A few people have asked me who this Noam Chomsky is that I have spoken of on a few occasions on my blog.
Quite simply, he is a very astute political observer. He is a Professor of Linguistics who has become quite famous for unmasking power in all sorts of systems, not the least of which the American government.
I have read a number of his books and listened to quite a few speeches. One of the endearing themes in his writing is that the elite most often control power in any system, and that they will do whatever is necessary to further their power at best, or simply protect it at worst. These elite persons may be elected officials, or the chosen members of a caucus group.
He is convinced that democracy no longer functions in America. When I listen to his reasoning, I tend to agree. Furthermore, I am quite certain that democracy doesn't function in very many power systems at all these days. What we have is oligarchy, i.e. a system where a few elite persons allow the 'dumbed' masses to participate to some greater or lesser extent in the dominance of power within the system (e.g. a nation may allow the masses to vote, but then their vote is really only a choice between the few powerful groups, or persons, who represent a fairly narrow spectrum of public opinion). In most countries, for example, the gap between the radical left and the radical right is not all that vast in reality.
It is quite an interesting idea. This 7 minute clip from YouTube is quite good in illustrating such a system in action in America. [By the way, if you are on a narrow internet pipeline, YouTube will cache the video for you. Simply press the play button and come back to it in 10 minutes - get it back to the start and you should be able to watch is quite easily].
My reading of Chomsky has certainly helped me to approach the forms of benevolent dictatorship that we encounter in spheres such as government, and church polity, with a greater measure of insight and caution. I can begin to understand who rules, and why they are in power. I also come to understand who is appointed to which posts, and who is fired from others (and of course why that happens). I am less naive about power and how it is used (whether that relates to the power that I hold and use, or the power that others hold and use over me).
The whole recent debate about the use of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's "brand" by its ministers speaks of the hegemony of survival by the powerful elite. For more on this particular debate please see Greg's blog (you will have to scroll back a few entries to September 19th to get his post on this story).
For an entirely different take on the emerging black elite in Southern African politics, and the division of wealth and power in the New South Africa, do a google search for Prof Sipho Seepe. I attended a lecture he gave some weeks ago which was an incredible insight into just such tactics. He spoke of certain vice chancelors being appointed to South African Universities, some of whom have not published a single scholarly article - all that was required was praise of the ruling party, and a R10 card membership.... Can you imagine such a person representing the intellectual capital of our nation at international gatherings. As Prof Seepe pointed out, it is little wonder that many look upon our degrees with scepticism.
Granted, neither Chomsky nor Seepe represent the mainstream. But then, neither do I. Mainstream supports the status quo, I have always like a bit of agitation to change for the better.
If you're sly, or perhaps mainstream enough, you may just be tempted to buy your card (whether it is for the BMC or the ANC, the Zanu PF, or the Republican party). However, if you live on the side of truth you may just be willing to sacrifice it all for the sake of virtues and principles. I long for that, in fact I pray for it. I'm not so sure that I always manage to do it.
As my friend Alan Storey is known to say about people who live with integrity and truth (commenting on the life of Jesus), "if you want to live the truth, you had better look good on wood".
What do you think?