Chomsky: The search for truth is a cooperative, unending endeavor

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky

Dit is een gedeelte van een interview met Noam Chomsky over productie van kennis en waarheid, zoals verschenen in de Sri Lanka Guardian:

I’m always uneasy about the concept of “speaking truth,” as if we somehow know the truth and only have to enlighten others who have not risen to our elevated level. The search for truth is a cooperative, unending endeavor. We can, and should, engage in it to the extent we can and encourage others to do so as well, seeking to free ourselves from constraints imposed by coercive institutions, dogma, irrationality, excessive conformity and lack of initiative and imagination, and numerous other obstacles.

As for possibilities, they are limited only by will and choice.

Students are at a stage of their lives where these choices are most urgent and compelling, and when they also enjoy unusual, if not unique, freedom and opportunity to explore the choices available, to evaluate them, and to pursue them.

Well, it really goes back to the latter-part of the nineteenth century, when there was substantial discussion, not just in the United States but in Europe, too, of what was then sometimes called ‘a new class’ of scientific intellectuals. In that period of time there was a level of knowledge and technical expertise accumulating that allowed a kind of managerial class of educated, trained people to have a greater share in decision-making and planning. It was thought that they were a new class displacing the aristocracy, the owners, political leaders and so on, and they could have a larger role, and of course they liked that idea.

Out of this group developed an ideology of technocratic planning. In industry it was called ‘scientific management’. It developed in intellectual life with a concept of what was called a ‘responsible class’ of technocratic, serious intellectuals who could solve the world’s problems rationally, and would have to be protected from the ‘vulgar masses’ who might interfere with them. And it goes right up until the present.

Just how realistic this is, is another question, but for the class of technical intellectuals, it’s a very attractive conception that, ‘We are the rational, intelligent people, and management and decision-making should be in our hands.’

Actually, as I’ve pointed out in some of the things I’ve written, it’s very close to Bolshevism. And, in fact, if you put side-by-side, say, statements by people like Robert McNamara and V.I. Lenin, it’s strikingly similar. In both cases there’s a conception of a vanguard of rational planners who know the direction that society ought to go and can make efficient decisions, and have to be allowed to do so without interference from, what one of them, Walter Lippmann, called the ‘meddlesome and ignorant outsiders’ , namely, the population, who just get in the way.

It’s not an entirely new conception: it’s just a new category of people. Two hundred years ago you didn’t have an easily identifiable class of technical intellectuals, just generally educated people. But as scientific and technical progress increased there were people who felt they can appropriate it and become the proper managers of the society, in every domain. That, as I said, goes from scientific management in industry, to social and political control.

About Chomsky: Avram Noam Chomsky (born December 7, 1928) is an American linguist, philosopher, political activist, author, and lecturer. He is an Institute Professor and professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1,110 thoughts on “Chomsky: The search for truth is a cooperative, unending endeavor

  1. This is an interview published by ZNet, an online magazine on political and economic issues. The Sri Lanka Guardian has only copied the first few paragraphs and thus is not representing the true subject of the interview; altho there’s a link to the interview at the end of the piece:

    The original title is: Responsibility and War Guilt.
    I suggest everyone reads at least the complete first part of the interview because, and worst of all:

    the conclusion Noam Chomsky makes after the part about the technocratic class is not in the Guardian version and reading the copy suggests, contrary to Chomsky’s usual opinion, a more positive attitude towards the technocratic power. Indeed, those who know Chomsky get a little surprised reading the snipped part!

    • Hi Nima, I just read the full article, and know Chomsky quite well. I wouldn’t say he was that positive at all. Using MacNamera and Lenin as examples of a technocratic elite isn’t exactly flattering. Of course his whole argument is concised to a point at which his argument less clear, which is a shame.

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