I'mNoamChomsky. I'm a
retired professor atMIT, DepartmentOfLinguisticsAndPhilosophy.
2. What is themostcommendable thing Obama has done in office?
3. I guess themostcommendalbe thing he's done is not decide, you know, to bombIran or something. I think the things he hasn't done, and it's commendable that he hasn't done them, but you can point to verylittle, at least by my standards as commendable. I mean, he's retracted some of themoreextreme Bushpositions. For example, say Cuba, Bush imposed condition. I mean, normal conditions are totallyoutlandish and ridiculous, which is why everyone, exceptIsrael, votes against them at UN. Majority of americans reject to them, but Bush went way beyond. He imposed evenharsher condition, and Obama withdrew some of those. On nuclearissues, he has indicated that theUS should return to the mainstream of international affairs, signed the, considered ComprehensiveTestBanTreaty, move towards reducing nuclearweapons. Okay, that's a step forward fromBush'sposition, but it's a step towards the center and towards the international mainstream, also towards american publicopnion. And there's a number of cases like that, where. Bushadministration, especially its first term, was quiteextreme, which is why theUS standing in the world has fell to historic lows. Omitted.
4. What has Obama done that has disappointed you?
5. Nothing much, because I never expected anything.
7. I was a little surprised by the fact that he reinstituted some of the judicial practices that were kind of unconscionable. Bush made use of preventive detention permanently. He's been ["]waffling["] about torture. He's refusing to grant normal criminaltrials to people that they have no evidence against. They claimed to have none. Things like that have been a little surprising. I don't think he had to be that extreme in his interpretation of, actually deviation from any reasonable legalsystem. Omitted.
8. What is themostdysfunctionalthing about americanDemocracy?
9. AmericanDemocracy is
we call guidedDemocracy in countries we don't like, likeIran. So, inIran, elections are, putting aside, you know, the
question of credibility, elections are candidates are vetted by the leadership,
the clerical leadership, GuardianCouncil decides who can run. Okay, we're prettymuch the same. Here, the candidates are vetted by
corporateinterests, and unless. The way it's done is, Unless you have huge corporatefinancingandsupport,
you just can't run. I mean, Obama won overMcCain primarilybecause thefinancialinstitutions
liked him better. So, poured money into his campaign, muchmore
thanMcCain, and if you check the funding in polls, you find that the advertising,
and so on. In fact, ["]carried him over the edge["]. And that's true
of all the way long. Elections are basicallybought. Congress, for example, has
verylow ranking among the population. It's in the teen sometimes. And
nevertheless, the overwhelming majority incumbence wins. What does that tell
you? It tells you people are voting for candidates that
they don't like, because they don't have any choice. That's. These are
fundamental defects in democraticsystem. It's a huge democratic deficit as it's
called, and it shows how there's a verysharp division between public policy and
public attitudes on a host of major issues. In fact, both politicalparties are
welt to the right of the population on great number of critical issues. And the
population feels they can't do anything about it. So for example, thelastpolls
I saw about this, about eightypercent of the population said that, Goverment
doesn't work for the people. It works for a few big interests looking out for
themselves. That's eightypercent of the population. But if you were to ask
thenextquestion, they didn't do it, What are you going to do abou it? Well, I
can't do anything. There's no way to do anything about the fact that Goverments
are in the pockets of the rich and few big interests, corporateinterests
primarily. That feeling of helplessness, impotence, everything is run by
somebody else, I can't do anything about it. that reflects democratic deficit.
These are enormous problems with the way democraticsystem functions. I mean,
there are some things similar in most places, but in theUnitedStates, it's
prettyextreme in this regard. Among the industrialDemocracies. Omitted.
11. Americanélites. It goes back to theConstitutionalConvention, have been veryconcerned that over what sometimes calledTheExcessOfDemocracy, that is, the real participation by the public in forming the public policy. In fact, theConstitutionalSystem were designed to prevent that. Madison'sconception was what he called the wealth of the nation, responsible set of men, they're the ones who should set policy. That's why theSenate, which represented the wealthy, were given most of the power in constitutionalsystem. Theleastresponsive to the public, moreresponsive to the interest of wealth, and there have been battles about this all through americanHistory, and of course, things have changed a lot since theConstitutionalConvention. But thebasictheme remains the same. So for example, the leading public intellectual of thetwentiethcentury, WalterLippmann. Progressive. WilsonRooseveltKennedyprogressive. His view. He wrote what he calledProgressiveEssaysOnDemocracy, veryinfluential. His view was, Public should be spectators, not participants. And what he called responsible people, people like him, the ones who make policy, they should be insulated from the public. As he put it, they ought to be "protected from the trampling and the roar of the bewildered herd," the generalpublic, "ignorant and meddlesome outsiders," who don't belong in politicalsystem. That's a verystandard view. I mean, this is a version from progressive sector, but it extends prettymuch across the spectrum. There was an outburst of democratic participation in the1960s, and in fact, did significantly civilise the society. But it caused the enormous concern among elites. There's a major study calledACrisisOfDemocracy by relativelyliberal élites basically. For example, Carteradministration was drawn from that rank, that sector. Internationally. And they were concerned about theExcessOfDemocracy, toomuch participation. It's an overload onState. You can't have all these so called specialinterests pressing their own demands. Who were the specialintersts? It's minorities, women, the young, the old, the farmers, workers, in fact, the population. They're the specialinterests. And there's the nationalintersts, which has to be sustained, and that's the interests the one sector that they don't mention, mainly concentrated private capital, which is overwhelming in its influence, but they represent the nationalinterest, so it's okay. In fact, Madison had rathersimilar ideas. That's the leading conception of social and political thoughts, and there's a lot of effort put into instigating it. That's why propaganda's about. We don't call it propaganda, but what appears in Media and schools, and so on. And I think you can see it's facts. Omitted.
12. Taxation and Democracy.
13. In a Democracy, april15th, when you pay your taxes, would be the day of celebration. Here, we've gotten together as community. We've decided on certain policies. And now we're moving to implement them by our own participation. But that's not the way it's view in theUnitedStates. It's a day of warning. There's this alien entities, sort of like as if it's fromMars somewhere, which is stealing our hardearnedmoney from us. We have to give it up, because we have no choice. That reflects undermining even a conception ofDemocracy. Omitted.
14. USHealthcare, TheGovernments, and drugprices.
15. There is a lot of concern about cost ofUSHealthcare, which makes good sense. I mean, it's going to tank theEconomy. There's about twice much per capita as comparable countries with some of the worst outcomes, and it's growing prettyfast. So yeah, that's a real problem. And a lot of criticism of Obamaplan from right as it is called. It's just tooexpensive. Well, there's a prettyeasy way to cut down the expense. For example, theUnitedStates is theonlyindustrialcountry that byLaw does not permit theGovernment to use its purchasingpower to negotiate to drugprices. One effect is that drugprices are wayhigher than anywhere else. Well, what does public think about this? Few polls are showing that approximately eightyfivepercent of the public think we ought to do it. It's not even on the agenda. In fact, a week or so ago, theNewYorkTimes had a frontpagearticle, saying that Obama had made a secret deal with the drugcompanies in which he assured them that there would be no such moves. Omitted.
16. Retooling the autoindustry.
17. TheGovernment is continuing the process of dismantling, effectivelydismantling the productive core of the americanEconomy, like the automobileindustry. That's part of the general fiancialisation, the shift of power, finance toWallStreet. It's been going on for thirtyyears. It's not being destroyed, it's just being domesticallydestroyed. Maybe thesamecorporations will produce abroad. Well, that's happening right now. It's causing a disaster in places like Michigan and Ohio and Indiana. It's destroying home, families, communities. Meanwhile, while this is happening, Obama'ssecretaryoftransportation is inEurope, visitingSpain, trying to work out contracts whereby, say Spain, can use federalstimulusmoney, taxpayermoney to provide infrastructure and Technology, equipment for highspeedrailtransport, which we desperatelyneed. If the world is going to survive, we're going to have to [stop]
get off the commitment to verywasteful use of
project began in1940s, and it's leading right to disaster. So, you have to
reduce, society is going to have reconstructed massively. And one
crucial part of it is highspeedtransit. Okay, here we have theGovernment and the
corporatesector dismantling sector of the industrialapparatus that can
verywellproduce the highspeedtransit. Automobileindustry can be retooled for
highspeedtransit. Muchmoreradical steps have been taken. During
theSecondWorldWar, the industry was almosttotallyconvereted to warproduction in
a kind of semicommandingEconomy, and it was verysuccesfful. American
industrialproduction almostquadrupled. It could surely be done here. But instead of doing that, which would make sense for
population and for our grandchildren. It will help preserve liberal
environment. Instead of doing that, Obama sending his transportationsecretary to
use taxpayermoney to get the spanish to do it for us. That's a
commentary on the social and economic system that is just devastating. Have you
seen comment about it anywhere? No, because it's in the interest of the
sectors, the few big interest that, in fact, do run the country. By now, mostly
financialsector. It's profitable for them. So, what the public want. We don't
even know what the public wants, because they're not even asked. It's so remote
from consciousness. But I suspect that people would support it, and it
certainly could be done. Omitted.
18. What are the major debates inLinguistics?
19. As in mostSciences, espeically humanSciences, almostevery major question is opne. So for example, take the question. Two obvious questions. One is, How come there is anyLanguages at all? Second question is, Why there are appearantly so many? These are prettyelementary questions, but they're sensible questions. Roughly say, onehundredthousandyearsago, which is almostnothing in evolutionary time, the questions couldn't be raised, because there weren't any languages. You know, maybe twohundredthousand, roughly that area. So it's a sensible question. One is the question, How do languages suddenlyemerge in evolutionary record? And it's prettysudden in evolutionary framework. Not a lot of timeinvolved. And how come they're proliferated? How come there isn't just one? Well, there are steps towards answering that. There's progress, I think. My own view, I should say, is idiosyncratic. It's not widelyheld. I think we understand enough about the fundamental computational basis ofLanguage to see that to develop kind of plausible scenario for how there might have been a reasonablysudden emergence of fundamental nature ofLanguage, and also of why the apparent diversity is prettysuperfical. So if, say martians, are looking at human the way we look at say frogs, the martin might conclude that there's fundamentallyoneLanguage with minordeviations, and I think we're moving towards in understanding of how that might be the case, and it's prettyclear that that has to be the case. The time of development is muchtooshallow for fundamental changes to have taken place. And we know of no fundamental changes. So, a child from huntergatherertribe inStoneAgetribe in say theAmazon, brought toCambridge and raised here will go on to become a quantumphysicsts atMIT. There's no known differences in relative cognitivecapacities. So, there's something fundamentallythesame about all of us, and that's whatever emerged prettyrecenetly, and we have to work out the, to show the enormous appearent variety is kind of superficial variation. And also to explain how itmight have suddenlyappeared in evolutionary record. Omitted.
20. What is love?
21. I just know it has an unbreakable grip, but I can't tell you what it is. Just life's empty without it. Omitted.
22. Who would you like to meet and spend time with?
23. I have to say people who reallyimpressed me when I have a chance to meet them are people whose names nobody will ever hear. So for example. Let me give you a personal, verypersonal example. A couple of months ago, I learned that extremelypoor peasants in southernColombia, whose lives are destroyed in part byUSrun chemicalwarfare, called fumigation, which destroys their agricultural lands and communities, and in part just by terror of the colombianState, and by now, terror of guerillas. They're caught in the middle of. Reallymiserable people. They just planted a forest in memory of my wife, who died a couple of months ago. It's one of themostmoving things I have ever experienced. I've actually met some of them. I did go down. I couldn't do anything for them. I just listened to their horrible testimonies. These are people with real. And they're all over the world, you know, with real humanfeelings, commitment, concern, suffering beyond what we can imagine, but willing to do something for someone they've never met. You find things like that all over the place. Here, too. Some of themostmoving experience I've had are just in blackchurches in theSouth during theCivilRightsMovement, where, you know, people are getting beaten, killed, really struggling for themostelementary rights. Just asking for the congressionalAmendements during theCivilWar, asking they be implemented. Notparticularlyradical, but quite a battle. Continues like that. These are the really impressive people in my view. Omitted.
24. What Ethical dilemmas have you faced and how did you solve them?
25. There are fundamental questions that arising all the time, like How do I distribute my work and energy and effort? Every minute of the day you have to face those questions. Sometimes. I wouldn't exactly call it an Ethical dilemma. I guess it is. For example, early60s, I have to make a reallyhard, for me reallyhard decisions. Should I start becoming reallyactive instead of just talking in a critical humanissues that were arising then. War inVietnam, growing war inVietnam, CivilRightsMovements, many others. So, should I become reallyactive in those or should I devote my timeandenergy to veryexciting intellectual work with my growing family? I had little children. Well, that's a hard decision. I knew perfectlywell that you just can't put your foot in it and walk away. If you start it, it's a growing commitment. And my wife and I had to work that out in some fashion not simple. In fact, at one point, she actually had to go back to college after seventeenyears, because it looked as though I might serve a long prisonsentence. We had threekids to take care of. Those decisions, they're serious decisions, but there re lots of others all the time.