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Power Systems: Conversations on Global…

Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New…

by Noam Chomsky, David Barsamian (Author)

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16211119,735 (3.93)15
"In this new collection of conversations, conducted from 2010 to 2012, Noam Chomsky explores the most immediate and urgent concerns: the future of democracy in the Arab world, the implications of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the European financial crisis, the breakdown of American mainstream political institutions, and the rise of the Occupy movement. As always, Chomsky presents his ideas vividly and accessibly, with uncompromising principle and clarifying insight. The latest volume from a long-established, trusted partnership, this collection shows once again that no interlocutor engages with Chomsky more effectively than David Barsamian. These interviews will inspire a new generation of readers, as well as longtime Chomsky fans eager for his latest thinking on the many crises we now confront, both at home and abroad. They confirm that Chomsky is an unparalleled resource for anyone seeking to understand our world today"--… (more)



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This is a great collection of conversations where Noam Chomsky delivers his thoughts on different global uprisings, from the Occupy movement to the peoples' uprising in Syria and Egypt, to how the US has dealt with its domestic and international politics, from the murder of Osama Bin Ladin to how Barack Obama really isn't that much better than Bush 2.

And, of course, it's Chomsky:

Part of the doctrinal system in the United States is the pretense that we’re all a happy family, there are no class divisions, and everybody is working together in harmony. But that’s radically false.

Simple words to explain complex and sometimes complicated things. Make no mistake, Chomsky breaks things down easily.

Insights on 9/11 is handed out:

The United States didn’t invade Afghanistan because we were viciously attacked. It’s true that there was an attack on 9/11, but the government didn’t know who did it. In fact, eight months later, after the most intensive international investigation in history, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation informed the press that they still didn’t know who did it. He said they had suspicions. The suspicions were that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan but implemented in Germany and the United Arab Emirates, and, of course, in the United States. After 9/11, Bush II essentially ordered the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, and they temporized. They might have handed him over, actually. They asked for evidence that he was involved in the attacks of 9/11. And, of course, the government, first of all, couldn’t give them any evidence because they didn’t have any. But, secondly, they reacted with total contempt. How can you ask us for evidence if we want you to hand somebody over? What lèse-majesté is this? So Bush simply informed the people of Afghanistan that we’re going to bomb you until the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden. He said nothing about overthrowing the Taliban. That came three weeks later, when British admiral Michael Boyce, the head of the British Defense Staff, announced to the Afghans that we’re going to continue bombing you until you overthrow your government. This fits the definition of terrorism exactly, but it’s much worse. It’s aggression.

Apart from bringing up the reason for basic internal problems and recent difficulties and wars, Chomsky explains the basis for keeping the population docile:

To what extent does the propaganda system induce docility and passivity in the citizenry in the United States? That’s its point. But that has been its point from time immemorial. It’s part of the function of the reverence for kings, priests, submission to religious authorities. These are doctrinal characteristics of power systems that seek to induce passivity. The major propaganda systems that we face now, mostly growing out of the huge public relations industry, were developed quite consciously about a century ago in the freest countries in the world, in Britain and the United States, because of a very clear and articulated recognition that people had gained so many rights that it was hard to suppress them by force. So you had to try to control their attitudes and beliefs or divert them somehow. As the economist Paul Nystrom argued, you have to try to fabricate consumers and create wants so people will be trapped. It’s a common method.

Also, he focuses on the then-recent republican up-and-comers:

Today, if you read, say, foreign policy journals or, in a farcical form, listen to the Republican debates, they’re asking, “How do we prevent further losses?” If you listen to Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential candidate, the way you prevent further losses is by just killing everybody who is in your way. If we don’t like them, we’ll kill them. In fact, that’s just what he said last night. That’s one version. But it’s the same concern: we have to maintain our control of the world.

...and Ron Paul:

Some of the candidates have remarkable positions on climate change. Take Ron Paul. He appeals to a lot of progressives. He said on Fox, “The greatest hoax I think that has been around for many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming.” He doesn’t provide any argument or evidence as to why he disregards the scientific consensus—just, I say so, period. With that attitude, you really are approaching the edge.

Oh, as if we didn't know about Paul's motives:

Ron Paul was asked at a Republican presidential debate what if “something terrible happens” to some guy who has no health insurance? What do you do? He said, “That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.”21 Actually, when the moderator pushed back on this, he backed off and he said that people without health insurance would be taken care of by their families or their church. Then Rand Paul—this is more interesting—said national health insurance is slavery.22 He said, I’m a physician, and if there’s national health insurance, the government is forcing me to take care of somebody who is ill. Why should I be a slave to the state? Here we’re getting capitalist pathology in its most extreme, lunatic form. It is the opposite of solidarity, mutual support, mutual help.

And should people all over the world share the same rights? Oh hell yes:

Right after the assassination of Osama bin Laden, amid all the cheers and applause, there were a few critical comments questioning the legality of the act. Centuries ago, there used to be something called presumption of innocence. If you apprehend a suspect, he’s a suspect until proven guilty. He should be brought to trial. It’s a core part of American law. You can trace it back to Magna Carta. So there were a couple of voices saying maybe we shouldn’t throw out the whole basis of Anglo-American law. That led to a lot of very angry and infuriated reactions, but the most interesting ones were, as usual, on the left liberal end of the spectrum. Matthew Yglesias, a well-known and highly respected left liberal commentator, wrote an article in which he ridiculed these views. He said they’re “amazingly naive,” silly. Then he expressed the reason. He said that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers.” Of course, he didn’t mean Norway. He meant the United States. So the principle on which the international system is based is that the United States is entitled to use force at will. To talk about the United States violating international law or something like that is amazingly naive, completely silly. Incidentally, I was the target of those remarks, and I’m happy to confess my guilt. I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some attention to.

And speaking of the Magna Carta and its ramifications:

We’re soon going to be commemorating the eighth century of Magna Carta. Magna Carta was a huge step forward. It established the right of any freeman—later extended to every person—to be free from arbitrary persecution. It established the presumption of innocence, the right to be free from state persecution, and the right to a free and fair speedy trial. That later was expanded into the doctrine of habeas corpus and became part of the U.S. Constitution. This is the foundation of Anglo-American law and one of its highest achievements, but it’s now being cast to the winds. One of the most remarkable examples is of Omar Khadr, the first Guantánamo case to come to a military commission—not a court—under Obama. The charge was that he had tried to resist an attack on his village by American soldiers when he was a fifteen-year-old boy. That’s the crime. A fifteen-year-old tries to defend his village from an invading army. So he’s a terrorist. Khadr had been kept in Guantánamo and, before that, Bagram in Afghanistan for eight years. I don’t have to tell you what Guantánamo is like. He finally came to a military commission, where he was given a choice: either plead not guilty and stay here forever or plead guilty and just spend another eight years in detention. This violates every international convention that you can think of, including laws on treatment of juveniles. Of course, it grossly violates any principle. He was fifteen. But there was no public outcry. In fact, particularly striking in some ways is that Khadr is a Canadian citizen. Canada could extradite him and free him if it wanted to, but they didn’t want to step on the master’s toes.

Chomsky often looks to solutions as well as focusing on problems. An example:

But as with any movement, you have to keep thinking through what you’re doing. The Occupy tactic has been extremely successful. It was a brilliant tactic, not just for raising issues but also for creating communities—something very important in a society like ours, which is so atomized. People are alone. They sit alone in front of their TV set. You don’t “consult your neighbor,” to use the old Wobbly phrase. That atomization is a technique of control and marginalization. One of the real achievements of Occupy has been to bring people together to form functioning, supportive, free, democratic communities—everything from kitchens to libraries to health centers to free general assemblies, where people talk freely and debate. It’s created bonds and associations that, if they last and if they expand, could make a big difference.

And on terrorism, who's a terrorist according to the US government, up till approximately five years ago?

If you look at the record of who is designated a terrorist, it’s shocking. Maybe the most extreme case is Nelson Mandela, who just got off the terrorist list about four years ago. The Reagan administration, which supported the apartheid regime in South Africa right to the end, condemned the African National Congress as one of “the more notorious terrorist groups” in the world. So Mandela is a terrorist because they say so. He’s only now for the first time free to come to the United States without special authorization. Saddam Hussein was taken off the terrorist list in 1982 so the United States could provide him with agricultural and other support that he needed. The whole record is grotesque.

Chomsky speaks a lot of language and learning in the book, quote exciting stuff. And on learning, full stop:

In other words, giving a general structure in which the learner—whether it’s a child or an adult—will explore the world in their own creative, individual, independent fashion. Developing, not only acquiring knowledge. Learning how to learn. That’s the model you do find in a good scientific university. So if you’re at MIT, a physics course is not a matter of pouring water into a bucket. This was described nicely by one of the great modern physicists, Victor Weisskopf, who died some years ago. When students would ask him what his course would cover, he would say, “It doesn’t matter what we cover. It matters what you discover.” In other words, if you can learn how to discover, then it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. You will use that talent elsewhere. That’s essentially Humboldt’s conception of education.

And, to finish, on democracy:

April 15, the day when you pay your taxes, gives you a good index of how democracy is functioning. If democracy were functioning effectively, April 15 would be a day of celebration. That’s a day on which we get together to contribute to implementing the policies that we’ve decided on. That’s what April 15 ought to be. Here it’s a day of mourning. This alien force is coming to steal your hard-earned money from you. That indicates an extreme contempt for democracy. And it’s natural that a business-run society and doctrinal system should try to inculcate that belief.

All in all: highly recommendable to clarify and simplify what is going on among us, in modern society, and perhaps mainly, a brilliant set of goggles to make us see that it's time to fight. Remember, your anger is a gift. ( )
  pivic | Mar 20, 2020 |
Esp. noted the comment about ' reading ' and how it's vanishing as part of the culture in general ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
Esp. noted the comment about ' reading ' and how it's vanishing as part of the culture in general ( )
  BakuDreamer | Sep 7, 2013 |
Here is more clear, traditional, revolutionary thinking. It's amazing that Noam Chomsky manages to meet the objectives for all three. ( )
  bsiemens | Apr 13, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
As a personal account of Chomsky and his thoughts on recent events, this is interesting enough. But as a political work it is pretty uninteresting. ( )
  owen1218 | Mar 27, 2013 |
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