Guernica: Are “structures of power” amoral or immoral?
Noam Chomsky: Structures of power are amoral. The CEO, say, of the American Petroleum Institute may care a lot about whether his grandchildren will have a decent world to live in. But as CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, he’s going to try to make that impossible by doing what they’re doing right now, in fact. Working out ways to try to duplicate the success of the insurance industry in undermining any kind of health reform. They’ve already announced, “We’re gonna try to learn from [the health insurance industry’s] tactics and block any kind of energy or environmental bill.” Now he knows (he’s not an idiot) that could lead to a serious catastrophe which could undermine the prospects for the life of his grandchildren whom he cares a lot about. But as the director of a petroleum institute, he can’t consider that. If he did, he’d no longer have that position.
Guernica: You write about how corporations have these super-human rights and that investors and by-laws force them to take every advantage to maximize profits. But what you just said about structures of power being amoral, it seems to me that your work is actually asking them to be moral, no?
Noam Chomsky: I’m not addressing CEOs of corporations or President Obama or anything like that. I’m addressing people, saying, “Look, you’ve got a lot of opportunities. You can effect changes, which will change the actions of structures of power, which will in fact dissolve the structures of power.”
Guernica: What are those changes you mention above that can dissolve the structures of power?
Noam Chomsky: Consider the systematic dismantling of industrial capacity, say GM plants, destroying the workforce and communities, while Obama’s transportation secretary is abroad seeking to use federal stimulus money to contract with Spanish firms to provide high-speed transport—which could be produced by converting the plants that are being dismantled, by the skilled workforce being abandoned. It might require takeover of the facilities by “stakeholders”—workforce and community. There’s no economic principle that bars that, and it could happen with sufficient consciousness and popular support.
Guernica: One group you seem to expect a little more out of, by way of intermediaries between us people and the “power structures,” seems to be intellectuals. In the “Responsibility of—”
Noam Chomsky: The people we call intellectuals aren’t necessarily smarter or more knowledgeable than anyone else. But they happen to have a lot of privilege, and privilege confers responsibility. And so they oughta do things. I don’t expect them to.