Sheri Herndon on 19 Oct 2000 20:06:25 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Re: 'Do not forget ideas are also weapons'

thanks manse.  

i'm still reading it but wanted to share this from a review of chomsky's
rogue states and eqbal ahmad's confronting empire by zia mian, friend of
eqbal ahmad's and a physicist, peace activist.

ties in with the role of the intellectual section.

in february 67, noam chomsky, then a young professor at mit, published an
essay in the new york review of books called "the responsibility of
intellectuals".  in a stunning display of political critique, polemic, and
theory, he challenged a generation of american scholars on their
relationship to truth, to their government, to their society, and to the us
war against vietnam.

consider, he asked, the fact that "intellectuals are in a position to expose
the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and
motives and often hidden intentions.  in the western world, at least, they
have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to
information, and freedom of express."

"for a privileged minority, western democracy provides the leisure, the
facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil
of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through
which the events of current history are presented to us."  why then, he
posed the question, have american intellectuals, and so many others, stood
by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past
dozen years; on what page of history do we find our proper place?

in a key passage in the essay, chomsky warned that theh problem went far
beyond vietnam and darkened the future.  he argued "it is an article of
faith that american motives are pure, and not subject to analysis.  although
it is nothing new in american intellectual history -- or, for that matter,
in the general history of imperialist apologia -- this innocence becomes
increasingly distasteful as the power it serves grows more dominant in world
affairs, and more capable, therefore, of the unconstrained viciousness that
the mass media present to us each day.

We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests,
great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and
misery of the lower orders.  the long tradition of naivete and
self-righteousness that disfigures our intellectual history, however, must
serve as a warning to the third world, if such a warning is needed, as to
how our protestations of sincerity and benign intent are to be interpreted."

> From: "manse jacobi" <>
> Date: Wed, 18 Oct 2000 21:09:42 -0600
> To: "Nettime" <>
> Subject: 'Do not forget ideas are also weapons'
> 'Do not forget ideas are also weapons'
> The purpose of this text is to fuel the debate between right and leftwing
> intellectuals. It does not attempt to explain the relation of either with
> governments or changes in society.
> I. Pay-per-view global domination
> The world is not square, or so we learn at school, but on the brink of the
> third millennium it is not round either. I do not know which geometrical
> figure best represents the world in its present state but, in an era of
> digital communication, we could see it as a gigantic screen - one of those
> screens you can program to display several pictures at the same time, one
> inside the other. In our global world the pictures come from all over the
> planet - but some are missing. Not because there is not enough room on the
> screen but because someone up there selected these pictures rather than
> others.
> What do the pictures show? On the American continent, we see a paramilitary
> group occupying the Autonomous National University of Mexico (Unam); but the
> men in grey uniforms are not there to study. Another frame shows an armoured
> column thundering through a native community in Chiapas. Beside this, we see
> United States police using violence to arrest a youth in a city that could
> be Seattle or Washington. The pictures in Europe are just as grey.
> II. A memorable omission
> Intellectuals have been part of society since the dawn of humanity. Their
> work is analytical and critical. They look at social facts and analyse the
> evidence, for and against, looking for anything ambiguous, that is neither
> one thing nor the other, revealing anything that is not obvious - sometimes
> even the opposite of what seems obvious.
> These professional critics act as a sort of impertinent consciousness for
> society. They are non-conformists, disagreeing with everything - social and
> political forces, the state, government, media, arts, religion and so on.
> Activists will just say "we've had enough", but sceptical intellectuals will
> cautiously murmur "too much" or "not enough". Intellectuals criticise
> immobility, demand change and progress. They are, nevertheless, part of a
> society, which is the scene of endless confrontation and is split between
> those who use power to maintain the status quo and those who fight for
> change.
> Intellectuals must choose between their function as intellectuals and the
> role that activists offer them. It is also here that we see the split
> between progressive and reactionary intellectuals. They all continue their
> work of critical analysis, but whereas the more progressive persist in
> criticising immobility, permanence, hegemony and homogeneity, the
> reactionaries focus their attacks on change, movement, rebellion and
> diversity. So in fact, reactionary intellectuals "forget" their true
> function and give up critical thought. Their memory shrinks, excluding past
> and future to focus only on the immediate and present. No further discussion
> is possible.
> III. Intellectual pragmatism
> Many leading rightwing intellectuals start life as progressives. But they
> soon attract the attention of the powerful, who deploy innumerable
> stratagems to buy or destroy them. Progressive intellectuals are "born" in
> the midst of a process of seduction and persecution. Some resist; others,
> convinced that the global economy is inevitable, look in their box of tricks
> and find reasons to legitimate the existing power structure. They are
> awarded with a comfortable armchair, on the right hand of the prince they
> once denounced.
> They can find any number of excuses for this supposedly "inevitable"
> outcome: it is the end of history; money is everywhere and all-powerful; the
> police have taken the place of politics; the present is the only possible
> future; there is a rational explanation for social inequality; there are
> even "good reasons" for the unbridled exploitation of human beings and
> natural resources, racism, intolerance and war.
> In an era marked by two new paradigms - communication and the market -
> rightwing intellectuals have realised that being "modern" means obeying one
> rule: "Adapt or go under". They are not required to be original, just to
> think like everyone else, taking their cue from international bodies like
> the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade
> Organisation.
> Far from indulging in original, critical thought, rightwing intellectuals
> become remarkably pragmatic, echoing the advertising slogans that flood the
> world's markets. In exchange for a place in the sun and the support of
> certain media and governments, they cast off their critical imagination and
> any form of self-criticism and espouse the new, free market creed.
> IV. Blind seers
> The problem is not why the global economy is inevitable, but why almost
> everyone agrees that it is. Just as the economy is becoming increasingly
> global, so is culture and information. How are we to prevent vast media and
> communications companies like CNN or News Corporation, Microsoft or AT&T,
> from spinning their worldwide web?
> In today's world economy the major corporations are essentially media
> enterprises, holding up a huge mirror to show us what society should be, not
> what it is. To paraphrase Régis Debray, what is visible is real and
> consequently true (1). That, by the way, is one of the tenets of rightwing
> dogma. Debray also explains that the centre of gravity of news has shifted
> from the written word to visual effects, from recorded to live broadcasts,
> from signs to pictures.
> To retain their legitimacy, today's rightwing intellectuals must fulfil
> their role in a visual era, opting for what is immediate and direct,
> switching from signs to images, from thought to TV commentary.
> V. Future past
> In Mexico, leftwing intellectuals are very influential. Their crime is that
> they get in the way. Well, one of their crimes, because they also support
> the Zapatistas in their struggle: "The Zapatista uprising heralds the start
> of a new era in which native movements will emerge as players in the fight
> against the neoliberal global economy" (2). But we are neither unique nor
> perfect. Just look at the natives of Ecuador and Chile, and the
> demonstrations in Seattle, Washington, Prague - and those that will follow.
> We are just one of the pictures that deform the giant screen of the world
> economy.
> The prince has consequently issued orders: "Attack them! I shall supply the
> army and media. You come up with the ideas". So rightwing intellectuals
> spend their time insulting their leftwing counterparts, and because of the
> Zapatista movement's international impact, they are now busy rewriting our
> story to suit the demands of the prince.
> VI. Neoliberal fascists
> In one of his books Umberto Eco provides some pointers as to why fascism is
> still latent (3). He starts by warning us that fascism is a diffuse form of
> totalitarianism, then defines its characteristics: refusal of the advance of
> knowledge, disregard of rational principles, distrust of culture, fear of
> difference, racism, individual or social frustration, xenophobia,
> aristocratic elitism, machismo, individual sacrifice for the benefit of the
> cause, televised populism and use of Newspeak with its limited words and
> rudimentary syntax.
> These are the values that rightwing intellectuals defend. Take another look
> at the giant screen. All that grey is a response to disorder, reflected in
> demands for law and order from all around us. But is Europe once more the
> prey of fascism? We may well see skinheads, with their swastikas, on the
> screen, but the commentator is quick to reassure us that they are only
> minority groups, already under control. But it may also take other, more
> sinister forms (see the articles by Christian Semler and Brigitte Pätzold in
> this issue).
> After the fall of the Berlin wall both sides of the political spectrum in
> Europe rushed to occupy the centre. This was all too obvious with the
> traditional left, but it was also the case with the far right (4). It went
> out of its way to acquire a new image, well removed from its violent,
> authoritarian past, enthusiastically espousing neoliberal dogma.
> VII. Sceptically hopeful
> The task of progressive thinkers - to remain sceptically hopeful - is not an
> easy one. They have understood how things work and, noblesse oblige, they
> must reveal what they know, dissect it, denounce it and pass it on to
> others. But to do this, they must also confront neoliberal dogma, backed by
> the media, banks, major corporations, army and police.
> What is more, we live in a visual age - and so, to their considerable
> disadvantage, progressive thinkers must fight the power of the image with
> nothing but words. But their scepticism will get them out of that trap, and
> if they are equally sceptical in their critical analysis, they will be able
> to see through the virtual beauty to the real misery it conceals. So perhaps
> there is reason to hope.
> There is a story that when Michelangelo sculpted his statue of David, he had
> to work on a "second-hand" piece of marble that already had holes in it. It
> is a mark of his talent that he was able to create a figure that took
> account of these limitations. The world we want to transform has already
> been worked on by history and is largely hollow. We must nevertheless be
> inventive enough to change it and build a new world.
> Take care and do not forget that ideas are also weapons.
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ----
> * Leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, Chiapas, Mexico
> (excerpted from "La droite intellectuelle et le fascisme libéral" which
> appeared Le Monde diplomatique in French in August 2000; the full version of
> this text is available on our internet site in French, as is a longer
> version in Spanish)
> Croire, voir, faire, Odile Jacob, Paris, 1999.
> Yvon Le Bot, "Los indígenas contra el neoliberalismo", La Jornada, 6 March
> 2000.
> Umberto Eco, Cinque scritti morali, Bompiani, Milan, 1997.
> See Emiliano Fruta, "La nueva derecha europea", and Hernán R. Moheno, "Más
> allá de la vieja izquierda y la nueva derecha", in Urbi et Orbi, Itam,
> Mexico, April 2000

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