In my earlier post about Paul Goodman, I pointed out that the only contemporary intellectual who has comparable influence in the U.S. is Noam Chomsky. This led me to a disturbing thought. Chomsky is in his eighties. When he is gone, who will be left? I mean, will there be any really influential intellectuals in this country? Will the deepest thinker that people have heard of be Anderson Cooper? It’s a depressing thought. However, I don’t know of anyone who can take Chomsky’s place. Slavoj Žižek is too European, and, besides, some of his ideas are, well, weird. There is Jared Diamond, of course, but a recent court case could do him irreparable damage. I know people who think that John Bellamy Foster should be as well known as Chomsky. He is certainly one of the more original Marxist thinkers around nowadays. Unfortunately, Foster is not a good public speaker. He tends to be long-winded, and he also tends to use a lot of academic jargon. One of the reasons Chomsky became famous is because he can discuss complex ideas in a clear and succinct manner, using (mostly) everyday English.
I suspect that one of the reasons for the current paucity of famous eggheads is that simply becoming an intellectual in our society is not easy. It requires being able to blot out a lot of noise. Let me give you an example. In one of the few amusing scenes in the otherwise dreary New Age film, I Am, someone asks Chomsky if he has ever seen Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. “Ace who?” says Chomsky, looking completely mystified. Lesson: you can’t be an intellectual if you watch movies like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. I know it sounds elitist of me to say that, but it happens to be true. (Mind you, this bit of wisdom comes from a man who just watched a movie titled Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I’m not making this up.)
Footnote One: Let give you an idea of how well-known Chomsky is. One night I went to my local Papa John’s to order a pizza. From where I was standing at the counter, I could hear a radio in the kitchen. The voice on the radio sounded strangely familiar. It took me a moment to realize that it was Chomsky’s voice. About what other intellectual could you possibly tell a story like this?
Footnote Two: I meant to write a scathing review of I Am. The problem is that every time I think about that film, my eyelids start feeling heavy. I’m afraid of slumping forward and damaging my computer monitor.