Noam Chomsky is my most favorite political analyst.
He is not only extremely intelligent and learned, but deeply insightful and he has a delightful way of bluntly stating the obvious. He is typically very serious and even-handed. There are few thinkers who I feel I can trust to the extent I do with Chomsky. His agenda is just to tell the truth to the best of his ability. He doesn’t rant. He doesn’t try to manipulate the facts or emotions. He doesn’t simplify complex subjects to talking points. He’ll calmly listen and respond. He doesn’t tell people they’re liars, but he’ll clearly and strongly point out a lie. He simply calls a spade a spade and he does so in a calm reasonable voice. He is the extreme opposite of a loud pundit. He doesn’t even try to be entertaining. His only purpose is to speak the truth.
And his presence is so fatherly, something like a wise elder. He doesn’t tell people what they should do, but there is such an absolute moral sense about him. You know what he believes and there is no doubt that his beliefs are grounded in profound principles that he has thought out very carefully. Despite his often unexpressive demeanor, you can tell how much he cares. He wants to effect people, but he never talks down to people. He is a tireless researcher and speaker. He has dedicated his whole life to explaining to others his understanding of the world. There is a steady persistance about him. He has been doing this for decades and he hasn’t slowed down.
He is an extremely respectable intellectual. There was a time for about a decade or two where he was the most cited intellectual in the world or something like that. He is a major critic of the US government, and yet in the patriotic aftermath of 9/11 his book about it was on the bestseller list. However, if all you pay attention to is mainstream news media, you might not even know Chomsky exists.
Still, I don’t agree with him on everything.
For example, he once said that it didn’t matter who killed Kennedy. I think that is a dismissive statement and he normally isn’t dismissive. Also, it’s either a very naive or careless statement. It does matter. But I think I might understand his reaction. He doesn’t like conspiracy theories. He is a man of facts. Even when speaking about a topic that is far outside of the mainstream, he has his ducks in a row and he’ll meticulously explain it in detail. He might not like conspiracy theorists, but he has one thing in common with them. He is just as mistrustful of big government and he knows they’re up to no good. Maybe it’s because some people tend to lump conspiracy theories with alternative theories in general, and so Chomsky wants to distance himself from the morass of speculations. His saying it doesn’t matter could be interpreted two ways. First, he mentions that people die all of the time which is true. Assassinations are constantly happening and some of them with the help of the CIA, but Americans generally don’t care. Secondly, there are some questions that can’t be answered and speculation distracts people from more tangible issues.
Another example is his attitude about pornography. He compared it to child molestation and third-world wage slavery. I think those aren’t helpful comparisons, but I generally understood his point. Just because someone agrees to something doesn’t make it right. Even children may agree to be molested if you give them candy. Even poor people will agree to dangerous and demeaning working conditions simply for the opportunity to get off the street or to feed their family. People agree to all kinds of things, but there are problems to considering overt agreement (or lack of overt disagreement) as moral justification. Agreement is often coerced, but agreement is only meaningful if it’s free. Also, sometimes people need to be protected including adults. And to a degree this all applies to pornography. Chomsky sees it as degrading. This view is a bit simplistic, but it’s somewhat reasonable. I’m sure many people in the porn business are taken advantage of and manipulated, but that is true in any business. I don’t know why pornography is worse than any other job where one sells one’s body. I think selling one’s mind is even worse.
Anyways, those are minor criticisms. Here are some wonderful videos of Chomsky (the last two are a bit humorous).
Filed under: Sociopolitical