Whot's, uh, the deal?
"These days everyone not only is questioning everyone else's expert, but they are becoming meta-experts
who no longer much discuss the issue at hand, but rather present detailed refutations and rebuttals of others'
detailed refutations of the interpretations of the detailed refutations provided by their chosen expert.
It makes my head hurt."
Outside of striking me as a sort of Woody-Allen-meets-Burt-Bacharach-singing-What The World Needs
Now Is Love Sweet Love, this is what I can figure about what complaints one can find - I started
this when first coming across Noam Chomsky in early 2002,
and was casting about for an honest debunking - a
Chomsky debates reality
type thing since usually these fringe figures are all so demonstrably wacko -
or generally just anything that would put him in his place alongside all the other babbling pundits.
Instead you get:
- Chomsky merely points out the obvious and makes it sound like a new idea.
Take it from the horse's mouth:
I don't feel that I have important messages to convey, beyond the obvious: in this case, think for yourselves and do not uncritically accept what you are told, and do what you can to make the world a better place, particularly for those who suffer and are oppressed.
That is to say, Chomsky is a study in total depravity.
And here we are, pointing out the obvious.
- He doesn't address the whole story. He sure as hell doesn't, why the hell would anyone
expect him to?
As for the rest of the story we advise examining the
case that history is still an ongoing and lively field, in which the whole story has never been told.
Like anybody else he's interested in the things he's interested in.
So happens he's primarily talking
about the US, which is perfectly reasonable considering he's an American. When in Soviet Russia,
criticize Soviet Russia. When in Canada criticize
If the reader is not then the reader should, obviously, become acquainted
with other perspectives. Not much of anybody else addresses the whole story either, I mean, just on
a pragmatic scale nobody has the "whole story". We do what we can. Chomsky, like anybody else,
may or may not have something useful to add,
but he's not going to be some super-historian giving a full account of history. His bias is completely
revealed by his insistence on discussing the crimes of his own country, but does that make him a
valiant reformer or a hate monger? He is pretty clear and
upfront about it - it's a far cry from, say, 'intellectual dishonesty'.
He does not deny that others are also culpable - he simply isn't that interested in telling you about it.
Read somebody else, preferably multiple elses, and learn the value of forming your own goddam opinions.
"The foreign policy of other states is also in general horrifying -- roughly speaking, states are violent to the extent that they have the power to act in the interests of those with domestic power -- but there is not very much that I can do about it. It is, for example, easy enough for an American intellectual to write critical analyses of the behavior of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Eastern Europe (or in supporting the Argentine generals), but such efforts have little if any effect in modifying or reversing the actions of the U.S.S.R. Rather, such efforts, which are naturally much welcomed by those who dominate the ideological institutions here, may serve to contribute to the violence of the American state, by reinforcing the images of Soviet brutality (often accurate) that are used to frighten Americans into conformity and obedience. I do not suggest that this is a reason to avoid critical analysis of the U.S.S.R.; in fact, I have often written on the foreign policy of the Soviet state. Nor would I criticize someone who devotes much, even all his work to this task. But we should understand that the moral value of this work is at best very slight, where the moral value of an action is judged in terms of its human consequences. In fact, rather delicate judgments sometimes arise, for people who are committed to decent moral values. Suppose, for example, that some German intellectual chose in 1943 to write articles on terrible things done by Britain, or the U.S., or the Jews. What he wrote might be correct, but we would not be very much impressed."
- polemicist, propaganda artist: Score one for the home team in a game with no visitor:
"I'm not sure how well it works, but the writing I do is kind of a mixture of straight scholarship and pamphleteering.
I don't separate the two very much. That's partly on purpose: I think they go together rather well. What I'm trying to do
is approach people who are interested in trying to correct for the distorted ways the world is presented to them, and
to work out their own ideas on understanding how the world really is. I'm presenting them with another point of view.
I try to give as much information as I can, to list the references I can think of, provide elaborate footnotes, and so
on. If the use of irony and bitter criticism is appropriate, I don't refrain from it. Actually, I don't think this
approach has the quality of avoiding the grey areas that you mention any more than academic scholarship does. It's
just more open about it."
The distinction between education and propaganda is that one leaves you with enough information to come to different conclusions than the teacher, while the other is intended to leave the audience with only one possible conclusion. In the sense that counter-propaganda is only education for those who've already been lead to that one conclusion it would be propaganda for folks who didn't know anything about it. It's hard to educate the uncurious. Perhaps that's what he means
by "a mixture of straight scholarship and pamphleteering".
- Distillery of the convention academic wisdom. Like, he's totally boring, dude.
for Dummies: Like most Americans he hates the government, seems like.
But anybody with something other than rocks in their skull realizes - with the
possible exception of some finite number of radical, probably CIA trained, foreign nationalists
usually of religious stripe that may actually want to
brutalize, rape or slaughter as many Americans as they can get their hands on until we get off their land -
that anti-Americanism is a banal talking point for pundits to drag the conversation
into the gradeschool playground, only without as much substance.
They did it the first time over a century ago, say
Charles Neider on Mark Twain
for Twain's "anti-American" opposition to our conquest of the Phillipines. More so, Democrats used it to
attack the gold standard
as "not only un-American but anti-American" back in 1896. If you call Chomsky un-American you might have to explain in what way he differs from
"America", which requires some minimal level of thought, a congressional inquiry by the House Un-American Activities
Committee, and a piddling semantic debate over what
"America" means (clue: "America" is an abstract entity defined as a set of certain agreed upon geographical
or imagined boundaries, where within most sentient bipedal lifeforms have acquired certain rights, protections
and services via a central government in return for particular tributes, usually in the form
of levies in time and money, e.g. filling out paperwork and paying taxes).
If you call him anti-American it supposes the rabid opposite of everything America as a country arguably stands for,
as though a massive and arbitrary geographical area could necessarily stand for something, and a hastily overgenalized
hatred for those with American citizenship - people presumably so inclined would not spend much of their time with
Americans. If you're un-American you might just be from outside the country, if you're anti-American you're a security threat.
Maybe a counter-example would be helpful:
"Japan followed the example of Western nations and forced China into
unequal economical and political treaties. Furthermore, Japan's influence over Manchuria
had been steadily growing since the end of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05. When the
Chinese Nationalists began to seriously challenge Japan's position in Manchuria in 1931,
the Kwantung Army (Japanese armed forces in Manchuria) occupied Manchuria. In the
following year, "Manchukuo" was declared an independent state, controlled by the
Kwantung Army through a puppet government. In the same year, the Japanese air force
bombarded Shanghai in order to protect Japanese residents from anti Japanese
"Anti-Americanism" would be, from this example, somebody who isn't American coming out of his barn with his shotgun
and telling you, an American in his arbitraily defined set of national borders,
to get the hell out his arbitrarily defined set of national borders. Perfectly OK for Americans,
but as we sing in grade school, "This land is our land",
whatever land we're in. And Chomsky doesn't even own a barn.
So far as this goes our subject tends to have nothing but positive things to say about Americans, or 'American'
values so far as they involve freedom, democracy and the rest of such fine hubris as was enshrined in the founding
documents of the arbirtrary set of, at the time much smaller, borders.
He speaks highly of our unique position on seditious libel,
or in comparing the US public
to the Japanese - perhaps like the aforementioned Chinese movements he's anti-Japanese - and notes that
"We're free people, you know,
the first free people in the world."
Or to get specific:
"The U.S. is a world leader in
defense of freedom of speech, perhaps uniquely so since the 1960s. With regard to
civil-political rights, the U.S. record at home ranks quite well by comparative standards...", etc. etc.. He's
sometimes as full of odes to how great the US is as some pandering politician on the stump - how perfectly ordinary.
Perhaps he has been "uncharacteristically reticent
to denounce a defender of tyranny", not that he ever had a nice thing to say about
More specifically we might suggest that it is primarily the
supporters of tyranny
uses the term 'anti-Whatever' to attack dissidents.
What's the point in denouncing the well known and broadly denounced crimes of a
totalitarian state when you're part of democracy committing its own crimes that have not been denounced?
To prove to people that you're
not a commie-sympathizer, apparently.
"I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country
in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop."
"When I go anywhere [outside the US], I'm
appalled by many things: the deep internalization of class differences, the lack of intellectual
independence or respect for freedom of expression, and much else."
- his message is entirely negative: begging the question of
what he's for, besides all those
nice things he had to say about America. Chomsky self-describes as a "Libertarian
Socialist", a throwback political ideology that had its last big blowout in the 1930s during the
Spanish Civil War. It that case it was principled upon on having direct-democratic unions manage
industrial society, with perhaps some sort of community-level organizations managing other "stuff". The idea
never got to develop that far - what with the allies' arms embargo, the subsequent Soviet co-option of the Republic,
and Hitler's support for the monarchists/fascists.
It happens to have plenty of roots
grown under the stars and stripes, perhaps first expressed literally by
Josiah Warren, and
not the least of which is the May Day labor holiday, recognized as an
international holiday (except, as it happens, in the US) in memory of the
Haymarket martyrs, who were hung some 8 miles
south from where I write this. Anyway, that's what he's for. He's surprisingly open about it for a man
with a hidden agenda of unpacifiable hatred.
For my general audience the obvious looniness of having workers manage work is hereby objectivley noted,
those who wish to further entertain such nutty ideas the author directs you
to one of his favorite throwback, libsoc organizations.
- He's an ideologue. To the extent that he has his own ideology in some basical
sense, sure, except that the ideology in question protects the right of others to have their own ideologies,
whether or not he agrees with the ideologies in question, and given his propensity for
signing petitions on the behalf of those he considers to have rather hideous ideologies but under attack
for merely having ideology he's at least being consistent about it.
So an ideologue about what?
And what's wrong with it, whatever it is?
Most of the people labelling others as ideologues are ideologues themselves;
I have a rather difficult time grasping what their point is. What's he supposed to be? Confused? Indecisive?
- uncredentialed, non-expert, mere linguist, etc. Thus nobody should pay him any attention - this is
a democracy after all.
- Historical revisionist. Well a) he isn't a historian. Duh. There is no b).
If he was maybe we could call him a neo-realist, or post-revisionist, or whatever one is
supposed to call modern historians now,
with the addenum that his preferred field of discourse encompasses the culpability of US institutions
in contributing to the damned state of humankind. And that whole linguistics thing.
I don't know what the point is in the labels outside of historical
criticism of history. The matter at hand is generally whether or not something happened.
David Horowitz et al. spends a lot of time
pushing this "criticism" - we note
that David Horowitz's Masters Degree in English doesn't exactly qualify him, either - which hinges
on Chomsky having some sadistic hatred for his own country, his own jewish heritage, etc. Horowitz doesn't make
much of a case if one reads something other than What Uncle Sam Really Wants, which is
just a collection of interviews with no footnotes, leaving Horowitz to simply assert that none of those
things mentioned ever happened and to pretend that NC is simply pulling such fantastic stories out of
thin air. But the US did overthrow Greece's government after WWII (three times, as a matter of fact), not to
counter "Soviet aggression" (Churchill and FDR were well aware that Stalin had agreed, and held to the agreement,
to stay out of Greece - this was a cause for the split between Stalin and Yugoslavia's Tito - who supported
the Greeks - so happens) but to counter Greek citizens, who had their own ideas about how to run their country.
David Horowitz of course knows this, but prefers
to lie on behalf of something greater than the truth.
Anyway, here's a question: how does a third world country persuing, say, 'socialist' policies
threaten the American people, compared to the threat poised by socialist states like Denmark and Sweden? This is, afterall,
what many US policy makers still say they were fighting after world war two. It was largely in the fevered
imaginations of the paranoid the Soviets were controlling third world independence movements.
I have trouble understanding a case
just for economic impact, being as the wealth that pours into the US from our third world despots make a couple of
dudes rich and that's the end of the story for direct benefits to Americans. Why would a little socialist country
stop trading with the West? Iran wasn't even going socialist when we toppled that elected government in 1953 -
it was an extremely pro-western, anti-communist government. There was no threat to American security. Etc. etc.
But I'm not a credentialled historian either, so what the fuck do I know. What I do know is that
either way he goes on record as saying
"States are not moral agents" all the
damn time, so if one grants him the benefit of the doubt and allow that he believes what he's saying,
then he's assigning blame to specific people and institutional structures
rather than casting the US or any other government as the Evil Empire.
Given his anarchist perspective it seems readily obvious that
he assigns the 'blame', if that's what a malfunction in design is, to centralized authority, and the associated ease
of abuse by which such centers are manipulated by interests among those individuals who happen to be commanding it.
Are there alternatives? Is Chomsky a lunatic for seeking them?
In any case Chomsky has never refered to the US as "evil" in anything that I've read.
- Not a conspiracy theorist.
I include this because I find it funny, but it can just as easily make for
- Conspiracy theorist.
Almost always stems from discussion on the
which is discussed in briefer useful terms here.
It's worth pointing out that the first rigorous applications of propaganda,
as it is normally defined, were developed by Lippman and Bernays for the US government in order
to whip up public support for US entry into WWI.
C&H's model can essentially be seen as a direct criticism of the role of such progranda and an examination
of how those techniques have been absorbed by the commercial sector,
as Chomsky discusses himself here,
Harold Ickes, Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior, was writing in 1939 much the same kind of criticism
as Chomsky about the media, arguing it protected its advertisers and the wealthy class that owned
most of it, using examples such as tabacco risks and
the coup plot of 1934.
In 1947 the Commission on Freedom of the Press
made similar conclusions, as has journalist George Seldes, among
others and including Orwell [e.g.].
These observations are nearly as old as the "free" press itself - one can find
Bertrand Russell making almost identical general criticisms
as early as 1918. It borders on the mundanely obvious, for anyone who's cared to look,
and probably deserves some serious consideration just for its persistence.
Chomsky and Herman appear to have attempted to refine all that somewhat, tossing in hysterical narrative
frameworkers and institutionalized flak machines, and then they back their 5-phase black box model
with reams of data analysis. All in all the ideas
are not new, and have been - whether one considers them significant or not - an operational reality as
a collusion between government and business interests to further influence what the public sees and hears -
when simple profit margin isn't enough to do the job - since early in the century.
You get liberal types at the Nation that go on about how
media mergers, "contraction", and
deregulation have caused biases in journalism, or Al Frankin dreaming up teary eyed memories of small town radio,
but these problems have been in existence for over a century or, extending this into historical
criticisms of ruling class structure such as those deriding monarchy in favor of the republic and mercantilism,
far longer. Media consolidation's effect on this historic tendency no doubt improves the efficiency
of propagation through old mediums, but that tendency is now being counter-balanced at the same time by
decentralized information networks like the web, or, to take an earlier example, the printing press
(which enabled the
Protestant Reformation, and could be associated much the same to numerous other advances
in the long, slow expansion of Western freedoms, as well more sophisticated forms of tyranny).
It's fairly impossible for me to judge whether or not things are getting better or worse in recent history,
and I have yet to see anyone make a good case for either.
Rational discussion of the shortcomings of the propaganda model may have taken place,
and presumably Edward Herman has tackled them.
I haven't found any of the referenced criticisms online.
Compared to the claims by right-wing groups like Accuracy in Media and
the Media Research Center that the media is a vulgar ideological wasteland of mindless liberal droids
chained in service to their liberal elite masters - not entirely inaccurate if you use a very narrow interpretation of
'liberal' - the propaganda model almost comes off as scientific.
C&H don't argue at any point that the US is not one of the freest
societies in history, they in fact stress the point: in a society this free massive expenditure must
be made to steer public opinion, and that much seems kind of obvious: massive expenditures are made to steer public opinion.
In other words it's not a conspiracy theory, it's how you make money. It should be added, furthermore,
that Chomsky and Herman appear to not take into account the effects of
actual conspiracies bent on manipulating the free press, in which case their conclusions may in fact
be exaggerated from the baseline of their institutional model.
- There was a movie made about Archbishop Oscar Romero, I never heard of this Jerzy Popieluszku guy.
Salvador was produced independently,
Chomsky and Herman don't make anything
but cursory remarks about Hollywood, and don't say squat about independent film making.
Good creepy film too, I thought, though the whole argument about Pol Pot was, in retrospect, somewhat silly given
that the United States was supporting him by that point.
I don't know if any films were made about Popieluszku, apparently he just sort of
served the purpose of state propaganda then faded into oblivion, where the story told in
In the meantime continue enjoying the fucking smorgasborg of delights that is FOX News.
- Chomsky == Cult. They do begin with the same letter, and any sane person would understand that
Chomsky is a high-ranking member of the Illuminati. Aside from these obvious facts is the obvious fact that
any popular figure will have a following of deaf, dumb, and/or blind individuals (just look at
Rush Limbaugh's ecstatic endorsement
for "dittoheads", e.g. his deaf, dumb, and/or blind fans), and
the same goes for inpopular, cultish figures like Chomsky. It's hip to be underground. Course he's all
like a best-selling author now, the big sellout.
Other suggestions that the label
"cult" has on Chomsky's devotees would insinuate that Chomsky is getting laid a lot, soliciting
money from his followers, building communes, preaching some sort of wack religious doctrine,
and in some fashion holds an authoritarian sway over his creepy, zombie-like followers.
While some of his readers are a little creepy and zombie-like
(hey, is that my finger in the mirror?)
I haven't seen any evidence for the other accusations.
Chomsky makes a point often enough that he has a take on events that is not objective and suggests to those listening
that they approach his views with the same scrutiny that his arguments suggest mainstream media deserves. Which
is to say he's hardly authoritarian. It would be refreshing if more pundits said shit like that,
but as Buddha said to Upali, "Make a proper investigation first."
Whether or not his or anybody else's views are false is an ongoing matter for such scrutiny.
He asks for further investigation, he cites evidence that suggests there is more to investigate. Bully for him.
- He doesn't address the alternatives, or propose solutions.
"When asked what we should do about this disturbing state of affairs, Chomsky says, "I don't think these institutions even have a right to exist. So the question is where we go between undermining particular forms of tyranny ... and constraining or limiting them, which is a narrower objective. The more restricted moves are the ones on the immediate agenda, but the long-term moves should not be far from our minds.""
His thoughts on the student movement are also
or to quote him further, on policy "I don't give advice"
Ie. do whatever one can, basically. Strike you as a little weak? This might be better,
"It is far from clear that the alternatives are sensibly to be posed as "reform or revolution." There is also the possibility of working towards what Andr? Gorz calls "structural reform": namely, "a decentralization of the decision-making power, a restriction on the powers of State or Capital, an extension of popular power, that is to say, a victory of democracy over the dictatorship of profit" (his italics). As Gorz argues, such reforms may have a potentially revolutionary content. It is impossible to predict whether an attempt to extend democratic decision-making will, if it ever develops on a mass scale, face such repressive force that it leads to a revolutionary confrontation, or whether it will be able to proceed peaceably. The goal of a movement for social change should be to introduce meaningful structural reforms, in this sense, avoiding unnecessary confrontations but remaining committed to the defense of democratic values against repression, if it arises."
His lecture on "Government In The Future" is also relevant.
- He's rich! Aaaiiiee!!:
Could be, I hear. I do hope that he hasn't sworn an oath to poverty, because that'd be pretty hypocritical.
Anyway, you're pretty fucking rich too with your internet connection downloading this vast expanse of wasted time,
sipping your goddam crapollamochachino, thinking mighty and high thoughts. Poverty of mind is its own reward.
He could be, at this very moment, robbing you of your own vast flow of natural resources:
for example old fashioned slobber is an essential natural resource in many indigenous economies
as a key component in the production of alcohol. Write a book about it and make your own damn money,
you jealous, whiney sonofabitch.
- His appeals to international law and institutions are support of a global hegemony.
He seems to think that some existing laws and institutions would be a good place to start
in order to undermine global hegemony, which in the past and at present is observably in the hands
of individual states. He's broadly supportive of making such institutions more democratic and
less hegemonic. Say the UN veto power held by five particular hegemons, which he often notes most people
(including Americans) are opposed to, without it seems endorsing their view, having already endorsed the sort of democracy by
which such reform would be implemented in a more democratic institution and society.
This particular criticism is usually accompanied with ridicule of his avowed anarchism, which doesn't mean much.
One could presume from his speeches elsewhere
that he's strongely against hegemony
in the Gramscian sense and that he favors some flavor of democratic institutions implemented
at that level. So far as his anarchist philosophy is concerned Chomsky isn't some gun toting revolutionary, generally
("How one should react to
illegitimate authority depends on circumstances and conditions: there are no formulas."),
and doesn't advocate 'smashing the state' by means of violent revolution, albiet he acknowledges
that some violence is unavoidable, etc., as is already obvious given past violent repression
of non-violent movements, and has fairly
on all this that
make interesting reading, though it seems as though one has to go back to the Foucault debate
to find him discussing the subjects in any depth: "For example, in the United States the state defines
it as civil disobedience to, let's say, derail an ammunition train that's going to Vietnam; and the state is wrong in
defining that as civil disobedience, because it's legal and proper and should be done."
- In order to get the true meaning of the world you have to move to Planet Chomsky, where the news
reflects his perspective on reality.: In a November 2005 debate between Alan Dershowitz and Chomsky the former
attacks the latter's sources as "selective" and "out of context". As I'm a curious fellow
I tracked down most of the sources cited in the debate, presumably this
might assist readers in making a proper investigation.
- Holocaust revisionist. This is one that is often brought up by respectable, extremely smart,
terribly well read
people and I can never fathom for the life of me when or why they decide to don fancy tin foil hats and pull
such inane shit out of somebody's respect for free speech. The guy has never written about holocaust
revisionism and can be found
in numerous places throughout his years of writing on politics denouncing in the strongest terms Nazi crimes,
the holocaust, ridiculing those who write apologia or deny them, and
using it as a comparative outcome against which the worst crimes committed in human history are judged.
At the other end of the scale are
well established liars
like Dershowitz who
throw unsupported accusations around
repeatedly hoping some of the mud sticks,
on the basis of a private conversation they had some 20 years ago. This guy Dershowitz
has been an ardent supporter of an arguably genocidal campaign of violence but can somehow get his panties into knots over
this. It's really impressive.
Werner Cohn follows this trainwreck of a thought in his incoherent
"Partners in Hate", but all the vague ideological associations in the world aren't
ever going to get you a guilty verdict when you've got 40 years of solid alibis. Defending the
right to free speech of someone you disagree with is not "unashamedly supportive" of anything but your
own right to free speech. Likewise citations by anti-semetic writers of Chomsky's criticisms
of Israel's policies in Palestine (thus Chomsky must also be anti-semetic) is like arguing
that because Lenin was reading A Christmas Carol on his deathbed
that Dickens was a Leninist.
Chomsky's "controversial" 1985 publication defending the right to free speech in the revisionist IHR journal is
here. This shit ought to be old hat for everybody
by now, you'd think. Maybe we need stronger civics courses in the public schools.
He did defend the free
speech rights of the French academic Robert Faurisson in a trial,
v. France, that was about the state's right to define history, by penalty of criminal prosecution, a
la the Ministry of Truth of Orwell's 1984 - as compared to leaving him to be laughed out of the academic
journals and institutions, as he largely already had been.
Whether or not allowing the treastise to be published in Faurisson's book was the proper thing to do might be
another matter, e.g. whether you
support free speech or you think anything held to be repugnant by most people ought to be
unfree. If you support free-speech and have written a treatise on free-speech
as such, it'd probably be pretty hypocritical to refuse permission for it to be used in defense of
somebody exercising the right you believe everybody has, don't you think?
Chomsky elsewhere seems to agree that harboring doubts about the Holocaust itself is wrong:
"the Holocaust was the most extreme
atrocity in human history, and we lose our humanity if we are even willing to enter the arena of debate
with those who seek to deny or underplay Nazi crimes" because "those who participate in these
debates are not interested in Nazi crimes"". Meaning one shouldn't waste time talking to
concrete blocks, I suppose. This isn't a statement that suggests, on the other hand, that the
state should have the authority to write history, but whether or not we should have discussions with
unserious people. Idle web surfers running into the claims of revisionists might - and just think
how often you get chain letters - probably benefit by recourse to a discussion, which
is why serious people have taken the time to
enter the arena of debate. Not that it's much of a debate.
One could easily and I think accurately claim, on the other hand, that Chomsky is, in his defense of free speech,
in effect denouncing laws against "hate speech". Who knows. I happen to agree, putting me in the unhappy company
of certain histrionic talk radio personalities and
the ACLU that such policies are totalitarian in nature.
- "what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification" said Chomsky. Well not so much said
as explained what he meant by "kind of". Do a find on "Richard A. Falk",
read for a handful of paragraphs. There's no allegation therein that American is Nazi Germany, but that its institutions could
use some particularly thorough house cleaning.
- Chomsky supports gun control
for the US but not for the third world.
See Godwin's Law, and
brush up on some German history.
- Cambodia; Khmer Rouge apologist: I discuss this
here. Long story short: the accusation doesn't have merit, and Bruce Sharp's own argument, which
does, isn't that Chomsky is an apologist but that if one wants to understand the KR period one should
read somebody else, as Chomsky wasn't attempting to understand the KR period but the Western media.
Perfectly legitemate point, as discussed elsewhere.
- Srebrenica denier: If you take the Faurrison accusation and combine it with Pol Pot
accusation you get
the accusation made and
retracted by The Guardian.
- China: Usually relates to this quote:
China is an important example of a new society in which very interesting and positive things happened at the local
level, in which a good deal of the collectivization and communization was really based on mass participation and
took place after a level of understanding had been reached in the peasantry that led to this next step.
The entire discussion is available here, he's
obviously praising a rather narrow range of specific policies and methods, and with respect to the use of non-violence
and mass participation in the process of what are widely regarded as successful, important reforms under Mao
(land reform, healthcare reform, and education reform - identified as having established the very basis for
successful market reforms in China after 1979 by development economists, e.g. Amartya Sen) none of which are
the reasons 30 million Chinese starved to death
, and one could
go much further or just
put the crimes into perspective.
It would seem relevant at this point, since this variety of specious attack comes up often enough,
to point out to my fine readers that committing a crime one day and doing a good deed the next does
not make you innocent of the crime, and that pointing out the good deed does not by itself amount
to either denial or apologia for the crime, nor does attempting to understand the crime
and why it was committed.
Chomsky has in the past stated, to the outrage of many, that these articles actually justified the attack on Pearl Harbor":
says John Williamson, helpfully linking to the supposed source
of this outrage, where in fact Chomsky says "That doctrine [preventative war] would, for example, justify Japan's attack on US military
bases in Pearl Harbor and Manila" in the middle of an attack on "that doctrine" which obviously Chomksy doesn't believe in.
- Voiced support for Communists in Hanoi.
Chomsky's response is here, the account of his tour of North Vietnam is
here, I haven't
found any essays in which he discusses the regime much itself. Starr's
criticism might warrant a response, were the
crimes of the National Liberation Front he describes in any way unique to the NLF - the crimes of the US
were similar and vastly greater in scale. Considering the millions
of innocents killed by the US and prolonged suffering inflicted due to the US campaign,
I don't see how one could pick out anything resembling a positive force besides the various factions of
people's movements defending their own country in the South, which didn't only include the Communist party but a large
contingent of Buddhists, for example, that were purposefully wiped out by the US military and US installed
regimes in the South. I believe Chomsky's argument on this
point is that contingents inside the NLF were in fact the only possible source of popular opposition to the Communists,
and that it was destroyed by the American campaign. It's a claim worth looking into, at least. Starr, in pontificating
on the great merits of the US liberators who "tried to save South Vietnam", makes at least as
poor a choice in heros as Chomsky.
Starr also comments that "the 3 million deaths attributed to the USA, about 2 million of those were murders
committed by the Khmer Rouge", which to my knowledge is blatantly false. Casualty figures for South Vietnam
are around 1-2 million, ditto for the North, and an additional million in Laos and Cambodia due to American
bombing campaigns; the range of 1-2 million further casualties in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 are split
somewhere between the US (as well as other interfering outside powers - Russia and China) and the Khmer Rouge
(victims of KR mass murder, and victims of
joint US-bombing/KR-policy instigated mass famine and disease - how one divvies up the blame exactly is probably a matter
for bored sophists or dedicated specialists, and while I may be the former I'm certainly not latter).
That's a pretty piss poor disconnect with the facts.
No Treason apparently passes itself off as a libertarian journal,
the basis being ripping its title from a Lysander Spooner
but the foreign policy views it expresses seem more or less incomprehensible vulgarity.
- Uses the same rhetorical
baiting upon his targets he accuses his targets of using: That's politics for you. He seems
especially fond of calling people he presumably considers wholly subservient to the state "Stalinists"
and the like. Not at all a very nice thing to say about somebody.
- The NYT Book Review called him "arguably the most important intellectual alive":
Maybe a good reason to doubt his veracity (ha ha, isn't he funny).
A lesson on checking your sources:
Perhaps I ought to begin by reporting something that's never read -- the line about the "arguably the most
in the world and so on comes from a publisher's blurb. And you always got to watch those things because if you
go back to the original you'll find that that sentence is actually there -- this is in The New York Times --
but the next sentence is: "Since that's the case, how can he write such terrible things about American foreign
policy?" And they never quote that part.
- Supported US Intervention in Haiti
: Either he's too knee-jerk or not knee-jerk enough.
He actually opposed it before he supported it. After a US supported coup ousted the elected president of
Haiti said president managed to lobby the US government into reversing its support, in turn acquiring a US military
intervention to oust the US supported junta and re-install the president the US ousted. The alternative
to military intervention was, these critics argue, "a struggle by the working class and oppressed masses in
Haiti to bring down the military regime".
In so far as this option was realistic the option to convince Clinton not to insist that the ousted
president endorse the policies of the junta, thus abridging the need for a revolution to acquire the independence
for a democratically elected leader to reverse said policies - would also have been realistic, and would have been
the less bloody.
- Social-democrat: see this, it's boring.
- old-fashioned patriarch: Self-admitted,
"I think there's probably some validity to it."
- "the kind of intellectual who weakened Weimar": the opinion of an aging and great [ed: my opinion] poet. If we knew what he meant by it exactly we might comment, so: Perhaps.
- JFK's decision to withdraw from Vietnam, or not: The Boston Review, 2003, James K Galbraith on JFK's
Exit Strategy, and some back and forth. On a first reading it looks like - from Galbraiths argument alone - the argument is actually that JFK had decided to withdraw US military from Vietnam on the condition that it could be successfully fought entirely as a proxy war, "successfully", perhaps in the sense that inevitable eventual failure of whatever kind might be deferred to the rule of some other sucker.
For the most part it doesn't seem particularly important - just counterfactual hubris or at least a not very useful false dichotomy: a withdrawal of American 'advisers' most certainly didn't mean an end to US intervention in Vietnam - unless one wishes to post hoc identify a motive for a criminal conspiracy by the CIA or military intelligence or whoever to assassinate President Kennedy for not continuing to persue a war the intelligence agencies and military had more or less all already declared unwinnable shortly after taking it over from the French. That's the Oliver Stone schtick, right? Back, and to the left.
- Brand Name: I don't care much for the interview books either. Once in a blue
moon he'll say something new or interesting in them, but for the most part they're just rehashes of
what he says in books that arguably represent some degree of scholarship. Except for
What Uncle Sam Wants, which is good for a laugh. A common mistake is the tendency
to shread him, or for that matter most folks, down into a handfull of pithy slogans and substituting
them for the thing. This problem is left as an exercise for the reader.
- Defends the Orcs during the third age of
middle earth. The bastard.
- Fundementalist Leftist - Sudan and 9/11: Chomsky sometimes
self-describes as a conservative with
regard to foreign policy, yet another of his polemics on behalf of the enlightenment, I suppose.
So "fundementalist leftist" as described by Leo Casey during a
debate shortly after 9/11
(pretty much identical as had out between NC and Hitchens).
Having looked through it I can't see much of substance except Casey's contestation of
the statistics about the Sudan bombing and US culpability there-of, which is at the
same time admitted as much by Chomsky, as he notes their speculative nature to begin with.
Casey throws in a final word
on this subject elsewhere. There were numerous protestations from "the left" about Chomsky's position on
9/11, namely the "obscene comparison" of the WTC attacks with the Sudan bombing - the problem here is that
no moral comparison was made, least of all one implying that the USG "intended" to inflict civillian
casualties. The USG didn't give a damn either way, as was made clear by the ensuing embargo that caused
so many. The implication exists in the reader's head, and that assumption just makes an ass out
of you and me.
His position is clearer when he drops the anologies:
TONY JONES: Is there any comparison between the suicide bombers and the September 11 suicide bombers?
PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY: None whatsoever. Al Qaeda was not under US military occupation. They claim they were, like their justification is that the US was occupying Saudi Arabia. You can argue about their claim. It certainly doesn't justify their act. What the right response was to the terrorist bombings on September 11 is another question. If we want to talk about that, we should be willing to establish some principles. So for example, one elementary principle is that if something is right for us, then it's right for others. If it's wrong for others, it's wrong for us. If we can't accept that principle, we can't even talk about right and wrong. So if those who believe that the right way to respond to September 11 was by bombing Afghans, should also believe that the right way to respond to US terror is by bombing Washington. I don't know anybody who believes that. I certainly don't. So therefore, almost the entire discussion of this topic that has taken place since September 11 can simply be excluded on the grounds that it does not even rise to the minimal moral level.
Chomsky states later in the interview,
"An attack I mean, to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that would be a boon, as I said, but that's not the goal."
Whatever the hell that means.
- "silent genocide": This generally takes the form "Chomsky predicted a silent genocide in Afghanistan",
which, if you read what he said
it's plain that he was paraphrasing others who were predicting mass casualties because
5-8 million Afghans were on the verge of starvation and dependent on foreign aid flows that would be disrupted
by any prolonged American lead war. E.g. he was paraphrasing or lifting quotes
from stuff generally like: this,
On that note, little or no effort has really been expended by much of anybody to try and account for how many
indirect casualties of the war
there were, which surely was in the tens of thousands, and while not a silent "genocide", it does perhaps rise
to the level of silent mass slaughter.
and the Balkans; or
"inability to cope with post-cold war realities":
Some bulk of the left end of the spectrum that hadn't already joined the rest of
the spectrum and frowned on Chomsky's rejection of US intervention.
Granted it's not so much rejection as rejection of the inability for the US to
think of anything better than "bomb them back to the stoneage". The reality is that
there wasn't the kind of crisis going on that NATO et. al. claimed there was, and the US
was intervening in a civil war between Belgrade and the KLA. It wasn't a mark of a crazed
mind to oppose it.
His fundemental thesis is that US foreign policy
has been contiguous since the turn of the century - in fact before - and since it's his case that during the Cold War
the Cold War primarily served propaganda purposes and little else it would make sense that Chomsky would
be unable to deal with post-cold war "realities", since he doesn't, to begin with, think the Cold War
had that much to do with reality, there are examples that
that give evidence to this thesis in the post-Cold war era -
but perhaps he paints, as many have argued, with too broad a brush.
Adrian Hastings, one oft-cited critic, is wrong on the point that the NATO bombing assured refugee returns
would be "not to worse conditions ... than before the bombing" being as the bombing destroyed
immense proportions of civillian infrastructure. Chomsky's response to Hastings' comments
are here. NYT correspondent David Binder's Mediterranean Quarterly paper on Serbian refugee populations -
a reference people have a hard time digging up - can be found
Somewhat worth investigating is
this, and to a lesser
extent this. More worth investigating
- Numerous other trivial details
are worth debating or taking gregariously out of proportion, and all for the better I say, and
here's a Marxist critique
that's interesting, funny in the way only true-blooded Marxists can be.
Brad DeLong gets around to making one or two more or less
that should be obvious to begin with (namely context, completeness - both of which NC basically agrees with, again, he's an
activist, not a historian, and furthermore writing an analysis of Washington, not Belgrade). Herman eventually
got around to sticking a fork in it,
but by and large it's tone over substance.
"[A] standard device by which the conformist intellectuals of East or West deal with irritating dissident opinion is to try to overwhelm it with a flood of lies." --Chomsky
Russil Wvong does significantly better:
on point 3.1 Chomsky explicitly accepts that popular struggle can proceed through
reform of the existing system; on point 3.2 the idea that the US sought to "replicate [its] domestic
economic and political system abroad: capitalist democracy" doesn't seem to bear up to the apparent fact
that we often overthrew popular or democratic regimes, which often were more or less capitalist -
to enforce Western dominated economic systems that arguably have some sort of resemblance to capitalism.
The rest of the assessments strike me as fair, though I think most of the instances of 3.5's "misquoting",
e.g., Samuel Huntington, aren't misquotes: if you
bother reading NC's reply or for that matter the original the disagreement is
Huntington clarifying that he doesn't explicitly support mass murder, an addenum to his explanation of why the US
was resorting to mass murder, which was what Chomsky quoted; the quote Russil sites of Kennan
does not mischaracterize Kennan, as Chomsky doesn't say Kennan was arguing for the trumpeting of "idealist
slogans", but that they were trumpeted.
of Hegemony or Survival.
- He's just another four-eyed MIT looney. Naw, you didn't have your reading glasses on; he's a fucking
The odd thing about all the controversy is how much it enhances this random academic's
mystique. It's probably just a propaganda campaign to make him seem more important
than he really is: for all I know it's been engineered by the government to undermine unpatriotic
feelings abroad - after all we're all Americans now - by giving them some sort of American who
agrees that their grievances against the US have some basis in reality. Or something. This paragraph
may some day turn into a fine wisecrack.
One discussion question is whether all this Cold War shit that Chomsky has spent over 40 years railing
against was really necessary. George Kennan - to name an "unabashed elitist who distrusted democratic processes",
- certainly didn't think so,
and if one of the primary architects of the Cold War died believing there were
better options, that "the general effect of
cold war extremism was to delay rather than hasten the great change that overtook the Soviet Union at the end of
the 1980's", and that much of our foreign engagement was unnecessary I think it's sort of a moot
point. Others nevertheless
come to opposite conclusions.
Given all the
complex geopolitical analysis somewhat more
forgiving of US sponsored atrocities, nevermind the war historian's favorite "mankind is evil,
history is brutal" segue, one wonders at the real threat poised to the US if we had
allowed popular 'socialist' governments to go ahead with their plans and managed in some way
to act as a moderating influence on dictatorships, communist or not. For the most
part we've at least attempted to overturn any government we feasibly could that didn't match up with our strict economic
policies, and when a nation got out of our control we immediately put trade embargos on them or
intervened in some more violent fashion.
I'm of the mind that sparing totaliterarians spoils America. But then, this is where the actual
On the other hand if we spend all our time dealing with garbage like Horowitz's
"The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky" it's hard to
see how any such discussion will take place, which is perhaps why there's so much garbage to haul
around. Kevin Carson does a decent job of dissecting
problems with Chomsky's critical work, not many of his critics even bother. It'd
be one thing if I could find efforts that aren't just screeds of libel, misrepresentation, or
misunderstanding. This is unfortunately what so much of it amounts to, since the object is, apparently,
to merely brush an uncomely bug aside.
For example it's worth pointing out that Chomsky's criticism doesn't include glowing reviews
of the US government's involvement in positive programs, say disaster relief - a not insignificant
porportion of US projects in the past 50 years have been exactly that. He gives brief mention
of them only when aid programs are abused as measures against misbehaving clients or to
support behaving clients. Does this make it all right to train death squads and supply
weapons to militant dictatorships in third world countries? Can you still tie disaster relief projects
into cynical motivations and third world debt schemes? The case could be made, you might
not be able to call them altruistic, which isn't the point except for those who wish to describe
it as such, but they might nevertheless be good programs. As explained already, he might not disagree that
they are good, and one can find him defending, say, Paul Farmer's work in Haiti or World Bank projects
in Columbia, which has been dependent, as it were, on some contributions from the US government.
As, likewise already explained, the good deed does not forgive the crime. Is defense enough to
pass as advocacy, is it self-evident to those who follow his arguments?
The remaining problem with Chomsky is that where one would like to disagree with him he often says
nothing of substance,
and thus nothing disputable. Which is a game - or service or persuit of intellectual honesty, whatever -
he plays: here is the objective evidence
so far as anyone has bothered to ascertain; here is a problem; where is the solution? And it serves
political contrivances, much as any other pundit serves their purpose with contrivance, but where can he be refuted, where
can he be caught lying outright to serve political contrivance? I don't see the basis for the attacks.
His moral philosophy may be uncomplex, which he seems perfectly happy
pointing out ('too complex a matter, we understand nothing about it', to paraphrase)
but when he gets facts wrong it's always been - from what I've seen -
because the facts aren't in yet, in which case he or his source has simply speculated wrong about complex circumstances.
Were he only so dishonest he could be cast onto every
apathetic's favorite pundits-full-of-shit scrap pile. Instead one could attempt to have some sort of discussion,
and what red blooded American wants to have one of those?
At the same time that Chomsky says little of import he does some service in
giving the reader plenty to think about before he gets up and leaves the room, huffing insinuations that
his opponents cannot possibly mean what they are saying. What the appropriate
response to American power and the use thereof is is mostly left as an exercise for the reader, despite his
endorsements of international law, a simple notion of basic justice, and 'moral truisms'. Aside from an
open endorsement for libertarian-socialism there is little Thou Shalt in Chomsky that isn't,
for the most part, in agreement with every other moralist the human species has conjured into existence.
This is perhaps as it should be. The heartless conservative
and bleeding-heart liberal alike can learn two things of value, if they don't know it well enough already,
from Ole Gnome: that man is full of folly no matter what his politics and no matter his nation, and that
if our intention is not to
repeat the mistakes of the past then our own mistakes are all too quickly excused, if not forgotten altogether.
"You say Noam Chomsky's work 'produces a lot of interesting facts from documentation that otherwise wouldn't have seen the light of day, but it doesn't explore alternatives and it doesn't makes its moral position clear'
Now, I don't know about you (or maybe I do), but that is exacly what I like about his work, and I believe that that is exactly the purpose of his work, and that is the message that he wants to get out to you(please correct me if you know better). Chomsky's whole shtick is that he wants us to be aware of what is going on and intellegent enough to make our own decisions on what our moral position will be. Unplug yourself from the force-fed, pablum opinions that we are bombarded with every day, form your own opinion. He takes examples of BigMedia butchery of the 'facts', slaps down the biggest mound of verifiable, reference laden information you have ever seen and then says 'so, what do think now?'."
"Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration."
--Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961