Review of Consequences of Capitalism: Manufactoring Discontent and Resistance (2021)


Noam Chomsky (writer), Marv Waterstone (writer).

Read in 2023.

US political history from a Gramscian perspective.

This is a book version of one iteration of a recurring series of university lectures on politics. It’s almost a transcript of the lectures themselves, without the course’s assigned reading but with the irony intact, which leads to poor composition. The premise is also flawed: The authors explain that they are looking for a common cause of the social ills they see. The assumption that all those problems have the same cause leads to some wilful conclusions, particularly on environmental issues, where neither author has much expertise. They are categorically antinuclear, citing tendentious sources and very little that has to do with capitalism. Waterstone opposes genetic modification, stating that the main reason to do so is the effect of GMO crops on human health, not the more likely and more important problem of The End of Nature (1989), or any scientifically valid concern. The Internet of Things is noted only for its use in surveillance capitalism, ignoring all benefits of the Arduino boom etc. In an afterword, the authors try to blame the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on capitalism, with little success.

I don’t recommend looking for a common cause of all problems in Gramsci, or Adorno et al., or the French Situationists for that matter. Their theories about the deep cultural indoctrination perpetrated by capitalism are unfalsifiable, hence “not even wrong” in the Pauli sense. However, despite the poor composition and occasional strawmanning, the book is still a useful list of things that are very good to know about, including clear cases of capitalists lying to undermine democracy. From reading about one such case—the Grand Area—in this volume, I picked up “The Council on Foreign Relations and the Grand Area: Case Studies on the Origins of the IMF and the Vietnam War” (2014), which provides many more facts in a form made to be read, not heard as a lecture. Incidentally, it too was written by a professor emeritus of a discipline unrelated to the subject, like Chomsky and Waterstone themselves.

text non-fiction