Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Annouces 2011 Sydney Peace Prize Recipient
SPEECH AT 2011 SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE SYDNEY TOWN HALL SYDNEY Wednesday, 1 June 2011
HER EXCELLENCY PROFESSOR MARIE BASHIR AC CVO,ADMINISTRATOR OF THE COMMONWEALTH
PROFESSOR STUART REES, Director, Sydney Peace Prize Foundation
MS BETH JACKSON, Foundation Chair
MR JOE SKRZYNSKI, Chair, SBS Television
PROFESSOR PETER SLEZAK, University of New South Wales
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AND FRIENDS
IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE TO JOIN YOU TONIGHT TO CELEBRATE THE SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE – AN INITIATIVE ESTABLISHED OVER 14 YEARS AGO – BY PROFESSOR STUART REES AND COLLEAGUES WHOSE DETERMINATION TO HOLD HIGH AND ILLUMINATE EXCEPTIONAL PEOPLE WHO SOUGHT TO PROMOTE – OFTEN AT GREAT PERSONAL COST – NOT ONLY PEACE, PEACE AT ANY PRICE – BUT PEACE WITH JUSTICE.
THIS IS A FEARLESS COMMITMENT TO THE IDEALS OF A COMMON HUMANITY. AND THE JURY OF THE SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE HAS APPLIED THOSE IDEALS IN THEIR CHOICE OF THE AWARDEES – INDIVIDUALS OF UNWAVERING INTEGRITY, OUTSTANDING MODELS OF COURAGE. INDEED, THE JURY OF EIGHT CITIZENS ARE DRAWN FROM ALL WORKS OF LIFE. AND IN DELIBERATING UPON THE 21 NOMINATIONS FOR THIS YEAR’S PRIZE, I SHOULD TELL YOU THAT THREE CRITERIAWERE ADDRESSED:
` i) EVIDENCE OF GLOBAL COMMITMENT TO PEACE WITH JUSTICE
ii) EVIDENCE OF A CAREER OF COMMITMENT TO THE ATTAINMENT OF UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS, AND THIRDLY
iii) LIFETIME EXAMPLES OF THE PHILOSOPHY AND PRACTICE OF NONVIOLENCE THERE IS NO DOUBT, THAT IN THE WISDOM OF THEIR ENTHUSIASTIC AND UNANIMOUS CHOICE, THEY HAVE, IN MY OPINION, CHOSEN ONE OF THE FINEST INDIVIDUALS OF THE 20TH-21ST CENTURY.
HE IS A LONGSTANDING AMERICAN PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL, A DISTINGUISHED – INDEED RENOWNED LINGUIST, A CHAMPION OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS, AND A FEARLESS SOCIAL ACTIVIST. SO IT IS WITH A SENSE OF GREAT PLEASURE AND PERSONAL JOY I TELL YOU THAT THE SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE 2011 HAS BEEN AWARDED TO PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY.
THE JURY’S CITATION FOR THE AWARD REFERS, AMONGST OTHER QUALITIES TO PROFESSOR CHOMSKY’S “UNFAILING COURAGE, DISTINGUISHED SCHOLARSHIP AND EFFECTIVE ACTIVISM IN PROMOTING THE ATTAINMENT OF HUMAN RIGHTS”.
NOAM CHOMSKY IS A TOWERING CHAMPION OF FREE SPEECH, AN INCISIVE ANALYST OF POWER STRUCTURES AND A COURAGEOUS CRITIC OF FOREIGN POLICIES, WHEN JUSTIFIED, AT HOME AND ABROAD. HE HAS BEEN DESCRIBED, (AND I QUOTE),
“THE GREATEST INTELLECTUAL INFLUENCE IN THE WESTERN WORLD”.
UNDERSTANDABLY, HUGE CROWDS FLOCK TO HEAR HIM SPEAK. AND WE WILL BE PRIVILEGED TO JOIN SUCH A CROWD ON 2 NOVEMBER 2011 WHEN HE WILL DELIVER THE CITY OF SYDNEY PEACE PRIZE LECTURE. THE FOLLOWING EVENING HE WILL BE PRESENTED WITH THE PRIZE. AND ON THE MORNING OF FRIDAY, 4 NOVEMBER 2011, AS PART OF THE PEACE FESTIVAL BEING HELD AT CABRAMATTA HIGH SCHOOL – A SUPERB EXAMPLE OF MULTICULTURAL LIFE AND LEARNING – HE WILL BE ENTHUSIASTICALLY WELCOMED BY 1,500 STUDENTS.
IN CONCLUSION, I WANT TO THANK PROFESSOR REES, MS JACKSON, MEMBERS OF THE JURY AND ALL INVOLVED IN THIS JOURNEY OF CONTINUING ENLIGHTENMENT.
Dr Peter Slezak, Associate Professor of History & Philosophy
Speech for Sydney Peace Prize Award to Noam Chomsky
Wednesday June 1st.
Your excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Many people are not aware that Chomsky is not just a dissident political commentator. It’s a privilege for me to make a few remarks about his other activities.
1. Reputation & Citations
Rock star Bono called Chomsky the “Elvis of academia” – but this is an understatement.
According to the Arts and Humanities Citation Index in 1992, Chomsky is cited more often than any other living scholar. He is the eighth most cited source of all time – beaten only by a few people like Plato, the Bible, Marx, Shakespeare, and Freud.
One linguist writes:
“… Chomsky is the hero [of the history of linguistics] … of Homeric proportions, belonging solidly in the pantheon of our century’s finest minds …
First, … he is staggeringly smart. The speed, scope, and synthetic abilities of his intellect are legendary.”
“Most of us guys who in any other environment would be absolutely brilliant,” one colleague says, “are put to shame by Noam.” (Randy A. Harris 1993, p.54)
2. Commonalities? – Subversiveness.
People often ask Chomsky whether there is anything in common between his academic, scientific work in linguistic and his politics. He always answers no.
But, if not in content, there is, after all, something important in common: Chomsky’s genius and, above all, his subversiveness!
His genius and its subversiveness result from his penetrating, critical thinking, his immunity to the biases, illusions and fallacies to which everyone else is prone.
Paradoxically, this is, above all, a capacity for clear-sighted commonsense – which is not so common. His genius consists partly in seeing the “obvious” – which is obvious to everyone else only afterwards.
3. Skinner review: Traumatic impact
An example is seen at the very outset of Chomsky’s career, which was a landmark in the history of psychology: In 1959, the unknown Chomsky published a review of a book Verbal Behavior by Harvard’s famous B.F. Skinner whose ‘Behaviourism’ dominated psychology. Chomsky’s review more-or-less, single-handedly destroyed the entire edifice of psychology at that time! One psychologist wrote “the extraordinary and traumatic impact [of Chomsky’s work] can hardly be appreciated by one who did not live through this upheaval.”
To this day, students who read Chomsky’s review are shocked by it: Chomsky demonstrated the entire theoretical, technical framework of the discipline was not just mistaken but a kind of fraud or hoax – not just wrong, but “play acting at science” and couched in fancy, technical-sounding jargon; no better than your grandmother’s insights into human psychology.
You can imagine how professional academic psychologists felt. They still hate him. Of course, this is, after all, the similarity between Chomsky’s science and his politics. Academic political scientists hate him even more than psychologists, and for the same reasons.
The parallels are significant: The most striking thing is how obvious it all seems. How could the entire profession of academic experts and smart people – the elite intellectual class – not have noticed?
4. Syntactic Structures
This was before Chomsky really got going. He had written an obscure little pamphlet called Syntactic Structures a couple of years earlier in 1957 that really wasn’t even linguistics as this was understood at the time. It is now recognized as the manifesto of the Chomskyan Revolution in linguistics – the founding document of Generative Grammar – and more widely the interdisciplinary Cognitive Revolution.
There is an important sense in which there was no linguistics Before Chomsky – BC, as I like to say – just as there was no physics before Galileo and no biology before Darwin. That is, there was no overarching, deeply explanatory framework of the sort that has been called a ‘paradigm’ in history & philosophy of science.
Although it’s hard to convey the character and impact of this book, here’s a telling indication. It’s amazing what you can learn from Wikipedia:
Famous computer scientist Donald Knuth said: “…I must admit to taking a copy of Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures along with me on my honeymoon in 1961 … Here was a marvellous thing: a mathematical theory of language in which I could use a computer programmer’s intuition!
Chomsky’s Generative Grammar and the scientific research program he began is described as Galilean in the sense that there is nothing else in the study of the mind that looks like mathematical physics. Chomsky’s theory is a formal, mathematical, computational theory – essentially the program or software of our brain responsible for speaking and understanding language.
5. Innateness: Universal Grammar
And he caused a sensation and ongoing intense debate among psychologists, philosophers and linguists with his further dramatic theory that language is not learned in the way that everyone thinks, but rather it’s largely innate – that is, inherited in your genes, as a species-specific human trait – an evolved property of our brains that makes us human – the so-called Universal Grammar.
And this revived a classical topic in philosophy going back to Plato. For the rest of this lecture, you’ll have to enrol in my classes.
6. Harman’s editorial comment
While I was a graduate student studying philosophy in theUS, there appeared an important little anthology in the series Modern Studies in Philosophy, titled On Noam Chomsky: Critical Essays. I quote the editor’s opening remarks in his Introduction:
It is appropriate that a volume of the Modern Studies in Philosophy Series should be devoted to Noam Chomsky since nothing has had a greater impact on contemporary philosophy than Chomsky’s theory of language. For the same reason, it would also be appropriate for such a volume to appear in a Modern Studies in Linguistics Series, a Modern Studies in Psychology Series, or a Modern Studies in Anthropology Series, because Chomsky’s theory has had a major impact in these subjects too.
7. “The Chomsky Problem”.
Of course, he might have added a Modern Studies in Politics series. So, there is what has been described as “The Chomsky Problem.”
A quotation from the New York Times is always put on the back of Chomsky’s books by publishers: It says:
“Judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today.”
But, Chomsky himself points out, they never finish the quote. The rest of it goes on to ask, in that case, if he’s such a smart guy, how come he writes such rubbish about politics?
Dr Peter Slezak
Associate Professor of History & Philosophy
Program in Cognitive Science
UniversityofNew South Wales