Friday, March 19, 2010

Chomsky.s optimism of the will

Chomsky.s optimism of the will

Wednesday 17 March 2010 / by Stefan Simanowitz, for the
other afrik

The mood of excited anticipation in the crowd is one
more usually associated with a pop concert than with a
lecture by an octogenarian political philosopher. And
yet the scenes outside London School of Economics. (LSE)
main lecture theatre, repeated days later at Imperial
College, London and Queens University, Belfast, are
testament to the enduring popularity of Professor Noam
Chomsky in Europe at the end of 2009 on what some called
his "final international speaking tour". When tickets
went on sale the LSE computer system crashed under
weight of traffic and, on the night LSE.s 460-seater
lecture theatre as well as two other halls screening a
live video feed, are full to capacity.

A few weeks short of his 82nd birthday Chomsky, dubbed
by the New York Times as "the worlds greatest living
thinker" and reputedly one of the ten most cited authors
of all time, has lost little of the intellectual vigour
nor the fire in his belly that has made him one of most
notable political analysts of our time. Over the course
of ten days and speaking on the subject of "human rights
in the new Millennium", Chomsky covers familiar themes -
US abuse of power through foreign policy and its
misrepresentation through a compliant media . but his
analysis remains fresh and relevant with a coherence
that makes one wonder why it is not more mainstream. His
central tenant which has remained intact for decades is
that, rather than being underpinned by ethical
considerations, American foreign policy is instead
driven by a ruthless desire to protect US strategic
interests and ensure the free flow of capital. Even with
Barack Obama in the White House Chomsky believes
American foreign policy will remain essentially the
same. "There is basically no significant change in the
fundamental traditional conception that we if can
control Middle East energy resources, then we can
control the world," he says.

from the same author

* Impossible shoes to fill: Zuma and South Africa.s
post-Mandela leadership crisis

* Harking back to the ghosts of District Six

* Nelson Mandela.s short walk to freedom remembered

* Tony Blair at the Iraq Inquiry

Chomsky describes the way in which the US attempts to
maintain its global dominance as "the Mafia principle"
whereby any challenge is brutally put down. "The
Godfather does not tolerate .successful defiance.. It is
too dangerous. It must therefore be stamped out so that
others understand that disobedience is not an option,"
he explains. Unlike the Mafia which is under constant
threat from the law, the US puts itself outside of legal
norms by exempting itself from international treaties.
Not only does America repeatedly veto efforts at
creating international human-rights regulations but the
few conventions that Washington does ratify are
accompanied by reservations rendering them inapplicable
to the US. The Convention on the Rights of the Child for
example, has been ratified by all countries apart from
the US and Somalia. US reservations to the Genocide
Convention mean that America has reserved the right to
commit genocide and their failure to sign up to the UN
Convention Against Torture has allowed the type of abuse
recently exposed in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram airbase.

Chomsky.s speaking style has never been what could be
described as rabble-rousing. Instead, he speaks in a
croaky monotone that, like his writing-style is
intricately factual and peppered with examples,
quotations and looping digressions. Milica Petrovic, a
twenty-three year old politics post-graduate, found his
LSE speech "factual, impersonal and slightly boring. It
was only when describing his experiences of activism
that he was more engaging." Indeed it is only when
answering questions that Chomsky really comes into his
own, enlivening his answers with reminiscences and
anecdotes. Asked whether humanitarian intervention can
ever be justified, Chomsky pointed out that throughout
history leaders . including Hitler, Hirohito and
Mussolini - have sought to justify the use of force with
talk of responsibility to protect suffering populations.
However, whilst the so-called .right. of humanitarian
intervention has no legal basis in the United Nations
Charter or in the general principles of international
law, the Security Council is nevertheless permitted to
use force under Chapter VII "to end massive human rights
abuses, civil war, and violation of civil liberties".
Forceful action can however, only be carried out under
Security Council authorisation. International law,
Chomsky believes, is by no means perfect, but it is the
best means we have of protecting human rights.

And it is this ability to see the positives combined
with an abiding belief in the possibility of change and
the potential of people to affect that change that
prevents Chomsky.s world-view being depressing. Just as
Chomsky, a professor of linguistics, believes humans
share an innate set of linguistic principles, he also
believes we share a universal moral grammar: a fixed set
of principles that allow us to understand and respond to
situations in a common way. It is this, above all else,
that will save the human race from destroying itself. In
his final lecture, Chomsky quotes Antonio Gramsci.s call
for "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will"
and urges his audience to get involved in activism and
knowledge sharing.

Outside the lecture theatre Simon Shaw, a nineteen-year
old economics undergraduate who describes himself as
"political but not politically active" tells me that
after hearing Chomsky he would like to get more engaged
in activism. "Rather than just study the theory, I.d
like to make a difference," he says with enthusiasm. It
is precisely young people like Simon that persuade
Chomsky to continue his political speaking tours. Rather
than speaking to big meetings in grand venues, he
believes that change lies not with the fusty policy
makers of today but the activists of tomorrow. Back in
1995, I had been just one those impressionable young
activists. As a young graduate working for the human
rights organisation, Liberty, I had volunteered to drive
Chomsky from University College London, where he had an
earlier speaking engagement, to Westminster Central
Hall, where he was due to give the keynote speech at our
conference. I arrived at the UCL, parked illegally
outside the main entrance and hurried inside to look for
the great man. I found him at the front of a lecture
theatre surrounded by throng of eager students. Managing
to push my way through the crowd I introduced myself and
slowly ushered him out. When we finally got outside a
traffic-warden was mid-way through writing me a parking
ticket. "You can.t ticket me" I implored. "I.m picking
up Noam Chomsky." The warden looked at us blankly.
"Professor Noam Chomsky" I explained, "The world.s
greatest living thinker". "Well if so intelligent,"
replied the warden without missing a beat, "How come
he.s parked on a double yellow line?" It was the only
time seen Chomsky lost for words.

StumbleUpon PLEASE give it a thumbs up Stumble It!
Bookmark and Share
posted by u2r2h at 5:39 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home