American Socrates: The Life and Mind of Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky for 50 years has been America’s Socrates, our public pest with questions that sting … not the city-square of Athens but a vast global village in pain and now, it seems, in danger.

The world in trouble today still beats a path to Noam Chomsky’s door, if only because he’s been forthright for so long about a whirlwind coming.  Not that the world quite knows what do with Noam Chomsky’s warnings of disaster in the making. Remember the famous faltering of the patrician TV host William F. Buckley Jr., meeting Chomsky’s icy anger about the war in Vietnam, in 1969.

It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: the New York Times calls him ‘arguably’ the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop media stars on network television almost never do. And yet the man is universally famous and revered in his 89th year: he’s the scientist who taught us to think of human language as something embedded in our biology, not a social acquisition; he’s the humanist who railed against the Vietnam war and other projections of American power, on moral grounds first, ahead of practical considerations.  He remains a rock-star on college campuses, here and abroad; yet he’s still an alien in the places where policy gets made.  On his home ground at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is a notably accessible old professor who answers his email and receives visitors like us with a twinkle.  

Last week, we visited Chomsky with an open ended mission in mind: We were looking for a non-standard account of our recent history from a man known for telling the truth. We’d written him that we wanted to hear not what he thinks, but how. He’d  written back that hard work and an open mind have a lot to do with it, also, in his words, a “Socratic-style willingness to ask whether conventional doctrines are justified.”

In the opening moments of our conversation, recorded and captured in the video below, Chomsky lays out a succinct demonstration of his method that might be applied to our present-day political crisis:

 “I think the fate of the species depends on it because, remember, it’s not just inequality, stagnation. It’s terminal disaster. We have constructed a perfect storm. That should be the screaming headlines every day. Since the Second World War, we have created two means of destruction. Since the neoliberal era, we have dismantled the way of handling them. That’s our pincers. That’s what we face, and if that problem isn’t solved we’re done with.”

Over the years Noam Chomsky has defended his heavyweight debating title against all comers: YouTube has him in the ring with Michel Foucault on the nature of human nature; with Alan Dershowitz on Israel; with John Silber on Central America. But looking beyond his intellectual pugilism, Chomsky’s life might be defined as much by his allies as his enemies.

One of Chomsky’s longest running partnerships is with his assistant, Bev Stohl, who serves as the gatekeeper in and out of Chomsky world at MIT. She’s a sprightly writer and wit who’s learned over most of two decades that a lot of laughter helps in living with genius. We caught up with Bev and her office pup Roxy this week.

Another critical alliance comes from Robert Barksy, the author of two admiring, critical books—Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent and  The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory TowerAs an admirer and biographer of Chomsky, Barsky helps us fill in the story of how NC became the most widely cited author and innovator in the literature of contemporary science as well as a by-word for rational humanism.

Our hour only is only the beginning of the Noam story though. For more, read our friend George Scialabba‘s many excellent essays on Chomsky—a man he ranks among his triumvirate intellectual heroes (along with Christopher Lasch and Richard Rorty). Here’s a good place to start for beginners.

Also, be sure to check out the Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance‘s musical tribute “Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution” which puts the linguist in a class of musical as well as political and literary dissidents—Dr. John, James Brown, and Willie Nelson as well as Jean-Paul Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Che Guevara.

Finally, watch these two bite-sized bits of Noam discussing two giant-sized philosophers, Bertrand Russell and Adam Smith.

Also, read a full transcript of the show on Medium.

Extra Credit Assignment from Prof. Barsky

“For brief introductions to the incredibly complex world that Chomsky describes, it might be worth watching a few videos. There is an incredibly important one that was done years ago on the BBC that offers a one hour summary of the basic philosophical tenants that underwrites his thought, and the interviewer is a very brilliant English philosopher. I have had occasion to talk about this interview with Noam and he agreed, and bemoaned that such programs are no longer easily found.
 The other incredibly important source to understand the generation preceding Noam, is the remarkable film by Joseph Dorman called Arguing the World. References made in this film to a tiny Jewish Zionist organization that existed from 1928 to 1943, started at Harvard, that set forth some crucial ideas that were to both reflect and guide the work of Chomsky’s teacher, Zellig Harris (I talk about this at length in my book about Harris). The group is called Avukah , and I have been working on a film and book about it for many years. Joseph’s film is a model for what I’m trying to do, and many of the people mentioned herein have direct or indirect influence on Noam’s thinking.”
Guest List
Noam Chomsky
MIT professor, linguist and critic of empire
Beverley Stohl
Assistant to Noam Chomsky and writer at Bev Stohl's Stata Confusion
Robert Barsky
Professor of English and French Literatures at Vanderbilt University and author of The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower and Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent.
Reading List
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, 2002.
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman
Herman of Wharton and Chomsky of MIT lucidly document their argument that America's government and its corporate giants exercise control over what we read, see and hear. The authors identify the forces that they contend make the national media propagandistic, the major three being the motivation for profit through ad revenue, the media's close links to and often ownership by corporations, and their acceptance of information from biased sources. In five case studies, the writers show how TV, newspapers and radio distort world events. For example, the authors maintain that "it would have been very difficult for the Guatemalan government to murder tens of thousands over the past decade if the U.S. press had provided the kind of coverage they gave to the difficulties of Andrei Sakharov or the murder of Jerzy Popieluszko in Poland." Such allegations would be routine were it not for the excellent research behind this book's controversial charges. Extensive evidence is calmly presented, and in the end an indictment against the guardians of our freedoms is substantiated. A disturbing picture emerges of a news system that panders to the interests of America's privileged and neglects its duties when the concerns of minority groups and the underclass are at stake. First serial to the Progressive. Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc
Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, 2017
Noam Chomsky
"Since Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, income inequality has not been novel material for a book. Nevertheless, the latest book from famed activist and linguist Chomsky (Who Rules the World?) seems fresher than almost any title on the subject in recent memory. The book, based on the documentary of the same name, is a compilation of interviews that the film’s directors conducted with Chomsky from 2011 to 2016. Chomsky observes the present-day United States with such lucid clarity that readers may feel they are viewing familiar terrain for the first time. He offers a “10 Principle” formula for how plutocratic interests operate (Principle No. 7 is “Engineer Elections”; Principle No. 3 is “Redesign the Economy”). Chomsky observes that much of what made the 1950s and ’60s the “Golden Age” of the U.S. economy was that, at the time, what was good for General Motors really was good for America: “When the U.S. was primarily a manufacturing center, it had to be concerned with its own consumers.” Chomsky also touches, fascinatingly, on subjects as diverse as “the psychology of nagging” (as employed by the advertising industry) and the disappearing sense of solidarity in our civic life. Chomsky and his collaborators have created a perceptive and revelatory examination of the forces driving America inequality." —Publishers Weekly
American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays, 1969.
Noam Chomsky
Whether assessing U.S. policy in the Middle East (Fateful Triangle) or analyzing the events of September 11 (9-11), linguist, intellectual giant and moral authority Chomsky has made a brilliant career out of telling his fellow Americans things they didn't want to hear. And it all began with this collection of provocative essays (first published by Pantheon in 1969), each advancing a cogent, rigorous argument for why we shouldn't have been in Vietnam. In his opening piece, Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship, Chomsky establishes the premise that U.S. presence in Southeast Asia was little more than updated imperialism; that theory informs much of the writing that follows. In The Logic of Withdrawal, Chomsky methodically debunks the accepted reasons for U.S. intervention in a foreign civil war, and in On Resistance, he restates his case even more bluntly, writing that no one has appointed us judge and executioner for Vietnam or anywhere else. If it merely recalled the heady debates of a generation past, this volume would have been well worth reprinting. But at this moment in history, as America teeters on the brink of another war, Chomsky's ruminations about our role on the world stage take on renewed relevance. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Age of Anger: A History of the Present. 2017.
Pankaj Mishra
“In its literacy and literariness, [Age of Anger] has the feel of Edmund Wilson’s extraordinary dramas of modern ideas―books like To the Finland Station―but with a different endpoint and a more global canvas. Mishra reads like a brilliant autodidact, putting to shame the many students who dutifully did the reading for their classes but missed the incandescent fire and penetrating insight in canonical texts.” ―Samuel Moyn, The New Republic
The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought.
Dennis Rasmussen
"This engagingly written book tells the story of a remarkable friendship between two giants of eighteenth-century thought and heroes of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rasmussen is a historically and philosophically astute guide to the lives and ideas of Hume and Smith--as well as those of a large cast of supporting characters. His highly readable narrative offers great insights into an influential intellectual and social world."--Steven Nadler, author of A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age

Related Content

  • Gordon Adams

    Essays, books and authors were cited. Please post reading lists for us.

  • Pete Crangle

    Screaming Headline: Hastag Euro-Ethnic Caucasian Storm & Stress Matters

    “Remember, this is all very simple. It’s all in front of our eyes. All we have to do is look. It takes no profound intelligence. It takes no special insight. Just look at what’s in front of your eyes. It’s right there. In fact, I think a lot of people see it in various ways. ” — Noam Chomsky

    I once asked the greatest pizza maker I’ve ever known how she made such great pizza. Her answer: “It’s no big deal. You just assemble the ingredients and a reliable heat source. Then you just do it. It’s not complicated.” Which probably explains why there is so much mediocre pizza, and so little great pizza.

    Thank you Chris, and a big thanks to Professor Chomsky for his work and generosity. The examination of Samuel P. Huntington (The Third Wave, etc) and the liberal establishment was some excellent scalpel work. As was the brief discussion on ‘Markets’.

    It is interesting that people, such as Noam Chomsky, appear before us as novel beings who seem to compartmentalize their life while still maintaining a peculiar, ethical wholeness. Some of us seek answers to the question of that sort professional and personal synthesis, because so much of contemporary life requires us to not link the compartments we place our psyche in. We focus our need to understand a wholeness in people like Professor Chomsky, a man who seems to thrive and compartmentalize his Day Job, and his Activism and Dissidence, without coming apart. The inverted question might be: Why do people often tend to fragment their lives into compartments to divorce their ethics and morals from their Day Job? As if the implications and externalities of their work never matter?

    There is a sort of infantilizing lexicon that has permeated our culture. Corporate retreat language meant to numb one out so as to squeeze employees on death march projects while presenting the illusion of ‘life balance’. It’s an open question for me as to how C-Suite executives, Board of Directors, and major shareholders of corporations of death and misery live with themselves, while divorcing themselves from the implications of their work. It’s an old issue, with great variation as to why people fragment their existence. Robert Oppenheimer maybe one of the most tragic examples of a human being who compartmentalized himself into psychological trauma — a sort of Tree of Knowledge fall into oblivion and destroyer of worlds.

    I will add related footnote here: the comment I wrote for the Lessons from Nixonland thread, alludes to some of the media criticism of both Marlon Riggs (1957 – 1994), as well as, the necessity of concision in the framework of media. Mercifully, there seemed to be no ambient concision for this ROS conversation. If one is considering concision and its role in manufacturing consent, one must consider Noam Chomsky.

    Noam Chomsky versus Concision

    I suppose one could deduce that the privatization of space-time, the control of space and the fragmenting of time into smaller and smaller units has contributed to the neoliberal stranglehold. Time is more than a measurement or psychological construct; it is an anxiety inducing driving force. It plays a role in nearly everything from fission chain reactions to who gets to be a narrative mouthpiece for our collective ADHD bubble.

    In honor of concision, and its obliteration, I offer the following unpoetic summary of the perfect storm:

    We are.
    In the deep end.
    Of a Shit Storm.
    Without paddles.
    Or umbrellas.
    And its pestering resentment.
    Remains unabated.

    This one was really great work. Another ROS conversation that is welcome in our current clusterfunk. The editing on this was superb. Great music cues. Thank you Chris, Mary, & Team ROS.

  • Noam always lives up to his billing.
    Nonetheless, saying Clinton didn’t motivate the base was a little off. And I always cringe when he says there are individuals ruling the world, as it implies they are not subject to market forces. Adam Curtis, in the 1999 documentary The Mayfair Set, shows us how most of the financial rulers (Sir James Goldsmith, Tiny Rowlands, David Stirling, Jim Slater, and etc.) of the 70’s were laid waste by market forces.

    As long as society values money above merit, Power = Money + Fear.

    The fear part of that could be reduced by a UBI and universal healthcare. Which is why economic arguments (revenue neutral tax programs) don’t work – the conservatives lose power when the fear part of the equation is reduced.
    (Btw, if you don’t have money, just increase fear and you get an equivalent amount of power. That’s the formulae for insurgents.)
    Advertising is selling fear. I’m not sure saying corporate executives are thwarting the free market makes sense. Yes, they collude to fix prices and merge to eliminate competition, but those strategies don’t work for very long precisely because of market forces (c.f. Sears).

    How apropos Chomsky – Electric Counterpoint as the ending music.

    • Brux

      Ouch … are you really comparing Adam Curtis to Noam Chomsky. Curtis as far as I know speaks through his bizarre films, I don;t even call them documentaries. Curtis is media trickery as far as I can see.

      • Sorry if the Curtis reference caused you discomfort, but no, they are not comparable. The reference was in regard to the subject matter – the assertion that there are a few people in control of history.
        As for Adam Curtis’ films being ‘bizarre’, that could only be true if you don’t appreciate the craft of filmmakers such as Morris, Herzog and Curtis.

        • Brux

          No discomfort, just my gut reaction to your comparison.

          I found Curtis’ stuff on the internet and after watching most of his series I find them preachy and assertive without backup or references. They seem to appeal to people on an emotional level, but after I have watched one of his “episodes” I end up asking myself what was his point?

          The lack of sequential logical rigor tends to put me in the position of feeling like his work is almost dangerous in the way it works on the unconscious. I would liken this here to Chomsky’s riff on markets and how business people hate markets, and regulation, and they love monopoly – or how ironically politicians hate democracy. HIs comment about what do you see on TV goes double for Adam Curtis’ work, in my opinion. It is time-wasting junk food for unconsciousness like a commercial. There might be one or two lines that I can pick out in one of his “documentaries” that in some way might resonate, but there is no arc of logic that leads anywhere that I can see or a conclusion or certainly any action suggested. So different in every way from Chomsky that putting them both in the same discussion is unwarranted.

          I also find your “shot” at me so sadly typical of Internet discussion, implying that I am unrefined or clueless if I have different opinions than you on Morris, Herzog or Curtis? What does any of that have anything to do with Chomsky and this interview, it is a cheap attempt at attack. Curtis’ films are bizarre … “strange and unusual in such a way as to cause amusement” … seems like an appropriate word to me. Maybe think about it a bit before you get offended and fire back at me for having an opinion?

          • “…preachy and assertive without backup or references…. but there is no arc of logic that leads anywhere that I can see or a conclusion or certainly any action suggested.”

            Preachy means ‘to give moral advice in a tedious or self-righteous way.’
            Curtis has stated he doesn’t have the answers.
            As for there being no “backup or references” here is how Morris describes Curtis’ work:
            “….a substantial quantity of archival material and stock-footage. I call it re-processed media. Perhaps a better expression would be re-purposed media. It’s different from the traditional use of found footage in news documentaries. Here stock-footage becomes expressionistic – never literal – an excursion into a dream – or, if you prefer – nightmare.”

            A documentary provides a factual record or report. Curtis uses facts in a centrifugal way; that is, the narrative they form is open ended. Their oneiric ambience is suggestive of modern existential life, i.e. hypernormalization.

            All of which speaks to his craft as a documentarian.

            Here’s Curtis from the same interview at ErrolMorris .com:
            “What I do is construct an imaginative interpretation of history to make people look again at what they think they know.”

            That^ is a possible nexus of Curtis and Chomsky. They are trying to get people to think about perceived wisdom as it relates to power dynamics.

            But there is another point of intersection. In that interview Morris wonders why Curtis’ (widely praised at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival) The Power of Nightmares couldn’t get US distribution.
            Compare that with the RoS assertion about Chomsky: “It’s a strange thing about Noam Chomsky: the New York Times calls him ‘arguably’ the most important public thinker alive, though the paper seldom quotes him, or argues with him, and giant pop media stars on network television almost never do.”

            Could it be that people prefer that a Nietzschean/Rorty truth be told to them? A collective truth?

            Here we cycle back to who calls the truth and who is calling the truth out. Again, Chomsky and Curtis might agree.
            Curtis: “All history is a construction – often by the powerful.”
            Curtis, however, equivocates when using the word ‘often’.
            He agrees with Morris that history is a “series of blunders, confusions, self-deceptions, and idiocies.”

            Curtis: “But the construction has a truth to it. It shows dramatically how particular experiences form particular ideas with particular consequences. Even though it doesn’t actually ever work out the way the person who had the idea intended.”

            His films are the embodiment of those insights. There is an arc of logic, presented as a dream-like filmic reality.

          • Brux

            Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’d love to find something that explained or put in perspective Curtis’ work, but I just have not found it. I certainly find his thoughts compelling, but as far as a connection or similarity between him and Chomsky, I don’t see it. Curtis is like a Rorschach test. His work reminds me of a lot of movies these days built to create confusion and allowing the audience to see whatever they will in the work, provoking argument and requiring those interested to watch and pay multiple times.

            Personally I just do not care for this type of thing, in a fictional movie or a documentary.

            It reminds me of the part of the interview where Chomsky talks about Margaret Thatchers triumph of destroying society and leaving just individuals.

            Chomksy stands for the exact opposite to me. It seems the bad guys are winning, and may have such a lead as they say the age of facts is gone, maybe the age or morality is gone too.

            But for Curtis I have a hard time describing his movies as being filled with insights. There are people and things to be learned by watching Curtis’ stuff. i found some of the history of the Muslim extremists informative and most of it jibed with other facts I’ve read.

            Odd that Curtis and Chomsky do seem to be at odd on the Middle East. Chomsky’s analysis of the Israel-Palestinian conflict has never been something that made sense to me – nor the embracing of the Palestinians by “so-called” Liberals or Progressives. It makes no sense to me that people who value Western Civilization, as imperfect as it may be, should somehow defend the most despotic anti-human-rights countries in the world in the form of many of the Gulf states, nor of the prevalence of Anti-Semitism in the Liberal/Progressive POV in many cases.

  • Fascinating video interview: Ideas of Chomsky BBC 1977
    I was involved a lengthy polemic involving visual thinking vs the claim that thought only occurs by way of language – but I guess one needs to define ‘thinking.’
    39 minutes in, he says there is no reason to believe in a dualism of mind and body.
    I recently saw a documentary about a scientist that believes the mind is separate from the brain. His area of focus using MRIs was to find where spirituality originates. His theory was that different parts of the brain are involved to produce something extra-brain…I think.
    At 40 minutes in, we get the political: liberalism has become the ally of authority.
    His explanation really shows the brilliance of his mind – the ability to tie all things together.

    • Pete Crangle

      I agree Robert. The BBC interview you’re referring to was worth watching (if this the interview you’re referring to): Noam Chomsky – Ideas of Chomsky BBC Interview

      • Yes; Prof. Barsky recommends – the interviewer, Bryan Magee, being a philosopher asks good questions.

        • Pete Crangle

          Yep, I see that now in the “extra credit” assignment.

  • Floyd C. Wilkes

    The antidote to neoliberal is magnanimity, the great work, the magnum opus. To become magnanimous, one practices quiescence in order to know thyself. Quiescence combined with self inquiry conduces the quickening of the mind-psyche-soul. Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Yanis Varoufakis, Harry Belafonte and Christopher Lydon are all great souls.

    ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin magnanimus (from magnus ‘great’ + animus ‘soul’) + -ous.

    Thank you, yet again, ROS for a brilliant, timely, and splendidly insightful bit of programming. I’ll be donating today! but please know I’m a year round fan! Yours gratefully…

    • Omnis Odium

      A nitpick, but animus describes movement, does not?

      The association with soul with animation, I would think would be something that developed after the 4th century. (Rome adopted Christianity in something like 300 AD iirc)

  • Mary Brady

    Has anyone seen Scientific American magazine lately? Two issues ago, they ran a long piece noting that ALL of Chomsky’s linguistic theories have now been overturned–no one uses them any longer. His theories only made sense when considering a few European languages (& even there they fell apart after awhile). This is, of course, how science works. New theories take over old ones; nothing is wrong with this. Still, why must we continue listening to this “scholar?” I deeply distrust people who never pause to consider a response, who never need to think about any question but have immediate answers to everything. Chomsky is one of these people. He has no better training in political theory or economics than most of us–why hang on his every word about these topics?
    He studied linguistics & wrote theories that rose to the top for awhile. Then he switched to pontificating on current events. Who cares what HE thinks over the thinking of others? The ‘dissenting spirit of the age?’ Come on.

    • Tim N

      “He has no better training in political theory or economics than most of us–why hang on his every word about these topics?” “Training?” Where does one train for these things? You don’t like Chomsky–I get it. Okay. Don’t read him. You don’t speak for anybody but yourself (” . . . most of us . . . ). Do I go onto rightist sites and bitch about the frauds they exalt? No, of course not. Why would I? You have an axe to grind with one of the great public intellectuals of the last 50 years. Big deal. Get in the “complaints line” behind everyone from Tom Wolff to the apparatchiks in the DNC to virtually everyone to the right of Hillary Clinton. Your reasons above for condemning him are irrational; no surprise there. Don’t bother to come in here trying to straighten out people who, with very good reason, admire Chomsky’s work.

      • Potter

        Everyone should be welcome here if they maintain a measure of decorum, the culture so to speak. It’s not offensive to oppose or disagree.

        I measure Chomsky against what I have learned and observed all my life as far as analysis of our politics over the long term, his long life, and his injection of a sense of morality in the telling which I share. I admit not wanting to hear it because it’s depressing and leads to hopelessness. Chomsky though, at this point is an American treasure…look around. Things are so off balance we need such a voice to help sort out.

        • Omnis Odium

          Part of debate is mockery and derision. When posed with an absurd claim, such as Chomsky’s body of work in psycholinguistics being overturned, what should I do? delegitimize my own position, by addressing such claims seriously?

          Stop being a cultural hegemon and let the Agora debate.
          Trying to control and restrict communications is the bane of our union, and the means by which the powers that be continue to repine our neighbors and brothers, from the Americas to Samarkand.

    • ‎NX-74205

      You overall message that he is no better qualified than others to pontificate on current events seems like a fair point. But this begs the question of – do you thoroughly vet all those you listen to? What are the standards commentators and observers must live up to? I imagine with your high standards pretty much anyone in media – main stream or otherwise must be a non-starter.

      • Omnis Odium

        Pfft vetting is for the ancient world when people hid their proofs. lol

        Even charlatans like myself have a good idea once in a while. Giodorano Bruno was once, largely considered a deluded and fantastic dreamer. And while he was nothing like Chomsky, as his ideas depended purely on rationalism, he did turn out to be right about our sun being a star, just like any other star.

        If people would’ve went after his ideas, instead of using them as a reason to demonize his character and declare him a heretic, maybe we’d know a little bit more than we do now, about the universe around us.

    • futbolsono

      Firstly, Chomsky’s linguistic theories were never considered ‘consensus’, they have always attracted considerable push back and this latest challenge is part of a long line of challenges to his theories. The article you reference isn’t an example of giant killing, but rather more of the ongoing debate that existed for a long time in that discipline. If anything, Chomsky’s international stature makes him a lightning rod of sorts for these kinds of overblown claims, usually for other purposes. Secondly, I believe we value Chomsky’s political work based on sizeable contributions that span decades. Minimizing him, as you do as no better than ‘others’, just throws all those works out without consideration. This hardly seems a reasonable argument.

      I get you do not like him by the trite reasons you provided, but Chomsky’s work stands the test of time regardless of your referenced article or your dismissal of his qualifications. The above interview is a valuable asset in understanding current political forces. He remains an important voice as he has been for many decades.

      I, for one, care what he thinks and care far less what ‘others’ who dismiss his works without any valid argument think.

      • Omnis Odium

        I’m not someone who is terribly informed on linguistics, but it is my understanding that, in regards to syntax development, Chomsky’s positions on it being both learned and biological, were either divisive or in the minority.

        And then Genie happened.

    • Brux

      Even if that was true … so what?
      You are suggesting that we only pay attention to people who are always right in some theater other than “philosophy” for their philosophical views? Let me remind you that this thinking led to the “he can make billions of dollars, so he must be someone who would make a great president” thinking.

      If Chomsky’s ideas are what you seek to undercut, then you should do it by facing them head on, not trying to discredit the man who did incredible work whether or not it is the endpoint of that body of study.

    • Brux

      I do not think that is true. Chomsky’s notion that the brain is structured for language was confirmed over decades of neuroscience, the discovery of Broca’s area. The brain is specialized for language, and that is a big part of what Chomsky’s work was based on – as far as I understand anyway.

      • Omnis Odium

        It’s not true at all. Biolinguistics and is still practiced in accordance with the tradition that Chomsky laid down. (Compare to psychoanalysis, which is now, a lens for interpreting political economy and media, thanks to people like Lacan and Žižek, but is materially useless.)

        Genie, despite developing quite the impressive lexicon, never showed any signs of being able to conceive of or make use of comparative degrees. To say something like “this is blue”, should could understand, but comparing it with two more objects, saying “this is more blue” and ” this is most blue”, appear to have been indecipherable abstractions to her. As I understand it, this was the “smoking gun”, that would make or break Chomsky’s ideas on syntax development.

        But I don’t know much of anything about biolinguistics, so don’t take it on my authority or anything, beyond that of being an aside.

      • I read Chomsky’s work in linguistics many years ago, and didn’t find it persuasive. So what? As a moral philosopher he stands above all other living public intellectuals.

    • Omnis Odium

      LOL THE BROCA’S AREA DOESN’T EXIST AND SYNTAX DEVELOPMENT ISN’T SOMETHING BIOLOGICAL AND LEARNED. lol, hogwash; not that it matters though, because your criticisms are clearly not leveled at or concerned with linguistics.

      In fact, your post is a good example of why, sometimes, we need not pause to consider, because when you are highly rigorous and empirically minded like Chomsky, you end up seeing a lot of memes, such as the one
      you’ve presented in your first post, using an unrelated criticism to delegitimize all positions held by someone.

      And you’re right, he is not a political philosopher, as he is not a partisan charlatan. What separates him from us in terms of political economy, is his willingness to dig through the records of the Office of the Historian.

      You COULD do it too, if you really wanted.

      • c walsh

        Surely Chomsky’s work on anarcho-syndicalism and anarchy generally qualifies him as a political philosopher

    • Omnis Odium

      PS Scientific American is garbage. It has, like every other channel in the private media apparatus, become liberal capitalist propaganda from communications majors

      It is neither scientific nor American.

    • Terry Rose

      If you presuppose anyone who answers questions immediately should never be trusted then you’re a fckin moron.

    • Matt Lazarus

      I have not seen the article you refer to, but know a number of linguists who continue to use and teach “Chomskyan” linguistics (in part to explain, for example, grammar of Japanese, which happens to be a non-Western language). As I understand situation from them, Chomsky’s theory (theories) have evolved, and those who followed him have taken the ideas and built on and developed them. Again, I’m not a linguist, but I think Chomsky’s view that there is something about the human brain which makes language “inevitable” is by this point matter of common sense. (One has to be aware that in contemporary linguistics, as in many other academic fields, the knives are always out. An article in Scientific American is not necessarily the final word on a theory or body of research.) Regarding his political views, one reason Chomsky has been marginalized is because of criticisms he’s leveled at Israel and US government policy in relation to Israel. Criticism of Israel remains THE cardinal sin for both liberals and conservatives in the US.

  • Potter

    It’s unfortunate that Chomsky is seen, or maybe has been seen, a lone wolf coming from the far corner of the political spectrum. He’s been right. He presents almost with equanimity, but not with anger ( nor joy that I hear). So maybe he’s depressing. But we don’t hear and don’t want to hear until there is pain. He says “puzzlement”. I say more than puzzlement, it’s pain especially when there is ignorance. Puzzlement means asking questions that are Socratic, coming from some basic knowledge. Unfortunately then, it has to be pain. He rightly says that this revolt came in anger and resentment when it should have come, or should be coming from understanding and constructive activism. That requires something basic that we lost communally. We, some of us, did rise up in the 60’s. And then we quieted down, got on with our so-called individualism, even creativity, while this fungus grew around us.

    In this discussion I wished for a little more of a discussion about markets… the goal of neoliberalism to undermine them, but perhaps there was no time and this is to be found in the reading.

    So we have Trump…a wake up call/cry. I wonder what Chomsky would say about Trump having us leave the TPP and maybe NAFTA.. maybe NATO, maybe the UN. How much of destructive wrecking ball are we in for? And is it good? That’s my puzzlement.

    Chomsky, a valuable voice, maybe valued now more especially, is remarkably mentally fit for someone nearing 90. This was such a well rounded picture of Chomsky for the hour. Thank you for this and the reading list.

    FYI ( and mine)…

    • Brux

      Here is a guy that clearly has a very superior memory power, can recall things from books read decades ago. A very orderly mind. I admire his mental powers, and respect his choice of what to do in life … what a treasure. That said, I often disagree with what he says or sometimes his conclusions about things, but I have gotten so much from listening and reading him, that is what is important.

      • Omnis Odium

        That’s the enjoyable thing about Chomsky

        It was not that long ago, maybe a few years, I was listening to him when he said something like “we knew that Iraq and Syria were going to be a problem for almost the entirety of the postwar period. You can read for yourself state department memos from the years 195x to 195x, that all discuss the problems that will eventually have to be dealt with, regarding the division of Iraq and Syria, the public perception in Iraq of them being a historical union, and there all right there, in the US Office of the Historian”

        I immediately went and checked (as it is also online now), and hey, there they were.

    • Omnis Odium

      If he is a loan wolf, it is only because the domain of the wolf has been usurped by cowardly humans, whom act in impulsive mobs like all other primates, so afraid of any threat, that they do not realize that is precisely them who is the threat.

      John Brown stalked these forests long before man cut it down.
      Yet, when their house became divided, they quickly remembered who came before them, and sang songs praising him.

  • Potter

    “The pincer movement, or double envelopment, is a military maneuver in which forces simultaneously attack both flanks (sides) of an enemy formation”.(Wikipedia) Chomsky is kind of being humorous (or light or distant) using this term..maybe dark humor. But it brings home the point. Then he adds the third leg of this “stool” to our prevailing political situation: neoliberalism (an absurd term for what it is), the political situation, which prevents us from doing anything about nuclear weapons and human caused climate change that threatens us.

    Well Ollie this is a fine situation! Not that we needed Chomsky to point this out as even he says. All one has to do is pay attention; it’s obvious. But we (collectively, some apparently cravenly knowing and denying) keep trying to turn away from the pain of facing this only to come smack up against it as it gets more urgent.

  • Brux

    Thank you … this is one of, if the the best interview I have heard with Chomsky. It sounds to me like it puts the man in perspective, as well as talks about his value to the country. It is such a shame that this guy is not on TV as oftem as the likes of George Will, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh. Those guys who the country is saturated with know nothing compared to Chomksy and they think like neanderthals.

    What I find most amazing about Chomsky is that he is still evolving at this late date. His message has changed and expanded and gotten more specific and clearer. This was really a wonderful interview … I’d like to hear a part 2 or even part 3. Chomsky will not be around forever, much as many would love him to be. Being the venerable institution that he clearly is it would be great to hear more from him.

    I do disagree with him on some of his opinions and the framing of some things, but i have learned so much that I would never have found on my own. Chomsky says it is simple, and in plain sight … but it is odd that a linguist might not understand that many people do not have the concepts and words to put together to see, analyze and react, nor the people to share their perceptions with.

    Thanks again.

  • Michael Corenzwit

    ” Who Rules the World” should be mandatory reading for all elected officials and anyone who cares about where we are and how do we fix it.

  • walter hartman

    He’s a shill. Promote the official 9/11 and Warren reports. Never calls out the current democratic administration for their crimes. Never calls out the ruling elite. Gets a little close sometimes but then diverts and whitewashes it.

    It’s not just manufactured consent, Noam; it’s also much manufactured dissent. Controlled opposition and he knows it and pushes it.