Saturday, October 01, 2005

Chomsky - On the Universals of Language and Rights

In a summer issue of the Boston Review, Noam Chomsky wrote an article about the universals of language and human rights called "What We Know." The first half of the essay is about potential universals in linguistics and a brief history of that enterprise. If you find it dense, I sympathize and suggest you move onto the next section about human rights (demarcated by the first use of *** separating two paragraphs). Though not much was new to me about human rights issues as it repeats some of Chomsky's other work, the information presented serves as a reminder to be wary and aware of the world's scary.

A startling excerpt:
"In 1991, the chief economist of the World Bank wrote an internal memo on pollution, in which he demonstrated that the bank should be encouraging migration of polluting industries to the poorest countries. The reason is that “measurement of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality,” so it is rational for “health impairing pollution” to be sent to the poorest countries, where mortality is higher and wages are lowest."
The memo was leaked and elicited a storm of protest, typified by the reaction of Brazil’s secretary of the environment, who wrote him a letter saying that “your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane.” The secretary was fired, while the author of the memo became treasury secretary under President Clinton and is now the president of Harvard University."

(Zinn also had a essay in the issue. I've only read part of it at this point, but it's probably worthwhile)


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