Kozhikode: Renowned intellectual and academic, Professor Noam Chomsky argued that the world has become a far more dangerous and irrational place since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. He added that USA under the leadership of President Trump is driving the world to the brink of nuclear war and the so called ‘doomsday clock’ was now set at two minutes to midnight. The doomsday clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a man made global catastrophe.
He was speaking through video conference with Professor VK Ramachandran of the Kerala State Planning Board at the Kerala Literature Festival in Kozhikode, Kerala.
Rise of Anti-Science and Irrationality
Prof Ramachandran asked Chomsky to elaborate on why, like in India and other parts of the world, the US is also seeing a rise of scientific obscurantism and religious fundamentalism. ‘In the US, we had an absurd situation with all the Presidential candidates from the Republican Party for the 2016 elections either denying the phenomenon of climate change or arguing that nothing needs to be done’. Chomsky underlined that while the US was founded as a country with a high level of religious fundamentalism, this later became less prominent for instance during the period of moderate social democratic state capitalism of the 1950s and 1960s. However, under Trump it is once again coming to the foreground of politics and policy. He traced the reasons for this to the sharp swing to the right by both the Republican and Democratic Party. With the beginning of neo-liberal economic policies in the US in the 1980s, real wages of American workers have consistently fallen. This has led to anger, fear and discontent among the working class. The radical right, that has effectively taken over the Republican Party, has successfully used religion to tap into this climate of fear. Chomsky said that even in France and Germany, obscurantist neo-fascists are getting support from a disgruntled and disenfranchised working class. Many of these political movements are being called ‘populist’ but that is a wrong use of the word and they should be seen as pre-cursors to fascism, argued Chomsky.
On Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and the future of work
Responding to a question on the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it could do to the future of work under capitalism, Chomsky said that while it is indeed a new challenge and there are lots of discussions in policy circles, robotics and AI have not really taken off; otherwise there would be a visible increase in productivity at a macro level. He further said that the idea that work will be outdated due to these developments is outlandish and premature. ‘If you look around the US, there is broken infrastructure that needs to be upgraded, the need for better public hospitals, schools, colleges and affordable housing’. There are millions of jobs for the taking. Not just in the US, but across the world there is a massive need for human resources and labour for fulfilling basic needs for a decent life. Chomsky argued that the challenge is not so much with AI and robotics but that the economic system is dysfunctional in that it is unable to put together eager hands that are willing to work.
Signs of hope for new progressive politics
Asked about promising trends in the US, he said, ‘The fact that Bernie Sanders, a rank outsider with no funding, condemned by the corporate media, and an avowed socialist, is currently the most popular politician is the US is a startling development ’. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn from the margins of the Labour Party to its leadership gives some moral hope that the grim situation in the UK can be reversed. Similarly the May 15 Movement (Indignados) in Spain has resulted in the birth of new progressive politics that are challenging the neo-liberal European Union model. Political formations such as Podemos and Barcelona en Comú are outcomes of this process. ‘All these developments give me renewed moral hope for humanity’, he concluded.
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