Chomksy Blog

by Brian on March 25, 2004

I’d be more excited if he had started posting to Language Log, but even if we won’t be seeing flashes of linguistic brilliance, it’s still newsworthy that Noam Chomsky has started a blog. The introductory post is a little hard to decipher.

This blog will include brief comments on diverse topics of concern in our time. They will sometimes come from the ZNet sustainer forum system where Noam interacts through a forum of his own, sometimes from direct submissions, sometimes culled from mail and other outlets—always from Noam Chomsky.
Posted by Noam Chomsky

I wouldn’t have guessed that Noam Chomsky calls Noam Chomsky “Noam Chomsky”, but if it’s good enough for Rickey Henderson I guess it’s good enough for the Noam.

Hat tip: NicoPitney over at Kos.

{ 44 comments }

1

ogged 03.25.04 at 12:37 am

Wonder how long it will have comments.

2

paulw 03.25.04 at 12:44 am

what’s “chomksy”?

3

matt 03.25.04 at 12:59 am

I’d generally have to agree that if something is good enough for Ricky Henderson, it’s good enough for all of us. But, it’s my understanding that Chomsky doesn’t actually write his political books, at least not these days- I don’t mean someone else does them under his name, but rather they start as interviews or disucssions that are then turned in to an instant book by a typist or editor. I don’t much care for the style, but I don’t mean to suggest it’s fraud or anything like that. It’s possible, I’d guess, that something similar has happend here, w/ an unintentionally funny outcome. (I guess that’s sort of like Ricky Henderson, too.)

4

matt 03.25.04 at 1:02 am

I should also make clear that I don’t know that all of Chomsky’s recent books are done this way, and I don’t know the exact details of how they are done. Only, this is my understanding of how his political writings are often done.

5

joe tomei 03.25.04 at 4:22 am

Man, if Chomsky were on Language Log, it would be fireworks galore. Pullum has really taken Chomsky to task over the years over his linguistic positions. Check out Pullum’s collected essays in _The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax_, especially where he channels the voice of Spock. Hilarious.

6

Rich 03.25.04 at 5:02 am

Chomsky is full of affectations, which is probably why I’ve never jumped on his bandwagon.

7

Gar Lipow 03.25.04 at 5:07 am

Noam is pretty clueless when it comes to internet stuff. The Zmag address tells you what is happening.

Michael Albert (or some other Zneter) is extracting stuff from Noam’s political forum, and combining it with stuff Noam directly e-mails.

Noam’s forum by the way is also handled via e-mail.People post the questions in the forum; and admin emails them to Noam. Noam emails answers back to the admin. The admin posts the answers in the forum.

8

Brian Weatherson 03.25.04 at 5:24 am

Joe, I agree there’d be fireworks. That’s why it would be so exciting!

As I might have mentioned before here, _Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax_ is one of my favourite books. But it’s also one of the most dangerous I’ve ever read. My worst blogging missteps have come from aiming for the style Geoff has in that book, and falling about a million miles short. Well, that and writing drunk.

9

A-ro 03.25.04 at 6:30 am

Thank you for combining Rickey Henderson and Noam Chomsky in a joke. Hilarious!

10

dan 03.25.04 at 8:15 am

Noam Chomsky, whatever else has and will be said about him, has revealed himself as a man burdened with a remarkably empathetic heart.

His errors of thought, if errors they are, can reliably be set at the feet of a blinding humanitarianism. (As much cannot be said, it must be said, of the vast majority of America’s critics, so-called “humanitarians” who often betray themselves as not-as-subtle-as-they-suspect totalitarians in their own right.)

And whatever Chomsky’s virtues and/or vices as a political thinker, the prospect of him slipping, at long last, through the looking glass and into blog Brobdingnag is a delicious one.

Assuming the man remains interested enough to keep his posts at all current, academia’s favorite leftist curmudgeon will undoubtedly provide enough provocative posts to sate the blogoshpere for many months to come. (At least until the Law of Diminishing Contrarian Returns inexorably sets in, or his once-promising posts degenerate, as seems to happen too often among lefty sites these days, into mindless rants about Halliburton and sinister Straussian Jews, and so on. In which case nonpartisan bloggers and blog readers will naturally first sigh, and then remind themselves to avoid him.)

To my mind, no other prominent leftist intellectual in American history has observed America “Through a Glass, Darkly” as entertainingly as Chomsky.

Despite (or on account of) his accentuate-the-negative-in-all-circumstances perspective, Chomsky’s pious political criticism (and he never offers anything but pious criticism in any political context that I’ve noticed) is always breath of bracing air.

Even when Chomsky regurgitates the most one-sided and scurrilous of all anti-American cliches, he manages to be novel.

In perspective, if not, sadly–especially for a linguist–in style.

11

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.25.04 at 8:15 am

Is it really news that another conspiracy theorist has come on to the web?

12

Andrew Boucher 03.25.04 at 8:19 am

ogged: I’d be surprised if comments last more than a month. A pity, actually.

13

Andrew Boucher 03.25.04 at 8:32 am

Re the title of the blog. Noam Chomsky as Gandalf?

14

Chirag Kasbekar 03.25.04 at 10:10 am

From the latest post at the Chomsky blog:

People in the more civilized sectors of the world (what we call “the third world,” or the “developing countries”)

Don’t quite get it. Is he being ironic?

15

dan 03.25.04 at 10:42 am

Chirag,

“Is he being ironic?”

Absolutely not. That’s what’s so interesting about Chomsky.

16

inkling 03.25.04 at 11:51 am

andrew, I believe Chomsky is more like Saruman (with apologies to the late Ahmed Yassin). After all, Saruman did attempt to convince Gandalf (who represents the West) to support Sauron (of the East). And Saruman was known for his voice — his silver-tongued ability to demagogue.

“Most couldn’t remember afterwards the words they had heard, and if they did, the words seemed empty by themselves. Mostly they remembered the delight of hearing the voice speak to them. All that was said by the voice seemed “wise and reasonable.” A desire was roused in them to be swift in agreement, even to seem wise themselves.

“Oh, who doesn’t want to appear wise? And for those who would speak against the voice, their speech seemed rough. Anger was kindled towards them in the others’ heart. Such was the nature of the spell that Saruman cast on them in the ‘song’ of his voice. For many the sound of the voice itself was enough to maintain the spell.

“For some, the spell lasted only for as long as the voice spoke to them directly. If it spoke to another, they smiled as if they could see through a juggler’s trick that others gape at. For those who were “conquered” however, the spell endured. Its soft whispering kept on whispering, urging them to comply.”

Apt, don’t you agree?

17

armando 03.25.04 at 12:58 pm

I think it is important to label Chomsky a conspiracy theorist and a demagogue and to dismiss those who might support him as mindless fools. After all, actually engaging or, God forbid, having respect for different points of view might give some people the impression that there are alternatives to the status quo. Clearly, that is an anathema to anyone who believes in democracy.

18

Donald Johnson 03.25.04 at 12:59 pm

Inkling, you can turn in your membership card. The Inklings seem to have been the kind of conservative who realized that Western society often betrayed Christian values, and they didn’t simply mean sexual ethics either (which is what modern Christian conservatives seem to mean by values)–they were critical of greed, arrogance, and imperialism.

Here is Tolkien in the introduction to LOTR, denying that it was meant to be an allegory for WWII–

“The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron’ he would not have been annihilated, but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed, but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt; they would not long have survived even as slaves.”

Sounds sort of like Chomsky commenting that if you looked at the Western Hemisphere, where the US held sway, one might have thought the fascists won the war.

Lewis was Tolkien’s pal in the Inklings, and though I can’t find my copy of “Mere Christianity”, I remember where he says that a Christian society would probably seem conservative in its attitudes on sex, but very leftist in its attitudes towards the economy and advertising. And I remember him making a few comments about the hypocrisy of imperialism somewhere, but can’t give a citation.

Christian conservatives of that ilk don’t seem to be especially common these days, but I think Tolkien, Lewis, and Chomsky had some opinions in common (though not necessarily on linguistics, where I have the vague sense that Tolkien’s and Chomsky’s interests have virtually nothing in common.)

19

joe tomei 03.25.04 at 1:23 pm

I’d pass on, for those interested, two titles. James McCawley, who wrote the introduction to Pullum’s previously mentioned book, had a festschrift entitled
Studies out in Left Field: Defamatory essays presented to James D. McCawley on his 33rd or 34th birthday
The humor is quite different (The fact that the collection contains some of McCawley’s essays written under the name Quong Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology may give a hint of the difference) and not for anyone horrified by Janet Jackson’s wardrobe related malfunction.

To get a (serious) measure of the issues that Pullum and Chomsky disagree on, Linguistic Wars by Randy Harris.

20

Andrew Reeves 03.25.04 at 2:05 pm

Donald,I have a feeling that not a single inkling would be anything other than horrified at Chomsky’s anarcho-syndicalism. The paradise that Dr. Chomsky believes possible here on earth can only come about through a lot of dead bodies.

Yes, communism (in all of its forms) is basically what happens when you take the Christian social consciousness and remove God. But hell, if you take Christian epistemology and remove God, you get deconstructionism. The thing is, though, that removing God makes quite a large change in the big picture.

21

chun the unavoidable 03.25.04 at 2:43 pm

Andrew,

May I use this quote, “but hell, if you take Christian epistemology and remove God, you get deconstructionism” in my next scholarly paper? I don’t intend to attribute it to you.

22

Senior Administration Official 03.25.04 at 4:38 pm

Chun, some people have been referring to the post structuralists as having “neo-scholastic qualities” for quite awhile.. so feel free.

23

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.25.04 at 5:32 pm

Armando, I see you can only aspire to be a follower of Chomsky. You are on the right path though. Chomsky wouldn’t worry about being labeled “a conspiracy theorist and a demagogue”. He would say that such labeling proves that the corrupt power structure of the non-civilized (which is to say Western) countries is forced to twist and turn in response to those who reveal its perfidy by explicating on its exploitation and social genocide.

Which if you know anything about the leading academic defender of Pol Pot, might sound a bit like projection.

24

Gar Lipow 03.25.04 at 6:19 pm

>… conspiracy theorist …

Noam Chomsky gets attacked by portions of the left fairly often for his dismissals of conspiracy theories -including his (justified IMO) critisim as nonsense the idea that administration officials planned or deliberately allowed 911, and his dismissal of the idea of a broader conspiracy behind the Kennedy assasisation. Noam is the ultimate structurualist; the anti-Stone.

>…leading academic defender of Pol Pot….

Christopher Hitchens wrote an excellent piece crticizing demolishing this.

Seems a sign of intellectual weakness to attribute views to an opponent he does not hold, rather than deal with his actual arguments.

real email Garlpublic at comcast dot net.

25

MQ 03.25.04 at 6:32 pm

What Chomsky consistently does is point out that our Western civilization either performs or is complicit in numerous immoral actions that are not justified by whatever form of “historical necessity” is in vogue this year. Like a particularly annoying kid I knew in my elementary school days, his attackers tend to plug their fingers in their ears and chant “no, no, no!” whenever he does this.

There are other ways of dealing with his critique, but you need to be able to admit the factual truth of many of his points, which is ideologically “verboten” among many right now.

26

Saheli 03.25.04 at 7:08 pm

This reminded me of the Capitol Steps Follies skit that made fun of Bob Dole’s constant allusions to himself as “Bob Dole”—to the point, in the skit, that he was incapable of saying “I.” In a send up of the short-lived 60 minutes debates, the Clinton character gets him to talk about that country we were about to invade
Bob Dole: “Bob Dole raq.”
Clinton: “That’s right. And what’s the country right next to that?”
Bob Dole: “Bob Dole ran.”
Clinton: “That’s right. Bob Dole ran. But Bob Dole didn’t win.”

I leave just cleverness regarding Chomsky to the better linguists among us.

27

buermann 03.25.04 at 8:19 pm

“My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)… There is only one bright spot and that is the growing habit of disgruntled men of dynamiting factories and power stations.” –JRR Tolkien, 1943.

I think he might have found Chomksy to be a tad lame.

28

Simon Kinahan 03.25.04 at 8:24 pm

I must admit to having some trouble understanding Chomksy’s following. It is true that he is rarely incorrect in the historical facts and quotations he uses. It is true that he is not a conspiracy theorist. But is that enough ? What is exactly that Chomsky brings to the situation that others do not ?

He isn’t a reporter or researcher. He rarely visits anywhere he writes about, and he elides or ommits information that does not support his views. But what exactly are those views ? Although I know he is an anarchist, it would be hard to tell that from his political writing. The only consistent theme that emerges is opposition to American (and very occasionally, other Western) policies. No program to cover the situations at which those policies are directed is ever presented – in some cases Chomsky incredibly claims the problems concerned do not exist.

On what is that opposition based ? No insight is offered into the foundations of Chomsky’s own views, but the case made in his writings is always based on the harmful effects of American policies. This is in itself extraordinary. No government policy of any kind ever has no harmful effects, and to present the harms without the benefits, as Noam does, is no way to evaluate policy. Of course, Chomsky actually opposes the whole idea of policy, because he opposes government and therefore all politics, but it is similarly unreasonable to contrast actual politics with a utopia.

Someone above described this as empathy at work: Chomsky’s empathy seems remarkably concentrated on the victims of the West and its allies, and rather dilute when it comes to the victims of the dictators who rule many of the “civilised sectors of the world” when the oppose the West. Similarly, it is hard to see it as a pointing-out of hypocrisies. Many of the harms Chomsky points out are well known and accepted, either as accidents, errors, unpleasant consequences or exceptional cases, by those he blames for them.

Of course, it is true than in many cases the public is tragically ignorant. Chomsky blames the media, but his media criticism, while certainly factually accurate, reflects the problems with his reportage. He omits and elides the distortions that do not fit his views. The model proposed in “Manufacturing Consent” is inadequate as an explanation of what actually happens in newsrooms, and similarly the supposed motivations of those doing the distorting are not examined in detail. I suspect that last point is why he is often (imprecisely) accused of conspiracy theory.

Although I may have been harsh in places, I don’t think it is possible to claim that anything above is factually inaccurate. Why then does anyone pay Noam Chomsky attention ? The only conclusion that I can draw is that he is filling a role very similar to that he accuses others of filling: he is primarily a propagandist for an anti-American view.

29

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.25.04 at 9:36 pm

30

Donald Johnson 03.25.04 at 9:57 pm

Chomsky is appealing to me because he’s an antidote to the endless stream of dishonest pro-American jingoistic bullsh** that one finds in the so-called liberal media. It’s easier in the age of the Internet to find alternative sources of information about American foreign policy and human rights violations than it was a few years ago, but reading Chomsky is still a quick way to find out what some of the sources are. That ought to be easy to understand.

As for being a Pol Pot apologist, I used to think he was one because everyone seemed to say so. Then I actually read him. Chomsky, IMO, did initially think that Pol Pot was merely a mass murderer, not a full-fledged genocidal maniac. He left open the possibility in his 1979 book that Pol Pot was a genocidal maniac, but you can tell if you read him that he thought it more likely that he was merely a mass murderer. After the Vietnamese invasion toppled Pol Pot (an invasion Chomsky initially condemned as aggression), he quickly realized that the death toll under Pol Pot was high enough to justify the term “genocide”, though he also thinks that the term should also be applied to the American war.

Before I read Chomsky, I thought that being an apologist for Pol Pot meant saying that Pol Pot was a good guy, so imagine my surprise to find that it meant saying that Pol Pot was guilty of gruesome atrocities, comparable in scale though not in per capita killed to what was going on in East Timor. As it turns out, the per capita death rate was similar and Cambodia’s death toll much larger in absolute terms, so Chomsky was underestimating it, but when he’d spent a chapter denouncing the US record in East Timor, it was startling to see Cambodia compared to it. I’m understating my reaction–I was naively astonished when I started reading the Cambodia chapter in “The Political Economy of Human Rights”, because, though I think it is Chomsky at his worst, it was nothing like what I’d been led to believe and at that time (I can barely remember what it was like to think this) I didn’t think pundits lied or misled their readers in order to discredit someone they despised. Since that time, when someone is accused of being an apologist for this or that, I’ve realized it’s a good idea to see that person’s writings at first hand before believing it. Cuz, you know, mainstream political intellectuals in a self-righteous mood can’t seem to be trusted any more than those nasty radical types.

31

ogged 03.25.04 at 11:21 pm

To answer my own question: about a day.

32

Paul 03.26.04 at 2:17 am

I see it didn’t take long for the Fascist Footballers to shit all over Chomsky’s blog. In the wake of this denial of service attack, commenting is suspended and the comments have been removed. Personally, I would’ve have left them up as a display of pathology.

Sleep easy, Sebastian dear.

33

msg 03.26.04 at 5:15 am

Donald Johnson-
Thanks for consistently bringing honest reason and a calm tone to topics that can so easily become strident duels of vituperation. Every time I read something you wrote it quiets me, even when I disagree with what you say.

Sebastian Holsclaw-
What you’re really attacking Chomsky for is his views on Israel isn’t it? But you think there’s a better chance of gaining sympathy with a Pol Pot reference right? Because really you don’t much care about those Cambodians do you?
The term “conspiracy theory” has been intentionally reconfigured, weighted with scorn and bogosity, altered by the very people who were and are conspiring to manipulate public opinion and events.
The words themselves simply mean a theory about a conspiracy.
There are conspiracies. There are theories about those conspiracies. There’s nothing delusional or dismissable about that.
“Chaff” is an old agrarian term for the light bits that seperate from grain as it’s winnowed. It was adopted for bits of tinfoil dropped from planes to scramble radar signals.
Chaff is what a lot of the more fantastic nonsense that’s been paraded before the credulous public has been, diversion, to pre-invalidate hard-to-believe testimony of the heinous and atrocious covert actions that do take place outside the glare of simplistic, and easily controlled, media.

Anyone who uses the term “conspiracy theory” or “conspiracy theorist” to dismiss a claim out of hand is a conspirator.
I say this.

34

Gar Lipow 03.26.04 at 5:59 am

Just because the term “conspiracy theory” is misued does not mean there is not such a thing, nor that it is not worthy of dimissal. In it’s classic form “conspiracy theory” is a way the mildly liberal admit that horrible things happen without admitting there is something fundamental wrong with the system.

It is only small groups of shadowy figures who do the horrible things; putting good people in charge would solve everything.

Yes there are really such things as conspiracies. But the worst evils are done publicly or as “open secrets” (widely known, but not admitted).

35

Gar Lipow 03.26.04 at 6:00 am

Just because the term “conspiracy theory” is misued does not mean there is not such a thing, nor that it is not worthy of dimissal. In it’s classic form “conspiracy theory” is a way the mildly liberal admit that horrible things happen without admitting there is something fundamental wrong with the system.

It is only small groups of shadowy figures who do the horrible things; putting good people in charge would solve everything.

Yes there are really such things as conspiracies. But the worst evils are done publicly or as “open secrets” (widely known, but not admitted).

36

Sebastian Holsclaw 03.26.04 at 8:12 am

I hate to seem more ignorant than you already think me, but I really wasn’t specifically aware of Chomsky’s views on Israel. (Though I bet I could guess what they are).

The fact that you believe I’m trying to covertly attack his views on Israel (of which I am unaware) by drawing attention to his well published views on Pol Pot is rather revealing I must admit. The winding ‘logic’ of it is precisely something Chomsky would engage in, so I’m firmly convinced you are a committed reader.

” Chomsky, IMO, did initially think that Pol Pot was merely a mass murderer, not a full-fledged genocidal maniac. He left open the possibility in his 1979 book that Pol Pot was a genocidal maniac, but you can tell if you read him that he thought it more likely that he was merely a mass murderer. After the Vietnamese invasion toppled Pol Pot (an invasion Chomsky initially condemned as aggression), he quickly realized that the death toll under Pol Pot was high enough to justify the term “genocide”, though he also thinks that the term should also be applied to the American war.”

I would be amused by the fact that you think “Chomsky, IMO, did initially think that Pol Pot was merely a mass murderer” counts as a good defense of the man, but frankly it just sickens me.

And with all this talk about conspiracy theories: Don’t you think if they really existed, I would have been ordered to kill Chomsky–revealer of secrets–and then forced to kill myself to protect the Gnomes of Zurich?

Boo!

37

msg 03.26.04 at 9:00 am

Sebastian-
If it’s truly the case that, as well-versed on Chomsky’s work and the attitudes of his followers and detractors as you seem to be, readily able to quote and parse his thought fluently, you remain unaware of his positions on Israeli policies and actions, then I apologize for what was a hasty and ill-formed judgement.
Your attitude in other posts on other threads, or rather my perceptions of your attitude, which seem to me excessively, even blindly chauvinist, were what led me to that unfair misjudgement, if in fact that’s what it was.
Again, my apologies, qualified but sincere,for what you say is an unwarranted assumption.

Gnomes of Zurich is a reference I didn’t immediately understand, but like you I can infer when necessary. So I’m guessing it’s from the so-called “Protocols…etc” something I’ve never read and have no interest in reading.
Inasmuch as referring to that document and the septic morass it floats on would place me, in your view, among the ranks of irrational bigots who are against all things Jewish, as opposed to the real position I occupy, and vehemently insist I occupy, which is total opposition to state terror as well as any and all racist fascism, I have to say,
“Boo right back.”

Michael Griffin

38

Donald Johnson 03.26.04 at 6:08 pm

Sebastian, merely telling me that you’re sickened doesn’t impress me one bit, because it’s been my experience that most Chomsky-haters carefully pick and choose what sickens them–otherwise they’d have to admit that Chomsky is right about the issues which concern him the most. There’s a kind of hysterical vindictive reaction to Noam’s writings in some people that makes me think of a guilty conscience–otherwise people could read him calmly, say he’s right here, wrong there, and not tell idiotic and vicious lies about him. I think it’s wrong (bearing false witness, one could say) to say that Chomsky was an apologist for Pol Pot, because to people unfamiliar with his writings, it sounds as if Chomsky had said Pol Pot was a good man. It’s a funny sort of apologist who compares Pol Pot’s record of killing to the mass slaughter that was going on in East Timor. But as is Chomsky’s point, most mainstream Americans care little or nothing about America’s role in East Timor in the 70’s, so if Chomsky compares Pol Pot’s record to East Timor, perhaps to your typical Chomsky-hater it sounds like he is uttering praise.

In reality, Chomsky said in 1977 and 1979 that Pol Pot was guilty of serious and gruesome atrocities. He was not at that time sure that Pol Pot was a full fledged genocidal killer. He started using the term genocide by the 80’s.

Well, guess what? It’s now coming out that the Tutsis who took over Rwanda after the Hutu genocide in 1994 might themselves have murdered 450,000 people, from what I’ve just read. People who reported on the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis knew that the Tutsi had killed a bunch of people when they took over, but it now appears there were two genocides, not one. So in effect, people had mistakenly thought the second full-scale genocide was only a set of atrocities.

I thought that myself. I bet you thought so. Most people did. I hope you’re sickened by it. Say, Sebastian, does this mean we’re all evil, just like ole Noam? Yup, no doubt.

Msg, I learn things from your posts too, though we definitely are on opposite sides on some things.

39

Sebasatian Holsclaw 03.26.04 at 7:57 pm

Good heavens, Chomsky is an apologist because he wanted to avoid the fact of Cambodian genocide to make his ‘greater’ point about the fact that all evil comes from the US (only very very mild exaggeration on the word ‘all’). And what is this Hutu, thing? Chomsky didn’t ‘confuse’ two acts of genocide. He denied the existance of Pol Pots genocide far beyond the time when it became clear.

40

Sebasatian Holsclaw 03.26.04 at 7:58 pm

Good heavens, Chomsky is an apologist because he wanted to avoid the fact of Cambodian genocide to make his ‘greater’ point about the fact that all evil comes from the US (only very very mild exaggeration on the word ‘all’). And what is this Hutu, thing? Chomsky didn’t ‘confuse’ two acts of genocide. He denied the existance of Pol Pots genocide far beyond the time when it became clear.

41

armando 03.26.04 at 8:46 pm

So if I say that Gerry Adams is a brutal murderer, then I become an apologist for the IRA? I see.

Also, Sebastian, you should probably note that Bruce Sharp, whose article you linked to, later said that his opinions softened somewhat and said that he had “no doubt that [Chomsky] is a man of honor and great integrity.” You know, the standard criticism for those who are apologists for genocidal dictators.

42

Donald Johnson 03.26.04 at 9:34 pm

Sebastian, your comment regarding Chomsky’s “point” is silly. This is clear to anyone who reads him and figures out what his point is by doing the remarkable and revolutionary new thing of, well, noticing what point he says he is trying to make. He concentrates on US crimes because he thinks it’s his duty as a US citizen to do so, and because he thinks the mainstream press either does a miserable job or actively covers up such crimes. He says this over and over again and tells people that they should read the mainstream press and that he isn’t a source of information for other kinds of atrocities. He doesn’t even cover all US crimes, something he pointed out to me in a letter many years ago when I suggested he could reach more people by writing books on human rights violations in general, so that he couldn’t be accused of what you’re accusing him of doing.

I could and have offered real criticisms of him–criticisms based on actually reading him, understanding his point, and still disagreeing. On the Cambodia issue, I think he was more skeptical of the larger death toll estimates than he should have been, probably because so many lies had been told in that war before, but the impression given by his critics when they say “apologist” is that he was a Pol Pot supporter. It’s certainly what I expected to see when I picked up the second volume of “Political Economy of Human Rights” many years ago and started browsing through the Cambodia chapter. It’s IMO Chomsky at his worst (as I said in my sickening post), but it was shockingly different from what I’d been led to expect.

Actually, in a sense Chomsky did confuse two genocides in Cambodia. He thought that much of the suffering under Pol Pot was the aftereffects of the horrific civil war (and US bombing campaign). I don’t have a source handy, but I think there were literally millions of people uprooted by the bombing campaign, out of a country of 7 million people and around 500,000 died. There were warnings at the end of the civil war that Cambodia was on the brink of famine. So it was natural for Chomsky to think that some of the suffering in the postwar period was due to the war, though as it turns out the bulk of it was the fault of the Khmer Rouge.

The point of the Tutsi example and others I could cite (the estimates I’ve seen for the death toll of the Bangladesh killings by Pakistan in 1971 varies by two orders of magnitude, from tens of thousands to 3 million) is that it is often impossible to know even to an order of magnitude how many people have been murdered in some atrocity until a careful study is done, though it certainly doesn’t stop people from putting numbers in print. So while Pol Pot was in charge, it was clear to Noam that terrible things were happening, but not that it would turn out to be genocide. The odd thing about the Tutsi case is that it’s been ten years now and we’re just starting to hear that there was a second genocide.

The criticisms of Noam on Cambodia seem particularly hypocritical when the whole point of his writing on that subject was to compare coverage of the Cambodian atrocities to those in East Timor, and yet while everyone “knew” what a terrible person Noam was, no one seemed to know anything or care much about what was happening in East Timor. Until late 1999, when Clinton finally stopped backing Indonesia.

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Zizka 03.28.04 at 3:14 pm

“Chomsky wouldn’t worry about being labeled “a conspiracy theorist and a demagogue”. He would say that such labeling proves that the corrupt power structure of the non-civilized (which is to say Western) countries is forced to twist and turn in response to those who reveal its perfidy by explicating on its exploitation and social genocide.”

If Chomsky really were to respond that way to Sebastian’s inaccurate attempts at a quick smear, I’d explain to him that in this fallen world in every society there are always people like Sebastian, and that no abstruse explanation is needed. As for the New York Times (Hi, Sebastian! The NYT is NOT liberal!) — the NYT does need explanation.

Without agreeing with everything Chomsky says, or Nader either, centrist Democrats have hurt themselves seriously by rejecting them out of hand. A recent thread on Yglesias was dominated by ignorant crowing and sniping (On its first day Chomsky’s blog had both some bad links and anti-Semitic comment spam!). The Democratic party is in its really weak position today in large part because of its passivity (spearheaded by Lieberman and Bayh, if you can spearhead passivity) on media concentration and corporate governance.

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