Meditations: Reflections on Chomsky's Perspective
Reflections on Chomsky's Perspective
There are two parts to Noam Chomsky's latest book, " Hegemony or Survival ." There is the bulk of the book, in which he gives as scathing analysis of American foreign policy. And then there is the tantalizing opening and disappointing conclusion, in which he skates over the deepest questions of human existence.
Chomsky begins with philosophical promise, musing on the frequency and fate of so-called intelligent species in the universe. He cites biologist Ernst Mayr, who estimated the average lifespan of species with "the kind of intelligence needed to establish a civilization" at 100,000 years. Chomsky adds that humans are refuting the notion that it's "better to be smart than stupid." Humankind, he says, looks like a "biological error."
The rest of "Hegemony or Survival" is devoted to an in-depth political examination of the aims and trajectory of American power since World War II. Few informed citizens of America or elsewhere would argue with his devastating critique.
But there is a disconnect between the philosophical questions Chomsky introduces with humankind's "assault on the environment that sustains lifeŠand with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well," and the purely political analysis he offers.
Chomsky is smart enough to know that the issues go far beyond American hegemony (as irrefutable politically as it is), but not philosophical enough to speak to that dimension (much less the spiritual one). He is a meticulous researcher and first-rate logician. But his ideas lack wide emotional appeal, since they speak from and to the head rather than the heart.
A few weeks ago I was pleased to turn on the Charlie Rose Show, the most respected talk show in America, and find that Noam Chomsky was to be interviewed for the full hour. Rose opened by saying that he had received huge amounts of mail urging him to have Chomsky as a guest.
The interview however, was unsatisfying, and left one feeling breathless. Charlie Rose is an interviewer dying to interview himself. But still, Chomsky went on with unnecessary detail in an effort to convince Rose of the veracity of his claims. He apparently believes a surfeit of documentation and logic can substitute for a dearth of expressiveness and feeling.
The book rouses, but it also leaves me hungering for something more. I think Chomsky recognizes this, and that's why he pasted questions posed by the human conundrum onto an analysis of US hegemony.
Chomsky's basic premise is virtually undeniable‹that "hegemony is more important than survival." And he is dead right in saying that "destroying hope is a critically important project" for the Bush Administration.
But his hope in the "second superpower of world public opinion" is a false one. That alone will not allow people "to escape the containment to which [we are being] subjected." The irony is that Chomsky's logic of power is escape-proof. Follow it all the way, and there is no hope.
The book leaves one dangling with a glancing reflection on whether Bush is another in the "passing nightmare of Neros, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers," as Bertrand Russell put it. Chomsky finishes with Russell's idea that, "in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return." That may give comfort to hard-core misanthropes, but it does nothing for people with hearts still beating in their chests.
The sheer destructiveness of humans makes the strongest case that something more than a 100,000-year flameout is going on here. To stand on the brink has two meanings--one implying the abyss, the other implying momentous change.
With humans, as no other creature, the outer is the manifestation of the inner. Therein lies the hope.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.