By Noam Chomsky
People are waking up to the fact that we won’t get the necessary change from someone else, from somewhere else, from corporate-financed politicians or simply by voting.
Expecting elected officials to turn things around on their own is to go the way of the lemming. No one is going to do it for us. As the black feminist poet June Jordan said, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
If you want to change the world in a constructive direction, you better try to understand it first. And understanding it doesn’t mean just listening to a talk or reading a book, although that’s helpful sometimes. It means learning. And you learn through participation. You learn from others. You learn from the people you are trying to organize. And you have to gain the experience and understanding which will make it possible to maybe implement ideas like that as a tactic. But there is a long way to go, and you don’t get there by a flick of the wrist. That happens by hard, long-term, dedicated work.
People with power don’t give it up unless they have to. And that takes work.
Primarily, I think this should be regarded as a response, the first major public response, in fact, to about thirty years of a really quite bitter class war that has led to social, economic and political arrangements in which the system of democracy has been shredded.
At the same time, concentration of wealth leads almost reflexively to concentration of political power, which in turn translates into legislation, naturally in the interests of those implementing it; and that accelerates what has been a vicious cycle leading to, as I said, bitterness, anger, frustration and a very atomized society. That’s why the linkages in the Occupy movement are so important. *
Going back to your question about the movement’s demands, there are general ones that are very widely shared in the population: Concern about the inequality. Concern about the chicanery of the financial institutions and the way their influence on the government has led to a situation in which those responsible for the crisis are helped out, bailed out—richer and more powerful than ever, while the victims are ignored.
What’s happening is a reaction—in my opinion a much-too-delayed reaction—to the neoliberal policies of roughly the last thirty years. They have been implemented in different ways in different countries. But it’s generally the case that, to the extent that they have been implemented everywhere; they have been harmful to the general population and beneficial to a very small sector. And that’s not accidental.
These things don’t happen by the laws of nature or by principles of economics, to the extent they exist. They’re choices. And they are choices made by the wealthy and powerful elements to create a society that answers to their needs.
Growth is what is needed in a period of recession, not austerity. Europe has the resources to stimulate growth, but their resources are not being used because of the policies of the Central Bank and others.
The whole human species currently faces a very serious problem of whether even decent existence can be carried forward. We are coming close to the edge of a precipice of environmental destruction. If growth is understood and accepted to include constant attacks on the physical environment that sustains life—like, for example, greenhouse emissions, destruction of agricultural land, and so forth—if that’s what it means, then we are like lemmings walking over a cliff.
It’s a disaster. This kind of thing is going to happen as long as you have unregulated capital markets, which furthermore have a government insurance policy. It’s called “too big to fail”: if you get in trouble, the taxpayer will bail you out—policies that, of course, lead to underestimation of risk.
It’s a financial casino instead of a protected economy, and of course people get hurt who are not rich and powerful, the 99 percent. *