At the Rebellious Media conference I've been asked to introduce Noam Chomsky for his keynote address. This is what I will say:
When asked to introduce Noam my first thought was, okay, this a strange task.
Nearly everyone in the audience, will not only have read more pages by Noam than by all but a handful of people
– they will also have seen him in person or in videos
– and they will may even know his views as well or better than they know the views of nearly all their friends and most of their families…
So what am I going to say that is the slightest edifying about Noam?
It is a bit incredible to think about, but I have known him for nearly 45 years, first as a student at MIT, then shortly later, as an allied activist, then as a publisher, always as a friend.
Noam is of course special – not least in denying anything there is anything special about himself. I suspect that he is in a universe of one in that claim.
But what really matters most, in all that specialness?
Not long after we first became friends we would often be in the new left street, marching, and there was an interesting chant in those days. It would take the name of someone and say, in rhyme – live like him – or her.
I used to joke back then that Mao used to stay up real late, doing his best work until well after midnight. Ho Chi Minh, on the other hand, used to get up real early, doing his best work well before dawn.
If we are going to live like them – and they were two frequent names many inserted in the chant – then I guess we have to simply not sleep.
Oddly, that is one of the things special about Noam – he works tirelessly.
I am not sure we can emulate the volume of his labors, in fact I don't even think it would be a good idea for most of us to try.
I don't know how he manages it, but most cannot – however we can emulate working hard, and, when need be, long.
Similarly, we cannot emulate the actual mental power that Noam brings to bear in his studies. That is, his denials aside, just something one has or has not.
But, we can emulate many of Noam's ways of thinking and thereby vastly increase the effectivity of our mental power as we apply it, just as he does with his.
In particular, we can learn a lot from his use of analogies to leave a realm fraught with prejudice and take the logic of a situation to a place where we can be – more reasoned.
We can also emulate his scrupulous honesty. Amilar Cabral, the great African revolutionary, wrote, "The Truth is Always Revolutionary." I don't know many people who act on that, but Noam is one.
We can emulate Noam's sense of solidarity with others, his commitment to clarity of expression, his patient willingness to communicate in public and private about virtually anything substantive, until points are conveyed.
Most of you have likely been influenced by Noam, by some specific communications and formulations, and by his example.
Here is one of countless sentiments of his, from 1970, when my own political agendas were first forming, that had gigantic impact on me:
He wrote: "If the present wave of repression can be beaten back, if the left can overcome its more suicidal tendencies and build upon what has been accomplished in the past decade, then the problem of how to organize industrial society on truly democratic lines, with democratic control in the workplace and in the community, should become a dominant intellectual issue for those who are alive to the problems of contemporary society, and, as a mass movement develops, speculation should proceed to action."
Noam has been invited here to speak at a media conference and his view of media arguably stems more or less from this observation of his:
He wrote: "Any good capitalist democracy needs to keep the rabble in line. To make sure they are atoms o consumption, obedient tools of production, isolated from one another, lacking any concept of a decent human life. They are to be spectators in a political system run by elites, blaming each other and themselves for what's wrong."
And this one: "You look at any institutions you want to understand; You ask about the internal structure; you look at its setting in the broader society and how it relates to other systems of power and authority."
Noam has been doing that tirelessly and brilliantly for the 45 years I have known him, and now we get to see him do it again, here today…
Please welcome Noam Chomsky…