CHOMSKY and HIS NOT SO PRIVILEGED FRIENDS
By Leen Karman at Oct 05, 2011
It doesn't happen all day that someone's waiting on you hand and foot. I'm referring to me quoting the "obvious reasons" of Paul Krugman, in my blog post CHOMSKY and HIS PRIVILEGED MEN, which were not that obvious to me. And there's Vincent Walsh to deliver a comment which makes you understand the temptation Krugman felt when he decided: no comments today.
It is an example of the nasty comments Krugman and the likes must get a lot of, making them aware of the mixed blessings of the Internet ... and tired. It is loaded with allegations, suggestive remarks and allusions - which can by no means be substantiated.
Although I have also had my share, to me it is surveyable so that I really can say: I love it. It makes me sharpening my pencil to find a decent but very clear way of responding.
I asked the commenter if there was a special point he wanted me to clear up for him - his comment made it obvious that he had picked up something from my post, but not exactly what it was - and opinionated that his comment must be a distinctive feature to recognize the true believer (the church of Chomsky in his case).
It certainly is a nasty comment.
In my answer to him I spoke by purpose of "unusual language" to allude to another usage of language: abusive.
I hoped in return for a serious question, and, of course, for some reflection on his original draft.
I hoped in vain. There came no answer!
So far for bell, book and candle.
But, having quoted and criticized Paul Krugman, I feel the obligation to make use of the opportunity to deal with this comment at length, in an explicit way. So, I am going to dissect the comment and analyze it, and look what will remain of the arguments.
Because the comment was placed after my response to a comment of I.N. Reiter, I will include these clarifying statements in this analysis.
That I decided to do this by an independent post and not as an answer to the comment has two reasons:
- as already stated: to my polite invitation to clarify his comment followed no answer
- more important: the comment was not directed to me, in the first person, but spoke of "our author" and "he wants us to believe". The commenter spoke to you, he addressed the public.
The comment tells us that my conclusions - a hiatus in being specific - are "extremely naive and sadly unfortunate". These are subjective qualifications, accentuated by even more subjective "qualifiers". Apart from the fact that this is also my problem with the article of Chomsky, perhaps the commenter could be more specific and tell me where to find the necessary definition of the class of privileged intellectuals, the raison d'être of being privileged or being responsible, or the guiding principle for this class.
It is for the first time that I'm told that, in order to be able to digest a publication of a scholar you have to go through the rest of the man's magnificent opus. In answering my question above, the commenter is of course allowed to tell me where to find the answer on my questions in that huge opus. However, it is usance among academics to make a reference note if something is not explicitly dealt with.
My conclusions are called "painfully insulting". Apart from again the use of a very subjective qualifier, I fail to see why it is insulting if one signals the lack of some essential elements, so the less where I added "uncommon to the writings of Chomsky".
The answer can be simple. Either ... sorry sir, but you haven't read very well, look, here and here, do you see (if wrong) or ... yes, it wasn't explicit enough (if right).
"The writer wants us to believe, perhaps, that HE is superior intellectually". Is that so? I finished my post with something you can easily call a laudation to Chomsky. In my answer to Reiter, I do not only conclude that Chomsky is a "good scientist" and a "damn good challenger" or "a good man and better than that" but I also conclude that "no one is asking me an authoritative statement".
Okay, I am happy to learn I am the individual who I like to be - or the lonely-heart, if you like so. All those people "who understand full well, unlike our author here" the importance of Chomsky. Poveraccio me, out in the dark!
Perhaps, my commenter wants to suggest that Chomsky is "superior intellectually" to me?
I think it's hopeless irrelevant, as I guess Chomsky would resent such an argument. But, for the sake of argument, there is a book which reads on the back cover Richard Dawkins was recently voted one of the world's top three intellectuals (alongside Umberto Eco and Noam Chomsky). If I read things like that I always wonder: could it be ... Is it possible that God exists, now in the guise of an arbiter to decide who is the world's top intellectual?
No no no, it couldn't be, that is not possible ... because the book I'm referring to is THE GOD DELUSION. And, as Chomsky is challenging the state, Dawkins is challenging God and anyone who believes in him.
As my friend - who wrote a book on learning - asked me when I discussed with him the heavy burden of an intellectual, a bit anxious about his responsibilities: do they call you an intellectual if you have written a book or has it to be for sale in the bookshops. It depends, I answered. If your book is not in the shops, then the editor was probably not able to palm it off on the retailer. On the other hand, if one cannot find your books on the shelves, then it is probably sold out, which makes you a scholar of influence.
Okay, as a feather in Chomsky's cap I called him a great challenger. Is that true?
You have a boxing champion. And there’s the challenger. Now the challenger remains challenger if he is beaten by the champion. But it makes him a great challenger if the champion will be dethroned!
Has Chomsky dethroned someone. Is he really influencing the foreign politics of USA. Has he changed the fate of the Palestinian people?
I doubt it.
But the man has all my respect, so: let's baptize him the great challenger.
Does Chomsky suffer from his challengership? How can someone suffer his importance, if he has waiting hand and foot on him people like my commenter? As far as I know, Chomsky is a much respected man, not yet dead but, as my commenter wants me to believe, already residing in The Pantheon.
I know of a man, who is also championing the case for the Palestinian people, who is also an intellectual, who was part of the government of his country. He is actually, materially, tarred and feathered.
All these adjectives, and these adjectives overqualifying the adjectives. What a great sermon. A sermonic laudation, I dare say. Enough for this "dude" I would say. But no, I should hear the word of the Lord himself and attend one of his lectures. One of his lectures?
Yes, only one!
As if my commenter not had started to conclude that, in order to understand one lecture of the man, this dude should refrain, to go back, and, for starters, read the huge opus and then, perhaps "then you may begin to understand".
I feel the temptation to pray with Janis Joplin: Oh Lord won't you buy me a color TV?
Aaah, life is so complicated.
A last word on the responsibility of the intellectual. But first a (rhetorical) question.
Is it always necessary to criticize a hiatus when the tidings are filled with good intentions?
Most of the time, yes!
I think any scientist, at least the big scientists and certainly a scientist "who's understanding of world affairs is so significant, unique and enormously important" can only be happy when someone brings arguments to falsify their theory. I'm sure, Chomsky, rather than risking to become the bigot my commenter demonstrates to be, will be the first to applaud it, because it brings also the opportunity to confirm and fortify your thinking.
But there are situations thinkable that ...
Being a pacifist I have no intention to harm anybody, and certainly not if being ordered by the state to do so. But if I found myself in a situation like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs I would defend myself and kill also, if and as many as necessary, and as cruel as had to be.
But be aware, one should never, ever remind me of that fact when I afterwards should feel the urge to raise my voice against drones, to deny me the right to do so!
So, after the first essay I refrained from commenting because, as I wrote, the essence was okay. But things being worsened with the second essay I decided to go on.
Because there is something next to calling on the responsibility of these intellectuals. Chomsky's attitude toward the other intellectuals. I will not use the word disdain, but it's certainly different from respect.
There is CONVERSATIONS ON THE EDGE OF THE APOCALYPSE. A collection of interviews with big shots in America. One of them Chomsky. He got 5 pages! Some "nitwit" doubled him. I wrote Chomsky an email to tell him of my appreciation of his interview and to wonder why he, with his prominence, got only a few pages, while some somebody enjoyed a lot of attention. From his answer I learnt that he hadn't seen the interview in print, nor had the intention to lay hand on it.
Now if someone would do me the honor to interview me, with other guys and to immortalize me in a publication I would exit from my armchair, and take some pains to get acquainted with the other guys in the room.
And then we have his conversations with Albert, way-back. They are discussing the subject of "real intellectuals" (Chomsky admitting that the term in itself doesn't mean a lot) concerning activism and ideology. Whatever the connection!
Chomsky tells us a story about boys coming to Harvard with long hairs and ideals. At the end of the first year the recruiters come, among them the Wall Street Boys for the more lucrative, cushy summer jobs. So the students figure, What the heck? I can put on a tie and jacket and shave for one day, because I need that money and why shouldn't I have it? So they put on a tie and a jacket for that one day and they get the job for the summer. Then they go off for the summer and when they come back in the fall, it's ties and jackets and obedience and a shift of ideology.
As I said before: if it were that simple!
The simpleness of the argument reminds me of a Dutch comedian who excused himself to the public because of his success and a good life. There was a time that I wanted to change the world, he says, but it got me a tennis elbow because of rotating the press to produce the flyers I wanted to distribute among people.
If a law and economics student is successful and he becomes a hedge fund manager, then no one should blame him, no one should probe him on his early dreams. He is as respectable as any other intellectual!
But let's look for smoother waters: a musician.
As you know, a musician can only be a good musician when, at the moment of practicing and at the performance his head is completely empty. There's room for only one single ideal: to bring the finest music ever heard. I know of musicians who take this so literally that the wife and kids are complaining that there's hardly room for family life.
The Pope knows of our responsibility to God.
Chomsky seems to know of our responsibility to the world, with some special responsibility for his class.
I prefer Chomsky over the Pope. But I don't buy this kind of talk.
If Vincent Walsh wishes to make a comment on this post, he's welcome. But I will not answer his comment. Not because of "obvious reasons". I'll explain it now, without delay:
- the man has the right to have his opinions without me intervening
- I do not want to leave the impression that I want to have the last word