Deakin played host to world-renowned linguist, analytical philosopher and activist Professor Noam Chomsky in his only public appearance on his recent visit to Melbourne, on 4 November. The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s Plenary arena set the scene for an enlightening, and at times confronting, evening.
A guest of Deakin’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Chomsky presented a lecture on ‘Changing Contours of Global Order’, a look at our dramatically changing world and the implications for world order. Opening the event, Professor Matthew Clarke of the School of International and Political Studies noted the appropriateness of the theme of ‘change’, with the event being promoted exclusively through social media vehicles. The lack of traditional media had no adverse effect on the promotion of the event, with 5000 free tickets snapped up within hours of being made available.
Social media also played its part on the night itself, with the Twitter hash tag ‘DeakinAsksChomsky’ becoming a trending topic in Melbourne, even before Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander could finish her introduction. By the end of the night, people from all over the world were tuning in to the live video stream on the Deakin website.
After acknowledging Professor Chomsky’s many accomplishments and awards, Professor den Hollander noted that Professor Chomsky's last public appearance in Melbourne was also hosted by Deakin, in 1995, when he presented ‘Democracy and Markets in the New World Order’. Professor den Hollander observed that the title of the November lecture ‘effectively updates and extends the observations he made 16 years ago’. She then welcomed the man the New York Times dubbed ‘arguably the most important intellectual alive’ to the lectern.
Professor Chomsky said that current changes in world order were of considerable significance, but that he had questions over how these changes were being interpreted. He began by explaining the ‘American decline’, a theme in which the once powerful nation is ‘ominously facing the prospects of its final decay’, having peaked in the 1940s when it owned half of the world's wealth. Professor Chomsky attributes the subsequent loss in power to a number of factors, among them the lack of health care, the invasion of Vietnam and Indochina, the stagnating of wages, and the outsourcing of its once strong industrial trades. Referencing the declassified documents of Washington planners, he dispels any notion of America’s noble intentions, citing motives of greed and control behind many of the actions that have led to its decline.
Professor Chomsky does not, however, anticipate competitors for America’s hegemonic global power in the foreseeable future, despite the world becoming more diverse. Concluding the lecture portion of the evening, he stated that although the United States’ decline was real, it was self inflicted, and unlikely to be reversed as long as the masses ‘continue to suffer in silence’.
Following an extended standing ovation, Professor den Hollander thanked Professor Chomsky, remarking that he ‘said what mustn’t be said, without fear’.
In a question and answer portion of the evening, hosted by Dr Scott Burchill of the School of International and Political Studies, hundreds of questions flowed in from Twitter and Facebook feeds. The most popular question asked Professor Chomsky to explain the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. Professor Chomsky stated that there ‘is no dichotomy between terrorists and freedom fighters. Freedom fighters are, quite typically, terrorists’. According to Professor Chomsky, those deeming themselves freedom fighters, including those involved in the American Civil War, often carried out brutal terrorist acts.
Professor Chomsky further explained that, as it is officially defined, the term terrorist ‘cannot be used for a very simple reason. If you use those definitions, it follows, almost immediately, that the United States is the leading terrorist state’. He noted that it would be extremely difficult to craft a definition of the term that reflects the acts carried out by the likes of the Taliban, without also describing the terroristic acts perpetrated by the United States.
Asked about his view on the Occupy movement, currently spreading worldwide, Professor Chomsky described it as a ‘pretty fantastic development; actually an inspiring development’, noting it was the ‘first organised mass popular reaction against a massive assault on populations’.
To view the event details, including videos and pictures from the night, go to http://www.deakin.edu.au/chomsky.