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Chomsky on the elections, economy
October 14, 2008 10:03 PM   Subscribe


 
The United States is essentially a one-part system

Maybe if we're lucky at the end of this election.

I must disagree with Chomsky. There is a gigantic difference between the two parties in this country. Chomsky interprets the absence of anyone agreeing with him to be a problem. Not so. Chomsky's done.

Nader spoke to an audience of 8 in New Hampshire the other day.

Just imagine if he hadn't run in 2000.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:12 PM on October 14, 2008


Chomsky: This Sarah Palin phenomenon is very curious. I think somebody watching us from Mars, they would think the country has gone insane.

Heh.
posted by delmoi at 10:12 PM on October 14, 2008


Put another way, the Republican nut jobs all return to the fold on election day. Left wing nut jobs stupidly don't.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:14 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


"SPIEGEL: You exaggerate."
posted by Flunkie at 10:14 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Put another way, the Republican nut jobs all return to the fold on election day. Left wing nut jobs stupidly don't.

If only those liberals would just fall in line.
posted by delmoi at 10:16 PM on October 14, 2008


The key question here is whether we apply the same standards to ourselves that we apply to others.

I hope people who read Noam Chomsky with a jaded eye at least read the above with as much honesty and patriotism as he put into this interview.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 PM on October 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


SPIEGEL: So for you, Republicans and Democrats represent just slight variations of the same political platform?

Chomsky: Of course there are differences, but they are not fundamental. Nobody should have any illusions. The United States has essentially a one-party system and the ruling party is the business party.


I used to respect Chomsky, in the same way that I used to respect Nader. But his parroting of this "one-party system" canard - along with the other tripe that he spews out in this interview - really makes me reconsider that respect. Like Nader, he seems to have stopped analyzing the contemporary political scene at the most superficial and functional level. There are genuine, fundamental differences between the two parties, and only the most blinkered ideologue could possibly think otherwise. Chomsky - like Nader before him - now represents that most pathetic of characters: the cynical, out-of-touch academic who prefers the dim comfort of his own conspiracy theories to the harsh light of everyday electoral politics.
posted by googly at 10:28 PM on October 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


Chomsky makes some excellent points. Both parties are, at this point, basically business parties in America with the crumbs being left for the rest of America. When a bailout for business gets passed in excess of $700B in the face of mass taxpayer disapproval, while at the same time other bailouts and stimulus packages ranging from simple tax rebates to Keynesian infrastructure funding are left languishing until after the new government is put in place its pretty obvious where everyone (R's and D's) allegiance is to.

That being said, and accepting for the undeniable fact that some of Sen. Obama and the Democratic party's largest campaign contributors are Wall Street businessmen, I feel that Chomsky has indeed missed the boat in many ways.

1) The intellectual elites that he rails against in the interview and continually in his books for being too nationalistic are going to be out of date very soon. We are already seeing how blogs and the power of online organizing is moving discussions out of think tanks and universities and into where it belongs: with the people.

2) The rising generation of Americans, those born after 1980, are totally on board with what Chomsky is saying. Many of my cohorts get it even if they are not "intellectual" simply because of the power of things like Metafilter, Digg, Facebook and other social utilities. We know how to keep each other informed and we do it. We are also pissed off and are taking action to make things right. Barack Obama tapped into this desire for change, but if he doesn't deliver or if he slumps back into the business as usual mode... hes going to have about 50 million angry, organized young people on his hands.

3) Looking at historical trends America is past due for some epochal change. Every 70 years or so winds sweep across the country and progress moves us forward. We saw it first in 1776-1800, then in 1860-1887, then in 1932-1945 (give or take a few years of course).

Im pretty optimistic that Obama is a symptom of a deeper desire for fundamental change in America... not its root cause.
posted by Parallax.Error at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


Actually, Chomsky is right. He isn't saying there aren't differences in candidates, or even differences that can make life better under one or another party at any given time. What he is saying is that we have federally-funded presidential elections that feature two "major parties" who both are fundamentally the same. Compare this with Europe, where the differences can be - literally - capitalism or socialism or far-right nationalism. In America, let's face it - our choices are between two capitalist parties whose differences on the economic issues are tweaks around the edges (Exhibit 'A': the bailout).
posted by Gerard Sorme at 10:31 PM on October 14, 2008 [14 favorites]


more and more, a lot of the arguments and a lot of the opinions are sounding downright quaint these days
posted by pyramid termite at 10:36 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gabor Steingart for President - he conducted a wonderfully respectful yet pointed interview and forced Chmosky to acknowledge at least some of his hyperbole.
posted by twsf at 10:44 PM on October 14, 2008


A lot of what Chompsky said here rings very true for me, especially the stuff about the emptiness of Obama's rhetoric. And while I agree that there are some fundamentals that both parties agree upon, I don't think they agree on all of what they consider to be fundamentals. Obviously, neither party is suggesting, say, a pure state-run economy (no matter what right wing extremists imagine in their fever dreams). But then again, neither party is suggesting we form a Hindu-style caste system. Is it such a bad thing if we, as Americans, can achieve a consensus on certain issues?

Of course, I'm usually one to argue along his lines -- that the American two-party system offers less choice than your average grocery aisle -- but Chompsky goes so far that he brings out the Devil's Advocate in me. From his perspective, the two parties are the same, in terms of what he thinks needs to change.
posted by Edgewise at 10:50 PM on October 14, 2008


Chomsky, once again with effective rhetoric, being the good arbitrary, leftist-Socialist without saying it. America's always wrong -- he doesn't like Obama, (and the Europeans that do are under a "delusion"), doesn't like McCain, of course, except that "In one aspect he is more honest than his opponent. He explicitly states that this election is not about issues but about personalities". I agree with Ironmouth: "Chomsky's done".
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:56 PM on October 14, 2008


Compare this with Europe, where the differences can be - literally - capitalism or socialism or far-right nationalism. In America, let's face it - our choices are between two capitalist parties

This is a canard. What "socialist" parties are there in Europe? Labour? Die Linke? The French Socialist party? Nope. There's not a truly socialist party anywhere with real support in Europe. Who out there is for government ownership of the means of production?

They all migrated to some version of our model. Nobody of consequence over there is talking about actual socialism at all.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:58 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Compare this with Europe, where the differences can be - literally - capitalism or socialism or far-right nationalism.

This is a little deceptive. You can't compare the political parties in a proportional representation system with those in a first past the post one. Most European countries are governed by coalitions. A typical coalition might include, say, a large social democratic (centre left) party and a whole bunch of smaller openly communist or left-leaning special interest parties (greens, etc.).

There are a great many more people who might have liked Ralph Nader to be part of a governing coalition than there are people that would want him as president.

The mathematics of first-past-the-post elections will inevitably drive towards a two party system. In fact, countries like the UK which elect their parliaments by f-p-t-p are de facto two party systems, and - surprise, surprise - the two parties that have a realistic chance of forming a government are by-and-large centrist, and tend to win elections just as they swing to the centre.
The regional nationalist parties are a consequence of the UK's status as a single sovereign state containing multiple countries, and taken in isolation, those countries are each individually pretty much two party states. England with a centre right consensus, Scotland and Wales with centre left consensuses.
posted by atrazine at 11:08 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Seekerofsplendor: I've read some Chomsky; his books are fantastically well cited and examples are all over the place. I feel like he does a good job of presenting his argument and then backing it up with the appropriate study. He's well-spoken and very flatheaded, almost to the point of being a bore.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 11:14 PM on October 14, 2008


addendum:
For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, in a first-past-the-post election, the winner "takes all", there are no prizes for getting 49% of the vote.

In proportional rep. the number of seats a party gets in parliament is proportional to the percentage of votes cast for that party. The party submits lists of candidates ranked from top to bottom and they get selected starting from the top of the list. Senior party leaders at the top, and academics/intellectuals at the bottom where they won't be selected but can give political support.1

Proportional representation is not without its problems, it gives a great deal of power to party hierarchies (because they decide where you come in the list). Unfortunately it tends to lead to very sterile politicians.

It eliminates geographical constituencies, which can be good (less pork-barreling) and bad for obvious reasons. Proportional representation works best in my view in smaller, more geographically homogeneous countries (and obviously would work differently in a federal government with separation of powers like that of the US).


(1) In the Netherlands, the top and bottom of the lists are called list-pullers and -pushers respectively, as these are the public figures associated with the parties
posted by atrazine at 11:20 PM on October 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


more and more, a lot of the arguments and a lot of the opinions are sounding downright quaint these days

To me, not quaint, just tired. All the "Chomsky is a nutjob" comments, all the attempts at reason, everything Chomsky has to say, tired. Completely irrespective of truth or reason, very, very tired..
posted by Chuckles at 11:24 PM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Risk is therefore underpriced...
It is also a very free society...
The European reaction to Obama is a European delusion...
this country was founded by religious fanatics...
Our society, and also Europe's, became freer, more open, more democratic...


What?
posted by sluglicker at 11:48 PM on October 14, 2008


who prefers the dim comfort of his own conspiracy theories

This tells me you've never actually read much Chomsky. There is absolutely nothing in his writing that suggests conspiracy theories. In fact, he discourages that line of thinking all together. His arguments are based research that's pretty well documented.
posted by quadog at 12:00 AM on October 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


In single party systems, there are liberal and conservative wings. In two-party systems, the liberal and conservative wings become the ruling party and the loyal opposition--which is always more loyal than opposition, as the Democratic voting record of the last eight years should tell anyone.

I'm voting for Obama because that's the only way to effectively register a vote for change in a two-party system. Thanks to the Electoral College, not voting or voting for a third-party candidate are turned into acceptance of the status quo.
posted by shetterly at 12:08 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


The interview is too short to really hit on anything substantive or novel, but at least it's from a respectable news magazine and it's not obvious which axe the interview is trying to grind (as go many interviews with Chomsky!)

I'll try to make a positive contribution here, though, and defend some of Chomsky's point instead of just complaining about the FPP :)

I don't think Chomsky is denying that there are substantive differences between the two parties in the way the above comments suggest. He very clearly states, "Of course there are differences, but they are not fundamental... Let us look at the 'differences' more closely, and we recognize how limited and cynical they are," and furnishes as an example one of the defining moments of recent American politics: the decision to take military action in Iraq.

The point he is trying to make by referring to these as "cynical" differences, is that opposition from liberals at the party level has been more an issue of political expediency than a question of morality. At the very least, it should be obvious that regardless of the personal objections to the conflict by the leaders of the Democratic Party, they have couched almost all of their public rhetoric in this very way.

For example, while one might imagine (and maybe even be right) that Obama is on the exact same wavelength as those on Metafilter who oppose the conflict, in public he only focuses on the empirical problems (Inadequate Security and Political Progress in Iraq, Strains on the Military, and Resurgent Al Qaeda in Afghanistan) it has caused, and if he were really trying to represent those in the United States who opposed the conflict from the beginning (and who are not a tiny minority of the voting public,) he would unquestionable list moral (e.g., humanitarian) objections. Chomsky's assumption when he juxtaposes the two sides' positions ("The hawks say, if we continue we can win. The doves say, it is costing us too much.") is that had the invasion been a stronger military, financial, or political success, the Democratic political machine's stated position would, at the most optimistic, be somewhere between grudging and weak support.

Now, I think it's obvious that there are a lot of practical reasons why a liberal candidate cannot support this strong moral opposition and still hope to appeal to moderate voters (of whom many strongly support the occupation,) but I think the important point that he is making is that at the individual level (at least on Metafilter,) this is not at all a controversial opinion.

Therefore, I would argue that Chomsky's complaint is not that there aren't actual differences between the parties, but that the need to appeal to moderate voters, the extremely polarised nature of recent politics, and a notable shift toward right-wing conservatism, the stated policies of both political parties are out of line with what a large per centage of their base actually supports, and that the best a voter can hope for when it comes to very substantive issues like this is that their candidate maybe... probably... hopefully... agrees with them in private and promises policy that ignores the aims and the broader picture but comes closest to matches up with the desired ends.

This is not optimal.

But I don't see how this is surprising or controversial.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:22 AM on October 15, 2008 [13 favorites]


I think this is also why when Republicans try to provoke Democrats by asserting the Democrats take glee in the hearing bad news about the conflict, the Republicans may be right at some level but miss the point.

Many of those in opposition have strong moral objections to the opposition but realise (at some level) that the only chance they have of getting their feelings recognised by their political representation is if things go wrong.

Otherwise, while these voters may still have franchise, they will remain unrepresented, because, as Chomsky's example tries illustrate, the people they have voted for - the people they have even put into power - will just ignore them.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:37 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link to, um, SPIEGEL ONLINE for a chomsky interview. The way the domestic mainstream media shuts him out is breathtaking, and when he does slip in, he's treated in such a dismissive and crappy way. (Often voted world's most popular intellectual, he is NEVER seen on US television - but how many hours of Pat Buchanan is the US provided with daily?) Here's Charlie Rose's one interview with him, from 2003 . It's worth watching just to see how rudely Rose behaves, rude even by Charlie Rose standards.
posted by Auden at 12:50 AM on October 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sangermaine, apologies if I misread you, but are you saying the Republicans are right at some level that Democrats take glee in hearing bad news about the war? I disagree. Schadenfreude is a charge often laid by those who would feel it if the circumstance were reversed. In this case, if you've got any links to Democrats gloating, don't hesitate to share them.
posted by shetterly at 1:21 AM on October 15, 2008


I think a better reading would be frustration combined with a desire to see some political affirmation of their ideologies and a recognition that the best they could hope for is unspoken or understood acknowledgment of their beliefs from their elected officials.

I think what Chomsky is trying to argue is that the nature of recent electoral democracy has it so that this affirmation can come only as a consequence of some politically expedient policy shifts - that if the conflict were a glowing success, neither side would have strong ideological (e.g., moral) objection at the political level as he claims both would were the topic other countries' international forays.

Again, I don't think any of this is terribly surprising or controversial (though it is, admittedly, an unfortunate situation for those in this position.)
posted by Sangermaine at 1:31 AM on October 15, 2008


There's not a truly socialist party anywhere with real support in Europe

*cough*
posted by DreamerFi at 1:42 AM on October 15, 2008


They all migrated to some version of our model. Nobody of consequence over there is talking about actual socialism at all.

i suggest you read a front page from all the way back in time, way, way, back in time, to monday.
posted by Hat Maui at 2:32 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Chomsky seems to say that when Obama comes closest to agreeing with what he thinks is right it is just rhetoric but then he makes the mistake of taking Obama's macho posturing as sincere. Maybe it is, we can't really know but I very much doubt that Obama is eager to get into any wars.
posted by I Foody at 4:54 AM on October 15, 2008


Auden, it's worth noting that many people in Great Britain are also infected with this anti-intellectual disease. It's not cool to be smart, even when you go on Big Brother and make fun of it (a la Germaine Greer).
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:55 AM on October 15, 2008


i suggest you read a front page from all the way back in time, way, way, back in time, to monday

The bailout is a short-term expedient--no parties in Europe or the U.S. are calling for government ownership of the means of production as a permanent way of organizing the economy.

I've always been underwhelmed by the calls for proportional representation. Those who complain that their particular brand of politics isn't represented and that therefore the system sucks don't look at the downsides of proportional representation and overestimate the effect of getting their pet set of beliefs in to the legislature. First, splinter parties rarely get their agendas inserted into the nation's priorities. Second, poltical deadlock in a proportional representation period can lead to a whole ton of built-in instability when no one gets a majority and coalitions paralyzed by the divergent aims of their members are created. Weimar Republic anyone?

In the end, being in a republic requires acknowledging the fact that democratic government requires us to accept a lot of things we don't like because others do not share our values or worldview.

Chomsky and his ilk seem to believe that their failure to get their ideas passed into law is a fault of the system. Not so. It is because they have not convinced the American public (or any other public) that their ideas are right. They have not convinced voters that their ideas are right. And they insult the intelligence of the public they are trying to convince when they argue that people are too dumb to "see through" the "filter" of the media.

People get mad because Chomsky and his ilk are treated with hostility by persons such as Charlie Rose. Somehow, they think that they are entitled to a deferential interview--in other words, the Charlie Roses of the world cannot exercise their own right to disagree with Chomsky--they must not comment or have an "axe to grind" in an interview.

That's why I've always been turned off by Chomsky. He feels like he's so right he doesn't need to make the case to the people.

And its no surprise that he hasn't made it either. He rambles on and never makes the simple case for what he's looking for to the people. In a way, he finds democracy inconvenient.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:16 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the whole "one party" thing has lost a lot of traction in the last eight years. Yes, there are similarities, definitely, and there might be some ruling, banker cabal pulling all the strings; but to suggest there are no important differences between gore and bush or between mccain and obama is just silly.
posted by milarepa at 6:47 AM on October 15, 2008


Ironmouth, while I disagree with Chomsky on virtually every point he makes, I have to say that there are few intellectuals who have spent more time and energy trying to "make the case" to the public. He lectures regularly, is featured on NPR and other outlets, has written a ridiculous number of books which are obviously meant to be accessible to a wide audience.
Yes, he does think that he is right, and he falls into the old intellectual trap of believing that disagreement with his views is a function of his audience being decieved or manipulated. But he does argue his points (at least in his books - the linked interview here is not Chomsky at his best) in a far more coherent fashion than most left wingers - and most right wingers as well, and better than some centrists.
As I said, I personally don't see much of value in his political position. To me the fact that the political high ground is held in this country by centrist, managerial, capitalist-leaning political groups is a good thing, rather than a bad thing. But the last accusation I would ever make against Noam Chomsky is that he doesn't argue his points enough.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:03 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's not a truly socialist party anywhere with real support in Europe

*cough*


From your link:

From socialism to a 'social ism'

The 1991 Congress opened up the party to everyone who could subscribe to its basic principles. The old deadwood, impeding the party's development, was cast off. “Marxism-Leninism” was officially abandoned. From now on, the predicate “socialist” would suffice as the party's political compass.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:07 AM on October 15, 2008


In proportional rep. the number of seats a party gets in parliament is proportional to the percentage of votes cast for that party. The party submits lists of candidates ranked from top to bottom and they get selected starting from the top of the list.

Proportional representation does not require a party-mandated list: voters may pick individual (possibly more than one) candidates on the party ballots. Seats are then allocated within the party to the candidate(s) with the most votes.

Proportionality is about the number of seats per party, who gets to fill them is another matter.
posted by ghost of a past number at 7:16 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Chomsky and his ilk seem to believe that their failure to get their ideas passed into law is a fault of the system. Not so. It is because they have not convinced the American public (or any other public) that their ideas are right.

This is a humorous statement. Ever the empiricist, Chomsky refers consistently to polling data that show the American people agreeing with some of the different positions he has taken from his moral/ syndicalist /social libertarian stance (ending the Iraq war, one example).

If you take public opinion polls on issues to be accurate within, even say a 20% margin of error, you should realize that we would have a much different country than the one we have, if we lived in a republic ruled by the demos, and not by capital.
posted by eustatic at 7:17 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]



If Gore was president for 9/11 would he have taken us to war in Afghanistan AND Iraq?

If your answer is no, then I read that as a tacit admission we are not a one party horse.
posted by notreally at 7:21 AM on October 15, 2008


Also, why so serious, reactionary Democrats of this thread?

Please listen to or read more about uncle Noam's principles before snapping to an election-season judgement.
posted by eustatic at 7:27 AM on October 15, 2008


if we lived in a republic ruled by the demos, and not by capital.

But you see, that's the thing, no corporation casts a vote. AT&T does not have a voter registration card. Sure, they may pay out to candidates, they may fund campaigns, they may pay lobbyists by the bucketfull, but they don't get to vote for candidates. The problem lies in the public's view that their own representative is not the problem, rather some distant and unseen, mysterious cabal of "Washington insiders" pulls the strings. My guy is not part of this system so I'll gladly reelect him so long as the pork keeps rolling in. In national campaigns we look for the candidate who is "experienced" but at the same time is "for change" or is a "maverick." We want things to get done (read: pork to continue to roll in) but we don't want corruption (governmet intervention into our lives/more taxes). Incumbents always point to how they built some giant, worthless freeway in your hometown, but it's all those other Beltway Insiders' fault that your taxes went up or that other worthless freeway got build at such an exorbitant rate. We fall for it every time. It has nothing to do with corporations' greed, its the greed of our own people.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:30 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


If Gore was president for 9/11 would he have taken us to war in Afghanistan AND Iraq?

If Gore was President on 9/11/01 would al Qaeda have flown planes into buildings or did they do it because they felt that the Bush administration's expectedly violent reaction would play into their goal to divide the world?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:32 AM on October 15, 2008


This is a humorous statement. Ever the empiricist, Chomsky refers consistently to polling data that show the American people agreeing with some of the different positions he has taken from his moral/ syndicalist /social libertarian stance (ending the Iraq war, one example).

If you take public opinion polls on issues to be accurate within, even say a 20% margin of error, you should realize that we would have a much different country than the one we have, if we lived in a republic ruled by the demos, and not by capital.


And yet your comment has no such empirical data to support it.

Syndicalist? Really? The American people support syndicalism? We're all going to move into artels and exchange the fruits of our labor with other artels? You'll have to tell me how the polls are showing that. How are we to implement it? Expropriation? How many Americans do you think support that? Really.

Ridiculous. The mass of the people of the United States of America do not agree with this man's world view. I sure as hell don't want to move into an artel. You?
posted by Ironmouth at 7:33 AM on October 15, 2008


Ridiculous. The mass of the people of the United States of America do not agree with this man's world view.

And yet your comment has no empirical data to support it, either...

(btw, the term "artel" has a general english equivalent: "cooperative" or "collective" - unless of course you were trying to imply that the very idea of such arrangements is somehow strange & foreign - not to mention in ye olde dustbin)
posted by jammy at 7:53 AM on October 15, 2008


Ever the empiricist, Chomsky refers consistently to polling data that show the American people agreeing with some of the different positions he has taken from his moral/ syndicalist /social libertarian stance (ending the Iraq war, one example).

Polling data doesn't necessarily imply political action, especially if the political system has the ability to confuse or muddle the way that voters express their preferences. (c.f. Arrow's Theorem.) Part of the problem with Chomsky is that he assumes that everyone should pursue some sort of enlightened self-interest; it doesn't seem that all people make decisions that way.

Let's assume that the political system does indeed translate polling data (reflection of individual desires) into political action, and that these polls would constitute some sort of binding policy action. If the country were indeed ruled by the people instead of the 'experts' they have elected to participate in the political process, would the country be better off? We've traded the expertise of elected officials for the expertise of John Q Public. There's a certain confusion between desire and ability here -- the desire to do something doesn't necessarily translate to the ability to undertake that task efficiently.

I personally would not want the desires of individuals in other areas of the country to dictate the actions that my government takes, even if there was a system of complete representation of personal beliefs and desires. How would it be different from the current system of other groups (ex: corporations, lobbyists, whatever) who end up expressing their desires over mine when we disagree? It doesn't seem that it would be, as there's just a shuffling around of which group gets to express their opinions over the minority.

And hey, let's not even get into how questionable polling data can be based on the way that questions are formed.
posted by peeet at 7:53 AM on October 15, 2008


forgetting my manners: thanks for posting this, Dragonness!
posted by jammy at 7:55 AM on October 15, 2008


The Democrats and the Republicans are essentially two sides of the same coin except for one major difference, the GOP is criminally incompetent and corrupt. The are simply unwilling and unable to go about the hard business of governing the country. This is why it it so important to get them out of power, and why I am a huge Obama supporter. The way he has ran his campaign is evidence of supreme competence at getting things done at the levels of complexity needed to run the country.

That being said for a true lefty, the democratic party is not the place to be. Though the the Bush republicans massively exacerbated the problem, the seeds for the current financial mess were started with deregulation supported by Clinton. I never understood how people could get so worked up about the differences between Hilary's and Obama's health care plans since both would have helped insurance companies and were not anything like real universal health care people have in other countries. Democrats only moved against the Iraq war because it was becoming unpopular and haven't done shit to stop it even though they have power in congress. It is still extremely politically incorrect for a mainstream politician to say that the war itself was immoral. The war on drugs, trade, intellectual property, the list where democrats are basically the same as republicans goes on and on.

Chomsky has been more consistently right, (besides one stupid thing he said about Cambodia), than almost any other American political commentators. The fact that he is instantly dismissed by liberal democrats shows the tiny range of acceptable political discourse in this country.
posted by afu at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, why so serious, reactionary Democrats of this thread?

Please listen to or read more about uncle Noam's principles before snapping to an election-season judgement.


Aaah the old character assasination bit. No actual arguments, of course. Like Chomsky, you start with a label "reactionary." Next you assume that we haven't read or listened to him, simply because we disagree with you. This is why he fails. He doesn't seek to convince or put forth an argument.

Speaking of reading him, let's look at that, shall we?

Presidential candidate John Kerry’s platform and program were way to the right of popular opinion on just about every issue in the 2004 U.S. elections.

Really? all the polling data I've seen says otherwise. That's the crack talking.

The reason for this is that the parties try to exclude the population from participation. So they don’t present issues, policies, agendas, and so on. They project imagery, and people either don’t bother or they vote for the image. The Gallup Poll regularly asks, “Why are you voting?” One of the choices is, “I’m voting for the candidate’s stand on issues.” That was 6% for Bush, and 13% for Kerry—and most of those voters were deluded about the positions of the candidates. So what you have is essentially flipping a coin. Each candidate got approximately 30% of the electorate. Bush got 31%, Kerry got 29%.

Guess what? People are entitled to vote for whom they think has the personal characteristics to properly lead the country. Chomsky takes as a given that "issues" are the only possible real criteria for one to cast their vote. Not so.

The New York Times commented that Kerry didn’t make any hint about possible government involvement in health care programs because that position has, in their words, “no political support.” Well, according to the most recent polls, 80% of the population thinks that the government ought to guarantee health care for everyone, and furthermore regard it as a moral obligation. That tells you something about people’s values. But there’s “no political support.”

A complex issue, improperly disposed of in a few sentences. The American people do want health care guarenteed by the government. But they also want a whole host of things that many of the government-run schemes previously offered cannot provide. And, when given a choice between the government-run schemes presented, and those other things that they want, they choose the other things first, such as the right to choose one's own doctor. They value those things more than having a system like those in the UK. So they hold out for someone who will provide both. So yes, there is no political support for the type of health care system that Chomsky's talking about.

And his poltical views? He's for expropriation of lands owned by individuals for use by a collective authority. You'll be hard pressed to find Americans for that. Take for example, his take on Chinese expropriation, given at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China:

I think the course of collectivization in China and the Soviet Union can also be instructive. It's clear, I believe, that the emphasis on the use of terror and violence in China was considerably less than in the Soviet Union and that the success was considerably greater in achieving a just society.

In other words--he is for forced collectivization--perhaps not as terrible as the Soviet model under Stalin, but he wants a "just" society based on expropriation.

I am against these things. Perhaps you are for them. I am very secure in my knowledge that the American people are not for those things.

Note that every link comes directly from his website. Those are his words.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 AM on October 15, 2008


and again, no empirical data for your assertions... but you are secure in your knowledge

that's nice
posted by jammy at 8:30 AM on October 15, 2008


Jammy,

I'm not the one claiming that I have emprical data. Another poster up top claimed that Chomsky did.

Are you for people being forcibly dispossed of their property?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:38 AM on October 15, 2008


Aaah the old character assasination bit. No actual arguments, of course. Like Chomsky, you start with a label "reactionary." Next you assume that we haven't read or listened to him, simply because we disagree with you. This is why he fails. He doesn't seek to convince or put forth an argument.

This is true, He doesn't seek to convince or put forth an argument. In general Chomsky refuses to engage in propaganda, which is probably one of the major reasons he is so marginalized. It would be nice if we lived in a world where most people formed opinions based on their own informed reasoning, but the fact is that the people who control how information is presented in society have a massive influence on the opinions of the general populace. Especially with the modern art of advertising being so effective.

Of course this also means it doesn't really matter much if Chomsky's positions are popular or not. The majority thinks what they are told to think.
posted by afu at 8:42 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Are you for people being forcibly dispossed of their property?

Yes, I am pro taxation. Even a wealth redistributing progressive tax scale at that.
posted by afu at 8:44 AM on October 15, 2008


Forced collectivisation may be the only way to go if we are to survive in the blighted future that rampant capitalism has left our descendents. Just a thought.
posted by asok at 8:49 AM on October 15, 2008


Also the fact that waving a red flag and yelling COMMIE, is such an effective way of debating in America is another indicator of the level of debate.

If Chomsky wasn't a Syndicalist would it change the correctness or not of his critiques?

sorry for the serial comments, it's late here...
posted by afu at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2008


Of course this also means it doesn't really matter much if Chomsky's positions are popular or not. The majority thinks what they are told to think.

Your position is that you are so much smarter than everyone else, who are just dupes and can't figure out anything at all. That's a step away from authoritarianism. Nobody agrees with you because they are not for the complete takeaway of individual's property. Many are for the taking away of others' property to benefit them, but precious few are for the taking away of their own property. Go ahead and take away the stuff of the rich man in NYC, but don't take my SUV.

That is why you fail.

Yes, I am pro taxation. Even a wealth redistributing progressive tax scale at that.

What you are describing is not taxation. Taxation is monies taken by the government to support the operation of government. Expropriation is the taking of all property away from individuals in order to change the entire economic order and the banning of private economic activity of any size.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:54 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


If Chomsky wasn't a Syndicalist would it change the correctness or not of his critiques?

No it would not. Some of his critiques are spot on. Others are not. But he really hides the ball. Its mostly critique if you read his website. I spent a good 45 minutes looking for his positions on how the economy should be organized and found very little. I have long gotten the impression that many of his supporters know what he is against and few know what he is for. That bothers me a lot.

Also the fact that waving a red flag and yelling COMMIE, is such an effective way of debating in America is another indicator of the level of debate.

Sounds like you are afraid of what Chomsky stands for. Because that is what he stands for. While I appreciate the differences between syndicalist thought and communism, let's face it, in the short hand the world uses, the guy is a commie. If you don't like that I'm sorry--but he is for many of the things the communists are/were for. Collective farming created via government decree? That's communism folks.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:03 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ridiculous. The mass of the people of the United States of America do not agree with this man's world view. I sure as hell don't want to move into an artel. You?

I kind of find Chomsky's dogmatism about anarcho-syndicalism off-putting, too. And as usual, some of his arguments work for me here, but others don't.

But I will say, in my own experience, most people I've pressed on the issue do say they wish our society were less employment oriented, with an economy tilted more favorably toward sole-proprietors and tradespeople. The most degrading and demoralizing aspect of modern economic reality in America is that, what once had the potential to become a society of socially equal individuals, pursuing their career ambitions and contributing the fruits of their labors as freemen, has in essence become a less obvious and deceptively more benign version of the feudal system. One Super Wal-Mart goes up and 20 local specialty shops go down. And the owners of all those little vanished businesses--the emerging leaders of what might have been a vital, self-sustaining community with a unique character and cultural innovations of its own--are at best reduced to mere employees, earning a meager wage and likely enjoying no higher esteem or notability within their communities than all the other anonymous employees with few options other than to work under a system that starves their communities of all but the barest economic essentials needed for survival, keeping them perpetually malnourished.

I've heard all the usual criticisms to an economy oriented toward individual tradespeople and sole-proprietorships: Running a business is a lot harder than you think; it's more work than how we do it now. Economies of scale make the other way more sensible. But all of these beliefs are self-perpetuating myths, IMO--or better yet, merely axiomatic. Our economic system works the way it does, precluding other possibilities, because we accept the axiom that a healthy economy is one in which a majority of people are employees, not one in which a majority of people are their own bosses.

And this is one respect in which neither party has really differentiated themselves in the past. All they ever talk about is creating new jobs; I'd like to hear more talk about creating a new class of securely self-employed business owners and tradespeople.

Yes, I am pro taxation. Even a wealth redistributing progressive tax scale at that.

Arrrgghhh! Yes--no. Like Ironmouth said. Please don't do this. This recent little rhetorical sleight-of-hand the right has been using to associate progressive taxation--even plans like middle-class tax cuts--with wealth redistribution is just a trick to imprint on the popular consciousness the notion that Democrats are the secret vanguard of the big bad socialists, coming to steal Mr. Monopoly's monocle and top hat sometime late in the night. Next time you see someone characterizing progressive taxation as "wealth redistribution," offer them this: From an accounting perspective, tax cuts are ultimately a form of government spending (instead of paying for a health care program, say, the government just pays people in cash, but either way, the money gets spent). Well, since rich Republicans tend to be the most vocal critics of increased government spending, surely they can support a tax policy that, in effect, reduces net government spending.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:19 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Your position is that you are so much smarter than everyone else, who are just dupes and can't figure out anything at all. That's a step away from authoritarianism. Nobody agrees with you because they are not for the complete takeaway of individual's property. Many are for the taking away of others' property to benefit them, but precious few are for the taking away of their own property. Go ahead and take away the stuff of the rich man in NYC, but don't take my SUV.

That is why you fail.


No it means I understand how politics work.

When the left had effective politicians and political movements in the U.S., basically up until the 1970s, many wonderful things happened like work safety regulations, the foundation of the social safety net and the civil rights movement. This things didn't happen because everybody in the country thoroughly thought through all the issues. It got done because the leftists of that time had effective propagandists, who were able to persuade people to their positions. These propagandists were intellectuals, who were thankfully smarter than the average person and we can thank them for nice things like the 40 hour work week.

I know it's not nice to say, but the fact is most people don't have time or inclination to look at policy issues at the level that is needed to form intelligent decisions about this. Any succesful political movement must use the proven power of propaganda (usually called by its other name "advertising") or it gives it's a opponents the upper hand.

Sounds like you are afraid of what Chomsky stands for. Because that is what he stands for. While I appreciate the differences between syndicalist thought and communism, let's face it, in the short hand the world uses, the guy is a commie. If you don't like that I'm sorry--but he is for many of the things the communists are/were for. Collective farming created via government decree? That's communism folks.


I don't really understand what communism has to do with anything. I'm not afraid of it, though I don't think it is a good idea. I'm more of a pinko Scandinavian socialist myself. Americans aren't for socialism now, but who knows what will happen five ten years from now.

If all Chomsky does is give accurate critiques of current U.S. policy, when no one else is doing it, that's good enough for me. He did manage to revolutionist linguistics at the same time as he has making all these critiques, so I assume he is a busy man.
posted by afu at 9:34 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Chomsky often appeals to what people say that they want (universal health care, us out of Iraq) but the thing is people are stupid. And not in the sense that universal health care or withdrawl from Iraq are stupid, the aren't and sort of aren't. If you ask people whether taxes should be lower they say yes, if you ask whether the government should spend more on any given service they say yes, if you ask whether the military should be cut they say no, if you ask whether the country should go deeper into debt they say no. If you take people at their word they want a wizardocracy a state run by sorcerers who using powerful spells produce something from nothing. People do not deal in grown up thoughts.

What's more people aren't meant to deal with decisions as complicated as the state. People don't understand how taxation alters incentives and behavior, about how globalization effects prices and wages, about how much of a military and what kind of military is necessary to protect us from what. People don't know what the real danger of global warming is or about the danger posed by Iran having a nuclear weapon. And by people I don't mean people other than me.

So of course people agree with Chomsky but they also agree with the opposite. That this happens is not just a result of insidious propaganda but evidence of childthink and uncertainty.
posted by I Foody at 9:36 AM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


There's a simple reason why Noam Chomsky hardly ever appears in the American mass media, or why even a Spiegel interview doesn't do him any right.

He himself puts it like this:
For example, on the unimaginable circumstance that I was on, say, Nightline, and I was asked, say, "Do you think Kadhafi is a terrorist?" I could say, "Yeah, Kadhafi is a terrorist." I don't need any evidence. Suppose I said, "George Bush is a terrorist." Well, then I would be expected to provide evidence, "Why would you say that?"

So that you aren't cut off right there.

In fact, the structure of the news production system is, you can't produce evidence. There's even a name for it -- I learned it from the producer of Nightline, Jeff Greenfield. It's called "concision." He was asked in an interview somewhere why they didn't have me on Nightline, and his answer was -- two answers. First of all, he says, "Well, he talks Turkish, and nobody understands it." But the other answer was, "He lacks concision." Which is correct, I agree with him. The kinds of things that I would say on Nightline, you can't say in one sentence because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you're expected to give evidence, and that you can't do between two commercials. So therefore you lack concision, so therefore you can't talk.

I think that's a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, and that nothing else is heard.
source: a conversation with history
Judging by many of the comments raised above, a lot of you haven't gotten a clue about mechanisms like this.
posted by ijsbrand at 9:52 AM on October 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


One can do worse than looking to Chomsky and his ilk for critique of US foreign policy. Millions of people around the globe protested the current war before it started, No one dreamed of doing this sort of thing until the US had been bombing Vietnam for years.
posted by hortense at 10:10 AM on October 15, 2008


I'm more of a pinko Scandinavian socialist myself.

They dropped that experiment years ago.

Here's the thing. I believe in democracy. I believe that it is infinitely better that the people get to make the choice who rules them. I also don't think people are stupid--they are actually pretty fucking smart. Obama knows this. That is why he is winning. He is willing to engage on the issues. He is willing to engage on the character issue. He doesn't run away from things.

I think it is more than clear who is running a campaign based on fear and rumor and who is running a campaign based on the issues. And lo and behold, the person who trusts in the native wisdom of the American people is currently poised to win.

Look at what has happened to those who opposed him. Hillary tried to pull the whole 3 a.m. phone call crap. Within 12 hours after that ad aired, Obama used her images and metaphor in his own ad to push his view that judgment was the most important thing people should look at. He took the propaganda right out of the situation by using her images and metaphor and then just laid out the facts. Hillary then got a reputation as a dirty campaigner.

Same with McCain. He tried to push this whole Ayres mess and what did it get him? A reputation as a dirty campaigner. Why? Because Obama trusted that if he just explained the fact of how he knew this guy in plain language, people would understand and see it for what it was, an attempt to distract the people from the most important issues of our day.

Chomsky does have to make an argument in a democratic society if he wants to change things for the better. But the people reject his argument. They do not want the type of socialism he offers as an alternative.

The weakest argument of all is to blame (1) the media or (2) the people for not getting his argument. Why? Because it isn't really an argument. It isn't falsifiable. Its very terms make it impossible to evaluate based on data. It is like a schizophrenic's argument. The very terms of the argument, that others are manipulating things to prevent the "real" argument from getting out make it impossible to determine that it is true. False consciousness has a long tradition in Marxist thought. But it is essentially unprovable because it requires that one believe in a premise that is not provable--that the Marxist materialist analysis of political relations is the absolute truth. I don't believe it to be so. Few do these days because it hasn't borne out.

More importantly, Chomsky is a perfect example of why the far left hasn't taken root in this country or any other. He essentially abandon's the effort to obtain the consent of the governed by arguing that false consciousness makes it impossible to win that argument. I think the far left and much of Chomsky's critique has a lot to offer society. But with his false consciousness argument, he doesn't obtain that consent and therefore fails--fails in a way that makes his failure perfectly explainable.

When false consciousness is the basis for your idea of why your ideas are not met with general acceptance, you are left with a single alternative if you wish to have your ideas form the basis for social and economic organization: force. And that's how you get to his quotes about how the Chinese collectivization of farms was a good thing. Too bad for him the Chinese abandoned that effort in 1979.

You know, I think that the people who got together and wrote the Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787 had it right. They knew the American people wouldn't always get it right, but that with the ability to elect leaders every few years, they would correct the errors. We aren't perfect, certainly. But the idea that you can trust the electorate to eventually come to a point where it will find a equilibrium that will work given the circumstances of society is absolutely critical to the idea of democracy. If you do not believe in that, you cannot have a democracy. If you think the people cannot be trusted, then you must be opposed to democracy, which is the government that is based on trust on the ability of the adult population to come to governance solutions that get the job done.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:13 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, and that nothing else is heard.

I convince people for a living. Consicion is critical. The human mind imposes it. In fact, I find it surprising that Chomsky, a man that pioneered the theory of generative grammar--the idea that much of our way of speaking and understanding the world is built-in, would then turn around and not put his arguments in a way which can be understood by the mass of the people. Because in a society based on consent of the governed, you must be able to reach people who do not have the time to endlessly debate things and you must frame the argument in the forms that people are built to understand. In other words, the belief that the right answer is only understood by a few is undemocratic.

Frankly, when I see an argument that is not concise, I see an argument that is not rigorous, that is not coherent, that goes easily off course and can easily degenerate into the emotional. An argument that is not concise is a weak argument--if it is an argument at all. Perhaps Chomsky is just a poor explainer of his own ideas. But I doubt it. I think he knows the mass of the people in industrialized nations agree with some of his critiques, but disagree with his prescription for solving the problems those critiques address.

The quote also assumes that Chomsky's ideas are not a party line of their own.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:24 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The weakest argument of all is to blame (1) the media or (2) the people for not getting his argument.

I think you overestimate the intelligence of groups of people and underestimate the power of the corporate media. Democracy is great and all, but democracies still do really shitty things like get into wars in Iraq and Vietnam. I also don't get where you are saying Chomsky is anti democracy, being for collective farms doesn't make you necessarily against democracy.

If you don't think Obama is a master propagandist you are deluding yourself.
posted by afu at 10:44 AM on October 15, 2008


AT&T does not have a voter registration card. Sure, they may pay out to candidates, they may fund campaigns, they may pay lobbyists by the bucketfull, but they don't get to vote for candidates

Why would they want to? The current system is much better from their point of view.

An election is risky. Just by setting foot on the playing field, corporations open up the possibility that they might lose. That's completely unacceptable to these guys. Worse (from their point of view), the general public is the opposition team. So you'd have corporate CEOs competing on a (somewhat more) level playing field with Joe Six Pack. They don't want that. Mr. Pack might win. Then where would they be? Next time they wanted the government to bail them out of an economic crisis, the G - representing the interests of Mr. Pack and friends - might tell them "no." Can you imagine?

In constrast, when corporations vote with their checkbooks (as is currently the case), there's no risk and no competition. There's no danger that Mr. Pack is going to become involved in the process. The corporations always win. They just contribute money to both major parties. That way, whoever gets elected works for them.

Now, as for the differences (or lack thereof) between the Democratic and Republican parties and Chomsky's opinions on the subject...

He's actually given interviews in which he advised Nader not to run because he thought there was a chance he'd throw the election to the Republicans. He even suggested (and I think he borrowed this idea from somewhere else) that if Nader felt he just had to run, he should promise to have his electors vote for the democrats (though I don't know that this would prevent Florida from happening again). Further, Chomsky's said on many occasions that the Bushists are such lunatic, radical thugs that we should all do whatever we have to (short of, like, blowing up the planet) to keep them out of office. He's also said repeatedly that even in relatively small matters - such as choosing federal judges, for example - the differences between the parties could have enormous impact on the lives of some people. These things alone would more than justify choosing one candidate over the other, he contends.

(I'll dig up the links to support all of this if you really want, but, I promise you, I know my Chomsky.)
posted by Clay201 at 10:45 AM on October 15, 2008


I also don't get where you are saying Chomsky is anti democracy

Because he believes that the voters are incapable of seeing past some sort of "media control" of his ideas. Essentially, he feels voters are too dumb to make the right calls. That ain't pro-democracy. You either believe that the voters eventually come to a point where they make good calls or you don't. That's anti-democratic, to say that the voters can't figure it out.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I'll dig up the links to support all of this if you really want, but, I promise you, I know my Chomsky.)

We'll take the links, thanks.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:50 AM on October 15, 2008


democracies still do really shitty things like get into wars in Iraq and Vietnam

because all of those other types of governments are somehow not getting into imperialist wars too? Soviet invasions in Hungary, Czechoslovokia and Afghanistan anyone? PRC take over in Tibet?

Democracy is the best we're going to get.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you don't think Obama is a master propagandist you are deluding yourself.

Please support assertion.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:56 AM on October 15, 2008


int'vu w/ nader last nite, fwiw :P
...what Congress should have done is add to Bush's blank check with comprehensive regulation to prevent this; criminal prosecution resources for the culprits on Wall Street; more power to the shareholders to control their company and restrain their bosses' excesses, real taxpayer equity, with good conditions and, finally, making them pay for it.

If you make the speculators pay for their own bailout, then there's a relief throughout America that there's some fairness coming out of Washington.

A 0.1 percent tax on security derivative transactions in one year -- it's going to be $500 trillion of transactions in one year -- is $500 billion. So that alone would make a sense of equity. And you wouldn't put it on the backs of the taxpayer.

England has that kind of tax, by the way, for years. FDR had it. We helped finance the Civil War with it. But after World War II, it was scrapped.

So people go into a store in all your areas where your show shows, and they buy necessities of life, and they pay 6 percent or 7 percent sales tax. Tomorrow, someone in Wall Street can buy a billion dollars of Exxon derivatives, pay no sales tax. That's where the fairness has to go...

You re-install comprehensive regulation. It was Clinton's deregulation, with the Republican support in 1999-2000, opened this huge speculative excess, number one.

And, number two, shareholders are stripped of any authority. It's a violation of capitalist principles for people who own their companies to have no control over their bosses. And their bosses go wild with self-enrichment schemes that the mainstream press has written about constantly. That's second.

And then, third -- this is very, very important -- that there's got to be justice. People are crying out against this gross unfairness, where these bosses on Wall Street tank their own companies, un-employ hundreds of thousands of workers, and jump ship into a golden lifeboat.

And then their companies demand that socialism in Washington -- think of the irony -- has to bail out corporate capitalism in Wall Street.

The only place left for capitalism in this country is small business, because they're free to go bankrupt. They don't get bailed out.

...more soldiers in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border is going to destabilize Pakistan. The National Intelligence Estimate of Mr. Bush just came out with a statement saying there's never been more violence and chaos in Afghanistan since 9/11.

So we have to look to wise people, like Ashraf Ghani, who is the finance minister for Karzai, the president, and who is a professor here in this country, a native Afghani, who says you've got to connect with the tribal leaders and give them and their people jobs, public works, security, and that will be the buffer against the people who just want chaos...

You know, give them the time. I'd have to ask people to contact our Web site for more details, VoteNader.org, where we have this elaborated -- we invite volunteers. We invite donations. We take no money from commercial interests.

But I know this area. My parents came from Lebanon at age 19. We know the language. We know the authority of the religious leaders, the tribal leaders is still intact. And that's what we have to do to it.

Any diminution of violence in recent months in Iraq have been due to realignments between these authority figures. And that's what we have to support, not more preferring one sectarian group over another, wheeling and dealing $100 bills, and the intrigue, and the revenge killings.

And, also, there's no way to knock the bottom out of the insurgency, which will ebb and rise, according to circumstances, than to eliminate the occupation of their country and give Iraq back to the Iraqis and their oil back.

And it would help if the U.S. government would support the peace movements in Israel and Palestine, which have worked out a two-state solution, which was somehow prohibited from appearing in Congress. They're off-limits to the two- party campaigns, Obama and McCain.

And it's disgracefully cowardly for these two people who are smart. I know them. They know what it takes to make peace between the Israelis and Palestine people.

A majority of Jewish-Americans, Arab-Americans want a two-state solution. So do the majority of the Israelis and the Palestinians. And, instead, both major candidates support the hard-liners.

You don't make peace by supporting the militaristic repression, occupation and colonization of Palestine.
cheers!
posted by kliuless at 11:04 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth,

I think this one link covers everything in my Chomsky paragraph:

Chomsky on Nader and the importance of opposing Bush.

As for the point that China and Russia are given to invading countries...

Yeah, they are, but I don't see the relevance. And yes, democracy is a wonderful thing, but no one's talking about abandoning it, so I don't know why you're bothering to make the assertion.

If it's wrong when they do it, it's also wrong when we do it.

Because he believes that the voters are incapable of seeing past some sort of "media control" of his ideas. Essentially, he feels voters are too dumb to make the right calls.

Please provide a link to an article or video in which he says this. I've heard him say, on many occasions, exactly the opposite.
posted by Clay201 at 11:16 AM on October 15, 2008


kliuless, I saw that interview too. Not all, but the majority of what he said made sense. I must be getting old...

Woulda been cool to have him in one of the debates.

.
posted by Artful Codger at 11:22 AM on October 15, 2008


Because he believes that the voters are incapable of seeing past some sort of "media control" of his ideas. Essentially, he feels voters are too dumb to make the right calls.

Please provide a link to an article or video in which he says this. I've heard him say, on many occasions, exactly the opposite.


okay

The elections are run by the same guys who sell toothpaste. They show you an image of a sports hero, or a sexy model, or a car going up a sheer cliff or something, which has nothing to do with the commodity, but it’s intended to delude you into picking this one rather than another one. Same when they run elections. But they’re assigned that task in order to marginalize the public, and furthermore, people are pretty well aware of it.

For many years, election campaigns here have been run by the public relations industry and each time it’s with increasing sophistication. Quite naturally, the industry uses the same technique to sell candidates that it uses to sell toothpaste or lifestyle drugs. The point is to undermine markets by projecting imagery to delude and suppressing information—and similarly, to undermine democracy by the same method.


In otherwords people were deluded into voting for their choice.

You'll see that he argues at the top of that article that it wasn't because people are stupid, but once he gets into the meat of it, it is the same old 'false consciousness' argument.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 AM on October 15, 2008


Slight derail, but I want to point out that this is a really bad characterization of generative grammar:

the theory of generative grammar--the idea that much of our way of speaking and understanding the world is built-in

The generative program is a theory about syntax and word order, and in a larger sense, the human language facility. It says nothing about the way we "understand... the world."

Feel free to continue the discussion of Chomsky's political views, but don't try to use linguistic theory against him. Carry on.
posted by tractorfeed at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2008


Noam Chomsky taught me grammar -- and I didn't even have to do anything! It was all right there in my brain! Thanks, Noam!
posted by spiderwire at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


The generative program is a theory about syntax and word order, and in a larger sense, the human language facility. It says nothing about the way we "understand... the world."

I didn't even preview that comment first. This is wrong. If Chomsky is correct, then a certain way of understanding the world (i.e. in a way that is amenable to a certain syntax) has to be hard-wired into our brains. At minimum, a deterministic syntax implicates some fundamental concepts of cardinality, discreteness, causality, etc.

Feel free to continue the discussion of Chomsky's political views, but don't try to use linguistic theory against him. Carry on.

Actually, you can make an argument that Chomsky's linguistic theories -- deterministic and fundamentalist as they are -- match up quite well with this political theories, and it's informative to compare them, because it gives you an insight as to how Chomsky comes to the conclusions that he does in both cases.

That said, I disagree with ironmouth's argument that Chomsky isn't persuasive -- he may be wrong, but he's popular for a reason. If he wasn't such a good writer, it would be more obvious how nuts he is.
posted by spiderwire at 12:02 PM on October 15, 2008


Jammy, I'm not the one claiming that I have emprical data. Another poster up top claimed that Chomsky did.

but you are claiming to know what the "American people" believe... and this is based on what exactly? your good word as a gentleman? or that you "convince people for a living"?

Are you for people being forcibly dispossed of their property?

depends - your question is so general & vague as to be meaningless - but I assume you're trying to say that Chomsky is an advocate of this kind of commie badliness: gangs of armed party thugs coming to take your Blackberry & give it to some undeserving bum who could get a job but he's just lazy - or something

but Chomsky doesn't advocate any such thing, and the fact that you assert such shows that you have little familiarity with his work (& no, the quote you cherry-picked above doesn't show this either - try reading the whole statement - or, hey, even the whole interview)

Democracy is the best we're going to get.

if you define democracy as the current state of affairs in the U.S., then I beg to differ - we not only could do a lot better, we all deserve a lot better - or are you just riffing some Panglossian wisdom for the young'uns, secure in your knowledge that all's been said & done?
posted by jammy at 12:29 PM on October 15, 2008


Here's a good anecdote/metaphor illustrating the linguistics/politics nexus:

I was doing some legal research on animal rights a while back, it turns that a lot of animal-rights activists hate Chomsky, because he torpedoes every study that comes out arguing for the existence of primate language as inconsistent with his precious deterministic grammar theory. (You may have heard of the famous Nim Chimpsky -- the researchers named him that because they see Chomsky as their opponent.) For purely theoretical reasons, Chomsky absolutely will not tolerate evidence that non-human brains are capable of logic or cognition.

That's convenient for people doing lab testing on primates (which is horrifying stuff), because Chomsky carries a lot of academic weight -- buttressed by his political fame -- and he doesn't hesitate to throw it around. There are more than a few who think that were it not for Chomsky, non-human primate grammar would be widely accepted -- and that if it were, the political community would be forced to ban primate testing (which makes sense: the similarity of human and non-human primate brains is the whole reason for the testing in the first place). It's at least clear that he's a big influence.

Now, Noam Chomsky's universal grammar theory may be correct. But he's not a biologist, he's not a geneticist, and he's not qualified to claim there's an evolutionary split between humans and other primates bestowing the gift of grammar on the former -- but he does anyway, in defense of his pretty little patch of academic turf. He does it because he's convinced that he's right -- that his theories and judgment trump even small, empirical exceptions to his rule.

But practical exceptions would be too messy for Chomsky, because they'd disrupt the neat absolutism of generative grammar -- which is all well and good for him, but not for the researchers who he shoots down for no good reason, nor the experimental subjects who suffer as a result.

Draw what other comparisons you wish, but they do exist.
posted by spiderwire at 12:30 PM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ironmouth wrote:

Expropriation is the taking of all property away from individuals in order to change the entire economic order and the banning of private economic activity of any size.

So it's basically like what the rich are doing to my 401K right?
posted by any major dude at 12:32 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth

No.

He's arguing that voters are decieved, not that they're "too dumb to make the right calls." Further, he says, in the text you quote, that they're quite aware of the deception.

He's said many times that the movement against the Viet Nam war, the civil rights movement, and other such advances were made because ordinary people became involved in the political process. They formed organizations, asked questions, created alternate forms of media and communication, applied political pressure, etc. He's constantly calling for more involvement of the public in politics.

He's written extensively about the media and how it frames the debates on important issues. He contends that people have a strong sense that they're being bullshitted - he cites polls which show that they tend not to trust the news media or the government - but that to go out and investigate for themselves would require a lot of time and energy they don't have because they have to work to support their families.

So, let's say you've got a guy who thinks Obama is the greatest thing since sliced bread. He thinks Obama's going to stop the US from allying with fascist middle east dictators, whereas you and I know Obama won't do anything of the sort. Now, would Chomsky say this voter guy is deluded? Yeah, but he'd blame it on the media and the culture in general, not on the guy himelf. Would Chomsky say that voter guy is capable of understanding the truth and acting on it? Sure. He insists on it, in fact.

In the article to which you link, Chomsky talks about polls in which 80% of the public support a national health care plan but almost none of the politicians do. He's saying that people know what's right and they know what they want. It's their leaders who oppose it and make sure it isn't discussed on CNN (and by CNN, I mean any mainstream, corporate-owned media organization).

Chomsky is saying that people are mis-informed and that some of them buy into obvious bullshit. Of course, he always points out that it's the most "educated" people who buy into it the hardest and the fastest. He also points out that an awful lot of people don't vote and don't participate in politics because they just don't feel that it makes any difference who gets elected. These are the people who realize it's bullshit and refuse to swallow, but they don't know what else they can do about it.

So he's not painting a picture of a bunch of idiots out there who need to be lead along on a leash. He's painting a picture of a bunch of ordinary people struggling against a system of propaganda and lies and a group of elites trying to keep them down.
posted by Clay201 at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


AT&T does not have a voter registration card. Sure, they may pay out to candidates, they may fund campaigns, they may pay lobbyists by the bucketfull, but they don't get to vote for candidates

Actually, this isn't exactly true. AT&T and other big business interests have disproportionate influence over the selection process that determines which candidates we get to vote on in the first place through a number of different mechanisms. AT&T executives might make massive, indirect contributions to a particular candidate's campaign by bundling individual hard money donations from their executives and other stakeholders', adroitly skirting the intent of campaign finance rules. Enlisting well-connected industry leaders to bundle large campaign contributions is a technique both parties have used effectively in the past. And then of course, corporations can establish PACs to contribute to their preferred candidates.

And at the state level in many states, additional, direct campaign contributions from corporations are fair game, which provides another route for corporate money to influence the process.

Campaign finance at the state level is a different ballgame all together, really. What sensible political party wouldn't want to ensure they fielded a candidate that would make corporate contributors cough up more dough for their legislative candidates? In 2008, PACS accounted for $212,314,252 of the total contributions made to candidates for the House of Representatives; individual contributions accounted for $321,855,321 of the total. In other words, above board corporate contributions accounted for almost as much as individual contributions. There's no telling how much more corporate money came in the form of bundled contributions (with companies essentially giving employees "bonuses" to donate to a particular candidate, for example).

As we all know, we seem to be permanently wedded to a two-party system in this country. Well, as a practical reality, that means only those candidates allowed to participate in the primary selection process of one of the two major parties ever stands a practical chance of gaining the presidency. The parties are free to allow or disallow candidates to participate in their primaries according to whatever criteria they like, and fund-raising ability is inevitably one of the main criteria. These systematic features of the process, taken in the gestalt, grossly favor individuals with established ties to major corporate interests, business-friendly policies, or otherwise favorable to the influence of wealthy interests.

So who cares if AT&T doesn't actually get to vote if AT&T does have a disproportionate influence over what candidates even get to run?

Now, I have only a limited knowledge of Chomsky's overall body of work, but I think this is what Chomsky's trying to get at when he writes about how, fundamentally, the two parties are more alike than not. But Chomsky does overstate his case a lot, sometimes leaving the impression that only a party that flatly rejects free enterprise would really satisfy his criterion of "fundamentally different." His points about the uses of propaganda, IMO, are often spot on, though. Like it or not, our government (like all governments) devotes significant resources to lying about its intentions and obscuring various other inconvenient realities. Anyone who, like Chomsky or Orwell before him, devotes a significant share of time and energy to identifying and unpacking the specific mechanisms these propaganda techniques employ is doing a public service IMO, not insulting the public's intelligence.

He's a linguist. It's part of his job description to detect subtle patterns in language-use that may escape ordinary notice. In the same way that we can't all be expected to diagnose a point of failure in a malfunctioning rocket thruster, we can't all be expected to parse out subtle connotative or denotative nuances that belie the surface meaning of a political utterance. It's not an insult to the public's intelligence when a rocket scientist says, "Hey, here's the problem with this rocket thruster." So why is it an insult when a linguist says, "Hey, here's what's wrong with this particular use of language" (assuming we posit that using language expressly to mislead isn't a legitimate use)?

Too bad he doesn't stop himself there, though. He could skip the parts where he goes beyond simple diagnosis and goes into over-reaching political analysis. It's enough to point out how we can tell when our leaders lie to us; he shouldn't offer up his own lies in place of theirs: we should be left to choose our own.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:59 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


What’s wrong with wealth redistribution? Beyond a certain level I mean?
I figure I could be worth about $5 million in terms of pure productivity, etc. How could any one person be worth $5 billion?

I mean - looking at it plainly - yes, Chomsky’s wrong. There are clear and fundimental differences between the two parties.
But those differences are only in the way they achieve their objectives. Their objectives are - from a much more broad perspective - pretty much the same: serving the money.

I’m not taking the Cicero route and blaming the ubiquity of wealth among our senators (although that’s a big part of it) or asserting they’re toeing the line the wealthy set for them because they need cash to run campaigns (although they do) - but rather that - with the concentration of vast wealth (and as I said, not the pissant $5 million I think I could bank over my lifetime) - all policy, intentioned or not, bends to serve it.

Even an individual senator with the best of intentions in government has to make sure the economy is stable and to do that might have to defer to the people with enough money to disrupt the economy.

I refuse to believe that someone with $500 million dollars to throw around is less of a potential threat to society than me with a handgun.

And, like Jefferson, I think the of Joe Blow having that $500 million is more harm and danger than benefit to society.

I mean it’s ok to get rich. You make some money, you’re a movie star, best selling author - whatever, swell. But beyond a certain amount of wealth - (arbitrarially say $5 million) why not up the taxes?
It’s not as though, even in the examples of the writer or movie star, the money was made purely on personal merit without the aid and benefit of society.
But all that aside - amassing personal weath beyond being accountable for one’s actions and having the ability to influence the government to bend to one’s will - is not the guiding principle of the U.S.

We were not founded on the idea that every man is a potential king, even if most of us are peasants.

The government is supposed to work for all of us, not some more than others simply because they make a buck faster.

The only way the argument that the government will deprive you of your rights capriciously works is if you accept that it operates capriciously in the first place - that is - in an unstable fashion.

Well, because of some powerful but competing interests that’s what we have now. Individuals are capricious and unstable. They die, too. So we gave up kings. Generations are also capricious and unstable. So we saw the changes wrought by the French revolution (Thermidor for July and so forth) failed.
People and their needs are relatively stable.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:09 PM on October 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


If Chomsky is correct, then a certain way of understanding the world (i.e. in a way that is amenable to a certain syntax) has to be hard-wired into our brains. At minimum, a deterministic syntax implicates some fundamental concepts of cardinality, discreteness, causality, etc.


Generative grammar as a theory has nothing to say about cardinality or causality, if I'm understanding how you're using these terms. The cognition involved in human language might be related to or rely on other cognitive facilities, but these are not part of the theory.

For purely theoretical reasons, Chomsky absolutely will not tolerate evidence that non-human brains are capable of logic or cognition.

Please provide a citation where he has said this. The fact that non-humans do not have anything close to the language facility does not mean that they have no cognitive capacity at all. They might be able to communicate on a rudimentary level, but this communication does not have many of the fundamental hallmarks of human language (recursion, talk of counterfactuals, etc.). Chomsky, along with most working linguists these days, recognizes that non-human brains are not capable of learning human languages. Neither Nim nor Koko nor any other primate has demonstrated the capacity to learn human grammar. Chomsky is not shooting down researchers for "no good reason," he is just failing to believe a claim ("non-human primates can communicate like humans can!") that is not backed up by any evidence. He doesn't have to be a biologist or geneticist to come to this conclusion. Here's a nice summary of the arguments against the validity of various experiments done with non-human primates and human languages.

Animal rights activists should not view this as a threat, and in fact a tempting conclusion to draw if you were to accept that non-human primates can learn ASL and therefore shouldn't undergo experiments is that any animal that can't learn a human language is fair game. Gorillas and chimps are clearly sophisticated creatures and should be treated with respect and not tortured regardless of whether they can learn a human language (they can't).

It's also probably not that constructive to view Chomsky's status as a linguist as being an integral part of his political analysis, at least in the same way that other linguists tie these fields together (e.g. Lakoff, Nunberg, to name a few).
posted by tractorfeed at 1:17 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I’ll add - that’s based on my conservative viewpoint. I believe that any government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it away. But I can have a voice in government (ideally). Some guy who’s got a billion dollars is big enough to brush me and everyone I know aside like an ant. And there’s not a damn thing I can say or do about that. Except, maybe, go to the government for help. Folks keep saying “smaller government.” Well...so do I. But ostensibly what is supposed to be meant by that is “more freedom.” But we’re often talking two different things in terms of what it is we want freedom from, seems to me.)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:18 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Generative grammar as a theory has nothing to say about cardinality or causality, if I'm understanding how you're using these terms. The cognition involved in human language might be related to or rely on other cognitive facilities, but these are not part of the theory.

Well, let's specify first that Chomsky actually believes in a universal grammar -- which does implicate cognition, insofar as the claim is that language ability results from some innate structural component of the human brain. The term "generative grammar" is less specific, and doesn't necessarily involve cognition -- but Chomsky's theory definitely does.

Now, you might be arguing that causality (for example) is innate in the world rather than cognition, but Chomsky would disagree with you. In fact, Chomsky's 1959 review of B.F. Skinner's book (which made him famous) specifically critiqued animal research on that basis -- Chomsky argued that reference to external events was insufficiently explanatory of some aspects of grammar, and therefore there had to be some innate organizing structure in the brain to account for it.

Please provide a citation where he has said this. The fact that non-humans do not have anything close to the language facility does not mean that they have no cognitive capacity at all.

You're importing a different definition of "cognition" from the first part of your argument (i.e., whether Chomsky's notion of grammar implicates a worldview, which it does). As to animal "cognition," the question is instead whether animals are capable of human thought, which, as you indicate, is an empirical question not necessarily related to language capacity.

Chomsky's objections to primate research studies generally take the form of pithy little theoretical quips, not substantive objections. His grammatical theory necessarily excludes the possibility that animals can "think" like humans, because if they could, there'd be no rational basis for distinguishing a universal grammar. To Chomsky, logical descriptiveness is not an optional feature of language -- it's what qualifies it as a "human" language in the first place.

Chomsky, along with most working linguists these days, recognizes that non-human brains are not capable of learning human languages. Neither Nim nor Koko nor any other primate has demonstrated the capacity to learn human grammar. Chomsky is not shooting down researchers for "no good reason," he is just failing to believe a claim ("non-human primates can communicate like humans can!") that is not backed up by any evidence.

Oops. The problem here was that you already made up your mind, not that you had a rational objection to any of this. There are a lot of people who disagree with you, whether you think they're right or not. The notion that the opposing claim "is not backed up by any evidence" is just flatly untrue, but I suppose if you've already categorically dismissed anybody who disagrees with you (i.e., who has a different interpretation of primate language studies) there's not much point in arguing otherwise.

He doesn't have to be a biologist or geneticist to come to this conclusion.

He believes that there is an evolutionary split between humans and other primates, and no, he is not qualified to make that conclusion, particularly not solely based on his linguistic theory. And he came to that conclusion prior to the primate language studies, not in response to them, which should indicate to you why it's total nonsense.

Animal rights activists should not view this as a threat, and in fact a tempting conclusion to draw if you were to accept that non-human primates can learn ASL and therefore shouldn't undergo experiments is that any animal that can't learn a human language is fair game.

It's not that anyone "views" it as a threat, it is a threat because Chomsky pulls so much weight. How in the world does the fact that primates are cognitively akin to humans or capable of logic in justify other animal experimentation? It just means that experimenting on primates is equivalent to experimenting on humans, which is generally agreed to be a Bad Thing. This is like arguing that anyone condemning the Tuskegee Experiment advocates experimenting on rabbits. It's absurd.

It's also probably not that constructive to view Chomsky's status as a linguist as being an integral part of his political analysis, at least in the same way that other linguists tie these fields together (e.g. Lakoff, Nunberg, to name a few).

Interesting, but I didn't say that. I said that Chomsky's political analysis parallels his work on language, and that it's an informative comparison. Both theories are universalist, selectively positivist, structuralist, deterministic, and they both depend on a notion of a complex "hidden structure" (conveniently only perceptible to Noam Chomsky) that informs outcomes. The content is different, but the methodology is nearly identical.
posted by spiderwire at 2:10 PM on October 15, 2008


Ironmouth, you say you're pro-democracy, but it sounds like you're pro-duopoly. Is your definition of democracy "two parties controlled by Madison's 'minority of the opulent'"? Because, so long as the Electoral College is in place, that's what we've got.
posted by shetterly at 2:14 PM on October 15, 2008


So he's not painting a picture of a bunch of idiots out there who need to be lead along on a leash. He's painting a picture of a bunch of ordinary people struggling against a system of propaganda and lies and a group of elites trying to keep them down.

But, at their core, they are unable to break through and vote "properly" as Chomsky sees it. The theory is crap. He wants it both ways. He wants to say that people are being decieved by lies, but he doesn't want to admit to anyone that he thinks they are too dumb to figure it out and agree with him. The only thing he won't contemplate is that he is wrong--that the American people (and the Europeans) want a capitalist system, that they do not want a syndicalist system where some property and the right to engage in economic activity of their own choosing is taken away.

In the end, his class-based analysis fails because it is based on the idea that the classes actually exist. They do not. They are a shorthand, a conceptual tool that many use in decision-making, but there is no "class interest" as an objective phenomenon. Therefore, those who base their political beliefs on the objective existence of such a thing are wrong.

Guess what. The American people want capitalism. If they did not, they would not continue its existence.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:21 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


depends - your question is so general & vague as to be meaningless - but I assume you're trying to say that Chomsky is an advocate of this kind of commie badliness: gangs of armed party thugs coming to take your Blackberry & give it to some undeserving bum who could get a job but he's just lazy - or something

This kind of classic straw man argumentation is just useless.

this is what having a collectivist/syndicalist system would do however. How do you think that a collective farm would work? People would just voluntarily give up the farms they and their families have worked? Even if you only went after corporate farming, you are still taking away the property of others to enforce another economic system. The stock in that agribusiness is owned by the rich. But it is also owned by public and private pension plans as well. That's the money of the little people too.

So it's basically like what the rich are doing to my 401K right?

Wrong. The rich are making money off of you when your 401k did well, not now. Right now your wealth is being vaporized. Nobody gets it. That's what underregulated capitalism does.

But you gave your money to the "rich" fully being aware of the fact that you could lose it, right? I know you loved it when returns were high, but you must have known that by doing so you were taking a risk, right?
posted by Ironmouth at 2:28 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I mean it’s ok to get rich. You make some money, you’re a movie star, best selling author - whatever, swell. But beyond a certain amount of wealth - (arbitrarially say $5 million) why not up the taxes?

Agreed. But that isn't what Chomsky is for. He's for real, live, anarcho-syndicalist socialism. I'm all about heavy taxation, and I fully believe that inheritance is inconsistent with the meritocracy that the GOP would like us to believe is our capitalist paradise.

I fully believe that the system of government set up has a lot of protections for captial. And I fully believe that we ought to charge the rich for those protections. They get more out of every dollar in taxes.

But I don't think we should be in a commune-based system. At all. That is what Chomsky ultimately believes in. I don't think most Chomskyites understand this.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:34 PM on October 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, you say you're pro-democracy, but it sounds like you're pro-duopoly. Is your definition of democracy "two parties controlled by Madison's 'minority of the opulent'"? Because, so long as the Electoral College is in place, that's what we've got.

I am for the ability of individuals to vote for representatives, who have the full-time job of voting on legislation and running the executive branch. there is no perfect democracy, we have a representative democracy.

Nor does the electoral college require a two party system. For the first 80 years of our history it was not so.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:37 PM on October 15, 2008


If they did not, they would not continue its existence.

How, if the only two viable political parties depend on industry leaders and other wealthy individual contributors for their continued existence? In 2004, 90% of Americans accounted for only 28.7% of the total net worth in the economy. And in 2005, the top 20% of income earners accounted for 55.1% of all pre-tax income in America. So who do you think the parties answer to?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:56 PM on October 15, 2008


Ironmouth, check your history. We've been a duopoly since the days of the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The only successful jockeying was the creation of the Republicans, and because three parties can't survive in a two-party system, the Whigs died.

Yes, the Constitution does not dictate this. But to change it, we either need to amend the Constitution to get rid of the Electoral College or get enough states to agree to use their electoral votes to support the candidate who wins the popular vote.
posted by shetterly at 3:44 PM on October 15, 2008


no parties in Europe or the U.S. are calling for government ownership of the means of production as a permanent way of organizing the economy

It's early days still: most people are still getting their bearings about what is happening--the situation is fluid--so it seems premature to say what will or will not come out of all the turmoil in the financial markets. What is certain is that the semi-nationalization of the global banking system has happened with breathtaking speed, and there will almost certainly be long-term political changes afoot depending on what happens with the economy in the coming days and years. It's quite possible in the long-term that a new breed of grassroots political socialism, in one form or another, will now follow in the wake of the socialization of the banking system. The case for socialism seems especially strong in the wake of recent events.
posted by ornate insect at 3:47 PM on October 15, 2008


wow, Ironmouth, Chomsky really brings it out in you, don't he? is he, like, your arch-nemesis, or something? it actually does sound like it could be a good fight: SteelChairToTheHead productions brings you Ironmouth vs. The Chompsker!

But I don't think we should be in a commune-based system. At all. That is what Chomsky ultimately believes in. I don't think most Chomskyites understand this.

let me see if I've got this straight: you're saying that people who are in general agreement with Chomsky's world views or who have any interest in what he has to say (i.e. a "Chomskyite") don't really understand what he's really saying

but that you, on the other hand, really do understand what Chomsky's really saying

so, your position is that "you are so much smarter than everyone else, who are just dupes and can't figure out anything at all," no?

but we all know what that's one step away from, don't we?
posted by jammy at 4:23 PM on October 15, 2008


Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez.

Let's change the voting system.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:04 PM on October 15, 2008


so, your position is that "you are so much smarter than everyone else, who are just dupes and can't figure out anything at all," no?

I think I can answer that for ironmouth, since he already responded to the objection upthread: the point of living in a republic as opposed to a pure democracy is that people often have the capability but not the time to make informed political decisions -- hence the decision to employ professional bureaucrats (politicians) to run the system.

The reason for adopting such a system in the first place is -- theoretically -- that it makes the country less subject to pure demagoguery of the "less taxes, more services" sort that tends to paralyze governments that have to entertain not just the will but the whims of its people. (See, e.g., California's problems with ballot referendums, or the shrinking portion of discretionary spending in the federal budget.)

Republics are threatened from the right by totalitarians who try to take control from the people, but also from the left by demagogues who think that every decision by the people should be absolutely controlling; neither approach leads to free or fair government. Chomsky constantly points out that he falls in the latter category; his objection has nothing to do with a party duopoly nor direct vs. proportional representation, and everything to do with his fundamental objection to government in general.
posted by spiderwire at 5:34 PM on October 15, 2008


let me see if I've got this straight: you're saying that people who are in general agreement with Chomsky's world views or who have any interest in what he has to say (i.e. a "Chomskyite") don't really understand what he's really saying

And just to preempt the inevitable qualification of this argument as "people might agree with Chomsky for different reasons and you're overgeneralizing wah wah":

Everyone is "in general agreement" with any number of major political figures -- most "Reaganites" agreed with Ronald Reagan; most "Naderites" agree with Ralph Nader in the same sense. Still, many of those people wouldn't agree with Nader or Reagan's policies if they were actually implemented.

As ironmouth suggests, that is a failure of (a) the soundbite nature of the policies themselves; (b) the people who buy the policies; and (c) the advocates' political fundamentalism that enables that sort of herd politics. Unsurprisingly, it's exactly those things that representative democracy (and to a lesser degree, capitalism) is aimed at solving.
posted by spiderwire at 5:46 PM on October 15, 2008


Ironmouth wrote:

Wrong. The rich are making money off of you when your 401k did well, not now. Right now your wealth is being vaporized. Nobody gets it. That's what underregulated capitalism does.

Are You sure about that?
posted by any major dude at 6:15 AM on October 16, 2008


But, at their core, they are unable to break through and vote "properly" as Chomsky sees it.

Since Chomsky contends that elections are a joke and that none of the candidates who are permitted to win represent the interests of the general population, there would be, in his view, no "proper" vote. At least, not in the sense that the vote would advance the agenda of the person casting it.The best you could hope for, according to him, is a vote for the lesser of two evils.

However, he adamantly insists that people are capable of effective, useful political action. Indeed, grass-roots movements are, in his view, pretty much the only way that positive progress takes place. He frequently cites examples such as the groups protesting the WTO, South American peasants who elect leaders from their own ranks, anti-war groups, etc. I'll provide you with links if you want, but, really, he pounds on this theme every time he gives a speech. If you just googled his name and clicked on the first three links, you'd have your proof.

he doesn't want to admit to anyone that he thinks they are too dumb to figure it out and agree with him.

Let's see if I've got this right.

Chomsky says that people know there's something wrong and are capable of acting to improve the situation, but he's actually thinking the opposite; that they'll never understand what's going on and are incapable of acting to change it. And you know he believes the opposite of what he's saying because... you can read his mind?

There's no way to debate a statement like that. I've read and/or listened to probably several million words by the guy, but I can't tell you what takes place inside his head. Nor can anyone else. We can only evaluate what he says or writes in public.

The only thing he won't contemplate is that he is wrong--that the American people (and the Europeans) want a capitalist system, that they do not want a syndicalist system where some property and the right to engage in economic activity of their own choosing is taken away.

He certainly advocates public control of resources like water, minerals, oil, etc. He also says it's wrong for organizations that are completely unaccountable to the public - i.e. corporations - to have control over employment. He thinks it ought to be possible for a person to survive without being, as he puts it, a "wage slave." He's often said that the means of production ought to be owned by the workers. So the employees at the Hyundai plant about twenty miles from my house would own and operate it.

Do the majority of people share these long range objectives? I don't know. I tend to doubt it, but a few years ago I would have told you that people wouldn't accept socialized medicine or nationalized banks any time in the foreseeable future. You might be able to find some polls on the subject. I can only offer the general observation that people seem to look out for their own, easily identifiable interests such as basic survival, health care, civil rights, etc. If people want to be able to go to a doctor on a regular basis and capitalism isn't providing that option, they'll probably take the solution offered by socialism. So in many ways, I guess, people aren't really loyal to one ideology or another; they go with what works.

But it doesn't really matter what type of society Chomsky himself advocates. That's far off in the future someplace, if it ever comes to pass at all. He insists that there's a moral imperitive to deal with topics of immediate importance where it's possible to affect the outcome. An obvious example would be the occupation of Iraq. At the moment, something like two thirds of the US is opposed to the occupation. Most of these people support the same solution Chomsky supports: a complete US withdrawal, freedom and independence for Iraq, and a greater degree of popular control over government (particularly in the US) to reduce the chances of this crap happening again. Now, do they all also support a socialist (or anarcho-syndicalist or communist) society? Again, I can't say for sure, but I doubt it. But so what? It's really not relevant to the Iraq question, is it? And for the most part, it's his positions on Iraq and similar topics (the "war on terror," Iran, etc.) that people buy his books to read about and attend his lectures to hear about. In those areas, there's considerable agreement with his solutions.

In the end, his class-based analysis fails because it is based on the idea that the classes actually exist. They do not.

That's quite an assertion. Could you offer anything to support it?

If I drive through my town, I can see wealthy white people who live in certain neighborhoods, wear certain types of clothes, go to certain churches, and vote for certain political candidates. I can also see poor black people who live in different neighborhoods, wear different types of clothes, go to different churches and vote for different political candidates. Why shouldn't I consider these two groups to be different classes? Why shouldn't I think that their respective interests conflict?
posted by Clay201 at 7:01 AM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Clay201, you can keep the class distinction cleaner if you leave race out of it. Last time I looked it up, half of the people who live below the US poverty line are white, a quarter are black and a quarter are Hispanic. They're all victims of the US class structure.
posted by shetterly at 11:00 AM on October 16, 2008


“Guess what. The American people want capitalism. If they did not, they would not continue its existence.”

The American people also apparently want larger penises, constant rock hard erections, credit cards, stock tips, and to help transfer money out of Nigeria.
Actual free market capitalism? I’d be happy with that. That’s what’s advertised, but that’s not what we’ve got though.

“Agreed. But that isn't what Chomsky is for. He's for real, live, anarcho-syndicalist socialism.”

Ok. I’m not defending Chomsky. I think he has some useful ideas tho’. I thought Buckley had some useful ideas. But seems like we’re on the same page otherwise.
Seems to me ideology too often gets in the way of what is practical anyway.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:32 PM on October 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Chomsky says that people know there's something wrong and are capable of acting to improve the situation, but he's actually thinking the opposite; that they'll never understand what's going on and are incapable of acting to change it. And you know he believes the opposite of what he's saying because... you can read his mind?

He says two different and mutually exclusive things in the passage I cited above.

In the end, his class-based analysis fails because it is based on the idea that the classes actually exist. They do not.That's quite an assertion. Could you offer anything to support it?

Social classes are abstractions without objective, real-world existence. They are shorthand ways in which we think about the world in order to better understand things. But they have no real existence. They cannot be measured like the temperature of the Sun or the molecular weight of hydrogen.

Like all subjective things, although they can be helpful, they can also be overused and actually not applicable to a particular situation.

But it doesn't really matter what type of society Chomsky himself advocates.

It actually does to the point I'm making. My point is that Chomsky blames a system for people being too dumb to agree with him. I say people are actually evaluating ideas like his and disagreeing with him and voting for candidates who support his views. The insidious thing is the argument he puts forward is not really falsifiable, because evidence that people disagree with him cannot be used to counter the argument--its premises discredit any evidence that the argument is false.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2008


Social classes are abstractions without objective, real-world existence. They are shorthand ways in which we think about the world in order to better understand things. But they have no real existence. They cannot be measured like the temperature of the Sun or the molecular weight of hydrogen.

Like all subjective things, although they can be helpful, they can also be overused and actually not applicable to a particular situation.


sorta like capitalism, right?

I say people are actually evaluating ideas like his and disagreeing with him and voting for candidates who support his views.

you say that people evaluate his ideas, they disagree with him, and then vote for candidates that support his views? that does sound delusional: voting for a candidate that supports the views of someone whose ideas you disagree with

The insidious thing is the argument he puts forward is not really falsifiable, because evidence that people disagree with him cannot be used to counter the argument--its premises discredit any evidence that the argument is false.

you're making up these rules - I don't know of anywhere that Chomsky argues his case to be correct because any evidence to the contrary is a priori false - in any case, no one here has prevented you from offering "evidence"
posted by jammy at 7:47 AM on October 19, 2008


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