Friday, August 24, 2012


Something that has bugged me for ages is the hero worship of Noam Chomsky. In my most memorable (not because it was good, it wasn't unfortunately) post I dismissed Chomsky as having lost his mind. I think it's obvious that he's lost his mind, but people, especially young clever people still adore him and it really irritates me.

Anyway, I came across this exchange the other week between Chomsky and another annoyingly liberal columnist George Monbiot. I imagine there are many (like literally hundreds of thousands) people who are big fans of both men, so I found this hilarious. I hope it made Chomsky fans squirm a bit.

Inspired, I decided to actualy check out one of the disputes for myself. In 2005 Chomsky was voted the worlds greatest public intellectual in a Prospect poll. They also published articles for and against Chomsky. In the against article Kamm quote Chomsky from his first book, “what is needed [in the US] is a kind of denazification.”

Chomsky likes to reply to his critics and had this to say in his response, "Proceeding further to demonstrate my “central” doctrine, Kamm misquotes my statement that “We have to ask ourselves whether what is needed in the US is dissent – or denazification.”"

This struck me a weird thing for Chomsky to do because it was pretty high profile (as far as these things go I guess) and is easy to check. So I did. Kamm's quote is correct and Chomsky's is "not even wrong", since he just quotes another part of the page.The bit Kamm quoted is right there on the page. So Chomsly misquotes his own book in a high profile exercise in moaning about people misquoting him.

Now obviously denazification could be exactly what Americans need, and he does kind of suggest it even as he moans about the misquote, but there is no possible way that he is not deliberatly trying to mislead his readers into believing that he didn't actually say that. It took me less than 5 minutes to check, but I guess he knows that hans fans don't do that kind of thing, and those that do don't care because his genaral point "still stands", or something.


Trevor Black said...

It is an interesting exchange between the two. It is good to see that intellectuals take the time to engage in these sorts of email exchanges.

The underlying tone though, from both, is very aggressive. I am not sure how possible it is to start agreeing with each other where everything is so loaded.

NC definitely doesn't just state the facts. Both get very upset that the other isn't understanding them. Both feel they have expressed themselves very clearly.

This illustrates something I often struggle with. People debating a concept are both trying to get the other person to agree with them. They don't start by trying to agree on a narrow question. They don't try define terms and see if they even agree on the language they are using. They are both trying to win.

Perhaps my ideal of debates becomes boring and dispassionate and that is why people don't do it. It does seem though that both gents walked away from this exasperated.

Stuart said...

I don't know how much you know about Chomsky or what your opinion of him is, but approaching this post I was well past the point of talking his seriously as an honest truth seeker.

The reason I found the exchange so funny is that I've know about Monbiot and his views for years and he's similar to Chomsky. He's spent an enormous amount of time being anti-capitalist and anti-western (the US and UK type society) and yet even someone with such an established past and even though he fell over backwards trying to suck up to Chomsky, only utter acceptance of everything Chomsky says is enough.

Chomsky is a crank. The second part of my post was intended to provide evidence that he is not to be trusted or taken seriously. This was just one case that was high profile, I know of several others and I'm not exactly a Chomsky expert.

My claim is that people shouldn't bother with him at all. There are too many other, serious people to argue with. I get riled up because he remains such a hero to intelligent, educated people some of whom I respect and generally trust. That bothers me and I'm not exactly sure how they get around his obvious, easily checked bullshit, maybe its just my lack of imagination.