Monday, November 22, 2010

Why I find Noam Chomsky annoying and not particularly helpful

Annoying but insightful is one thing. Just annoying is another. This interview with Noam Chomsky is a good illustration of why I find his analyses not very helpful.

I can understand why Chomsky is appealing to some people with a left-leaning viewpoint. He avoids crackpot conspiracy theories. And he generally relies on factual material reported in the mainstream press in constructing his arguments. And he offers a more analytical look at current events than news consumers typically get, especially from our TV Pod Pundits.

But Chomsky's arguments, even in print, almost always wind up sounding mind-numbingly cynical to me. In this video, his tone even adds to the effect. As a political analyst, he's kind of a one-trick pony. His message invariably is that there are powerful economic forces that always dominant any administration and prevent anything from ever getting better.

The message that comes across is not so much, "You should really care about this stuff and figure out what you can do to change it for the better" than it is, "You're a fool if you think you can ever do anything to change the political and economic system for the better". That's not what he literally says, of course. But it might as well be.

In the early part of this interview, he also hauls out a lazy, superficial argument of the type that advocates of a left third party are sometimes inclined to use. He says that when you look at what "people who call themselves conservative" support, "most of them have more-or-less social-democratic attitudes! That's just cracked. As a way to look at American voters' political behavior, it's virtually useless. Essentially, he's looking at logically inconsistencies among whatever group he's talking about (he doesn't specify whether he's talking about registered voters, the general public, likely voters, etc.) and assuming that what he calls the "social-democratic" side of their attitudes are more important to them than the hardcore conservative Republican side.

So not only do overwhelmingly powerful interests control the whole show, but most conservatives are actually social democrats who are waiting for someone to organize them into a social-democratic movement. That is, if the people who might be inclined to organize them aren't so discouraged and depressed from listening to Chomsky that the decide to give up on political and concentrate on personal research into medical marijuana for the rest of their lives.

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