Here's a new short interview with one of the greater minds of political theory and a personal hero of mine, Noam Chomsky.
As usual, he is unrelenting in his critique of the world domination policies of the US and the corporate economy. But we also get a little personal trivia and a message of hope.
Noam Chomsky: You Ask The Questions
by Michael Kulas, 5 December 2003
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
Professor Noam Chomsky, 74, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into the only Jewish family in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood. He took a degree and then a PhD in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. At the age of 29, he published Syntactic Structures, which revolutionised the study of language. In 1964, he began openly resisting the Vietnam War, and published his first collection of
political writings five years later. He has remained a major
authority on both linguistics and political theory ever since. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his wife, Carol, and has three children.
If you had only one question to ask the President of the United States, what would it be?
Why doesn't he abdicate, thus doing the world a great favour?
What has been your biggest mistake, and would you make it again if you could relive your life?
The failure to do anywhere near enough to try to put an end to suffering and crimes for which I share responsibility as a citizen of a free country, enjoying unusual privilege and opportunity. But that is a mistake I make every day.
Is anti-Semitism on the increase?
In the West, fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past. There is, of course, what the Anti-Defamation League calls "the real anti-Semitism", more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind: criticism of policies of the state of Israel and US support for them, opposition to a vast US military budget, etc. In contrast, anti-Arab racism is rampant. The manifestations are shocking, in elite intellectual circles as well, but arouse little concern because they are considered legitimate: the most extreme form of racism.
Where is the "silent genocide" you predicted would happen in Afghanistan if the US intervened there in 2001?
That is an interesting fabrication, which gives a good deal of
insight into the prevailing moral and intellectual culture. First,
the facts: I predicted nothing. Rather, I reported the grim warnings from virtually every knowledgeable source that the attack might lead to an awesome humanitarian catastrophe, and the bland announcements in the press that Washington had ordered Pakistan to eliminate "truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to
Afghanistan's civilian population".
All of this is precisely accurate and entirely appropriate. The
warnings remain accurate as well, a truism that should be unnecessary to explain. Unfortunately, it is apparently necessary to add a moral truism: actions are evaluated in terms of the range of anticipated consequences.
Will there be a state of Israel in 50 years' time? What form will it take?
There is still a bare prospect for the kind of two-state settlement that has been supported by a broad international consensus since the mid-1970s, including the majority of Americans, but has been unilaterally barred by the US. But that prospect is fading fast. Israel is in no danger as a state, but for the Palestinians, the future is not pleasant to contemplate.
Do you think the Iraqi people would be better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power?
Certainly not. That is why I have opposed US-UK policies since they began their strong support for the murderous thug 25 years ago, continuing long after his worst atrocities were well-known. They returned to support for Saddam in 1991 when he crushed a rebellion that might have overthrown him, because they held the "strikingly unanimous view [that] whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the West and the region a better hope for his country's stability than did those who have suffered his repression" (New York Times).
To counter all the depressing news reports about seemingly omnipotent corporations, corrupt politicians and ignorant or disenfranchised subjects, are there any recent "points of light", that would encourage hope?
I can only repeat what I've often written. The US, and the West generally, has become far more civilised in the past 40 years, thanks to the activism of mostly young people in the 1960s and since. It is easy to give examples, including opposition to aggression and massacre, but also in many other domains as well. Of course, every effort is made to induce hopelessness and despair, but there is no reason to succumb. The future is in our hands, and the opportunities today are far greater than they have been in the past.
What has been the biggest mistake of Tony Blair's premiership?
From my perspective, his virtually reflexive support for atrocious policies carried out in Washington.
As a linguist, do you understand 21st-century teenage slang?
I cannot understand the words of the music my grandchildren listen to, or sometimes them either, but that has nothing to do with being a linguist: rather, becoming an old codger. I had the same problem 40 years ago, though.
You have mentioned on several occasions that human survival may be at stake, in reference to the quest for world domination stated explicitly by the September 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States. How serious is this threat? And how can we reduce it?
The threat is serious. The declaration was followed by actions to demonstrate that these are not empty words. One was the virtual announcement that Iraq would be invaded, without international authorisation or credible pretext. The administration also moved at once to block international efforts to enforce bio-weapons treaties, to ban militarisation of space and to reaffirm protocols banning bacteriological weapons. It also announced that it would move from "control" to "ownership" of space, proceeding with plans to use space for offensive weapons and surveillance systems that place the world at the mercy of a devastating attack without warning.
Of course, others react. As predicted, the weak react by resorting to terror and WMD; the strong by building up their own offensive capacities. Russia has rapidly expanded its offensive weapons, adopted the Bush first-strike doctrine and moved to automated delivery systems, an extreme hazard. China is doing much the same, with a ripple effect spreading to India, Pakistan and beyond.
Reducing the threats is easily within our means. We are fortunate to enjoy an unusual legacy of freedom and privilege and can act to change government policy in ways not available to others who, nevertheless, continue to struggle courageously in ways that should put us to shame.
Do you listen to music while you write your books about the world's problems? If so, what kind of music?
I'm afraid I'm an old-fashioned conservative. I listen to classical music, but little from after the 1930s and mostly from long before. I don't listen to music while I'm working.
What do you do for fun? And do you have a favourite joke?
I am constitutionally incapable of remembering jokes for more than 10 minutes. For fun? Grandchildren - something I highly recommend.
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