Below is a video of Noam Chomsky. I’m simultaneously intersted and irritated by his message. There is a strength in this attitude, but also a weakness.
“Can you give me advice about what I should do? I can’t stand what’s going on. I’d like to do something about it. What should I do?”
“It’s not the way it works. You’ve got to find out for yourself what to do. And nobody can give you advice.”
It’s interesting because the view expressed is so representative of the liberal attitude. A conservative pundit would feel no wariness about telling people how to live their lives. Limbaugh fans proudly call themselves Dittoheads because they see Limbaugh as a hero to be parroted and Limbaugh encourages this Dittohead attitude of his followers, but Chomsky says he doesn’t even tell his kids what they should do.
This is such a simple distinction in how people think and behave. Still, it’s profound in its implications on the societal level. It’s why the apparent hypocrisy of some right-wingers can confuse liberals. To the far right mindset, consistency isn’t necessarily inherent to the system of thought but to the authority or tradition that is the foundation of the system of thought. As such, strange as it seems to liberals, patriotic fervor and secessionist paranoia aren’t mutually exclusive in the minds of many conservatives.
Furthermore, if a right-winger considers a source of data as not valid according to some principle or dogma (which comes from a source they trust), then it’s dismissed even if it’s accepted by many respectable people in society. For example, climatology research is dismissed because scientists are “liberal elites”. It’s not that the right-winger has alternative data of equal weight and merit, but what they do have is a collective mindset that sees the perceived liberal elite as the enemy.
Social conservatives would criticize Chomsky’s attitude as moral relativism. Chomsky is essentially saying that there is more than one way to be in the world, more than one way to understand the world. To the liberal, this means offering someone else respect in the hope of gaining at least mutual tolerance. Chomsky is saying that there are no easy answers, nothing is black and white. Like Michael Moore, Chomsky motivated by a moral sense that makes him resistant to judge others even if he thinks they’re wrong or misinformed. Moore said he would never say he hated Bush and similarly Chomsky chastised his fellow liberals for being critical of Tea Party protesters.
My criticism is that this liberal reticence (and the conservative lack thereof) has often led conservatives to dominate the political and cultural dialogue. On the positive side, liberals prefer more subtle means of communication such as art and entertainment. In the long term, I do think the liberal method is can be effective, but it demands great patience. And patience is a privilege of the comfortable. There is a reason that liberals like Chomsky are economically well off. Only the economically well off can afford this laissez-faire philosophy of life.
Here is the fundamental problem. It’s a cheap answer. Such attitude can come across as false humility and an abnegation of moral responsibility. Suffering is real. And for those of us in a position to make a difference, we should be willing to act on behalf of those are less privileged than us. And no one can doubt the immense privilege someone like Chomsky holds. Don’t give me bullshit about slaves finding their own way. If I was a slave and Chomsky told me that, I’d punch him in the face.
We are desperately in need of leadership. Imagine if Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr had responded in the way Chomsky responds in that video. If they had, they would not be great leaders who inspired other to greatness toward great ideals and aspirations for society. This is the ultimate failure of liberalism. Every success of social progress has come from ignoring Chomsky’s advice.
Besides, Chomsky doesn’t even believe in what he says. That is to say he doesn’t follow his own advice. In recent elections, every time the DNC forces us into yet another lesser evil lose-lose scenario (what I call greater evilism because each time the choices become increasingly evil), Chomsky tells voters to fall in line and submit to the bipartisan stranglehold of corporatocracy. He has become a sheepdog for the Democratic elite, similar to his having worked so closely with the Pentagon. That is not anarchism. That isn’t finding one’s own way. Chomsky has made a mockery of himself.
That is the inherent hypocrisy of liberalism. This disconnect in the mind should be studied by the social sciences that Chomsky denies being of any value. Chomsky has embraced a reactionary strain of liberalism and can’t escape it’s own convoluted logic. He has fallen victim to the propaganda model of media, the rhetoric that holds sway of the mainstream mind. If the slaves want to find their own way, they certainly will have to ignore Chomsky at this point and find someone with better advice.
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Transcript of Noam Chomsky:
I spent many hours and night answering letters. And a fair number of them are from very sincere, very concerned, mostly young people who are asking that question: “Can you give me advice about what I should do? I can’t stand what’s going on. I’d like to do something about it. What should I do?”
And it’s a very frustrating… it’s a funny question which reveals a pathology in the society the idea — that you have you should ask somebody who is up on high for some reason to tell you what to do. It’s not the way it works. You’ve got to find out for yourself what to do. And nobody can give you advice. Not me. Not Bertrand Russell that lives up there. Not anybody.
It’s a it’s a highly personal matter. You know as much as anyone else does. Maybe not on the details about how the economic system works. But you know what matters.
You have choices. We have, people like us, have by comparative and historical standards an unbelievable amount of freedom and privilege. This means plenty of opportunities which makes it harder because you know of narrow choices.
And you just have to find your own way. I mean I never gave advice to my own children and if I had they wouldn’t have paid any attention to it rightly. They just found their own ways, very interesting ways.
There’ll be a lot of false starts, inevitably. You can learn from the failures and you try other things and sooner or later you find something that works for you. It’s not the right… there’s no right answer for everyone. It’s very different right answers. Lots of things that can be done. So you have to find it for yourself.