Noam Chomsky, born December 7, 1928, is a political activist and recipient of the Orwell Award for "Distinguished Contributions to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language" — granted him in 1981 and '89 by The National Council of Teachers of English. In 2011 he was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize (University of Sydney) for his "unfailing courage, critical analysis of power and promotion of human rights". He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll jointly conducted by American magazine Foreign Policy and British magazine Prospect described Chomsky as "voted the world's leading public intellectual. Wikipedia describes him as "one of the most cited scholars in history."
Chomsky has spoken against trying to tell people what to think. He respects individuals as free in their cognitive responses to what they hear. He doesn't like education as indoctrination; he sees education as an opportunity for self-fulfillment. Chomsky speaks with a calmness that those who enjoy being aroused find boring. He believes that what people do is more important than what they think.
Politically he is anti-authoritarian. He rejects the idea that politics can be scientific, putting himself apart from Engels and others who have claimed Marxism to be scientific — as in scientific socialism. Looking back at Lenin and the Bolsheviks, he describes Lenin as "a rightwing deviationist within the socialist movement." He has distaste for Lenin's belief in the Bolsheviks as a vanguard holding state power and putting the masses in shape for socialism. Chomsky is described as rooting his political ideas about an ideal society in empirical data and empirically justified theories, and he believes commonsense human decency (that Stalin, for example, seems to have abandoned).
Chomsky has described himself as a libertarian socialist, contrasting this with support for the capitalist welfare state. In 2016, Chomsky supported the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, who ran as a Democrat, but Chomsky has described the Democratic Party (and the Republicans) as too beholden to business interests.
Chomsky has included the United States as a country with an economy that is "state capitalism," where, explains Wikipedia:
large enterprises that are deemed "too big to fail" receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms' assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where the state largely funds private production at public expense, but private owners reap the profits.
Chomsky has been a vociferous critic of established power. A writer for Scientific American describes Chomsky as "one of the most contrarian intellectuals I have met (rivaled only by philosopher Paul Feyerabend). He is compelled to criticize all authority figures, even himself."
In 2010, as a result of his criticisms of Israel, Chomsky was barred from entering Israel. Some have associated his criticism of US foreign policy across decades (including US support for the Saigon regime in Vietnam) with anti-Americanism.
Chomsky has been described as a major figure in analytic philosophy and one of the founders of the field of cognitive science (how nervous systems represent, process, and transform information). Some have called him "the father of modern linguistics". Chomsky rejected the behaviorist psychology of B.F. Skinner, which views the mind as a blank slate. Chomsky's holds that humans share the same underlying biological linguistic structure regardless of sociocultural differences.
He separates himself from Plato, who derided the sense and illusory and held that the human mind possesses innate, 'clear and distinct' ideas. Chomsky holds that the mind does not operate in isolation. He claims that the human mind depends on empirical experiences (and our prefrontal cortex) to make sense of what we perceive, and in trying to communicate this sense we have the instinct to structure our language in an ordered and grammatical way.
In what was called Linguistic Wars, Chomsky disagreed with one of his former students, George Lakoff, who focused on metaphors as tools of thought. Lakoff claimed that non-metaphorical thought is possible but only when we are describing purely physical reality. And Lakoff contended that we know all things in association with their component parts and with other things. We know "tree" in relation to wood, vegetation in general, leaves and what have you. We know up in relation to down, soft in relation to hard, fast in relation to slow, yesterday in relation to the day before and today.
Chomsky criticizes Postmodern Philosophy and French Intellectuals (including Foucault) claiming that Postmodern thought serves as an instrument of oppressive power structures. (Some associate Postmodern thought with fake information delivered by Donald Trump.) See an opinion piece by Jeet Heer in the New Republic: America's First Postmodern President".
See also Post-Modern Absurdities: Chomsky, Post-Structuralism and Science, by Daniel Matthews.
Copyright © 2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.