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by Noam Chomsky

Chomsky brings together his thoughts on topics ranging from language and human nature to the Middle East settlement and the place of East Timor in the New World Order. A must read for anyone interested in Chomsky.
Download Powers and Prospects: Reflections on human nature and the social order epub
ISBN: 089608535X
ISBN13: 978-0896085350
Category: Other
Subcategory: Humanities
Author: Noam Chomsky
Language: English
Publisher: South End Press; 1st edition (July 1, 1999)
Pages: 244 pages
ePUB size: 1956 kb
FB2 size: 1373 kb
Rating: 4.5
Votes: 929
Other Formats: lrf doc lrf azw

First published in 1996, "Powers and Prospects" appears to be a collection of talks that Chomsky gave while visiting Australia at the behest of the campaign against the Indonesian invasion and annexation of East Timor.

"Writers and Intellectual Responsibility" updates an earlier essay on the same subject. Chomskys point is that "[t]he responsibility of the writer as a moral agent is to try to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them." He draws as examples the atrocities that occurred in East Timor and Cambodia at almost the same time and of roughly similar dimensions relative to population. The contrast between media coverage and moral outrage regarding events in Cambodia, and the media black hole that the events in East Timor disappeared into, is doubly disgusting when one takes into account that the Indonesian dictator was a US ally, supplied with US aid and weaponry (and when congress cut that other Western countries took up the slack). It would have been possible for the U.S. and the West to have brought to a halt the atrocities in East Timor (as in fact happened in 1999 though nearly twenty-five years after Indonesia invaded). Instead Government and media outrage was focused on Cambodia, where leverage was approaching zero, and the culprits were ostensibly Communist.

"Goals and Visions" reflects on the need to be pragmatic about distinguishing goals from what is, more or less, immediately possible in a given context, and the need to have a vision regarding how a decent and fair society might function. "Democracy and Markets in the New World Order" is a cogent summary of post "Cold War" developments in the economic sphere. "The Middle East Settlement: Its Sources and Contours" is a summary of the early stages of the "peace" process, prescient in that Chomskys appreciation what was happening and of how it would evolve has been largely, and rather depressingly, confirmed by subsequent events. "The Great Powers and Human Rights: the Case of East Timor" and "East Timor and World Order", the last two essays in the collection, are directly relevant to the situation in East Timor, and describe events there within a global context.

Prefacing all the essays outlined above are two essays on Language and Linguistics that frankly appear out of place. I suspect there is a minimal amount of correlation between an interest in global affairs and linguistics; it is certainly not necessary. No doubt someone who reads it for the linguistics will end up doing some interesting and unexpected reading. The majority who will read this primarily for Chomskys analysis of global affairs, and whose knowledge of academic level linguistics is somewhat spartan, will find themselves scratching their heads. That small criticism to one side, there are a number of excellent essays in this collection, some of a very high standard and well worth reading.
Noam Chomky's books are very important, scientifically, politically, economically and morally. The 8 essays in this volume are a proof of the depth of his analyses as well as of his moral integrity.

As committed anarchist, his `Goals and Visions' are actually to defend some state institutions (!) against the massive assaults on democracy, human rights and even markets. At the same time, he would open those institutions to more meaningful public participation and ultimately, in a much more free society dismantle them.

In (`Democracy and Markets in the New World Order') he unveils clearly the fear and hatred of democracy in elite circles, who (try to) impose nationally and internationally James Madison's policies of `protecting the minority of the opulent against the majority' and for whom `the rights of property have priority on the rights of persons.'

One of the means to bring more freedom, justice and a better world is to give better information to the many. In `Writers and Intellectual Responsibility', Chomsky sets the minimum standard for journalism as follows: `It is a moral imperative to find out and tell the truth as best as one can about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them.'

But, the media are kept from the public domain and handed over to a few huge private corporations (`private tyranny equals freedom'). Journalism is turned into mere servility and cowardice. Journalist are gagged and silenced (e.g. the genocides in East Timor and Indonesia, see `The Great Powers and Human Rights: the Case of East Timor' and `East Timor and World Order') or fundamentally biased (`The Middle East Settlement').

For Chomsky, the moral culpability of those who ignore the crimes that matter by moral standards is greater to the extent that the society is free and open.

Economically, he points out that the US has been `the mother country and bastion of modern protectionism', imposing now free trade on the Third World.

His scientific work is ground-breaking (`Language and Thought' and `Language and Nature'). He proved that language is a biological process. To question `innate' knowledge is the same as to suppose that the growth of an embryo to a chicken rather than a giraffe is determined by nutritional inputs.

Behavior and texts are of no more intrinsic interest than observations of electrical activities of the brain. A computer program that beats a grandmaster in chess is about as interesting as a bulldozer that wins the Olympic weight-lifting competition.

The only thing that we can say about language is `that we use it for expressing or clarifying our thoughts, inducing others whose language resembles ours to do likewise.

Language doesn't represent the world (Frege) and the content of expressions and of thought is not fixed by properties of the world and society (Putnam).

This is a book written by a formidable free mind.

A must read for all those interested in the future of mankind.