Chomsky wars

by Steven Poole on July 3, 2006

Since Noam Chomsky was voted the world’s top public intellectual last year, another backlash has been gathering force. The problem, for anyone who would like to see a substantive conversation, is that Chomsky’s critics too often mix concrete observations with wild, unfocused accusations – exactly, indeed, what they accuse Chomsky himself of doing.

Reviewing Chomsky’s new book, Failed States, in the Observer a couple of weeks ago, for example, foreign editor Peter Beamont congratulated himself on applying “a Chomskian analysis to [Chomsky’s] own writing”. Let’s see some of this Chomskian analysis:

But what I find most noxious about Chomsky’s argument is his desire to create a moral – or rather immoral – equivalence between the US and the greatest criminals in history. Thus on page 129, comparing a somewhat belated US conversion to the case for democracy in Iraq after the failure to find WMD, Chomsky claims: ‘Professions of benign intent by leaders should be dismissed by any rational observer. They are near universal and predictable, and hence carry virtually no information. The worst monsters – Hitler, Stalin, Japanese fascists, Suharto, Saddam Hussein and many others – have produced moving flights of rhetoric about their nobility of purpose.’

Plainly, Chomsky’s use of the superlative “worst”, in calling Hitler, Stalin and Saddam etc “the worst monsters”, is grammatically doing the opposite of creating an “equivalence” between them and other leaders. To note uncontroversially that there is one point of comparison between all leaders – they profess benign intent – is not to assert an overarching “equivalence” between them, any more than it would be to note accurately that they are all human beings. Still, the reactionary narrative of “moral equivalence” is evidently too attractive to abandon.

Oliver Kamm recently took a more forensic approach to the book. On Kamm’s account, Chomsky misused a study on pre-intervention Kosova deaths by Nicholas Wheeler, attributing to Wheeler the claim that “Serbs were responsible for 500 of the 2,000 killed” pre-bombing, and concluding that the KLA killed the rest. According to Kamm, Wheeler nowhere makes this claim in the referenced study.

This looks like a strong empirical case. (I haven’t checked it myself.) Kamm goes on to claim that it is an example of deliberate falsification, that Chomsky

distorts his source material in order to generate a predetermined conclusion about the iniquities and cynicism of Western policy. His fabrications and elisions are an intellectual scandal. His political writings are an affront to the notion of scholarship.

It is an interesting question, how we decide on the critical mass of examples that would make such a charge plausible. How many errors (if you are feeling generous) or fabrications (if not) in a scholar’s large body of work need to be tallied up to count as evidence for deliberate distortion? In the case of a systematic liar and Holocaust-denier like David Irving, the evidence is vast and overwhelming (as shown in Deborah Lipstadt’s excellent History on Trial). But demonstrating intent must be harder in less massively egregious cases. Kamm answered this objection explicitly in an earlier post:

When the “errors” are all in the same direction – namely a determination to prove that the United States is morally equal or inferior to Nazi Germany – then something more is involved.

How this characterization of Chomsky’s “determination” is to be squared with the subject’s well-known assertions that the US is “in many respects” the “freest” and (without qualification) the “greatest” country in the world is mysterious. Reasonable questions about possible bias or subjectivity in Chomsky’s writing are sidelined by the exaggeration. If his errors really are all in the same direction, whatever direction it really is, that should indeed be a warning flag.

What can be shown of Chomsky’s writing, rather than asserted of his intent, is sometimes bad enough. Kamm and others demonstrated how Chomsky argued, in an email to supporters in Sweden, that one only has a “right” to call Srebrenica an act of “genocide” if one simultaneously denounces his favoured examples of killing in East Timor. There is no question of some conditional “right” to use the word, depending on what else you say about other crimes. “Genocide” has a legal definition, albeit little consulted, and Srebrenica was found to fit it. Such facts are not easily admitted by the kind of Chomsky acolyte who wraps himself up in the propaganda model as though it were a comfort blanket.

Yet Chomsky’s critics appear to consider that such scattered observations are not sufficiently wounding blows to the Chomsky hydra. So it must be further asserted that he thinks Bush is a new Hitler, etc. The more generalized accusations are prone to dilute the force of the specific ones. This is illustrated compellingly when, in another post, Kamm links enthusiastically to a document by Paul Bogdanor called “The Top 100 Chomsky Lies” (pdf). How “useful” (Kamm’s word) this screed is may be measured by the following extract, rebutting Chomsky’s “lie” with Bogdanor’s “truth”:

The Lie: “European powers conquered much of the world with extreme brutality. With the rarest of exceptions, they were not under attack by their foreign victims… It is not surprising, therefore, that Europe should be utterly shocked by the terrorist crimes of September 11.”

The Truth: Arab-Islamic conquests included the territories of Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, and the southern areas of France and Italy. The Ottoman Empire expanded as far as Hungary and southern Poland, as well as the whole of central Europe, including parts of Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria.

So, an elementary truth (as Chomsky would say; but who could reasonably argue?) about European colonial violence is apparently a “lie” because those scary “Arab-Islamic” guys also conquered some territory. This doesn’t even qualify as “an affront to the notion of scholarship”, as Kamm says of Chomsky: it’s just farcical. I haven’t checked Chomsky’s references against the counter-references supplied in aid of Bogdanor’s attempted rebuttals, but some readers may be suspicious of Bogdanor’s appeals to books with hagiographic titles such as Sharon: An Israeli Caesar.

So this round of Chomsky wars rumbles on, lately between Michael Bérubé and Dennis Perrin, among others. Chomsky’s detractors are certainly right on one point: his renown and influence are such that his work demands an updated, reasoned critique, which would cover more than the familiar arguments over Cambodia and the Faurisson affair. But in these debates, substance is too often compromised by hyperbole.

{ 345 comments }

1

Randolph Fritz 07.03.06 at 9:59 am

Is it not possible to believe Chomsky is a radical who sometimes gets things wrong? He seems to me rather like the a zealous prophet of anarchism at times, a Jeremiah, perhaps. And yet sometimes he shows geniune compassion and moral conviction, and is willing to speak it, and keep speaking it. And so he has followers and opponents.

2

Aidan Kehoe 07.03.06 at 10:10 am

Is it not possible to believe Chomsky is a radical who sometimes gets things wrong?

I believe sincerely that Pol Pot was a radical who sometimes got things wrong. Happily, Chomsky has been making a comfortable living off the military-industrial complex for his working life, and tangentally poisoning the field of linguistics, rather than exercising political power.

3

Ron F 07.03.06 at 10:13 am

Kamm –

First, Chomsky makes the same claim about the unnamed parliamentary inquiry in his new book, Failed States

Steven Poole –

This looks like a strong empirical case. (I haven’t checked it myself.)

Well perhaps you should, Steven? Five minutes searching Hansard would have been five minutes well spent. You might also check Kamm’s deluge of book reviews at Amazon and come to your own conclusions as to whether he is unwell.

Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson
24 MARCH 1999

“Up until Racak earlier this year [Jan ’99] the KLA were responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Yugoslav authorities had been.”

4

Phil 07.03.06 at 10:15 am

Plainly, Chomsky’s use of the superlative “worst”, in calling Hitler, Stalin and Saddam etc “the worst monsters”, is grammatically doing the opposite of creating an “equivalence” between them and other leaders.

Eh? The structure of Chomsky’s point, as quoted, seems to be:

[Western leaders make professions of benign intent]
but
“Professions of benign intent by leaders should be dismissed by any rational observer.”
because
“They are near universal … The worst monsters … have produced moving flights of rhetoric”

Paraphrased: “It wouldn’t be rational to infer benignity from professions of benign intent by Western leaders, since similar professions are made by many other leaders, ‘the worst monsters’ included”.

Or: “there are no more compelling reasons for taking Bush or Blair seriously when they talk about democracy than there were for taking Hitler or Stalin seriously when they did the same”.

From which it’s a bit clearer where Beaumont gets his ‘moral equivalence’ line. I’m not particularly interested in debating that, but I am curious as to whether Steven thinks my reading of the point quoted is incorrect – and, if so, what he thinks it says.

5

abb1 07.03.06 at 10:24 am

…that one only has a “right” to call Srebrenica an act of “genocide” if one simultaneously denounces his favoured examples of killing in East Timor.

I don’t think this is what he’s saying there. And it’s really quite obvious what he’s saying there.

He’s simply accusing US/UK apologists (including Mr. Kamm, of course) of exaggerating crimes committed by the official enemies, while ignoring crimes committed by neutral actors, while whitewashing often much more serious crimes committed by the friends and allies.

You’ll find this theme in his almost every book and article, expressed in a number of different ways, and I don’t see any reason whatsoever to pretend that he is saying something different here.

6

engels 07.03.06 at 10:26 am

I believe sincerely that Pol Pot was a radical who sometimes got things wrong.

Who had number 2 for Chomsky and Pol Pot are “morally equivalent”?

7

Ray 07.03.06 at 10:28 am

Re. 4
As I understand it, the point is different –
“Should we attach any importance to the fact that leader X professes benign intent? No, we should not, because every leader professes benign intent. These claims do nothing to distinguish one leader from another.”

You’re second paraphrase there are no more compelling reasons for taking Bush or Blair seriously when they talk about democracy” (my emphasis) attempts to reach beyond the claims made by Bush and Blair. You are not saying that we can distinguish their rhetoric from that of other leaders, you are saying that we have reasons other than their rhetoric for believing they are benign.

8

Ray 07.03.06 at 10:29 am

“you’re”??
Jaysus.

9

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 10:37 am

RonF: Hansard does not contain Nicholas Wheeler’s book. It is the disagreement between Chomsky and Kamm as to what Wheeler says that I haven’t checked.

Phil: I agree with your first paraphrase, but not your second, which misses out “worst” and explicitly posits an equivalence: “no more reason”. Chomsky did neither in the passage quoted.

abb1: it’s exactly what he’s saying there:

Perhaps they have issued bitter condemnations of their Western allies (and Sweden). If so, they have a right to use the term ‘genocide‘ in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica.

10

Zaoem 07.03.06 at 10:37 am

“his renown and influence are such that his work demands an updated, reasoned critique”

I don’t really think that Chomsky is taken seriously by scholars of international politics, whether they be conservative or not. When you do a scholar.google search, you’ll see that all his frequently cited pieces are his linguistic writings, not his political writings. This does not strike me as much of an omission: whether you agree with him or not, these are opinion pieces not scholarly works and thus they may be critized and discussed as such. I am not saying that opinion pieces are less useful than scholarly writings, just suggesting that opinionated writings are usually countered by other opinionated writings.

11

roger 07.03.06 at 10:39 am

Phil, that is not how I read Chomsky’s statement. Rather, the announcement of benign intent is not proof of benign intent. Pretty simple. For proof, one looks at the past actions of a particular nation’s leadership — then one tries to get a view of the material interests of the nation — and finally one looks at the ideologies professed by the leadership. In the case of Hitler, for instance, one would look at the past domestic actions, such as the internment, torture and death of communists, union leaders, gays, pacifists and dissenters from 1933 onward; then one would look at the German interest in agriculture, oil, etc. And then one would try to understand the ideology of Naziism. In the case of Bush, one would look at the past actions of his cabinet — say, Rumsfeld’s role in propping up Saddam Hussein as he was slaughtering Kurds; then one would look at possible American material interests in the Middle East; then one would look at the ideology associated with the Bush administration’s foreign policy, neo-conservatism. The site of equivalency, here, is in the method of evaluating moral action, which is the same for all nations. Paradoxically, without that ideal equivalency on the level of method, you do get moral equivalency on the level of judgment — that is to say, every statement of benign intent would be treated as equivalent if you had no way of judging them. It is, in fact, Chomsky’s critics who have the moral equivalency problem.

12

Brendan 07.03.06 at 10:45 am

Chomsky’s point (and he has made this point in so many words elsewhere) is that we should hold leaders (or anybody) accountable not (or not wholly) for what they say but for what they do. This is a thought so obvious, so banal, and such a truism that the fact that anti-Chomskyans even bother to question it is a sign of their fundamental unseriousness. It is not in any sense an accusation of ‘moral equivalency’.

To repeat, it is a truism. In other words, if I am beating someone unconscious (or worse) with a baseball bat, and tell people even as I am saying it: ‘I don’t have a baseball bat, I am a pacifist, and there is absolutely no one suffering under the blows I am not adminstering’ it is self-evident that one should not listen to, should not even be interested in what I am saying, but what I am doing. Equally (in a not so morally charged atmosphere) if I claim I can run a mile in under three minutes, this is clearly irrelevant to the fact of whether I can do it or not. The question is: under observation, without mechanical help, can I actually run a mile in under three minutes?

So, in a less morally charged way, one can paraphrase the Chomskyan argument thus: ‘There is no more reason to believe that Bush and Blair are bringing to democracy to Iraq (i.e. without empirical evidence) than there is to believe that I can fly, or that I have three arms, or that I have a cure for cancer, or that I have solved the Riemann hypothesis, merely because I say so.’

Now the next question is an empirical one: have Bush and Blair actually brought democracy to Iraq? That is an empirically solvable question that I have no intention of getting into here. But to repeat, the idea that we should discount politician’s (or anyone’s) fine sounding rhetoric is a pre-requisite for serious political discussion.

If you deny it you are, frankly, out to lunch.

13

engels 07.03.06 at 10:48 am

There is no question of some conditional “right” to use the word, depending on what else you say about other crimes.

If you are talking literally about the “right” to free speech then of course this is true, but I’m equally sure it is not what Chomsky meant.

If you mean rather that it’s perfectly acceptable to apply the word, using a certain definition, to a particular case even though, one refuses to apply it to other cases which also fall under the defintition, then I don’t think your claim is true.

14

RobW 07.03.06 at 10:49 am

Reading Kamm’s post, the problems seem to be as follows:

Chomsky takes either or both of Wheeler’s actual quotes “What about a case where only a few hundred have been killed but intelligence points to this being a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing? This appears to have been the story in Kosovo… ” and “It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed… “, and transforms them into the quote (not paraphrase) “though only a few hundred Albanians were killed”. Unless Kamm is wrong that the latter quote does not appear in Wheeler’s book, this would seem to be a significant error, which Kamm argues is a deliberate distortion.

Chomsky also gives the impression (as SP mentions) that Wheeler implied this figure meant the majority of deaths during the period were attributable to the KLA, but Wheeler does not so imply, although Wheeler’s figures taken by themselves might, depending on your interpretation of a word like “Kosovar”.

Note that the Wheeler citation accompanies the citation of a British parliamentary enquiry, although Kamm calls this enquiry “unnamed” perhaps implying it does not exist.

If anyone thinks that adds up to “Noam Chomsky … distorts his source material… His fabrications and elisions are an intellectual scandal. His political writings are an affront to the notion of scholarship”, good luck to ’em.

15

William Goodwin 07.03.06 at 10:53 am

Ron F, Steven’s line about Kamm’s “strong empirical case” is clearly a reference to Chomsky’s use of Wheeler’s study, which is, just as Kamm says, a complete misrepresentation. Instead of quoting Robertson, show us where Wheeler says (or even implies) that the KLA killed 1500 people pre-bombing. Otherwise, stop berating Steven for making a claim that he didn’t actually make.

16

Brendan 07.03.06 at 10:58 am

Incidentally, CF Oliver Kamm. I would argue strongly that one should not even begin to argue with Kamm unless you have the Nicholas Wheeler study in front of you, the text of Chomsky, and some background knowledge on the subject under discussion. I wouldn’t believe Kamm if he told me it was sunny outside without confirming evidence from at least three independent meteorologists, and even then I would probably want to go and check for myself.

17

imag 07.03.06 at 11:02 am

What can be shown of Chomsky’s writing, rather than asserted of his intent, is sometimes bad enough….

…Yet Chomsky’s critics appear to consider that such scattered observations are not sufficiently wounding blows to the Chomsky hydra. So it must be further asserted that he thinks Bush is a new Hitler, etc.

Although I admit to not having read more than a few snippets of Chomsky, this strikes me as the oddest aspect of his fame. All of the prominent attacks that I see are against this straw boogeyman with apparently limitless power and influence – I’ve heard someone accuse him of causing poverty in countries that have probably never heard of him – while his actual opinions, although different in every way, strike me as significantly wrong, but in a way that would require actual thought to rebut.

18

abb1 07.03.06 at 11:15 am

abb1: it’s exactly what he’s saying there

Steven, I agree that this quote taken separately sounds like what you say it sounds like.

But there is also a body of works there. And this is not a minor point in his body of works, in fact this is one of his central points being rehashed over and over, in respect to the Khmer Rouge and central America and Vietnam and on and on.

And so in 2006 there’s absolutely no need to parse his words to figure out what Chomsky is talking about, even if it sounds a bit off.

And at this point, indeed, it’s up to Mr. Kamm to explain why he tends to come out on the side that has all the power and the biggest megaphone and an army of paid propagandists – or perhaps to admit that he is one of them?

19

Aidan Kehoe 07.03.06 at 11:17 am

Engels, #2:

“I believe sincerely that Pol Pot was a radical who sometimes got things wrong.”

Who had number 2 for Chomsky and Pol Pot are “morally equivalent”?

Explain yourself. I understand both Mancunian English and Westphalian German, and that doesn’t parse in either.

20

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 11:26 am

abb1, it’s not really a question of parsing words. I know what he means, and I reject the validity of the argument-structure, just as I reject it when his opponents use it too.

21

engels 07.03.06 at 11:37 am

Explain yourself.

Do I have to? Hmm, let’s see. This is a web blog. Aidan Kehoe is not my boss. Nope. It seems I don’t.

that doesn’t parse

Nor does “tangentally poison” but I didn’t complain at you, Aidan.

22

Barry 07.03.06 at 11:43 am

Phil: “From which it’s a bit clearer where Beaumont gets his ‘moral equivalence’ line. I’m not particularly interested in debating that, but I am curious as to whether Steven thinks my reading of the point quoted is incorrect – and, if so, what he thinks it says.”

It’s not clearer to me how anybody could honestly think that. I see that rephrasing as a step along the road to dishonesty.

23

abb1 07.03.06 at 11:44 am

Well, Steven,

Now, note that Chomsky’s reason for using the “You can’t say A if you don’t also say B” argument is precisely the opposite of the Euston Manifesto authors’ reason for using the same argument. Chomsky argues that you cannot criticize crimes by other countries unless you also (or first) criticize crimes for which your own country shares responsibility. The Euston Manifesto, on the other hand, says that you cannot criticize the crimes of your own country unless you also (or first) criticize the crimes of other countries.

This sounds about right, but I’m simply baffled as to how you manage to find equivalency here.

Yes, you’re right – argument is precisely the opposite. What the Euston Manifesto does is called ‘hypocrisy’. So, what’s the opposite of ‘hypocrisy’ – ‘honesty’, I suppose?

Okay, what about this argument:

And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye?

are you rejecting this one too as an equivalent to the Euston Manifesto?

24

a 07.03.06 at 11:48 am

What I find ironic about Chomsky is just how American he is. Americans see the world full of good guys and bad guys. So does Chomsky – it’s just he differs who are the good and who are the bad guys.

25

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 11:50 am

abb1, I said their reasons were opposite. But the form of the argument, “You can’t say A if you don’t also say B”, is the same in each case. As explained immediately following the passage you quote, I find it bogus.

26

engels 07.03.06 at 12:03 pm

Steven – I haven’t read all of your Unspeak post, but I shall do later. But it seems that we all know what we mean by “mass murder”. The definition of “genocide” is contested, though, so when someone denounces an act of genocide, according to a given definition, it seems a reasonable question to ask of her whether she is willing to apply that definition in a uniform way.

It seems like a bit of caricature to say Chomsky was demanding a “simultaneous” denunciation of all genocides. Or as you say here “You can’t say A if you don’t say B.” I agree this is false. The more defensible view which I take him to be holding is “You can’t say A if you are not prepared to say B.” Or, to put it another way, if you define X as Y, you have to be prepared to call everything which is Y an X. Is this wrong?

27

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 12:11 pm

engels, your “if you are not prepared to say B” is fine with me. It is perhaps what Chomsky meant, but it is not what he said (“Perhaps they have issued . . . if so, they have a right . . .”).

28

abb1 07.03.06 at 12:13 pm

OK, Steven, fair enough, I guess.

“A”:
Americans see the world full of good guys and bad guys. So does Chomsky…

Nah, I think it’s exactly the opposite: he is almost always taking about institutionalized phenomena. Here’s a quote on “good guys and bad guys” paradigm:

…the only way to justify having your boot on someone’s neck is that you are uniquely magnificent and they are uniquely awful.

Not bad, huh.

29

Brendan 07.03.06 at 12:34 pm

Nah, I think it’s exactly the opposite: he is almost always taking about institutionalized phenomena. Here’s a quote on “good guys and bad guys” paradigm:

…the only way to justify having your boot on someone’s neck is that you are uniquely magnificent and they are uniquely awful.

For what it’s worth this is almost exactly a paraphrase of Just World Theory (sometimes called the Belief in a Just World hypothesis: BJW).

http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/iie/v3n2/justworld.html

Because we cannot accept the fact (and it is a fact) that the world is completely amoral, and that it is neither just, nor good, nor fair, we invent little moral stories such that it makes sense to us. So if we see someone suffering we work out a reason as to why they must have deserved it really. For psychological reasons, this impulse is probably even stronger when we are causing the suffering: we work out reasons why they must have ‘deserved it’. Likewise, the idea that ‘we’ are acting immorally is not an easy one to take, so we work out little stories as to why we ‘had to’ take the ‘difficult decisions’ because you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, or it’s for the greater good, or you have to be cruel to be kind, or sometimes people just don’t know what’s best for them (and ‘we’ do), and so forth.

30

Randolph Fritz 07.03.06 at 12:48 pm

However little his critics like Chomsky, his critics do themselves no service in implying that he is the moral equivalent of a mass murderer; that is gross intellectual dishonesty. And his contributions to computer science, at least, are real and valid, so sneering at those, also, is dishonest. It seems to me that Chomsky’s strongest critics secretly perceive his critique as at least partly valid, or why do they seem so stung by it, and so willing to abandon all honesty and good sense in their responses?

31

engels 07.03.06 at 12:52 pm

Steven – It may be literal minded, but what Chomsky wrote was

Perhaps they have issued bitter condemnations of their Western allies (and Sweden). If so, they have a right to use the term ‘genocide‘ in the case of the terrible but much lesser crimes of Racak and Srebrenica.

You read him as implying the converse: that if they haven’t done so, then they don’t have the right. But he doesn’t actually say this.

Perhaps Chomsky’s point is that if they have issued such condemnations then this would be evidence that they are prepared to use the term consistently. But I don’t see a reason in this quotation for assuming that he thinks this is the only permissable evidence. I certainly think that weaker evidence would be acceptable, but I think that some evidence is required that people are prepared to use a term consistently, especially when it is one with a contested definition, like genocide.

Now it’s true that, just above in the same passage, he says that his opponents have a responsibility to denounce genocides in which their allies have been complicit, but I can’t see him making the strong claim you pin on him that if they fail in this responsibility then they forfeit their right to speak out.

32

Ron F 07.03.06 at 12:53 pm

Steven: “Hansard does not contain Nicholas Wheeler’s book. It is the disagreement between Chomsky and Kamm as to what Wheeler says that I haven’t checked.”

Have you checked ANY of Kamm’s points? I suspect not. Why not start with the bogus opening sentence? Then proceed with Brendan’s above comments in mind [16]. I think you’ll find it very good advice.

33

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 12:58 pm

Update: Oliver Kamm has written to me claiming grounds for his assertion that Chomsky thinks “the United States is morally equal or inferior to Nazi Germany”. I was already aware of his specific arguments on this point and considered them too weak to spend time on in the post. Nonetheless, for what it’s worth, he directs me to his 2005 article in Prospect:

Chomsky’s first book on politics, American Power and the New Mandarins (1969) grew from protest against the Vietnam war. But Chomsky went beyond the standard left critique of US imperialism to the belief that “what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.” This diagnosis is central to Chomsky’s political output. While he does not depict the US as an overtly repressive society—instead, it is a place where “money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print and marginalise dissent”—he does liken America’s conduct to that of Nazi Germany. In his newly published Imperial Ambitions, he maintains that “the pretences for the invasion [of Iraq] are no more convincing than Hitler’s.”

First, “a kind of denazification” evidently signals a partial analogy. Second, to say that US “pretences” are “no more convincing than Hitler’s” is not to say that US conduct is as bad as Hitler’s. One might well find Chomsky’s choice of comparisons tasteless, but none of this adds up to Chomsky thinking that “the United States is morally equal or inferior to Nazi Germany”. It remains obfuscatory hyperbole.

34

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 12:59 pm

Critiques of Chomsky usually seem to focus on piddling little points, or else on broad outlandish claims that he’s supposedly making (“Bush is Hitler,” whatever). Why can’t someone take on his primary point, namely that US foreign policy has been really destructive in many parts of the world and that we should stop doing such bad things? That strikes me as an arguable but not initially implausible point. Why not take that head-on?

(I think I know why — it’s because conservative critics of Chomsky are morally bankrupt and liberal critics of Chomsky are trying to distance themselves from “radicalism.”)

35

abb1 07.03.06 at 1:13 pm

The ‘denazification’ reference, IIRC, was made in response to an exhibition in some museum where children were invited to get into a model of a military chopper and shoot some Vietnamese peasants from a machine-gun. So, it was, of course, completely justified.

36

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:14 pm

Why can’t someone take on his primary point, namely that US foreign policy has been really destructive in many parts of the world and that we should stop doing such bad things?

Adam, how exactly would someone take on that point? Usually I’ve seen conjured up, “well don’t forget US foreign policy has been really productive in many parts of the world and we should continue to do such good things.” Which is inevitably true in some sense or other, just like “has been really destructive in many parts of the world” is inevitably true in some sense or other.

At which point the argument near-instantly shifts to, which actions were the good ones, which actions were the bad ones, and how do we identify the goodness of an action?

At which point Chomsky takes an unpopular and contrived yet well-disseminated stance, and there is much piddling on all sides.

37

engels 07.03.06 at 1:15 pm

I think I know why—it’s because conservative critics of Chomsky are morally bankrupt and liberal critics of Chomsky are trying to distance themselves from “radicalism.”

I don’t think it’s just this. I think the reason Chomsky pisses of American liberals is more visceral: a combination of patriotism and the Just World hypothesis. As I see it, mainstream liberals do share these sentiments, albeit in a weaker form than conservatives.

38

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:15 pm

Engels, we are in danger of spending the rest of the thread parsing the word “If” ;-) I admit I cannot read Chomsky’s “If so” otherwise than as “If so, and only if so”. But if Chomsky really meant what you offer as a softer interpretation, I agree with that. Indeed I argue in the Unspeak post that there may be a democratic duty to denounce the crimes of one’s own polity.

39

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 1:16 pm

Chomsky has a long track record of being too wrong on Yugoslavia for it to be an accident. Presumably this is because he’s unwilling to accept the existence of counterevidence to his the-US-sucks thesis.

“One might well find Chomsky’s choice of comparisons tasteless”

This seems strained. If I said, “You’re the freest and best poster on CT, and you are writing for your own pure self-interest to the detriment of the blogosphere, and the rhetoric in your posts reminds me of Goebbels’s”, that would surely be beyond tasteless.

“Why can’t someone take on his primary point, namely that US foreign policy has been really destructive in many parts of the world and that we should stop doing such bad things?”

Because US foreign policy is a complicated reaction to complex events and can’t be analyzed in the simplistic terms Chomsky demands? I rather suspect there’s a pretty big field of US foreign policy studies which might be consulted on such questions, if you care to look it up.

40

abb1 07.03.06 at 1:19 pm

And what’s with this silly taboo: ‘nothing here can ever be as bad as in Nazi Germany’? Sorry, that’s just not a rational thought.

41

Scott Martens 07.03.06 at 1:20 pm

There can be no “reasoned critiques” of Chomsky because any effort to do so devolves first into an argument about exactly what it is that Chomsky said, then into an argument about the meanings of words (which is so not Chomsky’s branch of linguistics); then into a discussion of what constitutes moral equivalency. By the time its over, his critics and supporters are calling each other names, each one firmly believing that the other is an apologist for something or other without either side being clear about anything.

It’s the same every time – a waste of breath.

42

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:21 pm

It remains obfuscatory hyperbole.

It would help if Chomsky would stop issuing useless hyperbolic comparisons. It’s possible to say “we shouldn’t bother to naively accept the goodwill statements of our politicians any moreso than we would naively accept the goodwill statements of our perceived enemies” without directly referencing Hitler Stalin et al. After all, I just did. And I made the exact same point, just in a rather more accessible way, with far less potentially-misleading implicature.

Of course, criticizing Chomsky for sloppy and/or poorly phrased writing isn’t nearly as self-promotional as the alternative(s).

43

engels 07.03.06 at 1:23 pm

Steven – I suspect we are in broad agreement and I agree there are more important things to argue about. I also don’t feel entirely comfortable with the way Chomsky’s argument comes across in the passage you quote.

44

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:23 pm

If I said, “You’re the freest and best poster on CT, and you are writing for your own pure self-interest to the detriment of the blogosphere, and the rhetoric in your posts reminds me of Goebbels’s”, that would surely be beyond tasteless.

Maybe so. But I still wouldn’t think you had actually accused me of being “morally equivalent or inferior” to Goebbels.

45

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:23 pm

Because US foreign policy is a complicated reaction to complex events and can’t be analyzed in the simplistic terms Chomsky demands?

You put it so much more sensibly using “simplistic” than I did using “contrived”.

46

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:27 pm

Maybe so.

Stop right there. Definitely so, and that’s the whole point. If things got that tasteless without absolutely needing to get that tasteless, there would no longer be much purpose in continuing the discussion.

Chomsky’s use of Hitler/Stalin/etc as examples implies he feels there is a need to use Hitler/Stalin/etc as examples. Accordingly, Chomsky just lost a good portion of his potential audience, who perceive his statements as not meaningfully, necessarily offensive, but rather deliberately, arbitrarily offensive.

For what? Was the “what” worth turning so many people off his message?

47

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 1:29 pm

“Of course, criticizing Chomsky for sloppy and/or poorly phrased writing isn’t nearly as self-promotional as the alternative(s).”

The claim is that Chomsky’s phrasing isn’t sloppy, but calibrated to be as offensive to America’s self-image as possible (objective balanced truth be damned) while maintaining sufficient credibility or plausible deniability not to be dismissed out of hand by everyone. He’s a lot like Ann Coulter in this.

48

abb1 07.03.06 at 1:33 pm

…simplistic terms Chomsky demands

They are not simplistic at all.

Most people – vast majority, most of the present company included – can not completely separate rational analysis from rhetoric when it concerns their own nationality. This ‘don’t call me a Nazi’ taboo is a proof.

There is nothing simplistic there. Rather: you have to invent all this non-exiting complexity to survive your cognitive dissonance.

49

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 1:34 pm

The problem with appeals to “complexity” is that they normally are used only to dismiss the overly simple analyst, without a demonstration of the appropriate level of complexity or nuance.

(I suppose that I should have stated Chomsky’s main point more strongly: “US foreign policy has been so near-uniformly destructive that our first instinct when we hear about a new foreign-policy initiative should be strong distrust.”)

50

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:35 pm

Stop right there.
Well, no; I repeat: I still wouldn’t think you had actually accused me of being “morally equivalent or inferior” to Goebbels, which was the accusation under consideration.

Accordingly, Chomsky just lost a good portion of his potential audience, who perceive his statements as not meaningfully, necessarily offensive, but rather deliberately, arbitrarily offensive.

That’s a good point. I don’t have an answer to your question as to why he does it.

51

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:38 pm

The claim is that Chomsky’s phrasing isn’t sloppy, but calibrated to be as offensive to America’s self-image as possible

That’s a plausible interpretation of the fact I stated: Chomsky makes comparisons that produce implicature unrelated to the advancement of his comparisons’ stated purpose. That’s really all this thread boils down to — some ignore the implicature altogether, some focus upon it exclusively, and some form of heated conflict ensues. [That’s the trajectory nearly every re:Chomsky back-and-forth follows.]

I won’t claim that Chomsky is slipping this acrimonious implicature into his statements for sensational purposes. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt and call them untalented unless they confirm explicitly they are acting knowingly and maliciously.

52

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:41 pm

I think there is some room for distinction between malice and polemic.

53

engels 07.03.06 at 1:42 pm

The trouble is it is not possible to tell the truth about some things without offending large numbers of Americans.

54

abb1 07.03.06 at 1:45 pm

That’s just nonsense, Previously. He makes comparisons because they are good meaningful comparisons. If they seem shocking to you – that’s your problem, go see a shrink.

55

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:47 pm

US foreign policy has been so near-uniformly destructive

At which point you’ve lost your claim to credibility, of course. Now, perhaps you will further clarify by saying US military policy after World War Two has been so ineffective at Saving The World, and has produced so many undesirable consequences, that we should critically assess our reasoning before throwing our support into a new military venture, your assertion would become a kind of tautology.

If that’s truly all Chomsky means to say, it shouldn’t have taken him more than a pamphlet’s worth of writing to say it, and he wouldn’t be the subject of a CT thread today.

56

a 07.03.06 at 1:47 pm

“Why can’t someone take on his primary point, namely that US foreign policy has been really destructive in many parts of the world and that we should stop doing such bad things?” Well, maybe because if this is his primary point, then many of us would agree with it? Hello – Iraq, Central America. And by that I mean; Iraq, complicated situation, but on the whole we should have stayed out. But (again) Chomsky is a simplistic moralist; he sees the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, in black and white. He just doesn’t see many situations as complicated. Very American.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:50 pm

He makes comparisons because they are good meaningful comparisons.

In your opinion, does involving Hitler/Stalin/etc specifically manage to refine and illustrate his point with a minimum of additional/unnecessary implicature? If he replaced “Hitler” with “perceived opponent” would it detract from his explicit point, which is that we shouldn’t take statements of goodwill for granted?

P.S. The “see a shrink” ad hominem wasn’t necessary or appreciated. You’re usually far more respectful than that.

58

tennin 07.03.06 at 1:52 pm

Personally, reading on Japanese history and seeing how Japan’s leaders presented its brutal conquest of Asia — to the world, to the Japanese people, and even to themselves — as a benign exercise in spreading Japanese civilization and fighting Western imperialism has done as much as anything to make me skeptical of all political rhetoric and self-justification. So with regards to the passage quoted by Beamont at least, I don’t see why Chomsky should avoid the most effective and compelling examples.

59

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:53 pm

previously:

I rather doubt Chomsky would have written that US military policy since WWII has been all about “Saving the World”.

60

previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:54 pm

The trouble is it is not possible to tell the truth about some things without offending large numbers of Americans.

See above #42. I “told the truth” making the same point that Chomsky explicitly made, without including unnecessarily offensive implicature.

I think there is some room for distinction between malice and polemic.

Ah, yes. Sorry about that, let me retract the word “malicious” in all forms. I’m not the best writer either, and I make errors too. Of course, a book goes through a more thorough editing & redacting process than an online comment post.

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engels 07.03.06 at 1:54 pm

“pre” – Your first sentence is false as a matter of fact: as a third party I can objectively state that Adam’s “credibility” is intact.

“a” – So who does he think are the “good guys”? Pol pot, I presume?

Actually, forget it: this is a waste of time.

62

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 1:55 pm

“The problem with appeals to “complexity” is that they normally are used only to dismiss the overly simple analyst”

Say what? Is there any thinkers out there (well, any more sophisticated that say abb1) who claim there are clear ways of determining the right foreign policy in Africa, the ME, Asia, etc. etc.? That one can try to do X and expect X to happen and bad consequences Y and Z not to follow? Given that US policy is some unknown and varying mix of idealism and self-interest, and data about what happened why are hard-to-impossible to come by? Well, there’s Chomsky, and he has an easy prescription – repeat over and over it’s 0% idealism, and if that doesn’t work (see TFY) then lie.

What’s even worse about the Chomskian paradigm is that it has to assume that decisions made in a messy democracy arise from a monolithic intentional stance while denying that individual leaders might have benign intentions leading to imperfect decisions.

The worst thing is that US policy could be a lot better and smarter, and if Chomsky had come up with a solid critique instead of trying to fill an iconoclastic niche and playing to an audience predisposed to find his message thrilling, we might be in a better world.

63

abb1 07.03.06 at 1:57 pm

Sorry, Pre, I got carried away.

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Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 1:58 pm

What’s even worse about the Chomskian paradigm is that it has to assume that decisions made in a messy democracy arise from a monolithic intentional stance

I’m having trouble remembering what was messily democratic about the decision to invade Iraq.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 1:59 pm

“pre” – Your first sentence is false as a matter of fact: as a third party I can objectively state that Adam’s “credibility” is intact.

(sigh) Misphrased and withdrawn. The claim that US foreign policy has been near-uniformly destructive is flatly false unless “foreign” gets mentally blotted out and replaced with “military” (which I think is what Adam more or less meant; we’re all typing fast).

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rilkefan 07.03.06 at 2:03 pm

“Are there”, argggh.

‘Accordingly, Chomsky just lost a good portion of his potential audience, who perceive his statements as not meaningfully, necessarily offensive, but rather deliberately, arbitrarily offensive.’

“That’s a good point. I don’t have an answer to your question as to why he does it.”

Clearly he’s not aiming at influencing the main stream of thought – somewhat as (according to my extremely limited understanding) in linguistics, he’s staked out the extreme possible territory and defended it vociferously – probably if other thinkers had taken up positions similar to his then he would have switched to a completely different one.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 2:04 pm

Sorry, Pre, I got carried away.

Hey, no problem, it’s a Chomsky discussion, everybody gets carried away. See my especially silly use of “maliciously” earlier.

Actually that’s what I always find spectacularly interesting about these discussions. Chomsky could be taken apart in a sensible way by looking at each explicit claim he makes, and asking, could this have been said with equivalent specificity, but with less provocation? Nobody does this, and the discussion devolves into a bickering in which one side claims “yes Chomsky did actually say this or came close enough to saying it” and the other side says “if you look at what he is literally actually saying…”

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rilkefan 07.03.06 at 2:09 pm

“I’m having trouble remembering what was messily democratic about the decision to invade Iraq.”

Do you claim that the Bush admin is typical? That the Iraq invasion is relevant for understanding our Korea policy? Our Japan policy? Our aid-to-the-third-world policies? Our stance wrt the Balkans or the Baltic countries? Our trade policies?

It’s easy to be snide – it’s hard to understand how to act in the world.

69

abb1 07.03.06 at 2:15 pm

…varying mix of idealism and self-interest

If I told you that a used-car dealer or a banker or a repo-man are motivated by a mix of idealism and self-interest – you’d just laugh, yet the foreign policiy is somehow completely different – Cheney & Co just have to have benign intentions and idealism.

Well, why not, maybe they do indeed have tons of idealism and benign intentions, but that’s irrelevant because as soon as they start acting on it – they are out of business, just like the hypothetic kind and gentle repo-man.

70

tennin 07.03.06 at 2:19 pm

What’s even worse about the Chomskian paradigm is that it has to assume that decisions made in a messy democracy arise from a monolithic intentional stance while denying that individual leaders might have benign intentions leading to imperfect decisions.

Does he deny this? I haven’t read much Chomsky but my impression was that he followed something like the Marxist view here in regarding the intentions (or rationalizations) of individual leaders as ultimately irrelevant to the objective institutional (or class-interest, etc.) reasons for their policies. It’s kind of like evolutionary psychology: people don’t get up in the morning and consciously think “OK, which course of action will maximize the expected future prevalence of my genetic makeup?” but that is allegedly a good heuristic for predicting their behavior. If anything, a messy democratic (or other) decision-making process would seem to make this sort of analysis more plausible, not less.

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Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 2:25 pm

It’s easy to be snide – it’s hard to understand how to act in the world.

I don’t disagree. I quite liked the rest of your comment, but the democratic figleaf is a poor resort in many cases.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 2:27 pm

It’s easy to be snide – it’s hard to understand how to act in the world.

A motto for the ages.

73

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 2:29 pm

Chomsky could be taken apart in a sensible way by looking at each explicit claim he makes, and asking, could this have been said with equivalent specificity, but with less provocation?

Would that be a taking-apart? It might demonstrate that Chomsky could be less polemical if he wanted to. But clearly he doesn’t want to.

74

Brad DeLong 07.03.06 at 2:29 pm

Well, consider the argument that the United States was doing a good thing in trying to keep the Khmer Rouge from conquering Cambodia. Of this argument, Noam Chomsky argued in 1977 in the _Nation_:

“Go back to your Nation of 1977, and consider the paragraph:

…there are many other sources on recent events in Cambodia that have not been brought to the attention of the American reading public. Space limitations preclude a comprehensive review, but such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent…”

Chomsky lies: There were, of course, no highly qualified specialists who had studied the full range of evidence available and concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands writing for the Far Eastern Economic Review. There were, of course, no highly qualified specialists who had studied the full range of evidence available and concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands writing for the London Economist. Ben Kiernan–then a graduate student with many Maoist illusions–did write Khmer Rouge apologetics for the Melbourne Journal of Politics, but was neither a highly-qualified expert nor a man who had studied the full range of evidence.

Steven: Do you think Chomsky was both (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about the Khmer Rouge in 1977? Given that, is there any reason to think that he is (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about Milosevic and company today?

75

a 07.03.06 at 2:31 pm

“Cheney & Co just have to have benign intentions and idealism.”

Yes but wouldn’t Chomsky assert that no American President since and including Roosevelt did not have benign intentions? So we’re not just talking about Cheney and Co.

76

r4d20 07.03.06 at 2:36 pm

I have always felt that the reason Chomsky attracts so much ire (as well as reverence) is his mastery of language. He has the ability to make good points rooted in facts as well as to make bullshit look and smell like roses from a short distance.

77

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 2:42 pm

“my impression was that he followed something like the Marxist view here in regarding the intentions (or rationalizations) of individual leaders as ultimately irrelevant to the objective institutional (or class-interest, etc.) reasons for their policies.”

As pointed out above, ignoring who was president in 2002/3 vs say 1978 will leave one in a bad way analyzing our foreign policy.

Or consider our actions in TFY – we didn’t like the slaughter, and we didn’t like the instability on the borders of our friends/important trading partners. We weren’t too distracted by other matters and had a president and Sec. of State inclined to make modest efforts at improving the world, esp. in neighborhoods we had some knowledge of – and this seemed like a good time to set a good example. So for a mix of reasons we intervened, with Nato but not the UN (so lawlessly according to some). To keep his viewpoint consistent Chomsky has to ascribe the above to plain imperialistic squashing of uppity innocent Serbia. He has (as described in a 2003(?) New Yorker article not online) to shout down a student who asks him if the US intervention in WWII was a positive act. He has to flirt with a holocaust denier like Faurisson and a tyrant like Pol Pot. He has to make bizarrely unuseful comparisons to Hitler. He leaves, as far as I know, no academic impact in policy analysis, else we could be arguing about work by his peer-reviewed epigones. (If any such exist, I’d love to take a look.)

78

previously pre 07.03.06 at 2:43 pm

It might demonstrate that Chomsky could be less polemical if he wanted to.

Exactly. Notice how much of the Chomsky discussion centers around whether Chomsky is actually being polemical, or whether (as supporters would suggest) many of the implications found in his writing are more-or-less incidental.

Consider the question, “Is Chomsky trying to deliberately draw parallels between US foreign policy and fascist foreign policies for sensational effect?” Each in their own way, some will say yes, some no — who falls on either side will largely pattern after who takes each ‘side’ in any Chomsky-related discussion.

So what we’re really debating is whether or not Chomsky is polemic at the expense of objectivity.

79

r4d20 07.03.06 at 2:44 pm

“There can be no “reasoned critiques” of Chomsky because any effort to do so devolves first into an argument about exactly what it is that Chomsky said, then into an argument about the meanings of words (which is so not Chomsky’s branch of linguistics)”

Exactly. His statements usually strike me as having multiple possible interpretations that are all potentially valid. I think he does this on purpose – the typical “imply a radical message while maintaining plausible deniability” strategy, but I dont know for sure. Either way, committed haters and fanboys will always interpret his words to mean exactly what they want them to mean.

80

abb1 07.03.06 at 2:52 pm

…Chomsky assert that no American President since and including Roosevelt did not have benign intentions

I’m saying that benign intentions don’t matter much; there are other more important factors, mechanisms, forces, trade-offs – objective reality that doesn’t usually leave them much choice to exercise idealism. Basically, they have to keep their backers happy.

The backers want different things – some want stability, others want to spend some ammo, to blow up and wear off some tanks so that new ones have to be ordered; some want oil prices low, others high, etc. Most want good relations with China at the moment, for example, so there’s very little talk about dreaded Evil Red China. Politicians operate within these constrains. And they use rhetoric and lies to justify their actions. That’s their job.

81

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 2:59 pm

“I have always felt that the reason Chomsky attracts so much ire (as well as reverence) is his mastery of language.”

I’ve argued with liberal japonicus of the Obsidian Wings meta-site Hating on Charles Bird, a partial proponent of Chomsky, and he says Chomsky’s worst attribute is his awful prose. If he wrote more clearly he’d be easier to discuss – and it would be harder to read one’s biases into what he says.

“Cheney & Co just have to have benign intentions and idealism”

It’s hard to say it, but I think Cheney does have benign intentions – for example I’ve little doubt he thought post-intervention Iraq would be a much better place than under Saddam – but power, arrogance, and a willingness to deceive and be deceived are a bad mix. That this was followed post-invasion by (in my view) war crimes is another issue. Whether a satisfying solution to the Iraq situation (e.g., Saddam’s use of the sanctions regime [which I on the whole approved of] to punish his people) existed is yet another issue – the kind of question that’s much more interesting and important than the Chomskian reduction.

82

Jon 07.03.06 at 3:07 pm

rilkefan:

Do you claim that the Bush admin is typical?

I would claim what Chomsky does: that the Bush administration is at the extreme end of a pretty narrow spectrum.

That the Iraq invasion is relevant for understanding our Korea policy? Our Japan policy? Our aid-to-the-third-world policies? Our stance wrt the Balkans or the Baltic countries? Our trade policies?

Yes, of course I’d claim it’s relevant. Moreover, that would rationally be the default belief. Any claim it’s *not* relevant — that somehow the Bush administration appeared out of nowhere and suddenly got almost the entire foreign policy class of the U.S. to go along with it without having any significant overlap in worldview and aims — is so strange that it would require extensive evidence.

It’s easy to be snide – it’s hard to understand how to act in the world.

For a long time most Americans thought George Washington did a pretty good job in his Farewell Address. I still do, though if you read it now, you’ll see he’d today be considered far outside the spectrum of acceptable opinion.

…ignoring who was president in 2002/3 vs say 1978 will leave one in a bad way analyzing our foreign policy.

Fair enough. Chomsky doesn’t do that, however. What he has said is that due to institutional forces the differences in administrations are pretty narrow — but that nevertheless when you multiply that difference by the power of the U.S. you get pretty big differences in the lives of people elsewhere. This seems like a reasonable, empirically-supported perspective to me.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 3:20 pm

Yes, of course I’d claim it’s relevant. Moreover, that would rationally be the default belief.

It’d be anachronistic. When you continued on with your paragraph, you turned the statement around. “X is relevant to understanding Y” is not a symmetric statement, so “Iraq is relevant to understanding Korea” is not the same statement as “Korea is relevant to understanding Iraq”.

84

Robin 07.03.06 at 3:34 pm

“Iraq is relevant to understanding Korea” is not the same statement as “Korea is relevant to understanding Iraq”.

Meaning … Iraq is irrelevant to understanding Korea? In all possible ways irrelevant to understanding Korea?

85

spartikus 07.03.06 at 3:38 pm

Call me crazy, but aren’t the Korea and Iraq policy of the United States primarily about projecting American power?

86

soru 07.03.06 at 3:45 pm

I have a theory that the letter-pattern ‘Chomsky’ is some kind of deep-structure cheat code built into the firmware of the human brain. Anyone hearing or seeing it switches into a mental state where they lose the ability to parse non-trivial English sentences.

For example, look at this :

The Lie: “European powers conquered much of the world with extreme brutality. With the rarest of exceptions, they were not under attack by their foreign victims…

So when ‘Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Crete, the southern areas of France and Italy, Hungary southern Poland, the whole of central Europe, parts of Greece, the former Yugoslavia, Romania and Bulgaria’ are listed, a normally-smart person is genuinely unable to see which part of the paragragh quoted that is about. To them, it is a non-sequitor, because the part of the brain that sequits is switched off.

87

previously pre 07.03.06 at 3:45 pm

Meaning… Iraq is irrelevant to understanding Korea?

A high degree of ambiguity entered that discussion some place and it’s hardly worth unravelling. However, I feel like engaging for a bit.

So, let’s not be silly. In all possible ways? You could take the stance that everything is relevant to understanding everything else. I wouldn’t even go so far as to claim the brand of shoe on your left foot is “in all possible ways irrelevant to understanding Korea” — where there’s a will, there’s a way.

But if I wanted to spend 20-30 hours of research getting a better handle on what happened in Korea circa 1951, I wouldn’t be researching shoe sales, neither would I be researching what’s happened in 21st-century Iraq. That was, more or less, the point of the earlier assertion.

88

r4d20 07.03.06 at 3:48 pm

I’ve argued with liberal japonicus of the Obsidian Wings meta-site Hating on Charles Bird, a partial proponent of Chomsky, and he says Chomsky’s worst attribute is his awful prose. If he wrote more clearly he’d be easier to discuss – and it would be harder to read one’s biases into what he says.

You dont think his choice of language is deliberate? If he wanted to make his point clear, he could.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 3:52 pm

Anyone hearing or seeing it switches into a mental state where they lose the ability to parse non-trivial English sentences.

We shouldn’t have to parse. The writer should employ enough talent to minimize or eliminate all unnecessary ambiguity.

I could say out of the blue, “if you hunt down and slay your next online opponent, you should be prosecuted and go to prison, just like Charles Manson” and it would be a defensible, literally true statement. If you parse that statement, I:
(1) didn’t accuse you of being a murderous type
(2) didn’t say you were like Charles Manson

But what did I do? I brought all sorts of unnecessary comparisons into the mix when all I really meant to say is “I think you should be nicer to people who disagree with you online.” For that, as a writer, I should be held accountable. Maybe I’m a terrible comparison-writer, or maybe I really meant to provocatively compare you to Manson, but either way it’s reprehensible.

90

Louis Proyect 07.03.06 at 3:57 pm

Noam Chomsky and His Critics

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 critical supporter of the Vietnam War who reserved most of his animosity for the antiwar movement rather than imperialism. 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.”

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/chomsky.htm

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 4:05 pm

Louis Proyect, in general, quotations longer than ten lines or so should at least be accompanied by some comments of your own. As it stands it looks like you haven’t read through the CT discussion to this point, and were merely advertising the article instead of engaging in discussion.

That the Columbia article criticizes closed-mindedness and unwillingness to engage Chomsky makes your action seem a little hypocritical. Addressing the conversation, or appending your thoughts, would have gone a long way toward winning over link-clickers & engaged readers.

92

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 4:07 pm

The sttempted point re Korea was that we got into the Korean War for a variety of reasons, and we supported South Korea for a variety of reasons; and South Korea is a success story for US foreign policy. Saying “Because the US invaded Iraq for systems-emergent reason R [ignoring incredible contigencies like Bush fils’s oedipal problems and Saddam’s assassination attempt against his father] we can see that the US support of SK was blah” seems silly to me.

Again – I thought the Iraq War was a terrible mistake, but there were good reasons to want to go in – to end Saddam’s repression, to establish an exemplary democracy in the Arab world, to protect access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on, to convince the world we’re so strong and dangerous killing 3k of our civilians is unthinkable, etc. etc. That many of these reasons were dumb or based on deception contigently unquashed or just plain mistaken doesn’t fit into the Chomskian reduction. Consider that the alternative to liberal interventionism is sitting on our couches watching the next Rwanda – well, actually, we’re doing that already, hope everyone’s happy.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 4:19 pm

That many of these reasons were dumb or based on deception contigently unquashed or just plain mistaken doesn’t fit into the Chomskian reduction.

I like this statement more than the rest of what you said. Most opinion for-or-against the war in Iraq was centered around whether the ‘facts’ asserted by war proponents were indeed factual — for example, debating whether there really was an imminent danger of Iraq using Weapons of Mass Destruction against the United States. There wasn’t much debate about whether the U.S. had a moral responsibility to wait until those hypothetical WMD were actually used, although I’ve seen the topic meekly brought up from time to time among academics.

Verification was (and is) the crux dividing opinion.

94

abb1 07.03.06 at 4:22 pm

we supported South Korea for a variety of reasons

Hmm, what do you think some of these reasons were, considering that till 1988 South Korea was a brutal fascist dictatorship and ‘we’ authorized and supported brutal and bloody suppression of several attempts to overthrow it?

95

spartikus 07.03.06 at 4:29 pm

South Korea is a success story for US foreign policy.

I know I’m going to regret this, but some might say South Korea was a success story despite US foreign policy. SK was a pretty brutal dictatorship for decades and that the democracy SK enjoys today has owes a lot more to the 1988 Olympics (and the fear of the Generals of an international backlash if the suppressed the student movement on the Olympic eve) than to US encouragement.

Given this decades long support of dictatorship, why did the U.S. bail out South Korea if not to project American power onto the border of China and the Soviet Union? And is the American occupation of Iraq not similar?

96

engels 07.03.06 at 4:30 pm

I thought the Iraq War was a terrible mistake, but there were good reasons to want to go in… to protect access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on, to convince the world we’re so strong and dangerous killing 3k of our civilians is unthinkable, etc. etc.

Rilkefan, just to clarify: you are arguing that these last two are potentially good reasons for invading a sovereign state? And you think of yourself as a kind of liberal?

97

minneapolitan 07.03.06 at 4:37 pm

I’m not a big Chomsky fan, partly because, as an anarchist-communist myself, I don’t see most of his writing as aimed at me. Frankly, from what I’ve read, the apparent audience for his polemical writings are undergraduate Poli Sci majors who haven’t decided much about their own ideological stance yet.

And of course, he’s always trying to prick the most sensitive parts of the academic foreign policy establishment by including these invidious comparisons as discussed above. Frankly, I agree with those of you who’ve said that this makes him less effective as a foreign policy critic, but given his ideological background, did he really ever have any hope of becoming a truly effective one? Chomsky has tried to sit on the fence between respectable academic writing and anarchist agitation, and predictably this has failed to ingratiate him much with either side. His most vicious critics are the leftmost Zionists and the rightmost anarchists, which again, should surprise no one, since he’s been havering in the DMZ between the two for four decades.
So yes, OF COURSE he’s trying to get your goat with the Hitler/Stalin stuff, some of which he probably believes and some of which is inserted more for the pleasure of irritating those who are setting themselves up to be irritated by it.

On a smaller point: Korea/Iraq, maybe not; Mossadegh/Iraq, definitely.

98

a 07.03.06 at 4:38 pm

abb1: Do you recognize any differences between the respective governments of North and South Korea in 1950? Or were they, in your eyes, equivalent?

99

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 4:39 pm

“There wasn’t much debate about whether the U.S. had a moral responsibility to wait until those hypothetical WMD were actually used”

I’m a physicist and feel the slightest tinge of responsibility for Trinity etc., and Iraq’s progress towards getting an atomic bomb at the time of the Gulf War was shocking to me. I had little doubt the post-war post-sanctions Iraq had no such capability – but if I had mistakenly thought it did, that would have been a good reason to invade in my view. It’s an unfortunate historical fact that the “WMD” category is confusing to many or even most people – but even gods fight in vain against stupidity (another lack in Chomskian analysis I think).

In any case, I don’t think we would have wanted to wait to act until Haifa or Al Shuayba port was destroyed – in that non-existent world where Saddam was anywhere near getting nukes.

Iran is run by relatively sensible folk – even Pakistan is – and they are adding a great deal of danger to the world with their nuclear programs. I really wouldn’t want Saddam to have the ability to put an atomic bomb into a ship.

100

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 4:45 pm

“Rilkefan, just to clarify: you are arguing that these last two are potentially good reasons for invading a sovereign state?”

Not sufficient reasons perhaps, but reasons. The chaos, poverty, and violent conflicts arising from a true oil crisis or a nuclear 9/11 should matter to anyone with a soul – perhaps that doesn’t include you.

“And you think of yourself as a kind of liberal?”

Yes, a non-idiotic liberal. But it’s hard to know oneself.

101

abb1 07.03.06 at 4:56 pm

Do you recognize any differences between the respective governments of North and South Korea in 1950? Or were they, in your eyes, equivalent?

There was a war there in 1950. After the war, I do recognize the difference: one was communist and the other fascist; like, say, the USSR and Italy in 1937.

What’s your point? What does it have to do with the US leaders’ reasons for maintaining a fascist regime there – were the reasons idealistic or not?

102

engels 07.03.06 at 4:59 pm

Not sufficient reasons perhaps, but reasons. The chaos, poverty, and violent conflicts arising from a true oil crisis or a nuclear 9/11 should matter to anyone with a soul – perhaps that doesn’t include you.

I didn’t ask you whether you thought they mattered, rilkefan. So let me ask you again, and let me quote what you said. Do you stand by the claim you made above that

(1) protect[ing] access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on, (2) convinc[ing] the world we’re so strong and dangerous killing 3k of our civilians is unthinkable

are potentially good reasons for starting a war, by invading a sovereign state? Are you further claiming that they are good reasons for any liberal to hold, and that any liberal who thinks otherwise is “idiotic”?

103

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 5:03 pm

engels: “So let me ask you again”

No, you may not, not until you’ve learned to read.

104

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 5:10 pm

Soru, are you seriously claiming that the occasions on which European countries attacked “Arab-Islamic” territory while simultaneously being under attack from “Arab-Islamic” people are not rare exceptions in the context of the global colonial enterprise? If I have misunderstood you, I apologise: it must be the Chomsky rootkit.

105

engels 07.03.06 at 5:12 pm

Rilkefan, I have to say, your last two comments haven’t been terribly informative. I asked you, very politely the first time, whether you really meant it when you said

good reasons to want to go in [to Iraq included] to protect access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on, to convince the world we’re so strong and dangerous killing 3k of our civilians is unthinkable

and if so, whether you thought of yourself as a liberal. You responded by (i) answering a different question, (ii) saying I didn’t have a soul, (iii) calling me an idiot and (iv) telling me I can’t read.

If it’s not too much to ask, could you just answer my question?

If you want to say you didn’t actually mean what you said at first, that’s fine. But if you keep avoiding the question by changing the subject and insulting me, you will start to look a bit silly.

106

Louis Proyect 07.03.06 at 5:13 pm

previously pre: “Louis Proyect, in general, quotations longer than ten lines or so should at least be accompanied by some comments of your own. As it stands it looks like you haven’t read through the CT discussion to this point, and were merely advertising the article instead of engaging in discussion.”

We obviously have different approaches. You have posted over a dozen times on this thread but everything you have written is empty opinion. I prefer to write longer and more substantial items that are obviously not the sort of thing that most blog commentators have either the patience or the committment to write. To be quite honest, I think that mailing lists are much better for serious exchanges but the average academic blog, like this one, is designed to put the blogger in a position hierarchically superior to the commenter. So I try to keep my interventions to a minimum. Thank you for the advice, anyhow, even though it was worthless.

107

Oliver Kamm 07.03.06 at 5:23 pm

As Steven says, I’ve been corresponding with him on this and related issues over a little while. As we seem to have reached an impasse, I’ll post my comment here directly, and leave it at that. I should stress, however, that we have discussed only the substantive issue raised in this thread, and that’s what I’ll stick to. I generally try to stay out of internet discussions of my mental instability and services as a paid agent of imperialism, however great the autobiographical interest.

Chomsky’s invocation of comparisons to Nazi Germany is not mysterious. If you suggest, as Chomsky did in his first political book, that the US needs “a kind of denazification”, you are attributing Nazi-like characteristics of a non-trivial nature to US society. This heavily qualifies the notion that the US is a free, let alone the freest, society. When I pointed out this aspect of his political thinking, Chomsky claimed that I had misquoted him and also omitted crucial context. His first point was a falsehood and his second sophistry (the context that was so crucial was that grossest of state crimes, a museum exhibit of dubious taste).

I mention this, because Chomsky’s point applies to more than foreign policy. But it is in foreign policy that he finds direct analogies – not merely tasteless figures of speech – with Nazi Germany. In his most celebrated essay ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’, he says: “[O]ne must applaud the insistence of the Secretary of State on the importance of historical analogies, the Munich analogy, for example. As Munich showed, a powerful and aggressive nation with a fanatic belief in its manifest destiny will regard each victory, each extension of its power and authority, as a prelude to the next step.”

On an incidental point: I’ve indicated the problem of Chomsky and source material, even where the source is his own published writings. The issue that Steven raises of Chomsky’s remarks on the Kosovo war is another example. Chomsky does not name the parliamentary inquiry that comes to the conclusion he states, but it must be either the Foreign Affairs or the Defence Select Committee reports. And – to employ a Chomskyism – the master omits ‘crucial context’ there.

108

soru 07.03.06 at 5:34 pm

If I have misunderstood you, I apologise: it must be the ****** rootkit.

I read the original quote as saying ‘Europe had hardly ever been attacked’. I guess you read it as claiming ‘Few if any colonial enterprises were counterattacks’. Is that right?

I don’t see how it follows from your reading that 9/11 would, as a consequence, be expected to be especially shocking.

109

engels 07.03.06 at 5:55 pm

good reasons to want to go in [to Iraq included] to protect access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on, to convince the world we’re so strong and dangerous killing 3k of our civilians is unthinkable (Rilkefan)

In fairness, Rilkefan, you seem to answer my question (as to whether you really mean this) in the affirmative, although you don’t give reasons and you immediately follow your answer with a defence of an entirely different claim, and with content-free insults.

But I think it’s fair to say that this is a pretty way out position for the 21st century. US oil interests are a good reason for invading another country. Demonstrating US power is a good reason for invading another country. I’m not going to argue with it here, but I wanted to get clear that it’s what you really think. If this kind of thinking is widespread among “liberals” then that seems to say something about the state of US politics.

110

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 5:57 pm

I read the original quote as saying ‘Europe had hardly ever been attacked’.

Does it not plainly say that it was hardly ever under attack by the same people it was attacking?

111

Jon 07.03.06 at 6:05 pm

engels:

If this kind of thinking is widespread among “liberals” then that seems to say something about the state of US politics.

Wonderfully enough, what it says is precisely the (extremely simple and easy to understand) point Chomsky makes.

He also makes the point that if you go outside the narrow spectrum you are called an idiot, soulness, etc.

112

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 6:06 pm

Soru, I think Chomsky can be forgiven for the tacit assumption that the Islamic conquests of certain portions of Europe, given that they occurred centuries before, are not relevant to the time period he is addressing (i.e., the modern era).

113

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 6:14 pm

the context that was so crucial was that grossest of state crimes, a museum exhibit of dubious taste

I rather think that a museum exhibit that invited children to sit in a simulated helicopter and score points by firing a machine gun at Vietnamese huts deserves a stauncher denunciation than merely saying it is in “dubious taste”. It is arguably at least as, if not more than, egregious than any number of printed quasi-analogies to Nazi Germany in polemical works of history/politics for a general readership. To complain as Chomsky did of the omission of this context is hardly “mere sophistry”.

There appears to be a simple misunderstanding of analogies here. We can debate the merits of each analogy separately. But to draw an analogy is not to say that two things are generally identical, especially when the analogiser takes pains explicitly to deny that they are. Another of Oliver’s examples from Chomsky:

Of course the aggressiveness of liberal imperialism is not that of Nazi Germany, though the distinction may seem rather academic to a Vietnamese peasant who is being gassed or incinerated.

Oliver comments: “The last three words are significant for what they imply.” To which one might respond: well, the first thirteen words are significant for what they actually say, too. The idea that, if you are being killed, it hardly matters much to you whether your killers are the SS or the US Army, or for that matter invaders from Mars, is not very controversial.

The upshot is that, still to my knowledge, Chomsky nowhere says or implies that “the US is morally equal or inferior to Nazi Germany”, any more than he draws a “moral equivalence” between Saddam/Stalin and Blair/Bush.

114

engels 07.03.06 at 6:15 pm

I read the original quote as saying ‘Europe had hardly ever been attacked’.

And now to complete the pincer movement, all we need is for r4d20 to say that Soru’s bizarre misreading is equally valid, and it’s all Chomsky’s fault for being deliberately ambiguous.

115

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.03.06 at 6:26 pm

“How this characterization of Chomsky’s “determination” is to be squared with the subject’s well-known assertions that the US is “in many respects” the “freest” and (without qualification) the “greatest” country in the world is mysterious.”

The problem is that Chomsky regularly asserts contradictory things–he isn’t using logic he is playing at demogogery. He is like a Rorschach test, you see what you want to see and omit what you don’t. Yes when it suits the structure of his emotional game he says that the US is in many respects the freest country. Yes when it fits his game he also says that it requires a de-Nazification.

When a man beats his wife and then brings her flowers, it is part of the ongoing emotional manipulation. Anyone who understands what is going on wouldn’t try to logically rationalize the two as conflicting issues to be resolved. Just because flower giving suggests affection from normal people doesn’t mean that it does from the wife beater. From a wife-beater it often represents a ploy or at very best a self-delusion. Why can’t we just accept that Chomsky did some influential work in a specialized area, but exhibits the overall logic of a loon outside that area? You don’t have to logically resolve his words–the man is crazy on the topic of US foreign policy.

116

engels 07.03.06 at 6:29 pm

Actually, Jon I think the video on your blog makes the point painfully clear.

117

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 6:35 pm

Sebastian, So Chomsky is morally equivalent to someone who beats his wife?

118

engels 07.03.06 at 6:35 pm

Why can’t we just accept that Chomsky did some influential work in a specialized area, but exhibits the overall logic of a loon outside that area? You don’t have to logically resolve his words—the man is crazy on the topic of US foreign policy.

Normally, Sebastian, we think of people as being either crazy or not. Not crazy only on a particular subject.

119

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 6:41 pm

Sebastian, the contradiction between thinking that the US is the freest country in the world and also that it is “morally equivalent or inferior to Nazi Germany”, should Chomsky ever have said or implied such a thing, seems to me substantively more difficult to resolve than the contradiction (if there is one) between thinking that it is the freest and that in one context it required “a kind of denazification”. (Don’t forget the “a kind of”, will you?)

120

Jon 07.03.06 at 6:41 pm

Sebastian Holsclaw:

the man is crazy on the topic of US foreign policy.

And yet far, far more people on earth would agree with Chomsky’s views than Sebastian’s.

It must be frightening indeed for Sebastian to live surrounded by so many billions of lunatics.

121

engels 07.03.06 at 6:53 pm

Still, full credit to you Sebastian for not taking the Aidan Kehoe line (#2) that Chomksy “poison[ed] the field of linguistics”. Is this the Oliver Kamm position as well? I don’t know: I’m not an investment banker so I can’t read more then a few lines of his prose without falling asleep.

122

Steven Poole 07.03.06 at 6:54 pm

Brad,
Sorry, I only just saw your question. My answer is that I’m not qualified to judge whether Chomsky was or is “sane”; nor can I judge whether he was or is really “trying to tell the truth”. The question that interests me is: why is it not sufficient to point out that what he writes is not true, when that is the case?

123

kravdraaster 07.03.06 at 7:01 pm

But to draw an analogy is not to say that two things are generally identical, especially when the analogiser takes pains explicitly to deny that they are.

This is a point that repeatedly escapes Mr. Kamm, who has spent the temporal equivalent of 78 blog entries exposing to the educated public his embarrassing ignorance of analogical reasoning. If this seems harsh, consider the following fragment, taking almost at random from Mr. Kamm’s vast corpus:

In my comment about Noam Chomsky earlier this week, I advanced three propositions. First, his central political notion is not about Vietnam, or Timor, or Palestine: it is that the US is equivalent to Nazi Germany.

As Leiter aptly observes, “one reason it is really important to learn how to read well is because if you don’t, you might grow up and make a real ass of yourself in public, and do so repeatedly, all because of inadequate reading skills.” (Oliver Kamm, Marko Attila Hoare, and the Importance of Being Able to Read)

124

Stuart 07.03.06 at 7:19 pm

Aren’t we talking about politics and the media – when ever has a statements truth or lack of it ever really made much difference? It’s the way you make the point and how often it gets repeated that decides how important a statement is, not it’s objective merit.

125

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 7:30 pm

engels: “Still, full credit to you Sebastian for not taking the Aidan Kehoe line (#2) that Chomksy “poison[ed] the field of linguistics””

Just for the record, “idiotic” wasn’t directly aimed at you. But apropos, you do know that Chomsky played a central but extremely divisive and self-contradictory role in modern linguistics?

steven: “why is it not sufficient to point out that what he writes is not true, when that is the case?”

Because he never corrects himself? Because even his obvious errors are seldom acknowledged by his most vehement supporters? Because his prose is sufficiently poor to make it often hard to pin down his argument? Because his arguments apparently aren’t separable from him, which suggests he’s not pushing a coherent position so much as an anti-US prejudice, something impossible to refute by addressing his particular points.

126

r4d20 07.03.06 at 7:39 pm

“Soru, I think Chomsky can be forgiven for the tacit assumption that the Islamic conquests of certain portions of Europe, given that they occurred centuries before, are not relevant to the time period he is addressing (i.e., the modern era).

I agree they SHOULD be irrelevent, but are they? The Crusades occured centuries before the present day, but conventional wisdom still holds that they have had a lasting effect on West-East relations and Bush even got lambasted for stupidly using the word.

“And now to complete the pincer movement, all we need is for r4d20 to say that Soru’s bizarre misreading is equally valid, and it’s all Chomsky’s fault for being deliberately ambiguous.”

I hate to disappoint, but sadly I find most of the rights obsession with casting every war between Muslim and Christian kings as a Jihad to be a bit lame and hard to defend. There was a ‘real’ Jihad that lasted from Mohammeds Death to the Conquest of Spain, but it was a short-lived thing that was over within 2 generations as the new Muslim rulers became more concerned with ruling the Empire they already had than with conquering more lands.

However, for our purposes the ‘facts’ are less important than the perceptions of people. From about 400 to 900 Europe had repeatedly suffered invasions and dislocations on a scale hard for most people to imagine. First the Germanic Migrations destroyed the old social and economic order of Western Europe. Then the Arab Muslims cut the Byzantine Empire in half, got effective control of the mediterranian sea, took Spain, Sicily, and even large portions of Southern Italy, and began over 2 centuries of piracy and raids of the Coastline. After that it was the Avars and Magyars and other assorted Steppe Peoples that migrated – with ‘migration’ simply meaning a mass movement of people and NOT implying a peaceful process – in from the East, as well as Slavs. Finally we arrive at my ancestors, the Vikings, who were the last Heathens in Europe and just as ‘foreign’ to most Christians as any Arab or Turk, and who capped off the period with a final little orgy of violence.

The combined effect of these 5 centuries, which earned the name ‘The Dark Ages’, was to make European culture – particularly South Europe and the Balkans – rather paranoid of outsiders, and non-christians in particular. Excepting the initial Jihad after the death of Mohammed, the invaders were NOT motivated by religion. Nevertheless, from the European perspective it was centuries of almost non-stop defensive fighting against a whole host of non-Christian opponents. Is it any suprise that, as European society recovered and gained in strength and confidence, that they would vent these feelings by becoming the agressors?

127

r4d20 07.03.06 at 7:49 pm

To be clear:

I am speaking of European aggression from the time period from about 1000 to the Renaissance. I dont think modern Western Imperialism has anything to do with the Dark Ages.

Engels,
You’re right. The idea that any sentance might be interpretable in multiple ways is assinine. Clearly there is one obviously true meaning to every collection of words – of which, naturally, you are the ultimate judge.
I was brainwashed at an early age to see language as an imperfect tool. Now I know the only tool is me.

128

engels 07.03.06 at 8:31 pm

But apropos, you do know that Chomsky played a central but extremely divisive and self-contradictory role in modern linguistics?

I’m not a linguist, Rilkefan, and I don’t think you are either, but I know enough to say that the claim that Chomsky “poison[ed] the field of linguistics” is a shameful slander.

You’re right. The idea that any sentance might be interpretable in multiple ways is assinine…

Hmm. Where did I imply anything like that, r4d20? You might be making a telling point against somebody, but unfortunately it’s not me.

129

a 07.03.06 at 8:34 pm

“There was a war there in 1950. After the war, I do recognize the difference: one was communist and the other fascist; like, say, the USSR and Italy in 1937.

What’s your point? What does it have to do with the US leaders’ reasons for maintaining a fascist regime there – were the reasons idealistic or not?”

Well abb1, you do a fine job of not answering the question. You were replying to (although you snipped only a part), “The sttempted point re Korea was that we got into the Korean War for a variety of reasons, and we supported South Korea for a variety of reasons; and South Korea is a success story for US foreign policy.”

So I guess with your non-reply you accept that there may have been acceptable even idealistic reasons, based on the government, why we got into the Korean War.

After that, well yes, the U.S. supported and abetted a terrible military dictatorship. It did that for a variety of reasons, just as, say, the U.S. is supporting a terrible dictatorship in Egypt for a variety of reasons. Some were good reasons, some were bad, some were causal. At each step of the way the U.S. had individual decisions to make; and these decisions were generally not between good and bad, but bad and worse. And sometimes the U.S. made the worse or even the worst decisions. But I don’t think you can make a blanket assertion a la Chomsky that were no “idealistic” reasons at all – generally one would need to see South Korea in the context of the Cold War (that would be Free World vs. Soviet or Chinese Communism), and one would hope you could acknowledge that there was some idealism there.

130

derrida derider 07.03.06 at 8:36 pm

Steven: Do you think Chomsky was both (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about the Khmer Rouge in 1977? – Brad deLong

Why not? He just happened to be dead wrong, jumping to firm conclusions on the basis of limited information (as I believe he’s since admitted). It can happen to any of us (yes, Brad, even to tenured professors).

I think Chomsky’s is an over-the-top personality whose passions often lead him to make mistakes of fact. Yet what someone said earlier is correct – it is very hard to tell some truths in the US which hurt the country’s self-image and this is what inspires the venom against him.

131

engels 07.03.06 at 9:27 pm

To be clear, r4d20, what I find ridiculous is your claim that the “multiple possible interpretations” of what Chomsky wrote are all equally valid. If you really hold to some far out sub-Derridean view of the meaning of Chomsky’s statements as a beautifully elusive, polysemic and never-to-be-resolved chain of différance, perhaps you can admit that it would be somewhat unfair to blame Chomsky for this situation?

132

engels 07.03.06 at 9:40 pm

that the “multiple possible interpretations” of what Chomsky wrote are all equally valid and that Chomsky is responsible for them all.

133

Brad DeLong 07.03.06 at 10:10 pm

Re: “Steven: Do you think Chomsky was both (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about the Khmer Rouge in 1977? – Brad deLong

“Why not? He just happened to be dead wrong, jumping to firm conclusions on the basis of limited information (as I believe he’s since admitted)…”

But… but… but… Chomsky wrote that “such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, have provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands.” And none of that was true. None.

134

Brad DeLong 07.03.06 at 10:16 pm

Re: ‘I’m not qualified to judge whether Chomsky was or is “sane”; nor can I judge whether he was or is really “trying to tell the truth”. The question that interests me is: why is it not sufficient to point out that what he writes is not true, when that is the case?’

But that is what Peter Beamont is doing in the paragraph you quote, isn’t it?

135

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 10:19 pm

Jon raises a valid point: The people who tend to be most directly affected by US foreign policy often tend to find Chomsky’s views quite compelling.

Even if we finally decide that Chomsky is a lunatic, maybe it would be a good idea, on a procedural level, to bring the mother of one of the people “disappeared” under Pinochet, etc., to the table when discussing whether US foreign policy has been good or bad on balance. I know that sometimes non-Westerners are invited to testify, but it seems to me that they’re usually handpicked people who are going to aid the propaganda efforts.

136

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 10:21 pm

Um, Brad — we’re going to need to see full tables of contents for those publications during the relevant period.

137

rilkefan 07.03.06 at 10:39 pm

adam kotsko: “Um, Brad—we’re going to need to see full tables of contents for those publications during the relevant period.”

Um, think I’m going to trust DeLong here. I imagine you have access to a fine university library if you’re actually skeptical and want a chance to show him up.

“maybe it would be a good idea, on a procedural level, to bring the mother of one of the people “disappeared” under Pinochet”

Yes, and let’s make every liberal blog show pictures of people tortured under Saddam – that’ll be really useful in determining the truth.

Or am I missing some odd irony in the above?

138

previously pre 07.03.06 at 10:45 pm

Thank you for the advice, anyhow, even though it was worthless.

I’m still uncertain as to why you felt a need to post a polemic essay without engaging in the discussion. You clearly espouse the sort of quasi-anarchist anti-U.S. sentiment the discussion hinged on: a lot of the “empty” discussion was whether Chomsky is himself espousing ‘that kind of crazy’, so posting ‘that kind of crazy’ didn’t advance the discussion.

I’m not going to argue with it here, but I wanted to get clear that it’s what you really think. If this kind of thinking is widespread among “liberals” then that seems to say something about the state of US politics.

Not to say I agree with him (would JFK? LBJ?), but I think Rilkefan pretty straightforwardly said these are good reasons, though not sufficient reasons to go to war all by themselves (see #100). Badgering him about his position by pretending you don’t understand and need ‘clarification’ isn’t useful.

Chomsky’s strangest effect on academia is to inspire everyone who talks about him or his work, in nearly any context and with nearly any opinion, to interact like a child. The tension/frustration level goes through the ceiling instantly (I wonder if the name “Umberto Eco” similarly raises heckles).

If you’re still around, engels, for a response to #114/#131/#132, see #89, and if you disagree that #89 accurately represents the kind of thing Chomsky is doing, see #78.

139

Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 10:45 pm

Rilkefan, The really ironic thing is that we supported Saddam during the period when he was committing his worst abuses! So we probably should go ahead and have those people on the panel, too.

I’m not trying to score fucking partisan points here.

140

previously pre 07.03.06 at 10:50 pm

Jon raises a valid point: The people who tend to be most directly affected by US foreign policy often tend to find Chomsky’s views quite compelling.

I think I get what you’re getting at: to assess the effect of a policy decision, we should give highest weight to those individuals whose day-to-day lives are most drastically changed, for better or worse, by that policy decision. Right?

141

blah 07.03.06 at 10:55 pm

I have never really read any Chomsky, so here is a constructive exercise: can anybody briefly summarize what they believe to be the programmatic part of Chomsky’s political/foreign policy writings?

I am fascinated by this discussion, but I don’t feel that I have a handle on what exact arguments he is making. Does he say things like the U.S. should adopt forieign policy x, y, and z? Or is more like the U.S. has a fucked up foreign policy for reasons x, y, and z?

What would a Chomskian foreign policy look like?

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Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 11:03 pm

Pre, Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying. When you phrase it like that, it sounds eerily like a basic democratic principle.

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Pablo Stafforini 07.03.06 at 11:09 pm

Since Professor DeLong saw fit to recycle from the archives of his blog his rather old and largely discredited attack on Chomsky, it is fair and appropriate to quote Edward Herman’s original reply to his post at length:

DeLong’s statement that Chomsky lied here is itself a plain lie. Our references were exactly correct. DeLong couldn’t find anything written by the Economist “staff,” but he knows full well that the reference was to a letter to the editor, published in and therefore provided by, the paper, by Cambodia demographer W. J. Sampson, an economist-statistician who was living in Phnom Penh and worked in close contact with the government’s central statistics office. Sampson’s work is cited with respect by Nayan Chanda, at the time the most highly respected journalist in Southeast Asia, writing for the Far Eastern Economic Review (ATC, 231f). Sampson was at least as “highly qualified [a] specialist” as anybody on the staff of the Economist. DeLong knows that we cited many other “highly qualified specialists” just one year later in After the Cataclysm, so his sneer about the “non-existence” of these sources is another dishonest suppression and shows that his own “good faith” and intellectual integrity are non-existent.

Now, just as DeLong knew “full well” that the references whose existence he denied were actually to be found in the journals referenced, so he knows fully and doubly well that the pieces from the Economist and the Far Eastern Economic Review existed after Herman published his reply.

This raises a question: Do you think DeLong was both (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about Chomsky in 2002? Given that, is there any reason to think that he is (a) sane and (b) trying to tell the truth about Chomsky today?

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engels 07.03.06 at 11:20 pm

Badgering him about his position by pretending you don’t understand and need ‘clarification’ isn’t useful.

Dreadfully sorry “pre” but I really couldn’t give a fuck whether or not you find it “useful”. I didn’t believe any “liberal” would say that (i) oil or (ii) proving America can kick ass were good reasons for going to war, so I asked whether Rilkefan really believes this. If you don’t care about this issue enough to voice an opinion on it yourself, perhaps you could go and waste someone else’s time?

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.03.06 at 11:29 pm

Engels, “Normally, Sebastian, we think of people as being either crazy or not. Not crazy only on a particular subject.”

Really? I think that is a very limited definition of crazy.

I think there are a large number of otherwise normal people who are positively obsessed with race. They lead pretty much normal lives yet when they see a black man or a Jewish man some completely irrational chain of psuedo-logic goes off in their brain. They would do perfectly well with your financial transactions or testing some molecule in a biological lab, but you wouldn’t want them to have anything to do with any decision on a racial topic.

People with moderate amounts of paranoia are pretty crazy on the topic of people watching them, but often do fine with other stuff until they let the paranoia consume them. And it isn’t as if Chomsky has done much in linguistics lately.

In fact the sucessful scientist who is a shining light in his specialty and a loon outside of it is an easily recognizable character to anyone who watches science regularly.

Adam Kotsko, “Sebastian, So Chomsky is morally equivalent to someone who beats his wife?”

That was almost a Chomskyesqe analogy wasn’t it? :) I’m OF COURSE not trying to draw a moral equivalence between Chomsky and a wife-beater. I’m merely pointing out that with a wife-beater you don’t try to rationalize the contradictory bits of information by accepting it at face value. A wife-beater isn’t really expressing love for his wife when he brings flowers to her afterwards. The normal meaning of the expressive act does not apply. It is part of his emotionally manipulative game to keep her under his thumb for later acts of abuse. It is part of his ploy to keep her off balance, to keep her blaming herself, to keep her thinking “He isn’t such a bad guy, maybe he really loves me and if I just tried harder not to set him off we would be fine.”

When you are aware of the manipulative game, the gift part of the cycle of abuse looks much different. You don’t interpret it as an honest profession of love. You interpret it as the deception that it really is.

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rilkefan 07.03.06 at 11:41 pm

“to assess the effect of a policy decision, we should give highest weight to those individuals whose day-to-day lives are most drastically changed, for better or worse, by that policy decision”

Every day we decide not to invite the poorest 300 million humans beings to immigrate to the US. Shall we call them to testify about their abject poverty? The unbearable misery of watching their children starve to death? And weight our decision accordingly?

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Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 11:43 pm

So after Chomsky beats me, I shouldn’t accept his flowers at face value? I’m confused.

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Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 11:45 pm

Rilkefan,

You’re right. That’s just transparently absurd. Obviously we have to keep making decisions that cause massive deprivation and suffering in the world, and it’s just foolish to act like maybe we should take those people’s needs into consideration. Childish, really, even to think about it.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 11:46 pm

#143-Hmm. Like I said, rilkefan already indicated he believes that exactly, so “asking” him over several posts = badgering him = useless posturing/hostility = wasting everyone’s time (which is, apparently, your beef with me).

As for my perspective, (i) no and (ii) especially no. And furthermore I agree that a 21st-century liberal should, ideally, know better. I hope you feel that reading my opinion on the matter was an optimal use of your 3-5 seconds.

However, I know of plenty of liberals, notably including T. Roosevelt & Robert McNamara & William J. Perry & –maybe– even Harold Brown, whose espousals/actions would indicate disagreement on (i) and/or (ii) well within the “liberal spectrum” of the past 100 years. So it’s not mind-bogglingly inconceivable for a liberal to say such things.

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previously pre 07.03.06 at 11:50 pm

Shall we call them to testify about their abject poverty?

I have no idea where the “testify” crap comes into play, as I didn’t say “testify” (to whom?)

I’ll say that, when deciding to enact a policy on other nations’ soil, we should take into account how it will effect the population of those nations. Now, the enactment might make things better, or might make things worse, or better for some and worse for others. We should try to assess whose lives will be most drastically changed, and use that information in our policy decision-making. Maybe we *want* to make lives worse for genocidal warriors and better for their victims, so we weight information directly related to those two sets of people.

Did I even say anything controversial?

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rilkefan 07.03.06 at 11:54 pm

pre, see 135.

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Adam Kotsko 07.03.06 at 11:57 pm

Oh, I see, he’s throwing the word “testify” back in my face! It burns! How foolish of me, to use the word “testify.”

Rilkefan, why do you hate democracy? And apparently most of the human race? Answer me that.

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previously pre 07.04.06 at 12:01 am

rilkefan, see who wrote #135, and whom was quoted in #146 (from #140) — your objection to my statement seems to be based on something that was said by someone else. Which I can understand, since I jumped in, but your response didn’t respond to (sigh) this meta-ing is a waste of time.

To cut to the quick, I think adam was being silly with a rhetorical flourish, so –disregarding whatever that flourish was about–: do you agree with the content of #140 and/or #150?

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previously pre 07.04.06 at 12:03 am

How foolish of me, to use the word “testify.”

Actually it was–odd. Let’s say odd. As for the rest of your comment, why am I picturing you as having a flared-red cherubic face right now?

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engels 07.04.06 at 12:09 am

Like I said, rilkefan already indicated he believes that exactly, so “asking” him over several posts = badgering him = useless posturing/hostility = wasting everyone’s time (which is, apparently, your beef with me).

Gosh, “pre” this is fascinating, isn’t it? Yes, you are wasting my time. I wasn’t “asking” him, I was asking him, ok? I didn’t believe he believed that. Call me stupid or naive if you wish, but please don’t call me a liar. Better still, go and badger someone else. Call me single-minded but I was hoping to have a discussion about Chomsky. Preferably with someone who has something to say.

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previously pre 07.04.06 at 12:26 am

Call me single-minded but I was hoping to have a discussion about Chomsky. –Fine by me! Especially since I agree with you that rilkefan’s assertion wasn’t all that sensible.

So, I actually had flipped up through the thread to try and find something you’d said about Chomsky that would bear for discussion. To be honest, I was hoping you’d spend time responding to #89, which addressed the points you made in #114, #131, #132. Disregarding that, we’re all the way up to #53 or so — care to throw something into the aether?

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Brad DeLong 07.04.06 at 12:33 am

Pablo Stafforini needs to crawl back into his hole. Or develop a sense of shame.

The first thing Edward Herman cites–Nayan Chandha’s article in the Far Eastern Economic Review–does not say what Chomsky and Herman claimed it said: Chandha was skeptical of refugee accounts of the scale of mass killings, but in no wise did Chandha conclude that “executions have numbered at most in the thousands.”

The second thing Edward Herman cites–demographer W.J. Sampson’s March 1977 letter to the editor of the _Economist_–reported that Sampson had a European friend who had bicycled around Phnom Penh in the days after its fall and saw and heard of executions only of politicians and bomber pilots. But Edward Herman, Pablo Stafforini, and their batshit insane fellows take Sampson’s letter and call it an “analys[i]s… [that] studied the full range of evidence available.” Only Edward Herman, Pablo Stafforini, and their batshit insane fellows could possibly take Sampson’s view that “executions could be numbered in hundreds or thousands rather than in hundreds of thousands” and turn it into a “conclusion” that “executions have numbered at most in the thousands.”

But I’m not telling Stafforini anything he doesn’t already know, am I? He knows what incredibly thin gruel Chomsky and Herman serve up to back their lies in their “Distortions at Fourth Hand,” doesn’t he? His hope is that too few people will actually check the originals, isn’t it?

People who want to learn more about the lies of Chomsky, Herman, and Stafforini should go and read Chomsky and Herman’s original http://www.zmag.org/zmag/articles/chombookrev.htm, and follow it up with Bruce Sharp’s http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/chomsky.htm, which is, I think, the best thumbnail of this.

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Seth Finkelstein 07.04.06 at 12:36 am

blah/#141: can anybody briefly summarize what they believe to be the programmatic parts of Chomsky’s political/foreign policy writings?

Well, I’ll give it try. Chomsky tends to analyze things within a framework concerned with institutional power and economic imperatives. The US consumes X natural resources, they have to come from somewhere, other countries and well as native people also want those resources, so who gets them and how to keep them? He takes a somewhat historical view, usually considering the background of this question over the last century, though sometimes more. He then views much foreign policy as being driven by these economic issues and the political power struggles they generate, with an unflinching view of their ugly side.

This is really not an acceptable framework in much of US polite intellectual society, in contrast to a much more popular framework that US foreign policy is motivated by spreading freedom and democracy against evil and dictatorship (you can see this very clearly in the Iraq War arguments). The economic framework is not completely unknown, but apart from some usually marginalized academics, it’s commonly expressed extremely crudely (“No War For Oil!”), and hence dismissed by polite intellectual society.

Thus there is a tremendous rhetorical NOISE generated to apply the good/evil framework against the economic framework, which manifests itself in the demonization attempts against Chomsky. So when Chomsky says something analytical but harsh, e.g. (paraphrased) there’s no probative value in Bush saying he’s for sweetness and light, Hitler can say he’s for sweetness and light – various rhetorical reflexes kick-in (He said “Hitler”! Attack! Attack!).

I think Chomsky advocates the US should support more democracies over the world, and just writing that phrase shows the problem (“So, huh huh huh, that means he supports America invading Iraq because it *said* the problem was WMD danger, I mean, bringing democracy to the oppressed masses, right, huh, huh, huh?”).

On a different topic, in terms of sharp rhetoric, I believe commenters should cut Chomsky a break, given he has had to deal for decades with a real-life version of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic.

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engels 07.04.06 at 12:49 am

Well, Sebastian, I think you are not using the word “crazy” literally, then, but as a figure of speech. (Your example of paranoia is not really relevant, because “being watched by people” is not a topic, in the sense that, say, foreign policy is.)

But I think understand what you are driving at. People whom I read and respect can suffer from strange, irrational bouts of “craziness” on particular issues. I’ve heard it even happens to economists.

BTW Sebastian, this academics-should-stick-to-what they-know-about-because-they-tend-to-go-crazy-when-let-out-of-their-cages schtick is anti-intellectual, and it is an attempt to limit the scope for democratic political discussion. But you knew that.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 1:45 am

pre: “do you agree with the content of #140 and/or #150?”

Well, I think it’s entirely obvious to anyone who cares and is paying attention that our foreign policy – our entire way of life – is an immense injustice – and that the piddling issues and policies discussed above and elsewhere are nearly insulting to those we’ve abandoned – and calling witnesses to that is unhelpful, because there shouldn’t be any argument about accepting those 300 million. (That is, there should be no argument amongst those who who care about morality. I’m a nihilist – I have visceral feelings about these matters, but I know it’s all arbitrary given that we’re just heaps of elementary particles evolving according to fixed laws.)

But the particular idea of calling Pinochet’s victims to cry on camera before a Senate committee is too much like the little drama with the incubator story before the Gulf War – or like the Tacitus post back in the day showing (iirc) a madonna and child in Iraq being fed by an American GI. They seem like appeals to emotion to me, not attempts to arrive at a reasoned policy – but if they are, then I think those who make them ought to start with those starving in the Third World to be consistent.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 2:34 am

“BTW Sebastian, this academics-should-stick-to-what they-know-about-because-they-tend-to-go-crazy-when-let-out-of-their-cages schtick is anti-intellectual, and it is an attempt to limit the scope for democratic political discussion. But you knew that.”

No, I didn’t know that. I’m happy for intellectuals to go beyond their initial scope when they aren’t crazy in the new sphere. That just doesn’t include Chomsky on foreign policy.

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Brendan 07.04.06 at 2:36 am

Because Mr Kamm has got his highly orthodox knickers in a twist about the ‘denazification’ quote, perhaps some further details would be welcome. As Abb1 has pointed out (and check out the original article for more details), the context of the quote was rather more than ‘a museum exhibit of dubious taste’.

However, the most obvious question that Kamm NEVER asks is: what does Chomsky mean by ‘denazification’? Here is his answer. It goes some way, I feel, answering both his Kamm’s ‘moral equivalence’ point, and the point about ‘denazification’. I have highlighted the sections that are of particular relevance to the current debate.

‘Nazi Germany was sui generis, of that there is no doubt. But we should have the courage and honesty to face the question whether the principles applied to Nazi Germany and fascist Japan do not, as well, apply to the American war in Vietnam. Recall the objectives of ‘denazification’, as formulated by those who were responsible for this policy. General Lucius D. Clay, in 1950, described the primary objective as follows: ‘to safeguard the new German democracy from Nazi influence and to make it possible for anti-Nazi, non-Nazi and outspoken democratic individuals to enter public life and replace the Nazi elements which had dominated all life in Germany from 1933 to 1945’.17 He reports that:

This was, perhaps, the most extensive legal procedure the world had ever witnessed. In the US Zone alone more than 13 million persons had been involved, of whom over three and two-thirds million were found chargeable, and of these some 800,000 persons were made subject to penalty for their party affiliations or actions. All this was, of course, apart from the punishment of war criminals many of whom were high-ranking Nazis.

Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery saw the objective of the allied forces in Germany as ‘to change the heart, and the way of life, of the German people’. Denazification involved a cultural and ideological change, to proceed side-by-side with economic reconstruction. We can certainly ask whether three and two-thirds million Germans in the US Zone were more guilty of complicity in war crimes than any Americans. And we can ask whether a cultural and ideological change in the United States, at the very least, is not imperative if many others, who fear neither pain nor death, are not to be spared the fate of Vietnam.’

http://www.chomsky.info/articles/1971—-.htm

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abb1 07.04.06 at 2:49 am

“A”:

After that, well yes, the U.S. supported and abetted a terrible military dictatorship. It did that for a variety of reasons, just as, say, the U.S. is supporting a terrible dictatorship in Egypt for a variety of reasons. Some were good reasons, some were bad, some were causal. At each step of the way the U.S. had individual decisions to make; and these decisions were generally not between good and bad, but bad and worse. And sometimes the U.S. made the worse or even the worst decisions. But I don’t think you can make a blanket assertion a la Chomsky that were no “idealistic” reasons at all – generally one would need to see South Korea in the context of the Cold War (that would be Free World vs. Soviet or Chinese Communism), and one would hope you could acknowledge that there was some idealism there.

If this is supposed to justify maintaining a fascist regime against the will of the population, then any regime is justified – Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s, Saddam’s. They all had lofty goals and reluctantly resorted to oppression, as the ‘least bad’ option.

Installing and maintaining a fascist regime for the sake of a “Free World” doesn’t make any more sense than maintaining a Stalinist regime for the sake of a “Workers’ Paradise”.

See how comparison with Stalin and Pol Pot comes natural here? It’s practically impossible to avoid.

And also I think that communist ideology is much more idealistic than both fascist and ‘free world’. I would rather entertain the notion that Pol Pot was an idealist than Eisenhower. Not that it makes Pol Pot’s actions more acceptable, of course.

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Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 2:59 am

Steven, the issue you began with was not sententious admonitions of what death means to the person being killed, or whether a museum exhibit was in dubious taste or something worse, but Chomsky’s analogies of the US to Nazi Germany. And when you’re presented with these, you deny them even when Chomsky explicitly draws them by using the word ‘analogy’. That’s why we’re at an impasse. Chomsky’s use of ‘denazification’ obviously implies that the US domestically has non-trivial characteristics in common with Nazi Germany, and your exculpation of Chomsky’s “crucial context” is bizarre. (The weasel-word “arguably” is doing a lot of work.) I wouldn’t necessarily regard Chomsky as a reliable reporter of the exhibit in Chicago in any event, but on his own account the ‘peasant hut’ was next to an ammunition dump and no people in the hut were visible. I have a suspicion that the exhibit did not, in fact, depict a peasant hut, and was not intended to glorify the killing of civilians, but as we can’t know this, I’ll point out only that a museum exhibit that was shut down after demonstrations has no connection with ‘nazification’ other than what’s in Chomsky’s mind. And on foreign policy, Chomsky commonly compares the US to Nazi Germany in ways that suggest an identity of means (as in the “gassed or incinerated” comment) or worse. As he says in ‘The Revolutionary Pacifism of A.J. Muste’, after discussing German war guilt under both the Kaiser and the Nazis: “When we lament over the German conscience, we are demanding of them a display of self-hatred – a good thing, no doubt. But for us the matter is infinitely more serious. It is not a matter of self-hatred regarding the sins of the past. Like the German Kaiser we believe that everything must be put to fire and sword, so that the war will be more quickly finished – and we act on this belief.” (Incidentally, we did not and do not demand “self-hatred” from Germans.)

Incidentally, the fact that Professor DeLong has his views attributed to insanity too illustrates one of the problems both with this type of discussion and specifically with the discussions that go on at this blog (though that is no reflection on Steven or most of his fellow contributors).

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Pablo Stafforini 07.04.06 at 3:32 am

Although I’m half a dozen comments below his, I can hear Prof. DeLong’s hyperventilation from here. He is apparently offended that I have brought to the attention of the readers of this weblog his false and outlandish insinuation that the pieces referenced by Chomsky did not actually exist. By a twisted retroactive interpretation of his original comment, Prof. DeLong now wants us to believe that his point wasn’t existential, but substantial: the pieces did exist, but their content wasn’t fully reflected in the paraphrase supplied by Chomsky.

Perhaps what’s motivating Prof. DeLong’s ire is that I once used his blog to expose the pathological lies about Chomsky that one of his commenters was spreading. Speculations aside, if there is anyone who needs to “crawl back into his hole” or “develop a sense of shame” is Prof. DeLong himself, for conversationally implying that Chomsky had fabricated references, and for having explicitly questioned his sanity.

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Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 3:42 am

Re: the question, which I’ve just noticed, on my view of Chomsky’s linguistics. I am not competent to judge that work, but have sought (and acknowledged) the advice of those who are. It’s in print in the Prospect article Steven mentioned: “Chomsky remains the most influential figure in theoretical linguistics, known to the public for his ideas that language is a cognitive system and the realisation of an innate faculty. While those ideas enjoy a wide currency, many linguists reject them. His theories have come under criticism from those, such as the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who were once close to him. Paul Postal, one of Chomsky’s earliest colleagues, stresses the tendency for the grandiloquence of Chomsky’s claims to increase as he addresses non-specialist audiences. Frederick Newmeyer, a supporter of Chomsky’s ideas until the mid-1990s, notes: “One is left with the feeling that Chomsky’s ever-increasingly triumphalistic rhetoric is inversely proportional to the actual empirical results that he can point to.”

“Prospect readers who voted for Chomsky will know his prominence in linguistics, but are more likely to have read his numerous popular critiques of western foreign policy. The connection, if any, between Chomsky’s linguistics and his politics is a matter of debate, but one obvious link is that in both fields he deploys dubious arguments leavened with extravagant rhetoric….”

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abb1 07.04.06 at 3:47 am

The Khmer Rouge story, of course, fits the same pattern as the Kosovo story: there is an official enemy, government propaganda machine goes into high gear and no story fitting the official narrative needs any checking whatsoever, as we saw recently – people are fed to lions, put thru meat grinders, jails for children, 2 million dead, 5 million dead, 10 million dead – yeah, pile it on, who’s counting!

November 20, 2003, Tony Bliar: “We’ve already discovered, just so far, the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.”

July 18, 2004, the Guardian: “Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that ‘400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves’ is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.”

And so on and so forth, yes – so on and so forth.

And, of course, any expression of scepticism, any alternative interpretation has to be scrutinized like you wouldn’t believe by paid propagandists and amateurs alike, thousands of pages will be writen to examine a single pharagraph from all possible angles, the worst possible interpretation has to be always assumed and, of course, in this case no benefit of the doubt whatsoever will be given, the only choice is insanity or dishonesty.

So, tell me: who is being dishonest here?

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Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 4:21 am

Steven, the issue you began with was not sententious admonitions of what death means to the person being killed, or whether a museum exhibit was in dubious taste or something worse, but Chomsky’s analogies of the US to Nazi Germany. And when you’re presented with these, you deny them even when Chomsky explicitly draws them by using the word ‘analogy’.

No I don’t. What I deny is that they ever amount to saying, as you claimed Chomsky says, that the US is “morally equivalent or inferior to Nazi Germany”.

your exculpation of Chomsky’s “crucial context” is bizarre

I don’t think I’d know how to exculpate a context if I tried. I am merely responding to your inadequate dismissal of the appeal to context as “sophistry”.

I wouldn’t necessarily regard Chomsky as a reliable reporter of the exhibit in Chicago in any event

Well, sure, if we just assume he’s lying about everything it makes the argument a lot easier.

And on foreign policy, Chomsky commonly compares the US to Nazi Germany in ways that suggest an identity of means (as in the “gassed or incinerated” comment) or worse.

The SS shot people. Marines shoot people. Do I thereby say that the US is the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany? Of course, I do not.

the fact that Professor DeLong has his views attributed to insanity too illustrates one of the problems both with this type of discussion

Professor DeLong began by attributing Chomsky’s views to insanity in his very first comment.

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soru 07.04.06 at 4:47 am

#158: you seem to be confusing Chomsky and Marx, or perhaps Adam Smith. The things that make Chomsky different from Michael Moore are not those that make him stand out in the slightly wider tradition of writing books about politics.

To me, Chomsky’s really distinctive feature is his americo-centrism.

Soru, I think Chomsky can be forgiven for the tacit assumption that the Islamic conquests of certain portions of Europe, given that they occurred centuries before, are not relevant to the time period he is addressing (i.e., the modern era).

Couldn’t you say the same about anything pre-20th century? The two big categories for time periods are ‘living memory’ and ‘history’. If something happens for the first time in living memory, then surprise is justified.

In any case, of the three non-western powers (counting Russia as western) that had the plausible capability to win a war with one or more western nations (China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire), two did make or join in such an attack.

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Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 5:17 am

This is evasive, bar your last point, on which you’re right (though my point about the type of arguments used in these discussions and by one author of this blog stands). Here again is Chomsky’s chosen analogy: “[O]ne must applaud the insistence of the Secretary of State on the importance of historical analogies, the Munich analogy, for example. As Munich showed, a powerful and aggressive nation with a fanatic belief in its manifest destiny will regard each victory, each extension of its power and authority, as a prelude to the next step.” He is clearly saying the US is the same type of actor in international affairs as Nazi Germany, and making an implicit associated judgement upon it. The distinctive characteristic of Nazi crimes was not that it shot its victims, but that it gassed and incinerated them in a genodical campaign. If you dispute the significance of that language in Chomsky’s argument (as presumably you do, because you’ve ignored it), then there isn’t much further to be said. You are, to coin a term, resorting to sophistry in order to maintain your claim that Chomsky has been judged unfairly. Your sarcastic remark that “if we just assume he’s lying about everything it makes the argument a lot easier” is not worthy of you; that clearly wasn’t the point I was making. It is an unexceptionable observation that Chomsky’s accounts of events and arguments are often partial or false, but I explicitly accepted in this case Chomsky’s account of the museum exhibit, as a working assumption in the absence of an alternative.

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Harald Korneliussen 07.04.06 at 5:22 am

Rilkefan: “Is there any thinkers out there [snip insult to abb1] who claim there are clear ways of determining the right foreign policy in Africa, the ME, Asia, etc. etc.? That one can try to do X and expect X to happen and bad consequences Y and Z not to follow?”

That is not the same thing. A policy can be right or wrong irrespective of the consequences and their likelihoods.

Also, to your latest post (I haven’t read all in between): Few americans, even few american politicians, know how horrible the Pinochet regime was, or know of the US involvement in bringing it about. I don’t think it’s manipulative to show them. It certainly is not the same thing as invented atrocities (incubator story) or arranged “illustrative” photos. Those starving in the third world rarely do so because of a willed US policy, however, Pinochet’s dictatorship was a willed US policy at the time.

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Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 5:32 am

“[O]ne must applaud the insistence of the Secretary of State on the importance of historical analogies, the Munich analogy, for example. As Munich showed, a powerful and aggressive nation with a fanatic belief in its manifest destiny will regard each victory, each extension of its power and authority, as a prelude to the next step.” He is clearly saying the US is the same type of actor in international affairs as Nazi Germany

No he isn’t. He’s saying that in one respect the US’s attitude may be compared with that of Nazi Germany. One may reasonably dispute his characterization of the US as holding, for example, a “fanatic belief”. What one may not reasonably do is deduce that this amounts to Chomsky’s saying that “the US is morally equivalent or inferior to Nazi Germany”. As you know, he repeatedly states the opposite.

The distinctive characteristic of Nazi crimes was not that it shot its victims, but that it gassed and incinerated them in a genodical campaign. If you dispute the significance of that language in Chomsky’s argument (as presumably you do, because you’ve ignored it), then there isn’t much further to be said.

I do not dispute that Chomsky chooses the words “gassed and incinerated” deliberately, in order to make the trivial observation that, if you are being incinerated, you probably do not much care who is doing the incinerating. In an earlier comment you described this as “sententious”, which is a reasonable criticism. What is not a reasonable criticism is to say that it means Chomsky thinks that “the US is morally equivalent or inferior to Nazi Germany”, because, as you know, in the same sentence he has said that he thinks exactly the opposite.

You are, to coin a term, resorting to sophistry in order to maintain your claim that Chomsky has been judged unfairly.

I am not making any judgments of fairness or unfairness. I am simply pointing out that none of the evidence you adduce supports the wild charge that Chomsky thinks that “the US is morally equivalent or inferior to Nazi Germany”. As you know, he consistently says the opposite.

173

Brendan 07.04.06 at 6:01 am

Mr Kamm (who, one must never forget, is not a disinterested observer, but is instead a highly partisan proponent of Tony Blair’s foreign policy) would be on stronger ground if he didn’t talk such total bollocks.

‘This is evasive, bar your last point, on which you’re right (though my point about the type of arguments used in these discussions and by one author of this blog stands). Here again is Chomsky’s chosen analogy: “[O]ne must applaud the insistence of the Secretary of State on the importance of historical analogies, the Munich analogy, for example. As Munich showed, a powerful and aggressive nation with a fanatic belief in its manifest destiny will regard each victory, each extension of its power and authority, as a prelude to the next step.” He is clearly saying the US is the same type of actor in international affairs as Nazi Germany, and making an implicit associated judgement upon it. The distinctive characteristic of Nazi crimes was not that it shot its victims, but that it gassed and incinerated them in a genodical campaign.’

It is certainly true that Nazi Germany amongst many other states, attacked sovereign states which posed no threat to them (although it is insufficiently noticed that Hitler invariably claimed that some threat actually existed). It is also true that this is considered a crime by all impartial observers (‘impartial’ used in a specific (though accurate) sense here to exclude Mr Kamm who, as noted, is not in any sense impartial). It is also true that other states have carried out similar actions. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, a sovereign state which posed no threat to him (or Iraq). At the time he was widely compared to Hitler, although he did not commit genocide in Kuwait. Did Mr Kamm proclaim that such talk of moral equivalence was immoral then? He did not. The inference one must draw, therefore, is that Mr Kamm believes that invading a sovereign state is a bad thing, indeed (according to the Nuremberg judges) the worst thing, whether carried out by Hitler or Saddam Hussein, or against the Falkland Islands by Chile, or whatever.

Note, incidentally: in making this comparison, I am not drawing an analogy. I am not saying Hitler’s invasion of Poland is like Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. I am saying (from the point of view of international law) it was the same thing. The crime is to invade another sovereign state which poses no threat to you, and it remains the same crime whether carried out by Hitler or Pinochet or Suharto or Morocco or the United States in Iraq.

So Mr Kamm’s statement should be glossed as follows: ‘Chomsky and a great many other experts on international law is clearly saying the US is the same type of actor in international affairs as Nazi Germany in this particular respect, and moreover he is right by definition. ‘ In fact, how could he (and the many other international lawyers who agree with him, a point ignored by Kamm) be wrong? If invading a sovereign state is wrong (unless authorised by the UN) it’s wrong, and that’s the end of the debate. In this respect therefore, the US resembles Germany (and Saddam Hussein, and perhaps a more illuminating comparison, the British Empire in India and the US in the Philippines). Again, how could it be otherwise?

The last statement of Mr Kamm’s Blairite polemic, is of course completely incoherent, irrational, irrelevant, illogical and false. The Nazis of course DID shoot their victims as well as gas them and so what if they shot them all and didn’t gas any? And in any case what has this got to do with anything? Unless you are implying the Germans invaded Russia to exterminate the Jews (they didn’t) this is completely irrelevant. Chomsky has nowhere and at any point claimed that the US has a plan to exterminate the Jews (or homosexuals, or the Roma, or the Poles).

The key point which Kamm wants to avoid is: either you agree that invading a sovereign state which poses no threat to you (to repeat, without UN authorisation) is wrong, or you don’t. Kamm doesn’t. He believes that this (and in fact any) moral/legal rule can be broken, but only by the United States (he will deny this, but his denials are wothless). There is a name for this position, and it is ‘moral relativism’. It should also be pointed out that Mr Kamm is quite the fan of ‘moral equivalence’ but only when the equivalence is in the favour of United States, the country to which he apparently feels he has a patriotic allegiance. For example, the democratically elected President of Venezuela, he terms ‘a bully and a thug with a contempt for constitutional government.’ I hope it’s not stretching things when I point out that Saddam Hussein was frequently also termed a ‘thug’ by Kamm, indeed a fascist thug. Chavez is also termed an ‘authoritarian populist’.

Kamm has also gone out of his way to present the Respect Party as a neo-Nazi organisation indistinguishable from the BNP. This is ‘moral equivalence’ with a vengeance: it is also vapid (and grotesquely offensive). I might go through the ‘tick list’ and ask what precisely this means. Is he implying that George Galloway has, or plans to, gas Jews? Is he implying that if the Respect party ever formed a government the UK would invade Poland? No. Meaning is use. For Kamm to compare someone to Hitler merely means that that person disagrees with the foreign policy of Tony Blair, for which Mr Kamm has been such an assiduous propagandist. And gathering by his increasingly frequent appearances in the Times and other media outlegs, it’s quite a lucrative business.

174

a 07.04.06 at 6:12 am

No 163 (abb1)

“If this is supposed to justify maintaining a fascist regime against the will of the population, then any regime is justified – Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s, Saddam’s. They all had lofty goals and reluctantly resorted to oppression, as the ‘least bad’ option.”

Why would you think this, and why you would think Pol Pot’s murdering of his own people was a “least bad” option? What was the alternative which was worse? (Not an option which Pol Pot would think was worse, but which *was* worse.)

abb1: “Installing and maintaining a fascist regime for the sake of a “Free World” doesn’t make any more sense than maintaining a Stalinist regime for the sake of a “Workers’ Paradise”.”

I’m not sure what you mean by “sense” here, so technically maybe you can think of an interpretation which makes your assertion true. But, as I understand what you are saying, it seems to me that you need to be making an equivalence between the West (the US, Western Europe, Japan) and the Soviet Union. Otherwise, of course it can make more sense – how much more can be up for dispute – but it is epsilon or greater. For instance, I can morally hit someone if it saves someone’s life; I can’t morally hit someone if it doesn’t have any positive benefit somewhere else. All the consequences of an act go into determining its moral value. So if there are two acts, the first of which causes X and the second of which causes Y, and X (helping the Free World) is morally of more worth than Y (helping the Communist World), then the first has more value than the second. That’s not saying that it has value or that it is moral; just that it is better than the second. Determining whether X is right or not then depends on all the other consequences (fascist regime), on the alternatives to X (chaos or democracy?), and so forth.

“And also I think that communist ideology is much more idealistic than both fascist and ‘free world’. I would rather entertain the notion that Pol Pot was an idealist than Eisenhower. Not that it makes Pol Pot’s actions more acceptable, of course.”

Now you’re playing word games with “idealistic”, using it in a particular sense which is different from the common one (where idealism is a positive, not simply a question of adherence to an abstract idea). Sure in this sense Pol Pot was an idealist, and Eisenhower was not. But if that’s the sense in which you meant that American foreign policy was not based on idealism, then I think most people would say, who cares? But fine if you find this kind of game entertaining.

175

zdenek 07.04.06 at 7:15 am

Steven– in his 9-11 book Chomsky says:

” in much of the world , the US is regarded as a leading terrorist state and with good reason” ( 2001 p23).

Discussing Bin Laden he says:

” his call for the overthrow of corrupt and brutal regimes of gangsters resonates quite widely as does his indignation against the atrocities that he and others attribute to the US ,hardly without reason ” ( 2001 p 61 ).

On the face of it this is an endorsment of those reasons ; he is saying that the view in question is justified . But if this is right then the moral equivalence criticism people make says something like this : Chomsky believes that there are good reasons to regard US as a terrorist state but this implies that US is very simmilar ( use of power , lack of accountability, flouting international law , aggresive ) to other terrorist states such as Nazi Germany so to that extent ( intellectually you are commited to what your position entails )Chomsky is commited to the view that US is very similar to Nazi Germany.
In other words the criticism goes through even if the equivalence is implied only .

176

Ray 07.04.06 at 7:26 am

zdenek, which of “use of power , lack of accountability, flouting international law , aggresive” do you not think apply to the US? Or do you think the US is very similar to Nazi germany?

177

bob 07.04.06 at 7:30 am

The key point which Kamm wants to avoid is: either you agree that invading a sovereign state which poses no threat to you (to repeat, without UN authorisation) is wrong, or you don’t. Kamm doesn’t. He believes that this (and in fact any) moral/legal rule can be broken, but only by the United States (he will deny this, but his denials are wothless).
Arguing that it can be right to invade a “sovereign state which poses no threat to you” is completely different from arguing that the United States has absolute moral authority and is the only country that can ever be right to do this. His denials are not worthless — but if you’re in the business of perscribing to certain people views that they don’t hold then claiming that you know what they really believe can be quite useful.

There is a name for this position, and it is ‘moral relativism’.

I think you should probably learn what the term means before you start using it.

It should also be pointed out that Mr Kamm is quite the fan of ‘moral equivalence’ but only when the equivalence is in the favour of United States, the country to which he apparently feels he has a patriotic allegiance. For example, the democratically elected President of Venezuela, he terms ‘a bully and a thug with a contempt for constitutional government.’ I hope it’s not stretching things when I point out that Saddam Hussein was frequently also termed a ‘thug’ by Kamm, indeed a fascist thug. Chavez is also termed an ‘authoritarian populist’.
Unless you can demonstrate that Kamm has drawn a direct comparison between Chavez and Hussein then you really don’t have any valid point. He calls Chavez an “authoritarian populist” because that’s exactly what he is.

Kamm has also gone out of his way to present the Respect Party as a neo-Nazi organisation indistinguishable from the BNP. This is ‘moral equivalence’ with a vengeance: it is also vapid (and grotesquely offensive). I might go through the ‘tick list’ and ask what precisely this means.
I don’t think he’s presented the Respect Party as a “neo-nazi organization”. He has represented Respect as being equivalent to the BNP.

178

Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 8:08 am

if you’re in the business of perscribing to certain people views that they don’t hold then claiming that you know what they really believe can be quite useful.

Well, quite.

179

frankis 07.04.06 at 8:09 am

‘ “[O]ne must applaud the insistence of the Secretary of State on the importance of historical analogies, the Munich analogy, for example. As Munich showed, a powerful and aggressive nation with a fanatic belief in its manifest destiny will regard each victory, each extension of its power and authority, as a prelude to the next step.” He is clearly saying the US is the same type of actor in international affairs as Nazi Germany, and making an implicit associated judgement upon it’

I simply find it remarkable, bizarre … just remarkable … that Oliver Kamm would expect anyone to take his assertion seriously. At what perversely stunted level of reading comprehension must one pitch oneself, voluntarily and with full prejudice there can be no doubt, to cast a slur like this?

Brad deLong’s argument above belongs in a different universe to this kind of thing. I’m frankly shocked.

180

Brendan 07.04.06 at 8:18 am

Er no Bob, I think YOU should find out what phrases like ‘moral objectivism’ and ‘moral relativism’ mean. A moral objectivist (at least in a moral rules format) would argue that there is an objective rule (don’t invade etc.) which applies to everyone. A moral relativist would argue that that is not an overarching rule, but one which only applies in certain times and certain places. Kamm is a relativist because he believes that that rule only applies to countries other than the US. (To be fair, in other respects Kamm IS an objectivist. He believes that it is an objective moral fact that Tony Blair’s foreign policy is motivated by pro-democratic feeling and that anyone who opposes it is against democracy, but that’s a different issue). Kamm wouldn’t describe himself as a relativist, but then who would?

‘I don’t think he’s presented the Respect Party as a “neo-nazi organization”. He has represented Respect as being equivalent to the BNP.’

And the BNP is………?

181

zdenek 07.04.06 at 8:22 am

ray — I would like to be able to pin Chomsky’s view down on this topic so that it can be evaluated. But assuming that he is commited to the US is a terrorist state view I would say this is because of impoverished method that underwrites this type of “history/political science” , I see it as a kind of Lysenkoism or creation science and it gives similar results. The mystery to me is how he falls for it ( this is a person who could see the shortcommings of behaviourism ).

182

Ray 07.04.06 at 8:38 am

The argument you put in Chomsky’s mouth is ‘use of power’ (?), ‘lack of accountability’ (accountability to who you don’t make clear), ‘flouting international law , aggressive’ make a state terrorist. Now, we can surely agree that the US flouts international law and that it is aggressive (in that it attacks states that have not attacked it). If these things make a state a terrorist state, then the US is a terrorist state.

What, exactly, does this have to do with creationism? Are that just a random insult? You may not agree with arguments of the form “if you do X, you are a Y”, but what makes it Lysenkoist?

183

liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 8:50 am

re: 166
Oliver Kamm would do well to avoid linguistics. Pinker has never ‘rejected’ Chomsky’s theories. He (and Daniel Dennett) are strongly opposed to Chomsky’s rejection of evolutionary explanations for language, however:

Pinker discusses Noam Chomsky’s “enormous” impact on him, as well as his profound differences with Chomsky concerning the evolution of humans’ innate ability to acquire language.link

Kamm’s reference to Newmeyer is from a Prospect article, which might not be your best source for linguistic analysis. As Randy Harris notes in his review of Newmeyer’s _Generative Linguistics: A Historical Perspective_

Newmeyer is, I’ve said, the most important historian of generative linguistics. But he’s more than a historian (some would say less, for the same reason): he’s an apologist, an advocate, a friend indeed, of generative grammar, especially of those generative positions most closely associated with Chomsky. It’s not that he blindly follows Chomsky; his “Rules and principles”, perhaps the finest single paper of his career, is motivated by a rejection of the accretionary picture of generative history that Chomsky (1986) offers … But Newmeyer seldom misses an opportunity to pass favourable judgement on Chomsky’s theories, goals, or methods. And he very regularly protects them against attack from without. Chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 are–though this is not all they are–clear celebrations of Chomsky and/or his ideas.

I come from a non-Chomskyan branch of linguistics, and I pretty much agree with most criticisms of Chomsky’s linguistics. But pretending that people who actually support his ideas reject them suggests that you are not interested in accuracy and this calls into question your other statements

184

zdenek 07.04.06 at 9:01 am

re 182– the idea ( this is an old hat I thought ) is that it is ideologically driven in the sense that facts are looked for ( this is why we see selective use of evidence ) to confirm ideologically fixed picture plus only those facts are considered relevant that broadly jive with the backgroud ideology.

This is how so called Soviet science operated ; and of course same applies to creationism .
I am not trying to insult any one I am making a serious point ( as I said this is not an original point ) about the methodological similarities between Marxism and other pseudo sciences such as creationism – note that you cannot really refute such views.

185

Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 9:20 am

zdenek, if I understand you correctly, I think you make a useful point. A good question to ask of Chomsky’s writing (and anyone else’s) is: “What kind of thing would be admitted as counter-evidence to this?” If the answer is nothing, then we are in trouble.

186

Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 9:27 am

This thread some way back descended into areas where I don’t wish to follow, but I’m unwilling to let the dishonesty and incompetence of comment 183 pass without a single and brief observation.

If I were to make a habit of commenting on linguistics it would be a foolish course, as I have no competence to judge work in that field. That’s what I said further up this thread. I did, however, comment on Chomsky’s contribution to the field in my Prospect article, because one cannot sensibly discuss Chomsky as a public intellectual without referring to his academic work. Not having the specialist knowledge to do that, I consulted two leading theoretical linguists, and I properly acknowledged their help in my article, asking the magazine’s editors to take that acknowledgement out of my allotted word count.

What I said of Professor Pinker is that, having once been close to Chomsky, he has lately criticised Chomsky’s ideas. As Professor Pinker has written to me with the kindness that his public persona would suggest, I’m not really going to take advice on what he thinks from an anonymous commenter on a blog.

187

Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 9:31 am

“Kamm’s reference to Newmeyer is from a Prospect article, which might not be your best source for linguistic analysis.”

I apologise to readers for having initially understated just how incompetent #183 was. Of course the reference to Newmeyer is from a Prospect article. I wrote the article.

Good grief.

188

Robin 07.04.06 at 10:02 am

I’d noticed Kamm’s reference to Pinker, Postal and Mewmeyer in the Prospect piece and recalled thinking that it was oddly put to sound like they reject the general thrust of Chomskyan linguistics, which was odd given that even Pinker’s popular work such as The Language Instinct sound like an ode to the Chomskyan revolution in linguistics. But you can assess for yourself:

Chomsky remains the most influential figure in theoretical linguistics, known to the public for his ideas that language is a cognitive system and the realisation of an innate faculty. While those ideas enjoy a wide currency, many linguists reject them. His theories have come under criticism from those, such as the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, who were once close to him.

This rhetorical manoeuver reminded of Kamm’s description of something else…

189

Ray 07.04.06 at 10:07 am

zdenek, it would have been useful if you said that Chomsky looks for facts to confirm his theory, rather than the impenetrable “assuming that he is commited to the US is a terrorist state view I would say this is because of impoverished method that underwrites this type of “history/political science” , I see it as a kind of Lysenkoism or creation science and it gives similar results.

190

abb1 07.04.06 at 10:12 am

“What kind of thing would be admitted as counter-evidence to this?”

Well “this” is a materialistic view of history and the way power structures/institutions operate.

The kind of thing that would be admitted as counter-evidence would be, I don’t know, perhaps a huge old man with thunderous voice and lightnings appearing in a big white cloud in the sky and blessing America, or some other country (Israel?).

191

Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 10:16 am

abb1, I was thinking of counterevidence to specific claims.

192

engels 07.04.06 at 10:27 am

Steven – I don’t think there are that many people on this thread who are arguing that Chomsky is right about everything. So they are clearly capable of recognising facts which tell against his views.

The discussion seems to be mainly about whether these pre-9/11 intellectual practices are sufficient, or if, as Brad Delong or Oliver Kamm would prefer, we ought to categorise Chomsky a priori as someone who is beyond the pale of serious discussion, whose arguments one should never bother to consider and whose name one can not mention without being told to shut up.

193

liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 10:35 am

My apologies for not realizing that you were speaking of a previous linked article. My eye caught the mention of Pinker, Postal and Newmeyer. I’m also sorry that my pseudonymous status doesn’t meet with your expectations, however, I do wonder if Pinker said that he ‘rejects’ Chomsky’s theories or if Fredrick Newmeyer made similar assertions. But since you feel qualified enough to write about the current state of linguistics in Prospect, I’m surprised you are hesitant to display your knowledge here.

194

Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 10:48 am

Paul Postal, a former colleague of Chomsky’s whom I have corresponded with at length on this subject, certainly believes that much of Chomsky’s work in linguistics is almost entirely bluff. But the reason for citing Pinker and Newmeyer was precisely that they have been close to Chomsky. I had thought that’s what I said explicitly in the piece. Oh wait, it was.

It may be worth noting, for those determined to see rhetorical sleight of hand in a factual account drawing on expert advice, that in the original piece as submitted to Prospect, there was an explicit reference to Chomsky’s “detailed theories” coming under increasing criticism from people such as Pinker, whereas the “general ideas” enjoy a wide but not universal currency. This was edited down to the final version, quoted in #188. I wondered if there was any risk that this compression might be invoked by those determined to cry foul but unsure of their ground (“…oddly put to sound like…”, indeed), and alerted the editor of Prospect and later Professor Pinker to the possibility. But I ought to have realised that the only place where that would happen would be among the commenters on this blog, whose complaints do not much occupy me.

195

Brad DeLong 07.04.06 at 10:58 am

Re: “The discussion seems to be mainly about whether these pre-9/11 intellectual practices are sufficient, or if, as Brad Delong or Oliver Kamm would prefer, we ought to categorise Chomsky a priori as someone who is beyond the pale of serious discussion, whose arguments one should never bother to consider and whose name one can not mention without being told to shut up.”

Look: back in 1977, when I read Chomsky and Herman’s “Distortions at Fourth Hand,” I believed it. I believed that such journals as the Far Eastern Economic Review, the London Economist, the Melbourne Journal of Politics, and others elsewhere, [had] provided analyses by highly qualified specialists who have studied the full range of evidence available, and who [had] concluded that executions have numbered at most in the thousands; that these were localized in areas of limited Khmer Rouge influence and unusual peasant discontent.

Chomsky and Herman tricked me.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

196

liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 11:13 am

Yes, I didn’t mention Paul Postal. He’s an excellent linguist and I agree with many of his criticisms, as I mentioned before. But citing Pinker and Newmeyer as people who have equivalently ‘rejected’ Chomskyan linguistics is, I believe, false, regardless of how many nicely worded letters you received from Steven Pinker. But, as robin noted, it does remind one of something.

197

Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 11:15 am

I don’t think there is any contradiction in saying that the US is both free and in need of denazification. It seems like a contradiction to people who think it is a logical impossibility for free countries to commit crimes against humanity, but obviously that isn’t the case. I don’t think (and Chomsky wasn’t saying) that the US is as bad as Nazi Germany.

On other issues–there was no significant moral difference between North and South Korea in 1950. One side was a murderous fascist dictatorship and the other was a murderous Stalinist dictatorship. The Korean War was conducted on all sides with enormous brutality against the civilian population and in a more just world, the leaders of North and South Korea and the US and China would have been tried as war criminals.

The one thing that does make the Korean War a just war (though does not excuse the bombing of civilian populations or the orders to shoot refugees) was the fact that North Korea started it. So that makes it justifiable in a way that the Iraq invasion was not.

On the dreary subject of Chomsky criticism–it’s not important. Chomsky was extremely important to a lot of us before the advent of the Web–nowadays if you want an alternative view of US foreign policy there are countless sites you can visit. One can agree with much or most of what Chomsky says about US foreign policy without feeling the need to defend everything he has ever said.

198

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 11:16 am

Chomsky’s political writing is much closer to a political joke than a serious academic understanding.

If trying to understand why this joke might make you smile,

Q.What’s the difference between Jurassic Park and Microsoft?
A. One is a huge place where big bloody carnivores show no mercy. The other is a film.

you wouldn’t try to analyze the ‘objective claim’ that Microsoft is a huge place with bloody carnivores which show no mercy. You wouldn’t analyze the implication that there is blood strewn all over the place.

The joke is funny because of the factually false statements which nevertheless resonate with the point trying to be given.

In this thread, Chomsky’s defenders treat the emotionally resonant part as defendable because it emotionally resonates for them but they foolishly try to also treat it as serious argument about foreign policy. It isn’t because his hugely hyperbolic metaphors are essentially jokes.

In this thread, those who attack Chomsky treat the strict factual claims as real claims–subject to verification or debunking. That is a stupid way to treat a joke.

Intentional or not, Chomsky’s political work are best analyzed as political comedy, not political commentary.

199

Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 11:16 am

Re: #193, and I have to make this the last, because I’m disinclined to carry on repeating myself. No, I am not competent to discuss the state of linguistics; that’s why, when commissioned to write an opinion piece on Chomsky as public intellectual, I sought and obtained the advice of leading figures in his academic field, whose assistance I properly acknowledged in the article, having first checked that they would be content for me to do this. I don’t see how I could reasonably have done more, whereas the “pro” Chomsky commentator whose article also accompanied the public intellectuals poll, Robin Blackburn, clearly did less. Blackburn managed to confuse the name of Chomsky’s teacher Zellig Harris with that of the Korea specialist Selig Harrison (the error was later corrected in the online version of the article, but was published in the print edition).

As I have never said Professors Pinker or Newmeyer “reject” Chomsky’s ideas, I’ll refrain from repeating my impressions of your contribution to the discussion, and direct you to #194 and to Bob Borsley’s illuminating comment written for my web site.

200

Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 11:28 am

Yes, Sebastian, it’s all just a big comedy act. So when Chomsky wrote continuously about US support for the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 until 1999, we all should have just taken it as a big joke (See, for instance, Arnold Kohen’s biography of Bishop Belo). Or when he wrote about Reagan’s support for state terror in Central America, that was real funny too. (Read the relevant chapters in Aryeh Neier’s recent book “Taking Liberties”) Or when he writes about US complicity in the Indonesian massacres in the mid-60’s–another laugh riot (Kai Bird’s “The Color of Truth” is useful here). Or Israel’s bombing of civilians in Beirut in 1982. (Jonathan Randal’s “Going All the Way” ) Or Clinton’s supply of weapons to Turkey during their brutal suppression of the Kurds (You’ll have to search the Human Rights Watch website for their mid-90’s report on this.) Or America’s bombing of Cambodia or Laos or Vietnam…. (plenty of sources)

My own point would be that one can verify what Chomsky says about all these things from other sources and so, in order to avoid threads like this one, it’s always best to cite other sources rather than Chomsky. Because Chomsky-bashing gives people a chance to dance away from the issue of US terror or support for terror.

201

engels 07.04.06 at 11:29 am

But I ought to have realised that the only place where that would happen would be among the commenters on this blog, whose complaints do not much occupy me.

Good for you, Oliver: your aristocratic aloofness from all this mud slinging is preserved. Wait, you’ve been hacking away at this thread for almost 24 hours. And you are a professional mud slinger. Whoops: my bad.

202

a 07.04.06 at 11:30 am

BDL: Are you an elephant? To use “Fool me once…” on something you read 30 years ago, seems to me a rather meager justification.

203

engels 07.04.06 at 11:33 am

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

But, Brad, I don’t see the evidence that Chomsky even fooled you twice. As far as I can see, you just keep repeating the same 30-year-old example.

204

Adam Kotsko 07.04.06 at 11:34 am

But the fact remains that the US has done and supported unconscionable things around the world, right? I mean, this much is clear, right? And despite the fact that we all know this, it continues to happen again and again and again — in fact, it even seems to be getting worse, or at least more obvious.

Yet the real problem is that Chomsky is making some questionable emotional appeals.

205

abb1 07.04.06 at 11:39 am

Sebastian, produce a hyperbolic metaphor. People here tried talking about Korea – it didn’t pan out.

If you’re right, it souldn’t be too difficult to produce a grossly exaggerated claim.

206

Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 11:40 am

“But citing Pinker and Newmeyer as people who have equivalently ‘rejected’ Chomskyan linguistics….”

Oh, I don’t know: why not repeat myself after all? You are incompetent and dishonest; your words are a straight fabrication; you may be assured that your adopting a nom de keyboard not only meets my expectations but also strikes me in the circumstances as your only prudent course.

I really must move on.

207

soru 07.04.06 at 11:49 am

it even seems to be getting worse, or at least more obvious

That does rather suggest the Chomsky approach is ineffective, and a different argument strategy (maybe more reality-based, more personalised, with more pop-culture references, or just simpler prose) might work better.

Of course, it is possible to suggest that absent Chomsky, the US would have been worse. Maybe it would never have felt the need to disown Saddam as an ally, let alone topple him.

208

liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 11:59 am

If you are moving on, do take the time to read _Linguistic Wars_ by Randy Harris as it might help you understand a bit of the background. Alternatively, you could just mine it for anti-Chomsky quotes. But I usually hang around at ObWi, so if you are ever over that way, I will ask that folks there give your rhetoric the attention and time that it deserves.

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Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 12:07 pm

Thank you for the book recommendation, which is useful, unlike the comments within which it is wedged.

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engels 07.04.06 at 12:17 pm

Thank God for Soru, who gets to the heart of the matter: Chomsky needs to use more “pop-culture references”.

Sebastian – It may be funny to you, but I fail to see the comedy in the US actions to which Chomsky draws our attention. And the claim that the majority of Chomsky’s statements are “factually false” is precisely the one which you have so far failed to establish.

Donald – Although I would like to see your idea, which you mentioned elsewhere, of someone attempting a non-rabid web critique of Chomsky’s writings put into practice, your other proposal, that he ought to be jetissoned by leftists in favour of neutral sources which do not set off the centre-to-right smear machine seems a little unfair on Chomsky personally, if nothing else. And in fact there is more: part of the reason for the smears is, as always, is to make an example of Chomsky, to scare others from straying from the narrow path of permitted dissent. Leftists have an interest in opposing that.

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Jonathan 07.04.06 at 12:27 pm

I believe the emotional energy released in these discussions has much to do with recapitulationist intellectual vanity. I guess that many of the folks both commenting and reading here were introduced to Chomsky’s political writing in high school, college, or in some comparatively early stage of intellectual development. The power of Chomsky’s ideological analysis (particularly in its purest camera obscura sense) can easily overwhelm such impressionable sorts. But, as you reads more widely in political analysis (or become more progressively indoctrinated, what have you), the need to distinguish your increasingly sophisticated views from those of Chomsky–and particularly from of his naive admirers–becomes ever stronger. How could I ever have been taken in by that simplistic anti-imperialism, that monomaniacal anti-Americanism, etc. This narcissism of minor difference then manifests in unremitting scorn, with the inevitable internet regression heightening tensions.

I, regrettably, thought at a relatively early age that muscular New Republicisms defined the liberal edge of serious political discourse and that such as Chomsky was fit only for dope-smoking hippies and addled Guevarists. I would sometimes watch “Capital Gang.” Upon returning to his political writings a few years later, I came to realize that I was wrong. I now look at anti-Chomsky comments by Delong and others in this thread with an emotional revulsion in addition to disinterested intellectual disagreement, because I’m considerably ashamed that I once might have found them sympathetic.

If that strikes you as amateur psychologizing of the most embarrassing sort, see De Man on the “resistance to theory.”

I accept Chomsky’s occasional singlemindedness and refusal to compromise. He does ask readers to check his sources. He has a horror of being a cult-leader. He distrusts charisma. When he calls critics “neo-Stalinists,” it’s with a hint of gentle regret and love for their hypocritical sin.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 12:29 pm

“Yes, Sebastian, it’s all just a big comedy act. So when Chomsky wrote continuously about US support for the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor from 1975 until 1999, we all should have just taken it as a big joke (See, for instance, Arnold Kohen’s biography of Bishop Belo).”

I take it that you are unaware of the idea that comedy can have a serious point?

Engels, “And the claim that the majority of Chomsky’s statements are “factually false” is precisely the one which you have so far failed to establish.”

Who said that the majority of Chomsky’s statements are factually false? I’m not even sure if a majority of Chomsky’s ‘statements’ are factually understandable–he is an incredibly poor writer if you want to analyze statements. I said that his political comedy was best analyzed as what it is–trying to analyze the ‘facts’ as he presents them is as foolish as trying to factually understand a joke. He has the same appeal as the X-files or Robert Ludlum. He is a writer who says “this was a true story I discovered while studying history…”. I wonder if Tom Hanks would play him in the movie.

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liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 12:36 pm

Since you show an interest in my book suggestions, you may also want to look at Goldsmith and Huck’s _Ideology and Linguistic Theory: Noam Chomsky and the Deep Structure Debates_, which consists of annotated interviews of the principles of (and this is Postal’s term) ‘The Linguistic Wars’. I promise, that will be the last one, so you are now free to move on to more fertile fields.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 12:39 pm

Oliver Kamm – jftr, I’m quite sympathetic to your critique of Chomsky – but I’m very familiar with liberal japonicus, and your quick dismissal of him here reduces your credibility in my eyes.

On Pinker, note that plenty of people find his work poorly-thought-out (I happen to like his stuff), so citing him here isn’t necessarily useful. On the question of his view of Chomsky, I only recall the long section of _Words and Rules_ where he treats the Chomsky-Halle theory respectfully (calling it “brilliant”) but concludes it was impractically ambitious; – and from the index I see he also compares his “language instinct” to Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. I’d judge the evidence to be mixed on that basis.

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engels 07.04.06 at 12:55 pm

he is an incredibly poor writer

But if Chomsky so dumb, why ain’t he poor, Sebastian? Surely you’re not saying that a writer that incompetent could succeed on the oh-so-meritocratic American market? Or conversely, if you and the numerous other literary critics on this thread are so much more capable of penning a daming critique of Anglo-American imperialism then Chomsky, why haven’t… well, it doesn’t matter. Typical librul player haters, I say.

I’m not even sure if a majority of Chomsky’s ‘statements’ are factually understandable

Examples, please?

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engels 07.04.06 at 1:06 pm

dam[n]ing… th[a]n… ugh

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Oliver Kamm 07.04.06 at 1:20 pm

JFTR too, I cited Pinker because I was accused of misrepresenting him, or rather – and sneakily – contriving to make it sound as if I was misrepresenting him even if I wasn’t actually doing so, and even though I had scrupulously consulted competent specialists in the field. As this tortuous conclusion was itself founded on misrepresentation, I don’t feel it would have been honest to treat the intervention with respect, even if its author is in other contexts learned and astute.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 1:34 pm

“But if Chomsky so dumb, why ain’t he poor, Sebastian? Surely you’re not saying that a writer that incompetent could succeed on the oh-so-meritocratic American market?”

Just because the market isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that there is something better out there. You show an ability to draw hyper-nuanced readings of Chomsky but a complete inability to follow basic analogies when drawn by other people. I didn’t say that Chomsky was unsucessful. He is a brilliantly succesful writer of what he does. He weaves fact and fiction together brilliantly for emotional effect. He is practically the Tom Clancy of the left. He is a brilliant demagogue. What he is not is a brillian foreign policy analyst. You don’t read “Robinson Crusoe” for survival tips (even if some are thrown in). You don’t read “Screwtape Letters” to find out how demons really talk. Those who read the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as history are fools.

“Screwtape Letters” is an especially good example. It tells a false story to try to tell truths which its author wishes to illustrate. You may believe the truths which Lewis wants to illustrate or not. But if you read it to find out what demons are ‘really’ like you are missing the point.

Chomsky is somewhat like that.

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serial catowner 07.04.06 at 1:44 pm

Migawd, it’s like watching two dozen Wiley Coyotes looking for the Roadrunner Chomsky.

Chomsky reminds me of Mark Twain’s story about the man who remembered everything. He is particularly incomprehensible to those who remember nothing, such as the rejection of elections in Korea that led to the breakdown of re-unification talks, and, eventually the Korean War. Hint- it was the U.S. that refused to participate in the elections.

If you want to understand Chomsky (I don’t care one way or the other) you need to develop a knowledge base of world events as seen from outside the U.S. propaganda bubble.

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Jon 07.04.06 at 1:49 pm

Sebastian:

[T]he man is crazy on the topic of US foreign policy…Chomsky’s political writing is much closer to a political joke than a serious academic understanding…He is a brilliant demagogue.

And yet, it bears repeating, far far more people on earth agree with Chomsky’s perspective than Sebastian’s. How distressing, given that we know he’s a crazy demagogue and everything he says is a joke!

I’m always reminded in these situations of the description in 1984 of the Two Minute Hate:

Goldstein was delivering his usual venomous attack upon the doctrines of the Party — an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed than oneself, might be taken in by it…

The dark-haired girl behind Winston had begun crying out ‘Swine! Swine! Swine!’ and suddenly she picked up a heavy Newspeak dictionary and flung it at the screen. It struck Goldstein’s nose and bounced off.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 2:02 pm

“And yet, it bears repeating, far far more people on earth agree with Chomsky’s perspective than Sebastian’s.”

Wow, I’m convinced. I believed in evolution until just now, but the wisdom of crowds obviously trumps intelligent informed viewpoints.

“Exaggerated and perverse” is a good description of Chomsky’s attacks on the US – the Nazi stuff is a good example. The US does bad _and_ good – and does both for bad and good reasons – and a reasoned critique would acknowledge that.

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engels 07.04.06 at 2:11 pm

he is an incredibly poor writer
He is a brilliantly succesful writer

Sorry, Sebastian, did I omit some context?

You show… a complete inability to follow basic analogies when drawn by other people.

No, I get it, Sebastian, you told us before: Chomsky is a bad man who beats on his wife. And he is morally equivalent to Daniel Defoe. Isn’t that your argument?

“Screwtape Letters” is an especially good example. It tells a false story to try to tell truths which its author wishes to illustrate. You may believe the truths which Lewis wants to illustrate or not. But if you read it to find out what demons are ‘really’ like you are missing the point.

1) When I said “example” I was hoping for a short statement of Chomsky’s which would provide one data point for your thesis, rather than a book by somebody else which you are able to reference in the process of making yet another completely unsubstantiated claim.

2) You can call me dumb, then, because I can not see how they are analogous. I haven’t read Screwtape Letters but according to you it is a work of fiction which, what?, guides the reader towards embracing certain higher truths? Chomsky’s books are not works of fiction and they are not read as such by his supporters. You may find this hard to believe, Sebastian, but his supporters read his books as polemical texts which are advancing a general theory based on particular factual claims, which are, for the most part, true. So I don’t really see how your example is relevant.

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engels 07.04.06 at 2:16 pm

Rilkefan – For political issues, as opposed to scientific ones, we are more inclined to pay “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

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Jon 07.04.06 at 2:18 pm

rilkefan:

“Exaggerated and perverse” is a good description of Chomsky’s attacks on the US

I know, I know! A child should be able to see through it, yet it’s just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less level-headed and intelligent and informed than oneself, might be taken in by it.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 2:32 pm

“Chomsky’s books are not works of fiction and they are not read as such by his supporters.”

Well at least half of the claims in that sentence are definitely true.

“You may find this hard to believe, Sebastian, but his supporters read his books as polemical texts which are advancing a general theory based on particular factual claims”

I don’t find it hard to believe at all. People read the Koran that way too.

“which are, for the most part, true.”

So you say. That’s fabulous. :)

“So I don’t really see how your example is relevant.”

I see you don’t. But I don’t think you are being totally honest. You understand my example. You deny its relevance because you don’t like what the example suggests. Sort of like a Nazi analogy mentioned above….

“he is an incredibly poor writer
He is a brilliantly succesful writer

Sorry, Sebastian, did I omit some context?”

Nope, that is a correct impression of my views. Another incredibly poor writer who is brilliantly successful–L. Ron Hubbard. Have you ever tried to slog through his fiction much less his ‘non-fiction’? Funny how the cult-like following seems analogous too. The categories aren’t as mutually exclusive as you seem to think. No one with any understanding of music would call Madonna anything other than an ok singer but on the other hand she is a freaking brilliant entertainer and pop idol. Come to think of it, the best analogy for Chomsky is almost certainly Rush Limbaugh. Fantastically popular on his side. Reviled by the other side. Hedges and retreats from his more ridiculous claims. Blusters through the other ones. Belittles his enemies as not being able to understand his keen insight…

What is the difference between Chomsky and Rush?

One is a raving, demogogic loon who drives his enemies nutso and the other uses oxycontin.

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liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 2:47 pm

As this tortuous conclusion was itself founded on misrepresentation, I don’t feel it would have been honest to treat the intervention with respect, even if its author is in other contexts learned and astute.

As this ‘tortuous’ conclusion is based on Pinker’s own words, I’m not sure how that follows. I also note that you scrupulously avoid discussing Newmeyer and I wonder (pseudonymously of course) whether you took the same pains in consulting with Fritz. I feel that in naming both of them immediately after this statement

While those ideas enjoy a wide currency, many linguists reject them.

simple honesty compels me to point out that this is a rhetorical sleight of hand as far as I’m concerned.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 3:14 pm

lj, I’m missing the sleight – is my #214 incorrect?

That is – I take it Chomsky’s not the Newton of linguistics. I thought his ideas were of central importance but that the later ones had come to contradict the earlier ones, and that he had defended each with unusual vitriol and divisiveness. And that linguistics doesn’t have a unified field theory. So the sentence above seems kind of uncontroversial and uninteresting to me. If Fritz (unknown to me in my total ignorance) doesn’t agree, can’t one find well-known linguists X and Y who do? And if so, so what?

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Jon 07.04.06 at 3:17 pm

Sebastian:

Come to think of it, the best analogy for Chomsky is almost certainly Rush Limbaugh…

What is the difference between Chomsky and Rush?

Perhaps one tiny difference is the way one of them has a radio show syndicated on 600 stations. I realize that probably is of no significance whatsoever, but I just bring it up on the off chance it might be.

And if it is — well, if only someone non-crazy and non-demagogic had written thirty books exploring the reasons such a discrepancy might exist! THEN we might have some way of understanding the world we live in!

Sadly, such a person does not exist, and we are left here in the perplexing darkness.

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engels 07.04.06 at 3:27 pm

You may believe the truths which Lewis wants to illustrate or not. But if you read it to find out what demons are ‘really’ like you are missing the point.

Chomsky is somewhat like that.

Chomsky’s supporters read Chomsky to find out what US foreign policy is really like. So according to to the “logic” of your “analogy” they are “missing the point”. So the only people who truly grok Chomsky are his detractors, like yourself, who read him as, what?, a fictional author who provides incidental revelations about the depravity of leftwing politics? Sorry, but as an analysis of the meaning of any literary text, that seems perverse.

People read the Koran that way too.

So fine: say that Chomsky’s supporters are like a religious cult. That is a tired old left-bashing cliché but unlike your analogy it has the virtue of being halfway coherent.

“which are, for the most part, true.”

So you say. That’s fabulous.

Actually, my point was only that they are read this way by his proponents (see above). But if you want to say this, fine. But then after considering your entertaining analogies and enjoying the broad sweep of your cultural allusions, from C.S. Lewis to Madonna, it appears we have returned to square one. Chomsky’s supporters think that most of his factual claims are true. You say they are not. And your evidence for this is – what?

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Jon 07.04.06 at 3:33 pm

This is also an important insight of Sebastian’s:

No one with any understanding of music would call Madonna anything other than an ok singer but on the other hand she is a freaking brilliant entertainer and pop idol.

I agree! Surely Chomsky’s popularity can be ascribed to the fact he is a brilliant entertainer. As anyone who’s ever heard him speak can attest, he’s undoubtedly the World’s Greatest Showman.

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engels 07.04.06 at 3:41 pm

he’s undoubtedly the World’s Greatest Showman

Have you seen him tap dance?

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Louis Proyect 07.04.06 at 3:41 pm

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 3:49 pm

“he is a brilliant entertainer.”

He is a brilliant entertainer of his audience.

I’m not in Madonna’s audience (except in so far as she sometimes attracts world-class songwriting/producing), and she doesn’t do much for me. (Indulging myself given the above thread) I’ve listened to some of Hitler’s speeches and however effective an orator he was supposed to be, I just find him a ranting loon – I’m not in his audience. I’m not in Chomsky’s audience – I want to read clear, reasoned, defended, balanced views, not polemic. That no one has developed a clear, reasoned, defended, balanced critique of the US starting out from Chomsky’s writing (please correct me if I’m wrong here – point me to the academic journal or book) is damning.

Sebastian‘s comparison to Rush Limbaugh strikes me as quite good – not quite as good as my Ann Coulter comparison though, because Chomsky gets a lot of criticism from the left and Rush doesn’t (far as I know anyway) get any from the right.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 3:54 pm

Uhh, Louis

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Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 3:57 pm

Engels, you have a point and sometimes I do come more directly to Chomsky’s defense. But the reason most of us read Chomsky on political issues is because we think he’s basically correct about the evils of American foreign policy. If that’s the case–

A) We should be able to confirm it from other sources
and
B) convincing people that America is guilty of atrocities is more important than getting into debates over whether Chomsky is a saint or a demon.

I think A and B are both true. It might seem unfair to Noam to avoid citing him directly most of the time. (I don’t say one should never cite him). But the real reason (IMO) that Chomsky is such a whipping boy is because it gives the center-left to far-right an excuse to avoid the real issues. They’d much rather talk about Chomsky’s real or imagined sins than whether what he says about US atrocities is strongly supported by the evidence.
If most people ever come to understand this, they’ll look at Noam as someone who has been pointing this out for decades, sometimes making mistakes of his own, but fundamentally correct on the basic issue. More or less the way we look at the abolitionists today.

Sebastian, I’d take your C.S. Lewis Screwtape comparison more seriously except that it’s clear you don’t take it seriously. You don’t seem to think Chomsky has anything important to tell his readers. By the way, if we’re looking for other writers to compare to Noam, I’d nominate Mark Twain in his later anti-imperialist years.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 4:05 pm

Donald, I’m sympathetic to your project. Do you have a sense why there’s no post-Chomskian body of academic thought (assuming there isn’t any) to point to?

I can take up the Screwtape comparison if you like since I enjoy Lewis but find his rhetoric and belief system unattractive.

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Jon 07.04.06 at 4:07 pm

engels:

Have you seen him tap dance?

Sure, but my favorite part of his act is when he sings “Little Red Corvette” in his tight leather jumpsuit while surrounded by nine white tigers! The first time I saw that is when I decided I had to begin parroting his exaggerated and perverse political claims with cult-like devotion!

rilkefan:

Sebastian’s comparison to Rush Limbaugh strikes me as quite good

Yes, they’re directly comparable, except for that radio show on 600 stations part. But that’s of no significance whatsoever, at least for those of us who are intelligent and informed.

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Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 4:12 pm

Rilkefan wrote–
“That no one has developed a clear, reasoned, defended, balanced critique of the US starting out from Chomsky’s writing (please correct me if I’m wrong here – point me to the academic journal or book) is damning.”

That’s not something I would expect. I would expect specialists in American history to write books about US foreign policy based on their own research, not the polemics of someone writing for the general public. On particular issues the evidence supports Chomsky’s viewpoint–why should someone writing about US involvement in Central America or Indonesia cite Chomsky’s work?

Anyway, it’s American intellectual and political culture that should be on trial, not Noam.

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Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 4:30 pm

Rilkefan, if you want to go further with the Screwtape comparison, fire away. I’m not sure exactly where Sebastian was going with it.. I suppose there’s a similarity in the heavy-handed irony that both Lewis and Chomsky use. Lewis does it better.

One of the reasons I find Chomsky’s view of the world plausible (purely factual questions aside) is because I’m a Lewis fan and Screwtape was the second Lewis book I read (the first being my favorite Lewis book “Till We Have Faces”.) Anyway, for at least some of us Christians, it’s entirely to be expected that powerful people in any given culture will be self-deluded about the nobility of their own motives and deeply offended by anyone who questions them. I read Chomsky accusing American elites of being self-deluded pursuers of their own self interest, all the while convincing themselves that everything they do is for the best of motives and as a Christian and C.S. Lewis fan I think “Well, yeah. That’s what humans are like.”

Where I tend to disagree with Chomsky is that he seems to think that “the people” would be shocked and horrified if they knew what was done in their name. He’s a romantic who thinks it’s all the fault of the evil elites at the top. I’m not so sure about that.

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Jon 07.04.06 at 5:00 pm

rilkefan:

He is a brilliant entertainer of his audience.

Right. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that it’s a common perception among his audience, so common it’s become a joke, that he’s unbelievably boring. Further evidence for the hypothesis can be found in the way people sympathetic to him have apparently begged him for decades to get some training in public speaking. It all points to one conclusion: people pay attention to him because they find him brilliantly entertaining.

Donald:

if you want to go further with the Screwtape comparison, fire away.

Have you ever heard the audio book version read by John Cleese? Oh, man. You have not truly enjoyed the Screwtape Letters until you’ve heard Cleese explain, “In the heat of composition I find that I have inadvertently allowed myself to assume the form of a large centipede.”

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engels 07.04.06 at 5:13 pm

And that Limbaugh is a vicious moron…

Rilkefan – It’s one of Chomsky’s big claims that you can not properly address the questions he wants to within the field of academic political science. You may think that’s rubbish, but it does mean it is not an immediate knockdown argument to his position to point out that he does not have a large following within that field. But seeing as you are a vocal critic of Chomsky, I’m sure I don’t need to inform you of what his views are…

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liberal japonicus 07.04.06 at 5:35 pm

morning rilkefan,
my narrow point is that if I were to suggest that the majority of the field of your study had rejected the framework of your mentor and then cited some difference you had with that mentor, even though you didn’t reject his framework, that would be sleight of hand. And late night leaps are responsible for having me type in Fritz, which is Fredrick Newmeyer’s nickname. If either of them ‘rejected’ Chomsky, (note that Oliver writes that Newmeyer was “a supporter of Chomsky’s ideas until the mid-1990s”, which suggests that he had some conversion on the road to Damascus), it would be huge news within the field and something that even I, toiling away over here, would have heard about.

As you know, I say that as someone who doesn’t care for Chomsky’s work as a linguist. But it as if Kamm wanted to assault Einstein’s pacifism and brought up the fact that Hawking disagreed with him of the nature of black holes.

Anyway all this time away from home is getting me dizzy, I’ll bow out, simply noting that jonathan’s 12:27pm is probably quite close to some home truths here.

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Susan 07.04.06 at 5:39 pm

Donald Johnson, please cite evidence for this quote of yours: “Where I tend to disagree with Chomsky is that he seems to think that “the people” would be shocked and horrified if they knew what was done in their name. He’s a romantic who thinks it’s all the fault of the evil elites at the top. I’m not so sure about that.”

I don’t remember him saying anything like this. I think your quote is essentially a dishonest caricature.

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engels 07.04.06 at 5:51 pm

But it as if Kamm wanted to assault Einstein’s pacifism and brought up the fact that Hawking disagreed with him of the nature of black holes.

Quite.

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Wax Banks 07.04.06 at 5:53 pm

Mr Kamm –

Your drama queen act in this thread is a bit…overwrought. If you don’t want to comment don’t comment; if you don’t want to comment further, don’t comment further. Regardless, please don’t embarrass yourself with the good ol’ ‘I simply must stop wasting my time with these Philistines’ routine.

Oh, and jon, you said:

the man is crazy on the topic of US foreign policy.

And yet far, far more people on earth would agree with Chomsky’s views than Sebastian’s.

You then implied strongly that ‘billions’ of people share Chomsky’s views of American foreign policy and the work of nations.

I’d be stunned if you were off by only three orders of magnitude here. Substantive stuff aside, that’s just a silly claim. I simply can’t believe that Chomsky’s apparent overarching fantasy – of sinister American elites turning the world into their bloody playground – is particular common. Certainly a general antipathy toward American attitudes and interests, yes…and aren’t you ashamed to live in such a world? Actually don’t answer that; I’m not checking back in this thread.

(Unlike Mr Kamm.)

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Steven Poole 07.04.06 at 6:21 pm

I note with some amusement that Brad DeLong is attempting to lecture me about “grammar and rhetoric”. Better luck next time, Prof DeLong.

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Don Quijote 07.04.06 at 6:39 pm

Sebastian’s comparison to Rush Limbaugh strikes me as quite good

Yes, they’re directly comparable, except for that radio show on 600 stations part. But that’s of no significance whatsoever, at least for those of us who are intelligent and informed.

And the fact that Rush gets the dubious honor of Interviewing the Dark One on a semi-regular basis.

And Sebastian,when will you be enlisting?

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Jon 07.04.06 at 7:49 pm

wax banks:

jon, you said “far, far more people on earth would agree with Chomsky’s views than Sebastian’s.”

You then implied strongly that ‘billions’ of people share Chomsky’s views of American foreign policy and the work of nations.

I’d be stunned if you were off by only three orders of magnitude here. Substantive stuff aside, that’s just a silly claim.

Harris:

The President’s image across Europe is so poor that in a recent poll on the Continent, a majority of respondents said the U.S. was more of a threat to world stability than China or Iran.

PIPA:

A new global poll finds that in 33 of 35 countries surveyed, the most common view is that the war in Iraq has increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks around the world. On average, 60 percent of the respondents have this perception, while just 12 percent think the Iraq war has decreased the likelihood of terrorist attacks

Pew:

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre, in a poll of 17,000 people in 15 countries between March and May, found more people concerned about the US presence in Iraq than about Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.

Gallup January, 2003 poll:

Support for Iraq war without U.N. sanction:

20% Uganda
17% Kenya
15% Colombia
12% Australia
11% Romania

In 2004, the U.N. disarmament committee voted on a “treaty banning the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.”

Results:

…adopted by an overwhelming majority with 147 votes in favor, one vote against (US), and two abstentions (Britain and Israel)

I could go on, but that’s probably enough of my stunning silliness for now.

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rilkefan 07.04.06 at 7:55 pm

“Yes, they’re directly comparable, except for that radio show on 600 stations part. But that’s of no significance whatsoever, at least for those of us who are intelligent and informed.”

You’re not so intelligent and informed that you noticed the sovereign fact (given the discussion is about their rhetorical strategies) that they have different names.

“It’s one of Chomsky’s big claims that you can not properly address the questions he wants to within the field of academic political science. You may think that’s rubbish”

Well, I prefer to think of it as convenient.

“This hypothesis is supported by the fact that it’s a common perception among his audience”

I think this is another convenient feature of his work, as noted above. If it were clear, it wouldn’t be possible for one to read one’s own prejudices into it, and it would be more subject to attack, and it would be amenable to boring study – as is, the casual Chomsky supporter can read a few essays and not feel bad about getting a deep familiarity with his stuff because, well, it’s just too boring.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 7:57 pm

“Yes, they’re directly comparable, except for that radio show on 600 stations part. But that’s of no significance whatsoever, at least for those of us who are intelligent and informed.”

Don’t you see just the slightest bit of irony in attacking the utility of a moderate-fit metaphor while defending Chomsky on a thread that mentions his denazification analogy? Just a touch? :)

“Sebastian, I’d take your C.S. Lewis Screwtape comparison more seriously except that it’s clear you don’t take it seriously. “

I’m not sure what you mean. I’ll admit that throughout this conversation I’ve intentionally been making Chomsky-style analogies. Like him I mean them to be evocative but unassailably indirect. I’m amused to see that my Rush comparison has had exactly the effect one would expect. But I’m dead serious that both writers mix and match fiction and what they believe to be fact in order to tell the moral story that they want to tell.

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engels 07.04.06 at 8:57 pm

I’ll admit that throughout this conversation I’ve intentionally been making Chomsky-style analogies.

Well now, my evil leftwing comrades, we have been truly outmanoeuvred. Don’t you see? Sebastian has been employing Chomskyan tactics all along!!! So if anyone succeeds in criticising his increasing tortuous arguments, and Sebastian loses the argument, that very loss will be ours, and Noam Chomsky’s! And if noone does, then Sebastian will have won the argument! Damn. Why couldn’t I think of that?

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Randy McDonald 07.04.06 at 9:04 pm

I’m reminded of an account in a Toronto paper by a South Asian participant in a forum on Kashmir, recounting his confusion when Chomsky delivered a talk on US policy in Central America to a forum decidedly not involved with Central American issues.

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Donald Johnson 07.04.06 at 9:11 pm

I agree with liberal japonicus about jonathan’s 12:27 post. I think that does explain a fair amount of the anti-Chomsky animus you sometimes find on the left.

Jon, thanks for the John Cleese tip. Sebastian and maybe Rilkefan probably thank you too (if they enjoyed Screwtape).

Sebastian, your analogy to Lewis seems weak to me, but I’ll let it drop. This thread is probably dying now anyway.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.04.06 at 9:19 pm

“So if anyone succeeds in criticising his increasing tortuous arguments, and Sebastian loses the argument, that very loss will be ours,”

So far you needn’t worry. ;)

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Jon 07.04.06 at 10:31 pm

Sebastian:

Don’t you see just the slightest bit of irony in attacking the utility of a moderate-fit metaphor while defending Chomsky on a thread that mentions his denazification analogy? Just a touch? :)

Jeebus cripes almighty. The point is that what you’ve come up with is not a moderate-fit metaphor. It’s about as close to a zero-fit metaphor as you can get.

Is this really so hard to understand? I suppose it is. One almost universal trait I’ve noticed in contemporary U.S. conservatives is the complete inability to construct accurate analogies. The 10th grade English teacher in me is sometimes tempted to put together an online course to which I can direct people who want to learn this valuable skill.

“If Noam Chomsky can say ‘To me it seems that what is needed is a kind of denazification,’ then I can compare I.F Stone to Father Coughlin! I can compare Martin Luther King to George Wallace! It’s exactly the same!!!”

Sorry: no. It’s not, and you can’t. Those who don’t understand this will be held back until they complete the semester on analogies.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.05.06 at 1:01 am

The problem with the denazification analogy is that Chomsky does not bother to describe how his denazification would work in the freer society that is the United States.

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Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 3:54 am

The problem with the denazification analogy is that Chomsky does not bother to describe how his denazification would work in the freer society that is the United States.

Hey, that’s a reasonable criticism. I think you’re in the wrong thread. ;-)

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abb1 07.05.06 at 4:40 am

Chomsky’s response to Kamm’s ravings about the terrible word that shouldn’t be uttered:
http://www.chomsky.info/articles/200601–.htm

Proceeding further to demonstrate my “central” doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent – or denazification.” The context, which he again omits, is a 1968 report in the New York Times of a protest against an exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry where children could “enter a helicopter for simulating firing of a machine gun at targets” in Vietnam, with a light flashing when a hit was scored on a hut — “even though no people appear,” revealing the extremism of the protestors. This was a year after the warning by the highly respected military historian and Vietnam specialist Bernard Fall that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity…is threatened with extinction …[as]… the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.”

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Kevin Donoghue 07.05.06 at 5:09 am

The problem with the denazification analogy is that Chomsky does not bother to describe how his denazification would work in the freer society that is the United States.

The problem with this statement is that it is untrue.

“There is, of course, no more powerful force that can call us to account. The change will have to come from within. The fate of millions of poor and oppressed people throughout the world will be determined by our ability to carry out a profound ‘cultural revolution’ in the United States.”

[…]

“Whether we aim for reform or revolution, the early steps must be the same: an attempt to modify political and moral consciousness and to construct alternative institutional forms that reflect and support this development. Personally, I believe that our present crisis is in some measure, moral and intellectual rather than institutional and that reason and resistance can go a certain way, perhaps a long way, toward ameliorating it.”

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Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 6:30 am

It’s rather vague, though, isn’t it? Arguably, if you’re going to talk expressly of “a kind of denazification”, you should offer a more detailed idea of what that would entail in the context to which you apply it. If Chomsky had just written “I think our political and moral consciousness is deeply screwed up”, he wouldn’t have the same obligation to specify remedies, I think.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.05.06 at 7:46 am

Is denazifiaction such a vague term? I haven’t studied the history but my understanding is that it involved:
(1) putting those with direct responsibility for crimes on trial;
(2) excluding the small-fry, who were complicit in those crimes, from public office;
(3) educating the general public by putting evidence of atrocities squarely before them.

These things couldn’t be done in the USA in 1968 in the same way as they could be done in post-war Germany. Really, it would have had to start with (3), which is I imagine exactly how Chomsky would describe what he was doing. Get public opinion aroused and (1) is certainly doable; (2) is trickier because you can’t really reconcile due legal process with punishment of people who are only peripherally involved in crimes. Probably that would have had to be dispensed with.

I don’t see what’s vague about it. Procedures exist for bringing powerful people to justice if the will is there.

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Z 07.05.06 at 8:32 am

It’s rather vague, though, isn’t it?
Chomsky gives a lot of practical recommendations in many of these books, talks and interviews. They tend to be very mundane, something like “The US should accept the jurisdiction of the world court” “The power of the UN should be expanded, perhaps by repelling the right of veto” “The US should ratify a number of international treaties it hasn’t” and the most frequent one by far “People in the US should organize in order to build a functional democracy”. As I already wrote on CT, I believe factual and theoretical critiques of Chomsky are possible and in fact easy, but none of his opponents seem to be able to do it without collapsing into vitriol and strange points about comparisons. The best course is probably Donald’s, never cite him and everything will be fine.

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Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 9:24 am

No, “denazification” itself is a very specific term, and to some arguable extent justified by the context of inviting children to shoot simulated Vietnamese huts (the context that Oliver Kamm considers irrelevant, although any time Chomsky omits context it is of course a malicious distortion & mortal sin against scholarship, etc). The problem is that perhaps, if you are going to suggest that “a kind of denazification” needs to be performed in a different time and place, you ought to describe what it would consist of in detail, rather than in idealistic generalities.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.05.06 at 9:25 am

1 and 3 are just dealing with crimes. Things more along the line of 2 (and for example banning the Nazi party and symbols associated with it) are what makes denazification a separate type of thing. But such a thing really isn’t possible if you simultaneously keep the free society that is the US. For example you would run into all sorts of free speech and free association issues if you tried to take denazification at all seriously. Furthermore what is the object of his ‘type of denazification’? In Germany there was an actual Nazi party. In the US, what would Chomsky be talking about? The Democratic Party which ‘started’ the main war he hates? The Republican Party? Both? Neither? People who don’t agree with Chomsky? Who can really tell?

But of course Chomsky doesn’t bother with any of that–he isn’t being serious when he says it. He is using demogogic speech–not presenting an argument. Treating his political work as academic work, with facts to be disputed and proposals to be analyzed, is foolish because that is not what Chomsky is presenting.

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Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 9:28 am

I’m not sure that academic work is the only type of work that contains facts to be disputed and proposals to be analyzed. Does Chomsky, for example, not assert facts that you are free to dispute? Does he not advance proposals that you are free to analyze? That he does this in a polemical style does not mean he isn’t doing it at all.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.05.06 at 10:15 am

Does he not advance proposals that you are free to analyze? That he does this in a polemical style does not mean he isn’t doing it at all.

If you seriously wanted to have a type of denazification policy in the US it is obvious that you would have to deal with the issues I raised (and many others). If you are engaging in mere verbal bombast, you don’t have to deal with such things. Chomsky doesn’t. This suggests that denazification is verbal bombast–not a policy suggestion. That is why I compare him to Rush Limbaugh. Does Rush ever support policies? Surely. But his main tactic involves verbal flamethrowing, not policy advocacy argumentation.

Similarly does Chomsky deal in policy proposals at all? Sure. Like Limbaugh his firebreathing sometimes trips over a policy proposal. But that isn’t his general method. If you were dedicated to sifting through Limbaugh’s rants for policy you could find it. But why? Like Chomsky, that isn’t his main goal. I’m not saying that policy is totally missing from Chomsky’s rants. But so what? You could go through Chris Rock’s comedy and find domestic policy suggestions. But if you look at a political comedian as if his act were a point by point policy analysis you aren’t understanding the medium.

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Louis Proyect 07.05.06 at 10:31 am

The amount of confusion over the term “denazification” here indicates to me an unwillingneess to engage in Chomsky’s real ideas. Imperialist democracies like the USA and Great Britain rest on “consent”, not repression. Under the framework of parliamentary rules and a free press, corporate power ensures that the wishes of the permanent government are carried out. This permanent government is not elected. It is made up of functionaries in the State Department, CIA, the Council on Foreign Relations and a myriad of bodies sensitive to the needs of oil companies and other multinationals.

Nazism took root in Germany because the old parliamentary system, symbolized by the Weimar republic, was failing to produce the kind of consensus that existed in wealthier imperialist democracies.

When Chomsky calls for denazification, he is mainly interested in the impact that this would have *outside* the imperialist democracies, not within them. For people living in the neocolonies of the USA and Great Britain, there is little to choose from between the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack and the Swastika.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n05/port01_.html
The British declared the Kenya Emergency in 1952, when seven years of restless dissatisfaction with British rule culminated in the full-scale rebellion known as Mau Mau. It was very largely the struggle of the Kikuyu, the country’s majority ethnic group – about 1.5 million in a native population of five million – who had lost much of their land to white settlers and had moved into reservations or continued farming as tenants. The Emergency saw out two prime ministers – Churchill and Eden – and ended in January 1960. In that time, Mau Mau supporters killed at least 2000 African civilians and inflicted some 200 casualties on the army and police. In all, 32 white settlers died in the rebellion. For their part, the British hanged more than 1000 Kikuyu, detained at least 150,000 and, according to official figures, killed around 12,000 in combat, though the real figure, in David Anderson’s view, is ‘likely to have been more than 20,000’. In addition, Caroline Elkins claims, up to 100,000 died in the detention camps.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.05.06 at 12:21 pm

Sebastian,

1 and 3 are just dealing with crimes.

(1) is but (3) is not. Judges do not set out to educate the general public by putting evidence of atrocities squarely before them, although trials certainly can have that effect. Educating the public is very much “the responsibility of intellectuals”, an expression that you can of course dismiss as comic material since Chomsky used it – which apparently drains it of all significance.

The notion that a process akin to denazification is impossible in a free society is absurd. West Germany during that period wasn’t a vast prison camp where people who wanted to say a good word about Hitler had to look over their shoulders for fear of arrest. Many of the activities described as denazification were of a sort that can be carried out in any democracy. In fact a much better job was done in West Germany than in East Germany, which would hardly be the case if the main requirement was the suppression of free speech. True, a civil servant in Bonn who expressed nostalgia for the Nazis might lose his job, but then a civil servant in LBJ’s America who suggested that the proper role for the Negro is to serve at table might face career problems also.

Steven,

The problem is that perhaps, if you are going to suggest that “a kind of denazification” needs to be performed in a different time and place, you ought to describe what it would consist of in detail, rather than in idealistic generalities.

Is it so hard to imagine? The idea is to get the American public to accept that the crime of aggression (one of the charges at Nuremburg) is no less a crime when committed by Americans. The same goes for other crimes such as the use of terror against civilians. The idea that racial discrimination is wrong was eventually accepted, so clearly it isn’t impossible to educate people.

Now, reasonable people can and do argue that aggression isn’t always wrong – the Roman Empire had its points – and that bombing civilians is no worse than killing soldiers (Orwell suggested it is actually better in some respects). I’m not tackling these questions here. All I’m saying is that if you accept Chomsky’s morality, American foreign policy is at least as bad as American racial policies used to be and the proper course is the same in both cases: agitate for change. That’s what he does. I don’t see how you can ask him to be more specific since he himself is doing what he wants others to do.

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Oliver Kamm 07.05.06 at 1:15 pm

“As this ‘tortuous’ conclusion is based on Pinker’s own words, I’m not sure how that follows.”

Well, because you attributed to me a claim I hadn’t put, and then shifted your ground to claiming that even if I hadn’t put it I had sneakily made it sound as if I had. You did so, moreover, despite my having clearly explained that the passage whose tricky elisions so excited you had been compressed from a more detailed version in the normal process of editing an author’s copy, after it had been read by two leading authorities in the field, whose gracious help I sought and properly acknowledged at the end of the published article. This was, again as I have said, more effort than the other commissioned author, Robin Blackburn, appears to have expended, as he managed to confuse the name of Chomsky’s teacher with that of a scholar in an unrelated field. I still believe that I was justified in my choice of adviser, one an editor of the Journal of Linguistics, sooner than trust to a pseudonymous commenter on a blog, so I suppose we shall have to differ on this.

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abb1 07.05.06 at 2:54 pm

The idea is to get the American public to accept that the crime of aggression (one of the charges at Nuremburg) is no less a crime when committed by Americans.

It’s not only about direct aggressions. He’s also often talking about applying public pressure to raise the social costs of supporting various brutal regimes everywhere. Or things like Iraq sanctions in the 90s and so on. To create this public pressure you need to expose the official lies, that’s the only way.

271

Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 4:46 pm

Kevin, if “a kind of denazification” simply means public education and criminal process, the details of whose application is still left unclear, then it is still a bit vague, isn’t it?

272

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.05.06 at 4:56 pm

Mere education and normal punishment channels are not denazification. If you aren’t going to be banning a party, banning many of its former members from office, and restricting public discourse when it is expressed in favor of that party you aren’t engaging in something very much like denazification.

273

Ray 07.05.06 at 5:09 pm

Brendan posted Chomsky’s explanation of this in 162, didn’t he?
“Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery saw the objective of the allied forces in Germany as ‘to change the heart, and the way of life, of the German people’. Denazification involved a cultural and ideological change, to proceed side-by-side with economic reconstruction. We can certainly ask whether three and two-thirds million Germans in the US Zone were more guilty of complicity in war crimes than any Americans. And we can ask whether a cultural and ideological change in the United States, at the very least, is not imperative if many others, who fear neither pain nor death, are not to be spared the fate of Vietnam.’”

“a kind of denazification” = “a deep cultural and ideological change” One could argue that it isn’t similar to de-nazification if it doesn’t involve banning political parties, Chomsky could reply that the similarity is in the scale of the cultural change he is talking about.

274

Kevin Donoghue 07.05.06 at 5:57 pm

Steven,

Vague compared to what? Nowhere near as precise as a good algebra textbook, I grant you that. Compared with most of the commentary I’ve seen on morality and politics it’s a model of clarity. In 1968, Chomsky wasn’t expecting to be made Attorney General. Why should it be up to him to work out the details of the process? The logical first step was to convince the public that the Vietnam war was not merely futile (that was becoming obvious) but morally wrong. Elect a Congress dominated by people firmly of that opinion and trials would follow, with efforts to marginalise the denialists in much the same way the Neo-Nazis were marginalised in Germany.

Call it unrealistic by all means, but by the normal standards of political discourse it wasn’t at all vague.

275

liberal japonicus 07.05.06 at 6:13 pm

When I said you could go Oliver, I really meant it. You have my leave.

276

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.05.06 at 6:27 pm

“Denazification involved a cultural and ideological change, to proceed side-by-side with economic reconstruction.”

Oh good heavens. This could describe a vast number of projects are nothing like denazification. If we are allowed to redefine the terms to that level of generality there is no point in arguing Humpty Dumpty-style about it.

Murder involves a physical change in the body of the victim, so clearly all forced physical changes are a kind of murder.

This reinforces my point. Chomsky isn’t generally about discussion or figuring out policy. He is about invective through pseudo-analogy.

277

Steven Poole 07.05.06 at 6:30 pm

If you seriously wanted to have a type of denazification policy in the US it is obvious that you would have to deal with the issues I raised (and many others).

See, Sebastian, if you read my comments you will find that I actually agree with you on this point. But that is apparently not enough for you. Your rage against Chomsky is such that you must insist he is a comedian, or the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, and that anyone who doesn’t follow you into this hyperbolical realm must of necessity not “understand the medium”. This is quite a good illustration of what I was talking about in the original post.

278

Kevin Donoghue 07.05.06 at 6:39 pm

Sebastian,

Your complaint was that “Chomsky does not bother to describe how his denazification would work in the freer society that is the United States”. Now you are complaining that his (“kind of) denazification” isn’t the same as yours. Well, that might be why he explained what he had in mind – which is precisely what you said he didn’t bother to do.

This reinforces your point. Yes of course it does. Doesn’t everything?

279

engels 07.05.06 at 6:51 pm

He is about invective through pseudo-analogy.

Perhaps you read him this way, Sebastian, but that’s because you choose to focus exclusively on his rhetoric at the expense of what he is saying. For example, many commentators above have gone some way to explaining what Chomsky means by de-nazification. You have not, as far as I can see, offered much in the way of substantive criticism of it, but you have been vocal in your complaints that it should not be labelled “de-nazification”. This seems to me a rather weak response.

Of the two substantive objections you have offered –

(i) that it might conflict with liberal protections
(ii) that America has no Nazi party

– I think only the first is of real importance, yet it would at least be interesting if you were to pursue it. But of course you can’t do that, because it would mean conceding what is for most people at issue in this discussion, which is that Chomsky, whether you agree with him or not on a given issue, is someone who deserves to be taken seriously.

280

rilkefan 07.05.06 at 7:17 pm

steven poole: “the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh”

Rush has a coherent critique of US policy – it’s all the liberals’ fault – and he cites facts (or what he claims are facts) – and he probably insists his critique can’t be studied in an academic setting – and I’m sure he insists his critics misunderstand him – and maybe he gets a few things right on occasion (I think I’ve heard he’s been critical of the conduct of the Iraq war, for example).

I’ll say the same sort of thing I’d say to a Limbaugh proponent – show me he does stuff I can agree with and rely on and learn from. If you want to convince liberal critics of Chomsky like me that he’s useful, I suggest you show that his work on the former Yugoslavia was worthwhile and dependable. That was an important episode in my political development and the point I decided Chomsky wasn’t interested in the truth of the matter, just his own prejudices.

281

liberal japonicus 07.05.06 at 9:08 pm

rilkefan,
trying to get something together on HoCB, but I’d ask you to consider that the denazification quote comes from 1968, the height of the Vietnam war and that seems to be what has exercised Oliver Kamm and Sebastian.

The two questionable areas that seem to be on the minds of serious doubters of Chomsky are Cambodia and Yugoslavia. With Cambodia, one could make the argument that it was US destabilization that led to the situation. That Chomsky was wrong about Pol Pot, I think, I would agree, but in the context of the times, I tend to cut him some slack, though I know others don’t.

As for Yugoslavia, could I suggest that we still really don’t know enough to draw a final judgement? Admitedly attention is elsewhere, but I still don’t know if enough time has passed to be able to tell if Chomsky’s prejudices aided him or blinded him. However, he has been at this for 40 years. For some, this means that he has hammered on the same note over and over, for others, they might suggest he was prescient. However, it seems very very hard to admit that it might be a little of both.

282

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.06.06 at 12:14 am

Steven, “See, Sebastian, if you read my comments you will find that I actually agree with you on this point. But that is apparently not enough for you. Your rage against Chomsky is such that you must insist he is a comedian, or the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, and that anyone who doesn’t follow you into this hyperbolical realm must of necessity not “understand the medium”.”

Umm, I was responding to ray (post 273) not to you in the portion you quote. But by all means feel free to speculate on my emotions based on your misbelief that I was disagreeing with you on this point. ;)

Kevin, “Now you are complaining that his (“kind of) denazification” isn’t the same as yours.”

No, I’m saying that it is ridiculous to force yourself to the generality level of “changing culture” in order to save the analogy. Words mean things.

On a high level of generality, murder is an unlawful violation of someone’s body. But that doesn’t mean that sneaking into someone’s room and cutting their hair without their permission while they are sleeping is “a kind of murder”.

If you are defending the denazification analogy because it would be appropriate to have public education and normal investigation of crimes (and that seems to be how you are defending it), you are falling for the most classic logic mistake. Just because A is a subset of B and C is a subset of B doesn’t mean that A=C. Just because denazification involves (in part) public education and punishment of crimes does not mean that all public education and punishment of crimes is ‘denazification’. In order to be very much like actual denazification it would have to have other elements–like banning a political party and symbols associated with it. That is why it is called “denazification” It involves excising a discrete thing from the body politic. That makes it rather different from a mere public education campaign combined with a law enforcement push.

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abb1 07.06.06 at 2:11 am

Don’t you, guys, think that rhetorical exclamation: “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the United States is dissent – or denazification” prompted by NYT’s labeling the protest against barbaric exhibition as ‘extreme’ can only be milked so much before you begin to sound loony?

284

bolg 07.06.06 at 2:13 am

How about reinstituting the fairness in media doctrine, breaking up the corporate monopoly of the mainstream media for starters? Public financing of campiagns, more realistic curricula in history. I’m sure others can come up with many more proposals.

285

bolg 07.06.06 at 2:32 am

Maybe as well ratification of international treaties, firm commitment to international law, laws against covert operations in other countries, outlawing of interference in the electoral processes of other countries, outlawing psyops campaigns against the American people and determined prosecutions of violations of any of these things.

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 2:35 am

I was responding to ray (post 273) not to you in the portion you quote.

In your post 266 you were replying to post 273? That’s a good trick. Ummm, actually you were quoting my post 265. But hey, feel free to deny it if you think it means you can ignore the point. ;-)

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bolg 07.06.06 at 3:03 am

Actually, I am thinking that the problem may be more intractable than Chomsky would care to admit. Maybe the US is in need of a deMammonification program rather than a deNazification program. How do you combat that? The society as a whole worships wealth, accumulation, consumption, luxury, avarice and that is reflected in the foreign policy. We should have started adressing the energy situation with mandatory conservation and efficiency measures with the proven technologies already at hand. But no one wants to invest that extra amount in conservation for their homes, office buildings, or factories.

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Kevin Donoghue 07.06.06 at 3:08 am

Sebastian: Just because A is a subset of B and C is a subset of B doesn’t mean that A=C.

Of course not. But the relation “is a kind of” doesn’t perform the same function in normal speech as the symbol “=” performs in set theory. It merely indicates the existence of numerous points in common (where “points” usually doesn’t refer to elements of any very clearly-defined set). Adultery is a kind of betrayal. The ideology of Sinn Fein is a kind of fascism. Indentured servitude is a kind of slavery. Thanks to Google, I have just now learned that the Vatican Astronomer thinks creationism is a kind of paganism. For you, evidently, Chomsky is a kind of Rush Limbaugh.

Normally, when a writer uses that particular form of words, it is followed or preceded by an elaboration of the similarities and differences. You said Chomsky didn’t bother to do that, further evidence of his frivolous intent. In fact he did elaborate, at some length. Your conclusion that he is a comedian still stands of course, with a new allegation to replace the old one: now he is Humpty Dumpty remaking language, where before he was Mel Brooks using jackboots as props.

Really, Chomsky’s point is about as clear as any I’ve read in an essay of that sort. His point is that for Americans to apply to themselves the laws which they enforced against the Germans and Japanese would require a very drastic change in public attitudes. To most of mankind this is not news, but in many Americans it seems to evoke the response “does not compute”.

289

bolg 07.06.06 at 3:11 am

What would be really cool is an extensive network of Maglev trains.

290

Ray 07.06.06 at 3:30 am

Sebastian, your criticism only works if the relationship between the cultural change needed in Germany and the cultural change needed in America in the Vietnam era is trivial, if Chomsky was suggesting that any cultural change, of any type, can seriously be compared to denazification. But Chomsky’s point is that the relationship is not trivial, America needs (needed) a deep cultural change – that a country that encourages it’s children to fire pretend machine guns at peasant huts has something seriously wrong with it.
The context pointed out by Abb1 is important. Contrasting ‘denazification’ with ‘dissent’ indicates the level of change that Chomsky thinks is required. If ‘denazification’ was used in a context of America’s political parties, perhaps a long discussion of the racism of the Republican party, then it would make sense to think that he was suggesting banning the members of certain political parties from public life. But he wasn’t.

That’s the thing about metaphors and analogies – they don’t always pick out the same features for comparison. If someone is compared to a dog, does that mean they’re bestial, loyal, stubborn, rabid…? You can’t tell without the context.
Your method of arguing with Chomsky here is to seize on a word and separate it from it’s context, offer your own interpretation of what that word must mean, and then descibe Chomsky as a ‘comedian’ because he says he meant something else by it.

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Don Quijote 07.06.06 at 6:54 am

rilkefan,

I’ll say the same sort of thing I’d say to a Limbaugh proponent – show me he does stuff I can agree with and rely on and learn from.

I would suggest a thorough reading of Manufacturing Consent which is in my humble opinion the single best explanation as to why our mass media has turned into such a propaganda tool.

292

Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 8:33 am

I second the coolness of an extensive network of maglev trains.

293

Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 10:04 am

This explains quite nicely the behaviour of some people on this thread – using science.

294

Sebastian Holsclaw 07.06.06 at 10:18 am

My bad, from the thread it appeared you were responding to mine at 276. So let’s examine the point you were trying to make about 266.

“See, Sebastian, if you read my comments you will find that I actually agree with you on this point. But that is apparently not enough for you. Your rage against Chomsky is such that you must insist he is a comedian, or the equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, and that anyone who doesn’t follow you into this hyperbolical realm must of necessity not “understand the medium”.”

You transformed my argument into “Does he not advance proposals that you are free to analyze? That he does this in a polemical style does not mean he isn’t doing it at all.”

I put “at all” in bold because it changed the nature of what I was talking about and I wanted to highlight the nature of our disagreement. I essentially responded that since his topic is politics he of course mentions political proposals but that–like Limbaugh who also mentions policy proposals–Chomsky’s rhetoric suggests that analyzing policy proposals is not his goal. You apparently think this idea is a product of ‘rage’. You also seem to think I was disagreeing with you about everything, and that my ‘rage’ made me unable to see that you agreed with me on the point of the utility of the denazification metaphor. But in fact I was responding to your overgeneralization of my point with “at all”.

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 10:41 am

You also seem to think I was disagreeing with you about everything, and that my ‘rage’ made me unable to see that you agreed with me on the point of the utility of the denazification metaphor. But in fact I was responding to your overgeneralization of my point with “at all”.

Um, ok, so why did you begin your response to me by telling me about the lack of utility of the denazification metaphor? ;)

I apologise for “rage”: it was invalid ad hominem speculation of the sort that is best performed by Chomsky-haters. ;)

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Steven Koskela 07.06.06 at 12:33 pm

In the interest of lending outside support to Chomsky’s work, I think it would be worthwhile to consider what Robert Fisk has to say about Chomsky and the war in Kosovo. This is particularly relevant to rilkefan’s 280 insistence that “If you want to convince liberal critics of Chomsky like me that he’s useful, I suggest you show that his work on the former Yugoslavia was worthwhile and dependable. That was an important episode in my political development and the point I decided Chomsky wasn’t interested in the truth of the matter, just his own prejudices.” Robert Fisk is, I think, the most experienced and reputable war correspondent we have; he is certainly one of the most morally upright, and his reporting is always unembedded. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you can find a short bio of him here:www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=05/10/20/1411211&mode=thread&tid=25.

Here’s Fisk on the bombing of Kosovo:
“There was a moment back in April, early in the bombing campaign, when Nato’s lie became obvious.”Had we not acted,” said President Clinton, “the Serb offensive would have been carried out with impunity.”

And there we have it. Ours was a punishment campaign, not a preventive action. It was intended to avenge the Albanians, not to save them – and to revenge ourselves on the Serbs, I have no doubt, for the humiliation we suffered at their hands in Bosnia. The Albanian refugees will now return to their “predictably” burned homes and the “predictable” mass graves of their loved ones. The Serbs will continue to flood out of the province that Nato had sworn to preserve.”
(The Independent. June 21, 1999. p. 5)

And some more on the noble bombing of Kosovo here:
“Nato would bomb Serbia until Milosevic’s “murder machine” ended its “genocide” against the Albanians and allowed the refugees to return home. The fact that most of the refugees were alive and in their homes when Nato began the war – the fact that Shea’s lip smacking exposes of mass graves proved that Nato had totally failed to protect the people for whom it had supposedly gone to war – was totally ignored.
Nato’s bombing brought a kind of peace to Kosovo – but only after it had given the Serbs the opportunity to massacre or dispossess half the Albanian population of the province, caused billions of dollars in damage to Yugoslavia’s infrastructure, killed hundreds of Yugoslav civilians, destabilised Macedonia and gravely damaged relations with China. And the media called this a successful war.” (The Independent: Jun 29, 1999. pg. 12)
But surely what counts are our leaders’ noble intentions (we have to avoid behaviorism!) and their lofty rhetoric, not what they actually do.

And here is Fisk reviewing Chomsky’s The New Military Humanism:

“THANK GOD for Noam Chomsky. In a West ever more saturated by “safe” reporting, by dog-like support for governments who embark on “moral” wars, he is a unique figure: brave, intelligent and independent. Little wonder that no newspaper in America will give him a regular column. His latest book proves why. Ruthless in his analysis of Nato’s lies, relentless in his emphasis on the parallels between Kosovo, Central America and Turkey, he believes that this year’s bombardment of Serbia undermines what is left of international law. . . .

His point is obvious and true: most of the Kosovo Albanians for whom we supposedly fought the war “to return them to their homes” were still there when it began. Nato knew when it started its bombardment that the Serbs would turn upon the civilians of Kosovo. Chomsky is one of the few voices reminding the world that the aims of the war were changed once the bombing got underway.
No, the problem lies in Chomsky’s description of Serb atrocities as “quite real” and “often ghastly”. “Quite real” is a cop-out for very real. Atrocities “sharply escalated” after Nato’s bombardment, he says, but does not explain what these were: mass executions, rape, torture. The index refers to “atrocities” in Africa, Columbia, East Timor and Turkey without the appearance of “Serbia”.
The moral is simple. If you’re going to put the boot into the West, don’t pussy-foot about the other side’s butchery. Equally, if you’re going to tell the truth – and Chomsky does – don’t expect anyone to listen. He has a minority audience and this book, which should be read by anyone interested in the Kosovo war, will have a necessarily small circulation. When free people want to wear chains, there’s not much you can do to help them.”
(The Independent: Dec 15, 1999. pg. 5)

Yes, Fisk is not a god, and yes this is not a point by point defense of Chomsky’s claims, but it should lend a good deal of initial credibility to Chomsky’s work. Fisk has spent most of his life witnessing US foreign policy firsthand; he has an authority (both factual and moral) that politicians and almost all other commentators (certainly Limbaugh!) lack. This should also expose as preposterous the comparison of Chomsky to Limbaugh. When Fisk writes this way of Limbaugh, then I will start taking him seriously, too. Also, Fisk’s ending criticism of Chomsky’s writing is much more interesting (I think) than what’s been posted already.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.06.06 at 12:57 pm

“so why did you begin your response to me by telling me about the lack of utility of the denazification metaphor?”

I was drawing a distinction between the kind of language someone would use if he wanted a debate on how to best implement public education and appropriate punishment (the defense of the metaphor which is offered)and what he would use if he were engaging mostly in rabble-rousing (similar to Rush Limbaugh). You agree that the the denazification metaphor was not useful for the purpose of debating or implementing such a policy. We disagree about why this is so. I suggest that the linguist uses this and other such metaphors with similar consequence because his purpose is other than to delve in to a policy debate.

You seem to suggest that he chooses such counterproductive metaphors because….. this professor of linguistics is unaware of how language works? He is too stupid to figure it out? I’m not sure what you would suggest.

But in any case, I was not merely talking about the lack of utility of the denazification metaphor if the purpose were meaningful debate. I was talking about why someone like Chomsky might choose to use such language. I believe the answer is that his purpose is not the purpose you ascribe to him.

I talked about it in response to your question because while we agree that the metaphor is not useful for debate, we disagree about why Chomsky nevertheless uses it.

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.06.06 at 1:03 pm

(Regarding Fisk), “If you’re unfamiliar with his work, you can find a short bio of him”

I doubt anyone regularly engaging in political comments in the blogosphere is unfamiliar with Fisk. Certianly no one willing to read this far into the comments here. He is possibly the most famous non-television journalist in those circles. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And I’m guessing you don’t know why he is so well known.

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 1:04 pm

Steven Koskela quotes Fisk:

Nato’s bombing brought a kind of peace to Kosovo – but only after it had given the Serbs the opportunity to massacre or dispossess half the Albanian population of the province

I am suspicious of this kind of language – “it had given the Serbs the opportunity”. As though the Serbs were like children, as though they could hardly be blamed for eagerly grasping such an “opportunity” once it was “given” to them; as though the blame for the massacres must rest primarily on Nato. Isn’t it mere post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning?

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 1:09 pm

You seem to suggest that he chooses such counterproductive metaphors because….. this professor of linguistics is unaware of how language works? He is too stupid to figure it out? I’m not sure what you would suggest.

Well, as I’ve said, I think he does it for polemical purposes, for what any kind of speculation as to his motives is worth. You seem to be discounting in principle the possibility that anyone could be a polemicist and also “delve into a policy debate” – which, to labour the point, would be news to lovers of eg Swift, not that I want to draw any “literary equivalence” between Swift and Chomsky. ;)

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Sebastian Holsclaw 07.06.06 at 1:46 pm

“You seem to be discounting in principle the possibility that anyone could be a polemicist and also “delve into a policy debate” – which, to labour the point, would be news to lovers of eg Swift, not that I want to draw any “literary equivalence” between Swift and Chomsky.”

Once again you are totalizing my argument. I’m suggesting that Chomsky is not both a polemicist and someone who (in his political writings) is interested in delving into a policy debate. Is it impossible to do both? No. Does Chomsky tend far more to the former rather than the latter? Yes. Enough that it is fair to say that the polemics seem more important than the policy debate? Yes.

Does Rush Limbaugh do both? Yes. Does he tend to focus far more on the polemics? Yes. Hence my analogy between the two of them on the issue of polemics.

Would I agree that Chomsky has absolutely nothing true to say? Of course not. But like listening to Rush, I strongly suspect that it isn’t worth trying to wade through his junk to find the little nugget.

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Donald Johnson 07.06.06 at 1:49 pm

I don’t see the problem with saying that A’s bad action gave B the “opportunity” to commit atrocities. It’s like saying that 9/11 gave the Bush Administration the opportunity to invade Iraq. That’s simply a fact. It doesn’t excuse the Bush Administration.

Fisk is famous to people on the right because he’s honest and critical of the US and therefore a figure of hatred and scorn, to the point where line-by-line “refutations” of his writing began to be called “fisking”.

I do prefer Fisk to Chomsky, though, for the very reason that Fisk mentions–sometimes Chomsky’s condemnations of enemy atrocities are a little weak, but no honest critic could say that about Fisk. But that hasn’t stopped the same people who hate Chomsky from hating Fisk. In both cases the real problem is the fact that both men are harsh critics of the US and Israel.

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 2:18 pm

I don’t see the problem with saying that A’s bad action gave B the “opportunity” to commit atrocities. It’s like saying that 9/11 gave the Bush Administration the opportunity to invade Iraq. That’s simply a fact. It doesn’t excuse the Bush Administration.

Well, maybe it’s mere quibbling, but I would be happier if Fisk had said the Serbs took it as an opportunity. I think there is a difference.

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rilkefan 07.06.06 at 2:38 pm

“a polemicist and also “delve into a policy debate” – which, to labour the point, would be news to lovers of eg Swift”

Swift I think loved the truth first – he hated dissumulation. It’s my sense that Chomsky loves his thesis first and is thus forced into dissimulation often enough that I’m not willing to trust him.

“In both cases the real problem is the fact that both men are harsh critics of the US and Israel.”

This is simply false. I know both countries have done things deserving harsh criticism – but only _fair_ harsh criticism, acknowledging the reasoning and justifications behind decisions and the complexity of real-world consequences.

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NeoDude 07.06.06 at 2:46 pm

Chomsky is cool.

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Steven Koskela 07.06.06 at 3:28 pm

Re: “I am suspicious of this kind of language – “it had given the Serbs the opportunity”. As though the Serbs were like children, as though they could hardly be blamed for eagerly grasping such an “opportunity” once it was “given” to them; as though the blame for the massacres must rest primarily on Nato. Isn’t it mere post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning?”
Steven, you seem to make two claims here: 1, that this is a post hoc and 2, that this kind of thinking relieves the Serbs of their blame (in that it treats them like “children”). Fisk often gets this criticism; it looks to me like the same charge that he “exculpates” the 9/11 hijackers by demanding to ask “why” 9/11 happened. In any case, I think it’s a weak criticism. The Serbs’ response was “predictable” (this undermines your post hoc criticism); Fisk in fact, quotes Wesley Clark claiming that it was “entirely predictable” (The Independent. Jun 21, 1999. pg. 5). Now it may be the case that a person cannot have free will and thus, in a sense, merit blame if their actions are predictable (in fact, I would insist that this is the case and that free will is hogwash). This seems to mean that we are all (diabolical Serbs and Nato included) in a sense blameless (and in an odd sense more like children then we would like to believe). (I wonder how many attacks on Chomsky are really just rehashings of silly free will/determinism debates.) But this is all really a distraction. The deeper point is that Nato was supposed to act in a way that reduced causalties and that they did not. They acted in a way that would “predicatably” increase deaths; this makes them complicit in those deaths (the bombing was part of the causal mechanism that produced those deaths) and whether Nato is more to blame for them or not is irrelevant. Those of us who are concerned with reducing deaths (not with pointing fingers at evil doers [Serbs and Nato included] and punishing them accordingly), but with identifying policies that kill and struggling against them, really should be rethinking the wisdom of supporting war for humanitarian purposes.

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Donald Johnson 07.06.06 at 4:26 pm

Rilkefan, “fair” harsh criticism is pretty much what I think Fisk and Chomsky dish out. There are often complex reasons why nations commit atrocities–I don’t think the US and Israel are unique in that regard. My comments about Chomsky critics don’t necessarily apply to each and every one that exists, but in my experience people who attack Chomsky usually don’t preface their remarks by saying “Of course the US really does have the blood of countless innocent people on its hands–I just think the reasons are sometimes more complex than Noam makes it out to be. ” If that were the case, I’d probably be in the Chomsky critic corner a good part of the time.

But my “no need to cite Chomsky” policy works here too. If one is interested in the reasons why the US foreign policy is often so shameful, there are other people who’ve noticed that our actions and the reasons for them don’t necessarily match up with the noble rhetoric. At some point I intend to buy and read Stephen Kinzer’s latest book “Intervention”, which I gather is about this very topic.

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rilkefan 07.06.06 at 4:42 pm

Steven Koskela: “Those of us who are concerned with reducing deaths”

Just out of curiosity, what do you think Gen. Clark’s motivation/thinking was on this point? Do you think he didn’t care at all about Kosovar casualties? Serbian casualties? Overall casualties?

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 4:57 pm

the bombing was part of the causal mechanism that produced those deaths

Well, but you are here assuming the truth of hard determinism and denying to the Serbs any moral responsibility. It would make just as much sense to say that the massacres were “part of the causal mechanism that produced the ceasefire”.

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Steven Poole 07.06.06 at 5:26 pm

Actually, if you check Wesley Clark’s quote, you will find that he responded four days into the bombing campaign to reports of an upsurge in Serb violence by saying: “This was entirely predictable at this stage.” [emphasis added] The qualifying “at this stage” seems to me to imply that Clark thought that the situation would not continue in the same way, and that the campaign would not eventually cause more harm than good. So to partially cite his statement as evidence that he thought from the start that the war as a whole would be catastrophic in its effect strikes me as disingenuous, to say the very least.

[Source: 28 March 1999, The Times (UK) – NATO Attacks: This was the week that rocked the world as Nato planes bombed Europe’s back yard. How did the West start a war that is spiralling out of control?, collated here.]

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rilkefan 07.06.06 at 5:27 pm

“Of course the US really does have the blood of countless innocent people on its hands”

But this is ridiculously a) emotional b) reductive c) simplistic d) etc etc. If you ask me or I dare say Sebastian or DeLong or Kamm, we’ll forthrightly say that some of our 60s/70s conduct in Southeast Asia was criminal, that our Latin American policy under Reagan was horrible, that our neglect of Rwanda was shameful, that we should have been smart enough to help Africa instead of just throw money at it, that we have supported a lot of vicious dictators (sometimes for arguably good reasons). Several of the above think Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld would be tried for war crimes in a just world. Maybe there are rabid Chomsky opponents out there, but you’re not talking to them.

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nimc 07.06.06 at 7:03 pm

Susan at #243,(I guess that Donald Johnson didn’t notice your request)In fact, it wasn’t a “dishonest caricature” at all, it’s accurate.I recall seeing several variations of Chomsky saying words to that effect.Here’s one quote, right after 9/11:”I think we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be utterly appalled.” (taken from Chomsky’s wikiquote / On moral responsibility)But like I said, he has said words to that effect a long time before 9/11 too.Why do you consider this to be a caricature? The implication is that you think that the American people are malicious? Or that they are indifferent?

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Tom Murphy 07.06.06 at 11:20 pm

Kamm has been exposed as a liar. And when he is corrected in a comment, he deletes the comment.

Read two examples where Kamm gets it wrong about Chomsky. When it is pointed out to him, he deletes the comments. Kamm is intellectually dishonest. See Problems with Oliver Kamm

Pejman Yousefzadeh points out that Oliver Kamm makes the mistake of claiming a paraphrase from Chomsky is a quote from the New York Times. The actual quote from the NYT was posted in a comment on Kamm’s blog but Kamm deleted it.

I posted a comment that corrected his claim that Israel does not target civilians. HE REMOVED IT. Oliver Kamm is a denier. He claims Israel “doesn’t target civilians” when the fact is Israel does target and kill civilains.

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Donald Johnson 07.07.06 at 2:02 am

It’d be simplistic to say that “America has the blood of countless innocent people on its hands” if I went on to say “and that’s all that needs to be said on the subject and I don’ t want to hear about why the decisions were made and you can’t make me, so just leave me to my moral condemnations.” But I don’t. I don’t say that about anyone’s atrocities. The rationalizations and sometimes even legitimate concerns that lead people to commit atrocities are always worth study.

I think, though, that Chomsky is right in saying that in a great many cases we claim to be doing things for noble-sounding reasons when in fact we’re not. Our good intentions are taken for granted. That’s an assumption Chomsky criticizes and I think he’s right.

As best I can tell, in mainstream America the notion that high-ranking US officials (including Presidents and not just the current one) are or have been war criminals is something that only leftist moonbats take seriously. Half the people in this thread believe it–I believe it. But it’s not part of any serious discussion by people in politics or the mainstream press and I would think that people who agree with Chomsky about the extent of US crimes would thank him for his attempts at bringing these to the attention of the public, rather than focusing almost exclusively on his sometimes real and sometimes exaggerated flaws. But I guess I don’t understand that Noam’s flaws are far more important than the atrocities that he writes about.

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Tom Murphy 07.07.06 at 3:14 am

Kamm ignores the context of the Wheeler quote by not quoting the sentence right before the one he quotes:

“The difficulty with this criticism is that it relies on the assumption that, in the absence of NATO bombing, the Serbs would have ended their killings and forced expulsion of ethnic Albanians.

the very next sentence is then:
“It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed and 400,000 displaced in the year leading up to NATO’s action, but the justification for intervention was that without it many more Albanians would have been killed and forcibly driven from their homes.”

Kamm ignores what Wheeler was writing about: the Serbs and their killings of Kosovo Albanians. Kamm wants us to think it is logical to assume that the “500 Kosovars” killed refers to both Serbs and Albanians.

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Aidan Kehoe 07.07.06 at 4:21 am

But I guess I don’t understand that Noam’s flaws are far more important than the atrocities that he writes about.

If he’s the most visible figure writing about them, and he’s prone to getting things in this area wrong over and over again—as he is—then what he says about the atrocities is, reasonably enough, not trusted. He’s an anti-Bertrand-Russell. In the shorter twentieth century, if Russell was against something—World War I, Vietnam, the development of nuclear weapons—that something was a bad idea.

Since Chomsky’s come to prominence, reading him has been no help in making up your mind on an issue; he gets things wrong at probably a greater rate than the average pundit, though in a more idiosyncratic direction. (He came out against the Afghan war, NATO action against Yugoslavia, endorsed viewpoints in support of the Khmer Rouge, etc.) So you’re better served looking at other sources.

Yet intelligent people read him and promote his views, without seeing that having a champion whose flaws are so clear and yet so readily dismissed by his partisans does not serve their point of view among those with a critical spirit.

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Ray 07.07.06 at 5:57 am

Yeah, you know you really blew your credibility on this as far back as comment #2, so…

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Donald Johnson 07.07.06 at 6:14 am

Chomsky’s been right much more than he’s been wrong. As for other pundits, yeah, right. For the most part they’re worthless on this subject–you can find out about US human rights violations from various sources, but they don’t include most of the crowd you find on op-ed pages or the Lehrer Newshour, with honorable exceptions here and there.

But I came back mainly to apologize pre-emptively to Rilkefan, in case he took my last sentence to be aimed at him. I’d have worded that a little more carefully if I thought about it longer.

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abb1 07.07.06 at 8:41 am

It’d be simplistic to say that “America has the blood of countless innocent people on its hands” if I went on to say “and that’s all that needs to be said on the subject and I don’ t want to hear about why the decisions were made and you can’t make me, so just leave me to my moral condemnations.” But I don’t. I don’t say that about anyone’s atrocities.

You don’t, but Rilkefan & Co. do, of course. They won’t go digging and looking under every stone for intricacies in actions of any country outside US and Israel. They are hypocritical apologists for these two countries and they won’t find any redeeming circumstances in actions of Arafat or Castro or any other official enemy. And that’s a natural phenomenon, and that’s the most natural way for the US media to report news and opinions, and that’s why it’s not necessary to emphasise Serbian or Pol Pot’s atrocities – they have already been emphasised and exaggerated to the fullest extent possible. By describing and emphasising Serbian atrocities you don’t add anything, you’re just helping official propagandists – why? they’ll manage.

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Steven Poole 07.07.06 at 9:27 am

Further to Tom Murphy’s useful elaboration of the context, and having read more of available pages on amazon, it is clear that Wheeler is just switching between terms for the sake of variation, and not, as Kamm claims, distinguishing carefully between Albanians and “Kosovars” in general. This is clear on page 245:

There were moves in the US government to cut off financial add to the federal government in Belgrade in the hope that the latter might prevail on Milosevic, now leader of the Serbian republic, to stop his repression of the Kosovars.

You would have to be quite creative to read this as Wheeler saying that Milosevic was repressing Serb “Kosovars” as well as Albanians.

Or on page 258:

In a dry run of what was to happen on a much greater scale in 1999, Serb forces burnt villages and drove hundreds and thousands of Kosovars from their homes.

Again, you would have to be quite creative to read this as Wheeler saying that “Serb forces” drove Serbs as well as Albanians from their homes.

Or on page 284:

Secondly, had NATO created a credible ground option, it would have had the option of intervening to halt Serb atrocities against the Kosovars in March 1999.

Again, Serb atrocities were not notably commmited against Serbs as well as against Albanians.

Furthermore, Wheeler speaks of one party at Rambouillet as the “Kosovo Albanians” (p264) but also as the “Kosovar delegation” (p265), the latter obviously in contradistinction to the Serb delegation.

So on this point, Kamm’s argument is bogus. He wrote:

Note the term Wheeler uses: he says 500 Kosovars (i.e. residents of Kosovo, both Serb and Albanian) were killed; he does not say or imply there were more Serb than Albanian casualties.

On the first point, Kamm is wrong. Plainly, when Wheeler says “Kosovars”, he means Kosovo Albanians. Let us not assume, as Kamm is so quick to assume of Chomsky, that this is a malicious distortion on Kamm’s part, but attribute it instead merely to sloppy scholarship.

On the second point, though, it appears true that Wheeler does not give an estimate of Serb casualties in the same period. If so, Chomsky does not have Wheeler’s authority in particular to deduce that 1,500 were killed by the KLA. Chomsky appears to be subtracting one estimate from a different estimate, arriving at a figure which does not seem by that process especially reliable.

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Steven Koskela 07.07.06 at 9:36 am

re: 310,
Steven, I don’t know why Clark would have thought that the violence would have been limited to “that stage.” If Clark was willing to acknowledge that the bombing would produce some violence he really should have known that there was a real possibility that it would produce a lot more violence. I find it hard to believe that the massacres were unpredictable, and if Nato was too incompetent to see them coming, then that also says something important about Nato’s ability to carry out humanitarian military actions. Regarding 309, I think I would deny that I was totally throwing out “moral responsibility” (our decisions do have consequences after all) although I do think that there is a certain (and very popular) form of moral responsibility that both rests on a false sense of autonomy and is a dangerous distraction. And I don’t know if they were, but the massacres may have been “part of the causal mechanism that produced the ceasefire.” The point is that one could have achieved a peaceful solution to this without the bombing and thus without the massacres.

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Steven Koskela 07.07.06 at 9:37 am

Rilkefan wrote: “Just out of curiosity, what do you think Gen. Clark’s motivation/thinking was on this point? Do you think he didn’t care at all about Kosovar casualties? Serbian casualties? Overall casualties?” I don’t what Clark’s thinking was on this, and I know for a fact that none of the rest of us does either. Clark (like all of us) is a black box. But even if we assume (and I think I would) that Clark was a good, benevolent person who went to bed every night hoping that Nato could squeak through the bombing without large scale civilian deaths, I don’t think it matters. The point was that Clark had to minimize Nato causalities and that this meant that the intervention had to be carried out in a way that put a low priority on civilian deaths. Focusing on intentions is, I think, at best a waste of time and at worst a dangerous distraction. This is the same move that Republicans have been using to defend decades of crummy policy choices: “Oh, but the president is a good man and even good men make mistakes.” The point isn’t that Bush cackles with joy every time an Iraqi civilian dies or every time a major city floods; the point is that he cannot be held accountable by the people his policies injure. If it were true that good intentions were the primary cause of good government, I don’t see why we would need a democracy to begin with. All we would need is a benevolent monarch. But benevolence without accountability is next to worthless. So why would anyone expect US foreign policy to operate in the interests of the people of the world when the US government is only accountable to US citizens (and not very accountable at that)?

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abb1 07.07.06 at 10:13 am

So why would anyone expect US foreign policy to operate in the interests of the people of the world when the US government is only accountable to US citizens (and not very accountable at that)?

Hear, hear.

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johny 07.07.06 at 12:04 pm

There is no more serious commentator on foreign policy than Noam Chomsky. Those who call him a polemicist are nothing but indoctrinated intellectuals– pathetic servants of power who have Phd’s in Hypocrisy, Lying and ass-kissing. Oliver Kamm is a joke who has been exposed as a morally depraved worthless and pompous liar– deleting his own posts when he is caught on a lie and covering his dishonesty and stupidity with pretentious and fancy words that are only supposed to be understood by the elitist liberal commissars who have a similar (mis)-education.
I’ve been reading criticisms of Chomsky for the past couple of years and I always find the sam thing: Indoctrinated intellectuals twisting the facts and committing logical fallacies, showing that their education was nothing but a system of imposed ignorance.

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johny 07.07.06 at 12:39 pm

This was my letter to Samantha Powers after her review of Hegemony or Survival in the NYT in 2004

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D06E1DE1F3FF937A35752C0A9629C8B63&pagewanted=print

Of course, I never got an answer

I just read your review of Hegemony or Survival, and I wanted to ask you if you’ve read Chomsky more broadly, because I think that if you had you’d know that he has strong responses to every one of your criticisms.

You say

“Chomsky is wrong to think that individuals within the American government are not thinking seriously about the costs of alliances with repressive regimes”

Chomsky does say that individuals within the American government think seriously about the costs of alliances with repressive regimes. Chomsky says they are rational within an irrational framework and decide to ally themselves with them because their institutional role is to protect and expand American power, which is often done through dictators who crush their populations and guarantee the US military bases, cheap labor, control over resources etc, even though they may delude themselves into thinking they’re doing it for good reasons.

you say

“he is also wrong to suggest that it would be easy to get the balance right between liberty and security, or democracy and equality — or to figure out what the hell to do about Pakistan.”

Like he says, what to do about Pakistan is easy: stop supporting its terrorism. This he says, is not as important as stopping our own terrorism which is what we should be worrying about primarily.

I think you’ll find out if you read more Chomsky, that according to him liberty/security democracy/equality are false dichotomies. True democracy leads to equality and liberty to security– especially the security of the future of the species. These are the core of his anarchist ideals. Your dichotomy seems to be based on the assumption taken by leaders that elites care about democracy and that liberty/security have been won and preserved by government/corporate elites. As Chomsky says, democracy in this context means domination by business elements.

you say

“For Chomsky, the world is divided into oppressor and oppressed. America, the prime oppressor, can do no right, while the sins of those categorized as oppressed receive scant mention… It is inconceivable, in Chomsky’s view, that American power could be harnessed for good”

Chomsky has often repeated that people who are oppressed are often also oppressors, although not as much as powerful states, so I don’t think the 1st statement is quite accurate. Apart from the fact that he quite convincingly proves that institutional factors with their concentrations of power (e.g. in the US) are the cause of most problems, the reason why he concentrates on the crimes of the US is because he is a US citizen i.e. he shares responsibility for the crimes and he can do more about them than about the crimes of, say, Russia. As Chomsky has said there doesn’t have to be a relation between the internal freedom of a country and its external behavior (e.g. ancient Greece) The internal freedom in the US was won by popular struggles such as the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the labor movement etc, while those who conduct foreign policy are elites who follow institutional imperatives and who often called these struggles “anti-American”

Saying that Chomsky thinks that “America can do no right” is misleading, it’d be more accurate to say that he believes that

“states act morally to the extent they can be compelled to do so by the general population. People are moral entities, but not states and corporations, which cause leaders and intellectuals who conduct foreign policy to internalize the values that will help them get ahead in the hierarchy–believing they’re doing good while following monstrous institutional imperatives”

Also, like you mention later in the review, you admit that Chomsky is right in saying that professions of benign intent on the part of leaders carry no information, because they’re so predictable and universal.

that’s why, like you say:

“…he deems American foreign policy inherently violent and expansionist; he is unconcerned with the motives behind particular policies, or the ethics of particular individuals in government.”

if you agree with Chomsky that our leader’s “ethics and motives” (i.e. professions of benign intent) as we conclude from their words carry no information, why would he (or anybody) be concerned about them? Why would you even mention it?

Chomsky analyzes the motives and ethics of the institutional imperatives that drive US foreign policy by analyzing the facts.

You say:

“Thus, the billions of dollars in foreign aid earmarked each year for disaster relief, schools, famine prevention, AIDS treatment, etc– and the interventions in Kosovo and East Timor have to be explained away”

As statistics show, and Chomsky documents, the US gives a smaller percentage of its wealth to these causes than any other industrialized country in the world, while the US surpasses everyone else in providing “military aid” i.e. instigating violence and murder all over the world to maintain elite control.
Furthermore, one could use your argument to justify the actions of totalitarian states like the Soviet Union which also gave money to foreign aid, disaster relief etc
Chomsky does document what the US did in Kosovo, as well as the US’ massive support for one of the worst genocides of the 20th century in East Timor

you say:

President Clinton, he says, ”was flying Al Qaeda and Hezbollah operatives to Bosnia to support the U.S. side in the ongoing wars.” And ”radical Islamists” have taken over in Kosovo, leading to a ”Taliban phenomenon.” These are far-fetched claims that he doesn’t adequately back up.

Chomsky’s claims (as he documents in his footnotes) are backed by the NYT, the Boston Globe, The Guardian and Isa Blumi, an expert on Kosovo. Are these unreliable sources?

you say

“And since he considers the United States the leading terrorist state, little distinguishes American air strikes in Serbia undertaken at night with high-precision weaponry from World Trade Center attacks timed to maximize the number of office workers who have just sat down with their morning coffee.”

First of all, as Chomsky proves in Hegemony or Survival, the entire documentary record shows that the ethnic cleansing happened as a result of the US bombing, which had been predicted to elicit a brutal Serbian response. And most of the killings the year prior had been attributed to the CIA-backed KLA guerrillas. These are irrefutable facts which you don’t mention but which you substitute with what Chomsky calls the “fixed and unquestionable presuppositions” which lay at the core of the western media propaganda system.
Clinton’s savage bombing which you hail as “humanitarian”and of “high precision” was truly murderous and it elicited horrendous atrocities.
Also, the US helped instigate the conflicts that led to the various massacres in that war. Clinton largely turned a blind eye towards atrocities committed by separatist forces (like the massacres in Gospic and Krajina). The “humanitarian” claim is also not credible because Clinton ignored other genocides such as Rwanda, (or Liquica in Timor right at about the same time, as Chomsky explains in Hegemony or Survival) and even funded Turkey’s genocide against the Kurds, which occurred at roughly the same time and resulted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds. In fact, if you count the people killed by the US-led sanctions on Iraq and various other atrocities, such as the bombing of Sudan, arms shipments to Israel, Colombia etc Clinton killed as many people as Pol Pot.

You seem to be claiming that “there is no moral equivalence” something that, as Chomsky has often repeated, is a line used as a method of trying to prevent criticism of foreign policy and state decisions.

JEREMY PAXMAN:
You seem to be suggesting or implying, perhaps I’m being unfair to you, but you seem to be implying there is some moral equivalence between democratically elected heads of state like George Bush or Prime Ministers like Tony Blair and regimes in places like Iraq.

NOAM CHOMSKY:
The term moral equivalence is an interesting one, it was invented I think by Jeane Kirkpatrick as a method of trying to prevent criticism of foreign policy and state decisions. It has a meaningless notion, there is no moral equivalence whatsoever.

Also, you may not know that under the law, premeditated murder and recklessness (when an accused is actually aware of the potentially adverse consequences to the planned actions, but has gone ahead anyway, exposing a particular individual or unknown victim to the risk of suffering the foreseen harm but not actually desiring that the victim be hurt) as you may argue is sometimes the case in US foreign policy are both under the category of “malice” and comparing them in this context is only the task of apologists.

You say:

“When he agrees with a claim, Chomsky introduces it with the word ”uncontroversially” or credits it to ”distinguished authorities.” Those who don’t share his viewpoint don’t simply disagree; they are the ”prevailing intellectual culture” or the ”educated classes.” This is a thinker far too accustomed to preaching to an uncritical choir.”

Firs of all, have you named a single one of Chomsky’s “distinguished authorities” that wasn’t? if you knew Chomsky or what it means to be a dissident in the US, you’d know that Chomsky is nothing but “too accustomed to preaching to an uncritical choir.” Furthermore, it is not a matter of agreeing or not agreeing. I mean, 2 plus 2 equals 4 is not a matter of opinion; when someone presents overwhelming evidence and documentation like Chomsky does, it truly is “uncontroversial” and those who don’t believe it and keep supporting their dear leaders and waving the flag regardless of evidence, can be nothing but indoctrinated servants of power (what most intellectuals have been throughout history)

And by the way, Americans should not be the only ones humanized through descriptions; not only Americans “drink coffee in the morning” while they get murdered. All those brown and yellow people who got murdered and crippled by the US and by your tax dollars (many times more than on 9/11) are also human and also “drank coffee in the morning” (maybe tea)– although maybe they couldn’t afford it because of the exploitation of US corporations or because of people like Clinton’s secretary Madeleine Abright, who said that murdering 500,000 Iraqi Children was “worth it”

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rilkefan 07.07.06 at 2:08 pm

“So why would anyone expect US foreign policy to operate in the interests of the people of the world when the US government is only accountable to US citizens (and not very accountable at that)?”

Because a) people are demonstrably willing to help their neighbors b) because the interests of the people of the world are to a great extent our interests c) because we have acted in benevolent ways, and the world counts on us to do so, however much they complain about the fact we have the strength to act.

“But even if we assume (and I think I would) that Clark was a good, benevolent person who went to bed every night hoping that Nato could squeak through the bombing without large scale civilian deaths, I don’t think it matters.”

Well, that in my view shows the poverty of your thesis or your imagination. You have to come up with a coherent explanation of why a brilliant good person intentionally made the world worse and why he continues to not only defend his actions but discuss them with pride. And saying “this is how the Republicans talk” isn’t going to help out – you have to answer Clark, not Rove.

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Aidan Kehoe 07.07.06 at 2:27 pm

Ray, fuсk you. Lots of smart, credible people think similar things about Chomsky; if you truly think no-one who has made policy for the US in the last 40 years is to be believed whether in office or out of it, then I have no interest in your opinion, your particular religion holds no attraction for me.

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Don Quijote 07.07.06 at 2:37 pm

Because a) people are demonstrably willing to help their neighbors

The people of the United States, and the people who run the US are not the same, and the people who run the US can barely give a damn about the people living in the US, what leads you to believe that they give a damn about anyone else?

b) because the interests of the people of the world are to a great extent our interests

The interests of the people of the world are to a great extent the financial interests of the American Elites, their interest begins and ends with money.

c) because we have acted in benevolent ways,

When?

Occasionally in the pursuit of self-interest the American Elites have done good, but it was just a nice side effect.

and the world counts on us to do so, however much they complain about the fact we have the strength to act.
And the world fears what we are going to do and suffers the consequences of our greed and arrogance.

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rilkefan 07.07.06 at 3:00 pm

don q: “the people who run the US can barely give a damn about the people living in the US, what leads you to believe that they give a damn about anyone else?”

Look, to say that about Carter and Clinton and Clark and an endless list of liberals and many conservatives is just loony. Loopy. Lalalandish. You want to make the argument that American actions are less motivated by idealism than the American narrative has it – go ahead: that has the dual advantage of being in accord with your ideology and being true. Oh, and it would be useful.

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engels 07.07.06 at 3:16 pm

“So why would anyone expect US foreign policy to operate in the interests of the people of the world when the US government is only accountable to US citizens (and not very accountable at that)?”

Because a) people are demonstrably willing to help their neighbors b) because the interests of the people of the world are to a great extent our interests c) because we have acted in benevolent ways, and the world counts on us to do so, however much they complain about the fact we have the strength to act. (Rilkefan)

Rilkefan – Earlier on in this very thread, you said that

protect[ing] access to the oil our economy (and hence to a large degree our lives) depends on

was a good reason for the US to start a war by invading a sovereign country. This confirmed a feeling that I have had in mind for a long time about a large number of citizens of the US, and certainly its leaders: namely, that they could not really give a fuck about anybody outside of the US.

I’m afraid this rather unpleasant thought had been confirmed by

(i) the quiessence of these people in the fact of their government’s initiation of an illegal war of aggression in their name with the knowledge that this would entail countless civilian deaths and whose stated purpose was to prevent a possible attack on the US and whose real purpose was to secure strategic resources for the US

(ii) the fact that the US donates one of the stingiest amounts of development aid as a proportion of GDP of any developed country

(iii) the history of US foreign policy in the last 50 years, which Chomsky correctly catalogues as a campaign of illegal wars, support for terrorists, and attempts to undermine elected governments and prop-up venal dictators and whose effect has been, among other things, the failure of democracy in many countries and the deaths of countless innocent people

(iv) the fact that if you attempt to describe (i)-(iii) to them in any but the most anodyne terms

(“the US has the blood of innocent people on its hands”, as Donald said, for example, instead of “criminal… horrible… not smart” as you would have it)

the reaction is always a prissy refusal to discuss the matter any further

(v) the fact that if you point out that billions of people around the world would essentially agree with Chomsky’s evaluations of (i)-(iii) the reaction ranges from indifference to ridicule

I could go on. But maybe I’m just mistaken about all this. If so, I invite you to prove it to me, in the same way that you have been, for the majority of this thread, inviting Chomsky’s defenders to prove his utility to idiot centrists like yourself.

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Don Quijote 07.07.06 at 3:38 pm

Look, to say that about Carter and Clinton and Clark and an endless list of liberals and many conservatives is just loony. Loopy. Lalalandish.

We live in the wealthiest country in the world, how many children will go to bed hungry tonite? and how much would it cost to prevent that from happenning?

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abb1 07.07.06 at 4:09 pm

There is, of course, this famous 1948 George Kennan’s quote:

…Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction…
http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_F._Kennan#VII._Far_East

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SW 07.07.06 at 5:11 pm

I don’t want to get overly involved in a discussion about a book I have not read (Wheeler’s), especially about the author’s use of a particular term in that book. But Poole writes: “On the first point, Kamm is wrong. Plainly, when Wheeler says “Kosovars”, he means Kosovo Albanians. Let us not assume, as Kamm is so quick to assume of Chomsky, that this is a malicious distortion, but attribute it instead merely to sloppy scholarship.” Poole is quite right at the outset – but does “sloppy scholarship” refer to Wheeler’s varying use of the terms or Kamm’s misreading of Wheeler?

Wheeler appears to recognise that those who identify themselves as Kosovar are usually those who might also be called “Kosovar Albanian” and may identify as “ethnic Albanian”; Serbs, seeing Kosova as no more than a province of Greater Serbia, would usually identify themselves as Serb and not Kosovar (much as somebody from Cheltenham, when asked his nationality, responds English and not Gloucestershirian). Wheeler’s assumption that Kosovar is essentially synonymous with Kosovar Albanian is not particularly sloppy.

The term Kosovar Albanian is not a very good term either: it assumes that the person is really from another country (Albania). Certainly many Kosovars have close cultural and linguistic ties to Albania, but to insist that this group of mostly-Muslim, non-Serb Kosovars call themselves Kosovar Albanians hints of the Serb proganda about outside invaders occupying their (read, Serb) land. So insisting upon this terminology, though commonly accepted by those outside of Kosova who are trying to figure out what is going on, is problematic.

The point is that Wheeler has to deal with a bunch of ambiguous terms; if he is inconsistent, I would rather look to the context to see if his inconsistency occurs at points where there would be too much ambiguity (e.g., generally using “Kosovar” to refer to non-Serbs in Kosova, but using “Kosovar Albanian” in a sentence where “Kosovar” is just too frankly ambiguous). So, I must assume that Wheeler is not here being accused of “sloppy scholarship”.

Glibly taking Wheeler out of context (and here the context requires that one is attuned to various inconsistent, ambiguous and rhetorically-complex assignations of ethnicity) is the real sloppy scholarship.

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rilkefan 07.07.06 at 5:33 pm

don q, I know I can’t expect engels to pay attention, but please see the above. Are you ready to pay the price for a just world, if it means you and your children not starving but living in abject poverty by US standards? You keep throwing “when will you enlist” at Sebastian – are you living on bread crusts so you can send every spare penny to Bangladesh? Are you sharing your home with battered women and their kids, or street folk, or illegal immigrant families? Are you working at some mindless corporate job to maximize your ability to help?

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engels 07.07.06 at 5:36 pm

Shorter Rilkefan – “La! La! La! You’re not paying attention! La! La! La! I can’t hear you!”

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Donald Johnson 07.07.06 at 5:56 pm

I think it’s clear that some people in the American elite have good intentions–Jimmy Carter, for instance. He seems sincere about eliminating guinea worm in Africa, for instance. At times his human rights policy as President had teeth–in Argentina, for instance. He was and is more balanced on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict than most American politicians.

On the other hand, he also continued the Ford/Kissinger policy of supporting Indonesia in its genocidal occupation of East Timor. So Chomsky is at least partly right–there’s something about our system (I don’t pretend to understand the details) which can take even a good and decent man like Carter and turn him into an accomplice in a genocidal invasion.

And Carter is probably a few standard deviations to the right on the American elite decency scale.

Clinton seems more like LBJ to me–basically ruthless and dishonest with a few decent impulses which manifest themselves from time to time. Probably not very different from the thinly disguised Clinton character in “Primary Colors”.

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engels 07.07.06 at 7:08 pm

Are you ready to pay the price for a just world…

Here are a few thoughts about justice, Rilkefan. Think of it as a set of rules which you have to follow. Not a set of polite requests that it would be, like, super if you followed, but don’t worry if you’ve made other plans, darling. It is not something that you can trade off for a faster car or a bigger TV. It includes things like: not invading other countries on the flimsiest of pretexts, not flouting international law, not allowing more than 5 million children to die every year from hunger when we could easily prevent that from happening.

if it means you and your children not starving but living in abject poverty by US standards?

But this is, to use a phrase you used earlier on, “emotional”, as well as, in addition, being simply untrue. If every person in the developed world gave 1% of his income to direct foreign aid, that would have a tremendous, positive effect on the levels of absolute poverty worldwide. I dare say most of us could sacrifice a far higher proportion than that and not see any significant decline in our standard of living. As to the costs of complying with international law and adopting a non-aggressive military stance, I can’t speculate here, except to say that on any reasonable estimate they are far smaller than those in your hysterical rhetorical question, arguably even being negative, but as I said above, non-compliance is not a moral option.

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Don Quijote 07.07.06 at 10:26 pm

Are
you ready to pay the price for a just world, if it means you and your
children not starving but living in abject poverty by US standards?

I am perfectly willing and able to pay a few dollar more of taxes if it
will end poverty in the US. What I am not willing to do is pay more
taxes so that some rich
f*ck
has to pay less or to start
some pointless war in some third
world rathole
. In 2004, we spent
25 Billion on Food
Stamps
,and so far in this pointless & idiotic war we have spent a measly $294
Billion
and climbing, so I have no doubt that if we wanted to, we could end hunger & poverty in the US for a lot less than we are spending in Iraq.
You keep throwing“when will you enlist” at Sebastian
Sebastian like Charles Bird wanted this war, but apparently they’re toof*cken good or too chicken-shit to put their asses on the line.

are you living on bread crusts so you can send every spare penny to Bangladesh? Are you sharing your home with battered women and their kids, or street folk, or illegal immigrant families?

No,BOTOH I am not taking food out of their mouths either, nor takingaway their housing and if they are illegals they should not be in the US (wonder if NAFTA had anything to do with screwing up the Mexican Economy and displacing tonns of workers?).

I support a simple foreign policy, Do No Harm (Don’t sell weapons to known Mass murderers, don’t overthrow foreign goverments, don’t run death squads, or train torturers or mass murderers.), if possible do some good, give away vaccines (HIV, Malaria, etc), clean technology (wind mills, solar panels) and the know-how needed to produce them, erase the debt that was aquired under all Dictatorships particularly those that we have supported as Odious Debt.

Are you working at some mindless corporate job to maximize your ability to help?
Actually I do!

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Steven Poole 07.08.06 at 4:07 am

SW – just so, thank you. I did not for a moment mean to accuse Wheeler of sloppy scholarship. Edited the comment to make this clear.

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Donald Johnson 07.08.06 at 12:19 pm

Amazing number of “for instance”‘s in that previous post of mine. Just wanted to register my embarrassment.

Engels is right, of course–moving towards a genuinely moral foreign policy wouldn’t be all that costly most of the time. A few tens of billions of dollars spent the right way could save millions of lives and it wouldn’t involve shooting anyone. And while there are occasions when we really have litttle choice but to side with mass murderers (Stalin in WWII) , that kind of gut-wrenching moral choice probably doesn’t come up anywhere near as often as our foreign policy apologists like to pretend.

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Steven Koskela 07.08.06 at 1:07 pm

Rilkefan wrote: “Because a) people are demonstrably willing to help their neighbors b) because the interests of the people of the world are to a great extent our interests c) because we have acted in benevolent ways, and the world counts on us to do so, however much they complain about the fact we have the strength to act.”

Rilkefan, my understanding of the dispute between us centers on the level of importance to be attached to intentions/character vs. incentives/accountability. I think that your comments about the unwillingness of people to give substantial sums of their personal income to starving people in the third world actually bears my point out nicely. Yes, you are right about point a.: almost everyone is well meaning and benevolent. But as you yourself point out, there are serious limits to our benevolence; so much so, that many ethicists take the limits of our benevolence to be a fatal flaw of moral theories that require us to give substantial sums of our of personal income to third world countries. (I actually think they’re wrong but for rather complicated reasons.) In any case, given that our capacity for benevolent action is quite limited, why would we expect a government that is (weakly) accountable to us to be able to do operate in the interests of the people of the world? Even leftist politicians have to worry about getting swing voters to vote for them, and I suspect that many swing voters are not willing to acknowledge that we have any obligation to protect the lives of non-Americans, especially when doing so would cost the lives of American soldiers. One of the crucial problems with a humanitarian justification of the bombing of Kosovo was the failure of Nato to use ground troops to defend the lives of Albanians and Serbs. The American public does not want to see its soldiers coming home in body bags, but dead American soldiers (a lot of them, I think) would be the cost of a competent humanitarian intervention, one that did not produce more harm than good. (Just think for a second about the US media’s lack of attention to Iraqi causalities, the US reliance on aerial bombing in Iraq, and the US failure to provide security in Iraq.) Given our limited capacity for benevolent action, any attempt to establish that US foreign policy is benevolent (not merely influenced by fickle and fleeting benevolent intentions but actually competently benevolent) has the burden of proof placed upon it. The assumption that US foreign policy is ruthlessly self interested should, at least, be our starting point.

Your point C. seems to me to just beg the question. And your point B. is massively debatable. Certainly many US policy analysts think that the interests of non-American people routinely has little to do with US self interest. And in cases when the two overlapped, this would demand a kind of far sightedness that is difficult to achieve in American politics. Think, for a second, about the enormous percentage of the American population that does not get that the war in Iraq has damaged the perception of the US abroad. Or think about the pathetic degree of American interest in helping the Palestinians (merely a bunch of terrorists in many Americans’ eyes). This is despite the fact that getting the Palestinians a fair deal would obviously reduce anti-American sentiment around the world and thus reduce the threat of terrorism to Americans. (How it would affect American financial and military interests in the region is perhaps a different matter.)

Concerning Clark, I don’t think that I have actually argued that he has “intentionally made the world worse.” I’m saying that there were huge constraints (no dead Americans, etc.) placed upon Clark and the entire Nato intervention that made a benevolent outcome of this intervention a near impossibility. This, for me, is not a matter of intentions at all, but rather a matter of accountability (and Nato was simply not accountable to the people who they were supposed to be saving). In fact, my biggest regret about Clark as a person is that he doesn’t have his crap together enough to mount a decent campaign for president. Your fixation on character and intentions leads me to suspect that you’re falling into a “Great Man” theory of history. And I suspect it’s our devotion to “Great Man” history that got so many of us up in arms about the Chomsky passage that began this thread. If you believe that good policy is primarily a product of good intentions, I would like to know why you aren’t supporting a monarchy (or dictatorship) for Americans? Surely it would be less of a burden on us if we just had a wise and benevolent king. Perhaps you think Clark would make a good king?

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rilkefan 07.08.06 at 2:02 pm

“Rilkefan, my understanding of the dispute between us centers on the level of importance to be attached to intentions/character vs. incentives/accountability.”

Hi, I think we disagree about quite a lot more. For instance, my point about Clark was that you need an explanation for why a smart good man got into a situation you claim was constrained to lead to bad results, and why he continues to disagree with you about the outcome. I don’t ascribe to a great-man theory (indeed, as noted above, I’m actually a radical reductionist) – but any theory which neglects the difference between Carter and Bush fils is nonsensical. And for instance I think the US has done nearly the best possible job for the Palestinians under several admins, given the complex constraints you surely recognize. I don’t blame Clinton for Arafat’s failure to accept a reasonable peace treaty approved by the Saudis of all folks (if only as a framework for going forward). And I feel optimistic that a deal along those lines will be realized in the foreseeable future, with some credit due to us.

As far as monarchy is concerned, my (admittedly shallow) reading in Greek and Roman and later history leads me to believe that it is a superior system when started under good people, but not likely to be stable in the long term, and in any case entirely unsuitable for our current polity. It is well known that democracy has serious flaws, many of which are apparent in our current admin, but until the computers take over it’ll have to do.

In any case, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I suggest you give Obsidian Wings or Hating On Charles Bird a look – they would appreciate your contribution, I think. Beyond this spasm of blogging here (which I’m now concluding) I won’t be commenting that much, having more pressing priorities – but perhaps we can continue this discussion in future in one of those places.

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engels 07.08.06 at 2:33 pm

Shorter Rilkefan – Chomsky is an extremist loon. And the world will soon know I’m right, when humanity finds its destiny as the willing subjects of a new race of benevolent Robot Kings.

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abb1 07.08.06 at 4:38 pm

Yes, his last comment seems even more irrational than usual. I find the argument based on Mr. Clark being “smart good man” especially comical. This is, like, what a 12-year-old would say. Well, not even a smart 12-year-old, maybe a 10-year-old.

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Don Quijote 07.08.06 at 7:31 pm

I think the US has done nearly the best possible job for the Palestinians under several admins, given the complex constraints you surely recognize.

ROTFLMAO!!!!

Now that was the funniest joke, I’ve heard all week long considering that we have spent the last fourty years telling the Israelis “Go For It, feel free to take as much of the west bank as you want” and the Palestinians “tough shit”.

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