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Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists.
April 26, 2011 12:37 AM   Subscribe

Is the World Too Big to Fail?

Newsfilter: NOAM CHOMSKY
posted by Shit Parade (62 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
In Adam Smith's defense, it should be added that he recognized what would happen if Britain followed the rules of sound economics, now called "neoliberalism." He warned that if British manufacturers, merchants, and investors turned abroad, they might profit but England would suffer. But he felt that they would be guided by a home bias, so as if by an invisible hand England would be spared the ravages of economic rationality.

Bullshit.
By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.
Chomsky is a dishonest sack of shit, and has done more to damage the left than most GOP operatives could ever dream of. Reading his tendentious drivel makes me worry about detaching my retinas because my eyes are rolling so hard.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:05 AM on April 26, 2011 [12 favorites]


Support for democracy is the province of ideologists and propagandists. In the real world, elite dislike of democracy is the norm. The evidence is overwhelming that democracy is supported insofar as it contributes to social and economic objectives, a conclusion reluctantly conceded by the more serious scholarship.

We saw this in ample display when President Obama sat on his hands, while burgeoning, real democratic movements arose in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East to try to overthrow dictatorial regimes, which also put oil supplies at risk. The illusion of democracy is acceptable when it furthers the aims of a handful of powerful interests.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:11 AM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


If Obama had intervened (and exactly how should he have intervened?) you and Chomski would be ranting about how that proves the democratic movements aren't genuine, but merely tools for the hegemony of US elites. Face it-out doesn't matter if the sky is sunny or rainy, its all the same weather to you.
posted by happyroach at 1:33 AM on April 26, 2011 [16 favorites]


It's really just clear that Chomsky has gradually come to write more and more of his arguments via some kind of bizarre Markov generator. That anyone but a True Believer could read a paragraph like this--
Economic historians have argued that Egypt was well-placed to undertake rapid economic development at the same time that the U.S. was. Both had rich agriculture, including cotton, the fuel of the early industrial revolution -- though unlike Egypt, the U.S. had to develop cotton production and a work force by conquest, extermination, and slavery, with consequences that are evident right now in the reservations for the survivors and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.
--and walk away convinced is a stretch. Who are these economic historians? Why are they arguing something that is clearly absurd? (As far as I know, Sven Beckert is the main leftist historian of nineteenth-century cotton production, and if this is intended to be some kind of restatement of his views, it's so unrecognizable as to be practically libellous.) What the fuck does Reagan have to do with any of this, and what does this entire argument have to do with the point of the piece?
posted by nasreddin at 1:34 AM on April 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


exactly how should he have intervened?

In the case of Egypt, there was some not-inconsiderable delay in removing support for Mubarak and for recognizing the protest movement. There were several diplomatic and foreign aid options that could have been used to peacefully coerce the elimination of violent resistance to protestors. All the same, I'd bet cash money that the Obama administration would today express (privately) a preference that Mubarak would still be in power, in spite of the years-long human rights abuses. Perhaps, even, because of them. Having a country like Egypt around is useful for extraordinary rendition, since making people disappear isn't yet acceptable on US soil.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:45 AM on April 26, 2011


Grand Area doctrines clearly license military intervention at will. That conclusion was articulated clearly by the Clinton administration, which declared that the U.S. has the right to use military force to ensure "uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources," and must maintain huge military forces "forward deployed" in Europe and Asia "in order to shape people's opinions about us" and "to shape events that will affect our livelihood and our security."

The Clinton administration? C'mon dude, access to markets (both consumer and labor) and ensuring the free flow of oil and other commodities at market prices has been bedrock U.S. foreign policy since 1945.
posted by three blind mice at 1:56 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bullshit.

I'm no scholar of Adam Smith but the passage you quoted seems to say that Smith believes the invisible hand of self-interest prefers to support domestic vs. foreign industry.

Also,
The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world. To understand why, it is only necessary to look at the studies of Arab opinion conducted by U.S. polling agencies. Though barely reported, they are certainly known to planners. They reveal that by overwhelming majorities, Arabs regard the U.S. and Israel as the major threats they face: the U.S. is so regarded by 90% of Egyptians, in the region generally by over 75%. Some Arabs regard Iran as a threat: 10%. Opposition to U.S. policy is so strong that a majority believes that security would be improved if Iran had nuclear weapons -- in Egypt, 80%. Other figures are similar. If public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it, along with its allies, undermining fundamental principles of global dominance.
regardless of what you think about Chomsky's ideology this seems like a bald statement of fact: why would the government of the US support democracy in the middle east when popular opinion is firmly against our policy objectives in the region.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:20 AM on April 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm no scholar of Adam Smith but the passage you quoted seems to say that Smith believes the invisible hand of self-interest prefers to support domestic vs. foreign industry.

Correct. However, Chomsky's summation says pretty much the exact opposite.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:37 AM on April 26, 2011


The USA didn't intervene in Egypt and that was wrong. It is intervening in Libya and of course that will be wrong too. Whatever the USA does today there'll be a 450 page screed from this tedious blowhard tomorrow outlining just how evilly evil the evil USA is and how this all fits into its evil superplan to be totally evil as previously outlined in his 368 other books on the subject. I wish he'd get locked in a lift with Gore Vidal so they could bore each other for the rest of time with this drunken hobo drivel instead of inflicting it on the rest of us.
posted by joannemullen at 3:38 AM on April 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


drunken hobo drivel

QFT.
posted by chavenet at 3:46 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Much the same appears to be happening in Europe, where racism is probably more rampant than in the U.S. One can only watch with wonder as Italy complains about the flow of refugees from Libya, the scene of the first post-World War I genocide, in the now-liberated East, at the hands of Italy's Fascist government. Or when France, still today the main protector of the brutal dictatorships in its former colonies, manages to overlook its hideous atrocities in Africa, while French President Nicolas Sarkozy warns grimly of the "flood of immigrants" and Marine Le Pen objects that he is doing nothing to prevent it. I need not mention Belgium, which may win the prize for what Adam Smith called "the savage injustice of the Europeans."

The rise of neo-fascist parties in much of Europe would be a frightening phenomenon even if we were not to recall what happened on the continent in the recent past. Just imagine the reaction if Jews were being expelled from France to misery and oppression, and then witness the non-reaction when that is happening to Roma, also victims of the Holocaust and Europe's most brutalized population.

In Hungary, the neo-fascist party Jobbik gained 17% of the vote in national elections, perhaps unsurprising when three-quarters of the population feels that they are worse off than under Communist rule. We might be relieved that in Austria the ultra-right Jörg Haider won only 10% of the vote in 2008 -- were it not for the fact that the new Freedom Party, outflanking him from the far right, won more than 17%. It is chilling to recall that, in 1928, the Nazis won less than 3% of the vote in Germany.


It's passages like this that makes one wonder how Europe will react to the next Big Economic Depression. The racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric here in Norway is so loud it's sometimes hard to breath. Though still not mainstream in its direct, uncovered fashion, you have but to wheel-scroll for .5 seconds into any newspaper's comment section to discover it in its bone-chilling, uncensored ignorance and hatred. It's hard to say if these views are that of the general population, or that of a small, (insanely) active group (of folks), but it is confirmation-biasly picking up.
posted by klue at 3:58 AM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just realized "too big to fail" sounds like a James Bond movie title.

Chomsky would make a great Bond villain.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:14 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


you have but to wheel-scroll for .5 seconds into any newspaper's comment section to discover it in its bone-chilling, uncensored ignorance and hatred.

There is something about the comments section of any online news source that attracts the most embittered and unpleasant people is my observation. Not to say that you aren't right about the general racism problem.
posted by Catfry at 4:18 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


The USA didn't intervene in Egypt and that was wrong. It is intervening in Libya and of course that will be wrong too.

Unless someone can point to a place where proposes (or supports) a US military intervention in Egypt, that comment makes little sense.

Whatever the USA does today there'll be a 450 page screed from this tedious blowhard tomorrow outlining just how evilly evil the evil USA is and how this all fits into its evil superplan to be totally evil as previously outlined in his 368 other books on the subject.

Not true. For instance, he concedes that the US was partly right when naming NAFTA, stating that 'while it has nothing to do with free trade, it does have to do with North America'.
posted by klue at 4:41 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Chomsky throws all sorts of things up in the air, expending a lot of pointless energy, but he leaves scattered around him some important, unexpected connections, and naked truths that no one else is uttering. He is absolutely right about the evil evilness of the US and its policies from president to president, but it is difficult to see why he finds America's policies of oppression and exploitation less preferable to the evil evilness of other nations and ideologies. He doesn't demonstrate the moral superiority of other states.
posted by Faze at 4:47 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Another day, another episode of the Left punching itself harder than the real enemy. *sigh*
posted by DU at 4:58 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


These old guys and their lawns we stand upon. Let's send all these old blowhards off to assisted living before they start waving guns and making a scene. Also get them some of those depends under garments because I ain't cleaning that crap up anymore.
posted by humanfont at 5:02 AM on April 26, 2011


Faze: ...but it is difficult to see why he finds America's policies of oppression and exploitation less preferable to the evil evilness of other nations and ideologies. He doesn't demonstrate the moral superiority of other states.

That's Chomsky's point: the behavior of the American state is no more altruistic or 'moral' than the behavior of any other state.

The point is, America is nominally a democracy - - so America is the state whose behavior we're able to do something about, at least in theory. We can denounce Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, sure - and nothing ever came of it; but we're supposed to be able to affect America's intervention in Afghanistan. And, as Chomsky points out, most Americans want the US out: and yet we stay. It's the disconnect between our rhetoric and our actual behavior that he's pointing out.

(I gotta say, I don't understand all the Chomsky-hate.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:09 AM on April 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


Being American and living in America and having a deeper understanding of America as opposed to any other country is an OK excuse for spending most of ones time criticizing America, in my book. Some people would even call it a responsibility.
posted by klue at 5:20 AM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


The "left" is the real enemy (too).
posted by ReWayne at 5:35 AM on April 26, 2011


and the prisons that have rapidly expanded since the Reagan years to house the superfluous population left by deindustrialization.

This is what I like about Chompsky. In one throwaway sentence he's painted a striking causal connection between seemingly unconnected things. On the face of it, it seems outrageous - it sounds like he's suggesting some crazy conspiracy in which the war on drugs was invented by the elites as a cover story for weeding out the population. But Chomsky deals in shorthand. If a society combines A, B, and C, a side product is usually H, which in the presence of F and K is a catalyst for M and E, E promotes more B, and that has a few spin-offs, one of the less noticed of which is F. Instead he just says "In X context, A therefore F", which is a crazy claim, except on inspection there is a robust chain that links them, and he draws these connections which others either fail to make, or fail to describe. (Or do describe, as the case may be).

I am personally inclined to assign much of the motive for nefarious action in this world to be the unthinking inevitable products of large systems and institutionalizations, thus most of the "elites" are merely larger gears in various institutional machines rather than global-arch-puppeteers or villains. A lot of Chomsky seems to suggest a "they" with power and intent and far-reaching control, and I don't know to what extent he means this literally, or just causally (eg a bit like evolution - the systems that work for some reason or other, tend to prevail and thus tend to grow or accumulate over time, morality doesn't really get a vote.) I tend to the later.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:36 AM on April 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is what I like about Chompsky.

OM NOAM NOAM
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:48 AM on April 26, 2011 [17 favorites]


I think Chomsky has a more more Amy Goodman, less James Madison definition of democracy than the average citizen/legislator.

That would likely serve to confuse some people reading this article not familiar with the social-anarchist Chomsky.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 5:57 AM on April 26, 2011


I gotta say, I don't understand all the Chomsky-hate

People on the 'American Left' (known in the world as 'centre-right'), which includes a lot of people who support the current president, get a bit upset when an actual Leftist comes along and rains on their parade.

Checking out the recent mefi ding-dong about how 'left' support for torture and indefinite detention is better than 'right' support for torture and indefinite detention may give you some guidance.
posted by pompomtom at 6:37 AM on April 26, 2011 [17 favorites]


but it is difficult to see why he finds America's policies of oppression and exploitation less preferable to the evil evilness of other nations and ideologies. He doesn't demonstrate the moral superiority of other states.

Perhaps this is because Chomsky is, in a sort of Fabianism-for-anarchists way, an ?

When I was a little girl back during the Cold War and fell afoul of my classmates, they called me a communist and told me "go back to Russia"...because of course, any sort of criticism of the US (even the very limited sort possible to an eight-year-old) implies support for some other nation.

Chomsky is a little bit vieux jeux amongst the radicals I know, partly for his prose and partly because he is so much the product of Vietnam and the Cold War...He's name-checking Reagan, for example, because his narrative uses the Reagan presidency as this important transition. Lots of later people point to Clinton/welfare reform in their "when it all went irretrievably to hell" narratives.

Given that the United States has basically turned into this tremendous lie-filled racketeering initiative in the past few years, I think that a little bit of frantic hyperbole is useful - we've gotten so accustomed to grinding poverty and inequality and open government lying and the deterioration of everything from infrastructure on up that it can be hard to even remember to be shocked any more.

posted by Frowner at 6:50 AM on April 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ooh, sorry about the tags. Chomsky would be an anarchist, not a question mark.
posted by Frowner at 6:50 AM on April 26, 2011


As a statist leftist myself, an anarchist like Chomsky just seems like the flip-side of the same coin as the nihilists on the right. I respect Chomsky, but I don't agree with his fundamental political position. I've developed a little more sympathy for some anarcho-syndicalist thinking in recent years--for example, I'm convinced now of the absolute political importance of non-state collectives in the form of labor unions and other organized populist groups--but the idea of an entirely state-less system actually working out in practice for any length of time seems hopelessly unrealistic and ideologically puritanical to me. I'm just not convinced it's actually possible to organize anything resembling a modern society on a large-scale without some mechanism of state, and as a progressive rather than a reactionary, I don't want the world to slide backwards into the kinds of systems of feudalism or tribalism that in my view necessarily emerge in the absence of a strong state. So I'm just not at all on the same page as Chomsky on some of the fundamentals, despite my respect for some of his views.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:53 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


People on the 'American Left' (known in the world as 'centre-right'), which includes a lot of people who support the current president, get a bit upset when an actual Leftist comes along and rains on their parade.

Ooh I have a new idea why don't we have conversations about ideas instead of bitchfests about who doesn't belong on our sports team.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:07 AM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


anigbrowl,

I don't read the chomsky/adam smith quotes the same way as you do. Chomsky is suggesting that the supposed neoliberal "economic rationality" is to move the industries abroad, but according to Smith the invisible hand is there to pull them back home. Smith says the invisible hand enforces competing sets of rationalities, one that pulls towards security (read nation-state) and simultaneously towards greater profitability. The conclusion that Chomsky comes to is that pure economic rationality has won out and corporations and industries are abandoning 'security' in favor of profits. I think Chomsky read Smith correctly there but just comes to opposite conclusions.

you wrote:

Bullshit.

I take it you disagree? Are you a big supporter of the rationality of the Free Market as described by Smith, the "hidden hand"? Please feel free to expound upon your pithy quip. After all, bytes are cheap, and thus are not really constrained by any market rationality.
posted by kuatto at 8:25 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


bitchfest

Do you have a question for me or something? Have I upset you?

I answered a question. As near as I can tell you haven't said anything about anything in this thread. Feel free to say stuff.
posted by pompomtom at 8:37 AM on April 26, 2011


By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that [domestic] industry [rather than foreign] in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

I've read that passage several times in schol. Each time I glossed over the bolded sections and didn't really get what they meant. Chomsky's interpretation may not be the only viable one, but it seems valid to me, and I'm ashamed that I was unable to notice it without prompting.
posted by jsturgill at 8:40 AM on April 26, 2011


Man, I just cannot do a link today.

I should say: bitchfest


for other players: CLOSE THE QUOTES. That is all.
posted by pompomtom at 8:42 AM on April 26, 2011


I was just about to say what. Very confused for a moment there.
posted by Catfry at 8:43 AM on April 26, 2011


Ok. Now I'm even more confused. When I clicked your link it directed to my comment.
posted by Catfry at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2011


I am personally inclined to assign much of the motive for nefarious action in this world to be the unthinking inevitable products of large systems and institutionalizations, thus most of the "elites" are merely larger gears in various institutional machines rather than global-arch-puppeteers or villains.

No-one who has ever met members of the so-called elite could believe otherwise.
posted by atrazine at 8:46 AM on April 26, 2011


Hmm... I had thought that link worked.

Here is where shakespeherian attempts to introduce sports teams as, presumably, a way to infantilise arguments to which s/he has not actually been a party.

Hoping I've closed all the quotes. Also hoping for a 1 minute edit window...
posted by pompomtom at 9:02 AM on April 26, 2011


This is what I like about Chompsky. In one throwaway sentence he's painted a striking causal connection between seemingly unconnected things. On the face of it, it seems outrageous - it sounds like he's suggesting some crazy conspiracy in which the war on drugs was invented by the elites as a cover story for weeding out the population. But Chomsky deals in shorthand. If a society combines A, B, and C, a side product is usually H, which in the presence of F and K is a catalyst for M and E, E promotes more B, and that has a few spin-offs, one of the less noticed of which is F. Instead he just says "In X context, A therefore F", which is a crazy claim, except on inspection there is a robust chain that links them, and he draws these connections which others either fail to make, or fail to describe. (Or do describe, as the case may be).

Yeah, that's called "argument by innuendo," and it works only because you already agree with him and aren't self-critical enough to make him show his work. There's a reason good historians try to provide a citation or justification for every claim in the causal chain, and it's not that they aren't bright enough to intuit the connections that Chomsky does. It's that relying on your own common sense and prior knowledge is liable to work you into some pretty unhelpful corners, since actual history is often weird and surprising. Chomsky never arrives at a causal explanation more sophisticated than "the evil evilness of the US," and that's because the man is completely incapable of understanding or contextualizing a piece of evidence that doesn't agree with his preconceived notions.
posted by nasreddin at 9:04 AM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that even though you're right, casting aspersions about the character of others is a terrible way to make your point.
posted by Vhanudux at 9:12 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


nasreddin: make him show his work

Footing the article: This piece is adapted from a talk given in Amsterdam in March.

You've read very little Chomsky if you think the man is incapable of showing his work in establishing an argument.
posted by fredludd at 9:37 AM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is it just me, or did Chomsky used to make more cogent arguments for his points? Not that I was ever really in great agreement with him, but I used to find him more thought-provoking than this.

Has Chomsky finally jumped the shark?
posted by chimaera at 9:47 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


"People on the 'American Left' (known in the world as 'centre-right'), which includes a lot of people who support the current president, get a bit upset when an actual Leftist comes along and rains on their parade. "

Yes, clearly, that's the only possible reason to be critical of Chomsky.

Not because he's an axe-grinder whose misrepresentations and glib assertions are frustratingly taken as gospel by naive self-declared leftists who presume with religious fervor to be the One True Scotsman.

But I suppose Chomsky meant for us to chuckle when he said that Egypt's cotton didn't spring from conquest and slavery.

The man, like all conspiracists, has no room for coincidence and always assumes motive before everything else.

I respect a fair amount of his writing on politics, but anything he writes has to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, and is usually best as a supplement to other people who actually know what they're talking about on any given topic.
posted by klangklangston at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


You've read very little Chomsky if you think the man is incapable of showing his work in establishing an argument.

He has a lot of footnotes and endnotes. Many of them point to documents that don't back up the referenced statement.
posted by atrazine at 10:06 AM on April 26, 2011


Yes, clearly, that's the only possible reason to be critical of Chomsky.

I expressed my opinion of why it is that Chomsky always gets panned by this particular audience. I would welcome other opinions. I certainly did not say that there is only one possible reason to be critical of Chomsky.

One True Scotsman

Please. Are you suggesting that there's not an obvious 'lateral' shift in terminology between mainstream US discourse (where you get, for example, the Republican party regularly called "centrist", and the democratic party called "extreme leftist") and the rest of the world?

I'd be very happy with an agreed-upon terminology for these things.
posted by pompomtom at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


klangklangston,

Please tell us about Egyptian cotton.
posted by kuatto at 10:08 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Seven years ago, Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld wrote that "The world has witnessed how the United States attacked Iraq for, as it turned out, no reason at all. Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy...."

-From Article.

"The most important single demand that any political community must meet is the demand for protection. A community which cannot safeguard the lives of it's members...or whatever they are called is unlikely either command their loyalty or to survive very long."

-van Creveld, "The Transformation of War" (p.198)
posted by clavdivs at 10:13 AM on April 26, 2011


"I expressed my opinion of why it is that Chomsky always gets panned by this particular audience."

You did. It was an inane opinion.

"I would welcome other opinions."

You didn't welcome Shakespearian's.

"I certainly did not say that there is only one possible reason to be critical of Chomsky."

No, you simply excluded the other reasons in this context, in a glib and presumptive manner, then got all butthurt when you were called on it.

"Please. Are you suggesting that there's not an obvious 'lateral' shift in terminology between mainstream US discourse (where you get, for example, the Republican party regularly called "centrist", and the democratic party called "extreme leftist") and the rest of the world?"

This does not support your argument that Chomsky is an "actual leftist" as compared to the "American leftists" on MetaFilter; that there are relative differences between European or other leftists does not support the argument that Chomsky is criticized on MetaFilter for being insufficiently left. Chomsky is American, he's by definition an American leftist.

Further, it's all such a transparently bullshit ad hominem argument that I'm a little surprised you're making any effort at all to defend it.
posted by klangklangston at 11:12 AM on April 26, 2011


Further, it's all such a transparently bullshit ad hominem argument that I'm a little surprised you're making any effort at all to defend it.

Ha ha, yes! Totally unlike many of the comments maligning Chomsky in this thread! Who would ever think that MeFi would ever allow a "transparently bullshit ad hominem argument" (unless it's supporting the majority opinion in the thread, which is clearly that Chomsky is a "dishonest sack of shit," afflicting us with his "drunken hobo drivel," and anybody who dares to takes issue with these sweeping judgments is clearly trying to start a "bitchfest"). As always, you place the onus of civility on those who disagree with the prevailing sentiment, while those who find themselves in the majority are free to make personal attacks and be dismissive assholes. Same as it ever was.
posted by dialetheia at 11:34 AM on April 26, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is it just me, or did Chomsky used to make more cogent arguments for his points? Not that I was ever really in great agreement with him, but I used to find him more thought-provoking than this.

Has Chomsky finally jumped the shark?


He got old, and (from what I've seen of interviews) more than a bit tired, and has written so many books that I doubt that he can say much on the subject without repeating something he's already said. I like much of his earlier work - Manufacturing Consent in particular was a tremendous thing to read in high school - but there's not much new he's saying these days because I don't think that he sees not much new happening. Just the same patterns in new dress.

On the matter of Egypt - I'm not sure if there was a direct connection between the East African slave trade and the cotton trade in Egypt, which was a mainstay of Khedival rule, but certainly the same guys were getting cash from both, and cotton money helped finance the conquest and exploitation of the Sudan and equatorial regions, the main source of slaves for Egyptian and other markets. Although ironically the wartime blockade of the Confederacy was what allowed Egyptian cotton sellers to make out like a bandit, and the end of the war sent them the Egyptian economy into a tailspin.

Not to mention that the situation of the Egyptian rural laborer was close enough to slavery as to make the distinction academic.
posted by AdamCSnider at 11:50 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


People on the 'American Left' (known in the world as 'centre-right'), which includes a lot of people who support the current president, get a bit upset when an actual Leftist comes along and rains on their parade.

Checking out the recent mefi ding-dong about how 'left' support for torture and indefinite detention is better than 'right' support for torture and indefinite detention may give you some guidance.


QFT
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:50 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now seems like a good time to remind everyone that even though you're right, casting aspersions about the character of others is a terrible way to make your point.

Unless you're Noam Chomsky, in which case you can rely on a chorus of praise for 'telling it like it is.' The problem with Chomsky is that he strings together a chain of factoids and inferences and labels it an argument, and there's a sizable audience for this, just like there's a sizable audience for Glenn Beck's absurd rantings.

I hate to consider the possibility that Noam Chomsky is insincere, but since he's an extremely successful academic (in the field of linguistic), there's no getting away from the fact he knows how to build a proper argument, cite sources carefully, and employ all the machinery of rational inquiry - so I have to ask why the bulk of his political output consists of poorly-reasoned ranting that wouldn't be accepted if it were submitted as a term paper in a history or international relations class.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:05 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Ha ha, yes! Totally unlike many of the comments maligning Chomsky in this thread!"

Hey, I was wondering when tu quoque would make an appearance.

"(unless it's supporting the majority opinion in the thread, which is clearly that Chomsky is a "dishonest sack of shit," afflicting us with his "drunken hobo drivel," and anybody who dares to takes issue with these sweeping judgments is clearly trying to start a "bitchfest")"

If you're going to complain about ad hominems, you should at least have a cursory understanding of what the fallacy is. Simply calling Chomsky's arguments "drunken hobo drivel" is an insult, not an ad hominem fallacy.

Further, if you could avoid being dishonest in your assessment — Shakespearian didn't say that anyone who takes issue with sweeping judgments is starting a bitchfest — your complaints wouldn't look so much like the pleadings of a partisan.

"As always, you place the onus of civility on those who disagree with the prevailing sentiment, while those who find themselves in the majority are free to make personal attacks and be dismissive assholes."

Sorry, that's pretty much bullshit again, though I do appreciate the chutzpah of trying to make this about me instead of realizing that pompomtom was both dishonest and wrong about his characterization of the conversation.

Be less wrong and I'll be less dismissive.
posted by klangklangston at 12:17 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Please. Are you suggesting that there's not an obvious 'lateral' shift in terminology between mainstream US discourse (where you get, for example, the Republican party regularly called "centrist", and the democratic party called "extreme leftist") and the rest of the world?

What's your reference point for the 'mainstream' here? Fox News?
posted by anigbrowl at 12:30 PM on April 26, 2011


Shakespearian didn't say that anyone who takes issue with sweeping judgments is starting a bitchfest

Hi yeah guys maybe I was unclear but my contention is with the way in which political discourse on Metafilter pretty often and quickly devolves into bizarre parlor games that involve vaguely-defined teams of Leftists or Progressives or Moderates or Red Sox or Conservatives or Obama Apologists or Denver Broncos or American Liberals or Yankees or I can't even remember all the teams and what you have to do to qualify to be on any of them but I'm pretty sure this comment means I can't be on the good ones. Saying something like People on the 'American Left' (known in the world as 'centre-right'), which includes a lot of people who support the current president, get a bit upset when an actual Leftist comes along and rains on their parade doesn't actually communicate any ideas except that you have designated yourself Team Captain. When the GOP criticizes Republicans as RINOs we talk about how creepy their quest for party purity is, and how weirdly strict their standards are, and how they're winnowing the Republican Party down to crazy Tea Partiers and birthers, and then we turn around and do the exact same fucking thing. I don't care what team you're on, and I don't care what team I'm not allowed to be one because of my opinions. If you disagree with someone's support of the current president, explain why. Saying that they fail the standards for your team is not an argument, and doesn't mean anything relevant.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


anigbrowl,

Just as an aside, in a general sense, do you think it is possible to know something?
posted by kuatto at 12:39 PM on April 26, 2011


political discourse on Metafilter pretty often and quickly devolves into bizarre parlor games that involve vaguely-defined teams [...] doesn't actually communicate any ideas except that you have designated yourself Team Captain

Sure it communicates, in a compressed way. What it communicates: that the commenter thinks the dividing line between the sympathetic audience for Chomsky in this thread and the vocal majority slagging him off is that the former is to the left of the latter politically, not primarily (as the latter have claimed) that the essay does a poor job arguing its point. That is, it communicates that whether this particular essay is shitty or not (and let's just grant, for argument's sake, that it is pretty shitty) is not actually, at the root, what's causing the vitriol (on either side) here. It also suggests, in this context, that "the left" should be defined as the anti-imperialist left (where in many other such discussions it'd instead refer to an anti-capitalist or at least social-democratic stance). It's a completely reasonable contribution to a discussion of how and why Chomsky specifically causes such a palpable and heated split to emerge. I get that you'd like the discussion better if everyone were able to be post-partisan and just address individual arguments purely on their merits or whatever (and I might well agree with you about that! because then it'd be much more pleasant to read than this awful thread was!) — but that doesn't mean that the anti-imperialist-left vs. American-Dem-liberal distinction is useless for understanding why we aren't having that discussion. Calling the factions by their names isn't the cause of factionalization.
posted by RogerB at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as an aside, in a general sense, do you think it is possible to know something?

With hindsight, probably. I have discovered a marvelous proof of this, but regrettably this formal system is too narrowly defined to contain it.

posted by anigbrowl at 2:10 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Simply calling Chomsky's arguments "drunken hobo drivel" is an insult, not an ad hominem fallacy.

The original sentence: "I wish he'd get locked in a lift with Gore Vidal so they could bore each other for the rest of time with this drunken hobo drivel instead of inflicting it on the rest of us."

Wikipedia: "An ad hominem (Latin: "to the man"), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to link the validity of a premise to a characteristic or belief of the person advocating the premise."

Sounds pretty much like textbook ad hominem to me. Whether Chomsky is a drunken hobo or not is irrelevant to whether his opinions are valid, unless he's engaged in an activity in which his sobriety bears upon his ability to successfully execute the task. He sometimes makes more sense in his drunken hobo state than a dozen lionized experts and potentates who've never taken a drink of liquor in their lives. I don't see anyone castigating Christopher Hitchens merely for spouting drunken hobo drivel or wishing upon him the dread sentence of being stuck for eternity in an elevator with Gore Vidal.
posted by blucevalo at 3:03 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, for crying out loud. "Ad hominem" is not a college-educated way of saying "Mommy, he's calling me names." It can only be meaningfully applied to an argument having the form "X claims Y; X is a Z; therefore not-Y." It is in no way applicable to statements that are not arguments, for instance, expressions of generalized frustration, witty banter, and so on. There is no argument being made in that passage.
posted by nasreddin at 3:27 PM on April 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


"I hate to consider the possibility that Noam Chomsky is insincere"

Consider the possibility that he's not the writer he thinks he is. I always had the impression that he couldn't slow himself down long enough to write clearly. (Likely he's faster than me.) Or maybe he's just an excellent typist.
posted by sneebler at 9:17 PM on April 26, 2011


Chomsky never arrives at a causal explanation more sophisticated than "the evil evilness of the US," and that's because the man is completely incapable of understanding or contextualizing a piece of evidence that doesn't agree with his preconceived notions.

This is, to be fair, a near-universal human failing.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 9:35 PM on April 26, 2011


I don't see anyone castigating Christopher Hitchens merely for spouting drunken hobo drivel

You've obviously never hung around any Mefi thread in which Chris Hitchens has come up.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:15 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whether Chomsky is a drunken hobo or not is irrelevant to whether his opinions are valid,

True. But, he does it to Ben Franklin, who had some valid opinions, so ...

Y'know, I think the hate is more for the 'performance' Chomsky than the 'what I'm saying here' Chomsky.
He's got this whole set of riffs he hits, kind of like a lounge act. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's lousy, but it's mostly the same tunes and he hits the same notes the same way with the sort of pharisaical smugness of a James Lipton caricature.

For example:
I do not want to end without mentioning another externality that is dismissed in market systems: the fate of the species

I'm with him on the point he's addressing. But this 'just one other thing: the end of the world,' just kind of vaudeville.

That said, I think he's on to something and there's something I've been thinking about mentioned above regarding the 'elites.'
The selfish, however powerful, typically have an inferior mindset which leads to their own downfall. This is something I've gained from my erudition (countless examples in history of corruption feeding on itself and collapsing), but it's also been my experience and I've been around and dealt with extremely wealthy and powerful people.

There is a pretension to conspiracy among them. The cages they live in are of their own design and I think Sartre's 'No Exit' is pretty much the final word on their mastery of destiny.
The thing I've been thinking about is why would any reasonable being pursue a course which manifestly leads to total self-annihilation? Granting some folks aren't reasonable. And granting passions (hedonism, fear, etc) overwhelm some.

Chomsky does indeed seem to be a one trick pony in this regard. "They're evil" or just not as smart as 'we' are (that is Chomsky and the reader who agrees with him) etc.
I tend to cut out his rhetorical drivel (if he can't see the destabilizing elements inherent in a system predicated on the arbitrariness of interpretation of religious text vs. the self-correcting nature (albeit forcefully being perverted by irrational elements in the U.S.) of the democratic system - one bit of which is tolerance (systemically at least) of opposition - then I'm just going to zip past it and get to the ground where he's got surer footing)

And I'm not concerned with some of his trendy type stuff. Some people thought Goldwater was going to end the world. He seems stuck on the religious folk. Which is a fun, eye catching point to make. But those folks are pretty much straw. Push comes to shove we can just kill them (given, y'know, they don't kill us all, which I'm not saying couldn't happen, just that the remedy is pretty simple. Simpler at least than addressing the problems from ideas put forth by level headed, rational people who think they're doing the right thing who may be trying to kill us all.)

Beyond which he seems to not be able to get over the fact that U.S. interests (or any nations) are governed by practical realities but predicated on an abstraction (analysis and ideology surely, but also a secular faith in the future)

What I've been coming up with is that in some respects many people have lost faith that there is a future. And those that do keep the faith seem to be fighting a holding action.
And this holding action seems to be leading to more authoritarian trends.

Perhaps this is through population pressure, diminishing returns on energy, the economic downward vicious cycle Chomsky's talking about, perhaps more things. I'm not sure. Not my field(s).
But I do know that there are very influential, reasonable, intelligent people who seem to feel that certain extreme measures are necessary.
That troubles me far more than the racists or prodigal wealthy or passive, apathetic consumerists.

In part because, indeed, what if it is necessary to control the population or reduce allocation (in the face of vastly increased demand) for services and outward signs of prosperity and energy?

What measures are necessary to overcome that resistance? ... hell, nuts like Quiverfull aside, look at the Catholic Church on birth control. Meantime culturally, some places (China, India) that work to control population wind up having more males. And large groups of young men with few women around, historically, not good work out so much it has.

That's just one slice of the "the fate of the species" topic.
Kicking teachers in the ass is an almost trite symptom.

(I had to laugh at the racism thing. It's not hate that's ever been the problem. Chomsky, and to be fair Orwell, is wrong there. People can't hate enough. You really can't sustain it. Self/group-worship? Whole other thing. That runs on cruise control. I watched two films (c1940s) in a row where different characters said "That's very white of you" in complete earnest. Chomsky does touch on it though with the Aryan myth.)
posted by Smedleyman at 9:11 PM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


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