Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of Domestic Repression

While doing some research, I came across this extraordinary video from May 2012, in which Chomsky vindicates beyond all doubt, my contention that among his many services to power is the rosy view he offers of state repression in the U.S.

In the video, Chomsky answers the perennial question,  “What Can We Do?” not with concrete suggestions for political engagement, but with a starry-eyed assessment of how hard it’s become for the state to persecute dissenters. “I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression”, he announces at one point in this sunny tribute to American political freedom.

At the time of this interview, Anwar al-Aulaqi, his son and Samir Khan had been dead close to a year; Chelsea Manning was in year two of pre-trial imprisonment; the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was in its 11th year of holding presumed Islamic anti-imperialists without charges; CIA torture whistleblower, John Kirakou had recently been arrested for disclosing classified information to journalists; and six months had passed since a wave of violent police assaults closed down Occupy encampments all over the country. As ever, close to one million African Americans were living in cages.

Chomsky ignores all of this, cheerfully announcing that the “opportunities” for political engagement are “almost boundless” and admonishing gloomy comrades for their “paranoia about concentration camps.”

“The state may try to repress you,” he says,  “but they can’t do a lot.”

Diehard Chomskyites, the dimwitted antecedents of Glennbot derangement, will of course write off this pernicious nonsense as anomalous. However, this cheery little speech is very consistent with a pattern of whitewashing that I have previously discussed here and here. The diehards will probably write those discussions off too, but a rich, basement-dwelling, Leftier-Than-Thou Purity Cultist can dream, can’t he?

Commenter rsmatesic has helpfully provided a transcript:

Q: In your essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”, you posed the question, What can we do?

NC: Well the fact of the matter is we can do just about anything. I mean, with all, you know, people like us, let’s say–we wouldn’t be here otherwise–are pretty privileged. And we have the kind of privilege that few people have ever had in history or have now. And if you have privilege you have opportunities. And the opportunities are almost boundless.

I mean thanks to the struggles of the past–it hasn’t always been like this–but thanks to the struggles in the past there’s a tremendous amount of freedom.

I mean the state may try to repress you, but they can’t do a lot. Now, they can pass the NDAA, let’s say, but they can’t really implement it against the will of the population.

I mean, look, there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression. Oh, it’s not that it’s not there–you know, sure they’d like to do it–but first of all it’s always been there and it’s just kind of inherent in states and [other/similar] power systems. And it’s much weaker than it used to be.

So take, say, there’s paranoia about concentration camps. You know, they’re gonna lock us up, NDAA says they can detain us indefinitely. Concentration camps have been there since the 50s. Back in the 1950s the liberal Democrats, Humphrey and Lehman, introduced legislation to set up internment camps in case people got out of control. I don’t know, I never followed to see what happened but I know the legislation was passed. But they can’t do anything about it.

I mean take, say, the surveillance systems. Okay, they shouldn’t have systems, we shouldn’t tolerate systems where everything you say gets sent to a central computer, massive supercomputer in Utah, and they do this and that. But, even if they have that data, what are they going to do with it? I mean, you know, nothing, effective, if the experiences with the FBI from resistance days [sic]. They can’t do anything with it. And if they try they’ll arouse popular reaction. So power really is in the hands of the governed if they’re willing to use it.

And so what can we do given that we’re people with privilege? We have an enormous number of things we can do. I mean, there may be efforts to shut you up or something. But you’re not gonna be sent to a, you know, have your brains blown out. It’s not like El Salvador.

Related

Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part 1

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

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Intermission

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116 Responses to Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of Domestic Repression

  1. b-psycho says:

    Sounds like a Republican could say most of that shit.

  2. Bob Basil says:

    He seems willfully clueless … very strange and awful to hear.

  3. Nell says:

    Well, Chomsky’s right about one thing: “People like us (he and the interviewer) are very privileged.”

    Went to YouTube to check the date (January 2014), just to make sure this blithe what-are-they-gonna-do dismissal wasn’t from four years ago — before Manning’s imprisonment, abusive treatment, and long sentence; the violent dislodging of Occupy/ies; and the repressive prosecution of Aaron Swartz (just to limit cases to those of activists with a fair amount of the same kinds of privilege, even aside from the reality of what happens to the much greater number of people without it).

    • Nell says:

      Slight correction: On reading Tarzie’s post more closely, I see that the interview took place in May 2012, and January 2014 is just when this excerpt was uploaded. Doesn’t greatly affect my point, as Occupy repression, the worst of Manning’s pre-trial detention, and the hyper-prosecution of Swartz were recent and ongoing realities at the time of the interview.

      • Tarzie says:

        Your first reading was probably close enough; I hadn’t put the date in on the first pass. Your post inspired me to look it up, because it’s quite important. As you say, it doesn’t affect your original point. There was quite a lot of high-profile repression going on when he made this statement.

  4. The selection pressure afforded by mass information collection over perhaps just two generations is enough to stack positions of authority with insiders creating an inevitable feedback loop favouring more fascism. The political vetting possible is so obvious that for Chomsky to claim otherwise is absurd just like denying the very real threat of a militarised occupying police state. The post-Boston bombing shakedown is a prime example of their capabilities, as is turning districts into de facto camps by turning off water supplies or having assassination plots against key protestors. Just because there are no gas chambers doesn’t mean the State has an lesser power in applying discipline to nullify any “democratic” or electoral change. One wouldn’t think the US could still be getting away with applying the coup regime technique from the 50s through to direct warfare in the modern era and suffer no backlash at home, yet we are 14 years in.

    Meanwhile all the signs of power gearing towards mass civil unrest are there but not for Chomsky. The super rich are buying islands in places of predicted calm and concentrating wealth in perceived safe havens like London whose police are bringing back the water cannon updated for the 21st century. They now are applying dye that makes traceable any delinquent proles in a similar fashion to those protecting money. So what is Chomsky doing—is he just that shit of a strategist capable only of analytical retrospection or something worse?

    • Tarzie says:

      Well said! I got nothin’.

      • Has anyone in these parts studied under Chomsky? Does he just do linguistics formally at MIT or does he offer political lecturing (excluding his talking head appearances)?

      • mickstep says:

        I am only guessing, but I reckon he is mostly of ornamental value at MIT, they just give him an office and wheel him out for functions and such.

      • Would be interesting to know his net worth and a breakdown of sources.

      • Tarzie says:

        A book by a conservative Stanford professor about liberal hypocrisy said he was worth more than 2 million in 2006. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

        Noam Chomsky: Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

        And here’s an article the same guy wrote that adds some additional detail on how Chomsky makes money.

        Noam Chomsky, Closet Capitalist

      • Those links regarding Chomsky’s capitalist proclivities are pretty illuminating. I think one of Chomsky’s greatest services to power is the way he stands as the archetype of radical intellectual for many would-be radicals. They construct themselves using an ideal of the radical as someone with a comfortable and prestigious sinecure making as many theoretical arguments as they like so long as nothing truly challenging to power is actually done. No need to give up your cushy lifestyle and tax shelter, just don’t throw any rocks. Sticks and stones, etc.

        Whether or not it is true that power would tolerate this from anyone or just the token radical, it still has the effect of channeling dissent into the visible and controllable channels of academic publishing and journalism. The Matrix tolerated Zion so the machines could know where all the rebels were and crush them when necessary, after all.

        Somewhat related is the way his continued success demonstrates that “dissent” is tolerated. If the state was so oppressive, why would it let Chomsky do what he pleases? This role, as the radical analogue of the Rented Negro, also redirects potential dissent away from structural critique of the system and into narrower goals, like electoral politics.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yup

        They construct themselves using an ideal of the radical as someone with a comfortable and prestigious sinecure making as many theoretical arguments as they like so long as nothing truly challenging to power is actually done.

        I think this is spot on. Chomsky’s comfy life is a feature, not a bug. When I attacked Greenwald, the thing that sent the upper middle class rads into the greatest tizzy was the suggestion that perhaps maximizing his financial yield from the leaks should not be the highest priority. This was more widely ridiculed than anything else I wrote. Greenwald, even more than Chomsky, offers the fantasy of being loaded, famous and *good* at the same time, and the loaded part is clearly a big part of the allure.

        You are correct that as a role model Chomsky telegraphs the importance of keeping your critique and your actions within safe boundaries, but, if I may psychologize a bit, I think this registers on a not-entirely-conscious level. The acolytes want very much to believe in their own disruptiveness and that of their idols. In Greenwald’s case, this necessitates framing his compliance and capitulations as deftness and savvy. In Chomsky’s case, they emphasize the harshness of his critiques, and trivialize his quadrennial political endorsements.

      • You are correct that as a role model Chomsky telegraphs the importance of keeping your critique and your actions within safe boundaries, but, if I may psychologize a bit, I think this registers on a not-entirely-conscious level. The acolytes want very much to believe in their own disruptiveness and that of their idols.

        Oh, psychologize away, I think you are totally correct that it is quasi-conscious at best. It’s not a coincidence that Chomsky tends to be encountered at the college or grad school level, by people who, if they didn’t come from privilege already, are on track for gaining privilege. For people choosing their path in life, he functions like a framing device, defining the outer bound of conceivable action; you could just go work for the system or you could fight it, by…being a professor at an elite university.

        Although I do think the prestige end of the equation shouldn’t be minimized. I suspect that once a basic level of financial comfort and security are reached, the prestige of the position is as important as extra lucre, if not more so. Or to put it another way, it is material and social comfort that is difficult to sacrifice.

      • dmantis says:

        Cycling Anamoly,
        I can speak with some experience about Chomsky’s efforts at MIT. He is by no means invisible. He does in fact do round table discussions and various other engagements with other departments around campus. Very interdisciplinary, which is so in fashion in academia (not just MIT).

        He does have an ongoing impact in the intellectual discourse at MIT in many different departments.

        For example, while I was there, he had a series of lectures/discussions with Urban Planning of the Department of Architecture. The content of his position pretty much echoed these sentiments. He spoke at length about the need to address sprawl and unmitigated urban development always stated in terms of the state. He basically implied that local governments were the real culprits because they used subsidies and the infrastructure of the highway system to build outward rather then build inward with more density.

      • Worth noting, I think, that Chomsky’s generational syntax theories and his political theories are not totally separable. Like his politics, they once suggested a potentially liberating universalism, but have slowly degraded into self-contradictory, overambitious yet underpowered nonsense, deliberately constructed to assert his moral and intellectual dominance over any student fool enough to read them.

        Accordingly, I have long suspected the West Coast grammarians- some riding the line between patronizing and politically useless- of reacting simultaneously to Chomsky’s (and tbf, Pinker’s) politics and linguistics.

        It would take a deeper academic insider than me to draw more detailed conclusions than that, though.

      • Tarzie says:

        You might like this if you haven’t seen it.

        Decoding Chomsky

    • Happy Jack says:

      The political vetting possible is so obvious that for Chomsky to claim otherwise is absurd just like denying the very real threat of a militarised occupying police state. The post-Boston bombing shakedown is a prime example of their capabilities, as is turning districts into de facto camps by turning off water supplies or having assassination plots against key protestors.

      This is the only thing I would take issue with. For certain elements of the population, this hasn’t been a threat but a reality for centuries.

      But it isn’t as if I experience nightly raids by ninjas in APC’s either, so I understand the hesitation to use the term “police state.” While I don’t expect to hear online the perspective of the residents who experience the full force of the state, I think we should acknowledge the nature of the beast that already exists.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t think noting that there is a widening of the net ignores the repression that already exists for certain populations, especially since I had made reference to that in my post.

    • Tarzie says:

      The selection pressure afforded by mass information collection over perhaps just two generations is enough to stack positions of authority with insiders creating an inevitable feedback loop favouring more fascism.

      Can you explain what you mean by this?

      • I’ll give an odd example, but a real happening and quite recent. In short 17 year old Paris Brown was forced to resign from an ornamental role as Youth Police and Crime Commissioner because some one dredged up dubious tweets sent whilst she was 14-16. Fullish story here sans “offensive” tweets IIRC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-22083032

        Having covered everything from starring in marxist homoerotica, Israel, to giving my worst regards to an actual police investigator, I think there’s enough to bar me and perhaps even my children from positions of significant authority. The BBC had all it’s employees vetted so it’s no wonder it was the main conduit for brazen proto-fascists, UKIP, who are pseudo-libertarian monarchists demonising the usual suspects and even wanting to double the size of the military, double prison populations, abolish the human rights act, whilst inventing verbal treason laws.

        That’s like the passive goose-step mechanic where there isn’t a conscious will towards some end per se like in the case of leveraging information for blackmail but the creation of an echo chamber. I think quite quickly institutions can become pathological especially if we think of police forces or similar, where a culture is created that takes on its own momentum. You could apply it anywhere though, even academia. Perhaps in deciding between two students a university leverages social media to make a decision. Perhaps once this bunch of students get to be professors they are even more obedient and dreary than Chomsky.

      • Tarzie says:

        Ok, gotcha. You make a good point about how social media puts the Propaganda Model on steroids.

        Marxist homoerotica? Hmm…

      • haptic says:

        UKIP, who are pseudo-libertarian monarchists demonising the usual suspects and even wanting to double the size of the military, double prison populations, abolish the human rights act, whilst inventing verbal treason laws.

        I am curious to understand the UKIP phenomenon in the UK more. Would you be able to provide me references for each of the things you mention here, namely:

        double the size of the military
        double prison populations
        abolish the human rights act
        inventing verbal treason laws

        That is, if it is not an unacceptable digression from the topic for Tarzie. I promise I won’t keep the digression going too long.

      • Tarzie says:

        It’s on topic. I’m not hardcore. Prohibited derailments are usually trolls.

    • Has anyone in these parts studied under Chomsky? Does he just do linguistics formally at MIT or does he offer political lecturing (excluding his talking head appearances)?

      Don’t know if he still offers political lecturing, but he used to (MacFarquhar, New Yorker): http://bit.ly/1qH8xXW

      • Stephen says:

        Haptic, here’s a blog which gives a summary of some of UKIP’s policies and past voting, because someone who reposted a meme online (after adding sources) was visited by police, who tried to get him to take it down. To understand the phenomena more generally, a few things you need to bear in mind. 1 The capitulation of UK politics to a reactionary consensus not seen in a century. 2 The influence of anti-politics (of a type no doubt familiar in some parts of the US but formerly on the margins here) I’m not sure if conspiracist nuts have become more political or political people have gone a bit nuts, but even Occupy over here (regardless of what it was there), was swarming with people who thought Zeitgeist and David Icke or Ron Paul were interesting-see MLMB 3 The BBC, who 3 decades ago James Kelman described accurately as consistently portraying “borderline fascists as if they were your eccentric curmudgeonly uncle who secretly has a heart of gold” This is usually done outside of news, for instance interviews with writers or guest appearances by politicians on satirical comedy shows. He just incorporated the portrayal into an ongoing public persona, which when filtered through that same system doubled its effectiveness.
        http://athousandflowers.net/2014/05/14/ukips-guide-to-freedom-of-speech-cops-censors-and-skinheads/

      • Boo Boo says:

        Marxist homoerotica? Hmm…

        Yeah,… Instead of class warfare, we make class lovefare!

  5. diane says:

    a toast to you, dear.

    ;0)

  6. forest says:

    considering it’s ok for people to behave badly if they’ve been doing it long enough, i guess you won’t object to my behaving badly towards you, then, mr. gatekeeper, eh?

    • Tarzie says:

      Who says it’s ok to behave badly?

      Make sense, troll.

      • forest says:

        you, in this case, referred to Chomsky. thought that was obvious. you sure are a touchy lil’ fella, tarzie.

      • Tarzie says:

        Sorry, I have trollitis. I see them everywhere now.

        Now I get what you mean. Yeah, saying that repression has always been there is the dumbest part of his dismissal.

  7. forest says:

    thanks for that. was weird to think you thought i was trolling when in fact i feel more at home here than i do just about anywhere else.

  8. Peter says:

    Fascinating his use of the word “privilege” where mine and others first impulse would automatically be “rights”. The Bill of Privileges? Sounds like Keys to the Executive Washroom. Chomsky has captured the audience/imagination of the Left at the low, low bargain price of making its existence essentially harmless, even when his/its critiques have some bite. I can’t recall seeing an exchange with Chomsky where he is seriously challenged for inanities like those expressed in this clip, and I don’t mark that as an accident. He selects his media exposure as carefully as a Hillary, but good luck getting him to admit it (assuming his disciples would even allow it).

    • Tarzie says:

      Fascinating his use of the word “privilege” where mine and others first impulse would automatically be “rights”.

      That’s a really good catch. Went by me. This suggests there is a supplicant quality in his relationship to power. Explains why he feels so grateful that his head hasn’t been blown off — you know like they do in El Salvador — and would feel inclined to smack down the uppity Swartz on behalf of the boss.

      Excellent comment, as always.

      • Somewhere between intellectuals–the folks Chomsky will probably say his answer was directed towards, given the question–and activists, there’s a border. Swartz’ fatal mistake was to cross it, at which point the state, MIT, and Chomsky all regarded him as an insurgent.

        Maybe as a courtesy Chomsky will one day tell us exactly where the border is, so that the intellectuals among us will know where not to stray. As for the insurgents, they might as well consider giving away their possessions, since they probably won’t be needing them.

        Here’s the transcript:

        Q: In your essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”, you posed the question, What can we do?

        NC: Well the fact of the matter is we can do just about anything. I mean, with all, you know, people like us, let’s say–we wouldn’t be here otherwise–are pretty privileged.
        And we have the kind of privilege that few people have ever had in history or have now.
        And if you have privilege you have opportunities. And the opportunities are almost boundless.

        I mean thanks to the struggles of the past–it hasn’t always been like this–but thanks to the struggles in the past there’s a tremendous amount of freedom.

        I mean the state may try to repress you, but they can’t do a lot. Now, they can pass the NDAA, let’s say, but they can’t really implement it against the will of the population.

        I mean, look, there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression. Oh, it’s not that it’s not there–you know, sure they’d like to do it–but first of all it’s always been there and it’s just kind of inherent in states and [other/similar] power systems. And it’s much weaker than it used to be.

        So take, say, there’s paranoia about concentration camps. You know, they’re gonna lock us up, NDAA says they can detain us indefinitely. Concentration camps have been there since the 50s. Back in the 1950s the liberal Democrats, Humphrey and Lehman, introduced legislation to set up internment camps in case people got out of control. I don’t know, I never followed to see what happened but I know the legislation was passed. But they can’t do anything about it.

        I mean take, say, the surveillance systems. Okay, they shouldn’t have systems, we shouldn’t tolerate systems where everything you say gets sent to a central computer, massive supercomputer in Utah, and they do this and that. But, even if they have that data, what are they going to do with it? I mean, you know, nothing, effective, if the experiences with the FBI from resistance days [sic]. They can’t do anything with it. And if they try they’ll arouse popular reaction. So power really is in the hands of the governed if they’re willing to use it.

        And so what can we do given that we’re people with privilege? We have an enormous number of things we can do. I mean, there may be efforts to shut you up or something. But you’re not gonna be sent to a, you know, have your brains blown out. It’s not like El Salvador.

      • Tarzie says:

        Thanks for the transcript.

        It’s not clear to me that Chomsky is speaking only of intellectuals. I think he starts out that way, but when he gets to “excessive concern in activist groups” and things like the NDAA and surveillance, things get blurry. It seems he is describing the extent of state repression for political dissent generally. If he is speaking only of the environment for dissenting intellectuals, cognizant of a two-tiered repression system, his rosy view is even more idiotic.

        I am a little confused by your intellectual/insurgent formulation since it runs activism and insurgent together. Obviously Chomsky doesn’t reject activism. In the Swartz case, Chomsky distinguished between activists in mass movements petitioning the state and free agents like Swartz taking independent direct action. I can imagine Chomsky also embracing insurgency — in theory, anyway — if it is part of a mass movement he approves of. Chomsky is loath to credit Swartz with any political weight at all, so I doubt he would credit him with insurgency either.

      • If we are talking about the intellectuals (I’m with Tarzie in that he transitions to “activist groups” so it’s a little more inclusive) and they really “can do anything”, where are the towering anarchs and dissenters in positions of significant influence? Russel Brand passes for one these days—easily knocked but it does show the power of charismatic leaders. I can’t think of any. It’s quite obvious that the State feared and fears intellectuals, and I think they came to the conclusion that as long as they are confined to academia, they indeed can be given much freedom to talk amongst themselves. Were they to actually start applying such ideology, then they would be a legitimate threat and set upon, so perhaps like a fish in water Chomsky is completely oblivious to these mechanisms of control because he’s never really reached very far. You don’t need to have your brains blown out as TV is far more effective at that anyway, but I’m sure the police are stocked with the sort that wouldn’t think twice. Just ask Scott Olson. For me that’s more alarming and indicative. It may or may not be in use, but it’s impossible to argue that overt force against the wider population is not snarling at the door.

      • Tarzie says:

        Were they to actually start applying such ideology, then they would be a legitimate threat and set upon

        Yes and Chomsky knows this. His friend Norman Finkelstein’s academic career was destroyed when he attacked a Zionist for plagiarism.

        I think you may be overestimating, however, how much freedom there is for non-practicing ideologues even in academia. Power is always aiming to erase left tendencies entirely and it’s my impression that traditional anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist radicalism ain’t what it used to be, at least on the U.S. college campus.

      • Tarzie says:

        but it’s impossible to argue that overt force against the wider population is not snarling at the door.

        As, of course, it always is.

        Presumably bean counter Chomsky sees fewer persecuted and murdered dissidents between say 1970 and the present than between 1940 and 1970 and stupidly credits the difference to some kind of profound social change. It seemingly doesn’t occur to him that there’s a direct relationship between state repression and organized resistance, and that organized resistance that might provoke repression is undoubtedly going to diminish after thirty years of persecuting communists; infiltrating movements; harassing activists; tear-gassing and shooting hippies; and assassinating African-American visionaries. It also doesn’t occur to him that, as you suggest, the system has gotten better at killing activism without killing activists, via more efficient media filtering and, in the case of African-Americans, preemptive incarceration. His assessment is so half-baked and navel-gazey, it defies belief.

      • mickstep says:

        In terms of whether Chomsky can embrace insurgency, he certainly does in Latin America, he has voiced support for the Zapatista insurgency in Chiapas for example.

        It seems he is quite willing to embrace foreign insurgents, it’s all good fun until someone starts fucking around in his back yard and messing with his institution like Swartz.

      • Tarzie says:

        Well, he would probably argue that the Latin American insurgents are operating in the context of a collective movement, rather than manifesting the ‘social pathologies of our age.’

      • mickstep says:

        I’ve seen him argue against armed insurrection in the US, on the basis that they would simply be crushed. Subcomandante Marcos’s insurrection was an armed one, although relatively little blood was spilled, and the Mexican government has for the most part tolerated their existence.

        Now I don’t have any objections to his assessment of the situation that if a bunch of left anarchists got a load of weapons and imposed land reform by the barrel of a rifle they would be slaughtered with Apache helicopters.

        But given that is his opinion the picture he creates of a benign government that will tolerate dissent doesn’t really make much sense, when by his own admission they are less tolerant of radicals than the government of Mexico.

      • Sorry for the confusion, as my effort to unmuddle Chomsky ended up just as muddled. Perhaps this formulation is better, if unnecessary, given your take: activists occupy the border between intellecutal and insurgent, and per Chomsky they become the latter–a disposable activist, if you will, and from power’s perspective the practical equivalent of an insurgent–when they do things without affirmation from either him, or MIT, or the state. I agree with you if what you’re saying is Chomsky thinks that as long as there’s a power structure that most people submit to, and to which you can appeal, you assume the risk–and lose whatever useful sympathy he might offer–if you choose to act alone, and find yourself without some sufficiently powerful people standing next to you.

        I went back and read your Passing Noam Pt. 2, because I couldn’t remember what he’d said about Swartz, viz., that Swartz’ JSTOR rebellion would have blown up academic publishing–enforcing the point that the only acceptable activism to Chomsky is the mediated kind. That made me think about his approval of Snowden, whose activism (like Swartz’) had been neither mediated nor approved before he turned over the cache to Greenwald, et al., but only after the fact.

        When the shit hit the fan, Swartz had Lessig (opposing commercial hegemony via copyright), et al., whereas Snowden had Chomsky & Co. (for whom the commercial angle was no more than an afterthought).

        I need to keep thinking about this.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t really understand the utility of a taxonomy that Chomsky himself isn’t using. As I’ve said, I don’t think Chomsky’s objection to Swartz is an objection to insurgency. The double standard between Swartz and Snowden is an interesting observation, though, considering what his actual objections are. Why, one may ask, is Snowden not also in thrall to “the social pathologies of our age”?

      • Agreed he’s not using the taxonomy; I’m just trying to suggest one because he doesn’t do that here. His remarks about Swartz that you documented in Noam Part 2 help delineate for me the activism Chomsky considers inappropriate.

        Chomsky would agree Swartz was an activist, but one nonetheless in need of some kind of correction that the rest of us shouldn’t get too upset about–a few months in prison, perhaps. I thought insurgent captured the point, because regardless of whether the people who are objecting to you are dissident intellectuals at MIT, or prosecutors at DOJ, once you’re acting in opposition to what either consider legitimate authority, you’ve become an insurgent to one, and sometimes, both. Stated another way, and even though he won’t admit it, Chomsky runs counterinsurgency campaigns (or maybe he considers them good hygiene) as MacFarquhar was only too happy to point out in her New Yorker piece.

        As for Snowden and social pathologies, yeah, that’s an excellent question.

      • Tarzie says:

        I guess my problem with your formulation is your pejorative use of insurgent, which I don’t think Chomsky would approve of, and which does not encapsulate the separateness from collective action that is Chomsky’s main beef, at least on the surface.

        I find that MacFarquhar article so disagreeably reactionary, I have trouble getting through it.

      • haptic says:

        @rsmatesic

        When the shit hit the fan, Swartz had Lessig (opposing commercial hegemony via copyright), et al., whereas Snowden had Chomsky & Co. (for whom the commercial angle was no more than an afterthought).

        When the shit hit the fan, Swartz didn’t “have Lessig.” When Swartz was arrested, Lessig wrote an unconscienable disassociation from him, choosing fastidious republican legalism over his alleged friendship with the indicted, speaking of how Swartz had crossed lines that should not be crossed, and of appropriate punishments:

        An indictment is an allegation. It states facts the government believes it can prove. It isn’t proof of the facts. It is one side in a dispute.

        […]

        Nonetheless, if the facts are true, even if the law is not clear, I, of course, believe the behavior is ethically wrong. I am a big supporter of changing the law. As my repeated injunctions against illegal file sharing attest, however, I am not a believer in breaking bad laws. I am not even convinced that laws that protect entities like JSTOR are bad. And even if sometimes civil disobedience is appropriate, even then the disobedient disobeys the law and accepts the punishment.

        That, however, begs the question of the appropriate punishment.

        […]

        What it was is unclear. What the law will say about it is even more unclear. What is not unclear, however, to me at least, is the ethical wrong here. I have endless respect for the genius and insight of this extraordinary kid. I cherish his advice and our friendship. But I am sorry if he indeed crossed this line. It is not a line I believe it right to cross, even if it is a line that needs to be redrawn, by better laws better tuned to the times.

        The day after Swartz hung himself in a New York apartment, Lessig joined other alleged Swartz “friends” Cory Doctorow and Quinn Norton in posthumously smearing Swartz while performing grief. In a handwaving, flip-flopping, self-aggrandizing, symbolic resistance eulogy, Lessig reiterated his repudiation of what Swartz did:

        First, of course, Aaron brought Aaron here. As I said when I wrote about the case (when obligations required I say something publicly), if what the government alleged was true — and I say “if” because I am not revealing what Aaron said to me then — then what he did was wrong. And if not legally wrong, then at least morally wrong. The causes that Aaron fought for are my causes too. But as much as I respect those who disagree with me about this, these means are not mine.

        Swartz didn’t have Lessig. Lessig ditched Swartz as soon as there was heat.

      • Tarzie says:

        I am so glad you wrote this.

      • haptic says:

        @Tarzie

        I find that MacFarquhar article so disagreeably reactionary, I have trouble getting through it.

        Agreed on how reactionary it is. Belittling and sneering at people who care about stuff is MacFarquhar’s entire game. She is a royal piece of shit. It was strange how Swartz suicide brought so many of the contours of orthodoxy and policing within the left into relief. It really flushed out the self-seekers.

      • Tarzie says:

        Swartz suicide brought so many of the contours of orthodoxy and policing within the left into relief. It really flushed out the self-seekers.

        Yeah. He’s quite the lens for getting to grips with the current environment.

      • haptic says:

        What I wrote above about Lessig is exacerbated by the fact that since those initial, very telling reactions, Lessig has capitulated to the force of moral approval Swartz attracted after his death, and has attempted to capitalize on Swartz’s radical acts by invoking Swartz’s memory over his own campaigns.

        I don’t suppose he isn’t genuinely grieving, but given his repudiation of Swartz, it looks like parasitism.

      • Haptic, mea culpa, and thanks for the correction. I hadn’t vetted the reference to Lessig, which I did all too casually, having assumed his alliance after recalling how choked up he got during some posthumous interview. I’ll never make that mistake again.

      • haptic says:

        No need for mea culpa. I realize I sounded a bit caustic in that post, but none of that was meant for you, just spitting a bit remembering reading Lessig’s comments. Glad to have drawn your attention to it.

  9. srogouski says:

    I stand by my idea that Chomsky’s problem is that he’s overly schematic. When he defends the idea of the United States as a “free” society (governed by propaganda not violence) he’s comparing it to Stalinist and fascist countries in Europe, and right-wing dictatorships in the Third World. It would be interesting to see him give a talk comparing the United States to other “democratic” countries. It would be freer than Britain (stricter libel laws) for example. But how about Scandinavia, France or Germany?

    In general though, I’d probably divide the world into “harsher neoliberal regimes” and “milder neoliberal regimes” not “democracies” vs. “non-democracies.” The United States, with its massive prison industrial complex and gigantic militarized police forces, would be among the harshest. Chomsky, perhaps, is tripped up by how the United States itself has so many internally colonized peoples.

    • Tarzie says:

      I am aware that Chomsky operates with a baseline of ‘not headless’ as opposed to ‘not persecuted.’ I don’t credit this to being overly schematic, but I also see no reason to split hairs. The point is, even if you think ‘not headless’ is a reasonable baseline, he still paints an inaccurate picture of the level of repression in the U.S.

      I agree that he is tripped up by internally colonized peoples, and said as much in my post.

  10. I’ve wondered, from time to time, what the effect is of a lifelong sinecure at an elite university on a person. This looks like it may be an exhibit.

    I don’t begrudge anyone looking for, or finding, security and comfort. I’m in that crowd. But then I don’t insinuate people are being pussies for their “excessive concern” about repression.

    With Greenwald’s rhetorical tactic of “don’t criticize me until you’ve burgled the FBI!”, he and Chomsky seem to be two peas in a pod as far as their high tolerance for other peoples’ risk.

    Other faults to the side, that’s a rather horrible character trait.

  11. Bill Wolfe says:

    Tarz- did you see NY TImes page 1 story on Steyer today?

    Another Billionaire buy of “progressives”, but Steyer make Omidyar look like a lamb.

    Guess Shit Happens When Billioaires Buy!

    Figured you’d be all over that, instead of wasting bullwets on Chomsky.

    • Tarzie says:

      Figured you’d be all over that, instead of wasting bullwets on Chomsky.

      Wrong again, Bill! The topic here is left gatekeepers first and foremost. Grow up or shut up about Chomsky, k, fanboy?

  12. diane says:

    Scott Olsen (see above), for anyone who may have forgotten


    This, even after Oscar Grant Was shot while cuffed and on his belly.

    Speaking of the Golden! …PWOGWESSIVE! … EMPIRE, and its Multinational Urban Shield [urbanshield.org], et al (this, from the highly consertive ‘United Kingdom’ The Telegraph):

    070414 Black woman pummelled by California Highway Patrol officer – Motorist films officer repeatedly punching woman in the face during arrest in Los Angeles

    (looks like she might have been homeless, she was reportedly barefoot.)

    Yeah, FUCK YOU, Chomsky/MIT.

    • diane says:

      (Id like to dedicate that post to Juris, from East Menlo Park, California, may she rest in peace THOUGH SHE NEVER SHOULD HAVE DIED THAT YOUNG. The East Menlo Park whose inhabitants are now being horrifyingly Jacked Up, by Face Fiend/DOD and Samuel Zell/Chicago ILL.)

      • diane says:

        East Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and Hunter’s Point, all under siege for DECADES, are the only two communities, in Sly Con Valley, where the Black/African American population has ever neared the US National Average metro populations … the rest of Sly Con Valley, has an average 2.2 or less population (and increasingly dwindling, along with an increaingly dwindling female and over 35 populace as compared to a national average, and then look at the percentage of hispanics in ‘the Valley”, the ugliest story of them all. The recent ‘revelations’ by Pando/Gawker, about Google, et al, demographics are certainly not news at all … to the victims, not to mention Pando/Gawkers’s (may as well be one and the same) demographics, which duplicate those of the Googleplex, PayPal/Palantir/Face Fiend/Twit ……,

      • diane says:

        And for any duplicitous mother fucker who wants to proclaim that the knowledge seeking people who care about others always live in “The CIty” (San Francisco, in this case), San Francisco has never been an affordable place to live. The DOD set up “The Valley” as the affordable place to live, that’s why the Valley, along Highway 101, in predominantly Santa Clara County, has a world record of Toxic Superfund Sites concentrated in one small pocket.

        I wanted to live in San Francisco, made every attempt to do so, but got trapped in the only affordable burb, doing wire wrap, for one, on a grave shift for Sperry/Rand Univac, and being treated like less than dog shit.

    • diane says:

      it never ceases to amaze me how my Teaching Ho$pital! … Brea$t Cancer docs don’t acknowledge to get that I fear – for all those I love…and my own limited future – what’s going on in $ly Con Valley …versus that teeny lump (which, in comparison, seems far, far more ….benign) …… that I’m choosing to let remain, at this point, in my breast….. I don’t feel the need to physically live forever, for one …. , I would just like to live my remaining time, doing something I love, which does not shame me.

      After all, that Teaching Ho$pital[z] own CEO is not even a doctor, heze a sociopathic member of $igma $ix. ( I know ya’ll must feeel me in your most solitary of moments …I do not doubt that there are thos who took that oath…….)

      • diane says:

        (No really, his $igma $ix first name (preceding two books in the Old Testament!) is Amir, I’ll bet my life, that Amir equates to Emir (that ‘dreaded’ Emir …a kissing cuzin) for those unfamiliar because you have far worse fears going, those names stand for RULER$ of the voiceless.)

  13. no idea says:

    Witnessing the Chomsky-Zizek slapfight last year (2 years ago?) was all I needed to know about where his efforts are spent. The details of the dispute aren’t of much interest here. What bugged me was that the tastelessness of engaging the other highly-published, millionaire ‘radical’ in an academic pro-wrestling match went unnoticed, at least as far as I’m aware. It smelled like an exercise to raise each others’ profiles and solidify their respective brands. What does Chomsky gain by informing his readers that he considers “theory” posturing (or however he put it), other than giving them something to define themselves against?

    • Tarzie says:

      Well, I don’t remember how that started. The fact that it blew up into a bigger deal than it should have been may have had very little to do with Chomsky. He might have made an offhand remark without realizing he was picking a fight.

      I think the extent to which the language left intellectuals use widens or limits the audience for left ideas is a worthy topic of discussion myself. I think Chomsky’s approach is laudably anti-elitist without being anti-intellectual. I think Zizek is a bullshit artist, among other things.

      • no idea says:

        When it’s confined to the language used, it’s a valid point, yeah. The degree of intellectual curation Chomsky’s Opinion might carry when combined with the imprecision of dismissing “theory” as a field (as being a hotbed of dreadful vocabulary and syntax) was what got to me.

        I mean part of what facilitated that thing is the fact that Zizek is a bullshitter and celebrity, and he has no problem drawing attention to himself.

        I could be getting it wrong though — Zizek may have been the first to take umbrage, and it could have more to do with their respective followings than themselves. Now I will go look this all up again. Barf.

      • mickstep says:

        IIRC Chomsky was asked if he thought Zizek’s work had any value in an interview, and Chomsky basically said he was a charlatan who uses a lot of fancy words that don’t mean anything.

        I’ve not really paid much attention to Zizek’s work, but I’ve seen a few videos and read a few of his articles and from what I have seen Chomsky was 100% correct to say so.

  14. diane says:

    Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan .Chaka Khan …RUFUS ……

    ♫ … I feel for you …. ….. ♫ .

    :0) …. ;0( …; 0(

    ;0)

    yinz!

    ya’ll

    youze guyz … :0)

    ;0)

    • diane says:

      that one’s for Phil Delucia, my dearest homie ….I hope he was tickled to know that I was allowed to be a pall bearer on Liberty Avenue …say homie we threw rose petals all over the mother fucking street …..

  15. Tarzie says:

    Go bore someone else, Oxy.

    You ruined many a comments section, but you will not ruin this one. Don’t waste your time posting shit no one will read, not even me.

    Update: Oxy, baby, I saw one sentence of that last comment before trashing it. I have no masochistic curiosity that would induce me to read anything you post on your three themes. Really, you are wasting your time.

  16. Can I just zoom out a bit and ask: what the fuck is even the point of this dull interview? I know, let’s ask Chomsky AGAIN what the great man thinks we can do. And let him AGAIN tell us the limitless possibilities of ours, the freest society yet. Oh it has its problems — write your congressman! — but it’s no Dirty War. The whole thing is propaganda a to z. Feh.

    • Tarzie says:

      Why do people go to church on Sundays to sing the same hymns and hear the same sermons over and over? When you realize that what celebrity lefts and their acolytes practice is religion, not politics, everything falls into place.

      I thought this particular interview was uniquely bad, though. Weird how he mixes this shit with statements elsewhere to the effect that the presidency is a rotating dictatorship. It’s quite the accomplished heat vampire mindfuck. He’s the Vampire King.

  17. Dirty says:

    An esteemed Cognitive Scientist who has spent decades at MIT, a major US Defense Contracting hub, blithely dismisses his Govt’s enormous security apparatus’ ability to suppress, by any means necessary and with impunity, its own citizens. Not surprised.

    • Tarzie says:

      On the same grounds you would expect him to support the military also.

      I’m a little surprised by how unqualified his remarks are. Doesn’t quite fit with his brand.

      • Dirty says:

        He’s too refined for that. One form of Heat Vampirism is to decry the “senseless stupidity”(which implies the old Liberal canard: “If only it could be done without such distasteful means!”) of US Wars abroad and ignoring wide scale violent suppression at home. He limits his criticism to Militarism and Corporations without fleshing it out by showing how Wars are born and fought at home(violent suppression of peace activists, brutal suppression of protests, propaganda etc) for the benefit of a few. The limitations of his protest work are just enough to make liberals think he’s radical, but not enough to threaten their hopes that the Death State it loves can’t be made better. A fine balancing act that makes him a revered elderly “thinker”. He doesn’t “endanger lives” like Chelsea Manning or foolishly threaten the sanctity of “licensed scholarly research” like Aaron Swartz.

        Proof is in the pudding: Chomsky’s books and public statements have not led to any serious attacks from the Death State. He’s still at MIT making statements and publishing books(His recent poofery on BDS reaked of old attacks against sanctions on South Africa). People who do threaten and harm the Death State, like Chelsea Manning and Aaron Swartz, are locked away for decades in Prison or hounded to death by people intent on locking them up and destroying their lives.

        I know none of this has addressed your comment directly. With Chomsky’s knowledge of Linguistics and Cognitive Science, it’s best to ignore his announced intentions(and his reputation) and focus on the details of his statements and books. You do this very well, I tend to ramble.

      • Peter says:

        “He limits his criticism to Militarism and Corporations without fleshing it out by showing how Wars are born and fought at home…” — Dirty

        A short essay that I think lays it out nicely: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-greatest-covert-operation-ever-the-politics-of-terror-as-the-business-of-terror/20830

        Valentine ends with the cryptic “And they have won the propaganda war, folks.”

        Here’s some ‘shock and awe’ to rekindle the rebellion:

        Chomsky bayonets Belgian babies

    • Jay23 says:

      Dirty – “His recent poofery on BDS reaked of old attacks against sanctions on South Africa” – can you point me to a link? Thanks.

  18. haptic says:

    Read this a few days ago, but my thoughts in response to it are not particularly orderly, which potentially signifies a learning opportunity for me, but potentially also signifies grounds for disagreement. Allow me to dissent mildly.

    Personally, I have a lot less trouble agreeing with you on the individual positions Chomsky has taken on things like academic publishing, Aaron Swartz, or on lesser evilism. But there is this evasive, abstract quality to Chomsky which has me cautious about taking a firm position on his broader role within the left, and on whether he is unequivocally “whitewashing dissent”, or a “heat vampire” per se, without trying to work out what I think first. I’ve found it easier to go along with you on Hayes or Greenwald. I don’t think I’m finding it harder with Chomsky out of some unexamined loyalty; I think there genuinely are intellectual caveats to negotiate here. I also think you are onto something. Here’s my attempt to internalize your critique.

    One reaction I have to this is that there is a dichotomy to be examined between Chomsky on US hegemony and Chomsky on domestic repression. Among his direct experiences of domestic repression which came about as part of his activism, he was involved in grand jury resistance during Nixon’s grand jury witch hunt in Boston, launched after he failed to convict Ellsberg. You might expect Chomsky would therefore pause before whitewashing the repressive apparatuses of the US state, but this incident was over 40 years ago. It was also a largely successful instance of resistance. His abstract understanding of what is wrong with domestic political culture in the US (which we all find useful) is not nourished by any recent, direct visceral experience of domestic repression, and, to paraphrase him, he could fairly be said to be falling victim to his own privilege. He has direct experiential memory of things being “worse” in the United States, and then being part of some (rather serious) efforts to resist which saw marginal success, and while he has an intellectual understanding of the wholesale rout of the left in the intervening years, I genuinely wonder how viscerally he has felt the drying up of opportunities for meaningful resistance in the US during that time. This is where I would source his pronouncements on the boundless opportunities we have.

    On the other hand it feels as if this is a standard motivational talking point which has gone stale, and experienced some distortion during the long years of repetition, as each damn interviewer files past and asks him the same damn inane, brainless questions over and over again. I’ve seen fresher variants of it in his output. He normally seems to be attempting to cast prospective acts of resistance as part of a Long History of Progress in the US: attempting to provide, for disillusioned would-be lefts sitting at his feet, a sense of continuity with the victories of a previous era, and a sense of boundless potential in order to undercut the endemic sense of futility within the left. This strategy has unfortunate corollaries (such as the implication that we are all just lazy or spoiled for choice) but you can certainly see how it might be justified as a rhetorical and motivational strategy. Unfortunately, whether because of a decay of faculties or because he has had to say it so many times it has stopped meaning anything to him or because he is increasingly out of touch, it has begun to sound more inchoate, failing to inspire anyone except to guilt and inaction.

    Meanwhile, it is perfectly possible that he just doesn’t care as much about domestic politics. The defining imagery of his concern throughout his career has always been the horrors inflicted by the US state externally. It obsesses him. It is possible that he believes it is germane to resistance struggles within the United States that some oppressed population overseas has it worse, that there are legal and institutional and cultural mechanisms for struggle within the US that, however flawed, others do not have available, and that the potential for raising hell within the US system genuinely is exceptional and underused. But, that said, he prefers to ruminate on the misery and successes of the Chavistas or the Palestinians or the Kurds, and isn’t really interested in speaking with any specificity on the tactical challenges faced by people trying to do stuff in the US.

    Having had that thought, it seems that the problem with Chomsky is that he is actually determinedly churlish and not useful as a rallying figure for American left movements. He is a dead end; a black hole; he has built up such a mass of critique over his career that it has folded inside its own event horizon, and there is no return from it. It’s not that he is not technically correct in saying that people in the US, by virtue of – perhaps – a stronger court system, are better paced vis-a-vis their own governments than people in El Salvador are. It’s that it is precisely the wrong thing to say when he is asked that question. It is exactly the wrong thing to emphasize, the wrong way to generate any enthusiasm for using these infinite opportunities for resistance he claims to exist. It speaks of a fundamental, stubborn disinterest in how to build movements and how to tackle the obstacles to doing so. Not only does he not know (as he often reminds us), but he just doesn’t dedicate as much thought to it as he does to pointing out the intricate hypocrisies of US involvement in Indonesia or Latin American or Mesopotamia. It sounds as if he doesn’t actually care.

    Yes, this function he plays within the left serves power insofar as it is advantageous to power that he promotes paralyzing critical awareness and tactical impotence. This partially explains his success and status, and the absence of genuine attempts at repression against him.

    On the other hand I don’t think he fits quite as comfortably into your heat vampire model, as I understand it from your Hayes essay. He is a more monolithic, complicated creature. There are aspects to him that recall heat vampirism: bleeding off heat about domestic problems into lesser evil politics at elections. But for the most part he doesn’t seem to bleed off heat surrounding US transgressions abroad, but to keep it circling itself in a holding pattern, bereft of an outlet. The Chomskian dissident is a ghost, condemned to understand the foibles of the world in ever increasing detail, but without the ability to influence it. He is not a sloganeer, as Hayes increasingly turns out to be. He is not rhetorically superficial, like Greenwald. His critique of US foreign policy is genuinely intellectually nutritive, generally accurate and, I believe, still really important. But there is something broken at the point where that critique finds expression. He gets bored and nods off. And it is important to understand – as you are trying to communicate – how harmful that is.

    A lot of that sounds like amateur psychoanalysis now that I read back over it, but I am going to post it anyway, because I think there are some interesting thoughts in there.

    • Tarzie says:

      This is thoughtful and well-reasoned and I don’t have any strong objection to it. The observation about age and repetition killing off nuance sounds plausible. I also completely agree that Chomsky is more interested in foreigners oppressed by the US than he is in U.S. citizens who are. But I don’t feel this contradicts anything I have said or written about him. Providing good reasons for why someone is wrong or harmful doesn’t in any way change how wrong or harmful they are. When I call someone a heat vampire, it’s not a moral judgement. It is a simple observation of their effective role in our discourse. It’s what you’re describing here:

      this function he plays within the left serves power insofar as it is advantageous to power that he promotes paralyzing critical awareness and tactical impotence. This partially explains his success and status, and the absence of genuine attempts at repression against him.

      However you seem to be misunderstanding what I mean by heat vampirism when you suggest his foreign policy critique is mitigating:

      for the most part he doesn’t seem to bleed off heat surrounding US transgressions abroad, but to keep it circling itself in a holding pattern, bereft of an outlet. The Chomskian dissident is a ghost, condemned to understand the foibles of the world in ever increasing detail, but without the ability to influence it.

      It might be useful here to quote one of the things I said in my Hayes post:

      Heat vampires are distinguished by a clear eyed, even radical, assessment of all that’s wrong in the world coexisting with acquiescence in oligarch-approved methods for putting things right, no matter how often and resoundingly these methods fail.

      It is precisely the harshness and accuracy of Chomsky’s critique, on foreign policy or anything else, that makes him so effectively vampiric. It’s what draws ostensible radicals to his false state/corporate dichotomy, his rosy view of domestic oppression, and his program of lesser evil voting and grass roots reformism, the means and ends of which he never defines. As someone upthread observed, his remarks in the video about repression are not that different from how conservatives describe things, particularly when he is admonishing activists for their ‘paranoia.’ That, however, does not stop his acolytes from adamantly defending these remarks when they’re criticized, presumably because his authority inclines them to agree.

      He calls himself an anarchist on the grounds that he believes all authority must be justified and if it can’t be justified, it must be dismantled. He then proceeds, in several different ways, to justify state authority. This is the very essence of heat vampirism as I described it in my Hayes post, a definition which actually applies to Chomsky more even than it does to Hayes, specifically because his critique is more radical and accurate, and his recommendation of what to do — which is virtually identical to Hayes’ recommendation — is proffered with more audience-flattering cynicism.

      • haptic says:

        When I call someone a heat vampire, it’s not a moral judgement. It is a simple observation of their effective role in our discourse.

        I appreciate that, I was just trying to weigh how easily he fits into your theoretical mold. It wasn’t clear in my post, but I was leaving open the possibility that he could not fit into it and still be something more troubling (for our purposes) than a heat vampire.

        This is the very essence of heat vampirism as I described it in my Hayes post, a definition which actually applies to Chomsky [more] than it does to Hayes specifically because his critique is more accurate

        I take your correction of my point about his critique being more clear-seeing than that of others. The accuracy of his critique only stands to exacerbate his heat vampirism. Nevertheless:

        Heat vampires are distinguished by a clear eyed, even radical, assessment of all that’s wrong in the world coexisting with acquiescence in oligarch-approved methods for putting things right, no matter how often and resoundingly these methods fail.

        Your wording is quite delicate here, actually. When you say “acquiescence in,” it seems to capture a lot more of Chomsky than it would if it was “campaigning for.” I guess I see a difference in that characters like Hayes are not only acquiescing in “oligarch-approved methods for putting things right.” Hayes is an active propagandist for those methods. Chomsky is too, when he does things like you describe here:

        his program of lesser evil voting and the “real work” one does after voting that he never really defines.

        I think you’re right – when he goes this way, it is heat vampirism as you define it. But when he falls back on his “the possibilities are virtually limitless” argument, he is doing something else. You might fairly say he is “acquiescing”, but among those virtually limitless possibilities he says exist, there are potentially some that are not approved by oligarchs. It seems a different case than Hayes, for whom the range of possible outlets for political expression seems, actually, quite narrow, and who relentlessly babbles people into assuming they are the only outlets available.

        Perhaps that difference isn’t all that important. I think now your definition encompasses Chomksy. But understanding the differences here helps me understand where you’re at on this, and also appreciate better the shortcomings of Chomsky.

        his false state/private dichotomy

        As an aside, I am not as familiar with this as the other things you mention. In my reading of Chomsky his political economy does not overemphasize the state private dichotomy. Perhaps I am just missing something.

      • Tarzie says:

        But when he falls back on his “the possibilities are virtually limitless” argument, he is doing something else. You might fairly say he is “acquiescing”, but among those virtually limitless possibilities he says exist, there are potentially some that are not approved by oligarchs.

        The problem with this is that he never really spells things out, so it ends up being just more branding, like his anarchism and the civil disobedience of his proto-icon days. The most conspicuous effect isn’t to mobilize or inspire people, but to make him look like less of a servile tool than someone like Hayes, for whom electoral politics, and coaxing elites to play nicer, are the beginning and the end.

        If you infer a prescription by Chomsky’s own lived example — at least in the last 30 years — and by his regard for people like Swartz, it seems you are left with wringing your hands over and over again about how shitty things are, joining movements that aim toward petitioning the state, and voting.

        As to the state/private dichotomy, Chomsky is typically schizoid. He acknowledges the collusion between the state and corporate sector, but spills far more rhetoric on the liberal conception of the state as a tempering influence on corporate predation that is at least nominally subject to the people’s will. Here’s an article that spells this out, from which I’ve lifted the following Chomsky quotes:

        In the long term, I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. On the other hand, right now, I’d like to strengthen the federal government. The reason is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power that are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised.

        There’s only one way of defending rights that have been attained, or of extending their scope in the face of these private powers, and that’s to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsible to the public and which the public can indeed influence.

        The government is far from benign – that’s true. On the other hand, it’s at least partially accountable, and it can become as benign as we make it.

        What’s not benign (what’s extremely harmful, in fact) is something you didn’t mention – business power, which is highly concentrated and, by now, largely transnational. Business power is very far from benign and it’s completely unaccountable. It’s a totalitarian system that has an enormous effect on our lives. It’s also the main reason why the government isn’t benign.

      • Is there a difference between a Heat Vampire and someone who is simply a particularly perceptive reformist aware of the scope of the problem but unable to make the cognitive shift towards radicalism?

        It seems like being “oligarch-approved” is the crucial characteristic, so I wonder how narrow the definition of oligarch-approved has to be if one can be reformist in non-oligarch approved ways. For example, oligarchs will disapprove of a social safety net in theory, but when the alternative is actual revolt, they will tolerate the New Deal. If the context of what oligarchs will support in the relevant period is what determines one’s thermal undeath, then it seems like the most important aspect of Heat Vampirism isn’t necessarily the particular vampire so much as it is the process by which certain people are shifted into the limelight depending on what the oligarchy needs at any given moment. Is my understanding correct?

        Hope this isn’t a derail, as I think the haptic/Tarzie discussions are one of the highlights of this blog.

      • Tarzie says:

        Is there a difference between a Heat Vampire and someone who is simply a particularly perceptive reformist aware of the scope of the problem but unable to make the cognitive shift towards radicalism?

        No. The intentions and cognitive capabilities of public figure have nothing to do with whether or not they’re a heat vampire. In fact, the more they believe their own bullshit, the more effective they’ll likely be.

        I would add that it’s possible to be both NOT a radical and NOT a heat vampire. I think Nader in 2000 was having a not heat vampire moment, which is why he had to be aggressively beaten back into compliance. He’s now the real deal, writing silly open letters to Democrats about all their ‘capitulations’ and how to avoid them in future.

        the most important aspect of Heat Vampirism isn’t necessarily the particular vampire so much as it is the process by which certain people are shifted into the limelight depending on what the oligarchy needs

        Yeah, I would say that’s right. I think the ascent of Greenwald, for instance, addresses a need to get the more fashionably disaffected back into the veal pen and away from the unsavory eat-the-rich stuff that erupted briefly in the Occupy days. A pastiche of liberal-libertarian is being remade as left by way of the Snowden Affair which has, not by coincidence, included a lot of ostracism of genuine radicals. The Occupy-scented pseuds on the rise at Murdoch’s Vice are in a very similar vein.

        Not sure if this matters, but heat vampires are perfectly at liberty to support things that most oligarchs don’t approve of — like a European style social safety net — so long as they don’t do anything that threatens to bring it about. Michael Moore is a good example of how this works, fostering illusions that continued support for shit like Obamacare is a baby step toward remaking ourselves as Canada.

        What Heat Vampires must never do, above all, is call bullshit on the whole nine yards. Their main function is to promote system legitimacy and counsel compliance with that system. They can do this from any number of counterintuitive angles.

      • haptic says:

        The problem with this is that he never really spells things out, so it ends up being just more branding, like his anarchism and the civil disobedience of his proto-icon days. The most conspicuous effect isn’t to mobilize or inspire people, but to make him look like less of a servile tool than someone like Hayes, for whom electoral politics, and coaxing elites to play nicer, are the beginning and the end.

        I’m glad you wrote that, because that describes it pretty well, I think, and I agree with you. Another of its effects is to give the appearance that he is actually knowledgeable on the appropriate things to do, and that he isn’t just as mystified as I feel when I contemplate the interlocking, disquieting metastability of whatever it is we are calling what we live under now. Whereas I feel thirsty for ways to bang on that structure, he doesn’t seem to be. I’d say he is in denial, but it feels like he’s given up on everything but the idea that the perfect description of the system will somehow cancel it out.

        As to the state/private dichotomy, Chomsky is typically schizoid. He acknowledges the collusion between the state and corporate sector, but spills far more rhetoric on the liberal conception of the state as a tempering influence on corporate predation that is at least nominally subject to the people’s will.

        So he’s a notional radical, but has a “realist” fallback position of liberal social democrat. To be fair to him, it is possible to reconcile this postwar social democratic nostalgia with the state-corporate collusion stance without schizoidism, if only by holding out the idea that, for better or worse, it is possible to have less state-corporate collusion and more aggregate social equality and democratic legitimacy. I think that’s actually probably true. I wasn’t around for the postwar social democracies, but I think things were, at basis, less of an oligarch shitshow than they are now. But I also think the possibilities of returning to the postwar social democratic order from the present historical juncture, whether desirable or not, are effectively nonexistent. From the most abstract to the most concrete, from its political economy and “globalization” to resource extraction and the environment, the system has changed its state entirely. It feels as certain as thermodynamics. We can’t unboil the egg.

        I also think it is equivalently irresponsible to go around in denial, pretending that there is some worthwhile benefit to be extracted by behaving as we actually lived in a partially dormant though still potent social democratic system.

        We definitely need something else.

      • Tarzie says:

        Very beautifully put. I have nothing to add.

  19. diane says:

    Re the Pando WAPO slobber you questioned on The Twitter. Pando will not touch Bezos, do a deep downer on Face Fiend, or, certainly never, Andreesen.

    I’m pretty sure that goes far beyond Ames and Levine slobbering for a WAPO position (though, that too.). …….

    (And, once again, FUCK CHOMSKY/MIT. Honestly, it is one thing to swallow ones bile to take care of those they love and themselves when under threat, it is quite another when one is, for decades, living in the lap of a Security Net which only exists for a stunningly teeny tiny weeny eeny Handful ….while they continually remind all else how very fucked they are ……. while finger wagging at them about how to go about undoing it all (ultimately, do nothing one’s finer instincts may nudge them into doing).

    • diane says:

      (and, of course, Valleywag/Gawker writers are not allowed to do ANY .. Deep Downers, they are only allowed to Rub In how many of us are living in fear and misery, ….hence, … the Andreessen Lite! ..pretending to be DEEP … “piece”.)

    • diane says:

      (oh, and wasn’t that Yasha Levine/Pander slobbering for Mike Honda in that Sly Con Valley 17th District!…Mike Honda who has not said a word about the overwhelming amount of homeless humans in Sly Con Valley (so many of whom lived there most of their lives, paying thier bills ON TIME) , “MIKEY” who would likely spit on an Hispanic , “Black Person” , Female, or “Over 35er” …far …..FAR YOUNGER THAAAN “Mikey” (OR LEVINE),… versus some same same ilk slime bag?)

  20. pnuwb says:

    Here is Chomsky’s most recent article: http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/24796-noam-chomsky-the-sledgehammer-worldview

    I’ll repeat what I have said about it on twitter and (for the first time) reddit:

    This is a decent anti-war article until Chomsky’s odd and fallacious conclusion that carbon emissions are a greater crime than war or aggression, which in this context includes the aggression of the Nazis towards Jews, Gypsies and Homosexuals and the US towards a similar number including within its own borders. He implies the potential threat that global warming poses to the lives of future generations (of particular concern for privileged white Americans) is a greater crime than the recent, current, ongoing and direct destruction of the lives of current generations.

    This is allows him to imply that the existence of the fascist state’s army is tragically necessary to stop the capitalists from polluting.

    There is not much here relating to the topic: Chomsky’s whitewashing of domestic repression, but I think his whitewashing of domestic repression (in contrast with international) and his whitewashing of capitalist state repression (in contrast with private capitalist pollution) go hand in hand.

    • Tarzie says:

      This is allows him to imply that the existence of the fascist state’s army is tragically necessary to stop the capitalists from polluting.

      I found his finish as weird as you did, but I’m not as sure as you that we are to infer that he favors a military solution to corporate crime against the environment.

      • pnuwb says:

        He favors instrumentalist legislative amelioration, enforced on capitalist corporations by the capitalist state as a result of being petitioned by green activists, which he says makes him realistic and progressive. I think it makes him willfully dishonest or delusional.

      • I thought he was on record for saying he would be willing to support an authoritarian solution to global warming. Googling around, this is what I found:

        Suppose it was discovered tomorrow that the greenhouse effects has been way understimated, and that the catastrophic effects are actually going to set in 10 years from now, and not 100 years from now or something.

        Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.”

        http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2009/12/scientists-considered-pouring-soot-over-the-arctic-in-the-1970s-to-help-melt-the-ice-in-order-to-prevent-another-ice-age.html

        It’s quoted from a collection of his essays, so I don’t know if the context in which he uses that hypothetical renders it a bit less shocking, but if he is willing to support a fascist dictatorship in extreme circumstances, then supporting the use of military force by a “social democracy” in less extreme circumstances isn’t that much of a stretch.

      • pnuwb says:

        @pwnershipsociety

        This is shockingly explicit, but consistent with my reading of him, and it’s not just hypothetical. The worst thing is that he seems to believe that current state and legal institutions including the US itself are the only hope to save us from capitalist pollution. This contradicts the truth that the entire purpose of the state is to validate and enforce the existence of corporate institutions and any thereby any pollution that results. Validating such institution includes by quasi-environmental incremental reforms that give both state politics and capitalist itself a good Green Image.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah it is consistent with your reading.

        I stand corrected.

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

  22. Richard says:

    In connection, especially, with haptic’s exchange with tarzie above, you might be interested in this interview with the Marxist Anthropologist Chris Knight, about Chomsky:

    http://www.chrisknight.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/Knight-on-Chomsky-2010.pdf

    (apologies for the pdf, but it’s worth reading – as for myself, Chomsky was formative for me in my becoming radicalized 20+ years ago… I haven’t read him in ages, have moved far from him, but have to admit to feeling protective of him… that said, Knight’s critique strikes me as spot on)

    • This is indeed well worth reading, thanks for the link. I found his take on Chomsky’s role in shaping the nexus of academia and activism to be particularly interesting:

      Chomsky’s achievement in this respect – his success in splitting himself in two – then became in subtle ways a model for the rest of us. To this day, we’re all supposed to keep political activism locked up in a separate box, insulated by a firewall from science. Mindless activism on the one hand; tongue-tied science on the other – that’s been the tragic result

      Also his role as a weapon against Marxism is worth pondering, although I feel that my knowledge of the development of the social sciences is insufficient to fully evaluate it:

      To finally discredit Marx, there seemed to be no choice but to go
      the whole way – the entire western intellectual tradition of social science had to go. Could the clock be turned right back to Descartes or even to Plato? Chomsky offered nothing less. No other intellectual was in a position to deliver on that extraordinary promise. No one else had the necessary moral authority or ambition. And as it turned out, it was a hugely successful attack, whose ramifications are still very much with us.

    • Stephen says:

      I have to say I completely disagree with every word of that article. His arguments make him sound pretty scientifically illiterate which fits the stereotype of anthropologists. I’m curious if anyone who has studied linguistics (ling and anthro actually were my subjects at ‘college’ as they call it over there) finds it as bizarre as I do. My problem with his philosophical pronouncements run in the opposite direction He frequently cites reactionary philosophers when there are lesser known philosophers who are much more in keeping with his scientific philosophy. Plato was not an original thinker The reason he was lauded was because he took the democratic (even proto-anarchist) ideas of Anaxagoras and Pericles and wedded them to a completely incompatible fascist view. Karl Poppers book on Plato is worth reading for how he does this, but in a nutshell, the idea that there ‘forms’ can’t be made to fit with a special class who can see the forms, and Plato only gets away with it by using metaphors to skim over it. I get annoyed when I see Chomsky talking about Plato as dangerous to the state. The logic is the same as the “JFK shot, must’ve been saviour” thing he mocks. Like Confucius, Plato’s job was to paint tyranny as being the guardian of true freedom, and this is why he is remembered. And to an even greater extent, he picks the big names of the enlightenment to the detriment of much more interesting figures who have much more to say about the very things his science is concerned with. He namechecks Hume, yet his ideas are much closer to (often identical with) George Berkeley. It’s almost as if he’s simply got the two mixed up.

      • Richard says:

        “His arguments make him sound pretty scientifically illiterate which fits the stereotype of anthropologists.”

        Nonsense. Disagree with Knight all you want (but “every word”? highly doubtful), but the last thing he is is scientifically illiterate.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I am more interested in hearing where people specifically disagree than in sweeping condemnations of that kind.

  23. Stephen says:

    You’re completely right about my overstatement, sorry (in fact “completely” and “every word”!) The first time I posted here I was ‘tone-policed’ by Tarzie for using understated language so perhaps I overreacted but yes it does sound stupid. It’s been a while since I’ve looked at linguistics, but the ‘cognitive revolution’ is certainly not about the brain being analagous to a computer, and I do find this a pretty bizarre statement. There are many criticisms of his linguistics but I’ve never seen this one. The criticism tends to come from the opposite direction, particularly from Marxists, who in abandoning the concept of human nature often ally themselves with behaviourist theories, which do treat the mind as an unformatted disk, which picks up not only content but ways of processing from ‘reinforcement’. I have every confidence that Mr Knight is a very clever man but I don’t think he really knows what he’s talking about here- it certainly sounds like it. It’s a very complicated subject which I’m certainly not qualified to teach, and which has many aspects. I’ll try and post a full response but it’ll have to be a mini-essay because I disagree on his reading of ‘the history of modern science’ as much as of Chomsky.

    • Tarzie says:

      The first time I posted here I was ‘tone-policed’ by Tarzie

      I did no such thing. I simply disagreed with you.

      • Stephen says:

        Wasn’t attacking you for it, just you criticised me for using the word ‘troubling’ rather than ‘disgusting.’ I’m not making a big issue of it, and didn’t mention it the time. I was simply hypothesising on why I had overstated the matter.

      • Tarzie says:

        Nope didn’t do that either, but rather than argue, I will link to the offending thread in case anyone lurking is curious.

  24. Pingback: Greenwald’s Free Speech Absolutism and Twitter’s Foley Ban | The Rancid Honeytrap

  25. This blog is pure gold. I approve of the epic takedowns of Glenn Greenwald, Snowden, and in this case Chomsky.

    Depending on the true level of your aversion to so-called conspiracy theory, here are some links to essays I’ve written on Chomsky when it comes to events like 9/11 and the JFK coup. They highlight what in my view are the inevitable difficulties that arise as soon as you merge forming a worldview with activism, i.e. adopting beliefs for ‘strategic’ or ‘tactical’ reasons.

    The third is a draft, and all three were written a few years back. Keep up the good work. Cheers.

  26. Raka says:

    Okay,assuming Chomsky’s analysis is fatally flawed…I want to ask the commentors…what should we do??? [By we I mean any person concerned with social justice]

  27. Pingback: White Supremacy and Magic Paper | The Rancid Honeytrap

  28. Pingback: White Supremacy and Magic Paper 3/7: Magic Paper Theory | The Rancid Honeytrap

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

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

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