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Words of Wisdom

Noam Chomsky: You Can’t Expect Instant Gratification When Demonstrating

Words of wisdom from public intellectual Noam Chomsky: "One of the problems of organizing ... is that people tend to think — even the activists — that instant gratification is required. You constantly hear: 'Look I went to a demonstration, and we didn't stop the war, so what's the use of doing it again?'"

Noam Chomsky (b. 1928) is an American polymath: linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, political commentator, social justice activist, and prolific author. Among his many accomplishments, he is most famous for his work on generative grammar, which developed from his interest in modern logic and mathematical foundations. As a result, he applied it to the description of natural languages.

His political tendencies toward socialism and anarchism are a result of what he calls “the radical Jewish community in New York.” Since 1965 he has become one of the leading critics of U.S. foreign policy. He published a book of essays called American Power and the New Mandarins, which is considered to be one of the most substantial arguments ever against American involvement in Vietnam.

The quote below, excerpted from a 2003 interview on Radio Havana, reflects some of Chomsky’s thoughts on a major obstacle to activism and demonstration:

“One of the problems of organizing in the North, in the rich countries, is that people tend to think — even the activists — that instant gratification is required. You constantly hear: ‘Look I went to a demonstration, and we didn’t stop the war, so what’s the use of doing it again?'”

Chomsky is also a Big Think expert. Below is a clip from our 2009 interview with him. He addresses one of the major ethical dilemmas inherent in protest:

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