Noam Chomsky and his critics

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Louis Proyect

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Aug 15, 2002, 11:03:35 AM8/15/02
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In the aftermath of September 11th, certain sectors of the US left
buckled under ruling class pressure and turned against Noam Chomsky.
His uncompromising anti-imperialism might have been acceptable during
the 1980s when the Sandinistas were under Washington's gun, but in
today's repressive atmosphere no quarter is given to the dissident
intellectual. Of course, no quarter is asked from Chomsky, who remains
fearless and principled as ever.

To the chagrin of ruling class pundits and weak-kneed leftists, a
collection of interviews with Chomsky, which has been published under
the title "9/11," has become a best seller. According to a May 5th
Washington Post article, the book had already sold 160,000 copies and
been translated into a dozen languages, from Korean to Japanese to two
varieties of Portuguese.

In an attempt to warn people away from the book, the Post cites Brian
Morton, supposedly "a novelist and essayist of the left," who regards
Chomsky as an important intellectual whose arguments have suffered a
sclerotic hardening. He says, "Chomsky sees the world in a very stark
way and gets at certain truths in that way, but ultimately his view is
so simplistic that it's not useful. He's become a phase that people on
the left should go through when they are young."

It should come as no surprise that the Washington Post failed to
identify the segment of the left Morton is associated with. As it
turns out, he is an editor of Dissent Magazine, a publication that
might be described as social democracy in a state of advanced rigor
mortis. Irving Howe, the founder of the magazine, was a staunch
supporter of the Vietnam War. The current editor, Michael Walzer,
stumped for Bush's war against terrorism in the Fall 2001 issue,
stating: "We have to defend our lives; we are also defending our way
of life. Everyone says this, but it is true. The terrorists oppose and
hate our way of life--and would still oppose and hate it even if we
lived our lives far better than we do."

Eric Alterman and Christopher Hitchens, contributors to The Nation
Magazine, a left liberal weekly that has published continuously since
the Civil War, have jumped on the anti-Chomsky bandwagon with a
vengeance. Although the magazine has had a reputation for principled
anti-imperialism in the past, it has shifted noticeably to the right
in recent years. Most would explain this as a function of tail-ending
the Clinton administration.

Alterman, admits on his MSNBC.com 'blog' that Chomsky "did a lot of
good work on East Timor." But when he accused the United States of
"perpetrating a holocaust in Afghanistan" and compared the attack on
the pharmaceutical factory in Somalia with that on the Twin Towers, he
went out of bounds and became "the mirror image of the ignorant
jingoism of Bennett, Krauthammer, Kelly, Will, etc."

Christopher Hitchens has been the author of the most visible and
controversial attacks against Chomsky. In flag-waving attack on the
peace movement in the September 24, 2001 Nation titled "Of Sin, the
Left & Islamic Fascism." Hitchens describes Chomsky as "soft on crime
and soft on fascism." With such people, he adds, "No political
coalition is possible."
(http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=special&s=hitchens20010924)

For some on the postmodernist left, Chomsky has also become
objectionable. Michael Berube, a commentator on the arts and society,
feels that "the Chomskian left has consigned itself to the dustbin of
history." In accounting for the split between the "Chomskian left" and
"the Hitchens left," Berube surmises that "the simple fact that bombs
were dropping" might have something to do with it. He writes:

**For U.S. leftists schooled in the lessons of Cambodia, Libya, and
the School of the Americas, all U.S. bombing actions are suspect: they
are announced by cadaverous white guys with bad hair, they are covered
by seven cable channels competing with one another for the catchiest
"New War" slogan and Emmy awards for creative flag display, and they
invariably kill civilians, the poor, the wretched, the disabled.
Surely, there is much to hate about any bombing campaign.**
(http://www.centerforbookculture.org/context/no10/berube.html)

Dispensing with the relativism and playful irony that characterizes
the postmodernist left, Berube reminds his readers that war is a
serious business:

**Yet who would deny that a nation, once attacked, has the right to
respond with military force, and who seriously believes that anyone
could undertake any "nation-building" enterprise in Afghanistan
without driving the Taliban from power first?**

Bad Subjects, another postmodernist outlet, has joined the
anti-Chomsky crusade as well. In the latest online edition
(http://eserver.org/bs/reviews/2002-3-11-4.49PM.html), Joe Lockard
complains:

**The excursion begins with a simple postulate from which flows all
manner of derivatives: the United States is the leading terrorist
state. Mr. Smith isn't going to Washington; Mr. Smith is going to
Terrorism Central. Why ever do Chomsky-quoters wonder why their hero
isn't invited to address a special joint session of Congress?**

My only wonder is how a member of the Bad Subjects collective would
deem a trip to Congress worth the trouble. One supposes that despite
all the transgressive gestures of our postmodernist friends that
bourgeois respectability remains their underlying desire.

It is simple to understand why Chomsky has been targeted. As the most
visible and respected figure in the radical movement, he is a tempting
target. When one is involved in a street fight, it is good psychology
to knock out your biggest and most powerful opponent and thus
demoralize the ranks of the enemy. This article will consider how
Chomsky became such a preeminent figure. In the course of this
discussion, we will examine some of his limitations that, needless to
say, are of a totally different sort than those alleged by his foes.
We understand that it is exactly his ability to stand up to wartime
pressures that distinguishes him from the run-of-the-mill
intellectual.

From Robert Barsky's first-rate biography and intellectual portrait of
Noam Chomsky (Noam Chomsky: a life of dissent, MIT Press 1998), we
learn that he was born on December 7, 1928 to Dr. William (Zev)
Chomsky and Elsie Simonofsky, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Chomsky's father was the principal of a Hebrew school and raised his
son according to traditional Jewish beliefs. Although his parents
identified with the New Deal, various cousins, aunts and uncles were
further to the left. Within the extended Chomsky household, various
opinions clashed with each other. Against this political backdrop, it
was inevitable that he would come to identify with the left,
especially since the radical opinions he heard all about him were
reinforced by "seeing people coming to the door and trying to sell
rags or apples" and " travelling in a trolley car past a textile
factory where women were on strike, and watching riot police beat the
strikers".

The bulk of the young people who became radicalized during the 1930s
joined the Communist Party, while a smaller number became
anti-Stalinists. And within this minority most joined the Trotskyist
movement or the left wing of the Socialist Party, which tended to
overlap. There were, however, a smaller number that identified with
anarchism or the left communism (sometimes called council communism)
that constituted a reaction to the compromises with world capitalism
forced on the USSR. Noam Chomsky became part of this current.

Chomsky created an eclectic blend of council communism, anarchism and
a left-Zionism that was natural to a Jewish household that retained
many traditional beliefs side-by-side with progressive politics. All
three influences reinforced each other and produce what appears to be
a life-long affinity for small-scale cooperatives against "state
socialism."

While most of his writings focus on US crimes, his ideas about locally
based alternatives to capitalism and state socialism form a consistent
thread throughout his career. For example, while his 1967 "American
Power and the New Mandarins" is mostly devoted to a withering attack
on the 'trahison des clercs' that made the Vietnam War possible, there
is also a chapter that includes a lengthy discussion of the Spanish
Civil War. Although framed as a reply to liberal interpretations that
justified repression of the anarchists, it is also a defense of
anarchism itself, especially as expressed in the Aragon collectives.
Chomsky puts the blame on "authoritarian centralization" rather than
on a class-collaborationist Soviet foreign policy. The Marxist view,
contrary to Chomsky's, is that centralization cannot be a meaningful
term when detached from political economy and such key class criteria
as ownership of the means of production.

Chomsky leaned at early date toward the Israel kibbutz as some kind of
"socialist experiment", long after the colonization intentions of the
settlers had become obvious. He did turn against the particular
kibbutz he worked on, but not because of any economic shortcomings.
Instead, the racism of the settlers was the key factor. To this day,
Chomsky still speaks positively about the Zionist outposts without
really addressing concerns about the class nature of the Israeli
state. (Guardian, May 14, 2001)

Chomsky has never written systematically about how his brand of
small-scale socialism will be achieved. This would require a
discussion of matters such as human agency and economic policy that
seem to matter little to him. For despite his affiliation with a
movement that wrote a vast literature on such questions, Chomsky
himself often seems content to proclaim its superiority to state
socialism on face value.

Understandably, this attitude often veers off into a kind of
moralizing that is symptomatic of the mood of the intelligentsia at
the beginning of the Cold War, when both "camps" seemed equally
evil--the very time indeed that Noam Chomsky was maturing politically
and intellectually. Barsky comments:

**Among those figures he was drawn to, George Orwell is especially
fascinating, both because of the impact that he had on a broad
spectrum of society and the numerous contacts and acquaintances he had
in the libertarian left. Chomsky refers to Orwell frequently in his
political writings, and when one reads Orwell's works, the reasons for
his attraction to someone interested in the Spanish Civil War from an
anarchist perspective become clear.**

Armed with Orwell's sometimes troubling "pox on both your houses"
outlook, Chomsky has often tended to evoke the beleaguered hero of
"1984" who faced a world divided into equally evil totalitarian
powers. This mindset shapes his discourse on the double-speak of an
entire generation of US administrations. Unfortunately, this stance
cannot do justice to the underlying dynamic of the clash between the
superpowers, which is much more of a function of divergent class
interests than blind worship of the State. In all fairness to Chomsky,
as we shall see momentarily, this perspective has not led him to blur
over the dominant and aggressive character of the Anglo-American
imperialism, as it did Orwell who eventually collaborated with the
British secret police against the "enemies" of freedom.

Indeed, much of the wrath directed against Chomsky seems tied up with
his refusal to bend an inch toward the kind of free world triumphalism
Francis Fukuyama upheld. If anything, Chomsky's antagonism toward
American imperialism has only deepened since the end of the cold war.

For Chomsky, the cold war was essentially a confrontation along
North-South lines rather than East-West. In this 500-year war of
conquest against colonized peoples, anarchism or left communism rarely
played a prominent role. But this does not prevent Chomsky from
identifying with those in struggle, whatever their ideology.

Turning to "World Orders Old and New,"(based on lectures given at the
American University in Cairo in 1993), we find a remarkable analysis
of the cold war that, despite Chomsky's hostility to the Kremlin,
elucidates the one-sided nature of the conflict. Citing Guatemalan
journalist Julio Godoy, Chomsky concurs that Eastern Europeans were
"luckier than Central Americans." While Prague was degrading and
humiliating reformers, the US backed government in Guatemala was
organizing a virtual genocide that ultimately cost the lives of
150,000 indigenous people. Indeed, the fearlessness of the Czech
students' "Velvet Revolution" might just be explained by the refusal
of the Czech army to shoot to kill.

Despite his animosity toward the USSR, he is even-handed about its
place in history. In contrast to European and American imperialism,
the Soviet Union appeared to operate on principles other than profit.
During the period of Soviet "exploitation" of Eastern Europe, the
satellite countries actually had a higher standard of living than the
mother country. This was the result of a huge subsidy, amounting to
$80 billion in the 1970s.

For Chomsky, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not usher in the
emancipation of humanity. Instead, without the USSR as a
counter-balance, imperialism has been able to step up the level of
exploitation in the third world, including Nicaragua where the
Sandinista revolution had been toppled:

**It is only fair to add that the wonders of the free market have
opened alternatives, not only for rich landowners, speculators,
corporations and other privileged sectors, but even for the starving
children who press their faces against car windows at street corners
at night, pleading for a few cents to survive. Describing the
miserable plight of Managua's street children David Werner, the author
of "Where There is No Doctor" and other books on health and society,
writes that "marketing shoe cement to children has become a lucrative
business," and imports from multinational suppliers are rising nicely
as "shopkeepers in depressed communities do a thriving business with
weekly refills of the children's little bottles" for glue-sniffing
said to "take away hunger." The miracle of the market is again at
work, though Nicaraguans still have much to learn.**

Although Chomsky has not written much in the way of a theoretical
appreciation of the short-lived Sandinista revolution, there is little
doubt that this country engaged his sympathies in a way that other
countries with Marxist leaderships did not. Chomsky spoke out
tirelessly to defend Nicaragua during the late 1980s. In a debate with
John Silber, the Reaganite President of Boston University, Chomsky
said:

**Now, to return to Nicaragua and to return to the real world, I never
described the Sandinistas as perfect democrats or whatever your phrase
was. What I did was quote the World Bank, OXFAM, the Jesuit Order and
others who recognize that what they were doing was to use the meager
resources of that country for the benefit of the poor majority. That's
why health standards shot up. That's why literacy shot up. That's why
agrarian reform proceeded, the only place in the region. That's why
subsistence agriculture improved and consumption of food increased and
that's why we attacked them. It had nothing to do with democracy.**
http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/interviews/86-silber.html

Chomsky did not allow his ideological predispositions to interfere
with his perception of reality. Anybody who visited Nicaragua during
this period, including Chomsky, came away with a deep appreciation for
the dedication and honesty of the FSLN. (Chomsky's own daughter Avi
was a volunteer with Tecnica, an organization that involved hundreds
of others, included the author of this article.)

After the downfall of the Central American revolution, the enemies of
US imperialism have been much easier to demonize. While tens of
thousands of US citizens participated in Sister Cities projects for
Nicaragua or raised money for the FMLN in El Salvador, solidarity on
behalf of Iraq or Yugoslavia has been much more difficult to organize
for obvious reasons.

Many intellectuals, who found it relatively easy to call for an end to
the contra war, capitulated during the war against Iraq and
Yugoslavia. Chomsky's stubborn refusal to go along with the
"humanitarian intervention" mood in these circles led to his isolation
from their ranks, but growing popularity among youthful radicals who
questioned not only the motives of the USA but the effectiveness of
replacing one dictator with another.

No matter how repugnant Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic appeared
to rightward moving American progressives, September 11th constituted
a profound challenge to the anti-interventionist left. There was and
still is enormous pressure to conform to the ruling class consensus on
the war, on the basis--to use Michael Berube's less than felicitous
language--that "who would deny that a nation, once attacked, has the
right to respond with military force." Surely, it is a different
matter when Reagan supported the contras in Nicaragua. The Sandinistas
never attacked a single American citizen.

But when three airplanes came crashing into the Pentagon and the Twin
Towers, many journalists and intellectuals appeared ready to enlist in
the Marines to wreak vengeance, if they hadn't been of such advanced
years.

Mark Naison, a historian favorable to the CPUSA, told the New York
Observer "if anyone said anything about America's imperialist
activities making it the moral equivalent of the Taliban and Al Qaeda
… I would beat them up. I'm six feet tall and 200 pounds."
http://www.nyobserver.com/pages/story.asp?ID=4975

Against this rising tide of bellicosity and xenophobia, Chomsky's
voice has been a beacon of calmness and reason. In its rush to
organize a "war against terrorism," the USA conveniently ignores the
fact that it is one of most dangerous terrorist states in the world.
"9-11" is a short anthology of interviews with Noam Chomsky that has
become a best seller. It is one of the few places, outside of the
Internet and the ghettoized socialist press, that ordinary citizens
can get a counter-analysis.

Drawing from a wealth of previous research, Chomsky reminds his
readers of US culpability without excusing the attack on the WTC and
the Pentagon, which he characterizes as "horrifying atrocities."

The pamphlet contains Chomsky's comparison of Clinton's attack on a
medicinal factory in Khartoum with the September 11th attacks, which
enraged Christopher Hitchens to no end:

**According to credible analyses readily available to us, then,
proportional to population, the destruction of Al-Shifa is as if the
bin Laden network, in a single attack on the U.S., caused "hundreds of
thousands of people-many of them children-to suffer and die from
easily treatable diseases," though the analogy, as noted, is unfair.
Sudan is "one of the least developed areas in the world. Its harsh
climate, scattered populations, health hazards and crumbling
infrastructure combine to make life for many Sudanese a struggle for
survival", a country with endemic malaria, tuberculosis, and many
other diseases, where "periodic outbreaks of meningitis or cholera are
not uncommon," so affordable medicines are a dire necessity (Jonathan
Belke and Kamal ElFaki, technical reports from the field for the Near
East Foundation). It is, furthermore, a country with limited arable
land, a chronic shortage of potable water, a huge death rate, little
industry, an unserviceable debt, wracked with AIDS, devastated by a
vicious and destructive internal war, and under severe sanctions. What
is happening within is largely speculation, including Belke's (quite
plausible) estimate that within a year tens of thousands had already
"suffered and died" as the result of the destruction of the major
facilities for producing affordable drugs and veterinary medicines.**

Concrete examinations of US criminality such as these are Chomsky's
strong point, rather than socialist ideology. Over the decades, he has
invested countless hours into removing the tarnished halo from the
head of US foreign policy. As US politics becomes increasingly
polarized, his books will continue to be an extremely valuable
resource for the left, no matter his views on Kibbutzim or the Spanish
Civil War.

This article will conclude with an examination of some controversies
attached to Chomsky's political career that were used in a demagogic
fashion against him during the struggle over support for the "war on
terror." I speak of the Faurisson and Khmer Rouge affairs that have
dogged Chomsky over the years no matter how often and how lucidly he
has tried to defend his reputation against ideological lynch gangs.

For an example of how these issues were used against Chomsky, we turn
to Alterman's MSNBC blog cited earlier. He writes:

**As for Noam, well, it is unfair to compare him to Bill Bennett,
because a) he does appear to be decent person with very good manners,
and b) he has a day job as perhaps the most important linguistic
philosopher since Wittgenstein. But politically, I'm sorry. I defended
the guy for years, even through the Faurisson affair. And I think he
did a lot of good work on East Timor. But look at the man's political
judgment. He defended Faurisson. He championed the Khmer Rouge.**

To put Chomsky's defense of Faurisson's right to teach in perspective,
it is necessary to understand that he has been a free speech
absolutist from early on.

In Chapter Four of Barsky's study, we learn that Chomsky views the
university as some kind of refuge from politics and the class
struggle. As Chomsky put it in 1996, "Nothing should be done to impede
people from teaching and doing their research even if at that very
moment it was being used to massacre and destroy."

During the time Chomsky was involved with protests against the war in
Vietnam, he was always hostile--like Theodor Adorno--to on-campus
protests that got in the way of pursuing the Truth. It was one thing
to march against the war; it was another thing entirely to occupy a
building that was dedicated to counter-insurgency research. According
to Barsky, Chomsky admired "the challenge to the universities" but
thought their rebellions were "largely misguided," and he "criticized
[them] as they were in progress at Berkeley (1966) and Columbia (1968)
particularly. This is corroborated by Norman Mailer, who spent time
with Chomsky in a jail cell after being arrested at the Pentagon
protest in 1969: "He had, in fact, great reservations about the form
that the 1968 student uprisings ultimately took."

When Robert Faurisson, a holocaust denier, was relieved of his duties
at the University of Lyon, Chomsky signed a petition on his behalf.
Certainly, if scientists at MIT could conduct research even if it was
used to "massacre and destroy", why would deny the right of a
professor to earn a living even if he was guilty of nothing except of
defending such practices in his spare time. While this act might have
been understood on its own terms, Chomsky's 'obiter dictum' that "I
have nothing to say here about the work of Robert Faurisson or his
critics, of which I know very little, or about the topics they
address, concerning which I have no special knowledge" raised hackles,
as did his characterization of Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical
liberal of some sort".

This led French Marxist antiquities scholar Pierre Vidal-Naquet to
write a pointed reply to Chomsky. Even on free speech grounds, he
found the petition dubious. It stated that Faurisson had been
prevented from conducting research in public libraries and archives,
an allegation that is certainly false according to Vidal-Naquet.
Furthermore, Faurisson's books on the holocaust have been published
without interference and he has given interviews on two occasions to
Le Monde. Addressing Chomsky in sorrow just as much as anger,
Vidal-Naquet writes in Assassins of Memory:

**The simple truth, Noam Chomsky, is that you were unable to abide by
the ethical maxim that you had imposed. You had the right to say: my
worst enemy has the right to be free, on condition that he not ask for
my death or that of my brothers. You did not have the right to say: my
worst enemy is a comrade, or a "relatively apolitical sort of
liberal." You did not have the right to take a falsifier of history
and to recast him in the colors of truth.**

When Chomsky and his writing partner Edward Herman were charged with
apologetics on behalf of the Khmer Rouge, whose assault on the people
of Cambodia attained near-genocidal proportions, the attack had as
much merit as it did in the Faurisson case. While poor judgment may
explain the error in the first instance, Chomsky and Herman's
scholarship on the events in Cambodia were simply not acceptable to
established wisdom in left-liberal circles. Their sin was to compare
the relative indifference to the slaughter in East Timor to that in
Cambodia, just as it was more recently in comparing the September 11th
attacks to the Khartoum bombing. A statement such as this, contained
in "The Political Economy of Human Rights," was unacceptable:

**In the case of Cambodia reported atrocities have not only been
eagerly seized upon by the Western media but also embellished by
substantial fabrications--which, interestingly, persist even long
after they are exposed. The case of Timor is radically different. The
media have shown no interest in examining the atrocities of the
Indonesian invaders, though even in absolute numbers these are on the
same scale as those reported by sources of comparable credibility
concerning Cambodia, and relative to population, are many times as
great.**

Furthermore, Chomsky and Herman had the temerity to question the
casualty statistics in Francois Ponchaud's "Année Zéro," a book that
had a major impact on the Western intelligentsia in the mid-1970s,
particularly through a review of it by Jean Lacouture that appeared in
the New York Review of Books, a journal that has been responsible for
demonizing one enemy of US imperialism after another for over three
decades. While not questioning the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge, Chomsky
observed that Lacouture had inflated Ponchaud's estimates of civilian
casualties to the tune of two million. In a correction published
subsequently in the NY Review, Lacouture withdrew his claim and
confessed that he "should have checked more accurately the figures on
victims, figures deriving from sources that are, moreover,
questionable." In "Chomsky's Politics," Milan Rai observes that the
two million figure--despite the correction--became part of official
history.

From the standpoint of Marxism, Chomsky's preeminent place in American
politics represents something of a challenge. In contrast to the
legions of Marxist scholars who jet set from conference to conference
delivering obscure papers on how to re-interpret the Grundrisse or
understand Marx from the perspective of French poststructuralism,
Chomsky has always preferred speaking to community groups or
activists:

What are called "conferences"gatherings of intellectualsI almost never
attend. I do give endless talks and take part in many forums, but not
the kind that would be called conferences. I almost always turn down
invitations to these. Thus I almost never go to the Socialist Scholars
Conference (though I have a lot of personal friends there), or to
academic and professional conferences, etc. Virtually all of my talks
are for popular and activist groups, though typically, they are
combined with talks at universities, sometimes seminars, but more
often for mass audiences interested in the general area.

If Chomsky can be infuriatingly superficial on the major questions of
our epoch, including the nature of the USSR, he more than compensates
through his passionate devotion to the underdog. His works have been
geared to people new to radical politics, who are trying to make sense
of the discrepancy between bourgeois democracy's lofty professed
ideals and the actual record of blood, plunder and rape. The Marxist
movement can learn much from Chomsky, most of all how to speak to the
ordinary citizen. As late capitalism's contradictions continue to
mount, there will be a tremendous imperative to speak with clarity and
with authority. To do this successfully, we must pay careful attention
to Chomsky's writings. Indeed, for all of Chomsky's frequent
disparaging of Marxian socialism, his uniquely prophetic voice reminds
us of none other than Karl Marx's own.

Louis Proyect, ln...@panix.com

The Marxism mailing list: www.marxmail.org

johnebravo836

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Aug 15, 2002, 12:26:45 PM8/15/02
to

Louis Proyect wrote:
>
> In the aftermath of September 11th, certain sectors of the US left
> buckled under ruling class pressure and turned against Noam Chomsky.
> His uncompromising anti-imperialism might have been acceptable during
> the 1980s when the Sandinistas were under Washington's gun, but in
> today's repressive atmosphere no quarter is given to the dissident
> intellectual. Of course, no quarter is asked from Chomsky, who remains
> fearless and principled as ever.

[immense snip]

"Fearless" and "principled"? Er, maybe, but you left out "pedantic",
"tedious" and "irrelevant".

This may be the most remarkable piece of groveling hero-worship of
Chomsky that I've ever seen. It was definitely enjoyable to read.

Louis Proyect

unread,
Aug 15, 2002, 1:20:33 PM8/15/02
to
On Thu, 15 Aug 2002 12:26:45 -0400, johnebravo836
<johneb...@yahoo.com> wrote:

>"Fearless" and "principled"? Er, maybe, but you left out "pedantic",
>"tedious" and "irrelevant".
>
>This may be the most remarkable piece of groveling hero-worship of
>Chomsky that I've ever seen. It was definitely enjoyable to read.

Eat shit and die.

johnebravo836

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Aug 15, 2002, 2:32:02 PM8/15/02
to

You know, upon reflection, even though I still think Chomsky is
ridiculous, my remark was gratuitously insulting, and I apologize for
it.

TIPSco...@yahoo.com

unread,
Aug 15, 2002, 3:49:38 PM8/15/02
to
Well, Johnny, I think that it was good of you to appologize, in all of
the years I've been reading Usenet, I think that was the first
appology I've ever read!

I really get sick of the exchange of insults that mutates from a post
that could've really sparked some good analytical discussions.

We'll see if Louis will do likewise!

Anyhow here is my 2c. I think that Louis does raise many important
issues. One of them for me was how some liberals got hawkish and were
willing to o.k. racial profiling of Middle Easterners and also willing
to forgo basic rights in the cause of "security". In fact, I was one
of those fence sitters who fell off onto the hawk side on 9-11. I
won't go into everything that I said, felt and thought, but suffice it
to say that it took me a few days to realize I was being totally
emotional in the basis of my stance. I quickly shed my neo-patriotic
post 9-11 mindset (or lack of a "mind"-set).

In the following weeks and months I studied the history of the
situation and started to explore opinions countering the mainstream
corporate news academy. Learning the history and the conflicts of
interest between big oil and the Taliban was a deciding factor.

So Chomsky does deserve praise for standing stalwartly through this
crisis, which has knocked over so many other liberal intellectuals .


Jerry

Jez

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Aug 15, 2002, 3:50:39 PM8/15/02
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Why do you think Chomsky is ridiculous?

--
Ho hum.......
Jez
(Remove NOtSPAM to reply)


johnebravo836

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Aug 15, 2002, 4:20:14 PM8/15/02
to

"TIPSco...@yahoo.com" wrote:
>
> Well, Johnny, I think that it was good of you to appologize, in all of
> the years I've been reading Usenet, I think that was the first
> appology I've ever read!

Yeah, well, Usenet could certainly benefit from the occasional bit of
civility here and there. I don't know the guy, so I shouldn't have said
what I did.

>
> I really get sick of the exchange of insults that mutates from a post
> that could've really sparked some good analytical discussions.
>
> We'll see if Louis will do likewise!
>
> Anyhow here is my 2c. I think that Louis does raise many important
> issues. One of them for me was how some liberals got hawkish and were
> willing to o.k. racial profiling of Middle Easterners and also willing
> to forgo basic rights in the cause of "security". In fact, I was one
> of those fence sitters who fell off onto the hawk side on 9-11. I
> won't go into everything that I said, felt and thought, but suffice it
> to say that it took me a few days to realize I was being totally
> emotional in the basis of my stance. I quickly shed my neo-patriotic
> post 9-11 mindset (or lack of a "mind"-set).

So, when you stopped being emotional, and started being rational, what
were the considerations that were foremost in your thinking that led you
to change your mind?

>
> In the following weeks and months I studied the history of the
> situation and started to explore opinions countering the mainstream
> corporate news academy. Learning the history and the conflicts of
> interest between big oil and the Taliban was a deciding factor.

What, then, would have been your preferred course of action if the
decision had been yours to make? It seems to me that it's very easy to
find things to criticize in what someone else has chosen to do, but a
lot more difficult to propose realistic, feasible alternatives. But I'm
definitely open to hearing other proposals . . .

>
> So Chomsky does deserve praise for standing stalwartly through this
> crisis, which has knocked over so many other liberal intellectuals .
>
> Jerry

By saying that these other "liberal intellectuals" (and presumably you
mean Hitchens, Alterman, etc.) were "knocked over", you're clearly
saying that they've been hoodwinked, or at the least, have made a big
mistake. But please explain why you regard it as a mistake -- I can't
imagine what practical alternative there was, really.

johnebravo836

unread,
Aug 15, 2002, 5:00:21 PM8/15/02
to

Well, I'll try not to go on too long . . . Here's a guy who can't manage
to even carry on a reasonable, polite exchange of views with other
people on the far *left* -- the exchange with Hitchens in the Nation
being a case in point -- and he's presumptious enough to think that he
knows better than everyone else how international politics and diplomacy
should be carried out. I think that's hilarious. Can you imagine Prof.
Chomsky actually having to make any monumental decisions with all the
responsibility that goes along with it? Has he ever been in the position
of having to take responsibility for managing anything other than an
academic committee? He's certainly never had any "chief executive"
experience worth mentioning. Can you imagine him trying to carry out an
extremely sensitive diplomatic mission? That's material that would make
for a excellent sitcom. He can't even *talk* to people on the extreme
*left* when they even mildly disagree with him, much less *negotiate*
with moderates or people on the right. His work doesn't give me any
confidence whatsoever that he has even the slightest ability to engage
in fruitful negotiation and work out reasonable compromises with others
with different views -- and that's essential in practical politics. He
does, however, get to enjoy the smug satisfaction that comes from
convincing himself that he's smarter than any of those buffoons in
positions of power. It's not too difficult to keep that delusion going
if you never have to actually test it empirically. ;)

It's really easy to sit in the proverbial armchair and find fault --
call it "speaking truth to power" if you wish -- it's a whole 'nother
ball game actually having to come up with realistic, feasible solutions.
I used to be a pretty extreme leftist at one time, but I think that at
that time I was simply too young to appreciate the tremendous
responsibility and pressure that the decision makers have to bear in
carrying out their duties, and the complexity of the compromises they
must orchestrate to solve the conflicts bewteen innumerable interest
groups.

Are those in power often (ok, a hell of a lot more than "often")
corrupt? No doubt. Is the present campaign system a sick joke? I can't
imagine how anyone could see it as anything but that. Was the Supreme
Court decision in the last Presidential election a disgrace? It was
worse than a disgrace -- it was perhaps the most corrupt decision ever
rendered by the Supreme Court, and that's saying something. Still,
Chomsky appears not to have even the slightest appreciation of how
difficult and complex and sensitive the problems are that the decision
makers have to face and solve. They deserve at least some consideration
and respect for the difficulty of the task they face. I would really
love to see Chomsky say sometime that he's just genuinely and throughly
at a loss as to what to do about some problem. But it's difficult to
imagine such a confession coming from him, isn't it? He's always got a
rough and ready -- and invariably self-righteous -- opinion on every
problem. Oh, well, that's probably way more than you wanted hear anyway,
but you get the idea. ;)

Werner Cohn

unread,
Aug 16, 2002, 11:46:44 AM8/16/02
to
in article lmonluoiedf6bviao...@4ax.com, Louis Proyect at
lnp3@panix_nospam.com wrote on 8/15/02 1:20 PM:


>
> Eat shit and die.
>
> Louis Proyect, ln...@panix.com
>


What nice people Chomsky has as followers !

Matthew 7:16

TIPSco...@yahoo.com

unread,
Aug 17, 2002, 2:44:12 AM8/17/02
to

>Matthew 7:16
>

What nice people Christ has as followers...talk about stepping on a
land mine.

Werner Cohn

unread,
Aug 17, 2002, 11:40:05 AM8/17/02
to
in article 3d5df086...@news.enteract.com, TIPSco...@yahoo.com at
TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/17/02 2:44 AM:

>
>
>> Matthew 7:16
>>
>
> What nice people Christ has as followers...talk about stepping on a
> land mine.
>

One of the great pleasures of dealing with Chomsky and his followers is that
you learn from them how the classic text-book fallacies are used in actual
argument, or in what passes for argument.

The fallacy here is tu quoque, 'you too', or 'so is your old man'. If I
understand it correctly, we are told that land mines are bad and that
therefore the verbal violence and obscenities of Chomsky and his followers
are good.

Tu quoque has always been a favorite retort for Hitlerites, Stalinists, and
advocates of other noxious doctrines. I remember well how the Nazi press
would claim that the US treatment of Blacks was bad, and that therefore the
Nazi treatment of Jews was good. The Stalinists never tired of pointing
fingers at weaknesses in American democracy: You think the Soviet Union is
undemocratic, what about Tammany Hall ? In other words -- and here is the
truly Chomskyan logic -- if Tammany Hall is bad the Soviet Union must be
good.

Luke 6:41

TIPSco...@yahoo.com

unread,
Aug 17, 2002, 7:35:42 PM8/17/02
to
Hi,

Your "textbook falacy" was a sweeping generalization. You read one
statement by one Chomsky fan and then attempted to denigrate all
Chomsky fans through another "textbook falacy": guilt by association.
I chose to point it out your error(s) to you merely by reflecting it
back to you but you didn't get it, so there you are.

In any case, many of those calling themselves "followers of Christ"
used his name throughouth history to commit more unspeakable acts than
any other religion. I like what Mark Twain said: "If Christ were to
come back today, the last thing he would call himself is 'Christian'."
Or since you like verses "Many on the day of judgement will say to me
'Lord did we not serve you and cast out demons in your name?' and I
will say to them 'be gone from me you sons of snakes, I do not know
you'".

Unfortunately the obvious political leanings of most evangelical
churches repel anyone who is remotely radical, myself included. Let
me ask you this: Jesus only lashed out with physical violence once
against a particular group of people, who were those people? Answer:
bankers. Now why is it that now, church pews are stuffed with the
well fed asses of the participants and cheerleaders of unrestrained
hypercapitalism and anti-humanistic globalism?

I minored in philosophy, but thanks anyways for the confused and
thoroughly passive-agressive summary of fallacy per "tu quoque". Then
you insinuate that only Stalinists critique American "democracy". I
especially liked the rant where you subtly associate me with Stalinism
and Nazism. Good stuff!!!

Jerry

Werner Cohn

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 10:00:52 AM8/18/02
to
in article 3d5ed701...@news.enteract.com, TIPSco...@yahoo.com at
TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/17/02 7:35 PM:

> Hi,
>
>
>
> I minored in philosophy,
>
> Jerry
>


Minored in philosophy you say ? Well, I am completely outclassed.

Psalms 92:6

Jez

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 10:09:52 AM8/18/02
to
Why plonk bible passage numbers in ?
You don't believe in that crap do you?

Jez

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 10:35:01 AM8/18/02
to
Werner Cohn wrote:
> in article 3d5ed701...@news.enteract.com,
> TIPSco...@yahoo.com at TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/17/02
>
>
> Minored in philosophy you say ? Well, I am completely outclassed.
>
> Psalms 92:6
which says:
' Sing to the Lord , praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day. '

wow stunning
<Pratt>

Jez

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 10:39:32 AM8/18/02
to
Werner Cohn wrote:
> in article 3d5df086...@news.enteract.com,
> TIPSco...@yahoo.com at TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/17/02
> 2:44 AM:
>
<<Snippage of garbage>>
>>
>>
>>> Matthew 7:16

'By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from
thornbushes, or figs from thistles? '

>>>

>
> One of the great pleasures of dealing with Chomsky and his followers
> is that you learn from them how the classic text-book fallacies are
> used in actual argument, or in what passes for argument.
>

> Luke 6:41
'"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no
attention to the plank in your own eye? " '

Wow such profundity !
Did yer mama point that out to you?

Jez

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 10:48:45 AM8/18/02
to
johnebravo836 wrote:
>> Jez wrote:

>> Why do you think Chomsky is ridiculous?

> Well, I'll try not to go on too long . . . Here's a guy who can't

Thanks for that !
I don't see that Chomsky has any role in suggesting alternative policies,
but does have a role in exposing the difference between what the media
says and what actually happens.
oh well !

Werner Cohn

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 12:13:59 PM8/18/02
to
in article 3d5fafff$0$238$cc9e...@news.dial.pipex.com, Jez at
aoq...@NOtSPAMdsl.pipex.com wrote on 8/18/02 10:35 AM:


>> Psalms 92:6
> which says:
> ' Sing to the Lord , praise his name;
> proclaim his salvation day after day. '
>
> wow stunning
> <Pratt>
> --
> Ho hum.......
> Jez
> (Remove NOtSPAM to reply)
>
>

Psalms 92:6: A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand
this.

Jez

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 1:52:21 PM8/18/02
to
Werner Cohn wrote:
> in article 3d5fafff$0$238$cc9e...@news.dial.pipex.com, Jez at
> aoq...@NOtSPAMdsl.pipex.com wrote on 8/18/02 10:35 AM:
>
> Psalms 92:6: A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand
> this.
Aw quote the Lord
Halliifucking looyaaa

Dan Clore

unread,
Aug 18, 2002, 8:16:28 PM8/18/02
to
Jez wrote:
> Werner Cohn wrote:
> > in article 3d5df086...@news.enteract.com,
> > TIPSco...@yahoo.com at TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/17/02
> > 2:44 AM:

> >>> Matthew 7:16


> 'By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from
> thornbushes, or figs from thistles? '

"As a foulness shall ye know them."
--Abdul Alhazred, Necronomicon

--
Dan Clore

Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
All my fiction through 2001 and more. Intro by S.T. Joshi.
http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154838/thedanclorenecro

Lord We˙rdgliffe and Necronomicon Page:
http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/9879/
News for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

Said Smygo, the iconoclast of Zothique: "Bear a hammer with
thee always, and break down any terminus on which is
written: 'So far shalt thou pass, but no further go.'"
--Clark Ashton Smith

TIPSco...@yahoo.com

unread,
Aug 19, 2002, 7:56:05 AM8/19/02
to
On Sun, 18 Aug 2002 14:00:52 GMT, Werner Cohn
<wern...@worldnet.att.net> wrote:

>Minored in philosophy you say ? Well, I am completely outclassed.

So you are going to needle me about my minor? Well, I brought that up
just to say "look, I've taken basic logic and I know the standard
falacies". Don't assume that everyone here needs an explanation for
logical terminology.

Why don't you address the issues?

Werner Cohn

unread,
Aug 19, 2002, 10:19:27 AM8/19/02
to
in article 3d60dc2c...@news.enteract.com, TIPSco...@yahoo.com at
TIPSco...@yahoo.com wrote on 8/19/02 7:56 AM:

> So you are going to needle me about my minor? Well, I brought that up
> just to say "look, I've taken basic logic and I know the standard
> falacies".

But what about standard orthography ?

Jez

unread,
Aug 19, 2002, 11:00:55 AM8/19/02
to

What and learn to spell !!!

Frank Church

unread,
Aug 19, 2002, 5:26:22 PM8/19/02
to
I like what Ed Herman said about Hitchens and his change of belief:
Herman said Hitchens just wants to be invited to better cocktail
parties.

I also remember Hitchens commenting on how wonderful he thought
hatchet face, Margie Thatcher was. That witch deserves Hitchens.
Sell out bastard.

TIPSco...@yahoo.com

unread,
Aug 22, 2002, 1:23:37 AM8/22/02
to
Peripheral. Stick to the issues raised.

dizzy

unread,
Aug 23, 2002, 2:03:46 AM8/23/02
to
tog...@rocketmail.com (Frank Church) wrote in message news:<66a868c0.0208...@posting.google.com>...

Hitchens models himself on Orwell but I think in tackling Chomsky
he forgot Orwell's admission upon asking to submit an essay to a
new 'anti Fascist' magazine -
" I don't suppose there is anything
anti-fascist in shooting an elephant".

Charles Kalina

unread,
Sep 8, 2002, 6:55:54 AM9/8/02
to
For many months, I've confined myself to lurking here (and usually not
even that), but I'm bored, and having watched Chomsky on C-Span today
I can't resist a little bit of recreational dead-horse-kicking...

Louis Proyect <lnp3@panix_nospam.com> wrote in message news:<olgnluctpjl2c3uk4...@4ax.com>...


> In the aftermath of September 11th, certain sectors of the US left
> buckled under ruling class pressure and turned against Noam Chomsky.
> His uncompromising anti-imperialism might have been acceptable during
> the 1980s when the Sandinistas were under Washington's gun, but in
> today's repressive atmosphere no quarter is given to the dissident
> intellectual. Of course, no quarter is asked from Chomsky, who remains
> fearless and principled as ever.

One can't help but enjoy the far-left fighting with the
even-farther-left. It's like when the skinheads and the anarchists
start beating the crap out of each other in the street; all you need
is somebody selling hotdogs, a beer and a souvenier program. It's
especially entertaining to watch Hitchens discover -- as if nobody
else had been pointing it out in the last 30+ years -- that Chomsky's
an apologist for any brand of thuggery that happens to hate the United
States (and Israel) as much as he does.

[...]
> It is simple to understand why Chomsky has been targeted. As the most
> visible and respected figure in the radical movement, he is a tempting
> target. When one is involved in a street fight, it is good psychology
> to knock out your biggest and most powerful opponent and thus
> demoralize the ranks of the enemy.

Then again, basic tactics tell you to hit the enemy where he's weak,
not where he's strong. Perhaps Chomsky has been targeted precisely
because he is _not_ a "powerful opponent", but a weak one, a self-made
straw man caricature of unthinking knee-jerk leftism. For right-wing
critics, this makes him easy pickings. Left-wing critics, on the
other hand, would want to distance themselves from him precisely so
that they don't get dragged down with him.

Of course, I can understand why Chomsky and his supporters would
prefer to think that he's so powerful he must be destroyed ("a specter
is haunting Europe," and so forth) -- but his real influence in the
real world (i.e. outside academia) is negligible, so it's hard to
argue that he's hated because he's especially feared.

[...]
> Against this political backdrop, it
> was inevitable that he would come to identify with the left,
> especially since the radical opinions he heard all about him were
> reinforced by "seeing people coming to the door and trying to sell
> rags or apples" and " travelling in a trolley car past a textile
> factory where women were on strike, and watching riot police beat the
> strikers".

Everything we know about Chomsky's early childhood is based on his own
claims as repeated in Barsky's hagiography. Barsky apparently made no
effort to confirm independently any of Chomsky's assertions, and most
of them are not the sort of things which can be positively confirmed
or disproven. So when Chomsky says that as a child he saw riot police
beat strikers, he may be recalling an actual experience, or simply
engaged in mythomania. We've got to take his word for it that such a
neat fable -- little boy sees capitalist injustice, grows up to be
leading Marxist -- actually took place.

[...]
> While most of his writings focus on US crimes, his ideas about locally
> based alternatives to capitalism and state socialism form a consistent
> thread throughout his career.

One feature that was absent in these writings was any serious analysis
of how "state socialism" had come into being, and how his own version
of socialism would avoid its shortcomings. He was, in fact,
maddeningly vague about his positive vision, if any. For all the
verbiage he offered, he seemed to offer nothing more than "all the
theoretical good stuff about communism, without the bad stuff". How
we can achieve one without the other was never really explained.

His later work, from about the mid-1970s onward, pretty much abandons
any positive vision. He did endorse at least the temporary use of
state-socialist mechanisms to achieve his desired ends, meaning that
in practice his version seems no different from the state-socialism he
claims to oppose. The only difference is that this time the state
really will wither away -- honest, no fooling, trust us, we really
mean it this time.

Meanwhile, his endorsement of the worst sort of state-socialist
systems (e.g. the Stalinist regime in Hanoi) calls into question
either his judgment or his sincerity on this point.

[...]
> Chomsky leaned at early date toward the Israel kibbutz as some kind of
> "socialist experiment", long after the colonization intentions of the
> settlers had become obvious. He did turn against the particular
> kibbutz he worked on, but not because of any economic shortcomings.
> Instead, the racism of the settlers was the key factor.

This, again, is an unverifiable personal anecdote that -- as if by
coincidence -- provides an object lesson supporting one of Chomsky's
ideological contentions. Perhaps his colleages on the kibbutz were
racist. Perhaps he invented this (then or later) as an excuse. It
would be nice to have some sort of independent confirmation before we
throw around such accusations, although in Chomsky's system,
accusations against the United States and Israel somehow require less
proof than accusatiosn against others.

[...]
> Understandably, this attitude often veers off into a kind of
> moralizing that is symptomatic of the mood of the intelligentsia at
> the beginning of the Cold War, when both "camps" seemed equally
> evil

It strikes me that at the start of the Cold War, few people (other
than some insignificant Trotskyite sects) felt that Stalin's Soviet
bloc and the western democracies were equally evil. Most people had
fairly clear views on the subject, one way or the other, and still do.

(Who was it who asked, rhetorically, why western intellectuals fail to
grasp distinctions that the most humble Prague taxi driver can easily
explain?)

Chomsky may well regard them as having been equally "evil", which may
pass for a sort of pox-on-both-your-houses "objectivity". But it's
the sort of objectivity that, as I think Solzhenitsin said, refuses to
make any distinctions between victims and victimizers.

(It's also worth noting that despite this pro-forma objectivity,
Chomsky actually tended to compare the US to the Soviets unfavorably
-- suggesting, not so subtly, that while the USSR was bad, the US was
actually far worse. So the pox-on-both-your-houses pose was not only
absurdly wrongheaded, but also disingenuous.)

[...]
> Armed with Orwell's sometimes troubling "pox on both your houses"
> outlook, Chomsky has often tended to evoke the beleaguered hero of
> "1984" who faced a world divided into equally evil totalitarian
> powers.

Chomsky may well see himself as an Orwellian hero, but it's a hard
pose to sustain. He's never been persecuted for his "dissident"
views. On the contrary: he's been published, feted, invited to give
speeches and to opine on great events of the day, and generally gotten
the sort of public attention and esteem that does not normally attach
to mild-mannered linguistics professors. All while drawing a paycheck
from a tenured sinecure at one of the nation's most presitigous
scientific universities.

The aforementioned Prague taxi driver would not have a difficult time
telling you the difference between Chomsky's career and that of
Solzhenitsin, or Sakharov, or even Havel -- much less that of poor
Winston Smith in Room 101.

It's true however that Chomsky is evocative Orwell's characters: the
"comfortable professor" who hides his sympathy for totalitarian
communism behind a cloud of "obfuscating ink", the intellectual who
believes ideas so obviously stupid and false that less gifted people
would have the sense to reject them out of hand.

[...]
> Despite his animosity toward the USSR, he is even-handed about its
> place in history. In contrast to European and American imperialism,
> the Soviet Union appeared to operate on principles other than profit.
> During the period of Soviet "exploitation" of Eastern Europe, the
> satellite countries actually had a higher standard of living than the
> mother country. This was the result of a huge subsidy, amounting to
> $80 billion in the 1970s.

Indeed -- as noted above, Chomsky's supposed "animosity" towards the
USSR was leavened with plenty of back-handed compliments suggesting
that it was not so bad after all. We see here one way that he does
this, using reasoning is superficially plausible, but upon closer
examination, mendacious.

One of his tricks is to limit the definition of the Soviet "empire"
narrowly to the Warsaw Pact states of Eastern Europe. The US
"empire", however, is characterized as all third-world states which
the US can be said to support (however remotely). Thus: the Soviet
"empire" included Poland but not Vietnam, while the American "empire"
included Guatemala but not Germany.

This creates an obvious apples-and-oranges problem when comparing the
two "empires". Czechoslovakia (for example) has _always_ had a higher
mean standard of living than the USSR, not because of Soviet subsidies
(Chomsky's claim to the contrary is a gratuitous bit of pro-Soviet
apologism) but because of its industrial base, educated workforce,
proximity to European markets, etc. Conversely: an agricultural
peasant society like Guatemala has always had a lower standard of
living than an industrialized country like the US, for the same
reasons.

Chomsky should have made his argument based on comparable states in
each superpower's respective sphere of influence: Germany vs. Poland,
Panama vs. Cuba, North vs. South Korea, North vs. South Vietnam, and
so forth. It's obviously not valid to base an anology and
Czechoslovakia and Guatemala because (for instance) because there are
far too many variables besides hegemony that affect their standard of
living relative to that of the "parent" country.

(Even better would have been to examine the effects of hegemony in
absolute terms. To say that Czechs had a higher standard of living
than Soviet citizens tells us nothing about the effects of Soviet
hegemony, because it's always been true irrespective of Soviet
hegemony. He should have compared Czech living standards under Soviet
hegemony to Czech living standards absent Soviet hegemony. The latter
would obviously have been higher, leading to the conclusion that
Soviet hegemony was malign -- i.e. had a negative effect on the
standard of living. Maybe a similar test for Guatemala would produce
a similar conclusion for US hegemony, but it's not as obvious as in
Chomsky's contrived and misleading version.)

Chomsky's "animosity towards the USSR" apparently was not enough to
stop him from making a transparently bogus argument whose only real
effect was to make Soviet hegemony look good. Granted that his
purpose was to damn the US by comparison, not to praise the Soviets as
such, but the fact remains that it's a bogus argument, and one that
he's been deploying (in various forms) for decades -- and which has
the effect, intended or not, of whitewashing the Soviet regime.

[...]
> For Chomsky, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not usher in the
> emancipation of humanity. Instead, without the USSR as a
> counter-balance, imperialism has been able to step up the level of
> exploitation in the third world, including Nicaragua where the
> Sandinista revolution had been toppled:
> **It is only fair to add that the wonders of the free market have
> opened alternatives, not only for rich landowners, speculators,
> corporations and other privileged sectors, but even for the starving
> children who press their faces against car windows at street corners
> at night, pleading for a few cents to survive.

Certainly this is heart-rending, and I'm sure that when Chomsky
visited Nicaragua during the Sandinista period, he saw none of these
poor waifs struggling for a handout. Maybe the Sandinistas did a
better job of caring for the poor. Then again, maybe they just did a
better job of hiding the poor behind Potemkin-village facades when
prestigious foreign sympathizers came to visit.

(To borrow from P.J. O'Rourke: "Hi there, I'm from the Sandinista
party. We control your access to food, shelter, work, recreation --
and we've got violent mobs who tend to beat up or kill people who
don't agree with us. We've invited this starstruck-looking foreigner
to see life in Nicaragua. Please feel free to give him your honest
opinion. I'll just be standing over here, don't mind me.")

Chomsky seems to be arguing that Nicaraguans are worse off than they
were under the Sandinistas, in some empirically verifiable way.
Perhaps so -- but all this sad anecdote tells us is that poverty has
become more visible, not that it has become less common. And poverty
is always more visible in open societies ("there are no homeless
people in the Soviet Union", etc.). It would be nice to have
something more substantive than bathetic anecdotes.

[...]
> Although Chomsky has not written much in the way of a theoretical
> appreciation of the short-lived Sandinista revolution, there is little
> doubt that this country engaged his sympathies in a way that other
> countries with Marxist leaderships did not.

He was similarly enthusiastic about North Vietnam during the late
1960s; see his account of his visit to the country in "At War With
Asia". He downplays or denies this now, but he was an unabashed
apologist for Hanoi until the early 1980s. If the Sandinistas had
stayed in power long enough, he'd probably have become disillusioned
with them as well, inasmuch as practice can never live up to utopian
theory. The Sandinistas were voted out, and inasmuch as the
Nicaraguan electorate is not made up of pampered American graduate
students living in Ann Arbor, they are not likely to be voted back in.
Thus they can always remain a "what if" fantasy for those who still
think a humane Marxism is possible.

(They used to say in Eastern Europe: Communism is just like the
horizon. It's an invisible point in the distance that never gets any
closer no matter how hard you try to reach it.)

[...]
> No matter how repugnant Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic appeared
> to rightward moving American progressives,

This is interesting: why "appeared"? Does the author mean to suggest
that these rulers were not actually repugnant? Perhaps not, but this
is typical Chomskyite weasel-language -- using equivocation about to
imply a position for which the author need not actually take
responsibility.

[...]
> Drawing from a wealth of previous research, Chomsky reminds his
> readers of US culpability without excusing the attack on the WTC and
> the Pentagon, which he characterizes as "horrifying atrocities."

Chomsky's work has been especially tedious in the past decade or two
because it's been so self-referential. During the 1960s and 1970s he
actually tried to make arguments and present evidence (of a sort)
. Now he tends simply to assert his premises as well-established
facts, not open to question and disputed only by those with an axe to
grind. This makes it impossible for serious people to debate him;
any attempt to dispute his premises is smothered under a blanket of
dubious footnotes.

> The pamphlet contains Chomsky's comparison of Clinton's attack on a
> medicinal factory in Khartoum with the September 11th attacks, which
> enraged Christopher Hitchens to no end:
> **According to credible analyses readily available to us, then,
> proportional to population, the destruction of Al-Shifa is as if the
> bin Laden network, in a single attack on the U.S., caused "hundreds of
> thousands of people-many of them children-to suffer and die from
> easily treatable diseases," though the analogy, as noted, is unfair.
> Sudan is "one of the least developed areas in the world. Its harsh
> climate, scattered populations, health hazards and crumbling
> infrastructure combine to make life for many Sudanese a struggle for
> survival", a country with endemic malaria, tuberculosis, and many
> other diseases, where "periodic outbreaks of meningitis or cholera are
> not uncommon," so affordable medicines are a dire necessity (Jonathan
> Belke and Kamal ElFaki, technical reports from the field for the Near
> East Foundation). It is, furthermore, a country with limited arable
> land, a chronic shortage of potable water, a huge death rate, little
> industry, an unserviceable debt, wracked with AIDS, devastated by a
> vicious and destructive internal war, and under severe sanctions. What
> is happening within is largely speculation, including Belke's (quite
> plausible) estimate that within a year tens of thousands had already
> "suffered and died" as the result of the destruction of the major
> facilities for producing affordable drugs and veterinary medicines.**

Chomsky faults the news media for relying on "expert" sources (perhaps
they should rely on dilletante linguists instead?), but one of his
regular tricks is to pick-and-choose preferred sources, dismissing
everything to the contrary as "propaganda". He never quite defends
his sources, nor explains why we should give uncritical credence to
them and not others, although he typically tacks on some favorable
academic adjectives to make them sound plausible.

Consider: Why should we rely on the Belke-ElFaki reports? What makes
them "quite plausible"? What biases might the authors have? What is
the basis for their speculation? How did they differentiate hardships
caused by the U.S. attack from the many hardships that already
afflicted the Sudanese (not least of which is an authoritarian
government of medieval brutality, something Chomsky neglects to
mention in his litany)? We don't know. We just have to take
Chomsky's word that this is the best reporting out there.

He does admit in passing that even these reports are "largely
speculation", but this does not stop him from presenting, not as
speculation but as fact, the consequent accusation that the U.S. is
guilty of a crime greater than Sept. 11th.

Perhaps, by destroying this facility, the United States did indirectly
cause tens of thousands of deaths in Sudan. We can't possibly prove a
negative. But the only evidence he offers to that effect is
speculation by a single source whose objectivity and reliability have
not been established and whose claims are uncorroborated. This is a
remarkably low standard of proof, and is a marked contrast to the very
high standard of proof Chomsky demanded when he considered evidence of
communist wrongdoing in southeast Asia.

The irony is that the Al-Shifa plant was apparently selected because,
while there were more lucrative targets more directly related to
terrorism, these would have involved a higher risk of direct civilian
casualties. So one might say that the American leftists who always
whinge about the civilian casualties of US military operations are
really the ones responsible for the excess deaths that allegedly
resulted from its destruction.

For the sake of argument, and because I don't have access to them,
I'll stipulate that he's accurately recounting the substance of these
reports from Belke and El-Faki. However, I should note in passing
that while Chomsky picks-and-chooses sources, he's also got a record
of misrepresenting his sources as well.

[...]
> When Robert Faurisson, a holocaust denier, was relieved of his duties
> at the University of Lyon, Chomsky signed a petition on his behalf.

Faurisson was not "relieved of his duties". He requested, and was
granted, a transfer to teach distance-learning courses following some
confrontations with students. He claims he received threats of
violence; I don't know if there's any independent corroboration of
this, but the University did say it could not guarantee his safety.
If Chomsky had limited his objections to those threats of violence
(assuming they did occur), I doubt he'd have encountered much
disagreement.

Chomsky signed a petition that was written, circulated, and signed by
Holocaust deniers. He was the only signficant figure outside the
Holocaust denial movement to sign it. This petition flatly
misrepresented (i.e. lied about) Faurisson's predicament. And Chomsky
was, at that very same time, refusing to sign petitions on behalf of
dissidents in communist Vietnam, even though Faurisson's predicament
(even the false version described in the petition) was trivial
compared to theirs.

> Certainly, if scientists at MIT could conduct research even if it was
> used to "massacre and destroy", why would deny the right of a
> professor to earn a living even if he was guilty of nothing except of
> defending such practices in his spare time. While this act might have
> been understood on its own terms, Chomsky's 'obiter dictum' that "I
> have nothing to say here about the work of Robert Faurisson or his
> critics, of which I know very little, or about the topics they
> address, concerning which I have no special knowledge" raised hackles,
> as did his characterization of Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical
> liberal of some sort".

Chomsky made these (contradictory) statements in an essay which
appeared as the preface to Faurisson's book in defense of his
Holocaust denial work. Chomsky's critics objected not to his
boilerplate defense of free speech, but to his unfounded charitable
description of Faurisson, and to the endorsement implied by
contributing the preface to his book. Chomsky evaded these criticisms
by constructing a straw man, pretending that his critics had in fact
objected to the free-speech boilerplate, which they had not. He made
little effort to defend his statements about Faurisson per se, and in
fact barely acknowledged them, usually eliding them from his version
of the controversy.

[...]
> When Chomsky and his writing partner Edward Herman were charged with
> apologetics on behalf of the Khmer Rouge, whose assault on the people
> of Cambodia attained near-genocidal proportions, the attack had as
> much merit as it did in the Faurisson case. While poor judgment may
> explain the error in the first instance, Chomsky and Herman's
> scholarship on the events in Cambodia were simply not acceptable to
> established wisdom in left-liberal circles. Their sin was to compare
> the relative indifference to the slaughter in East Timor to that in
> Cambodia, just as it was more recently in comparing the September 11th
> attacks to the Khartoum bombing.

Not quite true.

First: Chomsky (along with Herman) was first criticized for his
Cambodia writing in 1977, based on his article in _The Nation_. This
article contained no reference to East Timor and only later did he
start equating East Timor to Khmer Rouge Cambodia. Even then, Chomsky
was criticized for his writings about Cambodia _per se_, not for
equating it to East Timor. We might infer that this criticism was
really a displaced attempt to suppress his comments on East Timor, but
that's an unfounded and self-serving speculation at odds with the
available evidence. It would be more honest to address the substance
of the criticism regarding his Cambodia work.

Second: The equation (as with Sept 11th and Khartoum) was false.
Chomsky's comments on East Timor, not unlike his comments about
Khartoum, were based on a single source whose reliability could not be
established. The source itself relied on third-hand data of unknown
provenance. Nobody denies that the Indonesians were brutal in East
Timor, but these is no real evidence that they killed half the
population, the data point that is cited to justify comparison to the
Khmer Rouge. (What's more, even if had killed half the population,
this would still represent no more than a third of the Khmer Rouge
tally.)

Third: While Chomsky was insisting that the United States was
responsible for what he was sure Indonesia was doing in East Timor, he
was simultaneously arguing that the Khmer Rouge were not entirely
responsible for what they themselves were doing in Cambodia -- an
example of his tendency to assign responsibility in an inconsistent
and contrived manner, to the specific disparagement of the United
States.

[...]
> Furthermore, Chomsky and Herman had the temerity to question the
> casualty statistics in Francois Ponchaud's "Année Zéro," a book that
> had a major impact on the Western intelligentsia in the mid-1970s,
> particularly through a review of it by Jean Lacouture that appeared in
> the New York Review of Books, a journal that has been responsible for
> demonizing one enemy of US imperialism after another for over three
> decades.

So says Chomsky, although the evidence for this is somewhat lacking,
and when offered, is usually based on a distortion of the Times'
actual content. For example, he faulted the Times in 1979 for giving
credence to reports of human rights abuses by the Vietnamese communist
government. The Times also explicitly argued that these abuses did
not retroactively justify U.S. intervention ("imperialism") in
Vietnam, but that's not how the text appeared in Chomsky's retelling.

It's worth noting that I.F. Stone and many other luminaries of the
earlier anti-war movement also gave credence to reports of Hanoi's
human rights abuses, which makes it hard to argue that this position
necessarily constituted the demonization of those who oppose U.S.
imperialism.

There's also the unfortunate fact that these reports were true. If
the Times was "demonizing" the Hanoi regime simply by reporting the
truth, then that reflects on the nature of the Hanoi regime, not on
the biases of the Times. This is another case in which Chomsky
dismisses information as "propaganda" for no justifiable reason except
that it does not comport with his prejudices (in this case, his
reflexive sympathy for adversaries of the United States).

Chomsky's objection to Ponchaud's book (as expressed in 1977) was not
just with the specific figure of two million dead, but with his
general characterization of Cambodia as suffering under a totalitarian
regime perpetrating mass murder. He argued instead that it was
comparable to liberated France in 1944 -- where thousands (or even
tens of thousands) of collaborators may have been killed in local
reprisals, but in which the government as such as not engaged in
organized mass murder.

He did commend certain parts of Ponchaud's book, however -- the parts
that said nice things about the Khmer Rouge. Despite his usual
sensitivity to propaganda, the fact that these parts of the books were
based on Radio Phnom Penh broadcasts did not apparently strike him as
remarkable. He (unlike Ponchaud) didn't even mention it to his
readers.

> While not questioning the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge,
> Chomsky
> observed that Lacouture had inflated Ponchaud's estimates of civilian
> casualties to the tune of two million. In a correction published
> subsequently in the NY Review, Lacouture withdrew his claim and
> confessed that he "should have checked more accurately the figures on
> victims, figures deriving from sources that are, moreover,
> questionable." In "Chomsky's Politics," Milan Rai observes that the
> two million figure--despite the correction--became part of official
> history.

Given that there's no such thing as "official history" in open
societies, I'm not sure what Milan Rai meant by this. Nobody knows
exactly how many Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge, but
estimates typically range from one to two million. (The Cambodia
Genocide Project at Yale, for instance, has asserted a rough estimate
of 1.5 million.) The two million figure is sometimes referenced in
popular accounts, but it isn't the most commonly cited, much less
"official" in any sense, although it is not wildly outside the realm
of possibility.

> From the standpoint of Marxism, Chomsky's preeminent place in American
> politics represents something of a challenge.

Chomsky is a virtual nonentity in American politics. He's virtually
unknown outside a fairly small strata of political intellectuals, and
while some of those people are devoted admirers, at least half of
those people think he's a malignant buffoon, to whose work an
equal-but-opposite rule can safely be applied. Certainly it's hard to
imagine any public issue on which Chomsky, by taking one side or the
other, has the slightest impact. "Preeminent place in American
politics"? Hardly.

[...]
> The Marxist
> movement can learn much from Chomsky, most of all how to speak to the
> ordinary citizen. As late capitalism's contradictions continue to
> mount, there will be a tremendous imperative to speak with clarity and
> with authority. To do this successfully, we must pay careful attention
> to Chomsky's writings. Indeed, for all of Chomsky's frequent
> disparaging of Marxian socialism, his uniquely prophetic voice reminds
> us of none other than Karl Marx's own.

Chomsky's work is almost impenetrable. He alternates between
painfully tendentious polemics and quasi-academic "findings" larded
with obscure footnotes. He never examines or even outlines the basic
premises which -- even if they are false -- make his work
comprehensible and coherent. If this is how Marxists think one should
communicate with steelworkers and the urban poor... well, I'm
certainly not going to be the one who tells them it isn't, but it does
show a certain cluelessness about the proletariat for whom they
presume to speak.

(Ah... that was refreshing. Now back to my real job...)

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