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The Secret of Noam: A Chomsky Interview
March 9, 2011 | 9:00AM

photos by Dakota Fine

“Isn’t it interesting,” he pauses, reflecting, “that eating a banana is somehow comical.” Noam Chomsky says this to me with a semi-straight face.

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He understands the humor in the situation, yet to his mind the concept seems more of an intellectual observation than a funny moment. It’s evident as soon as he begins to talk: the man has none of the animation, the expression that you’d expect from someone so closely affiliated with the field of linguistics.

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If you could somehow manifest a quieter, more monotonous version of Ben Stein’s character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you’re just beginning to scratch the surface. And yet, Chomsky is a warm, inviting soul, happy to discuss any theory or idea you could possibly dream up. Our conversation ran the gamut, from politics to porn.

It’s surprisingly easy to get an interview with the man the New York Times called ‘arguably the most important intellectual alive.’ A quick search on the M.I.T. website yielded his email address and an email exchange later, we’d agreed on a lunch date in his office.

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The instructions were simple. Noam takes his sandwich plain: no frills, no mayo, perhaps a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce to complement the turkey. Definitely hold the avocado. We arrived with his order in hand, contemplating for a moment wrapping it in a McDonald’s bag as a hilarious punchline to a joke that would probably be lost on Chomsky. In the end, it was decided that we’d leave the gentle ribbing for less important intellectuals with more reliable senses of humor.

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Jeff Jetton: I ordered you the turkey on marble rye from the deli downstairs. Is this a thing of habit?

Noam Chomsky: For about the past 20 years or so.

Jeff Jetton: That exact order, huh?

Noam Chomsky: It used to be a bagel and American cheese.

Jeff Jetton: Why isn’t it called ‘The Chomsky’?

Noam Chomsky: [laughs]

Jeff Jetton: How long have you worked here at M.I.T.?

Noam Chomsky: Since ’55.

Jeff Jetton: And you can’t even get a sandwich named after you? Where’s the respect?

Noam Chomsky: [laughs]

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Jeff Jetton: Are you a foodie?

Noam Chomsky: Am I a… ? Meaning?

Jeff Jetton: Are you into gourmet food?

Noam Chomsky: I’m into eating as little as possible, paying as little attention as possible. I never cook. Never use the stove or anything.

Jeff Jetton: Do you know how to cook?

Noam Chomsky: I’ve done it.

Jeff Jetton: Not interested huh?

Noam Chomsky: Not interested.

Jeff Jetton: So, let’s start out. Were you popular in high school? Something tells me you were secretly the high school quarterback and you’re too embarrassed to admit it.

Noam Chomsky: I was sort of an outsider. I had friends but I hated high school.

Jeff Jetton: Why?

Noam Chomsky: My parents worked, so from about 18 months I’ve been in school. But up until 8th grade I was in an experimental school run by Temple University. Progressive school, and that was great. But in high school I had to go to an actual ‘high school’. There was one academic high school were I was, one for boys, one for girls, and it was very rigid. For the teachers it was a dream because the kids there wanted to go to college, so the teachers could sit back and relax. But it was very rigid, you know, tests, grades. I had never had grades before, never knew I was a good student, nothing. And it was a bore. It was a black hole.

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Jeff Jetton: Did you play sports?

Noam Chomsky: On my own, not in the high school system.

Jeff Jetton: You’ve spoken in the past about your views on sports. That, at least people who watch sports, that maybe it’s a distraction for the masses to keep them concentrated on trivialities.

Noam Chomsky: It can be that, doesn’t have to be.

Jeff Jetton: Do you watch?

Noam Chomsky: Do I myself? No. But when my grandson, who was a jock, wanted to go to games I was happy to take him to professional sports games. It was fun.

Jeff Jetton: You have a lot of good sports teams here in Boston.

Noam Chomsky: Yeah. We went to all of them during his jock phase.

Jeff Jetton: [laughs] Collect cards?

Noam Chomsky: Baseball cards. This was back in the ’30s.

Jeff Jetton: Do you still have them?

Noam Chomsky: [shakes head] But I can tell you, if you really want to be bored, I can describe the first baseball game that I went to, inning by inning.

Jeff Jetton: No thanks, definitely not. [laughs]

Noam Chomsky: Terrific game, it was the world championship Yankees. We were sitting right behind Joe Dimaggio in the bleachers, Red Ruffing pitching, Bill Dickey catching. Lou Gehrig on first. It was incredible.

Dakota Fine: Inning by inning?

Noam Chomsky: Oh, I won’t bore you.

Jeff Jetton: Do you ever find your life ruled by your principles? It must be hard to live completely by the parameters set forth in your ideals. Do you ever have to eschew things like buying products made by large companies or driving automobiles, purchasing gasoline, things like that?

Noam Chomsky: I don’t see any particular significance to that, and I don’t pay any attention to it. For one thing, I don’t buy much. Almost buy nothing. I buy what I need, do it the easiest way possible.

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Jeff Jetton: I guess, when you go on a road trip… how do you drive across the country without eating an apple pie from McDonald’s?

Noam Chomsky: Well, the last time I drove across the country was 1956 and I don’t think there were any McDonald’s around then.

Jeff Jetton: Speaking of road trips I’m thinking of creating a graphic novel called ‘Salman and Hitch.’ In my head it’s kind of the cross-country roadtrip adventures of Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie. And the way I’m imaging it, you play a recurring role. It’s a graphic novel, but what I’d like is for you to show up occasionally in the novel having weekend adventures with Hitch and Salman.

Noam Chomsky: I don’t have any weekend adventures. I don’t take time off. You’d have to invent it.

Jeff Jetton: I’ll invent it, I was just wondering if you’d be okay with defending Hitchens’ honour in a bar fight?

Noam Chomsky: Anything you like.

Jeff Jetton: Alright, cool. Let’s talk for a moment about Egypt and the current state of affairs in the Middle East in general. Tunisia, Egypt, seemingly a domino effect taking place in the middle east. North Africa and now Wisconsin. What’s next? What do you think the implications are for the U.S. internationally?

Noam Chomsky: I think it’s pretty serious. There’s kind of a hidden point which isn’t being brought out, and that is that it is inconceivable that the U.S. would permit democracy in the Middle East, and for a very simple reason. Just take a look at polls of Arab public opinion. They exist. You can’t find them in the press, but they exist from prestigious polling agencies. Released by major institutions. And what they show is that if there was democracy in the Middle East, the entire U.S. program for domination of the Middle East would be down the tube. I mean, Arab public opinion does not regard Iran as a hostile entity. In fact it’s so supportive of Iran that a majority would think the place would be better off if Iran had nuclear weapons. The main enemies are the United States and Isreal, in the 80, 90 percent range. You look at popular figures, the most popular figure is the prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan, and then it goes down the list. You get Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, you don’t get Obama, or in fact any western leader. The public doesn’t want the whole imperial project.  So if you had democracy, it would be all over.

Jeff Jetton: So you don’t think the United States will let democracy flourish?

Noam Chomsky: They don’t want democracy here, why would they want it in the Middle East? In fact, what’s going on in – you mentioned Wisconsin and that’s quite appropriate. The last thirty years have been a major assault against democracy here, and the governor of Wisconsin is trying to carry it forward. Finally there’s some resistance, but plainly elites here don’t want democracy. And why should they? Democracy is always harmful to elite interests. Almost by definition. In the Middle East it’s dramatic because of the attitudes of the population.

Jeff Jetton: I’m also curious about your views on Somali piracy. I imagine that in Somalia [the pirates] are hailed as heroes, kind of modern day Robin Hoods. In your view can we really blame these rogue warriors for developing out of the ashes of failed states.


Noam Chomsky: You can understand what they’re doing. I’m not in favor of piracy, or any acts of violence. But the source of the piracy is in the West, actually Europe more than the United States. First of all the waters near Somalia were used for fishing. Well, they’ve been heavily polluted, mostly by Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the United States marginally. The toxic waste has destroyed the waters there. They can’t fish. The state itself had a function – I mean, it has a long complicated history but just recently there was a sort of functioning government, the Islamic Courts, a couple years ago. The U.S. ran through a Security Council resolution calling on all states not to interfere in Somalia and it immediately violated it by supporting an Ethiopian invasion, which just tore the place to shreds. Now it’s a collection of raging militias.  So yeah, they have a lot of problems and we have a big hand. One of the consequences of that is piracy. I don’t like piracy but if anybody’s concerned about piracy, why don’t they pay attention to our role in it? Just two nights ago in New York I was at an event about the Mali Marmara. Now that’s international piracy, and the U.S. is all over it. It’s very serious and it’s been going on for thirty years. For thirty years, Isreal has been highjacking ships in international waters, killing people, taking hostages, bringing them to Israel, putting them in secret prisons, all with the help of the United States. That’s serious piracy.

Jeff Jetton: So how do you stay informed in world affairs?

Noam Chomsky: Reading, my specialty.

Jeff Jetton: Any special news…?

Noam Chomsky: Nothing that’s not available to everyone. You have to work to find it. I mean if you want to find the studies of Arab public opinion, I actually had a friend check this. There was a major release last August. Last time he looked a few weeks ago, there wasn’t a single mention in the U.S. press.

Jeff Jetton: So how do you find it then?

Noam Chomsky: You work. Look for other sources.

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Jeff Jetton: Did you vote in the last election?

Noam Chomsky: I voted green. If I had been in a swing state – this is a fixed state – if I had been in a swing state I probably would have held my nose and voted for Obama. Just to keep out the alternative, which is worse. I had no expectations about him and I’m not in the least disillusioned. In fact I wrote about him before the primaries. I thought he was awful.

Jeff Jetton: Just a talking head?

Noam Chomsky: He’s an opportunist, mostly supported by the financial institutions. He had no positions on anything. He’s very intelligent. If you look at his program, almost no substance. Change, hope, what’s that? I mean, he had some policies, but it was almost certain that he would give them up instantly, which he did. On the health programs he did say some words about national health care, and so on, but as soon as he had a chance to get in and give it all to insurance companies, okay.

Jeff Jetton: Let’s switch gears a little bit. How do you think technology has influenced the way people communicate with each other? I mean think about simple things like people using the letters on a telephone keypad to express themselves now, we seem to be moving into uncharted territory.

Noam Chomsky: Well the big change, the really radical change in communication, was in the late 19th century. The shift from sailing ships to telegraph is astronomical. Everything since then has been small increments, including the internet. So you don’t have to wait for a letter to get to England in six weeks, you have almost instant communication. That was an enormous shift.

Jeff Jetton: Do you foresee any quantum leaps in the near future?


Noam Chomsky: Everything since is a change. Small changes can magnifiy. The possibility of interpersonal communication has increased substantially with contemporary technology. But as compared with the major changes, which were long ago, these are not huge.  The same with transportation. The change between horse and buggy to automobile is a big change and there hasn’t been a major change since. In fact, I saw that yesterday. We happen to be living in a third world country from the point of view of economic and social development. I came back from New York yesterday and I took the fastest train in the country, the Acela. My wife and I took the New York-Boston train sixty years ago – it wasn’t called the Acela then – and I think it’s improved by about fifteen minutes since then. Any other country in the world would be about half the time. In fact when it’s riding along the Connecticut turnpike it’s barely keeping up with traffic, which is just scandalous.

Jeff Jetton: As globalization presses forward and the pace of convergent evolution of human beings increases, do you foresee languages as we know them, maybe not dying out, but maybe some sort of global language developing?

Noam Chomsky: There’s a tremendous amount of language loss. Most of the attention is given to indigenous languages, which makes sense, but some of the most dramatic language loss is in Europe. If you go back a century in Europe, all over the place people were speaking different languages. There were dozens of languages in France and Italy, and they’re all called French [and Italian], but they were not mutually comprehensible. They were different languages. And they have mostly disappeared in the last century or so. Some are being preserved, like Welsh, some are being revived, like Basque or Catelan to some extent. There are plenty of people in Europe who can’t talk to their grandmother because they talk a different language.

Jeff Jetton: So to some extent there will be some small revivals, but don’t you think that eventually there will only be a necessity for one language?

Noam Chomsky: I suspect that sooner or later there will be one or a few second languages. See, English, for example, is a second language in most of the educated sectors of Europe and much of the world. But maybe in the future Chinese will be. But I doubt that national languages will disappear. In fact, to some extent they’re becoming more diverse, like in Europe. In Europe there’s kind of a reaction to the European Union, kind of a move towards some kind of regionalization. It’s more advanced in some regions than others, like in Spain for example. Catelan was repressed under Franco. People spoke it, but not publicly. It’s now the language of Catelonia. The Basque language is being revived, not just the language but the culture, the folk music and everything else. So you’re getting more diverse societies, and it’s happening in Britain as well. Welsh is now almost a national language in Wales. The Scottish dialects are reviving to some extent. I don’t think it’s a major thing, but it’s there, and it’s happening elsewhere.

Jeff Jetton: Is that maybe a backlash to globalization?

Noam Chomsky: Yeah. I think it’s a reaction in Europe to the centralization of the European Union.

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Jeff Jetton: Do you think people are becoming more comfortable communicating through a device rather than face to face or verbally?

Noam Chomsky: My grandchildren, that’s all they do. I mean, of course they talk to people, but an awful lot of their communication is extremely rapid, very shallow communication. Text messaging, Twitter, that sort of thing.

Jeff Jetton: What do you think are the implication for human behavior?

Noam Chomsky: It think it erodes normal human relations. It makes them more superficial, shallow, evanescent. One other effect is there’s much less reading. I can see it even with my students, but also with my children and grandchildren, they just don’t read much.

Jeff Jetton: Because there’re so many distractions, or…?

Noam Chomsky: Well you know it’s tempting…there’s a kind of stimulus hunger that’s cultivated by the rapidity and the graphic character and, for the boys at least, the violence, of this imaginary universe they’re involved in. Video games for example. I have a daughter who lives near here. She comes over Sunday evening often for dinner. She brings her son, a high school student. And of course he hasn’t done any homework all weekend, naturally, so he has to do all his homework Sunday night. What he calls doing homework is going into the living room while we’re eating, sitting with his computer and with his headphones blaring something, talking to about ten friends on whatever you do it on on your computer, and occasionally doing some homework.

Jeff Jetton: How do you know what he’s doing?

Noam Chomsky: I watch him.

Jeff Jetton: [laughs] Ok… we typically think of customer service as a personal relationship-based interaction but increasingly we find that  interaction being replaced by automation, whether it be self-service kiosks in the grocery or automated operators over the phone. As the amount of interpersonal communication decreases as a result of this innovation, are there implications for linguistics?

Noam Chomsky: Not for linguistics, really. I think there are certainly human implications.  I think most of this took place in the 1930s, which I could see as a kid. The shift from local stores, you know like the local grocery store around the corner, the pharmacist across the street, the shift from that to supermarkets was pretty radical. The local grocery store was a gathering, a community place. You knew the owner, if you didn’t have any money they’d let you go for a couple days. You talked. It was a friendly place. Supermarkets are totally impersonal. I mean, you may say hello to the checkout girl or something, but the personal connections are all gone. The local pharmacist used to be the doctor for the neighborhood. I mean if it was something serious you went to a doctor, but for most things, you went to the pharmacist.

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Jeff Jetton: Is that for the worse I guess? I mean you have the modern conveniences.

Noam Chomsky: That’s…it saves money. It saves time. It loses personal relations. It’s even true, I’ve spent some time on sabbatical in a small town, and the local post office was a community gathering place. There was no delivery, so in the morning you’d go out to the post office, pick up your mail, meet people, talk. It was a community gathering place.

Jeff Jetton: And now those community gathering places have moved online.

Noam Chomsky: Online…which has its advantages. You diversify, you can have friends in India and so on. But it also loses human relationships. And what the long term effect of this is, I don’t know. But it’s certain to be significant. However, as I say, it really began in a significant way, I think, with the shift from small stores to supermarkets.

Jeff Jetton: You were famously duped by Larry Flynt into taking an interview with Hustler magazine, which may speak less to Flynt’s ability to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and more to your disregard of, or unfamiliarity to, popular culture.

Noam Chomsky: I wouldn’t say I was duped. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known what it was. But I do…like I didn’t ask you what you were doing.

Jeff Jetton: Sure. But you really had no clue what Hustler Magazine was at the time?

Noam Chomsky: Never heard of it. I’m pretty much out of popular culture altogether.

Jeff Jetton: Is that everyday world that most people find so fascinating… why is it so uninteresting to you?


Noam Chomsky: I don’t know, I just don’t care about it. It looks to me pointless and superficial. If I had free time I’d rather read a 19th century novel.

Jeff Jetton: In the post-Hustler interviews, you seem to have a rabid distaste for porn, calling it degrading to women. But surely there’s a deeper conversation to be had about human sexuality and erotic material. Is it just that all pornography is

Noam Chomsky: I’m no expert on pornography. The core element of it, I think, is degradation of women, whatever else goes on. I don’t think it should be outlawed, but I’m not in favor of the degradation of anybody.

Jeff Jetton: Do you know who Lady Gaga is?

Noam Chomsky: I’ve seen ads and stuff, but no.

Jeff Jetton: No videos or anything?

Dakota: I mean there’s a way in which you yourself have entered into the sphere of popular culture. You’re a pretty famous guy.


Noam Chomsky: Well, the most famous (experience) that I know of, was sort of fun. Back in 1990, I got a letter from a punk rock group called Bad Religion. I liked the name. So, they asked me to talk for eight minutes about the invasion of Iraq. At that time, you couldn’t say a word about it, literally it was banned like North Korea. So I thought, okay. They sent me a tape and somebody had a tape recorder, so I took the tape and I talked for eight minutes and mailed it back to them. And in a little while they sent me a forty-five inch record with my eight minutes on one side and what they called an anti-war song on the other. I couldn’t make head or tail out of the anti-war song, so I sent it to a friend who had a fourteen year old daughter, and she sent me back a lengthy disquisition on the meaning of the song and where it fit in popular culture and so on. But I later discovered– when I give talks people wanted books signed, for years, the main thing that people wanted signed, all over the world, was that record.

Jeff Jetton: Have you read his book? He’s a PhD at UCLA.

Noam Chomsky: Who?

Jeff Jetton: Greg Graffin, the singer in that band. He wrote a book on evolutionary biology and punk rock. I’m reading it now, it’s really good.

Noam Chomsky: Oh really? Hm, I’ve never heard of it.

Jeff Jetton: So, let me see what else. Do you ever use swear words?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I guess so.

Jeff Jetton: I figured as a linguist you have to be well versed in all types of language.

Noam Chomsky: I…well…my linguistics is pretty theoretical.

Dakota: What about all these books? The ones on your desk, are those the ones that you’re going to read?

Noam Chomsky: Those are the ones I’m giving away to the library. Those are the ones I oughta read someday.

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Dakota: And the ones on the wall are ones you have read?

Noam Chomsky: The ones on the wall are ones that sooner or later I’m going to give away, but I find it pretty hard to give away books. I have rooms full of them at home. But there’s no point in keeping them.

Dakota: Do you have any idea how many books you’ve written? Do you have a precise number?

Noam Chomsky: No clue.

Dakota: How many per year? On average?

Noam Chomsky: I have…[shrugs]

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Dakota: Do you write them on a type writer? Do you use a computer?

Noam Chomsky: Do I use a computer? Yeah. I use a computer because my teenage son shamed me into using it. Around the early ’80s, M.I.T. was trying to get everyone on computers. So they gave computers to everybody. I didn’t want one, but finally one of the faculty members stuck one in the trunk of my car and I took it home. I didn’t want to bother with it. My son was about fifteen or so and he was a super computer hacker, et cetera. And so he…there were no word processors around then, so he took the M.I.T. machine language and essentially created a program customized for exactly my needs, you know like an alt-key for anything that I might use, it was the perfect word processor. Never has an error. Nothing crashes. It’s extremely convenient. But it uses DOS. So as the machines got more and more sophisticated, they weakened the basic operating system. Now when they get new computers in the office, they literally have to call my son in California to ask him how to adapt it so they can pick up the stuff I sent them in the machine language program that he wrote.

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Jeff Jetton: So I take it you don’t play Angry Birds?

Noam Chomsky: I don’t know what that is.

[laughs]

Jeff Jetton: How do you feel about being lumped in with Wesley Snipes–

Noam Chomsky: With?

Jeff Jetton: With Wesley Snipes as the two most recognizable faces of the tax resistance movement.

Noam Chomsky: Never heard of Leslie Snipes, I’m afraid.

Jeff Jetton: Wesley Snipes, you never saw Major League? White Men Can’t Jump?

Noam Chomsky: I’ve heard of it, but…he’s the author?

Jeff Jetton: He’s an actor.

Noam Chomsky: Okay.

Jeff Jetton: So are you still–

Noam Chomsky: If you want information about sports, I can tell you things from the 1940′s, and the couple years that my grandson was kind of a jock, but nothing in between.

Jeff Jetton: Alright, tell us about the 1940s. No, I’m just kidding.

Noam Chomsky: [chuckles] Well, it’s kind of interesting but my parents were immigrants, so we were first generation. Part of the socialization process, especially for young boys, was to know everything about baseball. Back in those days, baseball was the sport. Professional basketball was barely around, football. Kids with my background – first generation immigrant kids – could tell you all the details about baseball, all the statistics. So I went through that phase.

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Jeff Jetton: Are you still part of the tax-resistance movement?

Noam Chomsky: I organized tax resistance in 1965, with a friend. I kept at it for about ten years. I don’t see it as a principle, it’s a tactic. And I felt I had exhausted its potential as a tactic right about then, so I stopped.

Jeff Jetton: Kind of like levitating the Pentagon?

Noam Chomsky: I was there when the hippies were levitating the Pentagon. I was there, but you know, these things are tactics, they’re not principles. So you have to ask, is the tactic an effective one?

Jeff Jetton: Was that an effective one?

Noam Chomsky: Probably not, it never took off.

Jeff Jetton: The Pentagon never took off?

Noam Chomsky: [laughs] Oh that, well that was important. The Pentagon demonstration was important, it was the first major war demonstration. October 1967, and the war had been on for five years already. South Vietnam was practically destroyed when the war extended to the north. That was the first real demonstration and it stimulated other things.

Jeff Jetton: Did you organize it?

Noam Chomsky: There was no real…there were a lot of…I was one of the groups that was involved in resistance organizations, which was one of the elements. In fact, at that same time we initiated a resistance organization, Resist, which still exists, and that led to trials. In fact I was up for trial myself. It functioned pretty effectively.

Jeff Jetton: You were on trial – did you spend time in prison or jail?

Noam Chomsky: For civil disobedience a lot of times, but when the Tet Offensive came along in January ’68, it essentially convinced the business community in the United States that there’s no point continuing this, it’s getting too costly, it’s harming the economy, we’ve already won our major aims. The military really wanted to get out. If you take a look at the Pentagon Papers, it ends in early ’68 right after the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was sort of distorted here, but it was an incredible event. Nothing like it in history. The people with brains figured out what it meant, it meant we were never going to win this, never going to pacify the country. So the business world essentially laid down the law to President Johnson, told him he should run for his next term and that he should stop the bombing of the north and enter into negotiations. He did everything, it was a real power play. And they also decided to call off the trials, because they were trying to make peace with the students and the protesters. Actually Johnson’s initial reaction to the Tet Offensive was to prepare to send 200,000 more troops to Vietnam, but the Joint Chiefs didn’t want to, that they would need them for civil disorder and disobedience in the United States. They were worried about what was happening here. That was the most interesting part of the Pentagon Papers.

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Jeff Jetton: How do you feel about Julian Assange of Wikileaks?

Noam Chomsky: Basically, I think it’s a public service. I mean, why should – if you believe in democracy, why shouldn’t you know what the government is doing?

Jeff Jetton: So there should be complete transparency in government?

Noam Chomsky: You can give an argument for keeping secrets. Take, say, the Pentagon Papers. Actually I was involved in distributing them before they really surfaced, and he kept one volume from the public. I had it. A couple friends had it, but we didn’t talk about it. It was the negotiations volume. The idea was that maybe ongoing negotiations would be hampered if this was released. I didn’t agree but it’s a plausible conception. Maybe you can say that about some of the Wikileaks, but the point is the burden of proof is on the government. They have to show that there’s a reason to keep something secret. Other than that it should be open. I’ve spent a lot of time working on declassified documents – and they do get declassified after decades – you look at the record of declassified documents, and they are mostly concerned with keeping what the government does secret from its own population. It’s mostly defense of the power system from its own population. Very little is authentic security. Like when you keep secret the fact that – say take Egypt for example. There are by now declassified documents from the 1950s that tells you a lot about what’s going on in Egypt and we should have known it then. It’s about exactly what’s happening, how we can disregard public opinion as long as the dictators we support are capable of suppressing their populations. So to hell with public opinion. That’s all right there in the 1950’s. That’s not security. That’s not security of the government. That’s, if anything, security from its own population. And there’s a lot of that.

I think that’s true of Wikileaks, too. Take the parts that barely get reported and some of them are very much like that. So for example there are leaks from the Embassy in Honduras. There was a coup in 2009. Obama broke with most of Latin America and even Europe and supported the military coup, still does. The ambassador in Honduras sent back a detailed analysis saying the coup was military, illegal, unconstitutional, and that the legitimate president was thrown out. Okay, we now know that Washington was perfectly aware of that and decided to support the military coup anyway. We should have known that at the time. The government has no right to keep that information secret.

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Jeff Jetton: Do you ever look back and think that if you had done something different what kind of career you would have gotten into?

Noam Chomsky: Don’t think about it much. I mean what I got into was more or less accidental. It wasn’t planned. I never really expected to go into an academic career.

Jeff Jetton: But when you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

Noam Chomsky: When I was ten years old I wanted to be a taxidermist for some reason, don’t ask me why. [laughs].

Jeff Jetton: I’ve never heard of any kid that wanted to be a taxidermist. And then what?

Noam Chomsky: I just went along with political activists and interested in other intellectual interests which I pursued kind of at random. I never had a real college education. I got a degree, but it was just patching together courses here and there.

Jeff Jetton: Well, it looks like you’ve done pretty well.

Noam Chomsky: It worked out.

DF11_2.18_ChomskyBYT-128

Comments:

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Recent Comments:
  • Anonymous says:

    JUST BRILLIANT GUYS. WHAT A MAN. MAYBE LIKE INTERVIEWING ARISTOTLE, KANT, MOZART OR EINSTEIN. FANTASTIC AND WELL DONE FOR ELUCIDATING HIS INNER GENTLENESS, HUMOUR AND HUMANITY

  • jgnwWCz says:

    is it legal to buy ultram online – ultram recommended dosage

  • bgondal says:

    Can I have Noam Chomssky email address?

  • mojo.rhythm says:

    I just want to echo the rest of the comments on this thread and congratulate the interviewer on a fantastic job well done. Since Chomsky’s rate of activism is so ultra-high and his answers to questions tend to be broad and cover a series of topic in one go, finding an interview which leaves the listener chock-full of new and interesting information is an absolute gem of a situation.

  • Dan says:

    That was surprisingly good. very nice work

  • Raphael says:

    Thank you for posting a terrific and unusual interview of one of our country’s greatest heroes. You tease out a very personable picture of Chomsky with the unique territory yu choose to cover in the interview. And the accompanying photo essay is excellent. One small request: it would be nice to know how the books pictured correspond to the descriptions yu I’ve in the talk: eg books to be read, books to be given away, books read, etc.
    Thanks for unique and informed view on Chomsky.

  • Raphael says:

    Thank you for posting a terrific and unusual interview of one of our country’s greatest heroes. You tease out a very personable picture of Chomsky with the unique territory yu choose to c

  • The Straight torquer says:

    Very impressed with this interview. Great work BYT! Whether you agree with Mr. Chomsky or not, I think it is fantastic to see this kind of high-level intellectual discourse. Thank you for elevating us all.

  • mmm says:

    if noam chomsky isn’t the best guy in all of the US, i don’t know who is.

  • NCV says:

    I can’t believe BYT was dumb enough to sit down with this a$$ hole. He’s been living in and making money off a country he despises. Truly disappointed in BYT.

  • Dakota says:

    Loving the contrast between the two previous comments…

  • copy editor says:

    Learn how to spell “Israel.”

  • Jeff says:

    I’m sure Noam Chomsky lays awake at night fretting over what you think of him, Roped.

  • Jeremy says:

    This is the best thing I’ve seen on BYT.

  • Max says:

    OK BYT, I have to hand it to you- this rocks.

  • Millennium Stage says:

    great interview!

  • Phelps says:

    “The Pentagon never took off?” – nicely done.

  • svetlana Svetlana says:

    so proud you guys, just oh so proud.

  • Alan Zilberman says:

    Great interview, gentleman! Though I must admit I would liked to get further explanation why Chomsky was interested in taxidermy (that’s just so WEIRD, esp for a kid).

  • Kimberly says:

    Great interview, team. Dakota, loving the video clips you’re including lately too.

  • ROPED says:

    “Change, hope, what’s that?”

    sorry Noam, but you’ll never know.

    good conversation jeff, but i still hate this jerk.

  • womp womp says:

    love this article so much

  • Social says:

    Congrats BYT, you just got my last page view.

  • isaac says:

    Mavi Marmara, not Mali. Great interview.

  • Katie p. says:

    I like it!

  • sweet irony says:

    Noam Chomsky: I wouldn’t say I was duped. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known what it was. But I do…like I didn’t ask you what you were doing.

    Noam Chomsky: I don’t know, I just don’t care about it. It looks to me pointless and superficial.

    ;)

  • roped you need to says:

    open your eyes. I did not vote for Obama, but thought maybe after he was sworn in I’d give him a chance and see what he does. Unfortunately, I have come to find that my first impression was right on. Obama is pretty much Bush III only instead of being open about what he is doing or going to do, he flashes his fakey fakey smile while putting yet another nail in the coffin of the US.

  • ian says:

    leslie snipes is the best thing

  • intellectulolz says:

    “high-level intellectual discourse” ? Are you kidding me? It seemed like the interviewer was more interested in cracking bad jokes about pop culture. (Wesley Snipes? Really?) Next time, I suggest doing more than just reading a wikipedia blurb to prep for an interview, lest you don’t fear coming off as a vapid tool.

  • thnkloud9 says:

    nice job jeff, awesome interview.

  • The Interviewer says:

    I was just trying to have some fun with what could have been an otherwise stiff, heavy interview. But I guess I don’t really fear coming off as a vapid tool if I can get someone who is having an awful time reading my interview to keep reading all the way down to the bottom where it mentions Wesley Snipes. Here’s a novel idea you absolute creature of a human being, if you don’t like something, stop reading it.

  • RP says:

    “. . . lest you don’t fear coming off as a vapid tool.” Well, I think we’ve identified our vapid tool for the day.

  • Reddy says:

    Nice Job Jeff. Should have asked him some on Asian Sub-continent.

  • Malay Desai says:

    I studied ‘Manufacturing Consent’ in college here in Mumbai, India and I’ve respected the man ever since. You could’ve totally asked him his views on emerging superpowers – China, Brazil and India – and the equation of the US with us.

    Otherwise, great interview. His boring, academic side very well presented by the interviewer’s poky-ness!

  • unfortuante says:

    Interviewers. I think you all by and large wasted your time. you had a great opportunity to really pick a phenomenal brain and you wasted your time asking pointless questions with no real depth and poor jokes. you could tell that he too was disappointed with the interview towards the end, this is unfortunate for everyone. if the typical audience of this website is satisfied with this interview of chomsky then that’s a shame and says something about this community.

    something worth noting as i see you have responded foolishly to another post which criticized, and rightfully so, your interview: I came to read this article not to be entertained by your pathetic attempts at jokes but to gain further insights into chomsky and his thoughts and opinions and maybe even LEARN something. I, and I assume the others who disagree with your interviewing methods, read through the entire article because I happen to be a fan of chomsky and not because i was looking for a laugh, that said, the interview was not bad on chomskys part but on your part (for the record i was shocked that he was as polite as he was to you all, i would have called you out for wasting my time).

    lastly, i have never been to this site before. I found this article through a third party site, maybe DIGG, but not. I want to say this, before reading the interview i really considered looking though the rest of the site for some more interesting stuff. after having read the interview i know to avoid it. i am sorry, i do not want to seem rude, i do not mean this in a mean way this is the truth. i am sorry if this came off as spiteful i am just really disappointed with the interview. I really dont want to ‘talk some shit” and will now stop wasting my time.

    cheers to you all good luck. maybe start reading book?

  • Jeff says:

    I could spend my time responding to your annoying criticism, but I’m not going to. If it doesn’t work for you, go somewhere else. There are plenty of Chomsky interviews for you to choose from, thousands, actually, and if a light-hearted tone (at times) doesn’t suit you, then this website definitely isn’t for you.

    P.S. Fuck you.

  • Lucas says:

    great interview! Chomsky is a living legend, you should be proud

  • Michael says:

    I’m not a big fan of the dude, because I just don’t care. Living legend? Eh. Phenomenal brain? Maybe if you agree with whatever it is that he does? I thought the interview was funny though and come on, does every interview need to be serious? You want to gain insights into the man – maybe start by reading all those books he can’t remember reading? Anyway, I’m glad he busted on Obama – his little paragraph about him sums up exactly what I think about him as well.

    Hope? Maybe, but only as long as you ignore the fact that there’s been no change.

  • Michael says:

    er, “he can’t remember writing” not “reading.”

  • Lucas says:

    Michael, do you even know who he is? Politics aside, he is responsible for how we study linguistics today

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  • jerseys58 says:

    While there Greek soccer super leagueis life, English Premier Leaguethere is hope
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  • Sweet reader says:

    An original interview since all on Chomsky is completely formal. It’s great to see him in a cheerful manner.

  • Mark alan russell says:

    Yes it is a great interview – because you didn’t just go and get the ‘usual’ questions out there and ask him. You revealed a little bit of the human behind the persona.

  • Nick says:

    Hey, thanks for the interview, it’s great to see a more personal side of Chomsky.

  • TodHackett says:

    To see this side of Chomsky is such a pleasure. I disagree with “unfortunate said” criticisms. On Chomsky.info one can find enough works to “really pick apart a phenomenal brain”. Also, I seriously doubt Chomsky was disappointed with the interview. Considering he smiled a few times, I think he actually enjoyed it.

  • zhou says:

    很喜欢乔姆斯基,可爱啊。访谈很不错

  • Aziz Koshan says:

    It is really nice interview. i watched many of his interviews, but this one is really good.

  • semiexpert says:

    As a child, I wanted to be a taxidermist too; and now I’m a linguist (an anti-Chomskian linguist to boot!). Is there a connection?

  • JOE says:

    Actually Howard Zinn was a fan of White Men Can’t Jump. I think I remember him telling Woody Harrelson he was “absolutely knocked out” when he saw it. Maybe he told Noam about it.
    Regarding swearing, (to reference another celebrity interview), you should see Noam’s interview with Wallace Shawn. Chomsky actually has a reputation for foul language.

  • Sammy says:

    Probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, a rare view of Chomsky. Are you going to post the whole video online?

  • QUizbo says:

    Great interview. Loved the photos of his office and books – should be a standard approach in interviews with public figures. Good range of topics too – got me thinking about many things like his comments elsewhere about Twitter

  • Megaman says:

    What a really great interview. Well done.