is niet meer.

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[Recensie] "What We Say Goes - Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World"

[Recensie] "What We Say Goes - Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World"

During the 20th century the US became the most powerful nation in the world. When we fought World War II they were our ally and after the war they helped us rebuild. When the freezing winds of the Cold War started blowing from the east, we trusted the US would protect us.


Those who give, have all the power and the needy never question the actions of their benefactors.

Unfortunately for the US the world changed. The Cold War ended, Europe started a strong unification process and continues to do so, China woke up, South-American countries are tentatively reaching out to each other and the Middle East has apparently set out on a course of its own, even if for now it is unclear what the destination is.

The US pretends to be unaware of all those changes and blatantly goes on trying to rule the world. It's not very hard to see that no good can come out of this. It is quite a lot harder to understand why all this is happening.

"What We Say Goes", a collection of interviews between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, tries to shed some light on the matter.

Years ago Noam Chomsky started out as a linguist. He developed radically new theories about language acquisition. At that time B.F. Skinner had his own theories on how children acquired languages. A clash of the titans arose. Chomsky gave behaviourism a serious beating and opened the door for cognitive psychology.

Afterwards Chomsky kept working as a linguist, but his ever inquiring mind had been unleashed and he became a prolific writer whose writing encompasses linguistics, psychology, culture criticism and politics.

It is perhaps quite telling that Chomsky's first publication on politics was called "The Responsibility of Intellectuals" (1967). The essay is an attack on intellectuals who choose subservience to power over truth and have no problem fabricating 'scientific' evidence to justify their nations' crimes.

The true intellectual does whatever is in his power to uncover the truth and - more importantly - finds ways to share that truth, even if that truth pains him.
I don't think Chomsky has ever kowtowed to the powers that be and I am convinced he never will.

"What We Say Goes" is a clear example of how seriously he takes the responsibilities of the intellectual. In this particular collection of interviews Chomsky is the intellectual and he has many things to say about his country.

He could have chosen the moral high-ground. He could have distanced himself from his nation and his countrymen, but he didn't do that. If he writes about America and the Americans, he feels that he, as an American, should be included. Chomsky doesn't write about "them" or "they" but about "us" and "we". If there is blame he is ready to share in it and that is quite admirable, especially when your accusations are needle sharp, to the point and very hard to refute.

"What We Say Goes" is presented as a series of interviews, but the exchanges don't really feel like interviews. Mr Barsamian isn't the kind of interviewer who feels the need to outsmart the interviewee (good luck with that anyway when you're talking to Chomsky). Rather than turning the whole thing into an up tempo question and answer game, Barsamian offers a statement or a quote (rarely a direct question) and lets Chomsky react. Those reactions are not short and they often take unexpected turns. As a result reading "As We Say Goes" never becomes boring. How could it? You start out with something about South-America, make a short stop in China, move on to Iran, come back to the US and then end up in Israel.

Chomsky's views are strong and he has views on almost everything. With the freedom his interviewer gives him you get a wide and varied collection of ideas. Some of these ideas will sound familiar and others will be totally new. At any rate you will feel the need to explore, to try out those other perspectives. The best writers (and teachers!) are not those who tell you what to think, but those who give you something to think about. Chomsky excels at this.

That brings us to the subject of the book. When you know that the 'WE' in "What We Say Goes" is the US, it is not hard to guess what the interviews are about. Near the end, Chomsky explains what that sentence means. The result is a superb summary of the US' attitude towards international law and human rights. A short passage in which "What we say goes" is repeated several times drives the message home. And the message is this:

We are the land of the free, but we will take away your freedom if we feel like it or if you do something we don't like.

Our land is the land of opportunity but we object to opportunities others discover or have and we'll gladly grab them.

We gloat in our freedom of speech but we will gag you in less than a second if you speak out against us.

"What We Say Goes" is a balanced and well-written examination of the behaviour of the nation that still thinks ruling the world is its true calling. There are not too many positive vibes radiating from "What We Say Goes, but it is not without hope. When you read Chomsky's words you hear a man who is deeply disappointed by what is going on, and extremely frustrated by the cheap squandering of the enormous potential that could make his country great in the true sense of the word.

If you dislike the US read this book and see how one of the greatest minds of our times deals with that dislike without betraying his own convictions. If you love the US read this book and perhaps it will help you understand why so many people don't feel the way you do.

Chomsky, Noam (2008).“What We Say Goes - Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World”, 240 blz, Uitgeverij Penguin Books

Apparently no need to read before commenting

"Years ago Noam Chomsky started out as a linguist. He developed radically new theories about language acquisition. At that time B.F. Skinner had his own theories on how children acquired languages."

Skinner's theory is _not_ about how children acquire language. It is about how people use speaking (verbal behavior) to control their environment. If the book states this as fact, then it is seriously flawed – as was Chomsky's critique of Skinner's book.

If the book is factually correct on the discussion between Skinner and Chomsky, then the present reviewer did not read the book before reviewing it. If that be the case, then he is in good company – Chomsky, clearly honoring the responsibilities of the intellectual, did not read Skinner's book before reviewing it.

Same title applies

The present reviewer seems to be under attack for claims that have never been made.

Nowhere in this review does it say the book is about the Skinner-Chomsky discussion.

The review does say Chomsky and Skinner did not agree on language acquisition, but there is no reference to one specific book.

The review is clear about the subject of the book. The subject is mentioned explicitly twice.

The present reviewer, who did read the book, chose to elaborate a bit on Chomsky background because she has learned first-hand that there aren't too many people who know who Chomsky is.

The present reviewer is quite curious about the source for the allegations that Chomsky wrote a review about "Verbal Behaviour" without reading the book.

Presence, absence and futures

Having read the review, one might be excused for assuming that the Skinner-Chomsky debate is mentioned in the present book. The present clarification is accepted and one consequently assumes that the reviewer read the book before reviewing it. Indeed, one apologizes for stating the assumption.

However, perpetuating the myths about what Verbal Behavior is or is not about is excusable only because they are ubiquitous. A summary about _Verbal Behavior_ is provided here: As should be obvious from the blurb, children's language acquisition is not a central theme of the book. Actually reading it makes it even more clear, though understanding it requires a firm grasp of behavior analytical terminology, making it rather inaccessible to most people, including, it appears, Chomsky.

Kenneth MacCorquodale demolishes Chomsky's review here:

(The president of the American Psychological Society uses the diplomatic term term «rather effectively refuted» here:

Anyway, sorry about the tone of the previous comment.


I understand, although I still think we are talking about different subjects. No harm done.

The texts you link to are interesting. Thanks.


its very interesting subject thank for you