Coffee with the riff-raff


Chomsky, in The Black Man, pub, Govan

“People are just to dangerous when they get together” because then “they can have thoughts and ideas, and put them forth in the public arena, and they begin to enter that area where they don’t belong, namely influencing public affairs” Noam Chomsky

Finding our voice

There are less and less places in the public arena, where people can get together to discuss, chat, enjoy a coffee and have the freedom to shape the space and determine the debate. That is environments that are not somehow influenced by commercial interests.

Some concerns

We are experiencing the transition of our public institutions, both inside and out, to a much narrower use than they are capable of.

The transfer of the local economy (meeting places) to the barren planes of the “retail outlet”.

The recent surrender of our parks (autonomous space) into the hands of council sponsored entrepreneurs.

And in turn, the giving up of open sociable debate, to the technologies of ink, cyber space and sound bites.

The “Meeting in the town hall” is gradually being superseded by the “online debate”

The public are consulted by documents, answered by machines. Live public debate is becoming a novelty of a past era.

The human voice is the most trusted, responsive, direct and accurate facility of communication we possess but we are forgetting how to use it. It is becoming subservient to the machines and technologies that filter, edit, transpose and deliver it. We are all kinds of people, with all kinds of things to offer and share. Our greatest weapon against the Armageddon, we are being led towards, is the communication of our ideas, in real time and importantly – in our own time.

To join the public debate we will need to reclaim and protect public space, we need to build and maintain the access to constructive discussion, concerning our communities, in order to organise and make our demands and to influence, public affairs, at the government level – in our favour.

There are many examples in the past [which the following is an example] of how this is achievable and at present there are active groups, with the possibilities of networking and shared interests and skills who are working to increase the opportunities for others to participate. The following is an excerpt from a “Conference on Self-Determination” held at the Pearce Institute in 1990.

“… Noam Chomsky. It is 1990, and he sits in a pub in Govan (a suburb of Glasgow), surrounded by the participants of a Self-Determination and Power Event. These include social workers; literati (“Bohemian writers,” Chomsky says, “mostly outcasts,” the most famous of whom is Jim Kelman [31 Mar. 1995 ]); educationists (“radical critics of the educational systems-like..Derek Rodgers”); anarchists and libertarian socialists; and people variously describing themselves as “feminist therapist,” “systems analyst,” “anti-poll-tax activist,” “mother/student,” “prison governor,” “retail manager,” and “boatbuilder/writer.” The event, accompanied by a wonderful pub photo, is covered by the Times Higher Education Supplement of 26 January 1990 under the headline: “Pubs, Power and the Scottish Psyche: Olga Wojtas Reports from Govan on a Conference on Self-Determination.” The 330 participants of the event (many of whom [are] “unemployed working class, activists of one or another sort, those considered to be ‘riff-raff'”—”the kind of people,” Chomsky says, that “I like and take seriously” [31 Mar. 1995]), which has been organized by the magazines Scottish Child and Edinburgh Review and the Free University of Glasgow (not a university in the accepted sense of the term), are interested in self-determination and a guru named Noam Chomsky, self-described “scourge of United States policies and champion of the ordinary person.” Chomsky gives keynote speeches on both days of the event. The fact that he has decided to attend at all mystifies both the press and the establishment. Thus when an announcement came that I was going to be in Glasgow, I got a letter on very fancy letterhead from something called “the Scottish Foundation” inviting me to give a talk for them on Nicaragua. I of course agreed. Shortly after, I got another letter saying they’d just learned that I’d also be giving a talk organized by the free university, Kelman, and other scum, and they insisted that I cancel that invitation because they wouldn’t tolerate the guilt by association. I don’t recall whether I even bothered answering. (31 Mar. 1995)

In his talks, Chomsky disparages nationalism, the exercise of political power by leaders who do not answer to citizens, instruments of social control and isolationism such as television, and the collusion of media in the process of oppression and the spreading of lies. There remains, at the end of the event, the problem of “how to take on the bastards,” as well as “an imbalance in that people seemed to feel they had to stay on an intellectual plane.” Said one participant, “If I sound a bit frustrated, it’s because I’m a bit frustrated” (Wojtas). But Chomsky is not there to lead.
He’s sitting in the Govan pub, and, as always, he’s insisting that the participants consider their own situation as clearheadedly as possible, and that they make their own decisions. The Times Higher Education Supplement has reported: “Professor Chomsky continued to duck the role of oracle, denying the need for oracles at all. There had been a sense, he recognized, that there was something deeply unsatisfying about general and abstract discussion which did not direct itself to concrete discussion of oppression and justice.” Somebody recalls Vaclav Havel’s dictum that “truth and love will triumph over hatred and lies.” Chomsky’s response? “It’s a nice thought.” Yes, but is it true or false? “Neither. It could become true, to the extent that people struggle to make it come true.” … 1


Chomsky explaining his linguistic theory to the barman in the Black Man

The kind of people Chomsky likes are the kind of people who have the power to change the world.



1. Noam Chomsky A life of Dissent Robert F Barsky

2. Aye it’s a joke


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