Thursday, January 26, 2006

Book Review: Imperial Ambitions

Author: Noam Chomsky
Full Title: Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World

There’s not much to say about this book that I haven’t already said here and here. Imperial Ambitions is a great book to get yourself started reading Chomsky. In fact, if you’re looking to start looking into Chomsky, I recommend this order (even though it’s not chronological):

  1. First, start with this book. Because of its interview style, the book is very readable, and also a very quick read.
  2. Once you’ve whet your appetite, move on to Necessary Illusions. One of the things that Chomsky touches on in Imperial Ambitions is the way the media is so “self-regulated” that it’s simply a propaganda machine for the government and for big business; Necessary Illusions completes the picture for you. (Or, if you read it in Imperial Ambitions but didn’t believe him, Necessary Illusions offers further proof of his point.)
  3. Finally, it’s time to move on to Hegemony or Survival, one of the most incisive books I’ve read on world politics.
Who knows? Maybe after I read the next Chomsky book, I’ll change the order...

I’ll end off with another quote from Imperial Ambitions. Chomsky is talking about oppression, and the fact that the roles always end up being reversed: the “merciless Indian savages” threatened the early American settlers, and so therefore had to be exterminated; the unfortunate rich people are being oppressed by the “rich black women who drive up in Cadillacs to get their welfare checks”, and therefore welfare should be eliminated; the American soldiers in Iraq brutally mistreat people because “they did it to us, now we’re doing it to them”—meaning that the soldiers have to follow the party line that Iraq was responsible for 9/11. Whenever you find a people being brutally oppressed, you’ll also find the oppressor claiming it’s being done in self-defense—regardless of how ridiculous the claim might be.

But Chomsky gives the rationale behind this way of thinking:

The same is true of any form of oppression. And it’s psychologically understandable. If you’re crushing and destroying someone, you have to have a reason for it, and it can’t be, I’m a murderous monster. It has to be self-defense. I’m protecting myself against them. Look what they’re doing to me. Oppression gets psychologically inverted: the oppressor is the victim who is defending himself.

(p. 167)

I’m moving on to another book by John le Carré for my next read, so I’m sure my next book review will be less heavy. (I’m fairly sure it will also be another glowing review—the book is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which is one of the most critically acclaimed spy novels ever written.)