I applaud your protest

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Gabriel Matthew Schivone

Arizona Daily Wildcat, September 8, 2009

GS: What do you think of the levels of student activism today? I mean, we hear a lot about how, you know, “the students are more apathetic today, it’s not like the ’60s,” etc. What have you observed in terms of student levels (of activism) today?

CHOMSKY: When people talk about “the ’60s,” what they are thinking of is about two years. You know, 1968, 1969 — roughly. You know, a little bit before, a little bit later. And it’s true that student activism today is not like those two years. But, on the whole, I think it’s grown since the 1960s. So, take the feminist and the environmental movements … I mean, they’re from the ’70s. Take the International Solidarity Movement — that’s from the ’80s. Take the Global Justice Movement, which just had another huge meeting in Brazil. That’s from this century. Plenty of students are involved in these things. In fact, the total level of student involvement in various things is probably as huge as it’s ever been, except for maybe the very peak in the 1960s when the war was a huge issue. Or the Civil Rights Movement in the South that trained many students — that was the early ’60s. It’s not what I would like it to be, but it’s far more than it’s been.

GS: Where do you think (of) these rumors about “passivity”? I think (the rumors are) an effort to induce passivity. In fact, the — you know, the standard picture of the ’60s that’s presented is that it was a terrible time. It was what’s called “the time of troubles”. You know, students were going crazy, everything was falling apart, and so on. That’s not what was happening. What was happening — it was a time when the country was starting to become more civilized — thanks largely to the impetus of the activist students.

CHOMSKY: Well, you know, elite sectors and centers of power don’t like that lesson. They don’t want that lesson to be learned. They want students to be passive and apathetic. In fact, there was a pretty big backlash to the ’60s. One of the reasons for the very sharp rise in tuition is to kind of capture students. You know, if you come out of college with a huge debt, you’re gonna have to work it off. I mean, you’re gonna have to become a corporate lawyer or go into business or something. And you won’t have time for engaged activism. The students of the ’60s were — at that time, you know, the society, the culture was much more open. I mean, a student could take off a year or two and devote it to activism and think, ‘Okay, I’ll get back into my career later on.’ Now, that’s much harder today. And not by accident. These are disciplinary techniques.