IF YOU’VE never read any of Noam Chomsky’s astute analyses of capitalism, empire and the state of our planet then Optimism Over Despair, a collection of 22 question-and-answer sessions with the US linguist, scientist, philosopher and political dissident, is a great place to start.
Don’t expect much in the way of cheer, as the title seems to suggests. Responding to questions by CJ Polychroniou, the octogenarian libertarian socialist only approaches that in the final 20 pages.
In a chapter on global warming, he states: “There is good reason to believe that we have already entered the sixth extinction, a period of destruction of species on a massive scale.”
Later he answers a question on the significance of Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory by pointing out that on the same day, November 8, 2016 — “a date that might turn out to be one of the most important in human history” — the World Meteorological Organisation reported that the past five years were the hottest on record and that temperatures are already dangerously close to those set by the COP21.
The Republican Party, he says, is the “most dangerous organisation in world history” because it is “dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to [the] destruction of organised human life.”
The despair is relentless at times but Chomsky is never defeatist — his message is a rallying cry against the absurdity of our times. As he says later in the book: “We can be pessimistic and help ensure that the worst will happen. Or we can be optimistic, grasp the opportunities that surely exist, and maybe help make the world a better place.”
Most of the book treads on familiar Chomskyan ground but his take on the unravelling of European integration, on why the US working class is running towards its class enemy and his questions on the point of new atheism all fascinate.