Resident Noam Chomsky fangirl and resident lecture enthusiast Elizabeth Self muses on hearing the man himself lecture at Columbia. Even if it was in Schermerhorn.
Last week, Noam Chomsky gave the Fall 2013 Dewey Lectures at Columbia, themed, “What kind of Creatures Are We?” The lectures also were apparently advertised nowhere outside Philosophy Hall, and reservations to them were not available. So, naturally, entirely too many people showed up to the first one on Wednesday night, and your author was not able to make it. However, by camping out from noon on for the Friday lecture at 4:15, she was able to hear Chomsky’s final lecture in Schermerhorn on “What is the Common Good?”
If you happen to not know who Chomsky is or why he was giving these talks, well … It’s kind of hard to explain. According to International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, “Noam Chomsky is a US political theorist and activist, and institute professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Besides his work in linguistics, Chomsky is internationally recognized as one of the most critically engaged public intellectuals alive today. Chomsky continues to be an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and its ambitions for geopolitical hegemony and the neoliberal turn of global capitalism, which he identifies in terms of class warfare waged from above against the needs and interests of the great majority.”
So, in short, he’s a badass talker who writes a bunch of stuff about revolutionary thinking and likes to make the people we think of as the good guys look bad. Also, a linguist.
In any case, many people around here did know who he is, or, at least, that they should be there, so the room was packed for his speech.
Though Chomsky has a sleepy grandpa voice at this point (I mean, he was there for the invention of anarchy, right?) he started out with a joke about MIT and kept everyone on their toes from there on out. His speech was centered on truisms of democratic society and how, pretty much without fail, we fail to make them true in actual practice. He called out institutions that don’t actually help humanity, particularly the stock market, and pointed out that it would be logical by the assumed democratic mentality that, if they could not justify themselves, we would get rid of them. No one from the U.S. military to the Papacy to the Department of Education was spared in his talk, which skillfully linked together the destruction of Ecuador’s forests, social security, and human liberty.
He also mentioned that, when he was in college, it cost, as he said, “something like $100,” a comment which produced groans from all of the Columbia students present and a smirk from all the adults.
In case it isn’t apparent, your author was rather blown away by the speech, and is still filled with all sorts of revolutionary thoughts. She even managed to shake his hand in the crush of people trying to speak to him and get his autograph after his talk was over, though she was not so bold as a number of people who successfully requested to take selfies with the lecturer.
Picture via Wikimedia Commons