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Tue Jan 1, 2013, 06:58 PM

 

Work, Learning and Freedom

In this often personal interview, renowned linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky outlines a libertarian perspective on work and education, arguing that freedom is the root of creativity and fulfilment.


Interviewer: The philosopher Frithjof Bergmann says that most people don't know what kind of activities they really want to do. He calls that 'the poverty of desire.' I find this to be true when I talk to a lot of my friends. Did you always know what you wanted to do?

Chomsky: That's a problem I never had - for me there was always too much that I wanted to do. I'm not sure how widespread this is – take, say, a craftsman, I happen to be no good with tools, but take someone who can build things, fix things, they really want to do it. They love doing it: ‘if there's a problem I can solve it’. Or just plain physical labour – that's also gratifying. If you work on command then of course it’s just drudgery but if you do the very same thing out of your own will or interest it's exciting and interesting and appealing. I mean that's why people look for work – gardening for example. So you've had a hard week, you have the weekend off, the kids are running around, you could just lie down to sleep but it's much more fun to be gardening or building something or doing something else.

It's an old insight, not mine. Wilhelm von Humboldt, who did some of the most interesting work on this, once pointed out that if an artisan produces a beautiful object on command we may admire what he did but we despise what he is – he's a tool in the hands of others. If on the other hand he creates that same beautiful object out of his own will we admire it and him and he's fulfilling himself. It's kind of like study at school – I think we all know from our experience that if you study on command because you have to pass a test you can do fine on the test but two weeks later you've forgotten everything. On the other hand if you do it because you want to find out, and you explore and you make mistakes and you look in the wrong place and so on, then ultimately you remember...

Children for example are naturally curious – they want to know about everything, they want to explore everything but that generally gets knocked out of their heads. They're put into disciplined structures, things are organised for them to act in certain ways so it tends to get beaten out of you. That's why school's boring. School can be exciting. It happens that I went to a Deweyite school until I was about 12. It was an exciting experience, you wanted to be there, you wanted to go. There was no ranking, there were no grades. Things were guided so it wasn't just do anything you feel like. There was a structure but you were basically encouraged to pursue your own interests and concerns and to work together with others. I basically didn't know I was a good student until I got to high school. I went to an academic high school in which everybody was ranked and you had to get to college so you had to pass tests. In elementary school I had actually skipped a year but nobody paid much attention to it. The only thing I saw was that I was the smallest kid in the class. But it wasn't a big thing that anybody paid attention to. High school was totally different – you've gotta be first in the class, not second. And that's a very destructive environment – it drives people into the situation where you really don't know what you want to do. It happened to me in fact – in high school I kinda lost all interest. When I looked at the college catalogue it was really exciting – lots of courses, great things. But it turned out that the college was like an overgrown high school. After about a year I was going to just drop out and it was just by accident that I stayed in. I happened to meet up with a faculty member who suggested to me I start taking his graduate courses and then I started taking other graduate courses. But I have no professional training. That's why I'm teaching at MIT – I don't have the credentials to teach at an academic university.

But that's what education ought to be like. Otherwise it can be extremely alienating..

http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/work_learning_and_freedom

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HiPointDem Jan 2013 OP
Odin2005 Jan 2013 #1
Trillo Jan 2013 #2

Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 1, 2013, 07:10 PM

1. Great Chomsky interview!

I agree with him completely.

My political-ethical stance is similar to Aristotle. The state exists to give people the freedom to enjoy ευδαιμονια (Eudaimonia), a full and flourishing life.

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Response to HiPointDem (Original post)

Tue Jan 1, 2013, 08:19 PM

2. Thanks for the pointer to the article. NT

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