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Williams International

David Phillips '12 and Ali Mctar '13 Respond to Noam Chomsky

On September 15th, Professor Noam Chomsky kicked off this year’s Class of ’71 Public Affairs Forum, a series of lectures throughout the fall semester on humanitarian concerns, human rights, and different approaches to direct action around the world. He remarked on many negative consequences of humanitarian interventions, which can be heard here. Below are two student responses to his talk: the first from David Phillips ’12 and the second from Ali Mctar ’13. Both David and Ali were fortunate enough to attend a student discussion with Professor Chomsky prior to the lecture.

David Phillips ’12

“We could easily interpret Professor Chomsky’s talk as a straightforward vilification of the United States government, and thereby identify ourselves as its (no longer unwitting) victims. Indeed, many present were tempted into drawing this conclusion, with its twofold effect: first, an unmistakable pleasure in hearing the public intellectual rail against the red white & blue, and second, dizzying resentment over our felt inability to do anything about it all. The talk revolved around our government’s compulsive cloaking of exploitative policies – predicated on distinctly “national interests” – in putatively humanitarian pretexts.

However, to brand the state an enemy and leave it at that would mean omitting an important part of what I took to be the bigger picture. After all, it is important to keep in mind that Professor Chomsky was implicating us as well — our own complicity in global atrocity.

Perhaps this less comfortable side of the argument came across more clearly in the student discussion prior to the main lecture, in which Professor Chomsky, who answered nearly every question with some reference to the “decay of social bonds” or the “atomization of society,” broached the subject of the liberal arts institution, and its historical boast to create good citizens.

Though Chomsky kept himself from equating the liberal arts with the humanitarian/imperialist state or asserting a total contradiction between pretext and practice, he did note a number of ways in which liberal arts institutions and universities at large fall short of doing precisely what the world needs them to do: train today’s youth to recognize when something that calls itself humanitarian is in fact its opposite. This training, continued Chomsky, lies not merely in the absorption of facts, or professors’ opinions, but in the cultivation of an intellectual capacity. The educators present were encouraged to promote creative, divergent, independent thinking in the fight against conformism and closed-mindedness.

As for my classmates and I, Chomsky recommended that we go back to our dorms, read George Orwell’s introduction to “1984,” and reflect upon the state of things.”

David Phillips ’12 is a double-major in English and Philosophy, a playwright, and prospective academic. He can be reached at ddp1@williams.edu.

Ali Mctar ’13

Chomsky’s Message: A Poem by Ali Mctar

Behind the shinning seal

Of the greater good

Lies a swamp of blood and corpses

Cast there by empires that had thought

They were helping a better tomorrow

Chomsky’s message was clear: We are an empire. His stance was that behind the veil of “Freedom, Democracy, Equality, and Free Trade” (What he dubbed “America’s transcendental morals”) is a rancid bog of human injustices carried out by those who have historically thought they were being Humanitarians. He included the US, Fascist Italy and Germany, and Rome in this list.

His Message was clear: Stop trusting politicians who are say they are doing good through humanitarian aid. Don’t believe our leaders (maybe even yourself) and our supposedly “good intentions,” because the world is burning under the eyes of those who think they are doing good. Better said, it is burning under the eyes of everyone.

His Message was clear: Start thinking for yourself. What we think of as progress for many developing nations is really just a continuous disaster that has never stopped piling up rubble. Every measure that supports our current conception of progress is in the direction of further disaster.

His Message was clear: Behind the mask of our precious liberal society is a Monster that is triumphantly spreading freedom, destruction, death, and democracy across the world.

His Message was clear. Did you get it?

Ali Mctar is a Contract Major in Critical Theory who enjoys making art, thinking, and playing rugby. He can be reached at am6@williams.edu