When Rage Against the Machine Interviewed Noam Chomsky (1999)

“The first great [eco­nom­ic] exper­i­ment was a ‘bad idea’ for the sub­jects, but not for the design­ers and local elites asso­ci­at­ed with them. This pat­tern con­tin­ues until the present: plac­ing prof­it over peo­ple.” — Noam Chom­sky, Prof­it Over Peo­ple

“A glob­al decom­po­si­tion is tak­ing place. We call it the Fourth World War: neoliberalism’s glob­al­iza­tion attempt to elim­i­nate that mul­ti­tude of peo­ple who are not use­ful to the pow­er­ful — the groups called ‘minori­ties’ in the math­e­mat­ics of pow­er, but who hap­pen to be the major­i­ty pop­u­la­tion in the world.” — Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos

Whether we think of glob­al neolib­er­al­ism — to the extent that we think about it — as the iner­tia of cen­turies-old eco­nom­ic the­o­ry or as delib­er­ate geno­cide, the effects are the same. The major­i­ty of the world’s pop­u­la­tion suf­fers under mas­sive inequal­i­ty, includ­ing, now, vac­cine inequal­i­ty, lead­ing to rag­ing COVID epi­demics in some parts of the world as oth­er places emerge from lock­downs and resume “nor­mal” oper­a­tions. The “Cap­i­tal­ist Hydra,” as Zap­atista leader Sub­co­man­dante Mar­cos once called it, always seems to grow more heads.

Indeed, most plans to alle­vi­ate glob­al pover­ty and dis­ease seem to fur­ther enrich the archi­tects and immis­er­ate the tar­gets of their pur­port­ed care. Noam Chom­sky has point­ed out repeat­ed­ly that neolib­er­al eco­nom­ic rules are only applied to sub­ject pop­u­la­tions, since the wealthy ignore the strict con­di­tions they impose by force and coer­cion on oth­ers, call­ing the out­comes a nat­ur­al sort­ing of “win­ners and losers.” Ongo­ing glob­al eco­nom­ic prac­tices have accel­er­at­ed a cli­mate cri­sis that impacts the major­i­ty of the world’s (poor) pop­u­la­tion, send­ing mil­lions on a col­li­sion course with bru­tal­i­ty at the bor­ders as they flee to oth­er parts of the world for bare sur­vival.

The mul­ti­ple crises we now face were clear­ly evi­dent at the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, when Rage Against the Machine played Mex­i­co City for the first time in 1999. They released the con­cert footage in a video titled The Bat­tle of Mex­i­co City in 2001, the same year the indige­nous guer­ril­la force EZLN — pop­u­lar­ly known as the Zap­atis­tas — marched on Mex­i­co City. (Con­cert audio was released on vinyl this past June.) The video release includ­ed inter­views with Chom­sky and then-EZLN mil­i­tary leader Mar­cos, and you can see them both here.

At the top, Chom­sky responds to a ques­tion about NAFTA, a “free-trade” agree­ment that proved his point about how such poli­cies do the oppo­site of what they pro­pose, ben­e­fit­ting the very few instead of the many. Chom­sky, who ana­lyzed the ways that the gov­ern­ment and cor­po­rate media man­u­fac­tured con­sent for their poli­cies dur­ing the Viet­nam War, wasn’t tak­en in by the hype. The agree­ment nev­er had any­thing to do with free trade, he says, but with lock­ing Mex­i­co into pro­grams of “struc­tur­al adjust­ment” that kept peo­ple in pover­ty and the coun­try depen­dent on eco­nom­ic terms dic­tat­ed from out­side its bor­ders.

From the per­spec­tive of the indige­nous peo­ple in Mex­i­co fight­ing for an autonomous region in Chi­a­pas, the strug­gle is not only against the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment, but also an inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic order that impos­es its will on the coun­try and its cit­i­zens, who then turn on the poor­est and most dis­pos­sessed among them in con­di­tions of man­u­fac­tured scarci­ty. Indige­nous Mex­i­cans, like oth­er inter­nal­ly sub­ject­ed peo­ple around the world, are deemed expend­able, fig­ured as a “prob­lem” to be solved or elim­i­nat­ed. What is so strik­ing about these per­spec­tives, twen­ty years after the release of The Bat­tle of Mex­i­co City, is just how pre­scient, even prophet­ic, they sound today.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent and How the Media Cre­ates the Illu­sion of Democ­ra­cy

Requiem for the Amer­i­can Dream: Noam Chom­sky on the 10 Prin­ci­ples That Have Led to Unprece­dent­ed Inequal­i­ty in the US 

Noam Chom­sky Explains the Best Way for Ordi­nary Peo­ple to Make Change in the World, Even When It Seems Daunt­ing

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Noam Chomsky’s Ground­break­ing Lin­guis­tic The­o­ries

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.