I’ve just been really interested in the man recently (I’m late, I know, I know), and thought I’d share some interesting interviews I’ve found.
Chomsky vs. Foucault: Human Nature
Chomsky mentions creativity as part of human nature and the need to protect it, perhaps in an Anarcho-Syndicalist system. Foucault mentions how educational systems (colleges, universities), psychiatry, and other institutions which we believe are politically neutral, actually exert substantial political power (universities by excluding certain social classes, and Psychiatry by labelling some people as wrong and others as healthy).
Chomsky goes on to agree and then to mention the economic and financial institutions (multi-national corporations). All of these, they are saying, we need to analyze and understand for their ability to oppress and coerce. Then they discuss human nature, which I guess Chomsky is all about because he is responsible for the concept of a universal grammar. Foucault is against defining it because he believes that our current definition is one that has been influenced by our current culture and society and the norms and ideas that go with them. Chomsky goes on to talk about political activism and civil disobedience, and relates them to the fact that, yes, we may be uncertain, but there’s a greater danger in not doing anything. I feel like Chomsky’s response is very in line with the pragmatism as I understand it through Richard Rorty. I like it so much I’ll even post what he says:
Well, similarly in the intellectual domain, one is faced with the uncertainties that you correctly pose. Our concept of human nature is certainly limited; it’s partially socially conditioned, constrained by our own character defects and the limitations of the intellectual culture in which we exist. Yet at the same time it is of critical importance that we know what impossible goals we’re trying to achieve, if we hope to achieve some of the possible goals. And that means that we have to be bold enough to speculate and create social theories on the basis of partial knowledge, while remaining very open to the strong possibility, and in fact overwhelming probability, that at least in some respects we’re very far off the mark.
Later, Foucault talks about justice, and how it is used by the oppressed to justify their actions. Chomsky does not agree. (To add my own two cents, I’ve been reading Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, and he defines “Justice as Fairness” as the sort of justice that people would agree to in an original position behind a veil of ignorance: what we would all agree to if we didn’t know who we would end up being in society) Chomsky talks about a real idea about justice being founded on equality, love, etc. Foucault responds by saying that these ideas have been found in our civilization and that they cannot be used to justify a fight to “overthrow the very fundamentals of our society”
I can’t find the whole video, but the transcript can be found here
Chomsky vs. William F. Buckley: Vietnam
They discuss international political responsibility. Buckley talks about our bombing of Germany, and how some elements of it (Dresden) could be argued were unjustifiable, but that the reason we got into the war was justifiable. He says that, like South Vietnam, we were interested in the stability of a different region of the world. Chomsky gives an imperialistic response, i.e. we weren’t interested in their best interests, only our own. They interrupt each other rather frequently. Buckley says there’s a conceptual distinction between interfering with a country because to do nothing would lead to universal suffering, and interfering in order to setup coca-cola plants. Chomsky responds that in reality, there may not be a distinction, because the two can (and he says often) coincide. He says that almost all the time the country invading or interfering is acting in its self interest but masking these intentions by saying that they’re acting solely for the benefit of the other country. Buckley then brings up the Greek Civil War as an example where we intervened (helped) and there were no imperialistic intentions. Chomsky disagrees, but it’s really hard to understand either of their points because they interject so bloody often. Then Buckley brings up the Philippines, and Chomsky responds that the U.S. backed out because it became a bad investment. Chomsky goes on to talk about how, since WWII, America has become the worlds major imperialistic power. Buckley responds by saying that America inherited the responsibility of being the world’s watchdog (my words, not his). Then they talk about Marshall Aid, and Chomsky distinguishes it from the Truman Doctrine, saying the former is a form of economic intervention, and the latter a military one.
More interrupting… Buckley brings up the fact that we helped France removed the German army during WWII. Buckley sees no difference between that and the Greek Civil War. I think Chomsky responds by saying that the Germans would have overthrown the French government, against the will of the people, but in the case of the Greek Civil War, the States was trying to make sure that the only government that would be established was the one that the States wanted, against the will of the people. Oh god. Then Buckley brings up the dominican republic, and says the States never occupied them, but Chomsky responds by saying that they did (and cites evidence to support his claim). Buckley then questions Chomsky’s intelligence, and Chomsky even gets fed up at one point and says “May I complete a sentence?”…which I cracked up at. I’m not a fan of Buckley after watching his. He comes off as a pompous jerk. 😦
Anyways, here’s a fuck-ton more videos of Chomsky speaking from Z communications
I highly recommend the Manufacturing Consent video.
I’ll end this post with a quote:
Let me finally return to Dwight Macdonald and the responsibility of intellectuals. Macdonald quotes an interview with a death-camp paymaster who burst into tears when told that the Russians would hang him. “Why should they? What have I done?” he asked. Macdonald concludes: “Only those who are willing to resist authority themselves when it conflicts too intolerably with their personal moral code, only they have the right to condemn the death-camp paymaster.” The question, “What have I done?” is one that we may well ask ourselves, as we read each day of fresh atrocities in Vietnam—as we create, or mouth, or tolerate the deceptions that will be used to justify the next defense of freedom.
– Chomsky, The Responsibility of Intellectuals 1967