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Noam Chomsky Appears on Metanomics

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Professor Noam Chomsky appeared on Metanomics to discuss culture, language, energy and policy. The full video can be seen on the Metanomics Web …

Professor Noam Chomsky appeared on Metanomics to discuss culture, language, energy and policy. The full video can be seen on the Metanomics Web site:

http://www.metanomics.net/show/october_12_noam_chomsky_appears_on_metanomics/

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  • 1. METANOMICS: NOAM CHOMSKY APPEARS ON METANOMICS OCTOBER 12, 2010 Metanomics is a weekly broadcast on the serious uses of virtual worlds. Visit http://metanomics.net. Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy Communications. ANNOUNCER: Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy and Dusan Writer's Metaverse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hi. I'm Robert Bloomfield, professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. Today we continue exploring Virtual Worlds in the larger sphere of social media, culture, enterprise and policy. Naturally, our discussion about 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 in Second Life. We are pleased to broadcast weekly to our event partners and to welcome discussion. We use ChatBridge technology to allow viewers to comment during the show. Metanomics is sponsored by the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. 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 a public intellectual who has developed a reputation for speaking truth to power on a wide range of topics, particularly international politics and foreign relations. This Metanomics event is a collaboration with two other organizations based in the Dominican Republic: INTEC, the International Commission of Science and Technology, and CIACT created by the decree of Dominican President Dr. Leonel Fernandez. Oh, actually I got that, and INTEC is the Instituto Tecnolólogico de Santo Domingo. So a particular welcome to our live audience in the Dominican Republic, as well as to our audience in Second Life and on
  • 2. the web. Now, I'd like to encourage everyone to use text chat either on the web or in Second Life, to forward your questions for Professor Chomsky. So, Noam Chomsky, welcome to Metanomics. NOAM CHOMSKY: Glad to be with you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'd like to start our discussion on the topic of biofuels, which is a particular interest of both INTEC and CIACT. So the search is on for sustainable energy sources, and many are touting the promise of biofuels. But you see some serious challenges. What's at the forefront of your mind? NOAM CHOMSKY: I'd first like to thank José Santana and the government institutions he heads in the Dominican Republic for arranging for all of this. On biofuels, there's some general problems, and there's some specific ones. I should keep with the specific one first though. Biofuel production in the United States is corn-based. It's extremely expensive and quite 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-based biofuels. So in the first place, it's economically not viable in the United States and sustained only by tariff protection. The destruction of the food supply is not insignificant. Corn and maize production dropped significantly. It's 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 similarly elsewhere. The crisis of food globally is extremely serious, and there's over a billion people now who are lacking food. Even in the United States, a rich society, the number of people on government-supplied food, food stamps, has increased to the highest record ever and is going up. But in, of course, the poorer countries, it's a real disaster. There's food riots. And actually the corn production this year [as happened?] the United States was the main supplier happens to be low, and that's already leading to sharp inflation of
  • 3. food prices. There's a more general question as to whether this is altogether, even under the best of circumstances, an appropriate form of sustainable energy. Biofuels take quite substantial energy inputs to produce them, to transport them and so on. So there are quite general questions. It's not a gift. It's not at all clear that, even under the best of circumstances, it's a viable approach and under much worse circumstances, like the United States, it's essentially harmful. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Are you familiar with the work of David Pimentel? He's a Cornell emeritus entomologist actually, and he's 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 I know that's been quite controversial. Do you have an opinion on that issue? NOAM CHOMSKY: I already talked about it, but I don't have the technical expertise to work that out. As you say, there's controversy among specialists on the topic, but it's clearly a problem. The same problems arise for agriculture generally. So for example, green revolution production or mechanized agriculture is alleged to be extremely efficient and has all kind of benefits, and, in part, that's true. But the calculations that estimate the benefits typically ignore much of the downside, like the hydrocarbon inputs that are required, the threats of monogenesis having too narrow a range of seeds, the programs that develop seeds that the farmers can't reuse. It's tying them to multinational suppliers, which can be devastating. Many other things. There are a lot of factors that have to enter into it, serious calculation of how to deal with the food and energy crises. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We often distinguish between the normative questions of what should happen and the positive questions of what is happening or just predictions of what you think will happen. You've been a student of foreign relations and especially the relationship between the developed and the developing world. I'm wondering if you would hazard a guess as to how this will play out and what the pressures will be on biofuels over the coming decades.
  • 4. NOAM CHOMSKY: My suspicion is that there is already a reduction of the original enthusiasm 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 that's not so easy because everything in ecology is used somehow. But I think that's a small part of the problem, frankly. More generally, we are just heading towards disaster as if the brakes 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 country in the world. What happens here has an extremely strong influence on what's happening elsewhere. Not long ago the Senate passed legislation virtually unanimously barring 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 it might be, is going to have some expense associated with it, hence will raise taxes. So their legislation essentially says we must do nothing. Gets even worse. There are now on the order of 50, I suppose, Republican candidates for Congress coming up in the November elections. Of that group, there was one who said we have to be concerned with anthropogenic global warming, human involvement in global warming. One. That was Mike Castle who lost in the primary. So now we have a hundred percent of Republican candidates saying, "The whole environmental crisis is a joke. Let's forget it." Well, it's not a joke. Furthermore, the major corporations, the American Petroleum Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, the main business lobby and so on, have made it very clear that they are carrying out extensive--they don't call it propaganda, but it amounts to propaganda campaigns--to try to convince the public that there's nothing to any of this. These are pretty much the same people who managed to delay tobacco and lead legislation for decades and killing huge numbers of people, but they were able to do it within the structure of the corporate and corporate media system. And now they're intending to do it for this. And it leaves people very confused. They appear to see an argument with two sides. The media do not even attempt to give them an accurate account of what these two
  • 5. sides mean. And, of course, they're leaving out a third side, which is extremely important and never gets any exposure, and that's a very substantial number of scientists, including a lot of my MIT colleagues, who believe that the consensus judgment on global warming is much too optimistic and that the real situation is much worse. They don't enter the debate at all. Well, the consequence is that a public that's very confused, uncertain, and thinks we shouldn't do anything, especially in a time of serious economic problems. It's hard enough to get along, say, with fossil fuels. If we do anything that's a little more expensive, especially when it seems uncertain, and nobody knows if it's true, then why do it. It's virtually a death knell for the species. Europe is a little better, but not fabulously better. And third-world countries, say, developing countries as they're now called, like China, they do not want to carry out measures which will impede their growth and development, and they argue, and with some justice, that there's no reason for them to pay the costs of environmental destruction which has been carried out by the currently rich countries. In fact, there was a conference in Bolivia, on environmental crises, just recently where the participants, international conference, where they called for carbon reparations to pay the debt to the world, that the rich countries, for the catastrophe they've already created, and to use that for renewable energy for assisting third-world countries to convert to more viable forms and so on. Well, all these are sensible arguments, but there isn’t a lot of point that winning the battle and losing the war, I mean those arguments don't mean anything, however valid they may be, if the outcome is restriction of the conditions for decent existence, and that's not an exaggeration. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a number of questions coming in from our audience. You alluded to a difference between what's going on in the U.S. and Europe, and arabella Ella has a question along those lines. So could you elaborate? Are you referring to differences in the politics or in the policies and the way they are using energy and devoting attention to sustainability?
  • 6. 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 sustainable energy usage so there are alternative energy sources, wind power and others, which are used at a decent, a limited but important scale in Europe. That's not happening here, and that shows up in other respects too. The United States is notorious for the inefficiency of its transportation system. Taking a train in Europe and the United States can barely believe it. Well, that's also connected to wasteful energy. And, in this respect, the U.S. situation is concertedly worse than Europe. I don't want to suggest that Europe is somehow magnificent in this respect, it's not, but at least something is happening. So for example, when the United States wants to get high-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 reasons for this. The U.S. is the most advanced industrial country, you'd think it would be in the lead on these issues, but it's not. Investors in the United States, now in green technology, invest more in China than in the United States and Europe combined, and a lot more in Europe than in the United States. Though the United States is the most advanced society industrially it's also the society that is most business-run. The big power of business in the United States' political system is well beyond that in Europe. There are all kind of historical reasons for that, no time to go into them, but it's a plain fact, and business has institutional reasons, institutional reasons very hard to overcome, for turning to development of policies that will be absolutely necessary for the 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 you're the manager of a corporation, CEO of some big corporation, you must act in such a way as to maximize short-term gain. Not only, of course, does that contribute to your own inflated
  • 7. salary, but, if you don't do it, you will be out, and somebody else will be in. That's an institutional requirement in the United States. In England, it's actually a legal requirement. But, in any market society, that's what you're going to find. That's a well-known so-called inefficiency 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 on others. They consider what the current transaction means to them. Now that's a guaranty of disaster. So in the financial institutions, what it means is, if Goldman Sachs makes a loan or an investment, it calculates the potential risk to itself and compensates for it, but it does not calculate what's called systemic risk, the risk that the whole system may collapse if you carry this out. That's 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 other factors too, but one factor is just the inherent property of market systems which bars calculation of systemic risks. Some executive might want to do it, but then he'll be out, and somebody else will be in who won't do it. So that's the way these systems work. In the case of financial crises, the people who make the transaction know that they're going to be bailed out. The taxpayer will come in and bail them out. And when the externality is the fate of the species, as it is in the environmental case, there's no way to bail you out. That's very serious, and it's a deeply rooted institutional problem. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I'd like to follow up. You talked about the issues with the corporatism and big business in the United States. I had a very interesting discussion with someone the other day about Walmart. Walmart has been a very aggressive player in the retail industry and an international corporate force. One of the things that has made them what they are is that they exercise so much control over their supply chain. Basically the argument that someone was making is that this actually puts them in a position to avoid some of the problems of externalities that you referred to earlier because, by controlling their entire supply chain, they're in a position to actually profit from improving the sustainability of the entire life-cycle impact of the product they sell, from the farmer that
  • 8. grows the wheat to the bakery and all the shipping and trucking and so on. I'm wondering if that is [CROSSTALK] NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there's something to that. If Walmart really had total control of this system, then they wouldn't have to worry about externalities, but that amounts to saying that, in a totalitarian state, the managers can think long-term because they don't have to worry about competition. So that's true. That's a feature of totalitarianism. Now, of course, Walmart doesn't have the power over the economy that say the Kremlin did, but the argument that you're giving is, well, to the extent that they approach that power, they can eliminate market forces and, hence, won't be subject to, won't be acting to ignore externalities. I don't think that's a very good argument, frankly. I should also add that the belief that Walmart is successful in a free market is very misleading. For example, in order to carry out its, you know, to produce in China and sell here cheap, Walmart depends on a lot of things. For example, it depends on the containerization of ships, which sharply reduces the cost of transit. Where that containerization came from, that's a creation of the U.S. Navy. And that and numerous other ways. I mean it's computerized. Very important for Walmart to control its supply chain through computers and the internet. Now where did they come from? They came from the taxpayer. Computers and the internet were basically in the state sector for decades before they were handed over to private enterprise. And, if we can go on, but just the belief that we're in a society based on entrepreneurial initiative and consumer choice is partially true, but mostly at the surface end. You go look in deeper, 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 about Walmart's control over its supply chain, that's saying to the extent that you approach the totalitarian system, you can ignore market inefficiencies. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We have a couple questions from the audience in the Dominican Republic. First, what is the renewable energy source with the smallest environmental impact? And the second, would you assess the methods used for
  • 9. evaluation of environmental impact in developed and in developing countries? NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I think it's widely agreed that, in the long term, the energy system, if it's to be viable, must be based on solar energy. That's the one essentially and definitely large source of energy. Of course, like everything, it's going to have costs, and this does too, but probably the least. So there should be, in a sensible society, a very substantial investment in improving solar energy technologies. And there are plenty of ideas around. I happen to be at MIT, maybe the major technological institute in the world, and there are proposals from highly respected faculty members and groups for a use of solar technology in a very advanced way, which they claim is feasible or near feasible--I can't judge myself. So for example, solar panels placed in orbit outside the earth's atmosphere so it gets maximal 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 best answer in the longer term, not just for energy, but also for another major problem, namely the water problem. The problem with limitation of fresh water is very severe around the world, and one possible answer is desalination, but that's energy intensive. So again, we go back to energy use. As for the criteria for evaluation, well, that's 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 of efficiency. Though in the case of Walmart, you have to measure the energy costs of simply transportation, if you produce, say, in China, and you sell in the United States, and lots of other factors have to enter. If you want to discuss the extent to which markets function, to some extent you have to consider the extent to which they rely on the state sector even to function at all, and that's enormous: computers, the internet, the trade and so on are just examples. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I'd like to ask you a little bit about your thoughts on
  • 10. cost-benefit analysis, especially as it enters the sphere of foreign relations. I'd like to quote something you in the Boston Review in 2005. You wrote, "In 1991, the chief economist of the World Bank wrote an internal memo on pollution, in which he demonstrated that the bank should be encouraging migration of polluting industries to the poorest countries. The reason is that," and this is a quote from the memo, "'Measurement of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality.' So the memo concluded it's rational for health-impairing pollution to be sent to the poorest countries, where mortality is higher and wages are lowest." You continue, "The memo was leaked and elicited a storm of protest typified by the reaction of Brazil's Secretary of the Environment, who wrote him a letter saying that quote, 'Your reasoning is perfectly logical, but totally insane.' The Secretary was fired, while the author of the memo became Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and is now the president of Harvard University." The author, of course, is Larry Summers. NOAM CHOMSKY: Now he's Obama's Chief Economic Advisor. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Right, and just stepping down to return to Harvard. So I'm wondering what is your take on this and the role of economics in foreign and particularly foreign energy policy? NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, the fate of that memo was quite interesting. It did lead to an enormous protest, and Summers himself, the author, said, "Well, it wasn't very serious. It was kind of a joke," and so on. What was interesting to me was the reaction of the economics profession. They backed away from it. They said, "No, no. Of course we can't take this seriously." But that's the wrong reaction. They should have said, "Yes, this is exactly right. This is what we believe. That's what our theories demonstrate." And they didn't do that, which tells you something. But the Brazilian Minister's comment was accurate. It was logical, and it's being used. That's why toxic wastes are being sent to Haiti or dumped off the coast of Somalia. Not in the North Sea or not in the Massachusetts Bay.
  • 11. Well, yeah, the lives of those people don't matter that much. This happens all the time. It's quite real. I mean just recently, to give an example, one of the major cigarette companies provided a memo 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 to increase cigarette smoking, or certainly not reduce it, because that way people will die younger, and they'll have less medical expenses, so it's economically valuable. Now these people are going to be unhealthy anyway so if they die younger, you don't have to worry about their health. Well, yeah, that argument's valid. But, as the Brazilian Minister said, it's completely insane. There's nothing wrong with cost-benefit analysis. We do it all the time, and it should be done, but you have to know what you're measuring, like how do you measure the value of a human life? You can't value it by--maybe an economist will tell you--but we have an objective value to say how much that person will produce during his lifetime. Is that the value of a human life? Well, the issues are not economic. They're fundamentally 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. It's not going to have much of a life anyway. It's not going to produce anything. And the care it'll take is very expensive so kill it." We all regard that as insane, properly. It's not a critique of cost-benefit analysis. It's a critique of the fundamental principles that are used to measure what is a cost and what is a benefit. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Thank you. I'd like to shift gears a bit now. You began your career as a linguist, and actually I studied your work on transformational grammar, as a student of Donna Jo Napoli, back in the 1980s. I came across an article that you had written; 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. You start the article by saying, "Thirty-five years ago I agreed, in a weak moment, to give a talk with the title Language and Freedom. When the time came to think about it, I
  • 12. realized that I might have something to say about language and about freedom, but the word "and" was posing a serious problem." So what are your current thoughts on the links between your work on language and the nature of freedom and universal human rights? NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first, just one preliminary comment. It's perfectly true that my professional career began with linguistics, and it still is linguistics. But the rest of my life, my nonprofessional life if you like it, was political back to childhood and still is, to a large extent, just not called professional, like you don't get paid for it or get paid not to do it. But, as far as the "and" is concerned, the problem is quite real. There are some connections. Actually I've written about it in that article too. These questions were raised traditionally. They were raised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and some interesting suggestions were made, but they're really intuitive, things you can't prove, just might propose as maybe a topic for reflection, maybe a someday inquiry. So there were connections drawn. A typical one was the recognition that at the core of language is a kind of creative capacity, to have to have the normal human language capacity. That means that you can innovate indefinitely. You can produce new expressions, new sentences, which maybe have never been produced before in history. They express thoughts that maybe have never been conceived before. It's not what you do is not determined by external circumstances, it may be influenced by them, but it's not caused by them, or, as far as anyone knows, by internal states. In fact, for Descartes, this was the mark of human freedom was this capacity for Descartes and his successors. And this goes on through the enlightenment. So on the one hand, these new expressions are understood by others, with the same capacity as you, maybe new to them too, but they can understand them, and they can recognize it. If they'd thought of it, they could have done it the same way. Well, these are at the core of human nature for Descartes and his followers that distinguished humans from the animals and machines. And, as far as we know, that's true so no reason not to believe that today. That's on the language side.
  • 13. The connection to freedom is pretty straightforward. It connects with, doesn't lead to, sort of connects with the idea that at the core of the human social cultural--that aspect of our nature, at the core of it is a kind of an instinct for freedom, a right and a demand, a just demand to be free to carry out the creative work under your own control and to live in a society in which you're subject to decisions in which you participate. I mean that's right at the heart of classical liberalism. So you look back at the writings of the early classical liberals, like Wilhelm Von Humboldt, who incidentally was a great linguist, who wrote about the creativity of language. But at the core of his social and political ideas was the conception that the core human value is liberty. He pointed out--he said, "Look. If a skilled craftsman produces a beautiful object on command, we may admire what he did, but we will despise what he is, namely a tool in the hands of others. If he does it out of his own internal artistic creativity, 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. That's what we learn, but that's not what he said. If you read a couple hundred pages into Wealth of Nations, you'll see that he condemned division of the labor as something which turns human beings into creatures as stupid and as ignorant as is possible for a human to be because they are constantly repeating the same actions over and over again, without freedom and creativity to choose what they do. And he said in any civilized society, the government is going to have to step in to prevent division of labor that goes to this extent. Well, he's reflecting the same conception as Von Humboldt, and it does relate to ideas about creativity is the core of human mental capacity, language being the most dramatic, clearest reflection of this. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you. You prefaced your remarks on language and freedom by saying that you were also involved politics and political thought, even before linguistics, but it wasn't viewed as a profession. I'd like to get your thoughts on credentialism, on the idea that you have to have some official credential to discuss, in your
  • 14. case, international affairs. You have an interview, I think it's from the '80s, called What the World is Really Like, Who Knows It and Why. And, again, I'll quote from your remarks then. You said, "Some years ago I did some work in mathematical linguistics and automata theory and occasionally gave invited lectures at mathematics or engineering colloquia. No one would have dreamed of 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, I'm constantly challenged 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 globally do you think things have gotten any better? NOAM CHOMSKY: No. And I think that the distinction that I made there is quite widespread and is understandable. I mean, in mathematics, people who have worked in mathematics don't have to prove anything. They don't have to prove that there's some justification for their talking about the topic. And one of the greatest mathematicians, Ramanujan, never had any education at all. It didn't change the fact that he was taken in at Oxford and treated like a famous figure in the field, because of his work. In a field, to the extent that the field has substance, it doesn't 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 almost anybody can get into it, if they carry out the required effort, then people try to protect themselves with guild cards. You see articles all the time in the history journals about how so-and-so is not a trained historian, but nevertheless, either we dismiss him or we take it seriously. But you never see an article in a mathematical journal saying, "Well, Ramanujan is not a trained mathematician so forget it." And the fact is, we ask ourselves--history is a very serious discipline, not to be dismissed [INAUDIBLE] things just learned. So what does it take to be a trained historian? Well, if you can read and you can look up documents, and you can study. Anybody who wants to do it can do it, with enough effort. But the
  • 15. credentialism in the softer fields is a means of defense. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Let me ask then. So economics, I could see this argument going either way. One is that economics has become much more mathematical, and that is a form of a guild card. Or the other would be to argue that, now that economics is much more mathematical, that people will be less concerned about credentialism. Do you have an opinion on which of those perspectives would be more appropriate? NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it's true that economics has become much more mathematical, but the concern for credentialism, I suspect, has only increased. And there are questions raised within economics, in fact, by serious economists as to just what the impact of the mathematization of the field is. There's nothing wrong with introducing mathematics into a field, in fact, it's a good thing, to the extent that it yields significant results, particularly if they have significant applications. But if the mathematization of the field leads to the kinds of things we were talking about before, like a memo saying, "Well, obviously pollution should go to the poorer countries," or, "Government should not try to prevent smoking because it'll save money this way," if that's what it leads to, or if it leads to a financial crisis, as, in fact, to a large extent, happened. You trace back the sources of, say, the current financial crisis or the preceding ones which were bad, but not this bad, or the next one, which will probably be even worse, you find that part of the source of those crises is the fanatic belief that overwhelmed the economics profession and the Federal Reserve in the United States or counterparts elsewhere, the belief in two basic hypotheses which are almost necessary to do the mathematics. One is the efficient market hypothesis, which says some various theorems say if you leave everything 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 the theorems, the important theorem information, not about total information about what's happening now, but what's going to happen in the future, and in fact for the basic
  • 16. theorems for the indefinite future, there are also some theorems which point out that, if any of the assumptions of the mathematical model are wrong, the consequences could be wildly different than the ones that come from the model. Well, I'm not saying anything that isn't known to economists, but you put all this together, and it means that you can get through a situation such as what we just had for the last ten years. For example, housing prices were going out of sight, way beyond the historical trend lines. But Alan Greenspan and others were, and in fact, most of the entire profession were saying, "No problem." The theorem proof that shows that it'll all come out fine at the end. Well, you know, to miss an $8 trillion housing bubble, that takes real talent. And, in part, it was due just to the power of the internal doctrinal acceptance of the use of applied mathematics within the system. Incidentally probably the wrong mathematics. And one outstanding mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, who's famous for fractals and so on, years before he pointed out they're just using the wrong distributions. If they use other distributions, with different characteristics and so on, they'll find that all these models collapse. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We had a number of reactions to your comments on credentialism. Fletcher Pinion asks how the web is changing the notion of authorship, authority and authenticity. Other people are echoing that question. I'd actually like to give it just context with just one more quote from something you've written, talking about the critic, where you said the critic typically has little access to the media, and the personal consequences for the critic are sufficiently annoying to deter many from taking this course and many outlets. You've mentioned the New Republic refused to permit even the right of response 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 I'm wondering, how optimistic are you about the democratizing power of the internet and allowing critics to threaten the sacred right to lie? NOAM CHOMSKY: There are very good things about the internet. I use it all the time.
  • 17. Activist organizations rely on it enormously for organization and organizing activities. It certainly leads to access to a much wider range of information or at least pretended information. All of that's to the good. On the other hand, there's a downside. I mean, say some young person says, "I'd like to be a biologist," the worst advice you can give them is, "Go to the Harvard Biological Library, and read all the journals." That's no good. The latest Nobel Prize winner in biology is not the person who read the most journals. If you want to learn something, you have to know what you're looking for. You have to have a framework of understanding. Maybe it's the wrong framework, in which case you'll correct it along the way. That's why the sciences make progress. You have a framework, but it's a correctable one, in the best case at least or for the actual case. But, if you just approach with nothing at all, except, "Well, I can do as well as anybody else can," you're likely to produce nonsense and, in fact, pernicious nonsense. And the internet can magnify that effect. It's 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 out on the web, without any evidence, without any argument. Then somebody else will pick it up and amplify it, and pretty soon you have some pretty pernicious effects. So there are contrary tendencies. There's a lot of beneficial consequences to its availability. There are other harmful ones. Personally, I don't know whether to be optimistic or not. Both of these things are just-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We're closing in on the end of our time. I'd like to ask a couple somewhat more personal questions. You wrote, in 1967, "It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies." And those who want to look it up, that's from The Responsibility of Intellectuals. From your writings and many other writings, I think, that a lot of people are concerned that intellectuals aren't doing that job. So I'd like to ask: Why do you think that you personally were willing and able to take on this mantle? Is it something about your background, something in your personality or just fortunate circumstances?
  • 18. NOAM CHOMSKY: Some would say fortunate. Some would say unfortunate. And, if you took a poll among elite intellectuals, they'd say it's unfortunate and, in fact, horrible, but that's 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 of intellectuals," if you remember, in that article, because I started off by referring to a very interesting 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 to follow. But most of the article is about the path that they do follow, and what they do follow is anything but that. Actually, almost the entire article refers to deference to power and authority and sometimes conscious lying, sometimes implicit distortion because of the framework of understanding that's presupposed and much else ends up being the servants of power and very dangerous ones. What leads one person in one direction rather than another, well, who knows what. I mean, in my own case, whether one of those who hates it or likes it, it began in childhood. The first article I wrote, at least that I remember, was in 1939. I can date it quite precisely because it was about an event. It was about the fall of Barcelona to Franco's armies. The article was about the grim cloud of fascism that expanding over Europe. It started with Austria, Czechoslovakia, now Spain and about the ominous significance of that. I don't suggest that it's a memorable article. I was ten years old, and it was in the fourth-grade newspaper. But anyway, that's what I was right about the time. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Another question. NOAM CHOMSKY: I'm afraid that will have to be the last one. I've another appointment coming. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I understand. You had a long career and long enough certainly to reconsider your ideas and decisions you've made. I'm hoping, looking back, you can tell
  • 19. us about 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 taken differently. NOAM CHOMSKY: There are quite a few, mostly actions I didn't take that I should have taken. The article you mentioned was at the peak of the Vietnam War, and I was very much involved in that, in resistance and much else. But, even at the time I wrote that article, I already realized I'd made some fundamental mistakes. One was how long I delayed in getting involved. I should have been involved in the early 1950s, when the groundwork for the war was being laid very clearly and certainly by 1961 or '62 when John F. Kennedy essentially invaded South Vietnam. And I waited until about 1964 before I got seriously involved. I was also misinterpreting it at the time. I was interpreting it as a civil war, in which the U.S. intervened, and that's just inaccurate. It was an invasion, which, of course, had aspects of civil war, but virtually every act of aggression does, including even the Nazi invasions, surely an 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 as well. I just want to thank you on behalf of audiences across the web, across Second Life and the large group of people in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as well, in a classroom at INTEC. So thanks a lot for your time and your thoughts. And I hope that maybe we can lure you back on to Metanomics, to continue the conversation. NOAM CHOMSKY: Thank you very much. I'd like to. Goodbye. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye bye. Thank you very much. And those of you who are listening today to Metanomics, I'd like to invite all of you to join us next week when we will have Mick Bobroff, who is a partner at Ernst & Young, and an expert in the business models and revenue measurement for virtual media, virtual goods and Virtual World companies. So that will be Monday, 3:00 P.M., same channel and same location so please
  • 20. do join us. Also, just for a little bit of fun, if you didn't hear enough of Beyers Sellers today, which I'm afraid you always do, I will be on Pooky Amsterdam's The First Question this evening, and I know Pooky is in the chat now, and she can provide you with the details of that event. It is the one-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 only wade into momentarily, but you heard the man, Noam Chomsky says he'd love to come back. So we'll see what we can do. Thanks a lot, and see you all next week. Bye bye. Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer