Passing Noam on My Way Out – Part 1

I wasn’t always the #ChickenPseudoRadical that worshipers of lefty icons love to hate, but there were signs of what the future held for me when I wrote this in my Pulitzer prize-winning post on Chris Hayes:

Somehow lefts that would, on a rainy day,  apply the Chomsky/Herman lens to a bag of Doritos are incapable of applying it to establishment lefts at the margins, even when these people are on commercial television. Understandable, really,  since I don’t think Chomsky gets how Chomsky applies to Chomsky either.

This line ruffled some feathers. I recall that one person cited it just before telling me I should kill myself, more than a full year before Glenn Greenwald incited the troll fever of 2013 by telling me I should kill myself too.

In the months that passed I’ve concluded that I  grossly exaggerated the extent to which the internet left applies the Chomsky/Herman lens, or any lens, for that matter, particularly to phenomena it has set its Manichaean hive mind to misapprehending.  In an attempt to see if I at least got the bit about Chomsky right, I recently emailed him to solicit his thoughts on this statement:

It is my sincere belief that The Propaganda Model [described by Chomsky and co-author Herman in Manufacturing Consent] applies all the way out to the margins of American discourse, and that it is as useful for analyzing a Democracy Now broadcast or an issue of Jacobin as it is to understanding the Fox News Network. I even think the Propaganda Model can be useful in illuminating your place in public discourse, not simply as an official pariah but as an icon and role model.

Here’s Chomsky’s reply:

The PM is an institutional analysis, really applicable specifically to the corporate media, and in a more limited way to state media.  Hard for me to see what the counterpart would be for, say, Democracy Now. 

So I was right: Chomsky doesn’t get how Chomsky applies to Chomsky (and Democracy Now), though he didn’t supply anything to provoke a reconsideration on my part. Yeah, I know, it’s his Propaganda Model, but you know me…

Now before I dig myself in deeper here, let me just say that I value Chomsky a great deal, something which should be obvious from a lot of my media critique and my understanding of power generally. I think he’s really useful in the information-gathering phase of political development. Crucial even. To identify the way people like Chomsky become the raw material by which power shapes and controls dissent, isn’t cause to dismiss them entirely. Even if I am not indifferent to the individual qualities they have that make them useful to power, my interest is not in whether they are essentially good people or bad. It is simply to regard them in relation to the system they inhabit.

Moving along, the foundation of the Chomsky/Herman Propaganda Model is the Five Filters that operate on media. They are:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium’s funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Fear ideology

Democracy Now is run by Amy Goodman, who grew up in a wealthy family, graduated from Radcliffe , earns over $160,000 a year and appears to be a social democrat.  She is dependent on funding from foundations supported and directed largely by wealthy capitalists. She has been the object of discipline campaigns by Pacifica Radio, the network on which DN is hugely dependent for syndication. Pacifica Radio claims to be listener supported, and I venture that most of those supporters are people who are a whole lot like Amy Goodman: white, well off, well-educated social democrats.

Now is there any reason why Democracy Now isn’t as much a creature of these constraints as Fox News is of theirs? And is there any reason to put these constraints in a wholly  separate category of media analysis, when the people running things in both cases are in many respects — class and race, for instance — rather alike, and may actually even intersect here and there? Don’t Goodman’s appearances in corporate media as an avatar of the left blur the lines even more? Doesn’t it make more sense to see Fox News and Democracy Now as being on a continuum, where Democracy Now and its ilk have the last word on what Chomsky and Herman called permissible opinion?

And what of Chomsky, a wealthy tenured professor at a university distinguished by its particularly strong ties to militarism, whose iconic stature among American lefts owes variously to his military-funded accomplishments in linguistics; the esteem of celebrity lefts like Michael Moore, Amy Goodman and Glenn Greenwald; and to the ritualistic opprobrium heaped on him from time to time by riff raff in the mainstream, for whom he functions — particularly during upticks in war fever  —  as an icon of the wacky, America -hating left?

Don’t calls to listen to Chomsky — either to applaud or to jeer — come mostly from inside, or very near, the beast he and Herman described in Manufacturing Consent? And, if so, doesn’t that mean that beast is shaping the margins too, at least in part? Wouldn’t the system define pariahs in the same spirit in which it defines the limits of permissible opinion? That is, if The Propaganda Model applies to all left discourse, wouldn’t it predict pariahs who, in the ways in which it counts, aren’t all too disruptively radical? Does the preponderance of de facto social democrats in the outer limits, then, tell us anything about what’s going on?

This Democracy Now video from 2012 may help illustrate what kind of results the elite-shaping of the margins delivers. In the video, Amy Goodman asks Chomsky about his recent trip to Gaza, which he describes in soul-crushing detail. A sample:

It’s kind of amazing and inspiring to see people managing somehow to survive in—as essentially caged animals and subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment only to humiliate them, no pretext…They’re—Israel and the United States keep them alive, basically. They don’t want them to starve to death…It’s an open-air prison.

On and on he goes in his patience-wearing monotone until Amy Goodman abruptly changes the subject and seeks his thoughts on Obama’s reelection:

Well, there are two good things about it. One is, the worst didn’t happen, and it might have. The second is, it’s over. So we can put it behind us and get back to work, exactly what you said today. I mean, the whole electoral extravaganza, in my view, ought to take maybe five minutes of the time of an activist, because it’s a farce. I mean, there are some differences; it’s not zero impact, you know.

At the end of the interview, Goodman asks if there is anything in Gaza that gives him hope:

…They just don’t give up. Under the worst conditions, horrendous conditions, people still, you know, fight for their rights and don’t just succumb. And, you know, it’s a lesson for people from the West. I mean, you know, we talk about repression, but, you know, undetectable by comparison with what most people in the world face. And if they can struggle on under really harsh and brutal conditions, tells us we ought to be doing a lot more.

This exchange shows Goodman and Chomsky doing what they each do best. For Goodman, that’s drawing out boatloads of depressing information — much of it already well-known to her audience — while ensuring that it remains disconnected from anything resembling a systemic analysis or genuine militance. Watch a lot of Goodman interviews and you might be struck by the weird intermingling of horror and bathos, which her sudden question about the election in this interview embodies. Note how she abruptly dumbs things down when Chomsky hits on how pretexts for the subjugation of the Palestinians don’t withstand scrutiny.

Chomsky’s specialty is vividly describing the numbing horror of something like Gaza and lightly sprinkling anguished endorsement of state power that makes that horror possible. So in addition to reminding us that the U.S. and Israel maintain Palestinians in an ‘open-air prison’, Chomsky tells us Obama’s reelection means ‘the worst didn’t happen’ and that elections, though farcical, actually matter. We also learn that by comparison to the horrors state power visits on the Palestinians, government repression at home is ‘undetectable’, which must certainly be news to the one in one hundred adults currently languishing in U. S. prisons for, among other things, drug use, debt and political dissidence. ‘We ought to be doing a lot more’, he says, seemingly oblivious to how domestic political repression is ‘undetectable’ in inverse proportion to effective resistance and without specifying what we should do, exactly, besides voting for Democrats.

The whole conversation very usefully encapsulates lefty media as a whole: Top heavy with gory, mostly familiar details; light on analysis; light on prescription; and perhaps most importantly, ultimately compliant with state authority via disaffected endorsement of lesser-evil voting, and the helpful whitewashing of domestic repression. Learn this template and maybe you can be a lefty icon too, wringing your hands over decades-old problems, counseling unconditional support of the corrupt political party that will allegedly make them least worse and never considering in thirty years of setbacks and mounting crises that perhaps you should try something else.

End of Part 1

Related

Passing Noam on My Way Out, Part 2 – Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

The Toxically Useful Idiocy of Amy Goodman

A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

Dr.  Rosen and The Snowden Effect

The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes

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160 Responses to Passing Noam on My Way Out – Part 1

  1. BRUCE TYLER WICK says:

    Wasn’t Noam Chomsky barred from entering Israel or territories it controls? If true, as I believe it is, what would that indicate?

  2. diane says:

    Thanks for this. To hear otherwise ‘educated’ civil rights persons pontificate, one might think there are only a handful (who forever appear to escape the economic misery and imprisonment which millions have been subjected to), such as Chomsky and Goodman, amongst the millions in the United States, who are able to make sense of the current state of affairs, and the history which preceded it, the rest of humanity, despite far more ‘first hand’ horror experiences, are only allowed to beg to speak and prescribe action (generally not allowed at all unless supported by those same filterers) through the Goodman, Chomsky, et als’, filtering ….

    Never ‘read’ Chomsky, the MIT connection has always disturbed.

    • Tarzie says:

      one might think there are only a handful…such as Chomsky and Goodman, amongst the millions in the United States, who are able to make sense of the current state of affairs

      Word. And we are to be most grateful for their insights, as we have no representation in high places otherwise.

      Never ‘read’ Chomsky, the MIT connection has always disturbed.

      I think he’s really useful in the information-gathering phase of political development. Crucial even. For me, the connection of these people to everything wrong isn’t cause to dismiss them entirely. It’s to simply see them in the right light.

  3. Really interesting read, it hadn’t occurred to me to apply the PM model to Chomsky himself, but now that I read this it seems long overdue. It does seem odd that certain domains of the media would be immune from that analysis for some reason.

    …and never considering in thirty years of mounting crises that perhaps you should try something else.

    Depressingly, that seems to me to about sum it up. I see the desire for status to be a too strong and pervasive to call for much optimism about anyone who manages to find a voice engaging in any sort of systemic critique. Well, that and I suppose there are probably a few other hurdles as well. Thanks for the piece, looking forward to part 2.

  4. FYI – I’m reminded of the bleak exchange George Monbiot had with Chomsky in 2012 over Chomsky’s intro to Herman & Peterson’s book The Politics of Genocide. You can find it on Monbiot’s blog; the first bit is here: http://www.monbiot.com/2012/05/21/see-no-evil/

    I’m glad to have read Chomsky, and I’m glad he’s there for others to discover. But having read him pretty thoroughly in the 1980s, I’m not much inclined to look to him for further advice in 2014 because – as you point out – Chomsky says what Chomsky always says (long on scolding, short on new, effective ideas).

    I do find myself wondering what having a dependable, predictable message means in terms of contributing to “heat vampirism.”

    • Tarzie says:

      Like you, I’m glad I read Chomsky but I feel I get diminishing returns. I’m glad he’s there for others to read also, because the descriptive side of his work is extremely useful. I think people who haven’t read Manufacturing Consent or something inspired by it tend to be rubes where the media are concerned.

      I do find myself wondering what having a dependable, predictable message means in terms of contributing to “heat vampirism.”

      I hate to say it, but prior to Greenwald, Noam Chomsky was the ultimate heat vampire, really, because among celebrity lefts he has the harshest, most radical critique, but it’s wedded to the same acquiescence as all the others; he just recommends compliance with a good deal more flippancy and skepticism.

      Don’t feel qualified to comment on the Monbiot/Herman/Chomsky thing since I really don’t understand the facts very well.

      • haptic says:

        Is the heat vampirism of Chomsky that vicious, though, in your experience?

        Personally, I’ve been reading Chomsky for a good decade and a half now. I take him seriously as a critic.

        It was only recently I noticed the lesser evilism stuff from him. Annoying, but it seems pretty mild. I haven’t had anyone try to convince me I MUST vote by bludgeoning me with – specifically – Chomsky. When those conversations come up, there are normally far less sophisticated weapons to deliver that kind of blow. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it seems to me it would need a lot of conditions to be met first. And when the guy tries to make the argument himself, it just doesn’t sound all that convincing. I disagree with him on it. We get on with things.

        Have people tried to beat you over the head with lesser evil Chomsky? Have you seen his position being used within the left as an ideological cordon, or does it just irk that he – too – says things like this (which it does me too)?

      • Tarzie says:

        Heat vampirism isn’t always vicious. Of the people I’ve looked at on this blog, I think Chomsky is the least deliberately complicit in the potentially toxic shaping influence he has on the left. I think someone like Chris Hayes, for instance, goes about it with a lot more self-awareness and calculation. Greenwald is a weird mix of deluded, shrewd and opportunistic. In the end, though, it’s their effect that counts and I think that Chomsky counsels acquiescence from a point way left of the rest is extremely problematic, even if you don’t find him particularly persuasive in the prescriptive realm yourself. It does more than irk me but I will not spoil part 2 by going into it here. It’s helpful that you have raised concerns before I embark. I have added some language to Part 1 based on your first comment.

  5. I think its good what u are doing but any subjective/editorial position can be deconstructed. For one the medium of Democracy Now is reductionist/decline porn centric hence the ‘war on peace report’, it’s there to reach toward main stream listeners and give them a jolt – On elections Chomsky suggests US citizens should take 5 mins to decide if you live in a swing state and decide whether you should vote democrat or independent, I think that is making the best of things without necessarily legitimizing the system. 1% of US citizens in prison, your system is particularly deplorable but said within the context of Palestine where the vast majority are deprived of basic liberties including access to appropriate water resources and they are slowly being turned into a network of Ghettos to be used as human shields for a future Greater Israel than the problems in the US are quite tame. As for military funding and MIT – the same kind of defense funding gave us the internet? Your question is really are Goodman and Chomsky advocating a ‘the system is redeemable’ or ‘can evolve’ perspective, Where is the taboo line for Goodman/Chomsky besides their privileged white sensibilities – one is protesters of their era like Ellsberg could leverage existing civil society and rule of law to get a result – rule of law, when it comes to challenging real power doesn’t exist anymore, Nixon wouldn’t be impeached and the Washington Post would not have dug so deep, as evidence you need only look at the rejection of Snowden and the way they went to NSA. In this sense they are not with the times which is not surprising given their age. They should be critiqued and not considered leaders but more elders off to the side – a resource to be referred to but not as a driving force for change. If used in this way especially by devotees they are promoting a kind of Democracy nostalgia which can be unhelpful – personally I think committed groups with good OpSec should be bringing down power grids and disrupting transport networks (perhaps in industry/commercial intense areas) in a way that they have a good chance of getting away with it – Binney’s advice for communication is to develop an ‘air gap code’ – your group can decide on a shared book and go from there.

    • Tarzie says:

      For one the medium of Democracy Now is reductionist/decline porn centric hence the ‘war on peace report’, it’s there to reach toward main stream listeners and give them a jolt

      I am not at all friendly to media theory that makes listeners the drivers of programming. There are all kinds of ways DN could give listeners a jolt, and your comment takes no account of how dull it tends to be.

      On elections Chomsky suggests US citizens should take 5 mins to decide if you live in a swing state and decide whether you should vote democrat or independent, I think that is making the best of things without necessarily legitimizing the system.

      That may be — though there is zero evidence for it — but doesn’t speak to the fact that there isn’t a single celebrity left that does not advocate lesser evilism, even though there is wide dissensus in the population at large. Intending to develop the matter of Chomsky’s endorsement of state power in part 2, so won’t cannibalize myself here. There is more to it than his routine political endorsements.

      within the context of Palestine…the problems in the US are quite tame.

      I think these comparisons are foolish because they rely on bean-counting instead of the experience of individuals. While it’s undoubtedly true that the misery in Gaza affects a greater portion of the population than the US prison system, there are millions of people in the US prison system living in conditions that don’t compare well to anything. I find the use of ‘tame’ and ‘undetectable’ to describe this situation extremely imprecise and even morally objectionable. Also, my objection clearly isn’t restricted to Chomsky’s imprecision; it’s to the premise that repression is undetectable because we have a less repressive state, rather than that there is little in the way of real resistance. The US state will use any means available to quell dissent when it becomes a problem and Chomsky knows this.

      As for military funding and MIT – the same kind of defense funding gave us the internet?

      This is a non-starter. My implication isn’t that Chomsky’s research is bad because it was funded by the military. I simply think it is useful to understanding his temperament with respect to making common cause with the worst aspects of the state, and the conditions that made it possible for him to become an icon in the first place. Like most official outsiders, his relationship to elites is as symbiotic as it is antagonistic.

      They should be critiqued and not considered leaders but more elders off to the side – a resource to be referred to but not as a driving force for change.

      I mostly agree with this. I think Chomsky is useful for understanding how things work and what needs to be changed. Not useful on how to go about it.

      they are promoting a kind of Democracy nostalgia which can be unhelpful

      I’m not sure I would put it this way, but I believe we’re mostly agreeing. I think when they talk prescriptively about voting and ‘the real work of social movements’ they are presenting a somewhat starry-eyed view of how things work that is, as you say, unhelpful.

  6. Olcay says:

    I am not going to sound very intelligent because I am not in a position where I can go on about what we should be doing to reverse the downhill direction the humanity is going. I have barely enough time and energy left in me after the day to day struggle of the slavery I found myself in, so called work for shelter and food. For that we need the people like amy goodman who can have the time and resources to help the cause of us. Most revolution acts and ideas seem to have generated by bourgeois. It seems we have the task at hand to figure out if goodman, chomsky… etc are sincere or not. I see people religiously reading his books both here and in Turkey where I fraquently visit. I never felt the need to read one, because of the bery fact that he sits in a position where he can stir a lot of good debate, he can reach the world with his lecture but I see nothing but a famous man who sells a lot of books. He is not able to move the people period!

  7. Fumei says:

    Good points. What always struck me about Chomsky lectures is that he’d give this clear-eyed, insightful historical analysis of the shitty world and society we live in, and then give some version of “I don’t know; you tell me” when a questioner inevitably asks what we should be doing about it. His reasoning is that since he’s a linguist, he doesn’t know how people of other professions can apply their skills to challenge authority and domination — but that explanation stinks. Even computer illiterates know what hackers can and usually do. Chomsky should be perfectly aware of how sociologists, economists and scientists of all kind challenge all kinds of ideology. He should be aware of how it is that popular resistance gets results: by directly threatening the power of the elite — their profits, their political position, their right to dominance. It looks like he’s just stopping short of encouraging specific forms of active resistance.

    If that’s the case, what for? And how is this or isn’t this useful to the state-corporate propaganda system? They’re really good questions to ask.

    • Tarzie says:

      Is there a record of this anywhere? Not disputing it. Would find it useful.

      • MickStep says:

        I have watched plenty of Chomsky Q&A’s in my time, including attending one personally where this question was asked, and when asked for suggestions I have yet to see him shrug and ask the questioner. His answer may well be vague, but he is always insistent that things can be done, this is a false characterization.

  8. Steve says:

    New to your site and like your honesty. This last posting (appreciate the gestation time) sent me off looking here and there, and I came up with these:

    http://www.chrisknight.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/decoding-chomsky-european-review.pdf
    http://www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/6222 (I know, HI, corporate fear monger, but found it interesting nonetheless)

    Both seem to support your ideas about gatekeepers and the accompanying hypocrisy. All the best. Keep the insights coming.

    • Tarzie says:

      Thanks for the links. I’ve seen the Knight piece; it’s linked in my post. Had not seen the other one and found it interesting. I find it hard to get information about things like class background, wealth and speaking fees for these people. That guy did a lot of useful digging.

      Both seem to support your ideas about gatekeepers and the accompanying hypocrisy.

      I am still up in the air about how leftists should live under capitalism. Chomsky’s wealth is more interesting to me in the way it might shape and temper his politics than as evidence of gross hypocrisy. Similarly, his early professional dependence on the military is useful to understanding the kind of alliances and trade-offs he’s willing to make and the forces at work that made him an icon in the first place. My objective isn’t so much to point out his failings or inconsistencies as to demonstrate that he is not outside the system that shapes political discourse and which he himself identified and described.

  9. Git, Tarzie! says:

    I’m glad to see you continue mining my ideas, poodle-boy. It’s great to see you do a 180deg shift from where you were 2005-2012, when you would “correct” me after I criticized Greenwald, Chomsky, or any other hero/ine of the left.

    Sure, you’ve always had this perspective. If “always” means “since May 2013” and “when I found it safe to steal the written works of someone I’m embarrassed to admit reading and liking.”

    Good job little poodle. Here’s your Milk-Bone.

  10. Chomsky supports the Federal Reserve Banking Cartel. #nuffsaid @corbettreport

  11. davidly says:

    Well, done post. And this, from one of your replies:
    My implication isn’t that Chomsky’s research is bad because it was funded by the military. I simply think it is useful to understanding his temperament with respect to making common cause with the worst aspects of the state, and the conditions that made it possible for him to become an icon in the first place. Like most official outsiders, his relationship to elites is as symbiotic as it is antagonistic.

    Indeed. To your point about applying Chomsky to himself: He was interview by George Stephanopoulos years ago in which the latter stated as refutation (to a strawman in place of the Chomsky) that he felt unqualifiedly free to state his opinion on the network, had never been censored, etc., to which Chomsky replied that the host wouldn’t be in the position he was if he were the kind of guy that had to be censored by the network (you’d think a former president’s director of propaganda would be less infantilely naive, but he really does come of so).

    Yeah, it seems that it should not be that much of a stretch to see that if the PTB have their ducks in a row, that one of those ducks would be an MIT professor who also just happens to be the most vocal critic of state power representing one “far end of the political spectrum”. If he posed a real problem, they’d crush him like a bug.

    • Tarzie says:

      Chomsky replied that the host wouldn’t be in the position he was if he were the kind of guy that had to be censored by the network

      Yeah, I thought of a similar conversation he had with a British journalist during our email exchange. I even mentioned it to him. It was striking that he couldn’t even consider the proposition. Also seemed to think I was accusing him of collusion with the PTB, which, again, is just like journalists who misread MC as a conspiracy theory.

      If he posed a real problem, they’d crush him like a bug.

      Yes, exactly. It is the height of delusional to believe that the margins are not policed as vigorously as the mainstream, if not moreso.

      The whole idea that a Chomsky just emerges organically from the marketplace of ideas and can do whatever he pleases is part of the whitewashing of state repression that is so much a part of the official left’s toolkit.

      • Ned Ludd says:

        Here is video of the interview between Chomsky and British journalist Andrew Marr. The exchange you mention occurs just after the 11:00 mark.

        Marr: How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists…

        Chomsky: I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.

        Earlier, at 6:30, Chomsky makes this remark: “The role of the liberal intellectual establishment is to set very sharp bounds on how far you can go. This far and no further.” If I recall correctly, in one of Chomsky’s emails that you discussed on Twitter at the end of December, Chomsky said that he could not be any farther left and still make sense. Unfortunately I did not bookmark the tweet and Twitter’s search is giving me incomplete results.

        As an aside, in the voice-over just after the 4:00 mark, Marr asks some rhetorical questions that, in light of your critique, are interesting in a way that Marr did not intend: “What about Chomsky’s own access? What about this very program?”

      • Tarzie says:

        “Chomsky said that he could not be any farther left and still make sense. ”

        You have the quote almost exactly. I think he said ‘more radical.’

        The ironies abound. Fascinating. Thanks for the link to the video. It’s quite a good interview. Chomsky is really in top form there.

      • Ned Ludd says:

        It was interesting to listen to the interview again after reading your essays about Chomsky and other left media. Chomsky made it through the filters to secure a position in the establishment, but thorough his own contrived ignorance, he fails to see the implications of this.

        Chomsky: [Orwell] says unpopular ideas can be silenced without any force… [S]econd, the whole educational system from the beginning on through just gets you to understand that there are certain things you just don’t say.

        No wonder his email exchange with you got so contentious. You were saying all those things that you just don’t say.

        As an addendum, I found a transcript of the video from a link on Andrew Marr’s Wikipedia page. I have not read it through, so I cannot attest to its veracity. I am also not familiar with the website.

    • MickStep says:

      “If he posed a real problem, they’d crush him like a bug.”

      Like they crushed Norman Finkelstein, if I had to pin point what makes Noam permissable and Norman not, it’s that Norman tried to militantly take down Israels most powerful media bulldogs.

      Noam may tell the truth about Israel, but he provides a sense of hopelessness to the audience that prevents them from acting, Norman was leading by example and he had to be made an example of.

      • Tarzie says:

        Noam may tell the truth about Israel, but he provides a sense of hopelessness to the audience that prevents them from acting, Norman was leading by example and he had to be made an example of.

        That’s a good comparison and I think you’re quite right. Chomsky made some remarks at the time about how Finkelstein doesn’t always choose his battles, which is revealing.

        The PTB are on fairly easy terms with information, because as your example suggests, without any explicit connection to a way out, bad news is actually helpful. This is what I’ve noticed about Chomsky: between the monotone, the laborious detailing of horrors, the vagueness on solutions and his world-weary flippancy, he’s disempowering. Goodman’s program produces a similar effect. Greenwald is also a merchant of solution-free horror. This isn’t really politics. It’s a religious cult of self-flagellation.

        One other thing to consider about the Finkelstein case, if only as a technicality, is that Chomsky has tenure and Finkelstein didn’t. But the system certainly has all kinds of ways to destroy someone regardless of their standing and it’s kind of a chicken/egg thing anyway. Chomsky got tenure in large part by service to the military via his early work at MIT.

      • MickStep says:

        Yeah, if I remember the story correctly as Finkelstein told is in an interview I watched it he was offered tenure, and Dershowitz got wind of it, and not only managed to to get the offer revoked, succeeded in getting him blackballed from any Faculty position in the United States, so he has to scrape by travelling around giving lectures to lefties.

        Here is the interview if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jquFBluif6M

        Quite depressing stuff though, I much prefer where he makes the German woman, who wants him to stop criticising Israel on the basis that she is German and feels guilty about the holocaust (the logic of which boggles the mind), cry.

      • Tarzie says:

        That video is entertaining. I got to see Finkelstein speak once. It was quite the contentious affair. He’s a good speaker and can really handle a rough crowd.

        It’s worth pointing out that Finkelstein met the fate he did even though hardcore anti-Zionists don’t think he goes far enough, since he advocates a two-state solution. Chomsky is attacked for crediting Israel with too little agency and influence over U.S. politics, claiming that Israel is simply our proxy.

      • MickStep says:

        I consider myself a pretty hardcore anti-zionist in that, if I could go back in time and prevent Israel from existing, I would, and no, I don’t believe Israel has “a right” to exist.

        But Finkelstein’s reasoning is sound, the other options are hopelessly unrealistic, getting a deal on the 2 state terms where the Palestinians don’t get shafted is hard enough, but any other solution is impossible.

      • Tarzie says:

        Was not attempting to open an off-topic discussion on the viability of ME solutions. My point is simply that Finkelstein is not even on the outer margins of this issue, nor is Chomsky. The end.

      • MickStep says:

        Fair enough, just delete the comment.

      • Tarzie says:

        Nah, it’s ok as it is. Just don’t want it to blow up.

      • haptic says:

        Quite depressing stuff though, I much prefer where he makes the German woman, who wants him to stop criticising Israel on the basis that she is German and feels guilty about the holocaust (the logic of which boggles the mind), cry.

        I’ve seen that video many times, and the fact that she might be German never occurred to me.

      • MickStep says:

        Yes when I first watched it, I too thought that what she was Jewish and claiming that Norman comparing Israeli crimes to Nazi crimes is offensive, but upon closer inspection she is clearly actually of German or of German ancestry and claiming the comparison is offensive to her because it brings up unwelcome guilt. It is not clear whether she may also be Jewish, but nothing she says alludes to anything other than she is German.

      • MickStep says:

        Just discovered that some devious Zionist fuckers have Norman Finkelstein’s website blocked on the OpenDNS “democratic” content control service.

        http://domain.opendns.com/normanfinkelstein.com

        As a response I have nominated Dershowtiz’ website for Academic Fraud and Hate/Discrimination

        http://domain.opendns.com/alandershowitz.com

        How can we win when they are this committed to their campaign of bullshit and slander?

    • nomad says:

      This is really useful. Late to the Internet (digital divide and all that) I was wondering why Zinn, Cockburn, and Chomsky were so reticent in their criticism of what has transpired with the government since 9/11. This really helps to explain it.
      “If he posed a real problem, they’d crush him like a bug.”

  12. This is great. I agree that Chomsky’s gathering and dissemination of information is very useful regardless of his theoretical naivete. I actually think it’s part of what makes him effective–his almost folksily straightforward idea about how power and manipulation happen give his accounts a bluntness that makes them accessible to readers who are entering new waters. The New York Times-ey “these are the facts” style makes it really shocking if you’re used to reading the New York Times.

    I never really took his weary “Go ahead and vote Democrat, I guess” seriously because every time I read it from him it seemed like he hadn’t really thought about it and didn’t really care. The idea “Democrat=better than so vote Democrat” takes the mainstream image of how electoral politics works at such lazy face value, it doesn’t even sound plausible coming from him.

    Chomsky has said that he considers academia an exception from the rules of influence, btw.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      If Chomsky imagines his own critique is of value, he imagines it as objective.
      If it’s policed, then it’s tainted and as badly as he says media is tainted and for the same reasons. It isn’t just pride and authoritativeness but the very validity of his own critique that’s put at risk by his own critique. If that’s true about him saying academia is an exception, that’s a description of a system that saves his position: there is at least one place of clear eyed analysis to explain the whole and he occupies it.

      Related to organic views of nature, the observer is implicated in everything they observe. An open question when the study is of any part of nature except thought. It’s about thought here, so the consistency between the thinking theorist and their theory is of first import.

      I think Chomsky’s subtle approvals of the system can be taken in different ways depending on the audience. “Not plausible, forgettable” by you. “Insightful gold crumb” by others. It creates a background noise of conformity since he just drops it everywhere like a given, unworthy of debate or attention but worth saying because it’s true (vote D). How many people are listening and how much they influence the rest is an open question too.

      His protection, a career residing in utterly, extraordinarily privileged academia (there is no way to describe the kind of privilege it is to be a department head at MIT….compared to any other bourgeois occupation in our society), insulated him from having to compete with the left who produce enough salable mainstream discourse that they can earn from it in more commercial publications on a regular basis, while making him seem an outsider from the whole system when he is merely an outsider from a regular editorial column or tv commentator.
      It’s a brand but also a false brand, as far as issues of his unquestionable authenticity are concerned.

      On an only slightly personal note, how anyone who works at MIT at the top of a department could ever not see himself as cradled by the establishment and at least partly aligned with its influence and interest is a sign of wholly, gob-smacking, massive vanity and pride, mental and spiritual sickness, or just brazen and shameless lying to his own benefit. If it isn’t all three.

      There are industry chiefs, high level politicians, Hollywood millionaires, and then there’s “working” by driveling out the same stuff he says to himself in his sleep just to hear his own voice, but paid as tenured department chair at MIT.
      For all his qualities, that he’s never acknowledged his own compromised state shows how despicable a dead white male he is at heart.

      • Tarzie says:

        A most excellent comment that beautifully illustrates the extent of his capture by elites and his self-unawareness. That he won’t even entertain his own complicity — if only to thoughtfully reject it with a coherent argument — is quite the blind spot. This seems to go with the territory of left celebrity. They’re all like this. Which is to say, they are exactly like mainstream journalists are in relation to Manufacturing Consent.

        I think I might stop short of calling him despicable, though. He ain’t half the creep Greenwald is.

      • Tarzie says:

        If that’s true about him saying academia is an exception, that’s a description of a system that saves his position

        I don’t think he has ever said that. I believe he has been quite critical of how academia perpetuates state doctrine. He has also said intellectuals are among the most credulous when it comes to taking power at its word. I think he has said bits and bats about the liberating character of the scientific method. Perhaps that’s where the confusion is.

      • haptic says:

        On an only slightly personal note, how anyone who works at MIT at the top of a department could ever not see himself as cradled by the establishment and at least partly aligned with its influence and interest is a sign of wholly, gob-smacking, massive vanity and pride, mental and spiritual sickness, or just brazen and shameless lying to his own benefit. If it isn’t all three.

        There are industry chiefs, high level politicians, Hollywood millionaires, and then there’s “working” by driveling out the same stuff he says to himself in his sleep just to hear his own voice, but paid as tenured department chair at MIT.
        For all his qualities, that he’s never acknowledged his own compromised state shows how despicable a dead white male he is at heart.

        I think all of these criticisms can go through whether or not he does in fact see himself as cradled by the establishment and partially aligned with its influence and interest, and whether or not he has in fact on numerous occasions drawn attention to his own complicity.

        Which is why I think it is important to point out that he frequently does say things to the effect that he is – by virtue of his tenure at MIT – cradled by the establishment and partially aligned with its influence and interest. I’m pretty sure I frequently find him making this point. I just can’t locate any instance of it right now.

      • Tarzie says:

        That’s two people now who have said this without citing anything. I am inclined to think what you’re saying is true in some way, but it would be good to see exactly how Chomsky sees it and says it.

      • haptic says:

        Yeah, I’ll try to find the refs. I agree that I should be able to.

        To be honest, the one mickstep gave below is less substantive than I remember it being, but I am sure I remember him engaging with this problem of his own volition, and substantively.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I can’t imagine that he wouldnt have been pressed to, numerous times.

      • haptic says:

        Maybe it was just whistles.

  13. Paradoxer says:

    “For all his qualities, that he’s never acknowledged his own compromised state shows how despicable a dead white male he is at heart.”

    What’s the evidence that he hasn’t? Seems pretty unlikely to me.

    • Tarzie says:

      What’s the evidence that he hasn’t [acknowledged his own compromised state]? Seems pretty unlikely to me.

      Did you read the post? I believe @thedoctorisindahouse is referring to the discussion with me in which Chomsky seemed unwilling to consider that he is embedded in the selection system he and Edward Herman outlined in Manufacturing Consent.

      I’ll concede that exempting himself, without argument, from the Propaganda Model doesn’t prove that he’s entirely unwilling to admit he’s compromised, but it’s notable on its own. If this is a great exception, you should have no problem showing it. Chomsky’s views are copiously documented online.

  14. Paley Chayd says:

    Davidly said: “If he posed a real problem, they’d crush him like a bug.”

    Tarzie said: “Yes, exactly. It is the height of delusional to believe that the margins are not policed as vigorously as the mainstream, if not moreso.”

    And surely outer margins Tarzie and the rest of us inhabit are policed just as vigorously. What are the chances that the system will allow someone with truly radical or leftist ideas to gain a foothold in any sort of discourse that will really change the system?

    Where does Tarzie fit in the Propaganda Model? Are we getting more analysis and prescription from Tarzie than we get from Chomsky? In the end, we’re stuck with observations that pose no serious threat to state power.

    • Tarzie says:

      This is pretty much my point — it’s even alluded to in my title — so, of course, I mostly concede this. But at the risk of blowing my own horn, I think it makes more sense to read outside the margins than in, since there is less likely to be outright propaganda there and more in the way of kindred spirits, under-represented communities, novelty etc.

      Tarzie = Chomsky is, at first glance, elegant and clever in light of my post but also somewhat misleading. Chomsky pays his way by being ultimately disempowering, because his huge following makes anything more deliberately constructive a potential threat. I pay my way by having no power. So I’m free to do things like demonstrate the toxicity of the establishment left in a way that he’s not. Doing that won’t arouse the powers that be, but it may free a few minds as well as time for more useful things than following the Chomskys and the Greenwalds down culs de sac for one’s entire life.

      Also important to realize — as I know you already do — that there’s more to do than ‘discourse.’ The underlying question of this whole discussion is — or ultimately will be once I’m done — can you remain unharmed and still contribute? I think the answer is yes., but you certainly can’t rise to Greenwald and Chomsky levels of influence. Their status is proof of their limited utility. I’m intending to get into all of this more in Part 2 or 3 (not sure how many parts, yet).

    • haptic says:

      I think this falsely assumes the propaganda model is monolithic-invariant, rather than responsive to material constraints.

      While nevertheless subject to certain material constraints, a huge number of people within the relevant locus of discourse can run a Twitter account and write a blog. The barriers to entry are extremely low. By and large access to them is not withdrawn according to a mechanism anything like the Propaganda Model.

      There are things you can do that can get you banned from both, but in general the exclusion-of-access mechanisms in the Propaganda model don’t apply.

      That collapses the institutional features of large media corporations. We are left with social dynamics. If you say something unpopular, you’ll get hazed. People will set up parody sock puppets of you. You’ll get called a loser. You’ll be trolled. But none of this removes you from circulation quite the way being dropped from your position as an MSNBC anchor, or having your tenure stripped, might remove you from circulation. As long as wordpress doesn’t start policing the bounds of acceptable opinion, Tarzie is still going to have the same baseline potential for output. He can’t be paid less than nothing for his writing (although clearly engaging in discourse online has opportunity, time and material costs). As long as he doesn’t lose heart and remove himself from the discourse, Tarzie can only grow in influence. He cannot shrink.

      (That is – of course – ignoring the privilege and relative wealth – globally speaking – that is involved in being able to engage in unpaid discourse online for long periods of each day. Or living in a country where internet access is cheap and widespread. Or having your health. etc. But those things by and large do not come to you based on how expertly you suck up or how completely your socially acceptable prejudices automatically censor your ideological output.)

      This is to say, the Propaganda Model clearly can’t apply universally and invariantly. It has to at least be responsive to the material and institutional features of the social ecosystem it is applied to.

      Perhaps this is the tack Chomsky wanted to take with his comment about Democracy Now. I’m not sure I see what he was thinking with that comment, but I think it must be fair to say the Propaganda Model might apply differently to media institutions which have lower barriers to entry. The more systematically inclusive a media institution is, the less pernicious must be the effects of the Propaganda Model.

      Semantic point, but perhaps what Tarzie is after is not how the Propaganda Model applies to groups like “the Twitter left” where inclusion is based on nothing but acceptance among socially conscious exhibitionists. Surely, a “propaganda model” should apply to the system which chooses to super-amplify particular ideologicial commitments and messages to the point where they pervade a supermassive society. What we are looking at is the higher order effects of ideological homogenization across huge collections of people like “The United States” — societies incomprehensibly larger than the societies within which our brains evolved.

      When you get to such a microcosmic level that the mechanisms of exclusion you are looking at are just the same sort of social exclusion mechanisms you see anyway in small groups of people everywhere (don’t listen to that guy! he’s odd!) and where the ideological commitments and messages that are at stake are not, either way, at risk of becoming massively pervasive, perhaps what you are looking for is not a “propaganda model” but a systematic analysis of tribal psychology, group behaviour, the study of bullying, analysis of what status is and why it is causally important. Less Propaganda Model, and more Monkey Dynamics.

      (additional: it seems to me that in one sense, Tarzie’s blogging the last few months led to unpleasantness for Tarzie. But the controversy actually drew heat and light to what he was saying. The people he was criticizing were forced to respond (whether or not they did so well.) It took a few months, and a lot of blatant plagiarism, but the things Tarzie was saying in July are now trickling up to corporate media outlets and peppering celebrity interviews with slightly-harder-than-softball questions. It might have been unpleasant, but Tarzie refused to be bullied into stopping, and nobody could stop him either. i.e., nobody could lock him out of wordpress or twitter. If he’d been on MSNBC, he could just have been removed. I wonder whether with platforms that are hard to censor like wordpress make it possible to bounce marginalized messages back into the discourse.)

      Go easy everyone. It’s all just notes.

      • Tarzie says:

        This is a much better answer than mine and I love the detailed attendance to the dynamics at work. But I think what Paley is getting at is that everything is so vigorously policed that no one with anything genuinely disruptive to say is going to get anywhere near saying it in a disruptive way. While there is nothing Power can take away from me at this point like a job at MSNBC or tenure, it also has no cause to. But I also like that you touched on how things on the margins can trickle out and up. There is a tendency to credit Power with omniscience and certainly as data mining and analytics get more sophisticated that’s not entirely unwarranted. But it can’t anticipate everything. If in fact there is some domino that sets collapse (or renewal) in motion, it may well be something Power wasn’t looking at or for.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Tarzie can only grow in influence. He cannot shrink.

        Implying of course, that he has so little influence it can not even be reduced or destroyed.
        The minimum quantum of influence. Nothing can be subtracted. Matter can’t be destroyed into nothing.

      • Tarzie says:

        Implying of course, that he has so little influence it can not even be reduced or destroyed.

        Yes, of course. I think what haptic and I are getting at, is that because I am not as subject to the influence of the Propaganda Model as someone with more influence and more at stake, I am at liberty to write different things. Paley’s conclusion that “In the end, we’re stuck with observations that pose no serious threat to state power” hits me wrong because one, it suggests that my observations are already qualitatively tainted by these constraints and two, that, if it doesn’t pose an immediate threat, it ain’t worth a fuck. This is something I don’t even concede about Chomsky so I’m not going to concede it about myself either. If Paley thought the point of my post was that Chomsky is problematic because he doesn’t threaten the state, he’s oversimplifying.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        It’s a joke for the popular science take on quantum mechanics. Your point is taken, nevertheless.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Quantum of Tarzie

      • haptic says:

        Implying of course, that he has so little influence it can not even be reduced or destroyed.
        The minimum quantum of influence. Nothing can be subtracted. Matter can’t be destroyed into nothing.

        Yes, that’s what I meant. Only I am not sure it is correct to say he has no influence, because at various points he was a one person critique of the leak clique, and has, I think, been surprisingly influential in that role.

      • Tarzie says:

        My pal Arthur Silber would be pissed if I didn’t mention that he was on the Leak Clique (I like that) at the same time.

      • haptic says:

        You’re right, and I remember some of Arthur’s posts on this were of real quality – some of his best. The same goes for you. I think Arthur possibly had less first order influence on this particular issue than you because 1) he does not, I think, cultivate local discussion the way you do in your comments, where malcontents can cluster and metastasize, and 2) the arena for this really has been twitter in large part, and he doesn’t to my knowledge have a presence there. You pushed the critique up their noses.

        A certain class of people all have Arthur in their RSS feeds though. His influence runs deep, I think.

      • haptic says:

        What I find most alarming about the last few months isn’t that the left communities cannot escape the Propaganda Model. I am not afraid of the institutional analysis stuff. I could deal with institutional capture as an explanatory model for why everything is bad.

        I find most alarming that it doesn’t seem as if our problems emerge at the institutional level, but seem pretty much built in to human psychology and group behaviour. The sucking up, approval seeking, etc. I expected none of these things to be so inescapable as to undermine a coalition of interests determined in a good cause. Lately, I see mostly automation. It is the disappointment of seeing behind the illusion. In the end, it’s all just apes doing ape things with fancy titles. We are not such creatures as can do much better than this.

      • Tarzie says:

        The sucking up, approval seeking, etc. I expected none of these things to be so inescapable as to undermine a coalition of interests determined in a good cause.

        I feel your pain, believe me. My focus is on getting away from all that and encouraging others to do the same. In a way I feel that it created a useful fissure. Better now than later. There are critical, rational people who find all that as repulsive as I do and now I know who they are. But I also don’t think the ape behavior and institutional capture are entirely separate. The ass-kissing on Twitter, for instance, went up a hundred notches when Omidyar came along. In any event, my taste for voluntary association went way the hell up. I want nothing to do with any politics that involves the kind of people who join Twitter mobs to shield authority figures from criticism. Dangerous, toxic people.

      • michael g says:

        Tarzie cannot shrink!

  15. MickStep says:

    “After more than a decade, I was in Boston and called Noam. He warmly invited me over to his home and we chatted for a while. I finally asked him how he felt about my having gone into electoral politics. I also mentioned that I was then staying with a former progressive friend who was working for a major bank who had told me that morning that he did not want to meet Noam because he assumed Noam would put him down. Noam was genuinely shocked by the story. “Why, we’re all compromised,” he said. “Look at me. I work at MIT, which has received millions from the Defense Department.” He seemed genuinely puzzled and hurt that either my friend or I would think that he would denigrate us for what we were doing.”

    http://www.salon.com/2012/06/17/when_chomsky_wept/

    Chomsky is not referring to the Propaganda Model here, but to how living under capitalism compromises us all.

    • Tarzie says:

      That’s not really the kind of compromise under discussion because he’s implicating everyone simply by virtue of having jobs under capitalism where there is no real clean money.

      It would be more to the point if Chomsky said he has tempered his critique over the years because of his job or admitted to certainly being influenced by the values of the militarists all around him at MIT. In other words, if he placed himself as firmly enmeshed in the system rather than at arm’s length.

      • MickStep says:

        Yeah I realised that, I posted it because I thought you might not have read it, and it might become at some point relevant to your posts.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        This is a pretty interesting post. I have two things to add to the discussion.

        First, Chomsky has a tendency to speak vaguely about what to do, but I don’t agree with your characterization of “high on description, low on prescription,” well, at least not entirely. For instance, young Chomsky was very involved in the sort of direct action you think he purposely avoids. He was in and out of jail for demonstrations and I believe he was also refusing to pay taxes during the Vietnam war (this is stuff I’m remembering from that pseudo biographical movie about him. The animated one). This is when he was a (relatively) young professor, so I would think he’d be much more susceptible to the MIT connection compromising him back then. I think these are all excellent forms of disruption, and it paints a different portrait of Chomsky than his lazy endorsement of Democrats does on its own.

        Second, if you’re looking for other disgusting things Chomsky has said ala Aaron Swartz, you should check out his incredibly stupid and poorly thought out position on vegetarianism, where he claims not eating meat entails a “genocide of cows”, or something equally idiotic. I’d look up the video, but I’m at work right now so I can’t.

      • Tarzie says:

        young Chomsky was very involved in the sort of direct action you think he purposely avoids.

        I never said Chomsky avoids direct action and am aware of his activism during the Vietnam era. I don’t think his participation in movements changes the description/prescription balance that I’ve complained about, particularly in his later years, especially considering that he was not a full-fledged, fully absorbed icon during the Vietnam era. It was out of that activism that his star began to rise.

        Also, while I think the description/prescription balance is not in Chomsky’s favor overall, I was specifically referring in my post to his mediation by Democracy Now, and how the balance in that broadcast was typical for left media as a whole.

        if you’re looking for other disgusting things Chomsky has said

        That’s not really what I am aiming for — I am particularly interested in why power generally accommodates him and he it — but that’s an interesting tidbit. I’m sure I can find the video.

      • bigLaborLobby says:

        I never said Chomsky avoids direct action and am aware of his activism during the Vietnam era. I don’t think his participation in movements changes the description/prescription balance that I’ve complained about, particularly in his later years, especially considering that he was not a full-fledged, fully absorbed icon during the Vietnam era. It was out of that activism that his star began to rise.

        I mean, I definitely think it’s relevant to the balance, though yes, if you exclude his younger activism it won’t matter for his later years. You’re trying to apply the Chomsky/Herman lens to Chomsky to see how Chomsky’s various allegiances, such as MIT, make him capitulate to power, as well as see how capitulations Chomsky makes that allow him his current stature as leftist-hero-extraordinaire. This is Chomsky as a young, more-vulnerable-than-now professor engaging in pretty militant resistance. It’s certainly possible that if he had continued to participate in these activities we wouldn’t see him on “fringe” programming, like Democracy Now, but you yourself say that out of that activism his star began to rise. My prior was that either you get popular by not being militant, or once you’re popular you moderate militancy, so, do you have the latter in mind or something else?

      • Tarzie says:

        I thought your point was to demonstrate, via his earlier activism, that my assessment of the prescription/description balance was incorrect. It was on that interpretation that I replied.

      • I would think the latter is clearly the case–you can be as radical as you like when you’re a nobody, but once you draw attention you have to either moderate yourself or be pushed out.

  16. Mallam says:

    I guess my posting on the Greenwald thing would inevitably lead here heh. This was indeed interesting, it’s something I’ve worked over in my brain myself though not quite as articulated and thought out as presented here.

    I think my own thing is the criticism — or is it the awareness — of Chomsky’s lack of prescription that leads me to my own skepticism of the Anarchist Movement (TM) in general; a criticism, I must say, I attempt to avoid at all costs given that in general we’re at war with the same class of thought and people, and ideologically I feel most at home (despite being a “statist”).

    Second:

    My objective isn’t so much to point out his failings or inconsistencies as to demonstrate that he is not outside the system that shapes political discourse and which he himself identified and described.

    Are we not all outside this own realm of criticism, tbh? I know myself…I think it everyday. “Hypocrisy” or “shame” when I look at my own salary. It’s not Chomsky or Big Money Boyz level, but it’s easily top 20% in the US. And then I think, “So what can we/I do about it?” And then I draw blanks…leaving me with posts like this, nodding along and then being like, “So now what? And are we limited in our heights of influence? If we rise “too high in the lefty strati” do we become the opposite of what we sought for” Perhaps in part II?

    • Tarzie says:

      I think my own thing is the criticism — or is it the awareness — of Chomsky’s lack of prescription that leads me to my own skepticism of the Anarchist Movement (TM) in general

      First, I don’t think it’s Chomsky’s anarchism that leads him to his prescriptive weakness. David Graeber is an anarchist, and has all kinds of ideas about what to do, not all of which rule out practical engagement with the state. This is not unusual for anarchists. I’m naming him just because he’s relatively prominent. Two, I don’t think Chomsky’s anarchism informs his critique in any meaningful way. For all intents and purposes, he’s a social democrat who thinks Spanish anarcho-syndicalism was really cool. Lesser-evilist social democrats who are long on description and short on prescription predominate overwhelmingly in the iconic outer limits of left media and discourse. I don’t believe this is any more accidental than that MSNBC is a hive of Democratic Party hacks. I think if Chomsky were more emphatically anarchist he would likely not occupy the same high place in U.S. discourse.

      Are we not all outside this own realm of criticism, tbh? I know myself…I think it everyday. “Hypocrisy” or “shame” when I look at my own salary.

      I don’t see it as a criticism so much as a description of how things work. Hypocrisy is not something I take much of an interest. You with your salary are only implicated in what’s being discussed here if your work potentially involves propaganda of some kind. While we are all at least influenced by propaganda I would not concede that we are all equally implicated in producing it.

      If we rise “too high in the lefty strati” do we become the opposite of what we sought for”

      Well that all depends. I am more inclined to think that one rises because they are already what the person/institution paying them requires or something very close. Certainly there are varying degrees of calculation involved but mostly I think the idea of ‘sellout’ is inaccurate. Once inside the beast, further shaping happens, certainly, but I think all the heavy-lifting was done at home and in school.

      So now what?

      Well, my analysis is more aimed at buyers of information/opinions than sellers. I think if you are making a lot of money in an opinion-shaping enterprise, people whose politics and values sit comfortably with yours and the people paying you should have no worries. Everyone else may find value but should understand the ways in which you might be at odds with their interests. For me, Chomsky is useful in helping me understand power. Not useful in helping me to do anything about it.

      • Mallam says:

        Oh well I’m not paid to have opinions; a lot of my opinions go against my own damn work, however. Not to the point of working for the DEA (god kill me if I ever did), but I’m not out on the front lines holding on the barricades pushing off riot cops either. I suppose my de facto anarchism would put me in line with Chomsky, which is why I don’t call myself an anarchist. That is to say politically, not necessarily ideologically or even “So now what?”

        I can agree we’re not all implicated by its effects equally. That wouldn’t be fair at all to insinuate heh. You being in line with say, Jamie Dimon. Or let’s be slightly more charitable: not anywhere close to that neoliberal piece of shit Sam Polk who recently had his viral “Oh woe is me I’m a wealth addict so now I can fix it with my bullshit charity” op-ed in the Times.

        On an ending thought, I still need to buy Graeber’s most recent book.

  17. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    Tarzie wrote:

    For me, Chomsky is useful in helping me understand power. Not useful in helping me to do anything about it.

    Is knowledge of power possible without at once gleaning knowledge of how to affect power?

    The Separation of actual power from its description would be true if the description didn’t reveal the actual power but only some surface. Chomsky’s descriptions of propaganda discuss a system of opinion shaping through editing. These methods were not invented by Chomsky.
    They don’t reveal the underlying economic life cycle of the power structure that uses them but they do reveal something (propaganda) that, at least in this discussion, is considered important for power to practice.

    If you want to argue that people have NO POWER AT ALL against the foundations of their overlords, that’s one thing. Their engagement with propaganda is another. Surely, if propaganda is of any use or importance to power at all, then a rejection of that propaganda has some troublesome effect on the Masters of the Universe.

    Beyond things such as “voting for either wing of the same party” or “boycott Pierre to buy from Paul” (see how that works, accidentally? omidyar & carr *laughter* “oh ya that’s very good”, alright then), serious problems they are, there must be some thing that people do by rejecting propaganda that they aren’t supposed to be doing.

    Unless you want to jump to the conclusion that propaganda is there to quell the masses and preempt any need for the application of other, more expensive force. If THAT’S so, then it’s still true that any pathetic resistance at all, is meaningful. Which, perhaps, sidewalk protests don’t bear out too well even though I’m here predicting they actually should be seen to amount to something.

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t think understanding propaganda does anything to defeat its producers. Russians rolled their eyes at state news the whole time they lived under totalitarianism. Chomsky tells us in laborious detail what a fraud our elections are, how they’re the product of manipulative advertising agencies working for corrupt oligarchs on the way to telling us to support the Democrat without conditions.

      Chomsky’s media criticism, I think, has contributed to a left culture inclined to see information consumption and analysis as activism. It is up to a point, but only up to a point. The American left operates on information overload as if it’s studying up for a test it’s never going to take.

      I am not obliged to prove that Chomsky is entirely without positive effects because I never claimed he was. In fact, I said just the opposite. Taken as a whole, I think he is a disempowering figure, and if he weren’t, I don’t think he’d be an icon.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        That point up to which it is activism is interesting. I have nothing to say on it but it seems fundamental to recognize or else mere awareness of propaganda is indeed nothing at all except perhaps awareness that one should spend their time and money on better shows instead of “information”. Only for the reason that it would be more entertaining impotence hence better value for money.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        I’m playing stickler on what you call Chomsky’s “positive effects” because I don’t think they are measured on sliding scale. They truly either are significant or insignificant. Back to quantization I suppose.
        The question can come up, is his undermining of critical thought an undermining of action or just an undermining of critical thought. I think the trouble I’m having is that I don’t see any effective path of resistance being impeded by his exhortations to look abroad while ignoring what happens at home. At the same time, it is an inherently conformist position with which to end his “question the voices of authority”. There seems a choice to be made here. The best I’ve been able to conceive of it is,

        “information is power or else it is not”.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think it may be instructive to go back to Mick Step’s example of Norman Finkelstein, who actually attempted to undermine a true propagandist, that is, an actual person, rather than an abstract class of people, where everyone is guilty so no one is. Compare his life now to Chomsky’s.

        That you and maybe a few others see this as terribly complicated is, I think, part of the disease. The crippling of your imagination by the likes of Glenn, Noam and Amy. Look at the icons of the right, particularly the religious right. They’re agitators. Activists on steroids. They get people to knock on doors. They make threats. They create havoc for people they don’t like. They organize brick by brick, from schoolboards on up. They threaten mutinies and schisms. They make alliances with militias, abortion doctor murderers and hate groups. Now find anything remotely analogous on the left. You won’t. It’s not allowed.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Well I’ve never watched more than one video of Amy Goodman’s in my life so it can only be “the likes of” her influencing me through intermediary media voices. As for Greenwald’s ideology still rocking my boat, we all have a little Glenn-bot in us I suppose.

        (aside, the right wing agitators are a joke, overall. Knocking on doors is what democrats do, too. The extent to which they ally themselves with militias is also difficult to say. The militias are also a joke. I don’t think school board presence negates voting Republican for magical reasons and school boards embody enough ideology from either side that it’s a statist wash. Etc. Abortion doctor murderers? That’s as integral to their power as the Chomsky left wants you to think it is. 🙂 As for threatening mutinies, I think it’s a bit hard to hear their high pitches over the yawp of history that includes 8 years of fawning support for a W.Bush that governed them about as Republicanly as Clinton)
        I realize you are just setting a contrast between the skin deep rage on the right and the placid sheepish calm on the left but I’m saying it’s skin deep.

        What IS instructive about the Religious Right is not how they get what they want through their pseudo aggressive chest beating and piddling organizations for the advancement of morality but how the establishment Right Wing is only forced to please them and not to contend with anything but the fakest resistance from the Left, from grassroots Left to Left establishment. On a number of issues, the Religious Right is not “out there” but squarely in the middle of the road, policy, politics, and values wise.

        A type like Finkelstein does suggest a gradation from mere informational analysis to more dedicated and trenchant attitudes garnering more state resistance on a scale.
        I’m taking your words on Finkelstein as I don’t feel up to the challenge of examining his story at this time.

        That’s beside my point, though. My point was you are suggesting that information consumption is not in itself action in any meaningful. Perhaps I’m being trifling or pedantic but I find it interesting to think that any and all information reveals something about a power structure which you then either can react to or even can’t help but react to. Chomsky’s, Greenwald’s, DemNow’s,…THE entire left establishment from media to interest groups tells you to “vote anyway because it matters even though it’s terrible”. You consider this their great undoing like it’s an especially undermining, establishment serving gesture. It is servile but if you just want them to “do more” like talk more radically or allow guest voices who radicalize then that too is expecting a magic event where people hear ideas and they then react to them meaningfully more than they would hearing less exciting ideas. As if the more meager ideas are still powerful (Chomsky’s MfctrgConsent) but not enough to amount to anything.
        That’s possible but ALL I AM POINTING TO IS HOW CONCEPTUALLY INTERESTING IT IS THAT MERE ANALYSIS CAN EXPLAIN SOMETHING ABOUT POWER AND AT THE SAME TIME IMAGINE THAT POWER DOESN’T CARE ABOUT THE LESSER THINGS.
        You are at once saying
        -power is depressing unless you really see it
        -Chomsky’s analysis sees power then doesn’t do anything about it.
        or in other words,
        Tarzie says:

        For me, Chomsky is useful in helping me understand power. Not useful in helping me to do anything about it.

        That’s a contradiction. AND a gotcha. Quit denying it and just think about it.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think you’re kinda wingin’ it here on the history of the Religious Right and the Republican Party. I don’t have the energy or interest to take all that apart except to say, the idea that the Religious Right’s fawning over Bush betrays some kind capitulation is odd, to put it nicely, as is the quaint notion that they’re ‘middle of the road’ or that anti-abortion terrorism has no impact on the erosion of abortion rights.

        THE entire left establishment from media to interest groups tells you to “vote anyway because it matters even though it’s terrible”. You consider this their great undoing like it’s an especially undermining, establishment serving gesture.

        Yes, I think consensus on this point is power-serving, not because they get people to vote, but because they wed theory that undermines state legitimacy to practice that affirms it. As I have said before, this makes them role models of irrational compliance and however flippant or anguished their endorsements of voting are, it gets people to pay attention to these expensive, distracting, two-year-long indoctrination campaigns and downplays how truly awful our situation is. That this is important to the ruling establishment is shown, I think, by how little the dissensus on the matter of voting in the population at large is reflected among people in public life, and also by what happens to public figures when they go against the grain. See Nader, Russell Brand, the blackouts on third party candidates, the horrible treatment of Jill Stein in the last election.

        How evil does the state have to become before it’s not only tactically unwise, but immoral to ratify it? I think we are past that point. I think that people shrug their shoulders over the complicity in this of alleged radicals like Chomsky is, again, part of the disease.

        Also, bear in mind that, as I made clear in this post and others, voting is only one of the ways in which these people endorse state power. As I will show in part 2, Chomsky’s endorsements go above and beyond. The Snowden Leaks under Greenwald’s custodianship have been almost nothing but a campaign for state and corporate legitimacy despite the terrifying state and corporate power that is their ostensible subject.

        It is servile but if you just want them to “do more” like talk more radically or allow guest voices who radicalize then that too is expecting a magic event where people hear ideas and they then react to them meaningfully more than they would hearing less exciting ideas.

        No, I don’t want them to do anything, because as my post makes clear, I don’t think they’re permitted to. But if they were permitted to, I would want them to, among other things, call bullshit on the state because, yes, I think if the idea that the state weren’t legitimate caught on among people of note it would trickle down in the much the same way that in six short months Snowden and Greenwald were able to normalize incredibly reactionary ideas about intellectual property, whistleblowing, how Dianne Feinstein’s and Richard Cohen’s ‘reversals’ actually matter, and what a good thing billionaire-funded journalism is.

        People already hate the state — 12% approval rating for Congress — but as with the huge numbers of people who don’t vote, they do not see their contempt for the govt seriously represented, respected or given shape and meaning in high places. After having called bullshit on the state and the interests it serves, I would want them to figure out ways to undermine power and agitate accordingly. Perhaps, yes, as you keep postulating, there is absolutely nothing people can do that will change anything, but one thing we know from the past thirty years, is that it can’t possibly be less disastrous than what the left has been doing.

        You are at once saying -power is depressing unless you really see it

        I have said no such thing. It’s depressing whether you see it or not. It’s probably better not to see it, though, if there is nothing you can really do about it.

        -Chomsky’s analysis sees power then doesn’t do anything about it or in other words, Tarzie says: “For me, Chomsky is useful in helping me understand power. Not useful in helping me to do anything about it.” That’s a contradiction. AND a gotcha. Quit denying it and just think about it.

        I will concede that there is something of a false binary in the way I initially put it. I am willing to refine my assessment in a way that is actually more consistent with my post: Chomsky can help you fight power by understanding it better, but part of that understanding is knowing when to take him with a grain of salt and when to quit him altogether. I also will concede, that it’s Chomsky, actually, who, even though he won’t admit it, showed me the constraints operating on him that incline me to move on. If I move on to something that is more useful, then yes, he would deserve some of the credit. The thing is, though, I don’t think most people are interpreting him the way I do. So instead they’re glomming onto information fetishing and handwringing in lieu of more constructive kinds of engagement.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        the quaint notion that they’re ‘middle of the road’ or that anti-abortion terrorism has no impact on the erosion of abortion rights.

        I don’t know how to put this nicely but you have to admit this sounds, intentional or not, an awful lot like “Obama can’t not fight the courts tirelessly to put restrictions on morning after pill because Republicans”. Until evidence to the contrary appears, going to assume AngryBlackLady from twitter somehow hacked in that part. 🙂

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t know how to put this nicely but you have to admit this sounds, intentional or not, an awful lot like “Obama can’t not fight the courts tirelessly to put restrictions on morning after pill because Republicans”.

        That’s interesting, because what I was thinking was how effective anti-abortionists have been at wreaking havoc at the state level.

        That the Democrats disingenuously use abortion to blackmail people into voting for them does not equate to, ‘right-wing assault on abortion rights isn’t real.’

        You really shouldn’t dig in your heels on these minor points even if you were getting them right. There is no disputing my main point, which is that the icons of the right are agitators, wholly different creatures from the handwringing horror merchants on the left, and they have influenced our politics significantly. That they have been given a green light doesn’t contradict the point of my post. It affirms it.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Not digging in my heels for heel digging sake but because I think there’s more to the left’s or to democrats’ capitulation than capitulation. This could be an unresolvable disagreement on foundations which leads to our different interpretations of the political dynamic.

        The left too have been agitators with varying degrees of success. Where they’ve not had success lately is not only due to their lack of agitation. What happened in Texas is spectacular but it’s a sign of voters more than activism. I am talking out my ass but so is almost everyone who comments on the state legislature’s abortion restriction bill.

      • Tarzie says:

        The left too have been agitators with varying degrees of success.

        No, they haven’t. There has been political activism, yes, most of which had nothing to do with left icons.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        So it’s all about lobby groups? Ralph Reed or focus on the family or the Norquist thing? You’re staking your reputation on the idea that those are “icons”. Also not sure where that point comes from here unless it’s to point to a coupla EFF marches for the Snowden Show being the left’s impoverishment in not having more activist groups fixated on left wing nerds.
        I don’t know a lot about the great differences between shitty activism centered icons on the left and right. Unless it all comes back to Greenwald and project the same massive influence he had on the left that Chomsky had in shaping the practices and activism of, oh, say, MSNBC.

        Environmental lobby which sells out on K street and eco vandals are just not a thing until they shoot somebody. I’m not arguing, I just think that would be so much more meaningful as a social spectacle than literally some lone deranged right wing masturbators picking off doctors that it gives me the impression you are holding the left to a higher standard of activist agitation.
        Plenty of left noise about the environment and no results. Who opposes them and who supports them.
        Abortion is more public opinion driven because maybe there’s more money to be made by corps on environmental destruction than on abortion procedures.
        Plenty of hand wringing in support of both those rights on left media. Maybe I don’t watch enough Fox News to see the parts where they go beyond mere hand wringing and tell everyone to riot, shoot doctors and form lobby groups, the way they just aren’t allowed to on democrat media.

      • Tarzie says:

        Maybe I don’t watch enough Fox News to see the parts where they go beyond mere hand wringing

        I can’t believe you’ve gone this long insisting that the outer limits on the far right are in every meaningful way analogous to the anodyne social democrats on the ostensible far left. But if bluster, sarcasm and opaque prose win arguments, I concede, or at least give up.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        I think you are more than ready to apply for an editorial or hosting duty at msnbc if you can fake it like that.

      • babaganusz says:

        The American left operates on information overload as if it’s studying up for a test it’s never going to take.

        oh hey, there’s me, precisely pegged. thanks for that; i am now officially a regular lurker. (though i think i already was two or three reads ago.)

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      Oh please, all my minor points judiciously try to link back to the main or I don’t put them in with some exceptions for light heartedness. You’ve just been hostile to the idea that knowledge and power are more equivalent than just intertwined and it’s never truly minor, a perhaps overly philosophical curiosity, this whole thread. Maybe because it’s against your main thesis that knowledge alone is not power.

  18. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    Just a note I’m not so obnoxious as to seek out a smiley face icon, I just put punctuation smiley and WP put that decoration automatically.

  19. Ned Ludd says:

    Chomsky reacted to Aaron Swartz’s suicide by ridiculing Swartz and other “young kids” for trying to give people free access to academic research.

    Aaron was a very nice kid, he committed suicide. What happened is that he broke into the MIT system, he freed up JSTOR, JSTOR pressed MIT to do something, they didn’t know who he was and they called the police, they identified him. Then the Federal prosecutor got involved, and the State prosecutor and proposed a ridiculous sentence, she said he had to go to jail for 40 years, and he committed suicide. Actually there was an offer, that he should agree for a jail sentence for a couple of months but they finally didn’t want that and he committed suicide. It is a terrible event, everyone involved should have pressed the prosecutors not to do anything.

    However, there is another issue that has to do with freedom of information: if you take JSTOR and make it public, JSTOR goes out of business. We live in a capitalist society, they can’t survive if they don’t get subscriptions, If JSTOR goes out of business, nobody gets access to the journals. So the next step is, OK, let’s ‘liberate’ the journals. In that case the journals go out of business and nobody has any place to publish. You can’t just ‘liberate’ things pretending you don’t exist in the world.

    A lot of young kids think you can do that, they are not thinking it through.

    After wringing his hands over the “terrible event” of Swartz’s suicide, Chomsky makes sure to deride “young kids” like Swartz who want to disrupt the system that Chomsky is a part of. Other academics are trying to bypass the existing journals; they give people free access to research (which is often funded by the government) by publishing in open access journals. In contrast, Chomsky used a question about Swartz’s suicide to belittle what Swartz was doing and to defend a reactionary, exclusive, elitist industry.

    I think Chomsky, like Greenwald, cares about his own wealth and status more than anything else.

    • Tarzie says:

      Wow. This is a find. Gonna have to hat tip you in part 2. I found a lot of the reactions to Swartz’s death on the official left very bizarre. Greenwald did his Rule of Law schtick at one point.

      • I’m surprised you didn’t know that. Here is the actual video where the quote is taken from and time referenced if you let the interviewer set up the answer. The event mirrors the publishing date of March 2013. I think his speech against Swartz has been said on more than one occasion because I don’t remember viewing that particular video but of course it’s hard to remember all internet consumption especially something from about a year ago. I do distinctly remember what he said and being left with a feeling of contempt. Perhaps subconsciously Manufacturing Consent still sits “unopened” as a PDF on the recesses of a harddrive some where. The exchange is actually quite interesting because the question—if quite clumsy—didn’t really focus on Swartz, but for Chomsky to:

        give an example of a dissenter that is pushed aside by the system… [er] perhaps someone like Swartz

        Going into detail about the morality of JSTOR or efficacy of strategy made me think he was being quite defensive on second viewing, and it’s the main reason why I think I have seen a very similar condemnation elsewhere. I cannot remember the British interviewer, so let me do some digging.

        Yes, two months earlier in January Chomsky appears on Young Turks with the same “speech” in some cases with near similar phrasing. Again I don’t think that was the video I saw originally either because I don’t think I’d sit through even ten minutes of the show let alone forty. I think it’s fair to say it was a carefully constructed defense and meme he wanted spreading.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think it’s fair to say it was a carefully constructed defense and meme he wanted spreading.

        Yes, I have noticed he does repeat himself, almost word for word sometimes, and I agree that this reveals the things he finds important. Even if I agreed with him about intellectual property and JSTOR, his focus on this rather than the prosecutorial zeal would be no less disgusting and revealing. It’s shameful.

        Thanks for tracking down the links. This will all help with part 2. Both interviews are useful in lots of ways. This is one more case where I opened up a can of worms, and there are more worms than I’d anticipated.

    • haptic says:

      Good grief! This is really bad.

      As a career academic, as Noam fucking Chomsky, he cannot be unaware that the journal industry exists purely to launder prestige. That is its sole function. In every other conceivable way, it is exploitation. Academic journals as institutions should be destroyed, not defended like this.

      Quite disgusted.

      • haptic says:

        The shot at Aaron Swartz is insignificant, imo, next to this uncharacteristic endorsement of the rotten system of academic journal publishing. I didn’t expect to see him say something like this, because 1) he is normally quite savage in his criticism of the academy and 2) he has published outside of academic journals much more than he has published in them.

        I think Swartz did the right thing, but I could forgive Chomsky if he felt differently and refused to be bullied into sentiment orthodoxy. But I find it hard to forgive apologetics for something as toxic, unfair and exploitative as “academic publishing.”

      • Tarzie says:

        I think Swartz did the right thing, but I could forgive Chomsky if he felt differently and refused to be bullied into sentiment orthodoxy.

        I’m fine with people who resist ‘sentiment orthodoxy.’ I’m less fine with an alleged radical who would require bullying to repudiate the draconian prosecution of this ‘kid’ with the same vigor he defends both MIT and intellectual property. It’s really not about sentiment.

      • haptic says:

        I am disgusted

        I should withdraw the sense of moral disgust from the previous couple of comments, because I feel moral disgust is an artifact of shame culture, and I hate shame culture.

        Instead I will say, “reading this makes me very cross!”

      • Tarzie says:

        What do you mean by ‘launder prestige’? And don’t they also exist to make money off of intellectual property?

      • haptic says:

        I’m fine with people who resist ‘sentiment orthodoxy.’ I’m less fine with an alleged radical who would require bullying to repudiate the draconian prosecution of this ‘kid’ with the same vigor he defends both MIT and intellectual property. It’s really not about sentiment.

        I agree. But it is important to be clear about that.

      • I think haptic meant something more like ‘monetize prestige’, and I’m not sure moral disgust is universally a bad thing, and even if it were, using different words for it doesn’t really prevent it from existing.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah. I agree on moral disgust, though I share some of haptic’s aversion to shame culture. My aversion is mostly to the mobbish side of shaming. I think it’s mobs I don’t like. I can live with calling things disgusting.

      • haptic says:

        What do you mean by ‘launder prestige’? And don’t they also exist to make money off of intellectual property?

        I wasn’t too clear. I’ll have to rant this out, because it bothers me a lot, so bear with me. For a perhaps more measured account, see this guy.

        The following applies more in countries where public funding for universities is (traditionally) higher, but it can also be made apply to “philanthropy-driven” higher education cultures. For instance, military funding to MIT is ultimately public funding.

        Nobody in the academic journal process makes much money if at all, except for the commercial publishers.

        The public subsidizes universities, because access to education is supposed to be a public good.

        Universities provide environments where academics can produce intellectual work, and also, pass on their learning to students.

        Academic job markets were deserted back in the day Chomsky entered the fray. Post war scarcity. It was easy to get a job. Easy to make a name for yourself. Everything was unwritten. You could innovate without writing novelty wank, which is all some academic disciplines produce in recent decades.

        These days, it’s crowded. You have to be really competitive. Nobody gets a job that doesn’t wind up grad studies in an Ivy League or next best thing. The intellectual output is an epiphenomenon. The real work goes into climbing the ladder.

        It is a dogma that everyone has to publish, and publish prestigiously. Just publish publish publish. Fire off an article to a prestigious journal every month and sit during the two year wait for it to trickle through the lengthy, inefficient review process.

        The time you spend writing and sending this stuff off is time away from teaching students, which is what you are paid to do, but you have to do this or you can expect to lose your job, because departments have to look after their reputations and if you are not pulling your weight and giving your department a high score in the tables you will be weeded out at the next review. (Forget about tenure. Your generation will never get tenure.)

        You won’t get paid when your article is published. In fact, in return for publishing work you created (subsidized by the taxpayer) the commercial publisher that owns the journal will take ownership of the copyright of your work and will own the exclusive right to profit from the sale of that intellectual property. Thanks.

        You will also agree regularly to serve as a blind peer in the review process on numerous different journals related to your field. You will not expect to be paid for this. It is service, a goodwill gift, to the commercial publisher discipline. It’s a good deed passed on.

        In addition to this, nobody who works on the academic side of any journal will get paid. The editor will be an academic who accepts the position as a mark of status. Admin work within the journal will be performed by grad students who are rarely paid.

        Everyone is skiving off from work they are paid out of public funds to do, in order to do free work for a private commercial publisher operating under an ‘academic’ imprint and wielding a “prestigious” academic journal brand, signing over tens of thousands of academic articles a year into the intellectual property coffers of Elsevier or Blackwell or Faber and Faber.

        Those articles rightly belong to the public, because the people who created them did so from the vantage of a pleasant little life lived on the shoulders of the public.

        The commercial publishers then sell the articles back to the public on a per-article basis at astronomical prices, or allow syndication by groups like JSTOR which sell subscriptions to universities, again at extortionate markup, so that the rich people who can afford to go to university can read them. Again, those subscription fees are also subsidized by the taxpayer.

        It strikes very few academics I know that this is wrong. That it is wrong that people who are not able to attend universities because they are not rich cannot read the same things that academics can, and cannot prosper from doing so the way they have. That it is wrong that those excluded people pay academics to produce yet more things they also won’t be able to read. That this is the intellectual heritage of generations, paid for by generations, and that it is kept under lock and key so that corporations can prey mercilessly on society while the thugs in the Justice Department maul people trying to climb the gates, like Swartz.

        It also strikes few academics that they are being exploited. They moan about how hard it is sometimes, trying to juggle teaching and research duties and all the admin of keeping several articles up in the air at once. But I don’t think most of them really see the way the journal system works as exploitative. I don’t know why.

        Without their willing collusion in this system, it couldn’t happen. They could refuse to cooperate with it at all. Publish online or open access. Make all academic work public domain rather than corporate intellectual property. ***

        The reason they don’t is that the journals confer prestige. Publishing in them is more prestigious than publishing on a blog. Part of that prestige comes from exclusivity. Part of it comes from branding. Part of it comes from the antiquity of the idea of journals themselves.

        The idea that journals uniquely assure quality and rigor is a myth. The blind peer review system encourages corruption the same way secrecy in public institutions does, because if everything is blind then nobody can ask questions. Academic sub-disciplines are small and incestuous enough that everyone knows everyone anyway, and peer reviewers will often have a good idea who they are looking at. Peer review decisions are often ludicrously divergent, where one venerable mind says “publish” and the other says “reject with prejudice.” Anyway, “academic rigor” and other such qualities are often just euphemisms for prestige. Giants like Chomsky never have to go through the review process. Anyone who is not spellbound by the pomp and circumstance of the academy can see that the quality of output even in major journals is often erratic. Journals are responsive to publishing fads, and are keen to enhance their reputations too, so editorial decisions are often tested by these interests.

        Quality assurance, and academic review are things that can be implemented in better ways, without two year delays between submission and publication, without the bottleneck on publication slots, without excluding people who are not rich.

        Literally the only reason this system continues is because it is the system through which prestige is laundered, and prestige drives careers, and academics will endure enormous levels of exploitation to drive their careers forward.

        So:

        What do you mean by ‘launder prestige’? And don’t they also exist to make money off of intellectual property?

        Of course capitalism has a stake in all of this happening, but those incentives don’t drive academics, and it couldn’t continue without their collusion.

        *** (There are all sorts of examples of academics, and institutions, doing this sort of thing, but the critique stands.)

      • @haptic: That’s a great overview. Thanks. I didn’t realize so much of journal work was unpaid. Ugh.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        I suspect the reason they don’t see themselves as exploited just worked hard is the same reason the tenured don’t see the non-tenured as exploited: it’s an ordeal ending in dead ends for many that, if they can just hold on and win the lottery, they’ll someday have the privilege of visiting upon the next cohorts. What makes their academic career such a miserable waste of time protects those who make it and that’s not to mention they mostly have no place better to be and no thoughts finer to think anyway.
        It’s a lottery but you gotta play to win.

        Just a truly inspired rant. I already linked to it like a serious article.

    • Holy fuck. That is abhorrent.

  20. haptic says:

    Prescriptive Chomsky is mercurial. He has moved away from the learned explicitness of his youth and prefers now to speak of “what can be done” in language as simple, natural and unhoned as possible, but this has seen accompanying losses in specificity.

    Chomsky goes two ways on the “what to do” question, it seems to me.

    One way he goes is to insist that the classic forms of left organizing really are effective and he points to the gains made since the 1970s as evidence of this, or points to the success of indigenous organizing or new models for labour struggle in Latin America. When he is on this point, he normally suggests that in fact – for all the gloom – the left is a continuing success story and we have cause to be optimistic.

    I do not think one should be pessimistic. A lot of things have been achieved. Actually, the world is a lot better than it was 30 years ago. Just to give you one example, take restraints on state violence. What powerful states can do is pretty awful. But nothing like what they could do 30-40 years ago. Now, they are attacking Afghanistan and causing huge massacres, but the B-52s were attacking heavily settled peasant areas of South Vietnam 40 years ago. Millions of people died and many are still dying from the effects of chemical warfare and unexploded bomblets. The U.S. cannot do anything like that now. And remember, that (Vietnam) went on for years before there were any protests.

    Finally, some protests developed and it had an effect. It had a very civilising effect on the whole society in many respects. Out of that ferment came all sorts of things, including the women’s movement, the environmental movement and all sorts of other things. It kind of grew out of this dissidence. One of the things that did develop was a restraint on state violence. It is pretty ugly what results, but it is nothing like what it was. Those are reasons for optimism.

    I will just say one last thing that happened which is pretty striking in the United States. There were 10 million people living in the U.S. when it was invaded in the 17th century. It was a pretty advanced civilisation by 17th century standards. They (native American Indians) were exterminated by British colonists, actually religious fundamentalists. For hundreds of years this was not part of American history. Anthropologists and archaeologists were lying about it. They were claiming that there was nobody here except a bunch of hunter-gatherers. In the 1960s, that changed. For the first time in hundreds of years of American history, consciousness changed significantly about that. It is still pretty awful – I do not want to say it is utopia – but for the first time there was a willingness to recognise that something pretty horrible had happened. The kind of textbooks that you had in the 1970s, you cannot possibly have them now. They were hopelessly racist textbooks. Those are big changes – a lot to be optimistic about.

    This often seems at odds with the moments at which he suggests that the country has become bleaker than he can recall in his lifetime, that the university is being fileted, or that seemingly insurmountable forces are driving the world towards nuclear or environmental catastrophe.

    Exemplary gloom:

    The U.S. midterm elections register a level of anger, fear and disillusionment in the country like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. Since the Democrats are in power, they bear the brunt of the revulsion over our current socioeconomic and political situation.

    More than half the “mainstream Americans” in a Rasmussen poll last month said they view the Tea Party movement favorably–a reflection of the spirit of disenchantment.

    The grievances are legitimate. For more than 30 years, real incomes for the majority of the population have stagnated or declined while work hours and insecurity have increased, along with debt. Wealth has accumulated, but in very few pockets, leading to unprecedented inequality.

    Sometimes, he seems to do both at once.

    I don’t think it is off topic to reflect on why I do read Chomsky. I think you are right that he is not that constructive, except as an example of intellectual and critical autonomy. I read Chomsky as an ironist. It i a literary experience as much as it is an intellectual one. I enjoy his gloomiest moments more. I do find anger motivating, but I am as much at an impasse about what one is to do. Sometimes I feel the classical leftist knowledge of what organizing is, and how it can be done might just be really obvious to him, and he doesn’t realize all of that has been gripped by another of the left’s periodic extinction events, like a little dinosaur that hasn’t realized he is one of the last of his kind. Meanwhile these vague gestures to classical left struggles have no referents for someone who came up while the world was being sanitized. Other times, I think he is just being inconsistent, or vague. But I go back to him because, yes, he provides an understanding of the problems, but also because he has developed a voice for expressing them which I think is special, which adds to the learning, which projects you further in your understanding of the world than the mere sum of the information contained. There is a kind of poetry in the flat unadorned prose. There is biting anger behind the deadpan delivery. He is our Tacitus or Thucydides.

    Chomsky sometimes has another strategy when he is asked to be prescriptive. He suggests that the way forward cannot really be known, and can perhaps be sought experimentally, but more or less consigns strategic social change to the realm of noumena.

    About a future society, I…may be repeating, but it’s something I’ve been concerned with every since I was a kid. I recall, about 1940, reading Diego Abad de Santillan’s interesting book After the Revolution, criticizing his anarchist comrades and sketching in some detail how an anarchosyndicalist Spain would work (these are 50 year old memories, so don’t take it too literally). My feeling then was that it looked good, but do we understand enough to answer questions about a society in such detail? Over the years, naturally I’ve learned more, but it has only deepened my skepticism about whether we understand enough. In recent years, I’ve discussed this a good deal with Mike Albert, who has been encouraging me to spell out in detail how I think society should work, or at least react to his “participatory democracy” conception. I’ve backed off, in both cases, for the same reasons. It seems to me that answers to most such questions have to be learned by experiment. Take markets (to the extent that they could function in any viable society — limited, if the historical record is any guide, not to speak of logic). I understand well enough what’s wrong with them, but that’s not sufficient to demonstrate that a system that eliminates market operations is preferable; simply a point of logic, and I don’t think we know the answer. Same with everything else.

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t have much to say about this except that it’s really great. I love your appreciation of Chomsky, it recalls my own before I started really resenting the left establishment I regard him as part of.

      I do find his equivocations on what to do problematic, and I also think that over time, the gloom quotient has gone up. Gloom is appropriate because things are gloomy but I just feel he thinks that gloom and doom is the same as agitating and it really isn’t. It can have quite the opposite effect. Coupled with the endorsements of state power, it’s a problem…

      Like I said, I don’t want people to write off Chomsky altogether. Just buyer beware.

      • haptic says:

        I do think these midnight raids on the sacred cows of institutional leftism are therapeutic, even if they do not completely turn me against them. It was certainly constructive to reflect on why it is I read Chomsky. I still have a fondness for the old geezer, but it’s very important to be aware of the limitations.

        I’m dreading the day he goes, not only because I think we’ll have lost a comrade and because I’ll miss him (like a fallen old familiar tree that leaves a massive empty gap in the sky), but in anticipation of the enormous volume of self-congratulatory establishment eulogy. That will be the day he crosses over to pure objecthood, and even the most shameless hacks will seek approval in effusive Chomsky lip service, with no risk he’ll embarrass them. Maxim of Left Bereavement: The Corpse Shall Feed A Million Vultures. It will be The Aaron Swartz Feeding Frenzy on a grand scale. Prolix, melodramatic outpourings of performed grief from vulgar celebrity lefts in viral Tumblr posts. You link mine and I’ll link yours. A thousand people jerking each other off at once. The commemorative anthology dollars must flow. The New York Times will name one of its offices after him. The State Department will inaugurate a Chomsky Scholarship. Thomas Friedmann might even shed a crocodile tear. I am sad just thinking about it.

      • Tarzie says:

        I dread his passing too, for the reasons you mentioned — though I am envisioning fewer Establishment tears — and also because it will move the gates right. The obvious next in line as the standard-bearer of what ‘left’ is is Greenwald.

  21. Hieroglyph says:

    [Sorry, this one turned out longer than intended. Still, hope it’s within reasonable ‘respect the thread’ boundaries.]

    The problem with Chomsky is that is work is so vast, over decades, that it’s probably reasonably easy to give him a kicking, about something. But it’s not his fault MIT is funded by the military. I did (briefly) read the link investigating military uses of linguistic research but – sorry – thought it was all a bit thin. One can argue that his career has been advanced by this link with the military, but given how much of his work has been pretty brutal about the US military everywhere, it seems a rather narrow argument, to me. I just think Chomsky does the work, and the military uses the work, or not. And this basically proves nothing. Perhaps the link was a little too technical for this poster. Not really posting to discuss the article, but I’ll briefly alight on one point:

    From the link:

    “Several questions arise. Why did Chomsky – an outspoken anarchist and antimilitarist – take the money? Secondly, what did the military think they were buying?”

    Trouble is, these are stupid questions. They don’t ‘arise’, they are posed. There is an element of smear going on here. Chomsky isn’t responsible for the grant structure at MIT. And the details of how the grant was accepted are unclear. It’s all just a silly rhetorical point, leading nowhere. This basically implies that any professor in a college in the USA is accepting blood money, if they ever had a grant from the military. Which is all of them. Maybe they are accepting blood money, and should avoid military funding. Is the writer suggesting Chomsky should resign from MIT because it’s corrupted? Or is it implying a more sinister, collusive deal? This is all a bit silly, and a bit like the argument that Chomsky is CIA. That argument is made on the right, routinely.

    Anyway, not about the article. I accept I have a fondness for Chomsky, and so accept my bias. He obviously hugely smart, sometimes waspish, and quite funny. He’s a teacher, and not a bullshit merchant. On the rather complicated Monbiot\Hernan argument, I think Chomsky is right, and Monbiot, bluntly, is grandstanding. And I’ve read the Hernan book, more than once, and simply couldn’t see what the problem is, which has gotten me some abuse online, you can imagine. Interpretations really can vary. I don’t think I’m stupid, and nor do I think Monbiot is stupid, I just failed to quite see his problem.

    Probably a discussion for another place. I do see the larger point about Chomskers though, that he is, perhaps unwittingly, part of the establishment left, and thus sets the parameters of the allowed discussion. And, yes, left media are still subject to the PM, or should be. Maybe it’s a little different, more subtle, and worth a longer investigation, perhaps another book (Tarzie?) but to exclude left media seems … like the PM in action, doesn’t it?

    As to Democracy Now, I have one observation. It’s not really all that anti-war, is it?

    • Tarzie says:

      The problem with Chomsky is that is work is so vast, over decades, that it’s probably reasonably easy to give him a kicking

      Perhaps if I were ‘kicking’ Chomsky, instead of simply showing how he is embedded in the selection system he and Herman identified, and if I were cherry-picking from his vast work, instead of identifying ways in which he has been consistent in his service to power, this opener of yours might not have elicited, ‘Oh sigh, a long litany of non-arguments from a fan. Here we go.’

      One can argue that his career has been advanced by this link with the military, but given how much of his work has been pretty brutal about the US military everywhere, it seems a rather narrow argument, to me.

      Nope, sorry. That his career doing military-funded research at a university with uniquely strong ties to the military has been advanced by the military can not be seriously disputed. Even he admits it. That he’s been given a long leash during that time to wring his hands over foreign policy proves nothing.

      But it’s not his fault MIT is funded by the military.

      No certainly not. It’s not even his fault that his own research, in the beginning, was funded directly by the military. But I am not concerned with fault. I am simply demonstrating that the relationship he has with elites has, from the beginning, been as symbiotic as it has been antagonistic, on the way to showing that his status in our discourse owes to many factors, including this symbiosis.

      From the link:

      “Several questions arise. Why did Chomsky – an outspoken anarchist and antimilitarist – take the money?” Trouble is, these are stupid questions. They don’t ‘arise’, they are posed. There is an element of smear going on here.

      Perhaps you should take this up with the person who wrote the piece. I simply linked to it because it presented a lot of factual information about Chomsky’s early career. I don’t agree with all it’s conclusions, but I find your readiness to discount Chomsky’s military ties rather unwholesome, and the extent to which you’re whining about a piece I didn’t write as if it speaks meaningfully to mine, really rather annoying.

      He’s a teacher, and not a bullshit merchant.

      I get it, you’re a fan. Prove something else. No one said he’s a bullshit merchant.

      I do see the larger point about Chomskers though, that he is, perhaps unwittingly, part of the establishment left, and thus sets the parameters of the allowed discussion. And, yes, left media are still subject to the PM, or should be…but to exclude left media seems … like the PM in action, doesn’t it?

      I never said one should exclude left media. I specifically said I had found Chomsky valuable. But he is part of the indoctrination system he identified — as you concede — and one will derive more benefit and less harm if one goes at him with eyes open. But had I been stronger in my condemnation, no, it would not have made this post, in any way, shape or form, remotely like a vast network of powerful interests that shape our discourse for their own ends.

  22. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    The problem with Chomsky is that is work is so vast,

    I think it’s funny people are so easily impressed with Chomsky’s work in either of his two areas of concern, linguistics and history. I have yet to hear an assessment of why he’s objectively great or innovative in either of them, in ways that, say, any other pundit of any fair quality is not.

    Vastness can account for a lot of words and I accept that use of it for Chomsky. Information fetishism is plausibly what even drives the market for indoctrination: more talk shows, more articles, books, more, more, MORE of the same in order to lead to what the fuck I have no idea it’s a perversion hobby.

    • MickStep says:

      If you think attacking Chomsky personally like that is going to achieve anything other than reduce the number of people who are going to be receptive to the ideas being discussed here, you’re deluded.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        Ha ha. Tone trolling for Chomsky, well played sir.

        But it is sure that nobody who Would be put off would also have any defense of Chomsky other than listing book titles and however many countries they can find him issue dropping within those books.

      • MickStep says:

        It might be tone trolling if you were on topic with your attacks. You werent engaging with the person you were replying to.

        You just saw the word “vast” and went off on one.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        I didn’t mean to dismiss Hieroglyph’s entire comment or to take it on really. Indeed, I just wanted to get a shot in on that issue in general. It might have come off as an attempt at putting down Hieroglyph. Incidentally I thought Hieroglyph’s use of “vast” was closer to my pejorative use than a signal of Chomsky wide ranging breadth of ideas but I suppose it could have been either.

        Nevertheless! Chomsky is a douchebag. Also, old.

  23. davidly says:

    MickStep: Noam may tell the truth about Israel, but he provides a sense of hopelessness to the audience that prevents them from acting, Norman was leading by example and he had to be made an example of.

    Tarzie: Taken as a whole, I think he is a disempowering figure, and if he weren’t, I don’t think he’d be an icon.

    haptic: I find most alarming that it doesn’t seem as if our problems emerge at the institutional level, but seem pretty much built in to human psychology and group behaviour. The sucking up, approval seeking, etc.

    I imagine that there are a number commenting here who have experienced at some point their lifetimes the difference between a warm response from would-be allies and a much colder reception from the same peanut gallery as it relates to bucking some measure of authority. The difference between the two responses is instructive, but especially when they entail “tenure” versus “no tenure” or “embarking on your own news venture partnership” versus “shooting yourself in the back of the head”. All four are relative outsiders until you consider the sustainability of their relative influence.

    As Chomsky has said — and as Arthur Silber has pointed out repeatedly, as well as quite effectively more recently — we are conditioned from the beginning to go along, and the nature of our influence in society is determined by how well we go along. In other words, how well we get along is determined by how well we go along — not so much the other way around. From a power relational standpoint, I view the phenomena in Manufacturing Consent as a part of this early established human default setting; the extent to which it emerges as something seemingly more sophisticated or collusive is still a result of this default behavior.

    I believe it is the desire for a modicum of acceptance, not honest analysis on Chomsky’s part, which leads to the concession mentioned here:
    Tarzie: Yes, I think consensus on [strategic lesser-evil voting] is power-serving, not because they get people to vote, but because they wed theory that undermines state legitimacy with practice that affirms it.

    And though we can say with near certainty that this wedding of theory and practice is unintentional, it leads to part of the overall effect, which is: “This is the best we can do”-ism versus “We are so smart just for recognizing what the others don’t”-ism that defines an entire spectrum of political discourse.

    The umbrella under which all of this lies, in my opinion, is active and passive resignation; the one that says that power cannot be defeated, so therefore must be dealt with.

    What does the whole Revelations about the Spying — irrespective of one’s opinion about it — do but confirm that power is pervasive? I wonder what Chomsky’s theory of instinctive language acquisition might say about this.

  24. Jay23 says:

    Some very interesting observations as always. I just think you’re a little hard on these two… calling Amy a “toxic idiot” because of one stupid half-baked column she wrote ignores the fact she puts on a hell of a show every single day. If as many Americans watched dNow as the msm I am convinced we’d be a much better country. It’s far from perfect, it’s arguably system-affirming in many ways, but can’t you say the same thing about ANYONE who has carved out some semblance of a platform for themselves in society?

    For example, on a personal note, I’m attempting to become a public defender, whereby I’ll cash a token check from the government to help out some wretches they’re intent on using to inflate the prison population. There’s probably not a job more “system affirming” than that…. my hard work will give legitimacy to a horrible system… but on the other hand, I can help out a lot of people who need it NOW and have a measurable impact on their lives, and hopefully put myself in a position to one day fight for more systemic changes. But I feel like Tarzie would shake his head at me. (am I wrong?) Sometimes, like Chomsky, you are a bit short on “prescriptions” yourself, what should I do instead? How should Amy better spend her time?

    • Tarzie says:

      [Democracy Now is] arguably system-affirming in many ways, but can’t you say the same thing about ANYONE who has carved out some semblance of a platform for themselves in society?

      Yes, you definitely can. Which is my point. No one is exempt.

      Amy Goodman sucks, though. Sorry. And I said ‘toxically useful idiocy’, not idiot, specifically in reference to that disgusting whitewash she did of state violence that you now trivialize. I also gave other reasons in that thread, and in this post, why she’s a problem. I also credited her in the other post with occasionally good journalism. Somehow you missed all this.

      There’s probably not a job more “system affirming” than that…. my hard work will give legitimacy to a horrible system… but on the other hand, I can help out a lot of people who need it NOW

      This would be relevant if along with laudably doing the best you can within a horrible system, you were sustaining that system via published apologetics for it and being held up as a leftmost icon for doing so. In which case, the main topic still wouldn’t be your virtue or lack of same. It would simply be recognition of your place in the system and what the system was getting out of it and what your followers weren’t.

      I wish fans would stop with the fandom in these parts. It makes for a lot of thin, dishonest, irrelevant ‘arguments’, as well as insistently shallow readings of my posts, which, to anyone paying attention, are not primarily about the evil essence of the saintly left celebrities that we must never no never ever examine through the same lens we look at everything else.

  25. il voluntario says:

    At the top of your game here. Bravo!

  26. Paley Chayd says:

    Tarzie“This is pretty much my point — it’s even alluded to in my title — so, of course, I mostly concede this.”

    Speaking of your title, what do you mean by “on my way out?” Are you giving up blogging?

    Tarzie said: “Chomsky pays his way by being ultimately disempowering, because his huge following makes anything more deliberately constructive a potential threat.”

    What could he do that’s more “deliberately constructive”? Start a movement? Tell people to vote third party or not to vote at all? Tell people to vote with their dollars? I don’t even know how much assistance his opposition would need to squash whatever brilliant revolutionary idea he might come up with. Even when he was younger he hardly had enough charisma to energize a crowd. Maybe he’s doing his best to describe the situation and thinks that’s the best he can hope to do.

    Honestly, I go back and forth between gloom and empowerment myself. I’m about ready to just say fuck it and focus on making money and screw the rest.

    If Chomsky is disempowering, who living is empowering?

    Tarzie said: “So I’m free to do things like demonstrate the toxicity of the establishment left in a way that he’s not. Doing that won’t arouse the powers that be, but it may free a few minds as well as time for more useful things than following the Chomskys and the Greenwalds down culs de sac for one’s entire life.”

    And for that I am grateful. I’m also grateful for the excellent comments found here. I’m kinda spent from working all day, so I don’t have the energy to give this discussion a more proper response other than to say thanks to you and everyone you bring here for their thoughts.

    • Tarzie says:

      Speaking of your title, what do you mean by “on my way out?” Are you giving up blogging?

      I am changing my focus. Could result in less/no blogging, but that’s not my intention at the moment.

      What could he do that’s more “deliberately constructive”?

      I don’t want to get into a laundry list, but the operating principle would be more analysis applied to what is to be done, less whitewashing of state power. But my point is not that he could or should do it. My point is that he won’t, because elites have chosen their official enemies: handwringing social democrats like Chomsky who are usefully weak in certain areas.

      Maybe he’s doing his best to describe the situation and thinks that’s the best he can hope to do.

      Yeah, he probably is, but the point of this post wasn’t to assess the purity of his intentions. The point of this post was to suggest that like all official lefts he has qualities that serve power and that those qualities may not be separate from his status. That is, as I said up front, I am looking at Chomsky through the lens Chomsky uses to look at the mainstream media.

      • sumwunyumaynotno says:

        I’ve been reading these comments, trying to get to the bottom of it all and what it all implies. All I get is that Tarzie, and many others, believe that Chomsky is at least partially deplorable because he in some sense “polices” the radical left (he’s charged with being a “gatekeeper”), that the establishment (or ruling elite, or powers-that-be) in turn police the left, but find Chomsky “acceptable”, as they haven’t ruined him as they did Norman Finkelstein. And also, that Chomsky is tainted because his early research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force. Yet I keep asking myself, what do you actually want him to DO? Denounce Israel, the Israel lobby, the 9/11 commission and report? Tell people that they shouldn’t vote at all? Obviously, he disagrees with the arguments that his critics have made on these matters and feels that further comment – which would probably be never-ending – would be a tiresome distraction for him. OK, you don’t like that; are you going to keep denouncing him for that? Where does that get you, or anyone else, for that matter?

        Deciding “what is to be done” (Lenin’s phrase) is much harder than describing what is wrong with the current national and international situation. OK – he is the first to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers. So he hopes that people will be able to assess the situation and come up with answers themselves. I’ve heard him say in person, “When I give talks here in the U.S., people ask me what to do. When I speak in Latin America, people tell me what they’re already doing.”

        You say he is merely a “hand-wringing social democrat” who has been “chosen” by the elites. I find this ludicrous. He is hardly a social democrat; he is an anarchist who favors the break-up of concentrated state and corporate power. He is an outspoken anti-capitalist. That’s pretty radical. And he is more than a hand-wringer – I was arrested along with him and about 500 other people at a sit-in at a federal building in Boston in November of 1985 as part of a nationwide protest against Reagan’s aggression against El Salvador and Nicaragua. Not good enough for you? Then spill it! Clue us in as to what we ought to be doing.

        And I find it very hard to believe that the elites have “chosen him”. His prestige in his chosen field is so very high (he dominates linguistics in a way that no single person dominates any other intellectual field today), that they (or one of their agents, like Dershowitz) can’t just snuff him out. Better for them just to marginalize him by ignoring him.

        Finally, it is ironic, to say the least, that you regret that people would “follow the Chomskys and the Greenwalds down culs de sac for one’s entire life.” It seems to me that’s exactly what you are doing, even if with opposite intentions. You’re trying to slay a beast that just won’t disappear, no matter what you throw at it.

        Damn! Now I’ve been sucked into it too!

      • Tarzie says:

        Finally, it is ironic, to say the least, that you regret that people would “follow the Chomskys and the Greenwalds down culs de sac for one’s entire life.” It seems to me that’s exactly what you are doing, even if with opposite intentions. You’re trying to slay a beast that just won’t disappear, no matter what you throw at it.

        This anemic excuse for a withering insult easily applies much more to Chomsky than it does to me. Tell me, what has all of Chomsky’s handwringing over US foreign policy accomplished, except to convince his readers that handwringing is activism? I agree that focusing on these creeps becomes a dead end in its own right, which is why I’m passing Noam ‘on my way out.’ Far from attempts to ‘slay a beast that won’t disappear’ these are poisoned goodbye letters, intended less for Chomsky than as warnings for would-be acolytes. That my posts seriously annoy a class of person I loathe — preening, dipshits who write substance-free, condescending comments for the insufficiently star-struck — alone makes it worth it. But as you can see, other commenters get quite a bit more from it.

        Yours is the usual pro-Chomsky boilerplate and it’s really too dull and stupid to bother with at length, especially since you’ve only phoned it in. The claim that Chomsky is ‘an anarchist’ and not a social democrat pretty much embodies the rest. Chomsky’s brand is anarchist, burnished cheaply with tales of admiring some Catalonians he read about in his youth; the substance is something quite a bit different, and nowhere is this made more plain than his vile denunciation of Aaron Swartz. He’s a dead ender by design and yeah, were he anything else, he’d be a far more marginal figure, a conclusion one can actually draw from a lot of his own writing. He has been in symbiosis with The Establishment from the start of his career — which is the meaning you doltishly fail to take from my remarks on his early defense funding — and has been celebrated and made rich in the process. I don’t expect him to do anything but what he does. I encourage others to see him for what he is, and to use and discard accordingly.

    • “If Chomsky is disempowering, who living is empowering?”

      Graeber probably has more concrete ideas for action in a dozen pages than the entirety of Chomsky’s oeuvre, even if you don’t like them.

      There are many others who are less publicly prominent.

      Playing the “but could you or anyone else really do any better?” game is always stupid though. If that were true, either a. the Overton Window, and we should be pushing them in order to move the window left, or b. we should give up on them entirely, because it hasn’t helped most of us, and focus on finding a better solution that doesn’t involve them (which I think is something close to Tarzie’s position).

      • Paley Chayd says:

        circadianwolf said:

        Graeber probably has more concrete ideas for action in a dozen pages than the entirety of Chomsky’s oeuvre, even if you don’t like them.

        There are many others who are less publicly prominent.

        Playing the “but could you or anyone else really do any better?” game is always stupid though.

        I’ll look into Graeber and would genuinely like to know who the “others” you mention are. I wasn’t playing a game by asking “who living is empowering?” I’m genuinely interested. I’m not nearly as well-read or involved as I suspect Tarzie, you and his other readers are. I was excited by Greenwald for a while, but I’m offically turned off by him now. I enjoy Tarzie, but I want more. Arthur Silber is good, but something about the way he quotes himself at length bugs me.

        Can’t somebody just turn me on to some good ol’ empowering shit to read?

        Earlier haptic said: “The barriers to entry [into Twitter and blogging] are extremely low” and “in general the exclusion-of-access mechanisms in the Propaganda model don’t apply.”

        Low barriers to entry in other forms of discourse actually enhance the exclusion-of-access mechanisms of the Propaganda model. The massive number of people able to tweet and blog essentially turns their voices into a big loud roar where nobody is being heard outside of their own small circle of influence while the same elite class is still shaping the overall discussion at the top and maintaining the status quo. In addition, people with blogs and Twitter accounts think they have a chance to make a difference. We’re still down here slogging it out and debating with each other while the ruling class continues doing whatever the fuck they want. They probably hand out copies of Manufacturing Consent in ruling class seminars with supplements explaining how social media fits into the Propaganda Model.

  27. Hieroglyph says:

    “Perhaps if I were ‘kicking’ Chomsky, instead of simply showing how he is embedded in the selection system he and Herman identified, and if I were cherry-picking from his vast work, instead of identifying ways in which he has been consistent in his service to power, this opener of yours might not have elicited, ‘Oh sigh, a long litany of non-arguments from a fan. Here we go.’”

    Come now, I thought it was obvious this wasn’t a jibe at the post, more a general point at critics of Chomsky. If not, I should have put it better.

    However, the ‘‘Oh sigh, a long litany of non-arguments from a fan. Here we go” stuff is just a bit … patronizing. You persuade nobody with that stuff. Arguing a case for Chomsky does not equal ‘fanboi’. Or, not always.

    “Nope, sorry. That his career doing military-funded research at a university with uniquely strong ties to the military has been advanced by the military can not be seriously disputed. Even he admits it. That he’s been given a long leash during that time to wring his hands over foreign policy proves nothing.”

    This was being disputed, by me. And quite seriously too. Are you arguing he colluded – personally colluded – with the military? Are you arguing that his work was deliberately focused towards military purposes? If so, I dispute it, quite seriously. If not, we are talking at cross purposes.

    “Perhaps you should take this up with the person who wrote the piece. I simply linked to it because it presented a lot of factual information about Chomsky’s early career. I don’t agree with all it’s conclusions, but I find your readiness to discount Chomsky’s military ties rather unwholesome, and the extent to which you’re whining about a piece I didn’t write as if it speaks meaningfully to mine, really rather annoying.”

    Well, you are making rather similar points when you mention Chomsky’s ties to the military – as you have done repeatedly. I don’t ‘discount’ MIT ties to the military, I just don’t think it’s demonstrable that these ties are specific to Chomsky. Which is what I said originally, and have just repeated above. So, yes, I do discount the military ties point. it just seems … conspiratorial. However, I merely posted the quote as an aside. It’s not your post, fair enough, you may think some of it is nonsense.

    “No certainly not. It’s not even his fault that his own research, in the beginning, was funded directly by the military. But I am not concerned with fault. I am simply demonstrating that the relationship he has with elites has, from the beginning, been as symbiotic as it has been antagonistic, on the way to showing that his status in our discourse owes to many factors, including this symbiosis.”

    And this is very interesting, I think. And I do understand this is the main thrust of your article, and of the next one. Respectfully, I think you’ve been a bit defensive in your over-all reply.

    “I get it, you’re a fan. Prove something else. No one said he’s a bullshit merchant.”

    Seriously, boring. Do you also get that people can admit they are a fan – a kind of self-knowledge – but still argue a point, with that understanding in mind? I think you do. I wasn’t proving anything. You did not say he was a bullshit merchant. It was, again a respecful comment about Chomsky as a teacher. Which is what he is. But, sadly, many people do say he is a bullshit merchant, I accept not you, but it’s a fact nonetheless.

    This is good fun. I like this thread, and admire the fact the writer gives out some stick. Perhaps I deserve some of it, who knows?

    • Tarzie says:

      This is good fun. I like this thread, and admire the fact the writer gives out some stick. Perhaps I deserve some of it, who knows?

      I like your attitude so I’m gonna be nice this round. You seem to mostly get my meaning. I may have been a tad combative but you were sorta creating confusion by having fights out loud with other people besides me. I think you are overthinking my intent with the military connection but it seems you sorted that out before you finished your post. Just in case, I am not suggesting anything but what is right on the surface: a happy symbiosis between himself and state power going back 50 years or more, predicated on Pentagon-funded research. That’s just the facts.

  28. haptic says:

    Hadn’t seen that website. It’s a horror.

  29. spacemunki says:

    Was looking forward to this article. I hunger for anything retroflexive, retrospective, retroactive. It may be that I’m super selfish, but we all have selves. Paradoxical. Anyways, Thanks Tarzie, glad to read you and the others that comment your ideas and contribute theirs, its a wonderful forum. I will add my stream of consciousness bullshit now:

    My interest in all this (this being Greenwald, Chomsky, politics, activism today in general etc) is difficult for me to frame, but something occurred to me earlier. What if we are unable to apprehend reality, not because we can’t (are conditioned), but because we don’t want to?

    Take an activist organized by Otpor, funded by Soros. The irony is terrible. And yet, today it is on the flesh, blood and bones of these kinds of people that power flows on this planet. People live and die, not because of life or death, but because of ideas.

    In order for a message to get across, there are certain conventions a transmitter and a receiver need to subscribe to, or the communication is meaningless- and nothing terrifies like meaninglessness. The question becomes which conventions we accept, and which we don’t.

    Right-wingers are more explicit and honest in the shit they believe. They declare flat-out what they don’t accept, what they negate. It might be ridiculous just what they believe, but its a simple mechanism, and a simple system. Simplicity takes less effort to debunk.

    Lefties are not explicit at all. Which is why reading blogs like this is so much fun: you discover the complex, but utterly ridiculous, conflicting beliefs people like Greenwald have. You see how they lie to themselves and others. You see the web of lies begin to form- or rather, the web of lies begins to take shape in your mind- the weave of a power structure that holds you and everyone else snuggly inside it.

    This web is our own mind. It exists as a result of the limits of judgment itself. And then you discover: It is binary- it is actually incredibly simple. As we begin to sift finer and finer through all the statements and actions and judgments and behaviors prominent people like Chomsky have, we discover the frailty of the entire system.

    To conclude: we do not want to apprehend reality. We use 5% of our brains. We do so for a reason. We condition ourselves because we are scared of moving beyond morality, of looking at the fundamental duality underlying, and undermining, everything we believe in.

  30. Git, Tarzie! says:

    Dear Poodleboy Tarzie, I am impressed that of 131 comments above, you wrote 130 of them, and many of that 130 were written under a persona other than “Tarzie.” I guess the task isn’t too tough when you have a few “regulars” like dianetarz, thatarzieindahouse or circadiantarz, though I wonder what happened to amishtarzrake.

    Good job pretending to dissect Chomsky. Even better job at failing to hold him to his own standards, while pretending that’s what you were up to. Ultimately, as with Greenwald, you end up solidifying the reputation of Chomsky rather than exposing his fraudulence.

    Who’s paying you for this? Michael Albert? I didn’t realize zmag was so flush these days. I thought Hahnel took his bouncy red playground ball and went home.

  31. Pingback: Passing Noam on The Way Out, Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz | The Rancid Honeytrap

  32. mantell101 says:

    I thought that was a great blog. You write really well. James Corbett linked to it in his recent mail blast and I’m glad he did.

  33. Bitman says:

    The propaganda model more Herman’s than Chomsky’s. Minor point but an important one, since Chomsky is the bigger name. Herman was the one doing media analysis and deconstructing the Terrorism Industry from inside the academy in the run-up to MC.

    • Tarzie says:

      That’s true. I wrote Herman to pose the same question, but he didn’t reply. At this point they both can represent it. Chomsky is a better subject for what I’m doing here because he’s and icon and Herman isn’t. Herman’s stayed a more marginal figure.

  34. Pingback: Passing Noam on My Way Out Part 3: Intermission | The Rancid Honeytrap

  35. anolen says:

    Reblogged this on a.nolen and commented:
    Another excellent post from The Rancid Honeytrap, one of the more thoughtful bloggers online. Chomsky’s university is MIT for the uninitiated.

  36. Pingback: Mark Ames vs Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman on USAID | The Rancid Honeytrap

  37. Sandra says:

    Wow
    Great conversation. Chomsky’s greatest lesson to me has been to question everything, so of course I have always questioned what he says in his books. His great contribution is as historian, I think and as a framer of political history. If you vary your reading you find he is very dependable in that role. By teaching me to question everything he put himself on the line. And I have found through extensive research over fourteen years that he is but one voice but an important voice in the conversation. You have to always use critical thinking or you end up getting sucked into the company line and it permeates everything. Great conversation.

  38. Michael says:

    This is a healthy reflection on Chomsky and his place as a figure in the media. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nice work!

  39. Pingback: Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of Domestic Repression | The Rancid Honeytrap

  40. Pingback: Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism | The Rancid Honeytrap

  41. Pingback: The Celebrity Left Wars | The Rancid Honeytrap

  42. snafu682002 says:

    Reblogged this on endangeredleft and commented:
    St. Chomsky is not without sin …

  43. Pingback: The Limits of Chomsky’s Anti-Imperialism | Stupidity Tries

  44. Pingback: The Mainstream and the Margins: Noam Chomsky vs. Michael Parenti | Popaganda

  45. Pingback: Chomsky vs. Parenti, part 5: Lesser Evilism | Popaganda

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