Hold It All

Tag: Noam Chomsky

Active Participants in a Democratic Society or Effective Corporate Employees?

Alfie Kohn, What Does It Mean to be Well Educated?
And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies

You only learn things and learn how to think if there’s some purpose for learning, some motivation that’s coming out of you somehow. In fact, all the methodology in education isn’t really much more than that—getting the students to want to learn. Once they want to learn, they’ll do it.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you read, what matters is how you read.… You only learn if the material is integrated into your own creative processes somehow, otherwise it just passes through your mind and disappears. And there’s nothing valuable about that –it basically has the effect of learning the catechism, or memorizing the Constitution or something like that.
—Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power


After finishing my 23rd year of teaching, I do breathing gathas and slowly reconnect in the days ahead with the clarity of Alfie Kohn…


Nel Noddings: “the main aim of education should be to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people.” 2

The best sort of schooling is organized around problems, projects, and questions—as opposed to facts, skills, and disciplines. Knowledge is acquired, of course, but in a context and for a purpose. The emphasis is not only on depth rather than breadth, but also on discovering ideas rather than on covering of prescribed curriculum. Teachers are generalists first and specialists (in a given subject matter) second; they commonly collaborate to offer interdisciplinary courses that students play an active role in designing. All of this happens in small, democratic schools that are experienced as caring communities.

Critique of Education: Aims: quantifiable results, standardized procedures to improve performance, on order and discipline and obedience to authority. Read the rest of this entry »

After Sanders Makes His Endorsement, I Turn to Some Great Reminderers

Those who live by compassion are often canonized.  Those who live by justice are often crucified.  –John Dominic Crossan, Scripture Scholar, USA

Don’t mourn. Organize. –Mother Jones, labor activist, USA

The madness of violence must be recognized, its causes removed, and its implements destroyed. But how can it be done? It can be done by one means only: the manifestation of a better spirit. It is a change of character and conduct through a change of ideas, reason, and good will – these are the only agencies in a civilized age for effecting such changes. – Mohandas Gandhi, lawyer, India

The blood is so much, you know, it runs in rivers. It dries up too; it cakes all over me; sometimes I feel that there is not enough soap in the whole world to cleanse me from the things that I did do in your name. –Davison Budhoo, from his resignation letter to the International Monetary Fund

Responsibility for the poor, exterior to the system, exposes the just person to retaliation by the system, which feels under attack because of its dysfunctionality, openness, and exposure.  For this reason, with inexorable logic the totality persecutes those who in their responsibility for the oppressed testify to the necessity for a new order.  Responsibility is obsession for the other; it is linkage with the other’s exteriority; it entails exposing oneself to traumatization, prison, even death. –Enrique Dussel, philosopher, Argentina & Mexico Read the rest of this entry »

Cultivating Attention and Animating Conscience: Reading Thoreau in Desperate Times

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

“Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with anything which was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families; ay, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from the divine.”

“On reading the words of Thoreau
I vow with all beings
to cherish our home-grown sages
who discern the perennial way.”
–Robert Aitken

Being a human being means benefiting from rich cultural traditions—not just our own traditions, but many others—and becoming not just skilled, but also wise. Somebody who can think—think creatively, think independently, explore, inquire—and contribute to society. If you don’t have that, you might as well be replaced by a robot.
–Noam Chomsky

In this course we will explore Henry David Thoreau’s prophetic and spiritual writings as a resource for living, in poet Marge Piercy’s words, “consciously, conscientiously, concretely, [and] constructively” in this time of domestic disparities and global crises.

We meet on eight consecutive Wednesdays from February 26 to April 15. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and go till 8:15. Sessions will have time for paired sharing, writing exercises, discussions of Thoreau’s works, announcements of the local scene, poetry recitations, viewing of documentaries, and more. A class blog will enable us to share our various responses in between classes.

Some Essentials—
An outgoingness of heart
“Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will” [Antonio Gramsci]
A notebook, tablet, or laptop
These two books— Henry David Thoreau, The Higher Law: Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Reform, with an introduction by Howard Zinn and Tim Flinders, ed., Henry David Thoreau: Spiritual and Prophetic Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters).

Tuition is $150, payable to me by check or Paypal.
Email me if you are interested —markjchmiel@gmail.com.

The Power of Footnotes


My idea of the ideal text is still the Talmud. I love the idea of parallel texts, with long, discursive footnotes and marginal commentary, texts commenting on texts.

–Noam Chomsky, Mother Jones interview, 1987


Text from Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, p. 386 (South End Press, 1983):

[On the Sabra-Shatila massacres] There was also a reaction from Elie Wiesel, who is much revered internationally and in the United States for his writings on the Holocaust and on moral standards and has been proposed many times for the Nobel Peace Prize for these writings, again for 1983, by half the members of Congress according to the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.* Read the rest of this entry »

For So They Treated the Prophets…

Here’s Noam Chomsky–True prophets like Amos — “dissident intellectuals,” in modern terminology — offered both elevated moral lessons, which the people in power weren’t fond of, and geopolitical analyses that usually turned out to be pretty accurate, which the people in power were even less fond of. Naturally, the true prophets were despised, imprisoned, driven into the desert. The public also hated the true prophets — they didn’t want to hear the truth either. Not because they were bad people, but for all the usual reasons — short-term interest, manipulation, dependence on power.

Julian Assange has been despised, imprisoned, driven into extreme isolation; according to Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: ‘we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.’

One of the reasons he and Wikileaks are so hated by the devotees of the war-making state is the release of such material as this on Collateral Murder.



Entry: Noam Chomsky

Interesting to find an entry for Noam Chomsky in The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia. The brief mention  includes,  “He rose to even greater prominence for his lifelong pursuit of radical leftist ideas, some mainstream (he opposed the war in Vietnam and is a critic of Israeli policies)…”

Mainstream views on the Vietnam War were marked by the debate between the hawks and the doves. The position that opposed the war on principled grounds (U.S. aggression is wrong, Chomsky’s position) was not part of the debate among “respectable intellectuals.” Hence, not mainstream.

Further, Chomsky being a critic of Israel’s policies (a “radical leftist idea”?) and in the mainstream (?) makes me wonder exactly how many New York Times op-eds on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians he got published from the 1970s to the 2000s.

I’d guess three, at most.

Hadji Murat and Noam Chomsky


“… when we came to the camp, Hamzat led the khan into the tent. And I stayed with the horses. I was at the foot of the hill when shooting began in Hamzat’s tent. I ran to the tent. Umma Khan lay face down in a pool of blood, and Abununtsal was fighting with the murids. Half his face had been cut off and hung down. He held it with one hand and held a dagger in the other, with which he cut down everyone who came near him. In front of me he cut down Hamzat’s brother and turned against another man, but here the murids starting shooting at him and he fell.”

Hadji Murat stopped, his tanned face turned reddish brown, and his eyes became bloodshot.

“Fear came over me, and I ran away.”

“Really?” said Loris-Melikov. “I thought you were never afraid of anything.”
“Never afterwards. Since then I always remembered that shame, and when I remembered it, I was no longer afraid of anything.”

–Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


I remember when I was about six, first grade. There was the standard fat kid everybody made fun of. I remember in this schoolyard he was standing outside the school classroom and a bunch of kids outside were taunting him. One of them brought over his older brother from third grade, a big kid, and we thought he was going to beat him up. I remember going up to stand next to him feeling somebody ought to help him, and I did for a while, then I got scared and ran away. I was very much ashamed of it. I felt, I’ll never do that again. That’s a feeling that’s stuck with me: You should stick with the underdog. The shame remained. I should have stayed with him.

–Noam Chomsky, interview with David Barsamian, Chronicles of Dissent

Morality 101

See, I focus my efforts against the terror and violence of my own state for really two main reasons. First of all, in my case the actions of my state happen to make up the main component of international violence in the world. But much more importantly than that, it’s because American actions are the things that I can do something about. So even if the United States were causing only a tiny fraction of the repression and violence in the world–which obviously is very far from the truth–that tiny fraction would still be what I’m responsible for, and what I should focus my efforts against. And that’s based on a very simple ethical principle –namely, that the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated consequences for human beings: I think that’s kind of like a fundamental moral truism.

So, for example, it was a very easy thing in the 1980s for people in the United States to denounce the atrocities of the Soviet Union in its occupation of Afghanistan–but those denunciations had no effects which could have helped people. In terms of their ethical value, they were about the same as denouncing Napoleon’s atrocities, or things that happened in the Middle Ages. Useful and significant actions are ones which have consequences for human beings, and usually those will concern things that you can influence and control–which means for people in the United States, American actions primarily, not those of some other state.

Actually, the principle that I think we ought to follow is the principle we rightly expected Soviet dissidents to follow. So what principle did we expect Sakharov [a Soviet scientist punished for his criticism of the U.S.S.R.] to follow? Why did people here decide that Sakharov was a moral person? I think he was. Sakharov did not treat every atrocity as identical–he had nothing to say about American atrocities. When he was asked about them, he said, “I don’t know anything about them, I don’t care about them, what I talk about are Soviet atrocities.” And that was right-because those were the ones that he was responsible for, and that he might have been able to influence. Again, it’s a very simple ethical point: you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions, you’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Marxism Is Dead; Long Live Marx

Marxism is a curious notion like Freudianism. These are, in my opinion, forms of organized religion, which treat individuals as gods, or maybe idols. In disciplines that have passed beyond the most primitive stage, there is (or should be) nothing comparable. There is no “Einsteinism” in physics for good reasons…Sane people will learn from [Marx] what they can, discarding what is wrong or irrelevant. The fact that Marxism, as a form of idolatry, has lost its appeal is all to the good…. In my opinion, “Marxism” (though not Marx’s work) should disappear everywhere, but not to be replaced by new dogma and secular religion; rather, by independent thought. Read the rest of this entry »

The Way It Looked Fifty Years Ago

“The war is simply an obscenity, a depraved act by weak and miserable men, including all of us, who have allowed it to go on and on with endless fury and destruction — all of us who would have remained silent had stability and order been secured.”

–Noam Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical & Political Essays