In a recent episode of Talk to Al Jazeera, Rosalind Jordan interviews Noam Chomsky now 84. Chomsky continues to actively criticize powerful politicians and many policies of the US, Israel, and other countries.
While the talk is supposed to be about his research in linguistics and his political activism, in actuality it is all about his activism and how it often tended to distract him from his research work.
A short account of his research in linguistics can be found here. Chomsky helped turn linguistics away from empiricism and the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner. Chomsky claimed that the ability of children to learn language can only be explained by positing certain innate abilities. To put it simply, some of our linguistic capacities are the result of hard-wiring in our brain not the result of learning through experience.
Chomsky is an Emeritus Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he has worked for over 50 years. He has written over 100 books. From 1980 to 1992, Chomsky was cited as a source more than any other living scholar. To the general public, however Chomsky is better known for his political activism and his book on Manufacturing Consent.
In the interview, Chomsky notes that he was an activist as a teenager back in the 1940s before he had even heard of linguistics. Even into his eighties, Chomsky keeps on churning out articles and commenting on current events.
When asked about the popularity of the Tea Party movement, as well as the fanatical opposition to President Obama among some, Chomsky points to what he calls a "pathological paranoia" within the US. Certainly there is perhaps some truth to what Chomsky says, but there are no doubt many reasons for the rise of the Tea Party that have nothing to do with paranoia.
However, when we observe some of the reactions to Obama's plan to introduce gun control policies, Chomsky's remarks ring true. Opponents fear that Obama is going to take guns away from everyone and people will be left defenceless against the state. However, the most he will ever achieve, is perhaps more stringent background checks for gun owners and the banning of certain types of weapons. The US will no doubt remain one of the most gun-toting countries in the world.
Chomsky is no champion of Obama, far from it. He describes Obama as a person without a "moral centre".Chomsky says:"If you look at his policies I think that’s what they reveal. I mean there’s some nice rhetoric here and there but when you look at the actual policies … the drone assassination campaign is a perfectly good example, I mean it’s just a global assassination campaign."
While many critics of Obama claim the President is not supportive of Israel, Chomsky thinks that in fact Obama has actually resisted Israel's actions less than the first or even second Bush. When Netanyahu does something drawing Obama's disapproval, Obama does nothing except for some verbal criticism. Chomsky says:"[Obama's] telling Netanyahu and the other Israeli leaders: I’ll tap you on the wrist but go ahead and do what you like .... So in fact, Obama is actually the first president who hasn’t really imposed restrictions on Israel."
Chomsky is also critical of neoliberal programs, which he claims helped create the global financial crisis and have been harmful in most places they have been implemented. Deregulation of the financial system created the conditions that allowed for the rise of complex securities whose risks were not properly evaluated. As a result of these policies, there was a financial crisis in the US, and later, Europe. Many European countries now face austerity policies harmful to the vast majority of their people.
Chomsky points out that modern democracies spend a great deal of money hiring experts in moulding attitudes. He notes that public relations techniques were developed in free and democratic countries where brute force was not available as a means of control. Instead people had to be controlled by moulding their attitudes.
Chomsky believes that the better off you are in society the more opportunity you have and the more responsibility you have to be politically active. As Chomsky put it: "The more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have."