Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Noam Chomsky bores us, Michael Albert bores us

Apparently continuing to prop up the Observer, RSB carries an interview with Chris Knight (via, via, via):
Today's most imaginative and effective political activists are constantly engaged with the findings of environmental scientists, earth scientists, economists, anthropologists, historians and others. Could we even imagine today's environmentalist movement without the brilliant environmental science which lies behind it? Against this background, it is positively uncanny to find how little science appears in Chomsky's writings as a political critic. We find no economic analyses, no sociological analyses, no application of theories or findings from any part of the social sciences or humanities. All we find are quotes from newspapers or reports of various kinds, telling a journalistic story. I personally tend to find Chomsky's stories accurate - more accurate than most. I admire his political integrity and courage. But I am suspicious about Chomsky's overall role. My view is that the ruling class are perfectly happy to have Chomsky writing this kind of thing. It doesn't frighten them in the least because it doesn't threaten them - Chomsky goes out of his way to construct and represent himself as a lone voice. In particular, when wearing his activist hat, he ostentatiously removes his scientific one. What would upset the ruling class would be the reverse strategy. What would upset them would be for the world community of scientists to become active while the activists became scientific. Our two communities might then hope to converge on a shared language of self-emancipation and revolutionary change. Chomsky has devoted his life to obstructing any such development. This is why I think he should be overthrown.


Hardly news of course. See for example Zizek way back when, popularizing/plagiarizing Derrida, as was and is his wont:
Martin Heidegger said that philosophy doesn't make things easier, it makes them harder and more complicated. What they can learn is the ambiguity of so many situations, in the sense that whenever we are presented by the big media with a simple opposition, like multicultural tolerance vs. ethnic fundamentalism, the opposition is never so clear-cut. The idea is that things are always more complex. For example, multiculturalist tolerance, or at least a certain type of it, generates or involves a much deeper racism. As a rule, this type of tolerance relies on the distinction between us multiculturalists, and intolerant ethnic others, with the paradoxical result that anti-racism itself is used to dismiss IN A RACIST WAY the other as a racist. Not to mention the fact that this kind of "tolerance" is as a rule patronizing. Its respect for the other cannot but remind us of the respect for naive children's beliefs: we leave them in their blessed ignorance so as not to hurt them...

Or take Chomsky. There are two problematic features in his work — though it goes without saying that I admire him very much. One is his anti-theorism. A friend who had lunch with him recently told me that Chomsky announced that he'd concluded that social theory and economic theory are of no use — that things are simply evident, like American state terror, and that all we need to know are the facts. I disagree with this. And the second point is that with all his criticism of the U.S., Chomsky retains a certain commitment to what is the most elemental ingredient of American ideology, individualism, a fundamental belief that America is the land of free individuals, and so on. So in that way he is deeply and problematically American.


Recalling also the rather humorous debate between Chomsky and Foucault, back in 1971.

6 comments:

Murr said...

I saw a video of that debate last year, and Chomsky's hair was not at all red.

Matt said...

Though it does go down better with his hair being red, you must admit.

Matt said...

Partial UTube snippets w/o red hair, (tho also not necessarily substance-free) here

blackstone said...

Why was Michael Albert mentioned in the title but not in the post?

Matt said...

Have you ever read any Michael Albert?

Anonymous said...

Chomsky says: "Because I think that any human being who is not physically or mentally deformed-and here I again must disagree with Monsieur Foucault and express my belief that the concept of mental illness probably does have an absolute character, to some extent at least-is not only capable of, but is insistent upon doing productive, creative work, if given the opportunity to do so. I've never seen a child who didn't want to build something out of blocks, or learn something new, or try the next task. And the only reason why adults aren't like that is, I suppose, that they have been sent to school and other oppressive institutions, which have driven that out of them. Now if that's the case, then the proletariat, or whatever you want to call it, can really be universal, that is, it can be all those human beings who are impelled by what I believe to be the fundamental human need to be yourself, which means to be creative, to be exploratory, to be inquisitive..."

He defends the concept of human nature, which in turns implies an allegiance to a variety of 'theorism', in Zizek's sense even. It's clear when he says "IF that's the case, THEN... universal... fundamental human need...". In my view this fact is at odds with Knight's characterization of him.