Noam Chomsky, now a professor emeritus after more than five decades as a linguistics scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered his thoughts on a variety of pressing issues Monday evening at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Tabernacle.

Mr. Chomsky is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most influential thinkers. Judging by the frequent applause, the crowd of more than 700 people were eager to hear him, and sympathetic to his ideas.

The discussion followed the showing of Requiem for the American Dream. The film, part biography, part documentary, part university lecture, was is one of the films in the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival summer series. It presents 10 principles that Mr. Chomsky contends have doomed the American dream, by concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few.

The film includes compelling graphics and special effects, which make the research and statistics understandable. It illustrates the principles with footage of popular protests, and words from historic documents. It drives home the points with footage of Mr. Chomsky in various stages of his role as an activist.

Mr. Chomsky said the ever growing wealth gap is the greatest hindrance now to the American dream. — Jeanna Shepard

Speaking directly into the camera, he systematically eviscerates the social, political and economic systems that drive income inequality. In the film, he said the gap between the richest and the poorest Americans is now like the worst periods of American history, including the Great Depression. The 87-year-old intellectual said he is old enough to remember the difficult times, when most members of his family were out of work.

“It was bad, but there was an expectation that things were going to get better,” Mr. Chomsky said. “There isn’t today. Part of the American dream is class mobility. You’re born poor, you work hard, you get rich. It’s all collapsed.”

In a gravelly voice, Mr. Chomsky delivers his thoughts like a scholarly thesis. He chronicles the emergence over the past four decades of systems that preserve the power of the wealthy, at the expense of the greater society.

“Inequality has highly negative consequences on society as a whole,” he said. “The very fact of inequality has a corrosive harmful effect on democracy. This is the result of over 30 years of a shift in social and economic policy completely against the will of the population.”

Following the screening, Mr. Chomsky spoke at length about his work, and how it reflects on the current political climate.

“We can address critical questions that have never risen before in the history of the human species,” he said in response to a question from film festival executive director Thomas Bena. “The decisions that are made today, and I literally mean today, that includes the coming election, may determine whether decent survival is possible for the species.”

Mr. Chomsky criticized what he called the American election extravaganza. He said voting should take citizens about 10 minutes: one minute to analyze electoral math, two minutes to review the narratives of the political parties, and eight minutes to go to the polls and cast a ballot.

“After we’ve spent about 10 minutes we can turn to what really matters,” he said. “It’s not the election, but the continued effort to develop organized, active, dedicated popular movements which will continue to struggle for what has to be done. You don’t build a party by voting once every four years. You’ve got to be out there constantly, developing a system that goes from the school boards to the city councils to the legislators.”

The next film in the summer series for the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is Maya Angelou and I Still Rise. The film screens on Thursday August 4 at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Visit for a full summer schedule.