Re: The Roaming Noam by R.M. Price

Come on, Mr. Price. I expect more from you. I normally respect your ability to analyze, but this is weak sauce. The problem with this essay is that it’s obvious that you know almost nothing about either anarchism or Chomsky. Your arguments here are so simplistic as to almost be entirely meaningless.

“Yet I can’t help thinking he is seeing a conspiracy where none exists. He is an anarcho-syndicalist and therefore despises any form of government (and all give plenty of reasons to do so!), and this is inevitably going to mean he is going to barrage them with criticism no matter what they do, for existing at all.”

Chomsky backs every single fucking claim with endless cited facts. That is the precise reason he is so impressive. The same reason that impresses me about you in terms of biblical criticism is what impresses me about Chomsky’s views on politics. The guy knows in vast detail what he is talking about. Chomsky never theorizes in the abstract. He is almost boring in his absolute dependence on often tediously careful explanation of facts. Chomsky’s brain is a virtual library of historical and political facts.

No, he won’t criticize the government no matter what they do. Only someone completely ignorant of Chomsky’s political views could make that statement. He isn’t an anti-statist in the way some anarchists are, especially anarchists on the right. In fact, I’ve heard anarchists on the right claim he isn’t an anarchist because he doesn’t advocate the absolute and immediate revolutionary abolishment of the state. Chomsky is a gradualist. He believes the government is necessary in our present situation. He thinks that social democracy, especially democratic processes and institutions, needs to be strengthened first. After that happens, he thinks people can begin to experiment with alternatives. The more our government can be made into a democracy then the closer we as a people can move toward implementing direct democracy. Ultimately, that is all that anarchism means: direct democracy, i.e., active civic participation of all citizens within their communities (and workers within their places of work).

“He aims his thunderbolts from an empty heaven of pure theory that is never sullied by no-win situations and lesser evils. He does not propose an alternative type of government, but merely wishes there were a vacuum, and he would try to prevent human nature from filling it, as it did in the beginning and would do again.”

It’s almost as if you are describing someone who is the complete opposite of Chomsky. It’s true that Chomsky doesn’t propose a single alternative to our present government. If he did so, he wouldn’t be an anarchist. The very core idea of anarchism (or, at least, anarchism at its best) is that there is no single solution for all people in all situations. Instead, he proposes many possible alternatives. Read more of or listen more to Chomsky and you’ll learn about some of these alternatives he has proposed. He talks, for example, about anarcho-syndicalism and worker-controlled factories which is an alternative that has been successfully implemented in different places.

Anyway, as another commenter pointed out, arguments based on ‘human nature’ tend just to be projections and rationalizations. I would, however, not dismiss all such arguments. It’s just I would only trust arguments about human nature that are based on a very detailed analysis of all available research on psychology, sociology and anthropology (such as Fukuyama’s ‘The Origins of Political Order’). Anarchists’ argument against state governments is based on the fact that humans have spent most of their evolution in conditions that didn’t involve state governments, i.e., state governments aren’t the natural environment in which human nature evolved. Just because humans can be forced to submit to state governments by destroying all other alternatives isn’t a very good argument for it being ‘human nature’.

“I found it remarkable that Chomsky admitted both that this is the freest society in the world and that it had been necessary to sacrifice that freedom temporarily to survive during WW2. Doesn’t that tell him anything? Like maybe that government isn’t necessarily so bad? And that occasional control over human behavior (which is what any government is, after all) isn’t necessary only when Hitler looms?”

You’re setting up a very strange double standard. If you perceive Chomsky as having not considered the complexity of human society, he is righteously judging from an attitude of abstract theory. And if you perceive him as admitting to the complexity of human society, he is wrong because you perceive he has hypocritically betrayed his supposedly pure theory position. Chomsky can’t win for losing.

As I said, Chomsky is a gradualist. He accepts that our present society isn’t perfect. So, he understands that imperfect solutions are required as we move toward better solutions. If someone attacks you, then sure defend yourself. But once the immediate threat is taken care of, then try to change the situation that created and/or allowed the threat to happen. The problems caused by state governments sometimes have to be taken care of by state governments, but that isn’t in anyway a justification for why state governments are supposedly a good thing and why they should continue indefinitely.

“I loved what Chomsky said about the Superbowl and other popular idiotic entertainments, how they are mere distractions to give the cows some cud to chew on instead of thinking about anything important. And yet I think Dostoyevsky rings truer: people want such bread and circuses, because they shun the burden of real thought, responsibility, and decision. There is not some secret cabal that keeps them hypnotized. No such thing is necessary (alas!).”

You didn’t present any real argument here. I suppose from an anarchist view that a society is healthier when people play sports rather than watch others play. This is similar to how anarchists think it’s better to democratically make our own decisions than to watch other people make decisions for us, better to participate in politics than watch politics as if it were a spectator sport. All societies have sports, but not all societies have spectator sports. Most societies throughout history, in fact, had participatory sports rather than spectator sports.

So, it’s not about bread and circus. The theory of bread and circus was invented by the Romans. The Romans only needed to do that because they had an oppressive military empire which required a submissive population. Societies that don’t require submissive populations also don’t require bread and circus. This isn’t an issue about people shunning burdens. If you give people freedom to make their own choices, most people are glad to make their own choices. But if you oppress and propagandize people enough (along with bread and circus), you can make them passively accept your making decisions for them. It comes down to a choice of authoritarian rule of an elite or democratic participation of all. You apparently prefer the former and Chomsky the latter. I agree with Chomsky’s preference.

“My guess is rather that the choice of news has more to do with the Family Feud model–what do the average viewers want to hear about? Surely that is the reason there is time wasted with sports “news” daily. In other words, I suspect a lot of what Chomsky attacks comes from the ground up, from the grassroots, not from the top down. And that is far more depressing.”

Your argument fails because it is based on a guess rather than on evidence. Anyone who has studied the mainstream media in any detail knows that it doesn’t operate on grassroots bottom-up model. All you have to do is compare public opinion to what is seen on mainstream media.

“Conspiracy theories are the most optimistic theories around! They centralize and simplify our problems. They are demythologized versions of the Christian belief in Satan. […} The problem is much more complex than that, and so is any possible solution. Same thing with secular conspiracy theories. They are imaginative schemes to find a scapegoat with a single face. They tend to absolve us of collective guilt and the complicity of our institutions as a whole. If you blame the Ku Klux Klan for our race problems, you are avoiding the much, much larger problems of institutional racism. (Not that the KKK deserves any mercy or even patience!)”

The problem is you haven’t even begun to understand the complexity of Chomsky’s position. You criticized him for not having a simple alternative solution and now you criticize him because you think he does have a simple answer. It’s that strange double standard again.

Chomsky doesn’t need to imagine any schemes or scapegoats. Everything he talks about is backed up with facts which is more than can be said about your arguments here. Chomsky is doing the complete opposite of trying to absolve us of collective guilt and complicity of our institutions as a whole. It’s you who have defended such institutions against Chomsky’s criticisms. As for collective guilt, you’ve proposed that society always is or should be run by a ruling elite. How can there be collective guilt if the average person is just a sheep going with the herd? Dealing with collective guilt would require individuals to take responsibility in their participation in society, a possibility that you consider impossible or undesirable.

Chomsky is the type of person who sees there is plenty of blame to go around. He would blame the KKK, institutional racism, and all the rest of society as well (including himself and everyone else). But he would make sure that any blame given is based on actual evidence of responsibility. Chomsky has absolutely no desire to blame just for the sake of seeking a scapegoat.

“You might wonder what Noam Chomsky thinks about 9/11. Surprisingly, he does not believe there is anything to the conspiracy theories. But this turns out to be the exception that proves the rule, since he suspects the Bush administration purposely fueled such conspiracy theories in order to distract the public from other nefarious actions the administration was performing! Nevertheless, the “Truther” movement seems Chomsky-esque to me.”

It would seem you are being paranoid in seeing conspiracy theories where there are none. Presidential administrations that use conflict to distract the public, you don’t say!?! Surprise, surprise. That isn’t exactly a conspiracy. I think it’s what is called commonsense. Politicians like to distract and manipulate people with rhetoric and emotional persuasion. Why does this common everyday political behavior seem like a conspiracy theory to you?

Chomsky-esque, huh? WTF! You’d first have to know what Chomsky stands for before you could make intelligent claims about what is ‘Chomsky-esque’.

“And it reveals the peculiar perversity of hate-America conspiracy theories. This is one of those rare instances where we do have an actual sinister conspiracy: Al Qaida”

Well, I’d say that your comment reveals the peculiar perversity of love-America ignorance. This demonstrates how simple your political understanding is compared to Chomsky. Chomsky knows more about Al Qaida and the history behind it than you will ever know in your entire life.

“I was interested to hear from Chomsky, in answer to a simple question, that he gets his information about what is really going on in the world, not from the sold-out propaganda mills of the American news media, but rather from newspapers in other countries—which, presumably, are as objective as the day is long. Somehow, though working within societies that are anything but free, whose newspapers are not just de facto but de jure propaganda arms of the controlling juntas, these papers and broadcasts tell the unvarnished truth.”

Now that is just plain beyond stupid. I’ve nearly lost all respect for you at this point. Maybe you should stick to biblical criticism, Lovecraft and comic books.

You really just don’t get it.

Chomsky reads a little bit of everything. He checks out the mainstream media and the alternative media, US media and foreign media. He obsesses over the diversity of journalism in a way that verges on obsessive-compulsive behavior. The reason he reads so much from so many diverse sources is because no single source or single country can be trusted to present the whole truth. That is the fucking point. If you only read US newspapers, you are no better than the French person who only reads French newspapers. It is true, as I understand it, that Chomsky ignores tv reporting because it is so mindlessly superficial and usually empty of information. He prefers reading newspapers and other sources of articles that present more detailed and factual views.

Also, he doesn’t just read all of this. He cuts out the important articles and he files them. He does this every single day and has been doing it for decades, endless files of categorized facts. This is why the guy is able to back up his arguments with so many facts.

“It reminds me of the college freshman who learns just enough anthropology to become convinced of Cultural Relativism, which he construes to mean: everybody is right except for the United States. “My country, wrong or wrong.””

My God, you didn’t actually just compare Chomsky to a college freshman. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

Anyway, Chomsky has never *NEVER* claimed that America is always wrong. That is why I appreciate and respect Chomsky. He doesn’t make black/white arguments based on empty speculation and simplistic analysis.

“Don’t get me wrong: I am far from trying to pretend everything is right with America, especially with her government and her policies. Far from it! I am by now pretty cynical. But nobody (e.g., Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan) is going to get me to believe that theocratic, nuke-toting Iran is harmless and that America ought to be spelled with a “k.””

That is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. Chomsky doesn’t argue that Iran is harmless any more than he argues America is always wrong. Did you actually listen to Chomsky or did you just make up all this bullshit after smoking a bunch of pot?

You are free to have your own opinion. However, as I’m fond of saying, you aren’t free to have your own facts. If you’re going to criticize someone like Chomsky who has been writing detailed analyses for decades, you should at least try to understand his basic position before dismissing him.

6 thoughts on “Re: The Roaming Noam by R.M. Price

  1. Here is a lengthy note of explanation here in the comments. Obviously, I’m frustrated. But it isn’t mindless frustration.

    As far as I can tell, Price is more or less a right-libertarian. I’ve read much of his non-fiction, both his academic biblical critcism and essays like the one I’m responding to here. I know he used to be a fundamentalist and he still holds some socially conservative views such as supporting the death penalty (he disbelieves in the possibility of rehabilitation or at least he does in most cases). Even though his relative liberal-mindedness has caused him to question his former fundy faith, he still has a bit of that fundy mindset in terms of social conservatism.

    I’ve come across other similar people who went from fundamentalism to right-libertarianism. I’m not sure why that is. I don’t recall what Price identifies as, but his views seem somewhere closer toward right-libertarianism, the apparent refuge of former social conservatives who dare to question religion.

    Chomsky, on the other hand, is a left-libertarian. I’ve observed many times that right-libertarians are often clueless about left-libertarianism, ditto with right-wingers in general about left-wingers in general. I just came across this recently here in some comments on one of my own posts:

    It frustrates me. I go to great effort to understand the views of even people I disagree with, but I rarely get the same consideration in return.

    This isn’t just about me but about American society in general. For various reasons, there seems to be a lot of ignorance about left-wing views in this country. Right-wingers have the most powerful third party in America, the Libertarian Party, which is closely allied with the Republican Party. Right-libertarians have wealthy representatives such as the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch, all of whom are involved in the Libertarian Party and in powerful think tanks such as the Cato Institute. Right-libertarians even get heard in the mainstream media on a regular basis (Adam Kokesh of Russia Today and Judge Napolitano of Fox News).

    So, I already had a base level of frustration. Then I see Price’s essay. I truly respect Price and have been reading him for years. To see even a smart guy like Price be so un-/misinformed about left-libertarianism was enough to send me over the edge.

    Furthermore, even people on the left frustrate me. Because left-wing views are so far outside of the mainstream, even the average liberal is clueless about (or else perpetuates cluelessness about) such things as left-libertarianism and socialism. I just came across an example of this tonight.

    At work, I was reading ‘Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of Civil War’ by Bruce Levine. The basic argument is that the Civil War was about slavery. A pretty tame hypothesis considering all the evidence in support of it, but still many conservatives would see it as left-wing propaganda. Let me explain why the hypothesis is so tame. The author is presenting a liberal interpretation (which, in America where most academics and intellectual experts are liberals, usually means a factually informed position), but the author’s position was so far away from left-wing history that I must assume the author was intentionally avoiding radical ideas even when it would support his hypothesis.

    Bruce Levine is a very well informed guy. It’s almost unimaginable that he would be ignorant of such left-wing elements in US history. It would be more rational to assume that he is just your average liberal academic who avoids anything too radical. Academica in terms of universities is, after all, a bureaucratic institution and bureaucracies aren’t known for encouraging radicalism.

    I’ll give some examples to show what I mean. In this book, Levine mentions Thomas Paine only once and mentions Horace Greeley only once. He, of course, mentions Lincoln many times. So, why does this seem strange to me? Well, Lincoln and the Republican Party was inspired by people like Paine. It was Paine who was one of the first to advocate for the abolition of slavery and for agrarian reform, the two main issues out of which the Republican Party formed. Horace Greeley was a close friend of Lincoln who read Greeley’s newspaper on a regular basis. It was in Greeley’s nespaper that Marx’s writings were published regularly. LIncoln read Marx and even corresponded with Marx. Many of Marxists associates and other social revolutionaries came to America, some who became part of LIncoln’s administration and others who became leaders in the Union army.

    Levine speaks of economic justice. He gives examples from revolutionary times when Paine was alive and he gives examples from decades later when Lincoln was reading Marx in Greeley’s paper. Levine didn’t think to mention any of these details. Levine didn’t even mention influential agrarian reformers such as Henry George. It would seem that Levine went out of his way to present a view of Lincoln and the Republican Party that was sanitized of all facts about the history of left-wing views.

    All Llevine did was present a very mainstream liberal accounting of US history, and this is what the right calls liberal bias. Apparently, liberal bias mean being biased towards the center of mainstream opinion. Is it any wonder that right-wingers are so clueless about left-wing views?

  2. I love Robert M. Price, but outside of discussions of the bible, he seems like a partisan right-wing ideologue in the extreme who doesn’t read his opponents with even the mildest heuristic of charity. Chomsky has his flaws, but soft on Pol Pot being one of the more serious ones, but Price wouldn’t know that because he doesn’t seem to have read them.

    • I didn’t even want to defend Chomsky to any great degree. I just was annoyed by Price’s ‘analysis’. Price is a very intelligent guy and so I tend to hold someone like him up to a higher standard. He is capable of objective and fair-minded analysis.

      Your criticisms of Chomsky are perfectly rational and reasonable. I’m fine with that (and I could add some of my own). Chomsky isn’t my hero or anything, but he does deserve some basic respect. If one wishes to analyze Chomsky who has written so much, it would require a fair reading of his extensive work or at least some attempt to genuinely grasp where Chomsky is coming from. Even I have barely read much of Chomsky and still I have a better sense of Chomsky than Price.

      I’ve often wondered what exactly is Price’s political viewpoint. In terms of religion, he comes off as a right-libertarian. However, he also supports the death penalty. I realize some have argued that one can be a libertarian while supporting the death penalty. By the way, why do you say Price is partisan? What do you mean by that term? Is he a defender of the GOP? I’ve only ever caught parts of Price’s political views and so I can’t claim to understand his entire worldview.

      Anyway, I was just pissed off at Price for the very reason that I respect his intellect to such a great degree. In Biblical studies, I consider him to be one of the most fair-minded scholars that can be found. I also respect that he is willing to be open about his other interests. My friend is really into horror such as Lovecraft and those inspired by Lovecraft. So, I also know of Price from his anthologizing Lovecraft horror. Furthermore, I enjoy his thoughts on comic book superheroes. Price has a wonderful grasp of many mythological and philosophical issues. That said, apparently politics isn’t an area he is well informed about or at least not left-wing politics.

      I often feel ignorant about lots of things in life. I’m far from being an expert about Chomsky or left-wing politics in general. Still, I try to learn and I try to present fairly what I learn. Maybe I fail in this attempt more often than I’d like to admit. And so maybe I should be more forgiving of Price for his failing to be fair in this one essay. Most of his essays are usually of high quality. I was being rather harsh toward Price.

      Oh well…

      • He’s a Republican. His comments on his facebook page make that much more clear. He also defends the values of fundamentalists often. Recently on his bible geek podcast, he’s started to argue against both drug use and against bible. He is global warming skeptic which angers many people at CFI who he podcasts for. Skepticism is often reserved for the bible. I find this odd because he’s both very well-schooled in cultural studies and actually pretty good on topics like racism and homosexuality.

      • I know Dr. Price and have interviewed him before. He’s not my personal friend, but I actually quite like him. He’s just politically kind of unthinking. I have listened to his bible geek podcast for about five years when it wasn’t even a podcast but an internet radio show. I owe most of his books. He’s is a scholar of first rank in his field and his marginalization from the academy is sad.

        • I’ve never directly interacted with Price, but I’ve followed his writing in recent years, maybe five or so years. I don’t own everything by him, but I own several of his books.

          I absolutely love his collection of pre-Nicene texts. I was thinking of buying my conservative Christian dad a copy of that book. My dad is actually rather open-minded when it comes to such things as the Bible and he will read non-canonical texts. He isn’t so much a literalist or a blind believer, moreso a social conservative with lots of conviction.

          I’ve never listened to Price’s bible geek podcast. Is he still doing it? If so, where can it be heard? I knew of the Price’s podcast, but for some reason I thought it was no longer available.

          As a person, Price comes off as a nice guy. I imagine I’d like him if I met him. As a biblical scholar, he is to be respected. As a social commentator, he sometimes has good insights. But as a political analysts, I won’t rely on his opinions.

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