Overweening Generalist

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chomsky Updates One of His Best Pieces

Noam Chomsky has written The Responsibility of Intellectuals, this time "Redux." And just in time for the 10th anniversary of the September 11th incidents. Only one shopping day left. Do you have enough coals for the barbecue? Make sure the kids have sunscreen on. And just think: college football is starting too!

Oh but yes: Noam Chomsky. His updated essay.

You can read the whole thing here. 

I have blogged about my own "Chomsky Problem" here, here, here, here, here, here, and (sorta) here. But this recent piece by Chomsky seems only tangentially related to my attempts to provide a solution to my own version of Paul Robinson's "Chomsky Problem."

Rather, this represents the Chomsky I most admire. (Actually, I admire him, period. I find him a fascinating thinker and the "Chomsky Problem" is an attempt to get at what I think is his major flaw, and I'm afraid I never really resolved the "problem." Please! Someone else: do a better job than I did!)

In 1966 Chomsky published a now-famous essay titled "The Responsibility of Intellectuals." When I read it first, around 1985 or so, it made total sense to me. It still does. And Chomsky's recent 9-11 "anniversary" redux-update makes as much sense to me. Any given reader of this blog who also reads Chomsky on intellectuals will come to their own conclusions. I'm giving myself away here: in this area of thought, I am right there with Noam, although I am not a privileged academic.

And, all of this aside for a moment to add something that pretty much went unsaid in all that Chomsky Problem blather I posted: what I perhaps most appreciate about Chomsky's critiques of The State and its crimes is his unique and very basic form of immanent critique: not so much in this essay, but almost all of his political writings he cites a State Department official or some other highly placed person in the State apparatus, and juxtaposes what was said with what was actually done. And he cites copiously. His style is fairly stripped-down academic, no fancy rhetoric. A notable lack of jargon. An odd tone of cold street-fightin' level rationality. As I understand it, immanent critique in its most basic form is something like, "You said X. But you did not-X, but Y, Q, and Z. How do you account for this?"

His many detractors - when they aren't crudely making stuff up about Chomsky - attack him for cherry picking his facts. But I have read Chomsky very closely, and while all of us are biased according to the sociology of knowledge, I think his basic method and citation-work is very sound, and always adds up to a penetrating and persuasive critique of state power.

Regarding intellectuals, Chomsky's work seems to me invaluable because his stance is so robust that, even if you disagree with him, you may learn much about your own stance towards the roles of intellectuals, or even what or who constitute the Intellectuals.

Where the New and Improved "Redux" essay really gets interesting, for me, is after the picture of John Dewey, where Chomsky points out that bin Laden actually achieved quite a lot of what he set out to do, and the oh-so predictable knee-jerk dullards who attack Chomsky (see the comments) need to realize Chomsky is not the only one here: do you think Michael Scheuer is a traitor too? Probably. "Murrrka Number One! Love it er leave it!" <yawn>

So enjoy the bunting and your flag and the endless TV specials about how the greatest country God ever saw fit to create is still strong and just filled with resolve, how we're all one and blah blah blah-dee fucking blah.

And if you hate Chomsky for saying what he writes (Just who do I think I'm writing to here? Only intelligent people read this blog, so I guess I'm blowing off steam over what I see as - laffingly - political reality), why don't you read Dana Priest and William Arkin's latest book, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State and tell us all how great the 9-11 response has been? There's $4,000,000,000,000 (that's TRILLION, friends and Fellow Murrrkins) we'll never see again. Funny how (really) no one in Congress has been harping on this, what with the Goddamned Deficit.

And Cheney, Bush, Rummy, Rice, Wolfowitz...are all running free.

Happy faux holiday. I'm sure the Patriot Act is keeping you all "safe."


Sue Howard said...

It's 9/11 today (or 11/9 as we say here in UK), and the above post is about Chomsky. Here then, is in interesting (& recent) interview - Chomsky on 9/11:

michael said...

Thanks for the link, Sue. You're aces.

I find Noam too classically academic when it comes to conspiracy theories. This seems like a variation on his talks about the JFK hit.

I think his position - which I consider THE basic stance by academics and most intellectuals on conspiracies - is valuable. But for years I have found it too one-dimensional.

Did I just say that the NeoCons "did 9-11"? No.

Did I just say the NeoCons allowed it to happen? No.

Did I just say I agree 100% with Chomsky? No.

Did I just say that Noam's take on conspiracies was wrong? No: it's one of the more interesting views about 9-11 as a CT, and he's consistent.

What's perhaps most interesting to me here is that Chomsky is analyzing various conspiracy narratives and then showing pragmatically what results from them: hopelessness mostly. If only he put more time into his linguistics about narratives and how they operate via metaphors ("American innocence: we're still the City on a Hill, but the Jews have taken over and control everything, so what are you gonna do?" - I paraphrase Chomsky here)...but that's Lakoff's modus operandi.

My main model for 11 September is that there are too many seemingly off the charts fishy little sub-stories, and it really makes me wonder. I do not discount that someone - probably a handful - higher ups in the Bush Admin knew ahead that something big was in the works, and did nothing (how hard is it to believe Cheney might've known beforehand? It's not that hard for me, personally). I'm not saying I believe it; I'm saying I find it tenable, whereas the classical academic position is to belittle anyone with a CT.

michael said...

Sorry. I'd just like to add that I think Chomsky does a disservice to some in the Truther Mvmt: I've listened to some academics in the mvmt and checked them out: they did not do an hour on the Internet to bolster their claims. There are some seriously qualified people who are commenting on the physics/chemistry/dynamics of the collapse.

Noam is being unfair here.

We will also find some bona fide hardcore climate scientists who still think there are other explanations for why the Earth SEEMS to be heating up.

Sue Howard said...

Yep. I wouldn't go so far as to apply immanent critique to the video clip I linked to, but I see a lot of ironies in Chomsky's stated views here - wrt official expertise, official versions, "risk"-taking, etc.

Not that I subscribe to any theories on 9/11 (or invest much time on it). But it seems to me about (valid) questioning of an official narrative on a major event, just as Chomsky would have us questioning other official narratives.

Given the prof's careful, erudite ultra-insightful work (in his books, etc), I don't know what to make of his generalisations here. (All those people he claims aren't taking risks and aren't doing political activism - Noam has polled their views and surveyed their actions, no doubt).

Yes, it's much more useful, hopeful and activist to copy-n-paste the latest Chomsky-ZNet remarks to one's blog every day. And it's much "riskier" to copy-n-paste Noam's latest put-down of these 9/11 cranks to one's radical Twitter-Facebook activism-project. ('Scuse the slight sarcasm here - not aimed at any readers of this blog.)

michael said...

I used to be in a discussion group about all kinds of ideas, mostly science stuff. But I remember a long, lively, drawn-out discussion about why Chomsky's position on the JFK assassination was basically, "So what? It doesn't matter who killed him. JFK was part of the US State machine of imperialism, blah blah..." I'm grossly paraphrasing Noam here.

Here's where I think he's coming from, and I do think he's wrong to slight ALL conspiracy theorists of JFK, 9-11, etc: mobilizing to resist the State in its everyday injustices is much more important. Therefore, these Grand, very Dramatic events that lead to conspiracy theories tend to isolate people in two basic ways: they spend all their time trying to figure out if it was "really" the CIA, the Mafia, the NeoCons, the FBI, the Illuminati, etc, that offed JFK or 3000 people.

Also:the frame of the conspiracy misses the whole point that it's the machinations of the State wielding its power, no matter what happens: get wise and organize and resist, try to figure out better ways to live. The CTs for Noam drain human energies, make people feel powerless and w/o agency.

Yes: a wonderful irony was when I asked Robert Anton Wilson who his favorite conspiracy theorists were and he said Chomsky and Buckminster Fuller...which played provocatively with the semantics of "conspiracy."

It would piss Noam off if someone said he was a great conspiracy theorist, but I believe RAW was mostly serious: that's the best stuff for the cognoscenti: what Peter Dale Scott called "deep politics." I think Chomsky's overall analysis of the State, media, power, and the way frames are used is very deep, when we add it all up. But there are seven or nine other SERIOUS intellectuals who perhaps add as much as Chomsky does to a critique of political and social reality...

And Chomsky ought to take a deep breath and listen to the engineers and architects talk about WT7: there are very many serious PhD types who have weighed in on that part of the story, and I find them quite compelling.

But I don't think he will. The certain unique level of arrogance Noam evinces makes me ready to bet he'll never reverse course on 9-11 cons or JFK cons. And THAT sorta loops me back around to issues involving my Chomsky Problem...

Sue Howard said...

I enjoyed a fairly long correspondence with Prof Chomsky recently - about a recent Guardian article which he'd described as "extremely dishonest". The article was about his remarks on Chávez (wrt mistreatment of a judge, etc), which he said had been misreported. The Guardian had responded by publishing the transcript of the original interview with Chomsky - revealing that his remarks had in fact been accurately reported:

"Dishonest" article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/03/noam-chomsky-hugo-chavez-democracy

Transcript: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/04/noam-chomsky-venezuela

Prof Chomsky wouldn't "back down" over this. By the end of our correspondence I got the impression he thought I was one of those intellectuals who "serves Power" (simply by contradicting him)...

But perhaps I was mistaken. He must get bombarded with critical nastiness all the time (Michael Moore also).

michael said...

He's had death threats. Far-Right loons have demonstrated that they definitely know his address in Lexington, Mass.

After I did those Chomsky Problem blog posts a friend said, "Maybe you should send them to Chomsky."

And I said, Why? He's an old man. He's a genius. He's deeply flawed. He's had a marvelous career. But he's over 80 now...let us let him be.

Sue Howard said...

I think he's very active email-wise, intellectually, etc - and encourages lively debate. Certainly he was the one "driving" the detailed correspondence I had with him (after I'd sent him a very brief note which I didn't expect a response to).

Who knows, he may find your observations/queries of interest...

Sue Howard said...

Here's a short video with a different perspective on 9/11. Well put together and pretty funny, I thought. Good to watch it alongside Chomsky 9/11 clip:

michael said...

Oh my! I hadn't seen that one. It verges on Art.

Once again, thanks for the link, Ms. Howard.