In U.S. Success, Anti-War Faction's Worst Fears Realized
November 16, 2001 3:59 PM   Subscribe

In U.S. Success, Anti-War Faction's Worst Fears Realized writes our own James Lileks. Noam Chomsky, our own little Quisling, popped up in India to denounce the United States and describe the attacks on Afghanistan as "a bigger terrorist act than what happened on Sept. 11." It takes tremendous energy to maintain these hideous delusions. Chomsky must be exhausted. He must also be surprised every time he lands back in America and is not arrested; the nation he describes would surely clap him in chains and leave him in a basement to devolve to rat food and bones.
posted by ericost (43 comments total)
"Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless. Indeed, in the First Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple mound. ... I can tell you that that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."

Who's this we, Lone Ranger? The 82nd Airborne never landed at Jerusalem. Jews didn't hijack planes and smack them into buildings to avenge the sins of the Crusaders. More to the point, a couple hundred Americans were blown up in Lebanon in the early '80s, and until 9/11 we didn't talk about it.

True, but that doesn't stop the story from being told.
posted by trioperative at 4:07 PM on November 16, 2001

James "Troll" Lileks.

BTW, what the heck is intended by "our own" mean?
posted by mmarcos at 4:15 PM on November 16, 2001

Note to U.S., Kuwait was never actually liberated, it was just returned to it's previous authoritarian government.
posted by bobo123 at 4:17 PM on November 16, 2001

Wow, the mother of all straw men!
posted by signal at 4:24 PM on November 16, 2001

How is it that Sr. Lileks seems to know more about the "anti-war factions" than anybody I know who is a part of these "anti-war factions"?

Is it possible that because Chomsky isn't arrested whence returning to America is exactly what makes it worth fighting for? Has it occurred to our resident big paper journalist that it is the collective dynamism of all sides in all issues that are looked back on in the future and are taken in as a whole? Not that one side was right and the other wrong. Rather we were all Americans, all this time, in disagreement yes, but all of us exercising what it means to be American. God forbid. Freedom of peaceful dissent. He speaks of Middle East history as glibly as someone who hasn't yet noticed that today will become tomorrow's important past. Or perhaps, simply as glib as someone who's paid to toe the party line.

I really resent this pompous article. But that's just because I don't like nor want to see happy Afghanis.
posted by crasspastor at 4:50 PM on November 16, 2001

The Chomsky, Z-Magazine left has completely slipped from whatever moorings once held it in place. They see US bombing of military positions in a war against mass-murdering terrorists as morally equivalent to terrorism, so why should they appreciate anything that the US does for the region? Five things that Afghans can do today that they could not: fly kites, play music, watch television, remove burqas, create a democratic society. These are all intrinsically good things, but you won't hear any celebration from the anti-war faction, because that would belie the thematic underpinnings of their opposition. If life is better in any way under the Northern Alliance than before, they'll never admit it. Indeed the drumbeat of criticism has moved on already to ominous warnings that the US has now brought a new civil war to Afghanistan, and that the Taliban were "at least" an orderly society, which sounds to me dangerously close to supporting fascism. Ah, yes, Mullah Omar, he let the food shipments arrive on time.

Afghanistan needs a civil society, but there's no way they were going to get it under those guys. It could be said that the best thing that ever happened to the Afghan people was that their country was used as a base by terrorists, because before that happened we didn't give a shit.

I suppose, though, that if the only solution the array of Chomskyite critics will allow to tracking down and neutralizing a stateless military *cough* terrorists is to write down indignant indictments and increasingly stiff diplomatic letters to a government with whom there was not one single extradition treaty with any other nation, they might have some bright ideas about what the limits of Western action are in quelling the civil war. Oooh, maybe we can airdrop flower arrangements and stuffed bunnies. Really, if they're now setting up our proxies as the bad guys, what action will they accept to ... do something about the bad guys? Or are the only things they get concerned about things that they can conveniently blame on US "imperialism"?
posted by dhartung at 4:51 PM on November 16, 2001

"previous authoritarian government." the Emir suffered a brain hemmorage sept. 22, are the authoritarians still in control? "Kuwait was never actually liberated" what do you call it. The phrase is strawdog. i dont know what strawmen means unless it is similar to strawdog. I would not call Chompy a quisling though, thats rather bland and well, punkish.
posted by clavdivs at 4:54 PM on November 16, 2001

>BTW, what the heck is intended by "our own" mean? [sic]
posted by ericost at 4:55 PM on November 16, 2001

In a private phone conversation with a reliable source, I had been told that the military closed door setup was for Chomsky because the President didn't like his views on language, let alone politics, and was afraid of the tenure system which would keep Noam in power. MIT said that all due process should be followed. Unless of course seizing Chomsky was not a legal issue but a military one needed for national security and the protection of linguistics.
posted by Postroad at 5:01 PM on November 16, 2001

I also heard Bush disagrees with the whole "deep structures" concept, and defends the belief that language is wholly a cultural artifact.
posted by signal at 5:09 PM on November 16, 2001

"He [Chomsky] must also be surprised every time he lands back in America and is not arrested; the nation he describes would surely clap him in chains and leave him in a basement to devolve to rat food and bones."

Actually, the nation Chomsky describes would marginalize any thinking outside the 'accepted parameters', such as that of, say, Chomsky, and heavily distort or even completely fabricate the statements of those holding 'different' viewpoints, such as Chomsky's.
posted by cps at 5:12 PM on November 16, 2001

I am familiar with Chomsky and his contribution to linguistics. Does he also teach Politics? I looked up the courses at MIT and could not find one given by him.
posted by Postroad at 5:18 PM on November 16, 2001

Even forgiving the odious rhetoric of that "article", Lileks' deliberate distortion of Clinton's speech forfeits any intellectual credence he might have had. But then again, a firebrand is a firebrand, regardless of political allegiance, and part of that gig involves acting from emotionally crippled realities as opposed to actually thinking.

FWIW, although opposed to war in general - in theory, of course, since my generation has been spared any sustained conflict - I'm relieved to see the Taliban gone. I think most of the "lefties" - gosh, no matter how many times I hear that brilliant little word, it still nauseates me with how it short-circuits any rational analysis of opposing viewpoints! - are concerned about an endless cycle of violence: they crash our airplane into us, we bomb them, they nuke us, we nuke them, etc. But I see a lot of fearmongering, on both sides of the issue. And I see a lot of people yapping about it from the comforts of their nice American apartments.

Firebrands of both sides have used this debacle to push their own agendas, and no one's innocent.

Oh, and the smug assertion that freedom is at hand and we've won: something tells me it's not that easy. Just a wild hunch.
posted by solistrato at 5:41 PM on November 16, 2001

I bear no love for Clinton and I adore The Institute For Official Cheer, but I wonder if he had seen the Daily Howler's line on the reporting of Clinton's speech.
posted by y2karl at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2001

Speaking as one of those "Chomsky, Z-Magazine leftists", I just want to make a few points.

I'm incredibly happy and glad the taliban has less control than it once did. I _hate_ the Taliban. I always have. I generally don't like theocracies, and this was one of the worst. In fact, before the war started, I'd have given anything for a new regime (ala the northern alliance) to take control.

Anything except war.

I view war and violence as barbaric; when it's violence against innocent citizens (and if you've been reading any foreign press sources, you'll know that innocent citizens /have/ suffered) even worse.

I'm happy for how the situation's changed in terms of government. I'm unhappy as to the means of which it come there. Personally, I think we should have supported the Northern Alliance via money (but not guns), and perhaps introduced a bit more propaganda into the area to ensure that they gain power. That, and stop financing the Taliban (a few months ago, we gave several million dollars to the Taliban because they agreed to crack down on opium growers). That would probably have worked just as well, and with fewer innocent deaths. Slower? Perhaps. But in my mind, that isn't a problem.
posted by Theiform at 5:48 PM on November 16, 2001

We did not "give money to the Taliban"; Scheer's charge has been well refuted, Theiform, and there isn't any article out there that doesn't source back to his original column. Intellectual shame for anyone who continues to repeat this shibboleth. If distributing aid "through international agencies" like UNICEF and ICRC is "giving money to the Taliban", then the what are the cryptoleftists doing calling for the US to step aside and let UNICEF and ICRC bring in aid? Is that also "going to the Taliban"? If it applies to one, it must apply to all.

I'm appalled to see people continue to repeat this without skepticism, especially people at Metafilter, who should know better.
posted by dhartung at 6:19 PM on November 16, 2001

Academically, he's a well-respected social critic and theorist. This isn't surprising given his linguistics work's link to social anthropology.
posted by Marquis at 6:36 PM on November 16, 2001

dhartung, that's interesting. Thanks.
posted by cps at 6:46 PM on November 16, 2001

I saw no-one insisting upon balanced argumentation when all the anti-Falwell posts went up on this site. Go back and see what passed for reasonable commentary at the time.

Your standards change depending upon who is being roasted, it seems. Christians are idiots, so we can just go to town with Ad Hominem, but speak ill of Saint Chomsky, anti-war loonies, or Marxist Fundamentalists and suddenly we break out Queensbury Rules.

Falwell is a bozo. He deserves to be kicked every time he says something stupid. We should shove every dumb thing he says right down his throat so he can taste his own idiocy.

BUT: Chomsky likewise (when he talks of politics or economics).

I enjoyed reading Lilek's in-your-face presentation of reality for all the people who live in fantasy-land. I'm not pretending it was a rational debate-club presentation. But it was a hell of a nice catharsis.
posted by marknau at 6:48 PM on November 16, 2001

Falwell is a bozo. He deserves to be kicked every time he says something stupid. We should shove every dumb thing he says right down his throat so he can taste his own idiocy.

BUT: Chomsky likewise (when he talks of politics or economics).

Marknau: I disagree in principle. Whether discussing Falwell, Chomsky, or anyone else, there are certain rules of debate that should be adherred to. When we fail to apply these rules to discussions about Falwell or Christianity, or anti-war loonies like (Gandhi, Thoreau) it means we need to correct ourselves, not regain balance by tossing out the rules for everyone else, too. The best situation is when ad hominem attacks (and other rhetorical fallacies) are opposed, even if imperfectly, rather than spread out so that they affect everyone equally.
posted by Hildago at 7:16 PM on November 16, 2001

I actually agree with what you say, except:
1) It's fun to bat around the critical-thinking-challenged every so often.
2) Neither Gandhi nor Thoreau were anti-war loonies. Their ideas had basis in reality.
posted by marknau at 7:44 PM on November 16, 2001

marknau: who are these marxist fundamentalista you refer to?
posted by signal at 8:10 PM on November 16, 2001

Postroad, you nailed it right on the head. Although hugely successful in the field of linguistics, Chomsky was never regarded as a true "intellectual" until he started babbling about politics...
posted by ph00dz at 8:43 PM on November 16, 2001

Chomsky is to politics what Bill Shockley was to genetics. Just because you're respected in one area doesn't mean you can't be a complete loon in another.
posted by gimonca at 8:53 PM on November 16, 2001

Chomsky is to politics what Bill Shockley was to genetics. Just because you're respected in one area doesn't mean you can't be a complete loon in another.

I think its pretty obvious that the celebrity of Chomsky is really what gets people's goats than anything else. He provides a view that isn't mainstream and has recently been turned into the whipping boy of the left. I don't think its fair to call him a loon, he's one of the few people actively expressing what we did in the Sudan a couple years ago and its effects on life-saving drugs within that country.

Chomsky writes and speaks for lefties like himself, a short interview or speech isn't going to bowl anyone over. In fact from what I've seen at he's just a guy to laugh at and use as a strawman against the left.

As someone in the thread already mentioned, a healthy society is full of conflicting people and ideas. The current mainstream idealism develops from a huge pool of ideas that consists of people in every part of the political spectrum espousing one thing or another.

Chomsky doesn't write for non-lefties, he doesn't write well, and I don't think he cares. Its one thing to preach to the choir as Chomsky does and another to try to convert someone to some ideology.

I find the fact that Chomsky gets so much press a bit unnerving. There aren't many american socialists who could get the time of the day, let alone get quoted in AP every few days. I think its becoming more and more fashionable to bash this guy.
posted by skallas at 9:38 PM on November 16, 2001

skallas ... no, it just gets easier the longer his head is firmly planted in his ass.

if the US is so goddamned horrible, why doesn't he get the fuck out?

frankly, i'd like for his head to explode. and it be televised.

posted by aenemated at 10:36 PM on November 16, 2001

aenemated: You're exactly what's wrong with this world. Why don't you get the fuck off? Or join the ranks of civility.

Your hate. Your choice.
posted by crasspastor at 10:51 PM on November 16, 2001

I have found Foucaultian-Chomskyan critiques of the media to be interesting in the past. But when he pontificates tripe such that there is a moral equivalence between "our bombs" and "their bombs", when he labels US policies "terrorism", when he uses reductivist logic to lump every single American military action since World War Two into "dropping bombs on dark-skinned people", he reveals his dishonesty and his deliberate rhetorical purpose. There is a level at which any functioning society needs to "manufacture consent" such that everyone agrees, for a time, on collective actions; and then there are black-helicopter conspiracy theories, and the absurd claim that the United States has no functioning democracy any longer, and that because there is broad support for this war -- or for, heck, American economic diffusion throughout the world -- that we are a totalitarian state living under an illusion. This is simply Alice-in-Wonderland gamesplaying, and as skallas notes, he doesn't any longer seem to be trying to persuade the mainstream. He's merely speaking in flattering terms to undergraduates tasting their first critical understanding of the world, for whom such "mind-blowing" critiques have great power. At some level, it's just like Rush's constant audience-flattery: "You're right! And {despite the Arbitron data showing conservative talk-show hosts dominate the dial} you have no one to speak for you!" And of course there is the ready rejoinder that anyone criticizing minority views is trying to "marginalize" them. Nonsense may be labelled as such without a psychopoliticolinguistic framework. Anyway, that always makes me think of Holy Grail: 'Elp, elp! I'm being marginalized! My discourse is being systematically excluded! Broad societal agreement is not the same as totalitarianism.

I don't think Chomsky literally hates America. But he's surely got a good gig going. I think it would be good for Chomsky to climb down out of his ivory tower and talk to working people and ordinary Americans.
posted by dhartung at 11:12 PM on November 16, 2001

Dittoes, dhartung!

No, seriously, good analysis.

I think Chomsky "climbing down" would be antithetical to his "gig," as you put it. He writes quite well when he wants to, but he always reverts to academicese when he wants to impress the intended audience. Being the studious white-beard above it all is part of his image, and the image is integral to the spread of his memes.

The man studies language, and he knows how to wield it.
posted by marknau at 11:28 PM on November 16, 2001

I think it would be good for Chomsky to climb down out of his ivory tower and talk to working people and ordinary Americans.

frankly, i'd like for his head to explode. and it be televised.

As far as I understand it, Chomsky hasn't set himself up as representing anything other than himself, his views on global issues and the US' participation in them.

For some reason, some people on MeFi try to make him a poster boy for the "Left" (which I'm not even sure exists, at least not in the US), put a bunch of arguments in his mouth, and then knock them down.

Chomsky is an academic, expressing his personal views on things from his academic viewpoints. He writes books. He gives lectures. He's not here to save anybody. He's not a politician. He's not running for dog-catcher or school board member.

Why should he "climb down" from anywhere? He's doing his job, thinking his ideas, talking about them. If you don't agree with him, fine. Debate his ideas. Ignore him.

I honestly don't understand where all this rabid hatred, wishing his head would explode, etc., comes from. He's not even very popular. He doesn't influence a lot of people. He's an intellectual speaking to other intellectuals about topics of their mutal interest. That's his job.

I hate to think that people just need somebody, anybody, to direct their personal attacks against.

Furthermore, I've yet to see anybody on MeFi declare himself a "Chomskyist" (if there is such a thing), or marxist or any other simple clasification either. I think the discussions should revolve around actual arguments, not our simplified preconceptions of what the other guy thinks.
posted by signal at 11:36 PM on November 16, 2001

Even as a pathetic appeaser liberal, I wouldn't go as far as to say the bombings are a worse terrorist attack than 9/11. But I think it is important to make people confront the truth about war: namely that killing is killing, death is death, no matter what side you're fighting for.

Mad props to Signal. To some extent I think it's Chomsky's *job* to propose some pretty controversial ideas - he is by nature a dissenter, and perhaps America's most famous dissenter. Some of them will stick, some of them will wash away, but he's doing a fine academic job of stimulating thought and discussion. If America is worth its salt, if the freedom and democracy George Bush heralds is really intact, people like Chomsky will get a platform to put forward their viewpoints and the people can decide for themselves. That's what free speech is all about.
posted by skylar at 1:37 AM on November 17, 2001

I second those props to signal.

Chomsky may or may not be right about this issue or that, he may be a 'loon', but he has got to be one of the most misrepresented people in the press. As well as in threads here.

I really wish people would go to the original sources when critiquing people's thoughts, no matter what side. Getting secondhand information about "what X said" is not a good basis for argument.
posted by cps at 2:22 AM on November 17, 2001

[cheerleader post]
solistrato, dhartung, signal : thanks. A really thought-provoking back-and-forth on issues close to my heart.
[/cheerleader post]

As for me, I tend to agree with signal :"Chomsky is an academic, expressing his personal views on things from his academic viewpoints. He writes books. He gives lectures. He's not here to save anybody. He's not a politician. He's not running for dog-catcher or school board member."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:23 AM on November 17, 2001

Chomsky's job is to teach people about interdental fricatives, voiced or voiceless. It's the other bullshit that makes him look silly.
posted by NortonDC at 2:57 AM on November 17, 2001

NortonDC: Chomsky doesn't (often?/ever?) lecture on phonetics. However, when it comes to a minimalist program for linguistic theory, there is no better person to listen to.

I certainly wished he had lectured more on linguistics a few years ago because I could never figure out what his minimalist theory was about and I'm not sure my lecturer did fully either.
posted by davehat at 3:46 AM on November 17, 2001

Re: explanation of "Our own."

Don't know whether to cry or laugh or both.
posted by mmarcos at 3:56 AM on November 17, 2001

why dont you people talk about the isse. Other then dan, perhaps davehat, all i hear is yada-yada. what are his theories , why is he wrong, what makes this significant. I think alot of MeFis are afraid of a good debate.
posted by clavdivs at 7:11 AM on November 17, 2001

I hate to think that people just need somebody, anybody, to direct their personal attacks against.
I keep mentioning Rene Girard's Scapegoat Theory.
,,,Noam Chomsky--the MiguelCardoso of the Wet World.
posted by y2karl at 8:10 AM on November 17, 2001

Sigh. As a political columnist, Lileks is a great commentator on 50s miscellania.

As for Chomsky, as I've said before, he's indexed in every journalist's Rolodex as "America's intellectual left", and as such has been simultaneously lionised and demonised by the punditocracy. And is expected to make a defining ex cathedra pronouncement on absolutely everything. It's strange: Chomsky's position hasn't carried across to the UK with any real weight, beyond Christopher Hitchens' reporting of his spat, because there's not the sense in which Chomsky "represents" anything special in this particular discussion, beyond continuing his long-term critique of media representation. There's a healthier culture of dissent here, even if you have idiot newspapers like the Sun -- the bigoted choice of "working people and ordinary Brits" -- describing other editors and commentators as "traitors".

The debate in which I'm engaged is about sledgehammers and nutcrackers, but it's been transformed by the poltical media machine into one that lumps those who exercise those precious civil rights to question the tools and the long-term aims of the war into appeasers and wannabe-Taliban. With Chomsky at their head. And in that regard, his talk of "manufactured consent" stands fucking well vindicated. But as Randolph Bourne noted during the Great War:

War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties; the minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by a subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them.
posted by holgate at 8:11 AM on November 17, 2001

mmmMMMmm... fricatives.
posted by skechada at 11:37 AM on November 17, 2001

skechada: mmmMMMmm is actually a bilabial voiced nasal.

ZZZZZZZZZZZ on the otherhand........
posted by davehat at 11:43 AM on November 17, 2001

"Zzzzzz" is a voiced fricative, but it's not interdental. "Bathe" contains a voiced interdental fricative, while "bath" contains a voiceless interdental fricative.
posted by NortonDC at 12:53 PM on November 17, 2001

.......... is a fricative (to finish what I meant. I forgot about my note to you NortonDC, your choice of example is....well, exemplar).

Incidentally, can anyone here make a voiced labio-velar fricative (IPA font - M)?

In order to make this sound, find the part of the roof of your mouth that you place your tongue upon to make a "k" (back) or g (get) and try and place your bottom lip on it and......well, I have never worked put what this sounds like.

Go crazy with it (if you can be arsed)!
posted by davehat at 9:24 PM on November 17, 2001

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