Noam Chomsky: Internationalism or Extinction (Universalizing Resistance)


Building on a friendship initiated in Sandinista Nicaragua of the 1980s, Wallace Shawn - a committed activist but someone who is best known as an accomplished dramatist and actor - interviewed scholar and linguist Noam Chomsky. In their discussion, Shawn reflected on Chomsky’s words and called on him to address the ever-challenging question: how do we convince the people who were not in the room to care, to take action, given the scope and urgency of our current political crises? The following transcript is excerpted from their conversation, which can be read in full in Internationalism or Extinction, edited by Charles Derber, Suren Moodliar and Paul Shannon. 

WALLACE SHAWN: Many of the people who do know about the consequences of nuclear war and climate change are quite well-educated people who are resented by a lot of people. Do you have any thoughts on how, I mean there is a class difference that Trump supporters who laugh at the idea of global warming and climate change have a built-in resentment toward people who’ve been well educated and who may be better off economically. How do we reach them?

NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s serious. That is a very interesting phenomenon; it has to be dealt with sensitively and with understanding. As I mentioned, 40% of the population say it can’t be a problem because of the Second Coming. Now that’s a deep cultural problem in the United States. People who know something about US history should all… we should all understand it. It’s very important to realize that this country was a cultural backwater until World War II. [Until then,] if you wanted to study physics, you went to Germany. You wanted to become a writer, an artist, you went to Paris. There were exceptions of course but it was over-whelmingly true, and it was true even though the United States was far and away the richest, most powerful country in the world and had been for a long time. [There are] all kinds of historical reasons for that: it’s a very insular country. 

There aren’t many countries where you can travel 3,000 miles and be in about the same place where you left, not running into any different culture or language or anything like that. Protected by oceans, we keep away from those bad guys, enormous internal resources which nobody else had. There were a lot of waves of immigrants that became integrated and so on, so there are a lot of reasons for it, but it’s there and you can’t ignore it. You can’t ignore it, and there is no point railing about atheism. These are issues that have to be understood, and it has to be understood that the churches really mean something to people, plenty of people, including the Trump supporters….read more:

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