the Iconocast: Noam Chomsky (episode 44)

February 21, 2013the Iconocast Collective

Post image for the Iconocast: Noam Chomsky (episode 44)
In this episode, Joanna and Tim interview Noam Chomsky.
Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, political critic, and activist. He is an Institute Professor and Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT, where he has worked for over 50 years. In addition to his work in linguistics, he has written on war, politics, and mass media, and is the author of over 100 books.

If you like the Iconocast, please make a donation to make more episodes possible. Each episode takes tens of hours of pre-interview prep, in-studio recording, and post-interview editing and engineering. Since each episode of the Iconocast involves multiple hosts often in different locations (as well as guests who are often on the other side of the country), recording and editing offers unique challenges. New episodes depend upon your generosity. Click here to donate.

Subscribe to the Iconocast via iTunes or RSS.

Intro and bumper music for this episode is All Along the Watchtower as performed by Jimi Hendrix.

  • Wes Howard-Brook

    Interesting stuff, folks. I’d like to open up the question that you discussed at the end about leadership and consensus. I was surprised that none of you three considered the alternative to both in “discernment.” That’s what we’ve always used in our work, to avoid just the problems you and Chomsky named. It seems to me that that’s one of the primary benefits of being Jesus/Gospel-centered, rather than simply “leftist’ as Chomsky is: we have a Center to whom we can listen, individually and together, rather than, as the Pharisees and Jesus’ other opponents are often found doing, “putting their heads together” to figure out what to do on their own power.

    The discernment tradition is well trod, whether the Ignatian form or other variations, and works very well to reach clarity among people committed to following Jesus together.

    On that note, it was very revealing to hear Chomsky talk about being a “loner.” The limits of an intellectual life can often be that it is easier to say what’s wrong than to live what’s right. His legacy is tremendous in pointing out the lies and hypocrisies of the Powers, but not so much on embodying an alternative. Again, Jesus is the difference, I think.

    • paul munn

      I think you’re right about the very real influence of the active, living Truth (Jesus) who is working to bring us to unity and good, loving decisions together. So, yes, it’s not just us figuring things out by our own power.

      But I’ve been in a lot of Christian communities that value discernment and listening to God and that doesn’t automatically solve decision-making problems. People come to different conclusions in their prayerful discernment. And it can even intensify conflicts when people get dug in thinking God is telling us to go one way or another. They may be right, too, in digging in when most of the rest of the group doesn’t see it yet. But discernment doesn’t automatically lead to consensus, or avoid the problems with consensus decision-making like was mentioned at the end of the discussion. I’ve seen this happen again and again in Christian communities that would totally agree with what you say about discernment.

      My conclusion so far is that we need to embrace discernment-based consensus on the level we can find it, and not expect or insist on large numbers of people, or the whole community, to all reach the truth together on any issue or decision. Act in small groups (or even alone) where we discern God’s leading and support to do good. The smaller the group, in my experience, the more possible real, truth-ful consensus is. “Where two or three are gathered in my name.”

      It seems to me that the temptation to dominate a group (for example as Noam describes it in even an egalitarian group) becomes greater the bigger and more powerful that group is. Where there is political and economic power, it attracts those who want to dominate and use that power. You want to “weed out” those people? Don’t accumulate that kind of power that they can gain control of and use. That’s what we see in Jesus’ example, don’t we?

  • Joanna Shenk

    Hey Wes, yes good point about discernment. In the midst of the interview I was caught off guard by Chomsky’s response/reaction to the word “leader” and at the same time wanted to affirm his point (especially for listeners who are new to his work). I also felt like he was responding to a type of leadership that I wasn’t assuming as a Mennonite feminist anarchist.

    In retrospect I would have liked to reiterate my question, sans the word “leader”, since I was still interested in his response to the content. But I would have also been curious about his thoughts on discernment. I was impressed with his honesty in naming himself as a loner, earlier in the interview and wonder how that would have related to his thoughts on discernment.

  • anon

    hey, love the podcast and love the website, but could y’all please eq the show a little more closely? Sometimes the hosts’ mikes are on so loud that they drown out Noam’s voice with their non-communicative sound effects (breathing, grunts, coughs, etc.) Or if the hosts could just sit farther back from the mics……

    • Mark Van Steenwyk

      The two hosts skyped in from California and Indiana. Noam was at his office in Mass. The interview was recorded in Minneapolis. The issue was more a factor of how Skype handles sound rather than how it is eq-ed,

    • Joanna Shenk

      I will try to grunt less in the future. :-) And, I’m so glad you enjoy the podcast!

    • Travis LaDuke

      It sounded fine.

  • Jarrod McKenna

    This is one of my favorite interviews we’ve done… (along with Hauerwas, Rita Nakashima Brock & Cornel West, John Dear etc. etc. etc.) :) Well done team. Look forward to interviewing Dr. James Harding.

    • Joanna Shenk

      Thanks mate! And I’m sure you mean Dr. Vincent Harding. :-) Maybe his name was confused in translation to Australian??

  • Rob

    I would actually vote for more sound effects. Maybe some “Wah Wah”, “Zing!”‘ “Ooooooo”, or even a “bow chicka wow wow” if the mood is right.

Previous post:

Next post: