Saturday, July 26, 2008


by Denis G. Rancourt
Chomsky invites us to peer into the functioning of the superpower and provides analyses and predictive descriptions of complex societal phenomena such as war, the US military economy, and continental-scale corporate predation. Using institutional and media and geopolitical analyses, Chomsky illustrates golden rules such as that an organization will never work against itself and unravels relationships between domestic interests, class divisions, and global pillaging.
As a professor at MIT, is Chomsky an exception to the rule or does Chomsky work for the man?
Chomsky once challenged the US war machine at its root and went to jail for his activism, an activism tied to a strong campus anti-war movement. But after jail and after Vietnam, Chomsky became a non-activist intellectual engaged in analytical penetration of the monster.
In debating Chomsky in 1971, Foucault stated [1]:
“One knows … that the university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. … It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticise the workings of institutions, which appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticise and attack them in such a manner that the political violence which has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”
Chomsky, from his position of power within MIT, has not done this. One can say that that is a question of personal choice; that one needs to “choose one’s battles”. But is this choice informed, in terms of action that creates justice – which liberates, rather than reinforces the murderous machine that Chomsky describes?
No, it is not. Chomsky feeds our need for truth by providing analysis, an intellectual framework that resides in inaction. Chomsky appeases First World cerebral wanderers by giving them their fix, thereby locking them into either cynicism or a non-ending quest to mentalize it all while being disconnected from any real battle. Chomsky feeds the false notion that one can understand the world and one’s place in it and oneself by reading books.
While this may not be Chomsky’s intent, it is clear that the great majority of Chomsky readers have never put themselves at significant risk by confronting the madness that rules our lives and that is destroying every region of the planet. It is clear that most Chomsky readers don’t read Chomsky as part of a necessary reflection within a high-risk activist battle, within a praxis of change [2, 3, 4].
Among activist readers Chomsky mainly serves to deepen the pathological pacifism of neutralized mainstream movements. This is mainly because almost all First World activists are of the latter variety [4] but Chomsky does not challenge us to step out. Instead, Chomsky feeds the disconnected and ailing trapped intellectual, the lost soul who has been socialized to study as a “first step” rather than to first feel and stand based on primordial impulse.
Education as a “first step” constrains us to study and precludes action until an “understanding” is sufficiently complete, in a manner not unlike compulsory and self-imposed schooling as a holding pattern. When one cannot perceive or will not fight one’s own oppression [5] and when the problem is taken to be the intractable entire planet and the systems of exploitation that occupy it, the “first step” is a non-ending self-trapped cycle of intellectual isolation in which the brain is severed from the heart; the heart that is defined by solidarity in battle and in shared risk and shared consequences, and by inter-dependence.
The same scientific method that has alienated us from nature and from our own selves also defines the framework in which we interpret the new world and our place in it [6]. It is a cold framework of measured consequences, weighed counter pressures, and legalistic morality, without the liberating impulse.
Chomsky is very careful to not provide any examples of how individuals can free themselves. At most, the prescription is to “organize” [7]: Organizing as a “first step”, leaving out the individual’s primordial quest for freedom to influence. The individual’s impulse to free herself must be constrained behind organizing and education, to the extent that the realities of “survival” permit. Anarchy as anarchism, not anarchy from anarchy [8].
In reality, one must first act. The world cannot be correctly perceived from involuntary observation and thought. Only knowledge from action allows one to realistically evaluate the proposals of others. Action, reaction, communication, reflection, action… There is a natural sequence that cannot be adulterated without separating us from ourselves.
The intellectual as mentalizer is a service intellectual [2, 9], just as surely as cerebral wanderers are trapped intellectuals. Only through action have I come to understand Chomsky and his place in the world. Let’s move on.
References cited:
[1] Chomsky-Foucault debate, 1971.
[2] Gradual Change is Not Progress.

[3] Activism and Risk.

[4] Churchill, Ward. Pacifism as Pathology. 1998.
[5] Friere, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970.
[6] Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man. 1964.
[7] Chomsky, Noam. Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky. 2002. (P.R. Mitchell and J. Schoeffel, eds.)
[8] Chomsky, Noam. Chomsky on Anarchism. 1969. (2005, AK Press)
[9] Said, Edward. Representations of the Intellectual. 1994.

Follow Up and Supporting Post:
Data in the study "Against Chomsky"

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Education for More Anarchy

by Denis G. Rancourt (Professor of Physics, University of Ottawa)

Education should not create experts. It should make experts irrelevant.

“[we call for] full education, all-round education, and complete education, so that no class may exist above [the masses of the people] superior by its knowledge, so that the aristocracy of the intellect may protect and direct them – that is, exploit them. We say that this so-called aristocracy of the intellect is the most hateful, scornful, insolent, and oppressive of all the aristocracies that have, each in its turn and sometimes all at once, oppressed human society.”
- Bakunin, The Hypnotizers (~1870)

Call it “the knowledge economy” and believe that patents are something other than capital’s tax on the commons of creativity – that patents are something other than contracts for exploitation of the militarily-contained Third World, and of the First World citizenry (e.g., pharmaceuticals) and of everything. Or call it “economics” and believe that it is something other than a religion of wage slavery and capitalist exploitation. Or call it modern medicine and believe that it has something to do with health rather than sustaining sickness and its profits. And on and on.

Institutionalized education brings us into The Lie, that we may serve the master and not rebel. We are taught that the “power of ideas” must substitute revolutionary action, that mind-masturbation in elite circles will free humanity from injustice.

Bakunin sees the purpose of all-round education as making an individual who “grasps more fully the nature of his surroundings because he better understands those facts which are called the laws of nature and society and which interconnect natural and social events – that that person will feel freer in nature and society […]”
- Bakunin, All-Round Education (~1870)

By contrast, my learned colleagues expound that the masses of the people should “learn more science” but their clear intent is to make them more receptive to the authority of the expert scientists, who themselves are specialized into unquestioning servitude.

My colleagues confuse “freer in nature and society” with “more able to integrate the hierarchy of relative advantages.” They confuse freedom and servitude. They confuse independent thought and ass-licking (to use a biological term).

There are two kinds of “education”: all-round education that frees the human spirit and indoctrination. In our modern plutocracies, the latter is dispensed by the state, in the service of the capital masters and is achieved by the perfected devices of the grades carrot-and-stick (regurgitation on demand) and mindless specialization. In this scheme, “critical thinking” means seamless indoctrination, total assimilation of the master’s ideology.

All-round education cannot be achieved by a series of parallel classrooms in which academic subjects are disciplinally detached from each other and from student realities. However, such a scheme is by design perfect for disrupting natural thought and development patterns, disallowing discourse, and instilling Pavlovian responses to segmented technical abilities to serve capital.

All-round education requires freedom and makes more freedom. All-round education requires relevance and involvement, not forced abstraction and detachment, and creates more relevance and involvement.

Apathy and cynicism are the natural outcomes of state education, which produces infantile consumers, atomized automatons, and service intellectuals at the highest levels. Fortunately, the system is only near-perfect. Nature has a way of preserving itself.

Fight the system or be neutralized. Take back your life.


The Basic Bakunin, Writings 1869-1871. Translated and edited by Robert M. Cutler, Prometheus Books, 1992.

Disciplined Minds. By Jeff Schmidt, Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.


Monday, March 10, 2008

The SDS at UBC is Gearing Up

Students for a Democratic Society are on the move at UBC. Their secret is perpetual action and constant outreach. This is one of the most vibrant campus activism movements in English North America.

On the last day of their week-long Resisting the University conference they called for a demonstration. Nearly one hundred students gathered on the Knoll (the last free-access grassy and treed spot on the UBC campus) with banners and signs and megaphones in hand.
Below are photos of this spontaneous act of resistance.
They marched to the registrar’s offices to demand no tuition.
They marched to the central library to protest the military propaganda of its lobby.
They marched to the president’s office to demand a hearing. He was off campus.
They barged into the BOG/Senate boardroom to interrupt a planning meeting and to be heard.
They promised that board meeting would be interrupted until students had a democratic voice in campus “development”. They rejected the empty talk of unelected board members and resolved to save the campus from appointed corporate stooges.
They went to the construction site where their campus is being torn up without student consent.
They stopped the bulldozers for a brief moment of sanity.
And they took the Knoll.
I can report that the SDS and the Wreath Underground are strong tiles in a mosaic of resistance that is emerging on the UBC campus.
As they prepare to act directly on the economic levers that illegitimately transform a stolen campus, as they gauge the effectiveness of their strategies, and measure the risks they are willing to take to be in solidarity with the victims of the machine, one can sense that things are going to change.
One can sense that this is a school for activists who will be liberated from the pathology of pacifism to enter life in defence of the dying.
SDS slogan: "I say STUDENTS. You say: POWER."

Free(d) Public Space - Enjoy

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Recommended Reading: To know yourself and your place in the world…?

[For students of all specialized disciplines, including physics.]


We have obvious biological drives to feed ourselves, seek physical shelter, and reproduce. And it is in our natures to both compete and cooperate, to both hate and feel compassion. We adapt these drives and tendencies to our circumstances and to social and physical realities, while being guided and misguided by our individual psychologies that are in turn products of our environments and accidents of our developments.

We are also political beings. We want agency and influence. We need some control over our place in the world. And on this front, there is a divide between those who feel and believe the world is just and is close to ideal in terms of what is practical and those who believe the world is unjust and far from a more just world that is possible; those who feel that they can accept their place in society and cooperate to ameliorate their circumstances and those who feel that present structures are unacceptable and should be fought and dismantled.

These are two end-points and there is every variety and deception in-between that varies in time and place and from person to person. But nonetheless they are bimodal attractors in that, at a given time and place, we tend to adopt predominantly one interpretation or the other. Fight or flight? Friend or foe? Safe or dangerous? There are many such bimodal attractors that determine our survival choices.

Just or unjust? Liveable and stable or wrong and dangerous? Am I being oppressed or respected? Am I being used and coerced or given my due and appreciated? As worker, student, mother, child, citizen of the Third or First Worlds…?

Our fundamental beliefs about the extent to which and the ways in which the present “order” is just and sane are what predominantly distinguish us as political beings. These will determine whether we are liberals, conservatives, socialists, or anarchists, in our hearts.

And these beliefs are constantly managed and groomed by the First World trillion-dollar-a-year industry that fabricates our mental environment. So, even if you must medicate yourself with alcohol, consumerism, and entertainment, the aim is that you come to believe that this is an acceptable life, that the rewards make it meaningful, and that to fight against it is futile.

Which brings us to the question of a reading list: One might conclude that education is the answer and that independent and alternative information can lead to political development and more justice. I don’t believe this. Education as a first step, practiced on oneself from a position of having integrated mainstream compliance, is inaction and self co-optation.

One’s justice-injustice world view, one’s anti-authoritarian stance, one’s defiance, and one’s solidarity with the oppressed, are determined by the deep experiences of growing human; involving contacts with life and death, struggles won and lost, facing danger, taking risks, and acting to change one’s place in the world (family, cooperative, community, society).

Reading independent and alternative information can serve either side and does not create justice fighters on its own. But it is an invaluable source of inspiration and aid-in-reflection for the developing activists who already know things are wrong.

At best, reading powerful material can momentarily destabilize the indoctrinated individual, thereby creating opportunities for action.

Action, its results and any backlash, is what educates. Breaking the rules informs us of the true nature of the system that imprisons us, something we cannot learn from books. This in-turn allows us to decode the great writers that spoke from the trenches, from experience. It allows us to see writers for what they are, on the justice-injustice divide.

Therefore, my first recommendation is about this divide, as expressed in the intellectual. True intellectuals who are freedom fighters versus service intellectuals who serve power:

Representations of the Intellectual Edward W. Said, 1994
(Vintage Books edition, 1996)

A related essay is:
Gradual Change is Not Progress dgr

The rest of my recommendations are divided into two themes: (1) Anarchist writers and anarchism as the most advanced political theory, consistent with human liberation from oppression and exploitation, and (2) independent analyses of the world and its societal structures – how things work and how they got that way.


Virtually all the true intellectuals identified by Said and by whoever cares to enumerate them are and were anarchists, in that they believed in the liberated human spirit, liberated from all oppressive structures and all institutions not directly mandated by democratic consensus.

If you know in your gut that things are wrong and if your reaction is to want to fight it rather than accept it to hopefully transform it incrementally, then read about anarchism; read the anarchists. There are usually no courses on anarchism on university campuses. Find the anarchists (Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, Erico Malatesta, Emile Pouget, Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Georges Sorel, and many many others) on the web (see links below) and in libraries and read them.

The anarchists, like the Paris students of May 1968, call on us to “live instead of devising a lingering death.” And life is risk: “Sous les pavĂ©s il y a la plage.” (May’68 student slogan)

Many of the greatest intellectuals of our time have declared themselves anarchists and have adopted anarchist ideals (see: Chomsky on Anarchism, Barry Pateman, AK Press, 2005).

I recommend a small book that is one of my favourites:

Anarchy Erico Malatesta, 1891
(translation by Vernon Richards, Freedon Press, 1974, 1994)

(Note: A bad translation is available on the web but the Richards translation makes all the difference!)

Compare it to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ brilliant The Communist Manifesto first published in 1848. These are two small essay-length books but rarely are pages so densely packed with powerful ideas. The dissonances with modern mainstream mass media spin are striking. Minds at work…! This comparison allows one to clearly discern socialist-communist models from anarchist thought.

For those wishing to situate their activism and modern activism in the broadest possible historical context of world views and defining ideologies, I recommend David Noble’s “pocket book”:

Beyond The Promised Land: The Movement and The Myth David F. Noble, 2005
(Between the Lines, Toronto, 2005)

It puts anarchism in its rightful place and shows that history does not simply repeat itself…

We are all students and we are all teachers. The anarchist educator par excellence is Paulo Freire, the father of critical pedagogy. I recommend his book:

Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire, 1970
(Continuum, NY, 2005)

This is a very difficult read. I think one cannot understand or know how to apply this work without a critical mass of fighting and organizing experience. But don’t give up.

Some great anarchism stuff and resources and networks on the web:


Among salaried employees, there is a difference between labourers and workers on the one hand and professionals and managers on the other. The first can simply be forced to obey, using job loss and working conditions as tools of oppression, whereas the latter must obey and adopt the employer’s ideology. That is why we have universities and professional and graduate schools.

My first recommendation in this section is for all who have been and continue to be subjected to a university education:

Disciplined Minds: A critical look at salaried professionals and the soul-battering systems that shapes their lives physicist Jeff Schmidt, 2001
(Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham MD, 2001,

It’s about knowing the system that shaped/shapes you.

Next, you probably want to read an independent history of how America (the US and Canada) got to somewhat recognise civil rights, workers rights, freedom of expressed, and other such nuisances to people in power. I recommend:

A People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn, 1980
(Perennial Classics, 2003)

And what about genocide? What about Canada’s dirty hidden genocide? You probably want to know about the continental-scale crime against humanity perpetrated by Canadian (and US) society. Therefore read:

A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present Ward Churchhill, 1997
(City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997)

Finally, on the theme of understanding the world, one should introduce oneself to Chomsky. The most complete and readable Chomsky reader I have found is:

Understanding Power: The indispensable Chomsky
...edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel, 2002
(The New Press, NY, 2002)

And you probably want to know something about feminism, especially if it did not occur to you as a particularly important “ism”. A wonderful introduction to feminism, in the broader context of class struggles, is provided by bell hooks (bell hooks does not capitalize her name):

Feminism is for Everybody bell hooks, 2000
(South End Press, Cambridge MA, 2000)

Such are some bits and pieces that might distract you from the forced ingurgitation of your specialized program of study…? May your discomfort grow and be amplified. May you be deeply perturbed and inspired to act. Or may these writings inform your actions and nurture your mid-action reflections. Otherwise, it’s wasted.