Direct participation in creativity

Published on ZNet, by Noam Chomsky, January 10, 2010.

In the middle of September, Noam Chomsky was one of the guests of honor for La Jornada’s twenty-fifth anniversary. Eric French of Amauta produced this interview … //

… Amauta: You work in the university.

  • Chomsky: Our health care is rationed by wealth. And the people Anthony Lewis meets for dinner in a restaurant, and his friends and so on, yeah, for them is fine. But not for the people who are listening to the talk shows, and that’s a large part of the population. In fact, for the majority of the population, wages and incomes have stagnated and conditions have gotten worse. So they are asking, “what did I do wrong?” And the answer that the talk show host is giving them is convincing, in its internal logic. It’s saying, “what’s wrong is the rich liberals own everything, run everything, they don’t care about you; therefore, distrust them” and so on. What did Hitler say? He said the same thing. He said “it’s the Jews, it’s the Bolsheviks, that’s a … 

Amauta: He was scapegoating.

  • Chomsky: …that’s an answer. Ok, it is an answer, internal to… and it has an internal logic, maybe insane, but it has an internal logic.

Amauta: So, one last question. Going from there, and to counteract these, I guess, right-wing…

  • Chomsky: Populism. That’s what it is.

Amauta: …Yeah, populism. You said that to build a movement, media should be involved in building a movement. This is my thing [paraphrasing]. But to build a movement, you need “broad-based appeal,” a “genuine radical culture can be created only through the spiritual transformation of great masses of people, the essential feature of any social revolution that is to extend the possibilities of human creativity and freedom.” How can alternative media like Amauta push itself in building this “broad-based appeal” and go beyond just ‘preaching to the choir’? Because I feel that a lot of our media like, like I read certain things, I read La Jornada, but, do people like me read La Jornada only? Or other people read La Jornada? They don’t like to be challenged.

  • Chomsky: La Jornada is more widely read. Like you can go down the streets and see, somebody standing, sitting in a bar and reading it. But, you know, just media alone is not enough. You have to have organization. So take Mexico. I mean, I don’t claim to know a lot about Mexico, but I did talk to quite a number of left Mexican intellectuals, and they all said the same thing. That there’s a lot of popular, kind of, concern and activism, but it is very fragmented. That the groups have very specific, narrow agendas and they don’t interact and cooperate with one another. Ok, that’s something you have to overcome to build a mass popular movement. And that’s, media can help, but they also benefit from it, so you’re right, unless that happens, unless you get, you know, kind of integration of activists’ concerns and movements, it will be, each one will be ‘preaching to the choir’.

Amauta: So you think we have to involve people, but getting active participation in this …

  • Chomsky: It takes organization. Organization and education, when they interact with each other, they strengthen each other, they are mutually supportive.

Amauta: How do you envision having a network of people from all parts of society, but mostly the majority that needs to take their voice back, becoming experts themselves as citizen journalists or artists, while holding each other accountable in the news-making process?

  • Chomsky: A lot of ways to do it. I’ll leave, but I will give you just one practical example, among many others. I was in Brazil, about fifteen years ago, and I traveled around at that time with Lula a lot. He was still not the president. He took me once to a big suburb outside of Rio de Janeiro, a couple of million people, poor suburb. And it has, kind of a big, you know, open space, kind of plaza outside. It’s a semi-tropical country, everybody’s outside, it’s in the evening. A small group of journalists, from Rio, professionals, come out in the evening with a truck, park it in the middle of the plaza. It has a screen above it. And broadcasting equipment. And what they’re broadcasting [are] skits, written by people in the community, acted and directed by people in the community. So local people are presenting the skits. One of the actresses, girl, maybe seventeen, was walking around the crowd with a microphone, asking people to comment – a lot of people were there, and they were interested, they were watching, you know, people sitting in the bars, people milling around in the space – so they commented on what they saw, and what they said was broadcasted, you know, there was a television screen behind, so they displayed what the person said, and then other people commented on that. And the skits were significant. You know, I don’t know Portuguese, but I could follow them more or less.

Amauta: So, you see this as an active participation in this movement?

  • Chomsky: Absolutely, there were about serious… some of them were comedy, you know. But some of it was, you know, about the debt crisis, or about AIDS…

Amauta: But it allows a space for creativity, for people…

  • Chomsky: It’s direct participation in creativity. And it was a pretty imaginative thing to do, I think. I don’t know if it still goes on, but it’s one of many possible models. (full long interview text).

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