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The Monday Memo is a weekly electronic newsletter published for the faculty and staff of Eastern New Mexico University. The editor is Wendel Sloan.
Professor Doug Morris Interviewing Noam Chomsky
|Dr. Doug Morris||Noam Chomsky|
Suggest Interview Questions for Noam Chomsky – Dr. Doug Morris will interview Noam Chomsky on Dec. 14. Chomsky is the "most-cited living person" and has been called "most important living intellectual" by the New York Times. Around the world he is often referred to as "the conscience of the United States."
Chomsky has revolutionized the field of linguistics and had a profound impact on multiple other fields, including the brain sciences, cognitive science, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, history, education, media studies, cultural studies, peace studies, communications, etc., and crucially our understanding of U.S. foreign policy.
It is a rare opportunity for ENMU employees and students to ask a question of someone who is listed with Plato, Aristotle, Marx, Freud, Lenin, Hegel, etc., in the top-ten of most cited people in history.
If you would like to suggest questions for Dr. Morris to ask Chomsky, email email@example.com.
Editor's Note: The information below is based on a Monday Memo interview with Dr. Doug Morris about his upcoming interview with world-renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky.
It will be a live interview at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., in Chomsky's office. My long-time comrade, John Holder, who works at the University of Hartford, will join me in interviewing Noam.
A transcript of the interview will appear at www.zcommunications.org/znet. We will also videotape the interview and post it on YouTube.
We started recording many of Noam's public lectures in early September 1990 during the build-up to U.S. power's attack on Iraq which began in January 1991 (the first U.S. attack on Iraq for those unfamiliar with the history, not quite as devastating as the second in 2003 but bad enough for the victims). During that build-up Chomsky was speaking relentlessly, four or five nights a week, frequently in sessions that lasted three or four hours, and we were often recording two lectures a week for the next several months.
Over the following 11 years we recorded over 200 lectures on a wide-range of topics, with titles such as "Creeping Fascism," "The Third World Comes Home," "Crisis in the Middle East" (always a relevant topic), "Plan Colombia," "Terror US Style," "The New World Order," "Deterring Democracy," "Killing Haiti" "Contract on America," "Manufacturing Consent," etc., etc., etc., and a few linguistic lectures.
We also recorded a number of interviews starting in 1992. In 1992 I followed Chomsky around Europe recording lectures and interviews as part of what we (not Chomsky) were calling "The Dissident Ambition Tour." For roughly 12 years we distributed videotapes of these lectures and interviews to many places around the world as part of a project we called "Turning the Tide."
I have to say that listening to and recording all of those lectures (and reading many of his books) was the best education one could get. When I was teaching in high school in New Hampshire students would often come along to lectures and we also set up a few student-conducted interviews with Chomsky. Common comments from students after interviewing Chomsky were things like "I think my IQ just went up 100 points!" or "I feel as though I've been lied to my whole life and now I am starting to see reality."
I had a similar experience. I recall the first book I read by Chomsky titled "Turning the Tide." That book focused on the truly monstrous and gut-wrenching terror and violence US power was pouring on Central America, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala in particular, in the 1980s, and suddenly so much of what had been obscured and mystified came into much greater clarity. I bought copies for all of my friends. It was truly transformative.
Most importantly, the students who were reading Chomsky, discussing Chomsky, and listening to Chomsky became deeply involved and active in social struggles for peace and justice, and most of them are still involved at various levels. Once folks gain a comprehension of what is really going on, it is hard not to want to get involved to try to end the horrors.
Chomsky is not only by far the smartest and most critically brilliant person I've ever met, but also among the kindest, most generous, and most dedicated to the long-term struggle for peace, social justice, and substantive forms of equality, freedom, and democracy. I think it was Richard Peck who said "Chomsky says more in ten pages than most intellectuals say in a lifetime."
Chomsky is often maligned by intellectuals because he calls on us to be "public intellectuals," that is intellectuals wiling and able to take on the moral, social, and political responsibility to struggle against the injustices, indignities, and iniquities of power, (power, of course, does not appreciate such critiques!), and also working to address our social predicaments.
Intellectuals generally have the time, training, and resources to do so, but careerism often stands in the way, as Chris Hedges has pointed out quite astutely in some recent pieces well worth reading, for example: http://www.alternet.org/media/chris-hedges-how-careerism-big-part-our-social-predicament. That careerism is another form of what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil."
We are trained to serve the interests of the dominant institutions rather than challenge them, and with that kind of domestication people can too often become comfortable both with the malaise and also with serving their bureaucratic institutional role in ways that lead to what Ed Herman (he has written books with Chomsky) calls "normalizing the unthinkable." It is not to say that the people are indecent but that people will often serve the interests of indecent institutions and thus foment the horrors those institutions often perpetrate and perpetuate.
I think it is Chomsky's persistence in calling for intellectuals to take the decisions that integrity demands rather than taking the decisions that power demands that leaves many intellectuals saying, "I can't understand Chomsky." It is not that they "can't understand" but, I think, it is more that they do not want to understand, and it is not entirely irrational (though not very moral) to take that stance.
Challenging power, revealing the crimes of power, explaining the exploitative, oppressive, and destructive imperatives of the dominant systems and ideologies, and struggling for peace, dignity, justice, human rights, ecological rationality, and substantive forms of freedom and democracy means one will often face vilification, marginalization, misrepresentation, etc. And there have been vilification campaigns, some very strange, against Chomsky.
If we take the intellectuals at their word when they say "I can't understand Chomsky," it strikes me as rather peculiar to say the least. My brother is a truck driver and would not identify himself as "highly educated" in the way that many intellectuals would define themselves as "highly educated," and I think he has listened to every Chomsky lecture we ever recorded, and shared many of them with his trucking friends.
They have no problem understanding Chomsky. High school students in New Hampshire, including 9th grade students, were reading Chomsky, interviewing Chomsky, listening to Chomsky lectures, etc., and they could understand Chomsky, talk about Chomsky with friends, write about Chomsky in sophisticated ways, etc.
It may be the case that some people are unfamiliar with Chomsky's work. After all, he is only the most cited living person and up there with Plato, Aristotle, Marx, and Hegel in the list of top ten most cited people in history. In every other country I've traveled to, and that is quite a few, people know Chomsky for both his scientific work and for his political work.
I recall being in Barcelona in 1992, following Chomsky around Europe, and sitting in a cafe with a fairly large group of college students and they could not believe it when I shared with them that there are many intellectuals (and people in general) in the U.S. who are unfamiliar with Chomsky and his work.
They said, "In Spain, you could not call yourself a serious intellectual and not know Noam Chomsky." And that is true virtually everywhere you go, all over Europe, in Canada, in the Middle East, and all over Latin America, etc.
So, we might ask why so many people do not know Chomsky in the U.S., the country in which he was born and where he has taught and published over 100 books and countless articles over the last 55 years.
For those unfamiliar with Chomsky they might wish to check this recent lecture (video and transcript) at this site:
Or this talk on education from last year:
Or go here for a wide-variety of material from Chomsky: