Chomsky: Corporations and the Richest Americans Viscerally Oppose Common Good

The Masters of Mankind want us to become the “stupid nation,” in the interests of their short-term gain — damn the consequences.

March 7, 2013  |  

The following is Part I of the transcript of a recent speech delivered by Noam Chomsky in FebruaryAlterNet will publish Part II on Sunday, March 10.

Whether public education contributes to the Common Good depends, of course, on what kind of education it is, to whom it is available, and what we take to be the Common Good. There’s no need to tarry on the fact that these are highly contested  matters, have been throughout history, and continue to be so today.

One of the great achievements of American democracy has been the introduction of mass public education, from children to advanced research universities. And  in some respects that leadership position has been maintained. Unfortunately, not all. Public education is under serious attack, one component of the attack on any  rational and humane concept of the Common Good, sometimes in ways that are  not only shocking, but also spell disaster for the species.
All of this falls within the  general assault on the population in the past generation, the so-called “neoliberal era.” I’ll return to these matters, of great significance and import.
Sometimes the attacks on education and on the Common Good are very closely linked. One current illustration is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” that is being proposed to legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative  Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the  needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth. This act mandates “balanced”  teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms.”
“Balanced teaching” is a code  phrase that refers to teaching climate change denial, to “balance” authentic climate  science – what you read in science journals. It is analogous to the “balanced  teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in  public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in  several states.
The ALEC legislation is based on a project of the Heartland Institute, a corporate-funded Institute dedicated to rejection of the scientific consensus on the  climate. The Institute project calls for a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12  Classrooms,” which aims to teach that there is “a major controversy over whether  or not humans are changing the weather.” Of course, all of this is dressed up in  rhetoric about teaching critical thinking, and so on. It is much like the current  assault on teaching children about evolution and science quite generally.
There is indeed a controversy: on one side, the overwhelming majority of  scientists, all of the world’s major National Academies of Science, the professional  science journals, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) : all agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human  component, and that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon,  maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process  will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with very severe effects on the   possibility of decent human survival.
It is rare to find such consensus on complex  scientific issues.
True, it is not unanimous. Media reports commonly present a controversy between the overwhelming scientific consensus on one side, and skeptics on the other, including some quite respected scientists who caution that much is unknown –  which means that things might not be as bad as thought or they might be worse:  only the first alternative is brought up. Omitted from the contrived debate is a  much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who regard the  regular reports of the IPCC as much too conservative: the Climate Change group  at my own university, MIT, for example. And they have repeatedly been proven  correct, unfortunately. But they are scarcely part of the public debate, though very  prominent in the scientific literature.
The Heartland Institute and ALEC are part of a huge campaign by corporate  lobbies to try to sow doubt about the near-unanimous consensus of scientists that  human activities are having a major impact on global warming with truly ominous  implications. The campaign was openly announced, including the lobbying  organizations of the fossil fuel industry, the American Chamber of Commerce (the  main business lobby) and others. It has had an effect on public opinion, though  careful studies show that public opinion remains much closer to the scientific  consensus than policy is. That is undoubtedly why major sectors of the corporate  world are launching their attack on the educational system, to try to counter the  dangerous tendency of the public to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific  research…

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