Less than two weeks ago, on the 2nd of November I had the opportunity to cross paths with one of the most intelligent, brilliant minds of this age – that belonging to the one and only Noam Chomsky. I was even more fortunate to hear him speak not once but twice on his visit to Australia.
Its hard to describe what its like to be a part of such a delightful piece of history. The Sydney Peace Prize, announced in June, was awarded to Chomsky as a way of recognizing his constant fight for peace and justice in the world throughout his life’s work. It was quite overwhelming to be seated in Sydney’s Town Hall as Chomsky was invited to the stage to give his lecture. As he humbly walked up to meet the crowd one-by-one everyone stood to welcome the man with a rare quality in today’s society – an inability to sacrifice the truth. There was no false humility, no waving of hands, not even a “thanks” Chomsky had a message to tell us, and without another word he launched into a story, the sickening and horrifying true stories of the many who have died needlessly at the hands of insanity.
The lecture, which will be televised in Australia on the ABC at the end of the month, came across loud and clear through the firm but gentle voice of the 82-year-old MIT Professor. In the crowd of over 2000 people you could hear only silence and the occasional horrified gasp or flinch as crime after crime against our fellow human beings were described. It was terrifying, inspirational, sad, and motivational, carrying a clear message that all could grasp. There was no flamboyance, no newspeak or doublespeak or flare. It was plain and simple facts strung together in the way our teachers, journalists, politicians, historians, scientists, academics and any other person claiming to speak knowledge and truth should portray information.
So I can’t understand why Chomsky often gets such a bad wrap, particularly in the US. Is it because we wish humans weren’t treated in such horrible ways? Is it because we don’t believe that anyone could inflict such pain and torment on a person, nation and nations and therefore Chomsky must be a fraud? Is it because we simply don’t care? I think it is because people want to stick to their world “knowledge” and have an opinion about what is "really" happening without doing the work that goes with it. So we pretend. We pretend we know about the ins and outs of foreign affairs and government policy, based on mass media info. We pretend to know why an illegal war in Iraq began and continues, about the death of civilians under the regimes of the West. We pretend based on our manufactured consent. If we don’t know what we’re talking about why say anything? If we want to say something, we need to make sure we actually read and understand the evidence and information.
Ok, so it is hard to keep up with the overwhelming amount of “stuff” that is out there, but the fact that there is so much information available should tell us something: if we haven’t done the research then we don’t necessarily know what we’re talking about. We must reserve a certain amount of open-mindedness and willingness to hear what someone who has done the research says. Its not that we can’t have an opinion, its that we must understand our own opinion will often come from limited knowledge, though perhaps we will know more if it is a particular interest or field of expertise. Even then, I think it is important to remain open to the fact that we may have got it wrong. Once we accept that we don’t really know all that much we take the first step towards wisdom, positive change, justice and peace.
No-one but the most insane among us is happy about human suffering, the scary thing is it is still so prominent in today’s world. Perhaps this is where the true insanity lies.