‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’: A Noam Chomsky Article

I just found this insightful article by Noam Chomsky from 1967 at the beginning of the Vietnam War, on the responsibility of intellectuals. I will not synopsize this article, as it is available to read here:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/12172

I did, however, wish to point out that this article reflects the notion of intellectuality that I was describing in my last post on what characterizes an intellectual by nature rather than simply the somewhat undefined idea culturally regarded to be the standard definition. I also wanted to make a few comments on it.

What is most notable about an article like this is that it (being from 1967) still regards intellectualism as a force to be reckoned with, and above this, considers it inseparable from a moral level.

To view an intellectual as having a distinct role in protecting objectivity or truth in culture is the key idea and it is the idea most betrayed today as most self-described intellectuals hail their ability to stay separate (aloof) from ‘mere’ cultural discourse, when the culture is what is most in need of being salvaged. And yet the culture is turn-coated by these people, the ‘intellectuals’ and sold books from the paralytic academia amounting to nothing more than coffee table entertainment.

Chomsky sites the fact that intellectuals throughout history expose lies and spread the truth:

“IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

I like how he relates this to what atrocities governments are able to get away with when eliminating intellectuality from culture.

“We can hardly avoid asking ourselves to what extent the American people bear responsibility for the savage American assault on a largely helpless rural population in Vietnam, still another atrocity in what Asians see as the “Vasco da Gama era” of world history. As for those of us who stood by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past dozen years—on what page of history do we find our proper place? Only the most insensible can escape these questions. I want to return to them, later on, after a few scattered remarks about the responsibility of intellectuals and how, in practice, they go about meeting this responsibility in the mid-1960s.”

I like this because THIS really is the point. Though I do not site this as a characteristic directly, it would fall under the “Application” part of my concept. Chomsky above and throughout the article, brings up the ‘application’ (of intellectualism) as not having been failed under the 60’s generation which he believes actually took part in limiting the extent and severity of the war at least to some degree, and is in any case, a good example of where intellectualism is deeply involved in society.

That point being: a society entire, in the absence of intellectuality, subsides and is able to erode in one way or another, this is a particularly frightening example. I would point out as well, as Chomsky does, that in the modern age the ousting of intellectuals is far different than it was before:

“IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. Not so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.”

And this is very true and is getting more and more curious a situation with mass entertainment as a form of political diversion as well as an overall anti-intellectual tool.

As one of Zach De La Rocha’s (Rage Against The Machine) lyrics points out: “Chained to the dream they got ya searchin for, the thin line between entertainment and war…”

In this mustard gas of modern advertising and media culture, intellectualism is worse than gone, and all but rendered to the status of a party trick or at best, more entertainment.

Anyway, I would suggest reading this article for anyone interested in the distinct relationship between intellectuals, responsiblity, and what authority is able to get away with which is illustrated very well by Chomsky here.

I would like to add that this is not impertinent to our issues today whereby an entire 300 million population of the US was passified through a national disaster and sent off to war for the pockets of a few men, who have done very well as a result.

www.nealcormier.com

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