Our Interview with Noam Chomsky – Part II

Prof. Noam Chomsky, through a very brief window over email, spoke to Pritha Kejriwal, looking back at some of the comments he made in the previous interview, and shedding some light on what the future might hold for us…


Click to Read Part I


Prof Chomsky, the last time you spoke to us, the Arab Spring was just unfolding and you had said, it was the people’s response to a corrupt, authoritarian pro-Western regime, which was tacitly supported by the United States. In the wake of the current developments in Egypt, with Morsi being overthrown by the army, and the streets filled up with protestors both for and against the ousted president, what do you make of the current situation?

In Egypt and Tunisia, the two main centres, the situation is in flux.  In both countries, the best organised sector was the Islamists, and they took power in elections after the dictators were overthrown.  In both countries, particularly Egypt, there has been strong popular protest against the way they exercised power, in Egypt leading to a military coup overthrowing the government, with substantial popular backing, but many divisions, including the “third square” group that includes many of those who launched the initial uprising and who oppose both the military coup and the Muslim Brotherhood who it overthrew.  Meanwhile the economy is in chaos, and it is unclear what will happen next.  In Tunisia the Islamist government is hanging on.  Situation is different in the other countries, quite different in fact, too complex to review.  In Egypt and Tunisia there have been substantial gains, but nothing like what the Tahrir Square activists had hoped for – not yet, at least.

Very recently you lambasted Slavoj Zizek without mincing any words. However, here’s what he wrote the nature of the different global protests unfolding across the world and I quote, “What unites the protests, for all their multifariousness, is that they are all reactions against different facets of capitalist globalisation. The general tendency of today’s global capitalism is towards further expansion of the market, creeping enclosure of public space, reduction of public services (healthcare, education, culture), and increasingly authoritarian political power. It is in this context that Greeks are protesting against the rule of international financial capital and their own corrupt and inefficient state, which is less and less able to provide basic social services. It is in this context too that Turks are protesting against the commercialisation of public space and against religious authoritarianism; that Egyptians are protesting against a regime supported by the Western powers; that Iranians are protesting against corruption and religious fundamentalism, and so on. None of these protests can be reduced to a single issue. They all deal with a specific combination of at least two issues, one economic (from corruption to inefficiency to capitalism itself), the other politico-ideological (from the demand for democracy to the demand that conventional multi-party democracy be overthrown).” Prof Chomsky, would you agree with him or is there any other way you join all these dots?

Actually, I said almost nothing about him, a few words in response to a query.  These comments are partially accurate, and insofar as they are, not particularly controversial.

Your message at the end of our last interview was, “No one should be looking to anyone for guidance and advice. Basically, you can figure out the answers. The important ones will come from the people themselves”. But it somehow feels like we are really struggling hard for the answers and not getting any…because, so many of these protests, revolutions etc have failed to culminate in their true original goals. So in this debate of ‘theory’ vs. ‘practice’ where do you stand? Are we fundamentally not sure what we should be actually fighting and struggling for? Or is this the only process of social change?

There is no debate that I know of between theory and practice.  That’s an illusion.  When there are theories with any substance, then everyone is interested in them and happy to employ them.  But we should not confuse empty verbiage with substantive theory.

Not only are we not sure, but there are many different conceptions of how the world should be changed, how hard problems should be addressed and overcome.  But there is no authority to whom to turn for “the answers,” though there is plenty of thinking and work that can give guidance and ideas.

You have been supporting Edward Snowden’s cause very vociferously. Where do you place this first world paranoia, and their extreme need of surveillance? And do you think in our extreme ideological closure, where every kind of consent is manufactured, we would even be able to identify our real enemies, before we start to protect ourselves?

States typically use whatever technology is available to control their own citizens.  That goes back very far.  In the United States, for example, Woodrow Wilson’s “Red Scare” after World War I – one of the worst periods of paranoid repression in American history – used the most advanced technology of the day, much of it developed during the counterinsurgency campaign to suppress Philippine independence.  I don’t think we should feel “extreme ideological closure.” We’re quite free to resist efforts to manufacture consent, and many do.  True, power systems will try to exercise control, but in reality they are fairly fragile, and there are many ways to bring about change.

Kindle completes 5 years this August and our special issue, is themed on five senses, titles, ‘Learning to heed our senses’. Arundhati Roy had once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” So Prof Chomsky, in the end, if you were to pay very close attention to all your senses, on a quiet day, what do you see, smell, hear, feel and taste?

A realistic view of what is happening in the world would be sober, maybe sombre, with really huge problems looming, maybe disasters, and many others of serious if lesser import.  But we should also try to nurture the optimism that Arundhati expresses in her usual captivating way.  And to grasp the opportunities that are open to us, which are many.

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