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Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile.
June 13, 2012 11:51 PM   Subscribe

I talked with Chomsky about his upbringing in a Jewish home in Philadelphia by Cultural Zionist parents who devoted their lives to the revival of Hebrew language and culture, and about some of the strange bedfellows that he has acquired in five decades of impassioned crusading. I left his office with a sense of a specifically Jewish Chomsky that in three decades of engagement with his political writing, his academic work, and a few dozen of his radio appearances had never really struck me before, and now seems obvious and unavoidable.
posted by latkes (31 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
So I asked my father, how could he smoke? There’s a line in the Talmud that says, ayn bein shabbat v’yom tov ela b’inyan achilah. I said, “How come he’s smoking?” He said, “Well, he decided that smoking is eating.” And a sudden flash came to me: Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile. He can’t figure these things out. If that’s what it is, I don’t want anything to do with it.

Brilliant. Not only because of the young Chomsky's epiphany but how imaginative people are in screwing supposedly omnipotent and wise beyond words beings.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


This is a nice companion to the same magainze's recent interview with Chomsky's friend and black-listed academic Norman Finkelstein.
posted by bardic at 1:17 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, though this: "The world’s most important leftist intellectual" made Slavoj Žižek cry.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:11 AM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


No questions about his custom van. Interview Fail.
posted by srboisvert at 2:43 AM on June 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


Brilliant. Not only because of the young Chomsky's epiphany but how imaginative people are in screwing supposedly omnipotent and wise beyond words beings.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:01 AM on June 14


Which is why I facepalm every time I see another person seriously advancing any version of Pascal's Wager as a reason for belief.
posted by Decani at 2:46 AM on June 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Excellent interview! I'm in awe of professor Chomsky and knew very little about his religious upbringing. Thank you for posting.
posted by painquale at 3:44 AM on June 14, 2012


I left his office with a sense of a specifically Jewish Chomsky ....

Which perhaps forms the basis for Chomsky's hand-waving dismissal of the existence of Ward and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby. Chomsky, a specifically Jewish Chomsky, to use the words of the FPP, has been trying to influence American policy for decades - without any notable success - so I can see that he outrightly rejects the notion that other Jews - philosophically opposed to him to boot - are able to nudge American foreign policy to their liking. An empirical, but maybe not entirely unfair assessment: given that he has been in the trenches since the 1960s, he should know as well as anyone what the limits of political influence are.

But on the other hand Chomsky sees his globe covered with dirty American fingerprints and generally does not bother to go looking for his suspects beyond that.
posted by three blind mice at 4:55 AM on June 14, 2012


(Just don't ask him who invented email.)
posted by kmz at 4:58 AM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love me some latkes....and thank you for the fpp. :)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:03 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still stuck on this.
posted by bicyclefish at 5:41 AM on June 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


Imbeciles imagine an imbecile god.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 5:46 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I liked the interview, but I have to disagree with this: "But when we get down to the moral issue, it’s independent of one’s personal background."

Only if you think that our moral and ethical systems are arrived at wholly rationally, independant of cultural processes, and free from personal bias. No human is capable of that.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:57 AM on June 14, 2012


There's also the possibility that our moral and ethical systems are based on biology.
posted by DU at 6:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Imbeciles imagine an imbecile god.
True that. The rest of us don't bother.
posted by adamvasco at 6:01 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


> ... perhaps forms the basis for Chomsky's hand-waving dismissal of the existence of Ward and Mearsheimer's Israel Lobby.

I think you're misunderstanding his position. He's not dismissing the existence of a pro-Israel Lobby in the US, but disagreeing about its relative importance.

Samuels was asking him about this article:
Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.

The M-W thesis is that (B) overwhelmingly predominates ... Insofar as the stands of the Lobby conform to (A), the two factors are very difficult to disentagle.

... Another problem that M-W do not address is the role of the energy corporations. They are hardly marginal in US political life ... Do the energy corporations fail to understand their interests, or are they part of the Lobby too?
posted by nangar at 6:21 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm still stuck on this.

Wow. That ... is really disappointing. I'd like to believe that Chomsky is somehow trolling Monbiot, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Clearly, Chomsky dislikes Monbiot for being part of some clique or power structure ("intellectuals", apparently, although I've always thought that term is typically a handwavey cover for "people I disagree with", to the point where I am skeptical of anyone who deploys it, even Chomsky), but at the end of the day Chomsky wrote an introduction to what seems to be a really execrable book and seems to be willing to go to some lengths and engage in a lot of hair-splitting to avoid getting called out on it. And worse, rather than just own up to the fact that he wrote an introduction to a book that apparently contains a lot of gross revisionism, he goes down a path that seems suspiciously like ignoring the facts in favor of a particular political viewpoint -- an intellectual trick that he could have copied out of the most morally bankrupt neoconservative's playbook. Gross.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:00 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I can't recall the link, but I do remember reading an interview with Chom(p)sky where he says that there is no such thing as a "Jewish lobby", and that the reason why it might seem like Jewish folk have so much "influence" in American politics is because Jewish folk are typically overachievers, and with their text-based culture are perfectly suited for excelling in a place like government.

So if you tried a little harder in school, you underachieving whiners, you could form your own Cabal!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:28 AM on June 14, 2012


I enjoyed the Finkelstein portion of the Finkelstein interview and the Chomsky portion of the Chomsky interview — but wow, Samuels's interviewing style is pretty obnoxious in its judgmental hectoring. He keeps making himself, and his disagreements, the subject of the discussion, and he uses the introduction to grant himself a rather bitter last word. I wonder why these two gave him interviews, and how many more people will now that the results are apparent.
posted by RogerB at 9:48 AM on June 14, 2012


“Well, he decided that smoking is eating.” And a sudden flash came to me: Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile. He can’t figure these things out. If that’s what it is, I don’t want anything to do with it.

I don't think that's correct. It's not that his father thought he was fooling God, it's that he was rationalizing his behavior to himself. This is an important distinction: you cannot understand the modern religious fundamentalist without understanding the necessity of constant rationalization.

The (traditional/biblical/fundamentalist) Jewish God is a belligerent psychopath, but not an imbecile.
posted by callmejay at 12:39 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


According to Chomsky you either support free speech or you don't. His support for free speech extends to speech that he thinks is wrong and even reprehensible. Some people seem to be unable to heave their little minds over this relatively simple concept.
posted by moorooka at 2:45 PM on June 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


No questions about his custom van. Interview Fail.

You should see Richard Feynman's Van, man.
posted by ovvl at 5:52 PM on June 14, 2012


Thanks for this. Fascinating.
posted by zarq at 9:57 PM on June 14, 2012


This, in case anyone is interested, is Chomsky's response to the Faurisson uproar. It provides a deeper understanding of his position, and what happened (at least from his perspective) than his brief response in this interview.
posted by zarq at 10:15 PM on June 14, 2012


Nice interview. Also interesting to read about Finkelstein. Apologies for the potential derail, but I think the Monbiot correspondence merits discussion.

Wow. That ... is really disappointing. I'd like to believe that Chomsky is somehow trolling Monbiot, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

What I see is exactly what I would expect to see when a bleeding heart like Monbiot goes up against an intellectual heavyweight like Chomsky. I suspect that it's Monbiot who isn't checking the facts here, and is reacting emotionally based on his personal world view, as he often does. Chomsky responds by citing what he sees as an abuse of meanings and definitions of genocide, and its prevalence in western political discourse as a catch-all term to describe war crimes in conflicts involving large numbers of fatalities, where someone wants to apportion culpability.

Clearly, Chomsky dislikes Monbiot for being part of some clique or power structure ("intellectuals", apparently, although I've always thought that term is typically a handwavey cover for "people I disagree with"

Where do you get this from? Monbiot would seem to be aligning himself, as he often does, with the right-leaning liberal factions on the Guardian, who were never above towing the party line for New Labour, and were pretty vocal in their support for Blair's adventurism in Iraq. On the other hand, I get a strong impression that the exact opposite is happening: Monbiot is deeply disappointed with Chomsky for not buying into this implicit narrative of good and evil.

Chomsky wrote an introduction to what seems to be a really execrable book and seems to be willing to go to some lengths and engage in a lot of hair-splitting to avoid getting called out on it.

But is it really such an execrable book? It doesn't look it to me. It looks like something that might cast some light on some very murky and poorly documented episodes in recent history.

How can any of us possibly know for certain what happened in Rwanda? That shitstorm had a long history, was orchestrated by outside powers, and I don't have much trouble believing that there were atrocities on both sides. If that was the case, I can see how the characterization of genocide becomes a tool for people to take power by shifting the blame around. Srebrenica is a little different - this is the first time I've seen any allegations against the Bosnian Muslims in this sphere, but again, how can I possibly be sure? I wasn't there, and I know from traveling in the area that the acceptable Western discourse doesn't always hold up on the ground.

Since the correspondence doesn't illuminate, I've been drilling down into this a bit, and I don't see anyone denying that atrocities took place in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda - only that characterizing them as genocide may be inaccurate, and has nonetheless been a powerful tool in subsequent power plays, possibly allowing some potential war criminals to escape punishment and seize power in the regions. This subtle distinction is clearly lost on Monbiot.

If you're still stuck with Monbiot's side of the story, may I suggest looking at Herman and Peterson's refutation on ZNet. Fond as I am of George and his bleeding heart, I think he may be in the wrong here.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:36 AM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


When Chomsky Wept. by anti-war activist and author Fred Branfman.
posted by zarq at 8:32 AM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


When Chomsky Wept. by anti-war activist and author Fred Branfman.

Gorgeous essay.
posted by painquale at 10:45 AM on June 18, 2012


Wasn't it? I want to go read everything Branfman's ever written after that.
posted by zarq at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2012


So I asked my father, how could he smoke? There’s a line in the Talmud that says, ayn bein shabbat v’yom tov ela b’inyan achilah. I said, “How come he’s smoking?” He said, “Well, he decided that smoking is eating.” And a sudden flash came to me: Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile. He can’t figure these things out. If that’s what it is, I don’t want anything to do with it.


This anecdote might have more impact if I could read Hebrew, or if googling the phrase turned up anything at all besides copies of this interview. As it is it's frustratingly "no soap radio".
posted by purplecrackers at 9:17 PM on June 18, 2012


When this interview was first published a couple of years ago, parshablog discussed the talmudic arguments for and against smoking on the Sabbath.
posted by zarq at 10:01 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


the talmudic arguments for and against smoking on the Sabbath.

Whats that old joke? That Jews have been training to go to law school for 4000 years?
posted by Chekhovian at 1:17 PM on June 27, 2012


Noam Chomsky tells Julian Assange: Humanity ‘like lemmings going over the cliff’
posted by homunculus at 6:14 PM on June 29, 2012


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