My friend Noam Chomsky, a man of unparalleled scholarship and without peer in his lending the power of the ivory tower to the powerless, celebrates his ninetieth birthday this Friday. Now, anyone reading this blog would easily understand the profound admiration I hold in my heart for the man who, more than any other, demonstrated to me that not only is making a difference possible, it is essential. Encyclopedic, direct, and unwavering, he powerfully critiques state power and structures of domination and control, arguing that legitimacy of such structures must meet a high burden of self-justification. He emphasizes also the twin existential crises of the day, catastrophic climate change and nuclear proliferation, pointing to alarming environmental indicators and historical near-misses of nuclear attacks and accidents. It’s my genuine belief that we’re truly blessed to have ninety years with a man whose origins and giftings coalesced into such principle, magnanimity, and accomplishment. And there are, indeed, many Chomskys. Computer scientists know Chomsky of the eponymous Hierarchy and other key contributions to formal languages. Cognitive scientists know Chomsky as a progenitor of their discipline. Linguists know Chomsky the father of theirs. Indigenous peoples around the world see him as tireless advocate. Power elites know Chomsky the perennial thorn-in-the-side. Media specialists know Chomsky the scathing critic. Activists know Chomsky the immensely keen, unswerving analyst. I know Chomsky the warm, gentle man, eager to inspire a new generation of scientists and activists. He represents, to me, perhaps a paragon of mastery, autonomy, and purpose, achieving honor in his creative work while mindfully and willingly sharing the power his privilege confers with others. He represents, in short, an example of what I’d like to help create with this blog: a technologist activist duality of near perfect harmony. So join me for these three days in celebrating the beginning of nonagenarian life for Avram Noam Chomsky. For these three days, I’d originally planned to write a good deal more; unfortunately, cognitive difficulties have slowed me significantly, so we’ll celebrate rather with selections of his talks.
Chomsky on Television? Who? When?
Today, we’ll begin with the extremely rare television interviews with him in the United States, offering an interesting look at his early life and work.
We begin with Chomsky and William F. Buckley, once a prominent intellectual in the far right tradition. I’d not suggest one listen too far, as Buckley’s incessant interruptions, embarrassingly glaring narcissism, and accusatory finger-pointing can drive one to madness. But watching Buckley nearly break the wagging pencil while Noam demolishes his rubbish is kinda fun.
Next, we’ll jump forward a few years to a couple Stony Brook discussions where Noam gives a fairly good description of his early life and insight into Asian geopolitics. The tone and demeanor of the discussions is considerably easier to bear, so this one is worth the listen.
Here’s the second.
Next, Chomsky meets with renowned and respected journalist Bill Moyers, a discussion split over two videos. Here’s part one.
And here’s part two.
Imagine Chomsky on modern television! Maher invited him on because of viewer pressure, but only for three minutes. What a laugh!
Noam has appeared on C-SPAN here and there, often for book reviews. They’ve also aired selected talks. Here’s his first appearance.
For rather obvious reasons, I anguished whether to include this 2003 interview, but I believe it nonetheless remains an important part of the history of Chomsky’s television appearances.
Noam returned in 2006.
A Few Final Words
After absorbing the videos above, you among my American readers may wonder why the hell a mainstream media system with the trappings of “free press” would so sparingly feature a man of such clarity, depth, and near impeccable primary source underwriting. Here’s his answer, a clip from the documentary Manufacturing Consent, based on his seminal media critique co-authored with the late Edward S. Herman.
And one further answer from the late great Gore Vidal.
Thanks for joining me in the first of three celebratory days, and here’s hoping that the next ninety years features a lot more mainstream media attention on Chomsky.