Architects of War
Chomsky, I learned, was also interested in languages.
But unlike Jackie, his specialty was formal languages;
languages which could be broken down and analyzed
using logic. I wondered if Jazz could be a formal
rather than an informal language.
But his political writings were what I was mostly
interested in and they were not formal at all. In
fact they had some jazz-like qualities of their own.
What I mean is that his style is both repetitive and
improvisational. Like John Coltrane's saxophone
style, they sounded very dense and noisy at first,
but after reading enough of them I would begin to
follow his pattern and his language of evidence. They
were not really noisy, just complex.
There were the architects of strategic US imperialism
like Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger. And there
were the union-busting business leaders who were
seeking to "reclaim control of the workplace."
Control which they had lost as a result of the New
Deal. Then there were the economic thinkers like
Milton Friedman who brainwashed us. In other words
it's a Tolkienesque universe where we are all pawns
in an elaborate game being played between sorcerers
weilding otherworldly powers.
There was really no difference between liberals and
conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. They were
all neoliberals. They were all in together on
something called the Washington Consensus. It was an
agreement to pursue a particular set of domestic
policies. They wanted to cut taxes, especially for
the wealthy, and to reduce spending on government
programs. They especially wanted to cut welfare
programs but also funding for education, and arts
education in particular, for some reason.
His writings about mass incarceration and the war on
drugs moved me the most. I was horrified to learn how
historically and internationally out of proportion
the prison population of the United States had
become. And how black. It was another Middle
Passage-like abuse of human dignity, but it was
happening NOW, under our noses. I could literally
feel my bowels becoming inflamed as I read about it.
I would meditate to cool off, but it wasn't enough.
And did I mention? They HATE democracy. HATE it.
As I read his books, I found myself wanting more
detailed evidence to back up his sometimes
extraordinary claims about how evil the capitalist
elite really were. There were his statements about
the US involvement in various unethical military
actions, which seemed to be on pretty solid ground.
But on the domestic policy front I wasn't so sure.
For example, he would say that no one really wants a
balanced budget and that it was just an excuse to cut
social programs. But he would never explain exactly
why we don't need to balance the budget, or how
unbalanced the budget should be.
I wanted to know whether there was going to be any
funding for arts education in the future because one
of the ways musicians make money is by teaching other
musicians. But if there is no one funding it this
becomes an unsustainable pyramid scheme. It was one
thing to be a starving artist but another to be a
sick, starving artist without health insurance.
Where was the money to pay for arts education
supposed to come from? It was not as severe of an
issue as mass incarceration, but to me it seemed like
a matter of life and death.
Chomsky wasn't really giving me the answer. But if I
were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, I
would find his arguments against the neoliberals to
My outrage and my disease were rising together again.
I began to want to do something.