Monday, July 21, 2014

Who is Noam Chomsky and why should I care?

I first heard the name "Noam Chomsky", I believe, in one of my computer science classes.  We were talking about algorithmically processing language, or just mathematical computery stuff in general.  The word "Grammar" was being thrown around, I believe.  There are a lot of parallels between language, mathematics, and computers.  Chomsky, being a real pioneer in linguistics and cognitive science, came up as an important name in my computer science class.  A short time later, I began hearing his name a lot in an "Intro to linguistics" class.  (check out amazing bio).

So what does a linguist have to do with politics and public policy?  Well, over the years he has effectively made politics and public policy a major concern of his.  The way he talks about politics is not very conventional, but he is far from a crack or conspiracy theorist.  He has a knack for digging out relevant history and presenting it in a way that brings clarity to the intentionally inscrutable world of political action.  I get the impression listening to his lectures that he has a knack for bringing focus to defining issues and that he is well read and experienced enough to base his conclusions on what actually is going in the world.  Normal people like you and I form our opinions from, at best, a simplified version of history, as well as conjectures, principles and theories.  Noam Chomsky knows a little bit more than you or I do when he forms opinions.

Before you think that I am an unquestioning disciple, I have to say that I doubt that Mr. Chomsky would agree with my ideas.  Also, I don't really think I agree with his ideas.  However, his analysis is, imho, indispensible.  This man is intelligent, well read, accomplished, passionate, patient, persistent, independent, and a good teacher.  If the world's problems can be solved with great minds, or if at the very least great minds are capable of any contribution whatsoever toward solving our problems, then it would be an incredible folly to ignore Noam Chomsky.

I would like to refer you to a particular lecture.  This guy's interests are so diverse and his contributions are so impactful that it motivated this clever piece of satire by The Onion.

This lecture is basically a criticism of either the principle or the application of the idea of free markets.  I have read and heard a lot of liberals critique free markets and propose policies that ignore and destroy basic market principles.  Let me tell you that most of what I hear along these lines I am extremely dismissive of.  However, Noam's lecture is a valid critique.  The other thing I really like about this lecture, is that far from trying to claim he has the answers for everything, he spends his effort convincing you that the problems are real.

If you have some time to invest, I would recommend taking the time to really dig into this lecture.  It will make you smarter just hearing his voice.

I may not agree with every idea that he hints at.  (He tends not to say all his ideas outright, but presents the motivating information).  But I feel strongly the things he talks about are inequivocably worth talking about.  His arguments are sound and he's asking the right questions.