August 2, 2016

Now is a great moment to listen to Gore Vidal and Noam Chomsky talking in 1991


In what’s feeling like the hottest summer in the history of the American republic, it’s fascinating to watch this (somewhat low-quality) video of two major writers—linguist and political theorist Noam Chomsky, and novelist and historian Gore Vidal—speaking in 1991 about the state of American democracy. The footage was intended for the pilot of a show called In Conversation, featuring novelist, poet, critic, and essayist Jay Parini as an interlocutor. Some things have changed, and some things have not. It’s certainly an interesting conversation.

In one exchange early on, Vidal notes that the then-recent recent S&L crisis required a bailout whose cost exceeded that of World War II.  He considers the Gulf War a “diversion” from this. Chomsky quickly agrees, adding:

There’s been repeated, huge propaganda efforts establishing some awesome chimera about to destroy us, and then we’re miraculously rescued at the last minute. You know, international terrorists, and then you bomb Libya and we’re saved. Narcotraffickers, and you smash up Panama and we’re saved. Even Grenada—100,000 people—was set up as a major threat to our existence, with an airfield, interdict[ing] sea traffic in the Caribbean, and so on, and we’re saved. And that’s standard. You have to divert. You want to make sure that the population doesn’t think about what’s around them and maybe do something about it.

Later, Vidal says this:

It’s the old frog in a pan thing. If you put a frog in a pan with cold water, it’ll sit there. You can heat it up until it becomes boiling, and the frog will feel nothing. It’s happening so gradually the frog adapts to each change of the water. At the end of it, he’s a dead frog, but he has not had any anxiety about it.

I sometimes think our people are the frog in the pan. Things are going very badly for the economy, for the average person. And no one’s doing anything about it. And we have the politics of diversion—which are foreign adventures—and we have an irresponsible, to put it mildly, press.