80 years old and as inspirational as ever

Happy 80th Birthday Noam!

Noam Chomsky

Intellectual self-defense means you have to develop an independent mind – and work on it. Now that’s extremely hard to do alone. The beauty of our system is that it isolates everybody – each person is sitting alone in front of the tube. Now it’s very hard to have ideas or thoughts under those circumstances. Some people can, but it’s pretty rare. The way to do it is through organization. So courses of intellectual self-defense will have to be in the context of political and other organization…

Yesterday marked the 80th birthday of dissident and linguistics professor Noam Chomsky. It’s remarkable that at 80 years old, Chomsky is as lucid as ever in his political analysis and still inspiring activists and dissident thought the world over. Chomsky has been the biggest influence on my own understanding of the world and what has always struck me is his capacity to reduce even the most complex economic and political issues into something that even someone as stupid as me can understand.

An activist group in Manchester – Chomsky at 80 – have obviously been preparing for the great man’s birthday for quite some time now and recently held some timely workshops and discussions in his honour to discuss the types of issues that Chomsky has tirelessly pursued throughout his life. One of the most important is that of intellectual self defence of which Chomsky is surely the Bruce Lee of. Intellectual self defence is basically using your brain critically – the ability to think independently about an issue and not just swallow what the media, politicians or educators tell you. In this era so dominated by corporate propaganda, marketing blurb and politicians moulded by the Public Relations industry, this has never been more important, or challenging.

The Chomsky At 80 group held a workshop on this issue and came up with 10 key points to remember which I think are worth repeating here.

  1. Know your history! (not just the text book history)
  2. Learn the facts relating to your topic of concern, especially the neglected ones!
  3. Learn to explain your ideas simply, to critical, non specialist audiences.
  4. Use, support and if possible develop, sources of alternative media.
  5. Use the internet to it’s full advantage: read widely, read often, and be careful with the reliability of sources.
  6. When in arguments (at least ones you wish to be productive), try to seek common ground with opponents rather than ‘defeat’ them.
  7. Develop listening skills
  8. Know your opposition in detail rather than simply dismissing them. Read their publications, get to know and understand their arguments properly.
  9. When forced to justify your position, do so. But don’t just accept a subordinate status in the hierarchy of ideas, also go on the counterattack: make people holding mainstream positions justify themselves to the same standards of evidence that they are holding you to! i.e. Ask them questions as well.
  10. Be honest! Admit when you don’t know things!

Happy birthday Noam and here’s to another 80 years!


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