Chomsky Interview: Noam Chomsky Post-Election: We Need More Organization, Education, Activism

Noam Chomsky has given an extensive and, as expected, substantive interview. Part of his concluding sentence is quoted in the title of this diary.

Alas, while Chomsky is very smart, and very ethical – to the extent that if the US population was made up, say, of 25% Chomsky clones, we’d definitely live in a radically more humane society – I wish that Chomsky would have thrown in some insights about the need for more strategic thinking, on the one hand, and rational evaluation of the results of democratic experiments, which reflect that strategic thinking, on the other.

There was also nothing about nurturing a backdrop of social connection, from which political organization would more easily and naturally flow.

Do businesses hire political game theorists to figure out how to ‘work’ the existing political structure in the US? I don’t know, for sure, but I have to believe that they’d be fools if they didn’t. By the same token, I believe the activist and more socially conscious part of the 99% who know that society is a mess are, collectively speaking, fools for not employing political game theorists.

As for the need to continually and intelligently evaluate various strategies of organization, socialization, and politicization, some insights could be had for the much cheaper price of a few dollars by reading “The Lean Startup”. Pay particular attention to the discussion of “vanity statistics” and “pivoting”.

Also, though Chomsky encouraged the Occupy Wall Street movement, he seems blissfully ignorant of the current and potential capability of technology to facilitate local, face-to-face meetings and cooperation. AFAIK, he’s said nothing about OWS’s failure to remain a strong and persistent public face of the hopes of the disenfranchised 99%, even absent encampments. AFAIK, he has not pointed out what a huge strategic blunder it was not to anticipate the forcible termination of encampments; nor has he suggested reconstituting persistent public gathering, but without illegal encampments.

A pre-requisite (for some) and synergistic stimulant (for all) to achieve politicization of the public is, I believe, socialization. Somehow, people have to be drawn into organizations and situations that have a strong social component – where can find at least some people that you like hanging around with, even if not focused on some activist effort to save the world.

Some guy that I heard interviewed on WBAI’s Occupy Wall Street program said that he would remain connected to OWS, even after the evictions, because “now I know my neighbors”. He enjoyed the positive company of his new-found friends and acquaintances.

In sum, I absolutely agree with Chomsky when he says that we need “more organization, more education, and more activism”. However, those are clearly not enough. You need to also have more socialization, strategy, and strategic management and evaluation.

Without socialization, many of us will not be able to sustain our desire for reform. And without strategy, we will be spinning our wheels, guaranteeing failure even if we maintain our enthusiasm.

Without strategy and constant strategic adjustments, however, we will eventually figure out that we are spinning our wheels, and likely not even be able to maintain our enthusiasm.

Related to this, Chomsky also went into being resigned to civic impotence.

Why didn’t they vote? Well, there are things they know intuitively, which are well studied in the political science literature. One of the things it does quite well is study polling, which is very extensive. So we know a lot of what people think, and there’s very good work comparing attitudes as indicated by polls with policy – and there’s some pretty striking results. The sort of gold standard in this work right now isMartin Gilens’ recent book, which is quite good. What he points out is that the lower 70 percent have no influence on policy, so they’re essentially disenfranchised. And then as you move up higher, you get a little more influence. When you get to the very top, they essentially get what they want. Polling results aren’t sharp enough for him to deal with the crucial segment of the population – the top fraction of 1 percent – which is where the real concentration of wealth is, and undoubtedly the real concentration of power. But you can’t show it, because the polls aren’t good enough.

Going back to why people don’t vote, I presume the main reason is because they understand without reading political science texts that it doesn’t make any difference how they vote. It’s not going to affect policy, so why bother?