"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Dec 13, 2010

The Noam

Sells books. Pretends Kant resides in the structures of the human brain. Speaks in documentaries which make money for the filmmakers.

Millionaire hypocrite:

"...Chomsky favours massive income redistribution -- just not the redistribution of his income. No reason to let radical politics get in the way of sound estate planning.

When I challenged Chomsky about his trust, he suddenly started to sound very bourgeois: "I don't apologize for putting aside money for my children and grandchildren," he wrote in one e-mail. Chomsky offered no explanation for why he condemns others who are equally proud of their provision for their children and who try to protect their assets from Uncle Sam. (However, Chomsky did say that his tax shelter is OK because he and his family are "trying to help suffering people.")

Indeed, Chomsky is rich precisely because he has been such an enormously successful capitalist. Despite his anti-profit rhetoric, like any other corporate capitalist Chomsky has turned himself into a brand name. As John Lloyd recently put it in the lefty New Statesman, Chomsky is among those "open to being "commodified" -- that is, to being simply one of the many wares of a capitalist media market place, in a way that the badly paid and overworked writers and journalists for the revolutionary parties could rarely be."

Chomsky's business works something like this. He gives speeches on college campuses around the country at US$12,000 a pop, often dozens of times a year.

Can't go and hear him in person? No problem: You can go online and download clips from earlier speeches -- for a fee. You can hear Chomsky talk for one minute about "Property Rights"; it will cost you US79 cents. You can also buy a CD with clips from previous speeches for US$12.99.

But books are Chomsky's mainstay, and on the international market he has become a publishing phenomenon. The Chomsky brand means instant sales. As publicist Dana O'Hare of Pluto Press explains: 'All we have to do is put Chomsky's name on a book and it sells out immediately!'..."

As Rosa Lichtenstein once argued (and I summarize) - want to know a big reason why socialist revolutionary movements fail?

Their leadership is almost always bourgeois capitalist. Including those sheltered by capitalist academia. Especially the academics.

Look no further than the commodity known as "Noam Chomsky" to see how it works.

Want to remove a significant obstacle to actual proletarian and working class agitation and insurrection?

Dump the academics. Burn their capitalist (let's be redundant: this means militarist and commercial) redoubts  to the ground.

And let them know that the "fire next time" is not a fucking idle threat...

Added in edit: In case I have not made myself clear, Noam Chomsky is a meritocratic bourgeois enemy of revolution. He's a palliative, an anodyne. His analysis is always run through a very specific filtering lens which perhaps reflects his deeply institutional bias - one which precludes actual insurrection and revolutionary agitation. He can describe what's wrong with the capitalist world order only in so far as to paint it as inevitable, as ponderously permanent, as so expansive and so entrenched as to resist the very idea of opposition. A permanence reflected in his nearly endless tenure at noted leftist hotbed, MIT. Which condition probably suits the Chompers quite well, since he makes a pretty penny writing about it...

26 comments:

Landru said...

Punch a motherfucker.

Also: Excellent Rosa Lichtenstein reference.

Richard said...

Oddly, my leftism has never been influenced much by Chomsky, probably because of the way that his method invariably abstracts issues. Supposedly, Chavez had him speak to a group of Venezuelans several years ago and he nearly put them to sleep. Furthermore, I've never thought that his insights were that remarkable, and the personality cult around him is off putting, to say the least, as if there are all other leftists, Marxist, autonomous, anarchist or otherwise are intellectually subordinate to him.

My sense is that he has successfully established himself as a leftist that liberals and other educated middle class people will read, given the credibility associated with his academic credentials and low-key rationalist style of communication. In recent years, he has also had a tendency to say some rather odd things ("by bringing back the draft we could more readily try to stop the war in Iraq", which in my view, would just provide more cannon fodder for 'war on terror', and "I am a supporter of Israel" which leads him to traffic in his credibility to undermine support for BDS), which are misguided regardless of the fact that he says them.

I know he's a Trotskyite, and too deferential to state authority and electoral processes, but I much prefer Tariq Ali to him.

Jack Crow said...

Landru,

I am, to put it mildly, indebted to Rosa. Her work is not difficult, but there's a lot of it.

A lot.

Richard,

I don't want to outright dismiss Chomsky as a hack, or anything, but I'm with you on his value, at least for me personally. He's a decent intro to, if you have a mind to plumb rambling tomes of dry language and disengaged argument (this disengagement, I reference in the original - it's here that he spends great effort in portraying a world system which is loathe-worthy, but irreducibly inexorable).

I drew the bow because, in a discussion elsewhere, the reverence offered his to his person was off putting. His writings have a canon status, and I find that his fans will defend the man and the work rather uncritically, not unlike Leninists and Trotskyites do their respective icons.

I don't know if this is the enduring legacy of the impact of strong personalities on early leftist thought, theory and struggle - but my gripe has more to do with the uncritical acceptance of canon than it does with Chomsky, as a singular person. Chomsky is the example of the moment - and I could have picked Michael Moore, or Bob Avakian for the true blue rump remnant of American navel gazing Stalinism - because the disconnect between his work the conduct of his life is rather glaring.

And, with not a little bit of schadenfreude, I'm amused by a leftist cri di coeur which excoriates liberals for their personality adherence to Obama at the same time as they fail to see how it works for them with regard to Chomsky, et al.

Anyway, that's wordy as hell, so I'm going to punch my own face.

With respect,

Jack

Richard said...

yeah, when I pointed out Chomsky's failings on my blog, I got these hero worshipping, "but he did this and this and this and who are you to say anything about him because you aren't worthy to shine his shoes" kind of response

I know people who tell me that Chomsky is wonderful, and inspired them to understand the world in an entirely different way, and I respect that, but it is absurd to suggest that you can't be similarly inspired by other people as I have been

in terms of Chomsky's commodification, you have hit the nail on the head, quite hard, and I think that we should all give some thought as to how Chomsky's deification on the left fits into a broader narrative of cultural production

how has he branded himself so effectively, and how does he navigate the system of publication and distribution so well?

my suspicion is that he has established himself as a safe leftist from whom liberals can get vicarious enjoyment, especially as both race and class are drained of any potential to trouble his audience, and then there's the obvious fact that it is a lot easier to feel comfortable having a white, MIT academic tell you these things in a neutered language shorn of any abrasive qualities

I mean, just compare him to Ali or, even worse, As'ad Abukhalil (a man who, amazingly, debated a representative of the Israeli consulate at SF State a couple of years ago, and refused to acknowledge the presence of the person he debated, other than by reference to his arguments), both of whom make no concessions to the biases of their audience (although Ali does use humor quite effectively sometimes)

guess I should join you in punching my face now, too

Peter Ward said...

He can describe what's wrong with the capitalist world order only in so far as to paint it as inevitable, as ponderously permanent, as so expansive and so entrenched as to resist the very idea of opposition.

Apparently I've been thinking of a different Chomsky...(for whatever reason) what I've read has given me a very different impression. But anyway, I'm happy to take my chances he's really in some perverse why trying to turn potential activists into impotent cynics. As brainwashings go that we have to contend with, there much worse.

As for Saint Noam: I guess he shits and farts like the rest of us (though I have a hard time believing it) but he seems he has his head screwed on better than just about anyone else I can think of (a big deal since political sanity is not easy to come by). In a since his importance is inflated--people who get their heads knocked in by police are the ones who are really doing something and this fact definitely needs to be harped on, in his case and many others--but I don't think respecting him as dissident writer (even if excessively), based on an honest appraisal of his work, is quite the same as believing Obama to be an agent of constructive political change when every shred of evidence suggests the opposite.

Finally, from what I can tell, in real life, he's a decent person--as people go.... Maybe he's not. So what?

JRB said...

I actually met Chomsky a few years back at his brother's house outside of Philadelphia.

Long story short: the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program wanted to do some kind of "Chomsky" mural connected to community organizing in Philadelphia, where he grew up; so we got invited to their home.

Chomsky made the argument that he's not meaningfully connected to Philadelphia, but when overruled by the group, he stated a preference that the emphasis not be on him, but on what people in Philadelphia are doing. If someone wanted to paint him writing books in a corner as though that's related, fine.

The significance for me came in the difficulty Chomsky had in communicating to many in our group exactly what he meant and his rationale behind it. The prospective artist kept handing him portrait-style templates, and Chomsky tried every polite way to suggest a different direction.

In the end, the Zionist Organization of America nixed the whole thing by threatening Mural Arts funding.

That is my Chomsky story. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Jack Crow said...

JRB,

I have a similar story, involving Gary Bauer and John Ashcroft, frin back in 1999 - how their public personae don't match who they are in person. Ashcroft and Bauer have creepy, revolting political worldviews, and yet they were humble, self-effacing men in person. Gary Bauer was a very pleasant man, in fact. Ashcroft the AG might have been a fascist prude, but his public persona was clearly distinct from his private self.

I'm not suggesting The Noam is a bad man, that he's full of himself, or that he's willfully misleading people into paralyzing cynicism.

Any more than I'd suggest that John Ashcroft was maliciously evil and wantonly cruel.

It's just that they exist in very material class environments which have left their marks on them - marks shaped by the possession of immense power and influence. Ashcroft was the very prominent public face of a significant alteration in the methodology of US power. Whereas for the prior thirty years (in the Recovering From Vietnam era), lip service was paid to human rights and democracy, Ashcroft helped the Bush Admin dispense with the masks.

Ashcroft the public figure might be distinct from Ashcroft the private man (in much the same way that Noam the Gnomic Sage is not identical with his own private self), but both overlapping identities cannot really be separated from John Ashcroft the White, affluent member of the ruling political class.

So too with Chomsky. Chomsky might be a self-effacing, personally humble guest - but that has no real bearing on Chomsky the powerful, tenured self-produced-commodity; a very bourgeois inhabitant who exists, publicly, at the very center of the academic submission to the military industrial complex.

With respect,

Jack

JM said...

About Chomsky's so called support for Israel:
http://www.maxajl.com/?p=4007

He's just saying the U.S. influences and encourages Israel's actions too. As for his I support Israel statement, I dunno.

Jack Crow said...

Peter,

I don't think Noam Chomsky is attempting to brainwash anyone, or that he's running a deft and legendary long con.

I think, as I mentioned above to JRB, that Noam Chomsky is not separable from his class interest, from the material environment in which he exists and from which he emerged.

Chomsky paints the world in irredeemable colors. Again, I don't think this is a plot. I think he's a man who lives very, very close to power, and who has a worldview shaped by this fact (tempered, also, by his not inconsiderable fame, wealth and influence).

I've never had Chomsky's fame and influence, but I have had considerable institutional and economic power over other human persons. Enough to rub shoulders with some very, very powerful people, as well as to sustain myself comfortably as a member of the managerial class for most of my working life. I have had real power over others, and this materiality informs my worldview. I do not and cannot write about power in any way but the one which is most intimate to my own experiences, and to the class interests I adopted as I clawed my way off the streets and into business. And while I would eventually suffer a tremendous break, a severing of my very idea of self because of cognitive dissonance, and the harm I have done, my memories will always bear the imprint of those conditions.

I understand Chomsky in the same way.

He's not a charlatan.

Chomsky is an industry, as well as a man. He produces consumable interpretations of events and circumstances. He sells them. He doesn't give them away, like we do. He produces them in a capitalist manner, according to the logic of capitalist relations. He lives and works in one of the most openly militarist institutions of American academia, and for quite some time did so directly, on projects for the defense department and war contractors.

Chomsky is a member of the ruling class. That doesn't mean he is without insight, that he is a fraud, or that he's a snake oil salesman.

It means he reproduces ruling class worldviews about ruling class problems and colors them with ruling class (institutional, especially) solutions.

Chomsky can write about the proletariat only in distant, foreign, abstracted terms - because he is not and will never be a prole.

Not unlike Lenin, Trotsky and Engels - and like those men, his insights are ruined by his failure to truly be a prole. Instead of being one of us, he deigns to speak for us.

And the world he speaks is the ruling class world, a world so inexorable that his own class bias shows in every word.

Respect,

Jack

Jack Crow said...

Richard,

I share the same respect for people who have learned from Chomsky. Or Michael Moore. Or Barbara Ehrenreich.

And I don't think Chomsky is without value.

I don't think Kropotkin, Bakunin, Lenin, Marx and Trotsky were without value, either.

I just try to understand them for what they are and were - bourgeois theorists (and in the case of the Marxians, jargony philosophs) who write/wrote about a possible proletarian future.

I'm harder on Chomsky than Kropotkin, to no effect and accompanied by much self face punching (and a face heel turn, I imagine), because Chomsky is a self-produced commodity and an industry.

I think this makes him a legitimate class adversary, because his methods and worldview are so foreign to the world we would make, and so similar to the world we do and must reject.

And you are on the money - Chomsky is White, privileged, male, an authority, an avuncular role filler and a safe critic of power. His sometimes brilliant analysis is almost always crippled by his mild, institutional, bloodless prescriptions for mild, institutional, unthreatening, abstract change.

With respect,

Jack

Richard said...

JM:

Chomsky is:

(1) consistently for a two state solution

(2) opposed to BDS

(3) places the emphasis upon punishing US companies like Caterpillar that facilitate Zionism as opposed to focusing upon Israeli ones

all based upon the approach that the Israelis will flip out if pressure them too much

it is, as I said on my blog, a liberal approach to Palestine, and one that is very different from mine, as I support a one, secular state outcome

as for your link to the Jewbonics post, I have interviewed the person who writes that blog, Max Ajl, on the radio several times, and I have a high degree of respect for what he does (he, along with Ramsey Kanaan of PM Press, are the ones I alluded to upthread about how they praise Chomsky for enlightening them as to how the world really works)

you will also notice that I posted several replies to the responses to it under my full name, "Richard Estes", expressing my agreement with Max's rejection of Jeffrey Blankfort's the Israeli tail wags the American dog attitude

P.S. (to Jack)

Your perspective about the inability to separate people like Chomsky and Kropotkin from their class identity reminds me of something I came across in Baudrillard's early 1970s work, namely that the proletariat was a classification for the workers created for them by the middle class, something that he probably got second hand through someone like the Russian 1920s anarchist Cherkazov, hence the inability of the proletariat as constituted in this way to bring about a revolutionary transformation of society

Baudrillard is now remembered for his emphasis upon simulacrum and hyperreality, but I think that his early works ("The System of Objects", "For a Political Economy of the Sigh" and "The Mirror of Production") are still very relevant because of their engagement with the question of the disintegration of Marxism as a mode of political organization and social transformation post-1968, if you can cut your way through his dense prose (which, from an artistic perspective, is quite rich)

Jack Crow said...

Richard,

Here's a wee test I sometimes ask myself about my own piddling efforts: What if I were black, did not use any obviously latinate terms, was gay, trans or physically female and speaking on a street corner to a cop or a banker? Or to other poor, displaced or Other* persons, like this imaginary self?

Would I get arrested? Would I be understood? Would I be received as an odd but harmless kook, someone who could be safely arrested and handled with care because he could afford lawyers and easily cover bail? Or would I get thrown into black hole of the system, rightly perceived as a real enemy of power, as an Other?

That's how I read Chomsky, or see Michael Moore.

And Chomsky - more than almost any other - writes for White, privileged, institutional liberals and bourgeois consumers who are perhaps more anti-fascist or Americo-anarchist than they are communist or leftist.

He does not translate for anyone who is actually an Other.

Again with respect,

Jack

* - I'm not caucasian, by law and heritage, but I was raised White, in small town New England, attending private schools on the labor of my just out of the proletariat (mom by college, dad by the army) two jobs each parents.

Jack Crow said...

Richard,

I have only passing contact with Baudrillard. And I found him as difficult to translate down into everyday English as Hardt/Negri and DeLeuze/Guattari.

And that's an excellent insight, re: the proletariat. It's so obvious and embarrassing once you point it out. If I'd never bought myself the time and space to study the communist canon, I would almost certainly just use the term "working class."

Self punching face, yet again.

Respect,

Jack

Wayne Kasper said...

Well I (depsite efforts otherwise) am very 'working class' by any definition, and I think some of the above comments above hit the nail on the head. I'm sure Chomsky has the best intentions, but he is what he is.

The history of leftism is arguably held back by borgeouis professionalism ie. the uses of institutions, priveliged networks, self-electing jargon, and 'cultural capital'.

The midddle class left can't help but define the 'proletariat' and its relationship to society - classification, linguistic authority and the assumption of managerial competence defines priveliged 'knowledge workers', and has done at least since Marx was writing.

The huge gulf between them and the working class comes from this as much as wealth disparity. It's also a case of: "Tell me something I don't already know, motherfucker."
Class relations, state brutality and exploitation are as familar as the air, and so frequently considered redundant as subject to 'debate' or analysis. A 'universal grammar' beyond the syntax rich/educated white guys.

Wayne Kasper said...

PS. Don't mistake my typos for proof of proletarian credentials!

AlanSmithee said...

Chomsky? Fuck, that droning monotone voice - I've never been able to stay awake long enough to find out what he's talking about.

Jack Crow said...

Wayne,

Right on:

"The history of leftism is arguably held back by borgeouis professionalism ie. the uses of institutions, priveliged networks, self-electing jargon, and 'cultural capital'."

Well written, well said.

Alan,

That's part of his vanilla appeal. If Chomsky were a firebrand Navajo communist, he'd be in prison if it could first be Cheified.

Respect,

Jack

diamonddog said...

This comment thread consists almost entirely of one unprovable assertion after another, inspired by a high-five to the most hackneyed of all Tu Quoque fallacies: Left-wing do-gooder has money. Enunciated no less by that bastion of the red vanguard, Canada's National Post. Jesus, Jack, you have been singing to the chorus too long. So many words to so little effect.

Wayne, spare me the macho "Tell me something I don't already know, motherfucker" appeal to romanticized working class authority. Please, as if rotten educations, bad food, bad health care and wage slavery give most people the means to see how completely fucked over they are. You and I know, there is not a class of people more self-destructively reactionary and backward than the American white working class. If on your own, you and your comrades got everything Chomsky or some other wealthy red has to teach you, you are the fucking exception. I certainly wasn't so gifted.

Here's the deal, if some thinker's theory is irretrievably poisoned by his capitalist background, privilege or what have you, it will show in the theory. If you want to disabuse people of their adherence to the theorist, begin with the theory. His fucking trust fund is irrelevant.

Chomsky seems like an empathic person who, unlike many on the left, is by his own design very easily comprehended by the average literate person. I do not see Manufacturing Consent or his copious and generally correct critiques of American foreign policy as anything but helpful to anyone trying to comprehend how power works. To say socialism has failed because most theorists have the education and time to theorize is at best, a ridiculous oversimplification.

diamonddog said...

He does not translate for anyone who is actually an Other.

Full disclosure: queer here, poor and working class most of my life, read Chomsky long before I made some money (not a whole lot) in software development, on the recommendation of my brother, a college dropout, machinist and draft-dodger.

I can completely get behind the idea of cultural capital being used to create barriers. I think the plain-speaking Chomsky is a very poor target for that argument.

diamonddog said...

Sorry, meant to say my brother was a high school dropout. Shouldn't matter, but since we're talking about how accessible he is. . .

Jack Crow said...

It does show in the theory. Chomsky paints an inexorable world that can only be tinkered with around the edges. And not in "plain speaking" terms.

And are you really rejecting the idea that class shapes perspective, DD?

Wayne Kasper said...

Diamond Dog -
Nothing 'macho' (???) about it. I'm writing from Europe (England) where leftism and the shape of the working class is - as far as I can see - different to the way it is in the U.S. For one thing, sexual politics seem to be a much bigger factor in left activism there (I may be wrong, but I can only go by what I read, and you did put 'queer' before 'poor', right?). And class discourse is so racialised that it's been distorted out of recognition by mainstream discussion.

I admit that his 'plain language' and simple relaying of facts is his main appeal, which is of course why his books sell so much. But Chomsky has a HUGE amount of cultural capital - he's a world class linguistics professor at MIT for chrissakes! He has personal access to professions that no-one I know could ever dream of entering.

My main point is that left activism - ie. the liberation of the poor, the working class, needs to be led by them to get anywhere. The reliance on 'authorities' who have the means to stay safe on the 'wrong' side is a stumbling block. Whenever a left 'celeb' goes to the 'dark side', I'm rarely suprised. It's the circles they grow up in, hang out with and it's all too easy for them to cite youthful hijinks.

Europe has a big network of left intellectuals, that's changed with generations, but when push comes to shove is looking to be big kahuna in that network. Status is holy to people of a certain class. That's when background, education, personal connections and professionalism create the gulf between them and the people they supposedly speak for.

And personally, where I live left activism HAS been hijacked by the privately educated, so it doesn't suprise me how class is the issue they put on the backburner so they can foreground lifestyle, sexual and green issues. Of course, they're related - but it seems a convenient way of avoiding those troubling poor people in large numbers.

Jack Crow said...

Right to the point, Wayne. Well written, well said.

Rosa Lichtenstein said...

I don't think I have ever argued this:

"As Rosa Lichtenstein once argued (and I summarize) - want to know a big reason why socialist revolutionary movements fail?

Their leadership is almost always bourgeois capitalist. Including those sheltered by capitalist academia. Especially the academics."

I have argued that our movement tends to fragment because it is led by petty-bourgeois intellectuals and professional, de-classé revolutionaries.

But, the 1917 revolution failed because it did not spread and the revolution in Germany failed.

These objective circumstances were merely compounded by the class origin of revolutionaries.

But. I'd never call them 'capitalists'.

Jack Crow said...

Rosa,

The problem with my summary, of course, was that it was truncated for the needs of my point.

If I did you a disservice - and that's easy for me to do, being who I am - I apologize.

It's hard to boil down a million words into a two sentence synopsis.

Mea culpa, and thanks for the clarification.

Tyler said...

This is silly petit bourgeois moralism. When the hell did Noam Chomsky claim to be a “revolutionary leader” as opposed to just a damn good and sucessful academic, who writes books and yeah promotes them and makes money from them. I don't really care how much money he has. I have bought like two of his books and checked out a few at the library. Hes quite smart not just in politics, thats almost more of a hobby of his, he is first and foremost a reseacher into linguistics the human mind and evolution. I mean the tax shelter thing is a little dissapointing to hear I guess, though its a rumor and I ultimately don't really give a damn. I care more about his writings and his ideas, which I don't necessarily agree with. He is kind of an anarchist. Who the hell are you, probably petit bourgeois and very insecure about whatever your class background, and a rather prissy moralist. You would be hard pressed to find a working person who really holds it against Noam he saves money for his kids, and yeah there are some working people who read Noam Chomsky.