The Responsibility of Non Residential Intellectuals

Dec 9 2023

It is easy for an American intellectual to deliver homilies on the virtues of freedom and liberty, but if he is really concerned about, say, Chinese totalitarianism or the burdens imposed on the Chinese peasantry in forced industrialization, then he should face a task that is infinitely more important and challenging—the task of creating, in the United States, the intellectual and moral climate, as well as the social and economic conditions, that would permit this country to participate in modernization and development in a way commensurate with its material wealth and technical capacity.

The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Noam Chomsky

I have lived in the US for over 6 years. I feel like I’ve come of age here — certainly I didn’t dwell on my responsibilities much when I lived in India. I want to live here, but what of this responsibility I feel (with my freedoms) to do something about injustice in India? Why do I feel this strong responsibility to oppose injustice?

Answering these questions1 are important to me, since it clarifies the root of disagreements with family, friends and colleagues, and how to effectively fight injustice in India. I don’t have a great answer yet — but the strong whiff of bullshit from me (and sensed by me) when opposing injustices in the US when India made me is a good enough motivator to find an answer.

So what are the responsibilities of the non-resident intellectual beyond seeking the truth back home, and the historical context of the truth? Supporting intellectuals and activists back home must be one of them, if not the foremost one.

  1. which resurfaced after a tiring conversation with an amoral, fatalistic friend