“Regarding our discourse, there must be a way to establish the maturity and civility and respect and literacy and carefulness—and whatever else—that we need to establish if we want to survive.”
“We all know the answer. Begin to consult your neighbor. Develop social bonds and mutual aid, maybe in alternative institutions, maybe by curing existing ones. Educate and organize, act to change world.”
Make sure to read my 6 January 2022 piece about rationality in which I discuss rationality’s collapse:
“Quick Thoughts on Rationality” (6 January 2022)
Rational discourse has completely collapsed—it’s a real spectacle to behold. You can look back at videos like this and observe a level of discourse that seems to no longer exist in 2022:
I want to clarify some things about the 1969 discussion that Chomsky and William F. Buckley Jr. had:
it’s not that Buckley is mature
it’s not that Buckley is articulate or informed or literate or rational
it’s not that this discussion is a model of discourse
Having clarified those points, I think that the important things about the discussion are as follows:
(1) the participants have extremely different views on an extremely serious topic
(2) the participants are given enough time to present arguments
(3) there’s genuine intellectual engagement—however imperfect—in which the participants try to listen to each other’s arguments, process those arguments, and respond to those arguments
(4) given how different the participants’ views are and given the topic, it’s wonderful that the discussion never deteriorates into a nasty exchange and that the discussion remains fundamentally respectful
I’d like to see a recent discussion about which you could say (1) and (2) and (3) and (4)—I feel like rational discourse has collapsed to the point where it’d be hard to come up with even a single example, though I’d be delighted to see an example.
Of course, we shouldn’t all throw up our hands and say: “Rational discourse has collapsed. It’s over—we’re all going to die.” Regarding our discourse, there must be a way to establish the maturity and civility and respect and literacy and carefulness—and whatever else—that we need to establish if we want to survive.
Noam Chomsky is a philosopher, scientist, social critic, and political activist—see below my email interview with him that I didn’t edit.
1) To what extent has our discourse become each of the things below?
coarse and uncivil and disrespectful
uninformed and illiterate
brainless and sloppy and careless and irrational
disconnected from reality
Far too much.
2) Why did our discourse become this way?
One background factor is the general deterioration of the social order. The Thatcherite philosophy that there is no society, just individuals out for themselves, combined with the Reagan-Thatcher dedication to enriching the wealthy at the expense of everyone else ($50 trillion in 40 years, according to the most authoritative analysis), has undermined social bonds. Little has arisen to replace them. Nothing like the vigorous labor movement of the ’30s.
Another factor is the isolating impact of social media.
But mainly, I guess, a general sense of hopelessness and disorder. Nothing to grasp on to, as the ship seems to be sailing to impending doom. Nothing can be trusted. All is an enemy, conspiring against us. The Wobbly writer T-Bone Slim once commented: “We have no opportunity to consult our neighbor to find out if the press speaketh the truth.” But in his day there were opportunities. Much less so now after the neoliberal assault.
That’s by no means all of course, but these currents seem real.
3) How can we reverse this horrible development where our discourse became this way?
We all know the answer. Begin to consult your neighbor. Develop social bonds and mutual aid, maybe in alternative institutions, maybe by curing existing ones. Educate and organize, act to change the world.
As part of such efforts discourse can be cured as well.
4) What’s at stake? What will happen if our discourse remains this way? Everyone should read the “2022 Doomsday Clock Statement”:
The statement refers to a “corrupted information ecosphere that undermines rational decision making”. And the statement concludes as follows:
Without swift and focused action, truly catastrophic events—events that could end civilization as we know it—are more likely. When the Clock stands at 100 seconds to midnight, we are all threatened. The moment is both perilous and unsustainable, and the time to act is now.
As the authors of the statement tell us, what is at stake is whether the human experiment will approach an inglorious end or will show that a better world is indeed possible.