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Four from the Forums


Noam Chomsky

Reply

from NC to query regarding Graduate Unions and Teaching Generally

On

graduate unions, it’s true enough that (ideally) "graduate teaching is

pedagogical training," but that’s incomplete. Any teaching, if done at all

seriously, is also a way of learning — about lots of things, including the

subject you are teaching. That’s just as true for senior professors as for

graduate students. Even teaching the most elementary course, for the n’th time,

if at all serious, one rethinks the whole subject, and class interactions are a

learning/discovery experience for everyone — again, if at all serious, not just

a mechanical way to get through the next hour, something that could be done as

described once in a famous New Yorker cartoon showing a classroom with a

taperecorder at the professor’s desk and taperecorders on every student’s chair.

It’s

difficult to see what this has to do with unionization. Faculty unionize, for

good reasons. With the current "corporatization" of the universities

(including "downsizing," making the labor force more

"flexible" and insecure, etc.), graduate students are being more and

more exploited as a cheap and transitory labor force, as you know better than I.

The most exalted educational purposes of a university should be advanced by

graduate student organization (including unions) to defend the integrity of the

university, and themselves, from these pernicious processes, only one aspect of

the increasing subordination of universities (and life generally) to

unaccountable private power. What Seattle was basically about, to mention just

the obvious.

About

faculty, they have all sorts of reasons, and all sorts of views, as faculty

unions illustrate. On many issues, there are striking differences of attitude

between students and faculty, an illuminating fact, when we bear in mind that

the faculty are the students of yesterday. The differences, which are often

sharp, reveal how often attitudes are shaped by one’s role in an institutional

structure of authority and domination.

One

can argue (and should, I think) that such structure is inimical to the integrity

of the university — its research, teaching, and community roles — and should

be challenged and to the extent possible overcome. But that’s a joint effort;

faculty should have even more of a stake in it than students, insofar as they

tend to have more of a commitment to the institution as such.

 

Reply

from NC to query on his belief in God, etc.

Do

I believe in God? Can’t answer, I’m afraid. I’m not being flippant, but I don’t

understand the question. What is it that I am supposed to believe or not believe

in? Are you asking whether I believe there is something not in the universe (or

the universes, if there are (maybe infinitely) many of them), and that somehow

stands above them? I’ve never heard of any reason for believing that. Something

else? What. There are many concepts of spirituality, among them, various notions

of divinity developed in the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic religions. Within these

the concepts vary greatly. St. Augustine and others, for example, argued that

one should not take seriously the Biblical account of God as an exaggerated

human, and other Biblical accounts, because they were crafted so as to make the

intended message intelligible to humans — and on such grounds, he argued,

organized religion ought to accept persuasive conclusions of science, a

conception that Galileo appealed to (in vain) when he faced Papal censure.

Anyway,

without clarification of a kind I have never seen, I don’t know whether I

believe or don’t believe in whatever a questioner has in mind.

I

don’t see how one can "believe in organized religion." What does it

mean to believe in an organization? One can join it, support it, oppose it,

accept its doctrines or reject them. There are many kinds of organized religion.

People associate themselves with some of them, or not, for all sorts of reasons,

maybe belief in some of their doctrines.

Who

wrote the Bible? Current scholarship, to my knowledge, assumes that the material

that constitutes the Old Testament was put together from various oral and folk

traditions (many of them going far back) in the Hellenistic period. That was one

of several currents, of which the collection that formed the New Testament was

another. Biblical archaeology was developed early in this century in an effort

to substantiate the authenticity of the Biblical account. It’s by now generally

recognized in Biblical scholarship that it has done the opposite. The Bible is

not a historical text, and has only vague resemblances to what took place, as

far as can be reconstructed. For example, whether Israel ever existed is not

clear; if so, it was probably a small kingdom somewhere in the hills, apparently

virtually unknown to the Egyptians. That’s my understanding, from casual

reading; I haven’t followed recent work closely.

Importance,

relevance, historical-social impact? These are enormous questions. I can’t try

to address them at this level of generality; it requires at least an article,

better a book or many books.

Elements

of the Christian fundamentalist right are one of the strongest components of

"support for Israel" — support in a odd sense, because they

presumably want to see it destroyed in a cosmic battle at Armageddon, after

which all the proper souls will ascend to heaven — or so I understand, again,

not from close reading. They have provided enormous economic aid, again of a

dubious sort. One of their goals seems to be to rebuild the Temple, which means

destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which presumably means war with the Arab world –

one of the goals, perhaps, in fulfilling the prophecy of Armageddon. So they

strongly support Israeli power and expansionism, and help fund it and lobby for

it; but they also support actions that are very harmful and objectionable to

most of its population — as do Jewish fundamentalist groups, mostly rooted in

the US, which, after all, is one of the most extreme religious fundamentalist

societies in the world.

 

Reply

from NC to follow-up query on famines in India and China, etc.

To

clarify, Sen didn’t argue that there have been no famines in India, just nothing

like the awful Chinese famine of 1958-61. When there were famines, it became

known quickly and there were responses.

As

for the US role, long story, but let me just quote something (from myself –

apologies, that’s what I have stored) about how it started: Like other colonies,

India sought to enter the modern world after freeing itself from foreign rule –

in India’s case, to return to the course of industrialization and modernization

that Britain had blocked, indeed reversed; the same was true of Egypt, to which

we turn later. In the Eisenhower years and briefly beyond, the US offered some

aid to India, though with considerable reluctance because of its neutralism and

effort to pursue independent development along classic state-protected lines.

Reviewing recently declassified records, Dennis Merrill finds little concern for

India’s needs. By 1950, American officials recognized that India faced terrible

famine, in which some 10-13 million might perish, it was anticipated. But the

Truman Administration had no interest in providing wheat from the abundant

surpluses the government had purchased as part of the public subsidy to

large-scale US agriculture. Some officials favored aid, because of benefits for

the United States; food to save millions of people from imminent starvation

might counter "Communist subversion" and prevent the rise to power of

a government that "would be decidedly worse from our point of view"

than the much-disliked Nehru (George McGhee). After the Korean war broke out,

Dean Acheson offered India aid provided that India shows that it

"understands the depths of the danger we now face" by joining the

anti-Communist crusade; in contrast, we had no obligation to "understand

the depths of the danger India then faced." Five months after India

requested aid, it was granted a loan, repayable in strategic materials.

"No

reliable statistics exist on how many additional famine-related deaths occurred

during this period," Merrill comments, adding that "During 1950 and

1951, as millions of Indians struggled each day to survive on as little as nine

ounces of foodgrains, American policy makers sought to work India’s distress to

America’s advantage" in its Cold War policies and search for strategic

materials.

Went

on pretty much the same.

You’re

right that Kerala particularly, and West Bengal to an extent, are different, in

part no doubt because of the influence in both of one of the Communist parties,

which did act in ways that contributed (particularly in Kerala) to general

welfare, in ways that we might call "social democratic" (health,

literacy, etc.), and lent support to popular initiatives, including the

self-governing peasant villages that I visited in West Bengal (which may be what

you are referring to). But these were, as far as I can determine, the outcome of

popular struggle, often violent, during the period of counterinsurgency under

the Gandhi "emergency" — hardly "socialist," in anything

other than a derisory sense.

On

Congress, to my knowledge Sen’s point is well-taken. Whatever one thinks of its

performance, it did introduce democratic forms, which sometimes function, and

programs that prevented large-scale famine. But with the downside that Sen

describes, and which is almost uniformly deep-sixed in discussion of these

issues, as in the examples I discussed. It’s no small point. If one wants to

play the numbers game as it is done in denouncing (often accurately) the

so-called "Communist powers", then play it by the rules, and submit

yourself and your associates to Nuremberg-style trials.

You

might enjoy reading the Dreze-Sen book I mentioned. They are both very good, and

its a fine book.

 

Reply

from NC regarding to query Israel/Syria Negotiations.

Perhaps

you saw a very interesting commentary by Tanya Reinhart on these negotiations

recently on ZNet. If not, very much worth looking at.

The

US-Israel-Turkey alliance right now holds all the cards; Syria is vulnerable and

isolated. That could change. There are counterforces developing in the region,

but it’s pretty much the story now. Making the point in a not particularly

subtle way, as the Golan negotiations began, Israel and Turkey began joint naval

maneuvers with the participation of the US Mediterranean fleet. Their dominance,

which is overwhelming, is not only military. Turkey also controls the main water

supplies of the region, and can harm Syria very seriously by restricting river

flows. Some future settlement also might end up with Turkey providing water to

Israel. The relation is now quite close, including military, trade, tourism,

etc.

The

Golan Heights were conquered by Israel after the cease-fire in 1967, after a

complicated history that there’s no need to recount here. Most of the population

(Druse) was expelled; the rest subject to a harsh regime. Extensive state

funding has been devoted to the development I think you are right in focusing on

the headwaters of the Jordan. Israel might seek an outcome in which it maintains

control of water sources but leaves most of the land under Syrian civilian

administration. Syria might agree, having few options. But for the moment there

is an impasse, which Reinhart believes will persist. Maybe. Hard to judge, I

think.

 

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