Authors@Google: Noam Chomsky

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 02.05.2008

>> ANNE: Many, many years ago back when the acronym CD meant certificate of deposit and
not compact disc, I was a Linguistics graduate student at the MIT here. And it was way late
in November when the [INDISTINCT]. I just returned from New York City where I did my
very first linguistics paper conference and it was very late one Thursday night. I was
walking on front of Building 20 which no longer exists. And as I was walking across because
I'm going to go to hear Noam Chomsky speak, and I'm thinking about how we're about to
have this birthday party for Professor Chomsky. So graduate students were putting together
a surprise birthday party to celebrate his--what was it, half a century of living, 50 years?
So, I'm thinking about this and then I noticed this figure coming out from the parking lot,
and he was approaching me. And I think he's, "Hi Anne." I was, "Oh, it's Professor Chomsky,"
and he says, "How was your talk?" Then I looked, and I said, "It was really good. I enjoyed
it. It was nice, but I was so formal, maybe, it felt so old like I was really feeling old."
And I pulled back from there to here. And he said, "To them, it's fighting words." So,
here he is. >> CHOMSKY: She reminds me a little bit of
a--they moved us, after they destroyed Building 20 which Anne was talking about which was
a great mistake. It was a wonderful, old building, contemporary World War II building, which
was the best building on campus by far, movable walls, squirrels climbing up inside the walls,
you know, windows falling out, noises from the garbage being taken out behind our windows,
but terrific place to work. They put us in a fancy, new building. You can't miss it if
you walk on campus. And the first seminar I had to give there, maybe, 30 people, I noticed
I couldn't hear any of the students which then surprised me all that much. But they
couldn't hear me which surprised me a little more until somebody finally pointed out to
me that the ceiling is 30 feet high. And we asked why they can't put up an acoustic ceiling
and they said, "Well, that would interfere with the decor of the building." And so, therefore,
tough luck, you just won't hear each other. That's what's known as progress, I think.
So I'll try to make myself heard but as I say, India is the place to be.
>> MALE: The first question, Mr. Chomsky, comes from Christas Gudrov [ph]. How have
your ideas on universal grammar changed over the years? Are you more or less convinced
of the theory now than you were initially? >> CHOMSKY: Well, there's a lot of confusion
about the notion, universal grammar. Universal grammar had a traditional meaning but in--not
only linguistics, the last 50 years or so, it has had a technical meaning which is not
unrelated to the traditional meaning but it's not identical either. Universal grammar is
just the name for the theory of the genetic component of the language faculty and, transparently,
there's some genetic component, right? Now, there's a reason, say, why my granddaughter
reflexively identified some part of her environment as language-related, which is no small trick--nobody
knows how to duplicate that--and then, more or less, reflexively picked up the capacity
that we're all now using whereas her pet, say, kitten or chimpanzee or song bird or
whatever it may be, with exactly the same inputs, couldn't even take the first step,
can't identify part of the environment as language-related, obviously, not the later
steps. Well, there are two possible answers to how that happens. One is it's a miracle.
The other is there's--she has some specific genetic capacity that's like the capacity
that had her grow arms and not wings, let's say; just some fixed--or had a mammalian visual
system but not an insect visual system. Now, this is not controversial for anything except
human higher mental faculties. For some reason, when people investigate human higher mental
faculties, they have to be insane, you know. You can't accept the approach that we take
to everything else in the world, the kind of methodological dualism. Everything else
in the world we study by the standard methods of science, but when we talk about human higher
mental faculties, we have become mystics. So, therefore, there's a controversy about
the existence of universal grammar which is like--which means a controversy about whether
there is some genetic property that distinguishes humans from everybody else which leads to
these--to the ability to doing what we're now doing. But there shouldn't be any controversy
about that. The only question is: What is it? Well, there have been theories about it
from the 1950s when these studies began up to the present and it's a living field so
it kept changing. So, in that sense, yes, my views about universal grammar keep changing.
So when Anne walked into my office as a graduate student and told me I was wrong about everything,
so, okay, my views changed, you know. But, in that sense, sure, there's going to be constant
change until the field disappears or is dead or something. And there's a long way to go.
These are not trivial questions. There's sort of general tendency of change and not every
linguist would agree by any means; so that's personal opinion. In the early stages, when
the first question was asked seriously, about 50 years ago, as to how we are capable of
doing what we do all the time, how are we capable of understanding, producing expressions
which we've never heard, which may have never been, other than the history of the language
and doing it over an infinite range or where there is strange properties that they have
as soon as you look up on how do we do it. The only answer seems to be that each of us
has a highly intricate computational system in the brain which yields these very specific
results. But that then poses a paradox because it must be the case that we all--all humans
have the same genetic capacity with marginal variation. The reason is if you take a child
from, say, a hunter-gatherer tribe in the Amazon and the child is raised in Cambridge,
Mass., it will have made this--become a graduate student studying quantum physics at MIT with
no difference from anyone else and conversely. So we all have the same capacity. And it's
more or less understood why. The capacity developed very recently in evolutionary time
and probably in some window between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago, something like that,
and that's just the flick of any eye. So whatever happened never changed except extremely marginally.
So we're all fundamentally identical for all practical purposes. Human genetic variation
is very slight anyway; the superficial differences are not very profound. A foreign--an outside,
extraterrestrial observer looking at us the way we look at frogs would say there's only
one human and one language with minor variations. So, on one hand, it's got to be uniform. On
the other hand, it seems to be the case that each particular language had a highly intricate
and complex system of rules, computational system, and they're very different from one
another. And that is a paradox, in fact, a, you know, serious paradox. Well, over the
years, there have been efforts to deal with it, to try to overcome the paradox. A major
step was taken and when views on universal grammar, at least for many of us, did change
radically was around 1980. ANNE: I was still there.
CHOMSKY: You were there, yeah. It's her fault. When a different view of the matter sort of
crystallized, what's called--sometimes called the principles in parameters view. The picture
that the principles, the fixed principles which were really embedded; nobody has to
acquire them. They're part of universal grammar. And then, there's a number of options that
can be taken, called parameters, that the child has to pick up from experience and they
have to be pretty simple. You have to be able to pick them up from limited evidence because
that's all there is. And so, for example, in some languages like English, the--it's
called the head-first language, so the verb precedes the object and the preposition precedes
the object of the preposition and so on. Other languages, like, say, Japanese, are almost
mirror image. The verb follows the object; the postpositions, not prepositions, and so
on. So languages are virtually mirror images of each other and you have to set the parameter.
The child has to set the parameter which is, "Am I talking English, or am I talking Japanese?"
And that can be determined from very simple data. So that's a reasonable choice of a parameter.
And the hope was that you could find some finite set of parameters like a finite switch
box, where you set the switch, the child has set the switches one way or another and can
do it on the basis of fairly simple data. And then once this enters into the predetermined
system of principles, you get things which superficially look very different. They are
actually almost identical or just differing in superficial choices. Well, if you could
work that out, you would have solved the paradox. It's a long way to work that out. But that
made it possible at least to confront the issues seriously without facing an immediate
knee-yourself contradiction. And it set off a lot of the really rich period of research
and inquiry, nothing like it, in thousands of years of the history of the study of language
in the last 25, 30 years of a wide variety of typologically different languages, new
questions at a depth that could never have been proposed before, sometimes the answers
leading to new questions and so on in a very lively period. And it also raised another
question: What about the principles? Where do they come from? And that's a fact of the
choice of parameters: Where do these things come from? If they're in universal grammar,
if it's part of the genetic endowment, then it had to evolve somehow. But not a lot could
have evolved because it's too recent, you know. You go back 100,000 years, there's,
as far as we know, nothing. Humans had the same anatomy, anything that's preserved in
the fossil records are about the same, you know, hundreds of thousand years back. So
some small change must have taken place in the brain which somehow allowed all of this
to suddenly blossom and pretty soon after that, again, in evolutionary time, like, maybe,
a couple of tens of thousands of years which is no time at all, humans started leaving
East Africa where we all come from as far as anyone knows. So some small groups developed
this system and then spread it all over the world and, now, they're all essentially the
same. But what evolved in that short period of time cannot have been very complex. You
know, I wouldn't expect a series of extensive stages, like say, development of limbs, you
know, millions of years. Therefore, what you predict is that some other principle external
to language, maybe some principle of nature, principle of computational efficiency or something
like that which is not specific to language, interacted with a small mutation which just
gave rise to the universal grammar. But that sets forth a new goal of research to ask--to
see if you can determine, like, the principles themselves do really have the intricacy that
they appeared to have, but are actually the result of application of non-linguistic, in
fact, non--maybe, non-human principles, like general principles of computational efficiency
to whatever small change took place. And the small change was probably the capacity to
carry out recursive enumeration, basically, the capacity that gives you the number system,
for example, to take two things, two objects already constructed in the mind and make up
a new object out of them and then keep that process up indefinitely so you get an infinite
array of possible expressions, each with some semantic interpretation and some mode of externalization,
speech or sign, whatever it may be; well, that would be--and the goal would be to try
to show that was essentially instantaneous—-once the small mutation took place given the--this
operation, recursive enumeration operation, that allows you to create a discreet infinity
of expressions--structured expressions. Well, that's at least the feasible picture; the
trick is to show that it's true or how close it is to true and can you cut away at the
apparent complexity of the principles and show that they can actually be accounted for
in terms of general principles of the hold for organisms--generally perhaps and maybe
even elsewhere in the physical world, and that are instantly or almost instantly applied
once the original move is made to whatever small move it was to produce the capacity
for recursive enumeration. Well, that's a goal, you know. It's far from being attained
but the last 15, 20 years, there's been considerable progress towards it. But there's a lot of
things that it seemed, 20 years ago, you had to assign to genetic endowment. It now have
been rather plausibly shown to be possible consequences of just application, particularly
the principles of computational efficiency to a system which had only the ability to
construct an infinite hierarchy of expressions. And that, we don't know enough about the brain
to know how might that happen but that could have been a very small mutation-—just changing
something in somebody's genome and then spreading through the small breeding group. So that,
in that respect, it's a goal, you know, and steps have been taken towards it. But you
would expect that something like that ought to be true, just from the-—what's known
about the history of evolution of Homo sapiens in very recent times without much opportunity
for selection that had any effect-—maybe a small effect but not much. So, that's, I
think, that's the tendency of thinking, at least my thinking and some other—-many others,
on how theories of universal grammar have changed. But the idea that there is universal
grammar that exists, that can't be controversial unless you believe in magic, not for the elementary
reasons that I mentioned. >> MALE: This is from Robin Green. And we
can actually have local questions as well, but this is one from Robin Green who says,
"You are well-known for your criticism of our current generation's lack of insight and
sense of history but what do you see in the younger generations that you personally find
energizing and encouraging?" >> CHOMSKY: I don't know if I had that criticism
of the younger generation. So, I'm not sure I accept the premise of the question; although
I think it is a very sad fact about our culture, our general culture, that it's extremely insular,
ingrown, lack of knowledge of the world, of history and so on and that really goes way
back and I think it's probably less true now than it has been in the past; but it is certainly
true. And in United States, it's dramatically true as compared with comparable societies.
There's some obvious reasons for that. The United States is very different from any other
industrial society in many respects. For one thing, I mean, there's talk about, you know,
there's debate about the American empire--is there one, isn't there one and so on. There
shouldn't be any debate. This is the one country in the world that was founded as an empire--that's
what George Washington called a "nationed empire" when the country was founded. And
the goal, as Washington put it, was to drive the indigenous population--the savages as
he called them--away; they will disappear just like the wolves who they are identical
with, except in shape. Thomas Jefferson, for him, "We are going to drive them behind the
stony mountains where they belong and then the country will be free of blot or mixture,
red or black..." It didn't quite make it but that was the goal. "And then this will be
the nest from which the entire hemisphere is populated by members of our superior race..."
You'd read later of Walt Whitman, others--some hideous racist comments which were just taken
for granted. So, yes, it's an empire and it extends--supposed to extend everywhere. Back
in the, you know, 1820, roughly around then, the principle was laid down that--as modern
historians put it-- that "expansion is the path to security. The only way to be secure
is to expand." At that time, the argument was that's why we had to conquer Florida to
defend ourselves from what were called "the runaway slaves and the lawless Indians" who
were a threat because there were in our way so we have to expand. And then on to the present,
the main scholarly book on the origins of the Bush doctrine which approves of it; John
Lewis Gaddis, historian at Yale, traces it back to that moment and says, "Yeah. That's
the right principle. Expansion is the path to security," and, now, that means expanding
over the whole world and, you know, space and the, you know, the galaxy or whatever.
That's the only way to be secure and to ensure that the empire rules the world. So it's unusual
country in that respect. I mean, the British wanted to be an empire. They modeled themselves
on Rome; but the United States had a different picture from the origins. Furthermore, once
the native population was, you know, driven beyond the stony mountains as Jefferson put
it, it was, the country--the continent was open, you know. They were very rich, you know,
very rich in resources. Ultimate security, nobody ever had comfortable security all to
us, you know, where the waves of immigrants are and there's no reason to look anywhere
else. It's essentially homogenous. So you travel in Europe, you don't have to go very
far to hear completely different languages. We go back 50 years. It was even more so before
the unifying effects of television and national states. Just, you know, plenty of people in
Europe can't talk to their grandmothers because they speak a different language. But even
now in Europe, you don't have to go very far to see different cultures, different languages,
you know, and so on. In United States, you go from Boston-Los Angeles and you have so
nothing changes. You have slight difference in accent, maybe the cars or superhighways
are faster out there but--so there's every reason to expect people to be insular and
you see it dramatically. I mean... people are just unaware of what's happening on the
outside world. Actually, this changed significantly after 9/11. It had an interesting effect in
the United States. One of the effects was to engender fear. That was the first attack
on American soil since the British had burned down Washington in 1814. People mentioned
Pearl Harbor but it's irrelevant. That was an attack on a U.S. naval base, and would
have amounted to a colony and, by our standard, incidentally, a very legitimate attack. I
couldn't explain that if it's not obvious. But that wasn't an attack on a national territory.
In fact, there has been none except tiny forays; you know, Pancho Villa got a couple of miles
into the country or something. But here was an attack on the national territory--the kind
that other countries face all the time-—and it did engender fear. That's not what's supposed
to happen but it also opened a lot of minds. So, I think, since then the insularity has
declined and more people are curious about the world and even about history and that's
largely an effect of the 1960s. The 1960s had a highly civilizing effect on the society
and that's why they're almost universally condemned as a terrible period, the time of
troubles and so on. You are going to hear a lot about that this year because it's the
40th anniversary of 1968--it's the 40th--do the arithmetic--but a lot of talk about the
1968, a terrible time. Actually, it was a terrible time. It civilized the country. You'll
see it's so in MIT like, say, when I got here, if you walked down the halls at MIT, what
you saw was well-dressed, differential, white males doing their homework, no political meetings
advertised. You know, you do your work, you build the electrical circuit, you know, build
the bridge, whatever it is. That's a little bit of a caricature but that's pretty much
what it was. When you take a look down the halls now, it's totally different; half women,
third minorities, informal relations, a lot of activism, all kind of topics and that's
symbolic of what happened in the country. And that's a consequence of the civilizing
effect of the '60s which is, of course, very frightening to elites. People are supposed
to be passive, apathetic and obedient. In fact, one of the major studies of the horrible
effect of the 1960's by liberal internationalists, incidentally, condemned the era for its excess
of democracy. The book is called "The Crisis of Democracy." There was too much democracy
in the 60s. The people who are supposed to be passive and apathetic and obedient like
minorities, women, the young, the old, what are called the "special interests"; that is
the whole population except for the corporate sector. We're supposed to be passive, apathetic
and obedient. They weren't doing it. They were trying to enter the political arena to
press their demands, you know, change the society. It was intolerable. We have to have
more moderation in democracy. And, particularly, we're concerned about what they called "the
institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young"--their phrase--meaning schools,
universities, churches and so on. They weren't indoctrinating the young properly and that's
why we got all these excesses like the women's movement and the opposition to aggression
and all sorts of terrible things. But the country did change and positively and it has
changed a lot since then and that has—-going back to recognizing history, it did that too.
At the time, let's give you a personal example, just not on typical--I had a daughter in fourth
grade in 1969--I remember the time precisely because of the context-—and this is in Lexington,
which is called a very progressive town, you know, professionals, academics, everybody
votes for McGovern, you know, all that sort of thing. I have been looking through her
school textbook one day; it was called "Exploring New England." The structure of the textbook
was there's a young boy. His name is Robert, and he's being taken through colonial New
England by an older man who shows him the glories of New England, and I was curious.
I was wondering: How are they going to handle the massacres, you know, like the terrible
massacre the Pequot massacre--in which the colonist waited for the men to leave the village
and then went in and slaughtered all the women and children and old men and when the men
came back, they were frightened and they all fled, you know, so they got rid of the Pequot--so
how did they handle this, you know? So I looked at it and it was described accurately but
with praise and it ends up with Robert, the young boy, saying, "I wish I were a man and
had been there" you know. Well, you know, I sort of couldn't believe it. I showed it
to my wife. She was appalled, went to talk to the teacher. The teacher couldn't see what
was wrong with it, you know. That was 1969, and you couldn't have a textbook like that
in any corner of the country today. It's inconceivable. There's some recognition of the horrors of
the past. Incidentally, the founding fathers were well-aware of it. John Quincy Adams,
for example, I talked about that hapless race of Native Americans who we are exterminating
with such merciless cruelty and so on. But then it sort of disappeared and it just became
an empty continent full of a few scattered hunter-gatherers and if we kill a couple of
them, that's fine, and so we drive them over the stony mountains. But, by now, that's gone.
You know, there's at least some appreciation of it and also of slavery and other things.
So there's more understanding of the history. There's more understanding of the outside
world; though it's still pretty insular and I think it's getting better. So I think the
next generation will be even better in this respect.
>> MALE: A question from Trevor Sarah--probably, maybe it ties in--due to the Internet, mass
media is increasingly becoming more distributed, blogs, independent news, et cetera. How does
the Internet media impact propaganda model described in "Manufacturing Consent"?
>> CHOMSKY: Well, literally, the propaganda model described in "Manufacturing Consent"
does a gnarly hold of the Internet. I mean, that's a model that's concerned with the intuitional
structure of the media. Okay, the media, the institutional structure is major corporations
selling audiences to other businesses to simplify it. And that's not true with the Internet.
So it doesn't reply directly but it's not completely inapplicable. So though the Internet,
like almost the entire Hi-tech economy is a product of the state sector, I mean, contrary
to illusions, the United States is very far from a free enterprise market economy. I'm
sure all of you--people know that things like computers, the Internet and microelectronics
and biotechnology and I'll go on across the list, come out of the state sector, places
like MIT. In fact, for long periods, the Internet was in the state sector for about 30 years
or more before it was handed over to private enterprise for profit. But the Internet, nevertheless,
there is a question and, in fact, it's a live question now about keeping the Internet neutral,
the neutrality of the Internet. So will the few private systems that have control of access
to the Internet, once it became privatized, will they be able to use that control to differentiate
access to yield preferred, say, you know, fast, easy access to the places where they
want you to go and make it harder and, you know, more devious and so on for the place
that I don't want you to go. So that neutrality is a big issue. People know more about this
than I do. So we'll kind of talk about it. But in that respect, in that corner of the
system, yes, the propaganda model still holds, but other than that, it's been at least in
its early years, a very free system. When it was under state control, like control of
the Pentagon, it was totally free. That's an illusion that many people have. The Pentagon
is, I mean, actually, we know that here, MIT was like, you know, maybe 90 percent Pentagon-funded
up until the early '70s and it was the periods of the greatest freedom. No classified work,
complete, free interchange. You wrote anything you wanted; nobody cared because the generals,
unlike many economists were well-aware that the--it's the state sector that's providing
a large part of the initiative, the dynamism, the inventiveness and so on; that keeps the
hi-tech economy going. So they didn't put many constraints in. As it gets more corporatized,
there's more constraints. But for a long time, it was just in the Army. It was the Military.
You know, it's ARPANET. That was the former Internet. And just to give you an illustration
on how it worked, the United States was--I had another daughter who was living in Nicaragua
in the 1980s, and the United States was carrying out a major terrorist war against Nicaragua,
practically destroyed the country. Communication was impossible. You couldn't go by phone.
You know, the mail wasn't going and so on. But I could communicate with my daughter through
the Pentagon system. Since I'm in the MIT, I was on the ARPANET and she found some place
where she was on the ARPANET. So thanks to the Pentagon, we were able to communicate
during a period when the US was trying to destroy the country. That's an indication
of how free it was. And the question is, "Can it be kept free?" So, yes, that's a problem.
But there are other issues that arise with the Internet that are serious. It's undoubtedly
a tremendous contribution. If you're into research, for example, it's just fantastic.
I probably do 50 Google searches a day or something like that. And you could get things
that you'd really--I haven't been in the library for a long time, but thankfully, I have some
friends and colleagues who go to the library for me. But a lot of it, you have to go to
the library for--you can just pick up quickly, a matter of fact, a lot more. If you want
to find out about information about, you know, say what's going on in world news and so on,
yes, if you know where to look, you can find it. A much wider array of information is available.
All of that is positive but it also has a negative side; in fact, a number of negative
sides. Imagine, say that you're a biologist, and you have now available every article that's
been published all over the world on the field that you are interested in and you spend your
time reading those articles. But the end result is you're the worst biologist in history.
It's a total waste of time. In order to become a serious biologist, you have to know what
you're looking for. If you're flooded with massive information and you sort of try to
wade through it, you're totally paralyzed. You have to know what to look for, you have
to know the framework of understanding, you know, some background conception of what's
going on. The framework can't be rigid like you have to be willing to let it modified;
but it's indispensable. If you don't have it, you're just flooded with meaningless information.
What the problem is that the people--a large majority of people who are using the Internet
do have a framework but it's the framework that comes from the indoctrination that they've
been subjected to. Normally, what the propaganda model applies to and it also generalizes to
the academic, you know, to the schools and the colleges and to the general intellectual
community. There is an intellectual community which the media are a part which I do have
time to talk about it if you like, but it does give an extremely skewed picture of the
world. I could illustrate it from this morning's newspapers if you want. In fact, you can always,
when I give talks on the media, I usually never prepare them for the very simple reason,
that morning's newspaper gives all the evidence you need. It never failed yet in Europe or
here. So I could talk about it. But it is an extremely narrow doctrinal universe and,
in fact, the participants have it internalized. If you want to see a good example of that,
do a Google search and find a program, an interview with Charlie Rose, you know, the
intellectual man's interviewer. He interviewed the most respected correspondent in Iraq,
you know, John Burns, who's kind of like the dean of the foreign policy--foreign correspondents.
It's a very interesting interview and he asks Burns various questions about reporting in
Iraq, and Burns expresses quite clearly and I'm sure unconsciously the doctrinal framework
that shapes coverage and interpretation. To put it simply, we have to be cheering for
the home team so--because the home team is perfect. You know, that's the picture. So
what he says is--you have to get it in his words but the picture is that the United States
is certainly, since the Second World War has been the major force in the world and protecting
human rights, freedom, justice, all kind of wonderful things and history is irrelevant,
we don't look at that, that's boring; but that's the nature of the United States, like
its essence. And he says if the outcome of the Iraq War was that we would lose our willingness
to intervene all over the world with force to protect human rights and everything the
way we've been doing for the past 15 years, then there will be dark days. Okay, that's
the picture. It's not unlike the picture that you would have heard from a correspondent
at Pravda in 1985 about how Stalin was defending democracy and human rights and so on against
the fascist attack, and I probably would have believed it. I'm sure John Burns believes
it. But if you look at the actual coverage, it confirms pretty well of what he describes.
If that's the approach you take towards using the Internet, you might as well be reading
some local tabloid. That's what you'll find. If you have a different framework of interpretation,
of understanding, you'll find other things, whether it's science or public affairs or
anything else. And that--to achieve that requires something way beyond access; it requires understanding
and that comes out of other factors. >> MALE: On frameworks, Bryan Clint writes
"Politicians are adept at changing public opinion by inventing new phrases such as "enemy
combatants" and "enhanced interrogation techniques"; does this expose some flaw in humans that
we reason based on surface words rather than their underlying meanings?
>> CHOMSKY: I don't think it's a flaw of humans and I'm not sure how much to determine--you
see there's two different questions you have to distinguish here. So go back to the propaganda
model. That is a discussion of what the media are doing as institutions. And, in fact, it
generalizes to the intellectual cultured much more broadly. But there's a separate question,
and that is how much are people influenced by it? That's quite a separate question. Okay,
so to what extent do people accept and internalize the doctrinal system that's, say, described
by John Burns? Well, the answer is pretty complex when you look. And say, for example,
say, take to Vietnam War. It's far enough back so we can think about a little bit objectively
perhaps. If you look over the Vietnam War, there was never in the mainstream--never is
a strong word; but close to never, like 99.9 percent. A principal critic of the war, New
York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers, who was there recently talks about "booming Grozny."
It used to be rubble. Now, it's booming. They have electricity run by Chechens. Of course,
the Russians are on the background, but a great success. I mean if Petraeus could achieve
anything remotely like that in Iraq, he'd probably be crowned king. But we don't praise
Putin; at least we shouldn't. We condemned it even though it succeeded in their terms
like the Germans succeeded in Vichy, France--it was a French-run society and, more or less,
stable; but we don't praise it. However, for ourselves, we take totally different principles.
We never, almost never permit or can't even think of a principled critique of our own
crimes. You can test it. But what about public opinion? Well, there you got a striking gulf.
So, for example, when the Vietnam War ended, everyone, you know, serious analysts had to
write a commentary on it and the most interesting ones, as always, or way out on are the ones
at the left extreme of the mainstream. So, say, take Anthony Lewis of the New York Times
who's about as far as we can get and, you know, not be from Neptune or something. But
he wrote a critical commentary; he said the Vietnam War began with, like, blundering efforts
to do good. Notice that that's mostly tautology. Since we carried it out, it was efforts to
do good, period; no further discussion necessary. That's by definition. It was blundering because
it didn't entirely work. So, it began with blundering efforts to do good, but he says,
by 1969, coming back to the date, it was clear to most of the world that it was too costly
to ourselves, okay? That's the left end of the critical spectrum. You can search and
see if you could find anything that goes beyond that. But what did the public think? Well,
we know. In 1969, it happens, the first general polls were taken of public opinion on the
Vietnam War. General, important ones, the Chicago Counsel on Foreign Relations, they
continue to be taken up till today quadrennially. In 1969, 70 percent of the public said the
war was fundamentally wrong and immoral, not a mistake. Try to find that anywhere in mainstream
discussion. Okay? Good exercise. And those figures persist up until the latest polls,
a little vacillation, but basically, there's a huge gulf between public opinion and intellectual
elites, the doctorinal managers. And that's true on a lot of other issues. That's true
on the Iraq war. That's true on the threat to invade Iran. That's true on national health
care. That's true on relations with Cuba. You know, just run across the list. And it
turns out there's a huge gulf between public opinion and intellectual opinion; hence, doctrine,
media and so on. So that does raise a question about the extent to which the public actually
accepts this. To what extent they do, so I'll take your example, just like enemy combatant.
Well, what's an enemy combatant? Well, actually one of them is coming up for trial. I think
it may be the first trial from Guantanamo. It turns out it's a kid who was picked up
as an enemy combatant when he was 15 years old because he did something, maybe threw
a stone or did something, maybe shot or something, an American soldier, okay, so therefore we
have to try him and maybe sentence him. He's been in Guantanamo for years now. Who knows
what will happen to him? What kind of a framework is that? I mean if the United States was invaded
by Iran, let's say, and some 15-year-old kid tried to do something to the invaders, is
he criminal? I mean, the framework, the conception is kind of like in outer space; unfortunately,
it's real. And what was the other term you asked?
MALE: Enhanced interrogation. CHOMSKY: Yeah, enhanced interrogation, it's
just another word for torture. Like there's a huge fuss now about Guantanamo. Delegations
are taken there by the Army to show how beautifully the prisoners are treated, and there's books
and articles about is there torture and so on and so forth. It's all totally beside the
point, entirely beside the point. As soon as you hear that those who are captured are
taken to Guantanamo, you know it's a torture chamber. There is no other reason for sending
them to Guantanamo. Why not send them to a security prison in New York, let's say? Okay?
It's perfectly safe, they'll never get out and so on. Well, the problem is if you send
them to New York, automatically, you start getting the whole civil rights system coming
in. Did they have lawyers? You know, can they be tortured? Are they told the charges against
them and so on? You send them to Guantanamo, you can do anything you like. So, therefore,
as soon as we hear the word Guantanamo, we know it's torture chamber without the investigations,
without the inquiries, anything and then you can ask a further question: What's U.S. doing
in Guantanamo? I mean, actually, the reason they chose Guantanamo was because they can
pretend that the U.S. doesn't have jurisdiction, because it's in Cuba. Okay? So the courts
don't have jurisdiction, and there's big debates about that. But the debates are ridiculous,
of course. I mean, what is the U.S. doing in Guantanamo in the first place? Well, it
turns out, if you look back, that there's a treaty between the U.S. and Cuba, which
Cuba signed at gunpoint. It was under military occupation. And the treaty has absolutely
no validity by any standards you could think of, and the treaty allowed the United States
to use Guantanamo--it's a big port--as a calling station for the Navy. It didn't say anything
about keeping prisoners there so we're violating the illegal treaty that we forced on Cuba.
And, in fact, why is the United States--it leads to a further question. Why does the
U.S. hold on Guantanamo altogether? Well, for one thing, it is a major port, a naval
base for controlling the Caribbean and South America. But there's another reason. It prevents
Cuban development. That means that the eastern end to the island is blocked from development.
So if you want to strangle and destroy Cuba, which we've wanted to do since 1959 for reasons
that are explained in the internal record because of--and we go back to the Kennedy
and Johnson administration, because of it's successful defiance of U.S. principles going
back to the Monroe doctrine and the Russians. The Monroe Doctrine stated we're going to
run the hemisphere. That was the goal of the founding fathers. As I said, Jefferson, it's
the nest, we're the nest from which we'll people the whole continent getting rid of,
you know, the red men and the Spanish speakers. And Cuba is carrying a successful defiance
of this, and that's intolerable so, therefore, we have to seriously punish the people of
Cuba as we've been doing with terrorism, economic strangulation and so on. Incidentally, an
opposition to popular will here; a large percentage of the American population, that's around,
that's usually around two-thirds think we are under normal relations with Cuba. But
holding on to Guantanamo is part of the strangulation of Cuba, ensuring that they can't develop
into the island which we have based for trade with Europe and so on and so forth. Well,
all of these questions are the ones that would be in headlines in the free press, and not
whether this particular 15-year-old shot an American soldier invading his country. So,
yeah, there's a lot hidden behind the word "enemy combatant." And, in fact, you can just
take about almost anywhere of political discourse. You almost pick it at random. I mean, it has
two meanings. It has its literal meaning and it has its doctrinal meaning. And the two
have, usually, almost nothing to do with each other. So it takes aggression, an important
term. It has a technical meaning. It was defined at the Nuremberg Tribunal, and it was then
accepted internationally. But what it means is the obvious thing: sending military forces
into another country, you know, not at their request or something. Okay, that's aggression.
And that's the term we used, applied to anyone else. Like the Nazi war criminals, the primary
reason they were hanged was because of the crime of aggression. And, incidentally, which
is defined more carefully. It defines--the Nuremberg Tribunal defines aggression as the
supreme international crime which encompasses--which differs from other crimes in that it encompasses
all of the evil that follows. So the initial aggression in Iraq encompasses the sectarian
warfare, the destruction of the antiquities, the millions of refugees. Everything that
happened since is encompassed in the initial act of aggression. Justice Jackson, the American
justice at Nuremberg gave a passionate declaration to the tribunal. He said that, "We're handing
the defendants a poisoned chalice, and if we ever sip from it," meaning if we are ever
guilty of the same crimes, "we must suffer the same punishment or else the whole trial
is a farce." Okay? Again, this should be the headlines, except for one problem: The United
States cannot commit aggression by definition. We don't commit aggression. Take a look at
the front page of the Wall Street Journal today, the big lead article, "Iran still—-U.S
claims Iran is still sending arms to Iraq." Maybe true. Is Iran the only country sending
arms to Iraq? Well, Condoleezza Rice a little while back was asked on television, "What's
the solution to the Iraq problem?" She said, "Simple, just end the flow of foreign fighters
and foreign arms, then it's over." Nobody batted an eyelash, for good reason. We--our
forces are not foreign. They are indigenous. Wherever they are, they are indigenous. If
we invaded Canada, we would be there by right. And if a Canadian, a 15-year-old kid threw
a stone at an American soldier, he'd be an enemy combatant, and we send him to Guantanamo.
And it follows from a very elementary principle. It's the one on which the country was founded,
we're a nationed empire; expansion is the path to security; we are indigenous everywhere.
We own the world so, therefore, the questions can't be asked. And if you look at commentary
and debate and discussion, we find that that's internalized. Nobody points to it. It's just
part of our picture of the world, you know. And that infects everything. That's why every
term, like the terms we used has, from an outside point of view, it sounds like you're
talking about a bunch of madmen. >> MALE: Marie Bingham writes, "There has
been a lot of discussion about the detrimental effects of e-mail, instant messengers, and
this phone text messaging and the like on syntax and grammar, especially English, do
you feel this is the case or these changes are just a part of natural evolution of language?"
>> CHOMSKY: Well, I have experience with it having two 15-year-old grandsons. When my
grandson comes over to the house to do what's engaging, what's called doing his homework,
you know, Sunday evening. Of course, everything is put off till the Sunday evening. He sits
there with his computer in front of him, earplugs, listening to something that's called music.
Don't ask me to describe it. And while he is doing this thing called homework, he is
meanwhile text messaging to about 15 friends in a form which I can't even read. You know,
it's just a few letters and you know. It's not doing anything to the language. I mean
I think that's a mistake. The language is robust enough so it won't be affected by that.
But I think it's doing something to the minds. You know, the--the kids are just stimulus-hungry.
They can't set aside, like, my own children, let's say, you know, they go to the library
and pick up 10 books and come home, and go off into a corner and read the books. I actually
have a granddaughter in, grew up in Nicaragua, and now in Mexico, and when she comes to visit,
it's the first thing she does, 10 years old, go to the public library, come back with a
stack of books, go off in a corner and read them. It's almost inconceivable for a kid
that age here. I mean, maybe there are some but, you know, they're just--they have to
be stimulated constantly by noise, by visual imagery, by what's called interchange with
friends, although the interchange are so superficial that it's shocking, you know, to take a look
at it when they decode it for you. And I'm sure that's having an effect. It's having
an effect on children growing up, and I don't think a good effect. But it's not really an
effect on the language. That's not going to change. I mean, it's true that if you look
over the history of language, teenage--teenagers generally tend to develop around sort of argot,
you know, way of talking. And I mean, it's one of the sources of innovation and change
in language because the teenagers grow up and, you know, they get what--they sort of
develop this peer group, separation from the adult world, those have some effect on what
the next stage of the language is though not, you know, not like on the syntax or anything
like that. But this I think is serious and it's having--and I think one should be concerned
about the effect on the children. I can see the differences on, say, my grandchildren
who grew up here and the ones who grew up south of the border, you know. And I suspect
that's fairly general. As for e-mail, it is a mixed blessing. I mean, I think it's a great
thing. On the other hand, I spend maybe five or six hours a night just answering queries
and comments. So I'm not sure if it's the best way of distributing energy but...
>> FEMALE: Well, thank you very much for coming here.