Episode summary

Chomsky on Language and Liberty

Noam Chomsky and Tyler Cowen discuss the common ontological element in the thoughts of Chomsky and Wilhelm von Humboldt . Von Humboldt's principles of language and classical liberalism emphasize the fundamental right of every person to be free from external illegitimate constraints . Chomsky agrees with von Humboldt's recognition of the instinct for freedom as a critical property of human language and thought . Chomsky also critiques the behaviorist-influenced view that language is merely an instrument of communication, arguing that human language and thought evolved in a different way that is consistent with the theory of evolution .

Chomsky draws from Walter Lippmann's concept of manufacturing consent, which refers to the manipulation of public opinion by those in power to protect their interests . Lippmann argued that the public should be spectators rather than participants in public affairs, while the intellectual class controls and shapes opinion for the common good . Chomsky's critiques of media and manufacturing consent stem from his views on social and political structure, highlighting the need for a more informed and engaged public .

The Future and Activism

While Chomsky acknowledges the challenges and crises the world is facing, including the growing threat of nuclear war and environmental destruction, he remains cautiously optimistic due to historical examples of people organizing and resisting oppressive structures .

Left Libertarianism and the Intellectual Landscape

Chomsky addresses the perception that left libertarianism has weakened and the rise of Trumpian right-wing ideologies .

Cuba, Nicaragua, and Misconceptions

Chomsky challenges the misperceptions surrounding Cuba and Nicaragua, highlighting the impact of US interventions and sanctions on these countries .

Chomsky's Continuing Work and Impact

Chomsky remains committed to intellectual work and addressing social and political issues, both through his writings and public engagements . He emphasizes the urgency of the current moment, where the future of humanity hangs in the balance, and expresses the need for sustained intellectual and activist efforts to prevent disaster . Chomsky acknowledges past mistakes, such as not getting involved in the Vietnam War earlier, and reflects on the ongoing challenges and the work that still needs to be done .

Episode description

Noam Chomsky joins Tyler to discuss why Noam and Wilhelm von Humboldt have similar views on language and liberty, good and bad evolutionary approaches to language, what he thinks Stephen Wolfram gets wrong about LLMs, whether he’s optimistic about the future, what he thinks of Thomas Schelling, the legacy of the 1960s-era left libertarians, the development trajectories of Nicaragua and Cuba, why he still answers every email, what he’s been most wrong about, and more.

Read a full transcript enhanced with helpful links, or watch the full video

Recorded February 27th, 2023

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Photo credit: Duncan Rawlinson - Duncan.co

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