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May 02, 2007

Best Chomsky Interview Ever

I just now came across a conversation from last year between Noam Chomsky and Robert Trivers, a well-known evolutionary biologist. They don't discuss many political specifics, but rather focus on the general phenomenon of deception and self-deception—and not just in humans. It's fascinating. Note in particular Chomsky's views about whether the Bush administration consciously lied about Iraq:

TRIVERS: So let me ask you, when you think about the leaders—let's say the present set of organisms that launched this dreadful Iraq misadventure—how important is their level of self-deception? We know they launched the whole thing in a swarm of lies, the evidence for which is too overwhelming to even need to be referred to now. My view is that their deception leads to self-deception very easily.

CHOMSKY: I agree, though I'm not sure they launched it with lies, and it's perfectly possible they believed it.

There's even a sentence in the interview which perfectly describes the genesis and motivations of this website. I will cheerfully send a free copy of Our Kampf to the first person who points this out.

UPDATE: There have been some good guesses, but no one has yet successfully read my mind. Hint: the answer is not flattering to me.

UPDATE 5/3 @ 2 p.m.: Still no correct answer. Really, it should be very easy for anyone who's here inside my head with me.

UPDATE 5/4 @ midnight: Racrecir Wins! Details here.

Posted at May 2, 2007 11:45 PM | TrackBack

"We just cannot adopt toward ourselves the same attitudes that we adopt easily and in fact, reflexively, when others commit crimes."

Or not. But that's my favorite.

Posted by: John Caruso at May 3, 2007 12:40 AM

"We all know that low self-esteem is a sexual romantic turn-off."


Posted by: Sully at May 3, 2007 12:58 AM

It's also "perfectly possible" that some of them are well aware of their dishonesty, that some of them are quite comfortable with the 'problem' of telling you whatever it takes to get what they (and/or their leader) want(s), that some of them are utterly conscience-free sociopaths and/or that some of them are criminally insane.

And while those subjects may be very interesting to various people for varying reasons, WHY (and/or how) "the present set of organisms" manage to behave as they do isn't nearly so important to the vast ('normal') majority of us as WHAT they do (and did) and what WE--or more accurately, Congress, the FBI and the Courts--ought to do about that behavior.

Posted by: Mike at May 3, 2007 12:59 AM

My pick is:

"I think in everyday life we're aware of the fact that when we're watching something on stage, so to speak, we have a better view than the actors on the stage have. If you can see events laterally, you can say, my god, they're doing this and they're doing that."

Posted by: En Ming Hee at May 3, 2007 02:21 AM

"To be able to live with those contradictions in your mind, really does take a good education."

A Stutts education!

Posted by: PartisanJ at May 3, 2007 03:01 AM

"So modes of deception and manipulation had to be developed in order to keep them under control."

Posted by: Greg at May 3, 2007 03:21 AM

I freely admit this is purely a guess on my part but the sentence that seems a likely candidate might be this one:

“And one of the striking features of the modern period is the institutionalization of that process, so that we now have huge industries deceiving the public—and they're very conscious about it, the public relations industry.”

I was going to copy the whole interview and remove all the periods except for the last period thus making it one huge run-on sentence but I did not think it would fool you.


Posted by: rob payne at May 3, 2007 03:25 AM

The SELF DECEPTION is they thought they could win in Iraq.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 3, 2007 03:46 AM

I have read that interview some time ago when it came out in that magazine. Chomsky website provided a link. It indeed is a very good interview. Most of Chomsky Interviewers ask him only boring old questions which he long ago answered. I guess he must be pretty bored to answer those questions. Another turnoff is all those interviewers seem to be too much in awe of him and venerating and always looking over their shoulders not to upset the Great Man.
The best thing about this interview is Trivers does not fall for that kind of trap. He is definitely respectful of NC, But He also asks many interesting questions. It's a treat to read.

Posted by: ajit at May 3, 2007 04:09 AM

I'm going to second Rob Payne because Schwarz talks a lot about the media's and government's compulsion to keep secrets.

Posted by: A different matt at May 3, 2007 04:12 AM

Keeping it simple, "We find repeatedly now — in wasps, in birds and in monkeys — that when organisms realize they're being deceived, they get pissed off."

Or course, on a still more basic level, "There's twice as big a jump if you hear your own voice."

Posted by: Maud at May 3, 2007 06:49 AM

"If you can see events laterally, you can say, my god, they're doing this and they're doing that. But if you're embedded in that network it's much harder."

My favorite, however was on the need to maintain credibility in international affairs: "It's kind of like the Mafia."

Posted by: James Cape at May 3, 2007 07:00 AM

So we generalize positively to ourselves, particularize negative and reverse it when we're talking about other people.

Posted by: racrecir at May 3, 2007 10:03 AM

Damn, racrecir beat me to that guess.

I suppose if that's the right one, I will have to clean the cobwebs off my wallet and buy the damn book.

Posted by: Lame Man at May 3, 2007 10:51 AM

yeah, rats. i guess this is opening statement that relates to the closing statement above.

" Psychologists have shown that people make these verbal switches when they're in a we/they situation, in a your-group-versus-another situation."

Posted by: rey at May 3, 2007 11:24 AM

"One is intellectuals who, in a sense, go through a process of education which results in a self-deceived organism who is really working to serve the interests of the privileged few without necessarily being conscious of it at all."

Posted by: patience at May 3, 2007 11:27 AM

My choice would have been the last one made my patience. But since that's taken, I'll have to go with the penguin reference, i.e, "kin relations in birds are poorly developed—they often don't even nest next to their relatives."

Either that or, "Noam Chomsky stepped on my toe."

Posted by: at May 3, 2007 02:00 PM

And the ones that do attack you are precisely those whose dominance status you are attempting to expropriate or mimic.

Posted by: racrecir at May 3, 2007 02:41 PM

"I mean, I think we all know from personal life, if there's something you want to do, it's really easy to convince yourself it's right and just. You put away evidence that shows that's not true." - just admit it - it's a BLOG damnit!

Posted by: Andrew Barenberg at May 3, 2007 03:40 PM

OK, how about

"And inventing reality is a little bit more of a relaxed enterprise I suppose."

Posted by: Mike B. at May 3, 2007 03:47 PM

Sorry, I was trying to save Iraq's oil wealth from being stolen -- -- will get right on this.

Posted by: sam -- err -- osama at May 3, 2007 05:08 PM

I'm basically with Maud here, but I choose the sentence that contained this:

"based on the fact that we respond to hearing our own voice with greater arousal than we do to hearing another human's voice."

sound familiar?

Posted by: citizen at May 3, 2007 05:27 PM

Errr... It's a little bit like a gorilla pounding at its chest. Yep - that just about sums you (and ATR) up to me ;-)

Posted by: Andrew M. at May 3, 2007 06:33 PM

My guess, based solely on possible lack of flattery:
"As anyone who watches a US election knows, it's marketing."

Posted by: roorback at May 3, 2007 07:46 PM

My guess .....

"So, I'm trying to understand these phenomena at the individual level and also put them together in groups, since at times institutions act like individuals in the way they practice internal self-deception."

If that's not the purpose of your blog, then you must just want the terrorists to win.

Posted by: Doug B at May 4, 2007 01:35 AM