Noam Chomsky is Wrong on Bin Laden (and Foucault Won That Debate))

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Let me be totally amazing clear, I am not some right wing Dittohead Fox News viewer hopping between Hannity and talk radio for my daily Two Minutes Hate.

With that said, I think I might be the only person who, upon seeing that now-famous “Justice vs. Power” Chomsky-Foucault debate immediately realized how much of a charlatan and an anti-intellectual Chomsky actually was. I’ve since concluded that Foucault not only won that debate, but he went on to win pretty much the rest of the twentieth century that Baudrillard didn’t capture. And ol’ Baldy continues to rack up points well into the Ritalin-addled twenty-first century. Meanwhile, Chomsky contents himself with packing out the student union during meetings of the Socialist Student Union of every one of those private colleges that kids attend when they can’t get into to Ivies, Stanford, or one of the Seven Sisters.

On linguistics, Chomsky is unquestionably brilliant, but on politics, he has always sounded like a teenager.

What has drawn my ire this particular day is that Chomsky has written a mind-numbingly silly article titled “There is Much More To Say,” in which the guiding light of the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable American left attempts to argue with sophomoric equivalency that the US should have been governed by standards of INTERNATIONAL LAW first established at the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis, and should have captured Osama Bin Laden and put him on trial. Furthermore, he asks, since Bush’s aggression in invading Iraq was much worse than bin Laden’s, would the US be comfortable if terrorists killed him?

Here’s the relevant section:

We are left with two choices: either Bush and associates are guilty of the “supreme international crime” including all the evils that follow, crimes that go vastly beyond anything attributed to bin Laden; or else we declare that the Nuremberg proceedings were a farce and that the allies were guilty of judicial murder. Again, that is entirely independent of the question of the guilt of those charged: established by the Nuremberg Tribunal in the case of the Nazi criminals, plausibly surmised from the outset in the case of bin Laden.

I actually don’t have a problem with the conclusion that we should have put Bin Laden on trial. Why not? We’re an empire, and an empire shouldn’t fear one man no matter how long his beard is. What infuriates me is the argument. Chomsky has made a form of the same argument his entire life: “The US says this is the rule. If this is the rule that the US applies to everyone else, then the US itself is breaking that rule.” It’s an argument that appeals to notions of fairness, justice, and hypocrisy that no one over the age of 17 takes seriously.

What frustrates me the most is how grossly anti-intellectual the argument is. The world should be fair and equal, and that’s that. It is not an argument, it is a belief, without foundation in evidence whatsoever.

Let me do you all a public service and give your minds a fairy-tale enema:

There is no such thing as “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything save hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

The exception is part of the rule. It’s the most important part of the rule. That’s the part of the rule that says when Shitty Country A invades Shitty Country B, the U.S. Marine Corps can take over both countries until Halliburton and Blackwater can get there and ensure that it won’t cost you $75 to drive your Japanese import to Wal-Mart for some quality goods made by the most skilled child-laborers global capitalism can provide.

Chomsky and many others on the left call this “exceptionalism.” Exceptionalism is bad, you see, because it’s unfair. Everyone should be held to the same standard. This is the rule, and everybody should have to follow the rules, including (and especially) Dad the United States. But Chomsky and others only bring up the charge of exceptionalism when they can score some cheap points by crying “hypocrisy!”

You know what exceptionalism is? Exceptionalism is why the unemployment rate in the US, France, Germany, and Japan are between 6-9%, but in Spain and Greece–you know, where people are rioting–it’s approaching 15-20%. Exceptionalism is your country’s ability to catastrophically screw up the global economy while citizens of other countries bear the brunt.

If the United States were held to the same standard, i.e. if the world were fair, the conditions of most Americans–i.e. the 95% that think the top 5% should pay more in taxes–would revert to that of Eastern Europeans. Your condition, however bad you think it is, would be immeasurably worse if things were evened out. But if you think that fair is far and right is right, then I admire your philosophical integrity, and would tell you that all you have to do is wait. We’ll be sliding into mediocrity before you know it.

Let me rephrase and repeat the rule for you, the one and only rule of international law: Whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break, and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a fact, a property of nature, an observation based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge that as the rule is a mark of insanity, like believing in ghosts or that the earth is flat.

But still Chomsky grinds on: “We should be treated like we treat others.” Chomsky prefers to play the “should” game. The world should be like this. The government should do that. Should should should. That’s why he’s so popular with the crowd that has nothing personally at stake. It’s easily to dictate terms when you aren’t accountable.

Chomsky could not come to terms with the reality. Foucault lived this reality. Foucault was very much about getting to the bottom of what is. And though he found the same state that Chomsky did–language and media as instruments of social control, Foucault found much more. He flourished in the idea of total dominance by power, he explored it, dissected it, and held up its organs for all to see.

FOUCAULT: The proletariat doesn’t wage war against the ruling class because it considers such a war to be just. The proletariat makes war with the ruling class because, for the first time in history, it wants to take power. And because it will overthrow the power of the ruling class it considers such a war to be just…One makes war to win, not because it is just…it seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.

The trouble with Foucault is that he demands a brutal and total acceptance of reality, and a suspicion of everything else. After all, any illusion of what should be may simply be an internalized expression of the State’s control over you. So you must never say should. You must only see and, if possible, take some power for yourself.

Foucault died long before the world proved him right. Chomsky has lived long enough to have learned better. And yet still he persists. What’s that word for people who do the same thing over and over expecting a different result… 

Related posts:

  1. Osama bin Laden is dead. Now what?
  2. Bin Laden is Dead and the Youth are Still Pessimistic
  3. Enough truths to cope with already
  4. When Debate Fails, Turn to Analysis
  5. A Refresher Course in Ideology

96 Responses to Noam Chomsky is Wrong on Bin Laden (and Foucault Won That Debate))

  1. barrkel says:

    You’re confusing means and ends.

    Fairness, standing alone, is not a well-formed concept, much like the related idea equality is not well-formed on its own. Equality of income? Of opportunity? Of treatment? Non-prejudice? Etc. But going into it all would take far too long.

    The cynical world view, and self-interested approach, that you advocate in this article is very common amongst conservative thinkers. But it is the other side of the same coin of fairness and equality and similar idealistic concepts that you have contempt for, and are common of what the US population somewhat confusingly describes as liberals, the left wing. One cannot have a fair, and most importantly, stable, system that treats people equally if it does not take into account the cynicism of the individual actors. The institutions and processes of the system must be designed so that individual power struggles etc. are counterbalanced, so that the whole structure isn’t so lopsided that it is torn apart.

    And this is why I say you confuse ends and means. Cynicism, power struggles, fighting for exceptionalism, are the means by which the ends of justice, fairness and similar idealistic concepts of the 17 and under crowd are upheld.

  2. barrkel says:

    It’s also humorous to see you make the old is-ought mistake. You look at how the world is, and use it as evidence against the ought statements of Chomsky. Making no value on Chomsky myself, of course…

  3. JohnJ says:

    Well, like everyone else here, I am completely objective and have never taken anyone’s side over anyone else’s in my life.

    But one could argue that Chomsky is using the word “law” to describe the system of rules that we all agree to abide by. So what he’s saying here is that we haven’t all agreed to abide by the same rules, therefore the rules don’t really apply. In that sense, he’s agreeing with you that there’s no such thing as International Law, and he’s just saying we should admit it.

    And I want to be clear that I’m not some left wing Airhead NYT reader bouncing between Huffington Post and MSNBC for my four-times-per-minute buffet of Hate. (Hey, that’s a great way to insult people while claiming to be completely neutral! I’m gonna use that more often.)

  4. Robert says:

    Exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to read here. Very excited to read more of this kind of thing.

    As for comments, uh: I would say Chomsky does seem to be overly interested here in what should happen, whereas Foucault seems to focus more on an analysis of what is actually going on. This is simple, of course. Chomsky takes a lot of things to be givens. He says that creation is a fundamental human right, something completely essential to humanity. But how many people create? Creation is an impossibly hard task, to truly create – as opposed to reproducing, which is what the vast majority of people seem to do.

    I would say that, as regards Chomsky’s comment about knowing somewhat where we want to take ourselves – the more important thing is to know where we are in the first place. Is a revolution still a revolution if it simply repeats what has been done? If a revolution becomes a tyranny, was it not simply a stage of what came before? Stalin’s descent into paranoiac violence seems an awful lot like – well, like the revolution took place, and suddenly Stalin became the old Tsar, wreaking his revenge. As though nothing changed at all, except that after the phase of “revolution”, the throne at the top of the pyramid began to crack down and impose itself.

    This sounds pretty far-out and meaningless and tangential, but what I’m saying is that it seems like things have a certain kind of structure. And it’s more important to work on what exactly IS that structure, than to keep repeating it. We can make ourselves promises of a utopia, but ultimately history will repeat itself because there’s really only about two-hundred years worth of it, give or take two hundred years.

    The other side of the coin is that this particular standpoint is rather easy. It’s quite easy to say “I’ll hang back, I think that path just leads back here anyway – I’ll see you in a while.” Whereas the job of the other guy is to keep trudging that path, – not to argue with us that we are wrong. If they are right, they will be borne out soon enough, but only through action.

    What I am saying is that Chomsky should have figured out whom he needed to machine-gun in order to make things right, and then got to machine-gunning. Even if that did just prove our point.

    • Zarathustra says:

      I agree with much of what you say, but here is Chomsky’s own clarification of what he means by “creativity”:

      …when I speak of creativity, I’m not attributing to the concept the notion of value that is normal when we speak of creativity. That is, when you speak of scientific creativity, you’re speaking, properly, of the achievements of a Newton. But in the context in which I have been speaking about creativity, it’s a normal human act.
      I’m speaking of the kind of creativity that any child demonstrates when he’s able to come to grips with a new situation: to describe it properly, react to it properly, tell one something about it, think about it in a new fashion for him and so on. I think it’s appropriate to call those acts creative, but of course without thinking of those acts as being the acts of a Newton.
      In fact it may very well be true that creativity in the arts or the sciences, that which goes beyond the normal, may really involve properties of, well, I would also say of human nature, which may not exist fully developed in the mass of mankind, and may not constitute part of the normal creativity of everyday life.
      Now my belief is that science can look forward to the problem of normal creativity as a topic that it can perhaps incorporate within itself. But I don’t believe, and I suspect you will agree, that science can look forward, at least in the reasonable future, to coming to grips with true creativity, the achievements of the great artist and the great scientist. It has no hope of accommodating these unique phenomena within its grasp. It’s the lower levels of creativity that I’ve been speaking of.

  5. girl says:

    However brilliant his work, not all good linguists follow Chomsky — though the combined effect of politics within the academy and without can give a different impression!

    Does Foucault say anything relevant that Thucydides neglected to say?

  6. zozo says:

    Let me be totally amazing clear, I am not some right wing Dittohead Fox News viewer hopping between Hannity and talk radio for my daily Two Minutes Hate.
    I don’t know how we could possibly get that impression from your rhetoric (“the I-hate-my-daddy contingent of the unemployable American left”

    If I may attempt a less qualified deconstruction: “Stupid idealists don’t they know it’s a realist’s world?”

    Perhaps. And I actually agree with the realist position. But bear in mind that’s it’s a perspective, and that your insistence that your worldview is the righteous one is as strident as the silly college kids.”

    • philtrum says:

      And really, “unemployable”?

      I assume the “I hate my daddy” thing isn’t meant literally, since that generalization (“campus radicals” are rebelling against adult authority because they hate their parents) is straight out of the 1960s, and it was inaccurate then…

      But even going with it for a moment: even if one does hate one’s parents, doesn’t it matter why? To state the obvious, sometimes parents do legitimately terrible things to their children.

      • Robert says:

        See, I think the problem here, apart from a failure to communicate (*fires shotgun*) is that these articles, – especially PastaBagel’s – are written in a pretty, if you will, racy, kind of confrontational style. A lot like TLP’s style. Which makes for good reading, but does leave itself open to a massive amount of critique for what it takes for-granted. I tend to ignore that stuff – I found the crossed-out “Dad” kind of cheap.

        But, that said, I do think PB’s on to something, and that the core of the post is pretty solid – Chomsky’s “shoulda, woulda” against Foucault’s “here’s how it seems to me”. Probably could have been said shorter, more carefully, and with less affected verbiage. (but then again, I just wrote “affected verbiage”, so what kind of hypocrite prick does that make me?)

        • Robert says:

          I do think, however, that instead of presenting that pretty basic comparison, it would have been nice to see some more in-depth analysis, rather than what I (English) see as cheap, sectarian infighting with no bearing on reality. “Unemployable leftists”, “Dittohead Cheney-fuckers”, “Palin-grinders”, “Bearded John Lennon Lenin-lovers.”

  7. philtrum says:

    Let me rephrase and repeat the rule for you, the one and only rule of international law: Whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break, and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is.

    But I don’t think Chomsky disagrees on that point, nor do I think he expects anything different. He is overwhelmingly focused on what he calls propaganda: the way a narrative is constructed to mask that reality, to make it look as if something else is going on. “The first moral empire”, “they hate us for our freedoms”.

    Slavoj Zizek mentioned this once in an interview: Chomsky appears to think that if ordinary people just knew the facts, they would behave differently, and that’s a dubious assumption. In a way, what Chomsky does reminds me of “the Christian right is neither” arguments that dig into Scripture to show that Jesus was a cool guy who hung out with sinners and wanted you to give your wealth to the poor. Even if that’s true, it doesn’t matter.

    But knowing this — that the powerful will do what they want — what next?

    Honestly, this post reminds me a bit of comments on stories of police brutality: “you make the police angry, you deserve what you get.” Even if you yelled at them and they responded by shocking you to death — you deserve what you get. Is becomes ought. Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

    If we take for granted that the powerful do what they want and the rest of us suffer as we must, does it follow that it is wrong to oppose this? Are there any political fights worth having?

  8. zozo says:

    I do like the clever technique of avoiding having to say, “You should never say should,” by upping the ante to “You must never say should.” But you’re sneaking in a moral imperative without any obvious basis. It’s one thing to get into the nature of the world as it is. Moral imperatives don’t obviously follow unless you’re throwing in some hidden assumptions about how you think the world should be.

    • pulchrifex says:

      +1. Although it’s more a gotcha than a serious counterpoint — presumably the comeback is, “OK, I misspoke, but the point is it cuts no ice to say ‘should.’

      Then again, Chomsky probably makes more from one speaking gig than I make in a year. (Admittedly, I’m a postdoc. The problem is me.)

  9. zozo says:

    And, really, between you and the last psychiatrist, isn’t this just another screed about the stupid liberal kids of the worst, most narcissistic generation of all time with a knee-jerk reactionary pull-back to neoconservatism, but with an attempt at good conscience based on some supposed objective grounding?

    • philtrum says:

      I have noticed a lot of quietism on TLP. “The problem isn’t X, the problem is you.”

      A perspective worth considering, but not always correct.

      • DataShade says:

        That being said, when you’re writing a long article, and (disclaimer aside) your lede includes the phrase “I think I might be the only person who” you should stop to consider: “is the problem that everyone else worships the false idol of Noam Chomsky, or is the problem me?”

        • Robert says:

          That’s it, really, isn’t it – PB makes a fairly reasonable point, stating the difference beween Chomsky and Foucault on one particular level, but there’s all this bluster before it which needn’t be there.

  10. Brakhage says:

    This comes down to two issues for me: the role of principles in the formation of policy, and the perpetual inability of the left to articulate a concrete platform for a future society.

    Without attention to whether one’s actions follow one’s principles, you leave yourself open to not only charges of hypocrisy but outright hostility. Chomsky essentially follows a Palestinian/Al Jazeera/Juan Cole line of calling for the US to abide by the principles it espouses. For me that’s a noble undertaking no matter how nonpragmatic it may seem, especially if one’s moral hypocrisy has a tendency to result in casualties. Obama is currently struggling (and every leader does) with reconciling actions with words. Lofty sentiments in his latest speech on the Middle East, no action in Bahrain which by all rights would deserve the same regard as Libya, etc etc. Calling out hypocrisy is easy and fairly risk-free depending on where you live, but it’s always important.

    Secondly, the left has historically been very good at critique and fairly awful at implementation. (We can argue over whether that implementation has been blocked, but still.) Ascribe the evils of the world to control, institutions, the Panopticon, whatever, but at some point you need a plan other than ‘tear it all down’. The societies we famously identify with the left – Castro’s Cuba, Stalinist/Leninist Russia, Mao’s China – are more fascist than anything else. And most small utopian communities are either too obscure to inspire, or die in their cradles from infighting. As a progressive I would love to see more of a focus on pragmatic, constructive effort, rather than the generation of reams of paper cataloguing the failures of modern society. And I say this as a huge Foucault and Chomsky fan ^_^

    • JohnJ says:

      The only problem with the claim that Chomsky et al. just want to call for the U.S. to abide by the principles it espouses is that they do not attempt to hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel). If you just want to point out people’s hypocrisy, don’t forget about the casualty-producing systems. If you focus on only one system, as Chomsky does, you can’t really claim any standard other than hatred of that system.

      And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems are fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the left’s systems. Fighting fascism means reducing government, not pushing for more of it. Any system that requires a great degree of government control is, (almost) by definition, fascist, which is the same thing as socialist but with a “for the people” stuck on the end of the state motto.

      • The only problem with the claim that Chomsky et al. just want to call for the U.S. to abide by the principles it espouses is that they do not attempt to hold anyone else to this standard (except arguably for Israel).

        This is a very common criticism of Chomsky. He always responds the same (I hope to paraphrase more or less correctly): He has to criticise the system he is part of (That’s why he includes Israel, because in his opinion current Israeli policies would be impossible if not for US support). He could talk about what other countries should do, but this would be a pointless exercise.

        • JohnJ says:

          That’s just a rationalization, and a flimsy one at that. He’s no more limited to criticizing the U.S. than he is limited to criticizing his own family or the whole world. Those are both systems he’s a part of, but he doesn’t feel limited to them.

          • In my opinion he adapts his discourse to the listener, or to what he expects to be the listener and mostly American/’Westerners’ listen to him. By the way, your argument comes pretty close to being just an ad hominem. Even if he is unfairly directing all his criticism on something or other, doesn’t mean he is wrong. Also (There is more like this if you care to find his interviews for foreign media).

          • JohnJ says:

            Since all of Chomsky’ s attacks are ad hominems, I don’t feel bad about it. When the attack is that the U.S. fails to live up to its standards, it’s perfectly justified to point out that the criticism is unfair for failing to acknowledge that no one else lives up to their standards either. In this case, Chomsky fails to live up to the standard he claims to want the U.S. to adhere to, which is to have a standard that applies to everyone equally.

          • DataShade says:

            all of Chomsky’ s attacks are ad hominems

            [Citation needed]

          • philtrum says:

            An ad hominem tu quoque is still an ad hominem. It doesn’t invalidate Chomsky’s argument.

      • statelymulligan says:

        The only problem with the claim that Chomsky et al. just want to call for the U.S. to abide by the principles it espouses is that they do not attempt to hold anyone else to this standard

        Your adherence to your espoused principles has nothing to do with what everyone else chooses to do. That’s why they’re called principles. Either way, I think Chomsky is right to hold to task the nation that likes to slap it’s gigantic dick around wherever it is profitable; and, if we so wanted, to destroy civilization as we know it. It’s not just hypocrisy, it’s dangerous.

        It also appears that you have no real knowledge of anarcho-syndicalism or anarchism in general. Chomsky is not a communist, or even a socialist.

        • philtrum says:

          Your adherence to your espoused principles has nothing to do with what everyone else chooses to do.

          And the powers that be in the U.S. and the West generally tend to argue, in public, that they deserve to be more powerful than everyone else because they are more moral.

        • JohnJ says:

          Chomsky fails to adhere to his principle of calling for other people to adhere to their principles because he doesn’t attack all hypocrisy, just the hypocrisy of people he doesn’t like. Sure, he may be right from time to time about there being hypocrisy. If Chomsy wants to hold a nation to task that likes to pursue profit and destroy civilization, I recommend he challenge China, Iran, Venezuela, and Russia.

          • philtrum says:

            Really, dude? Iran and Venezuela? These are profiteering nations with global influence and the ability to “destroy civilization”, whatever that means?

          • JohnJ says:

            Yes, Iran and Venezeula are profiteering nations with global influence that have the ability to destroy civilizations, and are actually attempting to do so. Those are two of the biggest sponsors of terrorism in the world.

      • DataShade says:

        And I would be remiss if I failed to point out that there’s a reason why left’s systems are fascist: because they have to be fascist in order to implement the left’s systems.

        [Citation needed.]

        Come on, man, it hasn’t been so long since Bush was in office that you can accuse the left of being the party of big government.

        Also, if you’re not going to use the dictionary definition of fascism, pick a different word: there’s a big difference between a single dictator or even a monolithic party (which “the left” – what might include, depending on your definition and the issue, any or all of Democrats, liberals, Greens, Libertarians, etc – simply isn’t) owning/controlling not only the state but also industry, commerce, and culture on one hand, and the idealistic or even naive belief that, since the USA is the world’s most powerful and wealthy country, we really ought to pool our resources and make sure everybody has a seat at the table and is well taken care-of.

        And fighting fascism doesn’t mean ‘reducing government’ it means reducing the authoritarian aspects of government that allow one person to have dictatorial control. If you can’t see the difference between “government” and “tyranny” – if the words are synonymous to you – then you should probably find some place to hang out where your views won’t cause you so much cognitive dissonance.

        • JohnJ says:

          Come on, man, it hasn’t been so long since Bush was in office that you can accuse the left of being the party of big government.

          [Citation needed]

          Also, if you’re not going to use the dictionary definition of fascism, pick a different word: there’s a big difference between a single dictator or even a monolithic party (which “the left” – what might include, depending on your definition and the issue, any or all of Democrats, liberals, Greens, Libertarians, etc – simply isn’t) owning/controlling not only the state but also industry, commerce, and culture on one hand, and the idealistic or even naive belief that, since the USA is the world’s most powerful and wealthy country, we really ought to pool our resources and make sure everybody has a seat at the table and is well taken care-of.

          [Citation needed]

          And fighting fascism doesn’t mean ‘reducing government’ it means reducing the authoritarian aspects of government that allow one person to have dictatorial control. If you can’t see the difference between “government” and “tyranny” – if the words are synonymous to you – then you should probably find some place to hang out where your views won’t cause you so much cognitive dissonance.

          [Citation needed]

          That is such a stupid way to debate. What are you, twelve?

          Government, by definition, is authority. Reducing the authoritarian aspects of government by definition means reducing government. Authority, of course, isn’t the same thing as tyranny.

          Being dismissive of someone else’s point of view just because you don’t understand it is a sure way to prevent yourself from ever learning anything. This is why your kind of arrogance correlates so strongly with your kind of closed-mindedness.

          • philtrum says:

            Being dismissive of someone else’s point of view just because you don’t understand it is a sure way to prevent yourself from ever learning anything.

            And it always comes down to that for you, doesn’t it: other people disagree because they don’t understand, they need to learn things.

            But when you say everything Noam Chomsky has written over the past 40+ years is an “ad hominem” (how would you know? Have you read it all?) or declare “the left” (that monolith) to be inextricable from “fascism”, you’re not being dismissive or cutting yourself off from that all-important learning. Overconfidence is something other people have.

          • JohnJ says:

            Now you criticize me for doing what you do. At least I listen to people who disagree.

          • philtrum says:

            You assume that if I just listened to you I would agree with you, so if I continue to think you’re wrong I must not be listening. Interesting.

          • philtrum says:

            And I won’t claim to have never suggested that I criticize you for your own good, because I don’t remember every word I’ve ever written and I can’t be arsed to go back and read it all now, but I will say: right now, I am not disagreeing with you for your own good. I do not care if you learn anything. I do not concern myself with the openness of your mind or the state of your immortal soul.

            Nope, I just think you’re wrong and your argument sucks. That is the difference between us.

          • JohnJ says:

            I certainly think that’s a possibility, but the evidence of not listening is when someone can’t even accurately tell me what I am saying. That indicates to me that they’re imposing some other view on mine and arguing against that instead of what I said.

          • JohnJ says:

            Well, that’s one difference.

          • DataShade says:

            I certainly think that’s a possibility, but the evidence of not listening is when someone can’t even accurately tell me what I am saying. That indicates to me that they’re imposing some other view on mine and arguing against that instead of what I said.

            Or you just don’t argue very well.

          • DataShade says:

            That is such a stupid way to debate. What are you, twelve?

            Reductio ad absurdum only works when you logically follow a premise to an absurd conclusion, not just append a phrase, “I know you are but what am I” style, to the end of every paragraph.

            Government, by definition, is authority. Reducing the authoritarian aspects of government by definition means reducing government. Authority, of course, isn’t the same thing as tyranny.

            Do I have to start providing you dictionary definitions of every word over eight characters long? “Authority” and “authoritarian” are not remotely the same:

            –adjective
            1. favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom: authoritarian principles; authoritarian attitudes.
            2. of or pertaining to a governmental or political system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.
            3. exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others: an authoritarian parent.

            Being dismissive of someone else’s point of view just because you don’t understand it is a sure way to prevent yourself from ever learning anything. This is why your kind of arrogance correlates so strongly with your kind of closed-mindedness.

            I dunno, I think it makes sense. You issued vague pronouncements and/or sweeping generalizations as if they were self-evident and incontrovertible fact. There’s no need to give you room to swing a Gray Fallacy at the audience by acting like you’re being reasonable when you are, in fact, distorting the core meaning of almost every significant word or phrase used by you or your opponents.

          • JohnJ says:

            Look at it this way. Fox attacks Democrats and excuses wrongdoing by Republicans. This doesn’t mean that what Fox says is untrue (though that may be true as well), but it is certainly indicative that we should be cautious about relying on its reporting, not because it may be untrue, but because it is likely to be incomplete. That’s the trouble with bias as opposed to dishonesty. And that goes for Chomsky’s bias as well as everyone else’s.

      • philtrum says:

        Oh, please. You remind me of the crank I once met on the Toronto subway who informed me that I was living in a dictatorship because we have single-payer health care.

    • DataShade says:

      Secondly, the left has historically been very good at critique and fairly awful at implementation.

      Well, yes, and for one obvious reason: it’s much easier to agree on problems with the current system than agree on the best possible replacement.

      I notice you don’t have a pocket-sized solution. =)

  11. Rudd-O says:

    What infuriates me is the argument. Chomsky has made a form of the same argument his entire life: “The US says this is the rule. If this is the rule that the US applies to everyone else, then the US itself is breaking that rule.” It’s an argument that appeals to notions of fairness, justice, and hypocrisy that no one over the age of 17 takes seriously.

    LOL. Your refutation of Chomsky’s argument relies on saying that universalization of moral arguments is absurd. Your own refutation itself relies on the validity of universalization of moral arguments.

    Self-contradiction FAIL.

    It’s always funny to see amateurs very confused by questions that philosophy solved three thousand years ago.

    • JohnJ says:

      That’s exactly what Scott Adams would say.

    • Rudd-O says:

      For the benefit of the rest who may not have understood what I said in my comment:

      When an entity establishes a rule — either explicitly or implicitly through action — then proceeds to violate the rule through action, this is formally called *performative contradiction*. When the violation of the rule is done for self-serving purposes, this particular variety of performative contradiction is formally called *hypocrisy*. When hypocrisy is observable in the actions of an agent, one can safely surmise that the supposed rule was not a rule at all, but a *whim* of the agent.

      OP committed a performative contradiction because his argument implicitly requires the validity of the concept of universalization (“if A holds for my opponent, A holds for everybody”) by invoking the concept of truth (“if A is true for my opponent, A is true for everybody”), but then proceeds to criticize Chomsky’s conclusions on the basis of a supposed invalidity of universalization itself. His argument relies on X being true to make the claim that X is false.

      As I said: self-contradiction FAIL.

      LOL.

      • Rudd-O says:

        Nothing in my comments shall be construed as either defending or attacking Chomsky’s opinion. Truth be told, I don’t care about his argument one bit. I only care about the failure of logic that Pastabagel exhibited, because that is what I have been made to read by my feed reader, and it irks me that my feed reader would present me with illogical nonsense.

      • TheCoconutChef says:

        Isn’t pastabagel argument one of positive Vs normative statement?

        More precisely, that normative statement are fucking stupid because they don’t help you get a better understanding of the world (and something about transference I guess)?

        • Rudd-O says:

          Isn’t pastabagel argument one of positive Vs normative statement?

          I would describe his argument as “FUCK CONSISTENCY”.

          People who appeal to consistency (Pastabagel) to refute consistency (Pastabagel) are the intellectual equivalent of those who yell at you “I AM NOT YELLING!”.

    • Rudd-O says:

      Also, Pastabagel, this is not an argument, but I will say it anyway:

      I think it’s time for you to hang your pen and paper. You’ve been writing a couple of incoherent articles here lately — I am seriously considering removing Partial Objects from my feed, but for the moment I have just been skipping anything signed with your nom de plume. Honestly, I don’t like your crap being passed as higher order thought, because it isn’t.

      • statelymulligan says:

        What he said.

      • Neex says:

        “Put down your pen and paper” is just an insult and has nothing to do with discussing the topic at hand. Refute the argument, don’t insult a persons intelligence. When you do that, either you’re right or you’re wrong about the persons intelligence.

        But if someone truly has less intelligence than you then move on and do something more valuable with your intelligence than insulting people you believe to be below you. If you want to discuss improper use of logic then respectfully share what you see as improper use of logic. Sitting around telling someone they aren’t good enough to write on their own blog is just about the equivalent to me of heckling someone in a grocery store while they try to by peas by chanting, “Get out of here, I don’t like your clothes, you’re not good enough to be in a public space or show your face!”

        I don’t think anyone should stop using the spaces the internet provides to share their own thoughts in their own personal internet space. Especially in the face of people who would tell them they are so inadequate they don’t even deserve to share their thoughts.

        If people have less intelligence than you, or are struggling with logic, why not be a decent human being and point out those fallacies? Or don’t engage at all, if you think you are so far above them intellectually they couldn’t even understand what you point out?

        Aptly: If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his percieved inferiors, not his percieved equals.
        (Surely that’s been done elsewhere than Harry Potter, JK really used it first? Huh. All this time I thought I remembered that quote from some old philospher or something. Well it’s bloody brilliant. )

  12. flailingjunk says:

    Fuck consistency? Fine, i am making an exception for pastabagel. Everything pastabagel says is wrong regardless of logic or empiricism.

    That was easy.

  13. statelymulligan says:

    Chomsky points out dangerous hypocrisy. Foucault shrugs his shoulders and says “look at these beasts!” Pastabagel goes on a pseudo-intellectual rant, with a disclaimer that might as well have read “LIBERTARIAN” scrawled on a butter-flavoring stained ticket stub for Atlas Shrugged.

    • Tiburon. says:

      Tell us how you really feel, bud.

      The problem with Chomsky is that everything he says comes with a value rider. You can’t criticize the tools of propaganda and narratives of empire if, at the exact same time you’re describing them, you’re imposing your own value judgments. You want hypocrisy? How about criticizing an empire’s distortion of information to fit a narrative by distorting the information to fit the narrative of your criticism?

      • statelymulligan says:

        You can’t criticize the tools of propaganda and narratives of empire if, at the exact same time you’re describing them, you’re imposing your own value judgments.

        This makes no sense. Of course you can.

        Chomsky doesn’t really give a crap about propaganda or Bin Laden. He’s interested in disrupting the narratives that are used to justify actions that are morally questionable. We know his judgment of those actions, but his rhetorical exercise is meant to help others see past the narrative and form a more contextually mature opinion.

        You want hypocrisy? How about criticizing an empire’s distortion of information to fit a narrative by distorting the information to fit the narrative of your criticism?

        I’ve heard this criticism of his work before, and in some cases it seems to be valid. From what I’ve read about the issue, at least some of that is analysis based on an incomplete or misinformed knowledge of specific political situations. I think he takes more flack for analyzing information in a radical context that can sometimes seem implausible and manipulative. But yeah, he’s trying to make a point, and he’s not exactly the most careful writer.

        Tell us how you really feel, bud.

        PB can be exasperating. And the tone of these discussions is very similar to MetaFilter, which I would enjoy more if posters there would lighten up and liven up a bit. We could all use a few colorful metaphors.

        You want hypocrisy? How about criticizing an empire’s distortion of information to fit a narrative by distorting the information to fit the narrative of your criticism?

  14. Tiburon. says:

    There is no such thing as “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything save hunger and gravity. There is only one rule: the most powerful make the rules, and every nation has to follow those rules except the most powerful.

    Let me rephrase and repeat the rule for you, the one and only rule of international law: Whoever has the guns and the money gets to make, break, and enforce the rules. That is not my opinion of what the rule should be. That’s what the rule is. It is a fact, a property of nature, an observation based on thousands of years of historical evidence. It is as immutable as the laws of physics. Failure to acknowledge that as the rule is a mark of insanity, like believing in ghosts or that the earth is flat.

    Hallelujah Amen. You cannot begin to say what should be without understanding what is. And the what of geopolitics is that it is an amoral system of self-interested actors.

    • DataShade says:

      And the what of geopolitics is that it is an amoral system of self-interested actors.

      So? Isn’t that, um, more or less what Chomsky says? My aware of his arguments overall, however, is that he goes further, to say that since the US (or its diplomatic representatives) routinely uses moral arguments rhetorically while advocating for its policies, a staunch refusal to obey its own moral imperatives is a particularly damning refutation of those rhetorical arguments (ie, “if this rule is too cumbersome for you to follow, why should I?”).

      So saying “who cares about morals, it’s an amoral theater” isn’t wrong, it’s irrelevant, and when said with such ecstasy (hallelujah? amen?), it appears masturbatory.

    • DataShade says:

      Obviously, I’m not particularly well-read in philosophy (I know who Kant, Foucault, and Chomsky are, but I can’t list more than one book any of them wrote and I don’t have quotes memorized), but maybe you’ve accidentally found the problem with Foucault’s lack of popularity.

      If Chomsky’s friends asked him, “where should we eat tonight,” he might answer with a long-winded rant about sustainable food practices and a list of a few local eateries that meet his moral standards, while Foucault might spend the same amount of time on a lecture about the epistemological history of food shortages and inequality as expressions of power and status, and meanwhile his friends resort to cannibalism out of hunger and boredom.

  15. Guy Fox says:

    In linguistics, Chomsky is on the defensive right now. He might be a clever linguist, but not necessarily a correct one.

    The rant about international law, though, is bunk. Much more accurate is Louis Henkin’s observation that “almost all nations observe almost all principles of international law and almost all of their obligations almost all the time.” Most interstate interaction is legal. There are millions of law-governed interstate transactions every frickin’ day. There are plenty of examples where the US got its juristic ass handed to itself and complied (e.g. change from 3 to 12 mile territorial sea, change from conditional to unconditional most-favoured-nation clause, etc.).
    I’ll grant that if it comes down to an international legal ultimatum vs. a superpower responding with “Watcha gonna do about it?”, the superpower will tend to win. It’s also true that in addition to being able to win many such standoffs, the US has a whackload of ‘structural power’, i.e. not just winning matches in the game but the ability to rig the odds in its own favour by setting the rules of the game (boujour Foucault!). The US is often covered because it wrote the rule book, but that doesn’t apply to a lot of other countries that have to and choose to play by the rules, and not even the US has a monopoly on structural power.
    Saying that there is no international law is like saying that kids playing sandlot baseball without parental supervision (gasp!) are playing without rules. They might not be playing by MLB rules, and the rules might bend and break over the course of the game, and there might not be a higher power rigidly legislating and enforcing, but the activity is far from random or purely self-interested. Don’t throw the baby out with Chomsky’s bathwater. (Esp. because it is very important that people believe these rules exist. They have no independent existence outside our heads, and life without them would be even more wretched.)

    • JohnJ says:

      All good points, but we should be grateful that America has the disproportionate amount of power rather China or Russia. The rules that America supports may favor America, but they’re also a lot better for most of the people in the world than any international law that those countries would try to create.

      • DataShade says:

        JohnJ says:
        May 25, 2011 at 9:08 am
        Why single the West out for doing what everyone else does?

        JohnJ says:
        May 25, 2011 at 11:27 am
        All good points, but we should be grateful that America has the disproportionate amount of power rather China or Russia. The rules that America supports may favor America, but they’re also a lot better for most of the people in the world than any international law that those countries would try to create.

        I think you just answered your own question. Be grateful.

        • JohnJ says:

          I am grateful. What’s your point?

          • rolamante says:

            His point seems pretty clear: that if America has the disproportionate amount of power in world relations, it should bear a disproportionate amount of scrutiny. One could intelligently argue that this should be an American public intellectual’s primary concern, in point of fact, versus, say, analyzing the dynamics of separatist movements in Adkhazia or some such. I know you guys are busy bickering and all, but that one’s kind of a gimme.

  16. jw says:

    You have managed to turn Foucault into a paraphrase of Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt.

    Foucault’s contribution is not as simple as “might makes right.” Plenty of people have said that. His insight was into the very tricky operations of power that happen in ways that are difficult to recognize.

    And, Foucault, especially in his later work, definitely had a sense of *should*. It involved micro-level resistances to power (which of course are always part and parcel of the power it resists, but still somehow for him manage to assert some sort of individual autonomy – I was never very clear about how he was able to justify this position). He often figured this in terms of transgressive sexual practices.

    Regardless, it is interesting to me that so many of these commentators, even the ones that disagree with the post, seem to agree that there’s something wrong with normative statements.

    It’s as if being outraged by injustice is somehow quaint or naive, and that we should all just realize that morality is nothing but an excuse to pursue self interest.

    TLP is wrong. It’s not narcissism that defines our age, it’s psychopathy.

    • JohnJ says:

      Why can’t it be both?

      • DataShade says:

        Definitionally, something can’t be “the disease of our age” if it’s not the disease but one of the diseases.

        Clinically, you don’t diagnose a set of symptoms, find an answer that fits them all, then assign additional pathologies.

        Rhetorically, you gain nothing by diluting your message.

        Comedically, you’re golden. Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency….

    • DataShade says:

      TLP isn’t wrong, he’s defining narcissism (in a compelling, but atypical, manner) to make it a rhetorical device more than a discrete pathology.
      Part of why it’s compelling, and why his style attracts so many people who so obviously disagree with each other, is it’s a rhetorical device which cannot be wrong. All you have to do is broaden or narrow your scope, as applicable, and you’ll find something you can define as narcissism.

      I certainly don’t think normative statements are always wrong or should never be used – I’ve used a few of them myself here and there – but googling “definition normative statement” reveals what the wrong-something that you mentioned: “Notice that there is no way of testing the veracity of the statement; even if you disagree with it, you have no sure way of proving to someone who believes the statement that he or she is wrong by mere appeal to facts.”

      So, personally, I try to avoid making frequent normative statements because it’s actually kind of dismissive of other people; what TLP might call a cognitive killswitch, shutting down a discussion or at least shunting it off the original topic and onto grounds which are, if not fabricated, at least impervious to fact.

      On the other hand, people who refuse to make normative statements at all fill me with a deep and abiding rage: if you have no opinion on how things *should* be, then you are a soulless automaton. Since I can safely assume you are *not* in fact a robot, your claims of opinionlessness are either a feint to imply complete objectivity (which is just an end-run around polite discourse in an attempt to make *all* of your statements unimpeachable, and thus the same as making nothing *but* normative statemetns), or a symptom of an inability to introspect; either way, you should be kicked in the babymaker and ejected from the discussion.

      • JohnJ says:

        Admittedly, I’ve not been immersed in the deconstructive language background that many commenteres here seem to have. But I find it difficult to see a normative statement as anything other than an assertion with the “I believe” portion omitted but understood, just as “you” is the understood subject of “Come here.” I don’t see a difference between “This is good.” and “I believe this is good.” Properly understood, they both mean the same thing, even though one lacks the express qualifier.

        I do prefer when people are upfront about their beliefs rather than claiming that they don’t have any.

  17. boeotarch says:

    My attitude on Chomsky: if he has such a serious problem with the way America works, he should either be in government trying to change it from the inside, or throwing molotovs to change it from the outside. His idiocy doesn’t come from the fact that he thinks the international system is hypocritical, it comes from his apparent belief that he can argue the world’s great powers into playing nice.

    If you want to make change happen, you have to be powerful. If you want to just bask in the glory of being an intellectual without putting in any work, well.. fuck you.

    • philtrum says:

      I think he believes his role is to educate and to publicize the work that others are doing.

      Chomsky has an incredibly privileged position (he acknowledges this), but I don’t think you can look at his career over the past decades and reasonably conclude that no work went into it, unless you claim that for every other academic or professional writer.

      • boeotarch says:

        I guess it just comes down to an attitude of “those who can’t do, teach.” I think this is true of academic writers in general, that publicizing actions are significantly less important than doing them (still very valuable, but lower in the hierarchy), but I think in the arena of political criticism in particular becoming a professional critic boils down to having no faith in your own ability to change or improve things but a great deal of faith in your ability to tell other people what to do. Especially on the political fringe, it’s not much more than self-congratulation.

        • xylokopos says:

          “I guess it just comes down to an attitude of “those who can’t do, teach.”

          Then again, everything you can do, you can do because someone taught you how to.

          In terms of what intellectuals or academics can do to change things, I take this opportunity to remind you that Karl Marx was not minister of the interior for lower Saxony.

        • rolamante says:

          You’re referring to Noam Chomsky, the political activist and dissident who has marched repeatedly on Washington and been jailed for it, routinely drafts petitions and files as signatory to anti-discriminatory lawsuits, and who in his ninth decade on the planet still flies around it to help clarify and organize emerging people’s actions movements, correct? Or do you mean Noam Chomsky the man you know approximately jack shit about? I’m just wondering. Because agree with him or not, he’s taken more action in service to his principles in a month than most “academic writers” and “professional critics” tend to do in their whole careers.

      • DataShade says:

        philtrum says:
        May 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm
        I think he believes his role is to educate and to publicize the work that others are doing.

        “And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are. “

  18. Comus says:

    This indeed is a highly interesting topic, yet I’m a tad saddened by this particular post and the following discussion. I have had my days as both an avid Chomskyite as well as your regular run-of-the-mill Foucault admirer; my interests in linguistics and Kropotkin (for the beginnings of anarcosyndicalism and altruism look it up) basically threw me to Chomsky (and later to his Ideology and Power etc), and, well, you can’t really escape Foucault now can you?

    Now, as they both stated along the whole debate, they are standing on different grounds, and that they needn’t necessarily be mutually exclusive.To a fair amount this does not seem like a debate at all, but an intelligent discussion. This being said I’d also declare Foucault as a winner, but then again, it might only bedue to his extraordinarily mesmerizing body language and presence, especially when batted against Chomsky, who is, even with the best of intentions, rather dry and boring.

    For me it is clear that there should (should!) be a common moral ground. This might appear, and very well be, idealistic and jejune, but still maintaining this should be crucial. Democracy where some members have a veto, is not a serious democracy. See the UN for example, which especially since the Afghanistan war faux pas has been a laughing stock. Claiming that the strongest should not have to live by the standards it bestowes on others is absurd. This view would eventually lead to eihter war or total apathy, and before all maintain the inequality in social structures. Imagine a police force with no responsibility, where non-aggravated murder is okay for the set few. This system can not hold, and will eventually lead to a mutiny, a revolution, a war.

    Hypocricy creates anger creates violence creates wars. Inequality multiplies this continuum.

    The problem with Foucault is that societal change is almost an all-or-nothing deal. When Chomsky underlines the role of media in creating a hegemony, Foucault goes the whole nine yards and sees the whole media, and even Chomskys notes as a part of that very problem. It is very hard for this scale of change to gain momentum, and will more likely lead to sceptic passivity. Foucault is after a paradigm shift, while aware that the next society will have the very same problems as there’ll always be an underlying narrative, a watering down, a mental electrified fence to maintain the status quo.

    Now I’m off to make gif’s from Foucault facial expressions! Ta-taa!

  19. ExOttoyuhr says:

    It’s easy for Pastabagel to attack Chomsky. He’s a Yankee; they have yet to have their homeland occupied by a hostile power. Imagine how this article would sound to a German. Germans have been on both the giving end and the receiving end of this kind of shit within living memory, and that’s why they’re now insistent on laws of war: doing this kind of thing is almost as painful as having it done to you. Virtuous conduct elicits a virtuous response from the foe (where do you think the Hague and Geneva conventions came from?); iniquitous conduct elicits an iniquitous response.

    I also ask Pastabagel whether he’s noticed that there are very few “unipolar moments” in history, and they all end in the same way, in the hubris of the unipolar power bringing them down. “Hubris” was originally the actionable crime of leaving a body unburied; in general, it means a violation of the natural law, the Greek themis. Natural law is an emergent property of the universe; it can no more be evaded than gravitation can be, and defying it has much the same effects.

    And finally, is there an actual argument in Pastabagel’s essay, or is it just a series of assertions and atavistic responses? Two can play the “I hate Dad” game… although ignoring other people’s arguments in favor of personal attacks is a good if modest example of how to violate the natural law. All violations have the character of the proverbial mud-wrestle with a pig…

  20. bbrodriquez says:

    “There is no such thing as “international law.” There is no universally acknowledged sense of anything save hunger and gravity.”

    It’s funny you say that, because it’s basically true. But you need to look at the history of international law. It was invented at the end of WW2, when that “the guy with the most guns” philosophy had been taken to it’s final conclusion. It ended with the Battle of Stalingrad, the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, etc.

    It was at the end of WW2 where the “winners” sat down and thought, “uh, yeah, we probably shouldn’t do this again…” and in an age of nuclear weapons, it could be really bad next time.

    Let’s all keep a sense of historical memory here, and recall that before 2001, the USA was the greatest defender of international law going. Sure, vietnam, guatamala, yada yada, sure, wasn’t perfect. But it was better than not having the idea of international law restricting the actions of great powers. Oh, and, all the great powers have nukes now.

    But yeah, you’re the hard-headed realist for pointing out that international law doesn’t matter if the great powers kneecap it. Can’t wait for WW1 with nuclear weapons.

  21. stev0 says:

    The government should do that. Should should should. That’s why he’s so popular with the crowd that has nothing personally at stake.

    Tell that to just about every revolutionary history has and hasn’t told us about.

    I came here because I’m a relatively new student of Foucault and wanted to see what others feel about his aesthetic project (although I’m beginning to feel like a lot of the contributors here aren’t being totally honest with their breadth of knowledge of the prolific author). From my current understanding of the literature, Foucault doesn’t assert that power isn’t ever repressive. As he describes in “History of Sexuality,” it wasn’t his intent to refute the “repressive hypothesis” but to realize the other places power is located. He tried to show us that power is not so much repressive as it is creative. Power creates ‘things’; institutions create discourses/power. Although many critics claim Foucault left us with the postmodern condition where we ask “so, what do we do, then,” I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it’s a bit like being an American teenager that complains about everything, realizes the contradictions, and then just says “this is stupid.” Then some of us get older and we either just give into the system or try to find some autonomy of choice. I see Foucault as a very brilliant teenager that has left us with the option to just say “screw it” or get some power for ourselves without imposing on others ability to do the same. It’s much like the old saying, “live and let live,” a simple phrase that carries complex implications.

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