Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky.

Avram Noam Chomsky (pronounced /noʊm ˈtʃɒmski/; born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, author, and lecturer. 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. Since the 1960s, he has become known more widely as a political dissident, an anarchist, and a libertarian socialist intellectual.

Beginning with his opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky established himself as a prominent critic of US foreign and domestic policy. He is a self-declared adherent of libertarian socialism which he regards as "the proper and natural extension of classical liberalism into the era of advanced industrial society."

According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more often than any other living scholar during the 1980–92 period, and was the eighth most-cited source. He is also considered a prominent cultural figure. At the same time, his status as a leading critic of US foreign policy has made him controversial.

Politics

Chomsky has stated that his "personal visions are fairly traditional anarchist ones, with origins in The Enlightenment and classical liberalism" and he has praised libertarian socialism. He is a sympathizer of anarcho-syndicalism and a member of the IWW union. He has published a book on anarchism titled, "Chomsky on Anarchism", which was published by the anarchist book collective, AK Press, in 2006.

Noam Chomsky has been engaged in political activism all of his adult life and expressed opinions on politics and world events which are widely cited, publicized and discussed. Chomsky has in turn argued that his views are those which the powerful do not want to hear, and for this reason he is considered an American political dissident. Some highlights of his political views:

  • Power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can't be met, the authority in question should be dismantled. Authority for its own sake is inherently unjustified. An example of a legitimate authority is that exerted by an adult to prevent a young child from wandering into traffic.
  • That there isn't much difference between slavery, and renting one's self to an owner, or "wage slavery." He feels that it is an attack on personal integrity that destroys and undermines our freedoms. He holds workers should own and control their own workplace, a view held (as he notes) by the Lowell Mill Girls.
  • Very strong criticisms of the foreign policy of the United States. Specifically, he claims double standards in a foreign policy preaching democracy and freedom for all, while promoting, supporting and allying itself with non-democratic and repressive organizations and states such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet, and argues that this results in massive human rights violations. He often argues that America's intervention in foreign nations, including the secret aid given to the Contras in Nicaragua, an event of which he has been very critical, fits any standard description of terrorism.
  • He has argued that the mass media in the United States largely serve as a propaganda arm and "bought priesthood" of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations, with the three parties all largely intertwined through common interests. In a famous reference to Walter Lippmann, Chomsky along with his coauthor, Edward S. Herman has written that the American media manufactures consent among the public.
  • He has opposed the U.S. global "war on drugs", claiming its language to be misleading, and referring to it as "the war on certain drugs." He favors education and prevention rather than military or police action as a means of reducing drug use. In an interview in 1999, Chomsky argued that, whereas crops such as tobacco receive no mention in governmental exposition, other non-profitable crops, such as marijuana, are specifically targeted because of the effect achieved by persecuting the poor:

"US domestic drug policy does not carry out its stated goals, and policymakers are well aware of that. If it isn't about reducing substance abuse, what is it about? It is reasonably clear, both from current actions and the historical record, that substances tend to be criminalized when they are associated with the so-called dangerous classes, that the criminalization of certain substances is a technique of social control."

  • Critical of the American capitalist system and big business, he describes himself as a libertarian socialist who sympathizes with anarcho-syndicalism and is also critical of Leninist branches of socialism. He also believes that libertarian socialist values exemplify the rational and morally consistent extension of original unreconstructed classical liberal and radical humanist ideas to an industrial context. Specifically he believes that society should be highly organized and based on democratic control of communities and work places. He believes that the radical humanist ideas of his two major influences, Bertrand Russell and John Dewey, were "rooted in the Enlightenment and classical liberalism, and retain their revolutionary character."
  • Chomsky has stated that he believes the United States remains the "greatest country in the world", a comment that he later clarified by saying, "Evaluating countries is senseless and I would never put things in those terms, but that some of America's advances, particularly in the area of free speech, that have been achieved by centuries of popular struggle, are to be admired." He has also said "In many respects, the United States is the freest country in the world. I don't just mean in terms of limits on state coercion, though that's true too, but also in terms of individual relations. The United States comes closer to classlessness in terms of interpersonal relations than virtually any society."
  • Chomsky is scathing in his opposition to the view that anarchism is inconsistent with support for 'welfare state' measures, stating in part that

One can, of course, take the position that we don't care about the problems people face today, and want to think about a possible tomorrow. OK, but then don't pretend to have any interest in human beings and their fate, and stay in the seminar room and intellectual coffee house with other privileged people. Or one can take a much more humane position: I want to work, today, to build a better society for tomorrow -- the classical anarchist position, quite different from the slogans in the question. That's exactly right, and it leads directly to support for the people facing problems today: for enforcement of health and safety regulation, provision of national health insurance, support systems for people who need them, etc. That is not a sufficient condition for organizing for a different and better future, but it is a necessary condition. Anything else will receive the well-merited contempt of people who do not have the luxury to disregard the circumstances in which they live, and try to survive.

  • According to Chomsky: "I'm a boring speaker and I like it that way…. I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is…. People are interested in the issues, and they're interested in the issues because they are important". "We don't want to be swayed by superficial eloquence, by emotion and so on."
  • He holds views that can be summarized as anti-war but not strictly pacifist. He prominently opposed the Vietnam War and most other wars in his lifetime. He expressed these views through a variety of protest methods, such as withholding taxes and peace walks. He published a number of articles about the war in Vietnam, including "The Responsibility of Intellectuals". However, he maintains that U.S. involvement in World War II was probably justified, with the caveat that a preferable outcome would have been to end or prevent the war through earlier diplomacy. In particular, he believes that the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "among the most unspeakable crimes in history".
  • He has a broad view of free-speech rights, especially in the mass media; he opposes censorship and refuses to take legal action against those who may have libeled him.
  • He has made major criticisms of Israel and supporters of Israel, arguing that "supporters of Israel are in reality supporters of its moral degeneration and probable ultimate destruction", and that "Israel's very clear choice of expansion over security may well lead to that consequence"

Chomsky has frequently stated that there is no connection between his work in linguistics and his political views, and is generally critical of the idea that competent discussion of political topics requires expert knowledge in academic fields. In a 1969 interview, he said regarding the connection between his politics and his work in linguistics:

I still feel myself that there is a kind of tenuous connection. I would not want to overstate it but I think it means something to me at least. I think that anyone's political ideas or their ideas of social organization must be rooted ultimately in some concept of human nature and human needs. (New Left Review, 57, Sept. – Oct. 1969, p. 21)

Debates

Chomsky been known to vigorously defend and debate his views and opinions, in philosophy, linguistics, and politics. He has had notable debates with such varied intellectuals as Jean Piaget, Michel Foucault, William F. Buckley, Jr., Richard Perle, Hilary Putnam, WVO Quine, and Alan Dershowitz, to name a very few.

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