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.

Who Is Number One? by R.M. Price

A writer I often enjoy is Robert M. Price.  I discovered him by way of studying Christianity as he is a biblical scholar, but his interests are greater than just Christianity.  I also learned he is a major fan of Lovecraft and the horror genre.  He is a very learned guy with a fairly wide grasp of many subjects from comic book superheroes to philosophy. 

I can’t say I agree with all of his political positions, but I always pay attention to what he has to say.  For this reason, I have his monthly essay column on e-mail notification: Zarathustra Speaks.

This month’s article is “Who Is Number One?”  He eventually posts his articles to his website, but since it’s not posted yet I’ll share it here because it is a truly great piece.

Let me just point out some quick commentary.  Price mentions Ligotti who is a fiction writer, but I’m not sure if Price is aware of Ligotti’s own non-fiction writing that touches upon the same issues in this article. 

Ligotti points out how some Existentialists try to make the seeming pointlessness of life in to a heroic endeavor such as with the story of Sisyphus.  I don’t remember Ligotti’s full argument offhand, but he basically sees this ploy of heroism as a way of not facing up to one’s true situation.  Blaming the gods can simply distract us from the rock that is before us.  However, it seems that Price is aware of this in his using The Prisoner as the larger context of his argument.  Number 6 discovers he is number 1.

Ligotti would take it a step further.  We can’t blame anyone else, but if we turn to ourselves we only discover there is nothing substantial there.  I suspect Price might have a similar view or at least would understand such a view.  The main difference between these two thinkers is that Price is more focused on the social and political.

 – – –

Who Is Number One?

Robert M. Price

I’ve just finished watching the new version of The Prisoner. I loved the original masterpiece of Patrick McGoohan, which aired first in 1966, with a mere 17 episodes. Co-creator McGoohan had wanted the series to last only seven weeks, but he knew he could not sell a package with so few episodes. The new Prisoner, by contrast, did have just six episodes, but for some reason they decided to broadcast two at a time, back to back, and on three nights straight. The individual episodes seemed to me to suffer slightly by being cobbled into what the viewer expected to be coherent two-hour episodes. In other words, there appeared to be drastic theme-shifts right in the middle of each two-hour program. But this did not prevent the new Prisoner from being complex and properly mysterious, albeit a bit tedious at times.

The original Prisoner was a major influence on me when I saw it back in 1967 (the first showing in America), and again the very next year, and then several times after that. There were Prisoner fan associations, but I could not join them because The Prisoner itself had taught me to make a fetish of individualism. Thus I would not, could not, join a group that would want someone like me as a member! Remember, too, what Kierkegaard imagined: the paradox, the absurdity, of a preacher against discipleship—who attracted disciples every time he spoke! But really there was no contradiction. I learned from The Prisoner that I had to march to the beat of my own drum, however amateurishly played, rather than memorizing the lines that were fed me by the catechists of church, society, peer group, or state.

The Prisoner originated as an allegory of reading: McGoohan was sick of playing British secret agent John Drake on Danger Man (Secret Agent in US circulation) and so he resigned, refused to do any more seasons, much to the dismay of his producers. But one of them, George Markstein, approached him with the plot for a new series, The Prisoner, which was so intriguing to him that it lured him back to television. In fact, in the opening sequence, when the hero arrives in his bald, bespectacled superior’s office and slams his fist down on a note with “I resign” scribbled across the envelope, the man was none other than George Markstein. Art imitated life. McGoohan had resigned abruptly from Markstein’s TV show but got “hijacked” into “The Village” (=t he new TV show). John Drake had stormed out of British Intelligence, so they spirited him away to a resort hotel of a maximum security prison. Patrick McGoohan had angrily quit his TV series, so the producers transferred him to another one!

Creator McGoohan’s own experience of free choice made less than free by both temptations and preferences reminds me of the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods in Hades to shoulder a huge boulder up to a mountain peak, from whence it must always fall right back down. Then he had to descend the mountain carefully to retrieve the great rock and begin again. It was a doomed effort, but Albert Camus saw in it the invulnerable stolidity and even the triumph of Sisyphus who performed his hard labor (impossible to shirk) with the transcendence of inner distance and triumph. He refused to make it easier for himself by imagining there was after all some hidden purpose, that the gods must know best. He did not succumb to what we call the Stockholm Syndrome, coming to side with one’s oppressor rather than oneself: “I must have deserved it, I guess!” Sisyphus was a true man, a free man, because he did not kid himself that he deserved it, that a guy could get used to such stony crucifixion. He would betray himself if he became inured to the pain, if he accepted the justice of it. Think also of Ivan Karamazov who could never rejoin the Christian church as long as doing so would require him to acquiesce in the unexplained, unjustified culpability of a God who could and had allowed the suffering of innocent children. If I join up with him, I have to become a spin-doctor for a deity whose misdeeds I dare not recognize as such anymore.

McGoohan’s parable faithfully reflects the doomed irony of the human lot in that it realizes that, as in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (how I hate that title!), or the guests of the Hotel California, “we are all just prisoners here of our own device.” That is, we devised our own captivity (I think some listeners never understand the idiom). What we have here is an existential dilemma well posed in the implicit debate between two postmodern voices. Neo-Freudian Jacques Lacan wrote of the Law of the Father, by which every person becomes an individual subject (i.e., with thoughts, subjectivity, a viewpoint of his own), paradoxically, by being subjected to society’s norms and beliefs and values. You’re your own distinctive mix of the elements, but you do not start out like God, the Autogenes, self-begotten without origins or influences. Did you choose your genes? Did you choose your family environment? The period of history in which you live? The customs you must observe else be branded with the label “deviant”? One first becomes an individual, Lacan says, in the Mirror Stage in which one recognizes his or her own image among the legion of other humans surrounding oneself: “Oh! I get it! I am one of them! What they do, I can/will do!”   

What an odd and striking thing! Being a “prisoner” of defining rules is the precondition for becoming an individual insofar as one transcends them. And this is where the opposing voice of a pair of neo-Nietzcheans, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, comes in. They are keenly aware of the danger of inauthenticity, allowing (as Heidegger would say) das Mann (John Q. Public) to define one’s existence, prescribing one’s attitudes and behaviors as if one were a robot to be programmed. One must take responsibility for one’s own destiny, one’s own beliefs. And this means repudiating the stable and safe self society has provided in what Rush calls “the mass production zone” where “opinions are provided, the future predecided.” Rush again: “Everybody gotta elevate from the norm.” Amen, say Deleuze and Guattari, urging a Dionysian policy of ecstasy, of insanity as measured against the hobgoblin consistency of the Borg hive-mind.  

The schizo “produces himself as a free man, irresponsible, solitary, and joyous, finally able to do and say something simple in his own name, without asking permission; a desire lacking nothing, a flux that overcomes barriers and codes, a name that no longer designates any ego whatever. He has simply ceased being afraid of becoming mad” (Deleuze and Guattari quoted by Madan Sarup, An Introductory Guide to Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, pp. 96-97)

Think of the policy of the old USSR, sending political dissidents to insane asylums since they must be crazy if they denied “reality” as defined by the State. (“That’s All-State’s stand, tovarish!”) Massimo Pigliucci publicly once called me insane because of my political preferences. It seemed transparently clear to him that our country must obey the dictates of the United Nations because it’s the closest thing we have to a Star Trek style world government. Maybe the patients are running the asylum. But Deleuze and Guatarri contend that all psychoanalysis is coercive insofar as it seeks to reimpose the Law of the Father upon an inchoate psyche where it did not at first “take.” Psychoanalysis wants to write a script for the self and see to it that the patient sticks to it.

The major book of Deleuze and Guattari is Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. In it they argue for a new persona, that of the “schizo,” defined (or rather undefined) as we have just seen. Schizoid man will dare, as Paul Feyerabend (Farewell to Reason and Against Method) said, to pursue all manner of trajectories whether their mutual consistency yet appears on the horizon or not. He will rejoice and desire at a pre-symbolic level, like children and primitives, heedless of the narratives others would use to define him, the rules they would use to confine him. Real selfhood can and must reject the imposition of the coin-value-stamp as assigned by society: those who behave and obey are good, those eccentrics are bad (and here we mean heretics, not criminals, only thought criminals, not those who harm and despoil others). If I read my friend and colleague Tom Flynn right, he would side with Deleuze and Guattari here, which is why he rejects all catechism, all elevations of anything as “sacred,” and all rites of passage where society, again, stamps its likeness on the new-minted coin.

Don Cupitt sums up the dilemma:  

the conservative will say with Freud and Lacan: ‘There has to be culture, and it has to be the one we’ve got; for without culture desire is formless and chaotic.’ At the far opposite extreme, thoroughgoing utopians like Deleuze and Guattari will say: ‘There does not have to be a culture at all. Culture is fascistic! Flee from it, be a nomad and let your body be de-territorialized, a body without organs; for the differentiation, scaling and hierarchizing of the body is always carried out for the purpose of binding it.’ [See 1 Corinthians 12:14-26] (Don Cupitt, The Long-Legged Fly: A Theology of Language and Desire, p. 115)

It ought to be clear that, no matter how long and deeply entrenched, our socio-moral order is a construction of the imagination maintained by universal acquiescence, sharing of the beliefs upon which it is based. Here I must recommend, for the millionth time, The Social Construction of Reality by Peter L. Berger and Thomas V. Luckmann, as well as a subsequent salute/sequel to that book by John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. Also Thomas Ligotti’s great story “The Mystics of Muhlenberg,” which I had the honor to be the first to publish, in Crypt of Cthulhu, # 51). The new Prisoner brings this theme into prominence by introducing the element that the seeming reality of the Village is “only” a shared dream (much as in The Matrix), generated and sustained by “dreamers,” foremost among them the comatose wife of the reigning Number Two. When and if she awakens, the fabric of reality in the Village begins to unravel, sink holes opening in the ground and opening only on an Abyss. She is like Lord Dunsany’s sleeping god Mana Yood Sushai. As long as he remains asnooze, the dream of our world continues on. God forbid he should one day awake! But really we are the dreamers, the hypnotized and self-hypnotized, since it is our tacit consent that keeps the “lusion” going. That’s why the Soviet Union fell: one day everyone, both citizens and soldiers, simply stopped taking it seriously. That, I think is what John and Yoko had in mind when their billboards proclaimed: “War is over if you want it.” And yet it is not quite so simple. Those who believe in war will savage those who do not (a fact the present US administration seems unable to grasp). So, instead of discarding it, we must learn to see what Reinhold Niebuhr called “the relevance of an impossible ideal.” Again, listen to Cupitt: 

Deleuzian nomadism is in danger of being a flight into daydreams. Against it, we have decided that culture is necessary to bring the self into being, and to give desire form. There has to be culture to give us embodiment, but the precise terms of the concordant between desire and culture are not immutable. They can be changed, and culture could be made much less oppressive than it is. [Cupitt, p. 126] 

Gay marriage would be one obvious way of loosening things up: still a species of social order, not license, but more open. The principle requires much more thought and application, the balance ever liable to shift (as Aristotle already saw).

We catch an important echo (whether studied or spontaneous) with Deleuze and Guattari; their “schizo” ideal echoes in two Prisoner episode titles: “The Schizoid Man” in the original series, “Schizoid” in the new one. But Patrick McGoohan was nowhere near as optimistic as Don Cupitt. And the new Prisoner follows McGoohan here. We can never escape or authentically accept the restriction of our freedom at the hands of—ourselves! Remember: when the prisoner unmasks Number One in the final episode, he stares into his own cynically cackling visage! He flees the Village, believing he has set in motion its destruction, only to arrive back home where it instantly becomes clear that he has always lived in the Village. The Village is as wide as the world, the social world as defined by human beings. It is impossible to be a self apart from that programming–and that is the tragedy! A bad thing, not a good one. Our inborn thirst for freedom can never be satisfied, and thus it should be no surprise that the “angry young man” eventually accepts the position as Grand Inquisitor when the old one retires. As in the new version of The Prisoner, Six must eventually become Two. But as the original version tells us, this is only because he has always been One. 

So says Zarathustra.