November 19, 2013 11:29 AM   Subscribe

In the summer of 2012, Jeffrey Wilson interviewed Noam Chomsky.
“When the police came into [Occupy Wall Street] under Bloomberg’s orders and smashed up Zuccotti Park one of the things that they did was destroy all the books. You have got to destroy books that are dangerous. It has a long tradition back to the middle ages. Arizona knows all about that.”
They discussed the Occupy movement (previously) and its roots in previous resistance movements, back to the Civil Right Movement Spanish Civil War. To bring the conversation to a mass audience, he's now publishing the transcript as a comic book. The artwork so far is beautiful. posted by mutesolo (23 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I like that they're doing the background as well as the interview. I think with someone who has as much breadth of knowledge as Chomsky, you almost have to spend as much time on filling in background as on his words; he tosses off references and you just sort of nod, hoping you'll remember to go back and read about what he's talking about.

Thanks for posting; the book will be interesting reading when it's out.
posted by Mooski at 1:08 PM on November 19, 2013

Very cool. Thanks.

For good measure I'd like to post our late friend Aaron Swartz's Chomsky Challenge:

"I hereby offer $50 to anyone who can find an uncorrected material factual error in one of Chomsky’s published political works."

Only one error was ever found.
posted by willie11 at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

What's the prize for a misleading insinuation?
posted by chrchr at 3:06 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

5 minutes of looking and I found an error:

Chief Justice Roberts selected a case that could easily have been settled on narrow grounds, and maneuvered the Court into using it for a far-reaching decision that overturned precedents going back a century that restrict corporate contributions to federal campaigns.

it didn't, of course, have anything to do with direct contributions and didn't disturb any century old precedents. the case was about independent expenditures.
posted by jpe at 3:26 PM on November 19, 2013

under Bloomberg’s orders and smashed up Zuccotti Park one of the things that they did was destroy all the books. You have got to destroy books that are dangerous

Does anyone really think that entered the cops' thought processes? It was just time to kick the hippie dirtbags out.

"I hereby offer $50 to anyone who can find an uncorrected material factual error in one of Chomsky’s published political works."

You mean material facts like names or dates any good editing process should pick up?

That says nothing about his interpretations or predictions.
posted by codswallop at 3:50 PM on November 19, 2013

That Schwartz thing is annoying. Misses the entire point.

Like any other informed and halfway honest person, Chomsky's pretty good on stuff he's focused on for years (American military and political policies towards the Third World, especially from Vietnam onwards) and pretty bad on stuff he knows little or nothing about. He's smart enough to mostly write on the former - if you really need to get your rocks off reading up on Chomsky Being Wrong you could look at one of the collections of his lectures and interviews. You'll find plenty of mistakes and a few real howlers, but they're mostly when he strays off/gets a question outside of those parameters. Which is to be expected. It's why he often reiterates that people shouldn't just take his word as gospel on this stuff.

One of the things I like about Chomsky is that he's not particularly inclined to toot his own horn. He's uninterested in talking himself up as some kind of leader and constantly redirects, in interviews especially, from his own life to those of other people he admires (the SNCC, labor rights workers, activists who work in Latin American dictatorships). And it makes the (weird, personality-cult-ish) idea that he is some sort of magically infallible god-scholar who has never in his life made a factual error in speech or in writing is plain stupid.

Where his true virtue lies is not in infallibility or even in his (considerable) intelligence - there are plenty of other intelligent guys who aren't personally blinkered ideologically. It's that he's not willng to self-censor, which is what many if not most American commentators and self-styled intellectuals do instinctively. He's willing to tell the truth in any given circumstance, rather than abide by the implicit assumption that some truths just shouldn't be said out loud. And he's been doing that consistently for a half-century and more at this point.

For what its worth, he talks often about times he was wrong in this one. It's not a thing for him. And rightly so, because setting the bar for talking about important subjects as "infallible or GTFO" is simply nonsense.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:33 PM on November 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Would you count this as a factual error?
Anti-Semitism is no longer a problem, fortunately. It’s raised, but it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.

This is just after he says that anti-Semitism used to be a problem; when he was younger he experienced it personally, but now it's disappeared. He is utterly oblivious to the possibility that a world-famous tenured professor might have different experiences than less privileged people: no, any contemporary complaints about anti-Semitism must be made by a shadowy cabal seeking to maintain "total control".
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:53 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anybody who says different, Joe in Australia, is just self-censoring.

Chomsky is an interesting thinker. He'd be a lot lot more interesting if he weren't so often full of shit.
posted by chrchr at 6:08 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Too reminiscent of other things.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:38 PM on November 19, 2013

What's the prize for a misleading insinuation?

I'd rather be misled by Chomsky than led by anyone currently employed (to get loose with the language) in D.C.
posted by Twang at 7:36 PM on November 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Joe, I think Chomsky might explain what he means a bit more clearly in this interview.
posted by moorooka at 10:12 PM on November 19, 2013

Moorooka: that line of Chomsky's is probably the most chillingly hateful line about Jews I've read: in one sentence he denies the reality of people's experiences; he alleges that they are acting in bad faith, in service to a conspiracy; and he alleges that this (presumably Jewish) conspiracy has "98% control". You don't get to walk statements like that back; the best you might do would be to make an abject apology and hope that people eventually forget it. Not that he was trying to walk it back; I just don't think it should make a difference.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:14 AM on November 20, 2013

I think you're misinterpreting the point he's making quite badly (and he makes it better in the longer interview).

He's saying that the anti-Semitism of his youth, which involved wholesale systematic discrimination against Jews in the US, has practically disappeared. That's true.

He's not saying that nobody today ever experiences anti-Semitism. His is saying that charges of anti-Semitism are often made in bad faith, and in the context of his life work and experiences as one of the most prominent critics of Israeli policy, it should be fairly obvious what he's referring to.
posted by moorooka at 1:08 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

(Come to think of it, it would probably be easier to believe that you weren't yourself arguing in bad faith had you quoted the remainder of the paragraph following that "chillingly hateful" line, or at least the following two sentences.)
posted by moorooka at 1:50 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suppose one might say that prejudice against African Americans or discrimination against women is less than it was in the 1950s. None the less, people would rightly be criticised if they went around saying that accusations of racism or misogyny are made in bad faith.(1) Furthermore, the really, really outrageous thing he says is this: "it’s raised because privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control."

Let's be frank, here. When he says "privileged people" here, he means Jews: who else would be in a position to make false accusations of anti-Semitism? He's accusing Jews of having "98% control", and libelling people in order to grab that last 2%.(2)

(1) He doesn't even say "often made in bad faith". That's your interpolation.
(2) He must think the Jewish conspiracy had an amazingly brisk rise to power; in the 1950s Jews couldn't even sign a mortgage deed, but forty years later they had "98% control".
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:23 AM on November 20, 2013

Well he does outright state that Jews are today a privileged group in society, and in the US this is true (while it most certainly is not for African Americans). Which is kind of his point about how anti-Semitism in the US is nothing like the force it was when Jews were actively discriminated against, not so long ago, but that accusations of anti-Semitism are today commonly used in the US for political reasons, in bad faith.

Like, immediately after the 98% remark he makes it clear that he's referring specifically to US policy in the Middle East, and then elaborates on that point. So it seems to me like you're deliberately plucking a single sentence out of its context to make the guy out to be a horrible Protocols of Zion conspiracy theorist or something, quite unfairly.
posted by moorooka at 3:12 AM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know where you're getting all these accusations of anti-Semitism from; they're not all that common in the USA because, as we agree, things have improved a good deal. That doesn't mean that there aren't anti-Semites in the USA or that people shouldn't address hate speech and discrimination when it occurs; it also doesn't mean that Jews in the USA are wrong to oppose anti-Semitism in other countries; it particularly doesn't mean that Jews who report anti-Semitism are engaged in some sort of conspiracy.

Chomsky actually goes on to extend this Jewish conspiracy internationally:
With regard to anti-Semitism, the distinguished Israeli statesman Abba Eban pointed out the main task of Israeli propaganda (they would call it exclamation, what's called 'propaganda' when others do it) is to make it clear to the world there's no difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. By anti-Zionism he meant criticisms of the current policies of the State of Israel. So there's no difference between criticism of policies of the State of Israel and anti-Semitism, because if he can establish 'that' then he can undercut all criticism by invoking the Nazis and that will silence people. We should bear it in mind when there's talk in the US about anti-Semitism.
I think this alleged statement (what a giveaway, how these conspirators unmask themselves!) is a fiction. You can Google it: the only references you can find come from Chomsky himself.(1) Whether the alleged statement is true or false is beside the point: this alleged propaganda is necessarily international; Chomsky is clearly not confining himself to the USA.

(1) The columnist Oliver Kamm addresses the alleged quotation here:
I am familiar with Eban’s writings and am prepared on that basis to make a judgement on Chomsky’s veracity. [...] The statement Chomsky attributes to Eban is found nowhere in these books. Eban writes nothing – literally nothing – that is even remotely comparable to the assertion that criticism of Israeli policies is tantamount to antisemitism. Nothing he says can be legitimately - or even tenuously - interpreted this way. It is of course logically possible that an obscure article somewhere, written by Eban at some time in one of the ten languages in which he was fluent, includes that statement - but if Chomsky is not prepared to cite a source, then a logical possibility is all that it remains.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:06 AM on November 20, 2013

Fulfillment of Godwin's Law in three, two, one...
posted by belarius at 6:16 AM on November 20, 2013

Anybody who's participated in I/P debates is familiar with this time worn slime-throwing tactic; that includes both of us, as well as "self-hating Jew" Chomsky, and the notorious anti-Semite Jimmy Carter. Anyway I think it's pretty obvious what's being said here, but if you want to interpret it as Chomsky hating Jews, you will.
posted by moorooka at 1:02 PM on November 20, 2013

That's self-reinforcing logic: if you believe that anti-Semitism doesn't exist then anyone reporting its existence is a liar, and why should you believe liars? And if you assert, as Chomsky does, that these liars are trying to achieve "total control, not just 98% control" then you have a ready motive for doubting everything they say.

For what it's worth, I think that on this point Chomsky is on the losing side of history. His arguments sound quaint, at best, and his causes (e.g.) do him no credit. It's quite telling that you can only defend him by saying that he was making his point "badly" and by defining down his claim to refer only to Jews in the USA and even then only in a comparative sense. I take that to mean that you acknowledge the existence of anti-Semitism outside the USA, and even its survival (at a diminished level) within it. I'm glad to hear it, but surely you can see that it basically enervates Chomsky's point.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:22 PM on November 20, 2013

If you read the articles linked, you'll see that he does acknowledge the survival of actual anti-Semitism in the US at a diminished level (he compares it to the level of anti-Italian prejudice), so this "anyone reporting its existence is a liar" is simply you putting words in his mouth.

At the risk of repeating myself, The sentence that you plucked is in the context of a discussion of US policy in the Middle East - which has traditionally been 98% pro-Israel, and where anyone publically making the pro-Palestininian case inevitably has the charge of anti-Semitism hurled at them. This is obviously what he's talking about. And whether you genuinely believe that Chomsky is a "self-hating Jew" or not, you quite frankly seem to be making his point right now.
posted by moorooka at 12:14 AM on November 21, 2013

I don't know anything about Chomsky's internal state, so I'm taking Jay Smooth's advice: that was a racist statement he made. Yes, I know you're saying that it was in the context of the Middle East, but that doesn't matter.

As for the level of anti-Semitism, well, that's not factually accurate. I might be wrong about the degree of anti-Italian prejudice, but I don't think that it's comparable at all. I'm not aware of any organised anti-Italian groups in the USA, but there are numerous neo-Nazi and KKK groups across the country, and the ADL's most recent audit of anti-Semitic events reported 927 incidents last year. 1992, when Chomsky gave that interview, was a lot worse: it was just a year after Yankel Rosenbaum was killed, in Brooklyn, by a mob shouting "Get the Jew", and two years before Ari Halberstam was shot, again because he was Jewish. Those are the only two people close to me who were killed for that reason, but does this sort of thing happen to Italian-Americans at all?

Furthermore, it's very artificial to dismiss fears of anti-Semitism by referring to a relatively short period within a single country. Jews who fear anti-Semitism do so because of its lengthy history, all around the world. I don't think you appreciate the level of fear experienced by Jews in Europe today, let alone the fears of Jews in Asia or the Middle East. Something like a third of Europe's Jews have left; about half of the remainder are contemplating it. Jewish institutions are effectively fortresses with armed guards and air-locked doors, because they have been attacked so many times. It's this sort of thing that forms and informed Jewish fears of anti-Semitism, not the personal experiences of a beloved university professor in a college town. Dismissing their stories (and worse, asserting that they are in service of a conspiracy) is like saying that racism doesn't exist in the USA, because Barack Obama is the President.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:14 PM on November 21, 2013

Yeah, I'm not myself saying that that "anti-Italian" comparison is an accurate one, although it's probably closer to the mark than a comparison to the African American or Latino experience.

All I'm saying is that your "anyone reporting the existence of anti-Semitism is a liar" is clearly not what he said at all, not in relation to the US and even less in relation to the rest of the world. It's just you putting ugly words in his mouth.

It's also pretty clear that despite your aspersions he's not saying that a shadowy cabal of Jews have 98% control over the world, or anything of the sort. But context doesn't matter to someone engaged in character assassination. Which is something that the man has been on the receiving end of many times - often in the form of spurious, bad-faith accusations of anti-Semitism - which may perhaps have something to do with why he's saying what he's saying here.
posted by moorooka at 8:43 PM on November 21, 2013

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