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Parenti - Contrary Notions (2007) - Synopsis

Parenti - Contrary Notions (2007) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Michael Parenti, Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (San Francisco: City Lights, 2007). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on December 8, 2008.
Synopsis of Michael Parenti, Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader (San Francisco: City Lights, 2007). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on December 8, 2008.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on May 22, 2009
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper LXIV December 8, 2008, 7:00 p.m.
Michael Parenti,
Contrary Notions: The Michael Parenti Reader 
(San Francisco:City Lights, 2007).
Assistants, editor (vii).
An assortment from “across forty yearsand covering a wide range of subjects”; texts have been“revised, expanded, updated, and, I like to think,improved” (x). Web page:www.michaelparenti.org.  “Everything on the pages that follow is meant to cast lighton larger sets of social relations” (xi).
Ch. 1: Media Moments.
BBC report on asthma ignoreseconomics (3-7).
Ch. 2: Liberal Media Yet to Be Found.
That media areliberal is a myth (7-10). They are not free but rather “arean inherent component of corporate America” (10). In2007, six corporations (Time Warner, General Electric,Viacom, Bertelsmann, Walt Disney, and News Corporation)owned most media (10-11). Spectrum of opinion is “farright to moderate center” (12-13). But the claim of liberalbias serves a purpose (13-14). Reporters self-censor (15-16). “[R]eal liberalism and everything progressive havebeen excluded from the picture” (17).
Ch. 3: Methods of Media Manipulation.
Suppressionby omission (18-19). Attack (19-20). Labeling (20-22). Taking as given (22-23). Face-value transmission (23-24).Repetition and normalization (24-25). Slighting of content(25-26). False balancing (26-27). Avoiding follow-up (27).Framing (28). The social order is not described (29-30).
Ch. 4: Objectivity and the Dominant Paradigm.
Background assumptions condition perceptions (31-33).People resist “contrary notions” (34; 33-36). If necessary,events can be suppressed (37-39). Struggle is possible(39-40).
Ch. 5: Repression in Academia.
Universities in the U.S.have been run since the 1880s by boards whose membersare drawn from the corporate world (40-43). They are“seldom . . . receptive” to antiwar and anticapitalistthought (43-45). Orthodoxy is closely guarded (45-49).Professionalism is used as an excuse to dismiss dissenters(49-51). Radicalism causes problems for scholars (52-54).Right-wing views are arrogantly maintained (54-58).
Ch. 6: The Stolen Presidential Elections.
The 2000election (63-64). The 2004 election (64-70). Exit polldiscrepancies (70-71). Touchscreen electronic votingmachines (71-74).
Ch. 7: How the Free Market Killed New Orleans.
In avariety of ways, the free market was responsible forthousands of deaths from Katrina in New Orleans (74-80).Offers of help from Cuba (which managed to survive aCategory 5 hurricane in 2004 without losing one life) andVenezuela refused (81-82).
Ch. 8: Conservative Judicial Activism.
For most of itshistory, the Supreme Court “has engaged in the wildest
 judicial activism in defense of privilegedgroups” (83, emphasis in original; 83-90).
Ch. 9: Why the Corporate Rich OpposeEnvironmentalism.
Because “they experience adifferent class reality” (82; 90-97).
Ch. 10: Autos and Atoms.
The automobile “is not arational and survivable form of technology” (101; 97-101).Neither is nuclear power (101-03).
Ch. 11: What Is to Be Done?
Subsidize “needyfarmers” instead of agribusiness (103-04). Build masstransit (104-05). Tax progressively (105). Make electionsfair (105-07). Create jobs programs (107-08). End thedebt and deficit spending by taxing the rich (108). Enddiscrimination (108-09). Provide universal health care(109). Enforce fair labor laws and “[r]epeal all ‘free trade’agreements” (109-10). Reduce the defense budget by twothirds (110-11). End covert action, stop aiding repressivegovernments, and enforce the Freedom of Information Act(111). Open public air time to all political points of view(111-12). Reform Social Security by reducing the 12.2%flat tax and raising the cap (112).
Ch. 12: Racist Rule, Then and Now.
A history of “ethnic violence” 117-18). Ida Wells-Barnett’s accounts of mob atrocities in New Orleans circa 1900 (118-20).Progress has been made, but “terrible ethno-classinequalities and oppressions . . . still persist” (121; 120-22). Racism depresses wages and serves class interests(123-24).
Ch. 13: Custom Against Women.
Women areoppressed around the world (124-27). Abuse of women iswidespread in the U.S. (127-29).
Ch. 14: Are Heterosexuals Worthy of Marriage?
Heterosexuals have defiled marriage (129-36). Same-sexcouples honor marriage (136-38).
Ch. 15: That’s Italian? Another Ethnic Stereotype.
 The media display an ethnic bigotry toward Italians that isalso class bigotry(138-43).
Ch. 16: La Famiglia: An Ethno-Class Experience.
East Harlem, 1933 (149-50). Author’s grandmothers (150-52). Grandfathers, who came to the U.S. in 1887 & 1909(152-59). Father died at about age 73, mother 47, bothoverworked by a patriarchal class society (159-61).Coming to terms with roots (162-63).
Ch. 17: Bread Story: The Blessings of PrivateEnterprise.
Parenti’s father, having taken over hisuncle’s Italian bakery in 1956, was driven out of businessby big companies with mediocre products in the 1970s(164-68).
Ch. 18: My Strange Values.
Lack of interest inproducts, money (except having enough “to get by”),success, exercising authority over others (168-72).Interested in the good of others (172-74).
Ch. 19: Technology and Money: The Myth of Neutrality.
They serve class interests because they givemore power to the already powerful (177-81).
Ch. 20: False Consciousness.
Defends the concept of “false consciousness” (181-86). A “neutral” position aboutaccepting people’s own judgment about their bestinterests “rests on an unrealistic and deliberately one-dimensional view of the way people arrive at their beliefs.It denies the incontrovertible fact that awareness aboutissues and events is often subject to control andmanipulation” (181). Acceptance of the existing order cancome through “consensus satisfaction,” “apathy and lackof perception,” “discouragement and fear,” or “falseconsciousness” (182). There are two kinds of falseconsciousness: support of policy preferences not in theirinterest, and definition of interests in ways that workagainst well-being (183). To deny “false consciousness” isto deny that “people can be misled” (184-85). “Thereduction of interest to a subjective state of mind leads usnot to a more rigorous empiricism but to a tautology”(185). We can see examples of false consciousness allaround us (185-86).
Ch. 21: Left, Right, and the “Extreme Moderates.
Parenti defines “the left” as “those individuals,organizations, and governments that advocate equitableredistributive policies benefiting the many and infringingupon the privileged interests of the wealthy few” (186).Conservatives (186-89). Moderates or centrists (189-90).Anti-communist left (“progressives, social democrats,democratic socialists, and issue-oriented Marxists”) (190-91). The terms lead to the false notion that “extremists”are evil and “moderates” are good (191-94).
Ch. 22: State vs. Government.
“Government” is“visible office holders,” while “state” is “the ultimatecoercive instrument of class power” (194). “Roughlyspeaking, the difference between government and state isthe difference between the city council and the police,between Congress and the armed forces” (194). Takinggovernment office does not guarantee control of the state(195). In capitalist countries, state power is often“markedly undemocratic” (195-98). The executive“usually stands closer to state functions than does thelegislature” (198). The
national security state
is “nestingwithin the executive”; the executive is not allowed to strayfrom “its primary dedication—which is to advance theinterests of corporate investors and protect the overallglobal capital accumulation process” (199-200). “Ultimatepower . . . [rests] with the class for which [the CIA] works”(201). A president working closely with the nationalsecurity state and unequivocally for corporate hegemonycan operate outside the laws of democratic governancewith impunity” (201; 201-02). Government scrutiny of thestate is sometimes tolerated, as in Iran-Contra (202-03).“Lawmakers who fail the state’s ideological test but whooccupy key legislative positions run certain risks,” as theforced resignation of Speaker Jim Wright showed in thelate 1980s (203-04).The national security state has largelyremoved itself from democratic oversight (204-05). But ithas far-reaching influence in our lives (205-07).“Democracy uneasily rides the tiger of capitalism” (207).
Ch. 23: Democracy vs. Capitalism.
“It will disappointsome people to hear this, but in fact there is no one grand,secret, power elite governing this country” (207). Ratherthere are interlocking “coteries of corporate andgovernmental elites” (207). The U.S. features
state-supported capitalism
” (208, emphasis in original; 208-09).Reforms have been achieved, but owe nothing to capitalistcorporations (209-10). “How can we speak of the U.S.politico-economic system as being a product of thedemocratic will?” (210). Earnings are expropriated fromindividuals as workers, consumers, taxpayers, and citizens(211-12). “Popular struggle in the United States ebbs andflows but never ceases” (212). The recent reactionaryagenda aspires to return to circa 1900 (213-15).Corporate America controls the state, whose functions areproviding national services like the military, roads, etc.,protecting “the moneyed and propertied interests from thehave-nots,” “preventing the capitalist system fromdevouring itself,” and “enlisting the loyalty and support of the populace” (215-18). Fascism is avoided “by the fearthat they might not get away with it, that the people andthe enlisted ranks of the armed forces would not go along”(218). In addition, “the law, the bureaucracy, the politicalparties, the legislators, the universities, the professionsand the media” all fulfill “class-control functions” (219).
Ch. 24: Socialism Today?
There are many examples of institutions showing that socialism can work (219-22).Socialized economies can also fail (222-23). “What isneeded to bring about fundamental change is a massmovement that can project both the desirability of analternative system and the great necessity for change in asocial democratic direction” to replace “inequitable free-market plutocracy” (223-24).
Ch. 25: Capital and Labor, an Old Story.
The “owningclass” and the “employee class” (229-31). “Profit” ismoney made when not working (231-32). Capital, whichitself is produced by labor, “earns” a return by “annex[ing]living labor” (232-34).
Ch. 26: Wealth, Addiction, and Poverty.
“[C]lasswealth creates poverty” (235; 234-35). Wealth isaddictive for the wealthy (235-37). Because of instability,growth is the best guarantee of survival for corporations(237-38). The problem of overcapacity and how it ismitigated (238-41). Recessions are not bad experiencesfor the rich, who are able to “grow richer by grabbing astill bigger slice of whatever exists” (241-42). Poverty isexperienced inwardly as oppression (242-43).
Ch. 27: Monopoly Culture and Social Legitimacy.
“The economically dominant class is also the politicallydominant” (243). The U.S. Constitution was written withclass domination in mind (243-44). Class dominationcannot be secure resting on state power alone; it requires“a whole supporting network of doctrines, values, myths,and institutions that are not normally thought of aspolitical” (244). “[M]odern corporate capitalism is . . . anentire social order” (244). Conventionally, the notion thatcultural hegemony is class-based is resisted, but it hasbeen evident since the late 19
century (244-47).Capitalist cultural dominance provides payoffs forcapitalists and a few “beneficial spinoffs” (247-48). Theinternal contradictions of the “monopoly culture” can beexploited to win reforms (249-50).
Ch. 28: The Flight from Class.
The concept of class issystematically downplayed or discredited in dominantdiscourse, even on the left, and certainly in academia (e.g.Chantal Mouffe) (250-59).
Ch. 29: Imperialism for Beginners.
In the U.S., thedominant view is that imperialism does not exist (263-65).“Imperialism is older than capitalism” (265). Capitalismbenefits from imperialism (266-68). “The Third World is

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