Last Week I Drunkenly Emailed Noam Chomsky

I wrote him to ask about something that was plaguing me. I was in the middle of socioeconomics and chill; watching him talk during a Netflix documentary about the sad state of our financial-political system.

What really prompted it was a discussion with my friend. He recently got a corporate gig, got his own place, a pet, the whole shebang. He was sad because all of the trappings of your first “real job” in your 20s comes with a big flashing neon sign that says “THIS IS IT” for the next couple years.

I think that’s ridiculous.

Juxtaposed against the dancing of animated dollar bills in the background, I asked whether a person, a system, a company, could be better reformed from the inside-out or outside-in. Most of our friends had made decisions about their lives that kept them in place for the next five years. Whether it was work or school, they were locked in to building their new identities within a system. I wanted to know which was better.

He said in. I said out.

At this point we were both a few beers in, and venerating the great Noam who seemed almost infinite in his wisdom and limitless in his subject-matter expertise. So I figured we could just ask him.

Something amazing about academia is that all faculty emails are publicly available. This is so that breathless undergrads can ask for last-minute extensions on term papers.

With a fast Google, I found his MIT email and drafted up a quick message:

The documentary ended and I went on with my life. To my pleasant surprise, he replied this morning:

^this is why I’m a fan of Chomsweezy (can I call him that now? I mean we did exchange an email).

I learned two things from these shenanigans:

  1. That you should ask your heroes for help. The worst that can happen is that they ignore your missive.
  2. That even Dr. Chomsky doesn’t know the answer sometimes. It’s heavily dependent on your personal context.

When I started Spira last year I didn’t quite realize how lonely or hard it was going to be.

Doing anything with conviction takes real guts. It’s important to realize that as I change my external world, I am also reshaping what is inside of me. One way is not necessarily better than the other; they should happen in tandem for the greatest effect.

I feel like a bit of a rebel sometimes, working outside of what is considered the “normal” path. Kinda like a certain MIT linguist/political/economic theorist. I guess it takes one to Noam one. 😉

What do you guys think? Is it better to reform systems from the inside or outside and why? Let me know in the responses below. Click the little green heart to spread the love around.