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Noam chomsky appears on metanomics


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Professor Chomsky needs little introduction. Professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual …

Professor Chomsky needs little introduction. Professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

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  • 1. METANOMICS: NOAM CHOMSKY APPEARS ON METANOMICS OCTOBER 12, 2010ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan WritersMetaverse.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. Im Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell UniversitysJohnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds inthe larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussionabout Virtual Worlds takes place in a Virtual World. So join us. This is Metanomics.ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is filmed today in front of a live audience at our studios inSecond Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcomediscussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show.Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at CornellUniversity. Welcome. This is Metanomics.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everyone, to a very special edition of Metanomics,featuring Noam Chomsky, one of the most influential linguists of the twentieth century and apublic intellectual who has developed a reputation for speaking truth to power on a widerange of topics, particularly international politics and foreign relations. This Metanomicsevent is a collaboration with two other organizations based in the Dominican Republic:INTEC, the International Commission of Science and Technology, and CIACT created bythe decree of Dominican President Dr. Leonel Fernandez. Oh, actually I got that, and INTEC
  • 2. is the Instituto Tecnolólogico de Santo Domingo. So a particular welcome to our liveaudience in the Dominican Republic, as well as to our audience in Second Life and on theweb.Now, Id like to encourage everyone to use text chat either on the web or in Second Life, toforward your questions for Professor Chomsky. So, Noam Chomsky, welcome toMetanomics.NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Id like to start our discussion on the topic of biofuels, which is aparticular interest of both INTEC and CIACT. So the search is on for sustainable energysources, and many are touting the promise of biofuels. But you see some seriouschallenges. Whats at the forefront of your mind?NOAM CHOMSKY: Id first like to thank José Santana and the government institutions heheads in the Dominican Republic for arranging for all of this. On biofuels, theres somegeneral problems, and theres some specific ones. I should keep with the specific one firstthough. Biofuel production in the United States is corn-based. Its extremely expensive andquite destructive of crop production. In order to sustain it, George Bush, President Bush,had to impose extremely high tariffs to keep out far less expensive Brazilian sugar-basedbiofuels. So in the first place, its economically not viable in the United States and sustainedonly by tariff protection.
  • 3. The destruction of the food supply is not insignificant. Corn and maize production droppedsignificantly. Its one of the factors that led, in an indirect way, to tortilla riots in Mexico.There was a shortage of corn that would depend on imports after NAFTA and similarlyelsewhere. The crisis of food globally is extremely serious, and theres over a billion peoplenow who are lacking food. Even in the United States, a rich society, the number of peopleon government-supplied food, food stamps, has increased to the highest record ever and isgoing up. But in, of course, the poorer countries, its a real disaster. Theres food riots. Andactually the corn production this year [as happened?] the United States was the mainsupplier happens to be low, and thats already leading to sharp inflation of food prices.Theres a more general question as to whether this is altogether, even under the best ofcircumstances, an appropriate form of sustainable energy. Biofuels take quite substantialenergy inputs to produce them, to transport them and so on. So there are quite generalquestions. Its not a gift. Its not at all clear that, even under the best of circumstances, its aviable approach and under much worse circumstances, like the United States, itsessentially harmful.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Are you familiar with the work of David Pimentel? Hes a Cornellemeritus entomologist actually, and hes argued along the lines that you were just saying,even in the best case, the biofuels may use more energy than they actually produce. But Iknow thats been quite controversial. Do you have an opinion on that issue?NOAM CHOMSKY: I already talked about it, but I dont have the technical expertise to workthat out. As you say, theres controversy among specialists on the topic, but its clearly a
  • 4. problem. The same problems arise for agriculture generally. So for example, greenrevolution production or mechanized agriculture is alleged to be extremely efficient and hasall kind of benefits, and, in part, thats true. But the calculations that estimate the benefitstypically ignore much of the downside, like the hydrocarbon inputs that are required, thethreats of monogenesis having too narrow a range of seeds, the programs that developseeds that the farmers cant reuse. Its tying them to multinational suppliers, which can bedevastating. Many other things. There are a lot of factors that have to enter into it, seriouscalculation of how to deal with the food and energy crises.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We often distinguish between the normative questions of whatshould happen and the positive questions of what is happening or just predictions of whatyou think will happen. Youve been a student of foreign relations and especially therelationship between the developed and the developing world. Im wondering if you wouldhazard a guess as to how this will play out and what the pressures will be on biofuels overthe coming decades.NOAM CHOMSKY: My suspicion is that there is already a reduction of the originalenthusiasm about biofuels. I suspect that they have some role in energy production,especially if you can use grasses, weeds, other things that are otherwise wasted, and thatsnot so easy because everything in ecology is used somehow. But I think thats a small partof the problem, frankly. More generally, we are just heading towards disaster as if thebrakes are off, running, racing to the precipice and taking the brakes off.And you can see it very dramatically in the United States, which is the richest, most powerful
  • 5. country in the world. What happens here has an extremely strong influence on whatshappening elsewhere. Not long ago the Senate passed legislation virtually unanimouslybarring any environmental program by the government that might raise federal taxes. Well,you know, almost anything you can think of, the green technology, solar energy, whatever itmight be, is going to have some expense associated with it, hence will raise taxes. So theirlegislation essentially says we must do nothing. Gets even worse. There are now on theorder of 50, I suppose, Republican candidates for Congress coming up in the Novemberelections. Of that group, there was one who said we have to be concerned withanthropogenic global warming, human involvement in global warming. One. That wasMike Castle who lost in the primary. So now we have a hundred percent of Republicancandidates saying, "The whole environmental crisis is a joke. Lets forget it." Well, its not ajoke.Furthermore, the major corporations, the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber ofCommerce, the main business lobby and so on, have made it very clear that they arecarrying out extensive--they dont call it propaganda, but it amounts to propagandacampaigns--to try to convince the public that theres nothing to any of this. These are prettymuch the same people who managed to delay tobacco and lead legislation for decades andkilling huge numbers of people, but they were able to do it within the structure of thecorporate and corporate media system. And now theyre intending to do it for this. And itleaves people very confused. They appear to see an argument with two sides. The mediado not even attempt to give them an accurate account of what these two sides mean.And, of course, theyre leaving out a third side, which is extremely important and never gets
  • 6. any exposure, and thats a very substantial number of scientists, including a lot of my MITcolleagues, who believe that the consensus judgment on global warming is much toooptimistic and that the real situation is much worse. They dont enter the debate at all. Well,the consequence is that a public thats very confused, uncertain, and thinks we shouldnt doanything, especially in a time of serious economic problems. Its hard enough to get along,say, with fossil fuels. If we do anything thats a little more expensive, especially when itseems uncertain, and nobody knows if its true, then why do it. Its virtually a death knell forthe species.Europe is a little better, but not fabulously better. And third-world countries, say, developingcountries as theyre now called, like China, they do not want to carry out measures whichwill impede their growth and development, and they argue, and with some justice, thattheres no reason for them to pay the costs of environmental destruction which has beencarried out by the currently rich countries. In fact, there was a conference in Bolivia, onenvironmental crises, just recently where the participants, international conference, wherethey called for carbon reparations to pay the debt to the world, that the rich countries, for thecatastrophe theyve already created, and to use that for renewable energy for assistingthird-world countries to convert to more viable forms and so on. Well, all these are sensiblearguments, but there isn’t a lot of point that winning the battle and losing the war, I meanthose arguments dont mean anything, however valid they may be, if the outcome isrestriction of the conditions for decent existence, and thats not an exaggeration.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a number of questions coming in from our audience.You alluded to a difference between whats going on in the U.S. and Europe, and
  • 7. arabella Ella has a question along those lines. So could you elaborate? Are you referring todifferences in the politics or in the policies and the way they are using energy and devotingattention to sustainability?NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I mean the differences have been pretty clear. So for example,the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol that Europe signed on and, in fact,pretty much initiated them. And Europe has made some steps towards more sustainableenergy usage so there are alternative energy sources, wind power and others, which areused at a decent, a limited but important scale in Europe. Thats not happening here, andthat shows up in other respects too. The United States is notorious for the inefficiency of itstransportation system. Taking a train in Europe and the United States can barely believe it.Well, thats also connected to wasteful energy. And, in this respect, the U.S. situation isconcertedly worse than Europe.I dont want to suggest that Europe is somehow magnificent in this respect, its not, but atleast something is happening. So for example, when the United States wants to gethigh-speed rail or some green-tech wind farms and so on. Instead of being produced here,they go to Spain, Germany and China. Well, that tells you something, and there are reasonsfor this. The U.S. is the most advanced industrial country, youd think it would be in the leadon these issues, but its not. Investors in the United States, now in green technology, investmore in China than in the United States and Europe combined, and a lot more in Europethan in the United States.Though the United States is the most advanced society industrially its also the society that
  • 8. is most business-run. The big power of business in the United States political system is wellbeyond that in Europe. There are all kind of historical reasons for that, no time to go intothem, but its a plain fact, and business has institutional reasons, institutional reasons veryhard to overcome, for turning to development of policies that will be absolutely necessary forthe long term. Business works, to a significant extent, within a market framework.Now, in a market society, your decisions have to be made to maximize gain. If youre themanager of a corporation, CEO of some big corporation, you must act in such a way as tomaximize short-term gain. Not only, of course, does that contribute to your own inflatedsalary, but, if you dont do it, you will be out, and somebody else will be in. Thats aninstitutional requirement in the United States. In England, its actually a legal requirement.But, in any market society, thats what youre going to find. Thats a well-known so-calledinefficiency of markets. You may study in the first term of economics, in a market system,people engaged in a transaction ignore what economists call externalities, that is, effects onothers. They consider what the current transaction means to them. Now thats a guaranty ofdisaster. So in the financial institutions, what it means is, if Goldman Sachs makes a loan oran investment, it calculates the potential risk to itself and compensates for it, but it does notcalculate whats called systemic risk, the risk that the whole system may collapse if youcarry this out. Thats a core reason for the repeated financial crises.And the last one, the current one which is quiet serious, it follows from one--there are otherfactors too, but one factor is just the inherent property of market systems which barscalculation of systemic risks. Some executive might want to do it, but then hell be out, and
  • 9. somebody else will be in who wont do it. So thats the way these systems work.In the case of financial crises, the people who make the transaction know that theyre goingto be bailed out. The taxpayer will come in and bail them out. And when the externality is thefate of the species, as it is in the environmental case, theres no way to bail you out. Thatsvery serious, and its a deeply rooted institutional problem.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Id like to follow up. You talked about the issues with thecorporatism and big business in the United States. I had a very interesting discussion withsomeone the other day about Walmart. Walmart has been a very aggressive player in theretail industry and an international corporate force. One of the things that has made themwhat they are is that they exercise so much control over their supply chain. Basically theargument that someone was making is that this actually puts them in a position to avoidsome of the problems of externalities that you referred to earlier because, by controllingtheir entire supply chain, theyre in a position to actually profit from improving thesustainability of the entire life-cycle impact of the product they sell, from the farmer thatgrows the wheat to the bakery and all the shipping and trucking and so on. Im wondering ifthat is [CROSSTALK]NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, theres something to that. If Walmart really had total control of thissystem, then they wouldnt have to worry about externalities, but that amounts to sayingthat, in a totalitarian state, the managers can think long-term because they dont have toworry about competition. So thats true. Thats a feature of totalitarianism. Now, of course,Walmart doesnt have the power over the economy that say the Kremlin did, but the
  • 10. argument that youre giving is, well, to the extent that they approach that power, they caneliminate market forces and, hence, wont be subject to, wont be acting to ignoreexternalities. I dont think thats a very good argument, frankly.I should also add that the belief that Walmart is successful in a free market is verymisleading. For example, in order to carry out its, you know, to produce in China and sellhere cheap, Walmart depends on a lot of things. For example, it depends on thecontainerization of ships, which sharply reduces the cost of transit. Where thatcontainerization came from, thats a creation of the U.S. Navy. And that and numerous otherways. I mean its computerized. Very important for Walmart to control its supply chainthrough computers and the internet. Now where did they come from? They came from thetaxpayer. Computers and the internet were basically in the state sector for decades beforethey were handed over to private enterprise.And, if we can go on, but just the belief that were in a society based on entrepreneurialinitiative and consumer choice is partially true, but mostly at the surface end. You go look indeeper, and the society is based on the dynamic state sector and ultimately the taxpayer.These are simply typical examples of it. And to repeat the argument that was given aboutWalmarts control over its supply chain, thats saying to the extent that you approach thetotalitarian system, you can ignore market inefficiencies.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a couple questions from the audience in the DominicanRepublic. First, what is the renewable energy source with the smallest environmentalimpact? And the second, would you assess the methods used for evaluation ofenvironmental impact in developed and in developing countries?
  • 11. NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think its widely agreed that, in the long term, the energy system,if its to be viable, must be based on solar energy. Thats the one essentially and definitelylarge source of energy. Of course, like everything, its going to have costs, and this doestoo, but probably the least. So there should be, in a sensible society, a very substantialinvestment in improving solar energy technologies. And there are plenty of ideas around. Ihappen to be at MIT, maybe the major technological institute in the world, and there areproposals from highly respected faculty members and groups for a use of solar technologyin a very advanced way, which they claim is feasible or near feasible--I cant judge myself.So for example, solar panels placed in orbit outside the earths atmosphere so it getsmaximal use of solar energy without interference and then transmission systems to earth,which they claim are essentially available on distribution systems on earth. Which, again,they claim could be developed. Well, probably something like that is probably the bestanswer in the longer term, not just for energy, but also for another major problem, namelythe water problem. The problem with limitation of fresh water is very severe around theworld, and one possible answer is desalination, but thats energy intensive. So again, we goback to energy use.As for the criteria for evaluation, well, thats kind of come up a couple times in discussion.There are lots of things that have to be counted if you want to get an accurate measure ofefficiency. Though in the case of Walmart, you have to measure the energy costs of simplytransportation, if you produce, say, in China, and you sell in the United States, and lots ofother factors have to enter. If you want to discuss the extent to which markets function, to
  • 12. some extent you have to consider the extent to which they rely on the state sector even tofunction at all, and thats enormous: computers, the internet, the trade and so on are justexamples.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Id like to ask you a little bit about your thoughts oncost-benefit analysis, especially as it enters the sphere of foreign relations. Id like to quotesomething you in the Boston Review in 2005. You wrote, "In 1991, the chief economist ofthe World Bank wrote an internal memo on pollution, in which he demonstrated that thebank should be encouraging migration of polluting industries to the poorest countries. Thereason is that," and this is a quote from the memo, "Measurement of the costs ofhealth-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity andmortality. So the memo concluded its rational for health-impairing pollution to be sent to thepoorest countries, where mortality is higher and wages are lowest."You continue, "The memo was leaked and elicited a storm of protest typified by the reactionof Brazils Secretary of the Environment, who wrote him a letter saying that quote, Yourreasoning is perfectly logical, but totally insane. The Secretary was fired, while the author ofthe memo became Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and is now the president ofHarvard University." The author, of course, is Larry Summers.NOAM CHOMSKY: Now hes Obamas Chief Economic Advisor.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right, and just stepping down to return to Harvard. So Imwondering what is your take on this and the role of economics in foreign and particularly
  • 13. foreign energy policy?NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, the fate of that memo was quite interesting. It did lead to anenormous protest, and Summers himself, the author, said, "Well, it wasnt very serious. Itwas kind of a joke," and so on. What was interesting to me was the reaction of theeconomics profession. They backed away from it. They said, "No, no. Of course we canttake this seriously." But thats the wrong reaction. They should have said, "Yes, this isexactly right. This is what we believe. Thats what our theories demonstrate." And they didntdo that, which tells you something. But the Brazilian Ministers comment was accurate. Itwas logical, and its being used. Thats why toxic wastes are being sent to Haiti or dumpedoff the coast of Somalia. Not in the North Sea or not in the Massachusetts Bay. Well, yeah,the lives of those people dont matter that much. This happens all the time. Its quite real.I mean just recently, to give an example, one of the major cigarette companies provided amemo to the Czech Republic, objecting to policies that they were thinking of implementing,which would tend to reduce cigarette smoking. And the memo argued that they should try toincrease cigarette smoking, or certainly not reduce it, because that way people will dieyounger, and theyll have less medical expenses, so its economically valuable. Now thesepeople are going to be unhealthy anyway so if they die younger, you dont have to worryabout their health. Well, yeah, that arguments valid. But, as the Brazilian Minister said, itscompletely insane. Theres nothing wrong with cost-benefit analysis. We do it all the time,and it should be done, but you have to know what youre measuring, like how do youmeasure the value of a human life? You cant value it by--maybe an economist will tellyou--but we have an objective value to say how much that person will produce during his
  • 14. lifetime. Is that the value of a human life? Well, the issues are not economic. Theyrefundamentally moral.[Like I said,?] especially when an infant is born with a disability, well, on the grounds that,say, the Summers memo or the memo to Czech Republic, you could say, "Well, kill it. Itsnot going to have much of a life anyway. Its not going to produce anything. And the care itlltake is very expensive so kill it." We all regard that as insane, properly. Its not a critique ofcost-benefit analysis. Its a critique of the fundamental principles that are used to measurewhat is a cost and what is a benefit.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you. Id like to shift gears a bit now. You began yourcareer as a linguist, and actually I studied your work on transformational grammar, as astudent of Donna Jo Napoli, back in the 1980s. I came across an article that you hadwritten; actually this is the same one I quoted from before, from the Boston Review, in 2005,on the Universals of Language and Rights. Let me just quote a little bit more from this. Youstart the article by saying, "Thirty-five years ago I agreed, in a weak moment, to give a talkwith the title Language and Freedom. When the time came to think about it, I realized that Imight have something to say about language and about freedom, but the word "and" wasposing a serious problem." So what are your current thoughts on the links between yourwork on language and the nature of freedom and universal human rights?NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first, just one preliminary comment. Its perfectly true that myprofessional career began with linguistics, and it still is linguistics. But the rest of my life, mynonprofessional life if you like it, was political back to childhood and still is, to a large extent,
  • 15. just not called professional, like you dont get paid for it or get paid not to do it. But, as far asthe "and" is concerned, the problem is quite real. There are some connections. Actually Ivewritten about it in that article too. These questions were raised traditionally. They wereraised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some interesting suggestions weremade, but theyre really intuitive, things you cant prove, just might propose as maybe atopic for reflection, maybe a someday inquiry.So there were connections drawn. A typical one was the recognition that at the core oflanguage is a kind of creative capacity, to have to have the normal human languagecapacity. That means that you can innovate indefinitely. You can produce new expressions,new sentences, which maybe have never been produced before in history. They expressthoughts that maybe have never been conceived before. Its not what you do is notdetermined by external circumstances, it may be influenced by them, but its not caused bythem, or, as far as anyone knows, by internal states. In fact, for Descartes, this was themark of human freedom was this capacity for Descartes and his successors. And this goeson through the enlightenment.So on the one hand, these new expressions are understood by others, with the samecapacity as you, maybe new to them too, but they can understand them, and they canrecognize it. If theyd thought of it, they could have done it the same way. Well, these are atthe core of human nature for Descartes and his followers that distinguished humans fromthe animals and machines. And, as far as we know, thats true so no reason not to believethat today. Thats on the language side.
  • 16. The connection to freedom is pretty straightforward. It connects with, doesnt lead to, sort ofconnects with the idea that at the core of the human social cultural--that aspect of ournature, at the core of it is a kind of an instinct for freedom, a right and a demand, a justdemand to be free to carry out the creative work under your own control and to live in asociety in which youre subject to decisions in which you participate. I mean thats right atthe heart of classical liberalism. So you look back at the writings of the early classicalliberals, like Wilhelm Von Humboldt, who incidentally was a great linguist, who wrote aboutthe creativity of language. But at the core of his social and political ideas was the conceptionthat the core human value is liberty. He pointed out--he said, "Look. If a skilled craftsmanproduces a beautiful object on command, we may admire what he did, but we will despisewhat he is, namely a tool in the hands of others. If he does it out of his own internal artisticcreativity, well, admire what he is too." Adam Smith said pretty much the same thing.Everyone has read that Adam Smith was a strong advocate of a lack of division of labor.You know the famous first paragraph of Wealth of Nations.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right. The pin [CROSSTALK]NOAM CHOMSKY: And so forth. Thats what we learn, but thats not what he said. If youread a couple hundred pages into Wealth of Nations, youll see that he condemned divisionof the labor as something which turns human beings into creatures as stupid and asignorant as is possible for a human to be because they are constantly repeating the sameactions over and over again, without freedom and creativity to choose what they do. And hesaid in any civilized society, the government is going to have to step in to prevent division oflabor that goes to this extent. Well, hes reflecting the same conception as Von Humboldt,
  • 17. and it does relate to ideas about creativity is the core of human mental capacity, languagebeing the most dramatic, clearest reflection of this.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. You prefaced your remarks on language and freedomby saying that you were also involved politics and political thought, even before linguistics,but it wasnt viewed as a profession. Id like to get your thoughts on credentialism, on theidea that you have to have some official credential to discuss, in your case, internationalaffairs. You have an interview, I think its from the 80s, called What the World is Really Like,Who Knows It and Why. And, again, Ill quote from your remarks then. You said, "Someyears ago I did some work in mathematical linguistics and automata theory and occasionallygave invited lectures at mathematics or engineering colloquia. No one would have dreamedof challenging my credentials to speak on these topics, which were zero, as everyone knew.That would have been laughable. The participants were concerned with what I had to say,not my right to say it. But when I speak, say, about international affairs, Im constantlychallenged to present the credentials that authorize me to enter this august arena."What are your current thoughts on the state of credentialism in the U.S., and more globallydo you think things have gotten any better?NOAM CHOMSKY: No. And I think that the distinction that I made there is quite widespreadand is understandable. I mean, in mathematics, people who have worked in mathematicsdont have to prove anything. They dont have to prove that theres some justification fortheir talking about the topic. And one of the greatest mathematicians, Ramanujan, neverhad any education at all. It didnt change the fact that he was taken in at Oxford and treated
  • 18. like a famous figure in the field, because of his work. In a field, to the extent that the fieldhas substance, it doesnt have to rely on credentialism, it relies on the nature of the work.To the extent that some field has not that much substance, little enough so that almostanybody can get into it, if they carry out the required effort, then people try to protectthemselves with guild cards. You see articles all the time in the history journals about howso-and-so is not a trained historian, but nevertheless, either we dismiss him or we take itseriously. But you never see an article in a mathematical journal saying, "Well, Ramanujanis not a trained mathematician so forget it." And the fact is, we ask ourselves--history is avery serious discipline, not to be dismissed [INAUDIBLE] things just learned. So what doesit take to be a trained historian? Well, if you can read and you can look up documents, andyou can study. Anybody who wants to do it can do it, with enough effort. But thecredentialism in the softer fields is a means of defense.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask then. So economics, I could see this argument goingeither way. One is that economics has become much more mathematical, and that is a formof a guild card. Or the other would be to argue that, now that economics is much moremathematical, that people will be less concerned about credentialism. Do you have anopinion on which of those perspectives would be more appropriate?NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, its true that economics has become much more mathematical,but the concern for credentialism, I suspect, has only increased. And there are questionsraised within economics, in fact, by serious economists as to just what the impact of themathematization of the field is. Theres nothing wrong with introducing mathematics into a
  • 19. field, in fact, its a good thing, to the extent that it yields significant results, particularly if theyhave significant applications. But if the mathematization of the field leads to the kinds ofthings we were talking about before, like a memo saying, "Well, obviously pollution shouldgo to the poorer countries," or, "Government should not try to prevent smoking because itllsave money this way," if thats what it leads to, or if it leads to a financial crisis, as, in fact, toa large extent, happened.You trace back the sources of, say, the current financial crisis or the preceding ones whichwere bad, but not this bad, or the next one, which will probably be even worse, you find thatpart of the source of those crises is the fanatic belief that overwhelmed the economicsprofession and the Federal Reserve in the United States or counterparts elsewhere, thebelief in two basic hypotheses which are almost necessary to do the mathematics. One isthe efficient market hypothesis, which says some various theorems say if you leaveeverything alone, markets will work perfectly.The other is the irrational-expectations model which holds that humans are totally rational.The choices they make are based on complete information. And, if you actually look at thetheorems, the important theorem information, not about total information about whatshappening now, but whats going to happen in the future, and in fact for the basic theoremsfor the indefinite future, there are also some theorems which point out that, if any of theassumptions of the mathematical model are wrong, the consequences could be wildlydifferent than the ones that come from the model.Well, Im not saying anything that isnt known to economists, but you put all this together,
  • 20. and it means that you can get through a situation such as what we just had for the last tenyears. For example, housing prices were going out of sight, way beyond the historical trendlines. But Alan Greenspan and others were, and in fact, most of the entire profession weresaying, "No problem." The theorem proof that shows that itll all come out fine at the end.Well, you know, to miss an $8 trillion housing bubble, that takes real talent. And, in part, itwas due just to the power of the internal doctrinal acceptance of the use of appliedmathematics within the system.Incidentally probably the wrong mathematics. And one outstanding mathematicianBenoit Mandelbrot, whos famous for fractals and so on, years before he pointed out theyrejust using the wrong distributions. If they use other distributions, with different characteristicsand so on, theyll find that all these models collapse.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We had a number of reactions to your comments oncredentialism. Fletcher Pinion asks how the web is changing the notion of authorship,authority and authenticity. Other people are echoing that question. Id actually like to give itjust context with just one more quote from something youve written, talking about the critic,where you said the critic typically has little access to the media, and the personalconsequences for the critic are sufficiently annoying to deter many from taking this courseand many outlets. Youve mentioned the New Republic refused to permit even the right ofresponse to slanders they publish, hence the, and this is quoting from your writing again,"[h]ence the sacred right to lie is likely to be preserved, without too serious a threat." So Imwondering, how optimistic are you about the democratizing power of the internet andallowing critics to threaten the sacred right to lie?
  • 21. NOAM CHOMSKY: There are very good things about the internet. I use it all the time.Activist organizations rely on it enormously for organization and organizing activities. Itcertainly leads to access to a much wider range of information or at least pretendedinformation. All of thats to the good. On the other hand, theres a downside. I mean, saysome young person says, "Id like to be a biologist," the worst advice you can give them is,"Go to the Harvard Biological Library, and read all the journals." Thats no good. The latestNobel Prize winner in biology is not the person who read the most journals. If you want tolearn something, you have to know what youre looking for.You have to have a framework of understanding. Maybe its the wrong framework, in whichcase youll correct it along the way. Thats why the sciences make progress. You have aframework, but its a correctable one, in the best case at least or for the actual case. But, ifyou just approach with nothing at all, except, "Well, I can do as well as anybody else can,"youre likely to produce nonsense and, in fact, pernicious nonsense. And the internet canmagnify that effect. Its a great cult generator for that reason, which is very dangerous. And,as far as slanders and insults are concerned, they just explode through the internet system.What it amounts to, anyone who has an idea, say, or a thought can immediately send it outon the web, without any evidence, without any argument. Then somebody else will pick it upand amplify it, and pretty soon you have some pretty pernicious effects. So there arecontrary tendencies. Theres a lot of beneficial consequences to its availability. There areother harmful ones. Personally, I dont know whether to be optimistic or not. Both of thesethings are just--
  • 22. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Were closing in on the end of our time. Id like to ask a couplesomewhat more personal questions. You wrote, in 1967, "It is the responsibility ofintellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies." And those who want to look it up, thatsfrom The Responsibility of Intellectuals. From your writings and many other writings, I think,that a lot of people are concerned that intellectuals arent doing that job. So Id like to ask:Why do you think that you personally were willing and able to take on this mantle? Is itsomething about your background, something in your personality or just fortunatecircumstances?NOAM CHOMSKY: Some would say fortunate. Some would say unfortunate. And, if youtook a poll among elite intellectuals, theyd say its unfortunate and, in fact, horrible, butthats for people to decide for themselves. Look, these are just choices we all have to make.The term "intellectual" is not one that I like to use. I use the phrase "responsibility ofintellectuals," if you remember, in that article, because I started off by referring to a veryinteresting essay by Dwight Macdonald on the responsibility of intellectuals. And the notion"responsibility of intellectuals" in that article was double-edged.What you quoted was, I think, ought to be a truism about the path that intellectuals ought tofollow. But most of the article is about the path that they do follow, and what they do follow isanything but that. Actually, almost the entire article refers to deference to power andauthority and sometimes conscious lying, sometimes implicit distortion because of theframework of understanding thats presupposed and much else ends up being the servantsof power and very dangerous ones. What leads one person in one direction rather thananother, well, who knows what. I mean, in my own case, whether one of those who hates it
  • 23. or likes it, it began in childhood. The first article I wrote, at least that I remember, was in1939. I can date it quite precisely because it was about an event. It was about the fall ofBarcelona to Francos armies. The article was about the grim cloud of fascism thatexpanding over Europe. It started with Austria, Czechoslovakia, now Spain and about theominous significance of that. I dont suggest that its a memorable article. I was ten yearsold, and it was in the fourth-grade newspaper. But anyway, thats what I was right about thetime.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Another question.NOAM CHOMSKY: Im afraid that will have to be the last one. Ive another appointmentcoming.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I understand. You had a long career and long enough certainly toreconsider your ideas and decisions youve made. Im hoping, looking back, you can tell usabout some belief that you held to, that you now think is wrong or some mistake you made,not something you believed, but an action you took that you now wish you had takendifferently.NOAM CHOMSKY: There are quite a few, mostly actions I didnt take that I should havetaken. The article you mentioned was at the peak of the Vietnam War, and I was very muchinvolved in that, in resistance and much else. But, even at the time I wrote that article, Ialready realized Id made some fundamental mistakes. One was how long I delayed ingetting involved. I should have been involved in the early 1950s, when the groundwork for
  • 24. the war was being laid very clearly and certainly by 1961 or 62 when John F. Kennedyessentially invaded South Vietnam. And I waited until about 1964 before I got seriouslyinvolved.I was also misinterpreting it at the time. I was interpreting it as a civil war, in which the U.S.intervened, and thats just inaccurate. It was an invasion, which, of course, had aspects ofcivil war, but virtually every act of aggression does, including even the Nazi invasions, surelyan element of civil war. So that was a serious misinterpretation, and I was much too late.And there are plenty of other cases like it.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, I know you are out of time. We are out of time aswell. I just want to thank you on behalf of audiences across the web, across Second Lifeand the large group of people in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as well, in aclassroom at INTEC. So thanks a lot for your time and your thoughts. And I hope thatmaybe we can lure you back on to Metanomics, to continue the conversation.NOAM CHOMSKY: Thank you very much. Id like to. Goodbye.ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye bye. Thank you very much. And those of you who arelistening today to Metanomics, Id like to invite all of you to join us next week when we willhave Mick Bobroff, who is a partner at Ernst & Young, and an expert in the business modelsand revenue measurement for virtual media, virtual goods and Virtual World companies. Sothat will be Monday, 3:00 P.M., same channel and same location so please do join us. Also,just for a little bit of fun, if you didnt hear enough of Beyers Sellers today, which Im afraidyou always do, I will be on Pooky Amsterdams The First Question this evening, and I know
  • 25. Pooky is in the chat now, and she can provide you with the details of that event. It is theone-hundredth episode of The First Question so it should be a lot of fun.Thank you all again for joining us. Thank you for the incredible backchat, which I could onlywade into momentarily, but you heard the man, Noam Chomsky says hed love to comeback. So well see what we can do. Thanks a lot, and see you all next week. Bye bye.Document: cor1089.docTranscribed by: