Borrowing from Chomsky

November 08, 2017


PAKISTAN was greeted by its people with joy and hope despite the awful accompaniment of mass atrocities and slaughter. The country had little. But the Pakistan Dream sustained it despite early signs of troubles to come. Those troubles came and determined the shape of Pakistan today.

Hope has been replaced by resignation and speculation. Corruption is accepted as a norm, and when successfully practised by persons elected to high offices of public trust, it is respected as a symbol of power, privilege and patronage. Everybody loves a winner! Losers are fascinated and seduced by the possibilities of sharing in the patronage. Expec­ta­tions are minimised. Electoral victories are assured except for the risk of losing to ‘friendly opposition’. Critics can let off steam as long as they don’t disturb the furniture and wake up the people.

In 1776, Adam Smith observed that the principal architects of policy make sure their own interests are very well cared for, however grievous the impact on the people. They follow the “vile maxim” of “all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else”. Almost 250 years later, our democratically elected political businessmen fit this description perfectly. They are bewildered and deeply offended by the injustice of being politically embarrassed just because of massive corruption.

A recent film, Requiem for the American Dream, based on Noam Chomsky’s 10 principles of the concentration of wealth and power unintentionally and unsurprisingly describes much of the political reality in Pakistan. America under Trump and contemporary Pakistan share a number of political features: fake news, lying leaders, the rise of the generals, the rule of the rich, basic ignorance of complex issues, bombast in place of governance, primitive political discourse, dysfunctional legislatures, contempt for the rule of law, dangerous posturing, etc.

The Welfare State must be limited to being a Nanny State to nurture the rich under the guise of a Security State.

I have accordingly broadly applied Chomsky’s 10 principles to the current situation in Pakistan:

(i) Reducing democracy in order to control the people. A corporate capitalist economic model is more compatible with feudal attitudes and authoritarian structures than with democratic and participatory processes. A security state more or less wholly concerned with enemies, emergencies and wars on terror tends to subordinate human and political rights to state (elite) interests. The containment of ‘excessive’ democracy must continue in the name of strengthening democracy. 

(ii) Shaping the ideology by interpreting religion and patriotism in a way that disguises and serves the interests of the elite instead of the people. The media and the education system are required to play key roles in building and selling appropriate narratives for this purpose.

(iii) Redesigning the economy to equate growth and development with increasing inequality, impoverishment and insecurity which are the inevitable consequences of a predatory concentration of wealth. The small but vibrant middle class helps disguise the depth of mass poverty.

(iv) Shifting the burden of supporting a class-based economy from the rich to the middle and poorer classes requires predominantly indirect taxation, tax exemptions, loan write-offs, inflationary financing, debts to pay off debts, disproportionate defence expenditures; building infrastructure without human resource development, pervasive corruption and an undocumented black economy which sustains an impoverished underclass;

(v) Attacking solidarity. Speaking truth to power threatens no one. Speaking truth to each other, however, threatens elite structures and interests with an informed citizenry aware of its power against those who exploit it. Any people’s movement is, accordingly, intolerable and must be co-opted, isolated or neutralised. In particular, education needs to be controlled and limited through conservative, religious and elite supervision;

(vi) Run the regulators. Those institutions that are required to protect consumers and the people against fraud and injustice need to be ‘captured’ so that elite interests are protected against the entitlements and encroachments of the people, including common consumers. The Welfare State must be limited to being a Nanny State to nurture the rich under the guise of a Security State. This requires controlling legislation, undermining the law and influencing, intimidating and ignoring the courts. It also requires a significant percentage of Pakistan’s elected legislators, both provincial and federal, to become dollar millionaires to pay for their electoral expenses — past, present and future — in return for serving elite and corrupt interests in the name of parliamentary democracy.

(vii) Engineering elections. Pakistan can teach the world. Concentration of wealth means concentration of power. This facilitates control over election officials, the costs of vote buying and defraying the expenses of constant electoral theatre over several months in which personalities instead of issues are discussed. Narratives and slogans help to eliminate scrutiny of mandates and candidates.

(viii) Keeping the rabble in line. Organised labour and socialist political thought, with all their shortcomings, are still one of the true advocates and guarantors of the people’s interests. They need to be discredited as secular inventions against divine injunctions in support of private property. As long as the people are kept ignorant of their power they can be controlled, deceived, divided and co-opted into various elite vote banks against their own interests;

(ix) Consent is manufactured through the removal of hope for redress and the use of overwhelming narratives and state force against ‘disturbers of the peace’. This is the essence of ‘maintaining law and order’. The assistance of a complicit media, hired intellectuals, the deep state and criminally perverted politics is indispensable, and

(x) Marginalising the people by ensuring that their representatives do not represent them, public opinion does not determine public policy, and the public relations industry distracts public attention from what is happening on a daily basis to the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis. Inculcating an other-worldly piety and philosophy among the people can also reconcile them to being victims in this world. In particular, it is important to ensure that reason, enlightened self-interest and a driving mutual compassion never inform the political thinking of the people.

Chomsky is not a cynic. Nor is he a pessimist. He is a sage who knows honest hope requires knowing reality, relentless struggle, and optimism regarding the eventual triumph of the public good over its many enemies.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2017