Chomsky responds to me on the BBC

It’s not everyday you see something you’ve written on the BBC website. Last month I wrote a post about the chance to ask Noam Chomsky a question on the BBC’s HardTALK program. Well, like hundreds of others, I sent in a question in and the BBC decided to use it – the very first question in fact!

It’s a testimony to the man’s popularity that such was the interest in his appearance, the BBC saw fit to allow him to respond to further questions online and credit to them for that. So thanks Noam and thanks a lot BBC. The question I asked is below and you can read all the viewer questions answered by him here.

Q: What is the “liberal elite” that you have referred to and what defines their morals and ideas? Nicholas Mead, UK

A: The terms of political discourse are vague and obscure, including these, but also virtually all others: ‘capitalism,’ ‘market’, ‘socialism’, ‘conservative’, etc. I was using the term in the conventional manner, with ‘liberal’ understood in the American sense, something like ‘mildly social democratic’, roughly ‘New Labour’ in the British context.

The term elite refers to those with more privilege and opportunity, hence who dominate decision-making in the economic, political, and ideological spheres. There are no sharp boundaries, no club to belong to. To discover their morals and ideas we investigate what they say but more significantly what they do.

Also polls, which reveal that corporate executives tend to share the views of ‘liberal elites’ on social and cultural issues, though they tend more towards what’s called ‘conservative’ (a much abused term) on economic issues. Impossible to spell it out here, but I’ve written reams about the matter, as of course have many others.

Ridiculing the right to avoid our own failings

One thing that’s been common in the wake of Nick Griffin’s infamous appearance on Question Time has been to ridicule him for his far right beliefs. Many liberals have been patting themselves on the back and celebrating a witty remix of Griffin’s appearance on the show making him out to be an absolute buffoon. Satire can be a powerful political tool where the truth can’t be told but what’s happened to Griffin and his supporters isn’t so much satire as ridicule and humiliation.

This is very dangerous. It may be considered harmless fun but the effect of it is to whip-up even more hatred on the right who perceive – correctly so – their problems are being laughed at by the liberal elite. In fact, I wonder if this ridiculing doesn’t create more racial tensions than actually giving the far right a platform as some people argue. Judging by some of the comments following the YouTube clip in question, it has certainly flared-up more hatred than any of the unedited clips from the show.

Noam Chomsky will address the annual Amnesty International lecture tonight (unfortunately I don’t think you can watch it online but a video and transcript should be released shortly afterwards) and an excerpt from his forthcoming speech is very telling:

In the US, inequality has soared to unprecedented heights. There is now a mass of people with real grievances, who want answers but are not receiving them. The far-right is providing answers that are completely crazy: that rich liberals are giving their hard-earned money away to illegal immigrants and the shiftless poor.

A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing protesters, but that is a serious error.  The correct reaction is to examine our own failures.  The grievances are quite real and should be taken seriously.

It’s growing inequality in the UK that has created the racial tensions that have given rise to the BNP. And ridiculing them is a convenient way for those on the left to avoid “examining their own failings” as Chomsky says. The failings are of course, allowing things to get to this stage. It’s very easy to blame Blair, Brown, big business and the mainstream media for creating this state of affairs but too many on the liberal-left have gone along with their agendas while turning their back on the social and economic problems that are right in front of their eyes.

The answer, is not ridicule, but for the public to reject these agendas, and organize locally to deal with these problems. Chomsky adds:

In South America, there are at last serious steps to confront poverty and other severe human rights abuses. The driving force is mass popular movements. They are beginning to address what Amnesty calls ‘the unheard truth': that ‘poverty is the world’s worst human rights crisis, this generation’s greatest struggle.

If as Chomsky adds, that the poverty stricken in South American have overcome death squads and worse to create a better society, the same is surely true in a rich society like the UK.

Ask Chomsky a question on HARDtalk

The BBC are currently asking viewers of HARDtalk to submit questions to Noam Chomsky for a show to be broadcast on Thursday 29th October. Two questions will be chosen for broadcast. They must be grabbing their chance while he’s in London on the same day to talk on Human Rights in the 21st Century at the LSE.

I quite like HARDtalk because they do generally probe political figures harder than most mainstream current affairs programs. You can of course always e-mail Chomsky directly too as apparently he responds in person and usually pretty quickly but if you’d like to see Tim Sebastian do the probing for you, then you can do so here.

One thing I’d definitely like to ask him is where the hell he finds the time to lecture in linguistics, write countless books on the subject as well as engage in political analysis, writing, speaking events and interviews like the one on HARDtalk. And all at the ripe old age of 80. The man is a phenomenon.

The last time he was on HARDtalk can be seen here by the way although the image quality isn’t great: