Interview - CHOMSKY 'Everyday Anarchist’

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Noam Chomsky interview - Everyday anarchist

Transcript of Interview - CHOMSKY 'Everyday Anarchist’

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    Posted on April 14, 2013 by Michael Wilson Previous Next

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    NOAM CHOMSKY Everyday Anarchist: TheModern SuccessInterview

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    By Michael S.

    Wilson

    Everyone knows

    what one looks

    like. Theyve got

    the leather boots.

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    Maybe some

    chains. Trench-

    coats. They wait

    in dark alleys with perfectly-spherical bombs. A lot of em like to

    spike up their hair, or shave the side of their head, or do weird things

    like that to their appearance. You know what I mean. Everyone

    knows.

    Thats what an anarchist looks like.

    But the man Im talking to today, albeit by voice-over-internet, Im

    fairly certain doesnt have a shaved head. No Mohawk that Im

    aware of. He doesnt carry any bombs. Especially not behind any

    dark alleys wearing a trench-coat. In fact, when he was young he

    tended to wear a nerdy short-sleeved shirt and necktie and those

    glasses with the Buddy Holly rims. And the few times Ive had the

    opportunity to hear him speak in person, he seemed very

    average. Almost disappointingly so. He was more the mild-

    mannered Clark Kent than the brazen Superman. His manner of

    speaking is almost mesmerizingly professorial he rarely changes

    his cadence or pitch, except perhaps to deliver a satirical remark,

    and then only using pause, not inflection. His thoughts often fly into

    contingent though important or descriptive fields, before

    returning to the point. One must use every brain cell to follow his

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    returning to the point. One must use every brain cell to follow his

    speaking at times since it is so full of starts, pauses, back-tracks,

    codas, and re-referencing. This is not due to lack of confidence on

    his part, but because, I think, of all the ideas coming into his mind at

    once.

    If you are absolutely not familiar with who Noam Chomsky is, you

    are not alone. He almost never appears in the mainstream media,

    due to factors which should become clear as the interview

    progresses. Yet his intellectual stature is undeniable:

    The New Yorker has termed Chomsky one of the greatest

    minds of the 20th Century, while the New York Times has him as

    arguably the most important intellectual alive. But judged by the

    range, influence and novelty of his ideas, many argue that Chomsky

    is, in fact, the owner of one of the greatest minds in the history of

    our species. There is barely a domain of human understanding that

    has not been touched in some way by his thought. In the half-

    century since the 1960s, reverberations from his work have shaken

    the foundations of cognitive science, epistemology, media studies,

    psychobiology, computer science (to name but a few). Alongside

    Marx and Shakespeare, he ranks among the ten most-quoted

    writers in history. Matt Kenard, Financial Times

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    I remember how shocked people were when I told them I was going

    to interview M. I. T. Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky. I

    remember how shocked I was when he agreed to a brief interview.

    But I also know Professor Chomsky to be a very down-to-earth

    man, very approachable, someone who seems to draw from a vast

    pool of inner strength to be able to speak not only to large crowds in

    Universities around the world, but also to respond to endless

    individual emails and letters, while continuing with all his other work

    of research. (He is said to read an average of twelve scholarly

    journals per week, among dozens of other periodicals and

    newspapers.) With all the work the man generates, one begins to

    wonder if Noam Chomsky, now at the youthful age of eighty-four,

    wasnt cloned at some point.

    Whatever the case, I had the pleasure of interviewing him as I sat in

    Memorial Union and he in his university office in Boston. So many

    things have been written about, and discussed by, Professor

    Chomsky, it was a challenge to think of anything new to ask him:

    like the grandparent you cant think of what to get for Christmas

    because they already have everything.

    So I chose to be a bit selfish and ask him what Ive always wanted

    to ask him. As an out-spoken, actual, live-and-breathing anarchist, I

    wanted to know how he could align himself with such a

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    wanted to know how he could align himself with such a

    controversial and marginal position.

    ****

    MODERN SUCCESS: You are, among many other things, a self-

    described anarchist an anarcho-syndicalist, specifically. Most

    people think of anarchists as disenfranchised punks throwing rocks

    at store windows, or masked men tossing ball-shaped bombs at fat

    industrialists. Is this an accurate view? What is anarchy to you?

    NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, anarchism is, in my view, basically a

    kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different

    forms in different circumstances, and has some leading

    characteristics. Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and

    skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures

    of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range,

    extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems,

    and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the

    burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies

    on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a

    reason for it, a justification. And if they cant justify that authority and

    power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought

    to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.

    And, as I understand it, anarchy is just that tendency. It takes

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    different forms at different times.

    Anarcho-syndicalism is a particular variety of anarchism which was

    concerned primarily, though not solely, but primarily with control

    over work, over the work place, over production. It took for granted

    that working people ought to control their own work, its conditions,

    [that] they ought to control the enterprises in which they work, along

    with communities, so they should be associated with one another in

    free associations, and democracy of that kind should be the

    foundational elements of a more general free society. And then, you

    know, ideas are worked out about how exactly that should manifest

    itself, but I think that is the core of anarcho-syndicalist thinking. I

    mean its not at all the general image that you described people

    running around the streets, you know, breaking store windows

    but [anarcho-syndicalism] is a conception of a very organized

    society, but organized from below by direct participation at every

    level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe

    none.

    MS: With the apparent ongoing demise of the capitalist state, many

    people are looking at other ways to be successful, to run their lives,

    and Im wondering what you would say anarchy and syndicalism

    have to offer, things that others ideas say, for example, state-run

    socialism have failed to offer? Why should we choose anarchy,

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    socialism have failed to offer? Why should we choose anarchy,

    as opposed to, say, libertarianism?

    NC: Well whats called libertarian in the United States, which is a

    special U. S. phenomenon, it doesnt really exist anywhere else a

    little bit in England permits a very high level of authority and

    domination but in the hands of private power: so private power

    should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that

    by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a

    more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the

    past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for

    markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty,

    markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we dont have to talk

    about that! That kind of

    MS: It seems to be a continuing contention today

    NC: Yes, and so well that kind of libertarianism, in my view, in the

    current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny,

    namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different

    from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny.

    Including the kind of tyranny thats internal to private power

    concentrations. So why should we prefer it? Well I think because

    freedom is better than subordination. Its better to