're probably going to get into trouble very early on. That's not
the trait that's being preferred or cultivated. When people live
through all this stuff, plus corporate propaganda, plus television,
plus the press and the whole mass, the deluge of ideological
distortion that goes on, they ask questions that from another point
of view are completely reasonable....

BARSAMIAN: At the Mellon lecture that you gave in Chicago... you
focused primarily on the ideas of John Dewey and Bertrand Russell
[regarding education]...

CHOMSKY: ... These were highly libertarian ideas. Dewey himself comes
straight from the American mainstream. People who read what he
actually said would now consider him some far-out anti-American
lunatic or something. He was expressing mainstream thinking before
the ideological system had so grotesquely distorted the tradition. By
now, it's unrecognizable. For example, not only did he agree with the
whole Enlightenment tradition that, as he put it, "the goal of
production is to produce free people," -- "free men," he said, but
that's many years ago. That's the goal of production, not to produce
commodities. He was a major theorist of democracy. There were many
different, conflicting strands of democratic theory, but the one I'm
talking about held that democracy requires dissolution of private
power. He said as long as there is private control over the economic
system, talk about democracy is a joke. Repeating basically Adam
Smith, Dewey said, Politics is the shadow that big business casts
over society. He said attenuating the shadow doesn't do much. Reforms
are still going to leave it tyrannical. Basically, a classical
liberal view. His main point was that you can't even talk about
democracy until you have democratic control of industry, commerce,
banking, everything. That means control by the people who work in the
institutions, and the communities.

These are standard libertarian socialist and anarchist ideas which go
straight back to the Enlightenment, an outgrowth of the views of the
kind that we were talking about before from classical liberalism.
Dewey represented these in the modern period, as did Bertrand
Russell, from another tradition, but again with roots in the
Enlightenment. These were two of the major, if not the two major
thinkers, of the twentieth century, whose ideas are about as well
known as the real Adam Smith. Which is a sign of how efficient the
educational system has been, and the propaganda system, in simply
destroying even our awareness of our own immediate intellectual

BARSAMIAN: In that same Mellon lecture, you paraphrased Russell on
education. You said that he promoted the idea that education is not
to be viewed as something like filling a vessel with water, but
rather assisting a flower to grow in its own way...

CHOMSKY: That's an eighteenth century idea. I don't know if Russell
knew about it or reinvented it, but you read that as standard in
early Enlightenment literature. That's the image that was used...
Humboldt, the founder of classical liberalism, his view was that
education is a matter of laying out a string along which the child
will develop, but in its own way. You may do some guiding. That's
what serious education would be from kindergarten up through graduate
school. You do get it in advanced science, because there's no other
way to do it.

But most of the educational system is quite different. Mass education
was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools
of production. That was its primary purpose. And don't think people
didn't know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a
lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was
also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how
we're educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don't
educate them, what we call "education," they're going to take control
-- "they" being what Alexander Hamilton called the "great beast,"
namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are
called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason.
Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great
beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.

On the other hand, there are exceptions, and Dewey and Russell are
among those exceptions. But they are completely marginalized and
unknown, although everybody sings praises to them, as they do to Adam
Smith. What they actually said would be considered intolerable in the
autocratic climate of dominant opinion. The totalitarian element of
it is quite striking. The very fact that the concept "anti-American"
can exist -- forget the way it's used -- exhibits a totalitarian
streak that's pretty dramatic. That concept, anti-Americanism -- the
only real counterpart to it in the modern world is anti-Sovietism. In
the Soviet Union, the worst crime was to be anti-Soviet. That's the
hallmark of a totalitarian society, to have concepts like anti-
Sovietism or anti-Americanism. Here it's considered quite natural.
Books on anti-Americanism, by people who are basically Stalinist
clones, are highly respected. That's true of Anglo-American
societies, which are strikingly the more democratic societies. I
think there's a correlation there...As freedom grows, the need to
coerce and control opinion also grows if you want to prevent the
great beast from doing something with its freedom....

... Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis, two economists, in their work on the
American educational system some years back... pointed out that the
educational system is divided into fragments. The part that's
directed toward working people and the general population is indeed
designed to impose obedience. But the education for elites can't
quite do that. It has to allow creativity and independence. Otherwise
they won't be able to do their job of making money. You find the same
thing in the press. That's why I read the Wall Street Journal and the
Financial Times and Business Week. They just have to tell the truth.
That's a contradiction in the mainstream press, too. Take, say, the
New York Times or the Washington Post. They have dual functions and
they're contradictory. One function is to subdue the great beast. But
another function is to let their audience, which is an elite
audience, gain a tolerably realistic picture of what's going on in
the world. Otherwise, they won't be able to satisfy their own needs.
That's a contradiction that runs right through the educational system
as well. It's totally independent of another factor, namely just
professional integrity, which a lot of people have: honesty, no
matter what the external constraints are. That leads to various
complexities. If you really look at the details of how the newspapers
work, you find these contradictions and problems playing themselves
out in complicated ways....


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