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A Lion in Winter

Bill Frezza

I had the pleasure last Sunday of witnessing a virtuoso performance by that tireless promoter of social justice, Dr. Noam Chomsky, whose lecture titled “The Militarization of Science and Space” packed Kresge Auditorium. Sponsored by the Social Justice Cooperative and the Technology and Culture Forum, Chomsky was introduced to thunderous applause as “America’s Greatest Attraction.” In wide-ranging remarks delivered to a rapt audience, Chomsky made it clear that his principles have not changed one iota since my own student days at MIT 30 years ago.

Billed as a 45-minute lecture followed by an hour for audience questions, the talk opened with fond reminiscences of the Black Panthers, the takeover of the Student Center, and a resounding call to class warfare between “us” and “them” -- “them” being “the top ten percent of taxpayers” and “us” being everyone else. No less than the “survival of the species” was at stake. I was relieved that no one in the audience carried torches and pitchforks.

Deconstructing Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s recent testimony to Congress, Chomsky explained that the organizing force behind America’s political system is that “you have to make rich people happy and poor people frightened to make the economy work.” Claims that entrepreneurial initiative drives economic growth were ridiculed, as were the Apollo astronauts (mere “clowns”) in a passing bit of relevance to the lecture title.

No, stated Chomsky. All innovation virtually “without exception” -- from the computer revolution to the Internet to modern pharmaceuticals -- has been state sponsored. The taxpayers (presumably he means the top ten percent of us who now pay nearly two-thirds of income taxes) bear the cost and risk and only when results pan out is the benefit handed over to corporations.

Chomsky’s best applause lines were targeted at those few capitalist running dogs lurking in the audience. “Corporate executives are, by law, pathological because their mandate is to increase profits and market share” and not to serve the public good. In a breathtaking call for the nationalization of all industry, Chomsky urged that corporations be put under public control, with power vested in the electorate rather than shareholders. Aside from prohibiting outsourcing, even automation would be put to a vote as “automation tends to decreases wages.”

Except for the claim that the United States has “probably” been arming the Israeli air force with nuclear warheads, that the quest to cure cancer is “just a pretext,” and that the economic boom of the 1990s was “nothing much to write home about,” the rest of the lecture could easily have been given 30 years ago. Come to think of it, it probably was. But since each year brings a fresh crop of impressionable young students to MIT, why tamper with perfection? The Berlin Wall may be a distant memory, communism has been relegated to the dust heap of history, and more countries today enjoy the blessings of liberty than ever before, but Noam Chomsky has his shtick and he’s sticking to it.

Alas, I was never able to ask Dr. Chomsky my question, as 45-minute lecture rambled on for almost an hour and a half. Perhaps I can ask him now: “Why do you think, Dr. Chomsky, that there are numerous holocaust museums commemorating the murder of six million civilians by the Nazis while there are no holocaust museums commemorating the 100 million people who died at the hands of their own communist governments?” Could it be because the Nazis never had much of a following amongst the intelligentsia, while unrepentant Marxists still fill our college auditoriums?

Bill Frezza is a member of the class of 1976.