Monday, September 01, 2003

Chomsky interview on intellectuals and power: "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... 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. For intellectuals, throughout history, it has often come close to being their vocation."

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