Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In Praise of and Thanks for Noam Chomsky

 Noam Chomsky

One does not have to listen very long to Noam Chomsky, emeritus professor of Linguistics at     
M.IT., in order to acertain whether one is a disciple or considers him anathema.
Count this scribe, proudly, in the former camp, while the "corporate" member of the family, a thirty-something daughter, considers him so repulsive that she refused to attend a lecture he gave at McMaster where she was taking a graduate degree in Labour Studies.
Appearing this morning on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook, Chomsky, amid much "storm interference" surely the play of the Tea Party gods,  made some very perception-shaking observations.
First, there are some 48 candidates running for the Republican party in November's election, only one of whom (already defeated in his primary) considers global warming to be real.
The other 47 candidates reject categorically what the rest of the world considers "accepted and reasonable science" that the planet is warming through the intervention of human beings. (It is thereby dubbed an "anthropocentric"  phenomenon because it originates with humans.)
Consider the impact of that fact: that there is some certainty that a fair number of these people will be elected to the U.S. Congress and will likely work to block any attempt "by other more enlightened political leaders" like Obama and his administration, to address this very serious threat. As Chomsky puts it, "We can put off dealing with this to our grandchildren's generation, but we do so at our peril."
Next, when asked about his perceptions of Obama's presidency, he commented, after reviewing a piece he wrote in 2008 prior to the presidential election of that year in which he warned against being wowed by an illusion, that he was neither disappointed nor surprised, and that Obama "was and is a creature of the financial interests of this country."
Chomsky pointed to Obama's lieutenants, Larry Summers and Tim Geitner, along with former Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan, whose blinking prevented them from seeing the $8 billion housing bubble that was bursting in front of their eyes in 2006-7.
The financial melt-down has created extreme distress, palpable fear and extreme anger, for which we all need to be sympathetic according to Chomsky, because the middle class has lost most of its security, while a few at the top have become very wealthy. So he urges authentic sympathy, and respect for the distress of the middle class, but certainly not adherence to the Tea Party Candidates whose intellectual contribution is virtually empty and who provide some hint of the kind of popularity, if they were to find a charismatic leader, to the political conditions in Germany in the late 1920's and early 30's. Although Chomsky thinks the conditions are quite different, the analogy is not irrelevant.
Could the U.S. be sliding into a moment when some charismatic leader could take over the leadership of the Tea Party movement and utterly swamp the little rump of a boat that the mainstream Republican party has become, and ride into power either in the elections of 2010 or more likely 2012?
The anger and the distress are certainly present in large quantity; the perception of Obama that he has not solved everything is certainly present and growing both in the polls and in the media; the unemployment figures hover around 9-10% leaving millions wondering if they will be next to lose whatever job they might be clinging to. The media is glued to an exciting personality, almost as if their reporters have been reared in a "star-addicted" culture in the universities that best exemplify that culture, thereby reducing all reporting to a clash of personalities not of healthy and strong ideas.
There is a dramatic difference between the clash of personalities and the clash of ideas. And democracy functions best in a climate of the latter, certainly not the former. In fact, the danger of personality coming to dominate the political discourse is so great that it makes the contemplation of a charismatic "tyrant" all the more frightening.
In the light of serious political reporting, and its future, it is most gratifying to note that respected long-time career journalist, Howard Fineman has moved from Newsweek to The Huffington Post as senior political editor. He is glad to move to "where the action is" as he puts it, in the on-line world of journalism. He will continue his appearances on the MSNBC shows, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, thankfully.
A lawyer/journalist, Fineman's voice serves as a responsibile antidote to the dangers Chomsky raises.
And yet, Chomsky continues to point his ascerbic eye, intellect and wisdom squarely at the targets of vaccuity and duplicity and hypocrisy whenever and wherever he finds them.
Some of us can only dream of carrying his work on for the next few years on both sides of the 49th parallel.

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