Monday, August 23, 2004
To Noam is to Love Him: Chomsky in the NY Times
It may be almost a year old, but I just came across this interview:
November 2, 2003
QUESTIONS FOR NOAM CHOMSKY
The Professorial Provocateur
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Q. Your new book on American foreign policy, ‘’Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance,’’ includes a blurb on the jacket that calls you ‘’arguably the most important intellectual alive.’’
A. I don’t like the intellectual label. In the academic world, most of the work that is done is clerical. A lot of the work done by professors is routine.
Q. I assume you are not referring to your own efforts as a professor emeritus at M.I.T. and world-renowned linguist.
A. I have known people who are working class or craftsmen, who happen to be more intellectual than professors. If you are working 50 hours a week in a factory, you don’t have time to read 10 newspapers a day and go back to declassified government archives. But such people may have far-reaching insights into the way the world works.
Q. Your critiques of U.S. foreign policy have brought you a new following in the wake of 9/11—you haven’t been this revered since the sit-ins and teach-ins during the Vietnam War. Do you see any connection between your work in linguistics and your work in radical politics?
A. I see virtually no connection.
Q. But you must admit that politicians, much like you, earn their living with words and see language as the ultimate reality.
A. Language is a weapon of politicians, but language is a weapon in much of human affairs.
Q. True. I’ve often wondered why there are more slang words for death and genitals than any other words.
A. Death and genitals are things that frighten people, and when people are frightened, they develop means of concealment and aggression. It is common sense.
Q. Do you ever doubt your own ideas?
A. All the time. You should read what happens in linguistics. I keep changing what I said. Any person who is intellectually alive changes his ideas. If anyone at a university is teaching the same thing they were teaching five years ago, either the field is dead, or they haven’t been thinking.
Q. But, unlike many reconstructed leftists, you have not changed your political views one iota since the 60’s. For instance, you have remained a vocal critic of Israel.
A. I objected to the founding of Israel as a Jewish state. I don’t think a Jewish or Christian or Islamic state is a proper concept. I would object to the United States as a Christian state.
Q. Your father was a respected Hebraic scholar, and sometimes you sound like a self-hating Jew.
A. It is a shame that critics of Israeli policies are seen as either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. It’s grotesque. If an Italian criticized Italian policies, would he be seen as a self-hating Italian?
Q. Have you ever been psychoanalyzed?
A. I do not think psychoanalysis has a scientific basis. If we can’t explain why a cockroach decides to turn left, how can we explain why a human being decides to do something?
Q. How would you explain your large ambition?
A. I am driven by many things. I know what some of them are. The misery that people suffer and the misery for which I share responsibility. That is agonizing. We live in a free society, and privilege confers responsibility.
Q. If you feel so guilty, how can you justify living a bourgeois life and driving a nice car?
A. If I gave away my car, I would feel even more guilty. When I go to visit peasants in southern Colombia, they don’t want me to give up my car. They want me to help them. Suppose I gave up material things—my computer, my car and so on—and went to live on a hill in Montana where I grew my own food. Would that help anyone? No.
Q. Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?
A. No. This is the best country in the world.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Who really learned the most valuable lessons from the 1960s?
From today’s New York Times:
“Mr. Bush’s advisers said they were girding for the most extensive street demonstrations at any political convention since the Democrats nominated Hubert H. Humphrey in Chicago in 1968. But in contrast to that convention, which was severely undermined by televised displays of street rioting, Republicans said they would seek to turn any disruptions to their advantage, by portraying protests by even independent activists as Democratic-sanctioned displays of disrespect for a sitting president.”
Questions we might want to ask:
1. Why will there be so much protest in the first place?
2. Who are the protestors and what do they represent?
3. Why did televised displays in 1968 focus on violence rather than issues?
4. How easy is it for those in power to baldly admit their deceptive strategies upfront without any concern that the American public will be insulted and/or outraged?
5. How easy is it for protest to be portrayed in any manner the corporate media wishes?
6. How much do the Democrats fear being associated with the protests...and why?
7. Why should a “sitting president” (sic) be exempt from “disrespect”?
8. Finally, if protest can be so easily shunted off to the side (i.e. the West Side Highway), disowned by the “loyal opposition,” manipulated by the party in office, co-opted by the venue (NYC Mayor Bloomberg is actually giving out tourist discount coupons to “peaceful” protestors), misrepresented by the media, and virtually ignored by the vast majority of Americans...what else can and must be done to promote peace and justice as soon as possible?
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Airport Security is Working
It seems Senator Ted Kennedy has been placed on a “no-fly” list. Finally, we’re making an effort to keep the truly dangerous types off U.S. airplanes.