On Becoming a Chomksy
By Brad Wilson at Feb 17, 2009
I identify with the issue work of Noam Chomsky. I see myself as doing some similar things, albeit on a smaller scale, and I’m quite a but younger and probably much less academically oriented. I’m in a smaller pond. I also haven’t done much in the way of publication.
Those disclaimers aside, (and I’m sure there should be others,) my point here is to encourage others, especially younger people, to get involved in similar work. My point, that is, is that if I too can do it, so can you.
A significant change came in my life’s work when I took my interest in matters of war and peace and the power complex, and focused them on the smaller domain of farm issues, starting in about 1985. Did Chomsky have a similar point of focus. Perhaps the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, as big and as horrifying an issue as it was, played a similar role for Chomsky.
Several things particularly impress me about what Chomsky has done. First, he’s done his homework. Second, he documents his case very thoroughly. Third, he argues against the strongest arguments on the other side. Fourth, he does a good job of qualifying his generalizations. Rollo May, for example, has mentioned that any generalization is false in the same way that all generalizations are false. There are always plenty of qualifications to be made. Here I think Chomsky remains impressively level headed. Fifth, he faces and reconciles dilemmas well, for example on personal responsibility for terrorist acts and social causation for terrorism overall. That’s a big one and part of what May called “the human dilemma.” Finally, I see a great humility in his work, which reminds me of Gandhis' opening in his autobiography.
Especially as I get older, I find myself working in these same directions. I find Chomsky’s standards to be sometimes hard to match, however. My blog, for example, is sloppy, and often in need of better qualifications, or better editing, or more thorough documentation prior to posting. Or perhaps it needs an effort at reposting. My belated White House Farmer post is one example, (though it actually also significantly stimulated and advanced my writing on the farm and food reform movements). There and here, I don't match the humility level.
Still, I identify with Chomsky's work. Most important of all, perhaps, is that Chomsky has found an area, (a huge area,) where work has needed to be done. He’s worked hard over long periods of time to do this work. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s the only one. He’s a special example, however. Today I see that this work is expanding significantly through ZNet and other sites.
In my work on farm issues, I’ve found and studied work by others on important topics and brought it together for particular audiences. My own views and input has grown significantly over time. In recent work I’ve tried to bring U.S. farmer perspectives on farm issues to new audiences at ZNet, Common Dreams and elsewhere. For several key topics, I don’t find that this information is out there very much, even as food and farm issue work has grown tremendously in the U.S. and globally. I’m trying to start a Farm and Food Engagement group at ZSpace, and I’d like to get something along these lines established as an issue category at ZNet.
I see a great benefit in connections between young and old, for work on needed new projects. Anyone who takes up a direction and works hard at it will surely find key areas where work needs to be done. Young people can find connections with older people that give them leads to key needed areas of work. I find myself saying more and more, even at 55, that I’ll never be able to finish the work that I see especially needs to be done. I certainly won’t we able to keep up with what I think needs to be done this year. Perhaps Chomsky is saying the same thing.
Perhaps we need better ways of sharing tasks that need to be done. Here are some leads I have.
1. Fairness and Accuracy in the media does some great work comparing what the mainstream media said a while back and what they say later. There was one on whether Saddam Hussein kicked the inspectors out. First they accurately said that he didn’t, then they followed the spin that he did. For topics like this, I see a need to follow it up locally and regionally. To what extent did your regional newspapers do this very thing, with syndicated stories, for example.
2. As with the FAIR work, in my issue areas I find talk of the food crisis and high farm prices (ie. 2007-2008) with no reference to dumping (low food prices) fair trade price standard. Dumping was the key problem only a few years ago, highlighted in both the mainstream media and among progressives and the left.
3. One thing I did early on is to lead a course at the University of Northern Iowa on “Farm Studies” during the 1980s farm crisis. This was an option that came out of the 1960s student movement. It was the Self-Forming Seminar, where students could create their own courses. My inspiration was a student “Peace Studies” course I had taken a few years earlier. I got a faculty advisor, got approved, posted hand made signs around campus and got a small group of students on board. I drew up a simple curriculum of comparitive issues on a range of topics: world history of agriculture, U.S. history of Agriculture, environmental issues, food issues, rural sociology, related psychological issues, etc. and culminating with the future of farming. I used contrasting works, works of mainstream views, (often from USDA yearbooks of Agriculture,) and works of social criticism. Under our advisors name I put items on reserve. Here we had many colleges and universities in rural regions with no significant rural studies, as we headed into a major farm crisis. What other topics are in need of student created courses today?
I will add more of these suggestions in part 2 of this blog.