Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Noam Chomsky: Imperial Ambitions

Warning: This post is not related to the Canadian elections.

As my long-time readers know, I’m a big fan of Noam Chomsky. I think that his book Hegemony or Survival should be required reading, for... well, for everyone in North America. However, I know that it’s a heavy read. (And man, does he ever like endnotes!) If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, by Chomsky, I recommend Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World, which is a series of interviews with Chomsky. It’s very readable, and very understandable.

I’m currently only halfway through it, but I wanted to share a passage with you. Because the books is a series of interviews, it’s a question followed by Chomsky’s answer.

At the talks you give to American audiences, you often are asked the question, “What should I do?”

Only by American audiences. I’m never asked this in the third world. When you go to Turkey or Colombia or Brazil, they don’t ask you “What should I do?” They tell you what they’re doing. When I went to Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the World Social Forum, I met with some landless campesinos, and they didn’t ask me what they should do; they told me what they were doing. These are poor, oppressed people, living under horrendous conditions, and they would never dream of asking you what they should do. It’s only in highly privileged cultures like ours that people ask this question. We have every option open to us, and have none of the problems that are faced by intellectuals in Turkey or campesinos in Brazil. We can do anything. But people here are trained to believe that there are easy answers, and it doesn’t work that way. If you want to do something, you have to be dedicated and committed to it day after day. Educational programs, organizing, activism. That’s the way things change. You want a magic key, so you can go back to watching television tomorrow? It doesn’t exist.

(pp. 39–40)

One of the best things about Chomsky is that he believes things can be understandable to the layman. Just because he’s an “intellectual”, it doesn’t mean that everything he says has to be difficult to understand. And in this book, which is simply him talking, that really comes across.

I’m sure I’ll have a “book review” post here when I’m done the book, maybe with some more quotes, but before I’m even done, I highly recommend it.