Friday, September 05, 2003

These kinds of notions are what really draw me to Chomsky:

C: Empire, yes, but I have to say I found it hard to read. I understood only parts, and what I understood seemed to me pretty well known and expressible much more simply. However, maybe I missed something important.

D: Yes, and the book arrives to the same conclusion as yours but through a more complicated, less readable way...

C: If people get something out of it, it's OK! What I understand seems to be pretty simple, and this is not a criticism. I don't see any need to say in a complicated way what you can say in an easier way. You can make things look complicated, that's part of the game that intellectuals play; things must look complicated. You might not be conscious about that, but it's a way of gaining prestige, power and influence.

D: Do you look at Foucault's work in this prospective?

C: Foucault is an interesting case because I'm sure he honestly wants to undermine power but I think with his writings he reinforced it. The only way to understand Foucault is if you are a graduate student or you are attending a university and have been trained in this particular style of discourse. That's a way of guaranteeing, it might not be his purpose, but that's a way of guaranteeing that intellectuals will have power, prestige and influence. If something can be said simply say it simply, so that the carpenter next door can understand you. Anything that is at all well understood about human affairs is pretty simple. I find Foucault really interesting but I remain skeptical of his mode of expression. I find that I have to decode him, and after I have decoded him maybe I'm missing something. I don't get the significance of what I am left with. I have never effectively understood what he was talking about. I mean, when I try to take the big words he uses and put them into words that I can understand and use, it is difficult for me to accomplish this task It all strikes me as overly convoluted and very abstract. But -what happens when you try to skip down to real cases? The trouble with Foucault and with this certain kind of theory arises when it tries to come down to earth. Really, nobody was able to explain to me the importance of his work...

And again here, in the things he says, I hear values that resonate with the things we pursue as a followers of Christ: humility, honesty, a desire to change your own evil before addressing someone else's.

D: When you talk about the role of intellectuals you say that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country. Could you explain this assertion?

C: One of the most elementary moral truisms is that you are responsible for the anticipated consequences of your own actions. It is fine to talk about the crimes of Genghis Khan, but there isn't much that you can do about them. If Soviet intellectuals chose to devote their energies to crimes of the US, which they could do nothing about, that is their business. We honor those who recognized "that the first duty is to concentrate on your own country." And it is interesting that no one ever asks for an explanation, because in the case of official enemies, truisms are indeed truisms. It is when truisms are applied to ourselves that they become contentious, or even outrageous. But they remain truisms. In fact, the truisms hold far more for us than they did for Soviet dissidents, for the simple reason that we are in free societies, do not face repression, and can have a substantial influence on government policy. So if we adopt truisms, that is where we will focus most of our energy and commitment. The explanation is even more obvious than in the case of official enemies. Naturally, truisms are hated when applied to oneself. You can see it dramatically in the case of terrorism. In fact one of the reasons why I am considered public enemy number one among a large sector of intellectuals in the US is that I mention that the U.S. is one of the major terrorist states in the world and this assertion though plainly true, is unacceptable for many intellectuals, including left-liberal intellectuals, because if we faced such truths we could do something about the terrorist acts for which we are responsible, accepting elementary moral responsibilities instead of lauding ourselves for denouncing the crimes official enemies, about which we can often do very little. Elementary honesty is often uncomfortable, in personal life as well, and there are people who make great efforts to evade it.

And one more article from an Indian writer speaking about Chomsky, wherein she speaks "as a subject of the U.S. empire". I thought it was another good one for helping us as Christians to face the dishonesty inherent in the notion of a "Christian nation".

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