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

In my last post, I accused Chomsky of whitewashing U. S. domestic repression when he described it as “undetectable” in comparison with the rest of the world. This incited some haggling with fans who think it’s reasonable to temporarily disappear, for rhetorical effect, two million people languishing in U. S. prisons, based on a percentage contest with Palestinians.

No doubt these bean counters consider themselves internationalists the way Chomsky does, but it’s actually the height of parochialism to measure horror with census figures. For the person consigned to a cage, it’s hardly mitigating that he shares his condition with one in one hundred residents of some place, rather than with one in ten in some other. This should be obvious, but this is the discourse you get when people like Chomsky are the official guiding lights.

To show that the whitewashing I mentioned in the last post was by no means a one-off, and to examine some additional problems, I am going to turn now to a lengthy interview Chomsky did last year in March at the British Library with Jonathan Freedland.  At one point, Freedland asked

Can you give an example of a dissenter who is, kind of, pushed aside by the system — the example of Aaron Swartz at your own university, MIT…did you have a response on that?

Chomsky’s answer is long but revealing. I am going to take it in three parts. Part 1:

The number of dissenters that are pushed aside is almost universal, either they’re in jail… if it’s Latin America they get their heads blown off. In the United States they’re marginalized in various ways. The United States is a free country…there is more protection for freedom of speech [than in Britain]…But essentially they can’t get jobs, they’re marginalized, they’re vilified. All sort of things, not much punishment, frankly, but, it’s real.

Once again we see the whitewashing of domestic repression that I touched on in Part 1 and this time I am going to refute it at greater length.  First of all, being vilified and made unable to support oneself is actually quite a lot of punishment, if your baseline is ‘not persecuted’ as opposed to ‘not murdered.’ But the repression of U.S. dissenters doesn’t end with extreme marginalization. It’s beyond scope here to list all the U. S. political dissidents whose persecution exceeds trifles like ostracism and financial ruin, especially if we don’t limit our timeframe, but the following  should suffice to make the point:

  • Ali al-Timimi, a Muslim cleric in Virginia, sentenced to life in prison for exhorting his followers to fight for the Taliban following 9/11
  • Anwar al-Awlaki, executed without due process for extolling violent resistance to the United States. His 16-year-old son was murdered a few weeks later with no official justification.
  • Samir Khan, executed without due process for editing a magazine allegedly connected to al-Qaeda.
  • Tarek Mehanna, sentenced to 17 years in prison for translating publicly available pro-jihadist documents and posting them online.
  • Chelsea Manning, at the time of the interview, in prison for almost three years without trial and subjected to brutal conditions. She recently received a 35-year sentence for leaking military and State Department documents.
  • John Kiriakou, former CIA officer, sentenced to 2 1/2 years for disclosing classified information to journalists while blowing the whistle on waterboarding.

Any consideration of how  “free” US society is must also factor in the harassment, raids and stings used against Muslims, anarchists, hacktivists, militant environmentalists and animal rights activists; the brutality and arrests routinely unleashed by militarized police on peaceful protesters; and the mass incarceration of African-Americans and other marginalized communities which is, among other things, a pre-emptive measure against political mobilization.  Chomsky is aware of these particulars, which is why his overall sanguine assessment is, at first glance, extremely odd.  Things don’t improve when he gets to Swartz:

Aaron Swartz is a different case and a very interesting one. He was a very bright young kid, a hacker, did very interesting work on computers. He was part of the hacking community which is in favor of opening up all sources. And the way he went about it was he broke into the MIT computer system, and what they call “liberated” Jstor. . .[a service] that takes articles and professional journals and libraries or individuals can subscribe to it, and then you can get Internet access to articles coming out in journals.

So Aaron, is a [unintelligible] very nice kid, um, he committed suicide. What happened is that he broke into the MIT system, he freed up JSTOR.  JSTOR pressed MIT to do something about it, he was stealing their stuff, [MIT] 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 to a jail sentence for a couple of months but the family didn’t want that and he committed suicide. It is a terrible event, everyone involved should have pressed the prosecutors not to do anything.

Whether deliberate or not, there’s a lot of misrepresentation here. First of all, Swartz did not “[break] into the MIT computer system.”  MIT provides JSTOR access to anyone who is on campus.  Swartz simply logged in with a guest account. That he “liberated” and “freed up” JSTOR is also misleading. He used a program that enabled rapid downloading, but he wasn’t publishing it anywhere. It was being saved to a laptop he had hidden in a closet. What he intended to do with the files is still not known. (source)

I have found no account claiming that JSTOR pressed MIT to call the police. They simply cut off MIT’s access to their repository. (source)  MIT was at liberty at that point to just pull the plug on Swartz’s guest account and harden security, but they called Cambridge police and the Cambridge police brought in the feds.  JSTOR removed itself early, discouraging prosecution and settling for payment of $26,000. When Chomsky says “everyone involved should have pressed the prosecutors not to do anything” he means MIT.  (source)

The proposed plea deal was for six months’ jail time, not Chomsky’s “couple months” and it required that Swartz plead guilty to 13 felonies. It was not his “family” that rejected it. It was the 26-year-old Swartz and his attorney who wanted to force federal prosecutors to justify their pursuit. A trial risked a jail term of between 7 and 35 years. Swartz and his attorney proposed other plea deals, but prosecutors rejected them. (source).

If you’re wondering if perhaps there’s a bias in Chomsky’s skewed account — exceeding even his loyalty to MIT — let him explain:

…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 anywhere 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.

Well, there are ways around this, but they involve collective action, of the kind that doesn’t fit with the new spirit of the age. What ought to happen is that there ought to be a public subsidy for creative work, and there would be no copyrights, no patents, there would be huge savings and everything would be open. But that requires we do something together and we are not allowed to do that, we have to be out for ourselves. . .

For students of political repression, the Swartz case is rife with dots to connect: the federalizing of local police, the draconian justice system, the military-academic complex and the government’s intense dread of hackers.  So it’s shocking that Chomsky is clearly more vexed by Swartz’s “stealing” of JSTOR’s “stuff” than by anything else, and turns Freedland’s interesting question about dissent into an opportunity to defend privatized scholarship, denounce Swartz and distort the record.

We know by the end of Chomsky’s reply what he meant at the outset when he said Swartz is “a different case.” He meant he wasn’t a real dissident. He was a “kid”, in thrall to the anti-collective “spirit of the age”, out for himself, too young and selfish to realize that there is only one way to democratize academic information: spend a lifetime petitioning the state to subsidize it. If he were a real dissident, he might have only been marginalized, subject to “not much punishment, frankly”  instead of driven to bankruptcy and suicide by vindictive prosecutors. What happened to Swartz was a tragedy, “a terrible event”, but it wasn’t repression. The United States is a free country.

Chomsky’s sales job for institutional power requires that he misrepresent Swartz’s politics more recklessly even than he misrepresents his case. So he can’t even see Swartz as a resourceful agitator, whose civil disobedience would complement Chomsky’s imagined mass movement to make state subsidies flow. Instead he rips Swartz’s JSTOR intervention entirely from the communal spirit of the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, and from the context of Swartz’s hybrid politics which, as his work on SOPA made clear, did not preclude the kind of activism Chomsky approves of.

It’s disquieting that Chomsky thinks that minimizing Swartz’s dissidence and, by extension, the significance of his death, is so very important that he’d already preached his Swartz sermon, word for word, in a Young Turks interview, only weeks after Swartz’s suicide. There is no point in going over this sermon a second time, except to point out that his condemnation is more explicit, aligning Swartz’s direct action with the “pathologies of our society”,  and stating that the “obvious way out”, which apparently Swartz hadn’t considered, is to have creative work “subsidized by the government.”  In the same interview, Chomsky also preemptively whitewashed MIT’s complicity before the investigation of its conduct had even commenced:

Cenk Ugyur: Have you put any thought into the culpability of MIT there and do you have any thoughts on it?

Chomsky: To be precise, MIT didn’t pursue charges against him. MIT was culpable in my opinion, but for what they didn’t do. MIT didn’t intervene to try to block the charges. . . MIT did provide the police with the information that someone had broken into the computer system, but, you know, that you’d expect. Then came these extremely harsh charges from the prosecuting attorney and what MIT should have done is taken some initiative to protest the severity of the charges and they didn’t and I think they’re culpable for that.

While it is true that MIT didn’t pursue charges, the school’s complicity in Swartz’s persecution went well beyond standing silently aside:

  • MIT technicians installed the video camera in the wiring closet where Swartz had stashed his laptop.  A video of Swartz entering the closet led to his arrest. (source)
  • MIT’s police identified, chased down and arrested Swartz, confiscated his USB drive and turned it over to the Secret Service.
  • MIT never told the feds that Swartz hadn’t hacked into JSTOR but had accessed it by the same means afforded all visitors to the campus, even though the bulk of the allegations against Swartz dealt with him “exceeding authorized access” under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
  • MIT padded its account of expenses, bumping them into felony territory.
  • IT staff from MIT helped Secret Service agents hack into Swartz’s confiscated laptop.

It’s impossible to know if Chomsky knew any part of the above when Ugyur interviewed him, but a year later, after the information had been made public, Chomsky’s spin hadn’t changed:

“The MIT investigation seemed to me reasonably well done. MIT’s contribution to the tragedy was mostly negative: It didn’t take aggressive measures to try to free him from the charges, or at least mitigate them, as it should have,” Chomsky told HuffPost.

He’s also still swinging at Swartz for rejecting the plea deal:

“Part of the tragedy is that there were apparently very good opportunities to reduce the punishment to something fairly limited, nothing like the crazy threats of the prosecution in the early days.” (source)

I complained in my last post that Chomsky spends too much time telling everyone how horrible things are while offering too few specifics on what to do. But after reviewing his conduct toward Swartz I may have to revise that, because between his words and his actions, it’s really all right there. It’s just not worth knowing.

End of Part 2. (Series to be continued)


Thanks to RH commenters @lastwheel and Ned Ludd for inspiring this post.


Passing Noam on My Way Out, Part 1

Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower

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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169 Responses to Passing Noam on My Way Out, Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

  1. mspbwatch says:

    Chomsky is also wrong about the incentives with JStor:

    “Just two days before internet folk hero Aaron Swartz took his own life, online journal archive JSTOR announced an expansion of its free-access “Register & Read” program, from 76 publishers to over 700. The move is a crack in the for-profit academic publishing stronghold’s armor, but not the paywall-demolishing revolution of the open-access movement’s dreams.
    Swartz, 26, was a prominent activist in that open-access movement, advocating that academic research funded by taxpayers should be made available to the taxpayers for free online. At the time of his death, Swartz was facing over 30 years in prison for allegedly downloading nearly 5 million academic documents from JSTOR in what is thought to have been the first step in a radical plan to liberate the data. There is widespread speculation that the severity of the punishments he faced may have been a factor in his decision to take his life.
    The Register & Read program allows anyone to read up to three articles every two weeks online from selected offerings in exchange for some personal information, such as occupation and institutional affiliation.”

    Chomsky is turning out to be a fraud. Thank you for this information.

    • Duck says:

      “Chomsky is turning out to be a fraud.”

      To be fair, the guy is 85 years old. To judge an octogenarian with quite a track record for meaningful anlysis, even dissent, as a fraud based on this admittedly ill advised defense of his long time employer is to paint with a bit of a broad brush. I agree with the general critique in the above piece. But Chomsky’s record suggest he deserves better than our scorn.

      • Tarzie says:

        To be fair, the guy is 85 years old…

        I was wondering when someone was going to say this, not least because I initially had some concerns about that myself. But the problem is that Chomsky is quite lucid and very much himself in the rest of the video and in other appearances. He gave this Swartz eulogy, which is far worse than ‘ill-advised’, at least twice in the same year, as my post pointed out. A year after Swartz’s death, he was still whitewashing MIT’s complicity.

        Old age alters faculties, but doesn’t in my experience radically alter values. I have had relatives who got both kinder and more politically astute as they got older. I therefore see no reason to credit Chomsky’s remarkable consistency on Swartz, intellectual property, and MIT’s complicity to too little blood to the brain. Far younger people in the same milieu also had weird reactions to Swartz’s death. Chomsky’s reaction is very consistent with everyone else around him.

        The point of the post is not scorn, though I don’t fault people for being disgusted. I am simply attempting to demonstrate the ways Chomsky serves power, something that didn’t begin in old age. I happen to think all iconic lefts are frauds in some way or another – they wouldn’t be icons otherwise – so I am fine with mspbwatch’s indictment.

      • mspbwatch says:

        Between this post and part 1, where Tarzie described how Chomsky refused to apply his Propaganda Model to himself, and in the background of the Heat Vampirism model, I think Tarzie made the case that he is a fraud. Does this mean that Chomsky hasn’t made useful contributions to society? No, of course not. But where it matters–providing solutions or approaches to challenge and confront inequities in society, Tarzie nailed it. There are too many examples of insidious, oppressive, disempowering and authoritarian methods employed by too many influential leftists. This needs to be exposed.

      • Duck says:

        I guess I don’t disagree with either of you on the points. I am hoping you are wrong about motives. Even one as smart as Chomsky can be a tool without being cognizant of his complicity.

        But the question is begged though. If Chomsky is on some level aware of his ethically dubious defense of power, like that evinced by the Swartz comments, how deep does it go? As has been stated in previous posts, one of Chomsky’s major contributions to political thought is his understanding of the way debate is defined within allowable boundaries of a left-right dichotomy. Is Chomsky aware of his role in this vein? Has he long been aware of it?

      • Tarzie says:

        I am hoping you are wrong about motives… Is Chomsky aware of his role in this vein? Has he long been aware of it?

        I just don’t think his motives matter that much. I really regret that so many of these conversations are about discerning the secret moral essence of these people. In this case, certainly, his motives for diminishing Swartz and protecting MIT/Intellectual Property on two successive occasions don’t alter the results at all.

        But since you care, it seems to me that just from a purely empirical standpoint, there is definitely a lot of intentional shittiness here. He is misrepresenting the Swarz case in one of two ways:

        1. He doesn’t know the facts, in which case he just makes shit up that suits his agenda.
        2. He knows the facts, but because they don’t sync up with covering for institutional power, he distorts them.

        I am hard-pressed to pick the one that makes Chomsky look well-intended but wrong.

        With all of these people, as with the media that Herman and Chomsky applied their lens to, I think there are varying levels of self-awareness. I think Chomsky does kind of hold himself separate from the system of punishments and rewards that shapes our discourse in the same way Greenwald does, but with a good deal less narcissistic clowning.

        But again, I feel that attempting to suss it out is part of the disease that makes left discourse more akin to religion than to politics. You’ll never know how these people see themselves and it doesn’t really matter anyway except to make fans feel better or worse about their power-serving conduct. FWIW, Chomsky felt that most journalists were entirely self un-aware about the extent to which they served the establishment because they had simply internalized its values. He thought the better ones were aware, and would play along but look for openings to inject more truth than the system generally encourages. In my view, in relation to Swartz, Chomsky is actually going above and beyond what I think the system even requires, so I am hard-pressed to put him in the second group.

    • guest77 says:

      Chomsky has laid the foundations for much of the critique of US foreign policy and media behavior. To say humanity owes him a debt of gratitude is not, I don’t think, hyperbole. And the author of the opening piece, to his credit, acknowledges to some degree. And the critique offered is very interesting, and quite valid. Certainly of all the critiques about Chomsky one reads this seems honest, seems to come from a good place politically.

      But after reading this thoughtful criticism of this person, you boneheadedly decide to say:

      “Chomsky is turning out to be a fraud.”

      So all those decades of scholarship and activism down the drain because of his opinion on this matter? Chomsky maybe is wrong on Swartz. Perhaps people should do a little thinking instead of simply lionizing him. But you suggest to people that he is simply “a fraud” and Case Closed. This is the same kind of Manichaeism the author talks about on this blog. And he talks about it because that kind of black and white thinking is dangerous and foolish.

      It goes without saying that, for whatever their faults, there are far worse people than Chomsky and Greenwald in this world. In fact, as people go, they’re in the 99.9% percentile of “good people”, certainly when we compare them to the people DOING the spying, the people running the wars, running the banks. So while we naturally agree with rational, valid, honest criticisms like the author has made in the article here, how do you make the leap to “fraud”? The Corporate/Security State is out there and, in the end, certainly the real enemy. And you just taking a sh|t on Chomsky probably brings a smile to their face.

      I guess my point is there is a difference between what the author did, and your inane poo-flinging. If we take this stuff seriously, and we should, then what you did is pretty ignorant.


    Magnificent! Not a single false note.

  3. MickStep says:

    I’m on my phone atm in a noisy environment, so I can’t verify by watching the video. But I watched the video yesterday and I am 90% certain Chomsky didn’t say Aaron was “not very nice”.

    • Tarzie says:

      I put lastwheel’s video there so people could make up their minds.

      • MickStep says:

        I think it’s a total mistake. Can you really imagine Chomsky would say that, I know he reads all Glenn’s articles And Glenn was singing Aarons praises. He said Aaron is a nice kid. His entire point is that Aaron is a hopeless idealist. If you keep it there you are just asking to get torn apart.

      • Tarzie says:

        No, what would be a total mistake would be if people got the idea that this was vastly more important than everything else he said. I’ve put a question mark by the ‘not’ and provided a video that people can look at and judge.

        I would scrub it entirely if I thought for sure I knew what he was saying. But I don’t.

      • MickStep says:

        I would say assume good faith on something you admit to being unsure of, especially since it’s so irrelevant.

        I haven’t read the whole peice yet, looking forward to finishing it.

      • Tarzie says:

        I hear ‘not’ when I watch the video, so that’s what I transcribed. Assuming good faith does not mean changing the text. I have only modified it because people like you are derailing potentially more interesting conversations. Now that I’ve made the modifications, please stop.

    • I made the video and I clarified by thoughts below but it’s odd that you comment without reading (and viewing) the article in full, yet you mount a kneejerk response for Chomsky over a trite issue. This hints at an emotional deference over-powering intellectual rigour. You said it yourself faith in him makes it unthinkable:

      Can you really imagine Chomsky would say that, I know he reads all Glenn’s articles And Glenn was singing Aarons praises.

      He called him a thief, a thief, a thief, and that’s far worse. If it applies to you then that’s precisely the dangerous thinking Tarzie has covered as it smacks of the whole “Glenn would never sell out to a billionaire” pseudo-defense that persists in people who should know better.

      • MickStep says:

        That’s ridiculous, I said what I said because I have seen the video before multiple times and my ears hear it that way, and whats more the demeanor of his entire bullshit defense of MIT and JSTOR portray Aaron as a naieve, misguided, romantic idealist who should have known the consequences.

        From Chomsky’s position it makes a hell of a lot more sense to not say Aaron was a bad kid, then only to proceed to belittle him.

        That was not a defense of Chomsky I did, it was a defense of Tarzie.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think suggesting that my post reflect the complete lack of consensus on what Chomsky said was a good one, and I’m glad I finally accepted it.

        I don’t agree, though, that Chomsky’s meaning or intentions are unambiguously clear, but I also don’t think there is much profit in arguing about it.

      • MickStep says:

        I don’t want to argue about it either, all I was doing was watching your back because you got something factually wrong because it was about to potentially blow up in your face.

  4. Great post. As someone who broke away from liberalism and moved towards anarchism largely due to Chomsky’s influence, this kind of whitewash from him is very disappointing to me. His misrepresentation of the Swartz case and his appalling apologism for copyright and corporate paywalls are particularly egregious. But his erasure of domestic political repression is also appalling to me as a prison abolitionist who has followed a lot of cases of political prisoners in the US.

  5. Tarzie missed the obvious: Chomsky is a heavy contributor to JSTOR’s walled garden. He did spot that odd utterance however, and for the record I’m not completely sure if this was some sort of Freudian slip or oratory fumble. It’s odd that his hands, eyes, voice and head all said no possibly confirmed by his equally odd non-correction of “he committed suicide”, but it’s not really important because the contempt he has for the data thief is clear elsewhere. For an exceptional linguist he has a peculiar grasp of semantics: “broke” was simply the opening of a door IIRC, and “theft” requires a deprivation of property but JSTOR’s originals remain intact. What Chomsky is really sad about is that Swartz committed unauthorised copying which only is a violation if one ascribes to authoritarianism.

    In 2009, as part of a larger question Chomsky was asked:

    […] If I go to my computer and download the latest U2 album “illegally”, is that justified?

    His reply:

    Well, again, depending on how broadly we cast the net, in a very narrow sense I think a case can be made saying it’s illegal – here’s a creative artist who created a song and wants to survive, and he can’t survive if people just steal. So in a very narrow sense, yes [copyright laws are] justified. As a broader question, however, why do we have copyright laws? Is that the moral way or even the economically efficient way to support the creative arts? I don’t think so; there are better ways. For example, it should be, in a free democratic society, a sort of responsibility arrived at by democratic decision to maintain adequate support for creative arts as we do for science. If that were done, the artists wouldn’t need copyrights to survive. That’s economically more efficient, I believe, and morally more justified.

    I have to assume Chomsky is unfamiliar with Bono if he thinks he is just scraping by and there is that odd use of language again, “steal”. If a methodology is toxic, it’s toxic, it doesn’t suddenly become “just” if it aligns with one’s personal interests and anyone that promotes the phantom concept of intellectual property needs to be thought of as a social pariah. While Chomsky retains copyright for himself he gives the same legal conceit to Murdoch, Warner Bros, and the Olympic shit show. Want to see an end to a manufactured consent? You take away the funding model and the ability for anyone to think or share uninhibited does just that. One would even help kill a second bird because the surveillance industry is indistinguishable from the ad industry.

    Chomsky’s plan already exists in some countries in the form of a levy on private copying where taxes exist on black cassettes, DVDs and other storage. Should the state be the collector there exists the “left’s” eternal problem: how does that big pot of tribute trickle down to the artists? How do you prevent that big pot being “invested” furthering the assault on the intellectual commons?

    It takes a great deal of cynicism (and fear mongering) to think that “the arts” collapses without an enclosure of the intellectual commons under state subsidy. Luckily there are people willing to throw off neoliberal strategy. It’s sad that Swartz couldn’t hang on a little longer because he could have gone with the NSA’s Claptrap defense: data collection only happens if one opens and reads the files.

    • Tarzie says:

      Tarzie missed the obvious: Chomsky is a heavy contributor to JSTOR’s walled garden.

      Whether or not that’s what motivated his remarks is a matter of speculation. As a professor at MIT everything he does under their auspices is already public. But in any case, certainly readers are free to infer that self interest is in play without my help. I don’t find it particularly interesting, since I don’t find the argument over intellectual property to be the most compelling thing here. My point has always been that Chomsky serves power, and certainly his own class interests factor into that.

      Between haggling over IP and whether or not Chomsky said ‘not’ this thread is promising to disappoint.

      • Yeah I saw the “not” thread and actually reworked the comment to include my thoughts which is ultimately irrelevancy because you don’t call a nice lad a thief several times in numerous interviews. I’d certainly prefer to just be called un-nice than have an admired elder condemn my actions as criminal and it’s interesting to think whether the pair ever spoke about the event. I could imagine an exchange along the lines of:

        Well, you can’t just go and steal thousands of documents, you need to collectively organise a subsidy for us.

        I don’t believe there is record of Chomsky lobbying for defense pre-suicide and it’s easy to backhandedly condemn when all too late. Although it’s again odd that he sees it as theft but said nothing should have happened to Swartz which perhaps hints at exceptionalism for a MIT peer (of sorts).

        As for IP (as a general topic) I think it’s dreadfully important because it’s a measure of a person that can leave other condemnation moot, and I agree it’s tedious because there shouldn’t even be argument. Specifically it reveals Chomsky as using the same mechanism of ladder climbing as his opponents whilst offering some really vague faux-solution along the lines of voting in a government to outsource our aesthetic tastes. The Sistine Chapel is a beauty but ultimately state propaganda.

        Like with the death of journalism being a potential non-loss, which has been an idea in this part of the intellectual space for some time, what do we really get or lose when the established pillars of academia fall? A lot less debt for starters.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think it’s dreadfully important because it’s a measure of a person that can leave other condemnation moot, and I agree it’s tedious because there shouldn’t even be argument.

        Right, but my interest is not really in the measure of Chomsky. The fact is, if he were anything but what he is, or something similar, he wouldn’t be where he is. Agonizing over these people’s individual failings is not where my focus is. That’s why I didn’t feel the need to demonstrate anything beyond Chomsky’s service to power — including his own — of which his defense of IP is but one part.

  6. @umfuld says:

    When Chomsky says the U.S. is less repressive than other nations I don’t take that as a sanguine assessment but rather as a condemnation of us all. We have more freedom to act and more power (including more global influence) to gain than perhaps any other people in history.

    Maybe he’s saying the rest of the world might think championing an activist who killed himself at 26 rather than spend 6 months in jail to be extremely odd?

    • Tarzie says:

      When Chomsky says the U.S. is less repressive than other nations I don’t take that as a sanguine assessment but rather as a condemnation of us all.

      I think that condemnation trivializes what we’re up against when we resist and in so doing, whitewashes domestic repression.

      I detest these politics of blaming people for not getting their heads bashed by cops. It’s religion.

      • @umfuld says:

        He’s not whitewashing anything:

        Our level of repression, while real and growing, is less than just about anywhere else, ever. Why do you want to tell a scientist he can’t state a fact?

      • Tarzie says:

        Our level of repression, while real and growing, is less than just about anywhere else, ever. Why do you want to tell a scientist he can’t state a fact?

        I don’t agree with the first part of this construction, first of all, especially if you take our entire history into account. But it’s beside the point, because I am not objecting to acknowledging that other places are worse. I am objecting to the dishonestly hyperbolic way he’s putting it. The assertion that U.S. political dissidents are punished almost solely with vilification and joblessness is simply false. The fact that in Latin America dissidents ‘get their heads blown off’, doesn’t make it more truthful.

        If you’re going to argue with me, argue with the particular things I’ve said and also the particular things Chomsky’s said with which I am taking issue. No need to link to Chomsky articles. I’m aware of his work.

    • He would become a felon possibly suffering exclusion from VISAs, easy dismissal from job interviews, and other social impacts so it’s not just a 6 month thing. Freedom of speech is nothing if your voice is drowned out by overwhelming misinformation, and it’s insignificant without the freedom of action which seems non-existent in the US unless you are paying hard cash. You have everything from home raids on domestic horticulture to assassinations for those that meaningfully resist.

      • Tarzie says:

        yeah, but other places are worse so it’s totally cool for Noam to call things like murder and long prison sentences ‘undetectable’ and ‘not much punishment.’

    • Ned Ludd says:

      I used to volunteer with an advocacy group that helped the homeless. When you get out of prison, if you are a felon, no one will hire you. No one will rent to you. You will be homeless. Swartz’s legal defense fund was trying to raise funds before he committed suicide. He had no money; he was broke.

      Swartz was looking at a future of desperation and homelessness. Let us know how your life turns out after you plead guilty to 13 felonies. There are plenty of activists engaged in civil disobedience that would benefit from your fearlessness.

      • @umfuld says:

        I’m gonna giggle myself to sleep tonight at the idea of someone like Swartz sleeping on a pile of snow like I have many times.

      • Tarzie says:

        You know your comments should come with a disclaimer: ‘Thinks Snowden Leaks are a plot to undermine the holy goodness of state power.”

      • Ned Ludd says:

        As a follow-up, the request for help from his legal defense fund came about 4 months before Swartz killed himself. According to Lawrence Lessig, Swartz was broke and was facing a million dollar trial. umfuld finds this all very funny. Unfortunately, people responded with the same sort of callousness.

        Now let me see if I got this right:

        1. Brilliant programmer gets chance of a lifetime.
        2. Turns that into lots of money early in life.
        3. Decides to change the world in his own way.
        4. Consciously & purposefully breaks the law.
        5. Has a webpage to get others to pay his legal bills.

        I’ve never met Aaron but I’ve always enjoyed his writing and looked forward to meeting him one day. But there is something seriously wrong about this.

        Aaron should man up, take responsibility for his actions, and pay his own bills.

        And if this is his idea of changing the world, perhaps he should reconsider his choices and find a better way of paying it forward to other brilliant programmers who never got the breaks he did.

        The founder of Hacker News, Paul Graham, is the venture capitalist who provided the initial funding for reddit and brought Swartz together with the other reddit founders. He often comments on Hacker News, but he did not lift a finger to defend Swartz in the comment thread; never mind helping him raise legal defense funds. Once Swartz was arrested, he was persona non grata. After he committed suicide, reddit deleted the early morning post about the suicide that had reached the #1 spot on the site. They did not allow any posts on Swartz on the front page until the end of the day, when the news continued to dominate other sites, and reddit finally released a brief statement.

    • @umfuld says:

      As far as “I’ve had this discussion several times already, so I’m gonna pass this time” goes – I’m addressing the specific topic you’ve raised in part 2 of a 3 part series on this very specific topic.

      I’d like to take you seriously. Ball is in your court.

    • Tarzie says:

      When Chomsky says the U.S. is less repressive than other nations…

      That’s not the phrasing I am taking exception to. I am taking exception to Less Repressive = ‘Undetectable by comparison’ (part 1) and Less Repressive = ‘Not much punishment, frankly’ (part 2)

  7. circadianwolf says:

    Chomsky’s comments about repression within the US are interesting given the oft-stated line, in response to idiots going “why don’t you care about what [some other country] does?”, that he focuses on the US because he’s an American. (A line we often hear from others as well, e.g. Greenwald.) But his comments you’ve documented here demonstrate that he is interested only in certain kinds of actions by the US – actions abroad against non-Americans.

    Which, to fit in with your general point, are precisely the actions ordinary Americans have the least ability to change. We have almost no ability to put pressure on the military or defense contractors or the Washington bureaucracy, because they have no presence or relationship with most of the American population anymore; the process of war has been outsourced or localized, and increasingly so with the use of drones, etc. There are at least pressure points to push against if we want to act against police repression, domestic spying, economic disenfranchisement, etc, despite the very real threat of violent reprisal.

  8. Ned Ludd says:

    One thing I noticed, and was surprised by, is that Chomsky uses the hardships in other nations to minimize the hardship that people face in the U.S.

    Chomsky: But essentially [U.S. dissidents] can’t get jobs, they’re marginalized, they’re vilified. All sort of things, not much punishment, frankly, but, it’s real.

    If you can’t find work, you can’t afford food or shelter. For Chomsky, apparently, this is “not much punishment”. His father, William Chomsky, became faculty president of a private college about the time that Noam Chomsky started attending private elementary school. It seems that Noam Chomsky is just another member of the elite, brought up in affluence and dismissive of how horrible it is to be poor and unemployed in this country.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah. It’s very dismissive of what it means to be unable to get a job in a place that has a very weak safety net. But it’s even worse to pretend that punishment for dissent pretty much ends there. Inspired by your comment, I’ve added language to take account of both.

    • diane says:

      Thanks for that Ned – The Woolley Mammoth …. balancing on a stool, at the ‘kitchen table’ whose proprietors never acknowledged, wanted, nor invited to ‘the party.’ I always read your comments when I see them, as I feel a kinship with much of what you express. I certainly always did when I commented at Naked Capitalism, before Lambert twisted (“edited “) more than one comment I made. Just delete it if you don’t want a certain opinion expressed , or believe it is not relevant; but, when one heads into changing the entire meaning of a comment they just edited (which is what he did), and blocking the commenter from clarifying what they actually meant (which is also what he did), they clearly indicate that they are part of the problem.

      (and, Tarzie, read your comment policy link, are you really serious about meanness is okay [as long as it holds interest?], I thought that was what was being battled? Where did i go wrong in life? I have no humor left, I actually believe older people are generally wiser (and tend to be far kinder, though certainly not all) than younger ones (that’s logical! ….since they’ve lived longer, under this mess) am not ‘well read/literary’ because it was always the exclusive ‘white’ boyz bookz that were promoted, and I despise meanness and gratuitous SNARK. Not to say that I don’t generally agree with questioning why Greenwald and Noam should not be considered bought sell outs, just to say: meanness is okay? Really????????)

      • Tarzie says:

        meanness is okay? Really????????)

        Diane, if I didn’t allow for a little meanness, I would be a bigger-than-usual hypocrite.

      • diane says:

        I don’t buy that Tarzie, as meanness is intentional harm against someone who isn’t deserving of that harm. Meanness is not unintentional and misdirected. Again, welcome meanness??????


      • Tarzie says:

        I think we’re at an impasse.

  9. haptic says:

    Genuine question.

    What would constitute a counterexample to the idea that “if he were anything but what he is, or something similar, he wouldn’t be where he is” ?

    I worry about these constructions, because although they seem to impart some new information, I don’t know how they are not tautological.

    • Tarzie says:

      It’s not an attempt to impart new information. I am simply explaining where Chomsky’s individual qualities sit in relation to my interest in him. His individual qualities and beliefs are useful to me only inasmuch as they confirm or refute my belief that he serves power in a way that is consistent with every other left celebrity. I don’t care whether or not he’s essentially good or essentially bad, a hypocrite or what his intentions are.

      Anyone who wants to refute me should find an explanation other than service to power for why strikingly similar dead enders all cluster around the margins of our discourse. Or they could show that in fact that’s not what actually clusters around the margins.

      My comment is akin to what Chomsky said to Andrew Marr when he was misunderstanding Chomsky’s media critique: ‘If you didn’t believe everything you say, you wouldn’t be sitting in that chair.’ I made it in part because I didn’t want this discussion to be all about intellectual property. The extent of Chomsky’s wrong-headedness is not the point of this post.

      • haptic says:

        Gotcha, but I wasn’t really asking you to tell me how to refute you.

        I’m not really interested in undermining your critique of Chomsky. Have at it.

        I think your critique is substantive, I just see people (not you) so frequently elevate that tautology in order to short circuit critique. Such that the fact Chomsky is successful in communicating what he thinks indicates a priori that nothing he says is genuinely subversive. Such a heuristic would make your critique unnecessary, but that would be a loss.

        I suppose I am suspicious of the tautology as anything other than a device to explain the more substantive critique of an entity’s propaganda function.

        I also find myself wondering what it would look like if Chomsky was less of a heat vampire. And what counterexamples to the propaganda model could possibly look like. And whether the consequence of stating the import of the propaganda model as a tautology is a pre-emptive conviction that no possibly media happenings can be truly subversive.

        I wonder whether the tautological statement of the propaganda model carries forward a little too much of what you correctly identify in Chomksy as a disempowering streak, in that it encourages us to believe that the system is entirely self-completing. That is a disempowering thought, right?

        I wonder in the same vein whether it is more empowering to return to the original meaning of the term “propaganda” and whether the point is make sure that subversive propaganda is produced and successfully promulgated within a propaganda system.

        And I wonder if that type of “propaganda model” could give us a more precise way of evaluating the subversive function of Heroes of the Left.

      • Tarzie says:

        Ah, the first time around I wasn’t quite sure what you were getting at so simply guessed and failed. This had nothing to do with how you put it. It has to do with my own language limits.

        So that my description/prescription complaint isn’t entirely hypocritical, I am hoping there’s still an intended ‘What now?’ post in me that might touch on some of these questions. In the meantime:

        I suppose I am suspicious of the tautology as anything other than a device to explain the more substantive critique of an entity’s propaganda function.

        I’m not sure what this means. Are you saying it’s too simplistic to imply, as I have, that the less obviously subservient side of a heat vampire’s critique is, in effect, a ruse and nothing else?

        I also find myself wondering what it would look like if Chomsky was less of a heat vampire.

        In terms of what he’d say or do or what his standing would be in the world or both? It’s easier for me to imagine a less constrained system than to imagine a less constrained Chomsky. Without the usual constraints, I imagine a constellation of left luminaries who more closely resemble the left outside the margins: more marxists, more anarchists, more repudiators of state legitimacy, more hacktivists, more racial and gender diversity…more organizers/agitators as opposed to intellectuals and journalists. Put more generally, a higher prescription/description quotient. I think Swartz makes a good comparison. Also David Graeber. I think Ned Ludd’s comparison of MLK to Chomsky was useful.

        If your question is how someone of enduring high status could be less power-serving with everything else remaining just as it is, I have to admit I’m stumped. I think they would have to be someone who eats away at the system in some way that looks entirely like something the system had no built-in filters for.

        I wonder whether the tautological statement of the propaganda model carries forward a little too much of what you correctly identify in Chomksy as a disempowering streak, in that it encourages us to believe that the system is entirely self-completing. That is a disempowering thought, right?

        Only if a warning label on a jar of drain opener is disempowering. I think knowing what something is good for and what it isn’t is overall more empowering than not knowing. I think the idea that people like Greenwald and Chomsky emerge organically based on the happy intersection of their merits and the left’s requirements is a deception that has all kinds of disempowering, even dangerous, effects. Even if on close analysis one draws the conclusion that fucking with the state is far more dangerous than the luminaries let on, that’s information that imparts where one should put one’s energies and one shouldn’t.

        I wonder in the same vein whether it is more empowering to return to the original meaning of the term “propaganda” and whether the point is make sure that subversive propaganda is produced and successfully promulgated within a propaganda system.

        I dunno. This seems somewhat bound up with the heat vampire description/prescription emphasis. I think we are getting diminishing returns from information at this juncture. Perhaps rather than focusing on how to produce propaganda that gets around existing constraints, it makes more sense to be more deliberately analytical about where the openings for change are, where in that is change most needed, and the best means of bringing it about. The better propaganda would be part of this I guess, but only a small part.

  10. I saw Chomsky once or twice in Boston and was annoyed/sickened by the sycophantic nature of his followers. Every question was, “What do you think about so and so?”, asked in such a naive way that his response had some scriptural quality rather than just being some old (pretty informed but) academic guy’s opinion. I also thought Chomsky’s dismissal of libertarian fringe candidates was, to say the least, trite and regretable in its lack of thoughtfulness.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      There is nothing as monstrous as attending lectures by an author. It’s more sycophantic than questions from trembling college students to a snipish professor. At best a passing wave of disruption might occur when someone dares a challenging question but it’s all forgotten as the audiences gives up on its critical thought as soon as the next sycophant comes up to the mic.

  11. Pingback: Passing Noam on My Way Out – Part 1 | The Rancid Honeytrap

  12. Ned Ludd says:

    Fred Hampton was murdered by the government. Judi Bari was almost killed by a pipe bomb, and then the government targeted her for prosecution. Timothy DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in jail for derailing a federal oil and gas lease auction, even though “environmentalists had pooled together to pay what DeChristopher owed”. He spent at least two weeks in an “isolation unit”.

    In Washington, anarchists were incarcerated for five months, including two months in solitary, as part of “a fishing expedition targeting those who identify as anarchists or associate with anarchists.”
    And if you protest in this country, and if you step outside of the state-approved free speech zones, you will be beaten, tear-gassed, pepper sprayed, and then arrested for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse.

    Yet, to Chomsky, “The United States is a free country.” Dissidents face “not much punishment, frankly.”

    • michael g says:

      There’s a sense that we all know how bad it is, but that it comes in levels and layers, and I’m just not that confident about it being clear all the way to the dismal bottom of it.
      Fred Hampton’s state-sanctioned state-delivered murder, Judy Bari’s attempted assassination, or more accurately the initiation of her actual assassination over time, it’s not like that’s the moral bottom of it all.
      And that level’s not even on the table for most of the disputants.
      What I’m saying is w/o evidence, so assertion, but it’s an assertion that it’s much worse.
      High-profile take-downs weren’t all that happened even then.
      There were all along Chelsea Mannings and Aaron Swartz’s we never even heard about before they were swept away.
      This is a dark faith not covert history.
      Still what we do know about things,and agree w/each other about as well, refutes Chomsky’s almost lighthearted acceptance of repressive conditions in US. My point is it’s thus making it easier to rest the analysis there. Not Tarzie and others here but the larger forum. We can see Chomsky refuted by the historically validated marginalized crimes of the state’s enforcement agencies, we can only suppose and worry and suspicion about the further depths of that oppression.
      Until we’re staring across the line at howling paranoia.
      Danger of knowing it’s worse than Chomsky’s trivial hypocritical claims, but then stopping at that lower threshold.
      How much worse, kids?
      You get this always from striving optimists yeah?
      “C’mon it’s not that bad. For me. For us.”
      Oh to be an us. A real one.

      Thanks Ned Ludd for bringing those wounded and unhealed places forward.
      And Tarzie’s work in this post 1&2 is brilliant and essential soul-mind nutrition.

      • Tarzie says:

        There were all along Chelsea Mannings and Aaron Swartz’s we never even heard about before they were swept away.

        This is something I have been thinking about lately. It’s highly depressing but must be reckoned with. It speaks to the need to analyze the state not in terms of what is officially part of the repression record — as imparted to us by compromised systems and individuals — but a careful consideration of the power the state has, and what it logically would do with it. I have rare optimistic moments, though, where I think we greatly overestimate the state’s power to know and to act, for both technical reasons and also the constraints of morals and norms acting on many of its agents. If we had a real discourse, this is the kind of thing our luminaries would examine in closer detail.

      • michael g says:

        where I think hope we greatly overestimate the state’s power to know and to act…
        One thing you’re bringing that is really rare on the internet is a gentility of response, in major evidence during the back-and-forth with that “git” person.
        It’s exemplary, not least for its lived values, but it has a kind of repercussive effect too.
        It’s a tutorial.

      • Tarzie says:

        This is actually new.

      • I have rare optimistic moments, though, where I think we greatly overestimate the state’s power to know and to act, for both technical reasons and also the constraints of morals and norms acting on many of its agents.

        Like you do here, I think it is important to remember that a state is more than a bureaucratic abstraction that can helpfully diffuse responsibility (mistakes were made), but composed of actual people who make decisions that others have to live, or die, by. Beyond the ones listed, I gather that another limiting factor is intelligence. I don’t see a lot of philosopher kings ascending to prominence, but rather a bunch of Tracy Flicks. From what I can tell, unending reservoirs of ambition and energy are needed, as well as an easily recalibrated moral compass. Real self-reflective intelligence may be an actual detriment.

        I think that the Coen’s underappreciated Burn After Reading would be an interesting view, particularly in the…middle?…beginning?…of the Snowden affair, if only as a corrective against some of the more chest beating, cloak and dagger, spitting in the face of danger stuff that’s out there.

        Although, given the very real power of a modern state like the US, contemplating the consequences of incompetence at the top might not be very comforting.

  13. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    1. I think he said “He’s a N– VERY Nice kid” as in, he stopped the word “nice” to precede it by “very” because he thought “a nice kid” will come off douche-y (he knows what he is).
    Looking back at my quote, it looks like I’m about to accuse him of calling Swartz “the n-word N–“.

    2. I wonder if, in the spirit of charitably reading the privileged, rich, platform enjoying, never lacked for airtime, white professor dude, we couldn’t imaging that Chomsky is so fixated on the problems of the Palestinians that he has literally decided to sacrifice all concerns about domestic oppressions in order to hyperbolize in favor of raising awareness of the plight abroad.

    Which brings me around to

    3. To the extent that America does cause more harm abroad than can be tolerated by an informed citizenry and to the extent it’s their responsibility to right it and reign in the government operating in their name, wouldn’t and shouldn’t the first order of business be to ensure the conditions for citizens that would allow them to resist?

    Shouldn’t they come first, in order to empower them to do something?

    The reason Chomsky focuses on international oppressions abroad is that he doesn’t feel there are any meaningful oppressions at home. Just like he says.

    It’s equally a further sign of his stupidity, just on logical analysis and deduction, that he points to other countries being more oppressive of their dissidents and activists.
    He ignores that those regimes are more vulnerable to dissidence because they are smaller economies, less militarized, less effectively policed. On the basis of actually getting anything done, one can measure the activist out of context or regime they are agitating against. He chooses to blame the victims here while focusing on the victims there. There’s often very little attention to the actual structure of force that the propagandized are faced with.

    The propaganda model assumes that the real power lies in propagandizing people because people hold the real power. It confuses marketing with social activism, just like the marketers want every consumer to when they try to sell them that their purchase will be ethical and life altering.

    • Tarzie says:

      The propaganda model assumes that the real power lies in propagandizing people because people hold the real power.

      This is exactly right. Even his propaganda model presupposes a democracy that functions so well it requires endless opinion management. At the same time, it can also just make oligarchy function more smoothly. If everyone’s clued in, oligarchy is susceptible to death by a thousand cuts. Also, if people have nothing to lose, they’re more willing to resist.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      I forgot to include that this fixation on the little people and victims, ignoring the structure of the powers doing the propagandizing and repression in their respective countries, avoids the kind of analysis that might conclude that, if the US government were ever threatened with any meaningful influence by its own citizens, it would push down at last just as brutally as any of these teetering banana republics have to do on their seemingly small time community organizers.

      He is measuring the kind of activism that happens in Colombia or Palestine and implying that those actions threaten their regimes as much as they would if it were Americans doing it at home.
      When in fact, before we get straight to activists being shot in the head or bombed, they’d need to AFFECT their government the way those foreign activists affect theirs. The truth is American activists would have to go farther at home than other countries’ activists have to go over there, simply because the US police state is so much more prepared to control dissent and manage disruptions.

      He, of course, never gave a shit about doing anything, only about being a star who brags about how bad it is.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, there is a suggestion that the US is inherently less repressive rather than simply being as repressive as it needs to be. It’s shown itself to be as ruthless and violent as any other regime when the need arises. He’s 84, he knows all this.

        Or his point could be that we’re morally obliged to agitate at least until the US state is as repressive toward the domestic population as, say, Israel is to the Palestinians.

      • thedoctorisindahouse says:

        A good question. Is he as purely moralistic, as Christ on the Cross self sacrifice as Chris Hedges? I don’t know.

      • Tarzie says:

        It’s proof of how fucked this shit is that we have to guess what he means. Certainly most of the people that have argued with me over his sacred right to minimize state repression think the US is inherently less repressive.

  14. Ned Ludd says:

    When Chomsky uses suffering abroad to minimize suffering in the U.S., he is revealing his own social function. Compare Chomsky with Martin Luther king, Jr. In Beyond Vietnam (audio, pdf), Martin Luther King, Jr. connects “the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America.”

    It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war… So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

    King later shows that, on a more fundamental level, the people who profit from exploitation are similar, whether in the U.S. or another country.

    A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” […]

    A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

    King was mobilizing people and building global solidarity; he connected the suffering in the U.S. with the suffering caused by U.S. militarism and foreign exploitation. “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

    In contrast, Chomsky uses suffering abroad to minimize suffering in the U.S. Instead of mobilizing people, Chomsky demobilizes the poor and other marginalized people who are struggling to survive and do not have time to participate in someone else’s struggle while neglecting their own. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached solidarity; he rallied poor and exploited people in the U.S. to fight for a larger global cause while fighting for their own.

    In contrast, Chomsky guides his readers to focus on foreign affairs and separates their activism from the local struggle against domestic repression and economic deprivation. He weakens activism. This is his social function.

    • Tarzie says:

      Hence Chomsky is 85 and still ticking.

      Nice contrast. There’s also a lesson in how icons are now fundamentally chatterers, not organizers. That’s really the difference between Chomsky and Swartz, so it’s really remarkable to watch Noam attempt to negate Swartz as even a legitimate dissenter.

      If such ‘radicals’ as Chomsky didn’t exist, the oligarchs would have to invent them. What’s amazing is how taken in people are, including me at one time. I heard Chomsky say “America is a free country” a gazillion times, and while it struck me as odd, I never gave it any real thought.

      • “There’s also a lesson in how icons are now fundamentally chatterers, not organizers. ”
        Which, if I understand you, is at the heart of heat vampirism?

      • Tarzie says:

        Which, if I understand you, is at the heart of heat vampirism?

        Well that depends. Put simply, the real essence of heat vampirism is compliance in the guise of defiance. A heat vampire throws of an aura of dissent to attract real dissent and bring it to heel. Movements and activists can lead people down culs de sacs as well or better than intellectuals, even if they don’t intend to.

        From a tactical standpoint, I think there is less onus on an intellectual or journalist to make actual recommendations about social change than there is on someone whose star power comes from actual agitating. So, as an intellectual, Chomsky can go a lifetime making people feel depressed and be celebrated for it in a way that he couldn’t if he were an organizer. It goes in tandem with the trend toward consuming information and handwringing as substitutes for actual engagement.

      • Ned Ludd says:

        There’s also a lesson in how icons are now fundamentally chatterers, not organizers.

        In the community that I wrote about in the comment below, your political identity was demonstrated by how you organized. Socialists elected leaders, voted on decisions, and had marshals at their protests to direct the crowds. Anarchists made decisions by consensus, instead of voting. At protests, anarchists formed affinity groups that acted autonomously.

        There was no significant discussion of political theory. Politics was about how you organized a protest and how you ran a bookstore or a grocery store.

      • heavywatergate says:

        While I think your analysis is generally excellent and supplies a refreshing take on Noam’s role in Leftist activism that doesn’t conclude with knee-jerk conspiracism, I disagree on a few points you’ve raised in the comments:

        Noam isn’t merely a chatterbox. Chomsky has a history of active organizing and dissent. The major left icons I can think of have all shared periods of obscurity before they enjoyed public note, and in fact even in public notoriety Chomsky still organized dissent (the release of the Pentagon Papers, which was a major blow to the Nixon administration and lead to Watergate, etc). Secondly, the man is 86 years old. There are several intuitive reasons we can think of for why an 80-something year old man with an esteemed history of dissent would tend toward “chatter-boxing” rather than actively participate in dissent.

        I think Chomsky realizes, and he’s said so himself, that the initiative for action comes not from public icons, but from public initiative. If people absorb Chomsky’s words and don’t act upon them, that’s not his fault. He can’t help what people decide to do. I’ve read private e-mails from Chomsky which are consistent with this position — he doesn’t tend to prescribe particular courses of action, precisely because there are many potential ways in which one can organize and dissent.

        OK, so maybe in Noam’s case, he chatterboxes because that’s an effective way to encourage action for someone in his position AS HE IS. That’s speculation of my part. I can’t look into his mind.

        Thirdly, Chomsky has condemned Anwar al-Awaki’s assassination as an extrajudicial killing. This is easily verifiable.

        re the Swartz case.

        Chomsky’s comments on the case are not least, overly clinical and provably wrong. Perhaps acknowledging the considerable repression against Swartz would undermine Chomsky’s broader comments about how political repression in the US is “undetectable”. Perhaps the cases you cite are marginal and aren’t representative of the state attitude toward political dissidence, and hence Chomsky’s point is more or less preserved.

        Perhaps we need to define “dissidence” more clearly before a meaningful discussion can be had. Noam’s clearly condemned Manning’s treatment by US authorities, and the killing of Anwar al-Awaki, cases which you cite as examples of dissident repression.

      • Tarzie says:

        You’re doing what fans do: rather than taking a beloved icon’s words and deeds at face value, you make ornate excuses to rationalize the many areas in which he’s subservient to power and dishonest. Since I assess Chomsky as I would anyone else, I don’t agree with any of it. I’ve heard it all before and I’ve responded to it all before. Not going to do it again. I will say, however, that this is extremely clueless:

        Perhaps the cases you cite are marginal and aren’t representative of the state attitude toward political dissidence, and hence Chomsky’s point is more or less preserved.

        This is what a steady diet of acquiescent “radicals” gets you. Any idiot who knows the history of repression in the US knows that anything that threatens white supremacy and the ruling class is repressed. The bigger the threat, the stronger the repression. The cases I cite are entirely representative. You clearly understand nothing. Study up and come back. Start here.

      • Tarzie,

        I don’t deny that domestic political oppression continues in the US to this day. It’s not simply a historical artifact. I did NOT say that in my first comment, so I forgive your response on that part.

        Thank you for the link to the blog post re White Supremacy. I’ll read up on it.

        Your analysis of Left figures in relation to the system they inhabit, and the behavior you’d predict from that, is appreciated. I can’t find any strong counterexamples to the features of the system you posit. e.g. The assumption that domestic oppression is a thing of the past, and ignoring present-day examples. I’ve been looking for analysis which explain’s Chomsky’s bizarre comments on stuff like that.

        As I understand it, you posit that far Left figures with a relationship to the US media are positioned (as a result of gaining entry into that system) so that they function as pundits, which effectively sap the political will of middle-class Leftists through dissidence-by-proxy, combining celebrity culture with dissent. The result is that Left icons are “compromised” thanks to certain desirable features (e.g. a tendency to pontificate rather than actively organize). This has the result of softening political activism, and important areas of concern, such as domestic repression, are written off as historical artifacts and non-existent in today’s society.



      • Tarzie says:

        How gracious of you to forgive me before I even asked!

        Look at the pullquote in that comment. You’re basically saying that the examples that contradict Chomsky’s sunny view aren’t the norm, hence Chomsky’s point is more or less preserved. What you’re saying now is somewhat different. We needn’t quibble over it, though.

        Your summary of my assessment of these figures is mostly correct, though you are placing exceptional emphasis on the fact that they’re pundits. That’s definitely part of the problem. There has been an evolution in public lefts from visionaries and activists to intellectuals, in part because all of the visionaries were killed or otherwise destroyed. We expect different things from activists than we do from intellectuals. Activists tend to be more prescriptive, while intellectuals are more descriptive. This has a stifling effect on left politics, which more and more takes the form of performance and handwringing. People think they’re “doing something” when they read Greenwald and get angry. They think he’s doing something too, by imparting the information that’s getting them worked up.

        But these celeb lefts are “compromised” in other ways. Their ideology is indeterminate and in the rare instances when its expressed they all tend to be hybrids of liberal and libertarian. There are no real hardcore anti-capitalists in this crowd. Chomsky professes to be one, but shows his true colors in his despicable assessment of Aaron Swartz’s JSTOR download. Chomsky’s true successor Greenwald, doesn’t even pay lip service to anti-capitalism, and consequently represents another shift to the right.

        Finally, not to nitpick, but I would prefer to say these people are “selected” rather than compromised. I think the “sell out” scenario wrongly credits these people with some authentic politics from which they stray as they climb the ladder. I’m inclined to think most of them are opportunists whose politics shift whenever its advantageous for them to do so.

      • heavywatergate says:


        Thanks for your last comment. Clarified important bits. I enjoy your work, and hope to stick around for more.



  15. Carolyn Clark says:

    Chomsky is the most prominent Left Gatekeeper on 9/11 dissent. Of course, he has plenty of company. Like Greenwald and the others, he remains willfully ignorant of the scientifically rigorous and exhaustive research done by Architects and Engineers for 9/11 truth, among others.

    “Denial lies at the heart of this unusual Left reaction. Many activists have looked at the questions, thought about the answers for a bit, and retreated in horror in the face of implications. If the government had foreknowledge and let the attacks happen, or worse, actually took part in facilitating them, then the American state is far more vicious than they could have imagined. And if so, what would happen to them should they vocalize this? Needless to say, this would greatly raise the stakes of political action well beyond the relatively superficial level that even many leftists operate at. It would be impossible to go on living as before, being essentially a spectator whose life is work/shopping/entertainment, with the occasional political rally, lecture or movie to spice things up and make one feel involved. People like that, or even ones more involved with some regular effort at political reform, could no longer feel that the political situation could be changed for the better through small, incremental steps, a 100 year or even 500 year plan. This prospect is thoroughly unsettling, and is easier to deal with if simply dismissed outright. …”

    • john says:

      and what would greatly raise the stakes beyond the relatively superficial level of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 truth is the work of Dr. Judy Wood, i.e. ‘Where Did The Towers Go?’

  16. Has Chomsky “tutored” any notable protégés?

    • Tarzie says:

      I can’t speak to linguistics. In politics, there is none that I’m aware of, but he’s certainly given his blessing to Greenwald, who is his obvious successor in this-far-and-no-more service to power.

  17. Carolyn Clark says:

    Sorry if I violated the comments policy. I understand why this policy exists, but at the same time I’d rather have the freedom to have an intelligent conversation with someone who makes a comment I would like clarified.
    I’m not saying that this applies in the case of this blog–I have no history here by which to judge–but I personally detest the way many blogs/websites censor comments questioning the government’s own ridiculous conspiracy theory about 9/11. I mean people are allowed to make the most ignorant, asinine comments about any other topic under the sun without their right to make their stupid comment being questioned, but when someone mentions 9/11, monitors clutch their pearls and faint.
    I haven’t ever had my own blog and if I did might be forced to have a “Comments Policy” also, even though I would prefer not. I would definitely have nested threads, so those not interested in a train of thought can skip that sub-thread without wading through it. With that in place, I’d let the comments rip, as long as they do not contain personal threats. Is that naive? Maybe so but that’s how I would do it.

    • Tarzie says:

      When you have your own blog, you can let the comments rip, but remember that people say ‘Don’t read the comments’ for a reason. Most comment sections suck. Mine doesn’t. I urge people to stay on topic fairly often so you’re not being singled out.

      No one is attempting to censor the TRUTH about 9/11 on this blog and I said nothing about your first comment which was on topic. I agree that Chomsky’s anti-conspiracism is part of his whitewashing. But then a fellow traveler came along and you both seem poised to have a completely unrelated chat in which I am not interested. I have politely asked you not to and you are just at the brink of ‘You’re suppressing the truth’ mode. I tend to discourage conspiracism around here, for a reason that is entirely separate from the theories themselves: I dislike the culture that comes with it.

      I am not going to delete your posts, nor will I block you unless you go wild. I am simply expressing my preferences which you can politely honor or rudely ignore or something in between.

  18. Carolyn Clark says:

    I specifically said I was not referencing this blog since I was not familiar with it. So how did you assume I was accusing you of suppressing the truth? I was stating my opinion about comment sections in general. That’s all. Sorry to have infected this pristine comments section with my opinions. Be assured I will not defile it again.

    • john says:

      a quick response and i’m outta here…for me the most compelling evidence behind the twin towers attacks is in Dr. Wood’s book, ‘Where Did The Towers Go?’ and 911 truth has attacked her pretty viciously. any “truth” movement that avoids confronting solid evidence is, in my book, seriously compromised. peace

  19. Kevin Dooley says:

    I think the most objectionable part of Chomsky’s reaction to the Schwartz case is how dismissive he is of anyone who disagrees with him tactically. He seems to think “young kids” like Aaron are so eager to change the world that they haven’t bothered to think things through. It never seems to occur to him that Aaron, who was not a kid, may have carefully considered the problem and come to a different conclusion. Apparently one isn’t existing in the world if they go beyond the tactical boundaries Chomsky sets for us.

    But Noam is hardly alone in his tactical self-assurance without much to show for it. As he scolds a deceased dissident for actually trying to do something, heir apparent Glenn Greenwald is busy leading a remarkably conservative reporting process (that NC supports, obviously), while also finding the time to dismiss and mock all his left critics as more-radical-than-thou.

    Now that we’re 7+ months into this spectacle, the inevitable reforms that don’t actually reform anything are beginning to emanate from Washington and Glenn is none too pleased. I mean, they are still going to be spying on innocent people AND James Clapper gets to keep his job?! It’s almost like the system doesn’t work after all!

    But instead of reconsidering the reporting process he has pursued and relentlessly defended, Glenn has taken to twitter to mock Obama’s bland proposals. This is especially rich as Glenn is one of the few people personally responsible for helping to cap the potential for a stronger, more disruptive global reaction to these revelations by sitting on the vast majority of the material he’s been given. It seems that speaking 1% of the truth to power in a fake democracy doesn’t achieve a whole lot.

    Now I’m obviously not suggesting we blame Greenwald and Chomsky for our existing democratic deficit, but people ought to attack them and anyone else who uses their platform to advocate tactics that would only have utility in a functioning democracy. We aren’t living in one, so perhaps there is a better way to proceed.

    I think existing in the world (as Chomsky put it) should be evaluating the real conditions as they are and choosing the tactics that properly respond to those conditions. To me, that means supporting people like Aaron, who are willing to take direct action to serve the public, while criticizing people like Glenn who indirectly cooperate with the state, to the public’s detriment, and then express outrage when their cooperation doesn’t result in meaningful reform.

    • thedoctorisindahouse says:

      I had taken Chomsky’s use of “kid” to describe Aaron as a sympathetic portrayal, pushing his innocence or rather softening the blow of his subsequent idiot-jacketing of Swartz.
      Why I can’t imagine, now that you pointed out its function.

      His point that Aaron didn’t know what he was doing is based on his disagreement on substance, not on any analysis of Swartz’s motivations (that’s not to say he doesn’t also pathologize Aaron’s actions, making them out to be ignorant instead of opposite to his own but still valid).

      Chomsky equates info with power, hence the sacredness of info. Hence the materialism of info, a commodifiable good. Really, Chomsky is a believer in the capitalization of info and not being an anti capitalist but a mere civil libertarian, wants to see private enterprise protected, not forced to be as open as individuals, who have free choice.
      There goes his admiration of America’s great Free Speech protections, while only paying lip service to the complications that commerce brings to how Free we are to Speak.

      Another corporatist who thinks if the cops aren’t pumping bullets into your thought crime filled brain, everything is just fine, so QUIT YER BELLYACHIN.

  20. Ned Ludd says:

    How did Chomsky become a prominent figure within radicalism? In the mid 1990’s, I was part of a collective that ran an anarchist community center and bookstore. My recollection is that no one talked about Chomsky, and no one had any particular interest in his contemporary works. He had written a well-regarded book called Turning the Tide, about U.S. intervention in Central America; but that was originally published back in 1985. He co-wrote Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, which was published in 1988; but he switched to a major, corporate publisher (Pantheon Books, owned by Random House), so it didn’t get much traction in radical, left-wing bookstores. Also, since Herman was listed first on the cover, the work was credited more to Herman than to Chomsky.

    Chomsky became to be seen as a prominent radical because of the film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, which gained wide release in the U.S. in 1993. Without that film, Chomsky would today be just another obscure academic. I saw the film, and I found Chomsky interesting, but I came away with the view that either he or the film-makers had no idea what anarchism was. This was the takeaway in The New York Times:

    Whether or not you agree with Mr. Chomsky’s conclusions, his reading of the American scene is persuasive: that the government is most responsive to the wishes expressed by the minority of citizens who vote, which is also one of the principal points made by John Kenneth Galbraith in his recent book “The Culture of Contentment.” As Mr. Chomsky sees it, his mission is to wake up and activate the electorate.

    In 1997, I went to see Chomsky speak at the student union on the main campus of the state’s public university. He was not sponsored by radical groups; instead, he was brought to campus by the College of Liberal Arts and a program within the School of Public Heath. Also, I was expecting around 50 people. I was shocked that more than 800 showed up. My friends and I ended up at the back of the auditorium. I was surprised that Chomsky had become so popular, so quickly.

    Chomsky’s star seemed to to rise in concert with a shift away from anti-establishment and anti-capitalist radical politics. Young people, in their late teens and early twenties, had in earlier years provided new energy for anti-capitalist groups. In the mid-1990’s, this was no longer the case where I lived. The newly-formed Green Party (which had earlier been a green movement, operating outside of the electoral system) helped steer young radicals back into electoral politics. Radical anarchist and socialist groups – which focused on direct action, building collectively-run organizations, international solidarity, and tearing down established institutions of power (instead of cooperating with them) – dwindled away as older people left and no new young people joined.

    Chomsky helped shift the focus of activism into documenting and publicizing an exhaustive litany of atrocities and exploitation. Radical activists that worked outside of electoral politics and shunned capitalist organizations like Random House were replaced by celebrity book authors who found endless endless ways to document over and over again just how bad everything was.

    • Tarzie says:

      Thanks for this history. I had been wondering about the trajectory of his career and when and how, exactly, he became an icon. My impression was that it happened sooner, when he protested the Vietnam War and wrote a widely read piece in the New York Review of Books (or something similar) about the role of public intellectuals. In either case, it does seem that mainstream endorsement, less than the admiration of organizers and activists, is what moved things along. It would be interesting to look more closely at his career and the specific influences that shaped it. Your view from inside 90s anarchism is very interesting.

      I agree with you about his anarchism. To me, it starts and ends with his admiration for Spanish anarcho-syndicalism. He defines his anarchism very broadly, to simply mean all hierarchical authority must justify itself and if it can’t justify itself it should be dismantled. It doesn’t seem to inform his politics much at all, which run more along the lines of state socialism/social democrat. Certainly a lot of anarchists don’t rule out provisional statism — I don’t — but with Chomsky it seems more bred in the bone. His repudiation of Swartz doesn’t seem to fit even within his own very broad definition.

      • fjdh says:

        (I also find this interesting and thought-provoking — ty nedd & tarzie, both for your post and comment.)

        Tarzie: I think the main issue here is that Noam never really took on a critique of property rights (or money), which I think goes a long way to explaining why he’s so palatable to bleeding heart liberals, even as he has done an enormous amount of work to expose the workings of the fascist mafia state, if I’m allowed to sum it up that way. Aside from that, he indeed seems very priggish wrt his ideas of what makes for “good” activism, although he has the good sense not to talk about it most of the time, and to simply say “I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you what I think you should do — you know best”, which, given people’s education, means the overwhelming majority will only engage in the equivalent of fighting for a “right to fresh water” for animals who are on their way to the slaughterhouse, rather than advocating for people to stop treating animals as property.

        I dunno if you’re faimo the most interesting and accessible account of why property law is so weird can be found in ch.7 of Graeber’s Debt, where he compares it to non-western notions of property, and talks about how it came into (and out of) roman law because they had to allow for the ownership of other human beings. But as your OP indicates, Noam really digs the Lockean liberal / constitutional conception of property as foundational.

  21. adam says:

    Hi Tarzie, I have read you for a little over a year but have hardly ever commented. I have really enjoyed your thoughtful and challenging posts — I used to hold up the likes of Chomsky and Greenwald as sacred cows, but your writing has forced me to think deeply about their role in policing the left. Have you ever considered compiling in a post some of the various books/texts/news sources/authors that have been foundational in your political and intellectual development? I’m sure there are many like me who are not regular contributors to the comment threads but have nonetheless had their horizons expanded by your writing and would be interested in exploring some of what has shaped your worldview. Thanks and keep up the excellent work.

    [Apologies if you’ve already done this in an earlier post]

  22. Git, Tarzie! says:

    Chomsky couldn’t have known any of this when Ugyur interviewed him, but a year later, after the above information had come to light….

    Couldn’t have known? Really? Why not? Oh that’s right. It hadn’t yet “come to light.” We all have to wait for things to “come to light” before we can try to know them. Therefore, being gay is not innate, but arises the first time Tarzie enjoys holding another boy’s penis at age 6.

    Pretending to dissect, latent bolstering.

    • Tarzie says:

      Couldn’t have known? Really? Why not? Oh that’s right. It hadn’t yet “come to light.”

      That’s actually a fair point and in fact my original language suggested less certainty. Original was probably better.

    • Git, Tarzie! says:

      It’s certainly not possible for MIT’s leading apologist and leading father-figure on The Left(TM) to learn what is being done on a hot-button issue that could smear MIT’s reputation. They’d never want him to know what he can apologize for, minimize, rationalize, explain-away. Never. They’d keep him in a Knowledge Isolation Cell, where he’d be immunized against information.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think you’re right to suggest I might have a preemptive blind spot. My view of Chomsky in this is that he simply has an institutional and class bias that serves as well as deliberate collusion and cover-up, but there is no basis for ruling out something more deliberate, especially considering that even after MIT’s investigation had concluded, he was still whitewashing. I’ve modified the language.

        From a practical standpoint, though, not sure how much Chomsky could have known only a couple weeks after Swartz’s death, which is when the ass-covering no doubt commenced. For an institution to cover its ass, it has to know the extent of what it’s done. Stuff like the help the Secret Service received in hacking into Swartz’s computer seem like things that would likely only come to light via an investigation. Hard to imagine Chomsky knew about that in January 2013, but you’re right, I can’t be certain.

  23. thedoctorisinthehouse says:

    How directly do you think policing the borders affects or is even intended for the mainstream?

    It prevents the mainstream from hearing whispers of extreme voices or it prevents radicals from hearing those voices. To the extent that it osmoses, is there a dynamic between the margin and the center or is the center always creamy regardless what the margins do, putting all the effect of gate-keeping squarely on the marginal, potential (ha!) activist zone?

    • thedoctorisinthehouse says:

      If I could add a bit. Is Chomsky’s voice an effect on Swartz doing things or an effect on people who might be attracted to Swartz and does it bleed into the CNN viewer in any manner? CNN reported on Swartz as a pointless, sensationalist suicide story with lip service to overzealous prosecution. They never touch Chomsky. Then they move on regardless, ideologically unaffected.

      • Tarzie says:

        It doesn’t matter how Chomsky’s message affects the mainstream, at least not most of the time, because the audience for Chomsky’s message isn’t the mainstream. All the left chatterers, from, say, MSNBC on out, are various brands of the same swill sold to their particular customers. The branding comes in the descriptive side which is permitted to vary. The prescription — compliance — varies much less. Chomsky sells compliance to the leftmost part of the spectrum. Chomsky also helpfully indicates what leftmost means for everyone else.

    • Tarzie says:

      Policing the borders affects the mainstream to the extent that it keeps the people at the borders from encouraging people in the mainstream to do something else. It’s about containing social change, which is, of course, going to start at the periphery, as it always has. It’s also not just about the individual effect of some individual talk that Chomsky gives at the British Library. It’s about the collective effect of everyone in public life selling the same swill, as if no other rational possibility exists. It’s sorta like what I think JK Galbraith said about car ads. They’re not just about getting people to buy a Chevy or a Ford. It’s about selling them on the necessity of a car.

  24. Steve says:

    Being new to your site, it will take me some time to bring anything meaningful to the discussion, but it has had the effect of sending me here and there, so I thought I would send along the following:

    Regarding “permissible dissent”, “gatekeepers”, and the like, I found some stuff over at Dissident Voice like this, this, or this with which you may or may not be familiar.

    And yes, I went back and checked and it was your link that took me to Knight (thanks) and, after having read his article, the thought that kept coming back was “cognitive dissonance” or something like that. Almost every time I read or watch Chomsky, Goodman, or Moyers (whose interview style I find particularly annoying – his scripted naïveté for example), I come away with a feeling of frustration, a sense of having been hoodwinked, of having witnessed a clever sleight of hand. Your analysis of the Chomsky-Goodman method helped clear away a lot of the dissonance.

  25. Steve says:

    I brought up these links not to start a discussion about Jewishness or racism or any of that stuff, but to point out that I agree with your analysis of the margining/gatekeeping of certain left voices, no matter how that comes about nor from where it comes.

    What I appreciate about Soral is that he is open to any discussion that opens up any can of worms.

  26. Git, Tarzie! says:

    Oh fucktardia, oh shitheelia, we croon for your nonthinking selves!

    From a practical standpoint, though, not sure how much Chomsky could have known only a couple weeks after Swartz’s death, which is when the ass-covering no doubt commenced.

    Yes, because what Swartz did had nothing to do with MIT, but instead was a CalTech matter and you’re right, Noam Chomsky isn’t a professor at CalTech. Why would he care about some “nice kid” at CalTech accessing a doc archive and pulling dox to read/distribute? He’s at MIT, not CalTech!

    I don’t know why you credit yourself so highly and imagine yourself so insightful when all you do is fellate these heroes you’re pretending to criticize. How fast can Tarzie backpedal? FAST, motherfucker! And he can hit one back from between the legs like Yannick Noah in a baseline corner!

    At least you wear the right shoes and have a tasteful haircut, and impeccable fashion sense where clothing, fine dining, and home accoutrements are concerned. That’s a bonus. Why aren’t you on the staff at Gawker yet?

    • Git, Tarzie! says:

      It’s quite obvious that the only person who would/could have known about Swartz’s nice kid heroism is the (at-the-time) long-dead Richard Feynmann. He was at CalTech.

      He also wouldn’t have shucked and jived with rhetorical head fakes and hip shifts like the Prince of Zion does.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yes, because what Swartz did had nothing to do with MIT, but instead was a CalTech matter and you’re right, Noam Chomsky isn’t a professor at CalTech

      Consider the possibility that I really do think all the different arms of the MIT octopus, including the arm Chomsky rides on, probably weren’t aware of all the different ways in which MIT was complicit in the few weeks after Swartz died. Consider that I have come by this position honestly, even if it’s wrong.

      Consider also that I don’t really think it matters as much as you do, since I have shown Chomsky covering for MIT and spitting on Swartz even after the facts had come to light. I don’t think speculating about how much Chomsky knew before the facts were public serves my purposes, when I have no evidence and when everything on the surface is quite damning on its own. You want to focus on individuals, and apparently feel that in failing to root out the secret evil essence of Greenwald and Chomsky, I am actually covering for them. I think seeing things that way covers more asses than what I’m doing — as rooting out bad apples always does — but suit yourself.

      • Git, Tarzie! says:

        You want to be assessed by your proclamations of what you do, rather than by what you do, fine. Hypocrisy is what you embody.

        You say you’re analyzing, deconstructing, and busting myth but you are actually rewriting myth and confirming heroism, though you do admit the heroes have chinks in their armor suits. You spot a few chinks, but leave the armor otherwise uncriticized and your shots never aim at the armor’s weak points, nor at the body parts uncovered by armor.

        But you say you’re taking them apart.

        It seems you imagine yourself in a gunfighter duel, and instead of killing the other guy after you get the draw on him, you shoot his pistol hand and end the duel that way. That’s pretty much you, in a metaphor. You give the other fellow credit for honorable dueling practices, but there’s no reason to give him such benevolence. He’d just as soon throw a knife at you when you holster your weapon.

        You know, snarky backpedals where you try to insult me from your weak position of non-criticism, they may win points when you’re out drinking alcoholic Slurpees adorned with umbrellas at Chez Fancy, but they’re not really proving you’re adept at criticism.

        Really, you need a place at Gawker. That’s where your brand of “insight” (mostly misdirection, with a bit of tepid criticism concerning process and other matters of fashion) would play best.

      • Tarzie says:

        You know, snarky backpedals where you try to insult me from your weak position of non-criticism, they may win points when you’re out drinking alcoholic Slurpees adorned with umbrellas at Chez Fancy, but they’re not really proving you’re adept at criticism.

        I’ve strained to restrict myself to the substance in what you’re saying and I’ve freely admitted that there is some. I even changed some language in my post on your account. Pretty sure I haven’t deliberately insulted you at all in this exchange unless it’s an insult to note that your focus on individuals differs from mine. Furthermore, I have entirely ignored the insults you’ve been freely lobbing at me, as if all your robo-trolling til now never happened. Still you complain about my manners with all the self-awareness of my boyfriend Glenn.

        How about we both try to stay on topic? To that end, you can put me in my place and also raise the bar around here if you give me pointers on how you would take Chomsky to task over the same issue, and had the same resources available to you that I did, without covering for him the way I apparently have. Also, curious to know what part of this post makes Chomsky out to be a hero.

  27. Chomsky says of dissenters in the USA: “But essentially they can’t get jobs, they’re marginalized, they’re vilified. All sort of things, not much punishment, frankly, but, it’s real.”

    Damn right it’s real, Noam! You are so fortunate to have a tenured position at MIT. For the rest of us it is a choice between living according to our conscience or not living at all. Try living here without a job, without money.

    • Steve says:

      Agree. According to Tarzie’s Knight link (, Chomsky is a very good shape-shifter, always looking for that one advantage, that little pond where he can be the biggest fish, able to set the terms of the argument, to “frame it” as Lakoff would say, so there you have his casual, self-satisfied flippancy when it comes to actually defending anything, because he doesn’t, really.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, the ‘framing’ is what’s crucial. The framing is completely counter to the details he laboriously provides. In a weird way the gory details legitimize the rosy framing. Inevitably when I start talking about how he whitewashes repression, people point to places where he has gone into laborious detail about, say, civil liberties infringements. But the two are separate lines of his discourse. Greenwald is a variation on the same thing: lengthy, largely repetitive, increasingly dull exploration of NSA ends up being a whitewash of the surveillance behemoth. This juxtaposition is the essence of all establishment left discourse. The legitimating of lies with hard truths.

  28. In correctly presenting and critiquing Chomsky’s significant errors in this matter, I think you completely fail to recognize and disrespect why Chomsky has such a mistaken and negative view of Swartz and what he did.

    The conflict flows from what you do note in Chomsky’s quotes excerpted (which fairly represent his views in my opinion) about the “spirit of the age”.

    Where you miss the argument is in failing to present Chomsky’s rationale – in his view of solidarity, mutual support, and collective action.

    Chomsky was somewhat (but to completely) mistaken in this regard with respect to specifics in the Swartz matter – but he has larger and valid concerns that are not well presented or respected here.

    In short, I find this a hit a job. Like all hit jobs, it has grains of truth and valid argument.

    • BTW, while part 1 trashed Amy Goodman, did you see her show on Swartz?

      It agreed with your point of view and brought out most of the facts you present.

      Ironic, given part 1, no?

      • Tarzie says:

        Nope. Not ironic at all, since I never said she wasn’t capable of good journalism.

        Also, didn’t see the show; have no grounds to take your word for anything. No grounds at all.

      • thedoctorisinthehouse says:

        Born on the eve of 1929, Chomsky is old. He’s ooooooold. But he’s not THAT old. I don’t like infantilizing children anymore than the next anarchist but I’m not sure you can say he “came to his politics” during the depression were he even a dust bowl farmer at the time. Much less that someone becomes a leftist and a specific leftist like Chomsky by the mere fact of enduring the depression as a child.

        One of the weirder things about leftist analyses is that criticism from the left is defended equally with criticism from the right but in the opposite way.
        What I mean is, a right winger will put down a left intellectual for being too far left, not conservative and therefore not serious. The leftist fans will reply with demands that the right accept their leftist idols because leftism is good and they should.
        Critics on the left point out the ways in which a left idol is in fact too far to the right. Again they will be answered but with the justification that they are in error, that any further left would be unrealistic and anyway the idol is as far as their critics deny AND more.

        What a celebrity culture for those who’ve lost the libido to whack off to Perez updates on the uglies of Hollywood.

      • Tarzie says:

        The leftist fans will reply with demands that the right accept their leftist idols because leftism is good and they should.
        Critics on the left point out the ways in which a left idol is in fact too far to the right.

        Uh, what? Depends on where the criticism is coming from and who it’s aimed at. Chomsky and Greenwald enthusiasts might complain that, say, Maddow is too right-wing, but that’s not how they approach people who attack the idols of the margins, like Greenwald and Chomsky, Then it’s all ‘posturing’ this and ‘holier-than-thou’ that. I think you’re still confused if you’re not seeing that these icons are largely about policing just how far the left goes. On what planet is a left that habitually votes for neoliberal Democrats always insisting that people aren’t left enough? I want to go to there.

        There’s a difference with the right, for sure, but it’s not the one you mean. There is no one policing the borders of the right in the same way. There is almost no outer limit on that side.

        Depression story is a non-starter and needs no rebuttal other than that Chomsky’s family weathered the depression in affluence, as I’ve already pointed out. Wolfe is just makin’ shit up.

    • Tarzie says:

      Chomsky was somewhat (but to completely) mistaken in this regard with respect to specifics in the Swartz matter – but he has larger and valid concerns that are not well presented or respected here.

      Oh god. Nothing was misrepresented. Chomsky’s views speak for themselves: ‘collective’ means petitioning the state as part of some obedient mass — y’know because it works so well — and clearly doesn’t even include acts of civil disobedience like Swartz’s because, well, ‘we live in a capitalist society’ and if JSTOR doesn’t make money, the whole of western civilization will collapse. Which is fine. Chomsky can cling to his failed, acquiescent politics til he kicks off.

      What’s not fine is for Chomsky to misrepresent Swartz’s politics, either because he’s too arrogant to actually know anything about them before spouting off, or because he’s content to lie about them outright. Did I distort the record here? You’ve admitted yourself he got Swartz wrong, pursuant to defending MIT and intellectual property. And he did this only weeks after Swartz’s suicide and to the near exclusion of any serious reflection on the social forces that all converged on Swartz to destroy him. What part of this account is false? What’s the difference between recounting facts and a hit job? It seems to me you want me to do a better sales job on Chomsky’s politics, but for what reason exactly? To make this revolting power-serving speech on Swartz’s grave less revolting? More justified?

      I notice your comments don’t bother with the whitewashing he did for MIT at all. Probably a good thing, because it’s even tougher to spin your way around that with nauseating condescension about failing to comprehend the nuanced views of our most beloved dead-ender.

      We keep the bar high around here. Do better.

      • Fuck off. Chomsky is an old man, and came to his politics on the street in depression era NY discourse and mutual support. To try to discredit him and his ideas on the basis that he was wrong on one matter is absurd. Many of your cohort liberation anarchists could give at rats ass for effective organized political action. Not all collective socail reform efforts are “government”. Reactionary BS.

      • Tarzie says:

        Fuck off. Chomsky…came to his politics on the street in depression era NY discourse and mutual support.

        Nope, wrong. Noam grew up in an affluent family in Philadelphia. Yes, it was during the depression, but his father became faculty president of a private college about the time Noam started elementary school. So the depression didn’t hit the Chomsky family very hard. Noam went straight from high school into the University of Pennsylvania. That’s Philly too. He had a radical uncle who lived in New York, of whom Noam was fond, and Noam visited him occasionally and sometimes hung out with his anarchist buddies. But Noam’s parents, with whom Noam spent more time, were ‘Roosevelt Democrats’ and it’s clear they rubbed off on him too. From where I sit, Uncle gave him the anarcho branding. Mom, Dad, Penn and MIT, the key ingredients.

        Not all collective socail [sic] reform efforts are “government”.

        I know this. Aaron Swartz knew this. But poor Noam, having lived in symbiosis with state power for so long, seems oddly confused.

        What ought to happen is that there ought to be a public subsidy for creative work.

        What is meant by ‘public subsidy’ if not government? Did you even read my post? Did you watch the videos I quoted? If Noam isn’t talking about government there, what does he mean?

        Let Noam spell it out for you more explicitly, via the Young Turks interview I also linked to:

        The obvious way out of this is to have creative work subsidized by the general community, which means by the government

        See what I just did? I showed how you were 100% wrong about everything you just fucking said. You should be embarrassed. Study up, next time, bub. Or come on a little less strong.

        To try to discredit him and his ideas on the basis that he was wrong on one matter is absurd.

        I actually think this incident is so revealing of the team Noam bats for, that all by itself it warrants distrusting him generally. But this is one in a series, and I’m not done yet.

      • You think Chomsky is a propagandist and defender of MIT?

        This is the kind of silly BS that reveals how absurd and ineffective your analsysis is in the real world.

      • Tarzie says:

        You think Chomsky is a propagandist and defender of MIT? This is the kind of silly BS that reveals how absurd and ineffective your analsysis is in the real world.

        ‘The real world’ Now where have we heard that before? Well, from just about everyone who ever wanted us to make common cause with power. Yes we need more realists like Chomsky, misrepresenting the politics of actual activists while whitewashing their persecution by the state and the complicity of institutions like MIT.

        Now as to your latest risible attempt at having a point:

        Look at the list of things MITs own investigation revealed about the school’s complicity. Then see Chomsky’s remark about it, in which he says: ‘MIT is culpable for what they didn’t do’. Nope, sorry, Noam that’s another lie. MIT’s also culpable for what they did, which was quite a lot. And then he takes one more swing at Swartz for not pleading guilty to 13 felonies. No wonder this guy’s a radical icon! How has he escaped the state’s wrath for so long??? Why, because we’re “a free country”, natch! But then what about Aaron? Oh, right, Aaron wasn’t a dissenter.

        You think this bullshit is acceptable. So acceptable, in fact, that you’ve dropped by here to lash out rather than argue a single fucking point. That makes you an even bigger asshole than he is because one, you probably don’t work at MIT and two, you probably don’t have forty+ years of failed, dead end, acquiescent politics to rationalize. But then, producing people like you, who expect literally nothing from left discourse besides handwringing rituals, and who froth at people who require more, is what icons like Chomsky are manufactured for. Turning potentially rational adults into infantile, self-combusting automatons like you is their whole reason for being, whether they know it or not.

    • thedoctorisinthehouse says:

      Criticism OF the left was my only focus and how the left responds to it depending on who it’s coming from, from the left and from the right. I skipped over that.
      Essentially pointing out that left fans police opinion by demanding the right wing move to the left (ridiculous) and telling dissatisfied lefts that they’re demands and accusations are outrageous and anyway what are they talking about the left is already at the extremest left possible in this universe.

  29. T- I think your failure to understand Chomsky’s PM and power and institutions is indicative of a reactionary streak.

    Kind of like the racists who attack affirmative action as reverse racism.

    PM is based on institutional power.

    Please don’t reply – I want no debate

    • Tarzie says:

      T- I think your failure to understand Chomsky’s PM and power and institutions is indicative of a reactionary streak. Kind of like the racists who attack affirmative action as reverse racism.

      Here we go, it’s dead-ender discourse time: An idiotically baseless smear. A direct quote from God himself. And then off you go, after telling me to not reply on my own blog. Not an argument, fact, quote to be found anywhere in your whole spiel this evening. Sorta like Chomsky on Swartz. I guess that’s what they mean by role model.

      Why on earth, I ask myself again and again, do people like you even bother, unless their aim is to look completely asinine. Yep, bub, you’ve worked so hard at being the embodiment of everything that disgusts me about the ‘left’, I have no choice but to reconsider everything.

    • Ned Ludd says:

      A professor at MIT denigrates an activist – who was being prosecuted by the state and killed himself – for undermining the commercial publishing industry. It is pretty clear where institutional power lies.

    • dmantis says:

      Jesus, Bill…no debate? How utterly juvenile of you. It’s as if you’re retreating back into the dark regions of the internet with your fingers in your ear.

      Let me explain something to you…If there is any university in this country that can claim ‘institutional power’ it is M.I. [FUCKING] T. The place is a PHD study in the stockholm syndrome. Everyone is patting themselves for being such radicals and loving the freedom of the nerd environment yet knowing that it is bought and paid for by the military. For christ sakes, I had a professor say to me once “this is a military research institute that just happens to teach classes on the side.”

      That being said, it is pathetic that you cannot see any indication of Chomsky’s blindspot concerning his beloved institution. There is no question (nor should there be) of how wrong his statements were and were no doubt shaped by his position in that institution. The only thing surprising is that he didn’t atleast downplay or criticize Swartz’s activisim on it merits. No, he actually played the capitalism card and refused to even call him an activist in the first place.

      Grow up, dude.

      • Tarzie says:

        No, he actually played the capatlism card and refused to even call him an activist in the first place.

        Clever how he did that really. It was even worse in the Young Turks interview where Chomsky credited Swartz’s kind of intervention to ‘social pathologies.’

        Great quote from that prof of yours.

      • dmantis says:

        The disurbing thing about that quote was that was from a professor in a department that would seemingly be completely seperate from any type of relevant military research. Yet, the sentiment (read: funding) runs that deep.

        It is such a bizarre place.

  30. Steve says:

    Don’t know if you’ve seen this:
    but it seems to prove your point. An aggregation of a few facts/quotes picked up here and there to burnish his lefty bona fides in order to slip in this beauty:

    “The U.S., conscious of “soft power,” undertakes major campaigns of “public diplomacy” (aka propaganda) to create a favorable image, sometimes accompanied by worthwhile policies that are welcomed.”

    No hint as to what those “worthwhile policies” are.

    Kinda like his own strategy. Pilger takes this apart here:

    Or his take on EU austerity policies:
    where he says that the Fed and ECB had different policies when the book, “Circus Politicus” perfectly illustrates that the US “encouraged” the formation of the EU all the better to put its bankers in charge, among other things.

  31. not a sockpuppet says:

    what disturbs me about this presentation is that you rightfully scrutinize Chomsky’s statements, but you do not scrutizine with the same intensity much of the press about Swartz.

    what you say about JSTOR is innaucrate, and what some commentators have written is even more inaccurate. If Swartz did what he did because of his Guerilla Open Access Manifesto, he chose a very strange target, since none of the things he complains about in the Manifesto were true about JSTOR. Even at the time Swartz did what he did, JSTOR already gave its material away FOR FREE to every African institution (mentioned because availability in Africa is one of the main specific complaints Swartz has).

    The problem I want to draw your attention to is that the media story about “open access” and Swartz and so much more is itself propagandistic in character, and Lessig in particular has a lot of personality responsibility in this story that he is unwilling to fact. He sold Swartz a bill of goods about the state of academic publishing that is actually inaccurate, and to the degree that Swartz (not an academic) took Lessig’s word and mentorship at face value, he got himself into a lot of trouble. Had Lessig not misinformed him so brutally and steered him so forcefully, it is not at all unikely that Swartz would never have done what he did. Some stories indicate that Swartz himself grew to regret his actions at MIT; nobody knows why, but I like to think that he himself dug into JSTOR and realized how untrue the story he tells in the Manifesto is of JSTOR–in fact he could only get into JSTOR to download so much of it *because* it was so committed to open access, which Elsevier (the publisher Swartz DOES mention in the Manifesto, an extremely different entity from JSTOR) was not, and therefore did not allow the kind of wide-open access on university campuses that JSTOR used to.

    The entire story that got Swartz to take the action he did is based on a terrible misunderstanding of academic publishing and many other issues, and continuing to perpetuate it without digging into the details threatens to encourage others to accept the propagandistic parts of this story and take similar actions, which would be a huge mistake. For example, someone above mentions the presence of Chomsky’s articles in JSTOR. They are there, yet Chomsky receives, like every other author in JSTOR, absolutely no compensation of any sort for that, nor could he. There is no way, looking at the facts, to connect any kind of personal interest on Chomsky’s part to JSTOR. There are plenty of official documents on JSTOR’s site that explain exactly how it works, that nobody has disputed, and that make all of this clear.

    I think Lessig, more than any other individual, is responsible for Swartz’s death, if somebody has to be blamed. He filled Swartz’s head with nonsense, and Swartz was smart enough to see through only some of it. The more you read about Lessig’s long history with Swartz, frankly, the creepier it becomes. He acted as a Svengali to a brilliant but also very impressionable young man.

    Why this worries me is that your piece here tracks Lessig’s “version,” and disputes Chomsky’s. Yet as odd as Chomsky’s Leftism is–Lessig’s is much, much odder. Lessig admits that he was once a pretty far-right thinker. He works with Google (a big force behind Creative Commons). I do not find him very savory and think he deserves the kind of scrutiny you apply to Chomksy even more than Chomsky does.

    • Tarzie says:

      I don’t find your comments particularly germane to my post. I deliberately discouraged commenters from going off on tangents about the merits/problems of JSTOR/academic publishing because that is not at all what this post is primarily about. I find it curious, though, that you say I have misrepresented JSTOR, when everything said about it in this post comes verbatim from Chomsky.

      Putting the merits/faults of JSTOR aside, there is no disputing that Chomsky has, on successive occasions, misrepresented both Swartz’s case and his politics and whitewashed MITs involvement in his persecution. He even parrots the prosecutor’s allegation that Swartz ‘broke into MIT’s system’, something that even MIT doesn’t claim. In the process, he has made it very clear where he stands on both the proper way to produce change and on the kind of civil disobedience Swartz’s JSTOR intervention represents.

      The story here is that by telling lies on Swartz’s grave and entirely ignoring the collusion between Cambridge Police, The Secret Service, MIT and a draconian justice system, Chomsky is serving power. Chomsky variously lies about and minimizes the circumstances leading to Swartz’s death, such that it becomes ‘a terrible event’ rather than the abominable result of political persecution. If you think the truth about JSTOR and by extension the wisdom of Swartz’s action makes the story something else, you’re either not reading attentively, or your principles are as fucked up as Chomsky’s. That you think it’s more correct to blame Lessig, rather than prosecutors who drove Swartz to bankruptcy and then suicide, strongly suggests the latter.

      As to tracking “Lessig’s ‘version'”, I have done no such thing. I have very little use for Lessig either, and I don’t even know what his version is. This post relies overwhelmingly on Chomsky’s own words and the facts of the Swartz case, most of which were disclosed by MITs own investigation. Try dealing with facts next time, if you’re going to persist.

  32. Bitman says:

    It speaks to the need to analyze the state not in terms of what is officially part of the repression record — as imparted to us by compromised systems and individuals — but a careful consideration of the power the state has, and what it logically would do with it.

    Yes. The dual securitization logics (corporate and state) are increasingly interwoven in the digitalage, despite the outward appearance of conflict between the entities carrying them out. At the extremes there is no distinction to be made between securitization as the desire to secure as in “keep safe,” and the desire to “secure” as in capture, or succeed in obtaining. The first entails the other, and the first is largely pretextual. Not enough people understand this.

  33. guest77 says:

    I have the utmost respect for Chomsky and the work he has done. That said, this was a really valuable critique I think.

    I do question calling it “a sales job for institutional power” because I don’t think there is malintent there, it is a bad opinion of many thousands of good ones he has. As for why this one is bad while the others are so “right”: your analysis certainly seems spot on.

    And while we shouldn’t shy away from honest criticism – just like honest criticism should be accepted without calling people “dumb basement dwelling trolls” as Schaill and Greenwald have – we should be careful that, with what we say, we don’t devalue very good people. Not that you did that at all.

    This was really insightful. Thanks.

  34. thedoctorisindahouse says:

    This interview with Swartz has a short Chomsky passage. Swartz’s free information activism is an illustration of Chomsky’s anti-censorship ideology. Yet he comes out swinging against Swartz on an economic justification for censorship as fee-payment to access. That’s the exact justification always used to sweep away the political cause of censorship in American Ratings-Based Media.

    The solution Swartz offers: we need better dads to explain the world to people. At least history will record him licking Chomsky’s toes before Chomsky politely threw him under the Google Bus.

    Is the concept of your book related to the epiphany you’ve mentioned in your blog once… namely, of being introduced to writer Noam Chomsky’s work?

    I am working on a book about that, but it’s a very long-term project.

    Have you ever met Mr. Chomsky in person, actually?

    Yes, briefly a couple times. Run into him around Cambridge, MA and stuff.

    and (along with some Ratings-Based causality for censorship)

    What do you consider most important today?

    I think we need to do a better job explaining the state of the world to people, which is mostly an old-fashioned research and writing project. There’s an enormous amount of curiosity these days about how things like the government and the media work and how, in the US, things have gone so wrong. But nobody is doing a very good job of providing the answers.

    But there’s blogs, mainstream news TV, newspapers, news magazines… aren’t they supposed to help us understand the world?

    Blogs, TV, newspapers, and magazines barely do a good job helping us understand the news of the day, let alone the larger issues of the world. TV, newspapers, and magazines are largely advertising driven; so stories that offend advertisers get killed. And blogs can be a little better, but it’s a difficult format for expressing big, new ideas and mostly people just read blogs about old ones.

  35. Pingback: Passing Chomsky on My Way Out Part 3: Intermission | The Rancid Honeytrap

  36. Had a comrade read your first two posts and here’s his response:

    Doesn’t seem like a serious post to me even though it raises some issues that one could address to make a reasonable case against Chomsky. Instead we get hyperventilation over the minutia of Swartz’s suicide and a lot of other half-baked charges that lack much force in my opinion. I didn’t agree, and still don’t, with Chomsky on the value of Swartz’s activism concerning JSTOR, and Chomsky even makes an argument almost sympathetic to the conception of copyright, which is extremely anti-Anarchist. That said, there is a caveat that within the current structure of capitalist institutions it would be a mistake if there is not an constructive alternative being created. And relative domestic oppression has conflicting tendencies, some of which are the worst in history today, but on the whole Chelsea Manning’s cruel and violent treatment is an exception for dissidents and not so much the rule, and Fred Hampton’s murder or say the Red Scare were worse than what we face today.

    So ultimately there is not much here to chew on in this needlessly 2 part, tedious piece. Lots of things to question Chomsky on, but the articles against him are almost invariably hysterical and overreaching.

    • Tarzie says:

      Oh God. You don’t even comment yourself and then pass on comments from ‘a comrade’, most of which are the typical ad homming I expect from a certain kind of fanboy dipshit. Apart from that, there’s weirdly ambivalent agreement with Chomsky’s trivializing of domestic repression — which seems to interest your comrade mostly in relation to one white person in a list of 6 dissidents that was by no means comprehensive.

      To say that “Fred Hampton’s murder…or the Red Scare were worse than what we face today” is an idiotic assertion when you consider that there is also nothing comparable today to the Black Panthers of Hampton’s time — likely due, in part at least, to the decimating effects of mass incarceration — nor to the Communist Party of the 1950s. Even if it weren’t idiotic, it still wouldn’t support Chomsky’s ridiculous claim that for U.S. dissidents, ‘there’s not much punishment, frankly’ and that ‘The United States is a Free Country.’ Since your comrade concedes that some aspects of domestic repression “are the worst in history today”, I am at pains to see a reason why your pal comes down on the side of Chomsky’s whitewashing overall other than reflexive deference to status.

      Though your comrade complains that Chomsky’s views on copyright seem ‘extremely anti-Anarchist’, s/he’s clearly not bothered that Chomsky made Swartz’s death an opportunity for promoting them. Your comrade also clearly endorses Chomsky’s judgement of Swartz as a bad boy for taking action without a ‘constructive alternative’ in place. That your comrade concurs with Chomsky on this is perhaps why s/he seemingly shares his lack of interest in the state and institutional forces that combined, even conspired, to destroy Swartz. My claim that Chomsky whitewashed MIT’s self-documented complicity doesn’t even apparently warrant comment, apart from reducing my attempt to illustrate with facts the extent of Chomsky’s distortions to ‘hyperventiliating over the minutia of Swartz’s suicide.’ I honestly can’t imagine what part of Swartz’s destruction an anarchist would find trivial.

      But way to prove my point about how icons like Chomsky become role models for irrational compliance. If you or your comrade want to make a serious counterargument, feel free. This only argues for misplaced admiration and the corrupting effect it has on principles and discussion. A most dismal contribution.

  37. PJ says:

    While I understand your point, your analysis doesn’t really stand the test of reality on the ground. Just look at the recent sentencing of 500+ people to death in Egypt. That is something that would simply not be possible in the US, not at this level. So, Chomsky is correct, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference. By not acknowledging this difference, in the name of ideological purity, you are nullifying the efforts of millions of activists who in the past two centuries have spent their life to improve people’s lives.

    • Tarzie says:

      So, Chomsky is correct, there is a quantitative and qualitative difference

      Please point out where I disputed Chomsky’s assertion of a ‘quantitative and qualitative difference.’ My objection — clear to anyone with average reading comprehension — was in Chomsky’s reduction of US state repression to ‘undetectable’ and ‘not much punishment, frankly.’ I don’t think any disparity between the US and more repressive states warrants this kind of whitewashing hyperbole. I also objected to his despicable minimizing of state repression in the Swartz case, which is very much in the same whitewashing vein.

      By not acknowledging this difference, in the name of ideological purity, you are nullifying the efforts of millions of activists who in the past two centuries have spent their life to improve people’s lives.

      Oh God. If I’m negating activists, please explain the list of persecuted dissidents I provided to dispute Chomsky’s whitewash. Please explain my defense of the activist Swartz against Chomsky’s lies and smears. By my lights, it’s Chomsky who’s pissing on graves, not me. It seems to me you and he are touting American exceptionalism, and doing it under cover of “honoring activists” is particularly sickening. Among other stupid things, this exceptionalist view — dressed ludicrously in Chomsky’s ‘free country’ bromides — cluelessly ignores context.

      Your implication that ‘millions of activists’ have placed the US immutably beyond overt repression laughably misapprehends the nature of power completely. Each state will destroy as many lives as it needs to to protect its interests. The US, in periods of stability, incarcerates 1 in 3 African-American men. This is, among other things, a preemptive measure against social unrest. If you are certain that a state capable of this atrocity would never execute people in large quantities during a mass insurgency, you’re even dumber than your preachy little self-certain comment suggests.

      As to my ‘ideological purity’, stick it up your dipshit ass. You idiots really need some new cliches if you’re going to keep insistently missing the point of everything. It’s not about purity. It’s about having a fucking clue.

  38. SHN says:

    oh I see–so now let’s destroy Chomsky – his entire body of work, the people he’s inspired and educated–let’s just throw all that out — he’s now a fraud because he’s not a perfect analyst, he gets some things wrong. I wonder if you people have the same exact standards for yourselves than Chomsky. A lifetime of activism and providing strong analysis of challenging the centers of power for millions of readers — all of that gets wiped out, erased in your fury to trash him completely. I have no problem with looking critically at Chomsky but that’s not what you and this thread seems to be doing — you’re now labeling him a fraud. How nice – sit on your perfection pedestals and go searching for heroes to destroy and sneer at as frauds–erasing everything else they’ve done.

    • Tarzie says:

      Please point out where I said Chomsky should be rejected completely. Here’s something I wrote in my first post on Chomsky:

      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.

      I don’t argue religion with fanatics. Respond in a substantive way to any claim I made in the post and I’ll happily discuss.

  39. Tarzie says:

    [This continues a conversation about Chomsky that started in another thread, roughly here. It has been moved over here because it is more relevant to this post]

    starting an entirely new, prominent, school of scientific thought counts as “once in a century” style genius to me.

    You seemingly inhabit a world where “genius” is some Platonic concept entirely unrelated to power, politics and raw ambition, so it’s no wonder we’re at odds. Since I am losing sight of what relevance Chomsky’s genius has to this discussion I won’t dwell on it long, except to say that the intersection between Chomsky’s genius and militarism is a matter of record, as is the controversy surrounding his theories and the ruthless way he went about promoting them. For more, read this.

    I was hoping you would advance some theory of why Chomsky was elite-selected during his phase of militant activism. My “exceptionalist case” rests on not having any explanation for that because it’s inconsistent with your theory of how prominent lefts achieved prominence.

    I am curious where I have ever said activism is forever and always entirely inimical to finding favor with elites. These things are always contextual and a good heat vampire adapts to conditions. But I have also never proposed such a thing as ‘elite selection.’ The situation of aspiring public figures is more like a maze. The path to the cheese represents the permissible areas of inquiry and activity. The mouse with the keenest nose for cheese will fare the best.

    When Chomsky started raising a fuss about Vietnam in 1967, the US had been prosecuting the war in one form or another since the early 50s, entirely without Chomsky’s intervention. By the time he entered the fray there was no consensus among elites. Popular opposition to the war was by that time also quite widespread and it was about to become a major issue in the presidential campaign of the following year.

    In other words, there was absolutely no risk of Chomsky’s involvement inciting anything new, or at odds with elite consensus, especially since he wasn’t terribly influential outside of linguistics at that point anyway. It’s interesting that paying taxes was a form of complicity Chomsky couldn’t abide, but receiving them back and then some in the form of wages from a university awash in defense lucre was no problem. MIT correctly calculated that keeping him on posed more benefit than yielding to pressure from hawks to fire him. To show his appreciation, Chomsky helpfully touted the Institute’s libertarian values that “would tolerate, even encourage someone practicing civil disobedience against the war” when a fan quizzed him about the apparent contradiction between his politics and his job. This is, of course, pure heat vampirism, very much akin to Greenwald’s relationship to Omidyar.

    In 1967, he published his famous essay on the role of intellectuals in fortifying militarism, and, while I can’t say for sure, it seems as if from that point on, his activism mostly took the form of writing and speaking. Chomsky’s rising star signified a critical sea change in left celebrity, from true activists like the African American visionaries of the 60s, almost all of whom were murdered, to mostly white intellectuals, journalists and system apostates like Daniel Ellsberg. From the standpoint of agitation, this is significant. People like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King spoke to the people directly, in their language, with the clear intent of inciting them, and with a clear vision of what they should do. People like Chomsky speak mostly to middle class intellectuals, overwhelmingly focused on describing problems as opposed to proposing remedies, and almost entirely without direct engagement themselves. The underlying assumption seems to be that social problems can be talked away.

    You may find this radicalizing and inspiring, but I don’t think it leads many people into movements so much as it convinces them that analysis and handwringing are activism. It should be self-evident that an intellectual, descriptive approach doesn’t move people the way a more prescriptive, tactical approach would, especially when you factor in the extent to which Chomsky counsels compliance with state power. While it’s true that power might prefer a world without Chomsky, it clearly finds him far easier to live with than Malcolm X or Aaron Swartz, for reasons that should be obvious.

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

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

  42. evdebs says:

    It’s difficult to accurately characterize this unsigned attack on Chomsky as anything but shameless cherry picking through a minefield of facts, guilt by association, and the deliberate ignoring of the disgusting and self-aggrandizing behavior of the lead federal prosecutor, Stephen Heymann, and the U.S.A.G. for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz.

    It wasn’t JSTOR or MIT that pressed the prosecution of this extraordinary activist and innovator, but out-of-control bureaucrats, with the unflagging support of one of the worst Attorneys Generals in history, Eric Holder. Even that odious bastard, Darryl Issa, found himself on the right side of this case, and Holder and his stooges subsequently refused to ;publicly discuss this case with Congress.

    Ortiz had her sights set on being the next U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. She had no defense for her actions, nor did anyone else except the equally worthless Heymann, her husband, and Holder. Her seizing of the prosecution from the tate, her vast overcharging of Swartz, her intractability on plea bargaining, all were aimed at nothing more than polishing her curriculum vitae.

    Hopefully she will fade into well deserved obscurity when Obama leaves office.

    Ortiz and Heymann were warned that Swartz was a suicide risk. He was terrified by the prospects of imprisonment, thanks to his own vulnerability and his acute knowledge of the cruellest aspects of the penal system via his friends and probably most importantly, his partner, who had focused on it in university and whose mother was a former correctional officer.

    Chomsky is made of sterner stuff. He could probably do six months “standing on his head,” and his lack of precise knowledge of the final version of the offered plea bargain is hardly cause for vilification. If you’ve never done any time, I would suggest you haven’t the faintest effing idea what I’m talking about.

    Holder has prosecuted whistleblowers and licensed and overseen medical marijuana growers with equal abandon, at the same time for failing to ask for a day in jail of the greediest billionaire larcenous banksters on Wall Street.

    Since you’re so deliberately myopic, I don’t suppose reading the 172-page report on MIT’s role in the Swartz prosecution would be a useful pursuit for you, but here’s one conclusion that you should consider, at p. 46: “10 June 21, 2011 A conversation with the lead prosecutor leads OGC (MIT general counsel) to infer that MIT’s views on the case will have little impact on the prosecution going forward.”

    Your contention that Chomsky is somehow an apologist for MIT is equally ludicrous. The below article notes, for instance, that he was one of the “couple of MIT” profs that opposed the war, when a majority of profs signed on to support getting injunctions preventing student protests over Viet Nam. He has often been arrested for standing up for his principles, and I wonder if still more aren’t in his future at 85 years old?

    I notice you’re no fan of Amy Goodman, either.

    I can’t imagine what your problem is, whether you’re pathologically insecure, a fanatically ideological purist or just the chronic schmeckel loser in those “biggest putz” contests held in your own mind, but I’d suggest that an intervention or therapy might help.

    • Tarzie says:

      So many words, so few pertinent to what I actually wrote. Last paragraph is some persuasive stuff, though. Problem is, it doesn’t persuade in the way you want it to.

      Your passionate regard for Swartz and quite justified condemnation of his state persecutors touches my heart. Such a shame that Chomsky doesn’t share your emphasis. His condemnation of Ortiz and Heymann could not be more perfunctory. But he fires on all cylinders preaching the practical importance of intellectual property and lamenting the ‘social pathologies’ that inspired Swartz’s activism. . No wonder you’re defensive!

      Try reading and not scanning next time. Pay special attention to what MIT actually did, provided in handy, easy-to-read bullet points near the end. Then review how Chomsky describes it. Then figure out some defense other than childish nonsense about “‘biggest putz’ contests.” Until then I’m not going to engage further. I am done wasting time on foamy-mouthed star-struck children, clinging to their radical dads. They make everything dumber.

  43. diane says:

    I think a good measure of Chomsky’s ultimate heroism against oppression, might be to ask those in the US (the country from which he’s made quite the living being platformed at MA’s MIT – to ‘learn’ all the ‘lesser’ minds crowding round him about The US & Global Oppression) who have been historically oppressed:

    1. How many even know who he is?

    2. If they are even familiar with him, what their opinion of him is.

    3. Ask them, since they have life long experience, how is it they never became a Thought Leader on oppression, with security and $$$$$.

    • diane says:

      (and for the super White & Educated assholes in the hause, do try to refrain from spitting out some venal insanity about just being jealous, especially with those whose lives have been filled with countless miseries, those who’ve had to practise far more real life logic and linguistics[!] than you could ever imagine, OR PERFORM, just in order to keep their heads above water.)

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  46. AC says:

    You remarked above that you think all icons of the left are, as a necessary corollary to their iconic stature, frauds. In your view, is Marx a fraud? Why or why not?



    • Tarzie says:

      Perhaps I should have made it more obvious that I’m talking about the United States, and within that restriction, about icons who have some relationship to mass media. I also tend to concern myself with people who are alive.

      So the critique doesn’t apply to Marx at all.

      • AC says:

        Thanks for the quick reply.
        I’d appreciate if you would indulge a curiosity of mine by way of a rather morbid thought experiment. If we can imagine that all of the fraudulent lefties whom you excoriate on this blog (Chomsky, Goodman, Hedges, Greenwald, and the rest of them) were to drop dead tomorrow (perhaps they all contract ebola at a dinner hosted by Bono, who manages to transmit it following a self-righteous romp through West Africa), would that be an unqualified net gain for the present state of left activism in the United States?

      • Tarzie says:

        Probably not, but not because I regard all of them as necessary. Though contrary to your implication, I don’t find all of them entirely useless either and have said as much.

        As much as people insist that these are personal attacks, anyone who reads a few posts in good faith knows that I am talking about a system into which only highly compromised lefts can gain entry. Greenwald only matters to me because elites clearly find him so very useful. They find him useful for the reasons I find him toxic. Pointing out his toxicity is less about him than about how this toxicity gains him access and influence.

        Between the elites’ obvious practical interest in having guardians at the margins, the efficient process by which the right people fit the right slots, and a middle class acculturated to both celebrity and dissidence by proxy, I am reasonably confident after the sudden death of the people you mentioned, the current configuration would roughly reproduce itself in a fairly short amount of time. There might not be a Greenwald, or even anyone similar, but in functional terms, very little would change.

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  53. Alexis Espinosa says:

    I was sort of starting like Chomsky’s points, but the case about Aaron is now giving me some doubts about Chomsky.

    If I understood the end of this article, you were about to discuss what Chomsky did about Aaron’s case when he was able to to do something. Maybe he did not knew Aaron, but I bet he knew him very well and knew about his potential and his admiration to him. He must have known about the case and know about the amazing work Aaron did for stopping SOPA.
    In my point of view, Aaron was basically what Chomsky had been asking for during his whole career. A leader who could organize people to ask the government to use common sense laws in favour to the whole society.
    But what did Chomsky do about Aaron’s case when he had the chance to do something? It seems that he did not move a finger and that makes me furious! But I really do not know. Is there any evidence of any kind of action in favour of Swartz performed by Chomsky? A comment on an interview or a written comment by him? I hope you can discuss about it in your next part of the article.

    • Tarzie says:

      As far as I know everything he did re Aaron Swartz is in my post. In summary Chomsky:

      1. Misrepresented what Swartz had actually done
      2. Defended profit-seeking in academic publishing because capitalism
      3. Admonished Swartz for embodying a social pathology of selfishness
      4. Grossly minimized the active and crucial involvement of MIT in Swartz’s persecution
      5. Admonished Swartz and his representatives for not taking a plea deal
      6. By implication, claimed Swartz was not a true dissident

      He began doing all this within weeks of Swartz’s suicide and did it repeatedly. I have no trouble concluding Chomsky is toxic scum based on this incident alone. But if you examine his history closely, you’ll find this asshole has made a career of poisoning the left. Which is why he’s our official, ruling-class anointed “outsider” “radical.”

      For a comprehensive overview of Chomsky’s power-serving “dissidence” see The Mainstream and the Margins, by Honeytrap friend Lorenzo.

  54. pim says:

    I recall Chris Knight has been mentioned here before. You might find this interesting.

    Knight, communist and anthropologist with an interest in the origin of language, has a book coming out in which he likens Chmosky’s science to a cult. Nonsense that reshapes to applause every time it gets knocked down. Including Russian futurism roots, the Tower of Babel, the origins of language and the “linguistic wars”, Knight refutes Chomsky’s claim that his science and politics are separate.

    Click to access a_new_book_by_chris_knight.pdf

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I found an essay by Knight on Chomsky invaluable. I reckon the book is quite good.

      • davidly says:

        Chomsky managed to convince virtually the entire scientific community of this claim. But you have to wonder how he did it. The answer becomes clear when we recall who exactly were these scientists who became so excited. They were not people engaged in studying the intelligence of monkeys, apes or human beings. They were not psychologists with a special interest in how children acquire language. They were not anthropologists interested in the world’s different languages or in how our species evolved. They were not even brain neurophysiologists. No, they were computer scientists.

        They were computer scientists in the pay of the Pentagon, tasked with the science-fiction job of making English accessible to their digital machines…

      • Tarzie says:

        Chris Knight is great on this stuff.

      • davidly says:

        Yeah, he is. Also, this article makes me think maybe I would understand his book and should read it.
        (Thanks for the italics.)

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