“We are in an extraordinary situation in human history. Survival is hanging by a thread.”
Avram Noam Chomsky, an internationally recognized linguist, philosopher, social critic, and political activist, delivered a thought-provoking lecture on December 7, as part of Habib University’s flagship Yohsin Lecture Series. The lecture was hosted by the President, Habib University, Wasif Rizvi and, co-hosted by Dr. Christopher Taylor, Vice President Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty.
The lecture titled ‘Bullet Dodged or Merely Delayed: Reflections on the Future of Democracy, Nuclear Proliferation and the Looming Environmental Catastrophe in a Post-Trumpian World,’ was conducted as a virtual event due to the ongoing pandemic.
Professor Noam Chomsky, a Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona and Institute Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlighted terminal threats faced by humanity: nuclear war, the environmental catastrophe and deterioration of worldwide democracy. Adding the recent Covid pandemic to the list, he said, “The world is suffering from the pandemic severely, but it is the least of the four crises, we will emerge from the pandemic though at a terrible and unnecessary cost.”
Referring to the threats to South Asia, the threat of nuclear war and environmental issues, in particular, Dr. Chomsky pointed out, “Any nuclear war among powers of significance,” would prove ‘terminal’. At the same time, he pointed out that the lingering droughts, sources of rivers disappearing and glaciers melting posed a dangerous scenario and, “…if matters continue on its present course it will literally not be habitable by human beings within not very long.”
Dr. Chomsky lamented the deterioration of democracy in the United States and worldwide which has led to the rise of a reactionary international. Placing its roots firmly in US, particularly during the Trump administration, he cited countries such as Brazil, Egypt, the Gulf states and India as the “…most reactionary states in the world, the ones most bitterly attacking and destroying democracy.”
He also discussed that the cause of deterioration of democracy in the US over the last 40 years is because the wealth of the county is concentrated with “[a]tiny fraction of the population.” This he said, “Has had a very harmful effect on the functioning of democracy. When you concentrate wealth to that extraordinary extent, it’s going to spill over to the way the government functions,” highlighting that the “basic social structure on which a functioning democracy rests has been dismantled.”
“The crises that we face today – nuclear weapons, environmental catastrophe, destruction of democracy, pandemic … and many others – have solutions,” but “autocrats and demagogues” would never implement these solutions, and that “it has to be an engaged, informed public in a vibrant democracy,” emphasized Dr. Chomsky.
While answering selected questions, about the gradual enfranchisement, and exclusion of the American electorate, democracy and its relation to capitalism, and if Socialism has any future in the US. In responding to these questions, Dr. Chomsky expressed his concern on the assault of fundamental human rights and the oxymoronic concept of capitalist democracy prevailing increasingly in the world.
Chomsky concluded his Yohsin lecture by advising universities located in the global South, to preserve a rational educational system that deals with the reality of the world. He lamented Pakistan’s drifting away from science and urged for the sake of the country’s future, incorporating science into academics and the outlook of the world.