Saturday, June 24, 2006

Declare Victory and Leave

The total failure of one's life's work is a terrible thing for an old man to contemplate. For Noam Chomsky, who has spent a lifetime advocating the annihilation of the American political and economic system, it must be especially galling to contemplate a United State which is simultaneously farther than it has ever been from his vaguely articulated but nonetheless passionately held visions of leftist utopia and the most powerful political-military-economic entity in human history. The fact that this situation is unlikely to change anytime in the near future must be even more sobering a topic for the good professor's incontinent musings. The Roman empire, after all, lasted some eight hundred years, and the United States has already proven itself superior to the ancient hegemon in terms of both political stability and capacity for adaptation. Chomsky's response to this rather depressing existential state of affairs, namely that the United States and not Noam Chomsky has won the battle for history rather decisively, has resulted in what may be the most spectactular of Chomsky's long series of leaps off the deep end. He has, apparently, now dedicated himself to expounding the thesis that the United States is, in fact, a "failed state." The fact that this assertion is an absurdity of Biblical proportions does not make it any less fascinating. It seems to be a manifestation of that not particularly constructive suggestion made by certain moderate opponents of the Vietnam War back in Chomsky's heyday: declare victory and leave. An edifying solution, no doubt, but not one likely to have much effect on reality, historical or otherwise.

Chomsky articulates his dissent from the real world in a lengthy but fascinating interview with Amy Goodman of the publicly funded radio program Democracy Now!. Miss Goodman appears to be a combination of the worst features of the bad journalist and the psychopath. Which, of course, makes her the perfect choice for a Chomskyite interviewer. Chomsky would, of course, never allow himself to be interviewed by anyone else, such is the measure of his moral courage. The title of Miss Goodman's program must be taken as a subtle attempt at satire, since democracy would of course, demand that Miss Goodman cease robbing the American taxpayer at proverbial gunpoint in order to enrich herself making a program which, in a free market system, would not be capable of existence itself, let alone profitability for its authors. Miss Goodman is, after all, despite her ostensible concerns for social justice, a very unjustly wealthy woman.

The interview is, of course, less an interview than a glorified version of what is called the "teach-in." That is, it is several passionately uncritical adolescent minds contemplating the visage of their all-knowing guru from a rather low vantage point - that is to say, his feet. The less said about such exercises, the better. Suffice it to say, they are unconducive to critical thought, or anything else for that matter. Nonetheless, they do serve to stroke the ego of failed intellectuals.

Chomsky explains his basic assertion with his usual attempts at the rhetorical invocation of self-evidence:
The U.S. increasingly has taken on the characteristics of what we describe as failed states. In the respects that one mentioned, and also, another critical respect, namely the -- what is sometimes called a democratic deficit, that is, a substantial gap between public policy and public opinion. So those suggestions that you just read off, Amy, those are actually not mine. Those are pretty conservative suggestions. They are the opinion of the majority of the American population, in fact, an overwhelming majority. And to propose those suggestions is to simply take democracy seriously. It's interesting that on these examples that you've read and many others, there is an enormous gap between public policy and public opinion. The proposals, the general attitudes of the public, which are pretty well studied, are -- both political parties are, on most of these issues, well to the right of the population...Their policies are strongly opposed by most of the population. How do they carry this off? Well, that's been through an intriguing mixture of deceit, lying, fabrication, public relations.
This is indicative of a leftist mythos which I have written about before - namely, that of the Silent Leftist Majority. Since Chomsky cites absolutely nothing in regards to evidence as to what the "opinion of the majority of the American population" actually is, we can only assume that it consists of his own assertion. Leftists who invoke the SLM mythos usually try and mention one or two polls taken by highly biased organizations and/or a study claiming that Americans want socialized health care without mentioning that the same study shows that Americans also don't want their taxes raised to pay for it. Chomsky apparently believes that his reputation is enough for his audience (which it is) or that his genius gives him the telepathic ability to read the secret mind of the American public. Neither of these excuses, however, makes his assertion any less comic. What the SLM mythos really is, of course, is an expression of contempt for the very idea of representative democracy. To avoid unnecessary repitition, I will adopt one of Chomsky's more famous methods and quote myself:
What we are really seeing here, of course, is not so much a commentary on the recent election but yet another asinine display of Chomsky's hopelessly narcississtic contempt for democracy and the intellectual and moral capacities of his fellow citizens. He is unwilling to accept the possibility of a real and meaningful election or a real and meaningful democracy should it fail to enshrine his pseudo-prophetic blubberings into official policy. Thus the system which fails to enshrine becomes a farce and the people who fail to heed become easily manipulated dupes incapable of forming or expressing their own opinions and values through a representative system.
Contempt for those one claims to be respresenting is, of course, a well-known characteristic of radicals on all sides of the political spectrum. Nonetheless, the ubiquity of the phenomenon hardly makes it less frightening. The negation of democracy in the name of democracy, or rather, in the name of the people, is the first step towards totalitarianism: the destruction of the people in the name of the people. Generally, one can spot a totalitarian mind by the extent to which it refuses to accept the existence of any politics except its own. Chomsky's version of the SLM mythos essentially makes the case that everyone actually agrees with him. Turning this from a clumsy attempt to salve one's wounded ego into the basis of dictatorial rule is, of course, only a matter of guns. And, for Chomsky, the gun - from a comfortable distance, of course - has always been the final measure of political legitimacy.

It should be noted that throughout this extensive lecture Chomsky rants at length on the US as a terrorist nation, the violations of various human rights, etc...but says, in fact, very little about why the US is, as he puts it a "failed state". Beyond the "democracy deficit", which is only a fanciful term for the old SLM mythos, Chomsky remains resolutely silent on why the most powerful economic, military, and political force in the history of civilization ought to be considered a failure.

We must presume that Chomsky believes his word is enough in this matter, but we should look to that certain desperation which, as I have said, strikes the elderly upon the approach of death. Particularly upon those who have set their ambitions to the changing of the world. With the exception of Alexander the Great (who died, after all, at the advantageous age of 33) and a handful of other figures, almost no one can claim success in this regard. By this reckoning, it is hardly a surprise that Chomsky has been a failure. But the height of such ambitions must make their undoing a particularly bitter pill to swallow.

The solution, of course, is simple fantasy. Chomsky declares victory and leaves. The US is a failure, the revolution is around the corner, the "world" is on his side. There is nothing left to worry about. Either the fall of the United States or the end of the world (it is normal for frustrated intellectuals to declare victory and apocalypse simultaneously) are imminent. Such appears to be the dialogue of irrelevancy. It would be pitiable, of course, had Chomsky not spent much of his lengthy sojourn on earth slandering men better himself and attempting to undermine the country which has made him both famous and rich. His declaration of victory is farce, of course, as is his departure. Were he a better and smarter man, it might have been tragedy. Unfortunately for Chomsky, even his tiresome extrapolations before fawning sycophants cannot alter the unmistakeable rejection of everything he stands for at the hands of history and the American people he claims to aggrandize. The voice of history is the voice of God, one imagines. Even upon a misspent life.