September 30, 2006

Noam Chomsky - "Imperial Ambitions"


Noam Chomsky's popularity has risen ever since Hugo Chavez recently held up Chomsky's book Hegemony and Survival as a must-read, both after and before his speech at the United Nations. Chomsky, a highly respected linguist and philosopher from MIT, admits to his dual vocations, that of a teacher and researcher and the other lesser known one of a social activist. There are some things that make him unique. Firstly, being Jewish he has taken some strong stands against Israel's policy in the Middle East. Secondly, inspite of some fifty odd years of vocal social activism as an ultra liberal, he has no consistent political theory to propound like Samuel Huntingdon and Bernard Lewis. Finally, his popularity with die hard democrats does not spare them of his criticsm; he is just as critical of the Clintons and Kerrys of the world.

I just finished reading the book "Imperial Ambitions" where David Barsamain has Chomsky speak about the future of Social Security, the imminent threat of global warming, and mostly about the volatile situation developing in the world due to United States' intervention in Iraq. Chomsky is bold, honest, upbeat, witty and most of all alarmingly well informed in matters of global policy for a philosopher linguist. As a result he spins this web of persuasive dialectic for a disarmed reader and will not let him out, but convinced. He both informs and cautions the American public against government propaganda that works by making its citizens afraid; a tactic that he points out has been used by various American Presidents to allow them to carry out there imperialistic agendas. The one instance he gives of President Reagan's justification for the US war in Nicaragua, and then links it up with the current situation in Iraq and the Middle East, is particularly brilliant:

"On May 1, 1985 Reagan declared a national emergency in the United States because of the threat to the security of the United States posed by the government of Nicaragua, which was a two days’ drive through – I would note – at least one other country, Mexico, many times its size, from Harlingen, Texas, and Nicaragua was planning to take over the hemisphere! If you take a look at that Executive Order, which was renewed annually as a way of building up support for the U.S. war in Nicaragua, it has almost the same wording as the 2002 congressional declaration on Iraq. Just replace Nicaragua with Iraq...How much critical thinking and analysis does it take to determine how much of a direct security threat Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and so forth are to a country that possesses the most powerful military in the history of the world, is bounded by two vast oceans and is bordered by two very peaceful neighbors?"

Chomsky can grow on you without you knowing, and that makes him worrisome. I have great respect and admiration for Chomsky, the eminent linguist who has made many significant contributions in the field of language aquisition. However, I am a little wary of his political writings because they have the word-power to sway a naive populace. No wonder The New York Times has called him “arguably the most important intellectual alive”, and The Guardian declared: “Chomsky ranks with Marx, Shakespeare, and the Bible as one of the ten most quoted sources in the humanities—and is the only writer among them still alive.”

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Noam is an amazing intellect. I may not always agree with his views, but he is always worth listening to. More importantly he makes you think.
I have not read his books, but am familiar with his views having watched him a few times on C-SPAN.

Yous post is very well written, succint and clear. :)

eshuneutics said...

You make an interesting point indeed. I found myself suspicious of his language--direct and persuasive. This was because, like you, I first knew Chomsky as a linguist. But isn't that suspicion odd? I mean: I was wary of his non-ambiguous language, yet I accept rhetorical double-speak from politicians everyday. That really does show how inverted my values have become.

Sharique said...

"word-power to sway a naive populace."
why do you fear that? I am for free expression of thought and let the readers decide what's right and what's wrong for them. I know few can be mislead but then they have to know the bad in order to appreciate the truth :)

FutureWorldLeader said...

Hi, I know (or think) this is my first time posting a comment on this site. Still, i think you might want to view my new post. It may make you think about what our government is really doing.

Hiren said...

Seems like an interesting guy all right. Nice to know

bablu said...

It been all over the news ! But well he has got a very good view of way things are run in the world !

Id it is said...

eshu,
"But isn't that suspicion odd?" It truly is but I cannot explain why it exists especially since as you say we "accept rhetorical double-speak from politicians everyday"! Do you think THAT"S what it is; we, for some reason, see persuasion in any form as derogatory, something a politician would do, and so obviously when someone as revered as Chomsky enters into both of those realms, politics and persuasion, and simultaneously, we have our quills up! Would you agree?

Id it is said...

sharique,
"word-power to sway a naive populace;
why do you fear that?"
Word power has proved itself to wield phenomenal power and history is replete with exaples of that; Hitler being one. Oratory and speech-writing are two very powerful skills and if misused can cause monumental harm, especially if the 'populace is naive' and thus gullible. You can see that happen in many countries right now where one remark is enough to spark a spate of violence.
Free expression is a wonderful idea except that it has some major prerequisites; an informed, rational, and open-minded population.

eshuneutics said...

I think you have read my unease exactly. Today, I have been reading a newspaper article stating that we fear words too much and they do no real harm. Like you, I think the opposite.

EXSENO said...

Books stores are far from where I live so I have to put his name on my list of books to look up when we make our trip to 'Books a Million', a place my family all loves to go.
I agree with you that words can hurt. People can be swayed by words.
Hitler is a good example of that, this evil man was very good with words.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Chomsky amazes me in the fact that he is so well learned in so many aspects in life.

Mulling Over My Thoughts said...

some people are born with a flair to attract the attention of crowds and simultaneously influence the way they think... noam is one such individual, very persusive. if you dont have your mind set right to see both sides of the coin, you might believe all he says. too opinionated in my opinion...

Dan Lackey said...

The great thing about Chomsky is that he is transparent. You may not be a realist about language; you may be a nominalist through and through. But Chomsky deflects attention way from his (not uniteresting) rhetorical presence, toward the issue at hand,causing you to constantly ask yourself, "Now what research do I need to do in order not to have to take his arguments 'on authority.' "