The Chomsky Interview
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 6 May 98 17:51:53 -0700
Subject: The Chomsky Interview
Forwarded-by: Michael Travers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Excerpts from an interview in which Chomsky replies to the riddles of the
BARSAMIAN: A few years ago, there was a humorous post going around the
Internet in which various intellectuals, both past and present, were
purported to have responded to the age-old riddle of why the chicken crossed
the road. So, let me start by asking you, today, in your opinion, why DID
the chicken cross the road?
CHOMSKY: Well, I think we can say this much: the chicken had an innate
biological endowment that was modified by its environment. Beyond that, we
can only speculate. Intellectuals can rant and rave about it all they like,
but the fact is, we know very little about why that particular chicken
crossed that particular road. My feeling is that the problem of free will
can never be solved, owing to innate limitations on human knowledge.
BARSAMIAN: All right, then the next question is: why did the fireman wear
CHOMSKY: You know, I get into debates with radical historians about this
all the time. If you look at the histories of the Fire Department, they
spend an awful lot of time on trivia and personalities: who said what to
whom, what mood was the Chief in, what color were his suspenders, etc.
Well, that's of hundredth-order significance. What's important is the
institutional structure of the Fire Department...
BARSAMIAN: Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?
CHOMSKY: Well, if we're interested in learning about how the world works,
we'll turn away from groundless speculation about where one or another
President is interred and turn instead to the serious evidence in the vast
historical and planning record which is, frankly, where the real "bodies
are buried", if I may use the vulgar rhetoric of the planners....
BARSAMIAN: Okay, here's one nobody ever asks:
Round as an apple, Deep as a cup, All the king's horses Can't pull it up.
What is it?
CHOMSKY: Orwell's memory hole.... Of course, it's not that the king's
horses _can't_ bring it up -- it's that they _won't_. Unless it serves some
ideologically useful purpose.
BARSAMIAN: Let's take some phone calls from listeners.
CALLER: Hey, man! What do you think of Elvis? He's the goddam King of
Rock 'n' Roll, isn't he?
CHOMSKY: I can't say I agree with the factual assumption of the question.
CALLER: The what?
CHOMSKY: You're assuming that "Rock 'n' Roll" is a monarchy. And, of
course, it's really a corporate oligopoly, staffed largely by the deeply
indoctrinated. Not 100%, of course. There's Bad Religion, for example.
And Casey Kasem. But rock 'n' roll is just a marketing term, cooked up by
fringe elements of the music industry in order to sell marginal pop music
to an affluent adolescent post-war audience. Later, it was appropriated by
dominant sectors of the industry (the major labels) once they found they
could profit from it. As for Presley, as far as I can see, he had little
real power. "Colonel" Tom Parker and the management of RCA, Hill and Range,
and so on, were really pulling all the strings. There's a vast literature
on this... You can see how powerful these pop singers are by asking what
would have happened if, say, Elvis had insisted on regularly singing the
music he cared about, music deeply rooted in his community, namely gospel.
Well, he'd be back in Memphis driving a truck.
CALLER: Yes, what is your opinion on the use of vinegar as an air
BARSAMIAN: Uh, ma'am, I think you've got the wrong --
CALLER: ... I mean, either in the kitchen or in the rest of the house.
CHOMSKY: Well, you can eliminate cooking odors by boiling a tablespoon of
white vinegar mixed with a cup of water in a pan on the stove. As far as
rest of the house is concerned -- experts differ -- but you might try
heating a little vinegar, a few cloves and some cinnamon in a dish in the
microwave and then placing the dish in a well-ventilated spot, say, near
BARSAMIAN: Where do you get all this information?
CHOMSKY: Heloise. You can learn a lot if you read the mainstream press
BARSAMIAN: Ah, one last phone call.
CALLER: Professor Chomsky, my name is Virginia and I am eight years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says `If you
see it in The Sun it's so.' But I thought I would check with you. Please
tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
CHOMSKY: No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus. There WAS a legendary
figure, St. Nicholas, who was apparently born in the city of Patara,
travelled to Palestine and Egypt when young, was imprisoned during
persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian but released later by Emperor
Constantine, and so on. No documentary evidence exists for any of this, so
we have to be cautious. But the legends are clear: he supposedly gave
anonymous donations of gold coins to persons in need, promoted values of
altruism, concern for others, and so on. Well, plainly, that's of no use
to the current owners and managers of the economy (whose motto is "Gain
wealth, forgetting all but self"), so the figure was appropriated by elite
elements and an Orwellian variant of the original has been consciously
designed by the PR industry to aid in their ruthless and manipulative
campaign of want creation. Unlike your father, whose trust in the press is
that of a religious fanatic, your "little friends" manage to maintain a
healthy skepticism and have yet to succumb to the effective indoctrination
that inundates us all, a matter to which we should give no little thought.
BARSAMIAN: Finally, I wonder if you have a riddle or a joke that you'd like
to share with us?
CHOMSKY: If I told you my tastes in humor, it would shock you.
BARSAMIAN: No, go right ahead and shock me.
CHOMSKY: Knock knock.
BARSAMIAN: Who's there?
CHOMSKY: Howard Zinn.
BARSAMIAN: Howard Zinn who?
CHOMSKY (singing): Howard Zinn's in Glocca Morra?
© 1998 Peter Langston