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Andrea Frank
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Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor Professor of Linguistics, Linguistic Theory, Syntax, Semantics, Philosophy of Language

What are you working on here at MIT, or in general?

My work is kind of schizophrenic. I have a professional commitment to linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science, and, as far as understanding the nature of the human mind is concerned, biology. A totally separate track, which is essentially extracurricular, with nothing much to do with being at MIT, is a concern with social and political issues, international affairs, international crises, literal threats to survival, and so on. Actually, I
did teach courses on these topics at MIT for about twenty-fi ve years, but on my own time. They weren’t part of any curriculum. I may do it here, but it’s not MIT’s affair.

In matters such as these, there are many choices one can make about what should be high on the agenda, but there are several topics that I think cannot be ignored because they are literally questions of human survival. One of them is suggested by that gentleman over there (points to poster), Bertrand Russell. In 1955, he and Einstein published an appeal in which they called on the people of the world to face a choice that is stark and unavoidable and inevitable: either mankind will end war or the species will be destroyed. They were speaking about nuclear weapons. That threat is greater now than it was when they spoke. Of course, people haven’t abandoned war, far from it. In fact, right now our own country reserves, to itself, the right to attack anyone it wants at will, on the basis of an alleged potential threat which doesn’t even have to be imminent. It’s probably the most extreme position that any state has taken in quite a long time. There is a very serious and growing threat of nuclear war, perhaps even accidental war. The threats are increasing and they’re being enhanced by policies of aggressive militarism that are driving other potential targets to respond in comparable ways. All of that leads to what Robert McNamara recently called, “apocalypse soon.” There is a fair consensus among strategic analysts that this is a threat that is severe and growing, and it’s a threat to survival. In fact, it is the most severe threat to survival. The only comparable threat is environmental disaster, which will sooner or later come in some form or another. One can debate the details, but, again, there is simply an overwhelming consensus among scientists––and it’s rare that we fi nd consensus on any topic––that this problem too is severe and growing.

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Andrea Frank