Chomsky’s Wager


Noam Chomsky

Like many from my generation, my political consciousness took an evolutionary leap forward in the aftermath of 9/11.

One morning before work I awoke, turned on the television, and heard an old man argue that the US government was the leading terrorist state.

I stopped what I was doing and watched the rest of the program.

That day I went to a bookstore and bought one of Noam Chomsky's books.

I quickly devoured it, and then bought another, and another.

One of the things that has always struck me as profound is Chomsky's response to questions about "what can we do?" or whether a situation is hopeless.

His usual response reminds me quite a bit of "Pascal's Wager," named after the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, who argued that we should wager towards the existence of God because, "I would have far more fear of being mistaken, and of finding that the Christian religion was true, than of not being mistaken in believing it true."

The essence of the argument has, at least in my view, picked up its most relevant form by Chomsky when discussing the state of affairs.

In a recent interview Noam stated that,

I think an objective observer, from Mars, let's say, looking at the human species would conclude that they're an evolutionary error—that they're designed in such a way that leads them to destroy themselves, probably much else along with them. That would be a rational conclusion. We can decide whether that conclusion is right or wrong. Fate: that choice is in our hands. I don't think it's a question of optimism or pessimism. But do we make the choice, the effort, to show that what looks like a rational conclusion is nevertheless mistaken? That's up to us.

Call it "Chomsky's Wager." There are a lot of problems we face, and we should wager towards meeting those challenges because to do nothing only assures that nothing will be done.

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