Coronavirus is serious, can be overcome but threats loom: Chomsky


April 6, 2020


Coronavirus is serious, can be overcome but threats loom: Chomsky

Noam Chomsky’s is an American philosopher, linguist, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and a political critic. He is also one of the founders of the field of cognitive science. A widely read scholar nonagenarian, Noam Chomsky is in Tucson, Arizona in self-isolation, now. Below is the excerpts of a discourse with Srecko Horvat on Diem 25 TV where the nonagenarian has shared his experiences of past crises, various measures taken then; the coronavirus and other threats looming ahead.

Is coronavirus unprecedented historical event?

The coronavirus is serious enough but it’s worth recalling that there is a much greater horror approaching, we are racing to the edge of disaster, far worse than anything that’s happened in human history. And Donald Trump and his minions are in the lead, in racing to the abyss.

In fact, besides coronavirus, there are two immense threats that we are facing: one is the growing threat of nuclear war, which has exacerbated it by the tearing what’s left of the arms control regime, and the other of course, is  the growing threat of global warming.

Both threats can be dealt, but there isn’t a lot of time. The corona virus is horrible, and can have terrifying consequences. But there will be recovery, while the others won’t be recovered, it’s finished.

If we don’t deal with them, we’re done. So, the childhood memories are coming back to haunt me, but in a different dimension.

So, if you think of, take a rich country like United States, it has the resources, to overcome the immediate economic, the mobilization for the Second World War, led the country into far greater debt than is contemplated today and was a very  successful mobilization, practically quadrupled the U.S manufacturing, ended the depression, instead enhanced the capacity to grow.

The threat of nuclear war didn’t get a sense of where the world really is, by looking to early this January, as may you know, every year the doomsday clock is set, set with a minute- hand at certain distance from midnight, which means termination.

But, ever since Trump was elected, the minute hand has been moving closer and closer to midnight. Last year it was two minutes to midnight. The highest, matching the highest it ever reached. This year the analysts dispensed with minutes, started moving to seconds, 100 seconds to midnight. That’s the closest it’s ever been.

Sighting three things: the threat of nuclear war, the threat of global warming and the deterioration of democracy, which doesn’t quite belong into here. But it does, because that’s the only hope that we have for overcoming the crisis and for public taking to control of their fate, if that doesn’t happen, we are doomed. We are leaving our fate to sociopathic buffoons, we’re finished. And that’s coming close, Trump is the worst, that’s because of US Power, which is overwhelming.

But how can that be a problem?

We are talking about U.S decline, but you just look at the world, you don’t see that when the U.S imposes sanctions, murders, devastating sanctions, it’s the only country that can do that, but everyone has to follow.

Europe may not like, in fact hate actions on Iran, but they have to follow, they have to follow the master, or else they get kicked out of the international financial system. That’s not a law of nature. It’s a decision in Europe to be subordinate to the master in Washington; other countries don’t even have a choice.

And back to coronavirus, one of the most shocking, harsh aspects of it, is the use of sanctions, to maximize the pain perfectly consciously, Iran is in a zone with enormous internal problems.

By the stranglehold of tightening sanctions, which are consciously designed, openly, to make the suffer and suffer bitterly now. Cuba has been suffering from it, from the moment, where it gained independence, but it’s astonishing that they survived but they stayed resilient and one of the most ironic elements of today’s virus crisis is that Cuba is helping Europe.

I mean, this is so shocking, that you don’t know how to describe it. That Germany can’t help Greece, but Cuba can help the European countries. If you stop to think about what that means, all the words fail, just as when you see thousands of people dying in the Mediterranean, fleeing from a region, that has been devastated for centuries and being sent to the deaths in the Mediterranean, you don’t know what words to use.

The crisis, the civilizational crisis of the West at this point is devastating to think of them and it does bring up childhood memories of listening to Hitler raving on the radio to raucous crowds, it makes you wonder if this species is even viable.

What does this discourse about war tell us and why do they present a virus as an enemy, is it just to legitimize the new state of exception or is there something deeper in this discourse?

It’s not the case of protect the rhetoric, but I think it’s not exaggerated. It has some significance. The meaning is that if we want to deal with the crisis, we have to move to something like wartime mobilization.

So, if you think of, take a rich country like United States, it has the resources, to overcome the immediate economic, the mobilization for the Second World War, led the country into far greater debt than is contemplated today and was a very  successful mobilization, practically quadrupled the U.S manufacturing, ended the depression, instead enhanced the capacity to grow.

That’s less than we need probably, not on that scale it’s not like this in a world war, but we need the mentality of movement.  Also here we can recall the swine flu epidemic of 2009 that originated in the U.S. Couple hundred thousand people at the first sight recovered from the worst.  But it has to be dealt with by a rich country like the States.

Will it hit hard to poor developing countries?

Now there are two billion people, the majority are in India. What happens for Indian, they live from hand to mouth, who’re isolated, starve to death. What’s gonna happen? In a civilized world, the rich countries would be giving assistance, after those who were in need, instead of strangling them, which is what we are doing, particularly in India but in much of the world. The kind of crisis, you know whether the crisis can be within a country like India, I don’t know, bear in mind that with current tendencies, if they persist South Asia, is going to be unlivable for a few decades.

It’s a colossal market failure, it goes right back to the essence of markets, exacerbated by the neoliberal savage, neoliberal intensification of deep social economic problems.

The temperature reached 50 degrees in Rajasthan this summer and it’s increasing. The waters right now could get even worse, there are two nuclear powers, they’re gonna be fighting over restricting reduced water supplies.

I mean corona virus is very serious we can’t underestimate it, but we have to remember that it’s a fraction, small fraction of major crisis, that are coming along. They may not disrupt life to the extent, that the corona virus does today, but they will disrupt life to the point of making the species unsurvivable and not in the very distant future.

So, we have many problems to deal with. Well, immediate ones, corona virus is serious, has to be dealt with and much larger ones, vastly larger ones, they’re looming. Now there is the civilizational crisis, we have to time.

Possibly good side of the corona virus, as it may, might bring people to think about what kind of a world do we want? Do we want the kind of world that leads to this? We should think about the origins of this crisis, why is there a corona virus crisis?

It’s a colossal market failure, it goes right back to the essence of markets, exacerbated by the neoliberal savage, neoliberal intensification of deep social economic problems.

It was known for a long time that pandemics are very likely and it was understood, very well understood, that there are  likely to be corona virus pandemic, slight modifications of the SARS epidemic, 15 years ago it was overcome.

The viruses were identified, sequenced; vaccines were available, labs around the world could be working right then on developing protection for potential corona virus pandemics. Why didn’t they do it? The market signals were wrong.

The drug companies, we have handed over fate to private tyrannies, hold corporations, which are unaccountable to the public, in this case, big Pharma.

And for them they make new body creams, it’s more profitable, than that of finding a vaccine that will protect people from the total destruction. It’s impossible for the government to step in, going back to wartime mobilization, that’s what happened.

Polio, at the time, I can remember very well, was a terrifying threat; it was ended by the discovery of the Salk vaccine, by government institution, set off by the Roosevelt administration. No patents, available to everyone.

Was there any possibility of simulation?

That could have been done this time, but the neoliberal has blocked that. We are living under an ideology, for which economists have a good bit of responsibility, so which comes from the corporate sector.

An ideology, which is typified by that Ronald Reagan reading, the script handed to, by his corporate masters with his sunny smile, saying government is the problem. Let’s get rid of government, which means, let’s handover decisions to private tyrannies that are unaccountable to the public.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Thatcher was instructing us, that there is a society, just individuals thrown into the markets to survive somehow and furthermore, there is no alternative.

The world has been suffering under the rich, years and it’s now at the point where thing, that could be done, like direct government intervention on the scope the invention of the Salk vaccine, but that’s blocked for ideological reasons, coming out of the neoliberal plague and the point is that this corona virus epidemic could have been prevented, the information was there to be read, in fact it was well known in October 2019, just before the outbreak.

There was a large scale simulation, by level simulation in the United States, in the world of the possible pandemic of this kind. Nothing was done, now the crisis was then made worse by the treachery of the political systems.

We didn’t pay attention to the information that they were aware of. On December 31, China informed the World Health Organization of pneumonia like symptoms with unknown etiology. A week later, they identified, some Chinese scientists identified it as a corona virus, furthermore, they sequenced it and gave information to the world. By then, the virologists and others who were bothering to read WHO report knew that they were corona virus and they knew how to deal with it.

Did they do anything well?

Yes, some did.  The countries in the area, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore began to do something and they have, sort of pretty much it seems, contained, at least the first surge of crisis.

In Europe to some extent, that’s happened. Germany which had, which hadn’t moved, just on time, it has the hospital systems under the liberalism, did have spare diagnostic capacity and  was able to act in a highly selfish: not helping others but for itself at least, to have a reasonable containment,

Other countries just ignored it, the worst of them the United Kingdom and the worst of all was the United States which happens to be led by the leader, who says, you know one day there’s no crisis, it’s just like flu; the next day, it’s a terrible crisis, I knew it all along, the next day we have to give it for business, because I have to win the election.

The idea that the world is in these hands is shocking, but the point is that it started with it. Again, a colossal market failure by pointing to fundamental problems the social economic order made much worse by the neoliberal plague and it continues because of the collapse of the kinds of institutional structures, which could deal with it if they were functioning.

These are topics that ought to be thinking about seriously and thinking in more depth about, as I said, what kind of world do we want to live in? If we overcome somehow, there will be options.

The options range from the installation of highly authoritarian brutal states all the way over to radical reconstruction to society and more humane terms, concerned with human needs of private profit. That we should bear in that highly authoritarian vicious states are quite compatible with neo-liberalism. In fact, the gorges of neo-liberalism were perfectly happy with massive state violence, as long as it supported what they called sound economics.


Neo-liberalism has its origins in 1920s Vienna, in the proto-fascist of the Austrian state and smashed the labor unions of Austrian social democracy and joined the early proto-fascist government, praised it; praised fascism, in fact, because of his protecting sound economics.

When Pinochet installed a murderer’s brutal dictatorship in Chile, they all loved it. They all fought there, helped out of this marvelous miracle, that was bringing sound economics, great profit to it, for hands of some small part of the population.

So, it’s not out of line to think of savage neoliberal system might be reinstalled by self-proclaimed libertarians with a powerful state violence, imposing, that’s one part, one nightmare that might come about.

But it’s not necessary , there is the possibility that people will organize, become engaged, as many are doing, and bring about a much better world, which will also conform the enormous problems that we’re facing right down the road. The problems of nuclear war which is closer than it’s ever been and the problems of environmental catastrophe from which there is no recovery once we’ve gotten to that stage. That’s not far in distance unless we act decisively.

So it’s a critical moment of human history, not just because of the corona virus but to bring us, should bring us to, awareness of the profound flaws the world flawed not strong enough, the deep dysfunctional characteristics of socio-economic system which has to have if there is going to be a survivable future.

So, this could be a warning sign and a lesion to deal with it today or prevent it from exploding. But thinking of its roots and how those roots are going to lead to more crises, worse ones than this extra pay right away.

Is there the chance that instead of going into a global authoritarianism, this open historic situation might go in a radical transformation of the world, which would be green, equal, just and full of solidarity?

First of all, we should bear in mind that in the past few years, there has been a form of social isolation, which is very damaging.

Now you go into a McDonalds and take a look at a bunch of teenagers, sitting around the table, having a hamburger, what you see is two conversations going: one sort of shallow discussion among them; another the one that each one is having on their cell phone, with some remote individual, who is friend.

This has atomized and isolated people to an extraordinary extent. The Thatcher principle, there was no society, has escalated, the misused social media, that has turned people into very isolated creatures, especially young people. There are actually universities now in the United States, where the sidewalk has plaques on them, saying: look up. Because every kid is walking around, is glued to itself. That’s a form of self induced social isolation which has been very harmful.

We are now on a situation of real social isolation. It has to be overcome by recreating social bonds in whatever way can be done, who need if whatever kind that can be helping people in need.

Contacting them, developing organizations, expanding analyzation, like before I’m getting them to be functional and operative, making plans for future, bringing people together as he can in the internet age, to join , to consult, to deliberate to figure out answers to the problems that they face and work on them, which can be done. It’s not face to face communication which for human beings is essential.

But it’ll be deprived of it for a while, you can put it on hold, find other ways and continue with the, in fact, extend and deepen the activities carried out, can be done. It’s not going to be easy, but humans have faced problem.

(Based on, Chomsky’s discourse with Srecko Horvat on Diem 25 TV. )


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