Friday, November 19, 2004

Some Elementary Asininities on the Recent Election From the Pen of the Good Professor

While sitting here listening to the extraordinary soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's equally extraordinary film Barry Lyndon (if any of you haven't seen it, do; then see everything else by Kubrick you can get your hands on) I checked out this link to Chomsky's new blog, sent to me by an erstwhile fellow anti-Chomskyite. While its still unclear to me that Chomsky actually writes it - at least, its no more clear to me than if Chomsky actually writes his own books - I think its worth wading into a few of the good professor's ruminations on the recent election.

The Chomsky-approved bio refers to him as a "critic of US foreign policy, anti-capitalist, and long time advocate of liberation and justice"; while I wouldn't use a dignified term such as "criticism" to describe what Chomsky is engaged in, we can at least thank him for acknowledging with some clarity that he is resolutely opposed to economic liberty. As for being a "long time advocate of liberation and justice" we can rest assured that such sentiments apply only to tenured linguistics professors and not, say, to Vietnamese or Cuban citizens, or, for that matter, to anyone else living under an authoritarian socialist government. Frankly, I don't understand why the ZNet people didn't refer to him as a "long time advocate of kissing baby seals and being nice to your mother", at least that would have removed the unseemly pretense of objectivity. One would think that such self-styled free thinkers would have the wherewithal to mind Orwell's maxim that all saints ought to be judged guilty until proved innocent; but perhaps such sentiments are purely anti-Chomskyite in nature.

(Incidentally, being from Massachusetts, I can safely testify that Lexington is a very wealthy upper middle-class suburb of Boston where no genuine anarchist would deign to hang his hat. But, of course, Chomsky has always been the most resolutely bourgeoise of radicals.)

Chomsky's take on the election is more or less a restatement of various talking points he's employed for years, but these recurrent themes have a significance of their own, if only because their constant repetition indicates their intrinsic value to the Chomskyite worldview. Needless to say, our erstwhile critic is not happy with the election outcome:
The outcome was a disappointment, but there have been disappointments before. Take 1984, when essentially the same gang of thugs—a little less tilted to the extreme reactionary statist side—won by a 2-1 margin, with about the same percentage of the electoral vote as today. And they were engaged in horrendous atrocities abroad and very harsh and destructive programs for most of the population at home. The world didn’t come to an end. In fact, activism proved quite effective.
Chomsky's obsession with Ronald Reagan is an odd one, though only in its extreme rhetorical violence, since it is understandable that the man who brought about the final historical discrediting and collapse of authoritarian socialism should arouse the ire of one of its foremost advocates. Nor is the objective failure of Chomskyite ideology to obtain the loyalty of anything resembling a majority of the electorate - or, in this election, even a fringe element; I think Nader polled under 1%, indicating that he has indeed, in every way, become Pat Buchanan's heir - via democratic means any easier to fathom for a man so resolutely convinced of his own powers of prophetic rectitude. As for the "horrendous atrocities" and "harsh and destructive programs" we can only assume - since Chomsky, per usual, refuses to give specifics to his slanders - that he means the efforts of the Reagan administration to resist authoritarian socialism abroad and the hugely successful campaign to revitalize American capitalism and economic liberty at home. Since these efforts were overwhelmingly approved by the American electorate in the most massive electoral victory in history (not, as Chomsky claims, by the same percentage as this years more narrow, but still decisive, Republican victory) and proved immensely successful at regenerating the vital forces of American society, and, indeed, led directly to the preeminent economic, political, and military position of the United States in the world today; it is hardly surprising that such a perfect storm of rejection by the great unwashed and by the tide of history itself should turn Chomsky to spasms of apoplectic rage. Rage, however, is not truth; a lesson Chomsky ought to have learned a long time ago.
I don’t think that the Kerry campaign even tried to include the opinions of most of the population, including those who voted for Kerry. People will vote their class interests when they see some credible political force that might represent those interests. That’s not Kerry or the DLC. There are urban-rural differences, but even greater differences internal to each. We can reach out to people, urban or rural, by taking them and their concerns seriously, trying to understand them, and working to find ways to realize legitimate concerns, without compromising our own principles. The same way we work in, say, liberal academic communities, where there is also vast diversity.
The lack of understanding and knowledge of the American political system on display here is rather stunning, and deserves a sustained commentary. Of course, vulgar Marxism aside, most Americans do not vote along class lines. Unlike Europe, American elections are generally decided by regional and ethnic loyalties rather than by class or ideological interests; a fact born out by the famous "red state vs. blue state" map, which clearly shows the country divided by regional blocs. The Democratic and Republican parties represent these competing geographical-ethnic blocs quite well and with fairly uncanny accuracy. The urban-rural divide is clearly a piece of this puzzle, but only a piece. In the previous election, it is clear that differences about social values, morality, religion, and, especially, security and foreign policy had the most decisive impact on voting patterns and the difference between the two parties was eminently clear on these issues, despite John Kerry's seemingly uncanny talents for equivocation. The motivations of the American electorate are more complex than simple class interests and I do not believe this is a vice, there is more to human beings than their material desires, something Chomsky and his ilk seem congenitally incapable of understanding.

Incidentally, Kerry and the DLC were not connected (Chomsky's reference is vague, but he seems to be implying one) in fact, they were largely ideologically opposed and the DLC is, rightly, seen as "Clintonista" held territory. Some have theorized that the Clinton faction was more interested in a Kerry defeat than a victory, in order to clear the way for Hillary's inevitable 2008 bid for the presidency; I am not a Clinton hater, but I think this theory has some weight to it.

As for the "vast diversity" of liberal academic communities, I can only say, to quote Ghandi on Western civilization, that it sounds like an excellent idea. I have long felt that most academic leftists desire to turn the entire country into a reflection of their totalitarian fiefdoms; its nice to have one's suspicions confirmed.
The election had about the significance of tossing a coin to pick a king. If the coin was slightly biased, that’s unfair, but not the main issue. The much more important point is that the opinions of the majority of the population were excluded from the political arena on major issues. People voted for the imagery concocted by the PR industry. Exit polls reveal that clearly. But to discover whether the imagery is accurate, we have to compare people’s attitudes and beliefs with the actual programs. There’s plenty of interesting and credible evidence on this, and when we investigate it, we discover that people were hopelessly misled. Voters for both candidates assumed, overwhelmingly, that the candidates held their views, which is demonstrably false. In fact, voters recognized that they could not vote on agenda/policies/programs/ideas—about 10% gave that as their reasons—but only on imagery. And in a society based crucially on deceit (what is advertising?), it is quite natural that the political managers and the PR industry will run elections the same way. To repeat, there is overwhelming evidence that the opinions of the majority of the population on major issues were simply off the agenda, either within the political parties or in mainstream discussion, with rare exceptions. That democratic deficit seems to me far more important than the possibility that the coin that was tossed was biased.
As I have noted before, while Chomsky may not adopt the lifestyle of the anarchist tradition, he has nonetheless wholeheartedly adopted its studied contempt for representative democracy. One could put this down to a nasty case of overarticulated sour grapes, but I am more inclined to think that it indicates a deep-seated contempt for the institution itself, which, after all, grants to the average gas station attendant or certified public accountant the same weight in decision as self-regarded great minds like Noam Chomsky. The unmitigatedly galling experience of being transformed by the ballot box from a fervently worshipped guru to the desperately dissafected into just one of a hundred million slips of paper must be an intolerable experience for such a well-practiced narcissist as the good professor. Thus comes the desperate belief that the failure of the masses to heed the call of truth and liberation must be the result of conspiratorial "PR" manipulations and the blundering of the hopelessly misled. I don't know what exit polls Chomsky is referring to (perhaps the same ones which showed Kerry winning in a landslide), but facts are clearly not the issue here, what is the issue is that to accept the idea that the majority of the American people in fact voted in a convinced and reasonably well-informed manner would require at least some measure of acceptance and legitimation for one's ideological opposition, a thought akin to existential extermination for a confirmed fanatic whose life's work has been to construct a worldview into which no moderating force or opinion can possibly penetrate. This is no deficit of democracy, it is a deficit of character and ideology, and not merely Chomsky's, but one which has become the watchword of the entire radical Left under Chomskyite influence, and one which, through its contempt, if not its violence, is as much an enemy of democracy and the free society as any foreign tyrant or death-worshipping religious fascist.
Bush won slightly more than 30% of the electorate, Kerry slightly under 30%. I doubt that fraud had much to do with it. That’s about what I personally predicted, if that matters; am collecting some symbolic bets from friends, and even wrote about it a bit, on Znet. It is meaningless. It tells us virtually nothing about the country, just as it would tell us nothing if there had been a slight shift in votes and Kerry had won with a meaningless slight plurality...The progressive left is very substantial in scale, and could be far larger, including the large majority of the population, judging by highly credible public opinion studies that the press scarcely mentions, presumably because they understand that it is much too dangerous to allow people to understand that they are not alone in their views.
Presumably, Chomsky is trying to claim that the "electorate" also includes those who did not vote, since, of those who did vote, Bush won north of 51%. Not a landslide, but nonetheless a respectable win, especially in today's polarized political moment, and one which, combined with historically groundbreaking Republican wins in the Congress, cannot be regarding as anything other than an outright and indisputable victory. What we are really dealing with here is the myth of the silent Leftist majority. This trope has been a popular one among Chomskyites for years, but there is no evidence whatsoever that it exists. Most studies on the subject find that those who don't vote would likely vote along the same lines as those who do (though this is, admittedly, a difficult subject to quantify accurately) and considering the rather decisive regional and ethnic divisions in the country, this seems to be likely. Furthermore, the significance of the non-voter phenomenon itself is greatly exaggerated. In purely statistical terms, the percentage of voters is routinely diminished by the overwhelming number of young voters who do not turn out (I think in this election, despite the best efforts of the entertainment industry, whose influence I have always felt to be vastly overstated, only 10% of under-25s actually went to the polls). Once one breaks the threshold of the age of 30, the number of voters climbs precipitously until one reaches senior citizens, whose turnout is routinely massive. Thus, the issue of non-voting is not one of PR manipulation, or political non-representation, or the lack of viable alternatives, but simply one of age and maturity. Unfortunately for Chomsky, it appears that the further people are from the average age of his audience, the more they vote; unfortunate, perhaps, for him, and the source of much frustration, no doubt, but not entirely tragic for the future of the Republic.

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. I have noted before the ominous origins and even more ominous potentialities of such an ideology, and the fact that it is swiftly gaining ground in the war of ideas among our intellectual elite. It may be, as Alain Finkielkraut was once quieried, that the anti-totalitarian era is over as quickly as it began. If so, it does not bode well for the future of the free society, or, for that matter, for criticism, liberation, or justice.