Monday, June 14, 2004

The Gray Lady Defers

A kid gloves interview (is there any other kind when Chomsky is concerned?) at the NY Times nonetheless contains some interesting little revelations:

Your new book on American foreign policy, ''Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance,'' includes a blurb on the jacket that calls you ''arguably the most important intellectual alive.''

I don't like the intellectual label. In the academic world, most of the work that is done is clerical. A lot of the work done by professors is routine.

Its nice that it starts off with a strong, skeptical question. Chomsky is right about professors though, I'll give him that.

I have known people who are working class or craftsmen, who happen to be more intellectual than professors. If you are working 50 hours a week in a factory, you don't have time to read 10 newspapers a day and go back to declassified government archives. But such people may have far-reaching insights into the way the world works.

As someone who, unlike Chomsky, actually grew up working-class, I know pseudo-populism when I see it. Most working class people I know would have little time for Chomsky's politics, even those that are still Democrats are more or less conservative in outlook. I also have a funny feeling that, if one of his precious working class intellectuals dared to, say, disagree with his opinions, his outlook on their intrinsic wisdom would not be nearly so sanguine.

Do you ever doubt your own ideas?

All the time. You should read what happens in linguistics. I keep changing what I said. Any person who is intellectually alive changes his ideas. If anyone at a university is teaching the same thing they were teaching five years ago, either the field is dead, or they haven't been thinking.

Well, I know nothing about Chomsky's linguistics work, but in the realm of politics, as this interviewer notes at one point, his ideas haven't changed "one iota". In fact, one of the most fascinating and disturbing aspects of Chomsky's political writing is his total lack of conscience, he seems to have no capacity for self-criticism whatsoever.

I objected to the founding of Israel as a Jewish state. I don't think a Jewish or Christian or Islamic state is a proper concept. I would object to the United States as a Christian state.

This is wonderful. You notice he's talking about a Jewish state only as a religious state. This is simply a banalization of the PLO Charter's stance that the Jews do not deserve statehood because they are adherents of a "religion of revelation" and not a nation; a stance which is both anti-historical and, in my opinion, axiomatically racist.

Your father was a respected Hebraic scholar, and sometimes you sound like a self-hating Jew.

It is a shame that critics of Israeli policies are seen as either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. It's grotesque. If an Italian criticized Italian policies, would he be seen as a self-hating Italian?

Well, if said Italian advocated the dismantling of Italy and became a prominent apologist for anti-Italian acts of war and terrorism, then yes.

By the way, Chomsky is not a self-hating Jew, he's a Jewish anti-Semite. As far as I can see, Chomsky has nothing but the most fervent and sincere love for himself.

How would you explain your large ambition?

I am driven by many things. I know what some of them are. The misery that people suffer and the misery for which I share responsibility. That is agonizing. We live in a free society, and privilege confers responsibility.

I will assume that the misery for which he bears responsiblity does not include two million dead Cambodians. Note the "free society" remark. Once again we see Chomsky moderating his rhetoric to accomodate his audience.

If you feel so guilty, how can you justify living a bourgeois life and driving a nice car?

If I gave away my car, I would feel even more guilty. When I go to visit peasants in southern Colombia, they don't want me to give up my car. They want me to help them. Suppose I gave up material things -- my computer, my car and so on -- and went to live on a hill in Montana where I grew my own food. Would that help anyone? No.

Actually, I'd imagine those paesants wouldn't mind getting a free car. Just a guess. Chomsky is, like his followers, a member of the disaffected bourgeoisie; the class which has given us Marx, Lenin, Mao, and the leadership of most radical movements since the French Revolution. He knows next to nothing about those whose cause he claims to advocate.

Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?

No. This is the best country in the world.

Everything he writes and says about it notwithstanding. What's that line he's always quoting about hypocrisy?