I ran into Chomsky in graduate school, in a class on something called "deep linguistic structure" that was the second hardest class I took in grad school, after one that I just audited and dropped out of eventually whose subject matter was set theory. Chomsky was sort of a more practical Wittgenstein, attacking the problem of looking at your microscope with your microscope, so to speak. I got through the course, taught by the remarkable Dr. Richard Zaffron, then went my way.
Much later I ran into Chomsky again, in his writings on American politics and the kind of categorical structure of politics. He was as deep and complex a thinker as ever. Once in the late '80s or early '90s Libby and I went to hear him give a talk over in Chapel Hill. His view of things was, of course, that America was pretty deeply fucked up, no matter which party happened to be in control of Congress or the White House. During the questions afterwards, some kid stood up and said, "Well, so what would you do if you were President?"
The kid thought he'd really nailed Chomsky. The answer was exactly what you might have predicted, had you (or the kid) actually listened. I paraphrase: "Why I'd do nothing if I was elected, because to be elected means to hold such positions." That is to say--getting elected President has a bunch of deep implications about the person elected--there's no such thing as starting out with a nice blank slate, with a plan to just "Change Things." It's contradictory--that's how serious the problem is, if you're wanting to actually Change Things I mean. It's a veritable paradox.
A better question, a question not asked, would have perhaps been, "So, Noam, does anything happen?" Not that he wouldn't have had some interesting response, some wry questioning rejoinder which would have lead to further puzzlement, and at this moment, to a possibly different bit of writing. Still.
The thing is, as co-opted as the poor Democrats are right now, with the people who believed in them the most having as a whole the worst time of it, with all the beautiful rhetoric of the Inauguration having faded to a classic pile of legislative compromised crap called the Health Care Reform Act, with two wars still on-going, with a continuing of creepy Bush era policies such as the current "legality" of assassinating even American Citizens not to mention anyone else--there's still a difference, still a sensible hope.
Mrs. Palin used to like to taunt, "So how's your hopey changey workin' out?" I was surprised she was willing to do that, given the implications--which are nhilistic and bleak indeed: There Is No Hope, No Change. That's the Republican message these days, and with the current crop of spokesmen they're finally saying it out loud. That such a taunt can be cheered is only further evidence of the mist of hate, fear, and anger that drives the Republican Base out of their redouts and into the streets.
The fact remains--a majority of voters reasonably chose Mr. Obama and a majority of Democratic Party legislators in 2008 over the alternatives. Imagine the world with McCain as President. I'm shocked, really, that he managed to defeat the radio jock who ran against him this year in his primary--must be yet another testimony to the power of money. Yesterday the GOTP offered up it's vacuous pledge, another variation of There Is No Hope. That's absolutely all they've got. It's not much, is it?
The GOTP has no awareness of paradox. Democrats, on the other hand, surely are capable of both seeing the paradox, and still working to move forward towards a better world. That is, unless enough Democrats just get depressed by the eternal paradox of being inside a system to the extent that they don't get out and vote at all. It's happened before--it happened in '68, when the Democratic Party was split into smithereens by the betrayal of the Vietnam War and the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy--not to mention the remarkable events in Chicago during the Convention itself (see Steve Goodman's wonderful song on the subject). We're not in 1968 thank God. But we're not going to escape the paradox of living inside a system either.
Last night on the History Channel I watched a fairly silly piece on how the sun was going to explode in 10 billion years or so, so we'd better be working on a system for moving the planet out to a Jupiter-distant orbit or something. Ergo, why bother to vote at all. I have to say, in reply, "Look, the water's rising, just keep bailing, I'll pass your bucket on up to the next guy, you're falling behind." Not that Peggy Lee doesn't always have a point, mind you. I wish she'd asked her question of Chomsky that night at Memorial Hall. But I know what he'd say: