Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Chomsky's (Fleeting) Comrade

There is a reason I travelled 800+ kilometres to see Noam Chomsky

Imagine a young Todd, 17 years old in the library of his high school reading Manufacturing Consent. Not exactly typical fare for your average year 12 student, whose peers seemed more concerned with getting shit faced and using as many prophylactic devices as possible. Chomsky was a refuge in an otherwise boring and mundane school environment.

There I was a decade later in the hallowed halls of the Sydney Opera House listening to an 86 year old Chomsky actually talk about issues that meant something. The ninety minute Q&A this past Thursday covered 12 broad ranging topics from foreign policy to linguistics and corporate governance. Rarely does a man command an audience with such a softly spoken voice, yet domineering presence. Words drifted out of Chomsky’s mouth as if they were being quoted from mountaintops. Listening carefully the audience hung on every syllable because they knew they were witnessing an intellectual titian. Despite careful choice of language (naturally) one got the feeling however that some of the responses were dumbed down to cater for all intelligence levels. Regardless I felt my IQ jump 20 points as soon as I left the theatre.

Not entirely unexpectedly Chomsky played to the extreme left wing disposition of the audience, especially when comparing the foreign policies of Obama and George W. Bush. The former of course being more dangerous than the latter, because where Bush merely detained terrorists illegally, Obama seeks to assassinate them. This was followed by thoughts on the Middle East where he suggested that the United States were deliberately in cahoots with Israel to tarnish the peace process.

Much to my disappointment but expectation, Chomsky sang the praises of the ‘Occupy Movement' and forecast that they would become the most pivotal social movement in a generation. Yet paradoxically he later derided Generation Y for their primal consumer tendencies. Like the many who comprise the 'Occupy Movement', Chomsky can not have his cake and eat it too. How can one hope to criticise the masters of consumer destiny as well as be amongst its willing disciples?

The highlight of talk for me was the last portion where Chomsky briefly (Unfortunately) discussed the evolution of the tertiary sector during his fifty years at MIT. He particularly talked about the moral dilemmas that were brought about due to the progression of technology, and what happens when academics continue to work in a sheltered vaccum, limiting their ability to assess the impacts of their developments on the outside world. At the same time he declared ‘Universities are among the freest places in society’ acting as a melting pot for ideas where unique combination of ideas are celebrated and explored. He obviously hasn’t visited my Alma Mater.

Overall, Chomsky excuded the intelligence for which he is renowned. Obviously, ninety minutes was never going to be enough merely touching on broad topics that all needed to explored in every philiosphical discourse imaginable. Nonetheless, I doubt I will ever come across a more articulate, reasoned, calm yet passionate person in the course of my lifetime.   

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