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Noam Chomsky on How He Found His Calling

Renowned linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky shares his take on his career and his drive to educate the public on world affairs.

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MK: What is his name?

NC: David Noble. He has a couple of very good books - one of them is called Forces of Production. What he discovered was that as these methods were devised there was a choice - whether to design the methods so that control would be in the hands of skilled machinists or whether it would be controlled by management. They picked the second, although it was not more profitable - when they did studies they found there was no profit advantage to it but it's just so important to keep workers under control than to have skilled machinists run the industrial process. One reason is that if that mentality spreads sooner or later workers are going to demand what seems obvious to them anyway - that they should just take over the factories and get rid of the bosses who don't do anything but get in their way. That's frightening. That's pretty much what led to the New Deal. The New Deal measures were to some extent sparked by the fact that strikes were reaching the level of sit down strikes, and a sit down strike is just one millimetre away from saying, 'Well why are we sitting here? Let's run the place'.

If you go back to the 19th century working class literature, by now there's quite a lot of working class literature, there's quite a lot of material on [these ideas]. This is mostly right around here where the industrial revolution first started in the United States. Working people were bitterly opposed to the industrial system, they said it was taking away their freedom, their independence, their rights as members of a free republic, that it was destroying their culture. They thought that workers should simply own the mills and run them themselves. In the 19th century here, without any influence of Marxism or any European thinking, it was pretty much assumed that wage labour is about the same as slavery - it's different only in that it's temporary. That was such a cliché that it was a slogan of the Republican Party. And for northern workers in the civil war that was the banner under which they fought - that wage slavery is as bad as slavery. That had to be beaten out of people's heads.

I don't think it's far under the surface, I think it could come back at any time. I think it could come back right now - Obama pretty much owns the auto industry and is closing down auto plants, meanwhile his government is making contracts with Spain and France to build high tech rail facilities which the US is very backward in - and using federal stimulus money to pay for it. Sooner or later it's going to occur to working people in Detroit that 'we can do those things - let's take over the factory and do it'. It could lead to industrial revival here and that would be very frightening to the banks and the managerial class.

MK: What is your personal work routine? How do manage to work so much?

NC: Well my wife died a couple of years ago and since then I've done nothing but work. I see my children once in a while but almost nothing else. Before that I worked pretty hard but had a personal life outside. But that's unique.

MK: How many hours of sleep do you get?

NC: I try to get about six or seven hours of sleep if I can. It's a pretty crazy life - tremendous number of talks and meetings so I don't have anywhere near as much time as I'd like to just plain work because other things crowd in. But I nearly never have any free time - I never go to the movies or out to dinner. But that's not a model of any sane kind of existence.

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