Noam Chomsky discusses the purpose of education, impact of technology, whether education should be perceived as a cost or an investment and the value of standardised assessment.
Presented at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference – Jan 25th 2012- London (LWF 12)
Interviewed & directed by Graham Brown-Martin
Filmed & edited by Kevin Grant at wildtraxtv (http://on.fb.me/wildtraxtv)
(thephoenix.com) Noam Chomsky has advice for the Occupy movement, whose encampments all over the country are being swept away by police. The occupations were a “brilliant” idea, he says, but now it’s time to “move on to the next stage” in tactics. He suggests political organizing in the neighborhoods.
The Occupy camps have shown people how “to break out of this conception that we’re isolated.” But “just occupying” has “lived its life,” says the man who is the most revered radical critic of American politics and capitalist economics.
Chomsky gave his counsel answering questions in a small group after a speech Monday evening, December 12, in the 1000-seat Westbrook Middle School auditorium (a/k/a Westbrook Performing Arts Center), which was filled to capacity. The speech was sponsored by the University of New England’s Center for Global Humanities
(eagainst) Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is well known in the academic and scientific community as one of the fathers of modern linguistics, and a major figure of analytic philosophy.Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident and an anarchist,referring to himself as a libertarian socialist. Chomsky is the author of more than 150 books and has received worldwide attention for his views.
ZEIT Campus:Professor Chomsky, you are not only one of the most quoted scholars of the world. For 45 years, you have been a political activist. When one looks at politics today, one must ask: Can “public intellectuals” like yourself accomplish anything?
Noam Chomsky: How can you ask that question?
ZEIT Campus: There is war in Afghanistan. The world suffers in the consequences of the economic crisis. The social gap grows more and more.
Chomsky: The problem is simple. Most intellectuals are servants of power and counsel governments. They call themselves experts; they have sought prestige for centuries, not only today. However every society has critical intellectuals at its edges. Both types have influence: the servants of power and the dissidents.
ZEIT Campus: We are still skeptical. What have you changed in the past 45 years?
Chomsky: I personally did not change anything. I was part of a movement and this movement accomplished many things. The world today is fundamentally different from the world 45 years ago. The actions for civil rights, human rights, women’s rights and environmental protection, resistance against oppression and violence have substantially influenced the world. I cannot understand how you can argue nothing has changed.
ZEIT Campus: Do you believe the world is better today than 40 or 50 years ago?
Chomsky: Obviously! Walk along the open fields here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Half of the students are women; a third belongs to an ethnic minority. People are dressed more casually and are engaged for all possible things. This place was very different when I came here 50 years ago. Then you saw white men, formally dressed and only interested in their own work. You could see the same development in Germany and all over the world.
ZEIT Campus: But are students more political? Today’s generation is often reproached for being disinterested in the world.
Chomsky: I think that reproach is false. The period of high politization at the universities was very short — from 1968 to 1970. Before that, students were apolitical. Consider the Vietnam War, one of the greatest crimes since the Second World War. Four or five years went by until some form of visible protest stirred in the US. That quickly ebbed away in the 1970s. The mood was very different before the Iraq war. To my knowledge, the Iraq war was the first war in history where there were demonstrations before it began. My students missed the lectures to demonstrate. That would never have happened 50 years ago. The protests did not prevent the war but limited it. The US was never able to do in Iraq a fraction of what it had done in Vietnam.
ZEIT Campus: Were those protests only a straw fire?
Chomsky: No. The politization today is much greater than in the 1950s. Forms of lasting activism developed that enabled many of our battles to be won. For example, there was a continuous progress in women’s rights. If I had asked my grandmother whether she was oppressed, she wouldn’t have known what I was talking about. My mother said: “I am oppressed but I don’t know what to do!” My daughter would shout to me after such a question: Our world is more human!
ZEIT Campus: Do you believe in historical progress?
Chomsky: Progress is slow but dramatic over long time horizons. Think of the abolition of slavery or the development of freedom of expression. Rights are not simply bestowed. People who joined forces and banded together realized them. Still progress is not a linear development. There are also times of backward steps.
ZEIT Campus: If there are times of progress and times of backward steps, will the world be better in 50 years than today?
Chomsky: What will be in 50 years depends strongly on what the young generation does today. Two great dangers threaten the existence of the world: our relation to the environment and the danger that starts from nuclear weapons. If we do not champion environmental protection more vigorously today, we could be mired in a grave environmental crisis in 50 years, let alone the risks of nuclear weapons. The terrible catastrophe of Fukushima reminds us that the non-military use of nuclear power is fraught with extreme risks. We cannot ignore this under any circumstances!
ZEIT Campus: In 60 years students of today will be as old as you. What must they do to look back on their life with satisfaction?
Chomsky: Naturally they could say they lived contentedly with friends, children and fun. But to really lead a fulfilled and satisfying life, they should recognize problems and contribute to solving them. If they cannot look back at 80 and say “I have accomplished something!,” then their life will not have succeeded.
ZEIT Campus: At 82, are you satisfied with what you achieved?
Chomsky: Being satisfied is impossible. My life has too many dimensions, family, profession, politics and several others. In some areas I am satisfied but not in others. The problems of this world are quite great. Inequality in the US is at the level of the 1920s and the economy still has tremendous influence in our society. I cannot be satisfied!
ZEIT Campus: Political engagement like yours is rare among scholars. Are you sometimes furious at the “servants of power” as you say or at professor colleagues who only concentrate on their academic work?
Chomsky: I consider it immoral to be a supporter of a power system. However that does not mean that I am furious at anyone. Scholars per se do not have deeper political insights than other persons and are not morally superior to others. But they are obligated to help politicians seek and find the truth.
ZEIT Campus: That sounds like you are becoming mild in old age.
Chomsky: No. My views and attitudes have not changed in the course of the decades. I still believe what I believed as a teenager.
ZEIT Campus: Is that good — to still believe what you believed almost 70 years ago?
Chomsky: Yes, when fundamental principles are involved. Obviously I have changed my opinions in many questions — but my ideals are the same!
ZEIT Campus: You often say you are an anarchist. What do you mean by that?
Chomsky: Anarchists try to identify power structures. They urge those exercising power to justify themselves. This justification does not succeed most of the time. Then anarchists work at unmasking and mastering the structures, whether they involve patriarchal families, a Mafia international system or the private tyrannies of the economy, the corporation.
ZEIT Campus: What was the key experience that made you an anarchist?
Chomsky: There was none. When I was twelve years old, I began to go to secondhand bookshops. Many of them were run by anarchists who came from Spain. Therefore it seemed very natural to me to be an anarchist.
ZEIT Campus: Should all students become anarchists?
Chomsky: Yes. Students should challenge authorities and join a long anarchist tradition.
ZEIT Campus: “Challenge authorities” — a liberal or a moderate leftist could accept that invitation.
Chomsky: As soon as one identifies, challenges and overcomes illegitimate power, he or she is an anarchist. Most people are anarchists. What they call themselves doesn’t matter to me.
ZEIT Campus: Who or what must challenge today’s student generation?
Chomsky: This world is full of suffering, distress, violence and catastrophes. Students must decide: does something concern you or not? I say: look around, analyze the problems, ask yourself what you can do and set out on the work!
Translation courtesy of IndyBay, correction to this version courtesy Daniel Whitesell
From Chomsky’s book, “9-11.”
“When countries are attacked they try to defend themselves, if they can. According to the doctrine proposed, Nicaragua, South Vietnam, Cuba, and numerous others should have been setting off bombs in Washington and other U.S. cities, Palestinians should be applauded for bombings in Tel Aviv, and on and on.
“It is because such doctrines had brought Europe to virtual self-annihilation after hundreds of years of savagery that the nations of the world forged a different compact after World War II, establishing – at least formally – the principle that the resort to force is barred except in the case of self-defense against armed attack until the Security Council acts to protect international peace and security.
“Specifically, retaliation is barred. Since the U.S. is not under armed attack, in the sense of Article 51 of the UN Charter, these considerations are irrelevant – at least, if we agree that the fundamental principles of international law should apply to ourselves, not only to those we dislike.” Chomsky, 9-11, p.66
He also points out that Bush rejected the offer by the Taliban to turn over bin Laden:
(alternet.org) Hugo Chávez has long considered Noam Chomsky one of his best friends in the west. He has basked in the renowned scholar’s praise for Venezuela‘s socialist revolution and echoed his denunciations of US imperialism.
Venezuela’s president, who hasrevealed that he has had surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumour, turned one of Chomsky’s books into an overnight bestseller after brandishing it during a UN speech. He hosted Chomsky in Caracas with smiles and pomp. Earlier this year Chávez even suggested Washington make Chomsky the US ambassador to Venezuela.
The president may be about to have second thoughts about that, because his favourite intellectual has now turned his guns on Chávez.
Speaking to the Observer last week, Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an “assault” on Venezuela’s democracy.
“Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary and for specific circumstances, such as fighting world war two, is an assault on democracy. You can debate whether [Venezuela’s] circumstances require it: internal circumstances and the external threat of attack, that’s a legitimate debate. But my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.”
Chomsky, a linguistics professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke on the eve of publishing an open letter (see below) that accuses Venezuela’s authorities of “cruelty” in the case of a jailed judge.
The self-described libertarian socialist says the plight of María Lourdes Afiuni is a “glaring exception” in a time of worldwide cries for freedom. He urges Chávez to release her in “a gesture of clemency” for the sake of justice and human rights.
Chomsky reveals he has lobbied Venezuela’s government behind the scenes since late last year after being approached by the Carr centre for human rights policy at Harvard University. Afiuni earned Chávez’s ire in December 2009 by freeing Eligio Cedeño, a prominent banker facing corruption charges. Cedeño promptly fled the country.
In a televised broadcast the president, who had taken a close interest in the case, called the judge a criminal and demanded she be jailed for 30 years. “That judge has to pay for what she has done.”
Afiuni, 47, a single mother with cancer, spent just over a year in jail, where she was assaulted by other prisoners. In January, authorities softened her confinement to house arrest pending trial for corruption, which she denies.
“Judge Afiuni has suffered enough,” states Chomsky’s letter. “She has been subject to acts of violence and humiliations to undermine her human dignity. I am convinced that she must be set free.”
Amnesty International and the European parliament, among others, have condemned the judge’s treatment but the intervention of a scholar considered a friend of the Bolivarian revolution, which is named after the hero of Venezuelan independence, Simón Bolívar, is likely to sting even more.
Speaking from his home in Boston, Chomsky said Chávez, who has been in power for 12 years, appeared to have intimidated the judicial system. “I’m sceptical that [Afiuni] could receive a fair trial. It’s striking that, as far as I understand, other judges have not come out in support of her … that suggests an atmosphere of intimidation.”
He also faulted Chávez for adopting enabling powers to circumvent the national assembly. “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo [authoritarianism] and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure, but I think perhaps it is. A trend has developed towards the centralisation of power in the executive which I don’t think is a healthy development.”
(guernicamag.com) We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic.
t’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”
Nothing serious has been provided since. There is much talk of bin Laden’s “confession,” but that is rather like my confession that I won the Boston Marathon. He boasted of what he regarded as a great achievement.
There is also much media discussion of Washington’s anger that Pakistan didn’t turn over bin Laden, though surely elements of the military and security forces were aware of his presence in Abbottabad. Less is said about Pakistani anger that the U.S. invaded their territory to carry out a political assassination. Anti-American fervor is already very high in Pakistan, and these events are likely to exacerbate it. The decision to dump the body at sea is already, predictably, provoking both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.
It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”
We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.
There’s more to say about [Cuban airline bomber Orlando] Bosch, who just died peacefully in Florida, including reference to the “Bush doctrine” that societies that harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves and should be treated accordingly. No one seemed to notice that Bush was calling for invasion and destruction of the U.S. and murder of its criminal president.
Same with the name, Operation Geronimo. The imperial mentality is so profound, throughout western society, that no one can perceive that they are glorifying bin Laden by identifying him with courageous resistance against genocidal invaders. It’s like naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk… It’s as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes “Jew” and “Gypsy.”
There is much more to say, but even the most obvious and elementary facts should provide us with a good deal to think about.
Copyright 2011 Noam Chomsky