Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics at MIT in Boston since 1955. In 1993, there was a list of top 10 authorities cited in US academic journals in arts and humanities of previous 7 years. The list included: Karl Marx, Shakespeare, The Bible, Plato, Chomsky, Hegel. He is described as the father of modern linguistics for his theories, collectively called “Chomskian linguistics”.
He has written… well a lot of books (here is a list, if you ‘ve got some spare time – count and leave the number in comments section. Thank you). Putting linguistics aside his work has also contributed to fields like cognitive and computer sciences.
That’s just a brief summery for half of his work life. The second half is Chomsky, the political dissident, public intellectual, activist and organizer. He describes himself as an Anarcho-Syndicalist. He started getting heavily involved in activism with Anti-war movement at the time of US invasion of Vietnam. He was one of the first person to point out the inhumanity of the invasion, way before it became common knowledge. He was arrested number of times. He was on the “Enemy List” of Richard Nixon.
Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s study of Mass Media and Propaganda model, “Manufacturing Consent”, paved the way for understanding the way our mass media system interrelates with our economy, political system, and society in general.
I can go on and on about Chomskys work and it’s importance, but due to limited time i will end this summary with a quote about Chomsky by Amorey Gethin, one of his bitter critics:
“Chomsky strikes me as a person of great intellectual and social boldness and courage, the most important and perhaps rarest sort of courage. He could have sat back and basked in the admiration of academics and intellectuals. Instead he has faced abuse and contempt for his attack on the immorality of political and economic power throughout the world and his demand for decency. He is constantly misreported and misinterpreted. He is even accused of denying the Holocaust, although he has written of the killing of the Jews as “the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history”.
What Chomsky does do, though, in the face of malicious vilification, is defend the right of people to express views he himself despises. He is a worthy successor to Voltaire. An incident I find particularly moving can be seen in the Canadian-made film on Chomsky called “Manufacturing Consent” (1992). Robert Faurisson was convicted by a French court of the crime of arguing that the slaughter of the Jews never took place. Chomsky wrote in defence of Faurisson’s right to free speech, and went to Paris to protest. He was abused and heckled both by the French press and in person. But, as Chomsky pointed out, there are only two positions you can take on free speech. You are either for it or you are against it.”
[The following chat was held via email and has been edited for purposes of continuity and adding resources]
ST: I had about 200 questions in my head of all sorts that i wanted to ask you. Lets start with this one, ever since i read Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, i had this almost primitivist doubt: Is scientific development at all important for a society? If hunter gatherers were as happy with there way of living as we are now with ours, why does it matter? And how will an anarchist society deal the development of,lets say, research on quantum loop theory? As technological R&D need major financial support and resources, this relationship is working well with government support and corporate support but without them, how a scientific research and development sector might look?
NC: Scientific research is important because we want to understand the world in which we live, including other humans. Scientific development is important for any number of reasons, including survival. In our society it is funded mostly by citizens, but without their participation in the decisions (that holds for corporate funding too, by price increases). In a free society, they would make the decisions – as for the arts, and everything else.
We cannot conceivably go back to hunter-gatherer days, even if that were desirable, without mass genocide on an indescribable scale.
ST: What about Crime? Do you, like Kropotkin and many others,also believe that “prevention of crime is the only proper way to combat it?”
NC: An important way, not the only way. Lots of discussion of the factors in the criminology literature.
ST: Capitalism can be described and identified by few characteristics like wage system, work for profit, and private ownership over means of production. What then can said to be some of the few key characteristics of a state?
NC: “state” is not a very clear notion.
ST: Final question. Your thoughts on Narendra Modi?
NC: From what I’ve read, he was fairly directly implicated in the Gujarat slaughter of Muslims and has a Hindu nationalist background, including RSS. I’ve heard reports from Gujarati friends who are very critical of his alleged economic successes in Gujarat, but haven’t investigated the matter closely enough to write anything.