Noam Chomsky at the American University of Beirut

Noam Chomsky receiving his Honorary Doctorate
(14th of June, 2013)

His acceptance speech starts at 2:04:33

I am quite happy and honored as an AUB student to have Noam Chomsky receive an honorary doctorate and give our commencement address. To say he’s been an influence on my political and philosophical leanings is nothing but an understatement. For a very long time, Chomsky was among the few trusted voices commenting on world affairs. His books are found in almost any library despite usually having little to no exposure by the mainstream media, in particular the American one. And it is through his talks, books and activities that I discovered more activists and intellectuals that truly care about the current state of our planet and of humanity.

I was sitting far away when he received his doctorate and gave his short acceptance speech but managed to catch a few shots (above). I found his speech on AUB’s website and re-copied it here.

“It’s unnecessary to dwell on the fact that it is a real privilege to be awarded this honor from a great university.

I wish I could feel that my generation, and its predecessors, deserve to be honored for the legacy that we are leaving to those who will soon have the fate of the world in their hands. There have been impressive achievements in past years, but also striking failures, which leave young people today with problems and choices that are of a new order of difficulty and urgency. Some are specific to the region, but others are shared with the rest of the world. For the first time in history, humans have progressed to the stage where they can destroy the basis for decent survival.

There are two grim shadows that hover over every topic we consider: nuclear war, and environmental catastrophe. The first has been with us for 70 years. Reviewing the record, the fact that we have escaped disaster is close to miraculous, and unless policies are significantly changed the miracle is unlikely to persist for too long. Threats in fact are constant, some of them not very far from here. The environmental threats were also with us 70 years ago, but then rarely perceived. By now only the willfully blind can ignore them, and fail to realize that we are marching towards a cliff like the proverbial lemmings.

A few years ago the grand old man of American biology, Ernst Mayr, pondered the question whether intelligence may be a lethal mutation. He observed that the evidence for that thesis is strong. Biological success is greatest for organisms that mutate rapidly, like bacteria, or that have fixed ecological niche, like beetles. And in fact they will happily survive the catastrophes we are preparing. But as we move up the ladder of intelligence, survival declines. There are, for example, very few primates, and the explosion of humans is too recent to mean anything and is unlikely to persist.

Mayr also observes that the average life span of a species is about 100,000 years, about how long homo sapiens has existed. Whether Mayr’s thesis is correct will very likely be determined by those who are entering the wider world today, facing a somber but unavoidable task.”

Some have reflected that his speech was quite gloomy. But the fact is that as usual Chomsky says it like it is. We are facing a somber but unavoidable task left to us by decades of industrialism and capitalist expansion. Chomsky has been talking about the two main threats, Nuclear and Environmental, for quite some time – barely a few weeks ago an article appeared on Tom Dispatch and Salon criticizing the US and Western nations’ track record on these issues and praising indigenous attempts (especially in Latin America) to reduce the damage.

That is all sad but simply true. The state of today’s world affairs can be described as close to suicidal.  Consumerism is glorified and equated with a healthy economy; censorship (direct and indirect) is found throughout the world from Turkey to the US passing by Russia, China and Africa; activists are being oppressed by a police brutality that knows little limits (today: Brazil and Turkey).

Even worse, the global ecocide we merely dismiss as a normal consequence of business is literally destroying life on Earth. Our growing egocentric delusions (a necessary component of modern consumerism) would have us believe that all of this is happening over there, not over here. Furthermore, who can even deny the nuclear threat? Those who know so little and those who profit from its horrors.

So congratulations Prof. Chomsky for the Honorary Doctorate and Thank You for Everything.

Prof. Noam Chomsky will be giving us our commencement address tonight. Photos taken by myself  under a Creative Commons license.

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