There are two parts to Noam Chomsky’s book, “Hegemony or Survival.” There’s the bulk of the book, in which he gives a scathing analysis of American foreign policy. And then there is the tantalizing opening and disappointing conclusion, in which he touches on and skates over the deepest questions of human existence.
Chomsky begins by musing on the frequency and fate of so-called intelligent species in the universe. He cites biologist Ernst Mayr, who estimated the average lifespan of species with “the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization” at 100,000 years. Chomsky adds that humans are refuting the notion that it’s “better to be smart than stupid.” Humankind, he says, looks like a “biological error.”
The rest of “Hegemony or Survival” is devoted to an in-depth political examination of the aims and trajectory of American power since World War II. Few informed citizens of American policy would argue with his devastating critique.
But there is a disconnect between the philosophical questions Chomsky introduces with humankind’s “assault on the environment that sustains life, “and with cold and calculated savagery on each other as well,” and the purely political analysis he offers.
Chomsky is intelligent enough to realize that the issues he raises go far beyond American hegemony, but not philosophical enough to speak to the deeper dimension, which involves questions about human consciousness and place in the cosmos.
Chomsky is a meticulous researcher and first-rate logician. But his ideas lack wide emotional appeal, perhaps they speak solely from the head rather than also the heart.
Before he got the boot in the quickest fall from elite to excrete in the history of Western civilization, Charlie Rose was the most respected talk show host in America. In 2003. Noam Chomsky was interviewed for the full hour. Rose opened the show by saying that he had received huge amounts of mail urging him to have Chomsky as a guest.
The interview was unsatisfying however, and left the discerning viewer feeling quite disappointed. Charlie Rose revealed himself as an interviewer dying to interview himself. Chomsky persisted with unnecessary detail in an effort to convince Rose of the veracity of his claims. He apparently still believes a surfeit of documentation and logic can substitute for a dearth of insight and passion.
The book stirs outrage, but it also leaves one hungering for a deeper analysis. I think Chomsky recognizes this, and that’s why he pasted questions posed by the human conundrum onto an analysis of US hegemony.
Chomsky’s basic premise is virtually undeniable. To an empire, “hegemony is more important than survival.” He was dead right in saying that “destroying hope is a critically important project” for empires. And the book was written during the Bush Administration. The Trump Administration is essentially finishing the job after the “hope and transformation” con of Barack Obama.
Chomsky’s places his hope in the “second superpower of world public opinion.” That’s naïve. World public opinion alone will not allow people “to escape the containment to which we are being subjected.” Chomsky’s analysis and logic of power is persuasive. But by taking power as a given, he inadvertently adds to the sense of hopelessness.
The book leaves one dangling with a glancing reflection on whether American hegemony is another in the “passing nightmare of Neros, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers,” as Bertrand Russell put it. And it was written before Trump oozed onto the scene!
Chomsky finishes with Russell’s idea that, “in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return.” That may give comfort to hard-core misanthropes, but it does nothing for people who still care for the future of humanity.
The sheer destructiveness of humans urgently raises the question something more than a 100,000-year flameout is going on at present. Do we stand on the brink the abyss, or on the cusp of transmutation?
With humans, as no other creature, the outer is the manifestation of the inner. That’s an insight one won’t find anywhere in Chomsky’s prolific work.
Noam Chomsky Charlie Rose: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=noam+chomsky+charlie+rose+youtube&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dnoam%2bchomsky%2bcharlie%2brose%2byoutube%26form%3dAPMCS1&view=detail&mmscn=vwrc&mid=1F3921307442BAD588561F3921307442BAD58856&FORM=WRVORC