Max’ optimistic view on Freedom & Fairness vs. Chomsky’s pessimistic stance

The serious read of the this Ghana trip turned out to be “Introducing Noam Chomsky“, a new series pushing the concept of serious graphic novels to include non-fiction i.e. philosophy (read the first 30 pages here). Chomsky expert John Maher provides a well selected and dense overview of Chomsky’s approach and insights while illustrator Judy Groves eases comprehension and rememberability by adding visual context. It ain’t an easy read and some masocistic interest in linguistics and epistemology is necessary to enjoy the read – but i would give it a strong 3 1/2 on the five finger scale.

Like all good brainfood it was interesting to get a better understanding of Comsky’s thinking and it caused some opposition.  In my view Chomsky delivers a convincing analysis of post-modern politics BUT he misses the important point that societies have never been more _fair_ in all of history. Along the lines of Churchill “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time“, I think our post-modern globalized capitalist world provides better conditions and more freedom for most people than any other system before.

While I believe concepts like the “manufacturing consent” and “rotten apple theory” should be taught to all high school students, the decisive and encouraging argument is that _we are on the right track_!

I’d argue that the systemic fairness in our societies has increased manyfold over the last several thousand years. Prehistorically power was directly dependent on individual physical strength. Then for most part of history it depended on your family’s status and clan relations where one ranked and what profession to pursue. The divine order gradually gave way to rational and democratic distribution of political and economic power. Most importantly: before the french revolution political power was pretty much unbound, but then humanity developed a game changing institution in terms of overall fairness – human rights. Since then political leaders and CEOs of multinational companies have the same basic rights then a poor homeless.

I am not saying our current post-modern capitalist system is fair, but it is fairer than other system we had before.

This brings me a related second point where I disagree with Chomsky: The rotten apple theory states that the western world was and is eager to ensure that no non-capitalist country will become successful and thereby provide a good example which others might follow, soon spoiling the propaganda that only the modern capitalist system is capable to produce sustainable wealth and welfare. So far so good, however along these lines he argues that it is insightful to compare similar countries (in terms of size and development before the cold war). He goes on to claim that it is only propaganda that development in socialist states, say Russia, compare negatively with capitalist states e.g. Brazil.

It might have been true at the time when Chomsky stated it that in Russia is more equality than in Brazil – i.e. most people earn similar wages with only a few super-rich and super-poor. The comparison however leaves out the most important variable when it comes to judging justice or fairness of a system: freedom or civil liberties.

Ever since reading Amartya Sen’s “Development as Freedom“ I believe that it is not about the real life trajectory an individual’s life is taking, but about the potential trajectories, the freedom to dream up and pursue fulfilling alternative biographies. Of course Chomsky would argue that the whole idea of the “american dream” is just a myth kept alive by the ruling class in order to lure the lower classes into compliance by dangling a carrot in front of them, but I dont agree: there are concrete opportunities and real examples of smart folks who make it. Contrarily there are no examples of free thinkers and smart entrepreneurs who overcame the rule of the socialist dictatorships. so for me it is less about equality but all about freedom.